317: Is There Good News for Faith in Today’s Mormon Crises?—Part 1

In his recent book, Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt, Patrick Q. Mason offers an optimistic vision for the future of Mormonism, even given the number of Latter-day Saints experiencing faith crisis. He points to as a bright sign the Church’s release of a dozen new Gospel Topics essays dealing with difficult topics in Mormon history and thought, but he is most pleased that these and other factors have led members of the Mormon community to talk now more than ever about the role of faith and church in their lives. With a dual audience of both church members facing faith crises as well as their church leaders and people who love them, the early chapters of Planted offer a terrific overview of the types of issues and questions and struggles that many church members are facing, with later chapters focusing on a robust vision of the gospel of Christ and Mormonism that can make a wonderful home for Latter-day Saints of all faith types and at all levels of development.

In this Mormon Matters and A Thoughtful Faith podcast co-release, Patrick Mason and fellow scholar and teacher of Mormon Studies Boyd Jay Petersen join co-hosts Dan Wotherspoon and Gina Colvin for a discussion of several key topics from the book’s early chapters. They focus on the need for books like this and various reasons faith becomes challenged, the emphasis on “belief” and historical challenges as key elements of many crises and how things might be framed more broadly, the potential positive role that doubt plays in a faith journey, faith challenges that arise because of differences in how we as Latter-day Saints experience God and Spirit, and much more. It’s a terrific conversation! A second episode with Mason and Petersen will be released in the coming few weeks with a focus on themes in the book’s second half.

Please listen and share your thoughts in the comments section below!

Links:

Patrick Q. Mason, Planted: Faith and Belonging in an Age of Doubt (Maxwell Institute and Deseret Book, 2015)

Boyd Jay Petersen, Dead Wood and Rushing Water: Essays on Mormon Faith, Culture, and Family (Greg Kofford Books, 2013)

316: Reflections on the New Mormon Gender Survey

A long-awaited survey of LDS attitudes toward gender relationships and women’s ordination has begun to yield intriguing snapshots of just where we are within Mormonism on these issues—with continued analysis yet to come. In this episode, survey team members Nancy Ross, Michael Nielsen, and Stephen Merino join Jana Riess and Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon for a discussion of the survey—its origins, goals, methods—and key preliminary findings. For those interested in seeing more forward movement within Mormonism regarding gender and greater representation of women in leadership councils, and perhaps even ordination, what are reasons for hope? What does the survey suggest (or the panelists see) as issues and structures and attitudes that need much greater attention before this strong movement can happen?

Please listen and share your thoughts, questions, and suggestions in the comments section below!

Links:

Mormon Gender Issues Survey report

Gordon Shepard, Lavina Fielding Anderson, Gary Shephard, eds., Voices for Equality: Ordain Women and Resurgent Mormon Feminism (Kofford Books, 2015) Contains an essay about the survey.

Randall Balmer and Jana Riess, eds., Mormonism and American Politics (Religion, Culture, and Public Life), (Columbia University Press, 2015).

314–315: Sex-positivity in Mormonism

Mormonism, like most religions, has many teachings about sex and intimacy. But, like everything else, teachings interact with persons, each with her or his own temperaments and autobiographies. As a result, the same teaching can strike each of us differently. For some, messages about embodied Gods, male and female, is incredibly empowering, even a help to them in developing positive attitudes toward their own sexuality. For others, the same teaching (and all its extensions) can trigger negative reactions as they imagine lives of eternal sex and childbearing, or find other extensions of the teaching problematic and disempowering. For some people, the Law of Chastity becomes an important element in their value system, leading them to take a healthy look at and make empowering choices regarding their sexual desires and actions. For others, it becomes a burden, something imposed upon them, and they end up making choices about sexual practice out of fear—fear of God, parents, church leaders—and as attempts to please others. Name the topic, and we Mormons, like everyone else, can end up in all sorts of emotional and spiritual spaces regarding sexuality: many positive, but many quite confused and inhibiting to intimacy in general, and/or an enjoyable and empowering sex life.

