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Thoughts on Addressing a Struggle with, or Loss of, Faith


smac97

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27 minutes ago, smac97 said:

Thoughts?

Thanks,

-Smac

All kinds of thinking styles are to be found among God’s children, and He appeals to all of them. We can develop so as to appreciate them all and even apply the various styles as tools for carrying out His aims for own salvation as well as bringing others to Christ.

I think all-or-nothing (black-and-white) thinking is often in the eye of the beholder, and proves to be a “negative” attribute only when we are not humble, just like any other style of thinking. For example, I can see the examples given in terms of not being so black-and-white after all.

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Thanks for the thread, Smac! I am a middle-wayer. And I use to quote Elder Uchtdorf's talk called, "Always in the Middle".  https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2012/07/always-in-the-middle?lang=eng I like this quote from it. 

"Being always in the middle means that the game is never over, hope is never lost, defeat is never final. For no matter where we are or what our circumstances, an eternity of beginnings and an eternity of endings stretch out before us.

We are always in the middle."

I am not ready to let go of Jesus/God and I'm not ready to discount the LDS church quite yet either, because I know there is good in it. If I were a black and white thinker, I'd be gone or I'd discount it all. 

Years ago, or maybe now, I'd be in trouble for staying on the fence like this. But it's better for me at this time. 

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On 12/15/2019 at 10:41 PM, 10THAmendment said:

A million times this. The collective faith crisis plaguing the church in the Information Age is the church’s own doing in a lot of ways. 

Then how do you explain the many members who have no issue with the shift in how history is told, etc?

I think given the greater US culture current interaction with religion, a significant part of the problem is how the greater culture views what religion should be and yet isn't.  And from conversations I have had, many Americans seem to have very simplistic ideas about faith and faith practices.

Add to that...Americans in general don't seem to have a good handle on history from what I have seen.  I don't think we have taught it well in the past 60 years.  For one thing, every school I was in, my kids were in, I have heard about...history was low priority, including university.  One general education history course is not going to teach how to 'do' history well.

And religion is pretty much completely ignored as an intellectual pursuit in our country, imo.

So religious history...doomed to be not comprehended or healthily digested by most in my admittedly somewhat arrogant when it comes to this field opinion.

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7 minutes ago, Thinking said:

Blame the idealized narrative that the Church presented for so many years.

It has to be something else, or something more than that.  I grew up in that so called "idealized narrative" era, and it really wasn't as idealized as many make it out to be, or not always intentionally so.  I realize there are more details now that have been made available over time because of projects like the Joseph Smith Papers, but many of the things that people are surprised to find out have always been taught in church publications and seminary and institute manuals using the best information available at the time.  You can learn about a lot of the things just by reading History of the Church, as flawed as that publication may be by today's standards.

For example, I had an ex-member neighbor, at my previous house, and she said one of the things that the church hid from her was that Joseph Smith used a pistol against the mob at Carthage jail at the time of his death, and she thought that I would be shocked to hear about that.  I told her I had learned that in seminary, and showed her where that was taught in my high-school seminary church history manual (The Restored Church, by William Edwin Berrett).  I also showed her pictures I had taken of the pistol on display at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City, from a recent family trip to Utah.  She blamed the church for not teaching her that.  But I blamed her for not studying what the church had made available for her to learn.

But as I mentioned in a previous post (here), I've learned that everyone is different, and people process information and view things differently, and there are complex and diverse reasons that people become disillusioned with the church and its teachings and eventually leave the church. There is no simple answer. 

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21 minutes ago, smac97 said:

Not really interested in allocating "blame."  If I were, we'd probably also need to be candid about lack of sufficient individual study by members of the Church, who thereafter were surprised by controversies and issues for which information has been publicly available for a long time, and which has been the subject of much scholarship and commentary.

I should have refreshed the page before I submitted my post.

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My experience has been when I focus on discipleship by constantly looking for ways to better understand and live the two great commandments, everything else takes care of itself.  Fear and doubt dissipate, hidden manna is discovered, direction is received. 

Spending time ruminating about the philosophies of men regarding spiritual matters when the wisdom of Deity is available seems an unwise choice as we seek how best to curate our lives.

 

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7 minutes ago, let’s roll said:

My experience has been when I focus on discipleship by constantly looking for ways to better understand and live the two great commandments, everything else takes care of itself.  Fear and doubt dissipate, hidden manna is discovered, direction is received. 

Spending time ruminating about the philosophies of men regarding spiritual matters when the wisdom of Deity is available seems an unwise choice as we seek how best to curate our lives.

Here is a list of things I think we can do to improve the situation (previously posted here) :

Quote

1. We should innoculate, not insulate.  The {Gospel Topics} essays are a good start.  I think we need to have more discussions in seminary, and in YM/YW.  And in the home.

2. We should take gospel study as an individual responsibility.  Take ownership of it.  Don't insist that the only gospel instruction is that which we receive during the {two}-hour block and in seminary.

3. We should ditch the "I know" paradigm.  "I'd like to bear my testimony.  I know this church is true..."  Well, actually, no.  Most of us, I think, have faith that God lives, that Jesus Christ is His Son, that the Church is what it claims to be, etc.  "I know" has become an affectation, and an inaccurate one at that.  Just as people use "literally" to mean "figuratively" ("I was so bored yesterday, I was literally climbing the walls..."), I think members of the Church use "I know" to mean "I believe."  And in so doing we've set up an incorrect perception of things.  "For we walk by faith, not by sight."  (2 Cor. 5:7).  "{I}f a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it."  (Alma 32:17-18).  "We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God."  (AoF 1:9).

We are supposed to not have a sure knowledge.  We are supposed to be proceeding in faith.  But we've made it seem like anything short of a pulpit-thumping "I know..." just isn't good enough.  But "I know" seems too rigid.  Too fragile.  Too glass-jawed.  "I believe...", on the other hand, gives us some room.  Some time and some space to absorb challenging/difficult things.  

