LDS Discussions Blog
How the Church Addresses Doubts in 2020 (September 16, 2020)
On September 13, 2020, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held a “Face-to-Face” event for the youth of the church with Elder and Sister Rasband. In a lot of ways the event felt like a fairly standard face-to-face event, and we’ve written about a few of with 2019 being a big year for devotionals where doubt was discouraged and demonized by church leaders.
For those who might not have seen our previous write-ups, you can check them out if interested:
Navigating Doubts in the LDS Church: Our write-up of the January 2019 youth devotional by Elder and Sister Renlund, where they used cartoonish images to tell the story of a kid that ungrateful once he realized he was in a "dilapidated dinghy." The talk compared those who saw faults with the church's history and doctrine as spoiled children and called those who talked about problems with church history as “charlatan snake-oil salesmen.”
Please Don't Look Under the Hood: A write-up of Elder Corbridge’s devotional to BYU students where he told students that they need not worry about the secondary questions such as problems with church history, doctrines, and practices. This has been our most popular blog post about how the church handles questions of doubts.
Doubts Are Not Dangerous - They're Necessary: Another write-up from 2019 featuring Elder Ulisses Soares and Elder Craig C. Christensen as they said that “doubts are dangerous” when asked a question about having them. We wrote about why doubts are necessary if we are ever going to discover the truth about anything in life.
It's Not Blind Faith, It's Big Faith: A quick write-up about the devotional where BYU-I president Henry Eyring discussed doubts with students, and why they should not have blind faith, but big faith to problems with church history, doctrines, or leaders.
Given that we’ve had four write-ups since 2019 on this topic, I didn’t really want to do it a fifth time, but after watching the clip answering a question about doubts I thought it was important to address why the tactics used are so harmful.
In this part of the face-to-face, the question was as follows:
“Our next question comes from somebody who seems to be struggling to gain that witness. Harry from California, asked. I have serious problems with the truth claims of the church, and I'm considering removing my name's from the records of the church. Can you give me a reason why I should stay?”
This is a very straightforward question – Harry is having “serious problems with the truth claims of the church” and is looking for answers from an apostle of the church who is an ‘ordained prophet, seer, and revelator.’
Elder Rasband is ready to answer this question as he repeatedly looks down at his tablet, showing that he spent time to prepare this answer even as these events seek to portray themselves as being more casual and spontaneous:
“I can't wait to talk to Harry about the reason why he should stay. Harry. The first thing I want to say to you and to any others who might be on the edge with that kind of a concern right now is don't you do it. Don't remove your name from the records of the church. Maybe it would help to reframe your question this way. Not as why you should stay. But perhaps the more positive approach of why I and so many others choose to stay. Including, I would suspect hundreds of thousands of you who are watching this broadcast tonight. Think of it as to why do I choose to stay?”
Not only is there no answer given to Harry’s concern, but Elder Rasband immediately dismisses Harry's question as wrong. In other words, Harry’s problem with the church’s truth claims isn’t really an issue because Harry isn’t thinking about the people who believe in the church who are likely unaware of most of the problems with church history.
As I said above, Harry’s question is very straightforward and Elder Rasband prepared this answer before the event. Even with time to prepare an answer, Elder Rasband has nothing to offer Harry to help his concerns. Elder Rasband could tell Harry to read the Gospel Topics essays, but that would alert the other youth to the massive problems with the Book of Mormon translation, DNA and the Book of Mormon, the First Vision, polygamy and polyandry, race and the priesthood, and the Book of Abraham.
The problem with apologetics is that the church really doesn’t want members to know about them until they have one foot out the door, because introducing members to apologetics is opening them up to knowledge about problems they likely never knew existed. So it’s not surprising that Elder Rasband completely avoids answering Harry’s question here, as there are no good answers that won’t also alert the other youth listening to this event to the fact that there are serious problems with the church’s truth claims.
In other words, if they had asked Harry for the specific issues that were troubling him, it would instantly alert those listening to those problems. As a believing member I was never told about even basic things like the timeline of the priesthood restoration, changes to Doctrine and Covenants, or Joseph Smith’s ‘Happiness Letter’ to Nancy Rigdon. Even beyond Mormonism, I had no idea that Adam and Eve are not historical figures, the global flood never happened, or that the Tower of Babel is not historical - all events that the church needs to be literal, historical events. I have no idea what Harry has learned, but it is a safe bet that the church does not teach the youth about these problems in seminary.
