Because they come up so often in gospel lessons and are indeed the “first principles” of the gospel (Article of Faith 4), we might think that a 90-minute podcast on faith and repentance would be redundant and boring. Not so when talked about by Sam Brown and Adam Miller! Mixing personal stories with scripture and wonderful insights from their study and writing, Brown and Miller challenge the over-emphasis on faith as belief and repentance as being primarily about seeking forgiveness that we often encounter in Sunday discourse, and open these principles to fresh angles, examining them especially in light of Mormonism’s rich relational theology.
Please listen and then share your thoughts and questions in the comments section below!
Samuel M. Brown, First Principles and Ordinances: The Fourth Article of Faith in Light of the Temple
Samuel M. Brown, In Heaven as It Is on Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death
Adam S. Miller, Letters to a Young Mormon
Adam S. Miller, Rube Goldberg Machines: Essays in Mormon Theology
Adam S. Miller, “Mormonism Isn’t About Mormonism,” Times and Seasons blog, 22 October 2014
“Days of Awe,” Conversation with Rabbi Sharon Brous, On Being podcast, 20 September 2010
I love Adam’s reference to, regardless of literalness or conflicts, he feels called to be a latter-day-saint. This is exactly how I feel. Even knowing all of the issues and believing that there is no exclusive truth, I still feel called to be a mormon, and called to love them as my community and to strengthen and nourish them spirituality.
But, how can I answer the Temple Recommend questions honestly about the prophet and Apostles being the ONLY ones with authority on the earth, or about the Restoration? My testimony has gone from objective truth to subjective truth, but I see no way by which that can be reconciled with the teachings of the church itself as being the only objectively true church. How do you navigate this? I don’t see how I can answer this question honestly and still be worthy of the temple, even though I feel like this is where God wants me to be and contribute.
To Jason, Hi Jason. I’m currently serving as a bishop and I do have some members who are going through the same experience as you due to their faith crasis. This is how I help them get through the questions: I teach them correct principles and let them decide for themselves how to apply those principles. Principle one: President Hinckly has said strongly that all Churches are good. So I tell my members that when they are asked questions about their belief in President Monson and the others being the only ones having authority on earth they must ‘continue’ and ‘complete’ the real questions within the heads which should be: Do you believe that President Monson is the only prophet on earth with all the keys (to preside and lead the LDS church as it is structured and built now)? Of course God does work through other pastors as well to accomplish his work on earth. So we also believe that Rick Warren is the only prophet God has chosen and called to president and lead his church. You see the point? president Monson is the only ONE to president the LDS church just like Billy Graham is the only one to do his work. I hope this help.
When it comes to the ordinances we perform, our prophet and apostles really are the only ones who hold all of the keys of authority for those ordinances within our religious tradition.
Thanks so much everyone for this podcast recording. I’m only about 60% through so I apologize in advance if my questions are already answered in the latter part of the recording.
I appreciated the discussion of faith being relational and the analogy of our relationship to the Church as analogous to our relationship with our spouse. This is a great analogy and it was helpful for me to think through the implications of this analogy.
I do a have a question about this analogy, though. To what extent does the marriage metaphor require “informed consent” on the part of both parties in the relationship? To what extent does it require our “own free will and choice” before making the relationship operative in our lives and binding on our thoughts and choices?
I ask because, as most native Mormons, I was baptized at age 8. To what extent was I fully accountable for the implications of that choice to enter into a marriage-like relationship with the Mormon institutional church? Am I expected to fulfill the obligations of the faithful marriage analogy that was described in the podcast if I, arguably, was baptized because of clear and present social pressure from family, community, etc.? Even if I explicitly assented at the time, can an eight-year-old really give responsible consent for a choice like that, which would then be binding and obligatory on the individual throughout the rest of their lives?
In our Western liberal democratic culture, we generally say that you have to be at least 18 to be able to give “informed consent” to enter into legal binding contracts. Should the same be true for entering into a marriage-like relationship with a religious community?
Of course, perhaps it’s just my Western liberal democratic bias (“story”) that’s motivating this question on my part. Maybe God sees it differently?
Anyways, I’m curious about any insights or thoughts that any of the listeners or podcast participants have on this question of “under what conditions does the decision to enter into a marriage-like relationship with a religious community obligate oneself to fulfill the terms of that relationship”?
Or maybe I’m asking the wrong question? Are questions of obligation meaningful in a relationship of love, affection, and loyalty? (Didn’t Rousseau say something to that effect?)
Either way, thanks so much for recording this podcast and making it available. It has given me much to think about.
Benjamin, that is a very excellent question. Allow me to take a stab at it. You mentioned you weren’t all the way through yet, may I recommend between minutes 42-45 (I cheated I read your question before listening.) Adam points out that actually for some of us baptism isn’t the beginning into the Mormon community, it was BIRTH! That can be inspiring, comforting, and for some disconcerting, especially when looked through the lens of consent.
I think a better metaphor (for me at least being a 29 year old Mormon Menace to society) isn’t a marriage–since I can’t even begin to comprehend what that is like. Baptism–as Terryl Givens discusses in his knew book Wrestling the Angel–is a birth into the family of Christ (or at least it should be looked at that way and really ought to be, I shall let your own experiences speak for themselves.) You don’t get to choose who you are born to. Some, like Job come to mourn not only the day of their birth, but curse their mother’s womb and the night of their conception! I imagine some who were born in the church might feel this way. But as you get older you do get to choose if the heritage you were born with is really your own, just like you get to choose what kind of terms you want to be on with your parents, brothers, sister, grandparents. By this time there is a crazy web of relationships with real people, and then comes the Job like mourning at some of the curses of being born Mormon–or at least I imagine. In full disclosure I’m a pretty active Mormon who has of course had some moments–and at one point a whole year and a half–of doubting and feeling that I don’t belong so I am mostly recreating my own past and may not be speaking to your experience.
So, now that I have rambled on enough here is my point: baptism was a birth, and now you get to decide what you are going to do with the family you were “born” into. I would argue once you decide that you want to participate in the family and receive the advantages (or blessings or what have you) of being apart of them there is (or at least for me)an obligation to serve and support them. What does that mean? That would take a whole essay, but I hope I understood and got to the heart of your consent question. If I misunderstood or went off in an unhelpful direction please let me know.
Thanks, Jason. That’s really helpful, actually, and perhaps a better metaphor than marriage in a lot of ways… at least for native Mormons. The doctrine of preexistence may help with this analogy, too, as we could consider that perhaps God sent us to a particular “family” (religious community) for a particular reason (which would be different for different people, of course).
But then, the question with the birth/family analogy is if it holds equally for those in other faith traditions as well. By that same argument, they are born into other religious communities and are expected to stay “faithful” to those religious families/traditions…? So then, are we doing a disservice by actively proselyting and asking people to be “unfaithful” to their birth religious family/tradition by asking them to convert to a new religious family/tradition? It seems that since we actively seek to invite others to join with our faith community, the birth analogy might not work across all faith traditions and in all circumstances?
Either way, I really appreciate your feedback on my question. This will give me a lot to think about and the “birth/family” analogy is also helpful to me. Thank you for your comments!
You’ve done it again Dan. Beautiful. And I was so fortunate yesterday–the day I began listening to this podcast–to have a friend, by chance, bring me Sam Brown’s Fourth Article of Faith book.
I’m at about 1:20 in the podcast and re-listening to the segment where Sam is responding to your question about those who feel “less than” because they haven’t had spiritual manifestations. He delves nicely into the problems of comparing ourselves–and I too have found–that when one is preoccupied with comparing, dissatisfactions, and offenses, one is too full of self-preoccupation to be healed and happy. When one focuses outward to letting God’s light and love shine on others through you, then this dissonance within ourselves greatly disappears. Even an atheist can enjoy this transformation by seeking to serve and bless others. I love Sam’s suggestion to how we can respond to those who are feeling less than: to listen empathetically and express sorrow for their “wounds.”
