Thursday, December 21, 2017

A Post-Mormon Documents some Recent Positive Changes in Mormonism

I have been thinking lately about how much the LDS church has been changing for the better. Of course it has a long way to go but I felt like posting some positive changes off the top of my head. For I actually like Mormon culture for the most part. So this is my offering of fairness in presenting something positive about the LDS church. I have done this before but it's worth repeating. 

One of the things that spurred this post is that regardless of the problems in Mormonism, LDS culture does produce good people with high character. I was reminded of this after attending a weight lifting gym for a few years after I had resigned from the LDS church. Like other weight lifting gyms in California that I have attended throughout the years, from my subjective experience, a lot of people aren't always that friendly or welcoming at a gym. Which is fine as its a place to grunt and sweat and grimace while hefting metal and elevating your testosterone, not the best time to be chatty. It's not a social club. But still, sometimes it'd be nice to drop the macho facade, which some do, but not enough in my experience. Then again, maybe that's just the "culture Mormon" in me talking. However, at this one gym there was one guy who wasn't as self-centered as others, wasn't as distant but rather approachable and friendly. I later found out that this one guy who happened to be friendly was a Mormon. The owner who was also friendly was an Evangelical Christian. So there is something to say for LDS culture and religion in general. So that's number one on my pro-Mormon list: it produces nice and friendly folks.

The following is some other positive things about the LDS church I have recently come to more appreciate.

One of my first concerns about Mormonism that I had, back in the 1990s when I was active, was what I considered racism. For I kept running into LDS members who taught that black skin was a curse and I did not have any official documents to counter their beliefs. Today there is such official documents. The Mormon Church put out an essay around 2014 called race and the priesthood which states:

"Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form."

The website Blacks in the Scriptures has been able to teach that black skin is not a curse for awhile now, and they have been allowed to teach this at church meetings to LDS members. None of them have been reprimanded by the LDS leadership for what they say. So not only are they allowed to teach this in Mormon churches but many other Mormons are now teaching that the skin cursing passages in the Book of Mormon are not a literal skin cursing but a "spiritual cursing." Fairmormon.og has a whole list of articles discounting the Lamanties as cursed with dark skin idea, which includes an article discussing how the Mormon church has changed the subheadings to these passages in the Book of Mormon to remove any racial connotations. Brant A. Gardner rejects the idea that the Lamanties are cursed with dark skin in the article What Does the Book of Mormon Mean by “Skin of Blackness”? He concludes by stating:

"The 'skin of blackness' [in the Book of Mormon].... was not a physical description. .... skin color as has been part of the more modern U.S. culture. Nephite prejudices were developed on distinctions more common to the ancient world and used reasons other than pigmentation."

This is good news for LDS members who have hated racism yet struggled with the idea that African Americans and Native Americans were allegedly cursed with dark skin. They now have doctrinal support to reject these ideas. I consider this a a huge step in the right direction. 

In fact, there is a YouTube video titled, Mia Love: Congress' First Black Mormon Female Republican?‎ There is also The Sistas in Zion, which I find interesting.

The Joseph Smith Papers website is producing a lot of documents that make LDS history more transparent than before. They also have a book out:

In 2013, the website put out a video called Alone (available on YouTube) which respects a young Mormon man who is doubting his faith on intellectual grounds. In the video his LDS father and Mormon leaders validate his intellectual concerns and respect his doubts and do not shame him or ostracize him. So instead of condemning him as a closet sinner and its his fault he has doubts, the guy's dad has compassion and respect for his honest doubts. This is an LDS apologetic website so this shows a change in attitude growing up in LDS culture.The dad even agrees to look over the issues, like the Book of Abraham translation on the internet with his son. After this video the church started being more transparent with their history. This video shows how LDS parents should treat their doubting LDS sons and daughters. 

