When Religion Comes Between Spouses


SnufferBooks

Picture of most of my Denver Snuffer book and CD collection (may be missing a few CDs).

Over the years, I’ve read with interest many stories of conflict between husbands and wives where one spouse was a believer in a religion and the other wasn’t. It always hurt my heart to read such stories. Some even made me cry to think of two people who loved each other enough to marry and start a family who are now quarreling over religious beliefs and commitments. This sort of story is more common than you may think, or perhaps those who experience are more prone to share.

Not Important to Their Marriage

Inevitably, my response was, and you’ll think this uncaring, “Well, you knew what you were getting into. Why did you marry him (or her) without working this out first?” I know many people who either a) don’t care what the other spouse does when it comes to religion or b) don’t care what religious beliefs the children are exposed to later on. In a sense, they have it easy. They simply don’t care and religion is not an issue. It’s not important to either one of them. In other words, neither holds strong religious beliefs, so it doesn’t matter or bother either of them.

Unequally Yoked Is A Real Issue

What if one or the other spouse does care deeply about their religious beliefs? Worse, what if for the most part, the couples agree on just about everything else? They have so much in common when it comes to what they believe about God, religion, doctrine, church history, family, prayer, worship, discipline, service and all kinds of other things that matter in raising a family. I’ll bet you can see how that could raise some concern, even be the source of some heated arguments.

Sudden Interest in What the Other is Reading

Let me give you a modern day example. A loving couple, married more than thirty years, never really interested in what kind of books the other was reading before, discovers their spouse is now reading the sort of books that some might consider controversial in a religious sense. I’ll make an even more personal example, especially for those who know us. What I’m describing is happening right now and has been happening for the last six months to a year to Carol and me. I guess I’m not really looking for advice but I’ll bet there are a lot of you who have gone through something similar. This is more of a journal entry of what’s happening in my life these days.

Determining Orthodoxy in LDS Publishing

I’ve always said my blog is mainly about book reviews that deal with the last days. For those who have followed my blog you know that’s true. I confess the subjects of some of my books are controversial or are non-orthodox. In other words, they weren’t published by Deseret Book – who rarely, if ever will publish a book not found in the home library of an apostle or other church leader. I’ve forever been a bit of a rebel. My sort of publisher was always Bookcraft, then Signature Books, and now most of the LDS books I buy are self-published, meaning no LDS publisher would touch them.

Unorthodox Books Reviewed (Some not LDS)

Some examples of books I’ve recently reviewed are Visions of Glory, (Cedar Fort), Conquering Spiritual Evil (Doug Mendenhall), And the Moon Shall Turn to Blood (Anthony Larson), The Unquiet Dead (Dr. Edith Fiore), You Have Been Here Before (Dr. Edith Fiore), Beloved Bridegroom (Donna Nielsen), From Darkness Into Light (Mel Fish), The Second Comforter (Denver Snuffer), Teachings of the Doctrines of Eternal Lives (Anonymous), Passing the Heavenly Gift (Denver Snuffer), Shaken Faith Syndrome (Michael Ash), and on and on…

Passing the Heavenly Gift

I’d like to focus on one book in particular because of the contention it has caused in our home: Passing the Heavenly Gift by Denver Snuffer. PtHG was one of the most fascinating and one of the most infuriating books I have ever read. As most of you know, ultimately, it got Denver excommunicated. I have other books in my home from excommunicated or disaffected members that don’t seem to bother Carol, specifically books from D. Michael Quinn or Grant Palmer. I also enjoyed Rough Stone Rolling (Bushman) and No Man Knows My History (Brodie).

Note: Please don’t put Bushman in this category of authors. He is a faithful temple worker.

Direct Opposition to Existing Belief

I first read it in February of 2012. Unsurprisingly, as with any book about which I feel strongly, I asked my wife to read it with me. I thought the natural place to start would be back at chapter one. That was a big mistake. All it did was get her riled up. She would not read past the end of the chapter and will not listen to me read excerpts from other chapters or even from his other books, including his wonderful books on the Savior, The Second Atonement or Come, Let Us Adore Him, both wonderful exposes on the Savior and how we can draw closer to Him. There was something in chapter one that convinced her Denver Snuffer was an out-and-out apostate.

Not the Right Book at the Right Time

I apparently made a big mistake. While I may have been ready for PtHG, Carol was not. As I read PtHG, I had a spiritual experience. I’ve related this before. It spoke to me. It answered so many of my questions that had been on the shelf for so many years. I had not had a spiritual experience like that since my early youth, perhaps from the days when I was preparing for my mission and reading doctrine and history ten to twelve hours a day. I loved the book. I wanted to share it. I thought the dearest person in my life would surely be understanding and sympathetic.

Conflict in Past Religious History

You’ve got to understand a little bit about Carol. She’s no dummy. I wouldn’t have married her if I wasn’t impressed with her gifts and abilities when it came to knowing the church, how it worked, the history, the doctrine, the culture – oh, Carol exudes the culture of the LDS Church since her ancestors crossed the plains. But not me – I’m a first generation Mormon. I’m an old California boy whose maternal ancestors were Presbyterian preachers and paternal ancestors were Baptists Ministers. I have a lot of strong feeling in my blood about religion, but no LDS culture.

The Book is Divisive and a Sifter

That shouldn’t have anything to do with how we view books like Passing the Heavenly Gift. But I found the opposite to be true. I was excited about the book. It got me enthused. It caused me to want to study more, to read more, to pray more and to understand more of Mormon history. I was shocked to discover it had the opposite effect on Carol. I quote: “Yes, Denver Snuffer scares me. I can’t explain my fear. If the Brethren came out and said Denver Snuffer is the next big thing, to listen to and follow him, then, I’d be all over that.” I’ve left out some content. You may find it strange we communicate in writing as husband and wife, but you’ve got to realize Carol is a published author, works all day at writing and was simply responding to an email from me.

There Is No Such Thing As A Snufferite

I have read almost all of Denver’s books. I have listened to almost all his published lectures. By the end of the week I will have finished his last four lectures from Forty Years in Mormonism – Talk 1 – Boise (Sep 10), Talk 2 – Idaho Falls (Sep 28), Talk 3 – Logan, (Sep 29) – Talk 4 – Centerville (Oct 6). I’ll be listening to them in the afternoons after I finish yet another week of early morning Microsoft certification classes from 6am to 2pm – as long as I don’t fall asleep. Many who have been following my blog know I am also seeing a psychiatrist in the afternoons as recommended by my primary physician. We’ve tried everything else to get rid of seven months of constant, and I mean constant migraines. But that’s the way of Western medicine, isn’t it?

