Thank you, Scott, and thank all of you for enduring, being here for this hour. This panel was assembled in order to address what has come to be known as the “faith crisis” in Mormonism. I would like to, first of all, say that I believe the faith crisis is real and that we are not the only church or faith community experiencing a faith crisis. It is, in fact, something common to many churches and many faith traditions. In fact, I was reading yesterday on a Jewish website, Richard Lichtman’s essay called “Another Descent into Hell.” And he said, “When one of our nephews married a Gentile, the family responded to him as though he had died, that by his ‘act of family betrayal’ he had ceased to exist for them.”
I think that some of you are familiar with that response within Mormonism. That sometimes, when a family member leaves the faith or is considering leaving the faith, it is experienced like a death in the family. But it needn’t always be that way, nor need it be that way forever.
I am really interested in knowing, how many of those of you, who are sitting in the audience, have a spouse, a parent, or brother or sister, or a child who either is considering leaving, or who has left the Church. How many of you? Ok, that is a very graphic illustration of my assertion that the faith crisis is in fact real, and that the heartache that many people experience is real. And that there are ways in which we can, informed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, I think find, as in Paul’s terms, “a more excellent way” to deal with this issue within our family.
So today, we have four panelists, each of whom has experienced this experience within their family. Rather than taking the time we have, which is limited, to introduce the members of the panel, Roger Nicholson, Karen Lyons, Dana Anderson, and Lisa Twede, you can read their biographies, except for Lisa’s, who was not included in the program. And I will just briefly say that Lisa is a mother of five children. She is pursuing a professional education and she has the misfortune of having a spouse who made a very public and open departure from the Church, which I think she will talk about that. But we will have each of these panelists take about five minutes. I will try and be a taskmaster of a chair. And what we want to do in the remaining time, what I would like to do is to be able to have you have questions which can be asked to members of the panel. So there are people who travel up and down the aisles with cards, we have people who will pass out cards. So after about 20 minutes we will try to take those and if you have them, either direct them to the panel as a whole or you can direct them to a specific individual on the panel.
So without further ado, starting left to right, that is probably as logical a way as any. Yes, I think you are left and we have got the right as well. We won’t consider these political positions. So, Roger, you have got five minutes.
[Roger] My name is Roger Nicholson. Eight years ago, life was as perfect as I could imagine, in raising my family. I have five children. I had a son going on a mission. Things seemed pretty good.
My son left on his mission and got out into the field and about three months into his mission, called home and told his mom and I that he did not believe and he wanted to come home. I have to say, I did not react well. I did, I think, what many people try to do. I tried to pull him back. I tried everything I could to respond to his questions. But what I had found out was that during the year he had gone off to college, he had researched online. And he had researched in places like Wikipedia. He told me that Wikipedia must be correct because so many people work on it. I have since dealt with that.
He also had encountered a letter that had been written by somebody who left the Church. A very big, long letter, it was an exit story. It went through all the different issues and it was very succinct, and straightforward, and he sent that to me and he sent it to my parents and he said, “I agree with everything this guy says.” And what followed were weeks and weeks of me going back and forth with him in email. As he sent me his issues, I researched them, I responded. He would send me ten more issues. I researched them and I would respond. And we went on and on and on this way. And I was traveling around the world at the time. I was in Asia, and I was in Israel. And, I was doing what I normally did, putting together the latest set of responses for him to try to convince him that he didn’t have the full story. And I had what I can only classify as an epiphany. It just came into my mind all at once. That if I continued to do what I was doing, that I would define our entire future relationship by the fact that I was a believer and he was not. That the rest of our lives would be spent in contention with one another because every encounter we had would be based on our differences in belief.
