The Great Tragedy

I gave this talk in Sacrament meeting this past Sunday. A few people in attendance asked for a copy, and suggested posting it somewhere where others could find it.

When my wife and I were in college, we became close friends with another couple from our stake—Rich and Angie [Note: Names changed for privacy reasons]. I had met Rich through work, but we became fast friends and ended up in the same stake as them, and our friendship grew closer and closer over time. Eventually they moved away after graduation, but we kept up a tradition of spending Thanksgiving with them for many years afterwards. One year, as Rich and I were watching a movie late at night, he told me that he had been struggling with his relationship with the church for some time, asked me if I would be willing to talk about it with him. I was happy to, of course, and he explained how he no longer believed many things he previously believed, and that he didn’t really know what to do about it. He asked me why I believed some of the things I believed.

We talked about a number of options, and at the end of the conversation, he thanked me for listening said he hadn’t expected that. I was a bit confused by this, but he explained that he had previously tried to speak with his brother in law—with whom he was very close—and that his brother in law had listened for a few moments before stopping the conversation and requesting that Rich never bring it up with him again; he had, for whatever reason, been very uncomfortable discussing a person’s doubt or lack of belief, and felt threatened by it. Rich said that he had also tried to talk with his wife Angie, but that she too was reluctant to discuss it. He had tried to bring up his faith crisis with people closest to him, and they had shut him down. And he understandably felt pretty isolated.I assured Rich that I would always be happy to listen or talk with him, and that it didn’t affect our friendship.

This story doesn’t really have an especially happy ending, though. I’m still friends with Rich. I’m still friends with Angie. But they’re not really friends with each other. Rich and Angie continued to…”Not talk about it” and grew increasingly isolated from each other. Rich stopped attending church entirely. It created an even bigger wedge between them. Eventually, they separated and then divorced. It’s sad. Lots of stories end this way.

There are a lot of people in the church who feel very alone and isolated in the church. It is difficult to talk about this subject, because these folks are not identical and end up on the margins of the church for different reasons.

Throughout my life, I have been blessed (or maybe cursed?) to have been a magnet for these people. I have, through my callings and through some websites I’ve administered, listened to and taken part in more conversations than I can even begin to count with people who, after a long period of activity and participation in the church, come to the realization that things just aren’t working for them very well.

Although there are differences in the stories and backgrounds of these folks, there are also similarities. One of the similarities is marginalization—when you find yourself increasingly isolated and alone and on the outside looking in.

I’d like to use an example from one of my favorite TV shows—Parks and Recreation–to illustrate the idea of marginalization. If you haven’t seen Parks and Recreation, then maybe consider repenting and being a better person, I guess?

Anyway, in this TV show, there is a recurring joke involving a Shetland pony named Li’l Sebastian. Every time Li’l Sebastian appears, all of the characters, including the rough and gruff and cold ones, just instantly melt and begin praising him. They just really love this horse, and think it’s the greatest thing on earth. But there is one character—Ben Wyatt—who didn’t grow up in the community and for whatever reason, doesn’t see what everyone else seems to see. Upon seeing Li’l Sebastian and other peoples’ reactions, Ben innocently tries to ask what the big deal is. The reaction from everyone is a sharp rebuke and just more insistence that Li’l Sebastian is amazing. They shut Ben down.

Over time, Ben Wyatt realizes that asking questions about why everyone is so thrilled with Li’l Sebastian just gets him in trouble, so he stops asking and just begins smiling and nodding. Later in the show, he even buys Li’l Sebastian shirts for himself and his wife—the biggest Li’l Sebastian fan of all. And yet, each time this sort of thing happens, the camera will cut away to Ben’s face, and he’ll give a look that says, “Yeah, I still don’t get it.”

In other words, he fakes it. Now, faking it is funny, because we’re talking about a little horse, right? Also, it’s just TV.

But faking it isn’t funny when we’re talking about matters of faith and belief and membership in an actual community.

For many members of the church, things are easy—the gospel is simple and clear and everything just works. Prayers are followed by feelings of peace; the temple is wonderful; families are happy; the priesthood is powerful; General Conference is amazing; it all just…works. But for some members of the church, the experience is a little bit more like Ben Wyatt and Li’l Sebastian: meetings filled with heartfelt and genuine testimonies or praise for teachings, doctrines, and ideas that, to them, seem a little bit foreign or off. Sometimes, they even feel wrong or incorrect.

The reasons that people struggle to relate and feel marginalized vary. Sometimes people feel alone because of life stage; they are single or divorced in a church where, goodness gracious we just cannot shut up about family and marriage and children. Sometimes its’ political; sometimes its theological. Sometimes, like when we are talking about LGBTQ issues, it is a mix of politics and theology.

Anyway, the causes of marginalization vary, and I don’t want to dwell on any particular cause because that is not fair, but the resulting isolation leads to tragedy. And it is about that “tragedy” that I want to talk about now.

I don’t know what happens when we die—I don’t have any clue, to be honest, and I don’t think anyone really does. We have some scriptures that give us some ideas, but really they don’t tell us the nuts and bolts of existence in the afterlife.

But if I could express a hope, it would be—first—that heaven exists, and second, that I get to go there. And finally—and I apologize for the heavy reliance on pop culture, but I hope that Heaven is like it is in the movie Coco.

If you haven’t seen Coco, the movie is about a family and takes place around the Mexican festival of the Day of the Dead. We see this family struggling to stay together, but what is great is we see that struggle taking place on both the side of the living and the side of the dead. But what is so great is that Heaven in Coco is shown as, basically, a big family dinner. Brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, moms and dads, grandparents—and still with all the personalities. People tease and joke and get angry and are still…just family.

I hope that is really what heaven is like. I hope that heaven is a family dinner with my actual family members—not angelic beings in white robes singing praises and reciting scripture, but my actual family with all of our irreverence and quirks.

And perhaps I hope for that, because frankly, family dinners are really my view of heaven on earth, as well—a big family dinner. I can think of no greater success in my life that a vision, 20 or 30 years from now, when my wife and I are gathered around our dinner table. Our three children are there. Maybe they’re married. I hope so. And I hope they have kids, too. And we’re all laughing and joking and arguing and debating and teasing and sharing, and being a FAMILY.

We love the church, right? We think it offers something special, and we want to share it with others. We hope they see what we see, and when they don’t, it is sad. It hurts. And it hurts even more when the people we share it with are important to us—especially when its family.

Statistically, some research shows that we lose 50% of millennials—these are people roughly my age and younger. That means that, if you have two children, odds are, one of them will, at some point, disaffiliate from the church. That is a bummer. It’s really sad. I wish it wasn’t the case.

That means two things. First, it means that we have a duty and obligation to try and prevent it. We should teach our children and family members the gospel. We should share it and live it as best we can, and hope that it sticks.

But it also means that we cannot stick our heads in the sand and pretend that it is impossible that, one day, one of our family members will decide that the Church is just not working for them. Many of them will, one day, look around in Sacrament meeting, and overwhelmingly feel like “These are not my people.” And it’s not just in the future—there are people who experience that in the present—today, probably in this room.

If and when that day comes, we must be willing and able to talk with our children or spouses or siblings and our friends and fellow ward members. Because if we are not and cannot, if we silence them or refuse to engage with them, we isolate them. And that isolation is the enemy of community, and when belief falters, and there is no community or ties to the community, the feeling that “These are not my people” will become the truth, and they will have no reason to stay. And we will, as a church and a community, be worse off.

But the real lesson from Coco is not just about what Heaven looks like—the great Family Dinner. It also has a profound lesson on what it means to really, truly die—the real tragedy I keep alluding to. In Coco, people only really, truly die when their family ceases to remember them—when they are forgotten.

When a child or sibling or spouse loses their faith or rejects the gospel, that is sad, and we are right to wish it wasn’t so. We are right to mourn, and to fret, and to pray for a change of heart. But rejection of this or that belief or the loss of a particular faith is not the great tragedy.

The dinner table—the great family dinner, we hope that all of the seats are filled. But sometimes they won’t be. Maybe someone had to work and couldn’t make it, but they’ll be there next time. Maybe someone won’t ever be able to make it because of death. Death brings sadness, of course—but it is part of life and understandable, and we know from Coco that they’re not actually missing dinner—they’re just at the dinner party with the rest of the extended family across the veil. And soon enough, we’ll be there to attend dinner with them anyway.

The tragedy, brothers and sisters, is when a chair at the family dinner table is empty because someone didn’t feel welcome or wasn’t invited. Because they were isolated and marginalized and silenced and unwelcome. Because they were ignored and, in their minds and hearts, they were—or at least felt—forgotten. Being marginalized is the great tragedy, because it is self-reinforcing—it perpetuates itself both in this life and in the next.

We talk about seeing people as God sees them, and I think we often mean something related to divine potential and maybe that’s true, but I mostly think that isn’t a very helpful or useful interpretation. I think a better way of thinking about it is to remember that everyone is a child of God. So they are part of God’s family. And therefore, and therefore they are our extended family—our cousins, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews. This is important, because it means our tragedy is not just an empty chair in our home because a family member didn’t feel welcome. It is not tragic in the church when someone believes or feels differently about doctrine X or Y or Z, but instead when the reaction to that belief leads to marginalization and isolation and eventually to an empty spot in the pew because they felt that they weren’t welcome in the community.

If you are here today, and you feel like you don’t belong, like something about the church doesn’t “work” for you, I am sorry. That stinks—it is just the worst. I have felt that way, many times. If you have questions or doubts, I totally get it. I have questions and doubts, too, and it is just the worst. If you’re here and are just bored—I get that, too.

And I want you to know you’re not alone. You’re absolutely not alone—there are lots of other people, far more than you think, who also get it and know what you are feeling. You’re not alone.

And if you need to talk, please talk with me. Talk with my wife. Talk with us. We’ve seen some stuff. We’ve heard some things. We will listen, and will not ask you to be quiet or be different than you are, or condition our friendship on belief. We won’t make you wear a Li’l Sebastian shirt.

You are welcome—here, in our pews, but also in our home and at our dinner table. You are our people.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Comments

  1. gosh this is great, Scott

  2. Yes, a thousand times.

  3. Very well done, Scott.

    I think it’s helpful to think of a testimony as something that is always in the process of being torn down and rebuilt. Our beliefs and priorities change as we go through life. Therefore, there’s no reason for a big freakout when we realize our beliefs are under construction.

