Thursday, May 2, 2013

Leading with my Faith

I have failed1. My goal for my writing has been to demonstrate that a person can have doubts and remain faithful. I set out to prove that one can be critical of social custom and still be committed. I want to show that a person can question the things that are taught at church -- that one can attempt to distinguish between revealed doctrine and the interpretations of men -- without losing one's conviction.

In discussions I've had about some of my recent writings, I've been shown that I'm not doing a very well at accomplishing my goals.  The reason I'm failing is quite simple: I never write about what I believe.  I only write about what I don't believe.  And if I continue to do that, I'll never maintain the rapport with the average Mormon audience that I need to accomplish my goal.

One of the recent events that helped me realize this flaw in my writing was General Conference.  Among the many great messages at Conference was one that simultaneously inflated my pride and humbled me.  Jeffrey R. Holland gave a talk titled "Lord, I Believe" in which he discussed the relationship between faith and doubt and how the one can continue to grow in the presence of the other2.

The foundation of Holland's talk was Mark 9:11-27.  This is the passage where Christ is approached by a father whose son is tormented by a devil.  The son thrashes and foams at the mouth; he throws himself at the fire in an attempt to harm himself.  That father is at his wit's end, and comes to Christ begging for relief.  Christ tells him, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth."  The father replies, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief."

When I first heard this talk, I did a little happy dance of my own.  Just one week earlier I had given a talk in sacrament meeting.  I originally had been given a very vague topic and had incorporated this story into my talk.  My emphasis had been on reaching out to those whose faith is struggling with patience and acceptance, and that doing so would, in fact, hold them over until they could strengthen their faith.  So while my emphasis was a little different, I made several similar points to Elder Holland's3.

So there's the ego part.  Now for the humbling part.
Sometimes we act as if an honest declaration of doubt is a higher manifestation of moral courage than is an honest declaration of faith. It is not! So let us all remember the clear message of this scriptural account: Be as candid about your questions as you need to be; life is full of them on one subject or another. But if you and your family want to be healed, don’t let those questions stand in the way of faith working its miracle.
Just to show that I'm not completely humbled, I do want to point out that Elder Holland's statement is only conditionally true.  An expression of faith is only more courageous when made to a group of people who disagree.  It's incredibly easy to express your faith to people you know agree with you.  It's also incredibly easy to express your doubts to people you know agree with you.  But as I discussed previously, just as it is more difficult to declare your faith to people who disagree with you, it is also difficult to declare your doubt to people of faith.

That being said, Elder Holland is entirely correct about something -- we cannot build our faith if we only express our doubts.
Do not start your quest for faith by saying how much you do not have, leading as it were with your “unbelief.”
So bear with me for the next few weeks (or months, or years, or lifetimes) as I try to figure out the balance of expressing my faith while exposing my doubt.  Please recognize that I set out to write a culture blog.  I have a long list of cultural topics I want to write about that were the motivation for me starting this project at all.  Most of them are critical.  It might take me some time to get in the habit of writing about faith.

I'm not entirely sure how to start, so any suggestions you have to help me along my way would be greatly appreciated.

1 Oh the dramatics!
2 I would argue that doubt is a necessary condition for faith, but that's a topic for another day.
3 Unfortunately, I ended up cutting this part of the talk because the assignment changed and I didn't feel that this story was a good to the revised assignment.


  1. I think it takes the most courage to be completely honest with ourselves. Good post.

  2. It's interesting that you mention expressing doubt because I never really took your posts as such.

    Critical? Perhaps but yet again, when you love someone or something a lot we tend to do that.

    People always like to say that the opposite of love is hate, but is actually indifference. I could never be indifferent to the Church because I love it.

    Loving the Church doesn't stop me from observing things that I think as organization it could improved, it doesn't make me less loyal or makes me an apostate. It makes me someone who cares enough about it to make such observation.

    You lead by your Faith Ben, and not because of your posts about the Church, you lead by your Faith by being a decent guy, a decent father and husband and a good brother in Christ.

  3. Perhaps one way to write about faith would be to start a paragraph with the phrase "I know..." Express the parts you don't have doubts about first. After that, you can begin addressing the doubts you have. For example, "I know that marriage between a man and a woman is.... I doubt that permitting same-sex marriage will..."