To the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,
I have issues and concerns which I have asked local leaders, but they either have no answer, or their answers vary, so I'd like to go to the top and get the church's official position. I cannot continue my membership when such concerns are unanswered. I sent a similar letter to you in October, but received no reply. Giving the benefit of the doubt that it was lost, I called the church information number and was given a different address to send this. If I continue to be ignored, I must assume that there are no good answers, or no one cares.
Because I've already heard them, please don't bother including responses such as "you need more faith" or "we are not given all the answers because we are not ready for them" or "the church has no established doctrine on that - it is up to you to pray and decide for yourself". This last one was the response I received over the phone from Church Headquarters to the question of whether polygamy is required to obtain the highest exaltation. Considering some of the stuff that's been revealed, I can't imagine why we don't get a little tip on this and other subjects. It would only take Pres. Hinckley a few minutes.
Besides the issues in this letter, I've discovered many problems with church history and doctrine that seem to validate my concerns, but I won't get into those.
I was an extremely devout member until 1989 when as elder's quorum president I had a problem with a stake president. I have been limping along ever since, trying to believe, but with little enthusiasm, even while serving in a bishopric. I finally reached a point where the questions started snowballing, and my conscience wouldn't let me fake my devotion any longer. I need answers. I think I have some, which the church wouldn't agree with, but I'm offering one last chance that perhaps there is some big picture I'm not seeing which will explain why the church has the problems I'll discuss. Another reason for this request is to satisfy my wife, who thinks I have not adequately sought answers to my questions.
I mentioned above my problem with a stake president. At that time, he asked all the quorums in the stake for suggestions on ways he could help improve home teaching. We took this seriously, having studied all the church leader remarks on the importance of home teaching. We also assumed the stake president considered it top priority based on his policies such as making the EQ presidency responsible to visit any families missed by assigned home teachers (an impossible task - about 50 families a month).
After fasting and praying as a presidency, we felt inspired with a recommendation. In our interview with him, we suggested setting aside a week without other activities to allow more focus on home teaching, missionary and temple work. He said he couldn't have a week without activities, as they were mandatory church programs. As I explained that we noticed that the elders had time for fun church activities, but not for home teaching, he yelled, "We're not going to have a damn week for home teaching!" I learned a week later from my secretary that his brother's stake had just instituted the idea that we'd proposed. Why couldn't our stake get the same inspiration?
As a young, ambitious EQ president in charge of what I was taught and believed was important work, the stake president's reaction set me back. I began to wonder whether I belonged to a religion or an activity club. At that time, I naively wrote to church headquarters describing the startling reaction of the stake president, and asked why there are so many activity programs to distract members from what we are told is the mission of the church. The letter was not answered, but was sent back to the stake president, who tried to smooth things over, offering no good answers to my questions. Because of church training to avoid becoming offended by other members, I was able to overlook his personal flaws, but the larger question remained.
Based on that experience, I learned that church headquarters would avoid answering questions sent to them. To avoid having this letter simply sent back to my local leaders, I'm sending it to a friend in a different area of the U.S. to send to you. Please send the reply to him, who will forward it to me.
Surely someone on your staff can find the time to answer this, as mine, like every soul, is valuable in the sight of God. If time is tight, may I suggest spending less time rewriting lesson manuals, as the gospel is the same, yesterday, today, and forever, and doesn't need regular revision.
I may place these thoughts on the Internet to stimulate discussion and get a response from someone, in case the church chooses to ignore me. Speaking of the Internet, I think the church will need to devote much more time to providing some answers. It was once easier to shield members from unfavorable information, but now they can sneak a peek at these issues on the Internet while in their own home.
Church leaders either don't understand, or don't care how devastating it can be for some people to find out the beliefs that their entire lives were built around, and their security depended on, are bogus. It can approach the pain of a child losing a parent or being taken from family. So many discussions and activities in families and at reunions depend on the assumption that the church is true. It is difficult to feel like you belong when you're considered a disbeliever.
In pondering why some are hurt worse than others, I decided it depends largely on your personality and intelligence. Many happy-go-lucky types don't take the church beliefs seriously in the first place, so if they discover its problems, they'll be less disappointed. Of course that same personality will probably keep them from digging or thinking enough to discover reality, and they'll go along, having fun with church programs. Unfortunately, I took it seriously.
My wife doesn't understand why I'm so disturbed by my discoveries. She has a different personality and the benefit of not being raised in the church (joined during college), and no family pressures. Though she believes, her life was not built around the church. She likes her church friends and activities and likes the family values (her parents divorced). Those things were secondary to me - I participated because I thought it was true and my happiness and salvation depended on it.
My wife doesn't understand why I feel deceived and am considering quitting the church. She said I'm hung up on semantics, and that when people say the church is true, they don't mean TRUE TRUE, they mean it seems true to themselves because they hope for it to be true. She stressed I shouldn't take that hope away from our kids.
So, apparently I've been a fool assuming people meant what they said. I should have known they were just hoping, when as a child I repeatedly heard parents and ward members say with emotion, "I testify to you, in the name of Jesus Christ, from the bottom of my heart/with every fiber of my being/without a shadow of doubt/in deep humility, that I KNOW that Joseph Smith was a prophet, the Book of Mormon is of God, and we are led by a true prophet today, and that this is the only true church on the face of the earth, and the only way whereby we might return to our Heavenly Father and be together with our families."
I hope there's a Santa Claus, but I could never bring myself to testify to my kids that he truly lives. The harder you deceive, the more trust you lose when your victim discovers your deception.
Having said this, I know most church members don't intentionally deceive. I know my intentions were good when I used to testify of the "truth". But surely high leaders know of the deception and can make changes to talk more of hope than of truth.
