Interpreting History, Part 3

I believe in Mormonism and want it to succeed. I am cheering for our success. I evaluated it as an investigator while taught by missionaries, and received a spiritual impression sufficient to believe in the religion. So I joined. After joining I studied the faith. A spiritual impression was not enough for me. The impression was the beginning, not the end, of the inquiry. Then the new found faith needed to be scoured to find what it offered, what great truths it held, and what mysteries were now available. Therefore, its history needed to become part of my study and inquiry.

Mormonism has an important history that has been little explored even now. Its history should be celebrated,  not cautiously guarded. The history contains wonderful lessons that will aid in moving the faith forward. But to do so it must be based on a truthful telling. You cannot create the kingdom of heaven from a foundation of lies. So history must be faced, even if it proves temporarily painful and disorienting while sorting through the errors.

Toward the end of the Jensen interview someone asked him about problems of history and mentioned his own struggle. He explained that new data-points had been disorienting to him. He had to work his way through them to emerge with faith once again. The question was more than illuminating. It was an honest Latter-day Saint who had triumphed in retaining faith in the face of troubling historic truths. This is an issue at two levels.

First, when mistakes are discovered, they require you to adjust what you believe to take into account the new information. This is work. It requires effort to sort out incorrect or false information from the information that is correct. Some ideas about your religion must now be adjusted, adapted or abandoned. It can be painful. But what emerges from the experience is better than what you started with.

Second, and perhaps much more formidable an issue is that you discover the church is not reliable on some important details of its history. You are forced to grapple with the realization that some of the people you’ve respected, even admired, either did not tell the truth or were ignorant of the truth. Whether they were dishonest or just mistaken, it is painful. No one wants a hero to fall. When the heroes are thought to be God’s agents, true prophets, bona-fide revelators, and you discover they didn’t know what they were doing the fall leaves a choking cloud of dust behind. You have to emerge from that cloud with your faith in God intact.

When stripping truth from error, we all need to be careful not to throw away perfectly sound truths because of our disgust at the errors. It is better still if you can be compassionate about the errors rather than disgusted. Unfortunately, human nature is such that we tend to start with disgust and only proceed to compassion after we’ve lived long enough to have failed repeatedly ourselves. Our own humiliating defeats permit us to gain a sense of perspective regarding other people’s failings. Compassion grows from our injuries.

Marlin Jensen’s questioner was stating his faith while asking about the possibility of broader acceptance of more accurate history by the church itself. The question is now before us all. Whether you study church history or you just see a spreading crisis of faith among your fellow ward members, it is now before you. We are all in the same dreadful mix.

What is to be done? Are we going to adopt an increasingly militant and cloistered defense of our myths? Are we going to purge our ranks so we are left only with a small handful of intensely devoted believers in faith-promoting errors? Will we become the church of Paul Dunn? Or will we allow some to search deeply into the history and reach new conclusions? Will we allow those who have different, and perhaps more well informed conclusions to teach? To defend their understanding? To speak in sacrament meetings and present new ideas to the rest of us? Will we open up general conference to allow discussion openly of the many problems of inaccurate church history? Will we break apart?

Our history is too central a matter for it to be co-opted by a central hierarchy intent on limiting, packaging and controlling the truth rather than revealing the truth. We will save the church and our own souls if we are only interested in knowing truth. There should be an eager openness about it all. The restoration of the Gospel is too wonderful a matter to be reduced to lies. We should all fight against that. It will survive. It will be vindicated. God did originate this process. It is His work, and fear does not change that.

I’ll return to two great problems with Mormons and our history in Part 4.

Interpreting History, Part 2

Everyone who contributes to the documentation of history must be evaluated to decide if they are a believable source or a source to be discounted. Even an otherwise unreliable source may be believable on a point. Deciding whether to accept or reject their information is part of your responsibility in interpreting history for yourself. You can’t put that responsibility on others. We are each one accountable for what we believe about life’s most important topic.

Another standard I use to evaluate a someone’s story is also drawn from the law. When a witness admits something contrary to their own position, or contradicts the position they are trying to advance, that should attract your notice. Admissions against personal interests are almost inherently credible. When someone is saying something self-deprecating they are almost always telling the truth, both in the courtroom and in life. For example, throughout John D. Lee’s final Confessions, he makes a number of admissions of his own failings. He acknowledges his guilt and attempts to set the record straight with members of his family and close friends. These admissions expose his failures. It is not likely he is lying when making such personal admissions of guilt. Therefore, I do not dismiss his material out of hand. Instead, it becomes something to weigh and consider piece by piece. As I do that, I also consider that there are a number of incidents which are distant in time and location that would tax the memory of anyone trying to retell the events. For such things his accounts become useful only in a big-picture. The details are likely to be the product of his imagination rather than his actual memory. So there needs to be other sources consulted before reaching a conclusion about such details.

When Brigham Young makes the same admission multiple times, using almost the same words over a period of decades, I think he is telling the truth. Particularly when the admission is contrary to his own best interests, or they reduce his stature as a religious figure. That is why in Passing the Heavenly Gift I quote his repeated admission about never seeing an angel or having contact with heavenly beings. It is an important and believable factor in understanding Brigham Young. When he goes on to explain that God is “duty bound” to support his best decision, we can then know and understand how he led the church. He used his best judgment. He proceeded without angelic guidance and fully expected that the Lord would uphold his decisions.

Put yourself in his shoes and try to understand what pressures that would exert on a normal person. When there were serious mistakes made, like the incident at Battle Creek near Pleasant Grove, there is no time to second-guess the slaughter of the Indians. You just move on. When Blackhawk (a survivor of the slaughter) later leads a war against the saints in retaliation for the event, Brigham Young knew he had created the mess. I read in his reactions a detectable crisis. It was a deep personal loss of confidence. There was a breakdown. For all the bombast we are used to in reading Brigham Young, he was very troubled by some of the things that resulted from decisions he made.

