Facing Controversy Head On: A New Approach for LDS.org

A few days ago, I read about some new articles being posted on lds.org, the church’s official website. One article in particular was generating a lot of interest–an official church account on its history with racial issues. I read the article with interest and was encouraged to see how open and forthright it was. It didn’t seem (to me) to pull many punches–it’s a clear account of how the church started banning people of African descent from holding the priesthood, the various misguided justifications of that ban, how the ban was lifted, and where the church stands today in relation to that ban. If you’ve got Google and some search skills, none of this information was really earth shattering–but what was impressive to me was the fact that it was now neatly and succinctly on the church’s own site, as opposed to being sprinkled who knew where online.

I read this morning that this is part of a push by church leaders to have more comprehensive information about the church on its website–including areas that have proven problematic for members. (As another example, see this article on the various accounts of Joseph Smith’s first vision.) I’m very encouraged by this new approach. Over the years, the church would publish isolated articles in The Ensign (the official church magazine) on such topics, but actually finding official church teachings on some issues could take even trained researchers a fair bit of effort. It makes sense to me to bring it all under one easy-to-find, easy-to-use umbrella. Why?

Because nothing is to be gained by trying to brush issues aside or ignore them. In fact, a great deal could be lost. There have already been numerous articles written about Mormons losing their faith as they turn to the internet to answer their theological problems. Do a search for “Joseph Smith’s First Vision” on Google right now, and the first result is Wikipedia. Speaking as a trained information professional, a wiki is most certainly not the place you want to be going to for answers about the meaning of life or the existence of God. And yet the first result is almost inevitably where people click to go for those answers.

So the church is now beginning to take ownership of some of these sticky points. That’s good. They’re able to present their history and logic in a manner that doesn’t alienate faith. For a religion that’s founded on the principle that people can find out for themselves what is true, I think it’s vital we put the truth out there. There were very racist statements made by church leaders. Joseph Smith gave multiple accounts of the First Vision, and those accounts didn’t all exactly line up. These are incontrovertible facts–shoving them into a hole and ignoring them isn’t an approach that will work, and it isn’t an approach that should be tried. If the truth can’t stand the harsh light of day, what sort of truth was it?

Anyway–not much more to report on this. Just saw these few articles, and thought I might highlight them for those of you out there who haven’t already seen them. Anyone have any thoughts to add? All I ask is that you keep things civil. I can, have, and will delete comments that get out of hand.

3 thoughts on “Facing Controversy Head On: A New Approach for LDS.org”

  1. I’m not blown away by the article. I agree with you that it’s better to have a response from the church on their website, but the response doesn’t actually give a reason for the racism. The reason people have an issue with black Africans not being allowed the priesthood is that it seemed God didn’t have a good reason, or if he did, we weren’t allowed to know (in which case, I don’t blame anyone for not liking that scenario). Even with the acknowledgement that this article makes of the “explanations” they still say, “None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church.” But they don’t say what IS the official doctrine. This article just says it happened, and leaves questioners to assume the explanation is either a revelation from God to Brigham Young, which no one corroborated, and which would suck hugely if God actually wanted us to restrict the privileges of fellow saints based on race–a concept I don’t think anyone is super comfortable with. Or it was just the racism of humans alone with Brigham Young beginning it without revelation, and which God wouldn’t allow them to stop even when they wanted to. Or it was just a test from God and we don’t need to know the answer. Any one of those is not a good answer to many, many people. To me, this article answers no questions. It gathers information so questioners can ask further questions if they don’t want to rely on faith. I don’t mean to sound argumentative, but I really am not impressed with the response. That statement you made, “If truth can’t stand the light of day, what sort of truth is it?” has rung true for me very much the last little while. I feel like this article is too little, too late for many. In my opinion t is the least of the information the Church should feel obligated to provide to members and prospective members.

  2. I’m not sure waiting for a reason for the racism is going to be a fruitful endeavor, for two reasons. First, I know the reason for the racist comments: racism. People had racist ideas. But before people jump all over that, I have to add my second point: I’m not convinced that the ban on blacks holding the priesthood was racist. The justification for why it was enforced? Lots of racism there. But the ban itself (for me) falls into the “God’s ways are not our ways” category. I don’t pretend to know why God does what He does. Could the ban have been in place because He knew that there were enough racists in the church that if it had been taken away earlier, the church would have been ripped apart? Sad, but possible. However, any conjecture would be (for me) nothing more than guesswork. God isn’t required to explain Himself.

  3. I feel like God should be above worldly things like racism. If racism is wrong now, it was wrong then. And I don’t know that I like the idea of God allowing us, and in fact, forcing us, to continue to do something so damaging simply to preserve the perceived integrity of the church. I completely understand it’s all about guessing if one is interested in making guesses, and then ultimately relying on faith. But when faith fails or is weak, as is the case with many of the people who will read this article in search of answers, I feel like there should be something more to stand on. I don’t see it here for this topic.

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