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When loved ones question gospel truths — how to cope, and how to give an answer

Seek to remember God’s eternal plan while recognizing that others are on a journey with their own questions, taught instructors at BYU Education Week

PROVO, Utah — While speaking on how to cope when loved ones are questioning gospel truths, licensed psychologist David T. Morgan wanted his classroom to know they were not alone, and their feelings were valid.

“Everyone here most likely is going through some sort of grief around this,” he said. “Someone you love or are concerned about is doing something different than what they were taught. And it’s OK to have that grief.”

Morgan also spent time over the week-long course emphasizing that “Heavenly Father knows it will work out, and He knows it is going to be fine.”

A journey

Morgan said during the Education Week class those who are not asking questions often aren’t making progress. In fact, the restored gospel came to earth after Joseph Smith had questions.

Joseph said, “I have learned for myself” (Joseph Smith History 1:20). 

Sariah said “Now I know of a surety” after the difficult experience she went through (1 Nephi 5:8).

Alma the younger said, “and now I do know of myself that they are true,” after he had gone through a journey (Alma 5:46).

The key phrase in the prodigal son’s journey is this: “And when he came to himself” after having his experiences (Luke 15:17). 

The Prodigal Son, by Clark Kelley Price 
The Prodigal Son, by Clark Kelley Price  | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

This journey or process “is critical for our spiritual development,” Morgan said. “It’s OK to lean upon the faith of others, but I think everyone has to get to this point in the building of their faith and testimony — you have to have something you stand on your own.”

And maybe this path is one that some people today are also taking, so that they will “know of a surety” and have their own testimony.

Meanwhile, Morgan explained that the prodigal son knew he could go home, because he knew he would be accepted — he knew he could return home because of the relationship he had with his parents. 

As parents pray over their children, they can align their will with God’s will, Morgan said. 

“He loves your loved ones more than you could possibly love them. Trust your Heavenly Father that what He wants for them is the best thing for them.”

‘It’s not about you’

Licensed psychologist David T. Morgan speaks about how to cope when loved ones question gospel truths in a class at BYU Education Week in Provo, Utah, on Friday, Aug. 19, 2022. | Mary Richards, Church News

Morgan said he knows people have great worries and fears about their loved ones who are questioning the gospel or who have left the Church, but he said, “It’s not about you.”

He said, “It’s not about us. If we are going to help our loved ones, this cannot be about us and relieving our stress or distress.” 

He urged his class members to be careful not to say condemning, minimizing or threatening things to their loved ones who are questioning the gospel.

He explained the concept of cognitive dissonance: when someone is doing something that is inconsistent with their beliefs, it creates a tug of war in their mind. They end up leaving the Church because they are trying to resolve that dissonance — it is easier for them to change their beliefs. 

“The point is, they are in distress. A lot of these people are in significant distress,” Morgan said.

That’s where he said it becomes crucial to listen to others and try to understand them. Knowing someone better will lead to greater love and compassion for them. “The Savior knows us the most, and loves us the most. He loves you more than anyone could possibly ever.”

He said to say, “I love you” more to those loved ones. Have compassion, tolerance and acceptance — though acceptance does not mean agreement. And finally, he listed forgiveness, which he said “has everything to do with you, not them.” 

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Hear Him

Morgan said that while one’s loved ones are outside of their control, what they can do personally is to follow the Prophet and increase their capacity to receive spiritual revelation. 

President Russell M. Nelson said in April 2020 general conference that as people strive to hear the Savior, “you will be blessed with additional power to deal with temptation, struggles, and weakness. I promise miracles in your marriage, family relationships, and daily work. And I promise that your capacity to feel joy will increase even if turbulence increases in your life.”

Morgan also quoted President Henry B. Eyring from April 2019 general conference: “You are worrying about the wrong problem. You just live worthy of the celestial kingdom, and the family arrangements will be more wonderful than you can imagine.”

Morgan concluded by saying, “There is peace and happiness to be found, regardless of your situation, and it starts right here with you.” 

“When we all get to heaven, you will say, ‘It all worked out.’”

Ready to give an answer

BYU professor of Church history and doctrine Anthony R. Sweat teaches a class called, “Ready to Give an Answer: A Scriptural Pattern for Addressing Gospel Questions” in the Marriott Center during BYU Education Week in Provo, Utah, on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022. He shared different examples on each day from Tuesday through Friday. | Nate Edwards, BYU

BYU professor of Church history and doctrine Anthony R. Sweat taught a course at BYU Education Week that showed a scriptural pattern for addressing gospel questions — that therefore people will “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).

This pattern is found in the Savior’s interaction with the woman at the well (John 4), John the Baptist speaking with disciples (John 3:25-36), Ammon’s conversation with King Lamoni (Alma 18) and Jesus speaking with Nicodemus (John 3:1-21).

The four part pattern is as follows:

  1. Listen to them. 
  2. Examine their assumptions. 
  3. Expand their knowledge. 
  4. Point them to Christ. 

“Listening means we actively try to unpack where they are coming from,” Sweat said. Ask follow up questions, but do not dismiss the question or concern and don’t make people feel disrespected. Be genuinely curious about understanding their perspective. 

“We are also spiritually listening,” he said, because the question or concern often shows a deeper question or a deeper concern underneath. 

While listening to understand, ask questions about why or how the other person has come to that conclusion. 

One first question regarding any historical or doctrinal concern should be this: “What’s your source?” and then examine the source for reliability. It helps them see there are other sources that see it other ways and come to other conclusions. 

But, “in working through this with people, we have to be delicate here,” Sweat said. “As we move from listening, to helping them examine their thinking, let’s not do it in an attacking way.”

The audience listens to BYU professor of Church history and doctrine Anthony R. Sweat in the Marriott Center during BYU Education Week in Provo, Utah, on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022. Sweat taught a class on scriptural patterns for addressing gospel questions from Tuesday-Friday. | Nate Edwards, BYU

Then, after analyzing thinking with them, ask, “Is it OK if I offer you my perspective and my view on the subject and why I think what I do?” Sweat said.

Share with them knowledge like facts, data and history; doctrine and principles from prophets and scripture; personal viewpoints or perspectives; experiences and stories; and faith and testimony. 

“When people do come talk to you, they are genuinely coming because they trust you,” Sweat said. “They do want your perspective, and they value it. You should feel at liberty to have this dialogue.”

And finally, always point them back to the source of truth — the Savior and His teachings and His plan. Recenter them on their covenants with Him and the promises He has made. 

“That invitation to act opens the heart, if they will do it in faith.”

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