Perfecting the People in an Imperfect Church

lighthouse“I’d like to bear my testimony, that I know the Church is true…”

One Sunday morning, the repetition of that stock Mormon phrase drove me mildly crazy.  I couldn’t help myself:  I stood up and bore a testimony about my gratitude for Christ succoring me during a difficult time.  But then I confessed: “I’m not going to end by saying I know the Church is true.  Have you ever thought about how syntactically weird that sounds?  The Church is an institution, not a doctrine.  What does it even mean for an institution to be true? To know it exists? Saying the Church is true is like saying I know the Government is true, or I know Google is true. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Reframing the narrative, I continued: “Instead, I will bear my witness that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true.  I know Christ’s love and his atonement has the power to comfort, to heal, to forgive, and to lead us to salvation.  I hope we, as members of the Church, can aspire to share Christ’s love and grace in all that we do.  I am inspired that at our best, Christ’s light shines through this Church.”

A little while later, I visited a friend’s Relief Society to support her lesson on the role of women in the Church.  Her text was Elder Oaks’s 2014 women and the priesthood talk.  She facilitated a powerful, vulnerable discussion among the diversity of sisters in the room.  At one moment I commented on how the collapse of my marriage, coupled with some recent experiences in the Temple, had left me yearning to know more about Heavenly Mother.

At the end of the hour a sweetheart, just-graduated-BYU, just-married, just-moved-to-California woman came up to me and gave me a hug.  “I’m so sorry for everything you’ve been through, I can’t even imagine the pain,” she empathized.  “But just remember: the Church is perfect, the people aren’t.”

In retrospect, I feel a little bad for my response.  Because in that moment, hearing the triteness of that axiom once again, I just couldn’t take it anymore.

“Thank you, and I know you mean well, but that’s exactly backwards,” I told her. “My struggles with the Church aren’t with the people, they’re with the institution.”

Based on her shellshocked face, I think my comment may have been her first “You’re not in Provo anymore” experience.  (Oops.)  Something inside me had unlocked, however, and I found myself calmly, but firmly, emotionally unloading on her.

“The people of the Church are amazing,” I effused. “Yes, they’re flawed and human and sinful, but they’re humble enough to admit that and to repent.  That’s the point of Christian communities, to lift each other up.  The Mormon people are nothing if not incredible at lifting each other up.  During my divorce, it was the Mormon people who succored me.  Who enveloped me in love and support and food and guest bedrooms and moving assistance.  I love the Mormon people.”

“But the Mormon people are guided by institutional structures and policies,” I pivoted.  “And some of those teachings, frankly, instruct the people to be less loving and less giving than is their inclination, based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ alone.  Obedience to the institution results in members excluding others based on their ‘sins,’ when Christ calls us to welcome them.  Our dearth of doctrine surrounding Heavenly Mother operates to restrict the contributions of women, when we have such an enormous capacity to love and serve.  My deepest spiritual struggles during my divorce weren’t with the people or even my Priesthood leaders, they were with the ‘doctrine.’”

I find myself repeating variations on that line often.  The Church is not as true as the Gospel. The Church is the Body of Christ, made up of imperfect members.  Our individual imperfections necessarily funnel up into making the Church imperfect, too.

“The members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor…that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.”  (Corinthians 12 (NRSV))

I crave a Church with the humility to recognize that it is as imperfect as its people.  To recognize that as an institution, it needs to repent.  That as an institution, it needs to apologize.  That as an institution, it needs to introspectively evaluate how to adjust its policies and teachings to better light our path to the perfect Gospel of Christ.   As an institution, embodying the perfect Gospel of Christ is a dream to which the Church will always aspire, but always fall short.  It’s why we believe in continuing revelation.

The Church, like all of us, must rely on the enabling power of Christ’s atonement, and the light of Christ’s grace.  The people are loving and striving to obey, but we need an ever-brighter institutional beacon to follow.

Photo credit: Eric Moreno.

Comments

  1. My heart goes out to Carolyn and others who feel the same. If any members have not been set back by the institution then it will probably come….several times. Eugene England wrote a book called “Why the Church is as True as the Gospel”. Without the organization of the church there is no channel of Priesthood; there are no saving ordinances. We would be back to the dark ages. The organization is a part of the restoration in any dispensation. Just something to think about.

