October 6th, 2013

Doubting Your Doubts Before Doubting Your Faith

I know many people who have struggled with or completely abandoned the Mormon faith. Some have problems with the Church’s doctrinal claims, others grew apathetic to the gospel’s lifestyle requirements, and a select few allowed a personality conflict or other evidence of a Church leader’s fallibility fester until they could not separate the gospel of Christ from the actions of His followers.

These challenges are not new, having existed since the Church was established. As Joseph Smith erected the structure of the Latter-day Church, even his closest confidants sometimes strongly disagreed with his decisions and doctrinal proclamations to the point of breaking away altogether from the Church. But after nearly two centuries of precedent and practice, combined with the rise of the information age and new media whereby people can research and write about any topic they desire, doctrinal disputes have astronomically outpaced the other reasons for disaffection from the Church.

From its inception, the Church of Jesus Christ has been criticized and attacked. Scholarly attempts to undermine its central claims have fallen short, time and again. As Elder Holland said regarding the keystone of the religion, the Book of Mormon:

For 179 years this book has been examined and attacked, denied and deconstructed, targeted and torn apart like perhaps no other book in modern religious history—perhaps like no other book in any religious history. And still it stands. Failed theories about its origins have been born and parroted and have died—from Ethan Smith to Solomon Spaulding to deranged paranoid to cunning genius. None of these frankly pathetic answers for this book has ever withstood examination because there is no other answer than the one Joseph gave as its young unlearned translator.

Still, several decades of leadership by fallible people have resulted in a number of unanswered doctrinal questions and questionable practices, and where current leadership has been unable or unwilling to offer direct responses, speculative responses both faithful and critical have attempted to fill the void. This cacophony of interpretative commentary has resulted in a virtual mist of darkness, leading people who look only to the internet for answers to “lose their way” and “wander off” to become lost.

For the past year, one of the more potent messages I would provide to my friends in such a situation was Terryl Givens’ “Letter to a Doubter”—a message of recognition, understanding, and invitation. Just as Rough Stone Rolling helped to un-deify Joseph Smith and show that God can use imperfect individuals to accomplish amazing purposes, Givens’ wonderful letter helps dismantle some of the misconceptions and illusions about the nature of doubt.

Doubts are not signs of apostasy, and they should not be suppressed. Where they exist in good faith and sincere intent, they are simply an intellectual manifestation of a curiosity or concern, and as such should be addressed and investigated. Givens wrote:

I know I am grateful for a propensity to doubt because it gives me the capacity to freely believe. I hope you can find your way to feel the same. The call to faith is a summons to engage the heart, to attune it to resonate in sympathy with principles and values and ideals that we devoutly hope are true and which we have reasonable but not certain grounds for believing to be true. There must be grounds for doubt as well as belief in order to render the choice more truly a choice, and therefore more deliberate and laden with more personal vulnerability and investment. An overwhelming preponderance of evidence on either side would make our choice as meaningless as would a loaded gun pointed at our heads.

Elder Uchtdorf offered some important insights on the subject in his recent general conference address. First, he noted that unlike some other religions, and despite the disaffecting few, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continues to be one of fastest growing faiths. God’s sealing authority and divine leadership is found in this Church.

Though Christ is at the helm, his appointed officers do not share in his status of perfection, and therefore their actions are not always in harmony with God’s will. As Elder Uchtdorf said, “Some struggle with unanswered questions about things that have been done or said in the past. 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.” He continued:

And to be perfectly frank, 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. I suppose the church would only be perfect if it were run by perfect beings. God is perfect, and His doctrine is pure. But He works through us—his imperfect children—and imperfect people make mistakes.

“Some might ask, but what about my doubts?” Elder Uchtdorf rhetorically asked. “It is natural to have questions. The acorn of honest inquiry has often sprouted and matured into a great oak of understanding. There are few members of the church who, at one time or another, have not wrestled with serious or sensitive questions.”

