Sunday, July 24, 2011

Gay Gospel Doctrine Class: Random Thoughts on Testimony

This is another in the Gay Gospel Doctrine Class series of posts that takes a lesson from the LDS Church’s (Adult) Gospel Doctrine class and presents it from a gay perspective.  Today’s lesson is based on Lesson #28 in the Gospel Doctrine Manual (“We Are All Witnesses”).

The readings for this lesson cover Jesus’ 40-day ministry following his resurrection, Pentecost, and the apostles’ initial experiences of being witnesses of the risen Christ.

As (current or former) members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we know all about being a witness.  Our religion is infused with this concept; about being witnesses at all times and in all places; about bearing testimony, which is what a witness does. 

From the earliest days of the Church, Mormons have been all about convincing others, testifying to others, about the truthfulness of the church and its claims to divine authority.  Other Christians, when they speak of testimony, think of testifying of Christ.  We, however, focus on testifying of the prophet Joseph, the Book of Mormon, the restoration of the priesthood, etc. 

Besides testifying to non-members, the church also devotes one Sunday each month to encouraging members to testify to each other of the truthfulness of the church.  When one stands back and looks at this, one wonders why it is so important that we bolster each other’s belief in the church. Just asking ...

We also as a church developed the concept of the Spirit bearing witness of testimony, sort of like super-charging it.  Missionaries focus a lot on this, speaking about how it feels, how an investigator can know that their witness of the church is not only truthful from a subjective point of view, but also from an objective standard.  I remember investigating the church and getting to the point where I really, really wanted to feel what the missionaries and others were talking about.

Testimony is an interesting concept when considered from a legal point of view.  All court cases are decided based on evidence introduced in the course of the trial.  The judge or jury can base a verdict or decision only on evidence that is before the court and nothing else.  Because of this, a vast body of law has developed around the concept of what is and is not admissible evidence.  One of the most well-known rules of evidence is that which prohibits hearsay:  A witness can only give first-hand accounts, not testify as to what he heard from someone else.  The testimony must be personal.  It must also be relevant (i.e., e.g., no travelmonies).

Testimony wars are not unheard of among rank and file members in the church.  Someone claims to “know” something is true.  Others are expected to give deference to this “knowledge.”  Sometimes, however, others have “testimonies” that run counter to a point someone else is espousing. 

And so the dueling commences.  We’ve all seen it, haven’t we?  Of course, those in leadership positions are often given deference in these wars because of their callings, which can complicate things.  And of course, many people bring in reinforcements of their testimony by citing this or that general authority, in order to “prove” that their witness is true. 

It’s always ugly, to me, to see “testimony” used as a weapon to browbeat someone else.  Ugly, ugly, ugly.

We who are gay, who experience SSA or SGA or whatever one chooses to call it, experience these testimony wars among various factions of gay Mormons.  It’s unfortunate, I think, but I guess not too surprising, to see this happen. 

Too often, “testimony” is about winning over others, instead of nourishing ourselves.  If we were true to our LDS doctrinal heritage, we would embrace, cling to and defend the concept that each of us are entitled to our own witness from God, our own relationship with God, and our right to hold that inviolate, despite the “testimonies” of others.

And yet, it is important, in some cases, to share our experiences, particularly as gay Mormons, so that others can perhaps have the courage or the impetus to explore new spiritual avenues which they had heretofore not considered traveling.  I refer specifically to witnesses that we have received that God does not condemn our homosexuality, but rather loves us as we are.  These are experiences that bear sharing, testimonies that bear repeating.

I therefore close by referring you to this post and this post wherein a few of these types of testimonies are shared.  If you feel so inclined, I invite you to share your own thoughts and feelings, through comments, for the benefit of others.  Not in the spirit of a testimony war, but of sharing of self, of lifting of others, and simply baring our authentic selves to each other.

1 comment:

  1. I don't think I have ever been witness to a testimony war. I've heard testimonies that slightly contradict one another, but nothing that has been ramped up to the point that it would be considered a war. Maybe I was just naive not to see it.

    I was often told that I had a great testimony of the church. Despite others telling me that I never felt it. I would give my testimony of the loving nature of Christ and the sacrifice He made for me. Which in turn validated my 'testimony' of the church. I still have a testimony of the atonement of Christ, I have a testimony of the good works and lifestyle that the LDS church encourages. But of some of the doctrines, I am less than certain.