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Groups

An observation about discussion groups:

The greatest mischief of discussion groups lies in the mistaken impression that collective effort will help the individual in their personal journey. The path to God is solitary. It is between the individual and the Lord. Groups create an artificial environment. The stage erected lets the group appear to occupy center stage moving the Lord into the wings.

It would be better to spend the same hours pondering or praying. Any person doing that would be better served than they are by devoting time to arguing, debate or the convincing of others.

When you learn a new idea and that is followed up with questions or uncertainties about how to make it fit together with current belief or understanding, pondering and praying is more useful. Groups debate. They argue over how to fit it together. How you fit it into your understanding will be different than how another does. The group may not share your background or have studied what you have. Therefore, a group discussion may not even address the difficulties you are contemplating.

In a group discussion there is more contention than harmony. Contention is dark and invites errors. It would be far better to contemplate, meditate, study scriptural passages, to look into related statements from prior patriarchs, prophets and apostles than to debate with others. New information can open the mind. Contentious debate will close it.

When the Lord appeared to Paul on the Road to Damascus, there were others with Paul. But the interview was between Paul and the Lord. The same is true of Joseph in the Grove, Nephi on the mountain, Moses on the mountain, the Brother of Jared, Enoch, Abraham, These and the many other times the Lord spoke with or appeared to His followers came in solitary interviews. (There are of course exceptions. There were two disciples on the Road to Emmaus. The appearance at Bountiful involved twenty-five hundred. But these exceptions are just that – exceptions. On the Road, the two disciples had previously been acquainted with and taught by Him. They were prepared. It was the very day of His resurrection. He was looking to establish a body of witnesses. The same is true of Bountiful. As I discuss in The Second Comforter, those witnesses were carefully prepared and self-selecting.)

Another problem with discussion groups, or even valued teachers, is the tendency to take attention that belongs to the Lord and give it to a man. No man is supposed to be the focus of your adoration. That belongs to the Lord alone. Men who seek to become the focus or to “win” a debate are likely to draw attention to themselves, rather than to place the focus where it belongs.

If even one member of a discussion group is unprepared, the Lord will withhold from everyone the greater light. If you tie yourself to others, you may find it hinders, rather than helps your progress. Since no two people are similarly situated, there will be hinderances for some participants.

The scriptures are a gold standard for parsing the mysteries. They contain a great deal of undiscovered truth. Unlocking those mysteries is almost always done in study, contemplation, prayer and solitary reflection apart from the world. Discussion groups become part of the world as soon as they deteriorate into contention. Take a look at discussion boards. How often are they wholesome and free of contention? The “comments” on this blog were disabled because of the deterioration that took place here.

No one can help you find your way back to God. Ideas and doctrines will; men will not. They are a poor substitute for truth, careful study, individual prayer and meditation, pondering and parsing the scriptures and developing your mind. If someone has something to teach, let them teach. Then go your way and ponder upon it. But debating and arguing is valueless or worse.

Priesthood Authority: Pres. Packer’s Remarks

In the Worldwide Leadership Conference this month President Packer made this interesting statement:

“Any elder holds as much priesthood as does the President of the Church or as I do as an Apostle—different offices. But the priesthood is not delegated out and parceled a little here and a little there. It is given all at once. In the ordinance where ordinations take place, the priesthood is conferred, and then the office is conferred. So a young man as young as 18 planning to go on a mission has this ordinance, and they first say, “We confer upon you the Melchizedek Priesthood” and then ordain you to the office of elder in that priesthood.” (See Priesthood Power in the Home.)

This statement is interesting in its implications. All the more so because of President Grant’s alteration of the practice. He discontinued conferring the priesthood. Instead he had the church ordaining to an office in the church, which he said was enough. There was no need to confer priesthood, only to ordain to an office. On the point raised by President Packer, we have an earlier statement of President Jos. F. Smith dealing with a slightly different issue. These two statements, however, can be considered together:

“Then again, if it were necessary, though I do not expect the necessity will ever arise, and there was no man left on the earth holding the Melchizedek Priesthood, except an elder– that elder, by the inspiration of the Spirit of God and by the direction of the Almighty, could proceed, and should proceed, to organize the Church of Jesus Christ in all its perfection, because he holds the Melchizedek Priesthood.”  (Gospel Doctrine, p. 148.)

