Why The “Just Have Faith” And “Doubt Your Doubts” Response No Longer Works For Honest LDS Members: Understanding The Doubts
If Your Home (Or Church)’s Foundation Was Cracking Would You Ignore It? Would You Have Faith It Would Be OK? Or Would You Panic, Looking Desperately For Solutions And Answers?
This is a real question LDS members face every day in regards to their belief in the LDS church, by members who have taken the time to explore our LDS past and our actual teachings. Some choose to just believe in our troubling, damaged foundation, thinking although damaged it will be OK and not continue to fall apart as more facts come out. For others the problem is too real, they realize the crack indicates a major problem which must be addressed should the home (church) be saved, or even be habitable. Whatever the choice we must be aware a very real problem exists.
How can I help those who have doubts or have lost their faith?
As one who has been both a believer and doubter, as a missionary, parent, sibling, friend, and fellow ward member, nothing is more frustrating, confusing, and depressing than seeing (Or experiencing ourselves) someone we love struggling with their individual faith. Yet despite its common occurrence there has always been an intense communication gap between the believer, questioner, and doubter that has yet to be overcome in our attempts to comprehend each other. Nothing is more disheartening than experiencing or watching a loved one doubt the truth of the church.
As someone who has gone from a being devout believer, to an absolute doubter, back to somewhere in between, I offer my humble thoughts and advice concerning those who experience doubts or have serious gospel questions, and how we can better bridge the communication gap with them during their periods of doubt and spiritual despair. As a member who grew up in the heart of Salt Lake, knows our apostles and prophet on a first name basis, remains active, and has experienced in our church the highest of highs, and lowest of lows, I share my humble insights to those who believe, those who doubt, those who feel lost, and those who wish to help those struggling with their beliefs.
For generations the misunderstandings of those with doubts has broken relationships, divided families, and led to feelings of anger, hostility, and even hatred. Only through sincere communication can the healing process begin for those who have felt blindsided or betrayed by the church they so desperately loved. And only then can faith potentially return…
The Lowest of Lows
There was a time I considered my personal testimony unbreakable, untouchable, and even invincible, as a missionary I mistakenly fell under the same impression concerning those who lose their faith. Surely i thought “they wanted to sin, that they’re filled with the spirit of the devil, that they aren’t reading their scriptures, praying for guidance, and surely they must have read some anti-Mormon literature online”. The truth of the matter as I’ve come to personally learn is quite the opposite…
The reality is a large majority of those who leave the church, have serious doubts, questions, or struggle with their faith, are some of the most faithful and diligent members you will find in the church. They pray intently for guidance, they keep and desire to keep the commandments, they not only read their scriptures for guidance and answers but they go the extra mile to review all church material, yet sadly their doubts arise not from some ridiculous anti-Mormon literature, but from church published materials and doctrines.
They come to discover that anti-Mormon literature is church history, factual events, issues, and doctrines. If you ask most who have doubts where their doubts came from more than likely they’ll tell you things similar to church publications such as: History of the church, Brigham Young discourse journals, Joseph Smith Journals and papers, the 12 church essays, even the Book of Mormon, and other primary church history that you can find on LDS.ORG.
It’s in our nature as LDS saints to make excuses for previous mistakes, and ungodly doctrine
It’s in our nature as members to protect and defend the church’s good name and that of our prophets, yet to do so often requires us to create excuses that are illogical, ungodly, and even contradict our most sacred of doctrines. Those of us who are honest with ourselves recognizes the doctrine contradicts the excuses, and we choose to doubt, leave, or even persecute the church when we see church leaders cover up facts, twist facts, and even at times lie about the facts.
As someone who has been filled with both faith and doubt I believe we need to stop seeing the church in absolute terms, black and white, day and night, for the church has both good and evil in its very foundation. It’s time for those who persecute the church to recognize and admit that although possibly untrue, the church has much good to offer to families and society, and does indeed hold many great truths within it. And on the other hand as members we need to stop thinking of the church as perfect, incapable of teaching us incorrectly or leading us astray in individual principles. The church is not black and white, there are shades of grey within, some for the better good, some for the lesser evil.
