Interview By My Wife

My wife looks at links to the blog, and also searches other sites to review discussions. As a result, she has posed the following questions and asked I answer them:

1. Why do you refer to the church presidents as “modern popes” in your new book?
A: That is not my term, but a term borrowed from President J. Reuben Clark, a respected counselor in the First Presidency. I use it because he used it. I assume he meant no disrespect. I certainly did not.

2. Why did you refer to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve as “the fifteen men” on your blog?
A: That is not my term, but a term used by Church Historian Marlin Jensen, a respected member of the Seventy. I use it because he used it. I assume he meant no disrespect. I certainly did not.

3. Why do you refer people to your books in answers you give in the Mormon Stories interview? Are you trying to market a product?
A: The interview actually started and stopped with my first answer. When John Dehlin heard me answer his first question, he stopped the interview and told me I had to let him control the flow and keep the answers short. He explained that long answers would make for a poor interview and we could not get it done, and I needed to trust him. So we started over again and what is on the podcast is the “take two” version involving short answers. Questions that ask about a topic I’ve written 180,000 words to carefully explain cannot be done in a brief oral response. Therefore, I attempted to be clear by referring to what I’ve written rather than leaving a listener with the impression all I had to say was what was included in a brief oral response. I couldn’t care less if someone actually reads my books. I provide them as an explanation of what I believe and why, but it requires someone to take the trouble to find them, buy them and read them. That is a barrier I assume few will overcome, but those who do will have the full answer rather than a sound-bite response. Since my livelihood is practicing law, if I were attempting to promote something of economic value to me it would need to be my law practice. I do not do that. Apart from giving free copies to friends, there are very few members of my own ward who even know I’ve written a book. In my stake, there can’t be more than a handful. I’ve never spoken of them while serving in any capacity in the church. But it is actually amusing to think a niche market like Mormon doctrine and history is a money-making audience to begin with. When you add to that the fact nothing I write is advertised, and we’ve declined two approaches from Deseret Book to have them carry copies, it becomes even less of a money-making venture. The books are not for everyone. They are difficult to obtain and not widely distributed because I know they are not meant for everyone. I mention them on my blog, but that is because if someone is interested in reading the blog they should have become acquainted with what I’ve written first. That is purely voluntary. I don’t want everyone reading what I write. 

4. Why do you think it appropriate to call Joseph Smith “boneheaded” in your Mormon Stories interview?
A: Joseph called himself foolish. The Lord rebuked him for his carnal desires, boasting and fearing man more than God. These are both Joseph’s (JS-H 1: 28) and the Lord’s (D&C 3: 4-7) characterizations of him. Therefore, I mean no disrespect, but believe the term is a modern descriptor which reflects what both Joseph himself and the Lord have stated about him. It does not lessen him in my estimation.

5. Do you believe the church leaders today are comparable to the Jewish leaders at the time of Christ, specifically do you compare Thomas S. Monson to Caiphus?
A: No. I did not do that in the interview and do not believe that is true. I used the reference Christ made to supporting the clearly wicked leaders of His day to illustrate how great a deference is owed. If those  wicked men were deserving respect, then good men trying hard to perform a difficult job deserve all the more respect and deference. In fact, if you listen carefully to the words used you will find that comparison was not made in the interview, but instead the contrast was made.

6. Do you lead a following?
A: Not as far as I am aware. I tell all who either listen to what I say or read what I write not to follow me. All should remain active and faithful as Latter-day Saints. The church leaders alone have the right to preside over the church’s affairs. I believe we all have a duty arising from baptism to mourn with those who mourn, and to serve one another, which is best done inside the church.

7. Have you said the Correlation movement has led the church into apostasy?
A: No. I only quote President David O. McKay’s statement that he believed it would have that result. Everyone is free to decide for themselves the results of the Correlation process.

8. You must have extremely good balance in order to walk the razor’s edge: pride; membership; priestcraft; discipleship.  How do you do it?  What lessons have been afforded you, allowing you to remain objective?
A: I’m not sure I understand the question, but I disagree with the premise. I fail in every respect. I suffer for my failings. I will continue to suffer for many things because the failings continue. I do not believe it is possible to be perfect and mortal, but I do believe a mortal can have a perfect intent. God appears to weigh our intent far more than our actions. He knows the desire of the heart motivating the conduct, and can look beyond the errors and foolishness displayed to the underlying desire to serve and honor Him. Christ repeatedly said this was the case. The rich Pharisee was contrasted to the widow. He certainly gave more. She clearly gave much less. But her heart willed to give all. His did not. Her sacrifice was accepted, his pride was rejected. This is how God views us all. He is not handicapped as we are.

