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"Bridges: Ministering to Those Who Question" by David Ostler


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Just as an FYI, I thought I would mention this book, Bridges: Ministering to Those Who Question, by David Ostler. Our stake presidency has bought a copy for every bishop in the stake, and discussion of the book's content is going to be a large part of our next bishopric training session.  

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About the book: "With the advancement of the internet, changing worldviews, and the rising generation of millennials, Latter-day Saints today face unique challenges to faith on an unprecedented scale. Unlike most books written to help those struggling with their testimonies, Bridges: Ministering to Those Who Question is geared at helping local leaders and family members better understand the sources of these challenges and how to minister to those affected by them. This ministering is done through building bridges of love, empathy, and trust regardless of whether or not someone retains their belief or continues to participate. Author David B. Ostler, a former mission president, utilizes surveys with local leaders and disaffected members, research from social science and religious studies, and teachings from Church leaders to show how Latter-day Saints can work to better support those who have questions and create church environments where all can feel welcome."

The books website: https://www.bridgeslds.com/   

I was going to just post this in the Social Hall, but thought there might be some who want to discuss it more critically, so I've posted it here. I haven't yet read the book, myself, so I may not have anything to say. At least so far. Has anyone here read it?

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I haven't read the book but listened to this podcast, it's a great thing for those leaders out there that need help ministering to those that question. 

 

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An interesting coincidence -- I just finished reading this. I read it from the POV of someone more in faith crisis that a leader/"orthodox" member dealing with people in faith crisis.

Overall, I thought Ostler did a good job. Perhaps it is mostly the perspective I was reading it from, but I found the first part of the book most interesting, where he compares and contrasts the reasons leaders believe people go into faith crisis with the reasons people in faith crisis give.

If I understood Ostler's goal, he mostly wants to help leaders/members understand a little bit of the experience of having a crisis of faith. With that understanding, he seemed to want to encourage leaders/members to reach out to those struggling to believe or whose beliefs are currently in flux and maintain relationships with them. In this, Ostler seemed to downplay the importance of providing answers to the questions that tend to come up (perhaps recognizing that many will never come back to the same faith they had before their crisis). He prefers, instead, to focus on building and maintaining bridges between the Church/leaders/members no matter what direction a person's faith crisis may take them.

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2 hours ago, MrShorty said:

An interesting coincidence -- I just finished reading this. I read it from the POV of someone more in faith crisis that a leader/"orthodox" member dealing with people in faith crisis.

Overall, I thought Ostler did a good job. Perhaps it is mostly the perspective I was reading it from, but I found the first part of the book most interesting, where he compares and contrasts the reasons leaders believe people go into faith crisis with the reasons people in faith crisis give.

If I understood Ostler's goal, he mostly wants to help leaders/members understand a little bit of the experience of having a crisis of faith. With that understanding, he seemed to want to encourage leaders/members to reach out to those struggling to believe or whose beliefs are currently in flux and maintain relationships with them. In this, Ostler seemed to downplay the importance of providing answers to the questions that tend to come up (perhaps recognizing that many will never come back to the same faith they had before their crisis). He prefers, instead, to focus on building and maintaining bridges between the Church/leaders/members no matter what direction a person's faith crisis may take them.

Having only heard what the one member of my stake presidency said about the book (he's read it, or most of it), that's the impression I got, too.

But that is what is needed, I think. Too many members, and also leaders, want to attribute loss of faith to sinful behavior. In the last stake council, when this topic was brought up, there was a high council member who expressed this -- and got shot at by a couple of other HC members who felt this was not a useful attitude to take. He admitted that it might not be -- but he is of course right to a certain degree. I've known a couple of people who left the church, claiming they were "recovering from Mormonism," when it was more than clear that they had screwed up royally and were looking for a way to minimize their mistake. One was a case of adultery, and the other a workplace theft. But practically everyone else whom I've known who were having a faith transition weren't doing so as a result of serious sin. 

It's easy enough to provide answers to questions. It is also very important to continue to show love and concern to those who are in the situation. I think of the experiences of Dusty (<== see link), who's posted on this forum in times past about his experiences, and of another one, Don Bradley. They found their way back, not through FAIR answers, but through the Spirit working on them over time. Maintaining connections would seem therefore to be very important, no matter what -- in order to do what we can to assist them when the time comes.

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1 hour ago, Stargazer said:

Too many members, and also leaders, want to attribute loss of faith to sinful behavior.

This one of the examples Ostler specifically pointed out in the book (chapter 3, I read an electronic copy, so I don't have a page number). He did two surveys for the book, one he calls the "Faith Crisis Member Survey" and the other he calls "Local Leader Survey". For the question does "not wanting to live the commandments" contribute to an individual's faith crisis, the Local Leader Survey suggested that the perception of local leaders was that "sin" contributed to 85-90% of faith crisis cases. The Faith Crisis Member Survey suggested about 10%. So, it's not 0, there seem to be cases where desire to sin contributes to faith crisis, but it seems much less prevalent than local leaders might suggest.

 

1 hour ago, Stargazer said:

It's easy enough to provide answers to questions.

