This episode is part of our Big Questions project, and in it, we discuss our Big Question #12 – “In what way is our Church the true Church?”
For this conversation, we asked Patrick Mason to come back on — Patrick is the Leonard Arrington Chair of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State University. Bill Turnbull, one of the founders of Faith Matters, also joined us for the conversation.
Thanks so much, as always, for listening, and we hope you enjoy the conversation.
Tim Chaves: Hi everybody. This is Tim Chaves from Faith Matters. This episode is a part of our Big Questions Project and in it we discuss our Big Question #12, “In what way is our church the true church?” For this conversation, we asked Patrick Mason to come back on. Patrick is the Leonard Arrington chair of Mormon history and culture at Utah State University. Bill Turnbull, one of the founders of Faith Matters also joined us for this conversation. We know that this is a really big question for many Latter-day Saints, ourselves included. And if you’d like to explore more of what we’ve published on this subject, you can head to faithmatters.org and click on Big Questions. Thanks so much as always for listening and we hope you enjoy the conversation.
Aubrey Chaves: Patrick and Bill, thank you so much for being back with us. We’re excited to have both of you.
Bill Turnbull: Thanks Aubrey.
Aubrey Chaves: To introduce this discussion today, I’ll talk about part of our mission at the Faith Matters foundation is to create this forum where we can ask really big questions and talk about them openly and explore them in really expansive ways. And so we’ve tried really hard to invite people, the best people, the best thinkers and the best writers to come and explore these big questions with us. And today we’re going to be talking about the 12th of our big questions, which is in what ways is our church the true church? And we see this language mentioned first probably in D&C 1:30, where the church is referred to the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth. And so Bill, do you want to take it from here and just talk about why this is such an important big question and why we’ve got Patrick here to talk about this with us?
Bill Turnbull: Well, Patrick of course is going to give us the definitive answer, so-
Patrick Mason: Yes. Yes.
Bill Turnbull: But we’re going to hold it right till the end. So to keep everyone in suspense. No, it’s a big question. It comes up a lot I think in one of the big surveys of why people have left the church or become disaffected. I think that issue of, I think the way it was stated is I stopped believing that our church was the only true church.
Patrick Mason: Or that there’s even one true church at all.
Bill Turnbull: Yeah. And so that becomes an issue. It’s obviously an issue. That was in a statistical dead heat for the number one reason. And so it bears exploring I think maybe in our personal experience. I remember when I was younger, I had some really profound spiritual experiences my first at age 18 and subsequently on my mission. And so you internalize those because they happen in the context of our faith. You internalize those or I guess it becomes interpreted or did for me at least, is this must be the place where you can find God. This says, this must mean that this is the true church.
And then later, you might encounter different ideas that you really like and you find deeply true that weren’t part of our upbringing as Latter-day Saints, or you meet people who have deep, profound spiritual lives, as profound as yours or more so that don’t share our tradition. And so I think just when we encounter these experiences in the world, it makes us wonder what that phrase could really mean. And so I guess that’s, yeah, that’s why it arose to a status of a big question. So does that answer your question Aubrey?
Aubrey Chaves: Yes. Yeah. I think that survey was especially illuminating that it’s in the top two reasons that people are actually walking away. Like that was their tether. And once that broke down, it was enough to just walk away from the whole thing. So-
Bill Turnbull: I might mention before we move on that the Big Questions Project that we’re doing, if you go to our webpage, just faithmatters.org, we’ve addressed 11 other questions in this kind of very comprehensive way. And what we hope is that in responding to these questions, the conversation opens onto something bigger because I think that’s our experience with God, right? When we really experience God or engage a question more deeply, it opens onto something bigger. And we hope this conversation does that today.
Aubrey Chaves: Yeah. So maybe we can start with Phil Barlow’s piece that he wrote for this big question. One of the first points that he brings up is his own question. Is this idea of there being a true church relevant still? Anybody want to take that? And do people care about there being a true church? I mean, he kind of explains that in Joseph Smith’s time, this was the question. Everybody was looking for the truth and it was something that was at the top of his mind. And that comes up in a couple of the first versions that we have recorded. And so is this still a question that people are asking is anxiously as Joseph Smith was?
Tim Chaves: I don’t have an answer here, but I’ll just tee it up a little bit further and say that when I was a teenager probably and throughout my mission, I did feel like this was the question but probably in part at least because it was the question that I had been told to ask and a lot of ways. And it was the question that I was equipped to answer as I studied the missionary materials. And so I felt like when we were going out and preaching the gospel, that that was the question many people were asking. But I think part of … and many people, I mean were asking that question and we had lots of great conversations and obviously I had many wonderful experiences on the mission. But potentially part of the dissonance that I experienced as a missionary, not quite connecting with people was feeling like that’s the question they should be asking and in many cases they weren’t. So I think it’s a very good question. Is this the question of the 21st century?
