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Can’t we build a bridge?

There is a gulf between two views regarding Mormonism which makes it very difficult for us to speak and understand each other. This gulf is problematic because it labels one group as blind and the other as faithless. It is possible to hold either view and still be very believing, committed and prayerful. Therefore, it is wrong to accuse one another.

Below is a contrast between the two sides illustrated by the extreme. There are shades between the extremes, but the extremes are the best way to illustrate the separation:

I call the first position the “brethrenites” because it is a shorthand way to capture the view: These Mormons believe that everything done since the death of Joseph Smith through Brigham Young and successors in the Presidency and Twelve of the LDS Church has been entirely conforming to God’s will. They believe “keys” were passed and, as a result, these successors control God’s power and can seal on earth and in heaven. They believe the statements made by the successors are invariably in the status of “prophet, seer and revelator” and therefore inspired by God (or binding upon Him by reason of the “keys” held). The general authorities are able to give binding statements as mentioned in D&C 1: 38. They speak the “mind of the Lord” as described in D&C 68: 4. As  part of this construct, any criticism of the Brethren is by definition ‘evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed’ and therefore criticism is apostasy. These people also believe the scriptures are secondary to a “living oracle” and therefore the scriptures are not as important as whatever the president of the church says now.

I call the second position the residue [of the saints]. These people believe the Book of Mormon and Joseph’s Smith divine calling, but do not agree that everything that began with Brigham Young conformed to God’s will. They believe the Lord spoke to this generation through Joseph (D&C 5: 10) and it was binding on everyone, including all subsequent leaders and members. They are skeptical of the claims to “keys” and authority, and believe the leaders after Joseph are not his equal. They believe the scriptures hold a higher priority than church authorities and when the scriptures are contradicted, the advice or direction can be safely ignored. They do not think criticism is evil or apostasy, but believe all who claim to believe in the Restoration through Joseph Smith are similarly bound to accept the Lord’s will through Joseph until the Lord decides to call another like Joseph (if He does).


When the brethrenites quote long passages from Talmage, McConkie, Grant, Brown, Widstoe, Lund or Romney to make a point, it has no persuasive impact on the residue. Likewise, when the residue quote the scriptures, it does not persuade the brethrenites as long as there is something contrary from Snow, Young, Taylor or Pratt. The arguments that one side believes should settle a question never succeeds in persuading the other because the underlying assumptions are so very different. Until the different groups decide to agree on what matters, what defines the faith, and whose statements carry authority and weight, there can be no agreement.

This is an odd gulf confronting Mormonism, because the brethrenites quote Eph. 4: 11-13 (leaders given to bring “unity of faith”) and the residue believe D&C 38: 27 (“if ye are not one ye are not mine”). Both ends believe sincerely in their position.

To the Brethrenites, I would pose this question: If apostles and prophets were given to bring “unity of faith” why do the doctrines differ so greatly between Brigham Young and Thomas Monson? What is this “in the absence of revelation” that changes very important doctrines?

To the residue, I would pose this question: If you believe your position, why do you remain silent in sacrament meeting, sunday school, priesthood, relief society and ym/yw classes? (Your position will never unify Mormons if the strength of your position goes unarticulated.)

Altered

In response to a question about whether my views have changed since I wrote The Second Comforter, I would say they have in some respects and have not in others. I do not intend to write a new edition and change what I wrote there. Believing Latter-day Saints should faithfully follow their religion. I was cast out of the church, and therefore have no reason to follow it lock-step any longer. But I do not resent the church, want back in, or hope to change it.

Even though the LDS Church is working very hard to put its leaders between the members and the Lord, I think a faithful, believing Latter-day Saint can endure that abuse while still honoring God. Christ did as much in His lifetime, and He is the great example. When you pass through all the rites of the LDS Church it begins and ends at almost the same point. The starting point is believing Joseph Smith, inspired by James 1:5, asked God and received an answer–and you can too. The ending point involves an ordinance which promises you further light and knowledge by conversing with the Lord through the veil. Both at the beginning and the end of the LDS journey you are told to speak with God and expect an answer. If not for my belief in this promise, and the LDS Church’s teaching of it, I do not believe I would ever have conversed with God. So even now I see the LDS Church as having great value to its faithful members who can grow closer to God despite the foolishness of its Correlation program and distorted elevation of mere men.

The energy and light given through Joseph Smith powers the LDS Church still today. Even though the church’s leadership want to disregard, ignore, and even violate Joseph’s teachings, they still benefit from his original ministry.

