For those of us not trained to see the world through a historian’s eyes, sometimes learning about and attempting to engage the past can be a daunting task. These problems can be compounded as some members seek to understand different aspects of Church history. But how can understanding our own religious history help us better appreciate certain parts of Restored theology? Is there cultural baggage that we need to shed in order to thrive in the modern era?
That is what Faith Matters seeks to explore as Latter-day Saint theologian and scholar Patrick Mason, sits down for a conversation with Tim and Aubrey Chaves, to discuss Gems and Baggage, 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.
PATRICK MASON is the Leonard Arrington Chair of the Mormon Studies program at Utah State University. He previously occupied the Howard W. Hunter Chair in Mormon Studies and served as Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities at Claremont Graduate University. He’s also the author of “Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt,” co-published by BYU’s Maxwell Institute and Deseret Book.
Full Episode Transcript
Tim Chaves: Welcome to the Faith Matters Podcast. In this second episode of our miniseries we’re calling Gems of the Restoration, we talk with Patrick Mason, Chair of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State University. We got to talk with Patrick about his background, his testimony and conversion, the things that get him excited about where our faith and church are headed, and things we could still do better. We hope you enjoy this conversation.
Tim Chaves: Well, hi everybody, and thanks for listening. This is the Faith Matters Podcast. I’m Tim Chaves. I’m here with my wife, Aubrey. We’re going to be hosting today’s conversation, and we are honored to be joined by Patrick Mason, who has been on our podcast before. Just by way of introduction, Patrick is the Leonard J. Arrington Chair of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State University. He was previously, and recently, the Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University. Patrick has a Bachelor’s Degree in History from BYU, a Master’s Degree in International Peace Studies from Notre Dame, and a PhD in American History also from Notre Dame.
Patrick is the author of several books, and I know several more are coming. One of Patrick’s best known, and my personal favorite, is called Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt. That was published by Deseret Book, and was also part of the Maxwell Institute’s Living Faith Series. Patrick, thank you so much for being here. It’s a pleasure to have you on.
Patrick Mason: Yeah, it’s great to be here. Good to see you guys, Tim and Aubrey.
Aubrey Chaves: So I think probably a lot of people are really familiar with Planted. I feel like that’s become a must-read in the last couple of years if you’re sort of in this world of faith crisis, or if you have family or someone close to you who is kind of experiencing that.
Patrick Mason: As opposed to my academic books, which are definitely not must-reads.
Aubrey Chaves: But could you give us a little of your more personal background, and just why were you so interested in this subject? And how did you start recognizing this as a need? Did that come up from something personal in your own life? Or was this just a need that you were seeing around the students that you were working with? How did this all start?
Patrick Mason: Yeah. I mean, my own personal background I think is not all that interesting. I mean, I grew up as a Mormon kid in the Mormon suburbs of Sandy, Utah, raised in a very active LDS family. My dad was my bishop when I was a teenager, that kind of thing. And went to BYU, and I had a very happy and comfortable relationship with the church and with my religion. I think I was probably naturally inclined towards it. I think I’ve always been sort of good at religion. Not that I’m a good person, I’m just good at religion, right? It makes sense to me, I can do it well, it’s not hard for me to sort of step into that role, and that’s always been the case, even from being a kid.
So I went to BYU, went on a mission, eventually went to Notre Dame for graduate school. And for me, doing this kind of thing was in many ways the furthest things from my mind, because I just wanted to be a historian. I went to graduate school to study history, and to write books that nobody would read, and to do those kinds of very important things. It was really because, you know Tim had mentioned the last few years that I spent at Claremont, and it was while I was there at Claremont in Southern California that people started asking me to do firesides. Because it’s been over the past… what? Decade or decade and a half maybe where this notion of faith crisis has really come up, where a lot of people have been leaving the church, and asking questions that we hadn’t asked before, or maybe asking them in new ways.
So I started doing these firesides, and it was really through doing that, and hearing people’s stories, so not just what I had to say, but what I was hearing back from people, their experiences, their pain, what they were wrestling with, both the people who were going through a faith crisis themself, but also the people around them. I was as much touched by the parents, or the siblings, or the bishops who sort of were at a loss, didn’t really know what to think, didn’t know what to do, didn’t know what to say, didn’t want to say the wrong thing. Right? Or felt like they already had.
So it was through all of that that I said, “Well, maybe I can apply some of these tools that I’ve learned as a historian, and as somebody who cares a lot about the church, and thinks about it a lot, and maybe I can apply some of that to these contemporary issues.”
Tim Chaves: Has that sort of reoriented this new reality that you find yourself in, your professional and academic work, as well? Or do you sort of keep that a little bit segmented?
Patrick Mason: Yeah, I do try to keep them sort of segmented because I’m still committed to do my day job, right? Right now, I teach at Utah State University, it’s a secular school, I’m a state employee, right? So I don’t do faith crisis for my day job, or pastoral ministry. Right? And it’s no different than anybody else, who owns a store, or is a lawyer, or whatever. You have your day job, and then you do the things that you care about as a church member on the side, or you squeeze it in during your lunch hour, or whatever it is. So I don’t think it’s that different for me, I just happen to think about Mormonism all day long, but in a more academic context.
So for instance, I’m working on a book right now where I’ll be looking at Ezra Taft Benson, and 20th century Mormonism. That’s going to be very much in a kind of historical node. There’s not much pastoral aspect to that. But I am committed to continuing this kind of work, and so what it’s meant is that rather than having a kind of one track professional career, and then I go to church on Sunday like everybody else, now I see myself operating really on two tracks simultaneously.
Tim Chaves: Very cool.
Aubrey Chaves: Yeah, that makes sense. I’m curious if your background in history, if you feel like that made you more resistant to your own personal faith crisis, or if you felt like there was ever a time where that created a bit more vulnerability because you were exposed to things that probably as a regular member of the church you may not come across unless you were really intentional about it?
Patrick Mason: Right. Well, I think—and I mention this in Planted—is I actually never went through a really serious faith crisis of any kind. I’ve had lots of questions, I’ve still got things that I wrestle with, and I’m definitely unsure about, but I haven’t had this kind of existential valley of doubt that so many people have. And that doesn’t make me better than anybody else. In a lot of ways, I just count myself lucky, right?
Aubrey Chaves: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Patrick Mason: Maybe the history part of it, maybe it did provide me with a little bit of inoculation, or some kind of layering there. I mean, as I said, I had a very normal, I think pretty standard Mormon upbringing. It wasn’t until I went to BYU that I encountered Mormon history in any kind of significant way. I took a class in the history department, not just in religious ed, but this is where we start talking about seer stones, and the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and race and the priesthood. Right? All this kind of stuff that I had never heard about before.
But it was actually, because I was already wired as a historian, and it was presented to me as historical complexity, I was like, “Oh, I get historical complexity.” Right? I do that when I study the American Revolution, I do that when I studied the Civil War, I do that when I study race relations, right? I get that good and well-meaning people can be really complicated and do really bad things. Right? So I have Brigham Young on one hand, and I have Thomas Jefferson on the other. I sort of get how the complexity of historical agency works.
