Dealing with faith struggles and heterodoxy

There seems to me to be an emerging battle in the church. The emergence of this has nothing to do with how recently this has become an issue for the church, but how recently this has become personally an issue for me. The issue is the acceptance of those with heterodox views and faith struggles in a church with strict orthodoxy in teachings.

I hold many views which would not be considered orthodox. There are several simple examples. Same-sex marriage is a prominent one at the moment, and in my previous blog I shared data with showed that 23% of Mormons surveyed supported the heterodox position of marriage equality. Literality of scripture is another simple example. I don’t believe in the story of the creation and of Adam and Eve as told in Genesis as I see modern scientific discoveries to be completely incongruous with this story. Others will disagree with me, but I am still in a position that is not aligned with the accepted doctrine of the church.

Those who know me personally will know that over the last few weeks, my position in our ward and stake has been brought into question over my heterodox beliefs and my discussion of these issues on various support forums. This raises a key question – am I wanted in the church despite my unorthodox beliefs and opinions? It would be nice to know which of my beliefs has caused such an issue, but I am constantly faced with family and leaders who for whatever reason, don’t wish to discuss these with me in any detail. The overriding impression I get is that people are generally afraid to tackle these issues. It’s no wonder really that the church is facing the “biggest time of apostasy since Kirtland” (Marlin K Jensen).

We are brought up to believe that this is the one true church, the only path to true happiness and the only way back to a loving Heavenly Father. Mormons generally have a natural intelligence and studiousness, which in turn leads many to question the church when they discover inconsistencies, inaccuracies and misguided policy. The vast majority of these members wish to stay in the church. I know I do. I’ve been asked so many times recently if I’m leaving the church, and my answer consistently is that I would have gone a long time ago if that was what I really wanted. I’m trying to make my faith work.

I keep going back to an excellent study that was conducted last year titled ‘Why Mormons Question?’ ( The results are eye opening. The people who are struggling with faith and heterodoxy are disproportionately well educated, in high income brackets, have previously held strong leadership positions and have wide ranging issues with the church and its policies. I can only see these issues becoming bigger in the future. Many expressed issues with the way they were treated once their struggling belief became known to leaders. Below are some comments from respondents as well as a link to the data analysis and the presentation of the data to UVU. This data has been presented to high level church officials. I hope this makes a difference for some people and shows how those of us with heterodox beliefs and faith struggles often feel sidelined in the church.

Comment from Respondent 243 (Male): Please allow members that are trying to believe as much as they can to attend the temple, baptize their children, etc. Please don’t treat doubt as a sin.

Comment from Respondent 135 (Male): Welcome me as an equal in the community and culture, even if I can no longer testify that the church is the only true church on the face of the earth. Create and embrace forums for nontraditional Mormons like me, to allow for free and open discussion of ideas, and exploration of truth and happiness.

Comment from Respondent 1803 (Male): I feel that I am at a good place with my relationship with my Heavenly Father. I just want permission to remain, to belong. Just because I don’t see things eye to eye with my brothers and sisters does not mean we aren’t still family.

Comment from Respondent 548 (Male): Please make sure the Church encourages its believers to avoid ostracizing a fellow member for such member’s disbelief.

Comment from Respondent 1736 (Female): The way that church leaders demonize people like me at conference is so upsetting. I try to participate so that our family can be together at church, but it is so hard when there is such a negative attitude towards people who have lost belief.

Comment from Respondent 394 (Female): Please create a place in the church for women like me. I love the gospel and desperately want it to be true, but I have a hard time believing in a church that rejects critical thinkers and feminists as “too willful” or “dangerously intellectual.”… Thanks for all the good you do. I don’t hate the church, and I truly believe that its leaders have the best of intentions… I’m just having a hard time seeing how I fit into it, and don’t see how God could possibly create a church that doesn’t have a place for all of his children.

Data Analysis:


16 thoughts on “Dealing with faith struggles and heterodoxy

  1. Having watched the situation for the last several years there does seem to be an increased, I won`t call it acceptance, but charity towards those who struggle with the issues you describe. At least as far as the senior leadership are involved. I`m told that Terryl Givens in his recent series of firesides here in the UK stated that, as is always the case with large organisations, the senior management get it but the middle management are the ones still waiting to get the memo.