“The church is true because…”
I can attest from firsthand experience that there’s nothing more frustrating than the experiencing the communication gap that occurs when having doubts and questions, yet nobody is willing to provide answers or even discuss the issues. We feel abandoned…
One of the most frustrating things to hear as a member with legitimate questions is the typical “do you not remember how you’ve been blessed” statement, “you’ve been so blessed, so the church must be true” idea is one that continues to baffle me. Do I feel the spirit when I read about, see, or feel principles such as: Tithing, Service, Obedience, etc.? OF COURSE I feel the spirit! But does that mean the principle means the church is the one true church? ABSOLUTELY NOT! What it means is the principle is true. Are Catholics blessed for being obedient to Gods laws? YES. But does that mean the Catholic Church is the one true church because the spirit is present when a principle such as tithing or service is followed? NO…
Finding truth: Doubting our doubts ignores legitimate questions, and even more legitimate issues.
As LDS members we are told to “seek spiritual knowledge and truth above all else”, are we not? For wisdom and intelligence “are the glory of God”, and that we are to “learn from our mistakes and ignorance” and “sin no more”. Yet when an LDS saint experiences doubt they are encouraged to ignore all the facts, knowledge, and wisdom, and purely follow our feelings and the spirit. Often Bishops, missionaries, and family members quote James when he states “if any of you lack wisdom let him ask of god”, and that by praying our doubts and questions will disappear by the holy ghost.
Unfortunately for nearly all who go through a faith crisis’s this message casts more confusion than peace since it contradicts the entire process of gaining wisdom. Does not the brother of Jared teach us the process of gaining knowledge and answers from God? Does he not teach us that we are to search it out for ourselves, sift through the wrongs, the rights, the bads, the goods, and reach our own conclusions, AND THEN ASK GOD IF IT BE RIGHT? Asking God, as James says is not the entire process, it is the end of the process. To skip all the prior steps and go to then end asking step essentially leaves us in a position where we will reach whatever foregone conclusion is already in our mind. Of course there is the rare exception to the rule where an angel may appear, God may speak directly, but generally this is the process, correct?
I remember my own experience of begging for guidance during my trial of faith, daily I studied for hours, prayed with such passion and humble intent that I amazed even myself, I tried to live by every commandment both big and small, yet each and every day my answer was the same… Nothing… No confirmation that the church was true, no peace that the leaders were to be trusted, no peace that they taught Christs doctrine. It wasn’t until nearly 4 years later of painstakingly praying that I realized “maybe I’m not asking the right questions”. Sure enough, within a few days of asking God if the church was not 100% true I received the strongest, most peaceful, undeniable witness and feeling of confirmation in my heart and mind. My heart sank, yet it became whole once again.
WE’RE ALL IMPERFECT, EVEN THE PROPHETS
Over the decades we’ve all seen and heard of the stories, LDS myths, old wives tales, Relief society gossip, and overzealous parenting techniques which eventually go from being good ideas to becoming official LDS doctrine and culture. At times it can be difficult to discern which rules are from God, and which are from us as individuals. There have been those who have said “Follow the prophet no matter what”, that all orders, teachings, and even official church doctrine comes from God and should be followed without hesitation. Those who of course have taken the time to study the scriptures know that this idea is flat out silly, and that at times imperfect men and women create doctrine, policy, and scripture that don’t actually come from God, but from their own personal opinion.
Try telling the poor unfortunate saints who committed suicide or murder, that the prophets were “perfect” and to be followed 100% of the time, since Christ “couldn't cleanse their most serious sins”, as stated in the “blood atonement” commandment from our prophet. Try telling that to the African American LDS members who were denied the priesthood, and its associated spiritual blessings leading to heaven. Try telling todays LGBT children who are denied to come unto Christ by partaking in the waters of baptism and receiving the Holy Ghost. To say that the leaders of the church are incapable of doing wrong is just as dangerous as ignoring Nephi’s proclamation of those who will say “there is no devil, and we need not fear him”. Heck, 80% of Brigham Youngs teachings have been condemned as being incorrect, if that’s not sign enough to be cautious when following leaders I don’t know what is…
It’s been said that the church is perfect, and its members are not, but is that really true?