In this two-part episode, a wonderful panel of marriage and family counselors who also have certifications in and/or a great deal of experience with sex therapy—Natasha Helfer Parker, Shannon Hickman, Kristin Hodson, and Kristin Marie Bennion—join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon for a terrific discussion of the issues surrounding sex that are quite common in Mormonism, and among the general public. But, as the title of the episode suggests, the main focus is on the sex-positive messaging that exists in Mormonism, and how we can better include it in our own thinking about and experiences of desire and physical intimacy. How can we create a gospel-based value system that incorporates LDS teachings about the goodness of our bodies, and that sex is not just about procreation but also pleasure and connection and relational intimacy? How do we incorporate and find the proper balance between messaging about the spiritual aspects of human sexuality and the intense and bodily driven emotions and activities that are a key element of sexual fulfillment? The panelists also address LDS teachings about pornography, as well as finding healthy ways to integrate our sexual pasts with our present sex lives—everything from the messaging we grew up with and absorbed into our views about ourselves and our bodies, to guilt over past sexual experimentation, to healing from unwanted sexual advances, even abuse.

This is a powerful episode. Please listen and then join in the discussion in the comments section below!

 

Links to Items and Events Mentioned in this Episode:

“Intimacy in Mormon Marriage” Workshop, 28 December 2015, Orem, Utah. Co-sponsored by Mormon Matters and A Thoughtful Faith podcasts.
The workshop information and registration links are about half-way down front page. You can also learn about the workshop and register here.

Related writings by Natasha Helfer Parker:
Sexuality and the Mormon Marriage,” Segullah blog, 31 January 2011

Teaching Chastity to the Relief Society,” Mormon Therapist blog, 21 September 2013

The Healing Group, Kristin Hodson’s therapy practice website

Kristin Hodson, et al, Real Intimacy: A Couple’s Guide to Healthy, Genuine Sexuality (Cedar Fort, 2012)

Who Moved My Desire?“: A Support Group Exploring Female Desire

Dallin H. Oaks, “Recovering from the Trap of Pornography,” Ensign, Ocober 2015

What Should I Do When I See Pornography?“, LDS.org video for children

Kristin Hodson, “Ten Sex Positive Things Worth Noting in the LDS Church Video on Talking to Your Kids About Pornography,” Cultural Hall Podcast blog, 16 November 2015

Intimate Connections Counseling, Kristin Marie Bennion’s therapy practice website

Shannon Hickman Counseling, Shannon Hickman’s therapy practice website

The Birds and the Bees: Parent Education Event” flyer for Shannon Hickman workshop to be held 11 January 2016 in West Jordan, Utah

Taylor Petrey, “Toward a Post-Heterosexual Mormon Theology,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Winter 2011

Utah Sex Therapy Association website

AASECT: American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists website

312–313: The Positive Spiritual Effects of Disenchantment and Demythologizing

Throughout our life cycle, we are all called to reexamine the truths, values, beliefs, and stories that suggest key purposes for living and give meaning to the things we do. In most areas of life, when we see cracks in our understanding or problems in the way we do things we usually find somewhat gentle ways to admit the issues that need addressing and to cast about for resources and new views that might aid or drive the needed changes. However, when it comes to the things we sense as life’s biggest value giver or most important stories or framings, what theologian Paul Tillich calls our “Ultimate Concern,” admitting that shifts are needed is much more difficult. And because for most of us, our Ultimate Concern involves God, anxiety about death or salvation, and other elements of life with seemingly very big consequences should we be wrong—the stakes are raised even higher. The problem is, however, these things of Ultimate Concern are not tangible in the way that much of life is. We can’t see them clearly or use any of our other physical senses to help us articulate them. Instead, we need metaphors and symbols and rituals and community dialogue to continually “point toward” them, to direct our attention to their looming presence even in their physical absence. Unfortunately, once we begin relying on these symbols and metaphors, quite naturally our minds begin to forget that these are not the things of Ultimate Concern themselves but only directors and encouragers, stories and practices that are to aim our attention to concerns and energies that lie beyond themselves.

