Comments on Mormon Matters Episode 12: Inoculating the Saints
Mormon Matters Episode 15: Inoculating the Saints, cont'd

Comments on Mormon Matters Episode 12: Inoculation, Part II

Continuing my comments on Mormon Matters Episode 12: Inoculating the Saints, I will now address some of the arguments made by the panelists at the Sunstone Symposium.  Thanks to those who commented on my earlier remarks both here and at the New Order Mormon discussion board and the Further Light and Knowledge discussion board.

After downplaying the vexatiousness of the problems the LDS Church faces, the panelist talked about tolerance for different religious ideas and expressed his opinion that everyone has ideas that are likened to diseases and we are all constantly trying to infect each other with our idea-diseases.  This echoes a notion expressed by Boyd Packer in a speech he gave in the early 1980s in which he warned church educators against catching and spreading disease germs.  In Packer's opinion, historical facts that might threaten a basic Mormon testimony are considered disease germs to be avoided.  In a later talk, Packer reiterated his call to avoid teaching truths that were not useful in favor of those that were "faith-promoting."  Though the panelist did not invoke Packer, I couldn't help thinking that Packer would approve of this germ-based view of ideas and human interactions.  It wasn't clear to me, though, exactly what the point was.  If the speaker was saying that the "inoculation" under discussion was an inoculation against the disease germs of false ideas and anti-Mormon lies, he misses the point. 

The inoculation is designed to protect not against opposing ideologies but rather against the effects of a church member discovering information about the church that was previously unknown and then feeling a sense of betrayal at the hands of the church that neglected to share the information. 

After some irrelevant comments about loyalty and the dangers of being too tolerant of others' ideas, the panelist (I believe it was Michael Ash) spoke to the question of whether the church has always been forthcoming in its presentation of its own history.  Ash used the "people used to write romantic histories that made heroes out of people" excuse for the church's idealized accounts.  He also (arguing in the alternative, I suppose) used the "church is not hiding anything" argument that Blake Ostler later enthusiastically picked up and expanded upon, and cited a list of perhaps a dozen or so mentions in church magazines, talks, or manuals of controversial issues.  The implication is that the church keeps trying to tell the members about all these difficult issues but the members are willfully ignorant as they continue to believe that Joseph Smith was a monogamist who never drank alcohol even when he was in great pain and who translated the gold plates as they sat on the table in full view of him and Oliver Cowdery. 

I guess I should not be too critical of this approach.  After all, there really are only two basic possibilities here.  The first possibility is that the LDS church has not been forthright and fully open and honest in the way it presents its message to the members, in which case those who encounter the difficult issues are justified in feeling a sense of betrayal.  The second possibility is that the LDS church has been completely honest and forthright in the presentation of its message, and those who encounter difficult issues from sources other than the church have only themselves to blame for their own prior ignorance about the thorny issues.  Ash and Ostler argue the latter and in doing so apologize for the church's handling of these issues.  If they are correct, and any 10th grader could find out all he or she needed about the Adam-God theory, the problems with the Book of Abraham translation, the changes to the temple ceremonies, the multiple First Vision accounts, and so forth, then there really is no need for any inoculation.  Simply blame the members who feel betrayed for their own slothfulness and lack of faith and let the great church caravan move onward.  (I guess there could be some middle-way between these two points, as I am sure my NOM readers would quickly point out.  Yes, it's possible that both the church and its members bear some proportionate responsibility.  For a number of reasons, I think the church bears the much greater proportion of responsibility for the members not knowing about the thorny issues).

