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Good Thinking | 

Episode 8

Why Evidence-Based Faith Matters

60 min

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for,” Hebrews 11:1 reads, “the evidence of things not seen.” Hmm. Faith is the evidence of things not seen. Does this mean faith is the evidence we have of things not seen? Could we say it this way? Faith is the level of confidence we feel toward a truth claim or proposed reality which we have not seen, based on the degree of evidence we have accumulated of its truthfulness and existence. Hmm. Maybe. If so, is this why the Lord’s prescription in D&C 88:118 for those who “have not faith,” is for them to seek learning? Is he suggesting that by diligently studying wisdom from the best books, we will find evidences of the unseen that will enlarge our faith? In this episode of Church History Matters, Scott and Casey explore this very idea of evidence-based faith seeking as a way to understand each of the thinking skills and mental frameworks we’ve explored throughout this series. Could it be that, for some of us, at least, the best way to strengthen our faith is to gather evidences of the unseen by combining good thinking skills with a study of great source material? Quite possibly. But, as today’s discussion will make plain, there is also a deep need to add to this approach a few crucial attributes as well.

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Scott Woodward:
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for,” Hebrews 11:1 reads, “the evidence of things not seen.” Hmm. Faith is the evidence of things not seen. Does this mean faith is the evidence we have of things not seen? Could we say it this way? Faith is the level of confidence we feel toward a truth claim or proposed reality which we have not seen, based on the degree of evidence we have accumulated of its truthfulness and existence. Hmm. Maybe. If so, is this why the Lord’s prescription in D&C 88:118 for those who “have not faith,” is for them to seek learning? Is he suggesting that by diligently studying wisdom from the best books, we will find evidences of the unseen that will enlarge our faith? Today on Church History Matters, Casey and I explore this very idea of evidence-based faith seeking as a way to understand each of the thinking skills and mental frameworks we’ve explored throughout this series. Could it be that, for some of us, at least, the best way to strengthen our faith is to gather evidences of the unseen by combining good thinking skills with a study of great source material? Quite possibly. But, as today’s discussion will make plain, there is also a deep need to add to this approach a few crucial attributes as well. I’m Scott Woodward, and my co-host is Casey Griffiths, and today we dive into our eighth episode in this series dealing with truth seeking and good thinking. Now, let’s get into it.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
All right. Hello, Scott.

Scott Woodward:
Hey, Casey Griffiths. What’s going on, my brother?

Casey Paul Griffiths:
I’m doing great.

Scott Woodward:
Awesome.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
We’re headed towards the conclusion of this series.

Scott Woodward:
Mm-hmm. Yeah. Trying to land the plane here pretty soon. We’ve taken a little break from talking about any one specific historical episode and just try to be a little more meta, right? Just kind of thinking about how to think about some of these complex doctrinal and historical issues. It’s been fun.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
And in a lot of ways, this should have been our first series, right? When you and I teach church history classes, we spend the first couple of days doing this.

Scott Woodward:
It’s what we do.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Just giving the students the mental tools to navigate complicated issues.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Which I hope this series has done for our listeners as well.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah, it’s so helpful when you have this common language to fall back on, right? And say, hold on, hold on, let’s talk about the assumptions underneath that, or hold on, let’s three-lens that statement, you know? Let’s look through the doctrinal lenses and think about that.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah.

Scott Woodward:
And when you can kind of build that shorthand into a class or into a course, it’s, like, so awesome. So helpful.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
It’s definitely the whole “teach a person to fish rather than give them a fish” kind of thing.

Scott Woodward:
Mm-hmm.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
And I find my students starting to use this language, too. They’ll come up to me, and they’ll phrase it like, “Hey, the three lenses,” or “Am I being flexible enough in my thinking or is this just an assumption I made?”

Scott Woodward:
Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Or something like that.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
So it’s really useful.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah, just recently—we’re recording this in October. Where I’m at, it got pretty cold, a little too cold too quickly, and I heard one of my students comment to another student that the cold weather has violated my assumptions, is what she said. They were laughing and just using phrases right out from what we’ve been talking about in class. She’s like, the cold weather’s violated my assumptions, and that’s why I’m grumpy, you know?

Casey Paul Griffiths:
That is a proud moment for a teacher, right? That’s just beautiful application.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah. Anyway.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
So I think what we’re going to try and do today is review the skills that we’ve gone over and then use a couple examples from church history to set this up.

Scott Woodward:
We kind of want to review it from a slightly different angle, right? A slightly different perspective to kind of re-look at everything we’ve talked about kind of super briefly. But can I introduce the new angle?

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yes. Yes, and this was inspiration that came to you while you were riding your bike in the cold, just so everybody knows the backstory.

Scott Woodward:
Oh, man. Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Scott gets his most important revelations when he’s riding his bike, and it is freezing cold where he lives.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah, a lot of people, it happens when they’re really, really warm, like in the shower.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah.

Scott Woodward:
For me, I guess it’s when I’m super cold, my hands are freezing, and I’m like, “Why didn’t I wear earmuffs?”

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah.

Scott Woodward:
And then it’s like, bing! Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah, you’re like a monk on a high mountaintop that doesn’t eat for six weeks. Pain is what brings you revelation. That’s not how it works for me, but that works for you.

Scott Woodward:
That’s so funny. No, it normally doesn’t work for me quite that way at all, actually. But here’s the angle—and our listeners, you guys get to decide if you like this or not, but here was the thought as I was just coming here this morning. I thought, we need to talk about Hebrews 11:1 to look at everything that we’ve talked about. You recall in episode 1 that we introduced our theme scripture for this entire series, which is Doctrine and Covenants 88:118. I’m going to read that one more time for us all. The Lord says this, and the context here is kind of introducing the school of the prophets, where the Lord’s encouraging church leaders to get together, and anyone who’s about to go out on missions, that kind of thing, to get together and learn together, but here’s how he frames it. Listen to this: “And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom. Yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom. Seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” And we marveled a little bit in episode one about how interesting this is, right? Where the Lord is saying, I know that not everybody has faith, and I’m okay with that. I’m not bothered by that. And in fact, I have a prescription for that. And it is that you hit the books together with like-minded seekers who are trying to learn and develop their own wisdom and bolster their own faith. Like, the solution to not having faith is learning to seek, learning diligently in a interdependent way with other seekers. From the best sources, right? He calls it the best books. We’ve been calling that the best sources.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah.

Scott Woodward:
What struck me this morning as I was riding my bike here was, as all have not faith. Scott, remember Hebrews 11:1, what it says about faith? And so let me just read that verse as maybe a companion theme scripture for this series. Hebrews 11:1 is the first time I’m aware of in scripture where faith is defined. It says this: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for” and “the evidence of things not seen.” Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. We’ve talked about this a little bit when we talked about the three witnesses way back in that series, when we were talking about the Book of Mormon translation. We’re struck by this idea that God is actually into certain types of evidence. He doesn’t want us just to go along blindly trusting.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Right.

