If I Were In Charge: Make “I Believe” As Valid As “I Know” In Testimonies

by: Mike S

May 24, 2011

“Brothers and Sisters.  I’d like to bear my testimony.  I don’t know this Church is true…” Have you ever heard a testimony like this?  And what would you think if someone got up next Fast Sunday and started their testimony like that?  Before getting into what a testimony like this might really be saying, I want to discuss one simple word – “KNOW”.

In my medical training, we had a professor who would quiz the newest medical students, interns and residents.  He would put up a film (back before everything was digital and on a computer) and ask you what you saw.  The typical response was something like, “The x-ray shows a broken femur.”  Before you could go on, he would stop you and ask you if you could actually see x-rays.  When you responded that you couldn’t, he would have you start again and clarify what you meant.  You could say “The x-ray film shows…” or “The radiograph shows…”, correctly stating what you actually saw.  This may sound somewhat petty, but there was a perfectly valid point.  As he taught us, “Clarity of speech reflects clarity of thought.” He taught us that we need to be precise when describing something in medicine and more importantly, we needed to understand clearly what we were talking about if we were going to be taking care of patients.  And if you didn’t know something, don’t make something up but just say, “I don’t know.”  We all learned this lesson very quickly – perhaps because this was often done in a large auditorium before 30-50 other doctors and other medical personnel.

This appealed to me, because precision in speech has always been important to me.  For example, as I dated various people before I got married, the words “I love you” meant quite a bit, so I never really said them.  I actually married the first person for whom I had strong enough emotions to actually say “I love you”, and we are celebrating our 18th anniversary next month.

So, what does the word “know” mean?  What do we “know”? In reality, I know very little.

There are some things that I think I know, but really don’t.  In medicine, in any given situation, I do what I think is the best option for a patient.  For example, I replace ACLs in the knee using a particular combination of graft, fixation devices and technique, as I think it’s the best way to do it given all of the different variables.  But do I “know” it’s the best way?  I don’t know.  I do know I have done this procedure nearly 1000 times this way and have seen great results.  But there are other surgeons at my same hospital who do the same surgery different ways, and they get great results as well.  So do I “know” my way is best?  Should I try to convince them that mine is the only way to do ACLs?  Maybe – maybe not?

There are other areas where I am more comfortable using the word “know”.  I know the sun will come up tomorrow because I understand why it appears to rise.  It has happened exactly the same way every day my entire life.  It is entirely predictable, not only for me for for every single other person I have ever encountered.  Granted, there may be a day when it is cloudy and I can’t see the sun directly, but it still gets light.  I understand that there are theoretical ways the sun might NOT come up.  A planetary catastrophe may happen and stop the rotation of the earth.  Or else something may cause the sun to either collapse and stop shining, or explode.  I can’t even fathom what may cause any of these, so unless something completely outside the realm of my experience happens, I can reasonably say I know the sun will come up tomorrow.

So how does this pertain to religion?  What does it take to “know” that something is true like we hear on Fast Sunday?  It is possible in the same sense that I know that the Sun will come up tomorrow?  Is it possible to “prove” something to the extent that we “know” it is true?  What does it mean to “know” a religious truth?

To look at this, consider the Book of Mormon as an example.  President Hinckley taught that the whole foundation of the Church rests upon that book.  So, how can we “know” the Book of Mormon is true?   Can it be proven archeologically?  Probably not, at least at this point.  There isn’t really any archeological evidence that anything in it took place.  There are some sites that people suggest might represent Bountiful in the Old World.  Others suggest that this is overreaching.   Conversely, some people point out things like elephants and horses as evidence that the Book of Mormon is false.  But others suggest that absence of evidence is not the same as negative evidence.  So archeology likely isn’t the way to “know” the Book of Mormon is true.

On my mission, we used Moroni 10:3-5 as a way to help people “know” the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.  In these verses, Moroni tells us that if we read the Book of Mormon and pray with real intent that we will know that it is true.  We are also told that we “may know the truth of all things.”  But how does this work?  In my life, I have read the Book of Mormon probably 15 times.  I have followed Moroni’s promise and prayed about it probably 100 times.  This included as a child raised in the church, as a youth in seminary, in my Book of Mormon class at BYU, on my mission, while serving in a number of various callings, etc.  I prayed as sincerely as anyone could have prayed.  But in all this, I have never received an answer where I can say that I “know” it is true.  And I have seen this happen many times in other people.  As opposed to the sun rising every day, Moroni’s promise seems to work sometimes and doesn’t seem to work other times.  It seems somewhat unpredictable.

So how else can I “know” the Book of Mormon is true?  I HAVE felt good feelings when I have read it.  I HAVE felt the Spirit confirm passages of truth that resonate with my soul.  Perhaps this is the answer.  Perhaps this is what I need to “know” that the Book of Mormon is true with all that implies.  But, I have felt the exact same feelings when I have read the Qu’ran.  I have felt the same when I have read the Bhagavad Gita.  I have been profoundly moved when reading the Dhammapada.  Does this mean that Islam is true AND Hinduism is true AND Buddhism is true.  I feel the exact same feelings reading all of those as I do when I read the Book of Mormon.

So, can I say I “know” the Book of Mormon is true?  I honestly don’t know.  And the same goes for many other things in the religious world.  A testimony of God, of Christ, of Joseph Smith, of the Church, etc.  Maybe, for many people, they just don’t “know”.  But is this a bad thing?  Maybe we don’t need to “know”.  Maybe relying on faith is enough.

Most people would consider Mother Teresa as close to God as anyone.  She devoted her life to God and to ministering to the least fortunate among us.  But as described in a recent book, she experienced a “dark night of the soul” for decades.  She felt like she didn’t even know if God was there for her.  Consider her words:

Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.
— Mother Teresa to the Rev. Michael Van Der Peet, September 197

Mother Teresa could not say “I know” but lived by faith. And this is not unique to Mother Teresa.  People commonly express frustration with not being able to “know” that God loves them, that the Church is true, or many other areas.  Consider this recent post by Derek on FMH.  There are hundreds of other people who have also posted how they feel inadequate because they can’t say “I know”.  There are many others who feel that they are “less” of a member because of this.  On any given Fast Sunday, it seems that the same 15 people always get up.  Is this because they are the only ones who like to speak?  Is this because they are the most spiritual?  Or is this because they are the ones who are comfortable saying “I know”?  Is there a silent majority who can’t say “I know”?  I don’t have an answer to this, but it is worth at least considering.

As per this series, there are a number of practices in our Church that have the potential to turn people off or serve as a wedge.  The practice of saying “I know” in place of “I believe” may be part of the vernacular for many people, but for many others, the inability to say “I know” creates a very real feeling of inadequacy and of not belonging.

For some, saying “I Know” in a testimony is a “Sacred Molehill.”  I would make “I Believe” equally as valid.

  • I would eliminate the practice of young children getting up and saying “Iwanttobearmytestimonyand IknowthisChurchistrue andIknowtheBookofMormonisttrue andIsaythesethingsinthenameofJesusChristAmen” as someone whispers it in their ear.  Some people may think it is cute, but in my opinion, it cheapens the meaning of the word “know”.
  • I would give a talk in General Conference where I would repeat D&C 46:13-14 where it says that some are given to “know”, while others are given to “believe on their words” – implying that not everyone needs to “know”.
  • I would give a talk in General Conference reminding everyone that when Joseph Smith wrote what became the Articles of Faith, he used “We believe” and not “We know”.
  • I would give a talk in General Conference reminding us that we are to live by FAITH, which is NOT the same as knowledge.
  • I would give a talk in General Conference and bear my testimony – “Brothers and Sisters.  I’d like to bear my testimony.  I don’t know that the Church is true.  I don’t know that the Book of Mormon is true.  I’ve never seen God or Jesus Christ.  But … I do believe in God.  I hope that by the way I am living my life that I am showing my faith in Jesus Christ as my Savior.  I am thankful for the truth that I have found in the Book of Mormon and in all of the other scriptures that we enjoy.  I am thankful for prophets like Joseph Smith who touched the divine and who brought back messages to help us be better people.  I have been blessed tremendously by God in my life and I hope to be able to share these blessings with others.  I am privileged to call you my brothers and sisters and hope that we can all someday be together with God in the world to come.  In the name of ….”

I would Make “I Believe” As Valid As “I Know”.



  • Do you hear many testimonies that don’t say “I know” in your ward?

  • What does it mean when someone feels the same feelings when reading the Book of Mormon as they do when reading the Qu’ran or some other scripture?  Does the spirit confirm “truth” where ever it occurs?  And, if so, how can that person say they “know” one book is true but the other one is not?

  • Could you picture a bishop of a ward who couldn’t say “I KNOW this Church is true” or “I KNOW the Book of Mormon is true”?  A stake president?  A General Authority?

  • How about a missionary or a mission president who couldn’t say “I KNOW…”?  Does that work?

  • Is there a limit to roles you can have in the Church if you can’t say “I KNOW”?



In the comments to some posts in this series, people have suggested that the changes proposed are wrong – that people who aren’t willing to do the extra things that are “required” are not really good members anyway or that perhaps the Church is better off without them.  My rebuttal to this comes from the New Testament: 1) Christ rejected all of the non-doctrinal ticky-tacky things that had encrusted the Law in His time, and 2) despite many early church members feeling that circumcision was essential to being a “good member”, because it potentially served as a stumbling-block to spreading the gospel to the Gentiles, it was changed.

Similarly, the whole point of this series is the same.  As pointed out in the first post that started this series, our growth is slowing significantly, and is even stagnating in some areas of the world.  We can either accept this and hope that something external will change, or we can perhaps look at non-doctrinal practices that get in the way of people either in the church or investigating the church.  Some of these things we’ve discussed include Stop Counting Earrings, Changing Women’s Garments (And Men’s), Separating Marriage From Sealing, and Ignoring Tattoos.

If any of these non-doctrinal things have caused even ten or one hundred people to leave the church, are they been policies worth having?  If is the potential downside is there, why not change them? (Of note: while these are things I would do if I were in charge, this is all theoretical as there really isn’t any chance of that actually happening.)

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67 Responses to If I Were In Charge: Make “I Believe” As Valid As “I Know” In Testimonies

  1. Johnny on May 24, 2011 at 1:07 PM

    When my daughter was 3, she always wanted to bear her testimony, but was always too shy to do it during church. So we’d head up after church and do it then, alone and by ourselves. Even then, as a TBM, I felt uncomfortable whispering things into her ear for her to repeat as “I know … “.

    Now, like Mike, the older I get (and I’m not very old), the less I know. There is simply precious little that I’d be able to state as, “… I know.” It just doesn’t exist right now.

    I have hope/belief that God and Christ are what the scriptures purport them to be, but my experiences with the divine seem – like Mother Theresa – strangely silent.

    I had to teach EQ this past Sunday and in reading up for the lesson I came across a quote from the Dalai Lama that I felt was truth, and appropriate for my life:

    “The purpose of all the major religious traditions is not to construct big temples on the outside, but to create temples of goodness and compassion inside, in our hearts. – Dalai Lama

    So, even though the heavens are as brass to me, perhaps the greater lesson is just being a temple of goodness and compassion…

    … but, then, I don’t really know.

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  2. Leah on May 24, 2011 at 1:27 PM

    Thank you for this. One of the lynchpins in my testimony was noticing that I “felt the Spirit” in circumstances where according to what I’d been taught, I certainly should not have been feeling the Spirit. That “witness” wasn’t unique to the truth claims of the Church.

    I have since left the Church because I wasn’t happy there and because I no longer believe that it’s the One True Church, or that anything negative will befall me for walking away. I can respect Mormonism as a legitimate way to be religious and spiritual, but not a good fit for me personally. I acknowledge that I can’t know that it’s not all true, but neither do I think anyone within the Church can know for sure that it is true.

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  3. joe on May 24, 2011 at 1:35 PM

    i know this blog post is true.

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  4. Will on May 24, 2011 at 1:38 PM

    Mike S.

    Great post as usual. In my judgment, “I believe” is an expression of faith. It is as good as or better than saying ‘I Know’. Although definitive, the term ‘I Know’ comes across as less sincere – less honest at times.

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  5. Jacob S on May 24, 2011 at 2:49 PM

    I might be wrong, but I think many members of the church use “know” and “believe” synonymously without thinking through the clarity of speech/thought aspect you mentioned at the beginning. I know I fall into that trap. When I say I “know” I am beginning more and more to realize it is cultural and what I’m really saying is that I “believe.” I agree that we should move away from this for the sake of clarity and for the sake of making more people comfortable with their individual progression.

    I think a lot of the cultural use of these words is rooted in Alma 32, which is really confusing if you focus on the comparison of faith and knowledge.

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  6. Jacob M on May 24, 2011 at 3:03 PM

    I’ve had too many experiences where I’ve felt the Spirit to say anything less than I know. Granted, that list is rather short, and it is usually those things which I testify about. The point being that I don’t know how much I personally can move away from the “I know” testimony.

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  7. Will on May 24, 2011 at 3:09 PM


    But remember, the seed is not faith; the seed is the word (Alma 32:28). When we nourish the word our faith will grow. If we neglect the word (scriptures), our faith will diminish. Ultimately, you can only have true faith in things that are true (Alma 32:21). It is impossible to have true faith in a false idea.

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  8. joe on May 24, 2011 at 3:12 PM

    We sing both in our hymns. we “believe” in Christ, but we also “know that our redeemer lives.”

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  9. Last Lemming on May 24, 2011 at 3:14 PM

    In a recent conference, I thought it struck me that I was hearing the phrase “I testify” more than I was hearing the phrase “I know.” I thought that might represent a change from past practice, so I compared that conference with one from about 10 years ago. It quickly became apparent that there was no change in practice–the brethren have largely been saying “I testify” all along. That seems to me to be the way to go for those (like me) who categorize themselves as believers rather than knowers.

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  10. jmb275 on May 24, 2011 at 3:48 PM

    I agree with Last Lemming. I also heard “I testify” more than “I know” (though perhaps it’s what I wanted to hear).

    Re Mike S
    Great post. I mean no disrespect (to those who haven’t done it), but I think that those of us who have had to publish in public, perhaps peer reviewed settings, are often more aware of the importance of precise language. It often frustrates those I associate with who want to say whatever comes to mind and get frustrated when it is interpreted in a way they didn’t intend. I HAVE to use precision in my language or I will be unaccepted among my peers.

    If I put on my Mormon hat, my rebuttal to your post would be this talk I recently read here. In this article, the word “know” and “faith” are interpreted (in my opinion with some creative mental gymnastics) to bring them up to the same level as reason and knowledge in the evidentiary sense. In the sense Williams intends it, the use of the word “know” is completely legitimate. Your use of the word “know” seems to presuppose the evidentiary and reason/logic viewpoint. But Williams intends that when we exercise faith we experience knowledge directly (not sure since I’m still fuzzy on the details).

    Taking off my Mormon hat for a moment, I completely agree with you.

