One Does Not Simply Lose One’s Testimony – A Heartfelt Plea

June 20, 2014    By: Jeff G @ 12:33 pm   Category: Bloggernacle,Ethics,Life,Mormon Culture/Practices,Truth

This is THE lesson that I have learned regarding my misguided departure from the church.  I had worked myself into a position where the values and standards of the gospel had become a second language to me – second to the values and standards of liberal democracy.  The latter had taken the place of the former as my default mindset, the habitual patterns in which I automatically and uncritically thought, spoke and acted.  Through years of training and practice, I had come to evaluate and measure the church and its values according to those of liberal democracy at a deeply intuitive and emotional level rather than the other way around.  I had come to feel more repugnance, offense and moral indignation at the thought of somebody violating my liberal democratic values than if they had violated those of my Mormon upbringing.

But this is not how I experienced it at the time.  Precisely because of the way in which I had internalized the values of liberal democracy I uncritically experienced these values as given and beyond question.  The values of liberal democracy were just “obviously” good and true.  Thus, when I decided to measure the truth of the church by the values of liberal democracy, I simply experienced this process as asking “is the church true?” – an honest and innocent question.  When I evaluated church policies and doctrine by the standards of liberal democracy, I very genuinely felt that I was asking “is this position right?”  Similarly, when a person violated the rules of liberal democracy they were a bad person, but when another person violated the rules of Mormonism they merely had a different perspective on what was right.  The very act of internalizing the rules of liberal democracy had also repressed them and the more strongly I endorsed them the more I placed them beyond question or constraint.  Liberal democracy, in my mind, was not simply a tradition or perspective, but universal and timeless truth – a standing which should have been reserved for God and His church.

With hindsight, I can say with absolute conviction that one does not simply lose one’s testimony, even if it genuinely feels as if that is what is happening.  Rather, one actively – albeit uncritically – beats down and erodes one’s testimony.   Through training and practice, we gradually chip away at our testimonies with the hammer of the liberal democratic values we are taught in school, on t.v. and in internet forums.  As we choose to evaluate and navigate the world around us by the tools of liberal democracy rather than those of the gospel, the latter not only atrophy from disuse, but are purposefully displaced by the former in their relentless take-over and re-programming of our minds.  I cannot say it emphatically enough: the tradition of liberal democracy is not neutral, passive or benign when it comes to our religious convictions or any other set of competing values.  It is a god which is no less jealous or hungry for the souls of men (or women) than any other.

As people in the bloggernacle critically evaluate and take inventory on their testimonies, I sincerely hope that they do not fall into the same trap I did.  Our testimonies do not lose their power, except in their struggle against some other power – typically that of liberal democracy.  If some such issue is placing your testimony of the church at risk, why not critically evaluate and take inventory on your testimony of that issue?  I know that it can be difficult and counter-intuitive to do, but instead of judging the church for it’s lack of concern for feminist issues or it’s lack of appreciation or tolerance for open debate or some other way of measuring the church by liberal democratic standards, let’s instead measure such movements, values and institutions by those of the Lord and His prophets.  To paraphrase Jacob, to be a liberal democrat is good, so long as these values and standards are constrained by the counsels of God and His prophets rather than the other way around.

 

36 Comments »

  1. That was beautiful and elegant.

    Thank you.

    Comment by Stephen R. Marsh (Ethesis) — June 20, 2014 @ 2:23 pm

  2. Good stuff, Jeff.

    I fear some of the power of your message will be lost because the term “liberal democracy” is not common. I think you’d do well to more clearly spell and and define that term so readers can recognize it and its ubiquity.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 20, 2014 @ 2:34 pm

  3. I agree that we all tend to internalize the values of our society and that we ought to interrogate those values as well as institutions like the church, but I’m not sure that you can justify assuming that the church exists as some kind of neutral entity that exists independent of surrounding culture. You’d probably agree that the LDS church today is a very different thing than it was twenty, fifty, or a hundred years ago, and I think to a large extent the changes are best accounted for by shifting cultural norms (and that goes for small things like shaving and white shirts as well as larger issues like blacks and the priesthood). Not that the church moves in lockstep with culture–it’s undoubtably been at the more conservative end of things in the last century–but the two seem inseparable to me.