  2. The Church can both be the Restored Gospel, the divine-sanctioned channel of the Priesthood, and the provider of saving ordinances — and still be imperfect, in need of humility and repentance, and striving for continuing revelation. Those aren’t contradictory statements.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    I too find “I know the Church is true” an incredibly odd, nonsensical locution, and I refuse to use it.

  4. I just loved this. It’s interesting how I started out identifying with the people who said things like “the church is perfect, but the people aren’t- or “I Know” and have changed to fit in more with Carolyn. It was painful not to know for a while, but I think necessary to my development. I wish I “knew” like I used to, but I feel my faith deeper than ever now and I really wouldn’t trade.

  5. I want to add, I still would never say “I know”, but I actually think saying “I believe” is more powerful and more honest.

  6. As to the Priesthood references in the comments, I am less inclined to worry about that. The grey areas of the Priesthood are part of my pain. For the time being I am letting all things “Priesthood” hide on a faraway shelf. A “True” church wouldn’t shift it’s Priesthood like it has. At least as I was taught.

    For me the church can be a tool, but know and believe are no longer in my vocabulary. The church is my tribe, my history, my tutelage. When I approach “the church” as a place to exercise my commitment to Christ, I can function. It helps smooth over the painful parts. I can let go of my agony.

    I don’t stand and bare anything anymore. Silence is a gift. For others to whom it is still the one and the true, I am okay. I was once them. Fully committed to what I thought those words meant. They are allowed to enjoy that same gift as I did. If in a future time that changes, I will be happy to sit with them, hold them while they cry, and dry their tears if it helps.

  7. Carolyn, I have found in you my doctrinal twin! I was struck by the oddity of that statement about the church being true at a very young age, and can remember getting odd looks the first time I bore my testimony of my own volition when I said I wouldn’t say the church was true, because as an institution it cannot be, but that the gospel is.

    The other day, in the wake of the Joseph Bishop news, I was at the house of one of the counselors in my stake presidency helping his son with his Eagle Scout project (another sore topic for me, that’s not for today). We got into a lively discussion about many things having to do with the church vs the gospel. He never quite conceded the point to me, but later that day at a baptism where he was invited to speak, he bore his testimony about the church being the place where the restored priesthood ordinances could be practiced, and that he knew the gospel was true — very nearly word for word what I had said some hours earlier. I took that as a small victory.

    The precision of our words matter (in a language where casualness lends itself to misunderstandings), and it is good to clear up the falsehoods that can come from imprecisely stating sentiments about an institution being true. Otherwise they lend themselves to people still believing the false notion from Nephi’s vision – when the angel told him that there are only two churches: the church of the Lamb and the church of Satan. People still mistakenly believe that means the LDS church is “true,” and that no other church can have truth, which we know to be false. Just one example. (And another discussion I got into with the stake presidency member’s son, recently returned from his mission.)

    Thank you for this post.

  8. Ryan Mullen says:

    Thank you for this, Carolyn. Every fast Sunday I find myself struggling with the repetitive phrasing of shared testimonies. I try to avoid saying “true” or “perfect” since these words lack technical definitions. I also reserve “I know” for objective (i.e. scientific) truths, preferring instead “I believe”, “I hope” or “I’m grateful”.

    “The people of the Church are amazing” Yes, and your differentiation between the church as an institution and as a body of people is inspiring. Thanks again.

  9. Eric Facer says:

    “I’m not going to end by saying I know the Church is true. Have you ever thought about how syntactically weird that sounds? The Church is an institution, not a doctrine. What does it even mean for an institution to be true? To know it exists? Saying the Church is true is like saying I know the Government is true, or I know Google is true. It doesn’t make any sense.”

    Wow! I can’t believe you said that in a testimony meeting! I have the same visceral reaction as you do when I hear that stock Mormon phrase, but I lack the courage to publicly say so (except in a forum such as this). I am genuinely impressed.

  10. Anne Chovies says:

    I’ve often wondered where the line between the “perfect church” and the “imperfect members” is. Thank you for this insight, I appreciate your thoughts.

  11. @Erin: What was wonderful was how many people said thank you afterwards!!!

    I was well loved and a known firecracker in that ward, so as long as I said it with a twinkle and a smile I could get away with anything. I miss California.