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  11. Jared on May 24, 2011 at 5:04 PM

    anothergreatpostbymikesienjoyreadingwell thoughtoutpostitislikeobservingabeautifulphotgraph

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  12. don't know mo on May 24, 2011 at 5:10 PM

    This post really resonated with me. The circular nature of phrases like “A testimony is to be found in the bearing of it” have always seemed problematic. Another practice I would like to see abandoned is the compulsory youth conference testimony meeting where we all sit around the fire and testify. It is the rare youth who declines to rise when the “testimony stick” is passed to him or her. As to eligibility for roles in the church, I have definitely felt that saying “I know” signified more about allegiance than any real knowledge. It seemed like my Bishop placed a higher value on me saying the right thing, not whether I had actually had a spiritual, confirming experience.

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  13. Jared on May 24, 2011 at 5:27 PM

    #11 I read an internet article awhile back, it was supposed to be based on research. It had a bunch of letters grouped together like #11.

    The article said that some people are unable to read it without putting spaces between the words. Is that true? I didn’t have any trouble reading the sentences they used in the internet article. It slowed me down some, however.

    Is anyone having trouble reading #11? If so, I hope you will tell those who can read it, what you see.

    I have also seen sentences where the words were miss spelled except for the first few letters. Some people had the ability to read those sentences while others struggled.

    There are all kinds of ways to measure peoples ability or lack of ability to perform various mental and physical task.

    In college, a room mate of mine graduated in accounting. He went on to a successful career, but he was never able to pass the CPA exam. He tried numerous times, even took expensive CPA prep classes.

    I think nearly all of us have “blind spots” to certain mental and physical task.

    In those situation we have to relay on others.

    Mike S. suggest that over using the word “know”, troubles him. I can understand that to a degree. But I’m not inclined towards being a perfections so I can see past those who don’t write, speak, or perform without exactness.

    I wouldn’t make a good knee surgeon either.

    I have some other things I would like to add to this discuss after I do my wife’s honey do list.

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  14. Mike S on May 24, 2011 at 5:38 PM

    I appreciate the comments so far. I’ll address some of the issues later, as I don’t have time right now. U2 is playing tonight in Salt Lake and I have my priorities. I’ll check back in later tonight or tomorrow, depending on how tired and/or wired I am.


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  15. jks on May 24, 2011 at 6:41 PM

    The church has strongly discouraged children from bearing their testimony unless they can do so without help. No whispering!!!
    I think many people feel like either believe and know can be used. I assume when people get up they bear the testimony that they have, and often they don’t bear a testimony of everything, just bits and pieces and I am happy to hear the specific things that they know or believe or are grateful for (like grateful for the savior kinds of things, not grateful for their own awesomeness).

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  16. Rigel Hawthorne on May 24, 2011 at 6:44 PM

    My son liked bearing his testimony from a younger age than he is now and wanted Dad to help him. I always tried and still try to help him bear testimony of things that he has had first hand experience in. Personal prayer, feeling the Savior’s love, Family Home Evening. I had someone out of the blue once tell me how much they respected that I did not prompt him to say “I know” this and “I know” that. I appreciated their feedback.

    I shared with him that I myself am not always comfortable using the phrase ‘I know’ when I bear my testimony. Sometimes it does come out when I am bearing witness by the spirit, but other times I feel that the use of ‘I believe’ is closer to my witness. Unless I have received a perfect knowledge, then “I know” is often an overstatement of my personal witness. I wonder how some people have obtained a witness where they can say they ‘know without a shadow of a doubt’. That sets a high bar for others who want to share their witness. I know (oops I did it again) that there are some people who have found it a stumbling block to feeling like they have a testimony because they took away the feeling that “I believe” was not strong enough.

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  17. Sydney Rose on May 24, 2011 at 7:50 PM

    Last year I got up and bore my testimony for the 2nd time in my 12 years as a convert. It goes along with this discussion. I got amazing responses, that I really didn’t expect, from the people in my ward. They were so supportive of me… I even got, what my husband calls a “response-a-mony”.

    I went home, and to the best of my ability I rewrote what I said….
    Here was my testimony, minus the names….
    “You must forgive me, I’m not really prepared to be up here. Eventually we are going to bless (son #3) and I figured I’d get around to getting up here then since the last time I stood up here was about 5 years ago when (son #1) was blessed. But as I was sitting down there it occurred to me that I will have even more family and friends listening then so I should get this over with now. I guess you shouldn’t have to be “prepared” to give your testimony but I’m not up here because of inspiration, or the holy ghost, an overwhelming desire to get up and give a testimony, or any other happy reason that I have heard so many of you give when you come up.
    I used to think there was something wrong with me, that maybe I was doing something wrong because I don’t really get those feelings and then someone mentions how strong the holy ghost is in the room and I…. I… I feel alone in that moment. And I’m happy for everyone else, but, I guess I just don’t understand.
    Recently I’ve talked about it with (husband) and after assuring me there was nothing wrong with me and the usual supportive stuff… he let me in on a little church secret that it is acceptable to use certain words or phrases as transitions and buzz words and some people may feel it is the “correct” thing to say at that moment. Kind of like when a wife asks a husband how they look. There’s really just one answer for that.
    That got us talking about another word that gets used quite a bit that I struggle with. “I know”.
    Poor (husband), I’m quoting him without asking permission and I probably shouldn’t, but it works really well for what I’m going to say sooo, I’m going to anyway. (Husband) said for him, when he uses the word “know” in regards to his testimony it more means “a belief that he is willing to act upon as truth” or something to that affect.
    But I didn’t get that memo initially so as I sit out there and, well, when I’m not refereeing the boys or getting them snacks or drinks, or toys or shushing them or whatever else we try to keep them quiet, I do try to listen. It amazes me the things people say up here. You guys know a lot of stuff. Its not just stuff either, you get up here and testify about really important things. Life changing things.’
    Like many others, I spent a lot of time in Alma 32 when I was in my final moments before deciding to get baptized. I find myself there again. Maybe I never left.
    I don’t actually _know_ a whole heck of a lot. And when it comes to the gospel, I know even less. If you catch my husband at a brutally honest moment he’ll back me up on this.
    But what I do know, I know that I love my family. Those boys, each of those boys is a testament to me that there is something greater at work than I can’t explain.
    I know moments in life are precious. They go by so fast and I’m grateful to be learning this while my children are still small.
    I know there is right and there is wrong and sometimes, there is an in between. Black has always been my favorite color, but I’m learning there are many shades of gray.
    I know that each of us is given this amazing opportunity every day, every minute (okay maybe not every minute, thats a little dramatic) but we’re all given an opportunity to make important choices. To decide the kind of person we want to be.
    I know the fact that we are all here in this building, means we are trying. Each of us. I’m grateful to have so many knowledgeable, faithful people around me.
    And for those very important things that I don’t know… I believe.
    I’m trying my best to believe, not only in my mind and my heart, but in my daily actions.
    Many years ago (mother-in-law) told me that when she wanted to change something about herself, a habit, a trait whatever, she pretended she was already what she wanted to be and acted that way. Over time, she would not just be “doing” it, but she would become it. I’m trying.
    And my sincere hope is that someday, my belief, my faith…. I hope it will turn into that perfect knowledge. And then I too can stand up here as many of you do and tell you all the things that I don’t just believe, but that I know.
    I want (son #1) to know that it is okay to not know everything. It doesn’t make you weak or less of a person. Though, he is only 5, I guess I should work on the alphabet first and work up to that other thing.
    I believe in God. I believe we can all be saved. I believe in redemption and I love, I love my family.
    I leave this with you Jesus’s name.

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  18. Jared on May 24, 2011 at 8:35 PM

    The children of God have “gifts differing”, therefore, they express their testimonies in a variety of ways.

    Certainly, all sincere testimonies are acceptable to God. This would be true whether the word “believe” or “know” is used.

    Yes, there are problems with sincerity as Mike S. points out. Some members don’t bear a testimony from their heart. They feel it’s necessary to use words like everyone else, a peer-pressure issue.

