Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Leadership Hustle

Previously: My Favorite Anti-Mormon

Around the middle of the 20th century, about the time N. Eldon Tanner was leapfrogged into Church leadership due to his talent for raising money, the LDS Church began a gradual shift in the type of men selected for leadership roles. As the old theologians died off, they were often replaced by men with backgrounds in business, law, and finance. These former executives may not have been accomplished scriptorians like their predecessors, but they had other skills the Church needed at the time.

This was the era of The Organization Man, when terms like "effective leadership" and "fast track to management" were buzzwords heard in the corporate boardrooms where many of these future Church leaders were plucked from. And the leadership track was working in those venues, no doubt about it. Train your employees in the art of effective leadership, and your entire company will prosper.

You won't get an argument from me on that. In the business world, effective management training at all levels is essential for the success of any company. I've been there, done that, and had a small share of success.  I'm pro free enterprise, so I understand how important it is for any large company to have someone -often several someones- trained to inspire the employees below them to stay motivated. Effective leadership in business is the key to getting things done properly and efficiently. Leaders instill vision. No vision, and your business goes stagnant.

The only problem with the leadership track is that not every management technique that works in the corporate world can properly be adapted to a church.  Where there are leaders there must be followers, and in most companies even the leaders are following leaders of their own, each manager accountable to a manager above him, all the way up to the CEO.

But the church was never intended to operate under a top down paradigm. There isn't supposed to be anyone in the church "below" anyone else, so who is the leader supposed to be leading? All are alike unto God, our scriptures teach us, and no man is authorized to manage, direct, or impose his will on another.

The Church of Jesus Christ is supposed to be a level field where no man holds title or position above another (Alma 1:26). Jesus Himself defines His church as a community of like-minded individuals with a common bond, i.e. all have repented of their sins and come unto Him (D&C 10:67). That community of believers is the church. So if the church has a leader, that leader is Jesus Christ and him alone. There is no accommodation in scripture for members of the body of Christ to follow anyone except their heavenly King. Scripture emphatically and repeatedly warns against it.

In Joseph Smith's day there were callings in the church, to be sure, but none ranked above the other in importance the way they do today.  The LDS church in the Kirtland/Missouri/Nauvoo era was patterned after the primitive Christian church, where Paul tells us Jesus called some of the members to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). But these were not management positions. These callings implied a responsibility to serve their brothers and sisters, not to manage and direct them.

If you doubt things are different in our day, you need only consult this statement that was issued by the Church PR department. [1]
The Church is led by 15 apostles. The most senior apostle is the president of the Church, and he selects two other apostles as counselors. These three function as the First Presidency, which is the highest governing body of the Church. Twelve others form the Quorum of the Twelve — the second-highest governing body of the Church. Together, the First Presidency and the Twelve oversee the entire Church. (emphasis mine.)
_________________________________
[1 ] If you wonder why a church needs a PR department, you're beginning to ask the right questions. 

The prophet Joseph was once asked how he governed such a disparate group of people. He seemed to think the question was a foolish one, because he answered, "I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves."

Setting aside for a moment that Joseph Smith would have rejected the notion that church members would require a first presidency to act as overseer to them, when we read that statement from the PR department we should be asking another question: why are the Twelve Apostles declared to be "the second highest governing body of the Church" at all, seeing as how our founding prophet strictly prohibited them from getting anywhere near church government?
"The Twelve will have no right to go into Zion or any of its stakes and there undertake to regulate the affairs thereof where there is a standing High Council. But it is their duty to go abroad and regulate all matters relative to the different branches of the church." (Joseph Smith, Kirtland Council Minutes, quoted in William Shepard and H. Michael Marquardt, Lost Apostles: Forgotten Members of Mormonism's Original Quorum of the Twelve, pg 85-86)
The modern institution that calls itself "The Church"(TM) proudly furnishes a corporate flow chart showing the president of the church at the top, flanked by his two counselors, with a considerable list of officers and managers below them.

                                   

Do you notice anything missing from that chart? How about the High Council? Where did they go?

Answer: After the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum, Brigham Young threatened members of that body with excommunication if they would not defer to his wishes, and eventually abolished it altogether because the High Council stood in the way of his ambition to lead the church.

If there was an entity actually authorized to govern the affairs of the church, it wasn't the First Presidency, and it wasn't the Twelve Apostles. It was the High Council, which acted both as a court to settle disputes, and a decision-making body over Church affairs:
October 21, 1839; Monday.  The High Council met according to adjournment of the 20th inst Oct 21st 1839 -1st. Shall Joseph Smith Jun go to Washington D.C. or not- Answer It is voted as follows viz 5 voted to have him go and 2 voted for him not to go. (John Dinger, The Nauvoo City Council and High Council Minutes, pg 342)
This is instructive because it reminds us that even the prophet himself had to go before the council to seek approval in some matters; he was not some Grand Poobah in the church with carte blanc authority to do as he wished. (You may recall if you read my post on tithing that Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon went before the High Council to request a salary, which was ultimately denied.)

There is to be no hierarchy in the church if the church is run properly. Back then, unlike today, the Twelve apostles did not give instructions to the Seventies, and the First Presidency did not hold rank over the Quorum of the Twelve or the Quorum of Seventy. All offices were completely independent of each other. The Lord wanted it that way because the Lord understands the proclivity of men to overstep their boundaries.

In the 1840's Church affairs were governed by the High Council, and priesthood authority came not through the president but through the Patriarch. Today, however, both offices have been quietly (some would say secretly) abolished without any revelation received on the matter. That's too bad, because those two offices were the least threatening to the well-being of the members. But those offices were a stumbling block to those desiring control over the church, so it's easy to see why they had to go. Today the church that Jesus Christ set up through His prophet has been supplanted with the corporate leadership model.

In November of 1923, under the advice of attorneys, Church President Heber J. Grant converted the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from an independent religious society founded under the laws of God, into a legally recognized corporation chartered under the laws of the United States government. The advantage of incorporation was that the Church could now legally operate free from the constraints imposed by scripture. President Grant even legally changed the name of the church from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to The Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, conveniently neglecting to mention the name change to the members, as well as forgetting the Lord's warning in 3rd Nephi that "if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man."

But no matter. This was a new era, a time when the Church would soon be boasting of becoming a worldwide church,  And a worldwide church would need dynamic new leaders to help it meet the challenges of the 20th Century. That meant adopting worldly programs if necessary to meet those needs.

Bring 'Em Young
In volume 2, at page 818 of The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, we are told that "leadership training of LDS boys and girls begins at a very young age." Why it would be necessary to have twelve-year-olds preside over each other as Deacons and Beehives was something I never grasped the importance of at the time, and I still don't. I was a counselor to the Deacon's Quorum President back in the day, and all three of us -president and counselors- felt the callings were a meaningless joke, since our teacher -excuse me, I think I meant to say "Deacon's Quorum Advisor,"- held all the knowledge and all the power over us and every other pubescent goof-off in the room.  I'm convinced today that these titles are nothing but a ploy to get the boys and girls acclimated to the leadership track at an early age.

The word "Priesthood," which actually has nothing whatever to do with managing or governing, has now come to be synonymous with "Leadership." And leadership implies management and governing skills.  Before long every young man who was ordained to the priesthood was taught that the way to "magnify his priesthood" -a phrase with no discernible meaning- was to aspire to leadership within the church.