Issue #1 Righteousness and Happiness
We came to earth to determine how righteous and valiant we are in the gospel. Is it cheating on this test to use drugs to improve these traits? Does the church therefore prohibit taking such drugs? Many church members are on Prozac and similar drugs. I read of one man losing all interest in pornography after starting Prozac. If drugs can change your soul's desire, then what is the soul? And if sins can be prevented by finding the right drug, and those who sin are simply drug-deficient, how can you punish anyone for sin? Surely there have been persons excommunicated for sins which could have been prevented with drug therapy. I know a relative who came close to that point before an increased dosage restored her "righteous" attitude.
If happiness is the object and design of our existence, why would the Lord allow some people to be born with a less happy nature than others? Is this not an unfair disadvantage? I can understand other challenges to provide personal growth (paralysis, deformities, etc). But how can you overcome a genetic predisposition to depression? You can't always just try harder, because depression in itself takes away the will to try.
In Mormon Doctrine, p. 124, we read, "True cheerfulness is born of righteousness, for in right living there can be no remorse of conscience". I have a sister who is extremely devout, quoting the Lord freely in most conversations. She is also being treated for severe clinical depression. Why did righteousness not make her cheerful? Must we assume that she has some hidden sin that is causing her misery? Should we have LDS psychiatrists/psychologists inform their patients that they should forget psychotherapy and medication and simply repent?
My sister was told that there is a higher rate of depression in LDS women than in the general women population. Is this true? If so, I assume that the church is very concerned about it and is conducting research to correct the problem. I realize the church wants to protect its image of promoting happiness, but our morality should make us more concerned about the welfare of individual members.
I realize the church prevents suffering in many ways, e.g. preventing smoking, crime, promoting honesty, fidelity, etc. But couldn't we accomplish those same things while eliminating some practices that cause collateral damage? Let me give you some areas to research.
As my children are getting older, my wife is going back to work. She would rather not teach, but she is a certified teacher. Other work would only earn her a minimum wage. Why did she pursue training contrary to her interests?
My wife's talents and true love are for interior decorating. Her second year in college she began those classes, but about that time she was baptized into the church. She then learned that her calling would be to become a good wife and mother, so she changed her major to education because she thought it would better help her fulfill that role. We have since sadly learned that a teaching certificate does little to help parenting or teaching.
My observation is that the church emphasizes becoming someone that may not be you. Going against your nature and interests is bound to cause anxiety and depression. We are disappointed that no one in the church in our college days was preaching in equally loud volume the message, "Find out who you are, what you are interested in, what you love doing. Fulfill your dreams. You will best serve mankind by doing what you love."
My depressed sister, with little energy to care for her four small children, feels obligated to have another baby. She feels bad for not doing all the church wants for her four kids, and feels bad for not magnifying the church calling to have as many children as you can. People respond that the church does not teach women to have many children. Whether that is technically true or not, the effect of the teachings is unmistakable - there is pressure to have many children, and I've heard no effort in the church to counter that pressure to ensure the individual needs of women are met.
In church teachings, I see little room for exceptions. It would be nice if the message emphasized, "Children are good to have, but not all parents are capable of caring for them adequately. Not all women should have children, and it is not important to have many".
I saw a talk by Cheiko Okazaki saying that the church wants "cookie cutter" members and assumes we are all the same. I just haven't heard that emphasized by the general church leadership. There may be concern that if any exceptions are allowed, the leaders would lose control of the herd. Perhaps leaders consider increased levels of depression to be an acceptable sacrifice for maintaining control.
In the book Anxiety, Phobias, and Panic, by Reneau Peurifoy, we read factors leading to unhappiness which might relate to the church. "A rigid belief system can create a perfectionistic model of a "proper" person and demand for the child to always act properly. A rigid belief system can also generate a feeling that either the family is or should be better than others. Failure to live up to this ideal image of a perfect person or meet the family's rigid standards can cause the child to feel inadequate or worthless.
"Strict performance-related approval occurs when a parent fails to distinguish between the child's actions and the child's value as a person. Pleasing behaviors are labeled "good", and displeasing behaviors are labeled "bad". Strict performance related approval encourages the mistaken belief that a person has value only when doing something valuable".
Regarding the feeling that we're better than others, until recently, I had an arrogant pity for the poor souls who had not found the "truth". In testimony meetings, it is common to hear "I know that this is the only true church on the face of the earth". Occasionally we discuss in dismay those who "just don't get it", i.e. they don't accept our better truth.
In a recent stake conference, a sister stated that women who are not happy and who feel unimportant need only to remember that they are daughters of God. But imagine that they weren't daughters of God. I think they would still be important, in and of themselves. My kids are important whether they are mine or not. They may feel more secure knowing they have parents, but they are important no matter what, just by existing.
Other factors in depression will be discussed later, as part of other issues.
Issue #2 Deceptive promotion of truth
In the church, we try to build testimonies by witnessing of supposed miracles as being of God. For example, praying for safety and then surviving an accident is offered as proof that God lives and answers prayers. However, when viewing the big picture, we note that many survive accidents without prayer, and many who pray don't survive accidents. Healing may occur following prayer or blessings, but this could be due to the placebo effect (wishful thinking has amazing physiologic effects), or due to random chance (a certain percent of illnesses do get better even without treatment).