So maybe it was the fact that actually I did it as part of my vocation as a historian that maybe insulated me a little bit from maybe a faith crisis that could have come during graduate school or something like that, but never really did.
Tim Chaves: Yeah. I think that might be true. I mean, what I have found in my own faith journey is that it’s very hard for me, as someone that’s not trained in history, to sort of separate my own sort of presentist cultural values from what I’m reading about in the past. What I’ve tried to—I have to actively tell myself this, is like when I’m reading about history, church history or whatever kind—you really are dealing with a culture that’s almost alien to us. We don’t understand the things that were important to them, the way they interacted with each other, the way they thought about Deity. And we have a whole different way of doing things.
So I think things can seem really, sometimes bizarre and weird when we hear the true facts. But if you were able to really inject yourself into that culture, I think as you have done academically, more fully, then that might, the word you used is inoculate you a little bit from some of those things.
Patrick Mason: Yeah, and I think it gives you a sense that, I mean, I tend to give the people around me, or I try to give the people around me the benefit of the doubt, especially when I see them as three dimensional people. Right? And I understand that my neighbors can be great people, and raise great families, and do great things for my family, and then believe really weird things, and vote differently than me. But I still love them, right?
As a historian, I recognize, even somebody like Abraham Lincoln, arguably the greatest President of the United States, and the Emancipation Proclamation, but he also suspended habeas corpus, he did a lot of other … I think he signed the first anti-polygamy bill, maybe that’s a good thing, I don’t know.
Tim Chaves: Yeah!
Patrick Mason: But he’s a complicated guy, too, even like the best of the best. Right? So then, for me to then think about … and maybe this is our own problem that we’ve expected and created cardboard cutouts of church leaders, or expect something different of them than we expect of Abraham Lincoln, or Thomas Jefferson, or Harriet Tubman, or anybody else, right?
Aubrey Chaves: Definitely.
Patrick Mason: But in fact, nobody is a cardboard cutout. Everybody is three dimensional. So it’s been helpful for me, and now I’m thinking about that, both as a historian, but also as somebody embracing the gospel of Jesus Christ, and with the virtues of generosity and humility, and charity, and forgiveness, and all those kinds of things, and realizing that wait a minute, I can deal with things in a little more complicated way than I did say when I was 14.
Tim Chaves: Yeah, for sure. I’m curious too, just one more question, if it’s okay, kind of about your background. In terms of your own personal testimony, would you say that … was its development sort of, I don’t know if stereotypical is the right word, but was it a Moroni 10:3-5 type of moment? It’s like, “Boom. It’s true.” Or was it, which I think is probably now actually more common is like over time, these things really started to resonate with you, and you started to believe-
Aubrey Chaves: A decision.
Tim Chaves: Yeah, almost a decision, yeah.
Patrick Mason: I think it was, yeah, it was a combination of things. Mostly it was totally organic, right? Today was my kid’s primary program and sacrament meeting, and I sat there thinking, and I had like tears in my eyes, and it’s my son’s last one, and all these kinds of things, and I was thinking, “This is so great.” I mean, as I heard them singing songs about Jesus, and talking about forgiveness, and these things, I was like, “This is so beautiful. This is exactly what I want. These are the stories I want my kids raised on.” Right? And I was raised with those kinds of stories, and those kinds of songs, so it was very organic for me.
Like I said, there was never a moment where I didn’t believe, but there were two galvanizing sort of epiphanies for me that I’m actually going to write about in my next book. One related to knowing that God calls prophets today, and with specifically hearing President Howard W. Hunter speak in General Conference. Then, the most important experience for me in my life was a moment in the MTC where I knew absolutely with direct revelation that Jesus is the Christ, that He’s my Savior, and He’s the Son of God. Those are actually the only two major spiritual epiphanies I’ve ever had. I’ve had minor ones, and I feel good, and I feel warm fuzzies, and all those kinds of things. But those are like the two moments where at least I feel like that I can identify direct revelation from heaven.
But it’s not that I hang everything on those two moments, I’m not sure that they’re enough. Those two moments are embedded in an entire life in this organic experience that I’ve had from the moment that I was born. And again, I’m lucky, I’m privileged, and I’ve had a very gentle experience with the church. Other people haven’t. But for me, it’s this combination of organic growth, and these galvanizing moments, both.
Tim Chaves: That’s beautiful.
Aubrey Chaves: Yeah, that makes so much sense. Yeah, thank you. We were hoping to kind of focus this, the rest of the episode on why our faith tradition is valuable now, and so I think your perspective is especially interesting because you really understand the decades that our church has sort of grown through. So would you jump in and just talk about what you see as the reasons that really stand out for why our faith tradition should thrive in this generation and in the 21st century?
Patrick Mason: Yeah, I’m excited. We’re coming up on various anniversaries over the next decade, so 2020 will be the 200th anniversary of the First Vision, 10 years later will be the anniversary of the organization of the Church, and then all the Moroni anniversaries in the meantime. So this is going to be a pretty cool decade for church history. And I think a lot of what we’ll be doing will be looking backward, right? And celebrating the origins of the Restoration. That’s fine. Even as a historian, I’m sort of done with that. I’m actually more interested in Mormonism’s third century than I am in its first or second centuries, because I actually think Mormonism’s third century is going to be its best century yet.
You think about the first century of church history, and this is obviously origins. This is Joseph Smith, this is Brigham Young, this is the pioneers. This incredible deposit of faith that we have, all of this theology, these revelations that are given, all of this new scripture, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price. That’s incredible, right? It’s like the first century of Christianity, which is the first best century. Well, the one with Jesus in it is obviously the best one, right? Okay. You can’t argue with that.
We all build, and stand on the shoulders of that first generation, the first converts, and the pioneers, and all of that. Okay, incredible. Second generation, the thing is that we sometimes forget how tiny the Church was throughout its first century. The Church didn’t get to the one million member mark until 1947.
Aubrey Chaves: Really?
Patrick Mason: Well after 100 years. So it was the second century, it’s been over the past several decades that we’ve seen the church grow into millions of people, and really become a global church, not just a Wasatch Front church, or an Inner Mountain West church, or even an American church, but increasingly become a global church, and also learn what it means to live in society, not out in the desert somewhere, right?
Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.
Patrick Mason: But to be part of society, and that’s incredible too. So again, my generation, our generation stands on the shoulders of our parents and grandparents who built the 20th century church. That’s all great. But now I think the question for us, and in the Restoration’s third century, is not what is God going to do for us, but what are we going to do for the world? I think God has spent 200 years giving us some pretty incredible gifts, and our ancestors have built this that we’ve inherited. So now I think the question is what are we going to do for everybody else? What are we going to do with the world? Not with the world, but for the world.
So I’m excited because of our theology, which I think can really resonate in the 21st century in ways that maybe we haven’t fully captured. I think we are really well-positioned now, with an increasingly global membership, to actually do some good around the globe. We’re starting to see that with humanitarian aid and some other … you know, just more of a sensibility that we’re actually part of things outside of Utah, and outside of Souther California, and Northern Arizona, and a few places like that.
