What I Learned from Fiona Givens’s AMA

Fiona with her husband, Terryl Givens (Left), and historian Richard L. Bushman (Right)

For the uninitiated, Reddit’s AMA is when a person, usually someone well known or someone very accomplished, starts a post on Reddit where anyone can ask that person anything and they will respond.

For the uninitiated, Fiona Givens is the co-author of The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life (along with her husband, Terryl). She and Terryl have written another book, The Crucible of Doubt, which has just been released by Deseret Book and is sitting in my checkout cart on Deseret Book’s website (Amazon is sold out!). She has probably the most beautiful way of looking at issues of faith and Mormonism. Her style and approach to Mormonism constantly inspires me and wants me to seek out more. Honestly, I’ve yet to find anyone who approaches Mormonism like her and her husband. It also helps that she has the most wonderful British accent I have ever heard.

So, after keeping updated on her AMA on the r/latterdaysaints subreddit, I thought I would share a little of what I learned from one of Modern Mormonism’s greatest spiritual minds.

Love Doesn’t Make One Finite

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So, let’s start with my own question (yep, I’m apg92). Mormonism, unlike orthodox Christianity, believes in a very physical God, a God of “body, passion, and parts.” Not only that, as we read in Moses 7 and in The God Who Weeps, we have a God who weeps for His children when they fall. The God of Mormonism is a God of emotion. The problem is, if we can make God weep, can’t we control Him and hold him “hostage”? So I asked her, doesn’t this “limit God and make Him less powerful or supreme? Doesn’t he become a finite being and why should we as Latter-day Saints worship a finite being?”

She gave, what I consider, one of the best responses to this. “Love does not make one finite.” God weeps for His children because He loves them, because He cares. If He is finite because He weeps for us, then He is finite because of love. She is right, love does not make one finite. Instead, it lifts one up. Through His love, both He and the human family are lifted up. If we are exalted, it will only be because of His love.

Reason for Our Hope

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Fiona with her husband and co-author, Terryl Givens

This question, or at least part of the wording, made me think. The questioner mentioned Fiona as an “unorthodox Mormon”. That’s news to me. It could be that I am new and all, but I have learned so much from Fiona and Terryl. They have actually helped me embrace the “weirdness” and uniqueness of Mormonism. But the questioner is right. Fiona and Terryl aren’t your typical “orthodox Mormons” (a term I don’t thin should exist, but that’s for another day). Yes, they believe, but the way they articulate Mormonism isn’t the way the Sunday School manuals explain it. So I guess it applies.

Given that, how does she view missionary work? Well, she says her mission creed goes right along with Peter who said, “Be ready always to give an answer to every man/woman that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.” If you have ever listened to Fiona, you’ll realize that she loves Christ and recognizes that the Church is a way to get closer to Him. So for her, that reason is Christ and she finds Him in the Church. I think that is something we need to realize, the purpose of missionary work isn’t to bring people to the Church, but to bring them to Christ.

The Meat of the Gospel

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This is one of my favorite questions. We always hear the phrase “Milk before meat” but sometimes it feels like we never get to the meat. So, what does Fiona think the meat of the Gospel is? That is, “What parts really feed your soul and leave you desiring to be more?”

She gives a really short answer: “Those things we articulated in The God who Weeps.

Before you think you have to go out and buy the book to find out what she considers the meat of the Gospel, here are her five points as articulated in the book:

  1. God is a personal entity, having a heart that beats in sympathy with human hearts, feeling our joy and sorrowing over our pain.
  2. Men and women existed as spiritual beings in the presence of God before progressing to this mortal life.
  3. Adam and Eve were noble progenitors of the human family, and their fall made possible human life in this realm. Men and women are born pure and innocent, with no taint of original sin. (We find plenty on our own).
  4. God has the desire and the power to save, through his son Jesus Christ, the entire human family in a kingdom of heaven, and except for the most perversely unwilling, that will be our destiny.
  5. Heaven will principally consist in the eternal duration of those relationships that matter most to us now: spouses, children, and friends.

On Certainty and Hero Worship

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So this poster posed a great question: “What are the things you find in contemporary church culture and practice that make it hardest for people to stay in the church, apart from historical issues?”

Her response? “How do I count the ways?” Though she only addresses two, which I think are great.

The first is that there has been a “rhetoric of certainty that has come to dominate testimony meetings”. She has mentioned in earlier interviews of friends who have stood up in testimony meeting and said, “I don’t know.” She says that the scriptures state “to some it is given to know and to some it is given to believe as gifts of equal value.” Even more beautifully, she has said on previous occasions, “the only thing I am certain about is Christ.”

Her second point that she would like to do away with is hero worship. This goes with her first point and points I have already discussed. The center of the Church, and of our lives, is Christ. He should be our focal point. Therefore, our eyes and attention should be on Him and not spent giving too much praise to men. She mentioned the story of Gideon. God made sure that Gideon’s army was outnumbered so that when Gideon won the battle, the glory would be given to God, not Gideon. However, that’s not how human nature works. When Gideon’s small army defeated their enemies, the people began to praise Gideon. It’s natural to do that, though we would do well to remember the One behind the scenes.

No One (Institution) is Perfect

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One of my favorite questions, and one I was anxiously waiting a reply for when I first read it, “Is there any evidence that could come to light about LDS history or actions of the LDS Church or its leadership that would ever make you decide to leave it?”

While some may think she evaded the question, I think she did a spot on job. She mentioned how much she admires Winston Churchill and all the good he did, however, he wasn’t perfect. He authorized the firebombing of Dresdon, he wasn’t easy to get along with. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t a good leader. “Every person, nation, church is mired in the clay of this earth,” she said.

And probably the best line from this entire AMA, Fiona said, “My testimony is of Christ. My allegiance is to Him. He has cautioned me not to rely on the arm of flesh, so I do not.”

Honorable Mention: The fruit of the gospel of Christ is good. It’s fighting through the brambles to get to it that is the problem:)

For more of the wonderful Fiona Givens, may I recommend a Mormon Stories podcast interview she did with her husband Terryl. Part One is her life story and Part Two is a discussion on The God Who Weeps. Mormon Stories: Fiona and Terryl Givens and “The God Who Weeps”

For the complete AMA, I am Fiona Givens AMA

 

 

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