Tag Archives: Church leaders

Dialogue

One of the main reasons I started this blog a couple years back was so that I could express my views anonymously and without retribution from the Church.  It was at a time where I was struggling and needed to vent.

As most of you know and as I have documented here numerous times, I have issues with the direction the Church seems to be heading.  Discovering that the wonderful Church of my youth is flawed and is “not true” to some of its founding principles and doctrines has been at times a very painful experience for me. Expressing why I feel that way and getting your feedback has been therapeutic.

I can’t say, however, I’ve had the same open-mindedness from Church leaders or generally from most Church members.  More times than not, even as a bishop, I was told to just be quiet, in some cases, to be more politically correct or sensitive or to repent.

I recall one of my own counselors while I was serving as bishop telling me I needed to be more careful about the things I said and felt.  I later found out that he reported me to my file leader for some things I had shared with a friend.

I have always disliked this idea of holding back what we’re really thinking.  Now, I understand that care must be taken to share or not share certain things in the presence of children or with those who may not be ready or wanting to contemplate certain ideas, but my experience in the Church is that we simply cannot talk about anything that may be viewed as controversial. Certainly we cannot do so in a civil and loving way.

This has made my Church experience lately even more difficult. I also think it has created a culture in the Church which is antithetical to open dialogue.

And so seeking to more openly vent my thoughts, I began this blog.  Here I wanted to be free to openly share whatever ideas I may be having.  I certainly can’t share my concerns about the Church’s decision to stay with Boy Scouts, an organization I view as broken and apostate, at Church or with many Church leaders or members.  Although I sure tried to as a bishop.  In fact, as bishop, I refused to sign the Scout Charter as Charter Head of the Troop and I refused to do Friends of Scouting.  This did not go over well with some, and with the wrong stake president, my tenure as bishop would have surely been shortened.

Now, having mentioned that, I was careful how I said what I said to the ward generally.  But, I was also very honest when I felt I could be.  I did not impose my ideas on others, however. As bishop I could have simply not called a scoutmaster or could have put someone in who hated scouts.  But because I knew Scouting was important to many of our ward members, we called the best person for the job and I supported ward members in their desire to have this program, despite the fact that I was opposed to it.

Other topics are taboo at Church as well.  Take the Word of Wisdom for example.  We had three or more adults addicted to opioids while I was bishop.  These were prominent people in the community and they were (likely still are) completely hooked on this awful drug.  BUT, as LDS people, especially in Utah, we don’t like to talk about our addictions.  And so a bishop who may wish to address such issues is likely to offend people in the ward.  And you certainly can’t tell the ward that you favor medical marijuana over opium use, as the Church has made it very clear that Utah will not allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for their patients experiencing chronic pain.  If not careful, you will be viewed as out of line with the Brethren on an issue.  So the unfortunate reality is silence or consequences from leadership.

And yet, many Mormons are so imbalanced when it comes to the Word of Wisdom.  The “world” drinks coffee, Mormons drink Coke and Red Bull and Monster.  Which is worse?  The world drinks alcohol, Mormons take anti-depressants or eat excessively.  (I recognize that non Mormons do this too, but Utah is the capital of anti-depressant use in the world).  The world watches rated R movies, while many Mormons struggle with pornography.  The list of moral and physical issues goes on and on.

As a bishop, from time to time, I suggested a person or two try to get off their meds (which they told me they and their doctors wanted them to) and to do as their LDS doctor was prescribing–to drink a cup of coffee in the morning to help them feel energy and to get out of bed.  In one instance a poor sister all but screamed at me and began to quote things about how blessed she was for “never” having broken the Word of Wisdom.  Not even once.  “Hidden treasures and running without being weary” etc.  Yet, this poor woman was so frail and unhealthy.  I did not perceive great wisdom in her, but rather great sadness and darkness.  Someone so obsessed with the letter of the law that she would rather die than consider to reason.  Mormons are not open minded in general about such things and we surely can’t talk about them.

Why?  Because we have a culture of not really “talking” to each other.

Well, it would be my preference–to be able to talk about most things in Church (that are appropriate for that setting) and most things with Mormon associates IN A WAY that is healthy. Healthy dialogue.

Most of you know that I have a sense of humor that often gets the best of me.  I post pictures that are at times a little shocking and I bring up controversial topics and share my ideas.  While doing so, I make an honest effort to use reason and logic, but I am quick to confess that my ideas are not always valid.  I admit that I do a little name calling when referring to certain people.  I shouldn’t call Elder McConkie “Bruce Almighty” for example.  It’s not nice.  But, I don’t do so angrily.  I don’t hate Elder McConkie. In fact he was one of my favorite leaders as a young man.  I would certainly show respect to him if I was having a conversation with him or was in a Church setting.  I employ such titles to be funny, because I despise the unearned and undue reverence we give to the Brethren.  Heck, if my name was Bruce (and it might be 😉 – and you called me Bruce Almighty, I would think it was funny, especially if I knew you loved me.

I wish I was more like some of you.  I love it when someone replies to my posts with a thoughtful counter argument.  Some of you do that so well.  So much better than I do.  Whether you know it or not, you persuade me.  If nothing else, you persuade me to be more like you in your approach.  More loving, more kind, more intelligent.

Most of you know that I lean conservative / libertarian.  But I have plenty of friends and people who I love who are more liberal in their ideas.  It’s true we don’t see eye to eye on some things, but we respect each other.  We may even tease each other.  But we love each other and try to persuade each other. I love it when these friends of mine are persuaded by some of my ideas and when I am able to perhaps better understand where they’re coming from.

This is what I love about this blogging experience.  I feel comfortable bringing up a topic and I love to see the healthy dialogue back and forth.  I’m disheartened, however, when someone says something like “Well, AB I thought you were awesome, but after this post, I just wanted to tell you, you’ve lost a reader.”  I don’t mind that you won’t read anymore.  I don’t mind that you disagree with me.  I admit that I’m a nobody just sharing his ideas.  BUT, I wish you would try to persuade me.  I wish you would share why you think I’m wrong so that I can learn from you.  I don’t intend to offend, but you simply prove my point that as Mormons, we can’t discuss anything when you throw in the towel so easily.

I personally don’t like to argue.  I took a harsher than normal tone with a commenter the other day who I felt was just mocking.  I feel badly and I apologize to that sister.  I’d love to hear her thoughts on why she believes allowing girls into Boy Scouts is a good idea.  I’d love to hear her reasons for why the Church should or shouldn’t support such an idea.  But, to simply laugh at my ideas or to threaten to never come back, robs us all of the opportunity to engage in healthy discussions, that I for one, don’t think exist at Church very often, if ever.

With that, I extend to all of you, my hand of friendship.  I know we think differently.  I know we are each just trying to figure things out in life.  I support you and love you.  Even though I don’t know many of you.  I thank you for being here and for supporting me as I vent and share.  God is good and Christ is our Savior.  I am pretty sure that most everyone here will agree with that.

Peace to you all,

AB

The Profit

I’ve mentioned before that I have two deal breaking issues with the Church.

  1. Do the Brethren see the Lord or not?
  2. And are they or are they not a part of the lay ministry we boast about?

A recent comment on this blog sums up my concern better than I can on the issue of the Brethren’s “special witness.”  In part he says:

“I would call the current situation one of ‘deception by omission,’ because the top officers must know that many members believe that divine visitations are common among the higher ranks. The leaders allow this perception to exist and be perpetuated without challenge. Growing up in the church, I was taught by low and mid-level teachers and officers that the first presidency and the apostles know Christ personally, and that divine appearances in the temple are not uncommon.”

This idea of deception by omission, when I first considered it years ago and contemplated its implications, became a turning point for me.  That was when the wheels started to fall off my paradigm.

Up until that point, not only did I believe that their witness was literal, but I also believed that they had achieved their witness by possessing strong faith and by having a firm mind in every form of godliness (Moroni 7:30).  Which as you know is the pre-requisite for seeing Angels.  To see the Lord, the Brethren must practically be Angels…  So I thought.