Whenever you see a question and answer session with a General Authority or a church article in the now discontinued Ensign, you'll notice whenever they tell a story about a member with doubts they never say what those doubts were about. You would think the recent issue of Ensign that was focused on doubts would address specific issues, but instead they focused on members who claimed to have their doubts resolved even though they never told us what they were in the first place. And the reason for that is simple: they are terrified about the information reaching members who are unaware of these problems.
The other problem with Rasband’s non-answer is that after he tells Harry to re-frame his question, he then points to the “hundreds of thousands” of youth that choose to stay as a reason to stay in the church. But if the “hundreds of thousands” that stay is a compelling reason to stay, then why would someone not leave the LDS church and become a Catholic or Muslim where there are millions more youth that believe? Appealing to a bandwagon of people is not a very compelling argument for a church that is tiny compared to most major religions in the United States.
But this answer then takes a sharp turn that is, in my opinion, both manipulative and offensive. Sister Rasband introduces a video to help answer Harry’s concerns:
“I think this might be a good time to help answer this question if we were to show a video recorded earlier of Dominic who has recently joined the church.”
The video that they showed is of a man named Dominic, who was contemplating suicide as a college student. He joined the church and was still about to follow through on suicide until a truck stopped by to ask where he was going on the road, which led him to go home and focus on the scriptures, which took away those thoughts.
At no part in the video did Dominic have doubts about the church’s claims – his only struggle was about whether or not he wanted to continue to live. The church uses very emotional music during the video to manipulate the emotions of the viewers during the video, eliciting the “elevation emotion” that is also known as a burning in the bosom or that warm feeling that the church tells us is God confirming truth to us.
This is part of the church's "HeartSell" program that is sold to other organizations, businesses, etc through the church owned company Bonneville Communications. According to their own statement:
"Our unique strength is the ability to touch the hearts and minds of our audiences, evoking first feeling, then thought and, finally, action. We call this uniquely powerful brand of creative "HeartSell"® - strategic emotional advertising that stimulates response."
To be clear, this is a church owned company telling the world explicitly that they know how to use media to evoke feelings that will lead to actions. That is intentionally manipulating the viewer's (in this case the youth) emotions with music, lighting, and text to create the elevation emotion that the church then tells you is God confirming the truth of the church to you. This is why spiritual witnesses are not a reliable method to discern truth - emotions can be manipulated easily in order to create the very feeling that the church tells you is from God.
I am very sensitive to the incredibly serious problems of depression and suicide, so I am not trying to make any criticism of the content of the video or Dominic’s journey. My problem is that the church chose to answer a question from Harry about removing his records from the church due to problems with the church’s truth claims by showing an emotionally manipulative video about a person who was contemplating suicide.
Again, Elder Rasband says in his initial response about Harry removing his records that “The first thing I want to say to you and to any others who might be on the edge with that kind of a concern right now is don't you do it?”
Elder Rasband knows at this point they will be showing a video about suicide, which makes his use of “on the edge” very questionable. Furthermore, Sister Rasband then says that this video will “help answer the question,” which directly is stating that a video about overcoming suicide can help answer a question about removing one’s records from the church.
Not only does this video not answer any of Harry’s concerns, but it draws the connection that removing one’s records from the church is similar to taking one’s life. I am not sure how else it can be taken given that both Elder and Sister Rasband knew the video was coming as part of their answer and speak of it as being part of their answer.
Even if we ignore the connections to suicide and leaving the church being made, how is this video possibly going to answer Harry’s concerns? The Rasbands are showing a video of a person with completely different problems and circumstances to try and convince Harry that the truth claims of the church are not worth leaving over. Telling Harry that if he just sticks with the church that things will get better because they did for Dominic is also nonsensical, because Dominic's problems had nothing to do with the church while Harry's are entirely due to problems with the church's truth claims.
