A Letter to a Friend

Below is the text of a letter that I wrote about a year ago to a close friend who was in the midst of a crisis of faith.  I have edited it to remove any identifying information:

Dear Friend,

It was a pleasure to talk with you earlier.  I am sorry to hear about the spiritual and intellectual difficulties that you have been struggling with.  You are — quite literally — in my prayers.  I have thought a great deal about what you told me of your struggles with faith and the Restoration.  I hesitate to offer any advice or “solutions” to your difficulties, both because I don’t know precisely what troubles you and because I realize that when one opens up the hurting parts of one’s soul often a sympathetic listener rather than a fix-it guy is what is of most value.  With that apology, let me offer a couple of thoughts.

I don’t think that a faithful life is something that flows out of a full theological reconciliation.  That is, I don’t think that we are tasked with answering all of our theological questions and doubts and only once that reconciliation has been effected commit ourselves to living a faithful life.  I realize that this runs counter to much of the rhetoric in the church, rhetoric that is borrowed in large part from our proselytizing efforts.  According to this model, one is given a revelation of the truthfulness of the gospel in all its particulars, a revelation that gives one a sure testimony, and it is the surety of that testimony that then carries one through a faithful life.  I don’t want to detract from this narrative, because I am quite sure that for many it is true.  One of the gifts of the spirit described in the Doctrine & Covenants is a sure knowledge or belief in the truth of the gospel.  But I take it that like other gifts, this one is not vouched safe to everyone.  Others do not have this sure conviction, but rather live in faith.  They have doubts and difficulties but orient themselves hopefully toward the gospel, accepting that we now see as in a glass darkly but trust (literally trust, hope, etc.) that in the end all will be made clear and any errors in belief will be forgiven.  I suspect that this describes the lives of most faithful Latter-day Saints.  Something like this describes my own faith.

If the decision to live life as a faithful Latter-day Saint, however, does not rest on a sure conviction of the truth of all theological particulars, then why live it?  I can think of at least four reasons, which I put in what I take to be their order of importance.  The first is revelation.  Even if one is not given a revelation that reconciles all difficulties and explains all questions, this does not mean that revelation is not real.  However, what is revealed is not the absolute truthfulness of the Book of Mormon or something like that.  Rather, what is revealed is that God desires that you live your life in a particular way.  I cannot say that I am without questions or doubts regarding all of the particulars of Mormon theology.  I cannot say that God has revealed the absolute truth of this or that questionable teaching to me.  On the other hand, I do believe that God has called me to live the life that I am living.  I believe that God has called me to live as a faithful Latter-day Saint, to keep the commandments, raise my children to be good Mormons, serve in the church, and support the authorities that God has called to carry out this part of his work.  In other words, my commitment to the life of a Latter-day Saint comes prior to any final theological reconciliation and rests on a revelation from God.

The second basis is covenant.  I have made promises before God, angels, and witnesses at baptism, in the temple, through priesthood ordinations, and through the sacrament.  I believe that these covenants provide a reason for living a particular life that again comes prior to any detailed theological reconciliation.  I believe in the reality of God and the reality and seriousness of those promises to him.  I understand that I could tell myself a story about the church in which the covenants are frauds, empty rituals carried out be deluded but nice fanatics.  While I can articulate this story, however, it simply rings hollow to me.  I cannot make it feel real.  On the other hand, the covenants feel real to me, and when I contemplate abandoning them, I cannot help but feel the spirit testifying to me that I will be held responsible if I do so.  Again, I understand that one might simply psychologize these experiences but my interpretation feels truer to me.  It cuts closer to the joints of my experience, and I am willing to wager my life on that understanding.

The third basis is identity.  I am a Mormon.  I understand that I could abandon this.  It would be painful to my family and my friends — or at least some of them — but it is certainly possible.  When I say it is my identity it is not that I am clinging to a persona because of the fear of those consequences.  Rather, my experiences in life are such that were I to cease being a Latter-day Saint it would require that I become someone quite different than I have hitherto been.  I don’t want to do this.  I believe that there is some dignity in being a Mormon and it is who I am.  I think that there is some integrity in maintaining that identity, and it is something I choose to do.

