Responding to John H’s polygamy post, Davis Bell states that
“Too many of us encounter these issues [like polygamy] from enemies of the Church, and are completely taken off guard by them [which I've called the antimormon sucker-punch, since it's usually delivered with a twist designed to bring people out of the church.] I think it would be in the best interest of the Church to discuss them in a safe, open, and fair way.”
I could not agree with this more, though it leaves me with a conundrum. Where is the right place for the institutional church to do this, and who would be doing it?
I think most of us would agree that Sacrament meeting is not the appropriate venue for the details of Mountain meadows or the intricacies of the Book of Abraham arguments. Likewise, if the purpose of Sunday school, priesthood, and relief society is to engender Christlike gospel living, they also may not be appropriate forums.
What about Seminary and Institute? In teaching my (volunteer) Institute classes, I have often touched on difficult issues in a way to let people know they exist, but I haven’t dedicated, say, 30 minutes to Book of Mormon flora and fauna or the role of Masonry in the restoration. I believe that introducing members to these things in a controlled environment has the effect of “preparing their minds to be faithful” (Alma 48:7). I view it as my duty as a teacher of the gospel to do so.
Perhaps I take a dim view, but most of the kids when I went to early morning seminary in MN were barely beginning to be intellectually aware of the scriptures and general conference. Generally speaking, they’re not prepared to receive or discuss such things. Or am I being too paternal and protective?
Should there be a new class? A new lesson manual? Greatly expanded institute manuals? Or should the Church publish “The official LDS guide to polygamy! Everything you never wanted to know and wish now you didn’t!”? While it has taken this tack in a way with Richard Turley’s book on Mark Hoffman, and the forthcoming book on Mountain Meadows, the Church has been content to preach the gospel and let interested members handle the difficult issues. I know, for example, that SLC has a general feeling of appreciation for FAIR in that they try to provide answers and contexts for these things.
Published books don’t reach members world-wide the way lesson manuals do, and I’m not sure official books would remedy anything, if they could even be written.
All of the settings above (save the last one) share one requirement- a competent and knowledgeable teacher who neither takes pleasure in “shocking” members nor spouts traditional but false or flimsy defenses. I suspect that many teachers aware of these things do try to integrate some of these difficult issues into their teaching. I do, and I know others do as well. However, for something to happen institutionally, each ward or CES unit (depending on who’s doing the teaching) would need someone knowledgeable. How would that be determined? Would the church “correlate” a “controversial teachings” manual? Call a “ward apologist”? It would be worse than nothing at all to call someone with less than a mature testimony and knowledge both broad and deep.
In short, I don’t see an institutional solution to this problem (if it is such). For my part, I’ll keep doing what I have been doing.