The June 2013 issue of New Era magazine (for Mormon youth) includes an article by LDS Seventy Steven E. Snow, “Balancing Church History.” The focus of the article is on warning Mormon young people about faith-challenging historical information they may encounter on the Internet, and encouraging them to be prepared for these encounters.
Mr. Snow follows the same path as others who have gone before him, suggesting some historical information about the Mormon Church found online may be “untruthful” and “out of context,” so readers “don’t really see the whole picture.”
I agree with Mr. Snow that balanced research is the best way to approach any issue; when it comes to Mormon Church history, the Church itself has a very long way to go in the area of providing “the whole picture” to interested parties. Consider, for example, the exclusion of Brigham’s plural wives from Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young and the continual Mormon misuse of Josiah Quincy’s remark about Joseph Smith (see Joseph Smith’s Powerful Influence). The Mormon Church itself perpetuates untruthful and out-of-context presentations of its history; people, therefore, “don’t really see the whole picture.” But Mr. Snow does not have the Mormon Church in mind when he warns the youth about historical sources.
After discussing the unreliability of what youth might read on the Internet, Mr. Snow says that some questions about “sad or confusing episodes in our history… might not be answered on this side of the veil.” He explains to his young audience that they will be unduly affected by negative information if they aren’t “personally worthy” and aren’t spending enough time reading the Mormon scriptures – they will be out of balance. He writes,
“If a friend came to me with an honest question about a controversial issue from Church history, I’d do my best to answer it. And if I found that he was spending a lot of time in that area, the first questions I’d want to ask him are: ‘Are you reading the Book of Mormon? Are you saying your prayers? Are you keeping your life in balance so that you can protect yourself against the storms of life?’”
Breaking down the way I see the psychology of Mr. Snow’s article: First, don’t believe everything you read on critical sites – there’s bound to be something wrong with it; Second, if you discover something troubling, it may be sad or confusing, but it can’t be wrong; Third, if it seems wrong, don’t look at it – you’ll get a full explanation after you die; Fourth, if you honestly ask about an issue and receive a faith-promoting answer, accept it without question and move on; Fifth, if you continue to be negatively affected by challenging information it is because there is something wrong with you – you have allowed your life to get “out of balance.” The pressure is on for these young Mormons, for as fifteenth LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley oft admonished,
“You are a part of the great processes of God under which men and women have gone before you. All that you have of body and mind will be transmitted through you to the generations yet to come, and it is so important, so everlastingly important, my brothers and sisters, that you do not become a weak link in that chain of your generations” (see here, here, and here for examples of this teaching).
In his New Era article Mr. Snow asserts, “The overwhelming evidence of Church history is positive and faith-promoting.” He cites the great sacrifices made by early Church members who left their homes to gather with the Saints, and the great accomplishments of the first Mormon missionaries. These stories, he says, inspire him and strengthen his testimony of the Restoration. They make up the “whole quilt” of Mormon history, though there may be a few controversial “threads” mixed in. He seems to echo Gordon Hinckley’s comments to Mike Wallace in 1996: “don’t worry about those little flicks of history…Now, there will be a blip here, a blip there, a mistake here, a mistake there. But by and large the work is wonderful, and vast good is being accomplished…”
I dare say the same could at one time have been said about The People’s Temple, the Branch Davidians and Heaven’s Gate (to name but a few). The members of these groups also left their homes to gather together. Many of them made the ultimate sacrifice – 1046 of them gave their very lives to remain true to what they believed. In the grand historical schemes of these movements, the deaths of these people could be called “little flicks of history” — just a few confusing threads in an otherwise well-designed quilt. How wrong – and tragic – such thinking would be.
As Sandra Tanner has said, “The sacrifice of the pioneers is only faith promoting if Mormonism is true.” I encourage Mormons of all ages to be courageous in finding the whole truth about Mormonism — because ultimately sacrificing eternal life for a lie is not inspiring – it is the greatest of all tragedies.