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.