As anger grows in our country and even our congregations, the natural tendency can be to join in this new American past-time of social media “strife of words” and “contest about opinions”—always accompanied by ensuing “great confusion and bad feeling.” Yet as Joan Blades has said, “instead of getting furious, get curious!” In our own work, we’ve increasingly experimented with different ways to introduce curiosity into contentious conversations—including and especially about sensitive matters. One of our inspirations, Essential Partners (formerly Public Conversation Project), spends nearly half of their main dialogue process trying to come up with the right questions—those most likely to illuminate and shape a productive conversation. That has increasingly become a focus of our own efforts as well. (See from last June in Public Square Magazine, “Good Questions as a Pathway to Peace.”)

In cases where someone is able to engage directly, that has been in the form of published conversations we, at Public Square Magazine have co-created—for instance, with filmmaker Mauli Bonner (“Celebrating Black Pioneers, Then and Now”), authors Bethany Brady Spalding and McArthur Krishna (“Heavenly Mother Should Be Joyful, Not Another Cultural Battle”) and historian Patrick Mason (“Listening with Charity”). 

At the encouragement of McArthur, we reached out to Dr. Julie Hanks to propose a similar kind of conversation, but she declined due to her busy schedule—wishing us well. We’ve chosen to feature the questions we were going to ask below, with some background information on why it feels important to us. Even though a direct conversation wasn’t an option, our hope is that sharing key curiosities about her work and writing might still facilitate deeper exploration and dialogue about many of the important topics Dr. Hanks addresses. These questions were shaped by the insight of many of the thoughtful women working with us and active in the public conversation online. The result of that collaboration follows below. 


Dr. Julie Hanks has a large following of fans across typical divides (left-leaning, middle-of-the-road, conservative) and a presence on several public and private social media platforms—with a passion to “Prioritize your dreams. Revolutionize your family. Personalize your faith” and “help people be emotionally healthier & improve their relationships in the context of Latter-day Saint culture.” Many have described being helped by Dr. Hanks and her social media content. And over the years, she has made observations that have caused many of us to think more about important issues, such as ways family members or friends who strongly disagree about faith can still connect, love, and show respect to each other. 

But we do have some sincere and significant questions about Dr. Hanks’ approach to some important gospel topics. Dr. Hanks has encouraged people to apply “critical thinking skills when digesting ANY information, including mine.” So, taking her up on this invitation, we’ve summarized below some of our more important questions based on her extensive body of public work. We’ve spent a lot of time reading, reviewing and listening, to really get a sense of the broad scope of what she is teaching and sharingso as to avoid taking her out of context. 

Some of these questions may feel challenging since some significant disagreements about important matters are involved. But for us, that’s a sign that perhaps more conversation is needed. Each question that follows is honest and sincere. They are what we would ask if we could all sit together in a living room or participate in an interview together.

Since Julie and many of her followers continue to identify as sisters (and brothers) in the gospel, we hope this common gospel heritage can be a strength on which we unite—even if we may hold different perspectives. 

Our question list follows, with some abbreviated background to each question coming afterward.  

  1. More people have come to speak of personal and prophetic revelation as being at odds with each other. When someone concludes that prophetic and personal revelation don’t align, what do you recommend they consider doing?
  2. Is it possible to trust our own thoughts and feelings too much? If so, when and how do we know when we’re over-doing trusting in ourselves? 
  3. Can a focus on personal authority go too far?
  4. Are mental health counselors truly neutral when it comes to spiritual matters?
  5. Are there unintended effects that some of your mental health advice could have on family relationships? 
  6. Do you see any danger in idealizing and affirming faith transitions? 
  7. Is it possible to over-validate in a way that is harmful?
  8. How much of a central priority should it be as disciples of Christ to become more authentic and true to who we are?   
  9. Can any harm come from portraying guilt as largely a social phenomenon and pornography as only harmful in certain contexts?
  10. Can the modesty critique be taken too far?
  11. Are there any consequences from speaking about motherhood as just one choice among many? 
  12. Are there ways some of your comments about gender and priesthood might be inadvertently creating a wedge between women and Church leadership?

