Tag Archives: Criticism

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

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.

“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)

Criticism and Standing up for Truth

Criticism

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s my response to this comment generally:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Live it Love it

If only my words were so popular and powerful.

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

Paul Dunn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mormon Doctrine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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