Among the most important and difficult wrestles in a faith transition are the struggles to move into new, better nuanced, and richer understandings of previously held concepts, as well as learning to gain greater and greater trust in our own spiritual experiences as the essential authoritative force in our lives. As Latter-day Saints in transition, two of the key areas we must wrestle with if we are to continue to find Mormonism to be a healthy home are the nature and scope of prophets and scripture. In our younger years (and to a strong degree it is still an attitude quite present in Mormon culture and Sunday instruction) we likely, and without too much personal investigation, granted great authority to prophets and scripture as reliable guides to the mind and will of God. As we’ve gotten older, we have had to face challenges to this assumption. To at least some degree, we’ve come to recognize incompatibilities among prophetic teachings and scriptural texts, and/or we’ve come to hold views that feel “right” to us (even to have been confirmed in our hearts by the Holy Ghost) that are not in alignment with current prophetic statements or scriptural interpretations. And because of this, we feel great strain upon our souls. How do we honor prophets and scripture while recognizing that their teachings are sometimes quite wrong about God’s will, or even harmful to those who either from their own over-beliefs in their infallibility or the words and attitudes of others with such over-beliefs are made to feel worthless (“worth less”) to God or unwanted as members of the community? Can we still “rely” on prophets and scriptures to teach us essential truths about God, ourselves, and the keys to the greatest possible happiness?
In this episode, three incredible thinkers and spiritual adventurers—Boyd Petersen, Fiona Givens, and Terryl Givens—join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon for a spirited discussion of these issues. They share their own stories in coming to trust that it is “faithful” to deconstruct unhealthy cultural assumptions and pressures regarding prophetic utterances and scriptural texts. How do they, if they do, still view prophets and scripture as “special” in some ways, even if this doesn’t mean granting them authority above their own sense of what life and Spirit are teaching them? How are they able to communicate the perspectives they have gained about these things in Sunday or other interactions with fellow Latter-day Saints?
Please listen and share your own thoughts in the comments section below!
I enjoyed this podcast – always enjoy Teryl and Fiona. Teryl said that in 100+ years the blacks and the priesthood is the ONE major thing that the church leaders got wrong. I take issue with that statement, but I appreciate the sentiment in which it was stated.
I also felt at odds with that statement because I cannot accept that God would ever have supported polygamy, so that is another thing they got wrong. Teryl also said he didn’t think those who followed the thinking of leaders in their fallable thinking example of the blacks and the priesthood was wrong. I would agree if in doing so they weren’t enabling or participating in harming others, the polygamy, LGBT issues, and the priesthood issues for blacks and women all seem issues that have caused great harm and that is where the fallibility of the leaders becomes a problem. We are taught that they would not lead us astray or they would be removed by God, polygamy was and is a big part of what is accepted as God’s will and that is where I have to take the other side. I appreciated this podcast but am still feeling unsettled in how to deal with the bigger issues that our leaders are and were wrong about.
Dan, As always, a great podcast. Having gone through my “dark night of the soul” and feeling comfortable without the Church in my life, perhaps this podcast was not meant for me. Here’s my major gripe with the fallibility of prophets and scripture: I feel as if I’m ok with it, but the very leaders of the Church are not. MM listeners, I think, have a nuanced (unorthodox) view of all things spiritual, which is admirable. You were touching the edges of the thing when asking about dealing with day to day and sunday to sunday interactions with members who have a more dogmatic/black and white view, but the real issue for me is not the average member so much, but the leadership. How do we reconcile the fact that WE are ok with fallibility in our leaders and the Church as an organization, but those very leaders by and large are not?
Some will point to many declarations (as did your distinguished panel members) of Church leaders saying that they are not perfect and that we need to obtain our own witness of the truth. But contrast that with the overwhelming messages we get through correlated materials, General Conferences, and other devotionals where our General Authorities “encourage” (strongly) to follow the “brethren”. How would Elder Oaks or Elder Bednar respond to hearing, “Well, I have studied the issue out in my mind, and prayed about it, and I feel that you are speaking as a man on this issue, and I will not heed your counsel.” I doubt very much that they would concede to being fallible, and that not following their counsel would be ok.
Great point Brian. Even Elder Uchtdorf’s groundbreaking talk in October conference left the unmistakable message that The Church is perfect, even if the men who run it are not. We all got excited about that talk but the overall message was the same–“The Church is perfect and someday all you apostates will come to understand that.”
