178-181: Navigating an LDS Faith Crisis In or Out of the Church

This 4-part workshop series was recorded during the August 2010 Salt Lake Sunstone Symposium. During the workshop, we explored techniques for navigating an LDS Faith Crisis — both in and out of the church.

Part 1

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Part 2

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Part 3

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Part 4

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  1. This was really enjoyable to listen to. I was happy to hear you mention how disappointing it was for you to read ‘No ma’am that’s not history’. The Ad hominem attacks with poor/non-existent arguments against Brodie’s major points from what was supposed to be one of, if not the best Mormon scholar did more to damage to my testimony than any piece of ‘anti-mormon’ literature.

  2. In the 4th episode regarding the non-threatening conversation with your bishop, I would caution anyone to consider how orthodox your bishop is. I presented myself exactly like John said – just stating general doubts but no “worthiness issues.” I can see now that I was immediately viewed as an apostate because he started grilling me about specifics, and when I didn’t accept his bad apologetic answers he took my recommend, released me from my calling, and refused to allow me to perform any priesthood ordinances including baptizing my kids. Just a caution to all – if you decide to speak to your bishop understand that the decision about what level of activity you have may be made for you.

  3. This should be compulsory listening to church leaders, the missionary department and Mormons experiencing a faith crisis. i recently read my journal entries from my early church years and I was a stage 3-member; rock solid, testimony bearing, not a “shadow of doubt” Mormon. But this made me a lousy missionary, for most people I met. I’m moving beyond the faith crisis and feel more at peace than I’ve ever been and a far better missionary, because I can now connect to people. It’s a beautiful thing coming out the other side, requiring patience, pondering, praying, reading and listening. John’s work is invaluable.

  4. Great podcast John. I just finished listening to the whole thing. I agree with you on several points, but then there are some things you said that I just can’t get behind.

    If you are talking with someone who foresees that the “middle way” is not going to be sustainable long term, why would you encourage them to prolong the inevitable? I have a friend who did just that and spent 20 years waiting for his spouse to warm up to the idea of his disbelief before he told her everything. Right after he “came out” to her she served him divorce papers and ended the marriage. He told me that he deeply regrets wasting so many years of his life now and can’t do anything to get that time back. I think that is tragic. I would not have encouraged him to stay in a situation that made him so unhappy. How do you think the middle way concept benefits someone who knows they can’t sustain it?

  5. JJ – I didn’t get that out of this podcast. Didn’t John say that it’s NOT sustainable for the majority?

    I obviously don’t know your friend, nor his ex-wife, but there are ALWAYS other issues at play than just “belief” or “disbelief” which I think John addressed at least a little (when he talked about fear/hate/intolerance. I would suggest that fear is the biggest of those three, and it sounds like someone like your friend spent 20 years afraid to say anything, and then when he did, his wife had a sudden shot of fear that was enough to serve divorce papers. of course I’m biased in my psychological views, but fear is what it always comes down to for me.

  6. To the lady in the 3rd episode with the 6 kids and the Bushman book on her coffee table: Thank you so much for your kind words about becoming whole. I felt like Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting hearing “It’s not your fault” and cried over my dishwater listening to you. I hope everybody’s mothers (including my own) will have your same charity and love towards their kids’ spiritual journeys.

  7. John,
    I appreciate that you are more often acknowledging the value leaving the Church can have in people’s lives. Coming from someone who greatly appreciates what you do, but also spent two painful years trying to stay active in the Church without believing, I know that the ‘StayLds’ approach, while well intentioned and beneficial to some, can also cause unnecessary hardship and fear of being non-lds. I think it takes a very special (and even admirable) type of person to be able to be fully active in an organization they do not believe in and even dislike in some aspects. In some ways it is comparable to homosexuals trying to marry heterosexually. I think it is great that you provide the resources for those who want to try that road, but I applaud your no longer making that the default route or suggestion and look forward to more great stuff from you.

  8. Sorry for one more comment. But I just started listening to the new mormon stories/mormon expressions piece and saw you used the same analogy of homosexuals trying to marry heterosexually. Did you use that once before and it sub-consciously came to my mind making me think it was my own idea?
    Also, in response to you, in the mormon expressions piece mentioning how you change your mind a lot. That is something I have noticed about you before and it is actually something I really admire. I feel that you have an impressive ability to go where the facts take you and facts often take us in wildly different directions, so I hope you don’t see your frequently changing mind as a negative thing. As Bertrand Russel has said ‘Not to be absolutely certain is, I think, one of the essential things in rationality.’

  9. John has been pushing the idea that staying in the church is a recipe for failure, heartache and a wasted life. Once you are injured, you might as well lay down in the prairie to die as the wagon train moves on towards happy valley.

    The “middle-way” is not just a matter of showing up on Sunday or not, or having your name removed from the database. Unless you can completely purge Mormonism from your life, you will always have to deal with it on some level. It is a part of you. It is a part of your life history and experience. If you have a history with the church, your family and friends are probably Mormon too. You can hate that part of your life (and with valid reasons, I don’t disagree with that). You can continue to purge it. That will probably help.

    I will counter argue this: how many people are successful at purging Mormonism from their life? Can you get rid of it all so that you no longer think about it, care about it, or have to deal with it? The “vast majority” of people fail trying to rid Mormonism from their life, and experience great anxiety trying, often causing collateral damage to their family, friends and loved ones in the process. Is this really viable in the long-term?

    If you aren’t out, and you aren’t in, you are in the middle somewhere.

    How long will we be in the middle? I know how long I will be there — until I die. It’s been a part of my life for 40 years so far. I can’t erase that short of a traumatic head injury. My extended family is Mormon. I suppose I could go live as a hermit in a cave, but I don’t want it that bad, and I would still be stuck with myself every day. My jokes are way too corny, and I’ve heard them all. If I ended up on a desert island like Tom Hanks, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Wilson is a recent convert.

    Life is crappy like that. I can wish I came into the world, born to a family in the perfect religion that was actually true, but it doesn’t seem like anyone gets that deal. *Shrug* I plan to take that up with God when I see them next. It’s definitely going in the suggestion box as a future option.

  10. Sorry, chopped off my previous comment too early.

    StayLDS is about making the best of what you have. It isn’t about pushing people back into the old box. Many of the people there don’t even attend church, but we still talk about how to process the Mormonism in our life in positive ways. That is FAR different than the approach other communities take.

  11. Brian,

    I very much regret that my recent statements have caused you concern. A few quick things for the record…

    1) I called Brian a while ago to let him know my thoughts/feelings…and I don’t think I’ve said anything different publicly than what I told Brian privately — and I even told him that I’d be sharing my feelings publicly….so I’m a bit shocked that this has come as a surprise (at least to Brian), but I’m sure it’s all about the way things have been said/positioned (I suck at speaking off the cuff).

    2) I still heartily support StayLDS as an option for people. I don’t believe that I’ve condemned the StayLDS approach anywhere, and I know that I’ve said in several places (the John Larsen podcast, etc.) that I still think that the StayLDS approach is good/right for some people.

    3) My only issue w/ recommending StayLDS like I used to (and feeling the need to clarify my position now) is the anecdotal feedback that I’ve received from many, many people I’ve been in contact with who have tried the approach. After dozens and dozens of personal friends have contacted me and told me that the position was not ultimately tenable for them (on integrity grounds, and on happiness grounds)…..it made me realize that I needed to be more careful about promoting and recommending StayLDS to folks as if I thought it was something that had a high probability of working for most people. The data tell me that (on average…for most people) it’s a great transitionary technique to help people in the short to medium term — but that for most people, it is not a tenable approach in the long term….mostly because people end up feeling like they’re either lying in the temple recommend interviews…..or 2nd class citizens without temple recommends….or generally being silently complicit in supporting things like Prop 8, homophobia, the mall, etc…..and that the absolute truth claims, and the inability to be candid/vocal/authentic at church just wear people down in the end.

    That said, I still ABSOLUTELY believe that for some people, it’s an excellent approach, and I’m SUPER glad that ya’ll are still doing what you’re doing. I totally support the “StayLDS” path being made available for folks who feel like they want/need it. 100%.

    So when I compare StayLDS to a gay man marrying a straight woman — it’s only a statement about my understanding of the probability of it working out in the long run. Some people can do it. But in my experience, it is problematic for many/most — can often have negative consequences — and the last thing I want to do is set people up (especially believing spouses or parents/siblings) with expectations that are not tenable for the semi-believer or the disbeliever (“Just stay. John Dehlin can stay….why can’t you?!?!?”)

    Anyway…I’m totally happy to clarify this publicly, or to make a statement…or work w/ you all on positioning. Just let me know.

    But I hope you will see that I’m only trying to figure out how to help the most amount of people…and I don’t want to set people up with unrealistic expectations….that’s all.

    But I love StayLDS, still consider it to be a viable path for some…and want to see it/ya’ll succeed.

    Does that help at all?

  12. John,

    We don’t disagree on any of those main points. It’s how you are saying it, not what you are saying. There’s a big difference between saying

    “Middle-way Mormonism, staying connected on some level, is good for some people, but not everyone makes it work forever”


    “Middle-way Mormonism is bad for most people. They fail at some point and can’t make it last.”

    Both of those statements contain the same basic facts, but they tell two different messages to the audience listening to you. One says, give it a try if you think it might help. The other says STAY AWAY, it’s poison and for failures! (most people believe they are just like “most people”)

    When it comes to StayLDS.com, I don’t know where these people all end up, but they get there with less bumps and bruises. We have hundreds of people a day visiting the site to consume the articles and forum content, and decide how they want to use it (or not) in their life journey. Most are lurkers, which is fine, and it is intended and managed that way.

    Maybe I should see things different, but I am not focused on controlling everyone’s experience that visits the site, or how they use the information. They’re adults and need to figure that out. If they are coming to the site because of disaffection, then I am pretty sure there isn’t a choice or direction available to them with zero negative consequences. We can try to make the best of the situation though. I agree that we should try our best to make it clear about who makes better candidates for trying to stay. And we should not set people up with unrealistic expectations.

    We are trying to run a support site, and reach out to people to help them — a very special segment of the overall LDS faith/disaffection spectrum. Your name is highly associated with the site. I would really prefer that you communicate your changing view on this in a positive way rather than a negative way. That’s my only beef.

    We agree on everything else.

  13. John,

    I been listening to your podcasts for a year now (and I have listened to all of them), and I must say that you have come a long way. It is probably due to the fact of the listener feedback and e-mails you receive that help you know where changes are needed to be made in your approach. Two things that Mormon Stories has helped me with is to realize that I am not along in my doubt and to discover that there are several people in the Church that take different approaches to their faith than the typical TBM. I wouldn’t say that it was Mormon Stories along that helped me stay in the Church, but it was your open mic approach that lead me to other resources and people that were active Church members that viewed Mormonism under a different light from me. Parts of my faith are definitely in doubt, parts of it have been redefined, and much of it is honestly better than when I was a TBM. I admit I was a bit worried at some parts when you sounded as though you were not sure how long you could stay a member, but I also realized that even if you did leave (or were ex-communicated), you would still be doing things like Mormon Stories because you are Mormon to the bone.

  14. John and crew, thanks for putting this series together and making it available, I spent all day yesterday listening and really enjoyed it.

    The discussions about the StayLDS option are interesting. I couldn’t force myself to remain in a faith and culture that I didn’t believe in anymore, so I chose to leave. I feel lucky. In my case leaving the church didn’t mean losing my wife or being disowned by family members. I feel so bad for anybody in that sort of position, who don’t really get to chose their own path, but instead have to find a middle way inside a religion that is all in or all out.

  15. What a great podcast. Several of my TBM children have begun listening to the podcasts, not because I requested it, but because they are seeking answers. I only attend a partial block on Sundays now, but discussions like I have just heard, allow me to feel acceptance of ward members who have previously rejected me. Maybe that is what Mormon Stories Podcasts are about, respect and building commonality.