And just fundamentally, I think the Restoration, this is a modern religion that God has given us and restored in the modern age, and so I think He expects us to do something with it.
Aubrey Chaves: That’s so interesting. I guess I’ve always thought of the fact that we’re a young church as a disadvantage, that we don’t have the gravitas of 2000 years, but I can see how being more flexible, and being here while it grows is something that could actually be really positive.
Patrick Mason: I think it’s a huge advantage for us, because we’ve never had to sort of shed the baggage of a pre-modern era, of a pre-modern theology. Right? So all of those older religions, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, they’ve all had to figure out how do they reframe themselves for a modern world, right?
Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.
Patrick Mason: Because they weren’t born in a modern world, they were born in a world before science, before democracy, before the notion of the individual human person, the dignity of the human person.
Aubrey Chaves: Wow.
Patrick Mason: And Mormonism doesn’t have any of those things. We came built-in with a modern theology, that already … and I think we’ve struggled with this sometimes, and actually sometimes I think we’ve squandered our inheritance and sort of grasped for the respectability of pre-modern religion, which makes no sense to me, right?
Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.
Patrick Mason: But the whole point of the Restoration is that God restores the church in the modern age. He chose when to do it, and He chose it in the 19th century, the century of progress, and He did it in the country that was going to be on the forefront of modernity, for good and for ill. I think the restoration, the whole point is it’s meant to speak to the modern age, looking forward, not looking backward.
Tim Chaves: That’s super interesting. Now, I guess what are some of those, just high level, and I think we’ll want to dive into several of these, but what are some of those things that, when you say we’re poised to take something valuable to the world and do something for the world, what comes immediately to mind for you?
Patrick Mason: For me, and I think we can talk about this both on a very high kind of intellectual theological level, but also in a little bit more grounded way, too. So for me, when I think about what does Mormonism have, what does the Restoration have to give to the world, I think we have to start with our theology that God has given us. And for me, it begins with the Restoration’s notion of the human person—because it’s one of the most distinctive aspects of modernity—is this idea of moving away from society as the basic unit, and the idea that the individual exists to serve something greater than that, whether it be the family, or the community, or the Church, or something like that.
But one of the hallmarks of the Enlightenment is the idea that the individual is the basic unit of society, and this is why we have things like human rights and things like this. I think this is exactly what Restoration theology is. The Restoration reveals that we are not creatures created by God, but that we are in fact, literally, really children of God, who were there with Him from the beginning.
So when you get rid of this idea of ex nihilo creation, when you get rid of this idea that God was there first and we all came second, and the whole purpose of our creation, which is the notion in most monotheistic religions, that the purpose of our creation is to glorify God. Instead, what the Restoration teaches, is that God’s work and glory is to glorify and exalt us, and so it actually puts the human person at the center of theology, without displacing God, without knocking Him off of His throne, but actually saying that His purpose, the whole point of this cosmos, look outside the window, the purpose for all of this is for God to bring His children back to Him, and to make us like Him.
So it puts the human person at the center of the story, and that’s exactly what modernity does. And so Mormonism, in a way that I don’t know that any other theology quite does, it matches up with the sensibility of the modern world, right?
Aubrey Chaves: Wow.
Patrick Mason: So we can go out, I don’t think we’ve done this yet, but I think based on our theology, we can articulate a more powerful notion of the dignity of the human person than anybody else because the three of us on this call, and every other person listening to this podcast are gods in embryo. Not just creations of God created in His image, but we are actually gods. That’s pretty phenomenal.
Then think about what that means when you’re thinking about human trafficking, think about what that means when you’re thinking about ecological destruction and the impact on vulnerable populations, think about what that means for sexual-based violence, think about what this means for economic equality, for democracy and the way that we interact. When you begin with the notion that the person next to you is a god, then that should change everything.
Aubrey Chaves: Wow. That’s so huge. That is such a huge idea, and it’s so obvious, it’s just right there, it’s not that deep.
Patrick Mason: Right. Right, right, right.
Aubrey Chaves: But I never really thought about it that way, yeah. And also, just what does that mean for, what are we responsible to stand up and do? If this is a core belief that we have, then what does that mean about what our lives should look like, and for the way that we try to protect each other?
Patrick Mason: You’re right. I mean, this isn’t deep stuff. You don’t need a PhD to figure this out. We teach this to two year olds when we sing I am a child of God with them. Right?
Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.
Patrick Mason: I mean, this is the core of our theology. What we haven’t done is spin it out to what that means for every aspect of our life, for our politics, our economics, our gender relations, our race relations, everything else. So that’s what we’re going to do in Mormonism’s third century, right?
Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.
Patrick Mason: God’s given us this gift, and now He’s saying, “All right, y’all, figure it out, and go do something with it.”
Tim Chaves: That is super interesting.
Aubrey Chaves: I would love to hear you, just because you’re in the middle of writing about previous decades, what does that actually look like? I feel like I like the idea of this getting spun out and seeing how the Church sort of develops over the next century, but what does that look like in the decade where we haven’t done it yet, and when it feels uncomfortable because it feels like we should be doing something now? I imagine that you’ve seen that pattern over and over throughout the decades, at least of the second century of growth. So what do you expect that to look like, and what’s our role to play as members, not leaders?
Patrick Mason: That’s a great question, yeah, because it should always be grounded. This shouldn’t just be like cotton candy stuff that we’re spinning, and it’s sort of ethereal, right? I mean, what’s the traction here? Let me point to two things, one that the Church is already doing. So I’ve already mentioned the church has increased a commitment to humanitarian relief. Now, you can read that in lots of different ways. You can read it as an outgrowth of Christian love, which is it. You can read it as an effort to build relationships, and frankly, popularity around the globe, and to actually grease the wheels for potential missionary efforts, which I think that’s part of it, too, and I think that’s okay, too.
But fundamentally, this is what the Church’s humanitarian efforts are all about, is because we recognize that the Restoration wasn’t just for us, it isn’t just for the chosen few who happened to say yes to a Mormon missionary, and then all of their descendants, right? But that we have a responsibility to all of God’s children. And maybe our first responsibility to them is not to give them a Book of Mormon, but to feed them. Right?
Aubrey Chaves: Wow. I love that. Oh my gosh.
Patrick Mason: And if they’re disabled, to give them a wheelchair, right? If they are living in a leper colony, to provide for them there. I mean, when we lived in Egypt, in the branch there, we literally had a branch service project at a leper colony. Right?
Aubrey Chaves: Wow.
Patrick Mason: Talk about going back in time, right? But that’s what the Restoration means to me, is applying the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the modern condition, whatever you find that to be. And the modern condition is increasingly going to be one of humanitarian disasters because of climate change, because of political instability, because of all these kinds of things. So I think we’re going to be doing more humanitarian stuff, not less, and it should be coming out of our impulse towards our fellow human beings.
The same with the Church’s work on refugees, right? We don’t see them … our analysis of a refugee is not a political analysis, it’s a theological analysis, that they are a Child of God, who are worthy of every good thing that we can give them, just like God has given us every good thing that He could give us. Right? So I love what the church is doing, and I think we’ll do more.
