It seems to me that LDS are good at a lot of things. We are good at creating community. We are pretty good at supporting the family structure. We’re good at producing world-class choirs. However, we’re not so good at creating a place that is safe to discuss and work through doubts about the gospel. Perhaps a part of the reason we’re lousy at creating a safe place to discuss openly and honestly is that there is an informal link between doubt and sin — if one doubts it is because one has done something wrong. Yet I doubt that this link always holds. We are all sinners at some level because we all fall short of keeping the law of love in many ways — so if that logic holds, we should all be doubters.
However, I think it runs deeper than that. We had a young lady in our ward who was recently divorced speak in sacrament meeting. She spoke openly, honestly and genuinely about the struggles she had in her marriage with her husband’s drug addiction and failure to live the gospel. She determined that she would remain faithful and she left him to protect her children. It was a breath of fresh air to experience such honesty. But could she have discussed openly in the same way doubts (were she to have any) about the Book of Mormon’s historicity, Joseph Smith’s polygamy, or Brigham Young’s heretical beliefs about Adam? I don’t think so. Moreover, where is a safe place within the context of the Church to do so?
I am sometimes contacted by bishops and others to talk to members of their ward about doubts that they have about the Book of Mormon, or about the Book of Abraham, or about Joseph Smith etc. Often these doubts are gut-wrenching and very uncomfortable for the doubter. Yet because we have a lay clergy very few bishops and other church leaders are really prepared to address these issues. Those with whom I speak often express a deep sense of alienation because they cannot openly and honestly address the issues that really matter to them. They also express a sense of relief to be able to discuss such issues with anyone who is a believer and willing to enter into the discussion in a knowledgeable and sympathetic way.
Sometimes I fear that there is a facade of acceptance and belief in our meetings. It seems to me (and I am open to the possibility it is really me in my judgment) that we sugar coat these issues, gloss them over and pretend that they don’t exist for some. I am convinced that an open heart simply knows God and the spirit testifies clearly and powerfully of the truthfulness of the gospel. But none of us have open hearts all of the time. What can we do to make our meetings a safe place to be honest and openly discuss what we really think and believe? Or are they? Or should we?