I feel like it’s important to share my experience and thoughts regarding a recent talk Elder Ballard gave in the Marriott Center to the Utah South Area. Why do I even care when I no longer believe or attend church? I have close family members that do believe and accept what LDS Church Leaders say as inspired, accurate and true. When he says things about people that no longer believe he is talking about me and others I care about. When he relays the experience of those that have left the church, and why/how that happens, he is talking about me and others I care about. When he implies knowledge about why I and others have left, and states these after reminding folks that he is a special witness, he is implying his perspectives/conclusions are accurate. That impacts people I care about and are close to. The only way to add to this, since I canâ€™t have my experiences printed in the Ensign, is to engage in my own personal circle of influence. I want those that know me, interact with me and matter to me to understand my choices and life because I am one of those people he’s discussing.
Elder Ballard relates a story about a grove of sequoia trees on BYU campus and how one that use to be tall and strong died because its feeding roots were affected. He says:
What happens when stalwart church members, the very elect for all appearances that seem to stand tall and erect in faith, die spiritually? Like the dead sequoia those church members once received their spiritual nourishment from the well of living water offered by Jesus Christ. But having been disconnected, for one reason or another from that source, their spirit was dulled and they eventually died spiritually. How can we ensure that our spiritual feeding roots are always connected to the well of living water? The Lord outlines simple personal habits that keep us rooted, grounded and connected to him.
He goes on to say those habits are: daily prayer, fasting, regular study of scriptures and words of living prophets, Sabbath day, partaking of the Sacrament, attending the temple and reaching out to others. He says:
When someone stops doing these simple but essential things they cut themselves from the well of living water and allow Satan to muddle their thinking. Sin and guilt cloud their mind.
Elder Ballard you are making the assumption that all who stop believing werenâ€™t doing these simple things. You imply that members who stop believing (those very elect) were perhaps not strongly rooted. You imply that sin and guilt are factors. These are enormous generalizations and you are stating them as if they apply to everyone. I continued to read, pray, fast, go to the temple, serve in my callings (which required lots of studying/preparation). In fact those increased for me during the years I continued to attend and participate. I read every night. I prayed every night. I read and studied for months about the church more intently than I had during my entire life. I had no guilt about sin weighing me down and clouding/dulling my mind as I continued to live my life as I had done as an active, believing, temple worthy member. My experience is shared by many who were solid, active, serving members. Members who werenâ€™t slackers in these simple things. Your entire focus is on what the member who stopped believing did/didn’t do and is based on all kinds of assumptions/generalizations. In this church relationship there are two parties – the member and the church. Your discussion completely focuses on the member. Why? Do you feel the church bears no responsibility in the decision a member makes to leave or stop believing? What about the member like me who spends enormous effort, energy and time studying and comes across all kinds of problematic issues within the church? What about the member like me who for 45 years learned church history from the church only to discover this history was often incomplete and at times inaccurate? What about the member who finds very real problems in the theology, doctrine, truth claims and historical narrative they were taught which have significant impact on church authority/restoration claims? What role does the church play in all of this for the member that is in fact making the decision to leave based on very real legitimate concerns? When you portray members who leave like your story in the sequoa tree you are attempting to devalue and delegitimizeÂ many like me and our experience and decision. Not only that you avoid recognizing and discussing the church’s part in this entire thing.
He also says:
One thing that is constantly on my mind is knowing that individuals that donâ€™t stay focused on the simple doctrines of the gospel will eventually listen to false teachers, self-proclaimed prophets and adopt worldly philosophies. These alternative voices include viewing podcasts and internet sites that raise questions and doubts without being intellectually honest and that do not adequately and honestly present the Lordâ€™s perspective.
Elder Ballard many members, myself included, were studying the gospel, church history and doctrines when we began learning things we werenâ€™t familiar with. Itâ€™s not that we werenâ€™t focused on the simple doctrines enough. Are you suggesting we shouldnâ€™t have studied so much? Is the restoration narrative a simple doctrine? Is early church history a simple part of the gospel or something we should avoid studying? What constitutes alternative voices:Â LDS.org, FairMormon, Maxwell Institute, old church historical documents and books written by apostles/prophets/respected leaders? Which podcasts: FairMormon, A Thoughtful Faith, Mormon Stories, Mormon Matters? Which websites? The reality is once you become aware of the uncorrelated material you have to go outside of the easily accessible Sunday church material in order to study and learn more. Do you feel the correlated church material is intellectually honest? The reality is it’s often incomplete and sometimes contradicts the historical record. When studying historical information what does it mean to â€œadequately and honestly represent the Lordâ€™s perspectiveâ€? Does this mean if you are researching something that doesnâ€™t match what you learned at church, or are hearing over the pulpit, you should discount it or view it as inaccurate or dishonest? The reason someone might feel muddled is often not due to a lack of solidly placed feeding roots, but rather because what we learn at church, from official correlated church material, so often doesnâ€™t match what we find in deeper study.
It sure would be helpful for mixed faith families, and those of us trying hard to maintain positive interaction with our active LDS family/friends, if these talks weren’t filled with generalizations and assumptions. If they weren’t all focused on painting the member as someone weak, not rooted and negligent/lacking in the simple necessary things. It sure would be nice if they also recognized folks like me that tried for years to make it work, studied and made great effort in their decision. It sure would be nice if recognition was made that there are in fact some of us that have navigated this in a very thorough, conscientiousÂ way utilizing the methods we were taught our whole life to use when studying the gospel. It would be nice if the church’s roles and responsibilites in this process were discussed as well. If the church recognized and openly discussed how the correlated material we’ve used for years is lacking in some instances in accuracy and detail. It would be wonderful if the church recognized this may be a very conscientiousÂ decision someone makes after study instead of portraying people like me like your sequoa tree story because honestly it’s a helluva lot more complicated than feeding roots.