On one of my favorite bulletin boards -- a group of LDS women that has posted together in different locations for about 7 years and is now pretty much a closed group of friends -- someone asked these questions this morning:
What is the weakest part of your testimony?
What is the strongest part of your testmony?
This prompted me to do a little sorting. You have to sort your thoughts to write. That's why I like writing -- to me it's the best tool for the process of thought.
Here are the answers I posted, with some additions and clarifications. I'm an editor, too, after all.
What is the weakest part of your testimony?
I have been through some struggles in the last year with my testimony. I don't always talk about them because I know deep inside that I am never leaving the Church, and I don't want to inflict my concerns on other people who maybe do not have that same deep-down knowledge. I would never ever want to be the cause of anyone leaving the Church over stuff that I know in my heart is not central to the gospel plan. I grew up with a good tradition of balancing faith and questioning. I have a dad and grandpa who are very good examples of those things. Dialogue and Sunstone sat on our coffee table along with the Ensign. I think that background, and recognizing it for what it is, leaves me maybe a little better prepared to navigate the boundary between faith and doubt than some people. But it's not like I want to sit on that boundary. It's emotionally draining and I know sometimes lingering there is not healthy for someone who ultimately wants to choose faith.
I struggle because sometimes it seems like nothing significant is done centrally from the organization of the Church to correct flaws in LDS culture regarding the position of women, treatment of people with same-sex attraction, stuff like that. I think sometimes things are allowed to develop within the Church that do not have doctrinal reasons, and are just wrong, and that's hard to cope with. An example of that to me is when Black people were not allowed to hold the priesthood. IMHO there may be other things happening in the same vein right now. I think there are problems in the way we deal with different kinds of abuse, for example. I think there are many abuses of priesthood authority that occur unchecked. I think sometimes we assume that every decision in the Church is inspired, when that's just not the case. Sometimes we're just people trying to make things work. And sometimes we really screw up. It's hard. It can be devastating to people's faith when they recognize these kinds of problems.
I struggle because the Church regularly whitewashes its history to try to avoid explaining inconsistencies or changes. Recently a story was told in General Conference about Mary Fielding Smith and her ox crossing the plains. The person telling the story either said she prayed for the ox, or called for a man to bless it. Well the truth is that she laid hands on that ox and blessed it. And to me there would be nothing wrong with saying, "We did that then, but we don't do it now." But for some reason the Church does not want to deal with that. And it's frustrating to me. It's such a little problem and not worth getting worked up over. But it just sticks in my craw, especially because it involves removing the truth from the story of a woman who used her faith and power righteously.
And that just becomes part of a kind of corporate slickness I see happening in the Church that is distasteful to me. The beautifully produced videos and magazines, the satellite regional conferences, all smack of messaging and branding and other stuff I deal with at work all week. And it is a shame, in my mind, to have the real gospel message glossed over with all of this.It's ironic to some degree that I struggle with these things, and I will tell you why in my answer to the next question ...
What is the strongest part of your testimony?
Okay here is what is ironic about my doubts and problems. I think some things, like corporate-style messaging and "faith-affirming" presentations of history, might be necessary in order for the Church to make progress all over the world, and I have a firm testimony that the gospel message is needed everywhere. When I read about temples being built in Ghana and Nigeria I weep like a child. It's beautiful and right.
And as for the operational problems I see, I have a firm testimony that the Church is true and LIVING, and that means any changes needed will be made, little by little until the perfect day. So that is what allows me to continue in full activity in spite of some degree of discontent with comparatively minor practices. (Minor when compared with the importance of the real doctrines of the gospel, that is.)
I totally have a testimony of the core doctrines of the Church: the Plan of Salvation, the Book of Mormon, the Restoration under Joseph Smith and the continuation of living prophets all the way to President Hinckley. (Although I DO NOT believe that prophets never make mistakes. I think that sometimes they even make mistakes in Church policy. I think when we say they will never lead us astray it means they will never lead us away from the core doctrines, especially from Jesus Christ. And that is good enough for me for the most part.) I totally believe in the involvement of God in our everyday lives, in the importance of prayer and study and listening to the Spirit. I believe in eternal families and the importance of the family, although I think our understanding on that subject is pretty limited right now.
There is a lot, a LOT we have yet to learn. I think when we say we have the fulness of the gospel it does not mean every answer is there to be found in current scriptures, revelations and teachings. It means we have all we need to return to Heavenly Father. And again, that is enough for me, for now.
This is the first time I have ever really been totally honest about all this stuff in any forum. It was interesting to think about. Hope no one is overwhelmed. And I truly hope I don't shake anybody up too much. That is a difficult process to go through.