Can we talk about doubts?
Quick backstory before I jump into the main story: I finished a PhD at the University of Oregon in June where parking was a mess. It was expensive and even if you paid for a pass, you often couldn’t find a spot if you got there after 8am. I rode my bike the 4 miles to campus for over a year, but after being hit by a car on my way, I was too scared to get back on my bike. So my solution was to take an institute class each quarter where they gave you a free pass in exchange for your enrollment/attendance. So that’s why I’m 35 years old and found myself in institute classes each term.
One day in institute the lesson turned to “doubts” and the class discussed how important it is to talk about your doubts with believers – rather than other doubters. Russell M Nelson’s talk was quoted where he says, “Stop increasing your doubts by rehearsing them with other doubters.” Class members discussed how important it is to create a safe space where people can discuss their doubts at church so they aren’t rehearsing them with other doubters.
Fast forward to the next week when the institute teacher asked the class whether we’d like to have a whole term on the topic of something like “Recent General Conference Talks.” As the class discussed the excitement of the prospect, I stayed silent. Then the teacher asked me specifically, “Miriam, what do you think? Would you take that class?”
I took a deep breath. Here was my chance to express my doubts in this “safe space” we’d discussed needing. So I went for it, “Well, I have a hard time with watching General Conference because it’s hard for me to spend a whole weekend watching mostly white men speak and not feel like there is inequality in the church.”
I’m not sure what I was hoping for in that moment. I guess I wanted everyone to validate my feelings and for it to honestly feel like a safe space.
Instead it was … a fumble.
The teacher was clearly taken aback, but did at least mention that he’d try to make an effort to focus on women’s voices too. It wasn’t the worst outcome it could have been. But it also could have been better.
So here’s what I’ve decided (and perhaps this is a completely masochistic decision): but I’m going to keep expressing doubts in church meetings where that’s been traditionally uncommon. I’m hoping to change those traditions – perhaps maybe one of those fumbles can turn into a complete pass. I want to create safe spaces where I can express doubts – but where I can also listen to other people express doubts.
This Tweet by Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis really spoke to me:
The Mormon culture is so obsessed by certainty. I’m going to take Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis’s advice and lean into doubt and be that verb. And I’m going to create spaces where others can see that I’ll be there for them.
Have you tried creating these safe spaces in your wards and branches? How many fumbles have there been so far? Any complete passes? Even 1 (crossing fingers I’ll get to hear about 1)?