Thursday, February 7, 2013

Faith Crisis: Standing Up

I wrote this post a while back, but issues with a friend whose family is emotionally blackmailing her to get her to stay in the church pushed me to post it.

One of the big considerations that I made before posting about my faith crisis on this blog was whether or not it was right to make my changing beliefs public and whether or not this blog was the right place to do so. Emails or calls to individual family and friends seemed like, perhaps, the better option. A couple of things changed my mind. I knew that I was unlikely to hide any significant changes in our pattern of worship from the readership of this blog, as our worship patterns have been a large part of our weekly life, and we were sure to have some pictures or some stories that would reveal to everyone that we weren't attending the LDS church as we once did, and so publicly expressing the reasons for why that would be the case seemed prudent. The other reason was more selfish. I knew that if I made calls or sent emails only to those most affected by my crisis, namely, close family and close friends from my pre-college, fleeting friendship, days, I would only being revealing my crisis to those most likely to see it in a negative light. I believed, and I was right, that if I posted about my crisis here on the blog, I would likely get a more even mix of those who support me and those who are worried for me.

The reasons behind this post, which might end up being just as hurtful to those same people who found that first post so dreadful, are similar. This post is about me, standing up for the validity of the path I'm on, and for the high price that it has cost me. I do so publicly once again, when it could also be done in private, for a few reasons. The first, less selfish reason, is that I know that people are going through the same thing I am. They've reached out to me personally and privately, many afraid to share what they believe openly because of fear of facing the same social consequences that are evident in my journey by a perusal of the comments of my last few faith crisis posts. The second, more selfish reason, is for me to publicly push back against those people who have, through their comments to me and my family, both public and private, to take their dialogue with us to a very personal level in the past few days a month or so ago when I first drafted this post, mainly, it seems, because of this Book of More Women project that I started, mainly (and this is honest here) as an attempt to find a more comfortable place for myself WITHIN the LDS church.

Listen, you're free, and more than welcome, to disagree with me on matters of faith. The factors in play in any discussion about faith are mysterious by nature and enormous in scope. I welcome anyone who wishes to tell me the story of why they stay in the Church, or why they leave. I welcome the bearing of testimony and the expression of doubt. What I do not welcome is the questioning of my character in taking this journey.

I realize that the Church gives you permission to accuse anyone who doubts of sin or pride or self-deception. Elder Cook, in the very first talk of last conference said:

Many who are in a spiritual drought and lack commitment have not necessarily been involved in major sins or transgressions, but they have made unwise choices. Some are casual in their observance of sacred covenants. Others spend most of their time giving first-class devotion to lesser causes. Some allow intense cultural or political views to weaken their allegiance to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some have immersed themselves in Internet materials that magnify, exaggerate, and, in some cases, invent shortcomings of early Church leaders. Then they draw incorrect conclusions that can affect testimony. Any who have made these choices can repent and be spiritually renewed.

In this quote, there is no room for anyone to have doubts, without having given into "political views" or "magnifying, exaggerating or inventing shortcomings of early Church leaders." That anyone could have legitimate doubts about the divinity of polygamy, the validity of Brigham Young's racism, or a male led church's resistance to the ERA, is, according to Elder Cook, seemingly impossible. To anyone who despairs that the modern Church is consistently unwilling to stand up for social justice or equality, those concerns are dismissed as "first-class devotion to lesser causes." That anyone could stand up against the Church's politically campaigning against gay marriage out of Christ centered love and compassion is also seemingly impossible.

The Church might give you permission to dismiss my doubts as trivial, or springing from a deep bed of sin, but I do not. Not without standing up for what I believe and for the knowledge and peace that I've won through long nights of turmoil and soul-searching doubt.

In my first blog post about my faith crisis, I said: "I actually wouldn't use the word crisis, because, while it has been difficult, I realized early on that being torn up about something as impenetrable to will as faith will help nothing" I have said similar things to many people with whom I have discussed my doubts about the church. I have said that it really hasn't been that big of deal and that it hasn't really affected me that much. I'll say now that what I said before is completely incorrect, I would, now, absolutely use the word crisis. I cannot put into words the emotional pain and turmoil that have been brought to me by my doubts in the faith that for my entire life has formed the core of my identity as a human being. Most of that pain has been internal, as I try to sort out my place in a universe that suddenly seems foreign, but a significant part of the pain has come from people willing to say hurtful things in order, somehow, to convince me to stay in the church by, apparently, humbling me into submission. The irrationality of trying to convince me to stay in a church with threats of disconnection and damnation, when those very same threats were used to keep our ancestors from joining this church, often leaves me baffled and disappointed.

