In this episode, we got to speak with Patrick Mason about his new book, Restoration, which was published by Faith Matters Publishing. When we started the Faith Matters Publishing project, one of our goals was to explore what Restoration really means as the church moves into its third century, and that’s exactly what Patrick does in his book.
In the interview, we got to ask him about the origins of the book, its most important ideas, and what he hopes for the Church in the coming decades. One of our favorite insights from Patrick in this episode has to do with the meaning of the word restoration itself — he explains that the phrase “restored Church” doesn’t even appear in any recorded sermons until well into the 20th century, and that its original meaning might be really be seen as a call to reach out to the most marginalized and vulnerable in society. That insight alone has changed the way I see our Church membership, but we’ll let Patrick connect the dots as you listen.
Obviously, we can’t recommend the book strongly enough, and we hope that you’ll pick it up and even share it with others. It’s available at Deseret Book, Amazon, Audible, and Apple Books. The book itself has so much more than we were able to cover in this one conversation — it’s a brief but powerful read packed with stories and insights that we really think you’ll love.
A huge thanks to Patrick for coming on to speak with us, and for all the effort he put into writing what we think is an incredibly important book.
Tim Chaves: Hey everybody, this is Tim Chaves of Faith Matters. In this episode, we got to speak with Patrick Mason about his new book Restoration, which was published by Faith Matters Publishing. When we started the Faith Matters publishing project, one of our goals was to explore what restoration really means as the church moves into its third century, and that’s exactly what Patrick does in his book. In the interview, we got to ask him about the origins of the book, its most important ideas and what he hopes for the church in the coming decades. One of our favorite insights from Patrick has to do with the meaning of the word restoration itself.
He explains that the phrase restored church doesn’t appear in any recorded sermons until well into the 20th century, and that its original meaning might really be seen as a call to reach out to the most marginalized and vulnerable in society. That insight alone has changed the way I see my church membership, but I’ll let Patrick connect the dots as you listen. Obviously, we can’t recommend the book strongly enough. We hope that you’ll pick it up and even share it with others. It’s available at Desert Book, Amazon, Audible and Apple Books.
Of course, the book itself has so much more than we were able to cover in this one conversation. It’s a brief but powerful read, packed with stories and insights that we really think you’ll love. A huge thanks to Patrick for coming on to speak with us, and for all the effort he put into writing what we think is an incredibly important book. Thanks for listening, and we really hope that you enjoy this episode.
Tim Chaves: All right. Well, Patrick Mason, thank you so much for coming on the podcast again.
Patrick Mason: Hey, thanks for having me. It’s always great to be with you guys.
Tim Chaves: This has got to be, I don’t know, the third or fourth time maybe. You’ve got so many good things to say that we just need to keep having you on.
Patrick Mason: Well, we’ll see about that.
Tim Chaves: This particular occasion, I think, is a special one, because we’re releasing this new book, Restoration, that you’ve written that Faith Matters has published. It’s been a real honor to work on this with you. We’re just having read it several times over. We’re just super excited to get it out there, and think that it’s really, really important for really anybody in the church or even outside the church to read to understand what we’re all about.
Patrick Mason: Thanks. I really appreciate that, Tim. You were a big part of getting this thing over the finish line, so thank you.
Tim Chaves: It’s my pleasure, and it has been my pleasure. I thought maybe a good place to start would be if you wouldn’t mind just talking about the origins of the book, just a why this book and why now if that’s okay.
Patrick Mason: There’s three origin stories for it. I’ll see if I can do this quickly. One is that… I published a book A few years ago. We’ve talked about it on this podcast called Planted. It was published in 2015. It was really a response to what we were saying and still are saying in terms of what oftentimes is called faith crisis, right? I mean, all those people who are really struggling with their faith, some choosing to stay within the church, some choosing to leave the church, and that book was an attempt in some ways to play defense a little bit, but to give people some tools. Here’s how you can think about these very difficult and real issues, but maybe in constructive and faith promoting ways.
The leaving the church maybe isn’t the only option, that there are some frameworks that you can have. I’m happy with that book. I think maybe it’s done some good work, but at the end of the day, it was a playing defense effort. There’s different ways of playing offense, and we see different models of that. But for me, what I’m most interested in, so one of the origins of this, is, well, why stick with this church? Why stick with this tradition? It’s one thing to play defense, but I think we have to put forth a positive vision of what it is about this thing. The restoration of the Mormonism, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saint, what about it is good and true and beautiful and worth holding on to, worth giving your life to?
I wanted to write a book that articulated, at least in some way, that positive vision. That was part of it. Another part of it was thinking about 2020 is the 200th anniversary of the first vision, and I think there were going to be a lot of things celebrating and commemorating that, and then COVID hit, but still, we have this anniversary. I’ve been thinking a lot in recent years, “Okay, we have 200 years of the restoration.” I’ve been thinking about, “Well, what’s going to happen in the next 100 years? What does the third century of Mormonism look like?”
That’s really, in a lot of ways, the animating question in this book is, “Okay, 200 years is great, but the past is in the past, which is a strange thing for a historian to say.” But even though I studied the past, I live in the present, and hope for the future. I want to write a book that was at least thinking about what does the third century of Mormonism look like? Then finally, it was… Actually, I mentioned in the acknowledgments, literally the last social engagement that my wife and I had before COVID hit, and we were all shut down, was with Bill and Susan Turnbull and Terryl Givens, where Bill pitched the idea.
They said, “Hey, Faith Matters wants to publish some books,” and pitched this idea of how do we breathe new life into this tradition that we love? That corresponded with things that I’d already been thinking about. The convergence of those three things all came together to create this book.
Aubrey Chaves: Wow. Would you talk a little bit about the title? This was one of the most interesting parts of the book, where you go through this idea of restored church and how that really was not a phrase that we even ever heard until I think 1918 or something, 80 something years after the organization of the church when we first hear the phrase restored church. That blew my mind. Can you talk about restoration, just the word, and what it meant in the early church?
Patrick Mason: Absolutely. I mean, this was one of the surprising things for me about this book too. I mean, this book isn’t based on heavy duty historical research. There’s a little bit… I can’t help myself. I grew up in a church that talked all the time about the restoration, the restored church, the restored gospel. We just marked 200 years. We have the new proclamation on the restoration, and so I was just really thinking a lot about like, “What is this restoration? Restoring what exactly?” Again, I grew up with the phrases restored gospel and restore church. I probably uttered those phrases hundreds or thousands of times in my life.
Just in the course of writing the book, I said, “I wonder what Joseph’s…” basically trying to look for some Joseph Smith quotes about the restored church, and now we have so many great resources. You can go to the Joseph Smith papers. You can go into early Mormon periodicals. You cannot do all this… I wrote this book during COVID, so I was doing it all literally from this desk I’m sitting at right now. I go into the Joseph Smith papers, typed in restored church, expect to get a few dozen or a hundred, zero references, except to the historical introductions the modern scholars wrote.
I’m like, “What?” I figured like, “I’m doing this wrong, right?” The more I searched, the phrase itself, restored church, it does not appear in the scriptures. It doesn’t appear in Joseph Smith’s teachings. I’m like, “What?” Now, to restore or restoration, that appears a lot, sometimes in really prosaic ways like to restore a king to his throne or something like that. A lot of it has to do with the resurrection, right? Especially, Alma talks about that, the restoration of the body and the spirit. The phrase restored church, as you mentioned, the first time that I can find…
Maybe somebody else will come along and find an earlier usage, but it’s James E. Talmage in 1918, 88 years after the establishment of the Church of Christ in April of 1830. That really got me thinking about like, “What is the restoration?” Certainly, there’s a church component to it. The other thing, too, is I noticed for the first time, I mean, duh, I should have noticed this earlier, in the articles of faith, it does talk about the restoration, but not in the one about the church. It’s about the restoration of the tribes of Israel. Whenever Joseph Smith did talk about restoration, almost always it was about Israel.
That just got me thinking about like, “What the heck.” We’ve heard President Nelson talk about this, about the restoration of Israel, the gathering of Israel, which in some way seems… I think that language can seem quaint or archaic or something, so again, I wanted to breathe new life into this, and think about what does this mean to restore Israel In the 21st century?
Tim Chaves: That was absolutely mind blowing to me too. Not that I didn’t believe you, but I did my own research as well. There’s this really cool website-
Patrick Mason: Please tell me that you came up with the same results.
Tim Chaves: I did. I did came up with the same results, 1918, James Talmage. There’s this really cool website, lds-general-conference.org, the Corpus of the General Conference Talks, so you can just search as an entire database. 1910s, two mentions, and it just increases in increments until the 2010s, 75 mentions of the phrase restored church.
Patrick Mason: That’s why for us, it just seems totally natural, right? You’d think, “Oh, this is the way they’ve always talked about it.” I love that site that you just mentioned, the General Conference Corpus. I use it all the time. It’s precisely for this like, “No, the way that we talk about things now is not the way they’ve always talked about it.” Even in a relatively short 200-year history, huge changes.
Tim Chaves: I wonder too. I mean, I haven’t done this search, but it would be interesting to hear how much we talk about restoring Israel now relative to back then, because from my perspective as a early millennial on that generationally, I, to be totally honest, don’t relate a lot to the restoration of Israel as a day to day thing that I’m thinking about or caring about. That was another fascinating part of your book, and I would love for you to dive into that and say is that something that’s relevant today, and why does it matter?
Patrick Mason: I feel the same way. I’m late Gen X. I mean, I think we’re probably not that far apart. Actually, when President Nelson started talking about this in his… It has been a major theme of his presidency, the gathering of Israel. Part of it, I was like, “Well…” I mean, I knew enough. I’ve read the Book of Mormon enough to know that it talks a lot about Israel. I know Isaiah talks a lot about Israel. I’ve read enough early Mormon literature to know that there are a lot of references. They talked about it all the time in the 19th century.
I knew that, but it was partly trying to figure out like, “What does this mean in the 21st century?” What is President Nelson talking about? Now, I’m not presuming to speak for him. He’s fully capable of speaking for himself.
Tim Chaves: Absolutely.
