By guest contributor Chad Conrad, author of Doubt Your Doubts: Seeking Answers to Difficult Gospel Questions.
My first year in seminary changed my life. I read the Doctrine and Covenants for the first time as a freshman in Sister Hardman’s early morning class and fell in love with that book of scripture. My love for the Savior seemed to grow on every new page I read. Towards the end of that school year, I went to the public library to do a research paper for my history class. (That was back in the day when we actually had to walk to library to do research!) While I was looking up books on the effects of Romanticism on 19th century French architecture, I stumbled across the Mormon section of the library.
I had no idea there was a Mormon section in our public library and stated to get really excited. I found two dozen books or so about our faith. There was a copy of the Book of Mormon and several others. One was an oversized book called The Truth about the Doctrine and Covenants. I giddily took the book off the shelf and opened it up. What luck! The D&C was my new-favorite book, and now I was going to see what some famous author had to say about it.
Imagine my shock when I quickly realized that the author didn’t believe in the Doctrine and Covenants. The whole book was a section-by-section attack on the D&C as a phony creation of Joseph Smith. As I read the first few pages, my stomach started churning and my whole body started twisting in on itself. I felt sick all the way to my bones. One-by-one the author was listing questions about Joseph Smith and the scriptures that I had no answers for. Suddenly, I just slammed the book shut in disgust. I felt like throwing the book in the trash, but I resisted the urge and placed it on the return shelf before darting out of the library and heading home in tears.
My parents weren’t home and I didn’t know what else to do, so I went into my bedroom and prayed. I said, “Heavenly Father, did you see what was in that book? What am I supposed to think?” I poured out my soul to the Lord. After a time, I felt an answer come. It was as if the Lord said to my mind, “Yes, I know you’re troubled by that book. But don’t worry—there are answers to all those questions, and one day you’ll find them. But for now just trust me that it’s all okay. Joseph Smith was my prophet. The D&C is my word. You’re on the right track. Don’t give up.”
Now thirty years later, I’ve found some of those answers. Many of the same questions people have been hurling against the Church today have been around ever since the beginning days of the Prophet Joseph Smith. And there are some new ones as well.
Here I’ll address five of them.
The first is why did Joseph Smith practice polygamy and even marry underage young women? The simple answer is because the Lord commanded him to. Just as the Lord commanded Abraham in the Old Testament to practice polygamy, He commanded the Church in the days of Joseph Smith to do the same. Just as he told Abraham to hide his marital status from the Pharaoh, he told Joseph to hide his polygamy from the people of his day because they would kill him for it. Most of the women Joseph was sealed to never lived with him as wives. He never had any children by any of his plural wives (he and Emma had eleven together). It is true that two of the women were quite young, but he never had a physical relationship with either of them and one was at the insistence of the girl’s parents. Every time Joseph asked a woman to enter polygamy he told them to get their own witness that it was from God, and they did. Sometimes even angels came to convince people they were following the will of the Lord. He made it clear why He commanded the Saints to practice polygamy: “I did it, saith the Lord, to prove you all, as I did Abraham, and that I might require an offering at your hand, by covenant and sacrifice” (D&C 132:51). It was a test for the early Saints. And for many of us today, the fact that He ever commanded it of His people continues to be a test of our willingness to trust in His wisdom over our own.
A second difficult question to answer is why women can’t hold the priesthood the same way as men can in the Church. Although women share equally with men in enjoying all the same priesthood power and blessings in their lives, only men hold priesthood offices and perform priesthood blessings. That seems unfair. The simple answer again is that that is how the Lord has set up His Church. It’s not just some old fashioned, outdated policy of discrimination. In the revelation given in Official Declaration 2, the Lord says, “every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood, with power to exercise its divine authority.” Some Church leaders have suggested that perhaps men need the specific responsibilities to serve that the priesthood brings to help them reach beyond themselves the way women do more naturally. Just as the Lord has given to women the role of physically carrying, bearing, and nursing children into physical life, He has given to men the role of performing the ordinances that bring spiritual life. The complementary roles help ensure that “neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:11).
The world today is saying that social equality requires that we completely ignore gender differences and treat everybody as androgynous beings. The gospel of Christ recognizes and exalts gender differences while holding them both in equal importance and privileges. The only way any of us can make it back to Heavenly Father is as an equal couple, sealed together in the temple by priesthood power and remaining true to our covenants together (see D&C 131:1-4). The highest blessings in this life and the life to come can be achieved only as a couple.
A third challenging issue for members of the Church is evolution. Science teaches that man evolved from simpler species over millions of years of continuous slight development. Many religions have been able to bow to evolution by considering the Adam and Eve story to be merely a powerful myth without historical reality. But Mormons hold to the view that Adam and Eve were real people and the primary parents of our race, so how can we make sense of organic evolution?
The Church doesn’t have an official policy about organic evolution. Because of that, members are free to believe as they wish on this issue. (Actually, the Church prizes individual agency so much that members are free to believe as the wish on any of these issues.) Many bright, believing Latter-day Saints hold a belief in a sort of theistic evolution, where evolution is seen as the means the Lord used to create life on our planet. Many others see too many contradictions between the theories of science on the origin of life and the inspired truths of the scriptures. But the simple fact is that the Lord hasn’t revealed yet how He creates and governs life. He promises that at the Second Coming He “shall reveal all things—Things which have passed, and hidden things which no man knew, things of the earth, by which it was made, and the purpose and the end thereof—“ (D&C101:32-33). So apparently no man knows the answer to this question yet and it’s one we’re free to speculate about. But the scriptures do make it clear that Adam “was the son of God, with whom God, himself, conversed” (Moses 6:22).
Once the Spirit has confirmed to your soul that you are literally a descendant of Adam and Eve who were real people, then you know that you are really a literal offspring of Heavenly Parents and destined to become like them someday. Then you can also feel free to study everything science has to teach, without having to put your faith in any of it. Just learn and use all the scientific knowledge you can, but keep your faith in the scriptures—which will never let you down.
Another question in the Church today that seems so difficult to make sense of is why we shouldn’t we allow other people the right to same-sex marriages just because we believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman. Even if we think that’s what God wants for His children, shouldn’t we allow everyone the freedom to believe as they want and live as they want? Isn’t that the compassionate, Christlike thing to do?
This is a very good question. The first thing I need to understand as a Latter-day Saint is that regardless of my individual feelings or desires Heavenly Father really expects me to prepare myself spiritually, mentally, and physically so I can eventually be sealed in the temple to someone of the opposite gender and then to spend the rest of eternity keeping my covenants with them. Everyone has challenges to marriage that need to be overcome. Some are shy. Some are too self-centered. Some don’t feel attractive enough. Some struggle with mental illness. Some feel attracted to the same gender. Regardless of our struggles, marriage to the opposite gender “is ordained of God.” It’s still Heavenly Father’s plan for me either in this life or the next. If I set my heart on that goal and do everything I possibly can to prepare for it, Heavenly Father will eventually open impossible doors for me and make miracles happen.
Ty Mansfield is an example of a returned missionary who struggles with same sex attraction but allowed the Lord to work miracles and helped him get married in the temple to an amazing woman and is raising a family with her in the Church. “With God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37). That doesn’t necessarily mean that the Lord will take away the challenges I have to marriage, but his promise is that “he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (1 Nephi 3:7).
The second thing I need to understand is that the Lord wants all of His children to live in a society where marriage between a man and a woman is the standard. Traditional families really are best for children to be raised in. Science may or may not always be able to verify this truth, but the Lord has made known His will clearly in The Family: A Proclamation to the World: “We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the [traditional] family as the fundamental unit of society.”
This isn’t about a simple lifestyle choice. Historically every society that has embraced same-sex relationships has suffered from moral decay and collapse: Greece, Rome, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and others. Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage in 2004. Since that time state schools and courts have been working hard to normalize and even enforce same-sex marriage on the public. It’s promoted to high schoolers and junior high schoolers. It’s even taught to kindergarteners. Even people with strong religious convictions against it have been bullied by the courts to accept it. Adoption agencies have been forced to help same-sex couples or go out of business. This really isn’t a “live and let live” issue. It has to do with family as the basic unit of society and what that family should be. It also has to do with powerful forces at work trying to eliminate all religious influence from the public sphere.
The simple fact is, however, that our society is leaning closer and closer to embracing same-sex marriage as a right. As it does there will be more and more who will put legal, cultural, and social pressure for people to give-up their religious qualms against it and embrace and celebrate it as normal, healthy, and beautiful. Our leaders have been teaching us in General Conference about the need to continue to stand up for our religious beliefs while being compassionate and understanding with those who disagree with us. It will take great courage and great wisdom to disagree without being disagreeable—to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
A final question that is becoming more and more prevalent is who really wrote the Book of Mormon? Did Joseph Smith write it as a treatise on his view of the religious issues of his day in 1827- 29? Or did ancient prophets write it as they were directed by God? I have on my bookshelf a 700-page book written by bright scholars who argue quite convincingly that Joseph wrote the book. Right next to that on my shelf I have another 700-page book by equally bright scholars arguing that Joseph didn’t and couldn’t have written it. It is equally convincing as the first. All of the scholars on both sides of the issue are smarter and more informed than I am, so I can’t tell who’s right simply by listening to them. In the end, I simply have to choose which scholars I want to believe. There is ample evidence on both sides. I will simply have to decide which side I choose to be on.
Moroni 10:4-5 still holds the key. When I read the book with a sincere desire to know and pray with all the intent of my heart, the Lord will “manifest the truth of it unto you by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” I have had that witness many times in my life. As I read the book and apply its teachings, I can feel myself becoming more like the Savior. His love is shining through me to bless my family and friends around me. I understand that more and more people are leaving the Church and claiming that the whole thing was an illusion concocted by the boy Joseph Smith. That shouldn’t surprise me. The Lord warned that in the last days many would come preaching against the truth and “deceive the very elect” (JS-Matthew 1:22). But it is no illusion to me. All of the promises of the Restored Gospel are being fulfilled in my life. The joy I feel in living that gospel outweighs any unanswered questions I might have. But the more I seek and ask and knock, the more answers I’ve been able to find. And the more hope I have been able to hold onto in the face of new questions yet to come.
Even as I find partial answers to the challenges of my faith, new ones will arise and will seem quite baffling. The key is to never give up the quest. When Alma was challenged with a gospel question he didn’t have the answer to, he simply declared: “as to this thing I do not know; but this much I do know. . . .” and he went on to bear testimony of God’s power to help and save us (Alma 7:8). We need to trust in the faith-affirming experiences we’ve had in the past as we face challenges in the present. If we continue to seek and ask and knock at the right sources, we will find enough answers to help us resolve to continue on. Then the Lord promises one day to reveal all things to us—line upon line, precept upon precept. I’m finding that to be oh so very true in my own life. It will be in yours as well.
Chad Conrad has a BS (BYU) and MS (Boston U) in philosophy. He has been a seminary and institute teacher for the CES for 20 years. He was a philosophy instructor at BYU for seven years. He was previously an EFY speaker and session director and is the author of Doubt Your Doubts: Seeking Answers to Difficult Gospel Questions,”Out of the Killing Fields and Into the Light” and “Daily Discipleship,” both of which were published through Cedar Fort Publishing & Media.