Interview By My Wife

My wife looks at links to the blog, and also searches other sites to review discussions. As a result, she has posed the following questions and asked I answer them:

1. Why do you refer to the church presidents as “modern popes” in your new book?
A: That is not my term, but a term borrowed from President J. Reuben Clark, a respected counselor in the First Presidency. I use it because he used it. I assume he meant no disrespect. I certainly did not.

2. Why did you refer to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve as “the fifteen men” on your blog?
A: That is not my term, but a term used by Church Historian Marlin Jensen, a respected member of the Seventy. I use it because he used it. I assume he meant no disrespect. I certainly did not.

3. Why do you refer people to your books in answers you give in the Mormon Stories interview? Are you trying to market a product?
A: The interview actually started and stopped with my first answer. When John Dehlin heard me answer his first question, he stopped the interview and told me I had to let him control the flow and keep the answers short. He explained that long answers would make for a poor interview and we could not get it done, and I needed to trust him. So we started over again and what is on the podcast is the “take two” version involving short answers. Questions that ask about a topic I’ve written 180,000 words to carefully explain cannot be done in a brief oral response. Therefore, I attempted to be clear by referring to what I’ve written rather than leaving a listener with the impression all I had to say was what was included in a brief oral response. I couldn’t care less if someone actually reads my books. I provide them as an explanation of what I believe and why, but it requires someone to take the trouble to find them, buy them and read them. That is a barrier I assume few will overcome, but those who do will have the full answer rather than a sound-bite response. Since my livelihood is practicing law, if I were attempting to promote something of economic value to me it would need to be my law practice. I do not do that. Apart from giving free copies to friends, there are very few members of my own ward who even know I’ve written a book. In my stake, there can’t be more than a handful. I’ve never spoken of them while serving in any capacity in the church. But it is actually amusing to think a niche market like Mormon doctrine and history is a money-making audience to begin with. When you add to that the fact nothing I write is advertised, and we’ve declined two approaches from Deseret Book to have them carry copies, it becomes even less of a money-making venture. The books are not for everyone. They are difficult to obtain and not widely distributed because I know they are not meant for everyone. I mention them on my blog, but that is because if someone is interested in reading the blog they should have become acquainted with what I’ve written first. That is purely voluntary. I don’t want everyone reading what I write. 

4. Why do you think it appropriate to call Joseph Smith “boneheaded” in your Mormon Stories interview?
A: Joseph called himself foolish. The Lord rebuked him for his carnal desires, boasting and fearing man more than God. These are both Joseph’s (JS-H 1: 28) and the Lord’s (D&C 3: 4-7) characterizations of him. Therefore, I mean no disrespect, but believe the term is a modern descriptor which reflects what both Joseph himself and the Lord have stated about him. It does not lessen him in my estimation.

5. Do you believe the church leaders today are comparable to the Jewish leaders at the time of Christ, specifically do you compare Thomas S. Monson to Caiphus?
A: No. I did not do that in the interview and do not believe that is true. I used the reference Christ made to supporting the clearly wicked leaders of His day to illustrate how great a deference is owed. If those  wicked men were deserving respect, then good men trying hard to perform a difficult job deserve all the more respect and deference. In fact, if you listen carefully to the words used you will find that comparison was not made in the interview, but instead the contrast was made.

6. Do you lead a following?
A: Not as far as I am aware. I tell all who either listen to what I say or read what I write not to follow me. All should remain active and faithful as Latter-day Saints. The church leaders alone have the right to preside over the church’s affairs. I believe we all have a duty arising from baptism to mourn with those who mourn, and to serve one another, which is best done inside the church.

7. Have you said the Correlation movement has led the church into apostasy?
A: No. I only quote President David O. McKay’s statement that he believed it would have that result. Everyone is free to decide for themselves the results of the Correlation process.

8. You must have extremely good balance in order to walk the razor’s edge: pride; membership; priestcraft; discipleship.  How do you do it?  What lessons have been afforded you, allowing you to remain objective?
A: I’m not sure I understand the question, but I disagree with the premise. I fail in every respect. I suffer for my failings. I will continue to suffer for many things because the failings continue. I do not believe it is possible to be perfect and mortal, but I do believe a mortal can have a perfect intent. God appears to weigh our intent far more than our actions. He knows the desire of the heart motivating the conduct, and can look beyond the errors and foolishness displayed to the underlying desire to serve and honor Him. Christ repeatedly said this was the case. The rich Pharisee was contrasted to the widow. He certainly gave more. She clearly gave much less. But her heart willed to give all. His did not. Her sacrifice was accepted, his pride was rejected. This is how God views us all. He is not handicapped as we are.

9. Do you think the temple keys are lost?
A: Church presidents have frequently said the keys to perform plural marriages have been taken from the earth. The 1990 changes to the endowment removed some of what had previously been regarded as keys to salvation. However, anti-Mormon crusaders Jerald and Sandra Tanner have preserved them and make them available on the Internet. So, if they are in fact keys, and if they need to be known, then they have not been lost but merely removed from the temple and put onto the Tanner’s website. If someone believes they need them, they can still be had and cannot be said to have been lost. Beyond that, I leave it to each person to decide how important such things are to their relationship with God. I’m of the view that the temple rites are not the real thing, but are instruction and an invitation to receive the real thing.

10. Why do you believe it appropriate to speak about something so sacred as an appearance to you by the Lord ?
A: Anyone who has had the Lord appear to them should testify as a witness to that fact. That is paramount. It is important for witnesses to declare He lives. That they have seen Him. That His life did not end on a Roman cross in Judea. That He rose from the grave and all of us have hope through Him for our own rescue from death. That is critical. What is not appropriate for disclosure are details that go beyond what the Lord has chosen to make public already through the scriptures or ordinances. He controls that. Though He may reveal much to a person, and place them under a different standard than what is given openly to mankind, that is His decision. Until He commands, the line is drawn between witnessing He lives– which is required, and disclosing what He alone reserves for Himself to reveal– which is forbidden. I have said and I do believe our Lord has a continuing ministry. But that is His, not mine. Like any Latter-day Saint with a testimony of the Lord, I testify to help my fellow Saint increase in faith in Jesus Christ. I have an obligation to do so. We all do.

11. Have you ever been criticized by church leaders?
A: No. I’ve never been criticized nor asked to stop writing by any church leader. Not from my bishop, stake president, nor any higher authority. I have had some contacts, but they have been private, and encouraging me to continue. There have been a number of people who have returned to church activity because of what I’ve written. Those results are viewed with some support. The criticism I am aware of, some of which has been quite harsh, has come from overanxious church members who have not read the things I’ve written.

12. Have you singled out President Boyd K. Packer for criticism?
A: No. In fact he is the single most often quoted living authority in my writings. I have a great regard for him and have never criticized him, but have often defended or quoted from him. His “Candle of the Lord” sermon was a milestone talk. When Pres. Monson and Pres. Packer die, that will mark the first time there will be no apostles in the Quorum of the Twelve who were there when I joined the church. He represents a symbolic transition point for me, and I will very much mourn his passing which I hope is many years from now.

