Ask Mormon Girl: How should I teach tough aspects of Mormon history to my 14 year old Sunday School class?

Happy Monday, readers—and a quick programming note.  This Thursday, February 28, please join me at the Porch in Provo, Utah, for a fantastic night of storytelling on the theme “Good Girls Don’t.  . . “  Two shows, both benefitting the Feminist Mormon Housewives Tracy McKay Scholarship for Single Mothers.  It would be fantastic to see you there.

Now, to this week’s query:

I’m 27 and have been LDS all my life. I recently decided to educate myself on issues swept under the rug by the Church and I guess you could say I’m going through a faith transition. I’m currently in the process of learning about and reconciling our troubled history, but I still believe the gospel at its core is true. I teach Sunday School to a group of 14 and 15 year olds. They’re great kids with strong testimonies, but they regularly come to class regaling stories from the past week of what “crazy lies” their classmates confronted them with. Often these aren’t lies at all; they’re some of those troubling stories from early church history, or past doctrines. My students’ peers are researching the Church online, finding the most bizarre (but historically accurate) parts of our past and culture, and then reporting their findings. What can I say to my students when they bring them up in class? I personally think that these things should be discussed, but at what age? How much information should I give? So far all I’ve said is something about the gift of continuing revelation, and that no matter what wacky thing they’re approached with, if it hasn’t been taught recently, we don’t believe it.

I’m dreading the day one of my students asks, “Is it true that Joseph Smith married a girl my age?” No one ever told me the truth about these things, but then again I never asked because I had no idea. I don’t want to lie, but I don’t want to say too much, either.

Lots of readers are nodding their heads right now—for this is the story of the moment in Mormonism:  we are, one highly esteemed and lately emeritized General Authority said not so long ago, in the greatest period of membership attrition due to loss of belief since the Church’s tumultuous “Kirtland” era in the late 1830s.

The problem, folks say, is exactly as you put it:  the sanitized version of Mormon history taught in our post-correlation curriculum does not address controversial episodes from Mormonism’s very human past—including polygamy, conflicting accounts of origins of Mormon books of scripture, sources of temple practices, and doctrinal changes.  When young people, or middle-aged people, or older people are confronted with plain data that controverts what they’ve learned in Sunday School, the effects for some can be profoundly discouraging or destabilizing.  I’ve often heard the word “betrayal” used to describe the feeling.

Word has it that serious efforts have been underway within the institutional LDS Church to develop resources to better prepare and educate LDS people about controversial aspects of Mormon history.  We see a big step towards that in the Church’s release of the complete Joseph Smith papers http://josephsmithpapers.org/  How many members will dig deep enough to discover that, yes, Joseph Smith did marry at least 33 women, including fourteen year-old Helen Mar Kimball?  How many will hear the family business from the family before they hear it from strangers on the street, or even worse, from internet-savvy, Book of Mormon musical-listening peers in the high school lunch line?  Good clear curriculum on polygamy and other thorny issues can’t arrive soon enough.

But until it arrives?

A whole movement of bloggers and podcasters has grown up to fill the gaps.  Seriously heavy lifting has been taking place for years now at Mormon Stories and similar Mormon podcasts.  The Mormon Stories folks even developed a survey (non-scientific, but still statistically significant) to assess the impact of historical issues on membership attrition.  Find the data at whymormonsquestion.org.

I’ve written here at Ask Mormon Girl about how I personally process complex issues in Church history, but teaching is a more complicated question.   For until the Church provides better guidance what’s a humble Sunday School teacher of fourteen year-olds supposed to do?  Take the shock and awe approach?  Haul out the contemporary translations of the Book of Abraham and serve them up to the kids with some delicious rice krispy treats?  Or, rather, nod and smile and quietly worry that leaving such matters unaddressed is dishonest and potentially damaging?

Surely there must be a middle path, and I’m hoping the readers of this blog will chime in and help us move towards a collective articulation of that path.  Here’s my best shot:  the responsibility to teach young people the foundations and history of their religion is important—sacred, really. It entails serious trust with your ward and its families.  It sounds like you take that trust seriously.  I do too.  I don’t think a fourteen year-old Sunday School class is the place to be introducing the grocery list of the thorny issues in place of the regular curriculum. But I do think young people need to know that history and doctrine are complicated and should be treated with care and thoughtfulness.  Seeing models of care and thoughtfulness helps.  I think it’s possible to introduce the humanity and complexity of Church history—including doctrinal change and the human limits of earlier church leaders—by dealing directly with issues like the Church’s history on race.  Clear, solidly historical and non-sensationalized information on the history of Black priesthood ordination, its interruption, the growth of racist folk doctrine, and the revision of the policy on Black ordination in 1978 is a pretty good introductory course in Mormon complication.  From the general principle, bright minds will be able to infer some applications to other problems in Mormon history.  Let them lead the conversation.

Model an open and non-sensational approach to the tough stuff.  And if you manage to weather your own faith transition, when more hard questions come knocking, maybe you’ll be the one they stop in the church hallway for a sidebar.

That’s my best operating theory.  Readers, what’s yours?

Send your queries to askmormongirl@gmail.com, or follow @askmormongirl on Twitter. 

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83 Comments

Filed under joseph smith, polygamy

83 responses to “Ask Mormon Girl: How should I teach tough aspects of Mormon history to my 14 year old Sunday School class?

  1. Ted Olsen

    If you want to keep your job, just teach the party line. On the other hand, if yo really want to teach . . . .

    • Ted Olsen

      Having read the other responses and reconsidered my own glib little response above, I owe it to my better self to say something more:
      We don’t send our kids to Mormon Sunday School and wonder whether they are learning the catechism. There is a gulf between imparting knowledge and building testimony. Our Book of Mormon mythology tells us that the Church is the source of all truth. While there is much truth in every mythology, whether it be B. of M., Catholic transubstantiation or Calvinist total depravity, truth seekers are always wishing one would defer in using the “I know …” for the more modest, “I truly believe, and I truly think that what I believe is true.” But if those salad days ever appear, all of tofay’s truth seekers will have long gone to the bosom of Abraham.
      Here is my “sine qua non”: L.D.S. Sunday School does not exist for the practice of higher order thought–just as my personal home does not exist for you, dear reader, to enter and engage my family in the tedious catalog of my many failings.
      Mormon religion, with its unique webs of signification, has its own mythology, its own truth statements. Each religion is a parallel universe. To enter one is to leave the others behind, at least for the hour one spends in Sunday School. Knowledge and testimony, oil and water.

    • Cory

      I am currently the Gospel Doctrine teacher in my ward. I have the benefit of having been called by the bishopric in which my father serves and we talk very candidly about pretty much everything. So I don’t have to go into a class wondering if what I am going to say is going to get me fired. With that said, I have found that in my older, more experienced class, I can bring up pretty much any thing I want as long as I can source it credibly. I use “Rough Stone Rolling” by Richard Bushman, the LDS.org Church history site, the Joseph Smith Papers, etc. If I find a point that I would like to bring up that does not originate from one of these places, I try to find it there before saying anything. Don’t get me wrong, I am not bringing up huge laundry lists of craziness, but when something doesn’t make sense, I ask people to struggle with it a bit in class. I hope that little by little members will be open to history, have a reliable source for information, and know that the questions are really good ones that we can work on together, in broad daylight. For fourteen year-olds, I would hope they would come away from my class knowing that they can ask questions without having their testimonies or worthiness questioned.

  2. “Let them lead the conversation.” Amen to that. If girls in the class are bringing up these topics, then that is probably the time to address it. It would help if we had thoughtful, direct, materials to help with that.

  3. AMG writes “Surely there must be a middle path, and I’m hoping the readers of this blog will chime in and help us move towards a collective articulation of that path.” Ok, that is the hope, but will AMG also allow the articulation of other possible paths? One of the biggest problems in the history of LDS has been lack of transparency, the choice to spin the story to fit the audience. Why look for a middle path that goes half way to complete honesty? Why not go all the way to the path of telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? People (including children) can make their own choices about what to do about the truth, but choice is taken away from them to the extent that information is hidden. If children can be shown images of a mostly naked man nailed to a cross, surely there can be an age-appropriate way to tell them about Joseph Smith’s behavior.

  4. Don Sherwood

    When Elder Marlin Jensen visited our Stake he counseled to “not study church history too little”. I take this to mean we should not stop at the surface. It sounds like you have managed to create an atmosphere of trust and interest. A space where 14 year olds can feel safe in expressing their concerns and are willing to bring up “tough” topics. Congratulations are in order. I think that is 90% of the effort. Now you can did in deep. Explore these issues together. What a great thing for them to know you do not have all the answers but that you have the faith and confidence and testimony to tackle these issues head on.

  5. Mel Tungate

    If asked an honest question, give an honest answer. I would not bring up a laundry list of answers to questions 14 year olds have not asked, or would I ever give an apologists answer, or leave the question unanswered.

    In our ward, the adults couldn’t take the truth if it were handed to them gently on the Sacrament tray.

    Sign me: Old Guy Who Sits in Back ( and has said nothing for decades. )

  6. thejpearson

    Letting them lead to what they are curious about seems safest and most helpful. Follow their interests and don’t be afraid to say that you don’t know something, but are willing to find out and bring it back to them the next week. Also, not squishing their curiosity and giving them reliable places to get their own information is good.

  7. frenchiebabe

    My opinion is this: Ascertain their readiness to accept truth as it is. Ask them what they think about the history or “doctrine” introduced to them. Ask them how they would react if some of the faith challenging items were true. Encourage them to engage their Maker in these questions. For sure, talk with their parents about the questions raised, and encourage them to talk with their children. Be sure the parents also know the truth of the matter. Engage the Bishop about teaching the youth difficult truths in a way that can build faith and change rigidly held false beliefs. Maybe a fireside would be helpful in your ward by someone who is trusted, understands the issues, and still can build faith. Sweeping them under the rug only perpetuates misunderstanding and faith crises. Find the appropriate way to bring them to light. I wish you well in your efforts. Doing this on your own may create some conflict. Doing this in a concerted effort takes risk and liability off your shoulders and makes it a shared responsibility. I wish you well in your efforts.