4. We need to ditch the notion that the Oracle of Google will tell us everything we need to know.  It won't.  It will tell us selected bits and pieces based on algorithms and page views and dozens of other factors that are largely untethered from accuracy, reasonableness, and so on.  

5. We need to put some space between action and reaction.  Ours is an impatient era.  We need to give ourselves time to study, to grow, to learn, to absorb, to evaluate new information, to re-assess, and so on.  Context matters.  Information matters.  Knowing how much we don't know about a given topic matters. As it is, I think a lot of people are making rash, knee-jerk decisions about the Church that are neither studied nor reasoned.

6. I think we need to stop speaking evil of the Lord's anointed, both past and present.  We can and should address disagreements in the Church, but in the right time, and place, and manner.  

I think we need to remind ourselves of Mormon 9:31.  Often.  "Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father, because of his imperfection, neither them who have written before him; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been."

For the love of pete, we need to cut the early members of the Church some slack.  A lot of slack, actually.  It's not like the Lord gave them books entitled "How to Establish the Kingdom of God in Ten Easy Steps," or "Apostleship for Dummies," or "Everything You Want to Know About Revelation (But Are Afraid to Ask)."

The early leaders of the Church were functioning in their leadership capacities with little or no "institutional knowledge" regarding the ins and outs of church governance.  So when Brigham Young became an apostle, and then the Presiding High Priest, he had very little in the way of training from more experienced general authorities to teach him how to run the LDS Church.  And he had very little in the way of formal education (which, in the 19th century, would have been fairly limited anyway).  The same goes for his predecessor, Joseph Smith, his contemporaries, and his successors.

And the Church was in tremendous turmoil and under much hardship for many years (persecutions in Nauvoo, the initial trek west, the ongoing flow of immigrants in the ensuing years, the settlement of the west, the creation of towns, the feeding and provisioning of thousands of newly-minted and -arrived church members, international missionary work, building the Salt Lake Temple, Johnston's Army, Mountain Meadows, polygamy, and on and on and on).

I am deeply impressed at the accomplishments of the early leaders of the Church.  Their experiences, their successes, and their failures, have been helpful to the subsequent generations of leaders and members of the Church.  One of the benefits which are now accruing to today's leaders is the ability to look back and see what was done by past leaders, including perhaps some occasional tendency to publicly conflate personal opinion with scriptural/revelatory precepts.  I think today's leaders are much better about differentiating between the two, and focusing on the latter to the exclusion of the former when making public, formal remarks in their capacities as General Authorities.  These men and women had to deal with many more life-and-death issues, moral conundrums, matters of civil governance, and so on, than we do.  It's easy for us to sit in front of our computers and presume to dole out judgments against people we've never met, who faced situations we've never seen, and dealt with challenges we've never endured.

"For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again."  (3 Nephi 14:2)

7. I think covenant-keeping needs more emphasis.  Covenants are not intended for times when the going is easy.  Covenants are supposed to keep us bound together when the going is not easy.  When it's downright difficult.

8. I think we should spend less time fretting about the frailties and failures of the leaders of the Church, and more time in service to our fellow man, in study of the Restored Gospel, and in fostering basic virtues like patience, humility, kindness, forgiveness, penitence, and so on.

Thanks,

-Smac

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3 minutes ago, smac97 said:

Here is a list of things I think we can do to improve the situation (previously posted here) :

Thanks,

-Smac

I humbly suggest that any list of useful activities ought to begin with:

1. Earnestly inquire of God.  

With an invitation to consider that such inquiry might best be couched in terms of a petition made with an open mind and heart regarding “what would thou have me do.”

Btw, I found the Hafen’s book inspired and insightful.  I shared some thoughts on it on the thread discussing their book.

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Thank you for writing on this topic Smac. I am the John Q you describe. I wish there were tolerance for differing beliefs in the church, and would certainly welcome better openness and discussion from the church on this issue.  How is it that a church with the most liberal and open views of Christianity (open cannon, expect more truths to be revealed, etc) is so ridged in controlling what members believe?   I struggle with many of the truth claims of the church.  Yet as you pointed out, church leaders have made it very black and white the church is either true or is a fraud.  Take the First Vision.  There are so many discrepancies in the various versions.  Nobody really started to even discuss it until the 1880s and there wasn’t even an important missionary tract developed about it until the early 1900s. In other words, it wasn’t even a thing for early members.  It is a more contemporary phenomena that has been changed and nuanced over time. With the many troublesome, messy issues with the First Vision stories, there still is no tolerance for belief in alternative points of view.  

The church only accommodates those who believe in the same cookie cutter way while shunning and excommunicating those who don’t.  It is a tragedy from my point of view, that the church is so ridged in belief in something that no one could possibly know for certain and not allow different ideas.

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12 hours ago, smac97 said:

I've been thinking lately about some remarks that various leaders of the Church have made that can be construed as a sort of all-or-nothing approach to the Restored Gospel.  Some of these have previously been collected by Tacenda here (emphases added):

I think I understand the sentiment underlying these statements.  They are intended to dissuade us from taking a superficial or wishy-washy or indifferent approach to the Restored Gospel.

However, these days we have the Internet, and with it comes immediate and at-your-fingertips access to any and every opinion under the sun.  Also accessible are "Big Lists" (as Jeff Lindsay put it) that itemize controversies involving, and errors and mis-steps made by, past and present members of the Church (particularly its leaders).  Jeremy Runnells' "Letter to a CES Director" is perhaps the most well-known example of this.  Bill Reel is another example.

