For any who have not yet seen this website, I highly recommend it. The URL is www.mormonpolicyreview.com.
I have not met the author of this blog, but I find his work fascinating. I know nothing about him other than his name is Joe Murff and he is a member of the Boston, Massachusetts stake. I perceive him to be thoughtful, professional, tactful, humble, and charitable. At least that’s how he comes across to me in his comments and writings.
Like many of us, Mormon Policy Review (MPR) seeks to positively influence the church through honest feedback, thoughtful criticism and requests for more transparency. I greatly appreciate this project and plan to keep following it.
In the Book of Mormon before the coming of Christ, “there began to be men inspired from heaven and sent forth, standing among the people in all the land, preaching and testifying boldly of the sins and iniquities of the people…” and “there were many of the people who were exceedingly angry because of those who testified of these things; and those who were angry were chiefly the chief judges (the leaders), and they who had been high priests and lawyers (lots of those in the quorums of 70 and 12); yea, all those who were lawyers were angry with those who testified of these things” (3 Nephi 6:21–22).
I can only assume that those who in the church just before Christ’s coming saw the bold words of those preaching against their sins as “unkind, overly critical, and apostate.” Maybe we should begin to read the Book of Mormon as if it does actually apply to us rather than using it to boast of our greatness.
I hope the kind author of MPR will not mind me re-posting one of his comments here. I also hope you will also take the time to look at his website and begin to vote as his Voting Portal becomes available. I want to highlight his comments here because I think they capture the way many of us feel who find ourselves in disagreement with some of the church’s policies.
I also think the author’s story is one that needs to be heard. Especially given that the church will “vote” this coming weekend for (or against) the church’s current leadership. I think this brother’s experience and the response from his leaders aptly summarizes the mockery of our voting tradition, which apparently disregards agency, seeks no accountability or feedback, and is only a vain repetition intended to further puff those up who lead us.
To add just a little context, Joe’s comment came in reply to something said by a reader named Randy who takes general issue with my blog (Even my detractors appreciate Joe’s approach). It’s long, but very much worth the time.
I appreciate your reply to some extent, but you are mistaken when you say that my post “follows the church’s policy”.
I truly wish that the church’s policy did allow posts like mine, but it doesn’t. Our current definition of apostasy is a Spanish Inquisition type spider web of anti-free-speech entrapment:
“Apostasy is repeatedly acting in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its faithful leaders…”
I am absolutely certain that the present leadership consider posts like mine to be apostate in nature. If apostasy in our Church was punished by torture and/or death, my tongue would have been cut out of my mouth a long time ago, and I would have barely avoided the death penalty.
Here is some background:
In 2010, I started voting in opposition to the First Presidency when my vote was asked for during conferences. The Handbook of Instructions makes allowance for opposing votes and requires that such votes be handled by the stake president. He is supposed to determine if those being voted against are guilty of anything serious. (My reasons for the opposing vote are noted on Mormon Policy Review).
My stake president met with me and acknowledged that I had the right to vote in opposition, but said he would not forward my vote to the Presiding Bishop. I had asked him to forward my vote because the Presiding Bishop is the only officer in the Church who has the authority to investigate and discipline members of the First Presidency by means of a disciplinary council ().
I asked my stake president if he would check with the Area Seventy, to let him know about our difference of opinion, so that my vote could be forwarded to the Presiding Bishop if the Area Seventy agreed that was the right thing to do. My stake president said he would contact him. It ended up taking him several months to make the call — he was reluctant to do it.
In the meantime, although we had this disagreement about how my vote should be handled, we were still on good terms overall, and the stake president renewed my temple recommend shortly after October General Conference 2010, when it was due for renewal. He acknowledged that I met the minimum requirement of sustainment: I believe the presiding officers’ keys are valid. This doesn’t mean I have to vote in favor of them remaining in office. They can be released, the keys can be taken away from them and given to others. In effect: recognizing that King Noah received a valid priesthood/kingship ordination doesn’t mean I have to bow and scrape and give my approval or consent for him to remain king.
