For those of us born within the faith, some of the more unique or beautiful elements of the Restored Gospel can be taken for granted, thus obscuring their potential value in the eyes of believers. To help put some of these aspects in their proper perspective, listening to the experiences of converts who found them to be compelling in their faith journeys can prove to be eye-opening. Are there teachings within our tradition that are particularly appealing to religious outsiders?
That is what Faith Matters seeks to explore as Latter-day Saint theologian and convert Fiona Givens, sits down for a conversation with Executive Team members Tim and Aubrey Chaves, to discuss the Gems of the Restoration, the latest episode on the Faith Matters Podcast channel.
You can listen to the episode above or on Apple Podcasts, and read the transcript below.
FIONA GIVENS is a research staff member for the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Studies at BYU. Together with her husband Terryl, she is the co-author of several books and a frequent speaker on various Latter-day Saint-themed podcasts and conferences. She is currently on the advisory board of the Faith Matters Foundation.
Full Episode Transcript
Tim Chaves: Welcome to the Faith Matters podcast. In this episode, we talk with Fiona Givens about the beauty inside the Restored Gospel tradition. Fiona is a convert to our faith, and in this conversation, she talks about what drew her to the church, what has kept her here, and why she feels hopeful about the future. Fiona is the co-author of The Crucible of Doubt, The God Who Weeps, and The Christ Who Heals. We hope you enjoy this conversation.
Aubrey Chaves: Hi, and welcome to the Faith Matters Podcast. My name is Aubrey Chaves and I’m here with Tim, my husband. We’re going to be hosting the discussion tonight. And we also have, of course, Fiona Givens. Fiona has degrees in French and German and also a Master’s in European history, and she’s published with Exponent II, Dialogue, Sunstone. I think you’ve checked all of the boxes. LDS Living, Journal of Mormon History. Am I missing one?
Tim: Faith Matters.
Aubrey: Faith Matters. Yes, and then of course, she co-authored, The God Who Weeps and Crucible of Doubt, so we are really excited to be able to be here with you in your beautiful library.
Fiona Givens: Thank you.
Aubrey: This is the first of a miniseries that we’ll be working on where we are hoping to discuss the gems of our faith tradition and the things that we find especially valuable and expansive about our faith. So we thought you were the person to talk to.
Fiona: Yeah. You are lovely. And I do feel very flattered and honored. Thank you.
Tim: It’s our pleasure. And I think, Fiona, one of the reasons we wanted to talk to you in particular about this is because you were not born directly into our faith tradition. You are here by choice. And I think it would be great if you wouldn’t mind starting out by talking a little bit about your background coming from another faith, from everything that I’ve heard, that you have a deep appreciation and love for, and what it was in your personal story that drew you to our faith tradition, to what we’re calling Mormonism.
Fiona: I was raised Catholic. My mom was Irish Catholic and my parents married at a time when the Catholic Church insisted that Catholic children be raised Catholic. So my father is Anglican, but he consented. So it was really a beautiful faith tradition. I love the mass, I love the liturgy and the rituals. When I go home to England, actually, I will go to Catholic mass because those roots need to be watered. And I wasn’t really looking for another faith. I was quite content and happy where I was, but I spent my gap year in Germany and I met a woman there. She’s very lovely. I was going through sort of a faith crisis myself, really. I’d finished school and didn’t know what to do with the rest of my life. I was going to be reading German at the University of Wales, but then what? It’s like these big questions I was being absorbed by at the time.
So we talked about God and I found her ideas interesting. And she invited me to church one day and I thought, “Sure, I’ll go.” I had no discomfort, I had no fear of being pulled over into another tradition. I was quite happy in my own. But it was quite extraordinary as we stepped over the threshold into the room in which the meeting was going to be held. This was on the second floor of a building in Wiesbaden. I felt something that I’d never felt before. And I suppose some background. The Catholic Church was becoming a little more ecumenical and even evangelical in a way, and so we would have… In our language, we’d call them testimony meetings. And I went to them because they were always off school. I was in boarding school. I think that’s the only reason any of us went there, because it got us out of the school grounds somewhere else. But we’d have something to eat and then sit in a circle, and then really, it was like a testimony meeting. People would stand up and say something they believed that they found really beautiful.
