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Ministering to Mormon & African Polygamists (Part 5 of 6)

So far, we’ve talked a lot about faith crises of people who leave over church history or LGBT issues.  They aren’t the only are people who leave, however.  Some people develop a testimony of polygamy and join polygamist groups.  I asked David Ostler about how to minister to these people as well.

GT: I recently attended the Sunstone meetings, and I attended a session in which they had close to a dozen women that got up and stated why they decided to become polygamists. It seems like sometimes we talk about the left side of the church and the right side of the church. I can’t tell you how surprising it was for me to hear over and over and over again, from these women, “Yeah, I took Seminary in high school. I got married in the LDS temple, and now, I’m a polygamist.”  I just thought, “I don’t understand that at all.”

David:  You know, I must confess, I haven’t researched that one.

GT:  Because I think, this [book] does seem to talk about the people who are concerned about the church history and LGBT issues, and things like that. But there is another side of the church.  The church does have to keep an eye out the people that believe in the Adam-God doctrine and polygamy and that sort of thing. Do you have anything for them?

David:  So I think it’s the same thing. I think we meet people where they are and try and lift them to Christ. We do that with compassion and love and the like. Goodness. Brigham Young thought the Adam-God theory was right. So, he lived with that for years and years, and we don’t worry about Brigham Young’s faith. Maybe some do. But from a traditionally believing perspective, we recognize him as a prophet and a great man in the church, and yet he had beliefs that he held that now we don’t hold. So I think we can tolerate some different beliefs.

He told me about some of his experiences as a mission president in Africa, and how the Church deals with African polygamists.

GT:  Believe it or not, at least I’ve heard, the Community of Christ or the RLDS Church for years denied that Joseph ever practiced polygamy. And then I believe, I want to say it’s the 1970s, so John Hamer or somebody will have to correct me if this is not correct, but they started teaching in India and Africa, places that had polygamy and they said the question is, do you baptize a polygamist? If they’re Muslim polygamists, the Community of Christ actually started baptizing polygamists, if they promised not to take any more wives. So it’s interesting to hear that about Sierra Leone, do we have a policy on that?

David:  Yeah, we have a policy, we don’t baptize people who are in polygamy. We can’t baptize children that are living in a polygamist home. I remember one of my first Sundays, we went out to a branch a long ways away from the mission home and I sat in on the youth class, and it was being taught by this wonderful 17 year old sister.  She was doing a great job teaching, and so afterwards, I asked, “When did she get baptized?”  She says, “Well, I’m not baptized.”  “Really? Well, we’d be happy to teach you.”  She says, “Well, I can’t get baptized until I’m 18 because my parents are polygamists.” So she was accommodated into the church.

GT:  And she taught a class?

David: She taught a class. She joined the faithful community and I’m sure she was baptized after her 18th birthday.

Check out our conversation…

I asked David Ostler what the church should do with polygamists, and was surprised he had experience with African polygamists!

Don’t miss our previous conversations with David!

321: Creating a Better Church Atmosphere

320: 3 Ways to Help People Keep Coming to Church

319: How Active Members Get Ostracized at Church

318: Helping Leaders Understand Faith Crisis

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3 Ways to Keep People Coming to Church (Part 3 of 6)

Once a person has gone through a faith crisis, what can church leaders do to help?  David Ostler offers 3 suggestions to help leaders create a more comfortable atmosphere at church.

David:  In the second part of the book, I talk about three major principles that I think are important for people to feel, for them to remain affiliated with the church, after they have a faith crisis. I think if leaders understand these three issues, they can find ways to be able to reach out to people and to accommodate them, to help them, to love them, to accept them, all of these kinds of ministerial words that we want to have there. Those three principles are first trust. Individuals need to trust the community that they’re in. They need to trust the leaders.  They need to trust that the engagement with the community will help them and that that community can guide and give them a confident path towards their spiritual goals. Sometimes that doesn’t happen. There’s a lot of different ways trust can break down. You can lose trust that the Prophet speaks for God. You can lose trust that the church will authentically represent its history, you can lose trust that the church will be transparent about the way in which it administers its affairs. You can lose trust in someone who’s broken a confidence. You can lose trust that if you say something, there won’t be a penalty for what you say. So trust becomes a big issue. And as I surveyed members that are in a faith crisis, many of them have lost trust in all of those aspects. I can share some of that data with you if you felt like…

GT:  Absolutely! We love data.

David:  Yeah, you and I kind of eat data for a living, don’t we?  So I asked these faith crisis members about trust. This is 320 people who responded that are in a faith crisis. I asked them questions, and one question I asked is, whether they agreed with this statement, “My local leaders can help me with the important decisions in my life.”  Zero percent strongly agreed with that; 9% agreed with that, which 91% have disagreed in one form or another. So, if they’re going to church, and they’re feeling like their local leader cannot help them with the spiritual issues in their lives, then we as a church have failed.  These are largely people that are earnest and wanting to connect to God, and to resolve their spiritual concerns. They’re not enemies of the church. They’re people that just have concerns, and they’re trying to sort them out and understand what they believe.

GT:  Even I would put myself in the 91%, and I go to church.

David: So, here’s another one, “I am comfortable disclosing my current beliefs to my local leaders.” And 3% strongly agreed with that; 22% agreed with that, which means 75% disagreed with that in one way or another. Then it goes even further, “From the outside do you appear as a traditionally believing member of the church?”  Of this faith crisis group that has no trust in their local leaders, 78% said that from the outside they look like a traditionally believing member. So, on the outside, they’re shiny and bright, and they’re wearing all the right clothes, and probably even in serving in the right callings. But underneath, they can’t express the concerns that they have, and that they’re really struggling with. When they call it a faith crisis, that means they’re evaluating whether they remain affiliated with the church. So, those are the kinds of concerns that you get with trust.

Check out our conversation….

David Ostler tells 3 ways to keep people with a faith crisis engaged in church.

Don’t miss out on our other conversations with David!

319: How Active Members Get Ostracized at Church

318: Helping Leaders Understand Faith Crisis

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Helping LDS Leaders Understand Faith Crisis

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.

Check out our conversation…

David Ostler has a new book called “Bridges: Ministering to Those Who Question

 

And don’t miss our previous conversations with Kurt Francom!

223: Do You Disagree with the Exclusion Policy?

222: Should the Church Modify Bishop’s Interviews?

221: Results of Faith Crisis Research

220: “We’ve Got to Have These Difficult Conversations”

219: Ministering to the Faithful & Faithless

218: Is it Bad to be Called LDS or Mormon?