Some of you are aware that Elder Oaks and church historian Richard Turley made a special trip this weekend to Boise, Idaho to try to resolve questions of faith apparently prevalent in that area. You can listen to the presentation made by Elder Oaks and Brother Turley by clicking here.
I’ve listened to the presentation in its entirety and will just summarize some of the main arguments made which I’ve paraphrased or quoted below. I make some comments in parentheses following the emboldened points:
For apostates “It’s always, ‘I have a better way than the current leaders.'” (Apparently Abinadi, Lehi, Alma , John the Baptist, and Jesus were apostates by this definition because they disagreed with church leadership. Thank God Jesus believed He was “the Way” and was willing to show us His better way. Did Joseph Smith seek to provide a better way than the churches of his day?)
Some people say that Brigham Young didn’t hold keys to have authority over the church? ‘Answer – Well then who had them!? If he didn’t then there was no authority on earth.’ (I don’t find this answer very satisfying – it’s as if to say “Because we claim authority, then we must have it. This shows me the church is unwilling to consider another narrative even though other possibilities may be more accurate and might just help us better understand God’s plan for us. I wish Elder Oaks had addressed the controversies surrounding the succession in more detail. If the argument is Brigham had the keys all along then why take 3 1/2 years to make Brigham President? If Brigham always had the keys then why did he say “We’ve lost the keys…” when he heard Joseph was killed, followed with “Oh wait, the 12 have the keys”? If the 12 had the keys, then why didn’t they transfer them to Brigham, or ordain him? If the 12 had the keys, wouldn’t it be important that the 12 unanimously sustain BY? And then ordain him? John Taylor and other apostles opposed BY succeeding Joseph. Does that matter? Addressing the authenticity of section 110 added many years after Joseph’s death, addressing why Emma and Lucy didn’t believe BY to be fit to succeed Joseph, discussing how BY in the beginning argued the succession belonged to Joseph III and that anyone coming in as president would do so as caretaker until Joseph III was old enough… So much more that should have been discussed in my opinion. This is a really important issue for people struggling with their testimonies as it pertains to keys.)
The idea that the current prophet has strayed and needs to be replaced is a tool that Satan has always used. (And yet it is Jesus who teaches us to beware of false prophets and to judge whether a prophet is true or false by his fruits. When Apostle Lyman committed adultery/bigamy as a “prophet” for 18 years before being caught and excommunicated and Spencer Kimball replaced him in 1943, were those who replaced this prophet using a tool of Satan? The church now conveniently disparages Brigham Young regarding his views on race. Is the church using a tool of Satan by suggesting BY strayed on this issue? To argue that a “prophet” is infallible is an issue for many people in and out of the church, myself included.)
It’s okay to not see the Savior in this life. Those who teach otherwise are using a common technique deployed by apostates. It’s great to want to see the Savior, but it’s not necessary. (I wish Elder Oaks had used a single scripture here to justify his statement. The Book of Mormon seems to strongly disagree. How is this desire apostate? Doesn’t such a question deserve more attention rather than just saying this is an apostate technique.)
Modern apostles are called to witness of the name of Christ. Not a personal witness. Witness His name is to witness of the plan of Christ. (A little confusing.)
Of course Apostles are also witnesses of Christ as are all members of the church because we have the Holy Ghost. (So how is their witness any different than most members if at all?)
Today we are counseled to not tell people that we have witnessed Christ. Otherwise people can put it on the Internet and that will violate Savior’s commandment to not cast pearls before swine. (One of my biggest issues with the church is this endless back and forth, double speak… Have you seen the Savior or not? If you have, and don’t want to have sacred things mocked, I respect that. But if you have NOT seen the Lord and yet clearly lead us to believe you have by providing these kinds of responses, then when members read LDS history and find that LDS prophets generally aren’t seeing the Lord, this becomes a significant stumbling block. Frankly it makes people feel like they’ve been lied to. It seems fair to say that likely not all the 12 and 70 have seen the Lord. So why don’t more of them tell us they have not rather than lead people to believe they have?)
Following someone other than Lord’s servants is a sign of apostasy. (Why not following someone other than the Lord is apostasy? Again, provide some scriptures here please.)
When you follow false prophets; when you are on the road to apostasy, you are on the wrong side. “I know about being on the wrong side. One time I sat on the wrong side of the cow when I was milking it.” — Elder Oaks
If we stay with and follow the current leaders of the church we will receive salvation and eternal life.
The number of our latter-day temples is a sign of the truthfulness of the church.