Doubt needs to be de-stigmatized among Latter-day Saints, with open recognition that when handled appropriately it can lead not just to faith, but stronger faith. Of course, many inflate the importance of doubt, latching onto it as if it were some standalone virtue. Rather than pursuing their intellectual inquiry from a presumption of faith, they plant their feet firmly upon a foundation of doubt. Those who embrace their doubts in this unbalanced way flirt with absolutism—if any one theological claim is found to be suspect, then for them the Church’s entire system of doctrine crumbles to ashes.

Perhaps recognizing this unbalanced relationship between doubt and faith in the minds of some current and former Latter-day Saints, Elder Uchdtorf counseled, “Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.” If previous spiritual confirmations have affirmed the veracity of something, then don’t put God on the defense when contrary claims come creeping in. Instead, first challenge the claims—their source, their intent, their fruit.

Doubt has its place, but our spiritual and intellectual progress requires that doubts be overtaken by faith, and later by confirmed knowledge. To the extent that doubts are magnified, or given greater consideration than the sum of spiritual experiences we have previously enjoyed, then our quest for truth will be thwarted and we will spiral into self-defeating spiritual stupor. Unfortunately, this has become the pattern of too many disaffected brothers and sisters.

Faith must be properly prioritized. Latter-day Saints, both strong and weak in the faith, must scrutinize their testimony and continually analyze the foundational claims that comprise it—their source, their intent, their fruit. Where uncertainty or outright skepticism exist, then they should be sincerely addressed, openly discussed, researched, and prayed over.

“In moments of… doubt…, hold the ground you have already won, even if that ground is limited,” taught Elder Holland.

Hold the ground. A competent football team will at a minimum strive to defend advances by the opposition, while also working to move the ball forward. No player in their right mind will passively sit down while the opposition runs over them, let alone helpfully carry the opposition’s ball into their own territory. Let’s recognize why and how we’ve brought the ball to the point it’s now at, and then do what’s necessary both to prevent going backwards while also finding ways to move forward—in faith.

19 Responses to “Doubting Your Doubts Before Doubting Your Faith”

  1. October 6, 2013 at 8:27 am #

    Great post, I wish more members would be sympathetic to those who are questioning, not doubting, the actions of the church, past and present. You’re right though, truth can handle scrutiny so questions asked through the Spirit can have a testimony “solidifying” effect but it may take time.

  2. David Goates
    October 6, 2013 at 9:32 am #

    There are too many people in this world who do exactly what Jerry Sloan eschewed – they live (or play their basketball games) backwards. Sloan often observed after a loss that it couldn’t be done. Don’t get fixated in looking backward. The leaders of the Church freely acknowledge that mistakes have been made. Leave it there. Look forward with faith. That’s what our leaders are pointing us to – the destiny of Zion that is ours to be claimed if we live for it.

  3. October 6, 2013 at 9:33 am #

    Thank you for a very good post. However, I think it need to be clear that this tolerance for doubt is a recent phenomenon. It is MOST welcome, but for some it comes too late. My husband left the church 25+ yrs ago, long before the Internet put the church under a microscope and without ever having read a single “anti-Mormon” article. He went to several leaders, Institute and BYU teachers for help with his doubts and was (at best) dismissed or (worse) told to be quiet and repent.

    Even though I remained faithful, since we had an “apostate” in the family, I and my children spent years as second class members. I can’t even tell you how many members criticized me for staying married to my “apostate.” I once had an Elder’s Quorum President tell me that he would not assign an home teachers to my family until I did a better job of bringing my husband back into activity. More than once my temple recommend and church standing were questioned and at risk. I also had my own doubts but was unable to ever discuss them because I knew firsthand how doubters are shamed and shunned.

    It was this complete lack of support (and even antagonism) that led me to start an online support forum for the believing spouses of disaffected Mormons. http://www.FacesEast.org

    So I am thrilled (and relieved) to finally hear talks like Elder Uchdorf’s and Elder Holland’s in the last 2-3 conferences. Unfortunately, it comes about 5 yrs too late for my oldest son and many others. I hope it will stem the tide of future disaffection but we (the church, leaders and members) also need to do a LOT of outreach, offering a healing hand to those who have faced the crisis of disbelief for so long.

  4. October 6, 2013 at 11:09 am #

    “Those who embrace their doubts in this unbalanced way flirt with absolutism—if any one theological claim is found to be suspect, then for them the Church’s entire system of doctrine crumbles to ashes.”

    The Church set itself up for this by taking the position that it is “all or nothing.”

    http://youtu.be/lzc–hTemCY

  5. October 6, 2013 at 11:30 am #

    It is false doctrine to tell someone to ‘doubt their doubts’.

    God commands us to listen to our ‘doubts’ and to ‘question’, everyone and everything. We are commanded to ‘doubt all things & thus 1st ‘prove’ all things’ before putting faith or obedience in them, especially those who call themselves prophets.

    Prophets may not be perfect but they have to be pretty close to prove to us they are worthy of our trust and that they are really ‘true’ prophets with real Christlike love (and prove it by taking care of all the fatherless (which they are not), instead of using it to build big & spacious buildings & malls & paying themselves salaries).

    For Christ warned us about the many false prophets that would be among us today, who would look & sound so good & right and thus deceive everyone, except a rare few who know what Christ & the scriptures really say.

    Prophets have to be living far more righteous then those they expect to follow them. I believe LDS Prophets & leaders support the vilest of evils, not just being ‘imperfect’.

    While ‘true’ Prophet always tell us to not just believe them but to question, test, study and prove if what they say is right or not, by comparing their teachings & practices with what ‘Christ’ taught and the Book of Mormon taught.

    When we do this we clearly see that LDS leaders since Brigham Young have preached & practiced completely contrary to the teachings of Christ in numerous ways. From polygamy to paid ministry (for the BoM clearly teaches over & over that church leaders, even prophets, shouldn’t receive a penny in support from the people, but they should work to support themselves while serving in the Church, let alone not expect the fatherless & poor who suffer to give their last dime to rich church leaders who could very well support themselves)

    I don’t ‘doubt my doubts’ because I have found they usually come from the Holy Ghost, thus I ‘prove my doubts’ by searching the scriptures & prayer, and find that my doubts are usually very valid.

    Doubts are one of the ways the Holy Ghost warns us of falsehoods, so I’m not surprised that church leaders today would tell us to ‘doubt’ what the Holy Ghost is trying to tell us & awaken us to.

  6. October 6, 2013 at 1:16 pm #

    An overwhelming preponderance of evidence on either side would make our choice as meaningless as would a loaded gun pointed at our heads.

    So Satan didn’t have a choice? This seems invalid to me. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” That’s all I ask for.

    For me I lost faith after learning about politics and how people cling to ideologies regardless of their truthfulness. I then learned history and how parallels between them and the church history are quite similar.

    I also learned about psychology and how we experience the world. Putting the spirit in a doubtful position. How can one trust the spirit when it has lead people to their deaths following what we all believe as false notions? (I’m thinking specifically of the Anabaptists in Germany during the time of Martin Luther from Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast).

    It was fascinating to me how the latest FAIR podcast they derided others for following what they believe was the spirit. It reminded me of the same left-right paradigm – we’re right because we are and the others are wrong!

    I still appreciate the message of freedom in the Book of Mormon. Of course, considering when it was written it is understandable why the message of freedom was so well portrayed – even to the extent of calling taxes unrighteous which was fairly novel back then (of course, wasn’t that when Lysander Spooner was alive too – spreading the anarcho-capatilist message?).

  7. October 6, 2013 at 1:24 pm #

    I find it interesting that people like Denver Snuffer (a person I would call more of a Joseph Smith fundamentalist – a true blue believer) are exed even today while people like John Dehlin and Dan Wotherspoon (two people that I would call New Order Mormons) are left in good standing. So, being open to doubters is still not reached a point where all doubters are welcome to stay.