The church teaches that truth and total honesty are important, and says it has a special claim to truth. However, in most walks of life, the methods used in the church of withholding information to promote faith and "truth" are considered deceptive and dishonest. Should the car salesman withhold information about the failing brakes because the buyer likes the car and most of the car is good? Should the scientist only record the data that fits his hypothesis, because if true, his discovery would benefit all mankind? If the answer is no, why then should the church provide only those stories in which prayers seem to be answered, blessings seem to heal, and leaders seem to be inspired? And if it is obvious that a blessing did not work, why must we try so hard to make it fit the church story that God always helps us?
In the current March 98 Ensign, Elder Maxwell says, "It is my opinion, not Church doctrine, that one distant day it will even become more apparent than it now is that our loving Father is doing all even He possibly can do to help us"! Why is Elder Maxwell so sure? Is it from reading the faith promoting stories in the Mormon Journal in the Ensign?
In the same Ensign issue, I see a story of a missionary receiving a witness of the Book of Mormon as promised by Moroni. But I know many people who have strived earnestly for such a witness and never received it. Where are their stories printed? Are there more that receive a witness than those who don't? How do you know the "witness of the Spirit" is different from the emotion felt by me at a good football game?
Another story in this Ensign is of a family who got their pickup unstuck after praying. They conclude, "...we drove peacefully home, with a heightened understanding that God is always near and that he hears and answers our prayers." That is beautiful, but are there any families in similar situations who were not immediately helped? Have any families gotten pickups unstuck without praying?
Please tell me if the following story can be printed in the Ensign. My dad and two brothers were asked to give a blessing to a cancer patient who was near death. They prayed beforehand to know the Lord's will and felt strongly inspired to bless him to be healed and continue his life. After doing so, the patient rose up in his bed and exclaimed, "Praise the Lord"! He died a few hours later.
Only my older brother has shared this with me, and only after I'd expressed some of my own doubts from my own experiences. He said after that failure, he went to many church leaders seeking explanations, but none were satisfying.
Most adult church members privately know that often, if not most of the time, things don't happen as advertised. As in the "Emperor Has No Clothes", we try hard to convince each other in testimony meetings and church magazines that things are not as we observe.
I'm also reminded of the "Texas Sharpshooter" who fires several rounds at the side of the barn, then walks over and draws a target around the highest concentration of bullet holes.
With its confidence in the truth, surely the church can sponsor studies of the benefits of prayer, the healing effect of blessings, and the accuracy of predictions such as patriarchal blessings, while controlling for biases. Truth is truth, whether religious or not, and should be subject to the same rules for establishing validity. Perhaps the fear that the efficacy of prayer and the accuracy of inspiration will not withstand objective study accounts for the disdain in the church for logic and reason.
I understand that a belief can start with faith and hope, but we must eventually apply reason to sort out truth and scams. For example, I certainly hope for cold fusion, but that doesn't make it a reality at present. If I'm merely hoping, I shouldn't testify that I know it is true. I can only testify that I know that I hope it is true.
The emphasis on faith over reason might explain Utah's popularity for scam artists. In our ward, we have a former bishop who has become a millionaire selling a medical scam. Many drug pushers might be more honorable, as they usually don't deceive their customers about what they're buying.
There are cases with individuals where you can justify deception to protect lives or prevent suffering. The problem with large scale deception is that many will be hurt, particularly those who can see through the deception, those who do not enjoy the game, and those who blame themselves for unworthiness when they can't heal or receive witnesses as good members do.
We do Santa Claus because it is fun for the kids, but at least we intend to tell the truth when our children develop serious doubt. After kids have discovered the truth about Santa Claus, it isn't much fun to have Dad pressure them to believe and play along because he thinks it would be fun for them.
Likewise, many in the church are made unhappy when pressured to believe what they can't because of their ability to observe and reason. This ability should be admired, but instead it becomes a curse, as it results in the person being torn between their conscience and the pressure to conform. This pressure comes from family and members who are afraid to look at all sides of the church, or who lack the ability to think critically, or those who know the problems in the church, but insist on people going along with it for the good of members.
Others feel that because they enjoy the church and its programs that everyone else should also. This is like telling someone, because I like olives, they are "wrong" to not enjoy them.
Creating false hope results in confusion when things don't happen as promised, even in kids. I recently taught to a 6 year old class the story of Jesus lighting the stones for the brother of Jared. A girl then asked, "Why doesn't Jesus give light any more? We were at my Grandma's house when the electricity went off in a storm. I was scared and prayed, but the lights didn't come on till the next day". Well, there was nothing in the lesson manual to address this point, and I couldn't reply. The standard answers are, "lack of faith" or, "God must not have wanted for you what you requested". In this case, this little girl had total faith, and it seems like giving light to a scared little girl would be a nice thing to do.
I wonder how many desperate mothers of dying children have demanded that their husband save their baby by giving a priesthood blessing. When it fails, should she blame her husband for lack of faith? How does he feel as he blames himself for his child's death? He should never have been placed in the position of using an unproven procedure on his own child.
I used to try hard to understand why God would help some and not others. Why would he worry about getting someone's pickup unstuck, yet not help a little girl being sexually abused. I can't think of one benefit of such an experience. And if it is good for us, do we all need to someday experience sexual abuse, torture, etc, to help us grow?
Again in the current Ensign, Elder Maxwell raises the question of why suffering is necessary and talks about how the Restored Gospel gives us the answers, yet he doesn't provide them, other than the standard "opposition in all things" line. I know difficulties can strengthen us. I understand the belief that God is not the source of evil. But why can he not intervene to prevent evil that does not strengthen us, such as abuse?
To make sense of this, I can only conclude that there is no God, or he plays favorites in deciding who to help, or for some reason he totally ignores us. Because I want to believe in God in a way that makes sense, and I want to believe that he is good, I want to believe the last option. Of course, none of the options are supported by church or bible teachings. The bible shows that God sure doesn't ignore us. In fact, when his children were misbehaving, he chose to drown nearly all of them. That is not the model of parenting I want to follow.
