Although I know of no one who has left the church or “lost their testimony” as a consequence of reading my book, Passing the Heavenly Gift (“PTHG”), there continue to be accusations that this has/does happen. Therefore, again, I want to reaffirm the purpose of PTHG.
Let me give some background. I joined the church while in the Air Force, stationed in New Hampshire. After joining, I was a zealous missionary, and there followed over a dozen conversions of other military young folks who would listen to me explain the restoration. I got them open to the idea, then the full-time missionaries and ward members would take over. Mormonism was an exotic religion in New England. Little was known about the faith. So we got to begin with a relatively blank slate and tell the story our way.
I was transferred to Abilene, Texas shortly after joining the church. In Texas things were very different. At the local Laundromat I used, there were racks of religious tracts on the wall. Included in these were a wide assortment of anti-Mormon pamphlets intended to “prove” Mormonism was false. We went from being exotic to being the devil’s workmanship. Missionary work in Texas was a good deal more difficult. Even though I served as a Stake Missionary, and took the third-Elder (who awaited his Visa to Brazil) every evening and weekend as a companion to tract and teach, the results in Texas were nothing like what had happened in New Hampshire.
The organized effort in Texas was supported by radio programs, Sunday sermons, and the occasional editorial in the local newspapers. The “Christian” churches were tired of losing their best congregants to the Mormon Elders. So the effort to oppose the church was inter-denominational.
I joined the church in 1973 and finished my Air Force term in Texas in 1975. This is now long ago. Since then, the growth of the church has left no corner of the United States untouched by wards, stakes, missions, temple districts and advertising. We are no longer exotic anywhere – including New Hampshire.
The result of church growth has been the increasing awareness of Mormonism’s effect on other religions. It is not a happy thing for other faiths to see our church grow at the expense of their own congregations. The original inter-denominational cooperation I saw in Texas in 1974-75 has now spread. It is now worldwide. All churches are wary of the loss of revenue and participation represented by each Mormon convert who leaves their fold to join ours.
Today there is widespread sharing of anti-Mormon material among other denominations. The best defense is an organized offense. In many areas, Elders (who are easily identified) are followed in order to discover who they are teaching. Then the investigator is contacted by volunteers who distribute anti-Mormon material to prevent conversions. Some years ago there were ministries who bragged they could not only prevent conversions, but they could take it one step further: They could convert the Mormon Elder! That led to a growth in seminars, literature and preaching about ways to “convert Mormon Elders” while they are on their missions.
I do not think there has been any significant success in actually converting active Mormon missionaries. But that isn’t the point. It is the Evangelical perception of that success that has fueled two things: First, it has helped insulate converts, because if the Elders can be converted, then Mormonism must not be true (or so the reasoning goes). Second, it creates more confrontation by anti-Mormon forces aimed directly at our missionaries.
The Evangelicals have realized that the best way to practice this kind of undermining of Mormon missionary efforts is to take the soft-sale approach. Instead of Bible-bashing, just ask questions the Elders can’t answer. Make the Elders do the thinking and work to solve the riddles. When they can’t, then they are filled with doubts that linger.
This is not just happenstance. This is an organized and inter-denominational effort that began decades ago. It now bears so much fruit it is is alarming to Mormons. Returned missionaries are falling away. When I was in charge of missionary work in my stake, I attended regional leadership meetings at which the Mission President and a Seventy advised us of the trends underway. The inactive church members were called “low hanging fruit” who could swell our ranks just by returning to activity. One category of the “low hanging fruit” was the returned missionary population. At that time, (years ago now) it was estimated there were 40,000 returned Elders along the Wasatch Front, from Ogden to Provo, who were so inactive we didn’t have a reliable address for them. The suggestion was to contact the families of the inactive, returned missionaries and locate them that way.
This background is part of why PTHG exists. This battle has been underway for decades, and the most successful topic being used to question our members and raise doubts is our history. The anti-Mormon forces know we are generally ignorant of our history. We don’t know enough to answer hard questions. So all that needs to be done is to put the right question to the ignorant, but believing Latter-day Saint, and the doubts will eventually percolate into disbelief and abandonment. I do not think most of those who have and are leaving do so because they know the church is not true. They leave because they no longer think the church has answers to the difficult questions. Part of the reaction of the church has been to run from the hard questions, which reinforces the idea that we don’t know the real answers.
So, I wrote the book to deal with anything I thought was out there being used or potentially being used against us. I assumed the audience would be those who were already in distress, already having doubts, already aware of these efforts to undermine faith and create doubts. It was intended as relief from anxiety over the battles which have raged for decades now.
Instead of this audience, there are some who have picked the book up and thought it was intended as a hostile attack on the church, its history, and its doctrine. Thankfully, such readers are already sure they belong to the “only true church” and therefore their ire is only directed at me. They aren’t leaving the church. They’re only interested in damning me for writing something they can’t conceive of as helpful.
Well, I have literally dozens, perhaps hundreds of emails and letters from readers who were the intended audience. Person after person, young and old, male and female, returned missionaries and church leaders have thanked me. Some who left the church have returned. Some who have had their names removed from the records of the church, or were considering it, have written to tell me they were remaining in the church. At last, they say, they can find faith and answers that enables them to remain in fellowship with the church.
For those who were never intended to read the book, but are now angry at me for having addressed this problem, let me assure you:
First, I believe in the restoration of eternal truths through the prophet Joseph Smith. My testimony of this truth is rock solid. My purpose, and all that I seek to accomplish by writing, is to further this work and be a small contributor to development of God’s work.
To be clear:
1. I sustain today’s church leaders as prophets, seers and revelators. The scriptures give them the right to use those titles (D&C 107: 92). They preside, and it is their right to do so. They have our common consent and ought to be upheld by our “confidence, faith and prayers” (D&C 107: 22). I uphold them in this way. They carry heavy burdens and have my sympathy, not my judgment, for any human frailties they display.
2. It is utterly untrue that I have said the church is apostate. I reject the accusation. If the narrative I suggest in PTHG is true, then the Lord’s post-Nauvoo ire is evidence the Lord is still watching over and intends to further His work with the members of this church. Those whom He loves, He chastens. (Heb. 12: 5-11; Helaman 12: 3; D&C 95: 1.) Mine is not a faithless, but a faith filled history. I’ve reiterated this before and reiterate it again. (See my post: The Traditions of Men, Part 1, April 21, 2010.)
3. I believe the church possesses the right to seal on earth and seal in heaven, and have agreed with President Eyring’s general conference talk on the subject.
4. I believe that all organizations, including the church, tend to characterize their history in a light most favorable to them. They have that right. I take no issue with it and think it should be expected. That does not change the divine origin and mission of the church.
5. The church provides ordinances required to see and enter into the kingdom of heaven, in addition to providing us with the necessary scriptures. Through the church, we receive the foundation of faith, repentance, baptism and enduring to the end. I hope to endure to the end myself and I seek to help others do so.
I am still in the battle to help people find and focus upon Christ. As a faithful Latter-day Saint I owe my knowledge of the Lord to the tools I obtained through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have enjoyed every minute of my association with the church, and I intend to remain a faithful member. The current war we face did not originate with blogs or bloggers. The blogosphere is following the battle, not leading it. It began long ago, and the efforts to deal with it here are because of the many losses we have and are suffering. They are needless losses. We just need to be willing to discuss and recognize there certainly are some tough questions. They don’t go away because we ignore them. They grow.