Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Mixed Messages


Of all the current apostles, the only one with whom I am personally familiar is David A. Bednar. He has come to the Denver area twice in the past ten years to address the young single adults. Both of these sessions have been set up in a question-and-answer format. His soft-spoken, stoic style combines with an often humorous yet business-like approach to the gospel that makes him one of the more enigmatic general authorities.

(Oh, and I've even shaken his hand--little old me! Can you believe that?)

Recently, Deseret Book (one of the many forms by which we've come to know and love the corporate LDS Church) released a series of videos featuring Bednar and fellow apostle Jeffrey Holland speaking candidly to groups of what I can only imagine are all Mormons.

I'd like to share a couple of the videos--one good, one...not so good--featuring Bednar.

First, the not so good. Or, should I say, shockingly bad. It is unavailable for embedding (small wonder why once you see it) but as of press time, is still up on and running on YouTube. Titled "The Lord's side of the line," it begins with a nervous boy asking our esteemed Elder, "Um... if you like, stop reading the scriptures, what is the best way--how is the best way to get back into reading them?"

Simple enough question, right? The boy, clearly mustering all the courage he's got, wants to know how to get back into reading the scriptures after taking a break--er, I mean, forsaking God--for a time. While there are plenty of acceptable roads the answer to this could have traveled, the boulevard Bednar's goes down is not one of them.

In fact, for the next four minutes, Bednar takes this shy young man right into his very own Nightmare on Elm Street.

Bednar asks the boy to come onto the stage ("Don't be nervous." Ha!), where he proceeds to inflict upon him one of the most awkward and asinine object lessons on church record. He guides the boy on a trip from God's side of the line, represented by a very costly-looking area rug, to the devil's territory, represented by shooting towers of flame. (Ok, not really, but that wouldn't have made it any worse.) The boy--Bryson, we learn at the end--is understandably scared and has tears in his eyes the entire time, but that doesn't stop Sheriff Bednar from showing him the nature of just what is involved when someone stops reading his scriptures and joins the 666 gang.

At one point, once DAB has led Bryson across the line into the devil's territory, he gives him a bear hug from behind to prevent him from returning to God's side. Aside from the general awkwardness of the situation, the principles he teaches are really off the mark as well. For example, he tells him:
Remember what got you over here? You came all the way from back over there to right at the edge of the line by just not doing the things you know you should do. And once you get over here, you're not in control anymore.
Not in control anymore? Do we lose our agency because we stop "doing the things (we) know (we) should do"? I probably shouldn't make assumptions, but I'd be willing to bet that young Bryson isn't hooked on crystal meth or in need of sex therapy. Bednar's talking about addiction when the real issue is simple apathy. But such apathy doesn't cause a loss of control.

Finally, Bednar answers the actual question:
So your question was, if you're not praying or reading, what's the best way to get started again, right? You just remember what it was like to be over there. Okay? Does that make sense? You don't want to be there. And you're in charge. You're in control, because of your agency, of making sure that you don't get so close to the line that you'd make a mistake and step over. So, you stay turned this way by choosing the right. And you go deeper over here to where it's safe by continuing to choose the right.
Here he acknowledges agency, but by grouping it as an attribute only available to us when on "God's side of the line," it's only logical to conclude that that agency disappears once we "make a mistake and step over." Also, based on the way he says it, all the devil requires is one mistake and we're toast. Bednar's solution appears to be personal perfection, achieved only by shunning the world (earlier he said "I don't even want to see what's over there") and fortifying ourselves from all the evil by following the ambiguous Deseret Book moneymaking mantra "choose the right."

Additionally, this lesson is almost entirely negative reinforcement. The Old Testament approach may have worked on the ancient Hebrews, but in this world, it is not the way to illustrate the God of Love we supposedly revere. While I'm of the opinion that Bednar should have scrapped this object lesson entirely, it would have had at least achieved a better result if he had just started the boy near the edge, talking about the choices we could make to go either way, and then talk about the positive things that would move us towards the center of the rug. Why focus on the negative when the boy is showing a desire to improve his relationship with God? And why use a fear-based approach when it looks like he has the willingness to be faithful? There's no need for fear when there's faith--even a seed of faith.

Oh, and not a single mention of Jesus--you know, the guy who atoned for all the rotten things we do, from forgetting to read our King James Bibles as children to dropping bombs on civilians in the name of war. Because of the atonement, which covers all, Christ is the only reason why "choosing the right" isn't a mere exercise in futility.

I sincerely hope this doesn't damage a young mind in such a way that he will abandon the gospel entirely, because he will remember it his entire life. Bryson, if you ever read this, don't let negative experiences relating to the corporate Church sour your love for the true church of Christ.

Now, just so you don't think I'm being too hard on the poor apostle from California, the answer he gave in this video (magically available for embedding)...



...is actually quite good.

Bednar says:
The scriptures say that we are to stand independent as a church. We need to be able to stand independent as members of the Savior's church, dependent upon Him, but independent.
I agree with this analysis. While fully dependent on God, we are to work out our own salvation apart from the borrowed light of anyone else, whether that be a friend, family member, bishop, stake president, or...though he doesn't say it, general authority. Ultimately, we each have the opportunity to cultivate an individual relationship with God, through the Spirit. And even when the Lord speaks to his Church as a whole through a prophet (can't say for sure when the last time that was), we are to go to God with it to verify its truthfulness. We are not to put faith in external sources. That's what's known as following after the arm of the flesh, and it doesn't matter if that flesh has a fancy title in front of his name.

He also points out, to the dismay of True Believing Mormons the world across, that attending church isn't absolutely essential to our salvation:
What if you were in a situation, somewhere in the world, by virtue of your employment or whatever it might be, where you couldn't attend church every week? I've been in places in the world where the church was shut down by a government. And you could ask yourself the question, well, what would you do if you couldn't go to church? What if there wasn't Relief Society? What if you didn't have all that stuff? What would you do? Well, you ought to be okay. Your ability to worship, your ability to have connection to the Godhead, through the power of the Holy Ghost, that doesn't go away if the government shuts down a church in a particular country and you can't be there on Sunday.
Of course, the implication is that if we have the ability to attend church, then it is an expectation we do so. But the point holds, and it's a point that has been expressed before--Ronald Poelman's phantom conference talk from 1984 comes to mind. The church is not the gospel. It's simply a way to access the gospel, but not the only way.

The primary reason for attending church--besides all the super enlightening meetings filled with clipboard power--is to partake of the sacrament. But remember, this ordinance is simply a renewal of our baptismal covenants. There is no expiration date. We renew them weekly (unless more important business like Stake or General Conference come up) for our benefit, to remind us of our relationship with God and what it means to carry His name upon us. But there's nothing preventing us from continuing to abide in those covenants simply because we haven't renewed them the past 7 days. The Church is not our DMV. It's a place to commune with our fellow imperfect saints and--hopefully--learn something. But truancy is not equivalent to damnation, and Bednar basically grants that fact here.

The reason I titled this post "Mixed Messages" is because these two videos really show the dichotomy of modern LDS ecclesiastical thought. On the one hand, the general authorities have the ability to be quite shrewd and enlightened at times--giving messages that emphasize love, kindness, and acceptance. Yet on the other, their directives all too often devolve into simplistic and absurd talking points that run counter to the gospel and paint our relationship with God to be one of distance and fear, "The Lord's side of the line" being a prime example.

