Two recent articles published in BYU Magazine and the New Era (the Church’s official magazine for youth) are noteworthy in their discussion of how to help others going through a faith crisis.
The first is “Keeping the Faith,” written by M. Sue Bergin. This article gives some wise advice on how to help a child handle doctrinal doubts or a faith crisis. Although the article is specifically aimed at equipping parents to help children, the principles can be applied to helping a friend or loved one (like a spouse or a sibling). In addition to describing ways to helpfully address the doubts raised by those with questions (such as destigmatizing doubt, embracing the questioner, and educating oneself on the issues being raised), the article also provides a “Dos” and “Don’ts” list that includes:
• Do create an atmosphere of warmth and openness in your home that invites conversations on difficult topics of all kinds.
• Do react matter-of-factly and kindly to questions, no matter how distressing they might be to you personally.
• Do acknowledge what you don’t know. Ask if you can join your child in his or her search for answers.
• Do encourage your children to trust their spiritual instincts, their ability to get answers, and their ability to make a meaningful connection with God and with scripture.
• Do encourage mutual respect. Just as you expect yourself to listen respectfully to your loved one’s thoughts and feelings, it’s reasonable to expect him or her to speak respectfully about what is sacred to you.
• Don’t shut down a child who has a difficult question. Even remarks that might seem innocuous, such as “Where did you hear that?” can be interpreted as disapproval of the question itself.
• Don’t communicate that it’s wrong or unfaithful to have questions or doubts.
• Don’t express disappointment in your loved one or convey fear about his or her spiritual standing.
The second article, “True or False?” by David A. Edwards, begins by observing, “[I]n the big questions of faith, belief, and everyday living, while it is extremely important to be able to tell the difference between what’s true and what isn’t, it’s not always easy.” To help his young readers who sometimes grapple with faith-shaking issues, the author of the article recommends the recent Gospel Topics essay on the translation of the Book of Mormon in his refutation of the claim that “the accounts of how [the Book of Mormon] was translated are inconsistent.” This recommendation is significant for two reasons:
1. It indicates a positive effort by the Church to ensure that Church members are aware of the Gospel Topics essays addressing sensitive issues like the translation method of the Book of Mormon, Book of Mormon and DNA studies, polygamy, the Mormon doctrine of deification, and the former priesthood ban on African American members of the Church.
2. It undermines what I’ve come to call the “Anti-Mormonism of the Gaps” theory frequently espoused by critics of the Church. As I’ve explained elsewhere, “[C]ritics immediately assume that any perceived neglect to mention the Gospel Topics essays or the subjects addressed therein to as wide an audience as possible must be proof of Church leaders’ dishonesty or duplicity, and not merely, say, the result of the sort of bureaucratic inertia one would reasonably expect in an entity as large as the Church. Problem is, as the subjects addressed by the Gospel Topics essays gain more prominence in Church publications, the critics are quickly running out of space in their gaps to assume sinister motives by Church leaders.”
For those who wish to help friends or family members who may be experiencing a faith crisis, these two essays may prove helpful.