The majority of people who have talked to me about my faith crisis have been calm, reasoned, loving, supportive, and most of all, trusting. Trusting in me and the path that I am on, but more than that, trusting in the goodness that they have found in their own faith, and trusting that, with time, I will come to a place of goodness too. For that, I am very grateful. But I also refuse to dismiss as irrational, prideful or sinful the most important spiritual journey of my life to this point.


  1. Like you, I don't understand why people would think that throwing hurtful, guilt-trip like comments your way would do anything to help. Those kind of comments usually have the opposite effect that people intend for them to have. And all too often, people don't seem to understand that.

    Also, I really appreciate and respect your honesty and willingness to share all of this so openly. I think it takes a lot of courage to do so. I've really enjoyed reading about your journey.

  2. I've said this before, but what I like most about you guys is that no matter what your decisions are, your intentions are 100% sincere (not irrational, prideful, or sinful). I really hope that this journey brings you to the place of goodness and peace you are hoping to find. With time, I'm sure it will.

    1. Thanks Amy, we really do try to examine our own biases and privilege on a regular basis and are constantly re-evaluating what we believe.

  3. You were right when you said it would be hard for some to read this post. I respect the fact that you are entitled to your own opinion. I also, very much respect the fact that you are entitled to believe whatever you want to believe-- and live according to those beliefs. I have enjoyed reading your blog, and come to care for you and your family. However, somewhere along this faith journey, it has turned from a crisis between "believing or not believing-- church member or not church member" to a venomous blog that belittles things I treasure in my life. Questioning the words of church leaders doesn't bother me. In fact, Ive heard apostles (on more than one occasion) encourage free thinking. It does, however, trouble me that-- in search for validation-- you publicly criticize a church that-- at one time you greatly valued (and your family still does value). You are (whether intentionally or not) recruiting others along the way as you move away from those beliefs. Perhaps that is your desire? I will not be reading your blog anymore. I will miss seeing your sweet children grow. I will miss cheering your wife's academic successes, and watching you thrive as a stay at home dad. I know your blog gets a lot of traffic through people clicking over from my sidebar, and I simply can't justify supporting something that I so wholeheartedly disagree with.

    1. I applaud your ability to read our blog for the past year, knowing that we are in a completely different place than you with completely different worldviews. I appreciate your thoughful comments as of late on our faith posts.

      I do, however, question your use of the word "venomous". If we (and I'm speaking for Tim as well) are being hateful or unkind, it's definitely not an intention, or it's simply a misunderstanding of verbiage. Because when I see our blog, I see two fairly good-hearted people raising two lovely children while trying to live a socially-just, examined life... but maybe I'm biased. I just don't see how we've ever been "venomous" about the Church. Frustrated, yes. Confused, yes. Hurt, yes. But hateful and venomous?

      And I don't feel like we're trying to drive others away, but many many friends (and family members, even) have contacted us privately about their struggles, struggles that we did not spark but were there probably before our own crisis began. And they have just needed someone brave enough to say "hey, me too!" in order to come out about their lack of belief.

  4. I hope this doesn't trivialize your journey, because I do really feel sad for the pain you have felt, but sometimes I wonder if your faith crisis isn't only about you. If we truly are on the earth to experience things that make us grow, perhaps your faith crisis is a trial that others (such as your and my parents) were meant to experience.

    Sending love your way.

  5. I would say "venomous" is the perfect word. Because some of the things that are posted are like a poison, written to make others question their faith and trust in God. Some of your comments show that you know that is so, like just the very last post, “Really boring post over. I've got a religion post in the works (which seem to really get people going) so you can at least have that one to look forward to.”. I think Kristen said it very well. She seemed to be sincere and caring in her comments. Even though I have read your blog for a long time I have never commented because the only comments you seem to care about are the ones that support your views and you blast the others as if they are attacking you. I don’t think most of them are trying to attack your beliefs, they are trying to help you open your eyes to what you are doing.
    My brother is one of the smartest people I know. In college he was teaching the required math classes that he was taking because he had a better grasp of them that his professors. Because he could not academically combine his faith in God he has gradually become an atheist. It has taking many many years but the light and knowledge of Christ has been taken from him, just as the scriptures have said it would be. He is still a loving, considerate, caring and generous man but the faith in God is totally gone. But he has never recruited others to follow him and validate his feelings. In fact his family, wife and children, are all very faithful believers in Christ.
    I am not trying to criticize you for seeking your way, but FAITH is sometimes just that. And you will not get closer to God by trying to “kick against the pricks” every time you turn around.

    1. You say your brother has "lost the light of Christ" but is "still a loving, considerate, caring and generous" man. Isn't that what the light of Christ is? Being those things?

  6. I'm a little surprised by Karen and Kristen's comments. I mean, I know next to nothing about the LDS but I had it in my head that they were sorta...the coolest of the Christians. So secure in what they believed that they didn't care if other people thought they were whack-a-doodle. It wouldn't make them stop being your friend (or stop reading your blog) to find out you thought differently than them.

    See, it's a miserable catch 22, having doubts. Most religions encourage questioning, but only if your questions net the correct answers. When they DON'T...well, then Satan is hardening your heart and you're sliding away from God. It's a built in logic trap. Of course, faith means letting go of logic, questions, and sometimes even gut instincts. It's not surprising it's hard for people to do that.

    I wish your LDS friends weren't judging you for your questions. I wish they were ANSWERING them for you. Or at least tussling them out with you. To slap a "poison" label on you and pour you down the drain...not terribly Christlike.

  7. I'm not a LDS member but a faithful person and reader (of your blog and all texts/bodies). I discovered your blog through a friend, of a friend, of a friend when you were traveling in Israel and treasure the publicly shared accounts of your family's many life journeys. I'm a bit older than you all but certainly not wiser. I began my questioning of all social institutions, religious and other, at about your age. Ten years later: still questioning, still seeking, still reading, still listening, but one important lesson on my faith journey (not crisis because life, and faith & education as a vital role in your life, is process, not a goal to be achieved) was: praxis.

    What if we truly lived the words we read and treasured, not just believed in them (faith)? What if we manifested our values - which we publicly state but not always practice - in every action? What if religious philosophical teachings (I was thinking about Jesus' teachings but any faithful doctrine would work here) mapped our daily actions? Forget ceremony and obligation - how will we perform our beliefs? I work in higher education and sometimes grind my teeth at endless discussions of theories without practical methods of application.

    According to your stories, you are demonstrating praxis. So, when other question your questions, keep responding with compassion and honor their ideas and concerns (like you have been doing but keeping close to mind: the first time you felt your beliefs challenged; the pain; and how you felt about the challenger). Perform, practice and live a faithful path because if the words of ANY religious doctrines are honorably lived, well, can you imagine such a world? Yeah, I know, hard to do. Praxis.

  8. so first tof all elder cooks's quote is not doctrine, it does reflect a common mormon sentiment but it is not set in stone everyone must believe this. in fact wasn't there another quote in this same conference where some apostle said that everything they say isn't doctrine and they make a lot of mistakes? i just gave a talk on this actually but i can't really remember.

    as for people being mean to you i have two things to say
    1. they shouldn't, deep down they know this but they are scared, maybe scared because they love you so much and maybe scared because they have honestly never really seen anyone question the church. just like it is hard for you to ask those questions it is hard for people to watch. and some people get really mean when they are scared, not to say its an excuse but its a reason.
    and 2. (with all respect) your family is a little bit wacky. imagine you are jon, you are telling your mom (jane) about your faith crisis. does she respond the same way as your family and close conservative friends have responded? no, she doesn't. because her parents did not respond that way when any of her siblings left the church. its not that she is any less mormon than your parents. she is just
    okay i am not trying to be mean but i am trying to make a point.

    anyways. love, mutual respect, and compassion from the feltis-bryner household!!