Now, a little background for each question: 

1. More people have come to speak of personal and prophetic revelation as being at odds with each other. When someone concludes that prophetic and personal revelation don’t align, what do you recommend they consider doing? Appreciating personal revelation is clearly important to our Latter-day Saint community and is most often discussed as something that harmonizes and aligns with prophetic and scriptural revelation. For instance, Elder Dale Renlund recently taught that personal revelation will be “in harmony with the commandments of God and the covenants we have made with Him.”

In your work, you tend to highlight the potential disconnect between these different sources, saying last year: “General Authorities are called General Authorities because they give general authority and general counsel. I have personal authority and can receive personal revelation and guidance that is customized to me.” On that basis, personal and prophetic revelation can sometimes feel at odds with what you say: “Instead of looking outward, I want you to look inside yourself to find how you feel and what you want. When you are true to yourself, you honor your personal authority.” 

Are there any dangers to people taking for granted an intrinsic conflict between major sources of inspiration? In that case, what’s the best pathway of reconciliation in your mind? In your own experience of personal revelation, how do you distinguish it from personal thoughts, feelings, and desires?    

2. Is it possible to trust our own thoughts and feelings too much? If so, when and how do we know when we’re over-doing trust in ourselves? In response to someone saying, “I’m having a hard time trusting my own feelings and thoughts after leaving [the Church], you recently said, “​​​​​​​​If you can’t trust your own thoughts and feelings, whose thoughts and feelings can you trust?” You’ve ​​​elsewhere encouraged people to “rebuild trust in yourself” and encouraged those stepping away from the Church to ask believing members, “Hey will you trust me that I know what I’m doing with my life?”

For people grappling with crippling self-doubt, these kinds of reminders might be especially helpful. What we wonder is how this should be balanced against the counsel to see our own thoughts and feelings as sometimes limited and even misleading, especially when compared to God’s own thoughts: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” 

As a mental health professional, you are, of course, familiar with cognitive distortions and flawed thought patterns that any of us can fall into at one point or another. As people come to see the world in an exaggerated and inaccurately negative way, these patterns can prompt greater vulnerability to anxiety and depression. Given all that, when people approach you with negative thoughts about their family, ward members, the Church, or the gospel itself, how can we make sure that “trust your feelings” advice isn’t encouraging them to make important decisions about whether or not to continue on the covenant path based on some of these very distortions?

3. Can a focus on personal authority go too far? Appreciating how to use our agency is another important value for Latter-day Saints. You talk a lot about a related idea that you call “personal authority.” As you’ve said:

For those of us who think differently, who ask questions, and who are bravely speaking up. Kudos to you for doing things that don’t conform. You have found your own personal authority, and you have found what it looks like to make your own decisions. We need more of that!  

While it’s helpful to be reminded of the centrality of our own ability to choose, we’ve wondered about whether this can again potentially elevate personal insight over anything and everyone else, including prophetic or covenantal guidance. For instance, you’ve acknowledged that “it has been very helpful for my mental health to claim personal authority over my life. That ultimately trumps everything else.” 

What does that mean in practice? We give priority focus as a faith community to the possible benefits of the “purifying and the sanctification of [our] hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding [our] hearts unto God.” Are there ways in which this kind of a focus on personal assertiveness could take people away from a process of internal yielding and exalting transformation? If so, how could these priorities be better balanced in our public discussions?

4. Are mental health counselors truly neutral when it comes to spiritual matters? You often remind followers about your role as a mental health professional, in a way that pushes back on any deliberate spiritual focuses of your work. For instance, you recently wrote that your focus has been “giving MENTAL HEALTH AND RELATIONSHIP INFO” and not “giving spiritual advice or counsel on specific religious practices” or trying to “teach the doctrine or capital T Truth​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​.” 

Neutrality is often emphasized by mental health professionals, and for good reason. Objectivity is something we all find reassuring. However, in recent decades philosophers of social science have questioned whether this is possible. As professor Ed Gantt has summarized, “the goals and aspirations of modern psychotherapy are shot through with a great many values, biases, and questionable assumptions about human nature and the good life.” 

