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Testimonies are for Sissies?!

Seth - August 26, 2007

Julie Smith over at Times and Seasons has been re-hashing the whole “are-women-more-spiritual-than-men” question. My opinion is that they aren’t, but that’s not what I’m writing about. I’m more interested in a comment Julie made about male vs. female testimony bearing.

I had the opportunity a couple months ago to lead an Elders Quorum discussion on this in my own ward. The topic grew out of a concern expressed by our bishop that “not enough Elders were bearing testimony.” Mostly it was vastly a female forum, with one or two High Priests thrown into the mix and a healthy scattering of youth testimonies.

So I posed the question to the quorum: “We believe in testimony bearing right?” Several heads nod. “So why don’t we do it?”

A long thoughtful pause ensued. Several of the elders seemed a little puzzled and perhaps even surprised by the notion. But I could tell they at least agreed that we really weren’t testifying at all. To me, it was troubling.

Why don’t men bear testimony in our church?

I think Julie hits the nail on the head with comment #3 in the Times and Seasons discussion:

One thing that we might want to consider when faced with the easily observable discrepancy between male and female rates of religious observance is the myriad ways in which church is more friendly to women than to men. For example, most testimonies are (at best) a step removed from Oprah–they are about feelings, personal experiences, and relationships. They frequently involve public displays of emotion, often even weeping. No wonder that it seems that 80-90% of testimony-bearers are female. In this particular case, it would be silly to credit the inherently more spiritual nature of women instead of the fact that the medium is more conducive to stereotypical female behavior.

It would be interesting to see what would happen if the church started promoting a more masculine form of discourse for testimonies (less emotive, more powerful, more based on abstract belief than relationally developed experiences)–I’d predict the percentages of testimony-bearers would quickly invert.

Could it be that the guys aren’t interested in testimony bearing because it’s, frankly, just “too sissy” right now?

Well, that’s a derogatory way to put it, to be sure (though it makes for a catchy title, I admit). And I don’t want to criticize the men in the church who do tend to get emotional at the pulpit (of whom, I know several). Nor do I want to suggest, “real men don’t cry” or anything like that.

It’s just that it’s not my cup of tea. The prospect of standing in front of a mass of friends and strangers and sobbing about how special my little daughter is, is about as attractive a prospect as a root canal. I just don’t air my laundry in public. That doesn’t mean it’s good, doesn’t mean it’s bad… But it is just how I was raised. Weepy testimonies just don’t do anything for me. They don’t move or inspire me, and I have never cried at the pulpit – not even at youth camp if you can believe it.

Now, this isn’t to say that I haven’t born testimony. But looking back on it, I really do fit the pattern that Julie suggests. My testimonies are about expounding doctrine, teaching lessons, and sharing abstract spiritual insights. There’s very little Oprah Winfrey in there (incidentally, I can never take more than 5 minutes of Oprah before feeling slightly nauseated).

But why have our testimony meetings “gone Oprah?”

I have my suspicions. It seems to me that it used to be that the elders of Israel used to frequently ascend the pulpit to expound doctrine to the congregation. Think the free-form religion of Joseph Smith, and even Brigham Young. But somewhere along the line, this practice died out. Why?

In my own personal half-baked opinion, it’s correlation’s fault. We just don’t tolerate doctrinal loose cannons in our wards anymore. That is, not unless they are over 70 years of age and far past the point of caring what the bishop thinks of their opinions about Kolob. We put up with them frankly because we have no choice. But there is just a general feeling of unease that descends upon the congregation whenever someone not in the correlated teaching pipeline gets up to “tell it like it is.”

We’ve had it beaten into our brains, since we were wee little Sunbeams, that proper doctrine is supposed to be boring. If things are getting interesting in Sacrament Meeting, it probably means someone is on the verge of going to hell.

It’s like the Mormon 11th commandment is “Thou shalt not be edgey.” But the thing is, if you want more males at the pulpit, I think you’re going to have to put up with some crazy stuff.

I mean really, can it be any worse than hearing sister so-and-so tell everyone about the details of her husbands colon cancer? Release the hounds, says I!