When acknowledging the harmful facts of our past such as priesthood denial, polygamy, the affairs, the lies, the false doctrine, many will point to the idea that the church and its teachings and policies are perfect, but the prophets, teachers, and members are not. We are taught that the church is not salvation, but a vessel to achieve and reach our salvation.
If there’s one thing that harms members’ testimonies, it isn’t the sins of the members or of the leaders, it’s that the personal opinions, thoughts, and doctrine in Gods 100% true church end up being declared to be false and not from God decades later. Many honest truth seeking saints all see the red flags when they see a former law, commandment, and official church policy that supposedly came from God at one point overturned as being incorrect decades later, because it was a personal opinion of a prophet or local leader. We as a church need to stop treating the church as a perfect golden vessel incapable of harming us or leading us astray at times, because it has flaws, weaknesses and is as far from perfect, just as we are as members. Which is why we are also told to pay for ourselves to know if each and every principle is true and worth following.
Fear of god, or fear of man?
Let’s make one thing clear, the church and its prophets are a vessel, a tool, a spiritual aid to reach God, what the church is not is God, yet somewhere along the lines we have built it up to being just that, an Idol, A God in and of itself, incapable of imperfection, incapable of having false doctrine, sinful leaders, and infallible prophets. I say that again, the church is a vessel, not God itself… Yet so many of us as Latter Day Saints treat it as such, we worry about what the church leaders, its members, and our families think rather than what God thinks. Instead of following and believing true principles we choose to fear man more and follow incorrect principles taught over by leaders that in no way represent the love and truth that is Jesus Christ.
The apostle Paul understood very clearly that his position carried a heavy burden in setting a righteous example for its members, yet in the modern church our leaders and the church itself is incapable and unwilling to acknowledge its responsibility to set a righteous example. Paul understood this more than anyone when he instructed the saints “to correct him lest his words or actions caused those who followed him to stumble”, Paul understood that his mistakes would lead to others doing the same mistakes.
Doctrine and covenants clearly lays out that we are to call even our leaders and prophets to repentance should the err in action or doctrine, yet today the message is clear “never speak ill of our leaders”, “it is not our responsibility to call the leaders to the church to repentance”.
If the church lied to me about polygamy, the priesthood, the book of Abraham, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, what else aren’t they being honest about?
I still remember the moment my faith first began to shake, our mission had been fortunate enough to have the apostle Elder Scott meet with us discussing how to answer difficult questions about Joseph Smith and church history, his answers seemed convincing enough so we went with it. It wasn’t until I returned home months later and read an older article where elder Scott discussed facts contrary to what he had told us. “Had I really just been lied to by an apostle” I asked myself?
This was the first of many cracks, which only grew as more lies were uncovered, as more facts were researched, and as more unrighteous doctrine was understood. I remember asking that day: “If the church had lied to me about polygamy, and Joseph Smith, and blacks and the priesthood, and the book of Abraham, and the Kinderhook plates, and a dozen other items, what else are they lying to me about? How many times must the boy (church) cry wolf until I need to ignore those who were lying to me”?
Most former LDS members will attest that their faith was killed not because they experienced a faith crisis in their studies, but because as it has been said before, “the church is in the midst of a deep and disturbing truth crisis”, where facts have been twisted, history has been white washed, evidence has been tampered with, and members have been thrown under the bus to protect the churches good name and image. The church is incapable of repenting, admitting mistakes have been made, that members have been misled at times, and that doctrine can be incorrect.
