I’m not part of the President Oaks fan club. Sometimes his approach and topics just don’t resonate with me the same way other messages do. I have seen more than one social post over the years that is full of hurt with a finger pointed at something he said. A few times there have been things he has said that I don’t agree with. Despite my nature to hold these leaders to a perfect standard, Elder Holland humbly reminds himself and me that there is only one “who has never been clumsy or inadequate but who loves all of us who are.”
I understand this is not a popular opinion to have in the midst of faithful believers. Even including quotes by our leaders admitting their fallibility does not make the phrase “I don’t always agree,” any easier to swallow. Despite the leadership saying they are not perfect, that is the one thing we do not want anyone to admit they agree with. But if we allow our leaders to be human, then maybe we can hear the real intent of their message. I’m asking you to allow me to be vulnerable and hear me out, as I walk through the latest uproar over what a leader of the Church has said.
Research is not the answer
Last Saturday President Dallin H. Oaks spoke to a group of young married couples in Chicago. On Tuesday my social feed was blowing up with posts about President Oaks, calling him out for saying “research is not the answer,” to issues of Church history and doctrine. That we just need more faith.
The response that I just need more faith doesn’t work for me. I wish it would. But when I have doubts and questions, I’ve never managed to find a way to completely ignore them. Maybe this works for those who have been given a greater witness, a witness like Joseph Smith had. But I haven’t received that witness. When I hear that I just need more faith, I feel like my struggles are being discounted. This doesn’t come easy for me. What I am capable of is a daily challenge of seeking faith and enlightenment.
Dig deeper than the social feed
The one thing I have learned in this daily seeking is to give both sides the benefit of the doubt, that both sides more often than not have good intentions, and to realize that both sides of any conflict may carry a gaslight, despite their best intentions. I wrote recently that you can be spoon-fed into your faith and you can be spoon-fed out of it. I acknowledge I have been spoon-fed sometimes too. So if I wanted to get to the root of what President Oaks was saying, I had to go further than my social feed.
The most complete source I could find on this recent message from President Oaks came from the Church News story. It’s not the entire talk, but it gives us more context into what President Oaks was saying:
[President Oaks] acknowledged that some Latter-Saint couples face conflicts over important values and priorities. Matters of Church history and doctrinal issues have led some spouses to inactivity. Some spouses wonder how to best go about researching and responding to such issues.
“I suggest that research is not the answer,” he said.
The Church does offer answers to many familiar questions through its Gospel Topics Essays found at churchofjesuschrist.org.
“But the best answer to any question that threatens faith is to work to increase faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,” he said. “Conversion to the Lord precedes conversion to the Church. And conversion to the Lord comes through prayer and study and service, furthered by loving patience on the part of spouse and other concerned family members.”
Context changes everything
President Oaks is speaking to members of the Church who are spending their Saturday night at a devotional. Maybe even members who are there without their spouse, because their spouse couldn’t or didn’t want to be there. Maybe members who are struggling with faith differences in their marriage. In context, we read that he is responding to a non-doubting spouse asking the question, “How do I respond to conflicts with my spouse over Church history and doctrinal issues?”
He suggests that even though these faithful members can find responses to their spouse’s questions, and he even gives places where they can find these answers, he acknowledges that those answers are not going to be the answers the doubting spouse needs. It’s not going to help. Maybe it will help the non-doubting spouse have a better understanding, but it won’t help resolve the conflict.
These answers won’t resolve the conflict because it is extremely difficult to convince a spouse in faith crisis that he or she is wrong, just as it’s unlikely that he or she is going to be able to convince you that your beliefs are wrong. Allowing such unsolvable conflict to enter your marriage could very well be the end of it. Is that the best approach?
Love one another; as I have loved you
I think President Oaks makes a very good point that many do not want to acknowledge. He said what would help is to focus on Jesus Christ. He puts Jesus Christ before the Church. Now I’m going to read between the lines and suggest that focusing on the teachings of Jesus Christ and loving one another is more important than which side of the Church you and your spouse are on.
He says that we need “prayer and study and service, furthered by loving patience on the part of spouse and other concerned family members.” Loving patience does not go hand in hand with sending your spouse love notes from FairMormon. Simply put, he is saying marriage is what is important and loving your spouse is important. Researching topics on LDS.org or any other website to convince your spouse they are wrong is not the best way respond to your spouse in a faith crisis, or any way to show them that you love them.
Despite how marginalized I felt when I read those social posts, after reading the context of what President Oaks said, and taking the time to think it through, I agree with him.
Love first and always end with love
No matter what side of belief we are on, we can agree with the idea that we should put love first. So if you want to research, research. Just don’t use your research as a weapon. Put your faith in Jesus Christ and his teachings. Put your faith in love. Let our hearts be “full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith,” towards everyone, even those who we feel should never make mistakes, even those whose hearts feel no charity towards us.
Let’s give the Church leaders the benefit of the doubt, that they really do want us to be happy and they want us to have a happy marriage, no matter what differences and conflicts our marriages face. Take the advice they give that works for you and think through the advice they give that you struggle with. But above all, put love first, and if we can do that, I believe it will all work out in the end.