Book Review Series: Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt

 

Planted-smallIn Planted, author Patrick Mason represents what I love most of the LDS faith: a focus on community and Christ with flexible boundaries that stretch to include everyone. His journey through topics many find troublesome will give those in the LDS faith who feel certainty, greater certainty. But, Planted also offers lessons for enhancing the capacity of LDS Church members to hold space for those who doubt.

 

In the spirit of Eugene England or Chieko Okazaki, Planted teaches empathy and the gift of mourning with those that mourn. It is a must-read for the faithful and doubting alike (with a caveat that it might not be the best fit for those that no longer entertain the possibility that central LDS truth claims have any validity).

 

Mason argues for an inclusive body of Christ that is stronger and more redemptive through the diversity of faith among the members. He relates examples from his own lived experience as to how he has connected to others through unifying applications of the teachings of Jesus Christ that cherish diversity. Mason also balances his male perspective to some extent with experiences of women. My favorite was the treatment of Mother Teresa and her struggles for connection to God. I was shocked to learn how a woman so fully devoted to the work of God, anguished throughout her life in seeking a spiritual witness that never came.

 

Mutter_Teresa_von_KalkuttaUsing Mother Teresa as an example of the doubters helped me to re-envision all who doubt as more full of faith than those among us who declare certainty in the core LDS truth claims. Planted makes clear that spiritual witness is not a reflection of how kind, moral , or good an individual might be. Mason offers respect and value for the doubter that reaches. He also offers a hypothesis as to why Mother Teresa kept her doubts and suffering secret.

 

Perhaps she feared that had she openly admitted her feelings of divine absence, she would have been seen and treated as a second-class citizen by some people within her church, not worthy to do the work entrusted to her.

 

Unfortunately, for many LDS doubters, once your doubts are known publicly, consequences follow. These consequences can range from being released from callings to excommunication at the most drastic end of the spectrum. Mason’s point, that we might reject a Mother Teresa when we reject or disrespect a doubter, is well taken. I hope that among those who read are those with the power to make the expression of doubt less of a high-risk proposition in the LDS Church.

 

Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of DoubtThere is healing in the pages of Planted and good material for building bridges of understanding between the rock solid members and those who doubt or have left the LDS faith. A great deal of my own pain as a doubter comes from feeling a terrible tension between:

1. My belief that I am being called by Jesus to leave the LDS faith and find a more authentic and unconditionally loving life.

And

2. This conviction is in opposition to beloved family members who are convinced I am ruining their heaven.

My disbelief in the LDS certainty of only one true and living church upon the earth, creates a gap in my relationship with loved ones that often leads to painful tension.

 

Planted offers compassion and empathy to stretch across relationship gaps. Mason frames troublesome elements of church history, practice, and policy in nuanced and thoughtful chapters that help the reader to find Jesus Christ in the mistakes and historical challenges. Mason fairly addresses the lack of transparency in correlated church history and doctrines. Although I am still recovering from a sense of betrayal inspired by my reading of the Gospel Topics Essays, I found many of my own doubts and concerns addressed by Mason’s Christ centered approach.

 

Planted does not deeply address the fact that in every relationship there are deal breakers: breaches of trust, wounds deep, and failures too egregious to dismiss for the safety and well being of the wounded. As I read Planted I thought of Casey, who learned as a freshman at BYU that not all LDS women received sex instruction in childhood through father-daughter incest. She had been taught to obey her priesthood leaders and especially The Priesthood in the home. Casey was taught that the spiritual promptings of her father outranked her own divine intuition. There was no accountability or reparation as the truth came out. She went on to struggle in a temple marriage where she was always less-than because she was not “pure” when they married.

 

Abuse and a version of church doctrine were so intertwined in her life that leaving the church was essential to Casey’s recovery from a continuing cycle of abusive relationships. She did her best to make the Mormon faith work for decades, but ultimately found healing by leaving the LDS faith and divorcing her abusive spouse.

 

These types of experiences feel outside of the scope of Planted. In the introduction Mason defines his audience as: “Those who actively doubt, whether they are on the precipice or have already made the decision to leave the church, and those who do not doubt, who consider themselves solid, active, believing members of the church.”

 

He goes on to clarify why a book on doubting is also directed at members who are certain of LDS truth claims:

 

If you are a member of this latter group, serious doubt may be a stranger in your own heart, but I am certain that it nevertheless manifests itself somewhere in your family or ward thus making the issue of “faith crisis” just as important for you as if you were going through it yourself. Because this book is addressed to a dual audience, a given passage or line of reasoning may resonate with some readers more than with others. My belief, however, is that we all need to have the conversation together. We can’t set up camp on two sides of an arbitrary divide with believers on one side and doubters on the other and then talk at (and usually past) one another. That approach only exacerbates the problem with a tragic sense of division in the body of Christ.

 

As someone who received false messages at church that reinforced the child abuse I survived, there were moments in Planted that felt like a sincere friend trying to talk me into staying with an abusive spouse. This hurt. I thought of Planted both uncomfortably and fondly for days after finishing it. Even so, I dearly appreciate that Mason places a high value on conversation and connecting across points of discord, refusing to label sides. Ultimately the connecting frames presented throughout Planted made it a valuable but somewhat troubling read to me.

 

Sample Chapter 9: When Church is Hard here for a representation of what Planted delivers. The linked LDS Living article is titled Surviving a Faith Crisis (and How Church Members Can Help). “Surviving” as I read it in this article means both staying LDS and staying loving with those that leave. If you know you’re staying LDS, read Planted. Also read it if you want to stay LDS and could use some fresh resources in your battle. 

 

For those well into a faith transition or hurting because the LDS church is toxic to them, this book is not balm. However, as Planted is intended for believers as well as doubters, you may wish to gift this book to friends and family that are staying LDS. Just be careful to set safe boundaries as to whether you will also be reading with them.

 

Planted is a powerful tool for solid members of the church to deepen their empathy and leadership. It is also a wonderful resource for those who experience varying shades of doubt, but who ultimately feel Mormonism is good for them and want to stay LDS.


This is a part of the Exponent Book Review Series and Cyber Monday Giveaway. By making a thoughtful comment on this post, subscribing to the Exponent, or making a donation to Exponent II by sending a PayPal donation to treasurer@exponentii.org, you will be entered into a drawing to win one of many books being reviewed! Check the intro post for information and terms. Entries accepted until the 5th of December 2015.

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6 Responses

  1. Carolyn Nielsen says:

    Thanks for this thoughtful review of what is certainly an important book. Looking into the chasm between true believers and questioners is fraught with peril and yet is utterly necessary if we are to truly love one another. When looking into this abyss, it is often easier to focus on differences than commonalities. It takes great courage to acknowledge the validity of alternate points of view. Adding to the challenge, LDS culture is one of certainty. Doubt is frequently unwelcome and may be suppressed in the face professtions of individual agency. What are we to do with our minds? Ask questions or blindly obey? More importantly, are we going to tear each other down or build each other up? Doubters fear that they will be torn apart and believers feel threatened by the presence of doubt. Love is the answer and it is never easy.

  2. Caroline says:

    What a thoughtful review, Cruelest Month. It sounds like a terrific book for LDS stalwarts who want to understand doubters and for doubters looking for ways and reasons to stay. I think your cautionary warnings to those who have found the church toxic and who are well on their way out of the church are important. I’m definitely excited to read this book — Patrick has been a professor of mine, and he’s always been extremely thoughtful and not afraid to confront difficult topics.

  3. Emily says:

    I’ve long admired Mother Teresa and read about her “dark night of the soul” that lasted for decades in the book “Come, Be My Light.” “Planted” sounds like it focuses on the aspects of the gospel I find most empowering and Zion-like, and would be helpful with where I am in my faith journey right now

  4. Liz says:

    I’m excited to read this book, but also to pass it along to people like my bishop, who desperately wants to empathize, but needs resources for that. Thanks for this review, Cruelest Month.

  5. Sarah says:

    Oh wow this sounds amazing. I am glad to see a thorough, empathetic resource! I will have to buy this one.

  6. Sara B. says:

    Added to my wish list! One thing that annoys me most about Mormon culture is idea that because we belong to the restored church that we have all the answers and there’s no need to wrestle with anything. I know some people view it as having strong faith, but it comes off as self-righteous, dismissive and following blindly. Looking forward to this book.

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