“Reasonable questions are okay, doubts are darkness.”
Apostasy is chaos. The example of the pharisees of Jesus’ day was used to suggest that these apostate leaders pointed to Abraham as their father. (I think a better example would be to say that Jesus’ apostasy from the Jewish Church was viewed as dark and chaotic by the wicked men who did not realize they were apostate).
“They are not to teach their own doctrines. They are to teach from the scriptures…further they are to teach church articles.” (I’m not sure what Elder Oaks intends here, but if it is to say that we should teach the General Conference edition of The Ensign or The Handbook of Instructions, over the Scriptures, I’d have to disagree.)
The Lord’s principle of order is… church led by prophets, authority comes from prophets, prophet voted for and sustained by members, teach what prophets tell you, come in by gate known to prophets, not some secret gate. (The only gate I’m aware of that matters is the one where He employs no servant.)
I’ll be interested to see what others’ thoughts are on this special Boise meeting and the contents of the presentation. I find it interesting that the efforts of the church do not seem to be to reclaim those they consider apostate, but rather only seem intent on preventing others from leaving. If the effort was to reclaim those they’ve lost they would do so with patience and persuasion without calling them preposterous and apostate and other names while not addressing their sincere concerns. I know many good people who do have faith in the Restoration, in Joseph Smith’s mission, in The Book of Mormon and The Pearl of Great Price, who are looking for reasons to stay in the church. I think not digging deep to make more compelling arguments is short-sighted.
Truman is going about his happy, uneventful life when out of a clear blue sky a stage light falls onto the street. This peculiar event is the beginning of Truman discovering the truth about his false reality.
Truman’s “creator” Christof (a suitable name) sees himself as a messiah figure, having saved Truman from what “might have been” a sad, painful life as an unwanted child. Christof works day and night to keep Truman believing in this false narrative. His success, after all, depends upon it as millions of viewers, thousands of actors, and countless other commercial entities all have an interest in Truman remaining faithful to this great deception as well.
At the end of the movie, Truman stands in front of a dark unknown doorway at the top of the stage set above the “ocean.” Christof, now entirely desperate, speaks from his hidden lunar command center, makes one last attempt to keep Truman from leaving the “Show.” (You can watch the clip by clicking below. It’s classic.)
The story of Truman is really the story of every man.
We are each born into this world with certain traditions that inform our reality and our perceptions. Because we are born into a fallen world, no one’s reality is devoid of lies, false traditions, and darkness.
The goal of every man is to become a “True Man” — a Man or Woman in Christ, reborn to Him, enlightened, passing through the doorway (the veil) of unbelief and into a new spiritual world that will eventually endow us appropriately to successfully enter into His presence — in this life — as well as in the life to come.
We are warned, however, that in the last days we will be especially vulnerable to being misled and deceived as Truman was. As members of the church we mustn’t assume we are exempt. Anyone who teaches otherwise is a false messenger, leading astray and perpetuating a false reality that eventually destroys souls.
They wear stiff necks and high heads; yea, and because of pride, and wickedness, and abominations, and whoredoms, they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men. (2 Nephi 28:14, my emphasis added)
I recall an experience as a bishop in one of my first priesthood stewardship interviews with my stake president. He had served in that calling for many years and as a new bishop I looked to him for counsel and advice.
During the interview my stake president spoke of a recent private lunch he had with one of the 12 Apostles. He was actually good friends with this particular apostle and had known him for forty years or more. My stake president was also friends with another apostle, who he had spoken of getting together with regularly. His very close relationships with two apostles prompted my question:
“President, how do they become special witnesses?”
He seemed perplexed. “What do you mean by that bishop?”
“Well, I know they have stood in Christ’s presence and that’s why we call them special witnesses, right?” (I was trying to clue him in that I was in the know about such things) “How do they spiritually get to that point?” I asked in all sincerity.
A very concerned look came across the stake president’s face as he gravely responded.
“Bishop, I need to warn you to never pray for or seek to be in the presence of God or Christ!”
My stake president’s comment was as much a scolding as a warning. It was as if he could not believe I would ever be so foolish and careless to think that this was what these men had actually accomplished.
“But, I thought we were commanded to seek to make our callings and elections sure and to each become special witnesses of Christ in this life? As the Prophets and Apostles have done? Right?” I now questioned somewhat desperately.
That question seemed to further aggravate my stake president’s sensibilities. Now determined to correct the record and make sure I never taught such foolishness as a bishop, he replied:
“Bishop, NEVER, EVER pray for such things because almost every man who has seen Christ or angels has fallen away from the church! And if for any reason you do see Christ and then turn away from Him, you will become a son of perdition!”
This man was in my ward. He was a very educated and dedicated individual. He enjoyed a very long pioneer genealogy in the church. And yet the first thought that came to my mind was that as his bishop, it was ironically my priesthood responsibility to try to correct him.
Without trying to make him feel badly, I referred to Paul and Joseph and others who taught this doctrine openly. I pointed out that every man who became a prophet in the Book of Mormon, had witnessed angels and had entered into the presence of God.
He was not deterred by my arguments and continued to warn me of the dangers of seeking Jesus in this way and warned me to never discuss these ideas with anyone, ever again. My experienced file leader then proceeded to instruct me how the Brethren held the keys and how they lived by the Spirit. “Our job was to obey them” he said “as if their words came directly from God” and was not to seek heavenly visitations. I left feeling rebuked, dazed, and confused.
The stake president’s words became for me, the proverbial stage light falling out of my clear blue sky onto the street of my church reality.
This new “idea” challenged everything I believed and had been taught. Why would someone who knew these men so well, who joined with me in calling them “special witnesses,” actually try to dissuade me from doing what they had themselves done? UNLESS of course, they were not witnesses the way I had believed them to be. Was that even possible?
This was something I had never before considered or had ever allowed myself to consider.
In my mind, Jesus’ admonition and warning to the pharisees and scribes of old applied to Catholic priests, Jewish rabbis and Muslim mullahs, BUT NOT TO OUR church leaders!
But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. (Matthew 23:13)
I became physically ill in my contemplations. Could the church actually be keeping people from seeking true messengers? Why would they do that? Was it possible that they were not seeking these experiences for themselves either, out of fear that “almost all men who had ever seen angels or the Lord had left the church?” My belief system was being turned upside down.
I was born into the church to good parents who are both converts. At a very young age they instilled in me a strong love for the restored gospel. By the age of 14 I began to feel very much drawn to the invitation I found in scripture to literally come unto Christ. I truly believed D&C 93:1 and read it often. I believed the words of Moroni found in the book of Ether and took his invitation very seriously:
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; And only a few have I written, because of my weakness in writing. And now, I would commend you to seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written, that the grace of God the Father, and also the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of them, may be and abide in you forever. Amen. (Ether 12:39-41, my emphasis added)
Like perhaps many of you, I had been led to believe that The First Presidency and The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles met with the Savior often in their sacred weekly meetings in the Upper Rooms of the Temple.
I began at a young age to look for and listen carefully to the “key words” the brethren used to refer to sacred experiences they often only alluded to, that apparently, despite being “special witnesses,” they could not specifically discuss publicly.
I took Religion 333 after my mission at BYU and was led to believe that the leaders of the church were of a special and more elevated status than the average member of the church. I was taught the Brethren were to be “reverenced, sustained, emulated, and honored.”
These men were spiritual giants for me. I believed they could lead me to the Savior. Logically if they were Special Witnesses, and yet were once just like me, then maybe they could show me how to get there too! This was my most fervent desire.
I watched them ever so closely. I studied their words as much if not more than the scriptures. I was taught and believed that the “living oracles” were more important than the dead ones, that they could not lead us astray. I took that to mean that Elder Neal A. Maxwell was more relevant and important than Isaiah. So I read and listened to Elder Maxwell, and President Hinckley and any living Prophet in priority over even the Book of Mormon.
When the Brethren came to speak, I made sure to never miss them. In some cases, I drove hours to be in their presence. When they walked into the room, I stood out of reverence for them. Out of reverence and respect, I only sat down when they were finally seated. I once witnessed the rushing silence that overtook the entire Marriott Center when President Benson entered from an obscure portal near the stage. I was sure this was a spiritual confirmation of his very real witness of the Savior.
I was with Elder Bednar when he boldly told us bishops and stake presidents — “I AM A TRUE MESSENGER!” I took that statement literally. I believed him to be a special witness who stood in God’s presence as did Peter, James, and John, with a message of life and salvation for God’s children lost in the lone and dreary world. I had no reason to believe Elder Bednar would seek to mislead me.
On a different occasion Elder Bednar said, “I know God lives beyond the five senses.” Again I believed him and logically could only assume what this meant — that he knew God greater than touch, greater than sight, greater than smell or taste or sound.
But, then my stake president dropped the stage light.
