Over a year ago I committed to send a testimony in to Mormon Scholars Testify. Then I had the year from hell, teaching twelve courses, including eight different preparations and five new “preps.” During that same year, I read about and thought about social media very much, as I was teaching digital media courses that relate it to marketing ideas. As a participant in social media (e.g., @elscotto on Twitter), I became increasingly aware of the permanent and public nature of everything I posted. That meant that if I had a controversial thing to say, it would be there forever for scrutiny, either honest or not. I scrubbed my Facebook of all identifying markers, I went back through 1000+ Tweets (that was painful when my only contribution to the world seemed to be banal movie, tv and restaurant reviews, along with retweets of things I found interesting or funny at the time). I put up a blog to try it and promptly took it down because I felt I couldn’t say things there that I wanted to, for fear of being misinterpreted (maliciously or otherwise). I considered what I could put on Mormon Scholars Testify that would never, ever cause me trouble (yes, I am a natural man with selfishness issues). While I went through that marathon, I struggled to be a good husband, father, and bishop. So I apologize to Daniel Peterson for taking so long to respond. Here goes . . .
I want to preface my remarks by saying that I think of testimonies as extremely personal and highly sacred. In some ways this has also contributed to my tardiness in participating in this forum. I am probably too careful in Life 1.0 about sharing my testimony, so sharing it in a Web 2.0 forum is daunting and I have had trouble reconciling how I feel about it. Daniel has been persistent, sending me a reminder every six months or so, for however long it’s been, that I please participate. I know the power of testimony but even as a “scholar” of social media I wonder about the effect a testimony posted here can have. Anyway, with that hesitation, I will proceed.
My grandfather’s grandfather was converted to the church in Wales in the 1850s, as I understand it. I’ve read some of his journal entries; those were tough times for the Welsh and for the Church. That’s as close as I come to understanding my LDS genealogy, which is to say that I have neglected that part of my duty as a member. I am proud, if uninformed, of my heritage as a “blue blood” Latter-day Saint.
I served a mission in northwest Mexico from 1979-1981. This was partly the result of a mother that nagged me and a girlfriend that had no interest in getting serious with someone not faithful enough to serve. It was also largely a result of a lifetime’s preparation by Church programs that taught me public speaking, leadership, and general principles of service to others. It was mostly the result of getting through The Book of Mormon for the second time (first time in Seminary at 14) and getting on my knees to ask God if I should serve. I knew immediately that I should. This is one of those spiritual experiences that can only be appreciated by those who have had one—sorry, but that’s the best I can do without sounding trivial. When I worked with a friend consulting with Harley-Davidson some years ago, an experience of this type (though not necessarily a truly “spiritual” one) was described by the bumper sticker “If I have to explain it to you, you wouldn’t understand.”
In grad school (1984-1988, PhD in Marketing, University of Utah) I had a struggle with my faith. I took a class called “The Philosophy of Science” which challenged me to examine carefully what I believed. At about the same time I was reading about something called “flow” in the sociology literature. Flow is a bit like an endorphin release during certain behaviors or activities. I even wrote a paper about it later and introduced the idea into my field (Roberts, Scammon and Schouten 1988). I wondered if I could attribute my spiritual experiences to flow. In other words, were they self-induced and not related to Heavenly influence? This would be devastating. I was married in the temple to someone who has never doubted. What would this do to that relationship? Was my draw to Mormon culture enough if I could not believe? I decided to believe while I tried to figure it out. Several of my friends in grad school took the opposite approach . . . they decided to not believe until they figured it out. To me at least, my approach seemed more honest, but I can tell you that they said just the opposite and at least one old friend is still angrily haranguing me twenty-five years later because I ended up still believing, while he is certain it is all a self-serving, elaborate deception.
My approach to this spiritual dilemma was to go to the Salt Lake Temple every Saturday (almost all of this took place in 1986) and work the sealing desk—where appointments are made for temple weddings and sealings. I did not do a lot of temple work that year (actually participate), but I was in the walls of the temple trying to give service to others. In my free time at the desk I wrote in my journal. Over a year I talked myself through what I believed and why. I examined my spiritual experiences and tried to determine if they could have happened merely because I wanted them to. At the end of that year, my two main findings were that:
1. I had been present or spoken the blessing on at least two occasions where the post-blessing effect was a miracle that defied mere flow.
(a) On my mission in La Paz, Mexico, 1979, we taught and baptized a quadriplegic man. He had been wheelchair-bound for five-to-six years following a car accident. I do not remember the exact wording of his confirmation blessing except that there was a promise of improvement and healing. He was using a walker within a week and canes soon thereafter. I do not know how he is today, but I know at that time he received a blessing that went beyond the very frail humans (missionaries, local church leaders, members, and witnesses) present. Flow did not cause Agustín to walk.
(b) A friend of ours joined the Church in Columbia, Missouri. I was finishing my undergraduate work in psychology at the time. The lady was epileptic and was having a severe time dealing with the disease. I confirmed her a member of the Church. I remember hesitating, waiting for the words to come. They did and I promised her progress with her ailment and healing. My bishop at the time told me afterword that he knew exactly what had happened during the confirmation and that it was inspired. Wes was a professor of electrical engineering who was in every sense a truth seeker, a pragmatist, and not a blind follower to anyone or any thing. A week later the good sister had some tests that showed almost a disappearance of the problem in her brain scan. Cindi recently found us on Facebook and told us that she had not been completely cured but that the disease was more manageable now. She had had several months epilepsy-free until giving birth a few months later.
I realize that if someone wanted to frame these events as other-than-miraculous, it would be easy to do. But these were not “the effect of a frenzied mind” (see Alma 30:16), they represent true miracles provided by God to inspire the faithful.
2. During that difficult year, I also read The Book of Mormon. I found myself more and more convinced of the teachings in the book and the story of its prophetic sources. This was not a sudden finding or feeling as it has sometimes been in my life. It was a weeks-long wave of knowledge passing over me that just gave me the reassurance that this was right, that what I believed was really true, and that I should move forward and stop questioning at least the basics of my religion. Again, I do not have words to describe this time of closure except to say that it gave me great peace to know that I did not have to declare that I did not believe and possibly rock many family boats in the process.
But I did not become (or “re-become”) a believer to keep family peace. That would have been as intellectually dishonest as leaving the church without giving it the effort it requires to find out. I was able to push big doubts aside and not let small ones distract me because I did some due diligence, receiving and pondering and sincerely asking (see Moroni 10:3-5). I came, again, to know the truth.
So what do I know? What can I testify to?
- The more I read the scriptures and understand the Gospel, the more it comes down to Jesus Christ providing us a way to repent through his atonement. Without this I would be lost, as would everyone. Making this personal has not been an easy path for me; I feel like I barely get it and don’t appreciate it enough. I assume this is going to be a lifelong learning process for me. Nevertheless, I know it is a true principle and I have personally experimented with the healing that repentance can bring to a troubled soul.
- I know the clear doctrines presented in the Book of Mormon come from God through prophets.
- I have always been amazed by tithing, and I know that it is a true principle. We give by faith and we are blessed with abundance (Malachi 3:10-12). I have lived it. I have seen others live it. I have seen miracles in peoples’ lives as they lived it.
- Being a Christian only works if you give service to others. You can learn everything about all things spiritual and it will avail you very little without faith in action. Service is where the Gospel “rubber hits the road.” With service, you also feel an immediate reward of peace and happiness. I’m grateful I was raised to experience this, as in a purely empirical world it might seem almost a paradox that to give to others somehow improves your lot as well. I know giving service to others is a true principle of Christianity, and that you are blessed for every such effort.
- I know God allows miracles to take place to bless peoples’ lives. But if you are looking for major miracles in life, you may miss many minor ones that are sometimes equally impressive. I have watched as couples fell back in love and avoided living out their lives bitterly—this by prayer and righteous desire. I have seen shy men become powerful and beloved leaders of congregations. I have seen rookie leaders make decisions like spiritual giants. I have seen children go back to bed after a priesthood blessing to heal a bad earache and sleep through the night. I have given a blessing to a very sick, very premature baby and known months in advance that there would be no lifelong problems associated with this difficult beginning. I have experienced very specific inspiration about my career, in my church callings, about major spending decisions, and in my role as a father and husband.
I can’t tell you how any of this happens. I can’t give you scientific explanations, or even logical ones sometimes. That does not diminish in the least their truthfulness. What I’ve experienced is called “anecdotal” by those who hold the scientific method and empirical evidence as the most sacred of tools for measuring truth. I respect the scientific method and empirical evidence and critical thought. But knowledge of spiritual truths just can’t be measured yet by those tools, particularly when skepticism is the first prerequisite of proper inquiry. That’s the opposite of how faith works, where a “desire to believe” (see Alma 32) is the starting point.
There it is. I believe some things and I know some things and I’m grateful to be at peace with that. Thanks, Heavenly Father!
Scott D. Roberts, Debra L Scammon, John W. Schouten (1988), “The Fortunate Few: Production as Consumption,” Advances in Consumer Research Vol 15, ed. Michael J. Houston, Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 430-435.
Scott D. Roberts was born in an Air Force hospital in Wichita Falls, TX. He has lived in San Antonio, England, Odgen, Cape Girardeau, Missouri (where he graduated from Jackson High School), Columbia, Missouri (where he completed a bachelor degree in psychology from the University of Missouri at Columbia in 1984), Salt Lake City (where he received his doctorate in marketing from the University of Utah in 1988). His professional life has taken him to Oxford, Mississippi; Virginia Beach, Virginia; Lyon, France; Brownsville, Texas; Yuma and Flagstaff, Arizona; Bristol, Rhode Island; and Austin and San Antonio, Texas. An Air Force brat, Dr. Roberts is becoming a confirmed Texan, with now 15 years combined living in four Texas cities.
Dr. Roberts served a mission in northwest Mexico (at the time, the Hermosillo Mission). He met his wife during his few semesters at BYU. They have four children and a small but growing group of grandchildren.
Dr. Roberts’ current position is as Associate Professor of Marketing at The University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio. He will shortly take over the duties as Director of The Hispanic Marketing Institute. His research and teaching interests center around international marketing and consumer culture, and he has recently been fascinated with social media as it relates to those areas.
Posted April 2011