• Greg Dunford

Faith Crisis? Or Faith Development?

We are seeing unprecedented numbers of people of all faiths leaving the religion of their childhood. “Faith Crises” are more common than ever. But is this phenomena a reason to panic? Or is there more we need to understand. It seems we have been caught in another devilish dichotomy that claims: when questions of faith arise, we either put them on the shelf and ignore them, or condemn the whole church organization and walk away from it. So then, what is the Divine Third Option?

Faith is part of our spiritual journey that is developed over a lifetime. Just as we grow and develop physically, we also grow and develop spiritually.

While some people may have the gift of faith, it is important to understand that faith is a process. And even for those who have the gift, it is usually developed with time and experience. There are complex theories and books about the stages of faith. There are at least six or seven identifiable stages of development that people go through from infancy (or before) to a transcendent enlightenment and oneness with God. And this journey continues into the eternities.

We have created a simplified version of the stages of faith, or spiritual development called “The Phases of Faith”. While it is more specific to the LDS (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) experience, elements of these 3 Phases of Faith can be applied to any individual seeking to navigate more gracefully through the precarious labyrinth of spiritual development in these last days.

Why did we include The Faith Phases in the Life Mastery program?

Because it is not commonly taught or understood in the LDS culture, and without an understanding of what transitioning through these phases might look and feel like, too many people panic or inadvertently fall away as they attempt to navigate through them. Many people experience what is called a “faith crisis” as they are unknowingly transitioning from Phase 1 to Phase 2 (or James Fowler's stages 3 to 4, as will be explained further). This can be a confusing and heartbreaking experience that some never recover from in this life.

It is also helpful to families and loved ones of individuals experiencing a faith crisis to better understand and support them through their developing faith. The Phases of Faith help us understand how we develop spiritually and grow into our Divine Nature.

And, addiction and affliction can lead to faith crises, so we feel it is important to address, as such crises can affect our overall mental and emotional health.

The fact is that a growing faith is something to be celebrated and supported! But without understanding these stages of development, we may mistakenly fall into confusion ourselves, or condemn others for breaking out of the early stages of the “safe faith” into the more developed levels of “growth faith” that are necessary for maximum growth, enlightenment and connection with God!

It is our observation and belief that the mass exodus from religious organizations (especially that of our young people) is actually a sign of the prophesied generation reserved for these last days. Is it any surprise that this bright and shining generation seeks for more? Or that they so clearly perceive false traditions, or imperfections of leaders? Or detect the stagnation of faith amongst some of their fellow church members as perfunctory, hollow and lacking?

This generation must be celebrated and supported in their eager, if not impetuous, drive toward the Full Light of the gospel. Perhaps we are seeing the transition of an entire church as we move into the quest to live up to our privileges that our prophets have long urged.

It is our hope that as you, our fellow sojourners, understand and embrace the opportunity of faith as a journey—a growing faith, that you will eagerly look forward with hope and anticipation of greater privileges and power in the gospel and your own divine destiny!

In his beautiful and important book “Navigating Mormon Faith Crisis, A Simple Developmental Map”, Thomas Wirthlin McConkie explores the different stages of adult development and how our faith grows as we grow and develop throughout our lives. He says:

“In developmental terms, shifting from one stage to another can feel like full-blown crisis (the death of a previous self), while from another perspective it can be experienced as pure grace (the birth of a new self).”

McConkie, Thomas Wirthlin. Navigating Mormon Faith Crisis: A Simple Developmental Map (Kindle Locations 89-90). Mormon Stages. Kindle Edition.

On his “Mormon Stages” website, Thomas challenges us to understand “faith crisis as part of a natural cycle of spiritual growth, a breaking open to make room for new life and new faith.”

The beauty of knowing (for knowledge is power!) about some of the experiences we may encounter in navigating through these phases is that it can greatly reduce the stress and fear that so many people experience when the faith that has always been so familiar and comfortable begins to shift and seemingly fall away in the process of ushering in a new and more rewarding phase. It may feel like the rug has been pulled out from under you, or like stepping forward, expecting solid ground, but instead dropping off into a seemingly dark abyss.

Pastor and psychotherapist, Rod White, writes of growing through the stages of faith:

“Development can be scary or it can be the beautiful way we deepen our faith...there is a path, even if you can’t really see it right now. You are not alone or odd. There is hope for all of us.”

