"When the dust settles the only question that really arises to the forefront of my mind is: Does the restoration make God present to me? Do I see God's hand in evidence in the good that the church does, in the good that the gospel accomplishes in the lives of individuals and the access that it gives me to the gifts of the spirit and to the beauties and the truths of eternity? Well, then all the rest is just secondary to that."

Join us with our editor Lauren Rose and guest Alba Lucia as we discuss October's Book Club "The Crucible of Doubt" with author Terryl Givens.
To date, Terryl has written and edited over 20 books, and has many more on the horizon. Some of his favorite include his collaborations with his wife, Fiona. Terryl has spent much of the last 20 years tracing the history and theology of the Latter-day Saints, but for most of his career, he taught Romantic literature (think more Shelley than Sparks). Whether its hosting insightful podcasts on Faith Matters or speaking to Saints the world over at intimate firesides, Terryl’s mission is to help everyone–no matter where they are in their journey of faith–come closer to Jesus Christ.




Hey! Well, we're already recording; we just spent the last couple of minutes talking about our favorite parts from the “Crucible of Doubt.”  Lauren's shared a little bit about our podcast, but, essentially, the premise of the podcast is sharing stories of people who have left the Church for whatever reason, or had a severe faith crisis, and then come back from it. 


We have created this little book club, and actually, Alba, she shared her story on the podcast a couple of months ago, and she mentioned that one of the turning points for her was reading your book.  And so, we all read the book in the book club, and we all just absolutely loved it.  And so, we invited Alba back to be on this episode with you, and we are just so excited to have you on.  We just think the world of you.


I have just a little bio here.  Terryl has written and edited over 20 books (I have a lot more to read.  I'm super excited) and has many more on the horizon.  Some of his favorite include his collaborations with his wife, Fiona.  Terryl has spent much of the last 20 years tracing the history and theology of the Latter-day Saints, but for most of his career, he taught Romantic Literature (think more Shelley than Sparks). 


Whether it's hosting insightful podcasts on Faith Matters or speaking to saints the world over at intimate firesides, Terryl's mission is to help everyone – no matter where they are in their journey of faith – come closer to Jesus Christ. 


I love that so much.  We have some questions for you.  We'd love to just hear you kind of share a little bit about you and what started this whole journey and where it all began for you.  And if you're okay with just sharing that, we can have some questions at the end.  That'd be awesome. 



Sure.  I fully expected that I would spend my life teaching and writing about early 19th century European literature, Romantic literature in particular.  And I had only been teaching at the University of Richmond a few years when, listening to a general conference back in the 90s.  President Benson was speaking, and he was quoting something that Joseph Smith said.  And he said, “it is our duty to concentrate all our influence to make popular that which is sound and good, and unpopular, that which is unsound.” 


And I had grown up and spent most of my early life and professional life in Virginia, part of the Bible Belt, and we were in an area where there was just kind of ferocious waves of anti-Mormonism that were common in my experience growing up and teaching.  And it just seemed to me that, in light of those words that President Benson quoted from Joseph Smith, I suddenly felt that there had to be something I could do as a scholar, as an academic, to address some of the misperceptions and misrepresentations about the Church. 


And so, I plunged into a project in the 1990s.  It was my first book, and it was about representations of Mormonism and 19th century popular culture.  And it was a fascinating journey for me to uncover this really incredible history of ways in which clearly American people were suffering from a kind of “anxiety of seduction” as I called it; about this “Mormon menace.” And it led me into this kind of search for the constants.  What have been the factors going all the way back to 1830 that kind of fire the imagination in negative ways?  And I gradually transitioned over the next decade or so – without really intending to – to be speaking more to Latter-day Saints who are struggling with their faith rather than those who are hostile to the Church from a complete outsider perspective. 


And this kind of focus sharpened during the Romney campaign (the first one back in 2008, and then again in 2012), as Mormons became more and more a subject of media interest.  And so, Sheri Dew at Deseret asked my wife and I if we would write a book for a general audience, introducing the Latter-day Saint tradition.  And so, that's when we wrote “The God Who Weeps”, and that was back in 2012. 


And it was very shortly after that, that people in my own family began to suffer their own faith journeys and just really kind of choppy waters in their own spiritual lives.  And I wrote a letter to one of these individuals, and it was at about the same time that I was asked to give a fireside in Palo Alto to young adults.  And it just seemed appropriate to share that letter that I had written with a with a larger audience.  And so, I did, and it was called “Letter to a Doubter.”  And the letter kind of went viral and got picked up and copied and talked about and reproduced.  And suddenly, it seemed that there were a lot of chords I had struck that met with positive reception, positive response. 