I hear what you and Bill are saying, but I just don’t quite think it’s as dire as you say it is. You are both referring to them in their “institutional voice” whereas I think in personal communication (especially if they were certain it wasn’t being recorded or the person they are speaking to were going to run right out and share it on social media) they’d be far more forthcoming about the messy nature of revelation, of coming to say what they do publicly in the way they do, concerns about cracking the door open too quickly about all of this because even the recent LDS.org statement on blacks and the priesthood reveals how many members aren’t ready to hear even as much as what was shared there about cultural influences on prophets and leaders. Hence, I wouldn’t be surprised if they (or at least President Uchtdorf) would share with us that he is trying to change this piece by piece, line upon line. That he (and others) are concerned about the too much trust, the too much of giving over our own responsibility to think to them, etc, that the panelists were talking about, and how they are trying to counter that.
Furthermore, regarding not heeding their counsel, If we were to share a few framing ideas with them about moving toward greater trust of what the Spirit says to us, and share how we feel we are growing in our relationship with God, I think they’d be encouraging. We might even get from them something about how we may be right, that the Spirit may be telling us something ahead of when it is right for the church as a whole to move to that position.
I always fall back on “general authority” and what is said in “general conference” as “general” advice geared toward the center of the church. When we are actively in touch with Spirit, we come to know which counsel is for us versus for others. I think they’d acknowledge this (again, if they didn’t think we were going to go blabbing!).
Good thoughts Dan. I agree that the leaders can’t exactly come right out and say, “Hey, we could be completely off on this!” The general membership wouldn’t react well to that. Still, it’s frustrating to feel like we are growing beyond correlation and being told what to do and how to think (I don’t mean that in a condecending way to more orthodox members), while being somewhat pulled back down by most members interpretations of our leaders counsel. Does that make sense? It’s all messy isn’t it?!
Definitely a frustrating aspect of human dynamics! It’s hard to break free from the pack, to lead, to be our own full selves/carve our own path. Those who don’t understand the impulse to do so will subtly (or not subtly at all!) discourage anyone who tries. The key to being able to do it is to become centered in a different approval source that transcends what the crowd thinks or is comfortable with. I, of course, call that source God or Spirit, but even if those terms don’t attract, more important than a name is the path by which the confidence is accessed: through real work to know ourselves, really reflect upon our experiences, listen and feel and test and be willing to live with less certainty of the kind we can easily encapsulate in words (but replaced with a far more stable sense of self)–and most of all patience. One thing I have been feeling more and more certain about is that it is also a confidence that we just have to “live” into far more than one we can “think” our way into. It takes time.
I don’t know your age (and this is just a burst that occurred as I’m writing you so not personal here as it totally may not apply!) but Boyd, the Givens’s, and I are all decently old. We’ve been doing this journey a long time. For me it was my early forties before this greater confidence started to really be where I dwell. I partly do this show and invite who I invite on it with a hope that hashing through our journeys will encourage us all to be more patient with ourselves. As Fiona said a couple of times, it’s supposed to be hard and it’s a violation of agency to stay forever reliant on others’ wisdom and answers. I’ve been enamored lately with the thought that we can sometimes go to the back of a textbook to look up answers and perhaps from this “pass a test” but it’s a shortchanging of the actual learning process, the process that prepares someone to understand enough to be creative and a real contributor to the field. No shortcuts to compassion, love unfeigned, willing to bear pain as well as share joy, and all other qualities that Gods embody.
Ramble over 🙂
Excellent insights Dan!
Dan, I have really enjoyed the conversation here that you have hosted. I want to contribute a bunch of thoughts, but for the moment I will reply with a couple thoughts about your post. Then I hope to post another set of general comments.
Not too long ago I was looking up a subject on the Internet and stumbled into a BYU talk given by Elder Christofferson. I forget now what the subject was I was looking up. He was speaking to a group of graduating students from the nursing school. Anyway, he got a chuckle from the crowd when he told them that “General Authorities” get their title from the fact that they are supposed to keep their teachings “general.” So I think you are right in thinking that their talks are geared towards the center of the church. Maybe they are specifically directed to do so.
I also agree that the Spirit can and does prepare members for upcoming changes in the church on an individual basis. A quick story: Way back before we got the “3 Fold Mission” statement, I was a new member and started thinking how the church’s overall work could be framed into 3 parts. I thought…once you become a possessor of the gospel, the Lord expects you to reach out in 3 directions: to the present generation (your neighbors), to the future generation (your children), and to the past generation (your ancestors). Well, I don’t think it was more than 10 days later that the church came out with the 3 Fold Mission statement. Granted, it was framed a little different than mine.
I felt good about this, like I was on the same general track as the Brethren. However, I have twice shared this experience with church members and have got back responses I completely would not expect. That is “GASP!”