To be fair, all of us were taught that it was not appropriate to "aspire" to church leadership. That would be unseemly.  But those offering us that caveat were speaking out of both sides of their mouths, because even as we were being taught to be humble and docile and look not to the ways of the outside world, we were encouraged to read books on leadership by general authorities that were based completely on their former successes in the outside world.

Foremost among these general authorities was Sterling W. Sill, a highly successful former insurance executive who published over thirty self-help books while he held office in the church, and nearly all of them meant to turn young priesthood holders into effective leaders. His books had such titles as The Law of Success, The Way of Success, How To Personally Profit From The Law of Success, and his hefty three volume magnum opus, Leadership, a set that was required reading for any young priesthood holder who hoped to make it to the celestial kingdom.

The year before I left on my mission, apostle Paul Dunn came out with a huge Church bestseller titled The Ten Most Wanted Men. Every Mormon man who aspired to personal greatness read that book. It described the type of future leader "most wanted" by the Church (and perhaps some future employer), and taught the reader the steps necessary to cultivate those qualities within himself. Such a leader would be "The man who can counsel others," "The man who knows how to delegate," "The man who knows how to call others to leadership opportunities," and so on. Given what we later found out about the author, it should come as no surprise that the list did not include "The man who is scrupulously honest."

In the face of all these books, lesson plans, and fireside talks encouraging us to excel as leaders, it was not always easy to comport oneself with the requisite humility when finally given a calling. Anyone who served a mission in the 1970's as I did knew that being called to be a District Leader, Zone leader, or Assistant to the President was a grand promotion that set you apart and above your fellows in the field. You couldn't help but be proud of your new calling. It's the first thing the young Elder wrote home about. And when he returned home it was often the thing he listed at the top of his resume under "EXPERIENCE."

And what was the function of these mission leaders? Very similar to the function of a leader in the the world of commerce. The District Leader had the responsibility of calling the missionaries in his district to get a report on the numbers for that week: how many hours did you tract, how many Books of Mormon did you place, how many referrals did you get from the members, how many discussions taught, and how many baptisms (if any)?

The District Leader would then phone his leader, the Zone Leader, and report all the numbers he got from the missionaries in his district. Then the Zone Leader would phone his leaders, the Assistants to the President, who compiled all the totals and submitted them to their leader, the Mission President. The Mission President then reported those totals to his leader, who was some member of the Quorum of Seventy back in Salt Lake. And so it went all the way up to the Quorum of the Twelve.

The bottom-line question in any corporate business is "how many products did we sell?" In the boardroom of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, that question translated as, "how many baptisms did we get?"

If the total number of baptisms in my mission are lower this quarter than they were the previous one, my mission president knows he's going to be leaned on by corporate to get those numbers up. So he'll bring in the AP's and tell them they have to do better; the AP's in turn will lean on the ZL's to do better; the ZL's will lean on the the DL to do better; and the DL will ride my butt to get out and do more tracting.

And that's what passes for "leadership" among Mormon missionaries.

I'm sorry to say that as a missionary my focus was not on how many people I had helped bring to Christ, but on how many people I could persuade to join my church. The leadership training we received as missionaries was virtually identical to the training Sterling Sill gave to his insurance salesmen back when he was at New York Life: it's a numbers game. The more people you approach, and the more people who say no, the greater the odds that ultimately you'll come across a prospect who says yes. You just have to be willing to make it through dozens or hundreds of "no's" before you finally get that sale. So the secret to becoming a successful missionary is you stay out there and keep knocking on doors until you get a fish on the end of your line.

I won't say my mission was a waste of time because it wasn't. About half the people I helped to convert remained faithful in the gospel. But I recall the many times I met people who knew Christ better than I did, but who had no interest in joining my church. I could have found common ground with so many of these good people, and I would have most certainly been edified by accepting their hand of friendship and engaging in fruitful discussions about God's love, with no pressure to get them to change.

But I failed to do that. My role as a missionary, as I understood it, was to get people to join my church, and every moment wasted talking with an already converted Christian who held no interest in joining was time that could be better spent searching for that elusive "golden contact." So my companion and I might teach one or two discussions to these committed Christians, but when it became obvious we just weren't going to close the sale, we would, in the lingo of missionaries, "dump them" and not go back.

Some of the leadership training I got through the church came in handy in my later professional life. But that's the sad irony, isn't it? If my goal was to find success in Mammon, I could have (and did) study these methods on my own. The Church should have been focusing on saving souls rather than training up an army of future business leaders. So although I did come out of it with management skills that served me in my professional life, in the end even that brand of success wore thin.

Because the sad truth is that leadership, even as taught within the Church of Christ, by its very nature carries with it the responsibility of imposing your will on others in ways that are sometimes harsh and unfeeling. If you aspire to leadership, hurting other people comes with the territory. Sometimes I was forced to fire someone who worked for me, not always because I wanted to, or even needed to, but because I had some leader of my own back at company headquarters who demanded it of me. Depriving other people of their livelihood was a function of leadership I did not much care for, so I eventually took up a line of work where the only person who ever got fired was me.

After all is said and done, the only self-help book that really made an impression on me in my youth was Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People, which I don't think ever made it onto the Deseret/Bookcraft list of essential reading. That book taught me to treat everyone I meet with kindness, while some of the leadership techniques touted in books by church authorities preached kindness on the one hand, but subtle manipulation on the other.

I often wonder, had I not been constantly exposed to years of indoctrination into the importance of leadership within the church, if I might have sooner come to the realization that modern church leaders possess neither the gifts nor the authority God gave to Joseph Smith. Why had it never occurred to me to ask myself why I should look to their teachings the way I looked to the teachings of Joseph Smith, since none of them had ever had an audience with God the way Joseph Smith had?

These were men who purported to be the successors of the prophet Joseph Smith in every way, yet none of them ever received or conveyed a single revelation from God as Joseph Smith had. I looked to them as if every utterance from their mouths was divine. I put these undeserving men on pedestals and made them my idols for no other reason than they held high callings and station and leadership titles in the Church. I should have been more circumspect, but I blindly followed these men because they were my leaders and they told me to.

Today I follow Jesus Christ and no other. Leaders are for suckers.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

My Favorite Anti-Mormon

Previously: Why Our Scriptures Need An Overhaul

Unexpected circumstances recently took me from our home in Sandpoint, Idaho all the way back to Utah, and while I was in Salt Lake City I was the guest on Shawn McCraney's live-streaming telecast, "Heart of the Matter."

Shawn McCraney and I had never met in person prior to the night of the telecast, but we have communicated with each other by phone and email a few times over the past decade. What struck me as I watched the telecast later was the realization that here I was having a perfectly enjoyable conversation with a man that only a dozen years ago I would have shunned as my enemy.

Shawn and I have a few differences that in the past I would have felt divided us irrevocably. For instance, I embrace the Book of Mormon. Shawn does not. I believe Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God. Shawn does not.

Shawn has, in fact, devoted a good portion of his life attempting to rescue believing Mormons from what he feels is their delusions. As a formerly devout latter-day Saint himself, Shawn is intimately familiar with the history and doctrines of the church, and he not only rejects them, he vociferously denounces the entire religion as fraudulent. So you can understand why, when I first came across Shawn McCraney on the internet, I considered him a traitor to the faith -as indeed many active latter-day saints still do today. Yet when Shawn and I finally met in person we embraced each other as brothers.

Why is that?

Because the thing that unites Shawn and I is more powerful than that which divides us. We share an abiding love for one another because we both embrace Jesus Christ as our Savior and Redeemer. And that, I can tell you, easily overcomes any religious differences or dogmas. For those who share a unity in Christ, Denominational differences can easily be set aside. They are simply not that relevant.

I happen to believe that the core fundamentals of what we call "Mormonism" are true and valid, but that many of those truths revealed through Joseph Smith have since been warped, corrupted, or outright ignored by those who assumed authority over the church after Joseph's death. The real traitors to the faith were Joseph Smith's purported friends who considered "authority" the ultimate determinant of what is important to the religion, rather than focusing on the pure word of God. After Joseph's death they lied about Joseph Smith when it served their own purposes. They lied about the things Joseph adamantly opposed, and they lied when they claimed Joseph passed his authority on to them.

Today the LDS Church is led by descendants of those original usurpers, men every bit as convinced of their divine right to ownership of the religion as were Caiaphas and Annas in their day.

So Shawn McCraney and I have something in common after all. We are both convinced that religious dogma will not save; only Jesus saves. And any church that requires its members to profess fealty to the leaders of that church is leading those members astray.

In my interview, I tell how the LDS Church today is actively disciplining faithful members who refuse to bow the knee to Church leadership. Members who testify of a desire to "become closer to Christ" are, in the eyes of Church leadership, using "code words" that mark them as being on the road to apostasy. Anyone who admits to following the teachings of the Book of Mormon too closely is at risk of being disfellowshiped or excommunicated.

These days it is not people like Shawn McCraney who are driving Mormons out of the church. The ones responsible for the exodus today are the leaders of LDS Inc themselves. Like the high priests in Jesus' day, they falsely teach the people that they are the ultimate authority and that safety is only assured if you "keep your eyes riveted on the leadership of the Church."

This is something Jesus never taught. It is false doctrine. Our eyes should be riveted on Jesus Christ and Him only. Anyone who teaches contrary to that is on the high road to apostasy, and will lead you astray.

I very much enjoyed the time I spent in the cheery company of Shawn McCraney. There is something very uplifting about being in fellowship someone with whom we share the unity of Christ.  The person I was a dozen years ago would have thought Shawn McCraney was my enemy. Now I know he is my brother. I really love this guy.

You can watch the one hour interview by going to the Heart of the Matter website, or right here:




Update:
Here is a link to a blog post relevant to the conversation Shawn and I had together:
The Refiner's Fire

And here is where you can find evidence that the Book of Mormon took place in North America, including the latest archaeology, DNA research, etc:
http://bookofmormonevidence.org/

By way of correction, at about the 12:10 mark in the interview, I incorrectly stated that the Documentary History of the Church had been doctored by Joseph Smith. What I meant to say was that it had been doctored by Brigham Young in order to put words in Joseph Smith's mouth that Joseph never said.  You can read more about that here.  

By the way, I am well aware that I talked and talked and talked too much in that interview, so you don't have to point that out to me. My wife already has.

                                                                    *****

Announcements:
I mentioned above that I was unexpectedly called to Utah. Connie's aunt had died a few months ago, and someone needed to go down there and retrieve the possessions in the name of the family. Aunt Mary Lou had taken out a reverse mortgage on the house she lived it, so the property was being reposessed by the bank. But the contents of the house belong to Connie and her siblings, and though there wasn't much of value, we brought back what shoes, clothing, and blankets we could here to Northern Idaho. Our fellowship is preparing a sort of "Bishop's Storehouse" of goods we hope to make available to those in need during the coming days, so we had permission from Connie's siblings to donate anything we could find of value for that purpose.

I'm mentioning this only because I owe a great debt of gratitude for all those who showed up to assist me in sorting through the stuff and helping to rescue it. Without your assistance everything would have wound up in a landfill once the house was foreclosed upon. These were all the worldly goods and family mementos of Connie's deceased grandparents as well as her uncle and aunt, all now passed. She was heartbroken at the prospect that everything that ever meant anything to her family would soon be junked.

So to those kind people who showed up to assist me, a very gracious "thank you." Your help meant a lot to me, and the fact that I had never met any of you in person (aside from the three friends who came down from Sandpoint) just seems miraculous. It's hard to fathom that so many who have never met me would be so ready to give of their time. So again I thank you, Connie thanks you, and Connie's sister and two brothers also thank you for saving their family's meager possessions from ending up in the trash for all time.

And best of all, some good people who are in need of something to wear and keep them warm will one day have what they need because of your kind deeds. So I also thank you in advance on their behalf.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Re-Examining Our National Delusion

Previously: Joseph Smith's Big Mistake

With the fourth of July fast approaching, I am reminded of an incident that happened this time of year to a Mormon couple I now count among my closest friends. Gintaras and Nancy Genys were the founders of a private Christian school in Arizona that catered mostly to the children of LDS parents who sought an education for their children free from State control.

But Nancy was unaware of how tightly the State had already gripped the parents of her students, because after she introduced those children to the factual history presented in a blog post I had written, many of those students complained bitterly to their parents.  Within days those parents came to the school in the middle of the day and literally yanked their kids out.  Every one of those parents who withdrew their children then rushed them into the safety of the local government propaganda mills.

Someone reported Nancy to her bishop. One thing led to another, and Nancy's search for continuing truth eventually got her and her husband forced out of the Church.

All this because she had tried to reverse some of the false traditions that had been inculcated into the children she was entrusted to teach. All she had intended to do was help break the hundred-year grip the State had on a new generation of youngsters. Everything she introduced in her lesson was documented truth. Not even a hint of falsehood.

Eventually, with most of her students gone, Nancy's school folded. For her and her husband, it was a loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars, all gone in a matter of months. They lost everything they had worked for, including their home.

They also lost most of their friends. Because when you resolve to put Christ first in your life, you can expect to be ill-treated by those who think God smiles on His people when they bow to idols.

Nancy and her husband now live up here in Northern Idaho not far from my neck of the woods. She and Gintaras are as devoted to the gospel of the Restoration as ever; more so, I'd say. They have a lot less material wealth than they once did, but then they are much freer now than they used to be. Too bad we can't say the same for those former students, many of whom are now growing into adulthood still chained to the vain traditions of their fathers.

That blog post that got Nancy into so much trouble with her local Mormon community is as pertinent today as it was six years ago. And just as offensive to some folks, I reckon.

You can read it here. That is, if you dare:

"One Nation Under Babylon."

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Joseph Smith's Big Mistake

Which of these things is not like the others?
Previously: Rejected Gospel

First time readers might look at the title of this piece and mistakenly assume I am a critic of Joseph Smith. But long-time readers know I hold Brother Joseph in the highest regard. I believe he was divinely appointed by God to be the prophet of the Restoration, that he translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God, that he received direct revelations from the mouth of God which he then conveyed to the world, and that on several occasions he enjoyed a personal audience with Jesus Christ.

