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Faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ

I’ve been asked why I remain faithful if I think things are off track.  (That’s an abbreviated way of stating a long question.)

I believe in the Book of Mormon.  Therefore I expect that the Latter-days will be filled with trouble, difficulties, and the church will be struggling with perplexities.  If we didn’t have problems we wouldn’t fit the pattern Nephi, Mormon and Moroni warned about.  So when I see problems I do not get anxious, I accept what is and deal with it.

I don’t blame anyone.  We didn’t get here by some single person’s failings.  We have proceeded carefully, and with the best of intentions.  But we still have challenges.  That is part of being here in the Telestial Kingdom.

Doing a little good, conferring a little hope, and bringing a little light into the world each day is as much as a person can hope for.  I can do that.  I am grateful for the limited sphere inside of which I serve.  I fight on that small bit of ground and leave the bigger picture for those who are responsible for the bigger picture. 

  
I have a great deal of sympathy for those who are required to lead in this troubled world.  I doubt I could have done any better, and fear I may have done a lot worse.  So I temper any shortcomings I see with the recognition that things aren’t as easy as we sometimes think they are.  I’m grateful for what I have been given and am content with life.

Who will save you?

I was asked if some mortals, like Jesus Christ, are inerrant, perfect and without sin.  Actually, the questions was phrased differently.  The question asked if I thought the church president could make mistakes.  [I suppose my rephrase gives my view.]  But to clarify:
 
I do not think any person should trust ANY other person to save them.  Don’t trust another man, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  Don’t trust me.  Don’t rely upon those who are gifted, those who lead you, or any man.
 
“I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way” ( Discourses of Brigham Young, 135).
 
If a man is a leader and he has the Spirit of God upon him, and speaks by the Spirit of God words of eternal life, then I follow the Spirit of God, not the man.  I trust no one.  And I look to find the Spirit of God, wherever it speaks, without regard to who possess it. 

“… for it shall be sweet unto them.”

I received another inquiry (in the form of a comment on this post) about the subject of self-defense, citing various scriptures from the Book of Mormon as proof I have a flawed view.  This is the comment:
 
“I have thought it would be so nice and easy to just let them kill me and go to the spirit world scot free as it were! Clasped in the arms of Jesus again! No blood on MY hands…
 
But then I read in the Book of Mormon, the commandment of Jesus:

“And again, the Lord has said that: “Ye shall defend your families even unto bloodshed.” ” Alma 43:47
Very clear. So I do not think I am obedient to Him if I refuse to take up arms. How do you reconcile this, Denver?

There is a further warning from this marvelous Book for our day that is apropos:
Alma 48:24: “they could not suffer to lay down their lives, that their wives and their children should be massacred by … barbarous cruelty”

You see, I cannot ignore the high probability that I will need to defend my wife and children from “massacre by barbarous cruelty” in the Last Days.

I plead with you NOT to suffer to just lay down your life and watch as you see them massacred.”
 
I debated over whether to let the subject die or to respond.  I decided I’d give the following reply:
 
The Book of Mormon history of an escalating arms race between the smaller Nephite people, against the greater Lamanite people, teaches us many things.  First, technology can level the playing field.  The Nephite technological adaptations kept them safe from Lamanite aggression.  Second, an arms race continues after each encounter.  The Nephites began using armor. The Lamanites adopted the use of armor.  Later wars included this technical advance on both sides of the battlefield. The result was still more innovation by the Nephites, with controlled fortifications, limited points of entry, and kill-zones with cross fire from towers aimed at the aggressive Lamanites.  All of this reads like the modern Military-Industrial Complex (to use Pres. Eisenhower’s term).  It ended badly, however.
 
Ultimately, it was not the force of arms that brought about peace. It was conversion of the Lamanites, and the Divine power in judgment to destroy the wicked.  Conversion allowed some Lamanites to survive the destruction.  But the hand of the Lord was what ended the widespread wickedness, killing and disorder.
 
The conversion of the Lamanites was greatly accelerated when the group converted by Ammon determined to lay down their arms, even at the cost of their lives.  Over a thousand of them were killed before the killing stopped.  When it stopped, however, more were converted than had been killed.
 
When the Lord visited them and they experienced a two century long hiatus from warfare, their Zion did not have arms, killing or war.  When they divided again, they set in motion a return to the earlier cycles, ultimately ending in the complete destruction of the Nephites.  They left a record.  Their advice cannot be divided from their history.  Their history was filled with violence.  It ended in the genocide of the “good guys.”  The end of the record is referred to by Mormon all throughout his abridgment of the records.  We should not miss the end of his story as we read the unfolding story.
 
Death is not the end.  John the Baptist was arrested and beheaded.  He suffered no loss.  He returned to minister to Joseph and Oliver and bestowed upon us a lost priesthood.  Peter and James were martyrs.  They suffered no loss either.  Stephen was stoned to death, and had the heavens open to him and a visit with the Father before his death.  He died forgiving those who stoned him, as he was at that moment filled with grace and charity toward others.  Stephen suffered no loss.  Joseph Smith was killed by a mob.  He suffered no loss.  He moved to his inheritance.  Isaiah was put inside a hollow log and sawed in two.  He suffered no loss.
 
Killing is not as easy as the theoretically-macho may think.  It changes a person. My father landed on Omaha Beach on the morning of June 6, 1944.  On the morning of June 7, 1944 he was the only one of his company who was able to continue fighting.  He was there at the liberation of Paris.  He fought in the Battle of the Bulge.  He killed men.  It affected him.  He could hardly speak about it.  What few comments he made were separated by years in between.  A sentence here, a comment there.  Even when asked directly, he wouldn’t offer more than a paragraph.  It wasn’t a memory he could either forget or bring himself to discuss openly.  It is a great and terrible thing to kill another. 
 
Using popular culture to illustrate the point, there is a younger partner of Clint Eastwood’s character in Unforgiven.  He talked about how much he wanted to kill someone.  After he had finally killed a man, he said to Eastwood’s character,  “I’m not like you.”  Meaning that he couldn’t reconcile himself to having taken a man’s life.  That is only a movie and Hollywood and perhaps overwrought.  But it nevertheless touches upon something absolutely true – killing is irrevocable.  There is no repair for having taken another’s life. Those who do carry that to the grave.
 
You can toss about quotes from anyone you please.  But when you cause another’s life to end you have done something irrevocable.  You have crossed a line which, even with all your prayers and regrets, you cannot reclaim. 
 
Given the choice between killing and being killed, I think a perfectly rational person can decide they would rather be killed than kill.  And I think the Lord could respect a decision of that kind, as well.  Death can be sweet for those who are prepared.  (D&C 42: 46.)

“… for it shall be sweet unto them.”

I received another inquiry (in the form of a comment on this post) about the subject of self-defense, citing various scriptures from the Book of Mormon as proof I have a flawed view.  This is the comment:
 
“I have thought it would be so nice and easy to just let them kill me and go to the spirit world scot free as it were! Clasped in the arms of Jesus again! No blood on MY hands…
 
But then I read in the Book of Mormon, the commandment of Jesus:

“And again, the Lord has said that: “Ye shall defend your families even unto bloodshed.” ” Alma 43:47
Very clear. So I do not think I am obedient to Him if I refuse to take up arms. How do you reconcile this, Denver?

There is a further warning from this marvelous Book for our day that is apropos:
Alma 48:24: “they could not suffer to lay down their lives, that their wives and their children should be massacred by … barbarous cruelty”

You see, I cannot ignore the high probability that I will need to defend my wife and children from “massacre by barbarous cruelty” in the Last Days.

I plead with you NOT to suffer to just lay down your life and watch as you see them massacred.”
 
I debated over whether to let the subject die or to respond.  I decided I’d give the following reply:
 
The Book of Mormon history of an escalating arms race between the smaller Nephite people, against the greater Lamanite people, teaches us many things.  First, technology can level the playing field.  The Nephite technological adaptations kept them safe from Lamanite aggression.  Second, an arms race continues after each encounter.  The Nephites began using armor. The Lamanites adopted the use of armor.  Later wars included this technical advance on both sides of the battlefield. The result was still more innovation by the Nephites, with controlled fortifications, limited points of entry, and kill-zones with cross fire from towers aimed at the aggressive Lamanites.  All of this reads like the modern Military-Industrial Complex (to use Pres. Eisenhower’s term).  It ended badly, however.
 
Ultimately, it was not the force of arms that brought about peace. It was conversion of the Lamanites, and the Divine power in judgment to destroy the wicked.  Conversion allowed some Lamanites to survive the destruction.  But the hand of the Lord was what ended the widespread wickedness, killing and disorder.
 
The conversion of the Lamanites was greatly accelerated when the group converted by Ammon determined to lay down their arms, even at the cost of their lives.  Over a thousand of them were killed before the killing stopped.  When it stopped, however, more were converted than had been killed.
 
