Joseph Smith and Losing Faith Over History

This is a paper presented by historian Richard Bushman (author of “Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling“) at the seminar “Joseph Smith and His Critics.” It explains “the experience of Latter-day Saints who are or have been troubled by historical aspects of Joseph Smith and the restoration of the gospel.”

Credit to BHodges for the text, and Deseret News and for the photos.

Increasingly teachers and church leaders at all levels are approached by Latter-day Saints who have lost confidence in Joseph Smith and the basic miraculous events of church history. They doubt the First Vision, the Book of Mormon, many of Joseph’s revelations, and much besides. They fall into doubt after going on the Internet and finding shocking information about Joseph Smith based on documents and facts they had never heard before. A surprising number had not known about Joseph Smith’s plural wives. They are set back by differences in the various accounts of the First Vision. They find that Egyptologists do not translate the Abraham manuscripts the way Joseph Smith did, making it appear that the Book of Abraham was a fabrication. When they come across this information in a critical book or read it on one of the innumerable critical Internet sites, they feel as if they had been introduced to a Joseph Smith and a Church history they had never known before. They undergo an experience like viewing the famous picture of a beautiful woman who in a blink of an eye turns into an old hag. Everything changes. What are they to believe?

Often church leaders, parents, and friends, do not understand the force of this alternate view. Not knowing how to respond, they react defensively. They are inclined to dismiss all the evidence as anti-Mormon or of the devil. Stop reading these things if they upset you so much, the inquirer is told. Or go back to the familiar formula: scriptures, prayer, church attendance.

The troubled person may have been doing all of these things sincerely, perhaps even desperately. He or she feels the world is falling apart. Everything these inquirers put their trust in starts to crumble. They want guidance more than ever in their lives, but they don’t seem to get it. The facts that have been presented to them challenge almost everything they believe. People affected in this way may indeed stop praying; they don’t trust the old methods because they feel betrayed by the old system. Frequently they are furious. On their missions they fervently taught people about Joseph Smith without knowing any of these negative facts. Were they taken advantage of? Was the Church trying to fool them for its own purposes?

These are deeply disturbing questions. They shake up everything. Should I stay in the Church? Should I tell my family? Should I just shut up and try to get along? Who can help me?

At this point, these questioners go off in various directions. Some give up on the Church entirely. They find another religion or, more likely these days, abandon religion altogether. Without their familiar Mormon God, they are not sure there is any God at all. They become atheist or agnostic. Some feel the restrictions they grew up with no longer apply. The strength has been drained out of tithing, the Word of Wisdom, and chastity. They partly welcome the new freedom of their agnostic condition. Now they can do anything they please without fear of breaking the old Mormon rules. The results may not be happy for them or their families.

Others piece together a morality and a spiritual attitude that stops them from declining morally, but they are not in an easy place. When they go to church, they are not comfortable. Sunday School classes and Sacrament meeting talks about Joseph Smith and the early church no longer ring true. How can these people believe these “fairy tales,” the inquirers ask. Those who have absorbed doses of negative material live in two minds: their old church mind which now seems naive and credulous, and their new enlightened mind with its forbidden knowledge learned on the internet and from critical books.

A friend who is in this position described the mindset of the disillusioned member this way:

“Due to the process of learning, which they have gone through, these [two-minded] LDS often no longer accept the church as the only true one (with the only true priesthood authority and the only valid sacred ordinances), but they see it as a Christian church, in which good, inspired programs are found as well as failure and error. They no longer consider inspiration, spiritual and physical healing, personal and global revelation limited to the LDS church. In this context, these saints may attend other churches, too, where they might have spiritual experiences as well. They interpret their old spiritual experiences differently, understanding them as testimonies from God for them personally, as a result of their search and efforts, but these testimonies don’t necessarily have to be seen as a confirmation that the LDS church is the only true one.

“Since the social relationships between them and other ward (or stake) members suffer (avoidance, silence, even mobbing) because of their status as heretics, which is usually known via gossip, and since the extent of active involvement and range of possible callings are reduced because of their nonconformity in various areas, there is a risk that they end up leaving the church after all, because they are simply ignored by the majority of the other members.”