One of the clearest moments in LDS Church history came on August 8, 1844. Joseph was dead. There were multiple contenders to lead the church in the leadership vacuum left by Joseph and Hyrum’s murders. When the critical moment arrived, the church took a profound, irreversible step. The church which was founded by revelation, proclaimed it was led by revelation, and held itself out as “true and living” because it was led by a prophet who received revelation, chose at that moment to ignore revelation. No one argued the choice should be made by God and then revealed to the church. Instead the church held an election and voted the 12 into power. At that moment the church decided to vote for its destiny, instead of letting God reveal to her His choice. Under the new direction Nauvoo was abandoned, the Saints fled into the wilderness, suffered, endured misery, were abused and blamed by the leaders for the leaders’ failures, and received chastening from an unimpressed God.

Although the Saints descended into a salty wasteland, the discovery of gold in California, the railroad and the convenience of a mid-mountain stopover helped them to survive. With time and a larger American economy in the midst of an Industrial Revolution, the church was likewise elevated economically and politically. Each step along the way the church positioned itself to benefit until now it is a powerful, multi-billion dollar enterprise with political, economic and social clout to protect itself from ever again enduring the early embarrassments and persecutions. It has diversified its product line from merely the “Mormon” religion, and has vast real estate, cattle, farming, business, banking, housing, educational, employment, television, radio, satellite, and other ventures. With all its leaders must manage, there is little time for and increasingly less attention given to the religion Joseph Smith was restoring. It is becoming increasingly clear to those who study the faith that it has undergone drastic changes since June 27, 1844. Those changes make the LDS Church much more like the rest of the world’s religions, and less like the revolution begun by God through Joseph.

I’m not sure the LDS Church today is even the same one I joined in 1973. I am certain it is not the same one Joseph Smith restored.

When I first joined the LDS Church there was a Presiding Patriarch sustained as a “Prophet, Seer and Revelator” in General Conference, which I understood was required for a fully organized church. He was subsequently released, his office left unfilled, and he has now died.

When I first became LDS the temple rites included roles, penalties and signs (I did not then understand) but which have subsequently been eliminated or changed.

When I first became LDS priesthood was restricted (which I hated but accepted), subsequently removed.

When I first became LDS there were 70’s in every Ward who were regarded as having a distinct office, which has now been eliminated, confined to General Authorities, who are all now High Priests, the office of 70 having been essentially eliminated.

When I first became LDS doctrine mattered, scriptures were used as the primary source of teaching, and General Conference talks were not re-read in Sacrament, Priesthood, Relief Society and Sunday School as the basis of lessons, unlike today. The adoration of church leaders is now almost the only “religion” practiced. Jesus Christ is a nominally mentioned party, appended at the end of talks and testimonies, as if mentioning Him at the end certifies everything remains His.

When I first became LDS we twice had the Sacrament blessed and passed each Sunday, we discussed openly the “mysteries” and had a very different Spirit within the community. There is a harshness to the LDS Church, and a hardness in its members which wasn’t there in 1973.

The list of changes is now over 120 items long and I won’t lay them out here. It isn’t important to do so. In the dedication of The Second Comforter I wrote: “Dedicated to the ‘few who are the humble followers of Christ.’ (2 Ne. 28: 14.)” I hoped readers would go look that verse up and read it, and the surrounding verses. If they do they will read this description:

“Because of pride, and because of false teachers, and false doctrine, their churches have become corrupted, and their churches are lifted up; because of pride they are puffed up. They rob the poor because of their fine sancturaries; they rob the poor because of their fine clothing; and they persecute the meek and poor in heart, because in their pride they are puffed up. They wear stiff necks and high heads; yea, and because of pride, and wickedness, and abominations, and whoredoms, they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are teh 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: 12-14.)

The dedication at the beginning of The Second Comforter was deliberate. I have recognized the truth for many, many years. But I honored every obligation I took upon myself. I have only joined one church organization in my life: the LDS Church. I am grateful to it and would not have left when they excommunicated me. But that does not mean I wasn’t alarmed by what I saw the leaders doing to alter and misshape the church. I tried to be meek, and still to be so. Now, however, I am entirely free to be meek in relation to the Lord alone, and no longer need to be anything but a “humble follower of Christ” (to use Nephi’s description). It is no longer necessary to be “led, that in many instances [I will] err because of the precepts of men.” I can look to the Lord alone, and forget institutional demands on my attention, time and thought. Or, as our Lord once put it: I can be about my Father’s business.