That's not to say the man was perfect. Jesus Himself called Joseph Smith on the carpet more than once for demonstrating poor judgment. So let's start by acknowledging that the man was human like the rest of us.

While I recognize Joseph Smith as a true prophet, seer, and revelator, I do think he made one gigantic error, an error that continues to have negative repercussions today within the LDS Church, warping our collective assumptions about what a prophet of the Lord should be.

 So what, you may ask, was that mistake?

It happened in 1832 at a conference of the fledgling church in Amherst, Ohio, at a time when the total membership of the church was little more than two or three hundred strong. Two years previously, Joseph Smith had been called of God and ordained an apostle of Jesus Christ. His official designation at that time was "first elder" of the church, which was not a priesthood office but merely a title predicted by John the Baptist, and accepted by the 27 other members present. (Joseph Smith History 1:72) His actual priesthood calling, which he obtained from the Lord, was as an apostle, and along with that calling God had designated him a prophet, a vessel through whom God's words were to be disseminated to the world.

On January 2nd of 1832, the Lord gave a revelation through the prophet which, among other things, instructed the saints to elect certain men whose job it would be to look to the poor and the needy within the church and administer to their relief. "And this shall be their work," the Lord continued, "to govern the affairs of the property of this church." (D&C 38:35-36)

So three weeks later, when Joseph and Emma arrived at the conference in Amherst, one of the orders of business was to choose those men who would govern the temporal affairs of the church. Joseph Smith was himself nominated, then elected by the people to be the new "President of the High Priesthood."

And so it was that two years after the church had been organized, the newly created office of president -an administrative office that could have been held by Joseph's brother Hyrum, or Oliver Cowdery, or Sidney Rigdon, or David Whitmer, or pretty much anybody else- was intertwined with the divine calling of a prophet, seer, and revelator. And few there be in the church today who are able to untangle that titular mess.

Here's what Brigham Young had to say some years after Joseph's death:
"Perhaps it may make some of you stumble, were I to ask you a question—Does a man’s being a Prophet in this Church prove that he shall be the President of it? I answer, no! A man may be a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, and it may have nothing to do with his being the president of the Church. Suffice it to say, that Joseph was the president of the Church, as long as he lived: the people chose to have it so. He always filled that responsible station by the voice of the people. Can you find any revelation appointing him the President of the Church? The keys of the Priesthood were committed to Joseph, to build up the Kingdom of God on the earth, and were not to be taken from him in time or in eternity; but when he was called to preside over the Church, it was by the voice of the people; though he held the keys of the Priesthood, independent of their voice.” (Journal of Discourses 1:133)
A few years after being elected president, Joseph attempted to have his brother Hyrum take over all of his duties, because for one thing the office of Patriarch was a greater church office than the office of President, and if the church were to be governed by someone, it should be governed by the patriarch. For another, Joseph Smith had grown past the church, which he understood to be but a stepping-stone to his greater calling: to help bring about the Kingdom of God on earth. The kingdom, which, as we have seen, is perceptually distinct from the Church, was where Joseph's overriding interest now lay. So he tried to turn responsibility for the church over to Hyrum. But the vision of the members was narrower than Joseph's and they would have none of it. Members of the church tended not to heed Hyrum Smith, despite Joseph's counsel that they should. They wanted the prophet to also preside over them. They wanted him to run their church.

The reason I feel it was a mistake for Joseph to go along with the people's wishes and take on the church's administrative duties, is because to this day most members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints don't seem to understand that those roles are vastly different. Over time we have conflated the office of the President with the divine calling of a prophet, even though one has virtually nothing to do with the other.

Take a look at the collection of pictures at the top left corner of this essay. Each of those men has held the office of president of the church. But only one -the first one- has ever made the claim that he was a prophet of God. Indeed, out of all the men pictured, Joseph Smith was the only one who has ever been endorsed by God as His prophet. (See this previous post for a partial list of the Lord's scriptural endorsements.) God instructed the saints to "heed [Joseph's] words" as he receives them from God's own mouth. (D&C 21:4-5) The Lord has never given similar instructions to the church regarding any subsequent president. Not once.

What's more, Brigham Young specifically denied being a prophet, and he denied he was Joseph Smith's legal successor. Decades later president Heber J. Grant said he knew of no instance where the Lord has appeared to an individual since His appearance to the Prophet Joseph Smith. Likewise, you won't find one instance where any president of the Church, from Brigham Young through Thomas Monson, has claimed to have the gifts of a prophet, seer, or revelator. He does, however, tend to sit back and allow his underlings to heap adoration on him, describing him with adoring terms such as "our beloved prophet." But I have never heard a sitting president refer to himself as a prophet, seer, or revelator, or affirm he has any of those gifts and abilities. In fact, Joseph F. Smith and Thomas S. Monson both went out of their way to dodge the question when asked point-blank.

Don't you think that's odd? Out of that entire bunch -16 presidents over a period of 187 years- Joseph Smith was the only one who boldly made the claim to being the mouthpiece of the Lord.

We seem to be deeply conditioned to believe that any man who ascends to the presidency of the Church has somehow been appointed to that office by God. And we also assume, despite a complete lack of evidence, that the same time the Lord chooses a man to be president, he has also bestowed upon that man the gifts and abilities of a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator.

But here's something worth remembering: although God did anoint Joseph Smith to be a prophet, a seer, and a revelator, he did not anoint him to preside over the church. That was a separate administrative office requiring a differing set of skills, and God left it up to the members to choose who they wanted to preside over the church. Why? Because God never imposes his will on anyone, and a president is required at times to decide temporal matters affecting the congregation. Therefore the congregation was instructed by God to vote for whomever they wanted in that office.

A prophet is a divinely appointed calling, while a president is an administrative one. Anybody could have been elected president of the church, but not anybody can be a prophet. Joseph Smith's role as president required him to wear two different hats, depending on the occasion; sometimes he acted in his capacity as a prophet, and other times he acted in the administrative role as president of a religious society.

This modern conflation of prophet into president has caused us to lose sight of the prophet's true purpose. According to Elder B.H. Roberts, being a teacher is the prophet's "highest and noblest calling."
"First of all, a word of definition: This term "prophet" -what do you make of it? Generally, when you speak of a "prophet," you have in mind a predictor of future events, one who foretells things that are to come to pass, and indeed that is, in part, the office of a prophet -in part what is expected of him.

"But really this is the very least of his duties. A prophet should be a "forth-teller" rather than a fore-teller. Primarily he must be a teacher of men, and expounder of the things of God. The inspiration of the Almighty must give him understanding, and when given he must expound it to his people, to his age. He must be a Seer that can make others see. A Teacher that can make others see. A Teacher sent of God to instruct a people -to enlighen an age. This is the primary office of a prophet." (B.H. Roberts, Joseph Smith The Prophet-Teacher, 1907.)
Where Are The Revelations? 
Twice a year for most of my life I've plopped myself down in front of the TV during conference sessions expecting to be taught a message from the Lord coming through the president of the church. At least since Gordon Hinckley was president, I've paid close attention, listening for a message direct from the Lord -the type of clear, unmistakable oracles that members of the Lord's church received through Joseph Smith on a regular basis.

I don't know about you, but I don't recall being taught much that was noteworthy from either Gordon Hinckley or from Thomas Monson. I've watched over the years as they both conduct meetings, make announcements, report policy changes, introduce speakers, tell stories, compliment the choir, admonish us to pay tithing, and warn us to obey them. But I've never heard either of them impart any new or worthwhile information as Joseph Smith constantly did. I've never heard either of these men actually teach.

I've listened to the current president repeat the same insipid stories he's been telling for over thirty years now, and I'll be frank with you: I'm not getting the feeling I'm being properly taught. In fact, on at least one occasion which I documented on this blog, Monson actually disparaged a salient teaching of Jesus Christ when he stepped up to the pulpit and quoted at length from an article in the Wall Street Journal.

The Wall Street Journal.

Let that sink in for a moment.

The putative prophet of the Lord stepped up to the pulpit in general conference, ostensibly to deliver a message from God to the entire world, and for his text he presented -not a revelation he had recently received from the Lord, not even an excerpt from scripture- but an article he said he had recently read in the Wall Street Journal. I was so astonished by this choice of material that I wrote a blog post about it.

Now don't get me wrong. I like the Wall Street Journal, especially the middle column and the editorial page. Many years ago, in a life much different from the life I live today, I read that paper every morning over donuts. So I'm not knocking the Wall Street Journal.

But put this in perspective. Imagine you are one of the 1.2 billion members of the Roman Catholic church, and you have tuned in to watch the pope standing on the balcony of the Vatican looking down at the millions of his admirers who are standing there waiting for His Holiness to deliver a message from God, and he opens with, "So I was reading an article the other day in the Wall Street Journal."

Wouldn't that seem a bit out of place for a major religious leader? You might understandably wonder what The Pontiff was doing poring over a copy of the Wall Street Journal in the first place. Is this what the Holy Father does with his time?

We Mormons look at our prophet the same way the Catholics see their pope, only we believe our guy is the true messenger of God.

So then why doesn't he ever deliver a message from God? Why in heaven's name is he wasting our time quoting lengthy passages from the newspaper? Most active members of the church have an image in their heads of the prophet diligently spending time going through the scriptures, or having a personal audience with the Lord.  Yet I don't know of any active members who thought it the least bit strange to hear their prophet, seer, and revelator center his keynote sermon around the editorial page of America's financial daily.

And what was that message? If you'll watch Monson's face at the 2:17 mark, you'll see him share the mocking disdain the editorial writer has for the very idea that the most important thing any of us can do on this earth is to love one another. It only happens to be the first commandment of Jesus Christ.

Some teacher, huh?

But perhaps I'm being too hard on the president. Obviously someone thinks President Monson is a great teacher. The evidence is all over the internet, as many of his loving admirers have gone to the trouble of creating and distributing memes containing his various words of wisdom. Here are a dozen examples that typify The Teachings of The Prophet of The Lord:
















Now, I don't want you to think I take issue with any of those aphorisms. In my opinion they all contain general truth. I'm just curious why it is that so many members are plastering these sayings all over the internet as if they prove Thomas Monson is a prophet of God. Nevermind that you can find the same sentiments contained in any decent collection of self-help books; what I want to know is this: if Thomas Monson is not just the president of the church, but a prophet as well, when is he going to start teaching us things Tony Robbins hasn't already come up with?

On my bookshelves I have an incomplete set of The Joseph Smith Papers. I also have a separate and unrelated two volume set titled The Papers of Joseph Smith, as well as books with such titles as Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith; The Words of Joseph Smith; The Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith's Teachings; The Journals of Joseph Smith; The Essential Joseph Smith; Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith; and Joseph Speaks. In addition to those, most members have in their homes the impressive body of scripture produced through Joseph Smith, which includes the Book of Mormon, the revelations contained in the Doctrine & Covenants, the Lectures on Faith, and Joseph Smith's Inspired Translation of the Bible.

All of these volumes are chock full of teachings that enlighten. By that I mean most of Joseph's speeches and writings contain bona fide profundities; information that had been lost to time or otherwise unavailable to the world before he came on the scene. President Joseph Smith was a true prophet, and because he was a prophet he fulfilled the most noble role of a prophet: he was an actual teacher. He taught things that were not widely known before he presented them to the world.

Conversely, you can go down to your local Deseret Book Store and find books that have been written by almost every president of the Church in modern times. You will find they contain nothing like the kind of information you'll find in a single one of the volumes containing Joseph Smith's teachings.

Have you ever tried to read through one of their books front to back? I can't do it. Where the teachings Joseph Smith left behind are chock full of sagacity, these books of the modern presidents are overflowing with inanities. They're mostly rehashed conference talks and assortments of words of dubious wisdom ghostwritten by hacks in the Church PR department -much like the "words of wisdom" provided to Thomas Monson by staff writers and recycled in those memes above.

According to the editors of the Joseph Smith Papers project, today we are left with only a fraction of Joseph Smith's teachings. He gave some 250 sermons in his lifetime, but only about 50 of them were written down by scribes. So who knows what else we're missing?

Let's come to the proper conclusion here: a president is a vastly different animal than a prophet. In many ways their purposes are at odds with each other. A president's role is to command and control. A prophet is a teacher of righteousness, who successfully fills his role only if he operates through persuasion. Joseph Smith was somehow able to balance the two roles, but only because he understood he could not operate as a prophet and preside over the church at the same time. At those times when he had donned the hat of the president, he was not functioning as the prophet, and vice-versa. We don't seem to understand the difference in the church today, where everyone seems to use the terms "Prophet" and "President" interchangeably.

Joseph Smith could have done us all a favor back in 1832 and declined the people's invitation to become their president. But he didn't, so what's done is done. It's our responsibility now to wake up and be able to tell the difference so we don't continue to mistake a man with high rank and administrative titles with someone who has actually been given gifts and abilities from on high.

If we fail to discern the difference, we run the risk of following a false prophet.


Friday, May 26, 2017

Rejected Gospel

Previously: Why Our Scriptures Need An Overhaul

On this Memorial Day weekend, I'm re-posting a piece I wrote three years ago which I feel appropriate to the occasion. Memorial Day is a time to remember not only America's needless dead, but also the kind of pride and arrogance that has led both our nation and our church to suffer repeated tragedies.  

Vengeance And The Latter-Day Saint
Originally posted Memorial Day 2014

One of the strangest occurrences that took place after the sudden death of Joseph Smith in June, 1844 was that almost immediately his followers rejected the things he taught them about not holding a grudge.

The first reaction of the Saints to the news that Joseph and Hyrum had been murdered was disbelief.  Joseph and Hyrum dead? It was inconceivable! But as the truth of the deed was confirmed, disbelief gave way to overwhelming grief. The grieving period was short-lived, however, turning quickly to anger and demands for retribution against the killers.

Which is understandable; who wouldn't want justice? But when only five members of the mob were brought up on charges, and all of them acquitted (no surprise) by a jury of non-Mormons, the Saints began calling upon God to exact His own swift vengeance. William Clayton's prayer for retribution was typical of many, which he recorded the day after the murders took place:
"And now O God wilt thou not come out of thy hiding place and avenge the blood of thy servants.—that blood which thou hast so long watched over with a fatherly care—that blood so noble—so generous—so dignified, so heavenly you O Lord will thou not avenge it speedily and bring down vengeance upon the murderers of thy servants that they may be rid from off the earth and that the earth may be cleansed from these scenes, even so O Lord thy will be done. We look to thee for justice. Hear thy people O God of Jacob even so Amen."
Again, an understandable response, if not exactly Christlike. There is a difference between seeking justice and seeking revenge, but this is the early church so let's cut these folks some slack. I probably would have reacted just like Clayton, hoping God would smite those smirking killers who snuffed out the lives of Joseph and Hyrum. A perfectly understandable reaction.

Except right after the jury voted not guilty and the killers got away scot-free, Clayton demanded God enlarge the scope of his wrath to include the entire population of the state of Illinois just to get even with that jury:
“Thus the whole State of Illinois have made themselves guilty of shedding the blood of the prophets by acquitting those who committed the horrid deed, and it is now left to God and his saints to take vengeance in his own way, and in his own time.”
Seems a little harsh. And a bit lacking in reason and logic. I'm sure there were lots of people living in Illinois who had never heard of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, let alone wished them any harm. Why hold them all accountable for the verdict of one twelve-man jury in one corner of the state?

Curse Of The Gentile Nation
I've recently become friends with William Shepard after discovering his writings on Mormon history[1]so I'm currently reading a piece of his published in a back issue of The Journal of Mormon history entitled "The Concept Of A 'Rejected Gospel' in Mormon History." Shepard provides several examples of the Saints' intense desire for bloody retribution, and I was struck by how many of these early Saints were so blinded by grief and anger and a gnawing demand for "satisfaction" that they didn't care if every man, woman, and child in America was wiped out in the process. In fact, that's what they were hoping for. They soon laid the blame for the prophet's murders on the entire nation, and hoped to see America utterly destroyed for reasons that made little sense. As Shepard reports,
"For most of the nineteenth century, Brigham Young and the Twelve saw in the murders of Joseph and Hyrum Smith the final proof that the Gentile nation of the United States had reached the fullness of iniquity, had rejected the gospel, and would soon be cut off from salvation..." -Journal of Mormon History Volume 34, No.8 (2008)  (Subsequent quotes are from that article.)
_____________________________
[1].  William Shepard is co-author (with Michael Marquardt) of Lost Apostles, the latest must-have book on Mormon History that you likely won't find at Deseret Book. Find out why by reading this free excerpt.

William Hyde, who was on a mission in Vermont when he heard of the murders, predicted in his journal  “For that blood the nation will be obliged to atone.”

And this from Wilford Woodruff's Journal:
“I asked my heavenly father in the name of Jesus Christ and by virtue of the Holy Priesthood and the Keys of the kingdom of God that he would speedily avenge the blood of Joseph the Prophet Seer and Revelator, and Hiram the Patriarch, which had been shed by the hands of the American gentile nation, upon all the heads of the Nation and State that have aided, abetted or perpetrated the horrid deed, of shedding the blood of those righteous men even the Lords anointed.”
This call for the destruction of America looks to put a crimp in the church's missionary efforts, but they didn't care. The Mormons figured the rest of America had had their chance, and by gum they were dusting their feet and done.

Most Mormons weren't patient enough to wait for God to get around to exacting punishment, but vowed instead to take matters into their own hands. After viewing the bodies of Joseph and Hyrum, Allen Stout took a personal vow of revenge:
"I there and then resolved in my mind that I would never let an opportunity slip unimproved of avenging their blood upon the head of the enemies of the church of Jesus Christ. I felt as though I could not live. I knew not how to contain myself, and when I see one of the men who persuaded them to give up to be tried, I feel like cutting their throats. And I hope to live to avenge their blood; but if I do not I will teach my children to never cease to try to avenge their blood and then their children and children's children to the fourth generation as long as there is one descendant of the murderers upon the earth."
Pretty heavy, right? The surprising thing is, Stout's keening oath was pretty typical of the time.

Mosiah Hancock tells how, at ten years old, his father Levi had him place his right hand on the cold bosoms of Joseph and Hyrum in turn, and raising his left hand to the square the kid then swore a similar oath to that of Stout's, "which vow I took with a determination to fulfill to the very letter."

If merely getting even with the killer's descendants was enough for some, others like apostle Orson Hyde were barely able to contain their enthusiasm for bringing on the destruction of their home country:
“Carthage Jail presents a scene of blood, and that blood has not been avenged; and when the time can come, and when it can be ordered in wisdom in the heavenly council, the scourge shall come.  And when you see these things come to pass, then rejoice and be exceeding glad.”
Hyde's fellow apostle, Orson Pratt, who referred to the enemy Americans as as "bloodthirsty Christians," was downright giddy in anticipation of the coming apocalypse:
 “It is with the greatest of joy that I forsake this Republic, and all the saints have abundant reasons to rejoice that they are counted worthy to be cast out as exiles from this wicked nation; for we have received nothing but one continual scene of the most horrid and unrelenting persecutions at their hands for the last sixteen years.”
If it seems a bit impatient for the Saints to give up on America after only sixteen years of proselyting, it's worth noting that apostle Parley Pratt had predicted the second coming would occur by 1845. So America's time was clearly up anyway.

Wilford Woodruff viewed the Saint's abandoning the United States as necessary so that “the judgments of God might be poured out on that guilty nation that is already drunk with the blood of the Saints."

The editor of the church newspaper wrote:
“And they [the Mormons] will go forth shaking off the dust of their feet upon her [United States], and leaving their curse upon the doomed and fated people and rulers of the United States.”
And let's not forget the Oath of Vengeance inserted into the temple endowment by Brigham Young:
"You and each of you do covenant and promise that you will pray and never cease to pray to Almighty God to avenge the blood of the prophets upon this nation, and that you will teach the same to your children and to your children's children unto the third and fourth generation."[2]
I've never been quite certain what it means to "defile the temple," but the introduction of something as distasteful as this into a sacred holy ritual would top my list. It would be hard to come up with anything more in opposition to the gospel of peace than to implore God to murder your enemies for you, and do so in the very place Jesus Christ purportedly calls home.

Happily, Almighty God chose not to act on those vindictive supplications, but we shouldn't take that to mean those who offered those imprecations weren't ready to do their part if the opportunity arose. Apostle Abraham Cannon tells how, when Hyrum's son Joseph F. Smith returned to Carthage at age 21, he encountered a man who said he had arrived five minutes too late to see the Smiths killed. Young Joseph F. came this close to knifing the poor guy before learning the man had disapproved of the killings. (Kenney, "Before the Beard: Trials of the Young Joseph F. Smith," Sunstone, November 2001.)
______________________________________________________________________________________
[2].  The Oath of Vengeance was removed from the endowment ritual in 1927, thank goodness. Yet there are some Fundamentalists who take its removal as another evidence that the everlasting ordinances of the temple have been changed. Just proves you can't please everybody.

Anyway, you get the idea. A handful of men committed a horrendous crime, and the victim's friends couldn't wait to make an entire nation of innocents suffer for it. I couldn't help thinking there was something familiar about all this. Then I noticed the calendar showing Memorial day approaching, which brought back memories of vindictive conversations that took place in my ward priesthood quorum in the weeks following the attacks of September 11th, 2001.

Discussions of what should be done to the perpetrators often crowded out the scheduled lesson, with some in the class expressing hope that the U.S military would immediately retaliate. The military did retaliate, of course, and there was no shortage of young latter-day Saints rushing to join the fight.

But fight who? Even if you buy into the conventional narrative (which I don't) that the perpetrators of 9/11 consisted of 19 Arab hijackers armed with boxcutters, the perpetrators of that crime were now all dead by suicide. Justice served, wouldn't you think?

Nope. Those deaths weren't enough to satisfy the bloodlust of most Americans, least of all many of my Mormon brethren. I heard proposals from my fellow Saints wishing our government would just nuke the entire middle east and get it over with.  Our nation had been breached by unknown assassins, and they refused to be consoled.

Millions did pay, of course, including many of the young soldiers who so enthusiastically participated in our national revenge-fest. A dozen Memorial Days have come and gone since the first cries of vengeance were heard, and today, thankfully, the voices are more subdued.  Americans have died in these wars of vengeance. Mormons have died.

And to what end?

The tired bromide that "they fought to protect our freedoms" doesn't quite wash anymore. Look around: while our idealistic young warriors were occupied fighting phantoms overseas, our freedoms have been seriously eroded here at home. And in the cruelest twist of all, the very politicians most vigorously engaged in eroding those freedoms have officially declared returning veterans to be America's newest enemy.

And why not? There is nothing more dangerous to tyrants than a soldier who has awakened to the reality that he has been duped. A former soldier who is fully awake is a threat to the establishment, no matter which party is currently in power.

Is it any wonder the very government agency charged with caring for our returning wounded is dragging its feet and letting soldiers die while awaiting treatment? On The Daily Show of May 19th, Jon Stewart expressed bewilderment:
 "Somehow we as a country were able to ship 300,000 troops halfway across the world in just a few months to fight a war that cost us two trillion dollars -an amount that didn't count towards our deficit because we paid for it somehow under the table. Yet for some reason it takes longer than that to get someone hurt in that war needed medical care or reimbursement, all while we profess undying love for their service."
And John Whitehead recently noted:
"The plight of veterans today is deplorable, with large numbers of them impoverished, unemployed, traumatized mentally and physically, struggling with depression, thoughts of suicide, marital stress, homeless (a third of all homeless Americans are veterans), subjected to sub-par treatment at clinics and hospitals, and left to molder while their paperwork piles up within Veterans Administration offices."
We erect monuments to those who die while serving in the military, but those lucky enough to have made it back are learning a harsh lesson:  Their own government really doesn't want them here. You bought the lie. You served your purpose. Now please just go away.

With every Memorial Day that's passed since 9/11, a growing number of Americans -Mormons included- are waking up to the reality that they have been played. Their emotions were manipulated in order to get them to support two wars that have resulted in...what, exactly? Certainly not more freedom or safety.  Americans are less free and less safe than ever before, and the dangers we face today don't happen to have originated with some hapless "enemy" living in Iraq or Afghanistan.

As for the brave Mormon soldier, why did his Church leaders not issue a voice of warning against the secret combinations who were conspiring to undermine the country in his absence? Silly question. Because they were in collusion, that's why.

You think that accusation is a bit harsh? Then I invite you to watch a video that was produced by the corporate Church and distributed on DVD to LDS servicemen and their families to coincide with the start of the war with Iraq. With the passage of time, the reassurances contained in this film ring more and more hollow.

"What Is My Standing Before God?"
That was a question posed to Elder Robert Oaks of the Presidency of the Seventy by a young combat soldier struggling to reconcile his religious teachings with the obligation the government had put on him to engage in random shootings. This video, which used to be available on the official LDS website but has since been removed, can still be seen here on Youtube. It was intended to assuage the concerns of this young man and others like him. Entitled "Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled," it's a blatant propaganda piece that contradicts every legitimate LDS doctrine regarding war ever revealed.

And that's the problem. The film completely avoids addressing doctrinal questions such as where and when it is permissible in the eyes of God for his people to go into battle.  The only place I heard the word of God quoted at all was in the title. "Let not your hearts be troubled" was a comforting reassurance Jesus gave to his apostles at the last supper before he left them on his way to being crucified. It had nothing to do with palliating the concerns of worried young men headed into battle.

The purpose of this DVD is clearly intended to reassure the Mormon soldier that he need not worry about the consequences of his actions. Let not your heart be troubled, the narrators tell him. Don't worry about it if you end up inadvertently killing innocents. You'll be doing God's work.

From start to finish, this presentation is a disgrace to our religion.

The video is introduced by Boyd K. Packer, who assures the young LDS soldier that he will receive blessings for serving his country in this difficult time, and suggests that his efforts as a hired killer may even result in missionary opportunities. See son, you're not a mere soldier, you're an instrument of God in helping His kingdom roll forth! Sure, you may one day be forced to kill innocent Iraqi families, but look on the bright side: you're preparing for the day when our missionaries will come in and give the discussions to their surviving relatives.

Call me a cynic, but I don't think it works the way Packer expects it to. You can't convert people to the gospel of peace after violently decimating their homeland.

The DVD includes an excerpt from President Hinckley's conference talk given in April 2003, a talk that has given Hinckley a degree of posthumous fame as the most equivocating prophet ever in the history of the Church.  It was full of useless platitudes, and devoid of any useful doctrine. That talk couldn't have been more insidiously brilliant if it had been written by Lucifer himself. Don't believe me? Go read it for yourself.

The video shows us a short clip of apostle Robert D. Hales speaking before a roomful of young recruits and assuring them "You are the defenders of the constitution."

Oh really? Defenders of the constitution?  I wish you'd walk me through exactly how that works, Bob, seeing as the government that recruited these kids violated article one, section eight of the constitution by failing to obtain authorization from the people through their congress to wage this very war in the first place.

We used to have actual theologians as members of the Twelve, not just former executives who happened to distinguish themselves in the corporate world. I wonder what Robert Hales would think if he ever got around to reading D&C 98:7 where the Lord declares that, pertaining to the laws of man, whatsoever is more or less than the constitution comes of evil?  Non-members can believe what they want, but we Mormons can't have it both ways. According to the revealed word of God, either a war is constitutional, or it's evil. You can't send Mormon kids to fight an unconstitutional war and tell them they're defending the constitution.

Where's The Theology?
My guess is that anyone watching this video on their way to the front is hoping to understand how God feels about the adventure they are about to embark on. Anyone raised properly in the church is bound to have some reservations about being required to kill strangers. Presumably this DVD the Church has provided will answer their troubling questions.

They presume in vain.

Incredibly, the word of God is never used to bolster the feel-good message of this film. The viewer is introduced to Lance Wickman and Robert Oaks, two general authorities who were once career military men, and they offer their wartime stories about how life in uniform can be both difficult and rewarding.  Instead of delivering a message the LDS soldier can use, apparently it was thought the departing soldier could better identify with GAs who once had military careers. Too bad neither of these guys seems to know anything about LDS doctrine as it pertains to the issue at hand.

The message of the movie can be distilled in one sentence: War is dirty, nasty work, but it's unavoidable and necessary, so thank goodness we have righteous young priesthood holders like you to handle that dirty, nasty work that is for some reason unavoidable.  Oh, and by the way, thank you for your service.