What the heck? The 3 Fold statement is not “scripture”, it is a general way of seeing things! Guess I was guilty of thinking (and listening to inspiration) on my own. Shame on me.
I do think there are General Authorities who want us to ask questions and to build a more solid relationship with God on our own. I also think there are real hurtles to overcome in that growing process, especially as one deals with the some set attitudes in the general church membership. I’ll just end this message with a “good luck” wish to all who go on that journey.
Thanks for writing here! Awesome stories. And I echo the “good luck” wishes. May we all take it on! Grace and blessings all along the way (even though they feel like anything but happy ones at times).
Nice response to Brian, Dan. I think he makes a valid point. Great podcast. Great guests. I respect them and it is where I’ve come to in the last several years. Terryl seemed a little reserved is his assessment of past mistakes but I think he has to walk a fine line to be received by more mainstream members and not alienate the publisher who will reach them. I realize that’s “buggy” but that is the reality of all of life. As a 53 year old continuously active and devoted member I can’t express to enough people (and I do all the time) that we are living in exciting times. The church talks about a “hastening” and I think most of us as members only see that in terms of missionary work. I see this period that began in fits and starts back in Leonard Arrington’s days as the beginning of another great awakening world wide. I read things from all kinds of sources—science, philosophy, sociology, theology, history, religion—that indicate people are discovering truth and God in all kinds of fantastic and meaningful ways. I can see the church taking baby steps in becoming a more useful, inclusive, free, and truth promoting organization. I think that will accelerate within the next couple of decades. It will be painfully slow for many of us and painfully fast for others. But as this discussion points out so beautifully, if we will let go and let grow through personal responsibility and the spirit we won’t be found “sleeping through the restoration.”
Sooo great! thanks so much for doing this. I just love Fiona. Her thoughts her outlook her insight and wisdom. She is a breath of fresh air. I love what Boyd said about the fact that we have to all realize that we could have it wrong too. I very much feel that way that my certitudes are always in question. I love the Dostoyevsky quote that Teryl used in the beginning. I just love the entire podcast and really needed to hear it. Thanks to all for being willing and courageous enough to do it. To stop and minister to those of us still wrestling with these things. This has lightened my load. Thank-you
Terryl made a point that overall, the general authorities have a “high batting average” when you look at all of their statements. To that point, I would say that it’s easy to have a “high batting average” as a general authority when 98% of what you’re saying is, “Be a good neighbor,” “Follow Christ,” “Strengthen your family,” etc. When it comes to issues of the day that require general authorities to stick their necks out is when we really need them to be right, they don’t seem to do as well. Take slavery, for example. Some of the early church leaders weren’t sure if it was okay to own other people.
Growing up, I thought that the prophet sat across the table from Jesus weekly and took direction. That thinking is long gone. I think they do their best to be aligned with God’s will, but they are as fallible as all of us.
You’re definitely giving voice to the feelings of many here. Also hinting of a more satisfying view than the unrealistic ones we pick up in our youth. Do you find it more encouraging to realize that the process of revelation (with all it’s messiness and having to sift through) is the same for both them an us? They have a different calling not a different process for discerning what is best. Anyway, it has helped me to recognize this, helped me to want to work at getting better aligned myself.
> Do you find it more encouraging to realize that the process of revelation (with all it’s messiness and having to sift through) is the same for both them an us?
I wish that I could find it encouraging, but I don’t. I’m a social scientists, and I’ve come to know my own biases and frailties well enough that it’s hard to trust emotion (the spirit) when determining truth. Things like the Forer effect, counter-attitudinal essays in cognitive dissonance theory, confirmation bias, anchoring and adjustment, hindsight bias, and a host of other phenomena lead me to believe that our subjective feelings are not good barometers for measuring truth.
What is encouraging to me is to know that everything is ultimately up to me, that I have to work to really own my own views, actions, and way of being in the world. I read and listen to others’ perspectives, sift for resonances and negative reactions, and through my own internal processes adopt and change and rethink and reassemble and come to become who I am.
In my own experience, your equation of emotion and the spirit is nowhere close to accurate. While emotions are certainly triggered when experiencing an awareness of spirit (and I’m not requiring that this is an outside something coming in to us—preferring actually to view it as us stepping into/aligning with deeper awareness), it is only a piece, and spiritual meditative and other types of spiritual praxis help us learn to discern the differences, separate out the pieces of the mix.
Like you, I appreciate knowing all the ways I’m (we all are) biased, also about just how much of our lives and what we do is determined by unconscious processes (such as the biases and factors you mention), but my experience is that in this awareness of all that is at play—and, again, this is through conscious practice of witnessing what comes up in our minds and hearts and learning to separate all of this out from the “us” that is at the core—we learn to INCREASE our freedom, how to more and more become actors rather than reactors. (Even if we only move from .01 percent to 1 percent actors genuinely undetermined, it makes all the difference in the world to what kinds of things we experience.) In subtle ways, and through examination and letting experience (empiricism—but one that honors and recognizes emotion as a piece but not a totality) drive change to our worldviews and ways of feeling centered in the universe, we become ourselves.
I’m curious how you measure truth if not with a large (or even primary) subjective element? You’ve said what you think is the bad way of doing it. What works better? How are you minimizing subjective factors there—all the biases and social-psychological reasons for choosing what you choose?
In many social sciences, people have to measure latent constructs. This is typically done using imperfect instruments. For example, to determine how extroverted a person is, that person might be asked 7-10 different questions that aim to address different aspects of introversion. The scale’s reliability can be calculated. For example, you might administer the scale multiple times to an individual and expect scores to be consistent (test-retest reliability). Or, you can test the scale for internal consistency to determine if any of the items is drawing unique variance. There are numerical cutoffs that are commonly accepted below which a scale is rejected.
If you submitted the spirit to the same test of reliability, it would utterly fail. The spirit is not a reliable indicator for measuring truth. Suppose I read the Book of Mormon and pray to know if it is true, and I feel warm all over, I might take that as confirmation that it is the word of God. But later, if I do the same thing and receive no witness, what do I conclude? I think so often we selectively interpret our spiritual (and lack of spiritual) experience to confirm what we want to believe.
Scott Plous wrote the excellent book The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making. In the last chapter, he stated that we can avoid most psychological biases by asking a simple question: what if I’m wrong? It’s a powerful question, and a dangerous question if you are comfortable in your beliefs. But I think asking that question is critical to finding truth.
So how do I determine truth? I suppose my method is always evolving. I question everything and look for evidence and consistency. Philosophically, I’m a postpositivist. I seek evidence to support ideas, and when presented with contrary evidence, I must change my ideas. I don’t know that it’s possible to “know the truth.”
Thanks for the conversation, Jay! My sense is you are thinking that what I mean by spirit doesn’t push past “knowing something is true” or that it Sunday School and typical MormonSpeak somehow captures the phenomenon.
With a decent level practice and experimentation in non-rational realms (quieting the “monkey mind” or embracing symbolic and mythic framings as pointers toward deep experiences) is anything but an adventure in knowing with one’s head. It leads to a kind of embodied knowledge that is far less cognitive, more of an excitement and living in creative energies. As your methodologies are always evolving, so are those of spiritual adventurers. Nothing stays the same. Truth is more about interesting things that rub together in creative ways.
William James’s pragmatism helps articulate it. Truth has “cash value” to the degree it motivates and leads one to live life with both zest and an awareness of tragedy in a strenuous mood. But digging into pragmatism more deeply, beyond simple motivation, it offers a methodology that helps us determine the limits of various formulations. Ideas need to be capable of growing via interaction with other ideas that also have truth power. If and when they prove they can’t, we come to understand the limits of that particular idea or practice, and then we cast about for bigger, wider framings.
Whitehead has a great analogy: “The true method of discovery is like the flight of an aeroplane. It starts from the ground of particular
observation; it makes a flight in the thin air of imaginative generalization; and it again lands for renewed observation rendered acute by rational interpretation.” This fits spiritual adventuring just as well as it does scientific experimentation. Again and again we go, always landing back in the empirical world but fed by our flights/dives into spirit.
Never when one has played in these energies at any kind of depth would one resort to thinking a “book” is true. Perhaps one would use it for a quick shorthand, but any adventurer would be far more likely to concentrate on the effects of particular passages in that book as initiating some kind of creative synthesis, or resonating in a familiar way with the kinds of things they have felt in their own spiritual work, etc.
I love the sciences, social sciences included, but never do I see the calculations as capturing it all. What is externally measurable is definitely a piece of the reality puzzle, but it doesn’t come close to describing experiences of richness. We need to also experiment with internal paths, subjecting them to rigorous testing methods ala the ones I mentioned pragmatism has, or through community give and take and engaging with other adventurers and coming to sense that there is great agreement–if not in exact content when trying to articulate details, then at least in “the fruits” such as peace, patience, compassion, ability to feel oriented within a chaotic world and act with purpose, etc.
Thank you Fiona for your unique perspective on Mormonism. To hear that you feel like an outsider after so many years inside is refreshing and something I feel myself but haven’t heard much from others.
