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3/22/14

Mormon Open Letter



               My friend Alison asked me to share some information about her project, Mormon Open Letter. This an an open letter to President Monson, asking for increased transparency regarding church history, among other things. You can find out more about the letter, as well as sign it,  HERE. The participants are specifically  asking the church for:


  • Increased awareness for the existing and upcoming topic essays through online and print announcements and global availability in official publications of the Church
  • Translation of the topic essays to other languages for a greater international reach
  • Inclusion of publication dates, authorship attributions, and an indication of the content being or not being official policies or doctrines of the Church, for all online and print content
  • Inclusion of this information in the correlated material used in church meetings, seminary, MTC courses, and with investigators
  • New lessons and training to directly address the challenges faced by mixed-faith families and how to maintain strong relationships in these situations
  • Separation of civil marriage and Temple Sealing ceremonies allowing for the inclusion of all family members5
  • Ending the rhetoric that tears down those who question or leave the faith and puts families at odds with each other
  • The same level of transparency into the finances of the Church that is expected from other non-profit and religious organizations


All former, current, and future members of the Church deserve complete, honest, and accurate information in regards to church history, doctrine, finances, and culture.


As I read the letter, this statement resonated with me both powerfully and painfully, "When we learn something new that we are excited to share with our families and loved ones, we are often met with suspicion and distrust, leading to discord, contention, and unhappiness in our relationships. The strife affecting so many goes against the Church’s own counsel on building love within our families."

For me, my first exploration into church history involved a study of the role of women in the church. It was both exciting and painful to read about the power and influence early church women maintained, and to learn how women's roles had been reduced to something that required "presiding" power. I  knew that I wanted to talk about these things with my husband, and at the time, he didn't believe me . The idea of women offering blessings by laying on of hands, the fact that Joseph Smith ordained Emma to create the Relief Society, all of these ideas struck Earl as scary. He accused me of reading "anti-Mormon" literature. It wasn't until the church officially released the Relief Society minutes in 2011, verifying my discoveries, that Earl was willing to truly talk to me about the history of women within the church. He needed official confirmation from the church that what I was saying was true. 

I don't tell this story to make my spouse seem like a mean person, or even a sexist one. He isn't. But we were both raised in a church that did not fully share it's history with members. We were both trained to be wary and afraid of any messages about the church that were not officially sanctioned. I felt betrayed when I learned about church history, and Earl felt afraid. We both didn't know what to believe, and yes, it caused a serious amount of  distrust and unhappiness in this part of our relationship.

While Earl and I have grown and learned new ways to navigate our faiths, it is an incredibly lonely road. The church does not offer many resources for families where one member is inactive and the other is not. In our old ward, there were members who would suggest we should get divorced, since a mixed-faith family presented challenges no one knew how to master. Others believed Earl had a right to divorce me since I had obviously been led away by sin. I suspect people assumed one of us had been unfaithful. And since the church does not provide adequate resources for helping members with mixed-faith marriages, articles like THIS one, in which the author claims there is no valid reason for questioning the church, encourages members to assume the inactive partner has sinned or is spiritually"sick."  Narratives like this only result in promoting negative stereotypes about members who leave the church, not strengthening and supporting families. While there is no way to avoid some of the difficulties that occur when one spouse goes inactive, I agree with the writers of Mormon Open Letter, there needs to me more kind and nuanced resources for members of the LDS church, and their inactive or ex-Mormon family members. There is not enough Uchtdorf, it seems. :)

I think there are many members who believe that admitting to a confusing and often upsetting history hurts the church, but I disagree. I think that institutions thrive on intellectual honesty. It allows us to see and understand the past without fearing it, and prevents us from becoming destroyed by the inconsistencies between reality and belief. And, as one of my favorite authors John Steinbeck so beautifully states, "And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good." I believe an increased transparency regarding church history, finances, and policy will allow Mormonism to leave the false idea of perfection behind, and head towards good. 










12 comments:

Suze said...