Another thing that we’ll do is I think we’ll just, people will keep thinking about this stuff, and starting to spin it out. One of the books I’m finishing up right now is on a piece theology within the Restoration. So for me, and my co-author, David Pulsipher, we’ve been thinking about, “Okay, if we have all of these theological ideas within the Restoration, what does it mean when we start reflecting on questions of violence and peace?” Right? In a world of violence, in a world of instability, and violence of all kinds, direct violence, but also structural and cultural violence, what does the Restoration call us to do as disciples of Jesus Christ? And do our Restoration texts give us any answers there?
We think that they’re full of answers that we just haven’t tapped yet. Right? So I think we’ve barely begun to skim the surface of what the Restoration can do for us as we think about our place in the modern world.
Aubrey Chaves: Wow.
Tim Chaves: That’s super interesting. I’m curious a little bit about that, too, that sort of concept that we are in a world of increasing violence, and potentially increasing threats from climate change or whatever else is going on. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the work of Steven Pinker, who is a professor at Harvard. He’s written a couple books that sort of take the premise that the world is getting better and better as time goes on, that it is less violent than its ever been. And I don’t remember his exact position on climate change.
But I’m curious how you see that sort of thesis that he has, versus sort of the long-time doctrine that we’ve had that as we accelerate towards the last days, things are going to be getting worse and worse. Do you see us fitting in now as a church more in a world where things are pretty good, and we are now respecting the dignity of the human person more than we ever have? And war, that the average person is involved in is less frequent than it ever was. Are we now embracing that, or are we taking the opposite view and saying inevitable disaster sometime in the next “x” number of decades, but we’re going to be there to help out as it sort of comes on inevitably.
Patrick Mason: Yeah, no, I’m glad you raised that. That’s a really smart question. I think Pinker’s research, we should really grapple with. And basically, the argument is, as you said, that actually lots of indicators show that the world is getting better and better, not worse and worse. Right? We haven’t had a World War III, the wars that we do have are smaller, they’re more limited, casualties, especially civilian casualties are more limited. He talks about increasing literacy rates, right? Falling poverty rates.
I mean, there are a lot of indicators that you could look around and see that the world is getting better. I think that’s great. I don’t disagree with any of those things, and I think that you can look at a lot of indicators to show human progress, and to show that there’s a lot of good people, secular and religious, who are applying their creative energies to making the world a better place. That’s terrific.
But there are lots of other indicators, too. Right? And we know we’re already beginning to see this, that because of climate change, because of instability of political regimes around the world, that even though we’re not seeing the same kind of international crises that maybe we did in the 20th century, crises are much more local, they’re also very intense for people. So we’re going to see more and more famines, we’re going to see rising sea levels displace people, which are going to create huge waves of refugees. We’ve seen what the refugee crises have done recently in the Middle East, and in Europe, even destabilized politics here in the United States.
So yeah, while certainly … the way that we used to measure, a lot of the indicators that we used to use to measure human flourishing, those things seem to be getting better, but I think the indicators are shifting, and the world is getting worse for many people, even while it’s getting better for others. This is part of the increasing inequality that we’re seeing in the 21st century around the globe. Inequality not just of how much money you have in your pocket, but the sort of life outcomes and life opportunities that you’re going to have.
What book of scripture talks more about inequality than any book of scripture in the world, it’s the Book of Mormon. Right? The Book of Mormon is the great book of scripture about inequality. It is the great prophetic critique of inequality, which means it is the scripture for our time. So we may not call them Gadianton robbers now, and I’m not one for conspiracy theories and things like that, but the analysis of the inequality and what that does to social conditions, and to the human person, the Book of Mormon has such a prophetic critique about that.
So it’s interesting, you know, apocalypticism sort of seems like out of favor these days, especially religious apocalypticism, and it’s actually interestingly that President Nelson is sort of bringing it back. He’s like, “We live in the last days, and we need to prepare the earth for the Coming of Christ.” And in some ways, that sounds a little bit out of tune, except when you listen to most secularists, who actually I think are the strongest apocalypticists in the world right now, speaking around climate change. I mean, all of the language of climate change is apocalyptic language, that unless we do x, y, and z, the world is going to end, it’s going to be horrible for all these people.
So I actually think that we may not be the only latter-day people around right now. There’s actually a lot of people talking about the last days, and what we need to do to hold off, or to mitigate the worst possibilities of the last days that we live in. If not, then we face a new age of extinction as a human species. I think this is where the Restoration is going to meet with secular thinking, and we’re going to partner. Right now is sort of like religion versus the secular. Well, if we’re going to figure this stuff out, religious folks and secular folks are going to have to work together on all of these big questions.
Tim Chaves: Yeah. And as someone that … I may not be an optimist, but at least I’m someone that wants to be an optimist, I still hope there are inflection points that we can actually affect, to say like, “Hey, the world was going to get better, but we came together … ” or excuse me, “It was going to get worse, and we came together to actually make it better.” But I love the idea that to the extent that we don’t have a handle on something and we are seeing a catastrophe of some kind, I want to be a part of an organization like you’re mentioning, like this third century church that is there for the people who are most severely affected by that.
Patrick Mason: Yeah, and I’m not a pessimist either. I actually do think, I think part of the message of the Restoration is that we can make real change, that the actions we put out in the world have real consequences, and that we can scale up to do that beyond the individual. So I’m not a pessimist, but I’m a realist. And I think that to be a Christian means that we have to enter into the suffering of others, and we have to recognize that there are billions of people in the world right now whose lives are not as comfortable or secure as the three of ours.
Tim Chaves: Yup, yup, absolutely.
Aubrey Chaves: I would love to ask you, I’m curious, when you were talking about the inequality that seems to at least be more visible now, do you think that our modern way of forming these communities is divisive from a global perspective? Or is that something that is going to help the Church thrive? I feel like there is a way to see a community as it can be exclusive and destructive to some groups. And so is this a positive, or is this something that’s hurting people?
Patrick Mason: Well, you put your finger on it. I mean, community is always a double-edge sword. It always has the potential to do either, or both at the same time. Right? Good for the insiders, bad for the people that they exclude, right? Or that oftentimes we create our identity based on opposition to somebody else’s identity.
Aubrey Chaves: Oh yeah.
Patrick Mason: I mean, in some ways, it’s inevitable. Right? I am me because I’m not you. That’s partly just what it means to be sentient, and to be human. But I think the big question for us is how do we create positive communities that are not predicated on othering other people? Is that even possible? And lots of philosophers and political theorists have thought about this, so partly we need to draw on the wealth of the world’s wisdom, of people who have thought about this. But I think this is where we’re going to have to transition what it means to be a Latter-day Saint, because so much of what we’ve built our identity on over the past two centuries has been an oppositional identity. Right?
Aubrey Chaves: Really, yeah.
