228–229: Mapping LDS Faith Transitions (with help from James Fowler)

Fowler-Stages-of-FaithMany Mormon Matters listeners find their way to the podcast and other online communities and discussion groups because they recognize that they are experiencing some kind of “faith transition,” a re-orienting in their relationships with life’s fundamental questions, powers, and values. Often, however, this transition feel to us much more like a crisis. Would things get any easier for us if we knew that this time of upheaval and process of trying to find new, firmer grounding was normal–even healthy? That this difficult journey toward new orientation isn’t exclusive to Latter-day Saints or even to just religious people, but to all human beings?

With the 1981 publication of Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning, James W. Fowler presented a road map of sorts for faith transitioning, a descriptive schema that places “faith” (our way of making sense of life, of engaging transcendent values and meaning) alongside other areas of human development and the models that describe them. As they encounter this schema, many people undergoing faith transitions find hope that if they don’t turn away from the difficulties and pain, they will emerge into new and richer perspectives and sense of peace in the face of all of life’s complexities.

Guest hosted by Katie Langston, this episode features Mormon Matters’ usual host, Dan Wotherspoon, and social psychologist and therapist Marybeth Raynes describing the various stages that Fowler outlines, while also applying them to LDS faith transitioning, including their own life stories. The “stages of faith” model has been mentioned many times in past episodes. It’s about time they receive direct attention!

We hope you will listen and then join in the comments section below!

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Links:

Marybeth Raynes, “How Sex and Spirit are Linked: A Developmental Perspective,” Sunstone, November 2001

Marybeth Raynes’s “Sunstone Gallery” portrait and write-up: “To Be About Doing Things“, Sunstone, May 2003

Dan Wotherspoon, “When I Needed It Most,” Sunstone, April 2002
(The essay starts on page 4 of the file that downloads)

Books by James W. Fowler:

Stages of Faith

Faithful Change: The Personal and Public Challenges of Postmodern Life

Becoming Adult, Becoming Christian

Faith Development and Pastoral Care

Weaving the New Creation: Stages of Faith and the Public Church

Comments

comments

17 comments for “228–229: Mapping LDS Faith Transitions (with help from James Fowler)

  1. Jason
    June 3, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    Just finishing the podcast. Absolutely love this. Thank you! I’ve been struggling in my faith transition. I’m in a leadership position. I have a son on a mission. I have another one preparing to go. I want to try and make it work, but I’ve been struggling to find a framework that would help me navigate both the “particles and the waves” of life and religion. Marybeth said something that really hit me. Most adults are not aware of adult stages of development, so we tend to think the one we are in is as far as it goes. The concept of a map, as she described it, is extremely helpful. It offers a change of perspective, a change in level of magnification that provides some context during the fog of battle. Thank you all for putting sharing this.

    One other thought – I had a moment of empathy for the Church. How do you effectively create a worldwide organizational religious structure that can be home to peoples from various cultures all at different stages of development? It seems the organizational response has been to “double down” on the literal approach and reinforce the idea that it’s a scary world out there. Could mormonism possibly make its own faith transition to a form that would be kind to all the stages of development? I think it would require some incredible leadership to take us through Stage 4 as an organization.

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      June 3, 2014 at 4:15 pm

      Definitely difficult to lead a whole body of people through Stage 4. As J. Bonner Ritchie talks about, not even organizations with liberal leanings can really manage their affairs if everyone is out-of-the-box. I truly believe some Mormon leaders at the general level understand the kind of faith development that is described in Fowler’s Stage 5, but my guess is they are stymied about ways to actually implement that expectation. For them, perhaps they share more about the healthiness of diversity, that we aren’t simply to “stop” growing spiritually once converted, etc. And from the others, I’d just love to seem them stop presenting so much as all or nothing, either/or.

      Some things I took and put into a handout (from the final chapter of Fowler’s book):

      TAKING ONGOING FAITH DEVELOPMENT IN ADULTHOOD SERIOUSLY

      (1) De-emphasize “belief” in propositional, doctrinal formulations.
      “Faith” should be an integral, centering in beliefs, values, and
      meanings that form the ground of all life. Faith should (a) give coherence and direction to a person’s life; (b) link him or her in shared trusts and loyalties with others; (c) ground his or her personal stances and communal loyalties in a sense of relatedness to a larger frame of reference; and (d) enable him or her to face and deal with the limit conditions of human life, relying upon that which has the quality of ultimacy in his or her life.

