While many view him as a modern-day Judas, Mitt Romney sees himself apparently as Peter, the perfect stone — “Pierre Delecto,” a secret pen name chosen by his truly.
This is not the first time Mitt Romney has come off as self-righteous or strange. Remember when he was asked what his greatest weakness was as a presidential candidate? His reply was that his greatest weakness was that he “had so few weaknesses.”
Is this kind of self-delusion a common theme among Mormons? If so, what causes it? Do we think ourselves superior because “we have the truth?” Is it a feeling that we’re somehow extra special as God’s children with a manifest destiny to convert the world to Mormonism? Is it because we’re clean-cut, well dressed, success-driven, and don’t drink or smoke?
Mitt Romney, sadly, is a terrible example of Mormonism in my opinion (and this is coming from someone who defended him and voted for him every time there was the opportunity) — he is traitorous, petty, self-righteous, lacking in discernment and judgment, duplicitous, backstabbing and disloyal. In real life, he may be a really nice guy, but he is a pathetic advocate for truth at a time when our nation needs inspired leaders. Maybe he does really like to hunt squirrels, but surely he will never ride a white horse and save the Consitution.
There are some today, apparently, who see themselves as beautiful stones in the Lord’s hands. I don’t feel such a confidence in them or in myself. Pierre Defecto would be a truer description for myself.
I’ve always been curious about this idea of False Christs. I personally have never heard anyone falsely claim that they were the Lord Jesus Christ. I’m not familiar with any historical figure who believed himself to be the Savior, besides the Lord Himself. I assume they exist, but surely it’s not a very common occurrence.
And yet in the scriptures, we’re warned to beware of False Christs that will come in the Last Days.
For in those days there shall also arise false christs and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch that if possible, they shall deceive the very elect, who are the elect according to the covenant. Behold, I speak these things unto you for the elect’s sake (Mark 6:4).
The Words of Mormon 1:6 describes how pernicious these false christs were in ancient American times:
And it came to pass that after there had been false christs — and their mouths had been shut, and they punished according to their crimes — and after there had been false prophets, and false preachers and teachers among the people — and all these having been punished according to their crimes — and after there having been much contentions and many dissensions away unto the Lamanites, behold, it came to pass that king Benjamin, with the assistance of the holy prophets who were among his people — for behold, king Benjamin was a holy man, and he did reign over his people in righteousness; and there were many holy men in the land, and they did speak the word of God with power and with authority, and they did use much sharpness because of the stiffneckedness of the people — wherefore, with the help of these, king Benjamin, by laboring with all the might of his body and the faculty of his whole soul, and also the prophets, did once more establish peace in the land.
So what is a false christ exactly? Does a person need to proclaim they are Christ in order for them to be a false christ?
A friend of mine recently shared the following helpful idea regarding this question:
Those who claim “leadership” and want people to ”follow” them put themselves in the place of Christ. They are, in effect, a false Christ. It was prophesied they would come in the last days to deceive the “very elect” as false Messiahs (see Matthew 11:3,6).
I also recently learned that “christ” simply means anointed or made holy. Jesus Christ is simply the Greek form of “Joshua the Anointed.”
If we change the word to more aptly fit our day, we might say:
“Beware of people who say they are Anointed by God, but who are not, and thus who are false prophets and false christs.”
The 16th Chair
I think it would be a true statement that our leaders are “anointed” if in fact, Jesus visits them and personally anoints them. Joseph Smith taught that a prophet of God is ordained by God Himself and not by a man. If this is or was the case with our prophets, I think calling them anointed or Christened would be appropriate.
But IF they are not…
I was reminded this week that some members still believe Jesus DOES visit LDS Church leaders on a regular basis.
I met with a man who worked as a contractor in a Salt Lake Temple remodel. He said he had been in the very room where the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles meet on Thursday mornings. This is the room referred to when the Apostles speak of the Upper Rooms of the Salt Lake Temple. It’s always referred to by them very reverentially. This contractor told me he was puzzled when he counted the chairs in the room and noted there were 16, not 15 chairs. He remarked that the large ornate chair in the middle was the one he assumed the Prophet sat in.
