Bushman, Babies, Bath Water

Jul 07, 13 Bushman, Babies, Bath Water

“A Belief and Doubt in Mormonism- Navigating a Faith Crisis”

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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.


BY 2

(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.

BY 3

Russell Crosby

Russell currently resides in the red hills of Southern Utah with his wife and four daughters. He is the CEO of a Nevada based superfood company. He served a full time mission in Texas and has enjoyed various church leadership positions including YM President, High Priest Group Leader, and Bishopric counselor. He is now serving the primary children.

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  1. Bears, beets, battlestar galatica! The title reminded me of that phrase! Anyways, thanks for the write up Russ!!

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    • Russell Crosby
      Russell Crosby /

      Is it too late to re title it to “Bushman, Babies, Bath Water, Battlestar Galactica”? (Justifying this due to the planet Kobol being the ancestral homeworld of humanity that populates the worlds known as the 12 Colonies and all.)

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  2. Mungagungadin /

    I admit I am surprised at this summary, if it is true. It smells of “shelving” and willful blindness. Right now LGBT are offered no plan of happiness and all girls are servants to men and have been since the restoration. Minorities need not hope to serve where white people are.

    Our church has actively fought against the changes in society that improve the lot of LGBT, minorities an women.

    I see no meaningful changes/ promises addressing this inherent toxicity.

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    • Russell Crosby
      Russell Crosby /

      Willful blindness? No – at least that was not my interpretation as an observer. Shelving? Possibly. The moderator laid out the order of things and set a tone that may have discouraged some from taking big swings like yours. I do believe Fiona would have happily addressed them however.

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  3. FrancisE. /

    I hope you read the concluding part of this post, that says; needles were moved?
    I still stand by the line that goes; Rome was not built in a day.

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  4. Rob Dominguez /

    Did anyone record this. Do you have any idea if the recording will be released?

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    • Russell Crosby
      Russell Crosby /

      It was recorded by the Temple and Observatory Group but I don’t know if/when it will be made public. I certainly hope it will be. As I learn more on this, I will post under this thread.

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  5. Alison Udall /

    Thanks so much for doing this as I’ve heard that they are traveling around doing and was interested in what was being said. I have several thoughts/questions after reading your summary:

    – Has there been any official comment from SLC/Brethren about their tour/conferences? Are they being welcomed into stakes/wards throughout the church with this presentation or are they holding them off-site? How are wards/stakes responding?

    Richard Bushman -It seems like his overall suggestion was that doubters should focus on the “goodness” of the church and this should really take priority over their specific genuine questions/concerns about church issues/doctrine/policies/history. It’s great to suggest you stay for your spouse because doing so shows respect and might prevent you from morally deteriorating in your standards but suggesting the church’s “goodness” has a higher priority than knowledge or truth is where he loses me! Lots of things in the world make us feel good and happy and therefore have aspects of “goodness”. This is a complete side note to whether what they are proposing/recommending/advocating/commanding is actually based on something that is verifiable (true). His idea that you should become a “skeptic of rationality” (really have no idea what he’s trying to say with this) in order to believe Joseph Smith’s narrative is confusing. What exactly is he suggesting…. you focus on the “goodness” and ignore rational thinking/facts/knowledge so that you can believe the Joseph Smith story? His entire talk seemed to fall into the argument that…. the church is doing good things, filled with good people, helps you make good moral decisions and strengthens relationships so focus on that and hold that at a higher priority than your concerns about the actual claims of the church regarding history/doctrine/facts, etc.

    Fiona -The church doesn’t want us to talk about Heavenly Mother so interesting that she begins with this line of thinking and wondering how SLC feels about this…. Her suggestion that man can do all sorts of miserable things to sacred texts so the impression we get about God from the Old Testament could be entirely wrong feels nice to me since I definitely have issues with the Old Testament God but man can also do all sorts of miserable things with religion in general. Therein lies the dilemma – What parts are ok to temporarily discard when they feel “miserable” to us? This is certainly not the message we get from General Conference. Her hope that there are “cosmetic” changes at ward and stake levels to alleviate the need for women to ask for the priesthood is at best simplistic! By cosmetic changes does she mean more women in leadership roles? Is she forgetting that those leadership roles are currently tied to the priesthood so women can’t do them? There is no cosmetic patch that can be applied to this without women being allowed to fully participate in the leadership/decision making councils which will require either: women being able to hold the priesthood and therefore being eligible for these positions or a change in policy that these positions require the priesthood.

    Terryl – His style is like a GA – he states things in a format that seems like a quote or sound-bite. From a distance they seem meaningful/powerful/motivating (turning away is like closing a shutter, emotion is not a defect, find our own sacred grove, no man is infallible) but do they actually answer the questions of doubters? What is he actually saying? After you read through his stuff and step back you are still left wondering what exactly did he suggest I do to navigate my faith crisis? It’s nice to hear the bullet points that he feels are most important from Joseph Smith’s teachings but these do not sum up what the church claims/requires/admonishes it’s members. There is a lot more you have to believe/accept/follow in order to be a current temple recommend holder.

    I guess in conclusion for me it’s great for them to encourage, empathize, support, reach out to those in the church who are doubting and let them know they are aware of them and love them. We all need that and members don’t hear that enough from leaders when they have doubts and are in a faith crisis. However, this doesn’t change the reality that there are still legitimate questions/concerns that cannot be answered for many and I found nothing concrete in their comments to help with that challenge. Not only that but their new order Mormon, heterodox way of looking at the church is not at all what we hear from the pulpit. I admit I like it but it’s not what I’ve been taught my whole life growing up and certainly not orthodox. When I share these things with the average TBM I get all kinds of negative reactions.

    We’ve got a lot of members struggling to figure out how they can fit in, hold onto their own views/opinions of doctrines/policies/historical events and still be OK with the leadership and hold a recommend so they can attend their child’s wedding. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater sounds nice but give me some concrete ideas on how not to.

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    • And my apologies. I see that you’ve already answered the recording question – my bad!

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    • Jeremy
      Jeremy /

      Terryl’s sound bites say plenty to me. Those who manage to stay in the church through a faith crisis are the ones who give up on perfect answers to questions. They learn that their own understanding is limited much as every single human being’s. They learn to forgive imperfections, sometimes huge, in past and present leaders. They learn their relationship with God is their own, and who cares what “TBMs” say. They don’t own your belief. You don’t have to be ruled by them. That is all critical emotional work you have to do to stay. Sure legitimate questions and concerns will remain but personally, I think a mature faith means learning to deal with ambiguity.

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      • Alison Udall /

        Jeremy – “They learn to forgive imperfections, sometimes huge, in past and present leaders.” That seems to be the answer we are hearing a lot lately when we can’t understand a doctrine/policy/historical event. What I can’t figure out is how that fits with what we hear at General Conference. You would never hear it’s ok to pick/choose from what the prophet is teaching from the pulpit. In essence this is basically saying well “He (insert prophet/apostle name)…. was just human and may have been mistaken”. There are TONS of quotes/talks/lessons that make it pretty clear the prophet speaks for the Lord and we are to follow and obey him. Here is one example on LDS.org. ” Prophets and apostles who speak today represent and carry out the Lord’s will as they lead His children in this dispensation. Our fate and the fate of our world hinge on our hearing and heeding the revealed word of God to His children.” President Uchtdorf

        So how exactly does this work when they do something that we disagree with (LGBT, polygamy, black/priesthood, women in the church)? It seems pretty convenient to say in essence well they made a mistake after all they are only human. The other thing about this argument which is interesting is it’s only done when talking about prophets/apostles in the past not our current ones. How about the people that lived during the time that it was the current prophet saying/teaching/stating those things? They had to just assume it was coming from God and accept it. How do we know what we are being taught now is not going to be looked back on as a mistake. If this is the case then how in the world are we supposed to know when it’s actually coming from God and when it’s just a prophet/apostle making a mistake? Seems pretty confusing and full of mixed messages and doesn’t help someone going through a faith crisis.

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        • Jason F /

          I have to agree with what Alison has written, this thought causes me significant frustration as well. I would suspect this is the type of thinking that the Givens’ & Richard Bushman would caution where logic and reason may not be wholly sufficient to resolve. That point of view isn’t workable for me right now, but maybe it can be in the future.

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        • Jeremy
          Jeremy /

          No, I think it applies every bit as much to current leadership as the past. The thing is, it doesn’t matter what is said over the pulpit. Without a binding witness from the Spirit don’t think anyone is bound by what they say. So that’s not completely orthodox. I think the orthodoxy in this case in wrong, naive, and lazy. Ultimately, your spiritual path and your faith are between you and God. While the leadership gives advice on general principles, working out the ultimate truth if or ourselves is up to us. I believe we are all entitled to revelation and as long as we recognize our own limitations it will work out in the end. I don’t say this to diminish the very real difficulties in understanding why things in the church work out the way they do. I am still trying to work things out myself. My main conclusion so far is that people in general are a problem for God, but one he is dedicated to not giving up on.

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          • This circular motion is what I believe frustrates many battling between emotion and logic/reasoning. We are told to “follow the prophet” yet which prophet do we follow? With so many errors and doctrinal revisions, Oh say, what is truth? It creates a big circular conundrum that cannot be solved because we are to believe that the Spirit can testify the “truth of all things”… but it clearly cannot. Why? Quite simply because the Spirit cannot testify truth to something that is so ambiguous, which leads me to reject the notion that the LDS church is the “only true and living Church”. It quite simply can’t be, but it certainly CAN be a “hospital” as was stated. Remove the elite statement that we have THE truth, rather ONE of many truths and you have a viable conduit of faith in God. This day in age, we are in as much confusion as Joseph was in the early 1800s. Why would the Brethren, and God, for that matter, choose to remain silent in this day of “continued revelation” when we need it so badly? Faith alone cannot sustain “one truth”.

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        • David /

          That is my biggest problem with what I read here as well. Terryl Givens even says, “The mechanism we use to determine accuracy is our canonized scripture. This holds true of all, including the words from our prophets and apostles.” So these men’s words are scripture and their words along with the standard works are how we determine accuracy. But yet these men are imperfect so they might be saying something wrong so how is it that their words can determine accuracy? And Fiona Givens says the standard works are flawed as well. It is all to much confusion for me. I guess if I felt like I got some benefit from the church I could make it work somehow but I am just as happy leaving as staying so I don’t feel like putting in the effort for all those mental gymnastics.

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          • Erick /

            I agree with this. They use the standard works as the ruler by which they measure things, but Fiona takes it even one step further and constrains the Standard Works to D&C 121 and Mosiah 7. She offers no explanation of why, just simply asserts that this is the way it ought to be.

            Everything I read from the given’s comes across like major spin-doctoring to the religion I grew up in. I don’t even recognize the religion they preach, and I grew up right near the library in Provo where they gave this presentation. They offer no justification for why their interpretation ought to be the preferred one, they simply assume the right to declare who God is, how he thinks and feels, etc. Not surprisingly, the God that the Givens preach about seems to be a caricature of themselves.

            Lastly, I struggle with these ongoing dichotomies between “rational” knowledge, or “scientific knowledge” (though that one wasn’t mentioned in this post, it seems to be a common one in other discussions) and then this “spiritual knowledge”, or what the Givens and Bushman called “feelings”. I think these identifiers leave a lot to be desired. How does one think with their feelings? Why must there be some kind of separation between truth we can cognitively rationalize, and truth we can supposedly “feel”. What is the basis for this epistemology, beyond some assertion and implication that we are thinking incorrectly if we set as our hierarchy of belief acceptance so that the rational and empirical are above above the intuitive, emotional, and impulsive??

            I continue to be disappointed by the Givens – and Bushman to lesser degree.

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    • Orson /

      The first “concrete” suggestion may be to let go of the “all or nothing” approach, which includes many of the fervent declarations that we hear in church. In studying historical details we learn that leaders are human and make mistakes, they can even teach things that are not perfectly accurate. Why then must we cling to our cultural expectation that the church must be all true or not worth dealing with?

      I have read in other places good faithful members like this panel recognize those in crisis need personal space for individual belief, a lot of personal space, crowding simply pushes out most of the time. The hard part is convincing members in crisis that they actually do have that personal space – that all those absolutist declarations that they have heard in church for so many years, and continue to hear, are also “personal space” for the members that declare them but can set up a false expectation for those who struggle. I believe this is why Bushman says “look for the good” I would add: be confident in your own search for truth, and bring the truths that you find to your home in Mormonism. If we are good Mormons we are supposed to embrace all truth, come from where it may.

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  6. Russell, did they mention if an audio or video of this session was available or was going to be made available?

    If not, I’m hoping that someone in the audience had the foresight to do an audio or video recording.

    Thanks. Nice summary, and I have no reason to doubt it’s accuracy as I’ve heard pretty much the same content in bits and pieces elsewhere from Terryl Givens and Mr. Bushman. The Fiona Givens content was new to me and, frankly, a little shocking at points.

    The main problem that I see in all of these is that it seems more of the type of schisming that we’ve seen developing between LdS Scholars (BYU in particular) and the Church Office Building.

    For example, Terryl Givens assertion that: “The mechanism we use to determine accuracy is our canonized scripture. This holds true of all, including the words from our prophets and apostles” flies in the face of what has been affirmed again and again in official, correlated materials. For example:

    “Doctrinal interpretation is the province of the First Presidency. The Lord has given that stewardship to them by revelation. No teacher has the right to interpret doctrine for the members of the Church. If Church members would remember that, we could do away with a number of books which have troubled some of our people”*

    And BTW, I’ve heard Mr. Givens use this scripture-centric argument elsewhere so I have NO doubt that you’re reported it correctly. However, the fact remains that the “scripture v. priesthood authority” debate has never really been settled in the LdS Church and, historically speaking, the latter always seems to win over the former.

    Overall I agree with the commenter who stated that overall this presentation “smells like shelfing” – at least Bushman’s does, BIG time.

    Further, and IMO, all the presentations also smelled of the type of old school, “Trust the Brethren – they mean well, really! No really! Really, it’s different this time!” that’s so disappointed us in the past.

    I hope I’m wrong.

    * See “Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson”, p.317; “The Gospel Teacher and His Message,” also cited in “Charge to Religious Educators”, pp. 51–52, and; The LdS Church manual, “Teachings of the Living Prophets”, p.25; http://institute.lds.org/manuals/teachings-of-the-livings-prophets/tlp-5-4.asp
    (retrieved 2012-08-08)

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  7. Jason F /

    I attended this meeting and would like to share an overall sentiment rather than address any of the specifics.

    I appreciated that the speakers were willing to take the time and travel for this meeting. Their desire to address those individuals who are feeling alienated by or conflicted with the church is commendable. I choose to believe that Richard Bushman, Fiona Givens, and Terryl Givens were motivated by a pastoral care for the individuals targeted/invited to attend this meeting. The act of simply publicly acknowledging difficult personal, spiritual, and cultural struggles is a breath of fresh air – something local leaders and congregations could enact today and it would have a major positive effect.

