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Power in the Priesthood, Part 2

When Joseph Smith was confined to Liberty Jail, suffering personal abuse and abuse for his people at the hands of government, he received a revelation regarding abuse of authority. However, it was not about the power or authority of government, but instead about abusing the power of God. Sitting in a Missouri dungeon, Joseph (and all those who read this revelation) are cautioned about how to handle priesthood. Things all follow rules, or laws ordained before the foundation of the world. (D&C 130: 20-21.) They cannot be violated and are invoked whenever men make choices. Choices lead to consequences, and these are ordained by God. We are free to choose. But we are not free to change the consequences.

The power of priesthood is connected with heaven. If any of us sever that connection we sever the priesthood. (D&C 121: 36-37.) If or when we abuse others by exercising unrighteous “conrtol, dominion or compulsion” and thereby forfeit priesthood, we are left to ourselves. We no longer have a connection to heaven. This is true of husbands who “rule” over wives by claim of priesthood. This is true of any of us serving in the church.

The priesthood is to bless others. It succeeds when we elevate others, bless their lives, bring them truth, and connect them with the Lord. When we focus on ourselves, or seek our own vainglory, we are abusing the priesthood and therefore, do not possess it. It is a call to serve, to kneel and wash another’s feet. It is not to claim superiority over anyone we are asked to serve.

When we behave like the “gentiles” (Luke 22: 24-26), we are left without authority or power.

This solitary state of being alone, without God in the world (Mormon 5: 16), or being “left to himself” has a natural progression. The progression that follows, once our priesthood is gone, is that we “kick against the pricks”–meaning we then oppose the will of God, and it will harm us. (D&C 121: 38.) It is a law we are following. We cannot help ourselves. We must thereafter oppose the will of God and bring harm upon ourselves. In doing so, we also must “persecute the saints”– meaning that when this route is taken, we will look for and oppose those who have remained in contact with the Lord. (Id.) It is a natural result, and it is irresistible. If this is the chosen course, anyone who follows it must seek out and oppose those who follow God’s will, because they “fight against God” when they are in this gall of bitterness.

This an explanation about priesthood abuse. It cannot apply until someone has first been ordained, or in other words “called” to a priestly office. This is entirely internal to the church and its officers.

Further, the one engaging in the abuse must be in a position to actually assert “control” or “dominion” or “compulsion” over others. That would not include those who are not in positions of authority. Those who have no right to claim control, dominion or compulsion under the claim of priestly office would not be able to abuse that power. In other words, this revelation to Joseph Smith about abusing priestly authority or status is a fundamental statement of how we conduct our church. It is how we are to behave while serving in church offices.

Note also, it would apply broadly in any context where someone relies on their “priesthood” as a basis for claiming priority or demanding surrender. For most men, that hits closest in their marriage. Persuasion, gentleness, meekness and love unfeigned has its greatest application within the family. Fathers should lead always with “pure knowledge” and through revelation.

The result is that while many are called (offered the chance to receive priesthood from heaven) only very few will be chosen, or receive power in their priesthood. (D&C 121: 34, 40.) Along the way the many who are called will refuse to submit to heaven and will instead become preoccupied with “covering their sins, gratifying their pride, and accomplishing their vain ambition.” (D&C 121: 37.) When they do this they will exercise unrighteous control over others, establish their dominion, and wield control over the souls of men. This is the order the Lord’s return will crush, because it is the commerce of Babylon to trade in the “souls of men.” (Rev. 18: 13.) Churches, like the Roman Catholic Church, or some of the Fundamentalist LDS sects, claim to hold keys to consign men to hell or raise them to heaven. Such purported keys and power from God let them trade in the souls of men. These are the only ones who could conceivably trade in the “souls of men” referred to in Revelation. They are, therefore, Babylon, and the target of the Lord’s destruction at His return.

On the other hand, when you find a soul in possession of the priesthood their conduct is altogether different. Since it is impossible to compel men to salvation, the priesthood can only invite, and persuade. The priesthood acknowledges it has the burden to persuade, and to convince, and cannot simply say something is so because they have authority. (D&C 121: 41.) Those who hold priesthood power can only proceed using “persuasion, longsuffering, gentleness and meekness” to enlighten those with eyes to see. (Id.) When this process is followed there is another law which confers upon the practitioner “love unfeigned” for those to whom they minister. (Id.) When they walk alongside their Lord and accept His yoke they find His love for others. This is the natural result of obeying the law governing priesthood. Love does not need to be feigned when the Lord bestows it as a grace, or an endowment, or a gift of His Spirit to one who follows Him.

It is a natural occurrence for those who abuse, rebel and apostasize from priestly ordination to then persecute the lowly and insignificant saints of God. It is natural for those who receive and magnify priesthood to find themselves loving the lowly and insignificant saints of God. These are natural gifts, normal graces bestowed by the power of God through laws instituted before the foundation of the world. It is part of the Lord’s orderly program.

Last Week’s Comments

I wanted to respond to some of last week’s comments:

There is a difference between calling and election and Second Comforter. I’ve written about the Second Comforter, but haven’t ever commented on calling and election other than what is said in Beloved Enos. It isn’t useful, in my view, to spend time discussing or studying a topic that is between the individual and the Lord, because if they are brought to the Lord, they will receive what He intends for them to receive.

In a quote from Joseph Smith (which is on page 3 of The Second Comforter) the order he puts these events in is the calling and election first, and Second Comforter second. However, as I pointed out in Beloved Enos, it did not happen in that order for Joseph.

These are important concepts to understand. But knowing the concept and then undertaking the process are quite separate things. I have friends who know a good deal more about the literature of deep Mormon doctrine than they have the capacity to practice in their lives. I think you draw closer to the Lord when you faithfully serve in primary, or as a home teacher, or as a young women’s counselor than when you are amassing knowledge of trivia about our history or doctrine. It is in the doing that the learning occurs. We must do what the Lord asks to understand Him. The four part Power in the Priesthood series will address that issue.

The idea of “evil speaking” has never been clearly defined by anyone, including the scriptures. Implicit in the idea is that you are trying to falsely make someone hated or reviled. You are, in essence, seeking to make a good man, or an innocent act to appear evil or corrupt when it is not. In essence you are calling good evil and evil good. The measure for that is best taken from inside the person. That is, they intend to call someone or something which is good or innocent as “evil” when they know or should know better. It reflects a malignant or at least indifferent heart.

I have suggested “the Lord’s anointed” should be interpreted to be anyone who has been through the temple, which is the broadest meaning. I’ve never thought it is safe to narrowly define obligations. If we are wrong by narrowly defining the term, then we miss the mark. Whereas, if we are wrong in broadly defining the term, we proceed cautiously and safely.

I understand “sustaining” or “supporting” the Brethren to be doing what we are asked when asked. We get assignments or callings, and we ought to do them. When, we are asked to obey the word of wisdom, or we are asked to attend a conference, or to undertake some kind of conduct, then we do it.

On following the Prophet: I think that is quite easy. What, exactly, do you find hard about this? It is not at all difficult to attend sacrament meetings, pay tithing, do our home teaching, attend the temple, etc. They really do not ask much of us. What they do ask is by and large simple. What is the problem? The scriptures ask us a LOT more. It is not incompatible for you to do everything the church asks, and still pursue the things you understand the scriptures instruct you to do. They are not mutually exclusive. They are complimentary. Or, at least they ought to be. In my experience they are complimentary and the one (what the Prophet asks of us) is by far the easier of the two. I wish the scriptures (and the Lord) only wanted what we are asked to do as active members of the church. Full, faithful, diligent service in the church is a small thing. Each of us should willingly submit to it, and find joy in service there. Faithful Latter-day Saints are among the best people on earth, and are actually seeking to find God.

On detailed knowledge of church history: For faithful, active and satisfied Latter-day Saints: It certainly isn’t necessary, no. But everything needs perspective. Ultimately you are alone in your test, in being proven, in finding God. The church is a profound help and a great hindrance. It is a help in all it has preserved: ordinances, scriptures, organization, libraries of material and the venue for performing ordinances and meetings. It is a hindrance when it becomes a substitute for God, and refocuses your attention away from the Lord. If you can receive its help without becoming idolatrous, then detailed study of church history is not useful or necessary. For disaffected, alienated and inactive Latter-day Saints: It is necessary, yes. It puts into perspective the things which have alienated them. When the weaknesses of men are apparent, they are easier to forgive and for you to move on to finding God. When you can see the hand of God moving in spite of the weaknesses and failing of men, you can resort the things which alienated you, put into categories the mistakes and errors, find what is good and retain faithfulness to that goodness.

On my schedule: It isn’t important.

On evil spirits: I’ve never felt it important to discuss the topic. They exist. One of the side-effects of an inordinate preoccupation with the topic is the misunderstanding that you can relate to them. You can’t. They are your enemy. Their tool in trade is deception and lying. Summary dismissal is what is taught in the scriptures and in the temple and should be the approach when dealing with them.

Internal committees of the church are all presided over by a general authority. When the committee works, they work as a group of men assigned to the task, and churn out their product. The assigned general authority will meet on occasion with them, some weekly, some monthly, some less often, to “preside” and give face time to the committee. The committee produces a product or a project and whatever that is is said to belong to the general authority because it is “his” committee. In truth, however, the work goes on among the faceless, nameless members with little more than thin oversight by the assigned general authority. This gives the Correlation process its power because the committee uses the general authority’s name to shield themselves from criticism or accountability. It is “Elder Holland” or “Elder Ballard” who takes the assigned credit for “his” committee’s product. This insures that even though he has but very little to do with it, the work-product is regarded as his. Almost anyone would question a bureaucratic process and decision if they knew how it worked. However, almost no active church member would dare to question “Elder Oaks.” Speaking of Elder Oaks, he gets credit for the Sunday School Manual because that’s his committee. Interestingly, in one of the Mormon Stories Podcasts, a member of the BYU Religion Department who helped write the manual told an amusing story. (I think it was Peterson, but I’m not sure) In a New Testament manual book of Acts, there is the incident where Paul spoke till midnight. He put a young man to sleep who fell from the window and died. (Acts 20: 7-12.) One of the discussion questions he put into the draft manual was something to the effect, “Have you ever killed anyone in a Sacrament Meeting talk?” Of course this was tongue-in-cheek. To his surprise, the question made it through to the print proof stage before he removed it. The story shows just how “tightly” the manual committee actually scrutinizes their work. A good many of those involved are more interested in the “face time” with the presiding general authority, hoping that will give them opportunity for advancement in the structure. I believe you can be critical of a committee without having anything in mind for the general authority who has the unfortunate assignment of being “over” the committee. The purpose of Correlation is to conflate the two. Correlation relies on that conflation to work their disastrous mischief presently underway. There are a significant number of general authorities who would undo Correlation, and that number is growing.

At some point I will contrast the Light of Christ, Spirit of Christ, Holy Ghost and gift of the Holy Ghost. But that’s not appropriate in a quick response here.

Fasting in the form of abstaining from all food and drink may not be practical for the elderly, those who are diabetic or ill. For some, refraining from food and drink is possible without any danger to their health, but if they choose to do so for more than a day, then eating once in the evening allows the fast to continue the next day. For someone unable to fast, but who can surrender some part of their diet–abstaining from all sweets, for example–it can serve the purpose. Underlying the idea of the fast are two things. First, submission to God. Second, aiding the poor. (Isa. 58: 6.) You can accomplish those purposes even if the “fast” you choose has nothing to do with food. However, our appetite for food is one of the most direct ways to discipline the will of the body. Remember though, it is your thoughts, not your belly, where the real battle is fought.

Christ sanctifies us, we don’t sanctify ourselves. Our “righteousness” is borrowed from Him. It can be symbolized in this way. He provides a white robe, we put it on, and then He looks upon the whiteness and purity of the robe we received from Him and treats us as if the borrowed robe is our condition. We owe Him for that. He is willing to proceed with us as if we merited the robe. (See 2 Ne. 9: 14.)

Colors all have symbolic meaning.  Blue is the color of priesthood. Red is the color of judgment. Gold is the color of heavenly royalty. Green is the color of healing. There are colors we can’t see. All you have to do to make something veiled from our view is to put that color on what you want to conceal. It is rather like our own practice of wearing camouflage when hunting.

Power in the Priesthood

Here is a quote from the Journal of Discourses recently brought to my attention:

“This failure to realize all the blessings and powers of the Priesthood does not apply to the elders and lesser Priesthood only; but it applies to the higher quorums, and comes home to ourselves, who are Apostles of Jesus Christ. We are presented before the Church, and sustained as prophets, seers and revelators, and we have received oftentimes the gift of prophecy and revelation, and have received many great and glorious gifts. But have we received the fullness of the blessings to which we are entitled? No, we have not. Who, among the Apostles have become seers, and enjoy all the gifts and powers pertaining to that calling? And those who are called to perform special missions in opening up dispensations of the Gospel to the children of men, as Joseph and others were called of the Lord, He endows more fully with these gifts; but this does not hinder others from enjoying similar gifts according to His promises, and according to our faithfulness. And I have thought the reason why we have not enjoyed these gifts more fully is, because we have not sought for them as diligently as we ought. I speak for one, I have not sought as diligently as I might have done. More than forty years have passed away since these promises were made. I have been blessed with some revelations and prophecies, and with dreams of things that have come to pass; but as to seeing things as a seer, and beholding heavenly things in open vision, I have not attained to these things. And who is to blame for this? Not the Lord; not brother Joseph—they are not to blame. And so it is with the promises made to you in your confirmations and endowments, and by the patriarchs, in your patriarchal blessings; we do not live up to our privileges as saints of God and elders of Israel; for though we receive many blessings that are promised to us, we do not receive them in their fullness, because we do not seek for them as diligently and faithfully as we should.” (Orson Pratt, JD 25:145-146)

This candid statement of Elder Orson Pratt is a beautiful and faith promoting statement from an earnest and faithful Apostle. He was called by the Lord, through revelation to Joseph Smith, and held the office given him. His lament of failing to attain, because of a lack of diligence, should summon to each of us a renewed resolve to be faithful and true to the Lord. When so many have fallen short, the Lord deserves to have someone succeed. Why is that not you? Why do you not summon the faith and diligence to become His friend? This is an open invitation to everyone. (D&C 93: 1.) Therefore it is an invitation to you.

I think the best way to view all priesthood assignments in the church as entirely probationary. That is, ordination is an invitation to come and receive. It is up to each individual whether they will come and will receive. Ordination is invitation. Acceptance is through living the principles and ordinances of the Gospel.

The Lord often spoke to “the elders of my church” as one category, in contrast to “priesthood” which is another category. We conflate the two. An elder is invited to become an actual priesthood holder, but that is dependent upon heaven, alone. It may be conferred on us, but heaven must ratify. (See D&C 121: 36-37.) Therefore, there are a lot of elders in the church who have no priesthood. Yet they have an authoritative invitation to connect with heaven and rise up and receive it.

We conflate so many things because we tend to be lazy. We want to be able to acquire priestly authority as easily as we acquire a merit badge. It just does not, cannot work that way. Heaven controls that end of our faith. We conform to the conditions or we do not receive. The test is measured in our hearts, not just in our outward conduct. I suspect Elder Orson Pratt was never closer to attaining what he sought than when he humbly confessed his failure and sincere desire. His heart seems broken, his confession sincere, his desire authentic.

When someone has the fullness of the priesthood, they have the ability to ask and get an answer. When Joseph received it by the voice of God in the early 1830’s, the Lord confirmed “I restore all things, and make known unto you all things in due time.” (D&C 132: 45.) When the voice of God declared that it was also to be upon Hyrum Smith, it was declared by revelation that he would have the keys “whereby he may ask and receive.” (D&C 124: 95.) When Nephi, son of Helaman received it, the Lord declared: “all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for tho shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will.” (Hel. 10: 5.) Joseph Smith explained this relationship when referring to Noah conversing with the Lord preliminary to destroying the wicked. Noah was told by the Lord how he (Noah) could save himself and his family. Joseph explained, “thus we behold the Keys of this priesthood consisted in obtaining the voice of Jehovah that he talked with him in a familar and friendly manner, that he continued to him the Keys, the Covenants, the power and the glory with which he blessed Adam at the beginning and the offering of Sacrifice which also shall be continued at the last time, for all the ordinances and duties that ever have been required by the priesthood under the direction and commandments of the Almighty.” (Words of Joseph Smith, 5 October 1840, Monday morning, Robert B. Thompson’s account; spellings corrected.) One of the reasons we know Joseph Smith had the fullness was his ability to always get an answer to his inquiries. During his life, the Lord called the church a “true and living” church because it was in constant communication with the Lord. (D&C 1: 30.) While Joseph was at the head, the church could always ask and get an answer from the Lord through him. There was never any reason for the church or its leaders to speak in the absence of revelation. The Lord hearkened to Joseph. Joseph held “the keys of the mysteries and the revelations” D&C 28: 7. He had the “keys of the mysteries of the kingdom” D&C 64: 5. He held the “keys of the kingdom” D&C 81: 2. Joseph had “this greater priesthood [which] admistereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God” D&C 84: 19. For Joseph, the fullness was getting answers, solving mysteries and always using revelation to do so.

When the Lord designated Hyrum to receive this same authority, then the Lord was bound to also heed Hyrum’s inquiries and answer him. Joseph could be removed, but the church still had someone at the head who would be able to ask and get an answer, just as with Joseph.

It is a great thing when the church is “true and living” and has, at its head, someone like Joseph or Hyrum who could ask and get an answer. That is why it is so puzzling and offensive for the church’s press spokesman to recently claim the church’s leaders for generations spoke “in the absense of revelation” about a matter of critical importance for salvation of an entire race of people. When they said: “The origins of the priesthood availability are not entirely clear. Some explanations with respect to this matter were made in the absence of direct revelation and references to these explanations are sometimes cited in publications. These personal statements do not represent Church doctrine.” The church has repeatedly claimed to have the fullness of the priesthood, therefore it is a terrible indictment of Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, Joseph F. Smith, Heber J. Grant, J. Reuben Clark, David O. McKay, among many others, that they spoke “in the absence of direct revelation.” This surprising claim by the press spokesman contradicts the established order, recognized authority, and most importantly the church’s claims. I have taken some criticism for suggesting an alternative view of our history in my last book, but I’ve never made such an attack as this. This is a serious accusation, and one which the spokesman ought to provide us with an explanation. Did the leadership proceed on a matter of such importance “in the absence of revelation?” That seems heartless and unkind. Perhaps it was, but I would hope we would have some follow up explanation, because the assertion is troubling.

I Am a Mormon, Conclusion

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints introduced to me the idea that God would speak to mankind again today, if we asked in faith and listened for an answer. It was a very difficult idea to accept at first. It seemed God was a distant being whose involvement was ancient, and who concluded His work with man in the Bible.

When the missionary Elders “bore their testimony” and said they knew their religion was true, it puzzled me at first. I wasn’t sure what that meant. They approached the subject of religion and their knowledge of their belief system with a sort of confidence I hadn’t seen before. When they said Joseph Smith had seen and spoken with God the Father and Jesus Christ, it was almost too much to take in at first.

The religion they offered did not come quickly or easily to me. It was very hard for me to accept. But their sincerity affected mine, and ultimately I did “ask God” and got an answer from Him. It was so subtle, and so small an answer that at first I wondered if it was an answer from God at all. I trusted in it, acted on it, and the light grew.

From small means to greater and greater light, I have been converted to the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of Him, this is my own testimony, last of all, which I give of Him: That He lives; for I have seen Him. He has ministered to me. I adopt the words of others and confirm they, too, have seen Him:

I can say, like Nephi: “And now I, Nephi, write more of the words of Isaiah, for my soul delighteth in his words. For I will liken his words unto my people, and I will send them forth unto all my children, for he verily saw my Redeemer, even as I have seen him. And my brother, Jacob, also has seen him as I have seen him; wherefore, I will send their words forth unto my children to prove unto them that my words are true. Wherefore, by the words of three, God hath said, I will establish my word. Nevertheless, God sendeth more witnesses, and he proveth all his words.” (2 Ne. 11: 2-3.)

I can say, like Moroni:And then shall ye know that I have seen Jesus, and that he hath talked with me face to face, and that he told me in plain humility, even as a man telleth another in mine own language, concerning these things; And only a few have I written, because of my weakness in writing. And now, I would commend you to seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written, that the grace of God the Father, and also the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of them, may be and abide in you forever. Amen.” (Ether 12: 39-41.)
I can say, like Alma: And now, behold, I say unto you, and I would that ye should remember, that God is merciful unto all who believe on his name; therefore he desireth, in the first place, that ye should believe, yea, even on his word. And now, he imparteth his word by angels unto men, yea, not only men but women also. Now this is not all; little children do have words given unto them many times, which confound the wise and the learned.” (Alma 32: 22-23.)
I am a faithful Mormon, who, like the missionaries who first told me of Joseph Smith and God’s answer to his prayer, also affirms that God does still answer prayer. He is accessible and willing to make Himself known to anyone who follows the path to get that knowledge. “Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am…” (D&C 93: 1.)

If there is a problem with Mormonism today, it is that it doesn’t believe and practice the original faith restored through Joseph Smith. Leaders have inadvertently put themselves between the members and God. They don’t belong there. I have written eight books (at great personal cost) showing respect to the church, gratitude for all it has done and is doing to preserve the faith restored through Joseph, but also reminding all who read that it is ultimately about connecting with Jesus Christ. You will be damned if you are a successful Mormon with a good relationship with the brethren, but neglect your relationship with Christ.

Those in the Strengthening the Membership Committee are in the gall of bitterness when they suggest my writings are threatening to them. To promote faith in Christ threatens their fifedom? To testify of Christ somehow dimishes the men who claim to represent Him? The idea is so patently off kilter that it reveals a dark motive to place respect for men above faith in Christ. I make no apologies for my testimony of Christ. Nor for my healthy skepticism of men. We are given free agency and we are required to use it. We must have the choice. Everyone has to choose. No matter how good the man is, men are all prone to mistakes, to vanity and pride, and to self-interests above the interests of others.

I am and will always remain a Mormon. I have more than faith in the religion, I have knowledge from Christ about my standing before Him. Therefore, I state with confidence what I believe, knowing that the Lord has made things known to me which He has kept hidden from others simply because they will not ask Him and let Him inform them also. My confidence in the religion is not the same as my confidence in the church, and this misbehavior by the Strengthening the Members Committee only reduces confidence in these mere men.

Despite the fact that the church has changed dramatically in the four decades since I joined, I have not changed all that much. Because of the increasing changes and the pace at which those changes are now taking place, I began to look into church history. What I concluded is shared in Passing The Heavenly Gift. It is my effort to help all those fellow believers who are disoriented by the increasingly rapid changes made by the church. If it isn’t “true” then disprove it. However, if it is, then why persecute me for telling the truth?

The truth will prevail. No matter who fights against it, it will prevail. I will stand with truth, and against all who oppose it; either high or low, inside or outside the church. The truth matters. Men and institutions do not.

I Am a Mormon, Part 6

The presentation by the missionary Elders that convinced me to “ask God” was weak. Just like the scriptures commend us to become when we tear down the false things of this world. (D&C 1: 19.) The young men had little appeal, and were not well equipped to advance the religion. They had come to me with nothing of any value, apart from the religion being true and the Spirit bearing witness to me of that fact.

So when the church invests millions in the infrastructure to test, market, gather focus-group insights, and then opinion poll to improve the marketing of Mormonism, I am very skeptical it has any value at all. You see, I came through the conversion process. None of the marketing I saw was professional. It was amateur and simple. For the most part, the leaders of the church inherit this religion and the church from their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. I did not. I endured the rejection of my parents and sibling when I joined the faith. I lost family and friends because of the faith. I know why someone joins an inconvenient, challenging faith because I went through the process. It has nothing to do with the church being physically impressive.

The success of the church is not dependent upon, nor guaranteed by, a multi-billion-dollar downtown complex of religious and commercial buildings. If that is what motivates someone to join, they do not have the right reasons or focus, and will not contribute anything to the faith. We do not need to gather into the net those who  find a slick marketing approach convincing enough to become Mormon. We only need to gather those who are pricked in their hearts, humble and who prayed to know if this is God’s work or not. Those who get an answer are going to join because they got an answer. Such people will have an inner strength that flows from having spoken with God. They will remain and grow in their knowledge of godliness– as long as we feed them. They will perish, however, if we feed them nothing but myth and superficial portions of the Gospel. The truth is exciting, and we risk killing their faith when we make it dull, incomplete, and mingled with misrepresentations. They will die, even if they are active in the church.

People who will listen with their hearts are going to join us. We do not need to be using Wall Street consulting firms to put together a new, improved marketing campaign. The Lord will vindicate His messengers. The expensive infrastructure detracts from the message delivered by a simple carpenter from Galilee who went about doing good. I love the Latter-day Saints. They are delightful people. When I joined, they were among the most humble people I’d ever encountered. However, as the church has grown in population and prosperity it has lost some of its humility and kindness. There is a hard edge creeping into the community of saints from the top down. The leadership knows that. They can see what the Correlation process has done and how it afflicts everything it touches. It is blighted with that hardness, and it is beginning to permeate the structure.

As committees impose central rule, they impersonalize a deeply personal faith. That impersonalization has unintended consequences. In cases we are all familiar with, it occasionally results in local leaders trying to attract favorable attention from the central command. These aspiring men do not feel the required attachment to their sheep. We have all seen them, lived with them, and know they are seeking upward mobility in the church organization. Their loyalty has shifted toward a distant hierarchy they seek to impress, then join. They want a “red chair.”

I have been fortunate to have encountered some wonderful local leaders. The last two bishops of my current ward were/are examples of faithfulness and humility. My stake president who was just released was an extraordinary leader and disciple of Christ. My stake has been blessed with great leaders, but that is not always the case in the stakes I have been in before. A former bishop from another stake would only bear his testimony about how great a man he was. His wife, likewise, only bore her testimony telling us how great a man her husband was. He’s now a pretty respected LDS personality. I’m puzzled by that. When those called to serve are converted to the Lord, they minister with His commands in mind. When men who are not converted to the Lord, but who want to rise in the church are called to preside, we suffer.

Like all who join the church in response to an answer to prayer, I am not a Mormon because of YOU. I support you, but my testimony was and is based on the Lord. I do not think the Strengthening the Members Committee is any better an idea than the Inquisition pursued by the Domicans. They thought they were doing something of value to preserve the faith. That is not how it turned out. Instead it led to the breakup of Catholicism and the enduring historic conviction that the Roman Church was absolutely wrong. We should learn from that, not repeat it.

God lives. He is real. Joseph knew Him. Joseph stood in His presence. This church was instituted to bring people to the Lord. And this church has brought me to the knowledge of, and then the companionship with Him. Therefore this church has my loyalty and my gratitude. I am indebted to the church for that, but I will never change allegiance from God to men or man. It just won’t happen. If that is your goal and you insist on the choice, I’ve already made it. As for me and my house, we will follow God. Now and always.

I Am a Mormon, Part 5

The purpose of the faith restored through Joseph Smith was not to enshrine mere men as idols. It was to proclaim that all men, every one of us, can know God. The whole of Joseph’s message can be summed up in the proclamation that God is no respecter of persons, but will give to all men liberally who ask of Him. It is James 1: 5: God does answer prayer.

This message came to me from the Mormon elders who taught me about the Restoration of the Gospel. These young men were not “slick,” but quite homespun. They used flannel boards and paper cut-outs. One of them was from Nephi, Utah. He was inarticulate, butchered grammar, and spoke with an odd accent. For several lessons, I literally thought he was saying “p-r-i-e-s-t-e-d.” A few weeks into investigating, I was a bit chagrined when I realized he was actually trying to say “priesthood.” Later, Elder Black (who baptized me) presented a better image. Some 39 years after baptizing me he is still a friend.

I did not join the church because it was powerful, rich, or slickly marketed. It appeared to me to be homely, rough and extremely unpopular when I joined. As I recall, there were less than 350,000 total priesthood holders and only a minority of them were active. What the church offered was information from, and a connection to God. I tested the process. I received an answer to my prayer about Mormonism from God.

When I joined the church I gave up everything. I lost my friends and family. I was alienated from the life I had known and lived. It required all of it to be put on the altar and set on fire. But, having heard from God in answer to prayer, there was no hesitation. Though I was realistic about my own flaws, and thought I could never be a good enough Mormon, I intended to try. I had the courage to do so because God had spoken to me in answer to prayer and I believed He wanted me to become a member.

Now, I find a nameless, distant committee in the Church Office Building questioning my faithfulness (based on Internet leaks from the COB). Though the local authorities have shown nothing but acceptance for me, and I have served honorably and without controversy in my ward and stake, these distant Strengthening the Members Committee, who know nothing of me and have never talked to me, think it their prerogative to meddle.

I left all I knew to become a member of the church because I was following God. I still follow God. I began this journey to follow God. I did not begin this journey to follow men, elders, bishops or presidents. I gave up friends and family to follow God. I will not hesitate to make that trade again. I can be cut off from fellowship with the church, but you have no power that can cut me off from God. It is His company that brought me to you, and will be His company I keep whether you stay in fellowship with me or not.

I would prefer to stay in fellowship with both God and the church. But the church is a poor trade to make in a bargain that would cost me association with God. I do not measure my standing before God by how many people think well of me. I could not care less. It is absolutely fine if you think I’m unworthy, misinformed and even a crank. The things I have written can, have and will help some come to Christ. Some of the things I have written can, have and will help some who are struggling with the church’s doctrine and history. The Gospel originates from God, is to save mankind, and cannot be safely ignored.

I took Joseph’s teachings to heart. I also asked God. He has given liberally to me. Therefore, I testify of this process and invite others to have faith and to seek Him. Not me. Not men. Not some intermediary. Seek for God. There is none who can save you but God. If the Strengthening the Members Committee determines to  pressure the local authorities to make a decision they would never have made on their own, then you are casting away a friend, not an enemy. To my knowledge this would be the first time you decide to impose discipline from inside the Church Office Building against someone who:
-Does not challenge your right to preside.
-Sustains the leaders.
-Has written about the scriptures and doctrine from a faithful view.
-Has defended the restoration and Joseph Smith.
-Has attempted to conform our history to the scriptures.
-And who will be weighed against your vanity and injured pride rather than the tenants of the underlying religion.

For my fellow Latter-day Saint (and the Central Command) who choose to condemn me, there is something about this moment you ought to pause to consider. This intersection is not one you want to be in, really. What if I am telling the truth? What if I’m right? In the final analysis, I am a Mormon. I am converted to this faith and will remain converted to it whether you decide to withdraw fellowship or not. My religion will remain whether you let me remain a member of this church or not. Were I in your shoes, I’d welcome someone as committed to the faith as I am, and never adopt the role of an accuser of any Saint. I claim to belong to God, not to you. If you decide to pressure local authorities to cast me off, there is another law decreed before the foundation of the world you will perhaps inadvertently invoke against yourself. This is not the intersection you want to be in, and I mean that in all seriousness and with all my heart; for your sake, not for mine. I know my standing before God, and nothing you can do will alter or affect that, but how you treat me may alter your standing before Him. For your own sake, I would ask you not to do something you will later very much regret.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is true, authentic and holds the means for redeeming mankind. Whether the church’s history is an unmitigated series of correct choices and flawless performance by leaders and members alike, it does not change one whit the obligation each of us has to come to Christ for redemption. Whether the church has everything it claims or not, doesn’t change our obligation to God. So where does any of this matter? We all still must repent and obtain hope in Christ. I focus and write to further that. I have no other agenda.

I Am a Mormon, Part 4

I am a Mormon. The church I belong to, support, and believe in has intentionally kept a good deal of its history concealed. The archives are not completely open, and have never been available to the public. One of the reasons Assistant LDS Church Historian Davis Bitton “did not have a testimony of church history” was because our history has yet to be fully written. It is a work yet to be discovered and revealed. Right now we have only glimpses and excerpts, not the full panoply of material to draw from in order for any of us to reach fully informed conclusions.

The church could remove this impediment by opening its archives. However, it is apparent they aren’t going to do this. Therefore, we all live (and I’m talking about all of us, including the ones defending this faith among our peers and friends) with the justified concern the church has something it thinks it must hide. Although I can use the materials that were released, or information that has leaked out, to show there are believers who can tolerate the foibles and weaknesses of humanity and still retain strong faith in the religion and confidence in the church, I can never advance a good enough argument to overcome the perception that there is embarrassing material that won’t see the light of day. In Passing the Heavenly Gift I show that, to the extent the history can be reconstructed from what is now available, even the moments of profound human failure are not a good enough reason to abandon belief in the faith. That is a defense of the faith, not an attack on it. I reject the idea the book was intended as an attack. It wasn’t. So, from the scattered comments I’ve heard let me continue to address concerns about that book as I understand them:

I did not criticize President Harold B. Lee about his development of Correlation. That was President David O. McKay and his counselor President Moyle. I quoted them. They were opposed to the Correlation program that Elder Lee was advancing. They thought it would lead to the apostasy of the church from abuse by  future hierarchies using their position to control and dominate other, equally deserving branches of the church. They thought it was improper for the central priesthood to claim the right to control everything instead of the separate branches having independence. I only quoted these former members of the First Presidency. (It was President Harold B. Lee who presided over the church when I joined.) Therefore, if you think that is an inappropriate idea, your quarrel is with a church president and his counselor, not me.

I did not characterize President Grant as being more interested in money than religion. That was his mother. I quoted her. Or, to be even more exact, it was President Grant quoting his mother in his own diary that I quoted. I made no independent accusation. I reported what he said about himself (and what his mother accused him of in her communication with him). Then I defended his candor and integrity because he made this self-revelation of his weakness. If you think that is an inappropriate assessment of President Grant, your quarrel is with him and his mother, not me.

It was President J. Reuben Clark who compared the modern church president to the Pope. I merely quoted him. It was LDS Church Historian Marlin Jensen who called the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve “the fifteen men.” I only quoted him. I do not think either President Clark or Elder Jensen meant any offense. Nor do I think offense should be taken. But most of all, if offense is to be taken, then place it where it belongs: with the LDS leaders I quote, and not me. I am trying to make sense of the things they have said and done from a faithful perspective. Be careful who you damn, because you are actually turning on the very leaders you think you are defending. What I have done in Passing the Heavenly Gift is to defend the faith I believe in and accept, despite human weaknesses and failings. I am realistic about the shortcomings of mere men. This is why our faith must be centered in Christ, rather than foolish and weak mankind.

Is it really impermissible for a faithful member, who wants those who are worried about history, to quote from the diaries and letters of former First Presidency members? Have only the critics the right to tell more accurate history of our faith? Do those who believe have no permission to also be candid with the public while defending the faith? How, exactly, is that supposed to work out in our favor? I’m willing to be enlightened about that approach, and if you can persuade me the truth must be avoided then I will fall in line with what I’m required to do; but with all due respect the problem is not me. The problem is that from top to bottom our faith must be more truthful in this Internet age or we risk being mere charactures and not real functioning adults with bona fide and defensible beliefs. We risk putting “fiction and fairy tales” above a sound defense of the faith. We begin to look as foolish and as immature as our critics want to paint us. Is that the goal? If not, then how should we deal with problems in history? Are we only allowed to ignore them? Or to tell versions of events that can be easily disproven? Does not the current collapse in faith among adult members who have been previously lifelong active members raise the concern that we must be more truthful? How much more damage are you willing to inflict on the religion before you reach the conclusion we must be truthful, even when the truth is unflattering?

All of the “problems” are already before us on the Internet. If you only study what is Correlated and sanitized, your children won’t. If you have no answers, then you will find you are unequal to the challenges that lie ahead of you and your family. Whether you are ready for it or not, the waves of challenges are breaking upon us. Our missionaries return with more questions than answers because there is an organized opposition working to challenge all of our teachings, doctrines and history. We MUST be better prepared. Not from composing more limited fiction, but from facing what is known to be true.

I am not worried about the faith collapsing under the weight of truth. It will instead be vindicated by the truth. It is far more handicapped by the fiction we presently serve as the defense of our faith than by a rigorous application of truth in examining the failures of men. Even when men fail, the faith is unaffected.

It is my belief that the recent assertion by the church in the Professor Bott matter did more damage to the interests of the church than anything I’ve ever done. The official statement was:

The origins of priesthood availability are not entirely clear. Some explanations with respect to this matter were made in the absence of direct revelation and references to these explanations are sometimes cited in publications. These previous personal statements do not represent Church doctrine.” 

In my view, this is no defense of the faith or our history. It is a worse condemnation of previous leaders than anything I’ve ever written. How does this kind of statement get approved as a public statement by the church? Can a “revelator” speak (as did Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and many others in the first presidency and twelve) about this crucial matter for over a hundred years “in the absence of revelation?” How, if this critical issue involving the personal lives of so many faithful church members for generations was wrong and did not represent church doctrine, can we now trust that anything that is said by anyone on any topic represent church doctrine? There were faithful Saints kept out of the temple because of this doctrine. There were heartwrenching discoveries of genealogy issues for people who were previously ordained who were told they could no longer use their ordination to serve in the church. They were turned down because these men at the highest levels were acting “in the absence of revelation?” Why? This is not a defense of Mormonism by the church, it is an abdication of responsiblity. It makes the church look far worse than quoting President McKay’s concern that Correlation will lead to apostasy.

Again, I am not worried about the faith collapsing under the weight of truth. It will instead be vindicated. It is far more handicapped by efforts to appear consistent when we are completely inconsistent than by admitting we made a mistake. We are human. We fail. That is one of the great features of humanity. We tend to let ourselves make sometimes terrible mistakes and wish we could do them over. Christ died to make that possible. He is the champion of forgiveness. Why can’t we acknowledge that from time to time the church itself needs to ask for forgiveness? It would be given. Members at the lowest level of this organization are rooting for you, supporting you, and upholding you with our prayers. We want you to do your best, and know that sometimes that won’t be good enough. We know you’re going to fail us. I am perfectly willing to forgive you when you do. It is alright. I do not expect perfection, but I do hope for honesty. Lying to cover up a mistake is not easily forgiven. That inspires contempt, not forgiveness or respect. We forgive readily your mistakes because we all make them, but not everyone is going to lie to spare themselves embarrassment. Those who do, break trust with the public and with membership of the church. The first step in repentance is confession, and we know you forsake sins when you first confess them. (D&C 58: 43.)

This is why in all I’ve written I’ve tried to tell it as truthfully and honestly as I am able. I know that the Lord will forgive me when I fall short. I hope the church is willing to allow itself, and me, to fall short and still be friends mutually supporting one another in a greater cause. That greater cause is where God is involved. Our mutual mistakes are our creation, not God’s. So we shouldn’t pretend we are better, or more inspired, or less flawed than we all are. I am certain I will disappoint you, because I have not been and never will be free from sin and error in this mortal estate. But my heart is in the right place. I’m not trying to cover anything of myself up. I’m not pretending I am better than I am. I have repeatedly acknowledged I am flawed, and not worth following. I point to the Lord, because He is worth following. I readily admit I think the church and its members oftentimes pretend to be better than we are. I still defend her and hope for her best interests. My weakness does not limit God’s grace and forgiveness. The weaknesses and mistakes of the church are able to be overcome, too, through God’s grace and forgiveness.

I am a Mormon. Devoutly and actively. I intend to die as a faithful Mormon. You should never think my form of faith is too insubordinate, too candid and too open to be endured. In my view that is not a problem at my end. Exactly what is it about the truth of human failure you find so threatening? I can associate without condemning, with fellow Mormons who advocate a very shallow view of the faith I hold as true. I can let them alone and never foist my views on them. However, in the exchange of ideas among those who are actively searching the Internet and bookstores to find truth, I should be allowed to explain how I have maintained faith and active support of the church in the face of troubling history. No one is required to read what I’ve written. You don’t have to come to this blog and let me interrupt your view of Mormonism. Go your way, believe as you like. Let those who struggle, for whom I provide some aid in coping with the difficult things they’ve learned about our past and our doctrine, be permitted to peacably consider how I’ve come to reconcile the Gospel with these many challenges.

I think those who condemn it, rather than offer a reasonable explanation and defense of their beliefs, do not understand Mormonism. They do not understand our scriptures. They do not understand what Joseph Smith said of the religion he gave his life to restore. I’ve studied for years, hours a day, to gain through hard effort and prayer the things I have learned. Then I have spent decades sincerely applying those things I learned. I am most certainly a Mormon. My faith is only gained by the kind of diligence and heed I’ve given to it. If you don’t understand or sympathize with my practice of Mormonism, that does not make me less a Mormon nor you more one. It just makes us different in how we accept this great latter-day gift from God.

The fellow-Mormons who condemn me without reading what I’ve written employ means that are brutal, unkind, coercive, and intimidating. They should be trying to reclaim me from the error they think I have made. I have tried through persuasion and knowledge to bring about understanding. I cannot be intimidated by what others say or do. I know He whom I serve. And therefore I must speak boldly about this faith I hold so dear.

Answers to Last Week’s Questions

There are some more questions asked this week that I’ll try to answer. The series on “I Am a Mormon” will be 7 parts, but aren’t finished. I’m reading comments from the blog and thought I’d respond to some of them:

On blog traffic: Approximately 750,000 total visits to the blog.

The traffic comes predominately from the following in the order of the top ten countries: United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Russia, Finland, Spain, Thailand, Ukraine. The traffic is worldwide, including Brazil, Belarus, Japan, even Mongolia.

In response to my request, I received an email from a woman who explained that her husband was very troubled by reading Passing the Heavenly Gift. Though they had not left the church, they had become suddenly discontent. In response to her I want to express my thanks for responding. She was not just the first, but is the only one who has spoken up saying anything like this to me. In response to her inquiry about my feelings toward the church:

The church remains important, even central to progressing toward God. In The Second Comforter: Conversing With the Lord Through the Veil, I remark that “the truth will scratch your eyes out, and then scratch them in again.” That is a reference to how seeing the weaknesses and failures of all those around you can be quite discouraging, but it is necessary. It is when we see clearly how limited and failure-prone mankind is that we turn in desperation to the Lord and call on Him for mercy. We must be uncomfortable before we seek the only source of comfort. The Lord is the answer. The church is not the answer. It is pointing, or should point to Him. The church is only a means. The Lord is the journey’s end. The church is the wonderful home where we get to render service to one another. It is where the Lord has asked we serve. The service is for Him, as an act of devotion to Him, and to comply with what He has asked. It is not for our own recognition or advancement. It is because we want to come to know Him. In the quiet service for others, when our minds finally come to rest on the only one who can save us, we can find that peace where the Lord comes to us and speaks words of comfort. He is real. He exists, and He comforts those who come to Him offering a broken heart and contrite spirit, and to none other.
If the book has scratched your eyes out, then let the truth scratch them in again. Do not go away blinded.  Let the truth that lies beyond the despair now come to you as well.

The question about poverty and giving raises the intractable question of how to deal with the poor. Our system is broken. The answer to the problem ultimately lies in changing the entire system, but that requires people to be of one mind, and one heart, and to have Christ as their center. We are far from that. The best economic solution is a theological one. We can’t have “utopia” separate from Zion. We can’t have Zion while we are filled with envy, jealousy and lack conversion to Christ. We can’t be converted to Christ and lose our envy and jealousy until we are brought to awaken to our awful situation. We can’t be awakened until we are willing to recognize we are no different than the “Lord’s people” who have failed every time He has chosen a people (other than in past Zions). We can’t come to that recognition until we take much more seriously the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants. We are not prepared to do so until we are buffetted a bit more by the winds of failure and humiliation to bring down our pride. So in a very real sense it will be poverty and struggle which holds the best hope of starting us down the process that will unite us and then end poverty. So we’re not going to solve poverty until the Lord first gives us the necessary experience to acquire broken hearts and contrite spirits.
On why I continually say “I’m nothing and nobody” there are doctrinal reasons. Those who are religious, and follow a converted disciple of Christ, are still damned if they substitute a man in the place that belongs only to Christ. Sincere, but deluded people who claim they are disciples of Paul, Apollos, Peter, Moses, Isaiah, even Thomas Monson, but who do not receive a testimony of Christ, are damned. They suffer the vengeance of eternal fire. (D&C 76: 99-106.) They are consigned to hell, and are resurrected as Telestial beings. This is because they followed a man. It is a grave mistake and salvation is lost when that mistake is made. Those who invite people to follow them, and deliberately seek devotees are anti-Christ and bringing souls to destruction. These religious Pied Pipers will incur the greater damnation. If someone is going to make that mistake by claiming they are following me, they will not do so without being told by me unequivocally and with some frequency that they are mistaken. I am nothing, and I have not ever attempted to become an anti-Christ. I point to Christ, for He alone can rescue you from the pains of hell and eternal torment. Those who put themselves up for adoration and worship are mistaken, are practicing priestcraft, are anti-Christ, and in the employ of the enemy to our souls.

In response to the question regarding good books about history, there is another book I quite liked. The new LDS Church Historian, Elder Steve Snow, recently recommended the employees of the Church History Department read the book David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, by G. Prince and R. Wright. I’ve quoted from that book and have also cited it in bibliographies. I agree it is worth reading by anyone interested in church history. David O. McKay’s daily activities were kept in a record written by his secretary, Sister Clare Middlemiss, from 1935 until his death in 1970. She was the aunt of Robert Wright, who obtained access. Ultimately, the journals were donated to the University of Utah and are presently housed in the J. Willard Marriott Library, where the public can have access to them. The Modern Mormonism book is the first history written that is taken from these extensive journals. The journals are no doubt going to become a source for many other works of history. This volume was well done and introduces a host of behind-the-scenes views of the events during President McKay’s presidency.

I Am a Mormon, Part 3

I am a Mormon. That is because I believe in this faith. Through-and-through, I am convinced Joseph Smith really was called of God, translated the Book of Mormon– an authentic new volume of scripture telling the account of a fallen people.

What I believe and why I believe it has been the subject of eight books to date. I’ve made no secret of my thoughts, experiences and reasons for becoming and remaining a Mormon. There are a handful of fellow-Mormons who resent or question my views. This is quite odd, since I do not question theirs. Apparently they do not know Mormonism is non-creedal, and respects every person’s right to worship as they wish. There should be very little “control” over beliefs in Mormonism, and a great deal of freedom for its converts. As shown in the prior post, even an Assistant LDS Church Historian claimed he didn’t have a testimony of church history. We are free to reach our own conclusions. Those who criticize are apparently unaware of the contours of the religion they espouse.

I do not question church leaders’ good-faith, or their right to make decisions, even ones I disagree with. It is not a sin, nor apostasy to have an opinion different than the leaders. They alone have the right to lead and I believe they do so to the best of their ability. Their right is upheld by the common consent of the church. Until someone is dismissed by the common consent, we all sustain them in our prayers and actions. At least if you are an active Mormon, as I am.

The church’s leaders are empowered by the common consent of the church, according to a pattern established by God. I work to make their job easier by doing whatever is asked of me in donating church service. Yet now I find myself the object of fellow-Mormon’s ire, and judging from leaks on the Internet also from the Strengthening the Members Committee of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I absolutely disagree that I am not allowed to believe as I do and also be a faithful, active Mormon. I have explained what I believe and why, and discussed problems in church history from a faithful, but candid view.

Fortunately Mormonism is not Historic Christianity. Historic Christianity splintered into the Protestant and Catholic divisions because the church hierarchy attempted to suppress freedom to believe the truth among the members. That inappropriate overreaching created the Lutheran Church, then all the others, as believers in the Gospel of Christ were unable to believe or trust a hierarchy determined to suppress thought and limit discussion. Mormonism has the advantage of knowing this history, and can avoid making that kind of foolish error. That does not mean we will avoid it, only that we are well enough informed by history to be able to avoid it.

I am a “Mormon” whether another church member thinks my faith is consistent with his or not. This is because I am converted, and sincerely do accept these teachings originated from God when He once again intervened directly in mankind’s affairs. The Lord was able to intervene because a young man, following a promise in the Bible, asked in faith which church he should join. The Lord answered him, and set that young man on a course in which the Gospel of Jesus Christ was returned to the earth. The return began with God’s direct involvement, and included a return of angels to minister to and teach Joseph Smith things worth every person’s time to investigate.

I investigated Joseph’s claims. In fact, I continue to investigate them, searching deeper and deeper into understanding this great, final work by God. It was begun by the Lord through Joseph Smith. But it was not finished then, and our new scriptures promise yet greater things still in the future (see 9th Article of Faith). When anyone asks God in humility about this work, they can get an answer from God. (James 1: 5.) In fact, at the core of Mormonism is the obligation of every believer to study, ponder, pray and ask God for themselves. (Moroni 10: 4-5.) Every Mormon is supposed to know God by hearing from Him. Then, once having secured a testimony that Mormonism is true, we have an obligation to testify to others about this new work of God in our day. (D&C 38: 41; 88: 81.)

I have been doing that for many years. Elder Ballard has told us all to go to the Internet to defend our religion, and I have done that too. I have been dutiful in observing what I’ve understood my obligations to be as a faithful Mormon.