And I never had anything to say, which really didn’t bother me that much until one day I think I was the only one that hadn’t said anything, so I felt obligated to stand. I was so embarrassed. It’s one of those things about which I’m ashamed, because I went on about a belief that I really didn’t have and didn’t feel and felt stark naked in front of the lights as a fraud. So this was different. So when, “Oh, this is something I think I should have felt in this meeting but didn’t.” The missionaries came over and it was really quite a Pentecostal experience, I should say. It was lots of fire and light. I don’t think we had discussions. We just talked. But the Spirit was really, really there in a way I’ve never experienced before in my life.
And I felt joy and I felt this was beautiful, and I thought my parents would be overjoyed and ecstatic when they heard that I wanted to become a Mormon. Well, just the reverse happened. I remember calling my mom and her response was, “What? Brigham Young and all those wives?” Which of course, Brigham Young and all those wives are part of the discussion, so that was news to me. Anyway, it was obvious that this was something my parents were really alarmed about. And so I remember going home and talking to them and it was really quite awful, actually. I realized that I would lose my family if I did this. So my baptismal date was set and the missionaries were there when I got off the plane and I said, “I’m sorry. I can’t do this to my family.” So I hung about for about six months and then I just couldn’t deny the testimonies that had been borne to me by the spirit and… So with Shakespeare, he always comes to the rescue. “To thine own self thou must be true.”
And so I wrote them all letters and told them I was joining. But the principal reason for my joining the church was Christ. And this worried me a little bit as I was growing up Catholic. It was very, very beautiful, but where was Christ? I mean, He was very visible when you entered the church, but quite honestly, I felt that He was obscured by a myriad of saints, and particularly His mother. And I felt in Mormonism that Christ had more of a central place, and I think that’s the one thing that really helped me move.
Tim: So you referred to your experience as Pentecostal, which is very strong language, obviously. And it’s interesting to me that I think one way that, at least when I read your books and so forth, that I think of you is that someone that has grabbed onto certain doctrines or certain principles and said, “This is what’s beautiful about our religion.” But it sounds like in this experience, at least in its initial phases, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, it sounds like that your conversion experience was more spirit-driven, more heart-driven than it was principle.
Fiona: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And I think just going back to those little kumbaya meetings we would have, I wanted to know what the spirit felt like. And this really was the spirit. I was not producing these feelings. I wasn’t producing the light that I felt emanate in the discussions. So that was it primarily. And I was a very wobbly convert, because it was such a move for me, and the loss of my family was and still is real, and it still is painful. I go back to England and say, “I can’t do this, this is ridiculous.” And then I come back to Germany and friends would meet me and I thought, “Well, I can do this.” So I’m not even sure that it was a preparation, but I do feel that I have found in Mormonism, truths that are so resonating and redolent of beauty that I think my former Catholicism and other religious traditions are straining at. But I think the 2000 years, give or take of weight, is a huge obstacle to overcome when you’re trying to.
Aubrey: It’s interesting. No, that’s just interesting. So you’re saying the time could work against the Church. When we talk about, we’re a young church and that’s why we have to fumble through our history and it’s so recent.
Fiona: Well, it’s true. I think we’re very much like the early Christian Church. 200 years out, I think this is exactly where we are. We’re trying to sort out our doctrine, trying to see which things are doctrinal, which things are absolutely necessary, which things we can toss. But add 2000 years to it and you become very, very heavy laden. So with the Catholic Church, it was a few years ago when they came out with the thought that perhaps children who die unbaptized wouldn’t spend forever in Hell. But 2000 years does that to you. You can move to perhaps. Whereas with a young tradition such as ours, where things aren’t really set in stone. And also the addition of new scripture. I think that’s really, really essential, quite honestly, because it’s in the Restoration scriptures where I’ve found these other narratives that I think are really, really Christ-centered and go back to the early years of Christianity.
I think we really are in that position except better off because I keep reading, I’m researching for a chapter on atonement, but right from the get go, except for a few enlightened scholars like Irenaeus, there was a huge emphasis on sin and a huger emphasis on creation. So even though there were voices who suggested a premortal life, they were quickly hushed in the rush to make things more bleak, actually, for humanity, probably in an attempt to raise God’s stature and both lost in the process, I think.
Aubrey: So what do you see as particular practices or ideas inside our faith that feel especially unique or resonant and expansive and after you had those experiences, what kept you here and affirmed those experiences are good for you?
