Conservative Mormon Bloggers Under Scrutiny


RockWatermanOne of my greatest desires as a blogger is to help people of differing beliefs and political ideologies come together in a unified search for peace that comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Thus I was delighted today to be able to express and expound upon those sentiments to Kristen Moulton of the Salt Lake Tribune, substituting for the vacationing Peggy Fletcher Stack.

Disciplined for Following a Prophet

The focus of the piece is that conservative Mormons, as well as progressives, are being called in and disciplined by their local leaders for their blogging activities. I don’t fall into that category, since I’m under no disciplinary restrictions, but because I’ve written much on the subject, I was honored to be asked my opinion. The piece was well done. My contribution was two small ideas.

Asking Questions is not the Same as Doubt

I’d like to elaborate on those ideas for a minute to illustrate an observation that is now becoming clearer to me each day as this drama unfolds, a drama which many people hope will blow over soon, and which the majority of the church outside Utah has very little idea even exists. First, the idea of asking questions seems to be misinterpreted by many conservatives as expressing doubt.

Some Think it Not Acceptable to Ask Questions

I can’t tell you how many of my conservative friends have written me privately, as well as on the blog, expressing grave concerns for the welfare of my soul. I know they love me. I know their concern is genuine. We’ve served together in past leadership positions or have worshiped in the same wards and stakes over the past fifty plus years I have been a member of the LDS Church.

Some Seem to be Afraid of Asking Questions

For some reason, it just strikes them wrong to ask a question that may or may not be answered in the official curriculum of the church. And if I dare to suggest the answers provided in the official material may not be exactly truthful, meaning they leave out parts of the story or the narrative is perhaps slightly embellished to make the church look better, why, I’m sowing seeds of doubt.

Church Encourages Us to Ask Hard Questions

Nothing could be further from the truth. I love to ask questions. It’s how I learn. It’s part of my nature. I ask questions, then I answer them. I’m confident I can find quotes from at least a half dozen General Authorities endorsing this manner of learning as being superior to simply reading the scriptures every day. We are to search the scriptures and be ready to defend church doctrines.

Elder Ballard Encouraged us to Be Active on Blogs

Second is the idea that blogging is somehow a rebellious activity in the church – something only progressive activists do. Neither idea is anywhere remotely close to the truth but I encounter both every day on this blog. Misunderstanding goes with the territory. I openly invite participation and encourage comments. I do not censor anything, no matter what kind of comment they leave – unless they are obvious trolls.

Trolls Should be Banned for Contention

I get trolls just like every other blogger. In case you don’t know, a troll is someone who will do everything they can to stir up contention. They will be personally abusive with ad hominem attacks and will purposefully misrepresent the facts. I suppose trolls have their place. They can sure get the conversation going, but they don’t contribute anything intellectually constructive.

Blogging Can and Does Make a Difference

I started my blog just before Elder Ballard invited all members of the church to be involved in the Internet conversations taking place with or without us. He said we could make a difference. He was right. I’ve seen that evidenced time after time as friendships are created, ideas are then discussed with passion, and conclusions are reached with agreement or a better sense of unity.

Open a Dialog, Have a Conversation, Let’s Talk

HannahWheelwrightDo all bloggers and their readers agree on the ideas expressed? Of course not, there are too many divergent views based on differing experiences in life. But just the fact we are having a dialog to discuss the doctrine, a policy or practice is constructive and allows us to exercise kindness in the way we respond to each other. It’s especially helpful if we pray before we write responses. I do.

Most LDS Leaders are Ideologically Conservative

Because many if not most of the local leaders in LDS congregations are conservative by nature, and usually very successful in business, law or medicine, they tend to be authoritative and, well, controlling to a degree. I hate to say it but it’s true. They seem to see it as their most important duty to make sure the meetings run smoothly, emotions are under control and all is peaceful.

Seems Not Okay to Ask Questions in Church Classes

While it is a commendable practice, I have to wonder how much ministering is done when the members feel it is NOT okay to bring up their questions in the classrooms. There seems to be an immense amount of pressure to project “all is well in Zion, yea, Zion prospereth” that nobody wants to get down to the raw nitty-gritty of problems they may be experiencing with doctrine.

Church History Narrative Not Always Accurate

It is especially manifest in discussions of church history. For the longest time, we have been spoon-fed the same standard narrative of “this is how it was” and there is no other interpretation. Unfortunately, there are some who know otherwise. They have done as the prophets have asked us to do and have discovered some things were not exactly as they have always been presented.

Bloggers are an Inquisitive, Questioning Bunch

This is common to both progressive activists and conservative bloggers. President Boyd K. Packer one time proclaimed that three of the greatest threats to the church are intellectuals, gays and feminists. I used to wonder why he would call such members threats. Why should we limit the participation and acceptance of members of our faith because they fall into these categories?

Should be Room for Everybody in This Church

What about John Dehlin’s argument that he is happy as a cultural Mormon and just wants to be left alone? What’s wrong with that? Isn’t there a place for him in this church? So what if he doesn’t believe a lot of the truth claims of the church. Must you believe everything the church teaches in order to be a member? Isn’t any other behavior a controlling and thus forbidden act?

Cultural Mormons Want a Place in the Church

In other words, why are we excommunicating members for what they believe, especially if they are NOT encouraging others to doubt or to leave the church? I have read or listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts from Mormon Stories and have not lost my belief or faith in Jesus Christ or the role this Church has to play in these Latter-days. Why are so many conservatives so fearful?