I wonder if we are seeing a glitch in the truth-seeking process envisioned by the leaders of the Church (as quoted above).  I think they contemplated that someone investigating/evaluating the merits of the claims of the LDS Church would give those claims a fair hearing.  This would, I think, include the basics we have all been taught: read the Book of Mormon and other scriptures, "study {them} out" (per D&C 9:7-9), pray about them with "real intent" and with faith and effort (as contemplated in Moroni 10:3-5, 2 Nephi 31:13, James 1:6, and so on), nurture the beginnings of faith through obedience and service to others (per Alma 32, Mosiah 3 and 4, etc.).  The anticipated result would include impressions and promptings of the Spirit, followed by further study and effort and obedience.  This cyclical effort would then result build up, shall we say, "spiritual momentum" that at once makes the journey in life more manageable, and also keeps us moving forward despite difficulties and obstacles.

I think the above quotes from General Authorities were given to us in response to some of us becoming perhaps a bit inattentive, even halfhearted, in the fostering and maintaining of our faith and devotion.  Apparently some were even adopting what Elder Holland called a "bizarre middle ground" (I think he may have had in mind the "Inspired Fiction" or comparable have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too alternative explanations for the Book of Mormon and the Restoration).

However, what has been happening lately is, as noted above, a "glitch."  Members of the Church are encountering "Big List"-type compendia, and then take an all-or-nothing approach to the Gospel, but one that I do not think was contemplated by the Brethren.  That is, they are running into stuff described by Jeff Lindsay here:

Another challenge is that some folks, having encountered these "Big Lists," can end up adopting a variant of the "Nirvana Fallacy."  This fallacy is described here:

My sense is that some members of the Church are harboring idealized, unrealistic expectations about the Church, and its leaders and members, and its history.  This is the "perfect" part of Voltaire's maxim. 

Then these folks encounter "big lists" and other online resources that distill and summarize all sorts of controversies, errors, shortcomings, etc. by members and leaders of the Church.  Such compilations are full of cheap shots presented for shock value.  Presentism.  Facile criticism.  Misrepresentation by omission and distortion.  A determined effort to keep these topics decontextualized and sensationalized.  Sarcasm.  No effort to study or meaningfully understand.  And intermingled with them are some legitimate criticisms. 

These summaries of the Church are, understandably, difficult or impossible to reconcile with the Church's narrative about itself, which has long tended toward an idealized presentation (though the Church's publication of Saints, Vol. 1: The Standard of Truth is signaling some real change on this issue).

Some members, then, end up facing seemingly irreconcilable options

  • Option A: the Church is essentially good and decent and ordained of God (as claimed by the Church), or
  • Option B: the Church is essentially flawed and corrupt, and even evil (as claimed by authors of the above-referenced "big lists").

These members can, and often do, grapple with these issues in secret.  Maybe they don't want to "rock the boat" (in the ward, amongst family members, etc.).  Maybe they don't want to disappoint family members and friends.  Maybe they struggle in secret out of fear.  Maybe they feel overwhelmed and anxious at the prospect of their Latter-day Saint "worldview" being challenged or upended.  This can be a particularly potent factor in their decision-making process, as such secrecy tends to isolate the individual from other members, and also tends to lead the individual to hostile sources, who are at liberty to characterize the Church in the worst ways possible.  

Working out a response to these feelings, and to these "big list" challenges to our beliefs, can be daunting.  Consider this anecdote from Jeff Lindsay:

What Jeff calls "the fallacy of quantity versus quality" seems like a relative of the "Nirvana Fallacy."  Either the Church is "true" (pristinely correct and perfect in all respects, including every past and present decision, policy, actions, etc. made by the leaders and members of the Church) or else it is a fraud.  And if a fraud, it's monstrous.  If it's a fraud, it "ought to be harmed" (per J. Reuben Clark).  If it's a fraud, we are perpetuating it (per Pres. Hinckley).

This, for me, goes some way toward explaining the following progression:

  1. John Q. grows up a member of the Church, attends Church meetings (Sunday services, Seminary, etc.), observes the expected behaviors (pays tithing, attends the temple, serves in callings, goes on mission, marries in the temple), and generally lives in accordance with the teachings of the Church (observes the Law of Chastity, keeps the Word of Wisdom, etc.).
  2. John Q. for varying reasons, starts to have questions about his faith.  He goes online, and is inundated with "big lists" and other high-shock-value characterizations and criticisms of the Chuch.  John Q. is discombobulated by this information, and becomes more so by finding out that some of it is objectively true.  This is often done in secret.
  3. John Q. begins to harbor some real doubts and suspicions and resentments.  Against the Church, and its leaders, and perhaps against some or all of its membership.  These feelings are also often held in secret.  These feelings are augmented by feelings of betrayal, even anger ("Why didn't the Church / my parents / my friends tell me about this?").
  4. John Q. may nevertheless continue to try and find some way of reconciling this new perspective with his continued membership and activity in the Church.  He may listen at General Conference, and may continue some outward observances, and may continue to pray.  
  5. John Q. hits some sort of breaking point.  He may just make the decision on his own, or he may hear about some sort of straw-that-broke-the-camel's-back event.  However it happens, John Q. pivots from an I-believe-this-is-true to None-of-this-is-real-or-true worldview.
  6. John Q. may not feel content to simply walk away from a lifetime in the Church.  An explanation has to be given.  Fault must be allocated.  Hence he develops a Why-I-Left exit narrative.  He may even write it down.  He may even send it out to loved ones, or even publish it to the world (such as on Facebook).  This adversarial approach creates friction and difficulty with family members and friends who remain in the Church (and who may feel blindsided by such developments).

So what do we do in such circumstances?  Well, here are a few thoughts:

First, we need to acknowledge that we have invited scrutiny of the claims of the Church.  Consequently, we need to accommodate the possibility of members of the Church coming to a conclusion that those claims are not what they claim to be.  We need to allow that.  Reasonable minds can disagree about all sorts of things, including important things.  We should also consider that "either the Church is true, or it is a fraud"-type statements can be compelling, but also risky, and those who have presented them likely did not contemplate the "glitch" described above.

Second, we also need to understand and respect the strong feelings and emotions that can arise when people become disaffected from the Church (or are heading down that path).  We need to reach out and communicate.  We need to let them give voice to their thoughts and concerns.

