427: (Encore) “Living” Stories

This is an encore presentation of a fantastic May 2014 episode by the same name. In it, philosopher-theologian Adam Miller and narrative studies specialist Stephen Carter join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon to explore the many and varied ways we live within, think from, are shaped by, and are both aided and hindered by “stories.” The depth at which our lives are impacted by narratives—about what the world is like, about ourselves, our lives, our hopes and deepest desires, about God or the universe’s biggest forces—is staggering. Plus, and here is where it gets interesting, messy, and sometimes frightening: our stories change. Sometimes we fight these changes, trying to pigeon-hole into pre-packaged worldviews and narratives everything that life in all its complexity is attempting to show us. When we do so, we fail to live fully, to be vital. Sometimes Mormonism, if we give into certain cultural forces, seems to distract us from seeing this failure, from realizing our stagnation. But does it also have elements that focus our attention directly to the importance of living out of big stories that are intended to always yield to even richer vistas and more profound embodiments?

We cannot escape stories. They provide many of the fundamental lenses through which we see and function in the world. But can we break free from the negative aspects of these narratives? Can we, and how do we, develop a love for the life-giving dynamic of letting life constantly call into question our stories and exploring our way into new ones? The participants in this conversation believe we can, and they share their experiences with “living” stories—Mormon ones, and others.

This is a wonderful episode that will give you a lot to think about!n Please listen and share your thoughts in the comments section below!

424-426: Celebrating the Different Spiritualities in the Two Halves of Life

The four people on this three-part podcast episode love Richard Rohr’s book, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. If you find yourself experiencing a faith crisis or in some way are actively feeling called to reexamine and make peace with or in some way better integrate within your heart and mind life’s deepest and most unsolvable (thankfully!) questions and your personal experiences (wonderful and tragic) in deep, soulful ways in which you can come to most meaningfully embrace your truest self and life in all its beautiful (and tragic) mystery, please listen. Please buy, borrow, rent this book. Whether in the first or second half of life, there are  wonderful insights and many potentially life-changing bits of wisdom within.

Joining Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon for this rich and often very personal discussion are Jana Spangler, Jeralee Renshaw, and Scott Turley.

421–423: Examining Mormon Apologetics, Neo-Apologetics, and Informational Obligations to Church Members and Investigators

In this, the second installment in a series of co-hosted and co-released shows related to Mormon Apologetics, Mormon Matters and Mormon Stories hosts Dan Wotherspoon and John Dehlin interview and engage with two wonderful, bright, and articulate voices in Mormon Studies: Loyd Isao Ericson, from Greg Kofford Books and co-editor of the volume Perspectives in Mormon Theology: Apologetics, and Bert Fuller, a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto and a former editor at both BYU’s Religious Studies Center and the Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship.

The podcast begins with an examination of the apologetic endeavor itself, with special attention to the arguments that it is a flawed enterprise from the start as it involves a confusion over what is being defended. It centers on the question of whether religious claims (spiritual claims and experiences that drive religious conversion and growth) can be defended or proven by the tools of scholarship. If the answer is no, if these are two quite different arenas or (in Wittgenstein’s terms, “language games”), then apologists play into and further the category mistakes inherent in the very activity itself. It also challenges common ways in which claims in one arena are said to be probative or at least should be considered in the other one.

In the final two sections, the conversations move more toward the personal experiences of those who become troubled when various truth claims they’ve held tightly to begin to crack and show their limits. Life choices have been made out of one understanding of the world, it’s purposes, and God’s will for the person, so it’s very natural that she or he should feel lost, upset, and even angry, especially if they feel that important information that provides wider contexts for the claims or actual challenges to them have been known by top church leaders and yet withheld (or worse, as in the case of excommunicating or smearing the reputations of those who alert people to these issues). Out of that discussion emerges reflections once more on the role of those who John Dehlin has labeled “neo-apologists” (those who seem to him and others to be becoming somewhat relied upon by the church to stem the tide of defections or calm troubled souls who are in faith crisis or are loved ones of those in such shifting relationship to the church and their previous beliefs) should be, as well as their obligations for full disclosure in the articles and books they write and firesides and public appearances they make of the troubling issues and counter-claims to key LDS teachings.

It’s a three-hour (!) discussion, but it never runs out of energy and models great respect for all in the conversation, whether it is fellow panelists or apologists/neo-apologists or listeners and people for whom these worldview and faith crises are very, very real.

Please listen and then share your reactions in the comments section below!

