Over the last few years, a handful of my dearly-loved friends have left the LDS (Mormon) Church for a number of reasons including, but not limited to, the recent disciplinary action taken against a couple of our members who have publicly spoken out on (and organized protests in response to) issues they think the Church is handling incorrectly or is just plain wrong about, the Church’s strong stance regarding gay marriage, feeling out of place as an “older” single in a family-centric religion, and frustrations with LDS culture.
A lot has been written from all the sides of all these issues, and while I do have opinions about Kate Kelly’s excommunication, gay marriage, women’s equality, finding one’s place as a “mid-single,” etc., this post is not that post. This post is an essay in defense of faith.
A couple weeks ago, one of my Primary children came up to me after church to “pass off” the 4th Article of the LDS Faith. (Primary is our name for Children’s Sunday School and I give the children treats, i.e. I shamelessly bribe them, when they memorize each of the 13 Articles of Faith.)
He began, “We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, second …” and then he got stuck. He tried it again, but couldn’t get any farther on the second try. He gave it one more go, but again, the same thing. I smiled, gave him a high-five, told him that I knew he had this, and to go home and practice it for one more week and then come back and try it again the following Sunday.
But those words stayed with me: “First, faith…” That is the foundation of all other Gospel principles—belief.
Faith noun \ˈfāth\ fidelity to one’s promises : sincerity of intentions : belief, trust in, and loyalty to God : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion : firm belief in something for which there is no proof : complete trust : something that is believed especially with strong conviction, especially a system of religious beliefs (Merriam-Webster)
…faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true (Alma 32:21)
In the last General Conference of the Church (April 2014), Sister Jean A. Stevens, First Counselor in the Primary General Presidency, delivered a sermon titled, “Fear Not: I Am with Thee,” in which she said this: “As we develop greater faith and trust in the Lord, we can access His power to bless and deliver us.”
This made me ask (and I continue to ponder the answers to these questions): What does that really mean? How is that possible: have faith –> access God’s power? Why is faith the “access key” to his power? Does greater faith lead to “better” access? Faster access? More acute access? If so, why? What is “greater faith”? How does one develop greater faith? How could my faith be greater? How can I be better at believing in God?
I think sometimes, within the Mormon Church, we’re so proud of all the knowledge we have access to. And certainly, with good reason. We believe the fullness of Christ’s Gospel was restored through Joseph Smith! We know so much about the Plan of Life/Salvation, the Priesthood, the Godhead, our pre-mortal and post-mortal lives, etc. In fact, our testimony meetings* are filled with countless declarations of what people “know.” And obviously knowledge is good.
But I’ve come to think that perhaps we focus too much on the “I knows” and neglect the “I believes,” the “I hopes,” and the “I have faith ins.” I don’t know that knowledge, particularly spiritually discerned knowledge, is what gets you through the hard spells in life (or times when you don’t understand doctrine or policy). Spiritually discerned knowledge is hard to hold on to, especially when the physical world around us pulls and prods and falls apart—when all signs point to the opposite of your knowledge being true.
When the apostle Peter stepped out of the boat, he had a knowledge that Jesus was there on top of the water too. He could see Him with his own two eyes. Walking on water was possible. He could also hear Christ’s voice bidding him, “Come,” with His own two ears. Christ Himself was telling Peter that he could do it, that he should do it. So I’d say Peter’s knowledge was certain. He had tangible, sensory evidence. But when he saw the crashing waves around him, he sank, and Jesus gave the reason: “Oh thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?”
Peter’s knowledge didn’t keep Him afloat. And his lack of faith made him sink.
Knowledge isn’t the pre-requisite to salvation, faith is. So many people don’t join our Church because they don’t “know” if it’s true. And so many people leave the Church because there are things they don’t understand, things that can’t be explained, doctrines and policies that don’t fit within the box of knowledge they’ve built for themselves.
But at the end of the day, all there is, is faith. In other words: Can you believe when all signs point to no? Can you hold on only to hope, even when it’s hard to do so? Can you choose faith when it doesn’t make sense? Or rather, will you?
Please, do. Please don’t abandon your faith. Keep your promises. Hold on to the sometimes thin threads of hope. I know it’s hard sometimes. I really do. There are so many things in life, in the Church, that don’t make sense, that hurt, that confuse, that worry. But it’s okay if you don’t “know.” And it’s okay to not understand everything right now. This just may be the “trial of faith” the prophet Moroni was speaking of. But the witness will come! It will. I don’t know when. But it will come. I believe that. I hope that. Believe in God. Just Him. Only Him. And please don’t leave. Here, you are needed. Here, you belong. Here, you are loved.
Further reading that I can’t more highly recommend from my two favorite Apostles:
Seriously, if you don’t have time today, please bookmark/pin/share this page and come back to read or watch their addresses.
*Testimony meeting generally occurs on the first Sunday of each month. Around the world, in every Mormon congregation, instead of prepared sermons, the meeting is opened up to the general membership to come the pulpit and share the witness of their faith.