LDS History

Before my mission, the only version of LDS history I had ever learned was the sanitized version presented in official LDS movies, the ensign, seminary, and Sunday school. And the sanitized version of LDS history was too convenient, too clean, and too unbelievable. I grew up learning a version of church history where the Church was always the innocent victim of persecution, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were saints, and every decision ever made by LDS leadership was inspired. I was naïve, to say the least. But I simply couldn’t accept an organization that had existed for nearly 200 years without accumulating any skeletons in the closet. It didn’t seem real – and it wasn’t something I could embrace.

On top of that, it was common for me to come across information that challenged my view of LDS history. “Joseph Smith had thirty-something wives – half of which were only 14 years old!” I would read. “Joseph Smith didn’t even use the Gold Plates to translate! He stuck his peepstone in his hat and made it up,” I would read. Somehow, the LDS church never seemed to have a response for these sorts of claims – at least not anything official.

I never shied away from reading about the difficult aspects of LDS history, but it wasn’t something I enjoyed. I used to believe that I had to find a way to accept and defend all aspects LDS history. I used to believe that if Joseph Smith lied to his wife Emma about his practice of polygamy that I had to somehow learn to accept and defend his actions as well – even that I had to believe they were somehow inspired – and I wasn’t prepared to do that.

There always have been – and always will be – aspects of LDS history that I find troubling, but opening a door to find a closet full of skeletons is far less disturbing to me than opening the door to find everything neatly wrapped in pastel paper with pretty pink bows. I could not (and did not) accept the version of LDS history taught in Sunday school.

My decision to associate myself with the LDS church has strengthened because my understanding and expectations are more realistic. I have come to understand a version of church history that sounds like my own – messy & with mistakes & things I wish had gone differently. I could never accept a version of LDS history that didn’t allow room to admit that mistakes were made. Deeper understanding of the history of the LDS church with all its complexities has allowed me to progress to a level of faith that was previously unattainable.

Part of me wishes the LDS church would present a less sanitized version of their history – another part of me understands why they haven’t. Part of me wishes the LDS chourch would admit mistakes – another part of me understands why they haven’t. Plenty of individuals have left the church because they have studied LDS history and found aspects they couldn’t accept. I find myself more committed because of my broader understanding of LDS history – and because there are aspects I can’t – or won’t- accept.

3 comments to LDS History

  • Hey, I couldn't have said it better. I love the line about the skeletons being better then pastel wrapped boxes. I think I spent so much of my life feeling guilty because I was so concerned about the mistakes and secrets. It is so liberating to think "Hey, an orginization this big and old has got to have some issues."

    Besides, we can never really know the context of most of the things that have happened. So why let them detract from the good things of the church…

    Nice post.

  • Thanks, Kalie.

    You're right. We shouldn't let history we don't understand or just don't approve of keep us from the rest of the blessings membership in the church has to offer.

  • santorio

    yeh, sure, but then there's that slippery slope.

    dating myself, i remember a "teach-in" about the vietnam war. a member of the audience experienced disbelief; "but they [government officials] wouldn't lie to us."

    the ensuing cyncism and distrust in authority… good or bad? dunno