Fiona: Where do I start? Well, I think it was the discovery of the vulnerable God in Moses 7. It took a long time. There were several experiences that I had to have in order to bring me to a point, because I thought it was beautiful, but it didn’t impact me in the way that it finally did when I realized that quite frankly we worshiped a God who was deserving of adoration and emulation, that as a God, He could have done anything, but to choose to love us, I understood what that meant. And perhaps it was from having children, perhaps it was from my family’s complete breakdown when I joined the Church. But to choose to love another being, you are opening yourself up to hurt, and I recognized that. It was this wonderful sort of epiphany. I’d actually been shouting at God prior to this.
I’d watched a film that was rather unnerving and I just told God that I just didn’t want to be a God, thank you very much, and if you would just leave me out, I would be perfectly fine. I didn’t know how He did this on a personal, familial, societal, and global basis. And was He taking medication for it? I was really, really cheeky. And then I sort of stomped and fumed because I’m very childish like that. And then when I finally calmed down, I just had the sense that I needed to open Moses 7. And I thought it was a Michelangelo experience, but apparently in Michelangelo, real life didn’t have these experiences. But had he, it was like God emerged from the text, this weeping God, and then I just thought, “This is the only God. Our God is the only God deserving of adoration.” And suddenly, I saw His vulnerability as being the power that would draw everyone to him at the end of the day, so that was huge.
Let’s see. After that, what were my other breakthroughs? Oh, yes. The growing awareness that God had the power and the capacity to save the entire human family. I loved going to the temple, but that aspect didn’t really hit me for quite some time when it’s, we really are doing this. I mean, we are calling every name we could possibly, and these saving ordinances that we feel are so important, we are giving to everyone in order that we can seal the whole human family together. And what purpose would be greater than sealing the human family in order that the entire human family could return to God? And that was really rather remarkable.
That was really rather remarkable, and just this expansive vision that we are all brothers and sisters. And then that’s when the healing came, the idea that we are all wounded. I’m going to use my family, and they’re terribly sweet, but I know that my husband and I have inherited some genetic dispositions we would rather not have. And we’ve been very generous in handing them on to our children. And so, the children have been the greatest educators because I’m seeing them struggling with these things and realizing, “Oh. That reminds me of my father or my grandfather or my mother.” And then I realized it’s not so much sin. We do sin, but generally there is a cause beneath that, because none of us would injure ourselves or our loved ones deliberately.
So I think it started in Genesis 3:22. “They have become as one of us.” So one, this is an assent, so that was huge. So, no fortunate fall. There was no fall at all. If we become like God for eating this fruit, then this is a good thing. This is moving upwards. So what is it about mortality? And I think it was Edward Beecher. He was so influential in my thinking, just a beautiful, Christ-like man. And when he was looking at the War in Heaven, which had to have been written by a man because it’s full of crossbows and chargers and armies and clashing. Is there going to be interest for the council sitting around a table? I don’t think so. But anyway, Milton had fun with it. But I really do think it was more like that, and Edward Beecher had written, “From pleasure there was no temptation to revolt.” Nobody was going to move away from something that was going to guarantee one’s happiness for life everlasting. But from suffering, such as would make them co-creators with God, they could be tempted to revolt. And I did know that that was mankind’s lot, suffering. Everywhere you turn, every news program you turn on, there is suffering. And when Eve then reiterated that in her Ode to Joy we never should have had seen, mortality was vital for that. And then again, we never should have known good and evil.
I thought perhaps that word does not mean what we think it does. And then going later into the Pearl of Great Price and then coming across this extraordinary conversation between Adam and Eve and God and they’re saying, “Okay, what have we done wrong? It’s chaotic. We thought Cain and Able, that was a bad thing. But they’re all doing bad things now, and how are we responsible?” And God doesn’t even respond to the question. He says, “My children are whole from the foundation of the world.” Which is really lovely for a Catholic.
It puts original sin right at the door. We are whole from the foundation of the world. But then he says something quite extraordinary. He says, “Whereas thy children are conceived in sin.” It’s the very next sentence, and so your mind’s been blown asunder.
Aubrey: That’s so interesting.
Fiona: Like, “Wait a minute. Is God Catholic? Wait, this is really confusing.” And then He goes on to say that, “Sin conceive within their hearts and it grows up with them.” And then he says, “Wherefore they must taste the bitter in order to prize the good.” And then I knew that He had redefined sin and evil.