Scott Woodward:
Joseph B. Wirthlin once said—he said, “Often what passes for faith in this world is little more than gullibility.” And that’s not the kind of faith the Lord’s talking about when he says, as all have not faith, seek learning. He’s not saying, there’s not enough gullible people in this church. We need to, you know, that’s not what he’s saying. We have Elder Orson Pratt saying, “True faith is founded on true evidence. The greater the evidence, the greater will be the faith resulting from that evidence.” We have Elder Talmage, one of my favorite quotes: “From trustworthy evidence, rightly interpreted, true faith will spring. The foundation of faith in God is a sincere belief in Him as sustained by evidence.” So that, combined with D&C 88, has just got me thinking. As all have not faith, or evidence of the unseen world, the unseen things, learn. Learn deeply from the best sources. So I’d say it like this. I just wrote this out this morning: Faith is the level of trust and commitment we feel toward a truth claim based on the degree of evidence we have of its truthfulness and reliability. So the Lord’s saying, as all have not faith, seek diligently from the best sources to find evidence upon which to base your faith. And a lot of what this series has been about, Casey, right, has been this question of, like, how do we handle and evaluate evidence?

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah.

Scott Woodward:
Right? What mental moves are made by intelligent, critically thinking Latter-day Saints whose faith is strengthened rather than damaged by diving deeply into our church’s history and doctrine? I think it has a lot to do with how they handle and evaluate evidence. What frameworks of thinking do they use when approaching scripture and history? It’s really a question about how do they handle and evaluate evidence. And so I think it might be fun, just for a few minutes today, to go back through each of the skills we’ve been talking about, just briefly, and talk about them through the framework of evidence. Evidence-based, faith-strengthening learning. How’s that sound?

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yes. Let’s do a quick review of some of the skills we went over. We went over so much stuff. I’m trying to think of where to start. Where do you want to start?

Scott Woodward:
Yeah. Well, let’s see. Episode two, we talked about the three lenses of evaluating doctrine, right?

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Right.

Scott Woodward:
And coming from, you know, this Hebrews 11:1 angle, we could ask it like this: how do you evaluate evidence for a doctrinal truth claim so that you can have confidence, or lack of confidence, in its truthfulness? And we talked about, right, you need to go to the scriptures and look for consistent repetition in scriptures to make sure that you’re understanding that doctrine correctly and that it’s substantiated there. Look for repeated teachings by the prophets, and then look for confirmation by the Holy Ghost. And then we sort of pickleballed that back and forth in our third episode, right? We played around with different truth statements. What we were essentially doing was saying, what evidence do we have scripturally, in the words of the prophets, and by confirmation of the Spirit, that X, Y, or Z is true? So in other words, how much faith might you have in that based on the evidence? I just really like this idea of evidence of things not seen, because growing up, I thought, that means you believe in something you can’t see, and that’s faith. But that’s not what he said. He said, Faith is the evidence you have of the unseen thing. It doesn’t mean you can’t see the evidence. You can see the evidence, but what you can’t see is the thing the evidence points toward.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Right.

Scott Woodward:
I like the analogy I share with my students of, like, you know, you’re going on a hike, you see a smoke billowing up over yonder hill, and you can kind of smell burning wood, and you see someone zipping towards you on their four wheeler, panicked look on their face, and they’re saying, hey, there’s fire over there! Turn around! Go the other way! There’s fire! You have that old saying that where there’s smoke, there’s fire, right?

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Right.

Scott Woodward:
We can’t see the fire, but we can see the evidence of the unseen thing, right? Smoke smell, panicked four wheel rider coming at you—like, these would be evidence of the unseen thing. So you’re not gullible for believing there’s fire on the other side of that hill. You’ve evaluated the evidence, and then you’ve calibrated a certain level of confidence about that truth claim based on the evidence.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Right.

Scott Woodward:
And since we can’t see God right now, we can’t normally see angels, we don’t often have our own personal visions, we don’t know Joseph Smith personally, what we’ve been doing and what we need to do as we evaluate doctrine and church history is just look at the preponderance of evidence so that we can calibrate a level or degree of confidence, faith, toward that truth claim. So doctrinally, that’s how we did it. With the three lenses. We played around, we pickleballed that in episode three. We’re just looking for how do you get at doctrine? How can you be confident in the evidence?

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Right. And part of the utility of the three lenses, the scriptures, the prophets, and the Spirit, are to basically say you don’t have to defend stuff that the Church doesn’t actually teach.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
A large number of people that are upset with teachings of the Church are upset with things that aren’t in the scriptures, that aren’t taught by the prophets, and that aren’t confirmed by the Holy Ghost. And so the first step might just be to say, is this something the church actually teaches? And do I have evidence that the church actually teaches this? And if so, yes, then we’re off to the races. But if not, you can say, hey, we don’t actually teach that or your sources are a little off. That’s not something that the church actually has as part of its teaching, so . . .

Scott Woodward:
Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
All right. That’s how we think doctrinally.

Scott Woodward:
And it gets a little bit sticky when it’s, well, yes, an apostle has taught that, or, yes, Orson Pratt said that.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Mm-hmm.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah, Joseph Fielding Smith did say that. But let’s go evaluate that. Remember that Joseph Fielding Smith himself—I think we quoted him in that episode—said, evaluate anything I say through the lens of the scriptures, right? Because that’s primary when it comes to doctrine. Like, make sure that when I’m making a doctrinal claim, you can back it up in scripture. Otherwise you’re not duty bound to accept what I say. So that’s when it gets a little more tricky.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah.

Scott Woodward:
But again, the lenses are super helpful.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Very good. All right. Second thing that we talked about was how to think historically, and this one we pointed out, hey, this is the methodology that trained historians use, and before we get upset about some historical source, we need to ask ourselves, hey, does this actually hold up to this test? So we had five questions we asked there. Number one, how close is the source to the actual event? A primary source is going to be better. Someone that was there that actually saw it happen. A lot of times people freak out over things that are secondhand, thirdhand, fourthhand—totally made up, to be honest with you.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Second was how much time passed before it was recorded? So when was it written down? And are we willing to basically say a person can be well-meaning but still forget or moosh together details and have problems? So when was it written down?

Scott Woodward:
Did you say moosh?

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Moosh. Yeah, because—

Scott Woodward:
That’s a new academic term I’m not familiar with. I like it.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Oh, you haven’t visited England where their number one side dish is literally called mooshy peas. And I was like, what are mooshy peas? They said they’re peas that are all mooshed. And I was like, that doesn’t sound good. They’re like, welcome to England, pal. None of our food’s good.

Scott Woodward:
So sometimes people do with memories what the British do with peas. They moosh it.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
It gets a little soft and mooshy. Very good.

