“The Dominant Church Narrative Is Not True”


This, according to Dr. Richard Bushman. I have many friends who have left the church because they, also, have found out what Bushman knows. More friends are on the fence. “The dominant church narrative is NOT TRUE.”


Dr. Richard Bushman, is a serving LDS patriarch, former stake president, historian, expert on Joseph Smith, and author of Rough Stone Rolling.  At a recent fireside, he was the featured speaker.  During the Q&A, the following exchange took place:

Questioner:  “In your view, do you see room in Mormonism for several narratives of a religious experience or do you think that in order for the Church to remain strong they would have to hold to that dominant [orthodox] narrative?”

Richard Bushman:  “I think that for the Church to remain strong it has to reconstruct its narrative.  The dominant narrative is not true;  it can’t be sustained.  The Church has to absorb all this new information or it will be on very shaky grounds and that’s what it is trying to do, and it will be a strain for a lot of people, older people especially.  But I think it has to change.”

Not True

Thank you, Richard Bushman, for validating what so many of us already know! “The dominant narrative is not true!”

We have been taught, and are still teaching, things that are untrue. Untrue = false. Teaching a known falsehood = lying.  Either way, unwittingly teaching falsehoods or lying, neither should an integral part of the “only true and living church.”

Somehow, our LDS culture has developed to where it’s improper, stigmatized, or outright forbidden to discuss “new information.” As a result, half truths and falsehoods are commonly taught. Openly discussing our history, doctrine and policies is not permitted, at least not in my locale.

It Can’t Be Sustained

So, why are we trying so hard to sustain & control our current curriculum and discussion?

I think many members are totally fine with the falsehoods in the church. For them, the false narrative feels safe. I’m OK with that.

However, there is a large and growing group of members who will not tolerate a narrative saturated with falsity.  I have joined this group.  Feeling betrayed, many have left.  Feeling betrayed, I stay.  Still committed to the church. Still committed to truth.  No longer committed to false narratives.  Life is too short.  Salvation, too precious to embrace what I & Bushman know to be false.

MoroniAll Truth Can Be Circumscribed Into One Great Whole

I now pay very close attention to the covenants and doctrines of the temple. At the end of the endowment ceremony, we are taught that “all truth can be circumscribed into one great whole.” Profound and thought provoking.  The church is violating it’s own temple instruction.  It has circumscribed falsehoods into the “great whole” and consigned much truth into hidden obscurity.

My temple covenants are more sacred to me than circumscribing a narrative that is “not true.”

Driving Members Away

I have been told that we should never discuss our true and complete history and doctrine at church.  It can cause people to lose their testimonies.

What a weird thing to say!  So, it’s better to hide the truth so that a person will continue to believe the “truth” that’s really not true?  I know that there are adults in the church who want to be treated this way.  Not this adult.  In fact, most adults would say this is not adult behavior.  “When I became a man, I put away childish things.”

I now see the other side.  Not discussing our complete history and doctrine at church is causing members to lose their testimony.  It has driven my friends right out of the LDS church. The church whose “dominant narrative is not true.”

Teaching and embracing falsehood is not good…at least, not in my neighborhood.  My church is good, it’s time to get better.

17 thoughts on ““The Dominant Church Narrative Is Not True”

  1. Amen.

    I would say that now, not talking about the whole truth is driving people away.

    I love the Ice Cream analogy from Patrick Mason (Patrick took over the Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies after Richard Bushman left this position)


    I bit of a long read, but very insightful.

    P.S. – I am enjoying the heck out of your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your amazingly kind remark. One day you’ll have to tell me how you knew me in the past.

      A couple of months ago, I read Planted. I highlighted the heck out of it. Initially, it was angry highlights: “That’s a lie.” “He’s talking about a church that doesn’t exist.” “Damnit, that’s stupid.” But, the last maybe 1/3 of the book was tremendous. The church has to move in the direction he suggests.

      P.S. –I’m enjoying the heck out of somebody enjoying the heck out off my blog.


