Putting Things on the Shelf

Part of a series about My Faith Journey.

Like many true-believing members of the LDS church, I occasionally encountered things that would challenge my faith: apparent conflicts between Mormonism and science, claims by Christians that Mormons weren't Christian, or teachings that didn't quite match my lived experience. When I encountered these, I often wondered what to do with them.

Camilla Kimball, wife of LDS prophet/president Spencer Kimball, gave this useful metaphor:

“I’ve always had an inquiring mind. I’m not satisfied just to accept things. I like to follow through and study things out. I learned early to put aside those gospel questions that I couldn’t answer. I had a shelf of things I didn’t understand, but as I’ve grown older and studied and prayed and thought about each problem, one by one I’ve been able to better understand them.”

Click here for the full article from the Ensign magazine.

I found this to be a handy way to delay thinking about these troubling topics. Why did the church practice polygamy? Dunno. I'll just put it  on the shelf. Why did God decide to not let black people hold the priesthood or enter the temple before 1978? No idea. Up it goes on the shelf. What's this I hear about connections between Freemasonry and Mormonism? Heck, there's room on the shelf for that, too. I remember going into the temple once and seeing the cash registers for renting clothes. Didn't Jesus cast out the moneychangers at the temple..? Nevermind, I've got room on my shelf for that too. My dad mentioned to me once that critics of the Book of Mormon point out that Nephi had a bow made of fine steel, but such steel wouldn't be invented until hundreds (maybe thousands) of years later. Who cares? I already had a testimony that the Book of Mormon was true, so I can just put a detail like that up on the shelf. Besides, my family life and church callings kept me plenty busy, so I really don't have time to think about all this stuff.

Seeing others leave the fold

I saw a number of people leave the church, which also added weight to my shelf. They included: a prominent member of my home ward (he got silenced in a testimony meeting once), several relatives (family reunions were a little strained afterward), a guy my age that I grew up with, and a coworker. In all of these cases, I was reluctant to learn too many of the details as to why they left. I abided by the church teaching of not listening to apostates or any "anti-mormon" stuff they might have to say. Just seeing these people leave added weight to my shelf, so I didn't want the additional weight that would come from hearing what they had to say.

As the years wore on, I found my shelf was getting heavier and heavier, but no cracks (yet).