When the Lord visited them and they experienced a two century long hiatus from warfare, their Zion did not have arms, killing or war.  When they divided again, they set in motion a return to the earlier cycles, ultimately ending in the complete destruction of the Nephites.  They left a record.  Their advice cannot be divided from their history.  Their history was filled with violence.  It ended in the genocide of the “good guys.”  The end of the record is referred to by Mormon all throughout his abridgment of the records.  We should not miss the end of his story as we read the unfolding story.
 
Death is not the end.  John the Baptist was arrested and beheaded.  He suffered no loss.  He returned to minister to Joseph and Oliver and bestowed upon us a lost priesthood.  Peter and James were martyrs.  They suffered no loss either.  Stephen was stoned to death, and had the heavens open to him and a visit with the Father before his death.  He died forgiving those who stoned him, as he was at that moment filled with grace and charity toward others.  Stephen suffered no loss.  Joseph Smith was killed by a mob.  He suffered no loss.  He moved to his inheritance.  Isaiah was put inside a hollow log and sawed in two.  He suffered no loss.
 
Killing is not as easy as the theoretically-macho may think.  It changes a person. My father landed on Omaha Beach on the morning of June 6, 1944.  On the morning of June 7, 1944 he was the only one of his company who was able to continue fighting.  He was there at the liberation of Paris.  He fought in the Battle of the Bulge.  He killed men.  It affected him.  He could hardly speak about it.  What few comments he made were separated by years in between.  A sentence here, a comment there.  Even when asked directly, he wouldn’t offer more than a paragraph.  It wasn’t a memory he could either forget or bring himself to discuss openly.  It is a great and terrible thing to kill another. 
 
Using popular culture to illustrate the point, there is a younger partner of Clint Eastwood’s character in Unforgiven.  He talked about how much he wanted to kill someone.  After he had finally killed a man, he said to Eastwood’s character,  “I’m not like you.”  Meaning that he couldn’t reconcile himself to having taken a man’s life.  That is only a movie and Hollywood and perhaps overwrought.  But it nevertheless touches upon something absolutely true – killing is irrevocable.  There is no repair for having taken another’s life. Those who do carry that to the grave.
 
You can toss about quotes from anyone you please.  But when you cause another’s life to end you have done something irrevocable.  You have crossed a line which, even with all your prayers and regrets, you cannot reclaim. 
 
Given the choice between killing and being killed, I think a perfectly rational person can decide they would rather be killed than kill.  And I think the Lord could respect a decision of that kind, as well.  Death can be sweet for those who are prepared.  (D&C 42: 46.)

Ultimate Source

I really appreciate my status as a lay member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I’m no-one who any of you should think important.  I’m just like you.  I offer my opinions and they are yours to consider as you try and sort out the challenges of this life.  The ultimate source for light, truth and salvation is the Lord.  Not me.  Not even an institution.  Not some other man.  You should be dependent upon the Lord for your knowledge and Him alone.  The Spirit brings you words from Him.
As you listen to any man speak, measure what he has to say against the standard found in the scriptures and against the whisperings of the Spirit to you.  Any man who tries to come between you and the Lord is seeking to make themselves an idol and they will lead you astray.  There is no-one who can stand between you and the Lord.  He alone is the keeper of the gate, and He does not now and never has employed a servant there.  (2 Ne. 9: 41.

You should obtain your own independent knowledge of everything another man tells you.  If you don’t then you are surrendering what should never be surrendered: your own agency and responsibility.

Kim Smith Concert

Subject: Kim Smith Concert

April 30th 7 pm 2001 S State Street North Building Main floor (Salt Lake Council)

Auditorium

The traditions of men, part 3

Continued:

This subject causes a great deal of anxiety for saints.  The fact it causes anxiety is proof that the saints have become conditioned to a mythology which requires everything to be good, all to be well, our current path a direct line to Zion itself, and all questions concerning the current state of affairs to be wrong.  More than “wrong,” questions are evidence of weak faith and the road to apostasy.

