Book Review: Bridges: Ministering to Those Who Question

David B. Ostler
Bridges: Ministering to Those Who Question
Greg Kofford Books, Salt Lake City, Utah
July 2019, xiv+183 pages, Appendix, endnotes, index.
$32.95 hardcover, $18.86 paper (Amazon), $17.99 Kindle.

Bridges is a short volume that addresses one of the issues facing most religions in many parts of the world: people dropping out. Surveys suggest that there are many reasons for what has been called “the rise of the nones” an especially pertinent phenomenon among young adults. The relevancy of that Old Time Religion seems to be in question.

Author David Ostler, a former stake and mission president, approaches the issue from the perspective of those who find their initial divergent path from orthodoxy and activity because they become doubtful of the church’s historical roots and practices (polygamy, for example) as well as other struggles involving sexual orientation, etc. Ostler is not out to answer any of these doubts in particular. Instead, he proposes his volume as an attempt to advise the faithful on how to minister by the side of those who are troubled by doubt (x). It’s not a simple recipe: pray, read scripture, attend church and a temple (43-44).

I have family and friends who no longer believe in the doctrines that I hold dear. It hurts . . . . I have tried to understand why they no longer believe. I have asked them, listened to their reasons . . . . I have conducted surveys of members, leaders, and those who no longer believe . . . . I use the term faith crisis to describe the state of dissonance and distress that some may experience regarding their belief in the Church and its teachings.

Ostler notes that those who experience such crises are frequently among the most active participants (x).[1] His studies have led him to four conclusions which he lays out in the book’s introduction. I like them and I think they are provocative in the present climate that seems to be fostered (perhaps unconsciously) my many local church leaders and members. I summarize them here augmented by a few other insights in the book:

1. Ward and stake leaders could better understand members experiencing a faith crisis. Leaders frequently lack insight into both the issues leading to faith challenges and the pain, loss, and isolation these faith challenges can produce.
2. Ward and stake leaders recognize the need to address faith challenges but they generally don’t know how to address them.
3. Because members and leaders don’t understand these challenges, members who experience such crises are generally unwilling to share those feelings and struggles with leaders. These struggling members are far more common than we realize
4. This isolation felt by challenged members is often generated by justified fear that they will be met by defensiveness, criticism, or judgment by leaders and other members. Lack of an understanding someone standing beside them often means they leave completely and with unfortunate bitterness.

The book is divided into three sections.

Five chapters make up section 1: A Crisis of Faith
1. A Different Time
2. How Societal Changes Affect Belief
3. Why People Leave
4. Confronting Today’s Challenges of Faith
5. How Faith Changes.
[I particularly enjoyed Ostler’s discussion of a number of issues in this section, such as the lack of female leadership in the church (33), issues surrounding sexual orientation (30), anxiety among those who are different from what has been called the “Ensign norm”(38), the existing climate among many church members regarding political parties and politics in church settings (41).

Three chapters make up section 2: Trust, Belonging, Meaning.
Three more chapters make up the final section 3.
9. Key Principles of Ministering
10. Ministering at Church
Conclusion: Not Walking Alone

This book seems like a good step in the direction of teaching the rank and file how to avoid judgmental behavior and seek to be understanding of those outside our often culturally constructed norms and those who struggle with dissonance over history or doctrine or practice. I recommend it for every bishop’s bookshelf.

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[1] Ostler is aware that his survey methodologies do not necessarily meet acceptability criteria for scientific or social science study. However, the data he collected seems quite useful within some qualifications.

Comments

  1. Glad he is seeking information from those facing these challenges.
    Still not sure how to consider polygamy. But each book of scripture seems to have its inexplicable command from God to do something we find abhorent. Abraham to kill his son. Nephi to kill Laban. Joseph Smith to practice polygamy.
    Any one of these stories can be used by others to justify murder and spousal betrayal. Of course, the mentally ill are particularly vulnerable to literal interpretations of problematic scriptures and have been known to literally cut off the body part that causes them to sin.
    I am never satisfied by the reasoning given in church lessons. The Apostle Paul teaches us that Abraham fully expected God to raise Isaac from the dead after he killed him. But too often we are left with some one assigning meaning that warps or completely undermines the beautiful truths of the gospel. Such as the teaching we all are alike to God, male and female, was undermined by much of the rhetoric that accompanied polygamy.
    Perhaps if we had better lessons on exactly what was meant by some of these scriptures, we would not struggle so. Perhaps I am seeking something not available in mortality, clarity of vision.

  2. Thanks for this. Very useful review.

  3. Perhaps a sympathetic ear from a church leader would have prevent Laura Gaddy from suing the church for having a faith crisis.