Is There Anywhere in the Church Where it is Safe to Discuss Doubts?

It seems to me that LDS are good at a lot of things. We are good at creating community. We are pretty good at supporting the family structure. We’re good at producing world-class choirs. However, we’re not so good at creating a place that is safe to discuss and work through doubts about the gospel. Perhaps a part of the reason we’re lousy at creating a safe place to discuss openly and honestly is that there is an informal link between doubt and sin — if one doubts it is because one has done something wrong. Yet I doubt that this link always holds. We are all sinners at some level because we all fall short of keeping the law of love in many ways — so if that logic holds, we should all be doubters.

However, I think it runs deeper than that. We had a young lady in our ward who was recently divorced speak in sacrament meeting. She spoke openly, honestly and genuinely about the struggles she had in her marriage with her husband’s drug addiction and failure to live the gospel. She determined that she would remain faithful and she left him to protect her children. It was a breath of fresh air to experience such honesty. But could she have discussed openly in the same way doubts (were she to have any) about the Book of Mormon’s historicity, Joseph Smith’s polygamy, or Brigham Young’s heretical beliefs about Adam? I don’t think so. Moreover, where is a safe place within the context of the Church to do so?

I am sometimes contacted by bishops and others to talk to members of their ward about doubts that they have about the Book of Mormon, or about the Book of Abraham, or about Joseph Smith etc. Often these doubts are gut-wrenching and very uncomfortable for the doubter. Yet because we have a lay clergy very few bishops and other church leaders are really prepared to address these issues. Those with whom I speak often express a deep sense of alienation because they cannot openly and honestly address the issues that really matter to them. They also express a sense of relief to be able to discuss such issues with anyone who is a believer and willing to enter into the discussion in a knowledgeable and sympathetic way.

Sometimes I fear that there is a facade of acceptance and belief in our meetings. It seems to me (and I am open to the possibility it is really me in my judgment) that we sugar coat these issues, gloss them over and pretend that they don’t exist for some. I am convinced that an open heart simply knows God and the spirit testifies clearly and powerfully of the truthfulness of the gospel. But none of us have open hearts all of the time. What can we do to make our meetings a safe place to be honest and openly discuss what we really think and believe? Or are they? Or should we?

71 comments for “Is There Anywhere in the Church Where it is Safe to Discuss Doubts?

  1. Jack
    April 21, 2005 at 11:02 pm

    With the exception of a an interview with a sympathetic priesthood leader, no, there doesn’t seem to be a formal setting in the church where doubts may be discussed. My experience is that like minded people will be drawn toward one another and strengthen each other on a casual basis.

  2. April 21, 2005 at 11:48 pm

    Obviously the Bishop’s job is to discuss these things, but as you said, Blake, they are lay members who are probably not very versed as to the relevant issues. I got into a discussion a while back with my bishop about evolution and though he was amiable and caring, he obviously had no clue what he was talking about or how to relate to a person such as myself. This isn’t his fault, but the problem still goes unsolved.

    Another option is the family, especially a spouse. While one can still run into the problems mentioned above, the differences will tend to be less poignant.

    Other options include participating in sunstone and blogging. While neither of these are “the church” it can serve as a suitable substitute. I know that I fell much more free to discuss the issues that are weighing on my mind in this environment. I don’t want annonymity, only understanding.

    Maybe that would be a good idea for a blog, discussing doubts. But I guess that is what most blogs are already about, especially mine. ;>) Plus such a vunerable environment might serve as hunting grounds for some roaming Anti’s.

  3. Seth Rogers
    April 21, 2005 at 11:59 pm

    If that were the case, I’d expect to see more “antis” hanging out here and over at “By Common Consent.”

  4. April 22, 2005 at 12:57 am


    It is my impression that a solid anti post will get you banned fast enough to prevent a conversation from forming.

  5. Wilfried
    April 22, 2005 at 1:47 am

    It’s an interesting topic, Blake. Thank you for bringing it up.

    I would like to add an international nuance to your concerns. Is it possible that the sphere you describe is more American, or even rather Utahn, than elsewhere? In the mission field, and I’m thinking here of my experiences in Belgium, the Netherlands and France, the open discussion of doubts or controversial issues, especially in Sunday school, RS and Priesthood, seems more accepted. Perhaps because we have many more convert members, still growing in the Gospel, confronted with new information, and who are also used to discuss and argue more openly. As far as I remember, we’ve always had, in any Church class, one or two members struggle with questions and bring those openly in the group. Or we’d have a professional investigator like our colorful Brother H trigger some commotion. The positive side of it is that other members learn to figure those issues out for themselves too and that good ideas and answers are given to strengthen us all.

    So basically, I guess the allowance of expression of doubt has a lot to do with the local ecclesiastical culture. It is kind of sad that honest questions would then be minimized or viewed with suspicion in certain cases. On the other hand, the emergence of blogs like T&S has opened great avenues, also for members living in more closed and judgmental environments, to read and to participate in open discussions, without necessarily disclosing their identity.

  6. ukann
    April 22, 2005 at 1:58 am

    Some years ago the stock priesthood leader answer to any doubts was “pray about it” – insomuch that it became a wry response to any doubts throughout the stake, expressed by any member, anywhere. Seems to me that this was a cop-out. Some people pray earnestly and without success in resolving their problems. Having doubts, as you say, was seen as a sign you weren’t living righteously. I’ve seen doubts laid to rest by the right person, giving a sympathetic and understanding response.

    My son-in-law struggled for several years re evolution. I spent a lot of time giving him as much help and answers that I could. But it wasn’t until a visiting authority spoke with him, that the doubts were laid to rest. Afterwards I spoke to the visitor and asked him what he had said. He confirmed that he had pretty much told SIL the same as me, and said that he often found that his position gave his words more gravitas/

    I’ve often wondered whether we are all cut out to believe implicity. Scripture “to some it is given to believe, and to some it is given to believe on the words of others” (rough paraphrase off the top of my head). In my good times I feel I have the first gift, in times of doubt I revert to the second part.

  7. Derek
    April 22, 2005 at 3:02 am

    I think people are afraid of learning (whether it’s true or not) that everything they’ve worked so hard for has all been incorrect and in vain. At the risk of summoning Godwin’s Law, communism takes this paranoia to an extreme by putting against the wall anyone who questions their doctrine.

    People are afraid of doubting Church doctrine because of what it could mean. If it’s a choice between knowing the truth and keeping your spot in heaven, which would you choose? (Yes, I know it’s a false dilemma in this case, but just humor me.) And bringing your doubts and fears to church runs the risk of infecting others with the same.

    So I think it makes sense that heretical ideas won’t be entertained in any formal Church setting. It would take more confidence in Church doctrine than I personally have just to make it work.

  8. Marc D.
    April 22, 2005 at 4:04 am

    Thanks Blake for bringing this up,

    I’m a convert for almost 24 years. I have fulfilled a mission and had about 25 callings during those years. I’ve been in all sorts of leadershipspositions and taught about every class. I’ve always given the best of me to build the kingdom.
    I’ve always been a fervent student of the Scriptures and church history. I had a lot of questions about things I have read. I live in Belgium and it’s not so easy to get the books and information I wanted but I’ve gone the second mile to get those. However, the more I studied the more questions I got.
    For years I said. Well, maybe one day I’ll find an answer to those questions and I’ve put them aside.
    Through certain experiences like the excommunication, of my wife (this was a mistake by the local leadership, but it took me four years to get her membership restored through the First Presidency) and many others I began to seriously question the inspiration and revelation by the Holy Ghost. I mean not only for the leadership in the Church but as well my own personal experiences with the Holy Ghost.
    I decided it was time get some answers for my questions. I talked to a friend who is also a high counselor and told him I had a lot of questions but no answers. He told me a general authority was visiting our country soon and he was an expert in Church History. He told me to send him the questions and he would ask the Stake President to discuss those questions with the GA. I send him 4 questions so that he would not be overwhelmed and hopefully take some time to answer them.
    Unfortunately the GA did not have time to answer them. My stake President, who is a really nice and honest man decided to give my questions to his son who has studied a lot of Church History.
    He send me back some answers and although I’m grateful for his willingness to help me, the answers were not satisfying. I contacted my stake president again and he bore his testimony about the church but said that I would probably not get answers to my questions.
    A couple of weeks ago my branchpresident wanted to talk to me. He asked me to be careful about the questions I ask in Sundayschool because new members have difficulties with that.
    Now the questions I ask in Sundayschool are about certain scriptures we have to read. I didn’t think they were harmful. I love the members, I’ve been their branchpresident and I don’t want to hurt their feelings. I guess it’s difficult for them. Before, when they had questions they often turned to me to get answers and now they see I ask questions which often can’t be answered.
    Several members as well as my hometeachers start avoiding me. The simple answer:’ study the scriptures and pray about it doesn’t work. The more I study and pray the more questions I get.
    People who know me realize that it’s not that I have a problem with the commandments or a lack of faith. (which is often suggested when somebody has doubts)I guess that scares them even more. They know that I’ve always been willing to give my life for the gospel and the Church and for any of them.
    So I feel like a stranger in my own branch.
    What can I do now?

  9. lyle
    April 22, 2005 at 7:14 am

    Derek: if it’s a false dilemma, then why bring it up? except to attack & belittle?

    I don’t see the answer “pray about it” a cop-out in any sense. It seems to be part of ‘the’ Plan. One joins the Church, hopefully, because one “prayed about it.” Similarly, if you have a doubt or problem…why not take it up with God? Why do we refuse to be comforted and succorred by him instead of relying upon the fleshy and more immediate arms of our neighboors?

    Then again…maybe I’m just projecting. Several years back, I noticed that I talked alot with friends about everything. While this was fine, I noticed that it would tend to replace my first response: pray and talk with Father first. If your excited, or doubting, “x,” why not share it with him first?

  10. April 22, 2005 at 7:16 am

    This issue came to be fairly significant for me; even frank discussions with family can be difficult. Unlike most thoughtful believers in other denominations, where faith comes to a choice of loyalty, most Mormons conceive of “knowing” in a stronger sense that follows from righteousness. I think the community “facade of belief” is a subtle, even gentle, yet pervasive and relentless means of psychological and emotional influence (if not control).

    Along with interaction with a handful of choice souls, my way of trying to work things out for myself, and maintain sanity and integrity, has been to start a blog, as described in my opening manifesto—a space that, while not “anti”, does not take the veracity of the Church’s claims as a foregone conclusion. (Even here at T&S, where respectful unbelievers are welcome, the official party line is the “foregone conclusion”.)

    As far as how to get outside the “facade of acceptance and belief”, in spite of my evident sympathy to the need I’m not sure I agree with Blake that our meetings are the time or place to try and open up. As I said in a post yesterday on doctrine, a community and its hierarchy have a need and a right for some (at least provisionally) settled ideas that govern official discourse (including that in Church meetings), similar to how a court system needs to rely on precedents. But like there are law schools where doubts and debates rage, unofficial media (e.g. magazines and blogs) can provide similar functionality in the Church.

    (Sorry for the naked self-promotion. Consider it a manual traceback or pingback or whatever you call it, technologies that Blogger doesn’t support.)

  11. Ann
    April 22, 2005 at 8:06 am

    I am an adult convert, and spent my entire adult life in the “mission field.” It was a hothouse gospel…the environment was carefully controlled. The depth of my gospel knowledge never really extended beyond correlated Sunday School level, because I wasn’t aware that there was anything else.

    Doubt is a dangerous thing in such an environment. There isn’t much strength in a testimony that’s grown because it’s been so carefully sheltered.

    I think that GBH’s statements that the church is either true or false – what I call the binary hypothesis – tend to make people much less willing to talk about their problems with doctrine.

    I had a home teacher (member of the stake presidency) who used to misquote the statement as “either the church is entirely true or entirely false.” Given statements like that, combined with my doubts, I fell on the “entirely false” side of this (false) dichotomy. I believe a lot less now than I did before I started examining difficult problems.

    I think the lack of places to talk about doubt is deliberate. If you have one person with one doubt, and another person with another doubt, and they get together, pretty soon you have two people each doubting two things.

  12. Brett McKay
    April 22, 2005 at 8:06 am

    I agree with Wilfried that openess in a ward to discussion of doubts depends a lot on the local leaders. In my ward growing up it seemed that tough questions were brought up frequently and no one recieved any guff for it. You were also a bit more free to say what you wanted in talks or Sunday school. Here in my new stake, it seems like its uber orthodox. For example when giving talks, they call you in three weeks ahead of time and give you like an interview where they assign your topic. They give you this list of guidelines when giving your talk that you have to follow. The big one is that you can’t use any sources in your talk unless they have the logo of the corporation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It has to be from the scriptures or the general authorites.I don’t understand this policy because in general conference talks you always see GAs quoting famous statesman, literature, and sometimes philosophers. I figure if they can do it why can’t I?
    I just can’t until I graduate and I can get the heck out this stake.

  13. anon
    April 22, 2005 at 8:34 am

    Interesting thread–but I honestly don’t understand why someone would struggle w/ evolution. As far as I can tell, the church today doesn’t take an official stance and a member is free to believe and openly voice his opinion on the matter. In my case that means it is a very well accepted scientific hypothesis and I have no reason to think that it didn’t/doesn’t happen. What’s the big deal? Don’t mean to turn this into a thread-jack, but it just struck me as strange to get tied up in knots over evolution when there seems to be plenty of room in the church to accomodate it.

  14. Ben S.
    April 22, 2005 at 8:47 am

    FWIW, we had a thread on this topic a while back, and determined that an appropriate structure/forum to discuss serious questions at Church does not currently exist.

  15. Todd Lundell
    April 22, 2005 at 8:55 am

    It seems to me that “doubts” can take many forms. The most generalized of doubts: Is this church “true”?, is the Book of Mormon the word of God?, does God give revelation to its leaders (including local leaders)?, etc., are all questions that can really only be answered through prayer. Thus, prayer can be a good answer to a person tormented by these types of doubts. And I am not sure it would be productive to discuss in Sunday School or Priesthood the possibility that the church might not be true or that God is not giving revelation to the leaders. Those types of general doubts must be resolved between the person and God.

    Thus, I think it can and should be taken for granted that those attending church meetings are believers (or at least seeking to understand the church from the perspective of a believer). But that still leaves a lot of room for “doubt.” We can genuinely ask what it means to believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God; what it means for leaders to be inspired by revelation; what it means that the church is “true” etc. Asking those questions from the perspective of a believer, or at least with the understanding that ultimate testimony comes not from any answer that might be given but from God, seems much less threatening.

    In other words, I think church can be a place to explore our beliefs (and therefore our doubts), but I don’t think it is a bad thing to start from the presumption that “we believe . . .”

  16. Stephanie
    April 22, 2005 at 9:04 am

    “Sometimes I fear that there is a facade of acceptance and belief in our meetings.”

    I agree. But that’s the way the material is presented to us in the teaching manuals, and the teacher is strongly discouraged from going outside the text of the lesson manual.

    As a result, I find Sunday School and Relief Society to be completely devoid of intellectual curiousity and discussions based on faithful questions that NORMAL people have about the Church. Both of these meetings seem to be just an opportunity for people to get together and pat themselves on their backs at how well they have memorized the standard answers that the teacher is looking for. Questions and comments that veer into controversial territory are shut down.

    What’s worse is that even in my visiting teaching sessions with people I’ve known for years in the Church are strictly regulated by following the visiting teaching message in the Ensign. This month, the message was on rejoicing in the Priesthood. I teach two very well educated, articulate women, but the room fell into uncomfortable silence on both occasions when I talked in general details about my personal struggle with accepting the male-only priesthood.

    It worries me that we don’t feel comfortable faithfully expressing our doubts and questions about the Church. I do have a lot of faith in our leaders, but sometimes things are said that need clarification. People who need to talk through their questions and doubts should not be judged harshly, but loved and accepted. If I could change ONE thing about Church culture, this would be it. Give me all the green jello and carrots you want, but I wish our culture were more tolerant and loving towards those who sincerely question.

  17. April 22, 2005 at 9:07 am

    Interesting thread–but I honestly don’t understand why someone would struggle w/ evolution. As far as I can tell, the church today doesn’t take an official stance and a member is free to believe and openly voice his opinion on the matter. In my case that means it is a very well accepted scientific hypothesis and I have no reason to think that it didn’t/doesn’t happen. What’s the big deal? Don’t mean to turn this into a thread-jack, but it just struck me as strange to get tied up in knots over evolution when there seems to be plenty of room in the church to accomodate it.

    In my experience, members are free to believe–and express–what they wish regarding evolution. For instance, during a recent testimony meeting I attended, the final speaker shared his testimony that “for scientists to believe in evolution, they would have to be STUPID” (he spit out this last word). He emphatically told the congregation that the the theory of evolution was false.

  18. Doc-Kwadwo
    April 22, 2005 at 9:08 am

    Marc D:

    That’s a tough one. For me — although I, too, have questions — I often have to remind myself how few things there are in this life about which I know every answer. I mean, non-spiritual, non-church things. I can never know everything there is to know about medicine, or why some patients respond one way and others will do the opposite, and yet I forge on with becoming a physician. For my own sanity, I feel obliged to view my spiritual and church growth similarly, since the chances of answering every spiritual question are essentially nil, during this life…

    That said, there are SOME answers that I know. There are SOME spiritual things that have been through the proving ground of my own experience, and I have to run with those. They are, practically speaking, the foundation of my faith. Understanding, at least for me, builds gradually, and I figure that full understanding (and answers to all the questions) will simply take longer than I will spend here on earth.

    I am certainly not suggesting that you simply be patient, or that prayer and study will take away all of the questions. I do know that reminding myself of the things about which I have a firm testimony can sometimes (at least for me) provide some salve for that annoying itch. I really am sorry that you have reached such a frustrating impasse, but I hope that you will take comfort in 1) the fact that there are places like this blog where you can vent, and 2) a focus on the love that you have for your branch members, and the things that you DO know.

    You’ll be in my prayers, Marc. I wish you well.

    I agree.

  19. Frank McIntyre
    April 22, 2005 at 9:12 am

    I think there can be a lot of benefit in private communication between members. Public fora can be good for some discussions but incredibly awkward for others.

    As for the value of prayer, one of my favorite passages in the Book of Mormon is when Nephi gets down off the mountain and asks his brethren (who are arguing over doctrine) if they have prayed about it. Nope, they say, because the Lord doesn’t answer our prayers. After Nephi’s incredible vision, the contrast is outstanding. Nephi knows that prayers are answered and can be answered in dramatic ways.

    And yet he can’t have that experience for them.

  20. April 22, 2005 at 9:15 am

    It seems to me that one of the primary purposes of church meetings is to be in an environment where we can hopefully feel the Spirit. While feeling the Spirit does not necessarily answer questions, it can go a long way to providing comfort and reassurance. It helps us to remember that it is worth hanging on, in spite of our doubts.

  21. Frank McIntyre
    April 22, 2005 at 9:21 am

    Although I am sure there are many reasons for the attitudes people have encountered about questioning, it is probably worth noting that, in a public forum, with people you don’t know as well, it becomes much more difficult to know if questioning is sincere. Thus it becomes very difficult to have one policy or Church attitude for sincere questioning and another policy for insincere questioning, because they become hard to seperate. Add to this the responsibility of the Bishop to protect the flock from ravening wolves, and you can see why there is a problem.

    Now the problem is not that questioners are all wolves trying to destroy faith. The problem is that it is often difficult to know who is the sheep and who is just dressed that way. You could take the approach that no one is a wolf until proven beyond all doubt as such, but you’re probably going to lose a lot of sheep that way.

  22. Elisabeth
    April 22, 2005 at 9:27 am

    Great post. Not to sound flippant about these important questions, but it would be interesting to see how things would shake out if the impossible happened and the Church allowed people to choose which wards to go to.

    I think there would be a lot of ward hopping initially, but eventually people would settle down in wards where they felt comfortable asking questions and engaging in discussions with members similarly inclined. Kind of like finding your favorite blog in the bloggernacle.

    Plus, on a personal level, I live in downtown Boston and have to drive 45 minutes to Church through Red Sox traffic and other nuisances, when I could take the T over the Longfellow Bridge and be in Harvard Square in 5 minutes. So, if anyone out there has any influence with the Church’s real estate department – Boston needs a church/visitors center like the one in NYC. Preferably somewhere along the Freedom Trail.

  23. Julie in Austin
    April 22, 2005 at 9:31 am

    Two thoughts:

    (1) I want to defend stakes/wards with an “official Church teachings only” policy (i.e., requiring that all sources used in talks have the Church logo on the back). While I’m obviously not familiar with the particulars, I can virtually guarantee that this policy was not hatched out of thin air, but was the result of teachers/speakers who were out of line. While we may assume that they were regarded as “too liberal,” I can say that my experience being a teacher improvement coordinator is that we also had problems with “too conservative” and “too fluffy” as well as plain undoctrinal/folk doctrinal/etc. While this policy would result in the loss of a lot of good material (such as the GAs quote in conference), it can also help avoid the warm fuzzy/self-help/other weirdness that masquarades as Mormon doctrine on the shelves of LDS bookstores.

    (2) I try to create an environment in Sunday School where people are free to express doubts/questions, but I also really try to keep those doubts in perspective. I like what Camilla Kimball said: she put issues ‘on the shelf’ to think about later; then she’d find that some were resolved, some didn’t matter, and some needed to go back on the shelf. Note:

    –the prophet’s wife had issues
    –she didn’t ignore them, but she didn’t let them take over her life
    –she thought about them from time to time
    –she didn’t resolve all of them.

    I also like Nephi’s statement when asked if he knew about the condescention (how the heck do you spell that? I tried about ten combinations and nothing looks right) of God: “I know not, nevertheless I know that he loves his children.” (paraphrase). He didn’t know, he didn’t try to hide it, but he also didn’t let it overshadow what he did know. There are a lot of questions to which I’d answer, “I know not, nevertheless I know that God loves his children.”

  24. Frank McIntyre
    April 22, 2005 at 9:36 am

    Julie, Here’s your spelling

    Now might be a good time to mention that the Firefox browser lets you put a little lds scripture search box on your browser. It is incredibly handy.

  25. Nate Oman
    April 22, 2005 at 9:38 am

    Shortly after I graduated from college, I went through a kind of intellectual withdrawl. I went from a situation in which I was constantly reading, studying, and discussing complex and difficult ideas to one where I was sitting in a cubicle responding to angry letters and attending endless and largely pointless meetings. I had a discussion with a friend and former boss (Randy Paul) about my intellectual funk, and he pointed out to me that much of the most important intellectual work in the history of mankind has been done as letters or discussions between friends. Since then, I have worked hard to cultivate discussions (mostly electronic; occasionaly real) with friends who have similar interests and questions. One result is that in many ways Church is no longer the primary way in which I relate to my religion. I attend regularlly, serve in callings, and enjoy the fellowship in my ward. But Church attendence is only a small part of my religious life (particularlly the intellectual side), which is often much more dominated by personal study and discussions with friends.

