I remember when I first became aware of the challenging aspects of church history, the Mountain Meadows massacre, details of polygamy, problems with the Book of Abraham, multiple accounts of the first vision, and etc. I felt doubt stirring in my mind and heart. It was painful, but short lived. I’ll explain more about this later.
On reflection, I realized I had made some assumptions about the church, and church leaders that turned out to be flat wrong. I had assumed the Lord’s appearing to Joseph Smith meant the Lord was there 24/7 guiding the restoration. Consequently there could be no imperfections in the establishment of the church, or in the lives of those who carried the work forward, therefore church history should be uncomplicated and without error, blemish, or mistakes.
Apparently, I’m not the only church member to have put former day church leaders and church members on a high pedestal. Today, I wonder why I entertained such notions.
I was a student of the scriptures and understood the difficulties the Savior had with His hand picked apostles. The Book of Mormon’s first family, Lehi, his wife Sariah, and their children certainly couldn’t have contributed to my naive ideal. They were a prophet lead dysfunctional family.
The scriptures attest to the frailties of mankind, and do not support the assumption that the Lord’s apostles and prophets are perfect or near perfect. One writer exposed the tenancy we have to idealize church leaders, saying:
“In the Catholic church everyone says the pope is infallible but nobody believes it; and in the Mormon church everybody says the prophet is fallible but nobody believes it.”
What Do Believing, Active LDS Historians Have to Say About Church History, Are They Blown Away?
I read an article by a LDS church historian who didn’t mince words about getting caught up in the problems of church history. Davis Bitton, a prominent LDS historian makes the salient point that those who know our history the best, church historians, remain faithful committed members of the church. He wrote:
Let’s get one thing clear. There is nothing in church history that leads inevitably to the conclusion that the church is false. There is nothing that requires the conclusion that Joseph Smith was a fraud. How can I say this with such confidence? For the simple reason that the historians who know most about our church history have been and are faithful, committed members of the church. Or, to restate the situation more precisely, there are faithful Latter-day Saint historians who know as much about this subject as any anti-Mormon or as anyone who writes on the subject from an outside perspective. With few exceptions, they know much, much more. They have not been blown away. They have not gnashed their teeth and abandoned their faith. To repeat, they have found nothing that forces the extreme conclusion our enemies like to promote… Competent historians who have devoted many years of study to the issues have not felt compelled to abandon their faith in the restored gospel…
Think not when you gather to Zion,
Your troubles and trials are through,
That nothing but comfort and pleasure
Are waiting in Zion for you.
No, no, ’tis designed as a furnace,
All substance, all textures to try,
To burn all the “wood, hay, and stubble,”
The gold from the dross purify.
When Eliza R. Snow penned those words, they were good advice for the emigrants leaving Europe to join the Saints in the West. Similar counsel is sometimes needed by students of our LDS history. “Think not when ye study church history,” we might sing, “that everyone was always smiling, that the women were always dressed in freshly laundered, starched pinafores, that the men spoke softly, grammatically, and always politely, or that the children were well mannered angels.” Think not! In other words, get real!
At the beginning of this post, I related the pain I felt when I first learned about problems in church history. I remembered feeling shocked and betrayed. I even felt doubt surface to challenge my faith. However, it was shorted lived for me. Doubt couldn’t live in my soul when I recalled the many manifestations of the Spirit, all I needed to do was remember them and the doubt and pain fled. I had experienced the ministering of angels angels and been blessed with other significant manifestations of the Spirit. There wasn’t any doubt in my mind that the teachings of the church were true. I had experienced many of the promises. The challenges presented by church history melted away.
I hope that any church member who is being blown away by church history, will turn to the Lord for help and answers. Click here to read about my experience with the Savior. I hope and pray that all who are struggling will find peace and have their testimony strengthened by experiencing the greater manifestations of the Spirit that are available to those who will wrestle with the Lord in mighty prayer like Enos.
* F.A.I.R.-Davis Bitton Here
* Neal A. Maxwell Institute Here