Jared Halverson: Giving People the Benefit of their Doubts
While pursuing a doctoral degree from Vanderbilt Divinity School where his studies have been focused on anti-religious rhetoric, Jared Halverson has simultaneously sought to help students who wrestle with questions and doubts about the restored gospel. And while many say that divinity school tends to weaken faith, he says he has only become more convinced of the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Father of every prodigal is still staring out the window waiting for any movement home.
Brother Halverson's Come, Follow Me study videos: Unshaken Videos
Gospel Day by Day Videos:
Book: Faith is Not Blind by Bruce C. Hafen and Marie K. Hafen
Book: Navigating Mormon Faith Crisis: A Simple Developmental Map by Thomas Wirthlin McConkie
LDS Living Article: "Jared Halverson: Why Home-Church and Church-Church Need Each Other"
3:30- A Desire to Understand People’s Questions
7:05- How Do People Attack One Another Over Issues of Faith?
10:42- Is There Such a Thing as Anti-Religious Rhetoric?
13:54- “Where Faith and Doubt Mingle”
16:19- Lowest Possible Floor, Infinitely High Ceiling
19:38- Stages of Faith
25:28- “How Deep Do the Cracks Go?”
32:25- Starting From Ground Zero
38:54- Still the People We’ve Always Loved
42:41- “We Believe that He Will Yet Reveal…”
50:26- What Does It Mean To Be “All In” the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Morgan Jones 0:00
In the world we live in, it can seem harder and harder at times to know who or what to believe. This uncertainty can even begin to extend to our deeply held religious beliefs and, in some cases, can start to erode our faith. Jared Halverson is no stranger to criticisms of faith. In fact, he has devoted his life to studying them. And yet he says that his study of anti-religious rhetoric has only strengthened his belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Jared Halverson has taught religious education courses for high school and college-age young adults since 1998. Prior to his current assignment at the Salt Lake Institute, he spent eight years directing the seminary and institute programs in Nashville, Tennessee. While in Nashville, he earned a second master's degree in American religious history at Vanderbilt University, where he is currently completing a doctorate in the same subject focusing on anti-religious rhetoric. He was frequently involved with interfaith dialogue in the Nashville area, and that work has continued in Salt Lake City, where he has hosted evangelical student groups from across the country. He currently hosts a verse-by-verse Come, Follow Me study on YouTube called "Unshaken." He and his wife, Emily, are the parents of five children.
This is All In, an LDS Living podcast where we ask the question, what does it really mean to be all in the gospel of Jesus Christ? I'm Morgan Jones, and I am so thrilled to have Jared Halverson with me today. Brother Halverson, welcome.
Jared Halverson 1:38
Great to be here. Thank you, Morgan.
Morgan Jones 1:40
Well, I have to tell everyone listening that I have had the pleasure to sit in Brother Halverson's institute classes many times up at the University of Utah, and have always considered it to be a treat and something that I'm grateful to have been a part of. It's kind of cool, for those who don't know, Brother Halverson's classes, when COVID is not happening, pack people in. People are sitting out in the hallways, and so I've always thought that was cool. I also just want to say a personal thank you. I have several friends who, over the past few years, have struggled with aspects of their faith or have struggled to watch other people that they love and care about leave the Church, and Brother Halverson has a little bit of an open-door policy, and, always, if you have a question, he'll welcome you in. I just, I can't tell you, Brother Halverson, from the perspective of somebody that has loved people who have reached out to you, how much it means to me that you are willing to do that, so thank you so much.
Jared Halverson 2:47
Oh, it's always a blessing for me, and now I know that some of them are your friends, that makes it all the sweeter. I think in some ways, those large classes that you described are just a means to a greater end. I think it was Elder Bednar that said, the real reason we go around to speak at state conferences and things is not to reorganize stakes, it's to meet the needs of "the one," and to do that one by one by one around the world. And if a large class introduces me to a broad spectrum of people, I hope it just helps them feel comfortable in having one-on-one conversations with me in my office, or via Zoom, or on the phone or however, to be able to try to meet their needs.
Morgan Jones 3:30
Yeah. Well, I wanted to give people a little taste today of some of the things that you've taught, but also your background. I think many people have probably seen the video series that you did with Gospel Day by Day and LDS Living, and they're probably like, "Man, this guy is brilliant, but we don't know much about him." And so I wanted to talk a little bit today about your background, and then how that has allowed you to help people that are in this space of having questions. So first of all, you are no stranger to these questions and criticisms of the Church. What initially made you interested in questions of faith and criticisms of religion in general?
Jared Halverson 4:14
Great question, Morgan. Religion has been something that's fascinated me since childhood. I grew up in Los Angeles as a Latter-day Saint in a predominantly non-Latter-day Saint area, and most of my friends were very devout and very diverse in their own religious beliefs. I remember as a high school kid being invited to speak at an interfaith service that we had at the Catholic Church, and to represent Mormonism at the time, to me just felt like an honor. And to be surrounded by other people that were very strong in their own beliefs, it just felt like I was in good company in spite of the fact that we didn't see eye-to-eye on everything theologically.
