Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Worst Testimony You Can Possibly Have

Any Latter-day Saint with open eyes and an internet connection can't help but notice that the church has been hemorrhaging members at an alarming rate in recent years.

I'm not even talking about the occasional Jack-Mormon who slips away unnoticed, or the 25-40 percent of converts who stop attending within their first year of baptism . What I'm talking about here are the those who have made the active determination to have their names permanently removed from the records of the church. They're often vocal about their antipathy for the church over what they consider a betrayal of a lifetime of their trust.

Many of the folks I'm referring to all have several things in common: Many are multi-generational LDS and descendants of pioneers; most have served missions, been married in the temple, were full tithe payers and 100 percent home teachers. Some had important callings in the relief society presidency; some were bishops, institute instructors, gospel doctrine teachers, and stake high councilmen. They were valiantly active in the church, the True Blue members of their wards. They were the very last persons anyone, including themselves, would have expected to ever abandon the faith.

Every one of them will tell you this: They once had a rock-solid, unshakable testimony of the church.

And that, in my opinion, was their problem. In having a strong testimony of the church, their focus was in the wrong place. "The Church" never was true, and never can be.

I'll give you a moment to catch your breath here. You may even want to take this opportunity to put your arm to the square and intone "get thee behind me, Satan".

Fine. I'll wait.

The truth is, "The Church" is not "The Gospel". It's merely a vehicle for the delivery of the gospel. What we ought to have a testimony of is The Restoration. Of Christ. Of the Atonement.

The great mission of the church is to bring souls to Christ, so once that has taken place, why not testify of Christ? Why would any of us want to bear testimony of the truthfulness of a corporate institution?

In general conference of October 1982, Elder J. Thomas Fyans related the following fable:

"There’s an ancient oriental legend that tells the story of a jeweler who had a precious pearl he wanted to sell. In order to place this pearl in the proper setting, he conceived the idea of building a special box of the finest woods to contain the pearl. He sought these woods and had them brought to him, and they were polished to a high brilliance. He then reinforced the corners of this box with elegant brass hinges and added a red velvet interior. As a final step, he scented that red velvet with perfume, then placed in that setting this precious pearl.

"The pearl was then placed in the store window of the jeweler, and after a short period of time, a rich man came by. He was attracted by what he saw and sat down with the jeweler to negotiate a purchase. The jeweler soon realized that the man was negotiating for the box rather than the pearl. You see, the man was so overcome by the beauty of the exterior that he failed to see the pearl of great price."

Growing up in the mid to late 1960s in the Anaheim First Ward, my testimony of the church developed and solidified during my teen and young adult years. I loved the church and everything connected to it. At that time "The Church" meant a lot of different things to me: It was The Book of Mormon and the other Standard Works. It was Priesthood meeting, Sunday School, and Sacrament Meeting. In those days the meetings were held at three different times of the day, so between Priesthood and Sunday School, while our fathers drove home to get the other family members, my Aaronic priesthood friends and I had an hour and a half to hang around with each other and bond as friends. So "The Church" also meant the friends I had at church. It meant my teachers, my bishop, and all the grown-up members of my ward. It meant the church building itself.

Often Chuck Anderson and I would stay after our own ward to attend the Fourth Ward Sacrament meeting just so we could sit by Carolyn Watts and DeeAnn Mcnear, because "The Church" also meant foxy Mormon girls. Sometimes Butch Matulich and I would drive over to Cypress because the Cypress ward had such examples of fascinating womanhood as Jeri Sachs and Cheryl Boberg and Helen Young and Little Vicki Robinson. It would not be unfair to say that in my teenage years, the best thing about the Mormon Church was Mormon chicks.

"The Church" also meant M.I.A. on Tuesday nights, and Boy Scouts and Explorers. Before that "The Church" had meant attending Primary with my friends. There were Road Shows, Stake Plays, Pancake Breakfasts, Scout Camp, Church Camp, Stake Dances, Ward Firesides, Stake Firesides, Regional Firesides, Ward Beach Parties, Ward Dinners, Seminary, and even summer trips to BYU for Youth Conference. "The Church" was basketball games and annual Scripture Chase Competitions, and Saturday drives over to the city of Orange to browse the only Deseret Book Store in the county. "The Church" was also represented in my bedroom by a growing collection of church books I bought and read.

"The Church" was the life I was totally immersed in six days a week and thrice on Sunday.

Later there was Institute and Young Adults, bigger Firesides and bigger Dances, a two year Mission, BYU, and a Temple Marriage. "The Church" also meant Temple Square and The Brethren and General Conference and Church Headquarters at 50 East Temple Street in Salt Lake City.