Third, we need to adopt more realistic, and less idealized, approaches and perspectives to each other, including past and present leaders of the Church.  However, such a process necessarily requires patience and forgiveness, and context and understanding.  Mormon told us: "Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing."  (Mormon 8:35.)  Let us consider that when we consider the following counsel he gave us in the next chapter: "Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father, because of his imperfection, neither them who have written before him; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been."  (Mormon 9:31.)

Fourth, we need to be having more discussions with loved ones.  With those within our stewardship.  We need to feel safe in expressing concerns and questions.  We need to dispel the secrecy and often precedes or accompanies faith crises, and foster candor and openness.  We need to do such things with tact and decorum and respect, pertaining to both the feelings of the individual and the sanctity of the subject matter.  We need to do all we can to help people give the Church and its message a fair hearing.

Fifth, we need to be more informed.  We need to do real research and real study of the Restored Gospel.  We need to sort out what we believe, and why we believe it.  We need to "be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear."  (1 Peter 3:15.)  I also think we need to differentiate our approach to the object of our faith (Jesus Christ), and, well everything else.  I think Davis Bitton's essay is very helpful on this point: I Don’t Have a Testimony of the History of the Church.  We should also examine where we stand individually.  A useful framework for such introspection is set forth in a book published last year by Elder Bruce and Sister Marie Hafen, Faith is Not Blind, summarized here:

Thoughts?

Thanks,

-Smac

Instantly one of my favorite posts I've ever read. 

Thank you,  Smac!

Don

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13 hours ago, smac97 said:

...

Fourth, we need to be having more discussions with loved ones.  With those within our stewardship.  We need to feel safe in expressing concerns and questions.  We need to dispel the secrecy and often precedes or accompanies faith crises, and foster candor and openness.  We need to do such things with tact and decorum and respect, pertaining to both the feelings of the individual and the sanctity of the subject matter.  We need to do all we can to help people give the Church and its message a fair hearing.

...

Thoughts?

Thanks,

-Smac

This is a big one to me. Growing up it was never safe for me to disagree with my dad. Ever. 

A couple of years ago I was discussing how some of the women in the church feel (I did not feel the same way as they do and I do not now feel the same way either). My dad asked a question. I tried to answer it, explaining the deep hurt of some of these women and he walked out in the middle of me replying.

Over and over I see the same things happen here with women's issues. 

Which has shown me how others don't express concerns on other issues because they don't feel safe either. 

What I see is people are so used to defending that they forget the person behind the so called attack instead of really listening with the heart.

As a mom, I wish I had learned this decades ago.

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17 hours ago, smac97 said:

I've been thinking lately about some remarks that various leaders of the Church have made that can be construed as a sort of all-or-nothing approach to the Restored Gospel.  Some of these have previously been collected by Tacenda here (emphases added):

I think I understand the sentiment underlying these statements.  They are intended to dissuade us from taking a superficial or wishy-washy or indifferent approach to the Restored Gospel.

However, these days we have the Internet, and with it comes immediate and at-your-fingertips access to any and every opinion under the sun.  Also accessible are "Big Lists" (as Jeff Lindsay put it) that itemize controversies involving, and errors and mis-steps made by, past and present members of the Church (particularly its leaders).  Jeremy Runnells' "Letter to a CES Director" is perhaps the most well-known example of this.  Bill Reel is another example.

I wonder if we are seeing a glitch in the truth-seeking process envisioned by the leaders of the Church (as quoted above).  I think they contemplated that someone investigating/evaluating the merits of the claims of the LDS Church would give those claims a fair hearing.  This would, I think, include the basics we have all been taught: read the Book of Mormon and other scriptures, "study {them} out" (per D&C 9:7-9), pray about them with "real intent" and with faith and effort (as contemplated in Moroni 10:3-5, 2 Nephi 31:13, James 1:6, and so on), nurture the beginnings of faith through obedience and service to others (per Alma 32, Mosiah 3 and 4, etc.).  The anticipated result would include impressions and promptings of the Spirit, followed by further study and effort and obedience.  This cyclical effort would then result build up, shall we say, "spiritual momentum" that at once makes the journey in life more manageable, and also keeps us moving forward despite difficulties and obstacles.

I think the above quotes from General Authorities were given to us in response to some of us becoming perhaps a bit inattentive, even halfhearted, in the fostering and maintaining of our faith and devotion.  Apparently some were even adopting what Elder Holland called a "bizarre middle ground" (I think he may have had in mind the "Inspired Fiction" or comparable have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too alternative explanations for the Book of Mormon and the Restoration).

However, what has been happening lately is, as noted above, a "glitch."  Members of the Church are encountering "Big List"-type compendia, and then take an all-or-nothing approach to the Gospel, but one that I do not think was contemplated by the Brethren.  That is, they are running into stuff described by Jeff Lindsay here:

Another challenge is that some folks, having encountered these "Big Lists," can end up adopting a variant of the "Nirvana Fallacy."  This fallacy is described here:

My sense is that some members of the Church are harboring idealized, unrealistic expectations about the Church, and its leaders and members, and its history.  This is the "perfect" part of Voltaire's maxim. 

Then these folks encounter "big lists" and other online resources that distill and summarize all sorts of controversies, errors, shortcomings, etc. by members and leaders of the Church.  Such compilations are full of cheap shots presented for shock value.  Presentism.  Facile criticism.  Misrepresentation by omission and distortion.  A determined effort to keep these topics decontextualized and sensationalized.  Sarcasm.  No effort to study or meaningfully understand.  And intermingled with them are some legitimate criticisms. 

These summaries of the Church are, understandably, difficult or impossible to reconcile with the Church's narrative about itself, which has long tended toward an idealized presentation (though the Church's publication of Saints, Vol. 1: The Standard of Truth is signaling some real change on this issue).

Some members, then, end up facing seemingly irreconcilable options

  • Option A: the Church is essentially good and decent and ordained of God (as claimed by the Church), or
  • Option B: the Church is essentially flawed and corrupt, and even evil (as claimed by authors of the above-referenced "big lists").

These members can, and often do, grapple with these issues in secret.  Maybe they don't want to "rock the boat" (in the ward, amongst family members, etc.).  Maybe they don't want to disappoint family members and friends.  Maybe they struggle in secret out of fear.  Maybe they feel overwhelmed and anxious at the prospect of their Latter-day Saint "worldview" being challenged or upended.  This can be a particularly potent factor in their decision-making process, as such secrecy tends to isolate the individual from other members, and also tends to lead the individual to hostile sources, who are at liberty to characterize the Church in the worst ways possible.  

Working out a response to these feelings, and to these "big list" challenges to our beliefs, can be daunting.  Consider this anecdote from Jeff Lindsay:

What Jeff calls "the fallacy of quantity versus quality" seems like a relative of the "Nirvana Fallacy."  Either the Church is "true" (pristinely correct and perfect in all respects, including every past and present decision, policy, actions, etc. made by the leaders and members of the Church) or else it is a fraud.  And if a fraud, it's monstrous.  If it's a fraud, it "ought to be harmed" (per J. Reuben Clark).  If it's a fraud, we are perpetuating it (per Pres. Hinckley).

This, for me, goes some way toward explaining the following progression:

  1. John Q. grows up a member of the Church, attends Church meetings (Sunday services, Seminary, etc.), observes the expected behaviors (pays tithing, attends the temple, serves in callings, goes on mission, marries in the temple), and generally lives in accordance with the teachings of the Church (observes the Law of Chastity, keeps the Word of Wisdom, etc.).
  2. John Q. for varying reasons, starts to have questions about his faith.  He goes online, and is inundated with "big lists" and other high-shock-value characterizations and criticisms of the Chuch.  John Q. is discombobulated by this information, and becomes more so by finding out that some of it is objectively true.  This is often done in secret.
  3. John Q. begins to harbor some real doubts and suspicions and resentments.  Against the Church, and its leaders, and perhaps against some or all of its membership.  These feelings are also often held in secret.  These feelings are augmented by feelings of betrayal, even anger ("Why didn't the Church / my parents / my friends tell me about this?").
  4. John Q. may nevertheless continue to try and find some way of reconciling this new perspective with his continued membership and activity in the Church.  He may listen at General Conference, and may continue some outward observances, and may continue to pray.  
  5. John Q. hits some sort of breaking point.  He may just make the decision on his own, or he may hear about some sort of straw-that-broke-the-camel's-back event.  However it happens, John Q. pivots from an I-believe-this-is-true to None-of-this-is-real-or-true worldview.
  6. John Q. may not feel content to simply walk away from a lifetime in the Church.  An explanation has to be given.  Fault must be allocated.  Hence he develops a Why-I-Left exit narrative.  He may even write it down.  He may even send it out to loved ones, or even publish it to the world (such as on Facebook).  This adversarial approach creates friction and difficulty with family members and friends who remain in the Church (and who may feel blindsided by such developments).

So what do we do in such circumstances?  Well, here are a few thoughts:

First, we need to acknowledge that we have invited scrutiny of the claims of the Church.  Consequently, we need to accommodate the possibility of members of the Church coming to a conclusion that those claims are not what they claim to be.  We need to allow that.  Reasonable minds can disagree about all sorts of things, including important things.  We should also consider that "either the Church is true, or it is a fraud"-type statements can be compelling, but also risky, and those who have presented them likely did not contemplate the "glitch" described above.

Second, we also need to understand and respect the strong feelings and emotions that can arise when people become disaffected from the Church (or are heading down that path).  We need to reach out and communicate.  We need to let them give voice to their thoughts and concerns.

Third, we need to adopt more realistic, and less idealized, approaches and perspectives to each other, including past and present leaders of the Church.  However, such a process necessarily requires patience and forgiveness, and context and understanding.  Mormon told us: "Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing."  (Mormon 8:35.)  Let us consider that when we consider the following counsel he gave us in the next chapter: "Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father, because of his imperfection, neither them who have written before him; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been."  (Mormon 9:31.)

Fourth, we need to be having more discussions with loved ones.  With those within our stewardship.  We need to feel safe in expressing concerns and questions.  We need to dispel the secrecy and often precedes or accompanies faith crises, and foster candor and openness.  We need to do such things with tact and decorum and respect, pertaining to both the feelings of the individual and the sanctity of the subject matter.  We need to do all we can to help people give the Church and its message a fair hearing.

Fifth, we need to be more informed.  We need to do real research and real study of the Restored Gospel.  We need to sort out what we believe, and why we believe it.  We need to "be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear."  (1 Peter 3:15.)  I also think we need to differentiate our approach to the object of our faith (Jesus Christ), and, well everything else.  I think Davis Bitton's essay is very helpful on this point: I Don’t Have a Testimony of the History of the Church.  We should also examine where we stand individually.  A useful framework for such introspection is set forth in a book published last year by Elder Bruce and Sister Marie Hafen, Faith is Not Blind, summarized here:

Thoughts?

Thanks,

-Smac

A lot of stuff to chew on here. You've been doing some deep thinking.

I haven't even finished reading your post yet, let alone crystallized my thinking on it. I will do so in coming days.

Meanwhile, I love that phrase from Elder Holland, "bizarre middle ground." It certainly does, as you say, characterize misguided notions such as the "inspired fiction" theory about the Book of Mormon. Can you cite a talk or discourse in which Elder Holland used that phrase? If it's from a general conference sermon, obviously I need to re-read it, because I don't remember it.

Edited to add: Never mind. I found this link: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/new-era/1995/06/true-or-false?lang=eng

Edited by Scott Lloyd
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17 hours ago, smac97 said:

 

Second, we also need to understand and respect the strong feelings and emotions that can arise when people become disaffected from the Church (or are heading down that path).  We need to reach out and communicate.  We need to let them give voice to their thoughts and concerns.