All of us can recognize this danger, and we have likely experienced it ourselves. Furthermore most religions also understand this, and some better than others actually build in practices or have frequent conversations that talk about how we can end up focusing on the symbol rather than what it symbolizes, the literalness of a story versus its narrative and transformational power. These practices and conversations remind us to try to experience fresh the Divine or these Ultimate values and concerns, to allow our symbols and myths to “break” and remind us, again and again, that they were never intended to substitute for experiencing the things they point to. In these religions, we can find deliberate attempts to “disenchant” their followers with the symbols and old stories, sometimes in shocking ways, so they won’t focus on the wrong things. Or they will talk about the important role of “de-mythologizing,” of reminding ourselves that the powerful stories of our traditions, though often based upon real events or experiences of founders and others, also have mythic elements that must be sorted through. Sometimes the sorting leads to peeling back the layers to find an original core set of energies that gave and give life to the tradition; in other cases the process is to embrace the mythic elements even more thoroughly as a way of sending followers out of day-to-day consciousness and into more imaginative realms (but also ways of thinking that can allow the inrush of new insight and fresh transformative energies).

This two-part podcast features Derrick Clements, Jordan Harmon, and Carl Youngblood, along with Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon, exploring the difficulties but also the rich blessings of becoming disenchanted, and/or entering into conscious demythologizing. The first part and a bit of the second focus mostly on how this process operates (and could operate better) at a personal level. The second part then folds into a discussion of how Mormonism as an institution might work more effectively to move us into the more powerful experiential realms that can follow upon “brokenness”—whether of symbols, myths, or our hearts. The episodes contain fascinating ethnographic material from Hopi and other cultures, strong exegesis from Paul Tillich and other thinkers, and the participants’ own life stories and experiences with these processes.

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

310–311: Making Sense of the Research on Homosexuality—Parts 3 & 4: Social and Psychological Factors

With the renewed conversation in Mormonism about homosexuality initiated by the November 6th policy changes, it has become clear that many Latter-day Saints have never really been exposed to the breadth of research conducted in the past several decades about the biological and social factors involved in human sexual development, attraction, and identity, including homosexual orientations. It is also evident that many currently hold to older and largely disproved explanations about the causes of homosexuality and an individual’s ability to change her or his sexuality. In this four-episode arc of the Mormon Matters podcast, host Dan Wotherspoon is joined by microbiologist William Bradshaw, marriage and family therapist and certified sex therapist Natasha Helfer Parker, and psychiatrist Daniel Parkinson in an attempt to suggest the scope and summarize the findings of research into these questions.

Parts 1 & 2 focus on the preponderance of research into the biological factors that play a huge role in our sexual orientations and identities, including sexual fluidity.

Parts 3 & 4 tackle the sociological and psychological research. Part 3 addresses ideas that are often held by Latter-day Saints and others that homosexual orientation is caused by factors such as sexual abuse or early sexual experimentation, or certain personality traits of one’s parents. The panelists also address issues surrounding attempts to change one’s sexual orientation. Part 4 includes a continuation of these same issues as well as a focus on what’s happening in Mormonism today and what the panelists see as being the healthiest options given the new policies that do not, at this point, seem likely to change anytime soon.

308–309: Making Sense of the Research on Homosexuality—Parts 1 & 2: Biological Factors

With the renewed conversation in Mormonism about homosexuality initiated by the November 6th policy changes, it has become clear that many Latter-day Saints have never really been exposed to the breadth of research conducted in the past several decades about the biological and social factors involved in human sexual development, attraction, and identity, including homosexual orientations. It is also evident that many currently hold to older and largely disproved explanations about the causes of homosexuality and an individual’s ability to change her or his sexuality. In this four-episode arc of the Mormon Matters podcast, host Dan Wotherspoon is joined by microbiologist William Bradshaw, marriage and family therapist and certified sex therapist Natasha Helfer Parker, and psychiatrist Daniel Parkinson in an attempt to suggest the scope and summarize the findings of research into these questions.

Parts 1 & 2 (released 23 November) focus on the preponderance of research into the biological factors that play a huge role in our sexual orientations and identities, including sexual fluidity.

Parts 3 & 4 (forthcoming 24 November) tackle the sociological and psychological research. Part 3 addresses ideas that are often held by Latter-day Saints and others that homosexual orientation is caused by factors such as sexual abuse or early sexual experimentation, or certain personality traits of one’s parents. The panelists also address issues surrounding attempts to change one’s sexual orientation. Part 4 includes a continuation of these same issues as well as a focus on what’s happening in Mormonism today and what the panelists see as being the healthiest options given the new policies that do not, at this point, seem likely to change anytime soon.