A Letter to an Apostle
June 18, 2017
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
50 East North Temple
Salt Lake City, UT 84150
My Dear President:
I am writing to you in the spirit of honesty and genuine hope and desire to commune directly with you. I have respect for you and the compassionate and honest approach you have taken to those experiencing doubts.
I am a lifetime member of the Church, father of five, a high priest and married in the Salt Lake Temple.
My family emigrated from Ireland to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, when I was five. The Edmonton branch then had N. Eldon Tanner as its President.
As a student and teacher of organizational behavior, particularly bureaucracies for over forty years, it is clear to me that the LDS church is heading into rough waters. A squall that may well threaten the church’s viability; at least in its present form.
Max Weber, the great German sociologist, and political economist was born twenty years after Joseph Smith’s death. He spent his life studying power, authority, and the functioning of large-scale organizations in the political, economic, and administrative realms.
Weber recognized that bureaucracies are created and organized according to rational principles. Incumbents being ranked in hierarchical order with their functions characterized by impersonal rules and governed by the methodical apportionment of jurisdiction and defined spheres of responsibility.
He correctly predicted that bureaucratic coordination of the actions of vast numbers of people would become the dominant structural feature of modern organizations. Weber saw the bureaucracy as the favored organizational form, the one that would shape both the modern polity and economy. Weber felt that bureaucracy offered the same advantages to the enterprise that assembly-line productive efficiency provided to mechanical production.
Weber also noted, however, that there were limitations and dysfunctions with the bureaucratic form of organization. Its primary advantage, the high probability of predetermined results, also makes it cumbersome and inflexible in dealing with specific or unique individual cases and or changing circumstances. Weber argued that bureaucratization leads to depersonalization, a structural intransigence and a slow response to change which can portend its collapse.
I believe the following four weaknesses that threaten the viability of any bureaucracy are becoming more pronounced in the LDS Church in this generation:
Rigid Inflexibility: A strict compliance with rules and regulations to the degree of discouraging useful initiative and creativity and resulting in a slow reaction to change and hesitant response to crisis.
Impersonality: An unthinking perfunctory way of doing things being stressed. With organizational rules and regulations being given priority over the individual’s needs, desires or feelings.
Goal Displacement: The tendency for the rules drawn to achieve corporate objectives at every level in the organization becoming an end in themselves.
Isolation at the Top: As the organization grows in complexity, those at the top become increasingly out of touch with lower-level participants and their issues, fears, and concerns.
But I am not writing to you to discuss the structural problems I see in the church but rather problems with the Book of Mormon and the Joseph Smith story. As well, I am troubled by myriad examples of deception by the church and its leaders from its origin until today.
One example is the church’s imposition that it has and continues to experience extraordinary growth in membership.
As you know president, the growth of the Mormon church is over or clearly stalled.
Nevertheless, the church still takes pride in projecting the public image that it is one of the fastest-growing religions in the world. An ignorant and lazy media repeat this mantra which is blatantly and demonstrably untrue. While at one time growth was greater than it is today, the Mormon church is not now, nor has it ever been the fastest growing religion in the world nor even close.
It’s the big lie and Joseph Goebbels would be proud. If you tell a big enough lie often enough, it will be eventually accepted as the truth. The facts are that the growth rate of the Mormon Church is essentially the same as the Catholic church and most Protestant churches in America despite the latter not employing a huge proselytizing missionary force.
There is a principle of influence and propaganda that is often referred to as the Law of Conformity. It is what in logic, we call the bandwagon effect. If you are over thirty years of age, you can no doubt remember when every McDonald’s restaurant sign in the world displayed ’30 Billion Served.’
The Law of Conformity or social proof is the psychological phenomenon where people reference the behaviors of others to guide their actions.
It recognizes that we are social animals. We like what others like. We reject and discard what other people reject and discard. We tend to do what other people do to follow the crowd. We perceive behaviors as being more correct in a given situation to the degree that others view them as accurate. This ‘law’ extends to what we wear, how fast we drive on the freeway, what we buy, and yes, what religion we adhere to.
The church still perpetuates the myth that the church is experiencing extraordinary growth because it serves their purposes, it is becoming more and more difficult to keep up that façade. I think this is misleading and unbecoming of the church.
