[More details of the LDS Church's 3-year plan to address issues.]
Information comes from all kinds of sources. My own patriarchal blessing promised me, like most members probably, that I would work with top leaders in the church. It also claimed “your name will be known for good throughout the annals of the church.” I’m not sure that “good” is what the church history books will use to describe me, but I have rubbed shoulders with what I would consider giants on the periphery of the Mormon church. Besides the great people at Mormonthink (founder, Dianne, Tom and more), I have been in contact (some more regularly than others) with several past church educational system leaders like Ken Clark, John McClay and Grant Palmer. These come across scattershot of information that itself alone seems a shot in the dark. I email with BYU/I/H professors (unnamed due to job pressures) that have tidbits of inside knowledge that again alone may not amount to a complete picture. And then there are anonymous emails I get that warn me to be careful about discussing such-n-such.
When I piece all of this information together, I come away with an interesting story about what is unfolding to become an enormous project at the church office buildings. Much of what I post below is probably speculative, and time will tell if I have assessed the data accurately. But there are multiple sources confirming bits of this; the rest of which I flesh out myself.
The church is bleeding members. Marlin Jensen told a crowd at Utah State University this over a year ago. John Dehlin and I had a conversation late last year in which he also confirmed that essays would be forthcoming to try to stay the outflow of young, questioning members. Like many complex medical procedures, the church’s attempts at inoculation is a multi-phased treatment. Inoculations are like vaccinations--you give a weak dose of the virus to stimulate the immunity, and then thereafter, the same threat poses little danger. In fact, this managed treatment could encourage members to have trials of faith, controlled exposure to virulent "anti-mormon" information, and then be healed to only be stronger for it. There’s a light, moderate and an invasive treatment coming, apparently.
Several people believe the church’s inoculation will fail, and only serve to highlight the issues that for many members were previously unknown. However, their apparent three-tiered plan goes to the psychology that believers want any excuse to keep believing. By publishing a response to historical, doctrinal and science questions about the church, making the essays official on LDS.ORG with its high search index, true-believing Mormons (TBMs) will end up on their site first. When they google some "rumor" that bothers them, instead of ending up at FAIR or Mormonthink, they will land at the church's site. They will believe that the LDS Church is being open and honest. They will continue to trust the Church's explanations.
Right now, TBMs are upset because they feel the church has hidden the information. As it is, they lose trust in their church. They keep digging and no amount of apologetics can repair the lost trust. The TBM wants to believe. They want an answer that keeps them believing. But when there isn’t an official response, they end up disgruntled.
This new method is an inoculation. It’s about maintaining trust in the LDS Church with some kind of semi-acceptable response. And it may work. While it does show the church is desperate (the focus from "I'm a Mormon" campaign to "Keep the Mormons" campaign), it also shows that they're smart. They get the psychology of belief.
Here’s the plan I believe they have. Grant Palmer shared with me the name of Elder Steven Snow, who leads the church history department, as he learned some of the details from church leaders across the world (i.e., non-American bishops). Professors of history at the Lord’s schools have also confirmed bits of this, as well as other rumors coming in.
The inoculation will roll out at three levels of essays, articles and journal-like publications. Soon, we believe, they'll post the first layer of essays just touching the surface of a given issue. The review of each major issue will probably have no more information than is already available in different places at LDS.ORG (in articles and conference talks). The leadership, apparently, hopes this first needle sting is sufficient to placate the majority of the membership. No one can say, they will claim, that they are hiding the information. They have responded. However, these essays will be the same old information; just organized into neat little “I have a question” answer packets.
Some have speculated that the first wave of treament might even include testimovies discussing the issues with a backdrop of teary-eyed music and apostle-recorded testimony. Take this video, for example, discussing the wonderful multiple versions of the first vision. Steven C. Harper, editor of the Joseph Smith Papers and BYU professor of church history, narrates it and it would appear by all accounts to be just the kind of method the LDS church would use in a first layer surface review of issues like Joseph Smith's multiple, contradicting accounts of his first vision.
We've been told there will likely be 13 essays (though I wouldn't hold my breath on that number). One essay most of us would love to see them address is why the financial secrecy and why they own malls, theme parks, hunting reserves and the largest ranches in the US... Don't count on a single sentence in any of the essays addressing these financial issues.
The next inoculation will come later, perhaps in early 2014. It will dive a little deeper into the issues, with footnotes, links, lengthy quotes and perhaps even a little more meat. Think Ensign articles, rather than FARMS publication. My guess is, they won’t widely advertise these articles, but link to them from the simpler essays. My other guess is that these articles will be reserved for bishops to use when members are deeply troubled and not satisfied with the simple essays. Members who aren’t afraid of getting their minds into the work of actually learning about their church will be somewhat satisfied that the church has made a “serious” attempt to divulge and explain the issues with an official response.