      (2) Emphasize faith as relational. Truth is lived; it is a pattern of being in relation to others and to God. Rather than being repositories of truth, doctrines become guides for ways of seeing and being. They become invitations and stimuli for contemporary experiments with truth.

      (3) Make provisions for adults to bring their struggles with faith to word. Before prescriptions are offered, and without condemnation or accusation, they will be given the help of active listening in order to tell their present stories and visions of faith, and to hear those of others.

      (4) Create a climate of developmental expectation. We should strive to provide opportunities for vocational engagement that calls forth the gifts and emergent strengths of each stage of faith.

      _______

      I think all of these are possible within Mormonism, but it will take a skillful “long game” to see them happen, one that I think President Uchtdorf might be playing. Here’s an awesome quotation from him that I just learned of today:

      “… if we stop asking questions, stop thinking, stop pondering, we can thwart the revelations of the spirit. Remember, it was the questions young Joseph asked that opened the door for the restoration of all things. … how often has the holy Spirit tried to tell us something we needed to know, but couldn’t get past the massive, iron gate of what we thought we already knew.” (From a 2012 Leadership Training broadcast.)

      • Jason
        June 3, 2014 at 4:45 pm

        That is helpful. Thank you!

        How do you do it Dan? How do you operate as a “wave” in a “particle” religion? There is so much policing of literal belief in the organization. I know literal belief has its place in the stages of development, but when it’s enforced so militantly, it can be discouraging.

        I love that quote from President Uctdorf. He does offer hope for a more progressive and open future. It will be interesting to see if he becomes another Hugh B. Brown, or if he is allowed to maintain a position of influence.

        • Dan Wotherspoon
          June 4, 2014 at 2:46 pm

          I’m also hoping that he will stay in the First Presidency and its extra-sized platform!

          About “How do you do it?” It gets easier, but it took a long, long time to be as comfortable as I am now. Lots of bad weeks and tantrums, plenty of wrong-headed attempts to make certain points or bite off too much at a time. Ultimately, I think it was my own soul work that led me to the kind of peace I feel, as well as the grace I now naturally want to extend to those in the pews with me. I smile and am able to give off an energy of openness to fellow ward members, and they generally return with the same (and grant me leeway when I get a bit too adventurous around them). I know when I was struggling more, it was much tougher to do that. I put up a lot of barriers (unconscious but definitely a “vibe”) that made me seem aloof. As those came down, my enjoyment (and their enjoyment of me) definitely skyrocketed.

          I’m hoping “belief” continues to take more of a backseat. I think it is–especially when we are able to articulate why beliefs are far less important than belonging to a community and acting in good ways. All best in your not being too discouraged!

          • Jason
            June 4, 2014 at 3:00 pm

            Thanks Dan. It might be a little easier to navigate the stages of faith if it was just me. I want to do right by my kids too. I know it’s an individual journey, but I’d like to introduce them to an open, expansive mindset within the current context of YM/YW programs and missions. As I think about it, I’m not sure it’s enough to just to help them explore a more open approach – I think I need to also help them acquire an awareness of the stages of development so they can navigate relationships with more literal-minded peers and leaders.

            It’s also a challenge to know how much of church history to share and when and how to do it without destroying faith altogether.

    • Wade
      June 3, 2014 at 8:00 pm

      From an institutional perspective, it does seem like the Church has decided Stage 3 is where it would like most of us to stay, and I think we can see that in spades with the way the Church is approaching the youth.

      One of the statements (at the beginning of episode 229) that really hit home for me was the idea that the natural time of life to start making that transition from Stage 3 to Stage 4 is when you turn 18 and leave home — whether to attend college, travel Europe or whatever you are going to do. This is an age group the leaders of the Church seem to be incredibly worried about, and they are doing a lot to make sure these youth don’t wander off into Stage 4, but rather, stay happy in Stage 3.

      Moving the missionary eligibility ages to 18 and 19 is a prime example of this, especially for the young men. The data show that young men who earn their eagle scouts and go on mission are much more likely to stay active as adults, but some were falling through the cracks as they waited to turn 19 before they could go on a mission. Moving the missionary eligibility age up to 18 helps make sure these young men experience their first time away from home in an environment that is constantly reinforcing Stage 3.

      Unfortunately, for someone like me (I’m in my mid-30s), this delays the transition from Stage 3 to Stage 4 until later in life when there are a lot of complicating factors — as was discussed in the podcast.