Patrick Mason: Of course, part of it is missionary work. I mean, I think that’s traditionally the way we understand the gathering of Israel, missionary work, although he’s talked about it on both sides of the veil, which is really interesting, temple work as part of this as well, and so I fully grant all of that. Probably our generation is on the tail end of having heard all this stuff about the 10 tribes of Israel. I’ve heard things about like, “I’m going to the north.” Where are they? I mean, all this kind of speculation that I think was probably more prominent in our parents and grandparents generation, but I think now in the church, we’re much less confident in knowing who or what or where the 10 tribes of Israel are.
We have an article of faith about this, but what does that mean? Then the other part of it, the major usage in the book of Mormon about the restoration, they talked about restoring Israel but also restoring the Lamanites, this very specific branch of it. Again, I think we grew up in a church on the tail end of being very confident and knowing who the Lamanites were, that they are the principal ancestors of the Native Americans. That’s what the book of Mormon introduction used to say.
Tim Chaves: The introduction.
Patrick Mason: In our lifetimes, the church has revised its understanding of that. Now, I think the introduction says something like among the ancestors or something like that, and the controversies around DNA evidence and so forth. I think we’re just much less confident in 2020 in identifying who the lost tribes of Israel are or who the Lamanites are. If we don’t have that, and I’m willing to say, “Okay, God, you’ve made a lot of promises about this. I’ll let you take care of that. In the meantime, what can I do?” Well, what are the Lamanites, and what are the lost tribes? What does scattered Israel have in common?
They have in common experiences and histories of marginalization, of persecution, of scattering, of being despised, of being deemed as filthy. For me, in terms of likening the scriptures or thinking about this, it seems to me that the restoration project that we’re called to today, if I’m not exactly sure who the lost tribes are, and if I’m not exactly sure who the Lamanites are, I can see people around me who are scattered, who are despised, who are marginalized, who are victimized, who share a common experience, if not exactly the same history, as Israel and the Lamanites.
It seems to me that that is where our restoration work is called towards. This can be all kinds of communities. It can be refugees. It can be victims of violence, domestic violence, domestic abuse, other kinds of things, sexual violence. It can be members of our own congregations or families who are marginalized for all kinds of reasons. It can be single members of the church. It can be divorced members of the church, anybody who thinks differently or looks differently, LGBTQ members, that these are the people… They’re racial minorities in a predominantly white church, especially in North America.
I’m not saying they are Lamanites, or they are the lost tribes, but there’s a shared experience of marginalization. It seems to me that that’s part of what the restoration project is meant to do, is to bring the human family to wholeness. That’s what God is trying to restore. He’s trying to restore his family.
Tim Chaves: I love that line.
Aubrey Chaves: I love that line so much. It feels like new life, like breathing new life. That’s a great way to put it. Would you talk about the fortress church maybe right now, because I think this is the first big stumbling block? We have built this very safe place for ourselves that can be stifling for some people and also can be problematic, trying to give our gifts. I love this metaphor, if you could share that with everyone.
Patrick Mason: Just to share the story and where this comes from, so we spent a few months in Romania as a family in 2015 on a Fulbright. We traveled around… Romania is just gorgeous. If you ever get a chance to go there, I definitely encourage it. I sounded like the Romania Travelers Bureau. The great thing about it is you can go to castles and historic sites, and they’re not walled off. There’s no gates. I mean, you just can go climb on castle walls. It’s very fun, especially if you have kids. We went to this one little town out of the way. I wasn’t sure that we would actually get there, this place called Viscri.
It has this 12th century fortress church. This is distinctive to this region, where yes, it was the church where people gathered for worship, but it was also literally a fortress. It was like a cabin. In fact, we were talking about it with our kids last night, and they said, “Oh, we just thought it was a castle,” because there’s walls and the parapets and the narrow little slits that you’d shoot arrows through. What people would do is when invaders came or whatever, they would gather into the fortress church. It was literally a place of gathering and safety and so forth. We went and had this great experience exploring this fortress church, but the more I thought about it, I was like, “It’s a great place to go, but it’s just a museum at this point.”
I mean, it has no relevance to the modern world. It just seems to me a metaphor for what, in a lot of ways, we had constructed in recent decades, a place of safety, a place of refuge, but a place with pretty high walls dividing us from the world. We use that phrase all the time, the world, and the world is almost always referred to with derision as a negative thing. That it’s something to be protected against. That’s fine. It provides safety. I was raised in that climate. I’ve had very positive experiences in a lot of… My wife and I are choosing to raise our children within the safety of the church, because we think it provides a great way to live and a great foundation, and a way to approach God and Christ and our neighbors.
But there are costs to that as well, and one of the costs is you become quiet. You become irrelevant. The world passes you by. Part of what I’m trying to do in this book is to think of it… There are times where it’s absolutely necessary to raise the drawbridge, to circle the wagons. We do have a history of very real persecution as a people, but you can’t leave the drawbridge raised forever. At some point, if you want to, it seems to me that clearly, we’re called as Christians to have an influence in the world, to not only flee Babylon, but then also transform the world, to be light and salt and yeast to transform the world.
That’s what Christ calls us to do. You can’t do that from inside the fortress, so at some point, you’ve got to lower the drawbridge. You’ve got to open yourself up. You’ve got to be secure enough that you can actually interact with the world. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that we’re at a moment in our history where we can lower the drawbridge a little bit more, open the windows and engage, because it seems to me that’s the only way that we can fulfill our mission, not just to gather people to the fortress church, but to actually go out and spread our influence, and do good in the world.