  8. October 6, 2013 at 8:34 pm #

    Doubt- DO U Believe Truth? DO U Believe Truth Sustains? To doubt doubts first is to deny promptings of the Spirit. Doubt should be a sign for one to dig deeper into the scriptures for truth that either dispels the doubt or causes one to seek more clarity on what is causing the doubt. And when you have researched deeper and truth is found, do as the Lord has commanded and inquire of the Spirit for verification and validation. Arm of God or Arm of flesh? Gods use of prophets is for Gods purposes to see which way man yields, to God or to man. Prophet worship is what the modern church is advocating when the GA’s teach the fallacy of a prophet not able to lead people astray? When ones testimony is built upon what god or man says without going to the Spirit then even Gods way is not affirmed and therefor ones testimony is built upon sand and not rock. Doubt destroys one built upon sand and reinforces one built upon rock. The Book of Mormon is pure truth and is unchanging, but Joseph Smith was a man first and a prophet that God said would be like unto Moses because as Moses sinned so did Joseph and both were required to give their lives for their transgressions, both atoned for the sins of the people which they themselves were involved in. How is it that GA’s quote other GA’s in conference talks than quoting our Savior and the Prophets of scripture? Would the GA’s openly admit that they as all others other than Joseph where they are because of common consent? Does the modern church have the fullness of the Gospel and the Holy Melchidedek Priesthood? If one is willing to dig deep into the scriptures one can find out with a certainty to those 2 very important foundational questions and one has to be willing to accept the truth that is clearly in the scriptures concerning those 2 questions and upon finding out the truth, one has to be willing to allow ones will to be Gods will and realize why He took the fullness of the Gospel and the Melchizedek Priesthood back into Himself until a future event when the saints are ready to live all of His laws and not just some of them which is what happened hence the scattering of His people from Kirtland and allowing them to decide who they wanted to lead them without inquiring of God. It is all there for us to see and understand why God allows His strange acts to be His and is no respecter of man and does His work in the open for us to see and not in darkness where man can deceive. Let us pray for the GA’s in their confliction and be willing to receive and do Gods will when Joeseph, Sidney as well as many others who received the Holy Priesthood come back with the Ancients to restore it as well as the fullness of the Gospel when the Marvelous Work begins as outlined clearly in the scriptures. Do not doubt God but absolutely doubt man! That is of God!!! Peace.

  9. James
    October 6, 2013 at 10:14 pm #

    I believe we should view what we are taught through a lens of objectivity. Being objective is crucial in order for our views and truth to become one and the same. Being true with ourselves and allowing all truths (especially the hard ones) guide our lives and convictions might sound like doubt to some or faith to others but I like to call it just being honest.

    President Heber J. Grant discovered a self-help book written by William George Jordan which Grant caused to be republished and distributed. This quote from that book is relevant to this discussion, I believe.

    “The man who has a certain religious belief and fears to discuss it, lest it may be proved wrong, is not loyal to his belief, he has but a coward’s faithfulness to his prejudices. If he were a lover of truth, he would be willing at any moment to surrender his belief for a higher, better, and truer faith.” -William George Jordan (The Power of Truth)

  10. October 6, 2013 at 11:28 pm #

    I like what Charlene said. Though I’m not a member of her church, I concur that this latest tolerance of doubt is very, very new. If only the prophets had had the foresight to see this coming, they could have done a lot more good for their flocks years ago. Seems they’re always behind the curve.

  11. October 7, 2013 at 7:54 am #

    Interesting how some do not read the whole thing, who did not listen to Pres Uchtdorf’s talk, and do not understand the phrase “Doubting Your Doubts Before Doubting Your Faith”. It is NOT saying to glorify your Doubt, but to DOUBT it! Do NOT doubt your Faith – come on guys, think!

  12. October 7, 2013 at 10:37 am #

    As regards this talk, I think it’s telling that it was delivered by a member of the First Presidency.
    In spite of what many leaders have claimed over the years, I do not believe that the “Church” (as distinct from the restored gospel of Jesus Christ) is a perfect organisation. Likewise, the leaders, whilst inspired, are not infallible.
    I like to think that, day by day, the Church gets a little better, a bit like the way we hope ourselves to improve a bit at a time.
    It’s almost 43 years since I was baptised and I see significant differences between then and now. I see a Church more at ease with itself and much less defensive towards the outside world. When you consider the early years, when there was a huge amount of opposition and persecution, it is perhaps not surprising that a “them and us” attitude developed.
    Likewise, Joseph Smith (whom I admire greatly) may have been a prophet (and I believe he was) but as he said himself “I never told you that I was perfect”. Similarly, some of Brother Brigham’s sayings and doings still have the capacity to raise the eyebrows a bit.
    However, when I get back to the doctrines, I am satisfied that, as it tells us in the Doctrine and Covenants “Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest”. My wife and I are very fortunate to have the opportunity to serve in the temple regularly and every day we’re there, we get to experience the spiritual reality of that statement.
    But, in the end, we all have to live our lives “according to the dictates of our own conscience”.

  13. October 7, 2013 at 4:56 pm #

    John Doe,
    Very perceptive observations on behalf of the video, and your own commentary. I always found it rather curious how much energy is spent by LDS members that they have the true church. Its like its taken for granted that the Christian faith is true, and the LDS have the ‘truth of the truth’.

    But one Bishop in particular I knew spent so much energy hammering this concept home, only to do a 180 when someone was doubting the church. He said to the doubter “just stay christian”. He was so willing to deny that the LDS church was THE church so long as the doubter never doubted christianity. After that point he was then claiming that the Christian faith was the only true religion. For me that was really strange double talk.

    In another forum, there was commentary about how there is a tendancy for LDS members to become atheist after questioning the church, or leaving it. This was a blog aiming on converting LDS to evangellical Christianity. It seems pretty true, but I have met a former LDS member who has moved on to New Age Mysticism. So, its not entirely true.

  14. October 10, 2013 at 4:49 pm #

    I had made some comments, and then they disappeared (my fault)–

    I appreciate what you have to say, Connor.

  15. October 10, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

    Oh, now I remember what I was going to say. I think many LDS are converted to a culture of some kind of conservative politics. I think many American Mormons, especially, believe in American exceptionalism, and that has a powerful impact on their feelings about Mormon theology.

    As I have questioned politics I have realized that there are people whose faith cannot be destroyed by politics, because they keep their faith separate from politics.

    This doesn’t mean that some political beliefs aren’t influenced by religion, just that when a person confuses the two, he/she can flail.

    that’s an interesting youtube, John Doe. Truth is bigger than “either/or”.

  16. November 14, 2013 at 12:53 pm #

    Um, I don’t want to be rude, but doesn’t that little quip seem a tad absurd when applied to, well, anything else in life? If this is the only corner of your life where that mantra applies, does that not make it a little bit dubious? Additionally, do LDS missionaries offer the same advice to members of other faiths who are struggling to continue in their belief? Do they tell the Catholic or Jehovah’s Witness to doubt their doubt in their religion/faith? Just curious….

  17. October 27, 2014 at 7:32 am #

    Neil L. Andersen said it another way, “We do not discard something we know to be true because of something we do not yet understand.” I like that.

  18. October 27, 2014 at 5:34 pm #

    As an outsider to the LDS faith my observation over many years is that the Church teaches its members not to question, and to be obedient to authority yet the Church teaches that the Glory of God is Intelligence. Can someone explain this apparent contradiction to me. My understanding of what drives human intelligence is its innate need to question everything in the world around us.

  19. October 29, 2014 at 9:03 pm #

    Saxoclese, Christians believe that the ultimate power of god is love, in fact he is love. (1 John 4:8) Paul believes that he is nothing without love. ( 1 Corinthians 13:2) I don’t know of anyplace in the bible that describes the Glory of god as intelligence. Perhaps someone LDS can help with this.

    You are correct however that not everything should be taken as true because some authority has said it.
    “…but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good.”1 Thessalonians 5:21

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