For decades the church has condemned, persecuted, and even excommunicated church members who believed and asked questions about certain historical events and issues, only to now come clean that these events weren’t crazy anti-Mormon literature, but factual historical events. The church’s 12 essays on LDS.ORG makes this very clear, yet these essays only reveal the tip of the iceberg, with wordy explanations they again halfheartedly barely acknowledge there were issues in our past.
We preach repentance, forgiveness, honesty, trustworthiness, why then is it so hard for our leaders and church as a whole to finally communicate honestly so that healing can begin for those who feel hurt and betrayed by leaders who have lied and tricked them?
Is our past really that bad? Can’t we just ignore it and move on?
We all laugh about the theoretical scenario of a spider in our house, clearly no one would burn the house down just to get rid of such a minor issue, you kill it and move on. But would you do if the home was overrun with HUNDREDS UPON HUNDREDS OF POISONOUS SPIDERS? We obviously would stay clear of the home until the issue was resolved.
Sadly church History for the honest saint is much of the same, we cant and wont ignore it until the issue is addressed. Clearly If we’re honest with ourselves the only conclusion we can reach is that our history, our founding prophets, and the foundation of the creation of our church is critically damaged in the worst ways possible. With each lie and cover up, the crack grows, and in the age of information the facts will only further damage our churches foundation should action not be taken to take responsibility for the church’s mistakes so the members can move on with life.
Until honesty and open communication occurs healing cannot begin, as long as the leaders and saints continue to claim “all is well in Zion”, “there is no devil” “and there are no legitimate issues” our members will continue to leave feeling betrayed and lied to, unable to trust again they who deceived them. “A lie does not become truth, wrong doesn't become right, and evil doesn't become good, just because its accepted by a majority”. We can pretend the past didn't happen, that the church has never lied, that early leaders didn't commit blasphemous sins, but it doesn't change the facts, its all true.
As one who recognizes the church is imperfect along with its leaders, I have come to peace with where my faith stands, I recognize that both good and evil can be found in the church and in its doctrine. While i adamantly may dispute many of our policies, and while ultimately I choose to stay to maintain a healthy and happy marriage, I choose to make the best of it, helping to right the wrongs, preaching love, honesty, respect, and tolerance from within.
When a prophet stands upon the pulpit and proclaims a commandment I sincerely pray and ask if it be of God, or if it be of man, like the brother of Jared I study it out, and ask for confirmation. If it teachings and fruits be of God I live by its laws. If its teachings and fruits be not of God I cast it aside as being the opinion of man. I live the gospel of Jesus Christ, not the Gospel of Thomas S Monson, Brigham Young, or any other leader who accidentally makes their own opinion doctrine and law. The mentality of “thy will be done” is one I believe we all must recognize and apply to keep our families safe.
The Truth Hurts
For years we as members (myself included) have shunned, ridiculed, mocked, and cast out those who have doubts about the church’s 100% truth, only to now be told their doubts are valid based upon facts. Perhaps then the time has come to show empathy, patience, Christ like love, communication, and discuss these issues that have plagued our saints for so long.
As someone who has been a full believer, as someone having previously mocked the doubters, as someone who has doubted fully the validity of our church, and as someone who currently remains LDS because there to help promote change and honesty from within our organization, I scream with all my heart that doubt cannot be cured without honesty, and that advising a doubter to “just have faith” in our cracked and cracking foundation is not only ineffective, but completely ignores the issue at hand. A faith crisis cannot be cured without first curing the churches truth crisis, for they go hand in hand. My search is about truth, and yes, the truth hurts, but to ignore it is far worse.
To tell a doubter to have faith in a increasingly cracking foundation is as if to say “you’ll be fine” to a person standing in quick sand, its illogical, unwise, and even dangerous. Until we can acknowledge honestly our past, our church may not have a future should the foundation continue to crumble being left in disrepair. Until the LDS Leaders address its “Truth Crisis” its members don’t stand a chance in their “Faith Crisis”. Let us bridge the communication gap between church and member, between doubters and believers, only then can the healing begin, and the faith potentially return.