Becoming a True Believer

Why do we Mormons continue to be skittish about the phrase "I believe?"

Our Mormon meetings are peppered with the phrases: "I know that the Church is true;" "I know that the Book of Mormon is true;" I know that Joseph Smith (or the current president of the Church) is a Prophet of God." This "truth" and "knowledge" language is the vernacular gold standard in the Church. It marks, at least, those who are most familiar with Church lingo and culture.

I would say it identifies the "true believers," but there's the rub. Mormons tend to be skittish to say they "believe." To some, saying "I believe the Church is true" carries with it a whiff of doubt, an element of something suspect or "less than". Sometimes a person can bear their testimony-declare their convictions--with those familiar phrases, and it is a sublime communication from spirit to spirit. Other times those phrases sound as flat as clichés or "vain repetitions." It's the Holy Spirit that communicates, but we could help It out if our language were more thoughtful and expansive.

I understand the need for using the word "know." For me the restored Gospel, the authority and ordinances of the Priesthood, the divine guidance of this Church are the truest things I know. My conviction about these things is the standard by which I measure all other things claiming to be "true" or for anything else I say I "know." To use another verb might lessen the impact, the authority, the imperative this personal revelation has for me. I know what I mean when I say I know, but I'm less certain what others mean when they say it.

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Another reason I think Church members use the word "know" is to underscore the exclusivity of the truth claims of Mormondom. This is a touchy subject in our modern culture. When most people want to hear "If it works for you, then God bless," Mormons unabashedly declare that Jesus Christ is the only Way, the Truth, and the Life; that angels came again; that ancient translated books bear witness of Christ; that ordinances essential to spiritual progress are necessary for everyone and available to them now or in the eternities. Some Mormon folk may think that to say "I believe" sounds too much like the broader cultural norm of "my truth is as good/valid/right as your truth."

This last bears closer examination. Mormons (dare I say) believe that the Gospel contains all truth, wherever it is found. Brigham Young said, "If you can find a truth in heaven, earth or hell, it belongs to our doctrine. We believe it; it is ours; we claim it. Truth is all over the earth." (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 2, 10) This means then, in fact, my truth is as good/valid/right as your truth. Identifying what is truth is a nubbier issue--the work of penitents and philosophers.

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Linda Hoffman Kimball
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