I’m excited to introduce Kurt Francom of the Leading Saints podcast. He recently changed the name of his podcast due to President Nelson’s admonition to avoid the term “Mormon.” Is that now a derogatory term, like it was in the early days of the Church?  Is this name change silly?

Kurt:  Well, my background, I have a marketing degree so I’m a marketer. So when I first heard of it I was like, “No! The search engine optimization and the branding, this violates every principle of marketing that there is.” But I mean, the reality is, is that every prophet has certain directions and ideas and thoughts that they’ll move forward. And you look at President Hinckley’s time as I’ve read his biography and such, the smaller temple concept came to his mind long before, decades before he was actually in that seat as the prophet. And so I think, I think the Lord massages different ideas into the minds of future prophets so that when their time comes, they can move the church in that direction. Now does our Father in Heaven really care what we call ourselves?

Well, obviously it’s in the Doctrine and Covenants. And so I don’t necessarily mind it. I mean the marketing person inside of me sort of is uncomfortable with it and I didn’t see any problem with the term Mormon or LDS, but I get what he’s trying to do and accomplish. And obviously the hardest thing to shift in this church is the culture. And he stepped up and is trying to change that culture. And I think over time we can get there, and I sort of liked the idea of instead of calling us Mormons, calling us Saints. Latter-day Saints is sometimes a little bit long, or uncomfortable, but, we’re Saints, and not Mormons and we’re part of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints and not the LDS Church. So is it silly? I mean, I’m fine with it and the more I adjust that in my vocabulary, the more I’m, I’m fine with it.

GT: Originally in the early days of the church, the Mormon was a derogatory term?

Kurt: Yeah.

GT: With president Nelson’s switch, do you see it becoming a derogatory term again?

Kurt: No, I don’t see that at all.

What do you think?  Is LDS or Mormon still a net positive term?

We also talked about the new Ministering program.  Have you struggled to figure out what to do? Kurt gives ideas on how to approach this.  I asked him how to handle both faithful & faithless members!

Kurt: Go over there and just ask the simple question of “How would you like to be ministered to? Do you want us to come over a quarterly, monthly?” Where I know my father, he really appreciates the ministry brothers that just stopped by for a good conversation once a month and that really helps him.

That’s how he’s ministered to. So the best thing we could do as ministering brothers and sisters, just set an appointment, go over and ask them the question, how would you like to be ministered to? And if someone asked that to me, I would say, well, I’m say hi to me at church. If you see me at church where you sit by me, I’d love that, you know, but I don’t need a home visit.

He also tells how he handled his Second Counselor in the bishopric losing his faith and leaving the church.

Kurt: And it all began for him after he returned from his mission. He went through college and then he went back to law school and he was in law school at Brigham Young University of all places where in his religion course it was required reading to read Rough Stone Rolling the famous book by Richard Bushman, right?

Which obviously is written from the faithful perspective since Richard Bushman is a faithful Latter-day Saint. But certain facts and historical concerns came to the surface for him that he had never considered. And then suddenly the understanding that he had about the church was disrupted. Right? And this is, I think, a familiar story for a lot of people who’ve had maybe had loved ones who’ve gone through a stage of faith or a state of doubt. And so, we talked openly about these things. I encouraged him. You know, I tried to be as empathetic as possible and I think, all things considered, I think as a bishop I handled that pretty well….

And, he later did remove his name from the church. And I thought, “Man! I thought we were–I thought I was steadying the ark a little bit and helping you understand that, you know, we can get through this.” But you know, that was a decision that he made and we still have a great relationship.

Have you had good experiences with the new program, or have you just quit visiting altogether, because you’re not sure what to do?  Do you know people who have lost their testimonies after reading Rough Stone Rolling?  Is ok to ask sticky church history questions in Sunday School?  I was surprised at Kurt’s candid response:  “We have to have these difficult conversations.”  What can leaders and lay members do to improve church culture?  Kurt gives some ideas.

Kurt:      I would say the vast majority of members, if you sat down and said, how would you rate the quality of teaching and your Gospel Doctrine class, there’d be very poor, right? Very low, but we’re all patient and try and encourage them by us being there and answering their superficial questions or whatever. And so early on, I thought, “Oh, that’s just because we’re lay ministry. They’re not experienced in teaching and they’re not very good. Well, I think it’s more of a question of the culture of not allowing conflict into the room because we see conflict as if, as if it was synonymous with contention. And I’ve written a few articles about this along with some other contributors on leading saints that about that the important need of conflict in an organization to gain a deeper meaning and understanding of doctrine.  But a lot of people see that and 3 Nephi comes to their mind. They say, “No, no, no, no, no. Contention is of the devil.”

And we say, “We did not say contention. We said conflict.” If someone came to me and said and said, “No, my marriage is going great. We never have any conflict.” I would say, I think there’s something wrong about your marriage that you’re not seeing. It is in the conflict that I have with my wife where we gain a deeper love and understanding and a deeper bond together right now. If we were just contending, if it was conflict in our marriage, yeah, that’s not healthy.

But we absolutely need conflict because that helps us grow. And so in the context of our Sunday school classes, we do need more room for conflict, and that it can only begin with the bishop or the leadership saying to the Sunday School President, “This is okay.” Or to be the devil’s advocate at times, the raise your hand and say, “Well, I know some people see it this way. What do you think about that?” Right? And it’s not about a watering down doctrine or promoting a false doctrine because you would be surprised. Many people think they know the doctrine. That’s not the doctrine. There’s core tenants of the doctrine.

And so to me the greater principle is as a leader, what can you do as a leader or as an everyday member? Set an appointment with the bishop and go in there with a full heart and just saying like, “I don’t feel heard in Sunday school. Does that matter to you? Because when we have these lessons and I don’t want to be there, if I get the impression that it doesn’t matter to you, but I’m guessing that’s really not how you feel.” Right?

And if you can be as empathetic towards them so there’ll be empathetic back. I mean we’ve got to have these difficult conversations everyday members saying, “I don’t feel validated when I come to church and part of me wants to not come some weeks. How do you feel about that?” Right? And, if we can’t have those real conversations, we’ll get nowhere. And I get it that you may be thinking in your head, “You don’t understand my bishop. There’s not a chance in eternity that he’s going to willing to have that conversation.” Well, if that’s the case, sit back. That’s why we have a lay ministry that rotates in and out.

Would this work for you?  Do you have conflict, but not contention in Sunday School?  What do you think of Kurt’s advice?