Loss of the Sealing Power


While in a sacred place a month ago a friend asked what I thought about “Passing the Heavenly Gift.” I confess that I had not heard of the book or the author, Denver Snuffer. I assume he asked my opinion because he knows that I have reviewed similar books on my blog that focus on controversial issues facing the LDS Church. Denver’s books are not advertised. People learn about them only by word of mouth or through online reviews on sites like mine.

I purchased the book and posted on Facebook that I had done so. Several of my blogging buddies noted it and expressed interest in what I thought. A few days later after my first quick read-through, I wrote “I speed read the first half. Finding no major faults, I devoured the second half (pages 240 to 499) in about four hours. I haven’t stayed up until 2:30 in the morning to read a book in years.” There is something dramatically different about this book.

Don’t leave the church

I also reported that “My focus in reading was to find anything smacking of disloyalty to the brethren or encouraging the members to leave. He came close on the first point but completely negated my concern on the second.” Before I write anything else I want to focus on that second point. I am convinced that Denver Snuffer has his reader’s best interest at heart. I cannot say that about the authors of any other recent book of LDS History I have read. Denver wants us to stay in the Church.

However, Denver Snuffer has caused me to do something no other recent writer of Mormon history has been able to do. He has produced in me a desire to read his book again and again. I want to study it, to research it, to look up many of the quotes, to read what others have said about those quotes. In other words, I am taking seriously Denver’s claims which, although not all unique to his book, are argued more precisely and effectively than any other author I have encountered.

Receive the Second Comforter

I have just completed the second reading of the book and am starting on the third, this time with pen and highlighter in hand. I have read his first book, “The Second Comforter” twice and have purchased each of the intervening six books. I have invested hours reading Denver’s blog from start to finish and have contemplated each of the points he has made there over the years. Other than the scriptures, I have never invested this much time in trying to understand an author’s message.

Everything I have learned about Denver has caused me to contemplate his message more and more. He has asked that we not focus on him, his life or his background. He has asked that we pay attention more to the process he is trying to get us to pass through – a process that if we follow through to completion will have us receive The Second Comforter for ourselves. I like that. I want that. I endorse that. How can you fault a man for wanting to help you come unto Christ? I don’t.

Details lacking in faith-promoting history

In the meantime, you are going to have to pass through some very difficult realizations that, depending on the strength of your relationship with the things of the spirit, may leave you gasping and reaching for help and understanding. If you are not already familiar with things our detractors have written about us you will have a challenging time reading this book. It will make you angry. It will cause you to think of Mr. Snuffer as an apostate and wonder why he hasn’t been excommunicated.

This book is not for everybody. If you are a casual member of the church you will not be interested. If you are not familiar with some of the controversies about our history being discussed on the Internet today, you will be a little shocked at what you read. You may not understand why some of the issues are problems at all if all you have ever learned about our history is what you were taught in Sunday school, Primary, Seminary or even Institute. This is an alternative view of our history.

Sealing power has been lost

I wish I was at the point where I could say that I can vouch for Denver’s accuracy or that I agree with his interpretations. I am not there yet. I suspect it will take me years to arrive at that level. In the meantime, if you have already read Denver’s works, I want to hear from you. I am especially interested in discussion about the two most controversial arguments in his book – the idea that the sealing power is not on the earth at this time and Denver’s interpretation of the fullness of the priesthood.

<Update 4-29-12> Denver has posted on his blog that “I have never said the church does not have the sealing power.” This obviously is in direct conflict with the thesis of this essay and my (and my wife’s) interpretation of the first chapter of his book, especially this line: “The church and its ordinations and ordinances does not confer power.” (p 36) He’s right. He did not say the church does not have the sealing power. Carol and I did not clearly understand the message of his first chapter. <end of update>

I kept looking for Denver to address the implications of the position he is advocating in regards to the work we are doing in the temples. I confess I have so far been disappointed by the lack of a sympathetic discussion of what this means to the thousands, if not millions of members who have spent so much of their time and energy over the years in researching and performing proxy ordinances in the temples for their ancestors. I am one of those individuals and want to know his response.