Motivated to learn and study the Gospel more

Yes, I know there have now been two or three rebuttals published. I have not yet read the rebuttals. I have always said I am not a scholar or an apologetic. I will leave that to those who love to argue logic. I understand the game but refuse to play it. Carol says she lives her life by her gut feeling – which explains why she was not ready to read PtHG – It would not help her. She didn’t need or want it. The book helped me. I needed it. I wanted it. I had been looking for something like that book for many years. Please note: I am not any less of a believer in the church, in the apostles and prophets and their right to lead us or in the existence of the sealing power in the temples. I simply want to learn more.

We Need to Understand Priesthood Keys

By the way, this is probably my 20th post on some aspect of Denver Snuffer. Obviously I feel he has something special and unique to offer. No, he does not take the place of President Thomas S. Monson. No, he does not have keys to lead this church (as far as I can tell). I am certain the Lord would let us know if something were to change in that area (Amos 3:7). I believe Denver has a mission – perhaps more than one – that has been revealed to him. He performed one mission that got him excommunicated – publishing a controversial book. He is now performing another mission, providing us with about 25 hours of lecture on some very important aspects of priesthood doctrine. I am looking forward to his next talk. I truly wish I could be there. Due to work, I will probably not be able to make it to any of his lectures except maybe St. George.

We Worked Out our Differences

And for those of you who are wondering how Carol and I worked this out, I will share this. It got so testy for a while I put all his books and CDs in a box and put them away. I refrained from saying, “Well, here’s something I remember reading Denver saying about that…” This morning we came to an agreement. Even after I had her read this post, she confesses she is still afraid that Denver will “steal me away.” I have no idea where she thinks I would go or what I would do but I never professed to understand women except for one thing – they need lots of reassuring. Carol is no different. Perhaps I should be the one who needs to be reassured as her career grows, as she publishes more books and realizes her dreams but I see my role as to encourage her, to do nothing to hold her back, including pay for publishing classes, seminars,  conventions, etc, which I gladly do. I want to see her succeed as a published author (if she could just figure out her genre).

God bless You Who Deal With Similar Issues

I have seen divorces as a result of disagreements over religion, especially when it comes to how to discipline children or budgeting. These are the most difficult areas to make a marriage work. I remember my own inadequacies and failures in this area. They left me feeling awful, like I had failed at the most important mission of my life. At times I felt like the meanest father in the world. At other times I felt like the weakest man in the world, unable to lead my own family in righteousness. I don’t know any perfect families. I am grateful my son is still alive and a productive, seemingly happy member of society in his own home. We gave him up to suicide, mental insanity, drugs and alcohol many years ago. The answer was to put his name on the prayer role as often as possible and to continue to pray for him every morning and night, which we have done all his life, but especially the last fifteen years since his drug / mental issues first showed themselves. (Write me privately at tmalonemcse @ gmail.com if you want to know the story of how his drug addiction sent me to the hospital twice in February of this year).

Trust in the Lord as you Seek Knowledge

I pray that something as silly as the reading of a book will never get in the way a working relationship with your loved ones, be it the Book of Mormon or some anti-Mormon book. Think about it. Some General Authorities have to be assigned to read them so they’ll know what’s in them. How would you like to be that GA? Not me. If someone in your family wants to read the works of D. Michael Quinn, Denver Snuffer, Mel Fish or anyone else that write about the church but is not published by Deseret Book, please don’t let that desire or fear get in the way of your marriage. Trust the Lord and your love for each other. I wish I could have Carol tell her side of this story. I’ll bet it would be very different. Maybe someday she’ll oblige us. I’m confident it will be focused on her fear of losing me to the dark side.

Interview With a General Authority


LynnGRobbinsUnless you count my Mission President who later became one, I have only been interviewed by a General Authority once in my life. I was serving on a High Council when a new Stake President was called. The visiting GA interviewed all the High Councilors and Bishops. It was short. I was happy for the new President.

I’m in a different stake now. Our Stake President is leaving to serve as a Mission President. Funny, that’s what happened to the last Stake President. Elder Lynn Robbins is the visiting GA. I don’t think the Stake Financial Clerk (that’s me) is on the interview list. I’ll be happy for the new Stake President and continue to serve.

I got to thinking about how I have changed in the thirteen years since my interview with a General Authority. I took a stroll down memory lane as I was driving home from work today. I thought about my testimony and wondered if it had grown. I decided to conduct my own interview and share it as a journal entry on my blog.

By the way, this is not the way my interview with the GA went way back when. He asked two questions: 1) “Tell me about your family,” and 2) “Who do you think should be the Stake President?” He had such a short amount of time and at least twenty-five men to interview. If I remember correctly, there was also a member of the Area Presidency in the meeting. I assume they compared notes afterwards.

GA: So, Brother Malone, tell me about yourself.

Me: I’m a life-long member, happy with what the church has done for me and happy to serve wherever I’m asked.

GA: Tell me what the church has done for you.

Me: My first thoughts go to Primary and Sunday school, Seminary and Institute. The church gave me an organized and focused foundation early in my life for studying and learning the gospel.

GA: And you appreciate that.

Me: I do. If there’s anything that defines me it’s that I like to study the doctrines of the church, organize them in my mind and then share them on my blog.

GA: Oh, so you’re a blogger. Tell me about that.

Me: I like to think of my blog as a way to check my gospel understanding. I write what I think are orthodox, standard positions of the church on difficult subjects and then throw them out there for comment. I am always surprised at the response.

GA: Why is that?

Me: Because there is such a diversity of opinions out there on what is orthodox. I think I’ve discovered that you can believe just about anything and be a member of this church.

GA: [laughs] Indeed. The gospel net gathers of every kind. What do you believe?

Me: About the church?

GA: Yes. How does the church bless you today?

Me: Two things come to mind right away: Fellowship and service. I love to worship with the Saints and I appreciate the opportunity to help the Stake Presidency with their heavy responsibilities.

GA: I understand you serve as the Stake Financial clerk. Do you enjoy that?

Me: I do. I believe the Lord has helped me become equal to the challenge. Besides, I enjoy helping other financial clerks. The main task is sharing how to use MLS.

GA: If you could choose any calling in the church, what would it be?

Me: It doesn’t matter, but I miss teaching the gospel on a regular basis.

GA: Why is that?

Me: Teaching requires study and preparation. I need that challenge of making sure I understand what the Lord wants to be taught.

GA: But the church provides the material to be taught.

Me: I understand. It’s not the material the people remember. It’s how they felt.

GA: What do you mean?

