LAST WEEK, I LISTENED to a previously recorded broadcast of LDS apologist and nuanced thinker, Patrick Mason, who asked something like: how can we minister to members with serious doubts and difficult questions about LDS doctrine and practice? It’s something I’ve thought a great deal about. But this time, the question hit me differently, and I understood the disempowerment inherent in categorizing people in faith (or trust) crisis as doubters and questioners of the gospel rather than as those in disagreement with the LDS Church. I felt down to my bones how condescending the question is, how it supposes doubts and questions are weaknesses in need of fixing as opposed to a step forward along a path of spiritual growth.
I consider myself a nuanced Latter-day Saint, but I’m not someone plagued with doubts and questions that disrupt my faith in God. I’m a woman who’s invested decades in study, reflection, and prayer about the difficult realities associated with being LDS. Although I’ll never relinquish questioning as a vehicle for learning or cease to view faith as impossible without its companion, doubt, I assert I am not weakened because of these perspectives, nor am I living in some miserable state of unknowing. My state of unknowing broadens me because it prevents me from shutting out possibilities. My study, reflection, and prayer (each catapulted by curiosity and desire for self improvement) have brought me to a state of disagreement with the LDS institution on some significant issues, not to a state of faithlessness in God.
My way of thinking is as foreign to most LDS as a shot of brandy before bedtime. LDS tend to view disagreement with the Church as rebellion against God and to see it as contention, but that’s unhelpful and incorrect. My disagreement is the fulfillment of scripture: my weakness has been turned to strength.
I own my spiritual path and I choose to walk it within the LDS Church. Today, I’m struck that those of us who call ourselves nuanced have accepted (and often use) language that disempowers spiritually-inclined, well-reasoned members like us, shading our faith in God with gray language that suggests we’re somehow weaker than those who won’t engage with all things Mormon–the good, the bad, and the ambiguous.
I’m not suggesting that everyone needs to engage with Mormonism as I do. To each their own. I am suggesting, however, that I don’t need to engage with Mormonism in the same way anyone else does, including the men in the velvet chairs. When we ask how folks “with serious doubts and questions” should be ministered to by other members, we’re truly asking how strong members should minister to weak members, with, of course, the strong members being those who won’t engage with the harder topics and the weak members being those who do. Such foolishness.
You can find a record of my disagreement with the Church within this blog. Have at it. But I want to be clear that my disagreements have bloomed from my spiritual and intellectual curiosity. They are firmly rooted, well-reasoned, base-level disagreements with the trajectory the Church is taking. They are not disagreements with Jesus. I’d take none of these controversial positions if I didn’t perceive through the gift of the Holy Ghost, my moral conscience, life experience, and rational mind that each is more aligned with the ministry of Jesus than are certain positions of the LDS Church, past and present.
Because Jesus extended grace, I work to extend grace to those who devise and implement LDS policy. I’ll sustain them via opposition when necessary, something LDS scripture teaches is required in all things in order to bring about righteousness. Can we imagine a family in which its patriarch never receives pushback from wife or child? Well, yes, we can, but not without envisioning an abusive, ego-driven patriarch.
Disagreement should be considered a vital part of gospel-living; Jesus modeled it. He flipped a few tables and publicly rebuked those with power over the religious lives of the people around him. He died because of it, and yet he lived.
We ought to embrace the potential for good that exists when the moral conscience of Church members sands down the old varnish that peels from the Church’s tired dogmatism. We need to rebuke the Church when it professes that the harm it does to the people beside us is a manifestation of pure love. Love doesn’t harm, not without reassessment, repentance, and change. When we undertake to blame those who disagree with the Church rather than blame the Church for being immobilized by it’s vain traditions, we deny the Christ that lives within us.
A church that is complicit in the societal marginalization of LGBTQ individuals isn’t following the pattern Jesus set. Nor is it following his pattern when it praises itself for resisting “the pressures of the world” while doing precisely what the world has always done to these put-upon souls. On this, I disagree with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its governing body. Instead, I have faith in Christ.
A church that can’t include women in its decision-making, that seeks to create a one-lifestyle existence for us, isn’t respecting women in the way Jesus modeled. A church that says it is a restoration church but ignores the biblical pattern of female prophets isn’t doing as it claims. On this, I disagree with the LDS Church and its leaders. Yet, I have faith in Christ.
A church that lacks the humility to offer an apology for its past institutional racism, that insists its racism was God’s will and not codified bigotry, and that protects the reputations of dead prophets over the well-being of living members isn’t adhering to either of the two great commandments Jesus taught. Here, again, I disagree with the LDS Church and its leaders because I have faith in Christ.
And so on. If every LDS sat silently, waiting for God to talk to leaders so steeped in their own faulty traditions that they can see no other way of existing, then no betterment would ever happen. Name a positive change ever implemented by the LDS church, and I’ll show you the ways members let their discontent show. That is our sacred responsibility, our strength.
If you want to help members during the painful initial period of the inaptly named “faith crisis,” embrace the divinely appointed aspects of disagreement. Stop calling it contention. Stop believing the people who do the hard work of confronting the Church’s inadequacies (particularly in pastoral care) are weak, flawed, and lazy. Most importantly, stop believing it about yourself.
And make room. Move over. Welcome differing perspectives and hear each out. If our pews were filled with members who were unafraid of disagreement, who embraced the discarded practice of common consent, the Church would likely flourish, even experience a renaissance. But if it doesn’t–if it continues to shame those who square off against conformity–participation and conversion will continue declining.
People are leaving, and very often, the people leaving tell us they do so for the sake of their own mental health. Think about what kind of an environment that means we’ve created in our wards and stakes. That’s not commentary on their weakness, but on the weakness of those who remain–on all of us, from the upper echelons of the Church on down. The only remedy for staunching the outflow of Church members is to welcome dissent, show willingness to address it in the public square, and speak of it as a welcomed part of spiritual growth.
Will this ever happen? One thing is sure: disagreement will never be institutionally sanctioned as a spiritual gift. But every one of us can understand that it is just that, one doubt, one question, one search after the other.
No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile— Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death. (D&C 121:41-44)
RECOMMENDED READING: Navigating the Mormon Faith Crisis: A Simple Developmental Map, by Thomas Worthlin McConkie