Guest post: only believers can testify

This is a guest post by Tom Stringham

Woe unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord, and their works are in the dark, and they say, Who seeth us? and who knoweth us?

A month ago I wrote that faithful bloggers are “often failing to productively engage their opponents within and without the church,” because “they have not openly challenged the importance of discourse itself by supplanting it with the word of God through scripture, His servants or our own inspired testimony.” Because of my unclear wording, I was misunderstood by some readers as saying that rational discourse should not be used in defense of the gospel of Jesus Christ. What I meant to say, as I explained to one commenter, is that a blogger should “teach and preach” the gospel, not just “teach” or “preach” it.

With that in mind, however, I’m following up on my last guest post not so much by way of qualification of my original argument as by expansion of it. I am convinced that earnest testimony is what is needed from faithful Mormon bloggers of this generation. More specifically, I think what we really need is a culture of testimony-bearing.

Bearing earnest testimony of Jesus Christ and his restored church is something a wolf in sheep’s clothing cannot do. I don’t know if this can be stated strongly enough: a writer who rhetorically positions himself or herself as a faithful member but who actually disbelieves is unable to speak about the church the way a faithful Latter-day Saint speaks about it.

Wolves will not directly abuse core church doctrines, so as to keep up the pretense of belief. But I do not think I have ever heard one say, “I am grateful for a modern prophet,” or “the church’s teachings on the family really make me confident that the prophets and apostles are led by God,” or “every time I read the Book of Mormon, I am more convinced that it is the word of God.” These are simple and natural expressions of testimony, but saying them causes psychic pain for the disbeliever, because his or her identity is tied up with secret antagonism toward the church. This is the wolf’s fatal flaw.

I feel like I should be specific to the point of making things a little uncomfortable. What makes the Bloggernacle appear collectively unfaithful to observers is not that its bloggers are full of negativity about the church, but that its bloggers almost never bear clear testimony of the gospel’s central truths or give the church unqualified praise.

I’m afraid I am already being misunderstood, so I should clarify. I am not saying that everyone who avoids testifying or praising the church is a disbeliever. In fact, and this is why I am writing, I think many of us avoid testifying because we are afraid of appearing unintelligent, provincial or brainwashed to other bloggers.

What I am claiming, however, is that a not-insignificant minority of would-be faithful voices we are all familiar with in the online community do not agree that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet, do not believe that God visited Joseph Smith in the Sacred Grove, and do not believe that the church is the Church of Jesus Christ. I don’t intend to convince anyone of this claim, but to those who agree, I am only putting into words what you have already felt. Sometimes a truth needs just to be stated.

We do not need to accuse individuals of deception, or even ask them if they believe, however. As many bloggers have wisely taught, it is usually inappropriate to question a person’s faith, even if the charge is true. What we do need to do is testify, and to create an online Latter-day Saint culture where it is normal to testify and openly admire the church. Maybe I could suggest that it should even appear strange when we don’t testify of the gospel we love.

If we always remember to testify of Jesus Christ and speak the happy truth about his gospel, even when we are engaged in rational discourse, it will only become more difficult for the deceivers to hide their counsel, no matter how deeply they seek. There will no longer be a comfortable place for criticism unaccompanied by credulity. Witnessing of Jesus Christ, his restored gospel and the priesthood keys that reside with Thomas S. Monson is something that only faithful Latter-day Saints can do, so testifying can be our shibboleth in the online world.

It may sound like I’m suggesting that we pressure or shame others into testifying, or that we put them through a test of faith. While I think this would be an unfair characterization of my intent, I do believe in “standards” that set faithful Saints apart. Standards by their nature are social, and the gospel is always lived within a community of Saints. I hope that the way I speak about the gospel only brings out the best in the people around me.

A decade ago, the apostle M. Russell Ballard taught, “today it is a rare and precious thing to have a testimony.” It would be a shame if those of us who have been given this rare and precious gift didn’t share. The gospel is true. It’s the most hopeful message on earth. Redemption comes through Jesus Christ and his atonement. He has placed his church on the earth and commanded its members to be a light unto the world. It is this light that will drive out the secret works of darkness.

38 thoughts on “Guest post: only believers can testify

  1. Nicely said. I believe there is intellectual knowledge and spiritual knowledge. When we discuss, prove, and qualify gospel principles, it is just more solidifying to add to that the testimony which also speaks strongly to our spirits. I hear that you are saying that it is harder to deceive with the added communication of spirit to spirit and not just intellect to intellect. Thank you.

  2. I believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is led by prophetic inspiration to seers and prophets. This fundamental knowledge is supported first by the witness of the Holy Ghost and secondarily by experience and study. This knowledge does not ensure that I am always right in my opinions, but it informs my understanding of the meaning of my existence.