And so I didn’t send that message to him, on email. I didn’t send it. And instead I tried to figure out what to do. And I sent a message into what was then called FAIR. I had seen them online. I didn’t know anything about them, but they had something called “Ask the Apologist.” So I sent a message. I was sitting in the Tel Aviv airport and I sent a message to FAIR. And I said, “I have a son on a mission. He doesn’t believe anymore. He wants to come home. I do not know what to do.” And by the time I arrived back home in the San Francisco Bay area, I had received a couple of replies. One of them was from Kevin Barney and one of them was from Greg Smith. And they both said essentially the same thing. They said, “You just have to love him.” And so what I did was I wrote him a different letter. And in that letter I said, “You are my son. You will always be my son. Whether you become a stake president or whether you leave the Church, this I will promise you: that you will always be my son and I will always be proud of the things that you accomplish and the good that you do in your life.”
And that made all the difference in the world. And to make a long story short, my son calls me pretty much every day, on my phone, just to tell me what’s going on in his life. I’m not going to go into any details of his life, but he is involved in some very interesting things that are going to do some good in this world. And he loves to call me up and share those things with me. And that is all that I had hoped for at this point, was that we would have a relationship, and we do. And, I can answer more questions later, but I’m going to turn it over to Dana.
[Dana] Good afternoon, my name is Dana Anderson. And I, too, have a son who at about 16, we could tell he was struggling. He did not come to us and say, “Hey, you know, I’m not sure about all of this stuff I am being taught, and I’ve had some things thrown at me that I don’t really understand.” But we could tell that he was struggling. He continued to come to church. He continued to be somewhat faithful. But at about 17 he became involved with some people that decided to show him how wrong we were and presented him with all kinds of anti-Mormon literature. There again, he did not come to us and tell us, “Hey, you know, mom and dad, I’ve seen this stuff and I don’t understand.” We didn’t find out until many years later that that was the crux of his problem.
So from about 16 to 24 he had struggles. He battled. There were times in our relationship that we thought we would never see him again because it is very hard when you feel like, you know, I know he felt like he was disappointing us. And that was hard on him. We were having struggles because we had three other young children and we also knew that we had to watch out for them and their best interests. And all that we knew was that there was a problem with one of their siblings. And we had to protect them as best we felt inspired to do at the time. So there were a lot of dynamics going on in the family. As I’m sure many of you have felt, you know, hours of sadness, prayer, tears, blame, questions, “What could we have done different, how did this happen?” And then along the way there were some very useful realizations as well. Grateful for the FAIR organization, because there again, though my son was battling within himself, as he describes it, there were always little “nudges.” Nudges that we would like to call from the Spirit, that, “You know, you are not really doing what you need to be doing, you are not where you need to be.” And thank goodness he did not turn his back on those nudges. And eventually those nudges got the best of him. And instead of just believing everything he was reading that was anti, he started trying to find answers. And FairMormon was there for him.
He started researching. He started realizing that there are some things that cannot be explained away. There is a thing called faith. And there are other things that we can explain and that we can try to help others understand. I am grateful to report that my son is now very active in Church and is an active member of FAIR. There is hope and I think that is the greatest message I can give, is to always have hope. It’s not over until it is over. And God can work in very interesting ways in all of our lives through these difficult situations.
[Lisa] I am Lisa Twede. To give you a little bit of background about my life, I grew up in Ohio, where there were not a lot of members of the Church. I was one of maybe twenty kids in a high school of two thousand that were members. So I had to really be strong living my religion. There were a lot of people who thought I had weird standards, and didn’t understand. But, as I lived what I believed, they began to accept that and support me in that. And so when I went to Ricks College when I graduated, I was really excited to be in a place where there would be so many members of the Church. I was a little unprepared for the culture shock that I ran into there, seeing that there were a lot of members, but not everybody lived what they believed. There were people I met that were one person on Sunday and someone else the rest of the time. And that wasn’t something I had encountered a lot before. I met my husband while I was there and he was a very strong member. He had just returned from a mission and was on fire about the gospel, as returned missionaries often are. He was a temple worker in the Idaho Falls Temple; he worked with Going Missionary program, which is a group of returned missionaries there that worked with those who were getting ready to go out into the mission field. He had a really outstanding knowledge of the scriptures, which is something that I had always really admired about him and was just really strong in a lot of ways.