Back in 2014 Richard Bushman was on the show The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnel and he and the panel spoke openly about the issues in LDS history and how the LDS church, starting in 2012, had decided to be more honest and transparent about it history:

In the video below are excerpts from An Evening with Elder M. Russell Ballard and his
Address to CES Religious Educators on February 26, 2016 at the Salt Lake Tabernacle:

This is a MASSIVE positive change. For as Ballard acknowledges and I experienced first hand, one's concerns about racism or polygamy etc., was brushed off with just go pray about it. So this gives validation to the Mormon who has read the history and has a problem with it. At least now the Mormon Church is not denying it and ignoring it as "anti-Mormon." In fact, you no longer have to find the problems in LDS history from non-LDS critics, you can use the churches own online resources. You can see an example of this at

In October 2015, the Ensign magazine online released photos of one of the original seer stones Joseph Smith used. Before this, in the PBS documentary The Mormons, LDS apologist Daniel Peterson was honest and forthcoming about the Seer Stone. So after years of essentially hiding this history (except for a very few brief mentions here and there) it appears that the Mormon church is finally coming clean and being forthcoming about the seer stone in a hat. I remember telling the hat and stone method to a Mormon friend around 2005 and him denying it and saying that can't be true and if it was the LDS church can't be true. But when I offered him evidence he did not want to see it and called it "anti-Mormon" lies. Well, now his own church is teaching what I was telling him. This is good news for those who learn these things, for they can use the Ensign or The Joseph Smith Papers, or refer to the talk by Mr. Ballard.

Richard Bushman's Rough Stone Rolling has been very revealing about Joseph Smith, more than any LDS church sanctioned book before. Bushman himself has also been vocal and has basically said that the LDS church needs to be more forthcoming about its history:

The Mormon church has also been rather honest of late about the details of the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

There is a Mormon and Gay website. On the website some of the advice to parents of gay LDS members is:

Don’t blame yourself for your child’s same-sex attraction.
This is no one’s fault. Blame is neither necessary nor helpful.

As a parent, the least productive prayer is “why?”
A close second is “please, take this away right now.”


There are also 12 videos called Mormon and Gay on The Mormon Channel. I have not watched all the videos, but the ones I have watched document the struggle of gay Mormons and it shows LDS parents loving them and not shaming them for being gay. These gay Mormons are shown struggling with the choice to act on their same sex attraction or remain celibate or marry someone of the opposite sex (which one gay Mormon said basically felt gross as she was not attracted to the opposite sex, and instead chose to be celibate). So the Mormon Church has basically put gays in the category of celibate Catholic Priests in a way. And to be fair a lot of Christian churches do not sanction gay marriage.

One video shows how one of the gay LDS members felt suicidal which I felt was good to shine a light on a huge problem in Utah. In one of the videos a parent of a gay son says they don't know what the future holds for him but her love is unconditional (I took this to mean that even if he went inactive and acted on his same sex attraction she would still love him and include him). Another gay Mormon speaks about engaging in homosexual behavior in the past and his LDS father still loving him and accepting him. So I think it is good that the LDS church is showing how parents should treat their gay kids with love.

Of course, the LDS church could do more, they could make the gay LDS member feel OK with acting on their same sex attraction with other consenting adults. I mean why is it anyone's business what consenting adults do in the privacy of their own homes? The LDS leadership could consult the scientific community and psychologists instead of relying on archaic religious tradition to handle such matters. But at least the LDS church no longer encourages gay persons to get married to their opposite gender like they used to; and the LDS church is no longer telling gay persons they can choose to not be gay like they used to. Instead, unlike some other religious organizations, the LDS church acknowledges the reality of same-gender attraction and claims they don't know why this occurs (which implies they are saying that God did it but they don't know why). Meanwhile the LDS church encourages Mormons to love gay LDS members and treat them with kindness and empathy. This is at least a big step forward compared to how they handled things in the past. Of course, they could do more, but at least this is a positive step forward. They also need to reexamine the potential harm being caused by the policy regarding gay parents and their kids; last I checked LDS leaders claim that the policy to not baptize children of gay parents is to protect the children from feeling torn between the values of Mormonism and the values of their gay parents.

The LDS church admits that The Book of Abraham and the Egyptian Scrolls do not match in one of the new essays. The essay on polygamy admits that Joseph Smith had many wives and one as young as fourteen. It has always been painful enough for a Mormon (such as I was once myself) to learn these things from a reputable history book, but to then be told the respected research is untrue and you are just a sinner was more painful. At least today those days are apparently over, or at least different now.

Many theologians have agreed with Carl Jung who argued that the feminine element is missing from their concept of God in some theologies that portray God as three males and heaven being full of only males angels (an all men's club). This is remedied in the Eastern Orthodox Church with Mary revered as the Mother of God and Queen of Heaven; and in the Mormon Godhead there is both masculine and feminine in the divine with a Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. In Judaism, the Shekinah glory is feminine. The biblical Sophia is also a feminine being and God's partner in Proverbs; and in some sects of the Eastern Orthodox Church Sophia is co-existent with the Trinity. So the LDS follow in this same line of biblical tradition in forming a psychologically balanced conception of God.

When I left the Mormon Church back in (around) 2005 I went searching for another church to join and was introduced to the doctrine of Hell-fire torment. I was told that my Mormon father was going to hell. I was told I had to believe in the Trinity in ways that negated the feminine element. These ideas and others are something many exMormons are unprepared for and shocked by. Since that time, I have learned that many Christian theologians have rejected the hell dogma. Shaun McCraney, an outspoken critic of Mormonism, recently scolded Sandra Tanner for leading LDS members away from their faith and into hell-scares and Calvinism:

Growing up LDS I was able to admire and love the figure of Jesus and live his teachings without having to deal with hell fire dogma. But as soon as I resigned from Mormonism, one of the first churches I attended manipulated me with fear of a hell and to go up to an Altar Call "or else!" (which is pagan according to the book by Christians titled Pagan Christianity). I should say here that the Altar Call tactics have been removed from most Christian churches. I also have no problem with the concept of seeking salvation itself (or accepting Jesus into your heart and being "born anew") from a biblical perspective.  I personally consider myself a Christian (though not a Fundamentalist) and accept Jesus as the Savior (in a way expressed by Marcus Borg and Grant H. Palmer). I just did not like the high pressure sales tactics and controlling attempt to manipulate me.

I was also told by some church leaders that my LDS loved ones will burn and suffer and scream and be tormented forever, for having the wrong ideas in their head and for thought crimes. This caused me psychological suffering and turmoil and I was horrified that other Christians believed this. It is one of the reasons I later became an agnostic-atheist for a time. I was deeply disturbed by the nonchalant way some of these types of Christians would assign my loved one's to endless torment without showing so much as an ounce of emotion at such a thought. But in Mormonism I had no such horror and anxiety. This is worth appreciating in Mormonism, as I lived my childhood hell-fire-manipulations-free and was allowed to value Jesus' teachings without the baggage of hell-fire fear mongering dogma, while many kids growing up in some Christian groups are psychologically abused by the dogma of hell; some even going to a therapist to remedy this. I have since devoured Christian history and studied the origin of hell and realized its not even biblical what many of these churches teach today. So the LDS church deserves credit for not fear mongering with hell dogma and scaring children which I consider abusive.

Ironically a lot of the positions I now hold through independent study aligns well with Mormonism. My views on the afterlife align with John Shelby Spong but biblically I think the most humane interpretation is the Universalist Doctrine: which is what Mormonism teaches in its own way with everyone, after they die, entering one of The Three Degrees Of Glory and only extremely evil people end up in Outer Darkness. There is a growing movement of emergent Evangelical Christians who are questioning the hell dogma, which the LDS church has rejected from its beginnings. Rob Bell put out a book called Love Wins and he was basically kicked out of his Evangelical Church for doing so. 

Shaun McCraney, who is again an outspoken critic of Mormonism, has recently gone through a change in theology and in 2014 began teaching what he terms Subjective Christianity. I am currently listening to the audio book Knife to a Gun Fight by McCraney for free on his website. Ironically, much of what Shaun is now teachings aligns with LDS theology and Shaun has become close to a Universalist (similar to Rob Bell) and dared to question the traditional orthodox doctrine of the Trinity and was verbally attacked by Fundamentalists in 2014 for doing so (called The Inquisition on YouTube). After watching this video, and how Shaun was/is treated, the LDS church starts looking really good in comparison to these types of Christians. Thankfully, these types of Christians are the minority and there is a lot of Christians today who are coming around to believing in a more humane concept of the afterlife, and allow for a difference of opinion on doctrinal matters.  

The Mormon focus on faith and works appears to be more and more supported by many Christians, especially academic Christian scholars, such as those endorsing the New Perspective on Paul and the view of Messianic Jews and those who repudiate Replacement Theology or Supersessionism, in books like the ones below:

There is also the Complete Jewish Bible (available on Bible Gateway) that presents a completely different theology than one finds in for example the NIV. I am currently reading Mathew Bates' Salvation by Allegiance Alone and Bates calls for using a whole new language to speak of salvation which accords with Mormonism in many ways:

Just the other day I came across another book similar to Bates' book titled, Saved by Faith and Hospitality by Joshua W. Jipp: 

Jipp basically argues that the saving allegiance to Christ in you leads to the virtue of hospitality as a fruit of the Spirit within the believer. Both Bates and Jipp emphasize not just merely believing and then ignoring the call to justice and Kingdom building, but living one's conviction outwardly, which is basically what the LDS church teaches.

The LDS church has which does a lot of good in the world.

I still like the Book of Mormon sayings like Adam fell that men might be and men are that they might have joy, or wickedness never was happiness and there must needs be opposition in all things. 

Many moderate and progressive Christians are rejecting the doctrine of original sin and total depravity and instead offer the doctrine of the Fall upwards. This is similar to what Mathew Fox teaches, what he calls The Original Blessing. All of this is what Smith was preaching back in the 1830s.

While I have criticized Smith's polygamist Gods doctrine, his original doctrine of Theosis in the Lectures on Faith were similar to the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of Theosis or Deification. This is psychologically more healthy for one's self-esteem than other ideas in Christendom and has a biblical basis, see:


There is even an article by an Evangelical Christian on titled, Keeping the End in View: How the strange yet familiar doctrine of theosis can invigorate the Christian life by James R. Payton, October 27, 2008.

Joseph Smith just took the idea of Theosis further. In fact, according to the book The  Human Faces of God some of Smith's ideas about God were actually correct, for example that the original Hebrews were polytheistic in that they believed in the existence of many other gods but worshiped only Adonai. And in his book Paul and Jesus James Tabor argues that Paul taught that "humans were created to become Gods!" (pg. 135).

From a masculine studies or muscular Christianity perspective (by, the Mormon religion is a fairly pro-masculinity religion. Smith himself was certainly a strong and manly man. While some Christian churches have emphasized celibacy and sex as depraved, Joseph Smith was, if anything, pro-sex; and (knowingly or unknowingly) even depicts God in the Book of Abraham using the image of an Egyptian phallic God:

From a feminine studies perspective, yes of course the Mormon Church has far to go, especially with their rejection of the points made at; but the Relief Society is one of the largest women’s organizations in the world.

Joseph Smith also did a lot to remove sexual shame and despising of the body by removing the dogma of Original Sin from his sect when he said, “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression” (LDS Articles of Faith 1:2).

When seeking to entreat the nineteen year old Nancy Rigdon to become his next plural wife, Smith equated marital coitus with happiness: which he argues in the letter is the object and design of our existence. Thus, on one level Smith was bringing back to Christianity the pro-sexual mythos of the Hebrew Bible, like in The Song of Songs. In fact, while researching this post I came across this interesting blog post: Why I Would Totally Have Slept With Joseph Smith (Thursday, December 11, 2008)This is certainly a whole new way to think of Smith, by a female no less! However, lest I am misinterpreted, this perspective should be balanced with Smith's apparent predation on young women which I of course reject and consider wrong and immoral (and is one of the reasons I remain a post-Mormon). Yet, to be fair the founders of many Christian churches today are problematic as well: for example, Augustine endorsed torturing people over doctrinal disputes; Calvin thought heresy should be punished by death and basically colluded with others to have a fellow Christian named Servetus killed for heresy; and Martin Luther was a vicious anti-Semite and many historians believe that his anti-Jewish teachings infiltrated the culture of the time and later contributed to the holocaust! So just as there are Evangelical Christian apologists who deal with these leading figures in Fundamentalist circles, there are Mormon apologists who deal with Smith's sex life.

Ironically, the modern LDS church has swung in the opposite direction of Smith's sexual activity and according to researchers the LDS church ranks number one in producing guilt and shame in its members (compared to the other denominations). One of the ways the LDS church shames and tames its members is through declaring masturbation a sin. Hopefully that will change, after all the LDS leaders used to teach that oral sex was sinful even within marriage (see The First Presidency Letter, Jan. 5, 1982). Hence we see that the First Presidency can change their views on such matters! Also, given that the LDS church has been more transparent about its history, perhaps when LDS members study more closely Joseph Smith's teachings and actions they will realize that Smith thought God was "more liberal in his views" (as he writes to Nancy Rigdon) compared to what modern LDS leaders preach. After all, Smith discarded nearly every conventional Christian dogma in his day, like monotheism/the trinity, hell-fire, creation ex nihlo, original sin, etc. So its clear to me that he also rejected the idea that the body was depraved and sex was intrinsically evil. I consider this one aspect of his ideas a good thing (that is his view of the body, which by the way is held by most Jews who gave us the Hebrew Bible).

The Mormon Temple has gone through massive changes as well. Nearly every uncomfortable ritual has been removed, from the penalties, to the five points of fellowship, to the nearly naked washings and annointings. Having attended dozens of temple sessions myself over the years I think the ritual structure is psychologically beneficial for meditative purposes, etc. Yes the secret handshakes are still there, but I suspect these will be removed as well in the future. And even if they are not removed, what's the big deal, really. 

A lot of these changes mentioned above have occurred in just the last ten years or so since I resigned from the Mormon church. These changes and the progress in the church gives me confidence that even more positive changes will be done.

Reading this one might wonder why I don't go back to the LDS church. Well the totality of this blog explains why. The short answer is that I still have huge problems with a lot of Joseph Smith's actions and character (one of which I mentioned above) and would encourage LDS members in the Mormon leadership to take the advice of Grant Palmer and demphasize Smith and emphasize Jesus more. However, to return to the positive, the church has been doing this. In fact when I was a kid walking through the church halls I saw a lot more pictures of Joseph Smith than I do today whenever I am in a Mormon church building in California. So perhaps this is a sign that things are changing.

 I am less unhappy with the way the Mormon Church deals with its history, as they used to withhold and hide historical information; for they appear to have remedied that to a large degree by being more transparent with their history than they used to (like with the Joseph Smith Papers project). But there is still a lot of white washing of LDS history in the church itself and in Sunday School, which leads to the dichotomy of Internet Mormonism vs. Chapel Mormonism. The church should be more honest in their church services so that Chapel Mormons are as informed as the Internet Mormons.

I am sill bothered by how the church spends the member's tithing money while they are a billion-dollar corporation (for more information see the letter referenced above titled Letter to my Wife, where the author discusses Mormon tithing in the Mormon church's wealth and lack of financial transparency). However, to return to the positive, LDS members do get a substantial return of investment, practically speaking, in being part of a family fraternity and the use of churches and temples, etc. 

Another major issue I have is how the Mormon leadership (past and present) seeks to control members with what I consider unrighteous dominion, often using ecclesiastical bully tactics and the obvious narcissism of some of the leadership is off-putting. Nevertheless almost every corporation or organization has such personalities in their leadership as well. And on the positive side not all high ranking leaders are controlling or narcissistic, and some I like and admire to a degree.