Following a short question and answer session with Dominic, who told Harry to stay in the church without actually addressing any concerns about the truth claims of the church, Elder Rasband repeats a tactic used by many families of those who stop believing in the church:
“Already, you have begun an eternal family that is to continue for generation after generation after generation. For Sister Rasband and I, that's six generations now. That new great grandchild we talked about earlier is the ninth generation in our family. For some of you, it's one generation, but nonetheless, the sealing power of God found in the House of the Lord binds families together. So you also need to think about what your decision means and impacts future generations.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve now heard or talked to a member who leaves the church be told by their family to ‘think about the covenants you made in the temple’ as well as ‘think about how your decision is going to impact and hurt our eternal family.’ There's no better example of where this teaching comes from that Prophet Russell M. Nelson's "Sad Heaven" talk at the April 2019 General Conference:
"Some erroneously believe that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ provides a promise that all people will be with their loved ones after death... the Savior Himself has made it abundantly clear that while His Resurrection assures that every person who ever lived will indeed be resurrected and live forever, much more is required if we want to have the high privilege of exaltation. Salvation is an individual matter, but exaltation is a family matter."
But again, after showing a video that compares removing one’s records to suicide, Elder Rasband follows-up by declaring that the decision to remove one’s records will impact your currently family as well as future generations and effectively end your eternal family. I’m not sure how one can see the way the Rasband’s carefully built this answer layer by layer without seeing the deliberate messaging being deployed throughout.
One of the most effective tactics of church leaders to elicit obedience from members is to hold our exaltation over our heads. Joseph Smith used this tactic when proposing to young women in polygamy, and Elder Rasband is using a form of it today to make sure Harry knows that if he removes his record it won’t just hurt him, but every person that he loves as well.
Sister Rasband then added a story about advice from President Ballard:
“If I can add that this reminds me, this question reminds me, of a time that we were with President Ballard and he gave a wise counsel in response. If I remember right, he said, ‘Now look, if you're going to focus on the anti church literature floating out on the Internet, then you're going to stay stuck in rebellion, in confusion, and disharmony. But if you listen and read the scriptures, if you listen to the words of the prophets, and if you pray, then the Holy Ghost has an opportunity to testify to you what is true and help give you peace and understanding.’”
As we’ve pointed out repeatedly in the other write-ups, the “anti-church literature” attack simply does not work anymore when so much of the “anti-church literature” is now confirmed by the Gospel Topics essays and other church apologetic materials. Imagine my shock when I went to the temple for the first time and I was warned by my in-laws not to read any of the literature being handed out because it's all "anti-Mormon lies" only to find out twenty years later that the church admits almost all of those problems in their Gospel Topics essays. There problems are not "anti-church," but simply history, and that's only a problem for a church that is build on disproven truth claims.
Sister Rasband’s answer here says to avoid materials that don’t agree with the church, and that if you only focus on what the church tells you to read, you’ll get a witness back in return. Furthermore, she is equating reading “anti-church literature” floating on the Internet with rebellion, confusion, and disharmony, which is an attempt to keep these young, impressionable members from ever wanting to look outside of correlated material.
While Sister Rasband is making a direct attack on Internet based sources such as the CES Letter, Mormon Stories podcast, or even our site, she is ignoring the fact that these sites are citing their sources and are largely pulling from the church’s own documentary history when exploring the problems with the church’s truth claims. Take a look at our pages - almost every topic includes both the church's initial truth claims and apologetic claims before we explain why those claims do not hold up to scrutiny.
I have no fear of readers of this site seeing both the church's claims or apologetic responses because I know what the evidence states, but the church time and time again refuses to mention or acknowledge the evidence of the "critics" when talking about church history. Why do you think that is?
But more to the point, Harry is a member that has already done the research, and this ordained prophet, seer, and revelator has no answer for him beyond telling Harry to set aside what they deem as “anti-church literature” and go back to only church materials. It simply is not going to work in an era where the youth can hop on Google and find out the church’s history is not what they teach, and their scriptures are not historically true.
Put another way, if Elder and Sister Rasband truly believed that the church was true and could stand up to scrutiny, they would tell Harry to read the Gospel Topics essay and to read anti-church materials because they would have answers to the “anti-church literature.” In fact, previous church leaders used to make claims similar to that before the Internet made the information so easily accessible:
Apostle James E. Talmage: “The man who cannot listen to an argument which opposes his views either has a weak position or is a weak defender of it. No opinion that cannot stand discussion or criticism is worth holding. ... In general it is true that nothing which cannot stand up under discussion and criticism is worth defending.”
