Tag Archives: Zion

A Temple

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My questions and ideas are very different today however.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Profits, Sewers, and Elevators

elevators

Words matter.  When today’s 15 Apostles of the Church use words to describe themselves such as “true messengers, special witnesses, sure witnesses, certain witnesses, prophets, seers, revelators, and apostles” it becomes our sacred duty to determine if they are being misleading or telling the truth.  Especially given that we pay for undisclosed salaries and benefits packages and give them 1/10th of all we possess.  The duty to discern their words falls upon us members.

They call themselves prophets, seers, and revelators.  But whether they prophesy, see, or reveal remains to be seen.  In fact, the opposite appears to be true.

Did Brigham prophesy correctly when he said the Church would no longer be true if it abandoned polygamy or gave priesthood to the blacks?

Did Thomas receive a true revelation to not baptize children whose parents have made lifestyle choices we disagree with?

Did Gary receive a revelation to allow for gay leaders in Boy Scouts?

Did Spencer receive a revelation to give blacks the priesthood or was the Church worried it would lose its non-profit status with the IRS?

Where are the additional sections of the Doctrine and Covenants formalizing all the revelations they receive?  Where are the prophesies of these men we adulate?  Which of them possesses stones through which they see?  Why will none of them declare as do prophets of old that they have seen Him even on the right hand of God?  Why do they continue to speak in parables using vain and ambiguous language because some things are simply “too sacred” to share?

We have allowed time and tradition to warp and distort the true meaning of words.

I am curious by show of hands (comments) which of you who consider yourselves to be True Blue Mormons, believe that these men see God.  Or at least Angels.  I have heard the Brethren say that they are sure witnesses of Christ and that they know Him as well as the ancient Apostles.  What do you think these words mean?  Elder Anderson said at a funeral this last week that his witness was “certain.”  What does he mean by this?

Can we at least agree that some of these men lead us to believe, by their words, that they have seen Him?  That they converse with Him face to face?  And that it would be a grave and tragic issue, if in fact they have not?

I think there is no greater question that can be asked of these men than, “Have you or have you not seen the Lord?”  If you have not, then shame on you for leading us to believe that you have!  If you have, then where are your revelations?  Your expounding of scripture?  Your bold testimonies that carry to the hearts of the children of men?  Why do you take surveys when you have the keys to revelation?  Why are you using our sacred funds to build malls and cities rather than help the poor?

If we have 15 prophets among us, why have we not created Zion?  Where are the signs that follow after you?  Where are the tongues, the Angels, the miracles, the prophesies, the additional scriptures, or even the doctrinal dissertations?

I do not look forward to the teleprompter talks this next week, written by paid speech writers and assistants who worship them.  Parables of pickles and talks about following the Brethren even when they are wrong and of the Old Ship Zion.  Same old Ship, different day.  To me it has all become noise.  Words no longer have meaning.  And messages from these men do not have the power to change hearts.  They only seek to control and to keep others from entering in.

I invite you to contrast their words to the words of scripture.  If ye lack wisdom, ask God, not men.  Follow Christ, not the Brethren.  He is a real Man.  Sadly “they” are all effeminate impostors.  Might as well be Profits, Sewers, and Elevators, for they have corrupted the Holy Church of God, and their titles no longer mean anything.

God bless you as you seek Him, not them.

AB

Zion Postponed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I Am Scripture”

Bednar

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abundance Oaks

The Immortalized Words of General Conference

But to what end?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monson

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

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

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

The Savior’s Example

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus speaks in plainness and humility.

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

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

Some Ideas to Consider

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13k_Nelson

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

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

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

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

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

No Poor Among “Them”

Is the church building Zion?

Holland

General Conference, October 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

city creek

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

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

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

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

Imamormon_TimesSquare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vatican

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

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

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

walmart

Some struggle with the church’s business-like approach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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