The Reformation he led in the 1850’s grew out of his frustration with the hardships and overall failing of the early western movement. He reacted by blaming the saints for their personal impurity and lack of faith. The Reformation was an attempt to have the saints to take their religion more seriously. He thought they needed to repent. God would not be visiting all these troubles on the church if the saints were living their religion. So he started the Reformation, with all its excesses and threats. The Reformation, a terrible moment, now all but forgotten, confirms several things: first, the saints were not doing well as a people; second, Brigham did not think the problem came from the top; third, the members were blamed and then punished because Brigham believed they were not living the religion well enough. (He even cut off the entire church from receiving the sacrament for a period of time.)

Interesting that throughout Brigham Young’s Reformation there was never a thought given to the failures in Nauvoo discussed in Passing the Heavenly Gift. Instead, the leaders presumed they were right, and God was punishing the unfaithful membership. This approach led to mistakes.

Today, as Elder Jensen discussed, there is a view that the church is undergoing an apostasy comparable to Kirtland. But no thought is being entertained that the church itself has created these problems through leadership decisions at the top. The presumption is that God has been behind all that they’ve decided in their counsels, and therefore, the problem lies in the membership.

I’ve already posted about the unfolding disaster of the “raising the bar” program that resulted in preventing many young men from serving who wanted to serve. Eighty percent of the results in the mission field were being produced by 20% of the missionaries. So the church cut back the missionary rolls to purge the ineffective few who required babysitting from the mission presidents. We now have thousands of young men who feel rejected, judged and found unworthy by the church. They bear deep inward resentments as a result of this rejection. They all knew older brothers, or friends of their older brothers, who did as much wrong, or worse things than they had done. But these older brothers and their friends were allowed to serve. Some of them were noble missionaries. Their lives changed while serving. But the “raised bar” kept these younger brothers out of service and stigmatized them. Now we have earnest young men who wanted to serve, were told they weren’t good enough who now have to reconcile that rejection by the church.

The missionary who baptized me would not have qualified under the “raised bar.” [I hesitate to confess another’s sins, but I do not view that acknowledgement as a criticism of him. It reflected his true intent to repent and serve. For that I am eternally grateful.] He was a gift from heaven and a servant of God when I met him. He taught and testified of the truth, and baptized me with authority. He is active and faithful still today. Some of his own conversion happened while serving. I thank God there was no administratively imposed “bar” to his service.

The point is that some, perhaps much, of the church’s present malaise is driven by mistakes made at the top. But those mistakes become very difficult to discuss in an atmosphere where every subordinate is expected to testify that God is making the decisions and never question the mistakes as they are made. “It’s good Bart did that” is the mantra. [You’d need to have seen the Treehouse of Horrors episodes of The Simpsons to understand that remark. Get one of your kids to explain it to you.]

At the risk of having some think it is blasphemy, I think the current problems stem largely from top-down mistakes more so than the members being disobedient and unfaithful. I think the people at the bottom want to please God. But they’re led that in many instances they err. Not for any lack of good faith on their part, but because there are not enough true principles taught to permit them to govern themselves correctly. There is at a minimum some shared responsibility. Our history prevents leadership from sharing any responsibility because of the fundamentals established in fourth phase Mormonism. The adoration of the president has been co-opted by Correlation to spread a veil of implied inspiration across everything done at the top. This problematic historical issue leaves us with little choice now but to blame the members for current problems. All the leaders need to do is what Marlin Jensen says they’re presently attempting. Just optimize search engine results, direct the public to the church’s website where the faith promoting stories are found, and everything will turn out just fine.

All of this arises from our history. All of this fits seamlessly into a continuation of steps begun more than a century ago. The issues run into our past and cannot be adequately understood apart from our history. But a corrollary to our history also arises from the present difficulties. History brought us to this moment. There must be answers to be found there. But the ‘only-faith-promoting’ account of our past does not give an adequate answer. Therefore something is missing. We need to let other views help explain how we arrived here. Passing the Heavenly Gift provides a better answer to the questions than the traditional narrative. Even if you decide it is not persuasive, it offers another view to be considered to explain how we got where we are now.

Book of Mormon as Fiction

I got another email asking:  “If Job is pious fiction, I’ve read about other folks who think the Book of Mormon is too. What do you think of that?”

I responded:  Since Moroni came to and was seen by Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris we know at least one of the book’s characters was a real person.  Which implies the others were also. Personally, I think they were all real people.

Job

I got an email stating: “Job is not pious fiction. D&C 121:10 reads,  ‘Thou art not yet as Job; thy friends do not contend against thee, neither charge thee with transgression, as they did Job.'”

I responded:

I understand your point. But could it also mean “you are not yet like Little Orphan Annie, you still have a family,” or another similar analogy?  That is, the Lord refers to the character to illustrate a circumstance. That would be akin to His use of parables to communicate truth.

____________________________

The reference in Section 121 does not settle the question of historicity. It merely employs Job as a reference point to console the imprisoned Joseph Smith. That leaves whether or not Job is a real person unresolved.

Job, like many of the Psalms, was borrowed from other surrounding cultures and adopted as part of the Jewish religious text. This has resulted in many scholars concluding that he wasn’t a real person, but a character developed to tell a morality tale. I’m not challenging that view, I’m accepting it. If he was a real person, then I suppose one day we will all meet him. In the meantime, his story does help us understand truths about this life.

Interpreting History

There is an art to interpreting history. No matter what the schools teach, in the end there are judgment calls that are always made in arriving at a final interpretation.