    • DeAnna

      Wow. That’s a hard one. On the one hand, you don’t want to mislead these kids that are coming to you with sincere issues. On the other hand, you have been charged with teaching them gospel principles and specific topics, not to highlight all of the stumbling blocks a mature understanding of the church will illicit. When and if you do go off-track, it is my personal opinion it should be to bring a spiritual, uplifting message to the kids. I know if I were one of the parents of these kids I would feel quite strongly that you are overstepping your bounds as a Sunday School teacher if you go too far beyond a cursory acknowledgement of these issues.

      When my 19-yr-old son came to me with these concerns I was able to have deep, meaningful conversations with him. I was able to reassure him that it is possible to have a more sophisticated, complicated understanding of the gospel and still be a strong, righteous, member in good standing. I’m not sure if these conversations are appropriate at church on Sunday with a teacher…and with young kids that might not be ready to hear those things.

      Perhaps you can have a conversation with their parents…not like a serious sit down or anything, but an, “FYI…here are some of the concerns and questions coming up in class lately. We aren’t delving into them, but thought you might want to have a conversation with your son/daughter.”

      That’s my 2-cents.

  8. iharker

    I would say if the girls ask, answer honestly. Don’t let the whole lesson go down the rabbit hole, but don’t purposely hide things so they feel betrayed later. If the ward has a problem with it they will release you, but you Vann feel you did your best. If more teachers discuss these topics the church will have to deal with issues sooner than later. The faster they deal with these issues the less cases of youth reaching adulthood and then learning things that leave then feeling betrayed.

  9. I wonder how Catholics, Muslims, and other faiths teach their Sunday School about the troubling historical facts of their religion. Perhaps we can draw from them?

    IMO, the Church’s new “Come Follow Me” curriculum is MUCH better equipped to handle these types of inquiries from youth. Rather than relying on official manuals from CHQ, the youth and teacher together are encouraged to study and return to the class with answers to questions. Time can be spent as needed, even multiple class sessions, on topics that are of interest to the students.

    If I were teaching such a class, I’d acknowledge the question, respond based on what I knew/understood (hopefully adding some context and whetting their interest in learning more), I’d encourage the youth to study more, and then I’d talk to their parents after class so they could assist their young person – the parents might learn a thing or two themselves!

    I think there are plenty of resources to draw from that will allow a faithful examination of the troubling historical vignettes. However, we do have to remember that the class is specifically teaching doctrinal principles and not history. If every class period devolves into an uncomfortable or controversial history lesson, do we not miss the point of teaching the simple, Christian doctrines? Maybe we need a little more teaching in the style of the Sermon on the Mount and less of the style of the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes.

    My bigger question/concern is that will there be a Sunday School teacher, Sunday School presidency, and Bishopric overseeing these youth that will be willing and encouraging of these lines of inquiry, or will they be shut down, wholesale? I hope there is enough vision in the lay wards to allow and encourage honest, faithful inquiry.

  10. Matt

    I would take the conversation to the parents of your youth students. Explain the questions they are asking, thoughtfully point out the nuances of the real answers, and ask them how/if you should handle these things. My opinion is that parents have the trump card regarding what their kids’ church experience should be.

    As a teacher myself, who has delved into every imaginable topic of historical issues, I find the Sunday school environment wholly unsuited for these discussions. If someone brings something up, my line is this: “That is a legitimate topic. I know about it and am happy to discuss it – why don’t we talk in private after class?”

    • Theodocia

      Which is really just a very polite way of saying, “Shut up. The others don’t know that Santa didn’t really bring the presents.”

      • BrotherTim

        No, it’s a way to say “My responsibility is to teach everyone in this class the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and each of you is at a different level and has different needs, and that topic or question will not best serve everyone in this class at this time. BUT your inquiry is legitimate and I don’t want you to think otherwise, so let’s talk later about it.”

        It is also silly to think that it is a Sunday School teacher’s responsibility to teach the complete and nuanced Gospel in less than 50 minutes once a week. That is the purview of parents, in the home, where there is adequate time and opportunity.

      • Matt

        hahaha, mama always said I should be a diplomat!

        the santa metaphor is actually a really great analogy. in fact that was my comment on joanna’s FB post for this blog entry. not joking. I said it felt a bit like telling a kindergarten classroom there was no santa. True? Yes. Something the parents should have handled, or known about? In my opinion, yes.

      • Theodocia

        Thank you Matt, and I didn’t want to sound mean.
        God gives us the Christmas presents and we come up with our own unique explanations for how these marvelous gifts have arrived under our local tree.

        Theo

  11. There are tons of “thoughtful, direct materials.” They may need to be simplified or shortened for teens’ comprehension level and attention span, but the stuff is out there. Start with Matt Bowman’s _The Mormon People_, try Richard Bushman’s _Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism_, Arrington’s BY bio, Claudia Bushman’s _Mormon Sisters_, Mauss’ _The Angel and the Beehive_, Greg Prince’s David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism_, Sisters of Covenant (from Deseret Book, even!), Sisters in Spirit, Teryl Givens’ By the Hand of Mormon, and his and Fiona’s The God Who Weeps. It is hard work to read and master this stuff so that you can teach it to your kids, but the problem is not that there’s nothing honest and faithful out there.

  12. My favorite part of the book East of Eden is when Lee’s father told him the horrific story of how his mother died: “his mother went into labor early, while still in the camp; the men then discovered she was a woman and, behaving as animals, did unspeakable things to her. When Lee’s father found her she was dying, and by her request he clawed her stomach open with his bare hands and delivered the baby.” Then Lee recounts:

    “And when my father would tell me [the story] I would say to him, ‘Get to that lake–get my mother there–don’t let it happen again, not this time. Just once let’s tell it: how you got to the lake and built a house of fir boughs.’ And my father became very Chinese then. He said, ‘There’s more beauty in the truth even if it is a dreadful beauty. The storytellers at the city gate twist life so that it looks sweet to the lazy and the stupid and the weak, and this only strengthens their infirmities and teaches nothing, cures nothing, nor does it let the heart soar.”

  13. The older I become, the less tolerant I am of religious lies, no matter how noble the intention. “Betrayal” is a kind word to describe the feeling one has when discovering that people trusted to lead into truth were in fact offering one deception after another. I am a United Methodist pastor, not Mormon, and know that many religious traditions tend to whitewash uncomfortably historical facts. This was possible before the information age. It is no longer possible, thanks be to God.

    If Mormonism cannot stand up to the truth, then it must acknowledge it and fade away. If truth will only be told after a person has already made a commitment to the system, then you have a system no better than Scientology, http://christythomas.com/2013/01/29/lawrence-wright-going-clear-scientology-hollywood-and-the-prison-of-belief/.

    Truth sets us free. It always has and always will. Lies imprison. Surely your youth deserve better than that.

  14. I had an seventh grade atheist Utah Studies teacher who was not afraid to teach us about the reality of the Mormon history within Utah. When I first heard about the Mountain Meadow Massacre I could barely believe him but he was one of my all time favorite teachers so I couldn’t help but believe him (he was not mean about the whole thing, he just taught it the way a history teacher should). Mormons were/are not all perfect, some did and do bad things. That’s not a bad lesson to learn. But I learned about each “thorny” issue separately and I had great parents that simply acknowledged the truth without saying much, letting me assimilate it and come to my own conclusions.

    As a teacher in the church, I’m not sure all parents will appreciate you being very frank with their kids but there is definitely nothing wrong with answering questions. They may not need all the gritty details yet, but they should at least have an idea of the history of their own church. If they ask about the blacks and priesthood, they should be able to know that when Joseph Smith was prophet, he gave it to the blacks and then Brigham Young reversed it later only to have his words reversed so many years later. Denying that these inconsistencies exist wont do teenagers any good in the long run. I wish we had better resources than the internet to investigate these issues. Reading Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Lyman Bushman was a little overwhelming because of all the grit I didn’t discover beforehand but I’m sure a good, honest teacher will be good for them.

  15. rah

    I think it is very powerful as a teacher for this age group to couch things in terms of the variety of beliefs that Mormons hold. “Some Mormons believe that the dark skin in the Book of Mormon was a wrong belief of the Nephites and not the work of God. Some Mormons believe that God did cause the dark skin but that we shouldn’t take that as a sign of spiritual weakness. What we all agree on today is that being racist in any way is not in harmony with the gospel.”

    “Polygamy is a tough issue and active members believe many different things about it. Most believe that it was commanded of God, some believe that it was a mistake made by Joseph Smith. Some believe there will be polygamy in heaven others believe that there will not. Regarless of what you believe you can be a strong, active member of the church. This would be a good thing to ask your parents about how they make sense of it.”

    By showing and validating a variety of beliefs about the sticky topic, not only does a teacher cover thier own butt, it brings acknowledgement to basic facts and opens them up to the idea that complexity doesn’t need to be shied away from. I also agree with the idea that in general, unless cleared with the leadership/parents in advance, that teachers shouldn’t go out of their way to present potentially troubling issues. However, they should feel comfortable addressing them when brought up by students. At very least a teacher can say. “Yes I know about X but I am not prepared to teach everyone about that today. However, you deserve an answer let me talk to the bishop and see if we can find a time to discuss it with you guys if you are interested.”

    So many different ways of approaching this ore productively than trying to ignore it. It shoud be a team effort involving the teacher, SS president, bishop and parents.