  3. Here’s how I interpreted this post:

    (1) Amongst the many Latter-day Saints bloggers who write about the Church, there are at least some nonbelievers who would rather be known as believers, so as to continue writing with credibility about the Church in ways that nudge their LDS readers towards a more critical narrative and interpretation of the Church and its teachings. That is, there are “wolves in sheep clothing” among us who are preying on the faithful by not being forthright about their unbelief, and who sell their commentary on the Church’s teachings as if they were coming from a faithful position.

    (2) If we can develop an LDS online blogging culture where it is common, if not almost expected, that faithful LDS scholars — amidst their intellectual analyses and occasional criticisms of the Church and its activities — openly testify of the Church and the Restoration, and to give unqualified praise for the organization and its mission, it will be harder for unbelievers to deceive, since that is something that they cannot in earnest do.

    I agree with #1, and completely support #2. I commit to do it.

  4. ” I don’t know if this can be stated strongly enough: a writer who rhetorically positions himself or herself as a faithful member but who actually disbelieves is unable to speak about the church the way a faithful Latter-day Saint speaks about it.”

    Absolutely! Well said, and thank you for an outstanding essay.

  5. I hope I have testified fairly consistently of late, even if my initial reason for doing so was being challenged about my views on the truth claims of the Church.

    It helps me that I have embraced an interpretation of Joseph Smith’s history that allows me to accept all the histories while still seeing an honorable and deeply compassionate man.

  6. I am not part of the Bloggernacle, except for the occasional comment driving past, but I too want to testify that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the Kingdom of God on the face of the Earth, that the Priesthood of God has been restored and the keys are held by the Prophets and Apostles, who have been placed in positions of stewardship over us by God Himself through revelation, and that within this Church (and in no other place) we can receive those ordinances which are absolutely necessary to receive the fullness of God’s mercy and to accept the Atonement, and salvation comes by no other way and in no other place.

  7. I agree we must testify along with rational thought. But we need to ensure we are testifying of actual doctrine of the Church.

    I don’t know how many times I’ve had believing Saints online testify of the 6000 year old earth, the global Flood that killed the dinosaurs, and the curse of Cain. What’s worse, is some of them have insisted that those that do not believe as they do are deceived and going to hell in a hand basket.

    These are not things we should be testifying on, even if we debate or talk about them on the bloggernacle. We should be testifying of God, Christ, living prophets, scripture, and keeping the commandments. Why? Because these are the things that will save and exalt us.

  8. We should think carefully about the effectiveness and consequences of bearing testimony on the bloggernacle. Millennial Star editors who created discussiongmarriage.com purposefully avoided any appeal to morality or personal testimony. Why do they try to do this, if appeal to testimony is what is really missing in our discussions? Did Hugh Nibley ever bear testimony in his writings? Not that I can remember. Do any of the apologists at FAIR ever bear testimony in their defenses? I’ve never seen it.

    I think of Millennial Star as a kind of apologetic forum, like FAIR, but catering towards more libertarian personalities and “amateur” apologetics. (Amateur only meaning that you are not published apologetic authors and full-time scholars, but regular members out to defend the faith.)

    Apologetics takes faith claims out of the realm of faith and defends it within the realm of secular reason. Mormons are seduced by science and reason, and Mormonism has naively claimed that science and religion are completely compatible, so members sometimes get caught up in the conflicts between the two. Apologetics seeks to resolve the conflict by demonstrating that religious truth claims can actually be defended on secular grounds as well as spiritual grounds.

    But to demonstrate this, apologists must play by the rules of secular reasoning, which rejects all appeals to subjective morality and personal spiritual experience. Indeed, an appeal to spiritual authority is perceived by rationalists as either a Hail Mary pass, or an unfair shutting down of the argument with non-falsifiable claims.

    Apologists understand that their role is not to preach or testify, but to defend. After a truth claim has been adequately propped-up or defended, then the believer can go back to the testimony saturated culture of prophets, scriptures, and Sacrament Meeting, without being so plagued with doubts arising from conflicts.

    Sure, an apologist might throw in a testimony or two, but its not really going to help win his argument. No one reads an apologetic argument to hear testimony. People read Millennial Star or FAIR for extremely different reasons than they read the First Presidency Message.

    I know that not every post here at MS is apologetic in nature, and I think it’s great if commentators develop a reputation for testifying now and then. But I don’t think testifying should ever be seen as a replacement for debate, or used as a tool to try and win an argument. Most of the people on the “bloggernacle” are members with “issues.” If you want to win them back to orthodoxy, coax them back with sympathy and reason, not preaching and testifying. They get enough of that from church and family.

  9. Hi Nate,

    I think there are ways and ways to discuss matters.

    I believe there is a way to discuss one’s beliefs in a manner that does not constrain the audience to choose to believe, that allows one to both clearly announce one’s position as well as respect the possibility that others will not agree.

    Mormon discourse has not had a chance to develop the rich tonalities of other faith traditions, where it would be perfectly acceptable for someone to discuss how their faith informs their worldview. I would call for LDS bloggers to find a way to express their belief in terms more expansive and poetical than “I disagree with you because I know the Church is true.”

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  11. Tom, I enjoyed this post and mostly agree with it, but I would gently like to have you reconsider this:

    “As many bloggers have wisely taught, it is usually inappropriate to question a person’s faith, even if the charge is true. ”

    I used to think this, but I think Bruce Nielsen has convinced me that it is very often appropriate to ask these questions publicly to some commenters. There are indeed many public figures in the Mormon blog world who base their entire persona on being “believing members” when in fact they are not. They do a very good job of hiding their lack of belief while they publicly adopt positions that contradict the Church’s teachings, all the while pretending they are just “asking questions.” There are many times when they should definitely be called out on this. It is one thing for a believing member to innocently ask a question and it is quite another for a non-believing person posing as a believer to “ask questions” with the intent of destroying the faith of those around him. By publicly asking these people where they stand (“do you believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christ’s church restored on the Earth and that modern-day prophets speak for the Savior today? Do you believe in the Book of Mormon as scripture?”) we can get a better picture of whether the people involved are wolves in sheep’s clothing or not.

    So, to sum up, I believe that there are times when we need to ask these types of questions.

  12. Maybe I shouldn’t be quibbling in a comment thread on an excellent post on testifying — something I need to do more — but:

    “and the curse of Cain. ”

    1. There is a true doctrine regarding the curse of Cain. It has little to do with persons of African descent.

    2. I’ve never heard anyone testify online about the doctrine of Cain, rightly or wrongly. But then I’ve only run across one LDS site that testifies of a young Earth or a universal Flood, so perhaps I’ve just been lucky.

    3. I, too, have had spiritual witnesses, testifying of the soundness of the Church, the reality of God and the atonement of Christ, and the reality of the Restoration. That testimony is all that has carried me through some spiritual rough spots, including some rough confrontations with the imperfections of our forebears. I’ve staked my soul on it.

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  14. My declaration: I am not a believing Mormon.

    My purpose: to raise some discussion on this topic according to my own life experience.

    What makes your testimony of any value to anyone? Why should one believe your words/ testimony over any other preacher, sage, religious or spiritual leader who says that the witness they bear is true as well? You are not the first people to believe that salvation comes solely from your personal belief.

    Have any of you seen the movie or read the book Heaven is for real? Do you believe the boys account of heaven? More if this post makes it through.

  15. I have been thinking about this since first reading the post earlier today. I have known people who present a fluent testimony in order to gain credibility with people they plan to victimize. I have shied away from those parts of the bloggernacle that I have been warned will present a skewed version of the faith that sustains me. Therefore I can’t comment on the actual content. It does seem logical that if a person purports to value truth that they would avoid testifying of things they don’t believe, but if they are callous predators I think they might make protestations of belief in a deliberate effort to mislead.

  16. I love Christ. I bear testimony of Him, and gladly bear testimony this is the Restored Church. I gladly bear testimony that the Book of Mormon will bring us to Christ, and that the Lord has once again called apostles and prophets to lead His Church. Thomas S. Monson is a wonderful man who is the Lord’s Prophet today.

    Yet…

    This post brought a very dark feeling into my life, one that I’ve had a hard time shaking today. Earlier in the day, I had felt wonderful joy reading about Christ in the standard works – undoubtedly a fruit of the Spirit – but when I read this post, that joy and light just vanished. I’m trying to figure out why. Is this “psychic pain for the disbeliever, because his or her identity is tied up with secret antagonism toward the church?” Is it because I am a wolf, and this is the “wolf’s fatal flaw?”

    I think the reason this post is so uncomfortable is that it feels like compulsion. It feels manipulative. It feels coercive and contrived. It makes me sad. It doesn’t just make me “a little uncomfortable” as you said – it makes me want to cry.

    Asking people to bear their testimony to make sure they’re not a wolf? Making people repeat a stock-testimony so that they can participate in a discussion?

    May I ask: Who will be the judge as to whether a testimony is sufficient? What specific items does it need to include? What words are required? What about people who have testimonies of some things, but not testimonies of others? What about overzealous people who have testimonies of things that are actually untrue?

    What about people who view their testimonies as something sacred – something they don’t cast before…well, you get the point.

    Sharing your testimony is great. Mandating that others do it feels like unrighteous dominion, an abomination. I don’t want to be part of the whore of the earth, to whore my testimony on demand to a stranger like you, or to watch others whore themselves to please some blog moderator.

    This is a TERRIBLE idea. How many times must people be reminded not to “exercise control or dominion or compulsion” on people? How many times must people be reminded that the Kingdom is to be built by “persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned, by kindness, and pure knowledge…?” How many times?

  17. Sam Hill,
    There are things in my life that have been beneficial, sometimes a thing as simple as a better way to make doughnuts, and I am happy to share that information with others. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, both as found in the Bible and as revealed through latter day prophets has done more to enrich my life than any other experience or knowledge, so I share my testimony.

  18. PP, there is a big difference between *suggesting* that others bear their testimony (which is what Tom is doing) and *mandating* (your word) that others bear their testimony. Mandate means to force others. Tom has no way to force other people to bear their testimony, and to claim he does is just silliness. However, he can suggest that others bear their testimony, and this has nothing to do with force. I can suggest that you go to church every Sunday but I certainly cannot force you to do it, especially from my computer screen miles away from you.

    So, I think bearing your testimony is a great idea, and I hope all readers will do it. But nobody is forcing you to. Are we clear?

  19. SamHill, this is not the place for you to bear your counter-testimony, so if that is the direction you are taking this, I would suggest you do not spend any more time commenting because your comments will be deleted. Take such comments to another blog. Thanks for understanding.

  20. Pat Chiu,

    Fair enough. I do not doubt that it has brought a tremendous amount of joy to your life. But I am I fair to say that you do not make the declaration of testimony in the same way you say that your brownies are good and you are giving out recipes. You make the declaration to proclaim that the gospel is the only path back to god on the entire earth. Not just a good path! But the only path. This message was to bear testimony that these are the ONLY brownies and everyone else brownies are just imitations.

    So back to the movie? Did the boy go to heaven and see family an god and Jesus? Is his testimony true?

  21. In reading the OP here, and especially Geoff B’s remarks to certain commenters, I have been reminded of two things. One is the oft-discussed (of late) concept of “boundary maintenance”. The other is one of Rush Limbaugh’s so-called “undeniable truths of life” which is, as I recall, that organizations that are not expressly conservative in nature will inevitably embrace and seek to advance a progressive agenda.

    I agree with the OP, and share PP’s horror, at the idea of enforced testimony bearing as some sort of “litmus test” to bloggernacle participation; but I think the bloggernacle would be more relevant to the experience of rank-and-file Mormons (and, frankly, less leftist in nature) if the proprietors of the major LDS-oriented blogs actively promoted a culture of faith and made it their unabashed priority to have their sites be “safe” places for sharing of testimony, rather than “safe” places for kvetching–er, questioning.

  22. I’m really enjoying all these thoughts and testimonies. Thanks everyone. It really means a lot. ldsphilosopher, you interpreted the post exactly the way I meant it.

    There are a few criticisms I’ll respond to briefly. PP, I don’t know you or understand your situation, so it’s hard for me to know how responsible I should feel if my post made you feel like crying, although I regret that you feel that way. You mischaracterized my view, however! I don’t suggest “making” people repeat a “stock-testimony” before I’ll listen to them, nor do I expect anyone to prove to me that they have a testimony. I also think that the “whore” analogy is a little strange and not worth defending myself against. And I resent the idea that I’m exercising dominion or compulsion or asking others to do so (I agree with Geoff). If I was, though, I would agree with you that it would be “terrible”.

    My message is directed at believers, and it is an invitation to testify. A culture of testifying is an uncomfortable environment for deceivers, and that culture is present in our churches and even on our Facebook walls, but absent in the Bloggernacle (I’m not counting M*. It should be fairly clear which sites I’m referring to.). I do believe that the Saints should hold each other to a high standard, out of love. And for what it’s worth, since you shared your own feelings, my motivation for writing this post was the sick spirit of cynicism that I feel when I read Bloggernacle posts. I’m not exaggerating when I say that most non-members I know speak more positively about my church than Bloggernaclers do. Do you ever feel the same way?

    Geoff, I don’t disagree with you. The word “usually” was deliberately placed. I think that people in a relationship of mutual trust can often ask each other about their testimonies in a spirit of love and genuine interest in the other’s well-being. I also think that public figures who have chosen to project their voice to the world should expect to be asked about their testimonies.

    Nate, I agree with you on some counts, and disagree on others. One of our disagreements is that I don’t believe that any post should be just an attempt to “win an argument”, as you say. The broader purpose of writing about the gospel, even in apologetics, should be to build faith among Saints and everyone else. To that end I think a testimony is never uncalled for, even when we are engaging in argument as a means.