The halcyon days of even four or five percent growth are long gone. The church may actually be in decline. It is in absolute free-fall in Europe. If it were not for the current missionary success in West Africa and a few parts of South America, even the current paltry growth rate of 1.21% wouldn’t be reached.
Additionally, while the church does not report resignations, some estimate that over 100,000 members officially resign from the church each year, and, of course, many many more, just walk away and increase the already enormous inactive ranks. Again, Cumorah.com reports that “75 percent of foreign [LDS] converts are not attending church within a year of conversion. In the United States, 50 percent of converts fail to attend after a year.”
Even in the current ‘hot spots,’ of West Africa and parts of South America retention rates, as you must know, are meagre, some reported in the single digits.
According to sociologist Armand Mauss, in some parts of Latin America, 30 to 40 percent of new converts do not even return to church after baptism to be confirmed.
I would suspect that of concern to your ‘brethren,’ is that tithing income does not meet the operating costs of the church in many third-world countries.
One cannot help but feel that the success the church is having in parts of Latin America and West Africa is because most of the populous are naïvely innocent and less well educated. But perhaps even more significant, the Internet and the “alternative” facts it showcases are mostly unavailable to Mormon converts in these countries. Further most insightful criticism and commentary on Joseph Smith and the Mormon church’s actual historicity is chronicled in the English language.
It is a real challenge to get honest membership statistics from the church itself, there are numerous examples of how inflated their counts are. In Iceland, for example, where every registered religion receives a tax rebate for every member over sixteen (sóknargjald) the government reports 162 registered Mormons (1) in 2019 while the church reports on its website 288 members (178% inflation). (2)
- Populations by religious and life stance organizations”. Statistics Iceland.
- https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/facts-and statistics/country/iceland
Mormon demographer David Clark Knowlton in an article entitled, “How Many Members Are There Really?” shows how exaggerated Mormon memberships statistics are:
Members claimed by the church (1999) 846,931
Mormons in the official gov’t census (2000) 205,229
Phantom or ex-Mormons (difference) 641,702
Percentage of Mexican Mormons Overstated by the LDS Church 76%
Members claimed by the church (2001) 520,202
Mormons in the official gov’t census (2002) 103,735
Phantom or ex-Mormons (difference) 416,467
Percentage of Chilean Mormons Overstated by the LDS Church 80%
David Clark Knowlton,
“How Many Members Are There Really?”,
Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought,
38:2:53-78, Summer 2005)
The Mormon church reported in 2001 that there were 160,743 members in that country however the Canadian census in that year showed 93,890 people identified themselves as Mormon. The church over reported Canadian membership by 41.6%.
2003 Church Almanac, p.298
2001 Statistics Canada, Census of Canada
In Australia in that same year the church claimed 102,773 members while the 2001 Census of Australia reported just 48,775 – less than half the number the church published.
Islam is far and away the world’s fastest-growing religion. The number of Muslims on this planet will leap from 1.9 billion in 2018 to 2.76 billion by 2050. At that time, Muslims will make up one-third of the world’s total projected population of about 9 billion people.
Even if we compare Mormonism to Christian denominations, The LDS church’s current dismal growth rate of 1.21% stacks up poorly against that of a great many others.
The Church of God in Christ
In 1965, the COG had 425,000 members. In 2012, the membership was 5,499,875, an increase of 1,194 percent.
The Presbyterian Church (in America)
In 1973, the PCA had 41,232 members. In 2013, the membership was 367,033, an increase of 790 percent.
The Assemblies of God
In 1965, the AOG had 572,123 members. In 2013, the membership was 3,030,944, an increase of 430 percent.
The Southern Baptist Convention
In 1965, the SBC had 10,770,573 members. In 2013, the membership was 15,735,640, an increase of 46 percent.
And these are real numbers. As well, the LDS church counts membership differently than Christian churches. In most churches, members are asked to vote on various matters, and so, unlike the Mormon church, these churches do not want to waste their time and resources reaching out to those who no longer have any interest in their churches.
The LDS church also counts its followers differently. Once someone joins the Mormon church, even if they attend one meeting never to return, they are counted on the church’s membership rolls for the rest of their life and in many cases far beyond!
