Patrick Q. Mason: Working Through Our Doubts and Creating Space for Others to Do the Same
“Faith is a gift and a precious commodity in any age, but an increasingly rare one in our modern world,” Patrick Mason writes in his book, “Planted.” It is for this reason that Mason also states that, “How we deal with doubt in the Church today is one of the most pressing tests of our collective discipleship.” That is not limited to how we approach our own doubts but also how we seek to be compassionate toward others as they face their own doubts.
Note: Planted was published prior to the emphasis on using the full name of the Church. Please excuse any reference to “Mormonism” as a result.
This is one of the reasons why God restored the Church in the modern age, because he knew precisely the ways that our social bonds would erode in the 20th and 21st centuries, and the Church is one of the great answers for that. So is it hard sometimes? Yeah, but I think one of the great aspects of the restoration is the we’re put in wards that are geographically defined, we do not choose who we go to church with. And that puts us in company with people of different classes, different races, certainly different genders. People have different life experiences, people that we would never choose to associate with. That's the laboratory of love. That is the school of discipleship. That's what's going to make us as Christians.
Book: Talking To Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
Quote: “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.” -Joseph Smith Jr. (John Taylor, “The Organization of the Church,” Millennial Star, Nov. 15, 1851, p. 339.)
Moroni 9:31: “Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father, because of his imperfection, neither them who have written before him.”
Quote: “When God makes the prophet He does not unmake the man.” -David O. McKay (In CO, April 1907, 11-12; see also October 1912, 121; April 1962, 7.)
Quote: “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” -C.S. Lewis ("The Weight of Glory")
2:42- Why Address Doubt?
4:40- Faith: An Individual Experience
11:46- Faith That Grows With Us
16:00- Hanging On To What We Do Know
18:32- Peaks and Valleys
21:37- A Test of our Collective Discipleship
28:44- Creating Space For Honesty
39:15- A Church That Hangs On To Us
41:53- Different Disciples
45:05- The Holiest Thing That Presents Itself To Our View
47:30- Grateful To Be A Latter-day Saint
48:48- What Does It Mean To You To Be “All In” the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Morgan Jones: We often think of doubt as a negative thing, but in Malcolm Gladwell's new book Talking with Strangers, he says, "Doubts are not the enemy of belief, they're its companion." After writing and publishing his book, Planted, Patrick Mason explained his intent in writing. He said, "I intend Planted to be part of a grown-up conversation, among grown-ups, in what I hope is a grown-up religion. Perhaps more than anything, I fear the juvenilization of Mormonism, in which our religious knowledge and understanding often seems to be trapped somewhere between early morning seminary and EFY, however wonderful those things are when you're a teenager. I don't believe that I learned everything I need to know in primary or even in priest quorum. We build on childhood foundations and our secular knowledge but then move on to more mature and nuanced thought processes and models as we encounter a more complex world in our adult years. By the same logic our religion should grow up with us, how we read scriptures when we are seven should change by the time we are 17. Then again, by the time we are 47, or 77. The same is true of how we think about prophets or church history or any number of other gospel topics. The principles of simple addition are no less true once we learn calculus, but you can't build bridges or fly to the moon with grade-school arithmetic. Adults can and should be sensitive about the proper time and place to have certain conversations, but just because a particular conversation perhaps shouldn't occur in missionary discussions or even gospel doctrine class, doesn't mean it shouldn't occur at all. Planted is my small attempt to foster more conversation within Mormonism."
Patrick Q. Mason is the Leonard J. Arrington sharer of Mormon history at Utah State University. He was previously the Howard W. Hunter Chair in Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University. He earned both masters and doctorate degrees from Notre Dame. He has addressed Latter-day Saint culture and doctrine in media outlets, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, ABC News, NPR, and PBS.
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 thrilled to have Patrick Mason here with me today, Patrick, welcome.
Patrick Mason: Thanks, Morgan. Great to be here.
MJ: Well, I have been reading your book and loving it. I think I only have a couple chapters left and so we'll see how far into it we can get today but I—
PM: I won't spoil the ending for you.
MJ: Perfect. Thank you. I know when we're dealing with a book like this, it's very important not to spoil the ending. So thank you for that. I want to start with a comment that you make toward the beginning of the book. You say, "I worry about sowing doubt, rather than belief. I don't wish to undermine faith in any way. Faith is a gift and a precious commodity at any age, but an increasingly rare one in our modern world." I love that statement. I think that's beautifully put and shows your compassion and concern for people that may be dealing with doubt in relation to their faith. So tell me a little bit, Patrick, about what led you to write this book and to address this topic of doubt head-on?