Throughout all this time I experienced the burning in my bosom countless times. I felt the Holy Ghost and I heard the still, small voice. If you had asked me if Jesus had a place in my heart, I would have told you yes. But I have to admit that the presence of Jesus was quiet and subdued compared to all that was going on about me in "The Church" as a whole, and let's face it: Jesus was invisible, while "The Church" was a huge, tangible, omnipresent stew I was swimming in all the time.

So it's probably understandable that when I bore my testimony, I often testified that I "knew" The Church was true, I "knew" that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and I even "knew" that my Mormon friends were the bestest friends in the whole wide world. I don't remember how often I or any of my teenage friends actually thought to mention Jesus Christ in our testimonies except for the part at the end where we'd recite the obligatory mantra "In-the-name-of-Jesus-Christ-Amen".

Not long ago I sat in Fast and Testimony meeting conducting a quiet little experiment. I took out a pen and made a mark on my program for every time someone testified of the truthfulness of the church. I made another mark for every time someone testified of Christ. You might want to try the same experiment. If the mentions of Jesus or the atonement outnumber the mentions of the church or of Joseph Smith, well then, I'd say you live in an extraordinary ward.

The problem with having a testimony of the church is that eventually you'll find that "The Church", whatever that represents to you, may disappoint. Some of those charged with being the gatekeepers of Christ's earthly institution have at times, in a well-meaning effort to spare the flock from some embarrassing facts and "to protect their testimonies", covered up and distorted some of the more uncomfortable and contradictory aspects of our history and doctrine. Many disaffected Mormons tell of an incredible sense of betrayal after awakening to the realization that much of what they had been taught all their lives had not been the complete truth.

Now in my opinion, to discard all of the marvelous realities of the restoration because of a few historical and doctrinal anomalies is throwing the baby out with the bathwater, not to mention taking a giant step backward in one's understanding of the attributes of God and the workings of the universe. However, I respect everyone's desire to come to their own understanding of truth even when their conclusions differ from mine, so more power to them. All of us are on our perfect paths. We do, after all, "claim the privilege of worshiping almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege."

I'm endlessly fascinated by the theo-cosmology of the gospel message, of the mysteries of Godliness, of the "oneness" of the universe. Our scriptures reveal things only now being discovered through the science of quantum mechanics, such as that all matter, when reduced to its smallest element, seems to consist of some kind of an innate consciousness, or what we Mormons call "intelligence".

It's been a long time since I heard Cleon Skousen's famous talk, "The Meaning of the Atonement", so yesterday I dug out my old cassette player and gave it another listen. It's still absolutely mind boggling! Brother Skousen was one of the greatest teachers this church ever produced, and I understood better and got closer to Christ from that one presentation than I ever did during a lifetime of sitting in Sunday School class.

The finely carved, ornate box we call "The Church" contains treasures of knowledge that you can barely conceive of in a lifetime of learning. But you won't experience any of it if you spend your life holding the box on your lap admiring the fine workmanship of the outside container. That box is just the handiwork of men. No matter how elegant and rich and impressive it may appear, it's really only some pretty pieces of wood slapped together.

Why would you want to keep focusing on that box? Lift the lid and look inside.


Cheryl said...

Got my attention and I must say I agree with your observations! I think the church recognized that several years ago when they changed their logo to better emphasize JESUS CHRIST by making it larger than the other print and putting 'another testiment of Christ' in the BofM title page. It's so important to teach that Christ is the center of our religion and help our youth to feel the spirit. I must admit that when asked as a 19 year old while attending my future husband's church in Hanford, CA, if I believed (as a Mormon) that Christ was my savior, I was taken-aback and embarrased and didn't know how to respond. I knew I didn't believe that I had to be 'saved' because I had grown up in the church and was therefore, of course, already 'saved'!!! But I wasn't strong enough then to explain what Mormons believed. I've come along way since then!!
... oh to be a young Cypress Ward Mormon chick once again!! Best part of those days were the Stake dances and stealing away to the Anaheim Stake Center!!! Thanks for the mention. ~cb

Yuukanna said...

I used to say I had a testimony. I'm not sure whether I said it was of the Church or the Gospel... what I do know is that I never felt at home in the church, not with M.I.A., Scouts, Sunday School, Seminary or other meetings, not with the people or even the Mormon Girls. What I did have was a profound Knowledge of what was in the church's texts and a fascination over it.
I find that my testimony is no longer in the church or in the full gospel, but in many principals that match up well with what I find in those texts.
I have not been to church in a long time, but I enjoy in depth conversations on religion with my active LDS friends. There are aspects of the church and aspects of the gospel I will not likely ever have a testimony in, but I would never try to spoil the testimony that one might have over the gospel. I do however feel a terrible loss for those that hold their testimony on the wrong ideas or in the wrong way... this is something I have seen very much of.
I find that most LDS members I know are much to immersed in LDS Culture than the gospel and that people often believe the gospel to be a behemoth of complication that they feel they need to just put their faith in and not try to understand.
Though I don't personally have a testomony of the gospel I do know that the Gospel is simple at its core and that it doesn't take very much to understand. I honor those that understand the simplicity of the gospel and take it to heart. I do not believe that any member can really be happy without that understanding and that many put on a good show of it. I believe that the greatest injustice done in the church is this show put on by those that arent truly at home with the gospel. Those that wake up from their 'testimony of the church' rather than the gospel ought to know that they are often attacking something they never truly understood in the first place.