Me: Sitting in a Sunday school class should be a spiritual experience. Yes, it’s a time when the doctrines of the gospel are discussed but more importantly, it’s when spirits are fed. There should be “ah-ha” moments as Saints realize they can do what the Lord has asked them to do. That’s why the Lord gave us the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon – to show that we can come to know the Savior.

GA: Tell me about the Savior.

Me: I wish I could say I “know” Him, but at this point in my life I can only say I know about Him. I know He loves me. I know He helps me. I know He sends angels to help me. I have spent most of my life learning about Him and hope to learn more, so much more, before I meet Him in the next world. I love to hear stories about Him, especially from those who say they have met Him in this life.

GA: That’s one of the marvelous things about this Church, isn’t it?

Me: What do you mean?

GA: That we teach each other about the Savior and can learn from each other.

Me: It is. But I long for the day when I can learn from him directly. I have come to a point in my life where it seems everything I read in the scriptures tells me that He wants to reveal Himself to us. The spirit also tells me He has things to share with us that He can only do with a personal visit. I am working on trying to understand what I must do to be ready for whatever it is He wants to share in person.

GA: That’s a wonderful desire. Most people are content knowing that they will meet Him in the life to come. They live their lives as best they can, obeying His commandments and enduring faithfully to the end.

Me: And up until a few years ago, I would have responded the same way. I can’t tell you what it is, but something is driving me to learn all I can about the steps to part the veil and converse with the Lord in this life. I know it requires a kind of faith that I don’t yet have. I have a running conversation with my Heavenly Father every day about what I should work on next to prepare me for that glorious day.

GA: I commend you for your efforts. I’m sure the day will come if you are faithful. Now, who do you think should be the next Stake President of your stake?

Get Serious About Gospel Study


How many hours a day do you spend studying the gospel? OK, how many minutes? Hmmm, let’s break that down. Would minutes per week work better for you? And no fair counting the time you spend sitting in church meetings or reading blogs that discuss the church. I mean time spent in the scriptures and asking the Lord to help you understand well enough to teach others in an intelligent way the doctrines you find there.

If you’re like me, your gospel study time is nowhere near what you would like or know it should be. When I was preparing for my mission I spent hours each day reading scriptures and various commentaries on the scriptures. I wanted to know what I would be teaching when I went out there to present the doctrines of the kingdom of God. I miss those days. I felt immersed in the spirit then and knew the Lord was pleased.

Fast forward thirty-six years. I’m an old man in my fifties. I’ve spent a lifetime of service in various callings, enjoying each one with the learning and growth that came with them. My calling right now is easy – stake auditor – and I have no serious demands on my time other than what is expected of any other computer guy who supports a small business with about 100 computers and a dozen servers. No big deal.

A Gospel Study Plan

There are two parts of gospel study that make it work for me. First is the discipline of a schedule. If I don’t have a set time each day where I know I have nothing else planned then the work of reading and writing is just not going to get done. Notice I said writing. For me, gospel study without taking notes, summarizing or writing out conclusions about how it can be applied or taught is really nothing more than reading.

Not that there’s anything wrong with reading. But at my age, I need to move beyond the basics of reading. Like most of you, I’ve read the scriptures dozens of times. I’m familiar enough with what’s in them that when someone quotes a scripture in a talk I can usually find it with the flips of a few pages or the scrolling of a few screens. Reading the scriptures and pondering them is certainly a good use of gospel study time.

I guess it’s the teacher in me that feels the need to prepare outlines, collect quotes, compare commentaries from different authors and gather everything I can about specific subjects. I’m not a scholar but from what I understand about the scholarly process, the idea is to become an expert on some aspect of the gospel and then to advance the body of knowledge with individual insights that add to the understanding of others.

Purpose of Gospel Study

But of course, that may be the wrong way to undertake a serious study of the gospel. Take a step back and ask yourself what is your purpose in reading and searching the scriptures. What do you hope to accomplish? What will be the end result of years of pondering and study? Do you want to come across as a “know-it-all” in the gospel doctrine class? I don’t. What I want from my time is pure and simple. I want to receive revelation.

The second required part of my personal gospel study plan is inspiration. If I don’t have some goal or vision or idea of what I want to learn or discover in exchange for the investment of my time, then I struggle with the natural man in me, the inner child that needs a reason why. Let’s face it – self-discipline is not fun without a reward. I have found over the years that I need to reward myself for the work of study.

My reward, and this is personal so it may not appeal to you, is to take what I have studied and present it to the Lord in prayer, asking for a confirming witness that my conclusions are correct. Because I have invested the time in study, it’s as if I give myself permission to talk to the Lord in a language that is beyond my own natural ability. It feels as if the heavens open. There is a real closeness to the Lord that is undeniable.

Inviting Revelation

There is something about the language of scripture, particularly as found in the Doctrine and Covenants that brings the spirit of revelation into my heart and mind. It is especially powerful when read out loud. After completing a study session, I’ll retire to a private place where I can sit and read a section of the D&C out loud, as if I were acting as voice for an assembly found just on the other side of the veil. It is powerful.

I then kneel in sacred prayer. I find that if I have completed my preparations satisfactorily, I am enabled to exercise sufficient faith in prayer – and I pray out loud – to call down the powers of heaven upon me. The words just seem to flow. I know what to pray for and even how to phrase it. I am able to report to the Lord what I have studied, what I have learned and conclusions I have reached about truth and its relevance.

For me, the process works best when I am confirming what someone else has taught or claimed to be true. I confess I have received very little personal or “new” revelation through this process although there are times I can say with absolute certainty that the Lord has given me something sacred that is meant just for me. I then write it down. I do the same when I have a dream that I know has come from the Lord.

Sharing Revelation

This is a sacred process. If you have not experienced it you may think it unusual or strange. I can tell you it is different from the way the world teaches we should study and gain knowledge. The difference is in the addition of the elements of prayer, revelation and a confirming witness of the Holy Ghost. I have been taught and have believed from my youth that a testimony is built with both study and sincere prayer.

I am impressed by those who know history or who know how to explain a doctrine well in an expository manner. But I am more impressed by those who know how to take that knowledge and nurture or build the testimony of someone else. Knowledge of the truth shouldn’t be like a club to be wielded in a challenging or threatening manner. What you gain from heaven should be used to uplift and strengthen.

If the Lord gives you light and truth through your efforts in study and prayer then it should be sweet to you and to others if you are directed to share it, especially in a teaching capacity. To edify means to bring a focused clarity to the mind and a confirming, sweet witness to the heart. If it does not edify when shared then it is not done in the Lord’s way. Even a call to repentance has a comforting spirit to it.