  1. Interesting thoughts. I’d modify that a bit, though, and say that it has to do with the fact that most of the “testimonies” born in our meetings are not pure testimony. It’s not so much that testimony itself is “sissy” or “girly,” but that most of the public speaking that goes on in the name of testimony is not entirely personal revelation. When I get up to speak, I’m not going to get up to give a thankimony, or a sobimony, or anything like that. I get up to bear pure testimony, in meekness and humility. At least, that’s the goal–it might be a little high, which explains why I haven’t gotten up in F&T meeting for several weeks. And it’s not like you can’t find a real testimony in our testimony meetings–I’ve found that almost every testimony born over the pulpit has some elements of personal revelation and sincere spiritual experiences in them, it’s just that some of them are watered down with all the crying and the I’m so grateful’s.

    Comment by onelowerlight — August 26, 2007 @ 6:22 pm

  2. Well, I don’t really mean to complain about the testimonies that are being given, so much as express irritation that a certain kind are being frowned upon.

    Comment by Seth R. — August 26, 2007 @ 7:18 pm

  3. I’m not afraid to say that I’m one of the cryers. My testimony is a very personal thing to me. I personally don’t think testimony meeting is meant for expounding on doctrine or exhorting others to live the commandments as much as it is expressing a deep. personal feeling about the truthfulness of the gospel. This usually means that I have had an emotional experience that has strengthened that testimony and relating that experience usually brings tears to my eyes – tears of joy.

    I’m really tired of this notion that women are naturally more sensative or more spiritual than men – or even less emotional. For me being close to the spirit usually creates tender feelings in my heart. I don’t find anything to be ashamed of or afraid of in that experience.

    Comment by lamonte — August 26, 2007 @ 7:35 pm

  4. Sissies? Seth, don’t be sexist.

    Comment by Rusty — August 26, 2007 @ 7:57 pm

  5. I don’t necessarily disagree with you, I’ll just say that my experience is different.

    Many of the men I know are not so concerned with the sissified way testimony bearing as much as they are with the whole idea of speaking to a large group about *anything*.

    Comment by Ryan — August 26, 2007 @ 10:51 pm

  6. Public speaking is a skill that has to be learned and practiced. It is also very little valued anymore in our sound-bite video-focused “culture.” When was the last time anyone heard of speech classes (public speaking, not remedial speech) even being offered in high schools? And in a lifetime of Church membership I can’t remember a single lesson anywhere about what a proper testimony consists of. So everyone just wings it, and we get thanktimonies or “spiritual experiences” or a line of children parroting what’s whispered in their ears by the mothers or Primary teachers who drag them up to the pulpit.

    Add to this the cultural drift of all American churches toward the feminine (e.g. Leon Podles’ book The Church Impotent: the Feminization of Christianity”) and the effect of the example of General Conferences as pre-packaged and scripted down to the second as any major movie or TV show, and you’re going to get lots of “inspirational stories” and tears and, basically, just what Seth described at the start of this thread. Lots of emotions masquerading as inspiration. A predictable sameness to the stories. And a conclusion among the men that testimony meeting is mostly for women and children. I’m part of a HP group that is among the most impressive I’ve seen anywhere; everyone very accomplished professionally and with impressive resumes of Church service. Yet they too are almost unanimously no-shows at the pulpit on Fast Sunday.

    There’s nothing wrong with sharing a testimony that includes deep personal feelings and which may involve the display of some emotion. But I for one am tired of what appears to be the received wisdom in the Church that anything which produces tears or an upsurge of sentiment is therefore ipso facto “inspired” or “the Spirit”, with the result that any testimony meeting filled with emotional stories is pronounced “so spiritual” or “so inspiring.” Another blog post I saw earlier (don’t remember where) mentioned President Hunter specifically addressing this mistake and stating that often authentic inspiration produces no such emotional response whatsoever—but it always produces increased intelligence, light, wisdom, and understanding. These are qualities that should appeal to any faithful priesthood holder as much as to any Relief Society sister. My own experience confirms that President Hunter was correct. Sadly, in my experience at least, it seems to be the rare case when I leave a testimony meeting with actual increased intelligence and understanding of the gospel due to a truly inspirational testimony. I usually find myself taking refuge in my open Scriptures as sister after sister takes the pulpit and weeps through story after story. I try to listen and give due respect & consideration to every speaker. But the gushing usually is just too much. I don’t find it inspirational. I find it maudlin and a disincentive for me to get up myself. And given Seth’s post, I have to wonder how many other brethren in the Church are thinking the same thing and “voting with their feet.”