I think it will surprise none of my readers if I say that I respectfully disagree with both Ash and Ostler on this point.  I think the evidence is overwhelming that the LDS church has systematically tried to cover up its less-than-faith-promoting historical and doctrinal issues over the last several decades.  Ash's list of references in official church publications, in comparison to the great bulk of instructional and informational material published and broadcast by the church over the last 35 years or so, is embarrassingly sparse.  I'd be interested in seeing a comparison of the number of references made in church materials over the same period to some other non-central church topics.  Take tithing, for example.  It's not a core gospel doctrine and it is not related to any of the foundational faith claims of the LDS church.  But I think it so obvious that it needs no elaborate proof to say that there are more references to tithing in church materials than to, say, the varying First Vision accounts or to Joseph's plural wives (and one could argue, plausibly, that Joseph's practice of plural marriage is much more central to the restored gospel than tithing).  When the church wants the saints to understand a concept, it finds ways to effectively instruct them on it.  And when it wants to correct what it thinks are errors in thinking, it finds a way to correct them.  If the majority of the saints operate under the mistaken impression that Joseph Smith was not a polygamist and that polygamy was instituted to take care of the widows who lost their husbands in the Missouri wars of persecution or crossing the plains, surely the church could correct the misimpression.

The panelist then offered some dubious statistics about the level of ignorance in the general population of the United States as a whole.  The problem, though, is not that the Latter-day Saints are entirely ignorant and unwilling or unable to learn.  That idea truly is an insult to all those who have, like John Dehlin as a seminary teacher, gone looking for more information, only to find much more than expected.  The problem is not that the saints don't know anything about their religion; it's that what they know just isn't so.  And the source of the misinformation is not "anti-Mormon lies": it is, sadly, the church the members trust to be "honest in all its dealings" with the members.  It is the betrayal of that trust that is the real issue. 

It's kind of like a man who cheats on his wife and keeps the secret hidden and expends tremendous energy trying to keep it hidden.The best thing for him to do--the honest thing, the morally right thing--is to apologize for the cheating and promise not to do it again. The more he cheats and the longer he keeps it secret, the greater the betrayal.  Having cheated, there is no way he can "inoculate" his wife against her feeling of having been betrayed once she finds out. But it would still be better for her to find out from him than from some other source. Likewise, there is no way for the church to avoid the damage that comes to those who feel betrayed, because the betrayal itself is real and has already occurred and there is nothing the church can do now to turn back the clock and undo the things it has done that constitute the betrayal.  It can't unburn the primary documents relating to the Mountain Meadows Massacre that it disposed of; it can't change the fact that it purchased numerous historical documents (some authentic, some forged) not to preserve them for study by scholars but to hide them in a vault reserved for the eyes of the First Presidency alone; it can't change the fact that it excommunicated reputable historians and scholars not for teaching falsehoods but for publishing truth; it can't even change the fact that 3 members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles called Blake Ostler in to interrogate him about a philosophical article he had published in an independent journal of Mormon thought.  If the church had told the truth all along; if it had been open about its history all along; if it had listened to B.H. Roberts and adjusted the presentation of its message to comport with the facts as they were uncovered, there'd be no more need for inoculation than there is for a man who remained ever faithful to his wife. But since the church, like the cheating spouse, has already done the foul deed, it would be better to come clean, take the punishment, repent of its former wrongs, and start afresh with a new commitment. Just as some spouses will forgive their husbands and work to heal a wounded marriage, so too would many saints forgive the church and work to renew their faith and trust in the organization. Others, despite the church's humble apologies for past transgressions, would walk away.  A man who betrays his wife faces the dilemma: hide it and expend energy maintaining the lie and worry about the damage that will be done if his wife finds out or come clean, take his lumps, eat some humble pie and try his best to mitigate the damage and then repair the breach in the relationship.  The church faces the same crisis now. 

Disaffected Mormons are like the jilted wife who finds out about the affair not from the cheating spouse but from her own investigation. And so far, the church has responded like the cheating husband who turns everything back on his faithful wife and accuses her of infidelity and breaking up the marriage by exposing the truth. The church has betrayed its members by suppressing its true history and manufacturing a Mormonism that is a mere replica of the real thing. The church can only rectify the situation that it created by coming clean, repenting, and asking for forgiveness from the members who have been wronged. But like a prideful adulterer, the church instead shifts the blame and continues to obfuscate, deflect, rationalize, and deceive. And that's the real problem--not that the members are too lazy or slothful or ignorant to know the truth.

