I apologize, I poorly phrased my question. I guess I'm asking, at what point do you decide that you will not "give them a free pass," that you won't endorse what the organization does? Maybe I am poorly understanding you all. Do you agree that there is white-washing, or deception of some form? Are you just giving me ways to understand it, or are you defending it? Is the only difference between you and me the fact that I think white-washing is deceptive based on my interpretation of the word and the tactics, and that you don't according to yours?
Maybe I am sending the wrong message here. I am not asking for the church to teach us to be history experts. I'm not asking the church to spend each Sunday School lesson detailing the various intricate historical theories related to how Joseph translated the BoM. I'm not asking the church to teach "every possible controversial or difficult detail of its history." I don't believe that this is the message I'm sending (as I look back on the posts I have never asked for this). In fact, I'm not asking the church to do anything. My personal opinion is that we are less than forthright (Elder Oaks' own words in the PBS/Frontline interview), and that when dealing with investigators specifically, it is less than honest.
This is really quite simple. Let me try to illustrate here.
- Our Heavenly Father
- Plan of Salvation
- The Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is primarily a religious text describing God's dealings with a civilization. God led Joseph Smith to a set of Golden Plates, upon which contained the writings of this civilization. In the mid 1820's Joseph and his father tried desperately to keep a source of income, and frequently offered services as treasure hunters, Joseph using a seerstone as a guide. Using this same prophetic seerstone, Joseph received the meanings of the writings in the plates, and scribes recorded them into what we now know as The Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon presents a very common 19th century theme - that of the American Indians originating from people in the Middle East. Many of the stories in The Book of Mormon are closely related to other 19th century themes including The Masons, liberty, monarchies, spiritual visions, slavery, Christianity etc. However, there are also many fascinating insights into the culture of ancient Jerusalem. There are many moral truths, prophecies, and wise counsel in the Book of Mormon. The culminating event in the Book of Mormon is the appearance of Jesus Christ to this civilization after His resurrection...etc. etc.
- The First Vision. The early 1800's were a time of spiritual upheaval in early America. Joseph Smith's family was deeply religious and spent a great deal of energy trying to discover which church was correct. While Joseph was in his teens, he was reading the Bible and read a passage in James <repeat scripture here>. Joseph felt that he needed wisdom. So one day he went to the woods to offer up a prayer. Upon praying, in his mind a light appeared and a heavenly personage appeared and answered Joseph's deepest yearnings. etc. etc.
- Joseph Smith. We believe Joseph Smith restored Christ's church from ancient days. Joseph was a visionary, and a deeply spiritual man. He received many revelations in the course of his short life, and many of the teachings, doctrines, and commandments we live by were revealed through him. This started a line of prophetic authority in our day, and President Thomas S. Monson holds that authority today. Some of the doctrines, and practices revealed by Joseph are not well understood, and were, and continue to be very controversial, namely polygamy. We believe that our current prophets have received revelation that we are not to practice some of the things that Joseph revealed. The Lord has given us prophets to help guide us so we might now what we can do to lead happy fulfilling lives in accordance with God's will. We encourage you to take a look at this literature which discusses more in depth the topics of Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, the Plan of Salvation, and our Savior Jesus Christ who leads this church.
Now, I'm no scholar, and no historian, and this is very "off the cuff." But I don't think I have said anything here that isn't based on historical fact, and I have spun it in a faith promoting way, while still maintaining honesty and openness. It's not perfect, so don't be too harsh, but it illustrates the point. I at least think that in the discussions, this gives the investigator a fair chance, and will encourage them to investigate further on their own.
With regard to Sunday School and innoculating people, this simply needs to be a part of the culture. Let me give an example. A few weeks ago we were talking about Joseph in Liberty jail. One of the guys in the quorum asked the question, "why was Joseph arrested and put in jail so many times and our later prophets weren't." Many elders raised their hands citing stuff about how the later prophets had their own trials, and that it was a trial of Joseph's faith, and that he was always persecuted, etc. However, from a historical perspective, the answer is quite simple. People didn't like Joseph. He illegally practiced polygamy, sometimes with very young girls, and people knew it, and he was lying about it. He was also very progressive in his attitudes towards blacks in a slave state, Missouri. These are just some of the reasons. And yet, not only didn't anyone say this, but I felt like I would be labelled heretical if I spoke up.
My point is, the church does not need to turn us all into historians to tell a more candid story. This solves a myriad of problems, but two specifically that I think are important. It innoculates people, which is something hawkgrrrl (and Bushman and others) has (indirectly) advocated, and it allows people like me to get off the church's back about deception. Even if the church, before making matter-of-fact statements, they said something like "as far as our historical records indicate, <x> happened..." At least then, they are opening the door for other interpretations and other discoveries. But when "translated the Book of Mormon from Gold Plates," comes across in the matter-of-fact way that it does, and creates an image in the minds of investigators that Joseph sat in front of the Gold Plates literally "translating," it of course creates a feeling of deceit when the investigator (or member) finds out otherwise.
Nevertheless, I very much appreciate all of your comments. Despite how it appears, you have softened me somewhat on the issue. That is important to me. I always appreciate contrary views as it helps me to diversify my own view, and consider other possibilities. Thank you all very much.