There is no middle ground

In the priesthood session of the April 2003 General Conference, President Hinckley delivered a landmark address on the subject of loyalty.   In his remarks he said, “Each of us has to face the truth of the matter—either the church is true, or it is a fraud.  There is no middle ground.  It is the Church and kingdom of God or it is nothing.”

An earlier prophet, Joseph Fielding Smith wrote something similar in the Doctrines of Salvation:Mormonism, as it is called, must stand on the story of Joseph Smith.  He was either a prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned, or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen.  There is no middle ground.”

There can be no gray area

Referring to the historical events of the area around Palmyra, New York, President Hinckley said: “They either happened or they did not. There can be no gray area, no middle ground.”   In a similar manner, Apostle Joseph B. Wirthlin said, “Joseph Smith must be accepted either as a prophet of God or else as a charlatan of the first order.”

President Benson endorsed this all or nothing view.  He said, “Just as the arch crumbles if the keystone is removed, so does all the Church stand or fall with the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon…if it can be discredited, the Prophet Joseph Smith goes with it. So does our claim to priesthood keys, and revelation, and the restored Church.”

They were all wrong

Such black and white statements go all the way back to the beginnings of the LDS church.  When the prophet Joseph asked God which church he should join, he “was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong.”  If all the churches of Joseph’s day were wrong, what does that say about the numerous churches of our day?

The Lord later said to Joseph in Section one of the Doctrine and Covenants that the church Joseph organized was “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth.”  If you look, you can find dozens of similar statements by prophets and apostles throughout the history of our church, all very bold in their declarations.

Divisive and exclusivist

Of course, statements like these are labeled divisive and exclusivist by many people outside our church, but also, increasingly by members on the fringe of the church, also known as the disaffected Mormon underground.  The DAMU is nothing new.  There have been cultural Mormons and Jack Mormons throughout the history of our church.

Of all the objections to the church that I have encountered over the past few years I have been blogging, this one seems to be the most common and the most offensive.  For some, it is an extremely difficult proposition to accept this black or white, all or nothing approach to truth in religion.  I have spent considerable time pondering why this is so.

Good and truth in all religions

Joseph Smith taught that we accept truth from whatever source it may come.  Joseph F. Smith said, “We are willing to receive all truth, from whatever source it may come; for truth will stand, truth will endure…”  Modern prophets have said that there is much good and truth in all churches and religions.  This statement doesn’t seem too limiting.

President Hinckley: “We recognize the good in all churches. We recognize the value of religion generally. We say to everyone: live the teachings which you have received from your church. We invite you to come and learn from us, to see if we can add to those teachings and enhance your life and your understanding of things sacred and divine.”

Something unique to add

What can the LDS faith add that is unique and will bless the lives of those who accept its teachings?  The most unique thing we offer can be found in the temples.  It is the sealing power that is exercised to unite families in an eternal bond that will remain in effect after this life is over.  That is an amazing claim that no other church can make.

We teach that the sealing power is a part of the priesthood authority that we claim was delivered to Joseph Smith via angelic messengers.  I don’t know of any other church that asserts that angels have come and ordained their leaders or conferred upon them keys and powers that will bind on earth and in heaven.  That is a fantastic declaration!

Our eternal nature

The older I get, the more important that claim becomes to me.  If I know nothing else, I know that there is a spiritual side of my existence.  I have had too many experiences of a spiritual nature that have helped me to understand this truth.  Others may claim that there is nothing more to man than skin, muscle and bones, but I believe differently.

Because of that very basic and core fundamental belief about myself, I am concerned about what my purpose is in life and what happens after death.  I am so grateful to be a part of a community of faith, a church that believes as I do that life is eternal and that what we do with our lives will have a significant impact on the quality of life hereafter.

Importance of the temples

That belief in life eternal is not unique, but the idea that we can do something to ensure that the relationships we enjoy here continue in the hereafter is very unique indeed.  I have had dialog with visitors to my blog who claim that God would never be so mean as to separate a loving couple who cherished and served each other all their mortal lives.

I’m not going to point you to any statements from church leaders that teach otherwise but I will say this: before you go making claims about how God should behave, you might want to be absolutely sure of what God has said on the subject.  I can’t think of anything about which I would want to be surer.  My eternal happiness depends on it.

Book of Mormon is still the key

Back to the point of the essay and why prophets have said that there can be no middle ground when it comes to things like authority and revelation and Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.  My mother, who was a convert to the church, once said to me that as an investigator, she could accept everything about it except the Book of Mormon.

It wasn’t until much later in life when she took an Institute class on the subject that she really began to understand just how important it is to our claims of divine origin.  I love the fact that we do not have the plates to “prove” the historicity of the book.  Prophets have taught that the Book of Mormon is a great sifter of those who are honest in heart.

