a great testimony meeting

By: shenpa warrior
November 10, 2010

Last Sunday during testimony meeting a fellow ward member said rather plainly that he did not know if the church is true. He described his disagreement with some of the talks in the recent General Conference, and expressed some concern about if he had a place in the church.

Can you see this happening in your ward?

Honestly I was a little concerned for how people were going to take this. Were the next ten people going to get up and invalidate everything he said? Telling him just to pray and read more and find out the truth? Would the bishop turn off the mic?

I felt a little awkward — not for what the member was saying. I LOVED that he spoke up not only for himself, but gave voice to others in the ward who may feel alone regarding their quality of orthodoxy. I felt awkward because I assumed there had to be some so-called “CES types” (you know, the kinds who feel that Richard Bushman is an apostate).

The next member that got up praised the first one for his questioning, and expressed that while matters of belief were not his concern, keeping in line with the commandments were. No one else mentioned this first member until the Bishop got up near the end. I like the bishop, but still wondered how this would go.

He did not fail to impress.

He said that this member DID have a place in the ward, and that Mormons have always been a “questioning people” since the days of Joseph Smith. He said there are also many questions for which we don’t have the answers.

That was it. We sang the closing hymn, and the meeting was over.

After the meeting I started wondering why I felt awkward in the first place. It wasn’t the content of the meeting. I think I was worried for some kind of boogyman ultra-fundy-ortho-antiacademic who was going to rise up and berate us all for our borderline apostasy. It didn’t happen.

I had a huge realization the next day. Much of my fear of how members may treat each other comes in concentrated doses of unfortunate examples described on the Internet. Real life, however, is so much more nuanced, filled with many types of people, church members included.

I have let my church experience be influenced too much by the Internet. From disgruntled ex-Mormons to “when an apostle speaks the thinking has been done” types who view the Constitution as the fourth member of the Godhead (I have a few acquaintances who fit this mold… at least on facebook) and don’t think twice about beating you over the head with it. I have let avatars and permas and commentors and their stories unduly influence my here-and-now experience on Sunday. Of course bad things happen. People can be insensitive or even hurtful. I can only speak from my experience, but real church has been better than the virtual one.

To my fellow ward member, Glenn, I don’t care if we have different views or not. Your words made more room for everyone. We were all edified. You have a place in the church. Certainly in our ward.

Stay tuned for a guest post this afternoon, when Glenn describes his experience!

Tags: , ,

40 Responses to a great testimony meeting

  1. Niklas on November 10, 2010 at 5:03 AM

    Glenn did talk of this already in http://mormonexpression.com/blogs/

    It’s quite interesting to hear what people (or at least one person) in the congregation were thinking. I think my reaction would had been quite similar to yours, I’m not sure though if it is because of Internet.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  2. Jon Miranda on November 10, 2010 at 5:55 AM

    At the same time, you don’t want to possibly derail someone’s newly emerging testimony such as a new member. You really should be careful with this. Then again, when the bishop opens up the floor for testimonies, you never know what people are going to say.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  3. Dan on November 10, 2010 at 7:03 AM

    I have let my church experience be influenced too much by the Internet.

    So what are you still doing on the internet? ;)

    Like this comment? Thumb up 2

  4. Andrew S on November 10, 2010 at 7:16 AM

    re 2:

    Jon, but the question arises…if the events that occurred (e.g., historical events, past and present practices and policies, and comments made by General Authorities) happened for everyone, then they have the same potential to derail someone’s newly emerging testimony any way.

    Saying that someone in testimony meeting “really should be careful with this,” is problematic, because they are just responding to what leaders and the church have actually said or done.

    Or do you believe that church leaders should ALSO “really be careful” with the possibility of derailing someone’s newly emerging testimony?

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  5. Jon on November 10, 2010 at 7:17 AM

    Yeah, I’ve noticed that we are all a little more hard core on the internet than in real life. At least speaking for myself I would say that’s true.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 2

  6. Jon Miranda on November 10, 2010 at 7:18 AM

    Andrew:
    You just have to be as careful as possible. You never know how your words or actions will influence someone else. For example, it’s easy to be anonymous on the internet and post basically anything you want. You don’t know how someone is going to interpret what you say or do even if done anonymously.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  7. Troth Everyman on November 10, 2010 at 7:46 AM

    I imagine that if the bishop had taken a “ultra-fundy-ortho-antiacademic” stance in his response it probably would have been worse for those just gaining a testimony than the inclusive message that was sent. Setting the tent posts wide isn’t a testimony downer but rather a builder IMHO.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  8. Glenn on November 10, 2010 at 7:48 AM

    Niklas — thanks for the shout out to the Mormon Expression post. I’m planning on writing a follow-up to Adam’s post here that flushes out more of the reactions from the ward members as my guest post here.