My Personal Motivation

There’s a reason the Lord commanded us to study and search the scriptures. The primary song “search, ponder and pray” teaches us that the responsibility to know the Lord and his ways rests squarely upon our own shoulders. Nephi’s lament that men will not search knowledge was meant for us in our day. We are the gentiles that need to come unto Christ through a deeper knowledge of the doctrines of the Book of Mormon.

The Lord isn’t trifling with you or me when he commands us to repent and to cast off the chains of the adversary that bind us. The Holy Ghost will inspire you with exactly what you need to do to remove the condemnation from your own life. I know that I must repent and am grateful for the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon that helps me through that process. I have a long way to go and hope the Lord gives me time.

I intend to get serious about my gospel study in a way that I have not done for a long time. I intend to recapture the spirit that accompanied me as I spent hours each day in gospel study while preparing for my mission. While I may not be preparing for a mission, I am preparing for an audience with the Lord and intend to be prepared when that day comes. I also intend to have that audience while yet in this mortal life.

The Invitation

How about you? How are you doing on your preparations to meet the Lord? Are you motivated and do you spend the time required to know what He expects and needs you to know before He can reveal Himself unto you? How much time do you spend in gospel study each day? Are you consistent? Are you discovering new things, immersing yourself in the scriptures and coming to understand the voice of the Lord?

I invite you to join me in getting serious about studying the gospel. Make it a higher priority. Be aware of the natural tendency to think that you have learned enough. Believe that the Lord has so much more that He wants to reveal to you. Be willing to pay the price through study and prayer. If you are already serious and consistent in your studies then I congratulate you and pray for the Lord’s choicest blessings upon you.

I promise you that the Lord will reveal great and marvelous things to those who make the effort in this life to receive them. I have tasted just enough of those promises that I know I want more. I have been immersed in the light of truth and the sweet comforting spirit of the Holy Ghost on many occasions after study and prayer. I want more. I want to know the mysteries of Godliness that he offers to share with each of us.

The Doctrine of Eternal Lives


At the close of our High Priest’s group meeting today, I was surprised by a question from a good brother sitting next to me. “Why do you study so much?” I wondered why he asked that until I realized what I had done during the lesson. I had placed the piano bench in front of me, spread out my scriptures and was marking a copy of the General Conference talk we were studying.

So I took a minute to answer his question which turned to why I blog. I explained that my mother was a convert and a professional teacher when I was growing up. She ingrained in me a desire to continually study and learn. She had an insatiable appetite to know the history of our church. Our home library was filled with books about Joseph, Brigham, John Taylor and other early leaders.

As a family (or at least with my mother and sister) we attended Education Week and Know Your Religion lectures. Our gospel discussion before my mission was all about doctrine, especially the doctrines of salvation, the temple and the eternities. Mother loved nothing better than to teach what she had learned as a convert. She often taught the Gospel Doctrine Sunday school class.

Understanding Doctrine

I told my friend that I studied every possible moment I’m not working or attending to family duties because I want to thoroughly know and understand the doctrines of our church. I don’t want to be like so many I have read about online who say they have been shocked and dismayed when they learned something distressing about our history that they hadn’t heard in church.

I gave him an example. I said, “Do you know there are people in our church who believe in reincarnation? How do you feel about that?” He said, “I know we’ll be resurrected, but I don’t believe that’s the same as reincarnation.” I said, “You’re absolutely right. But there are people using quotes from early church leaders to suggest they believed and taught this as doctrine.”

He said he couldn’t understand how members of the church could believe such a thing. He was a convert and explained that he would think and pray about what he was learning before accepting it. Sometimes well-meaning people would try to tell him that Mormons believed this or that. “But I knew by the spirit that they were wrong, no matter how convincing their arguments.”

Strait and Narrow Path

We concluded our discussion of how we can know truth for ourselves. His unsolicited comment that he “knew by the spirit” was gratifying to hear. We use that phrase often in our church but I remain convinced that there are many who do not appreciate or know how it works. D&C 8:2 holds the key to understanding how we can “know by the spirit” in both our heart and our mind.

Those who approach the world primarily with an intellectual focus often disdain the emotional or sentimental aspects of knowing truth. They remain convinced that there is no place for sentiment in our church service, that the telling of faith-promoting stories is out of place or being moved to tears is not appropriate when considering the doctrines of salvation. I believe they are mistaken.

Those who pass through life responding mainly to how they feel about something but avoid any study of doctrine or history are missing out on the second half of the formula for understanding truth. We know something is true by the spirit when we are edified – when we both feel that it is right and we understand why it is right. It’s a fine line that includes both feeling and knowing.

A Book of Quotes

I recently came across a book that purports to contain Mormon doctrine being offered for sale on Amazon and a few other places. Now I have dozens of books in my library that claim to be full of Mormon doctrine but in reality are riddled with half-truths, innuendos and lies. The difficulty of these kinds of books is that they contain so much truth that the lies are difficult to see clearly.

Such is the case of the book entitled, “Teachings of the Doctrines of Eternal Lives.” Somebody who wished to remain anonymous has gone to a lot of trouble to collect hundreds of quotes from the early leaders of the church and arrange them in an order that seems to lend support for each succeeding section. I applaud the efforts but what is being implied is based on a false doctrine.

No, the idea of Eternal Lives itself is not a false doctrine but it’s not what the book is attempting to prove or justify by all the supporting quotes. Almost all the quotes themselves are wonderful. It’s a delight to see them all in one place. Any serious student of the gospel will be familiar with most of them or should be. If you’re not careful you can skip right over the few that are wrong.

Doctrine of Eternal Lives

The doctrine of Eternal Lives as I understand it is the idea that once exalted we will be able to have eternal increase. In other words, we can become Gods ourselves, parents of spirit children. I don’t pretend to fully understand it because I obviously haven’t experienced it but it is a core component of Mormonism. We can become like God. That’s the whole purpose of life to me.

This should be basic knowledge to every member of the church but if you want to understand this better, I’m actually going to recommend that you buy the book. I have read it online at Scribd and will be picking up a copy at the Confetti Book Store in Spanish Fork next week on my way to a family reunion in Ogden. Like I said, it is a worthwhile compilation of quotes.

You can look up some of the basics in the scriptures and in the words of the prophets using phrases like “continuation of the seeds, eternal increase, exaltation, celestial marriage, calling and election, Church of the Firstborn, Fulness of the Father, Godhood, joint heirs with Christ,” and of course, “eternal lives.” This really is a basic doctrine taught in our standard curriculum.

