Confessions of Faith

For reasons that I can’t quite get my mind around, my personal faith status has, in recent weeks, become one of the hot topics of discussion in the LDS blog community. I wouldn’t generally choose to respond to such remarks, but the widespread discussion about my beliefs provides a good opportunity for posting some comments that I’ve wanted to present for quite some time: my personal confession of faith.

Confessions of faith, including creeds and catechisms, are a traditional genre in Christianity. In variants of Christianity other than the Mormon one, confessions of faith are often intended as authoritative texts. They define the essential details of the divine message, and as a consequence they delimit the legitimate community of believers: those who reject one or more components of the confession are heretics, outsiders, unorthodox, mistaken, fallen, condemned.

Joseph Smith famously disliked creeds and confessions of faith in their authoritarian role. William Clayton’s Nauvoo Journal for January 1, 1843, contains the following statement:

This A.M. we had a pleasant interview with Mr. Butterfield, Judge Douglas, Senator Gillespie & others. pres. Joseph stated to Mr. Butterfield the prominent points of difference in sentiment between the Latter Day Saints & sectarian viz: the latter are all circumscribed by some peculiar creed which deprives its members of the right of believing anything not contained in it; whereas the Latter Day Saints have no creed, but are ready to believe all true principle existing, as they are made manifest from time to time. He said further, that if any person should ask him if he was a prophet he should not deny it. As to deny it would give him the lie & then shewed from the Revelations of John that any man who has the testimony of Jesus has the spirit of prophesy &C.

I share Joseph’s distaste for creeds that serve to circumscribe beliefs or communities. If you passionately and centrally believe propositions not included in my confession of faith, or disbelieve statements that I have made, I will still gladly greet you as a brother or sister in Christ if you will only agree to receive the greeting. Instead, these thoughts are offered as a celebration of the goodness and abundance that I experience in Christ and His gospel.

I confess my belief in God. I accept God as a really existing being, and not merely as a metaphor or an expression of our shared spirituality or animal insecurities. From time to time, I feel what I take to be God’s influence and God’s love inside me, and so I confess that God is active in the world. Beyond speaking to people’s hearts and minds, I do not know what other work God does in the world, but I believe that God is lovingly and constantly present.

I confess my belief in Jesus Christ as the Savior of humanity. The voice of God in my heart tells me that Jesus lived, died in a way that creates forgiveness for our sins, and has been resurrected. I don’t know which details of the New Testament are historical and literal, which are apocryphal expressions of faith and of eternal truth, and which are distortions or errors. I also do not claim to know how God and Jesus brought the Atonement about or why Jesus’s sufferings were a component of that act. These lacks of knowledge notwithstanding, I confess that Jesus is my Lord and Savior, the Only Begotten Son of God.

I confess that many texts within the Bible speak to me in God’s voice. These texts are scattered throughout; often, the sweetest and most potent moments are hidden in sections of text that otherwise say nothing to me at all. Parts of the Bible, including the many violent narratives and much of the priestly ritual of the Old Testament, as well as what seem to me to be the more culturally specific components of the New Testament, strike me as more historical than transcendent. Nonetheless, the scattering of powerful, divine-seeming moments throughout serves as a witness that God does speak and act, even among people who differ profoundly from modern norms. In particular, I confess the power of the Gospels and of Paul’s letters to humble me and bring me to my knees before Jesus.

I confess the power and divinity of the Book of Mormon’s witness of Jesus Christ. Through that book, I first came to faith in my Lord, and I celebrate the text’s praises for and teachings about Jesus. In my own life, and in the lives of others that I have known, the Book of Mormon has a unique power to bring people to faith in Jesus Christ. There are many things about the book that I do not know. Even so, I confess my wholehearted acceptance of Lehi’s dying lecture about Jesus Christ’s atoning grace, Benjamin’s sermon on the sinfulness of man and on redemption through faith in the Savior, Alma’s sermons about the saving power of Christ, and many other texts within the Book of Mormon.

I confess my conviction that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the community that God has ordained as the place for me to work out my relationship with Jesus Christ and my salvation. I have felt God call me to this church, and I have seen others likewise called. I have sometimes felt what I take to be the power of God in its ordinances. I feel that our church teaches truth about Jesus Christ and the Atonement. I do not know whether all of humanity is called to join us in this life, or whether God has missions for some of His children to fulfill within other churches and faiths. I also do not know what relationship may exist between our church and God’s kingdom in heavenly realms. Yet I confess that God’s power and God’s love are on regular display within our church; I confess that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does indeed belong to God.

Finally, I confess my own weakness, futility, and confusion when it comes to spiritual things. Only with divine grace and mercy am I able to comprehend anything about God and the eternal. I hope that the many areas in which my faith remains inchoate will some day become clearer. In the meanwhile, I cling to what I have been given.

Comments

  1. Tony Loyal says:

    Beautiful and well-said, brother.

  2. Julie M. Smith says:

    This is lovely. I appreciate your expressions of doubt just as much as I appreciate your expressions of faith, because they work together as an expression of integrity.

  3. Costanza says:

    Nice thoughts. Thanks for providing a pleasant ending to my sabbath.

  4. Beautiful,
    That is a testimony born out of blood, sweat and tears. It is the truest, strongest and most enduring sort. I can almost feel the years anf study, prayer and thought that went into it.
    Thank you.

  5. J
    I’ve been watching the exchange between Midgley and yourself as well as the castigation of John Dehlin over at Mormon Stories. As usual, the old clash between the apologist and the heretic is very theatrical :-)

    I do not know whether all of humanity is called to join us in this life, or whether God has missions for some of His children to fulfill within other churches and faiths. I also do not know what relationship may exist between our church and God’s kingdom in heavenly realms. Yet I confess that God’s power and God’s love are on regular display within our church; I confess that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does indeed belong to God.

    This is the attitude I have pretty much adopted. How can I know how God deals with other people? All I know is my own experiences, and how God has dealt with me. How can I then condemn others for not believing as I do? Thank you for your confession.

  6. Thank you.

    It’s an honor to call you friend.

  7. Do you actually believe in a dying Lehi? Just curious :)

  8. j – Thanks for your testimony. I also cling to the limited clarity and strength I’ve been given, hoping for more of both. – t

  9. Seth R. says:

    I wasn’t aware that your “faith status” was an issue at all. It certainly wasn’t for me.

  10. Jothegrill says:

    RE 5
    it’s mormonstories.org, not mormonstories.com

  11. Tony, Julie, Costanza, Doc, Jared, Ann, and Travis–thanks for your kind words. I’m glad you found something meaningful in my comments.

    Ben, as someone once said, “I know that [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.”

    Seth, a few of the comments that I had in mind in the throwaway introduction about people debating my personal religious beliefs are here, here, and here.

  12. Well, whether or not it was mormonstories.org or mormonstories.com doesn’t really matter. If my memory serves me, the castigation actually took place on the FAIR boards.

  13. Very moving, Roasted Tomatoes.

    It is unfortunate that some people can only perceive the world through paranoid spectacles. I am very sorry that you have been subjected to that treatment.

    At the same time, it is great that there have been so many Mormons that have taken a stand against that. Thanks to you there is progress in our culture and community.

  14. gladly greet you as a brother or sister in Christ

    This is so important. Thank you Brother Nelson-Seawright.

  15. Justin H says:

    Amen. Thanks, RT.

  16. Ed Snow says:

    Amen, Bro JNS/RT, amen.

    I realy have no idea what I’m saying theologically (although I try, Lord knows I try), but I believe the kingdom of God is present in this moment.

  17. The most uplifting thing I’ve heard in the past 2 days. Thanks RT.

  18. Thanks man. This is beautiful.

  19. Thank-you for this.

  20. greenfrog says:

    Your confession lifted my spirit.

  21. rleonard says:

    Very well said.

    Who ever said your faith was in doubt? Never crossed my mind.

  22. Randy B. says:

    A beautiful response to an unfortunate situation. Would that we all had such wisdom, integrity, and grace.

    Best of luck with your dissertation.

  23. I, too, missed the conflict, thank God.

    Your testimony is wonderful and reflects how I feel about God, as well. Thank you.

  24. MikeInWeHo says:

    Thanks for all the interesting things you have to say. Your paragraph on the BoM seems intentionally vague (evasive?) re: historicity. The paragraph on the Bible is just the opposite, referencing historicity vs transcendance. Sorry to sound negative because I found your confession inspiring.

  25. This is lovely. I like the tradition of confessing, maybe not to establish authority, but to ponder and express what it is you believe. Thank you. Also the tenderness in your post provokes tenderness in me and I appreciate that.

