Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Bushman's Introduction to the "Joseph Smith & His Critics" seminar

has painstakingly transcribed Richard Bushman's introductory remarks and posted them here.  I believe Bushman has correctly and sympathetically described the common phenomena of disillusionment experienced by many Mormons when learning about aspects of church history and other issues on the internet.  Bushman begins:

Increasingly teachers and church leaders at all levels are approached by Latter-day Saints who have lost confidence in Joseph Smith and the basic miraculous events of church history. They doubt the First Vision, the Book of Mormon, many of Joseph's revelations, and much besides. They fall into doubt after going on the Internet and finding shocking information about Joseph Smith based on documents and facts they had never heard before. A surprising number had not known about Joseph Smith's plural wives. They are set back by differences in the various accounts of the First Vision. They find that Egyptologists do not translate the Abraham manuscripts the way Joseph Smith did, making it appear that the Book of Abraham was a fabrication. When they come across this information in a critical book or read it on one of the innumerable critical Internet sites, they feel as if they had been introduced to a Joseph Smith and a Church history they had never known before. They undergo an experience like viewing the famous picture of a beautiful woman who in a blink of an eye turns into an old hag. Everything changes. What are they to believe?

From there he describes the process of disillusionment, the unhelpful reaction by instructors, leaders & members, the isolation felt by individuals, and the several states they may end up in.  He then quotes one person's recommendation to address the problem.

"It is necessary that the church not only shows more support and openness to these 'apostates' but also teaches and advises all members, bishops, stake presidents etc., who usually don't know how to deal with such a situation in terms of organizational and ecclesiastical questions and – out of insecurity – fail to treat the critical member with the necessary love and respect that even a normal stranger would receive."

Bushman then outlines the purpose and processes of the six week seminar and their approach to addressing this problem.  You can read the entire article here.

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