9. Do you think the temple keys are lost?
A: Church presidents have frequently said the keys to perform plural marriages have been taken from the earth. The 1990 changes to the endowment removed some of what had previously been regarded as keys to salvation. However, anti-Mormon crusaders Jerald and Sandra Tanner have preserved them and make them available on the Internet. So, if they are in fact keys, and if they need to be known, then they have not been lost but merely removed from the temple and put onto the Tanner’s website. If someone believes they need them, they can still be had and cannot be said to have been lost. Beyond that, I leave it to each person to decide how important such things are to their relationship with God. I’m of the view that the temple rites are not the real thing, but are instruction and an invitation to receive the real thing.

10. Why do you believe it appropriate to speak about something so sacred as an appearance to you by the Lord ?
A: Anyone who has had the Lord appear to them should testify as a witness to that fact. That is paramount. It is important for witnesses to declare He lives. That they have seen Him. That His life did not end on a Roman cross in Judea. That He rose from the grave and all of us have hope through Him for our own rescue from death. That is critical. What is not appropriate for disclosure are details that go beyond what the Lord has chosen to make public already through the scriptures or ordinances. He controls that. Though He may reveal much to a person, and place them under a different standard than what is given openly to mankind, that is His decision. Until He commands, the line is drawn between witnessing He lives– which is required, and disclosing what He alone reserves for Himself to reveal– which is forbidden. I have said and I do believe our Lord has a continuing ministry. But that is His, not mine. Like any Latter-day Saint with a testimony of the Lord, I testify to help my fellow Saint increase in faith in Jesus Christ. I have an obligation to do so. We all do.

11. Have you ever been criticized by church leaders?
A: No. I’ve never been criticized nor asked to stop writing by any church leader. Not from my bishop, stake president, nor any higher authority. I have had some contacts, but they have been private, and encouraging me to continue. There have been a number of people who have returned to church activity because of what I’ve written. Those results are viewed with some support. The criticism I am aware of, some of which has been quite harsh, has come from overanxious church members who have not read the things I’ve written.

12. Have you singled out President Boyd K. Packer for criticism?
A: No. In fact he is the single most often quoted living authority in my writings. I have a great regard for him and have never criticized him, but have often defended or quoted from him. His “Candle of the Lord” sermon was a milestone talk. When Pres. Monson and Pres. Packer die, that will mark the first time there will be no apostles in the Quorum of the Twelve who were there when I joined the church. He represents a symbolic transition point for me, and I will very much mourn his passing which I hope is many years from now.

13. Why do you criticize the church if you are a faithful member?
A: I do not believe I criticize the church. I believe I respond to criticism by providing an explanation of the issues which are alive and driving people away from activity or membership. If everything I had written disappeared this instant, that would not stop the issues from being discussed. The real critics are studying ways to undermine faith and developing new arguments against the church all the time. They do not need to lie about the church to undermine faith. They only need to tell truths which we have hidden. The best thing we can do is to tell the truth first, and do it from the vantage point of faith. If we still believe, and we know about the problems, then we are best situated to disclose and address them. Being angry with a faithful member for being honest is a futile act. Hiding from the truth is equally futile. The truth is going to be told. Better us than the antagonists to tell it.

14.  Do you admit some of Joseph Smith’s sexual activities were sinful or immoral?
A: That is not as easy a question as it may appear. You would need to know about the ancient kingship, and the king’s duties to begin to answer. That is a topic so foreign to current culture that I’m not even going to undertake an answer. Under American social, cultural and religious mores of the 1800’s Joseph Smith was immoral. Under the traditional Christian values of both his and our day, he was immoral. Under an ancient form of kingship, that is a great deal less clear. So the conclusion on the question must ultimately await several things: First, a determination if Joseph Smith was being placed in a very ancient form of conduct by the commandment of God. I happen to believe he was. But that is not a topic that can be answered in passing. Second, was Joseph Smith’s conduct justified under that ancient standard? Again, that depends on Joseph’s role and God’s command. Third, does this have anything to do with current practices? Clearly it does not. We’ve long since lost track of those things and perhaps we are the better for it. When Joseph was crowned a “King and Priest” (Melek and Zadok) he was confirming a peculiar and ancient tradition. The tradition does not belong inside a democratic republic like the United States, and the rules governing the conduct of such a person are completely foreign and quite distasteful to modern sensibilities. So we are left with a standard which would condemn him, and the possibility of another standard which would justify him. One of the requisites of this ancient office required the death of the king. Not merely in ritual, though later imitators would substitute a surrogate to kill in the renewal of kingship. The original required the actual sacrifice of the king himself. Joseph did that, as well. In that sense he was perhaps an authentic return of the ancient order at more than one level. As one learned friend of mine has characterized Joseph, “he was a Divine King and a Divine Victim.” There is only one of those at a time. And his death by sacrifice is required as one of the incidents of the ancient office. But those ideas hardly belong to our day. Just alluding to it will confuse most people. There are probably only a handful of people who could speak intelligently about the topic. Yet, if you know what you’re seeing, it is all over in the Old Testament. So let me reduce it to this: Based on our standards and based on social and religious standards in his day, Joseph Smith was sinful and immoral. Whether God viewed him as such is a different question. That would need to be taken up with Him rather than me. I would hesitate to reach a conclusion on that question, however, unless you know a great deal more than most people know today, and even then not before receiving the Lord’s judgment on the question. 

15. Why do you say the restoration through Joseph Smith was intended to being back something more ancient than the New Testament Church?
A: Because that is what Christ taught. He did not say we would return to conditions like His day. He said when He returned the conditions would be like the days of Noah. Noah’s day is to be mirrored in ours. That day is pre-New Testament. I think Christ knew what He was talking about. Even the restoration itself is an imitation of the more ancient family of Abraham. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are the three great patriarchs. The Twelve Sons of Israel are the next tier of patriarchs. There were seventy descendants of Israel who went into Egypt (Exo. 1: 5). The church structure imitates the patriarchal family. We will be going back there before the Lord’s return. You don’t live as “one” when you are inside a hierarchy. You live as “one” when you are a family having all things in common. The family was the “church” in the day of Noah. That is where it is headed. We’ve just temporarily frozen the process. It will resume again.

16. Why do you ignore the church’s claim that the Nauvoo Temple was completed and the fullness was retained by the church?
A: I don’t ignore the claim. I explain it. It is called “the traditional narrative” and is set out in my last book. The church’s position is essentially that completing the baptismal font is all that was required, and Joseph conveyed the fullness above his red brick store. That position leaves many questions unanswered: Why did the Lord state the fullness could only come in the temple if the red brick store was sufficient? Is it correct to conflate baptism for the dead with fullness? Why did Brigham Young, upon his return to Nauvoo in August, abruptly change his mind and teach that completing the temple was essential? What about the ultimate failure to finish the structure? Did it matter that in 1847 the structure was not complete, even though it had been “regarded as sufficiently complete” to be dedicated? What about the revealed warnings? Were the saints driven out of Nauvoo, or planted and protected there? Did that matter? Were the saints put through judgments and buffetings rather than being protected and blessed? Did that matter? What reason is there for the Lord to state He had taken the fullness away in 1841? Does the church’s traditional narrative answer all the questions, or start from the conclusion and reason backward? If you begin with the conclusion that it was successful, and then string together whatever is needed to justify the conclusion, is that a faithful retelling of events? These and many other questions deserve at least careful consideration. I set out the church’s position or the traditional narrative, then give some careful consideration to the obvious questions which remain worth asking and grappling to resolve. If the traditional narrative is correct, then much of the language in Section 124 is a “bluff” by the Lord, apparently only to motivate the saints to engage in the drudgery of a public works building. But He apparently did not really intend to discipline them, drive them out of Nauvoo, put them through suffering and buffeting, and stir them up to repentance. Therefore, the events in Nauvoo belong inside a narrative of success, blessing, glory and vindication by the faithfulness of those involved. Their bickering, ambition, and even Brigham Young’s condemnation of the those receiving their endowments as being “thieves” because they stole the temple garments intended to be used by others reflects only credit on these faithful saints. It is puzzling to me, but perhaps it is not to others. If the traditional narrative answers all the questions of the faithful, active saints today, it does not do so for other reasonably-minded people. I’m trying to have it make sense to them. So, in a way, those who only want to consider the traditional narrative really don’t need to read the book or to consider the difficult questions I raise. But for this question, I maintain I have not ignored the traditional narrative, but have responded to it with a reasonable discussion told in an objective way. I hoped it would be matter-of-fact and dispassionate. It was not written to be any kind of “hit piece” but instead a rational discussion of reasonable historic events holding some importance for those who believe, as I do, in the Lord’s involvement in the history of the Latter-day Saints.

17. Do you love your wife?
A: Beyond all reason and forevermore. Apart from the Lord, there is no friend or other companion whose company I long to retain for all eternity than hers.