    • Jiggs Casey

      “Some Mormons believe this, some Mormons believe that.” What a wishy washy answer. It’s a cop-out that relieves “the Church” of all responsibility for this troubled history. The “Church” aka Church leaders — always try to shove the troublesome things off on the members, and you are doing it, too. The problem is that Church leaders, including prophets, DID teach and practice polygamy and called it ordained of God, Church leaders DID teach doctrines that we now consider racist, and they called them ordained of God. THAT’s the problem – when you find out these things, it’s not disturbing because “some Mormons” believed them, it is because they were CHURCH PRACTICE – this Church is led by a prophet, and when the prophet has spoken, it’s the Lord’s will. Or so we have been taught – is that not really the way it’s supposed to be? Of course, now all we have left is an old man spouting homilies that could not offend anyone (Be Smart, Be Clean, etc. and “back when I was bishop and we had 80 widows in my ward,” etc.) so there will certainly be no offensive history made any time soon.

  16. seya

    http://bycommonconsent.com/2013/02/23/inoculation-anti-mormonism-and-me/ BCC is having a timely discussion about this. My feeling? Tell them. Tell them tell them tell them. Even if all you can do is acknowledge that, in fact, some of those ‘crazy lies’ are true and admit that you don’t know more but let’s find out, it’s a start. “Let them lead the conversation” is the best motto, and not surprisingly the underlying theme of the new youth curriculum. Start early!

  17. Vinniecat

    It’s like letting your kids lear about sex from their friends in the locker room – kids are talking about it so we need to arm them with good information. I’d suggest having your students write down the questions they have and try to tackle one (or a portion of one) a week. I think some of the less-known topics might be easier to digest a little at a time.

  18. Mae

    I think this is one of the things the new curriculum is allowing for, whether intended or not. These are things we are being confronted with more and more. I’ve had to make a few “folklore vs. doctrine” clarifications in my youth Sunday School class already this year. Try not the shy away from the questions, and answer them as honestly as you can without going off on a tangent or soapbox. Our youth are smart kids – they can figure a lot of things out with minimal guidance. Ask your bishopric and/or other youth leaders to join the class sometimes – not only to perhaps add to the discussion, but also be aware of what the youth hear and talk about. And, of course, you can always say, “I don’t know. Why don’t we ponder that this week and come back to it?”

  19. It was a different time with different norms. I think you can totally approach the topic if you do it in a reasonable way. fairmormon.org (which you don’t note above) does a good job approaching the topic. The last thing you should do is approach the topic as if the social standards of marriage today matched what they did over 150 years ago. Marriage norms don’t even match what they did 10 years ago in our society.

    http://en.fairmormon.org/Polygamy_book/Age_of_wives

    • Danny

      I couldn’t agree more with Kyle. Different times, with different cultural standards, bring different ideas, beliefs, and teachings.

      When these topics come up in my class, I always resort to two basic beliefs that I have about God, the gospel, and the people trying to live it. First, and foremost, I adopt the position and belief that I am a little-brain. I stole this from Albert Brooks in the movie “Defending Your Life” and embrace it wholeheartedly. The basic tenant is that, as humans, we use such a small portion of our brains and, I have added, have such a limited understanding of eternity and omniscience, that we can’t possible fully understand God, so, grounded in this belief, it is impossible to understand why some things happened, were allowed to be taught, or were caused by people of faith in the past.

      This leads directly to my second position and belief: While the fullness of Gospel and God are eternal and unchanging, what God gives and even expects of his people changes. No one can possible look at teachings and beliefs of the bible and not see that there is constant and consistent change. Does this mean that the Gospel has changed or that what is expected of those trying to live it has changed? I believe in the latter rather than the former.

      I take great comfort in the weaknesses and foibles of the prophets and leaders of the old and new testament. I rejoice in them because they reveal their humanness. When questions arise about the troubles and wrongs of our more recent views of the gospel, I try to draw correlations with the troubles and wrongs of the past and how, as the children of earth grow and change, God gives more to them because they are able to handle it. Frankly, I wish that we would learn more about these apparent conflicts with the Gospel as we view it today and recognize that all church leaders are subject to the cultural morays ideals. I lament that our current leaders are portrayed only in their more perfect light–they appear to be so much less like me because I never learn about their mistakes.

      Rome wasn’t built in a day nor was it built without trail and error.and neither is the kingdom of God. After all, in comparison to God, we are all little-brains trying to understand the infinite and eternal both of which are, in my opinion, unknowable by any human–let alone me.

      • Jamminman

        I also agree with Kyle. Often we look at historical events with our modern sensibilities, such as marriage age. I think if most of us, members or not, look back a few generations, we’ll find lot’s of young teenage brides. It was legal in Texas to be married at 14 with parental permission until the Texans changed their laws to have a reason to go after the Yearning for Zion folks. Even polygamy has a historical reference and monogamy is a relatively recent issue enough to generate interest even outside of the Church (http://blog.tedx.com/post/24982144791/the-surprising-history-of-monogamy-kyle-harper – although he is a bit misinformed about the Church – would be more accurate to say Mormon movement). In the US, polygamy was one of the items used to demonize the Mormons, particularly in slave states where people were concerned we might change the political climate (funny, that’s a big part of the YFZ issue as well).
        I think the answer is to answer accurately to your level of knowledge, and discuss the cultural context of the time. I don’t think that you need to make a big deal about it (run to parents, or schedule the “troubled Mormon history” fireside). If anything, that causes it to gain much more attention and is really pretty much a distraction. We discuss what we know, encourage thoughtful research, and study and prayer.

    • I think fairmormon.org is an apologist site. An apologist will tell you how to reconcile your beliefs, after you have already decided that you want to believe them.

  20. Well said, Joanna. I think these discussions about addressing the difficulties of the church’s past often leave out a key element: The instability and “betrayal” felt is just as strong over the anger of not being told the whole truth. The loss of trust is therefore two-fold, split between the past and the present: Joseph Smith isn’t what I was told, and those responsible for teaching me kept this hidden. An all-too common phrase is “I was lied to” and there’s a very real sense of “if we’re the true church, what are they afraid of?”

    I would argue that any conversation about the “real history” needs to be accompanied with a frank discussion about the role and limitations of modern leaders. Is it an apostle’s job to know every nook and cranny of church history? Should the prophet be able to rattle off all of Joseph’s wives? The real role is to pastor; their time is spent traveling, ministering, and administrating. Correlation is a well-intended program that has had unfortunate unintended consequences. If people understand that they weren’t lied to, but that this is just the limitation and imperfect result of trying to run a worldwide church, I think that softens the blow.

  21. John Swenson Harvey

    I would have only one quibble with the original question; it is that much of the information the students’ friends are finding on the web is unlikely to be accurate. People grinding an axe present stuff in the worst possible light and they often mix, match, and heavily edit quotes and sources. That said there are of course very serious issues which are traditionally ignored by Church leadership, or sanitized. A different approach has to found.

    While it will sound very dogmatic to some who will read this in the end (for me) the key issue is whether the Church as an organization is recognized by God as being what it claims to be. If it is then I can/have to “deal with” the awful historical facts. Such facts/events/doctrines don’t invalidate the Restoration, they simply confirm that while the Gospel is cable of making people better it is not capable of making them perfect.

    If the Church is not what it claims to be then figuring these issues out doesn’t really matter. If it is the case that the Church itself is a fraud then the larger question is raised (which Joseph addressed at the start of the Restoration process): Is any true path available? If the LDS Church is not that true path, then I serious doubt such a path exists.

    For me a big part of dealing with troublesome/awful past events and doctrines is simply admitting they occurred, admitting we were wrong, and understanding that we are closer to getting the issues correct now. I quite like Elder McConkie’s post 1978 statement on the Blacks and the priesthood about the validity of his and others’ past statements on the subject.
    “There are statements in our literature by the early brethren which we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would not receive the priesthood in mortality. I have said the same things, and people write me letters and say, “You said such and such, and how is it now that we do such and such?” And all I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet.

    Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world….

    We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more…. It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year.”

    Fessing up that we were wrong is a good start.

    For the teacher I would suggest dealing with the issues the students raise directly, stressing the role of continuing revelation as the way God helps the Church get things correct over time. God has to work with whatever people he has available. Looking at the time of the Restoration it is doubtful it could have happened any more than a few years earlier or later. As it was the US nearly stamped it out of existence (i.e., the country nearly failed to live up to the main reason for its existence in an eternal sense). Given that the restoration had to happen when it did, God used the people available, they had a lot of biases and tendencies which were not compatible with the Gospel, but they made progress and fulfilled their critical parts of the process. But they also implemented some policies and practices which we now know were abhorrent.

    • Matt

      These are fair comments. To me there is just one thing that makes this argument problematic. The church says “The Church is perfect, but the people aren’t.” But this is entirely incompatible with the real-world implementation of the church. What does it mean to follow the prophet, “he knows the way?” What did Benson mean when he spoke about 14 fundamentals of following the prophet? Any honest person has to recognize that blind faith, indeed, is the way of modern Mormonism.

      When Brigham implemented the racist practice of denying Blacks the priesthood – was he speaking as a man or prophet? When they taught in conference that birth control is evil, were they speaking as men or prophets? Can someone get these guys a special necktie, or beanie to wear, or something so we know when they’re speaking as a prophet so we don’t get confused? Because the pulpit at conference has not proven to be the right threshold.

      If they got the priesthood ban wrong for all those decades, then they could be getting something wrong today. It could be something huge. I’m sure the ban was very huge for all those Blacks for all those years.

      • John S. Harvey

        RE: Matt

        I’m not trying to maintain the Church is perfect, only that it is recognized as the valid organization at the present time. For reasons I don’t understand God doesn’t intervene as often as we (most of us anyway) would like. And the interventions which do happen seem to be based on a very different priority system than we might like. I believe one factor in that process that the peoples’ biases apparently heavily influence the possible interventions most of the time.