There is a claim made by some uninformed fellow-Mormons that as a result of what I’ve written in Passing the Heavenly Gift, I have caused unintended “collateral damage” to some people’s faith. Meaning, they want to condemn my efforts because they think there might be some few who were discouraged by that book. There have been dozens of letters and emails I have received by those who, after reading it, were strengthened in their faith. There are many who had been inactive or disaffected from the church and returned to activity after reading the book, and yet there are allegedly some few who have been so challenged by the book that they have left the church. I have to say, first, I am honestly unaware of and have never heard any credible account of someone leaving the church because of what I’ve written. If there is someone who has, or if you know of someone who has, then I’d appreciate it if you would post a comment giving me some information about that. But I want names of those who have “left the church” because of the book. I don’t want rumors, or fictitious personas or pseudonyms adopted by someone concealing their identity. That kind of dishonest “AstroTurf” is not proof of anything. You know who I am because I’m being honest. I’m exposed to view, accountable and honest. The fake community of posters and commentators are, in reality, a few dishonest souls trying to multiply their importance by their frequent posting of themes. Many of them are being paid to do so.

So far, despite the dozens of emails and letters from real people, giving their home addresses or names and email addresses, confirming that faith has been supported and aided by what I wrote, I have nothing from anyone saying anyone left the church. A handful of have disagreed, but none of them claim to have lost their testimony or left the church. Therefore, I am left thinking this “collateral damage” theory is just a mirage intended to inhibit my honesty and not a real phenomena, but if it is a reality, I’d like to know.

Second, I do not believe it is appropriate to judge anyone (leadership or myself) on the basis of alleged “collateral damage” from actions undertaken in good faith to help others. It is a false standard which will only lead to condemning people by an unjust standard. If this is the standard to be applied to me by a fellow-Mormon, then I would ask them to see what happens if you adopt that standard for the church. As soon as they do, they will condemn those leaders who adopted the “Raising the Bar” program which left thousands of young men feeling dismissed and rejected by the church. Many of these young men are no longer active in the church. They are resentful of the way they were “judged” and told they were not worthy and COULD NOT become worthy through the atonement of Jesus Christ as far as the “church” was concerned. Jesus Christ paid the price for these young men and women willing to repent. Satan tells you you are unworthy. The total numbers on the “collateral damage” are shocking.

Add to the list of the “collateral damage” all those who are not ministered to because of policies in the Church Handbook of Instructions. The mischief that has actually resulted from strict enforcement has caused several people to leave or stay away from the church.

General relief society president Julie Beck aroused a firestorm of controversy and alienated some church members a few years ago in a general conference talk. Is she “guilty” of causing “collateral damage” by that talk? Can we apply that standard to her? I would hope not.

There are returned missionaries drifting into inactivity by the thousands (roughly 50% within two years of returning), because the experiences on the mission have been unsatisfactory for a host of reasons. Mission presidents have verbally abused some of these young men and women. Some have been told to baptize the unworthy and unconverted to create statistical proof of the success of the mission. One young missionary who served in England was told by his mission president to baptize a drunk man (he actually showed up to be baptized inebriated). He did, but it left a scar on the conscience of the young Elder. Indeed, if “collateral damage” is a good standard, there are many who we know have left the church as a consequence of policies and procedures implemented through the good faith decisions of leadership. Not fictional, but calculable numbers of actual injured young men and their families, or inactive and disassociated members now disaffected. These are real stories. We all know people affected. Yet I am confident the leaders were acting in good faith in all they have done. They were doing the best they knew how. Therefore, I reject the idea this measure is fair or appropriate. It should not be used against you, or the leaders, or me. It is a fake standard, adopted to find an excuse to condemn me, and not a sincere concern by any legitimate fellow-Mormon.

Third, I would caution those who want to adopt this standard that they risk condemning themselves. I do not apply it against others because I do not want that to be the standard used against me. I prefer to measure the  missteps made by the church on the basis of my belief and trust that they want to help others. When they inadvertently cause harm or injury, I forgive them and do not measure “collateral damage” as accountable against them. If that standard is adopted by them against me, I worry the Lord will use it in the Day of Judgment against those now applying it. He said in the Sermon on the Mount that this was the standard. (See Matt. 7: 2.) I do not ask this for my sake, but for the sake of my fellow-Mormon accusers. I want them to avoid condemnation by the application of a standard no man can meet.

Fourth, I would suggest there are so many who have been helped that there should be some consideration given to the fact that something good has come from something you call evil. That is, if faith has been restored in some demonstrable group (and I’ve furnished proof of that), then such good cannot come from something bad. It is impossible. The true intention, and the actual result of what I’ve done is to create and affirm faith, not to destroy it. It has actually produced faith. I would suggest you take the provable results of increased faith as the approrpiate measure, not the theory of “collateral damage.”

Fifth, the phrase “proud descendants of Nauvoo” is a phrase intended to be memorable. It is used to capture an idea that suggests there is an almost impossible task asked of those who are so personally involved in the history of our church. How can someone look objectively at the past, when these are people’s grandfathers and grandmothers? They can only do so if they are first reminded of the inherent bias associated with their status. It is altogether reasonable, perhaps inevitable, for them to be proud. It is a fact that their families have endured much for the faith. However, when it comes to measuring our past, these personal and prideful feelings, although natural and justified, cannot allow us to discard the tools of scripture and history to reveal what has been underway in God’s dealings with us. The phrase is a shorthand way to alert the reader to this inherit bias. The reader can then decide for themselves if this shorthand and very pregnant phrase is useful to them in reading the account. I can tell you that there have been many “proud descendants of Nauvoo” (and they identify themselves as that in emails to me) have been pricked in their hearts and persuaded by the information presented in the last book I wrote, and who have thanked me for awakening them to their unique challenges. The phrase is a plea for dispassionate review of facts, not a deliberate insult. I did not write it as such, and it should not be taken as such.

I will continue to defend and assert my faithfulness to this religion which I accept, believe and defend. It is peculiar that I find myself accused by fellow-Mormons of being less than they, because there is no such standard permitted in my religion. We are told not to judge one another, but to endeavor to use pure knowledge, gentleness and love to persuade. We simply can’t demand someone change their view. That is not permitted.

I am a Mormon and I have no intention of trying to supplant leaders, or to acquire a following. I submit and defer to them. I have no right to lead, but I do have, as all Mormons have, the right and obligation to express and defend my beliefs and bear my testimony. If you study what I’ve written, there is almost nothing of myself in them. A good deal of Latter-day Saint leaders, writers and speakers have themselves in the “starring role” of whatever they say, teach or write. That is not true for me. I am absent, or when present I show my weakness, foolishness and failure. The only time I appear in a positive light is when I bear testimony of the Lord, whom I have met and is a friend of mine. Even there, however, the contrast between Him and His glory and me and my weakness causes me to use words like “crushes” and “unworthy” to describe my position. In stark contrast, some of the most popular LDS personalities are constantly holding themselves up as an example, as the center of their stories, as the hero of their tales, and as the ones to admire. I’m not like that. I am disgusted by anyone who puts me on a pedestal. I don’t belong there. If you cast about and do a little looking, you can find many who want to move attention from the Lord onto themselves. I’m not one of them. For me, the Lord is and ought to remain the focus of devotion for us all.

I am a Mormon; through and through, and converted to this religion. I believe it originated with God, and that God will watch over it. The measure of its success, however, cannot be gauged in statistics, convert rates, or tithing dollars. It can only be measured in whether it results in reconnecting man to God. For me it has succeeded in that. That alone makes Mormonism the “pearl of great price” Christ spoke of purchasing, even if it required all a man has to obtain it. (Matt. 13: 46.) Now I try to offer that same great prize to anyone else who is searching to reconnect with God. Not through me, but through the Lord’s invitation, teachings and guidance.