Thanks for sharing that. I was a convert- the only in a family that strongly opposed by conversion. I remember people suggesting that I should leave my husband or that I should try harder to get him to join. That was hurtful, when I thought family was supposed to be the most important thing. Luckily, there were also loving and reasonable people. But there aren't enough. And it certainly turned my family off even more to the church.

Anyway, like I said, thanks a lot for sharing that.

Gabriella said...

Hi, I found your blog about a week ago, and i hope I don't sound like a weirdo creeper person, but I read a whole lot of it and the ideas you have been expressing have been the same doubts and feelings I've had since I was little. Reading your blog helped me accept my feelings and realize that my hurt was valid.
It isn't easy coming from a faithful home and finding yourself torn between what you've been taught your whole life and the truths in your heart. But your blog helped. It might sound silly, but it's true. Thank you for being brave enough to share yourself. It really does make a difference

Linds said...

I haven't read your blog in a LONG time! Wow you've come a LONG ways. I love this post so much! Thank you so much for sharing this! :D

Stephanie said...

@Suze I'm sorry those hurtful things happened to you. I hope someday the number of loving and reasonable people outnumbers the hurtful. :)

@Gabriella Thank you for telling me that. It is nice to know my blog helped a little bit. I'm sorry you are torn, it is such a hard thing.

@Linds a very long way. I remember your profile picture. Welcome back :)

alison said...

Your experience of learning about women in the early church and their role and wanting to share this with your hubby....realizing that was going to be a problem. Isn't that crazy that this information would be considered anti-Mormon! So many of us have had this type of experience with some aspect of church history.

This is KEY:
"we were both raised in a church that did not fully share it's history with members. We were both trained to be wary and afraid of any messages about the church that were not officially sanctioned. I felt betrayed when I learned about church history, and Earl felt afraid. We both didn't know what to believe, and yes, it caused a serious amount of distrust and unhappiness in this part of our relationship."

I was raised in the church and always assumed that I was getting complete accurate information regarding it's history. After all it was the church itself teaching it! I never even thought about searching outside sources for more accurate details....why would I? People like to say...that information is out there and if members REALLY cared and wanted to know they could find it. Are we really going to put the blame for not knowing/understanding complete/accurate church history on the members and not the church?? We sit in church for 3 hours each week. We have lesson manuals that claim to be studying church history. They cover the history in seminary. It's not that they don't have time to do this accurately! They just choose to leave out quite a bit or narrate something in a way that leaves it just vague enough that it's not clear. It's OFTEN what they leave out that is the problem.

Material that contradicts/adds to the official church narrative is OFTEN referred to as anti and the church warns about the dangers of looking/reading it. This is crazy when many of those sources are actual church documents/quotes from early leaders/apostles/prophets. Many of these sources are written by scholars who are/were active faithful believing members. Some of those people were disciplined for writing this accurate information!

The members trust the church. They trust that they are being given the complete accurate information and it's amazing when you find out you aren't. It's devastating. They are adding some of these new topic essays in LDS.org to address a few of these but they are adding them quietly. No announcement. No publication dates. No claimed authorship. They are only in English and not translated despite the claim that it's a worldwide church. MANY members are completely unaware of their addition or what they say. They are written with just enough information to often sound like they are addressing the topic but are often still not complete or accurate.

So many members and those that have left are asking for more transparency and openness. We are asking the church (that for decades has known some of the correlated material is not accurate) to make corrections and be honest. The result of asking for this is we are branded as anti-Mormon. This letter is seen as inappropriate for asking. The only links on the letter are to lds.org but people have claimed it's against the church and links to anti-Mormon literature! This is crazy. How can asking the church to be more honest result in this type of reaction? We tried SO HARD to be respectful in how we wrote it and yet it's branded as anti/extreme/disrespectful.

Thank you so much for your support of the letter.


Rebecca Yung said...

My husband responds the same way when I try talking about church history. I, too, am in a mixed faith family (I'm the "feminazi") and it can be difficult having a conversation about the church without it dissolving. Best of luck to you!

dswynne said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kirsty said...

LOVE this. Every word. Thank you for speaking what is in the quiet and often sorrowful hearts of many.

Happy said...

I respectfully don't understand why the confusing and sometimes misunderstood parts of the churches history is relevant for the gospel in the here and now.

Stephanie said...

@Happy

Thanks for your question. I think it is relevant because some current policies in the gospel are based on what happened in the past. It is good to examine these practices and determine if they are cultural/traditional or they are doctrinal.

Understanding our past also helps us not repeat mistakes. Our past, even when ugly or confusing, can help us create a better roadmap.

I mean this respectfully as well, if the past doesn't matter to the gospel here and now, why does genealogy matter to the church? Why do we do ordinances for the dead? Why do we read the Bible at all if we have more modern revelations. The past and present intersect, and we can't understand the present without looking to the psst.

Also, when people find out things about church history, sometimes they feel betrayed or angry. I think it would be better if they were prepared and understood the past so they could navigate the present without those feelings.

Jon said...

I think we would all do well to listen less to the people in our wards, and listen more to the apostles and prophets at General Conference. Seriously, try it out, and see if you don't feel better.

Much of what people say is taught (or not taught) by "the church" is actually taught by local amateurs who were themselves taught by local amateurs, etc. And their job on any given Sunday is to build faith, not delve into whatever piece of church history is currently bothering you (remember, they are amateur faith teachers, let alone history teachers). I think we need to be more generous with the local amateurs, focus on what "the Church" actually teaches (from the top, i.e., the apostles in General Conference), and leave history to the experts.

On that note, read "Rough Stone Rolling" from cover to cover. It doesn't shy away from history, and yet it was written by a faithful member (who also happens to be one of the foremost experts on the subject). He wasn't admonished, released, or disciplined for this -- rather he was applauded.

In the same way, I think we should also applaud, rather than criticize, the new academic gospel topics being published on lds.org. They are incredible in terms of the scholarship and academic freedom they are written with. And it should not be understated that they are being published by the Church on the official Church website for all the world to see (which means regardless of who did the initial research or writing, the Church approved them and takes full responsibility for them -- i.e., the Church is the de facto author). Give it time -- they'll be in other languages soon enough. Stuff just takes time.

And let's not forget, all the gospel topics are directly linked to from mormonnewsroom.org, the main source of information for journalists and the news media. Is that open enough for you?

Then there's the Joseph Smith Papers Project, which has a goal of publishing *every* *single* *thing* he wrote or dictated. It's been in the works for years, and they've published a handful of the projected 30 journals.

When I see this kind of openness, honesty, scholarship, and academic freedom, I wonder why people think the Church is trying to hide stuff. If anything it appears the Church is trying to get more information out there -- warts and all.

Whether the individual, local, amateur church members (including your family or friends in the church, and even you who is reading this) accept what is being published by the Church is their own decision. Some of it might be uncomfortable, but so be it. On the other hand, it might not be as much or as fast as you want, but stuff takes time. If you want more history, go ahead. There's plenty out there to read. And there's plenty more to come.

If you want to strengthen your faith, go back and listen to what the 15 prophets, seers, and revelators just said this weekend. In both cases, you might just find what you were looking for, and then some. I wish you well in both efforts.

Happy said...

Stephanie my heart absolutely breaks for you and what you've been through. I think we all have to challenge things in the church to a point to study and gain a testimony for ourselves. I've been checking on this blog once in a while, not because I care at all about it's content, but because I feel horrible for what you've been through and am just curious how you're doing. I was so sad to hear that you cut ties with the church. It was genuine saddness for you. Heavenly Father loves you and knows you and wants you to be the best you possible. Satan knows you very well too and will do everything in his power to take you from your Heavenly Father. I absolutely can understand how you want more answers. I think we all have questions we want answers to. I know that I have to trust my Heavenly Father and keep a close relationship with Him to make sure I''m on the road He wants me and that I'm not listening to those things from a worldly perspective. We really do want you back! I know you feel picked on and torn down, but we want you back!