Make no assumptions, LDS doctrine has to be said

Published: Sunday, May 15 2011 4:30 a.m. MDT

There is a phrase we use in America (perhaps elsewhere, too) that goes something like this, “It goes without saying.” We have all used it before. It is communicating that some fact is so inherently obvious that one does not have to articulate that fact to others. It is automatically understood. For example, “It goes without saying that one should pull the parachute cord when one jumps out of a plane at 30,000 feet.” It’s obvious.

On the other hand, sometimes things go unsaid that should have been said. We take something or some knowledge for granted and assume that everyone else thinks, believes and knows what we think, believe and know.

As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we sometimes leave things unsaid that absolutely need to be said, especially when others are listening and observing. Let me explain.

In September 1980, a Newsweek article about the church was about to hit the newsstands. The author and religion editor, Kenneth L. Woodward, was a practicing Catholic and well-known for his “tell it how it is” style of writing. Newsweek put a picture of the Salt Lake Temple on the front cover, and adherents were waiting to see if someone from the “main-stream media” would finally get it right. Most were disappointed.

Woodward’s facts were pretty straight with a couple of cultural miscues, but it was this phrase that inspired Mormons by the hundreds to write scathing rebuttals to Newsweek:

“Mormons believe that men are born free of sin and earn their way to godhood by the proper exercise of free will, rather than through the grace of Jesus Christ. Thus Jesus’ suffering and death in the Mormon view were brotherly acts of compassion, but they do not atone for the sins of others.” (Kenneth L. Woodward. “What Mormons Believe.” Newsweek, September 1980: 68)

Are you kidding? Does he know the name of the church? Did he read any of the Book of Mormon? Did he get a Primary kid to recite the First Article of Faith? We were all crying foul.

Complaints in the “Letters to the Editor” section were filled with harsh words of reproof for weeks (without any increase of love showing forth). How could he get it so wrong?

Finally his rebuttal was printed. Among his points, the following brought with it a rebuke and a real opportunity to see us as others see us. For those who understood, it was an epiphany of sorts.

“I did read several books of Mormon scripture and theology before writing the article. My intent, however, was not to review books but rather to report how representative members of the LDS Church describe and interpret their own traditions. ... The point is to determine what doctrines of a church are genuinely infused into the lifeblood of its adherents.”

It was our fault. We did not represent, at least in the time he interviewed our members, what we really believed and who we really were. We somehow left it unsaid.

Our theology is so rich and deep. From the Atonement to the Restoration, to temples to priesthood, to the degrees in heaven to eternal marriage, and so many other wonderful doctrines, sometimes the fact that Jesus Christ is at the center of it all goes without saying. You and I know and believe what Joseph Smith said in the beginning years of the Restoration.

“The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that he died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it” ("History of the Church," 3:30).

But if we don’t say it, if it “goes without saying,” then our nonmember friends, our less-active friends, our families become confused. They believe what we are actually saying, and like Woodward, get the wrong picture.

How do we clear up the confusion? How do we truly show what we really believe to the point that even the “mainstream media” gets it right? We simply connect the dots. We say it. We don’t leave it unsaid. When we talk about how the Book of Mormon has changed our life, we include that the book teaches about Christ, that he atoned for all of us, that it contains his visit to the people of the American continent. When we teach our children about tithing, we teach them that in small part, it represents the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and that as we sacrifice a little, he will give us a lot.

In our talks, in our testimonies, in family home evening, at work, at home, on the playground and at school, we have to be obvious, conspicuous, bold in connecting everything about the gospel back to its center, Jesus Christ. It simply can’t go without saying.

Troy Parker is the executive director of "The Moroni Project," a nonprofit group that conceives and executes initiatives that support LDS youths. He also blogs at troygparker.wordpress.com. Parker lives in Molalla, Ore., with his wife, Jill, and two sons.

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