I’ve carried on a few rather extensive conversations on this blog regarding the matter of a testimony of what the LDS Church teaches to be true. Some of the people with whom I’ve been discussing this topic are former members of the LDS Church who have left. Similarly, I’ve had family members, friends, and friends of friends who have either left the Church recently, or are struggling with their belief in the Church. Amongst all these people, perhaps 10 in number, I’ve noticed patterns in the words they use. In many cases the words are so close to being verbatim that I’ve wondered whether or not they’ve all read a common article or book from which they’re all speaking. I’ve also noticed certain common actions or behaviors. As far as what they’ve said, I’ve heard the following over and over again:
1. I truly wanted to know if the LDS Church was true.
2. I studied and prayed and followed the formula in Moroni 10:3-5 to get a testimony.
3. I didn’t receive an answer, therefore the LDS Church isn’t true.
This is often followed up with the statement “I’ve never had a spiritual experience that told me or led me to believe the LDS Church was true.”
In some cases people have expressed that they’ve never had any spiritual experience whatsoever, and therefore they are certain there is no God. Others say they’ve had spiritual experiences that lead them to believe in God and/or Jesus Christ, but not the LDS Church, Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, etc.
I propose that these people have not received knowledge that the LDS Church is true because they do not want it to be true.
In bringing up this idea to those with whom I’ve discussed the matter, some are offended and angry. They tell me they did indeed want to know if the LDS Church was true, and they cried and pleaded with God to tell them, but they received no answer, and they cried when they realized it wasn’t true. I don’t intend to cast doubt on whether these people wanted to know if the Church was true, but this is different than wanting the Church to be true.
How do I know that, at least in some cases, these people did not want the Church to be true? Because; 1) they placed the burden of truth on the Church rather than on those sources against the Church, and 2) their behavior changed after they “discovered” the Church was “not true”.
If someone wants the Church to be true, they will fight to believe in it and will discount all evidence against it until there is something that provides absolute proof against it. There is no such proof against the LDS Church. Oh, I know people think they have proof, but they don’t. They have circumstantial evidence that depends on assumptions. The challenge detractors of the faith have is that the burden is on them to prove a negative. Those I’ve talked with have required far less than negative proof, which is what anyone who truly wants to believe the Church to be true would require. Instead, those I know who have left the Church have assumed the Church was false based on limited evidence and faulty assumptions.
With regards to behavior, if someone leaves the Church and immediately began a life of debauchery boozing it up, sleeping around, selling crack, spitting, cussing, and burning flags, growing a beard, betting on cock fights, etc., you would naturally and logically assume they were simply looking for a way out of the Church because what they really wanted was to participate in these types of activities. I don’t know anyone who has left the Church and gone on to participate in all those activities, but in some cases I have seen people participate in one or more of these activities, and do so in such a manner as to make one wonder. But I know of others who have left the Church and have continued to live very good, “Christian” lives. They might even work harder at being good than they did while a Mormon, which would seem to lay waste to the charge that they’re merely lazy.
In making the claim that one must want the Church to be true in order to discover if it is, I open myself to the criticism “Well of course if someone wants the Church to be true then they’re going to feel good about it.” Allow me to clarify what I mean, because I’m not necessarily saying someone has to want the LDS Church to be true, but that they want the doctrines to be true, or they simply want to know what the truth really is and they’re open to it being anything. I think the following story helps explain.
- “When I arose to speak at Brother Benbow’s house, a man entered the door and informed me that he was a constable, and had been sent by the rector of the parish with a warrant to arrest me. I asked him, ‘For what crime?’ He said, ‘For preaching to the people.’ I told him that I, as well as the rector, had a license for preaching the gospel to the people, and that if he would take a chair I would wait upon him after meeting. He took my chair and sat beside me. For an hour and a quarter I preached the first principles of the everlasting gospel. The power of God rested upon me, the spirit filled the house, and the people were convinced. At the close of the meeting I opened the door for baptism, and seven offered themselves. Among the number were four preachers and the constable. The latter arose and said, ‘Mr. Woodruff, I would like to be baptized.’ I told him I would like to baptize him. I went down into the pool and baptized the seven. We then came together. I confirmed thirteen, administered the Sacrament, and we all rejoiced together.
- “The constable went to the rector and told him that if he wanted Mr. Woodruff taken for preaching the gospel, he must go himself and serve the writ; for he had heard him preach the only true gospel sermon he had ever listened to in his life. The rector did not know what to make of it, so he sent two clerks of the Church of England as spies, to attend our meeting, and find out what we did preach. They both were pricked in their hearts, received the word of the Lord gladly, and were baptized and confirmed members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The rector became alarmed, and did not venture to send anybody else.” (In Cowley, Wilford Woodruff, p. 118.)
The constable who was sent obviously didn’t want to believe in the LDS Church, nor did those clerks sent after him. But they evidently were interested in the truth, whatever the source, and when they heard it they recognized it. Consequences of joining the LDS Church were secondary to them.
Much of the reason why these three so easily joined the LDS Church has to do with the culture of the time. Doubt about religion in general was nowhere near as prevalent as in the developed nations of today. People were more apt to believe things of a spiritual nature generally, as they are in many places of the world today, although not so much in the United States and western Europe. People today are more hardened, jaded, doubtful, skeptical, etc. and that may not be their fault so much as merely the result of the environment.
The point is that it’s not that someone has to want the Book of Mormon or the LDS Church to be true to know, they have to want the doctrines taught by those sources to be true. And in saying that, I am not saying they have to have a preconceived notion of those doctrines, but that upon hearing them they have to be appealing.
A case in point is the doctrine of eternal marriage. If someone hears that upon becoming a faithful member of the LDS Church they can be joined with their family in a marriage that will not be merely ’til death do you part, but for all eternity, lasting beyond this life, but that doesn’t sound like something they want, then they will not receive a testimony of that doctrine. Partly because they will not likely take the steps to gain a testimony of that doctrine, but also because why would God give them a spiritual confirmation of it if it’s not something they want? In doing so, God would be giving them knowledge that does no good for them, but only places them in a position of knowing something they don’t want to know, which opens them to more condemnation than they would otherwise be subject to.
Likewise if someone wants to believe there is no God, they will never find out if there is one. If someone wants to believe that only the Bible is true, and that nothing else is, they will never gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon. If one does not want to believe that modern-day prophets exist, they will never gain a testimony of Joseph Smith’s calling.
It is only when someone hears the message of the gospel, likes it, and wants to know if it’s true so that they can live it, and then take the steps necessary to find out, that they will find out. This is what sincere faith looks like, as opposed to idle curiosity.
One last comment…there is this issue of time. Some will say “I wanted to know if these things were true, and I prayed and studied for two years and I never got an answer.” Well, maybe God was testing you to see if you really wanted to know, and it would have taken three years. For others perhaps it would take 10 years, maybe 20 for others. When we put arbitrary time limits on God, we are showing that we do not have real faith. I don’t mean that a lack of real faith is a character flaw, I mean we don’t really want that thing, the object of our faith, to be true. If I really want the LDS Church to be true, if I want the things it teaches to be true, I will go through all the actions of being an active member even if I don’t have an answer. Or even in the face of doubt and evidence against the Church. This is the definition of faith. If one has an answer that something is true, they have knowledge, not faith. Therefore, if someone says they left the LDS Church because they didn’t receive an answer, the lack of an answer is not the root cause, but rather a lack of faith, or a lack of wanting the LDS Church to be true.
Now, if someone does not want the LDS Church to be true, what can be done to convince them? Nothing. It is like trying to convince someone who doesn’t like chocolate that they really do. If our goal is to spread the gospel we should not be engaged in trying to convince those who have no interest. We should be focused on finding those who already do want it to be true, but simply don’t know about it yet, or have misunderstandings but are ultimately seekers of truth. For those who don’t want the gospel to be true, we might as well stop trying to convince them and just love them as they are, regardless of whether they ever join the Church or not.