Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » “I left the church because I found out all the history that they never taught.”
 


“I left the church because I found out all the history that they never taught.”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - November 21, 2010

This post is sparked by a current discussion at By Common Consent about why or whether young people drop away from the church. Although that post provoked this one, and I take my title from one of the comments there, please understand that this is not an attack on, nor even a direct response to, any particular individual; I simply take those words as a launching point for my own thoughts because they state so succinctly an outlook I have read many times in the Bloggernacle.

I have a fairly decent familiarity with Church history. I don’t have an academic degree supporting my familiarity, and I don’t have access to every historical record, and I haven’t yet read every last document or study to which I do have access. But I have a solid awareness of Church history nonetheless. I think I could successfully defend my claim to having at least as great a knowledge, and to have thought as long and as deeply about as many aspects of that history, as anyone who claims to have left the Church because of having learned something about our history.

Yet I remain firmly within the Church, in sincere faith as well as in name.

But I need to back up about 30 years …

I’ve mentioned before that my mission was a disaster. That wasn’t because I wasn’t a good missionary, or because I didn’t work hard, or because I didn’t follow the rules. I was, and I did, and I did. My mission was a disaster because my second mission president was a disaster, a man who should never have been a mission president, or at least should never have had sister missionaries placed within his stewardship. This was a man whose very first words to me were “I don’t like you,” and whose every word and action after that was dedicated to proving that he meant what he said. If there was a way he could abuse me, he found a way to do it, in words, in deeds, emotionally, spiritually, physically, verbally. There was even a definite sexual aspect to some of his abuse, although I do not mean to suggest that he ever touched me in that way; he did not. But that’s about all he didn’t do.

There. I’ve said it, publicly and for the world to read, for the first time. The man was a monster.

I didn’t know how to handle it, or who to turn to for help. I couldn’t convey to my parents how bad it was, although I’ll never know how they could miss it in what I did tell them. I listen to a cassette tape I sent home; part was recorded while waiting for an interview and part immediately following, and I hear in my recorded voice today how frightened and depressed and lonely I was then, how much I didn’t understand what was happening to me or what I could do to cope. I hear the voice of that idealistic young woman who only wanted to serve God and humanity, and I don’t know today whether to burst out in tears all these long years later, or to fly out of here with my fists flying and my nails scratching and my knees headed straight to that man’s groin in defense of the terrified young woman I was then.

I didn’t know why God would call a man like that to be my mission president.

Maybe there was no God.

Maybe the Church was a fraud, or worse.

Maybe Mormonism was a cult. Maybe I had been brainwashed. Maybe I had been sent out there to recruit new dupes to serve the unknown purposes of the men who ran it all.

I genuinely considered those questions as I struggled to understand. How else could I explain why a man like that held the position of mission president, ruling and ruining the lives of people like me?

But I couldn’t believe any of the alternatives I was weighing. I knew there was a God; among other experiences, I had actually heard the voice of the Savior in an event I have seldom shared with anyone and won’t relate here – but I understood what Joseph Smith meant when he said “I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it.” There was a God.

I had a similarly strong conviction that the gospel was true, that the Church was of God, that it was led by a prophet, that I had not been fooled in joining the Church, or staying with it, or wanting to serve as a missionary. The message I was bearing to people in my mission field was the message of God and an invitation to join a Church that was inspired and led by God, and only through that Church could any of us have access to the ordinances of salvation performed with the authority of God. I knew it, I knew it, I had as good reason for my knowledge as of anything else I could name. I may not always have lived up to the best of what I knew, but I did know the best.

But how could I reconcile that with my reality? How could that God have called that man as my mission president? That was the irresistible force meeting the immovable object, and I could not reconcile it.

I couldn’t reconcile it as a missionary. I came home after 18 months and remained for a long time as shell-shocked as I sounded in the recording I had sent home as a mid-mission letter.

It took several years post-mission before I could finally reconcile it. I gradually came to understand that while men could be and should be and more often than not are called of God, men do not always live up to their callings. One man’s failure to live up to his calling does not invalidate the call, nor the God or the Church leader that extended the call. Such a man will have to answer some day for his failings, just as I will have to answer for mine; in the meantime, I don’t have to worry about it anymore. It seems so obvious now that it’s hard for me to understand why it took me so long to reach that understanding. But it did, and I do understand.

I would rather not have gone through that experience to gain that understanding. If I could rewind my life, I would not go on a mission. Not then, anyway.

But the experience does have at least one lasting consequence.

Nothing I have ever learned about Church history causes me the least amount of stress, insofar as my testimony of the gospel and my support of the Church is concerned (I do grieve, sometimes, for individuals whose lives were not what they could have been).

The Mountain Meadows Massacre? Terrible. Horrific. I can weep for the lives that were lost, the lives that were ruined, the families who suffered because of their guilty loved ones, the lives that have been embittered up to the present day by the legacy of that awful event, and the way that history can be used as a weapon against the Church. But does it change the fact that there is a God, or that this is his Church? No; it was men who failed to live up to the light they had been given, not a failure of the light.