The majority of those on the church’s rolls are inactive, so consequently the church is unaware of their passing and assumes for tabulation purposes that they all live to 110 years of age.
While the church publishes worldwide membership numbers at about 16 million, Cumorah.com reports that less than half of those the church counts even identify themselves as Mormon. Assuming that the number of active members is lower than those who would even want to be identified as Mormon, hardly a heroic assumption, the actual functional membership of the LDS church, even ignoring record resignations, is more realistically to be around 5 million men, women, and children, and it’s like a revolving door, as many people are leaving the church as joining it.
Even lowering the missionary age clearly hasn’t stopped the bleeding. Convert retention rates are now even worse than Jehovah’s Witness’ rates, which used to set the ‘abysmal continuance standard.’
Also, to bolster the numbers, the church adds to their membership numbers what they call, ‘children of record,’ boys and girls 0 – 7 years-of-age who have not yet been baptized and are therefore not actual members of the church.
The church’s annual report presented during General Conference shows that the LDS church grew by 261,862 people in 2015, a 1.7% annual increase. In 2016, it was even worse 1.58% and in 2017 even worse again 1.48%, and in 2018 it dipped to 1.21%. This is the slowest growth in any year since 1937 (when it was 0.93%).
Members are also having fewer children as the following shows:
New children of record during 2014……… 116,409
New children of record during 2015 …… 114,550
New children of record during 2016……… 109,246
New children of record during 2017……… 106,771
New children of record during 2018……… 102,102
New children of record during 2019 …….. 94,266
2019 Statistical Report for 2020 April Conference
With a growth rate of 1.21%, convert baptisms flagging, and declining member activity rates – 25% for young single adults, interest in the Mormon church is clearly diminishing.
The chart below shows the church’s current and its projected membership statistics.
Active membership in the church which, as this chart shows, is less than 5 million with non-actives at more than double that number. The active membership is projected to be virtually the same in 2060 with non-active membership four times active membership.
In her new book The Next Mormons, journalist Jan Riess provides some interesting statistics. In 2007, 70 percent of those raised in the LDS church were still in it as adults, by 2014, it dropped to 64 percent — and among Millennials, it was down to 62 percent. Riess, suggests that such apostasy rates are gaining momentum, and soon, as many as half of Millennials, raised Mormon will leaving the faith.
Riess’ research provides additional statistics. 67 percent of older Mormons believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, only 51 percent of Millennial Mormons believe so. 24 percent of older Mormons are disturbed by the exclusion of women from the priesthood, 59 percent of younger Mormons are. 20 percent of older Mormons think that gay marriage should be legal in the U.S., 40 percent of younger Mormons do. 78 percent of older Mormons watch General Conference, 44 percent of younger Mormons do so.
I believe, this new reality, is the reason the Mormon church has wisely taken a page out of Scientology’s playbook, aggressively building its secular empire – malls, raw land, TV stations, corporate ownership and the like, in anticipation of the inevitable future downturn in tithing revenues.
Does 1.2% growth, mostly coming from sub-Saharan Africa give credence to Joseph Smith’s bold prophesy?
“The truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear.”
The world population grew by over 80 million people in 2018. The church reports that 195,000 people joined the church in that year. Proportionately, fewer people, not more people on earth are discovering the LDS church each year, Are we closer to a world where ‘kings shall extol him, and nations revere’ than when William Wines Phelps wrote these words shortly after Joseph Smith’s martyrdom?
Does the church’s dismal growth mean the church is not true? Of course not, but I think we need to ask why the stagnation?
I am sure that of even more significant concern to the brethren is the growing number of members questioning what they have been taught. If the church were to release the number of members resigning it would tell an interesting story. But for ever member who resigns there are many more that just quietly becoming inactive:
Clint Kimball, LDS Membership Statistics,
Updated August 20, 2018
These data clearly show that the church is in a quandary as to what they can do to stop this hemorrhaging. They have stayed with their time-honored but counterproductive practice of excommunicating anyone who too publicly questions the dogma. A policy that is wholly non-productive as they are throwing out the best and the brightest members.