A friend said it is better to follow our feelings and the spirit, and that trying to make sense of things is bad because he knows many unhappy people at his university who have failed to find joy through reason.
First of all, his conclusions may be wrong. It may be they seek reason because they were first unhappy - the unhappiness is not the result of reason-seeking (chicken vs egg). Secondly, he needs to compare the percent of unhappy reason lovers to the percent of unhappy faith lovers to determine which is better. Thirdly, I don't seek reason in order to be happy. I seek it because I'm no good at believing something that doesn't make sense, even if it's supposed to make me happy. I asked this friend how he was able to do that - believe in something he knows is bogus. He didn't have a good answer. Should I admire someone with the marvelous mental discipline to ignore reality in favor of happiness?
One response to my doubt has been, "Look at all the smart people in the church who believe (Dallin Oaks, Russell Nelson, etc )". I am also supposedly "smart" (they call me doctor). I've pondered much how a smart guy like me, and other smart guys I know, were unable to see these issues which now seem so clear. It seems that church methods used from childhood effectively construct a wall in the mind between religion, and the rest of life. You develop a switch to shut off reasoned thinking when entering church subjects. As I've shown, we are somehow led to believe that the type of thinking considered foolish in other aspects of life, is admired in church (faith is good in church, but makes you gullible in science or business).
I used to bristle when the Mormon church was called a cult, but perhaps the church tactics are a form of mind control, or brainwashing, based on fear, shame, etc. (I will say that many sects accusing Mormons of cultism employ the same tactics they criticize.)
To overcome this programming requires intelligence, training, or experiences which slap you into reality. I've related some of my experiences. Regarding training, I recently took some specialized courses in epidemiology, applying statistics and logic to identify causes of disease. The same principles can be used to prove the efficacy of treatments (or prayer/blessings). When I applied those concepts to the church, my doubts became stronger.
Even if you're smart, the more you have invested in the church, like Elders Oaks and Russell, the more embarrassing and difficult it is to back out when you discover these problems.
Issue #3 Inspiration
We are taught that leaders are called of God and inspired, and we should follow them without questioning their wisdom. Why then do the higher leaders correct the lower leaders? It seems the higher leaders get better inspiration than their subordinates. This seems to open the door to question leaders.
In a priesthood lesson last year on church courts, we discussed how local courts were done with love and inspiration to help, not punish, the member. Later the lesson mentioned the local court decision could be appealed to church headquarters. I asked why this would be necessary if the local decision was based on inspiration. I received no answer.
I've seen some pretty nutty ideas attributed to inspiration, like the hunter visiting our ward who, after 4 weeks away from his job and family with 8 kids, was "led by the Lord" to find the deer he killed. Maybe you could argue the Lord wanted him to go home, but couldn't he have found another way? Killing does seem to be a preferred problem-solving method of God, but you'd think he could be more creative. If he's too busy to help abused little girls, why is he spending time helping deer hunters who don't need the meat?
A relief society president told me that the Lord had her call my depressed sister as homemaking leader in order to force her to come mingle. She admitted my sister would obsess for 2 weeks just over the poster to advertise homemaking meeting (leaving even less time for her kids). My sister is also embarrassed by the calling (but too afraid to quit) because her house is more than messy, it is a health hazard. So she lets no one come to the house, worsening her situation. I suggested that if getting her to mingle is the goal, try inviting her out and offering a ride, without the pressure of a calling. Of course, because she was "inspired", my points were meaningless.
Why can't we accept that we are on our own, and using our own brains? How are we to prepare to create our own worlds, as the church teaches, when the emphasis is on following others. Because it's easier to tell members to do something because Jesus or their leaders "say so", often members are not taught how or why. I know a little girl who said her Mom told her to be reverent so she could escape the "death of fire". I tried to emphasize that there are actually reasons to be reverent, like respect for those speaking, and allowing others to listen by being quiet, etc. How can people be self-reliant when they are not taught how and why. It is ironic that the church teaches self-reliance while promoting dependence.
I think obedience is overemphasized in the church. Young children need to obey parents as a matter of survival, but by the time they become adults, hopefully they understand enough of why they do things to be motivated on their own. I will be quite disappointed if at age 24 my son will brush his teeth only when commanded by Dad. God should be disappointed when he hears the standard Sunday School answer as to why we do something, "Because it is a commandment", or "the prophet tells us to do it".
By propping up or leaders as inspired, members are disillusioned when a leader says or does something that is obviously foolish. And it is dishonest to say that when leaders are right they are inspired, and when they aren't, they are just giving their personal opinion. This reminds me of my joking response to people at potlucks. When they ask who made a certain dish, I ask if they like it. If they do, I tell them I made it; if they don't, I say someone else did. How can we trust or heed anything a church leader says if he might later claim it was just his opinion?
Well-meaning leaders themselves lose confidence when their "inspiration" turns out to be wrong. They feel bad for not being "worthy" to receive the correct inspiration. Recently a member of the bishopric asked for my okay to call my wife as the primary chorister. He felt foolish after I sent him back to the drawing board, as my wife is totally tone deaf. She is quite sensitive about it, especially after the experience of having an uninspired church leader in a training meeting call her out of the crowd to sing with him, driving her to tears.
If leaders are truly inspired and don't need or won't accept ideas from the less inspired members, then why are some things changed based on the people's reaction? For example, I understand the temple ceremony was changed because people were offended. This seems odd, because I thought it was the nature of the gospel to offend some people, and God would expect us to conform to him, not vice versa.
Issue #4 Coercive tactics
Why are statistics, guilt, fear and other coercive measures used to push members to do what they dislike? I thought we were on earth to be evaluated on the desires of our hearts so we could be sent to a kingdom in the hereafter in which we would be most comfortable with those desires. So what makes us think we can fake God out by doing things contrary to our desires?
Rather than pressuring people against their desires, we can give them the opportunity to change their desires by offering education and persuasion, rather than coercion ("teach them correct principles and they govern themselves").
D&C Section 58 teaches it is bad if you must be compelled to do things, and men should do things of their own free will. D&C 121 speaks strongly against exercising control or dominion or compulsion upon men and says we should influence others only "by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned".
It is obvious that we can persuade to do good, but the doing should be strictly voluntary. This point is made clear in the following excerpt from the essay, Practicing the Principle of Freedom - At Home and Abroad, by Richard M. Ebeling, found in the book, The Failure of America's Foreign Wars. You can replace "state" with "church" to see how it applies here.
"Coercion can never, ultimately, be a means for making men good or virtuous. Force can control men's behavior - it can prohibit them doing certain things and command them to do others - under the threat and use of various physical and psychological punishments. But this does not make those actions moral or virtuous. An act is moral or virtuous only by virtue of it being the free choice of a human being who, in principle, could have done the opposite. Morality and virtue are in the minds and hearts of men, not in the control of their external conduct. "Imposed conformity is not morality; it is the denial of morality. By narrowing or abrogating the field in which a man in his actions must make up his own mind as to what is "the right thing to do", the state removes the necessity to more conscientiously think and decide about what he should do as a self-responsible human being. By denying him the freedom to choose in various corners of his life, the state frees the individual from being more fully responsible for his actions. "In the free society, the only appropriate means for trying to change other people's conduct is through reason, persuasion, and example. The coerced man often harbors resentment and anger in his heart, both against the coercer and at himself because he had not the courage to resist being made to do what he did not want. The free man, when he changes the things he does due to the persuasion or example of others, feels gratitude and joy for having been shown a better purpose in life or how to more successfully pursue his ends. When other men freely choose to change their behavior due to our arguments or example, it is more likely, therefore, to represent an actual change of heart or of mind. And that is how the world is, ultimately, really changed - one person at a time, for good or evil".
Other good references are Mark Skousen's essay, Persuasion vs. Force, and Harry Browne's book, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World. Many say that no one in the church would do anything if we didn't coerce them. Is the work so important that we must take away members' free will to get it done? If so, why doesn't God just jump in and do it? Also remember the story that Satan had a plan to coerce everyone to be good, but he was severely reprimanded.
I believe that members will willingly help if they see a genuine need, but we've trained them to wait for an assignment, and when "done", they quit. This is the problem with promoting programs instead of principles. With the family home evening program, many parents think they need to spend only an hour a week with their family. The home teaching program implies that after we've visited our assigned families, we can ignore our neighbor who needs help.
With these principles in mind, I must ask why we coerce members. We collect statistics for home teaching, missionary and temple work, and use guilt and fear to get the numbers up. We are told we will be held responsible for those we could have helped, but did not.
From my experience, these methods of "psychological coercion" do little to motivate members to help others, but they do push them to "fill the square", even lie about the numbers if it will relieve the pressure and boost their image as a faithful member. Leaders are then satisfied to report their good numbers up the chain, giving little thought for the actual people involved. Numbers and programs help to alleviate the fear that we aren't doing enough, but the busywork takes time away from more important and enjoyable, but less statistically measurable work such as doing homework or playing ball with children or grandchildren, or visiting a neighbor, or enjoying our interests.
Numbers may not be meant to threaten members, but that will happen as long as such a system exists and pressure continues from above. I regret on my mission chasing down old men in Japan who had crossed the street to avoid us. I felt that forcing my views on others was justified, as I was pressured by "inspired leaders" to reach my baptismal goal in the name of God.
This same pressure would push elders to use deceptive proselyting techniques, such as fake surveys. Other elders started conversations by asking people on the street for directions to the Mormon church. One day, elders in my district tried this on a man who turned out to be a newspaper reporter. He threatened to publish an article exposing their tactics, as he had seen them at the nearby church many times.
The pressure for numbers leads to baptisms of many who don't understand the commitment they're making. On my mission, teenage Japanese girls were a favorite target, as they idolized the young American missionaries. On my first day in the field, my companion was playing hide-and-seek with teenage girls in the church. Confused, I later asked the zone leader if that was standard missionary protocol, and he had it stopped.
Regarding baptismal goals, I never understood how I could set a goal regarding the number of people who would make a personal decision to accept the gospel. Since I couldn't decide for others, this just created frustration, inappropriate pressure on investigators, and guilt for not reaching the goal.
I recall being reprimanded by my companion for my lack of faith after setting a goal to baptize 15 in the coming year. Since I'd baptized 9 the previous year, this increase seemed plenty optimistic in my mind, but paled when compared to his mighty goal of 250. Neither of us reached our goal, and I got more than he.
I, and many other returned missionaries I've spoken with, now regret ever being involved in such a system. I wonder how our investigators may have reacted if aware that they were a target of our goals. It seems more business-like than Christian. Perhaps many mission presidents are businessmen so we can keep production up, and implement sales schemes for the salesmen/missionaries. There ought to be some difference between the tactics of salesmen and Christians.
I once enthusiastically pushed home teaching, but finally gave up and agreed with some member friends that it isn't worth it. Large amounts of time are wasted in the program. Having served as EQ president twice, I saw the never-ending tasks of reassigning home teachers to families, statistic collecting, and interviewing home teachers.