He then offers a recommendation:

“It is necessary that the church not only shows more support and openness to these ‘apostates’ but also teaches and advises all members, bishops, stake presidents etc., who usually don’t know how to deal with such a situation in terms of organizational and ecclesiastical questions and – out of insecurity – fail to treat the critical member with the necessary love and respect that even a normal stranger would receive.”

Those are the words of someone who has lost belief in many of the fundamentals and is working out a new relationship to the Church. Other shaken individuals recover their belief in the basic principles and events but are never quite the same as before. Their knowledge, although no longer toxic, gives them a new perspective. They tend to be more philosophic and less dogmatic about all the stories they once enjoyed. Here are some of the characteristics of people who have passed through this ordeal but managed to revive most of their old beliefs.

1. They often say they learned the Prophet was human. They don’t expect him to be a model of perfect deportment as they once thought. He may have taken a glass of wine from time to time, or scolded his associates, or even have made business errors. They see his virtues and believe in his revelations but don’t expect perfection.

2. They also don’t believe he was led by revelation in every detail. They see him as learning gradually to be a prophet and having to feel his way at times like most Church members. In between the revelations, he was left to himself to work out the methods of complying with the Lord’s commandments. Sometimes he had to experiment until he found the right way.

3. These newly revived Latter-day Saints also develop a more philosophical attitude toward history. They come to see (like professional historians) that facts can have many interpretations. Negative facts are not necessarily as damning as they appear at first sight. Put in another context along side other facts, they do not necessarily destroy Joseph Smith’s reputation.

4. Revived Latter-day Saints focus on the good things they derive from their faith–the community of believers, the comforts of the Holy Spirit, the orientation toward the large questions of life, contact with God, moral discipline, and many others. They don’t want to abandon these good things. Starting from that point of desired belief, they are willing to give Joseph Smith and the doctrine a favorable hearing. They may not be absolutely certain about every item, but they are inclined to see the good and the true in the Church.

At the heart of this turmoil is the question of trust. Disillusioned Latter-day Saints feel their trust has been betrayed. They don’t know whom to trust. They don’t dare trust the old feelings that once were so powerful, nor do they trust church leaders. They can only trust the new knowledge they have acquired. Those who come back to the Church are inclined to trust their old feelings. Their confidence in the good things they knew before is at least partially restored. But they sort out the goodness that seems still vital from the parts that now seem no longer tenable. Knowledge not only has given them a choice, it has compelled them to choose. They have to decide what they really believe. In the end, many are more stable and convinced than before. They feel better prepared to confront criticism openly, confident they can withstand it.

What way of speaking is most likely to win their trust and convince them we have their best interests at heart?

We began by agreeing that criticisms of Joseph Smith should not be dismissed as foolish or purely evil. The negative attacks that disturb first-time readers are usually based on facts, not merely prejudiced fabrications. To play down the force of the criticism, we believe, only convinces the seekers that we do not understand. We appear to be sweeping trouble under the rug. They may have been devastated by a criticism; we must show that we understand why. Consequently, the seminar took as its first principle to state the negative argument as fully and accurately as we can. We try not to minimize the difficulty or prejudice the case against the critic. In no other way can we persuade the doubters that we understand the problem.

Secondly, we try to avoid dogmatic answers. Rather than replace the dogmatic negative attacks of the critics with our own dogmatic answers, we attempt to show that a more positive interpretation is possible. Critics often claim that Joseph’s sins were so egregious as to utterly disqualify him as a prophet. We can understand their viewpoint, but we think there is another side to the story. Rather than destroy the critics, we want to loosen their grip. In the long run, we believe this approach will persuade questioners more effectively than claims to certainty where none is possible. We believe in stating our own strong convictions about the church as a whole, but we do not to pretend to perfect knowledge about complex historical questions.

We know that airing criticisms troubles many Latter-day Saints. Like most Church teachers, the members of the seminar do not want to draw attention to questions that will only unsettle faithful members. But we also feel that silence is not the answer. The absence of instruction troubles questioners more than anything. They feel they have been betrayed because they came through their Church classes ignorant of the devastating information now a few clicks away on the internet. The gaps in their education leave them disillusioned and angry.

We are encouraged by the scriptural recognition that not all have faith, and by the appealing remedy, “teach one another.” For many questioners, loneliness is the heart of the problems. No one seems to understand. We are enjoined by this scripture to find these seekers and bring them into a fellowship of inquiry. We hope that our papers will help Church teachers create safe havens where questions may be asked and answers explored–where we can teach one another.”

If you’ve made it this far, first congratulations. Secondly, what do you think? Should doubt be embraced, explored, or should we avoid it at all costs? Have you or anyone close to you been disturbed by some of the skeletons in the history closet?

About shenpa warrior

"Patience is not learned in safety." View all posts by shenpa warrior

28 responses to “Joseph Smith and Losing Faith Over History

  • Allie

    I think that either way you’re going to lose some people. Perhaps people that are looking for a reason to leave anyway.

    I was reading the steps that Bushman said people go through when they are dealing with concerns over things in the church, and I think I’ve gone through it a little bit myself. Not because of Joseph Smith- I never had a difficult time accepting that he wasn’t perfect. His faults were relieving to me- and I think have helped me deal with issues with more recent prophets.

    I think we ought to embrace our history, good or bad. We shouldn’t need to hide the truth, we should strive to understand it and learn from it.

  • Steve

    As a former convert, I don’t think I could have written a better summation of my thoughts and feelings. I did my homework while speaking with the missionaries, thus I knew some of the stuff and was willing to overlook some clear historical inaccuracies. However, the more I learned, both IN and out of church, the more all these loose ends continued to build. At some point, the proverbial “straw that breaks the camel’s back” happens and it seems silly to believe anything you hear w/o further investigation to the facts.
    Now granted, I’ve never been a literal interpretor of the Bible and consider it to be the jist of what was meant and needed to be put forth by the Christian church; but the Mormon Church troubled me in what I think is a “cult of personality” around JS. It was/is so strong that any questioning of JS, JS history, or any of the early church problems, such as with Brigham Young and Utah quickly were met as “lies”, even when they were factually accurate, or anti-Mormon rants and my concerns sometimes were met with “go talk to the missionaries”, “pray about it” or “ignore what you read outside of church”. That coupled with some basic disagreements I had with church doctrine (I’m no expert, just my interpretations and understandings) with some hypocracies and un-Christian/Christ like things I saw go on in the Church made me realize that the Church was no longer where God wanted me to be.
    W/o going on here too long, I always felt that Morms (my slang) are always too quick to be defensive and too afraid of any quivering of self-doubt to address facts and reality sometimes; which only further makes it hard to find support or answers when individuals, especially converts, are only trying to simply learn more.

    • ke

      I am a convert that went through all that you described and all that Bushman talked about. Like you, I felt that I could not have writte a better summation of my thoughts and feelings. Ultimately, however, I found peace with all the “imperfections” and stayed in the church because I can clearly see my progress — I have become a much better person, much more of who I always wanted to be, by being in this church.

  • Cameron

    I like how Bushman talks about members that do know all the “skeletons” and remain faithful. It’s an example to be learned from.

    I also think that the reason many members respond in the way described (it must be a lie, don’t read anything outside the church, etc) is because over the years there has been so much junk written and said about the Church that any criticism is easily dismissed as bunk. In a way, it’s the inverse of how critics behave – critics take a doubtful eye at anything good or miraculous in our history, while I tend to take critics’ “history” with just as much doubt.

    I am reminded of a recent fireside where it was advised that as we increase our study in secular areas, we should proportionately increase our time spent studying the scriptures.

  • Happy The Man

    He’s dead on with his assessments. I imagine there are many that have yet to uncover anything negative facts and findings and so they go about in their “perfect bliss”. Those of us who have been exposed to unpleasantries have to deal with the internal struggles pointed out in this post. When it comes down to it, and this essentially supports some of my thoughts about man’s wisdom vs. God’s wisdom, I have to let the intellectual stuff go, go back to the basics and depend on what feels right.

    My testimony has been entirely based on feelings from the beginning. The doctrine supports intellectually what the Spirit testifies through feelings. I haven’t found anything else yet that makes more sense (not that I’m looking). But at the same time I think it is important that I keep an open mind. The church may be true, but I never heard any declarations stating that we have all the answers. Who knows when I might find yet another missing piece to the great puzzle of life…

    One last thought, we shouldn’t forget that Peter denied Christ thrice. God is carrying out His perfect plan with imperfect people. But He has promised that He will not let His prophet lead us astray.

    I guess this is where that FAITH part comes into play.