PM: Yeah, thanks. I mean, for me, it really stemmed from people's experiences, people that I knew, people that I met. I'm a historian. I'm trained as a historian of American religion, and I've done a lot of history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and so I've dug into a lot of these issues for years now. And a few years ago I was asked a lot to give a number of firesides and come around and talk with people as more and more people were expressing questions, expressing doubts. And we started to see what looked like at first, maybe a trickle, and then more like an avalanche of people leaving the church. So I had the opportunity to go around and talk with a lot of people, give firesides, and it was from their questions, it was from their experiences and also their pain, their sorrow. Not just the people leaving, but their friends and family and church leaders and fellow ward members who were still in the Church and trying to figure this out. Like, "How is it that my brother, my sister, my parent, my daughter, who was so strong in the church, who went on a mission, how is that that she's left now?" And so just people trying to make sense of their own experiences, their own journey with God. So I thought that maybe I had a few things to offer based on some things that I'd studied and thought about.
MJ: One of the points that I love most, that you make in this book, is that you kind of caution us against looking at other people's experiences and using our own experience as a "measuring stick," I think is the term that you use. And I think this is something that's so hard because like you said, you look at it, and you're like, "Okay, we were raised in the same family. We heard the same things. We were taught the same things. How is our feeling so different in relation to our faith and our religion?" So how do you think we get outside of that, Patrick?
PM: It's a great question. On one level, I think we can't. We can't escape ourselves. We can't escape our experiences. We can't escape the way that we see the world. But I think one of the things that we're called to do as Christians is to lose ourselves in order, not only to find ourselves, but also find other people. That this is the act of charity, this is the act of empathy, of trying to set aside our own blinders and our own preconceptions and really enter into the experience of somebody else, as much as we can. We can never do it perfectly. But this is exactly what the Savior did, in the garden of Gethsemane. This is exactly what the atonement does, is he enters into our pain, he enters into our experience, our life, our sorrows, also our joys and our happiness and all those things. But this is exactly what Alma teaches about the atonement, that he enters into all of those things so that he can help us, and so I think— however imperfectly—that's what we're called to do, to maybe set aside some of our own hangups or preconceptions, or things, and enter into other people's pain, other people's questions other people's sorrows, so that we can help them.
MJ: Yeah, I love that because I've had people close to me who have left the church, and it does have a refining effect on you. You feel yourself being changed. And I think if the whole point of this life is to become like Christ, then this is a valuable experience, that I think it feels like everyone in the church is going through this in some way.
PM: Yeah, when I go around and give these firesides or talks I typically ask, "How many people in the audience, by show of hands, know somebody personally, who's left the church that you're close to? Not somebody on Facebook, but somebody you know, a friend, a family member, a close wad member? Virtually every hand goes up, and I've given dozens of these across the United States and Canada. And so this is part of what it means to be a member of the church right now—is to first of all figure out where we stand, and to examine our own testimonies, and what it is that we believe in, what we're committed to, but then also to show charity and empathy for the people that we love who maybe right now, have stepped away.
MJ: Yeah. If it's okay with you, I'd love to start with ourselves and then build out from there. So first of all, when we are looking at faith, and how to develop and strengthen our faith for things that we might not even be able to foresee right now that might potentially shake us up a little bit or be troubling, what are the best things—and I know we talked about reading our scriptures, saying our prayers, and I do think those things. It's funny because people always refer to them as Sunday school answers and I'm like, "Yeah, because they actually are the things that work." But what are some things that we can do, Patrick, from your perspective, to fortify ourselves against those things that we may come up against?
PM: Yeah, it's a great question. So, I think it was President Kimball who talked years ago about making sure that we had oil in our lamp, and keeping oil in our lamp, and of course he was referring to the parable of the 10 virgins from the New Testament. We have to keep our stores up because, in the parable, it's when the master comes, the second coming, but I think it's more generally applicable. We don't know when hard times are going to come. We don't know when something's going to come out of left field to shake us up and to cause us to question things. And I think first of all, it's important for us to realize that that's what life is. Life is full of stuff coming out of left field. That's what mortality is. And so we have to be prepared. And I mean, scripture study, and prayer, those are the basic—they're the building blocks. Going to church regularly, participating in the life of the church, serving in various ways. As you say, we talk about them over and over and over again, because they're true. But I think two other things that I would say: one is that we can't simply build our testimony of the church. We have to route our testimony in Jesus Christ. One of the chapters in the book is called "Abide in the Vine." And this comes straight from His teaching from the Gospel of John, that if we don't abide in the vine, if we're not connected to him, the true vine, then all the other things we do, all that scripture study, all that prayer, all that service in the church, if it's not rooted in a deep and abiding testimony of Jesus Christ, a relationship with him, it doesn't have life. And we are members of the Church of Jesus Christ. It's nobody else's church, and so our faith has to be centered in Him. The second thing that I would say is that we have to let our faith breathe, and live, and grow with us. I think sometimes we develop our faith up to the point till maybe we're 12 or 14, or maybe 18 or 19 when we go on a mission. And then we put our faith kind of like in a cryogenic freezer or something like that, like that's where our faith stays. But our faith has to live and grow and breathe with us as we continue to mature. As the world gets more complex and complicated, our faith needs to grow to meet that. I teach at a university and whenever I talk to students who come in and talk to me and they're wrestling with things, I say, "Your faith cannot be the least sophisticated part of your life." We deal with complex stuff in the world all the time. I mean, these college students are taking biology classes or accounting classes or engineering classes, and we deal with the world at a very high level, whatever your profession or whatever your life experience is. Your religion can't be the least sophisticated part of your life. It's got to grow to the point that it can meet the challenges that you face at whatever stage of life you're in.
