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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Preaching the Gospel

Recently I had a disagreement with a Brother about a comment he'd made in church. The comment went something like this:
Once you gain a testimony of the truthfulness of the restored gospel, you will feel compelled to shout it from the rooftops and to do all you can to save your fellowman. You will reject all other ideas and beliefs that are partial truths and cling only to the gospel and its teachings. Anything else does not constitute a testimony.
I have issues with people who speak in absolutes. I have issues with those who tell me what is and isn't a testimony. I have issues with people who tell me what I must believe and do. I have issues...

My disagreement went something like this (in list form, because that is the only true way, of course):
1. A testimony of the gospel is deeply personal and takes many forms.
2. As every person has a different personality and experiential background, some may not "feel compelled to shout it from the rooftops," especially those who have acrophobia.
3. Rejection of partial truths and beliefs, especially if those have led one to complete truths and beliefs, is not only foolhardy, but exhausting. And who is to arbitrarily decide which truth is partial and which is whole? It seems there would be better uses of one's time.
4. If one sincerely believes the gospel is true, it makes sense to cling to its teachings. The problem arises in distinguishing between statements made by fallible human beings and actual revelations from God. And it's also a fact that what resonates as truth with one person might not be the same for another and there are some who have difficulty distinguishing between inspiration and sentiment--proof of this is that some people still feel moved by portions of Especially for Mormons or Chicken Soup for the Soul.
5. At what point does "...all you can to save your fellowman..." constitute intolerance or force? I feel very strongly that "saving" means less preaching and more accepting and loving. I know I have been "saved" so many times in my life by a loving hand, lifting me when I was at my worst. I've been "saved" by conversations which never mentioned my unhealthy behaviors or weaknesses. I've been "saved" by grace, not by those who would have me conform my life to theirs. And in the end, I will be the one who chooses, not the one who is living his/her life to be my "example," nor the one who makes clear that I'm a sinner, or that I don't have the real truth. And my choice will be based on my experiences, knowledge, logic, and love. So please, if you want to know me, that's one thing, but don't try to "save" me. My understanding is that that's Christ's job.
6. Don't EVER tell me what my testimony is or is not.

The ensuing discussion became ugly as the audience took sides. My side "won", of course, because we didn't resort to the emotional tactics used by the other side (you know--I'm a woman so how can I possibly have a valid thought...people like me lead others astray by encouraging them to think rather than follow in faith...testimony isn't about logic, it's about feeling...), but I was left feeling a little embarrassed that I'd caused a ruckus in Sunday School. Just for the record, after stating my points, I didn't enter into the discussion again. I left. I know...cowardly, but they were so emotional...

Later, when I arrived at my Young Women's classroom, I found about six Brothers and Sisters (not Young Women) waiting for me. They wanted to stay. They'd heard from their daughters that we have fun lessons and treats. Since they were parents, I couldn't really ask them to leave. The Bishop joined us as well. As luck would have it, it was a lesson dealing with chastity (imagine that! in Young Women!) and I quickly rethought my planned frank discussion in light of the parental attendance. I decided that they just as well see me at my best, so we talked about sex/marriage/hormones/honesty/chastity/safe boundaries/good emotional health just as I'd planned. I found out later that one couple in attendance (they have six children) has a rather unhealthy sex life as the sister hates being touched by her husband--sad.

So today I'm supposed to teach a lesson that combines two from the book. They're not necessarily spiritual topics: Participating in the Cultural Arts, and Financial Responsibility. Naturally I'm already annoyed that we're not discussing something more blatantly related to Christ. However, I'm also quite certain that before we're through, I'll have twisted everything around so that we're somehow talking about Him. It's tricky, but I'll manage it. I'll probably have to incorporate some ideas and beliefs outside the mormnorm...and I'm feeling a bit spiteful, because I'm wishing that my contentious brother would come...not because I want him to help with the lesson...but just because I'm feeling the need to argue with someone today...


  1. "Don't EVER tell me what my testimony is or is not."

    BOOyah! It's times like this I remember why I love you, Samantha.

  2. Hi Samantha,

    this is Claudia again - some weeks ago I discovered your blog through this link on Segullah and since then I visit now and then.

    When I came to your blog today my father in law had just left our flat, after a long discussion about prejudices. Oh, and whenever I meet him (often..., because we belong to the same ward) I feel the need to argue about something with him. Or better, in the beginning not the need, but even ordinary conversations turn often into arguments.

    Today during lunch (we had invited him, because my mother in law just visits one of their daughters) it was homosexuality, because he had heard something happen in the States (we live in Europe) and he was judging it - and I got really mad about the amount of simplifications he used. It is so easy to judge or to be above things if you are not affected.

    And reading your blog today and being a person who thinks is having a testimony and nevertheless is not and probaby will not be able nor willing to shout anything from any rooftops I could really understand those issues and the list you have set up! By the way, do you think it was a coincidental visit of the bishop in your class?


  3. You know, I think more people should argue with people who hold those beliefs. They walk around all high and mighty thinking they know absolute truth and everyone else is stupid and everyone who doesn't believe they do quietly disagrees, but never says anything. Maybe it's about freaking time it happened a little more often!

    Besides, I think a church that has no debate or frank discussion is too brainwashed and sheep like. Not that they have to have heated discussions all the time, but that people question things and I think it would strengthen the church as a whole to be able to discuss the things that they disagree about.

  4. Playa: It's always good to be loved and feel supported as I carelessly shoot my mouth off. Thanks.
    Claudia: So good to hear from you. I suppose everyone, including your father-in-law, goes through a learning process at some point in life--his time is coming, I promise. Some of us have the opportunity to be humbled early in life, some later, but if properly applied, those experiences turn into ways we can empathize with and love others. As for the bishop, he's a very good friend of mine, aware that I have SSA (which was not a factor in calling me to the YW organization--and he has a daughter there), and he loves to come when I teach. It's probably the treats, but I pretend it's because I'm a fabulous teacher. :)
    JB: I have always believed that the reason God blessed us with brains was so that we could use them. There are plenty of things in life that will test our faith. It is rare that blind obedience is one of them. And it's interesting that most of the time, when God has asked people to do unusual things he usually gives background or reasons. There are certainly exceptions to this--but those are rare. Probably, though, I shouldn't say things in Sunday School when I'm angry. I usually forget to be kind about it.

  5. Sam, I'm SO glad you spoke up! Like jb said, I think there are a lot of people who would disagree with what that brother said but don't speak up. I admire your courage!

  6. I love your feisty soul! Thanks for sharing your insights; I'll need to remember some of these points for later, I'm sure.

    I would not call walking away from your conversation as a 'cowardly' retreat. I doubt you changed his mind on anything, and after having stated your position, you did the smart thing--get on to better things and not try to win an argument for the sake of winning. "Truth reflects upon our senses," and you proved it by your willingness to stand up for what you believed in, yet not engage a spirit of contention.

  7. I *love* the Gospel According to Samantha. Someday, you will teach in my ward, please.