I have been familiar with the issues that plague many of the Mormon fold from an early age, and I have much sympathy for the struggle it can be. I was raised in Salt Lake by a mother who was (she passed away last year) quite an antagonist to the church. We were atheist, and having been born in 1958 and living in SLC was hard on a child like me. I only remember two other families on my street that were not LDS and we were quite pushed aside at times.
I did end up joining the church at 20 after some great experiences , served a mission at 21 and have been active since. I joined the church while living in a small apartment by myself and it was quite a disappointment to my mother. She in fact told me that she would rather I had died rather than to embrace Mormonism . She gave me Fawn Brodie’s book and made me promise to read it. I would say that I have read it more than 5 times in my life, but the first time didn’t have a great impact because I was so unfamiliar with the Joseph Smith story. I did take it on my mission and it provided me some questions that were not commonly asked but I came to terms with my own self and faith. She also sent me the Utah Lighthouse Ministry newsletter for many years after I returned.
One issue that was very hard for me as a missionary was I was paying for it myself, My family did not support me emotionally (no letters) and I was void of any Mormon friends (being new to the church by one year) to speak of, so I was very much alone. I had a large chip on my shoulder because I hated most Mormons that I knew and these young men that were my companions just reminded me of the kids that had picked on me as a young child.
Anyway my struggle has been listening to the shallow rhetoric all these years from people who assume there is no truth or happiness outside the confines of the LDS faith. I am the youngest of four and the only Mormon of the bunch. My siblings are all accomplished good happy people, who don’t believe in god, yet I see so much good in them I am certain that god has a great love for them as well as anybody. These are the people I turn to for love and support, and they are as happy and blessed as anyone I know. My best friend now is from Turkey, and is a Muslim, and he is a very good man, as good as I have known. I know I don’t know many things but I do know that God’s tent is very big – of that I am certain.
I have had the chance many times through the years to talk to those with troubling questions because of my acceptance of different viewpoints, one such as my friend that introduced me to the Mormon Stories podcasts. Some of these podcasts have opened up great dialogue for us. He is a wonderful person, and has mostly found his stride outside the Mormon tent. I remain great friends with him, and often tell him that Mormons do not have a patent on God or goodness peace or happiness, but it has been the source of many of those things for me. I feel very strongly that regardless of where you find these things, it is the ultimate thing god would want for any of his children, that and trying to aid others on this journey. I have three very beautiful daughters in their early twenties, one has served a mission to Athens Greece, and the other two have decided the church was not for them. They are all great kids and make me glow when I see any of them. I have a feeling that God is not so different.
I have listened to John Dehlin a time or two to honor a request from a great friend that is loosing his faith, but just discovered your podcast Dan as a link from Mormon stories. Thanks for hosting such a dialog and for helping me to feel there might be some company in this faith which I embrace even though I feel many times I am on the outskirts. Thanks to your wonderful articulate three guests and their open and honest discourse that can transpire from believers. It has been great and refreshing to me-
I appreciate very much your thoughtful comments. I, too believe God’s tent is very big.
Some random thoughts:
Years ago I was reading comments on Beliefnet and a Muslim had posted his(or her) conversion story/testimony. It struck me that it sounded identical to many conversion stories/testimonies born over the pulpit in our LDS meetings. How could anyone judge such a personal testimony as wrong or misguided? Not me ever again.
Secondly, if I am recalling this correctly, I remember Dehlin’s interview with Edward Kimball, son of President Kimball, where he asked Edward if he saw his father as someone special, uniquely qualified to become a prophet. Edward replied something to the effect that his father was just like other good men that there are any number of people who could serve as Prophet.
I’ve met many fellow LDS congregants, some of them leaders, who believe the Prophet and other GAs have done the thinking for us and that we ought not to question but to simply follow. I am envious of those who have access to more diverse congregations.
I just wanted to thank you for this podcast so very very much. I’ve been in the throes of a faith crisis for some months now and there were so many things that were said in this podcast that were a balm to my soul. It means more than I can to say to know that people have weathered these doubts before me and found peace and excitement and strength instead of feeling like they’re being pushed out of a faith community that had always felt like home before this. So thank you thank you thank you.
In regards to the fallibility of the leadership, Fiona said we have been repeatedly told “don’t rely on the arm of flesh” . My question is, what else do we have? How is straining the meaning of the holy ghost through our own “arm of flesh” somehow better than an apostles? However confident we may wish to feel in our own personal spin on any particular teaching, isn’t the only possible bottom line . . . our flesh?