A lot of people, I find, are asking genuine questions, and they just want their questions to be taken seriously.  And I think that there was a paradigm shift the Church was starting to go through during that period of time where we started to decriminalize doubt, which I think is one of the healthiest developments that's taken place in the last 10 years or so.  People, like Elder Holland especially, were at the forefront of giving talks that were sympathetic and respectful of those who ask real questions, genuine questions with genuine intent.  And so, with Fiona's help, I expanded that letter into “The Crucible of Doubt”.  And that kind of launched us on just a whole series of opportunities to respond to requests throughout quite a large area.  In fact, we've been to 20 countries as well as about 30 states in the United States giving firesides and doing Q&A sessions with principally young adults, but just general audiences as well. 


And so, I have just been incredibly grateful that I've had the opportunity to kind of combine or merge my academic interests in studying religion as a cultural phenomenon and writing about the history of the Latter-day Saints tradition, and to merge that with what I hope is a kind of pastoral effort to engage people in faith building ways.




I was a Young Single Adult at one of those devotionals that you gave with Fiona, it was probably maybe 2017 in Arizona, and it was wonderful.  You were speaking about your book “The Christ Who Heals”.  And it was beautiful. 


But that's something that was really meaningful to me, because I had already read your book.  And I was going kind of in the middle of coming back.  And that was an important process.  I think it's a such an important group that you have spoken to so many different times, because I think that's obviously a crossroads where a lot of people are making difficult decisions and really deciding who they're going to be and why.  I think that that's really important, so thank you for that.




I appreciate that.  Thanks.




So, what is your personal experience with where your testimony started?




My family joined the Church when I was young.  I come from a mixed Methodist and Presbyterian background.  I was baptized Presbyterian by my grandfather, who was a minister in the Presbyterian Church.  My parents converted but it didn't stick initially, and so I wasn't really raised as an act of Latter-day Saints. 


It wasn't until I was 16 years old, and we moved back to Virginia, and I kind of discovered on my own the Church and became enamored –I think even at a young age – of its theology, which I have always thought as unusually coherent and rational.  I don't often talk publicly about my own personal faith journey, but I did have a kind of near-death experience back in 1992, trying to save somebody who was drowning.  And it was a life changing experience for me insofar as it shook me to my core.  Some of the things that I experienced, and I found myself asking really hard questions of myself, “what do I really know?  How certain am I? How reasonable are my faith commitments?” 


And so, I think I can date in a kind of concrete, specific way, a faith journey that consisted of very deliberately and self-consciously trying to construct a faithful foundation.  And I think the most important insight that I came to in that process was a recognition of what's taught in Section 46 of the Doctrine and Covenants.  And I think we don't fully absorb the important teaching that is there when the spiritual gifts are being enumerated and we're told that some is given to know that Jesus is the Christ.  And so, we have what Fiona and I call this “rhetoric of certainty” in the Church, right?  Where we're used to this tradition of standing up the first Sunday and going to the podium and professing all the things that we know.  And I want to make clear that I believe that many people do have that gift, I think that it is possible to have a kind of spiritual certainty and confirmation of those things.  But that isn't my gift.  The verse following indicates that to some is given to believe.  And so, I think when I came to recognize that faith is a choice, that I had a different relationship to my faith.  Instead of always questioning well, “how certain am I?  Do I know?  What does it mean?”  And I realized that faith is like any act of love that requires risk and requires vulnerability and requires a conscious, willful decision of commitment.  And so, I feel like I have very powerful, credible grounds for my faith.  I think everything from the Book of Mormon as a miraculous document, and whisperings of the spirit that I have felt time and again.  So, there are many sources of my faith, but ultimately, it comes down to just deciding, “yes, I'm going to make the decision to trust in Christ and in the goodness of his nature and of the reliability of the modern prophetic witness.”




I'm glad that you touched on that, I really appreciate it.  You reminded me of something that Ashly and I were actually talking about last week.  I lived outside of the Church from the age of 12 to 25.  So, I came back when I was 25.  And I had some incredibly powerful spiritual experiences that, to me, are undeniable.  I feel like I am one of those people that knows that there's a God.  I don't believe that there's a God because of what I've experienced.  I don't have that choice anymore to choose if I believe in God.  I really truly feel that way. 