What if Elder Bednar was simply stating that he knew God “by the feelings of the Holy Ghost?” Maybe he’s suggesting the Holy Ghost is not considered one of the five senses? Was this just a clever way of saying that he had a testimony just like me? That he had never actually “touched, seen, or heard” the Lord? That thought had never crossed my mind before.
Up until then, these men were holy, anointed, special, and above all, they knew God, literally! I sought to touch the hem of their garment, so to speak, to shake their hands, to be hugged by them, to be taught by them. Again, because I believed it was their mission to teach me how to do what they had done. For this is life eternal, that we all might know Him and His Son whom He hath sent (John 17:3) with the help of those who are true messengers.
And so perhaps strangely, as a bishop, I began a prayerful and at times painful study to know whether or not these men were truly witnesses of God, in the literal sense. This time I began with a different set of questions than those I had ever allowed myself to consider: “What if, these men have never seen God or been taught by Angels? What if they are just like me? Is it possible? If so, what would that mean? What would that change for the church and for me personally?”
I studied. I pondered. I fasted for many days, on countless occasions. I went to the Temple zealously. I served as faithfully as I knew how as a bishop. I tried to be a good husband and father. I feasted upon the scriptures and I prayed like I’ve never prayed before.
I studied the journals and other accounts of these men. I scrutinized all the stories of prophets such as President Snow, where he allegedly met the Savior in the Temple. I now questioned these stories and sought to discover whether they were real or not. Were these just contrived “stories” invented or exaggerated to encourage me to believe? Was I being played?
You see, for me, everything I believed the church to be, rested upon the idea that its leaders were simply a continuation of Joseph Smith. That every leader from Joseph forward was a veritable witness of God, Angels, and of Christ JUST as Joseph was.
For me this principle was too important to dismiss or set aside. Now I needed to know the truth. I could no longer be led on by fables and endless genealogies (1 Timothy 1:4). Was my “faith” in these men’s witness real or was it some fantastic illusion?
Joseph Smith taught:
Now I will give you my testimony. I care not for man. I speak boldly and faithfully and with authority. How is it with the kingdom of God? Where did the kingdom of God begin? Where there is no kingdom of God there is no salvation. What constitutes the kingdom of God? Where there is a prophet, a priest, or a righteous man unto whom God gives His oracles, there is the kingdom of God; and where the oracles of God are not, there the kingdom of God is not…The plea of many in this day is, that we have no right to receive revelations; but if we do not get revelations, we do not have the oracles of God; and if they have not the oracles of God, they are not the people of God. But say you, What will become of the world, or the various professors of religion who do not believe in revelation and the oracles of God as continued to His Church in all ages of the world, when He has a people on the earth? I tell you, in the name of Jesus Christ, they will be damned; and when you get into the eternal world, you will find it will be so, they cannot escape the damnation of hell. (TPJS, pp. 271-272, my emphasis added)
If these men were not receiving revelations, were not acting as prophets and as living oracles of God, and had not in fact seen the Lord and been anointed and ordained by God Himself (TPJS), then I could not, at a minimum, simply continue to trust in their words as I had.
In my research that continued on for some time, I became quite surprised to find so few reliable post-martyrdom church accounts of a man or woman entering into God’s presence, as Joseph and Hyrum and Sidney had. This despite the charge made by Apostles Oliver Cowdery in 1835 to the Twelve which was later abandoned because apparently at some point church leaders saw it unnecessary.
It is necessary that you receive a testimony from heaven for yourselves; so that you can bear testimony to the truth of the Book of Mormon, and that you have seen the face of God.’ Then he continued: ‘That is more than the testimony of an angel … Never cease striving until you have seen God, face to face.’(Read more on this subject here)
I was saddened and quite surprised to find that many of the stories that were close encounters with the other side of the veil such as President Snow with Christ at the staircase and Brigham transforming into Joseph over the pulpit, the Founding Fathers appearing in the Saint George Temple, etc. appeared to be nothing more than exaggerated folklore-ish stories, no different than ones we share today.
Sometimes these stories are seemingly harmless such as the tale of Nephite hitchhikers warning people to get food storage (here and here) before the big Utah earthquake or the rumor that Lionel Ritchie finally joined the church. Other times it’s everyday stories like “When Elder Bednar spoke in Gabon, the rain stopped, and the sun appeared only on his face as he spoke.” I even heard such a legend repeated the other day in church, one I had not heard for a long time: “Did you know there is a chair in the Salt Lake Temple that is reserved just for the Savior? And that it’s worn out from use?”
In my study, I found few, to none of what would be called revelations by the standard of Scripture or Joseph Smith. In fact, I was discouraged to find the example of an aged “prophet” who testified under oath before Congress that he had never had “real” revelations.
I will not include here all the details of my personal study that support my new conclusions about the Brethren and their “witness.”
But I will say that my study has led me to conclusions that have changed my life and have led me to a dark doorway on the church’s stage, that I did not know was ever there. Entering that doorway has led to some of the most rewarding and difficult experiences of my life.
I have keenly and literally felt the pressure from the show’s producers — the lightning, the waves, and the storms from people very “high up.” I have come to see the truth and irony of Christ’s words to those seeking to truly be His disciples:
But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:34-38)
I have come to believe we must all seek truth and not fear the unknown world beyond the doorway. I believe that as we find and embrace truth, we will be led by Him to more and more light, until that perfect day.
A fanciful and flowery and heated imagination beware of; because the things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God.
If we fear to contemplate the darkest abyss, the deepest contradictions and the most awkward ironies, or to consider the depths and the effects of our traditions that form our false realities, we will never commune with God.
The stake president who chastened me for wanting an audience with the Savior was eventually called to serve as a mission president and is destined for the red, chief seats, so I’m told by those who would know.
One might ask, but don’t the Brethren teach truth? What does it hurt to follow their counsel if it’s “good?” Just because they have not been in Christ’s presence doesn’t make them evil or any less capable of teaching the gospel like anyone else…Right?
Sherem, one of several anti-Christs in the Book of Mormon, sought to confront Jacob the prophet who had been in Christ’s presence, in order that he might “overthrow the Doctrine of Christ.”
And he preached many things which were flattering unto the people; and this he did that he might overthrow the doctrine of Christ. (Jacob 7:2)
The Doctrine of Christ is at the core of this very important question. It is in fact at the very core of what we say we believe as Mormons. And yet it is the most neglected and most misunderstood of all doctrines, in my experience. So much so that even in Nephi’s day he lamented after speaking on this topic for three chapters:
And now I, Nephi, cannot say more; the Spirit stoppeth mine utterance, and I am left to mourn because of the unbelief, and the wickedness, and the ignorance, and the stiffneckedness of men; for they will not search knowledge, nor understand great knowledge, when it is given unto them in plainness, even as plain as word can be. (2 Nephi 32:7)
I have no problem with the Brethren or anyone trying to teach truth. But the precepts of men (my own included), no matter how well-intentioned, will mislead us, especially when we treat them as the words of God delivered by special servants (which I do not profess to be). They will entrap us in a false bubble of reality, a bubble that may even seem peaceful and safe and that for a time may be calm and happy.
If and when the Brethren diligently share scripture and seek the spirit in expounding it, while I believe this to be a better result than what we usually see in General Conference, it is not to be a substitute for the Doctrine of Christ, which Jacob and all True Prophets in the history of the world have attained unto. Only one speaking with the Tongue of an Angel, following the pattern of the Doctrine of Christ, can deliver a message that brings about a complete change of heart. (2 Nephi 33:1, Mosiah 5:2).
As children of God, it is our duty to discern between true and false messengers, who come in the Lord’s name.
I have looked past the lighting, the tremendous stage, the make up, the rehearsed one liners and teleprompters, the emotion, and the stories and I have sought to know whether these men stand in the presence of God or not. For me, this matters a great deal.
Is it possible that these men now unwittingly promote a deception regarding what they know and who they know because they feel the pressure to keep the show going? Do their lives, their fortunes, their jobs, their traditions, and their identities not depend upon it?
If it’s not the Doctrine of Christ shared by the power of the Holy Ghost by true messengers who have been in His presence, then we each must decide whether we shall remain deceived or whether we will look to cross the stormy sea to find the stairway that leads to the door of our escape into a new awakened state of reality, wherein then and only then we can find the True Messiah, our True Creator, even Jesus Christ. We must listen closely and we must choose. Our very salvation depends upon it.
P.S. For those of you wondering why I am including the above clip, I invite you to watch it juxtapose to the other Truman Show clips. Are we relying too heavily on drama, lighting, emotion and music? I am especially troubled about Elder Holland’s praise of President Monson, suggesting he knows NO other man who has done more for the poor than this man who shuffles through the airport in his slippers publishing peace. Just maybe that’s a confession worth contemplating.
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?
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:
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.
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.
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.