    1. But we always hear, "everything is doctrine that is said in General Conference, printed in the Ensign" but then one guy comes and says "not everything we say is doctrine" so who do you believe because if everything that's said in GC is doctrine but he's telling you it's not but he's speaking in GC, doesn't that make what he's saying doctrine even though now it's doctrine that what is said in GC isn't doctrine because he said so??

  9. Hmm, interesting. I've always thought of Elder Cook's quote in such a different way. I felt like he was telling us NOT to judge those "in spiritual drought" of sin. Then he gives an analysis of many possible reasons for spiritual drought (instead of just the two that you mentioned right after you shared the quote), which I delineated as:

    - Being casual in observance of sacred covenants.

    - Spending most of time giving first-class devotion to lesser causes.

    - Allowing intense cultural or political views to weaken allegiance to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    -Immersing in Internet materials that magnify, exaggerate, and, in some cases, invent
    shortcomings of early Church leaders. Immersive exposure to these materials can cause you to draw incorrect conclusions that can affect testimony.

    Each of these points are very complex; I don't think they're a simple yes or no for anyone as most of them are very multifaceted descriptions--like honoring your covenants is a huge topic. He does give "unwise choices" as an overarching reason for spiritual drought, but I think that applies to all of us. Yeah, whenever I feel a decrease in my spirituality I'm usually doing something wrong or not doing something right. None of us can say that we have perfectly done everything that we know gives us spiritual nourishment. Not seeking those things or seeking things that block spirituality is an unwise choice I've made plenty in my life.

    "Permission to accuse" is against all Christian doctrine. Christ told us not to judge or condemn, to attend to the beam in our own eye, to love others no matter what they do. I know that's not what Elder Cook meant, and he would be very sad to know that his talk could be interpreted this way, being a special witness of Christ and all. [You could insert Talia's comment about how they're only human here.]

    Maybe his use of "repent" at the end of the quote cankers you, but, since he already made it clear that he's not talking about "major sins or transgressions," I understand his use of repent here as "to turn back" or "to return to," which would be a perfect use in this context of talking about turning back to God and spiritual light.

    Fundamentally, I've never felt like General Conference addresses are given so that I can start pointing fingers about everyone I know. I've always felt that they are about the prophets and apostles teaching me (in Christ's name) what I need to know to align my life more closely to Christ's gospel (and happiness).

    So this part of the talk reminded me that, yeah, I do feel spiritual drought when I am casual about the sacred covenants I've made with God, when my time and energy is mostly focused on things other than building His kingdom, when I'm dedicated to anything that distracts me from the cause of Christ, or when I'm allowing anything to draw me away from my dedication to the truths that I have received. On the other hand, I really believe that if I could live in complete dedication, devotion, and allegiance to my covenants, God's kingdom, Christ's gospel, and my testimony I would never have moments of spiritual drought, as Elder Cook calls them. Of course perfection isn't possible, but it follows that the more we strive for it, the more we will feel spiritually nourished and nurtured.

  10. Maybe you do totally disagree with what he's saying, but in my own life I've found that what he's said is true, especially the part about returning to God (which to me means doing the opposite of the list of things that he said bring us to spiritual drought) and being spiritually renewed. The talk made me ask myself this questions, with Alma's "Can Ye Feel So Now?" being pinnacle, and take inventory of my life. For myself, I'd say he's spot on.

    Totally no offense intended, and your honesty gives you a lot of credit, but it seems like you guys have been feeling "angry, hurt, or disillusioned" (paragraph above the one you quoted) or even "lack[ing] commitment." Deciding if "these descriptions apply to you" is a totally personal thing. It shouldn't matter what anyone thinks about you; every person's spiritual status is between themselves and God. Elder Cook invites anyone who does feel this way "to evaluate why" and to "take any necessary action to feel the Spirit now" (final paragraph).

    About the early Church leaders thing, I don't think anyone can have studied any Church history without having to reconcile everything for themselves. I know I have. For me it was quite a journey (you should have seen the anonymous questions I put a few seminary teachers through---phew!!). I could tell you all my resolutions to issues if you wanted, but it won't be anything you haven't heard or read a billion times before.