Patrick Mason: Yeah, I think there’s still a lot of Joseph Smith’s out there. There are still a lot of people who are confused by the tremendous diversity of religious choices that they have out there. And what’s changed between Joseph Smith’s time and now is that at least in Joseph Smith’s world, that the question was, should I be a Presbyterian, a Methodist, a Baptist or a Universalist? Right? Now there are all those options plus should I be Buddhist? Should I be Muslim? Should I be Hindu or the real change in the late 20th and early 21st century is do I need religion at all?
And I think so when your only question like Tim said, when the only question that we have to approach people with is essentially Joseph Smith’s church of what kind of Christianity should you embrace, that’s only going to capture a certain percentage of the market, so to speak in crass terms because there’s a growing percentage of people, especially in the United States and Europe. But I think we’re starting to see this ripple effect around the world as well, that are just asking do I need religion at all? So not which religion, but why religion.
Aubrey Chaves: Yeah. Yeah. That makes perfect sense. And the next thing that Phil brings up is then we have this issue of implausibility that in Joseph Smith’s world, it felt smaller, right? Because they just had this little world that was walkable, and now we’re connected to the entire globe with the internet and we can see how small we actually are. And for some people that has made this idea of there being only one source of truth feel too implausible to believe.
Patrick Mason: Yeah, I think it’s precisely because like Bill said, people now have neighbors who are other religions or family members, right? I mean, you go to Thanksgiving dinner and you could have three or four or five different religions represented there and these are good people. These are people you love. You go to college, you take a comparative religion class and you realize, wait a minute, there are some pretty cool ideas in Buddhism. And so I think just because of the nature of the world now and the information age, right? It’s easy to access. Of course, we can see all the terrible things about our religion or anybody else’s religion, that’s easy to see. But you can see all the great things about all these different religions as well. So it sort of gives lie to the notion that my little tribe, my group, that the people that I go to church with on Sunday have some kind of monopoly on goodness, truth, beauty and anything else because that’s just not people’s life experience anymore.
Bill Turnbull: Yeah. If you look at, I think there … If you look at what role we play in the world, we constitute, I’d say maybe practicing Latter-day Saints constitute, well one tenth of 1% of the world’s population. Patrick also by the way wrote a piece for this big question that we’ll be publishing. And it’s also a chapter in the book that he’s writing for us, which is going to be amazing. So we’re excited about that. But you point that out and I think Patrick you also had a personal experience with one of your students, a freshly returned missionary that maybe you could share his experience.
Patrick Mason: Yeah, I mean, I just got done teaching a course that had a significant aspect of comparative religion where we went through the different world religious traditions. We did Judaism and Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism. And this kid, he had literally just gotten off his mission like two days before the semester started. So I mean, it’s like I could almost see him still taking off his tie and name tag as he walked into the room. And eager and wide-eyed and curious and diligent and all these things that we associate with returned missionaries. And by halfway through the semester, I’d just finished the Buddhism unit and he comes up to me and I could tell he like wanted to talk, right?
So we walked together back to my office and he said, “Look, I just spent two years telling people that this is the one true church, right? And that they have to join this church. And I believe that. But I just learned all this stuff about Buddhism, which I think is really great. Can I …” And he was really wrestling with this. Can he like all this stuff about Buddhism? Does that make him a bad Latter-day Saint or does he have to ditch his Latter-day Saint beliefs because he’s found truth in other places? I mean, he was really … this was an existential question for him. So I think it’s a question that a lot of people are asking sometimes out loud, but oftentimes just in their hearts.
Bill Turnbull: How do we find ourselves in this trap, Patrick, of when we encounter something in the world that seems deeply true and it doesn’t come from us, then it makes us call into question our own faith. How are we trapped in that? Why does it have to be either or? What’s the problem here?
Patrick Mason: Well, I think that the problem gets set up from right out of the gates. I mean, Aubrey mentioned the first vision and this notion that Joseph Smith goes in with a very particular question. I think sometimes we forget that he didn’t go in asking the question, is there anything good about Buddhism? Right? He went in saying, “Should I be a Presbyterian or a Methodist? Right? Which of all the sects should I join?” And he gets the answer, none of them. And especially I think because of the experience of hostility, of antagonism, of opposition that our church received. And this was just part of the culture then because all of the churches were saying the same thing. The Methodist were saying, “We’re the only way, right? Don’t go to those nasty Presbyterians.”
I mean, we focus so much on the anti-Mormon stuff that you should read what Methodists were saying about Baptist, right? Or let alone about Catholics, right? I mean, for crying out loud. And so it was just the spirit at the time. And so I think that we soaked that up and we adopted an exclusivist position. This notion that only one thing can be true. And if one thing is true, then other things cannot be true. It’s one or the other. You got to choose one or the others, either an apple or an orange. You can’t have both. You got to choose one or the other.