Fiona: It was a bitterness, it was injury, and I realized that all of our friends are suffering from… In our family, there’s a predilection to addiction, to eating disorders, to depression, but these aren’t things they accumulated on their own. These were handed down through genetic strains, and once I realized that, then I understood that Julian of Norwich, whom I love so much, when she said, “All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” And I thought, “This is a period of suffering.” And it isn’t until quite recently, but I’ll jump to them, the baptismal covenants have occurred to me. I guess it was two or three years ago. And this part did make it into The Christ Who Heals, but the understanding of the ratification by the Godhead of these covenants didn’t come until after the book was in the process of being published.
But this is where I thought, so we’re saviors on Mount Zion by the work that we do in the temples, but then we also are invited by Christ to be participants in the Atonement and that blew me away, it’s in the baptismal covenant. So we are invited and we covenant to carry each other’s burdens, to mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort. And most of the people by whom we are surrounded are our immediate, immediate family. There is some telescopic philanthropy involved, but it’s, I do believe President Kimball, when he said, “God has put in our sphere of influence, those who really need us and who we really need.” And then what struck me with such force was that each member of the Godhead was present to sanctify and ratify those covenants.
So the God who weeps is, God the Father, the God who carries our burdens all the way through his life into Gethsemane and onto Golgotha, is God the Christ. And the God who comforts is got the Holy Spirit. It’s such an expansive gospel. And that we have been invited into helping heal people. And that’s a wonderful thing. I’ve been healed by people just sitting with me saying nothing. Oh, my son was getting married, we’d just moved. My father had just died and everything was chaos and chaotic. And I was really, really struggling. And three sisters from the ward, brought meals three days prior to the wedding. And it was such a simple thing, but my anxiety levels was so high that, I would either have to increase my medication, check myself in, or just go through the breakdown. And I really didn’t want to do that, but for them, it was nothing. For me, it was a difference between a beautiful wedding and an absolute nightmare. So we do, and they were simple things, but I will never forget that. And the good they did me, was indescribable. And I enjoyed a beautiful wedding. It was lovely.
Aubrey: I’ve never thought of that. I love that idea that our baptismal covenants are reiterating that the Atonement is about healing woundedness, not saving from sin. And that by comforting and sharing burdens that makes sense to me that we’re, this is about a healing, not a saving. And so of course that’s the covenant that we renew every week. I love that.
Fiona: And it’s so beautiful and it’s there in the New Testament. Is one of those things. It’s what I love about this church is that it’s so new that it allows you the opportunity to see things in a completely different paradigm because we know that Christ spent his entire time healing people. So why did it take me so long? It’s like this is what He is doing. He is healing this. This is the Atonement. It’s the healing from our woundedness, not from our sins. And it’s difficult because we’ve really struggled under that paradigm. I do feel that as Mormons we are in a really difficult situation because we’re still struggling under the traditions of the fathers. So, words like judgment are going to, “Whoa!” They’re just so heavy laden with perjorative imagery. And then you have Elder Uchtdorf who describes judgment as a place of healing, a place of love. That’s huge. That whole paradigm has been twisted. It’s reshaped, reformulated to give us room to breathe. And say that, maybe we are not awful people, but that God really loves us because people say that, but we don’t really believe it until we look at the tradition, look at Christ, what Christ is doing and realize that these were, Calvinists who wrote the King James version of the Bible and, they were very heavy-handed and King James wasn’t really going to put up a lot of protests because, even though he was Catholic, he was the King of England and he didn’t want to end up like his mother, Mary Queen of Scots. So he really wanted to keep his head. So really the Calvinists could run and they did and they made it as injurious as possible.
So I’m voting for a different version of the Bible that is more accurate and I think we should be doing that really in our personal studies is using different versions. But the King James version can be lyrically beautiful but also it’s very, very heavy handed. In the anger or the wrathful, vengeful God and which we have imbibed, unfortunately. But then this new gospel that is starting to flourish within our tradition is absolutely magnificent.
Tim: One question I have is how can we help that along? Because I think I have struggled with this a little bit in my life or quite a bit in my life. Those feelings of, sort of a foreboding judgment that’s going to be in the future, feelings of guilt, feelings of shame, feelings of I’m not good enough. And I guess I’m curious because you speak so beautifully to these things, what would you say to someone that is feeling those things that has read the King James version of the Bible and said, “this is what it really seems to be” with the straightforward reading and how culturally within our faith, can we sort of push that more healing vision of what’s really going on?
Fiona: Right, right. That’s an excellent question. For me it happened to be the books that I had been reading. So, Julian of Norwich and her showings was really influential, but then, so was Rob Bell’s book on, “Love Wins”. So there’s some Evangelicals writing, there seems to be a tendency or an impetus. It’s not just us, I think all of Christianity is abandoning the Old Testament God because he can’t heal us. We are being injured. And under that whole idea. That paradigm is injurious to us souls. So those books, Timothy Keller’s, The Prodigal God. There are number of books that help you see that, “No, God is not like this.” But I think, for me it really was Julian of Norwich I had never actually felt God’s love in my life until I read her book and every line is emphatic. It’s no matter what you have done, no matter who you feel you are, no matter how low you feel you have fallen. God’s love for you is absolute and doesn’t change, never changes. He will greet you with the absolute love that you were sent with when you came on your mission to earth.
C. S. Lewis talks about it so beautifully. He talks about the hot water in the bath and the clothes in the airing cupboard and warm towels being ready for you, so that we do have people who are speaking about it. And I feel that when I’m listening to General Conference, I feel more of that rhetoric coming, much less of the “you must obey or if not bad things are going to happen to you” which violates agency right from the get go. And because we privilege the agency, our faith tradition doesn’t allow for a God who demands obedience because that rather violates Section 121 and I think that’s beautiful. That’s God for me. God who uses gentle persuasion, love unfeigned, kindness, absolute love. That is the God of the Restoration, and I think once we understand that, it will be easier for us. I mean those are heavy. That heavy language sits and it’s difficult to just say “don’t, just chuck it out” because it’s really affected your mind, your emotional state, everything. It’s right there deep down.
So for me it’s a continual reminding, the continual going back to that Section 121, Moses 7, Jacob 5. Because you have to have something strong… stronger than what you have to replace that.
Aubrey: Oh, that is such a good point. So what do you do? I’m thinking of Doctrine and Covenants and the… Well, I’m specifically thinking of Section 132 and to me that chapter feels like a very Old Testament God. Like Emma’s given sort of like this scary version of God, that she’s going to be punished, and I feel like the God that really, the idea of a God that resonates with me would have been so comforting in that situation if everything had happened exactly the way it should have. And that’s another conversation. I feel like the God I want to worship would have filled her with peace that I could feel even, all these years later and instead that section just feels scary and sad and really disconnecting for me.
Fiona: Oh yeah. No, you’re absolutely right. It is a dreadful section for a number of reasons. Well to begin with, the Book of Mormon, Brigham Young said that we’re the Book of Mormon written in any other century it would be markedly different from what it now is. We have a 19th century text, it’s going to carry a lot of 19th century religious language, which is going to spill over into the Doctrine and Covenants. But then I think we’re at the point of decision-making because personally I cannot live with such cognitive dissonance. It’s too deep. Either God is trusting and merciful and loves us with an absolute love or He is not God, but He really can’t inhabit both spheres. He can’t be raffle and vengeful and threatening destruction on the one hand and then the other be, the God of Section 121, Moses 7 and Jacob 5.
So then we have to make choices. I think, and I have made the choice. The God who threatens Emma with judgment, with the death does not inhabit the same space as the God of Section 121 and cannot inhabit that space. So for me, I go with the God of Section 121, and I think what we’re going to have to do that with a lot of our scriptures, even Restoration scriptures, there’s a lot of language in the Book of Mormon that is harsh. And there’s a lot of language in the Doctrine of Covenants that is harsh. So what is speaking… 19th century religious sensibility? I think so. I think to a huge degree, but then also for our age, we have those scriptures that resonate with us. So one of the greatest discoveries we made, it was actually Terryl who made it. It’s First Nephi 13, verse 32. Now the whole chapter is about the injury that the plain and precious things have done to God’s children, and we are talking about them now. We’re talking about the wrathful vengeful God. We’re talking about original sin. We are talking about hell. All of those things that have really, just injured God’s children are discussed in Section 132. And there’s 19th century language involved, so it results in blindness and stumbling or error. But in verse 32, the word that is used is woundedness. That all of this, all of the loss, the loss of Heavenly Mother, chief among them, the loss of all of the beautiful resident things that actually were articulated, the loss of universalism, the loss of theosis, the loss of the idea that we can all become like God, and not in some nebulous way but really we are children of God. Those were lost. All of those were lost. And so our place in the universe is lost. And those have been restored. And that one word woundedness, is huge. And the reason why it was taken out to me is obvious. It was like Joseph and all of his colleagues were sitting around the table and asking, what is woundedness? I mean, it’s this century word. It resonates with us because we understand woundedness, but it wouldn’t, so, a quick revision of the Book of Mormon put that word back in there. And do you know that will be-
Aubrey: That works.