  12. Mark Brown says:

    I testify that this blog post is true.

  13. I testify that Mark Brown is a true messenger.

  14. Anonymous says:

    When you stated, “Obedience to the institution results in members excluding others based on their ‘sins,’ when Christ calls us to welcome them.” It makes me wonder if other religions differ from the LDS religion in this regard.

  15. @Anonymous. Absolutely not. Every religion, every club, every “tribe” has the same problem.

    But at least some of those recognize that it’s a problem, instead of doubling down on how they are perfect and therefore cannot be led astray or subject to the same human foibles everyone else is.

  16. I am a convert, & I don’t believe I have ever said the Church was “true” in a testimony. I agree that is an odd construction that to me makes no sense. I bear testimony instead that Christ is at the head of this Church.

  17. As I read the the history of the church it is clear that God restored the church through a prophet that he appeared to and gave instruction on how to organize the church. Because of the influence of the Holy Ghost, I know that the Book of Mormon is what it claims to be, and that Joseph Smith is a prophet. I think it is reasonable to bear testimony that the church is true.

    I have a testimony. I know the church is true because it is God’s church.

    No where in the doctrine of the church does it say that our leaders are infallible. In many places the scripture teach about the fallibility of prophets and apostles. Yet, we have the promise that God leads his fallible prophets and guarantees the church will not fail even though it will have struggles.

    Carolyn’s comment above says it well. Here it is repeated.

    “The Church can both be the Restored Gospel, the divine-sanctioned channel of the Priesthood, and the provider of saving ordinances — and still be imperfect, in need of humility and repentance, and striving for continuing revelation. Those aren’t contradictory statements.”

    Why all the fuss about a phrase that is concise and accurate?

  18. The fuss is that for many who struggle, the answer to pointing out any imperfection — maybe this policy doesn’t make sense, maybe this lesson manual is misquoting scripture, maybe in this instance the stake president messed up — is that the reflexive response is all too often “that’s not right, the church is true, you’re an apostate for questioning anything with an LDS official logo on it”

    Not every word that proceedth out of the Church Office Building is true, but saying “the Church is true” so often seems to teach us that it is.

  19. Well said. There is room in this church to say “I know”.

  20. Thomas Parkin says:

    Just so. Love it.

  21. Tangential, but worth revisiting in light of some of the comments: https://www.timesandseasons.org/index.php/2016/08/35605/

  22. “The church is true” has become sort of like a Mormon creed. Like the creeds, it’s sometimes used (unfortunately and unnecessarily) as a marker of orthodoxy. Like some of the creeds, you can interpret it to mean something meaningful, but taken at face value it can be pretty incomprehensible. Like the creeds, it’s sometimes presented as a mystery to be taken on faith. But this post reminds me a little of Tennyson’s quip in In Memoriam: “There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.”

    I’m currently in a calling that requires me to speak in sacrament meetings pretty regularly, so I and up publicly bearing my testimony frequently. I always testify of my faith that repentance is real and that if we exercise faith in Christ alone, we can be healed and changed by his grace. I almost always testify of my faith that the Book of Mormon is God’s word and that it’s teachings about repentance will lead us to God. I often testify of my faith that the restoration is real, and that the ordinances of the priesthood, if we receive them in faith, give access to God’s grace. I rarely use the formulation “the church is true.”

    I’m not usually making a conscious effort to avoid it, but just because it’s not all that meaningful to me. It’s far more meaningful to say directly the things we mean when we say the church is true, and when I say the church is true, what I usually mean is that the restoration is real and continuing, that the Book of Mormon is true, and that the priesthood is real. So I’d rather just say those things. Also, most of the time when I’m speaking, I’m speaking to an audience of people that already have their own faith and testimony in those things, and I feel inspired more to emphasize and testify of faith in Christ, repentance, and grace.

  23. Spoken with clarity. Well done.

  24. Jimbob, thanks for the link to the times and seasons article.

    My takeaway from this excellent OP is that there are better, even more sophisticated ways to testify than just saying:I know the church is true. But if that is how someone wants to testify, then its OK, it communicates, and is sincere and honest.

  25. In Section 1 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord, speaking through Joseph Smith, says that this church is “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased.” Whatever a “true church” might be, I suspect that unless it’s also living, it’s not much good. We’ve sucked the life out of the idea of a “true church” by turning it into a testimony cliché. It is a challenging, mysterious idea, and we’ve lost any sense of its mystery.

    Often I hear “I know the church is true” as an expression of security and belonging. It makes me think of the church as a sheltering place. That’s good. But I also realize that there are different kinds of shelter, and I wonder what kind of shelter we think the church provides. I love the image of Zion as a tent. A tent moves, expands, requires care and mending and maintenance. When you’re under a tent in a storm, you’re grateful for the shelter, but the tent can seem fragile. In a storm a tent is not enough; you need the comfort of companions even more. The other kind of shelter is a comfortable high-rise that remains what it is in storm or sunshine. It doesn’t respond to the people within. It can’t adjust to their changing needs. But the walls stay up, the wind stays out, and you get a great vantage point for the vista below.

    It seems to me that a true and living church must always be more like a tent than a spacious building.

  26. It sounds like we agree….somewhere between the church being true and the church not being true. The Lord does not need perfect people in a perfect church to work His power. Thank goodness.

  27. I’m glad it only took 25 comments to get to the point that in our canon of scripture there’s a direct statement that the Lord thinks that the church is true. I don’t profess any special knowledge about what that statement means, but I suspect that we need to grapple with it, rather than simply dismissing it as meaningless.

  28. Of course (but you’d have to know me) I agree with the OP in the main. However:
    1. “The Church is true” is clearly coding for some sort of “I belong, I’m with the program, I get it.” It’s a little persnickety to complain, when you know reasonably well what they mean.
    2. On the other hand, “the Church is perfect, the people aren’t” seems damaging. It’s usually said in the context of something bad happening and grates. It’s an avoidance phrase, communicating “I don’t want to get into it so here’s my ‘make me feel good’ line.” Also, it reminds me too much of Job’s ‘comforters.’
    3. “Perfecting the Church” makes sense in terms of continuing revelation and continuous improvement. And we’re all too aware of specific things that need to change already 20 years ago. But almost every time I hear a call to fix the Church it sounds like the goal is an institution that never was and never will be. After all, the job of a human-run in-the-world institutional church is to operate at the Fowler Stage 3 level. (Much as I try to avoid Fowler stage references generally, this one is by definition so I deem it appropriate.)

  29. Is it too much to ask that a Fowler Stage 3 Church has enough self-awareness to admit that it’s a Fowler Stage 3 Church?

    (For those of you who don’t know Fowler: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_W._Fowler)

  30. Not a joke — my theory/understanding/interpretation of a stage 3 institution (which may be idiosyncratic) is that one characteristic is not admitting that there is anything other. It’s hard to count yourself a 3 when you’re really trying to say you’re all there is.

  31. I’ve always thought the phrase “the church is true” is better understood by considering its opposite. It means the church isn’t false, it’s not a fraud, Joseph Smith isn’t a fraud, the Book of Mormon is historical, authority of latter-day prophets is real and priesthood ordinances are required for salvation. I find that repeating the phrase often is something we do to try to convince ourselves of the points above. I personally find it a very endearing tradition and something that helps me identify with being Mormon.

  32. nobody, really says:

    “True” is not a synonym for “Perfect”. One can have a “true” diamond that is deeply flawed, tainted with inclusions, off-color, and subject to cracking. Likewise, we have a “true” church which includes offensive, flawed, mean, perverted, and cruel people.

  33. I really appreciate this post and I agree with it. I think the nuances expressed in the comments are good but we all need to acknowledge that this is a rote phrase we teach our children and all nuance is lost when we do. It may mean “I’m with the program” to you but to a child it means the church can do no wrong. Like so many, years and years later, when the wrongs started piling up it has taken me a lot of mental and emotional effort to separate the church (institution) from the gospel.

    President Hinckley is the first prophet I remember, so I haven’t been around for that long. But I truly wonder if this isn’t a particularly dark time for the institution. It feels cold and corporate and more interested in legally protecting itself than feeding the sheep. But maybe it always felt like this? Maybe we just swap out one set of mistakes and problems for another through time? Is now any different than polygamy or the priesthood ban? I really don’t know.

  34. Paul Mouritsen says:

    To say “I know the church is true” is merely a personal affirmation of the Lord’s own declaration in Doctrine and Covenants 1;30, “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth with which I, the Lord am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually.” Why would anyone consider that statement weird or nonsensical? It seems that you are straining at a gnat.