    I hate to say it, but you are pretty reactionary about this Church history thing. Elder Cook doesn't condemn anyone for having questions or even doubts. All he says is that it's an unwise choice to immerse yourself in materials that "magnify, exaggerate, and in [only] some cases, invent shortcomings of early Church leaders." I'd say anything that says that the Church isn't true only because of anything to do with history is definitely magnifying and exaggerating, even if there is no invention. And I'd say the same thing about anyone exaggerating blemishes in the past of Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, or any other church or religion.

    I think you guys have done a good job about this, and I hope you and your readers continue to, but let's give your poor friends like Karen a break. I don't think attacking you guys is Christlike or right, but it is painful to hear things against the Church. For me it's not about judging, it's about someone attacking or being negative about one of the things I love the very most. So for any non-members wanting to understand, antagonizing the Church that I love is like walking up to me and telling me my baby is ugly or untalented or evil or bad. It hurts. It might be how you honestly feel, but it still hurts. No, I'm not justified slandering you because you slandered something I love, but it does hurt, and pretty deep.

    I appreciate that Tim always gives a "you might not want to read this" disclaimer, so for anyone who's offended it's kind of their own fault, but even if they react very poorly, can you kind of see where they're coming from? Like I said, it's not right, but it is a hard thing.

    Sorry to write a book as a comment. (Ha! I had to split it in two. How ridiculous!) I haven't really commented much before, so maybe this makes up for that, and then some! This is a really hard thing to grapple with, but I think working out our differences here (and, let's be real, we are ALL in unique places on our own spiritual paths) is a really good experience for all of us, even if it is often painful.

    I really wish you could love my Church as I do. It gives me so much joy. It hurts me that I can't do anything to let you feel what I feel. Respecting and loving each other despite different feelings about something so deep and personal might just be one of the hardest things we can do, but at least some of us are up to the challenge.

    1. Thanks for your kind and thoughtful... thoughts. You are one of the best examples of Christ-like devotion that I've come across in my life, so I always deeply respect what you have to say.

      I think my big concern with the entire "well, do these things and you will be happy" is the problem of confirmation bias. It seems that if you are taught your entire life from the crib-side that when you read your scriptures, pray, and attend the temple, etc. you will be happy, then obviously when you do those things, you'll be happy, not because of their inherent worth in and of themselves. When you aren't doing these things, you feel guilty for not because you are told that you should, and then you feel worse about yourself in general, making you feel worse about life. How can we separate the two?

      I've recently been feeling the spirit immensely at our meetings at the UU church. Why aren't these spiritual experiences just as valid as my one's at the LDS church? Being a part of the congregation there has brought me joy, and I feel more at home there now than I do at the Mormon church.

      And as far as exaggerating history.... I realize that all religions, heck everything in general, may have a thing or two in the past that is concerning. There are some religions that have loads of concerning things in the past. That's beside the point for me, I associate myself daily with institutions (my university, my family, my country) that have somewhat shady pasts, but we evolve and we seek to do better.

      But when I read historical documentation (I'm talking primary sources, written in Joseph's hand, confirmed by numerous esteemed historians) of say, Joseph Smith's sexual exploits with his many wives (including young, teenage ones who he coerced into marriage by threatening eternal damnation upon them and their families) and the fact that he did all this sneakily without telling his original wife who suffered greatly from his actions, I just don't know how I can go on believing that a loving and kind and all-knowing God instructed him to. If so, that's not a God I wish to worship.

      It hurts me deeply when things I hold dear and true, could even be considered religious about, are slandered by others. I think every woman should have control over her own body, and her own decisions, and should make the same amount of money for the same work as a man. And sometimes I may get angry over another's flippancy towards misogyny. But do I ever tell them they are hurting God's feelings, or their grandchildren will suffer as a result of their opinions? (even if I think it sometimes)

    2. I think the anger and hurt and disillusionment comes from being indoctrinated into one way of thinking your entire life without ever being given the freedom to question or discover answers for yourself. We are allowed to "ask in prayer" but always in a way that the Church's validity will be confirmed positively. Of course, if it's confirmed negatively you are being prideful or sinful or somehow not doing it right.

      Not to mention the pain I have personally experienced as being a lesser human being in a male-dominated patriarchal religion who is not even allowed to covenant to have a full relationship with God but must do so through her husband.