Racism, or any other -ism, by so many members of the Church that the -ism could fairly be considered institutionalized? As ugly as sin, as cold as hell, as wrong, as terrible, as blighting to lives as anyone can express. But does that change the fact that there is a God, or that this is his Church? No; these are men and women who did not or do not live up to the calling of saints.

And so it goes with everything dark in the Church’s past (and truth be told, there genuinely are few such episodes; too many people have too limited or distorted a grasp of history and see evil where there is none).

Again, I claim as broad and deep a knowledge of Church history as anyone who has ever left the Church believing that this or that issue proves that God is not behind this work. I get impatient too often with people who make those statements. I need to be more tolerant and understanding; that’s one of my many failings.

They haven’t learned the way I did, as thoroughly and as permanently as I did: A man – any man – may fail to live up to his high and holy callings. That failure reflects only on the man, however, not on the God or the Church who extended the calling. Nothing in history can affect a faith that is grounded in the gospel itself instead of in man, no matter who teaches it or where or how you learn about it.



50 Comments »

  1. Ardis, I admire and appreciate your honesty and openness in discussing what was obviously an extremely distressing experience for you. It says a great deal about you that you were able to discount one individual’s unrighteousness and attribute it to him and only to him, not to the Church or to God. I find your insights about personal testimony very relevant and I know that they may be of help to at least one member of my family. Thank you for posting this.

    Comment by Alison — November 21, 2010 @ 3:54 pm

  2. Ardis,

    As much as it was a challenge to you to discover that allowing such a man to be a mission president is probably equal in the eyes of those who find it mystifying that certain aspects of church history are not touched upon while at the same time, current church leaders are playing up the near perfection of, well, themselves. This isn’t to diminish the abusive nature of the incident you had gone through, but that emotionally and spiritually, it’s probably as equally challenging to guess why God would allow a racist like Brigham Young to speak as a prophet, thus lending his racist words validity within the church for such a long time (if not longer yet). If it were simpler, one could get by it easier. But it may end up being more challenging than an abusive relationship like the one you had.

    Comment by Dan — November 21, 2010 @ 4:21 pm

  3. “Facts as facts do not always create a spirit of reality, because reality is a spirit. Facts by themselves can often feed the flame of madness, because sanity is a spirit… Consider the concrete circumstances and connected narratives that can often be given at vast lengths and in laborious detail by men who suffer from a delusion of being persecuted, or being disinherited, or being the rightful King of England. These men are maddened by material facts; they are lunatics not by their fancies but by having learned too many facts. What they lack is proportion: a thing as invisible as beauty, as inscrutable as God.”
    from an essay by G.K. Chesterton

    Personally, if my peers in the Church are going to propagate the ideas and agendas of madmen, that is exactly how I will treat their ideas and agendas. I have no problem reconciling that with my Christian calling because my Christian calling rightfully requires me to give a madman my coat, to love him as my brother, and to forgive him of his actions. I am to care for him when he is in want or in need. My regard as a Christian is for his life, and I will never deny him that simply because of his perceptions.

    However, nowhere in that calling am I required to put his madness on a pedestal–yet I have found, more often than not, validation from others is exactly what they crave. If not, they’d be content to be silent altogether. To refuse to give any person that validation is not a failing of our Christianity–nor is it permission to engage with them contentiously.

    Christ couldn’t avoid Herod, and I’m sure He loves Herod as infinitely as He loves us all. But that is never going to change the fact that Christ was silent in His presence.

    Comment by Paradox — November 21, 2010 @ 4:30 pm

  4. First I literally stood and cheered. Then I said a prayer for those still in the midst of such happenings. And then I sat down to say, “Thank you.” Only the names and specifics of events and places have been changed, as I review my own experiences. Virtually every crisis of faith in my life has come from inside and from a person it never should have come from–most often claiming priesthood prerogative while engaging in unrighteous dominion. The experiences, the spiritual confirmation which makes it possible to hang on no matter what, are treasures I have sought for and have graciously received.

    I appreciate the witness of these blessings and understanding in your life, and I share my own witness that such times and events can be transcended and can be used to shore up and bless others. All is not necessarily well in Zion, but the gospel of Jesus Christ remains true.

    Comment by MARJORIE CONDER — November 21, 2010 @ 5:30 pm

  5. Amen, Ardis and Marjorie, amen!

    Comment by n[r]2 — November 21, 2010 @ 6:24 pm

  6. Ardis, Thank you for sharing such personal insights into your own history. I am glad that you have such a strong testimony of the gospel and are able to state it so well for all of us to read. My wife and I have a saying, “the gospel is true, people are not always”…it has gotten us through many difficult times when it came to both personal and ecclesiastical interactions with other members and leaders in many wards and stakes. I just keep going and doing whatever I am asked to do. This does not imply that I do not think for myself, rather, I choose to allow my thoughts and actions to be in harmony with the teachings of Christ that I have come to love and will leave my failings and others failings in the hands of He who has the right to judge. I trust in Him that all will be well at the end, no matter what social or political or physical winds are blowing around me at any given moment.

    Again, thanks for your beautiful and heartfelt testimony shared here today. Keepapitchin!

    Comment by Cliff — November 21, 2010 @ 7:42 pm

  7. I love this. Thank you.

    Comment by Amy — November 21, 2010 @ 8:14 pm

  8. Whoa. Sorry to hear about the mission president from hell.

    Great post, Ardis. Thanks

    Comment by reed russell — November 21, 2010 @ 8:38 pm

  9. I am glad that you are alright, Ardis, and happy in the Church after everything that happened to you.

    I have to say though that line about men committing the Mountain Meadows and that this shouldn’t distract from “the fact” that this is the Church of God is difficult to swallow.

    If we apply this logic, we can justify pretty much anything, including some causes that you and I would consider pretty distasteful.

    While I cannot speak for Jesus, I tend to believe that he actually taught the opposite: You shall know the false prophets by their fruits.

    A massacre is a pretty troubling fruit. Instead of dismissing it so quickly as irrelevant to our extraordinary truth claims, I think that we need to take responsibility for it as Mormons because the perpetrators considered their actions an expression of their faith and devotion to the church.

    Comment by Hellmut — November 21, 2010 @ 11:48 pm

  10. Thanks for sharing this, Ardis.

    Comment by David Y. — November 22, 2010 @ 12:00 am

  11. While I’m pretty sure my experience on a mission wasn’t to the same depth as yours, I am amazed at how parallel they are. Mine was my second mission president as well. While I don’t know that he was abusive, my experience of nearly being sent home by him damaged me to the point that I got into a marriage I probably wouldn’t have if it hadn’t been for the spiritual and emotional beating I took. I’m not saying that the marriage was the fault of my mission experiences, just that they played a part.

    But, like you, I have gained the same understanding. When God tells us that his ways are not ours, we often don’t believe him. Yet, over time, I’ve found that the things we often hold as important just aren’t as important to him. I imagine that our politics and social issues look to Him much like my four-year-old’s playground politics look to me. I hurt with her, I want to help teach her how to deal with them, but I also don’t want to overprotect, to jump in and fix everything for her. And I also know that in the course of her life, those playground politics really don’t have to mean much to her, however much they hurt now.

    Whatever the history, I know what I know.

    And I think that more children leave the Church because their parents have not taught them to develop a personal relationship with the Spirit. Most of the complaints boil down to that, in the end.

    I’m certainly grateful that mine were wiser than that, however much I resented them not jumping in and solving my spiritual problems when I was a child and still hurting.

    Comment by SilverRain — November 22, 2010 @ 6:59 am

  12. Thank you, Ardis.

    Comment by ESO — November 22, 2010 @ 7:11 am

  13. You’ve touched on a lot of raw nerves here. The first six months of my mission were some of the worst of my life. All we heard was how bad we were, how unspiritual we were, how unrighteous. Not once do I recall hearing anything positive. That kind of stuff affects you for the rest of your life. I know that if I had been more mature and in possession of a stronger faith, I could and should have taken it all in stride, but not all 19-year olds are that strong. But there is something even worse and that is when your ward leaders spiritually abuse your children. I have two ex-bishops I find it almost impossible to forgive. This is a weakness on my part that I hope I can someday overcome. You’ve given me a little encouragement. Thanks.

    Comment by Jay — November 22, 2010 @ 7:26 am

  14. I gradually came to understand that while men could be and should be and more often than not are called of God, men do not always live up to their callings. One man’s failure to live up to his calling does not invalidate the call, nor the God or the Church leader that extended the call. Such a man will have to answer some day for his failings, just as I will have to answer for mine; in the meantime, I don’t have to worry about it anymore.

    Ardis, this is a nuanced and mature view of the real world of church service. Personally, I have worried many times if I were that man in someone else’s life when I served in positions of responsibility.

    Comment by Paul — November 22, 2010 @ 8:52 am

  15. Nicely stated, Ardis.

    Comment by Kaimi — November 22, 2010 @ 9:06 am

  16. Ardis –

    You are one strong woman. I commend your bravery in sharing your mission experience with us. A missionary is in a position of incredible vulnerability vis a vis her mission president.

    Mercifully, I had a good one.

    Comment by Senile Old Fart — November 22, 2010 @ 9:22 am

  17. Potential commenters are reminded that Keepa is a blog primarily for believing Mormons, and that while some challenges are welcomed — Hellmut’s comment, for instance, at least addressed the post — laundry lists of everything someone hates about Mormons and Mormonism and comments that label Mormonism a cult, a deception, an evil perpetrated on the world, land in the trash barrel where they belong. Save your breath.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 22, 2010 @ 10:10 am

  18. Ardis,
    Really great post. Thanks.

    Comment by mmiles — November 22, 2010 @ 10:40 am

  19. As Paul put it, “in perils among false brethern.”

    Comment by Stephen Taylor — November 22, 2010 @ 10:59 am

  20. Oh my goodness. So that’s the story. That really stinks and I’m sorry you had to go through it. Isn’t it funny how we all look back on big challenges in our lives that helped us learn a lot and we still wish we hadn’t experienced them? I wonder if that will ever change. But I do have to say I’m glad you came to a wise understanding of reconciling your experience with the gospel. When I complain about things, my sister always says, “Yep, so the Church must not be true,” and then I immediately check myself. Did you see that article in the DesNews this past weekend about how young people have a hard time reconciling religion and liberalism? Another interesting point . . . I end up disagreeing on a lot of points with Utahn Mormons, who tend to be a lot more conservative then the rest of the world, but I don’t let that ruin my testimony and I hope I never do let it do so.

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — November 22, 2010 @ 11:21 am

  21. In my case, I do think there is a certain “innoculation” that occurred by being exposed to some “not-so-tidy” doctrines as a child. The history of polygamy, for instance, or blacks and the priesthood, would bother me much more, I think, if I had learned about them as an adult. But since I grew up knowing these things were part of the Church’s past, I’ve been able to take them in stride.

    I also found both mission presidents I served under to be entirely human. I cope with institutional imperfections by reminding myself that “The Gospel is true; those who serve within it are not.” And then sing “Tho In the Outward Church Below” or “Think not when We’re Gathered to Zion.”

    Comment by Clark — November 22, 2010 @ 12:12 pm

  22. Ardis, I am grateful to read your post. I am currently having a hard time forgiving a few people. In my world, I think I have moved on and have forgiven, but resentments creep back in. Things my mission president said to me still sting. I am glad you got over it in a few short years.

    Comment by Paul 2 — November 22, 2010 @ 1:53 pm

  23. Misunderstandings turn into rumors. They make it back to the AP’s, who in turn pass the rumors, or “confidential information” on to the mission president.

    Missions run on rumors, it’s part of the evaluation and reporting process.

    In the future world when we find out the full stories of our lives, you’ll probably be able to forgive, or at least re-evaluate, your mission president. He was likely acting upon information given him “in confidence” from the AP’s or ZL’s, who got it from a DL, who got it from one of the more immature missionaries in your district who misunderstood some of your comments and misjudged some of your actions.

    My guess is that some mission presidents don’t understand how harshly missionaries can judge each other, and in their limited life-experiences can completely misunderstand their peers, especially those of different ages or backgrounds.

    When I was a little kid, my mother once spanked me due to a lie that my brother told. My brother continues to tell lies about me to others and make false accusations to my own face, and my mother continues to believe him.

    And again, thanks for another side-bar link.

    Comment by Bookslinger — November 22, 2010 @ 2:51 pm

  24. For the benefit of commenters whose remarks have not been posted:

    I repeat, this post is not meant an attack on anyone, whether individually or as a group. Any offense it gives is unintentional; my only intent, sincerely and genuinely, is to explain why a study of history does not threaten my faith. *My* faith. I say nothing about *your* faith, only mine.

    I repeat, too, that Keepa is a blog primarily for believing Mormons. Laundry lists of objections to the church, or catalogs of unflattering names applied to the church or its members, have no place here.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 22, 2010 @ 8:24 pm

  25. This makes me grateful for the wonderful experiences I had on my mission–although it saddens me to think you (and others) had difficult challenges. Please know how much I appreciate your willingness to share your thoughts.

    Comment by Rebecca — November 22, 2010 @ 9:07 pm

  26. This is a powerful post, Ardis. Although I have never been offended by someone in leadership over me, and have been able to read things in early church history that I didn’t understand, my testimony is strong. However, I have family members who became inactive or left the church completely because of things they didn’t understand or because of how they had been treated.

    Comment by Maurine — November 22, 2010 @ 9:21 pm

  27. Yes, Michael, because I evaluated them in light of undeniable evidence.

    Seriously, people, save yourselves the labor of typing screen after screen after screen of whininess. A line or two is enough for me to comprehend the whole, and nobody else is going to see even that much: until I clear or reject them, your comments are visible only to yourself, and only as long as you’re logged in to the computer you used to send them. With tediousness like Michael’s, well — poof! Off to the oblivion they deserve.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 23, 2010 @ 4:54 am

  28. I would guess, Ardis, that the vitriol comes because we all want to think we are right. For those who have left the Church, or are thinking of leaving the Church for historical reasons, your clear, simple, and well-conceived declaration of faith threatens them in the decisions they have made.

    I admire your courage in deleting the comments and posts which attack. I think that many of us, in the “information age” have forgotten both courtesy and a willingness to be wrong, or to allow others to make different decisions than we have.

    Comment by SilverRain — November 23, 2010 @ 7:30 am

  29. Ardis: You have broken my heart twice this morning, and lifted my spirit. I can not ask for more. Thank You for being who you are.

    Comment by Matt W. — November 23, 2010 @ 7:36 am

  30. I agree with SilverRain #28 and am sorry for the uncouth and uncalled for rants that you are subjected to.

    Comment by Maurine — November 23, 2010 @ 8:48 pm

  31. Ardis,

    Great post! I hope you will find this comment acceptable, since I am aware that sometimes I become a bit obnoxious.

    But I’ve been thinking about your story.

    First off, I want to say I am a bit impressed by your faith and your testimony. It is built upon such a solid foundation of simple facts that it seems impervious to any erosion. I suppose that it quite rare.

    But what I wonder is…how do you get to that point? It seems like you’ve had some pretty major experiences that ground you. But I’d imagine that even you would recognize that these major spiritual experiences don’t happen to everyone. (Or do they)? There isn’t a program you can take to hear the voice of Christ.

    So, supposing one doesn’t “know” certain facts that you know (e.g., that there is a God and the LDS church is his church), what are these people to do when their reality casts doubt on these two things? I mean, even if they *believe* but do not *know*, what if their belief comes under erosion by historical events and they don’t have the awareness to recognize nuance or to recognize that historical events need not destroy a testimony?

    Comment by Andrew S. — November 24, 2010 @ 8:49 am

  32. Have to run – death in the family – will reply as soon as I can.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 24, 2010 @ 9:39 am

  33. Wonderful post, thank you.

    My husband’s mission was definitely not “the best two years’. I think he wonders what was wrong with him that it wasn’t. It is heartening for him and myself to read about others whose missions weren’t exceptional, but still brought about good things. I hate what happened to you, but I’m grateful for your post and the beautiful faith you have.

    Comment by jendoop — November 24, 2010 @ 2:40 pm

  34. Andrew, it would help to think of “a testimony” not as a single, solid thing, but as made up of many smaller parts. I know that we usually speak of “a testimony” as something you gain or lose as a whole, but it isn’t. If people really examine what they know — whether it’s in the traditional Mormon religious sense, or what they know about biology or politics or computer science or anything else — they recognize that what they know is a collection of a whole lot of much smaller pieces that coordinate and build up a composite whole.

    When that’s the case, finding out that you had a misunderstanding or were flat-out wrong about one detail doesn’t mean that everything else has to come crashing down. I might learn that George Washington didn’t really cut down a cherry tree as a child; no matter how dismayed I might be at the discovery, that doesn’t change the fact that George Washington was married to Martha, or that he was a surveyor, or that he was the first president of the United States, or any of dozens of other things I know about him. My dismay at learning that I believed one thing that was incorrect may make me doubt everything else I know about him until I’ve had time to review the reliability of my sources and put together a new picture of his life that makes sense with the corrected understanding. I’d be wrong to stop believing in his existence as an historical figure at all just because I had to correct one error in my understanding.

    I don’t know what your professional field is, but I’ll bet you engage in that kind of adaptation all the time — you realize the illness you are studying isn’t really caused by the virus you suspected, or you miscalculated at the beginning of an elaborate mathematical problem, or the candidate you were promoting has a defect that disqualifies him. Whatever your field is, you go back to the point where your work remains solid, cut out the faulty part, and carry on with your work in the new direction. You don’t quit your job and declare that science is bogus or that the entire democratic system is a failure!

    When somebody learns that they had a too rosy image of some part of church history — whether the rosiness was because of a personal misunderstanding or because somebody didn’t tell them the whole or the true story — they’d be foolish to throw out everything, including sound history. As with anything else, you backtrack to solid ground and see what it all looks like after you’ve cut out the misunderstanding or added the new data. Learning that Joseph Smith was a polygamist doesn’t affect the origin of the Book of Mormon; learning about Mountain Meadows doesn’t affect the First Vision. Learning something new or correcting a misunderstanding may cause you to re-evaluate and redefine your understanding of some basic ideas, but a new/corrected idea doesn’t necessarily invalidate everything you previously knew with regard to religious history any more than it does with regard to any other field.

    Does this count as “the awareness to recognize nuance,” or were you using that as code for something else? Because if someone has the awareness to recognize their understanding of marriage, life, or a professional field involves growth and adaptation toward a greater understanding rather than divorce, suicide, or abandonment of a career, then they *should* be capable of applying the same recognition to matters of faith and testimony. They *should* be capable of adjusting a faulty part without throwing away the legitimate whole.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 24, 2010 @ 3:38 pm

  35. Ardis, what a fabulous way to explain testimony! I love your comment #34 even more than the original post.

    Comment by E — November 24, 2010 @ 6:22 pm

  36. Ardis, a beautiful post; and your comment just above enriches it. Religious epistemology is a very tricky subject. And we can’t simply dismiss the fact that persons genuinely feel compelled to leave the church after studying aspects of our history. But we all ought to shout hallelujah for the human examples like this one that you’ve put forward: one can be as clear-eyed and informed as it is possible to be and yet maintain a genuine belief in the divinity and history of our church. One can do so without delusion, without perverse reasoning, and without being superhuman. What our collective experience shows – the experience of those who naively bury their head in our historical sand, those who feel compelled to leave on account of that history, and those who faithfully grapple with what the best historical analyses bring to light – is that we need many more retellings and updatings of our histories. And as already intimated, we really need to quit repeating obsolete and inaccurate history.

