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.