I was asked in my stake to present my thoughts on what we can do to help both those with crippling doubts find faith and those without a crisis of faith to avoid them, and to also help leader, family, and friends be more supportive. This episode is an out flow of that with the 15 points shared below in text form for you to use.
1) EVERY LEADER SHOULD BE FAMILIAR WITH NEW GOSPEL TOPICS ARTICLES AND CHURCH WEBSITES SUCH AS MORMONSANDGAYS.ORG
All should be aware of the dynamic changes the Church has made in its approach to its own history along with many of its policies. How the Church views is past approaches to those who are gay, the Book of Abraham and how it came to be, how the Book of Mormon was Translated, past Doctrines on why blacks could not have priesthood….. all have been revisited and revised in the past few years. Old viewpoints and stances in many cases are incorrect, outdated and offensive. The only way to implement new approaches is to be aware of them.
2.) RECOGNIZE THE INHERENT FLEXIBILITY THAT IS IN THE GOSPEL
Many in the Church see the gospel in a black and white way. For them it is easy to define the lines that are set. In reality many Doctrines are more nuanced than that. The 10% of what that tithing is paid on is up to the member (gross, net, surplus). Whether one believes in Evolution or what age the Earth is up to the member. How figurative or allegorical one believes many of the bible stories to be is up to the member (ex: the creation and the Garden), Was the flood local or Global, was there humans before Adam and Eve – are much more complex issues than many at first thought had assumed.
3.) ALLOW “FAITH, HOPE AND BELIEF” TO HAVE AS MUCH ROOM AS “KNOWING”
We have culturally created an environment where the only acceptable testimony is to “Know”. We have taught that an appropriate testimony uses the words “I Know”. But this is incorrect by modern Church teachings. Elder Holland stated recently in his talk “Lord I believe” that “I hugged that boy until his eyes bulged out. I told him with all the fervor of my soul that belief is a precious word, an even more precious act, and he need never apologize for “only believing.” While in the Church we emphasize Moroni 10:3-5 and James 1:5 which speak of pure knowledge coming from God, we also must validate Alma 32 which says that for some their testimonies are based more on the fruit of principles and less on historical facts. We also have D&C 46:13-14 which says that the gift of faith varies from person to person and how one’s faith operates varies based on how God distributes his gift. D&C 109:7 and 88:117 also declare that “not all have faith” and yet is talking about those who are worthily part of the fold and participate fully in the gospel.
4.) MAKE AN EFFORT TO HELP WARDS GET RID OF FOLK DOCTRINE AND SPECULATION
Many members learned a very rigid Mormonism that had answers for every question when in reality they are incorrect. Many of these “Folk Doctrines” are still alive today and unfortunately create barriers to faith when new truth is discovered. Some of these include (The Doctrine is that the Earth is 6,000 years old, that Evolution must absolutely be false, That Christ was absolutely born on April 6th, that there was absolutely no death before a literal fall in a literal Garden upon the entire earth, that Soda Pop is against the letter of the Law of the Word of Wisdom, that blacks couldn’t have Priesthood prior to 1978 because they were less valiant or that they had the mark of Cain, being Gay is a choice, and that interracial marriage is sin.
Unfortunately many of these were even taught by leaders at one time or another but each is nowhere to be found in the official Doctrine of the Church and as Elder Uchtdorf said in his talk “Come Join With us” that “And, to be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine. “ So we will have to get comfortable with our leaders making mistakes and recognize that we will need to let some of those mistakes go.
5.) PUT SOMEONE OUT FRONT WHO DOUBTERS CAN TRUST AND WILL OPENLY TALK TO
Many of those who lose faith are experiencing an anguish similar to losing a loved one to death. There is loss, anger, sadness, angst, depression, worry about the future, etc…. They are afraid to talk to their leaders and their family. This fear is twofold – one: we have culturally placed a negative stigma on doubt. Doubters are seen as “less than” the other members who “know” and that will result in inappropriate judgment and ridicule or diminishing of one’s questions and concerns. Two: they worry that if they express their doubts they may hurt the testimony of those they talk to. For this reason, most remain silent (studies have been done and this can be validated) In order to open up they need someone out front who empathizes, understands, and who can bear their burden with them while also offering a path back. This is in my mind crucial.
6.) DON’T TEACH OR ENCOURAGE BLIND OBEDIENCE
We often teach a “follow the Brethren even if they are wrong” mentality and even add at times “you will be blessed for it”. While this issue is complex and there are times when it is best to follow a leader even when you disagree, I would be very careful of such. There are simply too many instances of exceptions to this that to insist on this as an absolute simply misses the mark.
Rather we should encourage something similar to what Elder Uchtdorf taught in his CES fireside “What is Truth” when he said – “Latter-day Saints are not asked to blindly accept everything they hear. We are encouraged to think and discover truth for ourselves. We are expected to ponder, to search, to evaluate, and thereby to come to a personal knowledge of the truth. Brigham Young said: “I am … afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security. … Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates.”
7.) DISTINGUISH AND HELP MEMBERS DISTINGUISH BETWEEN CULTURE AND DOCTRINE.
Again this is a complex issue. Most members assume all Church teachings are “true” Doctrine. This can be historically shown to be a false assumption. In fact two Leaders have addressed this directly.
Elder Christofferson stated in his talk “The Doctrine of Christ” that “At the same time it should be remembered that not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. It is commonly understood in the Church that a statement made by one leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, not meant to be official or binding for the whole Church. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “a prophet [is] a prophet only when he [is] acting as such.”
Elder Anderson then followed this up with more clarification in the next General Conference with a quote from the talk “trial of your faith” when he said “A few question their faith when they find a statement made by a Church leader decades ago that seems incongruent with our doctrine. There is an important principle that governs the doctrine of the Church. The doctrine is taught by all 15 members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. It is not hidden in an obscure paragraph of one talk. True principles are taught frequently and by many. Our doctrine is not difficult to find. “ —– AKA – when in doubt, we should stick to basics
8.) HELP MEMBERS UNDERSTAND THAT LEADERS ARE FALLIBLE AND HAVE MADE MISTAKES THEREBY CREATING A REALISTIC EXPECTATION THAT WON’T SET THEM UP FOR A LETDOWN
Taking the quotes above about what is Doctrine and the one earlier where Elder Uchtdorf acknowledges mistakes into consideration, we ought teach members a realistic expectation of apostles and prophets. That while they have been called to a holy office and calling, they are imperfect mortal men, and that while they are a source for truth, it is God through the Holy Ghost who is the ultimate source. (For by the power of the Holy Ghost, you may know the truth of all things Moroni 10:5) By teaching this you teach a realistic expectation that can be lived up to.
9.) DO NOT ASSUME THAT THE INFORMATION THE DOUBTER HAS LEARNED HAS COME FROM ANTI-MORMON SOURCES
When one is confronted by a member who has discovered difficulties in Church history and theology – the first response is to assume they have read such from Anti-Mormon sources. The second assumption is to assume that the information are simply lies. While some material out there is intentionally false and deceptive, Most information that causes questions is to some extent true and found directly in LDS sources such as Brigham Young’s “Journal of Discourses”, Elder McConkie’s “Mormon Doctrine”, and in other valid sources. While the questions another brings up may be new to you or may seem preposterous based on your current understanding, you should be prepared for new information that is true, that doesn’t fit your current understanding. Elder Uchtdorf spoke of this when he said in the “What is Truth” Fireside – “We too often confuse belief with truth, thinking that because something makes sense or is convenient, it must be true. Conversely, we sometimes don’t believe truth or reject it—because it would require us to change or admit that we were wrong. Often, truth is rejected because it doesn’t appear to be consistent with previous experiences.
When the opinions or “truths” of others contradict our own, instead of considering the possibility that there could be information that might be helpful and augment or complement what we know, we often jump to conclusions or make assumptions that the other person is misinformed, mentally challenged, or even intentionally trying to deceive.”