So, we were married in the Salt Lake Temple, and finished school, and then went on to graduate school for him. He taught gospel doctrine and was very involved in things. When we moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, there was a Sunday School class in our ward that was, they kind of had their own curriculum. They didn’t use the Church’s curriculum. They used only the Bible. They talked about some controversial topics, and there were mixed feelings about this in the ward. Eventually there were people in that group who left the Church. He was very actively involved in discussing things with some of those people and trying to convince them that they needed to see things the other way. He would write articles. He would research things. He was very involved in a lot of the controversial issues that you hear about. He was also in a graduate program in Physics. So as a scientist he had colleagues at a liberal university who would not understand why he believed in creationism and not evolution, things along that nature. He was always involved in online message boards and forums, All Religion Mormon, and some of the others at that time. And he would research topics and try to convince people who were struggling and to help them and as he talked about things that he had discussed with people at church or through his work, I was often the sounding board. He would bounce ideas off of me and talk to me about the things he had researched and studied. So I heard a lot of his arguments firsthand and heard a lot of the controversial topics in the Church from him, but from a different perspective from where he is now.
After about twelve years in Michigan, we moved to Colorado. About time, he eventually moved away from a lot of the gospel topics he was discussing. He wrote a novel, he was interested in photography. So his interests kind of changed and I didn’t hear as much about those things as I had. And then things really started deteriorating in the marriage. He just seemed to be angry and unhappy a lot. I didn’t know what was wrong. I didn’t know where it was coming from. After a few years, after we moved to Colorado, he filed for divorce and moved out, and shortly after that, went inactive. Now it was clear to me, because he was not as enthusiastic about attending church, he was kind of in conflict with people in the ward sometimes, it was clear that there was something wrong, but I didn’t know, he wasn’t really talking about it. So I wasn’t really aware what was going on in his mind at that time.
He eventually ended up moving to Florida. I moved to Utah with our children. And then I found, one day, I think we got a phone call. One of the kids got a phone call for him. And I thought, “That’s strange, he’s never lived at this address or phone number. Who would be looking for him?” And then a few days later I had a message from a TV producer who wanted to interview him. And I thought, “Where are they getting this number?” And so I googled his name and discovered that he had become involved with MormonThink, was now the managing editor and had written some controversial articles and was now facing Church disciplinary action.
So, we had a few weeks with quite a lot of media attention there. I tried to shield our children from it as much as possible. And about a month later, he ended up resigning his Church membership at the ex-Mormon conference. For me it was, the things that he’s writing and blogging about now are 180 degrees from where he was when I first met him and in the early years of our marriage. It’s been difficult to see that process take place. It’s also been a challenge for our children, who have one parent who very strongly believes in the gospel and one who is very opposed to it, for them to find their place and decide what their beliefs are. So, that’s my story and I will let Karen take over.
[Karen] Hi, I’m Karen Lyons. My husband and I had been married for fifteen years or so, but all along there he is gradually getting more and more inactive, finding more and more reasons not to go to church. And when he would go, all the way home would be what was wrong with priesthood meeting and why don’t the teachers prepare more, and doesn’t the bishop know he should do this and this and this. So I quickly learned it was better not to even bring up the Church. And it was nice that he was attending but it wasn’t as peaceful as when he didn’t go. So there were things happening for a long, long time. In the meantime, we had eight kids. They were seeing this change in him as he got less and less happy in life. And by 2006, he decided that he had been out of integrity with what he had learned and that he couldn’t in good conscience stay in the Church anymore. So in October 2006 he left the Church, writing to Salt Lake and saying, “Take me off the records.”
Before that happened, he was getting more and more involved in online groups, like ex-Mormon types of groups, and reading their stuff. Reading stuff from other people that want to portray themselves as “helping people stay in the Church”, with their questions, but are actually more like an exit counselor on how “It’s ok if you leave. Your integrity calls for it.” And so, once he was involved in those, every day, I knew when I got home, I would hear from whatever they had been joking about, talking about, criticizing online. As he was doing that, I needed to have my own shield, you know, ammunition, way to protect myself from all of that, because I didn’t believe what he was telling me. And that’s when I came across FAIR is because I was looking for some of those answers and looking for ways to deal with the continual barrage of, “What about this, what about that? Well, how can you stay in Church if you read this document?” There were several things that helped me along the way there. There was the finding FAIR, and knowing that–funny thing, smart people do stay in the Church, even after they find out these things that bother my ex-husband and his friends. They can still see ways that the Church is still true and it’s still worth being in it.
