Mormon testimonies tend to be small-t trinitarian:
1. I know that God lives.
2. I know that Jesus is the Christ.
3. I know that the Church is true.
You will hear this formula every week in Mormon services. There is often a variation on #3, viz.:
3a. I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet.
3b. I know that the Book of Mormon is true.
3c. I know that Thomas S. Monson is God’s prophet on the earth today.
For Mormons, these beliefs, often characterised as “knowledge,” represent the heart of what it means to be a believing Mormon.
My beliefs are similar, but more specific, as I imagine they are for most Mormons were they to unpack what they mean when they “bear testimony.” It is worth exploring, I think.
1. There is a benevolent God.
It is not hard for me to believe in an all-powerful Creator, Professor Hawking’s recent statements notwithstanding. But faced with the cold suffering that seems to characterise much of sentient existence, it is not enough for me to believe in Creation per se — after all, an omnipotent demon could be a Creator — but in a Creation that ultimately serves the human good. God lives, but more importantly, he loves me.
2. The condescension of God saves me.
Again, belief in Jesus as an abstract only invigorates me so much. As I get older, I am coming to terms with my essentially sinful nature and happily see grace as a gift rather than a reward, one that I desperately need. I am not looking for a way to excuse my sins, but now find repentance to be a blessing and not an embarrassing by-product of lamentable imperfection (I am, after all, a member of the Believing Christ generation of Mormonism). That the life and death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth — God, Son — somehow puts my life in balance is for me an essential belief.
(2b. I also believe that the grand key of Christianity is to see other people as if they were God, treat them accordingly, and thus change our natural spite and greed into love. Love, exemplified in Jesus, saves us in the end, if you’ll forgive what sounds a little trite. It’s not. It’s also the point of consecration, I think; see below.)
3. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the vehicle through which I can make saving covenants with God.
We say “the Church is true,” but I do not know what that means. I don’t wish to belittle that expression, but would simply suggest that it means what I have expressed it to mean: that the Mormon Church is “true” in the sense that it offers what it claims to offer. I do not think it is “true” solely because Gospel Principles says the right things about God, and it is not personally fruitful for me to anchor that truth in Joseph Smith, or the Book of Mormon, or President Monson alone. Please don’t misunderstand me. “Joseph Smith was a prophet” is, for example, something I certainly hold to be “true,” but it is true because the Restoration (symbols of which include the Prophet, the Book of Mormon, and the continuing keys of presidency) offers the means to change lives, through Christ. Thus, Fannie Alger, pre-Columbine horses, Hoffman forgeries, or the status of other religions in God’s eyes become less important than the fact that the church, particularly the temple, binds me to Christ, who binds me to God (see #2). If that is true then happy are we.