    Jon — one of those reactions came from a guy who is currently investigating the church. Wait for it…. (but I will say in response to the above that you are right, you have to be extremely careful always, and nothing makes a person or group look better than plain open honesty, even when it makes you look bad)

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  9. Jared on November 10, 2010 at 10:20 AM

    I’m glad to hear how supportive the members and the bishop were to the questioning member.

    It would be interesting to know how the ward would react if a member shared a testimony about an angel appearing to them.

    Chances are the questioning member would be better received.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 2

  10. Jon Miranda on November 10, 2010 at 10:42 AM

    If you got up and said that an angel had appeared to you, you would be put in a straitjacket and taken away.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  11. adamf on November 10, 2010 at 10:55 AM

    Jared – why do you think that may be the case?

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  12. N. on November 10, 2010 at 10:58 AM

    I will always be grateful to my father when he stood up in testimony meeting and said “I don’t *know* that the church is true; but I believe a lot of it and it’s made me better, so it’s ok that I don’t *know*. That’s good enough for me and for God as far as I can tell.”

    From disgruntled ex-Mormons to “when an apostle speaks the thinking has been done” types

    These are the same type of people, but they don’t know it or admit it.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  13. diane on November 10, 2010 at 11:05 AM

    Adam

    Great Post:

    I am also having trouble with my testimony because of recent events. I chose not to go to church Sunday, I did however, listen to BYU-TV where there was an old church service and a devotional dealing with Anger and Hurt(as it related to marriage) and how to deal with it more effectively. Though the devotional was talking about Anger and Hurt from a marriage perspective. I think I learned alot more from watching those two episodes than I ever could have by going to church. That doesn’t mean that I’m still not questioning my testimony, But, I feel validated that I am allowed to have my feelings and to process them according to my own time.

    I think the internet provide a safe place for people to voice their concerns. Its’ much easier to “talk” to someone you don’t know and have no real vested interest in you what so ever, except for the fact that we share the restored Gospel.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 3

  14. brjones on November 10, 2010 at 11:06 AM

    #9 – This is an interesting issue, Jared. I suspect one reason this is so is that the church is no longer really a pentecostal religion in any meaningful way. There was a time in the church that such a statement would not have raised eyebrows. However, when you have the very prophet of the church stating that even he doesn’t receive visions, but receives revelation by the still small voice, it’s hard to expect that members are going to accept that a garden variety member is legitimately having more intense interactions with divinity than the prophet. The church has made a pretty concerted effort to move away from this type of thing and I don’t think acceptance of those types of experiences is going to be coming back.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  15. Andrew S on November 10, 2010 at 11:43 AM

    re 6:

    Jon M, so is your “you just have to be careful” also addressed to the General Authorities? Especially since their words reach far more people and they also “don’t know how someone is going to interpret what” they say?

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  16. Paul on November 10, 2010 at 11:48 AM

    “Real life, however, is so much more nuanced, filled with many types of people, church members included”

    True.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  17. Jared on November 10, 2010 at 1:29 PM

    #11 Adam–

    I think there are many reasons. The first on my list is identified by Moroni at the end of the Book of Mormon. The last pages of his work would probably address those things he thought the most important to write to the gentiles. Regarding the gifts of God he said:

    …if the day cometh that the power and gifts of God shall be done away among you, it shall be because of unbelief.

    (Book of Mormon | Moroni 10:24)

    Prosperity if not carefully handled by the saints leads to unbelief (Helaman 12:2). As unbelief grows, those who profess to belong to Christ’s church, begin to question the inspiration and authority of the apostles and prophets.

    Alma the younger left the judgment-seat to devote himself to the ministry. He traveled out among church members to “pull down, by the word of God, all the pride and craftiness and all the contentions which were among his people…” see Alma 4 and 5.

    It may be that we are starting into a similar dilemma, especially in the USA.

    I don’t think the gifts of God are gone among the saints, but I do think the gifts have diminished considerably.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  18. AdamF on November 10, 2010 at 1:33 PM

    Jared – So, you’re saying that if someone in testimony meeting described an experience seeing an angel, it would not be received well, in comparison to a member expressing doubt, and that this comparison is helpful in showing how the prophecies of people losing faith in the BoM is happening in the U.S.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  19. Jared on November 10, 2010 at 1:39 PM

    #14 bjones–

    I agree with some of your points. However, I suspect that the GA’s experience more than they are willing to share.