Matthew C. Waterman said...

There is some really strong truth to what you're observing here. I will tell you straight out that a lot of nonmembers are put off by the behavior of local church leadership that has nothing at all to do with doctrine. When I hear some stories, I want to ask them what they were thinking, on what grounds do they act that way, you know?

I made some choices in life that have lead me to become inactive, but I don't blame those choices on the church, it's not their fault and I'd never say that it is. In fact, I can't think of a negative decision I've ever made that was in line with doctrine.

Still, I don't refer to myself as LDS because I feel that my current lifestyle choices don't cast a good light towards the church. It bothers me when someone tells me that they are Mormon, and used to go to church and are up to things I know aren't appropriate. If you don't represent the religion, why mention it at all.

Anyways, good blog, I'll be watching it. I normally post on Livejournal but maybe I can find some peers here as well.

Alan Rock Waterman said...

Welcome, Nephew! Haven't heard anything about your whereabouts in years.

I don't really mind the presence of LDS whose life behaviors may not be up to church standards. A person shouldn't have to be living in such a way as to represent the church at all times. In fact, I think it would be better if we tolerated people who found it necessary to go outside for a cigarette break between meetings rather than have them not attend at all.

I further feel we should get away from our attitude that a person should be living fully up to "Mormon Standards" before we find them worthy to baptize. Baptism should be the first step on a path to an individual's self-correction, with continual improvement following after.

We take too much stock in our members accurately representing the image we want the church to represent, rather than to recognize
that "all men sin, and all men fall short".

We Mormons tend to fall a little short ourselves when it comes to loving others unconditionally and without judgment.

Dave P. said...

Yet another great post on something that has been bugging me for a long time, especially with the numerous recent Conference talks on what a testimony is vs. what one isn't.

One thing that I find absolutely blinds people is all of the little kids who go up to the pulpit during Fast and Testimony meetings and all say the same thing, "I like bear my testimony. I know the church is true. I love my family. InthenameofJesusChristamen."
Sure it's cute, but on a spiritual level doesn't contribute to the meeting because most of them are just repeating what they were told to say and likely don't have a full understanding of what they're saying. It's also because of this that I was told to NEVER take investigators to church on Fast Sunday while on my mission because they'd see all the little kids going up and saying the same things as brainwashing.

During a stake conference at BYU, the presiding authority who liked to talk about President Hinckley's achievements joked that, "If President Hinckley was in this meeting today he'd be poking me with his cane right now and telling me to stop talking about him and start testifying of Christ." Isn't that what we're supposed to be doing anyway?

Yes, the church doesn't have a perfect history and certainly hasn't been run by perfect people- I personally believe that Heber J. Grant wasn't acting in his capacity as Apostle and later Prophet over the enacting/repealing of Prohibition- but that didn't stop the Lord from restoring the Gospel and hasn't stopped the message of Christ from spreading all over the world today, simply because the truth is setting people free.

I wanted to quote another line I once heard in relation to, "If the church wasn't true, the missionaries would have destroyed it a long time ago," but I could never find a source for that one. Thus I highly recommend a blog post regarding outside statements falsely attributed to church authorities that are immediately accepted as doctrine, even though nobody can identify the original source.

Alan Rock Waterman said...

I can do better than that, Dave. Rattling around in my head are thoughts of a future essay on some of those true statements attributed to General Authorities and accepted as doctrine although they were decidedly NOT the result of revelation from God.

In the meantime, you might appreciate this piece from The Sugar Beet, "Timmy Bears His Testimony":

WasatchIntercept said...

Is the church hemorrhaging members, or is what we are seeing a demonstration of the internet's ability to make the opinions of individuals and small groups heard, who would otherwise go unnoticed?

We do a horrible job of retaining the youth raised in the church. I was surprised by the recent study which put the rate at 70%. My own observation is that half of the people I have known who were raised in Mormon households no longer consider themselves Mormons as adults. But for those who go on missions, and marry in the temple, the vast majority are Mormons for life. Periods of inactivity come and go, but once committed intellectually to the Mormon world view, people stay, reinterpreting when necessary when a theological dilemma is discovered, but remaining faithful and believing...unless something dramatic happens to make the person no longer wish to be a Mormon. Then they rush out to the nearest Christian Bookstore.

Maybe some are telling the truth when they claim that they were happy, actively practicing Mormons, until they learned of some terrible fact that they just could not reconcile, but that's not what I have observed. When it comes to those I know, and have known, those who want to believe find reasons to believe, and those who want to disbelieve find reasons to disbelieve.

Sometimes I've considered the reasons some have to no longer want to be Mormons to be petty. Other times I feel that there are some priesthood leaders, acting according to zeal rather them wisdom, who have legitimately hurt people.

[I had started on a few examples, but decided that I couldn't give the consideration they deserved without taking up way too much space].

Some claim that abuse is inherent to Mormonism. I certainly find authoritarian rhetoric in the meetings I attend, and I don't always think that it is necessary, but as long as I'm free to leave any time I want, I'm not going to obsess over it. The General Handbook of Instructions offers some guidelines that are very well prepared, I'd go as far as to say inspired, unfortunately, sometimes leaders feel that it is appropriate to go outside of the scope of this manual and act according to their own good intentions.

Mormonism is hardly a unique case. Anytime people group themselves together, you will always have a certain number who are ill-mannered, who want to control, and even some who have their own ulterior motives. And there are others who are simply misguided, though it is often not blatantly obvious when you first meet them. Such toxic people almost always a minority, but they are much more likely than the rest to want positions of leadership. Unfortunately, they're not always discerned, even in an organization led by inspiration.

I realize that what I have expressed is anecdotal, but I've been in the church, associating with the people of the church, for a long time now, therefore feel that I have written this morning is accurate and worthwhile.

Strangite said...

Interesting subject, interesting comments. I do believe the church is hemorrhaging members. About six months ago, I wrote my letter of resignation. I carried it with me in the jockey box of my black Dodge truck. It had to do with prop H8. I have two gay brothers and a gay son. I have retrenched a bit, the hurt caused by the issue has lessened. I keep telling myself the church is trying to be Christlike. Then a General Authority speaks to Evergreen and the anger and hurt rush back into my being, like salt into a wound...

TruthSeeker said...

As the parent of a gay child, my heart goes out to you- Strangite. The church is on average losing 100,000+ members per year, WasatchIntercept.

I have to ask "Why"? I know MANY good Latter Day Saints who have left the church. Their reasons are varied- but there is a lot of commonality in their hurting and pain filled hearts and souls.

When my child was going through the literal "hell" of coming to terms with being gay, suicide was the only real answer, they had tried EVERYTHING first to change and so therefore must be damaged in some way. Shame, doctrine/dogma and the judgment of those who could have been more loving and understanding was decidedly missing. Including my
own, I am sorry to say.

I got over it and loved my child- but there always was a barrier. When I truly learned to open my heart- WOW! I had never felt such
incredible, unconditional love and peace. My spouse learned to feel the same. This is when a major shift occurred in our entire family.

Life is meant to be filled with joy and peace...along with all of the pain, sorrow and "enduring"!

When I was able to love purely, everything changed. Not only in my family's lives and relationships- indeed my relationship with everyone I knew; including myself, became filled with peace, hope and the freedom to be joyful-as if it weren't some kind of a sin!

We are put here on this earth to learn. By using our free agency- we can choose to grow or stay stuck. I am decidedly not the same person I was, when I grew up in Utah. It was like growing up in a fishbowl, and I am not a fish!

My faith has been tried "out here in the world"! This is good news for me and for everyone else who is willing to open their minds and hearts to really asking; "What would Jesus do"? Not what any man- Prophet,
Bishop or Home-teacher, although it is right that we pray for guidance in heeding their words, but what our Redeemer and friend- Jesus The Christ would have us do! There is so much here that I believe He wants
us to be, do and experience! If I choose the "wrong" path, I could or would not blame anyone but myself. I believe that it is a very scary excuse to say that our leaders will never lead us astray, and then if
they ARE wrong, (And they have been)than we have the "I was only doing what I was told and being obedient" excuse. Where is OUR accountability?!

Where is the growth? You just can't do that in a fishbowl.

Dave P. said...

Since I broke up with my fiance last summer I've been attending a single's ward (which I swear is only a Utah thing) and was recently called as co-chair for our Family Home Evening committee, since a lot of those members also live alone. At our last planning meeting, we realized that FHE was turning into a competition with the weekly Thursday activity and decided to steer our focus back on the spirit and the lesson prior to our activity. This way the incentive was to help people feel the spirit and have that comfort be the attracting force rather than the activity- especially after what amounted to a fiasco after last Monday when the planned activity fell through and only one person came to the back-up one.

Anonymous said...

Um ... Brother Waterman?

