Second in a 2 part guest post by David Clark. Part 1 can be found here.
If I had to give one piece of advice to both those who struggle with LDS faith issues and those who are trying to help them it would be, “Consider Christianity.”
Those who struggle with LDS faith issues at least initially are looking for ways to maintain their faith in the LDS church. While this is a productive goal, it often becomes counter productive as the doubter pushes the limits of history, plausibility, meaning, and language itself to a breaking point. At some point the bubble bursts and the doubter is left with nothing but doubts, abandoning faith and God altogether.
In a similar manner, for those who help the doubters the only goal is to help the doubter preserve enough faith to salvage membership in the LDS church. In extreme cases the advisor offers advice which denudes LDS distinctives and faith claims to the point of absurdity, eliminating doubt by eliminating any possible beliefs. Often this accelerates the doubter’s journey towards the breaking point of complete abandonment of any kind of faith.
I think that both doubters and their advisors need to learn when to stop trying to salvage all of a person’s faith and learn how to salvage the most important parts. This may not be the ideal solution to the problem, but it is the wise solution.
Take an example from Christianity. Suppose there is a kid who grows up in a very conservative Christian home believing in a verbal plenary inerrantism and has always followed an “everything is literal” hermeneutic. The kid goes to college and now has doubts about both positions. Initially, I think it is fine if parents and pastors try to help the kid maintain his old beliefs. If that works, great!, problem solved. But if this does not work, a choice has to be made. The leaders can define verbal plenary inerrantism and a literal hermeneutic as being absolutely essential to the Christian faith. If they do this, they have likely just minted a new atheist. Or, they can focus on essentials and help the kid maintain faith in Jesus, albeit not in the form the leaders like best. I view the former approach as foolish, the latter as the wise approach.
The problem as I see it comes down to this: Mormons have for many years now absolutely insisted that they are Christians, and during this time Mormons and Christians have been arguing about this. The only aspect of this debate that I really care about is in how Mormons treat doubters. If Mormons are Christians, then for the most part they are taking the foolish approach in the previous paragraph, because they are insisting that Mormon distinctives are essential to the Christian faith. If they are not Christians, then of course one needs to maintain Mormon distinctives, and their approach to getting people to stay in the LDS faith is wise. This is a real issue, with lives and souls on the line, thus it won’t do any good to pretend that this is a false dichotomy or that you can have your cake and eat it too.
My hope is that Mormons are Christians, and that they will be wise Christians. Thus when dealing with doubts, both the doubters and their advisors need to learn to wisely preserve essentials when it has become obvious that the distinctives have been lost. I hope that seeing Jesus as Lord, worthy of worship, is one of those essentials that gets preserved. Unfortunately, I have seen little, if any, of this. Sure, on the blogs and message boards when no real souls are on the line, the Christianity of Mormons is debated and fought for tenaciously. But when souls are on the line, keeping a Mormon inside Christianity (that’s not LDS) is usually seen as not important at best or a complete failure at worst. If Mormons really are Christians, this has to change. If Mormons are really Christians, there has to be some efficacy in being a Christian. Unfortunately, my experience is that a devout Christian and a well-behaved atheist are seen as pretty much equivalent in Mormons’ eyes. It’s no mystery why so many ex-Mormons opt out of Christianity and become atheists, well-behaved or otherwise.