Faith Crisis FAQ
If you are a Mormon and an existential thinker, chances are you have gone through a faith crisis, currently find yourself in a faith crisis, or will sometime in the near future find yourself in a faith crisis. If you are a devout Mormon trying to better understand a loved one in faith crisis, then you are no doubt at least familiar with the term.
So just what is a faith crisis? How does something like this happen to a seemingly strong believer? I will answer these and more in this section of frequently asked questions regarding faith crises.
1. Who can be affected by a faith crisis?
Anyone. It might be the progressive minded member who finds her ideology at odds with the political efforts of the church. It might be the deep thinker who doesn’t feel bound by Mormon theology. It might be the amateur scholar who reads anything and everything about the church he can find. It might happen to someone who has gotten out of the habit of going to church. These are obvious cases and you probably know someone like this.
But it can also happen to a General Authority. It can happen to a Bishop, a Stake President or a Relief Society President. It can happen to someone who isn’t looking for it. It can happen to the strongest members with the brightest testimonies. No one is immune. We have to stop thinking of faith crises in terms of what that person did or didn’t do to bring it upon themselves. It can happen to anyone.
2. What are the causes of a faith crisis?
People leave the church all the time. Maybe they want to drink and smoke. Maybe they want to go shopping on Sunday. Maybe they don’t like paying tithing or wearing garments. There are as many reasons as there are people who leave. However there is a difference between someone in a faith crisis who wants to believe and someone looking for a reason to leave.
The causes of a faith crisis vary widely. Most commonly, members stumble across information about the church or Joseph Smith that they had never heard before that casts serious doubt on their beliefs. These issues are very real and not a bunch of defamatory anti-Mormon lies from our critics. It’s simply real issues of real history.
These issues are so prominent that the Church has had to address them in a series of essays on their website. You may be wondering why they felt compelled to participate in issues that seem anti-Mormon. Again, these aren’t just anti-Mormon lies. You can find this stuff in church resources like History of the Church, the Journal of Discourses and the Joseph Smith Papers project.
Members are finding this information thanks to the Internet, and they are asking questions. You can see an example of this by studying the infamous Letter to a CES Director. The discovery of this information in itself is crushing to many members. But the suppression of the information is what pushes so many over the edge. Up until about 15 years ago you couldn’t find this information, and the church kept it that way on purpose, going so far as to excommunicate members who published it. The Internet has changed that and now members the world over are discovering the true history of Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon and the church, not the sanitized version presented in Sunday School. It’s disconcerting to say the least.
3. Can someone recover from a faith crisis?
Yes, but usually not. There is a rare instance or two online that I have come across of members who claim to have been in faith crisis that came back stronger and more resilient than ever. But the trend is for members to permanently lose their testimonies.
Because of this, it is important to note a couple of things. If you are trying to help someone through a faith crisis, DO NOT PROD THEM TO BE MORE “RIGHTEOUS.” Studying the scriptures will only create more doubts as they see inconsistencies and anachronisms. Praying will only create frustration as the reassuring influence of “the Spirit” no longer seems accessible. Reading conference talks will only be done with a critical eye for what the General Authorities are getting wrong. This stuff does not help at all.
Members in faith crisis have already done these things, most of them for their whole lives. Chances are members who go through a crisis of faith are not going to just “go back to normal” or anything. As one forum poster fittingly put it, once the toothpaste is out of the tube you can’t put it back in. A proverbial shelf collecting little doubts over the years has just crashed, and picking up the pieces will take time.
If you want to help someone recover from a faith crisis, help them find new meaning and purpose to their life. Just be sure to include the church in there somewhere. It might mean they aren’t comfortable paying tithing or wearing garments. But what would you rather have, a spouse who doesn’t pay tithing or wear garments and has left the church, or a spouse who doesn’t pay tithing or wear garments and still attends church and participates in the ward?
Recovery from a faith crisis is certainly possible. It is sad to see the many ex-Mormons out there who never really recover. They remain bitter and angry. I believe it is a sad way to live. You just have to keep in mind that your definition of recovery may be different from theirs. Your definition is probably not possible. However, overcoming feelings of betrayal and anger are certainly possible, especially for an existentialist.
4. Should I see the Bishop or a marriage counselor?
Sometimes this may be necessary if your are going through a faith crisis and are married or if your spouse is going through a faith crisis. It isn’t necessary. So long as both people remember that marriage is about compromise and think of their partner’s needs, you shouldn’t have a problem.
If one partner insists on leaving the church and keeping the kids home while the other insists on raising a family in Zion, you will have problems that may need to be resolved through counseling. I can’t personally see how going to the Bishop will help anyone in any way. He has enough to do already. You know he is just going to push the doubter to have more faith.
I believe if you need counseling, a therapist or marriage counselor is the way to go. See a professional. Learn with them how to compromise. And always keep in mind why you married your spouse. I know for many the church and the gospel were central to your selection of spouse. Once your relationship with the church goes sour, it may be hard to keep your relationship with your spouse from following suit.
I promise you that a faith crisis will change a marriage, but it won’t necessarily change it for the better or for the worse. That will be entirely up to how you and your spouse handle things, and hopefully this blog can help.
5. If I just recently fell into a faith crisis, what should I do?
STOP STUDYING CHURCH ISSUES. Please, first and foremost, get yourself out of the rabbit hole. You won’t recover your faith by studying the issues, and you sure won’t convince yourself the church is any less true. You’re just getting absorbed into a spiral of bad feelings that won’t end well. Separate yourself from that.
I recommend instead studying less about what you no longer believe and more about what you do believe. Try reading about philosophy. Look at my section of required reading. Figure out how people live ethical lives without God or religion guiding them.
The most important thing to do is learn what you do believe. This took me almost an entire year, but that is because the first six months were spent studying more than anyone should about church history and hiding it from my spouse. Bad idea. I wish I had handled things differently in hindsight. Don’t make my mistake. You may be seeking community with like minded people at the New Order Mormon forum or the ex-Mormon subreddit. I understand. But you should be expressing your thoughts to your spouse, not strangers.
If you aren’t married, then sure, look to connect with people. But don’t connect with people whose obsession is about the church and its issues. There’s no healing there. There’s no discovery there. Move on. Connect with other existentialists, or if you lean more towards Transcendentalism, connect with those people. Find some Humanists nearby. Just disconnect yourself from the endless problems with the church.
6. I’m long past my faith crisis and left the church- can I come back?
Absolutely. But come back on your terms. If the terms of the church don’t work for you, don’t agree to them. If the Peter Priesthood or Molly Mormon mold isn’t one you fit in, don’t try to fit in it. You don’t have to believe in God or Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling to go to church. As President Uchtdorf said, there is no sign outside the church saying your testimony must be this tall to enter. Those signs are metaphorically outside the temple and the font.
To attend church and participate in the community, you just have to show up. If paying tithing is hard, don’t. Or donate to fast offerings or the humanitarian fund instead. If attending the temple creeps you out because of the connection to Masonry, don’t go. Don’t get a temple recommend.
The most important part of the Mormon church for you is going to be the community. If your family, friends and neighbors are all devout Mormons, then you will have a hard time fitting in as a bitter ex-Mormon. Being perceived as a “jack Mormon” is infinitely better than “anti-Mormon.” The Mormon community is a strong one. Just watch what happens if someone in the ward has a baby, gets cancer or moves in. The Mormon machine goes to work. It’s beautiful.
Why wouldn’t you want to be a part of that? Probably because you think you have to accept the Mormon religion in order to participate in the Mormon church. Nonsense. You may not be able to hold certain callings or a temple recommend if you lack faith in certain aspects of the religion, but you can certainly come to church and participate fully in the Mormon community.
7. What is the best thing to do for/as a member in faith crisis?
This varies depending on individual circumstances. If you are in a faith crisis, figure out what you do believe. I know the “philosophies of men” have been demonized your whole life, but they aren’t so bad when you get acquainted with them. If the Mormon religion is not what you believe in, then stop messing around with what you don’t believe and start discovering what you truly do believe. Only then can you live an authentic life. Discover your own purpose, meaning and essence. What makes you you?
If your spouse or other loved one is in a faith crisis, they don’t need to be pressured. It is helpful to communicate when they are comfortable communicating about church stuff. You may want to know if they plan on blessing or baptizing your children. You may want to know if they are taking your daughter to the women’s conference broadcast. As issues come up, ask. Simply ask what they are comfortable with and don’t pressure them into doing something that makes them uncomfortable.
Over time you will compromise on everything church related. For example, I think family prayer is still a good thing. It’s great to hear members of the family pray for each other. Family Home Evening is a great program. Maybe I want to teach about fire safety instead of fasting. Great. Keeping Sunday as a family day is fun. Going to church together is fine, even if I don’t attend every meeting.
There are secular programs like scouts that provide callings for those who feel disconnected from the religion. Request to be in there. Women can do Cub Scouts. Men can do both Cub and Boy Scouts. Trust me, any Bishop would love to hear someone ask to be in scouts.
You can figure these things out yourselves. The important thing is to figure them out together. Don’t unilaterally decide the family isn’t paying tithing. Your spouse is your equal partner. If they want to pay 10% on their equal portion of the increase, then let them. Decide together how to define increase.
Every situation is unique just as every person is. Take things slowly, communicate often, and focus on good things and you’ll get through a faith crisis. Existentialism helped lift me out of mine. I wish I had discovered it sooner. But better later than never. I personally believe a faith crisis will turn most people into existentialists. So whether you already leaned that way or got pushed in that philosophical direction by a faith crisis, the important part is that you find your meaning and purpose.