Monthly Archives: December 2014

An Anonymous Response to My Post on Criticism

I hope an Anonymous Reader will not object to me highlighting his/her comment as a post.  I think too often many readers may miss some of the great comments made by others.  Some comments, in my opinion, are so often far more insightful than the actual post that may have begun the conversation.

As I have previously stated, my desire is to both discover and expose truth.  I’m finding in this process that this desire is shared by many others in the church.  The discovery of truth I think can both a personal and group effort.  As such, I find these types of comments a wonderful benefit to this endeavor.

I think many readers are like myself.  We want to find and embrace all truth and yet many of us are still very much trying to figure things out.  We no longer fear opposing views nor do we fear seeking the “mysteries.”  We are reluctant to “declare” most things as doctrine or to declare that we “know” anything.

We believe in, and are awaiting, true messengers that are promised to those who become firm minded in every form of godliness (Moroni 7:30).  We do not seek “a form of godliness” only to “deny the power thereof” (JSH 1:19).  We seek the form of godliness.  Nothing less.  I think I will say more on this in a next post.

Thanks to all those who read and comment.  I’m learning a lot from you, even if and when we don’t always agree on every point.  May God bless us in finding Him, before it is everlastingly too late.

From Anonymous Reader:

Overall, excellent post Anon Bishop. However, there is one minor point I take issue with. The quote from Joseph Smith: “That man who rises up to condemn others…that man is in the high road to apostasy” (Chapter 26, History of the Church (volume/page marker 3:385) https://byustudies.byu.edu/hc/hcpgs/hc.aspx), please take a closer look at the context of that quote and reconsider how you are using it.

Joseph prefaced his words just prior to saying those words as follows:

“O Ye Twelve! and all Saints!…”

His train of thought from that introduction to the warning in question is one fluid and connected idea, per the word “key”. He was clearly talking to all the Saints when he is talking about the danger of apostasy due to “finding fault with the Church”. He clearly meant that to be a prohibition against publicly finding fault with him, or publicly criticizing the direction the Church was taking.

While it is true that the overall speech in 3:385 is directed specifically to the Twelve (this is made clear on page 383), he broadens his audience just before issuing the warning about apostasy. For this reason, I think that Paul Toscano’s assertion in his Dialogue article is not careful in this regard (although I think his article is powerful and inspired overall).

In the end, my conclusion is that Joseph Smith was mistaken in his assertion about apostasy. Rising up and finding fault with the Church is not a harbinger of personal apostasy: such a correlation does not exist and is not an “eternal key” of truth. The scriptures are full of “fringe” characters who rose up and found fault with the people of God (“the Church”), because the Spirit impressed them to stand their ground and speak truth to power when the people of God weren’t living up to their covenants. Such critics did not commit apostasy, they were true to the end (Samuel the Lamanite, Abinidi, Lehi vs. King Zedekiah and the mainstream Jewish culture, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Alma the Elder vs. King Noah, etc).

I think that Joseph was overly sensitive to criticism, and he taught mistaken doctrine about it. One reason that he was prone to imperfection in this matter: the kind of criticism he received was often tinged with murderous and violent overtones, and it often involved intentional lies or unflattering exaggerations by those who were bent on doing him harm and destroying the fledgling organization he was trying to hold together. He had to manage crisis after crisis, had to deal with many officers in high positions whose words and actions threatened to tear the Church apart and destroy whatever tenuous unity existed. He very much wanted the relentless train of crises to subside, and at times he mistakenly taught that strict obedience to the top mortal leaders and zero criticism of them was the way to achieve that peace and stability. It was a natural and carnal impulse on his part, a craving for easy answers, a silver-bullet doctrine or “key”. It did a lot of harm, because those who came after him aggressively championed his “strict-obedience-to-leaders” idea (for example, see https://www.lds.org/manual/teachings-joseph-smith/chapter-27). To his credit, he also taught good doctrine on this point on more than one occasion (see quotes below).

The righteous criticism that is being spoken from the city walls by people like yourself is the kind of criticism that needs to be spoken. Thank you for your willingness to give your insights and testimony to the world –please keep up the good work.