I don't mean to imply that David Bednar doesn't believe in Christ, or that he thinks the atonement is somehow second fiddle to us keeping the commandments, but with object lessons like the one he taught to Bryson and an odiously sympathetic audience...


...it is only natural for one to ask, Is this Church really being led by God?

And do we need for it to be?

Monday, February 17, 2014

We're All In This Together, Even Judas

One of my personal heroes is my dad. He is a man of many talents, most notably his ability to write, which has transpired into him becoming a published author. This may be why I've taken my hand at blogging--the desire to write must be in my blood.

But that's not the reason he's a hero to me.

Actually, there are many reasons I admire him so much. From the way he has loved my mom (another hero of mine) through 30 years of marriage to his quirky sense of humor, there is much to love about the man. But perhaps the reason most pertinent to mention here is how he's never been afraid to ponder, question, and, when necessary, change his beliefs.

I grew up in the suburbs of Denver, Colorado where I've lived my entire life. As a young child, we were pretty devout Evangelical Christians. My dad, who had become a Christian while in the Navy a few years earlier, was a pretty typical born-again type--a young earth creationist who believed the Bible was inerrant, and anyone who didn't believe the same was destined for eternal hellfire. Oh, and as you might expect, he didn't care too much for Mormons.

As I grew up, so did he--spiritually. He left the Evangelical Church when I was an adolescent, and our family followed suit. He left the angry God in search of the God of Love whom Jesus taught about, and his beliefs have evolved to become more inclusive, universalist, metaphysical, and one might argue, spiritual. He's no longer a Christian in the strictest sense of the word, though we both agree that his current philosophy of life mirrors the Redeemer's much closer than when he was a card-carrying member of a church supposedly built upon that man's teachings.

In my short 29 years on this planet, my journey has echoed my father's in many ways. I, too, found Christianity (after leaving the church I was raised in during my teen years), but in the form of Mormonism. I joined the church in May 2006 while a junior in college. (Good thing Dad wasn't still an Evangelical--this news may have sent him to an early grave.)

I had learned some things from him going into all this that I had taken to heart--namely, to avoid a religion that taught the concept of endless hell, which is one of the things that attracted me to Mormonism--it avoided it too. However, like most Latter-day Saints, I came to view my new religion through the lens of the authorities who, in spite of our ability to all receive revelation from God, spoke for us and could not lead us astray. It was virtually impossible to avoid the grasp of fundamentalism and orthodoxy so prevalent in LDS culture.

Once I received a testimony of the gospel of Christ, I ingested the baggage terminal of beliefs that I thought went along with that, like how God continues to guide the Church today through modern revelation to His prophets, seers, and revelators in Salt Lake City, how tithing is to be paid before any other living expense, or how killing in war is never equivalent to murder...to name a few.

Fortunately, like my dad, I have undergone a spiritual awakening as well. I may not share his beliefs completely, as I am still an active member of the LDS Church, but I no longer close my mind to the possibilities that exist beyond the walls of the Mormon Tabernacle. Through much pondering, examination, and having my perspectives challenged and changed by not only him but unconventional Latter-day Saints such as Hugh Nibley and Rock Waterman, here I am. Still a Mormon. Still a sinner. Still a man looking for answers. But someone who knows he is unconditionally loved by God. Just like you.

And just like Judas Iscariot.

I venture to say that no man in history is more associated with betrayal than Judas, the disgraced disciple of Christ, not even Benedict Arnold.

And until my dad's recent book, Friend of God: The Passion of Judas Iscariot came out, I never gave that assessment a second thought.

http://www.amazon.com/Friend-God-Passion-Judas-Iscariot/dp/1936533391

Friend of God is a work of historical fiction that provides an intimate look at the days immediately preceding and following Christ's crucifixion. It is told from a menagerie of perspectives--the many different people who had a role in that complex and significant story, including Caiaphas, Nicodemus, Mary Magdalene, the men crucified alongside Jesus, and, predominantly, Judas Iscariot, that traitor of all traitors.

It offers a fresh look at Jesus' ministry, with a focus on the message the humble Galilean rabbi taught rather than his untouchable majesty we tend to highlight.

We also look deep into the mind of Judas Iscariot. So often do we marvel at how he could have done such a terrible thing, we never really ask why he did it. This book addresses that.

In the story, Judas is one of Jesus' most trusted and close disciples, someone who, despite being prone to impatience and a rather serious disposition, is a true believer in the Master's Messiah-ship. The reason he betrays Jesus is not for the thirty pieces of silver he would ultimately toss back at the priests who gave it to him, but to usher in the new era with Jesus taking His throne as King of the Jews. Judas believes that while Jesus is certainly sent from God, His reluctance to begin the revolt that would bring destruction to the temple and end the Romans' brutal reign over the people needs to be given a kick start. Judas turns Jesus in to the Romans believing that would force Him to play His hand and prove to the whole world exactly who they were messing with.

In other words, Judas betrayed Christ not because he had changed his mind about him, or because he was a greedy miser, but because he had misunderstood His message.

Judas eventually learns that the kingdom Jesus was attempting to establish was one of the heart--purely spiritual in nature--rather than one of the earth. That the way of the Lord can only come through kindness, service, love, and peace, ringing true the words of Mormon: "it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished" (Mormon 4:3). That we all possess the divine spark that can build such a kingdom, not just Jesus or any other renowned prophet or deity.

I highly recommend this book, and not because my father penned it. It takes the gospel accounts and cultivates an original, neoteric narrative that is thoroughly engrossing and thought-provoking.

It really makes me think about the journey that each of us is on in life. I've made my share of mistakes, I've achieved some things I wanted to, I still have things I'd like to do, and I'm a million miles from where I expected to be ten years ago. Or two years ago. Life goes by fast, but fortunately, change can come faster.

Each story is different, each one glorious and tragic in different ways. Judas Iscariot's is no different than many others'. So rather than cast him aside as an avaricious apostate like most of Christendom has done, I now give him the benefit of the doubt, knowing that ultimately, he is indeed a friend of God. Like us all.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Lessons Learned From Brigham Young

In today's tumultuous times, there aren't a lot of things the "True Believing" Mormons and the "Liberal" Mormons agree on (at least as far as they're willing to admit), but I have thought of one recently.

They both avoid Brigham Young like the plague.

Brother Brigham makes TBMs very uncomfortable. In spite of the momentous volumes of his sermons found in the Journal of Discourses and being the namesake of three Church-operated universities, he's probably one of the least quoted-from latter-day prophets. After all, he's the guy who made some unsavory comments about Blacks, was married to about 1,000 women (why won't polygamy just go away?!), and believed there were moonmen roaming our crescent friend in the sky. TBMs are very sensitive to anti-Mormon literature, and anti-Mormon literature without quotes from Brigham Young is like a pizza without cheese. Brigham is talked about in hush tones throughout the Church; his name comes out every so often when talking about the westward trek, then carefully locked away back into the sacred vaults of Mormon history.

LMs also seem to have a bone to pick with Brigham Young. His succession of Joseph Smith as head of the Church is dubious at best, and it seems he cornered himself into running errands of "lying for the Lord" a few too many times. Coupled with his social views, which often reflected the culture in which he lived, he's got at least three strikes against him. This "yankee guesser" is certainly not leaned upon as the spiritual-minded teacher Joseph Smith (for all his admitted shortcomings) was.

Which is too bad.

In 1994, FARMS published Hugh Nibley's 13th volume of collected works, Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints. After an impressive run of literature many consider to be his best--Approaching Zion, Tinkling Cymbals and Sounding Brass, and Temple and Cosmos--Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints often gets forgotten in deference to these more prominent works.

Which is also too bad. Because this one might just be his best. (Or at least second to Approaching Zion.)

Nibley, one of the select group of men I could categorize as both a TBM and an LM, is not afraid to take on Brigham Young. He put up a solid defense against Ann Eliza Young's 19th Wife in his piece "Sounding Brass," and this time enlightens the reader with an array of material, borrowing heavily from the archives, weaving together a shrewd narrative which not-so-tacitly condemns the traditions of modern Mormon culture. Nibley sheds light on several forgotten teachings of the Lion of the Lord, many of them in contradistinction to the culture of corporatism and compliance with combat permeating the modern LDS Church and its members. Suffice to say, President Young would be as ashamed at the modern state of things in Mormonism than anyone in our little neck of the Bloggernacle.

Allow me to share some of which I've learned from Nibley and Young in this journey down a road of damning topics the modern Saints would rather ignore--mankind's (and, by sad extension, Latter-day Saints') contempt for the environment, their warped view of the political sphere, their trust in material goods and riches, their thirst for vengeance (typically unfolding in bloody and unnecessary wars), their aversion to non-careerist education, and their settling for management over leadership.

Nibley stated in 1967, "For some years I've been collecting material on Brigham Young, and now have a collection of pretty well everything Brigham Young ever said on anything." Turns out the resulting compilation has tons of eye-opening stuff. Let's explore a few topics the book touches on (all quotes are from Brigham Young, unless otherwise noted):

Environmentalism (and Humility)
Mankind has a sacred duty to be good stewards of the earth the Lord has so kindly let us borrow. Not exactly regarding the environment, this quote shows Brigham's attitude of humility which would lead to a proper perspective in viewing the world the Lord has bestowed upon us:
It is seldom that I rise before a congregation without feeling a child-like timidity; if I live to the age of Methuselah I do not know that I shall outgrow it. There are reasons for this which I understand. . . . This mortality shrinks before that portion of divinity which we inherit from our father. This is the cause of my timidity.
This reminds me of my favorite quote from Nibley (and, considering I maintain a blog devoted solely to quotes from Nibley, this one must be strikingly astute), who said, "Humility is not a feeling of awe and reverence and personal unworthiness in the presence of overpowering majesty--anyone, even the bloody Khan of the Steppes, confesses to being humble in the presence of God. Plain humility is reverence and respect in the presence of the lowest, not the highest, of God's creatures."

For years we've been conditioned to view humility as a feeling we should have towards God, towards the great men, towards the finest things life has to offer; but in fact, it is when we show humility around the "least of these" (Matt. 25:40) that we are exercising our true portion of divinity God has given us.
Always keep in view that the animal, vegetable, and mineral kindgoms--the earth and its fulness--will all, except the children of men, abide their creation--the law by which they were made, and will receive their exaltation.
[Our work is] to beautify the whole face of the earth, until it shall become like the Garden of Eden.
It's simple, really. Nature operates as it should, humans being the one exception. With the scriptures, however, we've been given a guidebook on how we can operate according to our celestial potential. It is by establishing Zion, a godly society designed to live in harmony with nature, in which its inhabitants are thoroughly thankful for the gifts they've been blessed with, and share freely with all. Yet we refuse God's way; taking, taking, taking, all the while oblivious to the negative effects we have on the other kingdoms of the earth. Why? Because of our lack of faith in him to provide. "Consider the lillies of the field," spoke the Savior, "how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin . . . O ye of little faith . . . take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? . . . Your heavenly father knoweth that ye have need of these things . . . Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matt. 6:28,30-33).

Politics
Politics has its purpose in the world, but all too often, we turn it into a showy parade of insipidity, rhetoric, and hero worship, turning it into a religion itself. We Mormons went nuts over Mitt Romney (me included), a man who despite consistently rejecting key tenants of his faith throughout his business and political career, was expected by many of us to be the savior of America.

Brigham succinctly expressed the ironic Mormon view of politics when he said:
As for politics, we care nothing about them one way or the other, although we are a political people.
No asterisk for if a Mormon happens to be running for President. He also aptly observed:
Every government in the world has the seeds of its own destruction within itself. Why? Because the kingdoms of the world are not designed to stand.
Man-made systems are doomed to fail, regardless of how much we may be head over heels for an Obama or a Romney. As long as the Constitution--its principles are inspired of God--is rejected by those we vote into office, the edifice will eventually all come crashing down. But on a positive note:
This is my country. I am a native-born American citizen. My father fought for liberty we ought to have enjoyed in the States, and we shall yet see the day when we shall enjoy it.
...Someday. He explains how:
The Priesthood of the Son of God, which we have in our midst, is a perfect order and system of government, and this alone can deliver the human family from all the evils which now afflict its members, and insure them happiness and felicity hereafter.
Sounds an awful lot like Zion. But I don't think the Utah legislature counts as the perfect order Brigham was talking about.

Materialism
Our test on this earth is find out what is the object of our worship--God or mammon. Taking Brigham's teachings in context, it is clear which side he knew we needed to be on:
We are organized for the express purpose of controlling the elements, of organizing and disorganizing, of ruling over kingdoms, principalities, and powers. And yet our affections are often too highly placed upon paltry, perishable objects. We love houses, gold, silver, and various kinds of property, and all who unduly prize any object there is beneath the celestial world are idolators.
As believers in our eternal nature, we should be the last to fall victim to such idolatry, yet we see it all around. It is ubiquitous in western culture, and Mormons certainly aren't immune to it. Bemoaned Brigham in 1862:
While we should be diligent and industrious . . .we should not suffer a covetous and grasping spirit to take possession of us. It is lamentable to see the ignorance manifested by many of this people in that respect, for no man who possesses the wealth of wisdom, would worship the wealth of mammon.
Things didn't improve. In 1874:
Have we separated ourselves from the nations? Yes. And what else have we done? Ask yourselves the question. Have we not brought Babylon with us? Are we not promoting Babylon here in our midst? Are we not fostering the spirit of Babylon that is now abroad on the face of the whole earth? I ask myself this question, and I answer, Yes, yes, . . . we have too much of Babylon in our midst.
What is the general expression through our community? It is that the Latter-day Saints are drifting as fast as they can into idolatry, drifting into the spirit of the world and into pride and vanity. . . . We wish the wealth or things of the world; we think about them morning, noon and night; they are first in our minds when we awake in the morning, and the last thing before we go to sleep at night.
Contrast these words to the teachings of our modern prophet, whose best-known statement in regards to money so far has been, "Let's go shopping!"