        While a special tie (to denote actual revelation) would be nice, I think what we are left with is we have to earnestly strive to receive personal inspiration (either confirming what the leaders say or moving beyond it). For example given that Joseph Smith had black men ordained and used one of them (Elijah Abel – elder by Joseph himself and later a seventy) as a traveling elder (sort of like an area seventy today) and another as a branch president (I believe this was Walker Lewis, but I’m not positive) it is clear that the Restoration got that particular doctrine correct and then Brigham Young messed it up. Unfortunately due to the significant prejudices of the time once Brigham turned the ship off course it did take until 1978 before it got fixed. Was that because God didn’t try? I don’t think so, the Church did hold several special investigations to try to determine if a revelation on the matter had ever even been received and several of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve spoke out strongly against the ban in the *early* 1900s. The investigation (conducted by the Quorum of the Twelve) found no revelation had ever been received or recorded denying the Blacks the priesthood. Yet the false doctrine was not overturned. The matter was complicated because Zebedee Coltrin (a general authority) falsely testified before the Quorum regarding Joseph’s statements and actions. What we are left with in that case is that God and Joseph got it correct, and Brigham and successive leader got it wrong – but eventually it got fixed.

        During the entire time of the ban there were members who knew it was wrong. For example, growing up in the Church prior to the lifting of the ban (I was born in 1961) I asked my parents about it and they testified that it not a true doctrine and expressed their belief that it would soon be reversed. Luckily they were correct.

      • Jamminman

        I generally agree with John Swenson Harvey as well, but also take exception to the “The Church is perfect, but the people aren’t” but for a different reason. I disagree with the suggestion that doctrine has changed because it was in error. In some cases it may be, but the very point of a living prophet is that we can get changes based on current needs. There have often been events that would seem to disagree with prevailing thought (for example the killing of Laban) but God directed it for His purposes. The problem is that we really don’t know why all the time. We don’t get the angel telling us that it is better one man should die so that a nation might not dwindle in unbelief.
        In the end, we just really need to validate one thing – is the Church true or not? The answer can only come from personal revelation. If it is, then the “troubling” history is just that. It’s good to know and be aware of, but dwelling on it does little to guide our actions or lead us to the Celestial Kingdom.

      • Rob

        I have a couple things to observe, Matt. First of all, I feel like the idea that the church is perfect is a fallacy. I think the idea is more along the lines of the ‘gospel’ of faith, repentance, baptism and gift of the h.g., being rather the perfect thing, in that it’s all that is required to return to the presence of God. Saying the organization is perfect automatically assumes it will never change, when clearly it changes all the time.
        Second, there is another problematic assumption that is systemic within certain mindsets among the membership of the church that involves placing the responsibility for gaining a testimony on someone other than the actual testimony seeking individual. Usually, the church is errantly saddled with that responsibility. Instead, with a worldwide membership of several million relatively unique individuals, latter-day saints should secure a personal system with God for validating true principles and doctrines in their own lives according to their individual needs. The church can help, but it’s not up to the church or it’s leaders to bear that weight. Such pursuits are a godly responsibility given to us a children of God, that we alone will answer for.

        As for the original topic, we don’t know all the answers to life’s difficult questions. That is why faith is required, but we should never seek to cover the truth, nor should we be hasty about what we call ‘truth’. There are many great comments in this thread. I suspect a surprise ending to a lot of these issues, that will satisfy every honest seeker of truth, in the end. In the meantime, we really should have more confidence in our redeemer. <– this is not a dogmatic comment, take it where you will.

    • You are starting from the assumption that because Mormonism is true (has to be) there is a reasonable explanation to follow.

      Spirituality isn’t unique to Mormons, and it doesn’t cease with leaving the church.

      What if of all these things considered, the papyri, the Adam Cain doctrine, the polygamy, the anti-feminism, and homophobia are actually the sins? What if God is offended that we believe these things were of him? What if the final question isn’t, “Did you follow my Prophet Joseph?” but rather, “Why did you ever think Joseph was my Prophet?”

      I don’t mean to tell you that you are wrong. I am offering a different point of view. For me, leaving the church was because of my love of, and the love I had felt from God. I believe God is of these things. I believe God is of love.

      • Matt

        Lydia – Wonderful set of observations, and you are actually hitting the bullseye of my point. If I reverse your opening statement, I get something like this: If there is no reasonable explanation, is Mormonism true? (would you be surprised to know this question haunts me?)

        Like you, I have decided my journey is not held hostage by a bunch of dudes with an erratic track record. Personally, I have decided not to make any major changes. I am still active, with a calling etc. I just like it! and I really like being with the people most of the time. But I also really love going to mass in a cathedral. And I get as much spirituality out of the great music of the world as I do out of the 3 hr block. Or watching waves at the beach. Or sitting with my 2yr old, just us, looking into each others’ eyes and talking gibberish.

        All the best to you, and with all my heart let me say I support you in your decision to pursue your own path! I know you can find success and joy, and you probably already have!

      • broberts

        In response to John S Harvey’s comments; if we have a living prophet on the earth who can never lead the church members astray then how do you account for the blacks not being allowed to hold the priesthood for 150 years?? If it was not God’s will then why didn’t he give any of the prophets post Brigham Young, a revelation that the ban was to be lifted,especially when there was at one point an investigation into the matter led by the Quorum of the Twelve?? You said “God and Joseph got it correct but Brigham and successive leaders got it wrong-but eventually it got fixed.” Seems to me that God might have wanted to “fix” the mistake much sooner as supposedly people’s eternal salvation were at stake.If this is a church of modern revelation as it claims to be then why would God allow the priesthood to be with-held from so many people, for so long just because of one man’s racist beliefs?? The only logical answer for me is that maybe the church is not all it claims to be!

    • Matt

      Guys this is really good discourse. And healthy!

      Since I can’t reply individually at this nesting level, it’s all coming at once.

      John S Harvey: I think you worded it very well when you said, “valid organization at the time.” In fact, I think we are on the same page for most of these issues.

      McConkie’s post-ban response, for me personally, is hugely destructive. Aside from its arrogant tone, it simply ignores the main problem. The prophets weren’t just enforcing a temporary policy, they were falsely teaching a principle as if it were an eternal truth. If they had been saying, “the ban is here, but we have NO CLUE why. We keep asking, but the answer is continually, Trust in My ways, but the ban will end when the time is right” or something along those lines, then BRM is justified. But as it is, he is commanding members to NOT CARE that he and decades of GA’s taught false doctrine. They taught it as doctrine. Is truth eternal? Is it independent of that sphere in which it is placed? For some, his response works. That is great. For me, it just compounds the complexity of caring about the opinion of a man who said face cards are of the devil.

      If other members, and other GA’s, knew the ban was wrong, then God put the wrong people in positions of authority. it just doesn’t lead toward faith in the system.

      Anyway, I appreciate your perspective and hope there are a ton of other members of the same mindset.

      Jamminman: I am fully supportive of a faithful perspective on the church changing. I think where we don’t line up is our definition of doctrine. If truth is truth, then it is truth. Priesthood ban was taught as if it was a doctrine based on a truth. It was taught as one of the unchanging things. I am not suggesting it shouldn’t have changed. Rather, I am saying it seriously undermines the credibility of the brethren on other topics which they currently teach as unchanging truth. Gay marriage, for example. Maybe in a few decades Bruce R McConkie’s great grandson will issue a similar response denouncing everything that has ever been said about gays. But what about all the energy and resources we pumped into Prop 8 and denying the right of marriage to everyone…when it was not based on truth? That’s where things get tricky I think.

      But anyway, you make great points that I hope a lot of people will think about.

      Rob: brother I am with you. I love your perspective and embrace it myself. it is my experience that our philosophy makes us outcasts. It makes it hard for me to answer some of the loyalty questions we face every two years.

  22. Carrie

    I’m 26, I love religious history (of all religions, not just Mormons) and I also just got a youth teaching calling. (I’ve been substitute teaching the youth a lot, already.) I tease the Bishop that I usually ignore the manuals and he risks me teaching “heresy” every day to the teenagers, and he just laughs. I’m blessed to have him be so supportive. (It helps that the teenagers have told the Bishop and their parents that they love me).

    So my best advice is if they’re asking, they are ready to hear and need the truth. They’re craving the truth. They’ve already, at 14, learned what the “Sunday School” answers are, and are getting bored with normal lessons. I vividly remember encountering the “God had physical sex with Mary to conceive Jesus” doctrine when I was 14, and having it hugely shake me — and yet I felt like I had no one to ask about it. You can be the person they ask!

    If you slowly introduce him to the depths of our history, they’ll be fascinated. It may shake them up, yes, but it’s better to be shaken now when they’re surrounded by an amazing network upon which to strengthen their testimony. And they’ll be armed with more information in discussions with their peers. You can frame the discussion to be ultimately faith-affirming.

    The best approach I have found it to emphasize, repeatedly, individual fallability. Maybe you can start with more innocuous anecdotes. (e.g. Marjorie Hinckley’s line, when someone asked her what it was like being married to the Prophet, and she responded with (I’m paraphrasing) “It’s no different than being married to a non-Prophet. He still leaves his wet towels on the floor and forgets to put his socks in the laundry.” )

    Once you’ve established that prophets/apostles are human, than you can start showing evidence of times they’ve argued with or directly contradicted each other. (See the evolution debates of the 1920s-30s, or the blacks and the priesthood history).

    You can use those debates to show that as great as a lot of Mormon doctrine is, we don’t know nearly as much as we are taught to believe / sometimes pretend we do. Quote the 9th Article of Faith. (“We believe …that God will yet reveal many important things….”) Expressly point out gaps in our knowledge / our imperfections.

    And once you’ve established that foundation, you can start tackling the difficult subjects head-on. Maybe intersperse your lessons so that one day you talk about the hard stuff, and the next week you emphasize a deeply faith-affirming story from history that’s not in the normal manuals. If you make yourself the source of new and interesting things — both the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ — the teenagers will eat it up.

    And don’t forget to bring cookies.

  23. Garth

    I had the opportunity to teach in the Teachers Quorum, also 14-15 yr old youth. When hard questions were asked I never sugar coated it. It did get to the point where a member of the Bishopric pulled me aside and told me that I shouldn’t be telling “the boys” those things. I responded that it was better to have them feel comfortable enough to ask these tough questions, and have them answered in a “safe” environment, where they can be answered honestly by people who still believed in the prophetic calling of those men, than for them to find the “real answer” all alone on the Internet one day, and have these things shake or destroy their testimonies.
    I continued to teach for three and a half years, true the bishopric member attended every meeting and occasionally expressed concern about the information (usually on subjects he wasn’t aware of), but I never stopped treating the questions that were raised honestly and openly.