It made me think of this scripture in Mosiah 18:
8 And it came to pass that he (Alma) said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
9 Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—
10 Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?
The entire focus of committing to Christ is to serve him by serving, healing and comforting others. This is how we stand as a witness. This is how we keep his commandments. And performing this simple injunction IS a spiritual manifestation even if we don’t recognize it. Often others will if they are open and receptive. It is God working through us. It is the divine in us acknowledging the divine in others and the divine above.
Thanks to Sam and Adam and you for being witnesses in such profound and remarkable ways.
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Thanks, Dan. Thanks, Adam. Thanks, Sam. This podcast is one of the best MM podcasts. So rich, so deep, so helpful. Thank you a million times.
Spiritual experience. Why do I find this a superfluous misattribution of natural emotion and intuition? I think it’s reasonable to suppose that my brain could have been configured otherwise – that genetics and experience might have knit me a neural network that would perceive ephemeral experiences as having such depth- and meaning-laced power that I could not honestly reject one man’s testimony of flesh-and-bone polygamist gods – or at least sustain a commitment for – and perhaps even repent for – a religious tradition that promulgated such an orthodox doctrine.
In saying this, I am not ridiculing what Sam, Adam and Dan were advocating, especially those fundamental relational commitments that are so central to human flourishing – including the “kind of inversion that’s at the heart of the gospel” that is “straightforwardly true” with or without a supernatural overlay or endowment. What I am saying is that this was the big question that Mormonism confronted me with and the painful conclusion I found myself having to choose – no, having to accept.
But remarkably it soon yielded good measures of peace and personal integration – despite its stark implications. And, with the help ofa more gracious and generous spouse, left me with enough genuine love to sustain a healthy marriage for 27 years (and counting) after my final temple visit, and to support two children on missions, and so far, two of three married in that same temple.
Thank you Sam, Adam and Dan for this offering. I don’t think we are as far apart “in spirit” as our metaphysical divide might suggest – at least on my “better” days.
This has been one of my very favorite episodes of my favorite podcast. Definitely transcript-worthy.Thank you so much, Dan.
I have have read both of Adam’s “Mormon” books and have started on Sam’s
“First Principles” book. Both authors have nourished my hunger for a deeper, more spiritually engaging Mormonism.
Kudos and deep thanks to all three of you.
I was struck by the idea of “repenting for your religion.”
It first stuck me as a humble and expansive sentiment. But then I tried to understand what it might actually entail. I can understand an individual personally recognizing and feeling remorse for some “sin” of the group he associates with and generally endorses. I can also understand an individual not continuing to participate in a sin if it is ongoing (Prop 8 came to mind. This is a start, but it does not accomplish a repentance FOR the religion, particularly the “endgame” steps of a collective confession, restitution, and permanently refraining from the sin.
Would it mean – as a tangible start – speaking in Sacrament meeting or using a testimony meeting to call the ward to repentance? Would it mean participating in broader activism? For instance, lobbying the First Presidency to call the Church to collective repentance?
But then, how can individual within a hierarchical institution that rigidly delimits the authority with which that individual can speak for that institution carry out repentance for it in any legitimate sense? Is it appropriate to interpret putting oneself in the position of being excommunicated, or resigning, as an act of repentance for a religion?
Loved this podcast episode, but I feel that it hit a few of the stickling points to me about faith that I still do not feel have been adequately addressed.