Excommunicated for Endorsing a New Book

But what really gets me upset is the way some conservative LDS leaders have forced their members to “shut up” and not share their appreciation for the words or writings of individuals who have helped them come closer to Christ. In particular, I am extremely disappointed that stake presidents have excommunicated members for simply telling their friends about a book.

Amen to the Priesthood of that Leader

Seriously. We’ll never hear the other side of the story, but when the excommunicant explains they were cast off for simply recommended a book and wanting to discuss it with friends, I say the leaders have abused their priesthood or worse, have lost it because they exercised control, compulsion, and unrighteous dominion. That is not the purpose of the Melchizedek Priesthood.

The Internet Changed Everything for Research

Now back to the story for some concluding thoughts. From Jan Shipps: “The fact they are going in both directions [against conservatives and progressives],” Shipps said, “makes me think the church is finally coming to grips with the fact the Internet is changing the situation.” Oh, how I hope that is true. I’ve made a living with the power of the Internet for the last twenty-five years.

Every Member Should be an Amateur Historian

I have watched it bring people together like nothing else ever has. One of the best uses of the Internet, in my opinion, is the sharing of gospel doctrine and newly discovered LDS historical evidence. The fact should be obvious to all by now our history has been whitewashed, covered-up or embellished, especially in the earliest 1820-1840 developments in some very key areas.

We Lost an Opportunity With the Death of Joseph

Here’s my concluding point. I love to research church history. It makes a difference in my faith. It helps me to understand what Joseph Smith was trying to do. He wanted to establish Zion much more than to simply start a new church. The Lord intended to perform a marvelous work and a wonder through him that simply did not get completed. He died before it could be brought about.

It’s Time to Prepare Ourselves Individually for Zion

Enough time has passed – four generations according to the scriptures – that we now have an opportunity to establish Zion again. But we must individually become a Zion people. We must come unto Christ, receive Him in this life. That’s the entire purpose of the temple, to receive the Savior and have Him confer the power of the priesthood upon us – both upon men and women.

Just Expressing my Thoughts – Don’t Crucify me

False doctrine, you say? Not from what I’ve read and not from what the scriptures teach. Yet every time I try to provide the evidence from our scriptures and our historical records I am lambasted for heresy. I know I don’t have all the answers yet. I wonder if anyone in this church understands what the Lord was trying to do through the Prophet Joseph Smith. What say ye?

Comments are Still Welcome – Trolls are Warned

New policy: Trolls and Haters are subject to banning. The policy against no ad-hominem attacks will be enforced. Your comments are welcome, but only if you can provide a sound and logical argument, devoid of contention. Passionate expression of opinion is allowed and concern for the welfare of others is always appreciated. But please, no knee-jerk “you’re a fool” crap anymore.

God bless and thanks for reading and sharing.

Update: I felt the church’s response was important enough to include a link in the post:

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/765655450/LDS-Church-responds-to-concerns-over-member-questions.html

Yet, members who leave comments or questions on blogs are still being called in and questioned by their bishops:

http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/58088940-78/church-bishop-leaders-mormons.html.csp

 

Choosing to Act with Certainty


William Shakespeare was arguably the most influential writer in all of English literature. One of his plays, Hamlet, seems to have become so influential that it has profoundly affected the course of Western literature and culture even after 400 years. From Hamlet, I have chosen three themes that Shakespeare developed so beautifully: 1) The impossibility of certainty, 2) The complexity of action and 3) The mystery of life and death. These ideas are further advanced in Tom Stoppard’s existentialist work, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Through absurdity, we are lead to believe that 1) The world is incomprehensible, 2) We are insignificant and incapable of making meaningful choices and 3) We are but players on a stage.

The very purpose of life

In effect, Stoppard’s ideas are the same as Shakespeare’s, illustrated with an equal amount of wit, but in a much more bleak and sarcastic style. I dispute these ideas and in contrast, it is my contention that 1) We can choose what we believe about and do with our lives, 2) We have power to act and can cause things to happen and 3) We can be certain about our choices to act in this life. In fact, making choices and acting upon those choices is the very purpose of life. The process of choosing and acting brings great meaning and fulfillment to our lives and is of significant value to our mental health and happiness. It is by not acting that we forfeit opportunities for growth.

Removing doubt from our lives

When the ghost appears to Hamlet and makes him swear to avenge his father’s murder, Hamlet does not seek that vengeance right away. Hamlet is not sure that he believes the ghost is who he says he is or if he is telling the truth. He is uncertain. He is placed in a difficult situation and wants to be certain that Claudius is guilty before taking action. In an effort to gather support for his sworn course of action, he feigns madness and causes actions that will help him ascertain the veracity of the events related by the ghost. He asks the players to change the production so he can watch the reaction of Claudius when he sees his crime revealed in dramatic form. These are the actions of a very thoughtful and intelligent man.  It is obvious that his madness is an act. So it is not so impossible to be certain about things. Perhaps it just takes a little time and planning. A little later Hamlet witnesses Claudius confess his crime in prayer, thus his doubts are removed.

Dealing with uncertainty

In response to the confusion expressed by Guildenstern at the incomprehensibility of the events unfolding around him, the Player in Act II of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead says, “Uncertainty is the normal state. You’re nobody special.” Tom Stoppard purposefully demonstrates for us that Guildenstern does not have all the information he needs to make sense of the world around him. Obviously, Stoppard is relating that we are all in the same boat in that we also do not know of everything in the script, so to speak, except for the small part we play.