These explanations of the “whole” being present in the conferral to anyone of the Melchizedek Priesthood has profound doctrinal implications regarding the subject of “keys” and their application. Brigham Young claimed possession of keys through his ordination to the apostleship (1835). He would later adopt Elder Pratt’s position that the relevant keys came in the 1836 Kirtland Temple appearances. This topic of how authority is preserved or passed is also quite interesting and worth pondering, I think. Something about which many claims are made, but the underlying mechanics are not well understood.

Clearly, if it was important for angels to individually appear to Joseph (and Oliver or Sidney), then it raises the question of how widely that gets spread about, and how any surviving Elder could organize the church “in all its perfection.” Then again, what does Jos. F. Smith’s reference to “the inspiration of the Spirit of God and by the direction of the Almighty” include?

President Packer’s teaching that any elder in the church holds as much priesthood as does the church president or any of the apostles is, however, a very valid point. I agree with President Packer on that score.

First Impression

The interview I did for Mormon Stories has an introductory title designed to grab attention and get the followers of that site to listen to the interview. I presume most of that audience is unacquainted with what I’ve written. I know John Dehlin had not read any of the books I’ve written before interviewing me. He did read some of the posts on this blog, but has not completed reading any book I’ve written and has a copy of only one of them. He had limited information from which to conduct the interview.

The impetus for doing the interview came from recommendations John Dehlin received from others who had read some of my writings. He followed up on the recommendation, and persuaded me to participate.

In some of the reactions to the interview, his audience has presumed the headline title to the podcast is an accurate representation of what I’m all about. It’s rather attention grabbing to say that someone “Claims to Have Seen Christ.” That was a deliberate attempt on John Dehlin’s part to get someone who knows nothing about me and knows nothing about my work to listen to the podcast. It gives the impression to a stranger that I wear that claim on my sleeve. That I am a braggart. Worse still, that I have little regard for the sacred and tend to profane deeply personal experiences and to parade them about as if it made me noteworthy. If that were true, I would think such a person would be unbelievable. Therefore, when the listener’s reaction is indignation, I can understand that. It is reasonable.

On the other hand, if someone had actually read my writings, they would find there is almost nothing of me in them. I write about doctrine, history and scriptural exegesis. Even The Second Comforter is a book about the reader, not the writer. It gets inside the person reading it and causes them to reflect on their own relationship with God. To the extent that I am mentioned, it is in the context of my failings, shortcomings and mistakes. The reader is walked through the process of overcoming their own failings, following a path, and undoing their mistakes. At the end the reader should be better acquainted with their own deepest desires, and regard me as little more than a flawed, but believing fellow-sojourner in this challenging predicament of mortality.

I am not bothered by the first impression given by the title. The best reaction I can think of to what I’ve written would be this: “I can’t stand Denver Snuffer; but what he has written is of value to me.” That reaction will do two things: First, it will establish a proper view of my irrelevance. Second, it will focus on the ideas advanced, which are in my view, a reflection of the Lord’s plan to rescue us all from our fallen condition.

Those who collect their first impression of me from John Dehlin’s headline will be quite disappointed to find there is very little of me in anything written. Or, perhaps not disappointed, but rather relieved. Either way, I am not responsible for the way he has titled the matter and have no complaints about the way he did. After all, he came into the interview without an adequate basis to know anything about the work I’ve been doing. Knowing almost nothing about that work, I thought he did an admirable job of asking critical, important and relevant questions. As a composer of headlines, I suppose he displays a flair for that, as well.

Podcast

I reluctantly did an interview with John Dehlin at Mormon Stories Podcast. I do not like doing those types of things. You can listen to it here. John Dehlin asked that I do the interview and then stay around to answer some questions on his site. I took care of that and anyone who is interested can read the remarks there.

If you choose to listen, the interview is approximately 2 1/2 hours. I had no input on the questions asked and no input on the title of the interview. 

Bishop Whitney’s Revelation to Joseph Smith

Years after the revelation (after the problems in Kirtland) informing Oliver Cowdery that it was inappropriate for him to command Joseph Smith because Joseph was at the head of the church, (D&C 28:6), Bishop Whitney sent a note to Joseph Smith:

“Thus saith the voice of the spirit to me, if thy Brother Joseph Smith will attend the feast at thy house this day (at 12 ocl) they poor & lame will rejoice at his presence & also think themselves honored.
“Yours in friendship & Love
“NKW”  (See Dean Jesse, The Papers of Joseph Smith, vol. 2, pp. 130-131.)

