How I wish Mormons interacted with my evangelical self

I’ve thought about writing on this topic for some time now. I am an evangelical who has lived in Utah for almost five years, four of which I’ve spent at BYU, and I’ve been involved in a wide array of exchanges with Latter-day Saints over this period. I spend a lot of time thinking about my varied and many motivations (what they are what they should be) in talking with Mormons and about things I think evangelicals could improve upon in our conversations with Latter-day Saints specifically and non-evangelicals in general. Significantly less often (usually after I’ve had a frustrating encounter), but often enough that I have strong feelings on the subject, I think about the how I wish Mormons would interact with me. It’s the latter that I want to write about, and I comment on the former only to preface what follows with the admission that I think evangelicals (myself included) have a long, long way to go in loving our Mormon neighbors as Jesus would have us love them, and that I don’t believe any practices I take issue with on the Mormon side of interfaith dialogues are unique to Mormons.

I should clarify that my thoughts on this subject are directed toward non-missionary Latter-day Saints. While I feel strongly about what follows and believe it has broad implications, I realize that missionaries have different roles within Latter-day Saint culture than most members do, and that’s another post for another day.

I can only think of two things that really bother me about the evangelism practices of some Latter-day Saints and three things I think are really effective. Maybe I’ll think of more later and write another post. I’m really interested in LDS reactions to this, especially the first two…

Things that are not effective for me:

  1. Bearing your testimony. I am reluctant to write about this topic, but in the spirit of full disclosure, I dislike it when Latter-day Saints bear their testimonies to me, and I have yet to speak to a non-Mormon about this who feels differently (I’m sure there are some out there, but I don’t think my experience is rare). Testimony-bearing is a conversation-ender. There’s just nowhere to go from there. And to be honest, it often feels to me like it’s used as a trump card, as a last word in a debate I didn’t even know I was having. I usually walk away from conversations in which that has taken place feeling manipulated, bulldozed, and disheartened. Of the many times people have borne me their testimonies, only one experience was not completely negative, and that was when a professor of mine asked (a courtesy for which I was very appreciative) if she could bear me her testimony, and I said yes. Usually when people bear their testimonies to me, it feels like they and I are suddenly standing on uneven ground. I feel forced into the position of being told what’s true. The testimony-bearer becomes the teacher and I become the student. They do so knowing that I believe differently, and I imagine that their desire is that I will feel the Spirit while they’re speaking and have an experience like they have had. But when that doesn’t happen, where are we supposed to go from there? Can we have conversations without this element being introduced, without our roles being so rigidly defined by only one member of a two-person relationship?
  2. Telling me that I wouldn’t lose anything I believed if I joined the LDS Church; I would just get more truth in addition to what I already have. Many a well-meaning Latter-day Saint has expressed this to me. As best as I can tell, it is a distortion of a (great) quote from Joseph Smith (which I am going to distort myself, because I can’t find it): “Bring what truth you have and let us add unto it.” [Correction: the quote is from Gordon B. Hinckley; see aquinas’s comment below for context.] Being on the receiving end of the comment “You wouldn’t lose anything…” is frustrating, as it takes but a moment of real reflection to realize that I would lose some beliefs that are very precious to me if I were to join the LDS Church. That’s not necessarily a valid reason not to join; it just makes the statement untrue. I cannot be Mormon and believe that God is a Trinity, I cannot be Mormon and believe that the one true church is the invisible body of all the redeemed regardless of official church affiliation or lack thereof, I cannot be Mormon and believe that God has faithfully sustained all the truth his Church needed throughout the centuries, and I cannot be Mormon and believe that God created from nothing everything in existence outside Himself. I would lose some things that are close to the core of what makes God so beautiful to me, beliefs that it would be almost physically painful for me to part ways with. To imply that my transition to Mormonism would be either easy or loss-less is to reveal an understanding of my faith that is a very weak caricature of its reality. Also, presenting Mormonism in this light is counter to the way Jesus presents the cost of accepting the gospel. If Mormonism is the Way, and it costs me everything to join the church, then so be it. Though I believe salvation is free, it cannot be said of Christianity that it costs us nothing; it costs us everything. If the Latter-day Saint gospel is the pearl of great price, I’ll sell everything I have to get it. A Jesus-following people should expect no less.

Things I think are very effective:

  1. Following the Spirit. I admire the tendency within the Latter-day Saint tradition of people receiving promptings and following them. This is a beautiful aspect of LDS faith, and something that seems to be conspicuously missing from the somewhat formulaic way in which some Latter-day Saints interact with non-Latter-day Saints whom they’d like to see convert. (The irony of my accusing non-evangelicals of employing formulaic conversion techniques is not lost on me…we may be chief of all sinners in this area.)
  2. Expecting that I can offer you insight into the Christian life that you do not already have. In Acts chapter ten, God used Cornelius, a Gentile, to teach Peter, a Jew. Even if I’m working from an understanding of Christianity that is missing some of the fundamentals, I may deeply understand the truth I do have, and I am a person to whom God is revealing himself differently than how he’s revealing himself to you. People who understand this are usually the most effective ambassadors of their faith traditions that I know, because they are seekers themselves.
  3. Genuinely desiring to know and understand me. Latter-day Saints have a very robust sense of calling and duty to evangelize the world, and I think that’s admirable. But every time I’ve become more endeared to Mormonism over the past few years, it has been because of people who have shelved their overt desires to see me join the church and who have rather tried earnestly to understand me. These are people who value my experience for what it is, not for how they can use it. This is compelling. This is attractive. Love me so well that I can’t help but wonder what could create in someone so beautiful a heart, and you won’t have to convince me that your faith is life-giving. I’ll beat down your door with questions about it.


