Q&A with David B. Ostler, author of Bridges: Ministering to Those Who Question April 05 2022

Q&A with David B. Ostler for the second edition of his book Bridges: Ministering to Those Who Question

We catch up with David B. Ostler on the occasion of the newly-released second edition of his book Bridges: Ministering to Those Who QuestionOur first Q&A with David can be found here.

Q: It's been nearly three years since Bridges first hit shelves—three very eventful years that have seen new divides form between people. Has your understanding of how best to minister to those experiencing a faith crisis changed in that time?

A: Over the last three years, I have come to believe even more in the principles I outline in Bridges. I think they are universal in our ability to maintain strong relationships with people who think, believe and experience life differently. We need to listen to them, try and understand, show respect for them even when we disagree with them, and show love. In those three years, many leaders have reached out to me with their own recognition of challenges in their ward or stake, wanting to find ways to respond to these newly understood needs. It’s encouraging to see so many wanting to find ways to help people feel they can trust the Church and its leaders, to let all participants feel they can belong, and to provide a deeper and broader dialogue around issues that are meaningful to our members. I have also talked with members who identify as having experienced a faith crisis thanking me for telling their story, with hope that leaders and family members can better understand their sincere efforts to find faith and meaning in their lives. Sadly, I continue to see people vilify, wrongly judge, blame and attack those who have honest and sincere concerns about their place in the Church.

Since publishing Bridges, I've found that leaders often wouldn’t know what specific steps they should take. So, I created a Leaders Guide that focuses on the key issues with possible questions they can use in their presidency or council meetings. They can choose questions they think are most important to address based on their own member needs and then discuss these issues with other leaders to help them receive inspiration. One can find a download link on www.bridgeslds.com 

Q: The expanded edition includes a new chapter on mixed-faith marriages and families. How did you come to decide this topic needed its own chapter? How do you hope it will help readers navigate the unique challenges that come with these relationships?

A: After the original publication, I had a number of people ask about how faith crisis and religious disaffiliation affect marriages and families. I realized I had missed a very important part, perhaps the most important part of the story. Everyone who has a faith crisis and everyone who disaffiliates belong to a family. They are a son or daughter, or perhaps they are married and have a believing spouse. As difficult as these issues are in a ward or branch, they are far more intense and consequential in a family. It took me time, but it was an essential addition to the original book. Through the research I did, I realized that almost every family in the Church faces the challenge of having different beliefs about God, spirituality, and the Church. For many, a mixed-faith family is full of pain and challenge, particularly when it is precipitated with a sudden faith crisis and transition. Marriages are broken up, parent-child relationships fracture, and there is a lot of suffering and wondering about how to maintain strong and loving relationships. I hope this chapter will ease the pain of so many and provide thoughts and suggestions to find love and connection in mixed-faith families.

Q: What responses have readers had to the book?

A: I received feedback from two groups of people. First, leaders and parents looking for ways to change how we respond when people have questions, share concerns, or even disaffiliate. They are sincere and humble and many realize that they have made many mistakes. This is very encouraging for me. Second, I heard back from individuals that felt heard by what I wrote. Some have left, some stay and have found a way to make it work, and some are still working to reconstruct their faith and how they want to participate. But they felt they weren’t alone, that someone had seen their situation, and that using the book could help their family or leaders better understand them and their situation.

Q: Can you describe the resources you offer at www.bridgeslds.com and how they build off the book?

A: The book focused on how to navigate difference in faith. But we have lots of differences in our world and we often fail at understanding and relating to those who are different. It’s clear that over the last 10 years, we have become a more divided people. The pandemic and our current American political divides highlight how divided we are. Some want to escape these divisions, but they are there in our families and communities. Others want to fight through the divisions and prove that their side is right. But neither of those ways work. We need to develop the skills to navigate our differences and to engage on the essential questions in our families, faith and communities in a way that creates respect and understanding. Not that we will agree with each other, but that we will understand where people are coming from and maintain connection. 

My website, www.bridgeslds.com presently highlights an approach to talking about important topics in a structured way that develops curiosity and our listening skills. It respects difference. I call these Circles. I, and others, have held hundreds of Circles to talk about issues of faith and community. I have found new skills in listening and understanding and know other participants have as well. My website will change from time to time as I find new ways to create settings for understanding and develop the skills that we need so we can talk and listen with others, even when they believe or live differently.