Churches Built By Men, Part 6

Nephi makes a distinction between the institutions or churches of our day, and individuals. As to the institutions he declares: “They wear stiff necks and high heads; yea, and because of pride, and wickedness, and abominations, and whoredoms, they have all gone astray…” (2 Ne. 28: 14.)

I think it is possible for an institution to be different from its members. I think it is possible for a “committee” to have a different mind, or intent, or constitution from the individuals who comprise the committee. In a graduate leadership course I teach in an MBA program, we examine the difference between individual behavior and group behavior. There are a lot of studies done on this topic. My view is that it is entirely possible for a group to make a decision that no single individual in the group would make on their own. It is the “group’s” decision, and does not comprise the individual thinking or mind of any of those who contributed to the outcome. Compromises, insecurities, give and take, fatigue, and conflict avoidance result in a lot of group decisions being far from what any of the participants want.

So when the institutions are condemned, I do not think that means Nephi is damning all those involved in leading. Despite this, Nephi continues: “they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ…” (2 Ne. 28: 14.)

This remark makes it clear that the institutions contain humble followers of Christ. In other words, even if things are off track, people can remain on track. The challenge is always individual. It is up to each of us to focus on and be faithful to Christ. He is the Redeemer, and it is Him alone to whom we must look for our salvation.

That having been said, Nephi adds, “nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men.” (2 Ne. 28: 14.) Even humble followers of Christ  are “taught by the precepts of men” in our day. This causes them to “err” “in many instances.” Meaning that our doctrine is poorly and inadequately taught.

So what is the cure? The Book of Mormon, of course. (D&C 84: 54-57.) This is how the “humble followers of Christ” can take in pure doctrine, uncorrupted by “the precepts of men” and find their way back to repentance. It is a lifeline extended to us by prophets who wrote for our day. They wrote as solitary individuals, not as members of a committee. They held no institutional positions, office or connections pulling them in one direction or another. They wrote as the Spirit led them and as the Lord directed them. And they wrote for us.

Nephi was one of them. And he cared deeply about us to have provided this counsel and warning to us. I think it ought to be taken very seriously. Our eternity will be affected by how we apply his writings.

Organizational Changes

I teach a Business Leaderhip class in an MBA program. One of the trends in modern business is “flattening of the structure” because a top-heavy management structure is no longer needed. It is possible, with new technology, for the top to be a single layer, and middle-management to be eliminated entirely.

I’ve thought about the possibility this presents for a religious movement. As I’ve written in several of my books, the origin of Mormonism makes it much more suited as a “movement” than as a controlled institution. However, the history Mormonism originated in made it impossible for the religion to survive separate from the institution created to perpetuate it. If it were not for Brigham Young taking the extraordinary steps he took to preserve the faith restored through Joseph Smith, it would have died. Brigham Young did act, reaffirmed the institutional structure, argued it could NOT exist without the bulwark of ordered offices and holders of authority, and as a result, the institution remained. More importantly, through the institution the religion has been able to stay. The religion was altered in form because of the merger of religion and institution, now having no life independent of the institution. The interplay between these two (the religion and the organized structure), has been that the religion has been dominated by the institution. Indeed, it has stayed around only because of the institutional power to keep it here.

However, new social and technological advances have given the religion an opportunity to assume life on its own, unlinked to an institution. When Ronald Poelman gave his talk separating the “Gospel” and the “Church” in general conference (The Gospel and the Church), the talk was censored and re-written. A comparison between the original talk and the replacement is available on-line here. However, in the last general conference, Elder Hallstrom’s talk, (Converted to His Gospel through His Church) dealt with the subject again, this time making the distinction without being censored. The advances in social and technological management of information and people between the 1984 and 2012 have been more than significant.

The possiblity exists now for an entire religious body to become “one” in heart and in belief, not because of periodic visits from a distant hierarchy, but because they are in constant communication amongst themselves. Though they are in India or Mexico or Russia or the US, they can stay abreast of the very latest through direct communication with each another.

This global change is the harbinger of changes coming to every organization on earth, including the church. The church has been an early adopter of technology for decades. As they continue to adapt to new technical capabilities, it will not be long before, once again, we can “live in the same small village.” Just as Joseph Smith would answer questions over the fence in his yard with his neighbors in Nauvoo, the possiblity is coming for all of us to log into a continuing, flattened structure with no middle management. The top and the bottom of the organization becoming one. No longer any lofty branches, exalted to the sky, with the lesser members confined to the shade, but a uniform and equal access among one another from top to bottom.