13. Why do you criticize the church if you are a faithful member?
A: I do not believe I criticize the church. I believe I respond to criticism by providing an explanation of the issues which are alive and driving people away from activity or membership. If everything I had written disappeared this instant, that would not stop the issues from being discussed. The real critics are studying ways to undermine faith and developing new arguments against the church all the time. They do not need to lie about the church to undermine faith. They only need to tell truths which we have hidden. The best thing we can do is to tell the truth first, and do it from the vantage point of faith. If we still believe, and we know about the problems, then we are best situated to disclose and address them. Being angry with a faithful member for being honest is a futile act. Hiding from the truth is equally futile. The truth is going to be told. Better us than the antagonists to tell it.

14.  Do you admit some of Joseph Smith’s sexual activities were sinful or immoral?
A: That is not as easy a question as it may appear. You would need to know about the ancient kingship, and the king’s duties to begin to answer. That is a topic so foreign to current culture that I’m not even going to undertake an answer. Under American social, cultural and religious mores of the 1800’s Joseph Smith was immoral. Under the traditional Christian values of both his and our day, he was immoral. Under an ancient form of kingship, that is a great deal less clear. So the conclusion on the question must ultimately await several things: First, a determination if Joseph Smith was being placed in a very ancient form of conduct by the commandment of God. I happen to believe he was. But that is not a topic that can be answered in passing. Second, was Joseph Smith’s conduct justified under that ancient standard? Again, that depends on Joseph’s role and God’s command. Third, does this have anything to do with current practices? Clearly it does not. We’ve long since lost track of those things and perhaps we are the better for it. When Joseph was crowned a “King and Priest” (Melek and Zadok) he was confirming a peculiar and ancient tradition. The tradition does not belong inside a democratic republic like the United States, and the rules governing the conduct of such a person are completely foreign and quite distasteful to modern sensibilities. So we are left with a standard which would condemn him, and the possibility of another standard which would justify him. One of the requisites of this ancient office required the death of the king. Not merely in ritual, though later imitators would substitute a surrogate to kill in the renewal of kingship. The original required the actual sacrifice of the king himself. Joseph did that, as well. In that sense he was perhaps an authentic return of the ancient order at more than one level. As one learned friend of mine has characterized Joseph, “he was a Divine King and a Divine Victim.” There is only one of those at a time. And his death by sacrifice is required as one of the incidents of the ancient office. But those ideas hardly belong to our day. Just alluding to it will confuse most people. There are probably only a handful of people who could speak intelligently about the topic. Yet, if you know what you’re seeing, it is all over in the Old Testament. So let me reduce it to this: Based on our standards and based on social and religious standards in his day, Joseph Smith was sinful and immoral. Whether God viewed him as such is a different question. That would need to be taken up with Him rather than me. I would hesitate to reach a conclusion on that question, however, unless you know a great deal more than most people know today, and even then not before receiving the Lord’s judgment on the question. 

15. Why do you say the restoration through Joseph Smith was intended to being back something more ancient than the New Testament Church?
A: Because that is what Christ taught. He did not say we would return to conditions like His day. He said when He returned the conditions would be like the days of Noah. Noah’s day is to be mirrored in ours. That day is pre-New Testament. I think Christ knew what He was talking about. Even the restoration itself is an imitation of the more ancient family of Abraham. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are the three great patriarchs. The Twelve Sons of Israel are the next tier of patriarchs. There were seventy descendants of Israel who went into Egypt (Exo. 1: 5). The church structure imitates the patriarchal family. We will be going back there before the Lord’s return. You don’t live as “one” when you are inside a hierarchy. You live as “one” when you are a family having all things in common. The family was the “church” in the day of Noah. That is where it is headed. We’ve just temporarily frozen the process. It will resume again.

16. Why do you ignore the church’s claim that the Nauvoo Temple was completed and the fullness was retained by the church?
A: I don’t ignore the claim. I explain it. It is called “the traditional narrative” and is set out in my last book. The church’s position is essentially that completing the baptismal font is all that was required, and Joseph conveyed the fullness above his red brick store. That position leaves many questions unanswered: Why did the Lord state the fullness could only come in the temple if the red brick store was sufficient? Is it correct to conflate baptism for the dead with fullness? Why did Brigham Young, upon his return to Nauvoo in August, abruptly change his mind and teach that completing the temple was essential? What about the ultimate failure to finish the structure? Did it matter that in 1847 the structure was not complete, even though it had been “regarded as sufficiently complete” to be dedicated? What about the revealed warnings? Were the saints driven out of Nauvoo, or planted and protected there? Did that matter? Were the saints put through judgments and buffetings rather than being protected and blessed? Did that matter? What reason is there for the Lord to state He had taken the fullness away in 1841? Does the church’s traditional narrative answer all the questions, or start from the conclusion and reason backward? If you begin with the conclusion that it was successful, and then string together whatever is needed to justify the conclusion, is that a faithful retelling of events? These and many other questions deserve at least careful consideration. I set out the church’s position or the traditional narrative, then give some careful consideration to the obvious questions which remain worth asking and grappling to resolve. If the traditional narrative is correct, then much of the language in Section 124 is a “bluff” by the Lord, apparently only to motivate the saints to engage in the drudgery of a public works building. But He apparently did not really intend to discipline them, drive them out of Nauvoo, put them through suffering and buffeting, and stir them up to repentance. Therefore, the events in Nauvoo belong inside a narrative of success, blessing, glory and vindication by the faithfulness of those involved. Their bickering, ambition, and even Brigham Young’s condemnation of the those receiving their endowments as being “thieves” because they stole the temple garments intended to be used by others reflects only credit on these faithful saints. It is puzzling to me, but perhaps it is not to others. If the traditional narrative answers all the questions of the faithful, active saints today, it does not do so for other reasonably-minded people. I’m trying to have it make sense to them. So, in a way, those who only want to consider the traditional narrative really don’t need to read the book or to consider the difficult questions I raise. But for this question, I maintain I have not ignored the traditional narrative, but have responded to it with a reasonable discussion told in an objective way. I hoped it would be matter-of-fact and dispassionate. It was not written to be any kind of “hit piece” but instead a rational discussion of reasonable historic events holding some importance for those who believe, as I do, in the Lord’s involvement in the history of the Latter-day Saints.

17. Do you love your wife?
A: Beyond all reason and forevermore. Apart from the Lord, there is no friend or other companion whose company I long to retain for all eternity than hers.

A Contrast:

Two dialogues:

Jehovah: Abraham, take thy son, thine only son whom thou lovest, and offer him as a sacrifice unto me.
Abraham: Thy will be done.