The work in the temples

In other words, if the sealing power is not on the earth then what hope do my wife and I have that we will be united in the eternities? If the sealing power is not on the earth, then what in the world have I and my mother and sisters been doing for these past forty years in digging and corresponding and compiling the thousands and thousands of family names ensuring that their work was done in the temples? I see this as the single most important issue to be answered.

Because I am so intrigued by what I have learned so far, I am going to give Denver the benefit of the doubt that he has already answered this question satisfactorily and I have simply not yet found it. I am not like some of my online friends who have become disaffected and left the church then complain about how much they resented the loss of their tithing money or that they felt duped when they learned they had been teaching a “sanitized” version of our history.

Section 110 misinterpreted

This idea of the sealing power is central to my feelings about the church and core to the reason why I have spent so many thousands of hours in the temple over the past thirty-five years. No, I don’t feel that my time was wasted if what Denver claims about section 110 is true. Of all the things that could strike at the heart and soul of Mormonism this is it. If you want to hurt a whole lot of good people, tell them that the the work they have been doing in the temples is not valid.

There is one question I would like to ask Denver, but I won’t because I don’t know him and he has made it clear that he gets far too many requests to answer directly. Because I felt strongly about sharing what I was learning from Denver’s books, I asked Carol to read the fist chapter of “Passing the Heavenly Gift” to me as we drove to Southern Utah for a family vacation this weekend. We had one of the most deep and enjoyable gospel discussions we have ever had over the course of several hours.

Exaltation is a family affair

Carol came away from the reading with the distinct impression that Denver was saying that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is today no different than any other good Christian church. She read that Brigham Young was only elected to be the President of the Church and that there was no ordination that passed the keys of the kingdom to him or to any of the rest of the twelve. She related her feelings while as a missionary she was taught by her mission president that Joseph ordained and passed the keys of the kingdom on to the twelve before they left on their missions.

Denver, what would you say to my wife, who related while she stood at the Far West temple site with dozens of other missionaries how she felt the spirit bear witness to her soul that Joseph successfully passed the keys of the kingdom on to the apostles before he sent them away on their missions and went on to Carthage jail to seal his testimony with his blood? Would you say that Joseph wasn’t referring to the council of the twelve, but to the council of fifty?

An incomplete ordination

What Denver is writing about is serious business. He is apparently all about getting people to question what they have been taught and what they believe about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He says he wants to bring us to Christ but in the process he wants us to rethink what we have been taught and what we believe about the power of priesthood and how it is manifested in our lives. He says the temple will point us to Christ yet says the sealing power is not there.

Am I the first to see the implications of what he is teaching? I don’t think so. Tell me I’m wrong or that I’ve missed the point completely. Tell me that all the thousands of temple workers, so many of them my good friends, are not wasting their time laboring in temples that have been rejected. Tell me that the blessings I have given to my wife and so many others over the years are efficacious even though I have not had my ordination completed by having the Lord lay his hands upon my head.

Receiving the Heavenly Gift

I am not a lawyer, so I can never argue as well as Denver has done. I am a simple member of the church, happy in my faith and grateful to have lived my life in the orthodox manner as taught by my leaders. I have served a mission, been married in the temple, served in bishoprics and high councils for the past twenty-five years and generally loved my time associating with saints of the Lord, who Denver is now calling a fallen and proud people, members of an apostate gentile church.

What do you think? Has Denver taught the truth in his book, “Passing the Heavenly Gift” or is he an apostate like some have declared him to be? Is it worth my time to read the rest of his books? Is there a whole lot more that I don’t see yet that will prove Denver to be right? Perhaps I need to re-read his first book again and put the process to the test as he is asking us to do. Is Denver teaching that we need to do in our homes what we are taught in the temple to converse with the Lord through the veil?

I would love to read your opinions.

