Passing Through the Fires of Doubt and Emerging into the “Living Church”

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“There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?” – Supreme Leader Snoke

Admittedly, I had been dragging my feet on writing this post until I read Peggy Fletcher Stack’s recent article, “In this new era of doubt, will a stronger Mormon faith emerge?” (Salt Lake Tribune, Feb. 13, 2016), in which she pondered whether recent efforts by the LDS Church to address doubt has “slowed or halted the faith-crisis trajectory,” and whether it is possible for the church to emerge from this age of Internet-enhanced “faith-crisis” as a stronger faith. These are compelling questions. I believe that the LDS Church can emerge as a stronger faith with a caveat that it will need to be done with an increasingly ecumenical awareness. For many of us who have emerged from the fires of doubt, our sense of and appreciation for Mormonism is with the recognition of where Mormonism fits within a larger history and community of religious expression, rather than an affirmation of exclusivist assumptions. In other words, while I vigorously applaud the recent efforts of the church (particularly through Deseret Book Company and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University), I see what has been produced as one step in what will ultimately become, for many, a larger journey towards personal and communal sanctification as part of a “living church” in the universal sense.

Let me back up. Over the past few years, several books have emerged within the Mormon community shedding light on and offering pastoral empathy towards the topic of doubt. Led by the prolific and highly-literate Terryl and Fiona Givens, The Crucible of Doubt (2014) was a milestone for Deseret Book Company. Not only because it became a top seller practically overnight, but because it legitimized the often-stigmatized doubts and questions that many Latter-day Saints experience. That same year, the Maxwell Institute published Adam Miller’s short and personal Letters to a Young Mormon as part of its newly-branded Living Faith Book series, which has been publishing a series of candid, approachable, and relatively short books that try to balance faith with reason. Sam Brown’s First Principles and Ordinances (2014) and Steven Peck’s Evolving Faith (2015) are also part of the series. The latest installment, Planted (2015) by Patrick Mason, offers a pragmatic look at the role of doubt in faith, focusing its energies on remaining engaged (“planted”) in the Mormon faith community while processing through the church’s sometimes challenging history, culture, and political orientation. Significantly, Planted was the first Maxwell Institute book in the Living Faith Book series to be co-published with Deseret Book Company, making it also a worthy follow-up to The Crucible of Doubt.

These are great first steps in regaining a sense of hope, validation, and community. The next step, I think, is a deeper engagement with the practice of faith (orthopraxy) that many find lacking in our weekly church meetings. Discovering our spiritual practices as Latter-day Saints within the context of the global Christian community outside of Mormonism has been reinvigorating for many. For an example of this, I turn to another Maxwell Institute product: The Maxwell Institute Podcast, hosted by Blair Hodges, which goes out of its way to broaden the conversation of Mormonism into the larger ecumenical community [1]. Similarly, writers at the popular Mormon blog By Common Consent have launched the “Mormon Liturgy and Lectionary” series, incorporating the scriptural canon of the Latter-day Saints with the Christian Liturgical Calendar. The Mormon Society of St. James  hosts annual pilgrimages to significant religious sites throughout England and Europe (if I only had the budget!). I see an increasing number of younger Latter-day Saints observing traditional Christian seasons such as Lent (which we are currently observing) and Advent. Even I have begun observing the liturgical calendar as well as performing “fixed hour” prayers based on the rich language of the Complimentary Psalmody supplemented with Mormon-specific readings [2]. Additionally, many Latter-day Saints are finding meaning in exploring the ancient practices while still being immersed in contemporary Biblical and historical criticism. For example, the Contemporary Studies in Scripture series (Greg Kofford Books) features talented Latter-day Saint authors such as David Bokovoy and Julie Smith who are respected in the fields of Biblical criticism, literature, and comparative studies [3]. It is entirely possible for Latter-day Saints to remain deeply engaged in the orthopraxy of their faith tradition without demanding a fundamentalist perspective.

