I have been under the impression over the last 26 years in the Church that if one had a pretty strong testimony of the Savior, the truthfulness of the Gospel as restored by the Prophet Joseph Smith and other essential doctrines, that if would be enough for the average member to weather the storms of doubt, social rejection and, their discovery of new information that might come along from time to time.
The reason I believed it is because it was my own personal experience. As I learned essential Church Doctrines and Church History, I had to, as we all do, reconcile this new found information against what I already knew. In some cases, it fit perfectly with my understanding and, in some cases not. I was forced to study and pray about those new things I learned in order to put them in the proper perspective.
But I am a convert. An adult convert. I was not favored with simple “faith-promoting “stories in Primary and YM/YW taught while I was growing up. I learned the gospel on both spiritual and intellectual planes. I had to develop my testimony on my own and did not use the borrowed light of others .
Within the first few years of my Church membership, I joined an email list which discussed Mormon Doctrine and Church practices. We had a large number of true Anti-Mormons on the BBS. I also went to their BBS’s and downloaded their “information” about Mormons. One of the documents I found was “53 False Prophecies of Joseph Smith,” written in the early 1980s by Dick Baer of “Godmakers” Fame. In it he explains why Joseph Smith was a false prophet. What I then did was investigate each point and write my own response to it. In some cases, I had to research for a while to get an answer with which I was comfortable. Most of Baer’s claims were nick-picky at best and just false at worst. Anyway, that exercise strengthened me a great deal because in some cases, I found out information that was not widely circulated in the standard lessons and materials of the Church. It bolstered by testimony a great deal to know that there was a reasonable and logical answer to the questions raised. In some cases, it required a spiritual confirmation of the truth, not just an academic one.
Now, why do I relate this story? I have come to understand, through my participation in the Bloggernacle that, many members of the Church have either left the Church, are in process of leaving or have serious doubts about doctrinal or historical issues. It seems that they were “surprised” by certain things which they had not known before.
They each had a testimony of some kind, but in these cases, a testimony of the gospel was not enough.
It was not enough to avert a crisis of faith. Some are able to recover from it, some are not. Some have come away with a diminished sense of the divinity of the Church itself and lost confidence in some of its leaders, past and present. Some have reduced their participation to perfunctory and lost faith in some essential truths of the restored gospel.
President Hinckley declared that new converts need,” a Friend in the Church, an assignment, and to be nourished by the Good Word of God.” Gordon B. Hinckley, “Find the Lambs, Feed the Sheep,” Ensign, May 1999, 104
Good advice for members who are fellowshipping new members, but what about the members themselves. Don’t they need the same thing?
We’ve all seen the situation where a convert comes into the Church and may be different than those in the ward or branch. Maybe they are of a different ethnic group, or are shy. Perhaps they are on a different economic level, speak with an accent or just don’t fit the Mormon mold. In many cases, the love of the members grabs a hold of them and they are successfully integrated into the congregation. But, many times they are not. They know the missionaries but never really know the members of their ward or branch who do not know them. And they fall away.
They had enough faith to join the Church, even developing a small, yet growing testimony. But sometimes, a testimony of the gospel is not enough.
Let’s turn our attention to the other members of the ward. Perhaps, they just moved in, had a life -changing event like a divorce or a death of a spouse. Perhaps they never married. Maybe they lost a child, or have some other problems. Even though they may be life-long members, maybe they never really fit in. Perhaps they have strong opinions and spout off in Sunday School or Priesthood/Relief Society. Maybe, someone just said something unkind at some point. No one talks to them, no one looks at them and, outside of church no one visits them. So they just stop coming and fade away from the scene. And no one notices.
They grew up in the Church, went to seminary, served an honorable mission and have a strong testimony of the Church. But, socially, they are nowhere. Again, having a testimony is not enough.
We come to Church each Sunday to partake of the Sacrament, worship the Lord and be uplifted and edified. But we come for other reasons as well. We come for some social interaction, affirmation of our common beliefs, values and testimonies. We come to be a part of God’s Kingdom here on this earth. And we want to fit it. If the arms of the Lord are large enough to embrace us, is not His Church?
How do we help these fellow Saints? We can follow the advice of John Dehlin in this podcast of a 2006 presentation. We can be sympathetic, understanding, and non-judgmental, reach out the hand of fellowship and try to answer any question or concerns expressed. For those who may be on the social fringes, we should seek them out and be a friend. Maybe, get out of our own “comfort zone.” Show genuine Christ-like love for that person.
It doesn’t help to be argumentative, confrontational, or just telling them to pray and read scriptures more (though praying about the situation to our Father in Heaven is never a bad idea).
For those finding themselves with a testimony and one foot out of the church, perhaps it should be handled like any other faith challenging event in our life. Set aside our intellect, our learning, our bitterness and pride and just rely on the love of the Savior to see us through the crisis. We must remember that He is “the way, the truth, and the life.” The Church is but His imperfect, human-led earthly organization full of people who are struggling as well.
“It is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall” (Hel. 5:12).
So why isn’t a testimony of the Gospel enough?