There have been many stories in the news over the past few decades on the decline of church attendance and religious belief throughout world religions. For the first time in many nations, being secular is more common than being religious. Even within religious traditions, people have become more nuanced and less willing to adhere to the more orthodox aspects of dogma associated with their faiths. For many, this movement comes naturally and without much thought or personal cost. However, the more orthodox or conservative a religious tradition, the more difficult it is to not have a faith transition contribute to disruptive ripple effects within the context of relationships and communities. Mormonism is such a religion.
This book/project, Navigating a Mormon Faith Crisis, is largely based on our strong conviction that religious beliefs and dogma correlated with church entities should not be the basis or justification for a break-up or cutoff in what would otherwise be considered a healthy marriage, family relationship and/or friendship. This would go against foundational tenets of most faiths: tolerance, patience, love, humility, long-suffering. Often, it is the external pressure from well-meaning religious communities and families which can negatively impact or even destroy a family system at the very delicate and fragile crossroads often referred to as a faith crisis. This is an unnecessary and preventable tragedy. With some education, strategy and understanding from a human behavior and mental health lens, a faith crisis can be turned into a faith transition: where all involved can claim their right to a personal, spiritual journey, hopefully within the safety of relational context.

Over the years, we as the authors of the book have provided thousands of individual, couple and family therapy or consultation sessions with people and their loved ones in regards to faith crisis. We have offered numerous presentations specifically focused on this topic. It never fails to shock when we consistently hear stories where an otherwise healthy marriage went the way of divorce primarily for this reason. When parents will no longer let siblings have contact with minor siblings because of the fear of a “negative influence.” Or when adult children not allowing grandparents to see their grandchildren for the same fear. We hear of adolescents getting kicked out of their homes, or financial aids stopping in the middle of college because of belief systems changing. We hear family members weeping at the thought that their loved ones will no longer be able to join them in heaven and others weeping because they are no longer seen as whole and legitimate as a human being because of lack of deity belief. People are motivated to find new jobs and move away from neighborhoods and communities where they feel ostracized. People go years without attending family reunions or reaching out to those they once enjoyed regular contact with. The grief is profound. The pain and anger are real. Often, people on both sides of the table get into defensive, self-protective modes that shut down communication. Relationships are wedged. Dynamics are often shifted in irrevocable ways. And little to no help is found in the structure of the church entity itself to guide people in these types of situations. In fact, because the religious entity feels threatened too, the messages found over the pulpit   or in church magazines often focus on “us versus them” rhetoric, inaccurate reasons why people are struggling, and will label people as apostate/believer, inactive/active, worthy/unworthy, etc. These messages create more distance and wedging and little solution to the day-to-day help individuals, families and ward communities need.

Here at Mormon Faith Crisis, we are dedicated to the process of normalizing faith transitions: helping individuals and family systems understand that these are actually a normal part of any lifespan or systemic journey. We are dedicated to offering concrete, day-to-day tools and strategies that can help people navigate tricky relationships, protect themselves with healthy boundaries, and increase intimacy overall. We hope that you find this book and project useful towards these efforts. And we are excited to do so in a format where we are going to welcome your experiences, comments, suggestions and ideas every step of the way.

Please take the time to read more about each author, so you can better understand our approach and experience with faith crisis. We are committed to making this project accessible for people on both sides of the aisle. Whether you yourself are experiencing a faith crisis, or you are a spouse, family member, or friend of someone experiencing a faith crisis, we plan to speak to the challenges both face. We recognize that our own personal biases may get in the way of this at times, and invite you to let us know how we may not be inclusive of your particular experience. Your involvement will be what makes this project particularly rich.

We are aware that there can be a distrust of mental health professionals who do not come from a shared background or have not experienced a shared event. We understand there are challenges and benefits to seeing someone who either identifies as Mormon or does not. It is impossible for any mental health professional to have personally experienced every event their clients come for help on. And even if they have experienced something similar, it is important not to assume that the client’s experience and the professional’s experience is in synchrony. We are aware of these ethical dilemmas and are dedicated to watching for our own personal bias and possible projection of such.

We also want the audience to know that we are aware that there is no “one-size fits all” approach to this or any other issue. At the same time, due to the many years of experience we have working with this particular topic of faith crisis, we believe we have developed theories, approaches, tools and strategies that many can find helpful in tweaking towards their own personal situations. It is our hope that this project will be a rich resource and help for the many that are finding themselves in personal pain or relational distress due to a shift in religious belief or practice.

The voices heading this project are as follow:

  • Dr. John Dehlin – Coming from the professional perspective Clinical/Counseling Psychology, and the individual perspective of having been excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for apostasy.
  • Natasha Helfer Parker – Coming from the professional perspective of a Marriage & Family Therapist and Sex Therapist and the individual perspective of being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  • Margi Dehlin – Coming from the professional pursuits of and the individual perspective of her own faith journey as she’s lived through the experience of John’s excommunication.