Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Sound of Silence is Killing the Church

In my first post I alluded to the fact that I have done a lot of reading about church history since my disaffection began.  My reading has included many scholarly works, but also many online sources.  When searching for answers for these issues online, one is almost certain to come across one or more of the many online exmormon communities.  These communities themselves are likely a significant part of the equation that puts the church in its current state of crisis.  This phenomenon is something I would like to explore further in a future post.

For now though, I'd like to talk about the general sentiment I find in those communities.  I can sum it up in a word: Anger.  So much anger.  Anger that is, in my opinion, justifiable.  The main source of anger is the feeling of being deceived by virtue of the church "hiding" bothersome details about its past.  Whether the "hiding" was deliberate or not is open for debate.

But another source of anger is the fact that nearly everyone who has gone through a crisis of faith has had a very frustrating conversation with "the church."  The conversation varies from individual to individual- for some it was an actual conversation with a bishop or other leader.  For others it was an extensive search through official church publications.  But for nearly everyone, the conversation happened after finding out about disturbing facts about the church.  For nearly everyone the conversation was an attempt to answer the question "What does the church say about {insert controversial issue here}?"  Here is an excerpt from my "conversation."

Me: "Hey, people (and history) are saying that Joseph Smith married other members' wives and teenagers and hid the other wives from Emma, and publicly denied it all. . .Is this true?  I'm pretty uncomfortable with this, what gives?  In what circumstances is polyandry ok?

Church: . . . . . . . . . . . .

Me:  "Hmm. . . ok well I'm confused about how to know when the prophet is speaking as God's mouthpiece and when he is speaking as a man.  There seems to be an awful lot of "speaking as a man," and that doesn't seem right.  What's the deal?

Church: . . . . . . .

Me:  I have to be honest, your lack of participation in this discussion is disturbing.  Your critics seem to be seeking truth, and make what seem like valid points.  They are able to cite primary historical sources to back up their position.  Can you give me some clarification?

Church:  The missionaries can use Facebook now!!  AND GIVE TOURS OF THE CHAPEL!

Me: . . . . . . . . . . . .

The church appears to be very very reluctant to provide any answers to these questions, and I think I know exactly why.  Two reasons why, in fact.  First of all, for many of the questions, I just don't think there are any satisfactory answers.  If there was an easy answer, they would have given it already.

But the second reason is a little more subtle, and interesting.  To illustrate it, I'd like to tell you about the oral Torah.  The Jewish tradition holds that Moses received the written Torah on Mt. Sinai.  This contained the commandments and was, as the name implies, written down.  However, God also gave him the oral Torah- basically the Rabbis believe that God told Moses some additional information to fill in the gaps for situations not specifically described in the written Torah.  Presumably this was for situations like donkeys falling in pits on the Sabbath and that sort of thing.

The oral Torah was passed down, as the name implies, orally from Rabbi to Rabbi.  In fact it was forbidden to write it down.  However, after the destruction of Jerusalem, some of the Rabbis were worried that the oral chain would be broken, and decided to write it down.  They did so, and it now can be found in what is known as the Mishna.  They did so amidst great controversy however, because many of the Rabbis were vehemently against it.

Why would they be against writing it?  Seems like the logical thing to do, right?  Because having an oral set of guidelines has its advantages.  To phrase it gently: it is flexible.  To phrase it bluntly:  you can make stuff up depending on the situation, in order to best try to help those who come to you with spiritual dilemmas (or to best suit your own needs, unfortunately).    But once you start writing things down, they are set in stone.  You lose the flexibility.  If you try to vary from what is written, people will point to where it is written and call you out on it.

The current LDS leadership finds itself in a very similar situation.  The church is awash in doubt, and members are leaving "in droves."  And so far they have said very little, if anything, to address the issues that are bothering people.  There have been hints of answers.  The leaders promised Hans Mattson a document that had the answers.  It has not materialized.  There have been rumors that the church is going to release a series of essays addressing many of these troubling issues.  So far nothing.

The church has sent out Teryl Givens and Richard Bushman, prominent church historians, to speak at various functions where they attempt to answer questions from doubters.  While this is a nice gesture, Teryl and Richard each have a giant asterisk on their forehead.  The asterisks say "The views, opinions and conclusions expressed in this meeting are solely those of the speakers and do not reflect the opinions of the Brethren. The content of this meeting has not been reviewed or approved by the Brethren.  The speakers are solely responsible for this content."

The closest thing to a response from anyone in a position to give a response came in Elder Holland's conference talk this past spring when he reassured as all with the words:

"please don’t hyperventilate if from time to time issues arise that need to be examined, understood, and resolved. They do and they will."

So far he has been heavy on the snarking,  and light on the resolving.

So why has there been such an abundance of silence?  Because, like the Rabbis of old, the Brethren know that once they take a position, they can't take it back.   And if the apologists' explanations are the only material they have to work with, it is no wonder they have chosen silence.

In the meantime, with each day that goes by, more and more saints are becoming aware of the church's troubled past and contradictory doctrines.  As such, more and more will try to have their own conversation with the church in hope of finding answers.  Sadly, with each day that goes by, more and more testimonies will be shattered by the sound of silence.


  1. Great Essay! I like the way you explain the Talmud and then tie that in. Very illustrative and insightful. THANKS!

  2. Thanks. Fun reading of a serious subject.

  3. Replies
    1. I will. I prefer quality over quantity, so posts may only come intermittently :)

  4. Thank you for your insightful essay. I am going through the same problems as you do right now. It is hard and even harder not knowing where to turn to in order to discuss it. We are the same demographic- I'll be 31 this year: 1+ for the yound educated males in trouble.

    I would love to get in contact. Drop me a mail if you will at

    it's a dumb sounding address, but I just came up with it 5 minutes ago.