Joseph responded by immediately canceling the Hebrew school that day and attending with his wife, father and mother the feast for the poor offered by Bishop Whitney.

Clearly, the idea that another person could receive revelation that involved even the church president was not an apostate idea during Joseph’s day as it is in ours. Bishop Whitney was not rebuked by Joseph. Instead he and his revelation were honored by Joseph responding, attending the feast and being grateful for the invitation.

Since Joseph Smith received the early revelations setting the order for the church, and yet responded to Bishop Whitney’s revelation to him, it suggests our current view of limits on who can get revelation may not be the same as Joseph understood them.

It is another interesting topic worth studying in our history to help us understand how the Lord really operates. We should be careful about adopting formulas as the solution to something when the conduct of the Prophet through whom the revelation came did not apply it consistently the same way we do today.

Valentine’s Day

We have a few thanks to dispense for Valentine’s Day:

Rome, for killing Christians.

Roman Catholicism for honoring the killed Christians.

Pope Gelasius I for designating the Feast of St. Valentine. His decision would be rescinded by Pope Paul VI, but by then it was too late to undo the celebration.

Valentine (there may have been three of them sharing the same name) for giving his (their) life as a martyr(s) to a hostile Rome.

Chaucer for turning the day into something romantic.

Hallmark for dramatically pushing the commercial opportunity in the day.

Wall Street, candy makers, jewelry sellers, teddy-bear companies, and the detritus of commercialism that exploits the relationship between those who care for one another for preying on insecurities and using it to lever us into purchasing stuff.

Commercial television, radio, the Internet, newspapers and outdoor advertising for their contributions to the selling and buying frenzy now associated with the day.

And last and least of all me – for reminding you who bother to come to this blog today or tomorrow that tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and you ought to do something to note the event. In homage to Chaucer, that ought to be romantic, but in rebellion against the commercialism of our day, make it an act or write a poem (or if you’re incapable of that then a letter), or show some kindness instead of making a purchase.

Now, I gotta figure something out myself…. because I really do love her and want that idea to be clear in her mind. And the commercialism of the event makes it clear is MUST be observed.

Standing Up To History

LDS scholar Dan Peterson has written an article in the Deseret News on February 9th titled The Restoration Stands Up to History. His notion is that there are three levels to church history following an Hegelian model of thesis, antithesis and synthesis. Although this puts a happy face and familiar intellectual language on the subject, I respectfully disagree.

The first level is what could be described using any of the following terms, some favorable and some insulting:
Faith Promoting
Sunday School’s version
General Conferencesque
Faithful
Testimony Building
Sanitized
Limited
Burning-in-the-bosom inspiring
True
Incomplete
Propaganda
One-sided
Censored
Correlated
Official
Entirely Trustworthy
Missing Important Details
(many others)

These descriptors reflect the point of view of the one using them. Depending on the person’s vantage point, they describe the view a certain way. Interestingly, there are people of great faith who would feel comfortable using some of the more pejorative terms.

The second level could be described in any of the following equally contradictory terms:
Critical
Historically Accurate
The Full Story
Anti-Mormon
Faith Destroying
Sanitized
Incomplete
Propaganda
One-Sided
Faithless
More Trustworthy
Candid
Including Important Details
Unofficial
Not Allowed in Sunday School
Forbidden
True
Uncensored
(many others)

These descriptors overlap with the first and begin to show the problem of the first two category approach (thesis/antithesis). Once again, despite the fact some are unflattering, these second level descriptors could be used by people of faith who strongly believe in the Restoration.

This leads to the final level where Bro. Peterson proposes it is possible to return to something akin to the first level, but with “a richer and more complicated version of history.” This is the happy ending of the process.

This kind of orderly progression is becoming more difficult by the day. The Internet has introduced a new world. The result of that explosion in available information has made the first level an island of isolated views. Anyone participating in such lessons can return home (or even sit in class), go on-line and look further into anything said by the instructor or manual. What was once “Fantasy Island” is now just a peninsula being besieged. It cannot thrive any longer in pretended isolation. The barbarians are already inside the gate.