We recognize that part of this reflects your desire for people to make their own decisions about religious matters. Even so, references to faith are found on nearly every page, and there does seem to be an influence people take away. For instance, you’ve said, “talking about setting boundaries with family members around questions about why you’re not wearing garments IS NOT giving advice about when and how to wear garments or saying that garments don’t matter​​​​​​​​.” But in the Ask Dr. Julie Hanks podcast episode titled: “How can I feel confident in my decision to wear garments when I want to?” you ask a woman named Elizabeth, “So what was it that kind of made it so you could decide, like, I’m not going to wear them all the time if I’m uncomfortable or if I choose not to. Was there something that kind of clicked or shifted?” In response, Elizabeth said:

That’s a good question. A big part of it might actually be when I started following you and listening to your podcast. I know you’ve had maybe one or two other people who have kind of talked about this, and you talk about it all the time on social media, and I kind of started thinking, okay, like this is, like, my decision.

Although you didn’t distinctly tell this woman not to wear her temple garments all the time, it seems to us that your commentaries may inadvertently nurture and open the door to this possibilityespecially when it’s not counterbalanced with equal encouragement toward faithful approaches. This is what has led some to conclude that “spiritual advice” and counsel on “religious practices” is a significant focus of your work – and to wonder about the claims of objectivity. 

5. Are there unintended effects that some of your mental health advice could have on family relationships? We wrote before Christmas asking some questions about boundaries and whether they might have some inadvertent, longer-term impact on family relationships. While acknowledging the potential benefits of boundaries when it comes to abusive relationships, we were essentially asking whether they can be over-appliedfor instance, in otherwise healthy, non-abusive relationships. And we’ve wondered whether this kind over-aggressive boundary setting can unintentionally harden and estrange relationships—suggesting language that shuts down meaningful conversation and encourages family members to essentially cut themselves off from relationships and influences as a whole. 

When considering the combined influence of suggested family scripts such as: “My choices are not up for discussion, please don’t mention it again,” “Please do not have discussions with our children about church-related things,” and “Part of maturity is disappointing your parents” and “it’s okay to let your family be uncomfortable or shocked, or feel whatever they feel”could this be giving people an excuse (and professional permission) to close themselves off to their family’s understandable and legitimate sorrow? To harden, rather than soften, their stances toward one another? And to reject the wisdom and witness of all family members?

6. Do you see any danger in idealizing and affirming faith transitions? There is a rolling script on your main page for a “Navigating Faith Transition Workshop.” And you often encourage people to reframe a faith crisis as a healthy sign of more “nuanced faith” and a potential sign of deepening development—suggesting that “Questioning your faith or leaving the religious tradition of your family of origin can indicate movement toward a higher level differentiation of self.” You’ve also suggested potential revelation involved in a shift away from the Church, saying recently: 

Changing perspectives seems really scary sometimes when you are shifting your paradigm or how you view the world, or how you relate with the Church. It’s really scary because it’s totally new. And that’s okay if it’s scary. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad.  

While it can be valuable to “practice holding space for not knowing” and “for uncertainty,” it seems important to balance this alongside Jesus’ encouragement  to “doubt not.” In the absence of that, could there be some, perhaps inadvertent, over-validation of doubt and skepticism happening? 

Among other things, such a focus may shift the responsibility of growth and learning away from the person grappling with questions to the presumed failings of others around that person who may not understand what the struggling person is experiencing. As you’ve put it, “Family and relationships want to maintain … homeostasis. People want you to be how you’ve always been and act how you’ve always acted because they don’t have to think much about it. …You are changing the system around you, and people are going to resist your change. You are growing!” You add, “If you’re not making people uncomfortable around you at least some of the time, then you’re probably not growing.” 

Here and elsewhere, we see some people taking away the message that ‘my own doubt is not the problem. Those other people are the problem for not appreciating the higher inspiration behind my doubts.’ Without generously presenting the perspective of the faithful family members, we wonder if some of this could persuade people that questioning our faith is somehow always a trustworthy sign of growing and developing toward true enlightenment.