  35. God to Joseph Knight:
    And, behold, it is your duty to unite with the true church, and give your language to exhortation continually…

    God to members of the church
    The only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually…

    Br. Barney
    That’s nonsense

    God:
    And who overcome by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true. They are they who are the church of the Firstborn. They are they into whose hands the Father has given all things.

    Inspired commenter:
    The true church is the one which holds the priesthood power and authority to administer in the ordinances and teach the principles and organize the programs which will endow the faithful members with power from on high. When we say the church is true, it’s not a lifeless entity we’re talking about but the organization with us in it. It’s true because we have been endowed with power and sealed by the holy Spirit of promise are in it. We, who by the oath and covenant if the holy priesthood, have all (men and women) been promised all the Father hath.

    It’s true because it’s faithful members have covenanted to God. And he honors those who honor him and his servants.

    To the extent that some are uncomfortable with that phrase, I fully understand there are some who just pass along the phrase without understanding it all aspects of it (do we ever? The burden to understand all aspects before speech renders us mute). But it’s clear their heart is in the right place. And I suspect that those who are uncomfortable with the phrase are primarily so because they themselves haven’t been united by that holy spirit of promise.

    There’s no offense intended here, but if it’s perceived, I hope it’s only to the extent that some describe my faith and the sincere testimony of Gods in embyro as nonsense.

  36. @Marian: The perspective of one old man who’s been watching for a long time but split from anything resembling orthodoxy or orthopraxy decades ago is that (a) there has been trouble and wrongs and difficulties for all of my life, (b) there are waves of dark and we’re in one now, and/but (c) the long-term trend-line is slow positive.

    But really good point about what we teach our children. While I do think there’s a general understanding that the primary age lessons are simplified, I think the practical sociological reality is that the “Church” is what we tell our young men and young women it is. Look at the curriculum for mid-teens. Notwithstanding any and all learning and nuance that sentient adults can bring to their own experience, all the apologists and neo-apologists and progressives and BCC discussants, and etc., the Church is what we tell our seminary students. Isn’t that the proper role of a seminary, after all?

  37. Thanks, christian. That gives me hope.

  38. RockiesGma says:

    Totally agree with your thoughts on word usage in testifying Carolyn! But…..

    You embarrassed and probably caused some humiliated feelings to those who proceeded you in that meeting. I’ve been in their shoes before when I was much younger and someone decided to be the testimony police. It’s not helpful at all to be the T police. Maybe the person just before you hadn’t born their testimony for a long time because of anxiety of standing up before a crowd of people and being vulnerable, being subject to their judgmental thoughts, and in your case, public denigration. If such is the case they won’t stand up again for a long, long time.

    Say whatever you think, believe, and feel to be your truths. But it’s not kind to stand and criticize how others speak theirs. Glory….maybe next month you can stand up again and humbly apologize for being so thoughtless, judgmental and incredibly arrogant to chastise their word usage for their sacred feelings. It will help heal being shot down. Turn your badge in and be more longsuffering.

  39. President Hinckley once said, “It isn’t as bad as you sometimes think it is. It all works out. Don’t worry. I say that to myself every morning. It will all work out.” Maybe we all need to say that to ourselves every morning.

  40. Consider for reference the following:

    1. In Religion for Atheists, Alain de Botton, while a outspoken and firm non-believer, nevertheless admits that religious institutions can do good things that an inchoate group cannot.

    Most of us also believe that institutions are necessary in certain ways for the betterment of mankind and specifically for some elements of the progress of the Church. Temples and the work performed therein, for example, do not spontaneously manifest themselves without a guiding organization.

    2. In the essay The Dangers of National Repentance, which can be found in the book God in the Dock, C.S. Lewis notes that the idea that calling for the repentance of institutions presupposes their condemnation. This allows us “to turn from the bitter task of repenting our own sins to the congenial one of bewailing—but, first, of denouncing—the conduct of others. If it were clear [to the person calling for institutional repentance] that this is what he is doing, no doubt he would remember the law of charity….as penitents, we are not encouraged to be charitable about our own sins…” By a figure of speech or habit of thought, the Church becomes “we” and thus is mentally placed beyond the charity that we would agree might be in order if it were, say, our neighbor.