Bill Turnbull: And you can read the Lord’s response to Joseph’s question as kind of a narrow response to a narrow question. Yeah. Of these churches that you’re considering, yeah, they’re all wrong. And it says that their creeds are an abomination. That’s a really interesting phrase because, and I think Terryl Givens explores that in really meaningful ways. The creeds that would have been familiar to Joseph Smith would have been the Protestant creeds, like the Westminster confession. And those weren’t creeds that only the elites of the religion, the professors of religion would have known. They were read by the common people and they deeply reflected some Calvinist ideas about God that we find very much misrepresent the character of God. And so God was saying, “No, this isn’t me. These creeds are an abomination.”
So I know that the statement sounds sort of harsh, but if you understand the context, we read it as being more inclusive of maybe all world religions. And I think the question was a rather narrow one that pertained to Joseph’s environment. And I think the answer was mainly I can see how understanding of the context, makes sense of the answer to me.
Aubrey Chaves: That was a great point. And we have other restoration scripture that seems to say the opposite, that I’m thinking of Holy men that you know not of in D&C 49 and even in Alma, the prayer, the Holy God, we’re grateful that we’re the ones that are saved and that we’re better than everyone. I feel like there’s plenty of evidence that we should not be so exclusive if we’re just looking at scripture.
Bill Turnbull: Yeah. So Phil-
Patrick Mason: Yeah. I actually think the Book of Mormon is really the key here. It just opens up. And the writings of Nephi alone are so strong on this in the sense that God is going to give scripture to everybody, right? Every nation on earth. So it’s not like Bible, Book of Mormon and then close the back cover of your scriptures. Every nation is going to have scripture because God’s talking to everybody and that’s a promise that he makes. And then Nephi says that God speaks to every person, every nation in their own language, according to their own tongue, according to their own understanding. Right? So again, Terryl talked about the loquaciousness of God, right? That God has so much to say. So if anything, we’ve limited the range of not only what God says, but who he says it to.
Bill Turnbull: And what that scripture could look like. We expect it to look like scripture that would have emerged from the Judeo-Christian tradition and it might look a little different.
Aubrey Chaves: And could exist already.
Patrick Mason: The great condemnation of Bible, a Bible, we have a Bible. Well, what if we’re guilty of saying a Book of Mormon, a Book of Mormon. We have a Book of Mormon. We don’t need any more Book of Mormon. We don’t need any more scripture.
Tim Chaves: And even if we are somewhat expansive in our view of what constitutes scripture, we sometimes limit the meaning of that scripture as well. Like when we hear the phrase in D&C one, the only true and living church, like sometimes we just, at least I’m guilty of this, tend to just glance over that and take its meaning on face value. Phil in his piece brings up a really interesting point that only true and living may have been a phrase that we don’t necessarily understand at face value. He even, one thing that I love was he brought up that Joseph Smith signed a letter to Emma saying, I believe this is very close. Like, I am and remain your only true and living friend.
And Phil brings up the point that it seems unlikely that Joseph Smith thought that Emma had no other true or living friends. And if that’s the case, then what did he really mean when he made that statement? So I think it may benefit us to dive into the meaning of the phrase only true and living or even the meaning of the word true. And ask us, what was meant when that revelation was received?
Bill Turnbull: Yeah. It seems to me that it was Joseph was commenting in that letter to Emma on his relationship with Emma. So he was true in that relationship. So your only true and living friend, true did not mean that it conformed to or that he was assenting to some propositional truth. He meant I’m faithful, I’m loyal, I’m a true and living friend. And if we look at, I like to look at the way Christ talks about the church, as Christ is the bridegroom, the church is the bride. That’s a relationship. That’s like a marriage relationship. So we can be true to that relationship as a church. And at the time the Lord said this in D&C one, apparently that’s the way the Lord thought about the church. You are my true and living church. You are being true. But not very long after that, the Lord changed his mind and put the church under condemnation because we weren’t. So we can be true. I guess the way I look at that is we can make the church true by living in that relationship. We can make it false too. So-
Tim Chaves: That’s super interesting.
Patrick Mason: And it’s not just the church is either true or false. The church can be true and under condemnation at the same time.
Aubrey Chaves: Oh, how so?
Patrick Mason: Well, I mean what Bill just said on the passage from section 84 that the church was under condemnation for neglecting the Book of Mormon, which I think was probably true until the 1980s, until president Benson reminded us of that. And I think we’re getting out from under that particular condemnation, but the church never stopped being true. The church never stopped being the vehicle of God’s grace. We didn’t lose the authority of the priesthood. We were still Christian disciples. But on that one point, right, we were under condemnation. And that’s true of all of us, right? That’s true of the entire human condition.
Bill Turnbull: You’re defining true in a little bit different way then. You’re saying true means what?