    Comment by JC — August 26, 2007 @ 11:06 pm

  7. JC – That “sister” who “takes the pulpit and weeps through story after story” (and certainly there are brothers who do the same thing) are not following the guideance that has crossed the pulpit more than once in recent years that our testimonies should be brief and to the point. They should be testimonies not travelogues or biographies. I believe that bearing one’s testimony is meant to help the giver as much as, or more than, it is for the benefit of the receiver. Each time we stand and state our testimony it grows even stronger. It is often the case that a brief reference to some faith promoting experience might not be understood by the audience but, when recalled by the one giving the testimony, strengthens and reinforces their faith.

    Comment by Lamonte — August 27, 2007 @ 4:19 am

  8. I find it hard to share anything personal with strangers. Our ward isn’t the friendliest ward and I don’t feel any sort of connection with anyone. Why on earth would I want to open up to any of them?

    As an instructor in EQ, I have attempted for the past year to invite opportuinities to have the quorum members relate personal experiences and testimony into our discussion of the lesson topic. I would often lead by example, sharing much of my private life and testimony as applicable to the lesson. I did this in hopes of getting the quorum to open up to each other and try to help form a true brotherhood.

    This has met with perhaps a 99% failure rate. These guys have no interest in me or each other. If anything, it has resulted in being ostracized from the group. I see no reason to share anything else personal or spiritual with them.

    Although I have recently become part of the problem, I believe this atmosphere of apathy is why you will almost never hear a testimony given by an elder in our ward.

    Comment by JM — August 27, 2007 @ 6:34 am

  9. jc, you’ve really never had a lesson with testimony specifics? i’m still a relatively new convert and have had at least a few. of course, they obviously weren’t very powerful lessons because i can’t recall them exactly, but there’s a list (four items?) of what you should profess belief in: god, christ/atonement, joseph smith/prophets, and the book of mormon. something like that, anyway.

    i’m a woman (i almost typed “a chick,” egads! don’t tell fmh!) and i don’t get up. it’s probably equal parts a healthy fear of public speaking, a distaste for the afore-mentioned airing of the laundry, embarrassment that i cry at the drop of a hat (once over a march madness commercial), and not wanting to leave my 28 children behind to wreak havoc in my 90-second absence. i know i come across as “less spiritual” because i really never, ever get up in f&t meeting, but whatevah.

    Comment by makakona — August 27, 2007 @ 6:38 am

  10. I’m wondering why the Elders don’t take example from church leaders- the vast majority are men- and in EVERY confrence they bear testimony. Rarely do they get emotional and often they are very strong voiced in their conviction. I’m interested in this and I think I may just bring it up with my husband tonight. It will make for an interesting discussion.

    Comment by kanga — August 27, 2007 @ 8:06 am

  11. …the guideance that has crossed the pulpit more than once in recent years that our testimonies should be brief and to the point. They should be testimonies not travelogues or biographies.

    Amen, Lamonte!

    And Seth, honestly, if people were getting up and preaching doctrine, instead of bearing testimony to truth, I would be just as annoyed as I am with those who talk about their husband’s colon.

    I am so sorry for your ward! But please don’t let that stop you. Apathy is the coward’s way. If anything, be stubborn and refuse to conform –especially in an environment such as that.

    As for me, I don’t bare my testimony nearly as much as I should. But when I do, I tend to cry. I see nothing wrong with this. Why in the world would I feel anything but extreme emotion when discussing the most important thing in my life? I cry when I speak of my husband. I cry when I speak of my children. Why wouldn’t I cry when I speak about my God?

    JC, I’m not saying that President Hunter was wrong, but I do think it’s unfair to claim that learning and inspiration cannot come by feeling emotion. There have been many, many times where I have found enlightenment while crying my eyes out. It was always in a spiritual setting (Temple, church, fireside) and often accompanied by music. However, I do have to think (and admit) that perhaps these episodes of emotion were felt after the learning occurred, and thereby was the result.

    I just wish people wouldn’t be so hung up on their own fears (again, guilty here) and just get up there. Who knows how many people might benefit from one person’s simple testimony. (But it’s not like the Prophets haven’t been saying that for eternity already!)

    Comment by Cheryl — August 27, 2007 @ 8:44 am

  12. To Lamonte: I totally agree that the sisters who gush through story after story are not following counsel. But this is no new thing. Once I saw a bishop stand at the beginning of testimony meeting and read a letter from the stake presidency or First Presidency, don’t remember which, that discouraged the practice of little kids taking testimony meeting time away from adults with their repeated, rehearsed phrases or with a parent or teacher whispering in their ears. Guess who raced to the podium immediately after the bishop read this letter? A male Primary teacher with several of his 4 or 5 year old class in tow, and he proceeded to whisper a “testimony” in the ear of each one of them. I’m still incredulous.

    To makakona: that’s right, I don’t remember ever hearing a single lesson on exactly what a properly stated testimony consists of. I’m sure such lessons have been given elsewhere, I just don’t remember ever hearing one.

    To Cheryl: please note I didn’t exclude the possibility of a testimony or inspiration being an emotional thing, nor did President Hunter. But I think you are right to think that emotions “were felt after the learning occurred, and thereby [were] the result” of the learning, rather than the inspiration itself. Feelings and emotions are like gas in the engine: essential to life and movement, but by nature extremely unstable and volatile. I do not trust them as a manifestation of inspiration. Brother Joseph didn’t come back all weepy and blubbery after seeing the First Vision, or emerge that way from the Kirtland Temple having seen the Celestial Kingdom. He was calm, contemplative, articulate, decisive, and in complete control of himself. I feel safe using his experience as a yardstick against which to measure all others.

    Comment by JC — August 27, 2007 @ 9:27 am

  13. In Protestantism, we call this the “Feminisation of the Church”. Do a google search.

    Comment by Tim — August 27, 2007 @ 9:27 am

  14. “…whisper a “testimony” in the ear of each one of them. I’m still incredulous.” JC, I totally agree with your disdain for this practice in testimony meeting. A comical experience helps me cope better with this objectionable practice. When I was a youth, a child in my ward stood up in testimony meeting and said, “I’m thankful for my parents and all the things they’ve done TO me.” I don’t remember those parents encouraging their young son to stand up again.

    Comment by Lamonte — August 27, 2007 @ 9:54 am

  15. I’m realizing that the tongue-in-cheek title of this post, combined with a skimmed reading of the content will likely be read as a condemnation of emotion-laden testimonies.

    It isn’t.

    They aren’t my cup of tea, but I respect the people who give them and I don’t wish to discourage them.

    I think Cheryl presents a good reminder of the downfalls of the other kind of testifying though. Some people certainly have a much higher opinion of their sermon skills than many of their listeners.

    Comment by Seth R. — August 27, 2007 @ 12:28 pm

  16. I sat in a Mission Zone Conference Meeting once (my next to last one) and I was NOT in the mood to be bearing testimony that day. So I sat, and sat, and sat. I figured I wasn’t going to bear testimony. But it eventually became apparent that NO ONE was going to be let off the hook. Even though it was purely voluntary, I could see that everyone was going to have to get up there if the Mission President was ever going to close the meeting. So, forced, I stood up. I was the last one to go.

    It is no one’s business, really, whether men choose to bear testimony or not. Should we just make men bear testimony more to satisfy some quota system? Or, how about we let people – women, children, OR men – get up when they feel compelled by the Spirit to do so.

    Comment by John Cline — August 27, 2007 @ 1:09 pm

  17. Maybe it’s a new metric on the quarterly report?

    Comment by JM — August 27, 2007 @ 1:51 pm

  18. John, I totally agree. There should be no compulsion in testimony or anywhere else in the Church. The Doc. & Cov. makes that abundantly clear. I don’t think any poster here would advocate that, nor would they welcome the weepy story bunch being crowded out by a sudden spike in self-proclaimed theology experts expounding at length on things the Lord hasn’t yet seen fit to reveal.

    Seth’s original question is a fascinating one and should not be lost sight of. What seems to be discouraging so many men from speaking in testimony meeting?

    And while we’re at it, as a slight tangent, is anybody else bothered by the apparently universal practice in the Church of letting testimony meetings run over by sometimes significant amounts of time? Does it never occur to our good bishoprics that doing so is disrespectful to every teacher who’s taken the time to prepare a lesson? Or is that considered less important than giving everyone who wants to speak in testimony a chance to talk, no matter the content, and no matter how many in the congregation are looking at their watches?

    Comment by JC — August 27, 2007 @ 2:08 pm

  19. If you’ve passed the hour hand on the clock, the Spirit in the meeting is gone, and you’re not getting it back. I don’t care who you are or what you’ve got to say. If you’re overtime, you have nothing further to contribute and should sit down immediately.

    Comment by Seth R. — August 27, 2007 @ 2:29 pm

  20. What I don’t get is why don’t the story tellers, the thankers, the doctrine expounders do what they do when they are asked to speak!!!

    They’ve got the skillz! It would make talks so much more interesting and personal.

    Instead we get a five minute apology on how unprepared they are, a synopsys of the phone call that asked them to give the talk, a recitation of a conference talk or two… all packaged in a nice monotone deliverance.

    Anyway, I submit that as a church (at least in the north american wards I’ve attended) we just don’t know what a testimony is anymore… which is probably why we struggle with missionary work.

    Actually, that might lead to the answer of why more men don’t deliver on fast sunday…

    “I did that for two years on my mission… it’s someone elses turn now”

    Comment by JM — August 27, 2007 @ 2:44 pm

  21. “I did that for two years on my mission… it’s someone elses turn now”

    JM, that is one of my biggest pet peeves –if anything, men (and women) should take what they learned from their missions and use it. I wish I could, but I didn’t serve a mission, and so I’m learning the slow way.

    Seth, I think it’s worse when Sacrament Meeting ends early (but that rarely has anything to do with F&T meeting).

    Comment by Cheryl — August 27, 2007 @ 3:27 pm

  22. I’ve heard many people say that the most powerful/spiritual testimony meetings they’ve been to was when a GA made everyone bare one–meaning there was little time to say anything but testify of the basic truths of the gospel. Now I don’t think all testimonies should be only about Joseph Smith, The Book of Mormon, etc., but it doesn’t have to be obscurity either.

    I’ve always felt inclined to testify whenever I’ve experienced a growth about a specific principle or doctrine. It’s what I’m most impressed with (gospel-wise) at the time and therefore brings the most Spirit to me and (hopefully) the congregation.

    Look at General Conference. Rarely if ever is there any “new” or “edgy” doctrine shared, but there are always so many powerful, spiritual, truth-gaining to be had.

    Oh, and my last singles ward is Spokane was an anomaly on this. There were always more elders testifying than sisters. I loved it but probably won’t ever see that again.

    Comment by Bret — August 27, 2007 @ 5:30 pm

  23. Oh, one other thing. The Spencer W. Kimball Manual says on page 71-2 says we can’t go 3,6,9, or 12 months of not bearing our testimony without losing some of its full value. In fact that whole section on participation in testimony is a good wake up. At least it was for me.

    Comment by Bret — August 27, 2007 @ 5:36 pm

  24. Twice while an ex-member, the Spirit has prompted me to get up in F&T meeting. The last one was in another city. It was essentially a travelogue of experiences of the previous day, which when added up testified of the miraculously divine nature of the Book of Mormon, that the book is not only a miracle in itself, it documents miracles, the study and application of the teachings in it bring about miracles, and the promulgation of the book is also attended by miracles and divine guidance.

    I concur that “thankimonies” and airing laundry are not within the GA’s stated guidelines. But I think actual “spiritual experiences” are part of a legitimate testimony, even if the experience is totally internal, such as reading or praying.

    The Lord basically said “To do is to know” in John 7:17. Therefore actions (events) can be closely tied to testimony.

