Several Mormon intellectuals (I know some find that term offensive) talk about how their testimony has “matured” with their increase of knowledge about the LDS Church. What does it mean to have a mature testimony? Is it something that you grow into as you get older? Does everyone experience it? I know many people that have become aware of the details of LDS Church history, as I have, and yet still maintain their child-like faith. They continue to hold fast to the testimony of their youth, strengthening their resolve to believe despite knowledge that seems to contradict in some ways what they were brought up to believe.
The most common explanation, I sympathize with, is that we just don’t have all the information. What looks like a great injustice could actually be a innocuous historical occurrence. Due to lack of the historical record we are left to interpret the events by our modern standards and personal preferences. This freedom of historical interpretation allows some to abandon their Mormon heritage and yet others continue to justify their beliefs. It gives the faithful just enough reason to “hold to the rod” when faced with the strong temptation to let go. Their testimony is saved by rejecting the negative interpretations of LDS history and accepting the faith promoting Church rendition. I offer no criticism of those that choose this path of faith.
However, there are others that are not satisfied with the every explanation offered by apologists. Instead they begin the long process of understanding and interpreting the past on their own, taking note of the discrepancies and biases on both sides of the issues. Evaluating where they feel one side has gone too far in justifying their claims. There is a danger to this approach (speaking from a faithful prospective). To evaluate history in an unprejudiced way the interpreter must be willing to accept the possibility of error regardless of religious affiliation or leadership status. Each historical event or doctrinal declaration is evaluated separately with the possibility of LDS leaders being wrong or right. Failure to apply this principle will distort reality and fall short of truth. Unfortunately, a side effect of this approach is that the questioner discovers just how wrong his leaders can be. This can cause disaffection and if not approached carefully can lead to abandonment of the LDS faith (or any faith).
At the risk of sounding arrogant it is my contention that most LDS members do not allow themselves to develop “mature” testimonies, accepting all things given to them from their leaders without question. They are content to believe, in a way, that their leaders are infallible. Holding tight to Wilford Woodruff’s statement that the Prophet will never lead the Church astray, they find confidence in their leaders’ words. I propose that a Prophet can be wrong, not only on pedestrian matters, but also in spiritual matters.
This is a difficult leap for many LDS to take because it requires them to take upon themselves personal responsibility for what they believe. No longer can they stand before God and say, “The Prophet told me so”. Members that take that frightening first step begin to realize that its okay to question leaders. It is alright to be troubled by certain parts of our history. Prophets can sometimes make major mistakes that may steer the Church in a wrong direction for awhile, but eventually through cultural or divine pressure, it will return to its predestined course.
Critics rightly point out the inconsistencies in some LDS “doctrine” and history, all the while ignoring the short comings of their own religious conviction and sadly, sometimes the honesty of their critics. The easily convinced are swept away with this tide of accusations leveled against the Church, without considering the validity of the religious claims of the accuser. Are their claims to the divine any more valid based on the empirical evidence? The honest must conclude that while they may have strong justification for their beliefs (As LDS do) in the end they are no more rational than those of the LDS faith. One could simply dismiss them all, denying God in the process, or try to live true to what they personally believe. When confidence is placed in our own relationship with God our testimony “matures”. Like a child growing to adulthood we no longer rely on the words of others, but instead find our own footing, the path to that eternal being (i.e. God) that you can honestly hold to without reservation.
What does it mean to have a mature testimony to you? Which type of testimony is more faithful? Is it possible to have a strong conviction of the “one true Church” and be aware of LDS history?