    In a sense, I find that I am quite contented with the Church because I have fairly low expectations. Furthermore — at the risk of sounding intensely arrogant — I don’t know that having a discussion about Book of Mormon historicity or problematic events in Church history with members of my ward would be all that useful. Frankly, most of them simply don’t know enough about this stuff to say anything especially interesting or insightful. I understand that much of the problem is that people fear being judged and wish that there were more empathy and understanding. This seems an entirely valid set of complaints to me. On the other hand, it is worth remembering that even if you had an empathic and understanding ward you would still be left with the problem that most of us are basically ignorant about most things. Hence, even if we had a culture that was fully accepting to those with doubts and empathic in its response to them, doubters would still, ultimately be driven to a smaller circle of friends or self-selected fora (FARMS, Sunstone, FAIR, blogs, listserves etc.) to find those who had the background to actually having meaningful substantive discussions.

  26. Jed
    April 22, 2005 at 9:45 am

    Blake’s question shows the strongly democratic expectations we sometimes have for the church. The assumption is that public meeting should be the place for the laiety to bear their souls — their affirmations, nonaffirmations, beliefs, doubts — everything they are — before the world. I think this is a lot to ask of a religion. In the Catholic church, the bearing of souls is done privately. In high Protestant churches, the laiety has little opportunity to bear souls; the minister dominates publicly. In Pentacostal churches, the bearing of feelings is expected to edify the congregation. The faiths who allow their members the largest degree of freedom — Quakerism and Unitarianism — have lost the ability to demarcate the boundaries of belief and non-belief.

    The bloggosphere may offer the best hope. People can always get a hearing.

  27. Gary
    April 22, 2005 at 10:04 am

    I agree with those who believe that it is probably not possible, and maybe not even desirable, that we use our normal meetings as places where doubts about fundamental issues are discussed resolved. However, perhaps we can at least change our attitudes about those who have doubts. We place a great emphasis on “knowing” that certain things are true, and our faith is too often measured by the fervency of our convictions, rather than by our actions. Those who doubt are told to study the scriptures and to pray about it. This is fine for some, but for a significant number of people, this doesn’t work. They have prayed, sometimes for years. They have studied. Telling them that all they need to do is pray sounds to them like implicit condemnation for their lack of diligence in inquiring of the Lord, when nothing could be further from the truth. If that is our only answer to those who have studied and prayed diligently, then their natural response is to say “well, I have done what they told me to do, I put Moroni’s promise to the test, and it didn’t work. There appears to be no room for people like me who can’t honestly affirm that they “know”, so I have no choice but to disappear.” We need to place less emphasis on “knowing” and more on commitment to a life of faith in and seeking after God.

  28. JWL
    April 22, 2005 at 10:07 am

    Blake —

    Your description of being called on by bishops to talk with members troubled by doubts at least partially answers the question posed in your previous post. Even on a strictly utilitarian level, these experiences clearly show that your studies have some usefulness for the Kingdom. And with regard to your writing, I have found your midrash hypothesis of the BoM to be very helpful in discussions with several members bothered by some elements in the BoM. (I do hope you post about it since I would like to suggest that there is another post-Christian prophet who may also have made inspired expansions on the BoM text – Mormon – but that is for another thread.)

    With regard to the subject of this thread, I have thought about this question a lot because I have had the opportunity to hold teaching callings in Church for many years now, first in high priests and now in Gospel Doctrine in Sunday School.

    First, I think that Todd makes a very useful distinction in comment #15 above. There are many kinds of questions, and I think that many questions people have do not challenge the fundamental veracity of the restored gospel as long as we can deal with the concepts that: (1) prophets are people and not infallible in every single word that comes out of their mouths and (2) Church policies and practices do change. Church classes should be available for these kinds of questions. Often they are not, but that is an issue of Mormon folk culture. I think culture can evolve if its members move it by actually raising the questions and topics in Church contexts. However, that generally works if the questions are raised: (A) without challenging the fundamental veracity of the restored gospel and (B) without a ‘debunking’ spirit. I think this latter point is especially critical. When we study more than others and discover questions that others are not aware of, there is a great temptation to raise the questions in a way which is about getting attention, riling things up, and showing off our knowledge as much as it is about getting answers to sincere questions.

    Second, as to questions which may challenge the fundamental veracity of the restored gospel even with caveats (1) and (2) above, I do think that it is not unreasonable for a faith community to limit the amount of negativity with which it has to deal in its worship and study services. In a class context, obviously sincere questions of any sort from class members should be attended to, but I think teachers and speakers need to exercise self-restraint in laying negative views on an audience who have come to hear them in the good faith expectation that they are going to be presented with some positive gospel learning. So, as to those topics which might challenge the fundamental veracity of the restored gospel, these we should take ‘outside.’ Over the years Sunstone has provided a great forum for this in the magazine and conferences, organizations like FAIR and FARMS have arisen to tackle the tough stuff head-on, and the bloggernacle offers a wonderful new forum accessible to everyone. None are perfect, but I think that there are a lot of avenues for discussing doubts available at least to educated western Church members. That does leave open the question of what we do for Church members who can not access these fora, but I would not put that responsiblity on the institutional Church.

  29. Jed
    April 22, 2005 at 11:05 am

    There was a time in our church when public confessionals were required by those who committed serious sins. I remember making this realization while reading local minutes of meetings in the church archives a few years ago. In the 1870s, members of the Spanish Fork ward who admitted to public drunkenness or adultery stood before their congregation and asked for forgiveness. The operating ethic was communal; my sin has tainted not only me, but all of us. Later, while reading St. George minutes, I found a letter from the state president discouraging public confessions. It dated to the Lorenzo Snow administration, a time when the church was transitioning to a more individual, democratic, capitalistic ethic. This was also a time when the church started to be overtly concerned about public image. The public meetings had to take a more slick form. We are probably still living in the shadow of this modern movement.

  30. Anonymom
    April 22, 2005 at 11:34 am

    I like to discuss my doubts at home, with my husband, who has a better knowledge of scripture than I currently do. We also have many books in which I can seek answers, and I find that making it a personal search helps me in more ways than simply coming to terms with what I’m doubting.

  31. Jonathan Green
    April 22, 2005 at 11:41 am

    Two more thoughts:

    1) Every church meeting is an appropriate occasion for the speakers and teachers to remember that there are people in the audience who have honest and sincere doubts. Denigrating doubt will not help these people. Taking their concerns seriously, perhaps even explaining how you have dealt with the issue, might.

    2) Where is it safe to discuss doubts at church? Elders quorum. Sacrament Meeting doesn’t allow for discussion, and Gospel Doctrine has the presumption that doubters–a.k.a. the not-yet-converted–will make their way to Gospel Essentials/the investigator class. Priesthood meetings don’t make this assumption, so that instructors have to be prepared for members who aren’t already convinced. An open and profitable discussion that takes doubt seriously requires not just an instructor who is prepared to address the issue, but also that the doubter express the concern in a way that respects other people’s belief: “I’ve never been able to figure out polygamy,” for example, rather than “I can’t believe God would restore his church through a lyin’, cheatin’, two-timin’ adulterer.”

    I have no way of knowing if this is applicable in any way to Relief Society meetings.

  32. JA Benson
    April 22, 2005 at 12:01 pm

    Thank you Blake for your wonderful thoughts. I have struggled with the actions and teachings of both the present and past members/leaders of the Church. I also feel that it is a form of spirtual abuse to shame those who are truthfuly searching for answers. This sort of behavior that is all too common, however subtle, can and does drive a wedge between individuals and God.
    I agree that the Chruch community the way it is set up can not adequately address controversial issues. This is hard to do in our ward settings becuase not everyone is at the same level of understanding and often there are investigators present. Perhaps an Adults only fireside could be given to discuss these topis. This is a way that sensetive issues could be handled in a spiritual atmosphere.
    I know of several instances were members when encountered by others with difficult questions were woefully unprepared to respond as they were unaware of the contrroversial subject in the first place. These individuals felt betrayed that the Chruch was “hiding things”. This head in the sand mentality is dangerous in our day when all it takes in a little bit of searching on the computer to find out more than you needed to know. This over-protective attitude that we take with our members can self-distruct on us as much as over-exposure to doubts.
    Since I am the mother of teenagers I am sensitive to how I am raising them in regards to controversy in the Chuch. I don’t believe that exposing my children to superficial fluff is good for their souls. On the other hand teaching them to doubt the Gospel is just as harmful.
    So for my older teen we are teaching him about the controversies in the Church before his mission. I feel that it is better to teach these subjects in our home rather that for him to get it on the streets. This way we can answer any question that may arise; give him the feeling that searching, pondering and praying is trully accceptable in all things.
    Also since he has already had Old Testement the prophets and people of that time are good examples of how dysfunctional it can get. Basicially I think that it is good to teach about the bravery and strength of the handcart pioneers and also the evil and mistakes of Mountain Meadows Massacre. This makes for a truthful and well-rounded picture.

  33. April 22, 2005 at 12:18 pm

    #24 Frank, I appreciate your highlighting the firefox extension for scripture searching, however I can’t seem to locate it for download. Any idea where I can get it?

  34. Frank McIntyre
    April 22, 2005 at 12:26 pm


    In Firefox you have a little search bar that can already do google and a few other searches. Click on the icon (usually google) and it drops down a list of all the engines it does so you can pick which one for each search. The idea is to add lds scripture search to the list.

    Go to this page
    and search for “lds”. It will bring up 2 lds engines and marshall fields (!). I suggest skipping marshall fields. clicking on each of the lds ones should let you add them to your list of engines.

    Let me know if you run into problems.

  35. April 22, 2005 at 12:28 pm

    Thank you, Frank.

  36. April 22, 2005 at 12:29 pm


  37. Frank McIntyre
    April 22, 2005 at 12:33 pm

    Shelby, don’t look now, but you are being stalked by an off-shore pharmaceutical wholesaler.

  38. Shawn Bailey
    April 22, 2005 at 12:39 pm

    Shelby: you have apparently offended the wrong diabolical pharmaceutal conglomerate. It was nice knowing you.

  39. Jason
    April 22, 2005 at 12:55 pm

    Gary #27, Well-said. Clearly, the implication that church doors are closed to those who haven’t had some kind of revelation/answered prayer is false at best, and contrary to the principles of christianity.

    I don’t know how to link things, but a few weeks ago Jim F. put up a post on Prayer, consisting of notes on a presentation at BYU given by Thomas Griffith (a faithful church leader and BYU administrator). Maybe you can find the post, but (if I remember well) he admitted never have received a clear answer to his prayers. In fact, in confessing that to an anonymous Apostle, the Apostle said it was a gift of the spirt; apparently Griffith does not have gift, and (dramatic pause) neither does Anonymous Apostle.

    There is enough language in scripture to make me comfortable with the conclusion that sincere belief suffices when it is accompanied by faithful living: “To others, it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful” (D&C 46:14).

  40. Kevin Barney
    April 22, 2005 at 1:03 pm

    I appreciate several of you mentioning FAIR. We engage in what we call *educative* apologetics, which means that we’re not interested in chicken fighting with anti-Mormons directly, but rather in trying to help members and investigators who are adversely affected by anti-Mormon argument (or by doubts that arise by other means). We represent one (very unofficial) place people can turn to with their doubts. I agree that independent journals, blogs and friends are other such resources.

  41. April 22, 2005 at 1:32 pm

    What if your doubt concerns that relative efficiency and efficacy of prayer? For such a doubt the admonition to “pray about it” seems worthless? What if an individual is unable, for whatever reason, to recognize Divine Inspiration? On top of that, I don’t think there’s doctrinal support for the idea that all are blessed with Divine Inspiration beyond the Light of Christ. D&C 46:10-29 lists out diverse gifts granted to the Saints and specifically points out that not everyone will be granted every gift.

  42. cosmic_turtle
    April 22, 2005 at 1:38 pm

    Some more thoughts:

    Maybe self-consciousness (worry) about doubt is like self-consciousness about nakedness, which is of course a very common thing for any given individual. Hm, perhaps doubt IS a form of nakedness and that’s why some members of the church, upon hearing another’s doubts, are apt to shout, “Stop! Stop! You’re taking off too much, exposing yourself to me and in the process making me feel naked, too! Or at any rate you’re threatening me because the way I see it you’re asking me to strip down along with you and that’s just too much!”

    Perhaps doubting one’s own beliefs about something (who cares what others believe? that’s their responsibility) is actually very natural to the maturation of the intellect (spirit, intelligence, however you wish to call it). For instance, at 15, we may have an idea about what love is and try to act upon that idea, but then through experience and some thought determine that love is not what we imagined. For some people this may lead to the following reasoning: “I thought that love was x, but there is no x. Therefore there’s no such thing as love.” That is certainly an ungainly side of doubt.

    For others, the analysis becomes more internal: “I thought love was x, but love is not x. Therefore I must be wrong about love; I need to refine my definition.” This is a way of doubting that leads to the next stage of feeling and thought, very natural and necessary, and supported by the gospel through principles of repentance and eternal increase (eternal increase here meaning line-upon-line development toward a more god-like perspective). We question what we believe and then through whatever steps we must take prepare to go to the next level in our belief (example: therefore the Book of Mormon may not be what I believed it to be, it may be something else. What?). Sometimes we may come right back around to our original conclusion (example: the Book of Mormon is exactly what I thought it was!) but more often we may find ourselves having to think differently. Of course, there are times when this happens and we feel life as we knew it burn to the ground. Refiner’s fire: we can get stuck in it and burn forever or we can walk through and come out on the other side a bit more finely honed and somewhat more mature, till the next time embers find fuel. If we are growing, this process may occur all the time throughout our lives.

    When we take the route of the former case–“I thought x defined love, but there is no x; therefore there is no such thing as love”–we externalize the idea of love (or God or faith or love or ?) making it an idea “out there.” For example: the Book of Mormon isn’t what everyone said it was, therefore the Book of Mormon is a meaningless fabrication (or however one concludes). But the process is actual an internal one. MY IDEA of so and so is in question; not some idea that’s “out there,” no matter how prevalent it may be.

    I have run into this problem of externalizing one’s beliefs in my 15-yr-old son. A born skeptic, he never believed in Santa Claus (the popular idea of Santa Claus, “naughty and nice,” “sees you when you’re sleeping,” “knows when you’ve been good or bad,” etc.). He believed in God because his parents do, but as he got a little older he saw that the way God was frequently taught in primary, etc. made God look suspiciously like Santa Claus. He had already rejected popular ideas of Santa Claus to reach the conclusion there was no Santa Clause; at 12 he made the same logical jump regarding God, concluding he no longer believed in God. We have had to labor long and broadly to get him to internalize the question, i.e., admit that he accepted the popular ideas about God he found unconscionable, and that he has now accepted another idea that has its own problems, and now we are trying to get him to turn the critical eye inward to see where he needs to re-think his own ideas. We are teaching him it is natural to doubt and teach him about tools of logic, cautioning him logic is not to be used as a weapon against others (always the big temptation) but it is to be used first and foremost for the process of maturing his own thought.

