Don’t Read That! Your Testimony Will Be History!

September 12, 2012 | 59 comments
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Julie Smith opens her excellent T&S review of Turner’s Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet (which I’ve not yet read) with clear reservations about recommending this book to the “average” church member.

I suspect that John G. Turner’s Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet will be the definitive biography of Brigham Young for the next few decades. Overall, this is a good thing.

But it may also be a troubling thing, at least for some people. I wholeheartedly recommended the recent Joseph SmithDavid O. McKay, and Spencer W. Kimball biographies to all members of the Church. Sure, they are a little less sanitized than we are used to, but the picture in each one of those works is of a prophet of God who had some flaws, with far more emphasis on the “prophet” part than on the “flawed” part.

This book? Not so much. I have serious reservations about recommending it to the average church member; if you need your prophet to be larger than life, or even just better than the average bear, this book is not for you.  I think there is a substantial risk that people raised on hagiographic, presentist images of prophets would have their testimonies rocked, if not shattered, by this book.

As far as I can tell, Julie is probably right to harbor these kinds of reservations.

But what does this say about the kind of thing a “testimony” is?

What kind of testimony is capable of being rocked or even shattered by Turner’s brand of honest but unfiltered history?

Has Julie just conceded that the average member’s testimony is propped up by a misreading of history sufficiently grievous that it can’t bear any real historical weight?

Is she right?

If she’s right, does it matter?

What does it mean about the relationship between our church history and our spiritual work if a testimony can be historically ignorant about basic facts and still be genuinely valid and efficacious?

What does it mean if an ignorant testimony can’t still be genuinely valid and efficacious?

How “right” would a testimony have to be (and about what kinds of things?) in order to be legitimate?

If an ignorant testimony isn’t valid, then does anyone actually have one?

If my testimony consists primarily of my biased, compromised, ignorant (and often self-serving) versions of both historical events and God’s intentions for me and mine, then does God want me to “lose” that “testimony” in order to be, instead, grounded in his inconvenient grace?

[Note: I’m not interested in discussing here the colorful aspects of church history. Rather, I’m just interested in addressing exactly the questions posed above.]

59 Responses to Don’t Read That! Your Testimony Will Be History!

  1. Jenn on September 12, 2012 at 8:53 am

    I had a rock-solid testimony of the church for 27 years- though I will freely admit it was based on what I viewed as logical, rather than faith or spiritual witnesses. The church was true because it made sense, based on the version of it I had been exposed to. I’m an intelligent and very analytical person, was on seminary council, went to bYU and did 4 years of spiritual education there, yet my testimony was still based on this “the church is true because it makes sense” with a very naive view of the church historical narrative. And while I will admit I did not seek out uncorrelated sources, I didn’t realize I needed to- I thought they would be “more of the same” of the boring sunday school lessons I had had my whole life.
    So, coming from that perspective, where I had believed and lived the gospel my whole life but never had a real spiritual witness of it beyond “well it just makes sense”, my testimony was very rocked when I got exposed to a much less clear-cut narrative, for instance, in reading Rough Stone Rolling.
    I always suspected my testimony was inferior in some ways, because I did NOT have a spiritual witness of the truth, despite my efforts to get one. On the other hand, I always felt like I was one of those whose spiritual gift was to “know” of the truth. It was a knowledge-based faith. I was not lazy about my faith- I poured my heart into learning all the ins and outs and complexities of mormonism, within the materials I thought I had available to me.

    So to your questions: I do think a testimony can be “right” even if ignorant, largely because I’ve come to realize that was is “right” is very subjective and personal. My naive testimony was good for me for the period that I had it- some of my favorite things about myself come from being a TBM for my formative years. It was not “right” in that it was strong enough to withstand historical evidence that changed my perception of priesthood authority.
    My family theorizes that this destruction of my testimony is happening so when I come back to the church, it will be with a more solid faith. I have my doubts, but am happy if that gives them peace. I do think that the destruction of my old faith had to happen to make room for a more mature faith- I just have my doubts that that more mature faith will be within Mormonism.

    I can view my still very TBM faithful brother and identify some things that he believes in that I think he only believes in because of ignorance, but still be thrilled for him in that belief. It is legitimate and real for him and seems to be what God wants for him to believe. So while we have differing testimonies, I think both are legitimate, inasmuch as they apply to ourselves. Once we try to apply it to others, everything falls apart (for instance, his spiritual witness doesn’t really help me much, and I should not use my church historical negative to tear down what he has built up for himself).

  2. ji on September 12, 2012 at 8:53 am

    Yes! A person can have a “historically ignorant” testimony. My testimony is that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself to all nations. My testimony includes knowing that God has always used priests, and that those priests are good men who are sometimes imperfect (to wit., Eli in the Old Testament). But I want to sustain those good men, rather than point out all their flaws. My testimony comes from God, through his Holy Spirit — not from Brigham Young, who was God’s priest for a while. May God bless Brother Brigham.

  3. Joseph Smidt on September 12, 2012 at 9:04 am

    “Has Julie just conceded that the average member’s testimony is propped up by a misreading of history sufficiently grievous that it can’t bear any real historical weight?”

    Any wonder why so many people paint intellectuals as arrogant. :)

    Actually I want to defend Julie a little. I think *all* people, including intellectuals, when coming across damning data for the first time need reassurance that it is still possible the Church is true. Reading something like Bushman does that for you, and when you have read enough Bushmans I think it may easy to still believe after reading the Turners as deep down you know from experience there’s always still a way forward.

    “What kind of testimony is capable of being rocked or even shattered by Turner’s brand of honest but unfiltered history?”

    One that hasn’t received some immunizations. No matter how healthy my child is, I don’t want him/her to be exposed to chicken pox without receiving some basic immunizations first.

    “If an ignorant testimony isn’t valid, then does anyone actually have one?”

    Not if ignorance means no validity. There is no way we can possible have all the facts before us. All of us are very ignorant to very many facts about all sorts of things so if anyone wants to suppose their testimony is valid they must admit testimonies can be valid while still ignorant about many things.

    I believe the Church is true, and I know very many people who have the same conclusion knowing much more or less then I do. Good for them they can come to this conclusion with or without as much detailed understanding as others. (Reminds me of Christ’s rebuke to the doubting Thomas!)

  4. ji on September 12, 2012 at 9:15 am

    One more thought, if I may…

    When I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I took on myself the name of Jesus Christ. I did not adopt Mormon or Utah history or culture. Joseph Smith and Brigham Young are dead and buried (God bless their souls). I don’t know whether President Monson today is a perfect man (God bless him, too), but whether he is or isn’t is irrelevant to my testimony and my faith.

    When faith is confused with cultural matters, there is a basis for discomfort. I think that’s what we’re seeing here. For me, it is so much easier to keep the two disconnected.