The fourth basis is community.  I am not convinced that Mormons are an exceptional group of moral heroes.  We have lots of hypocrites and just plain human weakness, a lot more than we are comfortable admitting to ourselves.  On the other hand, Mormons are good people.  I love them.  Their god is my god, and I have promised to bear them up, to comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and be with them.  And they have made the same promises to me.  I am tied to the Latter-day Saints not just by my own identity as a Mormon, but by affection and by a set of covenants to them.  It is a relationship that is like — but obviously only like — a marriage.  This is a people where I am at home, and it is a people that I take to be engaged in a great and good cause, the cause of building Zion in the last days.  I figure that we don’t do a very good job of it most of the time, and we too often get distracted.  On the other hand, I am inclined to be charitable toward them in the hope that they will be charitable toward me.  And by and large they have been.

This I suppose is my overly long way of suggesting that rather than approaching your crisis of faith in terms of the reconciliation of theological difficulties that you ask instead what kind of life you should live, and in particular does God want you to live not simply a good or a moral life but a faithful life as a Latter-day Saint.  It seems that one can come to a conviction upon that without first reconciling all one’s theological or historical questions.  Thinking through my own experience in light of what you told me the other day, I think that this is where I largely come out.  There are things that I am puzzled or troubled by, but these things are not really existential challenges to me.  I don’t think that this is because I have some super, slam-dunk apologetic argument.  There are some things that I have sort-of, kind-of ways of reconciling.  I have some things for which I have answers that satisfy me.  I have some things that I am simply puzzled by.  I am comfortable with a certain amount of doubt, I suppose, because I take it that I have all sorts of other reasons for living life as a faithful Latter-day Saint, reasons that I take to be powerful and legitimate.

I don’t know if any of this is useful to you.  As I noted at the outset, I am hesitant to try to offer you a “solution” rather than a listening ear and to the extent that what I have written above sounds trite or self-satisfied or simply too Nate-centric, I apologize.  I think that you are a good person.  You have been an important example to me in my life, and I hope and pray that you can find a way through your difficulties.  Please let me know if there is anything I can do or if you just want to talk some more.

Best wishes,


37 comments for “A Letter to a Friend

  1. December 20, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    Nate, this is exactly what I needed today. Thank you so much for posting this; this has really helped me reframe some of the dilemmas over which I’ve been agonizing for a while, and has helped me consider possible solutions. Thank you thank you thank you!

  2. Matt Jacobsen
    December 20, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    Nice letter, Nate. I feel pretty much the same as you. But I’ve also noticed that the holding power of these four aspects have varied in my life. I don’t think they’ve ever been strong at the same time. I sometimes envy that condition. And it may be just a fluke that they’ve never all been weak at the same time either.

  3. Nate Oman
    December 20, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    Matt: that is a nice point. I think that the strength of our subjective response to any of these reasons is often an accident of temperament, circumstances, and biography. This may make the reasons seem less legitimate. I don’t think so, however. I think that there is a difference between whether particular reasons provide a valid justification for living a particular life and whether the reasons in fact motivate one to live that life. I do think that the ebb and flow of contingency is a good thing to remember in the dark moments of the soul. This too will (or at any rate might) pass.

  4. Nate Oman
    December 20, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    Binary: Glad that it helped. I have been debating for a while turning this letter into a blog post. Hope it proves useful.

  5. Adam G.
    December 20, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    May God and the angels strengthen your friend, I pray.

  6. Howard
    December 20, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    This is good because it manages to avoid many common pitfalls but not all of them. Rather, what is revealed is that God desires that you live your life in a particular way. Maybe. Maybe not. Simple hot/cold revelation requires a lot of parsing to avoid misunderstanding, a task few Mormons seem to get to. Assuming you assumption is correct; which way? The gospel’s way or the church’s way. Now I realize there’s some overlap but that means there is some non-overlap as well. The problem many face is the current church is pharisaical, Mosaic and occasionally less than truthful. Each of these represent a class of landmines that when encountered have the power to blow a limb off off one’s testimony often leaving them with the bitter taste of betrayal.

    Covenants are good but temporary as they are a substitute for connection. Pursue your own relationship with God and you won’t need a church to broker it for you with a bunch of silly rules.

    The problem with LDS identity and community is that it is an exclusive club not an inclusive community unless of course you show the slightest potential interest in possibly, maybe, you’re not sure joining.

  7. Nate Oman
    December 20, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    Howard: No.

  8. Matt Astle
    December 20, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    I appreciated this, and I’d add one more point: Living life as a faithful Latter-day Saint generally leads to happiness. Whether or not the commandments are “true” in the sense that they are ordained by God, more often than not, if you follow them, you’ll be happier than if you didn’t follow them. I could go around being mean and selfish, but I wouldn’t be as happy as I would being nice and generous. Imagine how much less suffering there would be in the world if no one drank alcohol (no drunk driving accidents, a lot less domestic violence, fewer regrettable choices, etc.), even if many parties wouldn’t be quite as much fun. Even regular prayer – regardless of whether God actually exists and listens to it – is an opportunity for self-reflection and goal-setting if nothing else. I suppose there are some theological points of belief that don’t have a direct bearing on my happiness, but taking the action of keeping the commandments is generally in my own self-interest.

  9. Steve Smith
    December 20, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    Nate, thanks for the thoughtful post. I appreciate your sympathy towards those with faith crises and how you stress the behaving and belonging aspects as more important than the believing aspect of religion. I can certainly value your explanation for being an active member of the church; however, as one who can deeply empathize with your friend (at least I’m just assuming from context that his faith crisis is related to doctrinal positions of the church) the one question that I have that I have never been able to answer myself or hear anyone answer in a way that has persuaded me is why is it so necessary to be active, especially when you find that your beliefs and worldviews that you have come to adopt based on your own life experiences no longer correspond with the status quo beliefs and worldviews of the Mormon community at large?

    So to play the devil’s advocate and address your reasons for belonging and behaving despite doubt: First, I see revelation more as personal inspiration that can come in a variety of forms more than directly hearing God’s words. In other words I think that God speaks a much superior language and I am like a 3-year old trying to understand Him. In can’t really know things without my own personal trial and error-based experimentation.

    Second, I don’t believe that one needs an earthly institution in order to make covenants with God. Sure, the covenant with the church may be understood and valued as a covenant with God. But I don’t feel like I am violating a covenant with God by choosing to not attend church anymore or pay ten percent of my income to it.

    Third, being a Mormon has certainly been an important part of my identity, but alas I feel like I have multiple identities that come into play in different ways under different circumstances. I feel like I don’t need to assert my Mormonness in the conventional belief-based or even behavior-based way that the leadership and core membership think that it needs to be. I get the sense from some liberal Mormons that a sort of reform Mormon identity (much like a reform Jewish identity) is possible, even if it frowned upon by the LDS church.

    Lastly, the LDS community is great, by and large. But sometimes because of the stark differences of worldview that exist between me and the core community, it can be a bit of a burden at times and something that I don’t feel like belonging to, at least at full capacity. Besides there are lots of other communities that exist that I can belong to fill that void. Also I feel like I don’t have to give back to the church community per se in order to be able give back to society. There are many other ways to do that.

    That said, one’s reasons for belonging are personal and voluntary, and I think that your approach is definitely effective at persuading many in faith crises to stay active.

  10. Nate Oman
    December 20, 2012 at 7:33 pm

    Steve: I think we disagree about the nature of covenants. I don’t think that they are promises to God that we author. Rather, I think that they are a kind of status authored by God. Those that require his authority include the Priesthood. Temple covenants, for example, are not promises that one happens to make in a temple nor are we the author of their content.

  11. Steve Smith
    December 20, 2012 at 8:47 pm

    Nate, so in essence you’re saying that believing the church’s main legitimacy claim is a core component of activity, although belief concerning doctrinal claims is more flexible. In other words, the belief that the LDS church is God’s church and that God directly revealed saving ordinances to Joseph Smith, thus being the author of the covenants and not JS, is part of parcel of being Mormon. Yes indeed we do disagree.

    In cases where faith crises don’t go beyond doubts about somewhat peripheral doctrinal matters (i.e. blacks and the priesthood, polygamy, gender equality, etc.), your approach works: emphasize personal revelation, covenant making, and belonging to a community as the key elements to church life and more important than personal beliefs about doctrines.

    However, what if the faith crisis is over the very nature of God? Then, I think, revelation and covenants don’t have as much meaning. They are explained as social constructions rather than human contact with the divine, either because it is believed that God doesn’t exist or that He just doesn’t function that way. Revelation is then explained more as a simple wind of inspiration, at best, or confirmation bias, at worst, and covenants are explained as authored by humans who simply try to convince others that they are divine. In this case I’m not so sure that your approach of emphasizing the importance of priesthood and covenants (certainly a common theme preached by leaders trying to reactivate) will be as effective.

    That said, if your friend is in the latter camp, then I think that probably a better way to help him stay active is to emphasize the church as a useful vehicle (in that it provides order and an attachment to a community) that can help him reach God, even if one’s strict belonging to an earthly religious institution isn’t necessarily a sine qua non to aspire to the divine.

  12. Ben H
    December 21, 2012 at 12:40 am

    Steve, based on the letter it sounds like while Nate’s friend had doubts about the Church, he still believed in God and saw God as a kind of moral authority. So perhaps Nate’s letter just isn’t going to go very far toward addressing your questions, since it sounds like you are questioning whether God exists and/or gives us moral guidance.

    It seems to me, though, that even with doubts about the nature of God, there is an important difference between seeing moral community as (a) something we choose based on our individual judgment and preferences, versus (b) something that exists to a great extent independent of us as individuals and has a claim on us independent of our personal judgments and preferences. Even if God does not exist, we might think that a moral community has some claim on us and can function as a kind of authority, that part of moral maturity is a willingness to respond to those claims and a recognition of their importance. Personally, I think a big part of why God has moral authority is precisely that he articulates to us the moral claims that our fellow human beings have on us, and calls us to fulfill them.

    In contemporary, consumerist America there are lots of “communities” we can choose to belong to. We can join book clubs and frequent flyer clubs and cooking clubs and what have you. We can join service organizations like the Boy Scouts or Rotary International. But there aren’t many options that are concerned with the well-being of their members in the kind of holistic way that the Church is. The Church is more like a family, on the one hand because it is holistic, but also because it is not fundamentally elective. We don’t choose our parents or our brothers and sisters and cousins. Morality is not elective, and neither is moral community. And I think the Church does a pretty good job of representing and embodying an essential kind of moral community, one that we all need. Covenants are a way of distilling key elements of our responsibilities. Church participation isn’t always comfortable. If it were, how would we grow? and how could it really represent the moral call if it were?

  13. nate
    December 21, 2012 at 8:20 am

    Nate, I think an important key in your letter is this phrase: “However, what is revealed is not the absolute truthfulness of the Book of Mormon or something like that. Rather, what is revealed is that God desires that you live your life in a particular way.”

    I think that many people who receive a testimony of the Book of Mormon interpret it in the wrong way. They interpret the revelation to mean that the BofM is a historically perfect document. But I think what God means when He tells you “The Book of Mormon is true” is that “this is the true path for you. Come unto me through this path, the path of discipleship through the Book of Mormon.”

    Personal revelation is personal. It concerns God’s path for YOU, not for the world. It is a voice saying “come follow me,” and follow me through a particular way. What it does not say is: “you and everyone else have to follow me through this way.”

    But God understood that in our weakness, we would make these false assumptions, and that we would need things spelled out in black and white. Therefore, He helped create alongside His church, a culture of fundamentalism, which would aid in our security of His iron rod: revealing to Joseph Smith “this is the only true church on the face of the earth with which I am well pleased,” and calling prophets who would make statements like: “no one is going to the Celestial Kingdom without the consent of Joseph Smith!”

    Those who have crossed the line from belief in divine fundamentalism to divine pluralism must find a way to live in both worlds if they are Mormons. There is plenty of evidence that God speaks in both fundamentalist and pluralistic ways. That is the nature of our God. This is the meat of the gospel, and those who can’t stomach it have to either kick against the pricks of either fundamentalist or pluralist cultures in the church, leave the church, or embrace that God speaks to us in both tongues in our weakness.