I replied to Jay above that might be relevant to what you’re asking here. There are ways to experience that in no way would you ever again worry that you’re relying on the “arm of flesh.” We DO have so much more to go on, if we’ll risk the work and uncertainty. Inherent in experiences of deep spiritual connection is a humility about being able to name exactly what’s going on, but there is at the same time a powerful sense of feeling aligned, in a stream, at peace but also with connections popping everywhere. But even when in these types of experience, we know we are not done, that we must constantly revisit, reexamine, realign. We’ll never stop. It’s never boring. Far from just day-to-day waking consciousness, from something primarily fleshy. I hope you’ll risk the risks!
I thoroughly enjoyed this podcast. May I express thanks for
the thoughtful insights shared by Boyd, Fiona and Terryl. I would give the
title “Dynamic Duo” to the latter two! I have a few thoughts of my own to
share, across the gamut of what was discussed. But I feel I should condense my words down to a “bullet item” format. Hope you don’t mind.
1- Suggested listening: Elder Uchdorf gave an excellent talk (a
CES Fireside) on January 13, 2013 at BYU titled, “What Is Truth”. This goes very well with Fiona’s warning about seeing bits and pieces and constructing a hasty paradigm. Elder Uchdorf also uses the SAME Brigham Young quote we heard in this podcast. Wow! He said we are not
expected to blindly follow any church leader.
2- Suggested reading: ”Thinking as a Hobby” by William Golding.
Those of you who read this in BYU’s English class will remember the 3
statuettes that represent 3 levels of thinking (or levels of maturity): the
Venus de Milo, the crouching tiger, and Rodin’s Thinker. I always keep this essay in mind to keep myself from becoming a voracious, emotionally consumed tiger and to push myself up to be the calm, level headed thinker.
3- How do we exactly understand the church leaders as they tell
us to follow them, yet at the same time confess they are fallible? Likely, they are just hoping to get us all home; getting this “rag tag fleet back to Cobol” (a line from the opening of Battlestar Gallactica). I wonder if, as the GA’s say this, they themselves may have a clear vision of what they mean, and are just having difficulty conveying it.
I offer an analogy (self made): Look at the action of tying a shoelace. It’s easy, once you got the system, but how do you convey it to a child? It is a balanced combination of 2 things—part of the job requires making tight loops, and part requires making loose loops. All loose and it doesn’t work. All tight and it doesn’t work. It is a blend of 2 methods, in the right
sequence and in balance. In the end you can only say to the person, “You got it! Keep doing what you just did!” So…following the church leaders may be something along those lines.
4- I too have noticed the change in Thomas Monson’s talks, as referred
to by Boyd. However, I take a different view on the matter. I really miss the stories of Pip from Great Expectations, and all such references. I wish these things never went away. It seems we don’t get stories from the Classics anymore. It’s beginning to feel to me as if it might have become a high level policy. I’m not sure on this though. The GA’s quote each other quite a bit, but they leave out the great (I would say “inspired”) stories from our fellow men and women. But Rip Van Winkle may be a new light on the horizon. Jane Eyre perhaps anytime soon?
My writing is getting a bit long. Time to make an end. There’s
been several other perspectives and points covered in this podcast that have touched me. Obviously your guests have had numerous experiences in life, and have taken the time to develop reasoned and balanced viewpoints from their experiences. I am so glad you could share them!
Thanks to all four of you, I really needed this today. Beautiful. The God Who Weeps and Mormon Matters gave my crashing testimony a soft place to land and a safe place to begin reconstructing a new, better reality for myself. I am so appreciative of the energy you all put into helping those who are in a transition like I am. I am looking forward to Crucible of Doubt and future podcasts.
In my Sunday school class this week, after a lesson on Moses and those disobedient and ever-complaining children of Israel, the teacher asked a fabulous question: Have you experienced difficulty in following a church leader? And how did you deal with it? There was silence for a few seconds, then she offered a personal story about being offended by a bishop. The conversation opened up after that, and I had a chance to contribute two points that had really resonated with me from listening to this episode: Boyd’s idea of cultivating a generous and open heart toward leaders and each other, and FIona’s quote from another source about “sitting” with uncomfortable ideas for a while, before you decide to either embrace, reject, or (as Terryl described as his reaction to the priesthood ban) save them in hopes of future understanding. I have found these to be very important elements of my faith journey, and it was gratifying to hear them articulated and expanded so beautifully.
Thanks so much, Dan, for assembling a thoughtful group to discuss such a foundational topic. (I think I could listen to Fiona describe doing laundry and be enthralled!) Just lovely.
