People Who Helped Me Stay Mormon Part I: Jeff Burton

John Nilsson BYU, christianity, church, curiosity, doubt, faith, historicity, Jesus, joseph, missionary, Mormon, new order mormon, orthodox, questioning, religion, restoration, surviving, testimony, thought 36 Comments

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?

Comments

comments

Comments 36

  1. I think of my bishop in my home ward. In one short conversation, he convinced me to go on a mission, something I was dead-set against beforehand. That was a turning point in my life. Everything GOOD that happened after that point was a direct result of serving a mission. Everything BAD would have been much worse had I not served a mission. That bishop, though never having authored a book or become a general authority–in fact, he was pretty ordinary guy (though smart)–had a direct influence on me and all my descendants. Since I’ve moved across the country to the East Coast, I’ve lost touch with him, but I’ll never forget the influence he had on my life.

  2. John, your link to the audio is bad.

    Oh, and nice article, btw. See, here’s proof that I do read your articles. 😛

  3. My father

    He hated school, barely tolerated it enough to graduate with a C average, worked initially as a pressman (setting the old printing presses) then took a huge pay cut and ended up as a janitor in order to help my mother. He was one of the smartest men I have ever met, and he didn’t attend a day of college.

    There is no way to explain what he taught me, but two examples will have to do for this forum:

    1) You are smart enough to justify whatever you choose to believe. Choose to believe whatever brings you joy, then justify it. If you try to do it the other way (believing only what makes sense), you’ll end up miserable.

    2) If I left the Church every time I was offended or let down, I would have left the Church each week of my life. It’s not perfect, but it can help you get there. If you get there or not is up to you, so never blame the Church (or anyone in it) for what you fail to do or become. Take responsibility for your life and you’ll be happy; blame others and you’ll be miserable.

    If any of you haven’t read my tribute to him, here it is:

    http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2007/10/my-niece-died-this-morning.html

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    Bruce,

    The link is now fixed. Thanks for the heads up!

    I must now try to comment on your next few posts. They’re so theologically intricate I rarely know where to add anything except “nice job.”

    Frecklefoot,

    It is pleasant to reflect on the influence people like your bishop have had. Think of how many others he has shaped for the better. Hopefully he can discover the gratification of knowing he has made a positive difference in his ward member’s lives. Thanks for sharing.

  5. John,

    I do have one comment. 🙂

    I like Jeff Burton’s “label” of “faithful doubter.” (From the book you linked to.) I think that is a very descriptive label for what I have been calling “New Order Mormons” (a very poor label for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that there is nothing new about it, nor is there any real “order”) or “Cafeteria Mormons” (John Dehlin’s label borrowed from cafeteria Christianity) which I think is better then NOM but leaves me feeling hungry more than anything else.

    But some how “faithful doubter” fits better, and I think I’m going to use that label when possible. Plus is sounds so respectful.

    By the way, the label I choose for myself is “Skeptical Believer” which I see as a “fourth path” (in reference to our lunch conversation) that I think hasn’t gotten any press at all to date.

    This is probably because a Skeptical Believers, such as myself, is first and foremost “a believer” and so we don’t really stand out from the mass of other believers and have no desire to stand out. In fact, there is really no difference between us and other believers worth mentioning other than perhaps how we think of things internally.

    I get the feeling there are a lot of us Skeptical Believers, though. I think we’re probably represented within the ranks of the 12 apostles, for example. (I think Dallin H. Oaks is a Skeptical Believer… and since he’s probably going to be President of the Church someday, I think we’ll have at least one Skeptical Believer as Prophet, eventually. This is obviously just a guess.)

    I suspect Ray is a fellow “Skeptical Believer.” (Not trying to pin a label on you, Ray, but your quote above from your Dad certainly fits the bill.) I think C.S. Lewis was. I think Hugh Nibley was. I think Richard Bushman and Claudia Bushman are. We are a path separate and distinct from being a “Faithful Doubter.”