So then I went to BYU and studied, took as many religion classes as I possibly could. After BYU, I started working for the Church, teaching seminary and institute and absolutely loved it, but wanted to deepen my understanding of religious issues. So when I was reassigned to Nashville, Tennessee, to direct the institute program there, Vanderbilt University has a divinity school that was top-notch—as far as things I was looking for—in American religious history, and dove into the program and just wanted to understand as much as possible about religion. And not just my beliefs, but the beliefs of others that introduced me to questions that people have had for millennia.
I remember when I was applying and one of the administrators asked,
"Why do you want to come and get a Ph.D. in religious history? You're a Latter-day Saint. We're here to prepare ministers, and there's no professional clergy in Mormonism, so we can't help you become a Mormon priest."
And I laughed and said, "I was a Mormon priest at age 16, so I don't need your help on that."
"But we also prepare academics," he said, "and you already teach for your church. And so in some ways, you're already living the dream. What do you need a Ph.D. to continue teaching for your religion?"
I gave him two answers. One, I said, "More used would I be." I just felt like the Lord could use me better if I was better trained and had a better understanding of what was out there. And secondly, I said, "As Latter-day Saints, we sometimes feel like we know everything, that we specialize in answers. I know that's not very humble of us," and I said, "but I sometimes wonder if we knew what the questions were to begin with, and you typically don't appreciate answers until you know what questions they're responding to. So I really want to come to Divinity School and understand people's questions. What has kept theologians and philosophers up at night across the millennia? And I want to see if the restored gospel's answers measure up and if they really do respond to the questions of the soul."
And he must have liked that answer because he led me in, and it was an incredible experience to be there for a second master's degree to expand beyond Mormon history into American religious history in general, and then to continue pursuing the Ph.D. in the same subject.
There was a six-week program that Terryl Givens and Richard Bushman put together each summer for kind of the next generation of LDS scholars, and they'll pick some subject in LDS history and gather a group of Ph.D. students from across the country and kind of whip us all into shape. And sitting at the feet of Terryl Givens and Richard Bushman is an honor, whatever the circumstance might be, but to learn from them about LDS history and how to make sense of things from the past, that particular summer we studied the golden plates as a cultural phenomenon. And in my own research, I studied every newspaper article I could find from the 1830s and 40s regarding the coming forth at the Book of Mormon, and I was amazed. I just wanted to get a sense of, what the general public think of the Book of Mormon when they first heard the story? So that if a Latter-day Saint missionary came and knocked on your cabin door, did you have anything in your mind already that would color your perception when the missionaries started talking about the Book of Mormon? And it struck me how negative everything was, and really how flippant and how much mocking went into to telling the story of a "gold Bible" and stone spectacles and some New York farm boy who said he'd spoken with God. That really struck me as this approach that people took towards taking apart someone else's beliefs.
And that began what we turn into my second master's thesis, the doctoral dissertation, all of my study from that moment forward really became, "How do people attack one another over issues of faith?" And so, as weird as it sounds, I guess my specialty is in anti-Mormonism and anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism. It's not just those that attack our faith, it's those that attack faith in general, and to see the approaches that they take, the strategies and tactics that are typically used rhetorically, all in an effort to undermine one another's beliefs in hopes of replacing it with something different. That has been something I've been amazed at how useful it's been. I didn't realize that my two answers to the administration would become one, that "more used would I be?" would boil down to, "How do we answer questions of faith, particularly in the face of those that are attacking it?" I've been amazed at how useful it's been.
When I was first asked to leave Tennessee and come back to Utah, and assigned to the University of Utah, I told my wife and she was thrilled to be moving back to Utah, but I think she says that I was a little hesitant, and she said, "Honey, you get to go to the U of U. You study intellectual anti-Mormonism, and you're going to the epicenter. You're living the dream." And I just laughed. I said, "Yeah, I guess you're right." And since I've been here, I am amazed at how often I'll have conversations with friends of yours, evidently, who needed a little bit of spiritual boost, or just someone to listen to that and bounce their questions off of.
Morgan Jones 10:07
Yeah. Well, and I think it's interesting, we experienced opposition to our faith regardless of where we live. But I do think there are differences in the way that we experienced that opposition. I grew up in North Carolina, and the way that I experienced that opposition growing up versus the way that I experience it in Utah is a very different thing. But I think that you make such an interesting point, that anti-religious literature or attacks on religion, that is not something that is unique to us as Latter-day Saints, so I wondered if we could kind of start off—what should people know about anti-religious literature that maybe we don't know? And I think it's interesting, as I was preparing for this, I was thinking about how there are some people who say that there is no such thing. Like, they don't like that phrase, "anti-religious" whatever. What would you say about that? I guess that's a two-part question.
