Conversations about the religious and spiritual life on the other side of fundamentalism
151:  Thomas McConkie:  A Compassionate Response

151: Thomas McConkie: A Compassionate Response

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In October 2015 I interviewed Thomas Wirthlin McConkie, author of Navigating Mormon Faith Crisis – A Simple Developmental Map.   It was a memorable conversation characterized by its intimacy and its mutual vulnerability.   This interview kicked off a conversation partnership that has logged many, many hours wherein Thomas offers me ways of seeing a world that is gracious and expansive, and I offer him questions that ask him to ground adult spiritual development in the everyday exigencies of life in the Mormon Wardhouse.


Motivating our conversation is the pursuit of a Mormon spiritual praxis that is wise, accessible and instep with our developmental needs. Eight months on we wanted to share a part of our dialogue.  It was difficult to know where to start, as the possibilities seemed endless, but this podcast is what ensued; a conversation about development (of course) but also forgiveness, compassion, anger, vulnerability, integration and powerful reasons to write yourself authentically into the Mormon story.


Thomas’ Website ‘Mormon Stages’ can be accessed here

You can Purchase ‘Navigating Mormon Faith Crisis’ from Amazon here



  1. Jason

    Great conversation. Thank you. Can you tell us more details about this “event” going on next week? Sorry if I missed that during the podcast–listening and working at the same time.

    1. Gina Colvin

      Sorry Jason, It was an event in Salt Lake City last week (15th June). It was a Mormon Stories Live event with John Dehlin, me, Thomas and Dan Wotherspoon. I think it’s going to be available as a podcast on MS at some stage. And the links to the video recording are floating around somewhere.

  2. Joy

    I am so in love with Thomas’ insight and perspective. This particular discussion couldn’t have been more timely for me with the discussion of family and ancestors. I am in the midst of researching and blogging about my dad’s patriarchal family line after visiting a county in Pennsylvania where six or more generations of those ancestors called home. When I can piece together a fraction of their stories through vital and historical records I begin to see each generation as children of parents, all of whom end up broken and struggling through life in one way or another as victims of their circumstances as well as their parents’ actions, culture, and beliefs. It’s like having my own personal Book of Mormon – a narrative of generations complete with “pride cycles” from which I can learn things about myself I could glean no other way. I no longer see my parents as people who’s neglect, ineptness, and human frailties tragically scarred me throughout my entire mortal life, but, rather, I see them as children equally scarred by the generations that came before. As the “sins” of the parents are passed down generationally, I see the “sins” not really being sins at all, but a profound manifestation of pain. The imperfectness of my parents, which they learned from their parents and/or their particular life experience, and back through the generations, created a chain of pain through which we all, collectively, must learn to endure and overcome. That perspective, I think, is when we can begin to better understand the teachings of Christ: when we can love and empathize with those who harmed us because we no longer see their words and actions coming from a place of sin but stemming from their own profound pain. Alma said, “wickedness never was happiness.” Their imperfectness ultimately diminished their life experience, limited their spiritual progression and development, and perpetuated pain in their lives. Through the past few years of struggling with church history, doubt, lies, etc., several concurring events have opened my eyes to what, I think, Joseph Smith’s vision of the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ entails that was lacking in other local religions of the day. Through generational families, inseparably tied together through bonds of extreme pain, love, and deep emotion, we experience mortality. When we can step outside our own pain and sense of victimization, approach our family members from a position of empathy, compassion and love and see how their pain has affected them, diminished their lived experiences, and created profound unhappiness in their lives is when we have begun to see others as Christ sees us. Remove the hierarchical levels of power and control, the absolute truth claims (which have evolved and morphed throughout the history of the church), and the cultural of judgement and strict obedience from the institution of the church, and the essence of the gospel, at least for me, becomes clear. The Book of Mormon itself, as a narrative of family generations, testifies to this principle. Alma the younger attributes his conversion and his entire life of faithfulness to the remembrance of his ancestors as well as his love, compassion, and empathy for the things they endured. And almost every time he opened his mouth he taught this principle. I’m just starting to try to understand and wrap my head around this. Does it make attending church on Sunday easier? Actually, maybe a little bit. I have begun to find the same type of empathy and compassion for the people at church that I have found for generations of my own family. When I see their brand of orthodoxy, whatever it entails, as something that could ultimately be diminishing their mortal experience and their ability to love unconditionally (if I don’t happen to feel unconditionally loved by them) my level of love and compassion for them begins to grow. And just think how much richer all our lives could be when our beliefs, perspectives, and actions more closely follow the pattern Christ set. Should we judge them and fault them, or should we love them and have compassion for them? We are all victims of our past, our culture, our inherent and inherited belief system, and our lived experiences. We could give each other a break. I think that’s exactly what Thomas is encouraging us to do.

  3. Gina! One of your best interviews yet. So glad you and Thomas have been engaging so much. Makes me so happy that two exceptional people who I know personally are plowing such important ground and producing such good fruit together.

    Let’s keep this restoration restoring!

  4. I am very touched by your podcast. I love it when two people can have such a meaningful and loving conversation. Thank you. You reminded me of a friend I had a long time ago with whom I could share like this. Thank you.

    As a gay woman in the Church, “now” is difficult, at best. When the new policy came out last November, I literally felt as if someone had twisted a knife into my heart- my life’s breath was completely sucked out of me. I have been asked by those who know and love me best why I would stay in a Church that hates me so much. (Some days, to be truthful, I do not know.)

    Yet here I am.