The Principle of Reincarnation

Even though the compiler adds very little commentary, there is some sprinkled throughout the book along with questions following specific quotes. He also bolds key phrases that he wants you to notice and ponder. As I read the book I kept feeling that there was something wrong with where the compiler was trying to lead me. I couldn’t put my finger on it until I read this quote:

“…his sister, the late Eliza R. Snow Smith was a firm believer in the principle of reincarnation and that she claimed to have received it from Joseph the Prophet, her husband.” This is from the journal of Orson F Whitney, recounting a conversation with Lorenzo Snow. So we have a third person account of what Joseph is supposed to have said (p. 73). Compare that to this exchange:

A Doctrine of the Devil

“I resumed conversation with Matthias, and desired him to enlighten my mind more on his views respecting the resurrection. He said that he possessed the spirit of his fathers, that he was a literal descendant of Matthias, the Apostle, who was chosen in the place of Judas that fell; that his spirit was resurrected in him; and that this was the way or scheme of eternal life—this transmigration of soul or spirit from father to son.

“I told him that his doctrine was of the devil, that he was in reality in possession of a wicked and depraved spirit, although he professed to be the Spirit of truth itself; and he said also that he possessed the soul of Christ. He tarried until Wednesday, 11th, when, after breakfast, I told him, that my God told me, that his god was the devil, and I could not keep him any longer, and he must depart. And so I, for once, cast out the devil in bodily shape, and I believe a murderer.”

The above quote from the prophet Joseph is found in the History of the Church, volume 2, page 307. Transmigration of the soul is the same as a belief in reincarnation. Joseph nailed it when he said that his guest was possessed of an evil and lying spirit. Unfortunately, that same spirit seems to be the source of what our anonymous quote compiler is trying to persuade us to believe.

A Dangerous and Damning Belief

Why is a belief in reincarnation so dangerous? To believe in reincarnation is to take away the focus and incentive we should have to make every moment of this life count in preparation for our continued schooling in the life to come. If one believes they will be given another chance then there is no real desire to do one’s best. Why knock yourself out if you can do it over again?

We are born once, we die once (Heb 9:27) and we are resurrected once to die no more (Alma 11:45 & 12:18). That’s the doctrine of the church as taught by the Lord through the prophet Joseph Smith in scripture that we as a church have accepted as binding. Anything other than that is dangerous and damning because it prevents us from progressing in this life as we should.

In the words of Bruce R McConkie, reincarnation “is a false doctrine originating with the devil. It runs counter to the whole system and plan of salvation whereunder spirits are born in pre-existence, are permitted to pass through a mortal probation, and then in due course become immortal, incorruptible, and eternal in nature.” As a church, we do not believe in reincarnation.

Baby Resurrection

Now, maybe I’m wrong that the compiler is trying to lead us to accept reincarnation. Perhaps he wants us to consider some of the other quotes about the resurrection suggesting that the way we are resurrected is to be born of a woman once again, only this time through an immortal or glorified mother. I confess I never heard of “baby resurrection” until I read it in this book.

This idea is not as damning as reincarnation as long as you assert that the baby being born is an immortal being and NOT about to go once again through a mortal probation. As I wrote when I explained my understanding of the doctrine of eternal lives, I know I don’t fully understand the doctrine of the resurrection because I have not experienced it and don’t have the keys to do so.

I have considered the idea Brigham taught when he said Adam came into this world the same way you or I came into it – born of a woman. That woman was his Heavenly Mother. Thus he was born an immortal being. That makes perfect sense to me. Yes, I know it’s out there and considered by some to be a part of the Adam God theory, but I like to think about these things.

Gospel Study

Anyway, I’m going to buy the book and read it again. It’s really more of a reference work since there is so little of the author’s own words included. There are some questionable books about our religion that I won’t add to my library, but this is one that will find a home right next to “The Mysteries of Godliness” by David John Buerger and all of my D. Michael Quinn books.

I hope you don’t feel threatened by reading stuff from people who were once members of our faith but who are no longer formally associated with us, either by choice or by disciplinary action. I don’t feel there is anything wrong with reading well-researched material and drawing your own conclusions. I enjoy the intellectual challenge of discerning truth from error.

I think the Lord is serious about us learning truth and expects us to put D&C 8:2 to the test in all that we study. Our time is limited in this life so we should focus our doctrinal study efforts on those things that will prepare us to receive the Lord, preferably in this life (D&C 93:1) so that we may depart mortality with a perfect hope, knowing our standing before the Lord. That is my goal.

Moving Toward Gospel Promises


All my life in the church I have heard the promises of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  These are held out as motivating ideas that are intended to help us resist the pull and attraction of worldly pleasures.  In this short essay, I would like to consider just one of those promises and the power for good that it should have in our lives.

Of course, the attraction of promises pre-supposes that you are the kind of person that is motivated by the “moving-toward” model.  If you’re not familiar with the idea, it comes from the book Unlimited Power by Anthony Robbins.  He states, “All human behavior revolves around the urge to gain pleasure or avoid pain.”

Tony’s shorthand for this is “pain or gain.”  Which one drives you?  Of course the concept is not original with Tony but he made it a focus of his seminars and books.  The idea has been around forever and stated in different ways by various thinkers.  The process is not absolute.  We move toward some things and away from others.

However, most of us live our lives predominantly either moving toward a goal or moving away from an unpleasant situation, either past, present or future.  You can easily determine your predominant model by describing something you desire.  Do you express it in terms of what it is or what it isn’t, what you want or don’t want?

For example, think about and describe your ideal home or family.  How about your ideal job?  I was surprised to note that I described my ideal home in terms of what I want, but my ideal job in terms of what I don’t want.  Maybe that’s because I am towards the end of my career and have seen plenty of negatives I want to avoid.

The greatest gift

What are the most important gospel promises that we should consider?  Let’s start with the big one – eternal life.  I’m not talking about being resurrected; that’s a given and a free gift from the Savior as part of the gospel plan.  I’m talking about being able to live the kind of life that God lives, with complete joy and fulfillment.

In modern revelation it is recorded that “there is no gift greater than the gift of salvation.” (D&C 6:13)  We are also told that “if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God.” (D&C 14:7)  Salvation in the fullest sense is defined as eternal life.

So just what is eternal life and how can we relate to it since we have nothing to which we can compare it in this life?  In order for something to be desirable and worthy of sacrifice, we must have at least some sense of its attractiveness.  In fact, it is up to the Lord to make us fully aware of what really comprises eternal life.

Salvation without exaltation

In the LDS Church, we commonly refer to exaltation as the kind of life that God lives, and consider it to be synonymous with eternal life.  We also consider it to be the fullness of salvation.  If we want to get a little more precise, let’s consider one common aphorism used to describe it: “Salvation without exaltation is damnation.”

This is a saying that engenders intense debate even among LDS scholars because I have read it online many times over the years.  I agree with that adage because for me, it appeals to my predominant “moving away from” model.  Yes, I confess that I am more inclined to make life choices in order to avoid unpleasant possibilities.

I consider the moving-away from model of thinking to be very mortal; not weak, just mortal.  But I’m grateful to know that the Lord is fully aware of this approach.  This is evidenced by the twofold promise of the Book of Mormon:  If you keep the commandments of God you will be blessed.  If you don’t, then you will be cursed.

Yes, tell me more about the negatives of a behavior and I will do my best to avoid it because I can see the results such behavior has produced in others.  The only way I am motivated by a promise of eventual reward is if I have experienced something similar, even if it is in a small degree.  My mortal mind doesn’t “get” eternal life.

Yet, in my heart I know that there is life after death.  I have had too many personal evidences presented for my consideration to feel otherwise.  I am satisfied that the concept of a spirit world is real; that there are unseen beings operating in a plane of existence just outside my mortal perception; and many times acting on my behalf.

Learning from opposition

So how does the Lord reach people like me who need a more solid understanding of eternal life in order to be motivated by the promise?  I guess I’m kind of like the child that hears from a parent, “if you work hard in school, you’ll have an easier life when you get older.”  It’s true, but it didn’t work for me when I was a child.

An easy life to a child is loving acceptance, lots of playtime, a warm, comfortable home, lots of food to eat and that safe, secure feeling that comes from knowing that dangers are far, far away, or even better, being oblivious to the concept of danger.  But such a life doesn’t work as we get older because we experience opposition.

And that’s why I am more motivated by an understanding of what eternal life will not be like.  I have experienced opposition, adversity, setbacks, disappointments and many painful shocks brought on by unforeseen and unwanted reality checks.  Because of these experiences, I know what I don’t want eternal life to be like.

Of course, I don’t set the rules when it comes to my quality of life after death.  But I do “get” the idea that I can determine a large part of that life quality by what I do or don’t do and how I respond to the life choices that are presented to me.  There really is a lot of truth to the idea that a man is about as happy as he decides to be.

Disappointments will cease

I don’t want eternal life to be disappointing.  I don’t think God is disappointed.  Even though we believe that his most important work is us, his children, I don’t think he is ever really disappointed in us.  I also don’t believe that his plans for us are ever really frustrated.  We will get out of this life what we came here to get.

What we came here to receive is an understanding and appreciation for eternal life – the kind of life that God lives – that we never could have accomplished without experiencing opposition, adversity, disappointment, trail, heartache, frustration and pain.  So whatever the outcome of our lives, we will appreciate eternal life better.

That appreciation comes by application of the “moving away from” model of life.  Although we may not understand all the promises of peace, happiness, freedom, personal power, contentment and joy that are held out to us, we now know what we don’t want eternal life to be like.  We don’t want it to be like our life here on earth.

Yes, I have experienced happiness in this life.  I have experienced success, some personal power, a measure of peace, plenty of freedom and lots of growth.  But even in achieving these things, I immediately realized that they were temporary and not complete.  They do not last because of the transient nature of mortality.

Moving away from pain

Do you see?  I now understand something about eternal life that I never could have fathomed before and something that I don’t want.  I don’t want good things to end as they do in this life.  I work long and hard to create my home and family life that I do not want to see come to an end.  I don’t want that work to be wasted or to fail.

So for me, moving toward gospel promises is meaningless unless I have something concrete to compare them to.  I am motivated to move away from something that I don’t want.  I don’t want sickness, physical pain and death; therefore I am attracted by the promise of a resurrection, which becomes more attractive the older I get.

I don’t want to be disappointed in myself in the life to come.  Carol has a way of expressing this that I find memorable.  She says, “Do you think God will take away the memory of being married to someone if you don’t live worthy of them?”  How tortuous that would be to see your mortal spouse and not be able to be with them!

So for me, gospel promises are more motivating when I think about what I might lose as opposed to what I might gain.  I don’t want to lose things that I have been given or have earned.  Yes, I believe we must earn or qualify for some blessings in the life to come.  Eternal life is a gift, but we must meet the requirements for it.

Conclusion

I’ll bet there are at least a half dozen theological ideas expressed in this essay with which non-LDS readers will disagree.  In fact, I’m certain that many of my LDS readers will also take exception to some of my statements.  That’s OK.  I welcome the dialog and hope that maybe something I have expressed has been helpful.

I love the Lord’s promises but I confess that I just don’t get some of them because of my weak, limited mortal way of seeing things.  I believe the promises and am certain that they will mean a lot more when I get to the spirit world.  Today, I just want to keep the good things I have gained from my experience with opposition.

Earlier in this essay I wrote that since we have no real concept of eternal life, it is God’s responsibility to make it appear attractive to us.  I mean that.  But how he does that may be different for each one of us.  In my case, I am enticed by the spirit whispering to me that in the next life, I will no longer have to endure temptation.

I love that promise.

A Website for the Average Mormon


I’ve been reading the arguments on MormonThink.com off and on for several years now.  I have a lot of respect for the individuals behind the site, even though most of them choose to be anonymous.  I am confident that I have been visited by several of the contributors there or at least by those who read their site and others like it such as Ex Mormon and Post Mormon.

I am by no means a scholar or intellectual.  I think I’m pretty smart and that I’m pretty good with logic.  After all, I have made a living for thirty years demystifying computers for others.  But I know there are a lot of people out there who are smarter than I am and who have the academic credentials to prove it.  I like to think that I’m just a regular, average, typical Latter-day Saint.

I like smart, thinking people and especially people who present logical conclusions well, either in writing or verbally.  Critical thinking is a skill that I am constantly striving to improve.  I confess that I am impressed when someone can speak or write with confidence, especially when it comes to doctrines and practices of the church.  That’s why I continue to take college classes each year.

Choosing to believe

But I’d like to take exception with one of the common threads I find in the essays on sites like MormonThink.com.  It has to do with choosing to believe.  The concept of voluntary or involuntary belief has been discussed by philosophers for millennia.  But it’s such a basic part of how I deal with the sort of intellectual issues on Mormon Think that I want to share it with you.

I disagree with those who contend that beliefs are not voluntary acts of will.  There is no doubt in my mind that I am a voluntarist when it comes to my beliefs about the church and our history.  This is especially true in light of, or in spite of all the fascinating historical facts that I have read over the years that are just not taught to or even known by the majority of the Latter-day Saints.