    For someone like me, that once doubted, we are a return to belief. (Not all Skeptical Believers once had doubts, but C.S. Lewis is a good example here.)

    I probably need to explain what I understand a “Skeptical Believer” to be more in a future post… really far future most likely. My Puddleglum quote doesn’t really explain it, only one aspect of it. (It only explains the aspect where we look at the alternative belief with the same skepticism we look at our own beliefs with.)

    But I think the heart of being a Skeptical Believer is rooted in true skepticism, that is to say self-skepticism.

  6. Bruce, I like the term, but I will quibble just slightly with one statement.

    I think the heart of being a Skeptical Believer is rooted in belief. I think the skepticism comes from belief – that we believe there is a God (and a way for us to conceive of Him), but we are skeptical of our ability to understand Him and it perfectly. Therefore, we believe what we believe, but we are always open to more – or to alteration – or to insight from others – or however else you want to say it.

    I personally have no doubts about the Restoration and the Church that are serious enough to make me leave – and I am skeptical that I ever will have doubts that drive that deeply. The very definition of belief I use is such that the things I doubt simply aren’t as important as the things I believe. I think that’s what you are saying – that my belief is primary, and my skepticism simply drives my attempts to understand better and more fully.

    It’s kind of like godly sorrow vs. the sorrow of the damned. One drives someone forward; the other drags someone down. My skepticism drives me forward, focused on the future and the positive; the skepticism I see in some others keeps them constantly focused on the past and the negative. I am extremely happy, and I just don’t care about tearing down others; some others are not happy, and they seem to find their purpose in negativism and mockery. I am a skeptical BELIEVER; they are skeptics.

  7. I’ve certainly had people whose influence and example and teaching have benefited me, but I have not had any one person who either talked me into or out of staying in the church in an intensive counseling-type relationship like you describe, in which my future hung in the balance.

    I guess I’m really independent in that way. As soon as I was old enough (age 17), I left home and the church at the same time, and when I came back two years later it was on my own terms and due to my own spiritual experiences, largely with discovering the reality of the dark side. My parents played a pivotal role in that they gave me my space and continued to accept me even while I was out of the church, and I’m sure their prayers helped, but not even they talked me through it.

    One thing that helps me is that my spiritual experiences and personal gospel logic both remain compelling enough to me that I am not troubled by doubts; they roll off my back, for the most part (now, actually ENJOYING the church and the gospel is another story). I’m plenty aware of controversies and unexplained problems, but I find it natural to give the benefit of the doubt to the church. I see many people who are WAY too quick to put WAY too much stock in human historical and scientific understanding, while my mindset is to wait and see what the real picture turns out to be. In both historical and scientific areas, I’m sure there are gigantic pieces of the puzzle that we’re missing, yet some people are so quick to jump to conclusions based on very limited human understanding. Too much faith in humans, not enough in God.

    But if and when I do have a crisis of faith in which human-filtered history and science do suddenly start to outweigh the church’s claims in my heart and mind, I hope I can find someone like you’re describing to help me negotiate it without too much collateral damage to my family relationships, etc. With the spiritual experiences I’ve had, however, and the soundness of the basic plan of salvation logic, I doubt that would happen. I’m more in danger of drifting away from the church because I find it so boring and don’t LIKE it, not because I don’t BELIEVE it anymore. That’s why I like alternative Mormon forums like Sunstone and the Bloggernacle so much; they help mitigate the boredom I feel in corporate Mormonism.

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    Bruce,

    Fantastic thoughts.

    So do we have a spectrum of belief, with “true believers” at one end, “unfaithful doubters” on the other, with faithful doubters and skeptical believers holding up the middle of the balance and keeping the conversation going?

