A few months ago there was an article in the New York Times about members of the Church who were doubting the faith after researching a few things online. With more information more readily available, and less of it put into any sort of context, there are many who find things written or said about the Church or by early Church leaders that cause them to doubt the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as restored by the prophet Joseph Smith.
I wrote a response at the time, but I do not think it is a coincidence that this same topic was addressed in General Conference that occurred last week. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf spoke on Saturday morning, giving an address he titled, “Come, Join with Us”. In that, he said something that has been repeated a lot on Twitter and Facebook and elsewhere online in the last week. What he said was,
Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.
I have seen a lot of people responding to that negatively. They see that phrase and assume that what President Uchtdorf is saying is that members of the Church should not doubt at all. That is not what he meant, and certainly not what he said.
Firstly, This statement was not directed toward those who are not members, or those who are investigating. It was directed to those who are in the faith, who have accepted it at one time, those who have believed. President Uchtdorf is telling them to hold to what they have once held to be true, to remember their faith and why they joined in the first place. He says, just before that statement,
It’s natural to have questions—the acorn of honest inquiry has often sprouted and matured into a great oak of understanding. There are few members of the Church who, at one time or another, have not wrestled with serious or sensitive questions. One of the purposes of the Church is to nurture and cultivate the seed of faith—even in the sometimes sandy soil of doubt and uncertainty. Faith is to hope for things which are not seen but which are true.
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters—my dear friends—please, first doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith. We must never allow doubt to hold us prisoner and keep us from the divine love, peace, and gifts that come through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
He is not asking people to never doubt, to never question. He acknowledges that this Church was founded and the Gospel of Jesus Christ was restored because a young boy wondered, questioned, and asked. He points out that the Church exists to help people come closer to Jesus Christ, to become more like him, to develop their faith. Everyone will have a time where they doubt something, that is normal and natural. But, President Uchtdorf encourages those who begin to doubt to remember their faith first, to not throw it completely away because there are some things that, for now, do not make sense. Hold to your faith, hold to what you have once believed. Remember why it was that you came to Church in the first place, and allow that faith and that hope to help you through a period of doubt. Do not turn away from God when you begin to doubt, but first, turn toward him and allow him the opportunity to help you, to explain, to show you, to increase your faith.
Doubting is an extremely interesting part of LDS culture. On the surface, we accept it with the Joseph Smith example and the Moroni promise. We ask everyone to take their doubts to the Lord in prayer and to ask him if it is right or not, if it is true or not
But, on the other hand, what would we say to one who said they had prayed and received an answer that they were not to join the Church? Is there any way to get a No answer, without being accused of unrighteousness or not having real intent?
Unfortunately, I think that sometimes we get so caught up in what we believe and know to be true, that we forget that it may not come as easily to others. We expect everyone to have the exact same experience with prayer and faith and receiving an answer that when someone does not, we assume that they must have done it wrong. We hold to those words in the promise in Moroni, “if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. “ So, when someone does not receive an answer right away, or does not understand the answer they receive then we accuse them of not having a sincere heart, or real intent, or enough faith.
The hardest part about this Church is also the part that makes me love it the most. For a few things God has spoken by the mouth of his prophet and declared “Thou shalt” or “Thou shalt not”, but for most things in this life God wants us to come unto him personally so that he can reason together with us and help us learn and grow and develop on our own. There are some fundamental principles and ordinances of the Gospel that are required of all who seek to follow Christ, but for most things in our day to day lives, we need to have faith and trust in God, and we need to listen to his Holy Spirit. And that means that sometimes what is right for one person or one family is not what is right for another. That is okay, we are all striving to become like Christ, but we are not all identical. We each have different needs as we continue our earthly journey, but as long as we are all keeping the basic commandments and working our way towards Christ, then we are doing all right.
I honestly believe that we need to reach out more to each other and help each other become more like Christ. We are all different and have different needs, but we are all trying. We are all in need of a little more love, a little more understanding, a little more help. When you see someone who may be having doubts, try to help them remember the faith that they do have. Try to help them remember to come unto Christ and seek their answers at his feet through prayer.
I believe in Christ. I believe in prayer. I believe in developing a personal relationship with my Father in Heaven. I need you and I hope that sometimes you can benefit from me. Together, in our families and as the larger human family, we can all return to our Father in Heaven.
- General Conference, October 2013, Saturday Morning Review (mormonisminvestigated.co.uk)
- Ex-Mormons aren’t ‘lazy or sinful,’ church leader Dieter Uchtdorf says (religionnews.com)
- My Favorite Conference Talk (dunfordshire.wordpress.com)