Filed under BYU, Interfaith dialogue, Mormonism

65 responses to “How I wish Mormons interacted with my evangelical self

  1. Kim

    Sarah, this is an amazing post. Glad you wrote the things I was thinking…

  2. Great post, Sarah. I especially have to agree on the testimony-bearing. I have a very difficult time knowing how to respond to someone who has just born their testimony to me. What am I supposed to say? “Nuh-uh,” “Well, God told me something different, so there,” “I think you’ve misinterpreted what God told you.” None of them are very pleasant ways to take the conversation. There have been times when I have asked people to hear their testimonies of the Church, and in those cases of course it’s okay. I’m usually more interested in what factors in their life story led to their belief in Mormonism than the strict “I know this church is true” formula.

    I also agree that the “bring what truth you have and let us add to it” plea has always bothered me. There are definitely things that Mormonism takes away. I don’t know that it would be impossible to be a Mormon and believe in the Trinity and creation ex nihilo (Seth thinks it’s possible), but I still think it would be very difficult. In addition to that, I would have to seriously alter my beliefs concerning the role of the historic Christian church and all Christian believers as the body of Christ. I would have to give up most of the opportunities I have to be involved in leadership of both women and men and accept limited roles working with women and children. I would have to give up my style of Sunday worship, which brings me so much joy and I happen to love. Those are all huge shifts for me, both in terms of paradigm and in terms of practice. That anyone would so cavalierly dismiss those things as minor sacrifices typically shows a very poor understanding of my beliefs indeed.

  3. Jack, I think the issue of the Trinity is highly ambiguous. In fact, I consider myself a “trinitarian” in some very real senses. And there are people out there who self-identify as “Evangelical” who share my concept of the Trinity.

    Much of the whole Trinity debate between Mormons and Evangelicals can be summarized in three bullet points:

    1. Mormons think Protestants and Catholic doctrine is modalist.

    2. Protestants and Catholics think that Mormonism is strictly tri-theistic.

    3. We both over-compensate our rhetoric in the direction of either modalism or tri-theism in an attempt to correct for the perceived false position of the other side.

    I don’t actually think the Trinity – properly understood – is a huge point of contention for our opposing camps. It’s persistence as such a point of contention is almost solely a function of us not understanding each other’s position.

    Creation ex nihilo is a definite real difference. But here, I would want to know exactly why the doctrine is so indispensable to your position and why you treasure it before I’d go jumping to conclusions about whether Mormonism takes away what it is you value.

  4. As for “bearing of testimony” – I have never liked the formalized format in my lifetime of participation in the LDS Church.

    I have a very sensitive emotional-manipulation radar, and nothing locks me down and makes me start stonewalling faster than the feeling that someone is trying to emotionally manipulate me into a foregone conclusion.

    It’s not just Evangelical “investigators” who get this behavior. You have it thrown at you as a Mormon as well. You sometimes see Church members taking an experience that – on first telling – isn’t particularly inspiring or noteworthy, and then capping it all off with a few tears and a standard-format testimony.

    So now, this utterly boring and pointless story is supposed to be a tear-jerker for me – simply because a few magic words were affixed to it?

    Sorry, but a testimony is not meant to be a way for you to compensate for your deficiencies. If your story was boring and irrelevant to me, adding dramatic lighting and a bit of campaign ad piano music isn’t going to change that. I’d prefer you just naturally told your own stories and related your own convictions without trying to dress them up into something more than they actually are.

    But on the other hand, I can be a bit of a cynical jerk too. And rather uncharitable towards people I don’t know well.

    It’s important to realize that sharing feelings about personally held beliefs is a very hard thing for many people. Some of these people need the crutch of a formal ritualized format in order to overcome their natural inhibitions here.

    And yes, the formal testimony format is a crutch. But we need to be humble enough to realize that all of us need crutches in some area of our lives. Just because others need a “testimony-crutch” doesn’t make their weaknesses inferior to my own. I’ve got my own crutches stashed away somewhere.

  5. Sarah, thank you for a very thoughtful and well written post about a sensitive topic. I think it is important for Latter-day Saints to willingly listen to sincere feedback about approaches used.

    One should be sensitive about bearing testimony. I think you are right that sometimes it may be motivated by a sincere hope that the Spirit will bridge the gap where words inevitably fail. Yet, if doing so leads to negative feelings on the receiving end, this should signal that perhaps one should reconsider the approach or at least the content of the testimony, as they greatly vary in content. It is difficult, because perhaps some Latter-day Saints feel they are following to the promptings of the Spirit that is telling them to bear witness. Even so, it would be inconsistent to believe the Spirit would prompt an approach where the recipient feels manipulated or disheartened.