    Thank you again for your testimony.

    Comment by James Olsen — November 24, 2010 @ 6:28 pm

  37. I feel odd responding to comments on a post like this — it seems a little like saying “Thank you for complimenting me on my testimony” which would be weird and inappropriate and probably not what any of us mean.

    But I do want to acknowledge all your remarks, and say that I appreciate your reading and understanding and sharing and sympathy and everything else that has been expressed. Thanks, too, for staying with the subject of the post.

    To the several of you whose comments have not appeared here despite your generally polite tone — I appreciate your reading, too, and am certain that your remarks were sincere; the point of the post, though, was that I got past the difficulties raised by my mission; it wasn’t an invitation to detail why your missions were so terrible that you couldn’t get past them. That’s a discussion for another day.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 24, 2010 @ 7:05 pm

  38. It was a great post Ardis. I personally think an important step in ones spiritual maturity is encountering a leader who struggles with their calling. While my mission was pretty good compared to yours, I still remember a kafkaesque moment where I was called in by the Mission President and ripped on for a half hour with absolutely no idea what I was being yelled at about. Later I found out that in prior years my mission had quite a few disobedient missionaries including some “secret combinations” involving a lot of sex that led to the excommunication of a lot of Elders, including APs. A member had heard us make a joke and thought it was tied into all that. When in my second year I realized my MP had been inactive most of his life, had never been on a mission, and was struggling to figure out how to run a mission differently from the large corporation he was a VP at I started to have a lot more compassion. Probably aided by my not being a terribly good leader myself. (I should add that my MP actually was quite good, despite some problems, and really transformed the mission)

    I’m still quite grateful for that experience and I’ve never looked at leaders in quite the same way. At the time though it really was a struggle. I felt like I needed someone to explain things to me and support me and I never really got that.

    Comment by ClarkGoble — November 24, 2010 @ 9:10 pm

  39. And Andrew, having now read your remarks elsewhere, I realize there wasn’t a shadow of sincerity in your question. No need for you to respond here again.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 24, 2010 @ 11:00 pm

  40. Seriously, I have no idea what Andrew does to piss people off as much as he seems to. He’s one of the few atheist ex Mormons I can actually have a decent conversation with.

    Anyway… I had a similar (though much less drawn out) experience with misguided authority on my own mission – only this time it was the Area President. I’ve written about it elsewhere, but suffice it to say – it was the first time I had ever seen a General Authority decisively, pridefully, and even ridiculously wrong.

    But I came away from it realizing that he had his good points, and the mantle definitely was palpable. Taught me a valuable lesson about the men that God chooses to have authority positions in the LDS Church – and what to expect of them.

    Comment by Seth R. — November 25, 2010 @ 12:54 am

  41. The OP is fascinating for truthful personal history. Plus it’s very well written, partly because it relates the very personal story to a whole variety of things most of us believers spar with at one time or another when we try to address problems in our practice of our faith or institutional history. But Ardis’s further comment at #34 is, for me at least, a gem-like manifesto for students of Mormon history. Why? Because it puts words (beautiful, logical words) to a process I’ve been practicing in a similar fashion over the years to protect myself from throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. I no longer harbor any fear of learning about the misbegotten aspects of our history, I just look forward to learning what the next error is so that it can be corrected. Thanks to Ardis, I can now articulate why.

    I hereby nominate this for some kind of an award. (wink)

    Comment by Mommie Dearest — November 25, 2010 @ 1:30 am

  42. I wake up this morning to a spam filter choked with a larger than usual load. I always have to scan quickly down the lists checking for honest comments that get trapped for no apparent reason — some old friends and regular commenters land there occasionally, despite every tweak I can think to make to the filter. (Someday I should post about spam, and which posts seem to attract which kinds of spam. One old post with nothing more than two pictures of Kaimi Wenger and the fact of his having won prizes in two old New Era contests for musicians draws a ridiculous number of ads for men’s little blue pills, and spam of no other type. You don’t even want to guess what posts titled “My Love Letter to Boy Scouts” and “Lace Stockings” attract …)

    This morning there were seven comments and trackbacks about this post, none of which will make it to public view. I might be better off not responding to them in any way, except that it’s possible that some readers who are welcome to participate here have misread this post in the same ways:

    Please note that I don’t claim that I am immune to all attacks on my faith. I’m not — nobody is — and it would be dangerous for anyone to think that her testimony were so unassailable as some of these DAMU commenters have misread. What I said, or at least what I *thought* I said and absolutely what I meant, is that I’m not susceptible to being shocked or shattered or destroyed by learning about any actions of any men or women in church history — “all the history that they never taught.” The bad acts, or the supposed bad acts, of anyone from the past pose no more challenge to my faith in the gospel than the bad acts of my mission president because I now understand not just with my head but with my whole soul the obvious fact that men aren’t perfect and may not always live up to their callings.