    The Savior’s great love and compassion for me; the gospel truths that have been revealed to me by His testifier, the Holy Ghost; the kernel of faith He has given me- all these keep me here. I trust that one day, in clarity, He will take me to the other side of THIS pain. In the meantime, I seek to love and understand others. My deep pain and anguish make me acutely aware of others’ also heart-wrenching suffering and pain. I hope I can help wipe the tears away from their souls.

    Love, always, Duck

  5. A Happy Hubby

    Gina and Thomas, Thanks so much for letting us listen in on your conversation. I feel like I have been trailing Gina on some of her overall faith transitions. Most of her blog posts having me saying, “YES! she views this just like I do!!!” She decided not to long ago to stop attending. I currently am planning to do the same. I was very interested when she came back.

    I am still planning on at least taking a break and doing volunteer work elsewhere, but this conversation leaves me feeling like there is a chance I could be returning at some point. Oh how I wish there were more Thomas’ to go around.

  6. Liesl Anderson

    Thank you so much for creating this podcast. I feel so validated in the way I experience the world and the LDS church. I loved the book and loved even more the two of you bantering back in forth with many deep thoughts.


    1. Gina Colvin

      Mmmm…I want to stay, but I’m not really manageable. With respect to God, I think she wants me to be where I can grow my spiritual practice the most intuitively. I feel pretty satisfied that church is and isn’t of divine origin – it depends on whose hands its in, and who is speaking for it, and what it’s reflecting as its central concern. 🙂

  7. Natty

    I was a literal thinking, mainstream Mormon of 44 years until one month ago. My heart has been completely broken. My bishop gave me your book, Thomas and when I told him I was having a serious faith crisis and he said “awesome, I wish everyone would.” I think his response has kept me in for now. I’m still stuck on how I can be in the church when what used to be true (translation of the BOM and B of Abraham in particular) is no longer true . You said this doesn’t bother you which I wish was true for me- it must reveal my lower level of development- but I’m wondering how I can believe in a religion that’s self-proclaimed corner stone is broken? If it’s not a translation of an ancient record as claimed but a modern mix of fabrication from the imagination of a regular man and a copy of other contemporary books how can I re-write my narrative about Mormonism having the “most true book of scripture” on which we base our faith? If the BOM was lied about what else is a lie and what else really matters? I’ve taught many lessons over the years where I’ve said, “find out if the Book of Mormon is true and everything else will follow”. I’ve taught my children this principle as well. Now it feels like I might as well have asked them to read Lord of the Rings. I’m having a hard time not throwing out the baby with the bath. I love the fruits of being part of the church and raising my family here with such a strong community of people to support and love and provide me with support, and I love the fruits of the studying the BOM, even though now I’m confused about it. I can’t bring myself to leave but I feel so betrayed by its false history and treatment of women (beginning with polygamy) that I don’t know how to stay either. I guess this is part of the brutiful struggle which feels like a war in my head. Thank you both so much for your healing words. I can’t tell you how thankful I am for your book, Thomas and for these podcasts!

    1. Gina Colvin

      Hey Natty! I’m so sorry for your confusion and pain. Living with the collapse of the religious narratives that offered us sense and meaning can be hellish. I understand the war that goes on in our heads when our shelves break.

      As Thomas and I discussed in the podcast, when our ‘truth’ systems don’t hold water any longer we often want to trade one set of certainties for another. So either the church is entirely true or its entirely false. But what if none of those certainties that the church has trafficked in for too long isn’t even the point of religion or faith? What if the point of it all is to grow our souls into more expansive ways of being regardless of the religious context we find ourselves in and that the truth claims of Mormonism are beside the point? What if what matters is that all religions, churches etc. have a way of holding us in dynamic tension with the shadow and light of humanity and cause us to ask big gorgeous questions that cause our soul’s transformation?

      Sounds kinda tossy I know, but I think that considering religion as more that a set of yes/no propositions gives us a greater sense of spiritual perspective? It doesn’t help that Mormonism constantly asks us to agree to certain claims and living in tension with a majority of people who are satisfied with the ossified story of our faith can be unpleasant. But the point of the conversation between Thomas and I was to say that we can have a compassionate response (and we don’t mean an accepting response) to the very orthodoxy of the church that drives us crazy – it is possible and it is ultimately spiritually intuitive. And its a ‘way’ that we have both found ultimately spiritually satisfying.

      1. Natty

        Thank you Gina for that thoughtful response. Things are looking better for me, I’m actually enjoying the process of growth. I am learning that letting go of the dogma that has kept me from thinking and seeking personal revelation so freeing. So is letting go of the fear and guilt that have been my constant companions. I can see what you are saying. If the goal is progression and development into a more loving and enlightened being and I find for me that Mormonism is a good framework in which to grow then maybe I can work with that. I actually love to think of it that way, it’s so inclusive and personal. I called this a brutiful struggle before because it really is beautiful and brutal. Beautiful in that I have grown so much in empathy and love for my fellow travelers and I’ve begun to leave the black and white judgements behind yet it is brutal because I have had to take my faith entirely apart down to it’s naked bones and “truths” that I knew were true have dissolved before my eyes. The word “truth”, in fact, has lost a lot of meaning. I love how you said certainty might not even be the point, that is a game changer! I have decided that I am calling this a “faith remodeling” not a “faith crisis” and just that change of wording is helpful to me in keeping a developmental perspective. Thanks again for your wonderful work on these podcast interviews, it is makes a huge difference for those that are seeking new understanding.

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