 

I don't dispute this, but while we are respecting, tolerating and communicating, we need to guard against the temptation to give the adversary equal time and advantage, lest the weak and vulnerable be misled thereby. 

Some have suggested, for instance, that in our Sabbath day classes and such, we should give place and time for expression of unorthodox views, what you and I agree Elder Holland was probably referring to when he used the phrase "bizarre middle ground." False doctrine is and always will be false. It should never be placed on an equal footing with truth, not under the auspices of the Church of Jesus Christ. Similarly, speculation and conjecture should not be afforded the same institutional regard as verity.

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There's a member of the Church, to him, you must believe as he does or you're an apostate, you accept the writings of certain general authorities(that are long dead) or you're a 'whining liberal' and therefore aren't faithful. If you struggle with something, there is no compassion, if you doubt, it's from Satan. I think extremes in the Church should be avoided, people do go inactive for whatever reason, ultra liberal to the ultra orthodox. I think it was Joseph Smith who said "I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions." 

Can people disagree on doctrine or procedure absolutely, current leaders are changing things that they or God thinks should be changed. I just think, for example, when you watch the Solemn Assemblies for sustaining a new President of the Church for like Pres. Joseph Fielding Smith, Harold B. Lee, Spencer W. Kimball, what was going through the minds of Pres. Ezra Taft Benson, Pres. Howard W. Hunter, Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley, and Pres. Thomas S. Monson, something like 'if I ever get to be the President of the Church, this will be shortened considerably!!!!!'

Things simply change, clarified but some people are so incredibly stuck on certain interpretations, practices that they can't handle changes. 

Then there's this from Elder Callister

https://www.thechurchnews.com/living-faith/2019-12-15/elder-tad-r-callister-members-church-latter-day-saints-169646

"In truth, this Church ruins its members for any other church, because, like this missionary, they know too much. If people leave this Church, they will usually end up traveling down one of two paths — either they will become a church unto themselves (because they will never find another church that has more truth than they already have) or they will head down the road of agnosticism"

There is no middle ground, no other option here. He is assuming that everyone in the Church knows everything doctrine wise about the Church.That just isn't teh case.  It's an idea that came from his grandfather, Elder LeGrand Richards-but he meant it in an entirely different way though. The scriptures in 1 Nephi talk about 4 groups of people, not just two-with only two of them make it to the tree with one group staying and one not.

 

 

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An experience I will never forget, in like 2001 or 2 I was EQ President in our YSA ward here. There was this guy who came back early from a mission in France, he came from a small city a couple of hours away, so I and i assume others really didn't know him. I have no clue why he came home early but I was sitting next to him in sacrament meeting and the bishopric member was speaking about the Justice and mercy of God. Well, he didn't get to the mercy part, just the justice. I could literally feel this early return missionary's spirit dying on the inside, I could just see he was wilting and shriveling. Needless to say he hasn't come back, i'm sure there were other factors as well, but this talk didn't help any. My counselour and I tried and tried to get him to come back and he never did. Incidentally that guy, the bishopric member and my counselour are all out of the Church now but it bothered me, and was a lesson on the words we say could really do damage to people-especially if people are struggling

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8 hours ago, InCognitus said:

It has to be something else, or something more than that.  I grew up in that so called "idealized narrative" era, and it really wasn't as idealized as many make it out to be, or not always intentionally so.  I realize there are more details now that have been made available over time because of projects like the Joseph Smith Papers, but many of the things that people are surprised to find out have always been taught in church publications and seminary and institute manuals using the best information available at the time.  You can learn about a lot of the things just by reading History of the Church, as flawed as that publication may be by today's standards.

For example, I had an ex-member neighbor, at my previous house, and she said one of the things that the church hid from her was that Joseph Smith used a pistol against the mob at Carthage jail at the time of his death, and she thought that I would be shocked to hear about that.  I told her I had learned that in seminary, and showed her where that was taught in my high-school seminary church history manual (The Restored Church, by William Edwin Berrett).  I also showed her pictures I had taken of the pistol on display at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City, from a recent family trip to Utah.  She blamed the church for not teaching her that.  But I blamed her for not studying what the church had made available for her to learn.

But as I mentioned in a previous post (here), I've learned that everyone is different, and people process information and view things differently, and there are complex and diverse reasons that people become disillusioned with the church and its teachings and eventually leave the church. There is no simple answer. 

My ah-ha moment was when I learned Joseph had many wives. If it had stopped at that, I would probably have gotten over it. But when going on Fair and other sites, I found so many things I hadn't known beforehand. Like the masonry similarities in the temple, or the mountain meadows massacre or..too many to list. I guess it is the rabbit hole everyone speaks of, that is so difficult. Surely, the pistol wasn't the only reason your previous neighbor left the church.

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39 minutes ago, Duncan said:

An experience I will never forget, in like 2001 or 2 I was EQ President in our YSA ward here. There was this guy who came back early from a mission in France, he came from a small city a couple of hours away, so I and i assume others really didn't know him. I have no clue why he came home early but I was sitting next to him in sacrament meeting and the bishopric member was speaking about the Justice and mercy of God. Well, he didn't get to the mercy part, just the justice. I could literally feel this early return missionary's spirit dying on the inside, I could just see he was wilting and shriveling. Needless to say he hasn't come back, i'm sure there were other factors as well, but this talk didn't help any. My counselour and I tried and tried to get him to come back and he never did. Incidentally that guy, the bishopric member and my counselour are all out of the Church now but it bothered me, and was a lesson on the words we say could really do damage to people-especially if people are struggling

Some people take the truth to be hard. Our Savior warned about this. Nevertheless, it is given to us to teach the truth - that God is a god of justice, and does not show "favoritism." The good news is that all can partake of that justice through our Savior - He accepted the ends of justice for us so that we through Him, could return to God. It is always important to point that out in lessons about justice lest any feel overwhelmed, and shrink from the truth as this fellow apparently did. The lesson nevertheless, cannot really be avoided. It is an integral part of understanding the atonement. There are hazards to having lay speakers.... I believe the positives still outweigh the negatives, but that does not eliminate the hazards....

