Richard L Bushman is a venerable and scholarly figure whose status as a Mormon academic is a great comfort and encouragement to Mormons. Here he is paraded giving his considered testimony, an account of why he is a Mormon. I don’t want to show disrespect to a man whose earthly qualifications make me feel quite inadequate but I do want to comment on his heavenly qualifications.
I want to draw your attention, not to what is in his testimony, but to what is absent. He expresses himself more eloquently than your average Mormon, draws on the resources of a long heritage and an exceptional education and paints a vivid and impressive picture of his Mormonism. That aside, however, his testimony is not so different from that of many, indeed most Mormons in that it is about Mormonism.
Is that so surprising? A Mormon testifying about Mormonism? Well, yes, when compared with a Christian testimony it is certainly a departure from what you might expect from someone whose claim is that their faith makes them Christian.
He has tested Moroni’s promise, “listened to the Spirit”, and senses somehow that Mormonism is right and true.
He finds the discipline of church activity, the Word of Wisdom, the acts of service and sacrifice, etc. positive and affirming.
He likes the idea that this life is a learning experience, that the Fall wasn’t a mistake, and that he can progress to become like God.
He appreciates the idea that ordinary men and women can receive guidance from the Spirit for their lives and callings.
He likes the co-operative efforts of Mormons to good works.
He insists that Mormonism is “open to empirical testing” (this is a stretch by any standard but there it is) and likes that.
He doesn’t insist that everyone should be a Mormon (we all must find our own footing in our search for understanding) but feels that the world would be a better place if everyone was.
Mormonism has served him well, he insists, and on that basis commends it to others.
There is much to be admired in this gentle and compelling testimony of Mormonism but there is no Christ and no Cross. Christ is touched upon to be sure but seems to play a secondary role in the wider plan of Mormonism to make men be gods. He makes possible what Mormons are to do but it is what Mormons become that is the agenda. Maybe he was asked the wrong question, perhaps his mind took him elsewhere but this is a Mormon testimony not a Christian.
Typically, a Mormon might object that Richard Bushman is giving his personal opinion, that he “doesn’t speak for the church”. But such ideas always bring me back to the same question: what inspired him to think this way, to hold these views so dear and to share them as definitive of his faith? It is the way Mormons think.
I am glad there are such people as those he describes, whose lives are rich with service and sacrifice, whose outlook is positive. But then so many faith communities, as well as those of no faith, can boast such people. The problem is that this self-congratulatory people purport to be Christian but how can it be when what is celebrated is not Christ but Mormonism, the Mormon Church – man? Follow the link and see for yourself.