Taylor Christensen’s video titled “This is not an anti-Mormon video” is making the rounds.
I see he is being criticized on both sides. Both from critics of the Church who are not satisfied with someone who recognizes difficult church history and still stays. And also by conservative members of the Church who are fighting to protect these facts from being accepted by others. I have taken a similar “middle ground” approach and have received the same kind of criticism from both sides. In this article, I will analyze the video and give insights I’ve gained through the last few years of my engaging in this same area.
Taylor starts out
This is not an anti-Mormon video. I have a testimony of the restored gospel, and this is my story. You can go on to his facebook page and watch the public video there or watch here.
Taylor then goes on to describe how he had previously assumed all the facts related to difficult LDS Church history were “anti-Mormon”. But because he knew loved ones that were leaving the Church, two years prior, he had set out to understand why. And during this investigation, he came to understand that much of this history was not “anti-Mormon” it was just “history”.
He introduces the problem. We often say:
If the Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith was a prophet, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is also true. But there are parts of our history which challenge the validity of these three things.
Taylor invites us to talk about this. He encourages us not to be afraid. Then he spends a couple minutes breaking down some of the common “CES Letter” type issues. First Vision issues, Book of Mormon issues, polygamy, priesthood for black members.
This is where he loses many active LDS. These are tough issues. Taylor’s right when he says we’re afraid to address them. The Church has made great progress starting to address these in the Gospel Topics Essays. But many members are still not even aware of them. And many others simply want to sweep them under the rug and still pretend they’re not that big of a deal. They are a big deal.
LDS FairMormon type apologists will have a typical response.
“This is the same old laundry list that has already been answered.” Maybe. But obviously they haven’t been answered adequately.
“Anti-Mormons don’t need Taylor and others to empathize. We need to stand strong in our faith in Jesus Christ and living prophets.” Empathy is always important. And I agree that Jesus Christ and the testimony of the living prophets are worthy of our faith. But we also need to look around and see why so many people are leaving the Church and face down and talk about these issues.
“He went too far painting Joseph Smith as a sexual opportunist.” Maybe. This might be the only FairMormon type argument I would agree with against Taylor’s actual content. Polygamy is very confusing. Yes, there are reasons to view Joseph’s polygamy as being primarily motivated by sex. And I’m not one to shy away from controversial views of Joseph and the restoration, but I find Richard Bushman’s perspective quite compelling. That Joseph seemed to be primarily motivated in revealing doctrine on sealing and eternal families and restoring ancient practices but likely didn’t implement the practice properly and made mistakes along the way.
Then Taylor spends the last half of the video giving his reason for faith and calling all members to treat those in faith crisis with empathy.
Taylor uses logic that faith should be based on spiritual things not physical evidence. So it makes sense that physical evidence will not prove God’s truth. And we should rely on faith. Exmormons are killing him “It’s all bull*** but believe…just because??!!”
An area I might disagree with Taylor is in this:
As long as history allows for even the slightest possibility that it could be true, I will trust in my faith.
It’s a short video that contains a lot, so people might be misunderstanding him. But he seems to be reverting back to the idea of “just believing” in something that evidence is showing is impossible to believe in. Faith exists outside of literal belief. And as Taylor rightly implies in other parts of the video, there are many aspects of LDS faith that are outside some of the the literal claims that evidence is disproving.
I love the video, and I can’t commend Taylor highly enough for having the courage to take this stand. But I understand the Exmormon critique here. So, I’m going to play amateur psychologist here and try to guess what Taylor is thinking and how he has formed this argument. And I’m going to reformulate his argument in a way that’s a bit more intellectually sound.
I believe Taylor is experiencing the same kind of thing me and many others that have gone through faith crisis followed by a faith reconstruction phase that left them with still in the LDS church with their faith intact.
They see real problems with what Richard Bushman calls the “dominant narrative”. Book of Mormon is an actual, ancient historical record. The LDS Church is the one, exclusively true church. The doctrine taught in the Church is pure, perfect, unchangeable, and can be trusted as being as if God himself were speaking to us.
But, despite the problem with this “dominant narrative” they find truth and beauty and goodness in the Church. They continue to be enriched by living the LDS Christ-centered life. The Church is a place to worship God and serve and be served in the Body of Christ. They see the Church as being a strong net-positive in their life. They may see some negatives, such as lingering artifacts from past cultures where racism, misogyny, and homophobia were norms. But they see the ability for us to improve in these areas and become even better as a Church. They see scripture prophets as being reliable though not infallible (see Patrick Mason, Planted).
Taylor implies that because he believes so deeply in these things, that it must mean the Church is True (capital T), and there must be a way that the Book of Mormon is ancient, The 1838 First Vision Account is accurate, etc. But what I think Taylor might come around to is the Church may be true (lower case t, implying that the truth is not in the accuracy of foundational claims and absolute Truth but in the lived experience aspect like the last paragraph). And there may be a way to view the foundational claims as metaphorically “true” and not literally and actually True. A deeper study of religion shows that most religions have similar Truth problems and have evolved to allow for metaphorical understanding of foundational claims.
Taylor ends with this beautiful call for empathy.
I’ve done the very best I can to understand why my friends and family have left the church. And now, I invite you to be more empathetic towards them. And to not judge them. And I invite you to listen to them. And validate their thoughts. And understand what they’ve been through. I invite you to do for them what Jesus does for us every day. I believe in Christ. And he’s perfect because he understands us. And so maybe it’s time we spent a little more time understanding each other.
Thank you, Taylor. That’s beautiful. I hope you have a thick skin, because you’ve put yourself in a difficult position. Those in your own faith are calling you weak, deceived, even a wolf in sheep’s clothing. And Exmormons are calling you stupid, illogical, believing in fairy tales, defending a corrupt Church, etc. But I hope you keep doing what you’re doing. I strongly believe this is the message many in the Church need.
I hope you stay. I hope you continue to find beauty and truth in the LDS Church. I hope many others are comforted by your message and can rebuild faith following faith crisis, in a different but equally strong way.