    By the way, Pat Chiu, thanks in particular for the times you’ve testified of the gospel. I’ve heard comments from others about how much it has meant to them. :)

  23. SamHill, from the comments policy, “Though we welcome readers and posters of all faiths, our posts take the foundational teachings of the LDS Church as common ground and the point of departure. Posters who wish to debate or argue those foundational teachings should seek one of the other forums available for such discussions. Comments that denigrate the Church or insult its leaders are not welcome.”

    Although I tend to agree that we don’t give our testimonies enough on the bloggernacle, I also believe that words will prove a person’s faith or lacking. That a person might be called out should only embolden them to testify more directly and not pile on ambiguity after ambiguity. If a Mormon doesn’t believe or not sure of that belief, then own up to it as a matter of truth telling. That is what is expected of others, like the more orthodox, right?

    I suppose that Millennial Star is an apologetic blog if one defines that as taking the faith seriously as Truth and then discussing it with those beliefs. That hardly makes it apologetic by default. That is, unless one believes talking about the problems with the Boy Scouts and white dress shirts (as examples) topics of apologetics. One of my blog posts was about my own criticism of apologetics as lacking spiritual components at times (i.e. not bearing pure testimony), even if useful. There are a lot of Scriptures that say bearing testimony in public no matter the context is required. We must testify of our faith to all people, in all places, at all times. We should not hide our faith under a bushel (of academics). We should be prepared to give the reason of our hope at any time to anyone. This is not new doctrine. The biggest question is not should we, but what constitutes bearing a testimony? Can it be said without bolding and underlying?

  24. It’s fascinating, because I often find that I can figure out a person’s leanings (on a blog like this) without anyone needing to write “I testify that…”

    John Lennon wrote a song, that I mostly agree with, but he presumed that the only way to achieve peace was to eliminate faith in a God. But if people think the wars based on religion have been bad, they’re nothing to the wars of the faithless.

    So here’s an attempt at a version of “Imagine” that isn’t based on atheism:

    Imagine there’s a heaven
    It’s easy if you try
    A God who loves us
    Closer than the sky
    Imagine all the people
    Loving all today…

    Imagine there’s no terror
    It isn’t hard to do
    Nothing to kill or die for
    And no division too
    Imagine all the people
    Living life in peace…

    You may say I’m a dreamer
    But I’m not the only one
    I hope someday you’ll join us
    And the world will be as one

    Imagine no possessions
    I wonder if you can
    No need for greed or hunger
    A brotherhood of man
    Imagine all the people
    Sharing all the world…

    You may say I’m a dreamer
    But I’m not the only one
    I hope someday you’ll join us
    And the world will live as one

    I adore the concept Joseph restored, that all are children of God, that all are eternal, that all chose to accept Christ before ever entering this life. This makes every person I ever meet my friend from eternities unremembered, someone I would gladly give my life for if I knew what I once knew of their heart.

    I similarly adore the vision that all mankind through time and space can return to God, through the ordinances performed in temples.

    The Joseph I’ve learned of worshiped Christ, the Savior. He forgave more than we realize, including redacting much of the information so most of us have never even knew there was something to forgive. Unfortunately, that has left the historical field to those who didn’t care about who they hurt (ahem, William Law).

    I believe in a God that has the power to save all mankind, and has a way to accomplish that design. All ways are potentially useful paths towards that salvation.

    By the way, Sam Hill, which of the possible origins of that euphemism to you ascribe to? Or is that actually your name?

  25. It has been quite interesting to me that a suggestion to bear testimony in order to strengthen and give more complete understanding to a view or position has been regarded as a “mandate”. Could a true testimony be mandated?

    With regards to the comments about apologetics, there is no doubt that all truth is truth and as we intellectually better understand these truths and how they fit in with other things we know to be true, it can be strengthening and refreshing. I am under the impression that this is something that is the aim of M*, and I have enjoyed the knowledge and opinions shared here.

    Some have suggested that by bearing testimony, it somehow diminishes the intellectual value of what is being discussed. Why do we suppose that intellectual and spiritual truths must be exclusive of one another? Didn’t the scriptures say that all things temporal are spiritual as well?

    It is also true that there are truths we do not completely understand on an intellectual level, but that we know on a spiritual level. This is a part of faith and religion, which testimony is a part.

    Why can’t we appeal to our readers on an intellectual and a spiritual level? I didn’t feel the author was mandating me to share personal or sacred experiences that were not meant for this type of audience. I felt he was making a suggestion. And a good one.

    In my life, I have found times when there were two or more “truths” that seemed unable to coexist. This was frustrating. But, as I continued to be patient and study more, further information was unearthed that amazingly allowed the truths to, in fact, coexist, but in a way I hadn’t before considered. As I have seen this several times, I see the need to have a testimony and spiritual knowledge, while at the same time continuing my search and study to obtain the whole truth.