10.) DO NOT ACCUSE THE DOUBTER OF SINNING OR THAT HIS PROBLEMS WOULD BE FIXED BY PRAYING MORE OR READING MORE SCRIPTURES. DO NOT ACCUSE THOSE WHO LOSE FAITH AND LEAVE OR WHO ARE THINKING OF LEAVING OF BEING TARES AMONGST THE WHEAT OR LESS THAN IN ANY WAY. WHILE ON SOME RARE OCCASSIONS SOME OF THESE ASSUMPTIONS MAY BE TRUE, THEY ARE THE EXCEPTION TO THE RULE. INSTEAD MAKE ROOM FOR THE DOUBTER TO BELONG AND FEEL INCLUDED.
Elder Uchtdorf said it best in his talk “Come Join With Us” when he stated
“One might ask, “If the gospel is so wonderful, why would anyone leave? Sometimes we assume it is because they have been offended or lazy or sinful. Actually, it is not that simple. In fact, there is not just one reason that applies to the variety of situations. Some of our dear members struggle for years with the question whether they should separate themselves from the Church. In this Church that honors personal agency so strongly, that was restored by a young man who asked questions and sought answers, we respect those who honestly search for truth. It may break our hearts when their journey takes them away from the Church we love and the truth we have found, but we honor their right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience, just as we claim that privilege for ourselves.”
He then followed up with a Christlike invitation when he stated “To those who have separated themselves from the Church, I say, my dear friends, there is yet a place for you here. Come and add your talents, gifts, and energies to ours. We will all become better as a result. Some might ask, “But what about my doubts?” It’s natural to have questions—the acorn of honest inquiry has often sprouted and matured into a great oak of understanding. There are few members of the Church who, at one time or another, have not wrestled with serious or sensitive questions. One of the purposes of the Church is to nurture and cultivate the seed of faith—even in the sometimes sandy soil of doubt and uncertainty. Faith is to hope for things which are not seen but which are true. “ “Regardless of your circumstances, your personal history, or the strength of your testimony, there is room for you in this Church. Come, join with us!”
Lastly a quote from Joseph F Smith – “”Members of the Mormon church are not all united on every principle. Every man is entitled to his own opinion and his own views and his own conceptions of right and wrong so long as they do not come in conflict with the standard principles of the Church. If a man assumes to deny God and to become an infidel we withdraw fellowship from him. But so long as a man believes in God and has a little faith in the Church organization, we nurture and aid that person to continue faithfully as a member of the Church though he may not believe all that is revealed.”
11.) ENCOURAGE TRUTH SEEKING, ENCOURAGE QUESTIONS… EVEN TOUGH ONES, VALIDATE CONCERNS RATHER THAN MINIMIZING
Again I will simply share quotes from Church Leaders
What we should encourage –
“Latter-day Saints are not asked to blindly accept everything they hear. We are encouraged to think and discover truth for ourselves. We are expected to ponder, to search, to evaluate, and thereby to come to a personal knowledge of the truth.” – Elder Uchtdorf
“I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not.” – Brigham Young
It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teachings of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man’s doctrine. You cannot accept the books written by the authorities of the Church as standards in doctrine, only in so far as they accord with the revealed word in the standard works. Every man who writes is responsible, not the Church, for what he writes. If Joseph Fielding Smith writes something which is out of harmony with the revelations, then every member of the Church is duty bound to reject it. If he writes that which is in perfect harmony with the revealed word of the Lord, then it should be accepted. – Joseph Fielding Smith
12.) TEACH MEMBERS NOT TO EXPECT THE CHURCH TO TEACH ALL CHURCH HISTORY AND INFORMATION. WE SHOULD EACH BE EXPECTED TO LEARN BEYOND THE THREE HOUR BLOCK AND DISCOVER TRUTH OUTSIDE OF CHURCH.