According to many authoritative statements by past leaders (John Taylor, Joseph F. Smith, J. Rueben Clark, and others) providing members the opportunity to vote in opposition is not a rhetorical formality. It is an actual opportunity for those who are not comfortable with the existing officers/policies to make that known. If our current leaders don’t want to be bothered with public opposition, the logical move would be to stop asking for opposing votes in public meetings. However, if they were to do that, they would be violating, as well as several other D&C passages which command that voting be used.
The meeting with Area Seventy finally took place. It turns out he didn’t agree with my stake president’s decision to renew my recommend. He gave me an ultimatum that I must stop voting in opposition or I would lose my recommend immediately. I was not willing to change my vote, so he took my recommend. At that point, I asked for a meeting with his superior (a member of the 1st Quorum of the Seventy). He told me that was unnecessary for two reasons: he had already cleared his decision with that superior, and he (my Area Seventy) already had first hand knowledge that none of the current First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve believe that voting is a chance to offer public disagreement with policy. Instead, they consider the vote to be a promise to obey the presiding officers, with an affirmative vote being mandatory for full fellowship. This speech that was given four years after our meeting is good evidence that he had a good understanding of their position:
In the meeting, I complained that the interpretation of voting he had described to me contradicts what is in the Handbook and other official literature. His response was that there are any number of doctrinal contradictions that can be pointed out with regard to written doctrine vs. current practice, and that I needed to overlook those things and fall into line with the norms favored by presiding officers. [In effect: the real-time practice/interpretation of the presiding officers is the de facto official policy, regardless of what appears in the official publications, Handbooks, etc.]
He also told me that I could not publicly express criticism about the First Presidency’s use of various public relations tactics, (their use of those tactics is one of my reasons for voting against them). He indicated that such criticism was by itself grounds for removal of my recommend, no matter how I voted.
Returning to the original point: is it fair to say that my post is in line with the current acceptable practice? I would say no, although an argument might be made that it does fall within the letter of the official written policy. Even then, it is not a strong argument. This is because the general principles outlined in the Doctrine and Covenants have been tortured into several competing interpretations within the Handbook of Instructions, the Institute Manual chapter on voting, and various General Conference, only some of which support my position.
In order to operate the Church, the limited general guidelines found in the D&C must be converted into specific policy rules. The result of converting general theory to real life practice is that, in many cases, competing interpretations are alternately championed and abandoned by high level sponsors, which creates a policy mess.
If you felt that my post was in keeping with the Spirit, then the conclusion should be obvious: the current policy/practice with regard to apostasy is misguided and not inspired. Members should be able to express their concerns in public and follow the example of Jesus, who boldly expressed his opinions in public about the high priests who presided in the holy temple during his mortal life. The comparison of the ancient Jews to our modern organization has merit:
“President Joseph Smith read the 14th chapter of Ezekiel–said the Lord had declared by the Prophet, that the people should each one stand for himself, and depend on no man or men in that state of corruption of the Jewish church–that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls–applied it to the present state of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–said if the people departed from the Lord, they must fall–that they were depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds, in consequence of neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, page 237-38).
You make a distinction between Anon Bishop and myself,– that he doesn’t believe that the leaders hold valid authority to carry out ordinances, while I do. I don’t know precisely what he believes or doesn’t believe on this point, but regardless of any differences on that point, there is something important that he and I have in common, which you seem to have missed –we have charity for church leaders who have been seduced into an infallibility mindset of “always follow the mortal leaders”. They were born into it, and it is deep in their minds and worldview, and they aggressively perpetuate it. We want them to wake up and do better.
I invite you to investigate this matter with real intent: to what extent does Anon Bishop have charity for the current leaders of the Church?
If you read his posts carefully and with an open heart, I believe that you will find he possesses that kind of love in good measure: it is the motivating impulse of his blog.
This motivation of his (the pure love of Christ) matters more than all the priesthood offices and keys and prophecies and visions and miracles that have ever been or ever will be.
Our current leaders also have a measure of charity, but in my opinion not as much as they should have. In several important aspects of the gospel, they have hard hearts and closed minds, and this leads them to misguidedly persecute innocent members.
Your assertion that Anon Bishop is trying to destroy people’s faith in the LDS Church and it’s current mortal officers is, I suppose, a basically accurate assertion from a certain point of view, but I think that you misunderstand the implications. Anon Bishop’s core position, to the best of my understanding, is as follows:
“Look to Christ. Seek diligently to identify and obey his commandments. This is the one and only path to safety.”
To the exact extent that people take that message seriously and apply it in their lives, the Holy Ghost will strive with them. If they follow it with enough virtue and diligence, the Spirit will reveal to them to what extent and in what manner they should participate in the LDS Church. In that regard, Anon Bishop is ultimately helping the Church, if it is the true Church, and is not harming it.
Meanwhile, the current leaders of the Church have a position that is essentially this:
“Look to us to be your light. Submit to us and obey us in all things and you will be saved.”
This is a very serious matter, to be teaching faith in this way. In my view it is a gross perversion of the gospel and should be adamantly opposed.
Elder Oaks wrote in his 1985 “Criticism” article that complaints against leaders should always be handled in private. This makes sense with regard to private transgression, but he mistakenly extends the rule of privacy to doctrinal disagreements, which by their very nature deserve to be discussed openly — because the leaders have already announced their doctrines openly in the first place. Disciples of Christ shouldn’t shy away from sharing their concerns and disagreements in public, by way of seeking for resolution and understanding. Those who insist on zero public opposition don’t seem to have a good understanding of common consent.
If and when Anon Bishop reveals who he is, the proper response from the leaders would be to thank him for his constructive criticism and to tolerate his writings. Nothing he has written is mean spirited or dishonest. He is voicing heartfelt concerns and he believes what he writes.
Meanwhile, the current policy is to punish public criticism in the most extreme way possible. We are habituated towards intimidating people into silence and obedience with our overkill definition of apostasy: “You will lose your salvation if you oppose the mortal officers of the Church”.
The Venn diagram that applies to this situation is a very simple one. One circle has the words of the presiding officers, another circle has the words of God. The overlap is not perfect, it is up to individuals to determine what the overlap is by virtue of their own connection with the Holy Ghost, and to obey accordingly. In the words of J. Rueben Clark:
“We can tell when the speakers are ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost’ only when we, ourselves, are ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost.’ In a way, this completely shifts the responsibility from them to us to determine when they so speak.”
In my mind it is a relatively significant issue that Anon Bishop believes that the current leaders don’t have valid keys to carry out ordinances (AB, please correct me if I misunderstand this).
That being as it may, it certainly doesn’t mean he should be cast out. It is important to have hard-core critics like him and Denver within the group, who challenge the most essential elements of our culture and beliefs. If we are not willing to keep them as members in full fellowship and to tolerate their opinions, I would suggest that we are not acting like true disciples of Christ. They have done nothing to merit being punished. They are expressing their understanding of the gospel, and there is much that is positive and enlightening in what they have to say, regardless of whatever mistakes they might be making.
The Gamaliel Principle is relevant. If they are wrong about what they are teaching, they will come to nothing in the end. If they are right, we are fighting against God if we take harsh measures against them.
If you have evidence that Anon Bishop is a witting liar, a criminal, a womanizer, or even a mean-spirited mocker, then I will reassess what I think about him and his membership status.
Until then, I will continue to consider him to be one of the truest and most sincere Mormons I have ever come across. From my perspective, he is seeking Christ will real intent and is trying to live the gospel without compromise.
Perhaps you will agree that there are many confusing and contradictory things within Mormonism. Joseph Smith once said: by proving contraries the truth is made manifest.
I think that one of the “contraries” that can be proved with abundant evidence is this: that the mortal servants whom God calls or allows to rise to the top official positions of power among his Chosen peoples (the Israelites, Jewish people, Mormons, Nephites, Jaredites) quite often act in ways that do NOT lead people to Christ. These divinely appointed (or divinely tolerated) servants sometimes are willfully ignorant and become unwitting zombie agents of the devil, and God allows this. He allows the appearance of a divine stamp of sanction to exist when things are going very wrong. That is a painful contradiction to deal with, but it must be dealt with. Why would God allows officially appointed servants of his to lead people astray and create such chaos and unrighteousness?