    As to the second point, I think it is attributed to President Gordon B. Hinckley. In most cases he was speaking more about goodness and virtue. For example, he said: “We recognize the good in all people. We recognize the good in all churches, in their efforts to improve mankind and to teach principles that lead to good, stable, productive living. To people everywhere we simply say, You bring with you all the good that you have and let us add to it. That is the principle on which we work.” From Interview by Philippines Television, April 30, 1996 cited in Messages of Inspiration from President Hinckley, LDS Church News, Nov. 2, 1996. During a Conference address he said: “To anybody who is not of this Church, I say we recognize all of the virtues and the good that you have. Bring it with you and see if we might add to it.” Ensign, November 1996, p.48.

    I want to be clear I’m not offering these statements by way of an apologia or to suggest he never used the word truth, but rather to suggest to Latter-day Saints a better context to understand these statements. If one thinks about it, especially from a Latter-day Saint perspective, there is little support for the idea that there are absolutely no doctrinal differences between members of the Church and others, and that the process of conversion is merely the process of adding beliefs. Under such a logic, Latter-day Saints should feel they could convert (in a formal sense) to all religions as doing so would merely entail adding beliefs. Perhaps in the case of an individual who grew up without any particular faith, and is not converting from a faith tradition, such a position might seem less fantastic.

    I think most Latter-day Saints recognize that there are great costs in joining the Church, and costs to discipleship, sometimes it entails loss of friends, family, maybe one’s occupation, and making other sacrifices. That being said, I’ve haven’t experienced anyone choosing to sacrifice cherished doctrinal beliefs and accepting doctrines they didn’t believe were true in order to convert, as to do so would seem rather counter-intuitive.

    Lastly, I appreciate your three suggestions for more effective practices. I couldn’t agree more. Excellent post.

  6. Seth — Google reader finally bring you to Sarah’s blog?

    On the Trinity, I think it depends on which Mormon “Trinity” we’re talking about.

    If we’re talking about the one where God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have always existed as deities and are one God through their unity, love, and community with one another, then that isn’t so different.

    If we’re talking about the one where God the Father was once the spirit child of some other god and progressed through mortality to become God, where Jesus Christ likewise had to progress to become God, where the Holy Spirit’s origins and future are mysterious and unknown, and where we have to account for at least one other entity in the form of a heavenly mother—that’s a huge difference.

    LDS philosophers and intellectuals seem to favor the former, but traditional LDS teaching as well as most of modern Mormonism still favors the latter.

    As far as creation ex nihilo goes, if you’re asking me personally, I would say that it’s intricately bound to my beliefs in God’s sovereignty and providence. I’ve heard your many condemnations of certainty and security in religion, but when it comes to the nature of God, your words really just don’t speak to me. I’m okay with God’s ability to come through for me and have a plan for me being the one certain thing in my wholly uncertain, painful and frightening life.

  7. I think I actually found this blog via recommendation actually. I’ve been following for a few months now.

    It’s just Sarah never writes anything obviously wrong enough to give me an opening to comment.

    Grumble, grumble…

    I’m a bit partial of the “endless chain of progressing gods” model myself. So maybe they’ll have to revoke my “intellectual card.” But I don’t see such a model as a problem in the “certainty” department.

    For me, there has always been one guiding and sovereign paradigm in the wilderness, which beings may unite with if they desire.

    It’s that whole “is it good because God loves it, or does God love it because it is good?” dilemma. I come down firmly on the later. I consider good to be something that simply is – regardless of God. God is good because he is in perfect unity with this reality.

  8. It’s just Sarah never writes anything obviously wrong enough to give me an opening to comment.

    I know. I think she’s all set to usurp my position as the #1 evangelical BYU alumna who blogs. I guess I have my own grumbling to do.

    (BTW, Sarah, Dr. Mouw said to look him up when you get to Fuller. ;) )

    I’m a bit partial of the “endless chain of progressing gods” model myself.

    Wait a second. You’re a member of FAIR, you homeschool your kids, haven’t missed a day of church in like ten years, and now this?

    It’s official. I’m more of a liberal intellectual Mormon than you are. Hang a picture of Boyd K. Packer on your wall and get it over with.

    It’s that whole “is it good because God loves it, or does God love it because it is good?” dilemma.

    I’m not sure I follow what you mean here. Care to elaborate?

    For me it’s the difference between the existence of the entire universe being contingent on God’s will and God being just another player in the universe. There’s just something about believing that it’s some divine law of progression that gives us assurance, and not God himself, that brings God down for me. If that works for other people, okay—I’m not here to do the “Mormons, your God is too small” thing—but that’s a huge shift in paradigm for me, and one that has little appeal.

    BTW, aquinas, I appreciate your thoughts on this thread.

  9. Sarah, I really enjoyed reading this. I very much agree with your third “effective” point–while the Mormon church has always been a huge presence in my life, it’s really the members who approach me as a friend to be loved and understood who have prompted me to appreciate (and defend) the church for the good that it brings into the world.

  10. I missed Church yesterday. All three of my kids got nailed with the 24-hour stomach flu at the same time. I was up till 4:00 AM Sunday morning with the two youngest, then my oldest started retching around 8:00 AM. My wife had to teach a class and my calling just requires me to be there after church.

    Time to throw in the towel at that point.

    And for the record, we’ll be teaching evolution in our homeschool curriculum. And we think those faith-centered world history texts from Evangelical homeschool groups are pretty-much rubbish.

  11. I’m so sorry to hear that, Seth. My daughter had a puking day while we were out of town visiting my cousin in December. It was our first real experience with a sick kid of our own and it was miserable.

    I honestly have no idea what homeschoolers normally teach their kids. I just know that most of my friends who were homeschooled come out pretty weird. And rather eccentric.

  12. Such anecdotes are going to be a bit skewed.

    Fact is, a lot of the homeschooled kids who turn out weird would have turned out weird from public school as well. A lot of them have learning disorders, or personality disorders that would be highly disruptive both academically and socially at school. Many parents who homeschool were actually almost compelled to do it because they have an ADD kid who was simply shriveling up in the public education system. One homeschool parent related how her son was actually being locked in an isolated room and restrained by school workers and stuff. She felt pulling him out was the rational choice.

    My mom thinks I probably should have been homeschooled. I did not have a particularly good public education experience up through middle school. It’s turned out to be the right choice for my oldest daughter – who has both anxiety disorder and a pronounced case of ADD. The two younger kids are much more level and would probably do fine in public school. But we just aren’t really impressed with the public education system in general.

    80% of a public school teacher’s job is crowd control. Precious little teaching actually goes on – as evidenced by the fact that at the end of the day, your kid comes home with a backpack full of homework that the teacher should have covered at school to begin with – but can’t because she has to manage 40 kids in what is literally a government baby-sitting program.

    Our kids are all reading at higher levels than the average for their age group. Their math skills are higher too. And they don’t have homework, because they have an intensive period of personalized schooling that covers everything. And we take our vacations during weekdays in the off season or basically whenever we want.

    I should stop since this is a threadjack. You should talk to my wife about this rather than me. 1) she’s the one who does it and 2) she is much less of an ideologue than I am and easier to talk to about things in general.

  13. Jack, thanks for the response. I appreciate it.

  14. Yes, I’ll refrain from jacking the thread further. Sounds like a good conversation topic for your wife when we meet (though I couldn’t homeschool my daughter if I wanted to and wouldn’t trust myself to be able to accommodate all of her VCFS needs).

  15. Kim, I wondered what you would think of this! Thanks.

    Jack, thanks. I think you’re right about creation ex nihilo and the Trinity…it’s possible to believe in them and be LDS. Good call. And I can’t believe I forgot to ask you about meeting Dr. Mouw…how was it? I’ll totally look him up; thanks for mentioning me!

    Seth R, social trinitarianism seems to me to be the closest to bridging the gap between what most classical Christians and Mormons believe about the relationships among the members of the Godhead. What are your thoughts on that?

    On creation ex nihilo, I think it’s important for many reasons. Here are a few: It means God is uncreated Creator, the ultimate source of everything outside himself. He is ontologically different from his creation, since he cannot create uncreated beings. It means he is able to create from nothing, to will into existence (not just out of pre-existing matter/spirit). It means God is the only being who is eternal in both directions. It means God dreamed me up, desired my specific person and very existence to be, and made it so.

    aquinas, thank you for the quotation correction; I’ll change that. You make a good point about people not accepting doctrines they didn’t believe were true in order to convert. And I appreciate that you touched on the topic of Mormons who feel that they’re following the Spirit when bearing their testimonies, when my experience hearing them says otherwise to me. I thought about writing about that, but I’m not sure what to do with it. If people feel that the Spirit is compelling them to bear me their testimonies, I suppose they should do it, but the reality is that I’ll probably conclude that they were mistaken or following a different spirit. It’s a hard issue.

    Whitney, totally. Thanks for the comment.

  16. Sarah, I’m a pretty big fan of Social Trinitarianism.

    I can’t imagine that many Mormons would have much problem with the concept once properly understood. In general, your average Mormon is going to be cool with anything short of modalism that doesn’t seem completely self-contradictory. Social Trinitarianism provides a workable “out” for us. And it jives well with all those unity verses in the Book of Mormon.

    I think there are plenty of Mormon tri-theists out there. But I can’t see Social Trinitarianism being viewed that negatively by anyone in our group.

  17. >>Hang a picture of Boyd K. Packer on your wall and get it over with.

    LOL, Jack!

  18. Eric

    A few semirandom thoughts from a evangelical-turned-Mormon:

    1. I agree that the traditional rote testimony isn’t all that useful — I’m more interested in knowing why you believe something is true, or how you arrived at that belief. The bald assertion doesn’t provide much information and, in the context of what original post said, can come across as arrogant.

    The “I know this church is true” mantra really used to bug me. I’m still not all that fond of it, but these days I can more easily recognize the positive sentiment behind it.

    2. I was receptive to the “let us add to the good that you have” approach (which, as the original post suggested, isn’t exactly the same as saying that a person doesn’t have to give anything up). I must point out, though, that there were some aspects of evangelical teaching that I was very happy to give up, and that some of the LDS-evangelical differences (e.g., creation ex nihilo and the corporeal nature of our Heavenly Father) simply weren’t (and still aren’t) a big deal to me either way.