  4. I wish this could be read at general conference. Thank you for writing and posting.

  5. I’m giving a talk in a few weeks on Ministering and I’ve been feeling very strongly to give something along this theme. This is fabulous. This is the money quote: ” It is not tragic in the church when someone believes or feels differently about doctrine X or Y or Z, but instead when the reaction to that belief leads to marginalization and isolation and eventually to an empty spot in the pew because they felt that they weren’t welcome in the community.”

  6. lvcenturion says:

    Scott, thank you for posting this talk. I’ve struggled with questions and concerns for the past year and like Rich, my wife avoids discussion and would be happy if everything just magically resolved itself the way she would like. There have definitely been Sundays where I have sat in the pews and wondered if I belong. I certainly don’t feel comfortable bringing up my concerns to other members in the ward and there’s perhaps one friend that I has been willing to listen and at least acknowledge that I’m not certifiably crazy. That being said, I’ve come to my own conclusion that it’s ok not to agree with or accept everything at first, that sometimes in our struggles our personal relationship with the Savior can grow as we honestly seek his grace and try to do our best. This experience continues to teach me things like not rushing to judgement and accepting of others faults and weaknesses given my own shortcomings.

  7. It’s a perfect talk, Scott, just as it is.

  8. Well said. I think there’s a corollary to this phenomenon, though, and that’s people who purposefully separate themselves from believers upon their faith crisis. I’ve seen both, sometimes in equal measure. I feel bad when believers shut out non-believers as though their unbelief was a contagion that could catch the rest of the congregation; and I feel bad when new non-believers shut out the congregation they were part of. And more often than not, I suspect the relational disaffection (rather than religious disaffection) is a bit of a two-way street, involving a little of both of these. But that’s a different post.

  9. Good talk. Thanks for giving and for posting.

    A couple of comments:
    1. I wonder at the background for your delivery. This kind of talk (there seem to be more and more like it, around the Church) has the greatest impact when given by a bishop or stake president, or at the request of the bishop or stake president.
    2. When the issue is feeling marginalized or rejected, there’s a fair question whether this kind of talk given as a sole individual without authority or an imprimatur can make a difference? My answer is that it has and it will. Maybe because expectations of rejection are high and expectations of welcome are low, just one or two friendly faces in the crowd makes a difference. I treasure those friendly faces.
    3. I think it would be a mistake to generalize from this talk to (what is being called) mixed faith marriages more broadly. The dynamics are complicated and individual, and there are many painful stories notwithstanding caring and listening friends and family, and notwithstanding couples in fact “talking about it.”

  10. Man, it is good to hear from you Scott. This is a wonderful sermon. It has been too long since I have sat at your table.

  11. …also I think that this is a brilliant modern day reading of Paul and the Lord’s supper.

  12. Thanks for this wonderful post. I felt this way after going to the temple for the first time and experiencing sexism in God’s house. When I would go to church, I would look around and be so confused at all the happy women talking about how much they loved the temple and the peace it gave them. I felt like a kid in a classroom where the teacher says something really wrong, and everything nods theirs heads like it makes perfect sense, and I am the only one looking around the room trying to see who else thinks like me. This isolated feeling has gone on for years. No one I would talk to understood. Luckily I found blogs like this one where I could reconfirm my own sanity.

  13. Thank you, this is beautiful.

  14. Forgive me for monopolizing the comments.

    Mormonism at its best is pretty good at fostering a sense of community, and we promise to bear one another’s burdens. As this post points out, the tragedy is that sometimes (often?) we are not at our best. It reminds me of the way Anne Lamott described her first visit to Alcoholics Anonymous, a visit which saved her life. She describes feeling greatly embarrassed to be there and reluctant to open up about her struggles but when she did, the woman next to her said “Guess what? Me too. Let me get you a glass of water.”

    Lamott concludes by saying “Guess what? Me too.” Those are the words of salvation.”

  15. Kevin Barney says:

    A perfectly lovely talk, Scott. Well done.

    If anyone in my neck of the woods ever needs this kind of a listening ear, I would be happy to provide it.

  16. jimbob–

    Thanks for your comment. I agree that people can isolate themselves intentionally. My talk is definitely meant for people who would, other things equal, still prefer to remain part of the community and feel isolated somewhat against their preferences.

    I also think that, even in cases where people isolate themselves, we can’t strip those actions from the context of a lifetime of seeing members react poorly to signs of doubt or disaffection. IOW, I don’t really blame members of the church who pre-emptively isolate themselves because they expect people will react negatively to them. There is a lot of evidence to support such an expectation, which is sad.

  17. christiankimball–

    There are some interesting details for the impetus of the talk, but the short version that it was not coincidence that I spoke on this subject; we have a larger project going on in our ward that I’ve been a part of, and this was an extension of that. I’d be happy to chat over email about the larger project if you’d like.

  18. “I think it would be a mistake to generalize from this talk to (what is being called) mixed faith marriages more broadly. The dynamics are complicated and individual, and there are many painful stories notwithstanding caring and listening friends and family, and notwithstanding couples in fact “talking about it.”

    I totally agree, and I do hope that I didn’t give the impression that simply talking about things openly leads to bliss and harmony and peaceful resolutions of all problems, because that is obviously not true. What I meant to try and communicate is simply that our reactions to people affect their willingness to share personal information, and without that such exchanges, the likelihood of destructive isolation increases.

    People leave the church all the time–there is little if anything that can be done to prevent that; but the circumstances under which it happens can change, and my optimistic view is that 1) we would have more people stay, even if they don’t believe, because they enjoy the fellowship and community, and 2) even if they leave, they leave because they want something else and not because they didn’t feel wanted, because if the former happens, the person might be comfortable stopping back in to say hello from time to time.

  19. Why am I crying? I’m crying. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ. I wish this were required reading in every ward — like it was a First Presidency letter.

  20. I love this, so much. I want it to be required reading for really everyone.

    However, when members are also getting a message from President Nelson that if they or, perhaps more importantly, their loved ones are not living the Gospel of Jesus Christ the way the church outlines now, they will not be together forever, there is so much stoked fear. His April “Come Follow, Me” talk ends with a story about a man who wanted proxy temple work done after he died to avoid needing to get a temple recommend before than, with President Nelson editorializing (although, remember he is the prophet):

    “Thankfully, I am not this man’s judge. But I do question the efficacy of proxy temple work for a man who had the opportunity to be baptized in this life—to be ordained to the priesthood and receive temple blessings while here in mortality—but who made the conscious decision to reject that course.

    My dear brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ invites us to take the covenant path back home to our Heavenly Parents and be with those we love. He invites us to “come, follow me.”

    Now, as President of His Church, I plead with you who have distanced yourselves from the Church and with you who have not yet really sought to know that the Savior’s Church has been restored. Do the spiritual work to find out for yourselves, and please do it now. Time is running out.”

    Members are going to see what they consider sin and fear the words of the prophet: “Time is running out.”

  21. John Swenson Harvey says:

    Very insightful, many important observations and good advice all in one place! :-)

    Thank you.

  22. EmJen: the “Time is Running Out” quote really really bothers me too. I can only hope that it is meant for effect, not to be taken literally. Maybe President Nelson simply likes to add hyperbole here and there and we should take it that way. You know, like saying Satan is pleased when we use “Mormon”.

  23. Good stuff, Scott.

  24. Another appeal for a tent so big that it breaks. “Include and support the unbelieving in their unbelief!” “Include and support behavior that violates key tenants!” “Change the church until it looks and sounds like an anywhere-USA secular support group!” Sheesh. The “inclusion”/victimhood/marginalization narrative/plea/power play is a slippery slope that, fully embraced, would make the church indistinguishable from secular culture generally (see, e.g., the decline of liberal churches: Episcopalianism, Presbyterianism, Lutheranism, etc.) until it no longer exists (or has a reason to exist). If the tenants are true, adhere; if they aren’t true, leave and move on. Fair?

  25. Beautiful.

  26. Nagai Waga, I think you’re reading things into Scott’s talk that aren’t there.

  27. EnglishTeacher says:

    Is this the message of ministering to those you are assigned that likely have doubts, evolving beliefs, or other quiet or not so quiet turmoil as a member of the church? I bet you are super fun to have over for those visits.

  28. Nagai Waga’s comment doesn’t really cry out for a response, but I feel I ought to say:

    There is no danger of breaking the tent when we act in love. God’s tent is easily big enough and sturdy enough to shelter all of his children. An abundance of love can never weaken us. When we extend ourselves, even taking risks for the sake of kindness and inclusion, we are most like Jesus and we are most likely to receive his intercession. There is nothing to fear in love.

  29. Thanks so much Scott. Your voice is one of the reasons I was drawn to BCC those years ago.

  30. Thank you for this. It brought me to tears. Doubt is exhausting and many of us continue attending for many reasons. Staying ir leaving are not the only available options.

    Also, the Lil Sebastian reference is amazing. When the camera focuses on Ben’s face during those moments, it’s me at basically every sacrament meeting at some point.

  31. Nagai Waga’s comment illustrates flawed form of reasoning that I was going to include in the talk, but didn’t because of time constraints. The short version of it is this:
    1. There are boundaries to every community, sure. I get that, and I respect it. But it is not my job, or yours, to police that boundary. If you believe in the church’s claim of divine leadership, please act sincerely on that belief and trust in them to police the boundaries.
    2. The way that we view and talk about less active members demonstrates the double standard in Nagai’s attitude. Imagine visiting with a less active member who says “I can’t come back to church, because I eat my toast butter-side down.” None of us would (I hope!) respond, “You’re right. Stay home–we don’t want you in our worship services or community unless you eat your toast butter-side up.” We would (I hope!) say, “You’re always welcome at church. Please, come out to Sacrament meeting.” But somehow, in Nagai’s world, if the same thing happens to someone currently inside the church, they should leave? Very odd.

  32. Interesting that you called repentance for not seeing Parks and Recreation (which I haven’t seen), but you didn’t call repentance for not having seen Coco (which I have seen).
    I can see why a spouse is scared by conversations around gospel doubt. It threatens the greatest and most important decisions that spouse has made to the core.
    Fabulous talk. Thanks for sharing.

  33. Thank you for sharing such a truthful and relatable message that I’m sure needed to be addressed. I didn’t know I needed this talk, and I’m glad I clicked on the link.

  34. Gwen Rowley says:

    Very profound it makes me want to love everyone despite their feelings they are children of God no matter what the situation Gwen Rowley

  35. This was a great talk, Scott.

    I get the importance of boundaries too, but I think we set up more boundaries for belonging to the community than are strictly necessary. I don’t think we need a boundary that insists everyone in the community have a testimony of everything all at once. We also don’t have to insist that everyone agrees on everything, as though all questions were settled science, as it were. We all know what the church teaches. The gospel is probably strong enough that the church can handle some disagreement on particulars that are tangential to the gospel.