  5. Jettboy on September 12, 2012 at 9:25 am

    You can’t judge a person’s heart by what they do or say. That is what the half and non-believers continue to claim whenever they are caught or defend someone breaking even the least of the commandments. Yet, they don’t seem to have the same charity toward any of the prophets and leaders of the early church. One point that is not brought up in this is that, as well documented as history might be, there is the possibility that the “honest but unfiltered history” is no such thing. I have read many non-Mormon histories of Mormonism and I can honestly say that they are their own flawed works propped up by misreading of history and especially motives. They are often based on presentism and unstated bias. As Joseph Smidt said, any wonder why so many people paint intellectuals as arrogant?

    The only “rock” of history that we will be smashed with is the judgement of the rock of our Salvation. If members are leaving because of the offense of history and historians, then I say good riddance. Jesus Christ had a few parables about the different kinds of testimony. The conclusion was that faith is easy to lose when the foundation is not solid. That foundation is in Jesus Christ and him crucified.

  6. Sam Brunson on September 12, 2012 at 9:44 am

    I certainly hope that one can have a testimony that consists of biased and wrong information, because I’m absolutely certain that some of the information I “know” is biased and misinformed.

    That said, I believe that our testimonies should be able to incorporate additional information as it becomes available; if we aren’t helping members understand that church leaders and the Church itself have made mistakes in the past—and likely will again in the future—we’re doing a disservice to them and to ourselves.

    I hope that, upon reading Turner’s biography, there won’t be a push to claim that he’s wrong or biased because he’s not a member of the Church. Of course he’s wrong and biased. No historian would claim otherwise. But I suspect that his errors about Brigham Young are way fewer than mine, and, if I revise the facts I know about Young to put them more in line with the vision of Young that Turner presents, my understanding of the second prophet of the Restoration will be more accurate. And, I hope, my testimony will accommodate the more-accurate picture I gain.

  7. Dave on September 12, 2012 at 9:53 am

    Davis Bitton, LDS historian: “I never had a testimony of church history. My testimony is in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

    http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/review/?vol=16&num=2&id=560

  8. Rameumptom on September 12, 2012 at 10:08 am

    I think this is where we need to (and should have done so decades ago) inoculate our members, and not just retrench ourselves in a stubborn rejection of facts. Doug Gibson had a good post a couple days ago on retrenchment in the Church caused by Joseph Fielding Smith, Bruce R McConkie, Ezra Taft Benson and others. With the Internet, there is no way we can keep retrenching on concepts that just are not doctrine (prophets are infallible, evolution, etc). Instead, we need to inoculate our members from the truths and innuendos they will learn about Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and others in our history.

    Julie’s suggestion that the average church member not read it is kind of like telling a 12 year old he shouldn’t go see a PG-13 movie because it is too violent for him. That kind of defeats the purpose, and again points towards retrenchment. Our non-member friends will read the book, post blogs on it, or tell those retrenched average Mormons about it. They will be shocked beyond belief by the things Pres Young taught and did, and many will then question their testimonies. Trying to fix the gate after the horses have all run away does not work, and yet that is what retrenchment is all about in the age of Internet. While I’m sure Julie is correct that most members will not want to read the book, many are going to get the worst dirt tossed in their faces, and they will not know how to respond. The Church does not have to explain every detail of every prophets’ bad decisions and actions. But they should generally explain that these were imperfect men, called of God, and did the best they could under difficult circumstances. They often made terrible choices, but were still the prophet of God. In so doing, we may inoculate our members against what will be coming their way.

    See Gibson’s post here

  9. Howard on September 12, 2012 at 10:11 am

    It’s a mistake to conflate our testimony of the gospel with a testimony of the church, they are very different things. The church is an institution that presents a whitewashed, Pollyanna and sometimes completely dishonest version of itself and it’s history while claiming to currently represent Jesus Christ on earth. Did Christ ever act like this? Has he changed? Of course not, so this sets up many naive members for eventual betrayal.

    It’s been said that an unexamined life is not worth living. Perhaps an unexamined testimony is not worth having. What exactly is an unexamined testimony a testimony of?

  10. Seldom on September 12, 2012 at 10:13 am

    When we need to avoid historical facts so we can testify that the church is true, something is wrong.

  11. Rosemary on September 12, 2012 at 10:17 am

    But you see the problem is that we are taught at a very young age to have a testimony of Joseph Smith. Now the nuances are taught regarding more of his position in the restoration, but still, if you look at the “testimony glove” currently on sale at Deseret Book, you’ll notice that it’s encapsulated into a photo of Joseph Smith.

    Now one day I had a stark realization. I knew I needed to have a testimony of Joseph Smith and the Restoration, but that Restoration was still going on, so I did need to also have as strong of testimonies in every succeeding prophet and the way they led the church as I did with Joseph Smith. As one example, I needed to have as much of a testimony in the fact that when the major schisms happened after Joseph Smith’s death that Brigham Young was the correct leader as I had to have a testimony in the First Vision. It is a bit sobering, especially in light of how we are taught to have a testimony in the first prophet and the current, and then just kind of gloss over (or in the case of Brigham, laughingly shake our head at some of his antics) the rest in the middle.

    So re: “Has Julie just conceded that the average member’s testimony is propped up by a misreading of history sufficiently grievous that it can’t bear any real historical weight?

    Is she right?

    If she’s right, does it matter?”

    I’d say yes, yes, and yes, since we’re starting to see an exodus of members who learn the harder history. And if we say that it is ok to have an “ignorant of history” testimony, then I think we have to say it is valid to have an “knowledgeable of history” un-testimony.

  12. Kent Larsen on September 12, 2012 at 10:22 am

    Seldom, unfortunately, the body of historical “facts” is rarely the problem. Its often the interpretation of those facts and how we view the facts that are the real problem.

  13. Kent Larsen on September 12, 2012 at 10:33 am

    I have found myself, on many occasions, confronted with doubts because of thinks like the behavior of past leaders and their doctrinal statements, and a wide variety of similar issues. Most of the time I later realize that not all of these issues carry or even should carry the same weight in my testimony. As ji (4) observed above, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young are long gone. At least to my testimony, current revelation is much more important and relevant than that of 150 years ago.

    I’m troubled when I see friends leave the Church over some issue that seems like a minor thing. Not everything is important to your testimony. The fact that a prophet’s peccadillos seem unacceptable in today’s worldview is usually not nearly as damaging as many make it out to be.

    I’m not trying to suggest that there aren’t challenging issues. Clearly such issues exist. But often in the shock of learning about some new issue we fail to take a step back and try to put that issue in perspective. A lot of the problems we encounter can be solved by simply asking: How much should this issue really affect a testimony? Is it really that important?

  14. Michael H. on September 12, 2012 at 10:34 am

    Strangely enough, for me the trigger for a recent faith crisis was reading the Bible. I hadn’t really touched the Old Testament in about eight years (last time was second year in high school!) and the Bible as Literature class I’d decided to take was the first time I read significant portions of the Bible from a non-LDS version (we used the Catholic study edition, the New Jerusalem Bible).