From the questions which started as soon as this subject began, I see I need to reiterate what I said at the first.  I have a testimony, I am active in the church, and I am not in a position to change things.  I support the brethren, pay tithing, serve where called and do not challenge the right of the regularly constituted authorities to manage the affairs of the church.  I rise when President Monson enters a room I am in, I sustain him with my vote, my prayers and my confidence.  I admire him.  I posted about him a few days back.  I meant what I said.  I do not envy him nor aspire to church leadership.  I am not called and do not anticipate I would ever even be considered; in part because of things like this subject appearing on this blog and concerns raised in books I have written.
I love the church and I am content as a Latter-day Saint.  I love my ward and serve gladly wherever I am called.
The fact that those clarifications need to be added again, although it should have been apparent from the beginning remarks, is again revealing how shaky the saints are today.  We do not have a foundation that allows us to consider alternatives.  We have a single “on/off” switch for all subjects and for our testimonies.  That is NOT as it should be.  We should be able to confront dilemmas, difficulties, troubling news and failures by leaders while we suspend judgment and tolerate dissonance.  We want instant messages, instead of having the patience to see the Hand of the Lord work over decades to bring good things from bad.
An open, candid and critical look at ourselves is not possible with people who are so insecure that they feel threatened.  The progression of these insecurities will be disastrous unless at some point it is reversed.  When those who raise questions are excluded, told they are weak in the faith and are on the road to apostasy, eventually everyone who is thoughtful is chased away from the church.  Instead of celebrating their critical thinking and working to understand issues better, we chase some of the best minds out of the church.  I wish all our critics were active members.  I wish all our discussions were open enough to allow the marketplace of ideas inside the church to air everything.  As I have said before, I believe the truth will prevail.  You can knock it down, burn it, pave it over, kill it and threaten it, but it will prevail.  A whisper of truth will overcome a hurricane of opposition.  It endures. It will triumph.
I’ve only touched on a few matters here.  I’m not going to go further at this point. However, the greater mischief we face at present is the de-emphasis of doctrine.  We are raising a new breed of Latter-day Saint today whose familiarity with doctrine is negligible.  They understand only a fraction of what has been restored, and for many of the doctrines, their understanding is incomplete, or so skewed that they are incorrect.  Doctrine has become less important.  We feed upon “inspirational stories” that salve the emotions, but do not edify the soul or bring the personal changes necessary to return to God’s presence. More and more of the saints grow up inside this new environment and have never even gained a fundamental command of the doctrines which Joseph Smith restored.  Gospel Doctrine classes rehash the same material every four years, which is quite challenging to those who have a memory which goes back decades.  The format adopted for teaching involves group discussions, and the teacher becomes a “discussion leader.”  Little is learned.  The group is made to share fellowship, and feel better for having attended, without any forward momentum in understanding the doctrines of salvation and exaltation.
When, over time, the leadership is replaced at all levels by those who are raised in the current milieu, the church will have completed a transformation back into a Protestant, powerless body of good people who want to do right and feel good about themselves.  But the power of godliness will have fled them.
President Packer again sounded the alarm in General Conference.  It was a brilliant talk.  I use the term “brilliant” to describe the light within it.  He said we had done a “good job of correlating” the priesthood “authority” but we had failed to disburse any “power” in the priesthood.  I think it was a wonderful talk.  What I would like to see discussed is whether there is a cause-and-effect between the correlation process on the one hand, and the admitted failure of priesthood power on the other hand.  That discussion, however, cannot happen in the current environment.  To ask the question about the underlying wisdom of the correlation process would be to directly challenge the “inspiration” of the prophet Harold B. Lee, who created this process.  Therefore, any questions about correlation demonstrates that the one asking questions is weak in the faith and on the road to apostasy.  So the discussion cannot occur.  That is until we become a little more secure in our faith and are willing to de-mythologize the cult of personality and recognize that questions are the first step to getting answers.
I love the church, and my fellow saints.  I mourn many of the changes.  However, I also celebrate the fact that the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, with all its gifts, privileges, opportunities and power remains still on the earth.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints administers the fundamental ordinances of that Gospel.  How far you take it is up to you.
There was a talk in General Conference given by a Seventy named Poleman, in which he distinguished between the church and the gospel.  The talk is still available on-line in its original form.  However, he was required to re-record the talk to conform to the correlation department’s challenge to any statement which distinguished between the church and the gospel.  Right now testimonies within the church recite the mantra “I know the church is true.”  The correlation process has made the church into god.  People’s testimonies of the “church” have supplanted their testimonies of Christ.  Read any Ensign issue of any Conference held within ten years after the triumph of the correlation process, and consider how many of the talks focus upon the church and the church’s processes and goodness, in contrast to how many of the talks focus upon Jesus Christ and His doctrines.  Christ’s role has been diminished by the emphasis upon the correlated church.
These are trends and traditions.  They are at their incipient stages.  We are a 180 year old church.  Barely out of the cradle, so to speak.  But trends endure.  Add another 200 years of progression of these trends and you will vindicate the fellow who said:  “When Mormons have been Mormons as long as Catholics have been Catholics, the Mormons will be more Catholic than the Catholics.”  If you want to see the future of the church in its present course, attend Mass this Saturday evening (held on Saturday so as to keep your Sunday open for basketball playoffs and MLB play now starting).

