Title: Whatever Happened to Faith?
Author: Robert L. Millet
Publisher: Deseret Book
Number of pages: 161
Binding: Hardcover, with dust jacket
Reviewed by Andrea Stacy for the Association for Mormon Letters
When friends gather long enough, conversation eventually turns to, “Whatever happened to _______?” It might be an old friend, an actress, or a fondly remembered pastime. If someone knows, you have your answer. If not, discussion ensues before comfort regarding the matter is established. Robert Millet’s book, “Whatever Happened to Faith?”, attempts to provide, if not a comforting answer to his question, an answer with comfort available.
As I opened the book, I found two questions of my own: what does the author mean by ‘faith,’ and to whom is he writing? ‘Faith’ encompasses many meanings, from Alma’s desire to believe to the power by which worlds were made, and much, much else. Was he writing a response to those in crises of faith, a warning to those still in faith, or something else?
Millet’s best explanation of what he means by faith occurs on p. 91:
“Faith is the total trust, complete confidence, and ready reliance upon the merits, mercy, and grace of Jesus Christ for salvation. It is a gift of the Spirit (; Moroni ), a divine endowment that affirms to the human heart the identity of the Savior and his redemptive mission.”
In the preface, he states his intended audience:
“Active, involved, and committed members of the Church who have no reservations whatsoever about the faith. . . . Active and involved members of the Church who have encountered questions or issues that now trouble them. . . . Members of the Church who have allowed themselves to slide into inactivity because of doctrinal or historical issues, current Church policies on social issues, or disappointment with Church leaders. . . . Former Latter-day Saints who have formally cut their ties with the Church . . . but feel no inclination to criticize or oppose the Church. . . .” and “Former Latter-day Saints who have formally cut their ties with the Church but are so angry about their feelings of ‘deception’ and ‘betrayal’ that they seem driven to do anything they can to embarrass . . . or block the progress of the Church.” (xiii)
In other words, anyone ever knowingly a member of the church.
That is quite an undertaking—to protect those not presently troubled, to offer a way back to faith for those who lost it, and those who no longer want it.
In fairness, I should state I fall basically into his first category, having occasional concerns, but none that affect my faith in Christ or His doctrines, and I agree with almost everything written in the book. Yet, I have a few concerns, to be covered shortly.
The genesis of the book, as stated in the first chapter, springs from his years of teaching at BYU. Millet writes, “In my last five years at BYU . . . I listened to and counseled with more students who were angry, who felt ‘betrayed,’ and even a few who planned to leave the Church after graduation, than in the previous twenty-five years combined. I found that some very real cultural and ideological factors were pressing upon the minds and hearts of the people of our day and time. . . .” (5,6)
Later, he speaks to those not struggling with faith about those who are, mentioning several topics causing disquiet or distress, such as the Church and how it treats gays, lesbians and their families, the historicity of the Book of Mormon, women and the priesthood, and then writes:
“They are serious concerns to our brothers and sisters, and they should be taken seriously by those who desire to provide answers and strengthen their faith. Elder M. Russell Ballard explained to teachers in the Church Educational System, ‘Gone are the days when a student asked an honest question and a teacher responded, “Don’t worry about it”’. . . .” (28)
In speaking of those who leave the Church (or become unbelievers), Millet writes:
“The last thing in the world such persons need—and I suggest that the Lord would definitely not want this—is for members of his Church to turn their backs on those who were once their Church friends, to spurn or shun them in any way. (54)
“Matters pertaining to marriage, home, family, and sexual orientation have been in the news and in the courts for much of the past few decades. These tender topics are not just conversational matters about which curious observers may comment in disinterested fashion. No, they are real and poignant, because in many cases it is a member of our own or our extended family—or a beloved friend and associate—who is seeking love, support, and understanding. How we interact . . . strikes at the heart of what it means to be a Christian, a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no place in the Church of Jesus Christ for hatred, bigotry, vicious speech, or even thoughtless insensitivity, for such feelings and actions are alien to the Spirit of Him who is the Prince of Peace, the Great Physician.” (70,71)
This theme is one of the best in the book, striving to build bridges between those comfortable in their faith and those no longer so. I envision many faith-full members of the church reading this book, nodding their heads thoughtfully as he points towards maintaining and/or regaining faith—I hope they are nodding in agreement through these passages as well.