But instead I began to feel mislead.  I began to see this issue as an honesty issue.  What kind of person would lie or mislead someone about something so sacred!?  That idea began to stir in me and caused me tremendous grief.

I became curious about the idea of a lay ministry. Having served as a bishop and in bishoprics and on high councils, I knew first hand that we were not paid.  Not at the local level.  But as a bishop I began to notice some very strange things about the way certain people in my ward paid tithing.  I noticed that General Authorities didn’t pay tithing through the ward at all. For that matter, they didn’t come to me or my counselors for their temple recommends either.  Not seeing their tithing, I had no idea whether they were paid by the Church or not.

It wasn’t until I came across the leaked Mission Presidents Handbook that my suspicions on their “non-layness” were confirmed.  Interestingly at about the same time I discovered this Handbook, I asked a member of my ward, who I had recommended to serve as a mission president, and who had just received his call, IF this was all true.  My friend turned beet red and began to stutter.  He eventually said, “I’ve sworn to secrecy that I will not discuss this.”

Well, that confirmed it.  I had to then assume that the Brethren above Mission Presidents were also paid.  But how much?

Admittedly, I assumed that some of the Brethren had to be paid something.  I did not begrudge them some kind of housing, food, and travel assistance.  I eased my mind by considering that they likely lived the Law of Consecration — a rumor I had heard many times.  It made a lot of sense to me too.  After all, if they were meeting with Jesus every Thursday, why would they not be living a higher law?  Even if only among themselves.

I envisioned that men like Gary Stevenson would come into the Quorum of the Seventy and would give all they had to the Church.  And that anyone among the Seventy or the Twelve that needed some minimal assistance would be able to receive it from the consecrated funds.  Someone like Thomas Monson after all would not likely have a valuable pension or social security benefit when he became an apostle at the age of 36.

So to receive “assistance” to live a modest life was never an idea that bothered me.

But then I began to hear rumors that the Brethren were paid exorbitant amounts of money.  Like, millions of dollars — Signing bonuses, huge salaries, pay increases for advancement and seniority, black credit cards…

These rumors alarmed me and made me want to know whether I had accidentally lied to all the people I’ve ever told, while holding up a picture of the leaders of the Church, that we were different (better) than all the other churches because “No one in our Church was paid to do anything.  It’s a completely lay ministry.”

Back to this idea of “deception by omission” — I was concerned enough as it was about possibly being wrong about the Brethren’s benefits, but now I was confronted with the idea that they let me, in fact, they encouraged me to mislead people by never correcting the record.

Well, in the last few years I’ve been able to confirm a few more details on what our Church leaders make, which has now been corroborated with the most recent news. 

Here is my opinion today what they do and don’t make and what benefits I believe they have:

  • No signing bonuses
  • No mortgage or debt pay offs
  • No unlimited Black Amex benefits
  • No pay increase or pay disparity among the Brethren.  Once a 70 or higher, they receive the same “living allowance.”
  • “Living allowance” is $120,000 per year.
  • Great health benefits.
  • Free tuition at BYU or tuition paid at any university for children under age 26 up to the equivalent value of BYU’s tuition cost.
  • Great life insurance so their family is taken care of when they die.
  • Car allowances.
  • House allowances.
  • All travel, and lodging, food and entertainment while traveling are paid for.  This includes First Class airfare.

I’m also left to assume that there is some tax benefit to calling it a living allowance from a 501c3.  This is hinted at in the Mission President’s Handbook by the direction given to NOT report these benefits to tax advisors or on a tax return.

Now the argument I hear even from some is that most of these good men were wealthy before their callings and that full time Church service was not only a sacrifice in every way, but also represented a huge pay cut.

This argument is spelled out by Salt Lake Tribune columnist Robert Kirby entitled Wait’ll You See How Much the Mormon Church Pays Me.

I find Kirby’s piece humorous, but I think his overall point is to downplay the amounts the Brethren are paid as kind of a “Well, that’s nowhere near enough money for me” and so no one should have a problem with it.  He says:

Now that we seem to know what LDS leaders are paid, it’s still OK with me. I say this because I wouldn’t do it for that much. Not even close.

If you were to pay me for wearing a necktie even to bed, while simultaneously trying to keep people on the straight and narrow without a machine gun, it would have to be at least seven figures, each and every one of them a nine.

I earn a lot less than that as a newspaper columnist. How much? Well, it’s none of your *&#@% business, is it? I do what I do for what I make because it’s an acceptable bargain between myself and a tough editor.

Sadly, I think we Mormons are conditioned to say the kinds of things Kirby says.  I actually happen to know thousands of people who WOULD do what these men do and they would do it for FREE!  They would do it for the glory, prestige, power, and/or for the value of service.  In fact many elderly couples do do this sort of thing for free, without any glory, all the time.  The Church sells it to them as a wonderful opportunity to live in Africa for the low low price of only $1400 per month.

Stake presidents and bishops, many or whom work 40-60 hours per week already and then have added to them 20-30 hours of church service, do it for free already Mr. Kirby.

This argument that these men do something special and that they took a pay cut for, frankly, ticks me off.  They should want to do it for free.  Since when do we need to justify that Apostles of the Lord should be paid large salaries?  Most of them are called when they already have pensions and retirements and social security in place.  So why are we talking about pay cuts? Do we really want to believe that President Monson, who is paid the equivalent of $240,000 or more a year, WOULD BE MAKING MORE IN THE PRIVATE SECTOR?  AT AGE 89?  I’m sorry but anyone willing to pay Thomas Monson in his current mental state and at his age $240k a year is a complete moron.  The argument is disingenuous at best, especially given that we boldly declare that these men are not paid anything.

A great blog post was recently written on this topic.  I highly recommend it.  In it the author covers the history of minister salaries in the latter-day Church.  But, for me the biggest issue is that we all are taught and are encouraged to teach that there is no paid ministry — the Brethren know we teach this — and NO ONE CORRECTS the record.  This is a dishonest omission of facts.

Simultaneously Senator Gordon Smith argues in the executive committees of the 12 that the other Christian religions participate in the dangerous practice of priestcraft, all while we are apparently innocent of such abhorrent practices.  Why did the Brethren not correct the record with Senator Smith, in that private setting?

I’m sorry my friends, but $120,000 per year in “living allowance” plus all the other great benefits adding up to at least $240,000 per year is a far cry from a lay ministry.  I wish the Church would at least be honest about it instead of misleading everyone.

For Alma it was far more cut and dry:

And notwithstanding the many labors which I have performed in the church, I have never received so much as even one senine for my labor; neither has any of my brethren, save it were in the judgment-seat; and then we have received only according to law for our time (Alma 30:33).

Our church leaders have taken millions of senines and yet some of them still profit from their personal enterprises as well. Doesn’t sound like much of a sacrifice to me.  It’s certainly not what we preach it to be:  A Lay Ministry.  In fact, I wonder if LDS Church leaders actually make more than other various religious leaders around the world.  Either way, the leaders of the Church should come clean and set the record straight on the issue and allow Church members to decide for themselves if the money we pay them is appropriate or not.

Too Sacred

touch-his-side

In following Mormon tradition that “some things are too sacred to share,” perhaps we should remove from our canon and our speech all references to any man or woman beholding the resurrected Lord.  We should eliminate Mary’s testimony from the Garden Tomb.  It’s simply too sacred.  We should take out the experience of the Road to Emmaus of Cleopas and the unnamed disciple who walked with Him for nearly the whole day where they were taught by their Lord in a way that caused their bosoms to burn within them.  As Donald Trump would say, “Take ’em out.”  Sacred speech is kind of like hate speech after all because it makes people feel uncomfortable.  The story of Stephen as he’s being stoned, seeing the Risen Lord even on the very right hand of God.  Saul, meeting the Lord on his way to Damascus.  Peter and the Twelve eating with the Lord, who entered the room by walking through a wall.  Thomas bowing to kiss His feet and touch His hands after doubting His resurrection.

Then of course there’s the Book of Mormon.  Lehi seeing our Father on His Throne.  Nephi being taken to a very high mountain by our Lord and becoming a witness to all of His Creation.  Jacob who saw Him face to face.  Enos, who prayed all day and all night until the Lord called Him Blessed and forgave him of his sins.  Alma, Benjamin, Mosiah, Alma the Younger, Ammon, Amulek, Omner, Himni, King Lamoni and his father, and their wives and their households, ALL of whom beheld Him and were taught by Angels and who were redeemed by our Lord.  Mormon, Ether, Mohonri, Moroni and many many more.  All too sacred.

There is a new and more appropriate, sophisticated way of sharing such experiences:

“There are things simply too sacred to share, but I AM a special witness of Jesus Christ.  An apostle.  A seer.  A revelator.  I  KNOW He lives.”  “As if I had been there…”  “I would know Him no more then, than I do now…”

This way, nothing sacred is cast before swine and even better, because you do not provide detail — those listening are able to imagine wonderful and special things in their minds that remain as vague as our doctrines and as boring as our meetings have become.

A Temple

There’s been a lot of discussion of late regarding a new temple fund that both members and non-members are donating to.  Before the LDS Church established tithing as the mechanism to pay for temples, “temple funds” were very common.

In the early days of the Church and according to Malachi, tithing was for the purpose of bringing “meat into the storehouse” so as to care for the poor.  Whereas a temple fund was for the purpose of building “a” temple.  Once that temple was completed (i.e. Kirtland), the temple fund was no longer needed.

Of course today, the Church has decided to bring the temples to the people.  This is a subject for a different day, but suffice it to say that this idea does not seem to reconcile with scripture nor with anything Joseph Smith taught.  There is no prophecy I know of that says temples will dot the earth, from Joseph, Jesus, or in the Holy Scriptures.  The prophecy as I understand it, is to build temples in two places, New and Old Jerusalem.

Understandably there are many who are worried that some random group starting a temple fund seems premature at best and inappropriate (and/or crazy) at worst.  After all, “we don’t have the authority to build a temple or to create Zion, that’s the Church’s stewardship”… right?

I can certainly relate to those who have concerns about this project.

On one hand, it’s amazing to think that at some point if we’re lucky enough in our lifetime, a new temple will be built in the New Jerusalem on this the American continent.  And a city will be built up to the Most High God called Zion.  Like many of you, I’ve yearned for this day and have prayed many times that me and many others would be so lucky to live to see it.

On the other hand, what if this is all a hoax and people are being led astray?

Like many of you, for most of my life I’ve assumed the Church would build both temples in New and Old Jerusalem and would establish Zion.

I used to ask Hugh Nibley (whose ward I belonged to for a brief period) questions about this very topic.  I had just read his book Approaching Zion.  “What event will cause the Church to move its headquarters to Independence?”  I would ask.  “Does the Heber C. Kimball prophecy of ‘not even an old yellow dog being left to wag its tail’ need to be fulfilled first?”  “Will an earthquake hit Salt Lake City, thus cleansing the inner vessel, and cause the Church to go back to Missouri?”

Brother Nibley was always cordial about my questions but would usually quickly act as though he had other things to do.

My questions and ideas are very different today however.

I do not seek to offend anyone reading this, but I don’t see the Church as currently being capable of building Zion.  Nor do I see Zion being in Independence, Missouri.  And sadly, I don’t believe that a prophet, like an Isaiah, or a John the Baptist, or Joseph Smith can rise up in leadership in the Church today.

And so how will it work?  How will it all happen?  How will Zion come to pass and how will a city and temple be built?  To be completely honest, I’m not sure.  What will the forerunner of the Messiah’s second coming look like?  What will he say and do?  How many will believe that messenger or those servants that are sent?

I’m generally a skeptic.  Like many of you, I’ve been disappointed by men many times before.  But if a group of people seek to raise funds to build what they believe will be the Temple of the New Jerusalem, why should I want to stop them?  Or want to see them fail?

I’d rather be foolishly trying to support Zion than to accidentally fight against it.

Let’s say for example that the people involved in this project raise $5M and end up running off with the money.  Or build some strange building that looks like a compound in Waco, Texas.  For me, that would be a great way to see if the Lord is truly in this effort or not.  I’m assuming the Church has wasted our money in the past.  Why would this be any worse?  If this is from God, we will know soon enough (Acts 5:38).

Some of you may be especially sensitive to the concept of church waste since just this last week we discovered that the Church leaders are paid very healthy salaries.  At least $120,000 each, putting our “lay ministers” in the top 10% income bracket in the U.S.  Add amazing health insurance and life insurance and pensions and social security benefits and reimbursed travel and food and education for their families and book royalties to this package and these “lay ministers” cost us tithe-payers (directly or indirectly – it’s all the same source of money) more than $5 million a year that’s for sure.  The saddest part about this is that most of us have been led to believe or have been told that our church leaders are not paid anything.  See Thomas Monson website as one example.

So for me, giving to this effort seems to be a no-brainer, especially given that it can be done anonymously.  I’d certainly consider giving money to a homeless person to build a house.  Or to any sincere group of people trying to raise money to build a synagogue or a church building or Masonic Lodge or a food pantry.  No one here is being asked to sacrifice their china, sell their home or their cars.  No one is being asked to make a sacrifice that hurts or to even donate at all.

So why not?  Why not give to this effort and see what happens?  What would be the worst thing that could come from it?

I love the quote from Joseph Smith who said “It is better to feed ten impostors than to run the risk of turning away one honest petition.”  I’d rather give in this case than not, just in case this is the Lord’s project.

In fact, it would be a great strategy for the Church to fund this project.  It would be the quickest way to see if this movement is from God or not.  The Church donates money to other organizations all the time — to Catholic Charities, the Red Cross, to rodeos, businesses, posh theaters, and to the BSA etc., all of whom by the way, have motives not always aligned with our own, or with the church’s vision of building Zion.

So why not give?  What do we have to lose?

If 100,000 people all give $100 to this effort, they’d raise $10,000,000, which I’d think would be enough to buy some land and build a temple.  Would you pay $100 to find out if this effort will lead to Zion?  I would.

And blessed are they who shall seek to bring forth my Zion at that day, for they shall have the gift and the power of the Holy Ghost; and if they endure unto the end they shall be lifted up at the last day, and shall be saved in the everlasting kingdom of the Lamb; and whoso shall publish peace, yea, tidings of great joy, how beautiful upon the mountains shall they be.  1 Nephi 13:37

A Few Thoughts On Conference and Prophets

monson

I was able to watch or read most of Conference this past week.  I listened carefully hoping to be inspired by messages delivered by those we call prophets, seers, and revelators.

I thought some of the talks were okay.  It seemed as though there was an added emphasis on the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith which for me is always a good thing.

Below are a few observations of things from Conference that did not overly inspire me.

  • Elder Ballard’s reference yet again to the Same Ol’ Ship Zion.  (He just seems to really cling to themes, i.e. Counseling With Your Counsels, Raising the Bar, and now Same Ol’ Ship.)
  • Elder Ballard promised “In the name of the Lord, that the God would never abandon His Church.”  Some may argue that this was a “powerful and bold witness” from a prophet, who needs to do nothing but speak the scripture that comes to him.  But some of us are left wondering then why the Savior would quote Isaiah and other prophets in making such proclamations.  Or why the D&C would say that if the Nauvoo Temple was not completed the Lord would reject us as a church, if in fact such a thing was impossible.  Brigham Young also made some pretty bold statements (most of which I don’t agree with btw) about the Lord rejecting the church and the priesthood for things we have now allowed, i.e. ending polygamy and giving priesthood to all worthy males.  Where are we promised that this church or any church can never fall?  In the Book of Mormon?  Just the opposite.  In the D&C?  Nope.  Maybe His Kingdom, which has never been of this world will never fall.  But not a church, even the very one Jesus restored.  Otherwise God would cease to be God for He would take away the agency of man.
  • I dislike it when the brethren endlessly quote each other.  Although I noticed that no one quoted the living prophet when discussing the Book of Mormon.  Instead a couple of different GA’s quoted Ezra Taft Benson, a dead prophet, likely because the living prophet has said very little of the Book of Mormon in his tenure.  But why does Elder Ashton need to quote Elder Christofferson for the most mundane of ideas?  For example: “this ‘power of godliness’ comes in the person and by the influence of the Holy Ghost.”  Why not quote Moroni?  Or the Savior?  It feels so unnecessary, idolatrous, and patronizing.  Jesus quoting Isaiah regarding the fulfillment of ancient prophecy shows much more humility and is very different than men quoting their colleagues higher in rank than themselves.
  • I did not like the part from Sister Reeve’s talk where she referenced a sister missionary from her and her husband’s mission who thought she could “circumvent the repentance process” and try her hardest to serve a valiant mission and then confess her sins a few days before leaving the mission field.  She said her confession “lacked Godly sorrow.”  First of all, why would the mission president’s wife know anything about a missionary’s confession given to her priesthood leader?  Is that information NOT meant to be kept confidential?  Secondly, how do you think this poor sister feels hearing this talk?  Is that how you help someone who is struggling?  Kick to the face.  How many missionaries just never confess their sins?  Especially since Elder Ballard raised the bar?  I can promise you that many missionaries lie to get out, lie to stay in and lie when they get married in the temple.  What if this sweet sister had confessed her sins to the Lord?  I assume she pleaded day and night with Him!  Dedicating her service to Him!  And what does she get when she confesses?  A mission president who breaks her confidence and blabbers her “lack of Godly sorrow” to his gossiping wife.  What if God actually does forgive sin without the need to confess to some dishonest priesthood holder and his wife?  I vote that the church edit her talk and fire the guy from the Correlation Department who was responsible for approving it.
  • Elder Christoffersen suggesting that God’s love is not unconditional.  What kind of message does that send?
  • Elder Holland’s talk calling out the home teachers who left when they saw the family was “busy.”  Why lead with a bad example of someone else, who is hopefully listening to your talk?  Isn’t that a little ruthless and unkind?  I prefer hearing someone tell of their own failure to prove their point.  While I was moved by his second story of the man who lost his child tragically, I did not love that Elder Holland made his talk about home teaching.  Why not just talk about loving our neighbor, period.  Did the Savior turn his parable of the Good Samaritan into a talk about home teaching or some other church program?  No, his talk, funny enough, was about how the non-member (the loathsome Samaritan) stopped when the two leaders from the Church (Priest = bishop, Levite = temple worker) did not.  They were apparently running late for home teaching or to their temple shift.  Maybe the real message from our Savior is to have compassion on ALL of God’s children and to make time to do what we can to help people especially in distress, WHO WE ARE NOT ASSIGNED TO, who we happen upon along our way.

I just have to add that the format and tradition of Conference is not one that I like.  Talks read from teleprompters practiced and rehearsed countless times, delivered by those whose hairs and clothing and makeup are all in perfect order.  The format seems to make people nervous.  One poor brother looked like he might die, seemingly paralyzed by complete stage fright.

frozen-ga

And yet, these men and women travel the world giving speeches and hopefully interesting messages to members everywhere.  But in Conference, I believe because of the rigid format they are required to follow, many of them freeze up and become boringly robotic.

I suppose the inspiration behind reading talks from a teleprompter, approved by Church curriculum is to make sure no one deviates from Church doctrine or says anything controversial that has to be changed and apologized for after the fact.  Of course some will also argue that General Authority talks are scripture and must be read as to not deviate from the revelation they have received and recorded.

Either way, I find the format stifling.  At least in the olden days when someone like Apostle Matthew Cowley would speak, no one was sure what interesting ideas might be shared.  He’s the one who was told as a new General Authority to never prepare a talk.  His talks often included firsthand accounts of incredible miracles he witnessed over his lifetime, especially with the Maori people in the many years he served in the South Pacific.

This idea of not writing and reading a talk seems to better conform to the commandment from the Savior to His disciples:

Neither take ye thought beforehand what ye shall say; but treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man.  (D&C 84:85)

But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost.  (Mark 13:11)

Joseph Smith as far as I know, did not prepare 20 minute long talks that he read word for word.  Joseph, like most prophets in scripture, spoke for hours at a time, with some notes I assume, but with an emphasis on the words given from the Holy Ghost in the very hour.  When Joseph spoke, even if at a funeral, he was expounding doctrine, and saying interesting and insightful things that challenged and inspired the saints, without any teleprompter or script.  I can’t imagine those talks were boring.  They certainly aren’t as I read and study them 190 years later.

Is anyone else not bored with the format of today’s Conferences?  I challenge you to be honest, at least with yourself.  I’m concerned we have created a culture of such fear of men that we are not honest with how we truly feel.  Don’t get me wrong, the messages are “nice” enough at times, but I ask in all sincerity, where is the power?  Where is the prophecy?  Where is the excitement?  We are living in the Last Days!  Where is the urgency to repent?  To prepare?  To be sanctified?  To be endowed with Priesthood power so as to survive the Burning that will come?

Do we as Latter-day Saints take the Savior’s charge to judge the fruits of those who call themselves prophets?  Honestly, do we?  Or are we too lulled and complacent to do so?  Too fearful that doing so puts us on the highroad of apostasy?

Below are some very interesting excerpts from Hugh Nibley from his The World and the Prophets.  As you read, I invite you to ask yourself if today’s LDS prophets pass the test of what a prophet will teach and if they are generally received by the world and the church as were true prophets of old.


In the dealings of men with each other, any assumption of infallibility or even superiority is sheer arrogance; we mortals are highly fallible.  For that very reason, Peter insists, it is all-important to prove that a prophet is a true prophet and not one of the swarming impostors.  We must, he says, “before all things try the faith of the prophet by every possible test.”  A prophet is no ordinary person; he makes no ordinary claim; and he does not ask people to believe him, but to test him.  God is no authoritarian: He asks no one to believe; but invites the world as the prophets do, “Prove me herewith.”

When the Lord was upon his earthly mission, he greatly angered and upset men by forcing them to decide whether he was a true prophet or not.  Early in his mission he was met by certain devils who begged him to leave them alone: “They cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God?  Art thou come hither to torment us before the time?”  The devils could not ignore him; his mere presence was a “torment” to them.  And it was the same with men, for when the people of a nearby town heard what had happened, “behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus: and when they saw him, they besought him that he would depart out of their coasts” (Matthew 8:29).  Apparently his presence made men uncomfortable as it did the devils, for while the Lord was in their midst, they could not be neutral regarding him.  Only after he had left the earth could Christians have an “open mind” regarding Christ’s mission.  Of such people he said through his prophet John, “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:16).  The Lord insists that we make up our minds one way or another regarding his calling.

Before considering the test of a true prophet, we must make clear the fact that a prophet is a witness, not a reformer.  Criticism of the world is always implicit in a prophet’s message of repentance, but he is not sent for the purpose of criticizing the world.  Men know the world is wicked, and the wickedest ones often know it best.  To denounce human folly has been the avocation of teachers and philosophers in every age, and their reward, surprisingly enough, has not been death but usually a rather handsome fee.  The age of Christ, like the nineteenth century, was a remarkably tolerant one as far as ideas were concerned.  On the one hand we find quacks, impostors, and miracle mongers flourishing throughout the Roman empire; and on the other, traveling philosophers and high-powered professors indulging in the most unsparing and outspoken criticism of all established institutions, sacred and profane, while the world applauded.  It was not the Sermon on the Mount that drove men to crucify the Lord.  It was not for their moral tirades that the prophets of old and the Apostles were stoned.  In the age of Apollonius and Dio Chrysostom people liked nothing better than to sit in fashionable congregations while being scolded by picturesque crackpots.  No Christian writer ever made such devastating attacks on prevailing manners as the pagan satirists did; no Christian apologist ever debunked heathen religion as effectively as Cicero did—with perfect safety….

What, then, did Christ and the Apostles do and say that drove men into paroxysms of rage?  They performed tangible miracles such as could not be denied, and they reported what they had seen and heard.  That was all.  It was as witnesses endowed with power from on high that they earned the hatred of the world, of which John speaks so much: “We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness” (John 3:11).

…To come down to modern times, why were people so furiously angry with Joseph Smith?  It was not for being a reformer or rebuking a naughty world.  In his day, the most popular preacher was the one who could denounce the manners of the times most fiercely and paint the most lurid picture of the wrath to come.  Nobody led militant campaigns against even the most rabid preachers of hell-fire or swore to drink their blood.  We have said that the world in which Jesus lived was full of quacks and and impostors who carried on unmolested.  So in the time of Joseph Smith, the country was full of strange separatist cults as the Mormons were falsely accused of, but no one thought it virtuous to burn their settlements or shoot them on sight.  In what did the modern prophets’ deadly offense consist?  In the summer of 1833 a much-publicized mass meeting was held in Missouri to protest the admission of Mormon immigrants into Jackson County, and this was the official objection: “The committee express fears that … they will soon have all the offices in the county in their hands; and that the lives and property of other citizens would be insecure, under the administration of men who are so ignorant and superstitious as to believe that they have been the subjects of miraculous and supernatural cures; hold converse with God and his angels, and possess and exercise the gifts of divination and unknown tongues.”

… Before we even consider the question of whether Joseph Smith was a true prophet or not, the uniqueness of his position deserves respectful attention.  Because, true or false, he was the first man since the days of the Apostles to claim the things that real prophets claim.  The modern prophets who excited the laughter and contempt of the world exactly as the ancient prophets shocked and amused the friends of Justin were the first men since ancient times to talk of what they had seen and heard in the presence of God and angels.  What could they expect but a prophet’s reward?


And so I ask you, as nice as Conference may have been, did any of those we call prophets speak with power and authority?  Did they speak of their visions or revelations from Angels or from God?  Did they speak in tongues or share their own prophesies?  Did they reach out to the throngs of people who stand when they enter and stand and wait when they depart, to heal the sick and afflicted?

I don’t ask these questions to be gratuitously critical.  I ask these questions because we are commanded by the Lord to prove and test those who call themselves prophets and who speak in His name.

I think it’s fair to say that today’s messages are much less hell-fire and damnation as perhaps they once were, as that has become perhaps politically incorrect or seen by the world as uneducated and unrefined.  Today’s messages are nice sermons which gently call for reform while encouraging virtues.  One could argue that the Savior did likewise on the Mount.

But, the Savior did not stop there, nor does any true prophet in the recorded history of the world.  They bare solemn and unmistakable witness of seeing Him and knowing Him, testifying to the world that He and His Angels have physically ministered to them.

And they performed open miracles for many if not all to see.  We will be judged on how we judge and discern these things.

Do We Still Believe Anything Joseph Taught?

Joseph_Ask

The Second Comforter

The other Comforter spoken of is a subject of great interest, and perhaps understood by few of this generation. After a person has faith in Christ, repents of his sins, and is baptized for the remission of his sins and receives the Holy Ghost, (by the laying on of hands), which is the first Comforter, then let him continue to humble himself before God, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and living by every word of God, and the Lord will soon say unto him, Son, thou shalt be exalted.

When the Lord has thoroughly proved him, and finds that the man is determined to serve Him at all hazards, then the man will find his calling and his election made sure, then it will be his privilege to receive the other Comforter, which the Lord hath promised the Saints, as is recorded in the testimony of St. John, in the 14th chapter, from the 12th to the 27th verses.

Note the 16, 17, 18, 21, 23 verses: [Quoted.]

Now what is this other Comforter? It is no more nor less than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself; and this is the sum and substance of the whole matter; that when any man obtains this last Comforter, he will have the personage of Jesus Christ to attend him, or appear unto him from time to time, and even He will manifest the Father unto him, and they will take up their abode with him, and the visions of the heavens will be opened unto him, and the Lord will teach him face to face, and he may have a perfect knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God; and this is the state and place the ancient Saints arrived at when they had such glorious visions–Isaiah, Ezekiel, John upon the Isle of Patmos, St. Paul in the three heavens, and all the Saints who held communion with the general assembly and Church of the Firstborn.

Calling and Election

Now, there is some grand secret here, and keys to unlock the subject. Notwithstanding the apostle exhorts them to add to their faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, etc., yet he exhorts them to make their calling and election sure. And though they had heard an audible voice from heaven bearing testimony that Jesus was the Son of God [Mt 17:5], yet he says we have a more sure word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed as unto a light shining in a dark place. Now, wherein could they have a more sure word of prophecy than to hear the voice of God saying, This is my beloved Son?

Now for the secret and grand key. Though they might hear the voice of God and know that Jesus was the Son of God, this would be no evidence that their calling and election was made sure, that they were sealed in the heavens and had the promise of eternal life in the kingdom of God. Then, having this promised sealed unto them, it was an anchor to the soul, sure and steadfast. Though the thunders might roll and lightnings flash, and earthquakes bellow, and war gather thick around, yet this hope and knowledge would support the soul in every hour of trial, trouble and tribulation. Then knowledge through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the grand key that unlocks the glories and mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.

Salvation through Knowledge

It is not wisdom that we should have all knowledge at once presented before us; but that we should have a little at a time; then we can comprehend it. President Smith then read the 2nd Epistle of Peter, 1st chapter, 16th to last verses, and dwelt upon the 19th verse with some remarks.

Add to you faith knowledge, etc. The principle of knowledge is the principle of salvation. This principle can be comprehended by the faithful and diligent; and every one that does not obtain knowledge sufficient to be saved will be condemned. The principle of salvation is given us through the knowledge of Jesus Christ.  (TPJS)

Why are we so quick to assume that we are saved or will be saved merely because we have joined the Church, participated in ordinances, and are enduring to the end through home teaching, church service and temple work?

Why does the Church now openly condemn those who prefer Joseph’s admonitions over today’s Church leaders’?

Why would the Lord allow all the prophets of scripture including Joseph Smith to openly testify they have seen Angels and the Lord, only to then instruct all of Joseph’s successors to never testify of the same?

Is it possible today’s Church leaders have never entertained Angels or been in the Lord’s presence?  If they have not, what would this change?  If they have not, why would they lead people to believe they are special witnesses?  And have a “sure knowledge”?  Why would we still call them Prophets, Seers, and Revelators?

Is it possible that Joseph’s words below apply to our Church today?:

Compare this principle once with Christendom (the LDS Church)? at the present day, and where are they, with all their boasted religion, piety and sacredness while at the same time they are crying out against prophets, apostles, angels, revelations, prophesying and visions, etc. Why, they are just ripening for the damnation of hell. They will be damned, for they reject the most glorious principle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and treat with disdain and trample under foot the key that unlocks the heavens and puts in our possession the glories of the celestial world. Yes, I say, such will be damned, with all their professed godliness. Then I would exhort you to go on and continue to call upon God until you make your calling and election sure for yourselves, by obtaining this more sure word of prophecy, and wait patiently for the promise until you obtain it. (TPJS)

Are we “crying out against prophets, apostles, angels, revelations, prophesying and visions, etc.”?  Is that what today’s leaders are doing when they warn us that making calling and election a focal point is a “tactic of the adversary?”  (Dallin Oaks)  Are they crying against Joseph Smith and his revelations?

Why do we assume that God is not just IF only a few are saved?

And it came to pass that when Jesus had ended these sayings he said unto his disciples: Enter ye in at the strait gate; for strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leads to life, and few there be that find it; but wide is the gate, and broad the way which leads to death, and many there be that travel therein, until the night cometh, wherein no man can work (3 Nephi 27:33).

Is it because we assume that God cannot damn most of His children and still be just, merciful, and loving?  Do we ignore the scriptures at our own peril?  Do we not understand eternity and eternal progression?

One of my dear friend’s keeps reminding me, “Joseph taught a fundamentally different gospel than the one we teach today.”  I think he’s right.

Mormon Spotlight

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Meme borrowed from Bare Record

There’s been a lot of Bloggernacle discussion of late about the Church’s “accidental” news re-release, that touts itself as “the gold standard” when it comes to how the Church handles sexual and child abuse cases.  Apparently the Church had already published this article in 2010 and then republished it again last week as a current news release.  The Church claims there was a “glitch” in their system and that it did not intend to re-publish the article.

Some are suspicious, however, that this release was no accident at all and that the Church has some news agenda it’s trying to push or a news story it wants to get ahead of.  Utah has the highest rate of child sex abuse in the nation after all, as one blogger reminded us this weekIn my experience with how the Church PR machine operates, I can almost guarantee the Church is feeling vulnerable on this issue and wants to paint a different picture to the world than the awful reality.

On one occasion years ago I spoke with a Church PR representative by phone at Church Headquarters.  I was working on a research paper and was very surprised when this brother stated that the Church often intentionally leaks news stories in order to provide context for a message it wants to get out.  The leak is made to seem to be a mistake.  The Church then conveniently responds to the leaked story with its canned message and/or simply relishes that it got its story out when it wanted to.  I don’t know if this is a common practice throughout the PR industry, but as a young grad student not living in Utah and not from Utah, my initial reaction was how dishonest this seemed and I was surprised that the Church would employ such underhanded tactics.  I thought my church would be straight-forward and without guile.

Perhaps the Church’s most recent leak or re-release, as it’s been called, was in hopes to get ahead of this very troubling story that just came out about emeritus GA, Elder Lynn A. Mickelsen.  The video below is about 14 minutes long and if nothing else it demonstrates the influence the Church has on Utah lawyers, judges, law enforcement and LDS clergy.  The story is unnervingly credible.  I highly recommend you take the time to watch it.

As a bishop, I saw firsthand how the Church actually handles child and sexual abuse.  I was required to call the LDS Hotline on several occasions.  In one such instance I was transferred directly to Kirton & McConkie, the law firm that represents the Church.  The advice I received was actually outstanding — aligning with doctrine and scripture.  I was shocked, however, when the counsel that I was given was not followed by the Church.  It quickly became obvious to me in this instance that the Church was only looking to avoid embarrassment and cared nothing about helping victims or reforming perpetrators.

These types of experiences have helped me trust less in the arm of the flesh and have caused me to turn towards God and His Son for comfort.  May good people everywhere stand as witnesses of Their Names, especially in defense of those too weak and tender to defend themselves.

Zion Postponed

city_of_zion_platThis last year has been a very difficult and yet enlightening one for me personally.  Most of you don’t know me and so I will spare you from much of the personal information.  But suffice it to say, this has been a year where I have learned much.  Like many in the world, I have seen sickness, death and destruction all around me.  I have looked into the skies at the signs that prophets foresaw millennia ago.  I have witnessed miracles and have seen love grow in some of my most important relationships.  I have experienced forgiveness in damaged or destroyed relationships and feel as though I’ve received added light.  And yet, I am reminded of what a fool I am.  So quick to anger, vanity, fear, retaliation, judgment, greed, and laziness.  The more I study and ponder, the more I recognize my awful state before God as well as the awful state of our church.

When I first began to allow myself to consider that the church might not be what I had always defended it to be, my world began to fall apart.  I was a bishop at the time.  To some I was the poster child of Mormonism.  Son of converts, valiant in my youth, from a large active family, son of a father who had many important church callings, of a mother known for her kindness and zeal; an eagle scout, returned missionary, temple married, BYU educated, a leader in the church at a young age.  I served in my first bishopric in my early twenties.  My second bishopric in my late twenties.  On the high council in my mid twenties.  I was interviewed as a potential stake president in my early forties and was told by the outgoing stake president that they almost selected me.

I share none of this to gloat or to brag.  I merely share it to demonstrate that when it came to commitment to the church, I was all in.  I loved the church with all my energy and served it and defended it for my entire life.

But, as I have noted here in this blog, there have been times along the way where my faith in the church has been challenged.  In times past, I most often erred on the side of defending the church and the brethren.  For much of my life, I had assumed the gospel and the church were mostly the same thing.   That began to change however, as I was met with further contradictions.  Separating the two became a required spiritual survival technique for me.

The last stand for me with the church was that I had held onto the Brethren being True Witnesses of Jesus Christ.  I believed they stood where I hoped to one day stand — even in His presence.  I believed in this doctrine since first gaining my testimony as a very young man.  In reality it was my testimony.   I read of Calling and Election Made Sure and I knew that this was man’s very purpose and I believed with all my heart that these particular men, the leaders of the church, HAD achieved this end!  After all, they had always reassured me that they “knew” Him and were special witnesses of Him.  Call me naive, but I believed them until only a few years ago.

Now, lest you think me apostate, let me remind my readers that I believe in God the Father, in His Son Jesus, in His servant Joseph and in the Restoration and in the Book of Mormon.  I am not a whacko.  I’m not a wannabe polygamist.  I consider myself a very normal “LDS” person.  BUT I do not and can no longer believe that the leaders of this church are anywhere near the equivalency of Joseph Smith.  To say so is to mock God!  Additionally, my spiritual journey has led me to believe that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is in a state of apostasy and has been since the early days of the Church when its members refused to accept the fulness of the Gospel.  This is further evidenced by the fact that LDS prophets today do not prophesy!  They do not see!  They do not reveal!  Ironically, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men.  They worship Handbooks and consult the learned and rely upon their attorneys.  Their lips draw nigh unto Him, but their hearts are so far from Him!  They preach the precepts of men and lead souls to Hell, yea even the very elect.  Because they do not KNOW Him!  They cannot have the testimony of Jesus nor have they received the Gospel.  If they had, there would be an abundance of signs that follow after them.  They would be healing the sick, they would be obsessed with expounding Scripture especially Isaiah, they would be focused on the poor and in building up Zion.  When’s the last time you even heard an LDS prophet speak of building Zion?  Thus we are of Paul and of Thomas and of Gordon and even of Jesus, but we do not have His testimony before the Father and thus we are damned!

I read this week in the Joseph Smith Papers that in June 1834, Joseph announced that the Lord had revealed to him that the redemption of Zion was being postponed “for a little season” (page 44, JS Papers, Volume 1, Journals also see D&C 105).  The reason for this postponement, despite that Joseph had just rallied an armed expedition of righteous and zealous volunteers to “restore and redeem Zion” was because the church refused to live by the laws of the Celestial Kingdom AND because the “leading elders of the church were not yet endowed with power from on high.”

I ask you my friends, are we any closer to the establishment of Zion today?  Have our leaders now truly been endowed from on High?  More so than the original 12?  Have they been in His presence?  Can we trust them as true messengers?  Are we living by the law of the Celestial Kingdom?   Joseph once taught, “Without a Zion and a place of deliverance, we must fall, because the time is near when the sun will be darkened, the moon turn to blood, the stars fall from heaven and the earth reel to and fro.”  Have we fallen?  Will we fall?  Are the signs and prophesies being fulfilled while Zion is yet postponed?

Do you trust these men with your salvation?  I do not!  Do you trust them to save your children?  I DO NOT!  Do they teach the words of eternal life?  Or are they just nice, good men, trying to do the best they can with what they’ve been given?  How are you receiving their teachings!?  Very well?  If so, then you will be damned for they teach the philosophies of men, mingled with scripture.

We must needs repent and be born again before it is everlastingly too late.  We must awaken and learn to discern between true and false messengers or we will die when Christ comes AND shall never be a part of Zion.  If we remain lulled and contented by these current teachings we will never recognize true messengers when and if they ever come to us.

I no longer see things as I did as a child.  I now judge of their works and am no longer fooled.  I have been in their secrets councils.  I witness that they would rather cover up the truth than expose their own hypocrisy!  They make exceptions and play favorites.  The rules do not apply to their own!  I witness that they know not God and stand not in His presence.  I add my witness that only the broken hearted and the contrite in spirit will be filled with light and be saved in Zion.  I believe that a servant has come among us who has the words of eternal life, if we will be but humble enough to read, to learn, and to hear.

“I Am Scripture”

Bednar

In a recent meeting Elder Bednar was supposedly asked a question by a sister missionary about women and the priesthood. He’s said to have given his own thoughts about the subject and when he concluded, the sister asked a follow up question.  “Are there any scriptures that talk about this subject?” Elder Bednar responded, “I am scripture.”

