Why Listen to LDS Testimonies?
This is a summary of a discussion from a bulletin board discussion.
Board: RELIGION 2 Subject: UNANSWERED MORMON QS
To: ALL Date: 05/27 From: --[ Redacted ]--
May we try to start over, without all the bullying and personal insults? If I have insulted any who did not first deliberately insult me, I do apologize from the depths of my heart. I am willing to try again with all here.
I would still like to have Mormon answers to these quest- ions, if that's possible:
First, Mormons put a great deal of importance on their personal testimonies, and others are asked to take them at face value. But no one has ever explained to me why a non- Mormon should put any more weight on a Mormon testimony than on a sincere Muslim's testimony, or on that of a devout Roman Catholic or a dedicated fundamentalist Christian. I am seriously and sincerely in quest of an answer here: If all we are going on is personal feeling, why yours and not another's?
Secondly, I really do not understand one aspect of baptism for the dead. On the one hand, Mormons do genealogy work and get baptized for every departed soul they can identify. On the other, they cannot POSSIBLY get everyone in human history, even if we shorten the period from 270,000 years to 100,000 years -- or even 10,000! Mr. Burdett has said that God will make them known in the Millennium, if I understand correctly. If that's the case, why worry now? And why would God put this chore on fallible human beings?
Finally, I am trying to reconcile what I've read about the position of women in Mormonism with the claims I've read (that they don't miss the priesthood, etc). Can someone tell me what Mormon doctrine really is on women and godhood, etc?
That post had a number of answers, including the following online comments as to why LDS consider their testimonies "true" compared to the witness they hear from others.
One of the major reasons for sending kids out on missions is to give them some sold, first hand experience with the Spirit.
Time after time young elders discover that if investigators of the Church will read the Book of Mormon and pray regularly, they will receive a spiritual witness of the truth of the Church.
That trains young LDS to certain attitudes. E.g. if people will study and pray, they will receive a witness (after all, it happens a lot) which will make the people better and bring them closer to God.
E.g. if they have a true witness, it will lead them closer to the LDS Church. Of the many people who don't come all the way, in a substantial number of cases young elders can literally see the person failing to move forward on the Spirit's witness.
As a result, many LDS, who have served as missionaries, are aware than non-LDS can have the Spirit. They've met a lot of them.
But, they also become conditioned, by experience, to the belief that if people continue with the Spirit, it will lead them to the LDS Church, if the individual does not pull back and fail in faith.
That is the kernel of the LDS attitude toward testimony (and my testimony verses your testimony).
Now there is more to the sequence.
My guess is that in about every other Stake (a Stake being a collection of five to twelve congregations, and usually five to seven congregations), you will meet someone who used to be a minister or pastor of some other faith.
(That is my rough guess based on living in a lot of Stakes all over the country while growing up in the military. I suspect that the number might be lower in Utah ...).
Such individuals will tell a story of ministering, believing, and of being led by the Spirit. Often they will recount a choice where they could stay where they were or accept more of what God had for them.
They chose to accept more, made significant sacrifices, and became LDS.
Again, this leaven of ex-non-LDS leads LDS to the general belief that there are good people out there, but if they are willing to accept a higher law, they'll become LDS.
Finally, you have converts to the LDS Church.
Many of them have significant spiritual background, and found the Church as a natural result of that.
(My father is an excessive example of that. His experiences prior to meeting LDS missionaries included talking with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch and a number of other individuals).
They will recount how they had a portion of the Spirit, but found more, and a firm witness, in the LDS Church.
In all of these examples the individuals will show appropriate fruits of the Spirit and improvement in the way they live their lives.
(In fact, some of this type of experience explains the frustration some of the "Olive Branch" group feels. Many came to the Church from outside, or have had significant experiences and ...)
The other experiences leaven LDS perceptions, but converts (who have always formed the bulk of the LDS membership) create and maintain the beliefs.
I've met good, decent, spiritual ex-Moslems and heard their stories. Ex-nuns, Buddhists, etc.
They all tell me the same thing, in accord with my missionary experiences. They had the Spirit. They were sincere. The listened and went forward where the Spirit led and came to the Church.
That kind of certainty is frustrating to non-LDS. It also frustrates some ex-LDS and causes others to feel God has some sort of (positive) place for the LDS.
I had some Baptist friends explain what they saw was the appropriate attitude to me using Paul's sermon on the parts of the Church and the parts of the body.
In their view, the sermon related not so much to roles within any particular congregation or denomination, but to each denomination's part of the larger "Church of Christ."
Sort of a recasting of "to every thing there is a time and to every act a season." Thus there was and is a place for the world to have Anglicans and Methodists and LDS and Baptists and Pentecostals and ...
God fitting the needs and roles of people and time to the various churches, each leading men to Christ in its own way.
That sort of doctrine fits well with soul competency and the approach that the only true religion is the individual relationship with Christ of the individual worshipper.
Where that falls short with LDS comes from the constant flow and experience LDS have with prayers and Priesthood blessings and activities in their own Church.
Those experiences, and the related Spiritual witness reinforce many attitudes. This is especially true as the LDS Church is a lay church. Most members will experience being in the presidency of an elder's quorum or similar things.
They will have prayed and received answers over the governance of the Church on a local level and for their own lives and families.
Which experience reinforces their corporate orientation (corporate used in terms orientation to a particular body).
First, Mormons put a great deal of importance on their personal testimonies, and others are asked to take them at face value.
"I am seriously and sincerely in quest of an answer here: If all we are going on is personal feeling, why yours and not another'?"
I hope I've answered that question with more than the casual "Well, you should believe my testimony because [it is mine and so I know it is true]"
I've been through it a lot. And a fair amount of LDS preaching is to the effect of not being disappointed in people if they don't go as far as you would like in the Spirit. Just love them and cherish your friends.
I'll admit it. From my experience, I believe that sincere people who seek Christ, will become LDS if they don't kick against the pricks or are not some other place for a definite reason. I've seen it happen a lot.
" Secondly, I really do not understand one aspect of baptism for the dead. On the one hand, Mormons do genealogy work and get baptized for every departed soul they can identify. On the other, they cannot POSSIBLY get everyone in human history, even if we shorten the period from 270,000 years to 100,000 years -- or even 10,000! Mr. Burdett has said that God will make them known in the Millennium, if I understand correctly. If that's the case, why worry now? And why would God put this chore on fallible human beings?"
The good question is "why worry now?" After all, my guess is that the Holocaust victim mess (which has been discussed ad nauseum elsewhere) was probably one small temple's summer season output.
Given a human population of only two billion and a literal thousand year period, that is trillions of baptisms for the dead a year easily done (with lots of spare time).
If we accept current mainstream models of humanity, and take a 300,000 year time period and accepted human densities (where the human population is measured in millions rather than billions) for most of that time ...
Running the numbers it certainly looks like something that can be put off.
And why would God put this chore on fallible human beings? As I said, that is the good question (and I'm taking a while to get to it).
Participating in the rituals of the gospel, the sacraments, is good for people. Taking the sacrament of the Lord's supper and similar rituals are good for people.
The real reason God allows fallible human beings to participate is to give them the experience and the opportunity. It is a blessing from God, not a chore.
After all, LDS doctrine regarding the "Saints and Faithful for the last two thousand years" (and beyond) is that they are heirs of the celestial kingdom of God.
Visions of heaven (both included in the D&C [e.g. 137, etc.] and otherwise) reflect that all of these are in Heaven with God.
And, my points for argument aside, early LDS prophets made a strong point that we were mistaken to condemn Luther, Benjamin Franklin and others. We have no right (though for rhetorical purposes I hope we can use them for illustrations).
God chooses and knows whom He has saved and who will be with Him in Heaven. We cannot know if we work from our own perspective.
And our actions, alone, do nothing. Not only are we fungible, but it is all the power of God.
After all, we are talking about people who are in the kingdom of Heaven already ....
(which is my understanding of LDS doctrine vs. Mormon folk belief)
The LDS community, like most others, has both a folk culture (with folk beliefs) and real doctrine.
Mormon folk beliefs are all over the map. Some are almost as bad as the early Christian communities that did not believe women had souls (read the Gospel of Mary for an interesting variant on that).
Folk beliefs are not doctrine. Given the LDS structure, even talks at BYU and at Conferences may not necessarily be doctrine (or the city of St. George is in real trouble ...:>).
LDS doctrine (to the extent there is any) is that the inequality between the sexes is part of the nature of life in a fallen world and that women are equal to men if given proper education and opportunity.
Cannon, Young, and other early LDS leaders taught this a number of times, and it is pretty well established.
Like men, women are joint heirs with Christ and people to whom John 10:35 (etc.) applies.
What is amazing is the number of sermons on that point in Brigham Young's time to the effect that women are equal to men, that polygamy was transitory, etc. (Obviously some of George Q. Cannon's early sermons and essays come to mind).
Thus Brigham Young's sermons on women as fit as men to be accountants, doctors, lawyers and members of government.
Anyway, the doctrine is that women are equal to men.
The doctrine (cf D&C 121: 36-46) is that no power or influence can be maintained by virtue of the priesthood except by persuasion, long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned ...
(An often reprinted and cited to regularly, sermon on this point involves a man going into a General Authority's office and demanding that the GA tell the man's wife to obey him because he has the priesthood.
The response is "but you don't." You are entitled to act by love and kindness, and to the extent you try any other method, the heavens withdraw themselves, the Spirit of the Lord is grieved, and you have no rights.
Count on at least one men's group published lesson a year on your wife being your "equal partner" and not less than you. Those lessons and the related sermons have been going on for years and years.
Not that a lot of folk Mormons don't hear and understand that LDS doctrine -- which is why it is constantly repeated.)
Doctrinally, women receive the same reward as men receive. All mainstream doctrinal positions, regardless or source, agree on this point. Joseph Fielding Smith even took the lead in pointing out that it was society and culture -- not nature or God -- that put women down and prevented them from equality.
For example, in his Doctrines of Salvation (his opinions, not doctrines), vol. II, pages 76-77 he even applied that position to what _should_ be in dating, etc.
Though he did not urge cultural revolution, but rather gradual efforts toward change.
There is a final point:
Any LDS congregation has a significant group of those who have been, or who are, inactive.
Most of the currently inactive have gone inactive at the same time they've decided to give up on the commandments or had their feelings hurt.
Generally, the commandment abandoned is chastity. Often, when the mistress is dropped or the boyfriend moves on, the inactive cleans up and comes back.
As a result, many failures of faith are seen as the result of sin or of hurt feelings. It is a pervasive bias (one I address in my Crisis of Intellect essay).
Of those who used to be inactive -- generally 20% to 30% of any congregation, you have people who have experienced loss and recapture of faith.
Those two groups strongly reinforce LDS attitudes towards faith, testimony and belief -- not to mention inactives and ex-members.
Anyone can hear the stories of those who wandered, left the faith and who returned and their perspective on the Spirit and counterfeits at least once a month, in Fast and Testimony Meeting, from a first person perspective (e.g. "I did this" rather than "I heard of someone who did this"). In a normal LDS ward, there is a strong correlation between people leaving the faith and becoming less moral and honest.
(--this is a general trend, not an absolute rule. But the r[squared] is around .9 or so in experience.)
So when an ex-LDS or inactive LDS attempts to testify to most LDS, what they immediately call to mind is people who bear testimonies of having been just like them and then having seen the light and followed the Spirit back to the faith.
That 20% to 30% of any congregation is an important part, just like the returned missionaries and the first time converts. They close the picture, just as do the "stereotype" inactives ["hurt feelings" and "unchaste" being the two stereotypes].)
And that closes the picture.
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