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.