War
Ever since the inception of Christendom, Christians have been fighting with their own teachings on retribution and vengeance, and in so doing, fighting with their brothers and sisters they are supposed to be loving unconditionally. Said Brigham:
No man ever did, or ever will rule judiciously on this earth, with honor to himself and glory to his God, unless he first learn to rule and control himself.
Today, we preach similar principles, but mainly in the Law of Chastity arena. And how to avoid beer. Yet we don't seem to care about whether our politicians show the same self-discipline when carelessly waging war on our enemies.
Don't be limited in your views with regard to your neighbor's virtue, but beware of self-righteousness, and be limited in the estimate of your own virtues. . . . You must enlarge your souls towards each other. . . . As you increase in goodness, let your hearts expand, let them be enlarged towards others. . . . You must not be contracted, but you must be liberal in your feelings.
War always stems from a false sense of self-righteousness--the good guys (us) versus the bad guys (them). This attitude is the antithesis of the gospel, one of progression, of an "increase in goodness." That progression leads to more acceptance of others' faults, not less. How easy can it be to fall into this trap of diagnosing the condition of our brethren while ignoring our own?
An individual . . . with [an] abhorrence of evil [joins the Church]. . . . He sets himself upon the watch to detect the failings of others, deeming that he is doing God a service in being so employed [for God and Country], and thus is he decoyed into the occupation of the great master of evil, to be the accuser of his brethren. And during the time thus occupied by him, he considers himself actuated by the purest of motives, arising from a detestation of sin. . . . Yet mark the subtlety of Satan in thus leading men into a false position. Such a course, in the first place, probably arose from the purest of motives, and perhaps the individual was instrumental in rectifying some error; he feels a satisfaction for having done so, his self-esteem is gratified, and ere he is aware, he is seeking for another opportunity of doing the same, . . . continually set[ting] himself up as being capable of sitting in judgment upon others, and of rectifying by his own ability the affairs of the kingdom of God.
We may have enemies (even Jesus grants this), but we are not to judge them and not to seek vengeance on them. If we do, we are ignoring the essence of the gospel--agape.

Education
Learning for the sake of learning is what we should be aiming for (it is a good of the first intent--inherently good, as Nibley writes), not the track of selfishness and careerism Western Civilization has devolved into.
Every art and science known and studied by the children of men is comprised within the Gospel.
"But this does not mean," Nibley interjects, "as is commonly assumed, that anything one chooses to teach is the gospel--that would be as silly as arguing that since all things are made of electrons, protons, neutrons, etc., whenever anyone opens his mouth to speak he gives a lecture on physics. It means rather that all things may be studied and taught in the light of the gospel."
If an Elder shall give us a lecture upon astronomy, chemistry, or geology, our religion embraces it all. It matters not what the subject be, if it tends to improve the mind, exalt the feelings, and enlarge the capacity.
"Improving the mind" was a consistent theme in Brigham's talks. And he didn't invoke it so that we could be more prepared for the "real world" or so that we could establish a career, he invoked it so that we would be more prepared for the eternities. Joseph Smith taught that "a man can be saved no faster than he gains knowledge." Intelligence, not just righteousness, is essential to progression.

I can't leave the topic of education without including a few of Nibley's more current musings, which are highly critical of the impertinent culture of the pursuit of recognition (listen to me, I have a PhD) and the discrepancy of assessment (it's all about the grades) adumbrating our colleges and universities. He wrote:
What is the main weakness of our students? Undoubtedly the desire for recognition rather than interest in what they are doing. They are decidedly degree-seeking rather than knowledge-seeking. Eager to be successful, they want to rush into production without any foundation. The gospel is only for the honest in heart, we are told; to others it shows an infinitely exalted but also remotely distant goal for which they have not the diligence to work or the patience to wait, but whose allure they cannot resist. So they anticipate the goal, sometimes in forms and ceremonies (we take our academic ritual in deadly earnest), sometimes by cultivating an invincibly cocky self-confidence, and sometimes in mental and emotional crackups. We want to be rewarded and recognized for our study, and that is not a proper motive for learning.
In the grand scheme of things, we humans don't really know all that much. But it's the attitude that matters. Displaying his classic wit, Nibley observed:
It is better to be ignorant and interested than ignorant and not interested, and there's no third alternative here.
Leadership
Our modern world has undergone a "fatal shift," as Nibley put it, from those who could be considered pure "leaders," to those who simply "manage."

First and foremost, coercion has no place in leadership, and Brigham was quick to point that out:
No person has a right to say to another, "Why do you eat wheat bread, corn bread, or no bread at all? why do you eat potatoes, or why do you not eat them? why do you walk, or why do you sit down? why do you read this or that book? or why do you go to the right or the left?" . . . If the Elders of Israel could understand this a little better, we would like it, for the simple reason that if they had power given them now they manifest the same weaknesses in the exercise thereof as any other people.
The sovereignty of a people must be preserved for them to be properly led. This is what the war in heaven was about, yet many modern Mormons seem to favor Lucifer's plan in practice. Much like the Pharisees, we insist on strict observance of the rules, which are given as not only commandment but constraint, to be deemed "worthy" of all the goodies the ChurchTM has to offer. And it is our "leaders" whom we allow to foist such an antichrist concept on us, led themselves by corporate handbooks rather than the Spirit.

Speaking of the Spirit, Brigham hit on its integral role in the leader-to-follower relationship here:
Do you know whether I am leading you right or not? Do you know whether I dictate you right or not? Do you know whether the wisdom and the mind of the Lord are dispensed to you correctly or not? . . . I have a request to make of each and every Latter-day Saint, or those who profess to be, to so live that the Spirit of the Lord will whisper to them and teach them the truth. . . . In this there is safety; without this there is danger, imminent danger; and my exhortation to the Latter-day Saints--Live your religion [and you'll know for yourself].
Amen! To anyone who says there is safety in following the Church, or the brethren, or even the stakes of Zion, point them to this quote. There is safety in one thing and one thing only--the Lord. For it is "by the power of the Holy Ghost" that we "may know the truth of all things" (Mor. 10:5). The great leader understands that it is his deference to the Holy Ghost (the true leader) that makes him a great leader, not by usurping power unto himself.

One may think that following the Spirit will lead to a dull monotony. That all of this peace, conservation, and consecration of material goods will be boring. Not so. The spirit of Zion--and any good leader who wishes to establish it--embraces differences. Unfortunately, Mormonism has transformed from a liberal religion of independent inquiry to a monolith of mediocrity. That was never its intent. To close with Brigham one final time:
Man's machinery makes things alike; God's machinery gives to things which appear alike a pleasing difference. . . . Endless variety is stamped upon the works of God's hands. There are no two productions of nature, whether animal, vegetable or mineral, that are exactly alike and all are crowned with a degree of polish and perfection that cannot be obtained by ignorant man in his most exquisite mechanical productions.
There is too much of a sameness in this community. . . . I am not a stereotyped Latter-day Saint and do not believe in the doctrine . . . away with stereotyped 'Mormons'!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Shoot Him Again, Sayeth Jesus

On this day of solemn remembrance, I came across a meme letter on facebook that one of my friends had shared. A diatribe filled with indifference (to put it mildly), it invokes Jesus Christ at the end, just for some spice. I was going to comment throughout different parts of the letter, but nothing I could say could erase the hate from this person's heart. So I'll let his words speak for themselves, and add a short commentary afterwards. Before you read, consider Christ's most challenging teaching: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Matthew 5:44).


