The Advocate and the Analyst: This Post Deals With Polygamy — Keep Reading

During college I had two sales jobs; one was selling pest control in San Jose, and one was selling memberships for a luxury health club. By any objective measure, I failed miserably in both. My boss at the health club made me listen to some motivational tapes entitled, “When Your Salesman Is Failing.” For real. Anyway, ignoring the facts that I know nothing about pest control or health clubs, and am naturally very introverted, I believe my inability to sell things stems from something else: I make a much better analyst than an advocate.

When I worked at the health club I thought my objective was to provide information about the club to prospective clients and then help them figure out if joining was a good fit for them — “Yes, 24 Hour Fitness is much cheaper, and has more or less the same equipment. However, we have better child care. No kids? Oh, go with 24 Hour then. Definitely.” My boss, not unreasonably, thought my objective was to convince people to buy memberships — “The entire staff of 24 Hour Fitness is addicted to ecstasy. And they watch you when you shower through peep holes.” Hence my being fired, notwithstanding the fact that my father owned part of the club. My job called for advocacy, and I wanted to be an analyst.

This also explains much of the difficulty I had as a missionary in Argentina. Many of the people I taught there accepted the Gospel in a manner that was entirely foreign to me: without doubt, equivocation, or question. When this happened I was thrilled, but also more than a little conflicted — “They don’t know about all of the hard stuff, the polygamy and the ban on the priesthood and Mountain Meadows and everything else. The discussions don’t cover any of that stuff; if the Gospel and the Church were only what is presented in the discussions, I think I’d probably be able to accept it without doubt as well.”

At this point the analyst in me kicked in, and wanted to drown out the advocate. I still wanted them to join the Church, but I also wanted them to do so knowing the whole story, warts and all. Part of this was due to my basic sense of fairness and honesty, and part of it was due to the fact that I knew they would probably encounter the hard stuff sooner or later when the Jehova’s Witnesses or Adventists knocked on their door. Of course, I was projecting my overly cautious, faithless mind set onto the people I was teaching; I was also projecting the trauma I experienced when I first came across the more troubling aspects of Chruch history and doctrine on my mission.

I am as Mormon as they come; pioneer ancestors; grew up in Utah in a large family that was extremely active in the Church; went to BYU my freshman year, etc. I knew about polygamy and the ban on the priesthood, but I was much more concerned with other things (water balloons, for example), and I only knew vague outlines of these issues, no details. And then I came across a Jehovah’s Witness pamphlet on Mormonism in the first months of my mission. I read it because I thought the drawings were so funny; by the time I finished it I was nearly in tears. I don’t remember the specifics, but it brought out every single thing Mormons have to wrestle with: polygamy, priesthood ban, Adam-God, Book of Abraham, etc. I know now that it was filled with half-truths and errors, but at the time I was blown away. “Does anyone know about this? I really need to get this to the Prophet,” I thought to myself. Slowly I was able to work through a lot of it; much of it I simply “placed on the shelf.”

Nevertheless, it was extremely traumatic, and I very much wanted to spare the people I was teaching the same experience. How, though? Was I bound to follow each principle of the discussions with a caveat? “Now, the critics of the Church would say X, and will surely cite Y scripture and Z historical occurrence. The defenders of the Church will have to admit Z occurred, but not quite the way the critics describe it.” I know this method focuses entirely too much on intellectual, rather than spiritual, conversion. Nevertheless, no one can convince me that the intellect doesn’t have to be satisfied in one way or another in order for the spirit to be converted (this may occur in ways other than the ones that immediately come to mind). (In any event, I’m not so sure they are distinct, but that’s another issue.)

I believe the Church itself is presented with the same dilemma. Many members, including me, have wished the Church would be more open about the more challenging aspects of its history and doctrine. Presenting a sanitized, correlated version makes it look like we have something to hide; it also provides many members with a false sense of security that will inevitably be demolished upon their first encounter with the truth. This isn’t to say that one can’t recover from such an encounter; many do. But many don’t.

At the same time, I’m not sure how the Church could or should go about this. Its job is to promote faith and build testimony; I’m not sure that teaching members about its warts to prepare them for facing critics is the best way to accomplish that. Why scare off those who are new to the Gospel? Many rightly point out that correlation has to take into account the varied backgrounds of the members of a global church: the David O. McKay manual has to work for the man with the 3rd-grade education as well as the woman with a PhD in History.

I never really resolved this dilemma as a missionary, and I’m not sure how the Church can resolve it either. Any thoughts or ideas?

Because Ben posted on virtually the same topic, I’m going to shut down the comments on this post and ask that you post your relevant comments here. Thanks.

7 thoughts on “The Advocate and the Analyst: This Post Deals With Polygamy — Keep Reading

  1. We’re clearly thinking along parallel lines this morning :)

    I hear myself in your comments. There are only a few things I could really sell because I believe in the product, such as my scriptural software…

  2. Ben,

    You could sell your software b/c you believe in it. Would you, however, feel obligated to mention to a prospective client the few faults and glitches it has, as well as competing softwares that have certain functions yours doesn’t?