The problems of church history are not evidence that some people are acting in bad faith and others are not. Everyone should be motivated to seek and know the truth. However, even when claiming to seek the truth, various motivations color the results of our interpretation.

When a court case is presented to a jury, both sides are duty bound to tell the truth. All the witnesses are sworn in before they are allowed to tell the jury anything. Then whatever they say is supposed to be the truth. If they lie, they do so under the condition they will be charged with perjury. Despite this, in almost every case the story told by the Plaintiff is completely at odds with the story told by the Defendant. If you believe the Plaintiff’s witnesses and arguments, the Plaintiff will win. If you believe the Defendant’s witnesses and arguments, the Defendant will win. The jury’s responsibility is to decide who to believe.

Sometimes a witness is believable because of their demeanor. Sometimes it is the content of their statements, sometimes the way they appear. Their age, opportunity to observe, self-interest, relationship with the parties, clarity of explanation and other things all play a part. There are intangibles that affect credibility, some so difficult to explain they are reduced to “impressions” or “feelings” about the witness. Their reputation for honesty, or personal history matters. When the case ends the jury deliberates all they’ve heard and seen, consult their common sense, talk the matter over and reach a consensus. That consensus becomes the verdict. The case is then concluded.

History is no different. The witnesses are evaluated, and what they have to say is considered. But in the end, they are weighed and either believed or not. Orson Hyde arrived back in Nauvoo on August 13th. He was not present on August 8th. Therefore, his two lengthy reminiscenses of the transfiguration of Brigham Young on August 8th cannot be believed by me. I suppose you could decide to believe Orson Hyde, despite the fact that his story could not possibly be based on what he saw August 8, 1844. But if you decide to believe him, you must show me the courtesy of allowing me to disbelieve him.

The daily diaries of Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards and Wilford Woodruff all had entries on August 8, 1844. None of them mention the “transfiguration” of Brigham Young. Nauvoo newspapers, Times and Seasons and Nauvoo Neighbor both covered the debates on August 8, 1844 and neither one mention the transfiguration. Even Orson Hyde’s accounts written in 1844 and 1845 fail to mention the transfiguration. He did not begin to provide his elaborate account of the event until 1869, when he claimed Brigham Young’s “words went through [him] like electricity. It was not only the voice of Joseph Smith but there were the features, the gestures and even the stature of Joseph before us in the person of Brigham.(JD 13: 181, 6 Oct 1869.) So, when I weigh the evidence, I conclude the story is merely faith-promoting, and much like Paul Dunn, bearing something less than an accurate retelling of the truth.

The truth of the restoration does not depend merely upon men’s imagination to support it. After all, Joseph produced the Book of Mormon, revelations found in the Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, and other unpublished revelations. He left a body of letters, talks and ordinances. What Joseph did accomplish is more than enough proof of his stature as a prophet of God.

I am interested in the truth of the restoration. It is not important for me to justify succession, or to defend any office or friends. I do not want to be popular or to have anyone follow me. I hope only to please God and defend the truth. If it causes anyone, including myself, embarrassment I couldn’t care less. We have a duty to our Maker to act our part in helping one another to find our way back to Him.

I also don’t care if someone chooses to believe otherwise and to weep like a child while retelling the story of Brigham Young being transfigured into Joseph Smith as he pleaded for votes following Joseph’s death. I can endure that without insulting them or arguing the point. They are free to believe what I regard as false. But what should not happen is for someone who holds this view to forbid or condemn me for thinking them wrong. I enjoyed Paul Dunn’s stories. They were inspiring. If you accept them as inspirational fiction, you can enjoy them too. The likelihood is that Job is pious fiction also. It is part of a category of “Wisdom Literature” written to explain a true principle, but probably not based on an actual person named Job. It is “true” in the sense of teaching principles of truth, not in the sense the characters existed.

I’ve weighed the evidence in our history, sorted through what I accept and find persuasive, and what I find less than believable. It has involved considerable effort. It is fine with me for others to disagree. When a disagreement is based on a superficial review of the available record, or on bombast without ever studying the history, then I’d appreciate the courtesy of allowing me to continue in my honest, good faith delusion.

The Lord’s Witnesses

When the Lord returned from the grave, the first witness He showed Himself to was not one of His apostles. It was Mary. (John 20: 11-16.) He appeared to several others throughout the day (which I discuss in detail in Come, Let Us Adore Him) before finally appearing to some of His apostles in the evening of the first day of His return to life. When He met with the apostles, He rebuked them for not believing the reports of those with whom He visited earlier in the day. (Mark 16: 14.)

It is interesting the first witness was a woman. It is interesting the Lord spent hours walking and talking with two disciples, Cleopas and an unnamed second companion, on a journey to Emmaus. [In Come, Let Us Adore Him, I explain why I believe the companion was Luke.] As He walked with them, He spent the time expounding the scriptures and prophets, showing how they testified of His death. He “opened the scriptures unto them.” (See Luke 24: 13-32.) This is how the risen Lord chose to spend the afternoon of the first day of His return to life. (The talk I gave on this walk appears as an appendix to Eighteen Verses.)

Again, it is interesting that, after first showing Himself to a woman, He then spent hours walking and talking with two disciples, neither of whom were apostles, expounding doctrine and the scriptures to them.