At around the 30 minute mark Fiona makes reference to to George Albert Smith defending freedom of thought, so I decided to go dig around the internet for it. FAIR actually covered the issue at this web address.
This is the concluding paragraph from the Improvement Era, June 1945, in an article called Sustaining the General Authorities of the Church
George Albert Smith’s rebuttal is summarized in this paragraph. Note that the emphasis is not mine, but George Albert Smith’s.
I believe that all members should be reminded of this dialogue…often.
I noted that the FAIR post also referenced a Dialogue article on the matter that contains the original letter correspondence between George Albert Smith and Reverend J. Raymond Cope. I subsequently saw that the Dialogue article referenced the preceding article, An Echo from the Foothills: To Marshal the Forces of Reason by L. Jackson Newell. This article is now one of my favorite of all time. The article identifies the tension between obedience and free thinking and attempts to bring the church back in the direction of free-thinking.
Well worth the time of anyone interested.
Thanks for doing the research and posting the links!
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Thank you, thank you, thank you for this episode!! I was a very strong and active Mormon in high school, especially in seminary, and I believed that it made no sense for someone to go inactive. However, during those years, I first encountered polygamy, and then gay rights, and then the ban on the priesthood. Since then, I have gone from a fear that what I have always believed to be true to be wrong, to being angry at church leaders for proclaiming what they and other leaders have said to be of God. I loved this episode because it makes me realize that I have more say in what I believe than I realize. It also seems that if we were to go back to the roots of Mormonism, it seems much more pure than the ‘totalitarian’ complex of today’s church. (Indeed, the church really is evolving!) I identified with the idea that something can still be considered scripture even if nobody classifies it as that. This week I finished “Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett, and not only do I find it extraordinary as a piece of literature, but also as inspiring as the most inspired passage of mainstream scripture. I am still in faith-crisis mode, and before I began listening to this episode, I was writing in my journal that the LDS Church may not be for me, but that I should find some other tradition to join, or be nondenominational. However, there are so many things about the church that I love (especially one of the things they seem to want to take away, the Mormons no longer believe that we would be able to create our own worlds… 🙁 ), and hearing that there are many people strong in the church that believe as I do (or at least that don’t believe in the mainstream teachings of the church) gives me comfort that I can belong, even if I don’t feel it at this moment.
Teryl argued that the main (or most important) reason for prophets, despite their fallibility in teaching, is keys. But the fallible prophets are the ones that taught us that. How are we supposed to know that priesthood keys (or any other fundamental doctrine) is not an erroneous teaching?
Fiona, in closing: “That which is beautiful; that which resonates with us on a very profound level — THAT is truth.”
Forgive me, but this seems like a very superficial and narcissistic standard of truth, and most of all, it is extremely fallible. It seems akin to saying “truth is whatever I want it to be.”
Anyone agree? Disagree? What did she mean by “truth,” I wonder?
I can’t speak for Fiona and her meaning (and I know the Givenses are in Europe right now so likely aren’t seeing comments) but I can share my own two cents. We also did an episode some time ago, “What is Truth?” that might offer a fuller picture of various ways it is approached philosophically and sociologically.
One of my favorite lines, and one that matches in sensibility to a quote that Fiona gave in the episode, is from a theologian named Bernard Loomer. In essence, he said that he thinks it’s more important that something is interesting rather than it is true. In other words, he recognizes (and there are lots of folks like William James and even new books about “being wrong”–Kathryn Shulz, for instance) that “true” in a correspondence way (a factual statement that corresponds with ultimate reality) is boring. It just sits there. It doesn’t inspire a quest but stops them. There is a sense, of course, where we all like to feel as if we’ve got a decent map of ultimate realities, but to simply live in a world where we are most focused on “how it is” rather than always recognizing that whatever we say or can capture with machines or in equations doesn’t tell the whole picture is really an impoverished way of experiencing life.
So “beautiful” and “interesting” to me are the profound levels for me, as well. They don’t involve “truth is anything I want it to be” but rather state more along the lines of “this is how this idea or thing is ACTING UPON me, inspiring me, energizing me.” That fact of its power on us is a far cry from saying the idea is factual in its claim. that it is a “hang your hat upon it kind of formulation of fact” (your worry about playing too loose) but it is still an angle on truth that, I think, quite squarely/fairly within Mormonism where we hear that truths “taste good,” they “swell within us,” they lead us to seek our own personal revelation, etc.
Thanks for engaging here! Please respond and we can go another round on this!