Patrick Mason: Well, I think it could be in either way, either in the kind of relationship sense, right? We were still true in our relationship. I think we still had to a true and living relationship with Christ even while we were neglecting the words of the Book of Mormon. Right? I mean, just like you can have a true and living relationship with your spouse and yet not be the perfect spouse, right? But you can still be in deep fidelity. You’re not cheating on them. But you also didn’t do the dishes when you should have. Right? But it’s also in the propositional sense too. I mean, we still believed in and had true and proper authority during all that time.
Tim Chaves: Yeah. I think it’s interesting too that the word true, I mean, it has several different definitions, one of which is to be loyal to something, right? You can be true to something. And so I was reminded of that when Bill was speaking that there are times at which we are more or less loyal as a church to Christ. And I think, and that line probably goes up and down a little bit institutionally and certainly individually.
Aubrey Chaves: Yeah. Patrick, I love that part in your essay where you, or your chapter where you kind of talked about how diversity really shouldn’t be a threat. And you have a couple of great metaphors that I just, I’ve been thinking a lot about. Would you share both or one or whichever you prefer? Just like the way to think about our religion in the context of the whole world and other religions and how we can be true together.
Patrick Mason: Sure. So yeah, so on the diversity point, for me a really important revelation is section, what we now have as section 46, which is a revelation on spiritual gifts. And it’s sort of riffing off of 1 Corinthians 12 and then Moroni 10. But actually I think it goes further. And it says, there’s a couple of key insights in that. It lists all the different gifts or some of them at least, but it says a couple of things. One is that everyone has a gift. Every single person on earth has a spiritual gift. And then two, those gifts are meant for the benefit of all. They’re not meant to horde. They’re not meant to make you special or arrogant, but they’re meant to serve. They’re meant for the benefit of all.
And so just built in right there is this notion that God gives different gifts, right? And he delights in the different gifts that he gives his children. So we shouldn’t be threatened that somebody else has a different gift or a different way of being in the world. We should delight in the fact that that’s how God created them. And that’s what he wants. It’s a symphony, right? Not just a bunch of soloists. And so it seems to me that we could take that same idea and sort of telescope it to think about groups as well. And I wonder if different groups or cultures or even religions also have gifts that God has given them. And I was in a conversation with Bill about this in the sense that maybe the spiritual gifts are the things that you’re really good at, that you have a lot of energy around, right? Or a lot of passion around, just the things that get you up in the morning and that don’t seem dreary to you. They’re not duty or obligation, but gift, right? I mean you’re excited about these gifts and-
Bill Turnbull: I think that’s when you know you’re acting out of your true gifts. So as a church, I think when we’re acting out our true gifts, things come together. We feel energy around it. Things just work. It’s like there’s a magic to it. And I can think of just one example. Temple and family history where it’s kind of amazing what we do in that whole program and there’s like this really rich experience that we enjoy together. It feels like a big project. It is a big project. It’s just a very generous project. It’s something that God has asked us to do and we’re building temples all over the world and we’re having these experiences in these temples. And in doing family history work, like there’s a …
I just, I knew at some point in my life I may come around to the spirit of Elijah thing and it tends to happen at about my age. So maybe because the young guys aren’t feeling it yet, but it is a reality to me. Like it is our gift. And when we’re acting from that gift, we feel it. But we don’t have all the guests like Patrick says, there are other gifts. But if we stand firmly, I think in our gifts and generously offer them to the world, that’s when we’re in our sweet spot. That’s when things are flowing.
Patrick Mason: Yeah. And I think there’s real beauty in not only recognizing your own gift, but then acknowledging and appreciating other people’s gifts as well. And so I think we could maybe do better as a people at recognizing and appreciating other religions gifts, other groups gifts, other cultures gifts that God has given them. And we have a first presidency statement from 1978 that specifically talks about how God inspired different religious thinkers and different religions and cultures to help with the uplift of his children. And so I like to think of the analogy, we talked about the Lord’s vineyard and so forth and we’re servants in the Lord’s vineyard, but it’s an awfully big vineyard. And like Bill said, we are like a 10th of a percent. I mean in total membership, two tenths of a percent of the entire global population.
We don’t have the resources to tend to the whole garden. We just don’t. And so what God has done is he’s given us a very specific plot and he said, “All right, y’all Latter-day Saints. Okay, here’s your section of the plot. Do your thing, right? Tend to this crop or this set of crops that’s going to be grown in this side of the garden. And guess what? It’s for the benefit of everyone. That’s why it’s essential for you to do your job well, because you’ve got to share that with everybody else, that you’re the only ones growing some of these crops.” There are some crops that everybody works on together, right? Love, nobody has a monopoly on love. Nobody has a monopoly on loving family. Nobody has a monopoly on serving the poor. Right? So there are some things that we all work on together and it’s essential that we work on together because they’re too big for any one group, no matter how big or small to do.
