This 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.
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.
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?
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.
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)
Joseph Smith was told as a young man by an angel of God that his “name should be had for good and evil, among all nations, kindreds, and tongues; or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people” (History of the Church).
Unfortunately much of the evil spoken of Joseph arises from within the church and comes back to the topic of polygamy.
I have a few friends who are otherwise active and “faithful” members who go as far as to say they “dislike” Joseph Smith and/or that “he was a pervert.” “Sex was his weakness or downfall” they say. One such friend serves in a stake presidency. You will never hear him speak of Joseph over the pulpit. I think this is a tragedy.
Now, I know not everyone feels this way about Joseph in the church. I certainly don’t feel that way. But, like most Mormons I’ve had to rely upon the church and its approved Deseret Book list of authors to answer my questions on this issue to inform my opinions. I know some personally have who left the church after reading Richard Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling. A Deseret Book approved author. I think the church has done a very poor job in resolving most people’s concerns regarding Joseph and polygamy, despite its best efforts.
In reading some of the church’s recent teachings, it seems apparent why many are still left with very unsettled feelings over this very strange period in our history. Here’s a sampling of the church’s handling of the subject:
Latter-day Saints do not understand all of God’s purposes for instituting, through His prophets, the practice of plural marriage during the 19th century. The Book of Mormon identifies one reason for God to command it: to increase the number of children born in the gospel covenant in order to “raise up seed unto [the Lord]” (Jacob 2:30). Plural marriage did result in the birth of large numbers of children within faithful Latter-day Saint homes. It also shaped 19th-century Mormon society in other ways: marriage became available to virtually all who desired it; per-capita inequality of wealth was diminished as economically disadvantaged women married into more financially stable households; and ethnic intermarriages were increased, which helped to unite a diverse immigrant population. Plural marriage also helped create and strengthen a sense of cohesion and group identification among Latter-day Saints. Church members came to see themselves as a “peculiar people,”covenant-bound to carry out the commands of God despite outside opposition, willing to endure ostracism for their principles.
And so as an LDS person growing up in a convert family outside of Utah, these were the best arguments we could imagine or muster, always informed by our study of the church’s teachings and in the end always justifying the practice of polygamy all while defending pioneer ancestors I could not claim as my own. I admit, it was always awkward and usually humiliating.
“Well, why don’t you practice polygamy today?” I was invariably asked. “Because it’s illegal now and because the Lord revoked the commandment a long time ago. Oh and back then Utah was not a state” I might respond. “But, it was illegal then too wasn’t it? Isn’t that why the U.S. Government was challenging your church?” “Well, yeah, but…..” Always, always awkward. And at the end of the day, Joseph came out as the perverted scoundrel that started the whole mess. That impression is too often left in our minds also, as much as we try to ignore the feelings, those seeds are planted if we trust the church’s narrative.
I have family members who, to do this day, while active in the church, despise polygamy and are not comforted by the church’s teachings or essays.
In fact, a young active latter-day saint recently posted his feelings on his blog about his concerns over polygamy and his understanding of D&C section 132. He concluded polygamy was a false principle and is now facing church discipline with his wife as a consequence.
I find this very disappointing since the church came out just recently and said LDS people will not be disciplined for supporting same sex marriage online. But apparently if you support traditional marriage online, you will face discipline. Am I missing something? Now, I understand there may be other factors related to additional doctrinal disagreements held by the Van Allens. But, why not simply let people believe as they choose and continue to patiently teach them?
Such is the incredible confusion and comedy of errors over this and many other topics, further exposing the church’s inability to lead in matters of doctrine.
This last week, however, I came across the best and most logical defense of Joseph Smith regarding “polygamy” that I’ve ever read. Ironically this defense is made by a man who the church recently excommunicated.
I highly recommend this 48 page essay to anyone and everyone. Far too many people have erred too long on this subject. Joseph’s name has been spoken evil of in far too many wards and stakes throughout the church. The church itself has left Joseph hanging, by promoting its view of the truth. It has not properly defended this man (with the truth) to whom we owe the restoration of the gospel. The very man whom our Lord has anointed as choice seer, as true prophet, and as the legitimate key holder of this last dispensation.
Joseph Smith wrote the following from Liberty Jail after receiving letters from his loved ones. His words endear me to him and inspire me to want to be one of his friends.
“We need not say to you that the floodgates of our hearts were lifted and our eyes were a fountain of tears, but those who have not been enclosed in the walls of prison without cause or provocation, can have but little idea how sweet the voice of a friend is; one token of friendship from any source whatever awakens and calls into action every sympathetic feeling . . . until finally all enmity, malice and hatred, and past differences, misunderstandings and mismanagements are slain victorious at the feet of hope; and when the heart is sufficiently contrite, then the voice of inspiration steals along and whispers, ‘My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.'” (History of the Church, 3:293; the last portion of this paragraph was later canonized in D&C 121:7–8.)
Far too many of us have been inspired to lock Joseph in the cells of uncertainty (at best) in our minds and hearts because of false teachings allowed by those who ought to be more informed on these issues.
Joseph also wrote:
I have no enemies but for the truth’s sake. I have no desire but to do all men good. I feel to pray for all men. We don’t ask any people to throw away any good they have got; we only ask them to come and get more. What if all the world should embrace this gospel? They would see eye to eye, and the blessings of God would be poured out upon the people, which is the desire of my whole soul. (History of the Church, 5:259.)
I love our prophet Joseph. I stand to sustain him and invite any who doubt his mission or who believe him to be a fallen prophet to especially read this essay from Denver Snuffer. A man the church should thank for his brilliant defense of a prophet we should all give the benefit of any doubt. A prophet who gave his life for the church, even when the Lord had commanded him to escape.
“If my life is of no value to my friends,” he said, “it is of none to me.” God I love that man. His words should both inspire and haunt us at the same time.