    While I wasn’t entirely satisfied with all of their prepared remarks and all of their responses to the difficult questions posed, I’m kind of ok with that. It isn’t their job to answer for the church, we were just taking advantage of the perspective they have as a result of their studies and experiences in talking with other struggling members and some limited interaction with and knowledge of church leadership. They have neither the responsibility nor the authority to conclusively settle most of the issues that are at the top of the list of concerns of those in attendance. Also, the context is relevant – the meeting organizers clearly stated that their goal is to encourage and support people in “faith crises” and help them remain in the church. (I don’t really like “faith crises” as a generic term, but that is a topic for another discussion)

    If anyone was expecting any of these speakers to really lower the boom on any church leader or expose some new damaging evidence discovered from research about church history or doctrine, then I think the fault is with a mistaken expectation. I am glad I attended, I was not entirely satisfied, and there are more discussions yet to be had.

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    • Russell Crosby
      Russell Crosby /

      Yes, agree with you Jason. I’ve been pondering what else Bushman/Team Givens could have said to assuage doubt and I really believe there is no answer. I appreciated their insights and personal handling of sketchy accounts in their own lives but love for Joseph was their best counter punch.

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      • Trevor /

        While I understand why you are saying this, I think it is important to note that Terryl Givens made a point of discouraging Joseph Smith worship or any kind of hero-worship. Terryl was instead promoting what he thought were the innovations that Joseph introduced to Christianity in his day.

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    • Melody Newey /

      Well put. Thanks for this.

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  8. john hagler /

    Just a quick note to say thanks for the summary. I would have loved to have been there.

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  9. Regarding “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” or “don’t close the blinds on the mountain” theme: How often are we instructed to throw out things that are “worldly” but not sponsored by the church? No rated R films even though some have a lot of good. Recall the “licked cupcakes” & the “little but of poo in your brownies… now would you eat it?” stories? Coffee? Say goodbye to the spirit and your eternal family! Doesn’t matter how good you are, can’t attend your own child’s wedding. It’s all incredibly self serving. The religion is dangerously and fundamentally one-sided. The double-standard kills me.

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  10. Steve Lowther /

    Richard Bushman was recollected as saying “Intellectual problems may not be as troubling as you think. And for such open-minded people, leaving the church is a closure of mind….Intellectual departure may lead to moral standard departure.”

    I think the most appropriate reply to this would be President John Taylors’ reply to his opponents in the debate when they accused the Church of practicing polygamy:

    “We are accused here of polygamy, and actions the most indelicate, obscene, and disgusting, such that none but a corrupt and depraved heart could have contrived. These things are too outrageous to admit of belief; therefore leaving the sisters of the “White Veil,” the “Black Veil,” and all the other veils, with those gentlemen to dispose of, together with their authors, as they think best, I shall content myself by reading our views of chastity and marriage, from a work published by us, containing some of the articles of our Faith. “Doctrine and Covenants,” page 330.

    …. “Inasmuch as this Church of Jesus Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication and polygamy, we declare that we believe that one man should have one wife, and one woman but one husband, except in case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.”

    For me the moral standards departure preceded the intellectual departure, but not for the student of history, but for the leaders of the Church.

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  11. Melody Newey /

    Thanks for taking time to write this, Russell. I spent a weekend with Fiona at an LDS feminist women’s retreat last month and found her delightful, extremely open-minded and inclusive of pretty much everyone. Although I didn’t attend the meeting in Provo, I gather from my time with Fiona and from what I know of the others, their underlying focus is on love and discipleship. Their own and ours. Maybe not stated implicitly, but that’s what it feels like to me. Even among the Savior’s closest companions there were doubters. Why wouldn’t it be so now? And with the vast expansion of the church, the numbers of members making their way through doubt and confusion will grow too.

    I like Jeremy’s comment about mature faith and ambiguity. It seems to me a faith crisis could just as easily be called “growing pains.” Truly. It’s a rocky road, but, at least for me, there was a way through and that way was Jesus. (Frankly, I’m surprised at how little Jesus is mentioned in these conversations.) I agree with Brother Bushman about the need to allow one’s emotions to have a place. For instance: one can’t intellectualize one’s relationship with Christ. At least my experience is that this is a profoundly emotional connection. How can it be otherwise? My hell, when you’re fighting for your spiritual life, drowning in a whirlpool of who-did-what-when-and-why in early Mormonism or whatever it is that has brought you to the brink – why not put your heart and soul our there and scream for Jesus? Really? On the other hand, if a faith crisis leaves a person unable to connect with Christ, my hope and my own experience was to reach for whatever God you believe in or can feel in your heart.

    Feelings are facts. Especially feelings that connect us with God. Just as historical documents contain facts. Just as the lives of current church leaders and the way they sometimes screw up are facts. With due respect and compassion for those who wonder, (myself included at times) I think many people find comfort in discomfort. When we get tired of that, we will eventually find ourselves either at Jesus’ feet or alone with our questions.

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    • Melody Newey /

      And this is not to discount the very real concerns many of us have about the institutional church. The scriptures are replete with examples of the cyclical nature, the rise and fall, of the “Kingdom of God” on the earth. Regardless of where we may find ourselves in that cycle, Jesus, is there. I believe this. I believe he’s fully aware of all of this and fully invested in offering peace to each of us if we can make our way to him by whatever means we have at our disposal. ‘nough said.

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    • I must respectfully but forcefully disagree with your philosophy. 1) Feelings are NOT facts, AND if this is true, we would not feel the need to reject all the other faiths that have felt the “burning in the bosom” for their creeds and faith. Feelings are what propel or decel our faith but can not realistically lead to fact or truth. They merely solidify our “testimonies”, whatever they may be. otherwise, everyone would be “right” (which I can’t entirely say is too far off). For realists, a bit more consistency is needed. Is this a flaw? Perhaps, but not necessarily. As I said in a previous post, faith alone cannot sustain such an ambiguous “truth” as the Church as created over 180 years.

      On one thing we can both agree, however, that Christ is the real center in a Christian faith.

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  12. David nicolay /

    Steve Lowther,

    I think what Bushman was getting at was something I heard explained by John Delin about how when some leave the church they give up on a host of rules they used to live by and even start doing drugs and wife swapping. It’s like the shock is too much for them. That was John Delin in one of his interviews, not Bushman, but he may be referring to the same kind of overreaction.

    His comment about leaving the church as a way of closing the mind I think has to do with the economics of thought. Those who leave are no longer struggling. They have left the intellectual battlefield. Often they write mormonism off and see no value in it when there is always value in a religion that moves people like this one does, even of you don’t believe it. Of course they dont close their mind to all deep thought but I think often they close them to religion and Bushman may have been lamenting that.

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  13. Momo /

    Thanks for this. I’ve met with Richard Bushman personally and he encouraged me along the lines of what he was reported to say here. He also emphasized the good people in the church and how no matter where you go you find a good, instant, welcoming community. When he said that, I responded, “Yes, I know that. I’ve experienced it. But the ticket to good standing in the community is the temple recommend. Without it, I’m viewed as a either slacker, or as a sinner, or as an apostate, and my opportunities to serve in callings is extremely limited. What am I supposed to do? Go to the bishop and answer ‘I don’t know’ when he asks me about the restoration? What bishop is going to issue a recommend on ‘I don’t know?'”

    He had no response.