MJ: I think that is so spot-on because I think if you're talking about something that is influencing every decision that you're making, that it's so deeply a part of you, it has to be sophisticated, it has to grow. I couldn't help but think as you were talking, I remember being a missionary, and thinking, what if one of my mission companions were to leave the Church and at that time, that was the worst thing that I could think of. That would be earth-shattering for me. And in reality, you get home from a mission and there are a lot worse things. You find that fairly quickly, that there are a lot harder things and not that that wouldn't be a hard thing, but there are many things that can shake you up, like you said, and I think right now we kind of feel like—and I don't know if it's just me—but it feels a little bit like, what was the word that you use?
PM: No, that's right. And so we have to be able to signal to people that we are open to the conversation, right? And it's hard to do like you say people wear it is a badge, "I have questions today."
PM: Yeah, I think that is one of the great challenges now for the church and for church members right now. So we have to get rid of this idea that our leaders are infallible or perfect. First of all, as you pointed out, it's not scripturally sound, and it can't hold up to the evidence. They are human beings and they're the first ones to say it. I've never seen a quote from any prophet or apostle of the restoration that says I'm perfect. And they always point towards Jesus Christ. That's their calling. This is what I love about what President Nelson has insisted, that we are the Church of Jesus Christ. We're not the Church of Joseph Smith or the Church of Brigham Young or the Church of Russell Nelson. We're the Church of Jesus Christ. He calls men and women to be his servants, to be his disciples, but that calling does not overwhelm their mortal frailty. And so I think one of the great gifts, one of the beauties, one of the miracles of the restoration, is that God works through weak vessels. And any of us who have spent any time in the church knows that this is true, that God calls relief society president we're like, "Huh?" And then that relief society president does amazing things because God works through her. And we know this with primary teachers. We know this with all the people around us at the local level. And so we just have to understand that that works at the general level too. Now those men who are called as prophets and apostles, they have a special calling. They're special witnesses of Jesus Christ, and they have a special stewardship for the Worldwide Church. But the fact is that they still put their pants on one leg at a time, and they are still wrestling with and trying to discern the will of God, and they will be the first ones to say that they are still mortal beings, with all of the frailties. Now, I think they've gained a lot of wisdom, and these are good men who have been called, who are striving to live righteous lives, but that does not mean they're perfect. So I think this is the challenge. I talked earlier about how do we do a both/and. How do we first acknowledge that our prophets and apostles are not perfect, they're not infallible and still sustain them as men who have been called by God with a special calling, that we see them as reliable guides for a life of faith in the modern world. That, I think is one of the great challenges. For me, it's an exhilarating journey to think about this, to think about, as you said earlier that God trusts us enough to do his work. And he trusts Joseph Smith, and he trusted Brigham Young, and he trusted Eliza snow, and he trusts Russell Nelson, and he might even trust Patrick Mason and that's a pretty amazing thing.
PM: An avalanche.
MJ: Yes, an avalanche. That's what it feels like. And so when we feel like everything's falling down around us, I do think it's so important to have that base belief in Jesus Christ. And then to have a faith that has grown as you've grown.
PM: Yeah, it has too and when I say sophisticated I don't necessarily mean that everybody has to go to get a Ph.D. in theology or something like that.
MJ: That's good because I'm not going to do that.
PM: Right. It's about a kind of maturity that we have in our faith. Now, and this is tricky, because, on the one hand, we always do need to retain the childlike qualities of the simplicity of faith that we have, or had as children if we grew up with that kind of faith. And so there's always a tension, but of course, Paul talks about when "I was a child I thought and talked like a child and then I grew up." And our faith has to grow up without losing the childlike humility and wonder and awe that we had as an eight-year-old or a 12-year-old. That's great. So how do we do both and—I think too often with our faith, and too often in the church, maybe just too often as humans, we get trapped in kind of either-or dichotomies. And oftentimes, I find that the best way to approach the complexity of life and the complexity of faith is to recognize that a lot of times the answer is both/and, not either-or.