Another thing was Mike Ash’s Shaken Faith Syndrome. (I know he is here somewhere. There he is.) And, that was a game changer to read that and to have some insight into what was going on in his head. Partway through my reading it, he took my copy and started marking it up and highlighting it and writing his little comments out to the edge. And then he gave it back, tossed it at me, and said, “I’m done with it, you can have it back.” And, it’s not mine anymore, once it has got his marks in it, you know? It just doesn’t work. You can’t read that. So I had to get a different copy. But that helped a lot, just to be able to not only have answers, but to also see into his head a little bit and see why he was doing some of the things he was doing.
And the thing I found was, like our moderator was talking about, the grieving process and it is almost as if they have died. They are grieving. We are grieving. The kids are grieving, because they know things are going on. And, it is not something that is really easy to deal with. It would be nice if you could just, I do not know it is just really hard. So I was going to the temple a lot. Through some experiences that happened there, I had been trying to stay together with him, because I believed that was the best option. And, through praying, and going to the temple, and asking “How much longer does this have to go on; when is he going to come around; when is he going to be easier to live with?” Because it was so negative, so much. Finally on one occasion I had a clear impression that I needed to get the kids out of the situation because they were met with so much negativity about the Church all the time. And obviously they will have questions, we do not want them to not ever have questions, but they also needed to have accurate answers instead of stupid stuff. Anyways, I do not know, I am so scattered.
He left the Church in 2006. He had been emotionally abusive for a long time. And he had been wanting to get divorced and asking for that and I filed in January of 2009. And then he changed his mind that summer, once he realized what he was losing, and tried to say, “Let’s just stay together, let’s fix this.” And nothing had changed. He still hated the Church, he still was very judgmental. He still thought all our problems were my fault. He still would not work. There were all of these issues. And so we went ahead and got divorced in April of 2010.
In the meantime, because he wanted to get back together with me (which is what several people were told from him) he got baptized again in January of 2010. Because, you know, “If I’m in the Church then obviously we will get together again. We won’t get divorced.” Well that was not the only problem, so it did not help. He is a member of the Church now. He goes to church sometimes. He takes every opportunity to share with people the things he has found about “Hey look at this problem, and look at that problem, and look at the other problem.” So I could not say that he has changed much at all. He is not happy. He hasn’t been happy in a long time. And I am happy. I don’t know. Go ahead. Ask your questions. I know that there is a lot we have not covered.
[Bob Rees] So while the questions are being gathered, let me say a few words. I have been reading a very interesting book, which I recommend to everyone. It is called “Wrong, Adventures in the Margins of Error.” It is a very sobering book. It seems to me that one of the problems we sometimes have, when we have this issue of someone who just stops believing or becomes estranged in terms of belief, is that we become like an armed camp. We are right and you are wrong, or you are wrong and we are right. Or whatever it is. And I think it is really important for us to keep a perspective on that. President Hugh B. Brown, who was one of my heroes, gave a talk at BYU called “Freedom of the Mind,” in which he said some rather amazing things. One of which was, “We have been blessed as Latter-day Saints with some truth which the world lacks. But there is a much greater abundance of truth which we do not have.” And then he said this, he said, “We sometimes act as if we had a corner on truth.” He said, “We do not.”
He also said this to the students at BYU and I think this is rather astonishing, and he was speaking as a member of the First Presidency. And keep this in mind in the dialogues that go on between you and friends or family members, or members of your ward. He said this, “We are not so concerned with whether your thoughts are orthodox or heterodox as we are that you should have thoughts.”
So, when people have disagreements or questions, I think it is important to take them seriously. Many people leave the Church, not out of sinfulness, not because they are trying to be difficult. Not because they are being adolescent. Because they have serious concerns, they have serious issues. And very often what they want is somebody to listen to them. And if one can do that and the messages that come from the panel are, love. When our youngest son went away to college he said, and I know it was difficult for him to ask me this. He said, “Dad, if I choose not to be a Mormon, will you and mom still love me?” And I said, “Son, it has nothing to do with that. We love you. That is all you have to really know.”
And so Roger’s really beautiful example of his relationship with his son is one. And also the message that Dana had of hope. Life is long. Remember how much time Heavenly Father gives us to get it right and for most of us it takes a long time, and for some of us, maybe eternity. So part of it is being aware of that. Part of it also, I think, is being aware that in all of our congregations and in our families, there are people struggling with this. And what are we called to do? We are called to minister to them; to mourn with them; to bind up their wounds; to weep with them; to understand them and to help them work through these sometimes very painful and very excruciating issues.
I would recommend, not because I think…I mean there are lots of things you can read that I think are helpful. And there is a whole library out in the foyer. I have written two things that I recommend that you might consider. One of them is called “The Goodness of the Church.” In it I try to say, “Yes, there are things wrong with the Church, but very often people have a hard time talking about those.” And I have kind of kept track. People who leave the Church never send me good news about the Church, and people who stay in the Church never send me bad news about the Church. Well, there is good news and bad news about the Church. So, in “The Goodness of the Church” I try to address that. In another essay, (and you can google these) called “Forgiving the Church and Loving the Saints,” I think the Church as an institution, as all institutions, are rough instruments in the hands of the Lord. A general authority friend of mine told me a couple of years ago, he said, “We cannot get anything done in the Church.” He said, “I am not complaining, but I am lamenting.” So, if somebody at that level is feeling a little frustration or anxiety, then we have permission to do that as well.
Ok, so let me take a couple of these questions or statements.
Our experience has been that many who begin to wonder seriously, it causes, as you related, frequently to have other issues such as obeying the commandments. Have any of you found this to be true? So, in other words, people have reasons that sound good and they often cover up the real reason. So I think that is what this question is about.
[Dana] I can start with that. I definitely think, especially in the case of children and youth and teenagers, a lot of it does start with sin first. And then as a rationalization, when they do come across things that throw some doubts at their beliefs, then it is easier to say, “Well, it’s ok. It is ok to sin because it really does not matter.” And then now we are in a vicious cycle. So I think that if we can, especially with the youth of the Church, kind of arm them with some information that maybe won’t shock them when they come across it by goodhearted people, or on the internet. That then they won’t feel as much of an excuse that it is ok to start doing things that are wrong, that our Heavenly Father has told us not to do, because these other things are justifying it. And so I do think that it is imperative that we stress always keeping the commandments.
[Karen] I would like to add something to that. In my ex-husband’s case, I do not think it was a sense that he was sinning, and so that is why he left. It was not like he immediately did a lot of things that he could not have done in the Church, although we won’t talk about that. But he had his long list of things that he thought were required as a member of the Church. And sure, it is a long list, but none of us are expected to be able to do all of those things, all of the time, one hundred percent accurate. It is just the expectation was so great, that I think as part of the stress that he was undergoing, and how he was struggling to stay afloat, and to keep his self-esteem, I think that was the bigger part for him. Because, we joke in the Church about Molly Mormon expecting to make her own bread and sew her own clothes and how she does not match up to everybody else’s meals or whatever. But I think in one sense, it is even greater on the other side. Because as women, sure we want to see that we are matching up, but we are also more likely to confide in each other (Do you guys agree?) when things are not perfect. And I think that from he told me, a lot of times men want to put up this front as if everything is great. And then they often do not talk to each other in-between Sundays. I think he felt like he was drowning with the expectations and did not have the kind of self-esteem he needed to be able to recognize that we are not to be expected to do everything perfectly all the time. It is a work in progress.
[Bob] One of the problems with some people leaving is the problem of perfectionism. They feel they do not and cannot ever measure up because they go to Church and meet all of the perfect Saints, and they feel, or they excommunicate themselves or disfellowship themselves, so I think that is something to be aware of. The question related to that is what comes first, breaking the commandments or leaving the Church? I can say, sometimes it is one, sometimes it is another. In other words, sometimes people leave and then they break the commandments. Sometimes they break the commandments, then they leave. But I think what the panel are saying is that even if they do, we ask God to love us even when we break commandments, we ask the Church to forgive us. And so part of this healing process is that.
Before we go to another question, someone said, “What is the Hugh B. Brown article, and who is the author of “Wrong?” The Hugh B. Brown article is called “Freedom of the Mind.” It was given at BYU. You can google it. It is on the internet. And “Wrong”, Kathryn Schutz, you can also google it. It is something called “Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error.” And as I said, it is a very sobering book.
Question: I have done what Roger did. I loved my son and have a good relationship. He grew up active and served a mission and returned keeping active and going to the temple. Then he became convinced that everything was bogus. We talk often. He comes over. We love each other. But I keep thinking I must do more. What should I do?
[Roger] Probably I should answer that one. In the case of my son, I did not really tell you what happened afterwards. He completed his mission, honorably, which was a miracle. He came back. He attended Church for some time, and then he quietly just left. And never came back. And I meant what I said in that letter, that my love for him would not be contingent upon the choices he made regarding staying or leaving the Church. I meant it. I still mean it. So, we do not talk about Church much. I have three boys. And all three of them have left the Church. I have five children. And I would hope that he will realize and become more receptive to this sometime down the road. Any of my children. I hold that hope out. I have to admit, you always have to have hope. If you lose hope, it is hopelessness. You cannot live with hopelessness. But what I did, and the question I believe was, what should I do now, what I did was I had all the energy that I had directed toward my son, trying to bring him back, and I still had that energy and that desire to research and to respond. And I did not know what to do. And that is why I joined FairMormon. I decided that if I could not help my son in that way, I would help my grandchildren and their grandchildren. And so I poured my efforts into the FAIR wiki, along with Greg Smith. And we added hundreds of articles. And I researched that letter that he had read. And I tried to come up with the answers, the responses.
And what happened was, three years ago, my nephew, my sister’s son, came back from his mission. And his testimony was glowing. But he told us that he had experienced a faith crisis on his mission. That three months out in the field, that he doubted his own faith. And he went to his mission president. His mission president sent him to a website. He gave him permission to download material from that website. He downloaded the material from the website, put it in a white binder, took it with him throughout the remainder of his mission. I, unfortunately, did not write to him. So I was finding this out after he got home. I said, “Show me the binder.” The binder was full of everything I had ever written. We do not put our names on the articles in the wiki. And he was carrying around a binder full of articles that I had written. And it saved his testimony. So, I love my son. I am sad that he is not in the Church. But he has been a force for good and I do not regret anything with regard to how I am spending my time because of that.
[Bob] Thank you. Lisa?
[Lisa] I think we have talked a little bit about perfectionism and I think it is easy to, in a situation like this, ask yourself, “What did I do wrong? What could I have done better?” And one thing that I have had to learn to accept is that I am human. We are all human. It is a given that we are going to make mistakes. No relationship is going to be perfect. And we need to accept that and do the best we can do and know that that is enough. We cannot be responsible, and hold ourselves responsible for another person’s progress. We can do the best that we can. We can follow inspiration that we are given. We can pray and love them and do the best that we can, but some of those decisions are their own responsibility. And we have to at some point accept that we have done the best that we can and not keep wondering “What if I hadn’t had this weakness, or what if I had handled this differently?” Or whatever it may be. There comes a point where you just have to accept that. And that does not mean that we should not keep trying and looking for things that we can do. But you need to accept that some of the responsibility is theirs. And sometimes they need to go through those struggles and it is hard to watch that. But sometimes that is where the real growth takes place, and at the end of that struggle, that is when they finally resolve it for themselves. And they need to be given space to work through that at their own pace.