The power of a divine witness

I know there are those who have said that they have tried and failed to obtain a witness of the veracity of the Book of Mormon.  I have had dialog with people both inside and outside the church who have struggled with this.  I confess that I cannot offer a perfect empathy because I received a witness of the truthfulness of the book many years ago.

Because of that divine manifestation to me, not just once but on several occasions, I have never doubted the Book of Mormon, or the claims of the prophet Joseph Smith. I understand why the prophets have said that the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion and why our claims of divinity rest upon the veracity of that book.  I also agree with the statement that the strength of this church is in the testimony of each member.

The promise of personal revelation

One of my evangelical visitors once called this security that I feel, the Mormon bubble.  He says it is not logical but it makes perfect sense to me.  You can throw out all kinds of arguments about the Book of Abraham, Polyandry, Post-manifesto plural marriage, the Kinderhook Plates or any one a few dozen other things that can be found on the Internet.

None of them bothered me when I first learned about them and none of them do now.  I have written essays on dozens of these objections and have come to the conclusion that they really aren’t the real problem with why people doubt or leave the church.  In my opinion, those who struggle with these doubts have not received personal revelation.

Summary and conclusion

I know that a testimony is a very sacred and personal subject.  I also know that making a generalization like I just did will bring all kinds of protests.  But I stand by it as truth.  If a man has received a witness from God that the Book of Mormon is true then God has a responsibility to help that man as he goes through the ensuing trials of that testimony.

I know that God will help the honest in heart keep their testimonies strong and vibrant.  If we study we are going to find out things that will test our witness.  We will then have the opportunity to strengthen and deepen it.  That’s what opposition is for.  We do not have to wallow in doubt.  But those who doubt are welcome while they work things out.

28 thoughts on “There is no middle ground”

  1. Tim:

    I love your boldness and honesty. Although Latter-day Saints have a VERY BIG theological picture of the world, it is worth adding that we also have considerable respect for alternate religious views. While it is common to find ministries devoted to attacking LDS views and doctrines, there are NO official LDS sites devoted to attacking Baptists, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or anything else. In fact, such attacks would be counter to LDS doctrine. Latter-days Saints have a positive message that sells itself, and negative campaigning is perfunctory. We do claim, however, to have a fulness of the truth, not completely found elsewhere.

  2. Tim, I really love this post. It expresses so much of what I personally believe. As a follow-up thought, however, I’m reminded of something I read in Richard Bushman’s author diary–“On the Road with Joseph Smith”. Soon after his biography of Joseph Smith (“Rough Stone Rolling”) came out, he was invited to a friendly meeting between evangelical and Mormon scholars who meet “once or twice a year to discuss differences and similarities”.

    He said that “the most telling question came from Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary and one of the guiding lights of these ongoing discussions. ‘What am I to make of Joseph Smith?’ he wanted to know. I offered this and that while he looked back rather uncomprehendingly. The trouble is that I don’t know his categories. What boxes does he have in mind for locating Joseph? Unfortunately, Latter-day Saint scholars have not been particularly helpful to Mouw. We are so intent on making Joseph out as a true prophet, we have little to say to Mouw-like readers.

    “A genius and maverick certainly, but where else does he fit? I am thinking gnostic right now since Joseph produced the books of Moses and Abraham that so closely resemble the pseudigraphic works of the four centuries around Christ’s life. I made a plea for him to tolerate discursive explorations of Christian doctrine as positive indicators of religious vitality” (p. 119).

    As a Latter-day Saint, I see the “no middle ground” quite clearly, but for someone of a deep faith conviction like Mouw who doesn’t (and probably never will) accept Joseph’s claims and yet still wants to be respectful in interfaith dialogue (as opposed to being antagonistic), are there other possibly productive options?

  3. Something else that’s causing me to ponder: the difference between these “black and white” propositions (either he was a prophet or not), which I do believe, and the reality that much of our history and the way we view things isn’t black and white at all, but many different shades of gray.

  4. This is a very well thought out post. I too, have experienced the offense that this position evokes, from those of other faiths; but as well – from those of the LDS Church.

    More and more “members” who profess faithfulness to the Church, increasingly, are having issues with these statements, as well as many of the doctrines of the Church, in general. Perhaps this has always been so, but we now have so many more forums to voice our “opinions”, where we can be heard by others. Because of this, our testimonies can be challenged, like never before. Many have a difficult time withstanding these challenges, and ultimately lose faith; instead of taking the opportunity to study and pray more fervently.

    Elder Bednar in his last CES address to the YSA, eluded to an anonymous type of apostasy. I believe he may have been addressing this new phenomenon, with LDS members, that we are seeing more and more of, online.

    He said: “Satan often offers an alluring illusion of anonymity. Lucifer has always sought to accomplish his work in secret. Remember however that apostasy is not anonymous simply because it occurs in a blog, or through a fabricated identity in a chat room, or virtual world.”