Tim Chaves: I love that analogy, that use of light and yeast and salt. I would love for you to talk about that, but I also wanted to ask… Obviously, we’re saying that we should lower the drawbridge, get out into the world, influence it with the good that we have, but I think there is, at least traditionally, a reluctance to be influenced by the world. Again, the word in air quotes has this connotations within the church of being wicked or deceived or whatever it is. What is an appropriate way for us as church members who want to get engage the world to let it influence us for good as well?
Patrick Mason: That’s a great question, Tim, and that is the fear. Then there are plenty of scriptures that we can cite about this, about fleeing the world, fleeing Babylon, not being polluted by it. This is the kind of dance that we have to do. Part of it comes with a maturity, both individually but also as a church that do we feel secure enough in our beliefs? Do we feel secure enough as individuals and as a community that actually we can go out, we have something to offer, we can learn from others without losing what we have? That actually, we do have something to add to the conversation.
We have something distinctive to offer. To raise the drawbridge and to close the shutters, it is a defensive position, because you are worried about losing what you have. Again, that’s a completely legitimate option. There are times for that, but there’s also, with confidence and with maturity, a certain level of security, and most Latter Day Saints live in places in the world where they’re not being actively and violently persecuted. They might be made fun of, but we’re not being hunted by mobs and things like that, so we have that base level of physical security, and in most places, even legal and constitutional security, that then we can go out and having built our testimonies, that we can go out and be confident enough to share with other people.
This is why still the church and families are so important to form people in the faith, to form people to give people the tools and the confidence they need to then go out into the world, both to share with the world what we have, but also to learn from the world. I mean, one of the one of the things I tried to communicate with this book is that we do not have a monopoly on God’s love, God’s favor or on knowledge. We are two tenths of 1% of the world’s population at best, right? Are we so arrogant as to think that God has shed all His light and love and knowledge on two tenths of 1% of his children?
No, because the scriptures tell us and First Presidency statements and so forth, and so part of our theology is that God sheds His light and love on all of His children. If He’s doing that, shouldn’t we maybe learn from them, from the light and love that He’s given them? It does require discernment? Not everything that’s out there in the world is good. We can say no, we don’t believe that, and no, we don’t accept that. No, I won’t do that. We can do that, but that comes with strengths and maturity and confidence.
Aubrey Chaves: I love that you talked about that, that our goal is not to trade this fortress church for a religious empire. We’re not trying to baptize everyone. It’s so funny, because we talk about light, salt, and yeast all the time, but it never occurred to me that all of those things are so infinitesimally small. That is us. It has always worked. I think maybe that takes care of this idea of exclusivism, but I wondered if you would talk more about relativism versus particularism. I love the paradigm of particularism.
I think that that was an interesting take that I hadn’t really considered before you’re writing. I guess, in particular, my question is does that leave some imperative? How is it different than relativism? Does it mean that because we have these particular gifts that we could choose other particular gifts, and they’re equally good, and so it doesn’t really matter where you serve from? Could you just talk about that for a minute?
Patrick Mason: I use a couple of different metaphors to describe this, and it is essentially just set it up that normally when we talk about the truth of a religion, we’re in one of two paradigms. We’re either in an exclusive paradigm or a exclusivist paradigm, which is there’s one true truth, one way, and that’s the one way to heaven. Everything else is wrong, right? Because if A is correct, then B and C and D and E have to be incorrect. Maybe the majority of religious believers throughout the history of the world have adopted some version of a exclusivist paradigm. Another paradigm is a relativist paradigm.
This is the kind of… There’s many paths up the mountain. However you get up there, yes, at the bottom, the experiences, the trails look a little bit different, but by the time you get to the top, it’s basically the same thing, and we’re all going to reach the same thing. It doesn’t really matter all that much which path you took up the mountain. I think there are strengths and weaknesses of both of those positions, but what I try to offer in this book is, like you said, what I call particularism, which I think draws from both of these.
Here’s the metaphors that I have for this. One is a farming metaphor, which is dangerous for me to use, because I’m not a farmer, and I know very little about growing things.
Tim Chaves: I’m the one that has to answer the angry emails from farmers.
Patrick Mason: Yes, exactly. If I got stuff wrong, please email Tim. We talk all the time about the Lord having a vineyard. Let’s think about Him having a farm. We know that He calls laborers as the Jacob five, right? He calls people to work in his farm. I just think that… I mean, there are so many things to grow. There’s wheat and oranges and cherries and zucchini and everything else. This is a big diverse farm, because you’ve got to have all this balance and just the giftedness of the diversity of life. It seems to me, as I look around, that certain people, certain communities are just better at doing certain things than others.
They seem to have been given a gift or even a calling to do certain things. Now, there are some things that everybody can do. Everybody loves their families, right? Everybody can pray, so there are certain things that are common to all of us, but there are other things that just the certain communities seem to… It’s like, “God said, You grow the oranges, and be the best orange grower that you can be, and you grow the zucchinis.” What happens is if you neglect your job, it means there’s no oranges for anybody. But if you do your job well, then you can come and you can exchange, and you can give your oranges to other people, and other people can give you zucchinis.