I’ve searched the scriptures diligently to try and discover where the Lord ever commanded that we follow a man. I’ve not found it. Instead, I’ve found Him warning us to “Follow [Him]” (see Matt. 4: 19; John 10: 27; 21: 22; Luke 5: 27; 9: 59; Mark 2: 14; among many others.) The phrase “follow the prophet” does not appear anywhere in scripture. It does not appear there because it is an institutional invention designed to reduce resistance to centralized church decision-making. It was implemented deliberately during the administration of David O. McKay in the fourth phase of Mormon history. It is an idea which is altogether alien to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Instead, what appears in the scriptures is a curse pronounced on those who follow man or put their trust in man’s arm. (See 2 Ne. 4: 34; 2 Ne. 28: 31; D&C 1: 19.) Nephi’s final address warns the gentiles how vulnerable they are to this mistake, and how they will be cursed as a consequence. He offers hope, however, conditioned on repentance and return to following the Lord. (See 2 Ne. 28: 31-32.)

I am grateful for all who serve in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. From my own Home Teacher to the President. They all have my gratitude, my prayers, my support. I do not challenge the right of any who preside in the church to conduct and to manage the church’s affairs.I do not envy them in assuming the burdens they bear. It is an almost impossible responsibility for any man. I am confident they do a better job than I would.

Despite my gratitude to them, I trust my salvation to no man or set of men. For that I rely entirely on my understanding of, acquaintance with, covenants and promises from the Lord. If I can encourage anyone else to pursue the path to know Him, I want to do so. The difference between truth which can save and error which will damn is so fine a line it is sometimes compared to a two-edged sword, cutting both ways. Encouraging people to find that edge and to rightly divide between truth and error oftentimes will offend. It is still the truth. We really ought to fear God and not man. (D&C 3: 7.) The One who keeps the gate of salvation is not a man or men, for He alone will open or shut that gate. There is “no servant” employed there. (2 Ne. 9: 41.) If you arrive at that gate having been misled regarding your obligation to Him, having “followed the prophets” you will be among those whose eternal opportunities have been curtailed, no better off than liars and whoremongers. (D&C 76: 98-105.) [If you read those verses from Section 76, you should ponder the difference between “following” and “receiving” a prophet. If you “follow” him, what are you substituting? If you “receive” him, what are you doing? Therein lies a distinction worth pondering.]

Jensen Comments:

The interview of Marlin Jensen by USU Professor Phil Barlow is now on the Internet. The statement below is interesting for several reasons:

“The fifteen men [1st Pres. & 12] really do know, and they really care. And they realize that maybe since Kirtland, we never have had a period of, I’ll call it apostasy, like we’re having right now; largely over these issues [meaning the church’s history]. We do have another initiative that we have called, ‘Answers to Gospel Questions’. We are trying to figure out exactly what channels to deliver it in and exactly what format to put it in. But we want to have a place where people can go. We have hired someone that’s in charge of search engine optimization. We realize that people get their information basically from Google. They don’t come to LDS.org. If they get there, it’s through Google. So, we are trying to create an offering that will address these issues and be available for the public at large and to the church leaders, because many of them don’t have answers either. It can be very disappointing to church members. And, for people who are losing their faith, or who have lost it, we hope to regain to the church.”

Another questioner asked how these fifteen men know. Is it through anecdotal means or from statistics? Elder Jensen said that he has received much information anecdotally and added, “The church has a very progressive research and information division, with tremendous public opinion surveyors. And the church is constantly running surveys, and employing consultants that do focus groups on a variety of topics, but especially on the ones that we are talking about right now, that are so sensitive to the faith of members. Where has the prophet laid his emphasis right now? It’s on something called ‘The Rescue’. And with good reason, because we are suffering a loss; both in terms of our new converts that come in that don’t get really established in the church, as well as very faithful members who because of things we’re talking about, as well as others, are losing their faith in the process. It is one of our biggest concerns right now.”

If I could offer something useful to the “fifteen men” (whom I am certain could care less what I’d have to say), it would be the following:

Standing in an echo chamber and hearing the same things repeated to you is not a conversation. The “crisis” will not be solved by the approach that has precipitated the crisis. This is not at all like the Kirtland Apostasy, other than the vastness of the scope involved. It is because the leadership has lost the confidence of large numbers who simply do not trust them to tell the truth about things. It is being packaged and marketed. That is not cured by “search engine optimization” because it is not believed.

Taking just one incident as an example: Those who study our history know the contemporaneous accounts all fail to mention the “transfiguration of Brigham Young into Joseph Smith” on August 8, 1844. It was not the reason the Nauvoo population voted to sustain the 12. They did NOT sustain Brigham Young separately to anything, nor did Brigham Young ask to be sustained to anything apart from advancing the claims of the 12 to preside. It would be years before Brigham Young sought to be separately sustained to lead. Repeating the false inspirational story of his transfiguration is not useful. It is not inspirational, but evidence of duplicity and dissembling. There are hundreds of other examples which could be given. They are discovered by reading history.

Very progressive research using public opinion surveyors is NOT going to help. After all, Mitt Romney was ahead by a large margin two weeks before his resounding defeat in South Carolina. Today he is behind by more than 10% in Florida, after leading for months. When the vote is taken in a few days he may well win. The shifting sands of opinion are as unstable as water. The Lord warned against establishing a house on such vulnerable sand.  We should instead build upon the rock of knowing Christ. Everything I’ve written is intended to point to that rock. All that is required to vastly shift opinions is more information. Employing consultants who do focus groups on a variety of topics is what has caused the problems now facing the church.

A steady tune of fixed truth, bold declaration of doctrine, even when it fades from popularity, and seeking light from God is what built the church. It is the reason for the church’s existence. When it lapses into another well managed business operation whose product is the religion called Mormonism, it ceases to attract men’s hearts. Opinion polling and focus groups are not a substitute for revelation.

People want to believe in the restored Gospel. They want to hear truth. They know the Lord spoke to Joseph Smith. We want what was restored through Joseph to be preserved, not to be repackaged and squandered at the feet of popular opinion.

