On the Sin of Weaponizing Testimonies

 

IMG_4361I’ve been asked on several occasions to bear my testimony. On one occasion I was seeking a renewal of my Temple Recommend from  a counsellor in the Stake Presidency who announced:

“I’ve heard your testimony of Jesus Christ often enough, but I haven’t heard your testimony of President Monson – would you bear that for me now please.”

It was admittedly difficult to share a testimony on demand, but I did my best with little to recommend the conditions under which it was being coerced. You see, I thought I’d done pretty well in my expressions of devotion to Jesus Christ, to be saddled with having to muster an affirmation of Thomas Monson’s call under duress seemed an odd and intrusive thing to do. So I admitted that while I hadn’t heard him the prophecy, see, or reveal anything of note I would surely sustain him if he ever chose to.

I was denied a Temple Recommend because this testimony wasn’t up to scratch.

This isn’t an isolated incident. Once in sacrament meeting, I shared my feeling that while I couldn’t say I knew anything,  my choice to believe or to exercise faith had consequences for me. So my choice to believe in Jesus Christ’s message of justice, mercy and charity inform the way I approach questions of power and oppression.

Apparently, that wasn’t enough for the Utah Native husband half of a senior couple missionary who took the podium after me and thumped his roaring testimony that he knew, he knew, he knew! Which is fine for him if that’s the way things kick around in his head, but it was clearly directed at the insufficiency of my testimony; Of that, there was no doubt. His red-faced fury and his antipathy for my paltry and inadequate faith were obvious to everyone.

Last week in church we were discussing the Area’s unexplained scuttling of our much-anticipated plans to hold a joint Christmas service with a neighbouring ward. I offered that I felt that the Area’s meddling (without explanation) was insensitive and unnecessary and seemed to be aimed at demonstrating power rather than kindness, trust and wisdom. At which point another woman who I like very much, felt it necessary to bear her testimony that she knew that the Brethren were inspired and there was safety in absolute conformity with their opinions and ideas, decrees and wot not. Which is fine except couching it as a testimony is often the full stop, the exclamation mark, the period – thank you very much it is all over and done now; no more words are necessary. It also has the effect of shutting down a much-needed conversation. I wish people would just tell me to ‘shut the hell up – you are making me feel uncomfortable.‘ Sadly a testimony response to an uncomfortable challenge to one’s sensibilities is more a proof of fear than a serious spiritual conviction.

But I’m used to all of this nonsense, and I accept it as an annoying cultural habit of Mormonism that we’ve fossilised over the years. Our faith tradition is audacious, theologically expansive, filled with contradictions, is shot throw with some strange and rather weird and all of this has been nurtured over many decades by men who have been allowed to run at the mouth for too long. Our theology, our history and our culture point emphatically toward our pressing need for the honest expression of our individual and collective concerns.  But what I’ve noticed instead is this tendency to settle questions, not with discussion, but with an unhealthy reflex to expel, diminish and eliminate.

This happened to me again on Christmas Day:

In response to my argument that the Mormon Tabernacle should not be performing at Trump’s inauguration, I was asked by a complete stranger to prove myself a Mormon by bearing my testimony. When I refused the response was:

I’ve listened to your podcast, and I’ve seen your comments in closed forums. By putting two and two together I have a pretty clear view on where you’re standing. I have no problems with your disbelief. It is your privilege. However it takes away the validity of your criticism against the MoTab though. Merry Christmas Gina, or do you, as a Dehlinite, prefer the secular greeting ‘Happy holidays’? (By the way I didn’t feel that he meant his seasons greeting so I took no joy in it).

When a friend similarly expressed her opposition to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing Trump into office her ‘friend’ responded:

If a song by the tabernacle can change your testimony of the church. It wasn’t that strong anyway.

I’m sure these folk are taking some satisfaction in their bold defence of the church,  but they have this habit of bludgeoning the non-conformists with their testimonies, and it strikes me that that’s not the purpose of testimony. I don’t blame them entirely – the Temple Recommend interviews seem to give folks permission to interrogate people’s belief’s and deny them eternal salvation if the wrong adjectives are used. (I don’t think this is the intent but as the big C church doesn’t invest some of its billions into training and supporting its ecclesiastical leaders it’s no surprise).

I’m not sure if those who use the sledgehammer of testimony are cognizant of the spiritual damage they are doing – but they are. Testimonies are deeply personal and expressed affirmations of particular spiritual truths. We were never meant, as fellow sojourners, to calibrate ourselves to everyone else in this grasping and furious clamour of identical words. That’s not the Christian way – it’s not even the Mormon way. It’s a spiritual aberration and an abuse and it just simply needs to stop.

Obviously, that’s not going to happen anytime soon – not while our church, and Mormon family culture are famously and unhealthily enmeshed so my reflex from now on is to offer:

My testimony, my rules.
Differentiation is not apostasy
Reason and thought don’t diminish testimony; they turn spiritual feeling into wisdom.
You are weaponizing your testimony, and unless you want the fires of hell to consume you, I advise you now to cease.

Stay in touch with Patheos Mormon on Facebook: