Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Protecting the Weak of Testimony

I want to address a concern that has come up more than once now.   Recently, someone made a comment expressing concern about some the things I have posted on my Facebook account which raised sometimes deep and difficult questions regarding Church history, culture, doctrine and policies.  They were all articles that ran in the national media during the time leading up to the 2012 Presidential election as people sought to understand Mitt Romney's faith.  They were concerned that the news articles I have shared might hurt someone whose testimony is weak and lead them to leave the church.   This is now the third person who has made such a comment using similar wording.  Given that these friends run in totally different circles, I think it is fair to assume that there is a larger similar unspoken concern in others.    However, let me also state, that I have received far more messages and posts that have thanked me for what I have been posting on Facebook and the ensuing conversations.      

Before I go on any further, I want to say up front that I greatly respect those people who shared their concerns with me.   I admire them and consider them friends. I value their comments and I understand their concerns.   So in quick answer to them, let me state up front, that I am not out to hurt or weaken anyone’s testimony with any of my posts.      

I read political news fairly regularly.  As Mitt Romney’s candidacy for the Presidency advanced and especially when it became more likely that he would become the GOP nominee, more and more articles regarding Mormonism found their way into the national media.   I am not talking about anti-mormon sites that do have the intent of undermining belief in the church, whose readership is relatively small and made up mostly of those who are interested in things related to Mormonism.  

I am talking about the Washington Post, the New York Times, USA Today, Business Week, Forbes, Fox, CNN, MSNBC, the major networks, not to mention the many political blogs that are out there from Huffington Post, Salon, Slate, Politico, Real Clear Politics, National Journal, Weekly Standard, Townhall and many others.   Each of these major news media has viewership or readership from the hundreds of thousands to the millions of people.   Each of them has published articles touching on some aspect of Mormonism.   People are reading these articles (Mormons and non Mormons alike), who are not necessarily out searching for info on the church.  The articles on Mormonism by these organizations are not only readily and easily available, but due to the nature of how those organizations disseminate information, they are being pushed out to people as well.  You don’t need to search for it…they are being sent directly to the masses.

The intersection of Mormonism and Politics (one a great love for me, the other a great passion) hit a tipping point for me especially understanding that millions are reading these news articles.   I've posted the articles that I found thought provoking or that mentioned something I had not heard about the Church and shared it with my fellow LDS to get their reactions.   That’s the extent of what I have been doing.    It is in my nature to ask questions, but I have been that way my whole life.   I love to learn.   I don’t take what these articles say at face value or as fact. Posting did not mean endorsement.  But rather than let these news articles have their say unchallenged,  rather then allow what is being published to go without comment by Latter Day Saints, I posted them to hear what Latter Day Saints would say in response.   I go and search out the claims of those articles and find out if the church has made any response.  

In the political arena, when someone levels a false charge…if it goes unanswered it sticks.  The charge becomes accepted as fact.  Silence is assent in politics and business for that matter.   Silences speaks volumes.   Remember the famous quote, “All that evil needs to succeed is for good people to do nothing?”   Good political campaigns never allow false charges to go unanswered.  And yet, for some reason in the religious arena, when a false charge about the chuch is leveled or an unflattering truth is presented in improper context, we flee or try to silence anyone who dares mention it or voice any critical comment.  We would rather no one know about it or hear about it. We sometimes condemn them for raising it in the first place. 

Like it or not, regardless of whether I share these articles, people are hearing lots of things about Mormonism, about our culture, about our history, and about our doctrine.   In the age of the internet, social media and an LDS presidential candidate whose every belief was being vetted by the media, you would really have to be cut off from the world community to not hear about these things. Shall we no longer not be of the world, but also not be in the world either?    

Should we never read or refer to those articles? Should we never discuss them? Should we never respond to false charges? Should we never take the opportunity to stand up for our faith in difficult circumstances because we are afraid someone out there might have a weak testimony?   How in the world do we know who has a weak testimony and who does not?  Since there is no way to know, should we then be silent all the time and never confront any of the ideas being presented that may challenge our beliefs because someone out there might be weak?  Then again, don’t we all have weak parts of our testimonies?   Some parts stronger than others?  Perhaps we should all be silent around each other for fear of hurting the weak parts of someone else's testimony.       