    We need to remember, it would be just as disingenuous for one who believes to say s/he knows as it would be for someone who knows to say they believe.

    Over the years, I have heard a few members express their testimony saying they believe the church is true, but they haven’t arrived at the point of knowing. I think this as good and valid a testimony as one expressed by President Monson.

    I think of the church as a hospital for the saints, not a shrine. We don’t live in a perfect world, and we don’t attend a “perfect” church. This being the case, I think we need to be patient and forgiving to one another.

    One last point, I think for every member who analyses the difference between believing and knowing when they give their testimony, there are 10 others who are focused on the sheer joy of testifying of a deeply held feeling residing in their heart.

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  19. hawkgrrrl on May 24, 2011 at 9:54 PM

    With science, it’s more intellectually honest to say “I conclude” or “I observe” and not to imply more certainty than one has. This is religion! By its very nature it exists in the realm of the unknowable. Faith is powerful specifically because we don’t know.

    People who say they know when they mean believe are making a specific type of precision error: hyperbole (exaggerating their knowledge) or conformity (trying to sound like everyone else). In either case, they do it to get the praise of men. They have their reward. I believe it’s a damaging practice since it minimizes real faith (acting despite doubts) as if it is insufficient, and it favors pretense over authenticity. Obviously most people haven’t given it so much thought, but that is what is subtley at play in our Mormon culture. m

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  20. Frump on May 24, 2011 at 10:04 PM


    “The children of God have “gifts differing”, therefore, they express their testimonies in a variety of ways.”

    Comparing peoples gifts – gifts they have and/or are given by God – to the way they talk when they bear their testimony is, to me, nonsensical and completely unrelated.

    Gifts are gifts. Period. Bearing testimony is bearing testimony. Period. But just because they bear it differently does not imply that it is representative of their gifts.

    That said, I appreciated Sydney Rose’s comment above. I think, in the heart of the average member, that “know” really does mean “believe.” Culturally, we raise kids from a very young age to “know” things – like this year’s primary them: I know the scriptures are true. That’s asking a LOT of 5, 6 and 7 year olds, to say nothing of 10 and 11 year olds.

    So, in Mormondom, I think we have a cultural standard of what “know” means. Unfortunately, if we dissect the word and the way we use it, it probably comes across as arrogant to those in the non-cultural and/or convert camp.


    “People who say they know when they mean believe are making a specific type of precision error: hyperbole (exaggerating their knowledge) or conformity (trying to sound like everyone else). In either case, they do it to get the praise of men. They have their reward.”

    Do you think, then, that testimony bearing should be left out of traditional meetings? I think I’m leaning towards agreeing with your statement because when I did bear my testimony in church, I always enjoyed the praise/comments afterwards (ego) and/or would do so to share something special that I had to share (again, ego).

    Truth be told, I think F&T meeting has become too ritualized. Testimony, I think, should be spontaneous and not a monthly thing we wait for…

    I read this today and found it interesting and on point:

    “One aspect of this transformation was the process sociologists refer to as the “routinization of charisma.” The worship practices of new religions are typically “charismatic”—that is, energetic, improvised, and non-institutional. Over time, however, leaders begin to suppress or institutionalize these charismatic practices in order to preserve the stability and respectability of the institution. The first chapter of Anderson’s book—containing documents from the Nauvoo period—reveals Mormon temple worship in its initial, charismatic phase. There are some formulaic ordinances, of course, but there are also intimate, improvised meetings in which people speak in miraculous tongues, prophesy, see visions, bless their children, sing hymns, shout “Hosanna,” and feast on wine, cakes, and pies. This is temple worship directed less by prescribed policy than by the immediate inspiration of the Spirit—more like a Pentecostal revival than a formal liturgy. In subsequent chapters of the volume, however, we see a gradual codification and formalization of temple worship. The temple ceremonies become increasingly scripted, standardized, and sanitized. As members and temple workers raise questions about points of practice, the General Authorities respond by formulating authoritative policies and handbooks of instructions. By the modern period, the temple experience is essentially identical every day, everywhere in the world.”

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  21. jmb275 on May 24, 2011 at 10:04 PM

    Re Hawkgrrrl-
    Not sure if you read my comment in #10. I think you’ve defined the term “know” in the same way Mike S has (which I agree with and is most commonly understood). Nevertheless, I linked to an article in which the author attempts to redefine the term “know” to be one, not based on evidence, but equated with faith. This makes the term not only understandable, but completely appropriate in our culture.

    One of the most common responses I get from people when I ask how they “know” the church is true is something like “I don’t know how I know, I just know. How do you know what salt tastes like?” This type of knowing is experiential, not evidentiary (at least in the mind of those who define it this way).

    I acknowledge that I personally agree with you, but this redefinition of knowledge in this way grabs my attention.

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  22. Geoff-A on May 25, 2011 at 7:02 AM

    Agree with the initial post, I don’t know because for me there is some doubt,but I believe.

    However the consequence of not knowing are that the callings you are eligible for become limited.

    I agree with someone above who said the perception is that “knowing” is a sign of obedience while believeing is for those who question. As the Church I see judges us by our obedience, admiting to believing is not a sign of integrity, but of disobedience, and resisting conformity, also a sin.

    Believing is also questioning and an indication in my ward of a troublemaker. My wife and self have been unofficially disfellowshipped for this reason. We still hold temple recommends but the word is out that we are not to talk, teach, or otherwise express our views.

    I live about as far as you can get from Utah, but have a Bishop and wife who believe in total unquestioning obedience. To believe rather than know is seen as defiance.

    I struggle to see how anyone who has not had a meeting with the Godhood can not have just the tiniest doubt, which to me means they can’t know.

    Aren’t we supposed to be here to live by faith, thats believing not knowing. If you know you don’t need faith anymore do you?

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  23. hawkgrrrl on May 25, 2011 at 7:26 AM

    Frump: “Do you think, then, that testimony bearing should be left out of traditional meetings? . . . Truth be told, I think F&T meeting has become too ritualized.” I wasn’t actually headed there, but yes, personally I feel that 12 F&Ts per year is a bit much. But (unlike you I suspect) I find all testimony-bearing a bit repetitive and unbearable. It reminds me of “witnessing” that is done by the evangelical sects, and honestly it makes me uncomfortable. On the upside, I’ve noticed that Mormons are more effective in a work setting because we are comfortable with silences. We can patiently wait and let the other person blather on like an idiot. I think this is one of the lessons we learn monthly in Fast & Testimony meeting. :)

    jmb275 – interesting link (no I hadn’t really noticed that before). I have never been fully comfortable with the Alma 32 passage which seems like a recipe for confirmation bias. However, I do think there is a confidence that can be developed through the exercise of faith – maybe (as the article suggests), that confidence is experiential “knowledge” or knowledge based on experience that acting on that faith yields good results in the person’s life. In that sense, that is essentially what I mean when I say I feel that acting on one’s faith despite doubts is stronger than “knowing.” But perhaps they are really the same thing in the sense that this article means.

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  24. jmb275 on May 25, 2011 at 8:07 AM

    Re Hawkgrrrl #23
    I have a hard time with the article because I think it draws a distinction that doesn’t really exist. That is, I think experiential knowledge is assimilated in the mind in the same way evidentiary knowledge is. I also think reason and faith are increasingly being assimilated in the mind in the same way as well. People need their faith/religion to make sense at some level, and they will only tolerate a certain threshold of acting on faith despite doubts. Everyone’s threshold is different though, hence the reason faith crises exist.

    Re Mike S (again)
    The biggest problem I have with using “know” in our culture is the intimate relationship that knowledge has with our belief in our absolute rightness. That is, if we accepted Williams view of faith and knowledge, one would be forced to admit that this knowledge is only valid in the experiential sphere it was received (since there is no way to deconflict a Mormon’s experience from that of an e.g. Muslim). But Mormons don’t do that. They claim an absolute truth, a one and only true church. I would have no problem if we kept on saying “I know” but qualified that with statements that tied it to a personal knowledge that may not be universal.