Scott Woodward:
Okay, okay. Good, good.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Number three is what’s the motive of the person telling the account? Is the person overwhelmingly anti-church? Or we talked about this, too, is the person overwhelmingly pro-church? Is there objectivity in what they’re stating? Are they trying to tell the story in a balanced way? Is it clear that they totally hate somebody or they totally love somebody?

Scott Woodward:
Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
And that’s skewed the way they’re telling the story.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Number four would be how factual or opinionated is it? Which would be another way of saying, hey, does it line up with what we know? Does this line up with other facts? And does it work in that sense? And then number five is how does it compare to other accounts?

Scott Woodward:
Super important.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
We have multiple accounts of a number of key events in the church. Rather than just going with what this one person says, let’s pull back and look at what every person says and then evaluate the evidence. Like, one of the examples we used here to just run through this was someone questioned the testimony of the three witnesses, and said that Martin Harris had told them they saw the plates like the way you see a city from a distant mountain. Well, that was a secondhand account, right?

Scott Woodward:
Stephen Burnett.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Stephen Burnett. It was recorded fairly close. Well, it’s not recorded close to the time the witnesses met, it’s eight years after. But Stephen Burnett also has questionable motives. He’s upset. He’s angry. He’s in the process of leaving the church, and it comes across as very opinionated. The place where that one really suffers is when it’s compared to the other accounts—

Scott Woodward:
Right.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
—where there’s just a mound of evidence, accounts, where the three witnesses say, no, we were there. We saw it. It was in broad daylight.

Scott Woodward:
We saw with these eyes, these ears, heard, yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Even Martin Harris, who’s the person who’s saying, said that city-in-the-distance quote, on several occasions says, I saw it the same distance as me and you to that wall, or things like that.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah. And he’s always saying, like, do you see that object?

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah.

Scott Woodward:
Well, just as sure as you see that object, so sure did I see the plates and the angel, right?

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah.

Scott Woodward:
He’s emphatic that he saw so clearly, as clearly as you see my hand or as clearly as you see that tree or as clearly as you see the sun shining in the sky. I mean, he has all these cool comparisons. That’s very different than what Stephen Burnett is saying.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah.

Scott Woodward:
A city through the mountain.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah, so because Stephen Burnett is secondhand, because he clearly has ulterior motives, and because we just have a mountain of other evidence that goes against what he says, we’d have to brand his account as an outlier.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
The other thing I would emphasize is Stephen Burnett isn’t saying Martin Harris denied his testimony.

Scott Woodward:
Right.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Stephen Burnett was saying, oh, his testimony isn’t what I thought it was. But it’s so contradictory to what everyone else said that were primary source participants that we have to kind of set it aside and say, that’s probably not accurate.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
So that’s how we think historically.

Scott Woodward:
And that’s crucial, right? Like, as all have not faith, seek ye diligently from the best sources. And what you just showed us is a cool example of that. How do you evaluate a Stephen Burnett antagonistic account about Martin Harris? It’s like, well, you do it like that. You do it like that. You look at all the other sources. You’re looking at his motive. You’re looking at all the things. Like, this is how intelligent, critically thinking Latter-day Saints handle and evaluate evidence. And that evidence becomes evidence of the unseen. We weren’t there. We didn’t see the angel. We didn’t hear the voice. We didn’t see the plates. But as you evaluate the evidence, you can have a certain degree of confidence about the truthfulness and reliability of what the three witnesses are saying.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
You’re right.

Scott Woodward:
And everything that that then implies ontologically, epistemologically, about the reality of the other world, the unseen world, place of angels and gods. Like, if the three witnesses are telling the truth, that’s a game changer.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah.

Scott Woodward:
That’s an ontological game changer.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
And I think we mentioned this before, but we live in the golden age of church history where most of these original source documents—like, if you want to read a primary source document, you’re a couple clicks away.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Start with the Joseph Smith Papers, where pretty much everything that’s associated with Joseph Smith is found. Go to the original source document. Look at it yourself, evaluate it, and then weigh it against the other accounts, and that’s a good guide to accurate history. History isn’t an exact science, but if you know these tools, you’re able to tell good history from bad history. And there’s bad history that’s anti the church and pro the church.

Scott Woodward:
Right.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
It’s important that you know the difference between good and bad history.

Scott Woodward:
Love it.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
I think the next skill was mental flexibility.

Scott Woodward:
Yes.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
So walk us through mental flexibility.

Scott Woodward:
The skill of mental flexibility is the ability to identify your own assumptions that you think about a thing and then challenge those assumptions and then modify those assumptions in light of new information after humble and honest analysis, right? So we invoked a lot of Adam Grant. We like him as a thinker. He talked about rethinking being a skill set and also a mindset, that intelligence is often thought of as the ability to think and learn, but he says it’s just as important to think of intelligence as the ability to rethink and to unlearn. And we invoked, I think, Master Yoda at that point, that you must unlearn what you have learned. So this cognitive flexibility is a skill set and a mindset that helps us avoid the dangers of fixed thinking, especially as it applies to our understanding of God and prophets and the church. And we tried to illustrate that with some examples of fixed thinking people in church history and how their testimonies got rocked, and we did some simple ones, like Joseph Wakefield leaving the church after seeing Joseph Smith playing with kids. We did some more complex ones with Ezra Booth and others, but the point is that your assumptions are definitely going to be violated. That’s just part of learning. Our assumptions are going to be violated at some point.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah.

Scott Woodward:
Either by something someone says, by some historical fact we learn, by some doctrinal thing that we thought was true but we find out later is not quite what we thought, and the question now is, are you in a position mentally, can you make the mental moves to re-evaluate, rethink, and reform, and come to a better, more solid place in your understanding? Like, how do you evaluate the evidence when your assumptions are violated? What mental moves will you make? Will you ask the right questions? We talked about how this is kind of hard. It’s kind of hard because it takes humility. None of us like to change. We don’t like discomfort, and change is uncomfortable. But those who are willing to do this, my experience is you always land in a better place when you’re willing to do this.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Just to go back to the example of Ezra Booth, we cited Ezra Booth, who was converted when he saw Joseph Smith perform a miracle. Joseph Smith heals Elsa Johnson’s lame arm, and it seems like Ezra Booth’s assumption was that that was going to be the norm, when in reality miraculous healings like that are the exception, not the rule. Then Ezra goes on this journey to Zion, which is longer and harder than he thought it was going to be. Seems like he wasn’t able to make the adjustments to say, hey, maybe building Zion is going to be a challenge. It’s going to take a long time. And finally Ezra Booth had personal issues with Joseph Smith, and it seems like he couldn’t get past the mental hurdle of prophets are human. They sometimes make mistakes.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
They sometimes make hasty judgments. We have to accept them with their flaws as well, accepting that only Jesus is perfect. So that mental flexibility is a really, really valuable skill to have.