[Meme Introduction] Author is unknown for sure. Could be a housewife or a Journalist in California, could be your neighbor or closest friend. I Agree with it either way.

Thought you might like to read this letter
to the editor. Ever notice how some people
just seems to know how to write a letter?

This one surely does!

It applies to all those who have lost something because of 9/11 and because of the hate that others have of the U.S.A, and other FREE nations in the world. Every soldier that has paid the ultimate price for FREEDOM. Not just U.S. soldiers......all Soldiers who died for the sake of Freedom. Including Israel and it's soldiers and also New Zealand and it's soldiers.

THIS ONE PACKS A FIRM PUNCH

Originally an E-mail to an editor I believe....Not sure?

Although IT WAS WRITTEN.

[The Letter]
"Are we fighting a war on terror or aren't we? Was
it or was it not, started by Islamic people who
brought it to our shores on September 11, 2001
and have continually threatened to do so since?

Were people from all over the world, not brutally murdered
that day, in downtown Manhattan , across the Potomac from
the capitol of the USA and in a field in Pennsylvania ?

Did nearly three thousand men, women and children die a horrible, burning or crushing death that day, or didn't they?

Do you think I care about four U. S. Marines urinating on some dead Taliban insurgents?

And I'm supposed to care that a few Taliban were
claiming to be tortured by a justice system of a
nation they are fighting against in a brutal Insurgency.

I'll care about the Koran when the fanatics in the Middle
East, start caring about the Holy Bible, the mere belief
of which, is a crime punishable by beheading in Afghanistan .

I'll care when these thugs tell the world they are
sorry for hacking off Nick Berg's head, while Berg
screamed through his gurgling slashed throat.

I'll care when the cowardly so-called insurgents
in Afghanistan , come out and fight like men,
instead of disrespecting their own religion by
hiding in Mosques and behind women and children.

I'll care when the mindless zealots who blow
themselves up in search of Nirvana, care about the
innocent children within range of their suicide Bombs.

I'll care when the Canadian media stops pretending that
their freedom of Speech on stories, is more important than
the lives of the soldiers on the ground or their families waiting
at home, to hear about them when something happens.

In the meantime, when I hear a story about a
CANADIAN soldier roughing up an Insurgent
terrorist to obtain information, know this:

I don't care.

When I see a wounded terrorist get shot in the
head when he is told not to move because he
might be booby-trapped, you can take it to the bank:

I don't care. Shoot him again.*

When I hear that a prisoner, who was issued a Koran and a prayer mat, and fed 'special' food, that is paid for by my tax dollars, is complaining that his holy book is being 'mishandled,' you can absolutely believe, in your heart of hearts:

I don't care.

And oh, by the way, I've noticed that sometimes
it's spelled 'Koran' and other times 'Quran.'
Well, Jimmy Crack Corn you guessed it.

I don't care!!

If you agree with this viewpoint, pass this on to
all your E-mail Friends. Sooner or later, it'll get to
the people responsible for this ridiculous behavior!

If you don't agree, then by all means hit the delete
button. Should you choose the latter, then please don't
complain when more atrocities committed by radical
Muslims happen here in our great Country! And may I add:

Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering, if
during their life on earth, they made a difference in
the world. But, the Soldiers don't have that problem.

I have another quote that I would like to
share AND...I hope you forward All this.

One last thought for the day:

Only five defining forces have ever offered to die for you:

1. Jesus Christ

2. The British Soldier.

3. The Canadian Soldier.

4. The US Soldier, and

5. The Australian Soldier

One died for your soul,
the other four, for you and your children's Freedom.

YOU MIGHT WANT TO PASS THIS ON,
AS MANY SEEM TO FORGET!

AMEN! GOD BLESS THOSE WHO HAVE LOST SOMEONE DUE TO THIS FIGHT FOR FREEDOM.
What bothers me most about this letter, even more than its callous ignorance, is the ho-hum appeal to Christ, as if the Savior was some kind of mob boss. No doubt, Jesus was a crusader for justice, and those responsible for the attacks on 9/11 will have their day of reckoning. Those who continue to terrorize others will as well. But to basically blame an entire war on an entire group of people--many of whom had nothing to do with these attacks--all the while pissing on their very humanity, is the complete opposite of Christianity's essence. I understand the anger, I understand the fear, but anyone with true faith in God should know the "by the wicked are the wicked punished" (Mormon 4:5). It isn't our job, particularly in foreign lands where the collateral damage this writer chooses to ignore adds up far beyond the number killed on 9/11, to destroy them. And such vengeance is in no way prescient to "preserving freedom." If we are to call ourselves followers of Christ at all, we must attempt what seems impossible--loving our fellow man--no ifs, ands, or buts. On this, Jesus was clear and uncompromising. For those who believe in modern revelation within the LDS gospel, he's elaborated on the position we should take when it comes to war. And as another reckless engagement slowly draws near, it is our Christian responsibility to renounce it and proclaim peace. God bless the world.

*"Shoot him again." -Jesus (Luke 25:2)

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Conditional Love: The Greatest Of All Lies

It pains me to have to write this post. Ten years ago, one of the leaders of a major Christian church asserted that God's love is not unconditional.

If you have to ask which church he belongs to, you probably haven't been paying attention.

That's right. Sadly, it was our very own apostle Russell M. Nelson, who, in February 2003, wrote an article in the LDS Church-owned Ensign magazine titled "Divine Love." In it, he declares: "While divine love can be called perfect, infinite, enduring, and universal, it cannot correctly be characterized as unconditional."

Of all religions to succumb to such a bald-faced lie, the last one that should fall victim to it is Mormonism. Remember Mormonism? That branch of Christianity that rejects the cruel, fear-based heaven/hell dichotomy? The one that teaches we are all eternal beings, with no beginning and no end, having been literally crafted in the image and likeness of God, dwelling with him before being born on Earth? The one that promises eternal progression paved by a God willing to give us all that he has, whose work and glory is "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man"?

Well, turns out that, in spite of all those incredible things, we can still reach a point where God will throw his hands in the air, fed up with our sinful ways, and love us no more.

Sure, we in the modern church may still preach some of the positive things about God, but it seems we don't really believe them anymore. The man upstairs has morphed from the loving father Joseph Smith testified of into the cliche, Old Testament literalist, bearded bully just waiting to smite us the second we fall off the mark.

And now we have a doctrinal position put forth by one of our leaders that isn't exactly going to clear up such misconceptions.

To be fair, Nelson correctly identifies God's love as perfect, infinite, enduring, and universal. Taking just these parts of his message, one can rightly envision the God of love Mormonism espoused from its inception. But there's a glaring characteristic of God's love that Nelson doesn't just leave alone--he turns it completely upside down. He theorizes:
While divine love can be called perfect, infinite, enduring, and universal, it cannot correctly be characterized as unconditional. The word does not appear in the scriptures. On the other hand, many verses affirm that the higher levels of love the Father and the Son feel for each of us—and certain divine blessings stemming from that love—are conditional.
The words "follow the prophet" don't appear in the scriptures either, but that doesn't stop the Church from teaching it as the ultimate gospel truth. Using the scriptures the way Elder Nelson does here is always a dangerous game, and I'll tell you why.

It's important to remember we do not believe scriptures are infallible. Even the Book of Mormon acknowledges the possibility of "the mistakes of men" within its covers. We also do not believe that there is any way to interpret scriptures but through the Spirit. In Temple and Cosmos, Hugh Nibley wrote, "We don't have a professional clergy--a paid ministry that gives official interpretation of the scriptures--as we've always said we don't. There's no office in the Church that qualifies the holder to give the official interpretation of the Church. We're to read the scriptures for ourselves, as guided by the Spirit." Not even the folks in upper management can take the place of the Holy Ghost, no matter how much we'd like them to, since it's so much easier to just leave the thinking to them.

You may recall that in Joseph Smith-History, the Prophet observed that "the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling [questions] by an appeal to the Bible" (JS-H 1:12). And such a condition is still prevalent today, even in the restored Church. Without the Spirit, scriptures are just words on a piece of paper, from which the reader is free to draw conclusions based on any number of preconceived notions, past experiences, or partial understandings of contexts and definitions. Scriptures are man's best attempt to transcribe spiritual inspiration into imperfect written language. This is why we must tread carefully before we use isolated verses from even the most inspired of works to prove a point, especially a point that goes counter to our innate understanding of God and principles that were consistently taught by the Church from the pulpit as recently as 1994.

That being said, let's have a look at the scriptures Nelson references. I've separated them into three parts based off the kind of argument being made for God's alleged conditional love. And yes, I'll be asserting my own personal interpretation of their meanings--just as Elder Nelson has. Through the Holy Ghost, that personal revelatory relationship anyone can have with God, it can be revealed to you what is correct.
"If ye keep my commandments, [then] ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love." (John 15:10)
• "If you keep not my commandments, [then] the love of the Father shall not continue with you." (D&C 95:12)
These two verses point to conditionality alright, but it isn't God's love that is conditional. It's our ability to abide (to remain or reside) in it. In other words, when we reject God by disobeying or ignoring him, we are shunning his love. We are not allowing it to work within us. But that does not mean God doesn't love us any more. If that were the case, then he wouldn't love any of us, according to the parameters Nelson believes these verses have set. None of us have kept the Lord's commandments fully our entire lives; so according to this mindset, once we sin, his love for us is no more. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, we go through life in a pattern of ebbs and flows. There are times when we are quick to repent and come unto Christ, and there are times we are not. But that doesn't mean God has left us during the dark times; it means we have left him.

• "If a man love me, [then] he will keep my words: and my Father will love him." (John 14:23)
• "I love them that love me; and those that seek me … shall find me." (Proverbs 8:17)
• "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him." (John 14:21) 
• The Lord "loveth those who will have him to be their God." (1 Nephi 17:40)
Nelson appears to use these four verses not for what they say, but for what they don't say. He is inferring that since the Father loves those who love him, then he must not love those who don't love him. But that is a false conclusion. These verses are entirely focused on the relationship we can have with God if we keep his words and seek after him than they are about the fate of those who do not do such things. If God really doesn't love those who don't love him back, why on Earth would he send his Son to die for the sins of all mankind, knowing most would reject his message?

• "God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him." (Acts 10:34-35)
Frankly, this example is just plain weak. We're not even talking about love here. We're using the much more subdued verb "accepted," which can mean many things, including "approved." I don't have to be a parent to know that I can disapprove of something my child does without losing my ability to love him.

Nelson also goes on to quote multiple verses about the conditional nature of blessings. On this, we pretty much come to agreement. But it's a moot point. Being blessed by the Lord and being loved by the Lord are completely different things, and he unnecessarily conflates the two throughout the piece.

It's also worth noting that even these scriptures don't take all situations into account. For example, one of the verses Nelson quotes, Mosiah 2:22, reads, "if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land; and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you." Smack dab in the middle of King Benjamin's grand sermon--one of my favorite sections of the Book of Mormon--this verse and the many like it still don't tell the whole story.

Context, context, context! Read the next two verses to see what I'm getting at:
"And now, in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him. And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast?" (Mosiah 2:23-24)
It is strongly implied in Nelson's piece that those who follow the commandments will be blessed by the Lord temporally--notice his tithing example and the fact that he uses the verse with the phrase "prosper in the land." But in the follow-up verses, which outline two different ways we are blessed, it sure looks like "prospering in the land" might not be what it may seem on the surface. King Benjamin explains that: 1) we are blessed in that we've been created and simply have life; and 2) we are "immediately" blessed in that God "hath paid us" for following him. The tone here is that we are paid spiritually. "And ye are still indebted unto him"; he's talking about the atonement, and everything that goes into it, which just so happens to be for all mankind.

The reason I bring this up is because there is a tacit belief among the church that God will give us stuff--wealth, health, etc--for following the commandments. That's not always the case. What he gives us is spiritual in nature--instant and direct access to the Atonement, which has already been paid for all, and made available to all. If more understood this, maybe they wouldn't leave the church because they felt ripped off by being faithful followers for years and not having any tangible blessings to show for it. The immediate blessings of which Benjamin speaks are spiritual. The Lord can bless us temporally, and often does, but it would go against the purpose of life for him to always bail us out of every trial we face, no matter how well we follow his commandments.

But I digress. Back to the main point.

Later, Nelson writes:
Why is divine love conditional? Because God loves us and wants us to be happy. "Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God."
I'm left scratching my head on this one. I just don't see how happiness being our objective and divine love being conditional are related. I absolutely agree that the path of virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, and holiness leads to happiness, but it is only while being guided by the Lord's unconditional love are we even able to approach that state. The incorrect implication, as discussed earlier, that God only loves us when we keep the commandments, is a mockery of the atonement. It is only through the atonement--the ultimate expression of God's perfect and infinite love--that we are able to find the eternal joy we are all seeking, not through our own personal ability to keep all the commandments. A lost soul who has rejected or ignored God while living a life of sin is just as much entitled to that love than the super righteous commandment keeper who stayed awake for all ten hours of General Conference. To imply one is loved more than the other runs completely counter to the essence of Christ's teachings.

To be more succinct, it is because divine love is unconditional that we are able to find the happiness God wants for us all.

Understanding that divine love and blessings are not truly "unconditional" can defend us against common fallacies such as these: "Since God’s love is unconditional, He will love me regardless …"; or "Since 'God is love,' He will love me unconditionally, regardless …"
These arguments are used by anti-Christs to woo people with deception. Nehor, for example, promoted himself by teaching falsehoods: He "testified unto the people that all mankind should be saved at the last day, … for the Lord had created all men, … and, in the end, all men should have eternal life." Sadly, some of the people believed Nehor’s fallacious and unconditional concepts.
In contrast to Nehor’s teachings, divine love warns us that "wickedness never was happiness." Jesus explains, "Come unto me and be ye saved; … except ye shall keep my commandments, … ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven."
This section irritates me the most about this article, because it can easily lead the reader to conclude that if he's been "bad enough," God doesn't love him anymore and there is no reason to repent. I'd like to ask Elder Nelson if he could give me a hypothetical example of someone who is no longer loved by God. What sin could we possibly commit to eternally detach ourselves from the love he already admits is infinite, perfect, enduring, and universal?

In reality, the myth of God's conditional love doesn't work when you apply it to either side of the veil. In this life, as long as you're still breathing, you can still repent. You can still access the atonement. It doesn't follow that you can begin down those paths absent God's love.

In the life to come, Mormonism teaches a rather universalist view of salvation. Eventually, everyone who has lived on this planet will be given some degree of glory, save the few sons of perdition who have had a perfect knowledge of God and still rejected him. But I submit that God still loves every single one of them. Does Nelson believe that God would glorify--even to a telestial glory--any of his sons and daughters he doesn't love? Let's remember the telestial kingdom will be comprised of those who were "liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers" who suffered "the wrath of God on earth" and "the vengeance of eternal fire" (D&C 76:103-105). Yet these people will still be saved! Elder Nelson can't pin that teaching on Nehor. Hell, even the sons of perdition await a fate that the "end thereof...no man knows" (D&C 76:45). And then there's all the evidence that ultimately we can progress between kingdoms, but I won't go into that here.

The point is, everyone's situation will be accounted for by the love of God. Some will experience extremely difficult and painful repentance processes, whether in this life or the life to come, but God will never, ever, ever, ever leave them. It is against his nature. Let me illustrate by plugging a powerful book I recently read.
A New York Times bestseller, it's called The Shack, written by Wm. Paul Young. It's about a man named Mack struggling with the brutal murder of his 6-year old daughter, and the healing process he undergoes while spending a weekend at a cabin with God. Even though it may espouse a few ideas counter to LDS thought, I highly recommend it, not necessarily as an exposition on doctrine but as a parable on charity and forgiveness. The underlying message is one of God's unconditional love for every one of his children.

In one part, while talking to Mack about sin, God says, "I don't need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It's not my purpose to punish it; it's my joy to cure it.”

Boy, that last part sure sounds like Moses 1:39, doesn't it? That verse doesn't say that it's the Lord's work and glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man--if they behave themselves, or if he deems them worthy, or if they attend church every Sunday. There are no caveats to his work and his glory. Of course we can only be glorified inasmuch as we allow ourselves to be, but don't get God wrong--his purpose is not to punish sins, but to cure us from them. He wants us all to return to him because he loves us all unconditionally.

Another point I'd like to make is that God is pretty straightforward in regards to his expectations for us and our fellow man. We are commanded to not only love him with all our heart, might, mind, and strength, but our brethren as well. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ invoked: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). Wait a second, we're supposed to LOVE our ENEMIES? How the heck are we supposed to do that? Well, for starters, we can't do it on our own. We must tap into the Christ consciousness, the pure love of God he has for all creation, which will allow us to see others the way that God sees us. The idea that he asks us to love those who hate us while at the same time not following through himself is nonsense. For "God is love" (1 John 4:16). I imagine it's difficult--nay, impossible--for God's defining trait to be dependent upon our minuscule little actions. The funny thing is, because of God's infinite love, our minuscule little actions can take on supreme importance in the eternities.

One final hypothetical for you to consider. Imagine a member of the church who has been inactive for years stumbling upon this talk by Russell Nelson. Perhaps she feels a hole in her life, and has a desire to seek out the Lord again. She turns to back to the Church which she remembers claims modern prophets and apostles commune with God, to whom he make his will known. She is intrigued by the title "Divine Love," and ends up reading the entire thing.

Do you think this article will leave her with a positive impression of the Church of her childhood? Or will she see it as just another futile call for obedience that will hopefully allow us to "qualify," as Elder Nelson puts it, for the blessings of eternal life?

Let me close by invoking The Shack one more time. God reveals to Mack a truth about our relationship with God that puts our entire lives in perspective:

"You... were created to be loved. So for you to live as if you were unloved is a limitation, not the other way around... Living unloved is like clipping a bird's wing and removing its ability to fly... A bird is not defined by being grounded but by his ability to fly. Remember this, humans are defined not by their limitations, but by the intentions I have for them; not by what they seem to be, but by everything it means to be created in my image. Love is NOT the limitation; love is the flying. I AM love."

When it comes to God's infinite love for us, it cannot be limited. It cannot be conditional. Then it would cease to be infinite. It is my hope to all who read this that, if nothing else, they know that God loves them no matter what. Don't believe anyone, regardless of any claimed authority, who tells you otherwise.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Follow The Prophet Endgame

Anyone remotely familiar with the works of anti-Mormon productions has undoubtedly heard of "The Godmakers." A propaganda piece released by Jeremiah Films in 1982, it includes a cartoon of basic "Mormon belief" that can be accessed on YouTube for anyone to see.



The cartoon's goal is to make Mormonism appear like a cult. By making not-so-subtle artistic implications, employing half-truths, and using statements made by LDS leaders of the past, it succeeds in that goal. After watching this clip, the viewer is left feeling a little dirty. The theology of Mormonism is painted to be nothing more than a Christian-based version of Scientology. But not really Christian, of course!

Sometimes I wonder, why is it so easy to make Mormonism appear so silly?

FOLLOW THE PROPHET.

This single "doctrine," amplified over the years by those we've sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators, has led to more trouble for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints than any other. It's a doctrine that, once accepted by its followers, cannot be undone. There's no way to be liberal in the interpretations of things because the rank-and-file membership doesn't have the "keys" to. We have been sucked into the vortex of the circular argument from whence there is no return, as long as we continue this inside-the-box thinking.

You know what circle I'm talking about: The prophet cannot lead the Church astray-->Who said that?--->The prophet-->How do you know it's true?-->Because the prophet said so-->How do you know he's telling the truth?-->Because the prophet cannot lead the Church astray!

Once the assumption has been made that the President of the Church and all his corporate underlings cannot lead their people astray, there's no way to hide from the things that those men do and say.

And unfortunately for the Church, those men have done and said a lot of things, things we may not teach today, but things that stick with us nonetheless. And what happens when people outside the Church come across these scars? Cartoons like "The Godmakers" are produced. And you can be sure that such videos, made by men with their own devious agendas, will cast the Church in the worst light possible, not just the Church in Joseph's days, but the modern Church. (The producers of this video are very careful to always use the present tense when referring to all things the Mormons "teach.")

This is Follow the Prophet endgame, my friends. It doesn't matter how sincerely the Mormons of today proclaim respectable beliefs in doctrines like the Atonement, the love of God, and the worth of souls. Their prophets have advocated some not-so-respectable concepts over the years--polygamy, racism, and exclusion, to name a few--and since we believe in following the prophet no matter what, we are held accountable for those statements.

It's no one's fault but our own, really. Remember Joseph Smith's warning to those who "were depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds, [and] . . . neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves." Well, if this was a problem in the 1840s, it had metastasized by the end of the 19th Century when Wilford Woodruff, speaking for himself, superciliously declared that no President of the Church could lead it astray without God physically removing him from his position. And by embracing this falsehood, our minds remain darkened. Instead of individually determining, through the Spirit, and then being accountable for our own beliefs, as is the organic teaching of Mormonism, we are being told what we believe based off some inane statement made by a general authority 150 years ago.

