Two days ago BYU-Idaho President Henry J. Eyring (son of apostle and First Presidency counselor Henry B. Eyring) gave a devotional that has caused some stir on social media. A post shared by BYU-Idaho on its Facebook and Twitter feeds showed a quote from Eyring’s talk accompanying a meme of a girl sitting in the wilderness. The quote read, “Whenever I am tempted to doubt the Church or any of its leaders, past or present, I need only to reevaluate my own spiritual state. I ask myself the question, ‘Am I true?’” Both of those posts have subsequently been removed.[1]

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A Church News article on the devotional suggested that Eyring’s solution to doubts was repentance, implying doubts themselves required repentance. Luckily, the devotional was posted this morning, so viewing it made clear that Eyring was going for something slightly different. For Eyring, repentance itself is an anchor to his testimony. Going through the process of repentance increases his testimony of the Church. Therefore, when doubts arise about the Church or its leaders, repentance is his guaranteed way to get back on track to trusting the Church again.

Two W&T permabloggers, Mary Ann and Kristine A, wanted to share further thoughts and concerns about ideas expressed in this devotional.

Mary Ann:

Eyring shared several personal experiences that helped solidify his testimony of scriptures and the Church. Here’s what Eyring said about his testimony of the Book of Mormon, derived from his experiences mirroring those of Enos and Alma the Younger:

As I grew older, I discovered another source of testimony that our latter-day scriptures are true. Thanks to Mother, I knew scripture stories about people who had repented and received forgiveness of their sins. The stories of Enos and Alma the Younger became precious to me in my teenage years when I recognized the need for heart-changing repentance. Responding to the Spirit’s prompting, I followed the examples of Enos and Alma, praying for forgiveness and peace. When those feelings came to me as they had to them, I knew in both my heart and my mind that those stories are true. I could not deny that Enos and Alma the Younger were real people, whose stories had been compiled by the prophet Mormon and revealed to the prophet Joseph Smith. [15:04]

Now I’m an active member of the Church who happens to believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon, but I really dislike this argument. Having experiences that mirror those of figures in a book does not suddenly make that book nonfictional.

Then there’s the declaration that it’s unnecessary to “rethink” our beliefs.

[16:40] Because of these life-changing experiences, I can transcend the occasional temptation to doubt what I know. When rumors and supposed discoveries about the Church come up, I suspend judgment. I find it unnecessary to investigate or rethink my beliefs. I have a better way to renew my testimony.

Our missionaries are constantly asking individuals to rethink their beliefs, and I don’t think it’s a problem if we members of the Church occasionally do the same. Even for those with lifelong membership in the Church, beliefs often change over time. If we’re dealing with something flimsy like “rumors and supposed discoveries,” then sure. Ignore away. But there is legit challenging information about the Church’s history, such as that found in the Church-produced Saints Volume 1, that may force us to rethink our perceptions of the institutional Church. That’s not a bad thing.

Finally, there’s this true/false dichotomy:

[17:01] Whenever I am tempted to doubt the church or any of its leaders past or present I need only to reevaluate my own spiritual state. I ask myself the question, “Am I true?” I define the word “true” the way you may remember doing when assessing a true or false statement on a school test. To be true all parts of a statement must be true. Any falseness no matter how small makes the whole statement false. By that standard, my answer to the question, “Am I true?” is always “No.”

While it is noble to evaluate truth by the absence of “any falseness, no matter how small,” this is hard to apply to imperfect mortals. As stated, no human can be defined as “true.” If no human is “true,” why would we expect human-populated institutions to similarly be free from defect? And if there are defects, does this make them “false”? Can we still claim to know the Church is “true”? Because right now we’re trying to come to terms with sharing a more complete messy history, dotted with missteps and mistakes. For those who take this true/false idea literally, any perceived falseness in the affairs of the Church can start breaking proverbial shelves immediately.

Kristine A:

My largest objection to the devotional comes in the last half, that following examples in the scriptures of repentance and obeying . . . is a test that is a “repeatable cure for doubt and a prescription for unshakable faith.” He goes on,

“in my adulthood the Church has come under increasing scrutiny and attack, but I have felt well prepared largely, due to the teachings of my youth, by my testimony of repentance. It is a blessing to have my conscience pricked and pride revealed and personal shortcomings and need for repentance that repeatedly turn me to teaching of church and its leaders for comfort and guidance. in the process of repenting I receive assurance the Lord is leading the Church.”

His main thesis is that putting into practice a doctrine of the gospel, repentance, strengthens his testimony and thus dispels all doubt. But his main problem here is conflation with The Church and the doctrines of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Mormon Church doesn’t have a corner on the doctrines of faith, baptism, repentance, and forgiveness. Many other faiths practice by these principles. If anything his advice would be strengthening testimonies of Christ. Due to his conflation, he goes on,

“my ability to transcend temptation increases. In paraphrasing Paul, ‘When I am spiritually weak my reliance on the CHURCH makes me strong.”

I know that setting up testimonies this way is a sure-fire way to create MORE faith crises, because I find this to be one of the roots of my own. The more we put The CHURCH and its LEADERS on the bottom of our foundation instead of CHRIST, the more trouble with doubts our members and youth will run into.

As a Primary Chorister I taught the song “The Wise Man Built His House Upon A Rock.” I brought in monopoly hotels, a big rock, a bunch of sand, and a water bottle sprayer. As the kids sang, we would spray the sand and rock and see which houses were standing at the end. I then explained that only Christ is THE ROCK. Not our leaders, teachers, parents, church, tithing, or even the pictures of the Q15 men in the back of the room. All of those things’ main purpose is to help us STAY ON THE ROCK, but they are NOT THE ROCK. My advice for people going through a faith crisis along the same path I trod is to make sure to separate, not conflate, the Church and the Gospel, the Leaders and Christ. Our leaders aren’t Jesus Zombies. You can rely on Christ and use the Church to help you live Christ’s Gospel in ways that it can (ie sacrament) and not have the troubling parts as part of your foundation.

My point being this is a poor excuse for advice on doubt. Especially since threaded through the whole talk he calls doubt a temptation from Satan, repeatedly. This is NOT the way to get members of the church to quit treating members with doubt like trash.

Discuss.

[1] The quote itself is still up on the BYU-Idaho Twitter feed, but without the girl meme. It’s farther down, buried in all the tweets of the devotional.