Went to a very interesting Sunstone Magazine symposium today in downtown Salt Lake City. The topic of the seminar was "Navigating an LDS Crisis of Faith". The Sunstone theme was "Reflections of Maturing Faith".
The opening line of this seminar was "Destination Agnostic". An interesting destination for a seminar about maturing faith and navigating a faith crisis. Destination agnostic is nothing like the destination the scriptures speak of. The first speaker wanted everyone to feel comfortable and have their experience and feelings validated, which I agree with. He wanted to create a safe environment. So I get why they may have begun with such defining statement. It was intended not to alienate anyone. My intent with this post is not to judge the speaker. I support the good the speaker had, and any search for truth and light
The seminar began by describing a relatively accepted "convert" equation that the missionaries teach and implement. That of how religion and specifically the LDS faith satisfies basic human needs for structure, hope, a charismatic leader, morals, and a sense of purpose and afterlife. (I'm quoting the speaker who's thought included slides with little graphics). He said basically the missionaries establish a positive emotional connection to the church and that is what comprises a convert. He prefaced all this with "setting aside any divine origin of religion". He removed the divine from any conversion experience, and made it about emotion and filling human needs and instincts. I think that is exactly what happens to some folks. However I don't think that is the only option. And certainly not the "conversion" the scriptures speak of. To remove the divine from conversion.... leaves what left over? If I had the chance I would have spent a good chunk of time helping people see the difference between faith in God, and faith in an institution. One will save you, and give you direction, the other will not.
An underlying assumption throughout the seminar was that "faith" equated to confidence or belief in a church or institution. Faith in a Church and Faith in God had become so intertwined that for the purposes of the seminar they weren't separated. No attempt was made to distinguish the two. In my view to not distinguish the two begins the discussion on a foundation of sand. On the one hand Jesus made it possible for man and God to be reconciled, through the Atonement. Jesus has saving power. He never taught nor asked that an institution take His place as Savior and become the object of our faith. But not everyone views it that way. and how you view that topic will determine how the person proceeds in faith and subsequently how they then interact with the church.
I wanted to contribute to the discussion so I went to the microphone and asked if he could explain how it is he equates an emotional connection or an emotional experience to a spiritual experience and becoming converted. The comment included my view that emotion and spiritual things are very different. His response was one of validating my point of view, and how it's often difficult for people to distinguish between emotion and the Spirit. He didn't offer any clarity, nor even claim to have any insight on the topic. He just said there was difficulty when dealing with matters of emotion and the Spirit. He later claimed to not understand much of anything about God. God had become intangible and unknowable, he at another point said he wasn't sure he had 10 fingers or 10 toes. The destination agnostic did seem to be on track.
The seminar went on.... views were shared, people told stories about how they have worked through their crisis of faith and various struggles with going to church, sticking it out, and or up and leaving the organizational completely due to holes in the history, leaders that weren't perfect etc.... They also discussed how to leave the organization calmly without causing harm or offense to others if that is what the person chose to do. They also discussed how to remain in the organization and get along with others while working through personal challenges or being disaffected. Some of the points were good. The speaker was non judgmental and gave people a listening ear. I appreciated that and thought his approach was kind and understanding.
I wish I had been more vocal during all of this. The desire to keep an open mind and act appropriately for the setting almost made it hard. Aside from 2 comments, I wish I had spoken more freely. So many of the things taught I saw as downright false. The fundamental paradigm was one of navigating a crisis of emotion, because that is all a conversion was said to be. There was NO mention of "Jesus Christ" or including Him as part of the navigation process besides maybe one comment. The scriptures were not used at all. The pattern in the scriptures for growing faith was not really part of the discussion. How can anyone navigate a crisis of faith without Jesus Christ, and without holy writ? Yet every other alternative was explored.
I was dumbfounded by most of what was said. Philosophies of man on how to navigate religious disappointment. Without scriptures being referenced, some other philosophy is the only other option.
Many of the comments were questions or comments on how to teach or approach or answer children when a parent is having a crisis of faith, doubting, questioning the religion, or finding historical facts that don't add up. A very good question, and I was excited to see how people responded to the question. I believe there is room for questioning in the church. There were some good points made here. Allowing others to chose from among major beliefs when the appropriate age arrived. The points were pretty good, but none of them spoke of higher things.
My main concern was the speaker attempted to speak of "navigating" a crisis of faith without Jesus Christ, or any mention of any scripture. With that as the guide, where are we going to end up? When Christ referred to people as blind, in pretty much every case the person did not recognize Christ for who he was. This was the blindness to which he referred. To me this is very important. There wasn't any claim about Christ or his doctrine in the symposium. LDS folks claim to be Christian so I assumed this would not be missing. But I shouldn't assume. I had to ask myself what path then was being taught/advocated as a means of navigating a faith crisis? "Destination Agnostic" I guess.
A few themes stood out. This was one of them.
"What to do when you realize your testimony was of an organization that turned out to not be what you thought, may have historical holes, or imperfect people inside it or leading it"? I liked that question, however it was never answered in a way that leads on to further understanding. It had more to do with emotion, and feelings, rather than light and truth. I admire the speaker for his attempt to support those dealing with a crisis of faith. Although I would have done it differently, I'm glad there are those wanting and trying to help others who struggle.
It was clear many people have a testimony of an organization, a man or men, family traditions, or what they were told and taught as youth. That's not the testimony that will stand the test of time. Nor is that a testimony that will save a persons soul. So in a sense having a crisis of faith about an organization might end up a very good thing. It can point you to God, to then base your testimony and knowledge on things form heaven. My main disappointment was how the workshop didn't point anyone towards Christ, or how to gain further understanding. Christ was not even on the radar screen although some people probably felt understood, felt validated in their challenges and struggles to find faith again. So hopefully from there, the speaker did a lot of good and people can take it further on their own. Yes some people do struggle with their testimony of Christ. It just seems hard to navigate a crisis of faith if your destination is agnostic. But then each person gets to choose what and who they follow.
I learned a lot from today. Who you choose as your guide and teacher is about as important as anything we do in life. We are in the middle, and get to choose. Thankfully there are inspired messengers sent from Father for those seeking. A testimony of Jesus isn't as common as I had once imagined, nor does it appear many religious folks are even seeking one. Scriptures say the testimony of Jesus, and being valiant in it, is what counts, and I agree with them. For me I'm a Christian, and to me that foundation will bring light and truth and happiness. But others have a different destination. To navigate a crisis of faith it's helpful to know where you want to end up. My view is Christ is the alpha and Omega. You can't begin without Him who is the beginning. He is the beginning of our faith, the author, and the finisher of our faith. I suppose "our" in this case should be just me speaking for myself.