  36. Also,

    tenant = a person who occupies land or property rented from a landlord

    tenet = a principle or belief

    This is extremely important to me, but I can stand being in the same church as someone who feels differently.

  37. Amen, and amen. As others have said, I think this message should be shared in every ward and branch–perhaps a few times a year.

    My grown daughter has spent the year going through chemo and radiation. “Free and clear,” as of very recently, but it’s been a tough, tough year for us, and full of lessons. We all have cancer, but there are so many different cancers. For some of us, the answer is surgery. For many of us it’s chemo–but there are so many different chemo treatments, chemo “cocktails.” For many of us it’s radiation, but there are different radiation treatments. For many of us it’s any of a broad variety of combinations of all of the above. The deliveries–the rates and durations–vary. Responses vary. Side effects vary. For my daughter, the cancer itself was physically discernible, but–in the short term–the cancer was nothing compared to the treatment. The chemo was hell. But the chemo cured the cancer. Without the hellish treatment, the cancer would have ultimately been fatal.

    To me, church is like that. It would be a lot easier to skip church altogether–in the short term–but there are curing effects that I only get through the church. Sure, there’s nature and there’s literature and art and music and drama and comedy and philosophy and community service, etc., etc.–as well as teachings and practices of other religions–that also contribute to healing me, but there are things that are unique to the church. I don’t get an understanding of Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother anywhere else. I don’t get an understanding of my relationship to Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother anywhere else. That means a lot to me, so the source of that understanding has, in an important sense, earned a certain . . . deference. Et cetera. So I endure–and try to resolve myself to–a lot of what I think is silly and trivial and tedious and irritating and maddening and even painful, because I believe the whole of it is the chemo cocktail that helps cure my cancer.

  38. Oh, and of course Parks & Rec.

  39. kristin Lynn Valle says:

    As someone who has lost community, family, and friends when I lost my faith, this was an interesting read. I’m glad some people can manage to have empathy and show kindness and inclusion for those who have had a crisis of faith. I have very few people in life able to do that, and the ones who have are truly gems to me. HOWEVER, what the article doesn’t suggest is that the best way to show empathy for a friend is to actually READ the material that caused the crisis in the first place, and that is the only way to truly understand what is happening within our church. 50% of millennials are leaving the church? This will continue and perhaps grow. One reason is because the church has created and is largely based upon some false narratives. Members need to read the essays on LDS.org. Members need to read Rough Stone Rolling. Members need to read the CES Letter and the rebuttal of the CES Letter on FairMormon.com — and the rebuttal of the rebuttal. Members need to read “Letter to my Wife.” If we’re all in it together — as it should be, then we could help each other through the pain. And those who want to continue in the church, like me, could help it to reform. The church has created a really bad, maybe even evil lie: that Satan can “getcha” if you read “anti-Mormon literature.” I am 100% certain that Satan does not have ahold of my heart, despite the warning at the end of the temple ceremony. Much of that so-called “anti-Mormon literature” has turned out to be true. O.K., so 1,2,3, go: everyone…read those articles. Those of you who are brave enough to do so (sadly, most of you cannot allow yourself to go there because of fear) may stay up all night crying and be depressed for over a year (like me) — but with the support of one another…we can all get through this crisis so much better together. We really should be all of us, all in it together and STOP SHOOTING THE &#$%* MESSENGER.

  40. Hi Kristin Lynn Valle–

    what the article doesn’t suggest is that the best way to show empathy for a friend is to actually READ the material that caused the crisis in the first place, and that is the only way to truly understand what is happening within our church.

    I get what you’re saying, and I think I’m mostly on board with the point you’re making, but I do think you’re taking it a bit far. I didn’t suggest walking the literal path of those who are struggling, because it would be imposing an overly narrow view of what causes marginalization. You read the talk with application to a faith transition, and that is fair–that was definitely an intended application. But it wasn’t the sole application, and that isn’t the sole cause of isolation, and “experience what I experienced” is not a fair requirement to require in many other applications. Isolation comes from many sources–I mentioned life stage and LGBTQ issues in the talk, for example. Walking a mile in those shoes is often not feasible for would-be supporters.

  41. Thank you thank you I have been and still am feeling just this way. I am considering going to another ward to see if I fit in. I fill my seat each Sunday to renew my promises.

  42. Thank you Scott

  43. I gotta say, this is quite well done.

  44. From our personal experience of visit teaching/home teaching an individual having a faith crisis, my husband and I began as listening ears and a desire to help them not feel isolated at church. One discussion led to another, then another, etc. Then we began our own research. Now, four years down the road, we no longer believe the truth claims of the church. I say this as a caution, this kind of ministering might create more doubt, than solving people’s problems of feeling isolated. It is a two edged sword.

  45. Great talk! Good job expliciting complex topics. The use of pop references is not demeaning at all. Brilliance can be measured by the ability to make complex things understood through small and simple things.

  46. My brother began a faith transition while I was preparing for the temple. He is a deep-dive kind of person, and it involved a lot of long phone calls discussing the latest blog post or the latest fact he discovered about this or that prophet. It was exhausting and draining. I could not fully be there for him and prepare for the temple at the same time – maybe someone else could, but I felt my limits very clearly. I stayed close to him, but I asked him to stop talking to me about the things he was reading. He made it to my temple wedding and left the church shortly thereafter.

    I think part of this two way street is to respect where “believers” are in their lives too. Loving someone and staying connected is fair. Asking someone who is working through their faith in their own way to engage 100% in your transition might be too much. It might be fear holding someone back, or exhaustion, or grief, or feeling like they are using all the strength they have already. You don’t know by what it looks like on the outside.

    And Kristin, it is at least as obnoxious to demand that everyone read the CES letter as a barrier to empathy as it is to demand that everyone read the last issue of the Ensign. What works for you is not for everyone. And that should be OK.

  47. This is marvelous, Scott. Really beautiful. I have loved ones who live their lives poised on a razor’s edge of belief and doubt. What I wish for them is a ward full of folks like you. Bless you.

  48. The reason why faithful members don’t want to listen to doubters is because they have been taught that people who lose their testimony are 1-Sinning or 2-too lazy to get a testimony or 3- offended by something trivial a leader or another member did to hurt them. There are legitimate reasons for leaving the church said no leader ever. So how can you expect empathy from anyone if they are taught that?
    In fact members are taught to disengage from people who openly voice doubts or disbelief. I guess that’s more contagious than the common cold.

  49. I found this read… perplexing… for me. I’m not a regular here.

    It was a great talk, Scott. You speak well. Though I would have preferred an analogy drawn from The Office rather than P&R. I would vigorously shake your hand with lots of compliments if you gave this talk in our ward (in my current calling, I get the privilege of asking people to speak regularly).

    I tend to consider myself a Big Tent latter day saint. I was raised in a part member family. I have a son who’s been on the doubters path for a long time. I served a (difficult) mission in a country filled with lots of people that “didn’t need religion, because they have it good already”. I often chuckle at things in church “doctrine” that I accept as plausible, but also somewhat arbitrary, but which are so important to some people. I have for a while felt the church has grown overly federated and hoped the pendulum would swing to a more error-prone but free-agency acting church. Much of the recent changes feel like that is happening. I enjoy teaching in many forums, but do oft get the “wait a minute…” raised eyebrow.

    I’ve been obsessed with Elder Wilford W Anderson’s “The Music of the Gospel” (https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/general-conference/2015/04/the-music-of-the-gospel?lang=eng) this last two weeks (I’ve read/listened to it like 8 times), so this talk of yours seemed to resonate with that a lot: it is a sad truth that not everyone “gets” the music of the gospel. And what that means and what to do about it seem a large unanswered question.

    So I read this talk. And I liked it. And felt good that it was encouraging people to be tolerant and forgiving. But… I found myself feeling “so what do I do with this?” It’s a good message. It’s a message I feel I’ve been acting on for a long time. I’ve listened to lots of people talk about faith crises. Been patient. Love them. I’ll continue to do so. But I didn’t really get what was supposed to change? I’m not convinced that having turned the other cheek and been listening, would really have made any difference in how things generally play out in these cases. Not that we shouldn’t. We’re commanded to, and I think it makes it better for us if we do. But I don’t feel like if Angie would have been listening and understanding, it would have made much difference. Same for the other cases you site. I’ve experienced this too many times, in missionary work, in leadership, in family relationships, in ministering, in friendships. I know many people in various levels of church exit who have expressed appreciation for being understanding and listening. And I smile and I tell them I love them and appreciate them. But you know what? I have never found myself replying “hey, ya know what? I really appreciate the way you’ve made your exit, you’ve really shown how noble you could be about it. This could have been really painful in a number of ways and created conflict, but I want to recognize the part you played in making this an easy transition for everyone. And I see now, that you’re actually much better off without the lds flavor of the gospel in your life. Good team effort. It’s good for me, but it’s clearly not good for you. And since you’re doing you, and I’m doing me, it’s clearly better for all of us.” I don’t say that. Because it hasn’t been true yet (maybe it’ll happen yet?). And I don’t really gain anything by equivocating the opposite. I just try to listen and love.

    Maybe for me, what I was missing in your talk was:

    “Suck it up butter cup. Bunch of people are going to wander off of the ‘path’ in your life, family, friends, etc. It’s going to hurt. Being nice to them probably won’t make much difference. They’ll get what they want, and you’ll hurt for it. Be nice anyway.”

    I think we’re all weird. And in a society struggling with all things community more than ever I think it’s easy to conflate societal/social anxiety with “wandering.” People are failing. Period. Not just from the particulars of the gospel. But in life in general.

    Regarding millennial exodus… there seems to be a hyperventilating about this. I’m certainly sad about it. I see it affecting my children. I see it effecting many of the kids I have worked with in seminary and young mens over the years. But ya know… the Book of Mormon. It kind of has this overwhelmingly repetitive message that the authors were obsessed with: When people get rich/wealthy, they fall away. We are at a wealth peak right now. Have been for a while. It’s a cycle thing. We’ve been the Nephites at the top of their game for a bit now. It’s going to suck for a while. Take your vitamins. :)

    Forgive the long ramblings late at night. Maybe I’ll change my mind in the morning. :) Commenting on blogs isn’t usually my thing.

  50. Scott B. – Thank you for giving and sharing this talk. You put into words what I have been feeling for a long time. Shout it from the rooftops: asking questions is not a sin!

