Elder and Sister Renlund spoke on faith and doubt in a world wide devotional last night. Today, there is some pretty harsh criticism of the talk from the Progmo-Exmo community.
I sustain Elder Renlund as a prophet, seer, and revelator and I try to have patience and faith when hearing his words. But I understand why people are reacting to this talk.
A couple parts of the talk that were very difficult.
- The story of “Steven” who had a concern over the First Vision. Then when that was resolved, he had a concern over polygamy. Then a concern over the priesthood ban. They called this Church history “whack-a-mole” and criticized for Steven for choosing to be a “perpetual doubter”.
I think a more helpful approach is like Richard Bushman or Patrick Mason who acknowledge that because the Church has taught a white washed history for so long, that many members are being caught off guard by difficult church history questions. These are real problems that people search a lifetime without answering, and there’s not just one, there’s a series of difficult issues. It’s not a member’s fault for getting caught off guard by these or wanting to resolve each one as they arise. Rather than criticize the member, I think it’s more helpful to encourage them to seek for answers, to warn them of the spiritual danger of giving up on God and faith too soon, to testify of a higher truth, etc.
- Elder and Sister Renlund talked about the danger of using non-Church approved sources or listening to those who left the Church and implied they are spiritually bankrupt and listening to them is similar to seeking out medical advice from a snake oil salesmen.
I use the word “implied” here because the words and phrases seem to have been chosen carefully not to directly state this. But it seemed to be received this way by many. Given the “white washed history” thing, it’s no wonder that members who are truly seeking God with faith would look at a number of sources to weigh the evidence and attempt to resolve concerns. Further, it’s not just Exmormons or non-approved sources that are creating questions. Many LDS did nothing more than read the Church published Gospel Topics essays to create a “whack-a-mole” issue list that eventually led them away from their faith in the restored Church. And it’s true, there are enemies of the church, there are spiritually bankrupt sources and snake oil salesmen types that are trying to persuade members to leave the Church. But going there ignores the bigger problem and sends the wrong message to those true seekers.
On a positive note, I really liked how Elder and Sister Renlund shared the stage and modeled the Adam and Eve shared-responsibility role of husband wife. And some of the talk was very helpful and very useful. The metaphor of the boat with dents and chipped paint didn’t shy away from acknowledging that there are real problems in the Church. And I liked this quote.
What we consider dents and peeling paint on the well-used boat may turn out to be divinely sanctioned and divinely directed from an eternal perspective. The Lord has either had a hand in the dents and the peeling paint or he uses them for his purposes.
I was a faithful LDS who went through a “whack-a-mole” faith crisis process that left me no longer believing in the LDS Church foundational claims I once had. But then I went through a faith reconstruction that provided a new paradigm for me to reestablish faith in the restored Church. These are tough issues, but there is a way.