7. Is it possible to over-validate in a way that is harmful?  We all love to be validated—it feels great. Especially when we are struggling, this is something we can crave. But is that always the right response – especially given our collective human capacity to fall into emotional, irrational, and faulty thinking?

We’re thinking here about people moving decisively away from God’s truths about how to find happiness (such as chastity)—and from covenantal relationships with His people. As loving as Jesus was, He did not validate people in patterns of life that betrayed God’s will. Do you see any difference between total validation of whatever someone is feeling and doing and pure Christlike love?

8. How much of a central priority should it be as disciples of Christ to become more authentic and true to who we are? Another common theme in your work has been promoting the value of being true to self—even perhaps when that conflicts with other standards and commitments. For instance, you’ve written recently:

  • “Religion doesn’t define you. You are a multidimensional human. Be authentically you, and be upfront with the changes of where you are now.” 
  • Be who you are, be yourself! You’ll show them who you are, which is a good person.” 

In an interview with someone who was gradually making choices that were sure to distance him from his covenants, your response was, “I love it! You’re great! This is great! … we want to hear your story and how you became more authentic!” 

We’re confident that most Latter-day Saints want to improve in loving people deeply wherever they are. How can we best reconcile this with encouragement towards becoming not just a better person, but a “new creature.” More than simply “becoming ourselves,” we read the core of the gospel message as inviting us to lay aside some of what may come naturally and embrace a path that is ultimately about seeking to receive a “mighty change of heart.” 

Is authenticity with an incomplete, flawed, mortal “me” really the goal? Or should we be encouraging and celebrating a deeper authenticity that stretches for the divine in us all?

9. Can any harm come from portraying guilt as largely a social phenomenon and pornography as only harmful in certain contexts? You have spoken about judgments as superficial “external measures” leveraged within “homogeneous communities”​​​ where “appearance is a good way to create conformity.” These attitudes are what you argue create much of the suffering we may sometimes feel. Like increasing numbers of mental health professionals today, that’s also how you’ve come to speak about pornography problems—as largely contingent on perception, context and subjectivity. As you’ve written:

For the rest of the world, for most communities, this isn’t even a problem. It’s a problem because we say it’s a problem. But there are plenty of relationships where it’s not a thing, one or both partners look at porn, and they look at it together. The context makes a huge impact on how the couple deals with it. And so I think reducing the shame and kind of normalizing like, look, this is pretty common this doesn’t mean anything about you as a human being. Like, it’s a thing that he’s dealing with. For some people, their goal is abstinence, like, “I never will do this again.” I don’t think that’s realistic. You have to define between the two of you what is full recovery; what does that even look like?

The takeaway here seems to be that porn isn’t the fundamental problem; rather, it’s the shame we may feel that is the real problem. Given the great deal of research confirming real, objective harms of pornography, including to non-religious viewers, we wonder if this kind of popular counsel could be distracting, and even cause harm. We also wonder what it could mean for partners of those with compulsive sexual problems when someone in authority downplays the addictive nature of the struggle. We’ve heard more and more stories of women blamed by addicted husbands for “making a big deal” about their struggle, since so many others around them are reassuring men it’s normal and only a problem if we see it as such.

10. Can the modesty critique be taken too far? In a world where more and more clothing is coming off—and that is increasingly held up as a standard of worth and value for women young and old—it seems crucial to many of us that we defend the aspiration for certain Godly dress standards as a healthy norm.

You’re right that there is important work to be done in this area. For instance, it’s definitely fair to ask men and boys to take more responsibility for “how you think, behave, what you feel, and what your heart is focused on” (as you have done well). While this kind of encouragement expands our appreciation of modesty, we’ve noticed that the larger take-away from your encouragement in this area tends to leave people with negative feelings about modesty as a whole—seeing it in any of the following ways:

