https://www.sltrib.com/religion/2020/12 ... -believer/
Some quotes I thought might be relevant to some of us (emphasis added by me):
(This was similar to my own experience, sans the Harvard friends.)Did you ever have any religious doubts? When did you get your testimony of the church?
That sounds like if you have a testimony, you can’t have doubts and issues, but that’s a poor way of looking at it. Here’s what happened. I’m at Harvard. I have a lot of good friends in the church. We meet every Sunday. We’re all talk-talk-talk guys. We’re dealing with everything under the sun. My problem is not Joseph Smith or history. My problem is God. Is there enough evidence to believe in God? I was drawn towards agnosticism, where you cannot say one way or another if there’s a God.
On the Book of Mormon in the mission field:
When I arrived in Cambridge (Mass.), the mission president, a professor of agriculture from Utah State [University] and so wise, asked, “Do you have a testimony?” I said, “No, I’m not sure I believe in God.” But he didn’t send me home.
He said, “Would you read this book and tell me what you think of it?” He handed me a Book of Mormon and sent me on the train to Halifax, which took 20 hours to get there from Boston. I spent the next three months asking every question I could about the Book of Mormon witnesses — Were they deceived? Were they hypnotized? Were they in on the game? After that three months, the mission president came up and asked us to bear our testimonies and, when he came to me, I just said, “I know the Book of Mormon is right.” I was prepared to commit myself, which I did, and never wavered from that. But I have had continual questions ever since. They’ve never gone away.
(I also have some difficulty with the word true, but I'm not sure "right" is the correct word for me either. I don't believe the events of the BoM are true or right. I do have testimony of the book, though. Instead of using words like true or right, my testimony is that the Book of Mormon is a good book that testifies of Jesus Christ in the same way as the Bible. Like the Bible, it can and does bring people closer to God.)What did you mean by, the Book of Mormon was “right”?
I don’t know what I meant by that. It was just the word that came to me rather than “true.” When I read the book, I believed those things were happening. I could picture them happening. They seemed very real to me. So I’ve just always said it was right. I have a little difficulty with the word “true.” I am willing to say it’s true for me and it is something I’m willing to grasp. But it’s not something I can persuade everyone, including Harvard professors, to believe in.
How do you define truth?
We have a very confined notion of truth that’s really defined for us by science, which requires evidence or proof to be accepted. In ancient times, truth was connected to goodness — truth was what led you to a good life. And, for me, that’s always been more important. I’ve always valued the truth that led me to the right kind of life, the one which makes me a good father and husband and prompts me to help people be good. With that kind of truth, I’m very much willing to say, I know the gospel is true.
Have you changed your mind over the years about any of the church’s founding events?
In terms of the particulars — the overall story about the First Vision, gold plates, translation and a set of revelations to form a church — my view remains pretty much the way it was. But I do think about some things differently.
The Book of Mormon is a problem right now. It’s so baffling to so many that Joseph was not even looking at the gold plates [to translate them]. And there’s so much in the Book of Mormon that comes out of the 19th century that there’s a question of whether or not the text is an exact transcription of Nephi’s and Mormon’s words, or if it has been reshaped by inspiration to be more suitable for us, a kind of an expansion or elucidation of the Nephite record for our times. I have no idea how that might have worked or whether that’s true. But there are just too many scholars now, faithful church scholars, who find 19th-century material in that text. That remains a little bit of a mystery, just how it came to be.
No "cancel culture" for Brigham Young:How do you — as a person who once studied physics and math — explain the kind of mystical experiences claimed by Smith and his followers, the witnesses, and those who attended the dedication of the Kirtland Temple?
The kind of faith that early Mormons used to have or the kind of experiences that various peoples around the Earth have, where visions and powerful things come to them, are sort of shut down by our insistence on what we call “rational.” I want to leave room for the mystical — not that I necessarily accept everything every mystic says — but I want to be very tolerant of that mode of apprehending world. When people report those experiences, I believe they have to be taken seriously as part of the human experience. It’s like saying, “I’m not going to listen to music or to let myself be moved by romantic feelings.” You’re cutting off part of yourself and your life if you say that’s just beyond human capacity.
You can have respect but don’t you always have to report their flaws as well, like Brigham Young and his views on race?
My heart goes out to Brigham Young right now. He’s becoming the fall guy [for the church’s former racist priesthood-temple ban.] We really need someone to go through his biography and treat the latter half of his life empathetically. But on race, he really was off base. There seemed to be not just a sad acknowledgment of the limitations of African Americans in the church, but sort of a vindictive quality to him. And he spoke with some force. We just have to say he was wrong. But it’s not our job to condemn him or to say, therefore, we’re canceling him, that he’s worthless. We have to keep it all in perspective.
How have you seen the church evolve over the decades on race, feminism or LGBTQ issues?
I subsume this category into what I call cosmopolitanism, which is one of the most powerful influences in the church right now. By cosmopolitanism, I mean that we’re suddenly able to see ourselves as others see us and we can picture ourselves as one religion among a number of religions and a number of viewpoints. We can see how Mormonism looks from a global view. And as soon as we do that, then the way we treat women becomes problematic in terms of the way the educated world in general is looking upon women and race and LGBTQ issues and so on. We have to find ways of couching our message so that it makes sense to the world at large. At the same time, we need to hold onto our roots in a parochial way. I mean that in a positive sense. We all, even the most cosmopolitan people, need a home base in Mormonism.
Do you see the church changing as it moves into new countries?
Of course it’s going to change. The question is: What is doctrine and what is practice? What are the essentials we have to hold onto at all costs? We speak as if essential doctrines are clearly defined and that they will never change, but we can never say what they truly are. We say we believe God and faith are the basis of a good life, but it is always going to be remolded and reshaped. We just have to live with that. In the end, it can be very therapeutic and strengthening if you have to think through what you really believe, what you could stand up for, what you would speak about at the United Nations or to a group of the Harvard faculty.
How do you understand the reverence for Latter-day Saint prophets?
If it leads to the idea that prophets never make a mistake, even basic ones, that’s going to get us in trouble. Brigham did make a mistake on race, and saying he didn’t just gets us in more trouble. It’s better to say they do make mistakes like anyone else. But it’s of great importance for us to believe that God is leading us. And that begins with believing God is leading the church, that God is with the church.
Where do you see the church going forward?
Well, I have these two big words: cosmopolitanism, which I’ve discussed already, and power. We’ve become a very powerful organization, not just because of our wealth — which is a critical part of power — but because of the very loyal members who are in positions of power, especially in the United States, but more and more in other countries, too....
Our challenge right now is to know what to do with this power. We have a duty to save the world, but how do we go about that? We’ve done it through missionary work in the past and we will continue to do that, but do we have some larger calling? The ultimate good end of cosmopolitanism is to recognize that the work of God is going to be handled by the 99.9% of the population that’s not Mormon. It can’t just be this tiny speck of a church.