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6 hours ago, 2BizE said:

Thank you for writing on this topic Smac. I am the John Q you describe. I wish there were tolerance for differing beliefs in the church, and would certainly welcome better openness and discussion from the church on this issue.  

Perhaps you could clarify what you mean by "differing beliefs in the church."  

6 hours ago, 2BizE said:

How is it that a church with the most liberal and open views of Christianity (open cannon, expect more truths to be revealed, etc) is so ridged in controlling what members believe?

I'm not sure what you mean here.  

6 hours ago, 2BizE said:

I struggle with many of the truth claims of the church.  Yet as you pointed out, church leaders have made it very black and white the church is either true or is a fraud.

In an ultimate, when-all-is-said-and-done sense, yes.  The Church makes some very bold claims about itself.

In a similar sense, we can consider Jesus Christ in a "very black and white" way, too.  He was either the Son of God, or else he was a fraud.  He either performed miracles by the power of God, or He did not.  He either suffered and atoned for our sins, or he did not.  He is either "the way, the truth, and the life," or he is not (John 14:6).  Either He was correct in stating that "no man cometh unto the Father, but by me," or he was not.  

However, all these are conclusions that, I think, cannot be made by skipping to the end.  We need to give Jesus Christ a fair hearing.  Similarly, I think we need to give the Church a fair hearing.  I am concerned that this isn't happening.  I am concerned that people, including members, are relying on online materials (the the "Letter to a CES Director") that are hostile to the Church, and are designed to make the Church look as bad as possible, and are certainly not intended to give the Restored Gospel a fair hearing.  In other words, this stuff a shortcut.  It is a replacement for rigorous, systematic, thoughtful research and effort (and yes, prayer, and pondering, and exercising faith).

By way of illustration: Some years ago my brother-in-law was living with us while he attended BYU (studying film).  He came home late one evening to find me watching a movie in fast-forward (double speed, I believe), and with the subtitles on.  Our conversation went something like this:

  • BIL: Hey, Spencer, could you . . . hey, what are you watching?
  • Me: Citizen Kane.
  • BIL: In fast-forward?
  • Me: Yep.
  • BIL: But you can't hear the dialogue.
  • Me: Yeah.  That's why I have the subtitles on.
  • BIL: You are watching one of the greatest films ever made.
  • Me: Yeah, I've never seen it before, so I thought I'd give it a try.
  • BIL: But you're not really watching it.
  • Me: I'm tired, and I don't have time to watch it at regular speed.
  • BIL: But you're not really watching it.
  • Me: That's okay.  I'm getting the gist of it.  
  • BIL: I don't think you are.  You're not really watching it.
  • Me: I figured I could fill in the gaps by reading the plot summary for it that is on Wikipedia.
  • BIL: You are watching one of the greatest films ever  made.  Using fast-forward, subtitles, and a Wikipedia summary?
  • Me: Like I said, I'm tired.
  • BIL: I have no words.  G'night.

To this day, my brother-in-law has perhaps not fully forgiven me.

In the end, he was right.  I wasn't really watching it.  I wasn't spending enough time or effort in watching it.  I was not giving it sufficient attention.  I wasn't giving it meaningful consideration.

I think this sort of thing is happening in the Church.  A lot, actually.

6 hours ago, 2BizE said:

Take the First Vision.  There are so many discrepancies in the various versions.  

Well, no, there aren't.  We can have a discussion about that if you like.

6 hours ago, 2BizE said:

Nobody really started to even discuss it until the 1880s and there wasn’t even an important missionary tract developed about it until the early 1900s.

And Christians didn't begin to celebrate the birth of Christ until the Third Century.  I don't think that negates the import of the event.

The First Vision is an interesting topic for me, largely because Joseph experienced it alone.  There were no other witnesses to it (but then, nobody was with Moses on Mount Sanai, either).

6 hours ago, 2BizE said:

In other words, it wasn’t even a thing for early members.

I'm not sure we can say that.  

Moreover, what was "a thing for early members" was The Book of Mormon.  That is, I think, the piece of evidence that must be accounted for (through study, prayer, and confirmation of the Spirit).  The reality of the First Vision, then, becomes an extrapolation (along with the restoration of the priesthood, continuing prophetic authority, etc.).

6 hours ago, 2BizE said:

It is a more contemporary phenomena that has been changed and nuanced over time. With the many troublesome, messy issues with the First Vision stories, there still is no tolerance for belief in alternative points of view.  

I'm not sure what you mean here.  The Gospel Topics essay on the First Vision is pretty good: First Vision Accounts

This excerpt from that essay is, I think, substantively correct: 

Quote

The various accounts of the First Vision tell a consistent story, though naturally they differ in emphasis and detail. Historians expect that when an individual retells an experience in multiple settings to different audiences over many years, each account will emphasize various aspects of the experience and contain unique details. Indeed, differences similar to those in the First Vision accounts exist in the multiple scriptural accounts of Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus and the Apostles’ experience on the Mount of Transfiguration. Yet despite the differences, a basic consistency remains across all the accounts of the First Vision. Some have mistakenly argued that any variation in the retelling of the story is evidence of fabrication. To the contrary, the rich historical record enables us to learn more about this remarkable event than we could if it were less well documented.

We could certainly talk about this in further detail if you like (though perhaps doing so in another thread, or via PM, would be preferable).

6 hours ago, 2BizE said:

The church only accommodates those who believe in the same cookie cutter way while shunning and excommunicating those who don’t.  

I don't know what you mean by "cookie cutter way."

I also disagree with the "shunning and excommunicating" claim.  The Church doesn't "shun."  And excommunications over purely doctrinal disputes are extremely rare.

