“…first doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.” – Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Most members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have a friend or a loved one who struggles with their belief. I sometimes dream about what I could do to help them. It usually goes something like this:
Me: “You should really doubt your doubts!”
Friend: “Well, you should doubt your doubts about your doubts!”
Me: “Oh yeah? Well you should doubt your doubts about doubting your doubts!”
Friend: “You should doubt your….oh never mind!”
Me: “I win!”
Friend: “Ugh, I hate home teachers…”
Although it is good advice, President Uchtdorf’s famous quote alone isn’t going to be enough to bring faith back to our friends. So, what can we do to help our doubting friends? Here are my thoughts, some of which are obvious and some not:
Those that stop going to church tend to forget or reinterpret past spiritual experiences. They often then become grumpy, negative people with no understanding of why life seems to suck.
“If we remove ourselves from the light of the gospel, our own light begins to dim-not in a day or a week, but gradually over time – until we look back and can’t quite understand why we had ever believed the gospel was true.” – President Uchtdorf
Have they ever had a prayer answered, felt the Holy Spirit, or seen minor miracles? Help them remember!
If they can’t recall any such witnesses, there is no shame in that. Some people for whatever reason can go years without noticing any prayers answered or feelings of the Spirit. But if they ever did, explain that it wasn’t in their head.
Your friend or loved one may be petrified that they are disappointing you by rebelling against the church. Neither logic nor faith have power when negative emotions are high. You must assure them that your love for them will not change no matter what they believe. Do not treat them any different. Love can open their heart to the possibility of the gospel again. Just LOVE them.
The Missing Puzzle Piece
If 99 things make sense about the church, but 1 does not, sometimes you should just wait. My Bishop explained that sometimes when putting a puzzle together, if you obsess over figuring out where 1 piece goes, you will go crazy. But later when the other pieces are on the board, it is clear how it fits. We already know God is intentionally not going to give us most answers to life’s mysteries, to help us build faith.
Elder Christofferson has taught, “Don’t suppose … that a lack of evidence about something today means that evidence doesn’t exist or that it will not be forthcoming in the future.” He pointed out that research eventually showed that certain supposed “errors” in the Book of Mormon actually weren’t errors (Laban’s “steel” sword, for example). Then he said, “Where answers are incomplete or lacking altogether, patient study and patient waiting for new information and discoveries to unfold will often be rewarded with understanding” (“The Prophet Joseph Smith,” BYU–Idaho devotional address, Sept. 24, 2013).
The Holy Ghost Nearby
When people have the Holy Ghost with them, doubts do not seem important or convincing. They think more clearly, and understand things as they really are. There are plenty of stories of people that resolved their doubts just by immersing themselves in the Spirit by reading the Book of Mormon.
Invite your loved one to non-threatening church activities, encourage them to keep the standards of the church, and if possible, attend church and pray. Don’t force. Just like a certain character in Star Wars – The Last Jedi, they may close themselves off to the Spirit for a long time.
But someday if they feel loved and comfortable in a church setting again, they may feel something again.
Understanding a Possible Core Issue
“Remember that faith and doubt cannot exist in the same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other.” – President Thomas S. Monson
When anyone is presented with an attack on the church, there are two directions people can take: Faith or Doubt. Is the first thought fear that the church might not be true, or faith that there must be some reasonable explanation?
Doubt <———– Negative Attack ———–> Faith
You must understand that most people are emotional beings. If you think you can help your doubting loved ones just by arguing better, you may be wasting your time. Some people, not all, default to doubt because of some other reason, and unless you understand that, you may be solving the wrong problem. They may subconsciously want the church to be false.
Many are comfortable with life without religion, they can do whatever they want, they can watch football on Sunday in their pajamas with no church callings!
Our beliefs are formed by the people we listen to, the century we live in, and the philosophical teams we associate with. No coincidence, but the most common doubts are about things the current culture has the biggest problem with. I wonder that with some people, they believe whatever they hear the most. And now since we can choose the media we listen to, people rarely hear the other side anymore. So when there is an issue where culture beliefs conflict with the church, some trust the culture first.
“Ooooohhh, I found this cool building the celebrities party at, it’s great and really spacious!”
c.Associating Church Culture with Church Doctrine
The church has a culture also, and it is not perfect. There are some culture enforcers in the church that think tattoos, the “wrong” political party, or an unusual hairstyle are unacceptable “sins”. There are several “rules” a church culture may believe in, which the church does not. For those that don’t fit into the church culture mold, they can feel like an outcast, and not want to be like THEM. Church culture is NOT the same as the doctrine.
d.Not Wanting to Feel Guilty
Some members subconsciously seem to be eager for the church to not be true, so they won’t feel guilty for the commandments they don’t keep. Even the shame of not succeeding in a calling (not a sin) can trigger doubts.
I’m sure most members of the church are less offensive than the average person, but there are plenty of exceptions. Those that choose to take offense at imperfect members, can open themselves up to doubts.
Those that suffer with severe depression, will, almost by definition, lean towards negative thoughts when any challenge hits them.
Now, even if one of these things is certainly a source of their shaky faith, it is never appropriate to accuse them. Just understand that you may first need to resolve a different issue than what appears on the surface. Time might also fix these issues, people change!
Opinions of Prophets
Perhaps the biggest issue doubters get hung up on, is the idea that every word from a prophet must be church doctrine. That is simply not how revelation works.
“. . .it should be remembered that not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. It is commonly understood in the Church that a statement made by one leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, not meant to be official or binding for the whole Church. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “a prophet [is] a prophet only when he [is] acting as such. (Elder Christofferson, General conference, April 2012)
If a prophet says something, in an official capacity, and subsequent prophets continually repeat that idea, then we can say it is probably doctrine. You will occasionally find opinions which creep into official church publications also. The church does its best, but it’s run by imperfect human beings.
Anti-Mormons have this trick where they intentionally spam you with hundreds of doubts all at once. This has been called the “BIG LIST”, “a million pins”, or “a shotgun” of things wrong with the church. They do this because it is impossible to research 100 different topics at once. Anybody hit with this can feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained and scared.
Encourage your doubting friend to pause researching anti-material. If they will not pause, ask them to only read 1 attack at a time, and remember to research it from faithful sources also.
“Gone are the days when a student raised a sincere concern and a teacher bore his or her testimony as a response intended to avoid the issue.” (Elder Ballard)
You should be prepared with answers. Logic and reason will not bring them back alone, but often is a needed component. And you should insulate your other loved ones as they may try to convert them.
Every time I have dug into an attack on the church, I have always found a reasonable explanation. Here is the result from a detailed analysis by scholars on FairMormon.org of one lengthy BIG LIST attack. This is typical of most attacks in my experience:
There are many more attackers than there are defenders of the church, but there are resources, like scholarly members of the church, books by Hugh Nibley, websites like BookOfMormonCentral.com, and the new “essays” on lds.org. At FairMormon you can search thousands of answers or ask a question of our volunteers. Most attacks on the church are recycled, so it’s likely somebody has an answer. Only research one attack at a time, consult God about the issue, and activate your faith.
At some point, you will probably end up discussing their specific concerns. Only discuss 1 topic at a time, calmly and rationally. If you don’t have a good answer, tell them you’ll get back to them after researching.
Contention drives away the Spirit, the one thing which can help them think clearly, so you must make sure the conversation does not become a fight. If they fight you on points you should agree on, or if they repeatedly bring up the next attack after you answer one, or if they ignore what you have to say, stop the conversation, continue to love them, and wait until they are more open.
Repeated discussion about concerns is usually counter-productive. You don’t need to answer every question, you just want to sow a few seeds of doubt about their doubts. Occasional bearing of a brief testimony or sharing of your spiritual experiences can also sow these seeds.
Positive evidence can also sow seeds, and there is a lot of evidence of the gospel out there. However, it is not well organized, not easy to find, and rarely spoken over the pulpit. The church has for a long time shied away from mentioning evidence, but recently changed that with scholarly “essays” on lds.org. I assume this was because evidence is not always 100% accurate, and because a testimony is not gained by trying to prove the gospel is true. But it’s extremely unlikely all positive evidence can be coincidence.
Anti-Mormons love to write a BIG LIST of “reasons” why the church is false. So for a change, here is the opposite:
- Joseph Smith, a writing rookie with no formal education, translated the Book of Mormon in about 3 months of work, 30% bigger than the New Testament or 3x the first Harry Potter book. He got 3 + 8 witnesses to swear they saw the plates. 100 million copies printed.
Millions have failed to find inconsistencies despite several hundred characters, doctrines, locations and stories to keep track of. Could you fake that?
- Doctrines that were unknown when Joseph “invented” them, now there is good evidence at least some of the early Christians believed in a pre–mortal existence, temples, baptism for the dead, and the Father/Son/Holy Ghost as separate beings.
- The ancient Semitic poetic writing style chiasmus is all over the Book of Mormon.
- The Mormon health code sounds silly? Mormons live longer.
- We now know the Egyptian culture permeated the Israeli culture at the time of Lehi. Most of the names in the Book of Mormon are either Hebrew or Egyptian in form, almost an even split. The plates were written in “reformed Egyptian” to save space, not in lengthy Hebrew.
- Wordprint studies, the study of the frequency of words an author unconsciously uses, show that the Book of Mormon has multiple authors, all with consistently different writing styles.
- The Book of Mormon’s description of their flight out of Jerusalem to the sea fits completely with what we know of that area and time. They traveled south/south-west along a path we now know was an existing route, they stopped in a place called “Nahom” where there exists a place with the same name. Then they traveled east to a beach with the same description called “Bountiful”, where researchers have found remains of a temple.
- Metal plates, including gold and bound with rings, have been found all over the world.
- The Book of Mormon in detail describes earthquakes, volcanic eruptions (with whirlwinds and lightning), olive culture, guerilla and traditional warfare, building ships, travel across oceans, Hebrew and Egyptian grammatical styles, geography of the Middle East and the Americas, things certainly unknown to Joseph or his local library.
You may want to present 1 positive evidence to your doubting friend for every attack they show you.
Here are some other resources for evidences:
- Most books by Hugh Nibley
With prayer, love, the Spirit, and answers, you can give your friend or loved one a better chance to come back to the gospel. Here and here are some examples of bitter opponents of the church coming back. Do not give up!
Reed Comire is a volunteer at FairMormon. He works as an I.T. Director, serves as a Ward Clerk, has an awesome wife and 3 awesome girls. He used to run the LDS dating website CTR Match, and now runs MormonClues.com blog.