If you grew up in the Christian church, you probably have heard people speak of “testifying about” what God has done in their lives. Other times they speak of “sharing their testimony” or “sharing their story” of how Jesus changed or healed them. Most of us are probably at least somewhat familiar with the general template for a testimony—something along the lines of “I used to <insert sin here> but now I don’t because of Jesus.”
Giving your testimony is a Christian tradition going back to the Old Testament (pre-Jesus times) where we are encouraged to “make known among the nations what [God] has done.” 1 We are encouraged to have pleasure in sharing “about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed” 2 and to “Let the redeemed of the LORD tell their story—those he redeemed from the hand of the foe.” 3
In the New Testament (when and after Jesus came) followers of Christ are told that they will “receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 4 And while describing how Satan initially fell from heaven in the book of Revelation, the testimony is implied to be the most powerful force after Jesus’ sacrifice itself—“They triumphed over [the devil] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” 5 Suffice to say that testimony is a very important concept to the Christian Church.
Shame, Testimony, and Truth
The word testimony is composed of the Latin word testis 6, which means “witness,” and the suffix -mony which denotes a “status, role, or function.” 7 Put together, the definition is “to have a role or function of a witness” or to have the same function as someone other than yourself who watched your actions.
The problem with this concept of Christian testimony is that we did not (and cannot) view ourselves from a non-biased third-person perspective. By pretending that we have the “function of a witness,” we fool ourselves into thinking that what we believe we have experienced is some kind of universal fact or perfect truth.
This can be dangerous if we consider how negatively we are emotionally conditioned to respond to things the church declares are sinful—such as our sexuality. We are taught to be ashamed of our own bodies and their natural functions and then our shame is taken as proof that our bodies and their natural functions should be shameful. This is circular reasoning. It is effective, but ultimately invalid.
A testimony is not an appeal to logic (logos) or authority (ethos), but an appeal to emotion (pathos). Stories are persuasive because they allow for us to project ourselves into them. When we hear that somebody “hated their life before <insert sin here> but that Jesus healed them and it’s all better now,” we can imagine ourselves being healed.When you learn to think of yourself as healed by Jesus, you have to first assume that you are damaged or in need of healing without Jesus in the first place. Because you used to <insert sin here>, you were in need of healing and therefore you were lost.
By projecting ourselves into testimonies like these, we associate not-having-Jesus with being broken and being wrong. This “poisons the well” of anything that we enjoy but which Jesus (read: the Church) does not approve of because it defines everything in relationship to the “closer to God” or “farther from God” dichotomy.
Viewing everything through this forced binary—as either beneficial or harmful to your “walk with God”—is an unrealistic way to view the world. Does buttering toast bring me closer to God? Does sorting laundry push me away from God? What about opening my refrigerator? Or sleeping with an extra blanket?
To recover from the emotional manipulation and live our lives in an healthy way after we have left the church, we must realize that much of the guilt we experience—in regards to sexuality, gender identity, and our body, (but also more generally about enjoying things)—is not inherent but is actually a product of conditioning which we can learn to overcome. We must realize that we are blaming ourselves for things which are not our fault, and in many cases are not wrong to begin with. It’s just the way we were raised to think.
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- 1 Chronicles 16:8
- Daniel 4:2
- Psalm 107:2
- Acts 1:8
- Revelation 12:11
- “The resemblance between testimony, testify, testis, and testicle shows an etymological relationship, but linguists are not agreed on precisely how English testis came to have its current meaning.”
- Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary (2010).