President J. Reuben Clark: "If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed."
The fact that a leader of the church can’t even tell Harry about the essays in a setting such as this shows that not only do they lack confidence in the church’s truth claims, but that they are terrified of alerting other youth to their own materials about the church’s truth claims. And then Sister Rasband takes it one step further by citing President Ballard’s quote that those who look at church history on the internet are engaging in rebellion, confusion, and disharmony. No one that truly believes in the claims they are selling would ever tell you that you are engaging in rebellion by verifying what they're telling you.
Elder Rasband finishes up this section with the infamous shelf metaphor:
“I have just one more thought, and I draw upon a comment from one of my brethren of the quorum of twelve apostles. He's my seat mate, to my left, Elder Neil L. Andersen, and in one of his General Conference messages, he said this one simple sentence that has stuck with me ever since. “Will we understand everything? Of course not. We will need to put some issues on the shelf to be understood at a later time, so brothers and sisters we’re not trying to say that we're not gonna have these feelings, but they should never derail you off the covenant path. Put those items that would derail you or take you off the covenant path, put them on the shelf, and in due course in due time, Heavenly Father and the promptings of the Holy Ghost will give you answers to your questions along with your loving friends, family members, and leaders.”
The shelf metaphor might have worked when the church could control the information that members had access to, but it doesn’t work when you can hop on Google and find solid evidence based sources that show us why Joseph Smith’s First Vision evolved and changed, that the Book of Mormon translation was done with a rock in a hat, or that the Book of Abraham is demonstrably false in every way.
Elder Rasband is an ordained prophet, seer, and revelator, and he has no answers for Harry beyond telling him that he needs to just put everything he’s discovered on the shelf and get back to where he used to be. That comes after an emotionally manipulative HeartSell video that implies that removing one’s records from the church is similar to suicide, which is, in my opinion, an abuse of Elder Rasband's authority.
Every aspect of the answer from Elder and Sister Rasband is to focus only on emotions, which has been proven time and time again to be an unreliable way to discern truth. The best illustration of why spiritual witnesses are not reliable is this video that highlights spiritual witnesses from all religions and religious groups, which show how even polygamous offshoots believe today they are receiving confirmation from God that their religion is true.
There is a very simple reason that the Rasbands are steering their answer away from addressing Harry’s doubts in a direct way: They have no answers that haven’t already been proven false by history, science, or the church’s own documentary records, and they are more terrified about tipping off other youth members to the problems with the church’s truth claims than they are with Harry's loss of faith in the church.
Twenty years ago leaders might have been able to tell a doubting youth member that they needed to re-frame the question and avoid actually addressing the problems, but today it simply is not going to work when they can read sites such as this one, listen to podcasts such as Mormon Stories or Radio Free Mormon, or find thousands of other former members on social media who are already further along with their exit from the church.
As we noted in our previous write-ups, church leaders have become much more aggressive in attacking doubts among the youth over the last two years. The Rasbands deliberately chose this question before the event, and yet at no point did they even attempt to address Harry’s main concern: the church’s truth claims.
Sometimes you can learn as much, if not more, from what people don’t say than by what they do, and I believe that Elder Rasband showed the desperation that the church is currently facing in trying to both assure young members to 'doubt their doubts' while also trying to keep the youth from stumbling upon the research that has been done into the church's historical and doctrinal claims.
Instead of answering Harry’s question, Elder Rasband told Harry to re-frame his question to looking at reasons to stay, followed it with a video comparing leaving the church to suicide, and then reminded him that if he leaves the church he will be ending the chain of generations that will be together in the eternities. If you were looking to purchase a new car, home, or other large commitment and the salesperson answered you in this manner, you would run out the door and never look back. Why should the church be any different?
Thank you all for reading and I hope you check out the different pages we've linked to throughout this long blog post - the annotated essays are so detailed and go right up against the apologetic arguments from the church to really display why there are lots of answers, but none that are faith promoting for the church.