LDS Members Persecuted For Reading Books


KeepCalmReadABookIn light of the excommunication of several LDS Church members recently for apostasy, and one in particular for simply reading a book, I’d like to discuss a couple of the temple recommend questions, which the church makes available on their website. The two questions deal with sustaining our leaders and agreeing with individuals who teach or write what is not found in the official curriculum of the church. In other words, those who go beyond the basics in their writings.

Standard disclaimer: This is all my opinion

Please remember I’m not a scholar, theologian, attorney or an expert at philosophical arguments. I’m just a regular old member of the church who likes to read books and write book reviews. The temple recommend questions I linked to above are from LDS Tech, an official LDS website. Technically, they are the questions on the Melchizedek Priesthood Ordination Record, but are almost exactly the same minus two questions about keeping covenants and wearing garments.

Deviating From Temple Recommend Questions

I know this has been discussed in many forums and websites, notably on the Stay LDS site. I’m not sensing a purge going on, but wonder why more and more of my readers and online friends have written me privately about their discussions with Bishops or Stake Presidents. They are being asked probing questions that go beyond the specific ones that are supposed to be asked in the temple recommend interview. By so doing these leaders are not following the Handbooks.

This is the Kingdom of God on the Earth

It has been standard policy for over thirty years that leaders “…should never deviate from or go beyond the specific questions contained in the temple recommend book…(First Presidency letter, 5 January 1982).” Let’s take the easy question first. I consider it cut and dry because it deals with the kingdom of God on earth, NOT the kingdom of God in heaven. If you keep that distinction in mind, you should have no problem answering yes to the question without any elaboration at all.

This Earthly Kingdom is Only Temporary

“Do you sustain the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator and as the only person on the earth who possesses and is authorized to exercise all priesthood keys?” The church is an earthly institution. According to section 65, the purpose of the church is to prepare us to join with the Kingdom of Heaven. The church is the Kingdom of God on the earth. It is temporary. It will be absorbed into the Kingdom of Heaven.

The LDS Church Has Certain Keys

Therefore, I have no problem affirming that the man we sustain or uphold as the President of the earthly institution holds priesthood keys or authority to preach the gospel, publish scripture, collect tithing, build and maintain temples and meetinghouses and perform, through delegation, a myriad of other tasks and activities that will build the Kingdom of God on the earth. I also affirm that permission or those earthly keys can be and were passed on from the prophet Joseph Smith.

Difference Between Authority and Power

This includes the right to perform ordinances, including the exercise of the sealing power, albeit a limited kind of sealing power, that are invitations to go and get the real thing. Everyone knows this from the prophet and apostles on down. President Packer has taught this repeatedly – there is a world of difference between earthly authority to act in the church and heavenly sealing power. Earthly sealing power is not the same as heavenly sealing power. You and I should know this.

Seek Ratification From Holy Spirit of Promise

Don’t confuse the Kingdom of God on the Earth with the Kingdom of God in Heaven. Don’t forget what we’ve been taught about the Holy Spirit of Promise. Our ordinances are simply not complete until they are ratified by the Holy Spirit of Promise. I’m concerned too many leaders in our church don’t understand or teach this. I know this because so many members don’t get it. We focus way too much on getting people to the temple without teaching them what to do after that.

Keeping the Church Free From Polygamy

I’m going to skip down to the other, more troubling question: “Do you support, affiliate with, or agree with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?” Everyone knows why this question was placed in the interview process. It was and is still intended to weed out those who practice plural marriage. It was not included to keep us from reading non-LDS books or going to lectures.

Criticized and Disciplined For What One Believes

I wrote previously how deeply troubled I felt upon learning of online friends being harassed by being placed on informal or formal probation or officially disciplined through disfellowshipment and even excommunicated – all for reading a book or going to a lecture. This is crazy. This is wrong. This is not righteous exercise of priesthood authority. It is unrighteousness dominion. No LDS leader has the right to tell a member of his congregation what he should or shouldn’t read (see discussion in comments).

