Conversations about the religious and spiritual life on the other side of fundamentalism
124: Thomas Wirthlin McConkie: Navigating Mormon Faith Crisis

124: Thomas Wirthlin McConkie: Navigating Mormon Faith Crisis

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 8.01.33 PM“What if we understood faith crisis as part of a natural cycle of spiritual growth, a breaking open to make room for new life and new faith?”

So posits Thomas McConkie in his new book “Navigating Mormon Faith Crisis: A Simple Developmental Map.”

His central argument is that our faith crises are not the end of something but signal a new beginning and a deeper level of spiritual maturation.  In his book he calls Mormons to be unafraid of our own and others’ faith crises and to understand them as an essential part of our natural and normal adult development.

In this podcast we discuss McConkie’s developmental model and consider it against the church’s contemporary culture  that seems to work counterintuitively against our natural adult disposition to spiritually develop.  Faith he argues is evolving and ‘if we understand the stages of adult development we can lean into these changes and get excited about what is coming next in our lives.’

For further information or to purchase the book please go to



  1. Jacob Riddle

    Great interview. I’m very interested to read the book, but could only find it in print format on the website. I almost exclusively read on digital devices – Thomas, will the book be available on Kindle or in some other digital format?

  2. Deg

    I can’t wait for the entire church to have this and apply this focus, my estimation is that it will take 10-20 years for it to happen, but we are already seeing increasingly focus of the changes.

    Sort of what happened with Brad Wilcox and with His Grace is sufficient talk, it took around 5 years for those sentiments to be echoed through General Conference, and perhaps another 5-10 years until it is completely understood.

  3. Andrew T

    Thank you Gina. I’ll take anything that helps provide a framework for greater charity and understanding. I’ve reflected on the discussion throughout the day. There are tensions within my ward. There’s a “follow the prophet” group (obey) [diplomat] and others in the other categories (this may be more than a simple bifurcation – I’ll need to observe more). It seems as though the GAs (particularly in the recent conference) were really emphasizing the “obey” – and teaching a distrust of people at different development levels (of course, they didn’t use this language).

    Regardless. Thank you. This helps me have a better framework for charity.

    1. Gina Colvin

      I’m thinking a lot about that as well Andrew T. How can I be at peace with my own stage of development or my own spiritual autonomy with so much pressure to be otherwise. I can’t get away from the possibility that part of my journey to a higher spiritual self is to search for ways of being in church that honor where I’m at AND where others (even the dominant church culture) are at. It makes me feel both uncomfortable and hopeful. But still thinking about drawing that foot back that’s been out of the door for too long.

      1. Andrew T

        Gina, this podcast was a blast to hear. Throughout the talk, I had the impression you were being “nudged” : ). I’ve told several people about the cast and each telling has caused further reflection.

        I am, after listening, much more at ‘peace’ with where I am. And, much more at peace with my place in relation to others. I’m where I am because it currently gives me the greatest peace. I suppose, with further progress and development, this spot will no longer provide comfort. However, I think Thomas said something about recognizing that other people are in the same position. They are at the spot that provides the most comfort for them. Love and respect them for that.

        I love that: “uncomfortable and hopeful.” I’ve felt the same way. This cast helped lesson the “uncomfortable” part.

        Thanks again.

  4. I really appreciate the discussion here. In my experience, there’s tension in the staying, and tension in the going. If we stay, as Gina points out, the community can provide unique opportunities for us to practice compassion (integration) across the entire spectrum of development. If we leave, we may enjoy opportunities for growth that we might not have otherwise had within the structure of the Church. What to do then? It reminds me of an old Zen saying: “When there’s a fork in the road, take it!” In other words, maybe the active/inactive, in/out of the Church dichotomies are worn out and not serving us anymore. Maybe there’s something deeper about our process of spiritual unfolding that we can trust, really trust, whether we call it “in” or “out.”

    1. Heidi

      Thank you for sharing your story and info. It really resonates with me. My husband left the church about 8-9 years ago…I have also had many friends and family members choose a Pto away from the church as well, but It is such a conflicting, emotional, difficult time for these people to go through…I have had manyoments where I don’t know if I can stay…but I’m drawn back, sometimes out of fear, but sometimes out of passion that I need to share my voice on topics like women, power, faith crisis, emotional health, healthy expectations…its been a tricky road though…there is such a thick stigma still if you think outside the box…and it’s easy to feel judged and be judged…anyways, I believe in your mission and I intend to encourage and support others. Your ideas will definitely help others learn to do this in a less damaging negative way.

    2. Nicholas Simsion

      Wonderful interview, Thomas. I loved every second of it. I’ve been trying for the last half hour to find you on twitter, facebook, a website, or an email and I can’t find it anywhere. Is there any way I can follow you or get hold of you?

  5. Natalie Pope Fairbourne

    Thank you Gina and Thomas for this inspiring podcast. It made me optimistic and want to be better. As one of your McConkie cousins (our father’s are first cousins) I can really relate. I can’t wait to read the book (waiting for the ebook!)

  6. Kevin

    I was completely charmed by this conversation between one who described herself in another podcast even before the policy change against same-sex couples and their children as “a grumpy Mormon”, and a friendly stranger on the road who may turn out to be a bodhisattva named after famous Mormons. Thank you, Gina and Thomas. As I listened, Thomas, I imagined your outlook to be a glimpse of how our Lord may have viewed those around him during his short life on earth and hopefully how he views us yet.

    In The Book of Mormon God himself through Jesus Christ invites us Gentiles to turn away from our pride and willfulness and eventual self destruction. I don’t know if learning to become more forgiving and gracious would help us avoid that sad fate but I feel more hopeful than I have in a good, long while.

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  8. Lloyd

    Well, I will say Thomas certainly has his father’s radio announcer voice! Beyond that, I’m sorry, I just must be lacking something, cause I’m just not getting it. I really tried, I really did. I understand and accept that there is ‘adult development’, I’ve witnessed it on many levels, felt it within myself, seen it in those I love, etc., etc., etc. And I understand the having compassion for others in the tradition, etc. And on a micro level I see it in people within the church, etc. But I really don’t see it at the macro level, and far from changing for the better, I see it taking just the opposite trajectory. Tom’s story is interesting, but I don’t see his journey as having been a “faith crisis”. Leaving as a teen (which I did once as well), is far different than making that choice after years (decades, actually) within the culture, working, serving, etc. raising a “faithful” family, etc., and then finding ultimately that you could not sustain it in your heart as what it claims to be, and that it was not longer a safe place for you.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Lloyd, and the gushing praise of my voice!

      One thing you start to intuit as you observe adult development is that the micro is the macro, and vice-versa. What we call the church is a collective of individuals whose developmental perspectives intersperse and cross-multiply. In other words, individual development always informs the growth of the whole.

      Of course, these are tough times for those who were anticipating greater expansion in our circle of embrace in the Church. You might call it a systemic contraction. And yet, systems expand and contract like living organisms breathe in and out. Just like the exhale eventually leads to an inhale, systems tend to alternately establish boundaries then soften those boundaries during expansionary phases. In a given moment in time, it’s hard to detect, like trying to watch a mountain range grow. But let your gaze fall back over the centuries. And let it fall forward many centuries. It’s all living, it’s all dynamic. And I’m placing my bet that there are great things to come in Mormonism. Is Gina’s podcast not proof in the pudding that we’re evolving as a faith tradition?

  9. Sally

    I loved this interview! It gave me a new way to look at all of our experiences and stories to find joy in everyone’s journey. As I am currently struggling with the history and current policy changes in the church, I found myself letting go of anger that I am still struggling with, and allowing myself the space to process it without having to “be” at a deciding point ( and that I will share this idea with my Bishop who is not understanding where I am right now.) And Gina, I have so related to you as I have listened to your podcasts and where you are right now. It was sweet to hear you pause and reflect, just as I was while listening..:) I do have a question for Thomas if he sees this…how do you as becoming active again, deal with the temple questions…because I honestly can’t answer them “correctly”…and I feel a very black and white feeling in my ward..that your are either in or out. Thanks for this amazing podcast!

    1. Ah, the temple questions. This one comes up in virtually every discussion I hold around the book and adult development. Thanks for asking, Sally.

      Let me start with, it depends. It depends a great deal on your personal relationship with your bishop. If there’s a sense of trust, and spaciousness, and the possibility that your vulnerability will be rewarded, I think there is potentially a huge payoff to just talking straight with him.

      Of course, if something in you tells you that it’s not entirely safe to express your true feelings around the questions, you might make a vulnerable move by telling him just that: that you’d like to have an open conversation about what the interview questions mean to you, but you don’t feel entirely safe doing so. That move can really re-organize your relationship with him as well.