6 hours ago, 2BizE said:

It is a tragedy from my point of view, that the church is so ridged in belief in something that no one could possibly know for certain and not allow different ideas.

Not sure what you mean here.  Could you clarify?

Thanks,

-Smac

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On 12/15/2019 at 11:03 PM, InCognitus said:

It has to be something else, or something more than that.  I grew up in that so called "idealized narrative" era, and it really wasn't as idealized as many make it out to be, or not always intentionally so.  I realize there are more details now that have been made available over time because of projects like the Joseph Smith Papers, but many of the things that people are surprised to find out have always been taught in church publications and seminary and institute manuals using the best information available at the time.  You can learn about a lot of the things just by reading History of the Church, as flawed as that publication may be by today's standards.

For example, I had an ex-member neighbor, at my previous house, and she said one of the things that the church hid from her was that Joseph Smith used a pistol against the mob at Carthage jail at the time of his death, and she thought that I would be shocked to hear about that.  I told her I had learned that in seminary, and showed her where that was taught in my high-school seminary church history manual (The Restored Church, by William Edwin Berrett).  I also showed her pictures I had taken of the pistol on display at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City, from a recent family trip to Utah.  She blamed the church for not teaching her that.  But I blamed her for not studying what the church had made available for her to learn.

But as I mentioned in a previous post (here), I've learned that everyone is different, and people process information and view things differently, and there are complex and diverse reasons that people become disillusioned with the church and its teachings and eventually leave the church. There is no simple answer. 

In my youth, I had two broad influences that had a strong impact on my perspective about the Church: my mom and my dad.

I read a series of historical fiction novels called The Storm Testament.  These books were fairly well-written, and did a good job of introducing the (fictional) protagonist, Dan Storm, as interacting with early figures in the Church and experiencing the formative events of the Church.  It made the early history interesting and accessible for me, and captured my ten-year-old interest and attention.  The fourth volume dealt with Mountain Meadows, and the fifth dealt with the persecutions pertaining to polygamy.  In both instances, I was troubled by what I was reading (particularly as to the MMM).  I still recall the feeling I had at reading how the members of the Church in Iron County ended up attacking the wagon train (dressed as Indians, along with some Paiutes), the detection of the deception, and the eventual horrific decision to kill all of the immigrants.  

I read the book from a naive point of view.  I remember feeling a bit uneasy, as I kept expecting the narrative to change, that the Mormon militiamen would have a turn of heart, would recognize the depravity of plan to attack and kill the migrants, and would figure out a way to change course and stop the carnage and let the migrants go.  But that's not what happened.  Instead, the story played out and . . . well, we all know what happened.

This bothered me.  A lot.  I had my first dose of "cognitive dissonance" in a fundamental way.  I could not reconcile the narrative of the MMM with the narrative I had been taught all my life about the early days of the Church and the heroic pioneers who crossed the plains.  I'm not sure I had a "crisis of faith," but if not, whatever I experienced was right next to it.

I took the book to my dad, who I knew was well-versed in the history of the Church.  I told him what I had read, and that I did not think it was true because . . . it was too horrible.  My dad, who was reading the newspaper at the time, but the paper down and we had a discussion for a bit over an hour.  He told me in clear and concise terms that the narrative I had read was pretty much correct (except the fictional part about Dan Storm helping a blind migrant woman escape the massacre).  He said he understood how disturbing this story is.  

He then spent quite a bit of time outlining the context of the event.  He explained the persecutions which the Saints had faced in Missouri and Nauvoo, how these persecutions had fomented some real anger and bitterness among some members of the Church which had probably never been fully addressed/resolved.  He explained the difficulties and privations of the trek West, which trek was the consequence of the persecution of the Church members in Missouri and Nauvoo.  He explained the first ten years the church members spent in the territory.  He explained the war hysteria which preceded the MMM, including A) the coming of Johnston's Army, B) the order from Brigham Young to stockpile supplies and the consequent friction with the migrants (who had anticipated being able to purchase food/materials in Utah before making the last leg of the journey to California), and C) George A. Smith's fiery rhetoric as he traveled through the territory.  He explained the relative isolation of the Saints in southern Utah.  He was careful here, telling me that he wanted me to understand the whole situation, but that I should not take his explanation of the circumstances preceding the massacre as somehow justifying or excusing the acts of the members of the Church.

He then spent some time talking about the Church as a group of flawed people.  He also characterized the 19th century as being a very different place from our current life (this was in the 80s).  He said we should not condone or excuse the massacre, but neither should we ignore the context in which it happened.  He also said I should keep a distinction between the doctrines of the Church and the members of the Church and how they implement those doctrines, and that flaws and mistakes - even terrible acts like the massacre - do not change the reality that God lives, that Jesus Christ is His Son, and that The Book of Mormon is true.

I remember feeling very different about the Church after this discussion with my dad.  I felt more sober.  I felt more . . . realistic.  Looking back, I think the Restored Gospel ceased at that point to be simply a series of stories sung about during Sunday School.  It became something more.  It became . . . more real to me.  It was not an altogether pleasant process.  My childish perception of the Church was idyllic, which was never going to be sustainable.

As for my mom, she helped a lot, too.  She compiled brief history lessons about church history and family history that she presented to us kids - often against our will.  And yet many of those stories still resonate with me.  The First Vision, events in Nauvoo, the trek west, the arrival in the Salt Lake Valley, polygamy, etc.  She covered quite a bit.  Some things, it turns out, were not quite true (the story about John Taylor's pocketwatch, for example, is likely not correct).  Nevertheless, she instilled in me a sense of where I came from, what I was a part of.

The lessons taught to me (separately) by my mom and dad gave me a pretty good foundation.  I will always be grateful to them.

Thanks,

-Smac

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1 hour ago, RevTestament said:

Some people take the truth to be hard.

There can be a lot of damage done by teaching and living half truths. Half in terms of amount, not in terms of mixed with lies. The full Gospel is what finally leads us to God, justice and mercy, not just justice. 

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