Thursday, April 27, 2017

On Conversations about Faith Crisis

I think a lot of us struggle with how to converse about our journey amid faith crisis with our traditional believing LDS family, friends, and church leaders.  Often, traditional believers want us simply to come back to traditional belief and set aside our doubts -- to "doubt our doubts" and retrench into reading, praying, and attending -- and all will be well.

Oh, if it were only that easy!

In contrast, when we come to realize that the dominant narrative of our whitewashed history and "the prophets cannot lead the church astray" is not true, then we feel compelled to share our perspective with our traditional believing friends and leaders, in a hope that they'll understand why we are having such challenges.

And the moment we open our mouths to question the dominant narrative, they stop listening, and we've gone into a different kind of relationship -- one where we hide our true feelings, "tolerate" each other, or simply part ways.

Is there a way through this impasse?

I believe there is a Middle Way through this -- a way of conversing about our faith journey in a way that helps our traditional believing friends understand us better, and helps us feel more inclusive and included with them.

Empathy requires us to put ourselves into the position of the other, to feel what they feel, to look back at ourselves through their eyes.  It's obviously a mutual process, but we cannot ask others to be empathetic.  We must learn to speak in a way that they understand.  We need to use the language of faithful Mormonism to express our journey as "part of" a faithful Mormon journey, rather than a "transition away" from true belief.

How do we do this?  How do we *honestly* talk about "faith crisis" while using terms, concepts, and language of Mormon faith?

I believe that the doctrines of our church have the answer to solve this riddle.  I do not believe we will get anywhere with using the framework of "faith transition" as a descriptor of what is going on.  Instead, I would like to frame the discussion in terms that the most faithful LDS not only would accept, but would embrace fully.  And the way to do this is to frame what is going on in terms of core doctrine and scripture.

What is the purpose of life according to LDS doctrine?  We often say that this mortality is a test, where we will be "proven herewith".  When we view that test in terms of a "final exam" -- a "judgment" -- it puts all of us into the form of judging ourselves and others as being "unworthy".  But when I studied the concept of the Trial of Faith in depth years ago, I discovered that the "trial of faith" is not a "test" in the way that we use the term.  The Trial of Faith -- the entire purpose of this life -- is *refinement": We are to be made pure by refining the gold within us: our divine nature.

So the first thing I would do is frame "faith crisis" as "trial of faith": we are going through an essential process that will bring us closer to god.  It's not a test, it's part of God's plan for us.

Second, I would try to make clear that the trial of faith is not successful if we revert to our old ways of thinking.  Again, Mormon Doctrine comes into play here: we are on a path of eternal progression -- we learn, line upon line, and precept upon precept, to come closer to god and understand the principles of the gospel.  As we go through our trial of faith, we will discover things that no longer serve us: teachings that while may be useful for us initially, have no longer served their purpose.

I would bring up at this point the entire blacks-and-the-priesthood thing.  Before 1978, many people in the church felt that this was God's plan, and framed the inequity as being a deserved, chosen position from the premortal existence.  Bruce R McConkie was a primary proponent of such thinking, yet when the revelation came out in 1978, McConkie recognized that they all spoke from limited understanding.  Perhaps the entire blacks-and-the-priesthood was a kind of trial of faith for the whole church -- the outcome of which was not to harden our position, but rather, to seek revelation from god, and when the church was ready for it, it received it.

Third, we need to understand, fully, that our purpose in this life is not a test of obedience, but rather, to learn through our own experience to distinguish good and evil.  The Garden of Eden narrative in the temple is case in point.  Unlike other Christians, we celebrate Eve's decision to partake of the fruit to make progress happen.  Without it, they would never have progressed. But it's important to recognize that "be fruitful and multiple" and "don't partake of the fruit" ended up being an impossible situation to obey both.  So Adam and Eve counseled together in their trial of faith, and made the best choice they could.  In so doing, they learned through their own experience to distinguish good and evil, and were stronger because of it.

We need to resist the urge to judge others on their choices amid their "trial of faith".  Some of us will leave the "Garden of Eden" of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Some of us will refuse to partake of the dogma of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (aka, "correlated doctrine").  These are all very tough choices to make.  If we stand by our doctrine that free-agency is the very essence of our humanity, we need to realize that each one of us is faced with choices, and one size -- or one choice -- does not work for everyone.

And lastly, I think we need to teach the principle of Love as the Connecting Principle of the Atonement.  We need to embrace the diversity of our culture rather than force conformity.  Heavenly Father has given us differing gifts -- this is in our scripture and doctrine -- and we need to embrace love for one another -- active, practical, practicing love for one another -- as the core of LDS doctrine.  This means that we lift each other's burdens, mourn with those who mourn, and comfort those standing in need of comfort.  Love never fails -- our Relief Society motto.  When we embrace god's unconditional (perfect - teleios) love (agape - the pure love of Christ), then we cannot exclude or excommunicate anyone for their lack of belief or for whom they choose to love.

So why bother with all this?

I truly believe that our "trial of faith" is more than a "faith crisis", and is definitely not a "faith transition" from one kind of faith to another.  If anything, the refinement of our faith is part of our "Plan of Salvation", of eternal progression, where we are not static beings, but those embracing higher principles as we grow on this journey of eternal life.

We have not lost our faith.  Instead, our faith is being refined -- we are growing closer to a personal relationship with god, while setting aside those things which no longer serve us.  This is a cause for celebration, not pride or arrogance, but of deep gratitude for this amazing journey.

Not everyone is at the same point in this journey.  As we embrace a more inclusive faith, we need to as well, include our traditional believing LDS brothers and sisters as neither against our journey, nor inferior to our place on the journey.  We need to find that which is in common, and realize that in loving and serving one another, we can grow together.

When we speak in supportive love to our friends, family, and leaders, we can grow together in that Love.  We need to set aside our own angst and language of faith transition, crisis, and nuance, but rather, share values through our common Mormon language and doctrine.  Then, and only then, will we change hearts and minds: both ours and theirs.

And we then can become One.

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