Richard ‘Papa‘ Ostler and Taylor Christensen spoke about their personal experiences with overcoming faith crisis and helping others through the process as part of a Listen, Learn and Love Productions event on Nov. 13.
The focus of the event was to explore ways for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who have doubts about their faith to find authentic ways to remain active in their congregations. Each of the speakers had been through their own faith crisis and came out the other side as a faithful member of the Church.
Ostler shared he went through his own “mini-faith crisis” while serving as a bishop in a young-single-adult ward, when the Church announced a new policy which made it so the children of LGBT couples could not serve missions or be baptized as members of the Church until after they turned 18.
“The narrative that anyone in a faith crisis is sinning or needs to read or pray more can be damaging,” Ostler said. “When I went through my mini-faith crisis, I was giving everything for the cause and seeing great success.”
In working through his own faith crisis, Ostler realized the best thing to do for himself and for others working through doubts was listening, validating and giving people a safe place to have those feelings.
“We can heal hearts when we listen and hold other people’s pain,” Ostler said. “The longer I served the more I realized I didn’t need to have the right answer. I didn’t need to shift into fix-it mode. Sometimes we can do the most by listening and honoring their pain.”
Ostler opposed the narrative that the Church itself is perfect and validated those who had been hurt by leaders or policies. He said ignoring the validity and truth of pain pushes members away.
Ostler discussed what he considers the messier parts of Church history and said he understands why those could cause faithful members to have doubts. He suggested it is beneficial to learn the true history of the Church as “inoculation” against future doubts or attacks. He suggested reading the Gospel Topics Essays produced by the Church, which address some of the more controversial issues regarding Church history and doctrine.
Christensen also addressed the topic of Church history. As a 23-year-old returned missionary, seeing his friends leave the Church over historical issues made him want to become more informed so he could better understand their decisions. So he began to research claims about Church history.
“I made sure that if I was going to give attention to the dark places in our history, I was also going to maintain the light things about our Church,” Christensen said.
He said he did this by making sure he devoted equal time to scripture and gospel study as he did researching Church history.
“I wouldn’t say my testimony is stronger. What has changed is that I have eliminated fear from my life,” Christensen said. “Faith and fear cannot co-exist. I’m no longer bound by this unknown world of anti-Mormon material. I’ve attacked it, I confronted it and I put it behind me. Now I can focus on what is in front of me.”
Christensen validated those who leave, but said he chooses to stay because he found beauty in the full narrative, as it humanized the early Saints and prophets of the Church.
“It doesn’t matter to me what mistakes prophets have made,” Christensen said. “I still believe this Church teaches purpose and power.”