Home teachers struggle for motivation while aware that many families don't want or need home teachers. They know that most families seek help from friends, not from someone who visits out of duty. They tire of juggling the schedules of three parties to make a visit, when they might more easily talk to the person at church.
Why does everyone need monthly visits? If it's to deliver the Ensign message, it would be simpler to discuss it in church, or have the families read it themselves. If there is a great need for help, then a monthly schedule is probably inappropriate.
Home teaching assignments are supposedly inspired, but I've seen many not work, requiring reconsideration and again bringing leaders' inspiration into question. And again, why create work when members could use the time at home to teach their own kids or have more time for careers and relieve the stress. I'm reminded of government programs which are proposed to fix problems which the last government program created. Similarly, the church designs programs such as home teaching and other callings which distract parents from their own kids, who then have problems needing more programs. We all end up taking care of everyone else's kids.
To his credit, my last stake president spoke fondly of parents he knew who avoided church activities not involving the entire family. That may be extreme, but from my observation, there are many parents who spend more time in church callings than in meaningful activities with their families. I have been there myself.
Perhaps I've been in unique wards, but we seem to have difficulty finding members who truly need help. There is so much pressure to get out there and serve someone, that we leap on any little need, often creating dependence, or hard feelings because members aren't getting their share of service, like at moving time. I finally decided I'd adopt the church teachings of self-reliance and move myself by hiring teenagers who want to come help and earn money.
More attention could be diverted to community needs if we weren't so focused on serving ward members who don't really need it. The church does have a reputation as being isolated from the community. I propose scrapping home teaching (and visit teaching) and simply discussing in quorum/RS meetings how people are doing. If there is a genuine need, people can volunteer to help. By eliminating less useful home/visit teaching, more manhours will be available for those few who really need help.
Self-reliance should be emphasized. I think that is the church policy, but I haven't seen it pushed much, because it's not dramatic and is difficult to measure. Of course, you don't wait till someone is in trouble to preach self-reliance and you need to be careful to not preach it to the hard-luck cases which could not have reasonably been prevented. There should be regular training, for which time would be more available if less meaningful programs and lessons were ended. After thousands of hours in church hearing the same stuff repeatedly, I am just now gaining in-depth knowledge on my own about parenting, nutrition/fitness, educating kids, freedom and government, finances, home repair, etc.
In place of home/visit teaching reports and assignment rosters, simply have volunteers write a monthly narrative of news and highlights. These can be forwarded up the leader chain and nice stories can be shared to motivate members to do meaningful work, like teaching their kids or helping their neighbor.
I also propose making most ward positions voluntary. While serving in a bishopric, I watched countless hours spent seeking inspiration, drawing ward calling diagrams, interviewing, sustaining, setting apart, etc. The priesthood or auxiliary leaders would pray and present their "inspired" names for callings to the bishopric, who would often tell them for certain reasons that the person wouldn't work. This would frustrate leaders who began to doubt their inspiration.
Many members to whom I extended callings expressed their disappointment, often shedding tears. In order to avoid guilt, they would reluctantly accept. I would have preferred to retract the callings then, but I was pressured to fill them, and knew that we could lose control if we began letting members too easily choose their callings. It is sad that this desire for control results in so much time spent by members in distasteful work.
It is also sad that this administrivia of callings allowed less time for bishoprics to be with their own families, or to counsel those in need. Perhaps bishops, quorum and auxiliary presidents could be selected from a list of members who are willing (volunteered on a list) and able. All other positions could be filled by the quorum or auxiliary leader selecting names of volunteers from a hat, or by volunteers rotating. Volunteers will be able to serve less from fear or guilt and more from enjoyment.
If our fear is "getting the work done" as mentioned previously, volunteers doing what they enjoy are more productive. Why are we so worried that everyone have a calling, especially younger parents with kids? It's interesting to notice people dashing around the church with briefcases, planners, and manuals, heading to their job, with little time to notice others. We are taught to emulate Jesus, but I've never seen a painting of him carrying a briefcase or lesson manual, or a home teaching roster.
I keep mentioning time away from families while doing callings. Our Relief Society president has ten kids at home, from age one to sixteen. Shouldn't that be enough of a calling? I recently heard her complain that some of her kids were poor readers and the schools weren't doing a very good job. Yet my wife spent eight hours with her today downtown shopping for goods for an upcoming relief society birthday dinner. And they spend countless hours in several meetings each week planning other activities (my wife is RS secretary). This is time she could spend teaching her kids (they are not the school's kids) how to read. Funny how the church stresses that women stay home and not work for money, yet they can leave the home, or ignore the children while doing the "Lord's work".
The dad in another family has seven kids, a depressed wife and a pregnant teenage daughter, yet he is very involved in church callings. (Maybe he wants to get away) I realize bad things can happen to the best of parents. But it's possible that more time by dad teaching kids or keeping kids occupied at home would have prevented an unwanted pregnancy. (Now the ward is holding special emergency meetings to keep other girls from getting pregnant)
I hear that church service is necessary to test our faith. We nearly worship pioneers because of their trials and spend thousands of dollars trying to play pioneer. I've seen temple trips scheduled at unnecessarily difficult times just to "test our faith". Because we have enough challenges under our noses, there's no need to create artificial ones. And if we're looking for big tests, isn't it a greater test to do the less dramatic daily tasks such as teaching our own kids and helping our neighbors or community? These don't draw praise and are not part of church statistics, but I thought we weren't supposed to want praise or credit for our service.
Tithing is extracted as a test of faith, but I wonder how well it is used. We are in one of three wards who attend church 15 miles from here in a beautiful new stake/basketball center. I recently commented to my sister that I wish we had built three separate smaller buildings for the same money, so ward members wouldn't need to spend so much time and money driving to church. I suggested that we could play basketball or hold stake conferences at the school gyms. She replied that perhaps the long drive to church was a test of faith.
Speaking of tithing, what would you do if all members suddenly paid a full tithe? Where would all the money go? If revenues exceed needs, perhaps you could give refunds, after members have paid to show their faith. To preserve the test, tell them a refund isn't guaranteed. Like our government, I'm sure you could always find something to spend the money on, but rather than build basketball courts, it might do more good to give it back so parents could work less and spend more time with families. After all, "No success can compensate for failure in the home."
One fear tactic used to pressure members is telling them of punishments if they don't live up to baptism, priesthood and temple covenants. But more responsible for failures should be those who pressured others to enter commitments with little knowledge or preparation. If gospel covenants are so precious and serious, why is it so easy to enter into them? We ought to put people through a rigorous test of understanding and commitment before they enter covenants, to reduce the number of covenant breakers. Handing out covenants so easily cheapens them.
A few years ago I was surprised by the stake president 15 minutes before sacrament meeting, who extended to me a calling to the bishopric, and therefore I would be ordained as a high priest. I regret that under the pressure of expectations, I accepted. After all, if I'd declined, it would have messed up the stake president's 30 mile round trip to do the sustaining, setting apart, etc. Perhaps these things are planned this way to reduce the chance of a member declining a calling. At any rate, I was fairly clueless about what it meant to be a high priest, and no one questioned my knowledge before I was ordained.
In contrast, the ministers in my hometown recently met and agreed to require several months of training for engaged couples before they would perform their wedding. They acknowledged that some would go elsewhere for an "easier" wedding, but they felt obligated to require the training to reduce the number of divorces in the community.
I wish I had received such training and counseling before my temple wedding. In fact, training regarding marriage and what to look for in a spouse should probably be started at age 16. If started after engagement, most are too attached to reverse their course even if that would be smart. Such training would be a nice addition to the repetitive Sunday School and priesthood/young women lessons.
Perhaps the church feels that because a temple wedding is considered a stronger bond, it will overcome any problems in the marriage. This may be another reason for possibly higher rates of depression in LDS women. After little premarital counseling or training, they may have married the wrong man, or perhaps weren't ready for marriage, and now they feel trapped for eternity. Stronger marriage commitments may make marriages last longer, but are they happier?
On another subject, I wonder how we can expect our children to make a personal decision at age 8 regarding baptism. We tell them it is one of the biggest decisions of their lives, yet we know they are incapable of making major decisions at that age, and are essentially following their parents. In comparison, we don't allow driving or dating till age 16, or drinking or voting till later.
I guess I don't understand, in the eternal perspective, why we're in such a hurry to get people baptized, married in the temple, ordained, etc. There's always another chance, so why condemn them by pressuring them into commitments without adequate knowledge or preparation, increasing their chances of failure. We pressure them into commitments, then hold those commitments against them to pressure them to do things they don't want to do. We proudly say the church is made of the weak, meek and humble - we are the ones who can't say no to the pressure.
Regarding the temple, in a recent Ensign, a lady related her helplessness, while waiting for someone to help her with her car, to the helpless dead waiting for us to do their temple ordinances. This would be an effective guilt trip if it made sense. If we're supposed to feel anxious to do this stuff, then why isn't God? Surely he could have figured out a better way to get the ordinances done. Why is it so critical that they be done on earth? Can't there be temples in heaven run by the resurrected beings (I assume you need a physical body) who have lots of spare time? Assuming there's a valid reason to do this stuff on earth, couldn't God find a remote location somewhere (can't ruin our faith by letting us see them) and have resurrected beings come do temple work? And there are millions of people whose names were never recorded anywhere. It's not our fault that we're keeping them waiting.
I know faith may be damaged if the temple film is changed too much, but ordinance production would rise if the film was shortened - perhaps down to 10 minutes. Maybe you could cut out a few minutes a year so members wouldn't notice.
Another fear tactic is the teaching that my family will be taken away from me in the hereafter if I'm not valiant in the gospel. I don't understand why a man who loves his family but not the gospel must have his family separated from him. Sounds like extortion to me.
Some have tried to tell me that if I end up in the terrestrial kingdom and my family in the celestial, they will still be able to come down and see me. I just don't hear that explained very often, and my kids sing in Primary, "Families can be together forever, through Heavenly Father's plan. I always want to be with my own family, and the Lord has shown me how I can". This implies that Heavenly Father's plan (activity in the church) is the only way you can be with your family. I once tried teaching this concept as written in the Primary lesson manual, but after seeing the little boy whose dad abandoned him, sulking in the corner, decided to change the subject.
And if I choose to be inactive in the church, what are my children to think as they are taught that Dad won't be with them. Rather than wasting time on a husband with no eternal future with the family, would you advise my wife to find a more worthy man? That seems like the sensible reaction to me.
Another scare tactic is teaching that we must hurry and repent, be baptized or become active again before we die, because then it will be too late. But if that's true, it seems unfair for one man to die unrepentant at age 68 while another lives on and repents at age 69. To be fair, the first man must be given more time in the next life to decide if he wants to repent. And since we get more time in the next life to decide, why not wait till then to accept or reject the gospel?
Hopefully then we'll have more information upon which to base a decision. In this life, so much information is kept from us. For one, I'd like to know more about life in the celestial kingdom before I invest tithing money and a good portion of my life toward it. If it includes an eternity of statistic collecting, sleeping through temple film reruns, and harassment about home teaching, I may not be interested. My cowboy brother said he's not interested in the granite slab environment God lives in as depicted in the temple film.