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    • Alison Udall /

      Momo – This is the crux for me as well. The church can provide a great community (if you fit the traditional LDS mold) and it is filled with lots of good people trying to live their lives in healthy, fulfilling ways. It provides opportunities to do service, love each other and a framework to feel closer to God. Those are all valuable things but to fully participate and receive the benefits you need to hold a temple recommend. If you don’t you aren’t asked to hold certain callings (that provide the opportunity to serve and feel meaningful) or attend weddings in the temple. You are discussed in correlation mtg as someone that they need to help get back on the “path”. Your answers/comments during lessons are often viewed as having less value since most members realize if someone isn’t attending the temple or never called to certain callings they must be “struggling” with something. You can remain in the church with hetrodox views in this type of situation but it’s not easy because each week you feel like you just don’t fit in anymore. If the questions regarding Joseph Smith, the restoration and sustaining current Prophets are ones you struggle with or don’t believe anymore you have no options. You can either be dishonest during the temple recommend interview so that you can fit in and avoid all of this or get to the point that you realize that the goodness of the church isn’t enough to make it work anymore.

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      • David /

        I think the church has the potential to do a lot of good but much of it is squandered. Mormons give 10% of their income to the church. That is a huge amount of money that could do so much good in the world. I think that tithing is a great principle and I want to continue to follow it by donating 10% of my income to secular charities. I could no longer donate it to the church because they refuse to give any accounting of how the money is spent. The amount spent on humanitarian aid according to their own fact sheet was measly. It is impossible to tell for sure but it appears that a lot of the tithing income is invested. I’m all for putting some money aside for a rainy day but I don’t think the main goal of a church should be to accumulate wealth. I love Pope Francis’ saying, “Give me a poor church.” The church meetings themselves have become rather dull so that doesn’t give me much motivation to attend. Sacrament meeting is sometimes good but the lesson manuals are so awful that they make it almost impossible to have a good sunday school or priesthood lesson. Plus 3 hours is just to long for me. If I ever start attending again I will probably only attend sacrament meeting. I have researched a lot of other churches online to see if one might work for me and most have a list of different ministries you can get involved in. These are usually things like visiting people in hospitals and nursing homes or working with the homeless. The LDS church does those types of things occasionally but it is rarely an organized thing that you do on a regular basis. Maybe if the church had something like that it could be an outlet for the doubters who want to stay involved but aren’t eligible for most callings. The home teaching program I think has the potential to be great but it is rare that it actually is. I like the idea of having people who I am assigned to take care and letting them know they can ask for my help any time they need it. But as a doubter that isn’t something I’m really able to do either because the main part of home teaching is to visit each month and share a message to instruct people in their duties and to make sure they are living the commandments. I am not into checking up on people and trying to get them to follow the rules.

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  14. Dan Milliron /

    Bushman, Fiona, and Terryl have avoided the most important question: was Joseph a con man? If so, it doesn’t matter how good the Church is today, or how many benefits there are to membership. I don’t want to be a dupe, and I can’t condone my loved ones being chumps, either.

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    • Jason F /

      I think this type of question is a serious one and it struck me to see a room full of people trying to wrestle with this or similarly crucial questions. I am aware that people like Dan and myself with questions like this exist in not insignificant numbers, but to be in a room with a gathering of people where rather than being the odd person out you are surrounded by individuals engaged in a similar struggle was refreshing.

      That said, I would argue that Bushman did indicate that he believes Joseph was not a fraud, that he did have experiences and even posses tangible objects that make his claims credible.

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  15. Thanks Russell for the summary. I greatly admire the Givens and Bro. Bushman and their contribution to our faith community. I do not believe, however, that they can address my issues with the church. Let’s assume that we/you/I get past all the church history, Joseph’s flaws, authenticity claims regarding restoration, BOM anachronism, etc. etc. etc. So now I am a full fledged dyed in the wool believer in our sacred texts and the full implications of texts (BOM, DC, and words of Isaiah endorsed as the text for our generation in last days).

    Now fully converted to the prophetic message I observe present day ecclesiastical capitalism/ corporatism of the church; I observe wholesale endorsement of the nation state in every American war of aggression rather the the peace covenant requiring that we “renounce” (publicly declare) all wars; I observe the antithesis of Zion principles when we grind the face of the poor by reaching back into the OT and importing only half of the law of tithing (giving part where it is misinterpreted to be very regressive and punitive even to the poor) and then completely ignoring the law as to how nearly all tithes to be spent to elevate the least and not build City Creek and amass lands/assets–for which nearly every prophet of OT condemned the priesthood for doing.

    So now I am a total believer in prophecies and BOM. The BOM informs us that us gentiles would “sin agains the gospel” (3 Nephi 16:10) and we would “pollute the holy Church of God” (Mormon 8:35-39.

    So if so, then why would we not be even more wary of the “church” because of its lack of spiritual ethos IF we believe in the sacred texts then if we did not? Why would we not observe that our church has undergone its own Constantine shift in very fundamental ways so that the “baby” is the problem as much as the bath water? Why would we not all become as many of our ancestor “Protestors” or protestants to such a shift?

    If I were there I would ask Givens and Bushman that since they believe the BOM then interpret 3 Nephi 16:10 and Mormon 8:35-39 and are they in fact conflating “church” allegiance with Kingdom of God allegiance wherein the former is not to be our goal/allegiance but rather the later???

    Just maybe this experiment by us gentiles is to gather a people and then us gentiles have taken it so far as prophesied, but what we created or superimposed on the gospel (meta church and meta text) is fundamentally flawed, ie, the corporate/gentile structure we created (thank you Campbellites/Rigdon, Brigham) will ultimately fail but from it a new people will emerge per Isaiah–church in wilderness and birth of something new. If we buy the story/sacred texts then do we not buy all the prophesies/warnings? IF so, does not the text itself show our hubris and how what GIvens/Bushman are doing is only putting an intellectually, nuanced face on something that can not be remedied in the long run without a new rebirth?

    btw, I do not know if you remember me but I was the one of the New Forest/ Spring Valley members and was one of the bishops that followed after your father…..good to hear from you.

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    • CJ D /


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    • Erick /

      The biggest problem with the Church is that even if you reconcile all contradictions or so-called “problems”, you are still left with an epistemology that is entirely ambiguous…too ambiguous for a Church founded on the restoration of Prophets, Apostles, and personal revelation.

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  16. marginalizedmormon /

    I read this blog now and again, and I appreciate it.

    However, I am always astounded at how ‘public’ so many LDS are with their feelings, whether they are ‘true blue Mormons’ or those who wrestle with aspects of the LDS faith–

    I do speak up, more, on the internet, but in my ward I am very private. I have experienced the marginalization (ha!) of having a different kind of life–

    the kind of life that brings discussion in early morning Sunday meetings, even though it is not ’caused’ by ‘breaking’ commandments–

    so I know how it feels to be marginalized AND to be one who struggles with faith–

    but I would never feel bold enough or ‘safe’ enough to share this with anyone who attends church with me–

    I appreciate people who have the courage to speak out, but just because I agree with them on some things (people like Bushman), doesn’t mean I think everything they say is true, either.

    It’s all about Jesus Christ, *I* believe, but nobody else has to believe that, if he/she doesn’t want to–

    I gave up on finding a community–decades ago. Many Mormons are good people, but they tend to be somewhat narrow and also somewhat . . . *looking for the right word* duplicitous.

    The community, just by nature of being a community, encourages conformity and encourages self-praise. So, speaking up and pointing out that there are flaws in the community is not encouraged–

    I think many LDS aren’t really honest, because of this–

    but I could be wrong; maybe they are being very honest when they say, “I believe everything every LDS leader has ever said, now and then”–

    I don’t know. I can only see what I am seeing; I can only say what I believe–

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  17. Garrett /

    I appreciate the fact that these scholars are willing to try and address the issues. What I dont understand is this…
    As LDS members we believe that the Prophet is the mouthpiece for the Lord. We believe that God reveals his word and will through the Prophet. We also believe that the Leader of the church is a prophet, seer, and revelator. Why does the mouthpiece for the Lord not stand up and reveal truth to us on these issues? Why are we having to rely on scholars to try and make sense of this. Scholars are trying to give a little meat…and the vast majority of what we get from the leaders of the church is milk…milk…and more milk. Why does the church rely on a PR spokesperson? Why dont we hear from the prophet or the apostles tackling these issues head on? Why are we constantly just told to shelve our doubts?

