276: Being Heard in Today’s Church

AnyOpposedAt the April 2015 General Conference, several church members took the unusual step of voicing opposition during the sustaining of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. Frustrated with the lack of dialogue between the church’s top leaders and those with questions about church doctrines, or who hope to help leaders see the negative effects of certain teachings, practices, or types of rhetoric, members of “Any Opposed” felt that being vocal about their dissatisfaction–even at the risk of disruption of a well-known and sacred ritual–was worth the negative pushback they would receive. Surely much went on within the hearts of those who performed this action that brought them to a point in their thinking processes where they felt so voiceless that they saw this ritual moment as one of the only ways they might ever be heard.

In this podcast, co-released by Mormon Matters, A Thoughtful Faith, and Mormon Mental Health, Dan Wotherspoon, Gina Colvin, and Natasha Helfer Parker (the hosts of these podcasts) discuss the issue of voice within today’s church. What are the institutional factors that lead to difficulties being heard, especially when our experience or views do not fit within the mainstream? What are cultural forces as play? But, most importantly, are there ideas, framings, skills, and disciplines we might undertake to become more effective in conveying our observations and feelings about things even when the contemporary church and culture is not ideally suited for discussions of difficult issues? How have the hosts found the strength, courage, and abilities to speak up and still be seen (by most members) as faithful, active, and constructive voices within today’s Mormonism?

Free-wheeling discussion alert—but it is still one that we think you’ll enjoy. Let us know in the comments section below if we are right. And please share your own experiences with speaking up and being heard within the church!

274–275: Beyond Belief and Unbelief

Exude,-Escape,-or-Enact-an-Existential-Crisis-Step-1We bring our faith crises to word most often through expressions about our no longer “believing” this or that teaching. We’ve been confronted with evidence that challenges a truth claim or leads us to no longer unquestionably follow leaders or our current life scripts, and we naturally concentrate our attention on those claims that are now called into question. For complex reasons, some of us seem to have higher tolerances for uncertainty than others, while for others of us this questioning of previously held notions quickly turns to active “disbelief” and even outright rejection of our faith tradition: “If it’s wrong on this front, it’s certainly wrong on many others.” But, are there deeper, existential-level questions we might ask that are obscured by the fact that we concentrate so much on–and make so many decisions about our faith engagement based upon–“beliefs”? What else might be underlying our current discomfort that we aren’t seeing and meeting head-on because we pose questions to ourselves mostly at the level of belief/unbelief?

In this two-part episode, Philip A. Barlow and U. Carlisle Hunsaker join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon for a fascinating and multi-layered conversation about these additional questions. In the course of it, they interrogate choices about believing and not believing from multiple angles. What are some of the factors that lead to active “unbelief”? But what might we not see and experience should we choose that stance? What are the essential ingredients for a fully flourishing life? Could experiences in the church that leave many feeling unfulfilled in these areas be a major (albeit largely un-examined and un-spoken) factor in our choices to change our engagement or affiliation with our faith tradition? Finally, can we begin to look at faith as far more than about beliefs and attempting to find certitude, and instead as an enriched trust in God and ourselves in our deepest essence?

Featuring personal sharing, along with examinations of these and many other angles, this is a terrific conversation you will likely choose to listen to multiple times. Please do, and then share your experiences and questions in the comments section below!



U. Carlisle Hunsaker, “Mormonism and a Tragic Sense of Life,” Sunstone 41 (Sept-Oct. 1983)

U. Carlisle Hunsaker, “Soul-Making, Or Is There Life Before Death?“, Dialogue 18, no. 3 (Fall, 1985)

Richard L. Bushman, “Faithful History,” Dialogue 4, no. 4 (Winter, 1969)

273: The Passion (Final Week of Jesus’s Life)

Piasecki_Last SupperOn 29 March 2015, the Christian world will celebrate Palm Sunday, which commemorates Jesus’s entrance into Jerusalem for what turned out to be the final few days of his life. This final week, especially his suffering in Gethsemane, betrayal, and crucifixion, are also widely known as “The Passion,” and commemorations of these and other events of this seven-day period (ending with his resurrection on Easter Sunday) take place during Holy Week. The things that occurred during this final week have special significance for Christians, and they are among the few events in Jesus’s life that are mentioned in each of the four Gospels.

In this episode, Eric Huntsman and Julie Smith join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon for a close look at the events of this week, as well interesting textual issues (both things included and how, as well as differences). They also speak freely of devotional angles one might contemplate as part of a Holy Week commemoration, as well as at other times. What can we learn about Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem? His overturning of money-changer tables and causing of a ruckus in the temple? His anointing with expensive oil by a woman with an alabaster jar? The Last Supper? His ordeal in Gethsemane? His betrayal? Finally, what can we learn from the rending of the temple veil at following his crucifixion?

This episode dovetails nicely with “An Easter Primer” (Episodes 159-163) released in March 2013. In that series of episodes, Jared Anderson, Zina Petersen, and Kristine Haglund introduce us in great detail to the textual record (and wider background) of his crucifixion, burial, and resurrection, as well as a history of liturgies and the special music and celebrations of Holy Week throughout history and today, including things like Passion plays and devotional experiencing of the Stations of the Cross.

Together, these episodes serve well as rich introductions in preparation for Holy Week commemorations. May yours be wonderful!

After listening, please share your ideas and questions in the comments section below!



Julie M. Smith, Search, Ponder, and Pray: A Guide to the Gospels (Greg Kofford Books, 2014). Also Kindle edition

Eric D. Huntsman, For God So Loved the World: The Final Days of the Savior’s Life (Deseret Book, 2011)

Julie M. Smith, “Narrative Atonement Theology in the Gospel of Mark,” BYU Studies 54, no. 1 (If not a subscriber to the journal, cost of $.99 to download PDF)

Additional reading:

Raymond Brown, The Death of the Messiah: From Gethsemane to the Grave (2 vol. Boxed Set)

Craig A. Evans and N.T. Wright, Jesus, the Final Days: What Really Happened

Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach about Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem

Shimon Gibson, The Final Days of Jesus: The Archaeological Evidence

272: Paul’s Theology of Grace

Romans-Front-CoverThe Apostle Paul’s theology can be difficult to grasp–and, in a few ways, especially so for Mormons. Some challenges arise from Latter-day Saints’ primary use of the King James Translation of the Bible, which has often very beautiful language but also contains archaic expressions that sometimes confuse English readers and obscure key connections between ideas. Another factor has been Mormonism’s attempts to differentiate itself from mainline and evangelical Christianity, which has caused it to de-emphasize Paul’s writings since they are so pivotal in shaping the understandings in these other traditions. One huge cost of this shying away from things that sound “too Protestant” has been a Mormon de-emphasis on–and huge misunderstanding of–the central theological tenet of grace, especially as it relates to sin and “the law.” In the past two decades, however, several popular Mormon theologians have begun to rescue Grace and Paul’s central messaging from their background positions. This episode’s guests, Adam S. Miller and Joseph Spencer, are two of these theologians who have done a great deal of important thinking, writing, and speaking about Grace and its relationship to other familiar but often misunderstood and misjudged elements of Paul’s theology.

In this discussion, and through his an aptly titled book, Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan: An Urgent Paraphrase of Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Miller gets to the heart of LDS misunderstandings of Grace. As he understands Paul teaching, grace is not a response to sin, a kind of divine approval that bridges the performance gap that always will remain even “after all we can do” (a common misreading of what is being taught in 2 Nephi 25:23). Miller writes: “Grace is not God’s backup plan. Jesus is not plan B. God’s boundless grace comes first and sin is what follows. Grace is not God’s response to sin. Sin is our embarrassed, improvised, rebellious rejection of God’s original grace.” Besides on grace, Miller and Spencer also lead us in wonderful explications of Paul’s views on sin, the law, death, and faith. In so doing, they help reveal the “underlying logic” of Paul’s brilliant theology, presenting it in a very compelling way.

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



Adam S. Miller, Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan: An Urgent Paraphrase of Paul’s Letter to the Romans (2015)

James E. Faulconer and Joseph M. Spencer, Perspectives on Mormon Theology: Scriptural Theology (Greg Kofford Books, 2015)

Joseph M. Spencer, For Zion: A Theology of Hope (2014)

N.T. Wright, The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation (HarperSanFrancisco, 2011)

271: Speaking with Loved Ones about Faith Differences

different-perspectives-ps3-trophy-25266.jpgIn this episode, co-released with Mormon Stories, Wendy Williams Montgomery, John Dehlin, and Dan Wotherspoon speak about the difficult dynamics at play in discussing with loved ones, whether family, friends, or ward members, about differences in faith positions after one party or another has shifted. In contrast with the types of challenges presented to people by “outsiders” to their faith, a change in stance and the new worldview presented by those who were once in sync with you (or at least perceived to be in sync) can be far more devastating. Their shifts often feel very personal, a rejection of something we hold most dear. And they have no excuse! They once knew what we know and now challenge and say they are seeing more clearly or experiencing something else more richly? For those who are the ones who have shifted, a loved one’s negative reactions to that person’s change also can feel quite personal. Why don’t they trust me that I’m on a good path, that I have information or insights that open the world to me in new ways? Why are they choosing stubbornness and clinging to ideology and dogma over really exploring and staying in close relationship with me no matter where my faith journey takes me?

How can we see these and other dynamics more clearly? What is “our” responsibility as those who have been the one whose perspectives have shifted? How can both parties better understand the challenges of this situation and learn to have compassion for each other? What are key virtues needed in such relationships? What are some “dos” and “don’ts” for negotiating this difficult interpersonal terrain?

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

270: “Yes, and . . .”: Activism and Renewal in a Tragic World

parker-palmerWe all recognize that there is a significant distance between the “real” world we live in and the “ideal” one we’d love to see instantiated. Parker Palmer calls this space between real and ideal the “tragic gap.” He uses “tragic” to denote the inevitability of this distance and to acknowledge that even the greatest person living the best kind of life will never live to see her or his ideals fully realized. “Tragic” implies those things that are inescapable conditions of life. In Mormon theology, even God lives in the tragic gap. God can call and urge and try to persuade each person and entity toward its richest life, but always that pesky thing called “agency” will thwart full realization. Given these facts of existence, however, how does God maintain focus and energy and a life of continual striving to try to bring about joy for all? And, closer to home, how can we? How can we hold the tension? How can we find renewal of our spirits?

This episode features an extended reflection on these and related issues by Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon. Using a talk he gave in November 2014 at the Sunstone Northwest Symposium as a guide, he seeks to draw attention to deeper and richer forms of inclusion and belonging, culminating in our coming to peace and joy as people who are willing to courageously (but also not without its joys) live, breathe, and serve in this tragic gap. It is a life that offers no easy tasks, but it is a type of life and independence of spirit in which we might fully be at peace with ourselves and find renewal of our energies. And one in which we’ll find that we are also in great company!