Then this man stated that he was related to an Apostle through marriage and at a later date was able to ask him why there were 16 chairs in this room. The Apostle then went on to explain that the large chair in the center was the Lord’s and that “He always attends those meetings.” He went on to say that he was told “unequivocally” by this Apostle that the Lord leads those meetings, looks over blueprints, tells them where to buy land, makes political decisions, etc.. This sweet man, who I know has many personal trials in his life right now, became teary-eyed as he bore his testimony to me of these truths.
I looked at this man inquisitively and tried to have an open heart and mind. I wanted to believe him. I would have believed him 10 years ago before I became the bishop of a prominent Church leader. And then came a flood of thoughts that quickly created quandaries for me:
If the Lord is literally in those meetings and is leading the Church in such a personal way, then why does the Church get so many things wrong? E.g. Why flip flop on children of gay parents being able to be baptized? Why struggle to know if we should stay in Scouting or not? Why the need to make so many adjustments in the Temple ceremony? Or to the structures of the Church? Why change the garment? Why remove threads and screenprint the marks? Why buy the wrong websites, i.e. LDS.org? Why use the word Mormon incorrectly for so long when referring to the Church? Why does the Church do things that seem politically expedient if being led, literally, by the Lord?
So, here’s where I think some Mormons make a very big mistake. They have so humanized this Jesus, that they believe He is not much greater than the rest of us. He’s our “Elder Brother” not much further along than ourselves. Prone to mistakes and bad judgment apparently. So human that He puts on His spectacles and rolls up His sleeves and sits in that 16th Chair and leads the Corporation of the Church of Jesus Christ.org as THE CEO. Surely He is never late to those meetings and hopefully, He wears the uniform of the Priesthood–a white shirt and a tie and a finely twined suit from Mr. Mac’s.
Is this why we see ourselves as Pierre Delecto rather than Dust Defecto? Because Jesus is our CEO and we are not much less than Him as His leaders?
Every so often I hear myself communicating with some measure of implied or assumed authority. I apologize for the times I do. The truth is I really don’t “know” anything or at least I know very little.
Even as a bishop I did not like to say in my testimony that “I know God lives, or that Jesus is the Christ, or that the Book of Mormon is true.” I prefer to say that I believe, perhaps even with all my heart, that such things are true. But I don’t like to say “I know.” The truth is, I only believe most things.
I don’t mean to criticize anyone who believes they do know things. Some of you may “know” much. For me though, I believe, and I want to believe more and receive more and don’t want God to think I have all that I want. I love the example of Abraham who “sought Him earnestly.” This seeking seems to suggest that he did not stop searching. That he was inquisitive and unassuming before meeting the Lord. His reward? “My name is Jehovah…” and the incredible knowledge that followed, not the least of which was the knowledge of God and the receipt of his Exaltation. Or the example of Moses who said:
I will not cease to call upon God, I have other things to inquire of him: for his glory has been upon me, wherefore I can judge between him and thee. Depart hence, Satan.
Too often I think we beat each other over the heads with our testimonies. As a missionary we were instructed at times to dust our feet, so to speak, in leaving our testimonies with someone who disagreed with us. What a mistake that is in my view.
I think the end result for most of us still in the “belief” stage who share our testimonies in this way, or our perceived “knowledge” is to offend the receiver of our words, rather than to convert them.
Sadly, I think we Mormons tend to be very passive aggressive although we may not realize it. I believe one of the chief reasons that we can’t discuss anything in church is due to this tendency we have. I see the same in many comments online, including on this blog.
For many years I found myself arguing with others in gospel discussions, which in looking back I think we can all agree, goes counter to all that the gospel actually is. I think part of my problem was that I often felt threatened by the ideas or decisions of others, especially those I loved. Now I see that I was insecure and full of pride, not full of love, as I had thought. I want to be better at discussing ideas with others and in loving people despite differences of opinion.