[Bob] Thank you, Lisa.
[Dana] I so agree with that. I think that we have to choose happiness. That we choose it. Even when we are going through these difficult situations and these hard places with family members, they have to see that we are happy. Are we going to let this situation destroy us and destroy our entire family and those around us? If Heavenly Father can be happy, and I think we agree that he is generally a happy God. If he can be happy, and aren’t we trying to be like him? There has got to be a way that we can find that balance and always have that hope. And not let these things destroy us. I know there was a time when our son said, “If you are going to talk to me do not talk to me about religion. Do not talk to me about Church.” But you know what, that is part of our lives. That is what we had to do. We could not talk about the weather all of the time. And he could get mad at us, and that was ok. Because he was already mad at us. I like to think that because every now and then we did put those little things in about the gospel, that that helped with those nudges that he had, that he eventually made the choice to follow. It is everybody’s choice. As parents we cannot continue playing the blame game. “What could I have done differently?” Heavenly Father was a perfect parent and I think he lost a few of His kids. But we have to know that we can choose to be happy and we can help them if they want to be happy as well.
[Karen] I would like to add one thing. That one of the great lessons that I learned through this experience that has really changed my life is in recognizing the power of agency. That is the whole point of being here. And so, for him to make the choices that he did, those are his choices. And he is accountable for them. And like Dana is saying, it is up to us to choose how we will be and how we will respond to that. And so, when my kids were asking questions about this, “How could dad believe that, how can dad not go to church, why can’t I get baptized yet even though I am already eight?” or whatever it was, because we dealt with all of that. If they are not technically in the Church, you have to get parental permission to be able to baptize and ordain and all of that. But once he is back in the Church, then you can do it. So anyways, it is the kind of thing where we had to talk about how, “Look, he’s making his choices. Boom. End of story. He is making his choices.” And as much as people in the Church would tell me things like “Oh, we miss him so much. Don’t worry, he will be back, he will be back.” It is like, “Maybe he will, maybe he won’t. But it’s his choice. It’s his choice.” And even when he told me he was going to send in his letter, I said, “It is your choice. I do not like it, but it is your choice.”
[Bob] It occurs to me that next year this should be a two hour panel. Someone sent me a note saying “Freedom of Mind” is a book about helping people leave the Church. And he emphasized that it is “Freedom of the Mind” by President Brown.
This is really a good statement: “What you did not address is that many of those who leave or have left the Church are much happier today.” Someone said to me the other day, they were talking about this and the person said they were really happy. And I said, “Of course, what kind of a god is it who could say if you don’t believe this, you are going to be miserable.” It is like a parent who says if you go to Stanford I will pay your tuition, otherwise you are on your own. God is not going to make us miserable, if we choose whatever we choose out of integrity. So we seem to think that everybody who leaves the Church must be really miserable. A lot of the people who do not leave are miserable. Sometimes we choose to be miserable. So, I think that is a good statement.
[Question] We have a son who feels the Church has hidden much of the controversial issues that are now surfacing on the internet. He feels betrayed. Any counsel? Feeling betrayed is at the center of so much of the faith crisis. And I think that people here feel betrayed. But sometimes people who leave feel betrayed as well. I don’t know if any of you have that. But one of the questions here: “When your loved ones started leaving the Church, what effect did it have on your testimony?” Anybody want to speak to that?
[Lisa] I will start with that. I think everybody has something to say. I guess to give a little background on my situation, I was raised in an LDS family, I have generations of ancestors who have been members, and I had grown up being taught the gospel and believing it and never really questioned it. But I went through many years, in my teenage years and early adult years, when I really struggled to get a confirmation of those things that I had been taught. I did not doubt it, I had read the Book of Mormon many times, I never felt I got an answer, and really struggled with why I was not getting answers. I think, I didn’t doubt, I think it would have taken more to convince me that it was not true than to get the simple answer that I was looking for. But eventually those answers did come, and came in a way that I had a very powerful spiritual experience that, interestingly enough, I had thoughts and impressions and even I felt like I received answers to questions I had not asked. And I did not know quite what to make of it. It was several months later, reading a passage of scripture in the Book of Mormon, that suddenly, I had always interpreted this differently, and suddenly I saw that it was describing the experience that I had had. And because of that, I knew that it had to be true. The experience I had I knew had come from God, and I saw it described in this book and knew that it was true. So I had a very solid testimony. But I had many years of self-doubt, where I wondered what was wrong with me and why I could not receive those answers.
When that answer finally came, I thought “This is great because the simple answer I had been expecting, if it had come that way I might have later doubted and wondered if I had just made that up.” I remember thinking at the time it was wonderful to have such a powerful answer, but I did not think it was really necessary, because everyone important to me in my life believed the things that I did and I just did not see that my testimony would be challenged. And I did not understand why I had to wait so many years to get that answer. Now, what I did not understand at the time, was what was coming down the road. My Heavenly Father knew what challenges I would face and He knew that I would be ok through those years of self-doubt, until the time was right for me to receive that answer. And that has given me a very powerful testimony of how He knows us individually and knows the path each of us needs to take. And he lets us struggle through things so that we can learn and learn it in a way that we will not doubt when those answers come. It may take years. So I had had this experience and that has carried me through some of the difficult times when my children question things or tell me the things that their father has told them. I have those moments where I may feel a little bit of panic and think, “I do not know how to answer this question.” But I can always fall back on that and I am grateful that it happened in that way. And also, as I mentioned, in the early years of our marriage, I think I was well inoculated against a lot of these controversial issues because he spent so much time defending things. Even though, now twenty years later, he is arguing the other side of it. And I have seen him argue both sides of most of these issues, with very well-thought-out, well-reasoned out arguments. But I have heard both sides of it and I know there are two sides of it and I know that really what it comes down to is we have to have our own testimony based on our own spiritual experiences.
[Bob] I am aware of the fact that our time is almost up and there are all of these great questions. I really recommend that we do this again. A couple of very quick observations. Somebody says, “Why are all the stories about guys?” Well, draw your own conclusion on that one. Another says, “My son has decided that Christ is not divine.” It seems to me. There is something very interesting which is half of the people that leave the Church, do not find another faith community and many of them stop being Christian. We can judge them, but I think we need to judge the way we are teaching. We give this either or. You either, it is true or it is not true. And if they feel that it is not true, then they jettison sometimes religion and Jesus. They throw the baby Jesus out with the bathwater. And that to me is really tragic. And someone talks a question about creating a culture where people who leave and people who have left feel that they can comfort one another and can understand one another.
Since our time is up, I want to first of all thank the panel. I want to close by just reiterating the great parable, the greatest story in all of scripture, the story of the prodigal son. You may remember in that story, the son says to the father, “Father, I have sinned against God and against you, and I am no longer worthy to be your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quick, do not wait. Quick, bring out the best robe we have and put it on him. And put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet and bring the fatted calf and kill it and let us eat and make merry, for this son of mine was dead and has come back to life. He was lost and is found.” All of this can be found, Christ’s mercy and his grace extend infinitely. In the Midrash, the Jewish Midrash, there is a telling of this story that I really love. The son of a king was a hundred days journey from his father. His friends said, “Return to your father.” He said, “I can’t, I’m too far away.” His father sent to him and said, “My son, go as far as you can, and I will come the rest of the way to meet you.” Thus the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel, return to me and I will return to you. And I think that needs to be the message of our heart, to any of the people who leave; to love them, to be patient, to pray for them, but to always be open to have them return to us, and when they cannot come the whole way, to go as far as we need to meet them.
Thank you so much for coming and thanks to panel for their excellent contributions.
[Scott Gordon] I think we have so many questions it’s amazing how many questions we had. I think what we will do, is we will type these up, if it is Ok, and maybe we will send them to some of the panelists and if they want to respond we will put it on our blog. That way you can see the questions. We will put all of the questions there, and then we will allow people to respond to those. Is that all right?
[Bob] Great idea.