Last night, in a devotional directed at Church Educational System (CES) employees, Elder Ballard spoke of challenges that many youth face, including questions asked on social media.
(Kids these days and their FaceSpace, amirite?)
From a Deseret news article about Elder Ballard’s talk:
“Drawing on the scriptures and the words of the prophets, [students] will learn how to act with faith in Christ to acquire spiritual knowledge and understanding of His gospel,” he said. “And they will have opportunities to learn how to apply the doctrine of Christ and gospel principles to the questions and challenges they hear and see every day among their peers and on social media.”
Applying the doctrine of Christ to questions of church doctrine makes sense. Is it true and is it helpful? Does it follow the golden rule?
Elder Ballard continued, comparing faithful interpretations of history to vaccinating the youth against topics that are “sometimes misunderstood” — a polite way of saying, negative toward the church.
You know, we give medical inoculations to our precious missionaries before sending them into the mission field, so they will be protected against disease that can harm and even kill them. In a similar fashion, please, before you send them into the world, inoculate your students by providing faithful, thoughtful and accurate interpretations of gospel doctrine, the scriptures and our history, and those topics that are sometimes misunderstood.
And in a praiseworthy show of transparency, Elder Ballard listed a few topics which in some circles (or at least in the not so distant past) would have been considered anti-mormon.
To name a few of such topics that are less-known or controversial, I’m talking about polygamy, and seer stones, different accounts of the first vision, the process of translation of the Book of Mormon [and] of the Book of Abraham, gender issues, race and the priesthood, or a Heavenly Mother. The efforts to inoculate our young people will often fall to you CES teachers.
Perhaps if I’d been further inoculated as a youth, I wouldn’t have found these topics so difficult to digest when I finally found them too hard to swallow. So roll up your sleeves while I share with you what I remember being taught about this list while at the same time you’re going to get inoculated.
Before you run off searching high and low looking for how far the rabbit hole goes, Elder Ballard warned of the dangers of access to too much information:
It was only a generation ago that our young people’s access to information about our history, doctrine and practices was basically limited to materials printed by the church. Few students came in contact with alternative interpretations. Mostly, our young people lived a sheltered life. Our curriculum at that time, though well-meaning, did not prepare students for today — a day when students have instant access to virtually everything about the church from every possible point of view. Today, what they see on their mobile devices is likely to be faith-challenging as much as faith-promoting. Many of our young people are more familiar with Google than they are with the gospel, more attuned to the Internet than to inspiration, and more involved with Facebook than with faith.
For the sake of Elder Ballard’s concern about Google, I’ll only use church approved sources for the inoculation and I’ll stay far away from Facebook.
In church I was taught that Brigham Young and the LDS population as a whole started practicing polygamy on their way west after Joseph Smith died. I was taught that Joseph Smith did not practice polygamy. I was specifically taught that The Nauvoo Expositor, a newspaper that published only one issue, on June 7, 1844, was printing anti-mormon lies about the Prophet Joseph Smith and that it needed to be shut down.
If only there was some way to look up the contents of that newspaper… Also, at church the word polyandry was never uttered, just the more generic term polygamy.
The church now teaches that Joseph practiced polygamy. It doesn’t bother with timeline details between when these marriages started and when the revelation on polygamy was given but it does point out that at least one of the lucky ladies was just few month shy of her fifteenth birthday. https://www.lds.org/topics/plural-marriage-in-kirtland-and-nauvoo?lang=eng. The church also admits that he practiced polyandry.
I was taught in church that Joseph mostly used his seer stone for money digging but that it was something he regretted. It was a part of his wayward youth; folk magic being part of the culture of the time; something he did before being called to restore the gospel. I was taught that Joseph translated the Book of Mormon from golden plates written in reformed Egyptian into English using some kind of, never that clear to me, looking-glass shaped device called the Urim and Thummim.
The church now teaches Joseph used the seer stone and other instruments to translate the Book of Mormon. The church teaches that Joseph didn’t look at the plates while translating, instead, “Joseph looked into the instruments, [and] the words of scripture appeared in English”: https://www.lds.org/topics/book-of-mormon-translation?lang=eng&_r=1
I was taught about the different accounts of the first vision in church but I was told there were only 2 or 3 different versions. I was taught that they were given to different people at different times and that the different details were because of different audiences and their different needs. I was told not to worry about it.