  14. Howard
    December 21, 2012 at 10:24 am

    nate’s “come follow me” rings true to me as a pretty close interpretation of a hot response resulting from simple hot/cold revelation regarding something like Moroni’s challenge. I think it more accurately means continue in this direction of questioning which results in following him. Hot/cold revelation is a response or no response at all which is not the same as “yes” or “no”. But when one receives a no response (cold) the same question can be further parsed by inverting the question to see if it results in a hot response. Careful parsing is necessary to avoid misunderstanding and arrive at a clear understanding of what the revelation actually means.

    Is the church true? This is a question that lacks intelligence but is often suggested with the subconscious goal of conflating the church into one big tithe paying silly rule following membership package along with the truth of the gospel! The church is an organization, teaching materials, missions, buildings and bank accounts etc. It is both true and not true. More importantly, who cares? Religion is largely about social control, the gospel is the divine message of truth and love, the church is just the mortal broker of that message, one of many.

  15. Steve Smith
    December 21, 2012 at 11:38 am

    So if I understand you correctly, Ben, you are making the case that belonging to the LDS church is necessary because it represents THE moral community or a sort of larger moral family that cannot be substituted by outside means. In essence, we may vary in our worldviews as individuals in an LDS community, but those who no longer participate are ultimately in the wrong, because they are going against the family and rejecting the moral orientation that they need. I certainly agree that the LDS church can and does provide an important moral orientation for many of its members. I also agree that people need structure imposed on them from the outside that provides them that orientation. Moreover, I agree that morality is not elective, just like justice. Morality is not chosen, it is embodied. So in essence, morality can be understood as one of the Platonic Forms. But it begs the question, can THE Moral, much like the Justice, really be fully embodied by any single human organization? Or will there always be shortcomings no matter where we turn? Because that is the way that I see the LDS church. It certainly captures a part of the Moral in many ways, but in other ways it falls short (for instance I am not convinced that its policy towards blacks in the past was moral, as is its current policy towards gays). Hence I am still not seeing why belonging to the church is necessary, especially when people disagree over what represents the Moral. It just seems like an option that works for some and doesn’t for others. But that those who so choose to not belong can still have a structure of morality in their lives and help orient others towards the Moral and still find God (whose essence, I understand, as one of the Platonic Forms) through a different path that may or may not involve organized religion.

  16. December 21, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    Beautifully articulated… and we are very similar when it comes to our type of faith.

  17. Cameron N
    December 21, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    Lots of healthy points in these comments, but I have a few quibbles with our terminology. The church is not perfect by any means, but it is *the* official broker of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s why he calls it the Kingdom of God. Sure, he has people behind the scenes promoting truth in all contexts and a few transfigured ninja nephites, but there is in fact *a* kingdom of followers and divine authority.

  18. Howard
    December 21, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    Well I don’t know Cameron N. The church emphasizes and enforces the ten commandments which are Mosaic not Christian while saying little about the beatitudes which are Christian! You would think that *the* broker would maintain greater fidelity to the original than that! Compare what Jesus said to the adulteress to what the Bishop or SP might say to her. What makes #17 so?

  19. Cameron N
    December 21, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    Howard, We may be noticing different things as any two individuals have different spiritual needs at any given time, but I disagree with your portrayal of general and local church leaders.

    A few talks from last conference–very NT, not very Mosaic:
    Help them aim high
    See others as they may become
    The First Great Commandment
    First Observe, Then Serve
    The Atonement
    Learning with Our Hearts
    Becoming a more Christian Christian
    Converted unto the Lord

    About 4-6 talks were fundamentally the same. I don’t see this mosaic/Christian dichotomy that you do. The lesser, preparatory law was still given by Christ and is therefore inherently Christian.

    Also, there are brand new videos about the beautitudes, and they are frequently mentioned and are themes of talks.

    As one who has personally counseled with and confessed sins to local leaders, my experience was quite different from what yours seems to have been. My local leaders acted pretty much the way I envision the Savior might have. I don’t think my own or your own personal experiences in this regard warrant an extrapolation and general evaluation of local leaders’ christian behavior in interviews.

    Sometimes Jesus was sharp with a loving follow-up, sometimes he started gentle and ended with a firm encouragement. I don’t envy anyone in that position, but I’m glad the Spirit can guide them in spite of their shortcomings.

  20. Cameron N
    December 21, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    I might also answer your question, ‘what makes #17 so?’