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  25. Jared on May 25, 2011 at 8:34 AM

    The basis for using the words believe/know when bearing our testimony are related to the origins of our testimony.

    A testimony is very personal, very sacred, and is a gift. Experience teaches that a testimony is acquired in various ways. In general terms members refer to the source of their testimony in one of three ways:

    1. I was born with a testimony

    2. I had to seek, and work for a testimony

    3. I was given a spiritual experience that resulted in my testimony

    However, when members share specific details about their testimonies it becomes apparent that the initial source of their testimony only tells part of the story. For example, those who testify they were born with a testimony often reveal that they had a spiritual struggle discovering their testimony-it was there all along they just weren’t aware of it.

    If one is born with a testimony it may take a moment of discovery before they understand the full extent of their testimony. It might come on a church mission or at some point where they are brought to their knees through a life event-like the death of a loved one, health challenge, job loss, severe disappointment, etc.

    Those who testify they had to seek, and work for a testimony will often reveal that there was some kind of stirring within their heart that motivated them. If we need to seek after a testimony then we’re in good company. It took Brigham Young two years of studying the Book of Mormon before he acquired his testimony. It took John Taylor only three weeks to acquire his testimony-while it took six years of searching before Wilford Woodruff found his. David O McKay’s sincere prayer as a young boy to know the truth wasn’t answered for many years until he was on his mission in Scotland.

    Those who testify they were given a spiritual experience that resulted in their testimony might also relate that their parents and/or others were pleading with the Lord in their behalf.

    Testimonies are not one-dimensional. Being multi-dimensional many things need to be taken into account before we can understand our testimonies. There is much we don’t know about ourselves because of the veil, but we are taught that what we did, or even volunteered to do, prior to our birth impacts our mortal experience in profound ways.

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  26. Jayme on May 25, 2011 at 8:44 AM

    I have often found it interesting that in “real life” believe and know mean different things, but they are equated in the church. As far as children, we either went up by ourselves or had the opportunity to bear it at home during the. Perhaps the primary should have their own testimony meeting like relief society does.

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  27. Robert O on May 25, 2011 at 9:10 AM

    Thanks Mike, Have felt this way for quite some time. Once the difficulty of nuancing the know/belive language became apparent after one memorable F&T meeting, I haven’t tried again. Am in YM now and the emphasis is overwhelmingly on “declaring personal knowledge.” So far, I’ve been able to dance around the issue and serve faithfully and I think that faithful service allows my views to be tolerated. Have always loved Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling when in the first chapter he speaks of Abraham’s faith and that “faith,” not knowledge was the sought after attribute that men worked toward their whole life. Listened again to conference and while there is some use of “believe”, the overwhelming normative expression is “I know.” Elder Samuelson states, “. . . as Alma taught, gaining a testimony is usually a progression along the continuum of hoping, believing, and finally knowing the truth of a specific principle, doctrine, or the gospel itself.” Thus, we believers are stuck somewhere between the hopers and the knowers–not exactly the built on a rock foundation one would want teaching the youth of the church.

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  28. Paul on May 25, 2011 at 9:24 AM

    Mike, this is probably my favorite of your series so far. And I endorse what you’ve said. It is just as valid for someone to bear testimony with the words “I believe” as the words “I know”.

    In our ward, we hear the believing testimonies from time to time, and folks take them in stride, happy that a person has felt comfortable enough to share that belief.

    As for children’s testimonies, official church policy discourages the parents whispering testimonies in their children’s ear in F&T meeting (FP letter a number of years ago when I was bishop; I assume it’s somewhere in Book I or II now), but of course each ward has to sort out how to deal with that issue as it arises. (We chose to talk to repeat “offenders” after the fact when necessary when I was bishop.)

    #19 HG — I surmise based on other things you’ve written and your comments here that you have strong views on this, and I won’t try to disuade you, except to suggest that “I know” is just as acceptable in a testimony and “I believe.” It depends on the experience of the testifier. Some have had enough repeated spiritual experiences to feel comfortable saying “I know” without trying to fit in with the cool kids in testimony meeting, even if their knowledge is not perfect.

    That said, to return to Mike’s original point: “I believe” is also an expression of faith and is also quite welcome.

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  29. Jared on May 25, 2011 at 9:32 AM

    #20 Frump wrote:

    “Gifts are gifts. Period. Bearing testimony is bearing testimony. Period. But just because they bear it differently does not imply that it is representative of their gifts.”

    Maybe I should have written, “spiritual gifts”. Spiritual gifts can have a profound influence on us. The testimony of a person who has experienced the Holy Ghost in its more subtle forms is going to bear testimony differently than those who have more dramatic manifestations.

    The people of king Benjamin, for example, had experienced the Holy Ghost at a level many members can related to today. However, after they had the more dramatic manifestations of the Holy Ghost (mighty change/born again experience) they were profoundly changed.

    1 …they had fallen to the earth, for the fear of the Lord had come upon them.

    2 And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ…

    3 …the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins…

    (Book of Mormon | Mosiah 4:1 – 3)

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  30. Jeff Spector on May 25, 2011 at 9:33 AM

    I am always fascinated by this discussion.
    Because it seems to me to be more based on a narrow semantical perspective coupled with a concern about what other people think.

    If we believe that the Lord “knows” our heart, does anything else matter?

    I am not convinced that using the word “know” has anymore certainty attached to it than “believe” simply because ultimately faith is directly tied to both.

    Some people claim to have had a spiritual experience which caused them to “know” something. I do not dispute that. I am one of those. But, even with that experience, there is ultimately faith attached to the recognition of that experience.

    I find that “belief” is just as strong as saying you “know” something that is tied to having to have the same faith in it. No difference in my mind.

    Now, if you are just worried about what other people think if you were to say “beleive” instead of “know,” well, that’s another problem and you are just as guilty as perpetuating a Church culture as someone who expects you to say “know.”

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  31. Mike S on May 25, 2011 at 9:38 AM

    Was out late at the U2 concert last night – want to catch up a bit:

    #1 Johnny: I agree that as I have grown older, I actually “know” less. I also really like the quote by the Dalai Lama.

    #2: Leah: That is also one of the “perplexing” things to me. I have felt good feelings in the Church, which I have been taught is the spirit testifying of the truthfulness of it. If I had primarily read the Book of Mormon, for example, and felt the spirit, I would probably take this as a basis for saying “I know” that it’s true – and this is in fact how we use it for missionary work.

    The issue for me is that, as mentioned, I have ALSO felt the same feelings reading scriptures from other faith, when in nature, and many other times. I think the biggest issue is that most LDS people haven’t actually read any of these other things with the same open mind that we ask investigators to read the Book of Mormon.

    Just as an example, a few weeks ago in Primary I taught how Nephi had to go back for the brass plates as relying on memory is difficult. To show that some people memorize entire books of scripture, however, I did bring in a copy of the Qu’ran in Arabic-English to show the class. In sacrament meeting afterward, my wife, who had never read it before, started looking through it as it was still in my bag. She read it for 30 minutes. She said she was amazed by some of the concepts in it, and felt the same Spirit reading it as she has with anything in the Book of Mormon or Bible.

    So, if we apply the same pattern to ourselves that we ask investigators to follow, should we become Muslim? Or perhaps we should do as the Dalai Lama suggested when asked if everyone should become Buddhist: “Bloom where you’re planted”

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  32. Mike S on May 25, 2011 at 9:40 AM

    #4: Will and I agree on something. :-)

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  33. Mike S on May 25, 2011 at 9:44 AM


    I do think that in the Church setting, many people conflate “know” and “believe”. For many who don’t have an issue with this, it’s no big deal and using “know” is just a cultural way of expressing “hope/faith/belief/feelings/etc”.