    “Intellectual problems may not be as troubling as you think. And for such open-minded people, leaving the church is a closure of mind.” – this quote rubs me wrong in so many ways. I could turn this right back around on him and state that the church has fostered a mentality of closedmindedness for decades and decades. It is actually very offensive that he accuses those that leave the church of being close minded.

    “Think of the irony of leaving the church now when there is an unprecedented number of Mormon scholars, and those ranks are growing”….Really???? If all the information and history of mormonism were to be presented to all the scholars around the world up front as a way to convert them most wouldnt bat at eye at rejecting the information.

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  18. Garrett /

    And to tag onto my first paragraph…why does it always seem that the church is way behind the curve on addressing issues and making change? For being a church that believes that we are led by revelation we sure are reactionary to everything instead of proactive which I would expect us to be since we are led by someone that is supposed to be in communication with God.

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  19. SIii /

    Melody Newey,

    I firmly disagree that feelings are facts. Feelings vary from person to person involved in any given situation. Feelings frequently change significantly within a person over time and current mood. Feelings change and are thus not facts, by definition. You are welcome to feelings and emotions based upon facts, but not welcome to change the facts to fit your feelings. CogDis can be a cruel master.


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    • Alison Udall /

      SIII – I agree. We’ve got Catholics, Muslims, Atheists, Evangelicals, etc ……all regularly experiencing what they define as spiritual feelings confirming to them facts that completely contradict each other. We each experience feelings based on a variety of things but those feelings do not determine fact for ourselves or others. It’s one of the interesting aspects of Mormonism that we are taught from the time we are little that our feelings are coming from the Holy Ghost and can be interpreted as fact. We’re also taught that our feelings as Mormons are more valid/true than those that don’t agree with our doctrines.

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  20. Brent /

    Dan M, that’s the underlying question: was Smith a con man? If one does deep and extensive investigation, one can reasonably conclude that he was indeed. Therefore, whatever doctrines and practices have evolved from Smith’s initial con job exist as the result of his original intents and designs, and if these intents and designs were fraudulent, then the outcome must also be fraudulent. It’s folly to think otherwise–as I’ve heard many members attempt to do–and simply look at what the church has become today. It doesn’t matter whether members are nice, do much good, are happy, or whether the church is growing, etc. If the underpinnings of a religion are based on fraud, then the religion warrants no claim to truth or veracity.

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  21. Brent /

    I’d like to address three points Mr. Bushman made:
    1. I disagree with the assertion that intellectual problems become emotional problems. Emotional problems are just that: emotional. They usually have little to do with the intellect, although they are not mutually exclusive. Frequently, intellectual problems follow on the heels of one’s efforts to discover the truth. As far as religion goes, doubts usually result when reality fails to conform to long-held beliefs and doctrines. Open-mindedness– a trait most would like to think they have and practice—simply means a willingness to follow the evidence, evidence that leads to the truth no matter where it is found. On the other hand, “closure of the mind” means continued adherence to a belief system that has little or no verifiable or warranted evidence to support it.
    2. Staying in the church may be a gesture of affection and respect for your spouse; but it’s also an affront to one’s intellectual integrity and self-respect. However, one’s spouse is of top concern, and any doubts one might have concerning religion should be the subject of honest and open discussion by those affected. This may not solve any problems, but it must be done.

    3. “Intellectual departure may lead to moral standard departure”. This is a silly assertion based on no evidence, or at least none given by Mr. Givens, because at the same time remaining in the church may result in the same moral departure. Most who leave the church are sincere and honest doubters who find that much of the church’s history departs from acceptable moral standards. Besides, if you think about it, the moral standards of a false belief system would be as factually meaningless as the system itself.

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    • Mat /

      Brent, I think you just poured the bath on the bath water, and then sent the baby to its room for lying. That was extremely well said; your part, not mine. The idea that the this religion holds the title for the highest of moral standards, is to say that Dennis Rodman should get the Nobel prize for all his hard work of sitting next to Kim Jung Un during a basketball game and bowing a couple of times. Just because you teach that refraining from alcohol and premarital sex is worse than deceit, lying, racism, distortion, hiding historical facts, and shunning those that question these practices….oh wait. That’s not what they teach. That is what they do, and have done. All the way back to the beginning. Reality and history tells us that; and open-mindedness teaches us that.

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    • Erick /

      Just one more person agreeing. When my in law’s found out I didn’t believe, the first thing they wanted to do was question my “worthiness”. After all, if I no longer kept the commandments of the Church, clearly I left out of a desire to break the commandments rather than because of an intellectual departure from religious thinking. The reality is, the most logical reaction is for a person to completely re-evaluate their morality when leaving the Church, so long as their prior morality was defined by an acceptance of the Mormon truth claims. In performing this re-evaluation it should be reasonable to expect that not everything from their prior moral system will remain. It’s a knee-jerk reaction for those who leave the Church to want to insist that they still have the same morals, or “I’m still the same person”. This is usually disingenuous. I’m not the same person! My worldview changed, therefore much of what determines how I act is based on a shifting paradigm. It changes people! It ought to change people! The proper response to expose the immorality of many of the Mormon teachings, and the amorality of a dictated moral system.

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  22. Michael Hickenbotham /

    Here’s a site to ask your questions to Terryl and Fiona Givens:


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  23. Robert Aagard /

    Encountering Bushman’s Believing History and Given’s People of Paradox helped me immensely in navigating the faith/belief/knowledge spectrum. Thought of them both while this week reading David Brooks’ review of Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age when he stated,

    “Religious faith or nonfaith becomes more a matter of personal choice as part of a quest for personal development.
    This shift in consciousness leads to some serious downsides. When faith is a matter of personal choice, even believers experience much more doubt. As James K.A. Smith of Comment Magazine, who was generous enough to share his superb manuscript of a book on Taylor, put it, “We don’t believe instead of doubting; we believe while doubting. We’re all Thomas now.”
    So I think this faithful doubting is the new norm and Bushman’s and Givens’ model for dealing with it is about as effective as anything I have encountered.

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  24. Jesse Farias /

    I left the church in 1986 simply because my bishop at the time and stake president didn’t know how to mentor me during a period in my life when I was doubting Joseph Smith and his claims to a first vision. Who knows what the outcome might have been had they taken a more compassionate and understanding approach as identified in your recap above. Today, I have no regrets for leaving. I still love my family and the people in my life who are LDS. However, to me (and I speak as an expert on me and only me) the three seem to perpetuate a pattern of denial when dealing w/ historical facts that prove unfavorable to Joseph Smith specifically or Mormonism generally. Btw- if you put down the camera you can see the whole mountain. I thank you for your time and efforts.

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  25. Russell Crosby
    Russell Crosby /

    Robert Aagard,

    good stuff

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  26. Monica /

    I really do hope they release the full audios of these talks eventually. In all honesty, I find some of what was described here as having been said, troubling and confusing(e.g. putting goodness over truth? and being a “skeptic of rationality”), but I am withholding drawing conclusions until I hear all of what was said, as it could be understood differently when put into the full context of the talk.