Patrick Mason: What’s the language we use? It’s the language of saints and gentiles. Right? And we sort of joke about it, and people who live in Utah or who hang out with Mormons joke about being gentiles, but that’s an othering move. Right? We are the saints, we are literally the sanctified ones, the holy ones, and you are the ones that God didn’t choose. So is there a way that we can … I don’t want to give up on the Latter-day Saint community. I actually think it’s another one of the great gifts that we have to give to the world right now, in a world, especially in the United States and in Europe, where fewer and fewer people have association with any kind of identity, or at least any kind of positive identity, any kind of community. We see more and more people who are alienated, more and more people who feel like they don’t have any connection to their neighbors, or to civic groups, or to anything else.
So I think the LDS ward is an amazing positive community that can signal to people what it can mean like to take care of one another. Is there a way that we can scale that up, again, without creating an other? It’s tough. And I think even, you know, I’m pretty critical of the nation-state in general, but one of the good things about the nation-state, where it works at its best, is as a community of care.
For instance, when living in, I guess at the time I was living in Indiana, and a huge hurricane hits Louisiana, Hurricane Katrina, I don’t know anybody in New Orleans, it doesn’t affect my life at all. Why should I care that a hurricane hit anybody? But because of the nation-state, I have at least this fictive community, that these are my people down there, and so I’m going to donate time and money and resources to help these people who I actually have no connection with. That’s a good thing. When the nation-state works like that in order to expand our moral imagination to think and care about somebody else, even though I don’t have any direction connection with them, that’s a good thing.
The Church works the same way. What do I have in common with somebody who lives in Argentina, or Ghana, or something? Nothing, except we’re both Latter-day Saints, so I care about them. When community works like that, it can be a pretty amazing thing.
Tim Chaves: Yeah.
Aubrey Chaves: Wow.
Tim Chaves: I think part of it, for me, is just maybe there’s a potential change in rhetoric and vocabulary. You mentioned saints versus gentiles, and I think that, I’m not a historian, but I think that may have been more common in the last 20 to 50 years ago. But I still hear the term the world a lot to refer to everybody except us, and it’s often preceded by the evils of the world, or the wickedness of the world, and it just means everybody else. I would love it, personally, if when we heard the world, we thought we’re a part of that. Like, we are on and in this world, and it is a grander community of which we are just a part.
Tim Chaves: I actually think the Book of Mormon has an interesting doctrine for this. There’s a section where it says there are only two churches. Right? And I don’t think that really works with the idea that there’s 15, 16 million members of our church right now, and that’s the one church, and then the church of the devil is everybody else. I don’t think that could possibly be what it means, right? I like the idea that, yeah, maybe there are two churches, there’s good and there’s evil, but good encompasses us, or at least a part of us, and then a ton of other, perhaps even the majority, or the huge majority of everybody that exists on earth, that is well-intentioned, and wants the best for not just themselves, but their families, and for other people.
That kind of makes me question, like you’re saying is the focus in this coming third century, is it going to be humanitarian oriented? And what is the role of the missionary program? Are we going to have a focus on conversion? Are we saying, “Hey, get baptized, join our church”? Or is it going to be a gradual shift to say, “Hey, if we’re sharing back and forth, if we’re caring for each other, if we are already part of a community, whether it’s in a local community, or a state, or a nation, or a broader world, are we already in the same church,” and that’s how we think about it?
Patrick Mason: Yeah. I think that’s a great set of questions, Tim. Yeah, fundamentally, what is our identity? It’s that we’re all children of God, right? That is the positive identity, that every single person on the planet shares, that doesn’t look at any other kind of difference. And this is Pauline Teaching, right? There’s no male or female, or Jew or Gentile in Christ Jesus. And also the Book of Mormon talks about this, there’s no manner of -ites, all those kinds of things.
So all of the scriptures about our relationship to God, about our relationship to one another, about entering into a new creation, sort of going back to the Garden of Eden, which is so much of the imagery of scripture. That’s what it’s all about. Right? Entering into that kind of identity.
But I don’t think, and personally I don’t want the Church to give up on its missionary identity, and its missionary vocation in its third century or ever. I think a vibrant church is a missionary church for a couple of different reasons. The fact is that not all people have heard of the call of the Restoration, or have heard the name of Jesus, and have come to love Jesus, and I think that’s partly what we’re called to do, right? We’re part of Jesus Christ’s church, and we’re called to witness of His name, and of His life and atonement to all the world, and so we want to spread that good news, right? I don’t want to turn my back on that good news, or hold it. In some ways, it would be a betrayal of the good news to not share it with other people. I think we can do it in different ways than we’ve done it, to be sure.
But partly, also because I recognize that the world has so much need in it, and that the 16 million Mormons that there are right now, and if we actually talk about how many there really are, right, divide that by some kind of factor, but we’re going to need a heck of a lot more help. Right? Now, a lot of that is going to be from partnering with other people of goodwill, both religious and secular around the world. But the Restoration does things for people, it transforms people, it gives them a sense of their identity, gives them a sense of who they are as a child of God. I think the ordinances are powerful in terms of connecting us to God and sealing us to one another.
So we want to keep doing and inviting as many people as possible to partake in all of that that the Church has traditionally done for the past 200 years, and say, then can we layer on top of that a new kind of mission, a mission to the world that isn’t just focused on getting them baptized.
Tim Chaves: Mm-hmm. No, I think we have a really interesting Book of Mormon model for that, too. I mean, you have Ammon going out on his mission, and basically saying, “I’m here to serve you. Tell me what to do.” And in the end, that actually did result in conversion, right?
Patrick Mason: Yeah.
Tim Chaves: But I think, it seems like the days of standing on a street corner waving scriptures, I’m not sure that that’s really resonating with people anymore. Obviously that’s not exactly what our missionaries are doing, but in the 19th century, that was what you did, and people listened. That’s kind of where their minds were focused. They were already sort of in that mode of thinking about, “What church should I join?” I mean, Joseph Smith was there, right?
Patrick Mason: Yeah.
Tim Chaves: So they were actually thinking about that. I’m not sure that’s top of mind for a lot of people these days, but these issues of, like you were saying, of human dignity, and equality, and economics, and natural disasters, or refugee crises, or whatever it is, those things are top of mind. So if we can meet people where they are, then I think that might end up with a more powerful missionary program.
Patrick Mason: Yeah, so we’ve got to know what their questions are, right? Our problem with our missionary program over the past few decades is that we’ve gone to the world with our questions. It’s been like a game of jeopardy, actually. It’s that our missionaries show up with a bunch of answers, and then we try to get people to guess what the question is. Right?
Tim Chaves: That’s so true.
Patrick Mason: And we need to flip that script, and actually figure out what other people’s questions are, and then we have to do our homework to figure out how does the Restoration answer that. Now I’m convinced that the Restoration has answers. Some of those things, we don’t know what the answers are yet, and that’s why we need more revelation. That’s why it’s an ongoing Restoration. But I’m convinced that God is working in the world, through the Restoration, and that He wants the Restoration to be able to answer people’s questions.
So if people’s questions are around issues of ecological justice, if people’s questions are around questions of how do I raise my family in broken communities that don’t provide any social services, if people’s questions are around how do we deal with new waves of refugees, people who don’t speak our language and don’t have our traditions and cultures, what does the restoration have to say about that? It’s going to be a whole new set of questions, and a lot of them are still going to be individually based. We’ve been talking about the social and political, but still, in the human heart. Right?