    The only advantage I saw to the New Order Mormons tag was that it reminds us of the band that rose triumphantly from the ashes of Joy Division to bring us fantastic singles like “True Faith”, “Bizarre Love Triangle”, “Regret”, and “Blue Monday.” 🙂

    “Cafeteria Catholics” I have heard a few times, I suppose “menu Mormons” might be the closest approximation to that idea.

    I would be intrigued by a post of yours on skeptical believing, and the line of demarcation between faithful doubt and skeptical belief. Where does one pass over from one to the other, etc.?

  9. >>> I think the heart of being a Skeptical Believer is rooted in belief. I think the skepticism comes from belief – that we believe there is a God (and a way for us to conceive of Him), but we are skeptical of our ability to understand Him and it perfectly. Therefore, we believe what we believe, but we are always open to more – or to alteration – or to insight from others – or however else you want to say it.

    Well said, Ray. I retract my statement and accept yours as more accurate.

    However, my statement was said really from my stand point as a former doubter more so then a current Skeptical Believer. So I just said it wrong. What I should have said is for a faithful doubter to understand my views is to understand that the root of my logic will always be self-skepticism.

    That is to say, turning my skepticim on myself and, well, everyone, casued a new world to emerge for me that, um, was exactly like the faithful one I thought I had left. Which, is sort of wierd if you think about it but from another point of view makes sense.

    >>> I think that’s what you are saying – that my belief is primary, and my skepticism simply drives my attempts to understand better and more fully

    My personal experience becoming a Skeptical Believer means I have no problem understanding skepticism of the LDS Church truth claims because I understand the truth claims are “non-proven” in the objective sense of outside proof and thus worthy of skepticism. And that means I can easily talk about and even entertain a skeptical point of view without my former pain when I did because I’m no longer stupid enough to believe I have the universe figured out through scholarly means. (I see this in your writings as well.)

    But since it’s all unknown through scholarly means anyhow, and since the smartest smart person in the world who thinks he has the universe all figured out has arguments that amount to dross (i.e. I’m skeptical of them, as well I should be) that leaves me with what? Faith in something more than yourself! (There is the self-skepticism again.)

    So yes “faith” (or “belief” which is here used synonmously) is primary, as you say, regardless of whether or not you got to that point through doubt like me and C.S. Lewis.

    The logical corrolary is that I’m not enamored with a lot of “theories” that exist. If science proves beyond doubt that dinosaurs didn’t really roam around with humans pre-flood (as McConkie wrote about in Mormon Doctrine), well, I was skeptical of that point of view to begin with so it’s no loss to have it disproved.

    update: What I’m trying to get at here is that the “Skeptical” in “Skeptical Believer” is not “Skepticism of God” it’s “Skepticism of All that isn’t God” including oneself.

  10. John asks: “So do we have a spectrum of belief, with “true believers” at one end, “unfaithful doubters” on the other, with faithful doubters and skeptical believers holding up the middle of the balance and keeping the conversation going?”

    If you read the exchange that just took place between me and Ray (after you posted) I think the answer is that Skeptical Believers are on the same side of the spectrum as TBMs. (Actually, I think we ARE TBMs.) We are just really less then impressed with a lot of the folklore theories and explanations and we don’t ever reject scientific findings, we just apply appropriate skepticism to them. (As all people should.)

    Personally, I think scholarship amounts to nothing whereas science is very important for repeatability but not for “objective truth” per se (except in so far that repeatability is a sort of “objective truth” in and of itself), but that’s a topic for another time.

    But to put it another way, I accept all science, but not as objective reality only as objective repeatability. And I reject ALL scholarship, period, as anything but self discovery. (Including believing scholarship, by the way.) But I do accept self discovery as a valid expression and thus I do not “look down upon” scholarship at all. I think it’s a needed thing. I just wish we didn’t have a culture that put so much emphasis on something so incredibly tenuous.

    >>> line of demarcation

    Personally, I believe the line of demarcation between a faithful doubter and skeptical believer is indeed self-doubt. Or at least this is what it was for me. Ray, as a fellow skeptical believer, will have to speak for himself. The demarcation line my differ by individual.