  51. Scott B.,
    Thank you for sharing this. It is inspiring.

  52. James McDougal says:

    That was awesome. Love the pop culture references. I was not a Parks and Rec guy but I am a Coco guy and I love the analogy and will probably begin to use it in my conversations. Thank you for putting it into words.

  53. Louise Tompkins says:

    Thank you so much for sharing. Very inspiring. It is very important to understand that we are all different and have different needs even as members of the church. Some things are more difficult to handle than others and it is difficult to speak about certain things yet going to church on Sunday should be a place for peace, reflection, inspiration, learning, understanding and healing. If everyone was perfect no one would ever need to go to church on Sunday and church is for everyone. I am not perfect and have things I need to deal with and I am lucky enough to have a husband who supports me and wants to help me repent and grow and learn. The gospel is individual. Look at the parable of the 10 virgins. They could not share their oil, they could only prepare for themselves yet they could shine their light to others. My personal testimony can only be shared yet I am responsible for allowing it to grow and prepare me for what may come and when someone needs my light in their life I can shine for them and try to help them in a loving way. I am sorry for the pain that I might cause due to not being perfect. It is not my intention and I try to focus on the things that bring me joy. We are made to have joy and share that joy with others. We can all feel down yet we are all loved. You are a beloved Child of God who has sent you here with a free agency, use it wisely.

  54. I cannot “LIKE” this enough. If someone in my ward ever gave a talk like this, I might actually start to feel like maybe someone there was “my people”. Currently not so much.

  55. Diana M Davidson says:

    Travis, you hit that nail so squarely. I read your comment twice.

  56. Maybe for me, what I was missing in your talk was:

    “Suck it up butter cup. Bunch of people are going to wander off of the ‘path’ in your life, family, friends, etc. It’s going to hurt. Being nice to them probably won’t make much difference. They’ll get what they want, and you’ll hurt for it. Be nice anyway.”

    Travis–
    I think (hope?) that is pretty much what I was (maybe poorly) trying to say. Lots of stories don’t have happy endings. But there are different levels of sadness; while leaving the church is sad and we wish it wouldn’t happen, there is only so much we can do about it; but we can do things to avoid compounding the sadness by marginalizing, ostracizing, and disowning those who depart–or those who exhibit beliefs or attitudes that make us uncomfortable (because that can faciliate or speed up departure).

  57. I have an example for Travis, as to when it can make a difference. My son left the church right before he left for college. We knew it was going to happen. He didn’t fight or rebel, and kept going until the Sunday before he left, willingly serving in his calling as ward chorister partly b/c he was worried about the social pressure he was sure he would receive. I was so grateful that my son’s last Sunday, instead of talking about how relieved he would be to be done with it all, he was filled with nostalgic gratitude for all the experiences and opportunities he’d had because he’d been raised in the church. He was happy to have escaped some of the worst of bad decisions he could have made as a teenager, that he was a little more mature and had seen some of the consequences amongst his peers of early drinking and casual sex. He was grateful that being asked to be the priesthood pianist at age 14 gave him valuable experience and purpose in keeping up his skills (he plans to augment his income by being a pianist/organist for any church that will hire him). He’s more comfortable with public speaking than many his age. He remembered a primary teacher who’d had creative lessons and had loved and listened to that quirky 11 year old. His YM president (who could also tell that my son wasn’t planning to stay in the church) didn’t ever pressure him about serving a mission or doing scouts, just continued to love him and invite him and accept him. That same YM president was his ministering brother and my son went with him monthly to families whose toddlers gave my son hugs and affirmation and sat on his lap on Sundays. I don’t know that my son will ever come back to church, but he’s not bitter or angry, he respects me and my beliefs (my husband isn’t active), he still goes to a few church members for advice. And, he discovered to his chagrin that his college voice teacher is a member of the church. He was worried about what that would mean, but she loves him and enjoys him and he helps her family with a project every now and then. When she warned him about the evils of tattoos when he told her he was getting one, he could just smile to himself knowing where her concern was coming from, but didn’t let it bother him and he continues to have a good relationship with her

    So, for me, that’s why it makes a difference to accept people as they are, whether they stay or leave. It made a definite difference in one young man’s life, and also his mother’s.

  58. Thanks jes–that is a great example.
    An even simpler example–and I realize the bias of it–is the continued good friendship I have with many people who have left the church, either formally or informally. My life (and hopefully their lives) is better and richer and happier because we still have each other in our lives, and we only have each other in our lives because we spoke openly and actively worked to make sure that the inherent awkwardness that came didn’t lead to us eventually “forgetting” each other.

    If we insist that the only success stories involve marital bliss, retained faith, and returns to activity, we are wasting our time and headed for persistent disappointment.

  59. Thank you. This touched in ways I choose not to express. Thank you

  60. Thanks, Scott B. I have multiple of those examples well.

  61. Thanks so much for sharing this, Scott. A wonderful talk!

  62. Scott — I totally agree with your point. People do leave for all sorts reasons. I left because of integrity. Marian — If a close friend were to come to me tearfully to ask me to read the latest edition of the Ensign because doing so would give her much needed support in understanding her emotional breakdown, I would for sure read it, just out of compassion. But the Ensign doesn’t cause faith crisis’, right? The CES letter does. Have you read it? Members are dropping like flies after reading it and are in much emotional/spiritual turmoil, and it’s not because of Satan; it’s because of facts. The 15 know this and choose to not address it specifically, but in the long run, that will backfire. FairMormon addresses the issues in the CES letter in some ways well and in some ways poorly. Long story short: we need to know our own religion. I turn 50 next month. I didn’t know my own religion for 46 years. The brethren are in the wrong (majorly so) for hiding its history from its members. Various prophets have said the church has nothing to hide. They are / have been lying.

  63. Kristin, this really is the hard part of what Scott is asking. I’m caught with Scott’s beautiful to call to empathize, and my impulse to eye-roll whenever anyone mentions the CES letter as anything other than dopey. I’m sorry that you never had the opportunity to learn the details you were missing (though the CES letter isn’t much help there, to be frank). I’m sorry all the wonderful scholarship available throughout your life was outside of your grasp. And I do think that was the church’s fault to a significant extent. A lot of us have known everything in the CES and more and still find a faith-filled home here. I hope you can find patience, while we do the same.

  64. J stapley, do you know people who have left because of the ces letter? If so, have you tried to help them? If I knew you personally and knew that you knew that info. And yet still remained active, I would so have wanted to know how you did that.

  65. Kristin, I have known tons of folks that have wrestled with church theology, ecclesiology, history, and culture in all the gory and glorious details. Some have stayed and some have not, but I do confess that I don’t think that I have had anyone close to me read the CES letter, be completely surprised and then leave the church. My general shtick is to focus on legitimate scholarship, and there is plenty of it. I imagine my social circles are of a demographic character that skew away from that sort of surprise.

  66. Living in the fringes as I do, I know people who leave and people who stay. I know people who read the CES letter and more and left. And people who read the CES letter and more and stayed. To be sure, “stay” in the latter case is usually self-defined. The only people I know who are essentially unchanged are those who (like me) grew up on a diet of good history and challenging questions, and so are seldom surprised.

    The more general point I would make is that, in my opinion and observation, there are valid reasons to leave and there are valid reasons to stay. And whenever I see a conversation with an agenda–to convince people to stay, or to convince people to leave–and a measure of success by staying or leaving results, I’m fairly confident it will go wrong. The kind of conversations and relationships I read Scott talking about, the “at our table” kind of relationships, the ones I want, are all about relationship and caring for the individual on the journey. I will walk with you. I will sup with you. I will sit with you. They are not about success defined by membership statistics.

  67. christiankimball, copy that.

  68. First of all, such a great read and what a compassionate perspective you’ve brought to the table. I think so many will benefit from this.

    One perspective I’d hope you might consider, is that the recent spike in people leaving the church is not due to the feeling that “these are not my people”. That seems to suggest that it is an issue of not fitting in with the culture. Consider that for many leaving, they fit into the culture and the people just fine. They grew up in it, it’s what they know, it’s what they feel comfortable with, and it’s what they love. Instead what I think we’re seeing as members is people are leaving because of the controversial evidence against the church’s doctrine that is causing them to leave.

    It may make you feel better to say people are leaving because they don’t feel they “fit in”, but what if that’s not it at all? What if they fit in perfectly, but they found out information that simply makes them feel like they are not members of a TRUE church.

    I think a real problem members have is this assumption that people leave because they don’t feel they “fit in”. That maybe all the rules were too much, or that tithing was too challenging, or they were somehow offended, etc. etc. What if it’s none of those reasons at all? What if these struggling members don’t want to leave the people and the culture at all? What if they just no longer have a testimony? What if they found some things out that REALLY make it challenging to accept the truthfulness of the gospel? What if YOU found out the same things they did? What would you feel? How challenging would your life become?

    I’ve seen a change in why people leave the church. Growing up, I witnessed most of those that left the church often left because they didn’t “fit in”. They often had problems with sins, and wanting to pursue a life with less rules and guilt. They had no objections to the doctrine, but just struggled with their life choices that didn’t help them to “fit in” with our people… NOW I’m seeing people that completely “fit in” leaving. They are leaving NOT because of sin or guilt, but because of new information that sadly crumbles the foundation of their faith. They love all the ward activities and their callings and everything that the culture brings, but every time they hear a verse from the Book of Mormon they are skeptical. Every time the prophet Joseph Smith is mentioned they ache with doubt. They feel no peace and harmony with the doctrine that their beloved culture and people are built on…

  69. Timothy kearney says:

    Love y’all.

  70. 47 years ago today, I was in the mist of a crisis. Not a faith crisis, but a crisis nonetheless. I had been praying for many hours each day for about two weeks. I needed to have an answer from Heavenly Father. I was determined and had faith that if I pressed on I would get an answer. And I did! On 9/12/1972 I had an answer to prayer that changed my life. I am so thankful for that experience. When I read post like this and then read the comments, my heart aches for those who for whatever reason can not obtain and answer as I did.

    As I write this I am on my 5th church mission. I am growing old and plan on doing all that I can to increase faith until I am called home by the Lord. I have read all the books, blogs, and much more that Kristin Lynne Valle refers to in her comment above. The reason I am not blown away by these books and blogs is the manifestation of the Spirit I have had through out my life. From my perspective the Book of Mormon is the key to opening the channels of communication with heaven. It seems to me that if an individual treats lightly the Book of Mormon then they will have a difficult time with things Spiritual.

    It may be that things of the Spirit are like many other things in life. Some are born with a talent for it. That doesn’t mean those lacking talent can’t participate and advance. It is just more difficult.