  24. There are facts and then there is the meaning we attach to the facts. The facts cannot be “whitewashed” else they become lies, no? The care and thoughtfulness that’s important is we help assign meaning to those facts. Our job is to help them find the meaning framed in faithfulness and respect.

  25. I feel very happy that you are asking this question. When I was losing my faith (full disclosure, after I discovered these things, I decided that they weren’t of God, but I still care very much about my Mormon friends and family) this was not the case. My mother told me that its better to set an example, and hide information, than it is to disclose. I hope the Mormon church is moving past this.

    I have asked myself many times, could my faith have been saved had I not been “betrayed?” It is quite possible. But, its also possible that others would have fallen away, even though I would have stayed. I am not sure which approach will yield the highest retention.

    Growing up, I had this quote credited to Joseph Smith, but its actually Luke, “What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.” I do believe that Joseph Smith felt a kinship with these passage however.

    But you could just go with Boyd K Packer’s recommendations in “The Mantle is Far Far Greater than the Intellect.”

    Bottom line, the truth is out there, and people will find it. It is probably better coming from you, than the internet. The quip, “Don’t ask a plumber an electrician question” meaning don’t get your Mormon information from a non or ex Mormon doesn’t hold water for very long against the power of the internet. The truth IS out there, and people WILL find it. Wouldn’t it be better coming from you?

    Furthermore, the culture of secrecy is very damaging to the victims. Too often, in an effort to talk about faith promoting things, as counseled by Boyd K Packer, we hide abuse.

    Truth has a way of breaking free… it only damages you to hide it longer.

  26. I don’t think I’ve ever been lied to about Church history intentionally. There are a lot of people – myself included – who have just never heard all of the messy details of early Church history. When we hear something that doesn’t seem to fit with what we’ve been taught, our first (very natural) instinct is to deny it. Perhaps the first step in this process is to try to get out of that habit. In any case, I think there are several questions we can ask about any historical claim, whether it is true or not, or whether it is debatable, that will help us grapple with these issues in the light of faith.

    1. What is the context? What were the social norms of the time? What was the political environment? What was going on in the Church?
    2. Why is this contrary to our expectations? Do we imagine Joseph Smith was perfect? What do we know now that influences our perception of this event?
    3. What were the consequences of this event? Was anyone harmed? Was faith increased? Were there new practices implemented or doctrines received? Was a lesson learned?
    4. Can we give them the benefit of the doubt? They were often forging ahead into unknown territory. When it “is not meet that ye should be commanded in all things,” could their missteps have been motivated of a desire to do good?
    5. Does this have any impact on the foundation of MY testimony? Do I believe in the Gospel because of the evidence of the historical record, or because of something more personal? Can we just chalk this up to the imperfections of men and move on?

    The people who were key figures in Church history were still people. Just like we all are. There are a lot of unfortunate facts about the Church today that are in some ways just as troubling – we just tend to understand them better. However, these questions can be applied to modern issues as well. Why is there such a large population on anti-depressants in Utah? How could so-and-so have become a bishop? This is a Church made up of imperfect people trying to be better. Often it really is just a matter of accepting our imperfections, trying to learn from them and moving on.

    • Jamminman

      Logical – I like your comments. I agree with you. The other thing that we often forget is that history is exactly that “his story” – it’s always from a point of view rather than facts. Often, we can only guess as the real facts are long gone and virtually impossible to determine. So many stories are told or recorded to illustrate some point, so the accuracy becomes secondary to the principle. The story may not really change but the emphasis might. We can think of this as lying or betrayal, but that is a misrepresentation.
      For example, I find it hard to believe that people learn about Joseph Smith’s polygamy and feel upset by that. As much as polygamy is in in your face issue with the Church, how can you be surprised that Joseph Smith participated in it?

  27. mike

    I would have the kids write down their questions, and then ask for a meeting of the male and female leadership in the ward, and ask them all to address those questions in a ME lead discussion. I would most definitely NOT answer any questions that I felt had “controversial” or “white washed” answers without some guidance from my peers, because hey, what if my answers are actually based on lies?

    I really would like to know where the idea of white washing Mormon history has come from, why so many do not believe the Prophet can lead the church under Heavenly Father’s direction, why so many people think Heavenly Father would allow his church to be lead by false leadership and not let the rest of us in on it, and what proof there is of all of these things?

    In spite of what it sounds like, I am not here to get into any arguments with anyone, or to cause contention. If you think I’m a stupid brainwashed sheep, I’m okay with that. I won’t get into any, “I’m right and you’re wrong,” arguments with anyone, because that’s not what I’m here for. I really just want to know what motivates so many. Thanks. :)

  28. Steve

    I have come across many revisions of the history of the church in my thirty years there. The more I looked into the history the more I found. As time went on the cover ups got worse and more frequent. I have a number of historical church books they wont acknowledge any more. Try to get your hands on an original copy of the Journal of Discourses. When GAs state things as facts and you question them you get “They don’t speak for the church.” and “That’s their own opinion”, Why do I bother listening to them in the first place? Just what on earth is official church policy? People will testify to the truth of whatever is going around until something else comes up. It breaks my heart, but it’s time to move on.

    • When I was twelve, I was sure of some things. When I was sixteen, I was sure of different things – a revised version. When I was twenty I thought for sure I was on solid ground with my opinions. When I was twenty-six I shook my head at my naivete at twenty. Now at thirty-five I see how wrong I have been about so many things in life. But God has been there the whole time, whispering in my ear, orchestrating me to meet her, read that, listen to this…
      Such is the nature of progression, no?

      • Steve

        This church was supposed to be a restoration of the old church. Restoration, not a modification. How many times were doctrines changed or even misunderstood in the original church? When Paul gave his opinion an said it was such. Paul understood the sin of slavery yet almost two thousand years later the restored church is all for it. So much for “progression”. Doesn’t it seem logical that the restored church would be ahead of the curve instead of the last one to catch up?
        I have recently gone through countless blogs from church members who have taken the position that a GA’s statement must be taken with a shovel of salt. Imagine saying that about a biblical prophet. Certain issues are not a matter of progression. They are right or wrong. If a prophet gets it wrong, what does that tell you?
        “By their fruits ye shall know them”

      • Matt

        Sure. But at twelve, were you standing in front of millions of people who believed you spoke for God, and were they bearing testimony of your calling as a prophet?

        What you are suggesting is that the reason things change in the church is because they’re just a bunch of dudes doing the best they can with what they’ve got. And that’s probably the truest thing I’ve heard or seen in a long time. But self-awareness of that reality would, I think, soften their approach with all the “one true church” dogma.

  29. Adrienne

    Growing up in a small ward in the church, my friends and I all knew that a lot of our lessons were ‘The Gospel according to ‘, whomever was teaching at the time. Everyone understands church doctrine and history differently. I was hearing about much of the church history at a young age, not because i had questions, but because i had someone who was talking bad about the church and saying I should fall away. If I had a teacher that I knew would have answered my questions and not swept it under the rug, I would have asked. I say if the students ask, be honest and answer them. Yes the time is for learning about church doctrine and principle, however, how can one fully understand with out learning the history behind it? Perhaps have the parents sit in on a class with you and the students, That way they know you don’t have the answers, and you’re not saying this is the gospel according to you. Encourage the parents and students to do their own research, that way they can discuss this together, and also encourage them to pray about the history they are learning. Through the power of prayer will they know if what they are being taught is truth or not. That is what Joseph Smith did, he had questions, he prayed, and got his answers. Perhaps praying yourself, and talking with Heavenly Father will help as well. He is there, and will help you with your decision, and guide your words with your students, the parents, and even the bishopric if need be.

  30. Connie

    The SS class is your calling, the Bishop and others trust you to Teach…. So, do it. Stop worrying about what others think, start thinking about arming the kids in ur class with correct and truthful information. The truth behind our church history encompasses the human factor and human error. Big deal! All church’s have drama they’re not proud of…. Additionally, Every family has the same.
    Research & educate yourself, teach your kids to seek truth… No matter how uncomfortable. If you don’t,,someone else will…and maybe they’ll have an outside agenda. Are you preparing them to be followers or leaders?
    “Do ur duty with a heart full of song” (-: You will open a few cans of worms,,, so what, they’re on the road to being adults and arming them with information is the key~

  31. I come from a rather “orthodox” family and grew up in likewise orthodox wards in Southern California, so I love this question. It gets at the real heart of faith. Do we have faith in the Church as a social institution or do we have faith in the Gospel, which relies on the Church to administer ordinances and provide avenues for spiritual growth. Recently, my father was visiting from out of town and picked up my copy of The New Mormon History and asked what it was about. I answered that New History is an approach to history that takes the “official” story and scrutinizes them with the hope of getting a more rounded sense of phenomena. He didn’t like the explanation.

    Unfortunately, too many of us in the Church mistake loyalty for an unquestioning attitude/stance. Holy cow, is that unhealthy! To only acknowledge the “official” party line is to set oneself up for disappointment and disenchantment. The early Church leaders never made any claim to infallibility. On the contrary, as I read more about the early prophets and apostles, I find that many had a good sense of their limitations and expressed hope at growing in their Gospel service. So, why do so many Mormons act as if questioning a policy of Brigham Young or questioning how the Church handled the issue of polygamy is to slay a sacred cow?

    We as individuals need to give each other the chance to develop as followers of Christ–in my mind, I’m hearing the great line from the Rush song, “Entre Nous”:

    Just between us
    I think it’s time for us to recognize
    The differences we sometimes fear to show
    Just between us
    I think it’s time for us to realize
    The spaces in between
    Leave room for you and I to grow

    I don’t think the Lord expects perfection from us as individuals and I don’t think we should expect it of an institution either. Again, as long as we’re expecting the Church to be a city of gold, we will be disappointed and set ourselves up for disenchantment or deception.