Name Calling

I have been called, among other choice words, “apostate” by some LDS folks in their indiscriminate, anonymous on-line rants. Name-calling by Latter-day Saints is a complete role reversal from where the Restoration began. When Joseph Smith was being abused by the religionists of his day, he observed “they treated my communication not only lightly, but with great contempt, saying it was all of the devil. That there were no such things as visions or revelations in these days; that all such things [were confined to and the sole right of] the apostles.” (JS-H 1: 21.) The people who rejected Joseph’s beliefs were rejecting the Bible itself, which they pretended was the basis for their faith. Joseph did what James 1: 5instructed him to do, and got an answer. That is the faith he restored: A living faith in which God will speak to all who, like me, lack wisdom, liberally. I lack wisdom. I go to God with questions. So long as any of us ask in faith, He will answer. I know. He has answered me. Now Latter-day Saints think it is their right to denounce others who have asked God, and have been answered. If Latter-day Saints do possess the truth, then for those they think in error should be met with kindness, not reviling. (See JS-H 1: 25.) “If they suppose me to be deluded they ought to endeavor in a proper and affectionate manner to reclaim me.” (JS-H 1: 28.) Instead I read the accusation I am “apostate” by these smug Latter-day Saints. It must put a smile on the faces of authority and the devil. These disciples pretend to follow Joseph’s restored religion while acting the part of his persecutors. The saints have come full circle indeed.
Where exactly do you draw the line and begin to denounce others as “apostate?”
If we both believe in the Book of Mormon, are we of the same faith or is one of us “apostate?”
If we both believe Joseph Smith was called of God to restore the Gospel, are we of the same faith or is one of us “apostate?”
If we both accept the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price as scripture, are we of the same faith or is one of us “apostate?”
If we both believe in continuing revelation and that God has yet to reveal a great deal as part of the Restoration of all, are we of the same faith or is one of us “apostate?”
If we have all of the foregoing in common, is that enough to respect one another as fellow-believers? Or do you require much more of me than I can give in order to avoid being denounced by you? How much do you want to micromanage my beliefs? Do you ever feel any twinge of concern about not permitting others to worship “according to the dictates of their conscience, and allow others the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may?” (Paraphrase of 11th Article of Faith)
If I believe priesthood has no authority over me, and you believe as Elder Oaks declared from general conference that the “keys” are the right to exercise authority, are we of the same faith or is one of us “apostate?” What if my belief is based on the scripture “no power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood” which I hold in higher regard than a declaration from a church official to the contrary? (See D&C121: 41)
If I believe the Lectures on Faith are still scripture, but you do not, are we of the same faith or is one of us “apostate?”
If I believe the LDS Church has changed dramatically in my lifetime, and even more since Joseph Smith died, are we of the same faith or is one of us “apostate?”
If I believe the scriptures were given to control and govern the faith, and you believe whatever comes from living church officials can contradict or disregard the words of scripture, are we of the same faith or is one of us “apostate?” If I can tolerate your view in this regard, even if I do not share it, are we of the same faith or is one of us “apostate?” If I use the scriptures and you use the scriptures, why are your views correct and mine incorrect? How did we arrive at the odd position that you get to call me “apostate” for believing the scriptures differently than you do? If you trust that “keys” are the thing that guarantees you salvation, what exactly are the “keys,” allowed by scripture, that bear that out?
If I will let you go in peace, why cannot you let me go likewise in peace. The LDS church is an institution of this world, not of the next. We should care less for the things of this world than we do. I am very content with my faith in God, and very much in harmony with everything He has asked of me. If you believe the same about yourself, then let that be your assurance and have the confidence to leave me to go my way in peace. Practice your beliefs in the way you think God wants, and I will do the same.
I will never again submit to another man’s priestly claim to dominion, control, judgment or oppression. It was denounced in scripture, and I reject such things. (D&C 121: 36-42.) If you think there is a priest who has the right to demand things of you in exchange for saving you using some “key,”  I do not share your belief, but I am perfectly willing to respect you if that is yours. Happy is the man who serves his God in faith and conviction. Happier still is the man whose God is Christ and therefore respects his right to voluntarily act for himself, accepting full accountability for his beliefs, and not expecting man to save him using authority to do so.

If, by your definition, I am “apostate,” then let me assure you I am content to be so. I am fully willing to accept whatever Christ’s judgment is for being so. More importantly, I am entirely satisfied I remain in harmony with what God expects of me, and I wish the same for you.

Grand Junction Transcript – Zion

The transcript for the Grand Junction lecture is now up on Scribd. The link is on the blog under the sidebar DS Talks on the right of the blog. Scribd is free. It just requires that you create an account. You do not have to pay to read Denver’s lectures on Scribd. I know there are some limitations, but eventually we will look into other options.

Abraham’s Sons

Last night I was awakened by this:

Did not Ishmael and Isaac mourn together and bury their father Abraham? Was not their father’s blood precious unto them both?