Even in this life, you can wait till age 90 to join or become active, and are then completely accepted. You don't even have to make back payments on all the tithing you missed. Sounds like a good deal to me.
I don't understand why it is so important to have us choose while keeping us from information. Does choosing the Lord or the celestial kingdom in ignorance and faith somehow make it a better choice? If I buy a car which I've never seen, and about which I have many unanswered questions, should I be praised for my faith? We are told to study the scriptures and over time, answers will come. Why make it so hard?
Some try to explain that the difficulty in finding answers keeps those who really don't want knowledge badly from learning that which can later be held against them. But if we expect people to struggle and find the answers before committing, why do we baptize so many who don't have the answers and were never required to look for them? These people may reject the gospel in the next life when they find out what it's really all about.
Here's why I no longer worry about going to the celestial kingdom, which we're pressured to do. When you love someone, you help them find what they enjoy, rather than what you want them to enjoy. Many parents push their children to become a doctor or lawyer, because the parent would feel proud and they assume their child should enjoy those careers. Similarly, the major flaw in public education is the failure to tailor instruction to each child's interests and abilities. We assume that all kids need and want the standard curriculum. Some kids are not academically inclined, but are better working with their hands. Not all people need or want to know algebra. Some kids will be happier as mechanics than as doctors, or any increased joy in being a doctor to them is not worth the extra effort in schooling and long hours. Some people, believe it or not, prefer to live in trailer parks, because the joy of a mansion to them is not worth the effort to obtain and maintain it. That is okay. The goal is happiness, not exercising control by getting people to do what we think should make them happy.
In the church, it is assumed that everyone should want to be celestial, and should want to home teach, practice polygamy, etc, which is the price of admission. Choosing any other options is considered shameful. Instead, we should consider our first priority to be the happiness of each individual. We should simply lay out the benefits of, and prices for, plans A, B, and C (celestial, terrestrial, telestial) and custom fit them to the individual's desires. From what little information I have, I'm inclined to choose plan B, as I'm told that we would commit suicide to obtain even plan C if we were shown it. I don't want to be bad enough to qualify for plan C. And as best I can tell, I don't like the price or benefits of plan A. I'm not much interested in, nor do I have the energy for, creating worlds without number - I'd settle for 5 acres, a garden and a few animals.
As a typical male, the best "benefit" of plan A that interests me is polygamy. I would like more details on how many wives I could have, what type of sexual relationships are allowed, or what place my current wife (wife #1) would have in the sisterhood. Providing better information on this benefit to priesthood holders might improve home teaching statistics. There was a hymn on polygamy, which if reinstituted, might bolster morale. On the other hand, the sisters might become less enthusiastic, considering their survival instinct to want a man and his resources for themselves and their own children. Whenever I mention this "glorious reward" to my wife, she loses her celestial glow, to say the least.
In looking through the new lesson manual covering the teachings of Brigham Young, I was surprised to find no reference to polygamy in the index. I was told it might be included in part II for next year. I hope we are not trying to avoid the subject out of embarrassment. As the apostle Paul said, "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ..." If polygamy is a requirement for highest exaltation, we need to be preparing ourselves, both emotionally and physically.
I mentioned above the tactic of shaming people into believing. In Mormon Doctrine, p. 208, we read, "Where the gospel is concerned, doubt is an inclination to disbelieve the truths of salvation, a hesitancy to accept the revealed will of the Lord; it is a state of uncertainty in mind with reference to the doctrines of the gospel. Faith and belief are of God; doubt and skepticism are of the devil. There is no excuse for not knowing and believing true principles for the Lord has ordained the way whereby all may come to a knowledge of the truth. Doubt comes from a failure to keep the commandments".
I blow fuses trying to understand this. How can you feel confident in the truth if you have not for one millisecond had some doubt? If you buy the first house you look at, never doubting it is the true house for you, how do you avoid later not wondering (doubting) what you might have missed?
Telling us that doubting is of the devil is an effective use of shame, pressuring us to hide or conceal our doubt. Personally, I was able to overcome the power of shame only when it was exceeded by my conscience telling me I could no longer believe things which didn't make sense, and which made me miserable.
In summary, unless you can correct the errors in my thinking, I must conclude the following:
Hiding stories not faith-promoting, and adamantly testifying of the truthfulness of unproven hopes to members, beginning in their early childhood, can result in significant pain for those who can break out of the mind control and discover reality is not as advertised.
Church programs and teachings will not always make you happy, and the busywork takes time away from more important or enjoyable areas of life.
Happiness and much of our behavior is largely a function of our biological makeup, our experiences, and how we exercise our brain. The "soul" is not a result of the influences of Satan and the Spirit.
I see no good evidence that church leaders receive inspiration from God or that God affects our lives.
The coercive tactics of fear, guilt, and shame used in the church are immoral and reduce happiness. If people are less happy in the church, we should be glad when they leave it, because happiness is the ultimate goal. The church makes me less happy.
Religions create stories they think will attract the most hope and highest number of followers. I want to have hope, but not in things which make me less happy, make little sense, limit my freedom to freely choose, or offend my conscience. I will keep my hopes simple and free from the control of others. I will hope for an afterlife where I can see my family and pets again, regardless of whether I, my family, or my pets have accepted the teachings of Joseph Smith. I realize that hoping does not prove truth, so I won't push my hope on others.
I plan to be good not to be obedient or to escape hell, but because there are immediate personal rewards for being good, such as pleasure from helping others who truly need it, better health, etc. I will respect the freedom of others because I expect the same courtesy from them.
Thank you for responding to these issues.