I just read a facebook discussion of which I really have no idea why it showed on my page. Only one of the commentators is my friend. But it provoked these thoughts.
The discussion was about our church. From now on I refer to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as “church”. In the discussion it becomes clear that some who have left the church feel the church hurts those in the church by many different things. Some of the things are distorting history and thus teaching false historical facts or demanding people to be perfect and thus creating a lot of psychological stress and other harmful things.
I’m always willing to discuss whatever, but sometimes those kinds of discussions are fruitless. Because so much of it has to do with the fact that our experiences are very different.
I would compare it to going to school. The studies (PISA etc) has shown that the school system in Finland is one of the very best. No one in Finland would claim that it is perfect though. It is not perfect because it involves people. My experience of school has been very good. I have always enjoyed school. Not everything in it, not every day, but as a whole. It doesn’t mean that I haven’t noticed that some things are wrong or could be better. But school has done me good. I have even pursued a career in teaching.
I know many Finns have had very bad experiences in school. I know many have hated school. I loved my teacher of the first 6 years. I know a friend hated him. Same experience but we experienced it very differently. Why? A lot of it has to do with ourselves. Different things matter to us. Perhaps the teacher treated us differently. It may have been because of him or it may have been because of differences in us. It’s easy for my friend to think that the teacher was bad. It’s easy for those who had bad teachers and bad experiences to think that the Finnish school system is rotten. And it’s understandable. But is it the truth?
We believe the gospel of Jesus Christ is perfect. Meaning if we all would follow His teachings, we and the world would be a much happier and better place. We don’t believe the church as an organization is perfect. God created and led by God yes. But not perfect. Perfect would mean that it never changes. There would be no need for any changes. Of course it changes. There are differences in every country, every congregation and in every decade. The gospel is the same and stays the same. Many things in the church are same and may even stay the same. But to think that the organization is perfect is silly. As silly as it is to think that it should be perfect if it really was from God.
There are many studies and theories about how cultures develop. How people in general develop. The members of the church as a group of people follow similar paths. It’s natural. Today we abhor many of the ways and thoughts of the antiques. Not to mention other times and cultures. We can’t understand many of the things in the history of human race because we as human beings don’t think and perceive things the same way they did. Different things are important and vital to us than were to them. Thus we can really never understand history. And like a wise history professor says: history is always an interpretation. There aren’t really many historical facts. People’s own accounts are always their interpretations of the facts. The physical facts are (necessarily) interpreted by us, by our current understanding. Can there be a historical truth found, really?
So why haven’t we been taught about all the historical accounts in the church? Perhaps it’s like at school. Three are so many things I could teach my students. So many interesting things, fascinating things and things that most likely would be beneficial things. But I have only limited time for teaching. It means I choose to teach those things I feel are the most important. And for some reason the leaders of the church have felt that the most important things are those that help us become better people. I encourage students to study at home those things they find interesting. Not all teachers do that. At church I have always been encouraged to study gospel related things. Maybe not all have. But it’s not the fault of the system. It’s about the individuals we have happened to interact with.
Some claim that the leaders of the church have purposely withheld historical information that is opposing to or disagreeing with something that is taught as “this is how it happened”. I have understood that their thought is that the information has been withheld because it would make people not believe and leave the church. So it is about power. They want to keep us uninformed so that they can control us. Of course I do not believe so. One reason is because all I have ever heard at church is “study it out yourself”, “don’t believe me, but find out about it yourself”. Another reason is that religion is a matter of faith. We know that many religions with many dark secrets in their histories still have many people believing. So I think a more probable reason for the historical things not actively shared at church is that perhaps those in charge are in this regard similar to me: knowing the historical stories and the different views and ideas and flaws of the early members of the church doesn’t bother. As a youngster I did come across many of those, because friends had questions – luckily internet was available then. But until I heard for the first time that some people feel it – the fact that they have not been shared all the historical views - as the compelling reason to leave the church it never would have occurred to me that it might.
So there are many different stories about different things concerning the beginning of the church as it is today. Accounts written by different people at different times. Some of them are opposite to each other. Some people feel that if this really is from God, God should have told Joseph Smith everything at once so that there would not have been room for people to make very great errors. Some feel that the prophet should have dealt with all issues as we would today with our current understanding – when he lived in a very different world. We know God’s principles are unchangeable. For example, the principle of every person being equal in the eyes of God. So how can there have been inequality in the church?
It takes a lot of courage and other qualities to go against the common views of things. Often times it doesn’t even occur to us that there is anything wrong with the common view or way of doing things. I could name for example quite a few things that are considered normal and even very good in the US, things common there. Things that in this corner of the world are considered absolutely horrible and against all ethical and moral principles. It’s not easy to understand that something we think as a norm and normal is not really that. Even God can’t force us to understand it immediately out of the blue. It takes time and preparation and our development as a nation to accept such things. God doesn’t often interfere with the natural way things happen. Why? Because we are here to learn, develop and grow. We all know from parenting that we can’t teach a child something until he is ready to learn it. No matter how much we would like him to learn it sooner.
If the church is from God, does it mean all people, especially the leaders should be perfect? Of course not. We all know it’s not possible. And it would be against God’s plan. As we believe, a plan was presented for us to come to earth. Satan wanted to force everyone to do the right so that everyone would be saved and he would get the glory. God wanted us to be able to choose for ourselves. If God would make sure that the church or church leaders would never make mistakes, He would be forcing them to do right. He would be doing what He prevented Satan from doing.
My father keeps telling about a time when he was very new in the church. At the time church was also still quite new here. He had a question about something and some leader gave him an answer. An answer that to me as a younger person having been in the church all my life is just ridiculous. Totally false. An answer that at the time my father felt was not right. But from the point of view of the leader I can see why he gave such an answer, what he meant by it and why he thought it was the truth. The church doesn’t, can’t and shouldn’t exist without the context around it. We all bring in our perspectives, experiences and own ideas. Even the leaders. God won’t come and correct every sentence we say. That would be forcing us to do the right thing again.
I do feel very sorry for those who feel that the members of the church have hurt them, for various reasons. I’m sure their feeling of hurt is real. I’m sure people actually have done and said hurtful things. I can even believe that there are people who have intentionally hurt though I like to give the benefit of doubt on that for everyone. And of course it shouldn't happen. But we are imperfect, so it happens. But I don’t see how it can be implied that the hurt has been caused because of the church. The gospel teaches us to love everyone. It teaches us to accept everyone. It teaches us to be merciful and forgiving. It teaches us to reach out, not shun. It teaches us to be as good as we can. If a person chooses to hurt someone or shun someone it is not because of the church.
But within the group of members of the church we have different cultures. Every congregation has a different culture of being and doing. Just like every workplace has. In some cultures you may see more shunning. In some cultures you may see a lot of backbiting and gossiping. In another culture you may see the culture of “you have to be perfect” or the culture of really accepting everyone as they are. Those cultures are not made by the church. Those cultures are created by the people in that group. It happens in every group, not just church groups. If one doesn’t like the culture of the group he belongs to, he can try to change it. If the culture in my classroom is in anyway not desired, I can’t blame the school and the headmaster for it. What I can do, is start working with the people in that group. By showing example to begin with.
The truth is, religion is matter a faith. Either you believe it, no matter the “evidence” or you don’t believe it, no matter the “evidence”. One can’t convince the other person one way or the other. It is a personal choice. And it is a choice. It doesn’t just happen without us doing anything about it. It may be one big choice or a result of small choices in a long period of time. Everyone has the right to make that choice without being ridiculed for whatever choice he has made.