(Note to reader: The following excerpt is the concluding part of a letter sent by M. S. Brothers to seven LDS apostles in early 2015. No response was ever received.
Why is it imperative that we correct doctrinal errors? The answer is an easy one for church apologists, including seminary, institute and religion teachers, those who teach on Sunday and parents who are continually faced with the many difficult questions raised by the Doctrine and Covenants, the Book of Abraham, and the church’s own version of its history. When the teacher’s response to tough questions doesn’t make sense, the questioner is only left with more questions and doubt about church teachings. Questions grow, and too often, questioners’ testimonies, if they existed initially, begin to flag.
I have occasionally experienced the results that resulted from me providing unsatisfactory answers to thoughtful questions. The first such experience of those I remember occurred at age 18 in my college English class in California. This was several years before the priesthood was made available to blacks in 1978. My black female professor asked me to explain to the class why my church denied the priesthood to the black race. I knew the doctrine behind the practice perfectly, but I also knew the doctrine was scripturally and logically indefensible. Even if I used exclusively Mormon scriptures from the Pearl of Great Price, those scriptures still didn’t sustain my point. Gamely I explained Mormon beliefs on that occasion, but I wasn’t surprised when the class members poked holes in my arguments. Inside, I myself found the reasoning in those arguments massively problematic. Unfortunately, my answer probably reinforced the opinion of the professor and class members that my religion and I were racist.
For the last 20 years I’ve been able to give what I consider much better answers. An example from a few years ago is the question asked of me after priesthood meeting by a 17-year-old Mormon priest: “Why do some people descend from a different tribe than their parents, according to their patriarchal blessings?”
My answer: “Because parts of patriarchal blessings are often based on doctrinal misconceptions and the patriarch’s understandable and very human desire to please or impress the person receiving the blessing. The unfortunate patriarch feels he has to provide some tribal declaration, so he does, whether or not God reveals it to him. Descending from someone other than your parents is impossible, by definition. And no patriarch can explain why tribal declarations are important anyway, since the gospel specifically makes this information of no consequence in determining your future blessings.”
The boy replied, “That’s kind of what I thought, but I’m surprised you actually said that. Thanks for giving it to me straight.”
But on a whole other level, consider what can happen to a faithful Mormon who’s watching for the signs signaling the second coming of Christ. If he or she believes Mormon doctrine, there is no reason to worry, because the second coming cannot be anytime soon. The New Jerusalem and its centerpiece temple haven’t been built in Missouri, the tribes in the icy north haven’t gathered to Zion bringing their gifts to the tribe of Ephraim, Adam hasn’t appeared in Daviess County, Missouri and held an auspicious meeting with church leaders, no highway has been cast up across the ocean, and of course, Mormon missionaries (as opposed to missionaries from many Christian faiths, including Mormons) haven’t proselytized every country in the world yet. But if all these beliefs are misconceptions, and none of these harbinger events are required by God, the faithful Mormon may fail to properly prepare for an event that could arrive more like “a thief in the night” than he or she realizes.
I personally believe that all the last-days prophecies recognized by the Lord have already been fulfilled except for Armageddon and its related events (earthquake, two prophets dead in the streets and then resurrected, etc.). If the faithful Mormon is waiting for events to happen that aren’t going to happen, the anomalous result could be that he who most believes Mormon teachings might be the least prepared for the Second Coming among the many Christian denominations which still anticipate that event, while he or she who recognizes the many misconceptions in Mormon eschatology is better prepared. To prevent this from happening, we should make sure our beliefs really come from actual revelations from God before we rely on them.
Your predecessor church leaders didn’t always exercise due care in controlling what became canonized scripture and official church doctrine. Are the results of their failures to do so irreversible?
May God help us all to discern his truths.