Help thou my unbelief

And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.

I had a conversation over email the other day with a good friend, who is concerned that we continue to lack the individual and organizational tools to talk about serious faith issues at church. What’s the best way to react and help others when they are at a low point in their testimonies?

From my friend:

So how would you help a person who just discovered all the troubling historical details of JS’s polygamy, etc? I just got a letter from a former mission prez and bishop about people they know in this situation who are on the verge of resigning. I could help them but I can’t because of my job. Where is the [trusted resource] who can provide tools to navigate this stuff? Don’t just say the essays. I’m talking about a real person, who could help the newly dismayed find a way to balance their faith with these discoveries?

Could there by a team of people? Or maybe the church could train bishops in this? What do you think?

Here’s what I replied: I think places like BCC, T&S and others can help. I can do it, and have done it. So have my friends. The Maxwell Institute people are good. I don’t think training solves this problem. I view part of BCC’s mission as helping people there. We’re not quite on point, but we at least serve as an example that you can navigate these issues and survive (and even be happy!). I’d also suggest that the solution is not really in podcasts or blogs or the Joseph Smith Papers, but in lived Mormonism and in service to each other.

She wrote back: “But I do think there are many more people than ever in faith crises. I don’t think podcasts are the answer, either, but rather, as you say, in lived Mormonism. When people first encounter stuff they didn’t know and don’t know how to process, they need live human beings, friends, family or ward members to talk about how they reconcile the issues. This MP and bishop were looking for someone who could talk to their ward member and neither felt capable of addressing the historic questions she was raising. Ideally, however, these conversations could be had at church, not just in hushed hallways or in FB postings. That’s why I suggested some kind of training. Most bishops probably don’t even know about the essays as a resource. But even with those, you have to start with a pretty broad and generous view of scripture and history and few church leaders understand that. Their hearts are in the right place, to be sure, but they don’t have the skills to combat the very real threats to people’s faith.”

Sorry for over-indulging you guys with a prior conversation. But I would like to explore the issue of how every day members can help each other strengthen their faith. I think some elements of the approach are common sense: being compassionate, being a good listener, exploring issues together with those we love. This strikes me as the application of our injunction to “comfort those who stand in need of comfort,” while being witnesses of God at all times. If we solely provide comfort without being witnesses of God, I wonder if we are ultimately failing in our duty. Similarly, if we are nothing but wooden testimonies, we fail as fellow Saints. In other words: pure apologetics doesn’t seem to be the right course; diving into the history without a purpose may not help; and affirming faith may require more than just lending an ear.

What do you say to a friend who is really struggling? What do you do, as a friend, as a bishop, as a neighbor? Do those different roles involve different duties or different modes of speech? If so, what?


  1. Pete Busche says:

    So basically we don’t have a solution yet…because our solution is still blogs, podcasts, fb chats, and hallways. It’s too taboo for the Church to thrust on their lay members. Maybe some sort of big FHEs with real people having real discussions, offering support and a listening ear. They probably couldn’t be Church-endorsed, but I would really like those.

  2. I’ve seen meetings held in homes for those who don’t feel comfortable I a Sunday setting. These meetings provided a soft floor to bounce off of when difficult cultural and doctrinal issues were at stake. Sort of a modified Gospel Essentials class, but with real meat and substance. It was led by experienced, loving and “safe” members who were not currently holding a calling that would have them interview, judge or issue callings or recommends. What was said to stay in the meeting home on the part of the leader/teacher. It brought a number of people back to mainstream wards eventually.

  3. C, was this a calling, or were these informally organized?

  4. As long as mere faith is subordinated to knowledge…”I don’t just believe, I KNOW”…then finding a solution will be difficult. Belief is considered inadequate; mere hope even more so. If you have deep roots in the culture or the culture aligns with your own preferences, making the effort to carry on can be worth it. But when it doesn’t, and every voice around you seems to say “Shut up!” or “You’re doing it wrong!” then it’s easier to take the path of least resistance, which is to walk away.

    It’s going to require a major change in the culture – more tolerance for honest questions. Less defensiveness. I don’t blame the faithful for this. Saints are so beleaguered by outside cynicism/snark/disrespect that any perception of an internal breach can seem like more of the same.

    I had a conversation with a previous bishop once, that my faith was lacking but I wanted to maintain practice. He told me that there were more than a few people in the ward in the same boat. I asked him for names and suggested that we form a 2nd Sunday school class that met in the cultural hall. Then, when there were more of “us” than “them,” “we” could move into the chapel and “they” could go into the cultural hall. He rolled his eyes. It didn’t happen. I still think it’s the right idea, even if not the best implementation.

    Left Field just told me last night about his friends in high school, the “troublemakers,” being put into a second, segregated early morning seminary class. (They were also the seminary bowl team). A similar option could be helpful for struggling Saints.

  5. I don’t think segregation is the answer. We are all supposed to strengthen each other right?

    I think some talks recently in General Conference have helped. At least, they have shared a message that it is okay to have doubts. Hopefully, local leaders will share that same message. I like the informal Sunday School idea. It is sad that this would have to be done with “safe” members though.

    At the same time, it is not the worst thing in the world to admit you do not have a testimony, even if it means you do not get a temple recommend or a calling you want. This process allows a bishop to try and work with a person, or help to the best of his ability. I realize a lot of local leaders fall short. But, I think all individual members have a duty to be honest and forthcoming in temple interviews and interviews for callings. A bishop should be allowed the chance to show mercy and compassion. If he fails in that regard, let the sin be on the bishop.

    I regret that we have a culture where we believe it is necessary to hide all of our doubts.

  6. martha my love says:

    When the church pulled out the big guns and attempted the Swedish Rescue it didn’t work very well. OTOH, essays by anonymous committees aren’t doing the trick either. If only there were some inspired and specially set apart people who could get direct counsel and had the confidence of the community of saints…

  7. This is a really important discussion. I both need this sort of venue/resource and feel like I have much to contribute for others’ needs. I would hope that this orientation–all parties needing and giving–would be the MO so things don’t devolve into truth holders/flame protectors and those without truth/the flame. I have found that the best way to engage peoples’ faith issues is through authentic display of faithful or at least hopeful vulnerability. I think that many of the people who tend to be called to positions of responsibility, whether by nature or whatever, don’t readily reveal much vulnerability. We are going to need to start forging a new ethos before these conversations can be held and it is not going to be easy for most of the LDS adults I encounter.

  8. The Swedish Rescue is what I call it when I try to retrieve my kids from the Smaland ball pit at Ikea.

  9. I do think it’s something that we’ve been told we can have doubts. I think, however, that we also need to take the next step where people can feel safe expressing those doubts. For the most part it seems like if someone does question or express doubt, it just makes a whole lot of uncomfortable in a class at best and a call into an office for a not always helpful chat at worst.

  10. We have always lived in college towns, and found that the Institute director and/or teachers do a lot of heavy lifting for folks with questions. Which is great, because they are knowledgeable on the issues but safely out of the ecclesiastic chain of command.

    But of course not everyone has access to that resource. Is there a way to offer online adult institute?

    The testimony/knowing thing is kind of ethereal and hard to quantify to me. The testimony that I had years ago is different from the testimony I have now, but it was enough. I am acquainted with two bishops who freely admit that they don’t “know” the church is true but only believe and hope, and find that is enough (we don’t always get the gifts we want, just those we need.)

  11. I think that some cultural changes need to occur in order for us to be in a position to help our brothers and sisters through faith crises. Let’s look to the parable of the olive tree/grove in Jacob 5 — we desperately need some “wild” branches grafted in to the main tree in SLC to invigorate the whole. Perhaps in doing so we could see a way forward, a way to be Mormon without also thinking that the unique Wasatch Front flavored Mormon culture is the only way to do that. A Mormonism that understands and values pluralism for its own sake, and views itself as a willing participant in a pluralistic society, i.e. willing and wishing to be involved to achieve a greater good for all (to leaven the whole, as it were) despite the give and take necessary in that effort (a give and take that is easier for people to understand who have lived Mormonism as an extreme minority in otherwise good, productive societies, rather than as a majority that gets to throw its weight around in policy-making situations).

    President Uchtdorf is an example of this. Grafting him into the trunk of Church leadership at the very center has been essential, and many have expressed appreciation for his fully orthodox yet undeniably “different” approach.

    But as to the micro-issues you’ve highlighted, I agree that BCC and a few other Mormon blogs are very good examples in modeling how to deal with faith crises in productive ways that empower members facing such an experience to take ownership of their own belief while remaining true to the faith and sustaining Church leaders. I can disclose that BCC bloggers periodically take criticism from people more oriented towards a “Mormon Stories” approach, including from John Dehlin, for being aware of all the issues and yet still believing in the Church’s own narrative about its truth claims. In fact, likely to the surprise and dismay of people who have built their careers as “Mormon apologists”, BCC bloggers are not infrequently “accused” of simply being “apologists” like them. This is because BCC bloggers often model faithful Church membership and willingness to openly discuss the difficult issues, but in many cases stripped of the cultural encumbrances that are currently alienating a lot of people, and which are contributing to faith crises.

    In typical Mormon fashion, to elaborate on the above I will use a “personal experience”. Five years ago I was assigned to hometeach a person with extreme faith crisis issues. I would sometimes visit him in his home and listen to him — expressing my gratitude to him for simply being who he is and, if appropriate under the circumstances of the particular visit, sharing with him a personalized spiritual message that I prepared just for him (usually not simply reviewing the Ensign message for the month). Other times, I would take him out to a movie or to a cool restaurant for the hometeaching visit. After a couple of years of this, he told me, “If all Mormons treated me like you do, I would feel completely fine at Church.” This made me realize that the worth of souls is great — and that souls respond to personal care and appreciation, given without hope of something in return or ulterior motive. (This person was considered a truly lost cause by everyone else in ward leadership and I, frankly, shared that view — that it was very unlikely that he would ever feel friendly toward the Church or overcome his doubts and concerns — but I was assigned to hometeach him and decided to do so without any idea that I would bring him back but rather simply to help him spiritually if at all possible.) We had discussed his concerns in great detail and they weren’t resolved. However, if he had perceived that a greater number of people at Church respected him for who he was and for his good faith concerns, then he would have been willing to attend Church on a weekly basis despite his concerns. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

    As to broader discussions of concerns, etc., I actually support the work of Mormon apologists who try to explain issues by putting them in context or simply talking through them. (Though I part ways when it comes to character assassination in the attempt.) Thus, I second the suggestion of the smaller, informal meetings in homes where members can ask questions of someone who has had exposure to the issues and worked through them him or herself. We did this successfully in a previous ward and I think that many were strengthened, even though a few ultimately still drifted away onto the “inactive” list.

  12. I second most of what Ann Porter said. In my ward, our Sunday School and Relief Society classes are no place to express anything other than orthodoxy and total compliance. Dare to deviate and you will be alternately scorned, condescended to and occasionally outright rebuked. A prior GD teacher was pilloried for suggesting we take the “judge not” scripture seriously. Our Gospel Essentials teacher is a man who says that if Thomas Monson told him to break the law, he would – that violation of our consciences in obedience to the prophet is righteousness. Relief Society is similarly bleak. I don’t attend classes much any more and pretty much attend only for sacrament. Foyer Doctrine is occasionally enriching, but mostly I’m spiritually fed elsewhere. In my anecdotal experience, our culture is toxic for those whose faith is suffering.

  13. I think it’s inevitable that people will ebb and flow in their spirituality, and that people will leave the church sometimes. That is perhaps part of God’s plan for us.

  14. I completely agree with that, Steve. Thanks for bringing that perspective into the discussion. We need to be more understanding that ebbs and flows in spirituality are a part of life, and charitably embrace our fellow members wherever they are on that spectrum, including if they’ve made a decision to stop actively participating in the Church. Even if they’ve left the Church, we should continue to extend the hand of fellowship to them. We need to turn away from the old, unnecessary, and destructive perspective alive a generation ago of striking people who have different opinions or beliefs with that extended hand of fellowship.