Jehovah: Pharisaint, take thy son, thine only son whom thou lovest, and offer him as a sacrifice unto me.
Pharisaint: I don’t feel good about that. That is neither tender nor merciful. I doubt God would ever ask such a thing.
Lucifer: Take thy son and anoint him, call him blessed, and keep him in thy care.
Pharisaint: Now that is tender!
Lucifer: Sacrifice is not needed, for I intend to save all mankind so that not one soul will be lost. The odds are you shall be exalted.
Pharisaint: Now that is merciful!
Lucifer: Yes, I am the god of this world, worship me and there will be nothing but reward to follow.
Pharisaint: Who was that other one asking for sacrifice?
Lucifer: He has been my opponent from the beginning. He has opposed my ever mercy, my ever tenderness, and he pretends to displace me as the god of this world.
Pharisaint: How can such a being, demanding cruel effort, who does not offer tender mercies as you do, ever hope to be worshiped?
Lucifer: He is not. There are some who pretend to do so, but there are none among my chosen, holy Pharisaints who do.


An observation about discussion groups:

The greatest mischief of discussion groups lies in the mistaken impression that collective effort will help the individual in their personal journey. The path to God is solitary. It is between the individual and the Lord. Groups create an artificial environment. The stage erected lets the group appear to occupy center stage moving the Lord into the wings.

It would be better to spend the same hours pondering or praying. Any person doing that would be better served than they are by devoting time to arguing, debate or the convincing of others.

When you learn a new idea and that is followed up with questions or uncertainties about how to make it fit together with current belief or understanding, pondering and praying is more useful. Groups debate. They argue over how to fit it together. How you fit it into your understanding will be different than how another does. The group may not share your background or have studied what you have. Therefore, a group discussion may not even address the difficulties you are contemplating.

In a group discussion there is more contention than harmony. Contention is dark and invites errors. It would be far better to contemplate, meditate, study scriptural passages, to look into related statements from prior patriarchs, prophets and apostles than to debate with others. New information can open the mind. Contentious debate will close it.

When the Lord appeared to Paul on the Road to Damascus, there were others with Paul. But the interview was between Paul and the Lord. The same is true of Joseph in the Grove, Nephi on the mountain, Moses on the mountain, the Brother of Jared, Enoch, Abraham, These and the many other times the Lord spoke with or appeared to His followers came in solitary interviews. (There are of course exceptions. There were two disciples on the Road to Emmaus. The appearance at Bountiful involved twenty-five hundred. But these exceptions are just that – exceptions. On the Road, the two disciples had previously been acquainted with and taught by Him. They were prepared. It was the very day of His resurrection. He was looking to establish a body of witnesses. The same is true of Bountiful. As I discuss in The Second Comforter, those witnesses were carefully prepared and self-selecting.)

Another problem with discussion groups, or even valued teachers, is the tendency to take attention that belongs to the Lord and give it to a man. No man is supposed to be the focus of your adoration. That belongs to the Lord alone. Men who seek to become the focus or to “win” a debate are likely to draw attention to themselves, rather than to place the focus where it belongs.

If even one member of a discussion group is unprepared, the Lord will withhold from everyone the greater light. If you tie yourself to others, you may find it hinders, rather than helps your progress. Since no two people are similarly situated, there will be hinderances for some participants.

The scriptures are a gold standard for parsing the mysteries. They contain a great deal of undiscovered truth. Unlocking those mysteries is almost always done in study, contemplation, prayer and solitary reflection apart from the world. Discussion groups become part of the world as soon as they deteriorate into contention. Take a look at discussion boards. How often are they wholesome and free of contention? The “comments” on this blog were disabled because of the deterioration that took place here.

No one can help you find your way back to God. Ideas and doctrines will; men will not. They are a poor substitute for truth, careful study, individual prayer and meditation, pondering and parsing the scriptures and developing your mind. If someone has something to teach, let them teach. Then go your way and ponder upon it. But debating and arguing is valueless or worse.

Priesthood Authority: Pres. Packer’s Remarks

In the Worldwide Leadership Conference this month President Packer made this interesting statement:

“Any elder holds as much priesthood as does the President of the Church or as I do as an Apostle—different offices. But the priesthood is not delegated out and parceled a little here and a little there. It is given all at once. In the ordinance where ordinations take place, the priesthood is conferred, and then the office is conferred. So a young man as young as 18 planning to go on a mission has this ordinance, and they first say, “We confer upon you the Melchizedek Priesthood” and then ordain you to the office of elder in that priesthood.” (See Priesthood Power in the Home.)

This statement is interesting in its implications. All the more so because of President Grant’s alteration of the practice. He discontinued conferring the priesthood. Instead he had the church ordaining to an office in the church, which he said was enough. There was no need to confer priesthood, only to ordain to an office. On the point raised by President Packer, we have an earlier statement of President Jos. F. Smith dealing with a slightly different issue. These two statements, however, can be considered together:

“Then again, if it were necessary, though I do not expect the necessity will ever arise, and there was no man left on the earth holding the Melchizedek Priesthood, except an elder– that elder, by the inspiration of the Spirit of God and by the direction of the Almighty, could proceed, and should proceed, to organize the Church of Jesus Christ in all its perfection, because he holds the Melchizedek Priesthood.”  (Gospel Doctrine, p. 148.)

These explanations of the “whole” being present in the conferral to anyone of the Melchizedek Priesthood has profound doctrinal implications regarding the subject of “keys” and their application. Brigham Young claimed possession of keys through his ordination to the apostleship (1835). He would later adopt Elder Pratt’s position that the relevant keys came in the 1836 Kirtland Temple appearances. This topic of how authority is preserved or passed is also quite interesting and worth pondering, I think. Something about which many claims are made, but the underlying mechanics are not well understood.

Clearly, if it was important for angels to individually appear to Joseph (and Oliver or Sidney), then it raises the question of how widely that gets spread about, and how any surviving Elder could organize the church “in all its perfection.” Then again, what does Jos. F. Smith’s reference to “the inspiration of the Spirit of God and by the direction of the Almighty” include?

President Packer’s teaching that any elder in the church holds as much priesthood as does the church president or any of the apostles is, however, a very valid point. I agree with President Packer on that score.

First Impression

The interview I did for Mormon Stories has an introductory title designed to grab attention and get the followers of that site to listen to the interview. I presume most of that audience is unacquainted with what I’ve written. I know John Dehlin had not read any of the books I’ve written before interviewing me. He did read some of the posts on this blog, but has not completed reading any book I’ve written and has a copy of only one of them. He had limited information from which to conduct the interview.

The impetus for doing the interview came from recommendations John Dehlin received from others who had read some of my writings. He followed up on the recommendation, and persuaded me to participate.

In some of the reactions to the interview, his audience has presumed the headline title to the podcast is an accurate representation of what I’m all about. It’s rather attention grabbing to say that someone “Claims to Have Seen Christ.” That was a deliberate attempt on John Dehlin’s part to get someone who knows nothing about me and knows nothing about my work to listen to the podcast. It gives the impression to a stranger that I wear that claim on my sleeve. That I am a braggart. Worse still, that I have little regard for the sacred and tend to profane deeply personal experiences and to parade them about as if it made me noteworthy. If that were true, I would think such a person would be unbelievable. Therefore, when the listener’s reaction is indignation, I can understand that. It is reasonable.

