Faith & Doubt

By: Guest
August 28, 2013

This is the first guest post from Bill Reel.  He is the operator of Mormon Discussion Podcast.  He has served as a Bishop in the Church and is currently the Ward Mission Leader in his ward. His podcast seeks to help fellow Latter-Day Saints work through their doubts, leading with faith. The podcast is found at http://mormondiscussion.podbean.com . You can reach Bro. Reel by email at reelmormon@gmail.com

Faith Crisis….. It’s the cool issue right now. Terryl Givens and Richard Bushman are giving firesides on it. Hans Mattson, former General Authority, has gone public with his. Marlin Jensen was answering questions about it at Utah Valley University. And Elder Holland just used it as the backdrop of his recent Conference talk.

But while everybody is talking about it, lots of people are having one.  They are hurting and struggling and need help.

feature-faith crisis_520As one who is knee deep in this discussion every day and having had a faith crisis myself that was very deep and painful, I would like to offer 3 suggestions to those of you who know someone that is struggling and 3 suggestions for the person in “the Dark Night of the Soul” or “Crucible of Doubt”.

To the Ninety and Nine (that’s you family, friends, and local Church Leaders.)

  1. Love them. You can do this by validating their pain and their frustration. Validating their emotional state doesn’t mean you are conceding the Church isn’t true. Rather you are offering them your love, Christ-like charity. You are showing you can faithfully keep the trust they placed in you when they confided in you this tough experience. This doesn’t mean you have to let them build a case against the Church with you being the jury.  Rather you should take the conclusion off the table for a moment and simply be a Christ-like beacon to them in their darkest hour, something firm they can hold onto when everything else is giving way. 
  1. Study with faith.  Take some time to study and grasp that faith develops in a certain way through certain phases or stages so that you might understand your loved one better.  Many people see someone for the first time having serious doubts and frustration and they make the false leap to that person being an apostate or moving backwards away from Christ.  Moving away from that mindset, study up on faith development.  Check out any one of the development theories such as “Perry’s scheme for cognitive development” or “Fowler’s Stage of faith” or any number of others out there.  One soon realizes that as faith develops forward in a progression, there are turbulent stages in that growth. It is not a negative thing but rather part of the process. The conclusion may be different from person to person once they get through that stage but the stage itself is not a bad thing.  We need to stop pointing to sin or a desire to sin as the culprit. While some faith crises end with sins as an outward behavior that results from the crisis, it is normally not sin that throws them into the crisis to begin with.
  1. Give them flexibility.  One in crisis doesn’t need you to prove to them Evolution is wrong, or that what one leader over in this corner of the gospel said, is absolute truth; rather, they need flexibility. They need to have room in the “perceived” tent of Mormonism to apply their newly discovered truths (and even some still being tested theories.)  This allows them to fit safely in the tent without being judged. Sometimes this is not possible. If a person concludes the Church is led by Satan, they will likely leave the fold as the tent is never going to get that big.  However, the tent is a lot bigger than we think and the Church is more patient than we comprehend with beliefs that do not fit snugly in what the majority would agree on.  When we consider that David O. McKay while prophet expressed that he believed evolution, that he actually knowingly ate rum-cake, and that his two counselors were Democrats, we begin to see there is more flexibility in the Church, even though some preach that we should be inflexible. (And that is just one man and only 3 facts about him.)

Your friend, ward member, and loved one is discovering new information. While some of this information is false or misconstrued, some of this information is true, based on facts that you were probably unaware of until your loved one’s world crashed.  Some of these facts may contradict what you thought the gospel was and how Church history in your mind traveled very smoothly.  But in reality the world is not black and white and we shouldn’t expect the Church to be either.  Give them the flexibility to believe different than you, within reason obviously, as I am not advocating absolute tolerance at any length. But I will say, having come through my own crisis and returned to faith, I have learned the tent is way bigger then I ever imagined it was before my faith fell apart.

To the one (yes you) with serious doubts:

  1. You can’t go back.  Entering this uncomfortable arena where everything you knew with “every fiber of your being” now having become “unknowns” or “not believing that anymore” is hard.  At times you have wished to go back to where everything was innocent, to where all the pieces fit and made a beautiful picture that was consistent and dependable.  Now you have awoken and discovered that you now realize it was multiple puzzles that you possessed that lay on the table, with missing pieces and some pieces that don’t even belong. You want to go back…… but you can’t. 

    This process is a progressive one when engaged correctly. When done incorrectly it is a lateral change. You can never get back to where you were.  That doesn’t mean you have to conclude one way or another; rather you should understand that you will never see the bits and pieces of information in the same way again.  The only options left are (1) to move forward, (2) stay in crisis, or (3) exchange one unrealistic paradigm for another.  The angst you feel is the emotional tug of trying to hold onto both worlds.It’s a tough situation.  You can remember feeling that you believed that the Church was everything for you and your friends, and it helped you to form your character.  Now your eyes have been opened to new things and you desire to pursue these new truths.  There is conflict, and the only way through is to let go of the trying to put things back as they were.

  2. You have to take your time There is a term discussed in Faith Crisis talk called Cognitive Dissonance.  It is that tug we spoke of in point 1. It tells your brain that an immediate decision must be made to rid yourself of this anguish; that you must make up your mind quickly and that you should lean towards the decision that will likely provide the least amount of cognitive dissonance in the future.To alleviate this dissonance, many choose to leave the Church, and many of those go one step further and lose complete faith in God and become atheists.  While I respect every individual’s journey and try to judge no one person’s truth as less important or less credible to them then my truth is to me, I have met plenty of ex-mormons and atheists who feel they have transcended Mormonism to a higher level of thinking only to exchange one dogmatic approach for another.  The quick decision regardless of whether you stay or go, almost never provides the experience that allows you to truly move forward. Rather, those who make a quick decision, as pointed out in the section above, trade one bad paradigm for another, one that is just as flawed.  Hanging in there and testing all things with an open mind and open heart is the only way to move forward, regardless whether you end up as a believing Latter-day Saint or something entirely different.
  1. You have to tear the house down and then rebuild it.  Faith Crisis revolves around discovering that your framework, your paradigm, your assumptions, and expectations no longer hold up under new and sometimes drastically different facts and information. The immediate response is that my framework is realistic and since these facts do not fit then it is the Church or Gospel that is wrong.  While that is one possible conclusion, the quick decision you make rarely reflects your framework being realistic.  In other words, regardless of your end conclusion, your assumptions and expectations have a lot of changing to do and any decision that doesn’t require changes in your foundation will still be faulty.

In my crisis, I had to tear it all down. What is a prophet? When is a prophet acting as a prophet? Is what I think is official Mormon doctrine actually official Mormon doctrine? What am I required to believe to be an active worthy Latter-day Saint? How regular is God’s interaction with Prophets? If Joseph Smith made statements that turn out wrong, is it possible he was just sharing an educated guess or opinion, or must he have been proposing the will of God? There are hundreds of these kinds of questions. While some of them are difficult to work through and while I agree that loss of belief is a reasonable conclusion, I also see plenty of room for the Church to be what it claims and I see plenty of room for faith. Talk to someone, ask others who have been there how they made sense of these issues.  Ask questions, dig deeper, test your assumptions and be open to your expectations needing to change. Last of all, know your not alone… never alone.

I’m sure that there are others that have advice for dealing with a faith crisis.  What are your suggestions?

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17 Responses to Faith & Doubt

  1. James Allred on August 28, 2013 at 9:38 AM

    In your post, you have hit a few of the approaches that resonate with me personally.

    If a believer denies that their can be some real issues with the church’s traditional truth claims, they put themselves in a position where they are percieved as being disingenous (or worse lying) or uninformed. In either case they remove themselves from a position of influence in the life of someone who is now doubting what they once used to believe.

    Also I like that you have emphasized that a rational and faithful person can come to a reasonable conclusion that they no longer believe in the church’s truth claims. Not out of weakness, but because that can be a reasonable conclusion made by someone who is knowledgeable about scripture, faith, and history.

    The corollary would be that people who doubt need to respect believers and not just put them into the category of someone who is willfully ignorant or deluded. The pathway of respect needs to travel in both directions.

