Lesson – Lost Elders

As the newly called first counselor in the EQ I am in charge of the lessons.  When talking about accepting the calling I let the president know of my concerns about correlation and Mormon culture.  I mentioned that I wanted to incorporate some disaffection help and inoculation into our lessons. I teach one lesson every four months. This is the outline I talked from for my first attempt at pulling that off.

  1. I want to discuss a subject that is difficult, but very important to me. With the information age we now live in there is easy access to information that is often true, but difficult for testimonies for various reasons. Some of you might say that this isn’t a problem or that it is only a problem for those with serious sins and this is their excuse as a way out of the guilt from those sins. To make sure everyone is on board with me as we get started today in knowing that this is a real problem I have some quotes for you to consider:
    1. Our stake reported in the early morning stake meeting a couple of weeks ago that the stake has lost an average of 8 elders per ward in 2012 to inactivity that were previously active.
    2. When Elder Marlin K Jensen was asked in a question and answer session: “Did the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints know that members are ‘leaving in droves?’” he clarified later that “leaving in droves” is an overstatement, but at the time he said, “We are aware, and I’m speaking of the 15 men that are above me in the hierarchy of the church. They really do know and they really care,” he said.
  2. So, we know this is a real problem, it is a problem in the our Stake and the brethren are aware. Why does it exist and what can we do about it?
    1. There was a recent very large study done where people disaffected or who already left the church were asked why they left. The majority of them said that it wasn’t to sin (drink, sex, etc.) or because they started to sin, but because they had issues with church history, doctrine or policies.
    2. We don’t really have much specific counsel from our church leaders yet on how to deal with this problem or how to deal with it in a different manner than previously generally done because that obviously wasn’t working. Previously people were just told to pray more and read their scriptures. If your problem is thinking that God doesn’t exist and the BOM might not be a literal document then these two requests often exacerbated the problem by focusing on the frustration.
    3. Marlin Jensen : “…often in the church, when someone comes with a bit of a prickly question, he’ll be met with
      Marlin K. Jensen

      Marlin K. Jensen

      a bishop who number one, doesn’t know the answer. Number two, he snaps and says, ‘Get in line and don’t question the prophet, and get back and do your home teaching.’ And that isn’t helpful in most cases. So, we need to educate our leaders better, I think, to be sympathetic and empathetic and to draw out of these people where they are coming from and what’s brought them to the point they are at. What they have read, what they are thinking is, and try to understand them. Sometimes that alone is enough to help someone through a hard time. But beyond that, I think we really need to figure out a way to live a little bit with people who may never get completely settled.” EXPAND

  3. I personally feel there are three main causes to the disaffection that makes people leave:
    1. Improper expectations of testimony
    2. Incorrect understanding of church history (learning it incorrectly or putting our cultural expectations on their time)
    3. Cultural practices put forth as doctrine
    4. Having any of these issues and not feeling accepted because of it can be a reason people leave the church. We’ll talk more about this later, but we need to be open to discussing these problems. Like we learned as missionaries. If we don’t resolve the doubt a person has, they can’t advance. We can’t resolve the doubt if we don’t ask and understand.
  4. I have “come out of the closet” as one of these members that has seriously considered walking away from the church. For me it started on the last day of my mission and was only because of improper expectations of testimony and not the other two (explain). Now, after having gone through this experience I can see the other two problems more clearly and have empathy for those that struggle with those issues. As I’ve gotten more confident in my position as someone who has doubts I’ve been more public. As I’ve been more public, I’ve had others talk with me about similar frustrations.
  5. I’d like to talk about why I think these three pitfalls exist, what we can do to help others not fall in them (bridge), what we can do to help others that have fallen into them (people with rope) and what we can do ourselves if we are in one (ladder). After all, isn’t it about leaving the 99 and going after the 1?
  6. As I go through this please resist the urge to comment things like: if you would have more faith it would fix the problem, or they have those problems because of other sins in their life are making them not feel the spirit, etc. As one who hasn’t committed those sins and definitely had this problem while trying for years to just have more faith I can attest that that isn’t always the correct answer and everyone already knows that who has this problem so saying it again won’t change anything. Its like going to the dentist and having him tell you that you need to floss. Also, those 8 men per a ward need something else done to help them so let’s resist the desire to make those comments and move beyond those suggestions to others that might be more fruitful.
  7. Improper expectations of testimony:
    1. why does it exist?
      1. Is there anyone here who feels comfortable admitting in public that they still seek for a testimony to KNOW that the church is true? I do!
      2. Maybe this scripture will help you feel better D&C 46:13-14.
      3. Often we are just told if we pray hard enough and have enough faith we’ll get that undeniable answer. I have lived that way and I haven’t gotten an answer. I have had enough experiences to make me believe, but I definitely can’t say that I know. My wife, who’ve I’ve talked with in detail about this subject has had an undeniable experiences like in verse 13, but I’m a verse 14 kind of person and until recently that bothered me a lot that I wasn’t a verse 13 person.
    2. How do we help others avoid this pitfall or get out when in it?
      1. talk about the Alma 32 tree and we focus on helping the tree grow, not transform into an oak immediately with the recognition that some never get that perfect knowledge. By admitting that it helps in 2 ways:
        1. removes the guilt those feel that never get the sure answer
        2. if you are like me and you try the formula out for several years and it never works and you never question the formula hen the only logical answer is that the church isn’t true and/or there is no God. (as a side note: unlike many other churches, when Mormon’s lose their testimony in the church, they usually lose it in God as well. If this one isn’t true, which one could be?)
    3. How do we get ourselves out of the pit? See if there are any serious sins keeping us from feeling the spirit. If not, focus on growing the little branches here and there on your tree and don’t worry about it not being a large oak tree.
  8. Incorrect information given our ways in church history
    1. why does it exist? I don’t want to get into examples of what errors are out there, but there are many from minor to large. No everything said by the prophet is perfect and correct. BEFORE anyone lynches me for this statement, hold on for a few quotes from the prophets on this…
      1. I told them I was but a man, and they must not expect me to be perfect; if they expected perfection from me, I should expect it from them; but if they would bear with my infirmities and the infirmities of the brethren, I would likewise bear with their infirmities.” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 268)
      2. When God makes the prophet He does not unmake the man.” (David O. McKay, in Conference Report, April 1907, 11–12; see also October 1912, 121; April 1962, 7)
      3. With all their inspiration and greatness, prophets are yet mortal men with imperfections common to mankind in general. They have their opinions and prejudices and are left to work out their problems without inspiration in many instances.” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 608)
      4. President Harold B. Lee, said, “It is not to be thought that every word spoken by the General Authorities is inspired, or that they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost in everything they write.”(Harold B. Lee, Stand Ye in Holy Places, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1974, 162.)
      5. I have many more :-) One more, this about not having to blindly follow: “And none are required to
        Joseph Smith

