Teaser: What do you do when someone asks an uncomfortable question?

You’re sitting in a Sunday School class, and someone raises their hand and says they’re not trying to criticize or be difficult, but they have an honest question. Then they ask something prickly about church doctrine or history. Do you cringe and feel uncomfortable? Or do you feel glad that they can open up and share a concern?  Do you try to help them find the answer?

Too many times our members do have questions but hesitate to ask them because they fear the reaction of the crowd. If their question is brushed off—or worse, if they are admonished for asking it—they may feel they aren’t welcome. They may stop attending, turning from the very source of information that could help them.

This is a church of questions. It was restored by the very act of Joseph Smith asking one in a prayer. As nonmembers investigate, we point out the verse in Moroni 10:4 which says, “And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you.”

Then, when we are troubled by a problem in our lives, we are told to pray to God, ask questions, and expect an answer. We believe in this very personal, real revelation. Questions are enormously important in our church.

So why do some retreat from the chance to shed light and help a questioning soul?  Maybe it’s because we, ourselves, have not researched.  Maybe we’re embarrassed that we don’t have the full answer.  Maybe we’ve decided to leave all those questions for another time, and just go on faith.

And faith is essential, let’s not be unclear about that. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the very first element of the gospel. But, in addition to faith, it’s good to know answers. It’s good to be able to calm another person’s worry or fear. It’s good to be able to provide truth in a situation where rumors and speculation might otherwise rush in.

Another reason some hesitate to step up and help is because they doubt their own foundation. They worry that hearing something negative might fester in their own minds, and pull them away. Again, this is when you need to lean on those who have greater strength, not hide. Work together until you solve it. And remember Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s great advice, “Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.”

A Christian pastor from India, Ivan Powar, said, “Truth doesn’t mind being questioned, but a lie doesn’t like being challenged.” There is great truth itself in this. If someone challenges something you absolutely know to be true, you are happy to explain and to enlighten. But if one is clinging to a questionable “truth,” perhaps even an outright falsehood, we see brush-offs, defensiveness, counter attacks, denials, even anger.

Those who have probing questions can become some of our best missionaries. They think deeply and they sincerely want to find answers. When someone asks a question you can’t answer, you haven’t hit a brick wall. There’s always someone you can turn to who can shed light. From church leaders to everyday scholars, people with the answers are happy to share them. Some come from Holy writ, some from our prophets, some from prayer. 

When someone’s questions include a crisis of faith, this is a wonderful time to show compassion and love. Isn’t that what Christ would do? This is a time to assure others that we love them for who they truly are, not just because we’re members of the same church. And if any example could convince someone that God’s commandments are being followed here, it’s that.

Here’s what I’d love to see:

Those with questions: Bring them. Share them. Let us help. Remember the glorious parts you do believe and meditate upon those moments when the Spirit confirmed your testimony.

Teachers: Welcome all who have questions and invite them to be patient as you find answers. Remember this quote by former Second Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, Sheri Dew, “The Lord wants us to ask every probing question we can muster because not asking questions can be far more dangerous than asking them.”

Class members: Share your own (possibly previous) concerns, and how you overcame them. Let the courageous person who spoke up know they’re not alone.

All of us:  Let’s remember this church is where you come with sorrow, grief, frustration, doubts, fears, and questions.. This is where you can find loving brothers and sisters who truly want to help you. This is where you find healing and often personal inspiration. This is where you renew your covenants. This is the very best place to be.

Hilton’s books, humor blog, and Youtube Mom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Inter-Faith Specialist for Church Communications.