Testimony And Its Opposite

Earlier this year I wrote a piece about what I perceived as a lack of mourning with those who mourn in the church. It drew from some recent church issues that had troubled me deeply, and though I needed to write through them for my own sanity, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to share it or not. 

I sent it to a friend to get a second opinion. Her response was that it was well written, but didn’t reflect the blessings the church had brought to my life because it was focused on the negative. She seemed nervous at the idea of me sharing the piece for fear it might spread more negativity.

Her response was enough to convince me not to share it. As I banished it to the graveyard of my unpublished folder, I felt relieved in part to not have opened such personal feelings up for public comment. But I also felt frustrated at having to keep the struggle to myself.  

The first time I’d ever written about Mormonism publicly was for my blog Normons (may she rest in peace). The year was 2011, the bloggernacle was booming, and we were a few YSAs living across the country committed to defending our faith. It was fun to go to bat for the Gospel we loved and a relief to have each other to rely on when the internet trolls became especially nasty. I loved my experiences with Normons, and felt a very real power come into my life as a result of bearing testimony through such a public platform. 

But then the 2015 Handbook Policy happened and it was like a switch flipped. We didn’t know what to publish. A few of the Normons were able to support the policy, the rest of us felt galled by it. In the end we published nothing, and over the ensuing year I felt my previous motivation for Normons begin to dry up. It was saddening to watch this thing we’d built fall apart but I was worn out and confused. I’d volunteered so much time and energy defending the church, and didn’t understand why they were making it harder to defend. 

In the years since, I have continued writing about church, at times in the same positive voice of Normons and at times more critically. Maybe it’s in my head, but when I share the more critical pieces, I sense almost a feeling of betrayal from people who’ve previously associated me with Normons. 

In a perfect world, I would only ever write positively about the church I still deeply love, but that doesn’t seem to be the whole picture for me anymore. I feel frustrated by the perception that sharing a critical opinion is on par with a lack of testimony, and yet while I don’t think the two are synonymous, I don’t know that I can wholly separate their impact. 

A few weeks after sending the ‘mourn with those who mourn’ piece to my friend, it hit me that she was in a fragile place testimony-wise. She’d been through a grueling few years and was in need of evidence that the God she worshipped was good. I felt insensitive for having sent something that may have added to her burden. My critical position did not reflect my own lack of testimony, but it may have contributed to hers. 

And so I’ve found myself lately questioning what my responsibility is as a writer, and really what all our responsibilities are to each other as fellow Saints. If we believe that the public sharing of testimony has a literal power to build each others’ faith (which I do), does voicing criticism do the opposite?

This is not a question of whether doubt or criticism should exist, but rather what to do with them. I bring this up here because I know this community, more than most other Latter-day Saint platforms, believes that expressing thoughtful dissent can be important.

So tell me – do you think voicing criticism has the potential to damage testimony, and if so, do we have a responsibility toward each other to take care with how we share it? I think the call for us to be knit together in unity and love applies to both good times and bad — in faith-affirming testimony meetings and in moments of frustration or doubt. I just don’t know that I have figured out where the line is between leaning on my fellow Saints and potentially adding a burden to their faith.

Featured image by Sydney Angove on Unsplash

Comments

  1. Personally, I feel like an unexamined faith is a fragile one. I know I personally have become a better Christian, a more loving neighbor, and developed a closer relationship with Jesus Christ by bringing all my doubts and problems to the forefront.

    Now, whether I publicly discuss those with others — it’s tricky. I often write first drafts that reflect all my anger and my lists of complaints. But then I try hard to identify where the lynchpin issue is — what is the #1 thing that would fix my complaint? What positive and loving vision am I craving that would fix the anger? And then I try to write about that. I don’t always succeed. But I try to use my doubts as an invitation both to myself and to this community to learn empathy and strive to be better.