I would suggest that it is easy to provide something that we think answers the question. The person we are ministering to may not agree that it answers the question. You mention FAIR answers, I know of one case where the FAIR answers were more of a catalyst for pushing him out of the Church than answering the questions.

 

1 hour ago, Stargazer said:

Maintaining connections would seem therefore to be very important, no matter what -- in order to do what we can to assist them when the time comes.

Yes. I might also add that Ostler makes the point a few times through the book that it isn't just about when they might come back, but to be prepared to maintain the relationship even if they never come back. The "bridge" we are building, Ostler suggests, should be about the relationship, not about a future hope of returning to full faith and activity in the Church.

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4 minutes ago, MrShorty said:

This one of the examples Ostler specifically pointed out in the book (chapter 3, I read an electronic copy, so I don't have a page number). He did two surveys for the book, one he calls the "Faith Crisis Member Survey" and the other he calls "Local Leader Survey". For the question does "not wanting to live the commandments" contribute to an individual's faith crisis, the Local Leader Survey suggested that the perception of local leaders was that "sin" contributed to 85-90% of faith crisis cases. The Faith Crisis Member Survey suggested about 10%. So, it's not 0, there seem to be cases where desire to sin contributes to faith crisis, but it seems much less prevalent than local leaders might suggest.

My nephew isn't active in the church, and the only thing that I ever heard as to reasons was that he likes wine too much. But I'm pretty convinced the wine thing is a result of his inactivity, and not a cause. Also his father's dropping out of activity didn't help, either. 

The thing about sin leading to falling away is largely a cop-out in my view.

4 minutes ago, MrShorty said:

 

I would suggest that it is easy to provide something that we think answers the question. The person we are ministering to may not agree that it answers the question. You mention FAIR answers, I know of one case where the FAIR answers were more of a catalyst for pushing him out of the Church than answering the questions.

Oh, absolutely. But had he run into the questions FAIR answers before he saw the FAIR answers, would that not have led down the same path? I think many of us operate in a kind of cocoon, where we avoid hard questions out of discomfort -- and are discouraged when they come up nevertheless. I have a very strongly spiritual conviction about the genuineness of the church's truth claims, but strong or not, I don't like to wallow in the questions as a general rule -- but I've heard them all at one time or another.

The fact that there ARE questions may be a catalyst sometimes. Too many perhaps believe there should be no such questions. Their mere existence is a bad indicator.

4 minutes ago, MrShorty said:

 

Yes. I might also add that Ostler makes the point a few times through the book that it isn't just about when they might come back, but to be prepared to maintain the relationship even if they never come back. The "bridge" we are building, Ostler suggests, should be about the relationship, not about a future hope of returning to full faith and activity in the Church.

It wasn't for nothing that the Lord commanded us to love all men. He does, so why should we be any different?

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4 hours ago, MrShorty said:

This one of the examples Ostler specifically pointed out in the book (chapter 3, I read an electronic copy, so I don't have a page number). He did two surveys for the book, one he calls the "Faith Crisis Member Survey" and the other he calls "Local Leader Survey". For the question does "not wanting to live the commandments" contribute to an individual's faith crisis, the Local Leader Survey suggested that the perception of local leaders was that "sin" contributed to 85-90% of faith crisis cases. The Faith Crisis Member Survey suggested about 10%. So, it's not 0, there seem to be cases where desire to sin contributes to faith crisis, but it seems much less prevalent than local leaders might suggest.

I think it's a case of misapplied causation. Many people whose faith crises become irreconcilable end up "sinning" in various visible ways, but it's not the "sinning" that was the cause of the leaving; it was the leaving that was the cause of the "sinning." There seems to be a psychological reaction by many, a subconscious (or maybe sometimes conscious) desire to visibly go back on things like the Word of Wisdom, law of chastity, etc. once they make the final break in their hearts and minds. 

4 hours ago, MrShorty said:

I would suggest that it is easy to provide something that we think answers the question. The person we are ministering to may not agree that it answers the question. You mention FAIR answers, I know of one case where the FAIR answers were more of a catalyst for pushing him out of the Church than answering the questions.

People trying to help need to be aware of this. What we think are good answers aren't always good answers to those we're trying to help (they can be, though, and each person is different). Some people don't want to be helped, and even genuinely "good" answers will be rejected on their face. 

When I've been asked to meet with people with CES letter-type concerns, I've explained to the bishops and stake presidency that they (they've always wanted to be present) need to be prepared for whatever time it takes (no Swedish Rescue one hour meeting and call it a night). If they're open and want more time, then we will discuss for hours and meet multiple times, if necessary (I think the Swedish Rescue party should have taken this approach, and this patience and time alone would have done a world of good for some there). As we've walked through the questions and concerns, I've had people acknowledge that their concerns aren't now as bad as they were before (one man was surprised as we looked up his claims online in real time, along with responses to them. He admitted that the anti-Mormon side had vastly overstated their case). On other questions, they haven't liked the answers offered very much. It really varies on the person; each person is different. 