To act or be acted upon

Of course we are not really in the same boat as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in that we live in the real world where we can seek out and obtain more information if we chose to do so. They are only actors, figments of the imagination of Shakespeare and Stoppard, with no control over their lives.  In a sense, they are being acted upon by the whims of the authors. With their limited viewpoint, life does seem incomprehensible and impossible to be certain about anything.  On the other hand, we can discover, learn and choose to be certain in our beliefs about life around us.

Philosophies and belief systems

When the Player in Act III of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead says, “Life is a gamble, at terrible odds—if it was a bet you wouldn’t take it,” he is implying that the universe is unfair and does not discriminate between good people and bad; that rewards and punishments are entirely random. But is the world such a chaotic place as Stoppard seems to believe it is as expressed through the words of the Player? We go to great effort to create meaning in our lives, developing belief systems and philosophies that give us comfort and a sense of order. It’s true that we cannot control the elements and we cannot control what other people say or do, but we, all of us, have created philosophies or adopted religious ideas to help us cope with the seeming disorder and confusion. Thus, we create our own sense of order and fairness, especially if we look at this life as only a small part of our existence, a mere blip on the timeline of eternity.

To be or not to be

In what may be the most famous speech in the English language, Hamlet examines the mystery of life and death, weighing the moral ramifications of living and dying. “To be, or not to be,” he poses; to live, or not to live. Is it nobler to suffer a life full of “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” or to seek to end one’s suffering through death? He compares death to sleep and thinks of the end to pain, suffering and uncertainty that it might bring. In fact, he decides that it would be better to die than to live with the heartache and shocks of life.

Philosophical inquiry not enough

But then he considers the afterlife and the dread of possibly trading one miserable existence for something unknown but conceivably worse. He concludes that this dread makes “cowards of us all,” and so we thus continue to suffer through lovesickness, hard work, political oppression and a host of other undesirable afflictions common to all in this life. This speech connects several of the main themes of the play, including the idea of uncertainty, inability to act and the mystery of death.  Hamlet is deeply passionate and relentlessly logical but he has demonstrated for us the difficulty of knowing truth through philosophical inquiry alone.  There must be another way.

The power to act

There is a better way. When we are presented with something new or different from what we previously believed, we can choose to believe it or to reject it. When we choose to believe a piece of information, a theory, a philosophy or even a religion, we then have the power to act upon our new belief, thus causing results either within ourselves or the world around us.  We have that power because we are agents unto ourselves.  We can cause things to happen of our own free will.  In effect, it is the ultimate in scientific inquiry and the empirical method.  Once we act or cause action, we can then see the results for ourselves.  We then have knowledge.  We can now be certain about our choices to act in this life based on the results they bring about.

Experience brings knowledge

Let’s apply this to Hamlet. Presented with the news from the ghost that his father had been murdered by Hamlet’s uncle, he decided to believe it, at least partially, but also decided to obtain greater evidence. He caused the players to act as accusers which rattled Claudius into a confession overheard by our hero. Hamlet then had confirming knowledge, obtained by his own actions. He no longer needed to believe what the ghost said. He was certain of this thing.  He acted upon his belief and learned something for himself through his own experiences. He no longer needed to believe what someone else said was true. He now had a personal knowledge.

Ask the right questions

Now let’s apply this to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as presented by Tom Stoppard. These confused gentlemen are small players in the big picture, but we are made privy to some of their thoughts and actions while they are not on stage. When they encounter the Player, we sense that they have an opportunity to learn more about their purpose and meaning from him as he seems to know far more about what is going on than he reveals. If only the pair would ask the right questions, they might get some answers. Alas, they do not and continue to march through the entire book just as confused and bewildered as they began. Because they do not actively seek understanding from a potentially knowledgeable source, they therefore have nothing in which to believe or act upon. Consequently, they are unable to make any significant choices and obtain no confirming knowledge to make sense out of their life. They die meaningless deaths.

Choose what we believe

Finally, let’s apply this to us. We come into this world with no knowledge of the purpose or meaning of our lives. Over time, we are presented with a multitude of explanations, beliefs and philosophies to explain the events that are going on around us. Unlike players or actors on a stage who have no control of their lives, we have been given the ability to makes choices and act upon our beliefs. For example, we can choose to believe that there is purpose and meaning to life and that there is someone who knows the beginning from the end. Acting upon this belief, we seek for more knowledge from others who profess similar beliefs. Again, we are presented with choices as some will claim that their answers are the best. They invite us to act upon their beliefs as well as their requests to support them, often financially. They even invite us to participate in their cause in spreading their views to others.

Act upon our beliefs

Choosing to believe something and then acting upon that belief gives us experience. We can then decide if we like the results of our experiment. We can be certain that something is of value or not based upon our own experience. In the process, we learn a lot about ourselves. We discover what will satisfy us and what makes us happy. We rise to the level of our own desires for knowledge. The critical part of the process is to take action. Unless we act upon our beliefs we can never know for ourselves if it is of any value to us. For example, someone may tell you that seeing a Shakespeare play is an enjoyable and enlightening experience. But unless you go see one for yourself, you will never know. Similarly, the best way to learn something about a life philosophy or religion is to participate in activities that practitioners of that way of life follow.

