The Crucible of Doubt

The Crucible of Doubt coverI wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up and began reading The Crucible of Doubt by Terryl Givens and Fiona Givens. I assumed it was addressed to members of the Church of Jesus Christ who were having doubts in their testimony of the restored gospel, which really isn’t me. But I also assumed it would give advice to faithful Mormons on how to help those who are struggling with doubts. The book had good reviews, so I thought I’d give it a whirl.

As it turns out, I really liked the book. It addressed some difficult subjects, such as contradictions in the scriptures and mistakes made by men we hold as present-day prophets of God. I found the book to be educational and faith promoting. It discussed gospel subjects from a perspective infrequently seen in the church, one that is very comforting to me or anyone who is on a quest for greater faith.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book The Crucible of Doubt:

Chapter 5: On Prophecy and Prophets: The Perils of Hero Worship

“[True prophets] have steadfastly refused to be the keepers of an individual’s conscience. Brigham Young protested the perils of slavish obedience and submission: “I do not wish any Latter-day Saint in this world, nor in heaven, to be satisfied with anything I do, unless the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, the spirit of revelation, makes them satisfied. I wish them to know for themselves and understand for themselves.”(Brigham Young, Complete Discourses, ed. Richard S. Van Wagoner (Salt Lake City: Smith-Pettit Foundation, 2009), 2:1008.)

“Elsewhere [Brigham Young] reaffirmed: “I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful that they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwa[r]t the purposes of God. . . . Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not.” (Young, Complete Discourses, 4:1941.)

“[Brigham Young’s] beloved younger colleague, the colorful J. Golden Kimball, reminded his audience that “There are not enough Apostles in the Church to prevent us from thinking, and they are not disposed to do so; but some people fancy that because we have the Presidency and Apostles of the Church that they will do the thinking for us. There are men and women so mentally lazy that they hardly think for themselves. To think calls for effort, which makes some men tired and wearies their souls. No man or woman can remain in this Church on borrowed light.”(J. Golden Kimball, in Conference Report, April 1904, 97.)

“However, in 1945, a Church magazine urged upon its readers the exact opposite, that “When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done.” Many are familiar with that expression; fewer are aware that when President George Albert Smith learned of it, he immediately and indignantly repudiated the statement. “Even to imply that members of the Church are not to do their own thinking,” he wrote, “is grossly to misrepresent the true ideal of the Church.” (The offensive statement was published in The Improvement Era, June 1945. Smith responded in a letter to J. Raymond Cope, a Unitarian leader who expressed concern. Dialogue 19.1 (Spring 1986): 35–39.) Regrettably, this myth persists in the minds of many Latter-day Saints, even as leaders disavow infallibility and urge upon members personal responsibility.”

“Whatever spiritual intimations he received of God’s mind and will, however powerful the fonts of inspiration at which he drank, Joseph had to transmit eternal things into the idiom of common English. And that, he found, was no easy task. As he complained to a friend, “Oh Lord God, deliver us from this prison, . . . of a crooked, broken, scattered and imperfect language.”(To William W. Phelps, 27 November 1832, in Dean C. Jessee, ed., Personal Writings of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2002), 287.) And so he related both the epiphanies of celestial brilliance and the merest glimmers of heavenly truth to ready scribes. And then he reworked the language—and enlisted other respected associates to the task of refining and remolding the wording—in an effort to depict more accurately the Divine mind and the truths the Spirit communicated as “pure intelligence flowing unto” him.(Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Orem, Utah: Grandin, 1994), 5.)”

“Outside of Joseph’s scriptural production, his words ranged from wise and inspired to simple opinion—with his audience, then as now, seldom attuned to the differences. Joseph himself complained that “he did not enjoy the right vouchsafed to every American citizen—that of free speech. He said that when he ventured to give his private opinion” about various subjects, they ended up “being given out as the word of the Lord because they came from him.”(Jessee W. Crosby, in Hyrum L. Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus, They Knew the Prophet: Personal Accounts from over 100 People Who Knew Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1974), 140.) When not speaking with prophetic authority, in other words, he claimed no authority at all—which is why his pronouncements on subjects from Lehi’s New World landfall to the prospects of the Kirtland Bank were as liable to error as other men’s. Mormon leaders—like the great souls of other religious traditions—are never assured an unvarying inspiration when they speak or write.”

Chapter 6: On Delegation and Discipleship: The Ring of Pharaoh

“[Austin] Farrer’s effort to balance God’s divine purposes with the imperfection of His human instruments suggests one way Mormons might think about faith-wrenching practices (polygamy), missteps and errors (Adam-God), and teachings that the Church has abandoned but not fully explained (the priesthood ban). Practices, in other words, that challenge and try one’s faith; teachings whose status as eternal truth is either disconcerting, questionable, or now denied. Here is what Farrer said: “Facts are not determined by authority. Authority can make law to be law; authority cannot make facts to be facts.” (Austin Farrer, “Infallibility and Historical Tradition,” in The Truth-Seeking Heart, ed. Ann Loades and Robert MacSwain (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2006), 83.) Or, as Henry Eyring once quoted his father as saying, “in this church you don’t have to believe anything that isn’t true.” (From Henry J. Eyring, Mormon Scientist: The Life and Faith of Henry Eyring (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2007), 4)”

“If a bishop makes a decision without inspiration, are we bound to sustain the decision? The story is told of a Church official who returned from installing a new stake presidency. “Dad, do you Brethren feel confident when you call a man as the stake president that he is the Lord’s man?” the official’s son asked upon his father’s return home. “No, not always,” he replied. “But once we call him, he becomes the Lord’s man.”(Personal conversation reported to authors by Robert L. Millet.) The answer disconcerts initially. Is this not hubris, to expect God’s sanction for a decision made in error? Perhaps. It is also possible that the reply reveals the only understanding of delegation that is viable. If God honored only those decisions made in perfect accord with His perfect wisdom, then His purposes would require leaders who were utterly incapable of misconstruing His intention, who never missed hearing the still small voice, who were unerringly and unfailingly a perfect conduit for heaven’s inspiration. And it would render the principle of delegation inoperative.”

Chapter 7: Mormons and Monopolies: Holy Persons “Ye Know Not Of”

“In words that should shame those moderns who believe the medieval church was a spiritual wasteland, President John Taylor paid tribute to those holy ones of the past, counterparts of the holy ones Joseph was alerted to in his own day: “There were men in those dark ages who could commune with God, and who, by the power of faith, could draw aside the curtain of eternity and gaze upon the invisible world. . . . There were men who could gaze upon the face of God, have the ministering of angels, and unfold the future destinies of the world. If those were dark ages I pray God to give me a little darkness.” (John Taylor, in Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (Liverpool, England: Franklin D. Richards and Samuel W. Richards, 1851–86; repr. Salt Lake City, 1974), 16:197–98.)

“Brigham Young could be similarly generous in his conception of who would be found elect in the end: “I never passed John Wesley’s church in London without stopping to look at it. Was he a good man? Yes; I suppose him to have been, by all accounts, as good as ever walked on this earth, according to his knowledge. Has he obtained a rest? Yes, and greater than ever entered into his mind to expect; and so have thousands of others of the various religious denominations.” (Brigham Young, Complete Discourses, ed. Richard S. Van Wagoner (Salt Lake City: Smith-Pettit Foundation, 2009), 3:1480.)

Chapter 8: Spirituality and Self-Sufficiency: Find Your Watering Place

“If there is a perceived need, the Church is there with a solution. Perhaps, one leader has chastened, at a cost: “In recent years we might be compared to a team of doctors issuing prescriptions to cure or to immunize our members against spiritual diseases. Each time some moral or spiritual ailment was diagnosed, we have rushed to the pharmacy to concoct another remedy, encapsulate it as a program and send it out with pages of directions for use. . . . Over medication, over-programming is a critically serious problem.” (Boyd K. Packer, “Let Them Govern Themselves,” address given 30 March 1990,)

“Mere months after the organization of the Church, Joseph was told that this, the last work of the Lord, was to be created “first temporal[ly], and secondly spiritual[ly].”(D&C 29:32) One way to read this is as a reminder that the formal, institutional parameters of the New Jerusalem are easy to put in place. The organizational structure, the blueprints for temples and plats for Zion came readily enough. Forging a people sufficiently sanctified to constitute the people of Zion is another matter entirely. According to the sequence alluded to by the revelation above, we would expect the spiritual qualities of Church members to lag behind the temporal templates—the buildings and programs—within which we work out our salvation.”

“In Salt Lake’s old Thirteenth Ward, Bishop Edwin D. Woolley frequently found himself at odds with President Brigham Young. On a certain occasion, as they ended one such fractious encounter, Young had a final parting remark: “Now, Bishop Woolley, I guess you will go off and apostatize.” To which the bishop rejoined, “If this were your church, President Young, I would be tempted to do so. But this is just as much my church as it is yours, and why should I apostatize from my own church?”(Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton, Saints without Halos (Salt Lake City: Signature, 1981), 61.) That sense of ownership, or, better, of full and equal membership in the body of Christ, was Bishop Woolley’s salvation. He wisely realized, as not all do, that forsaking the Church out of hurt or frustration would be as unprofitable as any other form of misdirected energy.”

“We have all bemoaned the traffic congestion at rush hour, or the heavily populated mountain path where we had hoped to find solitude. We forget that from the perspective of the other travelers—and from any objective point of view—we are the problem we bewail. We are part of the gawking crowds at the overlook, we are an impediment to other anxious shoppers in the checkout line, we are the head and shoulders blocking a perfect view from the moviegoer behind us. Just as we are a part of the Mormon culture we lament. If we allow ourselves to be co-opted by practices or attitudes we deplore, we share in the collective guilt. The pressure to conform to what we see as a dominant cultural orthodoxy is often more imagined than real. A silent majority may be more receptive than we realize to our own yearnings for greater authenticity, honesty, originality, and individualism. Brigham Young was. “I am not a stereotyped Latter-day Saint,” he said, “and do not believe in the doctrine. . . . Away with stereotyped ‘Mormons’!” (Brigham Young, Complete Discourses, ed. Richard S. Van Wagoner (Salt Lake City: Smith-Pettit Foundation, 2009), 3:1668.)

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