What do Mormons believe? A look at Fast and Testimony Meetings

mormon_testimonyIf you’ve ever been curious to find out what Mormons really believe, you should try attending (at your own peril) the first hour of an LDS service during the first Sunday of most months.

Unlike the other Sundays of the month, the first Sunday of the month is reserved for members of the Church to stand up in front of the congregation and share their testimony. Members are also encouraged to fast for the day in order to gain spiritual knowledge and insight and become more humble (whatever that’s supposed to mean), thus the name Fast and Testimony meeting.

It was during this hour of almost every month I spent going to church that I felt most uncomfortable.

A typical testimony may vary in topic, from an account of someone’s struggle with their kids, a humorous anecdote about the latest LDS Scout camp-out, a word of gratitude towards the deacons/YW’s/Elders’ Quorum/etc for helping with this year’s Youth Conference, and maybe a sob-filled, dragged out history of someone’s fight with a mysterious “trial” in their lives. But no Testimony Meeting is complete without the required mass-hypnotic mantra; one of these might suffice:

I know this Church is true.
I know the Book of Mormon is true.
I know Joseph Smith was a true prophet.
I know Heavenly Father lives.
I know Jesus lives/is my brother/died for my sins.

Or any other variation one might attempt in order to sound fresh and unique, but most importantly, sincere.

The interesting thing to me, however, is the consistent use of the words “I know” in these testimonies. When you ask a member of the church what they believe, they might tell you about eternal marriage, or how we had an existence prior to this life, or maybe even about how you can one day become a god yourself, but when they tell each other these things on that one Sunday, their belief magically turns into knowledge.

There is no doubt in their speech. There is no probability. There is only certainty.
They KNOW the Book of Mormon is the true word of God on the same level as they KNOW it is day or night at that very moment.

This absurd and disingenuous meeting is one of the greatest tools the Church uses to convert and reconvert. It is an emotionally charged experience which brings people to share the most intimate aspects of their lives in a vulnerable setting. You are being watched and judged and you want to come out of this polished and with sympathy.

It all seems very nice and tender and it’s very hard to not sympathize with the hope and comfort one might receive from such a gathering, but the true spirit of the whole thing is not defined until children as young as 3 or 4 take the walk up to the pulpit and, with the help of the leadership to push the stool and lower the microphone, repeat the same senseless babble talk they’ve been rigorously instructed to say by their parents.what_do_mormons_believe

It will bring down the house, so to speak, but behind the innocent and shaky voice of that child lies the main issue with dogma: indoctrination.

Nothing bothered me more in my stay with the Church than to watch those kids say those things for which they had not the faintest idea what it all meant.
They receive praise for their courage to walk and stand up there, and comments about their sweet spirit are almost inevitable, but the fact they are being taught to lie is nothing short of despicable.
Mormons might certainly think this is an exaggeration, but instead of the common beliefs children are taught to say, let’s do an experiment and encourage them to state their opinion on gay marriage instead, in front of the congregation.

A 5-year-old undoubtedly has no coherent opinion on such a complicated topic, but we can certainly infer the Church’s view on the matter and equally “teach” the child to agree and repeat “I know homosexual behavior is a sin and I am against gay marriage.” I would challenge anyone to do that, but I don’t support child abuse.

The leaders of the Church will tell you that no member is required to bear their testimony. In fact, if I remember correctly, one of the Ten Commandments explicit prohibits one from bearing “false witness against your neighbour.”
But I submit to you that that is exactly what they do on that Sunday of fasting.

It is understood that bearing your testimony is the duty of every member, but especially those with children, so the time always comes where you have to stand up, wash, rinse, and repeat.

When pressed for answers the faithful doesn’t KNOW anything and has to always fall back on the simple fact that they can only BELIEVE. Yet, Mormons take every opportunity to state their “knowledge”, lest it be forgotten and shaken by reason and inquiry.