    From the top I see less preaching of the old false notion that all those who doubt and question do so becuase they have unresolved sin, are looking to justify sin, have been offended, are lazy, etc (add your own defensive claim). I still hear this at the local level sometimes. Local leadership is always going to be a lottery though, thats inherent in the system.

    Given the lead of people like elder Holland and elder Uchtdorf I have reason to be hopeful about the future. I believe these men get it. They get where you are. They get that you are genuine in your searching. They get that some of your concerns are the result of the church not being as forthcoming as it should have been on some issues. They may not necessarily agree with your conclusions but, listen to elders Hollands last general conference talk, he wants you in the church. I don`t think he or anyone else in the church knows how that accommodation is going to be made, how to vaidate those who follow the “middle way”. Church history teaches that God reveals changes and provides answers when prophets ask questions. I feel they are starting to ask those questions.

    I agree it can be painful and lonely. But ask yourself how much study, pondering and genuine searching you have done this last 6 months compared to a year ago. Would you trade where you now are for where you were? Its hard living with uncertainty.

    • Thanks for the comment Rich. I really appreciate hearing the view of someone who has a longer perspective on this issue since my struggle started quite recently.

  2. It was my observance of how questioning members were treated that began my own faith transition. Everyone is entitled to question, doubt and research.. Lets face it we are not able to get the whole story at church which begs the question… To dismiss or discipline a curious soul is unchristian.

  3. “The overriding impression I get is that people are generally afraid to tackle these issues”.
    Not sure if they are afraid- or don’t know how to. When you are raised on a diet of ‘The one true Church’, to even start to entertain the idea that it might not be, would be both disconcerting and frightening. When you have been so busy in service in Church, work, family to have had the time to do anything other than correlated reading, it is a notion which seems insidious and which must be squashed at all costs, at source, before it has time to spread to others. One of the YW when I was young, started smoking, and the smoke was obvious on her clothing when she arrived one Tuesday night. Our Sunday School teacher went straight for the jugular: “it only takes one rotten apple in the barrel”- we never saw the girl again. Ditto, I suspect, the response to those who have questions. Panic, in case this spreads, and the leader faces widespread apostasy. Nip it in the bud. Make an example of the innocent questioner. This actually shows a complete lack of trust by the leader in not only his local congregation, but also in the questioning individual. It is an action of weakness when he thinks he is being strong. It is indicative that the leader considers the worth of the questioning soul to be less important than unquestioning obedience.

    Will things improve? I hope so, but fear not- at least, not for another generation. With the advent of the internet, the opportunity for anyone who is questioning to be unmasked is far greater. When those who have grown up aware of the questioning nature of some sites become leaders, I hope they will be far more relaxed about participation in them than those of an earlier generation who are maybe not so comfortable with online activity, who see it all as ‘anti Mormon’ and therefore inherently bad, whereas in reality members are forced to turn to them as they find the support there which is lacking locally.

    In an issue of the Millennial Star I read online a few years ago, some poor British girl was publicly castigated in a ferocious paragraph, warning members not to correspond with her because she had been taken by the Devil and was following him. Reading on, it appeared her crime was to write from Nauvoo in huge distress as, having sacrificed much to get there, she had learned that many of the Brethren were practising polygamy and was, distraught, warning those who may have been thinking of making the journey. My heart broke for her and her family, as the leaders of the Church here involved in the character assassination would have known what was happening in Nauvoo, but still they discredited her in the only way they knew how. The method of response is similar still today. It will take a lot to reverse that course of action which has been deployed for over 180 years- I’ve seen it happen too often to hope it can change very soon- but hope, we must.

    • Valid points Anne but one other possible outcome of people being “outed” on the internet, if they want to stay active and forge their own path, is that more members will be aware of people in that situation. They will see them as being honest and genuine and some of the false claims made about such people will evaporate. We can but hope.

  4. I’m not what you would call a great believing member and enjoyed this, although I read the study, the methodology is such that I don’t think it’s valid. Plus you need to reread it Chris, a few of your points were not backed up by the survey. It was never intended as a sample of a greater whole. Just the individual stories of those that filled in the survey. (I.e the graph you are looking at merely shows that people who take the time to fill out Internet surveys have held higher callings etc. it was never meant to be a sample of the whole church, hence the discounting of those that still believe. It can’t be called disproportionate as there was no control group. Good read though bud.