  71. This is spot on. Thank you for your insight and your willingness to share.

  72. Scott B. Thank you for sharing this with us and with your ward. We need to clone you.

    It is amazing to me how often we—church members—lay blame/condemn those who become inactive (such as “they chose to be offended”) while patting ourselves on the back.
    It would be refreshing, instead, to hear leaders talk about how not to be offensive—how to extend Christ-like love no matter where someone is in their faith journey.

    I made the mistake of opening up to a friend (currently the Stk Relief Society Pres) about my faith struggles and prefaced it with I just need someone to listen. Big mistake. She proceeded to attack me personally—said I need to get help to figure out why I need to be heard, or listened to and on and on.

    She fails to see the irony of her words. She has the luxury of personally expressing her thoughts/views/feelings to congregations of people and having them well received.

    Struggling. Feeling more and more isolated. My spouse rarely attends with me. Two of my three children are inactive. Largely the only reason I maintain activity is to support my still active child.

    It is hard.

  73. Garrett–

    Thanks for your thoughts, but I do believe that you’re misunderstanding my talk in a pretty important way. I am not talking about the causes of people leaving the church, or even how to prevent it. That is an interesting subject, to be sure, but it’s a different issue. I am (perhaps poorly) saying that people leaving the church isn’t the tragedy to be prevented; the tragedy is when people do not feel welcome or wanted or needed.

  74. @Garrett, what you just described is someone who was never converted. They may have thought that they were converted, but they weren’t. Because after you’ve had the Holy Ghost confirm to you that The Book of Mormon is true, that Joseph Smith is a prophet, and that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the Lord’s organization on the earth: when you hear verses from the Book of Mormon you don’t feel skeptical. You feel invigorated.
    You say that this is a somewhat recent shift; perhaps that’s why there have been recent General Conference talks about conversion, or true conversion. Those are addressed to those people who fit perfectly in the culture, but find anything deeper than a Living Scriptures version understanding of the church, too difficult to sustain.

  75. kristin Valle says:

    Garrett — I was converted and had those experiences. The problem is that those experiences may be psychological and not spiritual. Look up “Elevation Emotion” — it’s a recently discovered emotion (yes, scientist are still discovering emotions). I believe it was at Cal State Berkeley? that scientists took a bunch of left-leaning people into a room, hooked them up with wires and monitors, and played them Obama’s first inauguration speech, and many reported feeling “a liquid burning sensation in their chest area.” Turns out we have tons of nerve endings in our chest. Elevation is often felt when people feel they are in the presence of greatness, (be it a person, nature, a movie, music) and it makes people feel “lifted up” and it inspires them to be better people themselves. There is also, groupthink, placebo, dopamine, confirmation bias etc. Also, “feelings of darkness” naturally occur in humans when they consider leaving their tribe or encounter information contrary to their core beliefs. It’s part of fight or flight. Just something to consider especially since Warren Jeffs’ followers felt the spirit about him.

  76. Great talk. We need more like this in sacrament meeting. Too many unnecessary and painful divorces occurring because a spouse can’t accept the other’s faith transition. Doesn’t the church teach agency? Doesn’t that mean that individuals get to determine their own level of participation without shame and blame from others in the congregation and from believing family members?

    And jader3rd, I left the church (well mentally, I still attend with my spouse, but have refused to take callings) many years ago. I was just as much of a believer as the rest of the believers and just as devoted as the most devoted. Almost every week I hear stories of former stalwarts losing their faith in the church. So don’t tell me that we weren’t truly converted or didn’t have strong feelings about it that we thought were from the Holy Ghost. I might as well just tell you that you and other believers are under a huge delusion. But I won’t because I respect that believers can be intellectuals and good-hearted folks and won’t have the presumption to tell them what they feel and why they believe.

  77. jader3rd–

    Have to take issue with your last comment. I think your approach suffers from what I would call an ascertainability problem. It’s similar to that I sometimes see when people insist that doctrines don’t change, but then are show instances where they do change. The person digs in and insists that the “doctrine” was not actually a doctrine, but was instead merely a “policy.” In other words, a doctrine is a doctrine, and will never change, unless it does, at which point it was never a doctrine to begin with. In your phrasing, a person is only ever converted if they remain converted, so anyone who ever changes from a state of conversion was therefore not actually converted? I don’t buy it.

  78. kristin Valle
    The Elevation Emotion is an interesting phenomenon. I feel the stirring of emotions in my chest when I’ve been at parades, weddings, special events, hearing music, being in love, reading the scripture, at church, etc.

    The manifestation of the Spirit include elevation emotion and a whole lot more. For example, I have had audible answers to prayer, a few visions, dreams from the Lord, one experience behind the veil, etc. The workings of the Spirit is far more than a feeling in ones chest.

    I think there is far too much emphasis in conference talks and church literature about burning in the bosom as referred to D&C 8 and 9. D&C 46, Moroni 10 are far better sources for what we should be experiencing when we move from testimony to conversion.

  79. I appreciate that people like JFK and jader3rd share their testimonies in their comments, and that they find joy and peace. Many commenters here have no testimony, and some a deep animosity toward the church. And in this exchange, as Scott B. encourages, we can still be civil and caring one for each other. That is the point. That is, if we can truly try to see and understand others. When someone leaves the faith, for whatever reason, it is just another slap in the face to accuse them of not having been converted. That is not trying to understand at all. But also, those who doubt, and might believe the faithful are delusional, should refrain from equal accusations. I think we are all trying to find our peace and happiness in life. The paths can be very diverse.

  80. Scott B.

    I hope you don’t mind if I comment on something I’ve learned over the decades. It has come, like all things, line upon line and… Dealing with ambiguity has become a lost talent. Church leaders thought that covering up difficult parts of our history was a way to protect the church members. They wanted to do away with ambiguity. We now know that was a mistake. That doesn’t mean church leaders are uninspired. It means they are fallible and God uses their fallibility for His own purposes. He will try the faith and patience of His people. The Book of Mormon prophets had to deal with ambiguity all the time. Why not our generation? The Lord requires that there be opposition in all things. This generation is being tried preparing for the events that precede the Second Coming of Christ.

    I believe that most of those who leave the church will return when the going gets tough. There won’t be any other place to go. They will turn to Heavenly Father in their extremities and He will respond after they have a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

  81. High Five for Tim. Great comment.

  82. Leaving for missionary work with my lovely wife. Smiles

  83. “I believe that most of those who leave the church will return when the going gets tough. There won’t be any other place to go. They will turn to Heavenly Father in their extremities and He will respond after they have a broken heart and a contrite spirit.”

    Just because one may leave or distance themselves from the church doesn’t necessarily mean that they stop turning to Heavenly Father and Jesus. Some may continue to read scriptures, pray and may even find a more uplifting setting in another denomination to continue their faith practices.

  84. Thanks for your response, Scott. I think you make a good point about new non-believers not seeing good avenues for sharing their doubts and therefore excluding themselves before they can be excluded by others.

    But I also think that some of the comments since our exchange above illustrate what I’m trying to get at, and one I’ve experienced IRL, as the kids say. Some doubting or leaving the church aren’t looking for understanding or a shoulder to cry on, but instead to convince those who are staying that they’re living like “sheeple” or that if they’d only read X, they too would be compelled to leave. (See the CES Letter discussion above.) I think it’s an understandable defense mechanism: “You say I’m crazy to leave. But you’re the crazy ones to stay.”

    I suppose it’s impossible to know without first offering that shoulder to cry on whether you’re getting someone like your friend, who really just wanted a safe place to talk about his doubts, or if you’re getting someone who wants to take you with them. Like many here, I’ve long been in a “nothing new under the sun” phase as it relates to Mormon issues/history, so I offer that shoulder regardless, and have for years. But I can empathize with–though not necessarily condone–a member of the Church who has never read any history or seriously wrestled with the ramifications prophetic fallibility, e.g., saying to themselves that they don’t want a new non-believer to take them down with them. (See Marian’s comment from 9/10.)

  85. EnglishTeacher says:

    👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻

  86. jimbob–
    Of course. I don’t think it’s contradictory to listen and show empathy, while also not allowing yourself to become a pushover or punching bag.

  87. Other possible reasons people struggle to relate and feel marginalized is serious sin and transgression. It could also be serious mental illness. To say otherwise is simply not being honest. But it is certainly not my position to judge, and let the bishop be concerned about that. I try to focus on following the Savior’s example and be on the lookout to extend a loving hand to precisely those who need it most.

    My two cents: if someone feel wrong or incorrect in a meeting “filled with heartfelt and genuine testimonies”, or teachings seem “wrong or incorrect”, then more work needs to be done – perhaps by the ward, but certainly by the person feeling that way. Perspective needs to be corrected and maintained. In my opinion when someone leaves the Church they have lost correct perspective. Disaster usually – but not always – follows. To say otherwise is simply not being honest.

    Not all talks and testimonies are 100% doctrinally correct, and yet I can understand the talk is that individual’s perspective at that point of time. Should we all not try to be charitable towards speakers (who are a part of our COCO family, right?) and chalk differences up to being on different points of progress, and keep on working on ourselves and building up and serving those around us?

    My point is I don’t agree 100% with everyone’s perspective, or everyone’s lesson/talk. Not in Church or out. Not on any topic. The difference in information levels and perspectives between individuals prohibits it. There is complete uniformity in everything in exactly zero groups (not even a married couple of 2), and that is as it should be. We gain by the diversity in experiences. We gain by the unity. We lose by the contention. Some talks in Church connect more with me, some less, some not at all. And that’s ok. But once I have received confirmation after confirmation that the Church offers me opportunities and teachings to become a better version of myself, that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, then that part of the debate should be over. Sacrament meeting becomes sacred time with the crowned jewel being the quiet (or not so quiet) time I have to talk with the Lord and renew my covenants with Him. It becomes an opportunity to pray for the speaker. And then – if I am right with the Lord – I listen to the speaker with truly open ears of love. When I do that I always feel the Spirit of love towards my imperfect brothers and sisters, as well as towards my perfect Savior and my perfect God. And I know they love my imperfect self as well.

  88. I am in the process of evaluating everything with the church. Just two years ago, I was on the high council, soon to be called as elders quorum president to now having a ‘faith crisis’ as it is called.

    My wife is fabulous, and remains strong with her testimony. She is the one who forwarded your article to me.

    I enjoyed reading your article, and it spoke to me on so many different levels.