The Internet has prompted the church to make a begrudging attempt to be more open with the release of 13 Gospel Topic Essays, intended to address some of the troubling historical issues that are causing members to doubt and leave the church. Many feel however that it is too little and too late. Some have criticized them as being replete with historical misinterpretations, misleading statements, and most of all, an abundance of omissions. For example, in their essay on Blacks and the Priesthood, they state:
“In 1850, the U.S. Congress created Utah Territory, and the U.S. president appointed Brigham Young to the position of territorial governor. Southerners, who had converted to the church and migrated to Utah with their slaves, raised the question of slavery’s legal status in the territory. In two speeches delivered before the Utah territorial legislature in January and February 1852, Brigham Young announced a policy restricting men of black African descent from priesthood ordination. At the same time, President Young said that at some future day, black Church members would “have [all] the privilege and more” enjoyed by other members.”
But they fail to include the many racist statements by Young as well as quotes by him that indicate that there is no promise that the restrictions would be lifted in the foreseeable future:
“What is that mark? You will see it on the countenance of every African you ever did see upon the face of the earth, or ever will see. Now I tell you what I know; when the mark was put upon Cain, Abels children was in all probability young; the Lord told Cain that he should not receive the blessings of the preisthood (sic) nor his seed, until the last of the posterity of Abel had received the preisthood,(sic) until the redemption (sic) of the earth. If there never was a prophet, or apostle of Jesus Christ spoke it before, I tell you, this people that are commonly called negroes are the children of old Cain. I know they are, I know that they cannot bear rule in the preisthood,(sic) for the curse on them was to remain upon them, until the resedue (sic) of the posterity of Michal (sic) and his wife receive the blessings, the seed of Cain would have received had they not been cursed; and hold the keys of the preisthood,(sic) until the times of the restitution shall come, and the curse be wiped off from the earth, and from michals (sic) seed.”
Also, his statement from the same Deseret News article:
“…yet, the Canaanites may believe the Gospel, repent, and be baptized, and receive the Spirit of the Lord, and if he continues until Abel’s race is satisfied with his blessings, then may the race of Cain receive a fullness of the Priesthood, and become satisfied with its blessings, and the two of them became as one again, when Cain has paid the uttermost farthing.”
Deseret News, April 3, 1852
This is fairly typical of the Gospel Essays, I find they are so highly edited and correlated, so factually massaged to make them of little or no value to anyone seeking the whole story. The essay on the Book of Abraham not only fails the Occam Razor test, it stretches credulity to extraordinary lengths.
It would seem yo me that the church is in a bind; if they are honest, they know that multitudes will leave. I suppose they are hoping that at least the less discerning members will accept the stories the essays tell and not seek the whole story. That their search for truth will end there and they will not go on to read the work of legitimate non-Mormon historians, archeologists and geneticists that tell a very different story.
Is it working? Six years in, the ‘Essays’ Project’ would seem to have done little to stop the wave of defections.
In my opinion, things will not get better for the Mormon church unless or until it addresses the bureaucratic weaknesses it currently suffers from. The rigid inflexibility and strict compliance to rules and regulations discouraging any useful initiative and creativity from those within the organization who have much to contribute. Presently it exhibits a sluggish reaction to change and timid response to crisis.
More importantly the church needs to move in the direction of more transparency and fewer secrets. To practice what it preaches and tell the truth.
The LDS church is a geneocracy, it is run by old men whose qualification for the top jobs is that they simply outlived their peers. Many of them actually fall into a vegetative state during their tenure. Are these the people one would want to run a vital organization?
But how do you get the next guy in line to do the right thing and bow out, or change the rules of succession? After all, some of them have been waiting in the wings for his turn for a generation.
The church has become more and more centralized and impersonal. It would seem that the rules drawn to achieve corporate objectives have become an end in themselves. Unthinking perfunctory ways of doing things are stressed. It can be argued that organizational rules and regulations are given priority over member’s needs, desires or feelings.
And, perhaps most importantly, there is isolation at the top. As the church grew in complexity, greater rewards were bestowed on those at the top. They have become increasingly out of touch with lower-level participants and their issues, fears, and concerns.
This has to change if the church wishes to remain viable.
