Sunday, October 06, 2013

A Doubter's Response to President Uchtdorf

As a non-practicing person of LDS heritage, I have fallen out of the habit of watching general conference. I am still connected to Mormonism through family and friends and continue to love my Mormon heritage and the foundation it has provided in my life. Because of the Facebook flurry it generated, I decided to listen to President Dieter Uchtdorf’s talk. It was wonderful to hear a talk on doubt. Anything helps in respect to shepherding members to broaden their understanding of why people leave full participation in the LDS Church. However, I was disappointed that President Uchtdorf did not address the substance of doubt. Talks like this encourage tolerance for those of us who doubt or decide to leave the church, but there is always an underlying subtext: It is ok to doubt, so long as your doubt produces the right outcome.

Uchtdorf lovingly acknowledged that there are a host historical issues that cause some to doubt the church’s claims to truth with a capital ‘T’. However, he did not address these issues in a way that would help those who struggle to think through these issues. There is no method, no advice.  In a very euphemistic reference to “historical issues” he says: “Some struggle with unanswered questions about things that have been done or said in the past. We openly acknowledge that in nearly 200 years of Church history, along with an uninterrupted line of inspired, honorable, and divine events, there have been some things said and done that could cause people to question.” This statement makes it seem like the issues are trivial or superficial keeping the doubter on the outside, on the fringe, rather than acknowledging that these are serious challenges to the Church’s claims. Yet, Uchtdorf acknowledges doubt as essential to seeking truth: “In this Church that honors personal agency so strongly that it was restored by a young man that had questions and sought answers, we respect those who honestly search for truth.” Doubt is framed as a sort of right that we (unwisely) exercise, like our right to sin. While this talk may be a step in the right direction, Mormons must do better at acknowledging that the search for truth can sometimes lead people out of the Church. Thank you president Uchtdorf for your kind and respectful words, may the dialogue between Mormons and their doubting friends and family return to the table in love and good will.


John said...

Hi Jason,

I had a similar response to the talk. Although, I also understand the catch 22 President Uctdhorf is in. If he mentions something like conflicting narratives on prophetic succession, the mountain meadows massacre or the very topical debate about past female ordinations, he risks alienating the faithful, orthodox, correlated membership the church has so carefully produced over the past 50 years. It's tough, and I think there would be unintended consequences. Some people come completely unhinged when they feel betrayed by false accounts of church history. But if your argument is that the fall out is worth it to serve the cause of historical truth and to clear up the smoke screen the church creates in the process of indoctrinating members...well I have some sympathy for that. I think the popular parlance for that is inoculation, which is a project that people like Teryl Givens and Richard Bushman are trying to get going. Not to mention the online forms of it with people like John Dehlin and to a lesser extent Dan Whitherspoon. This is a tough issue, I suppose I just wish that culturally it was easier for the people who choose to leave. The Mormon "black sheep" and their "faithful" family members are awfully hard on themselves and each other.

naomi said...

Nicely said.