In response to a question about whether my views have changed since I wrote The Second Comforter, I would say they have in some respects and have not in others. I do not intend to write a new edition and change what I wrote there. Believing Latter-day Saints should faithfully follow their religion. I was cast out of the church, and therefore have no reason to follow it lock-step any longer. But I do not resent the church, want back in, or hope to change it.
Even though the LDS Church is working very hard to put its leaders between the members and the Lord, I think a faithful, believing Latter-day Saint can endure that abuse while still honoring God. Christ did as much in His lifetime, and He is the great example. When you pass through all the rites of the LDS Church it begins and ends at almost the same point. The starting point is believing Joseph Smith, inspired by James 1:5, asked God and received an answer–and you can too. The ending point involves an ordinance which promises you further light and knowledge by conversing with the Lord through the veil. Both at the beginning and the end of the LDS journey you are told to speak with God and expect an answer. If not for my belief in this promise, and the LDS Church’s teaching of it, I do not believe I would ever have conversed with God. So even now I see the LDS Church as having great value to its faithful members who can grow closer to God despite the foolishness of its Correlation program and distorted elevation of mere men.
The energy and light given through Joseph Smith powers the LDS Church still today. Even though the church’s leadership want to disregard, ignore, and even violate Joseph’s teachings, they still benefit from his original ministry.
One of the clearest moments in LDS Church history came on August 8, 1844. Joseph was dead. There were multiple contenders to lead the church in the leadership vacuum left by Joseph and Hyrum’s murders. When the critical moment arrived, the church took a profound, irreversible step. The church which was founded by revelation, proclaimed it was led by revelation, and held itself out as “true and living” because it was led by a prophet who received revelation, chose at that moment to ignore revelation. No one argued the choice should be made by God and then revealed to the church. Instead the church held an election and voted the 12 into power. At that moment the church decided to vote for its destiny, instead of letting God reveal to her His choice. Under the new direction Nauvoo was abandoned, the Saints fled into the wilderness, suffered, endured misery, were abused and blamed by the leaders for the leaders’ failures, and received chastening from an unimpressed God.
Although the Saints descended into a salty wasteland, the discovery of gold in California, the railroad and the convenience of a mid-mountain stopover helped them to survive. With time and a larger American economy in the midst of an Industrial Revolution, the church was likewise elevated economically and politically. Each step along the way the church positioned itself to benefit until now it is a powerful, multi-billion dollar enterprise with political, economic and social clout to protect itself from ever again enduring the early embarrassments and persecutions. It has diversified its product line from merely the “Mormon” religion, and has vast real estate, cattle, farming, business, banking, housing, educational, employment, television, radio, satellite, and other ventures. With all its leaders must manage, there is little time for and increasingly less attention given to the religion Joseph Smith was restoring. It is becoming increasingly clear to those who study the faith that it has undergone drastic changes since June 27, 1844. Those changes make the LDS Church much more like the rest of the world’s religions, and less like the revolution begun by God through Joseph.
I’m not sure the LDS Church today is even the same one I joined in 1973. I am certain it is not the same one Joseph Smith restored.
When I first joined the LDS Church there was a Presiding Patriarch sustained as a “Prophet, Seer and Revelator” in General Conference, which I understood was required for a fully organized church. He was subsequently released, his office left unfilled, and he has now died.
When I first became LDS the temple rites included roles, penalties and signs (I did not then understand) but which have subsequently been eliminated or changed.
When I first became LDS priesthood was restricted (which I hated but accepted), subsequently removed.
When I first became LDS there were 70’s in every Ward who were regarded as having a distinct office, which has now been eliminated, confined to General Authorities, who are all now High Priests, the office of 70 having been essentially eliminated.
When I first became LDS doctrine mattered, scriptures were used as the primary source of teaching, and General Conference talks were not re-read in Sacrament, Priesthood, Relief Society and Sunday School as the basis of lessons, unlike today. The adoration of church leaders is now almost the only “religion” practiced. Jesus Christ is a nominally mentioned party, appended at the end of talks and testimonies, as if mentioning Him at the end certifies everything remains His.
When I first became LDS we twice had the Sacrament blessed and passed each Sunday, we discussed openly the “mysteries” and had a very different Spirit within the community. There is a harshness to the LDS Church, and a hardness in its members which wasn’t there in 1973.
The list of changes is now over 120 items long and I won’t lay them out here. It isn’t important to do so. In the dedication of The Second Comforter I wrote: “Dedicated to the ‘few who are the humble followers of Christ.’ (2 Ne. 28: 14.)” I hoped readers would go look that verse up and read it, and the surrounding verses. If they do they will read this description:
“Because of pride, and because of false teachers, and false doctrine, their churches have become corrupted, and their churches are lifted up; because of pride they are puffed up. They rob the poor because of their fine sancturaries; they rob the poor because of their fine clothing; and they persecute the meek and poor in heart, because in their pride they are puffed up. They wear stiff necks and high heads; yea, and because of pride, and wickedness, and abominations, and whoredoms, they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are teh humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men.” (2 Ne. 28: 12-14.)
The dedication at the beginning of The Second Comforter was deliberate. I have recognized the truth for many, many years. But I honored every obligation I took upon myself. I have only joined one church organization in my life: the LDS Church. I am grateful to it and would not have left when they excommunicated me. But that does not mean I wasn’t alarmed by what I saw the leaders doing to alter and misshape the church. I tried to be meek, and still to be so. Now, however, I am entirely free to be meek in relation to the Lord alone, and no longer need to be anything but a “humble follower of Christ” (to use Nephi’s description). It is no longer necessary to be “led, that in many instances [I will] err because of the precepts of men.” I can look to the Lord alone, and forget institutional demands on my attention, time and thought. Or, as our Lord once put it: I can be about my Father’s business.