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Tattoos and Plural Wives

If we convert someone who has a tattoo we do not refuse to baptize them. If a person born in the church leaves and returns again covered with tattoos, we don’t refuse them fellowship. Nor do we expect anyone to undergo the painful process of having them burned away using a laser.

When the church finally abandoned the practice of taking plural wives, one of the concessions the church wanted the government to make was to allow all existing plural marriages to become legal. No new ones could be contracted, but the existing ones needed to be tolerated under the law.

Heber J. Grant was the last church president with plural wives. He was church president until his death in May 1945. The church was led by a polygamist well into World War II.

Even though we abandoned the practice publicly in 1890 and privately in 1904, we were led by polygamists at the head until respectively, 55 and 41 years later.

The argument used to persuade the government was that it was absolutely cruel to deprive children born into these plural wife families of both parents. Breaking up families was unkind, unnecessary and would cause more harm than good.

Today there are many people who are in plural marriages who ought to be the target of efforts to reconvert them to the Gospel. We stay away from them because they have relationships we condemn. They are, in a sense, tattooed and we are unwilling to accept them back unless they will undergo the painful ordeal of disengaging from their unapproved relationship. We ask more of them than we were willing to allow the government to ask of us when we abandoned the practice.

If a polygamist family is willing to return, we should welcome them. We should allow them full fellowship, and admit them back to practice faith with us. They should know we condemn the practice and we will preach against it. We will encourage and teach their children to discontinue the practice, but we should accept them back into fellowship.

With Warren Jeffs’ latest decree limiting all fathering of children to his fifteen chosen inner circle, I suspect there will be a great number willing to abandon his leadership and who would reconsider fellowship with the church. The conditions we have set for reentry are so cruel, so damaging to these families, that we are essentially saying they can never return.

I would like to see polygamy ended. I would like to see those who practice it reconverted. I do not think we can reasonably expect to break apart their families. We should not break up families as a condition of return.

I’ve written about Section 132 in my last book. This week I’m going to return to that topic and spend a few days discussing plural marriage. I hope it will be a friendly invitation to those who practice it to reconsider whether they can get closer to God by returning to faith among the Latter-day Saints. I, for one, would be willing to fellowship with them. Though I condemn the practice and believe it should never have continued, I am not unrealistic about any existing obligations.

The Trick to Avoiding Apostasy

We began this week with the topic of apostasy. That is where we will end. It is easy to distract and fool people. It is also easy to keep in mind what is essential and will save, and what is distracting and cannot save. Here are a few thoughts that can prevent apostasy:

Never confuse the symbol for the reality.

Never accept a man as your Lord, but reserve worship for Christ alone. Everything and everyone else is idolatry.

Always bear in mind that Christ alone is the keeper of the gate, and He cannot be misled.

Always participate fully in the rites given to you as a gift from God, performed by the priests, and be worthy before God when you do so.

Take every gift from God in gratitude, and recognize His hand in what you receive.

Be grateful for what you are given, and never think yourself better than another because you think you understand more. You are measured against perfection, not your fellow man.

Forgive if you want to be forgiven.

Leaders deserve your best efforts to support them in the heavy burdens they carry. Uphold, rather than criticize them.

Most errors deserve your pity and forgiveness – not your judgment.

It is not criticism to search for truth, even if the truth exposes mistakes and errors of men. Be gracious with failure, and not distracted or preoccupied by it.

Nobody’s failure can prevent your success. No other organization or person can bring you along in their success. You are required to connect with God independent of all others. Life eternal is to know Him and His Son.

Love your spouse, because this is your own flesh. There was never a saved man without a woman, nor a saved woman without a man. Adam and Eve are “the image of God” for “in the image of God created He him, male and female created He them.”

It is in the private, unobserved moments when you learn the most about yourself. What you think, what you do, how you act when you think you are alone reveals more about your heart than anything else. If you are distant from God, begin to return in those moments alone.

God does live. Never doubt that. Just accept it and move forward to know Him.

It is a thin veil, not a wall, that separates you from God. Do not let it become insurmountable. It was always meant to be parted.

Fear is the opposite of faith.

Do not let borrowed fears become the barrier to your faith.

