“We gain or strengthen a testimony by bearing it.”1
Dallin H. Oaks, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
In the Mormon church, every first Sunday of the month is fast and testimony meeting. Members are expected to abstain from food and drink. During sacrament meeting, in lieu of prepared talks, the service is devoted to members standing up and professing their faith in the Church.
As a kid, I always dreaded fast and testimony meetings. Sacrament meeting seemed even longer than normal, as the majority of the hour was marred by uncomfortable silences, punctuated by the occasional member that would feel pressured into standing up to break the monotony. Later, during Sunday School, all I could think about was the grumbling in my stomach. We usually had another, smaller testimony meeting among our peers, so that we could practice saying them in front of others.
We were taught that the best way to strengthen our testimony was by bearing it. I did my best to follow that advice, in spite of my reticence about public demonstrations of faith. The dissident in me always thought of Matthews 6:5 --- “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street, that they may be seen by others.” But the admonition to bear your testimony often was a directive from the General Authorities, so I tried my best to be a good Mormon girl.
Testimonies usually fell into a pattern --- the member would talk about some trial in their life and then say how the Lord had answered their prayers. Then the member would finish by saying --- “I know this Church is the one true Church. I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that Jesus died for our sins.” Or something along those lines. But the testimonies were more exceptional for what they didn’t say. In all the testimonies I heard over the years --- and there were thousands of them --- I can count on one hand the number of times I heard members admitting to having unresolved doubts about the truth of the Church. Having doubts and questioning the gospel was acceptable, as long as you arrived at the correct conclusion of “The Church is true.”
I always felt very uncomfortable bearing my testimony. I thought that the Mormon church was true. I believed that the Mormon Church was true. But there was an intense pressure within the Church to say that you knew the Mormon Church was true. You knew, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that the Mormon church was true. And the rational part of my mind knew that the fact of knowing was impossible. But I had been raised to place complete faith in the authorities and so I too stood up and said “I know this Church is true.” And in so doing, I contributed to an environment in which members felt alone in their doubts.