In April 2013, I sent a letter to the First Presidency of the LDS church and to all of the Apostles outlining moral issues I have with the church. I received a response from Stephen Snow, the church historian. Both are copied below, minus personal information:
April 17, 2013
President Thomas S. Monson
Office of the First Presidency
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
50 East North Temple Street
Salt Lake City, UT 84150
Dear President Monson:
My name is _________ and I am a 32 year old 7th generation lifelong member of the church. I served a mission in the Brazil ___________ mission. I have been a primary teacher, nursery leader, counselor in the presidency of a couple of elder’s quorums, and elder’s quorum president a few years ago. I believed in and trusted this church completely. I was devoted. Most of my dearest friends and my family are Mormon. I continue to attend LDS meetings every Sunday.
Last July, I saw some headlines about some DNA testing being done to determine if certain people in history were offspring of Joseph Smith. I read the article and determined that I really didn’t know that much about Joseph Smith’s life. I decided to find out more by reading the Wikipedia article on Joseph Smith. That article, through its sources cited, led me to vast amounts of information on Joseph Smith. I learned that there were several things that Joseph did that were out of harmony with the current teachings of the church, but the most surprising to me was his lack of honesty(1) in bringing forth the principle of polygamy. In discovering many unexpected things about the history of Joseph Smith and many other church leaders, I felt a profound breach of the trust I had placed in the church. I cannot describe how painful this was to me. The more I read, the more apparent it became that the version of history taught at church is very one-sided and whitewashed to promote faith. It felt like these things were purposely hidden from me and that I had not given informed consent in my church service and in the covenants I had made.
Honesty is important to me. I have set as my ideal the teachings in the current Gospel Principles manual(2). I have not always been perfect in this regard myself, but I believe a just God would give us prophets and apostles that would be humble and truthful on points of doctrine and would admit frankly when they don’t know something. It hurt to read and hear lies and misrepresentations straight from the mouth of Joseph Smith(1), John Taylor(3), Gordon B. Hinckley(4), Jeffrey R. Holland(5), and others. Still, this would be excusable had they repented as outlined in the modern teachings of the church. However, to my knowledge they never did.
I had a conversation with a good friend of mine who is currently a bishop. We spoke of how it is difficult to apologize to a child even when we are sure we have wronged them. Something about human nature makes it difficult to make that apology when we have authority over someone. I recently listened to the apology of Henry B. Eyring for the Mountain Meadows Massacre(6). What beautiful words. I think this has been wonderful for allowing us to move forward from this tragic event. I have also been studying the history of the priesthood ban for blacks and while the church maintains the position that we don’t know where the ban came from, I think it is quite clear that it came from the racist attitudes and common racist protestant doctrines of the time, especially when coupled with Brigham Young’s support for and instrumentality in making Utah territory a slave territory(7). Slavery and racism have no place in the true church of God. A real apology could work wonders on putting the issues of the priesthood ban and church support of slavery behind us.
At this time, my level of participation in the church is minimal. I am there on Sundays and that is about it. I don’t think that there are any good answers to the moral questions I have about early church history. I have looked hard for them. However, there are some changes that could be made in the church that could lead me to want to participate more fully despite my issues. I don’t presume to be in a position to tell you what to do. I am writing to make my opinion known so that it can be considered.
Church finances have been closed since 1960. Church history teaches us that even the highest church leaders are imperfect. The general authorities set their own salary with no oversight. Since my trust in the organization was broken I would have to see the finances opened before I could ever consider paying any money to the church. It is especially disturbing when leaders state that tithing was not used in a particular expenditure (such as the City Creek Mall). To me, interest earned on tithes and offerings is the same as the funds that produced it. Interest earned on tithing is not up for grabs or less sacred than the tithing funds. It is not as the rest of the world would refer to it, “beer money.”
Current temple wedding policies also create problems for me. On one hand, in countries where it is required by law, couples can marry in a civil ceremony and can be sealed the same day. In the United States, having a civil ceremony earns the couple a one year waiting period. It seems to be a policy with no scriptural basis that can be waived when inconvenient. I don’t see how including all family and friends in this joyous occasion could be anything but good for everybody. The problem that I see is that I correspond with people on the internet that admit to lying to go to the temple and see friends or relatives get married. I don’t agree with doing this, but they would not feel it necessary to enter the temple unworthily if the couple could have a civil wedding beforehand to include those who can’t attend the temple. Frankly, this policy creates feelings that the church cares about money first, since many of these unworthy people who otherwise don’t pay tithing are required to pay tithing for a period of time before they can get a recommend. I have corresponded with individuals who pay tithing for the sole purpose of attending temple weddings. I really want to believe that you want unworthy individuals to stay out of the temple and that money is not the reason for this policy.
The BYU Honor Code is another policy that I have a hard time understanding. The policy does not allow for a change of faith(8). I am far from alone in my crisis of faith. Many BYU students share my experience while they are enrolled. They are placed in a position where they cannot be honest about how they feel for fear of losing all that they have worked for in their education. The situation encourages them to lie and compromise their integrity. In my opinion this policy shows utter disrespect for our God-given agency. Please change it so that people who lose their faith in the LDS church can get a new ecclesiastical endorsement from a minister of another faith.
The stance of the church with respect to gay marriage is ironic when you look at history, considering the fact that a lot of the arguments that the LDS church is using against gay marriage were used against it almost verbatim when it was fighting to legalize polygamous marriage. It is becoming increasingly clear as scientists research the subject that being gay is not a choice. The only logical thing for someone who is born gay and does not share the beliefs of the LDS church is for them to want to marry the person they love. I don’t believe that it will harm my family or marriage in any way for them to do so.
I also do not agree with the church directing bishops to interview children alone behind closed doors. I will not be allowing my children to be interviewed by the bishop or his counselors without my being present. The potential harm that a rogue bishop could do here is too great. The issue is not just the potential for sexual abuse but for ecclesiastical abuse, unnecessary shaming and guilt, etc. Also, a false accusation could ruin a bishop’s life as well. I wonder if there is a better way for the goals of the church to be met that doesn't involve such a risky situation.
Anyway, thank you for taking the time to read this letter. There is no need to forward it to my bishop or stake president as they will not be able to assist me with any of these issues.
(1)“What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one”
- Joseph Smith, May 26, 1844. At this time, he had about three dozen wives.
(2) “When we speak untruths, we are guilty of lying. We can also intentionally deceive others by a gesture or a look, by silence, or by telling only part of the truth. Whenever we lead people in any way to believe something that is not true, we are not being honest.
“The Lord is not pleased with such dishonesty, and we will have to account for our lies. Satan would have us believe it is all right to lie. He says, “Yea, lie a little; … there is no harm in this” (2 Nephi 28:8). Satan encourages us to justify our lies to ourselves. Honest people will recognize Satan’s temptations and will speak the whole truth, even if it seems to be to their disadvantage.
“People use many excuses for being dishonest. People lie to protect themselves and to have others think well of them. Some excuse themselves for stealing, thinking they deserve what they took, intend to return it, or need it more than the owner. Some cheat to get better grades in school or because “everyone else does it” or to get even.
“These excuses and many more are given as reasons for dishonesty. To the Lord, there are no acceptable reasons. When we excuse ourselves, we cheat ourselves and the Spirit of God ceases to be with us. We become more and more unrighteous.”
-Exceprts from Gospel Principles (2011) Chapter 31, Honesty
(3) “We are accused here of polygamy, and actions the most indelicate, obscene, and disgusting, such that none but a corrupt and depraved heart could have contrived.”
“ Inasmuch as this Church of Jesus Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication and polygamy, we declare that we believe that one man should have one wife, and one woman but one husband, except in case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again."
- John Taylor debate in France in the summer of 1850. In the second paragraph, Taylor quotes from the Book of Commandments which was not being followed by church leadership at the time. Taylor himself had a number of plural wives at this point. He later published this debate and distributed it in England to aid in conversion efforts.
(4) “I condemn it[polygamy], yes, as a practice, because I think it is not doctrinal. It is not legal. And this church takes the position that we will abide by the law. We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, magistrates in honoring, obeying and sustaining the law.”
-Gordon B. Hinckley, Interview with Larry King September 1998. He states that polygamy is not doctrinal (we still practice it in the temple and it appears in the Doctrine and Covenants) and that we don’t practice it because it is against the law. However, in all the time that the LDS church practiced polygamy, it was never legal.
(5) “S: As a Mormon, in the Temple, I’ve been told, [Romney] would have sworn an oath to say that he would not pass on what happens in the Temple, lest he slit his throat. Is that true?
J: That’s not true, that’s not true. We do not have penalties in the Temple.
S: You used to.
J: We used to.
S: Therefore he swore and oath saying ‘I will not tell anyone about the secrets here, lest I slit my throat’.
J: Well, the vow that was made was regarding the ordinance, the ordinance of the Temple… [The oath was] that he would not tell anyone about his personal pledge to the Lord. I’m assuming that any religious candidate, an evangelical, a Roman Catholic, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Osama, erm, I mean President Obama, I’m assuming that anybody who has a relationship to God has made a pledge of some kind to God.”
-Interview of Jeffrey R. Holland by John Sweeney, from BBC’s “The Mormon Candidate”
(6) ”The gospel of Jesus Christ that we espouse, abhors the cold-blooded killing of men, women, and children. Indeed, it advocates peace and forgiveness. What was done here long ago by members of our Church represents a terrible and inexcusable departure from Christian teaching and conduct. We cannot change what happened, but we can remember and honor those who were killed here.
“We express profound regret for the massacre carried out in this valley 150 years ago today and for the undue and untold suffering experienced by the victims then and by their relatives to the present time.”
- Henry B. Eyring remarks at Mountain Meadows Massacre Sesquicentennial Sept 11, 2007
(7) ”It is a great blessing to the seed of Adam to have the seed of Cain for servants…”
– Brigham Young, speech given on February 5, 1852 to the Utah Territorial Legislature. Later that year, the legislature voted to make slavery legal in Utah Territory. The legislature was made up primarily of General Authorities of the LDS church. To be fair, Young did advocate for better treatment of slaves than they were given in the south.
(8)“Former LDS students are not eligible to receive an ecclesiastical endorsement (See Withdrawn Ecclesiastical Endorsement below).”Here is the response I received from Steven Snow, the church historian:
“Students without a current endorsement are not in good Honor Code standing and must discontinue enrollment. Students who are not in good Honor Code standing are not eligible for graduation, even if they have otherwise completed all necessary coursework. Excommunication, disfellowshipment, or disaffiliation from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints automatically results in the withdrawal of the student's ecclesiastical endorsement and the loss of good Honor Code standing. Disaffiliation is defined for purposes of this policy as removal of an individual's name from the official records of the Church.”
-Excerpts from BYU Honor Code