Every so often I hear myself communicating with some measure of implied or assumed authority. I apologize for the times I do. The truth is I really don’t “know” anything or at least I know very little.
Even as a bishop I did not like to say in my testimony that “I know God lives, or that Jesus is the Christ, or that the Book of Mormon is true.” I prefer to say that I believe, perhaps even with all my heart, that such things are true. But I don’t like to say “I know.” The truth is, I only believe most things.
I don’t mean to criticize anyone who believes they do know things. Some of you may “know” much. For me though, I believe, and I want to believe more and receive more and don’t want God to think I have all that I want. I love the example of Abraham who “sought Him earnestly.” This seeking seems to suggest that he did not stop searching. That he was inquisitive and unassuming before meeting the Lord. His reward? “My name is Jehovah…” and the incredible knowledge that followed, not the least of which was the knowledge of God and the receipt of his Exaltation. Or the example of Moses who said:
I will not cease to call upon God, I have other things to inquire of him: for his glory has been upon me, wherefore I can judge between him and thee. Depart hence, Satan.
Too often I think we beat each other over the heads with our testimonies. As a missionary we were instructed at times to dust our feet, so to speak, in leaving our testimonies with someone who disagreed with us. What a mistake that is in my view.
I think the end result for most of us still in the “belief” stage who share our testimonies in this way, or our perceived “knowledge” is to offend the receiver of our words, rather than to convert them.
Sadly, I think we Mormons tend to be very passive aggressive although we may not realize it. I believe one of the chief reasons that we can’t discuss anything in church is due to this tendency we have. I see the same in many comments online, including on this blog.
For many years I found myself arguing with others in gospel discussions, which in looking back I think we can all agree, goes counter to all that the gospel actually is. I think part of my problem was that I often felt threatened by the ideas or decisions of others, especially those I loved. Now I see that I was insecure and full of pride, not full of love, as I had thought. I want to be better at discussing ideas with others and in loving people despite differences of opinion.
I also no longer like it when someone says “The Lord told me to do or say such and such…” Again, I don’t mean to be critical. Most of us have done this to one degree or another. I certainly have. But, again, I think the effect of this practice generally shuts down communication and ends what could be healthy conversations and relationships.
I would so much prefer to hear someone say, “I think the Lord is trying to tell me to do such and such…” Or “I feel very strongly that I’m being guided, but I simply don’t know… I’m acting on faith…”
One of my best friends in life is so good at this. Ironically, I believe he is closer to the Lord than anyone I know. And yet he rarely uses the Lord’s name in such a way. When we discuss gospel ideas, and I know he knows what he’s talking about, he is still very careful to not force his ideas on me with such statements as “the Lord revealed to me that this idea is true… etc.” I love this trait in my friend. He reminds me that anyone’s ideas may have merit and to be careful to not simply dismiss them, even if they are just free lancing as most of us are.
As I look back upon certain statements I’ve made over the years, I’m embarrassed. Perhaps I’ve informed a congregation that the Lord or the Spirit has just revealed something to me. Or that the Lord has told me to call them or that the Spirit told me to go somewhere. Am I doing this to set myself up as a light? To elicit an effect? To make myself look good? To appear more in tune than others? Do I speak with assumed-authority and throw scriptures at people to beat them down instead of lift them up? I’ve been there and still repeat such mistakes. I seek forgiveness.
Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not that we aren’t ever guided. It’s not that the Lord can’t or doesn’t speak to us. But, perhaps often we think He is speaking where He may not be. Or perhaps He is communicating something with us that we simply misunderstand. Or worse, some other force may actually be inspiring us and we think and claim it is the Lord. Why not simply err on the side of complete humility unless the Lord commands otherwise, literally (not maybe).
I seek to engage with others in a way that is more kind and patient and unassuming. Less authoritative. After all, what do most of us really know? We are less than the dust of the earth are we not? We are nothing, which thing perhaps we should begin to suppose.
Now, some of you may be saying “Well, AB what about you and your criticisms of the church and some of its leaders? Isn’t that unkind?” I think that’s a very fair question.
It’s a challenge for me because like many of you, I’ve learned some things about the Church that have been hard to digest. I have experienced something akin to what I’d call the mourning of the loss of something very dear to me. Like most of you, the Church was my identity for almost my entire life.
I spent a few years very angry when I began to realize the Church wasn’t as true as I had thought. Not true to the restoration at least. Not true to Joseph Smith or to the Book of Mormon. Or to the Savior. Or to the truth. And frankly, not true to the poor or to the sick or to those struggling in so many ways.
This discovery for me of truth that had been withheld or perverted inspired some anger, I admit. I don’t feel that way so much anymore. But the mourning stages for me were real and were painful.
An important distinction I make though is that the Brethren AND any other man or woman who claims to be a prophet places a burden upon those in their midst to discern if their message is true or false. Beware of false prophets we are taught! That goes for Thomas or Denver or any human who makes claims of open veils and revelations. It becomes our duty to expose or to believe. It is my understanding that choosing wrongly, leads us to unbelief and misjudgment, things we will held accountable for.
I’m always reminded of how hard it must have been to believe Joseph was a true messenger. Even many of those who first believed, ended up betraying him in the end. Are we any different or better? And then what about John the Baptist? Or Jesus? Even the Son of God came in such a way that most did not believe His message. It must have been even worse for Isaiah and Jeremiah and Lehi and Nephi and all the other holy prophets.
So if I am critical and am sinning, I ask for your forgiveness. For God’s forgiveness. But for now, I believe it is my duty to discern and expose and/or believe and share. I don’t do so with any authority and I attempt to only do so in an unassuming way — in a way that hopefully helps others seek the Lord, and not men. Certainly to not follow men in an idolatrous way as we are so prone to do.
I am hopeful that this year God will bless us to love better and to grow in greater light and knowledge. Especially those of us who claim or think we are awake. Who are here reading these blogs. I hope that as we discuss these things together it can be in a way that is thoughtful and profound. So much is at stake in discovering the truth and in being redeemed.
God bless us all in 2017,