Editor’s Note. This is the fourth and final article in Richard Eyre’s series about Faith Crisis in Families. Look for links toward the end of this article to circle back to each of the first three installments in the series.
This article has three objectives: 1. To take the fear and negativity out of what we refer to as Faith Crisis, 2. To suggest a better name for that potentially desirable process, and 3. To separate the unrelated question of leaving the Church, and to present three perspectives one should consider before leaving.
Just What is a “Faith Crisis?”
We live in a unique and interesting era of Church history—in our current day we have a new term—a phrase that wasn’t widely known or used a few years ago but has now become somewhat common, almost stylish in a way—and the term is “faith crisis.”
It’s a term used in so many contexts and with so many definitions that it can be hard to pin down or get a handle on. To some it means struggling with one or more doctrines or teachings that are hard to understand and that don’t feel quite right. To others it means leaving the Church.
Here are some related questions and points to ponder:
- Is having a faith crisis and leaving the Church the same thing? Does one have to follow the other? Or are they two entirely separate questions? Are they even necessarily related? Might a faith crisis actually move one more deeply and strongly into the Church?
- Is it a binary thing where one is either experiencing a faith crisis or not? Are there just two kinds of members, those having a faith crisis and those not having a faith crisis? Do the things one is not sure of force him or her into a “do I go or do I stay” dilemma?
- Aren’t there much bigger questions that deserve broader attention than whatever grievances or doubts one might have toward some part of or some person in the Church? Questions like: Is there something beyond life on earth? Is there intelligence higher than man? Is Christ our Savior? Is God our Father? Did the Restoration restore doctrines and insights that ring true? Can the Church help me and my family to find joy?
Re-Thinking the Dilemma
We all know someone who is sitting on the “should I go or should I stay” fence. Or maybe it is yourself who is sitting there in that rather uncomfortable place. Why automatically assume that you are on that fence just because you have some doubts? Why not deal with the faith crisis independently—long before you entertain any thoughts about leaving the Church?
To one who is considering leaving, the key questions should be Why should doubt cause you to leave? Where will you go? And What will replace it in your life?
And the problem with the personal question of staying or leaving is that it just leads to additional more sticky questions. If you stay, are you going to be “active” or “inactive?” And if you leave, are you going to do it formally or informally?
If one decides to stay what does that mean?
- Being “active”?
- Showing up on Sunday?
- Calling yourself a member?
- Keeping the measurable commandments like tithing and the Word of Wisdom?
- Having a Temple recommend?
- Studying and praying and striving to strengthen your testimony?
And if one decides to leave what does that mean?
- Go “inactive”?
- Don’t accept any callings, and just attend when it’s convenient?
- Stop calling yourself a member?
- Quit attending?
- Denounce the Church publicly?
- Ask for your name to be taken off of the rolls of the Church?
The question of leaving the Church begs the question of what one thinks the Church is:
- An authoritative group of “Brethren” in a granite building in Salt Lake City?
- A community of Christ believers who try to love and serve one another?
- A set of beliefs in scripture and in modern revelation?
- The Gospel of Jesus Christ?
- A series of covenants we make with God?
- The reconstituted Church Organization that Christ and His Apostles established anciently?
- All of the above?
- Some of the above?
- None of the above?
As we ask these questions, perhaps there are two points which emerge: 1. Faith crisis is a nuanced and multi-meaning term that needs a lot of definition and context (or that needs to be replaced with a clearer name.) and 2. Whatever we call it, the outcome is more hopeful and potentially more positive if we experience it from within the Church rather than outside of it.
Shifting the Paradigm
Maybe the biggest problem with the term “faith crisis” is that both of its two words are misconstrued. The implication that FAITH is jeopardized when we are unsure of something assumes that faith is knowing, yet scripture tells us the opposite:
–“Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen”
And even more explicitly,
–“Faith is not to know—but to hope for things that are not seen.”
In other words, faith is inclusive of and consistent with doubt. The classic prayer “Oh God, I believe, help Thou my unbelief” is not paradoxical or confused.
The word CRISIS is also misused since neither true faith or true doubt needs to constitute a crisis, or even to confront or oppose each other. Rather, faith and doubt can be synergistic, synchronous, even symbiotic.
Here are two gentle sets of suggestions, one for each of two very different things. First, some suggestions for those who feel they are having a faith crisis and may wish to re-frame and re-define it; and second, some suggestions for those who are considering leaving the Church
1. For those who consider themselves in a Faith Crisis:
- ENJOY it! Understand that doubt is a motivating part of faith that can spur deeper study and prayer and that prevents the “blind followership” that Christ and many of His prophets have warned against.
- Experience your faith crisis from within the Church where you will keep an important part of your identity, and where you will find the resources and the love and support that can illuminate and sustain your unsure and imperfect self; and try to be tolerant and forgiving of the other imperfect humans who try to help.