    Dallin Oaks gave a talk titled, Miracles that I think is revealing and clearly settles the issue for me. The link follows

    http://lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?hideNav=1&locale=0&sourceId=0371759235d0c010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  20. Jared on November 10, 2010 at 1:45 PM

    AdamF–

    Yes, I think that is one purpose of the Book of Mormon.

    31 Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father, because of his imperfection, neither them who have written before him; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been.

    (Book of Mormon | Mormon 9:31)

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  21. Troth Everyman on November 10, 2010 at 1:55 PM

    Nice reflection Adam. :o)

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  22. AdamF on November 10, 2010 at 1:58 PM

    TE – I learned from the best! ;)

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  23. brjones on November 10, 2010 at 2:23 PM

    #19 – Jared, my point wasn’t so much to say that those things don’t happen anymore, as much to say that the church has intentionally distanced itself from such activities and behaviors. I guess it’s up to each person to decide what that means, but there’s no question that the church used to embrace the pentecostal nature of the faith, and it absolutely does not anymore, even among the brethren. Perhaps the prophets have as many visions as ever before. That just begs the question of why the brethren made a decision to not only stop emphasizing such experiences, but to essentially begin denying that they take place. Interesting question.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  24. Paul on November 10, 2010 at 2:24 PM

    #9 I have not heard anyone speak of angelic visitations, but I have certainly heard of folks openly discussing incredible miracles (of healing, of testimony, of circumstance) in testimony meeting. Those seem to have been accepted well. Re: #19, this is my impression, as well, that General Authorities do not always share all they have experienced. I have attended a meeting in which Elder Packer stated that very fact.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  25. mh on November 10, 2010 at 2:26 PM

    I wonder what the reaction would be if the same thing happened in utah. I also agree with jared that if someone stated they had seen an angel, it wouldn’t be received well. (didn’t the lafferties see an angel before they murdered people?)

    I suspect that every ward and bishop would react differently. I wonder if wards outside of utah are more accepting of unorthodoxy than utah mormons. my bishop has said to me that there are so many members here that it is easy to replace an unorthodox member with an orthodox member, and they do. (we generally have more than 400 in sac mtg. I would be surprised to see wards outside utah that were this large.)

    it sounds like you and glenn have a great bishop.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  26. Paul on November 10, 2010 at 2:31 PM

    I do recall a testimony meeting in which a member of another ward stood, referenced a catholic saint known for interpreting dreams and talked about his own ability to interpret dreams, and he offered to do so for anyone there if they like (presumably after the meeting).

    I was bishop at the time. My counselor kept looking at me, wondering if I wanted to pull the plug on this guy. But since the stake president’s second counselor was on the stand, I did not do anything.

    At the end of the meeting, I bore my testimony that each of us is entitled to receive our own personal revelation and that we do not need to use intermediaries for that purpose.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  27. Testimony Time, Part II | Wheat and Tares on November 10, 2010 at 3:01 PM

    [...] Adam, for the kind words and the introduction.  Since I have already described the content of my testimony and my immediate reasons for giving [...]

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  28. Cowboy on November 10, 2010 at 4:13 PM

    I think the Ward has a lot to do with this. I have been in Wards where I think this type of confession would be much better recieved than the Ward I am currently in.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  29. GBSmith on November 10, 2010 at 4:55 PM

    I have this recollection of Elder McConkie saying the a testimony properly born had to contain four elements, God lives, Jesus is the Christ, Joseph Smith was a prophet and that the church is true. For awhile years ago I recall that being strongly advised and anything that differed was discouraged. Anyone recall something similar?

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  30. hawkgrrrl on November 10, 2010 at 4:57 PM

    GBSmith – I carry a big grain of salt in my pocket for admonitions like this one. If we’re supposed to read E. McConkie’s testimony, then why not just tape a copy to the pulpit for us to read? Oh yeah, not necessary as many just trot out rote phrases anyway. Mission accomplished.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  31. deb on November 10, 2010 at 5:31 PM

    We are SUPPOSED to be a questioing people! I’m glad this member was not shut down, becasue sheep-like thinking doesn’t faciliate the gospel. I like what Pres Uchdorft said in a CES fireside:

    <<>

    here is a link to it

    http://www.nothingwavering.org/post/16405/2009-11-12/pres-uchtdorf-is-it-all-right-to-have-questions-about-the-church-or-its-doctrine.html

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  32. Jeff Spector on November 10, 2010 at 10:36 PM

    I think the episode that Adam describes is more accurate picture of how a ward functions than some other more critical stories I’ve read.

    I think most Ward members are more sympathetic to a questioning or struggling ward member than the things we’ve heard on the internet might lead one to believe.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  33. Mike S on November 10, 2010 at 11:01 PM

    I love this post. I think that most people have questions about some aspect of the church with which they disagree.

    People don’t give testimonies like this very often because:

    1) It doesn’t follow the standard format of a testimony as given by BRM and others. People therefore think it’s not acceptable

    2) We were taught as missionaries to just repeat a testimony over and over as if it were true, and someday it would be true

    3) We generally (at least in Utah) don’t really show too many signs of weakness in public. Perhaps it’s the English and Scandinavian stoicism which many original settlers brought with them. Perhaps it’s something engendered by the culture of the Church. But it is what it is.

    I hope that someday I have the courage to give my “testimony”, as it won’t include the word “know”. “Hope” and “faith” and “fellowman”, absolutely. But I don’t “know” much in this world.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  34. Badger on November 11, 2010 at 2:08 AM

    I was once in a meeting in which a young (but adult) man described a vision of God the Father, in a dream. I do think it was more awkward than a doubting testimony from an otherwise “regular” member. However, the response was passive: it seemed everybody was pretending they hadn’t heard it and hoping it wouldn’t come up again. My interpretation was that it was hard for the rest of us to give it the same significance as the speaker, but at the same time, nobody wanted to have to say so and risk anything like open disagreement.

    I think the same mechanism would go to work if someone expressed strong disbelief rather than just doubt. Possibly in a public setting someone would feel a duty to respond, but I’ve certainly seen, for example, a very noticeable change in atmosphere when a “slacking” member began responding to some frankly pushy efforts to encourage greater participation by saying, “yes, well, I’ve recently decided to go inactive”. It was a real conversation stopper. Was he offended? Bitter? Might he explode like some kind of anti-Mormon bomb? OK, I’m attributing thoughts to other people and exaggerating, but I do think there was a hint of that sort of uneasiness.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  35. Paul on November 11, 2010 at 3:17 AM

    33 – The Utah lens may make a difference here. Out here in the hinterlands we certainly get a wide variety of testimonies. And yes, we’ve been taught about what constitutes a testimony (though somehow I missed the BRM formula somewhere along the way), but I have still heard the pentecostal convert sister praise Jesus, heard many say they believe instead of know, and heard plenty of children.

    I think Jeff 32 is right that the wards I’ve been in would tend to be accepting.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  36. Glenn on November 11, 2010 at 7:39 AM

    #33/34 — You are right — the message and the delivery are key. My wife, in this same ward just six years earlier sort of attacked the “I know” part of testimony baring. “You can’t know — no one can know — and if you say you know, I won’t even believe you.” Words to that effect. She didn’t ‘mean’ to be hostile, just really wishing to get to that language of faith/hope/belief rather than certainty/knowledge — but her remarks did stir up the orthodox rebuttles that Adam was afraid he would see in the wake of my comments this past Sunday.

    And yet here, six years later, I could stand before several of this same group (it’s a student ward, so it is largely a new crop) and say a similar thing with a much better response — but a lot of that is in the delivery (I hope) and the message — the focus on christ — because how can you really argue with or get upset about a focus on christ.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  37. hawkgrrrl on November 11, 2010 at 8:56 AM

    I do agree that unorthodox testimonies are more common outside the MoCo. In my home ward in PA we had a “praise be to Jesus” pentacostal convert, and loads from other faith traditions who expressed themselves accordingly (using the language of their old faith) in their newfound faith. I’ve also heard plenty of not-members-but-attending-regularly type testimonies (not usually an expression of belief so much as curiosity and gratitude) or ex-members possibly coming back. And in my current ward an investigator has been up a few times to “sing” her testimony. All have been accepted.

    I think the distinction here is when one of “us” like Glenn, who knows the “lingo” and the expectations deliberately sets those aside in favor of authenticity. It’s like someone giving a short, simple prayer in GC (or like that would be if it ever happened). It’s refreshing and people will rally.

    People respond to authenticity and positive words. Getting up to refute things makes people squirm, no matter which side is being refuted. It’s church – we all just want to get along!

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  38. [...] the causes). Starting with the positive stories about Mormonism, there’s some wiggle-room in testimony meeting and seminary for those members who aren’t just reading from the church-approved manual, so to [...]

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  39. Rock Waterman on November 15, 2010 at 3:20 AM

    Great story! About time someone stood up and honestly expressed his uncertainty rather than the usual where each is trying to top the others with how certain he is to “know” what is truth.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  40. [...] show. Once upon a time, Glenn (whom you may remember from his edgy testimony as reported by himself or by Adam F) wrote a guest post here about making belief and having hope. I was skeptical about what he could [...]

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

Leave a Reply

Subscribe without commenting

Archives

%d bloggers like this: