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Lies and Testimony

Every fast and testimony meeting I can’t help but ponder what people mean by what they say. I suppose that only the person themselves really understands what they are trying to do by going up to the stand and speaking. One person might be speaking of real experiences and using better words to express themselves, while another person might be trying to express real yearning and feelings but using the wrong words.

It’s easy to judge the latter person and dismiss their attempts to express themselves. While one could easily point out the errors in their expressions, even to the point of calling them lies, maybe the judgers should take a deep breath and relax a little. I don’t think those people are necessarily lying or deceiving, let’s take a look at what a lie is:

LIE, noun 1. A criminal falsehood; a falsehood uttered for the purpose of deception; an intentional violation of truth. Fiction, or a false statement or representation, not intended to deceive, mislead or injure, as in fables, parables and the like, is not a lie.

I’ve come to a point where I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt to most of the people getting up to bear their “testimonies.” I don’t think that most people are “lying” if they use incorrect language to express themselves. I don’t think those people are intentionally trying to deceive others; something else is happening.

Let’s look at what defines a testimony:

TEST’IMONY, n. [L. testimonium.] A solemn declaration or affirmation made for the purpose of establishing or proving some fact. Such affirmation in judicial proceedings,may be verbal or written, but must be under oath. Testimony differs from evidence; testimony is the declaration of a witness, and evidence is the effect of that declaration on the mind, or the degree of light which it affords. – Webster’s 1828 Dictionary

I’m sure there are some that go up to the stand and use it like their own personal Rameumptom, but the vast majority of people I have witnessed seem to be focused on trying to make a “solemn declaration” or attempting to “establish some fact.” Whether that testimony constitutes “evidence” in the ears and minds of the audience depends on “the degree of light which it affords.”

If we are charitable and full of patience and love, it’s amazing what the Spirit can teach us and who the Spirit can teach us through.

I’m a little ashamed to admit it but I’ve spent several sacrament meetings in a kind of agony and even embarrassment over some of the things that I’ve heard spoken over that pulpit (maybe you have as well). Sure, maybe I do have a better understanding of a few things to where I could have said what they were trying to say better, or more accurately. Sure, maybe that person should have used the word “believe” instead of “know” for just about everything they were referencing in their testimony. Sure, it’s probably likely that every single child that gets up and rattles of the phrase “I know the Church is true” has no idea what that means.

But how often do we use the wrong words? How often are we at a loss of what words we can even use to describe our own spiritual experiences? Joseph Smith once wrote:

“Oh Lord God deliver us in thy due time from the little narrow prison almost as it were [total] darkness of paper pen and ink and a crooked broken scattered and imperfect language.” JS, Kirtland, OH, to William W. Phelps, [Independence, MO], 27 Nov. 1832, in JS Letterbook 1, p. 4.

Joseph Smith lamented the fact of how insufficient our language is at communicating many things. We find this same thing referenced in the Doctrine and Covenants:

“Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.”
Doctrine and Covenants 1:24

So maybe we can give people a little slack for the words choices they make when trying to share things that are important to them. Maybe we can try to see and hear beyond the words to the intent of the individual. Maybe we can appreciate the yearnings of a soul instead of looking for ways to dismiss them or to make them an “offender for a word.” (Isaiah 29:21)

I’m just as guilty of this as the many others that I’ve heard express the same frustrations. I know there are probably several other great points that can be brought up, but for as long as I’ve pondered this, it seems that the best thing to do is cultivate patience, charity and understanding. I don’t think that Jesus Christ would sit there with a bitter face in an LDS fast and testimony meeting. He might with some people, but for the vast majority, I think he would appreciate people’s attempt to put into words their personal yearnings, feelings, experiences and even knowledge.

What do you think?

  • How do you feel about fast and testimony meetings?
  • How do you reconcile how you feel about what people share and how they share it?