Let’s be honest—we all have questions both big and small. Some we easily blurt out, but others take courage to ask. You know the ones I am talking about because you have them yourself. They are those that deal with one’s faith.
When I have these questions, I tend to switch into research mode.
The other day I was visiting with my brother, and he asked me what books I had read recently.
“Mostly I am studying the Old Testament,” I replied.
That triggered an eyebrow raise. Not my usual genre of choice.
“One day I stumbled across a book about the authorship of Genesis, and I was hooked. Biblical scholars have taught me more about the Bible than I could ever have figured out on my own.”
My reply must have convinced him that I was now an expert on the Bible because his expression turned more serious.
“So I have a question,” he ventured.
“Do you really think there was a global flood?” he asked, as he modeled the shape of the earth with his hands.
“Wait. Do that again,” I quickly shot back.
This time, his hands were still as he posed the question.
“No. Ask the question like you did the first time with your hand motions.”
After he repeated the exercise, I asked him a simple question: “Wasn’t the world flat until 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue?”
“Makes all the difference when you think about it from the perspective of biblical narrators, doesn’t it?”
This was a side of my brother I hadn’t seen before. He sheepishly admitted to me that he had been mulling over this and other issues, mostly about Church history, for close to 40 years. How great it would have been to have had this conversation years earlier. But then again, what resources would I have pointed him to even five years ago? There were no pictures of seer stones and no Gospel Topics essays.
What Do You Do with Your Questions?
For my brother, these questions were just part of his normal background noise and not particularly bothersome. But for others, these types of questions are a bigger distraction. And in a culture accustomed to instant access to information, people often turn to the Internet for answers.
My young adults did. And like many, they were blindsided by the things they encountered that contradicted perceptions about Church history and gospel topics. Having come across this new information outside of nurturing channels such as family study and church-sponsored instruction, they felt betrayed.
As their mother, I was ill-equipped to answer their questions. My lamp was empty. Totally dry. Life had caught me unprepared. I had spiritual experiences to share and a testimony anchored in the gospel to bear. But the oil they were looking for consisted of details, context, and a guiding hand to help them evaluate this new information.
A New Game Plan
Elder M. Russell Ballard recently stated in an address to CES employees that Church curriculum “though well-meaning, did not prepare students for today—a day when students have instant access to virtually everything about the Church from every point of view.”
And, unfortunately, it didn’t prepare parents to shield their children from the dangers of internet surfing into shark-infested waters. As of yet, no one has developed an accuracy filter for the internet. But is that what we really need? Wouldn’t it be better if we all had a sufficient knowledge base to be critical consumers of information about the Church?
Elder Ballard also emphasized that the home is the first place that our youth should be introduced to “authoritative sources on topics that may be less well-known or controversial.” An essential skill we can teach our children is to recognize “authoritative sources.” When evaluating information, we all should be asking ourselves these questions:
“What are the credentials of the author?”
“When was this written?”
“What are the motivations of the author in publishing this work?”
“Has this article or book been peer reviewed?”
Self-Directed Teaching and Learning
Nobody likes being caught unprepared, and I wasn’t about to let it happen again. For me, this meant researching these potentially faith-challenging topics and incorporating discussions about them into our regular gospel study.
My goals were simple:
Inoculation. As a parent, I had the power to take away the surprise element to learning about some of the more difficult-to-understand aspects of doctrine and Church history. Having already studied these issues, my children could more readily recognize half-truths and falsehoods they might later encounter.
Trust. Teaching these topics to my children would strengthen our relationship. As their questions were addressed and discussed, trust would develop. They would see our home as a safe place for intellectual and spiritual exploration.
Life Skills. Admitting to not knowing things while holding on to things that one does know is a valuable life skill. The very act of showing faith acknowledges that there are uncertainties. In our daily lives, we are able to function amidst an abundance of unknowns. Embracing this same functionality in our spiritual lives is essential.
Where’s the Manual?
Finding resources to accomplish these goals proved difficult. A cursory search on the internet or even hours of listening to podcasts would not generate the level of understanding equal to that of scholars who have studied these issues for decades.
What I needed was a basic primer on each of the topics, and for that I would need help. So I approached respected Church scholars and asked if they would summarize their research not only for me and my children but also for fellow members of the Church. I’m not sure if it was a bold or a desperate move, but it worked.
A Reason for Faith: Navigating LDS Doctrine and Church History is a collection of short essays on 17 controversial topics ranging from Joseph Smith and his years as a money digger to the relationship between religion and science.
Collectively the authors of these essays have written over 85 books, penned hundreds of scholarly articles, and spent an average of 25 years researching. Their depth of knowledge enables them to share reliable details, mature perspectives, and valuable context to the sensitive subjects that are being discussed most frequently in such diverse places as online forums and Sunday School classrooms.
Serious inquiry doesn’t need to be viewed as an expression of doubt. We need to destigmatize the questioning process and instead capitalize on its ability to lead us to a place where we can increase in learning. After all, wasn’t it a question that sent Joseph Smith, a world-class seeker, to a grove of trees almost 200 years ago?
This book doesn’t claim to provide answers to all questions but rather to provide reliable details and context, tools for beginning a journey of discovery. Because it is the continual search for truth, despite the presence of lingering questions, that will ultimately give us a reason for faith.
A Reason for Faith: Navigating LDS Doctrine and Church History is now available at Deseret Book and online retailers.
For more information, check out www.AReasonForFaith.info.