Bushman, Babies, Bath Water
“A Belief and Doubt in Mormonism- Navigating a Faith Crisis”
July 6, 2013, Provo City Library
Sponsored by the Temple and Observatory Group, a not-for-profit organization. Members are unpaid and there is no church affiliation or funding. Their purpose is to help people remain faithful in the midst of a faith crisis.
With that in mind, the three speakers had to walk the unenviable plank between channeling apologetic speak and providing objectively formulated and resonating sound bites to the 80+ attendees.
My notes do not reflect the exact quotes from the speaker’s lips. Some may be my best recollection of the quote or even my interpretation of a quote. As such, pulling quotes from this post may not be in your best interest or fair to the speakers.
Bushman began by saying that most doubts begin as an intellectual problem and then become very emotional. The emotions range from anger to disillusionment to deception and so on. These emotions will many times break up personal relationships as the one in crisis will end up departing from the faith as their only logical conclusion. Most are caught in some sort of limbo of uncertainty, which is what today’s group was primarily comprised of.
There is something to be said for staying in the church, he says.
1. Intellectual problems may not be as troubling as you think. And for such open-minded people, leaving the church is a closure of mind.
2. Staying in the church is a gesture of affection and respect for your spouse.
3. Intellectual departure may lead to moral standard departure.
Many who have left the church are slowly coming back. Nothing is final in life and there is always room for hope and continued belief no matter how resolved you may be.
Think of the irony of leaving the church now when there is an unprecedented number of Mormon scholars, and those ranks are growing.
Please don’t put all faith into reasoning alone as it can lead you astray. He suggests that one might entertain the idea of becoming a “skeptic of rationality” to some extent, thereby making it possible to entertain the Joseph Smith narrative.
Historical problems don’t disappear; they simply recede over time if properly confronted. Joseph Smith saw things partially, perhaps erroneously, but could still speak for God. For example, Bushman believes the Book of Abraham to be word from God given to Joseph even though the origins of the papyri and/or Joseph’s explanation may be in error.
Bushman gives highest priority to goodness over knowledge and truth. He clarifies that this way of thinking is not an “out”, just a prioritization technique.
He believes the most divisive issue within Mormon history is the gold plates. They are too material, too intrusive, and this is one that may never be sussed out. Bushman believes that Joseph Smith actually did handle the gold plates and that others literally saw them as well.
He sees the church institution becoming more transparent with time. It is slow but it is happening. Mountain Meadows Massacre details, the new D&C chapter headings, the Joseph Smith Papers are all examples of this. He hopes there are people in attendance who will be Bishops and leaders so that institutionally, the church begins to be more supportive and inclusive of those asking questions. He acknowledges that this is a direction we need to go but asks for patience due to the church’s overarching goodness.
Sister Givens begins by paraphrasing Joseph Smith when he spoke about “faith unto salvation” which is to know that God exists and to know His correct character and attributes. Additionally, to know God, you must also come to know his other half, Heavenly Mother.
This would imply that there are incorrect character attributes about God that are being perpetuated in scripture, particularly the Old Testament so she poses a rhetorical question by asking, “How comfortable are you with the God of the Old Testament?” (moans, sighs, chuckles)
Give man a sacred text and man can do all sorts of miserable things to it. Givens then references the intro to the Book of Mormon in which Joseph states that if there are imperfections, it is due to man.
Her talk was all about paradigms. We all have them, we must be careful with them, and also understand we may have incorrect paradigms.
One incorrect paradigm many have is that Joseph Smith was called to restore truth. His job was not to restore truth, but to restore the priesthood and the saving ordinances. The truth was never lost, only scattered.
Joseph also understood the need to shift the paradigm from the character of the Old Testament God to the character of the New Testament God. He professed a radically different idea of God than that of his contemporaries. LDS faith tradition struggles to let go of the hell-fire-damnation God that we learn of in the Old Testament. Joseph promulgated a God of love and one that can be patient with the honest doubter.
Right out of the gates, Joseph challenged the very conception of Eve. The Christian world sees her (and all women) as frail and weak…Eve is to blame for the fall. Joseph teaches that Eve is the champion of the human family. Like a good mother who only wants to feed her children healthily, Eve is first to the “tree” and goes shopping for good and beautiful food, food that provides wisdom. She had to choose between good and good which is to choose between the wisdom that comes with mortality and family making versus strict obedience to not eat of the fruit. Upon partaking of the fruit, God says they (His posterity) have become as one of us. That does not insinuate a fall, but an ascent! This is Joseph’s theology, Joseph’s God, and ours.