  11. What great comments. I relate to much of #6, #7 and this

    “My personal experience becoming a Skeptical Believer means I have no problem understanding skepticism of the LDS Church truth claims because I understand the truth claims are “non-proven” in the objective sense of outside proof and thus worthy of skepticism. And that means I can easily talk about and even entertain a skeptical point of view without … pain.”

    Amen.

    ~

  12. Chris said: “I see many people who are WAY too quick to put WAY too much stock in human historical and scientific understanding, while my mindset is to wait and see what the real picture turns out to be. In both historical and scientific areas, I’m sure there are gigantic pieces of the puzzle that we’re missing, yet some people are so quick to jump to conclusions based on very limited human understanding. Too much faith in humans, not enough in God.”

    Welcome fellow Skeptical Believer! 😛

    You too Thomas.

    Pardon the label. Just remember the first law of labels. No one ever fits them perfectly. They’re just a way to simply the world for when we are talking in generalities.

  13. Personally, I would put the “line” as the emphasis on the adjective/noun relationship. Iow, a skeptical believer is a believer, first and foremost. The skepticism is a characteristic of the believer. A faithful doubter, otoh, is a doubter, first and foremost. The faithful is a chatacteristic of the doubter.

    To make this real and practical, try the following:

    If someone makes a claim or a statement that sounds different than what you believe, what is your first reaction – your “gut instinct”? If it is to accept that there is some validity in it and then look for that validity – even if you have to discard a bunch of crap to find it, you are a skeptical believer. You believed there was good in there somewhere, and you were willing to exercise skepticism to sort through the crap to find the good. Otoh, if your immediate reaction is, “That’s a bunch of crap,” you are less likely to search through it for a nugget of gold. You still are “faithful” to what you believe, but you aren’t very open to finding insights among the ashes – to wade through the grime to find the sublime. Your “faithfulness” keeps you anchored to your current truth, but it keeps you anchored away from any other truth.

    That’s my take, anyway.

    (Btw, I think you can be a temple-recommend holding Mormon and be a faithful doubter – or an atheist and a skeptical believer. Neither title automatically endows one or the other with any degree of “truth”. That is a completely separate exercise in title bestowal.)

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    Ray,

    I read your post about your dad. He sounds like one of those people who’ll be in the front of the line in the next life.

    I’ll quibble with one item, since quibbling clarifies and keeps the discussion alive.

    You say you have not, nor could imagine, having doubts about the Restoration which would make you leave (the Church?) The faithful doubters Jeff Burton writes about have not left. In fact, that’s why the appellation “faithful” works in any sense for them. They have maintained faith with the organization by staying in it and as active as they and the organization can mutually stomach.

    You also describe the position of the skeptical believer so well you make it virtually impossible for any believing Mormon (I imagine) not to want to be described that way (unless they have a visceral reaction to the word “skeptical”.) How would you characterize a non-skeptical believer in positive terms?

    Chris,

    I see where you’re coming from. Have you been able to use your experience of leaving to counsel others? I’ll see you at Sunstone!

  15. Bruce,

    Thanks for summing up my position as well: “for a faithful doubter to understand my views is to understand that the root of my logic will always be self-skepticism.”

    Self-skepticism is important and beneficial for people on all points along the spectrum. Self-skepticism can protect you from disillusionment and error regardless of whether you’re a TBM or a DAMU.

    Also, I love the Ninth Article of Faith because it provides a doctrinal basis for being skeptical, not only as individuals, but as a Church at large. We believe that God WILL YET (i.e., hasn’t happened already) reveal MANY (i.e., not just a few) GREAT AND IMPORTANT THINGS (i.e., not just minor policy or program tweaks) pertaining to the Kingdom of God.

    That Article of Faith gives us a solid reason to be skeptical whenever we or anyone else claims to have a perfect, complete, and certain understanding of something.