One might ask, so what? Why does it matter what people think of us? We may have a problem, but it doesn't mean we need to worry about hatchet job cartoons like "The Godmakers." While these people may have a point--we can never quell opposition--people ARE avoiding our Church because of these sorts of things. And it doesn't help that videos like "The Godmakers" appeal to actual statements by LDS leaders through the years. Simply put, if missionary work and reactivation are genuine goals of ours, we need to find a way to escape such damaging stigmas.

The Church has tried to save face on the matter, and in 2007, released the following statement in a piece called "Approaching Mormon Doctrine":

Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted.

This quote is promulgated time and time again on apologist websites, like FAIR LDS, in response to some of the controversial topics related to Mormonism. And while the message of this statement is correct, the Church has not exactly adhered to such a mindset over its history. And if it is indeed true, then it certainly waters down the power of those key-holding revelators at the top of the pyramid, doesn't it? If a single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion isn't binding for the whole Church, then what is? How far can we trust these fallible men? Especially when they decide to "establish doctrine" that conflicts with the standard works?

Don't get me wrong. I understand the position a head prophet plays in the Church. One of his roles is to relay messages directly from God. But when that man is not receiving such messages, when the heavens appear to be closed (to the institutional Church, anyway), when all his statements can be reduced to opinions or rehashes of previous revelations, is it wise to put all our faith in him and the corporate entity he presides over? You don't think outsiders notice this lack of revelation in a Church that claims to be run by it? You don't think those questioning the faith notice an imperfect Church replacing a perfect God as the object of worship? How are we going to grow at the exponential rates we presume we are (the actual numbers are less than staggering) with such a culture of stagnation pervading over us?

I don't think the answer is all that complex. We need to get back to our roots and proclaim our fundamental teachings. We've all but forgotten many of the pure and precious doctrines of the church (lowercase c, as in D&C 10:67), replacing them with the man-made, stifling teachings of the Church (uppercase C, as in the corporate creature that's correlated us to conformity).

Let's never forget one of the most profound things Joseph Smith taught: “Mormonism is truth; and every man who embraces it feels himself at liberty to embrace every truth. Consequently the shackles of superstition, bigotry, ignorance, and priestcraft, fall at once from his neck; and his eyes are opened to see the truth, and truth greatly prevails over priestcraft...The first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation or without being circumscribed or prohibited by the creeds or superstitious notions of men, or by the dominations of one another, when that truth is clearly demonstrated to our minds, and we have the highest degree of evidence of the same.”

This is what Mormonism is. Not the sinister system "The Godmakers" proclaims it to be. And not the stifling system the LDS Church makes it to be. It is simply truth, "let it come from whence it may."

As an aside, the top-rated comment on the YouTube link for this video is from a user with the handle "Joseph Smith," who says, "I don't remember preaching half of this." Ain't that the truth?

Remember, a prophet is only a prophet when acting as such. And to act as a prophet means to directly relay a message from God, through the Spirit. Therefore, I think a better rule to follow than The Fourteen Fundamentals' third idea that a living prophet is greater than a dead prophet would be to ask yourself: who was acting as a prophet more than any other prophet? Why, that would be Joseph Smith. By a mile.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

An Apostate's Reflection On Christ

I believe we can learn from all our brothers and sisters, whether inside the Church or outside, whether loyal to the Church or disaffected by it. Take, for example, Paul Toscano, who spoke at the Sunstone Symposium in 2003, ten years after being excommunicated by the LDS Church as one of the disgraced "September Six." Read (or watch) this refreshingly honest yet stirringly poignant statement he made about testimony and Christ :

I love Jesus even though he may be a fictional character. I see him as a combination of Henry V and Dionysus--a king in disguise among his people, eating of their limitations and drinking of their disappointments, yet able to descend into the abyss and rise again, pulling out of meaninglessness both soul and cosmos.

Testimonies and other expressions of certainty disturb me. But I can say that if Jesus was not the Christ, he should have been. If he is not God, he should be. Even as a fiction, he is the best of all possible deities. His disciples claim that:

-He loves us in our sins, before we love him and more than he loves himself;

-He prizes us above his sovereignty;
-He lays aside the riches of his divinity to assume the poverty of our humanity;

-He offers us joint heirship in all he has claim to;

-He transforms a provincial religion of one God of war and one chosen tribe into a cosmic religion of one God of love and many suffering souls;

-He does not require certainty or purity as conditions of his deliverance, merely that we recognize our lack and long to be filled;

-From his cross, he spoke for all those assailed by doubts when he cried, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

Jesus may be a fiction; but, if so, he is a fiction against which the banalities of history and sociology pale in comparison, a fiction that transforms reality.

Not bad for someone deemed by the brethren to be a wicked apostate. The embattled Toscano, a man openly questioning his faith, is able to outline the magnitude of Jesus Christ's mission more eloquently, shrewdly, humbly, and genuinely than most speakers at general conference ever have.

Do I believe Christ to be my Lord and Savior? You bet. But I also recognize there are many ways to interpret his message, and, as my perspective has widened, I've come to realize that maybe that's the way he intended it. His message is for the whole world, but it can only be implemented on a personal level, heart by heart. Every person on this planet is invited to come unto him, and develop a relationship with him that is unique. It's a relationship that is meant to cultivate our innate goodness to a point in which we not only love God with all our souls, but our fellow man. On these ideas "hang all the law and the prophets" (Matthew 22:40); for if we are found possessed of charity at the last day, "it shall be well" with us (Moroni 7:47).

Christ didn't come so he could establish and then restore a Church™ that would one day spiral into an earthly power struggle for authority culminating in the doctrine of "when our leaders speak, the thinking has been done." No, just the opposite. He came to establish a gospel that rejected such hubris and helotry. His Church is nothing more than the system intended to deliver that message--a message that, the more it is understood and applied, makes the Church less necessary in our lives. A message that, no matter how corrupted the Church may become, is eternal. A message that anyone can start living by right now.

We are treading into dangerous territory when we begin to believe that Christ has put his stamp of approval on every action and position we've taken as a Church. We ignore the Lord's word by giving tacit approval to recent invasive wars, ignoring the poor and the downtrodden, and relying on the arm of the flesh to guide us, yet somehow we're incapable of falling? To quote another non-conformist (but Mormon-friendly), Hugh Nibley, who observed:

The worst sinners, according to Jesus, are not the harlots and publicans, but the religious leaders with their insistence on proper dress and grooming, their careful observance of all the rules, their precious concern for status symbols, their strict reality, their pious patriotism.

It is my hope that we don't fall into the same trap the Pharisees did. We have the power to establish Zion again, but it is up to us to accept Christ's real message on a personal level, heart by heart. Because remember, an organization's leaders are a reflection of its membership. A pious, uncompromising, hierarchical-minded people will produce a pious, uncompromising, hierarchical leadership. And when that happens, good-hearted folks like Paul Toscano, no matter how spiritually attune or dedicated to truth, become pariahs forgotten to history as "apostates." Of this Christ would not approve.