    Comment by Bookslinger — August 27, 2007 @ 11:51 pm

  25. Oh, one other thing. The Spencer W. Kimball Manual says on page 71-2 says we can’t go 3,6,9, or 12 months of not bearing our testimony without losing some of its full value.

    So, I guess the only acceptable testimony is the one we give in sacrament meeting? And I guess the quiet, private testimony I give over lunch while having a gospel discussion with a co-worker doesn’t count either?

    Guess I’ll go tell my kids that the ones we do in FHE don’t count anymore.

    I’ve heard many people say that the most powerful/spiritual testimony meetings they’ve been to was when a GA made everyone bare one–meaning there was little time to say anything but testify of the basic truths of the gospel.

    Man, why can’t I ever be in one of those meetings? I’d like to see him “Make me” get up. Who knows, it might lead to a brief sermon on the principle of free agency and how to enforce it…

    Comment by JM — August 28, 2007 @ 4:33 am

  26. JM-
    President Kimball didn’t say “only is Sacrament Meeting, or else”. Neither did Bret.

    And if a GA was inspired to have everyone share their testimonies in one particular meeting, and you weren’t there, I wonder why you’re so offended that it happened –or that it could happen.

    You don’t have to be rude.

    Comment by Cheryl — August 28, 2007 @ 7:45 am

  27. Well,

    They’re probably just not inspired to come up to canada that often.

    I have a hard time believing that any priesthood leader would be inspired to have everyone in a congregation get up and share their testimony. But hey… anything is possible.

    Comment by JM — August 28, 2007 @ 12:06 pm

  28. JM-
    What? Not inspired to visit the Great White North? Them’s fightin’ words. Which Province are you in, if you don’t mind my asking?

    Comment by Cheryl — August 28, 2007 @ 2:54 pm

  29. Thank you Cheryl. I need all the help I can get in clarifying my words since I only get onto this site about once a day:)


    The times I’ve heard of a whole congregation doing that are during a Zone conference or some other missionary meeting. I’m just telling you what I’ve been told by others. I have no experience like that myself.


    Great insightful example. That’s kinda what I was trying to get at in that I usually bear my testimony when growth has occurred around a specific principle. I’ll usually share the experiences that led to that growth in chronological order. You seem to have done the same concerning miracles. That’s lovely.

    Comment by Bret — August 28, 2007 @ 3:21 pm

  30. In my own personal half-baked opinion, it’s correlation’s fault. We just don’t tolerate doctrinal loose cannons in our wards anymore.

    Is there a parallel here to the Bloggernacle? We’ve had recent discussions about some people feeling “edged out” of participation in some comment threads. It seems that our online community has its own orthodoxy, even in the absence of formalized correlation. (It seems that a distaste for correlation seems to be part of this orthodoxy.) I wonder if the same sort of dynamic is at work in both forums with differing results.

    Comment by Bradley Ross — August 29, 2007 @ 4:13 pm

  31. The data is suspect. Before we try to determine why men don’t bear testimony, we ought to find out if they don’t bear testimony in any significant number.

    I’ve been in wards where men bear testimony less frequently, but I’ve also been in wards where it is a more common occurrence. Last testimony meeting in our ward, the first six or eight testimonies were from men (elders, not high priests). It was getting a little obvious that we were on a roll, so I leaned over and suggested to my wife that she provide some variation. As she got up a couple others sisters did as well, then some children, but we were far from lacking participation from the men.

    Men bear their testimonies frequently in our ward, and we’re in a very transient ward, so I don’t suppose it’s a localized phenomenon.

    Comment by Shoeless Joe — August 30, 2007 @ 8:03 am

  32. Cheryl,

    I come from a promised land, a province flowing with oil and money, and a raging economy that is bound to crumble and crash any day now!!!

    Calgary, Alberta

    Comment by JM — August 30, 2007 @ 11:30 am

  33. Nice. (Well, except for the economy crashing and crumbling and what-not.)
    My parents were raised in Lethbridge. All Grandparents are still there –All great-grandparents are buried from Glenwood to Raymond.

    Comment by Cheryl — August 30, 2007 @ 3:01 pm

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