It-s-a-long-road-love-12894520-512-500The odds of you know­ing of some­one going through a faith cri­sis seem to be increas­ing. Per­haps that is because more peo­ple are going through faith crises. Per­haps the inter­net pro­vides an avenue for those peo­ple to be more vocal about it. Or, per­haps it is a com­bi­na­tion of both. In any event, you prob­a­bly know some­one strug­gling with their tes­ti­mo­ny. If they are some­one you care about, you prob­a­bly want to help them regain their faith and return to the way things were before their cri­sis. The truth of the mat­ter is things will nev­er return to the way things were before the faith cri­sis. A faith cri­sis changes you. You may regain your faith, but it will be dif­fer­ent than the faith you had before. This does­n’t mean you can’t help some­one in a faith cri­sis, or that you should­n’t try to help them. It sim­ply means that help­ing them isn’t return­ing them to how things were before. Rather, it is help­ing that indi­vid­ual to find peace with their beliefs and to move for­ward in a healthy way.

I’ve read sev­er­al let­ters and blog posts seek­ing to help peo­ple who are going through a faith cri­sis. Fre­quent­ly they are writ­ten by peo­ple who, while quite edu­cat­ed and aware of some of the his­tor­i­cal prob­lems with the LDS Church, have nev­er expe­ri­enced a faith cri­sis. While well-intend­ed, they often come across as arro­gant and real­ly are not very help­ful. This isn’t just my per­spec­tive. I’ve been in many dis­cus­sions with peo­ple who are in the midst of, or have gone through a faith cri­sis, and this is fre­quent­ly their reac­tions as well. Con­trary to the inten­tion of the authors, this tends to dri­ve them away rather than to gath­er them back in. In light of that, I fig­ured it would be help­ful to write a let­ter to those of you who are firm in your faith and are want­i­ng to help some­one who is strug­gling in their faith.

Before I get very far into this let­ter, I want to make an impor­tant dis­tinc­tion. Some peo­ple leave the church because they don’t like the lifestyle. From inside the church, this is often phrased as “they just want­ed to sin”. Clear­ly, this hap­pens. I have no advice for these cas­es. My faith cri­sis had noth­ing to do with want­i­ng to live a dif­fer­ent lifestyle. If you want to help some­one in that case, you’ll have to ask them what will be help­ful. Many peo­ple, how­ev­er, have a faith cri­sis because of prob­lem­at­ic church his­to­ry and inter­nal incon­sis­ten­cies in church doc­trine. This is my sit­u­a­tion, and what I feel qual­i­fied to address. So, here we go. My advice on how to help some­one going through a faith cri­sis…

Logical Fallacies

Spend some time study­ing log­i­cal fal­lac­i­es. https://​your​log​i​cal​fal​la​cyis​.com is a good web­site to learn more. You will find that those going through a faith cri­sis spend con­sid­er­able effort learn­ing about these fal­lac­i­es so they can bet­ter under­stand sound rea­son­ing tech­niques. Sound rea­son­ing tech­niques bet­ter equip us for under­stand­ing the world around us, and what pieces of evi­dence mean.

Listen

The most impor­tant thing you can do is to lis­ten. So many of these let­ters and blog posts go about answer­ing ques­tions or issues they think we have, but so often have no rel­e­vance. You need to ask us what issues are both­er­ing us. Why are they both­er­ing us? What have we done to try to find answers. What con­clu­sions have we arrived at? What fears have those con­clu­sions caused? Through all of this, your job is to lis­ten. That is it. Don’t try to fix it. Don’t try to resolve any­thing unless we ask you to. Just lis­ten. For so many of us, this has been a lone­ly process, and we’ve have very few peo­ple to talk to about our ques­tions. We need to be able to process our thoughts and feel­ings, and ver­bal­iz­ing them helps us to fig­ure it out. The ear­li­er on in the process, the more like­ly we are to con­tra­dict our­selves. We haven’t had time to fig­ure out how new infor­ma­tion that changes one belief will affect oth­er beliefs.

Anger

There will prob­a­bly be anger. A faith cri­sis is a griev­ing process. It is nat­ur­al and healthy to expe­ri­ence anger. We need to be able to feel and to express that anger in order to move past it. In my case, there has been anger because I felt betrayed. I devot­ed my life to the church. I tried to con­tribute as much as I could, and I tried to be hon­est with my church lead­ers. When I learned that cer­tain aspects of church his­to­ry had been hid­den, and that those aspects had huge impli­ca­tions for the sto­ry of the restora­tion, I felt betrayed. I felt deceived. It felt like I was the vic­tim of a fraud. Whether I had real­ly been betrayed, deceived, or defraud­ed is sec­ondary to the fact that I felt that way. Let me restate that because it is incred­i­bly impor­tant. The fact that I felt I had been betrayed, deceived, and defraud­ed is more impor­tant dur­ing this anger phase than if I had actu­al­ly been betrayed, deceived, or defraud­ed. As we move past this anger phase, we will be more capa­ble of deter­min­ing if we real­ly were betrayed, deceived and defraud­ed.

For the most part, our anger will not real­ly be direct­ed at you, though it may feel like it. In fact, we may incor­rect­ly direct it at you tem­porar­i­ly because we will want to lash out at some­one. Please be under­stand­ing, and please be the big­ger per­son dur­ing our moments of weak­ness. We even­tu­al­ly get past this, and apolo­gies will be forth­com­ing. Anger towards the church is not anger toward you. Attack­ing the church is not a per­son­al attack on you. It may feel that way, and I think we are con­di­tioned to think it is so, but it is not.

On the flip side, we need to be under­stand­ing that you are also going through the griev­ing process and will expe­ri­ence anger. It is hard to see some­one reject what you hold so dear, espe­cial­ly when you have a close rela­tion­ship with them. It is impor­tant that we give you lee­way to express that anger and real­ize that the anger is about the sit­u­a­tion, not about us. We need to under­stand that you may lash out and say things you don’t mean, and to for­give.

Don’t reduce it to sin

I already addressed this at the begin­ning, but don’t reduce our faith cri­sis to sin. In many cas­es, sin had noth­ing to do with it. Often, a per­son in a faith cri­sis will become overzeal­ous in doing the right thing. Read­ing the scrip­tures more, pray­ing more often and more fer­vent­ly, mag­ni­fy­ing their call­ing, pay­ing more in tithes and offer­ings, attend­ing the tem­ple, etc, etc. It is painful address new infor­ma­tion that makes you ques­tion your beliefs, and the nat­ur­al thing to do is try to find some­thing that rec­on­ciles it so you can go back to your com­fort­able life. It takes strength to step back and real­ly ques­tion if that new infor­ma­tion is cred­i­ble enough that you should con­sid­er chang­ing your long-held beliefs. Telling that per­son that they just want­ed to sin, while often is just patent­ly false, is the same as telling that per­son that they are weak. It belit­tles the effort they have exert­ed, and the anguish they have felt.

Some, as they tran­si­tion through their faith cri­sis, will chose to do things you con­sid­er to be sin like drink­ing alco­hol, cof­fee, tea, get­ting pierc­ings or tat­toos, shop­ping or sports on Sun­day, etc. Do not con­fuse their con­clu­sions that these are not sins, with these things being the cause of their cri­sis. It is very nat­ur­al, after a change in beliefs, to ques­tion whether the things you were taught are sins are real­ly sins at all. How­ev­er, this is after the cri­sis has already begun. It is not the cause of it.

Providing answers to questions

As we ask for answers to our ques­tions, you will have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to share what you have learned and what is impor­tant to you. Tread very light­ly when using apolo­getic sources to answer our ques­tions. The odds are that we’ve already read many of the apol­o­gist respons­es because we want­ed to find a faith­ful expla­na­tion that would help us regain our faith. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, many of the apolo­getic respons­es con­tain log­i­cal fal­lac­i­es, inter­nal incon­sis­ten­cies, and employ sham­ing tech­niques. So, please, before you send us a link to an arti­cle to answer a ques­tion, read it first to see if it is worth our time read­ing it. Even arti­cles from the Ensign, please read them and try to read them from the per­spec­tive of some­one who is skep­ti­cal. Will this arti­cle real­ly answer their ques­tion? Does it give due con­sid­er­a­tion to the issue, or does it reduce it to you just need to have faith?

Be pre­pared for us to pro­vide a response that ques­tions cer­tain con­clu­sions, or that pro­vides more con­text or per­haps con­tra­dicts the evi­dence shared in the arti­cle. To be hon­est, some of us will just be ornery, but for the most part we are just try­ing to rec­on­cile as much evi­dence as we can. We are try­ing to fig­ure out how a faith­ful or a crit­i­cal response deals with con­flict­ing data. In many cas­es, we focus on the crit­i­cal or neg­a­tive data because it is new to us. We’ve spent years study­ing the faith­ful per­spec­tive, so now we’re try­ing to fig­ure out how this new infor­ma­tion fits. It isn’t that we’re ignor­ing or dis­count­ing it, we’re sim­ply try­ing to process the new data and what impli­ca­tions they have.