Scott Woodward:
And we really tried to drive home the point that when your assumptions about God, prophets, or the church are violated by some reality, that at that point your faith is in jeopardy.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah.

Scott Woodward:
You’re at a crossroads. You now have essentially two choices: You can throw out everything you believe about God, prophets, and the church, or you can recognize that you could be wrong, and you can be a seeker. You can go back to sources of truth, the best books, re-examine your expectations against the truth of the Word of God. So now you’re pulling in the three lenses, right, and you’re saying wait, what does the Word of God actually say? Can prophets make mistakes? A hundred percent. Do we have lots of examples in scripture? We do. Do miracles happen? Yes. Do they happen often? Not actually, no. If you look at scripture, it’s not just a consistent stream of miracle after miracle. There’s a lot of, we could call them dead periods, right, where the miraculous just isn’t happening. But then when it does happen, it’s so remarkable we often put it in scripture.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah.

Scott Woodward:
So just re-examining our assumptions against the truth of the Word of God, modifying accordingly, is such an important skill. It’s hard to overemphasize the importance of that one, but yeah. How do you evaluate evidence, especially when the evidence goes against what you think, right?

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah. So we’ve got doctrinal accuracy, historical accuracy, mental flexibility, and then the next one was contextualization.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah, tell us about that.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Contextualization is the ability to put true but sometimes shocking or uncomfortable facts into their historical, theological, or cultural context. So this skill basically asks you, when you encounter something that seems strange or off to you, to ask yourself, was it strange or off to the people in that situation? Classic example is Joseph Smith using a seer stone. That is strange to a person in the 21st century, but the question we should be asking was, was it strange for a young man living in Palmyra, New York, to be using a seer stone? Seems like it was a little bit unique, but also, they’re sort of enmeshed in this culture of folk magic, where things like divining rods or seer stones or things like that weren’t seen as demonic or even anti-Christian. They were seen as Christian.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
They were evidences of God’s power and a way for God to speak to them within their cultural context.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
So for a 21st century person, a seer stone seems strange, but to a person in Joseph Smith’s day a seer stone was something that you would look to towards getting guidance, help, locating lost objects, even doing something as mundane as finding a water source—

Scott Woodward:
Yeah. Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
—for where you were going to dig your well. Other examples with this would be, hey, when we’re looking at things like masonry and the church, how enmeshed were masons in the society of Joseph Smith’s day?

Scott Woodward:
Right.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Was it normal for Joseph Smith and the other members of the church to affiliate with masons? How many members of the church were masons?

Scott Woodward:
Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
And the big thing that sometimes people point out is, you know, there’s similarities between the Masonic rites and the temple ordinances, but everybody that got the temple ordinances were Masons.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
And they didn’t seem to have any problem with this. They saw it as a recontextualization of what the Masons had been teaching into a Christian context.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah, and we spent a series talking about race and our church’s history. That makes a lot of people uncomfortable to come across statements or views of past church leaders that come across racist to us today. Racism, as we’ve talked about, is always evil. It’s never condoned. It’s never okay. But contextualizing them in the American context in which they lived, we found to be very, very helpful. We think that’s absolutely crucial as you evaluate the church’s stances on slavery in the 1830s and 40s and black participation in the church throughout its history. We tried the best we could, Casey, to show context all the way through that, in that series. You cannot do that history without doing the context. If you skimp on the historical context in which those things played out, you’re going to mangle. You’re going to moosh? No.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Mangle’s the right word here.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah, you’re going to mangle the history. You’re going to mangle the conclusions that you come to. You’re going to mess it up.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Right.

Scott Woodward:
What we’re trying to do is learn how to be careful in handling and evaluating evidence. We tried really, really hard on the race and priesthood series to try to illustrate that and to show why that matters so much.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
And that is something that really does matter. I mean, all these things, whether it’s identifying the doctrinal accuracy of a statement, whether it’s determining if a historical account is valid, whether it’s examining your assumptions or contextualization, takes work.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
And that’s one of the things we have to mention, and I think would be an overall arching thing, is it takes time to do this. So think slowly about things.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
A lot of people that want to shake your faith will just say something really shocking and hope that it just rocks your world, right?

Scott Woodward:
Right.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
But a person that’s grounded and settled in the faith can take the time to say, oh, I haven’t heard that before. Let me have a little while to process and contextualize it. And usually you’ll find that there is justification for that thing, or there’s at least contextualization so you can understand it. We can’t justify things like the Mountain Meadows Massacre, but if we understand the historical context, we can at least say, well, this makes sense, and here’s the reason why this doesn’t destroy my faith. It’s something that could enhance my faith. It’s something that could help me avoid some of the mistakes that people have made in the past.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah, it’s a shameful thing in our history, but that’s not a deal breaker to our faith.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah.

Scott Woodward:
It doesn’t nullify the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon or the Restoration. It’s a powerful learning episode for us to be more wise than those folks were.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Right. So now that we’ve kind of laid out this toolbox of truth, we’re going to give you a few scenarios as to how different individuals handled a challenging time. And for that we’re going to go to one of the most challenging times in the history of the church: probably pound for pound the worst apostasy in the history of the church, the Kirtland apostasy. In 1836 to 1837, there is a banking crisis that happens in Kirtland. To summarize, make a long story short, Joseph Smith and the other leaders of the church ask a lot of church members to invest in a bank called the Kirtland Safety Society, and the bank fails. The bank fails, and a lot of people lose money, and this causes a lot of people to start to question their faith. And not just new converts, but we’re talking some of the most seasoned members of the church: people that were apostles, people that served in high positions within the church. I think by the time we’re done here, we’re going to have, you know, five apostles leave the church or are excommunicated.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah, the statistic I’ve heard is about 33 percent of general authorities will leave the church or are excommunicated, and then only about 10 to 15 percent of general membership does. So that’s not a majority, not even close to half, but it’s too much. It’s large. Like you said, pound for pound one of the most difficult seasons of apostasy in the history of the church.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
And today I think if one apostle left the church, it would send people reeling.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Imagine if you had four or five.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
And Brigham Young, by the way, says that every member of the Quorum of the Twelve, except for him and Heber C. Kimball, turned against Joseph Smith at one point.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah. Here’s a quote from Joseph that backs Brigham up on that. Joseph said, “Of the twelve apostles chosen in Kirtland, there have been but two but what have lifted their heel against me, namely Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball.” So that’s how Joseph Smith felt, that ten out of the twelve at one point lifted their heel against him.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah. The bottom line is this is a serious thing and a major challenge for people, and justifiably so. You know, the bank failed. That was a tough thing for some people to navigate.

Scott Woodward:
Let’s call that a violation of assumptions, right?

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah.

Scott Woodward:
I think it was a fair assumption a lot of members of the church shared that true prophets don’t endorse and encourage people to invest in banks that fail. And then when the reality struck that the bank failed in the panic of 1837, when about 40 percent of banks in the U. S. fail altogether or falter, a lot of people lost a lot of money. That was really hard. People concluded some things based on that violated assumption, right? A lot of them thought that Joseph was a fallen prophet, if ever he was a true one, because of that. And so, yeah, that was brutal.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Absolutely brutal. And people navigated it in different ways, and we have a lot of information about how they navigated it.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah. Why did some people apostatize under that circumstance, but others did not?

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Mm-hmm.

Scott Woodward:
What it boils down to is some people handled the evidence differently, right? They evaluated the situation differently and therefore came to drastically different conclusions. Could we talk about some of those?

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Let’s talk about some. As you listen to each one, think about those skills of doctrinal and historical accuracy, flexible thinking and contextualization, and how each one of these individuals was able to use these skills to navigate their faith crisis, or how they demonstrated a lack of those abilities.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
So we’re going to be as charitable as possible to everybody involved in the stories here, but we want to show some good and some bad examples of how to navigate complexity when it arises in your faith life.

Scott Woodward:
Where should we start?

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Let’s start with Brigham Young. Let’s start with the secret meeting in the temple. That’s just a good title, isn’t it?

Scott Woodward:
The secret meeting in the temple.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
What was going on, specifically a meeting, a clandestine meeting sponsored by several apostles. This is not just your average, everyday nobody. It’s Luke and Lyman Johnson, John Boynton, all members of the Quorum of the Twelve, who decide that they’re going to surreptitiously replace Joseph Smith as the president of the church.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah. And what they were proposing was to set David Whitmer as the new president of the church. Which, as bombastic as that seems, as dramatic as that seems to us, that was actually Joseph Smith’s contingency plan. He at one point said that if he ever became a fallen prophet, that David Whitmer should be his successor. David Whitmer at the time was the president of the church in Missouri. They called him the president of the church in Missouri.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah.

Scott Woodward:
And Joseph Smith was the president of the church in Kirtland. If ever the two of them were together in the same room, Joseph was the president, right? But that’s what church members knew David as. He was the church president in Missouri. And so that was the contingency plan, and they thought it was time. Time to execute on the contingency plan, because Joseph is clearly a fallen prophet because of what’s happening with the bank. But they made one mistake. They invited Brigham Young to their anti Joseph Smith meeting. Do you want to tell us about that?

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah, they would have gotten away with their fiendish plan if it hadn’t been for that rotten Brigham Young. They asked Brigham Young what he thought about the plan. This is Brigham’s own account of it, but Brigham said “I rose up, and in a plain and forcible manner told them that Joseph was a prophet, and I knew it, and they might rail and slander him as much as they please. They could not destroy the appointment of the prophet of God. They could only destroy their own authority, cut the thread that bound them to the prophet and to God, and sink themselves to hell.” Which, whoa, that is, that’s amazing.

Scott Woodward:
So I’m going to call that a different handling of the evidence than John Boynton and Luke and Lyman Johnson. Why is Brigham seeing this so differently than those guys?

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Well, first of all, I think he understood the doctrine a little bit better, right, of how a prophet is called and how a prophet is set apart. I think he understood the situation also, too. Brigham talks about this, right? He struggled with what happened with the Kirtland Bank as well, but he was willing to back up and examine his assumptions and say, hey, is it possible that a prophet could make a big mistake about something like this? And he was able to reconcile himself to say, yeah, he can, and that doesn’t remove his calling as a prophet of God, nor does it impel me or empower me to call a new prophet. I just don’t have that power to begin with.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah, I think his exact quote we shared in a previous episode was this: he said that he came to this conclusion. “If God had a mind to leave Joseph to himself and let him commit an error, that’s no business of mine. It’s not my prerogative to call him into question with regard to any act of his life. He’s God’s servant, not mine.” That was Brigham’s conclusion. God wants to let him make a big, whopping mistake like this. That’s up to God. Who do you want to do next?

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Let’s do Parley P. Pratt.

Scott Woodward:
Okay.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Because I love Parley P. Pratt. He’s my hero. Like, I just love the guy. He’s my favorite.

Scott Woodward:
He’s awesome.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
But this is a time when he falters. He struggles and . . .

Scott Woodward:
Lifted the heel against Joseph, if you will.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
He lifted his heel against Joseph. So here’s his own account. He says, “There were jarring discords in the church in Kirtland, and many fell away and became enemies and apostates. There were also envyings, lying, strifes, and divisions, which caused much trouble and sorrow. And at this time, I also was overcome by the same spirit in a great measure, and it seemed as if the very powers of darkness which wore against the saints were let loose upon me.” So he, by his own account—and let me give a little context here: Parley was going through some stuff when this happened. His wife had just died in childbirth. He’s left a widower. He was himself dealing with health issues, and he lost a ton of money on the Kirtland Safety Society.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah, and the main trigger, if I understand it all right, is that he borrowed $2,000 from the bank, and Joseph apparently said that Parley would not get hurt in that deal, but then what happened was that Joseph sold his loan to the bank, and now Sidney Rigdon shows up and says that he needs to pay it, and he says, I can’t pay it. And Sidney says, well, then give up your land. And he says, well, then I have to give up my house, too. And Sidney says, yeah, probably. And he says, well, then, I’m going to get hurt in this deal. So Joseph lied, right? So he was incensed. He felt like Joseph was guilty of extortion and taking advantage of him and needed to repent of his greed and covetousness. He writes that in, like, a letter that kind of starts circulating like this, his grievances against Joseph Smith, calling Joseph to repentance for his greed and covetousness because Parley was getting hurt in a deal that Joseph had assured him he would not get hurt in, I think are the particulars here.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
And, I mean, this is completely understandable, right? $2,000 was a significant sum of money back in 1837. He’s going through emotional and personal turmoil, and he gives a pretty severe speech against Joseph.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah. In fact, that letter that Parley wrote, it was to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon, and in his own words he says he wrote it, “In great severity and harshness, censuring them both in regard to certain business transactions” that I just described. Parley later explained that, “This letter was written under feelings of excitement and during the most peculiar trials. I did not, however, believe at the time and never have believed at any time before or since that these men were dishonest or had wrong motives or intentions in any of their undertakings either temporal or spiritual.” That’s interesting. He just thought they, like, blew it. They made such a gaffe of a business mistake in which he was getting hurt. Calls them out.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
So how does Parley make it through this faith crisis? Well, there’s a little convert from Toronto Canada, a little British immigrant who Parley had only converted about six months before. He shows up in Kirtland, and he, among others, meets with Parley P. Pratt This is what he says to Parley: he says, “I’m surprised to hear you speak so, Brother Parley,” and I wish I could do this in a British accent, but I know I’d butcher it, so I’m just going to do it normal. He told him, “Before you left Canada you bore a strong testimony to Joseph Smith being a prophet of God and to the truth of the work he was inaugurated. You said you knew these things by revelation and the gift of the Holy Ghost. You gave me a strict charge to the effect that though you or an angel from heaven was to declare anything else, I was not to believe it. Now, Brother Parley, it is not man that I am following, but the Lord. The principles you taught me led me to him. And now I have the same testimony that you then rejoiced in. If the work was true six months ago, it’s true today. If Joseph Smith was then a prophet, he is now a prophet.”