I also no longer like it when someone says “The Lord told me to do or say such and such…” Again, I don’t mean to be critical. Most of us have done this to one degree or another. I certainly have. But, again, I think the effect of this practice generally shuts down communication and ends what could be healthy conversations and relationships.
I would so much prefer to hear someone say, “I think the Lord is trying to tell me to do such and such…” Or “I feel very strongly that I’m being guided, but I simply don’t know… I’m acting on faith…”
One of my best friends in life is so good at this. Ironically, I believe he is closer to the Lord than anyone I know. And yet he rarely uses the Lord’s name in such a way. When we discuss gospel ideas, and I know he knows what he’s talking about, he is still very careful to not force his ideas on me with such statements as “the Lord revealed to me that this idea is true… etc.” I love this trait in my friend. He reminds me that anyone’s ideas may have merit and to be careful to not simply dismiss them, even if they are just free lancing as most of us are.
As I look back upon certain statements I’ve made over the years, I’m embarrassed. Perhaps I’ve informed a congregation that the Lord or the Spirit has just revealed something to me. Or that the Lord has told me to call them or that the Spirit told me to go somewhere. Am I doing this to set myself up as a light? To elicit an effect? To make myself look good? To appear more in tune than others? Do I speak with assumed-authority and throw scriptures at people to beat them down instead of lift them up? I’ve been there and still repeat such mistakes. I seek forgiveness.
Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not that we aren’t ever guided. It’s not that the Lord can’t or doesn’t speak to us. But, perhaps often we think He is speaking where He may not be. Or perhaps He is communicating something with us that we simply misunderstand. Or worse, some other force may actually be inspiring us and we think and claim it is the Lord. Why not simply err on the side of complete humility unless the Lord commands otherwise, literally (not maybe).
I seek to engage with others in a way that is more kind and patient and unassuming. Less authoritative. After all, what do most of us really know? We are less than the dust of the earth are we not? We are nothing, which thing perhaps we should begin to suppose.
Now, some of you may be saying “Well, AB what about you and your criticisms of the church and some of its leaders? Isn’t that unkind?” I think that’s a very fair question.
It’s a challenge for me because like many of you, I’ve learned some things about the Church that have been hard to digest. I have experienced something akin to what I’d call the mourning of the loss of something very dear to me. Like most of you, the Church was my identity for almost my entire life.
I spent a few years very angry when I began to realize the Church wasn’t as true as I had thought. Not true to the restoration at least. Not true to Joseph Smith or to the Book of Mormon. Or to the Savior. Or to the truth. And frankly, not true to the poor or to the sick or to those struggling in so many ways.
This discovery for me of truth that had been withheld or perverted inspired some anger, I admit. I don’t feel that way so much anymore. But the mourning stages for me were real and were painful.
An important distinction I make though is that the Brethren AND any other man or woman who claims to be a prophet places a burden upon those in their midst to discern if their message is true or false. Beware of false prophets we are taught! That goes for Thomas or Denver or any human who makes claims of open veils and revelations. It becomes our duty to expose or to believe. It is my understanding that choosing wrongly, leads us to unbelief and misjudgment, things we will held accountable for.
I’m always reminded of how hard it must have been to believe Joseph was a true messenger. Even many of those who first believed, ended up betraying him in the end. Are we any different or better? And then what about John the Baptist? Or Jesus? Even the Son of God came in such a way that most did not believe His message. It must have been even worse for Isaiah and Jeremiah and Lehi and Nephi and all the other holy prophets.
So if I am critical and am sinning, I ask for your forgiveness. For God’s forgiveness. But for now, I believe it is my duty to discern and expose and/or believe and share. I don’t do so with any authority and I attempt to only do so in an unassuming way — in a way that hopefully helps others seek the Lord, and not men. Certainly to not follow men in an idolatrous way as we are so prone to do.
I am hopeful that this year God will bless us to love better and to grow in greater light and knowledge. Especially those of us who claim or think we are awake. Who are here reading these blogs. I hope that as we discuss these things together it can be in a way that is thoughtful and profound. So much is at stake in discovering the truth and in being redeemed.