Men cannot save you, but they can condemn you. You cannot respect men too much without respecting God too little.

Religion has been the source of most of mankind’s cruelty, rebellion and apostasy. Never think your own religious observances can or will connect you with God. They are only habits until you reach out and speak with God directly. Ministers, priests, Rabbis, Elders, preachers, Fathers, Presidents, Apostles and even prophets are not God. Nor should any of these roles be allowed to distance you from God.

Saving belief requires you to accept the truth. Saving faith requires you to act in conformity with correct belief. Saving knowledge comes from contact with God.

Salvation and Signs

There are “signs” that show a person is not apostate. Mormon’s teachings to his son recount the signs which show God is saving souls. These teachings are in Chapter 7 of Moroni’s book. The whole text is worth careful study.

Moroni records that God will let all mankind know with power and great glory at the last day that “the day of miracles” has never ceased. (Moroni 7: 35.) Nor have angels ceased to appear and teach those who are in need of instruction. (Moroni 7: 36.) Nor has the “power” of the Holy Ghost receded. (Id.) This is because these things are required for “one man upon the face [of the earth] to be saved.” (Id.)

When there is faith, there are miracles. (Moroni 7: 37.) When there is faith, then angels minister to the faithful. (Id.)

If the time comes when there are no more miracles and there are no more angels ministering to mankind, then it is because of “unbelief, and all is lost.” (Id.)

Moroni explains in simplicity and clarity: “For no man can be saved, according to the words of Christ, save they shall have faith in his name; wherefore, if these things have ceased, then has faith ceased also; and awful is the state of man, for they are as though there had been no redemption made.” (Moroni 7: 38.)

The priestly tradition mentioned here can provide the rites, teach the doctrine and preserve the truth, but the underlying reality must be pursued for salvation. Moroni explains how we must push beyond the mere symbol to the reality.

Rites may teach us about conversing with the Lord through the veil. However, when the rite is over it leaves you with only the idea, the outline, the admonition of how the Gospel operates. Then it is up to you to pursue the practice of the rites by your life, your faithfulness, and calling upon God to know Him.

Signs do not produce faith and never have. Signs do, always, and will forever, follow faith. (D&C 63: 9.) Moroni taught sound doctrine.

For each of us, the priestly tradition is never enough. Ancient Israel had their rites, observances, feasts and rituals. They could acquire ceremonial cleanliness by following the rules for purification. But, as the Lord observed, outward cleanliness can belie the inward filth if they failed to connect with God. (Matt. 23: 25-28.) It is always easier to be ritually clean and religiously pure than it is to be approved of God. It is much easier to rise inside an organization than it is to part the veil.

However, for those who seek God, no amount of praise in this world can tempt them to ignore the path of faith where they encounter the Holy Ghost, angels, the Lord, and the Father. (John 14: 23; D&C 130: 3.)

God’s People

When God begins work with people, the group becomes “chosen,” and therefore the focus of His continuing efforts to save mankind. Although “chosen people” do not always remain faithful to Him, they do remain the center of His work.

A good illustration of this was during the Second Temple period in ancient Israel. Throughout this time, the people were apostate. Margaret Barker’s work reconstructing the era is perhaps as good a job as any scholar has been able to accomplish to date. Israel was led by corrupt and uninspired priests. The nation descended generation by generation until, by the time the New Testament era opened, the nation’s “king” was appointed by Rome from a well-connected family having only quasi-Jewish lineage and no real devotion to their  faith. The High Priest was also a political appointment, based on family patronage and bribery.

Into this corrupt society, the dawn of a new Dispensation conformed to the old patterns of the fallen, idolatrous religion. The angel Gabriel came to Zacharias in the place and time that honored the ceremonies established by Moses.

Zacharias was in the Holy Place, before the veil of the Temple, burning incense and offering the morning prayer. The prayer asked for the light of God’s presence to return to Israel. As the cloud of incense ascended from the altar upward, symbolizing the ascent of prayers to God, Gabriel appeared on the right side of the altar. (Luke 1: 11.) This is the exact spot a person would stand if they emerged from the Holy of Holies of the Temple, conforming to the then existing religious pattern. The angel announced to Zacharias that “thy prayer is heard” (Luke 1: 13), meaning that the set prayer for God’s presence to return to Israel was accepted. The religious pattern was vindicated.

Though Israel had endured hundreds of years of apostate decline, when the time to refresh and restore arrived, the work resumed inside the existing pattern. God honored the religion of His chosen people, even though the religion was at the time fallen, worldly and apostate.

Zacharias lived among this apostate people and yet was unhindered by it. His prayer was heard, the angel was sent, and God’s promise to return to Israel was not only vindicated, but Zacharias was told he would have a son who would “go before [the Lord] in the spirit and power of Elias.” (Luke 1: 13, 17.)

Similarly, the prophet Simeon and the prophetess Anna lived among a fallen and apostate people, but honored the traditions, kept the faith, and saw beyond the evil of their day. Each received by revelation a promise they would live to see their Lord come into the flesh. (Luke 2: 25-38.) These faithful believers, both male and female, were not hindered by the apostasy then underway.

The Lord follows the same pattern throughout, because He is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Moroni 10: 19.) Therefore, once the work recommenced through Joseph Smith, and there was a “chosen people,” the work will always continue, or if necessary begin anew among the same “chosen people.” Though the gentiles will fail, as Christ prophesied would eventually occur (3 Ne. 16: 10), the work will not be abandoned.

General apostasy, therefore, cannot prevent individual participation in the fullness of God’s promises. Though it may be interrupted for three or four generations when there is rebellion (Ex. 20: 5), when it resumes it will begin among the same people where it left off.

This is the pattern of the Lord. And mankind’s failure does nothing to prevent eventual fulfillment of the Lord’s promises. (D&C 1: 38.)

The Prophetic and the Priestly

There are two approaches to preserving a belief system. Scholars refer to these as “sophic” and “mantic,” but the scriptural language would be “the priestly” and “the prophetic.”

Priests deal with rites, ordinances, commandments and procedures. This durable approach to preserving a belief system allows a dispensation of the Gospel to continue to have a presence, long after a founder has died. Moses, for example, established a system of rites and observances which then became the religious fare of priests who perpetuated the system from the time of Moses until the coming of Christ.

Prophets deal with God and angels. They receive new insight, promises and covenants. Their conduct can even appear to violate the traditions of the religion they follow, but that is only because they are not bound to the tradition as practiced by the priests. Instead they have penetrated into the underlying meaning, the original power, the purpose of the rites.

Dispensations are founded by those who combine both traditions. Moses was a prophet, and established priestly rites. Christ was a prophet and more, and He also established priestly rites. Similarly, Joseph Smith was an authentic Dispensation Head who was both a prophet and established priestly rites.

The reason an apostasy can be concealed from the view of religious believers is because they confuse the presence of continuing priestly tradition with both. They do not notice the prophetic presence has left. Concealing the fact that the prophetic presence is gone is possible because priests focus on authority and make that idea the central, even controlling issue for salvation.

Catholics held a monopoly for a thousand years using the idea of “keys from St. Peter” as the foundation upon which the religion was built. Not until the eastern Orthodox faith departed was there any choice to be made between “keys” in Rome and “keys” in Constantinople. It took Martin Luther to finally peel away the fraud of “keys” independent from righteousness. His expositions on the “priesthood of faith” allowed a divorce between claims of priestly “keys” and faith in God.

It took Martin Luther’s revolution in thinking several hundred years to create a religious landscape where Joseph Smith and a new Dispensation of the Gospel could be introduced. These things move slowly because mankind is generally imprisoned by their traditions and are incapable of seeing the difference between the priestly and the prophetic traditions. This blindness becomes the tool through which the priestly tradition controls mankind.

Priestly tradition is stable, authoritarian, controlling, focused on outward conduct, amasses wealth, power and prestige. Priestly tradition can continue in the absence of spirit, revelation or even godliness. Priestly tradition can become the friend of government, business and empires, and can work hand-in-hand with the powers of this world.

Prophetic tradition is unruly, unpredictable, and challenges the god of this world. It cannot work with the powers of this world, but strikes at its authority. It cannot exist without the direct involvement of God and angels and it cannot be divorced from continuing revelation.

You can have both without an apostasy. You can have the prophetic without an apostasy. You can have a priestly tradition exist without an apostasy, but that is much less likely. In any complete apostasy, the presence of the priestly tradition is essential to be able to accomplish the “trick” referred to in the post yesterday.

The Trick to Apostasy

The trick to successfully pulling off an apostasy is to distract people into thinking there hasn’t been one. The “believers” need to think everything remains intact.

So the issue of “apostasy” becomes a discussion about individuals and individual conformity to the expectations of the group. The subject can then be a topic that polite, fellow-believers can discuss without ever searching into the overall condition of a fallen people.

The Jews mocked efforts to tell them they were apostate. They thought it was humorous when Lehi preached the idea. (1 Ne. 1: 19.) Because they were so very religious, so devout, so unassailably active in following God, the idea was absolutely laughable that they were apostate.

The Apostle Paul said the problem would begin at the top with the shepherds, who would teach them falsehoods as truth. (Acts 20: 29-30.) These new leaders would have only a form of godliness, without any real power to save. (2 Tim. 3: 5.)

The Christian world adopted another, false replacement of the original church. It became so universal it was hailed as the Universal, or Catholic Church. It ruled from the rivers to the ends of the earth as the only official form of the faith established by Christ.

To pull this off Satan must be concerned with the “macro” institutional failure, not just individuals falling away. It is the small, minor spirits who follow Lucifer who engage in petty tempting of individuals to sin. Success for the Adversary is not accomplished in petty enterprises. He wants failure for the whole, so none can be saved. For that, apostasy must be universal.

He has never succeeded by admitting there has been a failure. The trick is always to have the apostasy come unnoticed, unacknowledged and from within. (See 3 Ne. 16: 10.)

The topic is worth studying. When apostasy is noticed, acknowledged and exposed, then it is possible to repent and return. Until then, it progresses apace, discarding and rejecting what might have been given. All the while being happily ignored by “believers” whose devotion will not save.

Since Christ predicted that at some point the latter-day gentiles would reject the fullness (Id.), we probably should consider what the Book of Mormon has to say about the subject.

To finish the thought about the “trick to apostasy” the D&C has a remarkable statement. Lucifer succeeds when he manages to get us NOT to reject ordinances, but to change them. As soon as they are changed, they are broken. (D&C 1: 15.) That is an important step. Because then religious people can continue to claim they follow a true religion, while practicing one that has been broken. These practitioners become like the ancient Jews, who mocked Lehi because they knew they were still righteous. They knew Lehi was foolish, even fraudulent. They still had the truth, the ordinances, the temple, and the priesthood. Lehi was just a mistaken crank.

Mosiah 3: 26-27

Mosiah 3: 26-27

“Therefore, they have drunk out of the cup of the wrath of God, which justice could no more deny unto them than it could deny that Adam should fall because of his partaking of the forbidden fruit; therefore, mercy could have claim on then no more forever.


And their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flames are unquenchable, and whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever. Thus has the Lord commanded me. Amen.”

The strong, direful, terrible warnings continue from the angel:

Those who ignore the obligation will, in the afterlife, have:
“drank out of the cup of the wrath of God…”

Notice this is phrased in almost identical language to Christ’s terrible suffering in the atonement. (See 3 Ne. 11: 11; D&C 19: 18.) This is so awful an experience the Lord cannot capture adequately in revelation the words to describe it. (D&C 19: 15.)

“mercy could have claim on them no more forever.”
Meaning that if they choose this path, they will suffer. There will be nothing to mitigate what they will endure. Mercy will not intervene and lessen the ordeal.

How often has the Lord used such terrible phrases to describe the damned as:

“torment as a lake of fire and brimstone”–because we all know the pain of having our skin burned. It quickly conveys the idea of torment into our minds,

“whose flames are unquenchable”–because it will burn away until nothing impure remains,

“whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever”–because this process is eternal and will be the experience of anyone and everyone, worlds without end, who merit this purging and refining fire.

These words from the angel were delivered to a king, to be taught to his people, in a gathering in which all those who attended then covenanted with God. The audience would “have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” (Mosiah 5: 2.)

Why does it require this message from the angel to produce this result?
Could they be saved by praising them, telling them they were chosen and the elect of God?
Could they be saved by telling them they were a royal priesthood?
Could they be saved by telling them that all was well with them, they prosper in the land because God is with them?

Why is it necessary to tell them of hell?
Of damnation?
Of eternal suffering and unquenchable fire?

In The Second Comforter I remarked “there is no veil to our feelings.” That is true, but the feelings one experiences by coming into the presence of God are almost universally fear and dread. The scriptures confirm how fearful this has been to mankind:

To Abraham, it was a “horror” to draw near the Lord. (Gen. 15: 12-13.)
To Isaiah it was woeful, and terrible. (Isa. 6: 5.)
To Daniel and his companions, quaking fell upon them, many fled, leaving Daniel alone. (Dan. 10: 7-8.)
Mormon explains how men react to God’s presence as being “racked with a consciousness of guilt.” (Mormon 9: 3-4.)

When popular mythology constructs fantasies of coming before the Lord, they make it happy – not dreadful. They despise the call to repent because it disagrees with their happy myths. The angel is not overstating the case. He is explaining the great gulf that exists between fallen man and God. (See Moses 1: 10.) The unrepentant and foolish are completely unprepared for God’s presence. (Mormon 9: 2-6.) The words of the angel are attempting to give some indication to the faithful of how deeply, how completely, and how great the scope of repentance must be to avoid the similar pains of death and hell the Lord suffered on our behalf.

We delude ourselves when we think the angel’s message was not meant for all members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If the King Benjamin’s audience acquired their salvation by coming down in the depths of humility and repentance (Mosiah 4: 2), then we fool ourselves if we think anything less will be expected of us.

Was the angel bitter? Angry? Harsh? Unkind? Of the wrong “spirit?” Not the kind of messenger we should expect would be sent from God?

Was his message not kind enough? Not inspiring? Not faith promoting?

Can an angel or a prophet ever save anyone if they do not focus on the great burden left for mankind to repent and return to God? Will flattery ever save a man?

Samuel the Lamanite was sent to cry repentance. He put the case clearly to them and to us, but his words are no more comforting than the angel’s words were to King Benjamin and his people:

“Behold ye are worse than they; for as the Lord liveth, if a prophet come among you and declareth unto you the word of the Lord, which testifieth of your sins and iniquities, ye are angry with him, and cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him; yea, you will say that he is a false prophet, and that he is a sinner, and of the devil, because he testifieth that your deeds are evil.

But behold, if a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth—and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a prophet.

Yea, ye will lift him up, and ye will give unto him of your substance; ye will give unto him of your gold, and of your silver, and ye will clothe him with costly apparel; and because he speaketh flattering words unto you, and he saith that all is well, then ye will not find fault with him.

O ye wicked and ye perverse generation; ye hardened and ye stiffnecked people, how long will ye suppose that the Lord will suffer you? Yea, how long will ye suffer yourselves to be led by foolish and blind guides? Yea, how long will ye choose darkness rather than light?” (Hel. 13: 26-29.)

The Apostle Paul described such folks as having “itching ears.” (2 Tim. 4: 3-4.) It is a fairly apt description. These folks think themselves righteous, but they are unrepentant, unforgiven, and unsaved. They follow a religion which cannot save them, because it has become nothing more than a false idol, appealing to their vanity.

Mosiah 3: 25

Mosiah 3:25


“And if they be evil they are consigned to an awful view of their own guilt and abominations, which doth cause them to shrink from the presence of the Lord into a state of misery and endless torment, from whence they can no more return; therefore they have drunk damnation to their own souls.”

The angel now transitions the message to King Benjamin forward to the time of the final judgment. In that setting he suggests a scene to the unrepentant. Before looking at the words, however, why do you suppose the description is from the vantage point of the damned? Why not from the vantage point of the saved? The final three verses of the message are all viewed from failure, rather than from success. Why?

Is this “negative?”

Does this make you think the angel is offensive? He doesn’t “have the Spirit” with him? That you “don’t get a good feeling” when you listen to his words?

Do you think the angel should be ignored because he makes you “feel bad” by the things he speaks? Would you prefer to hear a “more positive message” Things like this just “can’t be from God” because of how they make you “feel?”

If this is an angel from God speaking, and the above questions reflect your attitude about a message warning you to repent, then perhaps it is your attitude that is wrong – not the angel or his message. Perhaps the annoyance of being awakened from your deep sleep is worth the angel telling you in unmistakable and harsh terms that you are about to be lost if you do not repent. Perhaps the angel would prefer to deliver a hopeful, even lighthearted message, but the words orignate from God. God’s efforts are to bring you to immortality and eternal life. (Moses 1: 39.) Maybe God has a better view of our awful state than do we.

The angel speaks in terms of:
-“consigned to an awful view”
What does this suggest? What would be “awful” about failing to repent? Why is it a “view?” What will we “see” in that day?

-“own guilt and abominations”
Why guilt? What “abominations” attach to every soul who does not repent? Why is religious error, pride in believing falsehoods, and failure to repent always an “abomination?”

-“doth cause them to shrink”
Isn’t this the same agony Christ experience in Gethsemane? (D&C 19: 18.) Why would you “shrink” from the presence of God? What does “shrink” mean?

-“into a state of misery”
Why would you want to withdraw into a state of misery? What is it about failing to repent that causes you to behave this way when judged by God?

-“endless torment from which there can be no return”
Why is this the formula to describe the reaction? (D&C 19: 6-12.) What is it about this experience that will last forever in the mind of anyone who suffers it? (D&C 19: 15-18.) Why would this haunt the person forevermore? Even if it came to an end at some point, why are you “unable to return” from that experience? What trauma is caused by this that can be avoided by repenting?

-“drunk damnation to their souls”
Why this graphic description? What is it about this experience that makes the very soul be damned by the ordeal?

Is the angel overreacting? Is this terrible assortment of adjectives necesssary? Why would God send an angel with this message to King Benjamin (and to us)?

Mosiah 3: 24

Words from God, delivered by someone who is authorized to speak them, “stand as a bright testimony against this people.” (Mosiah 3: 24.) It is a “bright testimony” because it illuminates the wickedness and hard hearts of the people when they reject it. Or, alternatively, it is “bright” because it opens the mind of those who will receive it, and they become enlightened by receiving truth from God. Either way, it is a “bright testimony” and will cut against all who fail to respond by repenting.

The purpose of the message is to make everyone aware of their duty to follow God. That purpose becomes most fully understood “in the judgment day” when the Lord’s messengers stand beside Him. (Moroni 10: 34; 2 Ne. 33: 11.) It will then be obvious who He sent and who pretended to be sent. (Deut. 18: 20.)

The angel then says “every man shall be judged according to his works.” (Mosiah 3: 24.) This means what you “do” in response to the warning to repent is what determines your final fate. Your “works” matter because if you respond by repenting, then you will “work out your salvation.” (Philippians. 2: 12.) If not, then you have procrastinated and will be damned for your failure to work. (Alma 34: 33.)

The symmetry and simplicity of the message is astonishing. Everyone can understand it, but that is never the challenge. The challenge is always whether or not to take it seriously enough to act on it.

Acting on it does not involve a public display. It only involves what goes on inside your heart. You repent before God, and come to Him with a broken heart and contrite spirit and beg for forgiveness. When the Lord forgives, then you change from the inside out. The only real change that matters comes from within. Outward display first is artificial. When a new heart is inside a man, then the outward behavior, and eventually even countenance, will change to reflect what lies within the man.

Given the seriousness of the message, you would think all who hear it would at least consult with God before turning away. However, it has always been the most religious who will not listen to a message of repentance.

Traditions and social reinforcement from others who think alike, all prevent the message to repent from getting through. Instead of a message of repentance, mankind prefers a prophet who tells them they are good. They are justified. They are righteous! They are chosen! God loves them in their sins! They need only pray, pay and obey and all will be well with them! Then people do pay, so that such characters become rich and powerful. (Helaman 13: 26-28.)

There is perhaps no greater revelation of the plan of salvation ever composed than the Book of Mormon. Beginning with Mosiah the text is abridged by Mormon. I think, however, this chapter from Mosiah was left as in the original. What Mormon did here was keep intact the transcript of the angel’s message. I can almost hear it echoing still. Can’t you?