    As for where in the church it may be safe to discuss doubts, I would like to draw attention to George Santayana, who is talking specifically about philosophy but philosophy is about belief and doubt, isn’t it? Anyway, maybe others on this thread might appreciate this quote as much as I do:

    “At best, the true philosopher can fulfill his mission very imperfectly, which is to pilot himself, or at most a few voluntary companions who may find themselves in the same boat. It is not easy for him to shout or address a crowd; he must be silent for long seasons; for he is watching stars that move slowly and in courses that it is possible though difficult to foresee; and he is crushing all things in his heart as in a winepress, until his life and their secret flow out together.”

    Is that from The Last Pilgrim? Not sure. Anyway, it echoes other comments on this thread about how like-minded people find each other while at the same time it lays out in graceful metaphor (“crushing all things in his heart”) the process for personal belief. It would be nice if the LDS community at large could accept doubt as a natural process of maturation on all its levels and frequencies, but of course people are at all different stages and thus are making certain investments in their beliefs on that level. Some people arrest on certain levels; that’s another problem.

  43. Mike Parker
    April 22, 2005 at 1:50 pm

    Thanks, Kevin (#40) for mentioning FAIR. In many ways FAIR and other online groups have been my outlet for all those difficult conversations that can’t take place at church. (I’ll include T&S in there, even though I read more than I comment.)

    There’s an interesting article in the current issue of Sunstone about the narrow focus of our Sunday classes. The writer breaks down teaching approaches into three styles: the Pep Rally (everyone affirms that principle X is true), the Tips ‘n’ Trix Seminar (scriptural solutions to practical challenges), and the Whack-a-Moral Game (read a scripture, determine the moral of the story). The writer bemoans that almost all of our classes fall into one one of these three approaches, but we rarely discuss things that are not easily resolved or allow for thought-provoking questions.

    I see the problem as twofold:

    1. As a lay church, we typically call people to teach who aren’t experienced or comfortable teaching. For many of these people their goal is to get through the lesson in the manual — covering the required material and asking the required questions — and get out of the room without any difficult issues or controversies coming up.

    2. Our culture (like most insular cultures) has a “circle the wagons” approach to building faith; i.e., faith is built by reaffirming truths, not by exploring doubts. Hence the directive in many wards for teachers to “stick to the manual.”

    I don’t know what can be done about this. I would suspect that there are only a handful of people in a typical ward who are chafing at the current state of things. These people will end up finding some place to explore their faith (T&S, FAIR boards, Sunstone, etc.), and then tolerate Sunday classes as a requirement of the faith.

    I do.

  44. April 22, 2005 at 1:55 pm

    Mike P., so far as I know S.S. isn’t required. Priesthood is, I think, but not S.S.

    At least, that’s what I tell myself.

  45. Rosalynde Welch
    April 22, 2005 at 2:07 pm

    I’ve had some success sharing my struggles with doubt in lessons and VT visits (never from the pulpit, though) if I stay pretty general about my particular issues, and if I contain my own subversion–that is, if I supply the answer that I found to resolve the doubt. A number of people have told me that they appreciate the openness. (Of course, this is a far cry from a genuinely open exploration.)

  46. Jed
    April 22, 2005 at 2:17 pm

    Rosalynde. The key line is “I supply the answer.” The doubt is countenanced if it has a clear resolution. Few faith traditions countenance public doubts where the answer is not forthcoming. Public religion is about answers. For Mormons, the answer is miraculous intervention, the heart of our faith tradition.

  47. J. Scherer
    April 22, 2005 at 2:24 pm

    It seems to me that home teaching is being dismissed too easily as the avenue through which a member should discuss issues that are contrversial or not easily resolved. It would be unfair to do this in Sunday School classes where members of varying knowlege and experience are present, i.e. GD; or where people are still being taught the gospel, i.e. GP. If a home teacher does not show up or doesn’t wish to adress these issues, getting a new one isn’t difficult(at least from my experience in the EQ Presidency). Marion G. Romney laid out the responsibilities of the home teacher:

    “To perform fully our duty as a Home Teacher we should be continually aware of the attitudes, the activities and interests, the problems, the employment, the health, the happiness, the plans and purposes, the physical, temporal, and spiritual needs and circumstances of everyone—of every child, every youth, and every adult in the homes and families who have been placed in our trust and care as a bearer of the priesthood, and as a representative of the bishop�.

    A home teacher should be able to sympatetically address any issue of doctrine without wavering. Given the current state of home teaching though, one would probably have to seek out this counsel.

  48. Rosalynde Welch
    April 22, 2005 at 2:25 pm

    Of course, Jed, the cynic (or the old school New Historicist) would say that religion not only countenances but actually manufactures public doubt, the better to more spectacularly quash it (the classic subversion-containment model). Something like the doubting character in “Finding Faith in Christ” comes to mind. More subtly, one could argue that the institutional church actually needs entities like Sunstone–and, in effect, creates the subversion by disclaiming them from the pulpit–in order to perform the containment and marginalization of doubt, which reinforces the equation of faith-orthodoxy-institution. (I don’t find this a particularly convincing argument, but it’s interesting to consider.)

  49. Lorin Hansen
    April 22, 2005 at 2:28 pm

    Nate, Stephanie,
    I appreciated your thoughts, which echo my feelings as well. I feel that we foster this inability to help people with doubts by removing apologetic materials from the instruction manuals. The underlying assumption in almost all the lessons, it seems to me, is that everyone believes. They just need to be told what they need to do and then motivated to do it. There is very little in the way of arguments for the truth of some principle or arguments against counter claims. By this lack, I think we leave people unarmed and, worse, leave people with the feeling that we shouldn’t doubt and that it is an admission of weakness to marshall the evidence to support our faith.
    It was not always so. Around 1950 J. Reubven Clark gave a series of radio address that were designed to prove there was an apostacy, the Catholic Church was corrupt, and there was a need of a restoration. Those became his book, “On the Way to Immortality and Eternal Life.” About the same time James L. Barker was doing the same with a series of priesthood manuals. Soon after that Hugh Nibley came out with his priesthood manual “An Aproach to the Book of Mormon,” which although could be thought of as backgroud for appreciating the BofM, it was to some extent apologetics. Since about 1970, it seems to me the Church has settled into a format with all the lessons of a brief background followed by applications to every day living.
    I am like Nate. I have found peace by keeping my expectations low. However, I have found repeatedly that in order to answer my own questions and the questions that are brought up by friends and acquaintances, and to answer the questions that come up in raising children, I need more and I find I have to go get the extra that I need from sources that are not even acknowledged as existing by presentations at the ward level.

  50. maria
    April 22, 2005 at 2:38 pm

    Re: #31 Jonathan Green

    In my opinion, there is a very different learning atmosphere in RS than there is EQ. I can’t tell you the number of times that, after attending classes based on the exact same lesson, my husband returns home infused with excitment about the interesting and controversial doctrinal debate that occurred while I have nothing to show but a cutesy fridge magnet and additional doubts.

    If I’m lucky the teacher brings a visually attractive centerpiece to stare at while I tune out to the chatter of “Isn’t the experience Sister Smith just shared *so special*?” or “We all just have to have more faith” or “Now that’s a toughie! Sisters, go home and ask your husbands about that one!”

  51. Minerva
    April 22, 2005 at 2:55 pm


    Is that really how it is!? Singles wards are very different, I think. I find R.S. to be quite enlightening, whereas the guys I talk to indicate that EQ is the most absolute boring thing ever.

