One major thing I learned growing up in the church was to love the truth. I loved the church because it was true, not just because there was a lot of good in it. The truth was something I felt I possessed and truthfulness carried a lot of weight in my intellectual and spiritual belief in the church.
On my mission to the Catholic country of Brazil, there was a rumor among the missionaries that the Pope in Rome had historical evidence in a Vatican vault that proved the LDS church was true. I remember being skeptical of the rumor at the time, but I also felt indignant over how evil it would be for a religious leader to hide such facts or to hide any truth from the world. I was sure that my prophet, my faith, my leaders lived by a higher law. I certainly believed I lived by a higher law while I taught the LDS gospel. In other words, I believed in the truth as the highest of all values taught in the church. I thought the church and the truth were one in the same until the following experience.
Once, while teaching early morning seminary I was at a teacher in-service training organized by the local CES Institute coordinator. We were shown a video of a talk by Boyd K. Packer instructing all CES teachers who were teaching church history. Here’s a bit of that talk that bothered me at the time:
“I have a hard time with historians because they idolize the truth. The truth is not uplifting it destroys. . . . Historians should tell only that part of the truth that is inspiring and uplifting”. –Boyd K. Packer (Faithful History: Essays on Writing Mormon History, page 103)
This went against everything that I believed all my life. According to Elder Packer, there was some truth to be afraid of. It just didn’t sit right with me. I had been taught otherwise my whole life. The scriptures I read still point to the truth as being on God’s side, not against Him.
Exodus 20:16 – Thou shalt not bear false witness…
Isn’t part of bearing false witness telling only ½ of the story?
2 Nephi 28:28 – And in fine, wo unto all those who tremble, and are angry because of the truth of God! For behold, he that is built upon the rock receiveth it with gladness; and he that is built upon a sandy foundation trembleth lest he shall fall.
So is the church on sandy foundation or built on a rock? If it’s on a rock, then there’s nothing to be afraid of. If it has a sandy foundation, I can see why the GA’s might harbor ill feelings towards the truth.
If “truth” needs to be protected to the point of lying to cover it up, it cannot be truth. If a doctrine cannot be mentioned because it will look bad, there is something wrong with it. If it is cast in a bad light because it is being taken out of context and/or is misunderstood, you don’t recommend covering it up. You correct the context and explain it. Far better for “enemies” to misrepresent the truth and its defenders uphold it in the light of day than for so-called defenders to bury it and lie.
Let’s not forget D&C 93:24 stating that truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were. Not just things as we wish they were, as they are faith promoting, as approved by the First Presidency, or as it supports our version of things.
In conflicting doctrinal and historical situations, we are taught in the church that we should just revert back to our testimonies and put things on a shelf to be answered sometime in the afterlife. Sometimes we’re encouraged to find out for ourselves although that advice is heavily coated with the warning not to search out information contrary to what the church teaches. The stress is definitely loyalty above inquiry.
“The Church will not dictate to any man, but it will counsel, it will persuade, it will urge, and it will expect loyalty from those who profess membership therein. The book of Revelation declares: I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16).
They who are not for me are against me (2 Nephi 10:16). Each of us has to face the matter-either the Church is true, or it is a fraud. There is no middle ground. It is the Church and kingdom of God, or it is nothing.
– President Gordon B. Hinckley. “Loyalty,” April Conference, 2003.
In other words,
“search, ponder and pray but the answer you’re going to get is what we tell you it is so why bother. Just pray about it, get a good feeling and don’t worry about the rest.”
You have to make up your mind before you are able to investigate because investigating would put you on that “middle ground.”
I did just that and went along for several years continuing my service and belief in the church with gusto. My primary reason of doing so was love for my family and fear for my family. My family and the church are so integrated that anything that affects my feelings for one is bound to have ramifications with the other. The church teaches us that they are so intertwined that love for one cannot truly exist without a love of the other. I’m told that if I love my family, I’ll be active in the church. If I love the church, I’ll have more love for my family. I definitely love my family – my wife and kids are my main reason for existing and so I reasoned that my love for the church had to be as strong.
I thought I knew just every dirty little secret that anti-Mormons tried to throw at the church. I thought I knew all the responses as well. I couldn’t imagine what Elder Packer was so fearful of because I certainly didn’t know anything too harmful to the church. My problem was, however, that I was only hearing certain issues through the filter of the church.
Sometime after my Mom died in 2002 some of the things I had been putting up on that “testimony shelf” began to fall down and cause me to question the church’s truthfulness. Perhaps part of my testimony was strengthened by the expectations and love my Mom always had for me and without her I felt free to explore the gospel more deeply. If so, it was an unconscious connection.
Speaking of love for my family, I know I loved my Mom and upon her death I thought (as I was always told) I would find comfort in the fact that we’d been sealed as a family in the temple, but I didn’t. Instead, I wondered about the other good people I knew who would lose their loved ones. Would THEY not have their loved ones with them again in the after life if they disbelieved the gospel? I’m talking about GOOD people who just don’t believe in Mormonism even after being given the chance. Would God really make them suffer (or make me think they would suffer) based on a simple ceremony? Their familial love didn’t include the element of the church. Was their love any less?
The stories of non-members who have gone through near death experiences relate that they too get to bask in the love of their family members. What if love were the only requirement? Isn’t that a more comforting thought than “I get to see my loved ones and you don’t?” The weight of proof, whether it be spiritual or temporal, would have to be extremely great and clear for God to make such a grand judgment, I think. I also think it would have to be extremely great to put up with some of the other things that were falling off of that shelf of mine.
I wanted to confirm for myself that the evidence was as great as I had always believed it was. So, I began reading remembering all along Gordon B Hinckley’s words,
“There is no middle ground”