    I’d argue that far from being a rival to liberalism the LDS church has always reflected a mix of liberalism (though our radical application of “personal revelation”) and our own brand of authoritarian traditionalism, which pretty well reflects our our founding in Jacksonian America filtered through Joseph’s charisma and Brigham’s Utah. So, I guess the question is, how do you propose to interrogate the church’s interaction with culture? I guess you can cite personal revelation from God telling you that the church is where it ought to be, but that just begs the question since I might feel that God has revealed something different to me!

    Comment by Casey — June 20, 2014 @ 3:22 pm

  4. Geoff,

    Here you go.

    Casey,

    I appreciate your comment, even while I disagree with it. To be sure, the church has adapted to its environment and any rational agent would, but I don’t think we can equate the church with the temporal and variant policies that you list. I think the unchanging rule which come most directly in conflict with liberal democracies is the appeal to authority. Within Mormonism, some people are set apart to receive some revelations for and guide the church while others are not. This hierarchical distinction is totally at variance with the values of liberal democracy which insist that

    “all people are created equal, and therefore political authority cannot be justified on the basis of “noble blood”, a supposed privileged connection to God, or any other characteristic that is alleged to make one person superior to others.”

    The link I provide to Geoff above lists other values for liberal democracies which are certainly different from those of Mormonism, but I think authority is the main one.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 20, 2014 @ 4:15 pm

  5. Good to have you back, Jeff.

    Comment by Dave — June 20, 2014 @ 4:16 pm

  6. Thanks! We err in critically judging the church and the gospel through our liberal democracy lenses. The church and the gospel transcend such limited views. The church and the gospel functioned in New Testament times in a land far removed our modern liberal democracy ideals.

    Comment by ji — June 20, 2014 @ 6:26 pm

  7. Your story reminds me of this book by professor Bruce Charlton, MD.
    http://thoughtprison-pc.blogspot.com
    It’s about how the PC/liberal mindset can be a prison, and that it is ultimately nihilistic, and tends to destroy whatever institutions that it marches through.

    I have had 2 or 3 major unpleasant self-realizations over the past 15 years. I feel I have at least another one coming soon. I think pride has kept me from making those realizations and dealing with those conditions sooner. If we’re humble, the Lord can show us our weakness and make them strong. Otherwise, we eventually get it rubbed in our face in an even more embarassing way.

    Comment by Bookslinger/Washington Redskins — June 20, 2014 @ 6:43 pm

  8. Good thoughts, Jeff.

    Comment by Steve Evans — June 20, 2014 @ 6:50 pm

  9. Well put. I sincerely hope those flirting with leaving the church give your posting their careful consideration.

    Comment by DeepintheHeart — June 20, 2014 @ 7:03 pm

  10. Thank you for sharing your experience and reflections, Jeff.

    Comment by Michelle — June 21, 2014 @ 4:24 am

  11. Once again. I think your posts have been very timely, and necessary.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — June 21, 2014 @ 6:00 am

  12. Jeff, I guess I just see our affinity for authority, and the structure of that authority, as something that’s arisen from the church’s interaction with culture just as much as its liberalism, and is therefore equally subject to criticism. Which isn’t to say I favor complete spiritual anarchy, just that since we’re all imperfect people with imperfect access to the divine, all authority has to be critically evaluated…unfortunately the criteria to make those evaluations are ultimately going to be circular for everyone, so in terms of group cohesion it’s probably useful that your perspective reflects normative LDS thought and mine is an outlier :)

    Comment by Casey — June 21, 2014 @ 6:35 am

  13. I definitely see the choice between the traditions as being kierkegaardian in nature.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 21, 2014 @ 7:55 am

  14. I do not really disagree with Jeff. I think a lot of causes of disaffection are precisely because we live, learn, and work in a society with profoundly different values than the church espouses and the church’s values can’t keep up in competition.

    It’s absolutely not a neutral matter. And for that reason, all the values systems don’t appear as equally interchangeable. But most folks are increasingly steeped in modern values and since the church cannot pull people out of external society, it’s an uphill battle.

    For example, we increasingly live in a society (and absolutely prefer such a society) where women have equal participation and autonomy in school, work, etc., so the fact that the church doesn’t operate in step with feminist ideas puts it vastly in conflict with what we enjoy and appreciate in the rest of our lives.

    It’s absolutely a values mismatch. But the church has to show why its values should be taken over the outside society’s.