The unity that currently exists in the Church is largely artificial. Carnally pleasing doctrines like “follow the prophet” rule the day. However, I think that the tide is slowly turning towards individual responsibility. One day, when more Saints have woken up due to reading websites like this one (and Pure Mormonism, etc), we will have a spiritual coming of age, and the majority will begin to expect and demand leaders who teach spiritual self-sufficiency rather than spiritual subordination.

One day, a critical mass of active members will hopefully begin to vote in opposition against anyone who preaches “follow mortal leaders”. This signal of non-confidence will rock the leadership to the core and will hopefully motivate them to repent. Either that, or God will replace them, once enough Saints are awake to merit it, with leaders who are awake and who understand the principle of spiritual self-sufficiency. This is how the law of restoration works: we get the leaders we deserve. At present, the majority of the Saints deserve leaders who teach spiritual subordination, because the majority is guilty of spiritual subordination, so we have blind leaders in that regard (the blind are leading the blind).

One day, the following teachings will achieve primacy and we will have leaders who champion these truths (you and others like you are the tip of the spear in returning these teachings to their rightful place):

“You must work through the Spirit. If that leads you into conflict with the program of the Church, you follow the voice of the Spirit.” (Elder Seymour B. Young, First Quorum of the Seventy 1882-1924).

“Do not, brethren, put your trust in man though he be a bishop, an apostle, or a President; if you do, they will fail you at some time or place; they will do wrong or seem to, and your support will be gone; but if we lean on God, He will never fail us. When men and women depend upon God alone and trust in Him alone, their faith will not be shaken if the highest in the Church should step aside”. (George Q. Cannon, First Counselor in the First Presidency, Deseret Weekly, 43:322, Mar 7, 1891).

“We have hitherto acted too much as machines, as to following the President. I will confess to my own shame that I have acted contrary to my own judgment many times. I mean hereafter not to demean myself, to not run contrary to my own judgment. When President Young says that the Spirit of the Lord says thus and so, I don’t consider that all we should do is to say let it be so.” (Elder Orson Pratt; see Conflict in the Quorum ​by Gary James Bergera, 2002).

“If we have presidents or apostles or anybody that we do not like, let us vote them out, and be free men, and cultivate and cherish in our bosoms the principles of liberty.” (President John Taylor, 7 October 1872; “Discourse,” The Deseret News Weekly, volume 21, number 48.)

“And if thine eye which seeth for thee, him that is appointed to watch over thee to show thee light, become a transgressor and offend thee, pluck him out.” Mark 9:46, JST

“President Joseph Smith read the 14th chapter of Ezekiel–said the Lord had declared by the Prophet, that the people should each one stand for himself, and depend on no man or men in that state of corruption of the Jewish church–that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls–applied it to the present state of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–said if the people departed from the Lord, they must fall–that they were depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds, in consequence of neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, page 237-38).

Criticism and Standing up for Truth

Criticism

Before proceeding, I need to repent.  In past blog posts, in my exuberance I have said some things which could be legitimately construed as unnecessary or unChrist-like.  I have now gone through all of my posts and have attempted to remove such offenses.  I am clearly not perfect and ask those whom I’ve offended for forgiveness.

This does not mean I do not still have concerns or that I won’t share them on this blog.  But, I will attempt to do so in a way that is constructive and more thoughtful.  I have updated my Why Anonymous page as well to reflect some of these same feelings.

Sharing my honest concerns on this blog has been a very humbling and interesting experience.  I’ve connected with many people and have been overwhelmed with responses, comments, and support for the most part.  It’s been a great blessing.  Numerous people have said how helpful it has been to discover that other active members of the church, even leaders in the church, also share their concerns about some of the decisions being made.

This process has also caused me to more deeply ponder the question: Is criticism always wrong?

I received this comment recently from someone whose view I think is very common in the church.

“I find it so sad that you feel the most productive way to express your concerns are anonymous blog entries that all seem pointed at fault finding those mortal, imperfect men who are doing the best they can to do what the Lord would have them do, and lead the church… “

Here’s my response to this comment generally:

I’m not sure what the future holds for blog post topics, but yes, this individual is correct that the few essays I have written are critical of some of the decisions being made by the leadership of the church.

So when do you speak up in opposition in the church if you disagree?  When you may disagree with decisions, expenses, teachings or interpretations by those who are the stewards of church?

Let’s take some extreme examples.  Let’s say you live in the time of Brigham Young and disagree with his doctrine of blood atonement.  You feel strongly that this teaching may lead to disastrous consequences.  Maybe even the loss of life.  What do you do?  Same question on polygamy and abuse of authority in that regard?  Blacks and the priesthood?  Do you just sit idly by and say nothing?

Fast forward–what if you had firsthand information that Paul Dunn was embellishing stories years before he was caught?  That Mark Hoffman was a fraud and his Salamander Letters were forgeries?  That an Area Seventy was a bigamist for 7 years before he confessed and was excommunicated?  Do you “find fault” with your leader who others may think is “doing the best he can” or do you just show “empathy” and let everyone do their thing?

Or on the other side of the argument let’s suppose you are being taught by Korihor (Alma 30).  He’s teaching you how to “manage the creature.”  He’s eloquently teaching you what he sincerely believes to be true doctrine.  Let’s suppose something not confirmed in scripture that should not change how we treat his message: Let’s say he’s a CES teacher.  Should you take notes, enjoy yourself, get a copy of his signed book, enjoy the refreshments, and not look to judge or criticize this teacher’s message?  By specifically ascertaining and discerning its faults? 

The church of course expects us to be critical of such false non-LDS, or non-leader teachers, and will even threaten members with church discipline if one associates with those whose teachings oppose those taught by the church.  But what if the teachings that go against the doctrines of the church are being taught by those in the church, even its leaders? 

Interestingly, I recall reading in the LDS Church Handbook of Instructions from a decade or more ago that “speakers who primarily entertain, with only casual reference to the gospel, should not be selected” to speak in any church setting.  Do we follow this counsel in the church today?  Do our general conference messages and church talks focus on Christ, the restoration, and the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon?  Or do we mostly share a lot of stories (“primarily entertain”) and offer endless platitudes (i.e. philosophies of men) that we hope will make for great post conference marketing material?  Book covers, t-shirts, mugs, pins, baby onsies, posters, etc?  I wish I was exaggerating.  Here’s a fraction of what comes from one such conference talk:

Live it Love it

If only my words were so popular and powerful.

A very thoughtful blogger recently wrote about the apparent difficulty of distinguishing between today’s sermons and quotes from those of other interesting people.  Church magazine LDS Living has made it into a fun trivia game.  This blogger also noted that strangely President Monson has not born testimony of the Book of Mormon or of the prophet Joseph in his last 69 General Conference talks. 

Paul Dunn

Paul H. Dunn’s Talk from April General Conference 1987. Did his talks help or hurt faith? Ought his record to have been challenged sooner? Is it wrong to question the words the church calls scripture?

We teach we should cease to find fault “with one another”:

Cease to be idle; cease to be unclean; cease to find fault one with another; cease to sleep longer than is needful; retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary; arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated.  (D&C 88:124)

But are we taught we should never find fault at all?  In one’s teachings?  In one’s interpretations of doctrine?  In one’s harmful actions?  Again, the question — is all criticism wrong?

Many years ago, as a brand new missionary in a foreign country far away from home, I found myself in an apartment with three other elders.  One of them was the branch president as well as our district leader.  Within a couple weeks I sensed this missionary was acting perhaps a bit inappropriately towards a sister they were teaching.  She was married and had two kids.  Her husband had been baptized a month previously and was (and still is) one of the best people I’ve ever known.  It appeared to me that this branch president, district leader, missionary (i.e. my leader) had a slight crush on this man’s wife.  Maybe I was wrong.

Following a prompting, I wrote of my concerns to my mission president.  Upon reading my letter he immediately called me on the phone and chastised me for finding fault and being judgmental.  “Elder ‘Jones’ is one of my best missionaries and as a ‘greenie’ you should be learning from him instead of criticizing him!”

I was taken aback.  8 months later this missionary was exposed and excommunicated for what he did 8 weeks after my letter to the president.  The act of adultery could have been prevented and this dear family just might still be together and in the church if the mission president listened to the same spirit I was trying to listen to.  Was I wrong to speak up?  Was I being wrongly critical of my leaders?