I think the existence of this problem tells us something about the nature of God, and about the conditions that are necessary for certain kinds of progress to occur among his children. God wants us to become spiritually independent beings. He wants us to unlock the divine power within ourselves and to reach a point where we can make righteous judgements without being micromanaged by mortal authorities or censors. In order for this progress to occur, there has to be a relatively strong appearance of divine sanction when things are going wrong. Only with this paradox in play is it possible for individuals to be fully tested and become spiritually independent.
I invite you to stop worrying so much about “Church policy”, and to start worrying a lot more about what God’s will actually is, in any particular matter. There is sometimes a 180 degree mismatch between God’s will and official church policy.
A small sampling of questions to consider:
Is it God’s will that you vote in approval of officers who teach members to put their faith in mortal guides?
Is it God’s will that you vote in approval of officers who employ a definition of apostasy that outlaws respectful public disagreement?
Is it God’s will that you accuse Anon Bishop of “fault finding” in the pejorative sense?
Are you 100 percent confident that Anon Bishop is leading people away from Christ?
Are you 100 percent confident that we as a people are not seriously off course with regard to how we are applying the law of tithing, how we treat the Word of Wisdom, and how we interpret other important matters?
If you are willing to study these things out diligently and with openness, and then go to the Lord with real intent to find out if the conclusions you have come to in these matters are correct, you might obtain truths that are not exactly comfortable to live with.
It may well take a long time to achieve the required diligence, openness, or real intent. It depends, I think, on how much spiritual strife and humiliation you are willing to experience in order to achieve a child like state of being with regard to these issues.
Full disclosure: in asking the Lord about what Denver S. has taught, I haven’t yet received a definitive answer one way or the other. I suppose this means that I haven’t yet asked in the right way.
I am trying to approach the question with an open mind, but my investigation is not yet complete. To some extent, I hate and fear all of the potential answers:
1. If Denver is in the mists of darkness leading people astray, it would mean that someone who once enlightened my mind on several important issues (the Second Comforter being one of them, which he wrote about while he was in full fellowship in the Church and which provoked no official censure to my knowledge); and who helped me to become a better person than I used to be, is either a lunatic, a witting liar, or has been deceived. I allow the possibility that one of these conditions is the case, but it won’t be painless to accept whichever one it might be.
2. If Denver is right, it would mean that my worldview concerning priesthood authority is misguided, that I have been arrogant and misled in some areas of the gospel; that I will have to start from scratch with regard to some of the most basic things that I have long felt to be true. This is a humiliating and frightening thought. The social repercussions associated with any kind of “restart” of this kind are extremely distasteful and painful.
3. Some third answer that might be as equally discomfiting as one of the first two possibilities.
Being willing to identify these emotions publicly is perhaps a necessary step in getting to a legitimate answer. Experiments are what lead to progress. Seeds cannot be tested without investment and risk.
I’d like to know if you have struggled with any of the above issues, and if not, upon what basis have you avoided them? To what extent have you investigated the matter? Are you willing to stake your eternity, without hesitation and without further introspection, on the answer that you currently have in tow?
Your reply to my post was in some ways a catalyst for my publicly articulating, for the first time, these difficult issues and emotions. For that reason, I owe you thanks.
I also owe thanks to AB. For whatever reason, the format and tone of this blog has motivated me to seek the Lord with more diligence and honesty than I have previously done in my life. I don’t take this to mean that AB is right about everything he writes, but I do take it to mean that he is not a raging wolf with the blood of innocent Saints dripping from his fangs.
I believe that the following kind of asymmetry can and does exist: even though Brigham Young was a violent, racist, power-abusing, and misogynistic person in some areas of the gospel, in other areas of the gospel he was child-like and inspired. I think that several of his most under-appreciated and forgotten speeches contain truths that are very important, and are not available anywhere else.
If nothing else, the existence of this kind of asymmetry should deter us from lumping people into simplistic good/evil categories. I want to learn all I can from any honest person who is willing to share what they know, and that is because I believe this axiom from Joseph Smith: “A man is saved no faster than he gains knowledge.”
I return to you a roughly parallel statement to the one you wrote, albeit mine has the reverse meaning:
“We all know that those who profess to be Saints are not perfect –Anon Bishop’s intent is to help perfect them. He does this by offering constructive criticism and analysis, ever mindful that he himself is not perfect, but nonetheless striving for that perfection and motivating others to strive for it as well.” (cross ref,).