This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Posted on 3/19/2014; Last Updated on 3/29/2014 by TruthIsReason Four days after the recent news broke that Thomas Monson was being summoned to court in the UK, FAIR posted a response to my paper “Monson’s Refusal to Testify”, which I put out in October. Their response contains nearly four dozen statements from Monson that we are supposed to accept as testimonies of the Restoration and related doctrines. In this article, I will show with multiple examples that, by the church’s own published standards and by the common beliefs of its own members, none of these statements qualify as testimonies of these principles. I will also show in two different ways that even if a person decides to classify them as such, Monson’s consistently peculiar behavior in regards to core LDS doctrines has empirical significance and demands a serious explanation.
If Only FAIR Would Play Fair
FAIR’s response to my paper was more incomplete and disappointing than the one I expected from them and is somewhat deceptive. For example, it starts with a long quote that it prefaces with the following:
Notice the date prominently displayed in the subtitle. Anyone glancing at this page or skimming through it would assume that this statement had been made on 9/11/2013, and who could blame them? That’s the impression given. Unfortunately, it’s a false one; this statement was actually made almost 17 years ago. This is partly corrected below the quote where it’s noted that the statement was “posted on josephsmith.net on September 11, 2013. Also found in ‘They Showed the Way,’ April 1997 general conference,” but this doesn’t completely rectify the situation. Since the 2013 date is entirely meaningless, we have to wonder why FAIR has prominently displayed it in bold above the quote as if that was when the statement had been made. If it’s not intended to mislead skimmers, what is it intended to do? Next, the article introduces the issue at hand and says “One anonymous ex-Mormon posted the following claim on an anti-Mormon website”. It then quotes from the most recent version of my paper and cites it as follows:
As you can see, FAIR points to mormoncanon.com as the source and neglects to mention that the most recent version – the one it actually quotes from – was posted to scribd.com. The version posted on mormoncanon.com bore almost no resemblance to the version they quote (it’s now four times longer and
has been completely rewritten) and that site has been gone for months now (you can’t even find any archives of it), so why would they mention it but not mention the site where the paper they quote is actually found? Undoubtedly, they did this so that they could throw in the bit about “an anti-Mormon website” in order to poison the well and bias their readers against it at the outset, as though this questionable claim should have any bearing on the validity of the information in the paper. This obfuscation also makes the paper harder to find, which defeats the whole purpose of including a reference but could have been another objective of theirs. So right off the bat, it seems that these apologists aren’t interested in taking a transparent or FAIR approach to this topic. To their credit, however, they have compiled an impressively long list of Monson’s statements about the Restoration and related doctrines, which we’ll look at next.
Why These “Testimonies” Fall Short
FAIR’s list of 47 quotes, all of which I had already read and many of which I pointed out and addressed in my paper, consists of: Stories about the Restoration (including the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith) Stories about others who have testified of it Stories about others who have gained a testimony of it Admonitions to gain a testimony of it Instructions on how to gain a testimony of it Testimonies of concepts that seem loosely related to it Mere mentions of keywords related to it Impersonal, objective assertions regarding it Expressions of gratitude for it Statements of belief in others’ testimonies of Christ (which need to be read in context)
FAIR would have us classify these all as testimonies, but if such statements can all be considered testimonies, then the term “testimony” is practically meaningless. If a word can mean anything, it means nothing. In order to call these testimonies, we would have to define the term as follows: Testimony: A statement about an idea that seems to imply belief in it By this definition, I would also have to classify “I had eggs for breakfast this morning” as a bearing of testimony that a person did in fact have eggs for breakfast that morning. There would be no need for testimony meetings or for instructions to “teach with testimony” because teaching and testifying would be synonymous and every lesson, talk, prayer, and comment given in church would be a testimony or a long string of them. Clearly, the implications of such a definition are highly problematic. On an ordinary Sunday, the bodies of the talks and lessons given contain statements just like those from Monson in FAIR’s list. But then, at their conclusions, we often hear the words, “I’d like to close with my testimony that I know this church is true and I know that…” Why do members do this? Because they know what an LDS testimony is. They know that, while the body of their talk included many implications of belief, a testimony is an explicit statement of belief in which they declare that they know or believe that what they’ve spoken is true. In fast and testimony meetings, the overwhelming majority of testimonies borne use this same kind of language for the same reason – members know that that’s what’s expected in a testimony. In short, “testimony” is not a catch-all term and it never has been. Anyone who has been active in the church (and paid attention in it) for more than a year knows that, to Mormons, the term means something very specific.