MJ: So how do you think that we balance that? What's your advice on that?
PM: Well for me the key, and I talked about this in the book, for me, it comes down to the basic Christian virtues. It comes down to faith, hope, love, humility. For me, humility is so important. I talk about it a lot because it's something that's very hard for me. So I figure if I keep talking about it maybe I'll learn something about it, but the humility that I don't know everything. And there are still things for me to learn. And that may be all these things that I have learned, maybe have overcomplicated things that I once knew, and maybe I need to go back to the things that I once knew and maybe have kind of tucked away as I grew up, and I need to recover some of those things. And so it's a complicated thing. For me also, so much of it is about hope. I talk about how I think hope sometimes it's like the middle child in the faith, hope and charity thing. We talked a lot about faith. We talked a lot about charity, but what's this hope thing in the middle? Hope kind of gets left out. But for me, the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about hope. It's about hope that there is something better. There's hope that we can get through difficult times. There's hope that Jesus Christ will be there, that his resurrection is the defining reality of the universe. And so when we're on his team, we're going to win. That deep and abiding hope, I think is absolutely at the center of what it means to be a disciple of his.
MJ: Thank you. There's a statement that you make in the book that I love. You said, "The call to believe is not a decree to deny our doubts. It is rather to give place for a portion of God's light, whatever portion we have received in whatever form, to be planted and then grow within us." I love this idea of going back, when we start to feel like there's confusion or whatever, going back to what we do know, there's the quote where it talks about, "Hang on to the ground that you do have." So how do we hang on to that, while we're working through our doubts?
PM: Yeah, I think this is one of the biggest struggles for people because there is a tendency when we begin to have questions, when we begin to have doubts, that it becomes all-consuming for us. And I think it's in many ways a natural thing that you sort of learned something new that the reshapes or caused you to question what you've known and so you sort of dive deep into that. I think it's a very natural human tendency. But I think what God calls us to do, is to not forget the experiences we've had. This is one of the common refrains in scripture, especially in the Book of Mormon, to remember. Life can be so overwhelming that it can be easy to forget what He's done in our lives, the experiences we've had, the moments when the Spirit touched our lives. Now maybe we have to rethink those things and put them in a new context and a new framework. Maybe the way that the Spirit touched us when I was a missionary, maybe I understood it one way then, and maybe I need to understand it a different way now. That's okay. That's fine. But we can't forget those things, and we can't forget the many mercies that God has shown us over the years. So I think that's what the call to faith is. It's an intentional remembering of what God has done. It's not setting aside all the things, or saying, "I refuse to ask any questions or to harbor any doubts or any of those kinds of things." Just put my fingers in my ears and go "la, la, la, la, la." That's not what the call to faith is. I think the call to faith is to remember what God has done and continue to cultivate and nurture that little seed. It's easy for that seed to die, and so even while we're doing other things, even while we're asking questions and doing other things, we have to do something to tend to that little seed. It's too precious to give up on.
MJ: Yeah. Another thing that I love in the book, you talk about how faith crisis is not a necessary or universal step on the path to spiritual understanding, but then you say, "This brand of unquestioning faith is unusual. For most people, faith is work, and oftentimes it is hard work. It is a journey with its peaks and valleys," and then you compare faith, specifically faith in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to love. And I thought that was like such a beautiful way of framing it, and I wondered if you could kind of share that thought with listeners?
PM: Yeah, so just to reiterate, I don't think everybody has to have a faith crisis. That's not one of the requirements to get to heaven. So there will be people, maybe many people, in the church who never go through a serious valley of doubt. Of course, they'll have their questions, or things won't make sense, but it won't lead to an existential crisis. And that's just fine. That's, that's totally fine. I don't think they should Lord that over people, it's like, "Well, I haven't had a faith crisis. Why do you? Just go over it." That's not charity. That's not empathy. But it is true that many people won't. And so I think the biggest challenge, and when I've gone around and talk to people, especially, for instance, maybe parents who never went through this, and then all of a sudden they're seeing their child or children go through this, I think the biggest challenge they have is just understanding where that child is coming from and what they're experiencing. And I think oftentimes in the church, we rush to identify questions with sin. It's like, "Oh, you're having questions about the church. So what are you doing that's wrong?" And then our minds immediately go to that, and sometimes that's true. Sometimes the patterns of our lives maybe lead to a decrease in faith. That's certainly true, but oftentimes, it's not. And so when I talk about it being a matter of love, it's that love is the forefront in that relationship. It's that we are called to love, far before we're called to judge. And in our baptismal covenant, that I love it as it's expressed in the book of Mosiah, that we "mourn with those who mourn," "we comfort those who stand in need of comfort," and then we testify of Jesus. I don't know if it's meant in an order of priority, in the way that it's written, in Mosiah 18, but that's the way it reads. The first part of our covenant is to mourn and to comfort with those who are in deep grief, whatever that is, whether they have cancer or whether they're going through a faith crisis. And then it says, then we testify of Jesus at all times, in all things and in all places. There will always be a time for testimony. People who've been around us know where we stand, but I think sometimes they question, "Do they really still love us? Do they still love me even when I'm going through a very difficult time?"
MJ: Yeah. I want to read a quick part in your book because I think that this pertains to what you were just saying about, you know, you have parents or siblings or whatever that look at a family member and they're like, "How is this happening? I'm having a hard time understanding it and framing it." And you point out in the book you say, "Remember-" and this is in regard to the the idea that some kind of sin has led to this, it says, "But it's not that simple. Remember, most of these searchers are already active Latter-day Saints who have spent countless hours reading their scriptures, praying, and serving. They are returned missionaries, gospel doctrine teachers, Relief Society presidents, Bishopric members. They have predicated their lives on the belief that the church is true, and that it has the answers to eternity's grandest questions. So when their church leaders and teachers don't have good answers to their historical and doctrinal questions, it feels to them like evasive action, a dismissal or non-acknowledgment of the very things causing them concern. They wonder if they've even been heard or if they were simply judged, shamed by the implication that their questions are inappropriate and not to be discussed in public. They go back to the internet, where a few keystrokes can bring up inexhaustible libraries of information in only fractions of a second. They quickly find online forums where other people are struggling with similar issues. They have now discovered a community of like-minded questioners who also have found no satisfactory answers in their conversations with their LDS family members, friends, teachers, and leaders. Finally, they feel they have found people who understand where they're coming from and who seemed to care about the whole truth and nothing but the truth, no matter where it leads them." And I think that this is what people are grappling with right now. They are seeing people that they considered to be rocks in their own lives. And then they're like, Okay," and so we're all just trying to process this and work through it. And my question for you is, how do we handle this the right way? You also said, "How we deal with doubt in the church today is one of the most pressing tests of our collective discipleship." So how do we best do this? And how can we support those who have questions or doubts?
PM: Yeah, that's a great question. A couple of things. One is that we don't want the internet to be the only place where people can work through their questions and doubt. If that's going to be the case, we're going to lose more than we keep. The internet is a miracle. It's amazing. Social media is amazing, but I don't think it's particularly conducive, in many ways, to getting people to grow in their faith when they're already in a place of doubt and questioning. So we have to create living, breathing, flesh and blood communities, where people know that they are welcome, even with their questions. Not in spite of their questions, but with their questions. Now, that's not always going to be within the two-hour block. I think the two-hour block is meant to serve other purposes. It's meant to lift people up. It's meant to teach the doctrine, it's meant, of course for us to renew our covenants and sacrament meeting. And so it may not always be the best place to do it, but certainly in people's homes, over the dinner table, in small groups of friends, in the bishops office, in a ministering visits, either sisters or brothers, these are the places where we have to let people know that we're with them, we're hanging on to them, that we care about them, and that we're open to them. One of my favorite things recently, President Ballard, this has now been a year or two ago, I can't remember the exact date, he went and spoke to seminary and Institute teachers, all of the seminary and Institute teachers in the church. And he said, "Gone are the days when somebody comes to us with an honest question that we just bear our testimony." And we sort of dismiss their question and say, "Don't ask that, let's just stay on the lesson plan." So those days are gone. He says, "It's our responsibility now that when people come to us with questions, that we try to answer their questions. And if we don't know what the answer is, then we either find somebody who does or find some resources to answer their question." So I think just letting people know that it's okay within the community, within the body of Christ, to not be able to say I know about everything. We have such a culture of "I know" and it's a beautiful thing. It's a precious gift. I don't want to let go of that. But not everybody can say that all the time, and we want to welcome them into the body of Christ. So it's the old adage, people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care, that really is true. So can they find people in their community and their family, among their friend group, or among church leaders who will walk with them, and continue to show love for them? That I think is going to be the biggest part of support that we can show people?
MJ: Yeah. I think the tricky part with that is how many times are people struggling? And we have no idea, and then we look back and we're like, "Oh, if you just told me like, just give me a chance." But I think a lot of times we're not given that chance, which is hard.
MJ: Or like, "Ask me your questions!"
PM: Exactly, but you know when I've done firesides I always ask the presiding authority, whoever's in charge of the meeting, "Can we do q&a at the end of it?" And oftentimes they're like "What? That's not what we normally do," especially in the chapel. But I say, "If we can, can we do q&a?" And every time that I do it, it's a great experience. And inevitably what happens is people come up to their presiding, whether it was a bishop or stake president or Relief Society President, whoever was presiding at the meeting, and they come up and say, "Thank you for just allowing the space for us to ask questions." For many people, it was the first time ever in their church lives, that in the church building they felt welcome to ask whatever question they had. And so the more that we can signal that to people that, "Hey, we're, we're open for business, and that includes the business of answering people's questions, attending to their real concerns," that, as much as the answers we give, just the kind of ministry of showing that we're open to it and willing to walk with them, that means so much to people.
MJ: Yeah. I have served in a young single adult stake Relief Society presidency for the last two years. And one of the things that we do in our stake for our ward conferences, is we have people submit questions. And this is something that our last Stake President made a thing, but it's continued into this new stake presidency. And I think it is so powerful to create that space. And we've been amazed by the questions that we get. And you know, we open it up for discussion and then we have the leadership address it as well, but I think just having a place where, especially young single adults, it seems like have so many questions. They're so in the thick of it, and so that has been a neat thing to see. Also in regard to your fireside practice of having this Q&A, I was just at a fireside on Sunday with Thomas McConkie and he opened it up for questions. And one of the questions was this idea of, how do we support those who are struggling with their faith? And he said something that I have found myself thinking about a lot and he said, "God, trusts us completely, and he has complete confidence in our ability to work through these things, and in our infinite capacity, and potential." And he said, "So shouldn't we grant each other that same trust and confidence?" And I think that's something that a lot of times when we feel like somebody that we love is struggling, our initial reaction is to be like, "and these are all the reasons that you're wrong!" But in reality, how much more helpful is it to just sit with them in that space, and show them that we trust them? And is that what God would do for us?
PM: Yeah, I love the Joseph Smith saying, "I teach the people correct principles and let them govern themselves." I think that's the way God deals with us most of the time. And I think too often in the church, we have a spirit of fear. We are just afraid. We're afraid of the wheels coming off. We're afraid of somebody saying the wrong thing, or thinking the wrong thing, or doing the wrong thing. We just have so much fear in the church and it's because the church and the gospel is so precious to us. We don't want it to be damaged. We don't want our testimonies to be damaged. We don't want other people to be hurt. But we have so much fear, but that is exactly the opposite of what Jesus teaches, what the apostles taught. They said, don't have a spirit of fear, have the spirit of love. And so in this church, we are not afraid of any question that can be thrown at us because it's precisely because of our testimony that this is the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. If it's true, then why would we be afraid of any question? We don't always have the answers, but we also have a ninth article of faith that says we can get the answers, and that there's more restoration coming. There's more revelation coming. But we have to ask the questions. Most of the sections of the doctrine covenants came in answer Joseph's questions. The first vision came in answer to Joseph's questions. And so the restoration walks hand in hand with people search for a greater light and knowledge. That is what the restoration is. It's a restoration of truth, to a world in confusion, and a world with questions, and a world that doesn't know who God is, who Jesus is. And so this is the gift of the restoration, is that you have questions, God will give answers.
MJ: I love that and I think it's so true. It's like, if you really do believe it completely, then come at us. You know, bring your questions, bring whatever you have and let us work together to work through them.
PM: And maybe we have to rethink some of the answers we've given. It may be that the answers we've given for a long time, even for decades, maybe they're not good enough anymore, because not only do the answers change with the ongoing restoration, but the questions change. Our culture changes, there's new issues, there's new problems, and so it's like putting new wine in old wineskins. We can't do that. I know, we don't do wineskins in the church.
MJ: Nobody's gonna know what you're talking about, Patrick. (laughter)
PM: Go read the New Testament. So a new water bottle, I don't know, whatever the metaphor is, but the answers have to evolve with the questions that people are asking. And too often, I think one of the things that people see is they ask a 21st-century question, and they get a 19th or 20th-century answer. And so our answers have to grow up with the questions
MJ: For sure, and I love in the book you talk about this idea of acknowledging fallibility in prophets and apostles. You give a few examples, but one that I love you talk about in the Old Testament. And you say, "Adam and Eve fall, Noah gets drunk, Abraham lies, Sarah's jealous, Jacob deceives, Joseph deceives, Moses murders, Joshua and Saul commit genocide, David commits adultery, Jonah runs from God, Elijah summons bears to kill 42 children for calling him bald, and these are the good guys. The stunning thing is this was the narrative that was consciously preserved and held sacred by the Jews and then adopted by Christians as a meaningful and faith-promoting record of humanity's relationship to God. Indeed, if there was ever written a tell-all history replete with religious scandal, the Old Testament is it." And then you give it an example from the Book of Mormon where Moroni wrote, "Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father because of his imperfection, neither them who have written before him." And then you also have a quote from modern-day with David O McKay, where he says, "When God makes the Prophet he does not unmake the man." And so all of these things serve as proof that we've acknowledged always the fallibility of men and called leaders, but how do we deal with that? How do we believe and continue to believe and have testimonies and prophets and apostles while acknowledging imperfection?
MJ: Yeah. Well, and I think that's something that President Nelson has kind of tried. Well, he hasn't kind of tried, he's tried very hard to teach us, is that we have access to God. That we can receive personal revelation for these things that we're going through and yes, we need a prophet, but that we also have a connection to heaven ourselves, which is such a powerful thing.
PM: I think it's a great thing. One of the things I love about the Church is that it's a community. And that it does care about us, and it holds on to us from cradle to grave. And for me, that's a beautiful thing. We live in a time of fracture, of alienation. Just read any report, it talks about how there's a decline in community, people have fewer friends, their social networks are smaller, they're feeling more alienated and isolated, which leads to all kinds of mental health issues and deteriorating communities and so forth. This is an epidemic in our society. And the church is one of the answers to that epidemic. And I'm thoroughly convinced that this is one of the reasons for the restoration. This is one of the reasons why God restored the Church in the modern age because he knew precisely the ways that our social bonds would erode in the 20th and 21st centuries, and the church is one of the great answers for that. So is it hard sometimes? Yeah, but I think one of the great aspects of the restoration is the were put in wards that are geographically defined, we do not choose who we go to church with. And that puts us in company with people of different classes, different races, certainly different genders. People have different life experiences, people that we would never choose to associate with. That's the Laboratory of love. That is the School of discipleship. That's what's going to make us as Christians. If I only hang out with people that I already like, that doesn't do much for me. There's no growth there. And so the church is a concrete, tangible place, where I'm going to learn to be a Christian, sometimes whether I like it or not.
PM: And I think what he taught recently down at BYU and the devotional where he was speaking to the students and the young single adults, he said, "Look, we the brethren, the quorum of the 12 and First Presidency have been given a charge to lead the church." And they have stewardship over the doctrine of the Church, and then they try to figure out how to implement that in various policies. And they do so prayerfully. They seek the inspiration of heaven, but then sometimes their decisions are going to change over time as new information comes in, as they realized that maybe the decisions they made didn't fit perfectly in terms of what they were trying to accomplish with that. And so they continue to seek greater light and knowledge, and further Revelation. This is what the restoration is all about.
MJ: Thank you. I want to go back to something that you said earlier, Patrick, I want to just touch on it. You mentioned having a religion that hangs on to us, and that's something that you talk about in the book, and you say, "Sometimes this is perceived as a negative thing, that we're members of a Church that wants us." Why would you say that that is actually a positive thing?
MJ: Yeah, that sparked so many memories for me because I grew up in a really small ward. If you could be demoted from a ward down to a branch, apparently that's not a thing, but we would have been demoted. And thinking of specific people that in any other situation, they would have never been a part of my life, but they changed my life, they shaped who I am. And so I'm super grateful for that. As we kind of wind up, or wind down, I should say wind down, that makes more sense. I want to kind of touch on this idea of different ways of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. You give this beautiful example in the book that I wondered if you would be willing to share with listeners, about the difference between Nephi and both Alma, the elder, and Alma the younger and how we see these different ways of believing, and I think the thing that this illustrates that is so beautiful to me, is that there's no one way to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, and there's actually no one faith journey. And so for some people, I think, feel like it may be necessary to have this experience of faith crisis because it makes us better disciples of Jesus Christ. Do you mind sharing kind of that example? And then your thoughts about that?