    I still attend church with my wife. I am trying to find a comfortable spot where I can not be triggered by many of the things which are said and how they are expressed. I find it particularly difficult during Sunday school and elders quorum lessons when people talk about the ‘fallen’ and ‘deceived’ and hearing that being a member was too hard for people like me and it was easier for me to leave and sin. There are a few people in the ward who are aware of my concerns, and they have come up to my wife and me, only to ignore me and shake my wife’s hand saying, “We are praying for you and your kids.”

    I don’t blame the church for these things, nor do these things play into my faith crisis…but this is a cultural thing which is driving many people away and keeping them away.

    I hope your article reaches every corner of the church.

  89. I read this right after you posted and I had such a lump in my throat, and my chest seized up, it made my eyes leak. How wonderful it would be if this way of approaching those who are different in our communities was internalized in our culture instead of being the anomalous rarity here. But reading the comments shows that there are plenty who can’t see the forest for the trees. That’s a familiar feeling at least.

    My thoughts: I would caution against thinking that those who appear to have left are not able to turn to Christ or their Heavenly Parent in their “extremities” or that they cannot have a broken heart and contrite spirit, i.e. the humility needed to learn and grow. Most likely what is happening is they desperately need growth that deviates from the rather narrowly correlated pattern that too many in our congregations automatically consider superior to any other way. And there is so much variety in human growth patterns, I can’t help but think humanity is designed to be so. I see variety in the physical world and especially the biological world we live in as desirable for the health of the system. And observing the meltdown in our political systems that insist on an artificial binary; seeing how badly we need the full spectrum of the community to participate at all levels, even at the table where decisions are made— that system too would benefit from orderly and full inclusion of variety.

    In spiritual matters, some (many!) individual growth needs will naturally deviate from proscribed church patterns and the gospel of love and acceptance you’ve thoroughly illuminated in the OP is one of the best ways to find elusive unity in such variety, even the hardest varieties that seem almost too much to be borne. The underlying principles in your post are guides to help us find our own individual [covenant] pathways through the thorniest problems of inclusion and exclusion that not one of us escapes facing, in or out of church activity. Thanks for the reminder of my place at your table at least. I’ll happily join you anytime I’m invited.

    And here’s my pro tip: In light of the broken hearts and contrite spirits within and all around us, seen and unseen, the only time most of us should hear “suck it up buttercup” is when we say it to ourselves.

  90. Of course, people can be converted and leave. It is in Lehi’s dream. Some held to the rod, partook of the fruit, then left.

  91. I can only offer my experiences as someone in her mid-sixties. If you are going to read Church history, read a lot of it. In my thirties, the BIG issue was Mountain Meadows. How did this happen, people asked, wringing their hands. Why was this not covered in seminary? Didn’t this prove xyz about the Church and its leaders? Then there was the Salamander Letter. Same doubts. Both rather adequately addressed by more complete facts. But you had to study to find them.
    What I discovered as I read more deeply was that different people deeply involved in various controversial parts of our history saw it very differently. Some people painted as justified in one account were seen by their neighbors as something else entirely, selfish, unrighteous and greedy. History is hardly as black and white as people insist today that it must have been.
    Did leaders make mistakes? Yes, they did and still do. I have learned to speak up when criticized, to defend myself against false statements and not think it charitable to just turn the other cheek. I have also learned that all kinds of people who have known me for decades as an honest person will refuse to believe unpleasant truths I repeat that threaten the bubble they use to defend themselves from accepting that the truths they thought they knew are not accurate. The worst are those raised in the Church in leadership homes. How could their father have gotten it wrong? He was a bishop, as if that qualified him to know all Church doctrine and history perfectly.
    They prefer the Primary version of Church doctrine, not the messy version where Christ turns to his disciples when others ceased following Him and asks if they too will turn away because this was not what they had come for. Are you willing to grow beyond your Primary version of faith.
    And my second word of advice: After you do your research, decide what you believe, then take it to the Lord. If you are prepared, He can and just might tell you what will be changed in the future. You might need to wait decades to see the revelation given, but it is nice to know certain incorrect beliefs and practices are going to be fixed, but on God’s timetable, not ours. I know it saw me through over 30 years of knowing something was wrong and watching people all around me defend it up until the day it was changed. Are we really any different from the Christian Jews, who after Christ’s Ressurection, continued to think the Mosaic Law was the end-all? How much better to live among the Nephites, who knew for centuries that the Mosaic Law was temporary. But I warn you, you do need to have done your homework. When I got on my knees, I quoted then Elder Hinckley, Brigham Young and other Church leaders to explain to the Lord why exactly I had come to my conclusion. I literally had read everything I then knew how to find before I asked. And God spoke to me about what was the truth.
    I would also like to echo some of the statements here. While a burning in the bosom is powerful and convincing if you know how to differentiate it from heightened emotion, there are also more powerful evidences. I too have seen a vision warning me about a terrible event that was to happen in my life. I have once been visited by a dead relative, who I saw standing in the air one morning. I will never forget the feeling of his touching my leg to wake me, then opening my eyes to see him standing there. I have heard the voice of the Spirit, speaking in words God’s love for me and at times of extreme danger giving very specific direction about what was about to happen and what I must do to escape. I cannot and would not deny the reality of these experiences. I cannot show them to you but can relate them with the statement that if you need them, they can also happen to you.
    As for spouses who do not wish to discuss faith questions, I believe they act out of fear. What will this mean to them, their children and their marriage? Does this mean a divorce is coming? What if they do not want to be married to a non-member? They signed up for a temple marriage not a two faith or no faith marriage. Are they the person best qualified to help since so much else is on the line for them?

  92. I just keep wondering if all these people responding with their ‘testimony’ comments respond the same way they ‘listen to’ and ‘love’ people who are struggling. My experience is that many people honestly believe they are helping by such responses–that they are showing their love. In reality, however, the receiver is most likely only feeling dismissed and judged. Indeed, even after reading the post, it seems some people still don’t ‘get it.’ I mean, if someone’s first response is a defensive / correcting testimony, then something else is going on.

  93. kristin Lynn Valle says:

    J.Stapley, I’ve read Rough Stone Rolling and several other books, Mormonstories, Mormonmatters, The Givens’ stuff (which I couldn’t stomach) etc. If the CES letter is so beneath good scholarship, then why isn’t there a good rebuttal for it? Or if there is and I don’t know about it, please elucidate. (FYI: this is coming from someone with an average I.Q. if you cannot already tell.) I can’t imagine that you find FairMormon’s response to the CES letter adequate? Have you read it? In all seriousness, if there were people in my ward who knew any history and would have engaged with me and not made me feel like an apostate trying to lead others astray, I would have probably stayed.

  94. Kristin, J. will have his own answer, but I think part of what’s so hard about responding to the CES Letter is that it’s grounded in the same all-or-nothing, everything-fits-together-or-falls-together logic as the most rigid LDS orthodoxy. The FairMormon response tries to play on this same field, to rebut every point with certainty. The best scholarship happens on a different field, where the ground is never quite stable.

    I’ve found that the most important tool for dealing with church history is a growing tolerance for ambiguity, and a recognition that we’re called to make choices despite always having only imperfect knowledge. It isn’t possible to say either that Joseph Smith was an entirely virtuous and heroic prophet, or that he was a deliberate fraud; anyone who inhabits either of those poles with certainty doesn’t know how history works. Historical facts can’t (and shouldn’t) compel behavior or conviction about matters of ultimate concern. Being convinced that the First Vision was “real” (whatever that means) doesn’t invariably lead to a lifelong conviction that “the Church is true” (whatever that means!).

    The only meaningful answer to the CES Letter is to say that history is really, really complicated, and spiritual growth means an increased tolerance for ambiguity much more often than it means deeper certainty. I realize this is exactly the opposite of the simplistic way we talk about testimony in the church. It’s also exactly the opposite of what the CES Letter would like readers to conclude.

  95. Wow. So many apologists and testimony bearing people still walk in arrogance that those who leave the church are “fallen”, “sinners”, “deceived”, “lost”, and that they will regret leaving, that disaster will follow, that they can’t find peace or happiness outside of the church. It is fine that many people cling to their testimonies and that for them their lives are enriched via the church. I am happy for them. But it is arrogance to assume you have the answers for everyone else, and to judge someone in a faith crisis to somehow be less, defective, deceived, fallen, or wrong. I know enough people who have left the church to know that they still have meaning, purpose, joy, happiness, peace, satisfaction, love, and goodness in their lives. And, for many, their lives are clearly better for having left. I know this is difficult for many true believers to comprehend, just as it is difficult for many heterosexuals to comprehend that a homosexual can actually be happy. But they can, and are. The point is that we should love and honor, respect and treat with dignity and compassion and kindness all people. It does not matter your religious or faith beliefs, what you used to believe or what you now believe. We should stop judging people by their beliefs and rather treat all people with love.

  96. My favorite story in all the scriptures is that of the Good Samaritan. “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves…” We know nothing else about this man. We don’t know his ethnicity, his religion, his politics, his faith, his beliefs, his devotion, or any other of his circumstances or lifestyle. The Samaritan “had compassion on him”, he “shewed mercy on him.” The Samaritan did not interrogate or interview him, did not question him about his circumstances, did not inquire as to his worthiness, his faith, his beliefs, his devotion. The Samaritan saw the other man “stripped of his raiment”, wounded, and left half dead. The Samaritan did not question if the man deserved his current condition, whether it was his fault, or if he did something foolish or wrong. The Samaritan did not blame the man. He did not chastise him, or preach to him. He did not counsel or advise him how to travel safely or how to protect himself. He did not judge him. He did not classify him. The Samaritan simply “had compassion on him.”

  97. It’s possible, Tim, that you found the judgiest way to call everyone to repentance for being too judgy.

  98. Timothy Kearney says:

    No comment.

  99. Timothy Kearney says:

    I needed this…thank you.

  100. kristin Lynn Valle says:

    Kristine, I loved that response. Certainty, I now believe, is the big problem. Belief and Faith are great. Certainty causes wars, breaks up families, promotes fear and other bad things. If Mormonism could transfer from certainty to faith, it would be a much healthier institution.

  101. Kristine,

    “Being convinced that the First Vision was “real” (whatever that means) doesn’t invariably lead to a lifelong conviction that “the Church is true” (whatever that means!).”

    You seem to be proposing that a sort of relativism is the answer where reality mostly exists in our imaginations and truth is in the eye of the beholder. I can assure you that what the church teaches is far, far, far from relativism. Its leaders have repeatedly emphasized the importance of having certainty in its teachings about truth. The CES Letter, also, is not an academic research piece that makes hypotheses and draws conclusions based on evidence. Instead it is simply asks a series of questions to a CES director about the truth claims of the LDS church in light of a number of pieces of counterevidence, without drawing concrete conclusions. Ultimately, Runnells found that the church leaders were unable to provide satisfactory answers to his questions and left the church by submitting his resignation before a disciplinary council. He was asking, “how is it true when it seems to be not true because of x pieces of evidence.” It seems far from the black-and-white thinking that you are proposing it to be.