Now in fairness to Elder Bednar, I’ve heard this account from two different sources both in attendance at this meeting, and thus I relate the story relying upon second hand information.  If any readers have also heard this same story, please correct or confirm the details.

My first reaction to such a statement is not good.  Yet I fully understand as an LDS person raised in the church, that Elder Bednar is only stating what we teach.  “When a ‘prophet’ speaks by the power of the Holy Ghost, it is scripture.”  Elder Bednar obviously considers himself a prophet and many of us sustain him in that calling.

But, we are also taught that “when any person speaks by the power of the Holy Ghost, it is scripture.”

So why give more credence to the words of Elder Bednar than say… someone else claiming to speak by the Holy Ghost?  The standard LDS answer is “because God’s house is a house of order and that’s why keys are so important.  Whoever has the keys AND speaks by the power of the Holy Ghost is who you listen to.”

For nearly 170 years (post-Joseph), these men we sustain as Prophets, Seers, and Revelators have been able to more or less say “Let it be written, for I am scripture.”  Their Conference talks are immortalized and their words are given as lessons and talks and made into refrigerator magnets all around the world for years and decades to come.

Abundance Oaks

The Immortalized Words of General Conference

But to what end?

For me when someone (and I mean anyone, besides The Lord) says something akin to “I am scripture” the effect is to shut down any and all further communication or questions. The same can be said of many statements we tend to make as Mormons.

I’m reminded of a missionary companion who liked to one-up investigators who disagreed by “boldly” bearing his testimony. Its effect? The conversation usually stopped awkwardly. He taught other missionaries this principle too.  “Whenever you can’t answer a question, just bear your testimony (really hard).”

One time we were having a great discussion with a Catholic gentleman. He was hung up on The Book of Mormon. His questions and concerns were sincere. Then it came. “Sir, I know The Book or Mormon is true beyond a shadow of any doubt and that this church is the only true and living church on the whole earth!” This man replied with his own testimony. “Well, I know The Book of Mormon is NOT true and that your church is NOT the only true church on the whole earth!” My companion was taken aback. I waited for him to say “IS NOT!” like a 4-year old who has no logical arguments left. Fortunately he didn’t.

To be fair, our investigator wasn’t saying he “knew” anything. He was merely demonstrating how strange and immature such grand statements sounded to him and how off-putting they were.  The conversation usually just ends.

Even to members of the church familiar with such bravado, the effect of these traditional tactics can be very damaging.

To say “I know God lives,” five times in a row, for example, while increasing the pauses in between sentences, while climactically raising the tone of your voice each time, may just lead someone to believe you have literally stood in the Lord’s presence. This was a technique I observed from the late Elder Loren C. Dunn. If he had not actually seen God, would this be a good thing to do? Might this cause people to treat someone as a light and heap upon them their praise?

Monson

I spoke to a brother recently who provides security detail for the Brethren when they come to his area. He is a trained police officer. He told me that when an Apostle, Prophet or even a Seventy come nowadays, there are members who try to find out what hotel they are staying in so they can stalk them and try to meet them. He recently had to rescue a visiting GA from an overly excited LDS crowd, literally removing him from danger. The spared GA told this brother that it’s getting worse and worse as they travel around the world.

Curious, I asked why he believed members reacted like this around the Brethren. He said “It’s like they’re rock stars and people think that because they know the Savior, that if they can just touch them, something amazing will happen!” He then went on to say that a full grown man from his stake boasted that he shook Elder Ballard’s hand and was “never going to wash it again.”

Such adoration and idolatry is anti-Zion and anti-Christ. All of us can learn a lesson from this. Maybe you or I are not tempted by GA celebrity status, but our own claims may cause others to look to us as a light instead of to Him.

The Savior’s Example

The Savior of the world epitomized meekness and humility. When he was called “good,” he objected and deflected all praise to God (Matthew 19:17). When he gave talks, he quoted scripture, giving all recognition to the prophet he quoted. This despite the fact that it was He, the Great Jehovah, who had given the quote to begin with.  Unlike any mortal, “prophet or not,” Jesus IS literally the Word of God.  He, and only He, is Scripture.

When Jesus taught He did not often make bold self-promoting proclamations to induce obedience or to enhance his bona fides. Clearly He was entitled to, but He more often said:

Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment. (Matthew 5:21) or “Blessed are the meek…”

He could have just as easily said “I am the Great Jehovah who once commanded you, Thou shalt not kill…” or “I the God of Heaven and Earth command you to be meek now before I pull your temple recommend.”

Jesus does not use His power and authority to compel obedience and adoration.

Although perfect Himself, He invited others to “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

Jesus speaks in plainness and humility.

And then shall ye know that I have seen Jesus, and that he hath talked with me face to face, and that he told me in plain humility, even as a man telleth another in mine own language, concerning these things… (Ether 12:39)

Notice that Moroni’s claims are also plain, overt, and factual. He doesn’t leave the audience guessing whether he did or did not see the Lord.

Some Ideas to Consider

Whether leader or layperson, none of us is perfect.  We can benefit from each others’ feedback and prayers.  It’s a humbling and difficult experience to recognize or be made aware of our weaknesses.  The Brethren need not feel threatened, condemned or judged by our feedback.  They deserve our help as much as we deserve theirs.  Furthermore, it is incumbent upon us to discern when they or anyone act and speak in the Lord’s name, otherwise we do them no favors and we only damn ourselves.

Here are just a few suggestions that I think would help us as members to NOT idolize the Brethren as well as to not set ourselves up as lights unto the world (2 Nephi 26:29).

We should never mislead people about what we know. We should not exaggerate our claims. If we haven’t seen Jesus or Angels, we should not make people believe we have.  We should not mislead others about it by speaking in circles or by emphasizing how special our witness is. Let’s be honest and humble and direct ALL praise to our Lord.  Only He can save.

Most of us can all do better in deflecting compliments and praise. Jesus said we should not even call one another Rabbi, which is to say Master or Teacher (Matthew 23:7). In my ward the CES contingency take turns suggesting that the other is one of the “Great Master Teachers of the Kingdom.” I believe such things to be devilish and destructive and yet all of us are tempted to heap praise upon each other.  It’s our culture.

We should not often call people by their full names preceded with titles. Let’s drop the words president, elder, beloved, prophet, seer, revelator, general authority, etc. from our vocabulary when addressing someone. EVEN Jesus said to not call Him good! Do we really suppose He would have liked to be called Our Beloved President Jesus (add initial) Christ, Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, while in mortality?  To do so is to desecrate Him; His calling. Why should we be greater than He?   He was called “Jesus.”  That should serve as our model when speaking to or about each other, no matter our calling.  Titles and initials inflate egos.

Church Leaders not speaking at General Conference would send a powerful message if they did NOT sit on the stand. In fact, they could even dress normally, i.e. not to the nines in expensive suits and dresses (fine twined linen?) and they could serve as Ushers and Parking Attendants and assist the infirm. They should consider standing at the doorways rather than sitting in plush red seats where all can see. Didn’t the Savior teach us to be servants especially when we are viewed as greatest?  (Matthew 32:11).  Let the poor and the elderly sit in those seats.

General Authority families should not be given preferential seats at General Conference. They should not occupy the entire front section of the Conference Center as they currently do. These people should get in line with the rest of us for tickets.  Why not let first year converts or investigators sit in those seats?  Or the handicapped?

NO calling in the church should EVER BE REMUNERATED nor should anyone receive a stipend who teaches or serves in the church (Mosiah 18:24). The church knows that its 80,000+ missionaries and its 3+ million active members of the church tell everyone that what makes us different from all other churches is that no one is paid.  The Brethren KNOW this is what we tell people.  And yet some of us KNOW this is not true.  It’s simply wrong to encourage the lie by not correcting the record.  It’s dishonest.  It’s immoral.  It would be one thing perhaps if the brethren were merely being supported.  This is simply not true.  They earn very large sums of money as a direct result of their callings.  The church needs to come clean and set the record straight and deal with the consequences.

ALL transactions and expenditures ought to be made available for members to see.  Every contract, every piece of property bought or sold, every trip, every personal expense, every stipend, every salary, every bonus, every royalty ought to be made public.