    3. See D&C 1, where the Lord speaks about the Church being “true” and “living,” among other things in syntax that I don’t consider a bit weird or nonsensical. I wonder how many people at the conference in Hiram, Ohio where D&C 1 was given thought it was weird, nonsensical, or some sort of code meaning “I get it.”

    The Church does not claim, and has never claimed, a general infallibility. The Lord cannot look on sin with the least degree of allowance (D&C 1:31), hence insofar as the Lord is pleased, even uniquely pleased, with the Church, His pleasure is not without individual reservations (D&C 1:30). The Church also does not claim, and has never claimed, that as an institution it has been perfected to the point that no changes or improvements are possible or to be expected. D&C 1 was given in November 1831, and a vast amount of change and development has occurred since 1831.

    The original post states that the members of the Church are amazing and incredible at lifting each other up. One might think that the Church as a organization might be given some credit for this. It is a serious error to suppose that we are all good and would be even better if the Church just got out of our way. Even without going deeply into ultimate matters, even on a simple level, I am absolutely convinced that the Church as an institution (made up of individuals, of course) has kept me from some serious errors and made some very good things possible in my life that otherwise would not have happened.

    If the problem, disagreement or criticism is with a specific leader, that should be spelled out. Hopefully, the disagreement can be resolved without involving a wider audience, unless it is such that it must have that audience. If it is with a specific doctrine or scripture, that should be spelled out, too, again if the disagreement is such that it needs be made public. A disagreement on doctrine might merely be a misunderstanding or difference in interpretation, or it might be a call for a revolt or schism. One hopes the latter is not the case. A general call for corporate repentance without specifics just comes across as a vague but blanket condemnation, which can do little good.

    To illustrate my point, if I said, “By Common Consent” as an institution should repent, what would that mean? And who would repent on behalf of By Common Consent? All the permabloggers? All the commenters who say amen? All its loyal readers? Just some of them? Some on behalf of others? What would they repent of? Which posts? Which reactions?

    Thus repentance, while inevitably necessary, is something appropriate for individuals, whether they are in positions of influence or not. It is also about specific things that need to be repented of. The judgement bar (pleasing or not) will be for all individuals to be judged of their works, whether they be good of evil (3 Nephi 27:14-15 and elsewhere), one by one. The judgement bar is not a place of corporate guilt, corporate repentance, or corporate punishment.

  41. Good grief. I feel very sorry for the poor person who bore his/her simple testimony before you. To be so publicly humiliated must have been incredibly embarrassing. Hopefully there were some kind-hearted members who gave that person some support, and encouragement to be forgiving of your arrogant and judgemental behavior. It would have been so much kinder to eliminate the paragraph after you bore your testimony of Christ, beginning with “I’m not going to end by saying I know the Church is true” and ending with “It doesn’t make any sense”. In that way you could have modeled the way to bear a heart felt testimony, devoid of trite repetitions, AND devoid of smug, implied criticism.

  42. Ryan Mullen says:

    “I feel very sorry for the poor person who bore his/her simple testimony before you.” I’m sure that person, being a good Mormon, would not choose to be offended.

  43. Personally, I’ve always thought of it as “true” as in “fidelous”, rather than “true” as in “perfectly correct”. In my mind, that makes the Lord’s statement in D&C and member’s statements make more sense.

  44. I know it’s difficult to convey tone via writing, but for those of you saying I sound smug / arrogant / condescending to prior people who bore their testimones that day — I sincerely hope that’s not how I sounded “live.” If I did, I will apologize. But at the point I offered this testimony I had been a long-time member of the ward where I knew and loved practically everyone, and they knew and loved me.

    The tone I said this in was a “as a curious aside, have you ever wondered about the grammar of that phrase…?” Not as a “you’re all stupid for using a bad phrase.” The comments I received afterwards were universally positive / thoughtful. And there are members of that ward who do not hesitate to tell me when I’m wrong! So I’m hopeful I did not make the “arrogance” mistake several of you have read into it here.

  45. I think that it’s difficult, in light of both Paul’s emphasis on collective salvation (captured by the key phrase en Christo) and LDS temple theology, to dismiss the idea of collective, institutional repentance altogether. I take it as prima facie obvious that any institution claiming to act in the name of Jesus is routinely going to miss the mark, because our institutions are inevitably human. Moving them closer to the mark, however, depends in large part on the quality of our communal life–are we the body of Christ that we’re supposed to be?–and individual repentance is a necessary but not sufficient precondition for that.

  46. Very, very well said Leo!

    And as far as the comparison of the Church and the Gospel in the original post, in one sense, the Church consists of the cold hard facts and challenges of imperfect people trying to work together to achieve happiness; while the Gospel is a set of ideas that every person likely understands slightly differently–it’s a bit more abstract. In this sense, the Church provides a truer picture of reality than the Gospel does. This is pointed out by Eugene England in his essay, “Why the Church Is As True As the Gospel” (I’ve been told that he originally titled it, “Why the Church Is More True Than the Gospel”).

  47. Seeing that there is some objection to my characterizing “the Church is true” as code for “I get it” or “I belong,” and even though I stand by that characterization as the essence of what people are saying (often) . . .

    A more careful historical interpretation is that “true” is a restoration claim, equivalent to “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the restored church of Christ.” “Restored” is heavy with meaning, but not quite the same–neither synonym nor antonym–as right or correct or accurate or straight or honest or trustworthy, although each of those words has some desired connection to anything we want to call a “church of Christ.”

    Speaking of words, I would like to hear more people add the completely appropriate “and living.” Meaning that the restoration is ongoing, not yet complete. I would suggest that as a way to start giving substance to a call for institutional repentance.

  48. Good point Christian. Thanks for reminding me. About 10 years ago I had a stake president who taught us to say “true and living”. I had forgotten until I read your post. Hopefully I will remember this time to add it to my statements.

  49. RockiesGma says:

    Carolyn, good to hear your recent clarification of your tone and approach. I appreciate that. Glad your feeling “mildly crazy” didn’t come through when you bore your testimony that day. We say all kinds of goofy things. New members often speak of our unique verbage and have asked for interpretation pamphlets. Like excusing the priesthood to sit with their parents…..those young men hold the priesthood, but aren’t and never will BE the priesthood. Or the bishop says to come to his office after the block to be set apart, and the new member leans over and says, “block of what? And why is he setting these people apart from the ward if he wants them to be a Sunday School teacher? How can they teach if they’re apart?” Or when we tell them about Relief Society and how it’s the oldest and largest women’s organization to infinity and beyond, and they say several months later, “I thought it meant you went directly to disaster areas after floods, hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes and such. Or you had homeless shelters and food kitchens, and you provided aid and relief on the spot. I was so excited to do those things! But, oh well…”

    We say a lot of quirky and odd things as Mormons. We are a peculiar people with peculiar grammar and peculiar phraseology. And I say glory that, even though it can surely drive us plum batty on a hot and fretful day!

  50. After reading all comments Carolyn and Mark Brown might want to rethink what they testify to be *true*.

  51. (You know we were teasing? Right?)

  52. So, “true and living church” is used in Doctrine and Covenants Section 1, the Lord’s preface to the D&C. So if the Lord sees fit to use it, then it seems reasonable to me. Also, I think when many people say that the “church is true” they essentially mean “its doctrines are true.” So I wouldn’t over-analyze it. We have to be charitable in how we understand people. It’s hard to get up before an audience and testify know that people may criticize the words you use. Also, another sense in which the church is true is that it has priesthood authority.

  53. Anonymous says:

    On another note: Perhaps we haven’t discussed the doctrine of Heavenly Mother more because it’s more likely Heavenly Mothers.

  54. Meredith says:

    Carolyn-(and yes…you know I was teasing? Right?) He must be a nice personal friend to come to your aid.

  55. Meredith says:

    Wonderful! Another change that proves this is the “true and living” church. “Living” in this case meaning changing and growing. With the restructuring of the Priesthood with the High Priests and Elders being combined, they will look more like the Relief Society!

  56. After hearing Elder Causse speak today I feel even more confident in saying “I know this church is true”.

  57. Here are two quotes from April Conference -“We will see miraculous indications that God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, preside over this Church in majesty and glory”….and…”He was crucified on Calvary’s cross and rose the third day as the first resurrected being of our Heavenly Father’s children. I love Him and testify that He lives! It is He who leads and guides His Church. President Nelson April 2018

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