    Comment by Andrew S — June 21, 2014 @ 8:13 am

  15. Andrew,

    Why does the church shoulder the burden of proof in this?

    Comment by Jeff G — June 21, 2014 @ 9:04 am

  16. I once had a home teaching family that was gradually becoming less active in the Church. The mother said it was too overwhelming for her family to come to Church three hours every Sunday and that they were being “brainwashed” by those three hours. She said it was important to expose them to other views. My response was that the rest of the week they were hearing one perspective (what Jeff G would call liberal democracy and I would call “the world”), and that the three hours at church were just a small glimpse of another perspective. She actually agreed with me that this was a fairer way to look at it, and the family stayed active for another year until finally becoming inactive again over other issues. Jeff G is right that they didn’t just lose their testimony — they worked hard at it, coming up with reason after reason not to go to church.

    Comment by Geoff B — June 21, 2014 @ 9:30 am

  17. Jeff,

    Solely because it is not the dominant ideology (and the dominant ideology – “liberal democracy” as you call it, is not so inherently vile as to cause most l people to want to replace it with something else). So what I’m describing is more descriptive than normative… But this shouldn’t be a controversial statement to those in the church…put in other words, *everyone* has to be converted to the gospel – this is true of life long members as well as who we typically think of as converts, is all. Would you disagree?

    Comment by Andrew S — June 21, 2014 @ 9:39 am

  18. Testimonies are not accidentally misplaced or even replaced. They are actively displaced.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 21, 2014 @ 9:39 am

  19. Andrew,

    If we are talking about an actual convert, then yes, I would fully expect the burden to lie on the church in some sense. But this post is directed at people who are already in the church – people who believe that it is true and that the priesthood is god’s authority on earth.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 21, 2014 @ 9:43 am

  20. This is exactly why I don’t think a liberal can be a good member of the Church. Sure, there are good members of the Church who have liberal ideals, but actual liberals are incompatible. They want “equality” and “justice” while God wants, according to almost all religions, Righteousness and Faith unto Obedience. The two just don’t mix. His Kingdom is not of this Earth, while liberals concern themselves with having it all right here and now. Yes, some conservatives do as well, but more often then not they don’t have the same problems with authority. Libertarians are another story, since they have a disposition to let everyone alone. This makes it easier for them to more or less not want to force their ideals on the whole Church as a greater Truth.

    Comment by Jettboy — June 21, 2014 @ 10:13 am

  21. Jeff,

    Being raised in the church is no guarantee you’ll be converted to the gospel or even that that conversion will not be influenced by one’s absorbed values from the dominant culture – especially when at the same time, most members also participate in secular society, go to secular schools, work, etc.

    Comment by Andrew S — June 21, 2014 @ 10:16 am

  22. Andrew,

    I’m afraid I’m missing your point. I’m addressing people who have – by their own admission – already been converted and covenanted to live by certain rules and values. Of course these rules and values are continually under an erosive and displacing pressure from those of the world around us, which is exactly why I wrote this post. I’m having a hard time seeing how your comment links up with this.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 21, 2014 @ 10:25 am

  23. Jettboy,

    I wouldn’t go that far, but I certainly agree that it is much more difficult – practically speaking – to be both a strong liberal and a strong Mormon.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 21, 2014 @ 10:27 am

  24. I think Andrew was just saying that a testimony of the restored church has to be gained by everyone, whether they are born in the church or not. This is not a controversial position and Jeff surely agrees with it. But Jeff has made it clear that in this post he is only addressing folks who have already developed that deep faith in the restored gospel. Jeff’s point in #15 is a valid one: For folks who have already been told by God that the church is divinely inspired and guided, there is no further burden of proof on the church. The “world” or as Jeff calls it, “liberal democracy”, tries its hand a “brainwashing” that revelatory experience out of people from there.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 21, 2014 @ 10:49 am

  25. Check the floor under the nightstand. I lose mine there all the time.

    Sometimes I left it in the pants I was wearing last night.

    Comment by Jim Cobabe — June 21, 2014 @ 3:19 pm

  26. Great post Jeff. I just started rereading the New Testament. Every time I do, I’m reminded at how uncompromising Jesus is. People who aren’t willing to sacrifice everything, their paradigm probably included, don’t interest Him. The principles of liberal democracy would certainly qualify as a hostile paradigm.