    But as jmb mentioned, for many people (including me) that’s simply not possible. Perhaps it’s a personality quirk. Perhaps it’s my scientific training. But I simply cannot say “I KNOW” for something which I don’t “KNOW”.

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  34. […] saying, “Hey, wait a minute, let’s not throw our minds out the window,” and this post yesterday from Mike S. at Wheat and Tares about wanting to make “I believe” as valid a statement […]

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  35. Sydney Rose on May 25, 2011 at 10:07 AM

    (Robert O #27) “Thus, we believers are stuck somewhere between the hopers and the knowers–not exactly the built on a rock foundation one would want teaching the youth of the church.”

    The interesting part to me, is I think those believers and thinkers are exactly the people you want teaching the youth. It is who I would want. If the people I read on the blogs were the ones I was with in church, were the ones that were teaching my children as they get older, I would have a much easier time going.

    I read or was told that the number of inactive members in the 18-30 age group is on the rise and part of me wonders if all the “surety” and absoluteness of the church plays a part.
    Maybe using “I believe” within our church is equivalent and as valid as using “I know”, and maybe the vast majority of “I know” people say it, not being insincere or “dishonest” but because it is coming from a knowledge in their heart, “a belief they are acting upon as truth” as my husband said. No harm meant.

    I don’t dislike the “I know” people. I don’t think they are dishonest or arrogant. I think they are intimidating.

    When we take a common phrase like “I know” and use it…. differently…. than the rest of society, it makes it hard (for me) to continually function in both places.
    I wonder if those young people, who are going inactive, feel that way. I wonder, if they, like me, sit out in church and listen as people say the things they “know” and realize that they themselves… don’t. They don’t know. And since Mormons do claim, as jmb275 said, “an absolute truth, a one and only true church” if you don’t “know”, it sometimes feels like you don’t belong. And who wants to feel like they don’t belong?

    #19 Paul: Are the “cool kids” the ones that say “I believe” instead of “I know”?

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  36. Paul on May 25, 2011 at 10:26 AM

    35: Sydney Rose, I was responding to this statement from Hawkgrrrl (#19): “People who say they know when they mean believe are making a specific type of precision error: hyperbole (exaggerating their knowledge) or conformity (trying to sound like everyone else). In either case, they do it to get the praise of men.” The cool kids are the one whose praise they are allegedly seeking.

    My point is that not everyone who says I know fits that statement. (And HG doesn’t say they do, either — she says those who say they know when they mean believe — but the rest of her comment makes it seem like no one could know, so everyone is guilty.)

    BTW, I agree that there’s great value in having teachers of youth who are faithful even if they are not “knowers”. When I was bishop, I actively sought those folks to work with young men who were also trying to make sense of something they did not know, and it turned out to be a pretty good match in some cases.

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  37. Mike S on May 25, 2011 at 10:36 AM

    #17 Sydney Rose:

    I would love to hear more testimonies like that.

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  38. Mike S on May 25, 2011 at 10:42 AM

    #18: Jared

    I like your points. Regarding this statement:

    One last point, I think for every member who analyses the difference between believing and knowing when they give their testimony, there are 10 others who are focused on the sheer joy of testifying of a deeply held feeling residing in their heart.

    That’s the problem. I don’t know if it’s a 10:1 ratio (I bet even more people have a problem with it – but that’s just supposition), but even at that – look what it implies.

    In a congregation of 300-400 people (not uncommon in Utah), that means that there are 30-40 (or more) who sit there feeling inadequate or “less” because every person who actually does get up says they KNOW that the Book of Mormon is true, they KNOW this and that, etc. People sit there and it is a bad experience.

    And there’s no reason for that.

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  39. Mike S on May 25, 2011 at 10:46 AM


    Regarding comment #19: I completely agree

    Regarding #23: personally I feel that 12 F&Ts per year is a bit much. But (unlike you I suspect) I find all testimony-bearing a bit repetitive and unbearable.

    One thing to make it more fun and exciting: Testimony Bingo :-) Have people fill out a 3×3 or 4×4 card with the names of the people who they think will get up that F&T meeting. Make an X or place a candy on each square. See who gets Bingo first. Try it – you’ll like it.

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  40. Emily on May 25, 2011 at 11:13 AM

    Thank you for this post, and thank you all for the comments. My experience with Moroni’s promise was fairly identical to the one you describe but it took a long time for me to figure out that it wasn’t somehow my own fault. I believe that some people do have a “gift of faith” but to others is given a gift of skepticism (I am grateful to a high school English teacher who made that observation).

    Mike #31 – I actually DID become a Buddhist. :) The soil, or perhaps the container, in which I was originally planted was not favorable to long-term blooming. As such, however, a core practice is neither to cling to particular beliefs, nor to reject them. For someone whose ‘gifts’ of skepticism long conflicted with the desire to be faithful, this came as a huge relief – though one certainly need not be a Buddhist to benefit from the practice. I think people say “I Know” for reasons that are based more in fear/resistance to uncertainty, than as a proxy for “I believe” or a reflection of the genuine condition of their faith.

    If we were able to let go of needing or expecting “to know” and of our fear of not knowing, and fears of being judged on the strength of our ‘testimony,’ how much more room would there be for the seeds of true faith, hope and charity to grow and flourish?

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  41. Chris on May 25, 2011 at 12:09 PM

    “I believe without a shadow of doubt and with all my heart that the Church is true.”

    Um what? Some of you think people actually mean this when they say “know” instead?

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  42. Carey on May 25, 2011 at 10:30 PM

    I wish more people would say it this way, “I know I felt XXX which I believe to be the fruits of the Spirit when YYY happened, and then I had clarity of thought and understood ZZZ which I believe was the Holy Ghost talking directly to me.” I pretty much translate everything everyone says through that template anyhow, but it would save me the CPU cycles.

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  43. James on May 26, 2011 at 12:46 AM

    Mike brilliant post I hope it goes viral!

    I think you have hit on possibly the biggest problem the church has!! Members who have worked their buts off all their lives and still never get that confirmation and decide god doesn’t love me enough to give me that answer … they then leave the church feeling burned out and deflated,

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  44. hawkgrrrl on May 26, 2011 at 4:40 AM

    Paul – I would probably agree with you that not everyone is dishonest who says “know” even when they mean “believe” since the connotation in an LDS setting is to use the two words interchangeably. I prefer “I am confident” to “I know” which I think is nearer the truth.

    As to those teaching the youth, I’m not sure which is better – a “know” person or a “believe” person. I guess whichever one, so long as they are authentic and love the kids. The effect on me of the “know” people when I was younger was that it gave me pause; “how do they know? why don’t I know?” I did have an unshakeable BOM experience, and I stand by that experience even if I still feel I don’t “know” but only “believe” and act in faith based on my belief.

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  45. Mike S on May 26, 2011 at 8:03 AM

    #22 Geoff-A

    You wrote: However the consequence of not knowing are that the callings you are eligible for become limited.

    This is something I mentioned in the questions at the end of the post and I’d be interested to see what anyone else thought.

    If someone can’t stand in front of a congregation and say “I KNOW…”, can he/she be a:

    Primary teacher?
    YM/YW advisor?
    YM/YW president?
    Stake president?
    Mission president?
    General authority?

    Can you picture a bishop who stands up in front of his ward and says “I don’t really know if this is true, but certainly have faith that it is and am living my life as if it was true”?

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  46. Mike S on May 26, 2011 at 8:09 AM

    #40 Emily

    There is a lot about Buddhism that resonates with me. In fact, were I to ever not consider myself Mormon, the most likely thing I would become is Buddhist.

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  47. Carey on May 26, 2011 at 8:10 AM

    @Mike S

    Simple answer, “Yes”.

    They KNOW what they experienced. They can describe the experience, then can describe what ideas/knowledge was conveyed, they can say how they believe that those feelings/thoughts, etc… all come from God.

    Obviously as you break this down you see the “leap in faith” inherent in this approach, but that is core of religion. That is the evidence of things not seen.

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  48. Carey on May 26, 2011 at 8:19 AM


    I guess a point I don’t account for in my posts in #42 and #47 are for those that don’t have a experience in which to even describe. As we all know that is a difficult issue, I’ll have to think more on that throughout the day.

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  49. Mike S on May 26, 2011 at 8:19 AM

    hawkgrrrl / Paul:

    My thoughts are obviously given above. I was YM President for nearly 3 years recently, with 25+ priests, 20+ teachers and 20+ deacons. We had a great time together – including X-box Halo parties, going to clubs to watch bands play, etc. We went river rafting for youth conference and played laser tag.

    And we also learned about religion. We met each Sunday AM BEFORE Church to read the BofM as a quorum for an hour. We covered a chapter in Preach my Gospel each month. By the end of their time in priests’ quorum, they had each read the BofM at least once, and gone through the entire Preach My Gospel manual 1-1/2 times. We talked about other religions. We talked about all sorts of viewpoints.

    And they are great kids. At least 20-30 of “my boys” ended up on missions, and others are still in YM and will likely go when they’re old enough. And they are friends. Outside of Church, they would call me to go to a midnight movie on a weeknight. With others I went to a concert in Las Vegas.

    So, can you be YM President and still not “know”? Sure. It worked for me.

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  50. Paul on May 26, 2011 at 8:26 AM

    Mike, I’d be thrilled to have you as my son’s YM leader.

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  51. Jared on May 26, 2011 at 9:36 AM

    I’ve enjoyed the candor and honesty of this post. Mike S blends a unique combination of professionalism and humility when we writes.

    I have respect and admiration for those who stay with the church even though they struggle to obtain a testimony that allows them to honestly say they know the church is true.

    I hope all those who can say they know, and all those who say they believe will endure to the end of their lives faithful to the testimony they possess. In the final analysis that is what really matters.

    I believe many of those who continue to diligently seek will be blessed with a ‘knowing” testimony because of their faithfulness (D&C 98:2, Ether 1:43).

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  52. The Other Clark on May 26, 2011 at 4:33 PM

    To answer a series of questions in the OP

    “Could you picture a bishop of a ward who couldn’t say ‘I KNOW this Church is true’ or “I KNOW the Book of Mormon is true”? A stake president? A General Authority?Is there a limit to roles you can have in the Church if you can’t say “I KNOW”?”

    Perhaps not today, but when Heber J. Grant was interviewed to be an apostle at age 25, he initially declined saying he didn’t KNOW the church was true. (he was serving as president of the Tooele Stake at the time.)

    After the meeting, Joseph F. Smith privately asked if it were proper to extend the call, and the other (John Taylor, I think) replied that Grant KNEW, he just didn’t know that he KNEW.

    (Does anyone have a source on this? I don’t have one off the top of my head.)

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  53. The Other Clark on May 26, 2011 at 4:35 PM

    I fall into the camp of one who has the gift to believe on those who know. I’m holding out hope that one day I can have an overwhelmingly powerful witness like Pres. Grant eventually did.

    In the meantime, I agree wholeheartedly with the changes suggested in this post.

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  54. Brian on May 26, 2011 at 4:44 PM

    At the last sacrament meeting I went to, a young woman in our ward leaving on a mission said, “I know with all the fibers in my being that the church is true.” After the meeting, I told my wife that I had had enough and was not going to church again. This girl has experienced so little life, she probably doesn’t even know how to cook spaghetti, and yet somehow the Creator of all (someone or something sought by billions of people for untold millenia) decided to give her this “knowledge”. Excuse my skepticism.

    Many, many people in the church say they “know” meaning to say they “know”. The prophet and apostles (special witnesses) profess this “knowledge”. There is a significant difference between the words knowledge and belief, as they are generally understood. Would your feelings be different if the holder of a gun pointed at your head “believes” or “knows” that the gun is empty?

    Totally agree with Hawkgrrrl’s point of some do it for the praise of men or because of the cultural acceptability. An 88 year old former bishop in our ward ALWAYS said “I believe” in his testimony. For whatever reason, at 86, he was put on the high council. He now declares “I know” when he talks. I genuinely respected him for, especially as a former bishop, simply saying “I believe”. That’s all gone, now that he all of a sudden “knows”.

    One of the “knowing” recently came to my office to tell me how disappointed he was that I no longer believe and to ask me how I could do this to my poor wife, who unknown to him, attends church but does not believe. He said that he knows the Book of Mormon was translated by Joseph Smith, is true, and no other issues matter given that knowledge.

    I told him I know Joseph Smith’s “translation” of the Book of Abraham is fabricated nonsense and, knowing that, nothing else matters to me.

    I respect someone in the church saying “I believe”. I refuse to listen to anyone who says “I know”. There is no special “church meaning” to these words. Neither is the word “is” hard to understand, as former President Clinton would have us believe.

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  55. Chris on May 26, 2011 at 4:54 PM


    I agree with this. When I was a member, “know” meant “know” not merely “believe”. People “know” without a shadow of a doubt.

    But then someone may object and say that you, Brian, don’t know what other people have experienced so how can you know that they don’t know?

    To which I ask, where has anyone obtain the knowledge to reliably and accurately distinguish authentic spiritual experiences from merely man-made subjective emotional experiences?

    At that point in the game, it is merely blind faith. It is complete guesswork. No amount of practice will make it better… because how do you know you are practicing in the right direction? You merely operate on the assumption that a spiritual experience is supposed to feel a certain way, which is “revealed” in scripture. But we don’t know that the scripture is true until we have a spiritual witness?

    The whole thing is circular nonsense.

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  56. Emily on May 26, 2011 at 5:12 PM

    Brian #54 – I won’t ask when that last Sacrament meeting was in which you were treated to the classic “High Fiber Testimony” but I can see how it might have been the last (oat)straw that pushed you over the edge.

    It did trigger a thought that allows me to reconsider why people repeat things that may or may not reflect their authentic belief: Mormons have Mantras. Formulaic-sounding testimonies are a sort of monthly chanting ritual; and I do not question that some chant their testimonies with absolute sincerity even if the words used are imprecise and repetitious. It would save a lot of time in the meeting if everyone just said their testimony mantra at the same time. ;) All in favor? Any opposed?

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  57. Carey on May 26, 2011 at 5:48 PM

    I think some of the recent comments are suffering from the same imprecise language that the main article warned against.

    We all think we know lots of things that may not be entirely accurate when scrutinized. Just because we say we know doesn’t it may true (or false). Further more, we say we know things but we fail to disclose how we came to that knowledge.

    I know that Florida exists, although I’ve never been there, based on what I was taught and have seen on TV.

    I know that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, based on the articles and film coverage I’ve seen.

    I think its fine if people say they know the church is true, provided they tell us how they came to that knowledge — that to me is the key to their testimony.

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  58. Carey on May 26, 2011 at 5:54 PM

    Here’s a good question. At what point can I say I know something versus I believe it.

    I can I say I know if I observe with my one of my senses only? Like I know I see that tree. Or do I have to also touch it?

    Does it have to be in real-time as opposed to a memory? Because we all know how susceptible memory is to inaccuracies can we ever really know something in the past?

    I think if you extend this out the term know loses some of its charm, and so it has to be supported with how you know something to have any real value.

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  59. Mike S on May 26, 2011 at 11:34 PM

    Chris / Carey / others:

    The question is at what point can we “know” something religiously? I do think it is different in many ways from our senses. Feeling the spirit is different and is difficult to articulate.

    However, one criteria for me to “know” something might be true is reproducibility. Take Moroni’s promise, for example. If I am to rely on Moroni’s promise to “know the truth” of the Book of Mormon, I would expect the following to be true:

    1) Intra-observer reliability: This means that each time I pray with real intent, I will ALWAYS get an answer. The answer should always be the same. And it should be something that I recognize as an answer (which may be different from someone else).

    2) Inter-observer reliability: This means that the promise will always work for EACH person who sincerely tries it. Each person who prays about the Book of Mormon should reproducibly get an answer as to its truthfulness.

    3) Uniqueness: If a testimony of the Church is based upon “knowing” that the Book of Mormon is true, then I would expect there to be a unique answer associated with that scripture that is NOT associated with any other scripture.

    So, in my own personal case, can I “know” that the Book of Mormon is “true” according to these criteria? I don’t think so. For #1, I have prayed about it at least 100 times and have never received an answer in a way that I can recognize as an answer about it. For #2, there are many people who have investigated the Book of Mormon who not only have NOT received an affirmative answer, but who have received what they feel is a negative answer. For #3, as I mentioned above, I have never had any unique feelings associated with the Book of Mormon. I have felt the same good feelings reading non-LDS scriptures as well as non-Christian scripture.

    However, I press forward with faith. Perhaps tomorrow I will experience something that is unique and unequivocally an answer. Perhaps I will go forward the rest of my life without that “answer” that allows me to “know”.

    But as years go by, I have become less interested in the question. Would I live my life any differently if I did have that answer? Probably not. I’d still try to be a good person. I’d still try to have compassion for my fellowman/woman. I’d still try to be honorable and ethical. I’d still try to be a good husband and father and member of society. So, to be honest, I’d live my life about the same.

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  60. Geoff-A on May 27, 2011 at 6:06 PM

    I agree your thoughts on this and the others in the series.
    To some people knowing and believing can be the same just that the social pressure is to say I know from the pulpit, and i’m sure some don’t think about it.
    In a previous post I commented on the percieved worthiness ( calling potential) of those who don’t claim to know. It is my observation that it is used by those in positions of authority as a judgement of worthiness.
    We have a Bishop and wife who not only know the church is true but that every word that comes from a priesthood leader, from the bishop up is the word of God. She was the Gospel Doctrine teacher and managed to get this concept into most lessons. I would regularly point out that I didn’t believe that was correct doctrine.
    When it came time for a temple recommend interview the bishop spent an hour with my wife and self, initiaqlly accusing me of attacking his wife, and claiming she was in fear of my contributions to her class. I agreed to talk with her and try and sort it out. The talk with her distilled to her telling me that she had the bishop, the prophet and the lord behind everything she said, and if I didn’t accept what she said I was obviously inspired by the devil.
    When we got to the stake Pres for our interview he had obviously been briefed over a period of time. We did point out that the ward was self destructing and would not improve until we had a change of bishop.

    We got the recommend signed because you are only required to believe to get a trcommend. A week later the stake presidency turned up on our door step un announced on a week night, and after expressions of love and appreciation for the work we do in the church came to the punch line- do you support your bishop-and if you don’t there will be consequences. No commitment was requested on the night and no follow up has taken place.
    Another year later my wife and self have decided to remove ourselves from church until there is a change of bishop-and see how things are then. Five years ago when this bishop was called I was HP group leader and my wife RS president.
    I believe this is an extreme example of what you are trying to convey.

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  61. Jared on May 28, 2011 at 1:49 PM

    I would like to add something additional to this discussion.

    My perspective is that of one who knows. I count the Lord as my friend as well as my Savior. The reason I call Him my friend is that He is near, and answers my prayers. Some of the ways He answers my prayers astonish me.

    Having shared this, I realize that some will find it faith promoting, others will recent it.

    I am going to try to put into a few sentences the distillation of my understanding acquired over the last forty-five years. It was June 1966 when I decided to abandon my worldliness and follow the Lord after he left the ninety-and-nine and came for me.

    It wasn’t easy breaking away from the life style of the 1960’s. Initially, I thought repentance would be easy, and for some things, it was. But for other things it was incredibly difficult, taking years.

    Along the way, I have learned a few things I would like to pass on:

    1. The Lord looks at what is in our heart and evaluates our commitment and love for Him and our fellow travelers in mortality.

    2. The Lord will have a tried people. We are here to prove ourselves. The complexities and trials church members experience along the way are custom designed for them. Some of the most trying experiences we have come at church (see #60 for an example).

    3. The Lord will provide a way out or around the trials we experience if we will follow His counsel. Mike S describes his trial of not receiving a testimony of the Book of Mormon. Yet, he is willing to move forward with faith hoping for the day he will receive one.

    One of the trails I deal with is the abundance of Spiritual manifestations the Lord has given me. Believe it or not, it can be a trail. I’m not complaining, I just want you to know this.

    4. The grand key to receiving the gift of Holy Ghost is to come to an understanding the power the fall has over us.

    When we understand the power of the fall (as taught in the Book of Mormon), then we will know why we need a Savior.

    This is very important; I find many who don’t understand the absolute necessity of this concept. The scriptures refer to this as a “broken heart and a contrite spirit.”

    Life deals out some very harsh trials. Those who go to the Lord in humility and plead with Him for help, with whatever the difficulty may be–health, martial, sinfulness, singleness, church history and doctrine, same sex attraction, pornography, drugs–you name it, will receive it. That is, if they will stay the course.

    Many church members won’t go to the Lord in mighty prayer when confronted by trails, they find other ways to cope (relying on the arm of flesh), thus missing out on the opportunity to turn their trials into a spiritual awakening.

    This life is designed to teach us to rely on the Lord. When we do, the power of the atonement becomes available to us, and eventually we will fulfill baptism covenant. The scriptures refer to this as baptism by fire and the Holy Ghost (remission of sins, born again).

    5. Fasting and prayer can work miracles. I wonder why this principle appears to have fallen out of favor with the saints. We have temples in our day; scriptures refer to them as a house of fasting and prayer. I believe many of the problems we deal with could be helped or removed by temple attendance combined with fasting prayer.

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  62. Brian on May 28, 2011 at 6:59 PM

    I know the earth is flat. All those who aren’t certain of that like I am simply have not tried hard enough or long enough. Keep trying. It will come.

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  63. […] relate to Mormons. Devyn wonders why so many Mormons are anti-vaxxers (perhaps related to this?). Is knowledge good or bad? What about laughter? They’re even questioning eternal gender roles! (Note: the […]

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  64. […] If I Were In Charge: Make “I Believe” As Valid As “I Know” – Using the phrase “I Know” is uncomfortable for many people when it regards concepts based on faith.  But saying “I Believe” has evolved to imply “less” of a testimony.  This can make many people feel inferior and should be changed. […]

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  65. Toni on August 1, 2011 at 7:35 PM

    I went to a new ward for the first time yesterday. Two speakers spoke before the musical number; they were the counselors to the bishop. One of them said, “I believe . . .” I was impressed with that.

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  66. […] S writes If I Were In Charge: Make “I Believe” As Valid As “I Know” In Testimonies at Wheat & Tares […]

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  67. […] hawkgrrrl, commenting on Mike S’s post “If I Were In Charge: Make ‘I Believe’ As Valid As ‘I Know’ in Testimonies” at Wheat & Tares: On the upside, I’ve noticed that Mormons are more effective in a work setting because we are comfortable with silences. We can patiently wait and let the other person blather on like an idiot. I think this is one of the lessons we learn monthly in Fast & Testimony meeting. […]

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