Jared Halverson 11:02
Well, great questions. Let me tackle one of them first. Is there such a thing as anti-religious literature or anti-religious rhetoric? And that's a definite yes. And it's old and it's broad and you name the faith, they're going to get attacked, especially if that faith seems to be growing. And often, it seems that the ones that are attacking it most maliciously, or most subtly, maybe most successfully, would be a better adverb, or those that were once members of that church. And I think you see that often in our day as people are trying to blog, or podcast, or video, or do whatever they can to try to diminish the influence of the restored gospel and in Latter-day Saints' lives. I think it's interesting to see their approach. Sometimes they'll say, "Oh, this isn't anti-Mormon. This is just this isn't anti-Mormonism. This is Mormonism, and we're just trying to give the other side of the story." And yet, it's only that side of the story.
When I meet with students, I'll sometimes describe things as "walking across the teeter-totter." If you remember playing with seesaw or teeter-totters when you were a kid, and if no one's on the other side, you can stand on one side of it, and it's nice and stable, no problem at all. But as you start walking across it, then it starts to get unstable when you're near the fulcrum in the middle, and so often what you'll do is try to get to the other side as quickly as you possibly can, because then it's stable. Again, it's back on the ground, and now I'm not worried about losing my balance.
I think, often, people in any faith—again, anti-religion is wide and deep—will, as they leave their faith, will start feeling unstable, will start kind of launching out in new directions, exploring things, asking questions, and often it begins with a good purpose in mind, just wanting to deepen their understanding or explore different avenues, but it's amazing that instability in the middle, how uncomfortable it is. And so how quickly they cross to the other side, and just, instead of being a 100% true believer, now I'm a 100% antagonist. What I once embraced and loved, I now want to take down. And, again, there's so much subtlety there. Often, it's people that will try to establish their credentials and let you know, "Oh, I was on my mission," or, "I was born and raised in the Church and all I ever wanted to do was believe." And yet they've gotten to a point now where they have passed over that middle stage of ambiguity to try to find a new clarity that, unfortunately, is just as one-sided as their perspective had been.
On the other side, I think it's interesting to see people dogmatic and, again, simplistic in their faith, and then to become equally dogmatic and simplistic in their disbelief, where real faith is somewhere in that middle, where faith and doubt mingle to allow us the chance to truly exercise our agency and decide ourselves what we believe and how we're going to act on different perspectives. I guess I will say that doubt does have a leg to stand on, and people that attack the Church typically do so with some information in their corner. It's a court case of sorts, and there are lawyers for the prosecution and lawyers for the defense, and I think that's one thing that has been reassuring to people as I've sat with them as they talk about this concern or that issue or that question about church history, and to say, "Oh, yeah, that is a tricky one," and, "I can see why people would say this," and, "Yeah, that quote is a tough one to understand. Let's make sure we're seeing it in context," or, "This period of church history is messy, you're right." And I think to validate that helps them see, "Okay, it's not as clear cut as I thought when I started." But at the same time, neither is it as clear cut as they're trying to make it now. It's not an all one side or an all the other side, and that's, again, standing in the middle of the teeter-totter. In some ways, I think that's where God wants us to be because it requires us to flex some muscles. And I sometimes wonder, in our zeal to say, "I know, I know, I know," have we pulled ourselves away from the need to exercise faith? And so, to use our testimonies as a bludgeon or as a club for someone else, no wonder people on the other side want to use their lack of testimony as a club to beat back the opposition. And I think if we can find that middle ground where there is truth and error mingled, there is strength and weakness in each of us, there is light and darkness that we're trying to navigate. I think if we can develop the core strength to stand in the middle of that teeter-totter, that's how we'll strike balance and be able to navigate life.
Morgan Jones 16:15
Yeah, I love that so much. I think, Brother Halverson, one thing that has been interesting for me over the last couple years is that I've had several people very close to me step away from the Church. And it has caused me to reflect on my faith, to dig a little bit deeper, and I have found that my faith means more to me than it did before. So like you said, the middle of that teeter-totter, it can feel scary, but that's where our faith grows. So I want to emphasize that, for those who may feel like they are struggling right now that they have questions or that someone that they love has questions, that that's not necessarily a bad thing. And I wondered, for you as you have people who come to you with questions of faith, first of all, what advice would you give someone who does feel like they're having these questions? And I think sometimes it's feeling like you're having questions for the first time in your life that feels scary. So what advice would you give someone maybe in that position?
Jared Halverson 17:28
You gave the first piece of advice perfectly, and that's to reassure them that this is a normal part of life for many, many people. It's increasingly becoming a normal part of discipleship. We live in an Information Age, unlike anything in the past, and the Information Age also comes as a "misinformation age." I think there's great value in exploring and deepening our understanding, even when that leads to some questions that we're going to have. I think we grow up. The beautiful thing about the restored gospel is, it has the lowest possible floor and an infinitely high ceiling. And that low floor means that a new convert can begin to study and pray and gain their own testimony and join the Church, or an eight-year-old can be baptized. You can go to primary and learn the principles of the gospel and see the beauty of it there, but at the same time, the most well-read theologian can spend a lifetime deepening their understanding of the gospel and never run out of things to learn. That was one of the great things I saw at Divinity School, is the restored gospel has answers worth sharing with the world. And even at times when I'd have professors ask me specifically, "Can you give us the LDS perspective on such and such?" and it was amazing to see what conversation partners we can be.