On the other hand, if someone had actually read my writings, they would find there is almost nothing of me in them. I write about doctrine, history and scriptural exegesis. Even The Second Comforter is a book about the reader, not the writer. It gets inside the person reading it and causes them to reflect on their own relationship with God. To the extent that I am mentioned, it is in the context of my failings, shortcomings and mistakes. The reader is walked through the process of overcoming their own failings, following a path, and undoing their mistakes. At the end the reader should be better acquainted with their own deepest desires, and regard me as little more than a flawed, but believing fellow-sojourner in this challenging predicament of mortality.

I am not bothered by the first impression given by the title. The best reaction I can think of to what I’ve written would be this: “I can’t stand Denver Snuffer; but what he has written is of value to me.” That reaction will do two things: First, it will establish a proper view of my irrelevance. Second, it will focus on the ideas advanced, which are in my view, a reflection of the Lord’s plan to rescue us all from our fallen condition.

Those who collect their first impression of me from John Dehlin’s headline will be quite disappointed to find there is very little of me in anything written. Or, perhaps not disappointed, but rather relieved. Either way, I am not responsible for the way he has titled the matter and have no complaints about the way he did. After all, he came into the interview without an adequate basis to know anything about the work I’ve been doing. Knowing almost nothing about that work, I thought he did an admirable job of asking critical, important and relevant questions. As a composer of headlines, I suppose he displays a flair for that, as well.


I reluctantly did an interview with John Dehlin at Mormon Stories Podcast. I do not like doing those types of things. You can listen to it here. John Dehlin asked that I do the interview and then stay around to answer some questions on his site. I took care of that and anyone who is interested can read the remarks there.

If you choose to listen, the interview is approximately 2 1/2 hours. I had no input on the questions asked and no input on the title of the interview. 

Bishop Whitney’s Revelation to Joseph Smith

Years after the revelation (after the problems in Kirtland) informing Oliver Cowdery that it was inappropriate for him to command Joseph Smith because Joseph was at the head of the church, (D&C 28:6), Bishop Whitney sent a note to Joseph Smith:

“Thus saith the voice of the spirit to me, if thy Brother Joseph Smith will attend the feast at thy house this day (at 12 ocl) they poor & lame will rejoice at his presence & also think themselves honored.
“Yours in friendship & Love
“NKW”  (See Dean Jesse, The Papers of Joseph Smith, vol. 2, pp. 130-131.)

Joseph responded by immediately canceling the Hebrew school that day and attending with his wife, father and mother the feast for the poor offered by Bishop Whitney.

Clearly, the idea that another person could receive revelation that involved even the church president was not an apostate idea during Joseph’s day as it is in ours. Bishop Whitney was not rebuked by Joseph. Instead he and his revelation were honored by Joseph responding, attending the feast and being grateful for the invitation.

Since Joseph Smith received the early revelations setting the order for the church, and yet responded to Bishop Whitney’s revelation to him, it suggests our current view of limits on who can get revelation may not be the same as Joseph understood them.

It is another interesting topic worth studying in our history to help us understand how the Lord really operates. We should be careful about adopting formulas as the solution to something when the conduct of the Prophet through whom the revelation came did not apply it consistently the same way we do today.

Valentine’s Day

We have a few thanks to dispense for Valentine’s Day:

Rome, for killing Christians.

Roman Catholicism for honoring the killed Christians.

Pope Gelasius I for designating the Feast of St. Valentine. His decision would be rescinded by Pope Paul VI, but by then it was too late to undo the celebration.

Valentine (there may have been three of them sharing the same name) for giving his (their) life as a martyr(s) to a hostile Rome.

Chaucer for turning the day into something romantic.

Hallmark for dramatically pushing the commercial opportunity in the day.

Wall Street, candy makers, jewelry sellers, teddy-bear companies, and the detritus of commercialism that exploits the relationship between those who care for one another for preying on insecurities and using it to lever us into purchasing stuff.

Commercial television, radio, the Internet, newspapers and outdoor advertising for their contributions to the selling and buying frenzy now associated with the day.

And last and least of all me – for reminding you who bother to come to this blog today or tomorrow that tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and you ought to do something to note the event. In homage to Chaucer, that ought to be romantic, but in rebellion against the commercialism of our day, make it an act or write a poem (or if you’re incapable of that then a letter), or show some kindness instead of making a purchase.

Now, I gotta figure something out myself…. because I really do love her and want that idea to be clear in her mind. And the commercialism of the event makes it clear is MUST be observed.

Standing Up To History

LDS scholar Dan Peterson has written an article in the Deseret News on February 9th titled The Restoration Stands Up to History. His notion is that there are three levels to church history following an Hegelian model of thesis, antithesis and synthesis. Although this puts a happy face and familiar intellectual language on the subject, I respectfully disagree.

The first level is what could be described using any of the following terms, some favorable and some insulting:
Faith Promoting
Sunday School’s version
General Conferencesque
Testimony Building
Burning-in-the-bosom inspiring
Entirely Trustworthy
Missing Important Details
(many others)

These descriptors reflect the point of view of the one using them. Depending on the person’s vantage point, they describe the view a certain way. Interestingly, there are people of great faith who would feel comfortable using some of the more pejorative terms.

The second level could be described in any of the following equally contradictory terms:
Historically Accurate
The Full Story
Faith Destroying
More Trustworthy
Including Important Details
Not Allowed in Sunday School
(many others)

These descriptors overlap with the first and begin to show the problem of the first two category approach (thesis/antithesis). Once again, despite the fact some are unflattering, these second level descriptors could be used by people of faith who strongly believe in the Restoration.

This leads to the final level where Bro. Peterson proposes it is possible to return to something akin to the first level, but with “a richer and more complicated version of history.” This is the happy ending of the process.

This kind of orderly progression is becoming more difficult by the day. The Internet has introduced a new world. The result of that explosion in available information has made the first level an island of isolated views. Anyone participating in such lessons can return home (or even sit in class), go on-line and look further into anything said by the instructor or manual. What was once “Fantasy Island” is now just a peninsula being besieged. It cannot thrive any longer in pretended isolation. The barbarians are already inside the gate.

If the church persists in imposing the first level as its stock-in-trade, the “apostasy” Bro. Marlin Jensen speaks about will continue. The first level cannot sustain a day long shelf life anymore. We need to drop the pretense of having all antiseptic characters, living or dead. History needs to unfold. It WILL still be faith promoting. But the faith it will promote will be more hearty, robust, realistic and enduring. We will become acquainted with characters who at times made serious mistakes, were struggling, befuddled, headed in the wrong direction, but suffered for their mistakes and came to peace with faith despite the pain of this mortal realm.

The basic argument of Bro. Peterson is absolutely correct. The Restoration WILL stand up to history. In a much more marvelous way than it does in the first level of wasted effort. That may have been good in an era of limited information, and may still be good for the Primary children. By the time they are age 12, the complications of life and the failures of mortals should be introduced and discussed.

Why hide George Albert Smith’s mental illness? Why avoid the origins of his mental instability? Why not let those who suffer from similar maladies know there has been a church president with such serious problems? Why use the pedestal to support a fictional character? Why not let him emerge as the frail, likable man he was?

Why not take the initiative as saints to go to the third level voluntarily? Why not acknowledge, face and discuss the very matters that are costing people their faith right now? Why let them discover the problems from hostile sources instead of from friendly sources? Why not strengthen one another in our faithful search for the truth, rather than let those who dispense historical events from a perspective which challenges faith get the first chance to tell our children and our converts? When they do that they gain credibility and we lose it.

“Some of Christ”

I was asked in an email what the words “some of Christ” means in Section 76, verse 100. The verse reads:  “These are they who say they are some of one and some of another—some of Christ and some of John, and some of Moses, and some of Elias, and some of Esaias, and some of Isaiah, and some of Enoch[.]” This verse occurs in a larger explanation of those who are damned because of their false religious beliefs (or more correctly, their unbelief). The larger explanation begins in verse 97 and goes through verse 107.

The context of these verses about false religion makes it clear those who practice it accept messengers who have been actually sent by the Lord with a warning from Him. The names of John, Moses, Elias, Isaiah and Enoch, for example, are names of those who were known to the Lord and entrusted by Him with a message of repentance from Him. However, despite the truthfulness of the messenger and the authentic origin of their message, the recipients have gone astray. They imagine their claim to follow the man is a substitute for receiving the message of repentance. They take pride in their status as followers of true messengers while neglecting the message to repent.

In the case of Christ, it is no different. They claim to be “of Christ” by associating His name with their brand of unbelief. They use His name in vain, however, because their practices and hearts are not inclined to follow His teachings, to endure His cross, to suffer the rejection which comes from this world and the worldly, and to give up honor, friends and family to follow Him. (See, e.g., Luke 12: 51-53; Mark 10: 29-30.)

The crux of their defect is set out in verse 101: “But received not the gospel, neither the testimony of Jesus, neither the prophets, neither the everlasting covenant.” These are four things:

1. The Gospel. You need to know that that term really means. If you do not, then you have not received it. You have claimed, like these others, to be “of Christ” without ever comprehending what His Gospel includes and does not include.

2. The “testimony of Jesus.” Do you know what that term means? Do you imagine it is something you state or something you declare? Have you considered Jesus may have His own testimony which He will give to you? Have you imagined you can receive His testimony without ever entering His presence? What would Jesus’ testimony necessarily include?

3. The failure to receive “the prophets.” This is something different than merely following the prophet, because we saw in the earlier verses the hosts who claim to follow the prophets John, Moses, Isaiah, Enoch, etc. were damned. To receive is different than to follow. But implicit in the phrase, also, is the ability to actually discern when a prophet is sent.

4. The failure to receive “the everlasting covenant.” This, also, may not be what you imagine. Joseph Smith spoke often about the everlasting covenant. It is worth a good deal of study if you have interest in knowing about those things.

To claim to be “of Christ” without having received His Gospel, heard from Him His own testimony, recognized and received the message to repent from a prophet, not just to say but to do, and to thereby receive the everlasting covenant from heaven, these are the meaningless claims which will damn. Those who fail to do so but still claim to be “of Christ” will be like the liars and thieves who are left suffering until the final resurrection. They will suffer the wrath of God. Their pride will be burned away by the things they suffer. Then will they lament, “O that we had repented in the day that the word of the Lord came unto us.” (See Helaman 13: 36.) Such people are religious, in fact very much so. They are eager to claim the status of a follower of the prophets. They boast they follow them. They think themselves better than others precisely because they claim to worship true prophets who will save them.

But without the Gospel, they are damned. Without the testimony from Jesus they are damned. Without receiving the prophetic message to repent, awake and arise, they are damned. And without these first three they are unable to receive the everlasting covenant. Therefore, they depart this world proudly, filled with unbelief and foolish pride from their false religion, and enter into their suffering.

Marlin Jensen’s Last Answer

The last question put to Marlin Jensen began with the questioner retelling his own struggle to adjust his beliefs after discovering new information in our history. The “new data points” required him to change his understanding. He was asking for a more broadminded approach that would allow open discussion of troubling history in church meetings.

The answer given by Marlin Jensen was very interesting and raises another matter about current church decision-making. When the idea of broadmindedness was raised in the context of church history, Bro. Jensen responded by speaking about homosexuality. Church history was gone, and instead his mind turned to the need for tolerance – and that meant homosexuals. It was almost a complete disconnect of topics, but quite important to understanding the internal discussion underway at the top of the church presently.

This apparent change-of-subject shows how important the present “tolerance of homosexuality” discussion has become. When Pres. Packer’s comments about homosexuality as sinful behavior in a general conference talk are edited before they appear in the conference issue of the Ensign, you can know there is a great deal of internal discussion underway. Editing Bro. Poelman’s talk is one thing, but editing a talk given by the President of the Quorum of the Twelve is altogether another.

Jim Dabakis is the Chairman of the Utah Democratic Party. He was a radio personality at KTKK when I did a call-in radio show for seven years during the 1980’s. He is an articulate, affable and intelligent man. He is also openly homosexual and an advocate for increased legal protection for the homosexual community. His negotiation successes include persuading the LDS Church to speak in favor of Salt Lake City’s recently adopted anti-discrimination ordinance. This ordinance protects a homosexual’s rights to housing and employment in Salt Lake. The City Council would not have voted in favor of the ordinance if the church had not spoken in favor of it. And the church would not have done so if Jim Dabakis had not successfully advocated and persuaded them to do so.

The success in persuading the church to go from Proposition 8 opposition in California, to advocating adoption of a gay-rights ordinance in Salt Lake City in just a few short months is not possible without the leadership of church at the highest level actively discussing and troubling over the issue.

When Marlin Jensen’s mind goes from a question about troubling history and tolerance of differing views of our past, immediately to tolerance of homosexuality, that is not so bizarre a jump as you might think. It is a reflection of the current discussion underway at the very top of the church.

Public opinion is shifting. Particularly among the younger Americans. The trends all suggest that acceptance of homosexual conduct as normal will be shared by the majority of Americans. Those holding contrary views are aging and dying, and those who hold the more open and accepting view are replacing them. Unless opinions change this is the inevitable result.

Any organization that is sensitive to survey’s and polling to determine public opinion on the topic of homosexuality will discover growing demographic evidence of inevitable majority acceptance. Therefore, if you are going to make decisions on the basis of public opinions, you are going to respond to this shifting view.

Given Bro. Jensen’s immediate response to the trigger word “tolerance” by introducing homosexuality into the conversation, it is apparent the church is quite actively discussing this issue. Additionally, given the censorship of the talk given by President Packer (the current President of the Quorum of the Twelve) in general conference on the subject, it appears there is an unmistakable alignment of the leadership’s inclinations with public opinion.