Fiona: It helps. It really helps.
Fiona: But, I think understanding that understanding for me has what has been really important with a book of Mormon language, which can be very injurious, is to look at the editor. I mean, editors have a real impact on the books they’re editing, and Mormon was a general involved in a war of genocide. I mean that gives you a pretty black white view. I don’t know any general, not involved in a war of genocide, just generals who have nuanced views about everything. It’s really important that in order to kill those people that you described them as subhuman, so they’re wearing loin cloths.
Aubrey: That’s so interesting.
Fiona: It’s very obvious what is going on here. Had the editor being someone other than Mormon, then we would have had very, very different texts because he had lots of texts for which to choose, but his paradigm that this is the end of the world, and if it happens to us, it can happen to you, sort of dominated the way he wrote. Which is why you have, but then again, you have really beautiful things in the Book of Mormon and so I think we have to be discerning and at least I know in my life, for my spiritual health, I’ve had to be discerning and just put those aside and then just accumulate really all of those scriptures that formulate the gospel of Section 129.
Aubrey: Yes. I love that.
Tim: I’m really curious, what you would say to your potential pushback on this idea that you need to choose one God. A loving God versus a wrathful God. Because I think the argument that I can see being made is that, for example, as parents, we don’t always, if we just take it as a given, that we know what’s best for our children, which we don’t, but let’s stipulate that we do. We don’t always incentivize them by giving them treats. Sometimes we threatened to send them to their room or to ground them. And I think some people may believe that God is a loving God, but that he uses those tools of anger or threatening or whatever it is, because he knows what’s best. And that’s all that’s going to get through Him.
Fiona: Oh, no. That’s an excellent point to raise. I think, the trouble is we’re talking about God and then we’re talking about us as parents who are struggling, without the full use of our agency. We’re all working in a glass looking through a glass darkly, but then to transpose those attributes to God, when God is now on a much, he’s on a global basis. And so when God reacts angrily, it generally results in destruction of humanity. Destruction of entire populations. And then comparing that to putting my child in timeout, the chasm is so wide.
Fiona: And then we have things, for example, in the book of, forgive me, in the New Testament, it says, “Do not be angry.” So we have actually conflicting scriptures, in the scriptures. And the only way that God’s anger has been portrayed in the scriptural texts is devastating.
Tim: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Fiona: Annihilating and terrifying. And so I can see that people… But for me that chasm is too great and his timeout has been portrayed as something massive, not something we’re doing with our children.
Fiona: And I think too when we are raising our children, that idea of, that love. So yes, absolutely we need to rebuke our children. Especially if they’re engaged with commandment breaking like, beating their brother or sister. That’s going to be injurious. That’s going… If that pattern continues, both children are going to be seriously hurt. But I think then the gospel comes in with this… Again, it’s in Section 121, you may have cause to rebuke. Just make sure that your children know that you are coming from a place of love, so when you have to rebuke, then you can show a greater manifestation of love. But if they’re not feeling love coming from you to begin with, they’re not going to feel that greater love because you have to have a platform. It has to be there. It has to be absolutely solid, that your children know that you love them. So that then they can take the rebuke, which probably needs to be swift, got to stop beating up on his brother.
Fiona: Okay. Whoops! You’re here. Okay, why have I put you here? But I love you. I know this was a misstep and that you will learn from this, that sort of thing. And this is coming from probably the worst mother-
Tim: No. No.
Aubrey: Oh, my gosh.
Fiona: In the world. My children will chime in, “Oh, yes.”
Aubrey: So I think another thing that I have a hard time with is trying to decide what role scripture should play in helping me to find God. And so I guess I’m curious what you trust. Do you trust scripture? Do you trust prophets? Do you trust your own conscience and what you feel? Is it just a feeling, you seek out what resonates with you and then you try to affirm it with scripture or is there some sort of process where they all three need to be in alignment?
Fiona: Yeah. That’s a brilliant question. I think for the, what really helped early on when I realized that we were being asked to search the scriptures, not read them. And so the search, gives it an entirely different meaning. Joseph said that there were many things in the scriptures that did not accord with the Holy Ghost.
Fiona: Yeah. Many, not a few. Many things that did not accord with what the Holy Ghost had taught him.