And sometimes when I listen to these people who have had a faith crisis over the CES Letter or something from church history, I feel like they kind of invalidate my faith because I haven't had a struggle with that.  Like, I can accept the fact that I don't have to make logic out of everything in this world because God is so much more than I am right now.  And I could never comprehend everything that He does, so I don't need to put down on paper and really make logical sense of every little thing that happened in church history. 


But I don't know, I think we worry sometimes that some people have that kind of face like us, and then they're thinking, “well, should I go read the CES Letter?  Do I not have a mature testimony because I haven't studied so much?”  I wonder what your thoughts are on that?




I think that's a really good question because there certainly are some people in our audience who have objected to our emphasis on doubt as a crucible as a necessary part of discipleship.  I think it's necessary insofar as if we do have faith, that means we don't have certainty, right?  Faith means that we have reasonable bases but not compelling proof.  But I also think, “the spirit bloweth like the wind where it listeth.”  And so, some people have these experiences that give them a solid foundation.  Many, many people do not. 


I think it's important that we make room in our church for all kinds of bases for testimony.  There are many, many audiences, or many constituencies in the Church, and no one person can speak to all of them.  And so, I feel that Fiona and I have had the opportunity and the invitation to focus on one particular kind of member, and it's those who do find themselves wrestling, and struggling.


I also think it would be incredibly helpful if as a church –as a membership – we could make a distinction between faith and faithfulness.  And there's good textual and historical reason to do so, as well as doctrinal reason to do so.  In the Old Testament, the emphasis is always on faithfulness:  Abraham is faithful to the covenant and those who are singled out by Paul as exemplars are faithful. 


Faithfulness describes a relationship, and it describes a kind of trust that we repose in Christ.  Faith, as it develops as a New Testament concept, pertains more to our assent to a series of propositions.  So, if you stand up, for example, and say, “I know the Book of Mormon is true”, well, that's about faith, you're asserting your assent to this fact or this claim.  “The prophet is the prophet” or any number of propositions we can make that are about faith.  And so, the way I like to think of it is that faithfulness should be non-negotiable.  We should hopefully arrive at a point where we're committed with both feet.  Our commitment to Christ is non-negotiable.  That's never called into question.  But how we understand different precepts and principles of the gospel should be in a constant state of development and evolution.  Testimony should be organic; it seems to me. 


So, I think it's perfectly logical as well as desirable to hold those things in tension in our own souls to say, “you know, I'm not sure ‘translation’ means what I thought it meant.  I'm not sure the scriptures are infallible in the ways that I thought they were infallible.”  All of these things can be subject to negotiation, but none of that calls into question, “I love Christ, and I’m devoted and committed to Him.”  And so, I think that's one way of embracing a wider kind of plurality of disciples and discipleship.





So, you mentioned the letter that you wrote, and that's kind of where this started.  What general advice would you have for a young adult or somebody in today's world where there's TikTok and Instagram and everything online, and people just very loudly sharing their opinions of why they believe the Church is wrong, or all of the issues they believe that the Church has, and the Church history and everything. 


It's very loud online, and the younger generation is very much so exposed to it all the time.  What advice would you have for this generation?  If you had to sum it up in a nutshell, what should their first steps be in dealing with this?




To me, it just seems that it’s just about a fundamental attitude that we take toward life.  Are we going to be critics and cynics and skeptics, or are we going to be builders and questers?  The reason I fell in love with my wife was because she loved what is beautiful.  That was what united us and what was the common thread in our courtship and marriage.  We want to pursue what is beautiful, we want to fill our lives with beautiful art and uplifting literature and great thoughts.  And it seems to me that life is too short to spend any time reading anything that isn't faith building. 


And so, it seems its incumbent upon us as moral agents to seek out those things that speak to us in beautiful ways.  It can be Harry Potter, or it can be rock music, or it can be through the medium of the scriptures.  But when the Lord said “seek ye wisdom out of the best books,” He's not talking about the scriptures, it's clear in the context that He's saying, “in addition to the scriptures, you need to find these other sources of beauty and power and inspiration.”  And the problem with reading the CES Letter is that you are making other people's questions yours.  And it seems to me there's something profoundly inauthentic about that. 


That's why I'm not interested at all in engaging in debates or arguments or disputes with people who have criticisms of the Church.  If you come with your own question that has arisen authentically, that I'm happy to engage and to have a conversation.  And I don't know if there's going to be a final exit interview at the end of this life, and I don't know what questions will be asked if there is.  But the kind of question I'm trying to prepare for is, if we stand before the Great Diviner or His representative, the question seems to me is, “what did you build?  What did you build with your life?  Did you build faith and hope and beauty and friendship and relationality?  Or did you build doubt and skepticism and adversarial-ism?”  And so, I guess that's what I'd say is, if you are seeking the light, then you're going to be okay.  I just have confidence that you're going to be okay.  But just make that your pursuit and find your own questions. 




That is so good.  I love that so much. 


I feel like what really kick started me wanting to start this podcast was this thing going around on Instagram, and it was “submit your anonymous questions to people.”  And this kind of opened up this whole conversation about people just sharing why they were leaving the Church, and all the comments and everything gave me cause to pause and say, “You know what?  That question, that actually is pretty valid.”  And it kind of caused some questions inside me that kind of pushed me into my own exploration of answers.  And I found that throughout that little thing that I went through there for a minute, it pushed me into this research phase where I was looking for answers to these questions that I started to have that were triggered by these things I was seeing online. 


And I asked Heavenly Father to help me to work through this and to provide me with answers that made sense.  And I feel grateful that I went through that little journey that I did.  And one of the quotes in your book is that there's only a flower that can bloom in the desert of doubt.  And I just thought that was so profound, and I will remember that quote for the rest of my life because it just was so beautiful. 


Do we do you guys want to kick off with some of the questions that we have?  I think, Alba, you're up for a question reading.




Sure, definitely.  Like Ashly mentioned, we did a kind of a little book club.  And so, some people at the end kind of shared some of their favorite parts of the book.  And so, we wanted to get some insight from you:  You wrote a lot of really meaningful passages, but we wanted to know either in the reading or the writing process with you and Fiona and in your learning, what were some of your favorite parts of the book?




I guess it was the epilogue, and it was only as I was finishing the book, that I came upon this this great short story of Miguel Leona Mona.  It was about this Catholic priest who lives with this terrible burden of doubt his whole life, and he has to hide this from his flock because he feels so unworthy as a priest if he himself can't feel the certainty that he is trying to inculcate in his flock.  And what's so beautiful and poignant about the story is he is survived by a close friend who recognizes that faith is more manifest in the kind of life we lead than what we knowingly profess. 


And so, I think what that means to me is that we live forth our faith.  And the way we articulate that, the way we conceptualize that, might be an inaccurate reading, especially if, as I said, we're defining faith in terms of commitment, and in terms of loyalty and in terms of relationship. 


I've always been moved by the fact that in John chapter six, when we see the first defections from the Savior, the language that is used in the King James translation, which is an accurate rendering of the Greek is, “after that day, many walked no more with him.”  And I think it's sad that we have come to think of our testimonies primarily in terms of an institutional affiliation.  And so, I think that's part of what I was trying to suggest through this book is that all aspects of our faith and testimony should be subordinate to that commitment to walk with other saints following Christ. 


And if we are doing that, then it seems to me that many times the questions that puzzled us, the doubts that we have, aren't as relevant and as pertinent in the end to what it means to be a disciple.  So, I guess that was the conclusion I came to only as I was finishing up the manuscript.




And one point that you made was that maybe it's not so much about the messenger as it is the message.  And I love that.




Yeah, yeah.  You are all too young to have ever seen the great movie “Amadeus”.  Has anybody seen that in this audience?




I did.  In my orchestra class, we watched it.




It's a great movie.  It's a little dated now, right?  But it's about this guy, Salieri, who's just a second-rate musician, and he's a contemporary of Mozart's.  And Mozart is this rakish, lustful, crude, vulgar musician who is brilliant.  And Salieri just can't understand why would God work through him?  How can he be a vessel of beauty?  And so, I think that the lesson there was profound.  It's about the message, it's not about the messenger because we are all broken vessels.  We're all wounded.  And we're all weak. 


I remember my son read “Rough Stone Rolling” when he was on his mission.  And he wrote me and he said, “that's the most faith promoting book I've ever read in my life because when I saw what God could do through a man as imperfect as Joseph Smith with his flaws, I thought, ‘well, maybe there's hope for me too’” and that's the lesson that we should take




That's awesome.  Lauren, I'm gonna let you go next because I kind of already asked my question.




Ours is from a listener.  So, it says “I am a youth Sunday School teacher.  Youth today spend their time and algorithmic content feeds that eventually expose them to compelling arguments against the Church.  I worry that in the current church system, doubting youth ask for bread but receive a stone.  How can those of us in the service of the youth best help those in this situation, especially when we don't have answers ourselves?”




I think the first resource in our arsenal should be the gospel topics essays.  Surveys have shown that an astonishing percentage of members of the Church still aren't even aware of those.  I was a participant in that project – what has it been now, I don't know, somewhere between five and 10 years – where the Church decided to address head on 12 of the most challenging, vexing issues in institutional history and write honest essays about those topics from the priesthood ban to Joseph Smith's practice of polyandry.  I think there are 12 topics in all.  Heavenly Mother; what we know and what we don't we know about polygamy.  And so, these are Church sponsored, church endorsed essays where there is a very honest approach, together with resources.  So, we should know those first of all, and know that the Church has officially sponsored and officially endorsed an approach where we recognize these tough questions and issues, and we address them. 


I think it helps also to know the Joseph Smith Papers project.  It's an academic project, yes, but what that represents is the first time in the Church's history where we have said, “as an institution, we're going to present to the world every single word that Joseph Smith ever spoke, wrote, or dictated, and we're not going to make excuses, we're not going to censor, we're not going to edit. 


The third thing I would suggest is every church educator has to read Elder Ballard's 2016 address to the CES educators.  It wasn't a general conference talk, so it wasn't widely distributed, but this was an address to Institute and Seminary teachers throughout the world in 2016. 


Elder Ballard, who's now the acting president of the quorum, in that talk, these are some of the things he said.  He said, “teachers, a testimony is not an answer to a question.”  That's an astonishing thing for an apostle to say, right?  In other words, he's saying if a student asks you a question, don't evade it by saying, “well, I'll bear you, my testimony.”  Address the question.  And then he said, “if you don't know the answer to the question, then go to somebody who does.  Go to a church historian or a scholar who does know the answer to that question.” 


He also said, “we have failed as a church to adequately prepare our young people for the challenges and the kinds of questions that are being asked today.”  So, it's just a remarkably refreshing, honest talk where he's saying, “we need to honor these questions, we need to validate them, and we need to engage them and try to either become qualified to answer the questions or refer them to people who can”.  So, I think that's the best place to start.




I love that.  Alba, you’re next with the next question?




I guess it's kind of similar to this one about teacher's teaching youth, but I think in many podcast episodes, and in my personal experience, one of the things that's most common that people ask is about how to help a family member or a close friend who is struggling with questions or doubts or feelings of betrayal and frustration at the Church as they as they struggle through this faith journey. 


So, I guess, what would you say to those who want to help someone else that are wondering what to say or what to do?




Well, I guess that is a kind of question that is tangential to the one I just answered because first of all, we should know what sources we can trust and where we can really see.  But I think it's also important that we recognize that we practice discernment.  As most people in the Church, I have lots of relatives who become hostile to the Church, who have left the Church.  At various points in their journeys, they have wanted to talk to me about matters of history and of doctrine.  And the first thing that I always try to assess is “are they asking genuine questions?  Do they want to express anger and bitterness?  Or do they want to find resolution and peace?”  And so. it seems to me that the very first thing we have to do is ascertain what is the nature of the question.  And if it's just disputatious and contentious, then we just need to find ways to support and love and be friends, but without engaging in these ways because it just isn't productive. 


I remember a remarkable experience that was one of the very, very, very kind of beginnings of my work in this area.  A mission president had authorized a sister missionary to come in and talk to me because she had made the decision to leave the Church in the next week.  When she was going to be released from her mission, she was going to leave the Church.  So, she had a list of questions, and we spent a couple of hours going through these questions like kind of the CES type questions. 


And then I remember, she asked one question, and suddenly, it just kind of clicked in my mind.  And I said, “sister, why does that question matter to you?”  And suddenly, there was this silence.  And then she said, “I don't know.  I don't know.”  And that was the moment when she realized she was just parroting these other questions. 


Now, some people have taken the story that I tell out of context and said, “Oh, he's saying truth does not matter”.  No, I’m not saying that truth doesn't matter.  But it's kind of like somebody coming to me and saying, “I learned that Jesus wasn't born in Bethlehem, he was born in Nazareth.”  Well, my question would be, “why does that matter?”  And I would hope that most disciples would say, “I guess it doesn't really matter.”  Now, if somebody said, “I learned that Jesus didn't really resurrect from the dead.”  That matters! 


So, we need to learn to discern what questions are meaningful and what questions aren't.  So, in this case, if I remember correctly, this question was about Joseph Smith and the Kirtland bank failure.  Well, why does that matter?  Prophets aren't gifted with economic insight and wisdom that allows them to make infallible economic or financial decisions.  And so, I think that's kind of what came out of that was “oh, yeah, unless I'm presuming that a prophet is perfect and omniscient than that doesn’t matter.”  And so, in that case, that ended up being a kind of breakthrough.