If members believe that the Church will teach them all the available history and theology within the Church, they will be set up for a letdown. There is much of our history that is not covered in a Church setting (ex: polygamy). Many members feel deceived when they discover they have gone decades without knowing some of the undiscussed facts of our history. This feeling of deception causes a loss of trust and becomes a quick slope to a loss of faith. We need to help members see that Church is in place to serve a certain purpose and that while all things are not discussed or covered, that each member is welcome to learn outside of the Church’s setting and materials.
13.) HELP LEADERS RECOGNIZE THAT THOSE WHO ENCOUNTER MAJOR DOUBTS CAN’T GO BACK TO THEIR OLD WAY OF PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER. RATHER THEY MUST MOVE FORWARD AND REBUILD THEIR FAITH IN A DIFFERENT WAY.
Once one has been opened up to the complexity and nuance of our faith’s history, theology, and Doctrine one can never go back to the way things were. Rather they have to be permitted to take their faith apart and put it back together in a way that works. It will look different, it will seem strange to others, and yet it will be real to them. If others try to force them back to an old paradigm, they will feel as though there is little or no place left for them within our faith and they will likely leave. It will be uncomfortable for others to accept this person’s new faith, but if we want any hope of helping them, then we need to step outside our comfort zone.
14.) FOCUS ON EMPATHY AND NOT HAVING AN ANSWER TO EVERY QUESTION. WE MUST MOVE BEYOND THINKING MORMONISM ANSWERS AL THE QUESTIONS.
Elder Marlin Jensen (former seventy and former Church historian) said when speaking about high number of members losing faith in our day and how we need to interact with them – “when someone comes with a bit of a prickly question, he’ll be met with a bishop who number one, doesn’t know the answer. Number two, he snaps and says, ‘Get in line and don’t question the prophet, and get back and do your home teaching.’ And that isn’t helpful in most cases. So, we need to educate our leaders better, I think, to be sympathetic and empathetic and to draw out of these people where they are coming from and what’s brought them to the point they are at. What they have read, what they are thinking is, and try to understand them. Sometimes that alone is enough to help someone through a hard time. But beyond that, I think we really need to figure out a way to live a little bit with people who may never get completely settled.”
15.) FAMILY AND WARD DYNAMICS – FRIENDS, CHURCH MEMBERS, AND FAMILY SHOULD BE ENCOURAGED TO BUILD RELATIONSHIPS RATHER THAN SHUN OR WITHDRAW. NO ONE SHOULD DIVORCE OVER THIS ISSUE.
Encourage members to continue to love and support their spouses and family members who lose faith. One who holds hope should be encouraged to participate fully. As Elder Uchtdorf said, even those that have doubts should “Come Join with us” I think there are enough couples in every ward and stake going through this that it may merit at least a brief statement in a stake conference. Couples should be encouraged to stick together if one spouse goes through a faith transition (as long as there are not other deeper issues as well). Perhaps a sister in the stake could give a talk about how she was able to help her marriage thrive despite the fact that her spouse left the church. I think this would go a long way.
Many feel they must choose between their Church and their unbelieving spouse when one spouse stops believing– This should never be the case.
1st Corinthians 7:12 –15 hits on this issue.
12 If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.
13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.
14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.
15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.
http://magazine.byu.edu/?act=view&a=3306 <—BYU Magazine
http://www.fairmormon.org/perspectives/fair-conferences/2013-fair-conference/2013-the-loss-and-rekindling-of-faith <—– conference I moderated on the subject
http://www.lifeongoldplates.com/2008/08/bushmans-introduction-to-joseph-smith.html <—- Richard Bushman describes the issue well
http://terrylgivens.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2010/03/Letter-to-a-Doubter.pdf <— LDS Scholar, Terryl Givens, hits on many key issues
“Faith Crisis 101″ – http://www.fairmormonsupport.org/fc101.php
“Pray With Your Feet” – http://richalger.blogspot.com/2012/09/praying-with-your-feet.html