Trying to Control Reading Material is Wrong

In the selected policies of the church, we are encouraged to read the King James version of the Bible as opposed to other editions, to read the church magazines and to read the weekly lesson material assignments in advance. Other than that, I could find nothing in the handbook that says “Though shalt not read anything from Signature Books,” or “Thou shalt only buy and read books from Deseret Book.” It especially does not refer to reading D. Michael Quinn or Denver Snuffer.

We Have the Right to Read What we Choose

So what if they have been excommunicated from the church? Big deal. We’re all adults here. If I want to read what Michael Quinn had to say about our history, then that’s my prerogative. Yes, I know it’s contrary to what we’re taught in the official curriculum, but that’s the beauty of it. I get other viewpoints and additional information to help me understand our history. The same thing goes for reading Denver Snuffer’s Passing the Heavenly Gift. It’s just a man’s different opinion.

Multiple Points of View is Healthy

I’ve received private emails from readers who say they have been persecuted for reading Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Bushman, a faithful LDS member and temple sealer. Why are some LDS leaders afraid of opening their minds to other possibilities and interpretations of our LDS history? So what if it differs from the official material we receive in the classrooms on Sunday or in Seminary, Institute and church university religion classes? That just seems so closed-minded.

The Temple Recommend Question is Flawed

Paraphrasing the second temple recommend question we’re discussing, it could be read as “Do you agree with any individual who teaches a different version of the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?” In my opinion this question is wrong and should be changed to simply read, “Do you practice plural marriage?” Strangely enough, the doctrine of plural marriage is still accepted by the church and found in our scriptures. We just don’t teach it.

The Church Has Already Given Guidelines

This is my blog so I’ll express my opinion a little more forcefully as if I were speaking directly to some Bishops and Stake Presidents who have excommunicated some of my readers. I would tell them to seriously back off and stop prying into the personal reading habits of their members. It’s none of their business. That 1982 letter included this line about sex: “you…should never inquire into personal, intimate matters involving marital relations between a man and his wife.”

Let the Members Work Out Their Own Doubts

I wonder if we need another letter from the First Presidency stating, “Do not ask your members what books they are reading or if they are attending lectures that are not put on by the church.” If a member says no to the second question we’re discussing, then leave it alone and go on with the next question, even if you have heard stories that the member is struggling with the standard narrative of the church when it comes to our history. Let them work it out with their own agency.

Not All Members Fit Into the Same Mold

I know these leaders justify their inappropriate questioning in the guise of love, claiming they simply want to help their members, but they do more harm than good when they try to mold all members into their idea of what a good Latter-day Saint should be like as far as what they read. Sure, we can all preach against the evils of porn but are we going to tell our sisters they can’t read romance novels? You would have half the church up in arms over that, including my wife.

Inappropriate Reasons to Deny a Temple Recommend

Just because a person reads Denver Snuffer and happens to agree with some of his viewpoints is no reason to deny them a temple recommend. Reading Denver Snuffer does not make someone an apostate. I’ve written about apostasy previously here on my blog: It’s defined as deliberate and open opposition to the Church or its leaders, teaching as doctrine something that is not Church doctrine or to belong to an apostate sect, such as those that practice plural marriage.

Temple Recommends Not Used in Heaven

A temple recommend is simply an earthly receipt used by the LDS Church to show that you have paid tithing. You’re not going to need a temple recommend in heaven. They’re not used there. Trying to control what a man believes about our history is not righteous behavior. Threatening a man with church discipline because he tells a few friends his opinion of a book and recommends they also read it is simply not right. Leaders who do this are abusing the priesthood of God.

Face it: We Failed the Test in Nauvoo

To say that someone needs to be disciplined because they have a difference of opinion over how to interpret a document is the worst kind of priestcraft. If this really is the Kingdom of God on the earth we will be looking for ways to include more people, not exclude them for what they read or believe. We’ve got to stop being so sensitive about what happened in Nauvoo. We failed the test, didn’t build the temple in time and suffered hardships for the next four generations.