  3. One of the reasons I really like the idea of an official Church outlet or publication addressing these issues is that it reassures members that the leaders of the Church are aware of these issues. I’m not sure why that knowledge is so comforting, but it is. The men and women who lead the Church aren’t stupid, and I think it can be assumed they’re aware of these issues. Still, I think it’d be nice to have some institutional verification of that.

  4. I do, actually. For me, the pros vastly outweigh the cons, and I have enough faith in the programmers that I believe they’re working on correcting whatever errors there may be.

    The metaphor breaks down because I use several programs to meet differents needs and recommend different things to different people:)

    The missionaries taught one of my wife’s workmate’s, an intelligent Asian women with general belief in God but nothing specific. She wasn’t interested in further discussion with the missionaries but wanted to know more. I referred her to lds.org and others, as well as the evangelical “Institute for Religious Research.”
    “Aren’t they against your church?”
    “Yes, but they’ll give you a second opinion, and at least they don’t deliberately lie and misconstrue our doctrines beyond viewing it through their own worldview, which I doubt you share.”

    Did she look up it or any of the other sites? I doubt it. But, she was impressed at least, that my beliefs continue not because I live in a vaccuum but because I actually believe them and can give arguments for my belief.

  5. For me, the approach is telling people what WE BELIEVE and not what WE DO NOT BELIEVE. Yes, there are many so called ‘sensitive issues’ i.e., plural marriage, ban of the priesthood to people of African ascent (pre 1978), Mountain Meadows Massacre, etc. We need to openly discuss them. But I would not delve in them. Yes they occurred, but they are also in the past. Should we analyse all religions in like wise manner, we could have a long discussion that would keep us from focusing on the core believes. If someone asks me: “What about …?” I try to give a straight answer, no going round the bends. I state why do I believe that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the chuch that conforms to the teachings, organisation and with the authority to perform the ordinances of salvation. I try to give as much information as I can, stating when is my personal opinion and when it is from official church doctrine (Another BIG POST). But I think that we need to concentrate our efforts in spreading what we believe and not how other view the Church. President Hinckley has addressed the question “What are people saying about us?” in two separate occassions The gist of it is that the Church is open for investigation, but it will not squander resources for those that are only looking for ‘the sour in the milk’. If we unite and tell the world WHAT IS MORMONISM not in a missionary effort but in building bridges, a lot of misunderstanding would be erradicated and real discussion could begin.

  6. Its a long time since the last posting here, but I have something to add. I feel that the reason the Church ignores these issues the way they do is mainly a public relations stance. I have noticed that the hierarchy of the Church often deals with issues the same way any major corporation would. I was especially surprised when I noticed during my mission that we were “selling” the gospel and sometimes asked to use techniques that I felt were unethical and numbers seemed to matter more than the spiritual welfare of the individual. Realizing that Church leaders are not always inspired or spiritual in their approaches to problems was hard for me to swallow, but an inescapable truth. Mormons tend to think Catholics and Protestants have strayed from the original model set down by Christ, but I have to wonder, in all honesty, how far has the LDS church strayed from that path as well in an effort to fulfill prophecy and become a world religion.

    If you look back in scripture, you see that every patriarch from Adam to Israel had public relations issues.

    The reason many members do not recover when they finally learn about these things is that they feel that they have been lied to by omission. If Catholics can accept all the horrible things done by their Church and still believe, why not Mormons? The Church would be better served by offering an optional history class to its adult members wherein a discussion is given about the events of the times and the mind set of the people during different phases of the Church’s development. There is a great deal of information in the Church archives and in the Journal of Discourses that would explain a great deal and help people understand more fully not only the Temple endowments but the scriptures contained in the Doctrine and Covenants.

    But the Church does have things to hide that they do not want known by the general membership. For instance, the original Relief Society members were priestesses, the temple matron was originally called High Priestess, and whereas members in general were once allowed to receive their second anointing mentioned in the D&C, now only general authorities and above are given that privilege while the general population of the church knows nothing about it. (Temple endowment states being prepared to become “Kings and Queens, priests and priestesses” which is culminated in the second anointing.) As another example, the ordinance of sealing and adoption was also changed from sealing men to their living righteous priesthood leader and then wives to husbands to sealing people to dead ancestors who may or may not have been righteous people.

    It is easier for the Church to ignore these matters because there are just too many warts to comfortably address.

  7. T Skelton,

    If the model is corporate, it’s outdated by about 20 years.

    In the information age, “no comment” is no longer a viable corporate public relations strategy. You say “no comment” and all America automatically assumes you are guilty as sin.

    It’s a losing strategy and I don’t think the Church Office Building has figured it out yet.

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