Think of the war in heaven.  It was a war.   It meant pre-existent spirits were engaged in heated debate and yes it meant that some souls were lost.  Imagine if Michael's hosts did not show up to fight! Just called the other side liars and then left the battlefield. Are we saying that we should avoid that same war, that same debate here on earth? If so, then why in the world should we bother putting on the armor of God if we do not intend to do battle?  Is all that we intend to do is to shelter ourselves from anything that might challenge us? For me personally, one of the great principles learned from the war in heaven is the fight for free agency that battled for the freedom to make mistakes and sin.  Yes, souls could be lost, but struggle is what we need to grow to be stronger and ready to fulfill God's plan for us as opposed to a life where our agency was taken away and we mindlessly did what we were told to do so that we would all be saved.   I see no difference in that war now.   

Heavenly Father sent us down to be tested…why? To become stronger….how do we get tested if we avoid the tests?   That was Satan’s plan…no tests...just do as he need to make every one have to stretch and grow for themselves.   Let’s not allow them to be challenged.  Let’s not allow people to make mistakes.  Let’s protect them from anything that might harm them or challenge them.   In order to do that, we will have to take away their freedom. But they will be safe.  
One of my friends mentioned that by posting some of the articles that I have been posting that I might be giving ammunition to the unbelievers and doubters.   We live in a different world today. Someone who is searching for ammunition will find it.  Heck it's being handed to them by the media through the internet.  We have the internet.   You can find anything you want about the church good or bad on the internet.   We have the media who are bringing to light Mormonism with all its wonder and with all its laundry.  Do you really want them to handle the laundry?  Those two sources alone have provided all the ammunition that any unbeliever or doubter might want.  

There are those, even those weak of testimony who are asking questions and who have doubts.  Is our response to them to just ignore their questions and doubts?   For some, when we encourage them to ignore questions and doubts it means that you have something to hide.  For others it means you don’t have an answer.  For others, it means you don’t want to answer. None of those responses inspire faith.     
We often talk about how our life experiences such as the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, conflict in marriage, living in an abusive household, and any one of a dozen other challenges have made us stronger once we have gotten through them.   Our testimonies of tithing get stronger when we face financial difficulty, pay tithing anyways and are blessed.   The chain smoker gets a testimony of the word of wisdom by confronting the habit, and struggling through it and then reaping the benefits of improved health.  All of the above challenges take tremendous amounts of personal effort.  Those challenges push us to learn as much as we can about the challenge, ponder it, question, doubt, make tough choices, take hard actions and take what we have learned, our desires, our decisions, and actions to the Lord.  Has he not sustained us?       
Challenges of many kinds will come, like it or not.  They will come to each of us in our own due time.   But with the internet today and with the media’s obsession during the election with Romney’s religion those things are finding us now.  Ready or not, those questions and issues are being blasted across the nation.   Shall we meekly cede the ground to them, or shall we as Latter Day Saints discuss them openly, face our challenges with faith, and give the LDS perspective on these questions and issues of our day.   
For challenges of a more intellectual nature, is the answer really to avoid them? Is that the way to make our testimonies stronger? The way to a stronger testimony in something where we are weak is to go through whatever it is that is challenging us. We must ask questions, face our doubts and fears, ponder, and take what we have learned to the Lord. We have faith that in every instance in the above paragraph that we will come out stronger. Why do we not have the same faith when it comes to intellectual challenges?

I am not saying that we should seek those challenges out, but rather to not be afraid to confront them when they do.  
"You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, "I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along." . . . You must do the thing you thing you cannot do." Eleanor Roosevelt
"Where there is no struggle, there is no strength." Oprah Winfrey 

I particularly like what a friend of mine (Dave Westwood) said about Oprah’s quote.  He said thatThe converse may be true…where there is no strength, there is no struggle   Are we avoiding difficult things because we have no strength?  Then let’s get the strength that we need by confronting those challenges and having faith that the Lord will provide us with that strength.   

I end with a quote from one of my favorite movies, Fiddler on the Roof.

Mordcha: Why should I break my head about the outside world. Let the outside world break it’s own head!
Tevye: He’s right, as the good book says: ‘If you spit in the air it lands in your face.’
Perchik: Nonsense you can’t close your eyes to what’s happening in the world
Tevye: He’s Right
Avram: He’s right, and he’s right? They can’t both be right.
Tevye: You know… you are also right

I’m not saying that my friends are wrong.   It is right to be concerned about those that may feel they have a weak testimony.   It is right to not break our heads about what is going on in the outside world.   But we can’t close our eyes to what’s happening either.   It’s nice that we can both be right.  

~ Bruce Fey

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