  2. A tactic that can be used to shake ones testimony of the church is to pepper them with questions. Individually, each question can be answered or when pondered over, turns out not to be of any importance. But when hitting an individual all at once, the volume of questions, criticisms or doubts, turns into the main concern. And one more might be the straw that breaks the camels back. So I can see why you are concerned.
    I personally feel it’s important to believe that Joseph Smith is a prophet despite his short comings, and the same goes for the church. I also must admit that I’m not perfect, so some of the criticisms might be me looking at something good, and mistaking it for something bad.
    So if you’re worried about publicly expressing some frustrating points that you have with the church or gospel, end the writing with your assurance that you have of the truthfulness of the gospel.

  3. My theory and practice is two-fold, and none of it about “preserving” or “protecting” testimonies:

    1. So long as I am intensely personal I feel free to go all out. More and more this is where I spend my time. I think it a disservice to do otherwise, because carefully calibrating and homogenizing my personal experience would project the idea that we have to be the same. The principle of unity is for disparate parts to work together, not for uniformity. Feedback has been validating on this score.

    2. When generalizing, criticizing, projecting a better future, I think of the lessons I learned in school in “Getting to Yes” (Roger Fisher and William Ury) summarized by one reviewer as a “framework for “principled negotiation”–two or more parties working together to best address their mutual interests with creative, objectively fair solutions.” Starting with putting myself in the other’s position and thinking through their motives and pressures.

    Not to say I do it right. Not to say we always agree. (I see Carolyn’s comment above. We have disagreed in the past. I have come to believe she usually had the 60% side of the argument.)

  4. Daniel Anderson says:

    My Wife a Said something to me yesterday that I’ve read from Leaders inside and outside the church. “The truth can bear scrutiny.”

    The thing is that it is extremely uncomfortable (perhaps an understatement) to admit that one (or more) of our deeply held beliefs was wrong. But we are human, it is guaranteed that many of our deeply held beliefs are wrong. The reverse is also true , many of our deeply held beliefs are true. But how can we discover which ones are true and which ones are false unless we entertain criticism of them?

    For me personally I came to the conclusion that I need to be willing to listen to criticism of all my beliefs, Because I have faith that the truth can bear scrutiny. And if a belief of mine can’t bear scrutiny. . . well, then maybe I shouldn’t be believing in it.

    Thank you REBBIEBRASSFIELD for sharing what you know (or think you know) and being willing to discuss it. People like you help me to refine my testimony (and myself) so that I can come closer to believing and living the full truth.

  5. Beautifully expressed, Carolyn. I think the writer’s drafts folder serves a very important purpose. :) Maybe it comes down to how I’m defining “public.” Is that sharing with a group of friends or posting online? Is that a well thought out blog post or a snarky tweet? The difference being the amount/quality of sincere interaction that can take place in those forums.

    Also AMEN Christian about leaning into the personal. I think that is where I sometimes get frustrated — if I’m expressing my personal feelings or experience, is that up for debate? I am not posing them to say I am right or everyone should feel this way, but rather to explore why I might feel how I do. I think mostly when people push back it comes from fear, which I get.

  6. So tell me – do you think voicing criticism has the potential to damage testimony, and if so, do we have a responsibility toward each other to take care with how we share it? In my opinion criticism only damages testimonies that are already shaky and indicating (to me anyway) that the faith behind the testimony is weak. A testimony should be one place one isn’t afraid to voice the truth (as they see it) despite how negative or critical it might appear to others. Heaven help us all if our own personal relationship with God is required to be politically correct. Doesn’t He already know our hearts? Society has become far too obsessed with making sure everyone feels ‘okay’ all the time. And that’s great, but the truth is nobody feels great 100% of the time and it’s rare that someone agrees with everyone else all of the time either. Personal faith is the place to go when we feel slighted or hurt by someone else’s words. I’m not condoning those who bully or feel entitled to share their unshakable position with everyone else and not be questioned.