    I commonly hear appeals to relativism as a defense against skepticism from believers. My take is that these believers aren’t really relativists, but are instead using relativist thinking as a sort of smokescreen to protect an absolutist belief in the church’s truth claims. They’re absolutely certain that Jesus resurrected and still lives and that Joseph Smith communicated with God, but instead of saying before the skeptic “I know that these propositions are true because of x evidence” (they only say these words before other believers), which would place the burden of proof on them, they try to shift the burden of proof onto the skeptic by saying, “well we don’t really know, you need to prove it isn’t true, which you can’t do.” The hope is to get the skeptic to express certainty that a claim isn’t true and then call them a black-and-white thinker who is closed-minded all while assuming the position of the open-minded, and therefore more enlightened, thinker. This is smoke and mirrors. You’re so certain behind a particular set of truth claims that you regard these claims to be beyond debate. A skeptic asks a question and the reply is, well history is messy. You know what else is messy? Criminal acts. Does that mean we should surrender ourselves to not knowing to the extent that we can’t round up suspects, press charges, and ask before a court of law whether they are guilty or not guilty of a particular charge? Guilty/not guilty is a binary question that needs to be asked. It doesn’t mean that prosecutions shouldn’t have to go to great lengths to establish guilt. But true/not true is also a valid question that has to be asked of religious truth claims. And asking that question does not imply one is a black-and-white thinker incapable of nuanced thinking.

  102. Kristin LV, Kristine is ever wise. I have no idea if there exists a strong rebuttal to the CES Letter. I haven’t looked, primarily because I think the letter is silly, and not worth a rebuttal (again, empathy fail on my part). I am certain that podcasts aren’t going to be the answer, though (many of which are equally silly). I guess I would ask what issues you are interested in to recommend a particular body of literature. Such things are always uneven, but it is a good place to start. I do an annual Christmas gift book guide, that hits on the best scholarship of the year. I don’t think that there is a short answer to anything. Everything is complicated. Most people don’t have the tools to deal with that, regardless of church affiliation. This isn’t to say that people that are fluent in the current scholarship universally stay Mormon. That is demonstrably not the case. I also get that the phenomenon of the CES letter-induced alienation is complicated, it is just hard for me to empathize with it when there is a such a rich body of literature out there. Facile fundamentalism or nuanced complexity: I’ll take the latter every time.

  103. Jennifer Sanchez-Salazar says:

    Wow, Shay: that was a brilliant talk! Heartfelt; incisive; and most of all, compassionate. I appreciated the humor you threw in, to leaven the weightiness of these serious, often troubling topics. Moreover, it was just what I needed to hear this week. I hope we get to talk soon. 😊
    ~Jennifer

  104. J. Stapley and others,

    Whether you like the work or not, the CES Letter has generated more attention than any other piece of critical literature of the church for a long time. You can dismiss it as silly, but I have a feeling that it will be talked about for years to come. Why has it garnered so much attention? I think because 1) it was written by a regular guy who isn’t an academic with the formal training of expounding at length on philosophical matters and who appears to be asking sincere questions that have caused him doubt, rather than going on a full-on attack and 2) it juxtaposes many serious issues with the LDS church in a well-packaged format that is digestible to the layman. It is not an engagement with apologists and defenders of the church, but with the church leaders’ claims themselves. His engagement with apologists is found in Debunking FAIRMormon’s Debunking, the less-read rebuttal to FAIR’s counterarguments. What Runnells shows is just how much FAIR actually agrees with his points in the CES Letter. Given Runnells’ impact on discourse in the Mormon belt, I don’t think it is fair to just casually dismiss his work as “silly” let alone “facile fundamentalism” (strict adherence to the fundamentals of what organization, what doctrine, what philosophy? That critique of Runnells and others like him makes no sense).

    “is just hard for me to empathize with it when there is a such a rich body of literature out there”

    There is a lot of literature written on Mormonism, no doubt. Much of it confirms what Runnells is saying in the CES Letter and is the basis for it (Runnells, of course, is not presenting evidence that he obtained from original research). In fact, a deep engagement with the literature seems to have been the motivation for the letter. However, the literature you seem to be referring to, at least in part, is that written by defenders of the official church truth claims. And that literature, even after decades of reiteration, new findings, and more nuanced perspectives, has failed to convince any non-Mormon scholars (at least not in any noticeably significant numbers, and most certainly not people of any academic clout) of the merits of Mormonism’s predominant truth claims. It has only seemed to further convince those who are already convinced. I think it is high time to test its merits before a wider audience and we’ll see just how “rich” and “academic” it is.

    Lastly, what gets me is this attitude so commonly expressed by believers in the bloggernacle of how uncertain they are about the church and about reality itself. What kind of conviction is that? Normally when I say that I am uncertain about something, I don’t pay thousands of dollars annually to promoting and supporting it, root my identity in that cause, raise my kids to support the cause, regularly listen in adoration to the leaders of that cause, and express little to no criticism of the leaders of that cause. I have a sneaking suspicion that this appeal to uncertainty is a sort of front and that in reality an unyielding certainty is far more of a guiding force behind your decision to remain active in the church than any sort of uncertainty that you speak of.

  105. Look, John, my memory is that you regularly get excited about these topics here. That is fine. I hope you find some peace on your path. But as long as you hang out here, I imagine that you are going to be frustrated by those of us that simply think the letter and similar media are dumb. You can make whatever accusations you like, but if you haven’t figured out how many of us can be happily Mormon after all this time, odds are against it moving forward, it seems to me.

  106. Ardis E. Parshall says:

    I don’t know that my voice means anything here at this point, but I stand next to J. Stapley. I know as much about the history of the Church as Jeremy Runnels or anyone influenced by him — we may not all know the same 1,001 facts, but anything I lack in overlap, I more than meet in extension beyond the borders of his supposed knowledge. I do. That’s a fact.

    And I’m a believer.

    It isn’t knowledge of the truth that leads many people away — it’s an insufficiency of knowledge that allows people to be persuaded by part truth or subtle untruth. There isn’t a line in the CES letter that demonstrates Runnels’ mastery of the problems he claims to identify. And mastery — either teaching it or learning it — requires more effort than merely reading or writing a list of supposed problems based on inadequate understanding. It’s hard to combat that kind of ignorance — it takes more patience than I usually have to outline a response, recommend readings, and prepare for discussions that almost never take place because by the time I’ve gathered the response, the complainant has jumped on to some other misunderstanding and can’t settle down to resolve the first one. That’s the whole beauty of a Gish Gallop like the CES letter: You demand answers that you won’t stand still to listen to, much less consider seriously.

    That’s where the scholarship J. refers to comes in. It’s heavier and denser and far more difficult and thoughtful and time-consuming than any number of CES letters. But of course it is more satisfying than Runnels could ever be, because it’s genuine.

    J. isn’t the only one who knows that. I know it, too.

  107. Add my voice to J. and Ardis. I work with witnesses and ‘truth’ every day. It is never simple. Two people can be in the same room and see the same event but come away with completely different descriptions. And sometimes one piece of information can completely change perspectives.

    Quick example:
    – Smart young man with divorced parents goes to college in far away state. Father has son’s phone records (he pays the bill) and shows that Mother is calling the son at least once a day every single morning, but some days up to 30 (yes, thirty) times per day. Father says the Mother is harassing the son. He thinks that Mother should be restricted by a court order from doing so. The evidence is clear that she has lost it, is clearly a control freak with some sort of personality disorder, probably a narcissist, and that Father is clearly acting in son’s best interest trying to protect him.

    I think most would agree with Father. Until…

    Mother has a chance to tell her side of the story. In 2 minutes she tells about how son was having issues with severe depression, and he did not want Father to know about it because he would berate son for not being tougher. Son had asked Mother to call him as many times as needed to make sure he was awake, out of bed, having a good day and going to his classes. She was following son’s wishes. Some days, yes, it took 30 phone calls to get son going in the morning.
    – Son confirms Mother’s story.

    Quick change of perspective?

    Joseph Smith might be able to do the same about many issues with Church history if he had his two minutes to tell his side of the story. From what I know about Joseph’s life, looking at the FULL picture, yes it can seem messy. The truth often is. But I am willing to give Joseph the benefit of the doubt based on his entire life. There is just too much we don’t know.

    I hope others’ perception of me and my life will be based on a complete picture of my life, not just focusing on my perceived failings, and that the beholder will be charitable.

  108. J. Stapley,

    I respond to some mischaracterizations of the CES Letter and you reply with passive aggressive personal jabs (I’m “excited” over these things and “frustrated” as if I’m the emotional one)? Come on, I would have thought higher of the guy who has an Oxford Press publication. Your book is good, but unfortunately, it will probably just collect dust instead of have much of an impact on Mormon discourse (wish it weren’t the case). Cruel irony that a “dumb” guy like Runnells has more influence on Mormon discourse than an Oxford Press publication. But alas, Runnells is engaging topics head-on that other folks won’t and has spent countless hours shaping a counternarrative (particularly on display in Debunking) that has ushered in a new era of online Mormon discourse. So sorry if I don’t take seriously you’re calling the CES Letter “dumb” and “silly.” I think you’re annoyed by it and its influence and don’t have good answers against it. But if you haven’t read it and the responses to it and don’t care to read it, then why say anything at all, right? As for people on here being happily Mormon in spite of knowing all of the facts, maybe some. Mostly people, yourself included, seem to be conflictedly Mormon and carry on in the church largely because of social reasons (you’ve built a professional reputation as a believer, it is easier to just remain a believer). Also, what you and many others say is Mormonism often seems to be a tailored sort of Mormonism that is different from the pure stuff the average person in the pew believes. Runnells is responding to the pure stuff.

    Ardis,

    Holocaust denier David Irving has incredible knowledge of the history of WWII. Many 9/11 Truthers have impressive knowledge of all of the fine details of 9/11. Detailed knowledge of history doesn’t equate to being able to explain history well or being able to produce a coherent narrative. There is simply more money (and social incentive) to study Mormonism from the believing side than from the doubting side. In wider academia, scholars don’t care too much about Mormonism. It is almost only the Mormons or former Mormons who do. And the believing Mormons have several universities with dozens of positions for them to do this. Non-believers don’t have much support. Plus if a BYU professor leaves the church or says something against the traditional beliefs, they will most certainly have a high social cost imposed on them (job loss, ostracism, divorce, etc.). If a former Mormon scholar goes back to church or a non-Mormon scholar joins, they simply don’t face social backlash in the way the believers do. Point is, that social pressure is shaping the believing narrative a good deal behind the scenes in a way that the non-believing isn’t affected by.

