High-ranking Mormon leader goes from disciple to doubter

Published July 22, 2013 2:45 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Hans Mattsson, at one time an LDS area authority who helped oversee the LDS Church in Europe, says now that his faith has been shaken by facts about Mormon history that he discovered online.

"I felt like I had an earthquake under my feet," Mattsson, now an emeritus area authority, told The New York Times. "Everything I'd been taught, everything I'd been proud to preach about and witness about just crumbled under my feet. It was such a terrible psychological and nearly physical disturbance."

Mattsson may be the highest-ranking Mormon official to go public with his move from disciple to doubter.

But the issues that troubled him — Mormon founder Joseph Smith's practice of polygamy, his claim to having translated ancient writings from the Old Testament prophet Abraham, and the faith's former ban on black men holding the priesthood — have been hashed and rehashed for decades.

In February 2012, The Salt Lake Tribune described waves of Mormons who are leaving the church because of information they found on the Internet.

It's a growing problem, emeritus LDS general authority Marlin Jensen, the Utah-based faith's former church historian, told the paper, and one Mormon leaders are working to confront.

"Never before have we had this information age, with social networking and bloggers publishing unvetted points of view," Jensen said. "The church is concerned about misinformation and distorted information, but we are doing better and trying harder to get our story told in an accurate way."

Joanna Brooks, an LDS scholar, writer and feminist, noted one group of Mormons noticeably absent from the Times' piece: women.

"Mormon women also use the Internet, and ... many of us have there discovered historical controversies that cast the 'official version' of the Mormon story into doubt," Brooks writes in a post at Feminist Mormon Housewives. "But what drives women's disaffection may be different."

They are leaving not only because of a "sense of betrayal and embarrassment over historical secrets kept secret," she writes, "but the hurt caused by practices of discrimination, exclusion and subordination based on race, sexuality and gender."

Peggy Fletcher Stack