Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Where is the LDS church headed?

I had been thinking recently about why I felt anxious and abused at LDS church Sunday School and Priesthood quorum lessons. I mean, just thinking about going makes my chest feel tight and my heart rate rise. I think that this is extremely odd since I don't react to the prospect of any other meeting that way. I've been asking myself what the issue is there.

Then recently, D. Todd Christofferson made a post on Facebook that I think allowed me to deconstruct what is going on. Here is the post:
I’m not sure what is behind the increasing attacks upon the Prophet Joseph Smith in our current time, but one thing is for sure: it is increasing. I want to declare my witness of this great prophet. 
In his youth, this pure-hearted boy came to know Jesus Christ. He not only knew of Him, but he knew Him. There were more than one or two occasions when he communed with Jehovah. He could stand as one who knew and bore witness of the identity of Jesus Christ. He heard from the mouth of God Himself that Jesus was His Son. He never faltered in that witness. 
There is no reasonable explanation for the existence of the Book of Mormon other than what the Prophet said—that he was given the power to translate it. No human in his condition could have originated the book. 
Joseph Smith never claimed to be perfect, and he told the Saints that, but he fulfilled his mission. He fulfilled his commission. He did what God ordained him and asked him to do. 
He now stands with the Savior having given a good report. May we recognize the debt of gratitude we owe him and thank our Heavenly Father for this obedient prophet who restored the gospel of Christ. (D. Todd Christopherson Facebook Post)
This elicits the same feelings I get in Sunday School lessons. Why? I think the answer is simply that this post is a denial of my reality. It is a subtle form of gaslighting. This post basically says that there is no possible valid reason to feel angry at Joseph Smith.

I grew up viewing Joseph Smith as a hero. He was a major role model for me. As the church portrayed him, he was a paragon of honesty, humility, and love for his wife, Emma. It was kind of shocking to find out that Joseph Smith was arrested because he ordered a printing press destroyed that was exposing his secret practice of polygamy (I always assumed it was trumped-up charges, did I assume that or was that taught to me?), or that he boasted in his May 26, 1844 sermon that he had accomplished things that Jesus never had, or that he chose to repeat marriage ceremonies with some of his polygamous wives to avoid telling Emma that he had already married them, or many other things, so on and so forth, etc. etc. etc.

I made the following comment when I initially read D. Todd Christofferson's post, which has since been deleted by him (or whoever manages his Facebook account):
Finding out about Joseph marrying teen orphan foster daughters and other men's wives after years of faithful service sure did not help my faith. Maybe if church leaders (cough cough) portrayed Joseph a little more realistically in conference talks there wouldn't be so many who feel so betrayed by the facts.
Obviously I was being quite snarky, but there is real pain behind that snark. When I began to research church history in earnest, I desperately desired understanding and validation of my concerns. One of the most painful moments in my life was visiting with my bishop and having him vehemently deny that Joseph Smith ever practiced polygamy and then proceed to ask me if I was cheating on my wife (because the only reason one could possibly have concerns about Joseph Smith is if you were an adulterer?!?!). Thankfully, other LDS members were much less judgmental, but it was hard to take that from my bishop. It hurt a lot. And it hurt more because I had no material from higher church authorities with which to enlighten him. No conference talks or other resources that would discuss Joseph's marrying of Orson Hyde's wife, teen orphan foster daughters, polygamy denials, etc. etc. etc. The church had plainly avoided these difficult subjects for quite some time, so my anger isn't just at Joseph, but in fact it is primarily directed toward the people who taught me a whitewashed version of Joseph, people like D. Todd Christofferson.

Back to Elder Christofferson's Facebook post, several days after the post was made, the following comment was the top comment with almost 1200 'likes'. The next highest comment had less than 500:
I used to have a testimony of Joseph Smith. But my testimony was based on the narrative that I learned while growing up in the church as well as what the church taught up until it released the essays on the church's web site. I was shocked and saddened to learn that my testimony was based on lies. I think that's a big factor in a lot of people's disdain for Joseph Smith. The translation wasn't what I thought it had been. The first vision wasn't what I thought it had been. The Book of Abraham wasn't what I thought it had been. And Joseph Smith's relationship with Emma wasn't anywhere near what I thought it had been. 
So I am leaving my comment here not to diss anyone, but to share why many people have changed their opinion about Joseph Smith and have lost their testimony of him. I don't wish to lead anyone astray, but I want to provide insight.

If you know all of these horrible issues and still have a testimony of him, then that is your choice and your belief, and I respect that. But there are many of us who can no longer believe and have gone through a traumatic faith transition. Please respect those of us who now believe differently. Thank you.
This comment (which I felt was quite respectful) was deleted the same day that my comment was deleted, and these deletions go right to the heart of why I felt abused all my life at church.

When I go to church, I feel deleted. It is not a place where I can share myself, and it is that way by design. The lessons go out of their way to avoid covering the subjects that are big concerns for me and make it clear that my perspective is invalid. Basically, they deny my reality, which is exactly what Elder Christofferson did when he deleted my and many other comments on Facebook. These are the kinds of games that abusers play. Someone with truth on their side need not do this.

I wish I could ask Elder Christofferson directly where the church is headed and get an honest answer. Not that it matters much but I am curious. Is the church going to eventually acknowledge the elephant in the room that is the historical record or are we going to keep pretending that we can't possibly imagine how anyone could have any serious concerns about anything Joseph Smith ever did? Are they going to limit the discussion of Joseph's foibles to "sometimes he played with kids" or are we going to wrestle with the theological implications of Joseph's polyandry (marrying other men's wives) and the like?