Scott Woodward:
Boom. Who is this little convert, Casey?

Casey Paul Griffiths:
This little English convert is John Taylor, the third president of the church.

Scott Woodward:
Ah, shoot.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
This and a number of other things kind of causes Parley to reboot, might be the right word.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah. He eventually goes to Joseph and asks forgiveness and reconciles, doesn’t he?

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah. Parley shows the mental flexibility when John Taylor, among others, confronts him and says, hey, were your assumptions correct? You told me he was a prophet. Does the bank failure and your financial losses discredit that statement, or is he still a prophet? And so in this case, Parley’s checking his assumption. He had made the mistake of saying a prophet can’t make mistakes, and now John Taylor and others are causing him to kind of mentally reevaluate and be flexible, when it comes down to it, to the point where he asks for forgiveness.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah. If you are blessed to have in your life a John Taylor-like friend, count your blessings, right? Someone who can tell it to you straight but in love like that is so powerful.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
And I should mention parenthetically here, John and Parley are best friends for the rest of their lives.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah. Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
They write each other poems on Parley’s 50th birthday, which that’s not a—I mean, Scott, you’re my friend, but I don’t think I’d ever be like, hey man, I wrote you a poem. So this builds their relationship, and I think in the end becomes a benefit for Parley. He stays in the church and is faithful to the end.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah. So why did John Taylor evaluate the evidence so differently when he heard everything that was happening, you know? How was he thinking? How was he processing all this? What framework was he looking at, right? So those are all the right questions to ask as you’re going through this. Not everybody’s apostatizing when confronted with the same information. Some people are handling it differently.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah.

Scott Woodward:
Here’s another kind of whopper of an example. How about Thomas B. Marsh? And how about David Patten, too? So Thomas B. Marsh is the president of the Quorum of the Twelve.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yep.

Scott Woodward:
And the next senior apostle is David Patten, and the third senior apostle is Brigham Young at this time.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yep.

Scott Woodward:
So Thomas B. Marsh, he was stationed in Missouri, and he hears what’s going on in Kirtland with the Twelve. He hears that there’s some trouble with them. And so he wants to hold a meeting with the Twelve in Kirtland on the 24th of July, 1837. And so he and David travel from Missouri to do so. They actually had met Parley on the way out of town, and they talked some sense into him to turn back around and go back into Kirtland, and that’s when he talks to John Taylor and all that happens. And so they’re like, what is going on here? So Thomas B. Marsh and David Patten enter Kirtland. And here’s the thing: David Patten is a brother-in-law to Warren Parrish, who is the leader of the Kirtland rebellion at this time. He meets with Brigham Young, and Brigham Young tries to get Patten to go get his information from a faithful source, but instead he goes to his brother-in-law. And in fact, let me quote from Wilford Woodruff here. He said, “After David Patten had arrived in Kirtland with President Marsh to figure out what was going on, Brigham Young apparently tried to get Patten to get his information from a faithful source.” I like Brigham Young’s instincts there. “But instead he went and talked with his dissenter brother-in-law Warren Parrish, a leader of the Kirtland rebellion, and thereby got his mind prejudiced,” interesting phrase—he got his mind prejudiced, ”against the prophet. Shortly thereafter, when he went to see Joseph Smith, David said something that insulted the prophet, following which, Joseph slapped him in the face and kicked him out of the yard. Brigham Young later said, ‘This done David good.’” We’re not sure exactly what David said, but he said something so profoundly offensive to Joseph that that’s the reaction it elicited from Joseph, and David later apologized and was reconciled to the prophet. There’s one source I’m aware of that suggested that David had also talked to Oliver Cowdery that summer and asked him about accusations of Joseph committing adultery with Fanny Alger. You know, we know that Oliver insinuated that was true. I’m just kind of putting some pieces together here. I don’t know for sure, but given Joseph’s reaction to David’s insult, I wonder if David confronted Joseph about that, such as whether or not he had, you know, committed adultery with Fanny Alger and if he told Emma about that or something like that. I can imagine some sort of affront on that level eliciting that kind of reaction, but David recognizes pretty quickly that he messed up there, and he will go back and be reconciled to Joseph. So David’s lifting the heel against Joseph doesn’t last very long at all. But Thomas B. Marsh, that’s a different story. Do you want to tell us about what happens to Thomas?

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah, Thomas B. Marsh—by the way, referenced in section 112 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
A revelation given specifically to Thomas B. Marsh, because he’s mad. Thomas B. Marsh is mad that Joseph sent Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde on a mission to England.

Scott Woodward:
Why would he be mad about that?

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah, Thomas is the president of the quorum. He feels like, hey, this is my job. How dare you interfere in what I’m doing? And there’s some phrases here that you’ll recognize. One of them got turned into a hymn. The Lord counsels him—this is Doctrine and Covenants 112:10, “Be thou humble, and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand and give thee answers to thy prayers.” And then he even says this: “Exalt not yourself. Rebel not against my servant Joseph, for verily I say unto you, I am with him, and my hand shall be over him. And the keys which I have given him and to youward, shall not be taken from him till I come.” And I should mention here, too, Thomas B. Marsh is also known for the famous milk strippings story.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Where his wife got mad because someone was stealing, you know, the really nice cream from their milk.

Scott Woodward:
Wait, wait, wait. I thought his wife was the one stealing the cream.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Oh, his wife was the one stealing the cream. You’re right.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
And that does happen. That does happen. But I want to mention that’s an oversimplification.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Of what happened. That incident, but primarily what’s happening here, caused Thomas B. Marsh to struggle a little bit.

Scott Woodward:
Wait, wait. So the thing that caused Thomas B. Marsh to have issue with Joseph was the fact that Joseph sent Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde on a mission to England without consulting with the president of the Quorum of the Twelve, without talking to Thomas B. Marsh. And that, he felt like Joseph had overstepped his bounds or he’d interfered somehow with Thomas B. Marsh’s business. Is that kind of basically the main trigger here?

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah. And the two stories, the cream strippings story and this story, both have one common element, which is pride.

Scott Woodward:
Okay.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
That, you know, if you’re going off this story, Thomas was mad because I’m the president of the Quorum of the Twelve. These people are my responsibility. How dare you, the president of the church, give them an assignment without consulting with me? In the cream strippings story, it’s how dare you question my wife’s integrity? I think the famous quote from that story, and again, it’s a secondhand source, is, I will stick with my wife even if it means I go out of this church. And unfortunately, he does. He does apostatize a couple months later.