The deepest inoculation is set to come out probably in 2015 for those scholarly members who are on the verge of leaving the church. This layer of treatment will likely be buried deeper yet on the Lord’s websites so that only the truly steadfast scholars will find them. I would imagine these members are the kinds employed at the Lord’s schools, at the Church History Department or by the CES. They know the issues, probably as well or even better than editors at Mormonthink. Their employment would suffer if they resign their membership. But they know too much to be satisfied with a few footnotes and BYU committee reviewed articles. These poor souls are dangling on a cliff, grasping at roots and finding straw. The proposed FARM like publications, complete with academic style references and pointers to scholarly articles and journals outside of the church, would use nuance to re-contextualize the issues into something that is truly dizzying. They will show that each complex topic has many sides and that ultimately you must decide on which side you lay your faith.
In other words, as you drill deeper and deeper into the issues, you will learn that even the Church’s brightest and best cannot find a clear explanation for why Joseph appears to have misled over and over about his claim of divine interaction. The critics, it will appear, have a good case to make if you are a faithless reject. But have a little faith, the nuance gives you wiggle room to be scholarly and faithful at the same time, knowing that the answers won’t be fully given in this life.
Let’s think about this. The prophet who, with a quorum of 12 apostles and two counselors, that in aggregate have more than half a millennium of spiritual leadership, cannot call upon God to give a clear cut answer to troubling concerns about the founding of the kingdom of God. Why not? Because to give perfectly clear answers, the faithful are told, would deny them the chance at exercising their faith. The nuance is needed to test us, say the leaders.
According to the LDS leaders, there is only one true Church, one true God and only one path that leads to eternal life. Mormonism is the true path, but it is a tiny fractional percent minority religion among the thousands of other minority religions in the world. Apparently, our task is to find the ONE TRUE RELIGION to bring us back to the presence of the one true God. We’re supposed to follow the still small voice, the very subtle signs placed around us by God, who tests our faith as we journey on this path back to him.
Now, imagine (as my friend baura first did) if the Department of Motor Vehicles/Dept of Transportation ran the roads the way LDS leaders claim God is running life. Imagine you are driving down the highway and there are signs of all different colors and shapes. Red signs, blue signs, green signs, yellow signs, big signs, triangular signs, foreign signs, etc. Lines change colors and patterns at random for denoting lanes. Lights come in a rainbow of colors that change with no discernable pattern. In this bizzaro world, all the signs say different things--different max and min speed limits, different instructions about what lane to be in etc. Further imagine that only one special color and shape of sign is the correct one. Your job is to figure out which set of signs is the right one. And there are ever-seeing eyes or cameras all over the roads writing out tickets for those who disobey the TRUE signs.
That's the best God and his prophets could come up with in running his plan?
The inoculation project going up these coming years at LDS.ORG is going to have multiple road signs of varied colors in different levels of double-speak. If the path back to God wasn’t clearly established in the Doctrine and Covenants, Book of Mormon or Pearl of Great Price, then the confusion that the layers of inoculation provide won’t help anything except to muddy the waters so much that we’ll all forget that we’re supposed to follow any signs at all. Confusion is a great way to overwhelm minds and then subdue them back into the fold.
I wondered why they are rolling it out slowly, over two years, instead of just publishing all of it quickly. I think that if the articles and deeper publications are published along with the lighter essays, the attention of the media (like Peggy Fletcher Stack -- someone inform her of this scoop) would focus on the meat over the milk. The LDS church doesn’t want history that isn’t useful to be the focus. I’m sure that Boyd K Packer is not happy that the church will officially post useless history. L. Tom Perry either. My guess is, they and those in their camp are pushing for delays at the least. That’s actually smart because once the fanfare over the simple essays has died down, they can quietly add the next two tiers of inoculation without much attention, and only point to them through local bishops, CES instructors or Religion depts.
Again, Mormonthink won’t let these articles and issues slide down the memory hole into the shadow without a full review and discussion. Inoculation is supposed to heal. And we have all heard that sunshine is the best disinfectant. Shine that light on the history, the doctrine and the life of the LDS leadership. It will do wonders in cleaning house and temple.
The B&W stance the LDS Church traditionally takes is about to be muddied and nuanced.
(photo of Polynesian Cultural Center gardens, LDS owned Epcot-styled theme park)
(photo of Polynesian Cultural Center gardens, LDS owned Epcot-styled theme park)