      I know it’s a difficult challenge for the Church, but I hope they figure something out to pave the way for “big tent” Mormonism.

  2. JH
    June 3, 2014 at 5:53 pm

    This was a fantastic podcast! I do hope Marybeth comes back for another podcast. Her perspective was enlightening, as was the psychological information she shared. Also, I’m intrigued by the ideas Fowler introduces. I wonder, though, what about those who get to stage 4 in their transition and then transition out of the Church? Is this a common phenomenon? Truthfully, this was my own experience and it’s raw enough that I am still trying to piece it together to understand what happened. I just couldn’t see a way past stage 4 that involved staying.

    I admire those like you, Dan, who experience a transition and are still able to appreciate the good things in Mormonism and seek to help others in the Church who are experiencing these challenges.

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      June 4, 2014 at 2:57 pm

      Thanks, JH! I hope you’ll continue to be patient with yourself and your journey. Maybe you’ll never feel called back to Mormonism, but I fully trust that more and more that piecing together you speak of will happen for you, and something of a spiritual call will unfold. May it be so!

      I do think, as you ask above, that that is quite common for those who transition to leave. And I think it is likely much more common when it happens later in life than in the more gradual way that he frames Stage 4 as happening more organically when one goes to college, or in some other way gets out and sees the world and meets others and their way of being. And it is because it is so common, that I think LDS leaders (or really any leaders of any church) discourage people from ever starting on that journey. Even though, as we talked about at the end, Christ’s gospel is calling us to spiritual adulthood (or discipleship, friendship, beloved) in which we rely on our own connections with the divine (Stage 6 faith). It’s definitely a conundrum. Again, why I kind of think the “long game” (that I suggest above that perhaps President Uchtdorf is playing) is going to be the only way a shift might happen.

  3. Christy
    June 4, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    Thank you so much for this episode. I’m currently reading Fowler’s book on Christian Faith and the timing of this podcast couldn’t be better. I appreciate all that you do for us wanderers, Dan. You have helped me make sense and appreciate my, “What is happening? I must be going crazy!”, and turned this journey into something of great value. I can’t wait to get to stage 5, but I’m enjoying this stage’s ride and trying to claim all it’s gifts and those from other stages as well. Thank you!

  4. Carson Calderwood
    June 8, 2014 at 10:45 pm

    Marybeth Raynes, could you recommend a book that talks about those adult stages of development? That was super intriguing!

  5. Alaine Pare (AP)
    June 10, 2014 at 12:24 am

    Thank you so much for this very timely podcast.I have been transfersing the 4th stage for some 20 yes. Fowler’s stages are very helpful as I ponder on my journey. I attend weekly but still find my buttons pushed some weeks. MaryAnn’ s suggestion to journal these experiences has been one day I also have used to analyze and appreciate my reactions. Growth IS available if I will see the opportunity. I look forward to reading and studying Fowler’s work and the other authors referred to in this podcast. I am excited to understand my and others ‘ spiritual maturation more. AP in Lad Vegas

  6. Alaine Pare (AP)
    June 10, 2014 at 12:27 am

    Sorry Marybeth….. got your name wrong.

  7. Christy
    June 10, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    Dan, I’m also wondering where you’d place someone like Joseph Smith, and maybe Brigham Young, on the stages scale. I’m also starting to wonder and believe that each person has their own path towards God or enlightenment. Maybe sometimes it doesn’t even make sense to those around us because it’s so highly individual. We all have such differing issues and traumas that we’re wading through.

  8. Steve
    June 11, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    As with many here, I have struggled with my faith now for almost a decade. I have found my stage of faith transition correlates with my intellectual interests. Initially Mormon Stories touched me very deeply and helped me transition back to an acceptable faith position. However, as my faith has transitions I have found Mormon Matters has become much more relevant to my interests. Thank you for your efforts. I am enriched by your insights.

  9. Bill
    August 27, 2014 at 11:28 am

    Dan,
    I’m glad someone is talking about this. I’ve actually been writing a book about some of James Fowler’s and Scott Peck’s ideas about spiritual developmental stages. But I only share it with family and close friends, because LDS publishers don’t seem to want to touch anything outside the LDS mainstream. Personally, I have been helped enormously by Scott Peck’s and James Fowler’s ideas. I just wish more LDS people were receptive to them.

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