Divine manifestations must have a purpose


One of the delightful parts of a stake temple night is the opportunity to be taught by a member of the temple presidency.  On one particular occasion many years ago, the Temple President felt inspired to relate a few stories that patrons had shared with him about spiritual manifestations that they had received while serving in the LA temple.  It was an uplifting and edifying session.

I was very impressed with what the Temple President spoke about that evening.  He related some very sacred experiences of visits from the other side of the veil from deceased family members for whom the work was being done.  He gave specific examples of what people saw, heard or felt that was evidence to them of the validity of this work and that it is accepted by their relatives.

A conversation with my Stake President

While preparing to leave the temple that evening, I conversed with my Stake President about the things the Temple President had taught us in our chapel session.  I had served with this Stake President for several years on the High Council and felt comfortable sharing heartfelt concerns.  I knew that he would carefully consider what I had to say before answering with thoughtfulness.

“President”, I said, “I’ve been coming to this temple since I was twelve years old.  In fact, I was six years old when I was sealed here to my parents.  I have many sacred memories of this place.  I was endowed here when I was nineteen and married to my sweetheart not too many years after completing my mission.  I have participated in several thousand ordinances here in this temple.

Sacred temple manifestations

“So why is it that I have never experienced any of these kinds of sacred manifestations that the temple president described?”  As I expected, he thought for a few minutes while we continued to change back into our street clothes after the evening’s temple work was completed.  After a moment, he paused, put his hand on my shoulder and then responded very slowly and carefully.

“Brother Malone, some people do not require manifestations to be faithful.  The Lord knows their hearts and knows what they need.  You apparently do not need any additional evidence that the work being performed in these temples is valid and acceptable to both the Lord and to those for whom it is performed.  Your years of faithfulness are proof that you know the work is true.”

The Lord bears witness

He was right, of course.  I didn’t need a manifestation to know that the work being done in the temples is of eternal significance and validity.  I had known that since I was a child and had never doubted it.  I thought about his response and realized that there was never an occasion when I attended the temple that I didn’t feel the warmth and comfort of the spirit of the Lord.

It was just another piece of evidence to me that the Spirit of the Lord is always present when priesthood ordinances are performed, especially in the House of the Lord.  I didn’t need any additional evidence because I had the constant companionship of the Lord each time I sat in an endowment session or knelt across the altar in a sealing session.  Yes, I knew the work was true.

To uplift and edify

I have the same kind of experience each week when I attend Sacrament meeting, and especially in a testimony meeting.  There is just something special about attending church each week and partaking of the Sacrament.  I just feel different by the end of the meeting.  I feel happy and feel that my burdens have been lifted.  It never fails.  I feel this strengthening each week after church.

This uplifting feeling is always the same whether I am conducting the meeting as a member of the Bishopric, or just sitting in the congregation as a regular member of the ward.  I love to hear members of my ward teach the gospel from the pulpit and share their feelings about the truth of what they have learned and have taught.  Sacrament meeting is always uplifting and edifying.

Testimony meetings

Last Sunday I sat in our monthly ward testimony meeting and thought about the different kinds of testimonies I was hearing.  The Bishop was short and succinct.  He bore witness of the five basic points of an LDS testimony and then sat down, inviting others to share their testimonies.  I got up and rambled a little bit about testimonies and then bore witness of the same five points.

As we progressed through the meeting, I noted that some members talked about experiences that demonstrated to them that the Lord knew them personally and that he hears and answers their prayers.  Others spoke about the trials through which they were passing and then concluded with assertions that they knew the Lord loved them would not leave them comfortless in their trials.

When we say “I know”

I listened very closely to each testimony waiting for the phrases “I know” and “I believe.”  I think I heard “I believe” maybe once or twice.  “I know” was used by the majority of those who shared their testimonies.  I know these people and know that when they say that they know that the church is true, and that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, they mean it sincerely.

I was listening closely because of recent conversation with readers of my blog about testimonies and what it means to say the church is true.  I now try to qualify what I mean when I say that by adding some additional phrases like, “because angels conferred priesthood keys upon the Prophet Joseph Smith,” and “because angels ordained Joseph Smith and gave him priesthood authority.”