    Bearing testimony does not and should not be seen to diminish the intellectual validity. It just adds to the richness and dimension.

  26. I like your touching faith that deceivers wouldn’t also be liars!

    And yet, it seems to be so. For the unbeliever, there is something almost literally painful about speaking the truths and authority that Joseph Smith restored.

    Bottom line: the effect on outing the wolves is probably the least important reason for your excellent counsel that we testify more.

    P.S. Note that without including any of the conventional testimony phrases, I still testified by including the phrase ‘the truths and authority . . . “

  27. I recently watched “Heaven is for Real” and watched the father and son discuss it on the 700 Club on the Internet. I do believe the child had a vision of heaven. Many of the things he saw tie in directly with LDS thought: family is important, love is important, Christ wishes to save all mankind.

    As we learn in Alma 29:8, God gives to every nation, kindred, tongue, people (and person) the amount of light and truth he/she is ready to receive.

    And as Joseph Smith stated, truth is found everywhere, and it all belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ. We accept it and (hopefully) embrace it, wherever it is found.

    As for bearing testimony, it also depends on the situation. I would not want a person to bear testimony at a seminar that is designed for intellectual discussion. For example, in 2005, the Library of Congress put on a seminar for the Worlds of Joseph Smith (bicentennial of his birth). Many LDS and non-LDS scholars discussed papers that were fascinating: Terryl Givens, Margaret Barker, Richard Bushman, etc. The one paper that seemed out of place was from a BYU professor that basically spent 20 minutes bearing testimony of Joseph Smith. It did nothing to help anyone appreciate Joseph Smith or the Church on any level, but just left everyone feeling uncomfortable.

    Blogs may occasionally be different. I don’t mind someone sharing their testimony here. Again, as I noted before, I do not want them to bear testimony of esoteric things that are not doctrine.

    “I would like to bear my testimony that I know that libertarianism is the one and only true political doctrine outside of the Law of Consecration, and that all other forms of politics are of the devil.”

    That just doesn’t seem to go very far, even if it were true.

    Vader, you should see some of the arguments and testimonies that arise at lds.net or the Mormon Dialogue Board on things like a 6000 year earth, dinosaurs and men, etc. Just look up Rob Osborn as an example of this….

  28. Rameumptom
    Yes, I believe you are right about there being a time and a place for testimony. You mentioned the Joseph Smith seminar and the person who basically gave a 20 minute testimony of Joseph Smith. Do you believe that testimony would have been more appropriate and better received if it was only a small part of the speaker’s speech- such as 19 minutes intellectual and one minute testimony?

  29. Amy, I think it would have been better received like that – giving your scholarship and ending with a brief testimony. However, in such a conference, I think no testimony bearing would have been best of all, perhaps.

  30. Once again I find myself agreeing with Tom, but unsure to what extent my perspective reinforces or qualifies his. (I haven’t read the comments yet, so be gentle.)

    I think our revealed religion in based primarily and fundamentally in oral rather than written communication. Here is an old post which I think still speaks pretty well to my perspective: http://www.newcoolthang.com/index.php/2013/04/for-he-taught-them-as-one-having-authority-and-not-as-the-scribes/3223/

    Oral communication lends itself to contextual and emotional nuance. It lends itself to being geographically structured by priesthood authority. It not only lends itself to, but depends upon continuing revelation in order to know what to do in that particular context. All of these things, I suggest, are part and parcel of bearing testimony.

    Written communication, on the other hand, does none of these things. Writings disembody words such that the person who speaks and the authority that they may or may not have fades from view. It strives to generalize its unemotional rationality beyond immediate context given that it has no immediate audience. it speaks to everybody since it speaks to nobody. As such, written communication does not lend itself well to testimony bearing.

    What written communication does lend itself to, however, is reasoned argumentation which is exactly what we find in the bloggernacle. If one is to have any audience worth worrying about in the bloggernacle, one must be well trained in composing an arguments. The problem is that the training we all receive in this regard also teaches us that appeals to authority or personal (in)credulity do not count as good reasons or arguments.

    Thus, when we begin putting a post into words, we automatically embrace the practice that is written reason-giving. This, I suggest, is roughly how the bloggernacle originally took shape, but once this structured practice took hold it became a game of its own wherein all the people who joined this game naturally began playing by this same set of informal rules.

    That (total threadjack) said, I’m just not sure how I feel about putting testimonies into words. Here are a few off-handed considerations:
    1) I think we can usually get a feel for people’s testimonies from the posts themselves and the language that they use to describe the church and its leaders. In other words, the testimony comes out whether intentionally or not.
    2) I see a lot of testimonies being used in the bloggernacle as a segue-way into criticism of the church. It’s almost like they’re saying “You know I’m not racist, but (insert racist remark).”
    3) I think written testimony lends itself too well to willful manipulation. Bruce has discussed this elsewhere where people will take the time that written communication allows and very carefully write things which are not strictly untrue. A good example would be how people testify of Jesus and how good the church is without ever saying that our leaders are called of God, etc.
    4) What about those who struggle in their testimonies but have no intention of tearing down the church? I would probably fall in this camp. A lot of these people might be in the ‘nacle looking for help or even looking to help others. I think we’ve all met people who refuse to use the word “know” while bearing their testimonies and I would be uncomfortable not allowing many of these people to have a voice within the ‘nacle.

    Having put the preceding thoughts into words, I guess I would say that I applaud Tom’s motives and the ends he seeks, but I’m not too sure about his means.

  31. Jeff, those are excellent criticisms. However, I think you’ve overmade your case for revealed religion being communicated orally more than in writing.

    You’re correct that, as Nephi said, “when a man *speaketh* by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men.” Speaking is a different mode of communication than writing, and you made a strong case for why this matters. But Nephi went on to say, “And the words which I have written in weakness will be made strong unto them.” Why? Because “it persuadeth them to do good; it maketh known unto them of their fathers; and it speaketh of Jesus, and persuadeth them to believe in him, and to endure to the end, which is life eternal.”

    In this very chapter we see his writing come to life with emotional power: “For I pray continually for them by day, and mine eyes water my pillow by night, because of them; and I cry unto my God in faith, and I know that he will hear my cry. … I glory in plainness; I glory in truth; I glory in my Jesus, for he hath redeemed my soul from hell.”

    I am not arguing that blogs should read like scripture, but I am arguing that writing is its own art with its own nuances, and that as an art or spiritual gift, it can lend itself just as well to testimony as speaking. I don’t think the Bloggernacle had to get so bad just because it’s in written form. A better blogging culture and a more refined art of gospel writing is what we need, not just to give up on expressing testimony. There are some good examples of people who write this way online, even amidst all of the rational discourse. Many, however, do not, partly because we’re probably still learning how to appropriately communicate over the internet.

    I don’t think your first numbered point detracts from my argument, although I can see how it could appear to. There are ways of testifying (think of it as communicating one’s faith) without naming or professing a belief–I didn’t go into this in my post but maybe I should have. I did hint at it, however, when I said that Bloggernaclers almost never “give the church unqualified praise.” If someone believes in the church, they will love it, and this will show through in the way they write. I think this counts as testimony, and I still believe that this form of testifying is mostly absent in the Bloggernacle.

    However, I also continue to believe that direct, open testimony that is immediately recognizable as testimony is too rare among believing bloggers online, for reasons I’ve already said. Even in situations where it is perfectly appropriate we avoid testifying because we don’t want to appear unintelligent (isn’t this true?).

    I think points 2 and 3 are spot-on, honestly, and those were my biggest fears when I wrote this post. However, I have faith that there are more true believers than cynical detractors. I also believe that many of the manipulative testimonies you describe do not touch any hearts, and that a culture of credulity would force those manipulators either to lie more boldly (in which case they actually build their own faith unwittingly) or else, more likely, to fight the Lord’s church on open secular grounds without the pretense of testimony.

    To point 4: you don’t have to be free of faith struggles to testify, especially in the way I’ve just described testimony. Someone who is struggling with their faith would be able to write positively about the church and doctrines while acknowledging his/her uncertainty. A wolf does not acknowledge his/her disbelief but is unable to give clear praise or write without a critical edge. We can tell the difference–for example, you don’t ever come across suspiciously, even to the extent that you haven’t testified as much as others, as you suggest. I think for many reasons it’s okay, and edifying to everyone, to expect even those struggling Saints to express the faith they do have. (I wish you hadn’t said “not allowing”–as if there’s some way I intend to enforce my invitation!)

  32. I think where we might be getting hung up in on point (1). Your call for more testimony bearing is not only perfectly defensible, but a welcomed corrective to so much of the over-intellectualizing that we see in the ‘nacle. (I’m sooooo guilty.) I agree that there ought to be more….. And yet a part of me draws back. Yes, some of it has to do with our not wanting to sound unintelligent, but I think there’s more to it than that….. even if I don’t feel like I can pinpoint them.

    Here are a few considerations or possibilities that cross my mind:

    (A) To bear testimony does not necessarily belie stupidity so much as bias… and (sadly) we’ve been trained in school to sideline rather than embrace bias.
    (B) There is a difference between testifying of those things which are officially Mormon gospel and as such meant for the entire world and testifying of my own thoughts of a particular model of BoM geography. There is also a strong incentive for people (on all sides of the political spectrum) to view their thoughts and posts as a criticism of the latter rather than the former. These two premises combine into a disincentive to bear testimony on so many of the topics discussed in the ‘nacle.
    (C) Consider somebody like Howard who sometimes bears testimony of his less than orthodox views. The criticism that he usually gets in response is not that he’s stupid, but that he’s coming off as self-righteous or in some sense claiming a divine legitimacy to his own views that we do not acknowledge. I think the charge of self-righteousness is one that the more conservative bloggers are a little anxious to avoid.
    (D) Perhaps the biggest difference is that between articulating a position to a faceless audience and writing a letter. For example, missionaries bearing testimony in journals and letters to their family just seems perfectly natural and sounds pretty close to what Nephi was doing. Bearing testimony to your classmates at the end of a report on Mormon polygamy in a sociology class just seems inappropriate, no matter how faithful the speaker is. Similarly, when people write a pretty personal and therefore emotional post (SilverRain is a great example), it seems perfectly natural for her to bear her testimony. If I bore testimony at the end of a long-winded and cerebral sociological analysis of the bloggernacle’s relationship tot he church, it would just seem…. strange.

    Of course the problem with all of these thoughts is that they just sound to self-serving and contrived. They sound like ad hoc justifications for not doing what we all know we are supposed to do…. Because you’re right, we should be testifying more. I just don’t think the reason why we often times do not so testify can be straightforwardly attributed to a fear of looking unintelligent.

  33. You’re right, it’s all much more complicated than a fear of looking unintelligent. Sorry for giving that impression (but not that sorry, it would have been a lot more effort and words to do otherwise). I acknowledge all of the other reasons you list. Instead of going through point-by-point, or giving further defenses, or explaining why those points don’t cover all the situations where I think we should testify more, I’ll just let them stand alongside what I’ve said. I think that we can take all of this together, and maybe we agree on something like, “it’s important to be sensitive to situations where it’s inappropriate to testify, but most of us probably err on the side of testifying too little as opposed to too much”?

    Thanks for the really good thoughts.

  34. @Sam Hill: You asked:

    “What makes your testimony of any value to anyone? Why should one believe your words/ testimony over any other preacher, sage, religious or spiritual leader who says that the witness they bear is true as well? ”

    The purpose of bearing testimony is to place a piece of truth in front of someone, audibly or in written text, so that the Holy Ghost may bear witness (ie, confirm its truthfulness) to the person who is listening or reading.

    Aside from a confirmation/witness of the Holy Ghost, there is no spiritual reason (in general, I’ll make some specific exceptions later) to believe someone else’s personal testimony.

    Generally speaking, LDS missionaires are not supposed to use power of argument, or use a “sales job” or any type of human-reasoning argument to _convince_ people to join the LDS church. What the LDS leaders hope for is that the Holy Ghost does all the convincing to the person who is listening to the missionaries (or any church member) teach or bear testimony of truth.

    If we use only the power of rational argument, then sooner or later a better salesman, or better debater, or a smarter scholar, or even an ill-intentioned or well-intentioned manipulator can come along and “flip” the listener/student/investigator/convert.

    let’s remember, half the world is below average intelligence. But God loves everybody, and is not a respecter of persons. So God must have some way for non-scholars to recognize spiritual truth. Paul wrote that “spiritual truth is spiritually discerned”. 1 Cor 2:14. Jesus said that the Holy Ghost teaches all things, John 14:26.

    So no matter how smart or educated (and they aren’t the same thing, any fool can get an education) a person is, they are susceptible to error if they rely solely upon rational or human argument/reasoning. Scriptures even predict this: “The wisdom of the wise shall perish.”

    I taught a lot of illiterate and uneducated people on my mission in a third world country. That’s when this concept really sunk home to me. Why should they believe me, and not the Catholic priests, or the evangelical/pentecostal missionaries? How can we prepare them for counter argument or opposition? Or if they listened to us last, how do we differentiate? Or what do we have that the others don’t?

    And the answer is spiritual confirmation of LDS teachings by the Holy Ghost, who is accessible to everyone regardless of their education.

    An lds missionary can’t or at least shouldn’t “close the deal”. Yes, we do ask people for commitment, and to set a baptism date. But the “hook” (or hooks) that good salesmen use to “bring” or “reel in” their prospect across the line when selling things, shoes, cars, houses, etc., must be avoided by missionaries. The Holy Ghost needs to, or should be the one to “close the deal”, so that the investigator truly desires in his heart to commit to the restored gospel, fully and sincerely believing the foundational truth claims.

    I had one of those kinds of experiences when I investigated the church. the Holy Ghost convinced me while I was reading on my own, before the first formal lesson, the missionaries weren’t event there. So I know there was no salesmanship or manipulation or power of human persuasion involved.

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