In the priesthood session of the April 2003 General Conference, President Hinckley delivered a landmark address on the subject of loyalty. In his remarks he said, “Each of us has to face the truth of the matter—either the church is true, or it is a fraud. There is no middle ground. It is the Church and kingdom of God or it is nothing.”
An earlier prophet, Joseph Fielding Smith wrote something similar in the Doctrines of Salvation: “Mormonism, as it is called, must stand on the story of Joseph Smith. He was either a prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned, or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen. There is no middle ground.”
There can be no gray area
Referring to the historical events of the area around Palmyra, New York, President Hinckley said: “They either happened or they did not. There can be no gray area, no middle ground.” In a similar manner, Apostle Joseph B. Wirthlin said, “Joseph Smith must be accepted either as a prophet of God or else as a charlatan of the first order.”
President Benson endorsed this all or nothing view. He said, “Just as the arch crumbles if the keystone is removed, so does all the Church stand or fall with the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon…if it can be discredited, the Prophet Joseph Smith goes with it. So does our claim to priesthood keys, and revelation, and the restored Church.”
They were all wrong
Such black and white statements go all the way back to the beginnings of the LDS church. When the prophet Joseph asked God which church he should join, he “was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong.” If all the churches of Joseph’s day were wrong, what does that say about the numerous churches of our day?
The Lord later said to Joseph in Section one of the Doctrine and Covenants that the church Joseph organized was “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth.” If you look, you can find dozens of similar statements by prophets and apostles throughout the history of our church, all very bold in their declarations.
Divisive and exclusivist
Of course, statements like these are labeled divisive and exclusivist by many people outside our church, but also, increasingly by members on the fringe of the church, also known as the disaffected Mormon underground. The DAMU is nothing new. There have been cultural Mormons and Jack Mormons throughout the history of our church.
Of all the objections to the church that I have encountered over the past few years I have been blogging, this one seems to be the most common and the most offensive. For some, it is an extremely difficult proposition to accept this black or white, all or nothing approach to truth in religion. I have spent considerable time pondering why this is so.
Good and truth in all religions
Joseph Smith taught that we accept truth from whatever source it may come. Joseph F. Smith said, “We are willing to receive all truth, from whatever source it may come; for truth will stand, truth will endure…” Modern prophets have said that there is much good and truth in all churches and religions. This statement doesn’t seem too limiting.
President Hinckley: “We recognize the good in all churches. We recognize the value of religion generally. We say to everyone: live the teachings which you have received from your church. We invite you to come and learn from us, to see if we can add to those teachings and enhance your life and your understanding of things sacred and divine.”
Something unique to add
What can the LDS faith add that is unique and will bless the lives of those who accept its teachings? The most unique thing we offer can be found in the temples. It is the sealing power that is exercised to unite families in an eternal bond that will remain in effect after this life is over. That is an amazing claim that no other church can make.
We teach that the sealing power is a part of the priesthood authority that we claim was delivered to Joseph Smith via angelic messengers. I don’t know of any other church that asserts that angels have come and ordained their leaders or conferred upon them keys and powers that will bind on earth and in heaven. That is a fantastic declaration!
Our eternal nature
The older I get, the more important that claim becomes to me. If I know nothing else, I know that there is a spiritual side of my existence. I have had too many experiences of a spiritual nature that have helped me to understand this truth. Others may claim that there is nothing more to man than skin, muscle and bones, but I believe differently.
Because of that very basic and core fundamental belief about myself, I am concerned about what my purpose is in life and what happens after death. I am so grateful to be a part of a community of faith, a church that believes as I do that life is eternal and that what we do with our lives will have a significant impact on the quality of life hereafter.
Importance of the temples
That belief in life eternal is not unique, but the idea that we can do something to ensure that the relationships we enjoy here continue in the hereafter is very unique indeed. I have had dialog with visitors to my blog who claim that God would never be so mean as to separate a loving couple who cherished and served each other all their mortal lives.
I’m not going to point you to any statements from church leaders that teach otherwise but I will say this: before you go making claims about how God should behave, you might want to be absolutely sure of what God has said on the subject. I can’t think of anything about which I would want to be surer. My eternal happiness depends on it.
Book of Mormon is still the key
Back to the point of the essay and why prophets have said that there can be no middle ground when it comes to things like authority and revelation and Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. My mother, who was a convert to the church, once said to me that as an investigator, she could accept everything about it except the Book of Mormon.
It wasn’t until much later in life when she took an Institute class on the subject that she really began to understand just how important it is to our claims of divine origin. I love the fact that we do not have the plates to “prove” the historicity of the book. Prophets have taught that the Book of Mormon is a great sifter of those who are honest in heart.
The power of a divine witness
I know there are those who have said that they have tried and failed to obtain a witness of the veracity of the Book of Mormon. I have had dialog with people both inside and outside the church who have struggled with this. I confess that I cannot offer a perfect empathy because I received a witness of the truthfulness of the book many years ago.
Because of that divine manifestation to me, not just once but on several occasions, I have never doubted the Book of Mormon, or the claims of the prophet Joseph Smith. I understand why the prophets have said that the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion and why our claims of divinity rest upon the veracity of that book. I also agree with the statement that the strength of this church is in the testimony of each member.
The promise of personal revelation
One of my evangelical visitors once called this security that I feel, the Mormon bubble. He says it is not logical but it makes perfect sense to me. You can throw out all kinds of arguments about the Book of Abraham, Polyandry, Post-manifesto plural marriage, the Kinderhook Plates or any one a few dozen other things that can be found on the Internet.
None of them bothered me when I first learned about them and none of them do now. I have written essays on dozens of these objections and have come to the conclusion that they really aren’t the real problem with why people doubt or leave the church. In my opinion, those who struggle with these doubts have not received personal revelation.
Summary and conclusion
I know that a testimony is a very sacred and personal subject. I also know that making a generalization like I just did will bring all kinds of protests. But I stand by it as truth. If a man has received a witness from God that the Book of Mormon is true then God has a responsibility to help that man as he goes through the ensuing trials of that testimony.
I know that God will help the honest in heart keep their testimonies strong and vibrant. If we study we are going to find out things that will test our witness. We will then have the opportunity to strengthen and deepen it. That’s what opposition is for. We do not have to wallow in doubt. But those who doubt are welcome while they work things out.