David Ostler is the author of “Bridges: Ministering to Those Who Question.” This book is designed for LDS Leaders to better understand a faith crisis, and how to help members in their wards and stakes to better empathize and maintain members who struggle with issues of faith. David has interviewed several hundred people to better understand their perspective and shares that knowledge with all of us.
David: When I started studying faith crisis, disaffiliation, my own background is in evidence-based medicine. So, you know, it’s like, what does the data say? It’s the first question we ask. So I spent time trying to understand what we knew about the problem, what people had written, what studies had been done, what data had been collected. Like most problems, we all have impressions about a particular area, but when we go in and study it systematically, sometimes we find those impressions are not entirely accurate. For my own life, that’s been the case often. But certainly with this topic, I found it to be the case. So I wanted to, as I learned about this for myself, and then ultimately, as I wrote the book, to make sure that I had the best information that can be brought on it, and where it wasn’t available to see what I could do to create more information there. So with regards to Leading Saints, and Kurt Francom, we were able to, using the leaders that subscribe to his newsletter, to be able to survey them and understand what local leaders thought about faith crisis, issues of faith, how they were responding and the like. So that’s been kind of a fun thing for me to get to know Kurt and that community a little better.
Sometimes very active people quit coming to church. What are the causes of that? David Ostler tells us what people do that ostracize active members.
GT: I think one of the things that I like about your book, I’m trying to say this as diplomatically as possible. It just feels like you “get it.” I know there are a lot of people that have really good, well-meaning hearts, and they want to talk about this idea of disaffection. But they do it in a way where [it’s not effective.] It feels like I’ve got to be careful. I have to censor myself because I might offend that person. It just feels like you are open. There’s an openness that you frankly don’t see at church. I mean, for one thing, I’ve expressed before. In fact, I actually interviewed Kurt [Francom] on my podcast a few months ago, and I expressed some frustration. I don’t consider myself in a faith crisis, but I also can’t speak up at church. It’s not safe. It’s almost just better to go sit in the hall and do your own personal study, because everybody’s all concerned about everybody’s testimony. For me, and like I said, I don’t consider myself in a faith crisis, but I felt the frustration of the people that you talked about in your book. Can you talk about how…? I mean, is there anything we can do? I feel as Joe member, I can’t talk to my bishop. I just feel like he’ll look at me cross-eyed, and I’ll never get a calling again. Can you address that issue?
David: I think what you’re talking about is probably a little bit more common than we think. I think that we all want to go to church and look polished, and at our best and the like. We know that we want to be faithful. We know that we want to express confidence in the institutional church and in our own belief, and so sometimes it takes a lot of courage. It can be very vulnerable for us to express any sort of concern we have that might go against that completely faithful narrative. So it’s sometimes very daunting to either raise our hand and say, “Well, I’ve got a concern here,” or to ask a question, “Well, what about this?” And I think sometimes, just because of the nature of our culture, that can be somewhat risky for people.
What I found when I started kind of going down this road, maybe it’s because of my career background, or maybe because of some my own personal experiences, I just wanted to listen to what people were saying. I just wanted to kind of understand from their perspective, how they felt attached to the church, if they were in crisis, what triggered their crisis, how they felt about it, what their concerns were. I just kind of went down that road without care about my preconceptions, or whether they would say things that would make me uncomfortable, or that I might disagree with personally. So, I really wanted to just truly understand, and I asked a lot of questions. I wanted to know. I asked, “Why do you feel that way?” I’d say some things and they’d help me see how, what I was saying wasn’t either on target or wasn’t helpful or showed that I didn’t understand. I had some good friends that would help me see my blind spots on that. So, I’m grateful that you felt like that voice came through in the book.
Can you share your experiences talking to leaders about faith crisis? Have your attempts succeeded or failed? Have you read the book?