In my Relief Society class today, women recounted how although they had a testimony that they should belong to the LDS church and of The Book of Mormon, they often struggled to have a testimony of Joseph Smith. This begs the question, what do we mean when we claim to have a testimony of Joseph Smith?
The very phrase “having a testimony of Joseph Smith,” seems to elevate Joseph Smith to the divine status in which we hold other figures that we testify of—Christ, God, and the Holy Ghost. The language pushes us towards seeing Joseph Smith as an infallible prophet, a semi-deity. But, of course, this view of Joseph Smith is incorrect. We do not believe our prophets are infallible, and we do not believe that they are gods.
It seems, then, that what people typically mean when they say that they have a testimony of Joseph Smith is that they have a testimony that certain actions that Joseph Smith took to found our church were directed by God. Our testimony is not in fact about Joseph Smith being sacred, but rather that we believe in the actions that God directed through Joseph Smith. If this is in fact what we mean, then there is not in my mind a substantial difference between belief in The Book of Mormon or the church and what some people can a “testimony” of Joseph Smith.
Unfortunately, however, the phrase “having a testimony of Joseph Smith” obscures this meaning, leaving people with the impression that they should develop a testimony of Joseph Smith’s divine nature. If this is not what we believe—and I don’t think it is—then we might do better to spell out more completely what actions, practices, or doctrines in fact form our testimonies.