Poor Wayfaring Man

Every member of the LDS Church knows the importance of developing a strong personal or “spiritual” conviction (a “testimony”) regarding certain facts surrounding the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.1 A testimony is considered a gift from God, delivered to a person by the Holy Ghost, a spirit-messenger of God, who communicates through a spiritual power that manifests itself in different ways to different people, typically as difficult-to-define sensations and thoughts. Every member is expected to have a testimony of at least the following key facts:

  1. God (a.k.a. “Heavenly Father”) exists.
  2. Jesus Christ is the son of God and the savior of humankind.
  3. The LDS Church is Jesus Christ’s one true church, comprising his only authorized franchise for teaching people the essential doctrines and administering the rituals (commonly called the “ordinances”) necessary for salvation in the highest kingdom of heaven. (These doctrines and ordinances are collectively referred to as “the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ”.)
  4. Joseph Smith was a prophet, chosen personally by Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ to be given the authority to act and speak on behalf of God (the “priesthood”) and with that authority to restore Christ’s true church and the fullness of the Gospel, all of which were briefly in the possession of the early Christian Church after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but were lost shortly thereafter (in an event and period of time called “The Great Apostasy”).
  5. The current head of the LDS Church is a prophet of God–a legitimate successor of Joseph Smith’s priesthood authority.

While the above facts form the minimum foundation for a testimony that an orthodox member of the Church must profess to have, a Mormon can have a testimony of a lot more facts than that, including (but not limited to) any of the following:

  • My life has a purpose.
  • I am a child of God, who loves me.
  • God wants me to take a certain course of action (i.e., take a this job, move to this city, invest in this cousin’s multi-level marketing company, marry this person, have another baby, etc.).
  • Drinking caffeinated soda is forbidden.
  • Drinking caffeinated soda is not forbidden.
  • Paying 10% of my gross (rather than net) income to the LDS Church is the correct tithe.
  • Pornography is bad.
  • Evolution is a false theory of men–God created Earth and everything on it in a period of six thousand years or so.
  • Evolution is the mechanism by which God created Earth and everything on it over a period of billions of years.
  • A member of the LDS priesthood can anoint my head with consecrated extra virgin olive oil and pronounce a special prayer to heal me from any illness.
  • Birth control is wrong.
  • Birth control is right.
  • God wants me to go visit this person.
  • God wants me to say this.
  • Gay people should not be getting married to each other.
  • Polygamy is a true principle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • Events described in the Holy Bible literally happened, for the most part.
  • The Book of Mormon is the most correct book on Earth, and everything described therein literally happened.
  • People of Semitic descent populated all of North and South America for a thousand years, from around 600 B.C. to around 400 A.D.
  • People of Semitic descent lived in a very limited geographical area somewhere in South or Central America for a thousand years, from around 600 B.C. to around 400 A.D.

The list could go on and on. You will note that some of the items on the list are contradictory, which might cause you to conclude that a testimony is a strictly subjective thing, unrelated to objective reality. You would be wrong, however. In Mormonism, a testimony is actually considered to be a means of confirming and understanding objective truth–a shortcut for those who can’t (or don’t want to) make the observations and tests necessary to establish a fact. In fact, a testimony is considered to be even more accurate or essentially True than scientific observations made through the five senses.2

With that in mind, the inconsistencies in the list above can be explained by differences in people’s capacity to read or understand communication from the Holy Ghost. A person who is accurately receiving and understanding the Holy Ghost’s messages is said to be “in tune”. Theoretically, if everybody were truly in tune with the Holy Ghost, there would be no contradictions on the list.



  1. Apostle Gordon B. Hinckley said: “I would like to say to you, that is the strength of this cause, the individual testimony that lies in the hearts of the people. The strength of this church is not in its buildings, in its chapels, in its offices, in its schools; it is not in its programs or its publications. They are important, but they are only a means to an end, and that the end is the building of the testimony – a conviction that will weather every storm and stand up to every crisis in the hearts and lives of the membership.” (Gordon B. Hinckley, Area Conference Report, August 1971, Manchester, England, pp. 160-161. As quoted in Testimony, pp. 8-9) []
  2. “Remember that faith and doubt cannot exist in the same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other…Should doubt knock at your doorway, just say to those skeptical, disturbing, rebellious thoughts: ‘I propose to stay with my faith, with the faith of my people. I know that happiness and contentment are there, and I forbid you, agnostic, doubting thoughts to destroy the house of my faith. I acknowledge that I do not understand the processes of creation, but I accept the fact of it. I grant that I cannot explain the miracles of the Bible, and I do not attempt to do so, but I accept God’s word. I wasn’t with Joseph, but I believe him. My faith did not come to me through science, and I will not permit so-called science to destroy it.” (Thomas S. Monson, “The Lighthouse of the Lord,” New Era, February 2001, p. 4) []

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