Faith, Hope, and Charity in an Age of Doubt

Once upon a time, the topic of inoculation was all the rage in the Bloggernacle. Too late for that now; the epidemic is upon us and its primary symptom, doubt, has become a standard feature of LDS discourse. The latest discussion is Patrick Mason’s new book Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt, co-published by the Maxwell Institute and Deseret Book. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, so instead I’m going to point you to Boyd Peterson’s post “What To Do If Someone You Know Is Going Through A Faith Crisis.”

Here is what you should take from Boyd’s post: The biggest problem about a faith crisis is *not* that one person or one couple finds their confidence in LDS truth claims suddenly shrinking or simply gone. The biggest challenge is how friends, family, and local leaders react in the face of another’s faith crisis. While a few thousand Latter-day Saints may find themselves in a faith crisis, many more face the challenge of responding well (with faith, hope, and charity rather than innuendo and rejection) to someone else’s faith crisis. For every Mormon with a mote of doubt in her eye, dozens are at risk of a beam of judgment or rejection. So one way or another, this is everybody’s problem. It’s my problem. It’s your problem.

Here are a few quick highlights and suggestions from the essay for dealing with someone else’s faith crisis:

  • Don’t freak out. “If you react with anger or you let your own emotions overpower you, that loved one is going to feel like he or she can’t be honest with you and future talk about faith is over before it’s even begun.”
  • Don’t judge, don’t preach, just listen. “Preaching is the last thing they want to hear. It is guaranteed to shut down the conversation. And bearing your testimony to them can come off as condescending and presumptuous. Just listen.”
  • Preserve the relationship. “Just as God doesn’t withhold love on the basis of what one believes, neither should we. Don’t let this change come between you and your friend or loved one. Extend more love, not less.”

Boyd gives more suggestions in the full essay. It would be nice to hear from readers who have given or received love and encouragement in the face of a Mormon faith crisis, whether theirs or another’s.

9 comments for “Faith, Hope, and Charity in an Age of Doubt

  1. I thought Boyd’s piece was quite good, especially in speaking to the friends, family and leaders. Having spent time on both (all?) sides of these discussions, I would suggest that from the doubter’s point of view it would be helpful to put a little more emphasis on “don’t think or act like there is only one possible outcome” or “allow room for different answers.” It’s there, implicit (and arguably explicit in “Don’t judge, don’t preach”) in Boyd’s essay, but it’s such a hard lesson to learn or hear that (I think) it needs more punch. We doubters shy away from conversations where we think we know the whole dialogue before it begins.

  2. I generally agree, provided, the faith crisis is genuine and not an attempt to dissuade others from believing or continuing to believe.

  3. ji,
    I don’t think those two things are mutually exclusive. Someone can be in the midst of a genuine faith crisis that has deeply hurt them and want others to avoid that hurt. Not everyone who wants others to stop believing is being disingenuous.

  4. Boyd’s post is great.

    Let me add: don’t tell them to “just have faith.” (I get the sense that local leaders do this quite often, perhaps because they simply don’t have any other insight, perspective, knowledge, or framing to offer.)

    If they are in a faith crisis, they are in a situation where their faith is *not* sufficient to go mano a mano with Book of Abraham historicity or whatever. If it were, they wouldn’t be in the crisis! Telling them to “just have faith” is about as helpful as telling a person to “just have food” during a famine. It’s also a violation of the admonition to seek learning BY STUDY as well as by faith (D & C 88:118).

  5. I (and some others) were “called” to assist those going through such faith crises under the direction of our Stake President. We didn’t receive direction or even get set apart (since its not an official calling). We could get a blessing from him if we wanted (and I did). We had both men and women and each had their area of experience, whether it was history, doctrine or other. Once the person was referred, there was no official follow-up or reporting and no time-frames given. The President only asked us (I’m assuming us, since there were only one-on-one meetings with him or telephone calls) to let him know if something major happened. There was a high success rate in helping those who were willing to call us. There were those of course, who didn’t. The most rewarding call I ever had. My rule of thumb was to simply listen and my only request was for them to tell me what they were reading (or watching online) so that I could do it with them. Occasionally, FARMS or FAIR material was helpful, many times not. Boyd’s essay was good and I can’t recommend Patrick’s book highly enough. None of those I helped are “back” where they were, but what they have found is more solid that what they had before, although it is in more limited areas. I’m confident that life will build on that over time. This is a great program. Frankly, the President hasn’t made many referrals lately. People have kind of gotten over the “fad” or they’re dealing with it in their own way (although those who made an exodus have only rarely come back).

  6. Thanks for the story, Anon (#6). Bravo for your local leaders for taking a positive and active approach to help people in that stake. I understand why it is so rare that local leaders take an active response like this given (1) a penchant for denying and ignoring rather than acknowledging a doubt crisis in a particular ward or stake; and (2) the difficulty in recognizing that the usual line of counseling, bishops and stake presidents, don’t have answers to provide and are often inclined to implement a “preach, don’t listen” response rather than a “don’t preach, just listen” tactic.

  7. Dave, one thing in particular the people I worked with have mentioned . . . they expected me to hand them 20 pages of answers and I listened and guided them to material that was more trustworthy than that which had been edited in an intellectually dishonest manner. That’s a problem many with faith crises don’t acknowledge.

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