Millet is equally frank in what he believes to be the way to maintain faith, and to regain it. He offers occasional check lists for the faithful, questions to ask oneself, and many, many quotes from scripture, church leaders past and present, theologians of other faiths. I, who love quotes (and lifted a few for my quote file), found this slightly frustrating, because so many times when I thought he was nearing a conclusion, it all too frequently came in someone else’s voice. For instance, in discussing the concept that the church should follow society’s ‘growth’, his most clearly stated viewpoint comes from Spencer W. Kimball:
“’The holy prophets have not only refused to follow erroneous human trends, but have pointed out these errors,’ President Spencer W. Kimball declared. ‘So often the prophets have been rejected because they first rejected the wrong ways of their own society.’ He continued: ‘Prophets have a way of jarring the carnal mind. . . . It is because of their love and integrity that *they cannot modify the Lord’s message merely to make people feel comfortable. They are too kind to be so cruel.* I am grateful that prophets do not crave popularity.’” (16,17) [It is not clear if Millet or Kimball used the italics here]
Millet has other guides for returning to faith, including one spoken of to missionaries by then apostle Harold B. Lee:
“. . . I sense that not all of you have the kind of testimony that you would like to have. I sense that some of you are a bit hesitant to say with boldness, ‘I know.’ Well, let me say this: If you don’t know for sure, then *you lean on my testimony, for I do know.*” (97) [again uncertain as to who used the italics]
Millet then writes:
“No man or woman is an island. We need never walk alone, for we are not alone. Further, we need not see dependence on others as a sign of weakness. It is not. In some ways, it is a sign of strength, and certainly an evidence of humility. It is significant that the Savior regards this willingness to lean upon the faith of others to be a spiritual gift: ‘To some it is given by the holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world. *To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.*’ (D&) (97) [author’s emphasis]
His other main thrust also comes from the D&C. He quotes section , which tells the saints to “give heed unto all his [Joseph Smith’s] words and commandments . . . for his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, *in all patience and faith.*” [author’s emphasis] Millet then writes:
“That’s the key: We are to receive—and, I suggest, evaluate—the Prophet’s words, and for that matter, the whole of the Restoration, in patience and faith.” (58)
Does Millet succeed in answering his question to the benefit of all of his intended audience? To many, yes. Though I’m not certain he’s answered the question yet for himself. “I really do want to know: Whatever happened to faith? Whatever happened to our ability to be patient in receiving answers, in assuming the best about our Church, its leaders, our scriptures, and our doctrines?” (76)
What I found missing was the other half of the book, or the second volume. Once, my mother and I, excited to see birds flitting about our somewhat sterile neighborhood, thought it would be wonderful to see more. So we bought birdseed, and hung a feeder on the mulberry tree in the front yard. And birds came—house finches, purple finches, English house sparrows at the feeder, mourning doves and blue jays pecking at what fell to the ground. But where were the mockingbirds, the phoebes, the orioles? A little research taught us that those birds were not seed eaters. When we hung out pieces of fruit, a special oriole feeder, they, too, visited our yard. The phoebes were insect eaters and remained visitors as long as the flying insects were about. All the bird varieties needed the same basic nutrients, but in differing forms.
I, like the author, believe we all need faith, and believe also his sense of how to get and keep it. But the form—the presentation–of help given needs to vary according to our individual needs. “Whatever Happened to Faith” meets the needs of much of Millet’s intended audience. But I fear it might not be in a form others would seek. Despite two stories the author tells of his own bouts with spiritual doubt, I miss the emotional intimacy that is present when meeting face to face—in his counseling with students, discussions with friends, or even a lecture. The author is very empathetic towards those who have lost faith when speaking to those of faith, but stern, almost scolding, when speaking to them directly. In a face to face discussion, it is easier to sense when, or if, to offer blunt counsel. I wish the author had taken more time (pages) to establish rapport with those no longer in faith, to engage in dialogue, before giving the unequivocal counsel, in expanding this slim volume, or in a second aimed solely at those deeply disaffected and gone from the church.
And what I would love to have found were the personal stories from those who had struggled to regain faith, and succeeded. How did they do it? What parts of his advice (whether or not they’d actually heard it from him) worked best? What was hardest? How do they feel now? That would have made the book, in my opinion, more complete, and less theoretical. Nonetheless, the book is worth the read for those concerned with faith—theirs, or that of loved ones. Millet is hopeful:
“Solutions to problems may be found, but the most effective and productive path is always one of patience and faith. The resolution of most serious challenges to one’s faith requires both time and trust. Thus, don’t be in too much of a hurry to give up on what you don’t understand, and don’t minimize or neglect what you do know and understand. The promise is sure: if we are faithful in a few things, God will enlighten and empower us to be able to solve and resolve many things (see ).” (75)