Fiona: So essentially we are working with flawed and fallible texts and with a biblical text that has been reworked so many times, and probably the most devastating was about, the turn from 600 to 700 BC with the Deuteronomists, who went through the biblical text emphasizing the law, taking out all of those beautiful hesed-type, that God loves us with an absolute love. That was very destructive. And then there was more, the removal and there’s was primarily the removal of Heavenly Mother from the Hebrew canon. Unfortunately, they weren’t as thorough as they thought they might be. So we still have glimpses, but we have to look for them and we have to have an understanding that Heavenly Mother exists, which we do have, but for a lot of Christians, there is no understanding. And so I do know, I’m working with texts that were written by men primarily and working with a flawed vocabulary. I mean trying to, ah. You know?
Fiona: I’m thinking of Joseph and the visions that he had and then trying to try to put them in English. And his English, which is why he was always asking, “I think this is what I understand.” So he understood that much of what he was doing, it wasn’t quite right and it was flawed in some ways. So for me, the searching has been really helpful because you search in the companionship of the Holy Spirit. So as you’re searching with the Holy Spirit, I was reading a text today and it just, “Wow.” And I was actually, because it’s for my research, so I really was reading it very carefully, but I had to sit with that for a minute and think, “Wow, could this really be?” So it was really beautiful.
Aubrey: Wow. I just want to know, like what you… I guess, how do you recognize the Spirit is with you when you’re finding these things and that it’s not your own woundedness thing? Like, “there’s a good point.”
Fiona: Yeah, for a lot of us, it will be starting with woundedness. “Please help me find scriptures that will help me feel better about myself, help me heal.” Those are going to be really, really important. But for me, and those have been really important, in fact, quite honestly it was, I’ll just be quite honest. I have huge issues with Joseph and polygamy. It’s difficult because the Book of Mormon is an anti-polygamous texts from the beginning to the end. And, whenever there is a chance to raise up seed, like with Lehi and Nephi coming over, I mean the scribe goes out of his way to emphasize that there was one wife for each husband and then-
Aubrey: Yeah. That’s true.
Fiona: But we don’t know that there were more wives other than the Eves. So these are my issues that I’ve struggled with. But it was doing the research for the Christ Who Heals, quite frankly. It was going back into the ancient traditions, the immediate post-Apostolic Fathers that I discovered their language that was almost verbatim Joseph. And I knew that he would not have had access to those Greek scriptures. So for me personally, that was a huge answer. That was a huge gift.
So I can say, “Oh, I have issues with polygamy.” I’m not sure that that was a revelation, but I can testify that Joseph was channeling revelatory power. I can testify that he was a prophet of God. So going back to your question, expansion. Does it expand my mind? Does it expand my heart? Does it bring me joy? Those are the sorts of things that… They are the telltale things for me. Do I feel like being a better person as a result of this? Is my heart softened as a result of this reading?
Aubrey: And then when you come across these things that feel the opposite, they feel very constricting and they don’t resonate, then do you just move on and let it go? Or do you wrestle?
Fiona: Well I don’t know. Yes, I do need to wrestle because there may be something, you’re right. There may be something hard in there because, “Oh, it’s not Fiona ask enough.” And so I do understand that too. So if there is something, my immediate thing is go “Hmm, chuck.” But then it’s like, “No, sit with it. Sit with it a bit.” And there’s where I find that it is, so injurious. That it has no place. But if it’s something difficult to understand or something, I’m just having difficulty with that. Then I let it sit. Don’t put it on a shelf, it’ll get very heavy. You’ll ignore it. And that shelf will crash. It’ll come back and hit you.
Fiona: But sitting with it, sitting with both those things, going over what you know about God, your testimonies, what you know is true. Bringing that into the conversation is hugely important because I think many of us have deep reservoirs of truth that are sitting there but haven’t been tapped yet. So it’s good to challenge them, let them, let that fountain spring up.
Aubrey: Yeah. That makes so much sense. And I love just how flexible the Church feels from you. Instead of feeling like the Church is this little box that I’m going to hold or I’m going to throw away, if not everything feels right. I love that it’s more of a challenge to find God inside this whole messy, this mess of our doctrine and our history.
Fiona: And then I understand that there are messes and we’ve had a number of messes. And as Elder Oaks very wise once said, as a young man challenged him. I’m assuming it’s a young man, but a young person challenged him at a fireside and just said, “Nothing you said really resonated with me.” And I think he was much more polite than that. Oaks’ response was, “Our job is to teach principles and your job is to see how and if these fit in your life.” So you seem to be giving a lot of room. And I really do feel that, just from the conference talks I’m hearing is as a much more letting go and this is your responsibility.