Yeah, when I recorded my episode, I talked to Ashley about something similar, where there was a talk by Lawrence Corbridge that I love called “Stand Forever.”  And he talks about primary questions and secondary questions.  And he says the same thing where you answer the primary questions, like the ones that actually matter, “did Christ resurrect?”  I mean, is that something that you can actually know about versus the unlimited amount of questions that really don't matter and don't affect anything internally, or something really matters of the soul?




Yeah.  In my own faith journey, when the dust settles, the only question that really arises to the forefront in my mind is, “does the Restoration make God present to me?  Do I see God's hand in evidence in the good that the Church does, in the good that the gospel accomplishes in the lives of individuals, and the access that it gives me to the gifts of the Spirit and to the beauties and of the truths of eternity?”  Well, then all the rest is just secondary to that. Right.




Beautiful, thank you. 




Mine's kind of like a closing question.  So, we're just wondering, if you have any book recommendations for people that are struggling with church history or CES Letter stuff, or even just your favorite faith promoting books?




That's a pretty broad question.




Well, we just need more for the book club, you know?




Well, you know, both my wife, Fiona and I, have as our very favorite devotional book “The Showings of Julian of Norwich”.  She was a 14th century nun who had a series of visions, and she meditated on them as an anchorite (meaning in a kind of walled up cell) for 20 years before she had the inspiration to write in – what I think is the most powerful witness ever given – to the love of God.  And that spoke to us in a powerful way.  It might not speak to everybody.  But that's our personal favorite book of devotion. 


If you want something more LDS themed in particular, I go back to the books of Neal A Maxwell. I think he was one of the most gifted pastoral speakers and writers in our tradition.  I haven't seen his equal since. 


We both love the sermons of George MacDonald.  Those are easy to find in collected versions, he was a Congregationalist Minister of the 19th century who speaks in a spirit that most Latter-day Saints will feel is familiar and beautiful.  Is that enough to start with just those couple?




Yeah!  Thank you!




Well, we have we have a few other questions.  They're kind of deep questions, and they’re actually submitted by my cousin in particular, who he had these deep questions to ask you.  So, if you're okay with a couple of more questions, we'd love to ask them. 


And just a side note, my cousin is one of the strongest kids ever, and so I think these questions were pretty deep.  He said, “the scriptures contain many examples of prophets publicly conversing with enemies of the Church, defending the faith, and resolving doubts.  These stories are especially frequent in times where antagonists are drawing people away from the Church.  If there were ever a time where these ancient stories are repeating it is now.  In your opinion, why don't you see this type of public interaction with antagonists from modern prophets?”




Yeah, that's good question.  I think that cultural values shift, and cultural frameworks shift that ascribe different meaning and value to different kinds of rhetoric.  If you were to go back in time to the first presidential campaigns in American history between like John Adams and Jefferson, most Americans would be stunned by the level of acrimony and nastiness.  But at that time, it didn't verge on Civil War, it was just part of the free-for-all give-and-take of this new democratic experiment.


I think what's happened is in the present moment, we have become so polarized in ways that are really detrimental to any kind of public good.  People like Matt Holland, who's now a 70, he wrote a book, and its thesis is that American democracy is predicated on the assumption that we are going to interact on goodwill, that we will work together, and a common kind of feeling of shared charity in spite of political and policy differences. 


We no longer have that confidence in the inherent goodness of our fellow man and American society.  And so, I think it would be detrimental to the gospel and to the cause of the Church and to the cause of public unity for the Brethren today to engage in that same kind of spirited response to criticism, and I think that that shift began midway through the 20th century.  I remember the 1970s, there was a very important talk given at general conference called “No Time for Contention.”  And that was a kind of official church pronouncement that we are not going to engage in debate or acrimonious contestation. 


Just this week, I was reading a statement by Austin Fair, a great Anglican theologian, who said that the most effective response to critiques of the gospel is the holiness with which we live our lives.  And I think that's always been the case.




I love that response because Lauren and I have had quite the experience knowing what to do with the comments in the comments section of our videos and our posts because it's interesting, especially on TikTok, I feel like TikTok is really a place where people just go wild with their comments.  I don't know how familiar you are with TikTok.




I don't even know how to get on TikTok.




I actually didn't either until I started the podcast, but Lauren and I just have this experience of “well, do we defend?  How do we engage with these people that are coming to our page to give us all of their feedback and their thoughts on the Church and all the things”, and at first, we were, we were responding, and we were defending, and we were sticking up for what we thought was right.  And then it just kind of went down, there was really no “winning”, I'll say that.  There is no real reasoning.  There's nothing positive that's coming from it.  It's just a back-and-forth argument. 


But one thing that you mentioned earlier that kind of reminded me of this thought is that people can't argue your personal experiences.  They can't say that “that didn't happen.”  And each of us on this episode right now, have our own experiences of experiencing a change of heart and a softened heart and coming back after a time of trouble.  And that experience cannot be invalidated by somebody else.  You can't really argue with that.  And so, that's something that just really hit home for me.



That's true.  My most recent book came out a few weeks ago, I think it's called “Faith and Intellect.”



I got that, I just bought that.  I’m excited.



One of the main points that I try to make there is that rationality is one avenue to truth.  But so is instinct, so is intuition, so is conscience, so is an aesthetic sense.  And so, most people who engage in acrimonious debate, they limit themselves to one very narrow kind of epistemology, one very narrow, limiting way of thinking about truth.  So, we're speaking different languages, often.  Experience is its own language.




Yeah.  And it's interesting that you say that because one thing that Alba mentioned in her episode was that a lot of times the debate, or the thing that she was being told, was that you can't trust your feelings, your feelings are not something that you can rely on.  And it's just interesting because your message is that we need to surround ourselves with things that are beautiful, and things that feel good and true.  I just feel like that kind of is an answer to two questions there.  So, I just love that so much. 


Okay, another question that he had was kind of about personal revelation versus revelation from church leaders.  And when our own personal revelation is out of alignment with what the Church teaches, and how you would suggest maybe going about reconciling that.




Yeah, and my response will just be one very simple anecdote.  President Oaks was in California giving a fireside to young adults.  And this anecdote is actually in print, so it's not just apocryphal. 


A young couple came up to him after the fireside and said, “we hear what you're saying. We know you're an apostle, but we prayed about it, and we're just convinced that your council just doesn't apply to us.”  And I just love his response.  Without missing a beat, he just said “my calling as an apostle is to give counsel.  Your responsibility as an individual is to decide how that applies to you in your life.”  The end.  I just think that was a very powerful teaching moment.




Yep.  Yep.  And I believe there's something else in “The Crucible of Doubt” that mentions that President Oaks said that their responsibility is to give counsel for the general population of the Church.  And I'll quote that when we post this episode, I'll post that quote because it was really good.




Maybe you’re going to ask this question, but I'm trying to remember, it seems that I think in one of your communications the question was raised about the priesthood ban. 



Yeah.  Yep.



And what if we do feel strongly at odds with a church position or teaching.  And there again, I think my response to that is very simple and unequivocal.  And that is, we never have the authority or the right to publicly challenge.  We can harbor private doubts and reservations and discomfort, but because we espouse the principle of priesthood keys, and a hierarchy of priesthood authority and keys, there just isn't a place in our church for loyal dissent because we're not a democracy.  And so, it doesn't make sense, it's not efficacious, and it serves nobody's interests to publicly undermine or oppose those teachings of God.




One thing that I would add, Elder Renlund, I believe, just gave a beautiful talk about that, about the way that you receive revelation within a certain framework.  And how a lot of times, it's similar to what's taught in “The Crucible of Doubt” that, in the beginning, your initial assumption might be incorrect.  And so, a lot of times, when you start building upon this incorrect initial foundation, then things don't make sense, and it could easily crumble. 


So, I think that's something to look at, as well that a lot of times, I think, with questions and things that people feel are sometimes one-off situations:  this one person said this in one situation, and this contradicts this and people can get into a lot of that within themselves or with what other leaders have taught.  But I think that it’s a really powerful message that he taught about how the spirit and, in general, God operates within certain frameworks and things are very organized and very orderly.  When we can look at it from that lens and question our initial assumptions and our foundations of beliefs, those things generally lead to more clarity.




So, we've got one more question for you, and it's a doozy.  He says “many concerns about the Church are examined by church adjacent organizations like FAIR, The Maxwell Institute, and authors such as yourself.  I love these resources, but I also recognize that they don't match the weight of what is revealed by prophets and apostles.  I get the nagging feeling that for certain issues, such as the Book of Abraham, what Terryl Givens will write tomes about, the Prophet won’t touch with a 10-foot pole.  Do you believe that your writing supplements a deficit to prophetic revelation on certain issues?”




I don't think it supplements a deficit, I see it as an entirely different kind of area of concern and activity.  If we were Catholics, we would have been versed in a vocabulary that makes all of this a lot clearer and simpler, right?  There's dogma, there is doctrine, there are teachings, and there's theology.  And each one of those is different. 


Dogma is what you have to believe to be an orthodox member.  Doctrine is what has official authority and standing.  Teaching is what you may hear in irregular or not-always-consistent ways.  Theology is sustained, intellectual reflection on doctrine, and dogma and teachings. 


And so, as somebody who is trained in humanistic approaches to culture, I engage in sustained reflection, how do these things match up, how are they related to different theological or cultural or philosophical positions in the past, what are some of the implicit assumptions and implications and consequences? 


So, it's not my job, and I would never presume to declare doctrine.  But I think that there is a place.  Joseph Smith himself said, “there's no activity to which we can devote ourselves that is more important than theology.”  What we call the Lectures on Faith were originally called the Lectures on Theology. 


So, there was a time when it had higher standing in church culture than it does today.  And there's a period in the 1970s and 80s where some of the Brethren were hostile to the enterprise of theology and speculative theology. 


I don't sense that's the case today, as long as people don't presume to speculate and fill in gaps or claim authority or imply authority for what they're saying.  But, the Maxwell Institute, for example, is a different organization than the religious education department at BYU.  Religious Education Department has the task of teaching the doctrines of the Church.  The Maxwell Institute is a group of professional scholars and academics who are engaged in the project of exploring and explicating and situating and contextualizing and doing the work of theology.





I will say that reading your book was like these puzzle pieces that just fell into place for me.  And I mentioned to Alba and Lauren earlier that one of the questions that kind of floated around in my mind was, “why, if the church is the true church on the earth, why it's such a small population?”  I'd love if you could give your thoughts on that for our listeners, because it was so beautifully responded to in the book, and it totally answered that for me and just made me feel like it was not anything that was concerning to me anymore after hearing your response. 




Well, maybe you should paraphrase what I said in the book because I have no recollection whatsoever of what I said in the book.



You go ahead and tell me what you would say today.




I would say that today I am hearing and an increasing recognition and increasing focus on the part of the brethren on the multiple roles that inspired people have to constitute Zion, and that we are a part of this larger international, inter-religious, intercultural enterprise of building community. 


And we have particular tasks that nobody else does.  The temple, temple keys, the temple rituals, and sealing ordinances, those can't be replicated or substituted anywhere.  And then the second most important thing is only the Latter-day Saint theology gives a coherent narrative of human origins, purpose, and futures. 


And so, we tell the story in a way that makes better sense of the human predicament.  And if it takes a millennium to do all of the ordinances and saving rights that have to be done for the world's teeming billions, that's fine.  We don't need millions and millions of people, as long as we have the keys and the right story.




Yeah, I'm glad that you answered that and not me.  I try to share with my husband what I learned from your book, and I'm like, “it's just so poetic in the book.  It's so eloquent.  And just, it's so beautiful.  And when I say it, it doesn't sound the same.”  So, I'm glad that you explained that. 


What I heard in the book was just that there are other righteous people, and I love that you just said that, that we're doing a piece of what needs to be done, essentially.  And it really makes so much sense to me.  And I just appreciate how you tackled these questions in the book, and anybody that's listening, the book is incredible.  And anything that you guys release in the future, I am your first purchase.


Are there any other any last-minute thoughts that you would like to share before we wrap up?




I was asked the question recently in a press interview, “do you think that Joseph Smith was an intellectual?”  And another person that was in the conversation didn't like that term applied to Joseph Smith.  And he said, “no, Joseph was a prophet.”  Yes, he was a prophet, but when I say he was intellectual, what I mean is I admire the adventurousness of his mind.  I admire the limitless curiosity.  I admire the fact that, for Joseph Smith, no question was out-of-bounds.  And so, he got answers nobody had ever gotten because he asked questions nobody had ever been willing to ask. 


And so, I just wish more of us could have that perception of the gospel as this field of exciting exploration, questioning, journey, discovery. 


Don't want everything.  Don't be the kind of person who wants closure, completeness, everything tied up.  We live in an organic, unfolding universe and I don't think God fully knows the future because the future doesn't exist.  He knows everything that is.  And I think we are co-participants in creating this magnificent, unfolding cosmos, and I’m excited about that.




I love that so much.  Well, thank you so much for taking the time with us.  You're just incredible, and I'm telling you that we are all in your fan club. 


We just think you and Fiona are amazing.  And it is such an honor for us to be able to have you on our podcast, and we just think the world of you.  So, thank you so much. 



Thank you, and thank you for the good questions.