Now I understand that not all issues may be as obvious or as serious as an immoral or dishonest act.  In my case, I’ve criticized the church thus far for making a movie, for its emphasis on social media and marketing, for its use of our tithing contributions and for other practices I am not sure are inspired.  I’ve given the church and the brethren my honest feedback.

Why do so many in the church believe it is wrong to be critical with decisions being made by the church?   Especially given that we are also taught to stand up for truth and to gain our own testimonies when presented with teachings.

I think our fear of speaking out stems from, in large part, a well-known and oft-quoted statement from Joseph Smith:

I will give you one of the Keys of the mysteries of the Kingdom. It is an eternal principle, that has existed with God from all eternity: That man who rises up to condemn others, finding fault with the Church, saying that they are out of the way, while he himself is righteous, then know assuredly, that that man is in the high road to apostasy; and if he does not repent, will apostatize, as God lives. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 156-157.)

I’ll be honest, this quote used to always make me think twice if I ever found myself disagreeing with a leader.  I have been rebuked by some in my life for challenging an idea or when I’ve tried to persuade a leader to an different viewpoint.  As an example I had a bishop once tell me:

“You need to learn right now that no one will ever do anything good unless you assign them to do it!”

I was his young new counselor and I feared that this approach might offend some in the ward and possibly chase people away, which it was doing.  I thought my job as his counselor was to “counsel.”  I guess I was wrong.  When I tried to counsel or advise my bishop in a loving way, I was rebuked and told I was on the high road to apostasy.  I was reminded that the bishop has the keys and his decisions are not to be questioned.  And when it is followed up with other commonly used quotes such as this…

When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan–it is God’s plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give direction, it should mark the end of controversy. God works in no other way. To think otherwise, without immediate repentance, may cost one his faith, may destroy his testimony, and leave him a stranger to the kingdom of God.  (Source of quote here)

…the members in the church learn to stay silent so as to not encounter the wrath of an angry God.  But ought this to be so?  Is this true doctrine?

Not long ago I discovered that these particular quotes and others like them are examples of incorrect doctrine and/or have been taken out of their proper context.

In the quote from Joseph Smith for example, it turns out that when you read the full context,  the Prophet was warning apostles and seventies and leaders in general that “when they rise up in the church” (in its ranks) and “find fault with the church” (its lowly lay members), they (the leaders) are on the high road to apostasy.  What a difference this makes!  (See Dialogue Journal article)  And yet this quote has been used to teach the exact opposite intended meaning for many years.

The other quote “When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done” reflects the thoughts of many leaders from 1945 (when it was issued by the presiding bishopric of the church in the Improvement Era) to the present.  In my view, it’s simply incorrect doctrine.

The statement was so troubling to a local non LDS minister at the time that he wrote a letter to President George A. Smith.  President Smith back peddled and gave a much different response than what had been stated by the presiding bishop.  (See here)  But the idea of a leader speaking and the thinking being done has remained a common theme in church leadership ever since.  (See The Debate is Over, N. Eldon Tanner as one example) It’s now more carefully crafted in the idea that “whether they speak or God speaks it is the same.”  This is another misapplication that you can find others have commented on.  Here is an excellent article on this topic.

What if we apply the church’s own standard to today?

Perhaps we should appeal to today’s leadership that they have no right to overturn “established doctrines” of the past.  Aren’t doctrines supposed to be eternal?  Immutable?  Brigham Young taught that it was our priesthood duty to kill a man of African descent on the spot who courts a white woman or to kill an apostate (see wikipedia Blood Atonement).   It could be argued that the leaders have already spoken on these issues.  “When they give direction” as Brigham did, it should be our duty as members to disobey any current teaching opposing Brigham Young.  The prophet spoke and the debate is over!  Right?

Wrong.  But, of course the issue has been clouded with more erroneous logic about “living oracles” and “living prophets” being more important than dead ones.  Forget that all the while we are taught that none of them can lead us astray, the Lord won’t allow it (See Elder Ballard’s talk this last conference).

With all due respect, if the prophets and apostles “can’t lead the church astray” why does the church now “condemn” Brigham Young and all other prophets for what it now declares to be false doctrine?  How does condemning Brigham Young and correcting other prophets’ teachings of doctrines prove the Lord’s leaders can’t lead people astray?  Hundreds of other examples of prophets and leaders contradicting one another could be mentioned here.  President McKay and Apostle Mark E. Petersen found what they thought to be 1700 doctrinal errors in fellow PSR Bruce R. McKonkie’s Mormon Doctrine.

Mormon Doctrine

All the best examples of how we can or should stand up for truth are in the scriptures.  The example of Lehi teaching against church leaders (“the Jews”).  The examples of Isaiah and Ezekiel.  The examples of John the Baptist and Jesus.  We forget sometimes that our own church is an example of someone having gone against his leaders of the day.  Joseph even stood up against his own parents in refusing to be baptized in any of their churches.  To their credit, they respected his agency.  Thankfully they did not exercise unrighteous dominion against their “wayward” son and allowed him to disagree with church leaders and find fault in their teachings.

I love the example of Captain Moroni who, although slightly uninformed, spoke his mind against his leader Pahoran.  This is a good example since it is said of Moroni:

Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men. (Alma 48:17)

And yet in this instance Moroni’s criticisms turned out to be somewhat unfounded.  A leader can make a mistake after all.  If Moroni can, I assume Brigham Young and President Monson can as well.  The majority or all the twelve, I assume, can.  I think it is in the program.  It’s a doctrine that is predicated upon the agency God gives to man, and hence the reason we do not trust in the flesh and ought to speak up for truth at all times and in all places.

Pahoran was no whimp.  He was a powerful man.  He certainly could have made a case against Moroni to his stake presidency for the denigrating language found in Moroni’s blog letter.  But, no, Pahoran responded the way any man of God should:

And now, in your epistle you have censured me, but it mattereth not; I am not angry, but do rejoice in the greatness of your heart. I, Pahoran, do not seek for power, save only to retain my judgment-seat that I may preserve the rights and the liberty of my people. My soul standeth fast in that liberty in the which God hath made us free. (Alma 61:9)

Pahoran did not lecture Moroni about being on the high road to apostasy nor did he misjudge Moroni’s intentions and take personal offense.  And don’t tell me that if Pahoran had been the president of the church, it would have been entirely different.  Men like Moroni and Pahoran don’t vacillate and change their character depending on the situation nor do titles effect their integrity.

Men like them seek not for power, but to pull it down. They seek not for honor of the world, but for the glory of God.  (Alma 60:36)

I believe now more than ever, it is our duty as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to righteously judge between truth and error.  Finding fault with a man’s teaching, no matter who the man is, and offering our criticism is neither contrary to doctrine nor apostate.  In my view, silencing a person through excommunication is exactly what Joseph was trying to warn the leaders of his day not to do when they rose up in power in the church.

If we believe that any human or any set of humans can’t lead us astray, we simply do not read the scriptures.  There is scriptural precedent, despite so many who argue to the contrary.  Do we assume Nephi’s quotations of Isaiah, discussing Ephraim and Manasseh and the Last Days, in the most correct Book on earth, written as a warning to the Gentiles who are under condemnation for not taking it seriously (D&C 84:55), have nothing to do with us or what may happen in the future in the church?

The ancient, he is the head; and the prophet that teacheth lies, he is the tail.  For the leaders of this people cause them to err; and they that are led of them are destroyed.  (2 Nephi 19:15-16)

I pray for our leaders and for the members of our church.  I think I speak for many active and sincere members, who sustain the brethren to righteously live up to their callings, although they may at times disagree with what they say or do.  We criticize because we love and because we care.  Too many good people are now being cast out because they choose to share these concerns.

The church recently excommunicated a woman who merely linked to her husband’s blog,  These were faithful and good members of our church.  I read the blog in question and I find no evil in this man’s heart or in his teachings.  Yet, his family is now cut off.  He and his wife are the parents of 7 children.  Intentionally voting to end their eternal union, simply because his views were seen as overly critical, in my view, is a very tragic representation of why we must speak up for truth and not fear sharing our thoughts.  Lives are at stake.  This practice must stop.

I for one cannot sit back and say nothing.  I wish for such powers to be pulled down.

 

No Poor Among “Them”

Is the church building Zion?

Holland

General Conference, October 2014

The purpose for establishing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was to build the Kingdom of God on Earth and establish latter day Zion.  Faithful members, some of whom cannot always afford it, consecrate tithes and offerings to support this end.  The church is only the “steward” of these sacred funds intended to build Zion, not the “owner” entitled to make use of the funding for other projects or purposes.

To establish Zion we must become of one heart and one mind, dwell in righteousness, and have no poor among us. (Moses 7:18)

But many active and faithful tithing paying members have concerns about what the church has been and is doing with their tithing.  More importantly many are wondering if the church’s expenditures are getting the world any closer to establishing Zion.

For many years the LDS Church has segmented revenues from members into two main categories: tithes and fast offerings.  Tithing today is used to build temples, churches, and other buildings, and in short pays for all the expenses of the church.

Fast offerings today are used to care for the church’s poor and to help humanitarian efforts around the world.  As I understand it, tithing is NOT used to care for the poor inside or out of the church.  I do not know when this practice began and I’m open to any thoughts any of you may have on the subject.

The first mention of tithing in scripture goes back to the Book of Genesis:

And this Melchizedek, having thus established righteousness, was called the king of heaven by his people, or, in other words, the King of peace.  And he lifted up his voice, and he blessed Abram, being the high priest, and the keeper of the storehouse of God; Him whom God had appointed to receive tithes for the poor.  (JST Gen 14:36-39)

It would seem that in this instance Melchizedek used tithes exclusively for the poor.  There is no mention of fast offerings or of any segmentation of funds.  In a cursory search of the scriptures, I find no precedent justifying NOT using tithing for the poor.  I also find no precedent that fast offerings should replace tithing to care for the poor.

In attempting to create Zion, Melchizedek became personally connected with Heaven.  He had become a King of Peace (a type and a shadow of Christ) because he had entered into that Order of the Priesthood discussed in Alma 13.  He was now teaching his people how to repent so they too could connect to Heaven and become Fathers of Righteousness.

Melchizedek’s purpose, and the purpose of whatever organization he may have established, was solely to build Zion.  He was the high priest and the keeper of the storehouse of God, appointed by God himself to receive tithes FOR THE POOR, in order that Zion might be built.  His people thus lived in righteousness, became of one heart and one mind and poverty was eradicated among them.  This is the true pattern to establish Zion.  Is this the pattern the church follows today?

It is estimated the church averages between 5 and 10 billion dollars per year in tithing and “other” revenues.  We can safely assume its fast offering income represents a small fraction of this larger number. The actual number is withheld from the members (and the public).

The church often boasts it has contributed $1.4B to humanitarian efforts since 1985.  This is a large amount of money.  During that same period of time, however, the church has collected an estimated $150B (or more) in total revenues.  In other words, the church has only given about 1% of its total revenues to humanitarian efforts in the last 30 years.  As a side note, I find it interesting that while the church no longer publishes any of its financial information, it does disclose how much it gives to charity.  I find it ironic since the scriptures teach we should not to boast of such things.

But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.  And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. (Matthew 6:3-5)

Some wonder why the church is so focused on buildings, real estate development, farm ownership, and marketing when its true goal should be to build a Zion people?  Are meetinghouses and Temples and TV ads truly that important in this effort?  Could you imagine what could be done if the church used its tremendous tithing fund (instead of just the fast offering fund) to assist the poor in the church and around the world?  What effect might this have in bringing souls unto Christ and to the establishment of Zion?

city creek

Some have also had concerns over worldly advertising campaigns that seem to celebrate immoral and luxurious lifestyles.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church, interestingly, has about 19 million members worldwide.  It builds smaller meetinghouses and focuses its efforts and resources on building thousands of schools and hospitals for the poor.  The Adventists also have one million new members join them annually, compared to an estimated 300,000 total new members each year for the LDS Church.

The Adventist model is much more service focused.  Receiving roughly only $3B in total revenues, the Adventists have built and successfully run more than 7,800 non-profit schools and hundreds of hospitals around the world.  Apparently, focusing on schools, education, and health, especially in third world countries, is much more effective in gaining converts than expensive marketing efforts and other business endeavors.

The church, on the other hand, will spend as much as $3M on a single billboard this year in Times Square.  I’m not sure how many billboards the church leases, but I think it’s quite a few.

Imamormon_TimesSquare

Are expensive ads in New York Times Square helping build Zion?

How much does it cost to start a small school in a third world country?  About $10,000. 

The church could build 300 schools for the cost of one NY Times Square billboard.

I found it interesting that in Elder Holland’s talk this past October Conference he stated he does “not know how it feels to be poor.”  I’m not sure about you, but I think many members do know how it feels.  You don’t have to live in Africa to be broke, to suffer from hunger, to be $250 away from bankruptcy, to lose your home, or to have your only car break down.  Now I know that many will argue the fact Elder Holland does not know what it’s like to be poor is proof that the church’s system of consecration is working— for some; who happen to have spent their entire adult life employed by the LDS Church.

Elder Holland was a seminary and institute teacher and became the president of BYU.  The church likely paid for his Yale degrees.  As a side note, the church’s Perpetual Education Fund is limited to what it will pay per applicant.  In most of the world, an individual is eligible to receive about $1,400 in total funds.  Even in places like Africa, this amount is often not sufficient to get someone the education they need to rise out of poverty.  Additionally the PEF recipient, even before getting a job, must pay back the funds borrowed with interest.

This is apparently not the case with church employees.  A PhD student today at Yale can expect to pay about $65,000 per year.  A PhD can take as long as 5 years.  The church’s investment in Elder Holland would pay off however.  During his time as BYU President he became known as a prolific fundraiser, having raised over 100 million dollars for the University.

But, many worthy members of the church in the U.S. and all around the world do know what it’s like to be poor.  It’s estimated that over 80,000 LDS children suffer from malnutrition or are starving and 900 of those children will die this year from starvation.  That’s equivalent to three entire wards in the church!  The numbers are even more staggering when you begin to calculate the children and grandchildren who are never born because of the unnecessary premature deaths of these neglected LDS kids.  Why does this have to be, while we have those among us who have so much?  Why does the church continue to spend billions of dollars on buildings and condos that sit empty, while many of its own children are homeless, orphaned, and dying of starvation?  Is this what the great high priest and keeper of God’s storehouse would do?

Vatican

Do we have any chapels or temples we could use to help the poor?

I applaud Pope Francis who, going against the tide of popularity, “plans to build showers for the homeless under the sweeping white colonnade of St. Peter’s Square.”  Think of all the wasted showers in our meetinghouses with baptismal fonts that go unused for months and years at a time.  Of course inviting homeless people to shower or to get food in LDS churches would attract riff-raff and so we continue to follow the example of Temple Square that we “should not give to panhandlers” but allow other organizations that the church supports to help these people.

I remember a bishop and stake president training where presiding bishop David Burton bragged, “The church will build more square footage this year than Walmart!”  I found this odd, after all, how many baptisms will Walmart have this year?  How many people will come unto Christ because of Walmart this year?  Again, why is the church so focused on real estate and business comparisons when the goal is to build Zion?  Have we lost our vision?

walmart

Some struggle with the church’s business-like approach

Bishops in the church are very limited, practically speaking, in what they can give to the needy.  I won’t bore you with details of what most of you already likely know.  But, I will say I am surprised the church now teaches that a needy member should exhaust family and government assistance before coming to the church for help.  It used to be that government was the last resort.

We are all too familiar with needy people who leave the bishop’s office dejected because they were turned down for help.  I remember seeing a woman crying in the back of the chapel one Sunday before Sacrament meeting.  I asked her what was wrong.   She told me how humiliated she was because she had just asked the bishop for help with food.  When the bishop found out her troubled 20-year-old daughter lived with her (who had drug problems), he told this hungry elderly woman this was a good opportunity for her daughter to “step up.”  This woman was not highly educated.  She was a convert of 5 years or less in the church.  She had lived a hard life, was nearly crippled in her advanced age and despite her meager income, always paid her tithing.  In her own words, she had never asked “this bishop” or the church for anything.  “This bishop” was a successful doctor from Salt Lake City.

Upon hearing the story, I immediately left the meeting and went to the store and bought all the groceries I could afford and took them to this woman’s completely empty fridge.  I don’t say this to brag.  I say this only to suggest every normal human with a heart would do the same thing.  Yet, the church, which receives up to $10B each year, which could literally eradicate poverty among its own members, chooses often to not even provide the basic needs of an impoverished soul.

And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.  Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.  For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind? (Mosiah 4:16-19)

We were also trained as bishops to never give assistance without making that member do some sort of service in return.  I always ignored this counsel.  I understand we should teach principles of self-reliance and that being idle is not good.  But, I found in my experience that most people were already working hard or were ill in some mental or physical way and asking them to “work for their food” seemed to bring more shame than benefit.

In April of 2011, Bishop Burton speaking of the establishment of the church’s welfare program said, “The commitment of church leaders to relieve human suffering was as certain as it was irrevocable.  President Grant wanted ‘a system that would… reach out and take care of the people no matter what the cost.’  He said he would even go so far as to ‘close seminaries, shut down missionary work for a period of time, or even close temples, but they would not let the people go hungry.”

Perhaps the church would do well today to follow President Grant’s counsel still.

I have met local stake presidents who work for the church in the third world.  They are the lucky ones.  Yet, the church does not believe in paying someone more than the local equivalent wage.  They have a term for this I cannot recall at the moment.  One stake president earned $900/month running the church’s unemployment center.  Even though he was paid quite a bit more than the average poor laborer in his country, his salary from the church only allowed his small young family to live in a one-room shack that most of us wouldn’t want to even store an old car in.  They had no car of their own.  No running water in their house.  Mold everywhere due to the climate.  No kitchen, no stove.  No shower.  They shared a hole in the ground for a toilet with other families in the neighborhood.

Now I know some of you reading may think my comments do not reflect all the good the church is doing around the world.  And that the church does more than most churches to relieve human suffering.  In part, I agree.  The church does a tremendous amount to help devastated people around the world.  I also recognize that not everything is accounted for in the $1.4B donated over the last 30 years. In addition, LDS volunteers give countless hours, sewing quilts, sending care packages, serving missions, etc.

But, our church has been charged to build Zion.  Are the leaders of the church doing their part?  Imagine what the church could do for the poor with even half the tithing money we generate each year.  Do we really need so many buildings?  Why not rent a schoolhouse or meet in homes?  Some of the homes in my neighborhood are empty and even bigger than our local meetinghouse.  Some of those homes belong to families on missions or serving as General Authorities.  Do our church buildings really increase our membership that much?  Or are we robbing the poor because of our fine sanctuaries? (2 Nephi 28:13)

I’ll never forget the sister who came into the bishop’s office while I was serving in that position.  Her furnace had broken down and was beyond repair.  She was recently divorced and was working as hard as she could.  Her husband, a “respected man in the stake” had cheated on her for the second time.  Her daughter just had a baby out of wedlock.  She was a faithful member of the church, but was embarrassed to come to ask for help.  As I sat there and listened to her story, my mind could not help but recall the advice from previous welfare training:  “Make sure she is paying her tithing.  Make sure she has gone to her family first.  Has she applied for state assistance?  Is she keeping the Word of Wisdom?  Will she be willing to clean the church each week or work in the storehouse?  Or provide service to someone else in the ward?  Will she be willing to take a Dave Ramsey course?  (I wish I was joking about this one.)”

I told this sister to not worry about the furnace and to have the contractor who gave her the bid she was most comfortable with to give me a call.  She broke down to tears.  “But, it may cost $3,000 to replace,” she said while now sobbing.  “That’s okay.”  I responded.  “The church has the money.”  I knew I was breaking the rules and would have to make two payments to avoid the necessary stake approval, but it felt so right.

Again, I do not provide this example to pat my anonymous self on the back.  I respectfully petition the church to reconsider how it spends the tithes of the church.  As a member who pays tithing, I also request to see an accounting of how our money is being spent.  The only reason to not share such things is to avoid scrutiny and criticism, which is also a good thing when it helps correct abuses. The church is perfectly willing to dispense criticism of members believed to be “apostate” or erring morally, doctrinally, or in their families. Why is there no balance through accepting good-faith, believing, donating and supporting members’ concerns. No one is going to gratuitously attack–  the anti-Mormons will always have complaints.  But why should the institution fear its faithful members?  Why hide from them?