I had mentioned that one issue that may have a deleterious effect is increased bureaucratization with its attendant inflexibility, irresolute response to change and impersonality. It is certainly anecdotal, but I have heard people say that the church seems to lack the vitality it once had. That it now feels more like an ‘organization’ and less like a church.
Certainly, there are other factors affecting the church’s growth including the general increase in secularism in the developed world.
It is almost trite to say that the world’s newest major religion is no religion! And just as a rising tide lifts all boats, an ebbing tide also lowers them. But, in the LDS church’s case, Google and the ubiquitous Internet has had and continues to have a much more significant impact on Mormonism than it has on other religions with the possible exception of Scientology.
Some have suggested that the ship has been hit by an iceberg and it’s going down – the ship being the church and the iceberg being the Internet.
The Internet is to Mormonism what the King James Bible was to Catholicism.
Because of the astounding and readily disprovable claims made by its founder and the fact that the genesis of this peculiar religion is quite recent; well within the grasp and examination of scholars and historians.
Websites such as Mormonthink.com, Exmormon.org, UTIM.org, Reddit.com, the CES Letter as well as Richard Packham’s, Dan Vogel’s and Grant Palmer’s sites and the numerous blogs such as Mormon Expressions, Radio Free Mormon, and Mormon Stories are just a click away.
In the world of smart phones and the Internet, everyone has their own “Urim and Thummim” right in the palm of their hand!
Members and investigators alike can now access historically accurate, uncorrelated and unsanitized views of Joseph Smith and the Mormon church’s foundational claims than was possible just a few decades ago.
It is indeed becoming harder to keep secrets in the digital age.
I think it is telling to look at the Google results received for each of the following searches:
I know Mormonism is true – 750,000
I know Mormonism is false – 651,000
Joseph Smith prophet – 496,000
Joseph Smith con man – 6,250,000
President Monson – 673,000
MormonThink – 13,000,000
Inspiring LDS Stories – 704,000
CES letter – 19,100,000
Google Search Date: June 6, 2017
It is not hyperbole to say young people are the future of the church. According to the 2011 Pew Research Center’s ‘Survey of American Mormons’ 51% of American converts are under the age of 25.
The church’s hard-line on LGBTQ issues is alienating to a generation that, as a whole, embraces inclusion and diversity. Homosexuality is not as problematic for millennial Mormons as it was for their parents.
President Uchtdorf, I believe the problems about the truth claims of the church that I outline below need to be addressed in a more direct, honest, comprehensive less defensive way.
Also, unless the goal is plausible deniability, I cannot understand why the church hides behind and gives tacit support to, nonofficial apologetic sites. Why do they not answer honestly and directly the legitimate concerns members and non-members have with the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, and the foundational claims of the church?
As for the avowals of the apologists at FairMormon, while less shrill and unChristlike than the stuff that used to come out of FARMS, this new generation of apologists now seem to have adopted a tenor of desperate revisionism.
Failing a Mormon reformation or a significant change to the church’s dominant narrative, any future growth of Mormonism will, in no wise, equal its past.
But please, I am not suggesting that the LDS church will soon disappear. I think anyone who thinks it will just doesn’t understand either history or bureaucracies.
And studies such as the 2016 Next Mormons Survey (NMS) show that chapel going Mormons still have a high level of belief. NMS questioned American Mormons about the level of their belief in Mormonism – its doctrines and practices. They asked members the question, ‘Which statement comes closest to your views—even if none is exactly right?’
a) I believe wholeheartedly in all of the teachings of the LDS church. (49.1%)
b) I believe many or most of the teachings of the LDS church. (33.9)
c) Some of the teachings of the LDS church are hard for me to believe. (12.2%)
d) Many or most of the teachings of the LDS church are hard for me to believe. (31%)
e) I do not believe in the teachings of the LDS church. (1.8%)
The numbers in parentheses indicate how people responded. Over 80% of those asked said they believed in all, many or most of the teachings of the LDS church. That is a very impressive statistic.
But in my opinion, there are a few significant impediments to any significant further growth of the Mormon church.