Rod White, The Stages of Faith: Earth, Wind, Fire and Water, November 5, 2018

One challenge comes from the false idea that faith is a set, solid, unchangeable state of being, and if any variation occurs, there must be something wrong with you or your faith. The fact is, faith is as alive and individual as each unique person. Faith is an expression of the most authentic and real part of you, your divine identity. And, in fact, if faith is not transformative to some degree, it is at risk of dying, or at least not growing.

Some people may be satisfied to stay in the early phases of faith. But if we want to really know God, and access His power to change and heal us, then we must move forward, and nurture and nourish the seed of faith, and expect it to grow and change. Faith, like a garden, bears fruit and transitions through its seasons.

Another challenge to a growing personal faith is the false traditions in our culture that teach us to avoid questioning anything; to blindly accept all that we've been taught throughout our church membership. A careful study of the teachings of Jesus Christ and His prophets tell us otherwise. We are actually taught to study things out for ourselves and ask God directly if they be true (see James 1:5). We can also seek counsel from other trusted sources, ponder and meditate on our questions and concerns. But ultimately our answers must be confirmed to each of us, personally and directly, from God.

Notice the patterns of the prophets throughout scripture—Moses, Nephi, Joseph Smith, for example. They asked questions! Questions open the door to revelation. Most revelation comes as answers to questions. So, of course, the enemy would love to shut that down. He has authored the narrative that questions are dangerous, and when that doesn't work, he sows seeds of doubt in hopes that we will lose confidence in the path of revelation and turn to unenlightened sources.

Destructive Doubt vs. Constructive Doubt

Destructive doubt can be a counterfeit of honest curiosity. We will all have destructive doubts planted in our minds from the adversary, designed to move us further from God's Light. That in itself doesn't make us bad or wrong. It's where we go with those doubts, and what our motives are. For those who are looking for an excuse to denounce the church so as to live a life free of “restrictions”, there is plenty of material to satisfy that motive, albeit empty in the end. Destructive doubt assumes that if we perceive any flaws in the church organization, people, leaders, the gospel plan, or God, etc., that the whole thing might be false.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said:

“Doubt your [destructive] doubts before you doubt your [growing] faith.”

“Come, Join with Us”, 2013 October General Conference. Brackets added.

For those who are sincerely seeking truth, constructive doubt, and honest curiosity, are key. Honest curiosity and constructive doubt include having a hope and faith of finding truth, even in the midst of uncertainty, and a commitment to keeping commandments and covenants whether or not we have all the answers right now.

Be willing to put some things on the shelf, for now. We put ourselves in danger of deception if we try to force an answer. Answers will come eventually, in God's perfect timing. He knows us and our perfect curriculum for personal growth. This necessitates some testing of our faith. The answers we seek may require several pieces of the puzzle for them to make sense to us. And God will not put us in danger of being given truths we are not ready to be accountable to. Surely, there are many reasons for God's timing in answering our prayers. Exercise faith in moments of seeming Heavenly silence. Know God loves you. Answers WILL come, eventually!

“There are many kinds of silences and not all signify absence or vacancy....Those moments are but temporary ebbs before the flow of meaning rushes in to fill the space....God may be speaking in ways we have yet to recognize as speech.”

―Terryl L. Givens, The Crucible of Doubt: Reflections On the Quest for Faith

Honest curiosity and constructive doubt are essential to spiritual growth, creating the “ebb” into which answers can flow. They are instrumental in helping us detect false traditions within our church culture or society that may be impeding our spiritual growth and enlightenment. For example, if no one ever expressed any doubts about the ban on black members of African descent from receiving priesthood power and privileges, would President Kimball have taken it up with the Lord at that time? The prophet and many leaders and members of the church had serious doubts about the ban. They questioned it. The persistent questioning led to the First Presidency and Quorum Of The Twelve Apostles seeking revelation, which they received, and consequentially the ban was lifted.

This doesn't mean that every doubt we have will result in discovering a cultural flaw in the church or its doctrine. There is simply much we do not yet understand. We are yet as babes in the gospel and the truths of eternity.

Doctrine and Covenants 50:40:

“Behold, ye are little children and ye cannot bear all things now; ye must grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth.”

Thomas McConkie said: