Before John Dehlin, there was Jeff Burton.
Jeff, a mechanical engineer by profession who was once an LDS Social Services counselor, has helped countless Mormons stay in the Church and stay active after experiencing crises of faith. His book and website, For Those Who Wonder, (where you can download his book for free!) continue to minister to the needs of those who are looking for ways to reconcile their changed religious understandings with their love for, and desire to remain involved with, the LDS Church. He helped me see that I could “remodel” my Mormon “house” to suit my needs in a way that was compatible with the expectations of others who live in it.
After purchasing his book at the BYU bookstore, I began to correspond with him about serving a mission, a decision which weighed heavily on my mind. In these pre-“raised bar” days, he helped me see that my doubts about parts of the Joseph Smith narrative need not prevent me from serving. I could witness to the things which I did strongly believe, like the mission of Jesus Christ and His teachings, in improving people’s lives. I cannot overestimate the impact that his honest and refreshing advice had on an 18 year old who thought he was alone in the Church. Others had gone through the same struggles!
Unfortunately, in the MTC I sometimes pretended to “know” things I doubted. I resented the social pressure to constantly testify. Jeff sent me another letter in the MTC which gave me some good advice about honesty. I determined to be more honest in my convictions and to let the force of what I DID believe in overshadow the doubts I harbored about aspects of the Restoration, especially in my conversations with missionaries and investigators.
Interestingly, Jeff’s advice to be honest helped me with many members of the Church in Germany, who had similar doubts as mine. I became friends with a few souls who entrusted parts of their faith journey to me. We encouraged each other to hold on to the gospel of Jesus Christ, while letting go of the parts of the Restoration narrative that didn’t work for us. (As an aside, Germany is a great place to go to test your religious convictions! Between the ravages of World War II, the Holocaust, and the dominance of Euro-secularism, you are hard pressed to find fellow theists).
I followed Jeff’s trail to the Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake when I returned to BYU post-mission. He was presenting on inactivity rates in different areas of the Church which was quite interesting.
Most recently, I shared my appreciation for his help in staying in a Church which has continued to bring me joy and fulfillment. If not for Jeff, who knows, I might have ended up Episcopalian! 😉
Have any of you benefitted from counselors like Jeff?