So as you're climbing the stairs from floor to ceiling, it's normal to run into things that surprised you, or that, "Oh, I didn't see this when I was in primary." Well, heaven forbid we maxed out in primary, right? Or "I'm a returned missionary, and I've never read this about church history." Well, again, if we're believing in a gospel of eternal progression, what makes us think we're gonna max out at 21? Right? And so keep learning. When I have students come in and sit down and just kind of offload or unload their concerns and questions, that's often the first thing I want to do with them is to reassure them that this is a step in a good direction, that they're learning, they're growing, they're progressing.
There's been some great literature out there on what they call the stages of faith. I know you've interviewed Thomas Wirthlin McConkie, who's fantastic. His book, Navigating Mormon Faith Crisis, is an excellent one, and it grew out of literature written by a Methodist theologian in the early 1980s, James Fowler, and he talked about these stages of faith. Elder and Sister Hafen have recently written a book, Faith is Not Blind, which grew out of an earlier work of Elder Hafen's called "Love is Not Blind" that beat Fowler by two years, I was excited to see that he was on—he's been working on this for the last 40 years. So when Elder Hafen talks about this simplicity on to complexity, and then back to a more sophisticated simplicity, or as McConkie or Fowler described these various stages of faith. That's how we grow, and that is walking across the teeter-totter. We start in this first stage of simplicity and naiveté in some ways, everything's black and white, and everything's wonderful. Then we start inching across, and we're so nervous about it that we jump. We run to the other side. And that's that next stage of complexity, and yet we're often kind of bitter about where we've been.
The thought, as I've studied the stages of faith and tried to reassure people that they're actually progressing through them, the insight that came as the best blessing for me was superimposing that "stage" model of faith over the Pillars of Eternity that we grew up within the Church, of creation, fall, and atonement. The first stage is creation, and that's where we're in Eden and everything is beautiful and blissful. There are no weeds to pull, there are no problems, and everything about the Church is absolutely perfect. And then we hit the fall stage, and you run up against questions you didn't have an answer to, or you see the beauty and other people's beliefs, and you thought you had a monopoly on the market. And what you do in that fall stage is what's going to make the biggest difference in your life, because there are those that are in the fall and only look back to Eden—because that's the only place that they've known—and people tend to look back either with nostalgia or with bitterness, and often the one follows the other.
You start with nostalgia thinking, "Oh, I wish I hadn't read that, or, "I wish I hadn't listened to that podcast," or, "I wish I hadn't seen that anti-Mormon video," or whatever, and you just wish you could believe the way you did as a missionary or the way you did when you were a little kid. And sometimes that nostalgia then turns to bitterness and anger, a feeling of betrayal. You picture an Adam and Eve going, "I can't believe God set us up with those contradictory commands, and then He sticks the cherubim and the flaming sword, and he never wants me back, and we're angry, and look at all these thorns and briars and noxious weeds," until you realize it doesn't end here. The third stage is atonement. And it's higher and holier than the elevation of Eden ever was. You just have to have the faith to keep progressing forward. And I think once you can help somebody understand where they happen to be on that trajectory—of all faiths, we believe in the fortunate fall. And believing in a fortunate fall, can we apply that to a fall from faith? Can we apply it to a struggle or a wrestle? It's not as clear and as simple as it used to be, but that might actually be a sign that you're moving forward. Now, the bitterness and the anger, I think it was Orson F. Whitney that said that the fall had a two-fold direction: it was both downward and forward. And I think the downward aspect is that negativity, and sometimes the skepticism and the cynicism that comes up when someone is really struggling in their faith. But the forward dimension of that downward movement is, you know more than you used to; and you're learning; and you're growing; and, hopefully, you have a little more critical thought; and, hopefully, you have a little more openness. You're not as closed-minded as you might have been previously. It's then just a matter of, "What do I do here?" And to me, it's sad to see those just stay and fester in that second stage, in the fall, where East of Eden is not a place we want to live forever. So keep progressing. That's usually what I'll say to people. I'll try to kind of paint the picture of where they are on this journey, and when they recognize themselves in that fallen stage and can feel validated with the forward progress and also be able to kind of deal with some of the difficulty of the downward progress, that there's good and bad all mingled together, and then to reassure them you don't have to go back. You were never meant to. And to go forward to the atonement stage. There had to be this passing through the valley to get on to the next mountain top, and there's hope. So as I always tell them, if you've progressed to get to this point, then just don't stop progressing. Keep learning. Things get better as you continue to progress.
And, they've sometimes asked me, "How do I know when I'm in that in that atonement stage?" And I'll often say, "Well, you have charity for everyone in the previous stages. Those in Eden can't stand those east of you. And those East of Eden can't stand those in Eden. Once you get to the garden of gethsemane, you love everyone, no matter where they happen to be.
Morgan Jones 25:25
Yeah. I love that so much, and I think I love the idea of a fortunate fall. I recently had a conversation with someone very close to me, and I was talking to this person, and one thing that I've realized with people that step away from their faith or are struggling, they don't want to feel like we think they've been deceived. And I think that that's an important thing to note, is that, many times, they have not been deceived. I think Thomas Wirthlin McConkie is a great example of somebody that kind of went on this roundabout journey in his faith and, ultimately, ended up in the faith of his childhood. But I have noticed with the people that I love, that they don't want to feel that way, and I don't want them to feel that way.
And so recently I was having this conversation, and the person that I was talking to said, "I'm not trying to lead you away from your faith, I just sometimes wish that you could experience what I've experienced," in terms of, this person felt like they had come to know God in a way that they hadn't before as a result of their questions and their exploring. And I found myself, at the moment, I didn't know exactly what to say, but I found myself saying, "I have experienced that. I have experienced it in the Church, whereas you're experiencing it outside of it, and that's okay. It's okay that we're experiencing that in different ways." But I do think that, for some people, it requires a different path. And I'm grateful, in my case, that it is kept me in the Church, but I also recognize and have empathy for those who, maybe that's not their situation.
Jared Halverson 27:18
Yeah. What you've described is so true, in the experiences I've had with people, there are those who find God without ever having—I mean, the point you described is to find Him, to have experiences with Him, to know that He's there for you. And I think, sometimes, like I said earlier, sometimes our claims to knowledge stand in the way of real experiences with faith, and I think one of the beauties of someone that's struggling is that there's a vulnerability that opens up, an openness of heart that allows God to touch that heart in ways that perhaps a stubborn belief wasn't allowing for. I've often shared with people the example of building the Salt Lake temple and when they built the foundation, and then had to cover it all up when Johnston's army was on the way, and then realize that nothing was in real danger. So they uncover the temple, and there's cracks in the foundation, and then Brigham Young and the other saints have a horrible decision to make. We have put years into the construction of this foundation. Are we really going to start over? I mean, all this labor lost? Or do we just change what we're going to build on top? And I think so often, when people, all they have been focusing on is the superstructure of the gospel, or the Church of Jesus Christ, without really exploring the foundation of that testimony, which has to be in God and has to be in Jesus Christ, and then the Church is built on top of that. But often when people will have struggles with church history issues or questions about that, sometimes I'll just cut to the chase and say, "Do you believe in God?" And they're like, "Whoa, I'm not an atheist." I'm like, "Oh, it's okay if you are, I just really need to know where you really stand on all of this. Because if you have questions about church history, but you don't even believe in God, then we're straightening deck chairs on the Titanic. We have to get to the root of the issue." So how deep did the cracks go? So I'll try to kind of paint this picture of the Salt Lake temple and say, "What do you want your superstructure to look like? If you don't care about your spiritual life, then you can build—something lightweight on top of a cracked foundation is probably not going to be a problem. But if you care what your spiritual life is going to look like, then let's make sure the foundation is right. Let's dig. And if we need to rip it out, then let's do that. And I think for some who, they've never really come to know Heavenly Father, then tearing out the "LDS" layers of their foundation can actually be an incredibly soul-expanding experience, because they're getting down to the core levels themselves. "Do I believe in God? Have I had experiences with heaven?" Now, once they've had those experiences, hopefully they don't stop with that, because then it's, "Well, how does God help me overcome the problems of sin and death?" And that's where Christianity comes in, and the answers to those questions of the soul. And once Christianity becomes a solid layer of your foundation, now you start thinking, "Well, does Christ use churches as a vehicle to tap into His saving grace? And if so, where does the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stand in all of that, among all this, these denominational possibilities within Christianity?" For myself, like you, I haven't had to leave to recognize the beauty of all of this but to be able to explore my own foundation and clearly feel I am a theist. I do believe in God because I've had experiences with Him. And then the next level up, and I know that Christ is His Son, that the solution to the problems of sin come in Him. I am a Christian. And then from there, to realize the answers to the questions that I have, have been answered in the restored gospel in ways that I've never seen answered anywhere else. There's a depth. There's an explanatory power in the restored gospel that I've never seen elsewhere, and I've looked. I worry sometimes about those who leave in search of other churches because I have too many questions about the restored gospel or the Church of Jesus Christ, and I think, then go explore. Go search. And chances are you'll come back realizing that the answers you've always had are breathtaking here and that questions exist no matter where you look. So if you've left the Church in search of a realm of reality that doesn't have any question marks, good luck with that. That realm doesn't exist, and it doesn't really exist within religion, or even outside of religion. There are going to be questions and ambiguities wherever you might search. But I'll take the restored gospel's question marks over anyone else's because we have exclamation points that go along with them.
Morgan Jones 32:24
Yeah, let me ask you this, Brother Halverson. I feel like what you just said is so important to note because, I think, a lot of times people leave our church because they have questions about church history or whatever it may be, issues with the temple or Joseph Smith, and they leave the Church and then they find these questions in other religions. And so then the question is, "Well, do I believe in organized religion at all?" How do you kind of work through that?
Jared Halverson 32:58
That's exactly what typically happens. Occasionally there are those that leave the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and comfortably settle into some other religion. But I've found from my own study and my own experience with people that if the question marks that you find within the restored gospel are deal breakers for you, then no other religion will be satisfying either. Because, again, I don't say this pridefully, and as one who spent time in Divinity School surrounded by incredible people preparing for ministry within other religions, I have as much holy envy for other faiths as anyone I know. And I rejoice in friends that are leading congregations in other denominations. It's incredible the good that they do. I love them for it.
That being said, we have answers to questions that no one else does. I'm amazed by that. I mean, almost daily walking around Divinity School, I would be humming to myself either, "We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet" or "Praise to the Man," because there are just answers the restored gospel has that the world is looking for. I came away from Divinity School more convinced than ever of our exclamation points.
That being said, if someone cannot navigate all the question marks that exist, in some ways, to me, it makes more sense that they become atheists. Because I cannot handle the non-empirical. "If it requires faith to believe in the restored gospel, I can't handle faith, and I just don't want to believe in anything." Now the danger to that is, life itself requires faith. Marriage requires faith. Love requires faith. Relationships require faith. That's why there are the humanities in study, and not just the sciences. We need both. But where do you go from there? Like I said about the foundation, you dig back down to the very core. You start from scratch. You rip out the whole thing. If I have to start over again. And it's been interesting to see in people's faces, not this daunting, like, "Oh, no, my whole life's been a waste," but almost like a, "Really? I can do that?"
Morgan Jones 35:24
"You can do that?" Yeah.
Jared Halverson 35:25
"Am I allowed to question existence itself? Can I start from ground zero?" And I always reassured them, if it leads to real solid construction, then, of course, you should. Start over again. Blank slate, go to God, and find out if He's there. And I think the most powerful experiences we can have are on that initial level of knowing that He's there and that He wants to connect with you because you're His child. And I think, from that point, we start building back. And that might be a long process for some people, but talk about "joy in the journey." Talk about "sweet is the work." Yes, it's work, but boy, is that work sweet, because you're coming to know things for yourself. I had a conversation once with a student that was saying, "But I don't even know if I care. I don't. I'm feeling so lazy, spiritually. I don't even care about my foundation, and if there's cracks, or why would I want to build." I said, "Well, the fact you're even having this conversation is a good sign that you must care at least a little."
And then we talked about Alma 32, and this experiment on the word. Alma started with a desire to believe. If you can exercise but a particle of faith. And she said, "What if I don't even have a particle? Is there anything smaller than that?" And we talked about, what's the easiest thing you can do to try to start building some momentum, spiritually speaking? Is there ever a time that, almost without effort, you start to feel something within you awaken? And she said, "Nature. When I'm in nature, something seems to stir." And I just said, "How generous of God to surround you with your lowest gear. So next time you're out in nature, and you start to feel a little bit of momentum build, recognize it and then shift up to the next higher gear." Again, low floor, infinitely high ceiling. I think if we'll just begin somewhere and come to know, "there is a God in heaven who is aware of me." I mean, isn't that what King Lamoni's father started with? Talk about a vulnerable prayer. It's like, "God, if there is a God and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself manifest unto me? I don't even know if I'm talking to anybody, but if there's someone on the other side of the line, then I'm all ears." And I think to start with that level, you'll have a foundation to build upon. And then to take it up a notch, shift up, ask the next question, and really come to know Christ. And I think once the Savior becomes a real part of your life, and you are hearing His voice as you're studying His words, then—there's a verse in Section 84 of the Doctrine and Covenants where it says that it's basically it's the Father's job to lead us into the covenant, and that covenant is the Church, and I'm content to leave it with Him and to have trust in people and faith in them, and faith in Heavenly Father and faith in the power of the gospel, to just lead them. To lead them home, to bring them in.
Morgan Jones 38:51
Thank you for that. I think, Brother Halverson, I feel like there is a sweetness in this conversation and I think it comes as a result of having been two people who have loved people who have walked away from the Church. I think there's something about that experience that is kind of soul-changing. It has been, for me at least, and you've had experiences within your own family related to struggles of faith. I just wondered, I've loved hearing you talk about that in your classes, and I wondered what you've learned from those experiences and how they've given you more empathy. Because I think that is a beautiful byproduct of a lot of the questioning going on right now, for those experiencing it, and for those who love people that are experiencing it, is that it changes us. So how has that changed you?
