These last couple of years I have learned something very important—something that was so fundamental to everything I am that it took reaching into the deepest, most honest chambers of my heart to finally learn: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints isn’t true.
…at least not in the way I always thought it was supposed to be.
Take, for example:
– The headlines swirling around about Church members who have misused positions of leadership.
– Or the botched PR with the way some new policies have been handled.
– Or the [insert any of the controversies currently facing the Church].
– Combine that with my employment at the Church working with many amazing people—but also people who make thoughtless comments, misdirected decisions, and faulty analysis.
If the Church is indeed true, I started to wonder, shouldn’t all the leaders be holy, the PR be flawless, and the employees be constantly inspired?
Every time I felt the tinges of concern, I would quickly repeat the first thing I learned to call my testimony—the 4-word memorized phrase that finds itself into every fast Sunday: ‘The Church is true.’
But little by little, one thing after another, I finally submitted to the fact that the Church just didn’t feel true to me anymore.
In fact, it even felt somewhat…flawed.
I tried to turn to my family and friends—but how could I even begin to explain that these four Primary words were starting to feel so, well, wrong? And what effect would that have on their testimonies?
I started digging for answers, but my prayers fell flat, my attempts to verbalize my feelings felt incomplete, and my confusion simply increased.
Even this post, which was rejected from being published by LDS Living (understandably) and will doubtless be met with some criticism, took me over 6 months to write. It is hard to put into words such a sensitive subject.
Finally, I figured the beginning of the Church organization would be as good of a place as any to start, so off I went to Doctrine and Covenants Section 1.
There I found this phrase that I’d never really noticed before in verse 30: “And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true…church upon the face of the whole earth.”
See, I thought. Here is the Lord saying the Church is true. So what’s my problem?!
But wait—I skipped something. I re-read the verse.
“…out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth.”
Then it clicked.
This isn’t simply the true Church. This is the true and living Church.
It is a living, breathing, imperfect, and yes, even sometimes flawed, organization, and that’s how it is supposed to be!
As I pondered this revelation more, I began to understand that the truth isn’t the Church itself, the truth is in the Church.
The “work is true” (Testimony of Three Witnesses).
The “words…are true” (D&C 6:17).
The gospel is true.
The Priesthood is true.
The Atonement of Jesus Christ is true.
The Church, on the other hand, is a beautiful living vessel of learning and administration of truth.
And what of the Church leaders and workers that seem to regularly make so many mistakes?
Why is the Church not perfect? Because the people running it aren’t either. Neither are the people that are in it.
In fact, President M. Russell Ballard said in this most recent general conference, “We should not be surprised to know that those individuals called to do the Lord’s work are not humanly perfect” (“Precious Gifts from God,” general conference, April 2018).
And while the leaders can say that and we can parrot it back, it is still shocking and people leave the church in droves when a leader makes a mistake. It has been said that the Catholics believe the Pope is perfect–but don’t believe it; the Mormons believe the Church leaders are NOT perfect–but don’t believe it.
Yes, my dear friends, the gospel is true, the Church is true enough, and the people—well, we are doing the best we can.
I think of it as different circles with the gospel being in the middle, then going out to the Church, then going out further to the people. The farther from the center you focus, the less grounded you will be in what matters the most.
Now I understand what people mean when they say, “The Church is true.” And in the essence of it, I guess I agree with them. It is the truest church on the earth and the true Church of Christ, whether or not its people (or even leaders) perfectly adhere to all of its teachings.
So I urge you to not have your testimony rooted in the people who belong to or have stewardship over this organization. Don’t ground yourself in an organization that is merely meant to be the vessel—find your center of what is real, what is eternal, and what is really true and utilize the tools the Church provides to maintain that center.
Let’s all try a little harder not to let flawed programs and people interfere with our testimony of our perfect Savior.
Let’s stop touting culture as doctrine.
Let’s stop focusing on the messenger of the Church as a whole as opposed to the perfect message of Christ taught to us by those flawed leaders.
And yes, let’s all do our part to help this living Church become even truer.