Note: The following was originally printed in the February 2017 edition of the MRM Update, offered to financial supporters of Mormonism Research Ministry. To request to a free subscription of our other periodical, Mormonism Researched, please visit here.
The December 2016 issue of Ensign magazine carried an article by Mormon Apostle M. Russell Ballard that expressed a concern for what young Latter-day Saints might find while searching the Internet. Titled “By Study and By Faith,” a phrase found in Doctrine and Covenants 88:118, it was directed primarily to teachers in the LDS Church who are in charge of instructing their youth.
Ballard began his piece by citing a 1992 comment by 15th Mormon President Gordon B. Hinckley:
In a General Authority training meeting, President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) said regarding the teaching of Church doctrine: “We cannot be too careful. We must watch that we do not get off [course]. In our efforts to be original and fresh and different, we may teach things which may not be entirely in harmony with the basic doctrines of this the restored Church of Jesus Christ. … We had better be more alert. … We must be watchmen on the tower.”
Though I certainly do not share many of the positions held by members of the LDS Church, as a Christian who holds my doctrinal positions dear, I too think it is important to be careful not to get “off course,” as Hinckley stated. This is in keeping with the admonishment given by Paul when he said to his young protégé Timothy, “Take heed to yourself, and to the doctrine, continue in them, for in doing so you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16).
Recognizing that the Internet “is expanding its reach across the world into almost every home and into the hands and minds of our students,” Ballard warned church educators, “Gone are the days when a student asked an honest question and a teacher responded, ‘Don’t worry about it!’ Gone are the days when a student raised a sincere concern and a teacher bore his or her testimony as a response intended to avoid the issue. Gone are the days when students were protected from people who attacked the Church.”
Ballard noted, “It was only a generation ago that our young people’s access to information about our history, doctrine, and practices was basically limited to materials printed by the Church. Few students came in contact with alternative interpretations. Mostly, our young people lived a sheltered life.” I might add that the dilemma Ballard addresses is not limited to LDS young people. You could also say that gone are the days when adult LDS members who also have sincere concerns are merely instructed to “pray about it.”
The free-flow of information has caused serious problems for the LDS Church, making it impossible to shield the membership from what lies beyond the typical faith-promoting material “printed by the Church.” But what Ballard fails to mention is that much of the angst among its members are the statements and behaviors of those that Mormons are supposed to look up to for guidance and instruction.
It is no secret that the Internet has forced the LDS Church to be more transparent with its past. In response, the LDS Church has attempted to tackle some of Mormonism’s more controversial historical events and doctrinal teachings. This move to be more honest with its past is what troubles many members. This was demonstrated on a blog site titled “Kiwi-Mormon” when it carried a guest post from Ganesh Cherian of Wellington, New Zealand. Cherian had served multiple times as a Mormon bishop and, at the time his article appeared, was serving as a Stake High Counselor in the LDS Church. Cherian commented on President Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s October, 2013 conference message when he gave “an impassioned plea to those who have left the church, admitting mistakes in leadership, and promising a place for those who doubt.” He noted that “during this particular lesson one of my fellow high-priests informed us that two friends (a former Bishop, and a Stake President) in England had recently left the church over the ‘Race and the Priesthood’ essay. As dutiful leaders they had instructed their congregations, referring to the ‘the seed of Cain’ explanation for withholding the priesthood from Black members of the church until 1978. This recent ‘clarification’ had apparently undermined their understanding of both revelation and doctrine.”
The essay mentioned by Cherian was one of several “Gospel Topics essays” produced from 2012-15 by the LDS Church. Ironically, Ballard mentions specifically the essays in his Ensign article. He introduces them by saying, “Church leaders today are fully conscious of the unlimited access to information, and we are making extraordinary efforts to provide accurate context and understanding of the teachings of the Restoration. A prime example of this effort is the 11 Gospel Topics essays on LDS.org that provide balanced and reliable interpretations of the facts for controversial and unfamiliar Church-related subjects.” Ballard went on to say, “It is important that you know the content of these essays.”
I personally couldn’t agree more. I wish more Mormons would take the time to absorb the information in these essays. Christians will benefit from them as well since the material they contain are authorized by the leadership of the LDS Church. In other words, they cannot be relegated to mere opinion. Though far from being completely honest and transparent, the essays do offer information many Latter-day Saints will find challenging to their faith.