    The Lord himself’s personal statements
    Priesthood authority
    Fruits of the Spirit and Christ-like acts

    He did say it was ‘the only’ official, approved church, speaking collectively and not to individuals, who are of course imperfect as you know).

    If there is any discrepancy in fidelity between the Latter-Day church and the Ancient church, it is one of contextual organizational differences or individual shortcomings. If members as individuals caught up to the vision and example our leaders have shared, I think you would be quite content.

  21. Truth Lover
    December 21, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    Through all of this give and take, back and forth with the exception of #18, no one mentioned Jesus Christ the Savior of ALL mankind. Did He live? Yes! Is He who He said He is? Yes! Did He do what He said He would do? Yes! Did He say “Come unto Me?” Yes! Did He show the way? Yes! Then, we can either follow the path or we can ignore the path. But we will not “Come unto [Him]” if we choose to ignore the path. I have lived a long time and have heard nearly all of the excuses for “not following”. Jesus Christ IS our Savior and Redeemer. His way is the ONLY way!

  22. December 21, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    The letter is marvelous and I hope it proves helpful to Nate’s friend.

    I’ve been in mortality for many years, more than most who blog. I mention this because I go back far enough that I can remember a time in Utah when a divorce in the stake was shocking news.

    I’ve spent the last five years trying to help church members who are struggling with their faith.

    Recently, I learned about a young couple I’ve known for many years who left the church. The father is working on an advanced degree, mother is a very creative and loving individual. The father is an RM, both of them have served faithfully in the church all their lives.

    Last year they decided to study church history on the internet. Within two months they announced to their family they were leaving the church. They explained why, and then said they were getting a bonus, a 10% raise and Sundays off.

    Another family member followed their lead and he too has announced he no longer believes. Their parents are crushed.

    This breaks my heart!

    This brings me to my experience in the bloggernacle. In the summer of 2007 I decided to explore what church members where doing on the internet. I found By Common Consent and Times and Seasons on my first google search.

    In short order I learned that the kind of experiences the Lord has given me are uncommon and unwelcome in the bloggernacle.

    Now to my point for commenting on Nate’s post.

    I’ll use a continuum to briefly discuss revelation as I’ve experienced it. Consider a continuum with the left side labeled Subtle and the right side Unmistakable.

    I think most of us can understand subtle revelation because we’ve experienced it. This kind of revelation acts on our hearts and minds, our feelings.

    It is easy to make a mistake with subtle revelation, it takes time and experience to know how to make it a useful part of our life. And even then, we’re can make mistakes. This form of revelation is the foundation of my testimony for the Book of Mormon and many other aspects of my spiritual development. Along the way I’ve made mistakes but none of the mistakes have been serious. I think about it like a toddler going from crawling to toddling to walking to running.

    Unmistakable revelation is apparently experienced less often and therefore is not very well understood in the church. I’ve had many experiences with this form of revelation. I’ve been astounded at the way the Lord has communicated with using this form of revelation.

    I’ve tried to understand why. My experiences started in my teens. A time when I was inactive in the church but active in the ways of the world. I’d been drafted and on was on my way to Viet Nam. With the war facing me, I uttered a sincere but brief prayer, asking if there was anything to the stories I’d learned at church about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. Within hours the Lord provided me with an unmistakable answer to prayer-the veil was parted and I learned a few things about evil spirits and the power of God.

    When I’ve needed help the Lord has answered my prayers using both subtle and unmistakable methods of revelation.

    My purpose in relating this is to increase faith. I’ve learned in an unmistakable answer to prayer, that I need to testify of my experiences to church members and not fear ridicule. I believe this is part of the reason the Lord chose to give me (and others who have this gift) these kinds of experiences.

    I believe the gifts of the Spirit are alive in the church in our day, but anemic and diminishing. The gifts are not centered in the leadership of the church, they are generously spread throughout the membership of the church.

    At this Christmas season, I bear my witness that the church we belong to is what it claims to be: the church of Jesus Christ of latter day saints. Joseph Smith is a prophet as are all those who have followed. In our day, we understand better than in the past, their fallibility and what the Lord meant when He said there is opposition in all things.

    In the early 1970’s, after having an Enos like experience, the Lord brought about circumstances that allowed me to learn many of the things about church history that are available today with a click of the mouse. I was greatly discomforted, but it wasn’t possible for my faith to be disturbed because of the sacred and unmistakable experiences the Lord had given me.

    I implore those who are struggling with faith to turn to the Lord and plead with Him for His intervention. Fast and pray and seek the Lord with all diligence to acquire the kind of faith needed to see you through your mortal experience.

    God Bless Nate’s friend and any others who are struggling with faith.

  23. Howard
    December 21, 2012 at 6:02 pm

    I appreciate your view Cameron. I am not opposed to the church or it’s leaders and believe the church has much good to offer but I tend to be more aware of and sensitive to the problems than many members seem to be. I enjoy discussion that puts both the church and it’s leaders in perspective like we are doing here. I would love to see the church improve in these areas. There is progress of course, the church’s new website on gays stating gays “do not choose” is quite a change from what we’ve heard in some past GCs on the subject. I’ve been through the church disciplinary process and I know several others who have but no one after committing adultery reported hearing “neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” or words to that affect from their Bishops or SPs did you?

    I have a very strong testimony of Joseph’s story and the restoration via personal revelation. Since Joseph directed the formation of the Twelve Apostles I accept the Priesthood authority of the LDS church following Joesph’s death. But authority is not power, authority is authorization. The power of God comes from God not from those who ordain you and he can and does extend his power to others outside the official lines of LDS authority. I personally know several non-member women who exercise more of God’s power than any LDS ordained Priesthood holder I have met. The same is true of the Spirit and spiritual gifts. No matter how the church apologists spin the wording the church has no monopoly on the Spirit, spiritual gifts or God’s power. As a result the church is simply one of his marketing channels. An important one, a good one but there are many others. Other channels teach truths ignored by the church; for instance Mormons have a long history of suffering and they love their suffering to the point that they will not accept that Buddha explained suffering and guess what? It’s optional! The truth is without conflation much if not all of the “this is the only true church” assertion falls apart!

  24. Martin
    December 21, 2012 at 10:01 pm

    Nate, I’m glad you published this letter — I can’t help but think that others might be able to use it, and it’s nice to have it google-searchable.

  25. Annie
    December 21, 2012 at 10:31 pm

    Nate said: “I think we disagree about the nature of covenants. I don’t think that they are promises to God that we author. Rather, I think that they are a kind of status authored by God. Those that require his authority include the Priesthood. Temple covenants, for example, are not promises that one happens to make in a temple nor are we the author of their content.”

    My hang up is I don’t know what to think about covenants. I haven’t had an affirming experience or revelation or whatever you want to call it that makes me believe they are authored by God. So how do you reach the conclusion that covenants are authored by God and not by us?

  26. Steve Smith
    December 22, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    Truth Lover (21), you’re begging the question, can’t one follow the path of Jesus Christ without being a member of an organized religion? When you say that Jesus showed the way, showed the way to what?

  27. Steve Smith
    December 22, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    Jared, you write: “When I’ve needed help the Lord has answered my prayers using both subtle and unmistakable methods of revelation.”

    What exactly is revelation? Is it just personal inspiration that you yourself generate from within? Or is it an external ethereal entity communicating with you by stimulating your emotions in a way that you could not do on your own? My point is how do you know that the answers to your prayers aren’t just a product of confirmation bias?

  28. Steve Smith
    December 22, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    And one last thing (sorry to be posting so many times in a row), I just thought of another paradox in relation to the idea that church activity is necessary out of loyalty to the larger family (which Ben H #12 seems to be promoting). That is that the very LDS institution itself (both its high-ranking leadership and the overwhelming majority of its core membership) favors loyalty to the church over loyalty to family. Only in some cases do leaders discourage someone from joining the church, such a Muslim who may face threats of being disowned or worse from their family and peers for conversion. Both the church overwhelmingly encourages people to join the church and remain loyal to it even if that person’s family and community strongly disapproves of their conversion and continued attachment to the LDS church. So if the church encourages people to remain faithful to the LDS church even if they offend friends and family in the process, then it would be paradoxical for the church to discourage people from leaving the church simply because they might offend their fellow LDS family or friends. There needs to be a better explanation for why being an active LDS person is necessary.