It will be interesting to watch this issue unfold. For those who believe the practice of homosexuality is wrong because it frustrates the Divine order, and is desolating to humanity because it ends the continuation of family life through the union of the sexes, the idea of church approval for such relations is unthinkable. For more socially progressive Mormons who wish to be aligned with popular opinion, it is a relief to have another divisive issue excised from the principles of Mormon religion.

When an abomination that renders sexual relations desolate (they don’t produce offspring) occurs in the holy place, you can know the promised destruction is soon at hand. Christ said those living in that day would live to see the end of the world. (See JS-M 1: 32-36.) The way to decide when the virtue of tolerance becomes the wickedness of permissiveness can only be done by those who treasure up His (Christ’s) words. (JS-M 1: 37.) For those few willing to do so, the Lord will send angels to gather them. (Id., see also D&C 77: 11.)

Some say it is good to be popular. It is better to not care. It is best to have an eye single to the word of the Lord.

Interpreting History, Part 10 Conclusion

Seriously studying history allows us to recognize unresolved issues or to fix our errors. With a superficial knowledge of our history we risk making presumptions and missing the mark, or risk not even recognizing there are errors to what we believe today. Isn’t the subject of our religion and its beginnings important enough to want to carefully examine it?

The mission of Elijah is so important to the wrapping up of God’s strange act that the prophecy about his return before the great and dreadful day of the Lord appears in every volume of scripture. From the Old Testament to the Pearl of Great Price, it is mentioned repeatedly.

When we discover Joseph Smith speaking of Elijah’s return as a future event in 1844, we get our first hint that our current doctrine on the subject may need further examination. However, if we only know the popular story borne out of Orson Pratt’s analysis in the Deseret Evening News of D&C 110 when it was found and first published, then raising the issue seems unnecessary. Since you think you know the truth already, a reexamination seems stupid. Do you look into the matter, and risk discovering there have been historic, and therefore, doctrinal errors made for 160 years on Elijah’s mission? Do you think this is important enough to study it again?

We are the subject and object of many Book of Mormon prophecies. Some of them hold us up in a rather negative light. They seem to suggest we are riddled with mistakes and errors. That we have gone far astray, and are being led to err in many instances. Those prophecies do not trouble us, however, if we accept the self-vindicating narrative that we’ve been headed in the right direction all along.

One of the things that helps orient an historical analysis is the language of scripture. If the scriptures warn us against thinking all is well in our version of Zion, and tells us to never resist hearing more of the word of God, and further tells us (repeatedly) not to trust the arm of flesh, what does this mean? We have a popular account of events that more or less suggests all is well. We are God’s chosen. We have the power to save ourselves. We have a great body of revelation to guide us and don’t need much revelation anymore. And some of what Joseph Smith talked about we don’t really know much about and aren’t sure we believe anyway. We are safe, and the odds are we’ll all be exalted. Those ideas are the polar opposite of what the Book of Mormon says about us. Should the Book of Mormon provide us the themes to apply to our history, or do they not matter at all? If we allow the Book of Mormon to inform the dialogue, then do we reconcile the disparity between our claims and the prophetic text by re-looking  at our history, or instead merely by trusting we are led that in no instance do we currently err?

People of good faith, who believe in Mormonism, can differ in their conclusions about matters. Those differences are not signs of apostasy or evil. They are, in fact, healthy. They ought to be the source from which stimulating discussion and deep thought comes. An unexamined and superficial belief system is always vulnerable to collapse. A thoughtful and reflective believer does not fly to pieces when something new is told to them. They are already acquainted with the idea and practice of prayerfully and through personal revelation considering and reconsidering their faith. New ideas do not cause despair, but become part of the normal process for them. They consider, suspend judgment, study, reflect, pray and then reach a careful conclusion. The conclusion is put into the larger framework and any necessary adjustments are considered, adapted or corrected, and faith improves. This process is allowed to work over and over as they explore their faith more deeply.

The environment of Mormonism is not conducive to healthy discussion at the moment. Correlation and the need for central control has preempted the kind of healthy intellectual inquiry that is needed to solve the present crisis of apostasy. History should be allowed to be merely our true, unembellished, unprotected history. Not a tool for propaganda used by central planners to accomplish a desired end. Using it that way in an information-based society invites the disaster presently unfolding.

I believe in Mormonism. I cherish the faith. It is vibrant and resilient. It does not need institutional protection – borne out of fear. Efforts to protect have, in fact, injured the faith and discredited this approach.

History matters. May we allow it to become the source of truth informing our open discussions, rather than a tool to be manipulate and manage people. Managing people is a dark enterprise. Inform them and allow them the freedom to choose to govern themselves. That is what the Prophet Joseph Smith did. The mere ambition to control people is the beginning of a dark trail that leads to the imprisonment of souls. Not just those who are the targets, but more importantly the souls of those with the ambition. It should be repugnant to anyone claiming to be a saint to allow anyone to control them. Unless they are willing to retain for themselves their right to choose, and then exercise their choice in a responsible and well informed way, they deceive themselves. Saints are made of sterner stuff. They do not recoil from the obligation, difficulty, pain and work necessary to have their minds mirror the mind of God. Surrendering to other men the responsibility devolving on yourself will never happen. But, then again, mankind rarely produces a saint.

Vanity and pride are no substitute for sainthood. Arrogance and flattery from leaders will not produce a saint either. It comes from man reaching up to God, and God answering the honest petition of the humble soul, reaching down to him. Contact with God will inevitably lead to sainthood. False ideas and incomplete or misleading history will prevent that contact from happening.

Interpreting History, Part 9

History and doctrine are linked. To alter history is to alter doctrine. You can see the links throughout scripture. Just one example from the New Testament illustrates the point:

Jesus was confronted by the Pharisee lawyers and accused of breaking the law. He and His disciples had taken plucked wheat (labor of harvesting), then rubbed them in their hands (threshing), and eaten it on the Sabbath. (Luke 6: 1-2.) As His explanation Jesus reminded the accusers of an earlier incident involving King David and his men. They had eaten the showbread which, under the law, was forbidden to be eaten by any but a priest. (Luke 6: 3-4.) This incident involving David was the precedent Jesus pointed to as justification. (1 Sam. 21: 1-6.) The law said only Aaron and his descendants could eat this bread. (Lev. 24: 5-9.) However, Jesus relied on an incident from history to justify His and the disciples’ conduct. If the history showed it could be done, then Jesus questioned the “righteousness” of complaining about the matter.

There are hundreds of other examples to draw from, but this illustrates the point. History is the mill whose grist is the stuff from which we construct doctrine. It matters. If we do not comprehend it, we cannot sort through the dangling statements that get tossed about unanchored. We do not understand their original real meaning. One of the problems of fourth phase Mormonism is the apparent corruption of our vocabulary. We use the same words as the first phase, but we have adopted altogether different meanings for them. Meaning arises from context. Context comes from history.

