The Washington Post’s suggestion that LDS Internet support groups run against the LDS Church is flat-out wrong, yet they published an article by Michelle Boorstein (pictured) insinuating as much. Besides some factual errors pertaining to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she makes it seem that doubt is bad or frowned upon in the LDS Church, painting another faulty picture of oppression with its members as victims. That simply isn’t true and this is not the first time WaPo has falsely attacked the faith. Church leaders consistently encourage members to search out truth for themselves and have since the beginning of the Church.
Boorstein routinely covers religious issues for WaPo and seems to value accuracy in general, but got in over her head on this one. In order to understand the inaccuracies about the LDS Church in her article, you must understand specific distinctions between three separate but related entities at play here: the gospel (or beliefs or doctrine), the Church, and the interactions of people attending the Church which I will call Mormon culture.
- The gospel of Jesus Christ is all truth concerning God, in entirety. It is a body of knowledge. The gospel is given to mankind to teach them how to return to God.
- The Church is the organized body of believers who have taken upon themselves the name of Jesus Christ by baptism and confirmation. It is governed by the Lord Jesus Christ through representatives (Church leaders) whom he has appointed (see the Bible Dictionary for the entire definition of ‘Church.’) Said another way, the Church is the organization put in place by God to teach the gospel. Some policies of the Church may change, but the gospel never changes. The Church itself and its leaders are not infallible but the gospel is infallible.
- Mormon culture: the interactions of people comprising the membership of the Church. These interactions happen largely on a congregational level. The culture is especially pronounced in places with large LDS populations with members living in close proximity to each other. In general, it doesn’t have much to do with the Church or the gospel. Mostly it is a positive thing, but the culture is also responsible for many of the accusations against Mormons, such as being insular, judgemental, prejudiced, or exclusive.
I’m sure this is confusing. It’s confusing for many members of the LDS Church!
I didn’t become cognizant of Mormon culture until I moved to Utah for a few years to attend college. Of all my travels, Utah remains the largest culture shock I’ve ever experienced, because I didn’t understand that Mormon culture existed separately from the Church and the gospel. In other congregations I’ve attended across the country the culture is present to a smaller degree, and it nearly disappears in places with large numbers of Church converts such as in inner cities and foreign countries.
One could argue that those steeped in Mormon culture are averse to expressing doubts or fears for fear of being judged by other members, as referred to in WaPo. However, the gospel of Jesus Christ and the LDS Church acknowledge doubts, fears and questions as the beginning of growth, faith, and answers. Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of the LDS Church, received revelations in answer to questions he put to God in prayer, as evidenced by the Doctrine and Covenants, which are a compilation of many of the revelations he received. This idea that Boorstein puts forward that questioning is questionable in the LDS Church is not based upon the gospel of Jesus Christ, but rather upon Mormon culture.
Many LDS prophets and apostles throughout the entire history of the Church have reiterated the need for personal revelation, or in other words seeking one’s own answers to spiritual question from God. Brigham Young, the second prophet and president of the LDS Church, taught:
I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him.
Church leaders encourage members to seek divine answers because that is how people grow in faith and testimony and become converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The pattern for personal revelation is found in Jesus’ words in Luke 11:9 or James 1:5-6, as two illustrations out of many, and put briefly it is to study the matter, ask God in faith and listen to the Holy Ghost. This process to learn spiritual truths is analogous to the scientific method in the pursuit of physical or natural truths. Every member of the LDS Church, whether born into it or converted, needs to follow this process to experience a true conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Those who never incorporate this pattern of personal revelation into their lives often leave the Church, just as Brigham Young feared.
Thus WaPo’s suggestion that Mormon Internet support groups run against the LDS Church is inaccurate. They are a good thing. If a member of the church had questions he or she didn’t feel comfortable asking within his or her congregation (because of the culture), the Internet is a great place to turn for help from other members. Any site that encourages questioning is not bad in and of itself, though ideally these groups would encourage questioners to seek personal revelation and teach the difference between gospel, Church, and culture as they question and explore various events, policies and doctrines of the LDS Church. Ironically, the media attacking various aspects of the Church is likely the reason behind these growing Internet support communities.
Boorstein’s ignorance about the interplay of culture and doctrine leaves one wondering whether everything questioned in the Church or about the Church is doctrinal. Converted Mormons consider the gospel of Jesus Christ to be completely perfect and true, but the leaders of His Church still have their own opinions and make their own mistakes. They’re human. Remember my earlier definitions of ‘gospel’ and ‘Church.’ Members who put faith in leaders and not in God are more likely to have their faith shaken if leaders act counter to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Members who mistake the culture for the gospel are even more likely to question their faith.
The WaPo article also implies that LDS members having doubts about their faith is grounds for excommunication. This isn’t true either. In the example given in the article, in accordance with Church policies the member in question would face disciplinary action not for doubts but for unrepented sexual sins.
In conclusion, don’t trust the Washington Post or most other news sites to portray the LDS Church, its beliefs, or its membership accurately. Far from being victims or oppressed by their Church, Mormons aren’t expected to blindly obey and be kicked out if they don’t. We are encouraged to get our own answers and testimonies through personal revelation. Whether or not someone leaves the LDS Church is a product of individual faith and conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ more than it is a reflection upon the LDS Church or its doctrine.