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  27. Rude Dog /

    Feelings equal facts? Wow, I was hoping for a little more reality based discussion. I hope that is just one person’s delusion.

    I can’t help but think this trio of perhaps a kinder and gentler apologetic is mimicking a very dishonest and immoral approach that in short is employing the same end justifying the means approach that facilitates non integrous behavior like lying for the Lord, as in the “what a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can find only one” chestnut. This goes way beyond shelving, their approach is basically saying that although these are mistakes of men (mistakes, like the “keystone” to our religion? Polygamy? Book of Abraham? Origins of first vision, priesthood? Aren’t these foundational? I mean I get mistakes, but the basic fundamentals? The biggest most important questions of human morality mistakes?), the church tries to convey a positive message and sitting next to your family on Sunday is worth it they want us to believe. I’m sorry, but it is not worth it. Yes I agree, this social construct that is the church moves people in a generally positive direction and provides a message that my teenagers call “life for dummies”, but in the end, if you have honestly examined the questions, the evidences, the stories and histories, the psychological and cognitive evolution of faith and belief you will realize that it is all based on a gross misapprehension, a great dishonesty, a deceitful message based on falsehood and not grounded in reality and truth, basically telling us to forgo the only thing that separates us from all other animals, our ability to reason, and to take this ability and set it aside for a faith that won’t give way. This is immoral and evil. Despite the mamby pamby feel good liberal message of gobbledy gook this trio presents for those that just can’t take the required step reason demands, why they speak and the church does not is because they simply are not speaking for, and are not conveying the same message of the authority of the church. And by authority I mean modern day prophets, scripture and decree. The message of this trio is completely different than what has been spoken by prophets, seers and revelators, and is completely different than what the Book of Mormon claims inside its own passages, and is completely different than official pronouncement. And to think I’m the one thought of as heretical, modern Mormon apologetics is much more apostate when it comes to what the church claims, has claimed, and probably will claim than I’ve ever thought of being and presents as facts things that would cause Old Joseph himself to roll in his grave, God rest his treasure seeking soul.

    If we are on the verge of staying in the church because the ends justify the means, than we can no longer claim that we value truth, honesty, integrity and reality because to sit and hear somebody in church tell me to be more like Nephi even though Nephi never existed rubs me wrong, but not as wrong as when someone like the Givens throws asunder and rolls back the historical church and the history that brought my heritage across the plains at great sacrifice, throws all of that under the bus telling me to be more like metaphorical Nephi. Gag. If the church were what it claims to be, we wouldn’t need a mo’ better explanation from the Givens that smacks of a dishonest presentation of the church founded by Joseph Smith, and the church presented to me as a child. Weinberg was right, in a perfect universe good people do good, bad people do bad, but to get good people like the Givens, Bushman and the like to encourage us to live a life based on dishonest and false assumptions, in other words to get good people to do bad things it takes religion.

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    • stakepresidents_wife /

      Nailed it.

      A spade is a spade and a fraud is a fraud.

      You can’t ‘redefine’ truth. What utter bollocks.

      I like Fiona Givens a lot. She expounds on Christ and God in a way I have not heard in decades from any so called ‘prophet or apostle’.

      I’d join her church in a heartbeat. However, there’s a reason she’s not on the Relief Society General Presidency. Her church is not the LDS church.

      And for the LDS church to be so two faced about their doctrine (preaching this to ‘doubters’ aka ‘those seeing through the spin and lies and something else to ignorant chapel mormons) STINKS of deception and immorality.

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  28. Alison Udall /

    Rude Dog – “they simply are not speaking for, and are not conveying the same message of the authority of the church. And by authority I mean modern day prophets, scripture and decree. The message of this trio is completely different than what has been spoken by prophets, seers and revelators, and is completely different than what the Book of Mormon claims inside its own passages, and is completely different than official pronouncement.”

    This is what fascinates me! There are a number of members who take a more nuanced/non-traditional/less literal/big-tent approach to Mormonism (which by the way I love) but that’s really quite different in some ways from what the Official Statements/talks/proclamations state. When you go to LDS.org or mormonnewsroom.org which are the official sources for what our church claims/teaches they don’t match these in lots of areas (The historicity of the BOM, Joseph Smith’s narrative, the Book of Abraham, Prophets/Revelation, Absolute Truth that can be known through spiritual feelings/experiences, etc). Where does that leave you as a member if you realize you don’t view some of the claims as being as literal/historically accurate as they state them in the official sources? There’s really no getting around the fact that the official church doesn’t take this nuanced view about lots of these things. If you want to take this approach of focusing on the goodness/community/positive values/etc and downplay the actual claims the church is making you are in this weird situation of trying to fit into the community, feel meaningful, serve and express yourself.

    I totally understand that for some their community/relationships/employment are really tied to the church and so they continue to attend and work/hope that the church will become more open minded/nuanced/less literal. They focus on the goodness. I get that but WOW it’s hard to do long term and remain emotionally healthy when the organization itself bases it’s existence/claims/authority/requirements on some pretty literal/historical/TRUE/NOT TRUE claims.

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    • Rude Dog /

      Well said. I’m not sure that many comprehend the “if-then” problems that are presented to us in spades and that will go unanswered, if/when questions like “if there are 4 versions of the first vision, then did Joseph really have the defining moment in the first place?” “If Joseph didn’t know how to translate Egyptian funerary texts, then could we justify our belief that he couldn’t translate reformed Egyptian as well, especially when we now consider the lack of physical evidence that belies our dwindling belief in the Book of Mormon?” “If the Book of Mormon is not what Joseph claims it is, then can we be justified in believing that Joseph himself is suspect, especially with supporting evidence like polygamy that puts him into charismatic cult leader status more than Prophet of God status?”

      I highly doubt in Richard Bushman’s and the Given’s hearts of collective hearts they believe the human race sprung from Adam and Eve 6 thousand years ago. For those of us who have taken the message and mission of Christ seriously and have studied the ties of three gardens and how they relate to and are intricately tied to one another in defining Christianity and our Mormon religion. How the Garden of Eden is intricately tied to the Garden of Gethsemane and the Garden Tomb, you have to conclude that Christ’s mission is impossible without Adam and Eve. There is no Christ without Adam. The only problem is, there was no Adam, nor Eve, nor Garden of Eden in Jackson County. The Given’s know this, Bushman knows this, most members of this church know this, but somehow the circle is never connected into one eternal round, and the obvious conclusions drawn.

      I agree that Big Tent Mormonism will have to prevail to stop the hemorrhaging, but I sincerely doubt that the reconciliations will be made. How can they without losing a bigger swath than they are losing now with those that actually give the truth claims their due attention. For those of us that need the circle to be connected, the only way to live peaceably is to head out, and that’s what the Given’s and the Bushman’s are trying to prevent, again with dishonesty, promoting dishonest compromise, capitulation to authority, faith, and tradition, not for truth, integrity, honesty and reality.

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      • Alison Udall /

        I hear what you’re saying and understand the logic behind the issues if you actually begin looking at each of them. There are significant issues that we can’t avoid once we open the door and begin studying our history/roots of some of the theology – which can/do cause real pain/disillusionment/sadness/heartbreak/relationship stress/confusion for many members.

        Your perception of their motives in your description that they “are trying to prevent, again with dishonesty, promoting dishonest compromise, capitulation to authority, faith, and tradition, not for truth, integrity, honesty and reality.” is one way to look at it. I tend to think differently about them. I believe they recognize the serious issues, they are aware of them and have no better answers to give us (because maybe there aren’t any better ones – at least not yet). That they know the pain/confusion people are going through as they try to sort this all out and are reaching out the best way they know how while holding onto something that they feel has value (the church). They believe the church can become something it presently isn’t and they want people to not give up. They believe you can step back from the church’s traditional literal view/stance and get the bigger picture/values/teaching/concepts that help people to live happier, more fulfilling lives. They believe the church can provide this still and that the positives outweigh the negatives. For some this works. For those people who can listen to them, find comfort, feel heard/understood and motivated to continue patiently working/waiting for those changes in the church it will be beneficial.