    I find it interesting, that most of the negative comments that have been left about the Church and its teachings, are left by those with the name of “anonymous”.

    I have a powerful testimony of the prophet, Joseph Smith. That testimony comes by and through the power of the Holy Ghost, as it testifies of the truthfulness of The Book of Mormon. For that witness, I am extremely grateful. It has been my anchor, in that no matter what — I know that this gospel is what it proclaims to be…

  5. I have to agree. I know that this church is true, and I remember President Hinckley’s talk in 2003 and remember the profound presence of the Spirit that I felt as it confirmed this to me. I, too, have been worried about this grey-area that is becoming increasingly common. Sometimes I wonder if I, in my attempts to teach the gospel to others, fall victim to such a mentality. I often stress how there is truth and virtue in so many churches, and how we seek after anything that is “virtuously, lovely, and of good report”. At the same time, I have to wonder if I’m balking a bit on stating the knowledge of my heart, that this church is the true church of God! I often use the following map metaphor:

    The end goal of mortal life is to return home to Heavenly Father. The world provides many different ways of doing so, through different churches, beliefs, etc. Think of each religion or belief set as a map. Some are faded or torn, and may be missing some key parts, but many could eventually get you there or at least in the vicinity of heaven. However, there is one church that provides a complete map — a map with clear directions (scriptures, revelation) solid lines (the iron rod) and a wealth of support to help you get there. What map would you choose?

    I don’t know if this is too convoluted for some to understand, but I find it helps some. However, I have been thinking about my approach in the past few months and have concluded that I need to be more bold and forthright about what I KNOW to be true.

    This church is the true church of Jesus Christ. Its gospel principles lead us to happiness, both in this mortal life and beyond. The more I learn, the more gratitude and awe I feel that Heavenly Father loves us so much that not only did He send His only Begotten Son to redeem us all, but He not once, but twice sent the true and living church to His children, to help them to return home to Him. While bound by justice, He is truly merciful and compassionate, and will afford His children every chance to return to Him. However, there is a better way, a way with absolute truths restored; a way that makes the path home easier, happier, and more complete — and this He has given us through the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He has given us knowledge of what to expect after we die; and the importance of temple work for the redemption of the dead, so that they, too, can have the opportunity to accept the truthfulness of this gospel, receive the promised blessings, and enjoy exaltation.

    Thank you for sharing this. It is a reminder of what I need to do.

  6. I think the point raised by Clean Cut is a valuable part of this discussion. We’ve been admonished at Gen Conf to “tell our own story” on the internet rather than letting competing religions (and anti-Mormons) be the ones telling people what we believe. Yet, to have a productive dialogue, we need to avoid being abrasive. Most others don’t really want to hear a Mormon continuously bearing testimony any more than we want to hear a born-again Christian “witnessing Christ” to us. It’s the opposite of dialogue.

    Also, divisive polemic statements certainly help hem in the faith of those who are already faithful, but for those who have doubts or who have lost the faith they once had, they only serve to further sever ties to the church. Frankly, I’d rather talk to the 1 than the 99 – I feel that’s a more important conversation. But I certainly wouldn’t suggest that what is comforting to the 99 is inconsequential.

  7. I think one reason members might be uncomfortable with the “black or white, yes or no” perspective is that our society relentlessly pushes “no absolutes” at us. Our society claims that truth, morality, etc., are relative and situational, with very little in the way of constant, unchanging truth. As Church members we know there are absolute truths, but as members of our society, we’re anxious enough to “fit in” that challenging that “no absolutes” basis on which the world around us is currently founded is a very uncomfortable thing. Standing with the very minority belief in absolute truth, reality, morality, etc., makes us “a peculiar people” and not “of the world” that we are in.

  8. You’ve done it again, Brother Malone. Thank you for another thought-provoking and great post. You are a man that truly stands by your convictions!

  9. I sympathize with the sentiment that we need to be committed to the gospel. If the discourse about “no middle ground” is understood in terms of commitment, I can subscribe to it. I can also accept it in terms of “authority”, as mentioned in the initial post. But I’m not quite sure how to relate this to statements about “truth”. What does it mean that the BoM is either true or false? Or that JS is either a prophet or not a prophet? Certainly we don’t expect them to be perfect, so the matter seems more complex than either/or thinking will allow.

    On an aside, I don’t believe that we should rush into making statements that claim we have all truth. The map metaphor and other statements suggesting this over extend themselves into making claims that are simply not correct.

  10. I share Tim’s convictions of the truthfulness of the gospel as taught by Jesus Christ, of the Book of Mormon, and of Joseph Smith’s calling. I am profoundly skeptical of the attitude common throughout the Church that these fundamentals therefore mean that everything taught or done or advocated by the Church as an institution is 100% correct or divinely inspired, which is demonstrably NOT the case. I see no conflict in this.

    When we say “there is no middle ground” and there are “absolute truths” I think we need to be very careful to define our terms and say exactly what there is no middle ground about, and what exactly are those “absolute truths”, lest we run the risk of being offensively exclusionary, as has already been noted. I am satisfied that there are such points of doctrine, but after a lifetime of Church service and gospel study, I have concluded that there are far fewer of them than I was raised to believe. Still, as one of my BYU professors said, “if you are certain about a few fundamental things, you can comfortably abide uncertainty about a great many other things.”

  11. “our society relentlessly pushes “no absolutes” at us”

    It depends how you look at it. In many ways, society relentlessly pushes complete absolutes on us. You have to be for or against something, you have to have strong opinions one way or the other in a political debate, you can’t “flip-flop” or change your mind, you can’t answer questions with things like “I’m not sure” or “it depends” or “that is a difficult question.”

    “More and more “members” who profess faithfulness to the Church”

    While I don’t necessarily disagree with the rest of your comment, this part comes off to me as quite dismissive and exclusionary, i.e. if someone doesn’t live the gospel the way you think it should be lived, then they aren’t REAL members. If that wasn’t your intent, then okay. 🙂

    It bothers me that in our quest for growth and truth we exclude others. We should be reaching out to everyone, including those who view the church differently than we do, yet are still participating.

  12. S.Faux: I knew in this essay that I would not be able to give enough space to the very important concept of openness to and respect for truth found in other religions. I planned this to be a two-part essay with the second part being entitled something like, “Why we must seek the middle ground,” but I’m having problems finding a prophet who said this.

    I know they’re out there. I’ve heard this a lot in recent years – that in order to have an effective dialog with those of other faiths, you have to find the common ground. I’ll bet I used a couple dozen phrases and concepts that are unique to the LDS faith and culture in this essay. But then, my target audience was those who are already members of our faith.

    Thanks for your continued visits and great comments.


    Hi Clean Cut: I’ve been very impressed with the dialog going on over at your blog. As I noted to S. Faux, my intended audience for this essay was a certain subset of the LDS membership. I know it can be very difficult for those not of our faith to relate to our focus on absolutes. In reality, there are not that many but they are always being tested.

    We really are open to truth from whatever source. There are just some things about which we need to be certain and on which I don’t see how we can dilute and still hold true to our own personal convictions. That was the focus of my essay. I know that those statements from President Hinckley seem polemic, but he didn’t mean them to be so.

    Of course, for those who don’t know with a revealed kind of knowledge that Joseph was a prophet or that the Book of Mormon is what Joseph claimed it is, then absolutes are meaningless. We invite others to know as we know – through personal revelation. I tried to end on that note. Our focus is to invite, but it sometimes comes across as a challenge.

  13. LDS Nana: I think you got the focus of my essay right away. Being active LDS Bloggers makes us targets for challenges, from both outside and inside the church. Thank you for the reflective feedback. I started blogging to motivate me to deeper gospel study. I had no idea it would be so effective because of the challenges from those who read my blog.

    I love that quote from Elder Bednar. Thank you so much for sharing it. I turned off anonymous comments early in my blogging experience. Far too many of them were not honest attempts at dialog, but merely random attacks in an attempt to tear down. If someone is serious about communicating, then let’s discuss things without anonymity.

    I never tire of reading or hearing the testimony of another about the basics of our faith. I never tire of discussing how I know what I know. I never tire of inviting others to know what I know. I never tire of learning how the Holy Ghost works on others. Thank you for sharing your testimony. It is evident by the wonderful essays you write on your blog.


    Michelle: Thanks for the visit and the comment. I love hearing or reading testimonies from the leaders of our church about the basics of our faith. To me, these are the pillars that we need to have embedded in solid bedrock deep in our hearts. It is wonderful to read or hear someone else say they know something by the power of the Holy Ghost.

    The more I interact with others on the Internet about the gospel, the more I am convinced that many, many of our own members have never had a revelatory experience. Was I so unique in my youth that I believed what I was taught – that it was critical to my happiness and security to obtain a witness of the spirit for myself? Weren’t we all taught this?

    Of course there are many gray areas of our knowledge of spiritual things but when it comes to the fundamentals of our testimonies, we do not have to be unsure. The Lord has promised to every honest seeker that he will reveal the truth by the power of the Holy Ghost. We have every right to feel and to express certainty about what we know is true.

  14. Hawkgrrrl: You offer excellent advice. I’m honored by your visit and your suggestion. Like you, I feel that a conversation with one who has left the church or is in the fringes to be more important in the eternal scheme of things than comforting the ninety and nine. While they may not let a home teacher in the door, they are reaching out to chat online.

    It is unfortunate that statements like those offered by President Hinckley that there can be no middle ground on the core tenets of our faith are considered abrasive and polemic. I have seen this firsthand in my conversations here on Latter-day Commentary. This very statement has been the stumbling block for many who just don’t see it as black and white.

    As I mentioned to Michelle, there are indeed many shades of gray as we pass through this voyage of discovery. But there are some things about which the color is clear, or at least it can be if we meet the requirements to receive personal revelation on the subject. And it is about these specific core events that we are commanded to raise our voice in testimony.


    Seanette: Profound! Relativism is rampant in our world today. To me, it is wonderful to have prophets stand and take a stand on something that is so important to our happiness. That solid foundation feels very comfortable to me when the world around us changes with every wind of doctrine and the cunning craftiness of men who lie in wait to deceive.

  15. Tony: I count you as a friend and appreciate your support. If anybody hasn’t read Tony’s story, you can read an updated version here. God bless you Tony as you continue on your journey. I hope you will be able to serve a mission someday soon. My mission was an amazing experience in solidifying my testimony of the gospel as I shared it every day.


    SA: For me, no middle ground refers to the five pillars of the LDS testimony: God lives, Jesus is the Christ, the Savior called Joseph as a prophet, the Book of Mormon was brought forth by the gift and power of God and the church that Joseph established is authorized of God to administer the ordinances of Salvation that God requires of us.

    Truth is reality. Some kinds of truth can only be received through revelation. I have never seen God or Jesus. I was not there when Joseph received the First Vision. So for me to be able to know those facts, they have to be revealed to me by the Holy Ghost. That’s what I think President Hinckley means when he says there is no middle ground.

    Without revelation from the Holy Ghost we can’t say that we know these things. It’s just not logical. I have a lot of experience with the Book of Mormon and with the Church that claims to be God’s only church authorized to administer the ordinances of salvation. With revelation from the Holy Ghost I can say that I know they are what they claim to be.

  16. Jay: Your clarifications are most helpful and bear repeating: Not everything taught or done by the church as an institution is 100% correct or divinely inspired. Although we can say with certainty that the church as an institution has been authorized of God to administer the ordinances of salvation, as a church, we have made some terrible mistakes.

    You are correct in that we need to be very careful to define our terms. I also appreciate your statement that there are actually far fewer things we can say are absolute truths than we may have believed when we were younger. I almost always limit my declarations to absolutes to the five fundamentals I mentioned in my response to SA’s comment above.

    Thank you for sharing that excellent statement from one of your BYU professors. Because of my certainty about some very fundamental things, I have been able to abide uncertainty about a multitude of other things, especially the behavior of people within the church. Their imperfections have nothing to do with my certainty of some basic truths.


    Adam F: I like the way you look at things. I hadn’t considered that about absolutes. I also appreciate your point to be careful about being dismissive and exclusionary. It is so easy to be judgmental of how we think others are living the gospel. That right only belongs to the Lord and to his appointed judges in Israel – Bishops and Stake Presidents.

    This essay was a difficult one for me to write, but I did so at the specific request of a recent visitor. I know that there are many, many people in the church who have a hard time with this black / white, no middle ground sort of thinking. I hope this essay helps to clarify and not drive a wedge between those who do not feel the certainty that we profess.

    I believe that one can be a member of the LDS faith and not have an absolute conviction of the truthfulness of the five basic tenets that I outlined above. However, I imagine that it must be an ongoing torment to hear them professed over and over again each month on Fast Sunday and on many other occasions. It will always be a basic part of our religion.

  17. Here comes the dissenter…

    Here’s my problem with the ‘black or white,’ ‘it’s either true or it isn’t’ arguments…

    I believe there is such a thing as ultimate, universal truth, and I believe in a black or white universe; things are either true or they aren’t. It is logical that everything is either true or it isn’t. True and false can not coexist in a single principle.

    That being said, I believe logical people are obligated to believe there’s an option other than ‘THE CHURCH is either true or it isn’t,’ because it would be logically inconsistent to believe everything about the church is true. The church is constantly changing, and the doctrines are evolving. If everything about the church is true today, then how was it true 100 years ago. Therefore, members who want to stay active, but don’t want to betray their logic, are required to believe something other than ‘the church is true, or it isn’t.’ Even though I belief ultimate, universal truth exists, I don’t think I can count on any man, collection of men, or organization to provide it for me.

    Each occurence in church history, and each piece of doctrine, is either true or not true. The proposition that J.S. saw God & Jesus is either true or it isn’t. J.S. either had golden plates or he didn’t. He either received the preisthood from Peter or he didn’t. Each of these things is a black or white issue; they either happened or they didn’t.

    However, just because J.S. saw God & Jesus, doesn’t mean everything he did or said thereafter was true. It also doesn’t mean every prophet thereafter was a prophet of God. Just because J.S. was directed to the plate by angels, doesn’t mean he translated them correctly all the time, and it doesn’t mean all the prophets within the BOM were 100% inspired of God (I would bet most members born and raised in the church, by the age of 20-30, have as much or more knowledge than most of the writers of the BOM, due to better access to more info & mentoring). Just because the church offers the chance to hold the true, restored priesthold, doesn’t mean those who hold the priesthood are receiving revelation. Just because the church has a restored temple ceremony, inspired by God, doesn’t mean everything about the temple ceremony is true (it changes all the time, along with the garment specs). Just because one aspect of the church is true, doesn’t mean a member should believe all aspects of the church.

    Each aspect of the church is black or white, it’s either true or it isn’t true; but if I had to say the entire church is either true or it isn’t true, I would have to say it isn’t true. There are many things about the church that are false. Therefore, it would have to be false.

    Why do we want to encourage people to think in black & white terms about the church, in general? What does ‘the church is true’ mean anyway? Why can’t people just believe individual aspects of the church are true (and some are not)? Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if each member was skeptical about every aspect of the church? It would definitely lead to stronger testimonies if each member sought to verify each aspect of the church, and each member formulated individual opinions of God and his relationship with man. Why discourage that?

    I feel like church leaders are trying to get people to question nothing they say or do. That’s the worst thing that could happen to the church and its members. The Apostasy occurred once, and it can occur again, on macro and micro scales, if the members aren’t vigilant. Salvation (and individual progression) is an individual endeavor. It’s nobody else’s fault if an individual fails, and therefore, an individual has to rely on himself to achieve salvation. The church is not the key to salvation; it’s just a tool to achieve it.

    By the way, if life is eternal, isn’t progression also eternal? If progression is eternal, then it has infinite limits. Why would we want to think some people may not have the chance progress to an infinite level, just because they didn’t join the church? Why do we have to be so vindictive and judgmental? Why not hope everyone will have infinite chances to progress to infinite levels?

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  19. Hi again Crusty: OK, I get what you’re saying and agree with the majority of what I think you are trying to communicate. Yes, it would help if we learned as a people to clarify what we mean when we use the phrase, “the church is true.” I can see how that could be unhelpful for those who think things out and break it down into individual components as you have illustrated for us.

    If we do find ourselves using that phrase out of habit, as I know I do when I share my testimony, perhaps it would be helpful to add, “…by that I mean…” In my case, I would say something like, “…meaning that God appeared to Joseph Smith and called him as a prophet. Moroni came to Joseph Smith and led him to the gold plates, containing the source for the Book of Mormon.”

    I think I would especially focus on the idea of divine and angelic visitations. That’s something that doesn’t happen every day, or least it doesn’t happen to me. There’s nothing like bringing up angels to get people interested in what we have to say. That’s always an amazing claim that needs clarification. That’s what a good testimony should do – invite us to ponder the claims.

    And although you didn’t point it out, another example of why it’s important to qualify our claim that the church is true is because of our knowledge of the mistakes that the imperfect people who lead the church have made over the years. I think particularly of the terrible tragedy of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and the subsequent denial interpreted as a cover-up by many.

    But since the purpose of bearing testimony is to affirm to others that we know certain things and that we know them by revelation, we usually don’t bring up MMM or any of the other dozens of things that we not too keen on as an institution or a people about our history – some things like polyandry or post-manifesto plural marriages or the Kinderhook plates or the peepstone in a hat.

    I can imagine the shock that would be to a congregation if someone got up and rattled off all those difficult subjects and said, “In spite of all these things, I know that the church is true.” Yes, that would definitely require some explanation. There is a time and a place for discussion of those things, and it’s not when we’re standing at the pulpit trying to encourage faithfulness.

    Is that disingenuous? No, we’re not trying to deceive. We know about all these things. We just see no reason to bring them up, especially since our mission is to declare the events of the restoration as we have been commanded by the Lord in the Doctrine and Covenants. Those events are the ones for which we need divine assistance to be able to bear witness that we know they happened.

    The more I think about it the more I am persuaded that it can cause problems for some people to not clarify what we mean when we say that the church is true. As you have asked in a couple of comments here on this blog, “what does that really mean?” Perhaps the statement has already produced the desired result – it got you thinking and wondering what he really meant by that.

    So, to summarize for me, I thank you Crusty, for getting me thinking about the problems that it can cause to hear someone declare that the church is true without explaining what that means. And let’s throw out the idea that the church leaders are trying to get the people to never question the things that they say or do. I agree that such an attitude is not healthy or productive.

    I think you have probably read many times the statement of Brigham Young in which he said that the people should never blindly agree with what he or any other leader said without proving it from their own studying. If you’ll recall, Brigham did not join the church right away when it was presented to him. He took several years to study it out and watch the new church grow.

    Do you mind if we put off a discussion of your last point about eternal progression? I agree that we do not want to be vindictive and judgmental about people who don’t join the church or those who leave the church, but I do not believe that we will have infinite chances to progress. There are some things that we must decide to embrace in this lifetime, if we have been taught clearly.

  20. Closet Doubter

    I was out of town this week so I’m late to this discussion. While I’ve read all the quotes before telling me there is no middle ground, and that there can be no such thing as a “cafeteria Mormon” , my rebuttal is as follows. I believe that Pres Hinckley, Monson, most of the GA’s, and most members are “cafeteria Mormons” The Prophet, through the correlation committee, has chosen what he likes about Mormon history, and discarded what he does not. Also most members have chosen to not expose themselves (or believe) some parts of our history. They pick and choose. Even my Priesthood Leader told me he stopped reading “Rough Stone Rolling” because he did not want to know those things about JS. So is he not a “cafeteria Mormon” picking what he wants to believe about our history?
    How are they different from me, choosing to believe all that is good in the church, and discarding the things I believe are of man.

    I have had many wonderful meals in this cafeteria of a church, and I plan on having many more, choosing what I like (just like my priesthood leaders do) and rejecting what I don’t like.

    And to a “A Well Behaved Mormon Woman”, the reason I have to be anonymous is because some “less than well behaved Mormon woman” would no doubt run to my bishop saying “you should see what brother Closet Doubter is saying on the internet” if I used my real name. I don’t need that kind of trouble. And in fact this whole all or nothing stance forces Crusty, Hawkgrrrl, and myself to remain anonymous. If we truly were a church that catered (a cafeteria pun there!) to all of Gods children, then we would not have to hide.

    Closet Doubter

  21. Welcome back Closet Doubter,

    I think the “no middle ground” only refers to core elements of our faith like the claims of divine and angelic visits. That’s all President Hinckley was saying, in my opinion. I don’t think we should take the black and white test beyond the basics of the First Vision, the visit of the Angel Moroni, John the Baptist, Peter, James and John and the keys delivered in the Kirtland temple.

    And yes, we’re all cafeteria Mormons to some extent. I had not considered the view that the correlation committee makes the Brethren cafeteria Mormons, but I suppose it makes some sense. I am positive that they know about these issues, they just don’t see any benefit in promoting them in the curriculum. They’re not choosing to disbelieve them, just not teach them.

    I wouldn’t make such a big deal about priesthood leaders not wanting to read Rough Stone Rolling. I know a lot of people in the church, including priesthood leaders, who are just not interested in the history of the church. That doesn’t make them bad leaders. Maybe he just didn’t like Bushman’s style or just didn’t want to wade through all the detail in the book.

    Yeah, that’s not cool that you feel the need to have to be anonymous on the Internet but I can understand why. I know some of my essays have been ‘edgy’ because I like to tackle all the hard issues head on. Like John Dehlin, I have often felt a concern that some young person, not well established in the faith, might be shocked at some of the things they discover on my blog.

    The Internet has changed the way we share the message of the restoration. I was amazed that my friend Fred didn’t bring up more of the issues I have blogged about when he was investigating the church a few years back. When he was preparing to go to the temple for the first time, I assumed that he had researched and read the whole ceremony on the Internet first. He hadn’t.

    He said he was aware that it was out there but he didn’t want to read it there first. He wanted to go and learn about it from personal experience. I don’t know if he has read about it online now but I admire him for his approach. In some ways, that makes him a cafeteria Mormon because he chose to get his first impression from the experience instead of reading what others said.

    Tell me more about why it is that you feel we don’t cater to all of God’s children. I’m not sure I understand. Are you referring to the claims of exclusivity in that we impose requirements upon our membership to meet certain qualifications for baptism, priesthood and temple ordinances? Or is it because you feel you would be disciplined for your rejection of some of the core doctrines?

  22. Closet doubter


    My Priesthood Leader (and I’m being intentionally vague about who he is) Told me that he did not want to know those negative things about JS. So who can I go to with concerns about my testimony if the person I’m suppose to go to has refused to even investigate my concerns?

    I have no doubt that if you were my bishop, I could tell you everything, all my concerns, and still keep my TR, still hold my teaching calling, and still function in the ward. But you are the exception, not the rule (as the example above shows). Most bishops would not know how to handle somebody like me if I was out of the closet.

    I once spoke to a friend who was a Stake President. I told him about my concerns with the historicity of the BofM. He told me that it was not a question in the Temple Recommend, and that I should not let it keep me from my calling. Again, I believe my friend is the exception. Do you know many Bishops or SP that would call a person to a leadership position who doubted the historicity of the BofM?

    Closet Doubter

  23. Closet Doubter,

    Let’s see – historicity means based on fact, not myth or legend, right? Well, we know the book is real in that it is something tangible that we can handle and see. It came from somewhere, even if you don’t believe that Joseph produced it the way he said he did. Because all other theoretical sources have been debunked, you must believe that it was fabricated through his imagination.