    • Steve

      “I have never preached a sermon and sent it out to the children of men, that they may not call scripture.”
      – Prophet Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, v. 13, p. 9

      So “the blacks should be slaves” is scripture.

      “Just a few scant days before his martyrdom, Joseph affirmed:
      ‘I never told you I was perfect; but there is no error in the revelations which I have taught. Must I, then, be thrown away as a thing of naught?’”

      – The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 368
      Except the Canadian revelation and a few others, or so he said.
      Is it too much to expect a revelation to be identified as such? Rather they let us assume certain statements are. And shouldn’t a revelation be correct and endure for a few centuries at least like they used to in the bible?

  32. Karen

    The role of a teacher and the meaning of education is to draw out, not put in. One of the greatest principles of teaching, put in another way, is you can’t teach anything only allow the student to discover it for themselves. Einstein and others all have shared this view. So that’s my advice. Allow your students to discover things for themselves. These are lessons they will learn forever. Don’t give the answers, tell them, it is their role to work out these things for themselves. And I say this as someone whose left after 37 years because of church history – I still believe that faith is a personal journey and every human being has to learn and decide what they think about these things for themselves. Some can cope with the issues, others cannot. In the end we are our own truth. Your students faith is their responsibility and not yours. Do the best you can, follow your instincts, allow discussion and debate but always hand it back to the student. It’s their job to think for themselves. Good luck – the fact that you are asking this question shows you are a special, caring teacher with great integrity. I’m sure you will do just great!

  33. Karen

    Apologies for saying ‘think for themselves’ so many times.

  34. Sister J

    I’m the letter-writer and I just wanted to thank everyone for their input (especially you, Joanna!). I will be frequently revisiting the post and comments and implementing some of the suggestions. Thanks a million!

  35. William Clayton

    Until recently I taught Sunday school to 13-14 year olds in my ward. I will confide that I think the church does a poor job of addressing church history. Nonetheless, I do not think you should take it upon yourself to try to address these issues for the following reasons:
    1. By your own admission, you are still “in the process of learning about and reconciling our troubled history.” I don’t think that if you don’t feel fully educated on these issues and haven’t concluded what they mean, it is premature for you to attempt teaching them.
    2. Sunday school is not an appropriate forum for addressing these issues. At best you get maybe 30 minutes a week of instruction time. These topics require greater depth and time. Seminary would be a better place for this.
    3. You were called to teach the new “Called to Serve” curriculum. Whatever time you spend discussing these shady church history topics is distracting from what the kids are supposed to be learning. I know it sounds harsh, but you weren’t called to write church curriculum.
    4. Your students may intentionally be trying to derail you from teaching the “boring” lesson that is in the book. They are teenagers; they will manipulate you if they can.
    Don’t lie to your kids when they ask these questions. However, don’t let your kids suck you into discussions that are totally off-topic.

  36. LK

    I would make sure you understand church history yourself before teaching it to anyone else. Do you know that Joseph Smith never preached or practiced polygamy? Do you know he warned that those who do, even if they are prophets, will all be damned?

    Once you learn the truth of church history then God has commanded you to warn others, even children, once you have been warned. Warn children to heed Joseph Smith’s constant teaching that we should reject anything that is contrary to what Christ & the scriptures teach. And that we will know true prophets from false prophets by whether they teach opposite Christ (which the leaders of the Church have since Brigham Young)

    You must care more about teaching the truth than you do about staying a member of the Church, which isn’t even true anymore since false prophets have taken it over after Joseph died, teaching completely opposite doctrines to what Joseph & Christ & ancient Prophets taught in the BoM.

    D&C 132 was added by BY long after Joseph Smith died and there is no proof Joseph ever heard about it or wrote it. But we have tons of proof that Joseph believed completely opposite to what 132 says.

    • broberts

      Actually Joseph Smith supposedly had a revelation regarding plural marriage on July 17,1831. Thirty years later William W. Phelps wrote to Brigham Young and told him of the revelation as described to him by Joseph. Perhaps Joseph never spoke of this revelation in public but he certainly practiced it. Scholars,including Mormon scholars agree that Joseph may have had as many as 33 wives..some as young as 14 years old. Some were his “spiritual wives” as they were already married to other men. Todd Compton, a Mormon author has written a book about Joseph”s wives called “In Sacred Loneliness”.

  37. Suzanne

    Several have alluded to interpreting past events in their historical context. Just doing this one thing will resolve many questions and puzzles. However, Sunday School class doesn’t lend itself to in-depth historical examinations. Outside-of-class conversations with a faithful well-informed mentor/teacher/parent is the ideal.

    19th century Mormon participation in early marriage, frontier violence, and so on will not seem so weird when examined in context. Anomalies such as polygamy (in America) are more complicated.

  38. SL

    The idea that it was “normal” at the time for women to be married at 14 is troubling to me (that fact has come up several times in the discussion above)… I don’t believe this is true. Even the novels that were set in that time period do not have women being married off that young (Jane Austen, Laura Inglass Wilder books etc) Where are you getting that early marriage was normal back then?

    • Mel Tungate

      Todd Compton has made a study on early marriages, and marriages at 14 were so rare in that time that basically only the Mormons were doing it ( one Mormon marriage was to a 12 year old ). Simply, Mormons were on the fringe vis a vis marriage in that timeframe.

      It is what it is – I never try to defend it.

      • David E. Richardson

        When 14 year old Helen Mar Kimball was married (sealed) to Joseph Smith, she was evidently in the same class as other outstanding 14 year olds such as Joseph Smith himself when he received his First Vision. Also, as mentioned before, Shakespeare says that Juliet was just shy of 14 when she fell in love with Romeo. Helen Mar Kimball was also in the class of other great young people including Samuel the Old Testament prophet who was about 12 years old when the Lord began giving him messages, Jesus who discussed with Jewish scholars at age 12, David a youth (some say 15 or younger) when he slew Goliath, Pres. Joseph F. Smith who served a mission to Hawaii at age 15, the Book of Mormon prophet/general Mormon who led the Nephite armies at age 16, etc. Helen Mar Kimball’s words, some of which were quoted in my previous comment, indicate that she was indeed an elect lady.

        Many girls in Joseph Smith’s day must have wanted to marry young so that they could get away from the drudgery and boredom of living at home with their parents. Like kings and queens, parents would have wanted their daughters to marry soon to establish alliances, dynasties, or ties with other families through marriage for mutual protection and economic advantage.

        The earliest age of a significant number of first marriages “depends on age laws, the onset of menarche (first menstruation), and traditional community standards.” …empirically this age was AROUND 13.5 OR 14.0 in the mid 19th century. (Ref.: “Elaboration of the Coale-McNeil Nuptiality Model as The Generalized Log Gamma Distribution: A New Identity and Empirical Enhancements” Demographic Research 2003 Volume 9 pp. 223-262 quoted in Podcast: Mormon FAIR-Cast, “19th century nuptiality and anti-Mormon propaganda,” Keller, November 5th, 2009. http://www.fairblog.org/2009/11/05/nuptiality-and-propagand/

        Helen Mar Kimball said, “I had grown up very fast and my father often took me out with him and for this reason was taken to be older than I was.” (Quote provided by Cal Robertson, ibid)
        “Most theories of marriage timing note the increase in the mean marital age over time suggest that teens are psychological less mature now than back then. The phenomenon has been called ‘extended childhood’ in the literature.” (Ibid.)

        “Hardly any non-Mormon Christians spends much time wrestling with why God allowed some of their ancestors to get married in the mid-teens. The New Testament does not record any comments from Jesus condemning the typical bride’s age of his day of 12 or 13 (this shows up in such sources as Jewish rabbinical literature and Roman law and medical studies.) Christians for centuries did not question traditions that God brought about Mary’s conception of Jesus when she was 12.” (Parentheses in the original, Ibid.)

        “The latest draft of my section of the paper explains a statistical benchmark for minimum age that has dominated marriage age research for almost 40 years (The Coale McNeil model). In 1880 it ranged from 13.0 in the South to about 14.2 in the NE IIRC… For Joseph Smith, I think his youngest future wives likely met him early (Joseph was socially active) and had shorter courtship times (JS was under a lot of pressure and parents aided in making marriages semi-arranged).” (Parentheses in the original, ibid.)

        “My wife’s grandmother was raised in the Baptist faith in Alabama, born in 1898. She married her first husband at age fourteen. In a conversation before her death, I asked her why she got married so young. She told me that she was raised by her mother and grandmother who ‘liked to work me to death.’ So she married her first husband who was 28, twice her age. She said she wanted to be out on her own and have her husband take care of her. She was tired of being told what to do. I think many women from that era married young for similar reasons due to tension in their family of origin and the desire to be out on their own. What teenagers today don’t think they know everything and have life figured out?” (Rust, ibid. 2010-3-3)

        “For what it’s worth, my great-great grandmother married at 14 to a man ten years her senior, and had her first (and only) child a year later. She lived in Columbia, Pennsylvania, and was the daughter of a successful businessman and married a man with two doctoral degrees, so this wasn’t the backwoods of the South. Other female relatives married at 15, so I can’t imagine it was that unusual.” (KT Nelson, ibid. 2010-3-8)

        Studying or hearing about this type of positive information will put many people’s minds at rest when they first learn of Joseph’s marriages (sealings) to a few young girls as well as to older women. Most comforting will be the realization that many of those sealings have a finite probability of being dynastic, social, fraternal non-sexual sealings, despite opinions of critics to the contrary.

  39. markg91359

    I begin with the premise that God is truth and God loves truth. An investigator who conducts a criminal investigation begins from the premise that you follow “leads” wherever they go. You follow them to whatever conclusion you must reach.

    When I taught in Elders Chorum and the Young Men’s Program I had a remarkably tolerant leaders and an excellent Bishophric. I never recall being told once I couldn’t say something or discuss some topic. If I had been censored, I would have asked to have released. My personality and spirit do not allow me to teach half the truth or sugar-coated nonsense.

    I think taking everything you are taught anywhere as literal truth is wrong. There is plenty in the Bible that ought to make us think. Did God make Eve out of Adam’s rib? Did a great flood really cover the earth and did a man named Noah save all the animals by marching them into an ark? Did Joshua really make the sun stand still? We need to distinguish between “literal” and “figurative” truth. I think the origin of most of these stories is an attempt to explain complex things to simple, uneducated people in language they could understand.

    Mormon History has blemishes. Polygamy, the Mountain Meadow’s Massacre, and the exclusion of Blacks from the priesthood are three examples. Its a challenge, but a teacher should be honest and acknowledge the problems/difficulties with each and go from there. Young people in our church deserve honesty. Its that simple.

  40. David E. Richardson

    RE: HOW SHOULD I TEACH TOUGH ASPECTS OF MORMON HISTORY?
    Teachers and speakers in the Church should be consistent with our 13th Article of Faith and focus their lessons and talks on that which is “virtuous, lovely, or of GOOD REPORT, or praiseworthy.” If a class member brings up a hard question about the scriptures, Church history, or Joseph Smith which some would consider un-virtuous, un-lovely, or of bad report, or un-praiseworthy, the teacher should feel free to give a short, positive answer and then add, “Anyone interested in further discussion, please stay after class.” If the teacher cannot give a short, positive answer, he or she should say, “I’ll bring someone next week who can give a good answer.”

    Whether it is the teacher or someone brought in to answer the hard question, their answers should be positive, rather than sounding sympathetic to the negative interpretation of the documented event or words spoken. To sound sympathetic to negative interpretations is risking weakening the faith of the listeners and stirring up contention between attackers and defenders. A person can be understanding without sounding sympathetic.

    Even though skeptics and critics downplay and even ridicule the role of apologetics in preserving faith, a careful consideration of reasonable possibilities is important for those who desire to remain true to the faith and to themselves. These people will be happy and content to remain active members of the church as long as positive possibilities can be postulated even if naysayers mock and scoff at those possibilities. Naysayers sometimes include close friends and family members who have already distanced themselves from the Church, having embraced the negative interpretations of words and events recorded in the scriptures and Church history, especially in the life of Joseph Smith.

    Naysayers reject possibilities which explain the words and actions of Joseph Smith in a positive light because they consider those possibilities to be of low probability. However, devout members of the Church consider positive possibilities to be of higher probability. In the eyes of the devout, the stronger the testimony, the higher the probability of positive possibilities being the correct ones.
    No matter how much skeptics and critics may chafe at the very thought, there is a possibility that all of Joseph Smith’s marriages were within the bounds the Lord had set for him. Each alleged sexual incident can be explained and harmonized by this standard even if it can’t be proved by the type and amount of documentation critics prefer. Likewise alternate positive possibilities can be postulated for each and every hard question, difficult issue, and controversy including the Book of Abraham, seer stones, Book of Mormon archeology, polygamy, polyandry, priesthood also for black people, etc. If there were space, we would give examples of positive possibilities, of faith-preserving interpretations of each of these issues which will allow teachable, open-minded people to remain true and faithful to themselves and the Church despite the disbelief, ridicule, or downright outrage of skeptics and critics.

    The type and amount of documentation critics use to justify their conclusions can lead to erroneous conclusions. This is true not just for Joseph Smith but for Jesus Christ himself. Documentation from the New Testament and other “scholarly” sources has been (mis)used to portray Jesus as just one more in a string of militant messiahs. This Jesus messiah twice drove money changers out of the temple with a whip and declared, “I came not to bring peace but the sword.” These alarming words and events and a string of others documented in the New Testament about Jesus Christ can be reasonably explained and harmonized.

    Likewise, all alarming words and events documented about Joseph Smith can be explained and harmonized. This can be done for Joseph Smith, as for Jesus: (1) By looking beyond the “outward appearance” of the negative documentation. (2) By considering positive alternate interpretations of the negative documentation. (3) By a willingness to accept positive alternate possibilities even without the type and amount of documentation critics prefer even if skeptics and critics downplay or dismiss them as apologetics or whitewashing. (4) By giving the “benefit of the doubt.” (5) By seeking in Church history and the life of Joseph Smith for the “virtuous, lovely, or of GOOD REPORT, or praiseworthy,” rather than for the un-virtuous, un-lovely, or of BAD REPORT or un-praiseworthy.
    By the way, discussing the hard questions and controversies about Joseph Smith and Church history in Church classes, lesson manuals, and magazines forces analogies and comparisons with hard questions and controversies in the Bible. To put the hard questions and controversies about Joseph Smith into context, teachers would have to make analogies with literal, out of context interpretations Bible and the life of Jesus Christ. Doing this carries the risk of weakening the faith of people in Christ. Thus the tired accusation that the Church hides its history is no more valid than the accusation that our Church and other Christian churches hide the alarming and controversial words and actions of apostles and prophets in the Bible and even of some of the words and actions of Christ himself as recorded in the New Testament.

    This has to be one of the main reasons why the Lord has not pushed his prophets to include the controversies in lesson manuals. So doing would throw out stumbling blocks for most people studying Church history, the Bible itself, and Christ himself. Obviously the Lord has chosen to accentuate the positive, the uplifting, the comforting, and the faith promoting words and actions in the Bible, Church history, the life of Joseph Smith,

    Now before anyone reading the above throws away their faith in Jesus Christ and the Bible because of the valid analogies that can be made with Joseph Smith and our Church history, remember that any good organization or person can be slandered the same way that Bible prophets, Jesus himself, and Joseph Smith can be slandered. Think of the people you love the most, a spouse, one of your children, or you yourself. A negative portrait can be painted of any one of these by quoting past statements they have made, by recounting actions they have taken, and by giving those words and actions a negative, literal, out of context interpretation. How much better to focus on the virtuous, the lovely, the good report, and the praiseworthy.

    • broberts

      To me what you’re saying is any troubling church history should just be spun into a positive light or “explained and harmonized” as you put it, “even if it can’t be proved by the type and amount of documentation critics prefer”.Could “harmonizing” things just be a euphemism for whitewashing or sugar coating??? Apparently any of us who have doubts or questions are critics or “naysayers” and are not “devout” enough unlike those of you who are “happy and content to remain active members of the church as long as positive possibilities can be postulated”. Can you tell me what the “alternative positive possibility” is for the blacks being banned from the priesthood for 150 years???
      Most troubling were your comments about Christ. What were some of the “alarming and controversial……words and actions of Christ himself as recorded in the New Testament”??? I have read the New Testament many times and unlike the scribes and Pharisee of his time, have never found anything “alarming” or “controversial”. Everything he said and did was the will of the Father. He was the only perfect being to ever walk the face of the earth. Biblical and modern day prophets were and are fallible human beings, Christ is not and to infer otherwise is blasphemous!!
      I am very aware that much that much of what Joseph Smith did, wrote or said has been taken out of context in order to cast him in a negative light. However, there are some of us who are just looking for the plain and simple truth. Truth which is neither spun in a positive or negative way. If you are content in your beliefs then I am happy for you,but for those of us who find some aspects of church history troubling, don’t be so quick to paint us with a “naysayers” brush!!

  41. David E. Richardson

    Question: “Is it true that Joseph Smith married a girl my age (14)?” Answer: At least 33 women were sealed to Joseph Smith, including fourteen year-old Helen Mar Kimball. She was the daughter of LDS apostle Heber C. Kimball.
    Some people have concluded that Helen Mar Kimball had sexual relations with Joseph. Even supposing they did, it should be remembered that Joseph Smith and Helen were married with her consent and the consent of her parents.
    Concerning the young age of 14 for marriage in the days of Joseph Smith, it should be noted that “…such an age difference was not uncommon at the time.” Baden-Powell, en.wikipedia.org (accessed 21 January 2006) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baden_Powell)
    “…(William) Clark also met and married Julia Hancock, several years his junior, whom he met when she was 12 years old, and he decided he would marry her on her fifteenth birthday.” Biography of William Clark, virginia.edu (accessed 31 May 2006) (http://www.vcdh.virginia.edu/lewisandclark/biddle/biographies_html/clark.html)
    Juliet of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” was only 13, almost 14, when the tragic story of her romance with Romeo took place.
    Historian Todd Compton did not believe Joseph Smith had sexual relations with Helen Kimball. Compton criticized the anti-Mormons Jerald and Sandra Tanner for using his (Compton’s) book to argue for sexual relation between Joseph and Helen:
    “The Tanners made great mileage out of Joseph Smith’s marriage to his youngest wife, Helen Mar Kimball. However, they failed to mention that I wrote THAT THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO EVIDENCE THAT THERE WAS ANY SEXUALITY IN THE MARRIAGE, and I suggest that, following later practice in Utah, there may have been no sexuality” (p. 638). (Emphasis added) The evidence points to this marriage as a primarily dynastic marriage, as other marriages were, to tie faithful families together.
    Helen Mar (Kimball) Whitney “took pen and paper in hand before she died to describe vividly her ties as a member of the Latter-day Saint Church during its first two decades of existence in a series of articles published in the Woman’s Exponent” in the 1880s. (Holzapfel, ix)
    Some of her articles dealt with plural marriage: “Her personal remembrances of those days constitute an important source that, taken together with other first-hand accounts by participants, provides a more complete view of the introduction of one of the most distinctive features of nineteenth-century Mormonism.” (Holzapfel, xv) Helen Mar’s writings, an important source of LDS history, were published by BYU’s Religious Studies Center in 1997 in a book titled “A Woman’s View: Helen Mar Whitney’s Reminiscences of Early Church History.” The book also includes her 1881 autobiography in which she wrote the following concerning her marriage (sealing) to the Prophet Joseph Smith:
    “I have long since learned to leave all with [God], who knoweth better than ourselves what will make us happy. I am thankful that He has brought me through the furnace of affliction & that He has condescended to show me that the promises made to me the morning that I was sealed to the Prophet of God will not fail & I would not have the chain broken for I have had a view of the principle of eternal salvation & the perfect union which this sealing power will bring to the human family & with the help of our Heavenly Father I am determined to so live that I can claim those promises” (Holzapfel, 487).
    The above is an example of positive responses which can be given when hard questions are asked concerning Joseph Smith and Church history. Every hard question concerning the scriptures, the Church, and Joseph Smith has a positive answer similar to the above. One or more positive possibilities can be postulated by knowledgeable teachers and students of Church history for each controversy. Members should be content to remain active in the Church as long as there is at least one explanation or one possibility which answers each question and resolves each issue, no matter how improbable naysayers, skeptics, and critics claim that explanation or possibility is.

