I want to address those members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who are among the groups of dissenters, critics, and agitators in the Church who suddenly find themselves in an uneasy association with people who increasingly are openly hostile to the Church, its leaders, and its teachings.
I know that some of you are uncomfortable with the direction in which your associates have gone. Uneasy with the comments and conversations on the websites you frequent. Some of you quietly feel misgivings and twinges of conscience about the blatant public denigration of the Church and the Apostles by the people with whom you identify and with whom you have built friendships. You were seeking answers to your questions and resolution for your doubts, but now all you see is increased doubt, questioning, and strife.
Some of you are asking yourselves “How did this happen? I’m a good member of the Church. Why do other members call me or the group with which I participate apostate? How did I get here?”
Let me reassure you that there is a place for you in the Church. We want you here. And yes, we want you with all your doubts, questions, and complaints.
The misgivings you feel about where you suddenly find yourself are valid. Don’t reject them. Listen to them.
It doesn’t matter how you got to where you are as much as it matters that there is a way back.
You have fallen into a trap. And that’s okay. All of us have fallen into spiritual traps and mental snares that have led us down paths that we never would have imagined for ourselves. It may not be the same trap into which you have fallen, but we have all found ourselves far from where we intended and know what it feels like.
Getting out of the trap requires courage and humility. But there is a way out.
The first step is to open up your mind and heart to the possibility that you have fallen into a trap.
I know that there are abundant historical and other facts that seem incontrovertible to you; things, that it seems, are impossible to unsee once you have seen them; ideas that feel so compelling that you do not feel you can deny them.
But the facts are rarely as complete or comprehensive as they appear. And the ideas that seek to explain those facts are not the same thing as the facts themselves. We all have frameworks of interrelated ideas through which we interpret information and communication. These interpretive frameworks are powerful. They have logical, emotional, and social components. They can possess our minds and hearts and make it feel as if we have no other choice.
But you do have a choice.
You can choose to believe. You can choose to trust in the living apostles and prophets. You can choose to entertain the possibility that the framework through which you have come to interpret the church is false, no matter how compelling and logically complete it may feel. Though that which you have seen may not be able to be unseen, it may not mean what you think it means.
A “faith transition” is really just switching interpretive frameworks. And while it is easy to see apparent flaws in your previous framework, I assure you that your new framework is also full of holes, problems, and inconsistencies. You’ve exchanged one set of warts and contradictions for another.
Choose to question the doubting framework through which you have come to view the church and its leaders. There are alternative, faithful frameworks that account for the same facts, but do not lead to the same conclusions. You have a choice.
The second step is to acknowledge that the general membership of the church is not nearly as uninformed and naive as they have been labeled. They are not all blind sheep. Many of them have suffered deeply and faced challenges to their faith that would blow your mind. Many of them are as familiar with the issues and facts as you are. Do not confuse conformity with superficiality or ignorance. Many are not ignorant (though they may be ignorant of your interpretive framework). They are faithful and informed, but they are also private. They share their sacred experiences cautiously with those who will not mock.
Nothing you have learned is new. Rather than dismissing members because they have not adopted the doubting interpretive framework that you have, consider that they may know something that you do not that leads them to an alternative, trusting interpretation of the same facts.
The third step is to realize that it is possible to pursue good and righteous objectives through wicked means. Even if the desires and objectives you have are righteous, the means by which you seek to bring them to pass can put you at odds with the church, the apostles, and the Lord.
You must consciously decide to separate yourself from those who pursue their objectives, even objectives that you believe are good, in ways that undermine belief in the prophets, the church, and in God. The prophets are not infallible, but they are true prophets, and you can trust them. You can believe that God is powerful enough to make his will known to his authorized representatives, even in their weakness, and that He is leading the Church through them. Changes may come. But when they do it will be through those with the proper stewardship.
The fourth step is to realize that there is a real, fundamental difference between dissent and disagreement that is shared in private and that is broadcast in public. Public disagreement introduces a lot of complex dynamics and problems. Public discussions of doubt are susceptible to manipulation by those who have different motivations than you do, especially on the Internet where people can easily pretend to be what they are not. If you are looking for a safe place to discuss your doubts and questions, public Internet forums are often better at cultivating communities of doubt and reinforcing interpretive frameworks than they are at helping people work out their doubts in faithful ways. Beware of those who conflate public dissent with private dissent.
The last step I want to mention is that you need to reconsider the notion that the living apostles and prophets of the church are ignorant, uninformed, or insulated from criticism. The highest authorities of the church are intelligent, strong willed, educated, and experienced. They are aware of the issues. They know the history. They know what is going on. They are familiar with the arguments and criticisms. They have spoken to people just like you. They have friends and family members who have struggled with the same things that you have. They don’t need you to inform them. They already know.
Are they perfect? No way. And nobody is asking you to believe that they are. What we are asking you to believe is that they are true prophets and apostles of Jesus Christ and that we can trust the Lord to guide the Church through them. Give yourself space to believe that their decisions really are inspired, even if you can’t understand how they could be right.
This isn’t comprehensive, but it’s a start. This is an ongoing process. Nobody is pretending that there is a simple formula that can fix this. It may be painful and difficult and take a while. But you can do it. Just give some space for belief in these things.
Getting out of the snare may require alienating some beloved friends and associates. I know that is painful and hard to do. But it is very difficult to break out of a false framework while surrounding yourself with people who reinforce it.
Allow yourself to question your framework. Allow yourself to question your own fallibility as much as you do that of the prophets. Give weight to your misgivings about what is happening around you. Pray and ask for help to recognize what is true. And be patient. Don’t make any hasty decisions or rash declarations.
I know that many will dismiss my invitation. My hope is that at some point when you stop and look around, and see how far you are from where you expected to be, and ask yourself “How did I get here?” that you will remember what I have said. That you will open your heart and mind. And that you will know that there is a way back.
There are many of us who will be ready to put our arms around you and help you along the way.
1. Question interpretive frameworks of doubt and remember that you can choose other faithful frameworks for interpreting facts.
2. Recognize that many faithful members of the church are neither ignorant or naive and still have a very conventional faith; conformity does not mean superficiality or ignorance.
3. Realize that good desires and objectives may be pursued through wicked means. It isn’t enough to be trying to make righteous changes. The way you go about it matters.
4. Accept that there is a difference between public dissent and private dissent and be wary of the dangers inherent in public forums that reinforce doubt.
5. Trust that God is capable of communicating with his authorized representatives. Give up on the idea that the apostles are ignorant or isolated from information.
[Cross Posted from Sixteen Small Stones]