The traditions of men, part 2

Continued:
 
Originally, the view of personal revelation or any visionary experiences was quite different than what many believe today.  In fact there are those who claim that ANY vision, visitation or revelation not received by the Prophet (meaning the president of the church alone) should be viewed as false.  God speaks to the Prophet, and only to the Prophet, and we are to wait to hear what God wants us to know from the Prophet. This is an extension of the adoption of the term “Prophet” and the resulting cult of personality.
 
During Joseph Smith’s time, he welcomed the revelatory experiences of others.  He neither discouraged them nor felt threatened by them.  His enthusiasm for what others told him of their revelations, and the acceptance of others’ revelations is readily apparent in the first volume of the Joseph Smith Papers.  Today the tradition is quite the contrary.  Today, if anyone has a revelation they are advised to keep it to themselves. When others hear about them the cautionary attitude adopted is – ‘if it were something important then the Prophet of God would have told you about it.’
 
The effect of the adoption of the term “Prophet” for the living church president has been far ranging and dramatic.  There has been a dramatic change in people’s expectation of personal revelation, as a result of this title shift. The result is, of course, if you do not expect revelation you are not going to receive it.  The expected charismatic gifts of the Spirit during the early church is now replaced by the assumption that charismatic gifts are driven by office and position.  Bishops get revelation for wards (and by extension no one else does or can).  Stake presidents get revelation for stakes (and by extension no one else does or can).  Mission presidents get revelation for missions (and by extension no one else can or does—except in the notable case of the recent earthquake in Chile, as I mentioned before).  What has always been true is that presiding authorities alone are the final say on revelation or guidance for their calling.  What is not true is that no-one else can, has or does get revelation.  Revelation comes to those who are prepared.  It comes in response to seeking, asking, knocking, and not automatically as a result of a new office or position.  Now someone called to office may humble themselves, begin seeking, asking and knocking and then get revelation.  But the revelation was always available, and the same information is available to all, “even the least of the Saints” as Joseph Smith put it.  The proposition that there is a control over available revelation is one of the results of the post-1955 development of the cult of personality centered on the President as the Living Prophet of God.
 
Another change now firmly in place is the administration of temporal affairs within the church.  For example, the Presiding Bishop’s office controlled the operations involving all the church’s construction projects until the David O. McKay presidency.  As a result of some problems (beyond the scope of this), the First Presidency decided to take construction over as part of their duties.  One of the members of the First Presidency got involved in some difficulties (again beyond the scope of this), and to placate the Quorum of the Twelve, the responsibilities were shared.  The result was that the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve now have budgetary involvement with the church’s building program.  This is a massive undertaking.  It involves worldwide construction of church facilities.  It is a major duty devolving upon these men.  However, it was one time an Aaronic Priesthood assignment, and the duty of the Presiding Bishop’s office.  Temporal concerns are associated with that order of Priesthood.  On the other hand, the higher Priesthood is involved primarily with the spiritual concerns of the church.  It’s all in the D&C.  But the shift of Aaronic/temporal concerns onto the shoulders of the Melchizedek Priesthood leaders has its effect.  The extent of that effect has been reflected in comments made by those who serve in the Twelve or First Presidency.  They hardly have time to do more than move from one meeting to another.  One said he never had time to reflect or meditate.
 
The original Twelve Apostles of this dispensation were given a charge by Oliver Cowdrey that their ordination was not complete until they had received an audience with Christ.  That audience was what would entitle them to be a witness of the resurrection.  The charge was given to newly ordained Apostles from the time of the first called Twelve until 1911, when the charge was discontinued.  It was discontinued because so few of them had ever received an audience with Christ.  Since then the Apostles have been encouraged to bear a witness of Christ based upon their spiritual conviction that He lived, died and rose from the dead.  The manner in which this is done is to suggest an actual witness of His resurrection.  But the words are carefully chosen.
 
