I have recently seen the following article being shared on various social media: When Doubts and Questions Arise in the March 2015 Ensign. This topic has been a frequent one in the Mormon Church over the last few years with the recent admission that the Church is in the greatest period of apostasy since the days of Kirtland. More and more talks have been devoted to this and related subjects in recent General Conferences. The Church has recently released several essays dealing with some of the topics that have led some to doubt and question. The Church has recently excommunicated several high profile people and many lesser known individuals for their public expression of doubt. It is clear that the LDS Church is at war with doubt in the Church. Undoubtedly, the numbers of people leaving the Church with unresolved doubts and questions is significant enough that its leaders have felt the need to address it often and in some case with very strong language.
The article suggests that the difference between a questioner and a doubter is obedience. The author, Adam Kotter, states that “A sincere questioner continues to be obedient while searching for answers” Mr. Kotter then goes on to point out what he believes is its opposite: “…when people doubt their beliefs, they often suspend their commitments while waiting for answers. The doubter’s posture is generally to withhold obedience or limit it, pending resolution of doubts”
The above statement is printed in an LDS Church publication that is taken by some to be almost scripture. It is a publication that has its contents shared regularly with its many members by trusted home teachers. Many devout LDS families read diligently from the Ensign in their weekly Family Home Evenings. The article was approved by the Church for publication in this article and thus it tacitly agrees with this view. This is how the Mormon Church views doubters and how it wants its members to view doubters: As people who want to be disobedient and modern day Korihors who are asking for a sign.
I COMPLETELY REJECT THAT PREMISE
The article builds harmful walls, equating doubters with sinners and the disobedient. Just because one has doubts, does not mean that they are automatically going to disobey. I categorically reject that premise. If anything, I have learned that for most of those who begin to have doubts in the LDS Church, that their initial reaction is more often to INCREASE their obedience in an attempt to get answers precisely because they have been taught by the LDS Church that there is a correlation between worthiness, obedience and answers to prayers. If anything, especially in the early phases of such doubt, doubters are MORE obedient than those who do not question. They are taking increased care and watchfulness that they are doing all that is expected of them in their quest for answers. They ensure that their tithing is paid, that they are praying regularly, reading scriptures regularly, going to the Temple, holding family home evenings, keeping commandments and covenants and not even remotely considering buying a Coke.
And yet, as they increase their obedience, they are met with accusations for daring to explore those questions. Some get turned in to their Bishops for daring to question and seek answers openly and with integrity. For the sake of sheer honesty, clarity and transparency, I would suggest the Church redefine what it means by a “sincere question.” A sincere question is one that will lead you to believe that the Church is true. All other questions are doubts and could not possibly be sincere. Expressing any one of them is a sin and a sign of disobedience.
John 20:24-29 we find the story of Thomas the Apostle. He is perhaps the most famous doubter of all. He expresses his doubt openly. How did Jesus handle his doubt? Did he condemn him for being disobedient? No, he answered his questions!
Matthew 28:17 We learn that even some of the remaining apostles still doubted even after knowing he was resurrected. Christ responds to them and the Bible goes on to record their zeal in their missionary efforts after that visit.
Acts 10:17 Peter is doubting a vision he had, and then the marvelous story of Cornelius unfolds addressing his very doubts and increasing his power and faith.
In every case, these people are not condemned for their doubts, they are not accused of being disobedient, instead, they found answers, they found reason for faith.
Will the author of this article have the temerity to suggest that Peter was disobedient, that some of the Eleven were sinners and that Thomas was the equivalent of Korihor? Shall they too be excommunicated for publicly expressing their doubt in a place no less visible than the scriptures themselves?
A doubt IS when sincere question becomes more than a simple question. Initial indications are troubling and raises the motivation to know. And so it becomes a quest for truth. I wrote about this in my blog post “Doubting does not make you an apostate”
Also let us be clear on the object of doubt. The leaders of the LDS Church are attempting to equate doubt in the LDS Church with doubt in God and Christ. Indeed, the many scriptures cited enjoining one not to doubt are telling you to not doubt Christ and to not doubt God. Active LDS members that find themselves doubting are often not doubting God or Christ. Rather, they are doubting the foundational claims of the institutional LDS Church. The LDS Church is not God.
The article goes on to explore the connection, well known by members of the Church, between worthiness and answers to prayers. If you are not getting answers to your prayers and to your questions, then according to the article, the initial reaction should be to look inward and ask “Lord, is it I?” A principle of LDS Faith is that answers do not come to the disobedient. The problem with that premise is that then no one should ever receive an answer, for we have all sinned in one way or another. This leads to an unhealthy destruction of the self. As answers continue to elude the questions begin: Where else have I been unworthy? A downward spiral begins where truly good and wonderful people suffer great depression and in some cases consider, attempt or sadly even succeed at suicide as their doubts in the Church increase and they are met with wall after wall in their quest to find answers.
It is not the doubt itself that creates the depression and leads to suicide. But rather, the reaction of the Church and its members to those who doubt. Making doubters feel as not worthy, casting them out as sinners and disobedient exactly as this article suggests.
Is it any wonder that many active LDS members who begin to doubt, are filled with fear at raising those doubts? The scriptures teach us that “perfect love casteth out fear” 1 John 4:18 yet there is no perfect love for those who doubt in the Church. Instead there is nothing but fear. Lots of it. Fear that leads to divorce, to ostracism and sometimes excommunication. In not a single instance in scripture, is there fear of doubt, in each case when Christ was faced with a doubter, he embraced them and gave them a reason to have faith.
Sadly, the author of this article is still not finished with condemning doubters. He seems a doubter as someone who is “…talking yourself into answers you want to believe rather than receiving true answers from God”
TO A MAN AND WOMAN, of the hundreds I know who have left the Church, and the hundreds of additional stories I have read of those who left the Church. Every single one of these people WANTED the Church to be true. The answers they wanted were ones that validated for them that the LDS Church was true, which was their starting point. No one talks themselves into it a disbelief of the Church. Rather, they start off aggressively attacking those doubts and assuming them to be false. And as their doubts rose, they kept trying to talk themselves into an answer that supported the Church. LDS leaders completely fail to either recognize or acknowledge this.
The final insult is that the author implies that those who doubt are not willing to do what it takes to get an answer. Are doubters willing to do what it takes? YES…a thousand times yes. If a general authority believes that those who have left the Church have not prayed diligently, inquired diligently, fasted, went to the temple, magnified their callings with greater diligence, and attempted in all ways to be more obedient in their quest for truth…then he does not know his people and has no hope of offering them any help. Instead, he does exactly as this article does…alienates them even further and accelerates their exit from the Church.