  15. Two weeks ago I deviated from orthodoxy and total compliance in EQ. The next person to comment said, “Well, I just felt the Spirit leave the room. Let’s take it back to Jesus.” People came up to me afterwards and said that they wanted to follow up on what I had said but felt it would be contentious after the way I had been shut down.

    Our inability to listen to one another without judgement and hear other viewpoints without insisting that doing so is offensive to the Spirit hurts our ability to form a durable community.

  16. Gahhhhhh.

    I’m sort of done with this topic, Steve. It’s old.

  17. That is a perfect example John H.! How wonderful if that single, simple example could be passed along to the notice of our General Authorities. It encapsulates one of our cultural stumbling blocks almost perfectly.

  18. Back to Basics says:

    One reason why there are so many “faith crises” is that increasingly in our culture, our faith is misplaced. The scriptures teach of faith in Christ – that He alone can save us, that we should not put our faith in the arm of the flesh. As a practical matter, though, we do just that. We talk so much about “follow[ing] the prophet” so we “don’t go astray” that we miss the mark and make idols of men. When we discover our faith was misplaced – that our idols really are just men – we go into a tailspin.

    Christ’s doctrine – the one He Himself teaches in 3 Nephi 11 – doesn’t require the countless accretions our culture has added. Nowdays, it’s not enough to have faith that Christ is the Savior. Or that he was crucified and resurrected. Or that he called Joseph Smith to be a prophet. Or that this is the Lord’s church. You’ve got to also have faith that the leaders of our church – 15 wonderful men who, like all of us, are highly imperfect – are “prophets, seers, and revelators” – and WO be unto him who questions or contests this, criticizes them, or points out their imperfections. There are more conference talks and lessons nowdays focused on the authority of our “prophets, seers, and revelators” than the original “Good News” of the Gospel – the good news centered on Jesus-Christ.

  19. This is one of my favorite scripture stories and one that I think needs to be talked about more often. It has been so helpful to me to read blog posts and comments dealing with tricky issues in the church. Having been a member of several RS presidencies (currently a RS counselor), I’ve had the opportunity to counsel other women who are going through experiences that are similar to mine. I don’t have all of the answers and disagree with or dislike some aspects of the church/temple/culture. I have found that sometimes there aren’t any good answers and people just need a nonjudgmental listening ear. I’ve noticed that as I share my difficulties and struggles people are more apt to open up about theirs. It is easy for us to assume that we are alone in what we are facing-testimonies and otherwise. It would be great to have more of an opportunity to address these things in an affirming way.

  20. I wasn’t aware of these types of Mormon blogs until last year (I knew about the mommy blogs, but those weren’t really my thing). I think it would have been helpful when I was struggling with processing Joseph Smith’s polygamy many years ago. I was just talking with my sister who said that the JD Mormon Stories podcasts helped her work through Joseph Smith’s polygamy when she dealt with it years ago. She turned to those because going to her bishop had been unhelpful and resulted in very negative consequences. She recognizes now that her bishop didn’t handle the situation well, and she’s still active in the church. In my current ward there’s a prominent church historian who is basically the “go-to” guy when it comes to church historical issues. I’ve heard that he’s done 5th Sunday lessons in the past about historical issues which I think is a fabulous idea. People trust him because he’s a long-time wardmember and this is his professional expertise. I tend to push the line and will bring up controversial issues in Gospel Doctrine if I feel that they may be things that people are thinking about (like when the polygamy essays were all over Facebook). I do feel a responsibility to censor myself a bit in order to not inadvertently cause damage. Overall I agree with others that Sunday School classes are not currently the best places to discuss these issues. It really just depends on the attitudes of leadership and whether or not you have strong, knowledgeable members in the ward who can help people work through these issues. The problem is that you need to express your concerns to someone before they can point you to the most helpful local source, and expressing concerns can have negative consequences. Like many others have said, we need to change the culture of the church before it will be safe to express doubt.

  21. Thanks, Steve. This is a tremendously important issue, and one that I’m not sure how to navigate.

    Partly it’s because I don’t feel the same hurt at the idea that the church and its leaders are imperfect—that’s basically what I’ve believed since high school. It’s partly because the interaction, both online and IRL, with people who know things and are still practicing, faithful members of the church helps me. It’s partly just my personality.

    But I’m empathetic (I think) to others whose personalities and reactions are different than mine. I’ve had a couple friends and close-ish relatives who’ve left the church over the last year or two, and their loss hurts the body of the Saints and, while understandable, I mourn that we didn’t do something different.

    A model that my ward(‘s high priest groupat least) is following: every month, one of the lessons is (apparently—I’m in primary right now, so I don’t know from first-hand experience) on one of the essays. The essays are, of course, imperfect, but they’re pretty good. And discussing them at church, with our fellow saints, strikes me as a good way to approach the issues (and, knowing my ward’s HP group, the discussions are sensitive, careful, and address issues head-on). Of course, the reason it works is because of the people (largely urban professionals) in the group; I don’t know if it’s scalable broadly.

  22. Indulge me if I number my paragraphs to make a couple of points. It’s a thing I sometimes do.

    1. Agreed that the church would be a better place if we were all a bunch of John Fowleses.

    2. John says one thing that I think is particularly great, that I think highlights a problem with how the church is organized:

    “…but I was assigned to hometeach him and decided to do so without any idea that I would bring him back but rather simply to help him spiritually if at all possible.”

    Yes. I sometimes counsel with a priest in a church I attend now. It doesn’t occur to this priest, I don’t think, that the priest’s primary role is to turn me into a particular kind of Episcopalian–to see that I accept baptism, conform to a particular teaching or set of teachings, or start giving at a certain level (though I’m sure she’d like to see all those things). Her primary interest is to “simply help [me] spiritually if at all possible.” For those of us not lucky enough to be home taught by john f., who is that person in our ward? Yes, of course bishops want to provide spiritual help. But his role as designed first requires him to take your temple recommend away. Mormon leaders want to get people squared away first–spiritual growth will come, the thinking goes, when we stop smoking, accept doctrines that currently trouble us, pay tithing, etc. And I don’t deny that that might be the case. But it’s hard to be guided spiritually by a fellow whose calling it is to judge and discipline you.

    3. I think Naismith is on to something when she suggests that shepherding these folks is a role that ideally could fall on the Institute. Unfortunately, in our non-ideal state of affairs, Institute is run by CES.

    4. About fellowshipping folks who have left the church, perhaps just for a time, I will say that having left the church I am glad for the hand of fellowship that has been extended by John, Steve, and others, proving that Mormons are in fact Christians.

    5. About informal support groups within wards, it will take a bishop with rare sensitivity to accept and appreciate it. Most, I think, would react to news of such a gathering with panic, and maybe ill-considered action.

  23. An Anon Nom says:

    It’s all very sad. I keep thinking that it doesn’t have to be like this. We could have a more open environment where people can be authentic. We could at least start down that path. But too many of us are afraid to do that in public. The silence from leadership on these issues is deafening and contributes to our inability to discuss these issues more openly. The recent ex of JD, while people may rightly have variously feelings about it, is symbolic and is not helpful.

    I actually listed to the Swedish Rescue fireside the other day. It was painful. You could tell people had real, genuine concerns. They just wanted some understanding. But the leadership delivered the same old defensive party line. How sad.

    I’m sorry to be pessimistic. I’ve thought a lot about how to bridge gaps, try for reconciliation, help with healing. But I just don’t see any willingness on the other side. I just see a stagnant environment becoming more irrelevant by the day, with no one willing (or brave enough or empowered enough or motivated enough) to really change. How sad.

  24. I’ve just been reading Mormon diaries ca. 1850. While admittedly their concerns were more grounded in survival than historicity, when they became troubled over faith issues (unrealized claims by authorities or what they saw as offenses or culture shock or simply a tipping point of faith over a whole cache of accumulating questions) there really was no place to go for discussion, or help by sympathetic and faithful ears. This became widespread enough that it formed part of the motivation for the Mormon Reformation of the mid 50s. In some respects that pattern has been repeated on local and general scales (and of course, not just in Mormonism). It would be wonderful if that cycle could be somehow short-circuited. But like Neylan McBaine’s local base for change ideas, it will exist at best here and there. And I think for similar reasons. Perhaps a couple of generations from now, a global movement will exist. In the meantime, I wonder how a local group, in a ward or a stake, might exist within a blessed bubble? Again, not impossible in some areas and dependent upon local leadership. I don’t see it happening in my ward or stake, but it could. The problem might be excluding those who have duties of judicial oversight. I suspect most local leaders would be uncomfortable with that.

  25. Kevin Barney says:

    I’ve long been an advocate of inoculation, of nipping faith crises in the bud by proactively and openly talking about the sorts of issues that lead to them. In the wake of the Gospel Topics Essays, I have devoted entire Sunday School classes to those topics; we’ve done First Vision, Polygamy, Race and the Priesthood, the Book of Abraham, etc. And I’ll slip stuff like this into my regular lessons, too. (Tip: the key to doing this without freaking out the natives is to be absolutely matter-of-fact about it.) I also make it clear I’ll be happy to talk to anyone, any time, on any subject that might trouble them. (I used to put my e-mail address on the board each Sunday, but no one took advantage of the invitation so I stopped bothering. But they all know they can reach out to me privately should they feel the need.) Just having a person who is willing to talk about hard subjects openly and without a sense of judgment will go a long way towards ameliorating this problem.

    I’m fully aware, however, that what I do is not scalable. I have the complete trust of my local leaders and the freedom to adapt lesson plans as I perceive the need. Most Sunday School teachers do not have that kind of support and would likely be released if they tried to do what I do. And even if local leaders were willing, not every ward has a John Fowles or Steve Evans or Kristine Haglund or Ronan Head who would be able to talk about these subjects both intelligently and compassionately. So I do see the lack of scalability as a huge problem, and I’m not sure how to solve it.

  26. This is a timely topic for me having recently–in the last twelve months–been made aware of the troubling historical issues and what I would consider to be whitewashing of past events. My journey has been anything but unique–I’ve felt isolated, bitter, angry, guilty, shamed, and finally at peace with my new religious leanings. My well-meaning Bishop has been helpful, but it was deeply unsatisfying to have to have conversations in private as if there was something shameful or dangerous about doubting.

    I too felt compelled to turn to internet communities for support, and I feel much more supported on blogs and forums than in Testimony meetings and Sunday School. I’ve found it healing to cut back my involvement with Sunday meetings, which had become more of a source of frustration and resentment.

    That said, I still feel compelled to stay in the church, and to identify with the church. I may eventually leave for my own personal mental health, or I may return to full activity. I wish we didn’t speak as if church attendance had to be an all-or-nothing affair.

  27. I will soon have in production a full complement of Robot Kevin Barneys to deploy in each ward meetinghouse throughout the world.

  28. RoboKev 9000 will feature a retractable 1977 Jew-fro.

  29. Kevin Barney says:

    Ah, the Seventies…

  30. Let’s start by changing the nomenclature we employ. For example, why do we conclude that people with doubts are experiencing a “faith crisis?” I have serious doubts about the church and some of its teachings, but I don’t consider my faith to be deficient or weak or second class. Let’s come up with different descriptor.

    Also, in my last temple recommend interview, I told my bishop that there are several things routinely taught from the pulpit that I believe are false (e.g., our leaders are incapable of leading us astray; the “rising generation” is somehow more special than its predecessors; etc.). He said: “That’s okay; everyone has doubts.” I politely said that may be true, but in my case, there is no doubt—all evidence available to me today leads me to conclude that these teachings are not true. While I’m open to new evidence, right now I have no doubt regarding these points. So, we should abandon the notion that there is a cure for “doubt” or for our inability to accept something that we believe is false. The only known cure for any of this is truth and reconciliation. But the reconciling part can be a wee bit tricky.

  31. Looking at the history, I have little hope of finding a real way to bridge this gap without strong efforts from Salt Lake. Look how long Sunstone, Dialogue, etc have been nurturing the struggle. Bloggers do help. Online is a huge resource for me. But those resources don’t mend the family fences. As long as the larger organization keeps the conversation running this present direction there will be a gap. Even Maverick Uchtdorf’s words get used as a hammer against “doubt your doubts.” Yes I would love a Kristine, Kevin, Steve, Terryl, Julie in my ward but none exist and my local leadership would cry heresy if I offered my assistance. I have stepped back, like most everyone else. It’s safer for me and for them. I want to help, I want to share – not to bring people down, but to sooth the cuts that exist, but it won’t happen in my lifetime. It breaks my heart.