Blair G. Van Dyke and Loyd Isao Ericson, eds, Perspectives in Mormon Theology: Apologetics (Greg Kofford Books, 2017)

420: (Encore) The Abuse and Forgiveness Dilemma

The sexual assault and abuse scandals rocking Hollywood these days, along with the “Me, too” campaign that is encouraging victims of unwanted or abusive sexual advances to speak up make this a prime moment to re-release one of Mormon Matters podcast’s most powerful episodes. Below is a description of the episode.

The April 2012 General Conference featured a terrific talk by President Uchtdorf that reinforces the importance of being forgiving and non-judgmental. He “bottom lines” his message with the following statement: “This topic of judging others could actually be taught in a two-word sermon. When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following: Stop it!” Earlier in the talk, he cited D&C 64:9, “Forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not . . . [stands] condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.”

For the vast majority of Latter-day Saints, such messages are wonderfully received. When it comes to judging and hating and resenting and holding grudges, yes, we should “stop it.” Most listeners would also hear in an earnest spirit of striving to do better the scriptural statement that those who fail to forgive others are sinful—perhaps condemned even more than the one who did the offending. But what about abuse victims? What about those who have been physically, sexually, emotionally abused—sometimes relentlessly and violently? How would they hear such messages? Is a warning that they must forgive their abusers, rapists, torturers or else they are even worse sinners than them a good one to hear? Can certain messages that are wonderful in most cases (and no one is imagining that abuse victims were on President Uchtdorf’s mind when he gave his remarks) be heard in spiritually and emotionally damaging ways by those whose self image distorted by internalized shame over the abuse they received as a child or whose lives are in danger or souls are being warped by abuse even in the present? Are there circumstances in which even the beautiful message of “Families Are Forever” be heard as a threat—heard in such a way that a person might express a deliberate choice to live in hell rather than be forced to associate with their abuser(s) in heaven? The answer is yes.

In this episode, LDS therapist Natasha Helfer Parker and blogger and abuse survivor Tresa Brown Edmunds share deep insights about how important it is for all of us, whether it is through official church capacities or friendships or other relationships, to understand and keep in mind the realities of abuse and all the ways it can affect its victims. They discuss the mindset of victims that often includes deeply internalized shame and warped thinking about their own role in the abuse, the effects of trauma and helplessness on physiology and normal bodily responses that manifest in many and varied ways beyond the victim’s control yet somehow still get carelessly talked about (often in wrong-minded gospel frameworks) as if these “problems” are actually the victim’s fault, that if they were only stronger or a better person they would just suck it up and move on.

This discussion is a difficult one but powerful and very important. We encourage you to share it widely.


Exponent II issue (pdf) with Tresa Brown Edmund’s article on Abuse (see p. 32). Natasha Helfer Parker also has a short essay in this issue (see p. 18)

Amazon links to books mentioned in podcast by Natasha Helfer Parker:

How Can I Forgive You? by Janis A. Spring

Integrating the Shattered Self by Nicki Roth

418–419: Exploring the Messages in and Responses to Elder Dallin H. Oaks’s Recent General Conference Talk

During the recent October 2017 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Council of Twelve Apostles gave a talk titled, “The Plan and the Proclamation.” In it, he framed some of the current trends and laws of today’s society as coming from “the world,” while Latter-day Saints who are truly converted and actively seeking eternal life and exaltation are those who reject the world in favor of God’s plans for us. Key among the things that “the world” is embracing more and more and that Latter-day Saints should reject are “cohabitation without marriage, same-sex marriage, and the raising of children in such relationships.” In this battle with “the world,” Elder Oaks makes reference to the fact that throughout history many family members have understood God’s eternal plan differently, causing conflict. “Such conflict is always so. . . . But whatever the cause of conflict with those who do not understand or believe God’s plan, those who do understand are always commanded to choose the Lord’s way instead of the world’s way.” In short, if Latter-day Saints support same-sex marriage or in any way condone cohabitation outside marriage and raising children in such homes, it is God’s call to them to stand up for eternal values about family and marriage and God’s plan rather than acquiesce to individual or societal pressures.

In the second half of the talk, Elder Oaks shares background and assures Latter-day Saints of the “inspiration” and “revelatory process” at work throughout the writing and revising and releasing in 1995 of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” He then lifts its teachings up as having been “the basis of Church teaching and practice for the last 22 years and will continue so for the future.” He then urges all to “consider it such, teach it, live by it, and you will be blessed as you press forward toward eternal life.”

Elder Oaks’s talk and its clear stance pitting “converted” Latter-day Saints and those seeking eternal life against “the world” and those church members who have come to believe that the church should change its teachings and stance on same-sex marriage (including rejecting the November 2015 “Policy” that doesn’t allow children from same-sex parented homes access to ordinances until after they reach age 18 and speak out against their parents’ relationship) has caused quite a bit of consternation among many Mormons. Some have found the message of this talk “the final straw” in their ability to stay engaged with Mormonism in a meaningful way, while many others have felt depressed and deflated, recognizing that because of this talk it will be harder for them among family members who aren’t at the same place they are with regard to LGBTQIA issues or to sit in their wards as allies and those who are convinced that these marriages and families should be fully supported within the Church. They hope they might find peace in this time of turmoil, this “new normal” in the church that has and will for some time to come be affected by the stances and tone Elder Oaks took in this talk.

In this two-part episode, Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon is joined by three wonderful and insightful active church members — Laura Root, John Gustav-Wrathall, and Richard Ostler — to discuss this talk and its messages and ramifications. How have they been personally affected by its contents and the interactions they’ve had with other Latter-day Saints since its delivery? How are they finding the strength and courage to remain firm in their personal convictions about these issues that differ from that of Elder Oaks and many in their close circles? What perspectives do they draw on that give them comfort and hope for eventual change within Mormonism on various issues related to same-sex relationships and gender identity? And much more!

Please listen and then share your experiences, questions, and comments in the designated section of the Mormon Matters podcast blog!


Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “The Plan and the Proclamation,” October 2017 LDS General Conference address

Mormon and Gay, LDS Church’s official website sharing its teachings about lesbian, gay, and bi-sexuality, as well as featuring stories of gay Latter-day Saints

Family Acceptance Project, a website featuring the results of various studies and presentations of stories of family dynamics and how they affect the health and well-being of gay children

One result from the ongoing work of the Family Acceptance Project is a booklet created specifically for LDS families.
To order this booklet, click here

Laura Compton, “From Amici to ‘Ohana’: The Hawaiian Roots of the Family Proclamation,” 15 October 2015, article posted on Rational Faiths blog

Peggy Fletcher Stack, “Packer Talk Jibes with LDS Stance after Tweak,” Salt Lake Tribune, 25 October 2010 (shares details of the editing to Elder Packer’s talk between conference delivery and its publication several days later)


416–417: Assessing the History and Value of Mormon Apologetics

Doing “apologetics,” which means to “speak in defense,” has been a longstanding tradition within Christianity, including Mormonism. Some forms of apologetics are often labeled “negative,” meaning the attempt by those writing is foremost to take on the arguments of critics. “Positive” apologetics, on the other hand, is characterized as efforts to shore up some aspect of the gospel or church by means of sharing different angles on that issue or practice, or new, possibly larger, perspectives that frame that problem in a way that makes it more understandable as an action or teaching that comes from human foibles rather than a knock-down criticism of the Mormon enterprise as a whole. In this latter emphasis, apologists are acknowledging that an issue exists or a problem is brewing while seeking to show that Mormonism has within it resources for addressing the issue, and that these need only to be brought forward to meet the challenge.

For many Latter-day Saints, apologetics has been a wonderful boon. They crave to know that scholars and others are actively working to provide framings for those things that have begun to trouble them. For many others, however, apologetics carries a negative connotation. Some say that truth “needs no defense,” or they point out that things of the Spirit are not going to yield well to questions and issues raised because of the findings of secular disciplines, hence on over emphasis on historical or rational inquiry is to make a category mistake. But more than anything else, the criticism labeled against apologetics focuses on the claim that an apologist works the question backwards: she or he knows the truth already, and then constructs arguments designed to shore that up; they are not conducting genuine inquiry.

In this episode, which is being co-released by both the Mormon Matters and Mormon Stories podcasts, Dan Wotherspoon and John Dehlin speak with Brian Birch and Patrick Mason about the history and development of Mormon Apologetics. Where has it been, and where is it headed now. In particular, John proposes a new term, “neo-apologist,” to describe a group of Latter-day Saint writers, including Mason, who, while not ignoring problems, seem to shift the meaning of various terms or truth claims, or in some other way change the definitions of Mormon doctrines. A vigorous discussion ensues!



Blair G. Van Dyke and Loyd Isao Ericson, eds, Perspectives in Mormon Theology: Apologetics (Greg Kofford Books, 2017)