    • Thanks for your thoughts Adam.
      The only pre-requisite to the survey was that those who completed it must have once felt that the church was the only true and living church upon the face of the earth, but no longer hold that view. I guess it’s falsely titled and makes it sound like it is representative of the whole church which it isn’t. The sample size of over 3000 is huge, so should be a good indicator of those who are questioning and/or leaving.

      • I agree. Good.

        I think everyone questions their faith, we are all natural men(ish).

        And I agree that we should talk about it more.

        What is one to do when testimony backed by undeniable feelings goes against what your sober logical thoughts indicate?

        Have faith?

  5. I think the church is going to have to accommodate the likes of us if it wants to stay in business! In addition the ‘old guard’ die off, the younger more liberal generation will replace the current orthodox leaders. I look forward to more and more TBM’s who sidelined the likes of us slowly realize we were ahead of the curve….

  6. Hi Chris

    First, I want to say that I admire your bravery. I think it’s important to people that struggle with unanswered questions or unconventional views to know that they are not alone. For you to share your personal feelings publicly is a bold move, and I hope it reaches people who need to see it. You are certainly not alone, and I don’t think having members who are critical thinkers in anyway diminishes the churches position – but I do understand why people are worried about it.

    I am an example of someone who was always of a more liberal persuasion. The combination of a personal family experience and a close friendship with a ‘heterodox’ thinker triggered my own change in perspective. I think what a couple of previous posters said about leaders being afraid of a spread of “alternative” ideas is probably true at either a conscious or sub-conscious level, and I’m probably an example of that spread taking place. However I hope I’m also an example that those ideas are nothing to fear and do not indicate apostasy.

    In my own experience, when people feel that they occupy a position of knowledge, they stop looking at the world with an open heart, and start only taking notice of things that agree with their perspective or world view. I don’t think this is done intentionally in the vast majority of cases. I think perhaps I have been in that position previously myself. I don’t claim enlightenment now by any means, but what I do try to do is take all versions of a story in to account. I have to be quite deliberate about it. Sometimes this can be a bit unsteadying, but of all the cultural things I encounter and question, my faith in Christ remains central and I try and use that as my compass when I feel uncertain.

    I feel for the leaders of the church. They are men who can only use the tools they possess to do the work they have to do. If you are at all in to sociology papers, (I know, what a dorky thing to say!) I am a big fan of Ann Swidlers 1986 paper on culture as a toolkit (called culture in action:symbols and strategies). Interesting in this case because a lot of our difficulties and differences arise from our ‘organisational culture’. Her paper uses quite a few examples of religious changes over time and the problem of using the concept of culture to explain the changes that took place. In her treatment though, culture is taken from behind the individual as some abstract concept that influences behaviour, and is placed in front of them as a set of cultural tools (meanings, symbols, know-how etc) which they then use in a variety of combinations to understand and frame problems and come up with solutions. For some reason I find this view comforting, as it offers a more nuanced understanding of why some people react differently and try and solve problems differently, especially during unsettled periods.

    I suppose in trying to use these kind of perspectives I am trying to stand at a distance from the emotions that so often surface during any kind of negotiation. The reason is that I do love the church and it is my spiritual home. I want my questioning to add something positive and not negative to my experience. To enhance it and not to destroy it. Can I be a critical thinker without becoming overly critical? And I want to show an example to my kids that will be useful and constructive to them. So that’s where I am.

    Thanks again for giving me a reason to think and an important subject to discuss.

  7. I also hold beliefs that would place me on the liberal end of the political spectrum. The established doctrines of the church, those that have been ratified by a vote of the general membership, are the standard works. Do you believe the standard works to be the word of God? If so, how do you reconcile your liberal ideology with the standard works? If you do not reconcile them somehow, one may eventually replace the other.

    I have a theory based on observation about the political culture of the church. Those with politically liberal leanings tend to avoid conflict and remain quiet in class waiting for bigoted or ignorant outbursts to be over so that the class can return to the lesson. In doing so, they create the impression that the majority of the class agrees with the bigoted/ignorant claim. This reinforces these claims in the minds of those who have not yet given, or are not inclined to give, much thought to the issue. This in turn has allowed incorrect ideas to flourish and dominate church culture.

    If this situation is to be remedied, those with alternative views need to make others aware that alternative views exist. Church is not a place for discussing these alternative views, so a simple expression of “I disagree”, ideally with a scripture to back it up, may be sufficient to allow the class to get back to spiritually uplifting topics without giving implicit acceptance.

    Outside of church is a different story. Do not be afraid to talk about your beliefs and how you reconcile them with the scriptures. If you do not know how to reconcile your beliefs with the scriptures, prayerfully study both and see what you find. I have done so for several topics and have been surprised that the beliefs that I held are more fully in accord with the word of God; knowing this, I strive to use the scriptures (particularly the Book of Mormon) to educate others. (Just be careful to not contradict the well-established doctrines of the church or criticize church leaders.)

    Example: my 9-year-old son just asked me this morning expressing confusion about whether people came from Adam and Eve or from apes. I explained to him that God explained these things to people thousands of years ago in ways that they would understand. The way God explained it to them would not be the same as the way God explains it to us. I then read to him from Genesis 1 and pointed out the following: God said “let there be light”, “let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters”, etc. However, when God discusses creating life, God changes tactics; instead of saying, “let there be grass, etc”, God says “let the earth bring forth grass, etc”; and instead of “let there be moving creatures that have life”, God said “let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creatures that have life”. It is interesting that even though God was speaking to people that would have no way of understanding evolution, God left hints about it. My son is now looking forward to the day when God reveals more to us according to the knowledge we have available now (as am I)! I have also used this in Elder’s quorum with the added information that they teach evolution officially and unapologetically at BYU.

  8. I appreciate that you are looking at these questions and trying to decide for yourself what you feel is true/best. I just wanted to point out that you may be seeing yourself as more “out of line” than you really are with regards to questions about the creation of Adam and Eve (and other such topics, this is just the one you specifically mentioned). I majored in Geology at BYU and evolution is very plainly taught and believed. Also, you might find these quotes from Brigham Young (which he made interesting:

    “Supposing that Adam was formed actually out of clay, out of the same
    kind of material from which bricks are formed; that with this matter God made the
    pattern of a man, and breathed into it the breath of life, and left it there, in that
    state of supposed perfection. He would have been an adobe to this day.”

    “You believe Adam was made of the dust of this earth. This I
    do not believe, though it is supposed that it is so written in the Bible; but it is not, to my
    understanding. . . . I do not believe that portion of the Bible as the Christian world do. I never
    did, and I never want to. What is the reason I do not? Because I have come to understanding, and banished from my mind all the baby stories my mother taught me when I was a child.”

    “[Adam] commenced the work of creating earthly tabernacles, precisely as
    he had been created in this flesh himself, by partaking of the course material that was organized
    and composed this earth, until his system was charged with it. Consequently, the tabernacles of
    his children were organized from the course materials of this earth.”

    Now, we can discuss whether or not these should be taken as doctrine or personal feelings until we are blue, but I personally feel that if the president of the church was publicly preaching this, then I can’t be to bad off for believing similar things. Also, it is interesting to note that in 1860 there was some discussion going on about the teachings of Orson Pratt with regards to the creation, and the first presidency responded by releasing a public statement which said: ““With regard to . . . Adam’s having been formed ‘out of the ground’ and ‘from the dust of
    the ground,’ etc., it is deemed wisest to let that subject remain without further explanation at
    present.” So, not as strongly worded as when Brigham Young was talking on his own, but they were still basically saying to stop teaching the creation in that manner.

    Anyways, this ended up being long, but I just wanted to let you know that you may not be as far out as you think.

  9. This wasn’t something I’d even thought about until I’d already dismissed the church as untrue. I always thought that you either took church as it was, (aside from church history, where I felt it that “the church is run by imperfect humans” argument came in,) or left. I never really sympathized with women who wanted the priesthood, because if they thought the church leaders were wrong, why were they there anyway? Now that I have more knowledge of the church’s past I can see that they’ve made large changes to doctrine before, if that’s defensible, then why can’t they make changes now?

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