First, we cannot escape the fact that Mormonism is and always has been largely an American religion. People outside the United States in countries that the church needs to fuel future growth are becoming increasingly “turned off” by American exceptionalism, and what they see to be a ”style over substance,’ celebrity worshiping, materialistic culture. As well the prosperity gospel the ”brethren’ have been known to preach to bolster tithing receipts is recognized by many to be questionable.
Second, the church is out of step with most people in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe when it comes to contemporary social issues. A women’s right to make choices relating to her own body, the struggle for fairness and equality for LGBTQ people, and a host of other less dominant matters – euthanasia, the adjuvant uses of marijuana, etc.
But, I believe that the greatest obstacle to any future growth of Mormonism has to be Joseph Smith. Smith’s polygamy and polyandry and his ceaseless lying about these matters, not just to his associates and followers but to his legal wife Emma. As well his failed prophecies, numerous run-ins with the law, financial shenanigans as well as his boastful, self-aggrandizing nature.
More members are becoming aware of his sexual unions with teenage girls, some as young as 14-years-of-age. This is hard for decent people to accept. Likewise, Smith’s lengthy ‘rap sheet’ including arrests for glass-looking, money-digging, being a disorderly person, threatening a sitting judge, perjury, inciting a riot, bank fraud and twice for both conspiracies to commit murder and treason.
When people discover the real Joseph Smith, warts and all, not the sanitized fiction the church has crafted, it is not a pretty picture.
Also, as more non-Mormon historians turn their attention to Joseph Smith and the actual historicity of his foundation claims, the more difficult it has become for the church to put a positive spin on his actions, behavior, and most of all, his character.
Maybe ‘not all things that are true, are useful,’ as your replacement in the First Presidency, Dallin Oaks repeats with a smirk, but they are still true and useful or not; they will be revealed despite relentless attempts at censure and coverup.
I suspect many, perhaps most, true believing members, particularly those over forty, will continue, to do what they have been told and avoid exposure to anything that is not, ‘faith promoting.’ To these, Mormonism is something you do rather than something you believe.
It is going too far to picture most Mormons as latter-day Manchurian Candidates, naïve souls whose indoctrination has been so efficacious, that they accept uncritically, everything coming out of the mouths of their leaders. But statements from Oaks and Tanner such as ‘we should not criticize the ‘Brethren’ even when they are wrong,‘ or ‘once the Prophet speaks, … the debate is over,‘ must give one pause.
Surely president Uchtdorf, as an elderly German you must ask yourself, do these statements not resonate with a familiar fascistic tenor?
We are seeing a growing number of members, particularly young ones, having the courage, despite the cognitive dissidence they experience, searching for truth.
Prospects, or ‘investigators,’ as the church calls them, are finding easy access to the rapidly growing number of online resources challenging the church’s foundational narrative and truth claims.
While some would suggest that the church leadership’s lack of transparency is based on the belief that, if its members were to be exposed to the church’s real history, they would leave the Mormon church in droves. A more generous view would grant that the imperative is to protect members, particularly the elderly, from unnecessary pain and confusion.
I suspect both are true. The problem, however, is that in the twenty-first century, an increasing number of members will nonetheless be exposed to the unvarnished truth.
At that point they will not just feel confused, they will feel deceived and this is likely to be worse than any difficulty that would have arisen had the church been more forthright; because it begs the question, “What else are they not telling me?”
Would it not be better to rip the Band-Aid© off, and honestly face the legitimate doubts, concerns, and questions people are having with the church’s fundamental truth claims? To do what is right, letting the consequences follow, even if it means the reconstruction of the church’s dominant narrative.
After all, the admission that Joseph Smith was anything, but a saint is not necessarily a ‘deal-breaker.’ If anything, it gives hope to those of us who are also imperfect beings.
One last thing, however, before we get into the meat of my analysis. There is a view within the church that we should not question, but rather accept whatever the church leaders tell us. This view is well illustrated in the following excerpt from an editorial that appeared in the Church News reporting the Church Conference of April 7th, 1895, in which Wilford Woodruff stood up and said with annoyance.
“Cease troubling yourselves about who God is, who Adam is, who Christ is, who Jehovah is, for heaven’s sake, let these things alone.”
He was essentially saying, ‘Damn you, just believe what I tell you to believe!’