The intent of this post was to shine a light on the positive changes in Mormonism and to acknowledge some of the positive teachings that have been there from the start. I believe it is the LDS membership that will cause further positive changes. In other words, I don't have as much faith in the LDS leadership who are, some of them (not all) often drunk on power and have controlling authoritarian and rigid personalities, but I do have faith in the LDS members themselves and believe Mormon Culture is a product of their overall high character and moral integrity.


Anonymous said...

Saying it isn't about skin color doesn't change anything. They don't deny that there is a curse. No other church has canonized scriptures claiming that American Indians are cursed. Mormonism stands alone with this disparaging teaching.

The teaching that one group of people was superior over another because of God's favor and his wrath was on the alleged wicked ones is a racist approach to history. The writings found in 1 Nephi 13 of God's spirit with the Europeans and His wrath on Indians was no ancient prophecy from Nephi. It is nothing more than a reflection of the attitude in the early 19th century United States toward American Indians.

Accepting differences in others, not just skin color differences but accepting that others who worship different gods or no gods at all and whose history has nothing at all to do with anything from the Middle East and is outside of Christianity with no looming threats from a man-made genocidal God is the beginning steps to overcome racism.

It is racist in the 21st century to teach that an entire hemisphere's indigenous peoples are cursed. FAIR can't get around that. The only way for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to get past the racism is to renounce and discard the Book of Mormon.

William Kempton said...


I agree that Smith (and possibly others) simply put their own racist ideas into the Book of Mormon. But I don't think its practical to expect the Mormon Church to discard the Book of Mormon. What I wish they'd do is simply remove the racist passages from the Book of Mormon, and say that that was Smith writing in his own 19th century ideas. But I don't think that is going to happen unfortunately. I would like to see more changes but as least LDS apologists are trying to spread the meme that Native Americans are not actually cursed with dark skin. I think you'd agree that if that became the norm that would be a GOOD thing. I see that is a change in a positive direction. Would I like to see more changes? Of course. But the intent of the blog post is to point out some positive changes.

William Kempton said...

But you do make a VERY strong point that just because the LDS leaders are starting to no longer say "it isn't about skin color" that "doesn't change anything." For as you say, "They don't deny that there is a curse. No other church has canonized scriptures claiming that American Indians are cursed. Mormonism stands alone with this disparaging teaching." That's a really good point. You also said, "The teaching that one group of people was superior over another because of God's favor and his wrath was on the alleged wicked ones is a racist approach to history. The writings found in 1 Nephi 13 of God's spirit with the Europeans and His wrath on Indians was no ancient prophecy from Nephi. It is nothing more than a reflection of the attitude in the early 19th century United States toward American Indians." These are really good points. I think some apologists say it was the Nephites who were racist for thinking their fellow Jews/Native Americans were cursed by God. I think some do say that, I can't recall it's been a long time since I read what they say on the matter. So your points are powerful and hard to ignore and is another reason I am not Mormon anymore. I was always embarrassed and ashamed of the racist sounding passages in the Book of Mormon. I hope one day they remove them or offer an official explanation that removes any hint of racism (if that is possible).

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your thoughtful replies and your kindness. I left the LDS church as you did but like you, I'm not opposed to finding positive and good in it's members. Many are fine and decent people, struggling to come to terms with troubling doctrine and policies but in their hearts truly wanting to serve God and do good in the world. Perhaps at some future point the LDS church will admit that the Book of Mormon is not canonized scripture and was a product of Joseph Smith's creation. Such an act could be quite valuable, by maintaining the history of the beginning of Mormonism while examining and discussing the racism, moving the church forward in the flow of progress of humanity. Such a situation has been happening with the former RLDS. I don't expect that to happen anytime soon with LDS prophets and apostles, but it seems to be something to hope for in the future for the sake of decent folks who are LDS.

William Kempton said...


I totally agree with your comments and it is something to hope for. Your comments actually got me thinking about why the RLDS took the path they did compared to the LDS. I think it has a lot to do with personality. I mean just compare Brigham Young to Joseph Smith III.

The New & Improved Mormon Apologists?

The video above is from: Mormon Stories #879: Brooke and Josh Miller - Seeking Support from the Maxwell Institute Pt. 3. If the video does...