In Joseph’s day there was no technology that would allow Joseph to be in contact with converts or members worldwide. There was an absolute need for a vertical, hierarchical organization with Presidency, Twelve, Seventy, Stake, Ward, and Quorum leadership levels interfacing between the top and bottom. In contrast, today if the president of the church wanted to address you and I, he could send an email, or post a message on a board where we could all visit and hear directly from him. He could record a MP3 message for us to download. Just like the rest of the world, the church itself could now be “flattened” without any of the difficulties Joseph would have encountered.

Although we tend to think the structure is absolutely essential, it isn’t. For example, the revelation giving the overall church structure was not followed by the church from the time if was received (March 28, 1835) until 1975 when President Spencer W. Kimball organized the First Quorum of the Seventy. Between those times, the Seventies had an on-again-off-again existence at the general level of the church, with only the Seven Presidents regarded as General Authorities for almost all of that time. Needs arose, the Quorum was activated, and it has been in existence since then. Is that a one-way street? Could the expansion that happens at one moment because of global needs be reversed at another time? Could the structure be simplified if it isn’t required just as it was expanded after 140 years?

As technology expands capabilities, it should not surprise us to find one day that the many layers of the church’s organization will increasingly be shortened, condensed, consolidated and simplified. It is now possible, for example, for the Lord to return and speak to us all at the same moment, no matter where located, using existing off-the-shelf means. I use that to illustrate a point, not to suggest the Lord will use those means. However, the economy of heaven is such that miracles are not employed when simple physical means will accomplish the needed work. The Lord prefers “small means” because they conform to a law. (Alma 37: 7; also 2 Ne. 2: 11.)

The idea the church could be “flattened” while the Gospel remains unaffected is an idea that can only occur if you think of the church as separate from the Gospel. The church opposed that idea just a few years ago. Now it is taught in general conference. We should not be surprised if other, presently unlikely ideas one day soon are part of our religious practices.

How can the people of God become “one” if they entertain the idea there must be a hierarchy in control? In fact, Zion and a hierarchy are mutually exclusive. You can have one, or the other, but not both. Hence the Lord’s frequent assertion that HE will bring again Zion (not us). (See D&C 84: 99-100; Mosiah 12: 22; 15: 29; 3 Ne. 16: 18, among others.) Removing all the barriers between the top and bottom, and establishing only a great equality between His people, is a likely prerequisite for the return of Zion. (D&C 78: 5-7.) The technical environment exists and the pressure will grow to flatten the church’s organizational structure. The only reason to resist that pressure would be a deliberate desire to keep distance between the top and bottom of the structure.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is never spoken of in scripture as the Lord’s elect in heaven. There is another body called the Church of the Firstborn. This group is equal in earthly and heavenly things. (See, e.g., D&C 76: 54-57; 88: 4-5; 93: 20-22.) This will not be some fundamentalist group taking multiple wives, calling themselves by that name. It will instead be called that by the Lord. [I have little confidence in self-identifying individuals or groups. The Lord calls and sends whomsoever He elects; they make few claims to authority. Instead their message is their credential, like the Lord before them.] The Church of the Firstborn is likely to be comprised of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who have taken their faith seriously and used the scriptures as their guide. They will be those who are not sleeping when the Lord, as a thief in the night, returns unwanted.

The Church of the Firstborn will be humble, obscure members of the church. Those are the ones the Lord associated with during His ministry. It was scandalous how He mingled with the bottom of the social order – prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, and outcasts. His people were and are “the least” in this world. So have been His messengers. It is almost amusing to think of Isaiah or Nephi or Jeremiah getting an honorary degree, or humanitarian award for their valuable contributions to society. Indeed, when society celebrates a messenger by heaping acclaim on them, it strongly suggests they have too much of the world about them to have chosen rightly. (3 Ne. 12: 10-12.) Mormon was alarmed to see this penetrating into the Holy Church of God in the last days. (Mormon 8: 38.)