  32. I think that’s my dad on the left.

    Mary Ann, I also feel the need to censure myself a bit but not too much because God knows my heart and my struggles and he still inspired (hopefully) the RS president to call me. I agree with Kevin’s tip about the natives. When I read that I laughed out loud as I immediately pictured who the natives are in my ward.

  33. Ha ha. That would be censor not censure.

  34. Terrific thread. I’ll second what Naismith said about institute being a potentially good resource due its instructors being outside the chain of ecclesiastical authority. The person I have talked to the most during my faith crisis is an institute teacher who has that rare combination of knowledge, empathy, and neutrality. But CES would need to go through some pretty seismic shifts before the likes of my teacher were common enough to be a good resource beyond the lucky few who happen to cross their paths.

    The lack of mentorship is one of the biggest problems of faith transition/crisis. I’ve got a dozen friends and ward members that I interact with regularly who are in the same boat as me, working things out, hanging on to activity and faith with varying degrees of success. We support each other and I don’t know where I would be without their understanding. But I know almost no one in real life who has already gone through a faith crisis and come out the other side having managed to make it work. It’s incredibly discouraging to see how few there are–it makes me feel like there’s no hope for me. I don’t know how we can get out of that vicious cycle where people going through crisis leave the church because no one understands them and they don’t have any models for how to be different but still involved, and then their absence creates that same vacuum for the next generation.

    One last thought. I’m learning all of this stuff as I go, flailing day by day. But I am probably the most knowledgeable person in my ward about the common issues. I project more confidence and belonging than I feel. On Sunday, a ward member mentioned a talk on diversity I had given some time ago as being an inspiring example as a person with a mature faith being independent while still being faithful. I laughed inside. Me, mature faith? They totally weren’t there the other week when I threw a tantrum in my car after Relief Society :)

  35. Long time listener, second-time poster. I’ve been swimming in the ocean of faith and doubt for well over a decade–sometimes drowning, sometimes riding the waves (cowabunga). Grassroots efforts (small groups, blogs, Givensim) are all well and good, and certainly alleviate some of the very real and painful suffering that I’ve been through. But, having been raised to respect authority (especially that of the General variety), I approach the grassroots efforts with a bit of caution and skepticism.

    I would certainly like to see some of the approaches and suggestions of BCC, T&S, the Givens, Adam Miller, etc. widely adopted and practiced by the Church. I would love to see greater equality in the Church for women and our LGBT brothers and sisters. I would love to see the Church disavow polygamy as a harmful and destructive practice. I would love to see the Church modify the apparently racist passages of Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price. I want to belong to that Church! But that’s not the current Church and neither I, nor the good folks here, can change that. The best we can do seems to be offering one another apologetic salves to soothe our minds and souls while hoping for change (either in ourselves or our Church).

    Grassroots efforts will continue to be about as effective as they have been for the last 50 years–helpful to a few that want to balance sincere belief with intellectual integrity, but otherwise not very effective in stemming the rising tide of disaffection. For me, a real solution will have to come from those that I’ve been taught to trust as having the divine right to guide this Church. Until there are better answers from the top, I’m stuck with three choices: (1) continue in faith, hoping that these troubling issues will someday be resolved (but remaining really uncomfortable in that faith), relying on grassroots efforts to help sweeten that bitter pill; (2) abandon faith in this Church and embrace a different path; or (3) fully embrace the Church and all its teachings, abandoning my current hesitations on certain doctrines. #3 is untenable, #2 is unthinkable, and #1 is unbearable.

    It’s quite a pickle I’m in.

  36. Alan, those are tough choices but I wonder if those are the actual choices. I think there’s lots to be said for the local experience and living, working and becoming one with our congregations. In other words, grassroots of sorts but more along the ‘bloom where you’re planted’ sort of mentality. I dunno. It’s not easy.

  37. GST (11:28 am). Important stuff.

  38. I see the problem in terms of the growing polarity between TBM’s and those who know and struggle with troubling issues.

    A widespread (Church-led) effort to help doubters, risks introducing troubling topics to scores of members whose church experience essentially boils down to following marching orders – that’s all they know. Do we really want to turn their world upside-down? (besides my personal conviction that these members are short-changed by remaining in the dark, I also feel it’s not my place to introduce doubt in others (reminds me of a Joseph Smith quote: “None but fools will trifle with the souls of men.”) I don’t think the church is in any hurry to deal with a possible cataclysmic fallout if they engage in open, public, worldwide & head-on discussions of faith-demoting issues.

    Of course retrenchment, on the other hand, just makes doubters feel worse and emboldens TBM’s.

    Robert Millet came to our Stake to talk about issues of faith (can’t remember if the ‘faith crisis’ term was used.) It was clear we were not to bring youth to the event, nor investigators. Afterward I understood why. It felt gloomy. It’s like there was no good news and he told us how difficult issues were, and he even reinforced the truth of the troubling issues. It was maybe a little too strong a dose of reality, the straight dope, “Yep. It’s bad people.” That’s how I felt at the end of the meeting anyway. On the one hand, I appreciated the honesty.

  39. I hate the term TBM. It’s a useless term. We’re all trying to figure this stuff out, and nobody is without doubts and flaws. Dehumanizing people with that term doesn’t help, any more than the term ‘antimormon’ or ex-mormons or what have you. Part of the effort to help people here, I think, must include resisting easy labels.

  40. Steve, I agree that deeply engaging in local congregations can be a helpful means of navigating the waters. (I keep going to nautical metaphors today.) I have had overwhelmingly positive experiences with my local congregation. The love I feel for and from ward members (some, not all–I’m only human!) is an anchor. I would have few problems if my Church experience began and ended with my local ward. But, of course, Mormonism extends far beyond the ward boundaries, both in time and place. And blooming where planted, while genuinely helpful, seems a bit like shelving the hard issues, which are the source of the problem. I’ll readily admit to being happier when I’ve just ignored the tough topics, but that hardly seems like the solution either. I fear it all comes down to a matter of faith, and mine just isn’t as strong lately.

  41. newb_bishop says:

    I’ve watched two families leave the church from my ward in the past couple of years. This topic has been timely as I’ve been thinking a lot about this very issue over the past several weeks. 2 days ago, I was sustained and ordained to be the Bishop. On Sunday, as I was going through all of the stuff left behind by the old Bishop, I came across a very long letter by the father of one of these families. It was an uncomfortable read. The last Bishop was a good and righteous man (I served as his counselor) who had nothing but love for everyone in the ward. I don’t think this brother gave the Bishop much of a chance to help him, but I also can’t shake the feeling that the Bishop was ill-equipped to help him. Now that I’m in those same shoes, I feel a great responsibility to help, but also fill ill-equipped. I say that having read FAIR for years, listened to Sunstone podcasts, and been a more or less lurker on several blogs such as this one since 2005ish.

    I’m comfortable with going on faith and have reconciled with myself that the Church’s past isn’t quite what is taught in Sunday School and Priesthood. I’ve come to peace with much of this, the trick is helping others a long that same path. This blog post and several of the comments have helped immeasurably. Thank You.

  42. If one experiences answers to prayers and experiences the Spirit in certain Church settings then what does it matter about polygamy, etc.? I am puzzled that there are so many doubters. Haven’t they experienced answers and the Spirit?

  43. Facebook conversations maybe aren’t the way to go; a close friend just lost her temple recommend because someone told the bishop about her Facebook posts on difficult issues. Her appeal letter will be sent soon.

  44. I think Gloria’s anecdote confirms AlanB’s observation that there needs to be some general direction. I’m a fully accepted (well, mostly accepted :)) member of my ward, despite having well-known heterodox views and being publicly critical of the Church sometimes. I feel certain that there are plenty of wards where this would not be the case, and I think inventing policies and practices by geographical caprice is unethical. It seems like training of bishops and stake presidents would be a good place to start, or even just a few paragraphs in the Handbook of Instructions on What to Do When a Ward Member Finds Out About Polygamy. (The bureaucratic section headings on that part of the handbook could be epic.)

  45. Kris, that is a very good question. Answering that question will probably help you be more effective in helping people with doubts.

  46. Kris, I’ve always looked at your thoughts with the following analogy…

    There’s a bit of a phenomenon in sports where the greatest athletes with very few exceptions make the worst coaches. Thus, if one were to look at the greatest coaches in baseball, football, or basketball or whatever, you would find many of them had mediocre and often times completely non-existent professional playing careers.

    There are a lot of theories for why this is but the most common is that those who were blessed with these specific talents and gifts cannot understand why things that came so easily to them do not come so easily to others.

    We can look at D&C 46: 13-14 where some are given by the Holy Ghost to know and others are given to believe…but what about the third group that has neither of these gifts? For some, a testimony comes easily. For others it can be a difficult process. It’s important for those who have been given one of these gifts to not look down upon those who struggle.

  47. wreddyornot says:

    *”What do you say to a friend who is really struggling?”*

    This assumes that your friend has communicated to you that he/she is really struggling. “I’m sorry. I think I understand, but tell me why you are struggling. I will listen.” Then listen, thoroughly, completely, un-judgmentally. Don’t interrupt except for genuine clarifications or if they encourage some kind of a dialogue. Then, after all that say, “Is there anything else?” Listen some more if there is. Then say, “Would you like to talk about those matters along with some of my own perspectives?” If they would, then take the time or make an appointment for some other time to have a sincere, open, and as complete as can possibly be dialogue. And be willing to make yourself available to them as your schedule permits and they need you.

    *”What do you do, as a friend, as a bishop, as a neighbor?”*

    Remember charity and try to practice it to the best of your ability. Tell your friend that you believe in charity and try to practice it. Review that charity includes patience, kindness, an absence of envy, boastfulness, pride and being rude. It also includes not trying to further your own agenda, not getting angry, keeping no record of wrongs done. It is also delighted with good, not evil, and rejoices in the truth, always protecting, trusting, hoping, and persevering. If they request information or advice, give it as sincerely as you know how to, including how you have dealt with or deal with any similarities between your mutual experiences.

    *”Do those in different roles involve different duties or different modes of speech?”*

    Not in my opinion. They shouldn’t. Of course, if the friend has come to you to confess, it should be made clear through the dialogue and interchange.

    *”If so, what?”*

    A bishop acting in his role as such should give the friend a warning of any and all consequences that could come, accordingly.

    In the mid-1980s, as a consequence of feeling hurt, frustrated, and betrayed by the patriarchal system and the way it didn’t work with respect to charity and “the issues”, I consciously withdrew from activity to a limited, although, I hoped, effective, degree. I doubt hardly anyone even noticed, except maybe my spouse. That hurt, frustration, and betrayal has continued on to this time. So has the limited withdrawal. What has always helped me are others out there who have been and are engaged and curious like myself. Authors of books pro and con,*Dialogue*, *Sunstone*, the Bloggernacle, etc. A few friends similarly experienced, hurt, frustrated, and feeling to some degree betrayed.

    Yet I believe.

  48. Gloria, Facebook sucks.

  49. Steve – I see your point about the term TBM. I used it in a derogatory fashion, and it does discount the humanity of real people. How do I describe a family member who tells me she has never ever doubted and never questions the church? She stated this in all sincerity, and many others have stated similar views. How do we deal with the very real threat to their (non-questioning) worldview if we de-stigmatize doubt and dissent? Won’t the non-doubters also be affected? (I don’t know what else to call them. Any ideas? I mean, we need some kind of language to address the topic, though I agree with you that it shouldn’t include labels that denigrate.)

  50. Jenny, very good questions. I have a hard time believing that there are people out there who have never doubted, but that may be jealousy on my part! I would prefer to think of it in terms of relative high points and low points of belief. A single person can be ‘TBM’ one year and on the fences the next.

