When my parents married, they did a very smart thing; they decided to seek marital counseling often, regardless of how their marriage was going. The counselor they saw and became close friends with over a span of decades was the late Carl Broderick, one of my favorite intellectuals and a man the Church was very blessed to know. In one of his talks, The Uses of Adversity, Dr. Broderick related some terrible and tragic ironies faced by people with whom he had counseled, and he delved into some lessons learned from those experiences. The essence of his message can be found in this passage:

I think we do not understand the nature of ourselves. I think we do not understand who we are. Some people call the temple ordinances the “mysteries” of the kingdom. When I went to the temple, I thought I was going to learn which star was Kolob, where the Ten Tribes were, and other such information. But those aren’t the mysteries of the kingdom; the mysteries of the kingdom are who we are, and who God is, and what our relationship to Him is. Those are the mysteries of the kingdom. You can tell somebody in plain English, but they still don’t know in their hearts who they really are.

Dr. Broderick argued persuasively that adversity is a good thing to the extent that it helps us focus on these core questions, that center in our relationship to God. I found this message again in the book In Quiet Desperation, by Ty Mansfield and Fred and Marilyn Matis. That book tells the story of Stuart Matis, an LDS man struggling with same-sex attraction who committed suicide on the steps of a stake center in Northern California in February 2000. I became friends with his sister in 2001 in my singles ward in Utah, which is how I became familiar with his story. In a passage in the book, Stuart’s mother Marilyn writes:

Before Stuart died, there was a time when many voices were pulling at me. Each voice tried to get me to accept a different philosophy of why Stuart was the way he was and what he should do. As a result, I fell upon my knees and cried to Heavenly Father, “I don’t know what is right! I don’t know what is wrong!” I only know that Jesus is the Christ, the Atonement is real, Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, the Book of Mormon is true, and President Gordon B. Hinckley is a modern-day prophet of God!” Just as I finished exclaiming my testimony, the thought came ringing into my mind, Be faithful to the things you know to be true.

Regarding these core propostions of our faith, the Church’s recent press release on doctrine states:

Some doctrines are more important than others and might be considered core doctrines. For example, the precise location of the Garden of Eden is far less important than doctrine about Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice. The mistake that public commentators often make is taking an obscure teaching that is peripheral to the Church’s purpose and placing it at the very center…

The thought struck me after the PBS documentary, and from reading the stories here and in other forums of people who have left the Church for one reason or another, that in these people’s stories, that language of “I know” or “I knew” is missing, and with the exception of Grant Palmer, I do not see in these stories language expressing a conviction centered in Jesus Christ, or more specifically, in the Church’s concept of Jesus Christ. What are more common among “dissenters and exiles” are expressions of a lost sense of community they miss (Margaret Toscano), or memories of having felt like they were a part of something larger than themselves (Trevor Southey), or, as Tal Bachman expressed, memories of a sort of mindless zeal.

How is it that people spend years and years in the Church, and when interviewed for a nationwide TV program on the Church, they find in unnecessary to speak to the core claims of the Church regarding the Atonement? My guess is that if a similar show were done for Evangelical faiths, the people interviewed would express the conviction we should have heard voiced in The Mormons — that their faith stands completely in their conversion to Christ. Moreover, I imagine their convictions would be expressed in experiential language, such as “He changed me,” “In Him I found the strength to turn my life around,” etc., rather than a simple claim of I know, with no further elaboration.

Do we simply have too much of what might be construed as doctrine? Too many exotic doctrinal “side dishes,” so to speak, that serve to remove our focus from the main course? Is it problematic that a four-hour documentary can be made about us, covering vast swaths of our doctrine, without giving more than a slight hint that we are even Christian?