For those who are not already aware, a brief personal narrative: I am a convert of a little over eight years. I joined the Church when I was a freshman in college. My parents are devout Protestants and are deeply involved in their own church and spiritual lives (my mom teaches Sunday School, dad serves on various committees, and both sing in the choir). To put it mildly, they were shocked and hurt when I told them that I had decided to join the Church. Granted, my technique could have used some refining but the short story is that our relationship was damaged for a couple of years and is only recently recovering.
During the early days of my conversion, my parents acquired an impressive library of anti-Mormon literature (if “impressive” is ever an adjective that such a collection deserves), some of which they shared with me. I am not talking about anti-Mormon in the sense of Fawn Brodie or Dan Vogel, but the really nasty stuff, like the God Makers (book not video). So needless to say, I have seen quite a lot of it in my time. I feel like I am pretty familiar with the standard arguments (polygamy, horses and steel in the BOM, etc.). Yet, I have retained my testimony and remain an active member of the Church. I would not dare to attribute this to any special gift of my own. Since people periodically ask me how I kept my testimony throughout this period in my life, I would say the following:
It just never felt good. I know that if any anti-Mormon were to read this right now, they would say, “Oh, there goes the Mormon again, relying on his wishy-washy feelings.” But seriously. I think Richard Bushman has made this kind of defense a little more legitimate in his public affirmations of a continuing faith in the Restoration. For me, the truths I was acquiring those early months as a member of the Church felt and tasted good. It was not just the social life; I have never had much of one, either before or after. I recognized that the authors of this literature had all of the objectivity and good intentions of those who wrote Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Their tactics seemed to be: 1) exaggerate, 2) take things out of context, and failing the success of 1 or 2, 3) lie and invent things out of whole cloth. I knew Mormons and I knew that the things they were accused of believing, they simply did not. The fact that people would make money off of wrecking the faith of others also seemed a little dirty in my mind, only a small step up from the pornographers. Also, over the past years, learning more about early Christian history and scripture (not solely from an LDS viewpoint), I realized how reluctant the critics were to recognize their own weaknesses. Given the vitriol that they poured out and the fact that “that which proceedeth from the mouth of a man defileth him”, I never could see God in anything they were saying. I never made a reasoned defense against each of their claims (like your average evangelical Christian anti-Mormon has any claim on an appeal to pure rationality- “Hey Kettle, you’re black”- thanks to Bushman again for this argument); but their arguments and accusations never hit me with the kind of force where my mind and spirit demanded that a full defense be made.
From time to time, I still run across some anti-Mormon lit, while searching the Internet or browsing through the stacks in the library. The predominant emotion that it inspires in me now is amusement, albeit the kind of amusement (with a bit of sick fascination, pity, exasperation, and a smidge of anger rolled in) that I feel when I watch Fox News or watch evangelical Christians stomp all over each other in a rush to condemn Harry Potter, the Golden Compass, or the Da Vinci Code.
* Let it be known that I don’t intend this to be an ad hominem attack on anti-Mormons (either individually or collectively). I think that Latter-day Saints do themselves a disservice when they dismiss the accusations of anti-Mormons (especially ex-Mormons) because “they just wanted to be wicked” or “they got offended at Church because somebody called them to repentance.” Though I am sure that in some instances, this may indeed be the case, I am convinced that on the whole it does not do anything to address their claims. Some of them may have a genuine grievance with the Church and have chosen to express it and act out in an inappropriate way. Others may be completely ignorant of the Church and are just repeating what they have been told in the past.
** I also want it to be clear that I don’t reject anti-Mormon literature simply because the Church and its people are perfect and therefore immune to criticism. I think that my own posts here and comments elsewhere prove that I do not believe that. However, I do not think that the typical anti-Mormon arguments address any valid substantive criticism that could be made against the Church, in any way that would make the lives of the members of the Church or non-members any better because of it.