Invariably I have found that those who label themselves atheists also claim to be involuntarists.  I am coming to the conclusion that those who embrace the title of Ex Mormon, Post Mormon or Former Mormon also see their position as involuntary.  “It was inevitable,” they say, “based on what I have learned, I had no other choice but to now disbelieve what I had formally believed.”

Encouraging Faith

Well, that’s where we differ.  I have spent many years studying the same material that has been so troubling and bothersome to so many of my fellow seekers of knowledge.  I can honestly say that my faith has been strengthened and my belief deepened that Joseph was who he claimed to be – a prophet of God – and that the Book of Mormon is what it claims to be – Holy Scripture.

I have no doubt that there are many in the church, who, if they studied the same material we have written about on our blogs and websites, would be absolutely freaked out and would soon leave the church.  They are either social Mormons only or are not strong in their desire to know more about the history of our church.  I don’t think these kinds of people are your typical Mormons.

What’s missing from sites like MormonThink.com, and what you’ll find in abundance on the official church web sites, is the role of faith, and especially encouraging faith.  There is way too much emphasis on the intellect and not enough focus on feelings.  The section on Testimony and Spiritual Witness relegates the role of feelings of faith as something to be dissected and derided.

Announcing new website

That’s reason why I decided to start my own website, LatterdayCommentary.com.  This blog is hosted on that domain, which I registered years ago.  It’s not much to look at today.  In fact, I almost consider it a prototype.  I’ve put together some commentary and links to my essays on some of the same subjects that you will find on MormonThink.com.  It will grow with time.

I know that I’m just one of thousands of LDS members who have a website where they share their beliefs and testimonies of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.  I like to think that I’m not much different from your average Mormon.  I grew up as a member of the church but I come from a convert family.  And my viewpoint is definitely that of a laid-back California boy.

I’ve been happy as a member of the LDS Church all my life.  I loved my mission and I love going to the temple.  I love General Conference and I love serving in a local Bishopric.  I hope you’ll take a look at my website and then come back here and make some suggestions as to how I can make it better and more useful in promoting the doctrines of our LDS faith to the world.

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.

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.

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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.

General Authority training – advanced subjects


You’ve been active and faithful in the church all your life and have a deep and abiding testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.  You have enjoyed success and found great joy in helping others come to a knowledge of the Lord through your missionary labors.  You’re proven to be a gifted administrator in the priesthood.  You love to study the scriptures and to teach the gospel.

Responding to difficult questions

The Brethren have decided that all potential General Authorities must now take some additional classes prior to receiving the call.  While we are a lay ministry, it is important that those who are called into positions that represent the church have skills developed in responding to difficult questions.  You know the ones I’m talking about.  President Hinckley was asked some of them.

Since you are on that potential General Authority list, you have been selected to participate in this class.  In order to ensure that the training is effective, we have selected some real-world examples of the kind of questions you can expect to encounter.  While you may have had no experience in studying church history, you will most certainly be asked questions like these.

The really hard list

1. Joseph Smith polygamy and polyandry – why didn’t we know about this?
2. Book of Mormon translation – Peep stone in a hat vs. Urim & Thummim
3. Why are there multiple versions of Joseph Smith’s First Vision story?
4. Why did the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon leave the church?
5. Why is there no real archeological evidence for the Book of Mormon?

6. DNA evidence proved that American Indians have no Israelite blood.
7. Egyptian scholars have proven that the Book of Abraham is a fraud.
8. Did Joseph Smith take the Temple ceremony from the Masons?
9. Could a real prophet have been deceived by the Kinderhook plates?
10. That is so exclusionary of us to claim to be the only true church.

11. Did Brigham Young teach that Adam was God and if so, why?
12. Do we currently teach that God was once a man like we are?
13. How can we really believe that man can become a God?
14. How could the Mountain Meadows Massacre have happened?
15. Why did the church practice polygamy after the 1890 manifesto?

16. Your church seems racist.  Why delay giving priesthood to blacks?
17. Why did President Hinckley deny that we teach long-held doctrines?
18. How was President Hinckley deceived by the Mark Hoffman forgeries?
19. Why do Mormons believe that Lucifer and Jesus Christ are brothers?
20. There are documented cases of spiritual abuse by priesthood leaders.

21. Why is the church opposed to work of LDS scholars and intellectuals?
22. Why did the church cover up President Benson’s Alzheimer’s disease?
23. How can the true Church of Jesus Christ reject those who are gay?
24. Why has church growth stopped in the U.S. – baptisms decreasing?
25. How can the LDS claim to be the true church with so few members?

Effect of the questions

These are legitimate questions raised over the years that can be found today all over the Internet.  Many of our young people are asked these questions by their friends on a regular basis.  They are not being malicious or trying to cause problems.  They simply want answers.  Even though they are difficult questions, some have studied them out in an effort to be able to provide the answers.

Sometimes they have discovered that even long-time members have never heard these questions.  They have been told by well-meaning leaders to just pray about it and they will get their answers.  But there is so much confusing information out there and no official LDS source that addresses these questions that they become discouraged and begin to doubt their testimonies of the church.

Rules of engagement

Your assignment as a new General Authority is to address these questions in a manner that builds faith and encourages continued study.  You must not act surprised if you have never heard any of these questions before or don’t understand why they seem so important to those who are asking.  And you certainly don’t want to be dismissive of those who are bothered by these questions.

You must not defer them to others, claiming that “we have apologists who answer this stuff for us.”  That won’t cut it.  You’re now a General Authority and need to know the answers yourself.  Yes, it’s true that most members of the church have never heard these questions and don’t know that these are issues for some.  And yes, some members would be shocked to learn about all this.

The challenge

So your challenge is great.  How do you answer these questions without causing confusion or doubt among the faithful members who do not question?  How do you respond to the one as the Savior taught?  Those who struggle with these questions are a relatively small number and yet they are very active on the Internet, where many people seek information on the church today.

At the same time, focusing on these questions and taking the time to research them, understand them and to be able to explain them is time consuming.  It takes away from one of the primary missions of the church to declare the gospel.  And yet, it fulfills another part of that mission by perfecting the saints.  Most of these questions are raised by disaffected and former members.

A possible response

It seems that we have failed a generation of bright and intelligent young people who have grown up on the Internet.  We did not anticipate what this amazing communication medium could do to supply facts and details about our history and doctrine.  It’s not that we’ve been purposely trying to hide anything from you. It’s just that you have been exposed to stuff earlier than we figured.

