As I was watching Elder M. Russell Ballard’s talk “To Whom Shall We Go?”, October 201 general conference talk, I liked the talk, but I knew it would be controversial. Here, I share how I heard the talk.
Elder Ballard is keenly aware of the difficult historical issues that are causing many people to doubt their faith. Issues illustrated in my response to Jeremy Runnels CES Letter. He gave an excellent talk to CES Instructors earlier this year, where he chastised them for dismissing legitimate questions by bearing their testimony and telling students to ignore their issues. He told them to drop out-of-date apologetics and get familiar with what faithful LDS scholars are saying currently. I believe he was talking about good LDS scholars like Richard Bushman, Patrick Mason, Grant Hardy, and Adam Miller.
I believe his talk was attempting to following the same logic these scholars are carving out. Which is to acknowledge there are difficulties to history, but to look at the fruits of living the gospel and make a decision to stay or leave the church based on that.
First, he shares a personal experience that describes what matters the most to him about the church.
I was deeply moved while reading these words and found myself praying in that sacred place that I could ever be one with my family and with my heavenly father and with his son. our precious relationships with families friends the Lord and his restored church are among the things that matter most in life. because these relationships are so important they should be cherished protected and nurtured.
It’s the relationships. With family, with fellow saints, and with God.
He then goes on to illustrate the real challenges many LDS members are facing. His quotes with my interpretations:
Some disciples struggle to understand a specific church policy or teaching.
The November 2015 policy sucks. We know that’s a challenge for many.
Others find concerns in our history.
Multiple First Vision Accounts, Book of Mormon translation, Book of Abraham, we understand these are valid concerns for many, that are tough to understand without a nuanced view of prophets, scripture, and church history.
Or in the imperfections of some members of leaders past and present.
Joseph Smith polygamy was not perfect. Neither are the First Presidency or the Quorum of 12 today. We know we make mistakes.
Still others find it difficult to live a religion that requires so much. Finally, some have become weary in well doing.
The church sometimes overemphasizes works and excellence. Though this enables achievement and success for many, it is easy to get tripped up in the middle of it with too high of expectations for oneself and feel overwhelmed.
It’s tough for the church to apologize for mistakes. I think church leaders are worried it would cause too many people to lose faith. I think their strategy is to move forward slowly making the past right. But I feel Elder Ballard’s love and compassion here. I think this is a true acknowledgement that these are valid issues that normal, good people get tripped up over.
There may be some doctrine, some policy, some bit of history that puts you at odds with your faith. You may feel left that the only way to resolve that inner turmoil right now is to walk no more with the saints. If you live as long as I have you come to know that things have a way of resolving themselves. An inspired insight or revelation may shed new light and insight on an issue. Remember, the restoration is not an event but it continues to unfold.
He is admitting he doesn’t have a perfect answer for some of these historical issues. But he’s asking for a little patience to see if things look different with a different perspective after some time.
If any one of you is faltering in your faith, I ask you the same question that Peter asked “to whom shall you go?” If you choose to become inactive or to leave the restored Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints, where would you go? What would you do? The decision to walk no more with the church members and the Lord’s chosen leaders will have a long-term impact that cannot always be seen right now.
This right here is the part that tweaked some people. The way I took this is that he’s assuming a certain foundation. He’s assuming that the issue with history or the issue with a policy is a troubling aspect of an overall relationship with the church that brings joy and fulfillment. He’s asking where else could you find all these other good things?
- the doctrine of Christ contained in the book of Mormon
- what you have felt here
- belief in personal, loving Heavenly Parents who teach us how to return to their eternal presence
- teaching of a Savior who is your best friend and who suffered not only for your sins but who also “suffered pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind so that his bowels may be filled with mercy according to the flesh that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities”
- the plan of salvation gives mortal life meaning and purpose and direction
- a detailed, inspired church organization, a structure through which you are supported by men and women who are deeply committed to serving the Lord by serving you and your family
- people who live by prescribed set of values and standards that you should and want to pass along your children and grandchildren
It’s not all perfect, but a lot of it is pretty good. Where can you find all this? Can you suspend judgment on the difficult issues? And stay with us a little longer. Spend some months or some years deciding whether the historical issues are bad enough to invalidate the good of all the rest of this? I feel a loving invitation.
He then counsels leaders and those who don’t struggle with faith issues to love and not to judge those who do.
My heartfelt plea is that we will encourage, accept, understand and love those who are struggling with their faith. We must never neglect any of our brothers and sisters. We are all at different places on the path, and we need to minister to one another accordingly.
He finishes with the familiar metaphor of the good old Ship Zion. He sees it as a full of members at varying stages of faith. But all with a common goal to follow God and find the answers together over time. Though the seas are stormy, the Savior is at the helm. Like his disciples that worried he wouldn’t wake up in time to calm the sea, we fret and worry. But on his time schedule, he will command the wind to be still, and we will find peace.