The Gathering of the Elect of God

With the passing of our last patriarch, Eldred G. Smith, those four generations have passed now. The Lord has put forth his hand again and is gathering the elect through the angels. They are ministering to men and women upon the earth, teaching and preparing them to come into the presence of the Lord. There are many members of the LDS Church quietly doing the Lord’s bidding as asked by Him or as assigned by His angels. This is contrary to the traditional hierarchal institution model.

The Angels Are Inviting and Teaching

I’ve written enough. I hope you can tell I’m a little bit passionate about this subject. I simply cannot believe the church I love and have been a member of all my life would persecute its own members for claiming to have received the Lord or assignments from angels. It’s almost as if the church is jealous of its own members who exhibit spiritual gifts that bless and edify others. The hierarchy of the church cannot control who joins the Kingdom of Heaven. The angels do that.

I’m Interested in Your Feedback

What do you think? Is it right for LDS leaders to deviate from the temple recommend questions? Is it OK for them to ask you what kinds of books or authors you read? Should they be allowed to ask you what you believe beyond the first three basic testimony questions? If you would rather share your story privately, feel free to email me at tmalonemcse @ gmail.com. God bless us all.

A few links to articles on the Temple Recommend Interview process:

Wikipedia article on LDS worthiness interviews

An Ensign article on being worthy to enter the temple

Frequently asked questions from lds.org on temple interviews

Excerpt from the 1982 First Presidency letter from Upward Thought Blog

Article from The New Era on Temple Recommend Interview

Lesson from Young Men’s manual on Recommend Interviews

Lesson from Temple Preparation class on Recommend Interviews

Our Libraries Get in our Way


GoodreadsScanI just discovered the scan icon on my Goodreads iPhone app. What I thought would be a totally manual process of entering my 2,000+ library of books into Goodreads has now turned into a manageable project. I just scanned a dozen and entered them in about ten minutes. You can even scan a whole bunch at a time and put them on the same shelf – read, to be read, or whatever.

My Worldly Possessions

This is a project I’ve wanted to do for years – catalog my library. I have only a few worldly possessions I would miss if I did not have them. 1) My computers. I make my living with my computers. Without them I would not be of much value to my employer. 2) My car, of course, because I live in Southern California and could not work the weird schedule I do without it.

A Source of Pride

3) My books. Ah, my library. I confess it’s a source of pride. I know that’s wrong. I love to collect books. When I get a new book, it’s usually on the recommendation of someone I trust. When I receive it, I scan through it, become familiar with the contents, decide if I want to read it right now and either read it or add it to the library, intending to get around to reading it someday.

Interfere With Knowing God

Denver Snuffer said the following about our libraries: “It isn’t the volume of the books we possess which helps our search into deep truths.  Indeed, our libraries may well interfere with knowing God.  It is the depth of how we live the basic principles contained in the scriptures which let the light of heaven shine into our lives.” (Denver Snuffer Blog entry, 23 March 2010)

An Early Love of Books

I know where this thing about books comes from – my mother. I grew up surrounded by books. Every room in our house growing up had a bookcase. The front room had hundreds, perhaps thousands, just like mine has now. Each bedroom had its own bookcase and mine was filled with Caldecott and Newbury award winning books. Mother made sure we had the best books to read.

Learned to Read Book of Mormon

Family trips to the local public libraries each week was my favorite thing to do. We did not grow up with television in our home so reading was the main activity of my youth. My mother read to me nightly and we read out loud as a family. It was an old cheap brown-covered Book of Mormon that I remember reading with my mother the year our family found and joined the church in 1962.

Book of Mormon Connects Me

She would mark out all iterations of the phrase “and it came to pass” as she read. “Didn’t sound like good English,” she said. I didn’t mind. I just learned to skip them when it was my turn to read. So I literally learned to read with the Book of Mormon before I was five years old. It’s no wonder I love this book. It’s special to me. I’ve connected to it through all phases of my life.

Love of Science Fiction

In High School I developed a love for Science Fiction. I read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series before it became popular. I read the Dune series by Frank Herbert – loved the books, hated the movie. Arthur C Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey, then Isaac Asimov Robot series, Robert Heinlein – Stranger in a Strange Land, Ray Bradbury – Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Michael Crichton. I read all the classics for many years in my youth.

