Recently I had an old friend contact me about some struggles she had been having as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). Her husband has been cutting himself off from the Church because of a lot of research he has been doing from anti-Mormon sources. As he has discussed the issues drudged up, she has been shocked by the things she had never heard of before and it's taken a toll on her own convictions. She has been struggling to keep the faith she has cherished and served for, and has been wanting to find an informed position which can help her with these issues.
My friend discovered some of my writing through my Facebook page and my previous blog and came to believe that I might be able to help, since I seemed well informed on Church History and these other issues she's been struggling with. More than even helping her husband (she doesn't believe he's coming back to the faith), she was asking for help for herself. I've been responding to her privately, but the issues she's brought up (everything from feminism to polygamy to the Church's previous priesthood ban on members of African descent to the complicated nuances of Church History to gay rights to the Book of Abraham to Book of Mormon historicity ) are all heavy issues. I feel equipped to give an informed position on each of them, but it would take time (and returning to review some of my books) to address them in a way that was adequate. A peppy little pick me up speech isn't going to do the trick. These are complex, detailed issues and they deserve complex, detailed answers.
That's continually been one of the problems I've seen with those who leave the Church... they're not getting enough context. They are thrown these curve balls which catch them totally off guard, which they have not been prepared for, and suddenly their whole foundation is shaken. And those pitching the balls aren't going to give you any leniency. Anti-Mormons, Evangelical critics, and secularists aren't going to give you the context, they're not going to tell you how to hit their pitches. They want you to miss. To them it's not about the search for "truth" or getting to the bottom of the real issues underlining the problem. They're not going to tell you the other side of the story, just as the Church doesn't bring up these issues in their manuals.
It's one of the risks of taking a shallow approach in studying the Gospel. If you protect yourself with only the "safe" information, that may be a good beginning, to build up some spiritual stamina... but eventually you're going to step out of that chalk circle you've drawn for yourself, perhaps step out accidentally. In this age of Google and Facebook, the time is gone where you could just push away the problems and hum yourself to sleep. The information often comes unbidden and then you are left with a burden you didn't even ask for. It takes just one tweet, one status update, one posted article, to deliver a whole restless night of doubt. You don't have to search through pages of anti-Mormon literature or read No Man Knows My History anymore. You just have to casually log online.
Brigham Young faced a similar problem in early Utah. His problem wasn't the internet, but the railroad. For a long time Brother Brigham encouraged a kind of isolationism. It was easy to control the flow of information when the members of the Church had no internet or telephone or television or other such connective technology to plug them into Babylon. It took weeks to even have information like the major events of the Civil War to even reach them. Brother Brigham took the Lord's counsel to "be ye separate" quite literally. And for a time, it wasn't that complicated to do just that.
Having been driven from the United States into the middle of the Western Desert, the Mormons really didn't have much of another choice. They built within their separate sphere, a fortress of distance between them and nineteenth century American civilization. It's telling to see that even the Salt Lake Temple has the look of an ancient castle, a protection of wall and stone from the outside world. This wasn't like in Nauvoo where Joseph Smith invited people of all religions and cultures to come and participate with them in their city building. After being beaten back so badly, the Mormons were now ready to be a little reclusive.
But the Transcontinental Railroad changed all of that. Soon an influx of different, often more secular or antagonistic cultures came into the State. The Mormons tried to run away from the world, but the world only followed them. It's like the woman and her child being chased by the dragon in the New Testament's book of Revelation, Chapter 12:
And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child. And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time... from the face of the serpent. And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood... and the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with her seed...That flood of information is going to reach us, one way or another, that dragon is too clever for it not to. And if we're caught unawares, then we'll be swept away and drowned. So, with that in mind, I am creating this Keeping the Faith series to address these issues about the Church that are bound to make us struggle against the waves. This series is for my friend, who was so vulnerable with me and opened up to me about her doubts. This is for those among my friends and extended family who have left the Church or are struggling with it for one reason or another. This is for myself, who have had my own tortured nights with an uncomfortable fact. This is for my children, who I worry about every day. And this is for my God, who I am sure is tired of timid servants.
But let me be clear about one thing. Although this information is meant to assist spiritual seekers, it certainly is no replacement for genuine spirituality. The key doctrine that separates Mormonism from so many other religious movements is the idea of modern revelation, which includes personal revelation. God is the one who answers. Whether you can hear his voice whispering in my words, or whether you find it elsewhere, it doesn't matter. What matters is that you find it, hear it, heed it. "Ask and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find."