Thursday, May 17, 2012

Testimony Meeting: Fake It 'Til You Make It

“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.  


  1. Fake it till you make it, it's not what you know it's what you show, self-fulfilling prophecy, the carrot and the stick, and lastly...conformation bias. ?Yes no...whatevah. UR a little too hard on yourself in the end, buddy.


  2. The thing I recall most often is the kids, some time toddlerswho were just learning to talk

    "I'd like to bear my testimony, I know this church is true, I love my mom and dad, Amen"

    Heartbreaking really

  3. All part of the indoctrination process. I was a little luckier than most --- my mother is very private about her beliefs and never pushed us to bear our testimonies if we didn't want to. But that was just one woman in the midst of a entire culture.

    And yes, the kids break my heart.

  4. After being pressured by my father EVERY Sunday to bear my testimony to a full congregation despite my enduring stage fright, I no longer am comfortable expressing any personal spiritual thoughts out loud except to small groups of people I know fairly well. My prayers now consist of private joyful thoughts about the complexities of life and such, and tend to not translate well into the usual Mormon pattern of prayer.

    1. And that is OK. :-) I'm sorry that your parents were so insistent about having you bear your testimony in spite of your fear. I"m glad you are now at a point where you feel comfortable about choosing when and where to express your thoughts.

  5. I never had to give testimony. Thankfully. I was a convert at age 12, and no one ever asked me or insinuated that I should stand up and give it. I was afraid they would, however. I was never a true Christian at all. Most of the people I ever heard give it usually said, "I believe in Jesus Christ and I give my testimony that I know this church is true....yada yada." They usually did so while sobbing like babies. I could never figure out why.

    1. My parents didn't pressure me but I always felt guilty for not giving my testimony. And even guiltier for saying things I didn't completely believe myself.

      I'm glad I don't have to go back to that. :)

  6. I hated bearing my testimony. I had huge stage-fright and I was afraid that people were going to laugh and make fun of me.


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