This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Reflecting an ongoing concern within Mormonism, LDS Church-owned Deseret Book is once again tackling some of the historical controversies that have triggered widespread consternation, questioning and even disbelief in the Internet age.
Along with Patrick Q. Mason's "Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt," Terryl and Fiona Givens' "Crucible of Doubt," and Robert L. Millet's "No Weapon Shall Prosper: New Light on Sensitive Issues," the new volume, "A Reason for Faith: Navigating LDS Doctrine and Church History," provides complex context and answers for those encountering troubling aspects of the church's past and beliefs.
This latest book was put together by a mom, Laura Harris Hales, for those like some of her children who were "blindsided by things that contradicted prior perceptions about gospel topics."
"As their mother," Hales writes' in the book's prologue, "I was ill-equipped to answer their questions."
So she assembled a team of noted and believing LDS scholars to address an array of concerns.
Was church founder Joseph Smith really digging for buried treasure? How do you explain varying versions of Smith's pivotal First Vision? How did anachronisms creep into the Book of Mormon if Smith was translating records of ancient American civilizations? Did the men who claimed to witness Smith's "gold plates" see them with physical or spiritual eyes, or was it a group hallucination? Was God really behind Smith's practice of polygamy? Why was Smith "sealed" to teenagers? Why is the LDS temple ceremony so much like Masonic rituals?
Many of these issues were discussed in the church's 11 Gospel Topics essays, published in the past few years and found on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' official website.
"These discussions may generate thoughts and questions that might be surprising or even bothersome as existing beliefs are stretched," Hales writes. "In fact, readers may grieve at the loss of perceptions held dear. Yet they can be consoled by the realization that their expanded understanding is based upon accurate teachings."
Consider the church's now-discarded ban on black men and boys from its all-male priesthood, and black women and girls from LDS temple rituals.
W. Paul Reeve, University of Utah historian and author of "Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness," describes the ban's background and development. He then shows why the prohibition, which ended in 1978, does not represent LDS beliefs.
"While one may indeed find Latter-day Saints today who hold racist views, they do so in direct violation of church standards, specifically a 2006 call to repentance by church President Gordon B. Hinckley," Reeve writes, followed by quoting the late leader as saying, "Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of his children."
Neylan McBaine, author of "Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women's Local Impact," analyzes women's issues within Mormonism, including the notion of "co-leadership" by LDS men and women.
If a young Mormon woman fully grasps LDS teachings about the eternities, McBaine writes, "she will realize she has all the tools she needs as a daughter of God not only to return to live with him, but also to lead the church in our midst here on Earth in a different but equal way to her male counterpart."
While LDS teachings about "the appropriate bounds of sexual expression have not and will not change," Provo therapist Ty Mansfield writes in an LGBT chapter, "there has been a clarifying and nuancing of church teaching."
Today's Mormon leaders have made clear that same-sex attraction is not a sin, only acting on it is.
Mansfield, who has acknowledged his own same-sex attraction but is married to a woman, "wades into more recent controversies over homosexuality and the church and does so with grace and compassion," Walker Wright says in a review of the book for the Mormon blog Times & Seasons.
The therapist "expands the discussion beyond the narrow confines of the labels 'gay' or 'straight' and offers an engaging read on the complexities of human sexuality, relationships and intimacy," Wright says. "Most important, [Mansfield] does so while dismantling the shame that often infects Mormon discourse about sex and chastity."
Though Wright finds some chapters of Hales' book "underwhelming" and in need of further discussion, on the whole he sees "A Reason for Faith" as "a welcome addition to the growing list of Mormon pastoral works."
Those in LDS studies or familiar with the debates "may not find anything new or surprising in its pages," he writes, "but they are not the book's intended audience. It is meant as a primer; a springboard for those unacquainted with this type of information."
Given that goal, Wright concludes, the book "is a success."
Peggy Fletcher Stack