        For others it’s just too much to ask if they ultimately determine the church is just another good organization, led by good men trying to receive/interpret inspiration but not actually what it traditionally claims to be – The One True Church. They determine the organization asks more than what they can give with this viewpoint. They may feel for them the negatives outweigh the positives, that it has become emotionally unhealthy for them, that it instills in their children (or will) ways of looking at things which they worry will cause them unnecessary difficulty as they live/interact with others.

        I guess that’s the whole point. We each have to figure out what works best for us.

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        • Rude Dog /

          Sorry, out of country for some time, let’s get back to topic.

          I am somewhat with your sentiment Alison, but unfortunately you fall into the same trap as the apologists do, and that is that your reasonability places you into the same foreign fields (not even realizing yourself how lost you are) as the apologists, moving yourself far away from the message and mission of the original church established by Joseph. 3 Questions, perhaps maybe you’ll understand my staunch position.

          1. Is Joseph the Prophet of the Restoration? Did he experience a “first vision”? Did he receive the priesthood authority to perform and pass via the laying on of hands the saving ordinances? Did Joseph restore the true order of the Endowment, allowing us the passwords and key phrases to pass the sentinels in order to present ourselves in front of himself and Elohiem for final judgement? Did he restore and give the final keys and tokens and 5 points of fellowship to usher us into the presence of God along with our loved ones, especially an eternal companion, more specifically for men, the expected entrance into the new and eternal law, the new and everlasting covenant of polygamy to ultimately fulfill the requirements of Godhood, and fulfill the measure of his creation? (As the measure of a woman’s creation is yet to be defined by scripture, other than, and according to scripture playing a supportive role, not a role unto itself/oneself, but by requirement of submission, playing the supportive help meet to the husband, submitting to a husbandry advocate necessitating a bridge, a patriarchal advocacy between a woman and God, as it can only be assumed that a woman cannot cull and foster a relationship to the almighty on her own accord. I don’t know if most women in our church realize that the greatest insult, among the many insults of female inferiority, is that a woman cannot have an autonomous relationship with the Father without a husband, according to the endowment, the New Testament, and the Restored Gospel.

          2. Is the Book of Mormon historical? Joseph Smith laid his entire authoritative hand on this book, calling it the “Keystone to our religion”, the “most correct book on earth”. Was Joseph right? or was Joseph wrong? Do you have the courage to answer that question that Joseph himself said would be the defining test of his mission?

          3. If you are comfortable resting your hand on the “we have to figure out what works best for us” logic, even though that statement flies in the face of everything the church stands for, what restored gospel logic stands for, and what goes against everything the message of Joseph and this particular church stands for (errors of the original church of Christ corrected and restored along with the saving ordinances including baptism, gift of the Holy Ghost, and the saving ordinances of the temple) and makes me gag at your soft, fish handshake concept of liberal, yet totally unfounded, unrealistic, unattainable, unable logic that gospel liberals (John Dehlin, Dan Wortherspoon) should be criticized for. If that (figuring out what’s best for oneself) is your logic then welcome to the Atheist camp, we’re all about that. But my feeling is that you want your cake to eat, and that you’ll play both hands like a cheap two quarter bet at Wendover, not realizing how much integrity you give away with the statement “figure out what’s best for ourselves”. I have one advantage over you, and most flakes that hang out on the “liberal mormon” message boards, and that is that I sit weekly in the pews, and I hear weekly the message that comes across the pulpit, and I know what I’m talking about, and it has absolutely nothing in common with what you, and the apologists are employing to try and spread some conciliatory message saying one can forgo the literal, and gobble up a mushy, liberal message of a soft gospel and metaphorical characters. Yuck! I would rather ye be hot or cold.

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  29. Alison Udall /

    Rude Dog – I think you misunderstand my viewpoints. I have come to the conclusion that the church is not at all what it claims. I don’t believe Joseph Smith was a Prophet. I don’t believe if there is a God that he would have picked someone like him to restore his church. I know some will say OK he wasn’t perfect….but he still was the source that God used for the restoration. I don’t believe that. If God exists for him to choose someone with Joseph’s history/background in treasure seeking (OK I get that was common back then but not everyone ws doing it….he could have picked someone that wasn’t into all of that), someone who hid/lied to Emma and the church regarding polygamy, someone who used their authority to convince/pressure women/girls into believing they should accept the idea of polygamy because he was being commanded of God, someone who pretended to be translating Egyptian Papryi saying it contained the words of Abraham when in fact it had nothing to do with him, someone who felt he was above the law and should be crowned King, etc, etc, etc. I don’t believe the BOM is a literal/historical account of actual people, etc. etc…… I don’t accept the basic claimsof the church anymore and therefore many of its theology (after being raised, married in the temple and active my whole life). It doesn’t add to for me anymore, there are too many significant issues that cannot be resolved, too much history of avoiding and being vague about previous teachings by earlier prophets/apostles that would be embarrassing now, too much politics, not enough financial disclosure…. the list goes on and on. So I’m looking at the church as merely another organization/church and that changes things a ton for me. I can’t stand the apologetic arguments that try to dance around these issues.

    So since none of that is true or valid for me anymore…. I have no need to worry/engage in arguments about the claims. If someone else wants to believe them and the church brings them happiness fine. They have the right to do that. Do I think it’s kinda sad that most Mormons aren’t given the opportunity to be exposed/taught the actual history behind our religion – absolutely? yes. Do I think the church actively keeps members in the dark about many of this issues? yes. Is it frustrating to me to see them dance around in vague answers/concepts about things and avoid giving direct answers about some of the doctrines that are uncomfortable? yes.

    What I do enjoy is looking at the culture/history about how we got to this point. I’m fascinated by the church history and what’s shaped the church/policies/doctrines/claims. I have two children who are very active and all of my extended family is. I respect their choice to believe and participate in the church if it feels right to them and makes them happy. I worry about the unhealthy aspects about the church that will affect them and my grandkids, but I try to focus on the positives for them in their choices and be supportive.

    So my comments on these speakers are totally come from that perspective. For me – I tried for a few years to be a Nom and have unorthodox/big-tent views and I just couldn’t make it work within the context of what the official church was actually saying and continuing to teach. It doesn’t match what the church has claimed or continues to claim (all you have to do is look up topics on LDS.org) and I’m intrigued by those Mormons who find themselves not believing all of those traditional/historical claims but continue to associate with the church. The more I read from them and ask questions to understand their motivations and how/why they do this the more I believe it’s because they have significant investment in it. They have relationships, history, family, employment all kinds of things that are deeply connected to the church. It has been their community sometimes for their entire lives and the thought of leaving that and admitting/recognizing that they just don’t believe it anymore or can’t do it is to hard. The ramifications are too difficult or painful for them so they choose to continue to associate and they sometimes begin to pick/choose what they believe. They are trying to make it work for them by viewing things in a more unorthodox way. They are trying to figure out how to be “true” to their own feelings/opinions about some things when they don’t match up to what they’ve been taught. And for those people who are trying to do that for all….. I believe these speakers are trying to reach out, validate, and encourage them not to give up and I believe their motivation for doing so is altruistic.