    Re creation ex nihilo: I can understand why many Christians see this as important to their understanding of God. I just don’t see it as being taught in the Bible.

    3. As a tangent, I’d agree with Seth R. that, properly understood, the essential LDS teaching about the nature of the Godhead and the “official” (whatever that means) evangelical view of the Trinity aren’t all that far apart. There is a lot of LDS speculation about the Godhead that isn’t doctrinal, and many evangelicals (the “normal” people who go to church, not the theology experts) are modalistic in outlook, so I think our differences in the area can come across as greater than they really are.

    4. I agree that evangelicals and Mormons have plenty to offer each other without seeing each other as conversion targets. For example, there are several popular evangelical authors who continue to inspire me (John Ortberg and Philip Yancey come to mind), and I am grateful for what they have taught me.

    5. A bit off-topic, but if I had one sentence of advice to evangelicals with regard to their interactions with me as a Mormon it would be this: Don’t tell me what I believe.

  19. Eric, thanks for joining in…
    1. Yeah, I love hearing the why and how.
    4. That’s cool. Books written by the Arbinger Institute and by contributors to the Arbinger Institute are among my favorite works.
    5. Agreed.

  20. Sarah, thanks for your comments, for what its worth, I think you expressed yourself well regarding those who say they feel prompted to bear testimony. As you say, it’s a difficult issue. I think often the best way to deal with it at the personal level is to simply explain to a person that regardless of the reason you felt compelled to bear testimony, this is how I felt when you did so. I think sincere people will conclude that they clearly don’t want to cause hurt feelings and will reconsider their approach.

  21. I just had to say thank you for such an excellent (and important) post. Well done.

  22. I know this post is true, and Sarah is a true blogger.

    (I also know that Jack is true, as long as she is translated correctly.)

  23. Kaimi – I laughed out loud.

    Jack, I also thought your Packer comment was hilarious…

  24. The really hilarious part is that Seth already has a BKP picture on his wall.

    Don’t listen to him if he says otherwise, he’s lying.

  25. My dad thinks that Elder Packer is just misunderstood.

    L. Tom Perry is the one your REALLY have to watch out for.

    I’m just kidding, but seriously – people’s publicly perceived persona can be quite different from their true persona. For all we know, Packer could be the real softie on the quorum, with someone like Eyring making all the calls that irritate the bloggernacle.

  26. yeah

    Very insightful. Even as a Mormon, I would say most LDS members don’t understand the concept of grace. The idea that one can save himself through his work is just crazy, but it is the prevailing attitude. The only Mormon (now ex) who came close was Richard Dutcher in his movie “States of Grace.”

  27. Clean Cut, thank you!

    yeah, I love “States of Grace.”

  28. DavidH

    Thanks for your post Sarah. Well written and right on.

  29. Really great post.

    I agree that the whole “testimony-bearing” thing is annoying, even as a Mormon. It reminds me of two anecdotes…

    1)–When I was growing up and attending seminary, they always suggested we use testimony-bearing exactly as you described it: a trump card. “No one can tell you that you don’t know what you know,” they’d say, “so that makes it a powerful expression of the truth.”

    In fact, that’s true; but as you demonstrated, it often makes for an awkward, confusing, unsatisfying moment — NOT a moment of profound spiritual awakening.

    2)–The other day, I was talking to a Mo friend who has some evangelical coworkers. Apparently, this friend and her coworkers got into a discussion about the Fall. The coworkers were expressing their dismay over the Fall, and wondering what Paradise would have been like for all of us if Adam and Eve hadn’t eaten that darned fruit.

    Of course, in Mormon theology, there would be no “us” without the Fall, and so my friend said she felt this overwhelming feeling of shock and even anger well up inside at how “wrong” they were.

    She corrected them — or, rather, explained her position — and then said something that made me think that for a second, she was about to make an important discovery: “Of course, I wonder how they were responding when I explained our position on the Fall. Did they feel as out of sorts as I did?”

    I was about to say, “That is a really powerful insight,” when she hastily added:

    “I mean, they wouldn’t have felt like I did because the Spirit would have testified the truth to them as I spoke…right?”

    I don’t know exactly what my point is with that story, except that I think it really demonstrates the place many people are in when they engage in interfaith dialogue. They’re holding tightly to their dogma and worldview, and that can make it very difficult to engage others charitably. I try to keep that in mind when I’m talking with rigidly dogmatic people and have enough charity for both of us (not always an easy thing to do).

  30. Thank you, DavidH!

    Katie L,
    That seminary story is disturbing to me, but I guess it’s no more disturbing than evangelicals being taught that it’s good to try to insert the gospel into every conversation with an unbeliever or that speaking a Bible verse in a conversation works like magic (because God’s word will not return void).

  31. Alan

    You describe the type of member-missionary I am trying to be.

    Also, as you accept truth, you do have to leave error behind. No matter what Church you belong to, or what you say you believe.

    I never needed convincing of the Apostasy. That was obvious to me.

    The need of modern living prophets was obvious to me. I did not need convincing.

    My copy of the Book of Mormon lay on my bookshelf for a few months before I really understood that I needed to read it and find out if it was of God or not.

    When I finally “got it” and read the Book of Mormon and asked with “real intent” if it was really true, I felt the power of the Holy Ghost like I had never felt before. This Book of Mormon was of God! This Restoration stuff was the real deal!
    I was convinced and requested baptism.

    I learned that other people just don’t understand it the way I do. It is that way in many areas of life. People just don’t understand, or they do understand but just disagree. So I live and let live.

  32. the Other Brother Jones

    I have enjoyed this post. Thanks Kaimi for linking to it from Times & Seasons.

    I think testimony bearing should be fine, but it has to be done right. If you start with, “I’d like to bear you my tesimony…”, and end with, “In the name of Jesus Chris. Amen.”, then it gets very awkward.

    If you are having a discussion about what you beleive and you explain it in terms of what you beleive and why, it is still a testimony. You can probably still say, “I know this church is true,” but you may have to define the term “know” so you can differentiate between perfect knowlege (a fairly mormon term) and strong belief.

    I know the LDS church is true. I have a testimony of it. But I don’t claim perfect knowledge, although I beleive strongly enough to stake my salvation on it.

  33. martin

    Yeah, Kaimi, I appreciated this link as well. It was an excellent post, Sarah. The funny thing is, I keep feeling like everything you wrote should be obvious, but the fact it comes as enlightenment means some of us aren’t so good at putting ourselves in other people’s shoes.

  34. Alan, thank you for your comments.

    the Other Brother Jonas, I agree that testimony-bearing should be fine. I probably should have clarified that what I have a hard time with are formulaic testimony statements and claiming knowledge in a way that makes further discussion seem pointless. I am very interested in hearing about people’s religious experiences, however…

    martin, thanks. I don’t think it’s easy to understand how most people feel about the way we interact with them until they tell us.

  35. Rose

    dear sarah,
    please be a writer
    love rose

  36. Melinda H

    Sarah, well written. I’m glad you’re blogging :)

  37. wow. you’re a really good writer. I don’t have a lot of experience talking to Mormons, but I know exactly what you mean about the testimony bearing.

  38. Chris F


    I would like to talk to you more sometime about your belief “that the one true church is the invisible body of all the redeemed regardless of official church affiliation or lack thereof.” I have been studying the new testament a lot as of late, and I have been really considering this idea. It seems that even in the Jewish culture in Jesus’ time to be a prophet one did not necessarily have to be ordained by another but simply called of God. Also Jesus, when speaking to his disciples told them (paraphrasing) those that be not against us are with us. He was correcting his disciples as they tried to constrain a man who was either healing or casting out devils in Jesus’ name but not following him as the disciples were. All these references seem to show Jesus as having a very open view as to who his followers were. We LDS have a much more rigid understanding built into our culture. We tend to be more like the Pharisees or Elders of the Jews. Anyways maybe I will catch you on campus someday and we could chat, I would like to understand what your basis is for your understanding. I wish we still had a philosophy class together so I could cringe everytime the professor forgot that not everyone in the room is LDS…funny times.

  39. Pingback: Heresy and Adding Upon | Times & Seasons

  40. Sarah,
    I think Mormons are into that invisible body of Christ being the Church of the believers (or, at least, Mormons could easily adapt to that). It’s pretty much what I believe (if I understood it correctly, which I may not have). FWIW

  41. Mike H.

    …I guess it’s no more disturbing than evangelicals being taught that it’s good to try to insert the gospel into every conversation with an unbeliever or that speaking a Bible verse in a conversation works like magic

    Yes, many of us have noticed this practice. Feminist Mormon Housewives had a blog where this practice came up several times:

    Posts #8, 16, 18, & 46. The way people try to spread “the word” had some drawbacks.

    ..because of people who have shelved their overt desires to see me join the church and who have rather tried earnestly to understand me.

    One thing I cringe about is that some members of the Church who drop friendships if the friend has no interest in joining the Church.

    Sarah & Jack are probably not the first EV types to go to BYU. I met a woman there in 1977, not LDS, who chose BYU over ORU.

  42. I have kind of a diffrent outlooks on this article. I agree with the author but some points I have diffrent views on.

  43. george

    A couple of insights on the “Testimony conversation-stopper” issue:

    Mormons abhor this assertion but I think it is important to realize what is actually happening when the Mormon bears his/her testimony.

    It is vital for one who is trying to speak to a Mormon realize that the Mormon Church is a mind control cult. One of the hallmarks of mind control tactics, according to the mind control experts, is conditioned thought-stopping exercises. Mormons are highly conditioned to halt critical thought when presented with certain intellectual conditions. This is a VERY important component of the Mormon experience– In fact, “testimony-bearing” is a DAILY and MONTHLY ritual for Mormons; and they are regularly and incessantly “trained” in when to summon it at non-routine moments.

    Mormons simply don’t realize how disconnected they make themselves when they do this– But this just points to proof at what is happening. If it did not achieve its intended purpose, they WOULD be able to stay connected with their full, present reality (including in that conversation with you). It achieves its intended purpose by protecting the fragile psyche from dissonant information and from doubt.