Now that we’ve covered how ordinary members define the word, let’s look at how the church itself defines it. Is there any official, correlated, prominent, and current source that gives a detailed description of what a testimony is? Luckily there is – the “What Is a Testimony?” section of the chapter “Teaching with Testimony” in the manual Teaching, No Greater Call: A Resource Guide for Gospel Teaching, Part B. According to the beginning of the manual, it is to be used by “all who teach the gospel, including: parents, classroom teachers, priesthood and auxiliary leaders, home teachers and visiting teachers”, so it is an important and widely used manual. To the best of my knowledge, this is the longest and most detailed church resource on the topic. The whole relevant section is included below. Note that the “italics added” were added by the church, not by me:
What Is a Testimony?
It is important to understand what a testimony is and what a testimony is not. First, it is not an exhortation, a call to repentance, a travelogue, a sermon, or an instruction. It is a simple, direct declaration of belief—a feeling, an assurance, a conviction. It is usually stated in the first person, I, followed by a strong verb expressing belief, such as “I know that …,” “I testify that …,” “I bear testimony that …,” or “I have a strong assurance that …” You probably have heard special witnesses of Jesus Christ use the words “I give you my witness that …” or “I witness that …” Testimonies are often most powerful when they are short, concise, and direct. Consider the following examples from the scriptures. Note that these testimonies appear in the context of other messages—at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end. “This is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—that by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (D&C 76:22–24; italics added). “I know of myself that whatsoever I shall say unto you, concerning that which is to come, is true; and I say unto you, that I know that Jesus Christ shall come, yea, the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace, and mercy, and truth” (Alma 5:48; italics added). “And now, behold, I will testify unto you of myself that these things are true. Behold, I say unto you, that I do know that Christ shall come among the children of men, to take upon him the transgressions of his people, and that he shall atone for the sins of the world; for the Lord God hath spoken it” (Alma 34:8; italics added). “For I do know that whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day” (Alma 36:3; italics added). Other examples are found in Jacob 7:12, Alma 7:8 and Alma 36:30, and Joseph Smith— History 1:25. Let’s look at those “other examples” while we’re at it. I’ll add italics to the same types of words: … I know if there should be no atonement made all mankind must be lost (Jacob 7:12).
… this much I do know, that the Lord God hath power to do all things which are according to his word (Alma 7:8). … ye ought to know as I do know, that inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land… (Alma 36:30). … For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it… (JS-H 1:25). To summarize, this segment of the manual says that a testimony is a “direct declaration of belief", meaning that the state of belief in an idea is the thing to be declared, not the idea itself. It’s a personal expression of a subjective belief, not an impersonal assertion of an objective proposition nor is it an expression of gratitude for a proposition. The manual reinforces this point by affirming that a testimony is “a feeling, an assurance, a conviction”. It then gives examples of what I will call “testimony language” – the kinds of words needed to express one’s conviction: “I know that…,” “I testify that…,” etc. Next, it quotes four verses from the scriptures and italicizes the testimony language in each of them as an example of how testimonies should be born. Finally, it lists references to four other verses that also contain this language. I don’t know how it could be made any clearer that testimonies are exactly what most members believe them to be – “direct declaration[s] of belief”, which declarations necessarily contain testimony language. While it’s true that this manual was written in 1999, it’s still the current version, and it’s not the only manual that gives this definition. Preach My Gospel (2004) features it as well (p. 198):
Bear Testimony Frequently
A testimony is a spiritual witness and assurance given by the Holy Ghost. To bear testimony is to give a simple, direct declaration of belief—a feeling, an assurance, a conviction of gospel truth. In addition, the Missionary Preparation Student Manual (2005) gives the definition in two places (p. 35 and p. 48), and Come, Follow Me: Sunday School 2014 also includes it (p. 91). Finally, let’s look at what the church teaches its children about how testimonies should be borne and what they should be borne of. In October 2008, the church magazine Friend told kids: As you develop your testimony, don’t be afraid to share it! As you bear your testimony, you can use phrases like “I testify that …” or “I know that …” It demonstrated the instruction by listing five “essential parts to a testimony”: 1. I know that God is our Heavenly Father and He loves us. 2. I know that His Son, Jesus Christ, is our Savior and Redeemer. 3. I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. He restored the gospel of Jesus Christ to the earth and translated the Book of Mormon by the power of God. 4. I know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s Church on the earth today. 5. I know that this Church is led by a living prophet who receives revelation (see also the image from the magazine).
It seems clear that, in this church, a testimony is a statement that explicitly expresses belief and thus contains “testimony language”. Unfortunately, none of the statements FAIR has listed and none of the words Monson has spoken since 2005 contain such language in connection with Mormonism’s unique foundational claims. Only by conjuring up a new definition of “testimony” can one argue that he has borne one of these things. In FAIR’s case, they have created such a definition without even articulating exactly what it is. They apparently expect members to ignore what they’ve been taught their whole lives about testifying and accept their fuzzy take on it, which seems to be an ad hoc, defensive reaction to the paper I’ve written rather than a thoughtful, coherent, and well-founded position. Once again, Mormon apologists are at odds with the church and its members and are trying to form their own theology and language in which “horse” means “tapir”, “steel” means “iron”, “the hill Cumorah” means “the other hill Cumorah”, and “testimony” means “statement about the gospel”. They must think God is pretty bad at English. Some will argue that statements like “I testify as well that our Savior Jesus Christ is at the head of this Church” are testimonies of the Restoration, but we have to acknowledge that such things could be said by any Christian. In this case, members of other denominations do in fact claim that Jesus is at the head of their church since the New Testament says as much in multiple places: “Christ is the head of the church” (Ephesians 5:23; see also 1:22, 4:15, Colossians 1:18). As I noted in my paper, testimonies that “this work is true” and that “our Savior… guides and directs His Church” fall into this same category. Such ambiguous statements could mean all kinds of different things and could be uttered by any Christian.
An Empirical Perspective
At this point, there will be some who remain convinced that the church, most of its members, and I are defining the term “testimony” too narrowly. For their sake and for the sake of completeness, let’s consider two empirical ways to view this issue that don’t depend in any way on what one considers a testimony to be. I discussed variations of these in my paper, but in a slightly different context. Consistently Selective Use of Testimony Language The most commonly offered defense to the paper has been that “this is just the way Monson talks and testifies; it’s his personality.” Could this be true? Does he really avoid testimony language altogether? Or does he only avoid it when speaking of foundational LDS doctrines? If it’s the former, I will concede the point. If it’s the latter, the assertion is incorrect and the phenomenon that we’ve identified is even stranger than we thought. Fortunately, this hypothesis can be tested objectively. All we have to do is search through all 61 of the General Conference talks that Monson has given since he last testified of a unique foundational doctrine in October 2005 (which I have compiled into a Word doc that you can download here) using Ctrl+F and look for words that should accompany all conceivable instances of testimony language. In doing this myself, I searched for the following terms (if you think I’ve left any out, please let me know): “I know”, “I testify”, “I believe”, “I declare”, “I bear”, “I have a”, “I have the”, “I am certain”, “my testimony”, “my witness”, “my personal”, “my own”. The vast majority of the results can be broken into two categories, each of which is included below and sorted chronologically: Testimonies of God and Jesus: With all my heart and the fervency of my soul, I lift up my voice in testimony as a special witness and declare that God does live. Jesus is His Son, the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh. He is our Redeemer; He is our Mediator with the Father. He it was who died on the cross to atone for our sins. He became the firstfruits of the Resurrection.
Because He died, all shall live again. “Oh, sweet the joy this sentence gives: ‘I know that my Redeemer lives!’” (“I Know That My Redeemer Lives”, Apr. 2007) With all the strength of my soul I testify that our Heavenly Father loves each one of us... His Son, our Savior and Redeemer, speaks to each of us… (“Mrs. Patton—the Story Continues”, Oct. 2007) I know without question, my brothers and sisters, that God lives. (“Looking Back and Moving Forward”, Apr. 2008) With all my heart and the fervency of my soul, I lift my voice in testimony today as a special witness and declare that God does live. Jesus is His Son, the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh. He is our Redeemer; He is our Mediator with the Father. He loves us with a love we cannot fully comprehend, and because He loves us, He gave His life for us. My gratitude to Him is beyond expression. (“Looking Back and Moving Forward”, Apr. 2008) I bear my testimony to you… that our Savior lives… I leave with you my witness and my testimony that God our Eternal Father lives and loves us. He is indeed our Father, and He is personal and real. (“Closing Remarks”, Oct. 2009) I bear my testimony to you… that our Savior lives… I leave with you my witness and my testimony that God our Eternal Father lives and loves us. He is indeed our Father, and He is personal and real. (“Until We Meet Again”, Oct. 2011) Our thoughts will turn to the Savior’s life, His death, and His Resurrection. As His special witness, I testify to you that He lives and that He awaits our triumphant return. (“The Race of Life”, Apr. 2012) Of Him who spoke these words, I declare my personal witness: He is the Son of God, our Redeemer, and our Savior. (“See Others as They May Become”, Oct. 2012) Of Him who spoke these words, I declare my witness: He is the Son of God, our Redeemer, and our Savior. (“Come, All Ye Sons of God”, Apr. 2013) I bear my personal witness and testimony to you that God lives, that He hears the prayers of humble hearts. His Son, our Savior and Redeemer, speaks to each of us... (“Until We Meet Again”, Apr. 2013) With all the strength of my soul, I testify that God lives and loves us, that His Only Begotten Son lived and died for us, and that the gospel of Jesus Christ is that penetrating light which shines through the darkness of our lives. (“I Will Not Fail Thee, nor Forsake Thee”, Oct. 2013) Testimonies of other basic Christian principles, some of which are relatively mundane: You “are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation,” and you can make a difference. To these truths I testify… (“Examples of Righteousness”, Apr. 2008) I know that the sweetest experience in all this life is to feel His promptings as He directs us in the furtherance of His work… I testify that each one of us can feel the Lord’s inspiration
as we live worthily and strive to serve Him. (“Looking Back and Moving Forward”, Apr. 2008) The strength which we earnestly seek in order to meet the challenges of a complex and changing world can be ours when, with fortitude and resolute courage, we stand and declare with Joshua, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” To this divine truth I testify… (“Be Your Best Self”, Apr. 2009) I testify to you that our promised blessings are beyond measure. (“Be of Good Cheer”, Apr. 2009) During this conference we sustained a new member of that Quorum. He is completely dedicated to the work of the Lord, and I testify that he is the man our Heavenly Father wants to fill this position at this time. (“Until We Meet Again”, Apr. 2009) If we desire to have a proper spirit with us at all times, we must choose to refrain from becoming angry. I testify that such is possible. (“School Thy Feelings, O My Brother”, Oct. 2009) I testify to you that we are all in this together and that every man, woman, and child has a part to play. (“Closing Remarks”, Oct. 2009) To all within the sound of my voice, I declare, if a man die, he shall live again. We know, for we have the light of revealed truth. (“He is Risen”, Apr. 2010) I declare that the welfare program of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is inspired of Almighty God. (“The Holy Temple—a Beacon to the World”, Apr. 2011) I know without question that the Lord intended for those who were present at that session of the Frankfurt Temple dedication to hear the powerful, touching testimony of His servant Brother Peter Mourik. (“Stand in Holy Places”, Oct. 2011) I testify to you that we are all in this together and that every man, woman, and child has a part to play. (“Until We Meet Again”, Oct. 2011) Believe that remaining strong and faithful to the truths of the gospel is of utmost importance. I testify that it is! (“Believe, Obey, Endure”, Apr. 2012) I too love Relief Society. I testify to you that it was organized by inspiration and is a vital part of the Lord’s Church here upon the earth. (“We Never Walk Alone”, Oct. 2013) (Note that this list would be even longer if we broadened our search to include talks/prayers from devotionals and temple dedications as FAIR has done in generating their list) Could anyone doubt that these two dozen statements are all testimonies even if they wanted to? The bold, explicit, and emphatic nature of many of them is astonishing. Note that the concepts testified of here cover the full spectrum of importance, from the mundane to the paramount. We can thus see here that Monson does in fact use testimony language with all kinds of topics and does so quite frequently. And since this language is not found among any of his many statements on the Restoration and related unique LDS principles, we can declare it to be an empirical fact that he consistently speaks of these principles in a way that differs vastly from how he regularly speaks of other topics. Specifically, he does not give “direct
declaration[s] of belief” in them the way he does for other, more universal types of doctrines. The remarkable consistency of this difference in dozens of talks over 8 years is what needs explaining. Consistent Omission of Foundational Doctrines from Closing Remarks Of talks given in the church, it is almost universally true that the most fervent testimonies are reserved for the ending remarks. Throughout the bulk of a talk, information is shared, stories are told, and arguments are made, but in the conclusion, speakers are expected to solemnly express their personal convictions, and Monson appears to follow this custom. With one exception, all of the testimonies included in the first category above – testimonies of God and Jesus, which are undoubtedly his boldest – appear in the last three paragraphs of their respective talks (the exception is the third one down, which appears near the beginning of its talk). This suggests a connection of some kind between how strong his conviction of a doctrine is and how often he speaks of it in these concluding paragraphs (this is probably true for many members). It would be difficult to count the mentions he makes of basic Christian principles in these paragraphs for they surely number in the hundreds. In contrast, here is what we find of the unique basics of Mormonism in his Conference talks: One mention of Joseph Smith in the fourth paragraph from the end of one talk (“Until We Meet Again”, Apr. 2013) and one in the sixth paragraph from the end of another (“As We Gather Once Again”, Apr. 2012) One mention of the Book of Mormon in the seventh paragraph from the end of one talk (“Closing Remarks”, Apr. 2009)
Note that, of these three mentions, the second and third are actually closer to the beginning of their respective talks than they are to the end of them, and the two whose talks contain a closing testimony (the first and third) appear before that testimony is given. There are a total of 47 paragraphs that mention these subjects in Monson’s last 61 talks (determined with simple keyword searches), but none of them are among the last three paragraphs of a talk. Is this number (zero) significantly lower than what we should expect? Let’s find out. The talks contain a total of 1875 paragraphs (found by opening the doc containing all of the talks in Word, deleting the titles, subtitles, etc. and searching for “^p”). Of these, 61 x 3 = 183 of them comprise the last 3 paragraphs of a talk, which is 183 / 1875 10% of them. This means that, if things were up to chance, we should expect somewhere around 10% x 47 5 of the 47 mentioning paragraphs to be included among these ending paragraphs (you might contend that ending paragraphs are significantly shorter than others, however this is not the case; they contain 54.6 words each versus 55.9 for others). Compared to 5, 0 is certainly low. The question now is “Is this deviation from chance statistically significant?” To find out, we can do a Monte Carlo experiment (or simulation) in which we draw random numbers to simulate the situation thousands (or millions) of times and see how often this seemingly strange outcome occurs. After running 10 million trials of the scenario, the outcome occurred only 75,748 times, which is about 0.76% of the time (if you’d like to run the simulation and/or inspect the code yourself, you can download the macro-enabled spreadsheet here). The effect is significant at odds against chance of 132 to 1, which far surpasses the generally accepted 20 to 1 threshold for statistical significance and makes it highly unlikely to have occurred by chance. Granted, on its own, this doesn’t conclusively answer the question of why it’s occurring, but it is another form of evidence that the stubborn pattern of behavior we’ve
identified is empirically worthy of notice. When taken in conjunction with our other findings, it strengthens the possibility that Monson’s testimony is not quite what it used to be.
What Does It Matter Anyway?
I can’t count how many people have told me in person and online (including in some public forum discussions that are still visible) that during the period of time in which they remained active in the church after losing belief, they spoke of the Restoration in the exact same way that Monson does. They could talk about it at length and express gratitude for it in their talks and lessons, but they did what they could to avoid directly testifying of it, instead opting to focus their testimonies on more universal basics. That’s why this matters – because while it might not prove a lack of belief, it does show that Monson’s behavior is consistent with that of a New Order Mormon (NOM) – a Mormon who remains active, plays the role, and recites the lines, but doesn’t fully believe in them deep down or only believes in them in a very nuanced kind of way. If Monson does in fact fall into this category, the implications are potentially enormous, as I explained near the end of my paper.
Questions for FAIR
FAIR, if you intend to show that you’re willing to grapple with the complexities of this issue and address them in a complete and honest way, I think answering the following questions is the least you should do: How do you define the term “testimony”, what official church source supports your definition, and why should that source supersede the lucid, extensive section I’ve quoted from the Teaching, No Greater Call manual as well as the other manuals that echo it? Furthermore, why should your definition overturn the one that is widely accepted by church members and that has been solidified by decades of LDS tradition and teaching? Why do you think President Monson has consistently neglected to make “direct declaration[s] of belief” using “testimony language” in regards to Mormonism’s core unique claims (especially Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the Restoration), even though he has consistently done so with myriad other principles? Why do you think President Monson has consistently refrained from mentioning these foundational claims in the closing remarks of his Conference talks – the sections that contain nearly all of his most fervent testimonies? Will you include an accurate reference to my paper (scribd.com) as well as a link to it (and a link to this article if you respond to it)? If not, why not? I included a link to yours in my first sentence.
In those middle two questions, I am inviting you to contribute to the effort to answer the difficult questions that lie before us instead of acting as though there’s nothing to see here. 47 almost-testimonies don’t add up to any number of actual testimonies and, as we’ve seen, even if one calls them testimonies, there demonstrably is still a phenomenon that begs to be explained. Therefore, the mystery of President Monson’s strange behavior persists. If he eventually decides to testify of the fundamental LDS doctrines that virtually every other believing member of the church testifies of using the kind of language with which he testifies of basic Christian principles, we’ll be listening. Until then, we’ll be wondering. — TruthIsReason Please send questions, comments, and corrections to TruthIsReason7@gmail.com
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.