  2. Richard Bushman Clarifies statement , and reaffirms his Faith in the Prophet Joseph Smith—July 19, 2016

    In the middle of the week last week I began to receive thank you notes from people who had read a statement of mine about the Church’s historical narrative requiring reconstruction. I had no idea what was going on until Dan Peterson wrote about a “kerfuffle”—the word of choice for the occasion—on the blogs. At church on Sunday, D. Fletcher asked me, did you know you were the subject of a kerfuffle. A friend who had been mission president in Brazil sent me a link to a blog in Portugese. Eventually I learned it all began with the transcript of a comment I made at a fireside at Mark England’s house a little over a month ago and posted by John Dehlin.

    Sampling a few of the comments on Dan Peterson’s blog I discovered that some people thought I had thrown in the towel and finally admitted the Church’s story of its divine origins did not hold up. Others read my words differently; I was only saying that there were many errors in the standard narrative that required correction.

    The reactions should not have surprised me. People have had different takes on Rough Stone Rolling ever since it came out. Some found the information about Joseph Smith so damning his prophethood was thrown into question. Others were grateful to find a prophet who had human flaws, giving them hope they themselves could qualify for inspiration despite their human weaknesses. The same facts; opposite reactions.

    The different responses mystify me. I have no idea why some people are thrown for a loop when they learn church history did not occur as they had been taught in Sunday School, while others roll with the punches. Some feel angry and betrayed; others are pleased to have a more realistic account. One theorist has postulated an “emotional over-ride” that affects how we respond to information. But the admission that we ourselves are subjective human beings whose rational mechanisms are not entirely trustworthy does not diminish our sense that we are right and our counterparts mistaken.

    As it is, I still come down on the side of the believers in inspiration and divine happenings—in angels, plates, translations, revelations—while others viewing the same facts are convinced they disqualify Joseph Smith entirely. A lot of pain, anger, and alienation come out of these disputes. I wish we could find ways to be more generous and understanding with one another.

    Richard Bushman

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Arnold,

      Thanks for this important clarification. It’s great that Bushman has no problems with the history and doctrine that he’s studied for decades. But, he’s dead right that changes to the church’s narrative must be made. According to him, our dominant story is not true.

      I don’t know if you have family or friends who have left over the issues to which Bushman is referring. I do. It saddens me. Today, there is no solution. We are not even trying. Bushman can openly discuss the very history and doctrine that I am forbidden to discuss at church. When falsehoods are taught, I am politely instructed to shut up. Bushman knows that this is not sustainable. More friends and family are going to leave unless we reconstruct our “not true” narrative and allow people to talk about our actually true narrative without stigmatizing them.

      My faith journey began over 2 years ago. I have spoken with the bishop and stake president about providing a space to discuss for those having doubts and questions. No action, yet. Eighteen months ago, the bishop said that I was the only person questioning. As of four months ago, he has seen several leave under his watch. Two are former bishops. We’re supposed to meet next Sunday to address what might be done going forward.

      After 2 years, my friends and family who have left will likely never come back. When I hear of reactivation efforts, I’m left with a hollow and empty feeling, knowing that we could have done so much more when people were searching. Instead, we judge them, diminish them and leave them in the hands of the opposition.

      Elder Ballard recently instructed CES employees that “gone are the days” that we avoid answering hard questions, “gone are the days” that we can just bear our testimonies and ignore the issues. These words need to be spoken on local levels to local leaders. It’s time to follow the prophets here. Before more of my friends and family bolt.

      By the way, I wouldn’t consider his statement a “kerfuffle,” as Dan Peterson designates and diminishes it. To me, and anybody who sees the church’s big problem, this is an honest, open & profound statement that is calling out for attention and action.

      I love it that he reaffirms his faith in Joseph Smith. That’s good. Not long ago, I wrote a blog post entitled, “Joseph Smith IS My Hero.” But, the problem with our “not true” narrative still remains and desperately needs to be addressed. I concur with Bushman on all three, Joseph Smith, false narrative, and unsustainability.

      Bushman’s not throwing in the towel. Neither am I.


    2. Arnold – I too have read this (actually watched the video). Like Bushman I am interested in how 2 people can look at the same information and come to a different conclusion. I respect Bushman and those that wish to stay in the church and do believe. I actually respect Bushman WAY more than most as he has done the hard work of looking at the ugly history and has the faith in his beliefs. In fact I will say I respect him more than the Q12 and 1st Presidency in general. I feel that they don’t seem to have that same strong faith, but instead fear anything “yucky” in our history and have repeatedly whitewashed history (even sometimes “lying for the Lord”). I like the analogy that my link above from Patrick Mason when he talked about how we are taught – literally. He talked about object lessons where some ice cream is scooped up and shown to youth asking if they want it. Then a bit of dirt is put on it and nobody wants it. The dirt is then said to be like sin and even a bit of it ruins the whole. So when people find not just a sprinkling of dirt, but a LOT of unsavory things in church history, we have been told in our past that it is all been tainted and it makes it hard to believe.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank You Sam. And thank you for keeping it real on MS podcast fb group. Enjoyed your thoughts. I am with you. Still in Church, but distraught and upset and annoyed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Susanne. I’m glad you have found a way to stay in the church. I admire you for it. For those who have left, I understand and DO NOT look down on the path they have chosen. I now have tons of good friends who have left. Sometimes, I feel like the lonely path is to stay in. So, thanks for reaching out and sharing where you are at. Over the past few months, I feel like I have landed in a good spot and in the church. Navigating is still frequently challenging. But, it’s getting better as I learn to cope with one issue at a time. My new understanding of temple covenants was a huge step.

      If I can ever be of help, feel free to reach out. I have organized a “Talkeria” here is Houston that seems to be very helpful to all who come to discuss the church issues they are dealing with. Don’t know is there is anything comparable in your area, but you might want to check it out.

      All My Best to you in your journey, Sam


  4. Sam,
    Appreciate the clarity of your post. As to the temple I was an ordinance worker for a period of time. I find profundity in the temple such as taking the “unacceptable offering” of demanding the blood of animals and others, including Jesus, for your/our sins rather than placing ourselves/sins on the altar–the acceptable offering.
    But I also see cultural and serious errant manipulation such as the ultimate bait and switch at the end of the ceremony where we are invited to covenant ALL to the church with God as our witness rather then the covenant all to God with church as our witness. That for me is the core pernicious error of our gentile church in that it demands allegiance to “it” and is so doing has created an idol from which other pernicious errors flow—such as allegiance to leaders
    regardless, I am still “planted” in the faith community/tribe and intend to remain even if only in the hallways/margins

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a tremendously insightful narrative, Ron. Thank you (and Sam) so much!!! This website has been a “Godsend” for me. I’m hanging in with the Church – just by my fingernails – in the hopes that there will be a major shift in how the organization conducts itself; and how if treats its’ members and their resources. God bless, guys!


  5. Temple covenants are important? What if they have been altered? Are they still effective? Does God still honor them? Has God told you that he has accepted his side of the covenant? If not, is it still an effectual covenant?

    Things to consider.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Well, to me it’s not so much that the church needs to alter it’s story so that it reflects reality. It’s that once you’ve done that, there’s no way that this is a “true” church in the sense that Bushman still seems to be clinging to. Joseph Smith didn’t see God the Father and Jesus Christ in the flesh. The Book of Abraham is a flat-out fraud. Polygamy is a huge misogynistic mistake mainly (admittedly not entirely, but mainly) made to satisfy Joseph’s libido, that he stole the temple rites from masonry, in part to hide his polygamy and tie his followers to him with the lie. Enough evidence exists that Joseph started out as a conman and that his cons simply got more and more sophisticated as he grew older – and he may have come to believe some of his own con (but so what?). Circumscribe the facts into one great whole and the truth you have is that the church is not a divine institution in the least. In which case, why cling to it. From my perspective, this is particularly true for women. The damaging lies the church tells to and about women are enough in themselves to make an effort to “stay and make it better” both foolish and worthless.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear blaja,
      Thanks, for your comment. So insightful.

