Some Mormons feel like there are skeletons in the closet that they aren’t allowed to discuss. The pressure to be quiet feeds the media articles and television clips about Mormonism’s “dark history.” Racism, sexism, a history of violence. How can we talk about these issues without inviting doubt and apostasy?
Raw Story acted shocked when a Mormon Sunday School teacher was reportedly “fired” for discussing black history in the church. Ex-Mormon Bruce Fey asked: “Where can a sincere devout member with difficult questions regarding church history, doctrine, and culture go to discuss those questions?”
Get Both Sides Of Every Argument
This is a strange question, because I never felt like questioning the church was banned. Growing up, my father played anti-Mormon Christian talk shows in the car. When the Christian talk radio started bashing Mormons, my father did not even say anything. He simply let it play. When I later asked him why he did that, my father explained: “I want you to get both sides of the argument and make up your own mind.” I was amazed that he put so much faith in my ability to make wise choices, especially considering how persuasive anti-Mormon arguments were.
I did not feel afraid to ask questions at church either. But then again, I did not get bothered by other Mormon members who looked down on me. There is always going to be self-righteous good-doers, and people are always going to react to their hostility by poking holes in their beliefs, namely the church. We are going to equate the self-righteous jerks with Mormonism itself. It’s always going to be that way, because that’s human nature wherever you go. So I think it is wise to try to separate concerns about unpleasant ward members with questions about eternal truths.
I was never interested in “gotcha” questions, like race history that anti-Mormons use.
Let’s use a different example: Joseph Smith being sealed to girls besides his wife Emma. Someone with shallow faith would hear that and their knee-jerk reaction might be to ask their Sunday School teacher: “Why would a prophet of God enter plural marriage with a young girl?” Someone with even shallower faith would whisper to their friend: “Hey, have you heard Joseph Smith did it with a girl on the side?” But an earnest and humble person who is concerned enough to find out the truth of the matter would research. I’m not talking about somebody’s blog or Wikipedia. Wikipedia is crap. I’m talking about prayerfully reading the girl’s autobiography and all other resources available. That’s what I did. Then, they would discuss the matter with someone who knows about this issue. They would then discover that the “marriage” was strictly for the afterlife and never involved physical relations, and that it was necessary to institute polygamy for Mormons at that time.
So my answer to the question is, everywhere. Ask your doubtful questions everywhere as long as you are sure they are sincere questions seeking truth about eternity. Just gather evidence from all sides of the argument. The truth will always set you free.
When I engage anti-Mormons on twitter they usually either block me or ignore me. They might talk to me at first but once they find that I know what I’m talking about, they try to move on. That is because they are not actually interested in discussing questions; they are only interested in disseminating anti-Mormon literature to Mormons to get people to leave the church. Actually, their methods are lot like the methods terrorists use to recruit people online. Terrorists quote some history book about slavery among the founding fathers, or say Christopher Columbus was a genocidal madman. Terrorists and anti-Mormons both have a series of “gotcha” issues that sound damning on first impression, but are actually very easily explained when viewed in the proper context. If these “gotcha” issues can instill just a tiny seed of doubt in your heart, they hope to fertilize that seed by moving on to other more personal issues. Gotcha questions are the thin end of the wedge to open up your doubts. We all have doubts.
Confront Issues That Make You Ask
What creates those doubts? When confronting your doubtful questions, it is important to ask yourself, “Why is this important to me?” There has got to be some underlying personal issue that makes this question stand out. Maybe someone is being mean to you at church. Or mybe you resent not being given a “higher” priesthood office. Or maybe you resent not being allowed to drink coffee like your cool friends. The questions of the heart are much harder to pin down and much harder to answer than the questions of the head. But they must be confronted.
It is also important not to rationalize. Cognitive dissonance will remain if you simply try to patch up your testimony with half-hearted answers. The issue is often some transgression that causes you guilt and makes you look for a way out–it is actually about you, not the church. Maybe coffee is just a symbol for the physical relations you have with your boyfriend? If so, gather raw church information for why chastity is a good thing, and compare that with arguments for why sexual relations outside of marriage makes you “free” and “empowered.” Then talk to people who wisely understand the issue, such as a Mormon family psychologist.
Admit that you don’t know the answer to begin with, and that’s okay. Maybe you have made big mistakes in life or maybe some of your beliefs are wrong. Admit that maybe you have a shallow concept of who your ideal self is and how to get there. Take a few hours to quietly ponder it.
You can’t rely on other Mormons for your testimony because they will let you down. People are going to be mean to you at church. They are going to act hypocritical. If you build your self-esteem and eternal goals on the praise of others, you are going to be crushed when you discover that in this world the only person who really looks out for you above all else, is you. God is certainly there to lift you up at a moment’s notice, but ultimately it comes down to you deciding who you are going to be. How are you going to let yourself be defined?
The very question “Where can I ask questions” shows a faithless reliance on what other people think of you. It shows that you expect answers to be handed to you instead of searching the raw data for yourself. Fellow saints are not the keepers of your testimony, you are. We should absolutely lift each other up, share wisdom, and give each other positive encouragement. We should be family. But in striving toward perfection, we must not put the cart before the horse and pretend like we have all the answers, the image of our ideal self pinned down, or the path to get there. At some point, we need to be realistic about who we are and love ourselves for the good and bad.
Ask All Questions
Finally, don’t just ask your questions at church. Ask them everywhere about everything. Realize that loss of faith does not occur in a vacuum; people don’t just become “un-religious.” Whatever or whoever inspired you to ask a question has a religious agenda themselves. This includes the movement to ordain women, the movement to marry gays, the media website or television channel that wants you to buy their commercial products. Ask what their agenda is. They like to frame themselves as secular movements fighting against backwards religion, but the truth is they are every bit as religious, and their crusades against the church are religiously motivated. They are not just nice people who want “equal rights.”
When you seek both sides to the argument, don’t treat the other side as simply the negation of church doctrine, but ask yourself what they would replace that teaching with. What is their solution? What is their fundamental ideology? In considering the feminist dogma that crusades against Joseph Smith for marrying that girl, and ask yourself why if secularists just want “the right to love” for gays, why do they oppose polygamy–the right to love. Do they truly want to give people the “right” to marry whomever they want? Ex-Mormons like to call themselves ex-religion, but it is impossible to go through life without believing in something, in your heart and in your head. They have an ideology, and there is a reason why they conceal it and refuse to talk about it openly.