When I was the young men’s secretary, I approached my previous two young men’s presidents and bishop as well as my current bishop about approaching some of the more “sticky” historical issues regarding our LDS past. My previous bishop seemed open to the idea, but the two young men’s presidents were either hesitant to approach these issues at church or didn’t answer the question altogether.
About six months ago I was asked by my current bishop to be the young men’s president in my ward. At that time, he gave me his blessing to approach some of the more difficult historical issues with our faith that are almost never discussed at church, with the encouragement to teach with the spirit. Prior to my call, I had sent him a copy of the Open Stories Foundation’s “Why Mormon’s Question” survey. We spoke about the results of the survey and discussed the risks and benefits of “inoculating” our young men regarding some of these tough issues. It was a good meeting.
I have had other meetings and interactions with my bishop that have led me to love him for his unique leadership style. Women are included in important decision-making discussions in our ward councils; he leads less like a CEO and more like a Pastor.
I have a dear friend in my ward that sent me this message about a month ago, ” I could easily walk away from the church and feel no guilt or shame in doing that, but I don’t know if that is what I want.” We spoke that night for an hour or two. I affirmed that what he saw as a struggle were legitimate concerns.
Sometime later he spoke with our bishop. My friend later said the following regarding their meeting: “He expressed to me his love and encouraged me to keep looking for my answers…whatever those answers might be.” How liberating it was for him to not be treated as a heretic!
Following a recent conversation with my bishop, he told me that he was going to address people’s loss of faith in our upcoming Ward Conference. I was delighted.
Last Sunday that talk was given. As I spoke with my afore-mentioned friend and others in my ward that sometimes feel as if they are on the periphery of belief, they all expressed their love of his talk. My friend shared his feelings regarding the talk on a closed Facebook group where many disaffected Mormons post comments. The positive response to excerpts from my bishop’s talk was quite overwhelming. I was asked to see if our bishop would allow us to post his talk on our blog. He said yes.
The following is the written form of his talk. In it you will find a rare, loving, inclusive voice that is too rarely expressed over our pulpits. In it you will see the love of Christ. In it you will see the big and expansive heart that my bishop has.
“NAY, MUCH MORE THESE MEMBERS OF THE BODY, WHICH SEEM TO BE MORE FEEBLE, ARE NECESSARY” 1 Corinthians 1:22
By Bishop Joshua Wallace, Medford 4th Ward, Central Point Oregon Stake
I want to speak to those that feel like their faith comes easy and is ever increasing, to those that struggle to believe or have faith in what is taught at church or in the scriptures and to everyone in between.
“The Apostle Paul taught that “faith is the substance [assurance] of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Alma made a similar statement: “If ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true” (Alma 32:21). Faith is a principle of action and power. Whenever we work toward a worthy goal, we exercise faith. We show our hope for something that we cannot yet see.” (lds.org, gospel topics, faith)
“For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.” (2 Nephi 2:11)
So what is the opposite of faith?
“The opposite of faith is fear.” (original author uncertain)
I believe that statement to be true.
I think faithful inquiry is of the essence of an organic and supple faith. If you can’t inquire honestly, earnestly, passionately, but humbly, thoughtfully, and be within the fold, then you are either going to end up outside the fold, as a certain number of people are, or your faith is going to be brittle and ostrich-like. Doubt is not the opposite of faith, but absolute, antiseptic certainty is the opposite of faith. (Phillip Barlow, professor and holder of the Leonard J. Arrington Chair of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State University, Mormon Matters podcast; episode 73, “And the survey Says…!” 1:087)
I also believe that statement to be true.
This is how Alma expresses the same thing:
“Now, as I said concerning faith—that it was not a perfect knowledge—even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge.” (Alma 32: 26)
Having faith is not a have or have not issue. It’s a spectrum that is both long and wide. It ranges from a desire to plant a seed to the tallest redwood in the world. At one end of the spectrum faith begins, when you look at a seed and want it to grow, and doubt at the same time if it will grow. You get off the other end of the faith spectrum, or your faith becomes dormant, when you pluck the fruit. It may be the end of the spectrum but it’s not the end of the journey because lots of times you put the fruit back on the tree and hop back onto the spectrum and sometimes you go back to holding the seed, looking at it, wondering if you want to plant it again, if it really did grow and produce fruit, what it tasted like, if it was just your imagination, or if it was the Spirit of God filling you with the most exquisite joy!
Whether you are strong or weak in faith, you are important. Wherever you are on the faith spectrum you are important to our ward.
When it comes to faith, we are all over the spectrum. Some of us are seeds, some saplings, some solid and hard 50 footers that don’t budge in the bitterest of all storms, and some giant redwoods. And we all know that in a healthy forest there are a variety of trees from the seed to the biggest and oldest. And it’s beautiful and every single seed and tree is important to the overall health of the forest. Heavenly Father does not find one to be more important or love one more than the other. Just like in a ward. (see Acts 10:34)
I love all types of trees
Some trees look perfect – From a distance they are straight, tall, with evenly spaced branches. But as you get closer you will notice that there may have been some interruption in their growth: a storm that left a mark, a change in the soil or environment, or maybe a drought.
I love climbing trees with their branches that are not too close together but not too far apart.
I love tree house trees, the ones that have a set of big branches not too high off the ground that are strong enough to hold a fort and lots of kids.
I love dinosaur trees, the ones that started to grow straight and then for some reason their trunk takes a weird turn that is parallel to the ground and then it goes up again, almost as if they were looking for better light.
Where do we get faith?
“Faith is a gift from God, but we must nurture our faith to keep it strong.” (lds.org, gospel topics, faith)
Doctrine and Covenants Section 46:8-14
8 Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived; and that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given;
9 For verily I say unto you, they are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do; that all may be benefited that seek or that ask of me, that ask and not for a sign that they may consume it upon their lusts.
10 And again, verily I say unto you, I would that ye should always remember, and always retain in your minds what those gifts are, that are given unto the church.
11 For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.
12 To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby.
13 To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.
14 To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.
So faith, confidence, belief, trust, hope, longing, desire, etc. are gifts of the spirit and they are ALL for the benefit of the church. The member that “believes” or “hopes” is just as much of a benefit to the church as the member that “knows”.
How do the trees, saplings and seeds interact with one another? They all support one another. The seeds and saplings will need some shade from the mature trees but cannot be crowded. They will need room to grow and receive light. Let them have space. When there is a storm, and the spirit directs, buoy them up.
Holding a seed in your hand is not a sin, it’s exciting. Think about the potential!
Yesterday (August 18, 2012) Elder Neil L. Andersen of Quorum of the Twelve told us of an experience that he recently had with the 14 other living apostles. They had “an important” issue before them and had tabled it two or three times because of a lack of consensus. They decided that they would dedicate thirty minutes of their next Thursday morning temple meeting to the issue. In the meantime, Elder Andersen spoke with most of the others to find out where they stood on the issue. He found that, “Some were way off on one side and some way on the other.” Then an amazing thing happened. In the temple powerful spiritual feelings brought them to one spot. Our apostles set the example for us. They can have different opinions,
come from a variety of educational, social and familial backgrounds, and still come together to feel the spirit and be unified. So can we.
I end with Ephesians 2
13 But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.
19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.
I encourage us all to not use just any water to nurture our faith but the water that Christ offers (John 4:14). And I encourage us all to let the light of Christ shine down on our faith. (1 John 1:7)