Faith, and what the LDS term testimony, can be a fragile thing. Sometimes we can run across information that challenges our long-held beliefs, or that presents us with seemingly negative information that we did not know before. As we come across new information, we may question our testimony or wonder how our faith can survive intact in the light of the new information.
A friend of mine was recently faced by such questions in the light of something she had read. Knowing that I had dealt with like information in the past, she asked how I deal with difficult issues that are presented from Church history or doctrine. Upon reflection, I believe there are seven important rules:
- Remember that we have more light and knowledge today then they had at Joseph Smith’s time. While it is true that people of his day were taught directly from the mouth of Joseph Smith, we have to remember that they did not have Sunday School manuals or even a complete Doctrine and Covenants. They were learning many new and strange doctrines, which meant they occasionally didn’t get it right, or did not have a complete understanding of how to get it right. We have learned line upon line and precept upon precept. That is a different belief from those who believe that if you go back to the people who started things you will find the purest doctrine. We know things today that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young did not know. We believe in a modern-day prophet and continuing revelation.
- Remember that the early members were functioning in a nineteenth-century environment, where common beliefs were different than today’s common beliefs. Members of the Church believed many of the widely held beliefs of that century. This should not surprise us a whole lot, but it often does. Many of these nineteenth-century beliefs would not be acceptable in today’s society. This would include beliefs about blacks, Native Americans, women, families, science, and even work.
- Remember that we don’t have all of the information. Often, issues are deemed to be difficult because we are trying to piece together what happened by looking at a few notes and journals. These notes and journals often don’t tell the whole story.
- Remember that someone has already dealt with it. There are enough historians, apologists, and members in the Church to have heard every historical issue that you might deem difficult. So while you might be hearing it for the first time, other strong members of the Church have heard it before and have dealt with it.
- Remember to focus on what you know. It is a common fallacy to think that we have to have all the answers. Then when we hear something or read something we haven’t heard before, we sometimes panic or think there is no answer. At times, some individuals get so focused on something that they don’t know or understand that they stop focusing on those things they do know. What do I know for sure? Jesus Christ lives and loves all of God’s children. The Book of Mormon is true. I felt the Holy Spirit at my baptism. I have received an answer to prayer. Focusing on these things that we know helps us deal with things that we don’t understand.
- Remember to surround yourself with a good support group. While surfing the Internet I came across a well-written article where the author quoted from the Greek text of the New Testament to show that the LDS interpretation of scripture is wrong. I don’t speak Greek, nor do I have a functioning understanding of how the grammar works. What the writer said seemed to make sense. I had no answer. So I asked some of the other members of the FAIR Apologetics list how to deal with this issue. They spoke Greek and understood Greek grammar and were able to point out the fallacies in the article.
- Remember that quotes from anti-Mormon books are frequently taken out of context or out of cultural context. Additionally, the articles usually have an agenda and are presented in a biased or prejudicial fashion. For example, at the 2000 FAIR conference Danel Bachman presented a paper on the book Mormonism–Shadow or Reality? by Jerald and Sandra Tanner. What he found is that the Tanners frequently use highly loaded words. For example, Mormons of one variety or another are frequently described as “claiming,” “admitting,” “confessing,” or “alleging” something. Other people, however, “affirm,” “acknowledge,” “say,” and “testify.”
I hope these seven rules will help you deal with issues you may have difficulties with and help maintain your testimony.