  7. The Church and its members find themselves in a difficult position. They are needing to confront three realities: (1) Our history is extremely messy and at times not very faith-affirming. (2) Our scriptures are often internally inconsistent in presenting a coherent theology. (3) Our leaders are fallible, sometimes in very obvious and troubling ways, but they still expect us to treat them as if they were infallible. Any of these three realities threaten the testimonies of ordinary Latter-day Saints, many of whom try to wrap themselves up in a cocoon of simplistic loyalty and half-baked apologetics. The only way to actually deal with these three realities is to embrace them rather than try to deny them and to see the good in the Church in spite of its imperfections. The main problem for most Latter-day Saints is their expectations. They have been taught that the Church, its history, its doctrine, and its leaders are perfect (at least in all important ways). This simply sets the members up for disappointment. We need to set the bar lower and start teaching the truth about our history, our doctrine, and our leaders. Then, when our expectations are more realistic, we may be in a better position to accept things as they actually are and try to improve the Church rather than defend it in its imperfection.

  8. Speaking only for myself, I want a warts-and-all view of our leaders and history, but once I’m pretty sure I’m only getting a warts-and-more-warts view, I tune out. So saying things like “our history is extremely messy,” as someone did above, without recognizing that our history is just about as messy as anybody’s else’s history, and that large portions of it is actually pretty amazing, means I stop engaging–even though I feel like I’m more aware than most of the church’s historical issues. You lose credibility with me if you tell me you want to trade the church’s black-and-white narratives and then do nothing more than replace them with the other side’s white-and-black narratives.

  9. What comes to mind for me in this is how Christ handled this in His mortal ministry. Criticism of the Church at the time seemed to be more reactionary than aggressive, reacting to questions and criticism brought against Him in how He observed His faith. It seems to me a lot of it was along the lines of “in this we are doing good, but we can do better”. He never had a problem going to examples outside those of His faith to show ways those of His faith could do better.

    I try to find a balance when I have something on my mind in some part of the Church that I’m unsatisfied with. It can be difficult, because it seems that with every step the Church takes, the major response is “that’s nice, but all these things are still wrong and horrible”. Sometimes, after I’ve taken the time to write something, it feels like it’s just not worth it to publish. My spleen is vented and I don’t really need to share with the rest of the world. I do still keep it, however.

  10. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I do think sharing criticisms of the Church has the potential to damage testimony. And I think we have a responsibility toward each other to not recklessly deploy that potential. If it was an easy line to walk, there wouldn’t be much discussion. That’s not the case. I know I have made mistakes in how I have shared my personal concerns in some situations. There are also situations where, looking back, I regret not chiming in with some of those concerns to offer context or perspective. It would be nice to just conclude that a testimony that can’t hold up to scrutiny isn’t strong enough, to begin with. However, it’s important to recognize that everyone who has a testimony has a different version of that testimony, and that they ebb and flow. That includes my own! I guess the safe approach is to not say anything that could be perceived as negative, but that’s a reliably unproductive endeavor. There’s a lot of rhetoric about creating safe spaces these days, where ideas can be shared freely and openly. A lot of that rhetoric dilutes any discussion, as everyone tries to not say or imply anything that might offend or “bother” someone. When I teach (within Church settings, and without) I make clear that while the goal is to have a safe space where everyone is free to share their ideas, the expectation isn’t that people won’t say, or hear, something disagreeable, but that we all need to cut each other some slack and meet each other where we are. That’s harder than just avoiding anything disagreeable. But I have found that it is so much more productive and fulfilling – for everyone.

  11. your food allergy is fake says:

    I am interested in people’s thoughts on the above with respect to their children.

  12. iterum nata says:

    We should never be afraid of truth as all truth will lead us to the person of Jesus Christ (John 14:6).
    The reason that so many Mormons, Jehova’s Witnesses, Catholics, etc have such a hard time searching their faith’s respective histories and remaining faithful is that they believe their church is the only way to get to heaven and therefore should not contain false prohets/prophecies, overturned doctrines, racism, etc. And they would be correct in their thinking if the way to get to heaven was through a church, but it’s not, it’s through Jesus, the only mediator between us and God(1 Tim 2:5). Eternal life is to come into relationship with Him(John 17:3, 1 John 5:20).

    Beloved Mormons, throw off the yoke of religion with its laws and ordinances and enter the Kingom of God through the new birth (John 3:3). Then having begun by the spirit, you will not try and become perfected by the flesh (laws and ordinances, see Galatians 3:3)

  13. “Beloved Mormons.” *snort*

  14. I’m a former, so take this with a grain of salt, but apply this logic to others situation and it’s absurd.
    People are hard on things they believe and love. That’s totally OK unless there’s something so fragile you or it can’t handle it.

    Imagine: I’m a passionate, die-hard Lakers fan constantly having to defend them against haters like Jazz fans. I was troubled by Lebron James comments on Hong Kong but I don’t think I can speak out because it might make other Lebron fans equally concerned and possibly lose their faith in Lakerism. I’ll just focus on the positive. Anthony Davis looking great! Paul George injured and not playing for the Clippers! Jason Kidd hasn’t got the head coach fired yet! Magic Johnson can’t quit again! We’ve got a lot of players who play hard and even some who can make shots!

  15. Eric Facer says:

    A few random thoughts.

    1. Don’t criticize individuals; personal attacks are almost always unwarranted.

    2. All ideas, opinions, policies and teachings are open to question and criticism.

    3. Measured responses to things you disagree with are always best. Indeed, shying away from hyperbole and exaggeration is more likely to persuade. Understatement is a powerful rhetorical tool. And finding some good (if possible) in something you disagree with is also quite effective.

    4. Criticism has been a powerful agent for change in our church, even if those in positions of power deny that such is the case.

    5. Ask yourself: why did the authors of the gospels include so many episodes where the apostles made bad choices (e.g., arguing about who would be first in the kingdom; treating women and children as second-class citizens when Christ repeatedly taught otherwise; abandoning the Savior when the going got tough; etc.)? The message, I believe, is clear: We are to worship God the Father, through his son Jesus Christ, and no one else.

    6. We deceive ourselves if we believe our leaders today are not prone to the same mistakes and biases as their predecessors, both modern and ancient. But we should also remember that they, just like the apostles of old, have sacrificed much for the gospel. Their teachings deserve serious consideration and respect, but all profit when we question ideas and policies we find confusing or inconsistent with the scriptures and/or the spirit of the gospel.

    7. Bottom Line: “O say, what is truth? ‘Tis the fairest gem.” So, never hesitate to say it.

  16. I loved this post, Rebbie. I’ve been thinking about it all day. I think we absolutely do have a responsibility to one another for the way our words affect one another’s faith. How that shakes out in practice is tricky. I don’t believe we ought to excessively self-censor out of fear of offending somebody, but I do think we have to be humble and charitable in how we approach things. I’ve found that whether somebody gets offended by something I have to say usually has less to do with the specific ideas I express and more to do with how I express them. If I come across as though I’m looking for a fight, I’m going to find one. If, instead, I’m exploring honest questions about our shared faith, decent people usually engage and make it a productive conversation even if we don’t ultimately agree on the conclusions. The important thing, imo, is to remember what we do share in common, and to act out of love.

  17. iterum nata says:

    Ardis, As a former Mormon whose entire extended family and many friends are Mormons, it would be pretty strange if I didn’t love the Mormon people.
    I wonder if you call Mormon missionaries haters of Biblical Christians because of differences in theology?

  18. Interum Nata, it is fascinating to watch a born again Christian pursue your efforts to preach a message that resonates with so many who visit BCC with the exception that we see it through the lens of belief that Joseph Smith and those who succeeded him are prophets of God. We accept Jesus Christ as our Savior and seek to emulate Him in how we lead our lives. We recognize the fallibility and human nature of our leaders and love them even with their challenges. We recognize that the Church and the Brethren are still in the midst of the restoration and so much more truth is yet to come. We recognize the internal struggles as men and women seek to find answers – sometimes not fast enough – for how to build the Kingdom of God on Earth for which the Savior encouraged us to pray and work toward. We acknowledge the struggles of our brothers and sisters and weep over the pain that is still inflicted on many as this growth process continues. The Church as an organization is not perfect. Its leaders are human with all that comes with that package in this mortal life. But we believe the foundation is in place and we find joy and peace and sometimes discomfort as we work out our salvation by serving our neighbors.

    The struggle as the OP here outlines is often figuring out how to communicate our struggles and our concerns while at the same time not becoming a vehicle to stir up contention or add injury to others engaged in their own personal spiritual struggles.

  19. Ryan Mullen says:

    Adam, I think it’s important at times to de-privilege the Church and my participation in it, but there are also plenty of examples where being an Eeyore can ruin otherwise positive activities for everyone. You and I will likely agree on the value of exercise and being physically active. Yet, I often find that when I lack motivation to exercise, positive personal connections can make the difference in whether I make it out the door on time. The same goes for book clubs and volunteer organizational meetings. These things require a bit more effort IMO than rooting for my March Madness bracket.

  20. I would not have thought that criticism or expressing ideas could damage someone’s testimony until I spoke with my cousin’s son. He removed his name from the church membership rolls after listening to and believing some of the church history podcasts on Mormon Stories. Stupid and ill informed ones at that. But his knowledge of Church history was slim and rather than ask himself what he knew and whether these speakers had their own agendas, he believed them.
    And once you are no longer a member, you are not included. The new bishop will not know him. He will have no ministering friend and no invitations to parties and other social events. His siblings and parents remained in Utah while he moved to LA. Not exactly a pattern for resolving doubts or finding truth far from friends and home. I guess I believe Satan trapped him as surely as he could be trapped. And I wonder if he will ever find his way back.
    So I guess my take on this is to know your audience. Are they able to discuss the warts of Church history and leaders without losing faith? True faith is belief in things that are true so correcting error should not hurt it. But people’s beliefs are often fragile. One belief may depend upon another. Pull down the second one and the first falls as well.
    .

  21. (NB: Haven’t read the other comments yet.)

    “does voicing criticism do the opposite?” Absolutely. And having a blog largely known for criticism tends to attract those who are primarily critical or disaffected.

    I try not to offer public criticism unless it can be made constructive and positive. (Stapley recently linked to a post I wrote about the history of LDS manual writing; I concluded with examples of how the Church is moving in positive directions.) I gripe in private to friends I know well, where I do not have such concerns.

  22. Ryan Mullen – that’s fair. Wife and I are on a pre vacation diet right now and if she tempted me with cookies I would bail so fast. Shared suffering makes it easier.

  23. When I was still attending regularly though after I had stopped buying the church’s superficial narrative, the Elders Quorum instructor was saying some things that I really, REALLY wanted to challenge. And I would have, but then I looked over at the missionaries with an investigator sitting between them, an investigator who was a good man who had lived a rough life and saw the missionaries with their simple message of truth as an answer to his prayers. I was silent that day. There’s a time and place for healthy discussion. Unfortunately, such discussions often can’t be had in our quorums and classrooms without potentially harming someone’s testimony. We need as a church to make a space for such discussions or we are going to find more members bailing.

  24. I guess I’m just reminded of a song that we all sang in nursery. Why are so many testimonies built on nice fluffy sand? Whose fault is that? Why are we still doing it even after seeing so many people leave? Where is this spiritual inoculation happening?

    We all might be talking of different things here too. I imagine different wards have different dynamics and certain people definitely have a way of saying things that don’t get others riled up. For instance, would it be controversial in your ward to say something like “I love the creation story and how it represents man finding himself separated from God and in need of reconciliation, but I don’t see a need to make it literal. I absolutely believe there were humans walking around on this earth 30,000 years ago and I encourage my children to learn what the world has to tell us while still embracing stories like Adam and Eve and finding value in them”? In my ward in Southern Idaho filled with mostly farmers, it caused quite the uproar.

    In my church setting, I can’t speak honestly about what scriptures are to me, how I perceive prophets receive revelation, or of my quest to embrace truth even if it conflicts with faith. I walk a fine line in church because I have said some things in the past that I regret. I love my church and would hate to see someone leave because of a comment I make that creates doubt. I let loose sometimes on blogs because I feel a need to vent and this is where I come to do it. Maybe I should reconsider and not do it here either.

  25. To the extent of my observation, I think Chris Kimball’s “intensely personal” approach has worked well for some because it doesn’t demand that anyone agree or take issue with a particular criticism. It doesn’t amount to an assertion that “this is the way ultimate reality is or should be for anyone else” On the other hand, I have also seen an intensely impersonal approach work (but that has varied by the particular situation). By that I mean the approach of introducing an idea into the conversation for consideration or discussion without attributing it to oneself or any other particular person. In some situations being silent has felt to me like the right thing to do– situations like what MTodd has described above. But even then, if sufficiently personal or impersonal it can still work to introduce the idea that not all people agree — perhaps in the form of something like: “I know of a bishop who didn’t believe there was a single literal Adam and a single literal Eve. Does anyone want to discuss how he maintained both that position and his commitment to the gospel and the Church?”

  26. Geoff-Aus says:

    We had a fireside in our stake, organised by RS, and presented by LDS Family services, gave a presentation on faith levels.
    He had most members on a level where obedience, and not questioning.
    He then had a higher level for those who were either having a faith cricis, or deciding that obedience was not the ultimate.
    The higher faith was one that centered on love of God, and our fellows, and allows for questioning church and leaders. Your faith is in God not the church.
    Depending on where people are on this spectrum will determine how they cope with new understandings.

  27. Very very wise introspection. Thank you.
    You have learned and expressed well what I hadn’t given words to until now. It’s why I’m often so frustrated with what I see on the lds blogs, even though I’m happy to sit in the same pew and have the discussion face to face with others.

    I think we definitely more in the ream of “publishing” when we post online, rather than just a fleeting (however important it may be) discussion with a select group of people. Face to face or in a quorum/class setting it’s very different than quasi-immortalizing and quasi-proclaiming something once we write™ and publish™ it.

    Thinking this through…Of course, once we understand that power of words, we have an equal responsibility to speak our words carefully. If we want to risk not offending someone, we might as well not say anything at all…. or we speak things like the prophets and apostles are saying. Which oddly enough, seems to be the answer they have settled in on.

    I have had some very critical words said about various policies, decisions, etc. in the church. I’ve said them to my spouse, and to high councilors and occasionally to others I serve with in callings. But I do try to be careful, and even then I fear that it’s far too easy to go overboard and seeming to play up the bad while ignoring the good.

    The ultimate answer as I’ve come to see it is, if we focus on building others up, cleansing the inner vessel, the church will be a much better reflection of what we want it to be and what it should be, than if we just did a better job criticizing, however constructive that criticism may be.

  28. Zach–I’m pretty much in your exact same situation. I’m not going to bring up my interpretation of Adam and Eve because it would cause huge issues in my ward. There are, however, things I can do. I can try to redirect when things go off the deep end. EQ always likes to complain about how evil the world is, using talking points they picked up from last week’s talk radio and Fox News. I can either walk out (which I’ve done once or twice) or I can make a comment to try to change the subject to something that results in a bit more introspection.

    Criticism of the church may cause some to lose their testimonies. Pretending the church and its leaders are perfect also causes some to lose their testimonies when they figure out that the church and its leaders are not perfect. The best thing we can do is to focus on strengthening testimonies while also allowing for diversity of thought.

  29. Wondering says:

    “strengthening testimonies” seems to be Mormon jargon for “maintaining and deepening commitment to the church and its current leaders” Is that right?

