PROVO — Religious scholars and historians gathered at the annual Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research conference on Aug. 1-2, giving presentations ranging from Book of Mormon geography to Joseph Smith's role in the Second Great Awakening to the original context of the First Vision.
In particular, the conference featured a panel that discussed "The Loss and Rekindling of Faith," made up of four members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who previously left the faith for various reasons but eventually found their way back. All four are now active members in the LDS Church.
The panelists, who shared journeys of doubt and belief, were Maxine Hanks, a theologian and lecturer emphasizing gender in religion; Don Bradley, a writer, editor and researcher who specializes in early Mormon history; Bill Reel, a former bishop who is the creator and host of the podcast "Mormon Discussion," which seeks to help members having issues with doubt; and Janet Eyring, a professor at California State University, Fullerton.
Eyring said her faith crisis began as a child.
“I was a doubter and a contrarian from a very early age," Eyring said. "My husband calls it 'analysis paralysis.'"
Eyring said she was always asking questions, including about her uncle, Spencer W. Kimball, who at the time was the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“How can Uncle Kimball be a prophet if he’s just like the rest of us?” she asked.
The crux of her faith crisis, she said, happened while on her mission. With the persuading of her mission president, she finished her missionary service, but left the church after returning home.
“After I left I continued my spiritual search," she said. "I continued believing in God."
Eyring said she built association with people from other faith traditions, including Jewish and Hindu, in an attempt to continue learning.
“I actively spoke against the Mormon church,” she said. “I thought Mormons were deluded, simple-minded and self-righteous.”
And while she may have felt liberated, Eyring admits it wasn’t without a cost. Though she didn’t feel guilty about not following the commandments she had grown up with, she said she felt the natural effect of her poor choices.
“I missed opportunities for service," she said. "I lost the chance to have children. There were many sins of omission.”
After a 20-year absence, Eyring found her way back, thanks in part to a dedicated home teacher who offered her a place to sit if she attended sacrament meeting again. Eyring agreed, and afterward set up an appointment with her bishop.
What followed, she said, was a tearful repentance process.
“You choose to come back and it’s a richer experience,” she said. “I cry during sacrament meetings because the scriptures are coming alive. Maybe because you see your flawed self in the scriptures you didn’t see when you were younger.”
Emmilie Buchanan-Whitlock is an intern for the Deseret News with Mormon Times. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho. Contact her by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: emmiliewhitlock