    Do I think this NOM (new order Mormon/hetrodox) way of looking at things is going to work long term? I don’t know. It didn’t for me because the negatives began to outweigh the positives. Do I think the church can/will change to become more NOM in it’s claims – maybe moving more toward some of the things the Church of Christ has done? I really don’t see it happening but perhaps…. I would love it to but think we are talking years and years if it ever happens.

    I just try to show respect for those that are choosing to do this. I don’t feel a need to argue my point, convince them, change their mind, list the endless ways that I believe the church is not what it claims…. that doesn’t do anything to foster my relationship with him or keep discussion open. If I truly want to engage then I have to do it in a way that allows the other person to want to do it back. If I jump all over them they don’t feel safe or want to share what they are thinking. Why would they?

    I often find myself agreeing personally with many things you write, (I see your posts on FMH)I empathize with frustrations you express, I share your perceptions I just think at times you can be a bit abrasive or come across as feeling that your views are intelligent than those that don’t hold your viewpoint. When I’m in discussions with a TBM who feels that they KNOW…. and they state them as T(ruth) it just closes the discussion for me. I don’t feel safe, I don’t enjoy it and there is really no point. It’s not a discussion. It’s them bearing testimony.

    I try not to do that myself and I just felt your very strongly voiced opinions about these speakers motivations were a little black/white and too harsh.

    Does that make sense?

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    • Rude Dog /

      Of course that makes sense. I reread my post and I sure was a jack-ass, wasn’t I? I’m sorry about that. My points are mine, although the way I said was inappropriate. You’ve been a sweety to engage and I, a buckethead.

      Thanks for staying engaged.

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      • Alison Udall /

        I like engaging with you and really do enjoy your posts.

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      • Alison Udall /

        We can all be bucketheads and inappropriate at times… I think I just did that…. on the new post about the R.S. and Priesthood. My first reaction was just “good grief” and I was not very respectful in my comment after the quote. Geez. So I’m a bukethead too :)

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  30. Alison Udall /

    I think this is probably obvious from my viewpoints that I’ve stated above but just to make sure…. I don’t attend or participate in church anymore at all. I do not consider myself Mormon anymore (other than in a cultural/ethnicity sort of way – kinda like being Jewish).

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  31. Alison Udall /

    Guess I need to add an addendum to my last comment. If it’s something that I feel is unhealthy or damaging – I will speak up and state my thoughts, opinions. But I will try to do that in a respectful way… At times I’m better at doing this than others.

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  32. CJ D /

    Thanks so much for the write up Russell and for the interesting thread. I just want to add to the point that’s already been made – all these things are good to hear coming from prominent Mormons in good standing who have a degree of influence.

    BUT, why can’t we hear this kind of stuff out in the open?(GC). Its like there’s an official teaching about faith and doubt – spoken of in GC and in church manuals. Then – if you happen to be an internet Mormon with doubts and can find a way to hear the words of Bushman and the Givens’ (again, these meetings were not announced over the pulpit in my Stake) THEN you may hear some Mormon scholars give you an approach that seems to be endorsed my someone in the Church and could help you with your faith crisis- but remains unofficial and therefore, not at all applicable in your real world ward setting.

    Can I take any of these approaches into a temple recommend interview with me or speak about over the pulpit? I happen to know people who’ve presented a lot of these problems to members of the FP Q12 as part of this very effort that Bushman and the Givens’ are engaged in. Behind closed doors there’s a lot of empathy and understanding. Then come GC time – or in the Ensign, and the hard line comes back out again. This is a reality in this Church – and it makes the problems that already exist much worse.

    And this seems to be a pattern. For example, when the “God Loveth His Children” pamphlet came out (which represented a dramatic change in thinking about homosexuality), it was not announced at GC or in any local ward or Stake that I’m familiar with. I heard about it because I happen to be an aware Mormon who follows blogs and keeps up on Church news. Meanwhile, there are countless Mormons who have no idea that the change exists – spouting the same ideas about homosexuality from 30 years ago.

    You’ll hear me saying this again and again – Its not so much our history that troubles me about this Church, but the way we currently deal with it. We could calm a lot of troubled souls by simply being honest and consistent and transparent – today – now. Its really that simple.

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  33. Tracy Y. Andersen /

    Just stumbled into this site from another site that reviewed the Givenses-Bushman presentation at the Provo library.

    The reviewer lamented that he couldn’t write fast enough to record all the good stuff accurately, and hoped for a better recording.

    To address one of his concerns (and here I lament not cutting and pasting to quote him correctly/accurately myself) that the Joseph Smith Papers project isn’t directly addressing concerns such as were brought up in the meeting. He noted that when asked, the historical documents were presented en masse with out organization or sorting onto an answer to the question(s) submitted.

    I have a couple of observations about that.

    The JSP project is a monumental undertaking to sort and organize all the mass of documents generated over the entire history of the church. If someone wants an answer from those documents, either wait till they put out the books that cover it, or go into the documents (as a properly qualified and admitted historian) and find it for yourself. The JSP working group isn’t there to answer every little question submitted, I don’t think.

    Then there are the “standard questions” brought up by all the Mormon detractors, and they have gone into and researched out the “pertinent” historical records to show their contempt for the record and the resulting doctrine, and so on. If you want answers to those type of questions, there are those eager to help you out, for example, Lighthouse Ministries and their ilk. Pardon my slight sarcasm there. But they have researched it all out for you. But how “correct” are they? that is the question I will leave up to the investigator to answer.

    A side thought on the preceding paragraph — they so solicitously want to “help out” a new convert to see just what the early church did and practiced and believed. “Now just look at that! Do you really want to follow that?” That is a pitfall that investigators and new converts must deal with if it if it comes into their ken.

    I have read down about halfway on these comments posted here, and am replying to them primarily in this next thought.

    A recurring concern is how to know the truth of a doctrine as presented by a General Authority, or the scriptures. “Feelings” have been applauded and derided. I’m not going to take the time to find the paper that has the story I want to refer to, after all, I file by leaf blower. But relying on my imperfect memory to recount it, here it is.

    As I remember it, on a train trip with, I think, Pres. Grant, the narrator asked him the question — “How do we know a speaker is telling it accurately, telling the truth? How do I know he is guided by the Holy Ghost?” After a long thoughtful pause, the President replied: (In essence) “You must study it out in your mind, and ask for the confirmation of the Holy Ghost to you, that the message given by the Holy Ghost is conveyed by the Holy Ghost to you.”

    Now, a thought on “feelings.”

    On a blog some years ago, a fellow was asked “How did he know the church was true?” I like his answer. He told of when he was in High School, realizing he hadn’t read the Bible, started out to read it, reading a chapter a night, from the beginning, plowing through to the end. And kept reading. By college and beyond, he had read it through some 8-10 times or so. Then, one night, as he was offering his usual evening prayer, thanking God for this, and asking for that, the usual perfunctory stuff, he suddenly had the thought come into his mind that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was true. He says, at that point, what he knew about the LDS church could be written on a 3X5 card with a chisel tip marker, and have a lot of room left over. Then, the next week, he met an LDS neighbor, and the rest is history. Now, he makes the point, and very forcefully, that that was NOT a “warm fuzzy” as so many want to characterize “feelings”. I concur with him. The feeling, the burning in the bosom, and however you want to describe it, is an unshakable knowledge that comes from that “feeling”. I try to poorly equate it with your “knowledge” that 2X2=4. “How do you know it? How does it ‘feel’ to know that 2X2=4?”

    I rest my case.

    Thank you.

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  1. Maxwell Institute Blog | Ask Terryl and Fiona Givens - [...] in Provo, Utah on the subject. To get a sense of their presentation, see the notes scribbled at rationalfaiths.com. …
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