  • Steve

    Cameron, I’m not saying people that stick it out shouldn’t be admirable, but “blind faith” is just as dangerous as attacks on the church or any faith. Case in point, the Taliban and other radical religious types on all sides.

    I think the author and Adam make great points that the church really needs to embrace the lessons learned from previous “mistakes” and be open. The Catholic church, for instance, has done similar things from it’s anti-semitism during WW2 and the churches responsbile for the Salem witch trials.

  • adam

    allie – I have gone through some of the steps myself. In fact, I have felt a lot like his friend in the article in the sense that I don’t consider inspiration etc. to be limited to Mormonism, and I don’t have a testimony that it is the “only” true church.

    I used to have a certain amount of anxiety about friends and whether they would join the church, but in the last few years I have developed a different view of God, and believe that he is not going to damn people based on their theological opinions. Now that I’m not concerned for the salvation of my friends, I’ve actually found that I’m much more comfortable sharing what I believe, and probably do more “missionary work.”

    Steve #2 – Agreed, we are often quick to be defensive. I think much of it has to do with anxiety, and the fact that doubt is somehow seen as a sin. As for the “straw that breaks the camel’s back,” I think is seems like an emotional reaction to the “loose ends” building up. Many of us, yourself included apparently, weigh the good and the bad in the church and for some the negative side becomes too much, while many members just ignore the bad. Throw on top of that having your concerns met with “ignore it” and you have a good recipe for leaving. Thanks for your comment on this! Your perspective is much appreciated.

    Cameron“I tend to take critics’ “history” with just as much doubt.” – That’s why I am loving this seemingly new era of history-writing in the church with active, believing members writing history and not skipping the uncomfortable details (other than Bushman, there’s also the McKay book by Prince and Wright, and the new Mountain Meadows book, for example).

    Happy“He has promised that He will not let His prophet lead us astray.” – The problem that many have with this idea is that it was a prophet who said it, and what it means exactly. I (and I’m assuming you do to) interpret it as the general direction of the church rather than individual actions by any church leader, but that may just be my “apologetic” side coming out.

    My testimony has been based on feelings too, of course, and I have paid careful attention to when I “feel” the feelings of the spirit as I have believed them to be. I would say rather than learning of any truth, the biggest influence these feelings have been in my life are those of peace given to me in a few troubling times.

  • McFam

    I’ve enjoyed reading everyone else’s comments…
    First and foremost, I think it’s obvious that there is a major gap between how the church was/is viewed by our parents and grandparents, and how the church is viewed by us (the younger generation!). By viewed, I mean the action of viewing… how we choose to see things, and the kinds of questions we choose to ask. In a conversation with my mom a few months ago, she told me that the church experience for her in her younger testimony-finding years was like taking a train ride. The train ride of the gospel. It was a ride that your parents bought your ticket for, and you unquestioningly and semi-blindly took the ticket and got on the train. Little or no questioning along the way… the train does all the work.. you get the idea.
    This is in stark contrast to what is clearly evident from the post and comments here; a new way of looking at the gospel is clearly emerging, and it’s not a bad thing. In my opinion, going through doubt, and coming out the other side with your faith still in tact, though quite changed it may be, is the most pure kind of conversion there is. A real refiners fire. Our testimony is strengthened and we have a REAL resolve to follow the church and the brethren. While the train ride has given generations before us unfaltering obedience and belief as hallmarks of their character, our “hard march” or “difficult road” will surely give us something more. I belive this is the heart of the many comments about our “chosen” generation.
    In my opinion, the true essence of life lies in our own personal journey to find the Savior. We each must encounter, and consequently reconcile with our faith, those things that try us the most. And sometimes, that’s just damn hard!

  • Cathleen

    I appreciate your posting this information. I can so relate to this. My parents were converts to the church when I was 6 years old. I was essentially raised in the church by zealots. My parents really took all teachings to heart and were “super converts”. I grew up never questioning anything and with a great love for Joseph Smith.
    My freshman year at BYU changed all that. I had a church history class that challenged all I had been taught my whole life. I was so shook up and felt like I had been deceived for all those years. I was really in a strange place and felt so alone with my new feelings. It wasn’t okay to question or talk badly about church teachings. I didn’t leave the church, but I was less active than before. I also took a few years to try out some of the things that I had always stayed away from.
    I wanted my testimony back, but I didn’t know how to reconcile my new knowledge with church teachings. I eventually put aside my feelings about Joseph Smith (basically I chose not to deal with them) and tried to move forward with the rest of the doctrine. Obviously, you can’t just ignore Joseph and base your testimony on everything else. It has been a 20 year process. It helped when I spoke to my father about this a few years after the experience and found that he felt the same way. He was still a strong active church member. He also surmised that Joseph was killed because of leading people astray (with polygamy and such). For a longtime I wished I had never taken that class and could still be blissfully ignorant. I do believe now that my testimony is much stronger, as McFam said “having survived the refiners fire”.
    I have rarely mentioned this experience and my subsequent feelings to anyone. I do however make a point to share the negative with the positive as I teach my children the gospel. I want them to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly from me. I teach them to question and search out the issues for themselves. Good idea, I don’t know. My oldest (a college freshman) is not currently active. I see all these “blindly doing” youth and I just can’t be part of it. Though I sure wish he was doing as he had been taught, I have hope that he’ll desire to gain a testimony of his own someday.

  • Papa D

    My short answer (since you’ve read my longer answer over on Mormon Matters) is that almost every “problem” or “issue” I’ve ever encountered can be resolved simply by changing the organic, fundamental assumptions that make these things appear to be problems and issues. In short, I just don’t care much about the messy details, especially the ones that are open to interpretation.

    Also, I am stoked about much of the DNA research being done recently (and much of the other BofM-related study), since I believe it validates the actual book and corrects long-held misconceptions about it. I believe when you focus narrowly on what the book itself says (as opposed to what others, including former – and current – leaders *assume(d)* it says), the newest discoveries actually strengthen the claim that it is inspired.

  • Allie

    Adam- when you say that you don’t believe it’s the “only true church”, do you really mean only “true” church, or do you mean true as in the only church with the complete fulness of the gospel? I think there’s a difference.

    I kind of think that God views us along the lines of what we do with what we’re given- whether that’s the religion we belong to or the economic circumstances we live in. If that makes sense. In the sense of the “complete fullness of the gospel”, I don’t think any other church has it, but I don’t think that’s the same thing as our church being the only “true” one.

  • adam

    McFam – I agree with the emphasis on “our own personal journey to find the Savior” Are you suggesting that dealing with doubt and history is part of the journey? I had not thought of it in that way before, but I like it. Like Cathleen, I think it is easier for those who can just get on the train without having to face anything controversial. Kinda reminds me of the Matrix, with those who wanted to remain plugged in and happy, or those who want to know the truth and yet have to suffer some measure for it.

    allie – I said I don’t have a “testimony” that it is the only true church. Beliefs regarding the issue don’t matter as much to me, because I do believe that God will lead everyone who desires down the right path for them, even if that path is not Mormonism.

  • McFam

    Adam –
    I think dealing with doubt and history is part of our generation’s journey. And not because we’re different from our parents per se (sp?), but because of the tools satan now has at his disposal; ie the internet. This was not something any previous generation had to face, and although the true history of the early saints has been more of less accessible for many years, our age/generation is truly unique with our accute sense of controversy, and a hyper reactiveness to anything and everything political or religious (I’m including myself here). Our journey is what it is, but the key point is that, while the overall themes of doubt may be from the same source, each of us have a unique experience to go through. Just as the pioneers had tribulations of a physical nature, we have tribulations of doubt brought on by the immensity of information available, and the aforementioned contemporary mindsets.

  • George and WP

    Can I say I believe it is the only true church and salvation cometh to no man except he enter into the strait gate, and few there be that find it… Maybe few really want it. What is it that drives our culture, our government, our sports or business icons? Isn’t it greed and love of money and power? Even among the Saints, terrestrial pursuits keep them from being where they should and doing what they ought.

    There truly is a plan of happiness for everyone who seeks it or wants it and no one need be left out or kept from the feast because of ignorance or situation.

    It is a perfect plan and I am content and happy with it.

  • adam

    Maybe few do, I don’t know. I believe “whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.” I believe God is more inclusive than just accepting those in the CoJCoLDS, that he does not cast out people because they don’t happen to believe in him or in a particular faith. I believe everyone will end up exactly where they want to be.

    In the MTC some of the speakers got us all riled up with stuff like “you may be this person’s only chance to receive the gospel” – I can see the point of saying motivating lies like that, but it nearly gave me an anxiety disorder at the time, and I don’t believe it at all anymore. God is not cruel, I’m sure we agree. I believe it is a perfect plan, and that plan includes everyone who wants it now or later, regardless of current theology. So if by “ignorance or situation” you include people of other (or lack thereof) faiths, personalities, orientations etc. then I completely agree.

  • George and WP

    The MTC speakers were wrong, you and I know that. Yes, we do agree as it is a perfect plan from a perfect being with a perfect love for his children. Ignorance and situation will not preclude anyone unless they exercise their agency and make choices that ultimately will damn them. They must have light, do they not, in order to sin against it? Calvin, Luther, any Pope, Wycliffe, Zwingli, none of them knew or had it right. No one else today does either, not even his Holiness the Dalai Lama, though he and other Buddhist schools teach many Mormon doctrines.

    CP and LG are innocent and who on God’s earth would doom them to purgatory, a burial outside the consecrated cemetery wall, suggest only 144,000 of them would be saved, or some percentage are saved and some are damned according to His grace or will?

    Yes, we have it all, and it is a Perfect Plan of Happiness. I am profoundly grateful for that understanding.

  • G

    this was a very helpful essay by bushman… thank you for posting it.

  • adam

    #15 – “They must have light, do they not, in order to sin against it?”

    Sometimes I wonder if many members in the church don’t have or never received “the light.” They may have been baptized, but that does not necessarily equate with knowing anything.

    I also don’t think we have always had it right, and obviously we still don’t have it all right, or else there would be no need for further growth, evolution, or revelation regarding our doctrines. That being said, damning unbaptized children to hell is completely inane. Perhaps not as crazy, but still inane, is taking the opportunity to hold the priesthood away from African Americans after Joseph Smith had allowed it.

    I like faiths that grow and discard the stuff like infant baptism being necessary. I need to check, but I don’t think the Catholic Church believes unbaptized infants are damned anymore.

    Sometimes I wonder what we will think of this time in 50 years. What do we believe now that with some more hindsight will look ridiculous. Or do we think we pretty much have it down well now?

  • Anonymous

    The Bushman article parallels a lot of the experiences and thoughts I have had over the past several years. Thanks for posting it.

    I found most of the comments, however, to be vain attempts at rationalization and mental gymnastics.

    The Mormon Church is not like a political party where you can choose to believe many or most of the party’s positions while rejecting some of the others. It’s either true or it isn’t. Mormon leaders themselves have said this.

    I remember when I was young and wondered why no one had found a single sword, breastplate, shield or helmet in the New World despite the fact that there must have been millions of them according to the BOM. I just assumed that someone would find them some day.

    However, over time, people have found more reasons NOT to believe the BOM than to believe it.

    There are better uses for your time and money.

  • adam

    Thanks for stopping by, anonymous. I can’t speak for others, but personally I no longer attempt “mental gymnastics” or “rationalization.” Perhaps not completely unlike your experience, it just does not work for me.

    As for being “true” or “not true” I can see your point (and that of the leaders of the church), but to me that issue is not nearly as important to me as it used to be.

    For me, there are things in the church (as Hugh Nibley even said) that are appalling. There are a lot of things that are mildly disturbing. Take that, and add to it all the wonderful experiences (which are subjective, obviously) I have had, as well as my core beliefs (that have been examined ad nauseam) that give so much meaning and inspiration to my life, and you have a nice mix that cannot be reconciled, rationalized, or mentally gymnasticized (that’s probably not a word). It is what it is, and I sit with it all. I think some amount of ambivalence is a part of existence.

  • Allie

    Anon.- for me it isn’t an all or nothing deal. I believe in the plan of salvation, I believe that families can be forever, I also believe that humans are imperfect, and that God allows us to be imperfect so that we can grow and learn. It would be silly (for me) to throw out all the things I know in my heart just because a prophet was human.

    Also, I don’t think there’s anything vain about mental gymnastics. If we don’t do a little stretching, we’ll never figure out what we really believe will we?

  • Molly

    December 14th @ 10:23 AM

    If I could have heard this kind of earnest engagement and sincere honesty when I was going through my crisis of faith, I might have stuck around longer. As it is, unfortunately I believe the leadership and general membership to be too dogmatic at this point in time to embrace this kind of attitude. It will be interesting to see what kind of shift in thinking there is now that a generation reared on the Internet is beginning to come of age. I think they will be better equipped to reject the notion of prophetic infallibility and not see that as an irreparable flaw in Mormonism’s claims.

