Somewhere on the front of every Mormon church sits a plaque that reads, “Visitors Welcome.” I sort of wish that there could be another saying on that plaque that would read, “Doubters Welcome.”
Of course I want visitors or “non-members” to come to church, check it out, and be part of our great church family. But who I’m really missing right now are those that have already been part of that church family, and have sort of quietly slipped away because of doubt.
Many times, when people begin to doubt their faith, they start to believe that they are unwelcome at Church. As if they’ll be branded with some sort of scarlet letter on their chest.
Maybe church culture was like that in the past. But I am certain it’s not like that in the present… and it won’t be like that in the future. Everyone at church wants you back. Regardless of what you’ve done, or what you’ve said, or what you’ve believed… or not believed, the Lord wants you to come back to the table and at a minimum… be open to believing.
Sometimes… the sheer desire to believe is stronger than having a knowledge of things. Many people have acted contrary to the knowledge that they have received, but rarely do you see someone who is striving to believe, fall off the path. There is something powerful behind the hope that drives actionable faith.
Elder Holland might be one of the most outspoken defenders of the church, and yet he’s recognized the need for doubters to remain welcome at church: “I think you’d be as aware as I am that we have many people who are members of the church who do not have some burning conviction as to its origins, who have some other feeling about it that is not as committed to foundational statements and the premises of Mormonism. But we’re not going to invite somebody out of the church over that any more than we would anything else about degrees of belief or steps of hope or steps of conviction. … We would say: “This is the way I see it, and this is the faith I have; this is the foundation on which I’m going forward. If I can help you work toward that I’d be glad to, but I don’t love you less; I don’t distance you more; I don’t say you’re unacceptable to me as a person or even as a Latter-day Saint if you can’t make that step or move to the beat of that drum.” (PBS Interview)
Most people don’t realize that some of the greatest accomplishments in the church have come from people who had doubts, but who were willing to continue to sit at the table with an open mind and work through their doubts. Each of Christ’s apostles doubted that Christ would be resurrected. It was incomprehensible to them… even after having witnessed a man walk on water and raise the dead. All of the original apostles had doubts. Each of them, one by one, sat there witnessing the mighty miracles that came from this Nazarene. They had questions and problems with much of what Christ had taught, but their hearts were soft enough to allow them to keep coming back to the table. The problem exists when a person thinks that they are beyond faith. That they are too logical for miracles. That their intellect exceeds the need for faith. People who are honest enough to admit their doubts and then face them head on without becoming antagonistic, making hardline rash decisions, or ruling out the need for faith are some of the greatest contributors to this kingdom.
Brigham Young was a serious skeptic and doubter. For two years he hung around and observed, having obvious doubts… while keeping himself open to experiences that might solidify his faith. He said, “I wished time sufficient to prove all things for myself” (“A Discourse,” Deseret News Weekly, 2 Oct. 1852, 96.) Joseph Smith doubted all of the religions of his day. He questioned things maybe more so than any other man or woman that lived in this dispensation and the result of those questions are what we have today as the Doctrine and Covenants. Alma’s doubt caused him to literally fight against the church for a time. But when he came back to church, he committed fully to the cause and said, “From that time (when he came back to the faith) even until now, I have labored without ceasing, that I might bring souls unto repentance; that I might bring them to taste of the exceeding joy of which I did taste.”(Alma 36:24) Alma’s doubt, hatred, confusion, and bitterness was replaced by love and devotion to the cause. Peter, James, and John fell asleep three times on the night the Savior needed them the most. But many of us fall asleep just once and never return.
Guess what the Savior did to the three apostles that fell asleep in Gethsemane. He turned them into his First Presidency and trusted them to take the gospel into the whole world. They fought through failure and doubt many times over and rededicated themselves to the cause again and again. Each time they got a little bit better and a little bit stronger… until at once, they became some of the most consistent and reliable disciples this world has ever seen. David O. McKay, B.H. Roberts, Gordon B. Hinckley… and the list could go on in these days with regular ol’ people who have fought through serious doubt to become spiritual giants in the kingdom of God.
I still remember when I fell asleep in the gospel for a short time in my younger years. I learned that having doubts doesn’t require you to not have belief or faith. It’s not an either-or. It’s a journey from doubt to faith. An uphill climb, that can be difficult at times. The world constantly reminded you to do the easy thing by turning around and going right back down that hill of doubt. But if we go back down that hill… we’ll never see the summit. Belief is what allows us to reach new heights, bless more lives, and attain a greater faith.