      My absolute biggest problem with teaching half truths and falsehoods is this. It either impedes or completely negates the concept of free agency. Christ taught that the “truth shall make you free.” What does a narrative that is “not true” make of us? The opposite of free? Slaves? Whatever, we are not truly free to make a truly informed choice. To me, this is closer to Satan’s plan, not the Savior’s.

      By knowing the full truth, we are free and empowered to make a well considered choice. This, as an adult, rather than as a child who is sheltered & protected from what is real. With all the information at hand, many have made and will make the same decision that you have, belaja. It’s a good decision that should be honored and respected by all. Richard Bushman, having the same information at hand, has chosen a different path. I have also chosen a path that is different from both you and Bushman. I’m likely just speaking as one person here, but, I think ALL these decisions should be respected and honored.

      Besides factual history and doctrine, there are lots of other factors that affect our conclusions regarding the church. Family, friends, church status, worldly status, & business relationships, to mention a few. Ideally, all decisions would be made on the truth alone. That’s not the reality. But, we ought to have the real truth, so we can at least factor it into whatever decisions we ultimately make.

      And, oh man, THANKS for reading my blog!

      All My Best, Sam


  7. I appreciate Belaja’s perspective. (And I really, really appreciate your encouragement, Sam, for everyone to express their own perspective, even if it differs. That is a skill not readily found either inside or out of the LDS church.) My own perspective differs considerably both from the standard LDS and from Belaja’s. I left the church roughly a decade ago. I did *not* leave because I couldn’t reconcile it’s history, but rather because I couldn’t reconcile Moroni’s promise. But that’s another topic. For this blog I’ll just stick to my thoughts on the “sustainability of the dominant narrative”.

    Perhaps I’m just weird, but my leaving seems atypical to the majority I have heard about. But maybe there is something in my story that would be useful for “faithful” LDS to consider. I keep hearing over and over that people have found out about problems in LDS history, or lack of corroboration (things like DNA doesn’t point to Near East origin of Native Americans), and feel angry/betrayed, etc. and end up leaving the church. I, on the other hand, had a supportive family environment where such things were discussed quite openly. I have known of most of these issues for a long time, long before I left the church. Because they were acknowledge openly by believing, active, faithful members of the church, they didn’t seem that big a deal to me. The basic message of the gospel was what was important, and these issues were secondary. Joseph a philanderer? OK, but hasn’t God chosen imperfect representatives throughout all of history? Can’t a person be imperfect and still do a good work? If not, what hope is there for any of us! The critical issues were IMO, did Christ atone for us? Is there power in priesthood ordinances? How do we show love one to another? Do we thirst after knowledge, righteousness, and goodness. Why the Book of Abraham doesn’t match the papyri I figured would be answered in due time… Maybe not this life, but ambiguity isn’t always bad. The question is, is there any value in the teachings of the book?

    The problem only comes when we insist on perfection. When we pretend that we and all that pertains to us is above reproach then of course we’ll fall short. A naive insistence on perfection may be understandable when we are the age of children who believe in Santa. But anyone who has seem my ex-wife playing Santa knows that the joy of Christmas can grow after one has learned “the truth” about Santa. It doesn’t have to diminish. Similarly, knowledge of our “real” history, or scriptures, or imperfect leaders, or whatever, does not have to lead to despair. Actually, I believe it can lead to a much more mature faith. One that is stronger and more beautiful. The travesty is that when we insist on clinging to children’s stories, it’s the awakening and the deception that is jarring and damaging, not the real-life story itself.

    So, I think you are doing a good work for the church, Sam. I think the recent baby steps by the church to be more open (even if they are reluctantly taken) is a step in the right direction. Who knows, perhaps if I had seen more steps like these when I was deciding if I wanted to join CES, rather than reading that we should only teach “faith-promoting” history, maybe I would have made a career of CES. (Of course, now I’m thankful I didn’t!)

    Liked by 1 person

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