When I left Mormonism, I was extremely upset upon discovering things that church leaders, teachers, and curriculum had left out of the narrative. Why, in 30 years, hadn’t I been told that some of the Book of Abraham papyri had survived and that the translation didn’t remotely match what Joseph wrote? Or that the First Vision account was actually one of many accounts that contradicted each other?
When I asked those questions, nobody would offer any answers. They would claim the church was open and honest, yet couldn’t point to where such things were mentioned. Yet somehow, in their minds, their church wasn’t hiding anything.
Well, a guy named M. Russell Ballard just busted that myth. In his address to the Church Education System employees, Ballard stated, “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.”
Oops. I knew the internet and its freely available wealth of information would eventually force the Mormon church to change its tactics, but I didn’t expect them to confess to the two most common tactics used when I had questions myself.
But Ballard’s speech got even more strange. “It was only a generation ago that your 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… Please, before you send them into the world, inoculate your students by providing faithful, thoughtful and accurate interpretation of gospel doctrine, the scriptures, our history and those topics that are sometimes misunderstood.”
This idea of inoculating a student against information from other sources screams CULT! but perhaps that’s just the skeptic in me. Fortunately, there is an authoritative source to set both Ballard and myself straight. Instead of M. Russell, we’ll go to Russell M.:
“Jesus chooses not to inoculate, but to indoctrinate. His method employs no vaccine; it utilizes the teaching of divine doctrine—a governing “eye within”—to protect the eternal spirits of his children.” -Russell M. Nelson, April 1995 General Conference, “Children of the Covenant”
So there you have it. In one Deseret News article, a top Mormon leader admitted that his church used to tell students not to worry about tough questions or would bear their testimony in order to avoid the issue. He then went on to call for inoculation, despite another leader plainly stating 20 years ago that inoculation was not Jesus’ method.
The internet is forcing the Mormon church to be more open about its history, which is great. But it’s rather sad that, after more than 150 years, it had to be forced into such a step.