Technical Reading – How Boring

Sadly, I stopped reading fiction after high school. I got a degree in computers and started my career and family. I read technical manuals for fun. I dug into books on programming techniques and network protocols, phone systems and the Internet. I make my living supporting computers and networks. I work for a private jet management and charter company at a local Southern California airport. I read a lot of news and blogs, especially in science and technology. But I still don’t read a lot of fiction. In fact, I’ve probably read less than a dozen fiction books in ten tears.

Someone Had to Write the Scripts

I’ve always had an interest in disaster movies. I’m fascinated to see Hollywood portrayals of how people will react to a terrible tragedy of global proportions. Most of the disaster movies have been blockbuster hits so I’m not alone in my interest. Earthquake (74), Dante’s Peak (97), Deep Impact (98), Armageddon (98), Day After Tomorrow (04), Knowing (09), 2012 the movie (09) and When Worlds Collide, first made in 1951. I think somebody is working on a remake.

Alternative Model of the Universe

I became deeply interested in Astronomy in college. I love the study of the Sun, comets, meteors, and the planets, especially the inner planets. I subscribe to an alternative view of cosmology different from the astronomical standard model, something called the electric universe. One of the most radical ideas of this alternative model is that the sun is powered directly from an external source, not necessarily by internal thermonuclear fusion. I know it goes against science.

Becoming a Professional Writer

For about the last four or five years I have been taking professional writing classes and seminars, mostly with Carol. She has been much more serious about this than I have. Her first novel has been accepted and will be published within the next month or two. Things move fast in the world of e-publishing. I’ve been thinking it’s time for me to catch up and finish the novel I started.

Odds are Against First Novelists

I read a disturbing statistic the other night. “According to one conservative estimate, upwards of 30,000 writers in the U.S. are currently struggling to write or publish their first novel. Perhaps .001% of them will be published at some point.” Wow. What makes me think I could write a novel that anyone would want to read or buy? I know some of those 30,000 aspiring writers.

A Work in Progress

I know a few of my readers have ventured up to the top of my blog section entitled “Red Sky – LDS Fiction.” It contains PDFs of the drafts I have taken to our monthly writer’s groups where we read and critique each other’s work. I have received some good public and private feedback. Some of it has been not so good. Sections need to be rearranged; some corny dialog chopped.

Writing is a Lonely Business

Writing is a lonely business. It takes discipline. You’re supposed to set a reasonable goal for yourself and then churn out X number of words per day. Perhaps I haven’t wanted this published badly enough. It’s been on my mind a lot more lately. I know I’ll regret if I get to the end of my life and don’t at least finish, edit and try to publish the book. I can see it in my mind’s eye now.

Prioritizing The Important

I can name about ten projects I have put on my plate, could be working on and never seem to be able to make more than a little progress on any one of them. Do any of you have that same problem? I’m wondering if this Goodreads library scanning project is just another one that has now gotten in the way of finishing my book. It makes me wonder what I’m trying to avoid.

Overcoming Fear of Success

Everyone has to ask themselves what they fear most about success. What if the book really does take off and a legitimate New York Publishing house wants a contract? I already know an agent who has said she would be happy to represent me based on what she has read so far. What about movie rights? Doesn’t every writer of disaster fiction want to see his book made into a movie?

Making a Book More Than Palatable

Then, of course, the book could be awful. It could be something that is not interesting to a large number of people – critical to success in book publishing. Poor grammar and weak sentence structure can be overcome with good coaching. I know one of the best who has offered his services for a very reasonable rate – $50 an hour. He has helped hundreds publish their books.

Finishing a Project Takes Work

When I pray about my book, I can see the chapters in my mind’s eye. Someone is trying to help me. I know the story. I know the scriptures on which it is based. I think my characters are at least a little bit interesting, or so I’ve been told. The dialog is good; the action scenes are fast paced. So why do I have this self-doubt? I suppose it’s because I’ve seen others write books that failed.