  16. Believing Skeptic! that’s what it should be called. Not “Skepical Believer” but “Believing Skeptic!”

    It emphasizes belief first and also matches up against “Faithful Doubter” a bit better. 🙂

  17. >>> If it is to accept that there is some validity in it and then look for that validity – even if you have to discard a bunch of crap to find it, you are a skeptical believer.

    You know, Ray, this is perfect. I was just thinking about the Adam-God doctrine as an example.

    Now on the one hand, I’m skeptical of the current scholarly view that I’ve seen that has Brigham Young teaching things contrary to scripture. But on the other hand, I’m skeptical enough of any human being to believe that Brigham Young, imperfect person that he was, might have misunderstood some scriptures.

    And yet, even if I assume a WORST CASE scenario, that Brigham Young did teach a doctrine entirely contrary to scripture, the truth is that I think it’s a sort of beautiful doctrine, even if not true.

    The whole concept of Adam-God, as scholars claim it to be (which I do not necessarily accept as a correct interpretation of BY) is that we have a great-grandfather God, and a grand-father God that get together and take an Arch Angel and help him become a God that becomes the direct lineal ancestor of all of us. It’s beautiful. It contains within it the idea that our “God” is multiple persons that all work together in perfect harmony for our good. It contains hints of the true source of the divine nature that hides within mankind. It contains a direction connection to God in a way that scripture does not teach.

    Is it true? Of course its not entirely true. But there is much truth in it and I do not see it as horrible or something to be afraid of. And it matches up so well with tried and true doctrines of the Church that are scriptural, such as the oneness of God and the plurality of Gods and the literal Fatherhood of God. Now all of those doctrines are scriptural even if Adam-God was just an attempt to literalize them in a way that BY could comprehend them better.

    That being said, I wish to express again my deep skepticism that the scholars have BY figured out. I’ll wait to ask him. 😉

    I now return to my regular radio silence during the week. John, don’t ever say I didn’t take an active commenting role on one of your (well done, btw) posts. 🙂

  18. When I had a crisis of faith some years ago, the most consoling thing for me was to know that there were other members of the Church who had experienced similar doubts and been to the brink. Through John Dehlin, I found Jeff Burton’s writings, and decided that there was enough I believed and loved in the Church for me to stay.

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  20. I would currently classify myself as a “faithful doubter” who is trying desperately to remain open to a more sure faith. Throughout my journey, I have been tremendously helped by both John’s and Jeff’s work, and by the bloggernacle in general. I hesitate though to contact Jeff or others and participation on blogs just doesn’t seem to have the same effect for me as face-to-face contact. It would be nice to find someone with similar beliefs/doubts/experiences in the DC area who I could talk to in person. Every week I go to church and look for any telltale signs of a fellow doubter, but so far no luck in finding evidence conclusive enough that I am willing to test the waters.

  21. Bruce, if I self-identify with either of the terms, I choose Skeptical Believer over Believing Skeptic – since the noun “believer” fits my core orientation better than “skeptic”. I think you might fit “Believing Skeptic” better – which makes us brotherly neighbors in the same hood, I guess. 🙂

    “How would you characterize a non-skeptical believer in positive terms?”

    As someone who has reached a level of confidence that they don’t need to know or understand more to be happy. That’s not me, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It drives unbelieving skeptics absolutely nuts, but if it really works for someone, I’m not going to say it’s a bad thing. I’d rather they be happy in their confidence than miserable outside it.

  22. Scott, would you mind if I put out a request to some of the permabloggers at BCC and T&S to see if there is someone in DC with whom they could help get you connected?

  23. Ray,

    I see your point about “Believing Skeptic” meaning “skeptic” and “Skeptical Believer” being a “believer.” Guess new labels are harder to make up than it first appears.

    So I guess I’ll go with Skeptical Believer for now unless I can find a better and more descriptive label.

    Interestingly, my wife gives me the hardest time over my skeptic side. I’m skeptical of just about everything. I constantly turn down get rich quick schemes and think financial analysts are pretty much witch doctors and historians are gossip mongers. 😉

    By the way, I sent John an email suggesting that believers that we’re “Skeptical Believers” might fit the label of “The Simply Faithful” or maybe “Those of Simple Faith.” The problem with that label is that “simple” might be “naive” which is not what I mean. I mean as opposed to “complex.” As you said, they are happy without having to question everything like my brian is wired to do. I see no problem with this and personally I think a good many atheists fit that very label.

  24. Nice post. I did the quiz in the attachment and came out pretty TBM, although at the low end of the top boxes. I think they are pretty good questions (esp. in the belief sections, less so in the participation section). I came out a 1, 5, 9. I imagine these change over time to some extent, though. Many of the questions in the belief sections go to the heart of the issues discussed in the b’nacle, and yet, here we all are.

    For me, I am very independent minded, so I don’t think any individual person has been so influential on me in the way mentioned. It was more my own internal search. But I would say that my parents’ influence, having given up everything to join the church against both their families’ wishes, makes it something not taken lightly in my mind.

  25. I appreciate this post, especially your comments on being able to serve a mission even though you had doubts. Our bishop told my youngest son he could not serve a mission unless he could say with absolute certainty that he knew the gospel and church were true. This bothered me because I feel as you do, John, that there is value in serving a mission, even for those who cannot make these unequivocal statements. My son is not yet 19, and right now isn’t too crazy about the church, so it’s not a issue at this point. But I do feel there’s a place for everybody in the church – doubters welcome, too.

  26. “Our bishop told my youngest son he could not serve a mission unless he could say with absolute certainty that he knew the gospel and church were true.”

    Lisa, I can’t speak to the appropriateness of that statement in your son’s individual case, but, as a general rule, I can. The Church has not raised the bar that high for missionaries. Period. Any standard for missionary service that is HIGHER than the standard for temple attendance is wrong. Period. That standard is higher than that required to attend the temple; therefore, as a general rule, it is wrong. Period.

    If there is a proper way to share that with someone who can share it properly with your Bishop, please do so. Otherwise, I hope at least that it helps your understanding of the Church’s actual stance relative to that comment.

  27. #22 Ray – Thanks for the offer. I’ll have to think about it. I’ll let you know if I decide that I’m comfortable with that.

  28. #27 – I should add that *physical requirements* for missionary service obviously are different than those for temple attendance. I meant any “standard of belief / conviction”.

  29. When I lost my faith, I fell fast and hard, and didn’t really have any humans who could help. I was an adult convert, and I never met anyone who was a member who had any kind of nuances about their faith – they either believed or they didn’t. Active or not.

    I knew Peggy only from the internet. Peggy was my lifesaver. I was angry and bitter and snarky and cynical. Peggy never, ever gave up encouraging me to see the positive, to relax, to not be so hard on the church and myself. The main thing she helped me to see was that nothing at all had changed except for my perspective. She literally coached me through this for years.

    Peggy died the day before Thanksgiving last year of ocular melanoma metastasized to her liver, bones and lungs. She was only 58. She had two regrets: that she would not live to read to her grandchildren, and that she didn’t outlive Gordon B. Hinckley. I still think of her often, like when I read posts like this. She was a good friend.

  30. John,

    I am really sorry it has taken me so long to reply to your post and I seem to have missed the dialectic. Been really busy. I love Jeff Burton’s book and glad you gave us a heads up to it. I read some of it last year and it really helped me to get past a lot of cognitive dissonance I was feeling.

    Lisa Ray – I loved your comments. I also think there is definitely a place in the church for doubters and even a place for people that have discarded many things. I also think that your bishop was out of his boundaries as an ecclesiastical leader to make demands on another person like that. If I was in your son’s shoes I would have just appeased the Bishop letting him believe what he wanted to believe because he doesnt seem to want to step into the world of dynamic faith/doubt.

