I received the following email today:
I know you don’t know me, but there are some things that have been on my mind for quite a while and I wanted to ask you a couple of questions.
When you spoke in St. George, you said, “We are all equal, and we are all accountable.” What did you mean by that? At the time, I felt the Spirit bear witness to me that what you were saying was true as well as very significant. Over the past few months, though, I’ve wondered if I didn’t really understand what you were saying. Could you please clarify for me and maybe others as well? Obviously, we all have differing degrees of light and truth. Does that make us unequal? How can I be equal with someone who has a greater connection to the Lord than I do? Are we necessarily brought back into a hierarchy because of this inequality? Do all our voices matter when some might voice mere opinions, others inspired thoughts from God and others revealed truths from the Lord? How can I be equal with all when some voices are loud and strong and heard by many and others are quiet and reserved and heard by so few?
And are we all really accountable for what happens with the scripture project? About a month ago I read this on the scripture update from the scripture committee:
“If we mess things up, we are responsible for that and the Lord cannot hold the assembly responsible. The Lord is capable of making the covenant happen. He wants this. Many on the other side (according to Denver) are eager for this to happen. The Lord can remove any knucklehead(s) that gets in the way or threatens the project. He will also support it. We have seen signs that heaven has compassion on the project and the Committee (Denver receiving corrections to the scriptures is one sign). Trust that the Lord will get His way.”
To me, this sounds like we’re not accountable at all. And it also reminded me of this:
“The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty. (Sixty-first Semiannual General Conference of the Church, Monday, October 6, 1890, Salt Lake City, Utah. Reported in Deseret Evening News, October 11, 1890, p. 2.)”
In PTR, you asked, “Can we be ‘one’ because we believe in the theory of equality? . . . Is belief enough? Or must there be action?” I know you were talking about temporal matters, but does it apply here as well? I also looked up “Equality” on your website and discovered a series of blog posts that discuss this very concept, pointing out errors in the early church. You talked about how Joseph had initially set up a system where various groups shared power with each other and with the church as a whole. You said:
“This splintering of authority precluded any single man or small body of men from dominating and dictating to the church. Ultimate authority was vested in ‘the voice of the Church’ who could revoke any man’s position or authority.” (September 21, 2016)
Up until now, there hasn’t been a concern about authority and power because we, as a people, have been organized in fellowships and have governed ourselves and have seen ourselves as equals. But now there is “a small body of men” who are making decisions that affect everyone. Is their authority splintered so that they don’t have too much power or control? Are there checks in place to ensure against unrighteous dominion?
In the same blogpost, you said:
“There are two great principles this history has proven. First, a body of believers who are equal are not easily governed. If the only tools to employ are persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned and pure knowledge, it will require the wisdom of God to keep believers together. As soon as they are allowed “to govern themselves” there will be ill-defined margins and straying believers in need of teaching, preaching, persuading and long-suffering. Second, it is easy to aggregate power, wealth, influence and authority if religion is used to control people . . .
If Zion is to have people of one heart and one mind, who live in righteousness with one another (Moses 7:18) then however cumbersome, inefficient, difficult or daunting it may prove, only the first principle can be chosen. If it fails, then there is no residual institution to add another abusive tool for the god of this world to employ in deceiving and chaining men using another inherited false tradition.”
I can’t imagine any of us in this situation today holding any judgment against the early saints. It is incredibly difficult to govern with persuasion and long-suffering and all of that. As a parent, I fail at it daily. It would be so much easier to establish a hierarchical system and move forward. But are we following the same pattern in a different way? I hear fewer and fewer voices because they don’t feel heard. I see more and more shrugging and saying, “I guess the Lord will take care of everything,” “Just trust the scripture committee.”
“Zion will be produced by a journey begun in equality, pursued by equals, with no man able to command another man’s actions. Persuasion, meekness, unfeigned love and pure knowledge are the only tools necessary for Zion.”
I’m not interested in the theory of equality. Could the process of getting a new set of scriptures be just important as the scriptures themselves? Are we so interested in the end results that we don’t care how we get there? You said it better:
“This way is cumbersome and inefficient. But why do gentiles think it is preferable to trade godly equality for administrative efficiency? If the destiny is equality, then the journey must begin with that held paramount. We cannot pursue abusive and controlling means to achieve freedom and equality. The path taken, matters as much as the destination. Struggling with the inefficient and cumbersome tools of persuasion, love, patience and pure knowledge will require a lot of changes to be made voluntarily. That is of course the goal: Voluntarily changing hearts.” (September 22, 2016)
Are we really all equal? Are we really all accountable? If not, please let me know. If we are, then how do we change the way we’re doing things so that we operate as equals?
I responded to this inquiry as follows:
What is the “project” now underway? I believe it to be something other than just recovering the scriptures. But the scriptures are an essential part of the “project” now underway.
As to the scriptures, there were really five different points of origin for what has been accomplished to date. No one began the project because someone was “in control.” All five different points of origin were either an individual or a small group of people who banded together to start some aspect of recovering a more accurate version of the scriptures. I was not involved. I heard that some group was working on a new set of better scriptures, and I thought it was a good idea. But I wasn’t involved.
As work proceeded some of these people learned of the work of others and banded together. Over time the different groups distilled into three: two groups working independently and an individual working alone. They were unaware of each other. The two groups were working on all of the scriptures, and the individual was working on the Joseph Smith Bible text alone.
One of the groups contacted me and turned their “finished” product over to me to publish. They asked to be left unnamed. I was going to respect their wishes, but, while I was still reviewing their work I learned of another project having been completed. I’ve explained already that I contacted the other group, and put the two groups in contact with one another, and that once they were in contact they learned from one another and determined to consolidate and improve the overall project into a single effort.
No one was prevented from doing this work. Everyone was equal and entitled to do the work. There was and is no-one “in charge” including me. In fact, my contributions have been limited and carefully measured by me to allow others to complete their labors uninterrupted by me attempting to exert any control. This has been freely done by volunteers laboring prayerfully as equals in pursuit of a product they have all been led by God to accomplish.
The fellow who labored alone on the Joseph Smith Bible project only recently came to the attention of the others laboring on this scripture undertaking. He stepped up voluntarily, explained what he had been working on, and is now in charge of the JST portion of the project because his work has been better than anything accomplished by either of the groups separately or in their combined efforts. No one elected him to take over. He just appeared with better work having been accomplished, his labors were recognized as better than what others had been able to perform, and he was given by everyone the responsibility to shepherd that part of the project to completion.
The fact that an unknown individual could step forward in the last month and provide valuable and inspired work that everyone who had been previously laboring for over a year and a half to accomplish, and then be recognized as having done a better work, in my estimation PROVES that we are all equal. He did this as a solitary labor of love and devotion. He was not called, controlled, or assigned. He volunteered. Like all others working on the scriptures, he also proceeded as an individual with equal right to contribute. And contribute he has.
The labor on the “D&C” (I use that term for convenience) was turned over to two volunteers sometime after St. George. They were not part of the original two groups, and were only recent volunteers added to the work because they had the desire and willingness to labor on this work. Although they were very recent additions, compared with those who worked for 18 months before these two joined, the entire “D&C” has been turned over to them. They volunteered and have proven by their efforts to be worthy of the labor they are performing. No one called them. No one presides over them. They decided to do the work and have been trusted to accomplish it by everyone who had done the preliminary work.
Everyone has had the same opportunity throughout. And many people now in critically important roles assumed those positions of trust and labor very recently and entirely voluntarily.
No one is getting paid. No one is paying anyone. No one has the right to hire or fire the volunteers. There is no inequality in this project that I can determine from my observations of the work and how it has progressed.
There are a lot of people criticizing because they haven’t been consulted along the way or “included” in the work. But if they rolled up their sleeves and did something to contribute they would soon find themselves laboring alongside those who have done just that for nearly two years now. Everyone is welcomed to the work.
It is not particularly easy work. It involves many hours of reviewing sometimes difficult to read and poor quality documents in order to recover as accurate a transcript as possible. There is no “freelancing” involved in any of this. It is a word-recovery labor in which the person doing the work is attempting to restore original language. It should not matter if someone presently working on the scriptures does the work or if someone else gets out a magnifying glass (or uses a program to increase magnification) to determine what the original document said. The result should be the same.
But I asked at the beginning what “the project” really consists of: because the effort is intended to remove condemnation and rejection. The first step is to respect the Book of Mormon and former commandments, not only to say but to do them. The scriptures project is intended to show the Lord we are willing to recover what “to say” or in other words to recover as best a reconstruction of the scriptures as we can now do. We know that will not be perfect. That opportunity was lost forever. We cannot achieve perfection. What we can do is make a good faith effort to get it as right as presently possible, given the neglect and loss of important information that cannot now be recovered.
We can make as earnest and heartfelt an effort to show our respect as humanly possible in the circumstances. But we know it will not be perfect because of the state of the records now remaining.
So we will do as much as we can, and know that when we present it to the Lord it will be up to Him to determine if He will have mercy on us.
I am very encouraged by the work I have seen done. I have every hope that the scriptures that will result from this effort will be as close as possible to what Joseph Smith left us in his ministry. Not perfect, but close. And I think they will be very valuable, even precious, for anyone who is interested in getting light and truth from the reconstructed materials.
But that is only one step in “the project” and perhaps the easier one at that. The more important step is to distinguish ourselves from those who went before. When you give a fair account of the failure to accomplish Zion, the language of scriptures ascribes the pollution of the earlier saints’ inheritance to contentions, jarrings, envyings, strifes and their lustful and covetous desires. On those qualities I fear we are almost identical to the earlier saints. We have not been able to eradicate those things from ourselves.
I read the foolish opposition that has been and is being advanced and I am astonished at the failure to be grateful and deeply appreciative of the many, many hours of sacrifice that have been freely made by all involved to give something of value to everyone who will receive it. I know the Lord has been displeased by the clamor, the vocal suspicions and the negative assumptions that have been freely published to the world. I mourn because we may succeed in having the best recovered scriptures of all the last-days saints, but still be no better than the worst of them.
So “the project” remains, in my view, still a distant and probably unattainable accomplishment. We seem ill-suited to become “one” and therefore ill-suited to have the Lord consider us for Zion. He will bring it about. But maybe with people who use the scriptures we are able to produce in order to actually “do” what they require for His people.
We take it one step at a time. Right now the remainder of the work to produce the scriptures is daunting. When finished, it will be presented to the Lord. Everyone is welcome to do that individually, collectively in fellowship groups, in families, or among friends. Everyone can present it to the Lord. Equally. And everyone can seek their own answer from Him. I intend to do so. I hope you will choose to do likewise.
If we have scriptures that please the Lord, then it is equally up to us to live according to their commandments, teachings, precepts, advice, counsel and warnings.