We can be certain

We can choose what we want to believe, act upon those beliefs and then be certain for ourselves if those beliefs have merit or value. Life does not have to be so complex, uncertain or mysterious, especially if we reduce it to a serious of choices and actions. We choose to believe that an education is of value and act upon that belief by paying for an education and doing the hard work required to get a degree. We are then certain of the value of an education. We may decide that it was a waste of time and money or we may choose to believe that our life has been improved and enhanced by our achievement. After all, most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. The world is not so incomprehensible.  We are significant and more than just actors on a stage.  We are here to gain knowledge through our choices in life.

Changing Requirements of Perfection


After reviewing one of my previous essays, a thoughtful reader asked my opinion about the idea of perfection and if the requirements for salvation had changed.  He said, “Open just about any page of the book of Leviticus and you’ll see laws that were of life and death importance to the early church, but not today. In contrast, there is no mention of baptism or confirmation in the Old Testament as a requirement for salvation, yet today, they are taught as essential.”

He also asked about the need for the Word of Wisdom, temple ordinances, plural marriage and the second anointing. He concluded, “If God is eternal, and heaven doesn’t change, shouldn’t the requirements to get into heaven be the same, no matter when you were born or what culture you lived in?” Although his email was private, great questions like these deserve a response that can be shared in my blog so others who might be interested can benefit from the dialog.

Perfection means completed

The savior taught in 3 Ne 12:48, “Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.” Perfection to me has always meant complete or completed as in finished or fulfilled, certainly not something we will achieve in this life and not in the spirit world to come. Perfection is a state that is achieved only after we have learned all there is to know about becoming like God. And that can’t happen until we are resurrected beings because we will never understand what God is like until we have the same type of body that he has.

The Prophet Joseph said, “…go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.”

Joseph F. Smith said, “Salvation does not come all at once; we are commanded to be perfect even as our Father in heaven is perfect. It will take us ages to accomplish this end, for there will be greater progress beyond the grave, and it will be there that the faithful will overcome all things … for we will have to go even beyond the grave before we reach that perfection and shall be like God. But here we lay the foundation.”

Flaws and errors removed

I have never equated perfection as meaning without flaw or error, rather as having flaws and errors removed.  That of course can only come through the atonement of the Savior.  It is not something that I can accomplish on my own.  That is my understanding of perfection – having flaws and errors removed by the Savior.  Therefore, it is my desire to meet the requirements for the atonement to be effective in my life as set forth by the savior and as revealed to his prophets.  I’m not talking about temporal salvation. The resurrection is a free gift to all.  We will all live again with immortal bodies.  But the quality of our life in the hereafter depends entirely upon us and our efforts to be worthy and prepared for the greatest of all the gifts of God – eternal life.

Requirements of Salvation

So that brings us to the second point – meeting the requirements of salvation.  I guess I’m not so concerned about what the people of the Old Testament had to do to please the Lord.  I’m glad I don’t live in the harsh conditions of those days when a man could be stoned for what today would seem to be a minor infraction.  They had a different law back then and the Lord taught us clearly that he fulfilled that law.  The Mosaic Law was to bring them to Christ, even though most of the Israelites who lived back then did not understand that.  The Lord described them as a hard-hearted and stiff-necked people.  I would hope that we are not like some of those early Israelites.  Someday, they must receive the ordinances of the higher priesthood just as it is required of us.

Baptism in ancient times

We are taught in Moses 6 that Adam was baptized.  When Peter said on the day of Pentecost that they must repent and be baptized, the people obviously had a clear understanding of the concept.  John the Baptist did not practice something that was new and unknown.  I am confident that baptism was practiced in the old world.  We know that Alma baptized in the Waters of Mormon. I think we can be certain that the Book of Mormon people brought the practice with them from the Old World.  Baptism is a priesthood ordinance and is one of the requirements of salvation.  The laying on of hands was a common practice as evidenced by priesthood blessings given by the early patriarchs to their children as well as by many references in the New Testament.

Temple ordinances required

I think there is ample evidence that temple ordinances were a part of the religious practice of the ancient people of Israel.  The Lord has always commanded his people to build temples where they are gathered in numbers of sufficient strength.  Where they were not, his saints were endowed with power from on high on the tops of mountains.  No, the majority of the Israelites did not receive the endowment as they lived the Mosaic Law.  But yes, all must be endowed and sealed someday.  That is one of the purposes of the Millennium.

Word of Wisdom for our day

Even though it is based on eternal principles such as moderation and self-control, the Word of Wisdom is a modern revelation given for our benefit in our day. As the Lord said, it was given “In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days.”  Just as the Israelites were given a law of health with many specific things to not do, we have been given a few guidelines for our health in our day. Isn’t that part of the principle of ongoing revelation – specifics suited for our times? No, it’s true that Jesus didn’t teach the Word of Wisdom when he came in the Meridian of Time, but he did reveal it for us in our day.  Thank God for living prophets and modern revelation that gives us that direction we need now.

Plural Marriage not required

Let’s consider why we no longer participate in the Second Anointing or Plural Marriage. Both of those subjects are fascinating to study and can produce a lot of fruitful discovery if we choose to get into them. I have always considered plural marriage to be optional, while entering into the law of celestial marriage to be a requirement.  We must receive that sealing ordinance to make progress according to section 131.  But plural marriage is not a requirement of exaltation.  You can read that in section 132, verse 61.  It says that if a man “desire to espouse another,” and the first wife consents and she is given or sealed unto him by the prophet then he does not commit adultery.  It is never worded that a man must take another wife.  Only certain brethren were commanded in the early days of the church to do so as part of the restoration of all things.

Timing of the Second Anointing

We don’t know much about the Second Anointing, do we?  We certainly aren’t taught about it in our standard Sunday curriculum or even in any of the CES curriculum as far as I can determine.  To be honest, I like the Wikipedia article.  It’s a pretty good summary of everything I have read over the years.  I know it bothers some people that this is not openly taught, but I guess they feel the same way that the temple ceremony is not openly taught.  Of course you can read the whole thing today on the Internet.  I like the fact that we work harder in the church today to ensure that people are more prepared for the first anointing.  To me, it is a lifetime of faithful service in the Lord’s church that prepares us for the second anointing, either in this life or in the resurrection.

Dormant religious practices

Perhaps we need to ask ourselves if these things have really changed or are just dormant.  I am one who believes that those two practices in particular will once again be a part of our worship.  Yes, I am convinced that the day will come when even the “regular” member of the church will be able to receive the second anointing just as soon as he is ready and can participate in plural marriage if he so chooses and his wives are given to him under the direction of the prophet.  Of course, that’s not going to happen while we live under the laws of the government of the United States, but as we all know, the government of the United States will not stand forever.  Yes, the constitution is an inspired document, but when the Savior comes, we will enter a theocracy.

Be Faithful to Joseph

I guess the reason I’m not bothered by a lot of things that I read out there on the Internet about the church, including some very convincing arguments that make you think, is that I like to think of myself more like Hyrum Smith than Joseph.  I don’t see visions or hear the voice of the Lord like Joseph, but I have been blessed with the gift of believing.  That’s what I meant when I said that I choose to believe.  After many years of experience, I can tell you that feel happiest when I exercise faith and choose to believe what was revealed through Joseph Smith.  I believe Joseph.  I trust the brethren who lead this church today.  I have listened to them and studied their words for all my life.  I have never been disappointed nor had cause to doubt their spiritual leadership.  Like Hyrum, I want to remain faithful and supportive of their direction to the end of my days.

Shades of Grey and relative truth


In 1978, civil war broke out in Nicaragua, just after I left the country. My Mission President went from Costa Rica to Managua to help the missionaries get out of the country.  As he was literally leaving the chapel where he had told the missionaries to gather, the Sandinistas came running in from the other door and stopped them.

Demanding to know what side of the conflict they were on, President Muren responded with the phrase, “tonos de gris,” which means shades of grey.  He did not stop but kept going right out the door and was able to get that group of Elders out of the country.  Gratefully, all the missionaries eventually made it safely out.

Social or Cultural Mormons

Can a person be a member of the LDS faith and not believe some of the doctrine or accept the official story of the history?  Absolutely!  We call them social or cultural Mormons and there are countless numbers of them within the church.  Many of these kinds of members come from multi-generation pioneer LDS families.

If you survey an average congregation in the LDS faith, you will find that there are a surprising number who just don’t care about some of the doctrine and care even less about the history.  They are there because it is their family tradition and they derive satisfaction from the social interaction among good people that they know.

Looking for the middle ground

They feel uncomfortable when they hear statements from their leaders that the LDS church is either the kingdom of God or it is nothing.  When someone says that Joseph Smith was either God’s prophet or he was a great fraud, they feel unfairly pressured to have to put their view of the man in such black and white terms.

Isn’t there some middle ground where good people can participate in the Mormon faith without having to take sides about Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, the idea of angels visiting Joseph and the concept of priesthood keys and authority?  There is so much good in the church.  Why does it have to be classified as true?

The American Mormon culture

There are many members of the LDS church who do not fit the stereotypical image of conservative, orthodox, Republicanwhite-collar, all-American family.  The church membership is actually quite diverse, especially as one travels outside the confines of the Intermountain West where the church flourished and is the strongest.

Culturally, as a church and a people, we seem to have become stagnated in the mindset of the 19th century view of Mormonism that still conflicts with the outside world.  The church is growing beyond the Mormon corridor but is experiencing a sort of consolidation in the traditional strongholds of the faith – the center of Zion.

The one true church

Many good people who recognize this cultural myopia and parochialism that exists within the LDS faith have expanded their views and horizons beyond the mores and restraints of the traditional, orthodox Mormon worldview.  There are so many good people out there that are doing great things to serve their local communities.

Because these progressive thinking people have expanded their views they have come in contact with different ways of thinking about the religious experience and about their own Mormon upbringing.  The idea of belonging to the one true church has come to be offensive and difficult, if not impossible to defend in their minds.

God’s chosen people

They see and are embarrassed by what appears to be a contest of right and wrong between our zeal as a missionary church and the good people who are not already a part of the elect kingdom of God.  Whereas previously they were uncomfortable with a perceived exclusivist approach, they now are adamant that we are wrong.

We are judgmental, they cry.  Why can’t we accept everybody else just the way they are?  Why are we trying to convert people when they are already happy and doing much good in their own faith?  The idea of rules for membership becomes chafing.  Why does the church have such high standards that drive people crazy?

Pointing out the flaws and faults

A large percentage of the LDS membership either does not know or does not care about some of the troubling issues of our early history and growth as a church.  It is frustrating to progressive thinkers that so many within the faith are not as well versed as they are on these issues and the supposed quandaries that they present.

So they become more vocal and strident in pointing out the flaws and faults of the church and its leaders, both historical and current.  Their frustration increases when their audience either shrugs its collective shoulders or ignores their efforts to educate them on the problems that they see in the church.  How can they not care?

Many faithful members do know

While there are many who don’t know and don’t care, there are just as many who are very knowledgeable in the issues and problems that are troublesome to our liberal minded members.  It’s just that we have found answers within our own hearts and minds many years ago that satisfy the potential cognitive dissonance.

We quietly go about our lives, secure and confident in the knowledge that we have found answers for the most important elements of our faith.  We invite others to taste of the peace that comes from knowing that there are answers and that there are many solid and bedrock truths upon which we can build our lives and our faith.

Raise a warning voice

For some reason, when we try to share our certainty about the truths we have found, we are sometimes misunderstood to be arrogant or presenting our faith as superior or more complete than theirs.  Yes, if you invite someone to share in your happiness then you are presenting what you have found to be of great worth.

This is a difficult task to perform.  We are commanded to raise our voices to let the world know of the events pertaining to the founding of our church.  We have been asked to be bold in declaring that God has called prophets in our day and that he has sent angels to ordain and teach truths that have long been lost from the world.

Some truths are not relative

And thus we arrive at the heart of the conflict between orthodox conservative Mormons and progressive liberal Mormons.  What is truth?  Can one say with any degree of certainty that they have found the best and most complete source of truth without excluding the many other sources of truth that are found in the world?

Truth is reality. Some kinds of truth can only be received through revelation. I have never seen God or Jesus. I was not there when Joseph received the First Vision. So for me to be able to know those facts, they have to be revealed to me by the Holy Ghost.  Some truths are either revealed of God or they remain unknown.

Truths received by revelation

The five pillars of the LDS testimony require revelation: God lives, Jesus is the Christ, the Savior called Joseph as a prophet, the Book of Mormon was brought forth by the gift and power of God and the church that Joseph established is authorized of God to administer the ordinances of salvation that God requires.

Without revelation from the Holy Ghost we can’t say that we know these things. It’s just not logical. I have studied the Book of Mormon and the Church that claims to be God’s only church authorized to administer the ordinances of salvation. With revelation from the Holy Ghost I can say I know they are what they claim to be.

Summary and conclusion

In some things in life, it is wise to take a position characterized by my Mission President’s response to the Sandinistas – shades of grey.  We do not always know all the facts of some situations and should withhold judgment until a later time.  However, in some critical matters, we must take a position and know for ourselves.

It takes work and determination to obtain knowledge about the five pillars of an LDS testimony.  But I, and millions of others over the years, can say with great certainty that God does reveal knowledge about himself and his prophets to those who diligently seek it.  This revealed knowledge does not come in shades of grey.

There is no middle ground


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.

A different kind of knowledge


I could have sworn that I already wrote this essay but realized after some digging that the main points were developed as part of a long dialog with my Evangelical friend in the comments section of several of my early articles.  I also thought about entitling this, “Why we say ‘I know’ and not ‘I believe’,” but I’m not sure that it fully describes what I want to cover in this post.

The main thesis for my essay can be taken from a story about tasting salt and this statement from Boyd K. Packer: “My friend, spiritually speaking, I have tasted salt. I am no more able to convey to you in words how this knowledge has come than you are to tell me what salt tastes like.”  You would have to read “The Candle of the Lord” again to get the background if you don’t recall it.

The bearing of testimonies

A huge bone of contention and point of offense with some within the church is the fact that we get up each Fast Sunday and say to each other, “I know the church is true.  I know the Book of Mormon is the word of God.  I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet.  I know that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet today” and various other statements that start with the phrase “I know…”

They especially cite the practice of little children at the podium with a parent or sibling standing behind the child whispering the above phrases in their ear for the child to repeat out loud.  If you have been to an LDS Sacrament service on the first Sunday of the month you know what I am talking about.  Having grown up in the church this little ritual does not seem at all strange to me.

Direction from the Brethren

However, apparently enough people thought it wrong that the Brethren issued a letter to be read in all wards advising that little children practice their testimonies at home or in Primary classes instead of at the pulpit in fast and testimony meeting.  Even though this was issued more then five years ago, the practice continues and so it bears re-reading by bishoprics on a regular basis.

To quote: “It may be best to have younger children learn to share their testimonies in settings such as family home evening or when giving talks in Primary until they are old enough to do so unassisted in a fast and testimony meeting.”  Yes, little children can and do feel the spirit of the Lord bearing witness to their souls of the truth but learning to express it may take some time.

Brainwashing or groupthink

But it’s not just the children’s testimoniesthat bother some within the church.  It is the idea of saying, “I know” that such and such a thing is true when logically, they cannot possibly know of the veracity of historical events because they weren’t there.  To these people, a thanktimony or a travelogue is preferable to hear rather than to have someone say that “they know” something.

Let’s investigate that.  The claim is brainwashing or group thinking without any real thought as to what is actually being said.  Is there any validity to this claim?  Of course there is.  You and I have both seen people get up to the pulpit and just repeat what they have heard other people say without sensing any depth of meaning behind what they are saying.  What do they really know?

Discovering a testimony

And yet, consider that President Packer taught us that “a testimony is to be found in the bearing of it.”  Isn’t it possible that when our children and youth get up there and say what comes into their hearts that they are entitled to receive revelation that what they are saying is good and true?  It is my personal experience, shared in a previous essay that knowledge can be obtained like this.

Growing up in the church, we are taught in Primary and Sunday school all the basics we need to know to form a foundational testimony of the goodness and truthfulness of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.  I am a product of this system of indoctrination and training.  I can tell you from my own experience that it works, or at least that it worked for me to a certain point in my young life.

A testimony must grow

I believe that most people who grow up in the church come to a point in their lives where they must advance beyond the basic testimony of their youth.  I also believe that the many natural circumstances of life will require us to make decisions about our testimonies that can be hard and perhaps even painful.  In my opinion, it is the same process through which a convert must pass.

In other words, the testimony of the youth obtained from repeating what was heard from others, is going to be tested and tried.  Was that childish testimony invalid?  No, a testimony obtained as a child is sweet and innocent and pure.  It is valid and real but does not have the depth to sustain us as we move through our lives into a world that challenges such innocent testimonies as naïve.

The influence of leaders

Unfortunately, it is about this point that some of our young people in the church struggle with the transition to the kind of testimony that can weather the storm of adversity and opposition.  That’s where a good seminary or institute teacher can make a real difference in the lives of our youth.  For me, it was a scout advisor and counselor in a bishopric who helped me make that transition.

I knew that Jim Mortensen cared about me because of his sacrifice of time in going with us on scout trips and other activities.  Although I had heard him share his testimony before, I took an occasion to ask him point blank in a private setting to tell me how he knew the church was true.  I know I surprised him, but I will never forget the depth of his sincerity or the spirit that I felt.

A powerful example

Even though Jim came to church alone because his wife didn’t feel comfortable there, he was always cheerful and friendly.  I knew that his testimony gave him strength but wanted to know how he knew that it was true.  He answered by asking if he could bear his testimony first.  “Of course”, I said and he did.  I was not prepared for the power of what I felt as he spoke slowly.

When he finished we both had tears in our eyes.  “You see, Tim,” he said, “every time I bear my testimony it is strengthened.  Every time I tell someone else that I know it is true, I feel it deep in my heart.  It is not simply an emotional response, but a deep conviction.  Now do you understand how I know?”  I did understand and made it my goal to follow his example throughout my life.

Strengthened by sharing

As I have served in the church over the years as a missionary and as a leader in wards and stakes I have always cherished the opportunities to teach the gospeland to share my testimony.  My friend Jim Mortensen instilled in me a desire to do so because I knew that as I bore my testimony to others that it would be strengthened and I would be blessed.  I am so grateful for his example.

I hope this story from my youth illustrates a concept that is hard for many people to understand.  Here is the idea: There are more ways to receive knowledge than exclusively through the five senses of the human body.  We can receive knowledge directly from God, through the spirit of the Lord speaking directly to our spirit.  This kind of knowledge is real and very powerful.

Revelation is the source

A valid testimony will always claim revelation as its source.  The things of God are known by revelation and in no other way.  It is one thing to be able to say, “I believe, I think, I hope that the gospel is true,” but it requires personal revelation from the spirit of the Lord to declare, “I know that the Church is true.”  There is simply no other way.  We must experience revelation.

We can say that we know the church is true by the power of the Holy Ghost and in no other way. It is not through reason, logic, or the philosophies of men or the theories of the world, although these can help to explain it after the receipt.  A testimony of the gospel is received when the Holy Spirit speaks to the spirit within us.  It comes with calm, unwavering certainty into our hearts.

Summary and conclusion

We should have the courage to say “I know.” Some may think this is a trite expression, but “I know” remains a powerful and moving phrase when spoken with sincere conviction. We should say “I believe” if, in fact, we only believe and do not yet know for sure.  We should strive for the day when we can say that we know, having received that knowledge from the spirit of the Lord.

Telling stories, expressing gratitude, admitting that we have testimonies, or saying that we only believe are not the same as saying that we know.  We can know for ourselves and we should know, but that knowledge comes only on the Lord’s terms.  It is received by revelation and not by reasoning or logic.  Once received, we can then say, “I know,” with conviction and mean it.

For more information:

1. Testimony, Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Ensign May 2008
2. Topical guide reference to Testimony with scriptures
3. I had questions, Elder John U. Teh of the Seventy
4. Testimony as a process, Elder Carlos A. Godoy
5. Testimony, in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism

Spiritual experiences as a foundation for faith


I have been intrigued by Blake Ostler’s 2007 FAIR conference presentation entitled, “Spiritual Experiences as the Basis for Belief and Commitment.”  I have read it several times and have decided that Blake is on to something that I would like to develop further.  As you can see I have modified his title a little bit for use in my essay.  I highly recommend you read his essay first.

I’m going to focus on two points he made as he was answering questions towards the end of the presentation.  The first is this: “Memory, and what we do, is changed every time we think about it and remember it.”  The second is this: “All logic is ex post facto to prove what we already feel is true.”  Keep those points in mind as I advance some ideas on my experience with revelation.

Youthful revelatory experiences

Like Blake, I had some remarkable revelatory experiences when I was young that impressed me at the time but have impressed me even more as I have pondered and remembered them over the years.  I have written about them previously, but will list them here to provide some background.  Don’t think that these sacred events were easily obtained or casually absorbed.  They weren’t.

I was taught and believe that we cannot live on borrowed light.  Throughout my Seminary and Institute experience, I must have heard dozens of lessons on how vitally important it is to obtain our own witness of the spirit in order to remain committed to the church and the gospel in later years.  My teachers taught me and the spirit confirmed that I could receive personal revelation.

Foundational spiritual events

The first revelatory experience to which I’ll refer was obtained while I was a student at BYU Idaho.  I was seventeen years old and very immature but very impressed with a testimony I had heard that week from an Apostle of the Lord.  That weekend in my room I prayed fervently for many hours to know for myself that what he had said was true and important for me in my life.