  52. Jon
    April 22, 2005 at 3:26 pm

    To Those who may have never read the Liahona – Iron Rod talk given by Richard D. Poll I provide it here for your review. This is a great talk that has helped me better understand the type of person that I am when it comes to doubts about the Gospel. For instance, right now I am in a conversation with a friend about a topic that he and I don’t see eye to eye on. During the discussion I mentioned the age of accountablity and the death of Children under that age. He provided me with a bunch of quotes from the brethern related to salvation of these children. (classic Iron Rod) I responded with the following:

    Ok, This one is in a response to blacks and the idea that black children who die before the age of accountability have eternal life.  In the quotes you provided we read: 

    “The Lord takes many away even in infancy, that they may escape the envy of man, and the sorrows and evils of this present world; they were too pure, too lovely, to live on earth;  therefore, if rightly considered, instead of mourning we have reason to rejoice as they are delivered from evil, and we shall soon have them again.”  (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 196-197)

    The quotes go on to say, in essence, that those children who die under the age of 8 were essentially the best of the best based on their pre-mortal life.  Then I read comments from Elder McConkie such as these:

    There have been these problems, and the Lord has permitted them to arise. There is not any question about that. We do not envision the whole reason and purpose behind all of this; we can only suppose and reason that it is on the basis of preexistence and of our premortal devotion and faith. (Bruce R. McConkie, Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie )    (In reference to the Gospel not going to all nations, tongues and people)

    Cain, Ham, and the whole negro race have been cursed with a black skin, the mark of Cain so they can be identified as a caste apart, a people with whom the other descendants of Adam should not intermarry. … It is only by a knowledge of pre-existence that it can be known why some persons are born in one race or caste and some in another. (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine )

    Brigham Young had plenty to say about this idea of the blacks being a cursed people as well.  So that begs the question:  if the infant black children die before the age of accountability and are /were “too pure, too lovely, to live on earth” why were they born black? Why were they cursed? Finally, when did they make this mighty leap of transformation from cursed black person in premortal life to pure, lovely child who will now be exalted without even being tried?  Interesting…

    My response is classic Liahona, the fact that there is no good answer to this question doesn’t really bother me. It doesn’t change my perspective on the Church or the men who sat it up for the Lord or who run it now. I share this with those who may have doubts in an attempt to show them that to question is perfectly natural, and if you don’t find answers that is ok too. Get back to what you truly believe and shore up your testimony of the First Vision and the Book of Mormon and things should be just fine. (At least that is how it works for me)

  53. Jon
    April 22, 2005 at 3:27 pm

    Opps, here is a link to that talk I mentioned above…

  54. Stephanie
    April 22, 2005 at 3:42 pm

    Nate and Lorin-

    I have pretty low expectations about Church as well. Which is why it’s hard for me to go to Church every Sunday. I value my time, and three hours is a long time to sit through boring lessons I’ve heard before.

    Why not stay home, study the scriptures, and blog about your questions with people who actually care about learning the gospel? Church is fine once a month or so, but it’s a huge time waster for the most part. I’d rather do volunteer work or something more useful with those hours.

  55. Jonathan Green
    April 22, 2005 at 3:49 pm

    Because, Stephanie, if you go to church once a month, you’re not fulfilling your responsibility to the rest of the members of the ward. Sunday is not all about you.

  56. CJS
    April 22, 2005 at 3:57 pm

    This topic is important and the responses have been very good. I think many would agree that you can have faith while at the same time admitting there are inconsistencies, ambiguity and difficult subjects to understand and reconcile in the church’s doctrine and practices. The church setting may not be the best place to address many of those things, but there are places to address them, as has been mentioned by several people.

    I agree that there should be more tolerance for doubts and serious questions without the implication that you are doing something wrong by having such. The church should encourage dialogue and discussion. Many feel they can quote a scripture or a general authority and that’s the end of the discussion.

    When Philip Barlow was a guest blogger he made comments that are right on the mark and pertinent to this discussion:

    “I try to remember with as generous a spirit as I can muster that for most people the implied purpose of (for instance) our Sunday Schools is a reaffirmation of faith and bonding in Zion—a workshop for love, which is crucial. This need not be, but these days generally is, construed in our classes as a series of semi-rhetorical or fill-in-the-blank questions yielding a kind of scripted discussion calculated to reaffirm testimony and what we think we already know. When more authentic questions are posed, they often come from places of misplaced zeal and ill-informed esoterica that lead into bizarre, so-called “mysteries.” I suppose that the need to combat this is one reason we have over-reacted with such tepid, correlated fare in our manuals and habits of discourse.
    I suppose one key to our doing better is a thoughtful, prayerful bishop inclined to call (or to hear suggestions to call) a thoughtful, prayerful, and informed teacher who has the gentle strength to direct a more substantive discussion without letting it enter unfruitful cul-de-sacs or wild tangents. Maybe a group of Saints known to be faithful rather than rabble-rousing could ask to visit with the Bishop with your series of questions as the agenda. The Bishop may not know what the New Mormon History is, and at least in our present circumstances I am not sure that is necessary. But such a group plausibly could nonetheless have an authentic discussion about what ought to comprise a good Sunday School class, designed to promote a thoughtful faith. Our God, if worthy of our worship, is a God of truth, who thus, I believe, encourages our pursuit of truth. God chastened Job not because he questioned, but because (behind his angry rhetorical questions) he accused God. And yet God ranked Job above his friends who failed to question. They were sure—and they were wrong—that they already knew the truth. So it isn’t authentic inquiry as such that tends toward the erosion of faith. Without faithful inquiry, spiritual growth is not possible. Indeed, faith by itself, although necessary, is not necessarily good. Terrorists who fly jets into tall buildings full of innocent people have deep faith. What is required for mature spiritual health, however, is a thoughtful and even self-critical faith, which includes faithful inquiry.
    I know of no way to encourage this in our wards in our current climate beyond modeling, all the while making our faithfulness, tolerance, and love transparent, our service devout and genuine. Perhaps talking with the Bishop about good classes. Being willing to serve where, in good conscience, you can. Asking good questions in class to try to seed the conversation may also be good, but in most wards the conversation is not likely to catch wind unless a good teacher is directing things.

    BTW – Is JWL Jeff Lindsay? The post made in this thread and the post on chaism sound a lot like him. Does anyone know?

  57. Nate Oman
    April 22, 2005 at 4:07 pm

    Stephanie: Just because one has low expectations about church with regard to the sophistication of its intellectual content does not mean that it is not worth the time. There is more (much, much, much more) to life than intellectual sophistication. First and foremost, there is the sacrament and the renewal of covenants. Secondarily, there is the opprotunity to serve others and the kingdom through callings and participation. Finally, there is the cultivation of genuine solidarity and community with others. Without covenants, service, and community one’s religion becomes solipcistic, excluding others, including — by the failure to renew covenants — God himself.

    You really ought to go to church.

  58. Greg Call
    April 22, 2005 at 4:12 pm

    CJS: JWL is not Jeff Lindsay.

  59. CJS
    April 22, 2005 at 4:17 pm

    Thanks Greg.

  60. Nate Oman
    April 22, 2005 at 4:20 pm

    Is CJS really Corpus Juris Secundum? I just wanted to let you know that you are one of my favorite legal encyclopedias. Much more useful than Am.Jur.

  61. gst
    April 22, 2005 at 4:26 pm

    Nate, you’re having a law review bluebooking flashback. Deep breaths.

  62. Nate Oman
    April 22, 2005 at 4:31 pm

    I actually use CJS and Am.Jur fairly frequently. There are a large number of issues for which 15 minutes looking at actual law books — with covers and pages and stuff — is better than 30-45 min on Westlaw.