24 comments to What do Mormons believe? A look at Fast and Testimony Meetings

  • josalyn

    i love reading your blog. i myself grew up mormon in colorado, and now live in utah. My husband and i left the church as well and it the best and most positive decision we have made. i also served a mission in brazil, some of the best time of my life because it was brazil not cuz i taught people false things though. anyway thanks its a cool blog

  • admin

    Thanks Josalyn,

    In which part of Brazil did you serve?

    Did you and your husband decide to leave the Church together?

    I decided to leave based on my own inquiries, but my wife is still a big fan 😉

    Keep checking in and feel free to leave any feedback anytime.

  • Sam-I-am

    I remember a discussion with a friend in high school about knowledge versus belief. I insisted that I “knew” and she could not fathom — “Yes, but how can you KNOW?” I can’t even remember where the specific jargon comes from — I seem to have blocked it out. Maybe the Doctrine and Covenants? It seems associated with seminary in my mind. Something about how a belief becomes knowledge.

    Yes, it’s indoctrination, but I can’t bring myself to be as hard on them as you are. Everybody indoctrinates their kids in something. The Mormon church is a mixed bag.

    Anyway, first-time reader, first-time commenter. Liked the post. I’ll check back.

  • admin

    Hi Sam-I-am,

    Thanks for the comment.
    You’re not the first to tell me I’m a little too critical.
    I agree with you that we indoctrinate (by definition) our children in various things.

    I’m an avid hockey fan and I’m currently working very hard to make sure my children enjoy the game as much as I do (I know, I know… they’ll do what they like anyway).
    But there are different levels of consequences and we must be willing to take ownership over what we teach our children.
    Telling your children something is true, when it isn’t, will only work to the detriment of their intellect.

    I am, however, in constant search for balance in my views and I really appreciate your feedback. It’s the main reason I created this site.

    Cheers.

  • MADOG

    To the author:

    Seeing how you spent so much time and effort believing and at times yourself preaching the “good word” why would you now pass judgment against those believing the same beliefs you held so deeply? Why now is it better to contradict those that taught you so much and even for a time enriched your life? Are you now just preaching a different belief system with the same enthusiasm as you had with the LDS church?

  • admin

    Hi Maddog,

    I will not deny the Church “enriched” my life at times, as you put it. There is definitely a level of comfort in feeling accepted and part of a group.
    There were also feelings of doubt and cognitive dissonance. And I KNOW I wasn’t alone in those feelings. In fact, I know people in the Church today who feel exactly as I do but, for one reason or another, try their hardest to keep those feelings at bay and not be exposed, so to speak.

    So while I am questioning those beliefs I held so deeply, I am not passing judgment on any individual. What I’ve learned so far is that people have reasons for doing whatever they do. My wife, for example, is an avid goer. She doesn’t agree with every teaching or doctrine, but she gets plenty out of it to keep her interested. So be it.

    Lastly, the only belief system I’m preaching is observation and reason instead of faith and dogma. If we don’t question the world around us, we’re doomed for intellectual extinction.

    Thanks for your comment.

  • evilution13b

    This subject probably deserves its own article.

    For my own understanding of the LDS church and structure system – what is the process of “rehabilitating” someone who no longer shares the common LDS beliefs or in GOD for that matter? From your personal experience what was it like? Obviously it didn’t work but I’m assuming you had to make sacrifices at the cost of possibly friends, neighbors and social gatherings. At this point I assume you have been excommunicated from the Mormon Church.

    Here are some links I was researching regarding the excommunication process (search for “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Excommunication
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disciplinary_council

  • admin

    Evilution,

    That’s really a great question and a very important and equally complicated one.
    I think every experience will differ tremendously depending on many factors: the length of the involvement with the Church; the Mormon to non-Mormon ratio in one’s personal life; the level of support from one’s family and friends; etc.
    However, once you’re considered an apostate, you can pretty much say goodbye to any official communication with the Church.

    I have talked to many apostates who have shared very unique experiences when leaving the Church.
    They range from being completely shunned by their loved ones to not being able to voice their disbelief at all and are forced to live a life full of lies and fake appearance.
    A good site for reading personal accounts of apostates is ExMormon.org. You can read plenty of exit stories there, but one thing you will find in common in most of those is the feeling of the weight off of one’s shoulder after they faced and came to terms with all the issues in the Church.

    As far as my personal experience, I have not been excommunicated (yet), but I’ve tried to keep a pretty low profile, mostly out of respect to my wife’s involvement in the Church. I know how important it is to her and I think if I spoke out openly against the Church, she would feel the consequences as well (I do keep a certain level of anonymity on this site). I am completely inactive and have been for over two years now, but I’m still invited, from time to time, to different ward activities, especially those in which my wife is involved in organizing. Lately I was even invited to participate in a Stake (many wards) play, to which I politely declined (which tells me they were really desperate to find people).

    One of the biggest dangers, however, and one I’ve personally witnessed, about leaving the Church, is due to religion’s claim on morality (a point I brought up on my post on LDS Scouts).
    A person who leaves the Church may find themselves free from moral responsibilities and start leading their life in a negative way.
    That’s not a danger solely owned by the LDS faith, but by most religions who preach absolute morality.

    I appreciate the comment and hope you stop by again.

  • evilution13b

    Referring to your comment regarding morality and religion – simply put, religion nor God makes someone pure or morally correct. There are tons of examples where both religion and the belief / worship of God has failed in this regard. I.E. Just because someone is religious doesn’t mean they are a good person; and by the same token someone who doesn’t have faith isn’t a bad person. For the most part a good person is good at heart with or without God over there shoulders.

  • I agree with involution in that morality is not related to faith or believes. If someone shows altruistic behavior only becuse he is obeying the voice in his head or because is afraid of being punished by God, then he is not being hoest with his himslef, on the hand if you act moraly because you decide that this is the right thing to do in order to feel peace with your self, ythen this has more merit.

    sorry for mispellings

  • admin

    Moscar,

    Indeed I agree with both of you.
    I hope you noticed I stated that religion CLAIMS ownership on morality.

    But if a person hasn’t learned right from wrong outside of dogma, they run the danger of disassociating the two and make bad choices.

    Thanks for your comment and I hope you come back (and don’t worry about the misspellings!!!)

  • Universal Pants

    Hi! Great blog! I also grew up LDS, fifth generation… I just have to agree with you on how painful F&T is for many LDS folks. People break sweat, have anxiety attacks, squirming in their pew, but still feel obligated to go up and find something to say so they will be viewed as valuable members. No matter how much any current member may claim differently, everyone is judged in this process.

    I did hear from my family in Utah recently that they are now officially asking members not to have their children come up anymore “because it looks like brainwashing.”

    I too, have never been excommunicated. As an atheist, I wouldn’t really care, but my family would probably be embarassed, so I just avoid meetings and know they consider me “inactive.”

    Thanks for a well written and accurate blog about this facet of the LDS church!

  • admin

    Universal Pants (lol),

    Thanks for stopping by and I hope you check in from time to time.
    I take it you don’t live in Utah (anymore?).

    We haven’t really experienced the Church outside of Utah as a family, yet.
    I get tempted to move from Utah, but I have to admit I’m torn sometimes. We really love the State, but it would be nice to move to a more diverse area for a change.

    I haven’t heard anything about children being asked not to come up anymore. I’ll look into it, but I couldn’t imagine it being an official rule; maybe a wise bishop is on to this blog!!!

    Cheers.

  • roger.roger

    Hello, all.
    I am new to the forum here, and I’ve enjoyed reading these posts very much.

    My wife and I have been together for 25 years. 6 kids. Met at BYU. The typical Mormon love story. I have been giving credence to my doubts for quite a while now, and at 44 years old, have watched the labels I’ve given myself change from “active believer in good standing” to “seeker,” then “questioner”, then “agnostic,” to, most recently, “humanist” or “secularist.” (I am in the grieving stage now, experiencing the same sadness I felt when my father died 10 years ago, and therefore reluctant to take on the label of atheist just yet.)

    I am mostly interested in how to deal with this in my marriage. I am “in the closet,” as a non-believer, for the most part. My wife knows I am having “problems with my testimony,” but as I go into detail, it turns into a corrective session on her part, with her bearing her testimony to me that she knows I am wrong, suggesting I talk to the Bishop, etc.

    Having been in many leadership callings over the years, I have seen how sincerely so many LDS people expend their time and energy serving others in ways I could only classify as “Christian” (in the best possible sense of the word), so I doubt I will ever become as outspoken against the church as some of you. I am just realizing this doesn’t work for me.

    For the last few years, I have turned down callings, I no longer speak up in discussions, etc. I travel a lot with my job and am relieved when travel prohibits my having to go to church and participate in this false state. I have been reading Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennet, in secret. Not easy, believe me. Secret zipper compartments in brief cases are wonderful. ha.

    But I have 25 years of building this life with an LDS woman, and teaching our children in the ways of the church — how do I possibly rip the rug out from under them like this? The guilt I feel is horrendous right now. And I feel like I am going through so many things at once – the grief of loss, the guilt of bringing on this change to a good woman, and the inner turmoil of such a fundamental change, the letting go of a social network, etc. – and I can’t share it with my spouse, the one person we hope to be there when going through stuff like this.

    I don’t know what to do. Despite having less and less in common, I still love my wife. We just can’t talk about a whole lot these days. That saddens me. But I’m a good father, and I have a great relationship with my children. I don’t know what I hope to accomplish by posting this. I guess it’s good to know you’re not alone?

    Anyway, thanks again for the forum. I have no malice toward anyone in or outside the church. The scales have just fallen off my eyes, and I’m wondering what to do with this new vision. So far, the added light without the scales is painful, and I’m just standing here blinking and tearing up.

  • admin

    Hi Roger,

    I will start by saying if you haven’t visited the Main Street Plaza, please check it out.
    The bloggers there are very active and have been a great source for me in my dealings with leaving the church.

    Now, on to your comment…

    I did not grow up LDS as you may already know, and neither did my wife, but your story is very familiar to me through close friends who have gone and are still going through the same struggles as you are.

    Since I wouldn’t even dare to give you advice on your relationship with your wife, I can only give you a little more detail into how things played out in my life when I decided to leave.
    My initial reaction (and a common one) was to “help” my wife see things the same way I was seeing them. I wanted her to understand and question her beliefs aggressively and, most of all, I wanted her to come to the same conclusions to which I had come.
    I would then get frustrated when she didn’t see things the same way I did and arguments would ensue.

    It’s been over 2 years since I’ve left the church. I’m open about it to anyone who asks and I enjoy an argument or two with a selected group, but I am very much more careful now about with whom I share my views. My wife and I rarely talk about religion anymore, but she still shares her stories with me about her YW’s or any ward drama that happens to be going on.

    It sounds like you could stand to lose a lot and I’m more and more convinced now that you’d gain very little in return by being totally honest… at least right away.
    I think the main thing you should want your family to understand is that we all have need to believe or not believe on our own terms. Heck, you would even be able to find scripture to support that argument. It is specially important to your children that you be as honest as you can with them, without going into details about the issues that might aggravate your relationship with your spouse.

    By you supporting your wife in her personal beliefs now, you would, in my opinion, make it easier for her to accept your new views in the future.
    You are definitely not alone in this and I hope you find that your new-found enlightenment and intellectual honesty will make you a better person and an even better parent to your children.

    I hope you stick around and feel free to drop me an email at livingwithmormons@gmail.com.

    I sincerely wish you the best in this stage of your life.

    Cheers.

  • Anne

    We have some Mormon neighbors.

    We have some questions.

    1. This may seem trivial, but when do Mormons go to their church.
    They seem to close up their home “tight” on Sundays and hardly ever
    come outside on Sundays.

    2. What holidays do they celebrate?

    3. What do Mormons teach their kids?

    4. What do Mormons think of Christians?
    We know they call themselves Christians…
    but by now it should be obvious to them that we are somehow
    “different”. Many of our neighbors on this street are not
    Christians. We probably stand out “like a sore thumb”.

    5. Does anyone have any thoughts or suggestions on how we can
    build a friendly relationship with this family? We’d like to
    be good neighbors with them.

    6. The kids seldom smile much less laugh.
    Is this something that stems from teachings
    in Mormonism?

  • Katya

    Anne- ok, well I’m Mormon, not even sure how I found this website, but anyway, I thought I might as well answer your questions. Each ward switches the time they go to church each year. Right now I have church at 12:30 PM on sunday, and last year it was at 9:30 AM. Most Mormons generally don’t leave their house much on Sundays except to go to church and occasionally for a walk around the block or something. Mormons celebrate all national nonreligious holidays and we also celebrate Pioneer Day (July 24), Christmas and Easter. Mormons are Christians. We believe in Christ. Yeah, I guess we’re not like other Christians, because many of our beliefs are different, but we believe in Christ and are therefore Christians. We respect other Christians, just don’t believe all the same things as them. On how to build a good relationship with a mormon family, I guess it really depends on the family. Mormons are encouraged to befriend those of other faiths, so I’m sure that if you’re just friendly towards them, they’ll be friendly back. I don’t know why those kids don’t smile very much. I live in Utah, so I know tons of mormons, and most of them are generally happy. I don’t know why the kids you know don’t smile much. It doesn’t come from our teachings.

  • Kaiya

    I was raised LDS. I remember my parents writing talks for me when I was 7. One time I tried to put my own spin on it and it came out with me saying something, something “I wonder how god lives”, but it sounded like I was saying I didn’t believe in god lol. I remember the whole chapel ghasping and murmuring.

    I quit going in my late teens when I moved out of the house, then quit the church all together because every time I moved my mom had my records forwarded to the local ward who would promptly dispatch an army of home teachers and others to “welcome” me even though I was inactive and a non believer.

    At the time I had my records removed I was living in a very aggressive LDS area. I received numerous phone calls and visits from the local ward to fellowship me. They wouldn’t stop! I thought eventually they’d leave me alone but they kept coming and calling so one Sunday when the Deacons came over looking for tithing (I never paid any) I asked them to please not come over anymore. A couple hours latter their bishop called me and gave me the business about tithing being a requirement of members so after a very long, rigorous process I had my records removed.

    I had to threaten them with a law suit twice to get them to leave me alone AND remove my name from their rolls. Naturally my mother was devastated.

    BTW nice blog. You are obviously a very talented writer. Now see if you were still a Mormon you’d probably have a number of books out by now (they like to write books).

  • admin

    Thanks, Kaiya, for the kind words.

    Your experience in getting your records removed is, sadly, not unique.
    The church has a huge interest in keeping their membership numbers up, for obvious reasons, so they would like to count on as many “members” as they can, even if those members never attended one day of church since their baptism.

    I’ve been meddling with the idea of going through it myself lately. I’ll let you know how it plays out.

    Cheers.