If the church persists in imposing the first level as its stock-in-trade, the “apostasy” Bro. Marlin Jensen speaks about will continue. The first level cannot sustain a day long shelf life anymore. We need to drop the pretense of having all antiseptic characters, living or dead. History needs to unfold. It WILL still be faith promoting. But the faith it will promote will be more hearty, robust, realistic and enduring. We will become acquainted with characters who at times made serious mistakes, were struggling, befuddled, headed in the wrong direction, but suffered for their mistakes and came to peace with faith despite the pain of this mortal realm.

The basic argument of Bro. Peterson is absolutely correct. The Restoration WILL stand up to history. In a much more marvelous way than it does in the first level of wasted effort. That may have been good in an era of limited information, and may still be good for the Primary children. By the time they are age 12, the complications of life and the failures of mortals should be introduced and discussed.

Why hide George Albert Smith’s mental illness? Why avoid the origins of his mental instability? Why not let those who suffer from similar maladies know there has been a church president with such serious problems? Why use the pedestal to support a fictional character? Why not let him emerge as the frail, likable man he was?

Why not take the initiative as saints to go to the third level voluntarily? Why not acknowledge, face and discuss the very matters that are costing people their faith right now? Why let them discover the problems from hostile sources instead of from friendly sources? Why not strengthen one another in our faithful search for the truth, rather than let those who dispense historical events from a perspective which challenges faith get the first chance to tell our children and our converts? When they do that they gain credibility and we lose it.

“Some of Christ”

I was asked in an email what the words “some of Christ” means in Section 76, verse 100. The verse reads:  “These are they who say they are some of one and some of another—some of Christ and some of John, and some of Moses, and some of Elias, and some of Esaias, and some of Isaiah, and some of Enoch[.]” This verse occurs in a larger explanation of those who are damned because of their false religious beliefs (or more correctly, their unbelief). The larger explanation begins in verse 97 and goes through verse 107.

The context of these verses about false religion makes it clear those who practice it accept messengers who have been actually sent by the Lord with a warning from Him. The names of John, Moses, Elias, Isaiah and Enoch, for example, are names of those who were known to the Lord and entrusted by Him with a message of repentance from Him. However, despite the truthfulness of the messenger and the authentic origin of their message, the recipients have gone astray. They imagine their claim to follow the man is a substitute for receiving the message of repentance. They take pride in their status as followers of true messengers while neglecting the message to repent.

In the case of Christ, it is no different. They claim to be “of Christ” by associating His name with their brand of unbelief. They use His name in vain, however, because their practices and hearts are not inclined to follow His teachings, to endure His cross, to suffer the rejection which comes from this world and the worldly, and to give up honor, friends and family to follow Him. (See, e.g., Luke 12: 51-53; Mark 10: 29-30.)

The crux of their defect is set out in verse 101: “But received not the gospel, neither the testimony of Jesus, neither the prophets, neither the everlasting covenant.” These are four things:

1. The Gospel. You need to know that that term really means. If you do not, then you have not received it. You have claimed, like these others, to be “of Christ” without ever comprehending what His Gospel includes and does not include.

2. The “testimony of Jesus.” Do you know what that term means? Do you imagine it is something you state or something you declare? Have you considered Jesus may have His own testimony which He will give to you? Have you imagined you can receive His testimony without ever entering His presence? What would Jesus’ testimony necessarily include?

3. The failure to receive “the prophets.” This is something different than merely following the prophet, because we saw in the earlier verses the hosts who claim to follow the prophets John, Moses, Isaiah, Enoch, etc. were damned. To receive is different than to follow. But implicit in the phrase, also, is the ability to actually discern when a prophet is sent.

4. The failure to receive “the everlasting covenant.” This, also, may not be what you imagine. Joseph Smith spoke often about the everlasting covenant. It is worth a good deal of study if you have interest in knowing about those things.

To claim to be “of Christ” without having received His Gospel, heard from Him His own testimony, recognized and received the message to repent from a prophet, not just to say but to do, and to thereby receive the everlasting covenant from heaven, these are the meaningless claims which will damn. Those who fail to do so but still claim to be “of Christ” will be like the liars and thieves who are left suffering until the final resurrection. They will suffer the wrath of God. Their pride will be burned away by the things they suffer. Then will they lament, “O that we had repented in the day that the word of the Lord came unto us.” (See Helaman 13: 36.) Such people are religious, in fact very much so. They are eager to claim the status of a follower of the prophets. They boast they follow them. They think themselves better than others precisely because they claim to worship true prophets who will save them.

But without the Gospel, they are damned. Without the testimony from Jesus they are damned. Without receiving the prophetic message to repent, awake and arise, they are damned. And without these first three they are unable to receive the everlasting covenant. Therefore, they depart this world proudly, filled with unbelief and foolish pride from their false religion, and enter into their suffering.

Marlin Jensen’s Last Answer

The last question put to Marlin Jensen began with the questioner retelling his own struggle to adjust his beliefs after discovering new information in our history. The “new data points” required him to change his understanding. He was asking for a more broadminded approach that would allow open discussion of troubling history in church meetings.

The answer given by Marlin Jensen was very interesting and raises another matter about current church decision-making. When the idea of broadmindedness was raised in the context of church history, Bro. Jensen responded by speaking about homosexuality. Church history was gone, and instead his mind turned to the need for tolerance – and that meant homosexuals. It was almost a complete disconnect of topics, but quite important to understanding the internal discussion underway at the top of the church presently.

This apparent change-of-subject shows how important the present “tolerance of homosexuality” discussion has become. When Pres. Packer’s comments about homosexuality as sinful behavior in a general conference talk are edited before they appear in the conference issue of the Ensign, you can know there is a great deal of internal discussion underway. Editing Bro. Poelman’s talk is one thing, but editing a talk given by the President of the Quorum of the Twelve is altogether another.

Jim Dabakis is the Chairman of the Utah Democratic Party. He was a radio personality at KTKK when I did a call-in radio show for seven years during the 1980’s. He is an articulate, affable and intelligent man. He is also openly homosexual and an advocate for increased legal protection for the homosexual community. His negotiation successes include persuading the LDS Church to speak in favor of Salt Lake City’s recently adopted anti-discrimination ordinance. This ordinance protects a homosexual’s rights to housing and employment in Salt Lake. The City Council would not have voted in favor of the ordinance if the church had not spoken in favor of it. And the church would not have done so if Jim Dabakis had not successfully advocated and persuaded them to do so.

The success in persuading the church to go from Proposition 8 opposition in California, to advocating adoption of a gay-rights ordinance in Salt Lake City in just a few short months is not possible without the leadership of church at the highest level actively discussing and troubling over the issue.

When Marlin Jensen’s mind goes from a question about troubling history and tolerance of differing views of our past, immediately to tolerance of homosexuality, that is not so bizarre a jump as you might think. It is a reflection of the current discussion underway at the very top of the church.

Public opinion is shifting. Particularly among the younger Americans. The trends all suggest that acceptance of homosexual conduct as normal will be shared by the majority of Americans. Those holding contrary views are aging and dying, and those who hold the more open and accepting view are replacing them. Unless opinions change this is the inevitable result.

Any organization that is sensitive to survey’s and polling to determine public opinion on the topic of homosexuality will discover growing demographic evidence of inevitable majority acceptance. Therefore, if you are going to make decisions on the basis of public opinions, you are going to respond to this shifting view.

Given Bro. Jensen’s immediate response to the trigger word “tolerance” by introducing homosexuality into the conversation, it is apparent the church is quite actively discussing this issue. Additionally, given the censorship of the talk given by President Packer (the current President of the Quorum of the Twelve) in general conference on the subject, it appears there is an unmistakable alignment of the leadership’s inclinations with public opinion.

It will be interesting to watch this issue unfold. For those who believe the practice of homosexuality is wrong because it frustrates the Divine order, and is desolating to humanity because it ends the continuation of family life through the union of the sexes, the idea of church approval for such relations is unthinkable. For more socially progressive Mormons who wish to be aligned with popular opinion, it is a relief to have another divisive issue excised from the principles of Mormon religion.

When an abomination that renders sexual relations desolate (they don’t produce offspring) occurs in the holy place, you can know the promised destruction is soon at hand. Christ said those living in that day would live to see the end of the world. (See JS-M 1: 32-36.) The way to decide when the virtue of tolerance becomes the wickedness of permissiveness can only be done by those who treasure up His (Christ’s) words. (JS-M 1: 37.) For those few willing to do so, the Lord will send angels to gather them. (Id., see also D&C 77: 11.)

Some say it is good to be popular. It is better to not care. It is best to have an eye single to the word of the Lord.