I liked Eldon Tanner; he was my Branch President way back when I was a young boy. As a minister of the Crown in Alberta he found my father a job when we immigrated to Canada, but I cannot accept his statement that: “…when the prophet speaks, the debate is over,” any more than you would accept, “…when the Führer speaks, the debate is over,”
I have been asked, why go to the trouble of studying, researching and writing this? Why not keep it yourself – stay or just walk away?
It’s complicated but let me try to answer that question with a parable.
A man is diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. After the initial shock of the bad news, he searches for the best clinic, a hospital where he can get the best treatment available.
After an exhaustive investigation, he settles on a facility that others have testified to as being highly effective, even though it is also very costly.
This hapless soul sells all he has and travels to this far distant facility. But after a time, as his fortune is depleted, and his health deteriorates even further he learns that the clinic is a fraud. He discovers that the chemotherapy and medications that have been administered to him were nothing but worthless placebos – sugar pills. His radiation treatment was revealed to amount to nothing more than a ‘doctor’ shining a laser pointer on his body.
What should this poor man do? Pack his bag and quietly walk away?
What would you do?
I am guessing you would cause a stir; you might go to the press or the law, you would do your best to warn others of this gross deception and fraud.
I understand that when someone questions your long-held beliefs, one’s first response is likely to be anger; as suggested in Galatians 4:16:
Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?
Like everyone who publicly questions the church’s official narrative, I have been the recipient of ad hominem attacks. One can hardly write a critique of something as central as one’s religious beliefs without this being the case. Rarely are these attacks to my face, but rather through anonymous missives or malicious gossip. I understand the genesis of such hostility and my ego is not so tender that I am disheartened. The only time, I must confess, they hurt is when they come from those, I considered friends.
I hope you will believe me when I tell you, I am not trying to hurt anyone. I am merely trying to provide the facts and evidence that members may be unaware of. Information that can empower and enable a more informed position regarding the truth claims of the Mormon church.
The Titanic cannot be turned around quickly, but it is not too late to enter that turn, for the Lord knows that a change in direction is dearly needed. An enormous iceberg looms on the horizon, and that berg is named truth.
The growth the church experienced in the last century shows the bureaucratic structure has served the church well, but this organizational form, that has functioned so effectively in the past may now actually destroy it.
I think dramatic new and open approaches are called for.
I don’t presume to know what form this should take. But, perhaps it could start with a series of informal, unscripted televised round tables with a free exchange of ideas and concerns. If done honestly, these ‘town hall’ types of meetings, if they included not just church apologists but a few brighter general authorities, as well as faithful and questioning members – both men and women, I think it would be lauded.
Would that take courage? Yes. Would it make some members aware of issues they are unaware of presently? Unquestionably. Would some members leave? Likely.
President Uchtdorf, you must surely be aware of all the issues I presented here.
As far back as 1908 B. H. Roberts made the top leadership aware of these and other problems with the church’s dominant narrative, particularly problems with the Book of Mormon.
I guess I am asking you how you manage to hold a sincere “testimony” of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the gospel it proclaims in the face of these issues unless you have compelling answers to them beyond the answers the apologists propagate?
I am asking on behalf of the growing number of members hungering and thirsting for the truth. If in fact, you have any answers, share them.
A real spiritual witness is powerful and influential, but if we have serious, reasoned objections that fairly and wholly take into consideration the available evidence surely a “burning in the bosom” cannot negate those legitimate concerns.
Proverbs 28:26 teaches that; “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool: but whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered.”
There is considerable evidence that ‘feel-good feelings’ are rarely reliable as a means of determining veracity.
Unlike the Book of Mormon, the truth of the Bible does not require that we abandon critical thinking and just pray for a ‘good feeling‘ to prove that it is truly the Word of God. Jesus never taught that we must pray to know if His Gospel is true.
The truthfulness of the Holy Bible is evident to anyone willing to investigate it. Unlike the Book of Mormon, the Bible is self-consistent and extraordinarily authentic. Its geography exists, many of its characters have been verified. Unlike the Book of Mormon, the Bible has been confirmed countless times by archaeology and other sciences. It possesses divine insight into the nature of the universe, and unlike Joseph Smith, its prophets have made correct predictions about future events with perfect accuracy.