  51. Steve, it was a formal calling. Mind you, many smoked, etc and did not feel comfortable with the white shirt, suit, dress crowd. The bishop supported this effort and it did bring about deactivation of more than a few. The bishop did not use it as an excuse to ignore these people, but saw it as a temporary way to engage them when they might otherwise have not allowed more contact with the Church. I agree that a loving bishop might find a different and more effective solution. But in a large ward with many less active the reality is there are insufficient shepherds and too little time. After many years of false starts a number of these people recognized “bishop roulette” as well as the active members. I’ve had many bishops in my life, all good well meanin men, but I just concluded a term with one that was the least effective one I’ve ever had by a long shot. Many less active were waiting him out for something “safer”. Easy to dismiss unless the less active is a close friend, child, parent, etc. It can become very personal and painful to watch.

  52. Back to Basics says:

    “And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”

    It is poignant, Steve, that you refer to this story. The man had first turned to Jesus’ apostles to do the healing, yet they had failed (Mark 1:27). So now the man turned to Christ Himself. The man in question was not asking for greater faith in his local Pharisees or Sadducees, or whether they were acting with God’s authority and approval (they weren’t). The man was not asking for help to believe that Abraham’s polygamy was of God. The man was not asking for greater faith in the Law of Moses. The man was not asking for greater faith in the disciples. After all, these aren’t the types of faith that really matter.

    The man asked for greater faith in **Christ** and in **His** power to heal; the apostles had come up short. In His infinite love, Christ responded abundantly, healing the child, and noted that some demons only come out “by prayer and fasting.”

    If we seek faith in **Christ** and turn to **Him** for help –perhaps when the apostles come up short, and perhaps even praying and fasting –Christ will heal us and bless us even more abundantly with the gift of faith in Him who saves. This has been my personal experience.

  53. Back to Basics says:

    My apologies – Mark 9:28, not 1:27.

  54. Thanks – that is sort of where I was going with the reference. I’d also add in there that it highlights how Jesus responds to weak faith and our desperate pleas. We are all that father at times.

  55. Elsie Kleeman says:

    I’m not really sure what to say here that has not already been said.

    I appreciate the blogs and other forums for discussion, but they don’t replace what I really want – real people and real relationships I can learn from and create a model for how I can live a faithful, yet somewhat unorthodox, Mormon life. After spending time online I begin to think there are a lot of people like me, and when I go to church, I realize I am alone. I can’t reach out to anyone without receiving repercussions of one kind or another toward myself, my spouse, or my children.

    I want to be wanted in the church for being me, not the person I currently pretend to be. I believe that if I were genuine and authentic, I wouldn’t be liked and I wouldn’t be wanted. And every Sunday it becomes harder to attend a place where I am given reason to believe I’m not really wanted. Someday I’ll have to test it out, because I really can’t keep living this way.

    Anyway, keep up the good work, BCC. Thanks for asking these questions. I do enjoy coming here. I just wish I could get what’s here in my own ward.

  56. Kris, while I agree with others that spiritual gifts may play a part, I think personality also is a big factor. My husband is like you, never really doubted and has no interest in diving into the church’s history. He’s not afraid, he just legitimately doesn’t care. His spiritual confirmation is good enough for him. For me, though, the history and the details are fascinating and play a part in the establishment of my testimony. I grew up hearing a story from my Dad who talked about hearing an apostle say something really stupid and getting proved wrong. For my Dad it was evidence that apostles are men who are imperfect, but he still taught and believed the apostles deserve respect when speaking as witnesses of Christ. Studying the historical context of scriptures is exciting for me, as is diving into discussions of doctrine. This fascination, however, can be a problem when I encounter something that doesn’t jive with my perception of how the church is supposed to work. This was the big problem with Joseph Smith’s polygamy. Even though I had a testimony of Joseph and the Restoration, I had a very difficult time getting past the deception to his wife and other church members. I was later (much later) able to get my own spiritual witness that polygamy happened for a reason (not that I have any clue what that is), but it didn’t take away my anger towards how it started, how it was practiced, and how it ended. Basically, God helped me understand that He didn’t need me to like it in order for me to continue having a testimony of the church. So when someone expresses doubt or concern about a historical issue, I can at least partially understand where they are coming from and that it may take some time before they come to terms with it.

  57. Our Stake has a few individuals (myself included) who the Stake President assigns to counsel with them. Once the assignment is made, the leadership bows out unless needed. We do not deal with moral issues. Each of us has our own way of helping. I have found that simply listening to them, studying what THEY want and then breaking it down is the most effective. Those are are coming forward are crying for help. Those who have already left too often don’t want to come back. Breaking down the claims by checking the best original source is helpful. Most of them rely on podcasts (undocumented) or on certain websites which too heavily rely on questionable sources (G—- P—-) and conclusions. As President Uchtdorf said so brilliantly, “I know of no sign on the doors of our meetinghouses that says, “Your testimony must be this tall to enter.”

  58. Elsie, part of living in modern society requires all of us to filter and adjust ourselves to some degree in order to be understood and appreciated. The key is doing so without losing your soul. I hope you can find that path.

  59. [The man asked for greater faith in **Christ** and in **His** power to heal; the apostles had come up short. In His infinite love, Christ responded abundantly, healing the child, and noted that some demons only come out “by prayer and fasting.”]

    Back to Basics: I think your comment sums it up for me. I love Jesus and I have a very strong testimony of the atonement. Sometimes the apostles do come up short because they are human but Christ is always there to fall back on.

  60. I agree with Evans that the Bloggernacle can’t and shouldn’t really save us, but BCC saved me in fact. I have lurked since 2005 with very few comments, but for me it has been enough to know that it is possible to intellectually engage the church’s issues along with the spiritual part, and still participate normally. Thank you for that.

  61. My calling is in the seminary program, which means I’m hauling myself out of bed at 5 a.m. on the appropriate mornings to slog over to the church and a room full of extremely bright, if sleepy, sixteen and seventeen-year-olds, several of whom are already somewhat disaffected. The course of study this year is the Doctrine & Covenants, and there’s been considerable concern in CES about kids going online and seeing distressing articles/videos about Joseph Smith and polygamy and the temple and the veracity of our scriptures and on and on. My co-teachers in other stakes and I have all been put through various training sessions on what to say when our students ask about what they’ve seen. The overarching advice is not to try to answer the questions but rather to say, “I don’t know ABC but I do know XYZ.” Like this:

    Student: Do you think girls will ever get the priesthood?
    Teacher: That’s a great question. Can you tell me a little more about what you mean by it?
    Student: Boys get the priesthood but girls don’t. It’s not fair. People are leaving the church over it. Don’t the general authorities care? [Note: this is a very short version of what they usually say, but it gets the underlying poin(s)t across.]
    Teacher: I can tell you’ve put a lot of thought into this. And the reality is, I don’t know the answer to your question. I’m not sure that anyone knows the answer to that question. But I can tell you what I DO know. I know that we have a Heavenly Father who loves each one of us individually, and that he has our best interests at heart and that he is going to do what’s best for us at the time that it’s best for us. I also know that the priesthood is an integral part of the plan of salvation, that it’s a key tool in helping us to get through this life, and that its blessings are available to every member of the church.
    I’m glad you brought this question up. This is a subject that’s gotten a lot of attention lately; there was a very prominent excommunication last year over this very matter, and chances are you’re going to be hearing a lot about it. So if you’re interested in finding out more about what the church says, I’d suggest that you go to and look up the priesthood and see what it says. I’d also encourage you to read a talk Elder Oaks gave in the priesthood session of General Conference last year. In fact, why don’t you print it out, and underline anything in there that you like or that you don’t like or that you didn’t know or that jumped out at you in some way, and I’ll do the same thing and then we’ll talk about it again.

    Then the kid either doesn’t do the suggested reading, or s/he does and comes back saying that this says women DO exercise the authority of the priesthood and what’s THAT about, especially since farther down Elder Oaks says very clearly that by divine decree only men hold the priesthood. Which brings us full circle to why they don’t have it in the first place.

    So, yeah. Can’t help here – except to say my deflection skills are getting well developed.

  62. That’s not deflection, Cate, I think it’s fairly honest. But at some point the question is gonna have to get addressed.

  63. And Steve when is that point? And which questions will be answered and will the answers be reliable?

  64. A former member of the 2nd Quorum of the 70 who resided in our ward said “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” is one of the most honest utterances in all scripture. I agree.

    Steve, I posed a form of your OP question to our ward council recently (I am a bishop; I’d say we have very healthy and productive discussions of these topics in our ward leadership meetings). Essentially, the question was how do we discuss these issues among our general membership in a productive way? There were multiple concerns mentioned: (1) how do we keep such a discussion positive / uplifting? (2) what if we inadvertently create doubts and concerns in the mind of someone who didn’t have them before? (3) should this be done in sacrament meeting? 2nd/3rd hour classes? A special fireside? One leader suggested a sacrament meeting talk on the importance of basing one’s faith in Christ, not in man, and how doing the latter could lead us to disappointment. We’ll have such a talk presented soon.

    I wouldn’t say we reached any consensus on more direct approaches, however. For me, I have a fantastic set of faithful friends with whom to discuss such issues (many of whom are senior leaders in the ward/stake). All are keenly aware of current issues. I’m certain that many members don’t have this kind of sounding board, a place where they can freely discuss the challenges of the day without feeling they are doing or saying something verboten, but yet where a “help thou mine unbelief” spirit pervades. It’s great and I always feel edified after these discussions. I wish I could recreate that environment on a broader scale in our ward. I do my best to model it in one-on-one meetings with members.

    We need to do better at this collectively — that I know. Our stake president has made it a high priority (although he’s still trying to figure out the best way forward). I do find myself wishing for more help and resources on this topic from the top — more President Uchtdorf-type talks, for example. That kind of thing can go a long way to make it ok to discuss these issues with greater candor.

  65. Carrie, depends on the question. Part of the reality of religion is that some questions are never answered and many answers change over time. This isn’t specific to Mormonism. Religions are filled with humans and things are messy and flawed, despite God’s grace.

  66. I think a difficulty with discussions on doubts and questions is that as individuals, and as an institution, we have specific outcomes attached strongly to specific conclusions. I think the fact that these outcomes and conclusions are so connected prevents us from thinking clearly and seeing the truth sometimes or from being receptive to an answer from God. For example, in my own life, I’ve really struggled with woman’s role now and in the eternities. When I’ve tried to pray about these issues, I have seen it as there only being one of two answers. Either the negative things that the church/temple teaches/implies are true, and I am wrong about the things I believe. Or the answers I’ve received and what I know about myself and women is true, and the church/temple does not teach everything perfectly. But for me, neither of these outcomes was something I could deal with. Because if the first conclusion were true, then as an outcome, I would have to believe sad things about myself and other women. This would destroy my self-esteem and who I knew I was as a daughter of God. But if the second conclusion were true, then as an outcome, I would have to accept that some incorrect things are being portrayed/implied in the house of God, which also seemed horrible. Anyway, when I tried to pray about these things again, I felt that God was telling me in some ways to clear my mind of things I thought I knew or believed. There are no easy answers to these questions. But at least for me, it seemed my already-held beliefs, experience, and fears were clouding my spiritual receptivity.

    I hope my comment made sense. I have lurked on this blog for a while, and I really appreciate this post. Like many of the commenters above, I also long for a community of my own where I can discuss these things and find ways to faithfully reconcile them.

  67. Mary, it made sense. Thank you for sharing this.

  68. Just Do It says:

    What do you all think of creating a BCC community, annotated compilation of resources that have helped people navigate their faith crises or doubts?

    Ideally, it would be something people could contribute to anonymously. Under each troublesome issue, people could put resources that helped them, and most importantly, why the resource helped them, i.e. how the resource defended the faith, or how it helped them develop a new paradigm of belief such that they feel great about their church membership.

    I know, I know–FAIR and FARMS/MI exist. But in spite of the great resources these places offer, they don’t seem to offer the voices of individuals who can say why a resource or argument really helped them, or why they’ve developed a new paradigm for an issue that used to bother them. I’d really love to hear what has helped others.

    As a small example, I’ll mention the trouble I used to feel about the “magic worldview” and youthful adventures of young Joseph. It was just so jarring for me to discover stuff about seeing stones and quests for buried treasure. Yet when I read Brant Gardner’s “The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon,” I finally realized that such “weird” things that bothered me were part and parcel of the world Joseph lived in, and that my sense of its “weirdness” was due to my own post-enlightenment worldview that has its own parochialisms. My concerns vanished.

    I could personally relay a dozen such resources, as could so many BCC readers. It would be awesome. BCC mods – let’s make it happen!

  69. “What do you say to a friend who is really struggling?”
    90% of my response is nonjudgmental listening. Just listening. No agenda. No attempt to fix anything.
    Two qualifications. First, it is difficult (but not impossible) for a sitting bishop to do this, because cultural expectations regarding judging and fixing are so strong. Second, in the world as it is (not as I would like it to be), we probably have to take the temple recommend topic off the table. There is simply too much judgment inherent in the process, and at the same time too much variation from place to place, to practice nonjudgmental listening and also parse the “can I keep my recommend?” question.
    The other 10% is a combination of:
    a. Sometimes there is a quick and clear reply. Sometimes some people get really mixed-up ideas and I can say “not so”.
    b. Sometimes — somewhat more often than a simple “not so” in my experience — there is an alternative or a perspective that is useful. Not as a truth, but as an additional way to think about things. The various limited geography models for the Book of Mormon, as one quick example. I don’t think a “believe this, not that” is very helpful. But “there’s another way to think about it” sometimes helps.
    c. Yet more often the struggle is real and there is no answer. And if the particular issue is or becomes the one important issue, it represents a breaking point. Nonjudgmental listening means letting that happen. But sometimes it helps to expand the picture, to recall to mind all the good in other topics, places and times, to challenge the “one important issue” thought.

  70. It is my opinion that having doubts ought not to disqualify someone from having a temple recommend. I think there’s probably a point at which severe levels of disbelief would render temple worship moot, but I don’t think someone should lose their recommend solely for telling their bishop or sp that they are having a hard time.

  71. The faith crisis model as it’s usually laid out has never fit my experience (although I don’t doubt that it speaks to the experience of many, including many I love). But I come at it from the opposite direction; it’s the spiritual experiences I’ve had, over and over and over, Sunday after damned Sunday, of the truthfulness of this church, of the divine reality of priesthood power and temple ordinances, that have repeatedly broken my heart. God is in this church, and it’s all true. I’m 100% with what John F. just posted in response to John Dehlin, and that’s what kills me. I don’t doubt God’s involvement in the church, and haven’t for decades of reading and considering. But as a result of that terrible knowledge, I often despair of God’s goodness.

    The seminary model of resolving/deflecting questions Cate describes above is the kind of thing that drives me to despair. At every level of the church we assume that if we can just facilitate spiritual experiences, everything will be better, all problems airily returned to their closets and their shelves. No. Spiritual experiences are the beginning of the dark night of the soul.

  72. wideopenspaces says:

    It would be really wonderful if there were resources made available (or sanctioned) by the church. I’m a psychiatrist practicing in the salt lake area and over the past year especially I’ve had more and more folks come in that are dealing with a ‘faith crisis’, for lack of a better term. That may not be the main reason they are presenting, but is certainly exacerbating the anxiety or depression. I often recommend therapy to help people process through these issues, but I don’t have anyone specific to refer them to and I never know what the quality of the therapy is going to be, so it can be a crap shoot. I encourage people to sit with uncomfortable emotions, to be patient and compassionate to themselves, to be open minded. But mostly I just listen. And I’ve referred to BCC and fMH on more than one occasion. But it really would be awesome if I had an in person support group to refer to, a safe space for open discussion. . .

  73. Steve, Our Stake President feels the same way and acts upon it. It has been a great tool for those who have had “a hard time” (at least with respect to the temple and its blessings). Those who are meeting with us are able to attend the temple as they wish.

  74. christiankimball. That is what we do. Often we hear, “I thought I’d come in and you’d have 20 pages of answers for my questions. Instead, over a period of months, you listened, read with me and we just talked.” Of course, the testimonies they had are never restored (but because they were generally based upon what they learned in Primary or Seminary, they needed to grow and change. You are such a counselor. Many of us on BCC and other places are the same. Remember, each one we assist to find peace is also helping their families find peace.

  75. Steve at 8:17 — regarding temple recommends I completely agree with you as an opinion, but I think you would have to be speaking as a Stake President to make it happen with any confidence. I know of a Stake President who is actively requesting women come talk with him about women’s roles, participation on councils, Ordain Women, and so on. I believe it to be a completely well intentioned request for information and ideas. But I also know that because he did not say anything specific about temple recommends (not being in jeopardy) there are women choosing to stay away and stay quiet. They are afraid.

  76. Two things I think can help. One about creating more robust wards that are hospitable to a wider range of faiths and one about interpersonal counseling.

    1) Legitimating different forms of belief in our local congregations. By this I mean being able to publicly recognize that declare acceptable both literal beliefs and those with less literal beliefs. Even small steps in this direction can make a big impact. Wards where it is perfectly acceptable to publicly believe and discuss the Flood, for example, as a beautiful story meant to allegorically teach spiritual truths as well as equally respecting those that believe that there was a literal worldwide flood with all the animals saved magically on the ark, are just so much more hospitable when harder questions come up. I still fail to see why we can’t equally respect members that believe polygamy was a mistake or was very poorly practice and those who accept “the Law of Sarah”. As long as people can love and serve across such divides then it becomes much easier to help people in different forms of faith crisis or transition because you are giving them multiple *legitimate* places to land. All the hushed corridor stuff doesn’t work because it is clearly signaling that such beliefs are just not acceptable to hold publicly. We need a greater publicly accepted pluralism of faith in many places. It would be great if that was supported by our general leaders and more publicly evident in the leadership of the church. This has been a big downside of correlation and priesthood alignment in my mind.

    2) For a certain class of faith crisis there has to be some sincere counseling, listening and support that is destination neutral. Acknowledging that there are legitimate reasons to doubt and go another way while “dangerous” can go a long way in letting people work through these issues while maintaining their intellectual and spiritual integrity. If all interactions and discussions about their issues are shaded by an agenda to “keep them in” this can be really counterproductive. This is especially true for people who are grappling with feelings of betrayal or trust issues about past teachings, apologetics etc. I think there is subtle but real difference between expressing to a person that you honestly hope they stay in communion with the ward and church and coloring every explanation with attempts to argue them into staying. In one you are an honest broker in the other…. Of course, being destination neutral is really, really hard if not impossible for strictly orthodox members and leaders – especially those that hold very narrow and literalistic beliefs. I truly believe there is such a thing as a “good exit” – as Steve said, it may be part of the plan for that person. To “save” some we need to risk they may make a thoughtful decision to leave.

  77. After a recent conversation with my son, where he described his frustrations with the seminary teachers being “slippery” anytime questions were asked, and treating the students like they were wrong for having questions, and making them do extra work if they wanted to talk about things. I wondered how much was his perception, and whether this really happened as much as he, and the 12 other students in his class who staged a week long “sit out, ” after some students asked questions and we’re emailed about 60 pages to read. They were told to mark them up and then make separate appointments to talk to a member of the stake presidency to discuss their thoughts. (I think the choice to send the email to the entire group with the attachments was I’ll advised on several levels if the goal is to have students not actually engage in talking about topics. I am was also surprised that the teachers was shocked when students forwarded the email on, but that is another discussion.) I have been trying to figure out why this seemed like a good idea to the teacher, but it sounds like the newest way to deal with students who know how to use Google. As a parent, it is disappointing to hear that while “discuss it with the stake presidency” isn’t universal, the attempt to keep uncomfortable questions out of seminary class time, is the training teachers are receiving.

    I personally have held onto my faith by actually believing the Articles of Faith. As a young woman, we spent an entire year focusing on the Articles of Faith, as a stake. It seems that they are rarely taught as a whole worldview, with important ways that sections connect and become a doctrine based on individual gifts and talents, which interact with a variety of personal circumstances, and that offer individual choices given our gifts and circumstances.

    I personally don’t know how to walk back the destruction that I see in the over-correlation of the church and its doctrines. I think that until there are major moments of honesty about past and present problems, and a turning away from hoping that young people will decide not to read or think about their faith, that the flight of young people will continue.

    This discussion has led me to one concrete decision. I will let me son read this thread, and then I will allow him to choose whether he will continue seminary through the early morning class, or a more self-directed program of reading and discussing the Scriptures, gospel topics essays, and essays written by academics, and discussing them through blog posts and discussions. It will be much more work to choose the second option, but at least I can set the standard that no topic or question will be ignored or encouraged to be treated as improper.

    I have to say that the current church structure seems to be shooting itself in the foot. I watched most of my cohort leave the church by age 25. I will be surprised if all of my children choose to stay, and I suspect that the “BYU or out if the church” choices that other parents talk about, (we are outside the Mormon corridor) is going to be more true for my children’s generation than it was for mine.

    I hope that there is another way, but I have much less hope than I did 10 years ago.

  78. I raised this very issue at our ward council last Sunday. We were talking about when people, who were previously strong leaders, “surprisingly and suddenly” leave the church. I said that that is probably not the case, but that their questions and doubts likely had festered over a year or more, with no place to safely discuss them. As a result they go looking for answers on the Internet and get quite an unbalanced view.

    I can’t say our ward council came up with an answer right away, but everyone agreed it was a problem and wants to work toward having a solution in our own ward. One solution was to start some small group scripture studies during the week, where people can come and more freely and Indep study the gospel and explore their questions. The bishop also wants to initiate an intimate training program to train all the families in how to learn through the “come follow me” youth program. Our young women’s leader noted how much more in depth her youth study gospel topics that is often explored in gospel doctrine or relief society or priesthood. As a ward council we thought that perhaps if people take greater responsibility for their own learning, then they will learn how to approach questions or issues that are raised in an academically responsible way.

  79. Hook 'em Horns says:

    Church instruction for me has simply become 2 hours of re-hashing the same old thing each week. The “Teachings of the Prophets” books rarely have anything to do with the actual teachings of their ministry or lives and the Gospel Doctrine lessons are bland at best. That being said, I rarely come to church expecting to gain anything. However, perhaps the problem is me.

    Joseph Smith didn’t have his First Vision in a Church, he had it alone, after personal study and prayer.

    I have doubts, concerns, issues, etc. But this thread reminds me that perhaps it’s me who needs to look inward for answers and fulfillment, rather than the correlated doctrine of Church instruction or the bloggernacle, or anywhere else other. My relationship with God is key. How I nurture that is up to me.

  80. Individuals do need to take responsibility for their own study and learning in an academically responsible way. I agree.

    But if that is the only part of the solution, then I predict that the departure of tens of thousands of previously active leaders of the church will continue.

    If the issue is a faith crisis when individuals learn something new that contradicts what they were taught, then there are really only two approaches.

    Approach 1 assumes what they learned is false or nuanced truth. In this case, then continued study and being guided on how to understand these new truths is probably the best path. This should be included in the church curriculum, leader training, seminary program, etc. Why keep the nuances hidden? Why not directly refute falsehood being perpetuated?

    But my concern is that most things people discover are not falsehoods. Most of the issues are fairly straight forward and do not look good against the simple truth claims the church teaches in its manuals and in general conference.

    That leads me to approach 2. This approach assumes that the newly discovered facts/truths are real. In this case, the responsibility sits squarely at the feed of the prophets and apostles. If it is true (as per the race and priesthood essays) that prophets can teach a false doctrine for decades before it is ultimately corrected, then there is no room to teach a simplified truth claim that a prophet “will not and cannot lead the church astray”.

    This truth claim and what the church is now acknowledging is not true in the way it is being taught.

    So the church bears responsibility to clean up its doctrine and curriculum.

    The individual cannot resolve this problem.

    If the member in a faith crisis is left to themselves, they really only have two choices. Ignore reality and just believe. Or accept that some of the truth claims they have been taught are not true and totally reframe their faith. In many cases this means having to reject all of mormonism and walk away.

    If the prophets and apostles don’t step up and engage in this conversation, thousands more will continue to make the second choice.

    I could be wrong. But the most recent past, seems to indicate this is true.