A Change of Direction for my Blog

For my regular readers, I hope you’ll excuse this public foray into musing about my alternatives. There is no discussion of theological doctrine here, no thoughts offered about how I think things could be better if we only did this or that, and no revelations of some inside tidbit of information derived via email from a high-ranking source inside the church office building or elsewhere.

Public Commitment to a Project

They say that making and announcing a public goal helps to get it accomplished. I’ve heard of people who lose weight this way. I know of people who get projects done when they tell their family and friends it will be completed by a certain period of time. I guess they hope that others who love them will ask them occasionally how the project is going and when it will be finished.

Thinking Out Loud Here

So I’m going to go out on a limb here and commit myself to finishing my book by December. I’ve got over a dozen chapters written. Most need additional editing or rearranging. I probably won’t use them all in the finished book. I’m thinking I want this book to be about 180 pages. Although my genre is disaster fiction, the average science-fiction book is about 105,000 words.

Plan the Work, Work the Plan

I’ve written about 27,000 words so I’m a fourth of the way through the first rough draft if I use all the stuff I’ve written so far. Of course, there’s all the editing to be done. Writing a book is a big project. How do people do it and still hold down a full-time job, take care of their family, church and social obligations? How do they keep that motivation to do the hard work of churning out another 1,500 to 2,000 words when they come home after an hour commute from the office?

Got to Have a Story to Tell

I think the answer to motivation is that you’ve got to have a story to tell and you’ve got to be passionate about it. I believe I’ve got one but I’m going to split this post in two and give you a rough outline of the story and why I think it’s exciting. According to my stats I have a couple hundred regular readers plus the one-time readers who come for my review of Visions of Glory. I invite your opinions.

Fulfilling a Long-Time Promise

That’s enough of the background story. The bottom line for me is that I’ve made a promise to a friend to write this book and I intend to fulfill it. I’m excited about the possibilities of the story and the feedback I’ve received each time I share a chapter in a writer’s group. An early chapter was published in my college literary magazine awhile back. Let’s skip to part two of this post.

Short chapters are more readable


Carol and I recently finished reading Sheri Dew’s new book, God Wants a Powerful People. We bought it when it first came out in October but only finished it just before Christmas. The reason it took so long is that I read it out loud to Carol a few pages at a time each night before retiring. In fact, I can honestly say that I put Carol to sleep each night by reading Sheri Dew.

We enjoyed the book immensely. It is an enlargement of a previous talk she gave on the same subject, which we have on a CD and have enjoyed several times on various trips to visit far-away family. Sheri makes excellent points and illustrates many of them with great stories. I confess that I wish there were more stories because she really tells them so well.

I have only one complaint about Sheri’s writing style: Her chapters are sometimes too long. I like to read in small ten minute bursts – that’s about all I get before Carol falls asleep. I think about five or six pages per chapter would be just about right. That way, reading aloud at two minutes per page gets you through one chapter before calling it a night.

Carol knows I like books so she gave me a couple more for Christmas. We just started reading Gerald Lund’s new book, Hearing the Voice of the Lord. I immediately liked it as we started reading it aloud on Christmas night. Of course Elder Lund is a popular author with his Work and the Glory and Kingdom and the Crown series. But I compare this one to his earlier works.

The Coming of the Lord by Brother Lund is a classic which I have read and referenced many times over the years. There are many other works that present the events of prophecy of the latter days, most notably Duane Crowther‘s Prophecy: Key to the Future. However, I have always felt that Brother Lund’s book is ‘safer,’ leaving some of the interpretation to the reader.

Now if you really want to read some interesting books about the events of the last days, pick up the Prophecy Trilogy by Anthony E Larson – “And the Moon Shall Turn to Blood”, “And the Earth Shall Reel To and Fro”, and “And There Shall Be a New Heaven and a New Earth.” Now that has some great stuff that I’ve never read elsewhere about world-end cataclysms.

But I digress…The point of this post is the offering of unsolicited advice and feedback for church authors from this particular reader. Make your chapters shorter. It makes for easier reading, better comprehension and especially discussion or pondering. Of course, this is all personal opinion. I also hate long paragraphs so take my advice for what it is – my personal preference.