Authority and the true church

You see, this authority thing is very important to me.  I’ve had a lot of dialogs with visitors to Latter-day Commentary about this very important subject.  I’ve tried to share with them that the idea of priesthood authority is one of the most important aspects of a church that claims to be the true church of Jesus Christ.  Ordinances of salvation require God’s authority to perform them.

That’s all we really mean when we say that we are the true church.  We are simply saying that angels came from the spirit world and gave Joseph Smith divine permission to do what he did in establishing the Church of Jesus Christ upon the earth again in these latter days.  Of course, the idea that angels have visited man in our day is a very difficult thing for some people to accept.

Angels, visions and revelation

I have never seen an angel.  I have had no divine vision with my natural eyes.  I have never heard an audible voice from the spirit world. Yet I have never questioned that Joseph Smith saw God, was visited by angels, received revelations and brought forth the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God.  Some of my readers find it fantastic that I can believe Joseph was a prophet.

How is this possible?  On what basis do I stand and say “I know that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, that Joseph was a prophet and that this is the true church of Jesus Christ with a prophet at the head today?”  If I have not seen God or Jesus, and was not there when Joseph brought forth the Book or Mormon, how am I a witness?

Divine manifestations must have a purpose

In all my years in this church, I don’t think I have ever met anyone who said to me, “Yes, I saw God.  He visited me and told me…”  I have never had someone say to me, “I was praying very earnestly one night and the Lord appeared to me to tell me that he loved me and that my sins were forgiven.”  I have also never heard anyone relate to me that they were visited by an angel.

Now perhaps you know people who have received such manifestations or maybe you have been the recipient of angelic visitations.  I think that’s wonderful.  I assume the visits had a purpose.  I guess I’ve never felt the need for divine manifestations beyond what I have already received when I was young as I prayed to know that the Book of Mormon was indeed the word of God.

We live far beneath our privileges

When I was seventeen I was extremely motivated to obtain a manifestation from God about my standing before him and to know if the Book of Mormon was what Joseph said it was.  I obtained both of those witnesses and a few more that the Lord felt were needed in order to help me fulfill my purpose in life.  I’ve been coasting on those manifestations for the past thirty-five years.

I’m wondering if I’ve been coasting too long.  Our former stake president, now serving as a mission president, often repeated this from Brigham Young.  He said, “[We] may have the Spirit of the Lord to . . . direct [us]. . . . I am satisfied, however, that, in this respect, we live far beneath our privileges.”  Is there more the Lord wants us to have besides what he has already given us?

Summary and conclusion

The Lord reveals himself to man when he has a purpose or a mission for them to perform.  He sends angels to instruct man and teach him about the work that he wants performed.  He sends his spirit to assure men and women that the work in which they are engaged is divine.  He gives gifts of the spirit to help us do his work.  For Joseph, one needed gift was the power to translate.

When I needed to know that the church and the Book of Mormon were of divine origin, the Lord sent his spirit and confirmed these things in my heart and mind.  Over the years, that same spirit has encouraged and motivated me to ever increasing faithfulness and obedience.  Is the Lord willing to provide additional manifestations, and if so, what is the purpose they would serve?

Shades of Grey and relative truth


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

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

Social or Cultural Mormons

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

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

Looking for the middle ground

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

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

The American Mormon culture

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

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

The one true church

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

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

God’s chosen people

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

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

Pointing out the flaws and faults

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

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

Many faithful members do know

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

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

Raise a warning voice

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

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

Some truths are not relative

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

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

Truths received by revelation

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

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

Summary and conclusion

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

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

There is no middle ground


In the priesthood session of the April 2003 General Conference, President Hinckley delivered a landmark address on the subject of loyalty.   In his remarks he said, “Each of us has to face the truth of the matter—either the church is true, or it is a fraud.  There is no middle ground.  It is the Church and kingdom of God or it is nothing.”