Something seems to be stirring within the hearts of many Latter-day Saints, rising from the burning embers of faith that have survived the raging winds of doubt. By looking at the ancient practices preserved within many other faith communities (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, etc.), many Latter-day Saints have found deeper connections with their own practices of prayer, fasting, tithing (almsgiving), Sabbath day observance, partaking of the Sacrament (Eucharist), administering blessings, and temple ordinances. A “post-faith-crisis” Latter-day Saint who has remained committed to her Mormon heritage is as likely to post a video or meme on Facebook from Pope Francis as she is President Uchtdorf. It is an awakening—a realization that the “Old Ship Zion” is not the only boat in the vast sea of faith; and that we share much commonality with our devoted sisters and brothers within the global faith community.

True, many of us leave. It has always been that way. But I hope that those of us who have chosen to stick around, despite our full awareness of the challenges and complexities inherent within our faith tradition (casseroles and Jell-O molds, notwithstanding) are staying with a more inclusive, humble, and profound view of Mormonism’s place in this world [4]. If we are to emerge through the age of doubt as a stronger church, it will be because our definition of “the Living Church” is extended beyond ourselves to all who seek the sacred path upon which we are fellow sojourners.


[1] For example, the most recent Maxwell Institute Podcast episode featured N.T. Wright, the former Bishop of Durham in the Church of England.

[2] A common warning from Mormons against liturgical prayer is that they are “rote,” but many Latter-day Saints are finding deep beauty and meaning in the Psalms and Common Prayers that express our devotion and despair in poetic words that we otherwise would not think of. For another example of the Mormon scriptural canon being used in a liturgical setting, see From Beyond the Farthest Hills, a blog intended as a resource for Community of Christ congregations. It is noteworthy that the Community of Christ has, over recent years, placed more emphasis on the Christian Liturgical Calendar.

[3] While there are far too many books published on Mormon history to mention in this post, I will point to Mike McKay and Gerrit Dirkmaat’s From Darkness Unto Light as a recent example of the cooperative effort between BYU’s Religious Studies Center (RSC) and Deseret Book Company that explores the complex topic of Joseph Smith’s translation and publication of the Book of Mormon using sources that have been published by the Joseph Smith Papers. As another example, see this article on Mormon women’s history initiatives within the LDS Church History Department, including The First Fifty Years of Relief Society being published later this month by the same imprint (Church Historian’s Press) as the Joseph Smith Papers.

[4] For my summary of Mormonism’s place in a historical, cultural, and religious environment, read my short “Conclusion” on Mormonism In Context.

 

Comments

Passing Through the Fires of Doubt and Emerging into the “Living Church” — 13 Comments

  1. Your post is all well and good (and I mean that sincerely). It is well-meaning and helpful–to those of us who read outside the correlated curriculum, books and posts such as this.

    But, I have a big HOWEVER to offer. As with most strong communities, especially those with strong religious/faith/belief traditions (and none are as powerful as “the only true church”) the ability for most of us having doubts or non-conformist beliefs and opinions (whether it is with regard to the recent “policy,” racism, sexism, use of birth control, or on back through our history even to polygamy) to continue to be a welcome participant of that community is severely limited by the current vast majority in the community that have no doubts. We can’t even discuss these things without consequences to our “standing” in the informal community.

    I know there are wards in which such an atmosphere is a minority position, but I have never lived in one (and I have never lived in Utah) and know no one who has.

    The vast majority (and I have several pejorative terms by which I refer to these folks in private) won’t ever have a religious, public thought they don’t hear introduced to them in General Conference or The Ensign. For example, I think if a widespread poll were taken one would find very few wards where the topic/content of the “policy.” has been brought up, at all. My very limited poll of 6 people in other wards yielded 0%.

    So, while much has been written in books, and online, the masses of our brothers and sisters (as kind and generous as they are) will not soon accept such doubts being expressed.

  2. I suspect those who are drawn to questions and doubts are distributed unevenly across the Church and are drawn to such questions for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, it is a growing segment of the LDS population and has received more attention (and, to a degree, more sympathy from LDS leaders) recently than at any time in the past.

    Brian gently raises a touchy issue, which is that few people who come out of a “faith crisis” can jump back into the correlated Mormon box. They seem to either develop a broader but less sectarian view of LDS faith and membership, or else move outside Mormonism to another denomination or simply to unbelief. The question of what comes after a faith crisis is just too direct for most LDS commentators to address; they prefer talking about how to avoid one or how to survive one relatively unchanged than to consider actual outcomes.