Gerald Lund’s new book follows this pattern. The first few chapters are about five pages each. Then he begins to lengthen some of his chapters to ten, fifteen or twenty pages at the most. But most of them are in the five to ten page limit. I like that. I can handle that. It gives me time to digest and ponder what I have read before going on to the next concept in the next chapter.

What do you think? Do you like short chapters and short paragraphs? If so, why or why not?

Lessons learned from a failed LDS bookstore


I love books. I always have. There’s just something about holding a book in your hands and turning the pages to read it. A book to me represents an accomplishment. The author worked long and hard to get it into a format to be published. The editors made sure that there were no typos and that the grammar was acceptable to most readers. The printer did their best to produce a good product and the publisher spent lots of time and money to market it. But that’s not the accomplishment I’m talking about.

When I get a new book I usually buy it for one of several reasons. Highest on that list of reasons to buy is if it was recommended to me by someone I trust. Second is if the author is someone whose work I have read previously and with whom I am familiar. Third is if the book is one that is getting a lot of press or ranks high on a bestsellers list somewhere. But that’s not always why I buy. I’ll often pick up a book and just browse through the first page or two, skip to the back and read the last page or two and of course, read the front and back covers.

Building a library

Once I’ve decided that this book might be a worthwhile investment I buy it and put it on my bookshelf. “What? You don’t read it right away?” No, not usually – not unless it is something that directly relates to a project I am working on or was so intriguing when I bought that I just have to know what’s in it or how it turns out. Yep, I have dozens of books in my library that I have not yet read all the way through. They do eventually get read and I keep a mental list of which ones I intend to read and usually by what time frame I intend to read them.

When I have finally read the book and absorbed what the author tried to say, that book then turns into an accomplishment. I can say that I have read it and I have learned something from it. It may not be what the author intended but if I invest my time to read a book then I’m going to come away enriched in some way. I’m either going to have an increased understanding of a subject, or a different opinion of the author or both. That book has then become a part of me.

Why I love books

Do you know why I love books? Because my mother loved books. My mother loved to read and she taught me to read when I was very little. I love to read because my mother instilled in me a love of learning. We didn’t have a TV in my home when I was growing up because my mother wanted us to read. She read to us, we read to her and we especially read in the summer months. We were always visiting the library and checking out books to read. Mother was always buying us books to read and they always seemed to be books that had won awards.

Mother loved books so much and loved to discuss them that when she retired from teaching school she took her life savings and opened a bookstore. She was so excited to pick out the selection of all the books she loved. She arranged them just so on the shelves and eagerly anticipated the many enjoyable conversations she would have with customers when they came in to buy books or ask her what she recommended that day. It was just too bad that mother didn’t realize that not everyone shared her love of books, especially the ones she chose.

Selling LDS books is not easy

Mother specialized in LDS Books. The location for the bookstore was OK. It was in a nice new shopping center in the relatively affluent town of LaVerne CA. Oh she had regular books and bestsellers, both fiction and non-fiction but for the most part, mother invested her inventory in books from Deseret Book, Bookcraft, Horizon and other LDS publishers. I remember going to several booksellers conventions to learn about all the new books coming out that season.

It was a sad day when mother closed her bookstore. It didn’t even last a year. She had sadly miscalculated in her plans. She had mistaken her love of reading, learning, sharing and teaching for something that could be marketed and sold in the cold business world. She just couldn’t understand why the customers didn’t flock to her door. It takes time to establish a clientele and she had a lot of competition from the big resellers that could undercut her.

Summary and conclusion

I don’t look at mother’s bookstore as a failure although she often did. Mother taught me that you should go for your dreams even if they don’t come to fruition like you had hoped. Not only did mother pass on to me her love of learning but also her passion for sharing. I love to share things I learn because I saw the joy that sharing brought to my mother. Most of the time that joy is reciprocated as the teacher and the learner rejoice together. This blog is like my mother’s bookstore, except that thanks to Blogger, the initial investment is, well, nothing but my time.

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