I’ve always thought it interesting that in Mosiah he states that Jesus will come and “shall cast out devils, or the evil spirits which dwell in the hearts of the children of men.” This teaching seems to suggest that most of us have evil spirits which possess us. Notice it does not say “evil spirits which may dwell, or who dwell in some or in many….” It simply and plainly suggests that evil spirits dwell in our hearts.
Perhaps the Temple depiction is most correct where Satan promises that the spirits which follow after him shall possess the bodies that God creates for Adam and Eve.
I think many of us will agree that it seems odd that there is such an emphasis on “evil spirits” during Christ’s ministry, but nearly no emphasis on the subject today save but for the few Catholics who are seen as less than emotionally stable for their exorcisms.
And yet even Mary Magdalene was possessed with devils. Seven of them to be exact.
What if all of us have demons which possess us? And what if this is why and how we sin?
I love the story found in Mark chapter 5:2-20:
And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, Who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains: Because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him.And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones. But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him, And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not. For he said unto him, Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit. And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many.And he besought him much that he would not send them away out of the country. Now there was there nigh unto the mountains a great herd of swine feeding. And all the devils besought him, saying, Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them. And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, (they were about two thousand;) and were choked in the sea. And they that fed the swine fled, and told it in the city, and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that was done. And they come to Jesus, and see him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid. And they that saw it told them how it befell to him that was possessed with the devil, and also concerning the swine. And they began to pray him to depart out of their coasts. And when he was come into the ship, he that had been possessed with the devil prayed him that he might be with him. Howbeit Jesus suffered him not, but saith unto him, Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee. And he departed, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him: and all men did marvel.
This story seems to suggest that some people have more than one evil spirit. Can you imagine, that perhaps this man had 2,000 devils or evil spirits that dwelt with him? One for each of the swine? I wonder what influence each evil spirit had in this man’s life.
There are so many great stories in the New Testament that can instruct us on how to deal with evil spirits. For example, Jesus scolds his disciples when they failed to cast out an evil spirit from a small child:
And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting. (Mark 9:29)
I’ve wondered lately if evil spirits aren’t not only more common than we think, but that rather they are the reason we feel tendencies towards certain sins.
What if when I am quick to anger, it is a rogue unredeemed spirit that may even be a deceased ancestor of mine, who seeks to “help” me or influence me? Would my deceased ancestor not qualify potentially for a spirit who has chosen to follow after the devil and who is in his power in his current state?
What if I am feeling especially carnal? Worldly? Judgmental? Dishonest? Depressed? Arrogant? Sexual? Could these not be evil spirits trying to influence me?
It’s funny how we assume so much. We’d rather assume that such vices are due to our own fallen nature than to contemplate that such influences may be coming from the devils sworn to inhabit and control our bodies.
It is my current opinion that we, as mortals, are subject to being possessed. And that the only remedy is that we fast and pray that Christ casts out the evil spirits that dwell in each of us. I do not recommend paying for some person or for some conference that “teaches you” how to cast them out. I invite you to turn to the Master in fasting and in prayer. He and only He can assist you in overcoming these evil spirits.
I am humbled by the idea that even when our house is clean, then and especially then, are evil spirits most desirous to possess our house.
When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out.And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished.Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. (Luke 11:24-26)
Christ is our healer. He can cast out the evil spirits that dwell in us and prevent us from redemption. That is master mayhem’s goal after all, to keep us from Christ’s redemptive powers. If he can do so through deceiving even the very elect, by inspiring the teachings of the precepts of men, as inspired by his false priests whom he has raised up on the other side of the veil, then he will find happiness in his victory for a season and we shall lose our souls.
Perhaps many of our ills are inspired by his evil forces who find the chinks in our armor. Perhaps the goal is to overcome every demon until they are all cast out. And we become new creatures? To go no more out? Maybe that’s what it means to receive the Holy Ghost? Maybe our spirits become awakened and unencumbered in that state? With no more disposition to do evil?
God help us as we strive to have Satan overcome in our lives and as we seek to receive the Holy Ghost.
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.