    May I ask questions? I know answering them on blogs sometimes goes willy-nilly, so don’t if you think it will be misinterpreted or if you’re just not in the mood.

    Do you have a goal for your faith? Although not explicitly stated, you do not seem to believe some of the absolutes of the Church. Is it your goal then to move towards that kind of belief or do you feel good about letting your faith grow in a less pointed way?

    I was going to ask more but faith questions are so personal, too intimate for a blog.

    Again, thanks. This is good, good work.

  26. a random John says:
  27. I appreciate your writing this. It clears a few things up. I would like to see more of this type of thing on the ‘nacle.

  28. Further thanks to everyone for their kind words about my remarks. Also, arJ, thanks for quoting from Midgley’s apology; I think his statement is certainly praiseworthy.

    Amri–great questions. I do have a goal for my faith. I hope to become closer to God. If that process leads me to make an affirmation of faith that sounds more acceptable to some particular group within our community, so be it. Furthermore, I am committed to listening carefully and deeply to what our leaders and my fellow Saints have to say. Beyond that, though, my goal is to grow closer to God; any specificity beyond that strikes me as something of a distraction.

  29. Thomas Parkin says:

    I’ve read this through a couple times. This is what I like best:

    I don’t mean to, nor will I get in the habit of mocking or critisizing the surface culture of the church. It is what is is – and as much as it has annoyed me, there isn’t room, time nor energy avaiable for it annoy me now. But: golly, do I cringe when children get up in testimony meeting and say they ‘know the church is true.’ Well, actually, what do they know? I told myself I would never say that ‘I know the church is true’ – unless I had qualified it, and addended it so that my meaning was clear; and beyond that tried to ask, if only myself, in perfectly good faith, what it is we mean when we say it. I love the forthrightness and clarity in your confession about what you do not know. Lack of knowledge, with faith, is the beginning of knowledge: ‘if any man lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, but let him ask in faith, nothing wavering’ … not ‘if any man lacks wisdom, let him reaasert catchphrases until he convinces himself that he doesn’t waver …’

    Anyway, enough of that.

    Thanks.

    T

  30. Lovely, thank you for sharing.

  31. J/RT, thank you so much for sharing this. I think that on the bloggernaccle we often discuss our thoughts and perceptions, but such a personal and real statement of faith is hard to express.

    I am always pleased when I find something that inspires and uplifts me or makes me evaluate my faith.

  32. Kaimi wrote something once about mistaking intentions in regard to forgiveness. I confuse people all the time blogging. I pop off a comment and forget all about it or where I said it. I was thinking it’s because I’m older and more senile, but now I’m thinking you are all getting senile. No offense.

    I love reconciliation. I am the oneriest gut on the planet, but I hate fighting with people (excuse the hyperbole). There is nothing better than when we understand and like each other again.

    Double blessing with this post.

  33. Thanks J.
    I have mixed feelings about how to deal with my variance from absolutes in the Church. I love the Church, I believe in it, I am active in it but also experience inability to believe some of the things I once did. So, do I make the goal to come back to that belief in absolutes? Are the seeds I am planting meant to point in that direction? Sometimes I want to say yes. Other times because I feel very close to God, I think like you, I just want to continue a relationship with God and doing good to others, however that leads me.

    That obviously sometimes puts me at odds with people, or my understanding of the Church. I know people think that makes me antagonistic, but really I just need to talk out my faith and what is the right thing to do with it.

  34. Wonderful, JNS.

  35. Finally, I confess my own weakness, futility, and confusion when it comes to spiritual things. Only with divine grace and mercy am I able to comprehend anything about God and the eternal. I hope that the many areas in which my faith remains inchoate will some day become clearer. In the meanwhile, I cling to what I have been given.

    Amen. “I know that [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things …”

  36. Beatiful sentiments, and a hopeful interpretation of Joseph Smith’s view on creeds. I once expressed a similar view about Joseph’s comments in a class. Richard Bushman, in a very kindly way, pointed out that Joseph almost certainly meant creeds restricted the beliefs of saints (making beliefs to small), and almost certainly did not worry about requiring beliefs in a certain set of statements (making required beliefs to large).

    I should say, however, that I certainly hope and believe that there is flexibility in both directions, regardless of what Joseph taught. Not to say I’m a universalist.

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