The church now teaches there are
seven different accounts of the first vision story and the details within those various narratives isn’t exactly the same but that they all follow the same basic story. The details over number of visitors or their identities isn’t a sign of fraud because, “Joseph’s increasingly specific descriptions can thus be compellingly read as evidence of increasing insight, accumulating over time, based on experience.” https://www.lds.org/topics/first-vision-accounts?lang=eng&_r=1
What I was taught about the Book of Abraham at church: “A translation of some ancient records that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt. The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus.” It was on my mission that I learned the controversy of Ancient Egyptian translations not matching the Book of Abraham. I was suspicious of the antagonistic pastor telling me this, but all the same, I was very curious about the truth behind the Book of Abraham’s origins, and specifically why this guy figured he had a “silver bullet” against the church.
Now the church teaches that the phrase “by his own hand, upon papyrus” can be understood to mean that “Abraham is the author and not the literal copyist”. Also, the church teaches that while “the word translation typically assumes an expert knowledge of multiple languages”, but in this case, “[b]y the gift and power of God, Joseph received knowledge about the life and teachings of Abraham.” https://www.lds.org/topics/translation-and-historicity-of-the-book-of-abraham?lang=eng&_r=1
As for gender issues, I’m going to assume Elder Ballard is talking about lesbians and gays (though not strictly a “gender issue” at all).
I was taught that gays were bad and I openly talked about how being gay was wrong and probably said other horrible things that mercifully — for my own feelings of guilt — I can no longer recall. I remember that feeling of self-righteousness as a Mormon when I proudly declared my prejudice against gay people. I’m sorry for what I thought and said.
The church still doesn’t get it when it comes to the biological realities of same sex attraction nor to the impact that their stance has on so many members of the church. I specifically feel bad for the heartache that Kim and his family have been put through. The church still proudly rolls out The Family: A Proclamation to the World as a response to why being gay is sinful. https://www.lds.org/topics/family-proclamation?lang=eng&_r=1
The church’s stance with race and the priesthood was never something that bothered me until after I stopped going. Probably because growing up in Southern Alberta, I never encountered very many (any?) black people and I certainly felt that God knew what he was doing. I never thought about what it would mean to belong to a church that emphasized eternal marriage, families being together forever, and the importance of temple ordinances but then banning a certain group of people from said ordinances because of the way they looked. I read in Bruce R. McConkie’s book, Mormon Doctrine, that the reason for the ban was because they had been fence-sitters in the war-in-heaven and were now cursed to be descendants of the most wicked person on the face of the earth, Cain.
Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse. https://www.lds.org/topics/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng&_r=1
Lastly on Elder Ballad’s list of topics to be inoculated against is Heavenly Mother. When I was in the church, I was taught that Heavenly Mother was also divine (a goddess not unlike God) but that we didn’t know her name and it was forbidden to pray to her. This sat just fine with me.
It was on my mission that another missionary pointed out to me that Jesus’ mother Mary, was in fact our Heavenly Mother. This didn’t sit well with me, especially when they pointed out what 1 Nephi 11:18 was getting at by saying, “Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.” You’ll have to imagine my shock when I realized what the manner of the flesh means. God did what with Mary?! And how exactly does that square with the biblical emphasis that she was a virgin?
The church still teaches that you shouldn’t pray to Heavenly Mother (perhaps a way of delineating themselves from churches that do pray to Mary). But, it’s pointed out that, “[t]he fact that we do not pray to our Mother in Heaven in no way belittles or denigrates her.” https://www.lds.org/topics/mother-in-heaven?lang=eng
I’m not sure inoculation against these topics that are sometimes misunderstood is really going to affect the youth in the way they expect. In fact I think it might have the opposite effect.
I’m reminded of the agonizing guilt Huckleberry Finn felt over his failure to turn in his raft-mate Jim. Jim, who was attempting to escape from slavery, is betrayed by someone else, and Huck has to face what he is doing. Realizing he is incapable even of praying because of his sinful compliance in a slave’s escape, Huck gives in to his conscience and writes a note to Jim’s rightful owner, revealing his whereabouts.
I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn’t do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking—thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell.
Unfortunately for Huck’s peace of mind, he kept on thinking. After recalling all the good times and misfortune they’d shared, and Jim’s gratitude for saving him from capture, he looked down, noticed the letter and made his decision.
It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:
“All right, then, I’ll GO to hell”—and tore it up.
It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. I shoved the whole thing out of my head, and said I would take up wickedness again, which was in my line, being brung up to it, and the other warn’t. And for a starter I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that, too; because as long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog.
I’m also in for good, and there’s no better way to say it: I’m going whole hog.