    Is that such a revolutionary idea? News to anyone? It was worth writing about here, I thought, because I learned it — and I mean really learned it, not just read it somewhere and agreed that it was logical — because of identifiable circumstances that might have been (and judging from response, are) of interest and utility to some readers.

    His personal story is different from mine, but Davis Bitton makes the same general point in his I Don’t Have a Testimony of the History of the Church, which may be the most worthwhile essay ever written on how someone can be thoroughly conversant with church history and remain faithful to the Church and to the gospel.

    But I’m as vulnerable as anybody else to attacks on my faith from other directions, especially emotional ones. I still have to guard against weaknesses that I know I have. It’s just that what I’ve written about here is not a weakness — and it’s amusing as well as tedious to read trash comments from the DAMU written with the arrogance that if I only know this and this and this about church history (which they obligingly spell out for me as if I’ve never heard of such things before), then my faith will collapse and I’ll hail them as princes of my deliverance from the shackles of Mormonism. Not going to happen, boys; you don’t know anything I don’t know, you don’t know a tiny part of what you think you know, and you don’t write well enough to persuade me to buy a quart of milk from you.

    Ditto for the amateur philosophers who send me variations of “Well, yeah, but — if purple people eaters from outer space sprinkle magic fairy dust on you and offer you a coconut macaroon for leaving the Church, you would, wouldn’t you? So your faith isn’t as strong as you claim, nyah-nyah!” Really? That’s the best you can offer? Not in the market today, thank you; peddle it elsewhere.

    Finally, I know that my faith, my personality, my body even, are sources of amusement in some rotten quarters. Anybody who speaks or writes or leaves the house in the morning can be subject to that. It’s not pleasant, but neither is it anything that I lose sleep over. I post where anybody can read, and it’s no skin off my nose when people talk about me behind my back. It’s a little different, though, when someone from the DAMU comes here and custom orders material for his mockery.

    So I’ve cleaned the muck out of the spam filter, and off we all go, hopefully to enjoy a peaceful and bounteous Thanksgiving Day. My best to all of you. God is good, and we all have much to be thankful for.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 25, 2010 @ 8:08 am

  43. Beautifully expressed, Sister Parshall. Several years back, for an RS lesson on “sustaining the priesthood”, my wife and I looked up the word “sustain.” It turns out to be a super word. “1. to keep up: keep going; maintain; prolong. 2. to supply as with food or provisions. 3. to hold up; support. 4. to bear; endure. 5. to suffer; experience. 6. to allow; admit; favor. 7. to agree with; confirm.”

    Shauna noticed that every definition applies, and they all require strength and effort on the part of the one doing the sustaining. It’s nice to see such strength as yours over the years.

    I’ve got my own testimony located in a range of things that provide “cause to believe,” which I see (following Ninian Smart) as from responses to (1) external impressions regarding: Order and creativity in the world, the Common mythic symbols and patterns underlying most religious traditions, Key historical events that define separate traditions and bind individuals.

    (2)Through the innermost experiences of the individual, including Numinous awe and reverence,
    Mystical union, Moral obligation, Reorientation and Reconciliation with respect to personal sin, guilt, and weakness, the existence of evil, suffering, and death, and tensions between science and faith.
    (3) Then returning to the external world as human action, such as Personal dialogue where you begin interpret external events as God speaking to you, and you answer through your own actions, and at last in Social and Ritual behavior.

    Mine is a complicated, ongoing weaving of many threads, not a brittle crystal, let alone a soap bubble.

    Giving thanks,

    Kevin Christensen
    Bethel Park, PA

    Comment by Kevin Christensen — November 25, 2010 @ 9:44 pm

  44. D’un missionaire francophone a une autre, bien exprimé.

    My first mission president was a challenge. Fortunately, I had a second one.

    Thanks for this.

    Comment by Ben S — November 26, 2010 @ 9:12 am

  45. RE:#9 Hellmut

    I am in full accord with Ardis on this issue. If you choose to indict an church on the actions of a few of it’s members you are skating on thin ice. Let’s raise that to the next level, that of nations. From your name I deduce that you are either German or a member of one of several Germanic European nations. Shall we indict all of the German people for the rise and actions of the Third Reich? Shall we permanently label the Germans, and by extension, all Germanic peoples, as savages, barbarians and animals? Shall the community of nations of Europe decide that because of what they have suffered at the hands of the Nazis, the German people have eternally forfeited the right to have a sovereign nation to call their own?
    Now I don’t want you to feel too picked on here. Most of my own family on my maternal side and a respectable number on my paternal side are of Germanic ancestry. Thus, if you will, I am ‘indicting’ myself.
    I recognize that this is not a strict parallel. The Third Reich was the legal government of a nation, while the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a church. Virtually all of the acts of the Nazi regime were done with the consent, approval and on the direct orders of the command structure whereas this was not the case of the LDS Church in the MMM. If you look at the one of the most salient pieces of evidence found in letter copybooks of Brigham Young, you will find that Brigham Young ordered that the Fancher party were to be safely escorted through the territory and that no harm was to come to them. Brigham did not allow this messenger to get even a few hours rest, but sent him back to the southern territory on a fresh horse. At each town he passed he changed mounts to ensure that he made the fastest possible time. Notwithstanding, he tragically arrived too late. In my mind this shows that the decision to commit this atrocity rested with the local leadership. God will judge them and they will be held accountable ‘to the uttermost farthing’ if they haven’t fully repented. Nobody will ever ‘get away’ with any sin. God sees and knows all.
    My testimony does not rest on those who call themselves Latter-day Saints comporting themselves
    with consistently sinless, perfect behaviour. But I do know that if I hold them and their behaviour to that standard, it is by that same standard which I will be judged at the Last Judgement.
    Blanket indictments or condemnations simply don’t work when dealing with groups or nations of human beings. If you make this a permanent policy of your judgement and study European history in any detail, you would be forced to condemn all of the peoples of Europe as being beyond redemption. Consider the slaughter of the Cathars (Albigensians), the Hundred Years War, or the Huguenots experience in France on Saint Barthomew’s Day in 1572. I shouldn’t need to go on, if you are a European you should be well acquainted with the history. Finally, I should mention that it wasn’t just Catholics engaged in these horrors, the Protestants were equally adept and guilty. Before religion was the motivator, it was politics; with lords, lieges, and knights slaughtering both the soldiers and peasants of their neighboring lords. With blanket condemnations, it is easy to conclude that these Europeans are a savage, reprehensible and irredeemable lot. Sorry, I won’t go there because I know far too many wonderful citizens from several European nations. As I refuse to be that inflexible or absolutist in my judgements of Europeans, so I won’t judge the Church or the Mormon people that way either.

    Comment by Velikiye Kniaz — November 26, 2010 @ 6:21 pm

  46. “Anonymous” asks (and your comment is being withheld, Anonymous, for the reasons you admit recognizing) what I mean by “attacks on my faith from other directions, especially emotional ones.” I’m not going to spell out my specific vulnerabilities here where there are so many readers who don’t have my best interest at heart, but I can try to clarify in general.

    You’re right, by “emotional” I do not mean that my faith is based solely on some warm and teary experience after a prayer. I can recall specific instances where emotions played a role in developing what I believe, but also specific instances where reasoning through a problem was a major factor, and even more specific instances that I can’t really classify. There have been times when I have been working out a problem, or where circumstances brought up a question, and I simply “knew” the answer or what to do. Church members would probably identify those instances as owing to the gift of the Holy Ghost, or the “pure intelligence” that is claimed to be one manifestation of the Holy Ghost.

    But that isn’t what I mean by “emotional vulnerabilities.” I mean emotions like fear, anger, pride, vanity, discouragement, contempt, and so on. Something that distances me from God or from other church members or from the institutional church or causes me to think I’m so much better than or can never be good enough for. I’m not identifying which of those and other emotions are especial vulnerabilities for me — you can play a guessing game with yourself based on how well you think you know me from my blogging.

    But that’s what I mean. Not a failure of the warm fuzzies, or a counterfeit warm fuzzy, but anything within myself that builds a wall between me and what I know to be true.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 27, 2010 @ 10:25 am

  47. Ardis, again thank you, especially for #34 and #45. Remarkable and articulate insights. Again, for myself, my soul has been wrenched at times (and my yet be again) but my testimony endures.

    Comment by Marjorie Conder — November 27, 2010 @ 11:00 am

  48. Dear Sis. Parshall;

    Admitting you are brainwashed to the masses doesn’t seem like the cleverest move ever to me; it so dumb it’s something I expect more of myself.

    This is so sad, we’re the same kind of wonks who will never be allowed to be friends because I don’t go to church. Bye bye, non-faith-promoting comment.

    But still, Ms. Parshall, these confessions to those not of your tribe speak painfully of the sort of indoctrination that Voltaire derided when he said, more or less, “Those that can make you believe absurdities can make you admit atrocities.”

    Mountain Meadows Massacre.

    Comment by djinn — November 27, 2010 @ 3:43 pm

  49. Ardis,

    You’re one of my heroes. And I don’t think it is disputable that you’re one of the best historians around.

    Rex

    Comment by Rex — November 28, 2010 @ 9:58 am

  50. [...] “I left the church because I found out all the history that they never taught.” [...]

    Pingback by Springs Of Water » Clinging To a Testimony When Members Are Clawing at You — November 28, 2010 @ 10:23 am

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