Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Apostate or Not?

Since our founding, Mormons have had strong feelings about those who leave our faith. We are to love others throughout the world, of all faiths; yet, the Book of Mormon is full of stories of those who rejected the faith and descended into such evil that they were willing to murder their former friends and neighbors:

And thus we can plainly discern, that after a people have been once enlightened by the Spirit of God, and have had great knowledge of things pertaining to righteousness, and then have fallen away into sin and transgression, they become more hardened, and thus their state becomes worse than though they had never known these things.

These apostates had a tendency to emigrate to a neighboring nation, and persuade the people there to declare war on their homeland.

But this is not merely an ancient phenomenon: some of Joseph Smith, Jr.'s friends and companions deserted the Church and fought against it, giving false testimony against the Prophet in anger, pride, or fear. Some tried to kill him. Neal A. Maxwell wrote,

There are the dissenters who leave the Church, either formally or informally, but who cannot leave it alone. Usually anxious to please worldly galleries, they are critical or at least condescending towards the Brethren. They not only seek to steady the ark but also on occasion give it a hard shove! Often having been taught the same true doctrines as the faithful, they have nevertheless moved in the direction of dissent (see Alma 47:36). They have minds hardened by pride (see Daniel 5:20).

In this mindset, perhaps, Brigham Young spoke harshly of Emma Hale Smith when she did not accompany the Church westward. Later, she participated in forming the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which held Joseph Smith, Jr.'s inspired translation and notes on the the Holy Bible. They published these as the Inspired Version of the Bible, but the larger Church in Utah did not use this version for many years, until one of our own scholars got to see the original manuscript for himself.

Turns out, the Reorganized Church had done a fine job. No apostate changing of scripture. No malicious, prideful, or evil intent. Today, differences from the Inspired Version (or "Joseph Smith Translation") are placed in the footnotes of LDS-published editions of the King James Version of the Bible, and routinely used in our Church curriculum.

So... if Emma Smith and company weren't evil apostates, what were they?

Robert Kirby (author of the "Five kinds of Mormons" and the "Five kinds of non-Mormons") offers a lighthearted take in his "Five kinds of ex-Mormons," placing those who leave the LDS Church on a spectrum from very hostile to not at all.

Many Latter-day Saints struggle with a series of dialectics: our Church is the One True Church, but the rest of the world can be saved, too. Satan wants us to leave the Church, but God loves his lost sheep. Those who leave can do so out of pride, guilt, or anger... or, they can do so out of sincerity, hurt feelings, or misunderstandings. One popular blog post on this issue, "The Alarming Truth behind Anti-Mormonism," illustrates what I would describe as a one-sided approach to these issues. And there are verses of scripture, as well as sermons from modern Church leaders, where the approach is similarly one-sided.

The gentler, more compassionate side is often represented in talks by Gordon B. Hinckley and Dieter F. Uchtdorf. Dallin H. Oaks has individual talks that are one sided, but his teachings as a whole touch on both sides of the dialectic. 

If you wish to read more about how different people leave Mormonism for different reasons, I suggest three talks. First, "Come Join with Us,"by Dieter F. Uchtdorf:

The search for truth has led millions of people to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, there are some who leave the Church they once loved.

One might ask, “If the gospel is so wonderful, why would anyone leave?”

Sometimes we assume it is because they have been offended or lazy or sinful. Actually, it is not that simple. In fact, there is not just one reason that applies to the variety of situations.

Some of our dear members struggle for years with the question whether they should separate themselves from the Church.

In this Church that honors personal agency so strongly, that was restored by a young man who asked questions and sought answers, we respect those who honestly search for truth. It may break our hearts when their journey takes them away from the Church we love and the truth we have found, but we honor their right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience, just as we claim that privilege for ourselves.

Second, I invite you to read "Nurturing the Less Active" by Carlos E. Asay:

The lost sheep spoken of by the Savior could represent the member of the fold who strays from the path, following rather passively the enticements of the world. He may not do so with planned or malicious intent; he simply follows the crowd and melds into the group that shows him the greater interest. Usually, a lost sheep will respond to overtures of genuine love, concern, and proper fellowship.

Perhaps the Savior used the parable of the lost coin to demonstrate that a valuable soul, like a piece of silver, may be lost through neglect. At times, leaders and teachers become neglectful, even offensive, and allow others to slip away. If this happens, and it can happen very easily, the responsible party should light the candle, sweep the floor, and do all within his power to recover the coin before it becomes encrusted with dust and is lost forever.

The prodigal son may represent those who openly rebel against heaven and home. The prodigal is often one who feels he might know more than his elders, who wants to try his own wings in uncertain areas, or who stumbles and falls while walking the slippery path of youth. Those close by may not understand the exact reason for the rebellion. However, the prodigal’s soul is of great worth and he should never be abandoned. Prayers, pleadings, persistent love, and the welcome mat at the door often win him back.

"Rescuing the Lost Sheep," by Roy Bean, takes a similar approach to Elder Asay's, focusing on how the effort of Church members and ministers may be different in those three situations. On the issue of Emma Smith, the Prophet's wife, I once heard a mission president say, "I think it was more a case of the Church leaving her, than her leaving the Church."

I hope this illustrates how Church members can accept their Church as the "only true and living Church upon the face of the whole earth," without assuming that those who leave have apostatized from everything they know to be true, good, and holy. In doing so, I hope that we will be an example to cultures that have little to no tolerance for a change of faith.

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