But there are some things, temple ordinances, that’s us. That’s in our plot. We got to do that. Right? The Book of Mormon, that’s in our plot. We’re the only ones to do that. And so we have to work that crop so that then we can share it with the rest of the world. I think there are other groups that are working other plots of ground who are frankly better at other aspects. I think Buddhists are way better at meditation than we are. Right? And so they need to cultivate that crop and then share that with the rest of the world. So-
Bill Turnbull: And we need to be receptive to receive those gifts. I’m reminded, Joseph Smith was open enough to look at Freemasonry in the early days of the church. And thank goodness he did, because of that, because he was open to that, that played a key role in the development of our endowment ceremony which is remarkable. And so him being open to that initiated a process of revelation that has blessed generations since and potentially the entire, all of humanity. So we don’t-
Patrick Mason: Yeah. If you want a well balanced diet, you just can’t eat one thing. Right? And so if we think, I mean, at some point the metaphor is going to break down badly, right? But if we do think about people growing these different crops or cultivating these different things, I can’t just eat broccoli all the time, right? Or even if it’s your favorite thing, whatever it is, strawberries or whatever, you can’t survive just on strawberries. You have to bring in the nutrition, the balance, the gifts of all of these different things that God has blessed us with in this big garden.
Bill Turnbull: But at the risk of getting too metaphorical Patrick, can I introduce another one, which is the body of Christ?
Patrick Mason: Yeah.
Bill Turnbull: So can we expand our notion of the body of Christ to understand each of these gifts that we bring as members of the body of Christ? We don’t know what we are in the … but every component, every member of the body of Christ has to stand in its function and offer its gift to the system, to the body. And if we don’t do that, and this is one of my issues with kind of a universalism. Universalism, when you start to say, basically all religions are the same. Then you’re not standing in the gifts that your tradition is supposed to offer the world, then the whole body suffers. So there’s a vitality in standing in your gifts and performing that function. If you’re the liver, if you’re the kidney, if whatever it is, I think we have several important functions in the world body of Christ to fulfill. And if we don’t understand the potency of those gifts and just say, well, I’ll gifts are the same. They’re not. We do need to bring those gifts wholeheartedly to the world I think.
Aubrey Chaves: I’m curious though, I feel like a lot of at least what comes to mind for me is our gifts feel a little bit exclusive. Like what do you mean by share? How do you share the temple and priesthood? And something like meditation feels like it’s something that you can share, you can like teach it and give it and other people love it too. But I feel like we have these barriers that make it feel sort of inherently exclusive. But I’m sure … So I’m just curious what you mean by share it. Is it just that it needs to exist, the way you need a hand, but it doesn’t mean that everybody has to also have the priesthood or go inside a temple? What do you mean exactly?
Patrick Mason: Yeah. So that’s a terrific question. I mean, I think on the one hand, so let’s take just the Book of Mormon. Let’s start with that. I think we’ve made it an exclusive gift, but it doesn’t have to be any more than the Bible, right? You don’t have to be a Christian or a Jew to appreciate the Bible. That’s why there’s Bible as literature courses in a lot of universities around the world. That’s why people read the Bible even if they don’t accept all of its truth claims. Book Mormon can stand toe to toe with the Bible any day because it’s scripture, it’s the word of God, right? And so increasingly because I think we’re doing a little bit better job at sort of inviting people into the Book of Mormon without that really tall barrier of accepting the truth claims, right? I mean, we’ve created this huge tall gate out of Moroni 10 three through five.
It’s like you either accept the whole thing as the word of God and as a testimony of then everything else, therefore to get baptized or not. Right? And on some level, it’s important to do that, right? I mean, the book does make some pretty strong claims. But I actually think there’s a way to appreciate the Book of Mormon and for anybody to read the Book of Mormon and to be blessed by it. And so maybe in some ways, and this is going to work a little different in different settings too, right? Some settings are going to be a little, they’re going to feel a little more exclusive than other settings. Right. But I think there’s a way we can invite people. It’s sort of in the way that we do with temple open houses too.
I mean, we can’t just open the doors and let everybody into the temple all the time. Right? There’s something special about what’s going on. That’s what Bill was talking about, stand in your gifts the way that they’re special and unique. But we can open the doors during the open house and let everybody in and say, “This is what we do here. This is why it matters. This is why it’s a generous gift. We’re doing this on behalf of other people, right?” So you keep doing your thing right, but we’re doing this on behalf of other people. So there’s a generosity to it rather than an exclusivity to it. So part of it has to do with the attitude with which we approach these gifts that we have.
Aubrey Chaves: That makes sense.
Tim Chaves: I wonder … Oh, sorry Bill, go ahead.
