An article in the March 2015 Ensign is stirring up all kinds of discussion: “When Doubts and Questions Arise.” Read the article and you will see what the fuss is about. On the positive side, this and other recent articles and talks addressing faith questions at least provide acknowledgement that many faithful Mormons have issues with certain features of LDS doctrine and history. The new essays in Gospel Topics at LDS.org likewise provide groundbreaking official responses on several troubling topics. But the Ensign really has to do better than this polarizing and dispiriting discussion.
This helpful statement is buried in the middle of the article:
Some incorrectly suppose that having sincere concerns about Church history or doctrine is evidence that one is not living up to the standards of the Church. Having questions does not mean you are guilty of some great sin.
Yet the balance of the article seems calculated to encourage Latter-day Saints to view those with questions and doubts as disobedient apostates. “The doubter’s posture is generally to withhold obedience or limit it, pending resolution of the doubts.” And this invocation of Korihor, signaling to the reader that doubters are to be viewed as sign-seeking junior antichrists: “One problem with doubt is the intent to obey only after the uncertainty is resolved to the satisfaction of the doubter. This is the attitude personified by Korihor, who said, ‘If thou wilt show unto me a sign … then will I be convinced of the truth (Alma 30:43).'” (Ellipsis in original.)
Our friends at FPR posted a long and detailed critique of the article, cleverly titled “Doubting Our Doubters.” Rather than plow the same ground, I will simply identify a few alternative sources treating this topic more productively. First, this recent statement posted at LDS.org, issued by The Council of The First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which states in part:
We understand that from time to time Church members will have questions about Church doctrine, history, or practice. Members are always free to ask such questions and earnestly seek greater understanding. …
Simply asking questions has never constituted apostasy. Apostasy is repeatedly acting in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its faithful leaders, or persisting, after receiving counsel, in teaching false doctrine.
Second, President Uchtdorf’s Conference talk “Come, Join With Us.” He counseled:
Some might ask, “But what about my doubts?”
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, … 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.
Third, this fine article in the Spring 2014 BYU Magazine, “Keeping the Faith,” in which two BYU profs provide advice on how to deal with questions about LDS doctrine posed by one’s children. In a section titled “Destigmatizing Doubt” (which seems to be just the opposite approach to that taken by the current Ensign article) the following advice is given:
LDS culture tends to communicate disapproval of doubt, say the professors, sometimes to the point of causing someone with questions to feel that he or she is unfaithful or unworthy. If someone musters the courage to raise a question with parents or friends and is met with shock or disgust, he or she is often left feeling alone.
“If they can’t find an open, candid, and supportive place to work through honest questions, that’s tragic,” says [J. Spencer] Fluhman. “We stigmatize doubt to the point that people feel guilty for even having the questions. That’s not conducive to spiritual growth.”
Finally, here is a simple passage from the August 2013 New Era, responding to the prompt, “Is it okay to have doubts about the gospel?” The response:
It is normal to have questions about the gospel and even to experience doubt. Pondering your unanswered questions can often be healthy if it motivates you to sincerely seek greater knowledge and truth. In addition, such questions are often part of “the trial of [our] faith” that is required before we receive a witness from God (Ether 12:6). However, doubt is a dreary destination, so it should never be a goal in itself.
Remember, God is merciful, and if you maintain hope and a desire to know the truth, He will reward you with the answers you seek or at least with the peace and reassurance you need in order to continue in faith (see Matthew 7:7; 2 Nephi 32:3; Alma 32:21–22; Moroni 10:5; D&C 6:36).
Wow. It’s a little embarrassing when The New Era, aimed at kids, gives a better discussion of a topic than The Ensign.