I mean, depression, and mental illness, and brokenness, that doesn’t change. Right? I mean, fundamentally, that’s the human condition, and this is why we bring Jesus to people on an individual level, is to heal their brokenness. And maybe we say one of the ways that you heal your brokenness is by helping other people heal their brokenness too, and that’s why we do it in a community.
Tim Chaves: That’s super interesting. Yeah, I think it’s important, this occurred to me as you were talking about this, to not … and I was doing sort of in my last comment, to put people in boxes and say, “This is what people care about now.” It is individually based. And that’s sort of, like you’re saying, at the root of our theology, is everything is individual based. So maybe the key skill that we need to develop institutionally is the skill to listen, right?
Patrick Mason: Yeah.
Tim Chaves: And really go out, and understand what each individual that we’re talking to is thinking about, and feeling, and caring about. I’ve thought about this in the years since my mission. I wish I could go out, as a 35 year old now, in some ways, and be like, “Okay, I’ve learned a lot more than I knew as a 19 year old.” I think the biggest changes I would make right now is when I went into people’s homes for the first discussion or the first lesson, I would just say, “Hey, tell me about yourself,” and just listen. I think that perspective … I mean, you could make the argument that maybe it doesn’t result in as many conversions and as many baptisms, so we have to figure out what our key performance indicators are, but I think it would really help us meet people where they are.
Patrick Mason: Yeah.
Aubrey Chaves: I would love to hear you address that specifically. I think maybe this idea of having all of the truth, we have all the truth, that feels like it sort of has morphed over time. I love, I feel like the way Joseph Smith talked about truth felt, that really does resonate with me, this idea that we’re just gathering truth wherever we can find it, and anyone who has it, just bring it all in. That feels so good. I love the idea of sitting and listening to somebody to find out how they connect to God, and how can that help me to connect to God better? Instead of like let me teach you because I have it all already. So not just listening to find out what they need, but listening to find out what they have that I might need, you know?
Patrick Mason: Right.
Aubrey Chaves: Do you see that change, first of all? And how do you think that would affect our missionary program?
Patrick Mason: Yeah, I do see it, and so you’re exactly right, it would be going back to what Joseph Smith and Brigham Young originally thought that Mormonism was. Right? They were capacious in terms of thinking about Mormonism as all truth, wherever it came from. Now, you could say there’s a kind of colonizing impulse there, it’s like, “Oh, Einstein. Oh, that’s ours too, we’re going to take that.” I mean, you could say, but I don’t think it’s colonizing for our sake, it’s this is actually glorifying God for the fact that He sheds His light and knowledge on all of His children. Guess what? He doesn’t only love 16 million of His billions, and billions of children. Right? He loves all of them, and He sheds His light and grace on all of them.
So again, going back to this theology of every single one of us being gods in embryo, every single one of us having some kind of special spark or gift given to us from God, then of course I would want to listen to somebody else and figure out what gift they have to give me. Right?
Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.
Patrick Mason: So Tim, you had talked about the way we’ve talked about the world, and I think you’re exactly right. I’ve tried to flip it like when I hear the world, I get excited because you know what the world has? The world has Shakespeare, and the world has Einstein, and the world has Mary Wollstonecraft, and the world has all of these different things to teach me. And for me, the exciting journey, as an adult, has been encountering the best of the wisdom of the world, and figuring out how that integrates with the best of what the restoration has to offer me, and hearing God’s voice by blending those things together rather than putting them at odds with one another.
Aubrey Chaves: Wow, yeah, I love that. You were talking about older churches needing to shed hundreds of years of baggage. I was thinking, okay, I guess it’s small potatoes. We’re dealing with 19th century, which is close enough that a great-grandparent could have known a great-grandchild or something, you know?
Patrick Mason: Right. Right, right. Right.
Aubrey Chaves: It’s so close. But I also feel like, at the same time, it’s just unfathomable to me. I just can’t understand the things they chose to accept and deal with, and we’re only talking about a few centuries. So are there things that you see that you feel like are maybe left over cultural issues from the 19th century that we’re still trying to make work that aren’t really working?
Patrick Mason: Yeah, totally. I mean, I think, yeah, we may not have millennia of baggage, but we’ve got two centuries of baggage, and that’s enough. And our bags are full just from those 200 years. I’d identify, I don’t know, a handful of things that we’ve picked up along the way that, again, because we’re fallible human beings acting in history, it’s perfectly natural that we picked up some of these things along the way. But I don’t think we had to, and I don’t think the Restoration has to hold onto them.
I’d identify a few of them. One would be racism, of course. 19th century was an amazing century for lots of different reasons, but it was also a horrible century if you were not white, in the United States and in many places around the world. The Restoration, unfortunately, the Restored Church picked up on a lot of those racial ideologies, and then clothed them in theology, and clothed them in prophetic pronouncements and in prophetic authority. We know what that did to the church, especially to people of African descent, in terms of the priesthood and temple ban. So it took us a long time to begin to shed that baggage, we haven’t fully yet. I think sometimes, as white members of the church, we’d like to think that things got solved back in 1978, but if you talk to a lot of people of color within the church, they’ll let you know that there’s still plenty of issues within the church. So I think we need to work on that.
I think we picked up some baggage of patriarchy. The 19th century was also—and every century before it—was also a patriarchal century. But we did a particular kind of Mormon patriarchy that was attached to polygamy, specifically, also connected to notions of priesthood, and so I think we are still now trying to unpack that bag and look through that suitcase, and figure out which parts of it came from the culture, which parts of it seemed to come from God, what does God want for the relationship of the genders. I’m pretty sure it’s not a lot of the things that were taught in the 19th century, and so we have to reimagine now what God wants for relationships between men and women.
I think at the end of the 19th century, I think we picked up some baggage of nationalism. For the first few decades of the church, we kept the nation at bay, largely because of polygamy, actually, you know, the conflict between the Church and the nation. But we recognize that in the modern world, you have to make peace with the nation or else your life is going to be pretty miserable. And we not only made peace with the nation, but we embraced it, wholesale. And I think, my thoughts on these matters are probably controversial to a lot of people because I am a critic of the nation-state. I don’t go in for a lot of the patriotic displays that we have. I’m not sure that it’s commensurate with being a member of Christ’s kingdom, which is where I feel like my first loyalties are. But I think especially some of the excesses of our allegiance to the nation-state are maybe some things that we could sort of revisit.
I’d also look at the way that we have really embraced capitalism, market capitalism. And I know this is also not going to be popular with a lot of people. But the 19th century church, actually, what was our economic vision in the first few decades? It was one of consecration, right? And it was one in which we recognized that the way that we organize our economies in this world are not the ways that God really wants us to relate to one another in the economic sphere. Sometimes we do it because we feel like, out of necessity, or because we can’t imagine anything better. But now, I think over the past 100 years, we’ve sort of baptized market capitalism, and pretend like that’s actually the way the kingdom of God works. I don’t think that’s true.
