I’ve listened to a few podcasts with Terryl and Fiona Givens and right now I’m reading Crucible of Doubt. Several times they have talked about unorthodox members of the church speaking up in their home wards and being more honest and authentic about their testimonies:
“The pressure to conform to what we see as a dominant cultural orthodoxy is often more imagined than real. A silent majority may be more receptive than we realize to our own yearnings for greater authenticity, honesty, originality, and individualism….
Such pressures to fit in, to keep silent in the face of dominant perspectives and attitudes and understandings, can seem a daunting specter. This is especially true in the case of those who, harboring doubts or uncertainties, feel marginalized by Mormonism’s pervasive rhetoric of certainty. Yet, some have ventured to test the perceived cultural norms–and found the experiment rewarding.” (Crucible of Doubt, p 104).
Yesterday was fast Sunday in my ward and I decided to try the Givens test. I stood up and gave a pretty messy version of my testimony [As I rewrote it for this post I added extra detail and explanation I skipped over the pulpit. I’ll try to set those parts in brackets]:
I spent my whole life doing exactly what the church told me to do, checking all of my boxes. The box for woman = motherhood. So after ten years of marriage [I had to work full time and we took a break from trying to foster/adopt/medically have a child.] I was filled with so much peace when working FT and not trying to have kids I was confused. I decided to pray about it and when I was in the temple the answer to my prayer came: “I didn’t send you here to fill a role, I sent you here to build my kingdom. As a unique, individual daughter of God.”
I felt like I’d spent so long listening to the church I had never been open to personal revelation of what God wanted ME to do. I learned that “I will follow God’s plan for me” means listening to answers to my prayers even if they are different than what I hear over the pulpit. I felt like He was telling me, “You are finally ready to listen.”
[I went home and read the Teachings of the Living Prophets manual about motherhood and and how mothers aren’t supposed to work outside the home. For the first time ever I questioned that what I’d been told by prophets; that it might not be right, or might not be for everyone. God wanted me to be working full time and not having more kids.]
This led me to start to research other parts of the church. [I dove in and had questions about infallibility of prophets, church history, and how things that were taught as unchanging doctrines were now seen as policies that were changed in the past.] I feel like the more I studied the more I realized how little I knew and my certainty evaporated. My whole outlook went from black and white to complex gray.
I never doubted the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the doctrines of the Gospel. [But all of this human, church stuff? Polygamy? Priesthood ban? Correlation? The history of women in the church? This was messy. And I had to rebuild the foundation of my testimony from “the church” onto “the gospel.” If I’d left the foundation on the church and the prophets I would have crumbled, because it’s so obvious errors have been made as humans have done their best. I call this my “faith transition.” I don’t think I was in “faith crisis” mode because] I never questioned God or the Gospel. Since then I’ve only had certain things I can KNOW. I know God lives & Loves me. I Jesus is my Savior and I can be saved through the atonement.
I choose to believe in everything else. I choose to believe in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When I come to church and read my scriptures I’m choosing to believe and I feel my faith strengthened. I’m not sure if I’ll ever know anything more than I know now; but I do know how to love, and I think that’s the most important part of discipleship anyways.
Warning: after doing this you will feel emotionally wiped out, so be prepared. The response from others was interesting. Many people got up and contradicted what I said, they testified that it’s okay to believe but easy to know – all you have to do is pray about it. A common theme for the rest of the meeting was “how to know.”
The topics yesterday in SS and RS were the priesthood and Joseph Smith. During the rest of the classes a lot of the comments would start with, “Well it’s not like I’ve never had doubts and questions, but this is how I know…..” To me it seemed a little borderline condescending while thinking they were being helpful. A lot of people awkwardly said they liked my testimony. I couldn’t tell if it was pity because I was such a hot mess or not. A handful of people were genuine in their appreciation. I received some emails and notes today. All in all I’d say the Givens were right – my ward was more open than I gave them credit for, even though it was a mixed response. Whether I’m relegated to nursery and music callings for the rest of my life remains to be seen, though.
As much as I love Sis. Wixom’s talk from Sunday Conference and hope that all wards would respond to doubters in a loving manner – I think it’s a fine line between condescension and help. People don’t need your solutions, they need your love and appreciation. Anyways, If you are someone that operates outside of certainty, have you ever given an honest/authentic testimony? Have you expressed doubt, questions, or said, “I don’t know” over the pulpit? Have you heard one from someone else? Could you tell what the results were amongst ward members? After hearing conference talks being more open to questioning and doubting members, would you consider the Givens test in your own ward? Why or why not?