Tuesday, May 14, 2013

10 Breakthroughs The Writers Of The Book Of Mormon Would Like To See

In 1984, just five weeks after the LDS Church pulled off a smoke-and-mirrors act following general conference, Hugh Nibley gave a talk at BYU titled "Breakthroughs I Would Like to See." It was later included in what I consider to be his signature work, Approaching Zion. I'd like to resurrect this theme, and count down (up?) ten changes I believe the writers of the Book of Mormon, if they were alive today, would like to see happen in the modern church.

Obviously I am aware that I can't speak for them, but their words which are contained within 531 marvelous pages speak for themselves. And if they are read and pondered upon by someone with a sincere heart and real intent, he or she might just come to the conclusion that the way we're doing things today just isn't...quite...right. So, using the revelatory words from inspired men like Moroni, Lehi, Mormon, and other esteemed souls from ancient America who contributed to our canon, I have proposed ten ways to fix our current state of stagnation.

1. Bring back the law of consecration and its sister doctrine, the gathering.

And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.
-4 Nephi 1:3
Not surprisingly, Nibley's greatest desire was for the church to return to living the United Order. In Approaching Zion, he drives home the fact that many have covenanted to live the law of consecration, yet without the structure to do so, are unable to. And the law of consecration is not something that can be lived halfway, or in a "spiritual" sense--it must be lived in its pure manner or not at all. Nibley observes:

I am not free to lay out my own plans or justify special routines as the equivalent of keeping the law of consecration. Every attempt at rationalization fails. The plain fact is that I have promised to keep a law, and to keep it now. I know exactly what I am supposed to consecrate, exactly how, exactly why, exactly when, and exactly where. Consecration is the whole of the covenant of Israel. The chosen people themselves are consecrated, qadosh meaning "cut off, set apart," the same meaning as saints—sanc-ti, sancti-fied (cf. sanctum, "a place set apart"). They are called sigillim, which is translated "peculiar" in our King James Bible, but which means "sealed, reserved." What is con-secrated is then made sacred, withdrawn from the ordinary economy, dedicated to a particular purpose and to that purpose only. It can never be recalled or used for any other purpose without being de-secrated.

He adds later, "The individual cannot keep it alone. The essence of the law is sharing." It's easy to convince ourselves we can go it on our own, but when it comes to the law of consecration it simply isn't possible. Only part of the law is about giving; the other part is about receiving according to our needs. You can't share if you don't have people to share with, and you can't receive something no one else is giving.

The reason the gathering doctrine (which we conveniently forget is one of our 13 Articles of Faith) is so important in all this is because we are supposed to be building Zion--not an ethereal, conceptual dream visited in our imaginations but an actual place, a place in which all are on equal ground. There is no other system able to give people a true chance at equality than through making manifest this law, the celestial law. For "Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom; otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself" (D&C 105:5). Salt Lake City isn't Zion. It can't be found in Provo, St. George, or Rexburg either. Nor is it in Missouri. It doesn't exist anywhere because no one is living the requisite law--it's been desecrated. And as long as we're completely ignoring the commandment that the "saints should be assembled upon the land of Zion" (D&C 63:36) it doesn't appear as though it's going to be returning any time soon.

I make the law of consecration #1 because it is so fundamental to living the true gospel, even if we ignore it as a doctrine lost to history. The Lord makes it clear just how fundamental it is. When lived purely, we have Zion, the ideal world, exemplified in 4 Nephi. When turned away from even the slightest amount, we have the world of the natural man, exemplified, well...later in 4 Nephi. The purpose of the law is "that you may be equal in the bonds of heavenly things, yea, and earthly things also, for the obtaining of heavenly things. For if you are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things" (D&C 78:5-6). Once temporal equality has vanished, spiritual equality starts vanishing with it as well. And filling its void is idolatry, which takes many forms--from misguided patriotism to callous Social Darwinism to...prophet worship.