  • Controlling—“Modesty culture is purity culture, and it tries to control women through what they wear.”
  • Sexualizing—“Modesty culture … sexualizes women and says they are responsible for men’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.”​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​
  • ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Predisposing aggression—“Modesty culture … is closely related to rape culture. It’s saying that how women dress makes them responsible for men’s thoughts and behaviors.”​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​
  • ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Shaming—“This can create shame about our bodies.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​”
  • Superficial—“It can create a hyper-focus on appearance.” ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​
  • Judgmental—“It can create open judgment of women, and women judging other women. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​”
  • Stifling—“It can hinder healthy sexual development, causing thinking like “My body is bad, scary, and dangerous.”​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​
  • ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Fear-inducing—“Many women can think, ‘If I wear something “bad,” I will cause harm to someone else’s life.’”​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​
  • Invasive—“How you choose to express yourself through dress is personal​​​​​​​.” And, “Ultimately, when it comes to clothing, it isn’t anyone’s business what you wear. Often times in religious culture, there is enmeshment, and we get caught up in what people wear and do. It’s not healthy.”

We are even aware of angry messages being sent to young women leaders when modesty is even brought up. We can’t imagine that’s what you really want, but can you see how some of this could lead people to that kind of frustration?

Clothing, including sacred garments, has been important to believers and our faith community for a long time. But you also have hinted to followers that any question of garments is disturbing and untoward—“it is nobody’s business what you wear underneath your clothes” and “I’m not interested in a discussion about my underclothes with you. Please don’t ask me again.”

Given all you’ve said, we would ask sincerely: do you see anything positive about modesty and a cultural/spiritual aspiration toward it? Are there circumstances where a modesty ethic is protective of women and girls and encourages healthy sexuality? If so, could your work include more affirmation of those possibilities as well?

11. Are there any consequences from speaking about motherhood as just one choice among many? You have said: “Motherhood is not a morally superior choice,” and elaborated on ways that privileging this role might cause pain: “Idealizing motherhood hurts mothers. It sets up the expectation that motherhood should be fulfilling for everyone. That’s like saying every man should be an accountant.”

While there are certainly many good, moral, Christlike women who are not mothers either by choice or circumstance, we’ve been taught as Latter-day Saints “that the very purpose of creation depends upon our participation as earthly mothers to the spirit children of God.” Could the consequence of some of your encouragement here be for women to lay aside the aspiration towards motherhood or (once a mother) to disengage and push away from a vibrant, lifelong commitment to that role

You’ve acknowledged your own grappling over “guilt and insecurity” as a mother for years. In our experience, these are the kinds of moments where a renewed attention to God’s ability to help us rise to these divine roles can be transformative. Yet for other women in that kind of struggle, you tend to direct their attention to unfair expectations and norms—namely, “having grown up in a conservative religion” which values “traditional gender roles.

None of us would deny the often heavy expectations placed on mothers. And there’s an important conversation to be had there, for sure. We’re wondering if that conversation can include more focus on how to look to God in these moments to receive greater transformation and power. However satisfying and validating it can feel to express frustrations or critique, we’re unsure that provides the long-term redemptive peace that comes from turning to God for added strength. In place of the kind of internal stretching that could (and often does) draw beleaguered parents closer to God, there may also be ways this could unwittingly lead women to be estranged from God, Church, and family.

12. Are there ways some of your comments about gender and priesthood might be inadvertently creating a wedge between women and Church leadership? You’ve spoken out about reductive (oversimplified) analyses generally. But we admit that some of the ways in which you’ve spoken about priesthood and the structure of Church leadership have felt to us like they may be oversimplifying in similar important ways. For instance, in your own public discussion of what you see underlying Church governance, you’ve said: ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​“Patriarchy is the lens in which we and the leaders see and interpret things”—which you define as “a system that privileges and values men over women” and which “denies that caring and connection with other people are vital for the well-being of humanity.” 

Elsewhere, you call patriarchy “the dominator model of social organization wherein males and all things associated with masculinity are valued over things associated with women and femininity”—insisting that the implicit message involved is that “men are more valuable than women” among other things. And you recently passed along enthusiastically another person’s comment claiming that the gospel from its beginning was only “extended toward women as an ancillary need”—which means for women, the system is shot through with “subjugation at worst and mild inclusion at best.” 