I just spent a few hours reading your blog. The things that you said, almost everywhere here, echoed my own feelings. This comment, though:

Maybe some are telling the truth when they claim that they were happy, actively practicing Mormons, until they learned of some terrible fact that they just could not reconcile, but that's not what I have observed. When it comes to those I know, and have known, those who want to believe find reasons to believe, and those who want to disbelieve find reasons to disbelieve.

It's not true. I, er, apostatized about three days ago. I wanted to believe that the Church was true, in spite of the imperfect people. But I found out not only about questionable things that Church leadership was doing, but also read a ton of accounts that cast serious doubt on the idea of its ever having been true to begin with.

I guess that that doesn't count for much here, but I'd be honored if you had some suggestion for what I should do, or if there's anything I should reconsider. Because I'm scared and unsure of myself right now. I would've contacted you directly, but you don't have any contact information listed. So I decided to post here instead.

I'm sorry to trouble you.

Alan Rock Waterman said...

No trouble at all, Feathertail.

You are correct in your assessment that the reasons people leave the church are not so simple. I have found among my acquaintances that have decided to sever their membership, none have done so for the reasons I used to believe, i.e., "They have sinned", "they want to sin", "they can't live the word of wisdom", or the most common belief of all: "Someone in the ward said something to offend them".

No, in almost every case, it was because they learned things that were true about the church that the corporate Church has been trying for years to insist weren't true. They can't reconcile what they see as betrayal of their trust.

John Dehlin has posted a very important video on YouTube called "Why People Leave The LDS Church". When I say it's important, I mean it's an important video for active, believing members to watch so that they can better understand and accept with love those whose beliefs no longer dovetail with our own.

We have to stop treating these people like pariahs. Freedom of conscience must be respected. God himself respects their choices; we can do no less.

We in the church don't do ourselves any favors by attributing false motives to a phenomenon we don't try to understand.

I would welcome a personal email from you, Feathertail. I can direct you to those among whom you are sure to find acceptance.

You can reach me at

whitehusky said...

Well, if people could just confine themselves to a testimony of the church ... and that it is the restored gospel ... that would actually be an improvement, but they won't.

I can't tell you how many testimonies I've heard on wonderful spouses, wonderful friends, wonderful family ... wonderful kids! One divorced mother got up and gave a testimony of her son and how much she loved him and how perfect he was. Not a word about the Son of God. Besides all this, her kid is an obnoxious brat and bully who has no respect for adult authority. So her testimony was wrong on that count also.

Nope. You're not going to hear much about Jesus Christ being our Eternal God and our gracious Savior. Forget it.

And if someone isn't substituting their "wonderful" family in for Christ, they'll substitute Heavenly Father.

This week in Primary I can't tell you how many times Heavenly Father was mentioned ... in place of the Lord. Instead of the Lord catching up the city of Enoch to be with him, it was Heavenly Father. The only person to even mention the Lord was a recent convert. Everybody else left the Lord out of it entirely.

Nope, Jesus. Your name is on the outside of the church, but don't come inside. Stay out there so we can ignore you.

What is it with these people? Don't they realize that the reason we come together on Sunday is to rejoice in the liberty we have in Christ, to thank our God and Redeemer for our salvation? That's the whole point of Sacrament Meeting.

I may be the only Primary teacher in our ward who teaches that Jesus Christ is our God. Sure, I mention Heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit, but I want the kids to know who Jesus is. I have yet to hear any of the Primary leaders teaching that Jesus is our Lord and God. No, not a word of it.

The last time we had fast and testimony meeting, no one was getting up. So I got up and testified that the Lord God Almighty humbled himself to come to earth as our Savior, that the scriptures called Jesus our Most High God, and that he hears and answers prayers.

You should have seen the surprise. I'll bet a few of the members thought I was way out of line for talking about Jesus as both our Lord and our Savior, but somebody's got to do it.


Dave P. said...


If you haven't read a reprint of the original 1830 Book of Mormon, I suggest that you do so because, in it, Nephi's vision couldn't be more plain that Jesus Christ is Heavenly Father! The changes made to it (and to the original record of Joseph Smith's First Vision) that introduced the concept of multiple gods is but one of the reasons why the church is under condemnation and why the Lord never authorized any additional editions of the Book of Mormon.

whitehusky said...

Jesus Christ is the Father of Israel and therefore most references in scripture to the Father pertain to him. That's a fact.

However, if you point this out to most Mormons, they will freak out and say you don't understand the Godhead. But just because there are members of the Godhead supporting the Lord does not change the fact that Jesus Christ is, in fact, Lord. Otherwise, the church would not be teaching that he is Jehovah.

P.S. When I was younger, my parents taught me that Jesus is our Elder Brother. That meant that he is the Lord (note how the title of Elder Brother is capitalized) and that he is even as a brother to us. But now I've seen church materials teaching that Jesus Christ is our older brother and a spirit child of Heavenly Father. That's ridiculous. The Lord can't be one of his own angels. Neither does he have a beginning or an end.

doyle_megan said...

Yep. I'd say many members cough up the pablum about Jesus Christ being a "spirit child" without even bothering to think about how that would make the atonement null and void.

Mosiah 13:28 - ... were it not for the atonement, which God himself shall make for the sins and iniquities of his people, that they must unavoidably perish

Anonymous said...

I find myself in a position that is opposite the one you describe.

I am a member of the Church, but I find not "gospel" worth the name in the Church (or out of it, for that matter).

The so-called "gospel" claimed by the LDS is such a mess of contradiction, absurdity, and arrogant self-promotion as to leave many rational people disillusioned by it.

The people and the Church? Friendly, fun, and well-organized as one of the best run corporations I know.

It is the gospel, not the Church that I believe is "not true".

Anonymous said...

Perhaps members might "improve" their testimony and focus more on Jesus Christ if only the leaders in SLC would stop promoting Joseph Smith 24/7/365. That he, Smith, declared himself to be second only to Christ in importance does not help in changing the paradigm.

Dave P. said...

Let's not forget that, prior to his death, Joseph openly taught that he was the physical body of the holy ghost.

TheChief said...

We had a regional leadership meeting with diminutive elder Quentin l cook in my stake building in australia, about 18 months back. He quoted the same pearl box story, and gave pretty much the same instruction ad what you gave. It suggested radical change, and emphasized Behaviour more doctrinally aligned, and leas traditionally - or should I say autoresponse - motivate. It was glorious. But I have watched my ward and stake leadership attempt and fail to implement his apostolic directives, and revert back to their box worhsipping. Very sad. It seems as if people prefer to be told they need to go to the temple more or do their hometeaching rather than be given soul saving instruction. I hope elder cook doesn't get jaded by this and fall into lock-step with some of his mates. The other astounding intellect at that meeting was a young seventy by the name if Brent h Nielsen. His name sounds like it's out of central casting but he laid down some stunning truths in his talk. And back it up a few months later as the visiting authority to our stake conference with one if the most sprit filled discourses I have heard in ever. Keep an eye out for him. If visiting a conference near you go and check him out.

Anonymous said...

Before I even knew about this article, I had felt for some time that the testimonies in church were more like Rameumptom prayers proclaiming "we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren" when talking about being part of the one and only true church than actual testimonies of Christ and his Gospel.

I decided to tally during a fast and testimony meeting and 13 people testified of church, 7 of the prophet and only 4 about Christ and/or his atonement. I'm lucky to be in a great ward and don't wish to judge any of them individually but it is apparent that our current mormon culture values church membership and church leadership more than it does Christ and his atonement.

Shaun said...

Thank you for this post! I'm actually returning to church after leaving a short while ago because of these very things. As a convert with no previous religious instruction, I loved being taught the gospel, but after a while I started to get really disillusioned about the greater emphasis being placed on the church and its workings rather than Christ, and instead of working harder to open the box I merely put the box on the shelf and walked away.

Having come back and started reading this blog, and having spent some time at other churches and reading non-Mormon literature, I've realised that it's not actually the worst thing in the world to be a Mormon, and what's important is keeping and living the faith for Christ. because really He is the most important part of the gospel.

At this moment in time, my thoughts on the Restoration and Joseph Smith ate mixed, but having read a few of your early posts on this blog I'm certainly finding a new respect for Smith and the early Mormons that I wouldn't have had even a month ago.

What I really want for me and my family is to have our lives centred on Christ, and what you're writing about makes so much sense to me. I've learnt very quickly from attending church again, talking to my wife and reading this blog, that I don't have to get hung up on the finer points if they're not relevant to my salvation, and if at the end of the day I'm making Christ a fuller part of my life.

Thank you brother!

Alan Rock Waterman said...

Welcome back, Shaun. Your decision to have a Christ-centered life and gather up all that is good and true is what Joseph Smith said would make us all "true Mormons." I've found that many of the things that have thrown me off kilter about the Church are often cultural things I accepted only because they were part of what I learned growing up. Not everything we've heard is the gospel truth.

I think what we deserve to do is pray for conformation about those things that don't seem to fit, rather than accepting the whole mish-mash as somehow "all true." "Prove all things," as Paul said, and "hold fast to that which is true." We can then let go of those things that don't work for us or don't ring true, and that's what will make us all true Mormons.

Phil said...

Gotta say wow, I read this and suddenly all the problems I'd recently been reading about washed away. This viewpoint certainly clarifies things and hopefully will help someone who's inactive return to the gospel.

Unknown said...