More tomorrow. . .



Very nice analogy! This is what I had in mind when I commented on NOM about how the church would have a very difficult time with the "inoculation" approach because it has already taken the road of only teaching the "useful" facts of it's history. The difference between the church and the cheating spouse is that I think most people recognize that cheating on your spouse is wrong (even the cheater). I doubt the leadership of the LDS church sees anything wrong in what it teaches in its Sunday and auxiliary curriculum. In fact, if Michael Quinn is correct in his assessment of the average knowledge of church history that most general authorities have, they may think that the whitewashed curriculum of the church IS the real history. Therefore Packer's statement that the church has nothing to apologize for makes more sense.

Mayan Elephant


excellent comments. i wish you could present your points in a head to head, or shall i say, phone with phone conversation with the other panelists.

without getting too far off topic. i was a wee bit surprised to see you take the stereotypical spouse betrayal position. while i think it serves as a great metaphor for your position, it still caught me a bit.

i think it can be taken just a bit further though. if you are taking the position that the massive congregation is the woman in a heterosexual marriage, and the leadership or "church" is the dude part of that relationship, there may be an explanation for why people are jumping out of the marriage and acting in a way that would be and is considered a betrayal to the church.

here is a quote from caroline drazin

[q]I may seem to have gone off track at this point, but stay with me, because here is my answer to this topic: I believe a woman who is sexually deprived by her mate may choose to go outside her marriage rather than communicate her frustration to her mate. I know some men will read this and disagree. "Why can't they just tell us!" they may wonder. And they would be right; the right thing would be to come to their partner immediately. But some men (not all men!) are extremely sensitive when it comes to their sexual performance, and aren't the greatest communicators on top of it. Also, not all couples come from the school of "let's talk about it". Many women would not even think to bring such a sensitive topic up with their husbands.
Back to my original statement, no one forces anyone to do anything. All I've been trying to put across in this article is that I understand how a man's behavior in a marriage may CONTRIBUTE to a woman's unfaithfulness. [/q]

obviously her thoughts were more detailed than what i have posted here. but you get the general idea. i am a huge fan of this example as a metaphor.

first of all, just to get it off the table and keep you from getting slammed by the womyn folk when they wake up, women are just as sexual as men and have the same urges. so there. it aint just the men that crave intimacy at very complex levels, including sex.

back to topic.

the example from caroline shows that women want something. but, they are not getting it from their spouse. they drop hints. they try. and its just not there. and when the betrayal happens, and it gets opened up, the dude responds with something along the lines of - "you should have said something."

compare that to what is going on in the church, and what just happened at sunstone and in the podcast you are so thoroughly critiquing.

the members have dropped clues over and over and over and over again. they have stopped going to the temple. they dont do their hometeaching. they are less active. it is tough to find a bishop for every ward. the NOM community is becoming a formidable force, even in its underground form. there are blogs everywhere by exmormons and bloggernaclers that discuss the same topics. the pressure is on. members are looking for an explanation and a response.

the response is not there. even ostler excuses the leaders and says they cannot define doctrine as it may box them in if they need to change it. though, that doesnt seem to stop revelations like the recent pamphlet to bishops.

anyways. the apologists are working to deflect pressure from the deluded spouse. the leaders have specifically said they do not want to be pressured from the bottom up, meaning, shutup little spouse, the big white man spouse is in charge, so shutup and hearken.

and finally, the woman takes matters into her own hands and off she goes. and, who can blame her?

it is a stereotypical response to blame her. she left. she ventured out. and that is what the apologists are doing here. blaming the spouse that has done nothing more than spread her wings, find freedom and truth and friends.

the great irony here is that we are talking about the mormon church. the polygamy church. where the big white man has many spouses in his kingdom. and all we are really seeing here is a case where 15 white men are choosing to do nothing and hope that when they die, they still have a lot of spouses even if its not all of them. and those that leave are out of sight and out of mind.

why i think ostler and his peeps are so dangerous - they are willing to let the unsatisfied members take hits. they mock them. judge them. they show little to no sympathy for those that feel invisible or betrayed. in fact, ostler and people like RTC (of On Faith fame) argue that if they are happy or informed then anyone else can and should be. if some people are happy at church, then its good enough for everyone to choose to be happy. this position is contrary to every new testament christianish code i learned (and obviously forgot.)

agian. well done equality. thanks.


I like your analogy. I would also add that even though there is a feeling of betrayal at not being told the truth, that is not all of the story. Just like someone with a spouse who cheats on her for years, the feelings of being betrayed and lied to are there, and are real, but the truth of the matter itself is the marriage killer. However much the pain of being lied to hurts, the real hurt is the truth of the matter being lied about, not the lies that try to cover up the truth.

As a personal example, when I found out much of the church's true history, I felt lied to and betrayed. But even more powerful than those feelings, was the actual truth. The true actions and words are what hurt the most. I could not believe that God could sanction the actions and teachings of the so-called prophets that were the early leaders of the church. Yes, the pain of being lied to was there, but an even more overwhelming pain was that JS, BY and others were absolute scoundrels, frauds, charlatans, and power-mad control freaks only looking after their own carnal and financial self-interest. I would feel the same way if I had been an investigator learning the true history first, without hearing the whitewashed lies the church teaches.

I agree completely that there is pain from being lied to, but there is even more pain in the hard truth by itself. That is why I think the "inoculation" theory is ultimately untenable. The truth itself, no matter how sweetly or nicely told, or how early in the life of the student that it is learned, that truth by itself is damning.


Good point, -Domokun-

Maybe a better analogy than the standard cheating spouse would be finding out that your spouse had a completely different identity--maybe he was married to another woman in another state and was living a total lie for years.

Mayan Elephant

"maybe he was married to another woman in another state and was living a total lie for years."

maybe he was married to another woman in another room of the house and was living a total lie for years. i think HBO is onto this one, it sounds very familiar for some reason.


I writing this based on the assumption that your entire point is that the Mormon church should be honest with its members regardless of the fallout (and by extension, every group should be completely honest with members regardless of the impact) To emphasize your point, you use an infidelity analogy. Analogies are all fine and good, but the more unlike two things are, the less the analogy is useful. (David Hume said as much in Dialogue Concerning Natural Religion). The problem with your infidelity analogy is that to the extent that a marriage is not like a religion, the less helpful it is. In a marriage you have certain legal and moral obligations that religions just do not have. If you don’t like your spouse, you can’t just up and leave and get married to someone else without implicating the law. If you don’t like your pastor, you can find another church and I doubt very much that the police would be much interested.

Instead of listing the myriad differences, I think that a more useful analogy would compare religion with religion. Should the local imam lay down all the proof for and against flying horses and the scientific likelihood that a person can ascend to heaven and speak with prophets long dead and with God so that Muslims can make informed choices as to whether to continue to participate? Should the Catholic Church discourse during mass on the evidence for and again its complicity, if any, with the Holocaust? Pope John Paul II apologized for the sack of Constantinople 800 years after it happened. A nice moral gesture, but what did it accomplish? Was there a mass exodus of Catholics who felt betrayed that the Catholic Church actually did play a part? Did lapsed Catholics go back to church now that their church was being more ‘authentic’? Did the apology cause the Catholic Church to undergo any meaningful transformation that made any real difference in its practices, teachings, claims to divinity or members’ lives? How honest should we require religions to be to all of their adherents? How much responsibility should be on the organization’s shoulders and how much should be on the member’s? In our marketplace of ideas, does caveat emptor apply? Or is there a higher duty involved?