2. Encourage more of the Spirit and less of appealing to "The Brethren."

Now they did not suppose that salvation came by the law of Moses; but the law of Moses did serve to strengthen their faith in Christ; and thus they did retain a hope through faith, unto eternal salvation, relying upon the spirit of prophecy, which spake of those things to come.
-Alma 25:16
To follow the prophet or to not follow the prophet? That is the question.

But maybe it isn't the right question. Since we don't believe in the doctrine of ecclesiastical infallibility (at least we say we don't), what we need to ask is: should we follow the prophet when he is acting as a prophet? To this I would emphatically answer yes. There is a place and purpose for a head prophet, and it's outlined in the scriptures. But first we must sort out when he's actually acting as one.

We've established that prophets are not perfect. We also believe that they are allowed to have opinions of their own, but if you ask most Latter-day Saints for a specific example of an opinion held by a modern prophet that they as a "rank-and-file" members are not subject to, all you'll hear is crickets chirping.

Now, these opinions--if they really do exist--when are the brethren allowed to state them? In the Journal of Discourses? News interviews? BYU Devotionals? General Conference? How do we know where opinion ends and prophecy begins?

If we didn't draw the line somewhere--or in other words, if we just "followed the prophet" no questions asked--we'd be in the awkward position, for example, of preaching that blacks were inferior and that Adam was God, as Brigham Young believed. We don't want to go near that, and understandably so. Which is why we have statements like the one from Apostle D. Todd Christofferson, who admitted just last year that "it should be remembered that not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. It is commonly understood in the Church that a statement made by one leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, not meant to be official or binding for the whole Church."

We often hear the "follow the prophet" argument supplemented by an appeal to Doctrine & Covenants 1:38, which states, "What I the Lord have spoken I have spoken, and I excuse not myself...my word...shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or the voice of my servants, it is the same." On the surface, it seems as if this verse is the smoking gun the follow-the-prophet crowd are looking for. But since the argument is dependent upon these words being spoken by the Lord, conference talks don't quite make the cut, if Elder Christofferson is to be believed. And if he isn't to be believed, then, well, he just spoke false doctrine at conference! You can't have it both ways.

The 1:38 argument also conveniently leaves out that in the exact same section, a few verses earlier, it is stated:

Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments;

And also gave commandments to others, that they should proclaim these things unto the world; and all this that it might be fulfilled, which was written by the prophets--

The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of the flesh--

But that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world.
-D&C 1:17-20
If this doesn't make verse 38 clear as far as what the Lord means by "the voice of my servants," I don't know what can. Hint: it's not just the words of the head honchos in Salt Lake City.

3. Stop confusing sermons with revelation.

O ye wicked and perverse and stiffnecked people, why have ye built up churches unto yourselves to get gain? Why have ye transfigured the holy word of God, that ye might bring damnation upon your souls? Behold, look ye unto the revelations of God; for behold, the time cometh at that day when all these things shall come forth among you.
-Mormon 8:33
Look, I love a good sermon as much as the next guy, but what we're getting from the brethren and...sister...at general conference is not revelation. We get inspirational stories, life lessons, quoting the scriptures, quoting each other, but no revelation. By definition, revelation is something that is "revealed"--it must be something that was previously unknown. And even if a talk is 100% true and doctrinally sound, it doesn't mean it's revelation. It's simply a rehash of what we already know--a sermon. Revelation must be new, and it must be proclaimed as actually being from the Lord. If the best we can do this century is President Monson's declaration to lower the missionary age, there's something amiss.

This verse tells us to "look ye unto the revelations of God." Transfiguration of the holy word of God is a recipe for creating a "wicked and perverse and stiffnecked people." To "transfigure" means to "change in outward form or appearance." Is that not what's been done today? With doctrines like "we don't need 'thus sayeth the Lord'" anymore, is it any wonder we are in this state of sluggishness and confusion?

This confusion is the main reason we're off base in so many of our practices. Instead of reading what it says in our canonized scriptures, including the actual revelations given to Joseph Smith through the Lord, we're choosing instead to play follow the leader. It doesn't matter if God isn't sanctioning the words these men are saying--if "that's the way we do it now," we must follow with unquestioning obedience. And this mindset has metastasized in the modern LDS Church. We're taught to pay more tithing than we should, avoid beer at all costs, and refrain from having public wedding ceremonies--all things contrary to the revealed word, none of which are based on anything even trying to masquerade as revelation. The leaders just say jump, we say how high. So then, it only makes that what we should do is...

4. Either canonize the ersatz scripture we have now or admit God isn't giving the Church revelation anymore.

Behold I say unto you, he that denieth these things knoweth not the gospel of Christ; yea, he has not read the scriptures; if so he does not understand them.
-Mormon 9:8
It seems, for the modern Latter-day Saint, that there are five standard works--the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine & Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and the Ensign archive. The addresses given at general conference twice a year, are considered, for all intents and purposes, scripture.

One might argue that the stories, lessons, quoting the scriptures, and quoting each other I talked about in #3 are all things we find in the scriptures too--and we consider that revelation. Why not conference talks? Well, because they are not speaking for the Lord--they don't even claim to be--and it is unwise to assume that they are speaking for the Lord when no one seems to be in any hurry to canonize them.

The 2013 edition of the scriptures was a prime opportunity for the LDS Church to put its money where its mouth is and actually start putting the words of these alleged modern prophets into our canon. But all we've gotten are a few corrections to the D&C section headings and official declarations. No words from Thomas Monson or Gordon Hinckley. No revelation from any church president since 1918. Why?!

If God is truly communicating to us through these men, these words should be made official by the church. A revelation in 2013 is just as important than a revelation in 1833, if not more so. Didn't Bruce R-Mac say a living prophet was greater than a dead one? Then by all means, let's start doing those revelations justice by adding them to the standard works!

...more crickets chirping...

5. Stop valuing a successful PR campaign over revealed doctrine.

For the time speedily shall come that all churches which are built up to get power over the flesh, and those who are built up to become popular in the eyes of the world, and those who seek the lusts of the flesh and the things of the world, and to do all manner of iniquity; yea, in fine, all those who belong to the kingdom of the devil are they who need fear, and tremble, and quake; they are those who must be brought low in the dust; they are those who must be consumed as stubble; and this is according to the words of the prophet.
-1 Nephi 22:23
The saints are fond of telling people we don't allow the shifting sands of the world affect our doctrines. Unfortunately, this is not entirely the case.

Let me use Gordon Hinckley as an example, president of the church from 1995-2008. While I'm sure Brother Gordon lived an admirable life of service, his dodgy way of answering tough questions on the national stage has led me to question if he was more worried about keeping Mormonism from appearing bizarre than he was declaring the basic articles of our faith.

In an interview with Time in 1997, Hinckley was asked, "Is this the teaching of the church today, that God the Father was once a man like we are?"

His response: "I don't know that we teach it. I don't know that we emphasize it. I haven't heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse. I don't know. I don't know all the circumstances under which that statement was made. I understand the philosophical background behind it. But I don't know a lot about it and I don't know that others would know a lot about it."

Now I appreciate that Hinckley is at least following the principle that no president of the church, or any man, has the authority to declare doctrines which we must believe. ("It feels so good not to be trammeled," said Joseph Smith, about creeds having no business in Mormonism.) But this statement is just a dodge.

First off, note the five instances of "I don't know" coming from the Lord's living oracle in regards to a question about the basic relationship between man and God. He certainly doesn't sound like a man endowed with any special powers.

Secondly, what he's really getting at is that, basically, if something hasn't been "discussed for a long time in public discourse," then it's not a teaching of the church. But that really shouldn't matter, if it was originally a revelation, right? Let's go to the replay:

God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted Man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens. That is the great secret... It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the character of God and to know...that he was once a man like us. Here, then, is eternal life--to know that only wise and true God, and you have got to learn how to become Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you... God himself, the father of us all dwelt on an earth the same as Jesus Christ.
-Joseph Smith
It's not like this is some offhand, off-the-wall quote from Joseph. It remains in our Gospel Principles manual to this day, quoted frequently by members of the church. It's disingenuous for Hinckley to say we don't teach it or emphasize it. We most certainly do. So even if things that weren't discussed for a long time in public discourse magically stopped being doctrine, it wouldn't apply for this one. The only reason I can think of for his evasiveness here was so we could blend in, and attract more traditional Christians, opposed to the idea of God ascending to his position, to our church.

The PR campaign rolls on. The media blitz of "I'm a Mormon" commercials portraying Latter-day Saints as normal, everyday folk was just the next step of the church's continuing giving-in to the cares of the world. And while I don't have a problem clearing up the extreme misconceptions of Mormons being crazy polygamists or secret devil-worshipers, we are supposed to be a "peculiar people." We should stand out, and the "strange" doctrines that have been revealed to us, some of which are uniquely Mormon, should be celebrated, not hidden away just so we can win over more people.

The true church shouldn't need a public relations department anyway. I doubt such a thing existed in ancient times. The main job of PR in a church is to frame its beliefs in a way that makes them more appealing to more people. Or in other words, tricking them.

6. Do away with the corporate structure of the Church.

Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which they are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself. And now, my sons, I would that ye should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life, according to the will of the Holy Spirit.
-2 Nephi 2:27
Why did I select a verse about liberty vs. captivity in a section about the corporatism of the LDS Church? Because corporatism strips away freedom and individuality just as much as any other man-made system. The corporate model is all about the survival and prosperity of the entity--in this case the church. Sure, it claims to be looking out for the little people, but is it? If we don't tow the party line, if we dare espouse doctrine that conflicts with the black suits above, we risk excommunication and the voiding of all our baptismal, temple, and priesthood covenants. Doesn't sound a whole lot different from some companies out there.

All the while, we've set the lessons Joseph Smith taught aside. In a quote I've already borrowed from, he said, “I never thought it was right to call up a man and try him because he erred in doctrine, it looks too much like methodism and not like Latter day Saintism. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be kicked out of their church. I want the liberty of believing as I please, it feels so good not to be trammeled.” Does that sound like the attitude of the church today?

When you read the New Testament gospels, do you associate anything Christ does or says with corporatism? He goes about blessing and feeding the multitudes, he seeks after the one over the ninety-and-nine, he asks us to love our enemies and bless those who curse us. Those things don't exactly help turn profits.

The fact is, we don't need this corporate structure. The rigid system of correlation has practically quelled deep gospel discussion at church, replaced by step-by-step handbooks most are not allowed to see, milquetoast manuals bland enough to induce comas, and "unwritten orders of things" that create insipid and stultifying meetings. We are allowing ourselves to be controlled by an unknown power, and let me tell you something, it isn't God. Lehi's admonition here is to look to the "great Mediator" (Christ), hearken "unto his great commandments" (like that inconvenient one about loving thy neighbor as thyself), "be faithful unto his words," and "choose eternal life." And all this according to whom? The Bishop? The Stake President? The First Presidency? No. The will of the Holy Spirit. Following anything or anyone else is letting go of the iron rod.

 7. Focus more on preaching Christlike love and less on Pharisaical obedience.

Wherefore my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail--But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.
-Moroni 7:46-47
I will give the modern church some credit here. There has been a steady stream of talks about charity lately, and many of them have included many astute observations and admonitions. I recommend Dieter Uchtdorf's "The Merciful Obtain Mercy" as a particularly inspired address (though not to be confused with revelation, as defined earlier).

I see the problem, however, is not a lack of teaching about love but too much teaching about obedience. Don't get me wrong--obedience is a key gospel principle. God "cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance" (D&C 1:31). The commandments are meant to be followed.

But there's a Christlike way to do things and there's a Pharisaical way to do things, and God knows we're not perfect. Though you'd think we'd have learned by now, it's apparent the church just can't get over that urge to be our personal Caiaphas. At the end of the day--as witnessed by this verse in Moroni and the one in Alma 25 quoted earlier--salvation comes through Christ and our faith in him. And if we have invited his charity to enter into us "it shall be well" (salvation mayhaps?); if not, "we are nothing." I get the feeling the brethren understand this concept, but because of the stifling corporate entity constantly feeding all of us the rules rules rules, the message just gets lost in translation. Not that we aren't partially to blame for that; this is what happens when your raison d'ĂȘtre is to follow the precepts of men. You forget to cultivate a loving, genuine, truly penitent self, and instead fret over your every action, or project judgmental attitudes onto others. How dare Brother So-and-So watch the ballgame on a Sunday, or Sister So-and-So put that second earring in!

Whatever happened to principles over rules? Wasn't that the mentality Christ brought with him in fulfilling the law of Moses? Wasn't that the mentality restored through Joseph Smith?

8. Overhaul the missionary program.

Now we shall say no more concerning their preaching, except that they preached the word, and the truth, according to the spirit of prophecy and revelation; and they preached after the holy order of God by which they were called.
-Alma 43:2
Having never served a mission (I was a convert at age 21), perhaps I'm not too qualified to speak on this. But I certainly am aware of how we're coming off to people, and I don't think it's very positive. It seems as though we have it all backwards--when it comes to doctrines and beliefs, we're bowing to the cares of the world (see #6), but when it comes to reaching out to the world and being an attractive force of authentic, loving brothers and sisters in the gospel, we insist on advertising ourselves with an outdated, overly formal, not to mention unscriptural approach of missionary work. We dress up young, naive boys and girls in corporate attire and tell them to convert the masses. We insist on militarizing our missionaries into rigid rules followers who are expected to win converts through a by-the-book, obviously choreographed approach, rather than just leading by the Spirit.

I'm no genius, but here are a few ideas that could work wonders:

  • Principles over rules. If Elder Smith needs ten minutes to himself, trust him. My goodness, I thought we were adults here.
  • Change the attire. It doesn't have to be t-shirt and jeans but at least something that doesn't scream, "I have more in common with Donald Trump than I do with you."
  • Emphasize service more. Instead of the door-by-door approach, which in most neighborhoods has an extremely low success rate in leading to decent conversations--much less baptisms--find ways to show the gospel rather than outline it PowerPoint style. A good place to start might be fewer "zone conferences" (whatever those are) and more blessing the sick, poor, and infirm.
  • Spirit, Spirit, Spirit! We believe in the gift of the Holy Ghost but we sure have trouble trusting it. 1 Nephi 3:7 is one of the most quoted scriptures in all the church, but we rarely allow the Holy Ghost to work in such a way. We instead must be prepared to the tee, with our scripted material and dry manuals doing all the talking. Whatever happened to "according to the spirit of prophecy and revelation"?
  • As a corollary to the previous point, allow for individuality. I truly believe the missionary field to be a form of military service. Individuals give way to the whole--which can be a good thing, but not when that whole is a stifling corporate entity like the LDS Church. We're manufacturing missionary robots who aren't able to connect with people in ways that might be more effective because we're so worried about following every last rule the Almighty Handbook lays out.
I mean no offense to anyone who has served a mission, and I should add that I've met some very good missionaries. I'm also sure there have been very good mission presidents, who have gotten the most out of their missionaries by focusing on some of these pure gospel principles. I just observe a general pattern of stagnation, and I think a few corrections could really work miracles in the lives of so many more people.

 9. Allow the members to know exactly how their money is being spent.

For behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you that the Lord God worketh not in darkness.
-2 Nephi 26:23
I won't dwell too long on this, because, honestly, it's just common sense. And there is already a fantastic website dedicated to making this change happen. It's called By Common Consent, and I urge all who have felt a testimony of the truthfulness of this principle to sign it.

Basically, before 1959, the LDS Church gave a full disclosure of all its financial accounting. Now, it does not. The decision was not based upon any appeal to further revelation or even scripture. It just happened. And that was that. Today, anyone who makes a squawk about it is accused of having a lack of faith. But my question to such accusers is, a lack of faith in what? That multi-billion corporation in Salt Lake City that commands we fork over 10% of our take-home pay even though it stopped reporting its financial accounting under suspicious conditions fifty years ago? Well duh. You see, I read my scriptures and I know that the Lord God worketh not in darkness.

10. Make worship the appealing, exciting, uplifting, supremely spiritual experience it should be.

Now this was what Ammon desired, for he knew that king Lamoni was under the power of God; he knew that the dark veil of unbelief was being cast away from his mind, and the light which did light up his mind, which was the light of the glory of God, which was a marvelous light of his goodness--yea, this light had infused such joy into his soul, the cloud of darkness having been dispelled, and that the light of everlasting life was lit up in his soul, yea, he knew that this had overcome his natural frame, and he was carried away in God.
-Alma 19:6
Be honest. When was the last time you felt truly "carried away in God" at church? Now I certainly won't doubt anyone's experiences, and I'm sure the Holy Ghost can still communicate with us in our meetings today, but the modern LDS Church isn't exactly a fostering ground for such events.

Read this verse carefully. Such rich, descriptive language of a profoundly spiritual experience. Unbelief cast away from a mind. Light infusing joy into a soul. A cloud of darkness being dispelled. The most we hear about spiritual occurrences these days is that stuff like this doesn't usually happen, or that we shouldn't expect it to. When the "burning in the bosom" experience is spoken of, it's usually from people commenting that it's never happened to them.

The Spirit has been turned into a quiet little mouse spooked at any loud noise, regardless of whether it's approbatory to God or not. Our meetings today would be completely foreign to Joseph Smith and the church he founded. This is supposed to be the living church, one of joy and acclamation. Do you get that vibe on your typical Sunday? I don't exactly feel it during all the procedural blatherings, from "We now turn the time over to the Elder's Quorum" to "President Johnson is presiding over this meeting." I don't exactly feel it when we play the same 20 songs at tortoise speed on our choice of one of two instruments. I don't exactly feel it when, depending on my calling, an average Sunday can accumulate as many as six hours of meetings.

Am I wrong for thinking that church could be exciting again? Am I wrong for thinking that church should be a place we should want to go to, rather than feel obliged to go to?

If we really understood our religion, and just how deep it is, things might be different. It's more than old men in suits telling us what to do so that we can go to heaven. Mormonism is actually an intensely profound, eye-opening, mind-broadening, metaphysical, religious equivalent to the Theory of Everything. It encompasses all truth, not just what can be found in our Gospel Principles manual, but any correct principle in the universe. Imagine if we taught these things in our Sunday services.

I wish we could get our minds out of the corporate box and start realizing that the gospel is so much more than we give it credit for. We can change this. Remember, we are the church.


  1. An interesting perspective on the law of consecration: http://denversnuffer.blogspot.com/2010/09/2-nephi-32-9.html

  2. Excellent article! I was again tempted to start going back to church this past weekend, because of all the wonderful people and because I miss fellowship with the Saints. Reading this has shaken me back into the reality that I've already taken the red pill and can never "go back".

    1. Thank you for the compliment, Winnie. I would reiterate, however, that it is the members who are the church. So if you have a testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, don't let the Church(TM) get in the way of you pursuing those truths and following the desires of your heart (fellow-shipping the wonderful people you miss). While I understand the mindset behind completely disassociating from the church, it's not your only option. As someone who still attends his ward regularly, I would love to see more people like you come through the doors. I believe that "red pill" perspective is something that is severely lacking. The testimony of such souls could actually serve to strengthen a ward, in my opinion. But either way, I appreciate your candor and wish you the best, whatever path the Lord has for you.

  3. You forgot 11.) Expel plural marriage from the church. Clear Joseph Smith's name, and expose Brigham's cover-up and false attachment of the doctrine to Joseph Smith. (Jacob 2).