So I think we have picked up some baggage along the way, and I think we’ve got to reexamine some of these things, including maybe, I think we’re getting along this score, I think in the 20th century, we picked up some anti-scientific views that were not there at the beginning, but that then developed over time. I think we’re doing better on that score, in terms of not doing a kind of fundamentalist approach to science, but actually recognizing that we can reconcile the best of modern science with the restoration.
These are all things … but I’m sure there are things right now that when somebody is doing a podcast 200 years from now, that they’re going to look back and say, “Look at all the crap that Mason was teaching.” Right? “I mean, he was so blind to his own culture.” Right? “I mean, what was he saying?” Right?
Aubrey Chaves: Right.
Patrick Mason: We can’t even see it, because we’re swimming in it.
Aubrey Chaves: So I would love … Yeah, I was thinking that same thing. How do you see it? I mean, I love that you’re really comfortable just saying it was just a mistake, we don’t have to make all of these issues, like racism, even in the Book of Mormon, we don’t have to make that feel right anymore. But how do you know if it’s just you and your culture? I mean, I feel like you’ve got scripture, you’ve got modern prophets, you’ve got your conscience. And so what do you listen to personally? Is it just this resonates with me, and so I’m going to run with it? Or this doesn’t, so I mean, I trust that something’s wrong? Or is there some sort of triangulation process?
Because I feel like, especially with the racism example, I mean, you have it in the scriptures, you have the, what did you say, the clothed in prophetic statements. I mean, if you’re living in that time, and you’re feeling uncomfortable about the position of the church, what is there to do? How do you know if you’re just a product of your culture or if God is telling you there’s something off here? And then what are you supposed to do with that?
Patrick Mason: Yeah, well, that right there is like the billion dollar question.
Tim Chaves: Yes.
Patrick Mason: Right? Which you should then give to the poor if you get the billion dollars.
Tim Chaves: Yeah, exactly.
Patrick Mason: But, so I think you put your finger on it exactly, Aubrey. First, it’s a matter of what are the sources of authority. It’s a question of epistemology, and how do we come up with values. At least within the Restoration, I think you’re exactly right, we have sort of four primary sources of authority that would be modern prophets, canonized scripture, the whisperings of the Holy Ghost, revelation from the Holy Ghost, and then personal conscience. Right? Which might be the same as the Holy Ghost, but also might be a little bit different, right?
Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.
Patrick Mason: I think, how do we know what’s right? How do we know what to do? I think largely it is a matter of triangulation. I think that word you used, it’s exactly the word that I use and think about when I think about this. So how do I know if something is right? Well, how many sources of authority can I line up behind it? Right? But even that is not going to be good enough, because I could point to lots of examples in the past of things that I think we now regret, where you could probably line up a lot of sources of authority behind them.
So for me, there has to be an overarching principle, there has to be an overriding sort of guide in which you interpret all of those other things, and for me, I mean, a sort of fancy way to say it is what is your hermeneutic, or what is your overriding interpretive principle? For me, I think we have that, and His name is Jesus. Now, I know it’s not that simple because actually my understandings of Jesus come through all of those other sources of authority, right? How do I know about Jesus? It’s because of what the scriptures have told me, or what the prophets have-
Aubrey Chaves: And that’s why you’re writing the prophet book, yup.
Patrick Mason: Yeah, exactly. So in some ways, this thing, it’s sort of turtles all the way down. But I actually, I feel like, for myself, and I don’t want to impose this on anybody else, but for myself, I feel like I know enough about Jesus, and I know enough about the revelation of God to the world through His Son, Jesus Christ, that it can be a very strong principle in which I judge and critique all the other sources of authority. Right?
Aubrey Chaves: Wow.
Patrick Mason: So how do I know that Brigham Young’s teachings on race were incorrect? I can come up with lots of different historical reasons, and I can line up some scriptures on one side, and some scriptures on another side. But fundamentally, those teachings violate what I understand about the relationship of God and humans, and humans with one another because of the revelation of God through Jesus. Right?
Now, does Jesus answer all of our questions? I think yes, in a way, but also no because we only have four gospels, right? And then some other things. But still, I think if we’re going to be Christians, if we’re going to be the Church of Jesus Christ, we have to say that Jesus is our overall hermeneutic, and then figure out what that means. It’s one of the reasons why I’m a pacifist. I think there are many good reasons that the people martial for just war and for other kinds of things. At the end of the day, when I look at the question through the bright light of Jesus, I don’t think He gives us a whole lot of wiggle room. Now, I’m writing an entire book about this, and so I think it’s complex. I don’t think it’s a simple black and white, and I think God meets us in our weakness. But fundamentally, I have to answer that question through what I believe God has revealed to us through His Son.
Aubrey Chaves: Can you address specifically the belief that the prophet can’t lead the Church astray? Because that’s the thing, like I feel like for me, it always comes back to that. It feels safer to just say, “I don’t have to wrestle with this, because the prophet can’t lead the Church astray.” And I feel like it’s easier to just want to have confidence that in 1970, the church was in perfect alignment with God’s will, and it’s uncomfortable to have to say maybe there’s something bigger here that I do have to wrestle with, because this doesn’t evil like it’s in harmony with what Christ taught.
So how do you personally … I don’t know, do you think it’s just our understanding, you know, we’ve just sort of adopted this understanding that even though prophets, we say they’re infallible, except for in these very specific times, and then they can’t make a mistake and so you just trust them? How do we get into this mess where we feel like we can’t disagree?
Patrick Mason: Yeah, so I actually think there’s probably three or four different strands there, and then maybe I won’t unpack all of them.
Aubrey Chaves: Okay!
Patrick Mason: I’ll just attack a couple of aspects of that. One is that we simply have to dispense of the notion that the Church in any way is an approximation of perfection. It’s not. It never has been, and in our lifetimes and in the foreseeable future, probably until the return of Jesus, it won’t be. And it’s not just because, you know, sometimes we give the answer, which I think is true, “Well, it’s because it’s full of imperfect people.” Yes. Okay, so that’s true. But it’s also because of the veil, right? I mean, we see through a glass darkly, and the Church sees through a glass darkly. I think prophets are a great gift that God has given the church in order to part the veil slightly, right? To sort of peek through the door, maybe we open the door a little bit more at times, but the door is never wide open, and that is the purpose of mortality.
So again, go back to the whole notion of the Plan of Salvation, it’s to live absent of God’s presence, and full knowledge. So that means the Church is always going to be stumbling in some degree of darkness, and some degree of light. We know this because, I mean, God has, at many times throughout the history of the Church called it to repentance. Not just called individual people to repentance, but called the whole church to repentance. It’s even built into the Doctrine and Covenants, right? Like, “Your minds have been darkened, the Church is under condemnation for neglecting the Book of Mormon.” He said that back in the 1830’s, and then Ezra Benson had to say it 150 years later, right? And call us back to the Book of Mormon, citing that same prophecy from the 1830’s.