  63. April 22, 2005 at 4:32 pm

    One possible explanation as to why there is no formal forum at the Ward or Stake level to discuss doubts among members, is because of the high risk of such forums turning into gripe and whine sessions and places for gossip, back-biting, hyper-criticism, and so forth (not unlike what happens at online forums devoted to such ends). The benefits of it being a positive thing may be outweighed by the greater potential disbenefit of it being a negative thing.

    Another possible explanation is the focus of the Church is rightly on growing in faith, rather than removing all doubts. And, that growth is often more a function of doing, rather than ruminating. In my own experience, whatever doubts have arisen to my mind, often are dispelled or become inconsequential when I am actively engaged in doing for others rather than just thinking about myself.

    Just some thoughts.

    Thanks, -Wade Englund-

  64. maria
    April 22, 2005 at 5:42 pm

    Re: Comment #51 Minerva

    Maybe it depends on the ward. But the past 3 wards I’ve been in were all about the snooze in RS. I’ve thought maybe it had something to do with women knowing less/feeling like they know less about the scriptures/doctrine than the men, maybe because more men serve missions than women?

    I do remember my singles ward RSs were at least a little bit more engaging…as far as trying to apply teachings to personal lives, etc. Of course, there were a lot more women that served missions in that setting than in my current uber-MoMo ward.

    Has there ever been a thread (or thread-jack) about not encouraging women to serve missions as a form of keeping women uninformed about doctrine/policy/adminstration/etc.? I mean, an argument can definitely be made that a faithful non-missionary woman could learn just as much as a missionary man through diligent personal study, but having 2 years devoted soley to study/ adminstration is kind of hard to beat. What married mother of 3-4 children can spend 2.5 hours a day in personal study and 10 hours in formal doctrinal teaching situations? Hmmm….

  65. Chad Too
    April 22, 2005 at 6:59 pm

    One of my favorite mission memories was Mission Conference one time where Elder Adney Komatsu of the Seventy was touring the mission. I was the President’s secretary at the time so the task of setting up most of the meeting (opening and closing prayers, special music, etc.) fell to me. I was also assigned to prepare the printed program. I asked President Matsumori for the details which he provided except to say that I should simply list the second half of the program as “under the direction of Elder Adney Y. Komatsu,” which I did.

    Elder Komatsu didn’t take the pulpit, but rather a handheld microphone. He walked down to the floor to a chalkboard on wheels I’d placed there at his request.

    This next part is his verbatim that will be forever burned into my memory:
    “Elders and Sisters, I know missionaries and I know that every one of you has told yourself, ‘If I ever had the chance to ask a General Authority a question, it would be ________.’ You have 90-minutes. Go.”

    Once the stun wore off, we all leaped into action. I don’t think any seminary scripture chaser could have been faster in looking up verses than we were that day in the Kichijoji Ward Chapel. He took all of our questions and didn’t duck one of them.

    I wish there were more opportunities for such things among the general membership.

  66. Lorin Hansen
    April 22, 2005 at 7:08 pm


    Nate expressed my feelings as well. By low expectations I was refering to the intellectual content of the lessons. I go to church, first for the sacramental covenant, second to hear and feel the message of sacrament meeting talks, third, to enjoy the association with the members, and finally for the contact concerning priesthood responsibilities. I tend not to go to SS, even though we usually have commendable teachers, because I either feel terribly frustrated if I don’t speak about what I am thinking, or I speak and feel like I am disrupting the teacher. Either way I go away feeling upset. Fortunately, in our ward, we have spare rooms, so I attend a class that studies advanced topics, which usually has an attendance of one.

    The good part of the story is that we live in a time when intellectually uplifting and inspiring materials are in great abundance. There isn’t enough time to sample it all. There never has been a time when it was easier to interact with quality people who know so much. I am amazed by the people you can interact with by the Internet. So my philosophy is to take from and give to the Church all the good you can, and then participate in all the other activities and do all the other reading on your own, to the extent you have time. In that respect, it’s a great time to be alive.

    There is the negative side of the story, but don’t forget the positive side.


  67. Stephanie
    April 22, 2005 at 7:26 pm

    Thanks Lorin and Nate. I do go to church most Sundays, work hard in my calling, and try not to be selfish, but sometimes going to church is a huge drag and incredibly frustrating. Sorry for whining. It’s just as boring to listen to whiners as it is to listen to regurgitated Sunday School lessons.

  68. Ben H
    April 22, 2005 at 9:52 pm

    Stephanie, Thank you for going to church! We need you with us.

  69. Anna
    April 23, 2005 at 4:52 pm

    There seems to be some consensus that bringing up specific difficult issues in church is problematic. However, what I see as a deeper concern is that the general church atmosphere may make doubters deeply uncomfortable, possibly amplifying their doubts about the Church. The assumption that everyone attending Church believes plunges the doubter into a mess of not-particularly-fun emotions:

    Isolation: Everyone else seems to believe this, but I have some concerns. They don’t even seem aware of the potential problems. No one understands me.

    Fear: What would happen to me if I mentioned some of my issues? People might not even be sympathetic; they might think I must be sinning, or point out that doubt is a tool of Satan.

    Guilt: What’s wrong with me that I can’t believe this the way everyone else seems to? How come they can know and I can’t? Maybe I just need to work harder.

    Frustration: I’ve tried to work harder, and I don’t seem to be getting anywhere. How come it’s always *my* fault?

    Resentment/envy: It doesn’t seem fair that all these other people can know and I can’t, with seemingly less effort and anguish.

    Guilt part B: I guess it’s not good to feel frustrated, resentful, and envious about this. And there’s pride implicit in all those emotions as well.

    Impostor complex: Everyone thinks I know, but I actually don’t. I’m a fraud. Maybe, especially given all the other agonizing emotions church subjects me to, it would be more honest and less painful for me just not to come at all.

  70. Jonathan Green
    April 23, 2005 at 6:55 pm

    Stephanie: Sorry, I shouldn’t have posted in haste. I was intending something more like Nate said, and how he said it.

  71. Blake
    April 23, 2005 at 7:25 pm

    I think that Anna has hit upon my concern about not having a safe place to openly and honestly discuss doubts — the facade and atmosphere of dishonesty about what we really believe and feel when we are Church meeting contexts (and again I am open to the possibility that it is just me being judgmental and it is really my problem). There is a veneer, a polite facade to maintain peace and spirit. I am not saying that peace and spirit are not important, I am saying that honesty, openness and being genuine are equally important. I once simply answered a question that was asked of me in a priesthood meeting that called for me to honestly state that I accept evolution of homonids and it sent about 3 members into a frenzy of saving the Church from evil evolution. I simply refused to pretend not to believe what I do. Now I don’t advocate evolution. I advocate maintaining a spirit of loving acceptance and respect in our discussions. It is my experience that the spirit of love withdraws in the context of being closed to our true beliefs and concerns.

    For Stephanie, with whom I can relate totally, I have an observation about my own Church-going experience. I used to be bored out of my gourd in meetings. I believed that no one could really teach me what I didn’t know or hadn’t already heard 1,000 times. Did the Bishop really believe that the 14 year old would say something worth listening to? Then I had a change of heart. I decided to go in support and to give love rather than to be entertained or to be taught. I made a discovery. Everyone has something to teach me — and sometimes it’s lessons I don’t want to learn.

    We had a young man about 16 who is somewhat mentally slow give a talk on prayer in sacrament meeting. He read a talk that he had written himself, and because he couldn’t read well listening was tedious. But listen I did. I learned a great deal about prayer that day — more than I had ever learned listening to GAs talk. I learned about simple faith and that simple speaking is powerful. I now go to Church meetings simply to be there for others. My experience has been transformed. The talks are not only better, they are fulfilling and edifying. I have learned more by listening to and watching the good saints in my ward than I knew was there. Church meetings are not about their entertainment value — they are about sharing and supporting and learning together. Anyway — for what it is worth.

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