So, for me, I like — at least conceptually — the idea of reframing faith away from belief/intellectual assent. I mean, I think there are problems with this idea (primarily, as soon as you do this, you are not living Mormonism the way the typical member would. This should be a criticism that Adam and Dan are well familiar with — what y’all are saying sounds nice, but no matter how much you say it, it just doesn’t seem credibly Mormon), but I don’t have a problem with this conceptually…
However, my question is: if I view faith as a trust, faith as fidelity, faith as faithfulness, faith as an orientation to life…my bigger question is: why should I trust the thing that Mormonism is pointing me too? I can recognize that for some people (and this seems to be the case for Adam, Dan, Sam), that Mormonism has good practical effects, good practical life advice, and so on, but this definitely doesn’t seem to be the case for everyone. It just seems for me that Mormonism hasn’t proven its “relevance”.
So, I have always liked the marriage analogy (and was glad that it came up again), but I have some of the same questions that Benjamin posted (noting Jason Bentley’s alternative birth analogy)…but still, this leads to more questions:
For example, I absolutely can decide whether it is right to marry a certain person. I absolutely can decide, if I am already in a marriage, whether it would be worthwhile to continue the marriage or consider a divorce. I certainly see the practical value in not trying to find fault with a significant other, but at some point, a significant other can be abusive, untrustworthy, or otherwise not a good choice to be in relationship with. (This is true with the family/birth analogy. My family may be “given” to me, but that doesn’t justify continued contact/relationship with them…it could be that we are just not on the same
wavelength [at best], or that they are abusive or untrustworthy [at worst]).
I’ll have to listen to the episode again to make more granular points with direct quotes (since I was listening to this episode along with a few others…like the Introversion episode…on a road trip between states), BUT there was one thing that kinda bothered me…sorry if I can’t recall the details, but I think Sam at some point emphasized that part of a life of flourishing is investing in people, relationships, etc., etc., (Again, I’m sorry I don’t recall the specific wording, but I just remember the comment bothered me.) What bothered me was connecting this comment vs. the Introversion podcast episode. It seems to me that a big part of the thing is that as “relational beings,” we have to invest ourselves in relationships and whatnot, and thus, this justifies our continued participation in the church (especially if we are “given” it, as Adam often describes.)
But it seems this ignores actual diversity in humanity — like the introversion discussion in a previous episode had discussed. How can we talk about relationship building as this human duty or necessary part of being human when for many people, this is draining or perhaps even toxic?
(I’ll try to re-listen and gather my thoughts in a response blog post…)
Yes, thank you Andrew for commenting. I was almost frustrated to tears listening to Sam talk – because yeah, it sounds good but it’s NOT the normal Mormon experience. If Mormonism is my spouse, then I have been his subservient, obedient wife and it’s long since time to find a shelter. I look back on my life and the choices I made based on conference talks and tradition (that I was taught was from God) and I’m massively more than sad and angry. I am having to find a way to work through those choices. I sought God every day of my life but it was always through the Mormon narrative so that is what colored my choices. I put way too much faith in authority, in Priesthood, in their talking for God.
This spouse of mine continues to try to control me with all this fear and shame rhetoric coming from men who are supposed to be apostles. Lip service to diversity. Church is a test of my patience no matter how many breathing exercises I do. It’s reciting the same views and narratives over and over. But if God is bigger than this church, which of course is true, then why do I need to stay in this controlling relationship? Is my spouse repenting? Fast enough for my survival? I do not feel called to stay – I feel tangled in the web of it all. I am tired of the push for conformity. Tired of being treated like a child.
The podcast talked about not comparing ourselves to people we THINK have a closer relationship with God. We think that because they SAY it. They talk about feeling his love, feeling guided by him each day. The church works for those people and they’re happy with it. And they think we can all have that and promise if we do what they do, we’ll have what they have. I tried for over 40 years and if I hadn’t finally started growing a backbone now, I’d still believe I’m literally defective. Yes, I’m in an angry place. I’m angry that I have to keep dealing with all this. I don’t know if I can ride out a supposed coming change in culture. Sorry for posting an angry thing on this nice website.
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That was such a thought-provoking episode, thank you all. I like how the ideas of faith and repentance were explored here, and how they can be highly individual, not one-size-fits-all. I also liked reading the many thoughtful comments above.