      Personally, I am holding a bit of a paradox with this particular topic. I find joy in the practice of being in alignment with the church, its counsel, its commands. And yet, I cannot deny how unhealthy it feels to evaluate worthiness based on the current methods. So I abstain. My sense is that the whole enterprise of it is doing more harm than we can collectively see at the moment, so I’m willing to wait in the gray area of “yes, I believe Joseph Smith was a true prophet, AND…” Forever. I’m willing to not go to the temple, forever, if it means an eventual end to the cultural violence we do by shutting our doors on one another.

      You don’t like the “either in or out” framing. Me neither. So let’s reframe it. In-N-Out.

  10. Bruce Gibb

    I hope the rest of the book is better researched than the bibliography. The entry: “Graves, Clare, Spiral Dynamics. Hoboken, NJ; Blackwell, 1996” should be:

    “Beck, Don Edward, and Cowan, Christopher C., Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change. (Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell), 1996.”

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  12. David Macfarlane

    I’m well behind the curve and not sure if anyone is monitoring this thread any longer, but I’ll post anyway. When I walked into the Zen Center on 13th East and South Temple years ago, I was a long-inactive, disaffected Mormon who found it utterly amazing that the roshi suggested I not believe anything he said. Instead, he wanted us to test ideas and practices for ourselves. This was the antithesis of Mormonism, what with its rigid rules and multitude of members who base their testimonies on someone else’s. It was a pleasure to listen to you, Thomas, and to hear the word, thought and deed of the Buddha in your explanation of your current belief. However, in my experience, Mormonism became a “diplomat” religion shortly after Joseph Smith died; it has remained one ever since, regardless of how creative Smith’s ideas may have been. So many people stay in the church because it tells them what truth is. What you would seek to change is the essence of why millions remain. I don’t see them embracing the shifting sands under their feet that adult development would create.

    1. Gina Colvin

      I’m monitoring it! I’ll ask Thomas if he wouldn’t mind responding – it’s a great, great question. My own question would be, do you think it improbable that the church could ever hold safe those at whatever stage of development even if the majority are at the diplomat stage?

  13. Thanks for your comment, David. I haven’t looked at this thread in months and checked it out just now on a whim. And there you were.

    I agree that since Smith’s death the religion has taken up a fairly concrete expression. That seems natural to me given the way institutions gel and solidify in their infancy.

    I also see ample evidence that Mormon culture is shifting. Elder Ballard’s recent address, for example, is evidence of a mature Achiever logic, and I have no doubt that the leaders and members have capacities to function even beyond that. “Growing up” the collective is tricky. It comes in fits and starts. If we grow too fast, we risk alienating, even doing spiritual harm to the many who are not asking for a postmodern Mormonism. And yet to those who have arrived in this multiperspectival space, deconstructive philosophy is essential nutrition. The question becomes, how do we nourish the many members who have such different spiritual diets?

    So I agree with you. There will be resistance, and nothing guarantees that the Church will successfully make this transition and begin to bridge the multiple worlds its members inhabit. And yet, to feed the Lord’s sheep is an opportunity and a beautiful possibility that beckons to us. I’d rather spend my life articulating the vision, thickening it, and living into it, than to write Mormonism off as a religious tradition that just can’t change. If there was ever a tradition that was built to change, it might just be Mormonism.

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  16. Ellen

    What an interesting discussion. I found Thomas’s story very compelling, and really, that’s why I listened, to get better insight into him because I listen to the midfulness + podcast. As a mormon who also draws on eastern philosophy as places of insight, I’m trying to find actual people in which these also find a nexus. Anyways, on to my thought:
    Y’all need to get out of Utah. I really feel a lot of sympathy for your situation, becuase as a resident of the bible belt, Mormons are persecuted still by other religions (though not like the early church). As a result, we’re all pretty humble, and the judgement and group think that you seem to find there is not nearly as bad out here in the mission field. I am mortified by the stories our missionaries (the majority are Utahn) tell me about their fears of not serving their whole mission, or feeling compelled to serve becuase if they don’t they will be ostracized. I won’t even go into the judgement I see on Utah mormon blogs, comment panels, etc. This scorekeeping and judgement has to stop. But have faith! Those patterns are significantly weakened outside Utah. We can do this!

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  18. Linda

    I know this is a years old podcast, but I am so glad to have found it. I have been immersing myself in the ideas of development over the last month. I have never been a podcast listener before the last month, but I am finding so much value in what you are doing. Thank you Gina! It was truly beautiful to listen to.

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