As well there are tens of thousands of manuscripts we can examine.
I don’t doubt you must have strong feelings about the church. However, I would question whether these feelings are enough to suspend all application of intellect.
People from all faiths report having the same feelings that witness to them that their religion and beliefs are true.
Aliza Kim a young devout Muslim shares her testimony:
“After reciting the Shahadah, what I felt cannot be accurately described. I felt a rushing sensation go through me which felt like a thorough cleansing. I felt pure and was given lightness, peace, and genuine happiness. I had never felt such innocent gladness like that in my life. And, those feelings have stayed on till this day, and I know they will be with me until my last day in this world. I am happy with Allah, my Maker, and with my chosen religion.” 15
If Moroni’s challenge works for Mormons and their faith, certainly the same principle must work for Moslems and theirs, Jews and theirs and Catholics and theirs. Surely you would not claim Mormon exclusivity when it comes to gifts of the spirit.
I have had the spirit touch me a few times in my life, but not when I read the Book of Mormon and prayed to know if it were true. Indeed, many non-Mormons have experienced this ‘burning in the bosom.’
But we must be careful n to to confuse the Lord touching our soul with a simple heartwarming feeling related to an emotional response or passionate elation. The event or drama which generates this need not be true. It may come from watching a ‘tear-jerker’ movie where the protagonist dies saving his friend or listening to a rousing rendition of the National Anthem or the Battle Hymn of the Republic or even reading one of Paul Dunn’s, ‘war stories.’
I hope you will take this in the spirit it is given, I have been direct, even blunt, but you strike me as a man who would prefer candor to approbation. I am an old man and if it is wrong to ask WHY I will know soon enough- as will you.
As it happens, and quite unintentionally, I am writing this letter to you on Father’s Day 2017. My father, Thomas Douglas was a truthful and honorable man. He taught me in his humble way that truth is essential, it endures forever, and we should dauntlessly seek to know it. The Lord too admonished us to pursue the truth, for “… the truth will set you free.”
I cannot dishonor my father’s memory by placing all these weighty problems back on my drooping shelf and then just walk away.
You will remember that Christ told Pilate before his agonizing death, “… for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”
The LDS church has shown that, it can change.
So, I would say to anyone reading this, that chooses to remain in the Mormon church, fresh courage take, for when the pressure is on, the ‘brethren’ receives revelation.
And while I have my head in my hat let me say to my gay brothers and sisters that if in the future, the United States government, moves to disallow tax deductibility for organizations discriminating against LGBTQ people as it was moving to do during the Jimmy Carter’s administration for organizations discriminating against African Americans; in that day, the heavens will open!
I believe that fairly soon women will finally be invited to play a meaningful leadership role in the church, that an accommodation will be made for same-sex unions in some manner, practicing gay men and women will find a home in the church and the ill-conceived policy of banning the children of Gay parents from church membership will be reversed. (The latter has happened since I wrote this in 2017).
Why? Because the principal goal of every bureaucracy is viability – survival, and the Corporation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is certainly no exception.
None of these changes will make the Mormon church any more or less true but they will advance the church’s obvious desire to be viewed as a mainstream Christian religion.
President Uchtdorf truth matters; it is a value, not an issue.
I wrote to you asking these difficult questions not solely for myself, an insignificant sinner, but for the myriad credulous men and women who put their unwavering faith in you and your colleagues.
Particularly I wrote this on behalf of the generation of innocent little children who deserve to grow up knowing what is true.
So, President Uchtdorf, let me make one final plea to you to help those of us honestly searching for answers.
Faithful Latter-day Saints believe there is no higher authority on earth than you and your colleagues. Indeed, you and they would have us believe you speak to and on behalf of the Almighty.
You know, I know, and more and more members are coming to know that there are not just disquieting questions but serious problems with the truth claims of the Mormon church, the Book of Mormon and the Joseph Smith story.
Is it not time that you and your colleagues at the top provide direct, honest full-throated responses to the questions I raise in the interrogatories that follow? To do what is right letting the consequences follow.
If not now, when? If not you, then who?
Paul A. Douglas