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.