    Ray , Andrew & co. – I prefer not to use the labels because I feel that it paints a broad brush. The only thing I can be sure about with Joseph Smith is that I believe, from reading the historical accounts, that he honestly believed he was called of God. As far as seeing visions…I am skeptical.

    When it comes to Brigham Young saying there are men on the moon…..I have concluded that it is false. I have concluded that many things the church teaches are false too.

    I have concluded that no one has convinced me that they know if there is life after death and if there is what it is like. I hope I will be with my family but I do not know.

    I hope Christ is my saviour…I cannot get by each week without that spiritual, mental and emotional reassurance. But as for Joseph Smith I have had to redefine my terms of him as a prophet. I see many things that he said we false and I see him as a charlatan in many circumstances. HOWEVER…I also see him as being very insightful and inspired about other things.

    I would say I am a doubting hopeful about certain aspects of the gospel that keep me in the church….

    I have a suspension of disbelief http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suspension_of_disbelief (on the book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon. I see the value they bring as being of enough value that I will suspend my disbelief but maintain skepticism and doubt.

    and a straight out disbeliever about things like seeing things in hats, men on the moon, polygamy, blacks being of Cain, polyandry, angels slaying Joseph if women dont marry him, Gold Plates in hills that open up to show vast amounts of plates that arent shown through archaeological finds, canes that heal, cloaks that heal, glossolalia, so on and so on.

    It is very important not to come to premature judgement but it is also important to take the time to study the evidence out before drawing the conclusion….this is called suspension of judgement (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suspension_of_judgment). I encourage people that are learning mormon history to suspend their judgement until they feel they could write a very good scholarly book on the subject and if that is the case then they would probably have sufficient knowledge to draw an informed decision about the validity of them staying in the church or leaving.

  31. “So do we have a spectrum of belief, with “true believers” at one end, “unfaithful doubters” on the other, with faithful doubters and skeptical believers holding up the middle of the balance and keeping the conversation going?”

    I would also present a classification of “Blind Believer.” One who says they “know,” never questions anything, can’t articulate why they beleive, they just do. often times, these are the folks who make the “unusual” statement we hear at Church.

  32. #20, Scott,

    You know, I just got released from being EQ instructor, and through my lessons I always tried to “walk the line” where I didn’t bear testimony of things I didn’t believe (I’ve really struggled w/ atheism since I was about 15; not to mention the slew of other problems, mostly similar to #32), and yet also present a faithful treatment of the material. I have had a surprising number of people “come out of the closet” to me. I think Burton, in one of his “Borderlands” articles, suggested bearing testimony about your doubts openly. When I was a teenager I did that and had a very positive reception from people, but I don’t know that I’d be able to pull it off again. It is something you might consider though. The comments about honesty in the original post I think are vital (I’m not trying to accuse you of being less than honest here, I promise).

    As to the original question of this post, I think one of the most helpful people for me was an Institute instructor. During the pre-mission year at the U of U, I had a mediocre experience at Institute, and the first semester home a crappy experience. I realized then that Institute depended entirely on the instructor, not the curriculum. I found a guy at the U’s “tute” that I could really identify with. It took a minute, but it became clear he was one of the people that we’re trying to label above – call it a faithful skeptic, a cafeteria Mormon, or whatever; and he taught Institute! He’d even bring up things like post-manifesto polygamy, magic and early Mormonism, racism among church leaders, etc. I had a lot of conversations with him that helped a lot as I’ve struggled through this.

    In addition to that Institute teacher, Burton’s articles, the Bloggernacle in general (esp. John Dehlin, truth be told), and a self-realization that it was acceptable to be a menu Mormon (even in a family of some of the truest and bluest) are the reasons I still go to a ridiculously-long three hour block of church meetings every Sunday. I even enjoy it some weeks!

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