Wednesday, January 5, 2011

I Want Nothing but the Truth....but.....

January 5, 2011

A few weeks ago one of the parents of a boy that comes to daycare every day gifted us some different spoils from a recent hunting excursion - jerky, sausage, ground meat, etc. Usually his gifts are savory and mouth-watering. However, this batch of jerky did not impress me, nor did it impress my wife. Before we even consumed half the bag, we threw the rest away.

Flash forward to yesterday, and a scene that is familiar to just about anyone comes into play - this same parent asking my wife and I, "did you eat the jerky? Did you like it?"

I am a person who really hates to be disingenuous, and yet in situations like these, I know what my response is going to be.... "Yeah, it was great!"

Growing up, especially in the LDS church, I was taught very well that lying was wrong, and that there is no gray area between right and wrong. Thus, in my very literalistic, unexperienced way of viewing things, I understood this as meaning "never lie for any reason, ever!" Of course, as I continued to gain experience and knowledge, I realized that this black and white thinking didn't really apply in all circumstances.

However, I would have thought it would apply in God's one and only true church. How could a lie (or the corollary, not telling a lie but just not telling the truth either) ever serve the members of the church? But it seems that even for God, telling the truth can have undesired consequences.

I am reading a biography of Spencer W. Kimball by his son Edward, and while the book can often times be interpreted as potentially faith-promoting, Ed Kimball tries to just tell things the way they are. Thus, you can find quotes like this one from Dallin H. Oaks (p. 190), "Even though something is true, we are not necessarily justified in communicating it."

To further illustrate this point, Edward points out disagreements various leaders had over the publishing of certain church histories by the LDS Historical Department, such as The Story of the Latter-Day Saints. Apostles Ezra Taft Benson, Boyd K. Packer, and Delbert L. Stapley objected to including things like how Brigham Young chewed tobacco (to deaden the pain of bad teeth), or how the Word of Wisdom came about at a time in the nineteenth century when other people were also adopting similar health guidelines.

I guess even though I have tried to form a more nuanced view of the world, it is easy for me to hold the church up to what I consider a higher standard. If the church is going to go around saying it is the only place where people can find all the truth, then they had better tell the truth, and/or not cover it up.

I have read all sorts of materials and books that would probably be considered "anti-mormon" by your average member of the church. At first it was a little disconcerting, but I just could not turn away. While my views of the church have changed rather significantly over the past several years, I don't think anything I could read could be as trying to my faith in the hierarchy as knowing they try to cover things up ostensibly to promote faith and protect testimonies. Knowing that this happens throws everything else up into the air.

But maybe the church just sees itself as an extension of myself - not wanting to admit that the jerky stinks, to save face, or to preserve a healthy reputation. But we are not just talking about lying to someone who wants to know if you liked their jerky. These are questions about who will or won't be saved, or whether or not there is even a life after this one. That's why I think the church has to be held to the highest standard possible. But one still has to wonder, is it always better to tell the truth? Are we, as well as the church, ever justified in telling a lie, or not telling the whole truth? I was always good at asking questions that have no definite answers...

P.S. I am not trying to say I think the church is not true (as nebulous as the term 'true' can be for me most of the time). I am only trying to point out that even with questions of belief, there may not always be one right and one wrong answer. I think the leaders recognize this, but don't want to admit it openly, probably for the same reasons they don't admit a lot of things.