Well, the point is technology and communication are making organizations everywhere “flatter” and without the complex hierarchies once necessary to manage them. From multi-national to local organizations, the trends are accelerating in that direction. It will not be surprising to me if the prophetic promise of Zion’s return is made possible, at last, because there is no longer any necessity for hierarchical organization as we speed along in new communication and information development. Today a single person sitting at a keyboard can send a message to millions of people by posting on a blog or message board. What a marvel that is! Imagine how that would have changed Joseph Smith’s mission had it been available then!

Imagine how futile it is in this new connected world to attempt to force people into believing things about doctrine, history, and truth. I suspect only the foolish will attempt it and only for so long as it begins to produce widespread failure and rejection by the better informed worldwide audience.

I expect the next Enoch sent to cry repentance before the return of the final Zion will have little more than “a red guitar, three chords and the truth.” (Bob Dylan) There will no longer be a need for “the words of the prophets to be written on the subway walls and tenement halls” because they will be available on everyone’s handheld. (Simon & Garfunkel) The question is, of course, whether anyone can distinguish between the truth and error. That has always been the challenge. Flattening the structure, or even eliminating it altogether, does not remove the burden upon us to choose correctly between the invitation to repent and humble ourselves and the temptation to think ourselves justified by our religion. The return of “natural fruit” will come from conversion to truth, not committment to organizational behavior.

We should not seek to be a manufactured product, but individuals who all know God. Our destiny lies somewhere other than putting ourselves inside little boxes. Mormonism today is working on a model of management which is about to be abandoned by the world. Strong, central organizations, tend to flatten people. Inspired people only need a flattened organization, because they govern themselves.

Peoplehood

One of the very substantial differences in the way we are currently evolving is almost unnoticed.  I’ve tried to capture the difference in what I’ve written by using the terms “movement” in contrast to “institution.”  Those terms help to explain the notion, but it is really something more than that.  I’m going to use a different way to explain it in this post, and see if I can get a little closer to the real underlying process which is now underway.

The original development under Joseph Smith was something quite distinct from all existing faiths.  It was not just a new religion.  It was a wholesale resurrection of an ancient concept of “Peoplehood.”  It was radical.  Its purpose was to change diverse assortments of people, from every culture and faith, with every kind of ethnic and racial composition, into a new kind of People.  They were to be united under the banner of a New and Everlasting Covenant, resurrecting the ancient Hebraic notion of nationhood and Peoplehood.  No matter what their former culture was, they were adopted inside a new family, a covenant family.  Status was defined not be virtue of what you believed or confessed, but instead by what covenants you have assumed.

What returned through Joseph Smith was not a religion, nor an institution, nor merely a faith.  It was instead the radical notion that an ancient covenant family was being regathered into a separate People.  This return to ancient roots brought with it, as the hallmark of its source of power, the idea of renewed covenants that brought each individual into direct contract with God.  It did not matter what they believed.  It only mattered that they accepted and took upon them the covenant.

Once inside the new People, there was a new culture where ancient ties returned to bind the hearts together.  There was a dietary regimen where the People were reminded at every meal that they were distinct and apart from the world.  There was the gift of sacred clothing, in which they were reminded of their separateness by the things put upon their skin.  There were financial sacrifice of tithes, gathered from the People to help the People.  The fortunes of all were intertwined with each other by the gathering of tithes and offerings into the Bishop’s storehouse to help the poor and needy among the People.  It was NOT a religion.  It was a People.  It was to become The People.  And The People were required to extend to all others the same equal opportunity to become also part of the covenant.

This is different from a religion.  It was cultural, personal, and as distinct as a Jew views himself to be from a Christian.  To a Jew, religion is a part of the equation.  They share blood with other Jews, and therefore even if a Jew is not attending weekly synagogue meetings, they retain their status as one of the Jews.

Religion on the other hand is merely a brand name for a sentiment.  One can be a Presbyterian or a Lutheran and still belong to the same Elks Lodge.  There is nothing really distinct between the two, other than where they meet for an hour or two on Sundays.  Apart from that, they identify culturally as “Protestants” and brothers.  There is no great distinction, and the theological differences which separate them are so trivial that a doctrinal disagreement between them is unlikely.

