At times, I'm far more critical of the Church than I should be. Part of this lies in the fact that it's harder to agree insightfully and still add something than to disagree insightfully, since disagreement with the party line provides easier access to questions.
So let's put a few things on the table. I have serious questions about scriptural historicity. I believe the Book of Genesis and much of the Old Testament to be Jewish mythology. Given that, the Book of Moses and Book of Abraham, in my mind, are at least largely allegorical or ahistorical in nature, whether provided by revelation or not. I am open to the possibility that the Book of Mormon is not a historical document, although I see no compelling evidence one way or the other and don't have any of my testimony riding on it. I also don't think the Church can provide one tenth of one percent of what we need to know about salvation and the next life.
That said, I'm troubled by a lot of the negativity that I and others often show. I was prompted to consider this by this excellent post
at LDSLF by Ned Flanders. As usual, Ned is open about his feelings and gives everyone that engages him fairly a good hearing. I must, however, disagree about the "baggage" that Ned and many others on that thread see in the contemporary Church and in Christianity as a whole.
It's true that there were probably some sexual shenanigans in the early Church that shouldn't have been going on. It's true that people of faith have been remiss in treating others with the respect that Christ demands. It's true that we make historical claims that can't often be substantiated.
It's also true that we offer things as a Church that enhance anything good that a member or investigator can bring to the table. We emphasize personal revelation in a way unsurpassed by any. Indeed, RT and Serenity Valley's podcast on the First Vision notes the most important aspect of Joseph's vision: he had a question and God gave him an honest to goodness answer. We don't get visions or even answers all the time, but I do believe that anyone that urgently seeks God can find his hand, whether in the scriptures or in the warm feeling that you get when you do right and know you've done so. The message of the gospel is a message of forgiveness, love, and hope. For me, the most important thing I've learned in the Church is this: that no matter what you do, God is a good guy that cares and he wants you to succeed. I've had tons of trouble lately finding that hope, but I know that it's there and I wouldn't trade it for anything. I also know that God wants you to work out your salvation with fear and trembling with him. I know that you only need the institutional church insofar as it helps you do that and that regardless of the imperfections of the Church, there is a role to be played there. The prophets and apostles are there to help you get the guidance you need in your own life, not to be pointlessly obeyed. They teach us as best as they can with the help of God and it's up to us to get further/different answers for ourselves if we feel we need them.
God doesn't hate you for asking questions or screwing up. He knows you as you are and as you can be. Don't let anybody that teaches you different get you down.
You do not have to insist on unquestioning obedience to leaders to be a faithful Mormon. You can have different views about Book of Mormon historicity. You can define Sabbath observance in different ways according to your circumstances and conscience. You can even insist that PEC meeting is not a conference call with the Lord.
Are there people that disagree and judge anything that moves without a tie on? Of course there are, but the judgmentalism, closed-mindedness, and intolerance of the stereotypical Church member are found in all walks of life. Basically, these things can come along with any firm convictions. It's up to individuals to try and resist them. Don't let them define your view of a faith.
Jesus is the Christ and his life and teachings can serve as an example to any who choose to follow. He honors the best efforts of all of his children to live according to their conscience and best inclinations. Joseph Smith did serve as an instrument in his hands to move his work forward. While our understanding of his role is not complete, the faith that he founded can serve as a foundation for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The authority of the priesthood has been restored and can serve as vital assistance in our journey.
I just wanted to put something positive, honest, and relevant up today (in contrast to the usual fare provided by yours truly). I hope it doesn't come across as a sermon, since it's mostly directed at the mirror.