    “it’s an insufficiency of knowledge that allows people to be persuaded by part truth or subtle untruth”

    So basically the doubters are dumb and uninformed. Thanks, Ardis! This is absolutely ludicrous. There are plenty of highly knowledgeable people about the history of the church, who have left it (Dan Vogel, Brent Metcalfe, and a long list of others). Plus, let’s not kid ourselves that anyone is arriving to belief in the church because of a deep historical knowledge about it. You were already a strong believer when you started researching in the archives.

    Lastly you’re caricaturizing Runnells and resorting to childish ad hominem calling him “ignorant.” Pfff. He simply laid out a good number of issues with the church in concise and digestible letter. When FAIR attempted to rebut his points (but was actually in large agreement), he responded at length in Debunking FAIRMormon’s Debunking. Hardly a Gish Gallop tactic. You’re not giving Runnells credit for the effort he put in to construct his work. Disagree with him, fine. But show some respect. Want heavier and denser stuff? OK. Mormonthink and many, many published works by amazing scholars such as Vogel, Compton, Brodie, Quinn, etc. are the meatier stuff from which Runnells took to construct his narrative.

    Goodness, a guy says he stopped believing and says that the CES Letter is alright and people get in a massive cognitive dissonance-induced tizzy. Y’all need to take a breather and have a sip of coffee, no wait, green tea, no wait,…ah heck, Rockstar Energy. There ya go.

  109. Dude, John. You need to lay off the exmo narrative shtick. You apparently missed that I don’t write about Mormonism professionally. Definately not making any money at it. I am also mistified by the popularity of Nickleback. We are stuck with tastes and aptitudes of people where they are at.

  110. “There is just too much we don’t know”

    Therefore let’s declare Joseph Smith to be this amazing prophet who revealed thousands and thousands of additional words of Jesus Christ, an ancient Christian civilization in the Americas, and words of Abraham about his experiences in Egypt. Makes sense.

    You assert absolute certainty when the issue is difficult (or requires a lot of words) to disprove (God of the gaps fallacy). And when damning propositions are well-evidenced you retreat to “we don’t know, we don’t know.” This is a fake uncertainty. Your whole reason for being a member is rooted in absolute and uncompromising certainty behind a select number of truth claims. When I became uncertain of the church’s truth claims and admitted I didn’t know a lot of things, that’s when I decided to leave.

  111. I can only speak for myself here, John W., but I’ve read the CES Letter in toto (the reasons for which the OP touches on). My thought over and over again was that Runnells took two paragraphs to discuss a topic that needed 20 pages if he really wanted to rely on it. And after a while, I just started seeing his arguments as a modified Potemkin villages, even when I thought he might be right on his conclusion–some superficial window dressing, but not much substance once you start delving into the issue. I’m not saying that there aren’t tricky issues in Mormon theology and history. There are many. And I’m not saying Runnells doesn’t point out many of these issues. But I am saying that to my mind Runnells is affirmatively not the place to go and learn about any controversial issue, should you want a serious and complete answer, since he doesn’t show much interest in really getting to the meat of them. *All* history is messy, not just Mormon history, and it takes a lot to sift through it.

    But clearly, your mileage may vary. If the CES Letter works for you, more power to you.

  112. What I would like to know is why is simply repeating your own personal experiences with God or the Holy Spirit attacked as testimony bearing dismissals of others?
    Shouldn’t my experience be given at least as much weight as your questions and doubts?
    They happened to me. I am telling them as truthful stories. I respect that the questions people raise and doubts they wish to discuss are not always treated as they should be. So is the answer to attack those whose experience differs from yours?How is that not disrespectful and judgemental?

  113. Ardis E. Parshall says:

    You’re welcome, John W. Glad I could be of service.

  114. Timothy Kearney says:

    You all are missing the one point that matters…Jesus Christ.

  115. neil rasmussen says:

    Well put Shad…we need to be more inbracing and engaging for sure. Love ya Young man!

  116. Aaron Brown says:

    What does any of this have to do with my eternal salvation ?????

    Aaron B

  117. Well, Aaron B, having compassion has something to do with it!

  118. There is one part that I don’t agree with as a person who has left. You imply that family members are hurt or sad when their loved ones leave because they are somehow missing out on all the wonderful things about the church.

    I agree that families can be sad and mourn that the person they loved has changed and their beliefs are not what they used to be. However, please don’t feel sad for the person or act sad around them. In my experience when I see the flaws and inconsistencies in the church my anxiety overpowers me. The church makes me anxious and depressed and I can no longer happily go along and be true to myself.

    So maybe a shift in thinking from feeling sorry for people who have left. Instead, focus on loving everyone like Jesus has said. It doesn’t matter where they are at in life. Just love them. I promise their internal struggle through their faith crisis and the many many hours of wrestling with it is so hard. Simplifying it to its a bummer when they leave and it’s really sad is exactly what people who leave don’t want you to feel. We feel like we’ve made a good choice and feel liberated for not conforming to doing things that no longer sit well with us.

  119. I found this talk very enlightening. I cringe at the thought of opportunities I missed in being a help to someone who could have used it. Reading the long list of responses in its self shows how well delivered this messages is. Whether you agreed or not with Scott’s talk we all can have our own opinion to share and my hope is no one feels marginalized for their own opinions. I have read both sides shared and will allow myself to determine what direction it moves me in how I improve my life and those I come in co tact with.

  120. DD, the only conclusion I could draw from your phone bill example is that x amount of calls were placed over x number of days. Those are the facts. The rest is supposition, and your example fails for me.

    I am sympathetic to those who are struggling with church history because the truthfulness of the church is not presented as nuanced or relative, but certain and absolute. We praise members who have a “simple faith,” who “just choose to believe” without much critical examination; no one praises those who have simple disbelief when they read that the history they were taught was untrue or incomplete when the incompleteness was to make the church look better than it is.

    Maybe LDS academics can ignore and disparage the CES Letter; that is a privilege. I think ignoring it is a disservice to the mass body of Saints. If you are in a position to save souls with your education (perhaps even Jeremy’s), there are scriptures that suggest your reward will be extraordinary in the afterlife. It seems CES and the Fifteen are in no position to do it.

  121. Donald Curtis says:

    Problem is the entire structure of the church. It’s not just some ward members marginalizing people it’s coming from some of the top leaders in the church. The Book of Mormon is just not a historical book, it never happened. That’s not an opinion, it’s a fact just like Santa Clause is not at the North Pole.

  122. Santa Clause is a movie.

  123. “You can’t fool me, there ain’t no sanity clause.”

  124. Wow! Thank you so much, you put this beautifully ☺️

  125. I love this talk so much.

  126. Kimberly Christensen says:

    That was wonderful. I am trying to practice this too.

  127. The God I choose to have faith in would never mess with his people by giving them failing prophets so that he could test their loyalty. You think you have it figured out, but respectfully, I think you are wrong. Also, I believe The Second Coming is a metaphor.

  128. DD – Appreciate your comment; thanks.

  129. Very nice

  130. So well put, thank you. In ward council, the bishop once asked each attendee to share how they make the sabbath a delight in their families. I said that one way we do it is by playing poker with our not-Mormon son after family dinner. I was impressed by how warmly the bishop praises that approach.

  131. Is it … am I … am I Rich??

  132. John Mansfield says:

    There has been pondering by some of what the church’s priesthood may look like decades from now, probably after many of us are dead. Extrapolating from the data points of 1986 and 2018, the future I envision is “Two down, one to go.”

    Thirty-three years ago it was revealed that there should not be Seventies quorums throughout the stakes leading the proclamation of the gospel to the unbaptized living within organized stakes. A couple quorums of Seventies administering central committees was all that was needed from that priesthood office. Last year we learned that we have far too many serving in the office of high priest. A couple dozen in each stake manning the bishoprics and high council are all there should be, and those released from those callings are no longer members of a high priests’ quorum. (As with the shift from “general authority emeritus” to “former general authority,” former high councilors and bishops’ counselors may eventually also be considered former high priests.) With increasing equivalence of the Relief Society and Elders’ Quorum, it may in a future decade be found that there is no reason for the men to be ordained to service that the women also perform without ordination. In those future wards the only priest most latter-day saints will encounter most months will be their bishop, who will be male.

  133. John Mansfield says:

    Sorry, wrong tab.

  134. Thank so much for sharing this truth and showing g me what I need to see. Love this, thank you Scott B.

  135. My husband and I are converts of 35 years, raised 3 daughters in the church. 9 years ago, our youngest and her husband stopped coming. They had doubts. They had questions. We couldn’t answer them all, but encouraged them to ask missionaries, research, ask others, counsel with the bishop. They did all of this. It was heartbreaking when the people they looked to for comfort and confirmation left them feeling broken, “bad” and unwelcome. They have never asked the rest of us to stop believing. They have always attended niece and nephew baptisms. However, a couple years ago had their names removed from church records. I understand your talk on a deep basis. My other daughters and sons-in-law always welcome their questions, welcome them “to the dinner table”. But, I can’t help but wonder that when they needed the live, support and guidance from leaders who they looked up to, and trusted, they did not find it. I pray that every bishop and every organization president reads your beautiful Sacrament talk and keeps a seat at the dinner table and pew always open for those who question their faith and beliefs. Thank you so much for your wonderful talk.

  136. I’ve thought the comments made about members being afraid to talk to others about doubts, etc. I wonder if that’s somewhat attributable to the church’s policy on not speculating during Sunday School. I get why the policy exists, and why the church needs to push it; someone could be teaching non-truths as doctrine. But perhaps in our attempts at keeping it simple, lots of members never developed the mental tools for dealing with uncertainty. Seeing someone reason through an issue – “I know there’s this, and I understand that there’s another thing, so I think that can be explained by blah” – can be very informative.
    The only reason why we would speculate about something is because we don’t have all of the answers, but we might have pieces to the answer, and so we try and see if we can get the pieces to fit. But with an allergic reaction to speculation, some may have never gained the ability to try to piece bits of knowledge together.
    This isn’t an argument to toss out correlation; just some speculation on my part.

  137. We need more peeps like you. Thanks for pointing out to me abprobably common problem I was not as aware of as I should have been. We can all be more inclusive and sensitive to others in our sphere