  81. I’m grateful to see there are wards where the intellectually stifling effects of correlation and the lackadaisical way in which many members approach gospel study can safely fuel public discussion. Our bishop instructs members not to discuss the Constitution (hard to do given this year’s “Teachings of the Presidents” installment, not to mention in direct contradiction to many church leaders who weren’t quite as John Birch-er as Pres. Benson), and warned me personally against group scripture study outside the church. He asked if I somehow felt the church’s scripture study system — presumably here he meant Gospel Doctrine “classes” — was inadequate. Words hardly suffice to describe just how inadequate I find them, but that wasn’t my precise response. Actually I tried hard not to laugh.

  82. I agree that there needs to be institutional effort. Individuals can only do so much.

  83. Gloria, wow. Your bishop instructs people not to discuss the Constitution? Mmmmkay….

  84. My doubts began before I knew there were others who also questioned, it was a very lonely place until I trusted them with God and he comforted me. Now the doubt that plagues me the most is if the church is actually led by a Prophet why are apologists or the Newsroom addressing our doubts as best as they çan in place of him? Elder Oaks occasionally expresses his legal opinion and sure today’s missionaries are younger (is this really better?), Swedish Rescue? sorry but it reads like sleight of hand, hold on the cavalry is coming!. But it hasn’t. Who speaks God’s current words for us to hear?

  85. An Anon Nom says:

    Many people have speculated about the silence from leadership on these issues. Most of the speculation revolves around either 1) underestimating the problem, or 2) calculated silence. For a long time I wanted to believe it was #1 because that would (in my mind) imply an eventual openness in dealing with these issues. I really thought we could have some sort of open discussion, reconciliation, or whatever in a formal church context.

    However, even generational and cultural differences cannot explain the level of negligence that would explain #1. The leadership is clearly more informed than that, and the institution is clearly not so broken as to preclude widespread knowledge within leadership of the issues. They know.

    Unfortunately, I see #2 as much more sinister. I’ve struggled (and ultimately failed) to come up with a legitimate reason for leadership to watch the individual pain, the relationship strain, the breakup of families, and not do or say something about it to effect positive change.

    I’ve noticed recently that many in the NOM community are increasingly giving up hope and many in the larger community are losing interest and quietly disengaging. While this is sad from a community perspective of those with a shared background, it is understandable at an individual and family level.

  86. I believe much of it has to do with massive inefficiency of the organization to respond in effective ways to current issues.

  87. martha my love says:

    Fifteen men with access to direct inspiration and a whole church platform to communicate to people who assemble in droves to hear what they have to say is massively inefficient?

  88. rah,

    “2) For a certain class of faith crisis there has to be some sincere counseling, listening and support that is destination neutral.”

    I completely agree with this strategy. In my experience it maintains a trust bond with the individual, and while in the short term they may go inactive or outright leave the Church, I feel that the trust generated and long term relationship that is retained will go much further in hopefully bringing them back. I’ve already used this approach with both family and friends. I have always encouraged them to do what felt right for them to do. Some have strengthened in faith, some have gone, and some are still hovering on the edges of the periphery, but each of them have told me how grateful they were for my open mind and supportive attitude regardless of the choices they ultimately made.

    Unfortunately I don’t know how common my attitude and approach is amongst the population of humanity in general.

  89. An Anon Nom says:

    If there’s one thing the institutional leadership has in excess, it is business and organizational experience. It’s difficult to imagine that responses to issues of these magnitude are being held up by inefficiencies.

    However, I could imagine cultural problems within the institution that make dealing with current issues difficult. By cultural problems, I don’t mean bureaucratic problems but problems that are more sinister. (I keep using that word. It may not mean what I think it means.)

    Hence many of us are giving up hope.

  90. I disagree about Institute Instructors. The three I had contact with were actually very hardline and caused a lot of personal damage. Also there is the issue of confidentiality. I know a few people in my ward who may be open to talkind to me without judgment but I am afraid they would report in some way. I know I have already been discussed before and it is very hurtful to be the topic of gossip no matter how loving and concerned people claim to be.

  91. Martha, yes.

  92. martha,

    I think we have to also consider the massive inefficiencies brought on by the very diverse population of church members worldwide. Many of the solutions talked about here may only really be truly useful in Western cultures. African, Latin, and Asian members may not respond in the same way.

    Sure, the 15 guys at the top could come to a decision and dictate it out in General Conference, but I doubt such an approach would be at all effective in the general sense.

  93. Maybe they don’t want to upset their base of lockstep followers.

  94. Maybe. Or maybe they don’t quite know how to deal with this new problem. Or maybe it’s really hard to implement. Or…

    Theorizing about why the church isn’t doing more should not replace our obligation to help each other out.

  95. An Anon Nom says:

    Steve, JvdH,

    I think what you’re saying is that while GC may be efficient, it may not be effective. You’re probably right.

    However, the essays are all I’ve seen to deal with difficult issues. But they don’t get at the real individual crises that have swelled over the past decade. So now we’ve acknowledged all these difficult issues, but what about the people who feel the bait and switch? What about those who dig even deeper and find even more skeletons?

    I have to wonder if leadership is deliberately silent because they see that when they bring up difficult issues it just leads to more questions and pain for the institution. In the short term dealing with issues may be difficult for the institution but it is immensely helpful for individuals and families. I also think that in the long term, it’s the more sustainable and positive approach for the institution.

    So I guess that’s the sinister I’m talking about, choosing the institution over the individuals and families.

  96. It’s been my experience that leaders, on an individual pastoral basis, are very willing to talk through difficult issues. I think the institution is making progress, but it’s slow and clunky and not what it needs to be yet. And local leaders and members will trail behind (but occasionally will be way ahead) wherever the institution is going. I do think that this is on everyone’s mind, and I believe that the Church will make more efforts to help people as you say.

    In the meantime, there’s lots we can all do.

  97. For me the silence particularly coming on the heels of the creditability problem of past prophets regarding the priesthood ban is testimony destroying, what can be pointed to as meangingful recent revelation? Inspiration? Yes I think my testimony is still elastic enough to accept the brethren as generally well intended and at times even inspired but it appears that that hasn’t always kept the ship on course so what is the benefit to prompt rote obedience to the wrong course? It all seems so mindless and Godless given the glory of God is intelligence. How do you hang on to your testimony without closing your eyes or looking the other way?

  98. The source of many faith crises is the disconnect people see between the top-down institutional narrative, and what people see as the reality of things from their other sources of knowledge. I don’t think that replacing one institutional narrative with another will ever definitively solve the problem. Reality is messy; institutional narratives must be simple.

    Instead, greater openness and tolerance for a plurality of perspectives is key. It must be safe to find and express your own narrative. Once safety is assured, people will come out of the woodworks in droves with ideas of how to address troublesome issues. The problem right now is the fear of being open and getting punished in some way (even if socially).

    That said, our current institutional narrative has obvious flaws, e.g. Prophets CAN lead people astray. Thus, the church should develop a more honest narrative–knowing full well that it will still be imperfect–and then send top-down signals that greater openness and tolerance is desirable and not a basis for punishment, so that people on the ground can feel free to develop and share new narratives and perspectives.

  99. Anonymous doubter says:

    I started having serious doubts about the truth claims of the church back in 2004. Since then I’ve spent a lot of time online reading blogs, fora, articles, etc., and I must say this is one of the more refreshing discussions I’ve come across. It seems that in most cases the default response by those who are firm in their testimonies is to blame the doubter for some sort of shortcoming, rather than looking for a helpful solution. I see little of that here.

    I agre with what several posters have already said – that faith is often misplaced, and when faith is placed in the church as an organization or in its leadership, that faith is sure to be tested. Therefore we should focus our faith in Christ.

    My problem with this tactic is that for me, it leaves the church as a wholly unnecessary institution. If my doubts revolve around the truth claims of the church, and scripture and practices that are unique to Mormonism, and I focus my efforts on placing my faith in Christ, what do I need the church for? There are countless congretations that preach of Christ, without the overhanging questions of polygamy, the historicity of the Book of Mormon, the authenticity of the temple ceremonies, etc.

    If I’ve lost faith in the institution, but still focus my faith in Christ, how do I find the motivation to still align myself with the institution (outside of simply preserving familial and social relationships)?

  100. Peter, very good insights.

  101. An Anon Nom says:

    What Peter M said.

    And what Anonymous doubter said, too.

  102. I think my takeaway from this thread is that I miss gst.

  103. Jimbob, he’s not dead!

  104. Kevin Barney says:

    When I try to figure out why the things that so bother people today (especially young people) don’t really bother me, these are some of the factors I come up with:

    – My Father. I’ve blogged before about how my father had attended UoU Institute classes (with such titans as T. Edgar Lyon and Lowell Bennion) and accordingly was a certain type of Mormon that did not take leadership too seriously. His attitude towards church leadership scandalized me when I was a boy, but over time I realized what a blessing it was to model for me understanding church leaders as very fallible human beings trying their best and sometimes getting it wrong. If your background assumption is infallibility and a really high pedestal, you’re going to have a rough go of it.

    – Personality. I have a very easy going, laid back personality, so I just don’t fret about things that bother other people. If there is an issue or a problem, I approach it with a sense of curiousity, an interesting puzzle to figure out, not with the idea that this one thing might be a deal killer.

    – Gradual, incremental exposure. I’m 56 years old, which means I’m older than most of you and learned about this stuff in the first instance in the pre-internet age. So my exposure to problematic issues was not of the fire hose all at once kind, but rather came incrementally. I had space and opportunity to wrap my arms around issue X before having to confront issue Y. That is a luxury that our young people today don’t really have, and it’s almost impossible to deal effectively with dozens of difficult issues all at once.

    – Being a Reader. People have dealt with these kinds of issues for a long time, but if one is not a reader one will not really have access to that prior experience. There is a whole literature, including not only books but also journals, dealing with these issues and if one is interested enough to read that literature it makes negotiating these things much easier than if one’s exposure were limited to internet fodder. Scholarly, footnoted treatments are a different thing.

  105. Which is good news, but he doesn’t post much anymore. Episcopalian or not, he’s pretty damn funny, and I miss that.

  106. “In the meantime, there’s lots we can all do. ” True. I’ve been surprised and delighted at the contribution I’ve been able to make.

    Over the last 20 years, my testimony has reduced to Christian universalism. I haven’t had a recommend in over 10 years because, in good faith, I cannot interpret the testimony questions so broadly as to include myself. But, I stay for the same reason that many of the world’s Catholics stay Catholic; it’s my family’s religion and it doesn’t really matter to me whether I believe it. (I suppose this is easy for me because, as a universalist, I can still cling to the lowest common denominator in talks and lessons.)

    But, while I am candid about my views with anyone who asks, I don’t wear my disbelief on my sleeve. I engage happily in the community of saints. I enjoy the sociological benefits that religious community adds richness to my life. I’m SAFE to have around.

    Knowing all of this about me, my BISHOP USES ME as a “3rd line drug” in faith-crisis situations. When all else has failed to resolve a person’s concerns–and the bishop wants to communicate Elder Uchtdorf’s message to “Stay yet a little longer. There is room for you here.”—he invites them to talk with me.

    After talking with me, several people have decided to “stay yet a little longer” and give it more time.

    Yes, there’s lots we can all do.

  107. Cheers, Joel.

  108. There are some good suggestions in this thread. When you add inoculation plus Peter M’s Reality is messy; institutional narratives must be simple…greater openness and tolerance for a plurality of perspectives is key I think it’s a prescription for far less discontent down the road. I especially like Kevin’s NOM sounding don’t “take leadership too seriously” attitude, I’d love to adopt it but it seems pretty hard to do given the constant reinforcement to follow them and I think I would also keep asking myself what their role is if it isn’t serious.

  109. I agree that sometimes we should not to take leadership too seriously. Leaders are human like the rest of us. The main differences are: 1) they have the right to receive revelation to administer in their calling (while we do not); and 2) we agree to sustain them.

    As to #1, they clearly have a role. We should listen to them and learn to discern when they are giving us inspired counsel. We can learn, with wisdom and prayer, to take their counsel with a grain of salt otherwise.