You can actually benefit from all of the different gifts and fruits that God has given, but it is absolutely essential for you to do your work. He said, “Aubrey, I’ve given you gifts, and I’ve called you to grow oranges,” and so you have to do it. It’s gotta get done for the whole farm to thrive. There’s one metaphor. Another metaphor is the body, right? This, I’m riffing off of Paul’s metaphor of the body of Christ here. You’ve got eyes and a heart and a liver and toes and fingers, and all these kinds of things, and they’re all called to do particular things.
If the finger wanted to do what the eye could do… First of all, it’s not equipped to do it. But if the finger chose not to do its job, because it really wanted to be an eye, then the body wouldn’t work. The body is built on this principle of particularism, that every part of the body has a particular job to do. It can’t say that its job is any more important than others, but it’s essential. The heart’s work is absolutely essential. I mean, try having a functioning body without a heart, but the heart also can’t say, “I’m more important than anything else,” because the heart relies on it as part of the system with everything else.
The thing is that your heart is essential. It is unique. It does work that no other part of the body does, but it’s not alive by itself. It seems to me that this is one way to think about our religious communities, including our church, that yes, we make these claims, and we have a claim and doctrine and covenants. One is the only true and living church, right? Well, how do we think about that in the context of all these other things? Well, it seems that we’ve been asked to steward or do certain jobs. We haven’t been asked to do everything, but we’ve been asked to do certain things.
We have stewardship over restoration of scripture. We have stewardship over a certain kind of priesthood. We have a stewardship over temple rituals. We’ve been asked to grow certain crops or perform certain functions within the body. If we don’t do it, it doesn’t get done, but it’s absolutely essential because it contributes a lot. At the same time, we can appreciate what the Muslims are doing, what the Catholics are doing, what the Hindus are doing, because they’ve been called to do things too. We can both draw from and benefit from their good gifts and their callings and what God has gifted them with at the same time of feeling absolutely confident that what we’re doing is critical, and God has called us to do it.
Now, is there some fluidity, and can people change garden plot? I mean, we can talk about that, and all of these things, that there’s some permeability in the borders between these different plots. But I think for me, it’s a way… All metaphors fail eventually, but it’s a way to think about how can we appreciate the truth and the goodness that we see in religions around the world or in our friends who don’t have any religion at all? How can we appreciate and learn from all those things without giving up the farm or without weakening our commitment to what God has called us to do?
Aubrey Chaves: I feel like that’s such an important part of the discussion. For the people that… I’m just thinking about what you said, the permeability of the borders in the vineyard. I think even just this week, I saw a comment on social media. Someone was really wrestling like, “Can I stay in the church? Should I stay in the church?” Someone made a comment that said like, “If you don’t believe that it’s the only way, why would you stay?” I think for a lot of people, they actually have answers to that question. They have dozens of answers to that question.
This work in this vineyard is so fulfilling to them, and they feel like it’s giving their life meaning, and they can see the good that they’re putting out in the world, but for the people who are not having that experience for whom the church really is just painful, and they don’t feel like they’re able to contribute with the gifts that they were born with. Then what for them? In this paradigm of particularism, is there some imperative that you have to work where you were planted? Can you find a place that feels more healing to you if the church isn’t healing, or if the church isn’t feeding your soul or helping you to feed the world?
Patrick Mason: It’s a terrific question. I mean, my default is the sense of bloom where you’re planted, but I can say that doesn’t work for everybody. Some people really do experience… Our church, our community, for whatever reason, they experience it as a place of harm. I’m not an advocate of self abuse, of people staying. I’m not a therapist, a psychologist or anything like that, but I don’t think people have obligations to stay in harmful and abusive relationships. I don’t think overall… Some people want to claim that the church is inherently an abusive or harmful culture. I just fundamentally disagree with that, because my experience is different, and the experience of millions and millions of other people is different than that.
I absolutely recognize that it can be and has been a place of harm for some people. I think this metaphor… Again, it’s only a metaphor of the farm. If you feel particularly gifted in another way, or if you feel called to a different place, then go do that. I mean, one of my messages I talked to a lot of people who are in faith crisis, or they’re out of the church or on their way out of the church is while I want them to appreciate… Part of this metaphor is to recognize that even if you’re not called to grow oranges, or if that was a bad experience for you, even when you leave that to recognize that actually, God has still called other people, your former co-laborers, that they’re still having a good experiences, and that the oranges are good.
Maybe there’s a few rotten ones. Again, the metaphor [inaudible 00:33:15] for a while, but [crosstalk 00:33:19].
Aubrey Chaves: No, that’s great, really good.
Patrick Mason: Even if you’re called out of that, or feel like you’ve got to go do something else, first of all, go do something else. Have a positive thing that you’re going to do and that you’re going to contribute, and think about what are your gifts that you’re going to contribute to the wholeness of the human family? That’s what I’m saying is that God has called us all to restore the wholeness of the human family is just [crosstalk 00:33:40] a way of doing it, but also to recognize that the people you left behind are still doing some good work, even if it wasn’t good for you.
Aubrey Chaves: I wonder how much the fortress church is part of that pain. Maybe that is so much of the problem, and when we take those walls down and drop the drawbridge, and open the shutters, like you were saying, maybe that fresh air will be enough to make the church feel more healing to people who feel like there’s just not room for them right now with these high walls.
Patrick Mason: That’s one of the casualties of exclusivism. There are some good things about exclusivism. It gives you a lot of confidence and security and feeling like you’re on the right path and all those… I mean, there are some benefits to it, but painting the world in black and white terms like that, if it’s not working for you, you can feel like you’re broken, or that the world is broken. You can feel like you have no place in it, or that if you leave and if you go from one team to another, all you can see is the bad.
Tim Chaves: Patrick, the last couple chapters of the book sort are dedicated, at least in large part, to what the restoration might look like in the third century, including some of the rotten oranges that we could get rid of. I’m just going to plow with this metaphor. [crosstalk 00:35:08].
Patrick Mason: You just go ahead. It’s so good.
Tim Chaves: Then later on, what are some of the things that we really have to offer the world? One of the things in that first group, those rotten oranges, that really resonated with me was this idea of fundamentalism. Your metaphors are really, really good, by the way. You introduced here the metaphor of a skyscraper. I mean, it’s very brief, but could you talk a little bit about that, and what the danger of being too rigid?
Aubrey Chaves: That was a good one. That’s a really good one.
Patrick Mason: In that chapter, like you said, I lay out a few things that I think have some baggage that we’ve taken on along the way over the past 200 years, things that weren’t necessarily or didn’t have to be part of this restoration project, but that we picked up. That’s only natural. I mean, that’s what happens when you’re part of history and culture and so forth. You pick up things along the way. I think we have to have a critical appraisal of those things that we picked up. I think one of those things, especially in the 20th century, was a tendency towards fundamentalism. I don’t mean Mormon fundamentalism like the polygamous, the FLDS church.
I’m thinking here more in terms of Protestant fundamentalism, of a very literalist, strict reading of Scripture, very high boundaries between right and wrong, very dualistic worldview. I think, in a lot of ways, that was a big part of the church that I was raised in. This is the legacy of Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie and others. Again, a lot of strong points about that, a lot of things that we could say of how that contributed to the strength of the church, but what it did is it created a really rigid system. Part of it is we had an answer for everything. I mean, literally, Joseph fielding Smith had answers to gospel questions.
He had an answer for everything, and it was done in just an absolutist type of way. I mean, this was the answer. This is what God thought, Mormon doctrine, the book that sat on all of our shelves, and in very authoritative language. Well, the problem with that… Here’s where the metaphor comes in. The wind engineers build skyscrapers. Again, I’m not an engineer, so engineers, write Tim with all your problems with the metaphor. Engineers, my understanding is that when they build big, huge structures like a skyscraper or a bridge or something like that, they actually build in a little bit of give, a little bit of leeway.
Actually, at the top of a really tall skyscraper, there are several inches of give in that, so that when the wind blows or when there are storms or things like that, the building literally moves with it. Trees do the same thing, right? I mean, it’s the same principle. The principle here is that if you build too much rigidity into the system, it actually becomes harmful because when the stresses come, when the… It seems really strong, and it is really strong, but when extreme stress comes on it, then it actually fractures. The thing will fall apart. Whereas if you build just enough, you don’t want too much, because buildings are meant to be wet noodles, but if you build just the right amount of flexibility into the system, is actually better designed to withstand the storms that come.
For me, what I see is that, for instance… Let’s just say for instance the CES Letter. I think it was a natural and inevitable response to the fundamentalistic tendencies within the church, a kind of all or nothing, black or white, that we have an answer for everything, every little thing, and there’s this feeling like, “Oh, if you can pick these things apart, then the whole thing falls apart,” because it was built on an assumption of rigidity, of it’s all true. Again, I think systems are stronger, both in the natural world and in the built world, when they have a little bit of flexibility, a little bit of give.
The system actually, counterintuitively, is stronger when you build flexibility into it.
Tim Chaves: Is there anything that you see that people like us, just lay members of the church, can do to contribute to that flexibility? I mean, obviously, in the past, some of this rigidity, like you pointed out, has come from upper echelons in the church. I think we’re definitely seeing a move in those same echelons today toward more flexibility, but is it just a matter of waiting, and we just bide our time, or is there some way to contribute to a more structurally sound building in this case?
Patrick Mason: Well, I mean, for me, the church is first and foremost local. I mean, yes, I’m part of a global church that’s headquartered in Salt Lake City, and I sustained the prophets, seers, and revelators there, but my Mormonism is local. My Christianity is local. It’s with my neighbors, it’s with my ward members, and so that’s precisely where we do this stuff. I think that’s exactly where we can actively introduce and model this kind of flexibility in the system. Again, this is not about giving it away, or giving away the core tenants. I mean, there has to be a structure. It is recognizably The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
We do believe things. We do practice things, but I think on the ground level, it looks like generosity. It looks like charity. It looks like allowing for viewpoints that are different from your own, and actually learning from them, that when brother Smith gets up, and you can guess what brother Smith is going to say, because you’ve heard him say it a dozen times before. The fact is that you’re sitting in the pews together, right? There’s something that is both you and brother Smith and sister Jones all in the same church together. There’s a reason you’re there together. Obviously, the system already has this flexibility built into it. Can we recognize it?
Can we practice it? Can we show the generosity towards one another, and model that to people? I think we all do this. Whether it’s liberals or conservatives or progressives or whatever, we have a tendency, and this is the message we’re getting from our culture right now is to double down. Wherever you are, double down and exclude and vilify other points of view. Find weaknesses in their argument. That’s the first thing you do to criticize, and so forth. The church calls us to do exactly the opposite. Again, there are some rights and there are some wrongs, and there are borders of how far we can take this.
We won’t hedge on the divinity of Christ. We won’t hedge on the fact that there’s a God in heaven who loves us. There are certain things that while we recognize that other people have different views, what it means to be a Latter Day Saint is to believe certain things, but we can be generous towards other people who experience and interpret the gospel somewhat differently than we do. We can emphasize the things that we have in common. Those differences matter, but I think we can engage those in a spirit of charity, rather than a spirit of critique.
Aubrey Chaves: That makes me think. I think a lot of people, maybe in some words, it’s less of a problem hearing, especially, conservative views from an older generation. I think a lot of times, it’s backwards. It’s that people with maybe, I don’t know, less conservative or less orthodox views feel like they can’t have an opinion while they are working things out, or they can’t express it, and so they’re very quietly feeling so isolated. I think it can work both ways, but sometimes it means expressing an opinion that you know is a little bit different, and that isn’t so safe, but just being brave to say, “I’m wrestling with this,” and open yourself up to that kind of connection, because that can really bring people out of isolation.
Sometimes we do it to ourselves by accident just by assuming that everyone else in the room is on the exact same rigid page, and that’s never the case. That’s never the case.
Patrick Mason: Right. Now, absolutely. I mean, actually, this is one of the things I do talk about in Planted, in my earlier book. I mean, I believe so much in the idea of building up social capital and spiritual capital. This way, our communities matters so much, right? The ward is just… It is an inspired structure. It is the laboratory for Christian discipleship. The reason why is we build relationships with each other. We build a social and spiritual capital with it. If you’ve helped a guy move in, if you’ve taught somebody’s kids and young women or in primary, if you brought a casserole over to them when they were sick, these little things that we do, but that build the bonds of affection within the community, then it means that actually we create space for one another to say these things.
This is what I was… You’re exactly right. The typical dynamic in most Latter Day Saint wards, at least in America, is they tend to be more conservative, and so if you tend otherwise, you can sometimes feel isolated and so forth. But first of all, you don’t have to give up on your values and commitments and views, but what the community calls you to do is to participate and to serve, and to be a Christian first. Christianity is mostly a lived and practiced thing, not just something in our heads. Once that is done, in most cases, not all cases… We can probably all cite cases where just things have gone poorly.
But in most cases, the bonds of community are going to be strong enough when we participate, and when we give and serve and do so not with an agenda, but simply because we’re trying to be Christians. That creates space for the generosity to happen within a ward.
Aubrey Chaves: I love that. We’ve talked before about that, Eugene England, “The church is as true as the gospel.” I think somewhere, you call… What do you call it? Your ward is the Laboratory of love or something, a really catchy phrase like that. I totally see that. I mean, there is a way that Sundays can be really hard because of all these opinions you bump up against, but at the same time, that can be the most the wild, grueling, most connecting thing, just loving people who you totally disagree with. What could be more refining than that? I love that idea.
Patrick Mason: I don’t want to pretend that it’s easy. Jesus did not say, “I never told you it’d be easy. [inaudible 00:46:19].” He did not say that, but there’s something in that.
Tim Chaves: Well, a picture on the wall in my house [inaudible 00:46:26] begs to differ.
Patrick Mason: Right. Actually, one of my favorite t-shirts my wife gave me for Christmas a couple years ago is actually an image of Jesus. At the bottom, it says, “I never said that.” He does call us. What He did say is, “Come follow me and basically bear the cross.” There is no promise that this thing is just going to be easy. The same way it is within a family, families are hard. Relationships are hard, but the church is nothing if not just a part of the family of God. Those relationships are hard.
Tim Chaves: There’s something like you’re saying about those touch points that you have outside of the walls of the church building. The place to love Brother Smith, at least in my experience, is not in Sunday school. That’s where there’s steam coming out of my ears. We had a Brother Smith last night drop off a tree on our doorstep. It’s like, “Wow, that really meant something.” I felt so much more connected to him than I ever had. I love the idea that we’re truly following Jesus’s example by getting out there and engaging.
Much more of the New Testament, obviously, at least the gospels are dedicated to that type of action from Jesus, rather than the kind where we’re just sitting theorizing together.
Patrick Mason: Part of what I’m trying to do in this book is to say I actually think that our wards are terrific models of this. They are great laboratories for this, but then I think part of now what we have to do in the 21st century is to take that beyond the ward. To some degree, we already do. We do a lot of service. We do a lot of humanitarian work, and all those kinds of things, but all those lessons that we’ve learned in our wards over the past few generations, and those of us who have had positive experiences and have learned what that looks like, that we take that outside, because most of God’s family lives outside the walls of the church, and so we need to learn to apply those lessons more broadly.
Tim Chaves: As we wrap up, I would love for you to expand on that just a little bit more. This is really the last chapter of the book is painting the vision for what our particular gifts, what might, if we take advantage of them, allow us to do in the third in century of the restoration? What are some of those things that… If you could just paint the vision for what that might look like.
Patrick Mason: This was a hard chapter for me to write, because it’s much easier to talk about the past than to talk about the future, or at least I’m more comfortable doing so. I wanted to think like, “Okay, so what do we do now? What are we… I think we are called to do something in the world.” That doesn’t mean the neglect of our families or our wards in our churches, but I think we’re called to more than that. What will that look like? We can’t do everything. We are, again, two tenths of 1% of the world population. We cannot change the whole world all by ourselves. Part of it is going to have to be partnering with people, which is something we have not traditionally been good at.
We’re getting a little bit better at that in terms of humanitarian relief. Actually, that’s a good model for the rest of us to recognize, “Oh, wait a minute, maybe the Catholics are really good at this.” Maybe we follow their lead. We don’t always have to be in charge. I mean, Mormons are good at taking charge, because we’re so good at organization, and we’re generally very competent. We’ve learned public speaking skills and all this kind of stuff. We’re not very good at letting other people be in charge sometimes, but the fact of the matter is that other organizations are way out ahead of us on a lot of this type of stuff, and so we need to have the humility to recognize where good work is being done.
Then come and say, “Hey, guess what, we don’t have any expertise in this area, but I can bring 20 guys with me, or I can bring 15 young women with me, and so teach us and help us to help the community.” I think we have to… I lay out a few ideas of what I think our particular gifts might lead us to try and make an impact on in the restoration’s third century. I think part of it could be around issues revolving around refugees and immigrants giving our own history. I think that comes from a very deep place within us to recognize the plight of refugees and immigrants.
Again, the church has been good on this. I think at the local level, we can be even better. I think we do hear a lot of talk from the church about religious liberty and religious freedom that can be coded as political language. I think in America, unfortunately, it has been coded that way. It should not be. There are people who are persecuted for their religion all around this world. It is a real issue in the 21st century. I think Latter Day Saints should absolutely stand up and speak for the religious freedom of every woman, man and child on this planet, including the religious freedom and religious liberty of atheists.
There’s actually a report that shows that Utah is one of the most hostile places in the country for atheists. That should be a scandal for Latter Day Saints. That article of faith should be inclusive of people who choose not to worship God, as well as those who do.
Tim Chaves: I loved how you said like we lose credibility when we only stand up for religious freedom when it’s us, when it’s our own.
Aubrey Chaves: When it’s us.
Patrick Mason: It can’t be special pleading. People see through that immediately, and that is when it becomes political. I lay out a few options there, but really, I think what it comes down to is people, first of all, getting outside the fortress church enough to figure out what are the needs in the community, because Logan, Utah is going to be different than Los Angeles, which is going to be different from rural North Dakota in terms of the resources that we can bring, but also the needs, and of course, then take into the Sao Paulo and Manila and Johannesburg and all these places around the world.
Part of it is that Latter Day Saints need to engage their communities by learning what the community needs. We’ve been so good at giving people answers for the past two centuries, that we’ve sometimes not been very good at asking questions and listening. That’s what missionary mode is. You come with all the answers, and you have something to give. Again, we can chew gum and walk at the same time. We can keep sending out missionaries, but also, frankly, I think our missionaries will be more effective the more that we learn to listen to the world’s need, and customize what does the restoration have to say to all these people into a world in need, because the world’s needs now aren’t the same as they were in 1820 when Joseph walked out of that Grove.
Really, my call to anybody who reads this book and to any Latter Day Saint is to look around at your community where you live where you can make an impact. Figure out what the needs are, and then out of your deepest convictions as a Latter Day Saint and as a Christian, go meet that need. It’s going to look different in your ward than in mine. It’s going to look different in Utah than it does in Texas. That’s okay. We can move away from the cookie cutter one size fits all type religion to recognize that. One of the doctrines of Christianity is the incarnation that God entered the world and its specificity in history.
Jesus wasn’t a human of all time. He was a Jew in first century Palestine, and he met the needs of the people right in front of them. They had leprosy. They were a colonized people. I mean, there were specific needs, and He spoke to them. That’s what the incarnation means for us today. That’s what the restoration means for us today is what is God calling you to do where you are placed, where you are planted right now? Act out of that, out of your deepest testimony and convictions, and then bring your friends with you. That’s what we can do as Latter Day Saints. We can bring numbers, right?
Organize your relief society, your elders quorum, your ward, your stake to go out and make a difference.
Tim Chaves: That’s awesome, Patrick. I mean, that’s a perfect place to end. I think that really sums up the message of the book. It’s a very hopeful, it’s a very optimistic book. I just so much enjoyed reading it. I’m so excited to get it out there because I think it’s going to be so meaningful to so many people.
Patrick Mason: Thanks, Tim. Thanks, Aubrey. This is a lot of fun.
Aubrey Chaves: Thank you so much.
Tim Chaves: Appreciate you.
Patrick Mason: Thanks.
Tim Chaves: Thanks so much, again, for listening. A special thanks again to Patrick for coming on to speak with us about restoration. Again, we’d love for you to grab a copy of the book at Deseret Book, Amazon, Audible or Apple Books, and share it with friends and loved ones. Thanks again for listening. As always, you can check out more at faithmatters.org.