Mormonism has taken a direct course-change where the original elements of separate Peoplehood are now viewed as an impediment to wider acceptance.  The distinctions are being minimized in order to undo the conflicts that marred the relationship between Mormonism and the larger American society.  The lessons learned from those conflicts have led to the idea that we must become more actively engaged in public relations.  Our commitment to the public relations process has informed us that we have to become less distinct to get along with others.  We need to drop our misunderstood and offensive claims to distinctions that claim superiority, and urge instead the things that we share with the Presbyterians and Lutherans.  The ultimate end of that process is to make it just as meaningless and controversial a thing for a Mormon to belong to and fellowship with the Elks Lodge as it is for the Presbyterian and Lutheran.  This is one of the great goals of the Correlation process and the public relations effort of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The outreach at present is merely an attempt to get people to accept the church as another form of Historic Christianity, claiming equality among peers, without any desire to confront or cause conflict.  The notion of Peoplehood is being suppressed.  Any claims of superiority of the faith are suppressed.

Enthusiastic scholarship is working alongside the larger public relations effort.  The work of Robinson at BYU, for example, in his reconciliatory book, (co-authored with a member of the Evangelical-based Denver Theological Seminary faculty) “How Wide the Divide,” made an attempt to discuss Evangelical Protestant notions alongside Mormon notions and to minimize any differences.  The underlying presumption is that we are both merely religions.  As fellow religions we share an attempt to come to God through teachings we believe in and scriptural texts we share.

Reconciliation between what Joseph Smith restored and other religions should never have been a goal.  Joseph’s restoration was not a church.  It was not a religion.  It was not a bundle of beliefs.  By trying to reach a common footing among other mainstream Christian faiths we have to first abandon the very different footing upon which Joseph established the Restoration.

The original Restoration could never be like any of “them.”  They were churches.  Joseph restored Peoplehood.  To go from what Joseph restored to a common footing requires us to first abandon the concept that we are neither a new form of Christianity, nor a return to Jewish antecedents.  We are something quite different from either.  We are an Hebraic resurrection of God’s People, clothed with a covenant, and engaged in a direct relationship with God that makes us distinct from all other people.

When we view ourselves as a Christian faith, we deconstruct the very foundation upon which we began.  We aren’t that.  We can never be part of Historic Christianity.  And yet that has been our front-and-center effort through the focus on public relations and the scientific study of what words we should use to advance our acceptance in the world.

Read the earliest of Mormon materials and you will be shocked by how differently they viewed themselves from how we now view ourselves.  They were building a separate People.  They invited all to come and partake of the covenant, renounce their prior errors, and return to living as one of God’s New and Everlasting Covenant holders.


To rid ourselves of that tradition, we need to assume the elements of a typical religion.  Rather than defining ourselves as a separate People, we turn to defining a set of beliefs.  Establishing an orthodoxy and then insisting upon uniformity of belief to belong to the orthodox religion is the way of the Catholics and Protestants.  They are bound together NOT by their peoplehood but instead by their confessions of faith.  So as you de-emphasize our Peoplehood, you must then begin to emphasize and control an orthodox statement or confession of faith.

These dynamics are worth very careful thought.  There is an actual consensus among church leaders that this is the right way to proceed.  A discussion about it among Latter-day Saints has not even begun at the rank and file level.  The transition takes place over decades, and unless someone first creates a vocabulary for the problem, we don’t even have the capacity to discuss or notice what is happening and why.

This post has gone on too long.  Not really a blog post subject.  It’s a book-length subject.  I make fleeting comments about something that would take pages to develop.  But I doubt I’ll write the needed book.  Instead I will try to bring the idea into the consciousness of you good people and let it percolate about.  Surely some of you can do something about it.

Constantine and Correlation

I was asked in several ways how I reconcile some modern trends in the Church.  One question was phrased this way:

“Hearkening back to Elder Poleman’s talk on the differences between the Church and the Gospel. It’s often stated (overstated?) that the church is the Kingdom of God in various meetings and most members conflate the Church with the Gospel (i.e. they are synonymous terms these days).  Could you discuss the original differences (as intended in the scriptures) between “church” and “gospel”? Is church, as we currently know it (big meetinghouses, 3 hour blocks, weekly attendance, etc.), the same thing as “church” in the times of the Old and New Testaments?”
Here’s how I reconcile it all:  I don’t.  What I do is reflect upon history.  Here are a few of my ruminations:
Christianity became diverse quite early on.  Almost immediately after the closing of the New Testament, the diversity began to metastasize.
There were those who viewed Christ as a normal man, who had been “adopted” by the Father at the time of His baptism.  These were called “Adoptionists.”
There were those who believed that Christ was just a normal man, but that He had a divine spirit inhabit Him temporarily from the time of His baptism until the time of His crucifixion, at which time the divine spirit left.  It was incomprehensible to them that God would suffer and die.  Therefore, they developed a theory in which He did not.

There were those who believed that Christ was a transcendent spirit, and never corporeal as other men were.  They believed that He manifested Himself as if he were a mortal, but never truly was mortal.  They did not believe it possible for God to become incarnate.

There were those who believed that Christ taught a secret Gospel to His insiders, and that the public teachings were misleading. It was the private “gnosis” that would save you.
There were those who believed that Christ was a separate and distinct being from God the Father, and that the result was that there were two gods and not one.

There were those who argued that if they were separate then it violated the idea of “monotheism” and therefore, God the Father, Christ and the Holy Ghost had to be one, single person.  However incomprehensible that may be, there was only one being, manifesting itself in three forms.

There were those who believed priesthood authority was immutable, and once conferred it could not be lost no matter what the conduct of the person ordained.  That is, authority was not dependent at all upon righteous behavior, and even a thoroughly wicked man, once ordained, held priesthood authority no matter what he did.
There were those who believed that priesthood authority was entirely dependent upon faithful living, and that a failure to live according to God’s will terminated the authority of that man.  This movement was named after a North African priest named Arius who remained devoted during the persecutions and was blinded and crippled by those who were seeking to destroy the Christian faith.
Well, by 324 AD the whole thing had become riddled with controversies and sects.  Therefore, when King Constantine, who had battled his way into sole ownership of the Roman Emperor’s seat, determined to adopt a state religion (he chose  Christianity as that state religion) he presumed he was taking a harmonious, consistent faith.  Upon learning that there were strong internal Christian disputes, some of which led to violence between professors of the various beliefs, he decided that he needed to put down the disputations.
In a fit of practicality, King Constantine convened the great council at Nicea, and summoned all the Bishops of Christianity to a single gathering.  At the gathering he demanded they come to an agreement on what the Christian faith believed.  He could not tolerate disputes leading to violence in the newly adopted Roman state religion.
This council at Nicea was the first attempt at correlation.  The result had little to do with the truth.  It had to do with peace for the Roman state.  Constantine himself did not believe in the doctrine. He believed in the effectiveness of the faith as a basis for political power, domestic security and ease of ruling a diverse population scattered about on three continents.  When the results were achieved, he then exiled the handful of dissenters and ‘voila, Historic Christianity began.  That Historic Christianity remained correlated and of a singular view until the split between Constantinople and Rome at about 1000 AD.  It became further uncorrelated in the 1500’s with Martin Luther.
Once you start letting doctrinal disputes develop you wind up with a split empire, and internal loss of government. The original effort was imposed at the tip of a sword.  When there were dissenters, they were exiled, or eventually made “heretic.” When the final step was taken, and the intellectual buttress supplied by Bishop Ambrose’s arguments, it at last became possible for “heresy” or “heretics” to be snubbed out by murder.  The persecuted became the persecutors. They were justified by the change, having a correlated promise that the faith ratified the reasons that allowed you to persecute, torture and kill those who strayed from the “one true, Catholic faith.”  After all, if you could reclaim them merely by torture of the body, how much better than allowing them to lapse into eternal torment by being consigned to hell.  An endless “Hell” also being an invention of the Historic Christian faith.  So it was really good to do that burning, racking, thumb-dislocating, flaying, stuff after all.  All in a day’s work to convert the wayward soul back to Christ.
Elder Lee, while still a member of the Twelve, began the correlation process in the LDS Church.  It was his crowning achievement when he became President.  Now everything is in harmony. That harmony has come at the price of developing the internal idea of “apostasy” based upon the doctrine we believe in.  A test which was altogether alien to Joseph Smith.  Joseph said, when a brother Brown was being threatened with excommunication for his error in doctrine: 
“I did not like the old man being called up for erring in doctrine. It looks too much like the Methodist, and not like the Latter-day Saints. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammeled. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine.”  