  30. I like to think of the relationship as something akin to a marriage, and our responsibility similar to the way we would treat a spouse. Getting to the truth is necessary, pent up resentment is destructive, at the same time unbounded criticism would be absolutely detrimental and disrespectful and likely shred the marriage to pieces. There is an attitude of respect and love that ought to underlie such discussions, gratitude and positive discussions ought to exist alongside any negative, and at the same time holding to a faith that the strength of our love can endure the hard truthful and direct conversations that are sometimes necessary – not out of spite or a desire to tear down, but to grow on a genuine and truthful foundation. If you find yourself venting or criticizing to seek personal validation or for purposes of self-indulgence, you’re probably on the wrong side of the fence. If your purpose is to try and genuinely grow together, overcoming the fear of what the truth might expose, I think that is the mark of a healthy relationship.

  31. Wondering, that might be what others mean. What I meant was more along the lines of having spiritual experiences that lead us to the knowledge of certain things. If I have a spiritual experience that teaches me how much God loves his children, that may deepen my commitment to the church and current leaders. However, if those current leaders have just put the POX into place, it may lessen my commitment to the current leaders.

  32. Zach, have you read this piece by Armand Mauss?
    https://www.timesandseasons.org/harchive/2006/05/alternate-voices/

  33. Kevin Barney says:

    I have found that blogging has helped me to negotiate this particular dynamic. Over the last decade-plus I have published over 500 blog posts. I find Mormonism endlessly fascinating (I guess I must, those 500+ blog posts didn’t just write themselves). But occasionally I will use the platform to share a critique I have relating to the scripture, history, doctrine or practice of the faith. Maybe a dozen, maybe two dozen of my blog posts might fall into that category. I hope people recognize that if I didn’t love the Church, I wouldn’t bother critiquing it or even writing about it at all. My hope is that all those positive blog posts give me the street cred to occasionally point out areas where we could do better.

  34. “In the end we published nothing….”
    Normons didn’t need to be critical of the church and the 2015 Handbook Policy but it could have at least published something showing support and compassion to a disenfranchised group…one to which I belong, btw. That’s called “love.”

  35. Wow TB. That was an amazing article. Thanks.

  36. Alice Jacobs says:

    If someone’s testimony could be easily swayed by criticism of the church then they were already at a tipping point and never had a strong foundation to begin with

  37. Ryan Mullen says:

    “and never had a strong foundation to begin with” Ahh, the ubiquitous, infallible ex post facto test. Did they have a strong testimony? If they were ever “easily swayed”, then no, their testimony was never strong, no matter how much time, effort, or sincere devotion they exhibited.

  38. I understand the feeling members have that they need to avoid damaging other people’s beliefs (a.k.a testimony). On the other hand, as someone who no longer claims to hold that belief, I wish everyone could just speak their truth, and let the chips fall.

    It’s unfortunate that a person speaking about one topic (inequality / poverity / sexism science) feels compelled to worry about the effect on a person’s belief in a different topic (spirituality / revelation / authority / creationism)

  39. It’s a million years ago in blog time, but this was one of my earliest blog posts. I think it’s a question we’ll keep asking ourselves (and we should!). https://www.timesandseasons.org/harchive/2004/03/apologia-of-a-critical-believer/ My post was not that interesting, but the comment thread is worth a read.

  40. I relate to this concern. Sometimes when I’m preparing a lesson for Sunday School, I vacillate between presenting what I think is the historical/textual truth that actually lets us appreciate the gospel even better vs. rocking somebody else’s boat, someone who’s built their personally functional, very satisfying testimony on a bed of fundamentalist/literalist assumptions.

    And sometimes I just want to vent my pain and frustration about this personality cult that we’ve built up for prophets who we say are IN THEORY fallible, but the moment you suggest that they’ve gotten in wrong in practice, the torches and pitchforks come out.

    Honestly, I’m now of the belief that generally, voicing doubts and questions and frustrations and pain can be the charitable thing to do. When others have done so, it has let me know that there’s space for me too in this church—that I can be here too and love the things I love about it, even if I feel frustrated about other things.