        Joseph Smith

        tamely and blindly submit to a man because he has a portion of the priesthood. We have heard men who hold the priesthood remark, that they would do anything they were told to do by those who presided over them, if they knew it was wrong; but such obedience as this is worse than folly to us; it is slavery in the extreme; and the man who would thus willingly degrade himself should not claim a rank among intelligent beings, until he turns from his folly. A man of God … would despise the idea. Others, in the extreme exercise of their almighty authority have taught that such obedience was necessary, and that no matter what the saints were told to do by their presidents, they should do it without asking any questions. When Elders of Israel will so far indulge in these extreme notions of obedience as to teach them to the people, it is generally because they have it in their minds to do wrong themselves.” (Joseph Smith, Millennial Star, vol.14 #38, pp. 593-95)

    2. How do we help others avoid or get out of this pitfall?
      1. Be open to this fact. There is a funny phrase “Catholics say the Pope is infallible, but none of them
        Pope Benedict

        Pope Benedict

        believe it. Mormons say the Prophet is fallible, but none of them believe it.”

      2. Understand that our leaders are imperfect, even if the members don’t always treat them that way.
    3. How do we get ourselves out of the pit?
      1. This is kind of a hard idea to get across quickly and I’m not very articulate with things like this, but once we accept that the leaders of the church are imperfect just like us, (even if the followers don’t always treat them that way) we can take the responsibility of our spiritual progression on ourselves instead of using the leaders as our crutch. Ultimately, your spirituality is between you and God. When you know that, it doesn’t matter if they make mistakes.
      2. We’re told we need to pray about everything and gain our own testimony of it. We’re also told about how Adam prayed at the altar without knowing why. I think those two things can be compatible. Our leaders allow us to have differing opinions on many subjects.
      3. I think you’d be as aware as I am that that we have many people who are members of the church who .. have some other feeling about it that is not as committed to foundational statements and the premises of Mormonism. ..but I don’t love you less; I don’t distance you more; I don’t say you’re unacceptable to me as a person or even as a Latter-day Saint if you can’t make that step or move to the beat of that drum.” … We really don’t want to sound smug. We don’t want to seem uncompromising and insensitive.” Elder Holland
  9. cultural practices put forth as doctrine
    1. why does it exist?
      1. We want things black and white. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/62620/Elder-Paul-V-Johnson-Helping-students-dispel-doubt-through-spiritual-knowledge.html “…some quotes are definitive on issues where there is no official answer. People who are more tentative on a subject that hasn’t been revealed or resolved don’t get quoted as much, but may be more in line with where our current knowledge is.”
    2. How do we help others avoid and get out of this pit? distinguish between doctrine, policy, belief, culture. There are very few core doctrines. Many things are assumptions that keep improving as we get more light and knowledge.
    3. How do we get ourselves out of the pit? remember to distinguish even if others aren’t. Evolution is a big one for me on this. 99% of Mormons with a bachelors degree in an evolutionarily based science believe God used evolution to some degree to create the animals and/or plants on this earth. Despite what you hear the church has NO official position. Most people don’t know that and vehemently go to bat against that. It used to bug me a lot, but I just shrug my shoulders and say, “They don’t have all the information, if they did they would understand.”
  10. If you want to talk more about this or something you think I have wrong feel free to contact me and we can discuss this later.

Carson Calderwood, Born in Idaho, grew up in Utah to red neck father and TBM mother. Served mission in Argentina. Married smartest and most attractive woman at BYU. Raising four kids and three chickens in Maple Valley, Washington.

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