  29. Sonny
    December 22, 2012 at 3:49 pm

    Steve #27,

    “My point is how do you know that the answers to your prayers aren’t just a product of confirmation bias?”

    I’m fairly certain I can most of the time. However, I could never explain it in a way that would pass muster for you.

  30. Sonny
    December 22, 2012 at 3:52 pm

    … and I REALLY internally scrutinize whether something is an answer or confirmation bias as you say. I’m not one to reflexively claim this or that is an answer.

  31. Sonny
    December 22, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    Okay, now I’m the one posting many times in a row. Sorry.

    Let me rephrase my two earlier comments: I would say a good number of times I am unsure as to whether something is a direct answer to prayer or not, at least as it pertains to direction in my daily life. Some things I have a much greater degree of confidence that I have received an answer to prayer than other things. Same goes to certain foundational claims of the church I have prayed about/experienced. So when I feel that something is an answer to prayer, I have a high degree of confidence that it is, but when I am not sure I tell myself I’m not sure and I act/behave accordingly. But again, it is something that I am not even going to try to persuade you to understand or accept.

  32. Howard
    December 22, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    Following a 2003 spontaneous kundalini awaking I enjoy easy access to the Spirit including monitions that could only be from a non-mortal intelligance. Example a monition received during prayerful meditation that a death had just occured in my livingroom, so I drove 20 min. home to find bird feathers all over the room – the cats had scored a humming bird! Example a monition to visit my sister NOW! I drive 1 1/2 hrs. to find her unconscious, she never recoverd and died soon after. There are many more and no false ones.

  33. December 22, 2012 at 5:55 pm

    #27 Steve

    What is revelation?

    Ways that Heavenly Father communicates with humankind.

    The Lord has revealed to the prophets that because of the fall of Adam humankind are spiritually dead. This means we are cut off from Him not having revealtion. However, he has provided means whereby humankind can receive the gift of Holy Ghost. The 4th Article of Faith explains this process.

    The gift of the Holy Ghost is the means whereby we can be born again, meaning, that we are spiritually alive and can communicate with Heavenly Father by the means of revelation.

    In essence, we worship the Father in the name of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Ghost.

  34. Steve Smith
    December 22, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    Sonny, a couple of questions. First, what do you define as an answer to prayer, an outside entity talking to you (perhaps in a sort of non-verbal communication) or a feeling that you generate yourself? Second, based upon what criteria do you have a “greater degree of confidence” that an answer was received?

    Jared, suppose I claimed a revelation that ran counter to a revelation that you believed you received? How would be parse out who was right and who was wrong?

    Yes I’m playing the devil’s advocate, but I think that LDS people will inevitably encounter these questions, not just from others but within themselves, and I think it is important to really grapple with them.

  35. December 22, 2012 at 7:19 pm

    #34 Steve

    Have you ever had what you believe to be any form of “revelation” from Heavenly Father?

    I think any way you answer this question, yes, maybe, or no, it seems to me that if you will find someone, a Bishop for example, and start at the most basic level, the way a child would, to understand the teachings of how to obtain answers to your prayers, and put into practice these concepts with real intent, you will then know for yourself what it means to receive revelation at some level.

    Less you misunderstand, I’m very sincere about what I just wrote. I am not kidding around or being insincere.

  36. Sonny
    December 22, 2012 at 7:50 pm


    If I felt an answer to prayer is a feeling I generate myself then I wouldn’t think it an answer to prayer.

    And like I said, I have no intention of trying to persuade you as to how I feel something is an answer to prayer vs my own wishful thinking or confirmation bias. I’m not going to play that game with you, because based on your questions there is no acceptable answer short of God Himself presenting himself, or other such manifestation.

  37. Josh C
    December 26, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    First, it’s been great to read the comments here, especially Steve’s thoughtful probing. Re #28 Steve, what is your interpretation of Matthew 10:35-37? Mine is that loyalty to Christ must take precedence over loyalty to family and that such loyalties will be tested during our life. Insofar as I believe the LDS Church to be the only authorized agent for administering the saving ordinances, etc., to me it follows that loyalty to it is largely synonymous with loyalty to Christ.

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