I thought about entitling this “Lessons Learned from Church Discipline,” but I don’t want that to be the main focus of this post. First, to be clear: In spite of rumors to the contrary, I am not under any restrictions or church discipline. I turned in my temple recommend because I felt I no longer qualified – all based on my understanding of the way I thought a question had to be answered.
So Easy to Be Judged and Misunderstood
One of the things I learned is how offensive this action is to some people. I was truly shocked by the number of private and public emails, blog comments and Facebook comments from people who expressed disappointment, shock and even anger at what I had done. To them, it was as if I had turned my back on the church and was declaring myself a non-believer or even an apostate.
Wisdom in Keeping Some Things Private
I also learned the wisdom of following counsel to keep some things private. I am now certain I misinterpreted my priesthood leader’s request to not write about this on my blog or Facebook. I thought he meant to not share the private details of the conversations, which I haven’t. I believe now he meant to not share *anything* about the process. Too many people have misunderstood.
Yet Open Dialog Helped and Persuaded
OK, so I’m a fool. Nevertheless, I’m grateful for the conversations that ensued with wonderful input from some of my friends who helped me understand what that temple recommend question really means. As they have shared, just because you read material from individuals who have now been excommunicated, it does not mean you are no longer worthy of a temple recommend.
Come to Understand Certain Key Words
You’d think I would know better. I’ve probably conducted hundreds of recommend interviews over the years but never had anyone say anything other than “no” when asked the affiliation question. I thought deeply about those three words: a) support, b) affiliate, and c) agree. They refer to “teachings or practices that are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the church.”
Stigma of Being Labeled an Apostate
I have spent two and a half years reading, studying and trying to understand the writings of one LDS author who has now been excommunicated. In spite of this, I am more confident to answer that last temple recommend question “yes.” There are many, many things in his writings which caused my heart to burn and with which I agreed as I studied them. I found much truth in them.
Support, Affiliation and Agreement
Once this author was excommunicated, I had to answer the question for myself if I supported, affiliated or agreed with his teachings. I made up my mind he was not teaching new things, he was simply offering his interpretations of key scripture. I happen to agree with many of those interpretations. Did that make me an apostate, especially since I intended to go to his lectures?
Responses Based on Both Love and Fear
I discovered the idea of reading the material of a now-excommunicated author and especially my intention of attending a couple of his lectures was particularly offensive to some of the people I know and with whom I keep in touch on Facebook. It confused me. What motivated such words of condemnation? How had I threatened them by my intentions? Were they really that insecure?
Seek Learning by Study and Also by Faith
This particular author is presenting a series of lectures along the Wasatch Front. I purchase the recordings, study the transcripts and write blog posts about them. I do this because I have asked the Lord in prayer for knowledge on opening the heavens, which is the subject being addressed. I have learned answers to private, individual prayer are difficult to explain to those not involved.
Must Experience It Yourself to Relate
It reminded me of my missionary days and the salt analogy from President Packer. I had tasted salt. In my personal and private prayers, I received undeniable witnesses I was on the right path for me. The Lord was pleased with my studies, my efforts to understand the truth and my future intentions to deepen that understanding through attending lectures discussing profound doctrines.
Takes Time to Understand Deep Doctrine
After many discussions, Carol has agreed to attend two of the lectures with me in July, although I know it is not something she really wants to do. As part of my “due diligence” in forming my opinion and ascertaining truth for myself, I felt it important to experience the lectures in person. There’s nothing like hearing someone teach in order to get a better understanding of their spirit.
Continue to Invest in Close Relationships
That brings up another thing I learned – the importance of lots of open conversations with others in your family who are invested in your spiritual standing with the Lord and the church. I tried to reassure Carol over and over that my many hours of studying this material – along with studying the scriptures – will NOT lead me away from her, from the LDS church or from our Savior.
United as a Family in This Challenge
I believe Carol has a right to participate in my upcoming counseling session with the Bishop and Stake President this week. I intend to ask them if she can attend the meeting. Ordinarily, such interviews and counseling about temple worthiness are conducted separately, even when husband and wife are being interviewed for the recommend renewal process. That’s just the way it is.
Surprise at the Rapid Growth of the Blog
I am extremely appreciative of the thousands of people who read my blog. Each time I write a post, it goes into the news feeds or email boxes of people all around the world. I know because I have reviewed the list of subscribers. There are many additional thousands who come to read my blog each time I post something new. Hundreds have joined the dialog to share their comments.
Thoughtful Comments From Blog Readers
For the most part, readers and commenters on the blog are civil and respectful toward each other, even though my subjects tend to cause strong feelings. There are those who are supportive of the conclusions I have reached in my studies and those who see them as heretical or false doctrine. I am constantly reminding my readers I am not teaching doctrine – only expressing my opinions.
Facebook Readers are a Different Breed
On the other hand, I notice the dialog on Facebook has a different tone. It seems more combative with occasional personal attacks. For a while I disconnected my Facebook connection to the blog until I saw how many hundreds of readers came from Facebook. Every blogger seeks readership and I am no different. I write to be read with the hope of being understood, otherwise why write?
Grossly Uninformed but Still Opinionated
Many of my readers have taken the time to read, study or otherwise come to an understanding of some of Denver Snuffer’s commentary on the scriptures. Others have a cursory comprehension based on the summaries of others. That’s unfortunate. They come across as misinformed and even bigoted because they have missed the wonderful depth of doctrine that he has explicated.
A Closed Mind is a Dangerous Thing
It never ceases to amaze me that people want to talk about Denver as opposed to my desire to discuss the scriptures he has opened to unorthodox interpretation. It also surprises me how many people are adamant they know such interpretations are wrong because they do not fit what we have taught in the standard historical narrative over the years. Their minds are closed – period.
Equally Yoked – Both Love to Write
Carol and I have discussed this often with specific examples of individual cases from my blog. Since Carol is a writer with some experience and skill, having invested thousands of hours in her craft, I know she can relate when people are dismissive of her ideas about superior ways to get a story across. I am grateful for my dear wife who accepts the importance of continually learning.
Edifying Content Can be Controversial
When I first started sharing my study notes, observations and commentary on the things I was learning from this writer, I was surprised at the polarity in the feedback. One of the best tools of a writer is persuasion. Everyone should learn to write persuasively. Writing with passion is also a skill that helps get your point across. But there is a difference between passion and ad hominem.
Persuasion Part of Power in the Priesthood
As I have attempted to share what I have learned about certain uplifting subjects such as power in the priesthood, it became clear even long-time members of the church do not understand the source of that power and the only authorized way the Lord endorses our exercise of that power. They seem to be confused between authority and power even though it’s such a basic doctrine.
LDS Bloggers Being Excommunicated
Because I have written so much about what I have learned by studying the scriptures behind the doctrines expounded by this particular writer, I became concerned as I was made aware of others who were being excommunicated for what appeared to be simply reading and commenting on the same books I was studying. My fellow bloggers were excommunicated for endorsing a book.
Practices of Fear and Control in the Church
I knew about the Strengthening Church Members Committee from the excommunications of the September Six back in 1993. I remember those days. It put a real damper on intellectual pursuit of the doctrines of the gospel. It initiated a period of time where nobody dared to ask questions anymore for fear of being reported by the SCMC committee to their local priesthood leaders.
Strengthening Church Members Committee
Now, I don’t think the SCMC is particularly looking to find fault with my material, but I have to wonder at some of the IP addresses in my logs that come from downtown Salt Lake City. I know I have readers in the Church Office Building. Some of them have written and called me. I have enjoyed our discussions. Thousands of readers come from Utah but don’t comment. That’s okay.
Guidelines from the Church PR Department
I’m not paranoid. I’m just concerned, especially after learning of the excommunications of some of my fellow bloggers who write about the same subjects. In light of the disciplinary action for Brent Larsen, Will Carter, John Dehlin, Kate Kelly and Rock Waterman, the church recently responded with some helpful guidelines. My friend Log helped me parse the church statement:
- Insisting on changes to “Church” doctrines or structure.
- Recruiting others.
- Creating organized groups. <—- that’s “affiliate”.
- Staging public events.
- Creating literature. <—- books and blogs qualify.
Tone of Your Writing Determines Response
Based on these guidelines, there’s no doubt the church IS looking at the blogs of the members, searching for content with the wrong “tone.” Clearly, “How and why one asks is as important as the questions we’re asking.” I hope I’ve made it clear. I have questions but I don’t feel there’s anything wrong with that. I don’t consider them doubts or present them as such to anyone else.
Leave Official Doctrine Up to the Church
Another key for LDS bloggers is to avoid teaching. Leave that up to the church. Pondering and speculation are OK. Some doubt the profitability of speculation. I don’t. I love to consider “what if” scenarios. I guess it’s the computer guy in me. I do that all the time at work. Otherwise, you might find yourself called in by your Bishop or Stake President asking specifics about your blog.
Future Direction of My Blog
To close this post, and hopefully encourage some of my readers who wonder about where I’m going with this, I thought it might be helpful to share my conversation with Carol in our weekly family council this afternoon. Because she loves me and seeks reassurance, she is also concerned about what I am doing with my blog, my studies and what I intend to do with what I am learning.
Reassurance is Always Helpful
We went over the five points of testimony. I assured her I know God lives. We pray together as a couple each morning and night. My personal prayers are rich, rewarding and fulfilling. I know my Savior lives and loves me. I feel His presence during the day. I am certain he walks with me and is very interested in how I respond to the daily challenges I face with work and my blog.
My Testimony and One of my Questions
I know Joseph was a prophet of the Lord and received keys to administer this latter-day work. I know he received the priesthoods – both Aaronic and Melchizedek – and passed on the Aaronic priesthood to the church. The power of the Mechizedek priesthood must be received by each of us individually. I know the Book of Mormon is the word of God, translated by the gift of God.
God Bless our Prophets and Apostles
Some have expressed difficulty with my qualifications of the priesthood as I have described it above. That’s one of the questions I am working out in my own mind. I sustain each of the fifteen men to whom we have given the title of “Prophet, Seer and Revelator” in this church by common consent. I pray for them each night. I am happy to pay my tithing to the LDS Church.
Acceptance of Local Priesthood Counsel
I look forward to receiving counsel from my local priesthood leaders this week. I plan to fast all day before our meeting as I seek to be humble before the Lord. I intend to accept and implement any counsel they offer, or any discipline they feel needs to be administered. However, if asked to remove my blog, I will need to talk to the Lord about that as I feel He approves of my blogging.
Need Official Guidelines for LDS Bloggers
Note: I started blogging in 2007 just slightly prior to this invitation from Elder Ballard for LDS Members to get involved in the “online conversations” about the church. It sure has taken a long time for the church to finally start coming up with some guidelines about what is and isn’t acceptable in our blogging efforts. I wonder what took them so long. Didn’t expect this kind of response?