Though I attend a non-LDS Church with my wife (I go mostly alone due my wife chronic pain that makes it impossible to attend regularly) we also go to a Sunday School class for 55+ years old that start an hour before the regular worship. Some know that I am Mormon but don’t really give me any grief over it, thankfully.

Late last year, I remember bearing my testimony to some of few them after class. Man, you should have seen the shock and horror on their faces after I was done. It all started when this woman, Paula, was expressing concern to a few of us, about Ginger’s sister who lives in AZ who was going to serve a short mission for the LDS Church that calls for more seniors to serve. Paula worried about this Ginger sister if she was “save” or not because she is a Mormon. I asked Paula why would you think that? Paula said that Mormon don’t believe in Christ. Well, that got me going and I said yes they do which her response was no they don’t ( After reading this post and comments, you would think Paula is right). That kind of went back and forth a couple more times.

I finally said well if they didn’t, why would the name the church “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” if they didn’t believe in Christ. I just got a blank stare and resulted her saying about some story of a Mormon who did something bad, nothing about the Church doctrines. Our main teacher Eldon and his wife Shirley was part of the discussion. At which point I finally said that I know the Book of Mormon is the Word of God and that Joseph was Prophet that I even compare his calling is same as one of the old Testament Prophets. There was the shock and horror on their faces that prompted Eldon to relate a story how his son moved to city in Utah north of Provo to open an auto shop that he had to close down because no Mormon would give him the business because he wasn’t Mormon.

Anyway, the discussion didn’t get too heated and Shirley wanted form a prayer circle around me which they did to say a prayer to help me find the truth or something like that. I humor them by letting them do that and after wards we broke to go to the main services. There wasn’t much of fallout and I am always welcome with the group and their activities.

Well, what does this have to do of what is being discussed here on this post? I am not sure, though I do understand that when I have gone to my ward’s fast and testimony meeting, I mostly hear that the “church is true” and the current President is the prophet, more than hearing about the Savior and His Atonement, Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon or the Restored Gospel. And sometimes some members ramble on about a story that may or may not have anything to do with their testimony. I think that when I hear a member express their testimony of the divinity of the Savior and the Restored Gospel, I feel the Spirit more than someone saying that this church is true that sounds mechanical.
Reading many articles and comments on this blogspot called Pure Mormonism has caused me to pause a moment in my to reflect and how I approach things. Which if this helps me to become more “Christlike” the better and not become too judgmental to my fellow beings. Thanks for you all in sharing your thoughts and feelings.

Erik M. said...

On my mission to NJ back in 2002-2004, my Mission President said that the Apostles wanted us to give two minute testimonies centered around the Savior whenever we bore testimony. The Apostles had all of the Mission Presidents share their testimonies, but cut the meeting short because they took too long. Our Mission President had us all do the same exercise. I wish more members heard of that council.

Anonymous said...

John Taylor said Joseph smith was second to Christ not Joseph smith himself.

Unknown said...

I realize this is an old post but wanted to pose an observation/question here.

I don't think we can separate "the Church" from "the gospel" so cleanly.

Where, in this breakdown, do we put men in authority to grant/deny necessary ordinances for exaltation? When a black person approached the prophet pre-1978 and was denied entrance to the temple, and the requisite ordinances therein, was that the fault or the church or the gospel? Doesn't the gospel include the divine authority and direction granted to the First Presidency and Twelve? When Elder McConkie says that those who question the eternally changing doctrine should repent and believe in a living prophet, does that mean that the prophets of old are part of "the church" but the prophet of today is "the gospel"?

Unknown said...

I know the box is true. It is crazy how humans want to make there lives so overly complicated. The church seems to build box on top of a box. It's like a Matryoshka doll now.

jeffomatic said...

"It's not the church, it's the gospel." Exactly. What this tells me is that one should thus jettison the church! The gospel may be sought without any organization, with a nice 10% salary bonus as well.

Unknown said...

It's really funny to see to these "half-way out" Mormons preach about how "the Church is corrupt but the Gospel is true" and such.

I've got some news for you: the Church and the "Gospel" may be technically separate, but they sure as hell aren't separable. Anyone who tries to justify "original/true teachings" from the "new bureaucratic ones" is just deluding themselves because Joseph Smith was as much a con man as the corporation that has followed in his place(not saying they'd be on the same side today).

More than that, it's pointless to separate the "true Christian teachings" away from the false ones because Christianity itself is a buncha bunk. Scholars still aren't sure if Jesus himself even EXISTED, much less was the miraculous man he supposedly was (at least Mohammed has that going for him, right? He wrote stuff down himself!)

So while I admire someone "going deeper" and exposing the 'hidden corporation', please realize that you're making yourself look silly by only debunking the stuff you want to debunk while still maintaining your irrational belief in something else.
The problem will still always lead back to the fact that there is no validating evidence for the Judeo-Christian God (or any other, for that matter), there is no evidence for the iconic story of Moses or Noah's flood, all Abrahamic theology gets debunked by science eventually(ahem, Genesis), Christian morality is contradictory, Jesus' story is contradictory and shaky in a historical context (especially if you compare it to other "Messiahs" of that age, or heck, look at ancient Buddha or Zoraster or anybody else), Joseph Smith was an industrious misogynistic charlatan con man (very common in the 20th century), there is no validating evidence for the Book of Mormon or any other doctrinal text, every Church leader following has blurred and changed the original doctrine anyway, etc etc etc etc.

Please stop being a blind apologist and think a little bit. You're already smart enough to question the organization, so just go the whole way!!

Glenn Thigpen said...

Just wanted to say that my testimony has always been (ever since I have understood what my testimony was about) was of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. Your description was of a culture, not of the church.

My life has taken me to many places where there was no "church" per se, on board a ship in the middle of an ocean and in foreign countries where the "church" presence is minimal or not even allowed publicly.

So, yes "the church is true" is an accurate statement when it means the gospel of Jesus Christ and that the Church is the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. I do have a testimony that Joseph Smith was and is the prophet chosen by Jesus Christ to be the instrument of that restoration.

Did I just say essentially the same thing that you did?


W Paul Pulsipher said...

Though I agree with your general mindset, that "the Church" is only a vehicle to get us to Christ by allowing "the Gospel" to change us, I think your approach is a bit too aggressive and even completely flawed on just one point. That point happens to be that "the Church" actually is totally and completely true, but, as you mention, the reason it even matters if it is true is because it is a means Christ has established to perfect God's children. Other than that, great article!

You might like some of my blog:

RAWLS said...

You need to do some research on those weak responses of yours Siegen. Stop spouting made up facts as "truth". EG: "at least Mohammed wrote stuff down himself" Not true. He had scribes. You simply use your own untrue "buncha bunk" statements such as that one to makes yourself feel better about not believing.

Sarah D Mize said...

In the end, my problem was most certainly not with "the church" but the doctrine. I love the people so much and their love for eachother and the support they show to eachother is amazing. I honestly started a research because a friend of mine who had been converted left the church after a google search and I felt that ethically, I wanted to be able to support my friends who I introduced to the church through finding these stories (which is often inevitable in this day of information). I have no problem with flawed people (like Joseph Smith or Brigham etc...) running a church. What it was is very obvious central doctrines and statements which were changed- like the first vision which set up for us the nature of God the Father- that he has a body of flesh and bone, but that wasn't what Joseph believed. In the lectures on faith his belief is stated that God does not have a body of tabernacle, but a body of spirit. Then there ended up being huge changes in every piece of Canon. It does not make sense to me that Joseph saw God the Father and Jesus Christ in the woods, then wrote the Book of Mormon with Oliver- stating that God the very eternal Father was the son of Mary (1830 version Book of Mormon), then went through and edited so that it supported a different nature of God (that he a separate being from Christ), and Sidney Rigdon helps write the official first vision statement which is quite different from the earlier statements- especially Joseph's own journal entry which he leaves out again and again that God the Father was there, a separate being. This is only the tip of the iceberg of canon which he altered in a way that discredited him and showed something was amiss in Joseph's prophetic honesty. Would God give us a dishonest and ingenuine prophet? I don't believe He would. But beyond that intellectual exercize, there was this moment of profound peace that washed over me when I recognized the genuine flaw- a full and bright feeling that assured me, "I love you. You are acceptable as you are- you are flawed like every other person, but grace and my love covers you and you will be ok. I am with you." It was like an ecclipse in my heart and I cannot even find in me the desire for LDS doctrines which had been once woven in my soul. I now attend 2 churches, LDS with the family and my Evening church on my own. Soon my ward will know that I am not "one of them". I fear they will shudder when they see my hand raise. I fear they will try to cover me up- though I have done nothing these past 8 months but offer supportive comments and a testimony of Christ while I attend. I know they have Christ and I know they have the Spirit, I only consider the LDS doctrines as fitting in three possible categories- the Book of Mormon is a support to their belief in Christ and his love, some other things aren't "damaging" as long as their faith in those things endures- but they are perhaps distracting, and the third category is rather small and doesn't exist for every member- that is those things which are damaging. So I have no need in me to cause a rucus, but in order that they can be aware of my family's situation and support us and so that I can be genuinely accepted or rejected, they will soon receive an email. Anyways, it's an antecdote about why this girl left. I was a true Blue Mormon. I think as far as I was concerned the people and the growth in a testimony of Christ was the pearl, but the unique doctrines were the pretty box.