Recently the leaders of the church have taught us that it is okay to doubt. It is okay to ask questions.
However, this feels dramatically different than my personal experiences in church for decades.
During Sunday school, once in a while, some liberal Mormon would ask a difficult question. The other members would squirm. People would get quiet. Ultimately someone would make a statement like, “that isn’t important to your salvation” or “we will learn everything when we die”, or “it doesn’t matter, I know the church is true, no matter what because I have had a spiritual witness”.
Or you would hear the whispered stories about a sister who recently left the church. You could hear the pity in the voice of the ward leader explaining, that they just were too smart for their own good. They had “thought” themselves out of the church.
Or even during general conference, I have personally been taught on more than one occasion about the enemies of the church. Who do they include? Why yes. Those “so-called” intellectuals.
What did these repeated experiences teach me over decades?
It was not good to ask questions.
It was not good to think too hard.
It was not good to question the possibility that something might not be right with the orthodoxy being taught week in and week out over the pulpit and in classes around the world.
Members become uncomfortable.
Questioning is shut down.
Critical thinking is shut down.
I remember being offered “anti” Mormon literature on my mission and my companion freaking out. “Throw that away right now Elder”. “It has the spirit of the devil in it”.
And so I threw it away. In fact, if my memory is correct, I burned it.
I was taught that the devil was very powerful and deceptive. He could get good, honest and sincere people to believe the craziest things.
So it was just best not to think too deeply, because the devil is there, waiting to trick me and deceive me.
Then one day this thought came into my head, “if Satan is so powerful and subtle, how do I know that I am not already deceived?”
Maybe the church leaders today are right. It should be okay to ask a question and to have a doubt. Otherwise, how would I know if I had the truth or if I am just being deceived by Satan?
Fortunately this is not a new philosophy or idea I am making up on my own. President J. Reuben Clark of the first presidency once said: “”If we have the truth, [it] cannot be harmed by investigation.”
It is okay to have a question. It is okay to have a doubt. I believe it is how I respond to the doubts and questions that matters most.