Tuesday, March 14, 2023

I Don’t Believe in Faith Crises


Frankly, I don’t even know what “faith crisis” means. I understand that people stop believing certain things. I understand that they get disillusioned. I understand that they choose to leave the Church for a variety of reasons. But I don’t understand faith crisis. I keep wondering where the emergency is.

Let me start by saying that I am a very impatient person. If you’ve ever driven slowly in front of me, you’d know what I mean. I’m an insufferable perfectionist as a sports fan. I interrupt people when they’re talking. I don’t like walking slow. At almost 67 years young, I still run up stairs. I’m an editor, so inconsistencies grind on my nerves. And on and on. But for some reason, I have an enviable level of patience with the foibles and flaws of Mormonism. Yes, I find lots of things that I’m not happy about or that don’t make sense or that disappoint me (such as the Church’s recent fiasco over hiding its finances). But I am in no hurry to pack my bags and leave the Church. Let me try to explain why.

First, not much surprises me. I’ve been around the block a few times and have seen a lot of reality. And that reality includes both divine intervention and human imperfection. There’s not much about the Church’s history that is new to me. As editorial director at BYU Studies for almost 17 years, I have seen a lot. We don’t get to publish much of it, but I read a great deal—books, scholarly journals, blogs, news stories, whatever. I have no illusions about how humans can mess up God’s work, and how he can still bring about his own purposes, which sometimes are not at all what we think they are. But finding out something unsavory that happened over a hundred years ago does not provoke a crisis. Hopefully we can learn from our imperfect history and try to do better.

I worked in the bowels of the holy bureaucracy in Salt Lake City for seven and a half years and have now worked for almost 17 additional years on the periphery in Provo. I do Mormonism all day long, five days a week. Sometimes it’s aggravating. Long ago I wrote an essay for Dialogue titled “Why the True Church Cannot Be Perfect.” The primary point of the essay was that the Church isn’t perfect. The rest was to explain why it has to be so. That doesn’t mean the Church gets a free pass. It often damages people. But it’s what we have. It’s not just Jesus’s church. It’s also ours (you know, that “of Latter-day Saints” part), so I figure it’s up to us to try to make it work better. There’s no crisis about it. It’s imperfect. So what? Get over it and do what you can on the inside to improve it.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I find LDS theology quite lacking. There are gaping holes, inconsistencies, really bad assumptions, and folk beliefs that make no sense at all. But as I put it in my mission memoir, Bruder: The Perplexingly Spiritual Life and Not Entirely Unexpected Death of a Mormon Missionary,We Mormons like to think we have THE TRUTH, as if it were some rare diamond that only one church can possess, and if you have it, you have all of it. But truth is much more amorphous than we Mormons imagine. It is multifaceted, and nobody has all of it. The LDS Church grasps pieces of the truth, but some doctrines have shifted over time, some aren’t consistent with others, and some don’t hold up well under careful scrutiny. Still, all things considered, I think Joseph Smith tapped into a very productive vein of religious truth.” But he obviously didn’t have everything figured out, and we have made precious little progress (if any) over the past 193 years. We Latter-day Saints are a proud lot. We smugly assume that other churches know nothing about the hereafter, but if we are honest, we will admit that we know next to nothing. But does that constitute a crisis? No. We just need to acquire some humility and prepare ourselves for many surprises when we graduate from this mortal grade school and start the next phase of our long education.

Above all else, the Church is not an organizational chart. It is people. And people are imperfect. Members, leaders, everybody. The Church has done a great disservice to itself and to its members by creating the illusion that leaders are infallible, that they’re always inspired. All this does is create unrealistic expectations. And I would guess that unrealistic expectations lie behind most of what people call faith crises. They have these expectations of perfection, so of course they are going to be disappointed. The solution if to ratchet down our expectations so that we don’t get blown out of the water by reality. But we need to recognize the difference between expectations and hopes. It is always good to hope for miracles, for blessings, for pleasant surprises. But we should be careful about what we expect. There is a very fine line between faith and expectation, especially when our expectations are based on the performance of fallible humans.

As I mentioned earlier, I have seen not just the imperfections of the Church and its leaders and members; I have also seen divine intervention, sometimes in strange and wonderful ways. And quite often that intervention doesn’t fit within the staid corporate structure of the Church. In fact, quite often the organization impedes divine intervention. When I was young and impressionable, God opened the heavens briefly to me two or three times in ways that were both breathtaking and perplexing. In later years, I have had a few quiet assurances that God is there, that he wants me to do certain things, and that he doesn’t want me to forsake my religious roots. “Be patient” is the message. Things will work out.

So I don’t understand Latter-day Saints who are in a great hurry to give up on something they could help improve and that just might improve them. I don’t understand people in self-constructed crisis. So what if our history is messy? So what if our leaders are human? So what if our theology is full of holes? So what if the organization is aggravating? So what if the Church is full of people who watch Fox News and think vaccines will kill you? Yes, there’s a lot to not like about Mormonism. But there’s a lot to like too. Am I a better person because of my membership in the Church? I would like to think so. Does the Church give me opportunities to improve myself? Of course. Are there good people in the Church who need my meager service? Sure. So where’s the crisis?


  1. Yeah, this is great. I also really liked your last post. It's a shame you had to take it down. Paternalism in deed.

  2. When staying in the church was doing actual harm to my relationships to my wife and children and was not a place that was helping them, I was out. I had wrestled with the messiness of the church history for a long time and probably would have stayed chewing on that history for another 20 years. My daughter came out to us ten years ago and that didn’t push us out either but it was driving a wedge between us. When I found out about the church’s investment and real estate portfolio I stopped paying tithing and it was approaching a faith crisis. My wife had her own as she looked back at her life of choices with regret at what she hadn’t done in part because she was trying to live the life the church told her she should and she was depressed and angry. Put that together and we were in full faith crisis. We talked to the kids about it and found out they no longer believed and were humoring us and waiting to grow old enough to leave the church. Another child came out and told us they assumed were were as homophobic and transphobic as the church. So that was the last straw and we left.

  3. I really liked your last post too and wondered where it went.

  4. I would describe what I went through as a faith crisis, and I’ve seen others struggle through a similar process. When my belief in the church came apart, my whole worldview was shook. Religious assumptions had colored a majority of my decisions and how I interpreted most of the world around me. As that worldview disintegrated, I was left to figure out things independently and that felt very difficult. Everything came into question, including the existence of anything beyond this life and whether there was any real purpose to it. For many, including myself, crisis feels like an appropriate word.

  5. What's the rush? There's no rush. But when you figure out that it's objectively not true (a la Book of Abraham mistranslation, Deutero Isaiah being present in the writings of Nephi, etc.) then there's no reason to stay and improve the organization. We're not leaving because of the improvable parts of the organization. We're leaving because it's not God's true church.

  6. Church lies, hides, and obfuscate its history. When children grow up learning those lies and absolute truth, and that the truth was in fact "anti Mormon lies", it betrays a trust in the organization.

    Why should I trust an organization to tell me what happens after this life and gow to live, if they can't tell me the truth about history, let alone themselves.

    I wonder how one can raise children in the church morally at this point. It damages relationships. It damages emotional development. It damages families.

    But yes, coming to a realization that ghe foundation for your entire existence comes from lies, is a "self inflicted crisis".

  7. As a Bishop who has seen people experience what is sometimes referred to as a faith "crisis", I don't have a problem using that term. For them, it is a crisis. A crisis is "a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger" or "a time when a difficult or important decision must be made". I don't know how it could be described as anything else.

    Regardless, I'm happy to use the term that they assign to their own experience. I want others to do the same for me, so it seems fair.

  8. This post strikes me as written by someone with great privilege. "Church is messy? Hasn't affected me, so no big deal". "The church is full of misogyny? Hasn't affected me, no big deal!" Part of privilege is when you can look at others suffering and tell them they are making a mountain out of a molehill. It doesn't help build bridges and actually widens the gap the exists between those who remain and those who don't or are hurting because of the church. I also dislike hearing "the members" get blamed for doctrine and ideas the leadership push. They push for perfection. They put forth the idea the church "IS TRUE". This is their mess they taught and they need to own it.

  9. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and perspective. My sense is that a lot of long-time (and better educated?) members feel this way about faith crises.

    As I understand the gist of your post, you seem to have the idea that a faith crisis happens when a person is impatient, expects too much of the Church, it's leaders, or its theology, found something unsavory in LDS history from 100 years ago, fails to properly value experiences with divine intervention, or simply constructed the crisis themselves (but you don't specify why?). Ultimately, for you, a faith crisis seems like a non-starter because the Church makes you a better person (especially by giving you an opportunity to improve) and gives you opportunities to serve good people. Did I get that right?

    I'm curious, have you had a chance to read the book "Bridges" by David Ostler, yet? Or have you read the "Faith Crisis Chronicles" that were part of the 2013 Faith Crisis Report? (https://faenrandir.github.io/a_careful_examination/2013-faith-crisis-study). What kinds of conversations have you had with those who have experienced a "faith crisis" or faith transition?

  10. Maybe you've never had a faith crisis, but how about an empathy crisis? I nearly ended my life and left two kids fatherless because the organization had me so messed up I couldn't see a way forward. Guess you should be grateful you can see so much better than all us whiners.