Although the word of God is never quoted in this video, the twisting of scripture is apparent in several places. At one point Elder Wickman looks into the camera and says,
"Many have asked why so much of the Book of Mormon dwells upon battles and warfare. The answer, I believe, is that Mormon and Moroni understood exquisitely that we would also be forced to contend with war and bloodshed as we strive to live according to the teachings and examples of the master in these last days."
Holy cow. Face palm, anyone?

I'm usually considered the dumbest guy in the room, but even I can see that Oaks got the message of the Book of Mormon wars completely inside out.  What Mormon and Moroni understood exquisitely was that the record they wrote would one day be in our hands and they wanted to make super-duper certain that we did not make the same stupid mistakes their people did.  Mormon compiled the record and included all those chapters about war so that we gentiles could understand two essential teachings:
1.  God's people have a right and a duty to defend their homes, their families, and their lands from invasion. We are justified in repelling those who invade our homes and lands, even to the taking of life, if necessary.
2.  God's people are never, ever, EVER justified in taking the battle into the enemy's lands. When we do that, the enemy is justified in repelling us for invading their homes, lands, and families, even to the taking of our lives.
 There you go, Wickman and Oaks. I just saved you both a lot of reading.

In Boyd Packer's segment of the video, behind him on the wall we see the famous Arnold Friberg paintings of Book of Mormon war heroes Helaman and Captain Moroni. Packer even quotes a scripture from Alma showing that war is sometimes justified to defend our lands and families. But what he fails to remind the viewer is that these men are heroes because they repelled invasions, not because they led invasions. They did not fight because they chose to, but because they had no choice. Their lands were being overun, so they stood in defense of home and country. And this is the key element: they stood their ground and defended from inside the borders of their own country, not in someone else's.

We honor Captain Moroni as a great patriot not only because he stood up to the foreign enemy, but also because he challenged the corrupt manipulators behind the politicians at home. Tyrants quake at the thought of an army of awakened Moronis returning home.

If Lance Wickman wants to understand why Mormon and Moroni included all that stuff about war, he should have consulted Mormon himself, who tells us explicitly why he stopped participating in the wars with his Nephite Brethren:
"It came to pass that I utterly refused to go up against mine enemies; and I did even as the Lord commanded me; and I did stand as an idle witness to manifest unto the world the things which I saw and heard, according to the manifestations of the spirit which had testified of things to come." (Mormon 3:16)
Did you catch that, Wickman? Mormon didn't include those war chapters because he understood we would be forced to contend with war and bloodshed. He did it to warn us to beware of our own hubris that could easily lead us into unnecessary and destructive wars. He included those warnings in hopes we would be able to tell the difference between being forced to go to war and choosing to go to war. His entire personal saga is a warning to us to carefully differentiate between repelling an invader and being an invader.

Here's what got Mormon to throw down his sword in disgust and quit his own army:  A large force of Lamanite warriors had crossed over into Nephite territory and, mirabile dictu, the Nephites won the battle! They managed to drive the superior force of Lamanites all the way back across their borders and back where they had come from.

This unexpected victory drove the Nephite soldiers out of their heads with exhilaration. They had actually beaten back the mighty Lamanites!  They started cracking open beers and chanting whatever the Nephite equivalent is to "U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A!!  (It's all there in Mormon chapter 3, I swear.)

Next thing you know, the Nephite soldiers, full of piss and vinegar after that decisive victory, got it in their heads that they should put their armor back on and cross the border deep into the Lamanite's homeland so they could finish this thing with the Lamanites once and for all. Kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out.

That's why Mormon quit, because he knew God does not protect the soldier who is the aggressor, and he refused to have any part in such goings on. That, Lance Wickman, is the lesson we are meant to take from the war chapters of the Book of Mormon.  Here is how the Lord himself revealed that doctrine in the latter days:
"This is the law that I gave unto mine ancients, that they should not go out unto battle against any nation, kindred, tongue, or people, save I, the Lord, commanded them." (D&C 98:33)
The Lord goes on to instruct us that this law still holds for us today except that today we have to be extra careful not to take offense. That's the Lord's doctrine on war in a nutshell, and it sure seems plain enough to me.

So what I would ask Boyd Packer, Robert Hales, Robert Oaks, Lance Wickman, Gordon Hinckley, and every other person involved in the making of that little feel-good pro-war disgrace of a video monstrosity is this: Why didn't you include God's word as a counterweight to your own useless, hollow opinions? Why did you leave out the only counsel that would have really mattered to the doomed young man in my former ward who gave his life for nothing, instead of blathering into the camera about how "the military is a noble profession" and "You are mighty men of valor"?

Maybe if you had been honest in your counsel and presented God's will in all this, there might be one less pair of grieving parents in the graveyard this Memorial day; one less young Mormon widow; one or two less fatherless children. You men had the opportunity to tell the truth to those in your charge, and you failed. You made false promises about military service bringing blessings when you know it brings nothing but death, sorrow, and destruction.

How many additional LDS families will forgo the joyous picnic reunion this Memorial day and instead hang their heads with grief over yet another unnecessary loss of a young son or daughter?

Mea Culpa
I am sometimes accused of being less than deferential to LDS Church authorities."It's wrong to criticize leaders of the Church," Apostle Dallin Oaks smugly asserts in this video, "even if the criticism is true."

Oh Yeah, Dallin? Well, I'll tell you what: You just go ahead and show me where the Lord himself has ever made that statement, and I'll give you a dollar. Otherwise it's not doctrinal, so wipe that smirk off your face, stop making up your own rules, and try preaching the gospel of Christ for a change.

Young, idealistic young Mormon men and women are DEAD because they were taught not to question or criticize Church leaders. Other young latter-day Saints are maimed, divorced, depressed, homeless, and suicidal, much of their troubles traceable to the belief that whenever a general authority opens his mouth, even if it's two-bit lower rung GAs like Robert Oaks and Lance Wickman, their very utterances represent the word of God, the mind of God, and the will of God.

These palpably false teachings are causing real harm to actual, living, breathing members of our congregations. And they need to stop being promulgated right now.

What we could use from you in the next conference session, Elder Oaks, is a talk reminding the members that the leaders are as human and fallible as the rest of us, and that most importantly, a prophet is only a prophet when he is speaking the words God has put into his mouth, and that ANY OTHER TIME, he is presenting his own thoughts and opinions.

Joseph Smith would not have allowed the members in his day to slather adoration on him, yet you guys lap it up. Joseph had the integrity to rebuke the Saints when he found they were depending upon him and not Christ. He told them that following the prophet was causing them to be darkened in their minds.  Do your duty and teach the Saints that whenever a Church leader teaches contrary to the established word of God, that leader should be shunned and ignored, not slavishly followed like some dark-suited demigod.
                                                                     ****

Okay, I'm not sure where I was going with this blog entry, but it has clearly gotten away from me. I'm going to stop now and go cool down.

When properly observed, Memorial Day is a time for solemn introspection rather than playful celebration. I wish you all a happy Memorial day just the same.

Love and Light,
Rock



Related Post:
"Why Do We Keep Celebrating Our Disobedience?"