In 1978, civil war broke out in Nicaragua, just after I left the country. My Mission President went from Costa Rica to Managua to help the missionaries get out of the country. As he was literally leaving the chapel where he had told the missionaries to gather, the Sandinistas came running in from the other door and stopped them.
Demanding to know what side of the conflict they were on, President Muren responded with the phrase, “tonos de gris,” which means shades of grey. He did not stop but kept going right out the door and was able to get that group of Elders out of the country. Gratefully, all the missionaries eventually made it safely out.
Social or Cultural Mormons
Can a person be a member of the LDS faith and not believe some of the doctrine or accept the official story of the history? Absolutely! We call them social or cultural Mormons and there are countless numbers of them within the church. Many of these kinds of members come from multi-generation pioneer LDS families.
If you survey an average congregation in the LDS faith, you will find that there are a surprising number who just don’t care about some of the doctrine and care even less about the history. They are there because it is their family tradition and they derive satisfaction from the social interaction among good people that they know.
Looking for the middle ground
They feel uncomfortable when they hear statements from their leaders that the LDS church is either the kingdom of God or it is nothing. When someone says that Joseph Smith was either God’s prophet or he was a great fraud, they feel unfairly pressured to have to put their view of the man in such black and white terms.
Isn’t there some middle ground where good people can participate in the Mormon faith without having to take sides about Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, the idea of angels visiting Joseph and the concept of priesthood keys and authority? There is so much good in the church. Why does it have to be classified as true?
The American Mormon culture
There are many members of the LDS church who do not fit the stereotypical image of conservative, orthodox, Republican, white-collar, all-American family. The church membership is actually quite diverse, especially as one travels outside the confines of the Intermountain West where the church flourished and is the strongest.
Culturally, as a church and a people, we seem to have become stagnated in the mindset of the 19th century view of Mormonism that still conflicts with the outside world. The church is growing beyond the Mormon corridor but is experiencing a sort of consolidation in the traditional strongholds of the faith – the center of Zion.
The one true church
Many good people who recognize this cultural myopia and parochialism that exists within the LDS faith have expanded their views and horizons beyond the mores and restraints of the traditional, orthodox Mormon worldview. There are so many good people out there that are doing great things to serve their local communities.
Because these progressive thinking people have expanded their views they have come in contact with different ways of thinking about the religious experience and about their own Mormon upbringing. The idea of belonging to the one true church has come to be offensive and difficult, if not impossible to defend in their minds.
God’s chosen people
They see and are embarrassed by what appears to be a contest of right and wrong between our zeal as a missionary church and the good people who are not already a part of the elect kingdom of God. Whereas previously they were uncomfortable with a perceived exclusivist approach, they now are adamant that we are wrong.
We are judgmental, they cry. Why can’t we accept everybody else just the way they are? Why are we trying to convert people when they are already happy and doing much good in their own faith? The idea of rules for membership becomes chafing. Why does the church have such high standards that drive people crazy?
Pointing out the flaws and faults
A large percentage of the LDS membership either does not know or does not care about some of the troubling issues of our early history and growth as a church. It is frustrating to progressive thinkers that so many within the faith are not as well versed as they are on these issues and the supposed quandaries that they present.
So they become more vocal and strident in pointing out the flaws and faults of the church and its leaders, both historical and current. Their frustration increases when their audience either shrugs its collective shoulders or ignores their efforts to educate them on the problems that they see in the church. How can they not care?
Many faithful members do know
While there are many who don’t know and don’t care, there are just as many who are very knowledgeable in the issues and problems that are troublesome to our liberal minded members. It’s just that we have found answers within our own hearts and minds many years ago that satisfy the potential cognitive dissonance.
We quietly go about our lives, secure and confident in the knowledge that we have found answers for the most important elements of our faith. We invite others to taste of the peace that comes from knowing that there are answers and that there are many solid and bedrock truths upon which we can build our lives and our faith.
Raise a warning voice
For some reason, when we try to share our certainty about the truths we have found, we are sometimes misunderstood to be arrogant or presenting our faith as superior or more complete than theirs. Yes, if you invite someone to share in your happiness then you are presenting what you have found to be of great worth.
This is a difficult task to perform. We are commanded to raise our voices to let the world know of the events pertaining to the founding of our church. We have been asked to be bold in declaring that God has called prophets in our day and that he has sent angels to ordain and teach truths that have long been lost from the world.
Some truths are not relative
And thus we arrive at the heart of the conflict between orthodox conservative Mormons and progressive liberal Mormons. What is truth? Can one say with any degree of certainty that they have found the best and most complete source of truth without excluding the many other sources of truth that are found in the world?
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. Some truths are either revealed of God or they remain unknown.
Truths received by revelation
The five pillars of the LDS testimony require revelation: 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.
Without revelation from the Holy Ghost we can’t say that we know these things. It’s just not logical. I have studied the Book of Mormon and 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 I know they are what they claim to be.
Summary and conclusion
In some things in life, it is wise to take a position characterized by my Mission President’s response to the Sandinistas – shades of grey. We do not always know all the facts of some situations and should withhold judgment until a later time. However, in some critical matters, we must take a position and know for ourselves.
It takes work and determination to obtain knowledge about the five pillars of an LDS testimony. But I, and millions of others over the years, can say with great certainty that God does reveal knowledge about himself and his prophets to those who diligently seek it. This revealed knowledge does not come in shades of grey.