  • adamf

    December 17th @ 1:33 PM

    Thanks for the comment Molly. I’ve never understood this “prophetic infallibility” idea. You REALLY have to bury your head in the sand, REALLY deep, to have the view that prophets have always agreed with each other, or have never taught things that weren’t true or conflicted… Gosh, the same thing applies to the Bible even.

  • Megan

    I just found your post from another website. Thank you for posting this. He (Bushman) describes it very well.I cried as I read it because I am there. I have been in that black pit for over a year now. And there is no one to talk to about it. It got out in my ward, thru the Primary President when I told her I couldn’t in good conscience teach the lessons anymore. Some guy in the ward asked my husband,”So I hear Megan’s having problems with the Church?” I stopped going to church and haven’t heard a peep from anyone since. Which is good and bad. I’ve tried to talk to one or two people about my questions, but I get shut down quickly. My question is, where do I go from here? I’d love to be able to participate in church and not be worried about what I’ve found out, but how do I do that? I can’t even believe in God anymore. Because if what I found out is the truth, after believing so strongly for 35 years in the LDS concept of God, how do I know what to believe anymore about God? Does that make sense?
    I don’t want to be bitter. I have no desire to “slam” the LDS church or the people who still believe. I just need to know what to do. My soul was so wrapped up in the church and now there is a big, wide, gaping, weeping wound that I don’t know how to bandage. I have to keep it a secret from my extended family because it would destroy my mother, but it’s going to come out pretty soon when I refuse to baptize my eldest daughter. So how do I bridge the gap?

    • adamf

      Megan – I’m really glad you found this to be relevant to your situation. I don’t mean to sound patronizing, but I applaud your courage (however difficult it has been!) to stand up for what you believe (or don’t, rather).

      As for “where to go from here” that is a great question, with some helpful answers. There are a lot of directions you can go, with different perspectives that may help. Here are a few:

      This is a forum couples where one partner has lost faith in the church and etc.

      This forum is for people who may have lost faith in the church, or have certain problems with it, but want to remain active in some form. Related to this, there is also some great stuff on, such as “how to stay in the church after a major trial to your faith” and “why people leave the LDS church.”

      I would also HIGHLY recommend the podcast “Mormon Stories” –

      I think you will find much of that VERY relevant and helpful.

      Finally, the blog “Mormon Matters” (I’m biased because I write there once a week) is a great community of open-minded active members, inactive members, ex-mormons, and even a few atheists who all generally share an interest in Mormonism and etc.

      I hope some of this helps! Please feel free to email me as well if you have any questions you’d like to ask without getting “shut down.”

  • belief and dissonance |

    […] Richard Bushman did a better job at showing sensitivity to the extreme emotional rupture that is caused when a sincere member is faced with the discrepancies between historical facts and white-washed church manuals. His own answer (speaking to church leaders): work hard to help the struggling soul regain some semblance of trust, if not in the church manuals, at least in the community. Lisa at Feminist Mormon Housewives asked Mormons (in a very cautiously worded post with lots of requests to be respectful and thoughtful) what things about the church they have conflict with. (The post racked up 474 comments.)  There is always John Dehlin’s extensive essay “How to Stay in the LDS church after a Major Challenge To Your Faith” (which includes a good break down of many of those Major Challenges). […]

  • Joyce Seegmiller

    I enjoyed the article and found it very informing. I also learned from the comments. I joined the church when I was almost 23, went on a mission, and married in the temple. I am an active member. I believe that we should allow others to express their opinions and ask questions. However, I do not think that you can say that a person is a “blind follower’ because another person can not truly see why someone else is believing and obeying. It might look like blind obedience but his behavior may have developed after a faith questioning experience similar to the ones many are talking about. He may be choosing to follow with his eyes wide open. Calling people “blind followers” is a judgement call that is not needed. To me, it is similar to ignoring or gossiping about a person that has decided not to be “active” in this church. I think that we all need to be more tolerant of those who do not think as we do, whether in the church or out of it.

  • shenpa warriorrrior

    I agree Joyce! Thanks for the comment.

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