“We live in an age of doubt, but we need not be overcome. When we are planted in the Savior we can be nourished as much by our questions as by the answers.”
“Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt” is written by Patrick Mason and is a joint venture between the Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship and Deseret Book. Patrick Mason is the Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate College and a Mormon historian.
When I first saw this was being released I kind of rolled my eyes. “Great,” I thought, “another book that will describe what I’ve been through (a la Crucible of Doubt) that ultimately preaches to the choir.” By this I mean that when I read Crucible of Doubt, it was an amazing experience to have my own thoughts and processes validated by the likes of the Givens’ with their beautiful prose, but ultimately I already had the basics down. I had found a way to stay. It was more a descriptor of my last three years than a path forward. As such it was beautiful and validating, but absolutely no use in how to manage my “now” in my ward family or real-family (in which I have a boundary that I refuse to discuss my faith because of the lack of mutual respect and understanding).
Enter “Planted.” Ultimately, I think, this is not a book for the questioners/doubters although it is helpful. I believe herein lies it’s strength. As I was reading I tweeted the following:
FYI I think another good title for “Planted” from @MI_BYU could be “How to Be A Mormon Feminist in Rexburg & Not Strangle Your Neighbor”
It covers a lot of the same ground as Crucible of Doubt, but I feel Bro. Mason as mostly addressing those who encounter and interact with those who doubt and question. He is someone who has always believed and never questioned, and he speaks their language. This is a book for the parent, the bishop, or the visiting teacher who would like to connect and help. Typically the response I have received to my own questions varies along the spectrum of “You must not be praying/reading scriptures, you need to do that more” or “Doubt your doubts because they destroy faith” and he quite poignantly describes why these responses not only don’t work, but push us farther away. Basically the book is a pattern on how to faithfully have difficult discussions; how to be faithful and true and also validate the questions and the difficult places others find themselves in (ie when it Hurts to Go to Church). The chapter on prophetic infallibility is the closest thing to a master class on how to have the discussion that I’ve ever seen. Not only is it a pattern for non-questioners, but it’s a useful example for me to use of how to frame and provide context to my questions and doubts in a way that doesn’t make people uncomfortable.
For example, one principle that particularly struck me was his discussion of how the atonement can apply to imperfect leaders, groups of people, and organizations. (pp 114, 122) Not only does it rightly point out that I am neither the judge, jury, nor executioner of our leaders – but that if I am to expect and ask for forgiveness I MUST give forgiveness to others who have caused me pain. I’m commanded to forgive everyone. This includes the Church. He used the example of only recently has the LDS Church taken responsibility and apologized for its part in the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and the reconciliation and peace that has come individually and institutionally because of it.
This reminded me of meeting Darius Gray this summer at the Black, White, and Mormon conference at University of Utah. How when he told his story of mistreatment at BYU and at the hands of his fellow saints he was able to stay in the Church despite the pain it caused. And he admitted frankly that not all of the injuries and pains we receive in this life will ever be fully healed, but you have to give the organization/people/leaders space and time to use the atonement and turn to God and seek forgiveness and reconciliation. I can imagine the only way to stay in the face of such hurt and pain is to let it go, knowing it may not heal and won’t stop the hurt; but let God be the one to exact the judgment.
This is the principle that shook me when reading this book: week after week I’ve brought my broken heart to sacrament meeting, sometimes it has been battered and bruised, and I’ve offered it up to God. I’ve been rededicating my life and asking for forgiveness, but absent from my sacrament worship was *my* act of forgivING. The women at church who’ve accused me of being “tares ripe for destruction” or “preaching false doctrine”? I’d been holding on to those hurts, unforgiving. And even though I’m not the judge I haven’t been exactly easy on the Church as a whole in light of the LGBTQ+ policy. It’s been difficult and painful for me just to show up. But….how does it change things if I focus on staying planted in Christ, and not letting one of the damaged branches get in the way?
It. Changes. Everything.
And after partaking of the sacrament, I bore my testimony of this experience. I was able to frame it and give it context that was appropriate in tone and testimony. It was about a year ago that I tried The Givens Test and bore my testimony in all it’s messy glory. This time, the response was black and white. Last year crowds of people got up to dispute my assertion that I don’t know if I would ever “KNOW.” This year a few people remarked in their own testimonies how they’d never thought of the atonement working for groups of people or organizations but it seemed like a true principle to them.
After church several parents with adult children who “have questions” approached me and asked me more about “that Planted book I talked about.” As I practiced my newly acquired “difficult discussion” skills, I found peace and reconciliation. One father told me that it was to the point he could no longer discuss the Church with his son, it was too hard. I told him he needs this book, because I know if my parents could speak to me and discuss issues in the pattern Patrick Mason provides, we would come together instead of being pushed apart. These issues are common and are touching all of our communities. Will we allow them to push us apart, or will we literally act out the atonement and come together (at-one) in love? I think Patrick Mason is right, this is one of the greatest challenges of our people we have today. Will we be ruled by our fear, or will we respond with faith?
I hope this is a resource that is used. Just as I have several copies of Women at Church which I lend out with evangelical-like zeal, so I plan to do the same with planted. Word of advice, if you ever meet with a church leader about any of your questions? Bring this book and make it part of the discussion. Save yourself some heartache, and hopefully your calling and your temple recommend.
-Have you found anything particularly useful when discussing your questions (if you have them) with others?
-If you read this, be prepared with a highlighter, my whole book has markings on almost every single page.