Historical context

I must say, this is one of the most annoy­ing respons­es I hear. “You need to remem­ber the his­tor­i­cal con­text and then these issues will not be so trou­ble­some.” To be frank, the church his­to­ry we learn in church has very lit­tle his­tor­i­cal con­text. Many of the dis­turb­ing things we learn through his­tor­i­cal sources, rather than the cor­re­lat­ed cur­ricu­lum in church man­u­als, is actu­al­ly pro­vid­ing much of the his­tor­i­cal con­text we’ve been miss­ing. A side effect of learn­ing more of the his­to­ry is a desire to under­stand the his­tor­i­cal con­text. The more his­tor­i­cal con­text I learn around these issues, the more dis­turb­ing they are to me. If you are going to make the his­tor­i­cal con­text argu­ment, make sure you accept the con­text that sup­ports the church’s claims as well as the con­text that hurts its claims.

Evidence matters, don’t discount it

Whether it is issues with the Book of Abra­ham papyri, anachro­nisms in the Book of Mor­mon, Native Amer­i­can DNA hav­ing no mid­dle east­ern influ­ence from around 600BC, a lack of archae­o­log­i­cal evi­dence to sup­port the Book of Mor­mon, or any oth­er of a myr­i­ad of prob­lems, evi­dence mat­ters. Absence of evi­dence, where it is rea­son­able to expect evi­dence, is actu­al­ly evi­dence of absence. Let me pro­vide an exam­ple. If I claimed to have an ele­phant liv­ing in my back­yard, it would be rea­son­able to expect evi­dence of said ele­phant. You would expect to see ele­phant dung, foot­prints, the nec­es­sary equip­ment to feed and water the ele­phant, and most impor­tant­ly the ele­phant. If you went into my back­yard and saw none of those things, you would con­clude that my claim is false. The lack of evi­dence in this case is actu­al­ly evi­dence that my claim is false because the only rea­son­able expec­ta­tion is that there would be evi­dence.

Con­verse­ly, it is not rea­son­able to expect evi­dence that Joseph’s first vision actu­al­ly occurred. We can’t ana­lyze the grove for “heav­en­ly par­ti­cles”. There is no chance of video footage of the event. There is absolute­ly noth­ing that we could use as evi­dence to prove it hap­pened or that it did not hap­pen. It is not rea­son­able to expect any evi­dence. In this case, the lack of evi­dence is not evi­dence. You either have faith it hap­pened, or you do not.

There are lots of things that sci­ence gets wrong, or that sci­ence does­n’t know, but there are also a lot of things that we do know because of sci­ence. Please don’t reduce it to “there are a lot of things we just don’t know” or “sci­ence gets things wrong” when the evi­dence is not sup­port­ing your posi­tion. I would rather hear you say you reject the evi­dence because it con­tra­dicts your beliefs. That would at least be intel­lec­tu­al­ly hon­est.

[Insert Leader] wasn’t perfect

We know. Nobody is per­fect. We don’t expect per­fec­tion. The ques­tion isn’t if some leader made a mis­take. Rather, the ques­tion is if that lead­er’s mis­takes affect their cred­i­bil­i­ty and am I will­ing to fol­low some­one giv­en those mis­takes. As extreme cas­es, Adolph Hitler and Mao Zedong did hor­ri­ble things. We could clas­si­fy them as “not per­fect”. Their mis­takes are enough for me to decide to not fol­low them, nor to con­sid­er them moral author­i­ties. When we ques­tion things that Joseph Smith or Brigham Young said or did, we are say­ing that we have a hard time see­ing them as cred­i­ble or as moral author­i­ties. We have a hard time believ­ing they could do and say the things they did and said, and still be called of God. We each have a lim­it of what we will accept and what we won’t. That lim­it is dif­fer­ent for each per­son. Say­ing some­one was­n’t per­fect sim­pli­fies the issue too much, and serves as a thought stop­ping tech­nique.

Bearing testimony

There was a time when I thought bear­ing a tes­ti­mo­ny was a pow­er­ful tech­nique for teach­ing truth. In fact, I was taught to bear tes­ti­mo­ny because no one can refute your tes­ti­mo­ny. For one going through a faith cri­sis, bear­ing your tes­ti­mo­ny is not pow­er­ful. It does not cause one to think, “maybe I am wrong about all of this”. We most­ly see it as an appeal to emo­tion (https://​your​log​i​cal​fal​la​cyis​.com/​a​p​p​e​a​l​-​t​o​-​e​motion) and anec­do­tal evi­dence (https://​your​log​i​cal​fal​la​cyis​.com/​a​n​e​cdotal). Fre­quent­ly, tes­ti­monies are cre­at­ed by focus­ing on spe­cial spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ences while ignor­ing the thou­sands of times things did not sup­port your tes­ti­mo­ny (https://​your​log​i​cal​fal​la​cyis​.com/​t​h​e​-​t​e​x​a​s​-​s​h​a​r​p​s​hooter). Tes­ti­monies are rid­dled with log­i­cal fal­lac­i­es. It does­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly mean your con­clu­sions are wrong (https://​your​log​i​cal​fal​la​cyis​.com/​t​h​e​-​f​a​l​l​a​c​y​-​f​allacy), just that a tes­ti­mo­ny isn’t a valid argu­ment for why some­thing is or is not true.

Addi­tion­al­ly, what it real­ly tells us is that you have no answers and are done dis­cussing the top­ic. It is a thought stop­ping tech­nique and is real­ly frus­trat­ing to those who want to real­ly ana­lyze the issue and under­stand it. For some­one going through a faith cri­sis and search­ing for answers, there is noth­ing more frus­trat­ing than some­one end­ing the con­ver­sa­tion and imply­ing it is no longer worth dis­cussing.

Priorities make the difference

Each per­son has dif­fer­ent pri­or­i­ties. What is impor­tant to one per­son may not be impor­tant to anoth­er, or per­haps is sim­ply less impor­tant. This, I think, is the heart of the prob­lem, “why do some peo­ple know the prob­lem­at­ic parts of church his­to­ry and still believe, while oth­ers lose faith?” For some, myself includ­ed, the his­to­ry is very impor­tant and speaks to the valid­i­ty of the restora­tion claims. For oth­ers, their expe­ri­ence with the divine now is what mat­ters most. Some may be ok with Joseph mar­ry­ing teenage girls because they believe it was com­mand­ed by God. For me, the fact that coer­cion was used, polygamy was ille­gal, and decep­tion was used to keep it hid­den from Emma and oth­er church mem­bers are enough for me to not believe that a lov­ing and just god would com­mand it. The hon­esty and respect of ones emo­tions and wish­es are more impor­tant than if it was a com­mand­ment from God. I do not want to wor­ship a god that would endorse such manip­u­la­tion, and abu­sive behav­ior. I give those val­ues high­er pri­or­i­ty than an edict from a deity. Joseph clear­ly gave more pri­or­i­ty to fol­low­ing an edict from God when he said,

That which is wrong under one cir­cum­stance, may be, and often is, right under anoth­er. God said, ‘Thou shalt not kill’; at anoth­er time He said, ‘Thou shalt utter­ly destroy.’ This is the prin­ci­ple on which the gov­ern­ment of heav­en is conducted—by rev­e­la­tion adapt­ed to the cir­cum­stances in which the chil­dren of the king­dom are placed. What­ev­er God requires is right, no mat­ter what it is, although we may not see the rea­son there­of till long after the events tran­spire.’

Under­stand­ing that the per­son going through a faith cri­sis has dif­fer­ent pri­or­i­ties will prob­a­bly not change your views to agree with theirs, nor should it. It should, how­ev­er, help you to under­stand their per­spec­tive and have empa­thy. That will do more to pre­serve your rela­tion­ship with them, than any answers you could pro­vide.

Where we end up is not your responsibility

Whether we end up ful­ly believ­ing in the church’s truth claims, or par­tial­ly believ­ing, or not believ­ing at all is not your respon­si­bil­i­ty. You have not failed or suc­ceed­ed as a par­ent, sib­ling, friend, or what­ev­er rela­tion­ship we have, if we do or do not return to the church. That is entire­ly on the per­son in faith cri­sis and, if they still believe, God. Your suc­cess or fail­ure is based sole­ly on what you did to pre­serve your rela­tion­ship with that per­son. Can you love them no mat­ter what deci­sion they arrive at? Can you under­stand the depth of inter­nal strug­gle they engaged? Can you see they are doing what they think is right, and thus have integri­ty? Our rela­tion­ship is more impor­tant than any reli­gion, or church doc­trine. How we treat each oth­er is more impor­tant.

Cross-post­ed from https://​uncor​re​lat​ed​mor​mon​.word​press​.com/​2​0​1​5​/​0​4​/​3​0​/​s​o​-​y​o​u​-​w​a​n​t​-​t​o​-​h​e​l​p​-​s​o​m​e​o​n​e​-​g​o​i​n​g​-​t​h​r​o​u​g​h​-​a​-​f​a​i​t​h​-​c​risis/

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