The price we have paid to date for correlation is a fraction of what will ultimately be paid, if history informs us of anything.  It is now possible to be a “Mormon heretic” for believing doctrine which someone else has determined should be discarded — a thing which was unimaginable at the time of Joseph Smith, even as a result of an actual error in doctrine.  For Joseph, the way to reclaim some errant Saint was, well, confined to the means permitted by revelation:  “only by persuasion, by long–suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile.”  (D&C 121: 41-42.)   Today that has been expanded to excommunication for doctrinal errors.  When such a thing takes place, years go by before such a person is re-welcomed into the church, and then only after receiving permission from the First Presidency.  So the correlation of doctrine has slipped already into a coercive use of authority within the church.  Instead of persuading using better doctrine to correct an error, we punish and silence them through a method that was alien to the original pattern.

History is an interesting thing to study.  Particularly at the beginnings of any religious movement.  It always progresses from movement to institution.  Once it becomes an institution, as King Constantine realized, the institution itself must protect itself against disorder.  That protection comes, as history shows, at the price of contradicting the original premise upon which the movement began.

The ironies of this are always astonishing.  But somehow those who live through it never realize the irony while it is happening.  Only later, as it has taken its full bloom in torture, killing, flaying, racking and destroying the lives of people does the original, root moments in which the errors began to creep in get recognized.  Those making the errors in the first place are celebrated for centuries as “Saints” and “Popes.”

The history of religion, generally, is a transition between the movement stage, where there is always a charismatic or gifted core from which it springs, to the institution stage.  Unfortunately for the institution, gifted folks aren’t usually good businessmen.  (Joseph Smith, for example, had a pending petition for bankruptcy when he was killed.)  Once the movement gets underway, it gets co-opted by businessmen, managers and captains of industry.  Folks like Emperor Constantine, who if nothing else was a consummate manager.

Managers crave order.  They dislike the chaos of the Spirit, which is always unstable, unpredictable, and uncorrelateable.  (John 3: 8.)  As a result, they change a movement into an institution.  Institutions require order.  The nature of an institution requires managers, bankers, businessmen and generals. They consider their “product” to be religion, and they manage and sell their product as if they were General Motors, or the Roman Empire.  The kind of freedom that gave birth to the movement must be disciplined, marshaled and controlled.
Our faith is in a complete internal opposition at the moment. To become a Mormon, if you aren’t born one, you must go through a conversion process which is grounded in the bedrock of revelation.  You must pray and ask God if the Book of Mormon is true, and then you are to get an answer from God.  We expect you to have a revelatory experience to join.  But, once you have joined, then the scope of your revelatory experience is strictly limited.  You must NOT question any leader, nor ever expect God to tell you something about any subject over which you do not preside, nor to ever realize through the inspiration of the Spirit that there are foolish, vain and wrong notions circulating about.  You must NOT notice that Deseret Book has become a repository of false and foolish books parading sentimentality as if it were salvific.  You should never consider God’s revelations to you as something to be honored apart from what the institution says, does, does not do, or does poorly.  Indeed, the voice of God will come to you solely and exclusively through the institution.  If you need to know something, then the institution will tell you.  Unless you hear your orders from it, then stay as you are.

We are at a cross-roads.  At the moment the movement is ending.  The institution is at its pinnacle of complete triumph.  When the process concludes, it will not welcome converts who will challenge the basic assumptions that they, having received revelation to come on-board in the first place, must now quash the Spirit which raises so many questions about how things are proceeding.  Then to be Mormon will mean to be correlated.  Correlated body and soul.  An institutional man.  No longer distinct, unique, or creative.  Disciplined, orderly, subservient, and under control. Then the institution will become a remarkably appealing tool for not only the captains of industry, but also the heads of state.  It will become an almost irresistible tool to be employed as part of governing the world.  And so history repeats itself.

Well, these direful lessons are ones which can be either relived or avoided.  But to avoid them people who are inside the process must step outside their own times and context and to view everything within a larger picture.  I don’t think bankers, businessmen and lawyers do that often.  Indeed, the well educated who lack inspiration are not qualified.  Only the meek.  Only the humble.  As Nephi described us: “they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are  led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men.”  (2 Ne. 28: 14.)  That was the group to whom I dedicated my book The Second Comforter. 

Then I pull myself back into the present reality, and let it all wash over me like a wave.  I take a deep breath and I realize how grateful I am for any bit of goodness I can find anywhere.  And in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I can find a lot of good.  And I count my blessings and rise determined to remain a true, faithful, active Latter-day Saint throughout my life; and to die as an active and contributing fellow member.  But reconciling everything, well, I’m told that’s not my calling to do anyway.  And I’m grateful to sustain other men to grapple with the management of this historic trend, fraught as it is with the damnation or exaltation of the souls of men.  Particularly when they claim to speak in the Lord’s name.  For them there is only an “on/off” button. They can’t have it any other way.  Either they speak truthfully in the name of the Lord and with His authorization, or they use His name in vain.  I certainly wouldn’t want to be put into that spot.  So I gratefully sustain those who rush to fill the offices when asked to do so.  As one who is simply unfit to serve in such a call, I thank God for my disqualification.

With respect to the leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

I balance my deep respect for these men, and profound awareness that no-one is really equal to the burden which WE impose upon them, with the knowledge that I alone am responsible for confirming through revelation all truth.  Now, I say “the burden which WE impose upon them” to distinguish between what the Lord and scriptures says are their duties on the one hand, and the mythological duties which we have put upon them.  The scriptures and the Lord do NOT make them omniscient.  As a group the Saints do.  That is the first great error, and it is not the leader’s error but the saints’.

 
I’ve seen many, many mistakes made by the Brethren.  But I loved them and sustained them and have refrained from being overtly critical of them. 

It is not an institution which will be saved.  Indeed, the institution is doomed to be confined to this world, and not pass into the next.  But, it is the individual who will be saved.  Individuals, however, must receive what the institution offers to obtain salvation.  Therefore respect for the church is necessary.  It’s role is essential.  It’s authority from the Lord.

Institutional charisma

There was an article in the Church News about a symposium at BYU dealing with the “Organization and Administration of the LDS Church.”  The article can be found here: http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/58903/Symposium-deals-with-the-institution-of-the-Church.html. The article mentions a paper delivered by Professor Bushman titled “Joseph Smith and the Routinization of Charisma.”  Among other things, Professor Bushman asserts the church’s “genius can be largely explained in the fact that the expectation of divine revelation has been built into the very administrative structure and offices of the Church, an expectation attributable to the Prophet himself.”  This is what he asserted also in Rough Stone Rolling.

From the two thousand year example of the Roman Catholic Church, I fear presumptions like these.  There is a profound difference between actual revelation and an “expectation of divine revelation … built into the very administrative structure and offices of the Church.”  He uses comments from Joseph Smith to support the assertion, while ignoring the revelation in Section 121 cautioning that while many may be called, few are chosen.  He ignores the revelation that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority as they suppose they begin to immediately exercise unrighteous dominion.  Without confirming revelation given to every member of the Church, as a constant check on abuse, the destiny of Mormonism will be a repeat of the history of Catholicism.  A Holy American Empire will replace the Holy Roman Empire, both of which have or will resort to blood and horror as the means to reign over mankind.  The bedrock of the Gospel is the testimony of Jesus.  The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. (Rev. 19:10.)   That is the charisma the scriptures tell us to trust.

There is absolutely no historical precedent we can point to which confirms that charisma can be safely institutionalized.  There are an abundance of examples, however, of men abusing religion to gain control over others to satisfy their pride, to exercise control and dominion over others, and to gratify their vain ambition.  The only check against this are the individual testimonies of the few, humble followers of Christ.  Nevertheless, we are told that in our day even they are going to be led into error oftentimes by those who teach them the precepts of men.  (2 Ne. 28: 14.)

A lifetime of service

I do not know President Monson personally.  But his history is well known to all of us.  He was a Bishop while in his 20’s, a Stake President shortly thereafter, and then called in his late 30’s to be a member of the Quorum of the Twelve.  He worked for Deseret News before becoming a full time General Authority.  Essentially his entire life has been church service, both in his profession and in his calling.
 
If you want to see what The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would produce if a life were entirely the product of the institution and experiences derived from serving in and under that institution, you have that in President Monson.
 
It is clear to me that he absolutely trusts the system which produced all his significant life experiences.  The last two vacancies in the Twelve were filled by the senior president of the Seventy.  This would make Elder Ron Rasband the next one in line to fill a vacancy in the Twelve.  He (Elder Rasband) is a member of my stake.