Doubt can be thought of as a kind of questioning; and to question is to ask for reasons or an explanation for something one does not understand. One might wonder, for instance, what the Church does with its money. People do not always provide reasonable answers to questions; and how one processes an unreasonable answer will depend on a number of factors including one’s relationship with the individuals (or entities) one questions. If I trust the Church, for instance, I am much more likely to accept an answer that does not provide reasons. In looking at the question about how the Church handles its money, I might accept “doing good things” as an answer even if such an answer does not fully address the question.
In my experience, there are a lot of things we (LDSs) accept on trust. We trust that the Church is spending our money responsibly and ethically. We trust that keeping the commandments will bring blessings. We trust that our leadership receives revelation to guide our lives, etc. Trust, IMO, is often good; and it is an important part of a meaningful relationship. The trouble with trust, however, is at least two-fold. For one, trust is much easier lost than it is gained. One untrustworthy act can unfortunately undo a dozen trustworthy ones. Secondly, trust must be continually renewed. In some regards, trust is like money in a bank account. Every time I say, “trust me,” I withdraw some money from the account. If I do not replenish the account, there will come a time when the account will be empty.
I believe that many disaffected members of the Church are disaffected because this bank account of trust has zeroed out.
The process might look something like this: Jack grew up in the Church with his mother, father, and four siblings. Jack attended primary, was excited to be baptized when he was eight, graduated from seminary, served a mission, and met his wife at BYU where they were sealed in the Salt Lake temple. After finishing up at BYU, Jack, his wife, and their two young children moved to Detroit where Jack started work as an entry level accountant for the Detroit Lions. Jack loved his family, loved his job, and he loved the Church.
A little while later, Jack’s older brother came out as gay. Jack wasn’t terribly surprised, but no one in the family had any idea how to handle it. The Church became a difficult subject to discuss with his brother, and his brother attended family gatherings less and less. Yet Jack trusted that the Church would always handle the matter in the right way, so even if he lost contact with his brother, he believed he was doing the right thing, even if he couldn’t completely understand why it was the right thing.
Working in Detroit also brought Jack into contact with more poor people than he had ever met. He gave his money and time where possible, with most of his money going to tithing. When the Church built City Creek Mall, he knew he could trust the Church to handle its money appropriately, even if it did seem like the Church could do more to serve the poor.
Working with the Detroit Lions also brought Jack into more contact with African Americans. He found most of them, like most white people, to be honorable and good. He had no fitting answer as to why Blacks were denied the priesthood until the 70s, but he trusted that there was a good reason.
About the same time, Jack’s wife, Jane, discovered that Joseph Smith was not only married to multiple women, but that some of these women were actually already married to other men. Jane shared this information with Jack, and the two of them soon discovered FAIR, which provided them with some good answers; yet they could not help but feel a bit betrayed. Why wasn’t the Church more forthcoming with this kind of information? They didn’t know why, yet they also realized the many blessings the Church had brought into their lives, so the kept trying to trust.
One Sunday, while teaching primary, a girl in the class explained that when she’s older she’ll baptize her younger brother. Jack explained that only men have the priesthood. When the girl asked why, Jack realized that he hadn’t really thought through the issue much himself, so he gave her the best answer he could: “I trust that this is the way God wants it.”
When Jack got home, he looked up some information about women and the priesthood online. He came across Ordain Women, and shared their website on Facebook, hoping to see what other people thought of them. One of his Facebook friends happened to be his bishop, who left a comment saying, “If you’re going to support this kind of stuff we need to talk.” Not wanting to strain his relationship with his bishop, Jack decided it better to just drop the issue instead of risking his relationships with his ward members. He deleted the thread and didn’t discuss the matter with anyone.
A few weeks later, a co-worker forwarded Jack an article from a newspaper, with a tongue and cheek question, “Hey, why don’t Mormons apologize?” Jack read the article and discovered that Elder Oaks and Elder Christofferson held a press conference about LGBT issues, and that as a part of it Elder Oaks said that the Church doesn’t offer apologies. While he was heartened to see Elder Christofferson model the kind of relationship a LDS might have with a gay sibling, he couldn’t help but feel that the Church should at least apologize for not providing this kind of a model sooner. It’s now been nearly a decade since Jack’s brother came out, and their relationship is practically nonexistent.
Jack begins to realize that he has “doubts” about the Church. He mentions this one Sunday in elder’s quorum. His home teacher, in an effort to be helpful, shares with him this article from the Ensign. The line that Jack can’t get out of his mind is, “The power of doubt to destroy faith, hope, and even family is diminished the minute one sincerely says, ‘I will do the things the Lord has commanded, whether my questions are resolved quickly or ever, because I have covenanted to do so.’” Jack cannot help but feel trapped.
This is my point: The path to doubt is paved with the stones of broken trust.
Sometimes trust is breached and sometimes it’s just spread too thin. In the case of Jack, I think it’s the latter. His trust in the Church slowly eroded. I don’t believe anyone in the Church intentionally breached his trust, and perhaps there were ways for him to do more to renew his trust in the Church. However, and this is worth stressing, the question of how to handle doubt in the LDS community is intimately tied to, if not founded on, the question of trust.
In a future post I hope to address the issue of how to renew and strengthen trust; although I hope such a discussion can begin here in the comments section.