    If you care about the relationship, the best thing to do IS to say something that is going to be socially-awkward but that jars the situation of bit to dislodge them out of the stopped-thought. If you wish to argue with the point made inside of the testimony soliloquy, my advice is to not take it head on at that moment. Either address it at that moment indirectly in a creative way, OR let some time pass for the thought-stop to lift a little bit.

    I think it is vital to point this out so that you can understand what’s really going on. Furthermore, it would be folly to think that you would be successful at freeing them from this phenomenon because it is a very powerful effect which is difficult if not impossible to mitigate. The best thing to do generally is just respond to it as if it were a casual, passing comment on their part– in this way, you can just invite them gently back to reality and continue communicating. For example: “That’s interesting that you would say that because….”; then just say something else – ANYTHING. Above all, just be natural and don’t allow this destructive process derail an otherwise good conversation.

    • Seth

      Actually, I was taught to always critically analyze everything from every point of view, and that it was wrong not to. And it was always Mormons teaching me that, inside and outside of church. Truth can stand on its own, it needs no protection. Analyzing an idea never hurts it unless it is false. This is part of the Mormon mentality, which is why most Mormons who get PHDs are very active in their religion. Testimony-bearing is not “thought stopping”, it just doesn’t work as a good argument in deductive logic, which isn’t something one can expect from the masses in general. Your argument contains so many fallacies I could have listed them as a fetus.

  44. Chris,
    We need to do lunch or something! I wish we had a class together this semester too.

    Mike H,
    The way people try to spread “the word” had some drawbacks.

    Yeah. It does. I always wonder, though (and maybe this is part of my evangelical optimism) whether maybe even just one person ever just needed to see signs like the ones discussed on FMH. Maybe it matters, even though it’s not my style. I don’t know. I haven’t come down on one side of that.

    free beats makers,
    I’d love to hear any thoughts you have.

    I’m at a little bit of a loss as to how to respond to your comment, but I appreciate your writing it. Thanks.

  45. George, there are so many things in modern society engaged in mind-control that I just don’t find your bringing it up particularly useful.

    Did you watch the entire last season of 24?

    Then you were probably on the receiving end of a lot more “mind-control” than the average Mormon at church.

    It’s a hallmark of any group of people trying to cooperate in society that the minds of individuals are going to be shaped and even controlled. The only way to really avoid this is to go live in a cave (and even that is going to really screw with your head).

    The idea that you or I or anyone else can avoid “mind-control” and still have a functioning society is a ridiculous fantasy or American individualism and selfishness gone haywire.

    News flash: Human society IS a “cult.” And any group of people is going to have “mind-control” aspects.

    Now, did you have a particular point? Or are you going to tell us how awful it is that football linemen have to take orders from the quarter-back and don’t get to do whatever they want?

    • george

      You make a good point– that culture IS a cult.

      What is material here is the DEGREE to which the culture exerts control, and the DEGREE to which the individual submits to it.

      Let me illustrate: The SEC has called Utah “the sewer of the securities industry.” The SEC has had to set up a special field office for Utah so that it can more closely handle the torrent of fraud cases. What this illustrates is the DEGREE to which Mormons are trained systematically to surrender their critical thought to others in apparent authority. It is a major problem. For more, see The Salt Lake Tribune, “Utah: Where the con is on,” 03/08/2009.
      I forward that both of the processes– how Mormons are taught to “bear testimony,” (and also the many other things they are compelled to do by their official leaders); and how they are grifted into surrendering their money willingly to a con man– happen through the same mind processes, and because of the overall scheme of mind control imposed by the Church.

      So MY POINT IS that it would behoove Sarah to realize what is actually happening when a Mormon starts to bear testimony, because then she can begin to understand how to best continue connection and conversation with her Mormon friends despite these thought-stopping rituals. That’s all.

  46. Alicia Leonardi

    I agree that the endless formulatic testimonies aren’t helpful. Let’s be real people.

  47. Chase O.

    I am going to have to agree with Seth on this, what are you trying to say? That Mormons can not think critically? The brainwashing arguments is one of the most irritating arguments used against the LDS church. For some reason we are often portrayed as only being one step off from drinking the Kool-aid with Dan Jones and his ilk, and that we are all simpletons led by sociopathic leaders. I would like to point out some of the occupations of the more prominent people of the LDS Church: Russel M Nelson, perfected advanced techniques used by heart surgeons all over the world; Dallin H Oaks, was a US Supreme Court Justice; the late Ezra Taft Benson, served in President Eisenhower’s cabinet; the late Hugh Nibley is still considered one of most renowned Egyptologists in world. I could go on, and theses are only the prominent members, not to mention the countless regular members who are doctors, lawyers,scientists etc. I just don’t get where anyone can say that people like this are being brainwashed from being able to think critically. Critical thinking is a skill that once you have it starts to apply to all areas, one can not strip it from one area and not effect the other area of thinking.
    And by the way your argument for brain-washing is just as much a conversation killer as a member bearing a misplaced testimony, so how is your idea promoting any sort of dialog?

    • george

      Hi Chase–
      My point is as in my reply to Seth R. above.

      In response to your point about questioning why top Mormon leaders could be said to be under mind control– You are trying to make a case about the state of mind of the hens by assessing the perceived accomplishments or virtue of the foxes. Nelson, Oaks, Benson, and Nibley– I will not dispute the accomplishments these brilliant men have made in their lives. However, these men have/had a great deal to gain by maintaining and increasing the mind control over the members of the church.

      Sarah’s original post was not about sitting down with Dallin Oaks in casual conversation. It was about conversation with an average lay church member. And that is what my response was also directed to.

      As to your question about whether Mormons are unable to think critically? Well that’s a huge topic but I would just say– Investigate the history of faculty dismissed from BYU. There are a myriad of areas of thought and research that are highly valuable to society that are totally out-of-bounds for the Church’s flagship university, but are in vigorous inquiry in other top universities. This should give you pause on this point.

  48. George, what ideas have been proven “out of bounds” at BYU due to faculty dismissals?

    My understanding was not that the ideas of Heavenly Mother were out of bounds, but rather that openly calling on students to pray to her and actively opposing the LDS official stance on her were.

    You can study her at BYU all you want.

    Bad-mouthing your employer tends to get you fired.

    This is hardly a shock.

    People who bad-mouth the dean at Harvard for his views on affirmative action get fired just as fast as anyone at BYU.

    So… I’d kind of like you to make the case – from solid evidence – that BYU, in fact, does repress more viewpoints than Harvard, or UCLA, or Duke.

    • george

      One example– Darron Smith, a African-American studies scholar, was dismissed from BYU for his publications. You can learn all about his story at

      There are many many others.

  49. And what did Nibley ever “stand to gain” from supporting Mormon thought?

    You seem to be under the impression that he made a lot of money from it. Or that he gained something else from it.

    Tell me – what did Hugh Nibley gain from controlling the minds of Mormons?

    Solid evidence only please.

    • george

      The solid evidence you ask for is merely the mountain of tomes with Nibley’s name of them published over many decades. Nibley kept publishing books on the topic of what his employer assented to as kosher. That’s money in the bank for Nibley, AND for the Church. He stayed employed.

      Numerous other Mormon scholars have not maintained employment at BYU simply for their thoughts.

      It is not a virtue to silence the voices of thought leaders. It is a mainstay tactic of all oppressive regimes and mind control cults.

      Respectfully, George

  50. Nibley’s books have always only appealed to a niche audience. That’s not a ton of royalties – even if he negotiated a good royalty deal, which somehow, I doubt he did.

    Nibley was famously (and almost fanatically) indifferent to monetary wealth. I had a few BYU professors in my home ward growing up who knew him and his wife personally. They both stated somewhat dryly – well it’s nice that Nibley had a principled stand on wealth and all that, but it would have also been nice if he hadn’t kept his family almost in the poor house most of his life because of it.

    At any rate, if you think most authors make bank off book deals, it merely demonstrates how little you know about the publishing business.

    • Seriously, I don’t get what it is that makes every anti-Mormon on the block try to claim that apologists are somehow making lots of money off of their work. I have never yet met one who was – and I’ve met quite a few.

      • Mike H.

        I’ve also noticed the LDS church leaders don’t make that much from the books of others, or their own books, for that matter.

        I’ve seen where some of the senior General Authorities lived. David B. Haight & wife lived in an apartment near So. Temple & S Street in Salt Lake. Adequate, but by no means opulent! The same with the place where Spencer W. Kimball lived NW of the Salt Lake Temple for many years. But, you won’t hear about that in some circles.

        And, critical thinking can be ignored as such when others don’t like it. Do a web search about the “Christian” church that was going to burn all the non-KJV Bibles they could find. Critical thinkers would know the KJV didn’t just fall from Heaven into King James’ hands!

  51. Wow, Sarah, look at all the awesome dialogue you are facilitating! I’m so proud of you! Well done.

  52. Neil

    Mormons I have spoken to have been single minded in trying to get me to accept Joseph Smith as a true prophet. But isn’t the Gospel the fact that God sent Jesus to die for our sins? What has that to do with Joseph Smith?

  53. Neil, thanks for your comment. I’m not Mormon, so I’m probably not the right person to ask about that, but Latter-day Saints would say that God restored the fullness of the gospel (a word that usually means something different to Mormons than to evangelicals) through Joseph Smith. I don’t believe the fullness of the gospel was ever lost, so Joseph Smith doesn’t factor into my understanding of the gospel.

  54. Glen Halliday

    I read about half of your blog. I am a life-long “true believing Mormon”. I have had numerous encounters with Evangelicals, Baptists, etc. I don’t bear my testimony because I’m uncomfortable doing so and now I’ll be extra careful in that respect. I sincerely enjoy my chats with my evangelical friends and acquaintances because I truly enjoy talking about Christ and that is my motivation in doing so. I’m glad I read your blog. It was enlightening.

  55. Thanks Glen. I’m not sure I’d write the same blog post today if I wrote about this subject now (actually, I’m sure I wouldn’t), but I still resonate with a lot of what’s in it. Thanks for the kind words!

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