So what does that mean? Does that mean the Church was in darkness and was in condemnation and not true for 150 years until we picked up the Book of Mormon? Yes, and no. Right? I mean, yes, we were under condemnation, yes, we weren’t doing everything that God was asking us to do. But guess what? He still loved us, and through His grace and mercy, we were still His people, we were still His church, and He was still loving us. Right? Every parent who’s ever had a child understands this dynamic, right? Your kid’s a total screw up, and you love the heck out of them. Right? That is how God feels about the Church.
So the notion the prophets can’t lead the Church astray, I take that as a testimony of God’s loving care, because it’s His Church. Again, and actually what I love that President Nelson has reminded us of, this was never Mormon’s church, it was never Joseph Smith’s church, it was never Brigham Young’s church, it was never Moses’s church. It was always God’s work in the world, of which the Church is one aspect, not all of it, but it’s one aspect of it.
So how could the prophet distance us from God’s love, and from God’s work, and from God’s mission, right? That’s what the Apostle Paul said, “How could we be separated from the love of God? What in this world could separate us from the love of God?” A prophet who teaches something wrong? No, of course not. Are you kidding?
Aubrey Chaves: Oh my gosh. You’re blowing my mind. Yeah, I love that. I love it.
Patrick Mason: So again, to even entertain the question that the whole train could go off the rails because of what a single conductor, or ticket-taker, or even an engineer could do, is a form of prophet-idolatry. Right? Because it’s saying the story is about the prophet, instead of the story being a love affair between God and His children.
Aubrey Chaves: I love that. I’ve never thought about it like that. That feels so good to me. I love it.
Patrick Mason: Well, good!
Aubrey Chaves: Thank you. I’ve had that question for like 11 years.
Patrick Mason: You know, one of the chapters in Planted is called “Divide and Divine”, and the whole message there is like we have to connect everything back through Jesus, right? And we know this, we talk about it in the Church all the time, right? But when you actually start doing that, when you think that, “Wait a minute, this whole story is about Jesus, and His reconciliation and redemption of the world,” then that’s going to change a lot of the way we talk about things. Because otherwise, we put ourselves at the center of the story, instead of putting God, and His work, and Jesus’s love for each of us at the center of the story.
And in fact, it is, I talk about a love affair, it is. It’s actually all of us together at the center of the story, it’s God and me, it’s Jesus and you, at the center of the story. It’s a love affair. That’s what scripture are, that’s what the Gospel is.
Aubrey Chaves: Wow.
Tim Chaves: That’s just awesome.
Aubrey Chaves: That’s beautifully put, yeah.
Tim Chaves: So Patrick, I know we’ve taken a bunch of your time already. Maybe, just to close, really quickly on this topic, I wonder if you can just point to one thing, maybe. The church has obviously been going through a period of rapid change in the past just couple of years, really since president Nelson became President of the Church. And obviously there were changes before that as well, but it feels like we’re in this moment of really, really quick evolution, that’s potentially different than what we’ve seen over the last 30 to 40 years. What are you seeing now, either in some of those changes, or just really practically in the church that we’re doing now that makes you optimistic for the future?
Patrick Mason: The thing that galvanized a lot of my thinking around this recently has been the announcement of the new program for youth, which because I’m just naturally snarky about things, at first I was like, “We’re just doing the same thing. We’re calling it something different, and we’re getting rid of merit badges. Right?” You know? But the more I thought about it, and tried to get rid of my own cynicism, I realized, actually, there’s something really beautiful and profound going on here, or at least has the potential to. And as with anything, it could either go well, or not go well, depending on what we do with it.
But what I see here is that every generation or two has to rediscover the Gospel for themselves. This is what we’ve been talking about, right? Our problem, after this last General Conference, it sort of just dawned on me, I’m like, “You know what? The Church, institutionally, programmatically has sort of been in a rut for most of my lifetime.”
Aubrey Chaves: Wow.
Patrick Mason: Right? It’s basically been the same. We’ve been doing the same things over, and over, and over again. We all got very comfortable with this, and then we handed it down to our kids, and so forth, and we anticipated that this was the way it was always going to be. But it was in a little bit of a rut. And I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Obviously it was doing a lot of good things, it created a lot of good people, a lot of good Christians, it did a lot of good things along the way. Right?
But it had sort of stopped asking that question of what does the Gospel mean for a new generation? And I think that’s exactly what … I mean, amazingly, it took a 95 year old prophet to sort of raise this question again, and to force it back on the Church, and to say, “You know what? You all have to figure out what the Gospel means for you. You got to figure it out through your study. This is what Come Follow Me is all about. Go back to the scriptures.” Now, I know they’ve given us some guide and leading questions, because they just can’t get rid of correlation, they can’t let go of that, right?
But the basic principle is go back to the scriptures and figure out what the Restoration means for you and your family. And then, youth, what does the Gospel mean to you? You guys take charge. Right? Yeah, you’re going to have some adult leaders in the room, and they’re going to make sure you don’t just talk about Harry Potter or whatever it is you guys really want to talk about. But what does the gospel mean for you?
And if this works, I mean, if people really own this, it means that a new generation is going to rediscover the Restoration for themselves. And they’re going to do something with it that I can’t predict, and that President Nelson can’t predict, right? What I love about that is he’s sort of letting go, and he’s saying, “It’s not my church, it’s God’s church, and I’m going to let God talk to these young people and tell them what He wants them to do with the Restoration.”
Now, if that’s what we can do through this youth program, that’s great. So maybe, like everything else, Gen X is the forgotten generation. Right? I mean, everything was about the Boomers, and then Millennials, and us, like, so what, right? That’s okay. If my job was simply to be a transition generation, and to give birth to the generation that’s actually going to do something with the Church, that’s fine, I can live with that. But I see the Spirit moving on the waters, and I see a new creation happening within the Church, and I have no idea what it’s going to look like, but I’m excited to see what might happen.
Aubrey Chaves: Wow.
Tim Chaves: That’s awesome. Thanks a lot, Patrick.
Aubrey Chaves: Thank you! Man, that was amazing.
Tim Chaves: That’s really exciting.
Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.
Patrick Mason: Yeah, thanks guys. Thanks for the great conversation. Great questions.
Tim Chaves: Yeah, and Patrick, before we sign off, for any of our listeners, is there work that you’ve done that you would want to point them to? Are you active on social media? Anything you want to just plug while you’re here?
Patrick Mason: Yeah, so we’ve talked about my book, Planted, which is probably the most relevant one for most church members, so Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt. Then, I’m on Twitter, I’m @PatrickQMason. I tweet mostly Mormon stuff, but very occasionally. And I’ve always got new projects coming up, or I blog or podcast here or there, so I’m around.
Tim Chaves: Okay. Well, this was just a wonderful conversation. You’re always super insightful. Thank you so much for coming on.
Patrick Mason: Great. Thanks Tim and Aubrey, really appreciate it.
Aubrey Chaves: Thank you. Thanks.
Tim Chaves: Thanks so much for listening to this episode, and we hope you enjoyed it. If you want to support Faith Matters, we’d love for you to subscribe to this podcast, like our Facebook page, or subscribe to our YouTube channel. We’d also love a rating on Apple Podcasts, or a thumbs up on YouTube if you feel so inclined. Thanks so much for listening, and as always, you can check out more at faithmatters.org.