Is there such a thing as orthodoxy in Mormonism? And who has the right to proclaim what is orthodox in our religion that should or should not be believed? I understand and accept that the men I sustain as leaders in the LDS Church have the right to determine and enforce what should be taught in the classrooms and declared from the pulpits of that worldwide institution.
But many things I attribute to Mormonism the religion, are not taught today in the LDS Church. Does that mean the Mormon religion and the LDS Church are two different things? Consider the recent General Conference address from Elder Donald Hallstrom, “Converted to His Gospel through His Church.” He is obviously declaring the Gospel is not the same as the church.
The Gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ, the plan of salvation, the doctrines that teach how we can be saved and live forever in a state of happiness, redeemed from death and hell. On the other hand, the church is the institution organized and established by the Lord through Joseph Smith in 1830 that has undergone a tremendous number of changes over the years.
Religion and Church
Although it embraces both, in my mind, our religion is something altogether different from the gospel and from the church. I suppose that’s dangerous ground. If you think about it, I’m saying what I believe to be truth is not limited to what the LDS Church declares to be truth today. That is indeed dangerous ground. It invites speculation that the Church limits us in some way.
At one time we taught that we embrace all truth. Yet some things we taught as truth in the early days of the church are no longer found in our official curriculum. I’m not talking about plural marriage, blood atonement or restricting the priesthood. I’m talking about things like the reality of evil spirits, catastrophes of the last days and the literalness of D&C 93:1.
I feel a debt of gratitude to three men whose views have changed my life. Although they do not want or care for the attention, I would like to acknowledge them, their ideas and their work. Each has worked tirelessly to bring their beliefs to light and I for one have benefited from their work. They illustrate the idea that something from the early days of our religion has been lost.
Jan Graf – Reality of evil spirits
I first met Jan at a time in my life when I was troubled by many things that would not go away. There is no other way to explain it concisely. Because of his ideas and explanations of things, I was able to make them go away. It’s that simple. What he teaches about how to remove distress is nothing new or different. It is simply the application of the principle of forgiveness.
But what is unique, unorthodox and controversial about Jan’s skill in helping people find peace are his beliefs about what causes stress in our lives. It is the idea that evil spirits are real, can be found in the world around us and are very active in afflicting and tormenting us. That is a very common belief in the early days of Mormonism but hardly ever taught in the church today.
I was so excited about the amazing results in my life from what he taught that Carol and I went to St. George to interview him and talk about writing a book. Because what he does is so easily misunderstood, he asked that I not pursue my project. Out of respect I dropped the idea but continue to refer people to him I know could benefit from his stress-reduction technique.
Anthony Larson – Latter-day catastrophes
A long time ago I ran across a book that got me genuinely excited about how the last days are going to unfold. It was not told from a social, political or even religious perspective but from a cosmological view that could only be described as unorthodox. Anthony Larson explained for me how the signs and prophecies of the scriptures are descriptions of natural events.
What he explained in his trilogy of prophecy books was not thought to be so unusual in the early days of Mormonism. We were at one time considered an Adventist church, preparing intently for the forthcoming return of the Lord Jesus Christ. Even though his books are based on scripture and statements of early Mormon leaders, today they are considered unorthodox.
I have written many essays about his beliefs and interpretations of scripture. I have attended his seminars, read each of his books multiple times and had many dialogs and conversations about how he interprets myths of the past. I’m in the process of writing a fictional account based on the now unorthodox but one-time common beliefs of this visionary, prophetic man.
Denver Snuffer – The Second Comforter
I was recently introduced to the writings of Denver Snuffer, a man who claims to have received the Second Comforter and was asked by the Lord to write about it. That’s an amazing claim and obviously very unorthodox in our modern LDS church. He has generated a lot of controversy. Some have called him apostate or dangerous and said he should be excommunicated.
I have almost finished reading Denver’s eight published books. I have written previously that I would withhold judgment until I finished them all but I think I have made up my mind. Denver’s advice that we read his books in order has merit. I read them in reverse order. That may have been a mistake, but I survived because I read most of the “alternative views” previously.
I have decided I like Denver, or that I can at least accept and trust what he has written. Just as I have with Jan Graf’s and Anthony Larson’s writings, I have pondered and prayed about what I have learned. I am not dismayed or taken aback by his latest book as some others have been although I confess an initial misunderstanding of how he defines the sealing power.
I suppose I need to change my bio on Twitter, Google Plus and here on my blog. Because of my acceptance of the beliefs of the three men I have described, I guess I can no longer claim to be an orthodox Mormon. What’s more, I am discovering I am unusual in my church because I have long believed and taught that we can seek and should strive to have “spiritual experiences.”
After years of sharing some of my sacred experiences online, engaging in dialog about the reality of personal revelation, I have come to the conclusion there are many within our church that do not experience communication from the spirit world like I thought everybody did. That sounds weird, doesn’t it? “Spooky,” an embarrassing unorthodox belief, some would say.
Perhaps that is why there are two conflicting cultures within the LDS church today. On the one hand we are encouraged to share our testimonies, which are supposed to be based on personal sacred events. On the other hand, the subtle message is being communicated that we must keep our spiritual experiences to ourselves, because they are “too sacred” to share.
Orthodoxy seems to be all about what is appropriate and acceptable as the norm. As I wrote at the beginning of this essay, I accept and sustain the right of the leaders of this church to direct what is preached from the pulpit and what is taught in the classroom. The church is a place of order. It is a magnificent, effective organization that does tremendous good.
The meetinghouses, the temples, the missionary force, the humanitarian effort, the welfare system, the lay ministry, the willingness of the members to sacrifice and serve each other all attest to the goodness of this organization. But there is something more to our religion than just the church and our activity within it. There is something intense and personal.
That something today is unorthodoxy. It is our individual efforts to commune with God. It is our testimonies, our spiritual experiences, our determination to study, understand and internalize what we believe. It is developing our ability to hear and respond to the promptings of the Holy Ghost. It is our participation in the ordinances and adherence to the covenants we make.
In short, it is being different from the world and even from many within the church who are not willing to pay the price of obedience and sacrifice that inevitably bring the promised blessings. The church is not the same as the gospel and the church is not everything there is to our religion. There is so much more to Mormonism but you have to be willing to be unorthodox to see it.