For the first time since Joseph Smith it is possible the restoration may continue without the church. The prophecies declare the work will culminate in establishing Zion. Whether the church chooses to be involved or not, it is coming.

As a final aside, the reason I say the “fifteen men” have no interest in what I have to say is because they use these professionals who conduct opinion polling and focus groups as a substitute for knowing the hearts of the faithful. Someone who is active, doing 100% home teaching and faithfully serving in their callings like myself is viewed as an inappropriate source of information. If my views differ from the leadership’s then I am considered to be ‘out of harmony’ and in error. When they employ non-believing professionals who could care less about the underlying faith (apart from it being the product to be marketed), they are viewed as objective and professional. The result is to prefer the views of the non-believer over the views of the faithful, and to discard, and even question the loyalty of the faithful. The system is broken. You must fix that first. Blaming the members for “apostasy” like Kirtland is incorrect.

Elective Adultery And Election Ambition:

Though I am not political, some moments in the political world spill over into things I do care about. One of them is unfolding at the moment. The disclosure of Newt Gingrich’s marital infidelity, and on-going extramarital misconduct resulting in his second divorce and third marriage, is one of those rare moments when the United States has an opportunity to make a significant moral error. It is true we have had past presidents who have engaged in sexual misconduct while in office. Some were discovered only after they left office. President Clinton, of course, was known to have done so while still serving. But the United States has never elected a man whose extramarital affairs were publicly known before the election. Such conduct has always been disqualifying. This is because the United States has always cared about morality as much as about policy.

Apparently many political commentators cannot see the difference between offering an adulterous man whose sins are publicly known before the election as a candidate to the nation’s highest office, in contrast to later discovering we’ve inadvertently elected an adulterous man. [Grover Cleveland was a bachelor and young when he may have fathered a child, not a married adulterer. He paid child support and was never conclusively shown to be the father.] When given the choice beforehand, adultery should always be disqualifying. Yet such “conservative” commentators as Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham have championed Newt Gingrich after the disclosure; even Sarah Palin has defended Mr. Gingrich after it became an issue. Gov. Rick Perry has also endorsed Mr. Gingrich after this moral failing has become public.

Mr. Gingrich is ego-maniacal. He was dishonest and thrown out of Congress for his ethical lapses. His infidelity to his wife is mirrored in his infidelity to high office while serving in Congress. If he betrayed his wife before, and betrayed his public office before, he is unworthy to be trusted again. His very public penitence I view more as public theatre than humble submission to God. He proclaims his God-given forgiveness as a shield against criticism, rather than a matter of private devotion. Such conduct always raises a question about sincerity. He is ambitious, self-centered, now using religion to justify himself, and unworthy of renewed public trust. When someone has been involved in such a troublesome history I would expect they would voluntarily disqualify themselves by never running. I understand and sympathize with failed marriages and moral lapses. They happen. But contrition and ambition are incompatible. Some personal failings are so great they disqualify. At least from the right to hold an office of public trust which was designed to be viewed as much as a “pulpit” of righteousness as a seat of power.

He was careful yesterday to deny wanting an “open marriage” because the definition of the word used in the question does not quite fit his immoral conduct. He was not prepared to welcome his wife joining him in extramarital sexual relations, as “open marriage” implies. He wanted to do that alone. He wanted his wife to “share” him with his paramour. (This loophole allowing the denial was fed to him by Rush Limbaugh.) Therefore he could probably pass a lie-detector test about his denial of wanting an “open marriage.” Yet he wants his adulterous companion to be the nation’s First Lady, and himself to occupy the high position originally designed for George Washington– the most trusted man of his generation. A man whose morality was beyond question. A man who led by example, freeing his slaves in his will as the example he hoped would end slavery without requiring the nation to be torn apart. Newt Gingrich will bring dishonor to any office he holds because of his inability to look beyond self-interest and personal glorification.

When a person is known to be an adulterer, they are by definition also a liar. Liars and adulterers are by any scriptural definition wicked. When a nation on this land chooses to uphold a wicked man to head their government, they are ripe for destruction. (See Mosiah 29: 27Alma 10: 19, Helaman 5: 2.)

You uphold such a man at the peril of national destruction. His campaign has also exposed the underlying confused morality of some popular political commentators.

Submission to Church

I was asked about “submission to the church” and “criticism as rebellion.” Here is my response:

The church is formed by a mutual agreement between the members and the leaders. The leaders occupy their positions because they are sustained to the offices they hold. When sustained, they are the office holders. No one has the right to preside or conduct church activities other than the regularly constituted church authorities. It is their right.

But if you love the church and want her best interests, it is a mistake to leave her uncriticized for mistakes and blunders. Those who care for her the most will be the most eager to help. Criticism designed to improve, to overcome mistakes or solve dilemmas the church faces is what a person who cares would always do. Only a fool would mistake comments motivated by concern and care as a sign of rejection or rebellion.

The church is struggling. Only about 10% of the converts remain with the church today. Half of the returned missionaries drift into inactivity within two years of returning home. Temple marriages in the U.S. are ending at a rate nearly comparable to national averages, and the fertility rate of Mormons in the U.S. has dropped to nearly the national average. Tithing contributions have dropped. There is a crisis underway at present. If a member cares, they owe it to the church to offer views for discussion.

I think using professional business consultants to help solve the crisis is what has led to the crisis. They do not, indeed cannot, understand the things of the spirit. It is impossible to treat the Gospel as another commodity and market it like you would soft drinks, cars or office supplies. Businessmen cannot remedy a spiritual illness. The church does not need good marketing. Indeed it grew the most as an overall percentage of growth, when it boldy proclaimed a new doctrine, a new revelation from heaven, and suffered the indignity and criticism of the entire world. While editorial pages were railing against the church, and cartoonists were mocking Joseph Smith, the church went from nothing to tens-of-thousands. That was how the truth should always be spread. Not by aligning with the world and employing its methods, but by proclaiming the truth and rejecting the world.

We’ve been using more and more of the same failed business marketing approach to try and smooth out the message and deliver it more agreeably to the world. That will NOT attract those seeking the truth. We must not blend in, but must stick out. Doing more of this marketing and social-science driven management will lead to less: Less activity. Less retention. Less tithing. Less membership. Less success. It needs to reverse.

Sooner or later someone who is open to that message will decide the failure has continued long enough and will decide to return to what established the church in the first place against all opposition.

False Spirits

Whenever there is an increase in spiritual manifestations, there is always an increase in both true and false spiritual phenomena. You do not get one without the other.

In Kirtland, new converts who were overzealous to participate in the new heavenly manifestations coming as a result of Joseph Smith’s claims, opened themselves up to receiving influences they could not understand, and did not test for truthfulness. They were so delighted to have any kind of experience, they trusted anything “spiritual” was from God. As a result, there were many undignified things, degrading conduct, foolish behavior and evil influences which crept in among the saints. Joseph received a revelation in May 1831 concerning this troubling development. In it the Lord cautioned there were “many false spirits deceiving the world.” (D&C 50: 2.) That Satan wanted to overthrow what the Lord was doing. (D&C 50: 3.) The presence of hypocrites and of people harboring secret sins and abominations caused false claims to be accepted. (D&C 50: 4, 6-7.) It is required for all people to proceed in truth and in righteousness (D&C 50: 9) if they are going to avoid deception. Meaning that unrepentant and unforgiven men will not be able to distinguish between a true and a false spirit.

All spiritual gifts, including distinguishing between true and false spirits, requires the Holy Ghost, given through obedience to the truth, which allows a person to distinguish between truth and error. (D&C 50: 17-23.) The truth is like light, and when you follow the light of truth it grows inside you until you have a “perfect day” in which there is no more darkness,but everything is illuminated by the light of the spirit within you. (D&C 50: 24.)

The revelation clarifies that a preacher of truth will become only a servant. He will not claim greatness, but will seek only to give truth; as a result of which false spirits will be subject to him. (D&C 50: 26-27.) But this only comes as a result of repenting of all sin, because the light of a perfect day cannot arise when men harbor evil desires and inappropriate ambitions within their hearts. (D&C 50: 28-29.) Truth will not leave you confused, but will enlighten your understanding. (D&C 50: 31.)

From this you can see how necessary it is for each of us to continually repent, conduct our lives in conformity with such truth as you presently understand, and avoid deliberate wrongdoing in order to be able to distinguish between a true and a false spirit. You must attract light. It is attracted by obedience to such light as you already have. When you proceed forward using the light you already possess to attract more light it will grow in one, consistent and truthful manner from a lesser to a greater light. All of it conforming to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Ambition in spiritual gifts leads to acceptance of evil influences. As part of the same problem in Kirtland, in September of the previous year, Hiram Page wanted to be like Joseph, and was able to attract a deceiving spirit to communicate with him through a seer stone. But the commandments he received were designed to lead him into error. (D&C 28: 11.)

Truth will always testify of Christ and lead to repentance. It will lead you to do good, not evil. To serve God and not follow men. To repent and forsake darkness which appeals to the carnal mind. (See Moroni 7: 12-19.)

Just because you have a “spiritual experience” you cannot trust it will invariably be from God. True spirits will:
-Testify of Christ.
-Lead to repentance.
-Be consistent with existing scripture.
-Lead you to be submissive to authority in the church.
-Edify and enlighten your mind.
-Be understandable and not cause confusion.
-Cause light to grow within you.
-Turn you toward Christ, not men.
-Never cause pride.
-Make you a better servant.
-Increase your love of your fellow man.
-Clothe you with charity for the failings of others.
-Conform to the true whisperings of the Holy Ghost you previously have received.
-Leave you humble and grateful for God’s condescension.
-Make you want to bring others to the light.
-Be grounded in love toward God and all mankind.
-Lead you to rejoice.

False spirits will:
-Deny Christ.
-Cause pride.
-Make you believe you are better because of the experience.
-Contradict the scriptures.
-Appeal to carnality and self-indulgence.
-Lead to rebellion against the church’s right to administer ordinances.
-Cause confusion.
-Lead to ambition to control others.
-Make you intolerant of others’ failings.
-Seek self fulfillment rather than service.
-Appeal to your vanity and assure you that you are a great person.
-Bring darkness.
-Repulse the Holy Ghost.
-Prevent you from repenting and forsaking sins.
-Interfere with serving others.
-Focus on yourself rather than the needs of others.

Do not think all spiritual experiences can be trusted. There is no difference between the activities of deceiving spirits today and those in Kirtland, as well as those in the New Testament times. If you follow the Lord you must still test the spirits and only follow those which point to Christ. (1 John 4: 1.) Even Joseph Smith had to ask God about some of the phenomena going on in Kirtland before he knew which were of God and which were deceiving.

The Book of Mormon

There is a presumption that “the Book of Mormon” means the book “Book of Mormon” we have now. That is, the one you can get off the shelf at Deseret Book. That is not the only possible meaning of the words.

Nephi records he made two sets of plates. On one he recorded the “full record” of his people. We do not have that record. On the other he included little history and a summary of his religious teachings and prophecies. (1 Ne. 9: 2) The small plates we have are devoted primarily to his “ministry.” (1 Ne. 9: 4.) When Nephi prepared the first, larger plates, he was unaware he would later receive a commandment to make the second, shorter record devoted to only his ministry. (1 Ne. 19: 1-3.)

The commandment to make the second set of plates was not given until after Lehi died in the promised land, and Nephi and those who followed him separated from his older brothers Laman and Lemuel. (2 Ne. 5: 30.) This would have been several decades after the events in and around Jerusalem.

Mormon did not use Nephi’s “small plates” to abridge in his original book. He used Nephi’s large plates, containing “more history part” of the people. But, after finishing his abridgement, he attached the small plates to his abridged record, noting that the small plates he attached contained “this small account” of the prophets from Jacob down to King Benjamin. (Words of Mormon 1: 3.) Within the small plates Mormon explained there were “many of the words of Nephi” (Id.). For all of Nephi’s words, we would need access to the large plates.

The “Book of Mormon” included: 1) Mormon’s summary of the Nephite records, which was based on the larger plates and not the smaller ones, 2) The small plates of Nephi, 3) Moroni’s translation of part of the Jaredite records, 4) Some correspondence between Mormon and Moroni, along with Moroni’s final warnings, and 5) An extensive, sealed and untranslated record containing information not yet revealed to us (2 Ne. 27: 6-8). We no longer have a portion of part 1, it having been lost through Martin Harris’ neglect. It was not re-translated after the first version was lost. (See D&C 10: 30.) Part 5, or the sealed portion of the record, contains a revelation from God of everything from the beginning to the end (2 Ne. 27: 7.)

When “the Book of Mormon” is said to contain the “fullness of the Gospel” (D&C 42: 12) is that referring to what we have now (parts 2, 3, 4)? Does it or did it also include what was originally included by Mormon, but has been lost to us as a result of Martin Harris (part 1)? Does it include the sealed portion of the record we have never been given (part 5)? Although the traditional discussion presumes what we now have (parts 2, 3, 4) are what is meant by “the Book of Mormon” there are other possible meanings.

Joseph Smith Quote

I was asked about a quote from Joseph Smith. Thought I’d put it up here, also. It is taken from the journal of Mosiah Hancock, and is Bro. Hancock’s recollection of a statement made by Joseph Smith:

…you will travel west until you come to the valley of the Great Salt Lake. …you will live to see men rise in power in the church who will seek to put down your friends and the friends of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Many will be hoisted because of their money and the worldly learning which they seem to be in possession of; and many who are the true followers of our Lord and Savior will be cast down because of their poverty. (Mosiah Hancock Journal, p.19)

Abraham’s Gospel

Abraham was in possession of the records going back to Adam. All the records of “the fathers” from the beginning came down to him. (Abr. 1: 31.) This would have gone back to the time of Adam. (Moses 6: 5.) It would also have included the record kept by Enoch which contained a prophecy of all things from the beginning to the end of the world. (D&C 107: 53-57.) These are the records he studied to increase his own desire to be a man of greater understanding and to follow greater righteousness and also to possess the singular form of High Priesthood known to the Patriarchs. (Abr. 1: 2.)

It is a mistake to assume Abraham had less of the Gospel than do we. He had more. We have not yet risen to his level of understanding or priesthood. I reject the idea that Abraham’s “Gospel” and priesthood was inferior to ours. He was a peer of Adam, Enoch and Noah in his priesthood and the understanding given to him.

Further, the Lord personally ministered to Abraham and conferred priesthood, sonship, and an everlasting inheritance upon him. (Abr. 1: 17-19.)

I think it is a mistake to believe we have more, or even as much, as Abraham did. Reading his record (which is his endowment) it becomes apparent there is an understanding of the heavens, including a detailed account of the path back to God’s presence through the stars, which has yet to be restored to us.

Knowledge and Indifference

Should the study of church history be limited to the superficial, faith-promoting summaries given through the “official” church publications? Doesn’t that risk accurate histories being tools used by the critics against the church? Should the church accept members who choose to believe in the restoration of the Gospel through Joseph Smith? Who believe in the Book of Mormon, and other scriptures that came through Joseph? Who believe in God’s purposes in starting a new dispensation of the Gospel? Who also recognize the course the saints pursued in the past and are pursuing at present with the restoration has been neglectful, even harmful?

One of our great non-Mormon friends is Harold Bloom. He has written about Joseph Smith and his authentic revelations. He has heaped praise on Joseph’s ability to restore lost ancient, First-Temple era teachings. Yet as an astute observer of Mormonism he has recently written about his complete disappointment with Mormonism, and how badly it has changed in a few short years. He is not being unkind. He has honestly assessed the many radical changes underway with the restored church in the last few years. Since he does not feel any emotional need to defend the church, and is therefore free to give his candid views, his assessment represents an honest way to view the radical alterations currently happening with Mormonism.

If Mormonism is limited to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (and for the most part it is), then the recent changes and radical innovations are so dramatic that our largest denomination now runs the risk of following in the steps of the second-largest “Mormon” denomination. The Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) is now just another quasi-Protestant faith bearing almost no resemblance to the movement begun through Joseph.

How much study should be given to the history of the restoration? How carefully should Joseph’s teachings be preserved, studied and followed? When the Lord commanded us to “give heed to all his [meaning Joseph Smith] words and commandments” to what extent are we justified in forgetting his words and teachings? (See D&C 21: 1-6.) In the commandment, Joseph is identified in these words: “thou shalt be called a seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of Jesus Christ, an elder of the church through the will of God the Father, and the grace of your Lord Jesus Christ[.]” (Id. v. 1, emphasis added.) We know Joseph was called “through the will of God the Father, and the grace of your Lord Jesus Christ” because we have the records before us. For example, Joseph witnessed the Father and Son appearing to him in the Spring of 1820. (JS-H 1: 17.) Again on the 16th of February 1832 Joseph saw the Father and Son. (D&C 76: 20-24.) The description and explanation of why we should “give heed” to Joseph’s words are set out in both scripture and history. Therefore it makes perfect sense we should pay careful attention to them. Subsequent office holders had no similar experiences. (I’ve covered President Brigham Young’s statements about never seeing angels or Christ or the Father in my last book. President Grant thought it was dangerous to encounter such spiritual experiences because they might lead to apostasy. Therefore, he never asked for them, and never experienced them.)