    As to #2, while we should not be blindly obedient, we should try to give them the benefit of the doubt even when they say something we believe is wrong. A leader should be able to rely on our help, prayers, and a humble and honest opinion when we believe they are wrong.

  110. I just love this discussion. Anonymous Doubter and Joel – I’m sort of where you are. I ask myself these same questions, and I have a few tentative thoughts.

    At baseline, Christ must be my focus, and all truths and teachings of the Restoration must be interpreted in the context of Him, His mission, my relationship with Him, and the Plan of Salvation. Prophets and apostles, and the Book of Mormon, are only important to the extent they draw me closer to, and expand my understanding of, the Savior.

    So why also the LDS Church, rather than “mere Christianity?” First, because we LDS do have distinctive doctrines, not found in traditional Christianity, that I find beautiful. I can’t accept the binary vision of heaven and hell I find in customary Christian teachings; our views of salvation and eternal progression just really resonate with me. I find the doctrine of Baptism for the Dead to be extraordinarily merciful, and the lack of it in traditional Christianity to be so harsh. The doctrine of the Pre-existence makes a lot of sense to me, along with the greater Plan of Salvation and doctrine of eternal families. I believe in the combination of grace and works that the Book of Mormon teaches, and find the Christian ideas of pure grace (irrespective of works) and pre-destination to be inconsistent with how I view God. Don’t get me wrong – there are beautiful teachings in traditional Christianity that I wish we emphasized more in our worship and discourse at Church, and I guess I’m trying to graft those into my spiritual life as well. The upshot is that I think God really has revealed important doctrines through the Restoration and its prophets.

    Yet church culture and leader-worship drive me crazy. How do I continue to actually participate in this Church? I try to remind myself that suffering is an important part of the Christian experience (Christ, after all, suffered)! I try to remind myself that Christ instituted a church with apostles while he was on the earth, and that true Christianity involved being part of a community. God could have chosen some other way, but he wanted us to be in communities–perhaps to strengthen each other, perhaps to give us more opportunities to practice charity and forgiveness, perhaps because establishing the Kingdom of God ultimately requires some type of larger organization beyond mere individuals. On Sundays, I remind myself that the purpose of church is not to feed me, but for me to try to feed and serve others spiritually. It’s tough, because I personally want the Church and its correlated manuals to feed me, but it’s about feeding others. This will sound very egotistical–perhaps it is–but I also feel a special mission to bring Christ into the LDS Sunday meetings, given how easily so many LDS seem to lose focus on Him (and focus on the Church itself, Prophets, etc.).

    Daniel Peterson recently wrote a nice blog post at “Sic et non” about the benefits he derives from Church. I’ve also really enjoyed Eugene England’s essay “Why the Church Is As True As the Gospel” and Robert Rees’ essay “Forgiving the Church and Loving the Saints: Spiritual Evolution and the Kingdom of God.” Maybe these will offer new perspectives. And I hope you will share other ideas and articles that will expand my own!

  111. Marc and Howard, I find it helps to approach all key holders in equal fashion. Thus, I hold the same respect and honor for the President of High Priesthood (the Prophet), for my ward’s Presiding High Priest (the Bishop) and for my ward’s Deacon’s Quorum President. I may expect a little more maturity from some than others, based purely on age and experience, but I try to treat them all in the same fashion – as well-meaning men who are called of God, given a limited scope of authority, and are trying to do their best before they hand the keys to someone else. I do not think any of them are infallible, but I sustain them as much as the spirit allows.

    I also find that it helps to sing a favorite primary song:

    Follow the DQP, Follow the DQP, Follow the DQP, Don’t go astray
    Follow the DQP, Follow the DQP, Follow the DQP, He knows the way!

  112. There are some awesome deacons quorum presidents out there. When I was an adviser, we had a kid that ran sacrament like a well-oiled machine. He DID know the way.

  113. It may be useful to reiterate that there are different paths and different outcomes for different people. I read Kevin (Barney) at 11:15 am and recognize my life experience almost point by point (a few years older for sure, and little less laid back probably). But end up in a different place I think, although I haven’t compared notes with Kevin and I don’t know the truth of anyone else, and only dimly of myself.
    There are no guarantees, there is no one path, when you start asking questions. That’s a problem for some, who would like a sure thing, a fix-it prescription. In a snippy mood I’m likely to say to them “get over it”.

  114. another bishop says:

    I am serving as bishop of a ward with few people who question or go beyond correlated material.

    I decided to use the 5th sundays to talk about the essays because the essays were in the news even in our small corner of the world far from Salt Lake. One couple in the ward had heard about the race and priesthood essay and were blown away by the admission that the brethren made mistakes in their earlier racial teachings. And the polygamy essays were all over the press.

    First one I did was polygamy which I did separately for the men and the women. That was a good call, because the men were basically cads and more than half of the women ended up crying. My goal was to be very straightforward about the facts so that no one would ever think I am anything less than straightforward with them. They deserve not to be manipulated. I said what I thought backed up by historical details and even pointed out where the polygamy essays were misleading or evasive. It was very painful for some women. As we talked about it everyone agreed that they are adults and they deserve to have accurate information if they are going to be in the church. I have offered to discuss things further but no one felt the need to talk in more detail. No one has left the church.

    My primary goal (after giving accurate information) is be supportive. I tried to make it very clear that how one deals with this type of information is a personal reaction and that I will support each person and expect them to support people who end up with different opinions than they have. I told the sisters that I loved them and respected them. I explained that some people will end up feeling that polygamy was inspired in every detail and some will end up feeling that it was a mistake and some will think it was a sin. I am not aware of any pressure members are putting on each other with respect to the essays. I am not surprised. They are adults after all.

    Next up, Book of Abraham, a book which few people really study and most avoid. It doesn’t have to be that hard because most people don’t really love that book. And it wasn’t canonized during Joseph’s lifetime. And if I give everyone space to have their own interpretation, it will be fine. Nobody that I am aware of comes to church because of the Book of Abraham.

    I hope that doing it on fifth Sundays gives enough time for everyone to recover before we go on to the next one.

    I think people will be fine. As long as they receive unconditional support to believe, to leave or to stay as they wish, they will be fine. God will guide his children.

    It is not my fault or the fault of members in my ward that there are so many problems to be discussed. After lots of thought about all this stuff, I decided not to cede anything of value. It would be wrong to wreck one’s spirituality, one’s equilibrium or one’s relationships because some religious people that I don’t know personally decided to be misleading. I hope that the members of my ward can also avoid losing things of value as the essays are discussed.

  115. Dude, that’s awesome.

  116. An Anon Nom says:

    another bishop,

    Can I be in your ward, please?

  117. I appreciate Joel’s comments. I just learned a new term (Christian Universalism) that seems to fit my evolving state of belief. Having recently moved back to Utah from the “slightly” less mormon corridor of Phoenix, one of my biggest apprehensions about taking a new job in Salt Lake City was jumping back into the heavy handed mormon society. And I was pretty accurate in my assumptions. Individually there are so many fantastic people, but the mormon culture in general bothers me quite a bit. I loved the more diverse population in Phoenix and enjoyed not having everyone on my street attending my church. This was also true having grown up in the Boston area, but school, career and my wife’s family have kept us out west and close to Utah. So I miss the diversity of people and thought, but my job in Utah is amazing and a real source of relief for our young family, so I take the hit. I’ll pursue financial security and the ability to provide for my family any day over my own musings of religious belief. Having survived and recently emerged from a devastating run through the recession, that is one challenge that our family would like to avoid repeating.

    I’m currently weighing what my church involvement will be. On the surface no one would suspect that I’m this liberal and loose in my religious beliefs. I’m in the Elders Quorum presidency (a recent calling that I of course accepted based on my upbringing of always being willing to help when asked.) I attend regularly on Sunday, help out often, and I don’t mind this level of activity too much, but I feel fairly alienated from most of the usual sunday teachings and the ward society in general. I feel hypocritical even being in my current calling. It’s very easy to fit in, having been in the church my whole life. I know how to act and what to say so that no one would suspect, other than my slight irreverence by never wearing a white shirt and facial hair. I’m not confrontational by nature, and my occasional comments in church are coming from a more universal belief. But I do wonder if stepping aside from higher profile callings would be more honest, as it feels that I am at odds with much of the correlated churn. I suspect that if people knew my state of belief, they would desire a more committed or solid person to be in those positions.

    It’s fairly exhausting and frustrating living with this constant swirl of religious thought, and that may be the reality from here on out, but I can’t dismiss all of it and break away completely. I’m actually pretty comfortable with the few core beliefs and convictions I have, but figuring out how they can fit in with the overall mormon experience is the challenge. Especially disconcerting is when I hear things in church or conference etc., listening with a real desire to understand, yet often come away with the feeling that the message I’m hearing isn’t exactly correct. In a black and white church it’s hard when all you see is grey.

    I’m not well versed in the scriptures or history, but this year I’ve decided to make a greater emphasis on more legitimate study of scripture, history and philosophy so that I can perhaps gain a more well-rounded and nuanced view of my own beliefs. BCC has certainly helped with insights and thoughts that fit with my honest attempts at building faith, understanding and reasoning. But I suspect that this will be a lonely road to travel for a good while–which may not be a bad thing. I’ll take it to wherever it leads.

  118. Chris, man, you’re not alone. It feels that way sometimes on Sunday. But we’ll be thinking of you.

  119. Kevin Barney says:

    another bishop, good for you!

  120. another bishop, I hope someone in the church office building reads what you wrote (though perhaps it was prudent that you didn’t disclose your identity).

  121. “I suspect that if people knew my state of belief, they would desire a more committed or solid person to be in those positions.”

    I think this may be less true than we think it is. I suspect there are a lot of questions lurking under the Mormon surface on any given Sunday. Of course some people will be threatened by new ideas or by questions that are actually questions–ones we don’t already know the answers to–but I’m regularly surprised by how many people (and which people!) express sympathy or gratitude or just want to ask follow-up questions when I’ve voiced heterodox sentiments at Church.

    And lots of people just aren’t paying attention :)

  122. What Kristine said. We all have questions and doubts.

  123. another bishop,

    what a great approach. can i just say your observation that “the men were cads and half the women cried” perfectly encapsulates the problem with polygamy. As a church we appear to prize saving the dignity of past male leaders over the spiritual needs of our women. I love your approach where you validated as legitimate completely different positions on polygamy. By validating the whole spectrum you will give people many acceptable places to land and thereby increase the liklihood that people can stay. It is a perfect example of what I meant in my earlier comment. Using your positional authority as a bishop is so key to helping people feel safe and open.

    It wouldn’t surprise me for you to see a few of the people in the ward trickle into your office over time with deeper questions and distress. While some people will read the essay and immediately descend into crisis that is a rare case. People usually try and work some of it out on their own. Some will accept some of the varying first line apologetic responses and be fine. Others will go deeper and still find ways to resolve their concerns to their satisfaction. The ones that go into deep crisis tend to read broadly and deeply. They take awhile to show up – months or even year. Your open invitation is wonderful. You may want to repeat it from time to time to time. Keep up the great work!

  124. What gst and rah said.

    It is so hard to get pastoral counseling from someone who only sees one possible result as success. I eventually went to a spiritual director from another church just to have someone listen to me without an agenda.

    One other thing – and I know this might sound negative- but I wonder if men have a different (better?) experience with a bishop. Steve said, “It’s been my experience that leaders, on an individual pastoral basis, are very willing to talk through difficult issues.” I don’t think my bishop, although a wonderful man, was all that comfortable talking to me alone about personal faith issues. Just a thought.

  125. Jop, I wasn’t talking about bishops there – I agree it can be a mixed bag, even if most are probably looking to be as helpful as they can. I was referring to general authorities. Not very practical, I know.

  126. “I’m regularly surprised by how many people (and which people!) express sympathy or gratitude or just want to ask follow-up questions when I’ve voiced heterodox sentiments at Church.”

    Same here. Make your comment diplomatically, with gentle confidence and good humor (don’t spook) and then look around to see people make eye contact with you and nod. It’s sort of like etching the Christian fish in the sand. You’ll find kindred spirits. And you may also find that your comment is enough to prime the well of free thinking in the room. (See Solomon Asch’s studies on conformity. One person expresses disagreement and groupthink decreases exponentially.)