Bill Turnbull: Yeah. I was just wanting to share, I have a weekly study session I do come follow me now studying the Book of Mormon with a friend of mine who is an evangelical, well, he’s a Methodist. He had a really profound conversion to Christianity about 15 years ago, he had been an atheist for years. And he attends our ward here because he’s married to a member of the church. And so he attends every meeting. He comments, he participates. He’s a pulmonary surgeon in his career. He’s retired now, but he really has a deep relationship with the Lord and knows the Bible. So really has a deep understanding of the Bible. Also is a practitioner of Christian contemplative tradition. So that gives you a flavor for who this guy is. He’s just one of my very best friends. And so now we’re studying the Book of Mormon together and I have no problem sharing with him my feelings about the Book of Mormon.
I challenged him from the start. I said, “We’re turning from study of the Bible. Now we’re studying the Book of Mormon. Are you prepared to engage that as scripture?” And he said, “Yeah, I’ll give it a shot. Give that a shot.” And it’s been a really rich thing. Like I’m not asking him to accept the whole restoration story, but I think this gift of the Book of Mormon by itself can bring us into relationship with God in powerful ways, right? So I don’t have any expectation of my friend. He may be right where he needs to be to bless God’s children, right? And I don’t have any expectation. I’m just happy to share it. And I think there’s a reciprocal generosity between the two of us. I get so much out of studying with Malcolm because he brings a different perspective. I have a whole notebook of notes that I’ve taken from what Malcolm has taught me. So I think that’s what Patrick’s talking about. Like there’s a genuine generosity that is both sharing what you have and open to receiving the gifts that God has uttered throughout the world.
Patrick Mason: Yeah. And if you think about section one, that same … a few verses before it says only turn to living church, it talks about the purposes of the restoration and it outlines four of them. But it talks about that people will speak in the name of Jesus, that faith will increase in the earth. The God’s covenant will be established, right? And reading the Book of Mormon, what you’re done with Malcolm Bill, right? So whether or not he decides to get baptized or whatever, any of that, by reading the Book of Mormon, it will increase his testimony of Jesus. Faith will increase in the earth and it will deepen his covenant in terms of his bond to other of God’s children and the Book of Mormon does that. So what a gift to share, whether or not people decide to become members of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Tim Chaves: And we’ve talked a little bit about our gift of family history work and the spirit of Elijah and family connectedness is something we do really well. And obviously the sealing ordinance is sort of the culmination of that gift. But I’m intrigued by the other ways in which we’re sharing it too. Like one of our favorite television programs that we love to watch on Sundays as a family is one called Relative Race that BYU puts out. And it kind of, it takes genealogy and turns it into a little bit of a competition and brings families that had no … brings different people from the same family that had no idea that they were related previously and sometimes very close relationships together. And just watching that, I feel that spirit of Elijah. And I love that BYU is like, they’re distributed through direct TV and they’re getting this kind of … Obviously like you guys said, we are a bit exclusive with temple ordinances. But there are other aspects of that gift that we can share. And in some ways that the church, even institutionally is doing an excellent job of sharing.
Aubrey Chaves: Yeah. I love that. Back to your story, Bill, I feel like when you drop that paradigm of needing to be exclusive, it makes you so much more receptive to what Malcolm has to offer. I feel like if we’re unified with this idea that we’re all looking for truth, then you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. But as soon as you’ve got this wall of I already have it all, then you’re just so much less receptive to other truths that you don’t even know could be out there. Right?
Patrick Mason: But what I love about that too Bill is you would offer so much less to that relationship if you didn’t have such a deep attachment to what you know and what is spoken, how God has spoken to your soul. Right. In terms of your relationship to the Book of Mormon. So if you were just kind of wishy washy about everything, you would bring so much less to the table than you do with the kind of conviction and relationship that you have to that book and how it’s brought you closer to God.
Tim Chaves: One issue potentially that I think that we mentioned the survey where many former members of the church brought up the fact that the reason they left was that they stopped believing there was one true church. And I imagine that they would agree with a lot of what is being said here, but there is this idea too that I think is probably fairly prevalent that we all have gifts. Yes. But at the end of the day, some gifts are more important than others. Right. And like if we were going to take the analogy of the body, yes, like a hand is really important, but you don’t need a hand. They’re great, but you need a heart and you need a brain.
And so are we saying that we’re the heart or we’re the brain and something else maybe would be, it’s a nice to have. Like if we were to pick on Buddhism a little bit more like meditation, yes, that has added a ton of value to my life. But theologically, within the Latter-day Saints tradition, we’re not saying that we need meditation in order to gain exaltation. We’re saying that we need temple ordinances and not just that we need them, but the Buddhists need them too. Are we not? Or how do you guys think about that?
Patrick Mason: So the funny thing about ordinances is that they are absolutely essential and everybody gets them, right? I mean, that’s our doctrine of the redemption of the dead, right? Every single person has to be baptized. And guess what? Everybody’s going to get baptized, right? So it’s both the most special thing in the world, and at the end of the day, the most pedestrian thing in the world. That’s not going to be what defines people in their relationship to God because everybody’s going to have it, right? So it’s just like having a heart. It’s super essential. I cannot live without this heart. But guess what? Every person on earth has a heart, right? So I’m not that special, right? So it’s both that we stand in the truth of the absolutely essential nature of ordinances and that God has … we should be thankful for the gift that God has given us and humble in our capacity to share that with other people while recognizing that at the end of the day as Jesus said, I can turn these stones into children of Abraham.
