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.