When he was put under oath by the Senate Confirmation Committee, President Joseph F. Smith was asked directly if he was a “prophet of God.”  His response was, “my people sustain me as such.”  The senator asking the question didn’t understand the answer, and asked again.  After some back and forth, President Joseph F. Smith was asked directly if he had ever had a revelation; to which he responded that he had not.  He added a bit later that he, like all other members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had a testimony that Joseph Smith was a Prophet and Jesus Christ had appeared to him.
 
[Now as an aside, this testimony was in 1905.  Later, in 1918 President Joseph F. Smith received the vision now published as Section 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants; the Vision of the Redemption of the Dead.]
 
The church holds the tradition that the First Presidency and Twelve are sustained as “Prophets, Seers and Revelators” and as a result of that sustaining vote they must necessarily have all seen Christ.  This idea/tradition is so widespread that even when the brethren clarify what their testimony consists of most members of the church won’t listen to, or accept what they say.  I’ve posted about President Packer’s talk on his own testimony a little while ago in another post.  There are those who don’t believe him, and insist he is holding back because such things are just “too sacred to be revealed.”  However, the calling of an Apostle, as set out in Section 107, is to bear witness of Jesus Christ.  There isn’t anything “too sacred” about bearing testimony of Him that would prevent an Apostle from stating without equivocation they are a witness by having seen the Risen Lord.  President Packer has been truthful, forthcoming and honest.  I accept what he says at face value and I respect and sustain him all the more because of it.  He is indeed an Apostle of Jesus Christ.  And he is also an honest witness of Him.  However, he has essentially explained what his testimony consists of honestly, truthfully and fully in General Conference.  People continue to ignore his words and substitute the myth for the reality.
 
The terms “prophet, seer and revelator” come from scripture where the president of the church is to “be a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet, having all the gifts of God.”  (D&C 107: 92.)  The way this is read in the church today is that any person who holds the office of President of the High Priesthood is ipso facto a “seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet.”  Meaning the office defines the gifts.  What if that is not the intent of the scripture?  What if the scripture means, instead, that a person who is these things is the only one to be called to the office?  That is, unless the person “be” such a person possessing these gifts, he is not and cannot be the President?  Such questions are not even possible to be asked today.  They are, according to the current reading of that verse, evidence of weak faith and evidence someone is headed for apostasy.  Therefore a discussion about this verse’s meaning and possible differences of meaning are excluded and no other view is possible to be discussed.
 
President David O. McKay did not get a testimony of the church until sometime after he had been called as an Apostle.  President Gordon B. Hinckley, when asked about revelation, said “I don’t know that we need much revelation anymore.”  President Packer has defined revelation as when the presiding authorities reach an agreement.  President Nibley (a counselor in the First Presidency and Hugh Nibley’s grandfather) said if an angel were to appear to him he would jump out the window.  There are other examples, but the point is that there are many statements which have been made by the highest authorities in the church which contradict the popular myth that the Lord has and does regularly appear to, meet with, and speak face to face with the presiding authorities.  Despite this, there are people who presume the Lord is in the weekly meeting in the Temple, every Thursday, telling them how to run His church.  In contrast, President Young said when he asks the Lord for guidance and then he receives nothing, he will make his best judgment and proceed.  And the Lord is bound to sustain him in his decision, since he asked for guidance.  That approach is healthy, and allowed President Young and others to move forward.  However, it is one thing for men of good faith and decency, who are making honest and worthwhile efforts to manage the church to have our prayers, faith and confidence; and quite another to assume these men quote the Lord with their every breath.  As a church this subject is just not discussed.  As a result those who suspect that the brethren are making great efforts and are good men, but who may not have had an audience with the Lord are kept from asking the question.  When a Gentile reporter has the impertinence to ask such a question, they are rebuked and told things like that are sacred. 
 
A Prophet of God is not required to have seen Him.  A prophet can and has been inspired to speak for the Lord by the inspiration of the Spirit.  But when the scriptures use this phrase “and the word of the Lord came unto me, saying…”  This formula assures the listener that the words which follow originate from the Lord and not a good and honest man’s best advice.  All this has happened in the past and therefore you cannot discount a prophet’s calling because the word of the Lord comes by the Spirit, rather than from a personal visitation.  Visitations are rare.  However, the calling of a prophet in scripture was not institutional.  The Lord was directly, personally and individually involved.  Moses was told by the Lord, directly, as the Lord stood in a pillar-cloud at the door of the tabernacle: “Hear now my words:  If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream.”  (Numbers 12: 5-6.)
 
When the Church was led by a president (from the death of Joseph Smith until 1955) there was no cult of personality around the church president.  He was the presiding High Priest over the High Priesthood.  When the title shifted, things began to change.  Today a discussion about this process is not possible because the subject matter is too charged. 
 
The difference between good men doing good things in good faith, who are entitled to our support in their calling and efforts on the one hand, and a prophet of God whose words are questioned at the peril of eternal damnation on the other hand is the overwhelming difference which now plagues the church.  We cannot have a discussion that questions the wisdom of church policies, procedures or decisions.  When even obvious mistakes are made, people who notice are not to speak of it, and if they do they are told that they are weak in the faith and on the road to apostasy.  Criticism is essential to a healthy mental state.  Without feedback and criticism you cannot raise a normal, healthy child. Try raising a child to whom you lavish only praise, and to whom you say, without regard to how bad, poorly or evil an act they commit: “You are inspired!  You are right!  It was good of you to have done that!  God Himself inspired that act!”  What you would raise up would be a monster.  Without criticism and challenges to decisions made, no-one can ultimately become anything worthwhile.
 
We have a church in which those who love it the most, and whose perceptions may be the keenest, are required to take a host of questions, suggestions or criticisms and never give them voice.  The only negative feed-back must originate from either outside the church, or if inside they are cast out because they are weak in the faith and on the road to apostasy.  This was the inevitable evolution from the cult of personality.  It is still unfolding.  It will progress in a funnel which narrows over time until, at last, when the work has been fully completed, we will have a Pope who is infallible.  Not because he is always inspired, but instead because he holds the keys to bind on earth and in heaven, and as a result God is bound by whatever he does.  History assures us this will be the case.  UNLESS, of course, we open things up to a more healthy way of going about our Father’s business.
 
Well, this is too long.  I’m not done.  But I’ll add more later.

The traditions of men, part 1

I received this question in a comment: “You often refer to incorrect traditions that you see members following. Can you give me a few specifics?”
This is a potentially sensitive question and I want to answer it with care.  Before doing so, however, I want to clarify some initial matters:  First, I sustain the church’s leaders and I do not challenge their right to preside, make decisions, direct the affairs of the church, control tithing and call leadership.  I “fall in line” behind them and do not question their right to lead.  Second, I have a testimony of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and of President Monson as the only one authorized to exercise all the keys within the church.  Third, I do not think that observations about the church, even if they are critical of it, are proof that someone is misled, under Satan’s influence, or on the road to apostasy.  In fact, there are many active Latter-day Saints who have concerns, but who are content to remain active, faithful and supportive members of the church.  Concerns are not the same thing as rebellion or rejection.  Fourth, I do not either expect or advocate any changes being made.  When or if changes are made they will happen as a result of someone else’s actions, more than likely someone who would be in a position of authority within the church.  I am not such a person.  

Also, I want to be clear that I may personally make a value judgment about what has changed and mourn the loss, but another person may look at the same events and say they are good, developmental and preferred to what was there before.  So these are MY opinions, and not necessarily the view you should adopt as your own view.  You will have to decide such things for yourself.  That having been clarified, here are some of the things which have changed dramatically and are the product of accepted tradition now, but were entirely innovative when they happened.

The discarding of the Presiding Patriarch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  There is no scriptural authority for this change and there was nothing in the original order which suggested that a change would be made.  Now the current state of things is equivocal.  We actually have still a Presiding Patriarch who is still living.  He is emeritus.  Whether the church intends to terminate the office upon his death is unclear.  If they do, that will be an innovation and (in my personal opinion) unfortunate.
The alteration of the Presiding High Priest’s status from “President” to “Prophet.”  From the time of Joseph Smith until 1955 the term “Prophet” was used exclusively to refer to Joseph Smith.  It was changed in 1955 to apply to the living President, David O. McKay.  Before then no living man was ever referred to as “Prophet” within the church, other than Joseph Smith.  When the word “Prophet” was used after Joseph’s death, it was understood the term meant Joseph Smith.
The result of this change was to create a “cult of personality” around the church president in much the same way that the Catholic Church has created a “cult of personality” around Mother Mary.  You need to understand that whole subject before you get too excited by my putting it that way.  If you do not understand this technical description then you need to become acquainted with it to be able to comprehend what I am saying here.  To briefly touch upon the subject, the Catholic view of the “cult of personality” around Mother Mary is positive.  It does not get viewed by them as a defect or some terrible aberration.  Pope John Paul II considered himself a part of that “cult” involving Mary. 
In our context, what has happened as a result of this alteration is that the former significance of the church’s president was administrative, and priestly.  He was a final arbitrator and judge, a presiding authority and a leader whose words were to be considered carefully.  He was NOT considered infallible or to be invariably inspired.  In fact, during the presidencies of the Prophet Joseph Smith, President Brigham Young and President John Taylor, they all spoke against any notion of infallibility of the church’s president.  President Young was particularly cautionary about trusting church leaders instead of the Holy Spirit as your guide.  President Young said too much trust of a church leader would bring the saints to hell.  
President Woodruff was so criticized by members for the Manifesto that he defended himself by claiming that the Lord wouldn’t let him make a mistake on that order.  He said that the Lord just wouldn’t let the church’s president lead the saints astray.  That comment was what would later be used to buttress the notion popularly believed today that the “prophet is infallible.”
President Heber J. Grant was an unpopular church president.  One of the problems with getting the saints to respond to the church president’s counsel was solved when the president of the church became the living “Prophet.”  You can reject or question counsel from an administrative authority.  But to question a “Prophet of God” was to invite the damnation of hell.  So the change in nomenclature worked a mighty change in the perceptions of the Latter-day Saints.  The “cult of personality” was an inevitable result.  Everything the president did would be done as “God’s Living Prophet.”  No matter what decisions were made, no matter their wisdom, goodness or undesirability, the result was the same: “They MUST be inspired.  We may not have the human capacity to see it, but God’s ways are higher than man’s after all.  To question is to lack in faith.”

The change put the president into a league in which at a minimum criticism was disrespectful.  Worse, if you were convinced that he made a mistake, it followed almost as an inevitability that you were absolutely forbidden from saying so because to do so revealed a “weakness in the faith.”  In fact, there are General Conference talks which speak about criticizing the church president (or “Living Prophet”) claiming that the criticism was due to a weak faith, and it would lead to apostasy unless a person repented.

This cult of personality has grown as a result of internal structural changes, including correlation.  The outcome is particularly dramatic with respect to the tolerance of women’s inspiration.  Whereas, in the early years a woman could be regarded as a “prophetess” (Eliza R. Snow, for example), today that recognition would be offensive to correlation, where all functions are combined under priesthood, and all priesthood is subject to the president alone as final authority.

The changes have been evolutionary, and over a single person’s lifetime not all that dramatic.  However the cumulative effect from the start to now is dramatic.  Right now the church views any revelation or miraculous event originating with a woman as suspicious.  It was so markedly contrary to this trend when a mission president’s wife foretold the Chilean earthquake, and the Meridian Magazine covered the event without any notice that the message came through the wife, that I linked to that article on this blog.  The article presumed the propriety of the inspiration.  But the message came to the wife, not the mission president.  That would be an un-correlated event today, and there is an existing infrastructure that would frown on that.  Happily the event was not questioned, but instead celebrated.
The “cult of personality” has been extended to cover everything.  You name it it is now covered.  Take any complaint at all:  The chapel paint is hideous!  Well, there are those who will argue that the chapel’s paint is chosen by the regular authorities of the church, who are chosen by the prophet, and your complaint about the paint color is really questioning the Prophet of God’s authority.  Therefore you are on the road to apostasy….
It doesn’t matter the subject.  The argument works by extension to everything.  The Bishop cheated his business partner:  You shouldn’t question that because … yada, yada, .. you’re questioning the Prophet of God.  Therefore you are on the road to apostasy.
Try: My child was molested by her primary teacher.  Oddly enough it even works there, too.  At least there are many people willing to apply that by extension to every ridiculous proposition advanced.  So the cult of personality has now assumed a front and center position to curtail discussion, debate or consideration of even healthy alternatives to the way things are.  EVERYTHING is inspired.  EVERYTHING, by extension, is happening because a “Prophet of God” has made it so.  Therefore unless you concede that “All is Well in Zion” you are questioning the “Prophet of God” and on the road to apostasy.

The stifling effect of this is pernicious.  It is not a view shared at the top.  In fact, the brethren preach against this notion, but to no avail.  I have coined the term “Brethrenites” to describe the result of this cult of personality in my book Eighteen Verses.  There’s a chapter in there that discusses this problem.

Crap, this is going to take longer than I thought.  Well, here we go again.  This will be “Part One” and I’ll continue this with something more.