Someone mentioned in a blog post that I read recently about how accessible materials and information about the Church are for us these days: blogs, books (official and unofficial), news, the internet in general. I couldn’t agree more. There’s a wealth of information about the Church at our fingertips and goodness knows that many of us spend hours reading, analyzing, discussing, and debating it all. I’m often surprised that more Mormons don’t take advantage of it.
There is one problem, however. This wealth of information is NOT equally available to members of the Church.
If you are reading this, you are someone who is now perhaps a minority in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: an English-speaking member with access to the internet, probably living in America. This means that you are able to read virtually everything that has ever been written about Mormonism. And if you can’t find it online, chances are that your local library can get it. If not, you can buy it on Amazon and have it shipped to your home without having to worry about crazy shipping costs or customs duties.
Over half of the Church’s membership now lives outside of the US. Many of these members have little or no knowledge of the English language. Their resources in terms of information regarding their own religion is scarce. Often the only things they have in their own language are official materials put out by the Church: the scriptures (sometimes only an incomplete translation of the Book of Mormon, and perhaps no Bible Dictionary or Topical Guide), the RS/Priesthood manual, other auxiliary manuals, and maybe the Liahona. No Journal of Discourses, no Jesus the Christ. Forget Rough Stone Rolling and don’t even think about Mormon blogging.
A bit over year ago, I barely knew what a blog was and the term “Bloggernacle” was a foreign word to me. Back then, I still told my non-member friends who asked that the Church allowed polygamy to take care of all the spinsters and singles and the suggestion that Joseph Smith married women who were already married to other men would have just been anti-Mormon rubbish to me. I wondered how my Baptist friend in high school who told me years ago that Joseph used a hat and stone to translate the Book of Mormon ever got wind of such a crazy idea which, of course, I denied. Never would I have believed that any Church leaders could have possibly been against black civil rights in the 60’s because they were all too “nice” or “enlightened” to have such backwards views. Probably the only thing that would have surprised me more was that our “politically neutral” Church sent a letter to California wards telling members how to vote. But of course, if I had known about the ERA then I wouldn’t have needed to be so surprised. Yes, it’s been an action-filled year for me.
Sometimes when I sit in church on Sundays, I feel like I’m in a different world than that of my fellow branch members. Although most of them have a good grasp of the English language, most of them are not at the level that they would be able to read Bushman or listen to Mormon podcasts. They would know about as much about Prop 8 as you all know about ekteskapsloven and probably assume that The September Six were a rock band. Tell them that Emma wasn’t Joseph’s only wife and some of them would surely deny it. And I’m sure that they’re still telling their friends that polygamy was needed because of all the widows and singles.
When I think about it, I’m not sure who is better off: them or me? Would I be better off if I could go back to the days when I had no clue about any of this stuff? Or should they have the opportunity to know more about the history and current events of the Church that they claim is true?
Since the majority of Mormons in this world do not have access to and/or do not have the language skills to read anything other than the few official Church publications in their own language, are they at a disadvantage? I certainly don’t expect the Church to start broadcasting news to its international membership or sponsor the translation of Rough Stone Rolling into 85 languages. Perhaps the Church really can’t do anything more in the case of non-English speaking members. But is it thriving as a result of their ignorance? And if so, does it really matter?
So who is better off? Them or us? We’re always told that we should acquire as much knowledge as possible since it’s the only thing we will take with us from this life. Is Church history an exception?
Who will be able to withstand the challenges that the Church faces in the future? Will it be those who have a solid knowledge of the real Church history so that they have a chance to distinguish truth from rumour, or will it be those who stick to the official publications?
Does the history of Mormonism stand in jeopardy of being forgotten or altered as the non-English speaking membership of the Church abroad continues to grow and become a clear majority?