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  2. Andrew S on August 28, 2013 at 10:50 AM

    Not saying that I totally agree with it, but here was a omment from a discussion at another location:

    3. You have to tear the house down and then rebuild it. Faith Crisis revolves around discovering that your framework, your paradigm, your assumptions, and expectations no longer hold up under new and sometimes drastically different facts and information.

    Typical blame-the-member rhetoric. Your framework, your paradigm, your assumptions. Apologists need to honestly face the question: where did these “assumptions” come from? Why would anyone believe something so clearly wrong as the proposition that Lamanites were the principle ancestors of the Native Americans except that they trusted what the church taught them? Why does learning about Mormonism from a faithful perspective within the church lead to worthless frameworks that must be completely torn down?

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  3. Bill Reel on August 28, 2013 at 11:03 AM

    I totally agree that the person themselves are not responsible solely for that. Leaders, teachers, family, even apostles and prophets have helped in setting up this faulty framework. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that the framework is faulty and needs rebuilt. Even if the Church is not true, many of us have a faulty framework regarding it. I am not debating who caused the bad framework, just acknowledging that it is in most cases faulty. I would even go so far as to say in many cases the actual person in crisis is the least at blame in their framework being flawed

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  4. Nick Literski on August 28, 2013 at 12:56 PM

    I’m seeing these various discussions of “faith crises” among LDS members lately, and they invariably seem to be coming from the perspective that LDS claims are true, and the person experiencing a faith crisis is some precarious individual who needs “help.” How can you have a serious discussion of faith crises, without acknowledging that the doubter may actually be on his/her way out of a toxic or fraudulent belief system? The process you’re trying to rescue them from might just be the best thing that ever happened to them. Leave the “keep them in our church at all costs” game to the apologist trolls at FAIRblog, etc. If you truly love the person, you’ll support their search to find out what is true and right for them.

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  5. Martin on August 28, 2013 at 1:43 PM

    Nick, you basically said a TBM can’t really love a person who’s suffering a faith crises unless said TBM can consider whether his/her own belief system is toxic or fraudulent. Okay, but what if such a person has indeed done so and still feels confident? Because to such a person, there’s only one good outcome to a faith crises. That hardly means they’re unloving or an “apologist troll”.

    Bill’s post resonates with me, and I think his advice is excellent. My personal faith crises was agonizing and my faith is certainly different than it was before. I can’t say that I’m entirely pain-free now, either, but I do feel my faith is much deeper I’m grateful for what I’ve gained and hungry for more.

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  6. Andrew S on August 28, 2013 at 1:55 PM

    Another comment from reddit that I wanted to point out here:

    “…The only thing that struck me the wrong way was “you have to take your time.” This is the message I got from pretty much every ecclesiastical leader I talked to at the behest of my parents once I revealed that I no longer believed the church is true. Take your time. Don’t make any hasty decisions. (I graciously agreed to speak to my bishop, my stake president, two uncles who are both in stake presidencies, and a GA my mom used to work for. Same. Advice.)

    Ugh! I hated getting that advice. Do you not realize the glacial pace at which I was even able to admit to myself that I had serious doubts, how long it took before I was able to even consider that maybe the church isn’t true? Encouraging me to take it slow is denying the excruciatingly long process that has brought me to this point.

    Encouraging me to take it slow is support for the status quo, which for doubters, usually means staying in the church. Screw that. You’ll never see a Mormon encouraging investigators to “take their time,” it’s always go, go, go, read, pray, dunk. If I said “I want to come back to church,” I would never be advised by those same leaders to consider this decision carefully and take my time coming back, to maybe wait a couple weeks before attending church, instead of attending THIS WEEK. The advice is only applied one way on the two-way street; it is given with ulterior motives and does not generalize.”

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  7. Jared on August 28, 2013 at 2:58 PM

    There are many approaches to the issues surrounding doubt addressed in this post. I like those Bill presents. However, from my perspective Bill doesn’t include the most important way to deal with doubt-prayer.

    Bill doesn’t even use the word!

    If we want to have faith then we need to go to the source-Heavenly Father. How does one go to to Heavenly Father? Answer:prayer.

    Many years ago I left the church because I felt I was a second class spirit in the pre-mortal world. I felt this way because of all the talks and lessons I heard at church. I often heard how blessed those born in the covenant were, you know, the great and noble ones. In my 7th -8th grade mind the message was, if you weren’t born in the covenant then you weren’t a great and noble spirit, therefore you were second class.

    My dad wasn’t a member and my mother was inactive. By the time I was in 9th grade I joined with the worldly crowd and decided to eat, drink, and be merry. Lots of beer and partying.

    My “wonderful” party life came to an end when I was drafted along with all the other high school drop-outs across the country.

    In basic training, or more accurately put, combat training, I was taught how to kill so I wouldn’t be killed. With combat on my mind I started thinking more seriously about faith.

    I asked God, very sincerely, in a short prayer if there was anything to the Joseph Smith story and the Book of Mormon? If He would show me the truth I promised to embrace it, if not, I would never consider faith and religion again.

    My prayer was answered quickly, I was given a vision, the veil was lifted enough that I saw the adversary or an adversary (he didn’t introduce himself) but he did try to harm me and it wasn’t until I called upon God in prayer that I was delivered.

    I came way from this experience with evidence that God and an adversary were interested in me. God loved me and the evil being I encountered hated me. This is how Heavenly Father left the ninety-and-nine and found me and brought me back.

    I tell this experience because Bill didn’t mention prayer. June 1966 was a long time ago but that experience has become part of me and when in this world where “opposition in all things” is ever present, all I have to do is recall that experience (and since then many others) and temptations, issues with church history, troubles with other church members, health challenges, problems with family members, disappointment, success, failure, and etc. melt away, and I know God is there, even when He seems far away.

    I realize that not everyone who ask God as I did will have the exact same answer. I don’t know why He answers prayers the way He does. But He has said He will answer our prayers in His way and in His time-believe Him an stay close.

    I suppose in nearly every LDS family or extended family there is someone the Lord gives gifts, so they can testify in ways as I just did–NDE, visions, dreams, ministering of angels, remission of sins, and so forth. I suggest those troubled with doubt seek them out and hear their testimony and ask them questions.

    Over the years, the Lord has become my friend. It has taken a lot of repentance and effort but it has been worth it. BELIEVE

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  8. Howard on August 28, 2013 at 3:18 PM

    There is a huge difference between indoctrination and conversion. Conversion begins with a faith crisis and may or may not end as a TBM for the LDS church is but one of God’s many business units.

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  9. Nick Literski on August 28, 2013 at 4:44 PM

    Actually, Martin, I didn’t say that at all. What I said was that these discussions about the *issue* of faith crises always seem to come from a place of “we KNOW we’re right, so how can we get this person back in line, like we KNOW they absolutely MUST be in order to ever be happy.”

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  10. Will on August 28, 2013 at 4:56 PM

    I have always loved the Savior’s comparison of prophets to trees. “Ye shall know them by their fruits”

    The challenge we have in the internet world is all the heresy from a Wikipedia answer society that will believe whatever they see or hear without paying the price spiritually. They seek an intellectual answer to a spiritual problem. In truth, you cannot solve a spiritual problem (e.g the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon for instance) by secular means. You must solve a spiritual problem by spiritual means – a witness the Book of Mormon is true by the spirit and not by analyzing an archeological dig.

    People need to look at the fruits and the fruits are not the actions, or perceived actions, of leaders old and modern. The fruits are the principles of the restored gospel and the teachings of the modern prophets and scriptures – the Book of Mormon, the plan of Salvation, the Pearl of Great Price – these are the fruits. Too many get lost in the weeds, throns and rumors of the perceived actions or verbiage taken out of context by a leader. They tie this perception to the leader and rely on the word of a total stranger, rather than from God.

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  11. Andrew S on August 28, 2013 at 5:13 PM

    of course, one can also dispute the spiritual fruits of the principles of the restored gospel and the teachings of the modern prophets and scriptures…that’s a problem, I guess. One size does not fit all.

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  12. Howard on August 28, 2013 at 5:20 PM

    Oddly Will one can begin to acquire a witness of the Bible by secular means, archeological digs etc.

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  13. Watcher on August 28, 2013 at 5:26 PM

    “You have to tear the house down and then rebuild it. Faith Crisis revolves around discovering that your framework, your paradigm, your assumptions, and expectations no longer hold up under new and sometimes drastically different facts and information.”

    I think the above statement is quite profound and it was the key for me when my crisis of faith hit.

    I had to completely take everything out of the wheel barrow I had been pushing around for years during my life’s journey in order to get it across a big hole (crises).

    Then, I began inspecting all of the preconceived notions about the church and the gospel that I have previously entertained to see which ones would be allowed back into the wheel barrow.

    Only those that could hold up under intense scriptural scrutiny ( without the use of manuals and commentaries) were allowed back in the wheel barrow.

    For me, the journey led back to the basics of biblical Christianity and biblical prophecy.

    The journey makes sense to me now.

    http://thechiefinspector.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/the-true-biblical-profile-of-joseph-smith-and-the-un-sanitized-history-of-the-lds-restoration-movement-part-one2.pdf

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  14. Bill Reel on August 28, 2013 at 5:28 PM

    Nick, For the record of responding to the criticism that I am coming from the position that I am right and the solution is to get them back to believing – I would agree that I am trying to “win” people back to the faith, but I balk at the insinuation that I am only acknowledging a return to faith as the right and logical conclusion. I fully see both conclusions as reasonable and simply don’t want people leaving quickly without first testing their framework to see if that is the issue. Out of a million things I could choose to have faith in, I choose to have faith in the LDS Church. I feel I used words that could be easily understood, to say that I respect all journeys and do not try to value my truth over another’s. I also stated that there are more reasonable conclusions then staying. While that is my conclusion, and I have good reason for doing so (spiritual evidence, for me the gospel has bore fruit, community, best for my own personal progress) I completely respect one’s choice to leave and only hope they do so with as much information and context as they can absorb.

    In regards to the reddit post about being frustrated that I say take your time. I agree we rush people to baptism too much. I agree we rush people back to activity and at times it seems like a one way street. I only know my experience and the several dozen people who have shared their experience with me. But for those who had doubts and felt a need to abandon their faith quickly and leave, but ended up staying, there is a agreement that “thank goodness, I didn’t follow my immediate impulse and I hung around and tested the things I was thinking”. Often that onset discovery of conflicting information, the loss of trust, and feeling of betrayal lead one to make a hasty decision that lacks context. I will add though that I can safely assume there are some experiences and some events so hurtful, so tragic, that leaving is the most valid response for that person. For those who leave, I say bless you, as God is working to save all his children, not just the mormon ones. So I don’t sweat someone’s journey taking them outside the Church

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  15. Hedgehog on August 29, 2013 at 1:14 AM

    #6 Andrew S “You’ll never see a Mormon encouraging investigators to “take their time,” it’s always go, go, go, read, pray, dunk.”

    I agree with Bill, that we can rush people too much, and I do think it is counter-productive. Though the pressure does seem to come from the top, whenever we are set targets to meet. I don’t know that left to our own devices members are so pushy however. I’ve heard stories in fast & testimony meeting, about member missionary work at least, where members have been very careful not to push their friends, to be sure they were taking things at their own speed. I’ve also seen missionaries be too pushy with investigators, only to have that backfire. It’s my personal view that this difference in approach between members, who care genuinely for their friends, and the seeming pushiness on the part of the missionaries is perhaps why there are far fewer member referrals than the church might like. Many prefer not to refer friends unless they have already expressed a strong interest in baptism.

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  16. Cylon on August 29, 2013 at 7:34 PM

    Nick Literski, regarding many things being said about doubt from a believer’s perspective, I see this as a good thing. Think of it this way, these kinds of articles used to be much rarer, if they were discussed at all. The fact that believers are engaging with doubt means that it’s become something they can’t afford to ignore any more.

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  17. Heber13 on September 3, 2013 at 4:26 PM

    I like the title of the thread “Faith & Doubt”.

    They are not mutually exclusive. I wish more people were more comfortable with doubt being a natural thing in our faith. We do not need to fear it like it is a plague. We just need to manage it, kind of like stress in our lives. We don’t want it, but it can be good for us. It can sometimes feed faith.

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