Bill Turnbull: Yeah, that’s a great point Patrick. And I’ve never actually thought of that. I would take issue maybe a little bit. So the way you talked about ordinances just now, it sounds like something you just kind of need to pick up at some point. And I think there’s a deep truth in all of the ordinances. They’re like, there are really deep ways to understand them and we need to really … So what they do is ordinances connect us deeply to God. Ultimately, all religion isn’t worth anything unless it connects us to God and connects us with each other. And I think that’s what the ordinances do and we really do understand them.
I was baptized at eight and I think only recently have I really come to understand what the significance of baptism is. And I’m sure that the other thing that’s wonderful about ordinances is you can always mine them for more meaning. And so I think ordinances are a gift to us. We’re offering them to the world, but we still each need to internalize them and understand them. And I think that’s why they’re so essential is because they symbolically teach us and mentor us, like apprentice us to a relationship with God.
Patrick Mason: Absolutely. No, they can either be a dead work or an absolutely transforming and sanctifying aspect. God wants the latter, right? But he’s giving … it’s just like resurrection, right? Everybody gets it. But what are you going to do with it? What is the quality or nature of that life in Christ that you’re going to have?
Aubrey Chaves: And I like that Patrick, that point of view takes care of this issue of needing exclusive authority. I think growing up that was the thing that I always had in my head that like, well, you have to be baptized by this very specific authority and your marriage has to be performed by in this specific place. And so I like both. I like the idea that those rituals connect you to God and that everyone will have access to whatever authority God says we need to have. But I hope that a ritual in any faith tradition could still be that connecting without priesthood. That you could be baptized as a symbol of your complete commitment to God and still feel as connected as I did or do without-
Bill Turnbull: Can I go back to my friend Malcolm for a second?
Aubrey Chaves: Yes. Go.
Bill Turnbull: Because he was baptized as an adult, as a middle aged man. And his baptism was absolutely a profound spiritual experience for him. And he understood in deep ways the symbolism of baptism. And he can say that was a hinge point in his life. So I think for us to in any way to integrate that experience that people have in other faiths, I just don’t think that’s what Christ would have us do.
Aubrey Chaves: Yeah. Yeah. So that’s why I like what Patrick what you’re saying that like the ordinances will be taken care of and we can focus right now on these connecting experiences like Malcolm. It doesn’t have to be that that didn’t count, which is kind of I think how I thought of it for a long time. Like that’s too bad that didn’t count. And of course that’s not how God works. And so thank goodness-
Bill Turnbull: God was certainly generous enough to reach, to cut through whatever he had to cut through to be present at Malcolm’s baptism and-
Aubrey Chaves: Right, right. Yeah. But I think sometimes we talk about priesthood in that it actually makes it feel like that. It makes it feel like these are the rules. And so you can only have these connecting experiences if you follow these very specific rules. And so I just, I like this reminder that the real doctrine is that everyone gets a chance. It is universal in that sense. So we don’t have to worry about who it counts for.
Patrick Mason: And we can assume that somebody who is the most sincere and devoted and Godly Hindu in the world, if they never hear the name of Jesus or hear that the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or any of that, that the kind of Christian baptism that we offer them is offered to them in the next life. That is precisely their preparation, their spiritual preparation, their devotion, their sincerity, all of those kinds of things that are going to condition their soul in such a way that when that baptism is offered to them, that it means something. And they can recognize the deep truth in that ritual that’s being offered to them.
Tim Chaves: This brings me back to a little bit to Eugene England’s essay that we link on the website as well called why the church is as true as the gospel. And if I could just read this one paragraph I absolutely loved. He says, “I believe that the church is the best medium apart from marriage, which I believe it resembles in this respect for grappling constructively with the oppositions of existence. I believe that the better any church organization is at such grappling, the truer it is. And I believe that we can accurately call the LDS church the true church only if we mean it is the best organized method for doing that and is made and kept so by revelations that have come and continued to come from God, however darkly they of necessity emerge.” And actually, I thought that was a fairly radical definition of true. The more something causes you to grapple with the oppositions of existence, the truer it is. And I think ordinances potentially, especially the ones that I’ve gone through, I think fit that qualification quite nicely.
I did not have the experience that Malcolm had at my baptism as an eight year old. It was the kind of thing where I was picturing my sins floating around in the water afterward. It was not this deep connecting experience at that point. But the ordinances that I’ve gone through and the covenants that I’ve made, baptism, being ordained to the priesthood, sealing in the temple, those have caused intense grappling for me. What did I really mean when I made those promises, what does it mean to be a bearer of the priesthood? Especially at times when in 2020 where it feels like maybe that … at times it can feel like that is a little bit too exclusive.