The next impressive spiritual event in the development of my testimony was the next year when I was eighteen years old and preparing myself to serve a mission.  I have also shared this one in a previous essay.  The experience was equally as impressive as the first one though it was perhaps deeper in meaning and implication.  These are part of my early foundational spiritual memories.

Deep impact on my faith

These were not my only youthful revelatory experiences.  I have recorded several others in my journals that came almost unbidden during the years before my mission.  Although I received them as a result of prayer, the effort was not as intense.  In other words, I did not pray for many hours or fast for days to obtain the other experiences.  Nevertheless, they were just as powerful.

Because of these events, I was able to go through the difficult and rigorous experience of serving as a missionary without looking back and wondering why I decided to sacrifice like that for two years.  I had these sacred memories burning in my heart and being added unto with additional everyday assurances from the Lord that I was engaged in his work and that he was appreciative.

Working with imperfect people

Life marches on.  An education is obtained, a marriage is solemnized in the temple, a family is raised and increasing responsibilities in a career and in the church are rewarding and fulfilling.  As sometimes happens, I begin to learn things about my faith, and especially about the people in it that are at first disturbing and then disappointing.  I experience some logical inconsistencies.

Cognitive dissonance can be a painful experience when it includes people from our world who are in authoritative positions.  For example, a beloved bishop from my youth became inactive after he was released.  How could this happen?  He represented the Lord to me in interviews that I held sacred.  He helped me resolve several youthful problems and encouraged me to be faithful.

Imperfections even at high levels

Another bishop from my youth is disciplined after fiscal improprieties in his business dealings are revealed.  I learn of divorces of people whom I admired, some of whom were influential in my youth.  I then begin to learn of difficulties in higher levels of the church – stake presidents who lose their testimonies and announce to their congregations that they are leaving the faith.

A promising general authority is excommunicated for breaking the law of chastity.  I discover that an apostle was excommunicated for this very same reason less than forty years earlier.  How is this possible – a modern apostle excommunicated?  I can understand it happening in the early days of the church but not in our day and age.  These are men of God.  Tell me this wasn’t so!

Sacred things exposed and mocked

I discovered that a former ordinance worker in the temple had recorded the temple ceremony and then published it.  How could he do that?  I hold the temple sacred and have enjoyed so many wonderful experiences there over the years.  What could cause him to lose his faith and reveal something that means so much to me?  Did he never have any spiritual experiences of his own?

From the earliest days of the church there have been those who have not been impressed with the sacred nature of the temple and have exposed things that they have covenanted to keep sacred.  In our day there are those who claim to have received the second anointing and then describe it on the message boards of those who hate the church.  Something’s not right with this picture.

Not all members receive revelation

I used to think that everybody in the church had spiritual experiences similar to those I enjoyed in my youth.  Over the years, I have come to realize that this is not the case.  Can that be true even for those who have served as bishops, stake presidents or even general authorities?  In my opinion, yes – personal experience has shown this to be so.  Not all members receive revelation.

That has been an amazing thing for me to contemplate.  Was I just extremely lucky or blessed to believe that I could receive revelation when I was so young?  Several visitors to my blog over the years have tried to convince me that I did not receive revelation.  They have suggested that what I experienced was a form of self-hypnosis, or simply the effect of a frenzied, emotional state.

Memories can be enlarged

Back to Blake’s two points, memory first.  I have come to realize that although my early spiritual experiences occurred nearly thirty-five years ago, they are clearer in my mind now then when I first experienced them.  The combination of pondering them and writing about them has helped me to understand that there was much more detail in the experiences than what I first thought.

As Blake pointed out in his essay, this helps me to understand why Joseph Smith could recount the same First Vision experience differently in each of the accounts he relates over the years.  I was so focused on determining my own standing before God in my first youthful manifestation that I had overlooked how deeply and powerfully the Lord spoke to me about missionary labors.

How to explain all this

Blake’s second point was that all logic is created to prove what we already feel is true.  I have had prima facia experiences that overrule any logical inconsistencies I have encountered in what I have learned about the history and people of this church as I have studied it in more depth.  In effect, I have not really experienced cognitive dissonance at all because the spiritual trumps logical.

Let me restate that.  My spiritual revelatory experiences with the Holy Ghost early in my life have proven to be so powerful that it seems that no matter what kind of troubling things I may learn about the men who run or have run this church, I feel inoculated and immune to their effect.  My evangelical friends call this “living in the protective Mormon bubble of a testimony.”

Summary and conclusion

My experiences with the Holy Ghost are not going to be the same as yours.  They may be similar or they may be completely different.  For me, these revelatory events in my youth have provided a foundation for my experiences in this church thus far.  I have encountered much imperfection and weakness in the men who run it, but the spiritual witnesses of my life have protected me.

The bottom line is that I continue to believe that the LDS Church is what it claims to be when it was setup through the prophet Joseph Smith in 1830.  The simple fact is that we can know this for ourselves through revelatory encounters with the Holy Ghost.  No matter what negative things I discover, nothing can overcome the strength of that personal witness if I remain worthy.

——————————————————

Note about the illustration: This artist’s conception of Joseph translating the Book of Mormon is one that is highly criticized by some members of the church.  They feel it is disingenuous because it does not show Joseph using the seer stones in the hat.  It also shows the plates in plain view of Oliver which was not the case.  Joseph was not to show them to anyone unless commanded of the Lord.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,562 other followers

%d bloggers like this: