Kim Farah and Robert Millet spoke in the Wilkinson Center Friday afternoon about responding to people’s honest questions about the church in a tactful and appreciative way.
Farah is a public relations officer for the LDS Church and former news broadcaster, anchor, producer and reporter.
“In these latter days we are finding ourselves in a reactive, defensive position with questions about our faith,” Farah said.
“With the advent of social media, issues surrounding the church can go global in mere minutes … More information can mean more disinformation. The global discussion is now a personal discussion. This means you are being asked more emotional, complex questions by the most important people in your life: your children, your family, your friends and your coworkers.”
Difficult questions do not have to result in negative conversations, she said. Rather, they can result in positive, spiritual experiences that demonstrate Christ’s love.
A question about why the LDS Church doesn’t allow the children of gay couples to be baptized is a difficult question to answer, Farah said. But one can “begin with the end in mind” to better answer the individual.
“In this instance, your goal might be that the individual can feel your love as they navigate difficult personal matters,” Farah said. “Your goal might be for them to return for further conversations. Or that you may create a deeper share of understanding.”
In Farah’s personal experiences, her goal is never to change anyone’s mind, but to strive to have a Christlike interaction with the person that will keep the person close to Christ when issues of doctrine may drive him or her away.
Farah also said to “speak to what you know.”
“As women, you do not have to be experts because you are something much more powerful,” she said. “You are witnesses of Jesus Christ.”
Using “bridging language” that is respectful of others’ points of view helps, Farah said.
Third, Farah said to recognize that “you don’t have to have all the answers.”
“Sometimes, we get wrapped up in having all the answers. We are not human encyclopedias on Mormonism providing carefully worded and scripted answers,” she said. “That would simply be impossible. And yet, I think, that that’s a standard we set for ourselves that often inhibits our ability to engage in gospel conversations.”
Sometimes, answers don’t exist and that’s the purpose of faith, she said. Other times, people can use the available church resources to research an answer.
Fourth, one should “listen and ask questions,” Farah said. One should engage in active listening (repeating back what was said to ensure understanding) and listen with charity.
“And then, sisters, when it’s time, the Holy Spirit will tell you what to say in the moment for which you have prepared,” she said. “This kind of a conversation is built on compassion, trust and respect and will likely lead to more talks that will deepen understanding … You’re much more powerful than you think you are and it’s time for us to speak up and speak out.”
Robert L. Millet is a professor emeritus of ancient scripture at BYU. He currently serves as a member of the Church Materials Evaluation Committee and is a Gospel Doctrine instructor.
“Some have suggested that the ‘Mormon Moment’ is over, that interest in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is waning,” Millet said. “My experience in the last few years suggests otherwise. The church is still a phenomenon, it’s a curiosity at least. More and more people seem to be wondering what makes us tick and why we do what we do.”
Millet gave five principles for responding to questions about the church:
1. Stay in tune
Know when the question is coming from honest intent or when it’s meant to begin an argument over what something means, he said.
2. Stay in control
“We love and live our doctrine, and we love those who do not live it,” Millet said. “We need not create false dichotomies.”
3. Stay in context
In answering questions, someone shouldn’t “drown (another) in the living waters.” Things should be taught in their order, he said.
4. Stay connected to Latter-day revelation, doctrine
Temple work, priesthood, the pre-mortal existence and degrees of glory, etc., are all truths known because of modern revelation. The Bible doesn’t answer everything, Millet said.
5. Stay committed to all of the standard works
“Delight in our complete standard works … Rejoice in all that God has revealed, including the Holy Bible,” he said.
These five principles, Millet said, will lead to healthy conversations that provide clarity as well as testimony-building situations.
“While we seek to make friends and build all the bridges of understanding we possibly can, we do not quote favor nor do we compromise one whit what we believe,” Millet said. “We do want to be properly understood. And so, we as the rank and file members must prepare ourselves to articulate the message of the restored gospel as effectively and clearly as we can.”