And so there has been, in my case at least, and the endowment and the promises that I’ve made there and how those affect my life now having lived a couple of decades after having made them, I really have had to grapple with those and try and figure out what my obligations are relative to them. And I think a lot of my own spiritual development would not have been possible if I had not been doing something with such import and gravity as a young person. So I think that’s really what Eugene England said there really resonated with me.
Bill Turnbull: By the way, I don’t know how many people your age are familiar with Eugene England. But he was quite a figure in the church in the eighties and nineties in particular. Patrick, maybe-
Patrick Mason: I only met him once, but his thinking and his writings have had a really deep impact on me.
Bill Turnbull: Yeah. He died a little too young. But yeah, I think that piece that we’re going to link to on our website is just absolutely one of the best things ever written on the subject that we’re discussing right now. And Phil’s piece also that he wrote, I mean, go to the website, read these. Sit down and nestle in because they’re not … These are deep thinkers. They’re accessible pieces that are very readable. But Phil Barlow is, in fact Patrick is probably sitting in Phil’s chair right now. Patrick took Phil’s place-
Patrick Mason: Yeah. Like literally the chair is-
Bill Turnbull: Is that Phil’s actual chair?
Tim Chaves: That’s amazing.
Bill Turnbull: Patrick took Phil’s place in the … that is the Leonard Arrington chair then-
Tim Chaves: That’s the chair. Yeah.
Bill Turnbull: That is the chair. Okay. Phil’s a mentor to all of us. At the Maxwell Institute, I think he’s known as Gandalf within the walls. They call them Gandalf or sometimes Yoda. Yeah. A wise and good soul and he wrote a wonderful piece for us, so for sure check that out.
Aubrey Chaves: Maybe to kind of wrap up, I would love to hear your thoughts about just relationships with people outside of our faith. I think that there is … I think some people may feel this anxiety when they have a friend who, especially in Utah where it’s the church is everywhere. And so you feel it feels big to you. So when you make a friend who’s not of your faith, what should that relationship look like? I mean, I think people still feel this anxiety to have the kind of what you talked about with Malcolm, Bill that you’re not anxious to give him the Book of Mormons so that he’ll decide to believe all the same things that you believe. But how do you connect authentically with your experience in the church and with this new friend and maintain some kind of respect for whatever their faith tradition has taught them?
Bill Turnbull: Well, don’t assume that your questions are their questions. Meet people where they are. I would say that. Don’t show up with an agenda for people. That’s our problem. We show up with an agenda. We think we know what their life’s supposed to look like. And when we do that, we foreclose a lot of possibilities, learning experiences for ourselves. I think just share authentically what you feel is most meaningful to you, if you feel that that person is in a place to hear that. So it’s like we need to be in our hearts, not in our heads when we’re … And I think if we’re there, if we’re acting from, if we’re engaging other people from our hearts, things are going to be good. But if we show up with an agenda for people, it automatically complicates things and forecloses all kinds of possibilities. And yeah, that’s how I look at it.
Be ready to receive the gifts they have. And I mean be genuinely curious. We’re not asking people questions to set them up for a conversation. We’re asking people questions because we’re genuinely curious about them. And I found that just blessed my life. That’s when I made that switch. It occurred after my mission. I wish it had occurred during my mission. We’re really not taught to do that very well as missionaries and I think that’s something we could take a good look at actually.
Patrick Mason: Yeah, I think that’s all really good advice Bill. And I think we’ve done too much. Essentially, we’ve been playing a big game of jeopardy for a long time that the only questions that matter are the ones that we already have the answers to. And I think that kind of openness, that kind of curiosity and ultimately it all comes back to God and Jesus, right? That they are doing a big work in this world. Right? And we live on this side of the veil, we see through a glass darkly. And so for me, I’m interested in discovering the big work of God in the world, and I’m pretty sure it’s bigger than me, and I’m pretty sure it’s bigger than even than the Lundstrom Park second ward that I attend on Sundays. Right. That’s part of it. It’s an essential part of it. But it’s bigger than that too.
Bill Turnbull: Amen brother.
Aubrey Chaves: Okay. Thank you so much. That was such an interesting conversation. [crosstalk 00:51:05].
Tim Chaves: Appreciate you guys.
Patrick Mason: Great. Thanks.
Tim Chaves: Thanks so much for listening and a special thanks to Patrick for coming on and Bill for joining in. Again, you can explore more on the one true church big question by going to faithmatters.org and clicking on big questions. And to everybody who’s left a positive review of our podcast or content on any platform, we really appreciate it. We read each review and comment and are grateful for the encouragement and for helping get the word out about Faith Matters. We hope everybody is staying healthy and safe and as always you can check out more at faithmatters.org.