  • frolics with ferrits

    Hello, there.
    I stumbled upon this site after trying to Google why the Mormon church was COMPLETELY EMPTY yesterday, the first Sunday of April. Then I got a little distracted with this very interesting blog and comments lol. Well I guess my first question would be, was there a significant reason? Or was it like a zip code type of deal?
    My neighbors are Mormon, they’re the sweetest people :) I’m not sure if you’ve heard about their daughters who were conjoined at the heart, “Two Sisters, One Heart” or not, but that’s them. Of course, I’m in a different state, but they were on Discovery, so I don’t know if you had seen it or not.
    Anyhoo, there are quite a few Mormons around here, it feels like for every McDonald’s there’s two Mormon churches. I have several friends who are Mormon, and I am a non-denominational Christian. One friend, he’s a missionary, bicycle riding kid, tried doing a compare and contrast with me over IM. However, he had quite a difficult time explaining his beliefs over text, he said it would be much easier in person to explain. I’m not so sure why. I asked if all Mormons believed in polygamy, or if it was just a select few, I thought a simple “yes”, “no”, or “it depends” would have sufficed. Maybe he wanted to go through the whole history and didn’t want to type out that much? I don’t know.
    Either way, I’m not trying to make you read a novel over here. I just had a few things I wanted to say.
    Earlier, you were discussing with Evilution and Moscar Canes about whether or not being a genuinely beautiful person had anything to do with your religious beliefs. I really don’t like the word “religion”. I believe that religions are man made and that your faith should be more of a relationship with God. God isn’t some scary, gigantic being who you have to bring sacrifices and perfect behavior to in a huge cave. Dropping them off and flying away as quickly and perfectly as you can to go and tell every other person you can about Him so He can gain more goods. (lol sorry, I just watched How to Train Your Dragon [cute movie])
    I agree with the idea that humble hearts and kind actions are motivated by the idea of helping someone else just because, or smiling at the cashier, who was an extra grouch today, just to help brighten their day, and frustrate them less. Granted, being a Christian, we are taught to be an example and a light. Being a Christian means being Christ-like, striving to be like Christ. Don’t get me wrong, of course we’ll NEVER be able to get there, nor do we believe that one day we’ll be a god or anything along those lines. But more so, we do it to be good people, just like any other person who may or may not believe in God would pick up a dropped wallet and return it to the rightful owner. Because that’s the right thing to do. We don’t believe that we’re above anybody else, we’re not here to judge. We all have our own faults.
    However, sometimes I hate being categorized in the same boat as “God-believer-inners”, “Church-goers”, “Jesus-freaks”. While I am a “church-goer” or “God-believer-inner”, I am not of those groups that most people imagine up: the Hollywood Christian who looks like a straight idiot ranting and raving and flailing their arms around like an ape having a seizure. Or the “Christians” who are completely rude at the restaurant and don’t leave a tip. It’s a little frustrating lol. I’m not saying I’M perfect, ha nooo, far from. But still, some people just give “Christian” a bad name.
    Oops, sorry. Went a little long… But thanks for reading :) (if you even do lol)

    Sincerely,
    frolics with ferrits.

  • stephanie

    A true. Follower of Jesus Christ is one who confesses that He is God first of all.Jesus said Iam the way the truth and the life, noone comes to the father but by me..john 14:6….what it doesn’t say is you grt to heaven by joseph smith

  • admin

    @frolic Thanks for the comment. I did read it all 😉

    @stephanie I’m not sure what to make of yours. I get plenty of spam and yours almost sound like it, but I guess I’ll leave it here. And no, I don’t believe in Satan either. Or heaven.

  • Tim T.

    Excellent post and site, TY.
    I have a real problem with any church, or system, whereby if one member decides to quit, then it will have negative consequences/cause difficulties/embarrasment/shame, etc. induced by the church. I have gone to many non-LDS churches, as well as LDS churches, as a non-member. With the non-LDS churches that I attended, it is and never was a big deal if you decided to leave,or go inactive, or decide to not attend regularly, or give testimony, or even quit going altogether. Whereas in the LDS churches, it really seems like a huge ordeal not only on the person quitting, but ofc. their relatives who stay with the church. I think it is quite sad that if a person or people decide to quit any institution, they members put severe pressure on them, or shame them, judge them, etc. Let God be the judge of others, not people.

  • […] Living With Mormons » What do Mormons believe? A look at Fast and Testimony MeetingsA closer look at what Mormons want for their children […]

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