At a time when some members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are dealing with doubts and uncertainty about their faith, a nationally recognized religion professor and active Mormon has published a book intended to help those struggling find practical ways to stay firm in the gospel.
Patrick Q. Mason is the Howard W. Hunter chair in Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University. His scholarly work has led to recognition and several national media appearances from New York City to Los Angeles.
While most of Mason's work centers on academic history and religious studies, he recently published a book with a different voice and style for a broader audience. The book, published jointly by Deseret Book and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, is titled "Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt."
"Through a series of events, reading things online and interacting with people, I could see a lot of pain within the church a lot of people struggling with doubts, unsure where they fit in, often disrupting relationships," Mason said during a discussion of "Planted" with a group of writers and bloggers at Deseret Book corporate headquarters in Salt Lake City. "I wrote this in a sense of mourning with those who mourn, comforting those who stand in need of comfort (see Mosiah 18:8-10). For me, this is an attempt to do that."
Mason hopes the book can be a platform for better dialogue within the LDS community, especially within family relationships.
"This book is going to help me have better conversations with my children, family members, friends, to talk in a way we haven't before," Mason said. "I've already had good feedback."
Another idea that motivated Mason to write the book was a desire to highlight the LDS Church's gospel topics essays, which are online at lds.org/topics. The church leaders want people to read them and think about them, Mason said.
"I've been pleased with the rollout of the gospel topics essays by the church," Mason said. "I've felt like now we're in a place where we can do something with those essays. They have established a new baseline of facts and historical understanding. These facts are new to a lot of people. Now, how do we make meaning of these, not just in an intellectual and historical way but in a pastoral and ministerial way? Those who read the book know I've taken a pastoral approach."
"Planted" is for two primary audiences, Mason wrote in the book's introduction: "those who actively doubt, whether they are on the precipice or have already made the decision to leave the church, and those who do not doubt, who consider themselves solid, active, believing members of the church."
The author knows that various topics discussed in the book will be hard for some readers, such as race and gender issues as well as certain aspects of church history, but he intentionally addressed them to reach the "people in the pews and grassroots," he said.
The publisher did not remove anything significant from the manuscript, which pleased Mason greatly, he said.
"I wasn't asked to take anything out in terms of substance," Mason said. "There were some changes in style and tone, which made it a better book in a pastoral mode, but there was no level of censorship."
The last thing Mason wants to do is harm a person's faith or belief in God. If the book becomes too much, people should stop reading it, Mason wrote in the book's introduction.
"I'm interested in challenging people's preconceptions, having harder conversations and plummeting to the depths, but I have zero interest in damaging someone's relationship with God or the church," Mason said. "I have no business doing that."
"Planted" offers suggestions for both those struggling with doubt and those with a sincere desire to help them.
"Essentially, we must realize at the outset that in the majority of those cases, not only is the pain and struggle real, but so are the issues," Mason wrote. "When the people we love are in pain, our first response is not to blame them or dismiss them or trivialize their hurt. We go to them. We embrace them. If words fail us, we simply sit with them. Mostly, we love them regardless of their beliefs or place in the church."
"Planted" gives references for additional reading along with a scriptural index. The book also received endorsements from several notable LDS scholars, including Eric D. Huntsman, a professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University; Terryl and Fiona Givens, authors of "The Crucible of Doubt"; and David Holland, associate professor of North American religious history at the Harvard Divinity School.
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