Aubrey: Yeah. Oh, yeah. All of the changes. It seems like that’s the point of every single change. This is you and your job.
Fiona: The most important connection with God is your connection with God. Not vis-a-vis a prophet or a church leader.
Tim: And if we look outside of the Church for just a minute, and maybe this would be a good place to finish up, but if you look sort of at the trends that we’re seeing in the broader world today. So I mean, I think there are good things and bad things like we’re seeing obviously a decline in religiosity. We’re seeing an increase in polarization. But we’re also, I think something we’re getting much better at is, looking for those on the margins and trying to be more inclusive generally.
Fiona: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I think this generation, your generation are the most inclusive, empathic, people of all time, actually the Zion builders.
Fiona: I really do. It’s just extraordinary.
Tim: That’s interesting that you say that. So because it brings Mormonism sort of this broader idea of what’s going on in the world, and I am curious from your perspective, what do you see? What are the ideas that Mormonism or our faith brings to the table that will carry us sort of into the 21st century and especially as they relate to what we’re seeing going on around us?
Fiona: Right. Well, I think, I’ll go to this idea of Zion. I have an idea of the global Zion. It’s not just a church Zion. I mean, that would be silly. If God wants to come down. It’s like the whole world. And I feel that. I feel religious movements. And I hear a lot of young people saying, they are spiritual rather than religious. The reasons why they’re saying that is because the God who’s being presented to them is just, they just can’t take that. This is how sensitive your generation is. I mean, they’re just intuitively saying, “That’s not God. So I’m not religious.” And so they go with spiritual because they don’t know how to fit a kind gentle, vulnerable God into that paradigm. So I think that’s been really important. I think the fact that the Church is really extending its humanitarian efforts, and Sharon Eubank has been absolutely pivotal in this. The church will not work alone. They will go into countries.
So for example, we have friends who’ve just gone on a mission. This is the… They’d been asked to be, humanitarian missionaries. So this is the month, in this month, they’ve been involved in emergency relief for a flooded area in greater Buenas Aires following the heavy rains the first week of our time here, hospital supplies and cribs for children in the Kwan, providing playground and school equipment for a summer camp project for a school that serves underprivileged children in another place, an endoscopy equipment sterilization machine for a hospital, a medical project to fund the correction of conditions for six children in Mendoza, 13 pediatric oxometers, oximeters? I’m not sure to say that. Donated to a hospital in Mendoza, school and hygiene kits for refugee children. We’re preparing to participate in a wheelchair delivery in mid-November in Paraguay, working with a Catholic group to refurbish a commodore, which is a dining hall for homeless. I didn’t know that, but that’s just these two friends of ours. It’s just extraordinary.
So this is, I think an answer to your question is that we have been invited with God to build this global Zion to reach out across communities, across, what was it, reminded me, I don’t know. It was like everybody, please wear mission, attire. Watch your people in your mission would where. It was extraordinary. And then everybody, it was wonderful to see the campus, everybody was wearing…. So I think the missionary effort, just helping us understand other people’s, but this I think is your gift. Your gift to be able to do this and to create a global Zion by reaching out, bring people in, sharing with them the beauties, and then enjoying the beauties that they have to offer because they’re not going to come up empty handed.They’re also going to come. So there’s this enormous feast of sharing. And I think it’s starting here and it’s starting now, and it’s starting with you.
Tim: I love that.
Aubrey: It’s beautiful.
Fiona: It’s so beautiful. I have to say, I feel really privileged to be living now because I can see it. I look around and I see it and you are really… We were all told, you’re the chosen generation. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, And I don’t want to jig, this is for anyone, but I look at you and I’m thinking, “Oh my gosh, great. You’re going to be doing great things. Can I just live long enough.” Just long enough to see the fruit of the endeavors in which you’re engaged? It is a privilege to be living now for me, because of you.
Aubrey: I think that’s a great place to close. Thank you so much and thank you for your work and, your gifts that you’ve brought to everyone in our faith tradition, it’s definitely been a real influence for good in our own personal life. So we appreciate you and thanks for letting us into your home.
Tim: Thank you Fiona.
Fiona: Do not be. Thank you so much Tim. Thanks Aubrey.
Tim: Thanks for listening to the Faith Matters Podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, we’d love for you to help out by subscribing or leaving us a rating on Apple Podcasts. You can find more content, including essays, podcasts, and videos from our Big Questions Project on faithmatters.org.