Joseph gazed into heaven for more than five minutes. He knew more than if you had read everything that had ever been written on the subject. (TPJS p. 324.) He was succeeded by Brigham Young, who lamented he had never seen an angel or entertained a heavenly being. Therefore, it is important to study Brigham Young’s qualifications in contrast to Joseph Smith’s qualifications. If you understand Joseph had the heavens opened to him a number of times, including several audiences with both the Father and Son, you put Joseph’s remarks into one category. If you understand that Brigham Young never had a similar experience, then you put Brigham Young’s into another category. When Joseph is contradicted by Brigham, the first effort should be to reconcile or attempt to harmonize the two men’s statements. If you cannot reconcile them with one another, you can use the knowledge you have about each of them to choose which one you will rely on. The same would also be true of others. We study the history to learn what the qualifications are/were for any of God’s chosen leaders, what God showed to them, whether the heavens have opened to them, and exactly what they knew, or did not know when they contradict Joseph.

History must be true to be useful. If it is inaccurate or incomplete we can reach one conclusion only to find we have made a mistake because there was much more (or less) to the event. The events on August 8, 1844 are critical. If there was a transfiguration of Brigham Young on that day, then we can assume God was directly involved in solving the succession dilemma. If there was no transfiguration of Brigham, then God was not directly involved, and the outcome is a product of our common consent and still binding on the saints. Although binding, if the transfiguration did not happen, then the “precedent” is administrative and voluntary, and not a sign of God’s desire to have the precedent followed forever thereafter. It is nothing more than an agreement among the saints on how to proceed

This is important. Before June 27, 1844, the question of who would succeed Joseph Smith as the church president was known. Joseph’s successor would be Hyrum Smith, but Hyrum died with Joseph. Before June 27th, the question of what was to be done upon the death of both Joseph and Hyrum was never contemplated. There was no answer to the question.

In the debates of August 8th no one urged the provisions of Section 107 as a revealed outcome for succession. The language of that revelation has since become the scriptural basis for how we proceed, but it was not thought to be relevant in the first debate over succession. Section 107 is anything but a definite answer to the question. If you adopt our system, and then use 107 to justify our system, it seems to fit, but there is another, more relevant solution found elsewhere. Doctrine & Covenants 43: 3-4 was used to appoint Hyrum Smith to succeed Joseph. The appointment was made by revelation in Section 124: 94-95. This was the scriptural pattern, and the pattern followed in the case of Hyrum.

Brigham Young’s arguments at the time were not as clear about succession as we have made them by our adopting the method of apostolic succession based on seniority. Brigham Young admitted that Joseph Smith’s sons had a right to be the church’s leader and he was only a caretaker awaiting their development. He explained that since they had never converted to the church, they were not able to lead, and so he served in their absence.

History and the scriptures allow for a different method for succession. In the final analysis it is nothing more than the common consent of the church that has elected Brigham Young and all his successors to the offices they have held. Our last descendant of Hyrum Smith, occupying the office of Patriarch to the Church, is now 105 years old, emeritus, and not likely to be succeeded when he passes. The Smith Family male line will be out of the top level of the hierarchy. Of course, there are female line descendants who are there, including Elder Ballard. But direct male line descendants are gone or will be when the Patriarch Emeritus passes on.

Does that matter? What was the point of having that office? Was it important to the church’s organization? Why was Hyrum the successor to Joseph? Why did Brigham Young expect a son of Joseph to come and preside over the church? Does history shed any light on these questions? Do they even matter? What purpose was originally served and does that purpose remain today? Why was the Patriarch sustained as a “prophet, seer and revelator” in general conference right up until he was made emeritus? Could a general conference sustain him as the church’s president, or does the system presently preclude anyone other than the nominees of the sitting president from being considered? Why did the local congregations once choose their own bishops? When did that change? Why did it change? Does the original history matter? Once we give common consent to what is done, are we accountable for the changes that occur?

There are a lot of interesting history-based questions that could be explored. But the questions themselves require us to study something that no longer even gets mentioned.

Well, I’ll be wrapping this up in Part 10.

Interpreting History, Part 8

When you come to understand something in our history as an actual event then you need to understand the event. What are its details? How important are differing accounts? If there are contradictions among witnesses, how are they harmonized? When you’ve sorted through the material and arrived at the most accurate version, what does the incident mean? If you change the details does the meaning change?

In the King Follett Discourse, for example, there were several note-takers who left accounts of the sermon. Most people are acquainted with this talk through The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. That version is an amalgamation of the various notes of those who were present. In compiling the consolidated version, some of the trimming and harmonizing left details out of the final transcript that may be important. Almost all of the notes from that day have been gathered by Andrew Ehat and Lyndon Cook in their book The Words of Joseph Smith. That very valuable book allows you compare what one person preserved of the talk with what another person preserved. The contrasts are important and make actual doctrinal differences.

If you are content with the TPJS version and have developed some of your religious views based on it, then discovering that it may have omitted details from Joseph’s talk may alarm you. You must decide whether you want to know what Joseph actually said, and perhaps what he actually meant, or if you are only interested in keeping what you already believe.

Many people “feel” the truth. They determine what they believe by how it makes them feel. Their “truth detector” is not rational, but intuitive. I’ve been involved in litigation for long enough to realize there is an irrational component to every conclusion we make. Despite the effort to be rational, we always have our personal filters and our hidden biases. Humans are rational, but not entirely so. Therefore this “feel” for truth happens in us all. Malcom Gladwell has written several books exploring this trait.

The challenge is to control your impulse to come to a conclusion about something before you let all the available information develop. You may come to a conclusion that you can defend rationally and emotionally, but it may not be true. If, instead, you suspend your impulse to decide something and let information expand, you may still reach the same conclusion, but it will be deeper, richer and more complete.

I’ve found that since my conversion, the simple stories told in 1973 have remained basically intact. But they are now much more complex, more nuanced, poignant and wonderful. Sometimes it has been painful to approach a new and expanded account of familiar events. D. Michael Quinn’s work has sometimes left me wondering how he could make such mistakes. But I’ve never doubted the impressive, even amazing capacity he has for gathering information and adding new sources to tell the stories of our history. He is valuable and almost irreplaceable as a pioneer in moving our understanding of Mormon history forward. I still disagree with some of his conclusions, but I respect and admire his work. Some of what I originally thought were mistakes by him I now find I accept and believe to be true.

It made me nervous to read some of Quinn’s work at first. I was afraid I would encounter something that would break my heart and show there was nothing to this faith I had adopted as my own. That would be difficult for me. I stared down that dark corridor and decided to proceed anyway. As I did there were painful moments, and anxiety-filled nights. I know the bitterness expressed by some of the people who have fallen away from our faith and now are vocal critics. If Mormonism is a fraud and I was certain of it I would also probably express a vocal opposition to it. Therefore, if that is their conclusion, they are coping with their sense of loss by venting. I understand it. I was willing to risk it too. But my faith has remained intact.

I still believe God spoke to young Joseph Smith, and that Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris saw the angel Moroni and the gold plates. I’ve also very much appreciated the “apostasy” of both Cowdery and Whitmer and their post-church affiliation writings. They remained true to their testimony as witnesses of the Book of Mormon, even if they left the church. That enhances their credibility in my view. In my opinion, if they hadn’t seen the plates and the angel, they would have denounced Joseph as a fraud after they were disaffected toward him.