    • AlternatePossibilities

      When 14 year old Helen Mar Kimball was married (sealed) to Joseph Smith, she was evidently in the same class as other outstanding 14 year olds such as Joseph Smith himself when he received his First Vision. Also, Shakespeare says that Juliet was just shy of 14 when she fell in love with Romeo. Helen Mar Kimball was also in the class of other great young people including Samuel the Old Testament prophet who was about 12 years old when the Lord began giving him messages, Jesus who discussed with Jewish scholars at age 12, David a youth (some say 15 or younger) when he slew Goliath, Pres. Joseph F. Smith who served a mission to Hawaii at age 15, the Book of Mormon prophet/general Mormon who led the Nephite armies at age 16, etc. Helen Mar Kimball’s words, some of which were quoted in my previous comment, indicate that she was indeed an elect lady.

      Many girls in Joseph Smith’s day must have wanted to marry young so that they could get away from the drudgery and boredom of living at home with their parents. Like kings and queens, parents would have wanted their daughters to marry soon to establish alliances, dynasties, or ties with other families through marriage for mutual protection and economic advantage.

      The earliest age of a significant number of first marriages “depends on age laws, the onset of menarche (first menstruation), and traditional community standards.” …empirically this age was AROUND 13.5 OR 14.0 in the mid 19th century. (Ref.: “Elaboration of the Coale-McNeil Nuptiality Model as The Generalized Log Gamma Distribution: A New Identity and Empirical Enhancements” Demographic Research 2003 Volume 9 pp. 223-262 quoted in Podcast: Mormon FAIR-Cast, “19th century nuptiality and anti-Mormon propaganda,” Keller, November 5th, 2009. http://www.fairblog.org/2009/11/05/nuptiality-and-propagand/
      Helen Mar Kimball said, “I had grown up very fast and my father often took me out with him and for this reason was taken to be older than I was.” (Quote provided by Cal Robertson, ibid)

      “Most theories of marriage timing note the increase in the mean marital age over time suggest that teens are psychological less mature now than back then. The phenomenon has been called ‘extended childhood’ in the literature.” (Ibid.)

      “Hardly any non-Mormon Christians spends much time wrestling with why God allowed some of their ancestors to get married in the mid-teens. The New Testament does not record any comments from Jesus condemning the typical bride’s age of his day of 12 or 13 (this shows up in such sources as Jewish rabbinical literature and Roman law and medical studies.) Christians for centuries did not question traditions that God brought about Mary’s conception of Jesus when she was 12.” (Parentheses in the original, Ibid.)

      “The latest draft of my section of the paper explains a statistical benchmark for minimum age that has dominated marriage age research for almost 40 years (The Coale McNeil model). In 1880 it ranged from 13.0 in the South to about 14.2 in the NE IIRC… For Joseph Smith, I think his youngest future wives likely met him early (Joseph was socially active) and had shorter courtship times (JS was under a lot of pressure and parents aided in making marriages semi-arranged).” (Parentheses in the original, ibid.)

      “My wife’s grandmother was raised in the Baptist faith in Alabama, born in 1898. She married her first husband at age fourteen. In a conversation before her death, I asked her why she got married so young. She told me that she was raised by her mother and grandmother who ‘liked to work me to death.’ So she married her first husband who was 28, twice her age. She said she wanted to be out on her own and have her husband take care of her. She was tired of being told what to do. I think many women from that era married young for similar reasons due to tension in their family of origin and the desire to be out on their own. What teenagers today don’t think they know everything and have life figured out?” (Rust, ibid. 2010-3-3)

      “For what it’s worth, my great-great grandmother married at 14 to a man ten years her senior, and had her first (and only) child a year later. She lived in Columbia, Pennsylvania, and was the daughter of a successful businessman and married a man with two doctoral degrees, so this wasn’t the backwoods of the South. Other female relatives married at 15, so I can’t imagine it was that unusual.” (KT Nelson, ibid. 2010-3-8)
      Studying or hearing about this type of positive information will put many people’s minds at rest when they first learn of Joseph’s marriages (sealings) to a few young girls as well as to older women. Most comforting will be the realization that many of those sealings have a finite probability of being dynastic, social, fraternal non-sexual sealings, despite opinions of critics to the contrary.

  42. Every “problem” concerning mormonism has a True and Faith Promoting answer, because the Church is literally true. The challenge is getting at the actual truth, contrary to anti-mormon perversion of it.

    Joseph Smith was “Sealed” to many woman, he only had one wife. Polygamy didn’t start until Brigham Young per-se. He did not lie when he said the Church wasn’t practicing Polygamy when he said that, because it wasn’t, it was practicing the Sealing Ordinance. There is speculation and some evidence that he “may” have had intimate relations with some of those “wives”, but there is no strong evidence at all. Further, if he did, he was sealed, and if it was wrong because he wasn’t honest with his wife, then that was likely his sin. None of that however invalids him being Prophet of the Lord. They are still sometimes men. Infallibility doesn’t exist in Mormonism. Personally I look at the claims of “sex” even under testimony of what I like to call the “Cain Phenomena”. That is where someone famous has women who also want to be famous, and so they makes claims that are false. But, I still admit Joseph may have been human. There is plenty of evidence for the Restoration for those who study, despite Joseph possibly sinning in some way.

    Anyway, every issue has a answer, most clear in contrast to this one for which there is no clear answer on either side. The enemy’s of Mormonism don’t present the facts which debunk their claims, and so “truth” and “facts” of history, doesn’t make actual truth, one must consider the source and compare.

    For example, I’ve written an article on the Priesthood ban on my website.
    Most people don’t know these facts, they just accept the anti-mormon version of the issue. Never accept an anti-mormon claim, because every single one uses a “little truth” to tell great lies. Mormons aren’t the ones following satan, and are the liars. We are in this religion because it is literally true, and not another man-made religion.

    • Mel Tungate

      Mr. Universe,

      Will it upset you if you found out that “Joseph Smith was “Sealed” to many woman, he only had one wife. ” was not true? I know of no historian of polygamy of that time who would agree with you.

      To claim that the plural marriages were sexless ( which you went on to say was true, then maybe wasn’t ) is comical in light of the words of the women he was sealed to.

      As I said earlier, it was what it was. The Mormon view of sexual relations and marriage in the 1830 – 1850 timeframe has lots of company in Jacksonian America.

      • Isaac N.

        Mel indicates in this comment (from his seat on the back row?) that, “in the light of the words of the women (Joseph) was sealed to,” those marriages may not have been sexless marriages. Mel should to give us the exact quotations (with references) of those words because Mel may give those words a worst-case interpretation. I suspect there are better case interpretations and best case interpretations of those same words. Unless Mel provides with quotations directly from Joseph’s plural wives (no hearsay, please) and references, we will not believe that any of his plural wives made it clear that sex was involved in his plural marriages.

        It is OK if sex was involved as long as the sealings were as legal and as official as they they were under Brigham Young when he was president of the Mormon Church. But, out of curiosity, we still want to know if there is any concrete proof that sex was involved. It is highly suspicious that sex was not involved because no DNA tests have shown that Joseph Smith fathered any children other than with his first wife, Emma.

    • Steve Thacker

      Marriages in Bible were not valid until consummated, normally on the wedding night. For example: Jacob was betrothed to Rachel for seven years, however on the wedding night Rachel’s father tricked Jacob and substituted Leah and Jacob unknowingly consummated the marriage with Leah and not Rachel. He was legally married to Leah and also betrothed still to Rachel and had to work for seven more years for Rachel. Both marriages were not consummated until their wedding night.
      The views of marriage at the time of Joseph Smith were consistent with the biblical. No sex. No marriage.
      If there was no sex involved, you would think that Joseph would have made it clear during the Fanny Alger affair. Alas, he said nothing. His associates said plenty.

  43. You know what Jesus did? He told the truth. Tell kids what really happened or they’ll learn to distrust you and your institutions forever.

  44. As a member, a parent, and and a professional teacher, I love and worry and am excited about mentoring and teaching youngsters. Teaching the youth is an important responsibility and a trust. Your calling is to help the teens come unto Christ. When it comes to awkward questions,it seems to me that the appropriate answers have always and will always be found in the scriptures. The Internet is filled with spurious sources and historical records are often perspectives shared with an agenda.
    A teacher is called to strengthen the youth by helping them acquire tools to find the answers to their questions. They can and should practice using the gift of the Holy Ghost to identify truth and to know where peace can be found. History is human, we are not here to answer for History, we are here to follow Jesus and Love one another. In a 50 minute Sunday School lesson there are many beautiful topics to cover that can build a teen’s ability to ask in faith and realize whether or not something is important and/or relevant.

  45. Craig

    I would do this prayerfully seeking to know what The Lord would teach them. Answer their question and provide context for the history. Our 21st sensibilities are so much different than 1830. Avoid emotionally charged words like “dark” “secret” “hidden” “suppressed” etc. I realize the Mormon bashing crowd loves these words for the conspiratorial color they give church history, but intellectual honesty requires better.

  46. Evan

    Tell the truth and shame the devil might be a good maxim. Intellectual honesty in all things, is so much better than dissimulation, yes?

    Young minds are to be nurtured into critical thinking not brainwashed into mumbo-jumbo or false history either.

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