Moroni’s Promise has had increasing use in missionary work and in the church generally, starting with (I believe) President Benson’s emphasis on using it to show that the Book of Mormon is true.
Now, in a recent blog entry, Dave critiques Moroni’s Promise as essentially being an unfair test, which allows church members to accept positive results but disregard any negative results. Dave writes:
There’s an ugly side to Moroni’s Promise if you don’t play along with the Mormon script. “[I]f ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of [the Book of Mormon] unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost” (Moroni 10:4). So obviously (to the convinced Mormon) a person who doesn’t get nice Holy Ghosty feelings about the Book of Mormon (1) is insincere; or (2) is sincere but irresolute, lacking real intent; or (3) is sincere and determined but lacks faith in God. Plenty of outs here; if a seemingly sincere person fails to admit to nice feelings about the Book of Mormon, it’s obviously not the prayer method or the Book of Mormon that is flawed, it’s the person. There’s something wrong with them and it’s obvious what it is: they are insincere, they lack intent, they are unfaithful.
Dave’s critique highlights an interesting question for us as members: Is Moroni’s Promise a valid test? Is it really, as Dave suggests, a stacked deck? And if so, what implications does that have for members who are encouraged to base their testimonies on it? (Or are we?)
Dave seems correct in his initial argument that as a logical or scientific test, Moroni’s Promise is not particularly rigorous. It requires sincerity and faith, and both of these are unverifiable inputs. If the desired output (receiving a testimony) is not acheived, a church member can simply claim that one of the unverifiable inputs, such as sincerity or faith, was set at the wrong value. (Is there a formal term for this kind of reasoning?)
The next question is much trickier. Given that Moroni’s Promise is not a rigorous test, what should this mean to church members?
One possibility is that many church members’ testimonies are based on Moroni’s promise (especially given its use in missionary work), and if so, that they should be subject to reexamination. (To be fair to Dave, let me note that this idea is an overstatement of his position — but, I think, a genuine possible result of showing that Moroni’s Promise is not rigorous).
I don’t think that such drastic action is required. Church members are encouraged to rely on the Spirit for guidance. However, church members are also almost universally aware of the difficulty (for some, the near impossibility, it seems) of distinguishing between the Spiriti and their own feelings.
Given this difficulty, I’m not sure that most church members base their testimonies solely or even primarily on Moroni’s Promise. (In addition, not all church members have tried Moroni’s Promise.) I think testimonies are generally based on a number of related factors, and that a main ingredient for most members is their general observation of the church and assessment that it is a good place for them to be. Moroni’s Promise may play a role, but it is not a constantly-invoked compass in a straight logical line, ruling all decisions.
To use an example, if I am offered a cigarette, I don’t engage in this chain of reasoning:
I read the Book of Mormon and prayed, and felt good, therefore the Book of Mormon is true; the Book of Mormon was translated by Joseph Smith, therefore Joseph Smith was a prophet; Joseph Smith who is a prophet received the Doctrine and Covenants, therefore it is true; therefore I should not accept the cigarette.
Rather, my thought process is a lot less linear and lot more reflexive. I have been conditioned to obey the Word of Wisdom. A number of factors enter into this mental conditioning: My reading of the scripture, my assessment that it is correct, my prayers and experiences with scripture generally, my observations of church members, my experience in the church, and probably a host of other factors.
I suspect that most members are similar to me. Their testimonies are not based on Moroni’s Promise, but on a variety of experiences in the church, and the basis of their testimony may change and shift over time. Mine certainly has.
Of course, for one category of people, Moroni’s Promise is paramount, and that is new members. Missionaries use Moroni’s Promise regularly, and most new converts rely on it strongly when they initially join the church. However, if they are to grow at all, they will begin finding other sources of testimony. By the time the hit a year or two in the church, the will have begun to weave the tapestry of testimony, of which Moroni’s Promise will now only be one thread.
To sum up, I found Dave’s discussion very interesting. I recognize that Moroni’s Promise is not a rigorous test. But, I felt good when I prayed about the Book of Mormon, and I am willing to accept that feeling as part of the tapestry — one of many factors — that makes up my my testimony.