Why I Stay: Claiming Mormonism in the Face of Doubt

Sometimes, being a Mormon is hard.

I don't mean that the expectations, assignments, duties, activities, and lifestyle is hard. They certainly are, but that's not what I'm talking about.

I'm talking about identifying as a Mormon. Actually being Mormon. 

It is very easy to dismiss someone going through a faith crisis. The presumption is that they want to sin or like finding fault, that they aren't praying "correctly" or reading their scriptures enough, that they are too prideful and too sensitive.

But this dismissal ignores the very real struggles of those who are genuinely searching for answers. They want to believe - no one wants to have their entire foundation crumble. They struggle because they find doctrinal or policy inconsistencies that they can't reconcile.

The Prophetic Voice

My ward snagged the last Sunday before my move to Switzerland to ask me to speak. Given the proximity to LDS General Conference, they assigned me the topic "Come, Listen to a Prophet's Voice." Here is an excerpt from my talk, given on September 24, 2017.

When we hear the word "prophet" in the Church today, we typically think of the president of the High Priesthood -- the president of the Church -- and of course we sustain him as a prophet. But the word applies to more than just the president of the Church: we also sustain his counselors and the Quorum of the Twelve as prophets, seers, and revelators. And the spirit, or gift, of prophecy, is given to others as well, who are not part of the leadership of the Church. For example, we read in 1 Nephi 1:4 that in the reign of Zedekiah, "there came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed." Lehi was one of these prophets not in the Jewish religious leadership. In fact, through much of the Old Testament, God called prophets from outside the priestly leadership to call the people (and often their civil and religious leaders) to repentance.

While we often connect priesthood authority and the prophetic calling (with the perfect example of this being Jesus Christ, who is called our "prophet, priest, and king" in the hymn "I Know That My Redeemer Lives"), I believe it is important to distinguish the broader concept of a prophet. This is partly because it helps us understand the scriptures, but more importantly, because it helps us understand what the role of a prophet is and how it applies to our own lives.

So what is a prophet? The simplest definition of the spirit of prophecy comes from Revelation 19:10: "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy". But if we understand "testimony" to mean primarily "knowledge", I think we miss a key piece of the spirit of prophecy: feeling. A few years ago, when most recently we studied the Old Testament in Gospel Doctrine, I read a fantastic book called "The Prophets" by Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the foremost Jewish scholars of our time. He says this about prophets:

"The fundamental experience of the prophet is a fellowship with the feelings of God, a sympathy with the divine pathos [or feelings]. The emotional experience of the prophet becomes the focal point for the prophet's understanding of God. He lives not only his personal life, but also the life of God... The prophet hears God's voice and feels His heart. He tries to impart the pathos [or feeling] of the message together with its logos [or content]."

The role of a prophet is not only to speak messages from God, but to feel as God feels and to express that feeling to listeners, to invite them to have the same relationship with God the prophet has. And we are all exhorted to seek after this gift: 1 Corinthians 14:1 (and really, most of this chapter through verse 32): "Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy." Or, as Moses put it when some complained to him that others were prophesying in the camp: "Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!"

This is part of what I meant earlier about how the role of prophet applies to our own lives: we are to be prophets, men and women and children. In fact, Moses's sister Miriam is called a prophetess, along with Deborah, Huldah, Anna, and other women whose names are not recorded in the scriptures. In Acts 2:17, God promises: "And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy."

Occasionally, when I have discussed this idea with people, they have regarded it as dangerous, as somehow detracting from the authority of Church leaders or encouraging people to simply follow their own way and not worry about unity with the body of the Church. But the true spirit of prophecy is one of unity, because it is to understand (as far as we in our limited state currently can) the mind and heart of God, and one of the key characteristics of the Godhead is unity.

So how can we become prophets and prophetesses and have the spirit of prophecy? By reading and listening to the voices of other prophets. As we hear their messages, and more importantly, as we feel the divine feelings they express, our hearts are transformed and we are open to receiving those same feelings from God. In fact, it is when we ourselves have the spirit of prophecy that we best receive and understand prophetic messages. As D&C 50:17-22 puts it:

"Verily I say unto you, he that is ordained of me and sent forth to preach the word of truth by the Comforter, in the Spirit of truth, doth he preach it by the Spirit of truth or some other way? And if it be by some other way it is not of God. And again, he that receiveth the word of truth, doth he receive it by the Spirit of truth or some other way? If it be some other way it is not of God. Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth? Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together."

Of course, because we are still developing in our godly characteristics, the messages of prophets will often point out where we are deficient, and this is rarely a comfortable thing. This is why so often, people have rejected, stoned, and killed prophets. At the same time, because God feels incomparable love for all of us, prophets also bring messages of comfort. As Jeffrey R. Holland said in General Conference in April of 2011:

"We are commanded in the scriptures to 'say nothing but repentance unto this generation,' while at the same time we are to preach 'good tidings [to] the meek ... [and] bind up the brokenhearted.' Whatever form they take, these conference messages 'proclaim liberty to the captives' and declare 'the unsearchable riches of Christ.' In the wide variety of sermons given is the assumption that there will be something for everyone. In this regard, I guess President Harold B. Lee put it best years ago when he said that the gospel is 'to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the [comfortable]."

As Mormons and as transhumanists, we should feel called with a prophetic calling, to spread the good news of how the divine work of transforming humanity into the image of God is proceeding. Most of us are in a position of great privilege, and if we do not feel uncomfortable with the demands placed on us by the call to be transformed into the image of Christ, we probably do not understand well enough. We should allow ourselves to be challenged by those we sustain and recognize as prophets, listen for the prophetic voice wherever it may be found, and feel "constrained", as Joseph Smith would call it, to challenge ourselves and others to the work of transformation into the divine image.