So why would women ever support this system? You argue that “Patriarchy relies on women buying into it and maintaining the system.” And when women express resistance to this perspective, you suggest they may have pathologically internalized this sick system:  

I’ve been asked why I think that some women become defensive when it is stated that there is gender inequality in the Church. My feeling is that this is internalized sexism. Patriarchy relies on women buying into it and maintaining the system. Sexism is such a part of the air we breathe in most cultures that many women aren’t even aware of it. Part of internalized sexism is comparing yourself to other women. Women gain power in patriarchy by putting other women down.

Is this really a fair depiction of the nature and history of priesthood in the Church and the women who sustain it? We don’t believe it is. Can you understand our concern that your version of this can prompt hearts to be hard and cold towards leadership? 

Elsewhere, you’ve referred to the Church as a “homogeneous community” that prioritizes “pressure to conform.” And you’ve emphasized a strong distinction between an appreciation for God and leaders seeking to follow his calling—“It’s important to separate Heavenly Parents from earthly leaders.”

Given your intention to improve people’s relationship to the Church, could this kind of portrayal be undercutting that aim in some significant ways, and potentially distancing people from the Church? 

While there are principles of truth in much of what you share, we’re asking here about the potential for rippling effects that may generate and reinforce a hardness towards priesthood leaders specifically. In the same moment that people may be prompted to look at presiding leaders with newfound cynicism and suspicion, your public messaging often invites people to trust and come closer to you as someone with an elevated capacity to love in comparison. As you wrote on general conference weekend:

If this weekend is difficult for you, I see you. ​​​​​​​​
​​​​​​​​If you’re struggling with your mental health, I see you.​​​​​​​​
​​​​​​​​If you’re going through a faith transition, I see you.​​​​​​​​
​​​​​​​​If your family relationships are strained, I see you.​​​​​​​​

If you’re wondering if there’s a place for you in the Church, I see you. ​​​​​​​​
​​​​​​​​If you’re feeling hopeless, lost, discouraged, broken, I see you. ​​​​​​​​

​​​​​I see you, and I’m sending love 💙​​​​​​​​ 

We don’t doubt that you do, Julie. But, of course, so many other brothers and sisters, including our presiding leaders, feel the same kind of love and concern. Can you see how the combination of this kind of messaging could be nudging people away from appreciating how prophets and local church leaders see them with similarly nurturing love? 

Some closing thoughts. People who follow Jesus can have different perspectives on important things. We believe that. And ultimately, much of this might come down to competing views of what kind of faith, love, and power are truly most helpful: What kind of faith is redemptive? What kinds of relationships lead to exaltation? What kind of revelation is restorative? What kind of power endows? What type of path exalts? 

There seem to be honest differences in how we might answer these questions. And certainly, we recognize in posing these questions that these are difficult and sensitive matters. We also acknowledge the many voices in our online conversation, reflecting many kinds of influences on faith. These questions reflect our own desire to take your work seriously.   

Responding to other questions you’ve received, you wrote this fall, “If you think that leaving the Church is the absolute worst thing you could do, then yeah, I’m sure that’s upsetting if someone happens to follow me and leaves the Church, and you want someone to blame. Okay. But I’m not that powerful.” 

In the end, what if each of us really do have a powerful influence on those around us? Taken as a whole, the scope of your social media outreach and podcasting work seems to clearly translate into tremendous influence both as a mental health professional and a sister in the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

We have found breathtaking joy in trying to encourage and nurture others toward the peace and power of covenants. We do that work partly because of the contentment we’ve found in our own discipleship, and partly because we promised to do so. As the coming of Christ draws near, we dearly hope you will leverage your powerful influence to help the millions of our fellow brothers and sisters in need to prepare their hearts for what is coming.  

Note: This was created in collaboration with Women in the Public Squaresisters of faith committed to the power of open-hearted, generous dialogue to foster deeper understanding while relishing the restored teachings of the Savior. If you have an interest in writing more and learning how to raise your voice in the public square todayor if you would like to share something about this articlefeel free to reach out to Carol Rice, the Communications Director at Public Square Magazine ([email protected]). 


Carol Rice is Communications Director at Public Square Magazine. Her outreach interests involve storytelling, family studies and current affairs. 

Amanda Freebairn is a writer, teacher, wife and mother in Mesa, Arizona. She can be reached at [email protected]