Does not the blood of Abraham run in both Isaac and Ishmael? Does not the blood of Abraham run in both Esau and Jacob?

Let Ishmael today find the blood of his father, Abraham, precious still. Let Isaac likewise today find the blood of his father, Abraham, precious again. For Abraham’s sake, let all the brothers who descend from Abraham now mourn when Abraham’s blood is spilled by any of his descendants.

If Abraham’s sons do not find his blood to be precious still, there remains nothing between them but the shedding of Abraham’s blood. For all his sons who fail to find Abraham’s blood to be precious will be held to account by God, who will judge between the sons of Isaac and the sons of Ishmael, the sons of Esau and the sons of Jacob for father Abraham’s sake, with whom God covenanted.

The sons of Abraham will not be permitted to continue this disregard of their common father’s blood without provoking God, who will soon judge between Abraham’s sons.

Elder Oaks’ General Conference Talk

I am trying to understand Elder Oaks’ talk. Taking everything he said at face value, here is what I think he said:

1. Women don’t hold the priesthood.

2. Those who hold “keys” can give assignments to others who then act under the authority of the priesthood of the key-holder.

3. In the temple sisters use the authority of the priesthood to perform washings and anointings, inasmuch as they were set apart by key-holders.

4. Therefore women use the authority of the priesthood.

From this it can be surmised: Sister missionaries will be able to baptize some day using the authority of the priesthood of a key-holder. This talk was designed to accomplish what the “Ordain Women” movement wants by approaching it in two steps rather than one. It is de facto ordination, incrementally adopted by careful measures.

A Covenant With the King

King Benjamin had an an objective. Better said, the angel of the Lord had an objective in mind when the king was told what to teach. The objective is more fully explained once the people had received the lesson.

“And now, it came to pass that when king Benjamin had thus spoken to his people, he sent among them, desiring to know of his people if they believed the words which he had spoken unto them. And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually. And we, ourselves, also, through the infinite goodness of God, and the manifestations of his Spirit, have great views of that which is to come; and were it expedient, we could prophesy of all things. And it is the faith which we have had on the things which our king has spoken unto us that has brought us to this great knowledge, whereby we do rejoice with such exceedingly great joy. And we are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days, that we may not bring upon ourselves a never-ending torment, as has been spoken by the angel, that we may not drink out of the cup of the wrath of God.” (Mosiah 5: 1-5.)

Here is the covenant-making King Benjamin had as his assignment. The Lord saves, but uses covenant-making as a part of His process. We don’t get to make covenants, but we do get to accept them if the Lord offers them to us. It must be the Lord’s offer and our acceptance for it to have effect. Here the words that were recited by the congregation were the words King Benjamin had asked them to accept: “And now, these are the words which king Benjamin desired of them;” (Mosiah 5: 6.) Meaning they were exactly what they’d been asked to accept as the new covenant.

King Benjamin’s record continues: “and therefore he said unto them: Ye have spoken the words that I desired; and the covenant which ye have made is a righteous covenant. And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.” (Mosiah 5: 6-7.) This was the object. To extend the Family of God by adding sons and daughters. King Benjamin’s ministry was producing fruit suitable to be laid up against the harvest (as Jacob quoted Zenos to describe).

King Benjamin expounds on the central role Christ plays in our salvation. Only by connecting ourselves to Him will we be able to qualify for what He (as our Father) has to offer. “And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.” (Mosiah 5: 8.) Or, in other words, we always remember Him that we may always have His spirit to be with us.

He continues: “And it shall come to pass that whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God, for he shall know the name by which he is called; for he shall be called by the name of Christ. And now it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall not take upon him the name of Christ must be called by some other name; therefore, he findeth himself on the left hand of God.” (Mosiah 5: 9-10.) Since Christ is the prototype of the saved man, all who would be saved must likewise be qualified to hold this same status or be called by this same name.

King Benjamin’s religion is like the one Joseph Smith was restoring. He offered his people an authorized covenant with the King, established by heaven through King Benjamin. It is remarkable how much of the deepest Gospel truths are found in the Book of Mormon.

Throw my hands up

Today is the last day of my last temple recommend. The church didn’t ask me to return it. I’m qualified to have it. But it will expire today. It can’t be renewed, of course.

I was asked by a young fellow about sustaining leaders in the upcoming general conference. I replied, “the Lorde recently said: “I’m kind of over gettin’ told to throw my hands up in the air, So there.

Grand Junction Lecture

Where:
Grand Vista Hotel Ballroom
2790 Crossroads Blvd.
Grand Junction, CO 81506

When: Saturday, April 12, 2014 @ 9:30 a.m.

Seating: 125