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Monday, October 19, 2015

'Doubt,' 'Cult' and the Stigmatizing of Words

by Rob T:

When I finally told my parents that I had been investigating the LDS Church and taking lessons from the missionaries, it was agreed upon that I would talk about these matters with our Catholic priest.

I went to him and told him what I’d been learning. His first words in response about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were, “But they’re a sect, almost cultic!”

Let me first say that he is a good man, a kind priest, and a fair-minded leader. I hold no animosity toward him or my former faith - and disagreement with doctrine does not mean animosity, I think that’s important to this discussion.

But I do believe his response comes from a human tendency and a mindset that people can be scared away from something with one word. Certain words have been stigmatized to the point where they’re like Mr. Yuk stickers, and it’s all we need to hear to keep us away from something.

For our priest, “sect” and “cult” were those words. They should have fazed me and I should have called the missionaries that day and said, “Sorry, we’re done.” And it’s not because he was trying to be a jerk. He was genuinely concerned for my salvation, so his words were to serve as a warning trigger to keep me from going on a path that he thought would put my soul in peril.

Others use words like “socialist,” “liberal,” “theocrat,” “feminist” - words that aren’t necessarily slurs or epithets, but that are meant to point out a person, group or ideology as something to be avoided, for it will endanger your faith/our country/your family.

In Mormondom, “doubt” has become such a word, I believe. It could, in reality, be as innocent as “Hey, I’m not so sure about (doctrine/historical fact),” but its stigma has carried it to the level where some may view a person with doubts as a snake in the grass, intentionally subverting the work of the Lord and leading their family off the path to the Celestial Kingdom. Such a view comes from a noble place of desiring that all receive the blessings of the gospel, but it often is manifest as sort of an instant-panic gasp that someone has punched their ticket through mists of darkness to the great and spacious building.

I appreciate what the church has done with its recent video on how to talk to children about pornography. In particular, I like that it says that if a child sees something inappropriate, they shouldn’t have to feel like they’re a bad person. Taking the shame factor out of it is a very positive step.

I think the same can be said for the matter of doubt. Whatever may lead a person to have second thoughts about a church teaching or whether a leader is inspired or called of God, it’s important that that person is not at best shamed and at worst shunned.

If it’s true that we are all children of our Heavenly Father, sent here to Earth to be tried and tested - and I believe it is true - then first we have to recognize that different people face different trials and tests. Some may face a host of trials, but faith won’t be one of them. For others, faith may provide them their biggest test.

When someone opens their hearts to us about a trial, a disciple of Christ ought to open their arms right away. I believe most members of the church don’t miss a beat doing that when someone is going through an illness or family tragedy.

When that trial is doubt, however, the response may be different. Suspicion arises, personal morality is questioned, fear creeps in. I don’t think these reactions are ever maliciously motivated, but they’re certainly not helpful.

I don’t have all the answers about what to do, but I have told my son, who is 5, that if he ever has any questions about the scriptures or things he is taught at church, he can bring them right to me and not feel any shame about it.

Just like we, as Latter-day Saints, want others to see us as people just like them in order to dispel labels like “sect” and “cult,” seeing people as genuine and pure in heart - trying to figure things out just like everyone else - can take away the stigma and shame of the word “doubt.” We’d all be healthier for it.

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Rob T is a native of northeast Pennsylvania and a convert to the LDS Church. He works as a copy editor in Salt Lake City, where he lives with his wife and three sons. Twitter: @RobTmanJr.
 photo Line-625_zpse3e49f32.gifImage credit: Beshef, modified by Scott Heffernan (used with permission).

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