PM: Yeah, and you've done a nice job of outlining. You look to the scriptures, and there are all kinds of models of faith. Sometimes we have a kind of cookie-cutter thing like, "Oh, all the people in the Scriptures, they were all the same and they were all amazing and they never had any problems in their life." Well, it doesn't take much close reading of the scriptures to figure that that's not true. And so you see different models of faith. You see somebody like Nephi, he believes as a very young man, he believes in the words of his father, the prophet and patriarch of the family, and he seems pretty steady throughout lots of pretty significant trials all the way through adulthood. He does in his psalm talk about that he struggles and that there are sins that he was wrestling with. But at least from the record, it seems like Nephi's pretty steady all the way through. Whereas you see somebody like Alma the younger, who was raised in the church also. His dad is also the Prophet, just like Nephi and Lehi, but he chooses a different path. He and the sons of Mosiah. I mean, they had incredible parents, but they chose a different path for a time and didn't just kind of stray. I mean, they were actively fighting against the church, and it took the prayers of their parents, in order to invoke the blessings of heaven to come in and intervene in their lives, and then they did, of course, a 180 and then you see the commitment of Alma and the sons of Mosiah after that. So I mean, everybody's gonna have a different journey. You look at Peter, the chief apostle who expresses doubts and denies Christ. And in some ways, I think, pays for that the rest of his life and is always haunted by that. But is also welcomed by God's love and by God's grace when Jesus comes back. So, there are so many paths to faith and the scriptures outline that and maybe one thing that we can do is try to find somebody in the scriptures that sort of seems like us. And I guarantee that you can find somebody in the scriptures, whether it be in the Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, somewhere like that, you can find somebody whose experience at least echoes yours, and see that they are all part of God's love. They're all part of God's family. There's not just one way to be a Christian.
MJ: Yeah. Thank you for that. Patrick, as I listened to you talk and as I read your book, it's so clear that you actually care about the people that - and we touched on that in the beginning, not wanting to take away from people's faith - but it's clear that you care about these people that are going through these things. Why is this so important to you? Why does it matter?
PM: So I'll answer that with a story. I was on a panel a couple of years ago with a Catholic priest and a Muslim, and it was an interfaith panel, and we were talking about the most important things and kind of the holiest things. And it occurred to me on that panel, and I've thought about it a lot since, there's this quote from CS Lewis, where he says that next to the host to the sacrament, to the communion, that the person sitting next to you is the holiest thing that presents themselves to your view. And that makes sense in a Catholic context because they believe that the host or that the communion actually becomes the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. But we don't believe that. For us, the sacrament is a symbol and it is a memory. So for me, the holiest thing that presents itself to my view is you. It's the person sitting next to me, that we have this unbelievable theology that we are children of God, that every person walking on this planet has the potential to become like God and that's what God wants for them. And when I sort of started to wrap my mind around that I said, "The people around me, they are the holiest things on this planet, and that's the way God sees them." So that's where our ministry has to be. That's where our concern has to be. It has to be with the human being who's right in front of me. If that human being has cancer, if that human being is going through financial difficulties, if that human being is going through family problems, if that human being is going through a faith crisis, my job is to try to attend to them. I think that's what the baptismal covenant caused me to do. So for me, it's simply recognizing how very precious every child of God is, and trying to see what I can do, as an aspiring Christian, to try and love them.
MJ: Patrick, why are you grateful to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
PM: For me, my membership in the Church and my participation in the Church has taught me all of the things that are most important to me. And the most important thing, of all of those things, all of the attributes, and skills, and all the things that I've developed throughout my membership in the church, the number one thing that the church has given me, is a deep and abiding witness that Jesus is the Savior, that he's the Christ. I learned that in church, I learned that from reading the scriptures, I learned that from listening to the prophets, I learned that from going to BYU religion classes, I learned that from going on a mission. It was the Church that has been the laboratory, the greenhouse, where my faith in Jesus Christ grew. And for me, I'm a lot of things, I'm a dad, I'm a son, I'm a husband, I'm a professor. I'm lots of different things, but the thing that I hope to be most of all, and I'm not there yet, but I hope to be Christian. For me, the church is a place where I learn to be a Christian.
MJ: Thank you. My last question for you, and you probably know that this is coming, is what does it mean to you to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
PM: For me, it's responding to Jesus's call. He asks everything of us, and I'm not there yet, but I want to be there. So I'm not sure that I can honestly say that I've consecrated everything to him, that I've put everything on the altar, but the more and closer that I get to him, the more I want to, and for me that the all in part of it, is that my desires, when they're at their best, are entirely towards the Lord, and towards trying to be the person that he wants me to be. And so for me, I want every part of my life, I want intellectually, socially, in my family, I want all of those things to in some way, witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. So for me, that's what it means to be all in. I'm there. I'm totally committed 110% because I know that it's the path that's going to lead me to happiness.
MJ: Thank you so much. Well, Patrick, it has been a pleasure to have you on today's show and we appreciate so much you giving up your time.
PM: Thanks, Morgan, I appreciate it.
MJ: We are so grateful to Patrick Mason for joining us on today's episode, you can find Patrick's book, Planted, in Deseret Book stores now. We appreciate you listening and sharing this podcast with your friends. We couldn't do any of this without you. We also want to give a big thanks to Derek Campbell of Mix At Six Studios for all of his wonderful help in bringing you a new episode each week. We look forward to being with you again next week.