Jared Halverson 39:48
Well, I knew their hearts before, and I know their hearts now. And their perspective on things may have changed. The perceptions they have of experience may be different than my perceptions. But the person behind them is still the person that I loved before, and to hold out hope, again, it's to give them the benefit of their doubts. And to understand that the fact that they're even engaging in the wrestle is such a beautiful sign. And while their decisions right now might not be the same decisions that you would wish for them, I don't know, there's something about Heavenly Father's watchcare, the Father of every prodigal, is still staring out the window, waiting for any movement home, and He'll run out to meet them, and hopefully, we're running right alongside them.
I've had fascinating conversations, like you said, with family members and loved ones, and I know where they're coming from and they know where I'm coming from, and so, I think more than anything, it's to maintain the relationship and that love that has undergirded all of it, so that there's not a sense of—I mean, there's already some obstacles to belief, right? We live in a secularized world. We live in a world where faith in the unseen is sometimes hard to live by. And I would hate for any kind of oppositionality on my part, or having to get the last word in edgewise, to add yet another obstacle to their ever-wanting to return. I think, also, if we can get past the thought that every step away from the gospel or from the Church is a step towards sin. I think too often we jump on that and go, "Oh, well what sin are you trying to hide? You don't want the Church to be true because..." and that doesn't do anybody any good, especially when there often is cognitive dissonance that's driving them away. Sometimes it's honest conscience on their part of, "I can't accept a certain policy of the Church right now, because my heart's too big." And wanting to validate, I've found that, any chance that we have to validate those that we love, to help them see that there is goodness driving a lot of their questions, and in hopes that they'll simply put the weapons down, put the dukes down, so to speak, that this isn't a fight, and that this is love, and that we can love each other in spite of doctrinal differences, in spite of different perceptions and perspectives on the Church and its doctrine and its practices.
Morgan Jones 42:38
Yeah, thank you so much. Brother Halverson, I so appreciate you taking the time to share these things. I wanted to ask you one more thing before we get to our last question. I, at one point, was kind of contemplating Divinity School, and as I read things that people have said about their experiences in attending Divinity School and seeking those degrees, they talked about how brutal it can be on someone's faith. And yet, I listen to you talk, and it's so clear that this study of religion has strengthened your faith. So why are you more grateful for your faith than ever before?
Jared Halverson 43:20
On the one hand, Divinity School has opened my eyes to just how generous God is with His love and His grace and His truth, in scattering revelation and truth down through the centuries, across the world to all of his children. Again, that holy envy has opened my heart and mind to the good that is out there, and to rejoice in that. At the same time, it's forced me to ask hard questions, and really dig deep, and, "Does this answer measure up to the world's question?" I'm more and more amazed by the restored gospel. The further I delve into it, the deeper it gets.
I had an experience in Divinity School, it was during the Romney campaign, I was there and it was the South, and Tennessee tends to lean conservative, but it also tends to lean heavily evangelical. And so you had all kinds of Christians there that were in this conundrum of, "I want to vote for the conservative candidate, but I'm scared to death to vote for Latter-day Saint." And so I was asked by lots of different congregations to come around and explain Mormonism so they could feel comfortable voting for "the Antichrist," as they thought. It was interesting. I would typically just do Q&A. I'd spend 15-20 minutes explaining some foundational issues in the Church, and then I'd say, "Okay, what do you want to know?" And that was a little scary, to just completely open myself up. I was the only Latter-day Saint in the room as a congregation of other very staunch Christians wanting to dig into Mormonism.
And one woman, I remember, was just kind of angry at our claims to be the one true Church. And I can understand where she's coming from. And so I said what I had said as a missionary, in terms of reassuring people that, when we teach the apostasy as as groundwork for why a restoration was needed, that we're not saying that every other Church is false. We're simply saying that they're incomplete. And that had always seemed so positive and diplomatic when I was a missionary, but there I was the lone Latter-day Saint in a congregation of very firm evangelical believers and saying, "We're not saying your church is false. We're just saying it's incomplete." And when I saw the look on her face, I realized, "Oh, she doesn't like that word either. That's not much more helpful than false is." And then I found myself saying to her, "And so is my church. My church is incomplete, too." Then I was kind of scrambling, mentally, going, "Wait, what? We've got the fullness of the gospel, what am I saying here?"
Morgan Jones 46:05
Jared Halverson 46:05
And then the ninth article of faith came to mind, and I shared it with his congregation, that, "We believe all that God has revealed," across the board, wherever He might have done it. Through our faith and through others as well. We believe in revelation past. Second, "we believe all that He now reveals," so to talk to this group about the channel of communication that God still uses in speaking to his children. And then the third part, "and we believe that God has yet to reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God." That third part of the ninth article of faith is my favorite phrase in the articles, to see that there is yet more that God wants to teach us. And that's an admission that we're incomplete. So when somebody's struggling in their faith, and we don't have an answer to this, well, that's the third part of the ninth article of faith. I don't see an expiration date on that. And so saying to this congregation, there are things that we don't yet know, just like there's things that the world doesn't yet know, but the difference is God has restored prophets to the earth, and that's the channel through which that additional revelation will come. To me, that has always reassured me when I face a question I can't get answered. And Divinity School presented us with lots of them. And even a deconstruction of past answers, and not a whole lot of help in reconstructing answers that were deconstructed. How do you navigate? How do you balance things? And, to me, I was always amazed at all three elements of the ninth article of faith. Number one, an assurance of the answers to questions that I've already had. I've, perhaps I've talked about this in classes that you've attended, but to take Sister Camilla Kimball's "shelf of questions"—you've probably heard that analogy before.
Morgan Jones 46:05
Jared Halverson 47:21
And I know people who have left the Church can't stand that analogy. They say, "That is such a cop-out, to have a shelf that you're just hiding from things that you don't know about, and won't have the courage to face them." And to me, it's like, no, no, no, for Sister Kimball, there were actually three shelves, and the one you're describing is shelf number three. And those three shelves are defined by the ninth article of faith. There's a shelf of revelations past and a shelf of revelations present, and then the one that you don't have answers to that's actually just the shelf of revelations yet to come. And if you'll truly inventory shelf number one, and start to really dust them off and remember, as a conscious act of faith, remember the experiences you've had with God before, and then the open to revelations present, my favorite shelf the shelf number two: what is God teaching me right now? In my study, in my pondering, what revelation is he vouchsafing in me currently? And that gives me more and more hope for shelf number three.
It's an active process that's happening as we speak. And what I learn today, on shelf number two, gets moved down to shelf number one tomorrow, and that leaves space open for God to reveal something from shelf number three and move it down to shelf number two. So life just is a process of moving things down the shelves, and shelf three never becomes overwhelming to me by thinking, "Well, that's just something that God's never gonna say." In divinity school. I was amazed at all that's on shelf number one across time and throughout history, and again to see God's generosity in revealing truth, and shelf two, to just being forced to grapple and wrestle and ask questions and to see the Lord respond, again, with great generosity, and to answer my questions and to resolve any issues and concerns I might have. To pour down peace, and, as the Book of Mormon says, "to visit me with reassurances," and then to open space, again, for that third shelf, to see what's yet to come. There are questions we don't yet know. And I'm okay with that, because I'm excited to watch God reveal His will as time goes on.
Morgan Jones 50:24
That's amazing. Thank you so much. My last question for you, Brother Halverson, is what does it mean to you to be all in the gospel of Jesus Christ?
Jared Halverson 50:33
I love that you ask that question at the end of your interviews, because I hope all of us, as listeners think about it every time. And am I more "in" than I was an hour ago? What direction am I moving in? When I was eight and got baptized, I was so excited to be baptized. I was one of those weird little kids that the gospel just meant everything to me ever since childhood, and I've never outgrown that. And I remember coming out of the water and looking up at the witnesses with my little, eight-year-old face beaming, I'm sure, and to get the shake of the head, "No, that one didn't count, because your foot came up." I'm like, "dang it," and so we did it again. And my dad did the prayer again, and he laid me under again and I looked up, I tried to the other witness this time instead of the one who shook his head the first, and he shook his head the second time and said, "Nope, that one didn't count either. Your foot came up again." And I remember just almost feeling embarrassed as a little eight-year-old going, "Come on, Dad, get it together. We got to do this right." And the third time, he made sure that I was all in. And, to me, if our baptism has to be complete immersion, then why would we think that the discipleship that follows it should be any less deep? I don't want a single piece of me poking out of the water. I want Jesus to take me all under, and all in, to be buried with Him, as Paul taught, so that I can be raised with Him in an entirely new life. I don't want my academic experience poking out of the water. I don't want my work experience, my life experience, my family experience, I don't want any piece of me not immersed in the gospel of Jesus Christ, because it does change you. And when He raises you with Him, it is to newness of life. I am grateful for the restored gospel. It's changed me and continues to do so, which is perhaps why I spend the bulk of my time in class and out of class, trying to help other people maintain that desire to stay with Jesus, to just stay in the water with Him. And if there are parts of you that are poking out, it's amazing how many times He'll patiently reimmerse us until we can finally say with Him that we're all in.
Morgan Jones 53:20
Brother Halverson, thank you so much. It has been such a treat to talk with you, and I appreciate, like I said, I appreciate your work. I appreciate you taking the time to be with me today, and I just thank you so much.
Jared Halverson 53:33
It's been my pleasure. Thank you for all that you do, Morgan.
Morgan Jones 53:39
We are so grateful to Jared Halverson for joining us on today's episode. If you enjoyed Brother Hal's thoughts, be sure to check out the Gospel Day by Day video series that features him. A huge thank you to Derek Campbell of Mix at 6 Studios for his help with this episode. I also wanted to thank all of you who left such kind reviews after last week's episode. I read all of them and just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for being with us again this week, and we'll be with you again next week.