    That’s been my experience in four wards inside the Mormon corridor, and three wards outside.

  127. Kristine, during a recent interview with a member of my stake presidency regarding a calling he wanted me to fill, he began by saying: “Listen, don’t worry about any doctrinal disagreements you have with church teachings. That’s not as a big a deal as it used to be.” The message was clear: if you’re willing to do the work, you can believe anything you want.

  128. Peter,

    “On Sundays, I remind myself that the purpose of church is not to feed me, but for me to try to feed and serve others spiritually.” Well put!

    “Have I done any good in the world today?” The most rewarding Sundays for me are the ones when I assume responsibility to make everyone else feel welcome and included, when I’m a self-appointed greeter. When I “cheer up the sad” and “make someone feel glad,” I feel full. (As an introvert, this requires deliberate effort.)

    And there’s another upside to that. I too benefit from the loving and accepting village that I pitch in to build. My friends tolerate me–the ward’s amiable, liberal doubting Thomas.

    Be the change.

  129. I want to be careful not to imply that people who are not as fortunate as I have been in finding kindred spirits are somehow at fault. There’s definitely some geographical and temporal luck of the draw–I have also been in wards where I realized quickly that it would be best to keep my mouth shut. (That does not, alas, mean that I did what I knew to be best :))

  130. Great discussion of these difficult issues. I was inactive for about 15 years and have been attending(on my terms) for the past 6-7 years. I was a teacher for 5 years, and am currently a nursery leader with my wife. I absolutely love working with children in the nursery. Lessons are low key to non-existent. Reading books to the kids, playing on the floor with them and using the fan to blow bubbles all around the room is almost as much fun as backcountry skiing. I don’t have a temple recommend because of issues with tithing and the word of wisdom. I have been drinking coffee every morning for twenty years and see nothing wrong with it. I’ve considered drinking decaf and washing down a few caffeine pills, but that seems like an awfully silly thing to do. Not having a temple recommend prevents me from full inclusion in the ward family. There are certain things my wife and I can’t do, so we’re not fully integrated members. Kind of half in and half out. It’s hard to participate in this way. We get weird vibes from some, but enjoy the friendship of others. The push to being all in is strong, and there aren’t approved levels of activity below that. But, attending sacrament meeting, taking the sacrament, doing home teaching and hanging out twice a month for two hours with two year olds adds a meaningful spiritual dimension to my life. The idea of focusing my life on Christ and taking what helps me to do that from institutional involvement resonates with me.

  131. Reddit has a pretty strong latter day saint group that helped me through my faith crisis. Maybe people should be sent there.

  132. “Reading books to the kids, playing on the floor with them and using the fan to blow bubbles all around the room is almost as much fun as backcountry skiing.”

    This cracked me up. (And as a lover of off-trail skiing and nursery, I can agree w/ this point.) Fletch, your comment really resonated with me. I just renewed my temple recommend this week, and I felt very frustrated, b/c of the binary-ness of activity labels in our Mormon culture. I admire that you are able to participate the way you are, and I wish we had more acceptance of a middle-road (instead of the dreadful term, “less-active,” for example). I also have appreciated living abroad where there is much more fluidity in practice and acceptance. I guess, when there’s a need for “all hands on deck,” it doesn’t matter so much who is paying tithing (for example) and who isn’t.

  133. I think these problems are exacerbated by the fact that Mormons (including struggling Mormons) have unreasonable expectations of what a church, and those that run it, should be able to do. Mormons expect their church to be consistent, consistently good, and make demonstrably true empirical claims. Churches generally can’t do that.

    But churches can do good things, even wonderful things, including hopefully bringing us closer to God and our families. So you’ve got to get over the unreasonable expectations and still maintain an appreciation for the good that your church can do for you and your family.

    Of course, those unreasonable expectations don’t come from nowhere. I think the church fosters them.

  134. Sure it does. Part of the problem is that the gospel can meet those demands (except perhaps the last), but the institution can’t.

  135. I seem to recall a conference talk by Ronald Poelman on that very subject. Its reception was, shall we say, mixed.

  136. I dunno, the version I saw didn’t really mention it.

  137. Perhaps I’ve been slow to see this, but it dawned on me that when we use the term “faith crisis” most of the time we really mean loss of trust in the institution, a betrayal crisis. It’s not necessarily ‘help thou mine unbelief [in God or God’s power] – it’s “help thou my distrust [in the institution]”. We feel led astray by the very people who promised us they couldn’t lead us astray. Preaching that our leaders speak for God makes them interchangeable and indistinguishable.

  138. I have taught Sunday School for years. I have also known about the dissonance between our actual history and the correlated version for years, and have integrated the two seamlessly teaching everything from 12 year olds to the old timers. I find there’s no reason why it can’t be done. I have had more occasions that I can count students coming up to me after class thanking me for the lesson and helping them navigate issues that has been pestering them. A few observations (in gross generalities, acknowledging there are many exceptions):

    – Kids, investigators and new members are the easiest to teach the controversial stuff. They’re the ones who are reading it online anyway, and the ones that are most hungry to discuss and make sense. They have no ownership of the correlated stuff, so they are not at all shocked. We should aggressively implement curriculum changes with these groups to incorporate the new Gospel Glasnost classes.
    – Mormon Belt long term members are the most resistant to letting go of correlated stuff. They will kick and scream and do everything in their power to explain A: why you’re wrong; B: why they info is right but misrepresented; or C: the info is right, properly contexted, but should not be brought up (for the sake of the weaker members). I find it perfectly ok to make folks uncomfortable, and to call them on any exclusionary or revisionist history they bring up. When confronted and challenged (in the true sense of the words), this group can begin to see things differently, or at least accept the existence of a valid alternate narrative.
    – Leaders who sit in the class (often at the request of someone in the category above) are usually surprised as to how well it works.

    The key is honesty, compassion, and time. If BY taught blood atonement, and someone asks, say “yes, he did”, not “well, it’s complicated. He lived in a different time than we do, with different values, and survival of the church was pre eminent in his mind. With the history of Missouri and Nauvoo fresh in his mind…”. All this info has its place, but the moment someone asks a simple question and a complicated answer is the first thing that comes out, your credibility goes out the window. Compassion is needed to help the participants understand not only that there’s a bunch of others with the same question, but that the questions are proper and legitimate and need to be asked. Lastly, time is a must. Time must be allotted to uncover, to talk about, to allow the freedom to play with ideas, and for those ideas to percolate.

    It can be done, it should be done.

  139. martha my love says:

    “Perhaps I’ve been slow to see this, but it dawned on me that when we use the term “faith crisis” most of the time we really mean loss of trust in the institution, a betrayal crisis. It’s not necessarily ‘help thou mine unbelief [in God or God’s power] – it’s “help thou my distrust [in the institution]”. We feel led astray by the very people who promised us they couldn’t lead us astray. Preaching that our leaders speak for God makes them interchangeable and indistinguishable.”

    Yes! Exactly. And it doesn’t help any more that the Brethren remain insulated and talk through anonymous channels than it does that the supposed doctrine offends some consciences and personal revelation.

  140. Jenny B @ 2/12 1:30pm: great insight — thanks.

    (know the thread is pretty well finished, but just in case you’re still listening. And as several have already said: thanks BCC for the good discussion. This has been a good week here. )

  141. Cheers!

  142. I hesitate to upset your lovely & tidy “Cheers!” ending to this wonderful thread Steve E. – but my mind can’t let go of a few thoughts (and I’ve tried for a couple days to shake them.)

    Going way back to what Kris said (February 10, 2015 at 2:14 pm):
    “If one experiences answers to prayers and experiences the Spirit in certain Church settings then what does it matter about polygamy, etc.? I am puzzled that there are so many doubters. Haven’t they experienced answers and the Spirit?”

    This may work great for an insulated Mormon – but anyone who has taken a good hard look around the world with an open mind about spiritual things finds something our church culture rarely (if ever) speaks about. Lots of people in myriads of faith traditions experience answers to prayers. They also experience the Spirit in *their* (not LDS) church settings. Many have even had some pretty miraculous life events leading them to a specific church (Not ours. Surprise!). If you listen, their stories sound very much like our own. What happens to our Mormon narrative when the whole wide world around us is telling a different (or parallel) story? I feel our church may have rendered a disservice to many insulated members by not openly admitting and exploring this aspect of life on our planet – that the Spirit can work in every soul, and in many faith traditions. The internet and our increasing personal contact with others throughout the world is making our narrow-version of how the spirit works increasingly short-sighted.

    At times like this, I feel very much like Joel – Christian universalism seems extremely attractive and fits what my soul sees and feels when I think in terms of our world-wide humanity. And yet, I stay LDS. I still believe that Priesthood keys and authority are real, even if I don’t understand them.

    Steve E., I found myself cringing the couple times you reiterated “We all have questions and doubts.” I guess if I qualified that with “if everyone was honest with themselves, they’d admit….” But I see so much lip-service to the contrary. And even heartfelt sincerity by those who truly believe they have no doubts (perhaps they are afraid to question or doubt?). The language of certainty and the cultural pressure for knowledge over doubt is enormous in this church (at least in my mixed-up corner, with what I see.)

    BCC has been an absolute lifeline to me and my wandering, faltering faith. I feel orphaned around both atheists and absolutely certain LDS folks. The percentage of people in the church who really want to explore with an open mind and discuss and seek for themselves seems quite low. (I hope I am wrong about that – but I just don’t see it.) I see people who want to be told what to think and what to feel and what to believe so they can get on with their lives, and not struggle with deep introspection or questioning. It’s scary, really, to open myself to the possibility that the tidy picture in my head is wrong. And I hate to say it, but I see so many GA’s happy & willing to perpetuate the easy but fatal façade (‘just follow the prophet, follow the brethren, stay in the boat’). I say fatal because it kills any real and painful growth of the spirit and learning. (and I don’t mean we should ignore the prophets and brethren – of course not – I just mean that when it’s so one-sided & one-dimensional – if it’s the *only* thing people do without searching their own souls, it’s soul-shrinking). Shouldn’t we be encouraging truth-seeking with reckless abandon? Isn’t that what gives life its ultimate meaning? (I need to qualify that – I think what gives life ultimate meaning is each other – helping & listening to one another, loving and forgiving. I can finally see that that’s what you’re saying with your OP. Sorry it took me so long.)

    I’m just one small voice with no authority, but if the Church wants to help stem the tide of faith crises and betrayal crises, I think the Church itself needs to come forward with the truth about our whitewashed history (as innocent as the intent may have been, we still ought to acknowledge the pain it has caused – and not just with anonymously written, carefully worded essays), and the truth about how the spirit works in other faiths and in every person’s life, and how we don’t have a monopoly on the spirit or the truth.

    There’s a reason BCC & the Bloggernacle (and the Givens, Bushmans, Adam Miller, and even John Dehlin) are so popular – many of us are starving for real conversations and stories about our lived reality – but none of these resources come from the Church, so people will continue to leave and the Church will seem increasingly irrelevant (unless the Church joins this discussion in an earnest, painfully honest, and sincere way). I think it’s a huge mistake to try to rectify these problems outside official church channels. In the end, avoidance and squelching discussions doesn’t help anyone (unless life outside the church is really the best path for some).

    Thanks for the great discussion Steve.

  143. David McKane says:

    I would tell the person to gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon. For everything falls apart or rises above based on the truthfulness or lack there of of the Book of Mormon. Any doubts or concerns can be abided with a testimony of the Book of Mormon. More growth and understanding can be gained till one can come to an answer or accept any disconcerting church history or problems based on a testimony of the Book of Mormon. In a factual way I would also talk about all the factual evidence for the Book of Mormon to include New Relations of Gaspesia that I hope Steve Evans will make this book more well known. I would also talk about the dna (haplo group x) proof and the breast plates and head plates of the Hopewell Indians. I would also tell how there time frame and dna and mound fortifications match the Book of Mormon plus much much more. Maybe Steve will post some of that and quite possibly help millions of people gain or strengthen a testimony of the Book of Mormon instead of question long held doubts about the Book of Mormon that have now been proven completely irrelevant.

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