I totally understand things being “interesting” and “beautiful” without regard to their “truth.” But that’s why we have words like “interesting” and “beautiful” to apply to them. Or “inspiring.” I’m compelled by music and other art, and those things often aren’t even in the same realm as “truth.”
But I worry that quests inspired by unproven ideas can be (though aren’t necessarily) dangerous. They can lead to harmful or exclusionary ideology. I understand that neither you nor the GIvenses have such a tendency, but others do find “beauty” or “inspiration” in repulsive or otherwise objectionable ideas.
This is one reason that “fact” and “truth” are not boring to me. The scientific quest for truth is beautiful in and of itself. It is the quest to understand the universe that created us. And I think it reveals a great deal about the human experience, as well. “Being wrong” and ignorance are at the heart of science and progress. That’s why the scientific method (rather than merely personal revelation) is so important: it allows us to know when we are wrong.
I mean, I agree that all of this stuff goes hand in hand. I guess I just object with “beautiful” and “interesting” and “inspiring” being made synonymous with “truth.”
Enjoyed the podcast. I wish the Mormon church was more like how Terryl and Fionna view it. The problem is, and Dan pushed a lot on this issue, is that the rank and file of the church don’t look at the prophets and apostles in the same way. Although the rank and file would agree they’re not perfect they believe and hang onto their every word, and claim the prophet is closer to perfect than anyone else on earth. They are taught and believe to follow the prophets counsel even if it’s wrong. Obedience is the first law in heaven. This I find to be a very uninspired and a damaging teaching and I don’t see this changing anytime soon.
I actually think that many of them WANT to say that! Maybe not in those terms of “not important”, but to at least be recognized in their humanness and be more open about how inspiration and revelation work for them in the same way as it did before they were called to the Twelve, etc. I think some feel trapped by the perception that many/most members have, worried what will happen when they seem more “like us.” The reaction to the Gospel Topics essay that showed how much culture shaped LDS teachings and practices regarding blacks upset many members. I believe President Uctdorf is waging a long-term stragegy to help dial down the expectations to more realistic levels but as that reaction by many members who crave the idea that all they think, do, and say is basically a red phone from God kind of thing shows, it is a shift that will take some time to become a new normal. Hence the importance of people like these guests who stay, serve, and speak up in ways that help aid in the process.
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Nice conversation Dan! While your guest panel are all free thinkers, our church leaders today don’t encourage free thinking. It is very much a top down church where members are expected to obey and follow. To illustrate the point, if I were to say to my Bishop, “You know, I don’t really think God cares whether or not we drink coffee. I have thought about this topic, researched the health consequences, prayed about it, and received personal revelation that it is OK for me to have a cup of coffee in the morning.” My bishop may agree with my reasoning and logic, but would still take away my temple recommend FOR DISOBEDIENCE!!!
In the end, it is a top down, law of Moses style church, and we are expected to OBEY!
Wonderful podcast, you guys nailed it! Your guests did a great job at articulating nuanced feelings. I love how they seem comfortable living in a world that is not entirely black and white and how they insist on going through life in an awake, present state. Thank you.
Great podcast as always. Fiona mentioned two people’s writings that she considers scripture. Did anyone catch who they were? My apologies if it was mentioned elsewhere but I did not see it.
The Huffington post has done something to be glad about. They have asked the right questions or enough of the questions to get the truth. In print! It has finally been said. He did not say the word priesthood or prophet but church leadership which includes them all. I really have hope that our culture is changing. This is an indication that it is.
SALT LAKE CITY (RNS) It is wrong to assume that Mormons who leave the faith “have been offended or lazy or sinful,” a top leader told members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Saturday (Oct. 5) during the church’s 183rd Semiannual General Conference.
“It is not that simple,” said Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the LDS Church’s governing three-man First Presidency.
Some struggle with “unanswered questions about things that have been done or said in the past,” Uchtdorf explained. “We openly acknowledge that in nearly 200 years of church history — along with an uninterrupted line of inspired, honorable and divine events — there have been some things said and done that could cause people to question.”
“To be perfectly frank,” Uchtdorf said, “there have been times when members or leaders in the church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles or doctrine.”
God is perfect and his doctrine is pure, he said, but human beings — including church leaders — are not.
The German-born Uchtdorf, dubbed by several Mormon commenters as “our Pope Francis,” urged
those who have left the LDS faith to come back, even with their doubts.
“It’s natural to have questions — the acorn of honest inquiry has often sprouted and matured into a great oak of understanding,” he said. “There are few members of the church who, at one time or another, have not wrestled with serious or sensitive questions.”
Regardless of one’s circumstances, personal history or strength of faith, he said, “there is room for you in this church.”