Scott Woodward:
And he’s gone for a while, isn’t he? Isn’t he gone for, like, nineteen years?

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Nineteen years. And he does, to his credit, come back after nineteen years. In fact, he comes back, he comes to Utah, he’s buried in Utah, and he even is given a chance to speak in General Conference. Brigham Young is the president of the church at this time, and he allows Thomas B. Marsh to get up, and Thomas B. Marsh actually diagnoses his own faith crisis, kind of walks us through what happened. He said, and this is the recorded discourse, “I frequently wanted to know how my apostasy began. I’ve come to the conclusion that I must have lost the Spirit of the Lord out of my heart. The next question is, how and when did you lose the Spirit? I became jealous of the prophet, and then I saw double and overlooked everything that was right and spent all my time in looking for the evil. And then when the devil began to lead me, it was easy for the carnal mind to rise up, which is anger, jealousy, and wrath. I could feel it within me. I felt angry and wrathful. And the Spirit of the Lord being gone, as the scriptures say, I was blinded, and I saw a beam in brother Joseph’s eye, but it was nothing more than a mote, and my own eye was filled with a beam, but I thought I saw a beam in his, and I wanted to get it out.” And then he says, “And as brother Heber,” this is Heber C. Kimball, “says, I got mad. And I wanted everyone else to be mad. I talked to brother Brigham and Heber, and I wanted them to be mad like myself, and I saw that they were not mad, and I got madder still because they were not. Brother Brigham, with a cautious look, said, Are you the leader of the church, Brother Thomas? I answered, no, well then, said he, why don’t you let that alone?” So.

Scott Woodward:
He handled this with anger.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Right.

Scott Woodward:
And the anger came because of his jealousy.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Right.

Scott Woodward:
That’s really interesting, right? So the facts of the matter are that Joseph Smith sent Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde on a mission, which D&C 112 says is the prerogative of the First Presidency. They can do that without consulting the president of the Twelve. But Thomas interpreted those facts in a way that led to his faith crisis, primarily, it sounds like, because what D&C 112 diagnosed, right, when it said, “Be thou humble” and don’t exalt yourself against Joseph, and by his own admission, he says, I didn’t do that. I was prideful. I was wrathful. I was mad. And that was because I was jealous. Interesting how those different things like anger, jealousy, wrath can warp your perspective of the reality of the situation.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Right.

Scott Woodward:
And in that warped perception, you do things and think things and make decisions that In Thomas B. Marsh’s case, he regrets deeply.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Drive him out of the church, right?

Scott Woodward:
Drives him out of the church.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
The thing that resonated with me is when he says, I got mad and I wanted everyone else to be mad. That sometimes that’s the pattern, that something shakes you and so you feel like you have to shake other people.

Scott Woodward:
Almost to justify yourself, right?

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah.

Scott Woodward:
I’m a rational person, right? Like, don’t y’all see what’s happening here?

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah.

Scott Woodward:
Can I get an amen?

Casey Paul Griffiths:
You have to seek justification in others. And, you know, you’ve got Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball saying, Why are you so mad? What’s the big deal? Why don’t you let this go? That happens so much that it festers. And to Thomas Marsh’s credit, it takes him a long time. But he does see. He’s able to step outside of himself and say, oh, this is what happened. I wish it hadn’t taken him nineteen years, but he does come back and dies in full fellowship in the faith. And, I’ve got to give him credit for that.

Scott Woodward:
I think the Lord’s happy when anyone comes back, however long it takes them.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah. So now that we’ve talked about three examples, let’s go back to our two positive examples. That’s Heber C. Kimball and Brigham Young. And they actually talk a lot about this. They maybe talk about the Kirtland apostasy more than anybody else and also walk us through their process for how they didn’t apostatize in spite of the fact that they were faced with some very challenging issues around them.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah. I think maybe let’s start with Brigham Young because we’ve already started talking about him. Like, Brigham manifests that ability we’ve been plugging to evaluate his own assumptions and then to say, maybe I was wrong. Maybe I was wrong. He said it took him about, what did he say, sixty seconds? Maybe thirty seconds?

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Right.

Scott Woodward:
He caught himself thinking it, and then he re-evaluated it and said, it’s up to God. If God wants to let a prophet make mistakes, that’s his, that’s his prerogative. That’s not my deal, so . . .

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Right.

Scott Woodward:
Boom. That fast, Brigham Young was okay. But that’s not the whole story. Brigham Young also explains that during this time—in fact, let me read a quote from him. He said, “During this siege of darkness, I stood close by Joseph, and with all the wisdom and power God bestowed upon me, put forth my utmost energies to sustain the servant of God.” And then he says this: “I could not sleep those days. I spent many a night, all night, without sleeping at all. I prayed a good deal.” I prayed a good deal. So notice that Brigham is using his mind at full capacity. He says “all the wisdom and power I could.” And then number two, he says he’s praying a good deal. I think we need both, Casey.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Right.

Scott Woodward:
Both faithfulness to the Lord and cognitive flexibility were essential for Brigham Young to survive the day—survive the siege of darkness, as he calls it. And that’s exactly what the Lord was counseling Thomas B. Marsh to do, which he didn’t do, right? Be thou humble, Thomas, and the Lord thy God will lead thee by the hand and give thee answer to thy prayers. Brigham did that. Thomas B. Marsh did not do that. Had Thomas B. Marsh done that, by the way, I think we might see Thomas B. Marsh University, not Brigham Young University.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Could be TMU.

Scott Woodward:
TMU.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Instead of BYU.

Scott Woodward:
I mean, yeah. So, I mean, that is a major difference between these two gentlemen. They’re faced with the same circumstance, same crisis, but Brigham Young goes one way, Thomas B. Marsh goes another.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Right.

Scott Woodward:
As far as Heber C. Kimball goes, let me just share one quote from him talking about this moment, this season of apostasy. He said, “This order of things increased during the winter to such an extent that a man’s life was in danger the moment he spoke in defense of the prophet of God. Some people feel like that today. They feel like if they speak up in defense of the prophets, like, they’re going to get mobbed, you know? If not physically, at least on social media or whatever, right? Like . . .

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah.

Scott Woodward:
Speaking in defense of the prophet of God can cause you to lose some social points. But in Heber’s situation, he says it was physically dangerous.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Right.

Scott Woodward:
So then he goes on. He says, “The only consolation I had was in bending my knees continually before my Father in Heaven and asking him to sustain me and preserve me from falling into snares and from betraying my brethren as others had done.” Wow. So I love that, that he’s saying, like, I recognize I could fall. I saw my brethren falling. I saw them falling into snares, and I prayed my heart out that the same thing would not happen to me. So there’s that humility again. And maybe we haven’t emphasized this enough throughout this series, that all of these skills, these critical thinking skills, these sound thinking skills, this toolbox of—what do you call it?