    I had already been backpedaling the extent of what I could say I “knew” religion-wise based on what I figured was rational skepticism. For example, I would question my readings of the Book of Mormon by noting that I really didn’t know the cultural context of the passages in question – and really couldn’t. However, when it came to reading the Bible, the newly-encountered edition with its extensive notes on composition and organizational structure reinforced how weird some of the Bible is, how it’s an amalgam of various sources, with stories that repeat with differences (like names) hundreds of years apart or stories that are recorded very differently by different authors (i.e., the Gospels). While I didn’t doubt that there was truth in there somewhere, I had no faith in my ability to find it. My attitude was a despairing, “What can I even do with this text?” But underneath this worry lay the assumption that an ignorant testimony is no testimony at all, and I’ve had to push back against that over the past few months.

  15. Owen on September 12, 2012 at 10:39 am

    RE #5. Yeah, stupid children of God. Who needs em?

  16. john f. on September 12, 2012 at 10:56 am

    Such good questions and observations, Adam. Maybe the guiding hand of Providence reveals itself in situations like this because they provide a catalyst to move members away from a dependence on the types of hagiographic portraits of Church leaders referred to by Julie. It seems to me that such a development could be nothing but a good thing. If we get to a point where church members by and large are not repulsed by knowledge of historical facts or don’t need a “sanitized” portrayal of the life and actions of historical figures in the Church, then we will have stronger, Christ-focused testimonies and it might contribute to us being less insular and more willing to integrate into broader society with a view toward working toward Zion and with the leavening effect that Christ wanted his followers to have.

  17. Adam Greenwood on September 12, 2012 at 11:00 am

    Mormonism, with its principles or continuing revelation, of line upon line, and of God meeting mankind halfway, should have more resources than most faiths to deal with the idea of incomplete testimony, or of convictions partially based on facts that aren’t so.

    But I think your idea of ignorant testimony misses something. I doubt anyone actually has a testimony that Brigham Young was not a bumptious, abrasive, heavy-handed experimenter. What they have is a testimony of modern prophets or even of Brigham Young as a prophet, from which they draw the ‘ignorant’ corrolary that Brigham Young was none of these things. It isn’t our testimony that’s ignorant, but our unexamined notions about what our testimony means. Unwittingly we have wed our own convictions with the philosophies of men.

  18. DavidH on September 12, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    “I doubt anyone actually has a testimony that Brigham Young was not a bumptious, abrasive, heavy-handed experimenter. What they have is a testimony of modern prophets or even of Brigham Young as a prophet, from which they draw the ‘ignorant’ corrolary that Brigham Young was none of these things. It isn’t our testimony that’s ingnorant, but our unexamined convictions about what our testimony means. Unwittingly we have wed our own convictions with the philosophies of men.”

    Adam, amen and amen.

  19. C. on September 12, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    Matt Bowman in “The Mormon People,” which I’ve just finished and really recommend (though I’m sure I’m late to the party with this one), writes about the shift from evidence based truth to emotional truth that really became institutionalized in the mid-20th century. I found that a very interesting idea that added a lot to my understanding of cultural Mormonism and intellectualism. Bowman contends, and I agree, that Mormons are disinclined to accept authority that doesn’t come through the “correct” lines (aka Church channels, or Church encouraged methods of inquiry like fasting and prayer). Therefore if something came to light through academic inquiry and research that the Church refuted, a great many members would accept the Church’s interpretation even in the face of other data.

    I think this sort of reached it’s zenith with Packer’s “What is true is not always useful” spiel – which, for the record I think is absolute tosh. But it shows that, to a certain part of Church leadership (not only high up), obedience and adherence to “correct” interpretations and explanations and historical perspective are more important culturally speaking than rigorous academic inquiry.

    I think that this is already coming back to bite the institution in a lot of ways. The rejection of serious academics and substituting it with emotion based interpretations of truth can be cognitively dissonant and cause a great deal of distress. And that’s before the crackdowns come! Luckily the institution seems to be moving away from crackdowns, but the cultural costs are still pretty high for anyone who cites a non-mormon academic over a GA.

  20. Michael H. on September 12, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    I have to note that I love the double meaning of “your testimony will be history” in the title of the post.

  21. DavidH on September 12, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Michael H.,

    I agree that reading the Bible and trying to understand it in its cultural, historical background, and what it is and it isn’t, can rock one’s faith.

    And I think that is a good thing. The Hebrew Bible, though redacted and edited to accomplish objectives of the editors and redactors (nowadays, such redaction and editing is referred to as “spinning” a story), is, for me, a remarkably honest book about the humanity and deep flaws of prophets and leaders.

    Some of the stories are likely nonhistorical, such as the conquest of the promised land (or the books of Job or Jonah or even Ruth), but were written for other important purposes. Yet even in the likely ahistorical narratives, there is no suggestion of infallibility or near perfection (quite the contrary) of Biblical heroes.

  22. Snyderman on September 12, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    “If my testimony consists primarily of my biased, compromised, ignorant (and often self-serving) versions of both historical events and God’s intentions for me and mine, then does God want me to “lose” that “testimony” in order to be, instead, grounded in his inconvenient grace?”

    I don’t know about others, but based on my experiences, I have to give answer this question with a resounding “Yes!” In relation to this, I think many here may be missing the point. I think things like this do and should matter. I think the messy and hard and confusing things may just be what’s supposed to matter the most.

    Granted, there are numerous things in life that can be messy. And numerous ways for those things to go about being messy. So maybe this topic just doesn’t do it for you. But I think the point (well, one of them, anyway) of this life is to encounter the messy AS messy. To look at the confusing and say, “That confuses me, I don’t know.” I don’t think God’s grace is neat and nice and convenient. I think if it was, there may not be much point to it.

  23. John on September 12, 2012 at 12:46 pm

    Very smart people here, many of whom seem smug in their conviction that troubling history shouldn’t rock the “mature” and rational Mormon mind. #5 seems to dismiss all of us doubters in an off-hand way, chaff in the wind, tares, and as soil not worthy of the precious seed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Good riddance! As if he has the authority to dismiss all of us stupid intellectual weaklings to the pits of outer darkness. Now not all of you take that tone openly and as brazenly, but there is a hint of that arrogance here and there. My contention is this. If all we need to stay in the church is a testimony of Christ and his teachings, how are the claims our church makes different than any other? -what does the church have to stand on, good works? fruit? I don’t want to condemn any of your personal reasons for staying, indeed I applaud them if they make you and your family happy. I only want people to consider that if the real question of our church is based on the legitimacy of priesthood authority -indeed one of the main pillar of our faith that I taught countless times to people on my mission -then I think our official doctrine really backs us into an either or proposition, and I think it’s fair to say that that particular proposition has left many of us in a precarious spot. Either God the Father and Jesus appeared to Joseph Smith or not. Either he translated Gold plates into the Book of Mormon or not. And I think the question of Brigham is a valid one; either God’s authority was handed down to Brigham or it wasn’t. If I were a historian and someone with the luxury to maintain a healthy distance from the church, I think I would argue that the church is a flawed yet well meaning institution, with good people, that evolved very successfully from a 19th century millennialist sect with odd, heretical leaders, caught up in the religious fervor of the day; and whose audacious claims appealed to many naive, poor, and desperate people. The very same type of people missionaries spend most of their time teaching who need something, anything to believe in because we are the church whose leaders are Prophets Seers and Revelators, called by God in these last days. If Brigham is nothing more than a tyrannical, misogynistic, and lying despot, then I think it’s a very fair question as to whether His authority is legitimate, because, as were taught in the Doctrine Covenants, we can legitimately say “Amen to the priesthood of that man”. So I am left in a quandary, I’m not sure where this will go, either in or out of the church. I understand the reasons so many stay, and I applaud them. But please don’t dismiss the “naive” view so many have of us have of the church. If our flawed history is really what it appears to be, we need to do more than “inoculate” the misinformed. The church in this case would need to completely revise the truth claims it makes. Something that I doubt leaders shaped by the Smith/McConkie legacy will be willing or able to do.

  24. John on September 12, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    #22, you said what I would have liked to have said, if I had not been so reactionary. Would that more Mormons can arrive in a similar place. Grace is indeed something we are often in short supply of, both to as a gift we can give ourselves and to the people around us. I am often impatient, and myopic when it comes to this bumbling church of ours. I don’t want to dismiss the church out of hand; and whether or not our official claims are what we purport them to be, I think the good feelings and faith of humble members all over the world is genuine and as true as anything is. In my better moments, I realize that my testimony is not really about Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, or the Book of Mormon. These are things I can never know the whole story on, no matter how much history I read. I can know that despite all of flaws and messiness, I will always be Mormon whether I stay in the church or not; I have gone too far to not be. In the balance I think my membership has led me to many good things in life. I think though that this faith journey out of orthodoxy, as hard as it is, has opened up more doors to empathy, understanding,and indeed grace then I might have found if I had adhered to my prior position.

  25. DavidH on September 12, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    I am a believer in the teachings of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament in spite of the flaws and humanity of the people and entities portrayed, including those who have God’s inconvenient grace in their lives enabling them to be “prophetic” also in spite of their flaws. I am a believer in a “church” that is a “flawed yet well meaning institution, with good people, that evolved very successfully from a 19th century millennialist sect with odd, heretical leaders, caught up in the religious fervor of the day; and whose audacious claims appealed to many naive, poor, and desperate people.” Why? Because I believe God’s inconvenient grace infuses the flawed members and institution. The Church is as described, but it is more, much more than that. Was Brigham “nothing more than a tyrannical, misogynistic, and lying despot”? No, he was not just that. He was more. Much more. He was an deeply flawed vessel through whom God worked. Just like all of us are fundamentally flawed sinners, yet we are more, much more than that.

    I am not sure what it means to say that the LDS is the “only true and living Church”. But I am quite sure that it does not mean that the members or the institution are free from defects and serious flaws.

  26. Suleiman on September 12, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    Three thoughts:

    1. You mean that prophets and apostles were/are flawed, messed up human beings???? I might actually have a chance!

    2. One of the great blessings of studying the Old Testament is that there are enough problematic practices and behaviors among the ancient prophets and children of Israel to challenge us all. The Book of Mormon and New Testament are a bit more sanitary.

    3. I wonder if celestial beings ever pause and examine my practices and beliefs and wonder “How is that Neanderthal ever going to make it?”

  27. Snyderman on September 12, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    Thank you, John (24). I enjoyed your comment as well. Truly, if what distinguishes us is our Priesthood authority (as is widely taught) then what are we to do with the (sometimes extreme) failings of the “supreme,” so to speak, Priesthood leader on the Earth? Is it not incredibly reasonable to doubt their Priesthood authority based on at least some of their more… unusual (to put it nicely) actions?

    To bring it back to the OP, I think these questions relate directly to how we think of a “legitimate” or “right” testimony. I certainly think that a testimony in the Priesthood authority of the Church and its leaders is a “right” testimony. Which begs the question of how we reconcile sustaining these men as the entire world’s Priesthood leaders while simultaneously recognizing their imperfect (and perhaps even unconscionable) behavior?

    And truth be told, it was a question incredibly similar to this that caused me to first say, “I just don’t know.” And in that moment, I embarked down the extremely messy path of un-knowing-ness. But it is exactly in that un-knowing-ness that I found Christ (although to be honest, it more feels like He found me). His grace has never been convenient for me. And looking back now, I think that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be.

  28. Steve Smith on September 12, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    The LDS church needs to take greater strides toward helping members understand what a testimony is and should be. A testimony isn’t a firm belief in a version of history, the existence of a persons’ seeming supernatural powers, or the rumored “infallibility” of an individual. It is a belief in a message, a path of action for the future, and a commitment to building and strengthening a particular community.

    Church members need to understand better how policy has been shaped in church’s past and present. There is disagreement and deliberation among the leadership in the process of decision-making, and both poor and wise decisions are made by the leadership. Prophets should be seen not only as flawed men with trifling weaknesses, but also as individuals who are liable to make poor decisions and say things that may not necessarily be true. For instance I believe that the decisions to institute polygamy and deny the priesthood to blacks were poor decisions that the leadership needed to correct. I don’t accept these as appropriate for their time and place. I also don’t believe that it is possible to predict the distant future. So I reject the concept of prophecy as history in reverse.

    But I try to maintain a vision of a community brought together by tradition, culture, and a shared moral attitude founded upon sound principles that the LDS church continually teaches.

    I kind of wish that the church would encourage people to stray away from the expression of a template testimony, “I know the church is true, BOM is true, JS true prophet, etc.” In fact I think that they should make fast and testimony meeting less frequent, where the template testimony has been molded. Instead I would hope that testimony would be more rooted in the applicability of a solid message as found in canonical texts to the building of a moral and just community (which I must say, I frequently hear many testimonies like this). Because if you are purposefully avoiding reading certain types of literature or listening to some arguments simply because you fear that it will damage your testimony, then your testimony is rooted in the wrong things.

  29. Steve Smith on September 12, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    Rameumpton (8), “Instead, we need to inoculate our members from the truths and innuendos they will learn about Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and others in our history.”

    Hasn’t the LDS church been engaged in a heavy inoculation campaign already, especially with correlation? I think if anything the church needs to steer members away from inoculation, which seems to instill members with the false sense that there are easy, blanket answers to complex issues: the notion that there is a 1,2,3 approach to proving Book of Mormon historicity, the idea that ‘pride’ is at the root of all church inactivity, etc. If anything, the LDS church needs to rid itself of its inoculative tendencies and help members become comfortable with ambiguity to complex historical questions. It’s OK to not know the answer upfront or have a formulated opinion about a lot of issues. You can still maintain a vision that incorporates solid principles without immediately accepting certain arguments.

  30. Steve Smith on September 12, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    Joseph Schmidt (3),

    “No matter how healthy my child is, I don’t want him/her to be exposed to chicken pox without receiving some basic immunizations first.”

    To keep in line with the metaphor, there are always new strains of diseases developing. Sometimes the body needs to experience some natural sickness to learn how to cope with certain diseases. By contracting chicken pox at a young age, a child’s body develops an immunity to a much a more devastating chicken pox at a later age.

    The church can’t possibly provide let alone expect members to memorize a list of blanket answers. It has to teach the members principles and let them engage the issues on their own.

  31. Michael H. on September 12, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    DavidH,

    Though I eventually reached the conclusion you describe (the Old Testament is a fundamentally *human* book) and like the term “inconvenient grace” that you apply to it, the problems that I faced were generally not issues of historicity or textual orderliness. I had already accepted that many of the books of the OT, while imparting truth, were probably non-historical narratives, and that others were the work of different authors smashed together. It was that before I had based my understanding of scripture on other knowledge I had – and being confronted with the true complexity and confusion of the texts in the OT just left me bewildered at how to read them in a religious way. Confronted by my ignorance of the historical/religious/cultural/linguistic context of the OT’s writing, I didn’t lose faith; I just wasn’t sure how to continue as a reader of the OT in faith. It was beginning to read the OT as a human production through which the divine could nevertheless shine in a way comprehensible even in contextual ignorance that helped me regain my supine faith.

  32. MC on September 12, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    Didn’t Paul already give us the solution to this?

    1 Corinthians 3:2
    “I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.”

    When we’re done with the milk let’s move on to the meat. Not a moment sooner or later.

  33. Cameron N on September 12, 2012 at 7:38 pm

    I think Kent nailed it. Thanks for sharing Kent, and thanks for the topic, Adam.

  34. DLewis on September 13, 2012 at 12:31 am

    Does a testimony have to be a thing that we can prod with a stick, put on the witness stand and interrogate, or hold before an audience of ward-members like spiritual “Show-and-Tell?” Do we “have” a testimony like we “have” a car, or like we “have” the flu? Would Joseph Smith look at all our modern day testimonies and denounce them all as creeds, none of which he’ll accept?

    This word i

  35. DLewis on September 13, 2012 at 12:32 am

    *Whoops, accidently posted too early. I’ll leave it at that*

  36. rah on September 13, 2012 at 11:21 am

    Great questions and ones that I think we are going to be faced with as a community for a long time.

    I think for many the root of the testimony problems often don’t come down to “history”. The historical issues whether they are with JS or BY or BoM historicity or what have you often become secondary. What they really have become about for me is the cognitive dissonance between the only way out of many of these historical issues – namely that God works through imperfect men and sees fit to let them be wrong not just in some demeanor or by having rough edges but wrong in really, really ugly fundamental teachings – and the ever reoccurring drumbeat and emphasis on obeying the current prophet/apostles at all costs and in all things. This is of course why for many of us, it is more contemporary issues that put this stark relief when it comes to our testimonies. The ERA, gender issues, Prop 8 and what not. Does having a testimony of the church compel me to believe these things when my conscious screams, NO! This wouldn’t be so much of a problem except that the hagiography in our history seems to be largly in service of “protecting the mantle” of current leaders. Again this wouldn’t be so difficult except almost every other lesson in primary, the lesson manuals, and every other venue is obedience, obedience, obedience to the prophet. For many the rough edges of BY and JS and our history seems to become more about “If they were wrong on polygamy, blacks, women etc.” because they were men with blind spots and influenced by their cultural context, doesn’t that look an awfully lot like our struggle with women and gays now? Can my testimony handle that when these issues aren’t an abstraction of history but significant, serious moral issues that face me right now. Accepting a more “flawed” model of prophets puts one in a real bind in the modern church, at least someone like me who has strong moral feelings about gender and homosexuals etc. The bind is exacerbated by the doctrinal and cultural emphasis on following current leaders in all things. The irony here is that on a personal righteousness level, I believe that our current leaders leave BY and even JS in the dust. I have never once doubted not just their sincerity but the forthrightness, integrity and rectitude with which they live their lives. Yet they continually ask me to do and believe things I just can’t with good conscious often with the implied authority (though rarely expressly stated by them) of revelation. It is this that shakes my testimony, precisely because it isn’t ignorant of history and has tried to incorporate it seriously into my view of the gospel and the church. But doing so has left me marginalized and largely socially ostracized in the faith community I love. I don’t doubt the “ignorant testimonies” of my fellow saints. I think they are real. But every Sunday my faith is implicitly doubted as authentic and real. So I soldier on trying to believe that in the long arch of history somehow my conscience will be reconciled, but it really stings when I see my 11,9,7 and 5 yield marching in military cadence to “Follow the prophet, follow the prophet…”. Is my testimony authentic? Legitimate? You tell me. It certainly doesn’t feel like it and I certainly can’t share it in my new, orthodox foreign ward. Can a testimony you can’t share in church be called a testimony? You tell me.

  37. Howard on September 13, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    Very well considered and expressed rah!

  38. Lupine on September 13, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    Those who make proclamations about having testimonies that are independant or void of history, are not speaking with clarity. An LDS member that has a testimony that is indifferent, or ignorant of Mormon history, is a cultural testimony.

    A mormon testimony cannot simply be separated from the foundational claims of the church during the 1800’s. These things have to have taken place without ambiguity; God and Jesus appeared to Joseph. The angel Moroni directed Joseph to the golden plates. Peter, James, and John, as well as John the Baptist, appeared to Joseph and imparted priesthood auhtority to him. An angel took the gold plates from Joseph when he finished translating them. An angel with a flaming sword commanded Joseph to institute the practice of polygamy. Brigham Young, as Gods prophet, carried the priesthood keys of the restoration westward, with a succession down to todays prophet.

    A testimony that cannot embrace history is a cultural testimony. This is what comes with the religion of ones birth. Don’t tell me your belief can supercede history.

  39. tern on September 13, 2012 at 8:38 pm

    “Don’t tell me your belief can supercede history.”

    Don’t always believe what the historians say, either. They’re at least as falliable as the prophets. At some point, we have to make a conscious decision as to who to believe.

  40. Matthew on September 14, 2012 at 12:48 am

    All, great post and great discussion.

    John (23), I think I don’t agree with how you seem to interpet “amen to the Priesthood of that man.” Or maybe I just misunderstand you. Are you saying you think that when God says “amen” to someone’s priesthood that the ordinances they perform are no longer valid?

    If so, I don’t see why anyone need bother reading about Brigham Young to loose their testimony. Just look in that same section where we see that it is the nature and disposition of pretty much everyone to fall into the state. So if it is common to be in the state where God says “amen” to your Priesthood and if that means your priesthood ordinances aren’t valid, and if it takes a lineage of valid priesthood ordinances to have the priesthood (or valid temple ordinances) then it seems very few if anyone would end up having the priesthood/valid ordinances.

    This all leads me to think we probably haven’t hit on the right interpretation of that verse if this is where it lands us.

    Have I helped you out of your quandary?

  41. Cameron Nielsen on September 14, 2012 at 11:52 am

    Good point Matthew.

    I used to think that statement was one of finality. Now I think that just as one can prayer again after closing the previous prayer by saying, ‘Amen,’ one can return to Priesthood worthiness through repentance. But if nothing is changed or pride gets in the way of repentance, then it will never return.

  42. Steve Smith on September 14, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    Lupine (38), a couple of points.

    1. The church is best seen as a vehicle that organizes for us a set of beliefs and guidelines that help orient us toward divine principles of a godly society. Since there is no 1,2,3 formula for how to achieve a godly society, the vehicle has to do a great deal of exploration and experimentation. It is liable to go in directions that are not necessarily directly toward the principles of a divine society, due to both the degradation of the society itself or the poor decision-making of the institution. My point is that our testimony should be rooted more in the principles and in moving forward in the general direction of establishing sound principles than the vehicle itself. History should also be secondary in our testimonies as explained in the next point.

    2. History is not self-evident and does not speak for itself. Since we cannot personally witness every event that happens across time and space, we are reliant on others’ accounts along with our own interpretive framework to construct a narrative of what happened and how it happened. While some historical matters are quite clear and non-controversial (such as when the Empire State Building was built) other events in history are highly debated and can be interpreted in a variety of ways. For instance the question of the factors that led up to the American Civil War and how it occurred are still widely debated. Sometimes people recount things differently over time. For instance Joseph Smith recounted his First Vision experience a number of times in a number of ways. Many faithful historians are also in disagreement on a number of questions. To develop a testimony on some worldview of how history happened is an unsure foundation. It is liable to be easily shaken by exposure to different narratives and pieces of evidence. It is good to be open-minded about different interpretations of history. However, it is important to hold firm to principles.

  43. Lupine on September 14, 2012 at 9:01 pm

    Steve (42),

    your point #1 is quite vague, and disjointed. LDS truth claims are explicit. These claims are tied to very specific historical events.

    As to your point # 2, accurate history does speak for itself. If Turner’s biography is accurate, then it should not be dismissed. Your attempt to discredit history in general, is a sloppy attempt to dismiss yourself from the responsibility with regards to the study of it.

    It seems several posters want give themselves the benefit of having an informed testimony in the absence of real information. Being born into a specific religion does not equate to knowledge or testimony. Usually it means we have a high level of comfort from the familiar human relationships in that community. Many confuse that comfort and familiarity with a witness that the religion they were born into just happens to be Gods only church with his authority.

    That this book may be shocking to many gives no excuse to trample the purpose of history. Steve, your second point was intellectually dishonest.

  44. Steve Smith on September 14, 2012 at 10:28 pm

    Lupine, if history speaks for itself, then how come people disagree on how history has played out? You could claim that one person is being dishonest while the other is being honest, but then how would you determine that?

    I am not discrediting history, I am trying to acknowledge a simple reality of what history is: the telling of a story of the past using evidence to back up claims. But the simple truth is that the telling of the past is not so clean cut as you seem to think it is. The past isn’t necessarily contained in a selection of documents that are waiting to be uncovered, then copied, and then passed off as absolute truth. Historians have to evaluate how accurate documents inform us about a certain set of questions, and are left to select which evidence is most relevant and persuasive in answering these questions. Some histories are more persuasive than others. But our idea of what we thought was unassailable fact is constantly being challenged with new evidence and new historical paradigms.

    Since you are making the wild accusation of me being intellectually dishonest, I take it that you haven’t read much history, let alone church history. I would highly encourage you to read more history and dig deeper than you have previously dug. I think that you will find yourself surprised that as you as you do so, you will end up seeing, if not agreeing with, my point.

  45. Steve Smith on September 14, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    “If Turner’s biography is accurate, then it should not be dismissed.”

    OK then how are we to determine whether his biography is accurate or not? Do you see my point, Lupine?

  46. Lupine on September 15, 2012 at 8:47 pm

    Steve, I’ll start with your last comments first. You said:

    “If Turner’s biography is accurate, then it should not be dismissed.”

    OK then how are we to determine whether his biography is accurate or not? Do you see my point, Lupine?

    Many advanced copies of this work were distributed for critical review. Retail sales of Pioneer Prophet have been taking place for some time as well. At this point time there may very well 100 or more LDS apologists who have finished reading the work, for the sole purpose of exposing any grievous, or even not so grievous flaws. Information moves quickly online, especially when the subject has a fair amount of interest surrounding it.

    I don’t believe you have real reservations about the veracity of this book. We both know that in all likelihood, based on the initial reviews, this biography will stand as the most comprehensive and reliable piece on Brigham.

    Let me explain, with clarity, what you are “attempting” with your commentary. You are attempting to poison the well in a pre emptive effort to discourage the idea that anything meaningful gan be gained by the reading of this biography. Your position is identical to current leaders of the LDS church. This position is that if the history is not faith promoting, WE DO NOT TEACH IT. Supporting quotes are found below. First let me assure you that I am familiar with church history, we can remove that item of yours from the table right now.

    My duty as a member of the Council of the Twelve is to protect what is most unique about the LDS church, namely the authority of priesthood, testimony regarding the restoration of the gospel, and the divine mission of the Savior. Everything may be sacrificed in order to maintain the integrity of those essential facts. Thus, if Mormon Enigma reveals information that is detrimental to the reputation of Joseph Smith, then it is necessary to try to limit its influence and that of its authors. (Dallin Oaks, footnote 28, Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith: Psychobiography and the Book of Mormon, Introduction p. xliii)

    One who chooses to follow the tenets of his profession, regardless of how they may injure the Church or destroy the faith of those not ready for “advanced history,” is himself in spiritual jeopardy. If that one is a member of the Church, he has broken his covenants and will be accountable. After all of the tomorrows of mortality have been finished, he will not stand where be might have stood. (Boyd K. Packer, “The Mantle Is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect,” Brigham Young University Studies, Summer 1981)

    There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher Of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not. Some things that are true are not very useful. (Boyd K. Packer, “The Mantle Is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect,” Brigham Young University Studies, Summer 1981)

    The writer or the teacher who has an exaggerated loyalty to the theory that everything must be told is laying a foundation for his own judgment. He should not complain if one day he himself receives as he has given. Perhaps that is what is contemplated in having one’s sins preached from the housetops. (Boyd K. Packer, “The Mantle Is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect,” Brigham Young University Studies, Summer 1981)

    Some historians write and speak as though the only ones to read or listen are mature, experienced historians. They write and speak to a very narrow audience. Unfortunately, many of the things they tell one another are not uplifting, go fat beyond the audience they may have intended, and destroy faith. (Boyd K. Packer, “The Mantle Is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect,” Brigham Young University Studies, Summer 1981)

  47. Lupine on September 15, 2012 at 9:01 pm

    Steve,

    I have many more quotes from LDS leaders, all showing their disapproval of history that is not faith promoting. The issue is not the accuracy of such histories, but that teaching a history of the church that hurts testimonies, is not to be tolerated.

    Steve, you want to make this about unreliable history, when it is not, that is a red herring. The real issue is that the church we both belong to, has explicitly made the point that we do not teach anything that can shake a testimony. Your presence here is to cast doubt on a work that may not be uplifting for you and yours. Thats not my fault, nor anyone elses.

  48. Lupine on September 15, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    This is all getting a little long in the tooth. Shall I make your closing arguement for you, Steve?

    “How can we be sure of any historical event, as records and presentations are not guarantees of reliability. If someone studies the practice of polygamy within the church, no matter how exhaustive the endeavor, do they really have the whole story? If they truly want to know about the rightness or wrongness of this practice, they should ask God for a real answer.”

    Ok, would that work for you?

  49. Raymond Takashi Swenson on September 16, 2012 at 10:56 am

    I have come to appreciate more and more the importance of the fact that Church is largely led and taught by unpaid volunteers. Church service is not a path that anyone would choose to amass wealth or power. The fact that we can’t apply to be a bishop, stake president, or general authority takes away the whole concept of selfishness.

    One of the other things it does is give us experience in performing oyr service through a combination of our own imperfect personalities, our limited knowledge, but sustained by cooperation with others, by seeking for ibspiration, and by faith that the Lord will accomplish his purposes in spite of us. After you have had the experience of being inadequate to your calling, you gain some empathy for those who bear the greater burden of being called to lead the whole Church. They have always had the burden of the cuktural assumptions of their native cultures, the limits of their educations, their human emotions, just as we all do. What counts more is the simpke willingness to accept the job that God gives us, and not demand that he make us instantly smarter and insightful and loving and articulate.

    If God can put up woth my imperfections as I serve on the high council, I asdume he would give me the same couryesy if I were called to serve as a Seventy general authority. I remember how inadequate Spencer W. Kimball felt ehen he eas called to be an apostle. He found the main solace was his determonation to put all that he had into his calling.

    So the greatest lesson we have in appreciating the humanity of those called as prophets is our own experience in other Church callings. If we can be earnestly striving to magnify our callings, despite our imperfections, we should give the same benefit of the doubt to our leaders.

    Do ee have a testimony even without a comprehensive knowledge of Churvh history and the people involved? Alma Chapter 32 is a wonderful guide to the establishment of our testimonies as living things that respond to our faithful labor by yielding fruit of knowledge and purity, sweetness and joy. It is a lifelong endeavor, but it is just as true at the start as it will ever be.

    Hugh Nibley had a grandfather who served in the First Presidency, in a much smaller Church. His parents and many of the other people he grew up around had.known Brigham Young intimately, in ways that revealed all his fallabilities. But Nibley had no apparent difficulty in finding Brigham to be a man worth admiring, one who had mant things to teach modern Mormons about the issues that confront us a century after his death. Keeping Brigham in perspective means knowing the positive things about his works as well as those.that some find questionable, without an opportunity for him to defend himself.

    Tgere is a statement made about Brigham by one of the other Brethren (George Q. Cannon?) that tells people in the settled regions of the East that part of their difficulty in understanding him is that he is a different kind of man responding to a diffetent environment. He is not parade sword, but a Bowie knife, a useful multi-purpose blade.

    Perhaps on reflection, some of Brigham’s shortcomings from our sophisticated 21st Century perspective were traits that enabled him to carry out his mission of turning a Mormon City into a commonwealth, one that has served as the root for a great expansion of the Church around the world.

    If we balance our teading of Turner with our reading of Nibley on Brigham, and with the more spiritual discourses, and with his personal correspondence to his sons, and a visit to the Beehive House, and to the temples he helped build, then our testimonies will include a witness of how wonderful things can be accompkished by imperfect persons, and then ask ourselves what oyr capacity is to pasd judgment on Brigham when our own work is unlikely to ever equal what he did for the Church and its members.

  50. jader3rd on September 16, 2012 at 11:33 am

    #14 Michael H,
    That reminds me of something a missionary roommate of mine said once. After a day of tracting he started to think about how great it was that we were bringing the Book of Mormon to people vs. the Bible. Imagine what the door step pitch would be if people had the Book of Mormon and we were bringing the Bible to them. “Here’s a book that’s an uncoordinated mesh of different prophets over a period of 2000 years, that’s inconsistent with itself and isn’t even translated correctly.”

  51. Steve Smith on September 16, 2012 at 10:04 pm

    Lupine, I’m not sure where you’re getting the idea that I am trying to discredit Turner’s biography or that I believe that we should read only faith-promoting history. Neither of those claims are true.

    I am simply disagreeing with your assertion that people’s beliefs “can’t supersede history.” History is already written on the basis of a belief about the past anyway and is highly subjective.

    Bottom line: since history is subjective, church leaders should be more tolerant of members’ different views of history, and should help orient them toward developing a testimony that is rooted in principles of good living (i.e. I have a testimony of the values of service, sacrifice, and selflessness and/or I have a believe in the LDS church’s mission of strengthening families and the community) rather than a particular historical narrative (i.e. I “know” that the Book of Mormon was an ancient text).

  52. Snyderman on September 17, 2012 at 9:13 am

    Steve (51), I wonder if a “testimony that is rooted in principles of good living” can really be sustained. I think Lupine hints at this in comment #38–though later comments get confusing–but how would such a testimony distinguish the Church from other religions and philosophies? Every religion/ideology/philosphy teaches principles of good living, most of which are remarkably similar to ours. Some may even be better.

    Thus, if that’s what my testimony is rooted in, what do I do when I come across another religion that teaches better principles of good living? If principles of good living are what make a religion “true,” wouldn’t I then have to admit that this other religion is more true (and thus switch religions)?

    I think this is what Lupine was getting at. It is important to have a testimony of principles of good living, but they are not what distinguish us from other religions. What distinguishes us is Priesthood authority, the authority to perform saving ordinances here on the Earth. And the Priesthood authority is very much rooted in the historicity of the Church. And this leads to a kind of difficulty, which I briefly lay out in my comment #27.

    This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be more tolerant of differing views of history, because there really is much uncertainty when it comes to history. At the same time, however, can a testimony that isn’t at least partially rooted in the history of the Church really be sustained? I’m not so sure. But perhaps there’s something I’m not considering, which is always possible.

  53. Cameron N on September 17, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Snyderman – I think by ‘good living’ he means obedience to restored covenants and scripture as well. And if he does, then I wholeheartedly agree. The Savior said in essence ‘If any man will live my teachings, then he will know they are true.’ Thus, people like Laman and Lemuel and my family member who harden their hearts in pride and refuse to experiment on the Gospel will never know, no matter how many witnesses they receive that aren’t related to their ‘good living.’

    We define good living as more than most do.

  54. Steve Smith on September 17, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    Snyderman (52), “but how would such a testimony distinguish the Church from other religions and philosophies?” The church’s structure and heritage in and of themselves are distinct enough from other churches. And I think that these aspects are deep enough that the church doesn’t need to stress a particular historical belief about the Book of Mormon or its past leaders so much. Already it seems to be transitioning. Now it seems that members are rather free to believe (even publicly) what they will about evolution or the literalness of Old Testament stories without raising too many eyebrows. I don’t know if I have ever heard anyone bear testimony about the Old Testament being “true” as a literal history.

    My main points are that testimony should be more orthopraxy-based rather than orthodoxy-based and that the church should leave questions of history more open-ended. Similarly the question of the LDS being “the one true church” should also be left to be open-ended, as that issue is strongly related to a particular version of history. Hopefully this way people won’t get so shocked or defensive when stumbling upon the more controversial details of church history and be able to understand that history is a complex matter wherein both critics and apologists may make some valid points, but that historical belief and faith/testimony are really separate matters.

    Cameron N, yes, obedience to covenants would be an important part of testimony, although I can’t say that I am very keen on philosophies that strongly define boundaries of “self” and “other.” So I am reluctant to quickly label certain types who won’t be part of the church whatever reasons as “prideful” or as Lamans and Lemuels. In actuality a wide range of lifestyles may represent “good living.” And I believe that the aim of the church hasn’t been to proclaim different lifestyles or belief systems as wrong per se, but to try to persuade them that the church much to offer, which, if they accept, may enhance their lives greatly.

  55. Snyderman on September 17, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    Steve (54), certainly there are things that can be questioned. I myself find arguments against the literalness of the Bible more compelling. I also find arguments in support of evolution more compelling. My question is whether there comes a point when we’ve gone too far. How much of the histories of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young can I question? Can I still find the Church to be “true” if, for example, I start believing that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young are fictional characters (much like many compellingly argue Job is)?

    I would feel very odd testifying, “I know the Church is true, because we serve people,” or, “I know the Church is true, because it teaches us to obey our covenants.” It seems to me that most, if not all, churches do that. (Just as a side note, I hate the phrase “I know the Church is true,” but used it here because it seemed the most appropriate.) Now, it may very well be that I’m misunderstanding this point, but this seems to me to be what you’re advocating.

    Essentially, Steve, I feel like you might be going too far in the other direction. There are definite difficulties with certain understandings and perceptions of history, but I don’t think saying history is unimportant is the correct way to go. I guess I view the Church as an entity that grows, learns, and matures much like an individual does. I don’t think the Church is what it is without its history. Thus, while I’m not sure I completely agree with the statement, “The Church is true because of its history,” neither am I completely comfortable with the statement, “The Church is true in spite of its history.” I think the statement, “The Church is true with its history,” might be the most accurate way of expressing how I think about it. Mostly because the Church isn’t without its history.

    I think about myself, and I am who I am partly because of my “history,” partly in spite of it, but mostly with it.

  56. Steve Smith on September 18, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    Snyderman (55), indeed history is important. But unlike justice, charity, and self-discipline, it is not an eternal principle and shouldn’t be something on which to base a testimony. Whereas our visions of true justice and charity can be informed by living and human interaction, our knowledge of history can only be informed by data and analysis.

    Yes there are other organizations that encourage people to live good lives. But the LDS church, even without its historical claims, has a distinct flavor to it that is quite unlike any other place in its organization and structure. I find it interesting that many LDS faithfuls aren’t even that well acquainted with church history or even the Book of Mormon. Church fills a social and spiritual need for them, not an intellectual need. The statements that “I know the church is true” or “I know the BOM is true” are in reality mimicry of what they hear others say, but don’t truly reflect a deep analysis of the church or the BOM. But we can’t solve historical conundrums merely by having people pray about things and come to a consensus. If that were the case, then how come the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency have historically been in disagreement over issues regarding church history, policy, and doctrine? Why did many disagree with Bruce R. McConkie’s belief that the Catholic church was the church of the devil and keep his first edition of Mormon Doctrine from being published? How was it that Spencer W. Kimball was convinced that Mark Hoffman’s forgeries were valuable contributions to LDS church history? Why have church leaders stressed reconciliation so much in how church history is presented if everything is so clearly “true?”

    In reality our historical memories, even of our own individual lives, are often selective and may not represent a full picture. Understanding the full historical picture requires both copious amounts of evidence and a well-honed interpretive framework. I don’t pray to God to know what the true causes of the US Civil War (slavery vs. states’ rights) were or to know who killed JFK or even to know if the Quran is the word of God alongside other scriptures. I pray to God for strength to grow in virtue and use the church as a vehicle to come closer to God, but not inform my knowledge of history.

  57. Steve Smith on September 18, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    Also on the idea that one can go too far with belief, can they? There is a fellow, John Pratt, who is an astronomer at UVU and used to write for Meridian Magazine, who asserted that future events could be predicted with a bible code. By arranging the Hebrew letters from Old Testament passages in a square and doing diagonal, vertical, and horizontal word searches, we could inform ourselves of future events. Dwayne Crowther has written a large number of books in which he uses the Old Testament to predict the future. Joel Skousen uses LDS scriptures as evidence to back up a number of fantastic conspiracy ranging from 9/11 to JFK. Yet all of these people are accepted as LDS members in good standing.

    We can entertain thoughts without accepting them. Also some theories will gain more traction than others among the LDS community. Bible code type stuff has its audience, but many steer clear from it. But you see, I don’t pray, nor have I ever been encouraged to pray, to know if the Bible Code is true. In fact I vehemently disagree with the ideas of these men, but still am willing to include them in the community.

  58. Suleiman on September 30, 2012 at 11:30 pm

    Maybe it is time that we stopped the “hero-worship” of historical figures and started worshiping God. I admire some of the prophets, but wouldn’t in my wildest dreams assume they were anything more than imperfect human beings, each of which possessed attributes nad committed foibles that would make headlines ranging from silly to scandalous. We just can’t strip away their humanity… and remember, they needed a Savior too.

  59. Richard Caldwell on October 1, 2012 at 7:27 am

    Great comment by Suleiman. Why the hero worship? These were men called of God. This does not change them being human. Moses and Paul are examples of the imperfect man. Are Christians to consider leaving their faith because Peter denied Christ three times? I welcome a more open dialogue of those that worked and died in the restoration and the continuation of the building up of the kingdom of God.