On the other hand, current Mormonism as practiced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has shied away from its history, abandoned many of Joseph Smith’s key teachings, altered some of the most important ordinances restored through him, and so heavily edited the latest study guide on his teachings that the results sometimes contradict what he originally said. I have a friend who has compiled a list of abandoned teachings of Joseph Smith. The list is now nearly two-hundred separate items long. This friend retains his believe in Joseph, the Book of Mormon, other restored scriptures, and in Jesus Christ. But he is alarmed by and alienated from the church. I think his approach in voluntarily withdrawing from fellowship is wrong. I think he has a duty to remain in fellowship with the saints. But what happens as shifting demographics lead to changes such as open acceptance of homosexual marriages? The leadership model implemented during Gordon B. Hinckley’s long tenure in leadership (which began long before he was president) uses opinion polling to guide decision-making. Using the current format, the church is helpless to resist changing public opinion trends.

The church draws leadership from successful internal leader-pools. Young bishops become high councilors and stake presidents. Those with wealth and business acumen become mission presidents. Before long a resume of church service attracts higher office and such men are called as a general authorities. These men are drawn from business, law, banking, education and government. Oftentimes their business acumen is the overwhelming forte’ and their knowledge of the church’s history and doctrine are lacking. In fact, knowledge of doctrine and history is not required for higher church office. (If you study the history and journals, you will find there are those who didn’t even believe in the Gospel who were called to be members of the Twelve. They were great businessmen, and the church’s many assets and interests required that talent.)

Oftentimes the reality is that leaders know far less about the religion than members who have devoted themselves to studying the Gospel and the church’s history. The results are sometimes interesting, because doctrinal or historic errors are made by those we sustain as our leaders. How big an issue this becomes for some very devoted believers is up to each individual. I choose to cover their shortcomings with charity, and to remember how difficult a challenge it is to manage a 14 million-member all-volunteer organization spanning cultures and languages across most of the world. But that does not mean their mistakes go unnoticed, just that I accept human-limitations as inevitable. There is a difference between not knowing something and being indifferent to it. I try to keep that in mind.

Whose Church is it?

To whom does The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints belong? To us, or to the Lord?

That seems like an easy question, but it isn’t. Because to answer it requires a great deal of understanding of both history and doctrine. The Lord told the Nephites a church had to bear His name or it wasn’t His. (3 Ne. 27: 8.) At the beginning our church was originally called “The Church of Christ.” By a vote of a conference on May 3, 1834 the name was changed to “The Church of the Latter-day Saints.” (DHC 2: 62-63.) By 1838 the Lord put His name back into the title by revelation, but approved adding our names when the name changed to “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” (D&C 115: 4.) So our name is in the title. The Lord told the Nephites that if named after someone, then it is their church. His name is in our title, but so is ours.

If the church belongs to us, then we can do as we like. Our sustaining votes are all that are required to implement any changes we choose to make.

If, on the other hand, the church belongs to the Lord, then we have no right to make any change to it. We conform to what He tells us. We cannot make a change, and must keep what He chooses to give us intact, awaiting His instruction before altering anything.

One of the most remarkable differences between Joseph’s era, or the first phase of Mormonism, is the direction we received from the Lord. The outpouring of revelation established not only three new volumes of scripture, but control was in the Lord’s hand, not Joseph’s nor the church’s. Direction came, and we conformed.

The absence of that Divine control since Joseph’s passing has been covered over by insistence that keys were given from Joseph to successors, and with those keys the right to direct everything remains intact. So much so that we can vote new “prophets, seers and revelators” and their decisions are God’s. God’s will is obtained by proxy, decided by councils, and accepted as if it were His.

If this is our church, proxies work fine. We are supposed to carry things on in the absence of Divine direction. Sentiments and feelings that we are going in the right direction is all we need. When good men acting in good faith make a unanimous decision prayerfully, we should feel good about it. Is that enough? If it is our church, I think it is.

What if the church is the Lord’s, though? I mean what if it is only His, and we have no right to implement any alteration? What if it is our obligation to listen, then conform, and only to obey? Do our good faith, honest desires, prayerful discussions, hopeful changes, and best feelings then matter? Do we get the right to change anything if the Lord alone owns the exclusive right?

If someone is His, what does that mean? What does it mean to be “His people?” Can “His people” act independently of Him? Does independent action constitute rebellion or rejection of Him? After all, didn’t He tell us it wasn’t necessary to command us in all things? (D&C 58: 26.) How far does that commandment extend? Because He also warned us to give heed to everything revealed to Joseph Smith (D&C 21: 4; 50: 35.)

What if a church president spends many long hours in the upper room of the temple praying for an answer, and can’t get one? The Lord won’t even give a “yes” or a “no” despite repeated prayers, for months, even years; what then? Can a decision be made because frustrated church leaders all feel good about going forward? Is “feeling good” about going forward a “revelation” from God?

What does it mean to “take the Lord’s name in vain?” Clearly we sustain leaders, follow them, trust them to do what is right, and all have testimonies this is the Lord’s great work. How much latitude do we possess?

Who then owns the church? Him or us?