This year (2020) I was invited to share my thoughts in Sunstone's "Why I Stay" plenary session for their co...
I’ve been an active participant for the past few years in the online discussions surrounding Mormonism. During that time, I’ve spoken with many people who explain they are in a “crisis of faith”. While I don’t doubt their genuineness in feeling it is indeed a crisis, I’ve noticed some of the behaviors and biases the language of “crisis” causes. Sometimes I wonder if the language we use when our faith develops or changes biases the possibilities we see.
We commonly use the term “faith crisis”, but there are baggage and assumptions behind the word “crisis” that I think we sometimes don’t acknowledge. Often, a crisis is something we’re the victim of. A crisis requires immediate, even hasty, action. A crisis tends to put us in a psychological fight or flight mode. A crisis often side-steps responsibility, meditation, conscious action, and instead places us in a helpless state. And it can pit us against God, others, and ourselves.
This is reflected in the angsty language that’s often used. A desire to accept new truths can be lost as we cry out, “Why wasn’t I told?” The virtue of epistemic humility and freedom to adjust one’s faith against new light and knowledge struggles when we double-down on the static, creedal approaches to faith that lead to the “crisis” to begin with. The command to acknowledge our own failings and need for patience with one another can be difficult if we hyper-focus on the hypocrisies of others. Our commitment to forgiveness and healing can be lost to the dedication to find offense. And the scriptural message of imperfect, yet inspired prophets can become drowned out by hasty generalizations.
The wrong approach is to think that all of this can simply be ignored or wished away. The reality of a “faith crisis” is just that: that these feelings are real, powerful, and deserve our empathy. It is important to understand why certain narratives/accounts/facts have been incorrectly promoted over others, cognitive dissonance does occur and is important to avoid, identifying hypocrisy is important (especially in ourselves), painful offenses do occur to us and by us, and the faults and failings of leaders have, are, and always will be with us. But when we frame every development, change, or tremor in our faith as necessarily a “Crisis!” we put ourselves into a limited psychological/cognitive mode. We come to see only conspiracy, contradiction, judgement, faults, and failings. And this mode can lead to being biased towards only two options: fight or flight — neither of which come close to modeling the more powerful teachings of Christ to “mourn with those that mourn” or “comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:8-10).
Instead of shoe-horning ourselves into this false dichotomy, can we take more responsibility for our assumptions and language we use to understand and describe the development of faith? Can we chose assumptions and language that makes us masters of our own faith and beliefs? Could we instead become explorers, developers, visionaries, meditators, disciples, peacemakers, or authors and co-authors of our faith in Christ rather than only victims of a crisis of outside influences? Could our faith spring up from within (John 4:14), rather than only try to draw from what’s around us? Could this strengthen rather than fray our relationships with others?
Charles G. West once said:
We turn to God for help when our foundations are shaking only to learn that it is God shaking them.
When I do this, I find that questions and concerns that I share with those in a faith crisis instead become opportunities for communion with them and with God. When I give myself the liberty to think for myself rather than put myself into a psychological fight or flight mode, my faith becomes bigger, more expansive, different, more capable of handling the complexities of life, open to more possibilities, and more hopeful about our world and other people. When I allow myself to buy into the “crisis mode” of faith my faith gets smaller, deflates, becomes stagnant, sees things in black and white, sees mostly faults, and only sees a few possibilities biased towards this angst.
If you feel you’re in a “faith crisis” pause for a moment and ask yourself “Why?” What assumptions brought you here? Who or what is responsible for this crisis? Can you take some responsibility yourself? Do you see only a couple possibilities? Or can you think of many nuanced possible ways forward? All this can, and should be done while simultaneously acknowledging faults, problems, incomplete narratives, and disagreements. But this kind of pausing and pro-active perspective taking makes us capable of being masters of our own reactions rather than victims of it.
One thing is certain: our faith will change, and that’s a good thing.