Finding a Priestly Response to Faith Crisis

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Utah!

No other place outside of New Zealand feels more like home. A lot of this has to do with the relationships that I have here. Utah is where I have ‘family’ and soul friendships that have been forged through ‘real talk’ and shared spiritual yearnings. I’ve said that I have little loyalty left to the Church as an organization. It’s messy, confused, patriarchal and poverty-stricken in its theological and spiritual discourse. But I will always be loyal to its spiritual heart which beats strongly in this mountain home and where ever the church is planted throughout the world. I think the Divine hides parts of the sacred in all communities of faith and Mormonism’s gift to the world is its radical hospitality. But this friendliness has its shadow side which is felt no more keenly than when someone has a faith crisis.

The church proper is facing its greatest contemporary pastoral challenge dealing with the complexity of ‘Faith Crisis’. I asked a Mormon bishop once why he thought people were leaving the pews. His reply is indicative of the callowness that can sometimes compromises the effectiveness of the Mormon lay ministry.

 

‘People are apostatising because they aren’t doing the basics like reading their scriptures, and praying.’

 

This kind of response is ubiquitous in Mormonism because it easily places the burden and blame of the faith crisis on those in faith crisis rather than on the church. Poor pastoral care has something to do with the fact that Mormon leaders are too often chosen because they are loyal company men who can be trusted to do as they are told by their corporate upline. Being receptive and open to the fresh winds of the spirit is not their task. If you find yourself with a Bishop ‘nuanced’ enough to move with you, then that’s a win in leadership roulette, but it’s not in his job description.

There are people aplenty who don’t want to leave the church, but find themselves jostled to the fringes, and then out the door by this deeply embedded reflex to decontaminate the community from the earnest and sometimes frustrated questioner. Poor pastoral care has the effect of inflicting terrible personal damage both spiritually and emotionally as well as depriving the church of the very conditions and hard discourses that might lead to the church’s maturation.

 

Last night I sat up into the early hours of the morning talking to a friend, who is in the thick of faith crisis, listening and wondering with him where all of this goes and how all of this can be endured. Sitting with friends in faith crisis isn’t an unusual experience while I’m in Utah, where marriages, family, church and work relationships are enmeshed to the point of suffocating despair. It put me in mind of what a more priestly pastoral response to this spiritual pain could be. After having the same story narrated to me over and over again by those suffering their loss of trust in the church, I am certain that alienation, Otherisation, suspicion and the kind of blustering self-righteousness intended to lock down the tradition into manic certainty does terrible, terrible damage.

 

So, I can only hope for a pastoral response to faith crisis that is not fear based. I pray for the day when everyone has been pastored responsibly and generously with:

 

“I can see that you are in a faith crisis. Faith crisis is ultimately a good thing. It signals your spiritual growth. Of course, this will be a home for you as long as you want it to be, but right now, it may not be in your best interests to grapple with the pain of trying to figure this out while on the pew. Maybe its time for you to look around, sample, taste, explore other faith traditions and their wisdom. If you find yourself more spiritually enlivened by another community then that is wonderful – I bless that. But, if you should decide to come back to us, then we can’t wait to hear what you have learned and to experience who you have become.”

 

Ultimately, to love deeply is to allow for the freedom and growth of the loved one, and this community’s next challenge might be its radical hospitality and friendliness to faith crisis – wherever faith crisis is found among its own.

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