    Probably the most re-read section of Richard Bushman’s book for me is the part that deals with the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. On page 58 he says, “For most modern readers, the plates are beyond belief, a phantasm, yet the Mormon sources accept them as fact.” Do you place yourself in that category – holding the story of the plates as being totally non-existent?

    If so, then you must be amazed at the incredible imagination of Joseph Smith. How could he have come up with all that detail describing a world, a society and a thousand years of history all within a few short months of work? Joseph could barely put sentences together. If he wasn’t dictating under the spirit of inspiration to Oliver then he must have been incredibly gifted.

    Well, actually, he was incredibly gifted. The Lord said so himself. The Book of Mormon came forth by the gift and power of God. Joseph’s ability to see the transcription of the text in the stones was God-given. It was something to which he was foreordained. We all have different gifts and talents. Joseph was a seer. He could see things in those stones with that special gift.

    And I don’t care if they were seer stones that he found at the bottom of a well or if they were the stones in the Urim and Thummim that he showed to his mother shortly after receiving them. It just doesn’t matter to me what means he used to obtain the text of the Book of Mormon. We know that oftentimes he didn’t even have the plates open when he dictated the text to Oliver.

    What matters is that we have that text and that we can read it and decide for ourselves based on the content if we believe that it is the word of God. That’s the real test. Apparently God wanted it to be a test of our faith – thus no original source material to which we could compare what we now have in the Book of Mormon. It’s just going to have to stand on its own exactly as it is.

    It is sad and unfortunate that your priesthood leader did not want to know what is in Rough Stone Rolling. Don’t hold that against him. It’s not a requirement of his calling to know the details of the early history of our church. Seriously! He will be released in a few short years and another will be called in his place. Perhaps the next priesthood leader will be more open to this stuff.

    I can tell you that there are thousands and thousands of priesthood leaders that do know all about this stuff and yet have no problem remaining faithful. Likewise, there are many thousands who have no clue, or if they do know about it, they don’t understand why it is such a big deal for some people. And as we know, even General Authorities fall into this category of uninformed.

    From my experience it really is a small percentage of the church – I would say less than one percent – who really know or care about our history one way or the other. Most members are more concerned about trying to live the gospel on a daily basis. Like me, they love the emphasis we place on the atonement of Jesus Christ as being to key to our successful walk in this life.

    To answer your final question, think about how far back you started having doubts about the historicity of the Book of Mormon. When the Lord called you as a Bishop, didn’t he already know what you were going through? I think that answers your question. God uses imperfect men to fulfill his purposes in this world. That’s why I still believe that Joseph was a prophet.

  24. Closet doubter


    Thanks for your reply. I have read the BofM many times, and have been moved by its message. I believe JS was much more intelligent and articulate than the apologist would have us believe (it furthers their cause if he was ‘backwards”) His mother, in her biography, tells about JS as a young boy entertaining the family by telling them “stories” about the native Americans. She said they were very detailed.

    As we have learned about his manner of translating, he did not even need the plates to do the translating. This is also backed up by the BofA “translation”. It appears that JS could “channel” the word of God, and was not really translating in the true sense of the word.
    Did God let him make up the story of the plates, knowing that he would give him the words he needed to write the BofM? Did God overlook his imperfections, up to and including the story of the plates, but used that as a means to deliver his word? While this seems out of character of God, so does chopping off the head of Laban, killing kids because they made fun of a prophet’s bald head (my personal favorite!), or having a father just about kill his son to prove his faithfulness. So I do not put it past God to use whatever method needed to deliver his word.

    There is much good in the church. You are part of that good. The internet has provided me the opportunity to share my doubts and concerns with other like me. As I’m sure you read many times, I too though I was the only one with these concerns. Now on several internet lists I’m on, I find other just like me , with the same concerns as me. And they are continuing on in the church just like I do. It gives me great strength to know that others feel as I do.

    Thanks again for letting me vent on your Blog. If I can get it all out during the week, them I’m much more likely to behave in HPG during the lesson, and not make my snide comments!

    Closet Doubter

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  26. I could not agree more with the statement: “There is no middle ground. It is the Church and kingdom of God or it is nothing.” The Lord said we were either with him, or against him. Too many people today garner respect and praises of the world by living in “grey” areas. There are no absolute morals, they say. Standards are set by each individual, and we should just go with it.

    Nobody liked Jeremiah when he warned them that Jerusalem was going to be destroyed, but it still happened. Likewise, those who don’t want to listen to today’s true prophets are going to be a little surprised when the warning voice they’ve been ignoring suddenly goes silent … and the Second Coming is upon them.

    So much for all those who feel superior to the Lord’s authority. Where will be their middle ground then?

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