  16. John,

    It seems you are receiving a lot of criticism for changing your view on staying LDS (although to me it seems a more plausible view). As I’ve listened to your podcasts for the past six month, at times, I’ve felt very frustrated with your view on staying in the church. I can see where this solution can work for awhile for some and even a lifetime for others. For me it was not sustainable.

    During this podcast you seemed to be able to articulate many of the beliefs and feelings I have felt during my faith crisis. But there was a moment in the workshop that you criticized anyone who would walk away from the church. The message seemed to be that anyone who choose to leave was making a terrible mistake. I spent 4 years trying to stay LDS and in the end could not keep trying to live something I did not believe in. I came to a point that staying LDS brought too much conflict and confusion into my life and not enough spiritual experiences. I left to find peace and a new spiritual journey.

    Leaving comes with a very heavy price and with very little support. I turned to Mormon Stories to find the support I couldn’t and can’t find from family and friends (besides my husband who is in the same boat with me). So I am relieved to hear you say that staying may not always be the best option.

    I really would like to find a group that has chosen to leave but accepts the fact that the LDS church will always be a part of their lives and that can look at the chuch in a positive light. When we decided to leave the church I had two criteria that were NOT options for me. First, I would not lose my faith in a higher power. I personally have had too many experiences throughout my life to close that door. Second, was to not leave the church a bitter person who hated the church and everything about it. I have too many people I love and care about that are true believers. My hope is that you can help create an atmosphere where people who leave feel they have a positive path to follow and a support group to help them though the tough times. I’ve been scared to look too much on the internet for fear of finding a lot of bitterness and hate. I only want to look ahead and find peace and joy without closing the door completely on Mormonism.

    Thank you for what you have done and for helping so many people. I think what you are doing is helping more people than you can imagine.

  17. Thank you, once again, for all of your hard work and diligent efforts in bringing such a thoughtful and honest dialogue out for all of us to digest. There are too many moments from this presentation to highlight but just know that you have brought an incredible amount of peace and comfort to my journey. Blessings to everyone who was involved in supporting this.

  18. Hi John,

    I have a wonderful branch president. I think he really understands me when I tell him about some of the things that I struggle with in this church. One thing he said to me in confidence back in April that parallels what you said is this (I’m paraphrasing), “Once you’ve eaten from the tree of knowledge you’re never the same” He also asked, “What do you think of accepting yourself as being on the margins?”. At that point I felt great acceptance and realized that self acceptance of where I’m at was more important than my perception abuot how much or how little others accepted me. I even felt permission to be different in asking questions and in diplomatically talking about marginal ideas. At one point he emailed me thanking me for the questions I ask in Sunday school. I treat his response to me as a blessing and I am free to be me without hurting others and that is powerful. Thankfully, I am able to express concern and care for many individuals in my branch and with that they accept me being me with all my questions and marginal thoughts and ideas.

    I want to mention that my faith crisis has been traumatic and I left for several years. Yet now, I have come back, thanks to the open discussions and outlets through Mormon Stories and your counsel. As a convert I have no other family in the church. Why do I struggle with coming back and have such a strong desire to stay if I don’t have characteristics that are typical to those who have families and grew up in the church? Not only do I have no family before me in the church but my husband is not a member and I have no children. So I definitly do NOT fit into many parts of the typical picture of mormonism! Yet, why do I feel so strongly that I need to walk this journey and why do I feel like I relate and completely empathize with those who visit these sites and have spoken at your symposium? I do feel that when I go to church and get togethers with branch members it just feels like home; the music, the mannerisms, dynamics, and collective humility are all things that appeal to me about this church that I haven’t found anywhere else. The church is good and it’s challenging. With so many things that happen I try to say myself “This too shall pass…the good AND the bad”.

  19. [Regarding Jesus Christ as a core doctrine and everything else being peripheral:] “I can’t imagine Joseph Smith or Brigham Young talking that way.”

    Actually Joseph Smith did say something very similar to that: “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.” ( TPJS, 121)

  20. Pingback: Mormonism and The Irrational Mind : Books and Podcasts That Help | Sarah's Mormon Musings

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