These three witnesses make a formidable obstacle to dismissing Joseph Smith. As a result, there have been efforts to diminish the significance of their testimony. I think the best summary of the reasons to question their testimony can be found in Grant Palmer’s book An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins. He does a good job of putting together the best way to disregard the Three Witnesses’ Testimony. But his work is entirely derivative from other critics and therefore you need to begin with Palmer and work your way back through the footnotes to the earlier stuff to arrive at the point of departure. In the case of his book, I was already acquainted with his sources and therefore found nothing new in it. The approach is basically to discount the idea of “second sight” and to “spiritualize” away the event. For me it was not a problem. I’ve seen angels. I’ve been taught by them. I know what the experience is like. Therefore, I know what the challenge is to convert the otherworldly into this-worldly. That other world is more real and even more concrete than this. But it isn’t here. It is more tangible, but not the same as what we experience here. Joseph taught about “shaking an angel’s hand” (D&C 129: 4-5) so you can know it is possible to touch and feel them. They are tangible. But if you’re quickened and they are quickened then it is not like this place. So how do you make it possible for someone else to understand. Paul says “whether in the body or out I cannot tell” (2 Cor. 12: 3) and that’s a pretty good way to put it. He just couldn’t tell. Because it is concrete even if you want to say you saw it with “spiritual eyes.” So Grant Palmer takes those statements and turns them into the ephemeral, then into imagination, and dismisses the Testimony of the Three Witnesses. In that way he hoped to evade the Book of Mormon by turning it into a work of fiction. None of that persuaded me. I know better. Not only do I have experience in studying history, and the lives of Cowdery, Whitmer and Harris, but also in comparing other scriptures and experiences of Paul, Daniel, Joseph, Abraham, Enoch, Moses, and so many others. In addition to all the rest I have personal experience.

On the matter of “feeling” things to be true and right, we should not be hasty about closing the door on additional information. New information may change your view dramatically, and then with the new insights you will “feel” right about another, better informed view. When you deal with less information you may think in your heart that everything is just as you believe it to be; only to later find that good-faith belief was sadly under-informed or misinformed. You can only proceed on the basis of what you know, and never on the basis of what you do not know. This is why our good-faith critics who advance honest objections are not evil. They even raise questions we should ask ourselves and try to provide an honest answer.

I do not believe it is possible to acquire the faith necessary to arrive at the truth unless you are willing to know the truth. I believe that history is intended to be a test of faith and we bar ourselves from heaven and heavenly messengers through our fears. Fear is the opposite of faith.

All I’ve written has been done in the hope I can increase faith in others. I understand why I have been denounced, accused of being apostate, and had claims that I’m disrespectful of the church authorities. It is always easy to allow your fears to interpret my motives. But I can tell you that I hope to save souls. The way I write is intended to accomplish that end. If it were possible to do it in any other way I would do it differently. But I don’t intend to be popular. I only want the Lord to approve what I’ve been able to do with what I’ve been given.

Interpreting History, Part 7

The topic of our history becomes even more challenging when it is overlaid with emotion and fear. Since the study of Mormonism is also the study of what will save your soul, we associate grave importance to being “right” about things. Therefore, when we make up our mind about a storyline, we defend that story against any challenges offering another view.

As is apparent from the last question posed to Marlin Jensen in the interview referred to previously, there are painful adjustments involved in going back into your belief system, taking part of it down, or adding something new, and then adjusting everything else to accommodate the new data. It is upsetting. We don’t like to unsettle what we thought was settled. This is why once a tradition takes hold it is almost impossible to make changes to it.

In the Book of Mormon, the word “tradition” or the phrase “traditions of the fathers” is almost always used in a negative way. Do a word study yourself and see how “tradition” is used. That is one of the Book of Mormon’s warnings to us. We have to be very cautious about accepting something as true because it came to us through tradition. Every one of us needs to be converted to the truth.

Also, the “converts” in the Book of Mormon were almost always religious apostates. They had been part of the truth and fallen away. Notice how the splinter groups who were converted were almost without exception being re-converted. From the macro-level (with the Lamanites) to the micro-level (with the Zoramites–who were dissenters from the Nephites (Alma 31: 8)), the missionary effort was to bring believers back to the truth. These apostates were religious. They were firm believers in all kinds of religious ideas handed to them through incorrect traditions.

Our story is similar to the Nephite story. It has been marked by traditions that have time and again discarded what we were originally given through Joseph Smith, and are foundational to the restoration. To go into our history is to discover wonderful, exciting things that were once taught, but now are either slowly or quickly being lost. We need to ask why they were lost? If they belonged in the first place, why did we discard them? When Joseph introduced the teachings and claimed they were from God, why did we fail to preserve them? Did we lose them because we heard from God and He said, “don’t do that,” or “don’t believe that anymore?” Was it because we were jarred from our settled places in Kirtland and Nauvoo, and in the forced migrations had a hard enough time retaining part of our religion? Is our forgetfulness perfectly understandable?

To be able to discuss this openly we need to stop reacting with emotion and fear at the thought of the discussion. We can go back and consider what happened and suspend judgment about the correct narrative until we have studied and discussed the matters more fully. It should be fun. It should be wonderful. It should excite us, but instead we fear it. That is not healthy and will only preserve a continuing dwindling tradition of the faith. The process of Correlation has enshrined the process of dwindling. Go to the Book of Mormon and look up “unbelief” and you’ll find it almost invariably associated with “dwindling.” That is, the apostates of the Book of Mormon got out of line with the Lord because they “dwindled in unbelief.” They lost truths they were supposed to have remembered. Look at the word “remember” in the Book of Mormon and you’ll also find it is a very important principle. How can we ever avoid dwindling and be able to remember if we fear a close scrutiny of our history? They go hand in hand. Once again the Book of Mormon proves to be the “keystone of our religion” because it bravely faces the very problems we are currently struggling with but are afraid to discuss openly. We fear what the Book of Mormon expects us to discuss.

If you love your faith, you will allow it to inform you. You will not fight against it and only look at part of it. If you insist it can only conform to your present notions, then you do not really believe the religion at all. You only want to hold to your traditions. You are like the Book of Mormon apostates who have dwindled in unbelief because they refused to remember the original faith given to them by the Lord. None of us should want that. Open discussion should not threaten Latter-day Saints. Nor should those who are willing to engage in the discussion be called apostates or wolves in sheep’s clothing. That only ensures we will continue to ignore problems, and as a result of ignoring see a collapse in church membership.

We should be open to discussing our history in our church meetings. We should not be afraid. The discussion itself is healthy even if nothing changes in the lives of most saints. It will leave them better informed and allow those who are struggling a safe place to voice concerns and help find answers. At present, our church meetings are pretty hostile to the whole history discussion. We tolerate only centrally approved propaganda which some good-hearted people have found to be more fiction than fact. The people who view it as fiction shouldn’t be renounced for their honest questions. Instead they deserve answers from a friendly, open church.