All of the people I've worked with have pretty much the same "big" concerns: Joseph Smith polygamy, Book of Mormon/Book of Abraham historicity and scholarship, and the priesthood ban. A growing area that is harder to really answer because it's like political orientation (it really comes down to personal preference and isn't open to correction via information): social issues (gay marriage, law of chastity, women ordination, etc.). 

ETA: I can't emphasize enough the importance for many (not all) that they can simply hash out their concerns with people who know as much as they do (or more). Even where the concerns aren't resolved then and there, they come away from the meeting(s) with a good experience, perspective, corrections on their bad information or assumptions, etc. Simply being able to talk about it in-depth with knowledgeable people with good "bedside manner" can help avert total shipwreck. This is especially true where the doubter has a believing spouse (and what a relief it is to the spouse if the outcome of the meeting is positive). 

Edited by rongo
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It is a good book and he has done some podcasts that are helpful.  I happened to watch John Gee`s talk from the last FAIR Conference about reasons that people lose faith.  Surveys that Ostler and Gee talk about mention going through a divorce or parents divorcing, especially if the parents were active.  Also pornography came up in Gee`s talk as effecting daily scripture reading and praying, even if the member continues to go to church on Sundays.  This effect of pornography lasted up to six years.  It was a different take on pornography, not the same things I usually hear.  Pornography is so pervasive, I wouldn`t throw it into the category of people leaving the Church to sin, but rather the effect of the sin.  It was a great conference, definitely worth the price of 29.95.  

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2 minutes ago, readstoomuch said:

It is a good book and he has done some podcasts that are helpful.  I happened to watch John Gee`s talk from the last FAIR Conference about reasons that people lose faith.  Surveys that Ostler and Gee talk about mention going through a divorce or parents divorcing, especially if the parents were active.  Also pornography came up in Gee`s talk as effecting daily scripture reading and praying, even if the member continues to go to church on Sundays.  This effect of pornography lasted up to six years.  It was a different take on pornography, not the same things I usually hear.  Pornography is so pervasive, I wouldn`t throw it into the category of people leaving the Church to sin, but rather the effect of the sin.  It was a great conference, definitely worth the price of 29.95.  

The two biggest red flags for younger couples I've found are inability to have children, and divorce. A lot of people shake their fist at God over these, and becoming disaffected with the Church is one way they feel subconsciously that they can "get back" at Him (by depriving Him of their belief). It doesn't mean that everyone facing these is in danger (not by a long shot), but it is often a strong contributing factor when there is faith crisis.

The pernicious effects of pornography (and I always include masturbation; we seem to always euphemize it as just porn. Porn is very rarely without the other, but the other can be a problem without the porn) cannot be measured, and I'm sure that it is a strong contributing factor in loss of the Spirit. When one fights it with more setbacks than success, this alone can also be a contributing factor in the overall picture. 

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I would agree that “sin” is a loaded term, and particularly unhelpful to the extent that it encourages us to write off people as individuals or dismiss concerns that ought to be addressed.  But I think it’s legitimate to point out that being a Mormon is hard.  Our church asks a lot of us.  If you aren’t independently convinced of the virtues of an LDS lifestyle (in other words—you only live the life because you accept the church’s authority claims)—there are immediate, tangible, and potent material, social, and sensory benefits to giving it all up. 

I don’t impose high standards of proof on organizations that merely affirm the things I am already disposed to do.  But if that organization is going to take a proactive role in shaping who I am and will become as a person, and insists on me not doing stuff that on some level I would rather be doing—my nature as a human is that I’m going to want some evidence.  And the catch-22 is that the primary “evidence” the Gospel offers is the Spirit, which is dampened by sin.

As a Church, much of our discourse about right and wrong revolves around “because God said so”.  I wonder whether we aren’t going to have to do better at advancing more sophisticated psychological/social/medical arguments against “sin” in its various forms, just to encourage people to change their behavior long enough for the Spirit to have a fighting chance.  

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11 hours ago, The Nehor said:

It is because they want to sin. Everyone who leaves wants gay orgies, alcohol, and crack. It is known.

Of course that's true.

Not.

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I pushed back in ward council once when a member of the Bishopric implied that people go inactive because they want to “sin”. IMHO, the people I’ve known who have left have many reasons, but none of them left just so they could party. 

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23 hours ago, Stargazer said:

Too many members, and also leaders, want to attribute loss of faith to sinful behavior.

Well, to be fair, it isn't like sinful behavior really contributes to increased faith. 

 

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In the last stake council, when this topic was brought up, there was a high council member who expressed this -- and got shot at by a couple of other HC members who felt this was not a useful attitude to take. He admitted that it might not be -- but he is of course right to a certain degree.

Maybe this could fall under the umbrella of 'not everything that is true is useful.' ;) 

 

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I've known a couple of people who left the church, claiming they were "recovering from Mormonism," when it was more than clear that they had screwed up royally and were looking for a way to minimize their mistake. One was a case of adultery, and the other a workplace theft.

I have known a few people who fit into this category. Sometimes it can feel like giving up is easier than having to face your mistakes. I get that - especially if you've got an idea of how big a mistake you have made.

 

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But practically everyone else whom I've known who were having a faith transition weren't doing so as a result of serious sin. 

Same here. 

 

Edited by Amulek
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