Thursday, July 24, 2008

Thank-imonies

In light of the upcoming Fast Sunday, I wanted to write about a topic that has been coming up lately from First Presidency letters and other General Authorities. I am of course talking about testimonies, or what I sometimes like to refer to as thank-imonies.
Thank-imonies are a cultural aspect of LDS and has become so noticeable that Elder Oaks condemned this in his last talk in the April 2008 General Conference. A true testimony is when we share our witness for what we know by the Spirit. The Lord then allows others who hear that testimony to receive a witness of its truth by the Spirit. God promises us that we will receive “knowledge” by His telling us in our mind and in our heart “by the Holy Ghost” (D&C 8:1–2).

A thank-imony is when we stray from what we know to be true about the Gospel to sharing our feelings about things that, while nice, are not relevant to the Spirit. For example, a true testimony says "I know..." while a thank-imony says "I am grateful for...". The thank-imony does not have the ability to invoke divine approval of the statement by the Spirit and therefore is not a true testimony. Some other examples of well-known thank-imonies include:
  • I'm thankful for my family
  • I know I wouldn't be grateful to my heavenly father if I didn't get up here today
  • While I was on vacation last year at Powell...
  • Brother Harrison is a good home teacher (Frank gets a free pass for this)
  • My personal favorite, from a single's ward, "I love my roommate!"

While these may make one feel nice on the inside and is nice to share in a more intimate setting, it is not appropriate for a testimony meeting. Indeed Elder Oaks said this past April, "A testimony of the gospel is not a travelogue, a health log, or an expression of love for family members. It is not a sermon. President Kimball taught that the moment we begin preaching to others, our testimony is ended" (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball (1982), 138. In April 2004, Elder Ballard made this even clearer. "Like almost everything else in life, testimonies grow and develop through experience and service. We often hear some members, and especially children, bear their testimonies, listing things for which they are thankful: their love of family, the Church, their teachers, their friends. For them, the gospel is something that they are grateful for because it makes them feel happy and secure. This is a good beginning, but testimonies need to be much more. They need to be anchored very early to the first principles of the gospel."

An appropriate testimony should include something like these points as they are foundational principles of the Gospel:

  • I know that God lives
  • I know that Jesus is the Christ
  • I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet
  • I know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God
  • I know that President Monson is living prophet and guides the church

To further illustrate the point, when missionaries learn another language in the MTC and spend a lesson on learning how to testify in their new language (which is all many greenies can do when they arrive in their respective mission), they testify in their new language "I know" and not "I am thankful for".

If you think that I am embellishing this point, wait until next Sunday and see how many times someone says "I'm thankful for" instead of "I know". I am curious to see if you think this happens as much as I do. When listening, think about whether we are following Elder Ballard's counsel:

"My experience throughout the Church leads me to worry that too many of our members’ testimonies linger on “I am thankful” and “I love,” and too few are able to say with humble but sincere clarity, “I know.” As a result, our meetings sometimes lack the testimony-rich, spiritual underpinnings that stir the soul and have meaningful, positive impact on the lives of all those who hear them.

Our testimony meetings need to be more centered on the Savior, the doctrines of the gospel, the blessings of the Restoration, and the teachings of the scriptures. We need to replace stories, travelogues, and lectures with pure testimonies. Those who are entrusted to speak and teach in our meetings need to do so with doctrinal power that will be both heard and felt, lifting the spirits and edifying our people."

10 comments:

Jeremy said...

Great post, Hans. This habit of some members really does not add anything to the testimony meeting experience. If I were an investigator of the Church, I would be interested to know why once a month the local authorities allowed time for members to thank people and organizations and yet say nothing of Jesus Christ.

As an attorney I can appreciate the true meaning of a "testimony" as it is given in a court of law. The word itself is derived from the Latin "testimonium" or "testis," each referring to "a witness." And the Federal Rules of Evidence define testimony as "a solemn attestation as to the truth of a matter."

In a court of law, outside of a few exceptions, a declarant cannot testify of things he has no personal knowledge about since such statements would be "hearsay." Instead, a true testimony, not only in a court of law but over a Church pulpit, consists of statements by an individual based on first-hand knowledge. When a member states that he "knows" that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, he is asserting that God has made known unto him that verity through a witness of the Spirit. What is so special about such testimonies is that the same Spirit can touch the hearts of all listeners and further witness to them of the veracity of the statement.

I, for one, think that children's testimonies should be shared in Primary where time is already set aside once a month for that purpose. This was taught by Packer back in 2002 (os so) during a Leadership Training meeting. At that time, my ward Bishopric had a 5th Sunday meeting directed at that point. Granted, in that Ward we had 80% children's testmonies each Sunday. However, in instances where a child truly can testify of spiritual things based on spiritual experiences, there should be no reason to prohibit such testimonies.

On Testimony Sundays, I frequently put myself in investigator's shoes while listening to the various statements made by the rank and file. If every member thought of their testimonies as directed to an investigator, I believe we would see much less Thank-imonies and more honest bearing of truths.

Nate said...

Jeremy/Hans:

I'm thankful for your comments.

I for one am not so bugged by thankimonies. The greatful fealings often come from a spiritual expirience, they just don't know how to convey the spiritual aspect.

For example, when my dad died my bishop came over and was really thoughtful, rendered service, etc. Deep down it was a spiritual experience. I had a solid impression that the bishop was, in fact, inspired and called of God.

I could see someone conveying that expirience in a thankimony. The spirit often is manifested and we merely perceive it as a good feeling of greatfulness and love.

I think that most thankimonies could be tied to how the spirit witnessed something to a person while having the expirience that the person is greatful for. But if people aren't so good at conveying the true expirience, so be it.

I imagine that the thankimonies increase the previously-felt feeling that sprked the thankimony to begin with (which hopefully was a feeling of the spirit). So while it may add little to the meeting, it may add to the person.

On a side note: I agree that some of them are just gay. I just don't get bent out of shape over it.

Jeremy said...

I agree with Nate's analysis of gratefulness and that expressing one's feelings of gratitude brought about by a spiritual experience may fortify one's testimony.

However, what is the purpose of a "testimony" meeting? After the dedication of the Kirtland temple, every Thursday afternoon (until around 1896) faithful members of the Church reconvened to bear testimony of the events of the dedication. These eye-witnesses to the recorded manifestations at Kirtland would repeatedly confirm to all in attendance that such manifestations were from God. As a result, their overall testimony of the truthfulness of the BofM, JS as a prophet, and the Church exponentially grew.

In time, our meetings have evolved into bearing testimony of our own "eye-witness" accounts; especially of the Savior and his Sacrifice. These accounts are expressed, at times anecdotally, so that others may see and hear how we came to "know" these things to be true.

I submit that there is a happy-medium between Thankimonies and true bearing of testimony. But I think the point of Hans' post is that many testimony meetings pass without ANYONE testifying of anything. Personally, I have sat through several and it is a bit disconcerting.

Jeremy said...

Hans, that picture is sweet!

Hans said...

I was hoping that someone would dig the picture. I think that you also have a point.

Nate, your story I think is somewhere in the middle where the conclusion can be drawn that "Because of the feelings I felt by the Spirit when the Bishop comforted me, I know that he is called..." etc. For such situations where it becomes a public thanking to someone, the Spirit takes a trip to Powell along with the story. I think that this is what Elder Ballard is getting at when he says:

"My experience throughout the Church leads me to worry that too many of our members’ testimonies linger on “I am thankful” and “I love,” and too few are able to say with humble but sincere clarity, “I know.” As a result, our meetings sometimes lack the testimony-rich, spiritual underpinnings that stir the soul and have meaningful, positive impact on the lives of all those who hear them."

Note that he says he is worried that is has become more a place to thank that to testify. If you were called to testify in court, you wouldn't say "I'm thankful" but would say what you were a witness to.

Hans said...

An added note, I cringe when I hear people say that they would be ungrateful if they didn't go up and publicly thank their father in heaven. It is usually after a baby is blessed or a child is baptized and a parent does it. Yes, it is a wonderful experience and is special, but there is a time and a place to thank God (prayer). To suggest that one would be ungrateful unless publicly epxressing thankfulness to God sounds a little Pharisaical to me. (See Alma 31:13-14)

Hans said...

After testimony meeting today, any thoughts? I actually noticed a few mix testimonies and thankimonies. The best was the thanki-testimony, a treat for those who listen. It usually is something like a mix of both: "I'm so thankful for my testimony."

buddens said...

I agree, but must say that sometimes I think people's stories lead to their testimonies. Like what if last year in Powell is when they finished to BOM and took on Moroni's challenge for the first time? Or if they're thankful for the friends and associations in their ward and because of that, know that the way the Church is organized was certainly inspired of God? And can't you say you're grateful for your family or your spouse because you know God gave them to you? I think it's relevant. That is, as long as they bring it full circle and don't just stop at the end of their story -- they need to highlight the part that brought them to their testimony. Plus if all it ever was was the "I know" statements, everyone's testimony would sound the same.

I think often some of life's greatest challenges come in the questions of "how" and not of "what"? For that reason, I think an investigator listening to a testimony of relevant experiences of how someone came to their testimony may help them find a relate-able thread in their own lives of how to go about gaining or strengthening their own testimony.

I'm not saying that the things you're talking about never happen. They happen way too often, I agree. But I also believe we shouldn't roll our eyes at the first sign of a story; we should wait until the person is done and listen with our hearts to get their intended message. Hopefully they bring it full circle. And Pres. Monson is very much an anecdotal speaker.

All that being said, as a girl, I just have to mention that Girl's Camp is the WORST offender of this!!! But growing up I sometimes wondered if it at least gave girls the opportunity to test the testimony waters and at least start somewhere ... Still one of the least comfortable moments of my life was a testimony meeting at the end of Young Women's one Sunday when a girl bore the most inappropriate whatever-mony I have EVER heard, and likely ever will hear.

Great post. It's definitely something we should all be more mindful of when bearing our testimonies.

buddens said...

Just to clarify, when I said, "Plus if all it ever was was the "I know" statements, everyone's testimony would sound the same," I mean if it were only those statements, surrounded with no other personal fillers from the person bearing testimony, then they would sound the same.

Hans said...

Sorry for the slow reponse, I was at a family reunion in ID and am still sick after returning.

I completely agree with you 100% and what you stated pretty much says what I missed but should have added. I didn't really cover that angle but I agree that anecdotes can be meshed with a witness of how we gained knowledge. In fact, these are typically the most effective and help the truth seeker to learn how to obtain that information. Is not JS's rendition of the First Vision like this?

I also agree with you that it would be boring if all we ever said was "I know" and that the bearing is an art that we work on. When GA's bear testimony at the end of their talks, they are usually simple but not specifically "I know" statements. They are a good guide to follow.

While in Bulgaria on my mission, we had this member that would always criticize us for saying that we know and would ask "how"? I think that this gets to the heart of the matter so that when we testify we explain how we came to that knowledge, whether through a short anecdote or experience, the Spirit is strongest. When it turns into a travelogue or the monthly "return and report", then you'll see my eyes start to roll. When it turns into just thanking people like the Oscars, I tune out and start reading the Bible dictionary.