    I find the lure to supplant church values with enlightenment values in some of, what are to me, fringe areas. For example, I was brought up believing it is wrong to wear, or pray in front of a cross. Years ago, I learned that 19th century protestants were staunchly anti-cross. I wondered if the church didn’t absorb an anti-cross stance from early converts, rather than from any revelation, and then failed to turn pro-cross like other protestants in the early 20th century because we had already isolated ourselves from them. I still wonder if there is really any doctrinal or spirit-guided merit to what I suspect most leaders would today regard as an objectionable practice. When there’s evidence that LDS teachings have been modified by or absorbed from the outside culture, I tend to think that I don’t do right by similarly adopting them. In that light, I can see why a lot of women find cultural patriarchy in the certain church policies/doctrines (though I’m often reluctant to go as far as they do). Or what have you.

    In saying that, I think even the most skeptical member could be blessed by leaning toward your position than away from it. Some in secular institutions like to use the phrase, “check your privilege” to make sure that a person (primarily a white person) recognizes that their beliefs don’t deserve automatic priority over others. Similarly, I benefit from the occasional reminder (often from the scriptures but even through this post) to “check my intellectualism.”

    Comment by DavidF — June 21, 2014 @ 5:08 pm

  27. I have a friend who fell into this trap. He became so committed to libertarianism that, when libertarianism collided with the Church, he discarded the Church.

    And not lightly, either. He has become a bitter enemy of the Church.

    Comment by Vader — June 21, 2014 @ 8:51 pm

  28. Jeff – There seems to be some tension between the values of the Church and those espoused by liberal democracy. However, I’m unsure which values of a liberal democracy do not apply within the church? For clarity sake, I’ll rattle off some of the values held by liberal democracy and ask that you clarify which ones do not apply within the church: Individual rights of speech, religion, private property, due process, rule of law, consent, the idea that men (and women) are created (and and should be treated) equal, and civil rights for minorities? Feel free to list others if I missed an important one. Secondly, if a value is at odds with how the church currently functions, is there any reason the value in question could not be adopted in the future? In other words, if you say that freedom of speech is at odds with the Church or your testimony of it, is this value mutually exclusive? Could it not coexist with the Church at some time?

    Comment by Josh — June 22, 2014 @ 6:03 am

  29. “However, I’m unsure which values of a liberal democracy do not apply within the church?”

    The culture and not necessarily the values. That is what I meant at least by good Mormons with liberal ideals, but not good liberal Mormons. Vader gave a good example of a libertarian who judged the Church by politics rather than politics by the Church or Gospel. Conservatives have been known to do that as well, so its not just a one all. The main hubris is the idea that the Church is a democracy, when it clearly isn’t and never has been. God is in charge, not the people. His ordained ministers are also His voice, not individuals who only have the right to communicate with God as a silent individual.

    Now if I was to pick out one value you listed that does not apply to the Church, it would be, “the idea that men (and women) are created (and should be treated) equal.” Men and woman are both Children of God, but they are NOT and should NOT be treated equal as liberal democracy defines those terms. They have different roles to play in mortality and therefore cannot be treated or act the same. Now, they should both be respected the same like a person would hands and feet.

    Comment by Jettboy — June 22, 2014 @ 6:42 am

  30. The biggest shock for me in recovering a non-modern point of view is that oaths are meant to be kept.

    Comment by Adam G. — June 22, 2014 @ 7:02 am

  31. Jettaboy – I agree with you than men and women are different. That’s obvious to anyone who is married to one (or is a functioning human being in society). However, I do not think because we’re different, this somehow means we should be treated differently if that means being treated unfairly. One does not follow from the other. You say that “men and women should not be treated equally as liberal democracy defines those terms.” That’s alarming to me. To get a sense of what I mean, try substituting any other class of people (blacks and whites, gays and straits, Jews and Christians, etc) with “men and women”, and read that sentence again. It seems to shock the senses. So help me understand what you mean when you say they shouldn’t (or couldn’t in the future) be treated equally? Perhaps I’m missing something.

    Comment by Josh — June 22, 2014 @ 7:31 am

  32. This.

    Comment by Riley — June 22, 2014 @ 7:35 am

  33. Josh –

    There are several values of a liberal democracy that don’t apply within the Church. First, there is the very notion of democracy itself, that every citizen gets an equal vote in electing officials. Then there is the idea of majority rule, whereby the voice of the majority can direct the affairs of the state or nation. In the Church, we don’t elect our leaders. They are chosen by God through the inspiration of those already in authority. Nor does the majority rule. God does. When the Lord moves to place a man or woman in a place of authority, we are asked to lift our hands in sustaining the action, not to initiate or direct it.

    In a liberal democracy, men and women are not judged for their beliefs. In the Church, adherence to a standard set of beliefs is central, and although in most instances the Church tolerates a wide variety of opinion, there are some beliefs that are non-negotiable. I’m speaking of the divinity of Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice, of the literal restoration of priesthood keys, and the truth of the Book of Mormon, among others.

    Nor is there in the Church the same sense of absolute equality between men and women. In fact, in the Church we tend to celebrate the differences, while not placing one above the other, we recognize that men and women are each uniquely created and gifted to fulfill distinct and divine roles.

    Finally, in a liberal democracy, righteousness (meaning obedience to the commandments of God) is not a requirement for full citizenship. In the Church, disobedience and breaking the commandments of God often results in the loss of full participation in Church rites and ordinances, and ultimately can result in a loss of membership.

    Comment by Kirk — June 22, 2014 @ 12:48 pm

  34. Disclaimer: I’m an ex-Mormon, but generally sympathetic to LDS people and respect their faith and innumerable good works. If being an ex-Mormon disqualifies my opinion, I completely understand. (As a LDS I certainly would have steered clear of the opinions of ex-LDS, hence the disclaimer.)

    The blog post is very thought provoking. I don’t mean that negatively.

    The interplay between liberal ideals and LDS history is very interesting. For example, Joseph Smith ordained black men to the priesthood in a time where (arguably) in the larger society around Mormons this would have been frowned upon.

    Utah as a territory gave women the right to vote before any state, with only the territory of Wyoming granting it beforehand.

    Looking more closely at the womens suffrage movement in Utah reveals some nuance and complexity. Many pushing womens right to vote in Utah believed doing so would enable women to have a majority, where they might be able to outlaw polygamy.

    Brigham Young astutely surmised women in Utah would *not* vote to outlaw polygamy, and he pushed for the territorial legislature to grant women the right to vote. The measure passed unanimously, which is very notable, and I don’t think it’s outrageous to think this could only happen if support was signaled by the prophet. (Womens suffrage certainly was a contentious issue in likely every other part of the US.)

    Evidently, Brigham Young had broader motives, intending to send the message to the rest of the US that Utah was progressive on womens issues and thus there was no need to outlaw polygamy here.

    The US Congress overturned Utah’s granting the right to vote to women, wrapping it up in anti-polygamy legislation.

    I guess my point here is that things aren’t always as they appear at first glance.

    Comment by MarkO — June 22, 2014 @ 5:17 pm

  35. jettboy and Josh,

    For essays on how treating different things as identical WILL be destructive, see these posts by Professor Bruce Charlton, MD:

    http://charltonteaching.blogspot.com/2014/01/calls-to-treat-different-things-or.html

    http://charltonteaching.blogspot.com/2012/07/q-how-stupid-is-modern-egalitarianism.html

    http://charltonteaching.blogspot.com/2014/03/political-equality-legally-same.html

    http://charltonteaching.blogspot.com/2012/07/try-replacing-word-equality-with-same.html

    http://charltonteaching.blogspot.com/2013/03/absolute-abstractions-can-make-people.html

    http://charltonteaching.blogspot.com/2014/01/should-wives-submit-to-their-husbands.html

    Comment by Bookslinger/Washington Redskins — June 24, 2014 @ 7:20 am

  36. Thank you for your thoughts. I love this perspective.

    I have thought recently how different a woman’s petition for ordination is even from the blacks receiving the priesthood. It is my understanding that prior to receiving the priesthood, black members were unable to enter the temple and receive the eternal, saving ordinances that righteous white men AND women had access to. Women are not blocked from these eternal covenants. Women in the LDS church are already Priestesses, but we will never be ordained Priests.

    I’m not sure how this plays into liberal democratic ideology, but I do think it’s a distinction that is important.

    I might suggest that in a liberal democracy ‘separate’ is not accepted as ‘equal’. But, in Mormonism separate roles, separate eternal natures, and complete unity is a core characteristic not only of husband and wife, but of the Godhead.

    Comment by Jenifer — June 26, 2014 @ 6:04 am

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