Casey Paul Griffiths:
The toolbox of truth.

Scott Woodward:
The toolbox of truth?

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah.

Scott Woodward:
All of these work best when you are humble.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah.

Scott Woodward:
That’s what makes you flexible. That’s what makes you be able to step outside yourself for a moment and say, maybe I’m thinking about this wrong. Let me go back to the sources and make sure I got this right. Let me—you know, let me reevaluate.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Let me examine my assumptions.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Let me look at the context where you’re not putting yourself forward as the world’s expert on everything. You’re willing to say, I’m willing to do a little work if that’s what it takes to figure this out.

Scott Woodward:
And it seems like prayer for Heber and Brigham seems to be the way in which they fostered that humility or maintained that climate in their souls so that humility was there, right? So it’s like the twin sisters, prayer and humility, go together.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah.

Scott Woodward:
At least, that was the case for Brigham and Heber, and I find that to be true as well.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
And I’ll point out that we’re not often satisfied by those Sunday school answers of read your scriptures and pray, but those are two really critical things when it comes to being spiritually healthy. A couple months before this all blew up, everybody had had a huge spiritual experience. Everybody was in the Kirtland Temple. The Kirtland Temple’s dedication is far and away the greatest spiritual outpouring in the history of the church. It’s not like Joseph Smith saw an angel. Everybody sees an angel or has some kind of tremendous experience, and yet those huge spiritual experiences don’t seem to have insulated them against the challenges that came when things got rough a couple months later. It seems like it was the small spiritual experiences, the reading, the praying, exercising humility, counseling with people that you trust and that care about you, that was a better protection. I would liken having a huge spiritual experience to eating a big meal, right? But to be spiritually healthy, you can’t just eat a big meal every now and then. You’ve got to exercise and eat right and do what it takes so that you’re physically healthy along the way. In Kirtland, everybody had a big meal. They saw angels and heard the voice of God. The ones that make it through the apostasy are the ones that are healthy enough to do so along the way. And so Heber and Brigham are great examples of, you know, how the little things that we do every day sustain us more spiritually. There’s that old classic quote of, I don’t know what I ate two months ago, but I know that it nourished me. If you’re continually feeding your spirit, you’re going to be a little bit more able to handle when bad things happen or new information is presented to you.

Scott Woodward:
Yeah. So—and I like how we’re ending this episode and this series. We began this episode talking about faith. As all have not faith, seek learning, even by study and also by faith. Examine the evidence. Faith is the evidence of things not seen. Look at the evidence. And not everybody looks at the evidence the same or comes at the evidence the same way. And so what we’ve been trying to get under the hood at is, how do those who stay faithful handle and evaluate evidence? What mental moves are they making? But also something we’re noticing right now as we’re talking about Brigham and Heber is what attributes do they have that help lubricate those skills and make it so that those skills kind of come naturally?

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah.

Scott Woodward:
And so that’s that’s the thing, right? That’s the thing. Humility is the thing, and prayer and steady, consistent scripture study and devotion to God, as you’re saying, just these meals that are nothing to write home about, these non-feasting just moments of regular, healthy spiritual maintenance are super critical as well. They’re not sufficient, but they’re the crucial foundation upon which the critical thinking skills rest and that fuel them. And I would say it the other way around, too. Critical thinking skills are not sufficient. You also need the attributes. You need humility. Otherwise this isn’t going to work. And so I think this is really helpful for me to kind of think through all of what we’re talking about right now and looking at historical examples and trying to think about this is that there’s more going on here than just, oh, those guys are good thinkers, those guys are bad thinkers, rIght? Or just, oh, those guys are simple, like, humble people, and those guys who leave the church are sophisticated people. Like, no, that’s not how it goes. There’s this combination of attributes and critical thinking skills. There’s, on the one hand, private faithfulness to the Lord. Heber C. Kimball said, “I bent my knees often during this time period.” Brigham Young’s saying, “I prayed a great deal.” But then there’s the second thing of that cognitive ability to identify their own assumptions and challenge those and come to a better place.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Right.

Scott Woodward:
In fact, this all makes me think of Jesus when he visited the Americas and he called twelve disciples. In 3 Nephi 18 he says something really insightful that I think is super relevant. Maybe we could end with this. He says to them, kind of looking them in their eyes, he says, “Watch and pray always, lest ye be tempted by the devil and ye be led away captive by him.” And then a few verses later he says to them again, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, you must watch and pray always lest ye enter into temptation, for Satan desireth to have you, that he may sift you as wheat. Therefore, ye must always pray.” I think this idea of watch fits really well with this idea of thinking, metacognition. Think about your thinking. Watch yourself. Watch your thinking. Watch your internal climate, right? Watch what mental moves you’re making. Check yourself.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah.

Scott Woodward:
And then second, pray always. Watch and pray always.

Casey Paul Griffiths:
Yeah. I like how you mentioned, if you can develop those Christlike attributes we talk about all the time and then couple them with these critical thinking skills, I mean, you’re just not going to be a good disciple: You’re going to be the sort of disciple that can help others work through their issues as well. And you’ll be able to navigate the challenges that you face along the way.

Scott Woodward:
It’s a powerful combination. Thank you for listening to this episode of Church History Matters. Next week we take a pause in our series while we all celebrate the holidays with our loved ones. But when we come back on January 2, we are excited to announce that we will be joined by a special guest, Dr. Keith Erickson, a church historian. Casey and I will interview Dr. Erickson about his remarkable book on truth seeking, entitled, Real vs. Rumor: How to Dispel Latter-day Myths. It’s an incredible book, and we look forward to sharing this interview with you. If you’re enjoying Church History Matters, we’d appreciate it if you could take a moment to subscribe, rate, review, and comment on the podcast. That makes us easier to find. Today’s episode was produced by Scott Woodward and edited by Nick Galieti and Scott Woodward, with show notes and transcript by Gabe Davis. Church History Matters is a podcast of Scripture Central, a nonprofit which exists to help build enduring faith in Jesus Christ by making Latter-day Saint scripture and church history accessible, comprehensible, and defensible to people everywhere. For more resources to enhance your gospel study, go to scripturecentral.org. Where everything is available for free because of the generous donations of people like you. And while we try very hard to be historically and doctrinally accurate in what we say on this podcast, please remember that all views expressed in this and every episode are our views alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Scripture Central or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Thank you so much for being a part of this with us.

Show produced by Scott Woodward and edited by Nick Galieti and Scott Woodward, with show notes by Gabe Davis.

Church History Matters is a podcast of Scripture Central. For more resources to enhance your gospel study go to scripturecentral.org where everything is available for free because of the generous donations of people like you.