    In a lot of cases, especially if done constructively and charitably, this can be what it looks like to leave the ninety and nine to reach out to the one, to let the one know that there’s room for them and their questions.

    And maybe the ninety and nine wouldn’t feel so shaken if all of us just got more used to the idea that different perspectives are OK and even beneficial instead of threatening and satanic.

  41. > do you think voicing criticism has the potential to damage testimony ?

    Yes, of course it does.

    Do you have a responsibility? Yes, of course you (we) do.

    D&C 121 comes to mind. It’s in the spirit in which you do it.

    Richard Bushman made a comment about how people would ask him to bear his testimony at the end of many of his presentations to members. It made him bristle sometimes, he said. In a sense it was the crowd asking or wanting to affirm, paraphrasing: “Am I one of them?” Is Bushman among the believers? He made his peace with that kind of request.

    I believe if you have a testimony, then if you say something possibly deemed critical, that you should make it clear that you have a testimony. It doesn’t necessarily mean to bear it, but remember that sometimes things people say can really rattle others. I love this website but there are times when I have to stop reading the occasional post because I just believe it is too critical, made in too much malice/anger/frustration/not giving the benefit of the doubt/missing a key part of the picture, or quite frankly, just wrong.

    If you are struggling in your testimony regarding a topic brought up in your post, I think you are obligated to say so. But in general, there needs to be a hook, so that I know you are one of the believers. Paul could get very critical, but he always circled back with love and appreciation for the Gospel and those living it and those others leading the church.

    Some posts here flat out affirm that the church leadership is wrong in some positions. I am very skeptical of such. “May” be wrong, “May need to adjust”, etc… but to assert that a certain intelligensia has a better understanding I think is very, very risky behavior that the scriptures warn about. At the very least, acknowledge the limb you are out on.

  42. Is the other side of this equation asking themselves the same question? The stake president that stands up and testifies that our prophet talks face to face with Jesus on a regular basis is doing much more to damage testimony than anything ever written on this site, yet he doesn’t get any pushback and doesn’t even realize the damage he is doing.

  43. Wondering says:

    Zach, In more than half a century of adult activity in the church I have never heard a stake president do that. Where are the stake presidents who do?

  44. There’s a practice among the disaffected that is what I would call bearing an “untestimony,” or sharing the evidence and experiences they’ve accumulated that support their belief that the Church is not true. I find that (as well as exit stories) to be a real turn-off, not because I am not interested, and not because I don’t see many of the same things, but mostly because I know that our beliefs are usually not conclusions drawn from facts and experiences. We think we know why we believe what we do, but we are usually really just fooling ourselves. Likewise, I’m not a big fan of testimony bearing. It feels like we are just doing a lot of post hoc justifying of our positions.

    So what bugs me is being so “conclusive” and trying to prove the reasonableness of our conclusions, feeling superior to the positions of others rather than humble and aware of the short-sightedness all humans are prone to have.

  45. I appreciate this discussion. One of the reasons I’ve posted less and less online is that I found myself saying a lot of critical things but not balancing them with the good I still experience in the church. I would think of something I wanted to talk about, but then think, “But the last thing I wrote was negative. I should write something positive next.” And then…I would write nothing.

    But we can’t know how other people will take what we say, and we can’t control it. Ultimately their reaction is about them, I think. I mean, not that I go around saying negative things just because I can, but what some people take as negative and faith-hurting, others find a great relief to know that they’re not alone, that it’s possible to question and criticize and still choose the church.

  46. Definately Maybe says:

    Wondering says:
    October 30, 2019 at 8:13 am
    Zach, In more than half a century of adult activity in the church I have never heard a stake president do that. Where are the stake presidents who do?

    Spokane Washington Valley Stake would be one of many i imagine.

  47. Wondering – I’ve never heard a stake president say it, but I had several full-time seminary teachers who did.

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