She matter-of-factly states that God is a Universalist as was Joseph Smith.
When asked about the idea of being a Heavenly Mother in the eternities, she laughingly retorts with “being eternally pregnant is not something I want to be engaged in.” In answer to further questions about a Heavenly Mother, she states that until we have Heavenly Father properly sorted out, Heavenly Mother won’t reveal herself. (This is of course Sister Givens’ own speculation.)
She states that she has serious issues with many portions of Section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants and as all have issues of some type, she references her two barometers when determining the categories in which all things must fit, D&C 121 and Moses 7. If those issues do not fit, they are temporarily discarded.
In regards to the ordain women movement. First, she states that if a movement is coercive then she has issues with that movement. She then asks a very honest question, “Do women really want the Priesthood?” She does not want it in the same sense that men have it. She felt endowed by and with the priesthood power in the temple. She can see a differentiation between priesthood and priestess-hood in the form of roles. She referenced Emma and a key that she received upon the formation of the Relief Society but that these priestess-hood keys may have been truncated for some reason. (Again, her speculation.) She hopes that there are cosmetic changes at the ward and stake level to alleviate the demands for priesthood.
(Listening to Terryl Givens is like listening to Neal A. Maxwell. Every word he spoke was worthy of being quoted…just couldn’t write fast enough)
“Turning away from the gospel because we don’t have all the answers is like closing the shutter because we can’t see the whole mountain. ”
He pleads that we develop faith in our feelings. Emotion is not a defect. Emotion should play a leading role in many decisions, but not at the exclusion of reasoned thinking.
“The LDS church is a hospital, not a 7-11.” We must enter our meeting houses to offer treasures and gifts, not to consume them.
Our quest must be a private affair, not necessarily in Sunday school via the manuals or over the testimony pulpit. The private and lonely path to discipleship is the only way. We must find our own sacred Grove.
He assured us that it won’t be easy. Jesus invited us to assume the yoke, but we wish to ride in the carriage.
He warned of hero worship and stated we should only have one. All others will bring disappointment as no man is infallible.
The mechanism we use to determine accuracy is our canonized scripture. This holds true of all, including the words from our prophets and apostles.
Find your north star. His is Galatians 5 and it is utilized when assessing the validity of any claim or thing.
The fundamentalist trap is the idea that we can reconcile all scriptural accounts. Remember what Joseph said, as far as it is translated (transmitted) correctly.
In response to those who say my religion need not be organized. Religion is a communal act of worship and going to the mountains to find God is an escape from the people and responsibilities we don’t want to be around.
The apostles are not trained historians and they don’t get together to determine what truth to let out of the bag. Givens does not believe the church is engaging in conscious deception.
In regards to transparency, all new findings will eventually pervade the church manuals and conference pulpits, just in a painfully slow timeline. He respectfully joked that maybe when the brethren read the Joseph Smith Papers church members will learn more about the peep stone in the hat, etc…
He became emotional when discussing the atonement and made sure to point out that it covers much more than sin. Allow it to cover your doubt while you work to reconstruct your faith.
He referenced the five most sublime truths taught by Joseph Smith and stated that everything else was secondary.
1. God has a heart that beats with ours, his children
2. There was a pre-mortal existence.
3. Life is an ascent towards godliness, not a fall.
4. God has capacity to save the entire human family.
5. God provides means to allow families to be bound together for eternity; the temple is the reality of that power.
The question was posed, “why don’t we hear this type of information coming from church headquarters in Salt Lake City?”
Bushman answered by stating that it is happening and will happen more frequently with the passage of time. He and his wife are part of the process and their communications with Salt Lake claim that the brethren are pushing for transparency though some of the brethren are not on the same page.
Sister Givens declares that a faith crisis is transformative. She reminds us all that you can’t have faith without doubt…they are a team. You should come out of the faith crisis tunnel different, improved. You have to wrestle with the angel and in turn, this will create empathy for others.
All three speakers seem at peace with the imperfections of the church. They’re righteous desire is that others can find this peace as well. On at least three occasions, they asked the audience to not throw the baby out with the bathwater. They have an obvious love and respect for Joseph and shared those feelings very eloquently. It would be foolish to say their objective was met in total, but the needle was moved. It was a very respectful yet tough crowd. The church would be well served to keep fighting for the skeptic, as they represent an important part of our expanding “big tent” demo and psychographics.
If Richard Bushman, Fiona Givens, or Terryl Givens happen to visit Rational Faiths and review this review, please correct any and all mistakes and/or misrepresentations you may find here by adding a clarifying comment and accept my apologies. Thank you for sharing your time and immense talents with us.