- With your re-defining of faith, consider also a re-defining of “active.” We often measure that over-used Church word by simple attendance at the Church or the Temple, but perhaps we need to include in our definition the concept of an active mind that thinks, examines, questions, asks, doubts, and thus struggles with God in active faith-searching prayer. (Remember we are children of Israel and the word Israel means struggle with God.) Our definition should also encompass an inclusive active heart that extends loving service and friendship especially to those who do not find us attractive or vice versa. These are the “benefits of the doubt” that gives the title of this article a powerful double meaning.
- Simply re-name your faith crisis “Faith Exploration and Expansion” and start treating it as an asset and a love rather than as a liability and a fear.
- Do each of these things humbly and prayerfully and devote more of your prayer-time and scripture-time to spiritual listening and feeling.
2. For those considering leaving the Church
- Don’t assume that this is something that has to be considered by anyone having a faith crisis. It doesn’t.
- Try to move yourself back to the first set of suggestions, and deal with your faith crisis from INSIDE of the Church before you even consider leaving.
- If you still feel like you have to make a “stay or leave” decision, consider the three following perspectives:
The “Balance Sheet Perspective.” Do a little analysis by drawing a line down the center of a piece of paper, and listing the “liabilities” or negatives you feel troubled about in the Church on the left side of your page—whatever they may be, from worries regarding Church history, concerns about LGBTQ issues to issues with Church operation, management or leadership on local or general levels, to doubts about authenticity and consistency on certain doctrines. Whatever they are, jot them down on the left side of the ledger.
Then list the “assets” or positive influences or insights of the Church in your life on the right side of your page—Heavenly Parents, pre-mortal life, Priesthood, Temples, Covenants, Eternal Marriage, Ancestor connection and vicarious work, Millennium, Spirit World, Eternal Progression, Additional scripture, Exaltation, Joy, Church service and community, Positive family support.
Then ponder which side of your ledger matters most.
For the full article on this Balance Sheet Perspective, see https://latterdaysaintmag.com/18-truths-not-known-to-the-rest-of-christianity/
The “Means and Ends Perspective.” Understand that the END or the Ultimate Goal is Exaltation, or in Christ’s words, “to bring about the immortality and eternal life of man” and to “have joy,” to live as eternal families and as a part of His Eternal Family.
The Church, an institution of mortality, is not an End, but an important and powerfully helpful MEANS to assist us in reaching God’s end or goal. In President Lee’s words, “the Church is the scaffolding with which we build Eternal Families.” Thinking of the Church in this way makes us less likely to judge it or to think of it as our judge—and more likely to think of it as our support and help, despite its mortality-based imperfections.
For the full article on this Means and Ends Perspective, see https://latterdaysaintmag.com/unity-faith-crises-and-paradigm-shifts/
The “Three Wishes Perspective.” If you had three wishes for someone you love, or for yourself, would one of those wishes be to “stay active in the Church?” Or might you choose to wish for three things that are ends in themselves rather than means to an end?
Perhaps you would choose the three wishes of 1. a deep and eternal relationship with Christ, 2. a loving and lasting family, and 3. a true and enduring character that emulates Jesus, spreads uplifting love, and qualifies you to live with Him?
If these are your three wishes, you then could ask yourself the question of whether or not participating in the teachings and practices and ordinances and covenants of the Church might help you to reach those three wishes.
For the full article on this Three Wishes Perspective, see: https://latterdaysaintmag.com/correspondence-with-those-in-faith-crisis/
Faith Crisis can be transformed to Faith Exploration and Expansion, and can become a spiritually motivating and positive influence in one’s life instead of a dreaded and negative one.
My sense is that most Meridian readers would classify themselves as solid in the faith, but If someone you know is feeling alienated, or lost, or confused, or offended, or pressured or whitewashed, or lied-to or disillusioned or struggling to decide whether to “leave the Church”, invite them to read this article and consider these three perspectives.
For some, this transformation may take time, but the possibility and potential are always there, particularly when nourished by the unconditional love and unfailing prayers of those who care about them.
And wherever we each are in our faith journey, it is important that we not judge or categorize those who are in a different place. Rather, we need to all love and learn from each other. We can benefit and grow from the doubting parts of faith as well as the secure parts because they all fit into a faith that is dynamic rather than static.
Years ago, Christian theologian James Fowler produced a classic study of the “stages of faith” that most people pass through from childhood, to adolescence, to young adulthood, and later maturity. Each stage involves different ways of being faithful even though each is sitting in the same unified church. The transitions between stages are always somewhat difficult, but they lead to greater joy in faithfulness. There are millions of Latter-day Saints that have different life experiences that often lead them to believe and practice as sincerely faithful members in different ways and stages—any of which the Lord welcomes into our growing community—and so must we all.
Richard Eyre, a former Mission President in London and candidate for Utah Governor, is a New York Times #1 Bestselling Author who appreciates feedback sent to Ey********************@gm***.com.