  3. “So, while much has been written in books, and online, the masses of our brothers and sisters (as kind and generous as they are) will not soon accept such doubts being expressed.”

    I’ll respectfully disagree here. Our entire stake conference recently was speakers who shared their journey with doubt, expressed it in the meeting, what some of their specific doubts were, and how they’ve grown from it. This was the topic of every speaker, including a bishop and the Stake President, both of whom shared their journey with doubt at points in their life.

    And it wasn’t just a brush with doubt, it was focused on doubt in the church and the gospel, and how and why they stayed, and it was clear people enjoyed and related with the conference, young and old.

  4. As a Camino de Santiago pilgrim, who then converted to the LDS Church, I appreciate your generous links in the article. For myself, I vary in my heart between let it all go, and be onwards with my spiritual path, to find the appropriate orthopraxy (cool word) within the boundaries of the Church.

    I can be there for hope, validation, and community too. At least a sniff of it. Thanks for the beautiful words.

  5. Thank you for the article! I would just like to add that eastern faith traditions have also helped me find my authentic spirituality while remaining, for now, in the church. Buddhist mindfulness & meditation have greatly enhanced my communion with God.

    My experience lies somewhere between “Me” and “fbisti” in regards to open expression at church. Our ward held a 5th Sunday lesson where I shared my experience with doubting and then an open dispossession ensued where many were able to express their less than orthodox feelings. It was great, but since then we’ve gone back to the regular correlated experience in our meetings where issues voiced publicly,like the Nov policy, or anything not first introduced by a general authority are still met with discomfort and disapproval to varying degrees.

    I am a Relief Society instructor and I often walk a very fine line where several women are so grateful for the deeper discussion I bring to my lessons, while others are very uncomfortable and complain to the RS presidency – in the same lesson. People who want the open discussion are there, they’re just not very vocal because of the fear of disapproval, rocking the boat, others’ discomfort, or even censure from leaders. We’re making strides, but we have a long way to go to get to comfort with open discussion within our meetings.

  6. Ann, thank you for mentioning the value of eastern faith traditions. Eastern meditation practice and yoga are wonderfully integrated into my spirituality as a Mormon.

  7. Ann, thank you for including Eastern practices. I wholeheartedly agree with you. In my original draft, I had included a nod towards Eastern thought and practices, but ended up removing it in the edit because it felt like too much of an aside and really worthy of an article on its own. While I am personally drawn towards the Abrahamic traditions, I recognize the value that many have found from Buddhism, Shintoism, Hinduism, and other Asian spiritual traditions. Thanks again!

  8. RE: Me, #4

    Please let us all know where this stake is. Many might like to move there! I would. And if you say it is in Utah County, my head will explode 😉 Mine is in Scottsdale, AZ.

  9. Try the Ann Arbor Michigan stake, one of the most liberal in the US.
    Pres. Hinckley was famous for his invitation to one and all to “…bring all the good you have, and let us add to it.” Every faith tradition has aspects of the gospel embedded in it.

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  11. I think it’s great you still want to stay. However, given the troubling past and dubious authority claims, do you still believe in paying the required contributions when there is no transparency?

  12. The issues I have with “The So Called Church” (TSCC), also known as the Mormon church, and its history and actions is that it claimed to be “the only true church” with “authority from God the Father.” When you discover that these claims are totally without merit and the result of an ingenious con man’s attempt to control a large number of people for personal gain I could not just sit idly by and declare a faith crisis that would make me stronger.

    The church and its leaders have covered up, revised, lied, and broken nearly all of the ten commandments in an attempt to assuage the need for the priesthood leadership to stay in control. That speaks volumes. Why would anyone ever need to lie for Jesus Christ? He would never ask us to do that, so to “lie for the Lord” is one of the highest forms of blasphemy.

    The problem for me in staying in TSCC even though things aren’t as they were portrayed is that at best TSCC is “just like the other ones” with good and bad.

    That is simply not sufficient for me so I left TSCC after discovering for myself that I had spent 50+ years faithfully serving, believing and paying tithes and offerings to an organization that was founded on a lie, had leaders who were not charitable, lied to members, committed every manner of thievery, murder, polygamy, polyandry, deception and more.

    No chance that I would simply sweep that under the rug.