A religion is just a glorified private organization which sets its own rules. It is not a government. It does not have police powers. I agree that it might exert social pressure to maintain a certain lifestyle, but that does not defeat free choice and is most certainly not a police power. My congregation may disapprove if I leave my wife for a man, but besides kicking me out, there is not much else they can do. They can’t confiscate my property. They can’t imprison me. (And since the Blood Atonement doctrine fell out of favor) They can’t kill me. If scholars don’t want to play by the rules that the organization has set, why can’t the organization cut them off? If my aunt insists on wearing a purple hat and red dress in contravention of her Red Hat Purple Dress Society rules, aren’t they justified in declining to extend fellowship to her? Why would a religion be held to a higher standard? Because it claims to be the only true Church and speak for God?


DPC, do you have a "America: Love It Or Leave It" bumper sticker on your car?

Mayan Elephant

bumper sticker shmumper shticker - tattoo baby, in a beautiful shade of green.


Actually, my bumper stick says : America: If you don't love it and you can't leave it, then what do you?


I agree that analogies have their limitations. I used the marriage analogy only because I thought the panelists had lost sight of what exactly it is that "inoculation" is supposed to be protecting against--the feeling that church members often experience that the church has betrayed a trust. To the extent that a marriage relationship is built on an expectation of trust between spouses and to the extent that there is a relationship based at least in part on trust between parishioners and their ecclesiastical leaders, I think the analogy is apt. I use it only to suggest that just as a jilted spouse has genuine feelings of having been betrayed by the actions of the cheating spouse, so, too do those who put their trust in church leaders feel a genuine sense of betrayal when they discover that their leaders acted in ways that can be viewed as a violation of that trust.

Your analogy to the Catholic Church and the apology for the sack of Constantinople is inapt because the Catholic Church did not spend 800 years denying that the event took place or telling its parishioners not to study or write about the Crusades or criticize the church and its past leaders for them. So, no, I don't think there was the same feeling of having been betrayed among Catholics. The Catholic Church's skeletons have pretty much been out of the closet for centuries now. And they don't excommunicate scholars for publishing true histories, do they?

Yes, I think an organization that claims to be the one true church led by Jesus Himself who gives continuous revelation to church leaders (every Thursday, according to Packer), should be held to a high standard.

The church should not excommunicate scholars because the church has set up a catch-22 for them. It says that members are to be honest in all their dealings. It says that only through the ordinances of the priesthood operating within the LDS church can they be saved. When historians are honest (i.e., they tell the truth about, say, the cover-up of ecclesiastical abuse), they get excommunicated. If they remain silent or falsify the history, they are not being completely honest. Damned if they do, damned if they don't.


Seriously, for me, the example I gave in my comment over on the original Inoculation post was what hurt me the worst.

I'm the wife who discovered the cheating happened ~ and then had to wrap my head around the fucked-upedness of all those years that same spouse insisted that I remain pure, chaste, innocent, honest, and penitent. That one time I sinned and got pregnant at BYU? He insisted that I confess all to him, or face eternal consequences and risk that he'd withhold approval of me as a decent and worthy person. To think of all those lectures he gave me that shamed me into obedience and into denying my natural self...while all along, he kept hidden from me the fact that he did those exact same things without apology...perhaps you can see why I might be pissed upon finding out.

Great writing here, E.


It was in the New Testament that the analogy of the church to a marriage was first made was it not?

John 3: 29 - He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.



Actually, I think that analogy is used in the Old Testament as well. God was always likening Israel to a harlot or whoremonger or whatnot. It's an oldie but goodie.

Mayan Elephant


blake ostler believes in polygamy. blake ostler thinks polygamy's purpose was to learn to have faith through a trial and learn to know god.

dehlin did a great job keeping this on topic after that crap was said.

i now feel really bad about having commented on mormon matters about blakes remarks. ostler's positon is just rotten and doesnt merit any energy.

anyone that can believe in a god that would subject women to mormon-styled polygamy as a means of building faith or teaching those same woman about god, should not be refuted publicly, instead, he should be promoted to apostle.

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