We wish it had been otherwise.  We would have preferred that you had knowledgeable mentors to guide you through your discovery of all these difficult issues.  We were aware of them and decided not to share them or at least not promote discussion of them in the church curriculum.  We are seeing now that this may have been a mistake.  It was not our intention to deceive you.

Personal responsibility

We understand that many of you have felt shocked and betrayed when you first learn about these things.  Please don’t lose faith in the entire church teaching system that has brought you to the point you are now.  We should have found a way to inoculate you before you encountered these troublesome issues but were concerned that exposing you to them early could also be disastrous.

Please accept our apologies for not teaching you about these things in a more open and honest manner.  We accept the responsibility for our failings in this area and will work harder in the future to ensure that the upcoming generation does not have to suffer what you went through.  But we hope that you will also be just as responsible for your own church history education.

Summary and conclusion

This is obviously just a thought exercise.  Please don’t seriously think that my ponderings here have anything to do with the reality of the way the church is responding to this problem.  You may legitimately wonder if some leaders in the church are even aware that this problem exists.  Perhaps those that are aware feel just as frustrated as you that we don’t address it more openly.

For those that have struggled or are struggling with questions like those I have listed, please be aware that there are many thousands of us who have faced and answered the same questions.  We recognize their potential impact to destroy faith, but have found that God is faithful and will send peace to the troubled heart.  Sometimes satisfactory answers will only come over the test of time.

Where there is no vision, the people perish


I have been a lifelong student of human motivation, particularly self-motivation. No, I’m not an expert and what motivates me may not motivate you. A long time ago I discovered something that drives me to action more than anything else. It is found in the scripture quoted in the title of this essay as written in Proverbs 29:18.

When I catch the vision of the way something can be that I want, I find myself willing to give untold hours to moving that vision from a dream to a reality in life. Conversely, if I have not seen myself doing something in my mind’s eye, I find my motivation lacking to do all the work that is required to accomplish a worthy goal.

This is particularly true when someone else has a vision but is ineffective in getting me to see it for myself. For example, you can tell me all day long about the great benefits of eating right and exercising regularly, but unless I see myself benefiting from good eating and exercise habits, I will always find other ways to use my time.

What’s in it for me?

As much as I hate to admit it, in some ways, my personal motivation is selfish. Oh, I have altruistic tendencies and a strong sense of duty that serves me well, but what really gets me excited to be involved in something worthwhile is when I can see how it benefits me, my family, my friends and others with whom I associate.

And I mean that literally – to see. I have discovered that I am a both a visual and a tactile learner. Auditory learning is tertiary to me and is most effective when I hear someone describing something that I can then see myself doing or enjoying. If you can show me how I can accomplish something, you’ve got my attention.

I’ve also discovered over the years, and as much as I may deny it, I enjoy both the satisfaction and the recognition that comes when I complete a difficult task, or when I perform to the best of my ability. I don’t think I am alone in this desire. Where we differ is in what we do to obtain that recognition and yes, admiration.

Role models are important

Think about it. Who are your heroes in life? And why are they examples to you? What have they done that deserves your admiration and respect? Usually it is because they have accomplished something difficult that you would like to do. They have demonstrated that it can be done and that it is worth paying the price.

Fortune and fame are two powerful motivating factors that many in our world will do anything, literally anything, to achieve. I don’t mean to disparage anyone, but Madonna and Britney Spears are two examples that come to mind as someone who has gone overboard in the climb to the top. Much has been sacrificed to get there.

On the other hand, for me personally, I have found great role models in the men who lead this church – the apostles and prophets of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Of course they are not perfect, but they do all within their power to lead others unto Christ. And from what I’ve seen, their wives are special too.

Sharing the vision

One of the reasons why I find it so enjoyable to follow the Brethren who lead this church is because most of them are so good at sharing their vision of the work in which they are engaged. I need that. While I enjoy the instruction I receive in General Conference, I am most spiritually fed when my vision has been enlarged.

Let me see if I can explain better what I mean by sharing the vision. When I was a young man preparing for my mission, I had the luxury of spending every day for the six months immediately prior to leaving, in daily gospel study, from morning until evening. I did not work. I simply read and studied the gospel and learned.

I felt like I was in paradise. I enjoyed a special sense of motivation at this time of my life because the Lord had given me a vision of what kind of a missionary I could be if I really understood the doctrines of the kingdom and knew for myself that they were important and true. I wanted to know how others explained them.

Understanding the doctrine

I read everything I could get my hands on that helped me to see how the gospel could most effectively be taught. I voraciously studied commentaries of others who I considered to be masters in the field of Mormon doctrine. As you can imagine, Bruce R. McConkie was one whose works I devoured incessantly.

My personal religious library had been recently augmented by a large collection of doctrinal and church history books received as a gift from my mother right after she closed her LDS bookstore. I studied all day, worked with the missionaries and then went to Institute classes and Know your Religion lectures with my family.

I caught a love of learning from my mother, but I did not obtain the vision of why it was important to obtain all the knowledge I could until the Lord showed it to me in answer to prayer. It is a sacred experience, but one I have related in a previous essay. With that vision, I understood why I needed to study and know the doctrine.

The vision motivates

Once the Lord showed me what I could accomplish with a deep understanding of the doctrines of the church, I had the drive and ambition to devote all my time to achieving that vision. The kind of vision I’m talking about is not something that can be given by another man, no matter how good he is at describing things.

That vision was intense and it was prophetic. It remains with me to this day, even though it has been thirty-two years since it transpired. It has not yet been fulfilled, nor will it be for many years to come. It is personal and sacred but it has done more for me than anything else to get me to continue my daily study of the gospel.

Because the Lord showed me things in vision when I was so young, I have always felt a desire to do all within my power to accomplish that vision. Perhaps it will not be in this life. Perhaps what I saw is intended to be fulfilled in the life to come. It does not matter. Because of that vision, I am motivated to study and to learn.

Summary and conclusion

I am fascinated by men and women with vision and who know how to share it. I am especially enthralled when listening to someone describe their vision in such a manner that allows me to see it for myself. Once I have that vision in my mind’s eye, I am a changed man, because I want to do all within my power to achieve it.

In my opinion, the visions of the Lord are the most motivating influence in the world. Men will give their lives, and many have, to building up the Kingdom of God upon the earth because they have the vision of what the Lord’s work really is. It is especially powerful when the Lord shows men their place in the kingdom.

I have seen that vision. I know what the Lord wants me to accomplish with my life. I feel extremely blessed to have received this powerful vision when I was so young. It has blessed me all my life and kept me motivated to do things that are hard to do. Someday, I know that vision will be fulfilled just as I have seen it.

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