Church leaders should not fly First Class as I have witnessed on more than one occasion.  For those of you that don’t think this possible, here is a recent picture of President Nelson.

13k_Nelson

He’s apparently on an International flight from SLC to Germany, traveling with Elder Hallstrom accompanied by their wives and someone who appears to be Elder Nelson’s bodyguard (far right in the picture) ALL flying First Class.  Retail price of each ticket?  $13,000.  Coach price?  $1300.  What would be wrong with sitting in a regular seat with normal folks?  It would sure save a lot of tithing money.  One ticket at this price is equal to two years of tithing for a person who makes $65,000 per year. Fifty people could have flown for the price likely paid for these five tickets!  One ticket would pay for an entire mission for a young man or young woman who cannot afford it.

Are these men so frail and so important that they can’t sit in a normal airplane seat?  Why not just pay the extra $100 for more leg room?  “But everyone would bother them if they were in coach” one might argue.  But, isn’t that their calling?  To preach the gospel whenever they can?  I’ve heard more than one apostle say we should pray when we get on a flight that we will be able to share the gospel with someone seated next to us.  How does the future prophet of the church do that here surrounded by his wife on his right and protected by hired muscle on his left?

Church leaders should not be served the sacrament first, but rather should bless it and administer it as servants to the congregation as the D&C teaches.

There are many small but important changes the church could make that I believe would both help the church to better conform with scripture as well as prevent people from leaving.  Again, brothers and sisters, it’s our duty as members of Christ’s church to sustain these men in their callings by sharing our concerns.  We need not be angry or revile against anyone.  We can share our concerns with love.  If we don’t, then who will?  Anti-Mormons?  It is far better that we encourage positive change from within by “common consent” than have it imposed upon us by the wrath of God, when it’s likely too late.  We who believe in the Restoration must open our mouths.  Those in the chief seats would do well to stop trying to silence those who offer their concerns.  It’s our church too.  The Savior’s message to the church leaders of his day seems to still apply to us in our day.  Will we heed the call of our Master?

And Jesus said unto his disciples, Beholdest thou the scribes, and the Pharisees, and the priests, and the Levites? They teach in their synagogues, but do not observe the law, nor the commandments; and all have gone out of the way, and are under sin.  Go thou and say unto them, Why teach ye men the law and the commandments, when ye yourselves are the children of corruption?  Say unto them, Ye hypocrites, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.  (JST Matthew 7:6-8)

Defending Freedom

Washington

It is my belief that the Constitution is an inspired document akin to scripture.  As Latter-day Saints we ought to be particularly mindful to defend its principles, knowing that the failure to do so will lead to our destruction.  This is the message and warning of the Book of Mormon to the Gentiles who have inherited this land of promise.

A man I respect greatly recently admonished that “If you can see the problem, you should speak up. Help others to understand the path we are on will end with collapse and violence.”  He was addressing other issues, but I think the advice to speak out applies to ALL topics affecting our Constitutional freedoms.

The following letter was written and sent to the First Presidency.  I share it with permission from the author who wishes to remain anonymous.  I think the letter is outstanding and lays out a very compelling argument that needs to be heard and considered.  I applaud his courage and hope the Brethren will not retaliate for his sharing his concerns.  I also hope more freedom loving people will express their concerns to the men tasked with leading the church in these matters.

Dear Brethren,

I write to you regarding the Church’s position taken in Utah regarding the rights of the religious to determine whom they will hire and to whom they will rent. As I understand, some of the general authorities of the Church influenced the legislature to take the position that it is permissible to force employers to hire LGBT (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgenders) and for landlords to be forced to rent to the same group, even if they object to doing so because of religious reasons. I also believe that the Church similarly supported exempting religious and educational institutions from this requirement.

Assuming I have my facts straight, I would urge you to reconsider. D&C 134 is considered scripture by the members of the Church. Verse 2 states:

We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.

All subsequent mention of verses will refer to D&C 134, unless otherwise specified.

If we believe that the right and control of property is an essential aspect of freedom, why did the Church’s leaders move to restrict such? And if the leaders thought there was some good reason to support such a restriction, why did they exempt their own organization? Are the rights of the People somehow subordinate to the rights of one group which they have created?

This section in the D&C talks of the need for the government to respect the conscience of the People. Surely men and women have the right to follow their conscience in this matter. Surely man-made laws, such as public accommodation laws, do not trump God-given laws in this matter. If a person is not permitted to allow his/her religion to inform his conduct in this matter, where is such informing allowed? And what boundaries does the government have to respect? If the right to control property is excepted in this instance, is there really any such right?

Verse 7 talks about the need for government to protect the “citizens in the free exercise of their religious belief“. If Latter-Day Saints or Catholics or Baptists feel a need to manifest that belief in their landlord or employer duties, is not the government duty bound to protect them? Is it not their property/employment position? Do they not have the right to determine to whom it goes? And if it does not go to a certain individual, the latter’s rights have not been violated because it is not their property or position. Why, then, have you supported the government violating its duty?

And while this law supposedly applies to members of all religious societies, so that all of them are affected, has not this law enabled the denial of individual rights of the members of all societies, which is spoken against in verse 9 (We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby … the individual rights of its members, as citizens, [are] denied)?

Verse 10 talks about the conduct of religious societies, how they have not the right to “try men on the right of property“.

10 We believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members for disorderly conduct, according to the rules and regulations of such societies; provided that such dealings be for fellowship and good standing; but we do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or life, to take from them this world’s goods, or to put them in jeopardy of either life or limb, or to inflict any physical punishment upon them. They can only excommunicate them from their society, and withdraw from them their fellowship.

Yet it seems to me that you have done just that, only using the arm of the law to accomplish what by scripture you could not do. If you thought the act of denying rentals or jobs to LGBT was against our religion, why did you not simply excommunicate the offenders, or instruct stake presidents and bishops to do so?

This action, that you have engaged in, is sad from another perspective. Normally men/women are to appeal to the civil law when the right of property is infringed (verse 11 – We believe that men should appeal to the civil law for redress of all wrongs and grievances, where personal abuse is inflicted or the right of property or character infringed). But what does one do when the infringer is the law itself? Furthermore we are warned to not engage in sedition and rebellion, while protected in our rights (verse 5 – We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly). So what are citizens to do when the government itself is the aggressor and offender of rights?

I come to you as a convert and member of 46+ years. I served a mission in xxxx and have served the Church in various callings over the years. I’m just an ordinary member. For most of my life I would never have dreamed of writing such a letter to you. But I learned my love for the constitution by reading talks of earlier leaders such as J. Reuben Clark, David O. McKay, Ezra Taft Benson and others. These verses in the D&C became some of my favorite ones:

D&C 98

4 And now, verily I say unto you concerning the laws of the land, it is my will that my people should observe to do all things whatsoever I command them.

5 And that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me.

6 Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land;

7 And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil.

8 I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free.

9 Nevertheless, when the wicked rule the people mourn.

10 Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil.

D&C 101

77 According to the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles;

78 That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.

79 Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.

80 And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood.

D&C 109

54 Have mercy, O Lord, upon all the nations of the earth; have mercy upon the rulers of our land; may those principles, which were so honorably and nobly defended, namely, the Constitution of our land, by our fathers, be established forever.

I served my country on active duty for 7+ years in the Army (and later in the Army Reserve) and taught soldiers under my care about the Constitution which we had all sworn an oath to defend and protect.

Never in my life would I have imagined that the leaders of my Church, who are acknowledged as prophets, seers and revelators, would become the enemies of that same Constitution which I hold as sacred and which I pledged to defend and protect.

So I am in a quandary. I know the teachings of not correcting someone who is higher in authority than myself. I also know this scripture:

D&C 88:81 Behold, I sent you out to testify and warn the people, and it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor.

I have been moved in my heart to so warn you. I know I am nothing but the Lord is the Almighty and He will not be mocked. When I asked Him about telling you these things, He said:

“warn your brethren that their course leads to hell and the enemy of their soul. It is not of Me.”

Brethren, I want the best for you. Please consider these things.