An earlier prophet, Joseph Fielding Smith wrote something similar in the Doctrines of Salvation:Mormonism, as it is called, must stand on the story of Joseph Smith.  He was either a prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned, or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen.  There is no middle ground.”

There can be no gray area

Referring to the historical events of the area around Palmyra, New York, President Hinckley said: “They either happened or they did not. There can be no gray area, no middle ground.”   In a similar manner, Apostle Joseph B. Wirthlin said, “Joseph Smith must be accepted either as a prophet of God or else as a charlatan of the first order.”

President Benson endorsed this all or nothing view.  He said, “Just as the arch crumbles if the keystone is removed, so does all the Church stand or fall with the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon…if it can be discredited, the Prophet Joseph Smith goes with it. So does our claim to priesthood keys, and revelation, and the restored Church.”

They were all wrong

Such black and white statements go all the way back to the beginnings of the LDS church.  When the prophet Joseph asked God which church he should join, he “was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong.”  If all the churches of Joseph’s day were wrong, what does that say about the numerous churches of our day?

The Lord later said to Joseph in Section one of the Doctrine and Covenants that the church Joseph organized was “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth.”  If you look, you can find dozens of similar statements by prophets and apostles throughout the history of our church, all very bold in their declarations.

Divisive and exclusivist

Of course, statements like these are labeled divisive and exclusivist by many people outside our church, but also, increasingly by members on the fringe of the church, also known as the disaffected Mormon underground.  The DAMU is nothing new.  There have been cultural Mormons and Jack Mormons throughout the history of our church.

Of all the objections to the church that I have encountered over the past few years I have been blogging, this one seems to be the most common and the most offensive.  For some, it is an extremely difficult proposition to accept this black or white, all or nothing approach to truth in religion.  I have spent considerable time pondering why this is so.

Good and truth in all religions

Joseph Smith taught that we accept truth from whatever source it may come.  Joseph F. Smith said, “We are willing to receive all truth, from whatever source it may come; for truth will stand, truth will endure…”  Modern prophets have said that there is much good and truth in all churches and religions.  This statement doesn’t seem too limiting.

President Hinckley: “We recognize the good in all churches. We recognize the value of religion generally. We say to everyone: live the teachings which you have received from your church. We invite you to come and learn from us, to see if we can add to those teachings and enhance your life and your understanding of things sacred and divine.”

Something unique to add

What can the LDS faith add that is unique and will bless the lives of those who accept its teachings?  The most unique thing we offer can be found in the temples.  It is the sealing power that is exercised to unite families in an eternal bond that will remain in effect after this life is over.  That is an amazing claim that no other church can make.

We teach that the sealing power is a part of the priesthood authority that we claim was delivered to Joseph Smith via angelic messengers.  I don’t know of any other church that asserts that angels have come and ordained their leaders or conferred upon them keys and powers that will bind on earth and in heaven.  That is a fantastic declaration!

Our eternal nature

The older I get, the more important that claim becomes to me.  If I know nothing else, I know that there is a spiritual side of my existence.  I have had too many experiences of a spiritual nature that have helped me to understand this truth.  Others may claim that there is nothing more to man than skin, muscle and bones, but I believe differently.

Because of that very basic and core fundamental belief about myself, I am concerned about what my purpose is in life and what happens after death.  I am so grateful to be a part of a community of faith, a church that believes as I do that life is eternal and that what we do with our lives will have a significant impact on the quality of life hereafter.

Importance of the temples

That belief in life eternal is not unique, but the idea that we can do something to ensure that the relationships we enjoy here continue in the hereafter is very unique indeed.  I have had dialog with visitors to my blog who claim that God would never be so mean as to separate a loving couple who cherished and served each other all their mortal lives.

I’m not going to point you to any statements from church leaders that teach otherwise but I will say this: before you go making claims about how God should behave, you might want to be absolutely sure of what God has said on the subject.  I can’t think of anything about which I would want to be surer.  My eternal happiness depends on it.

Book of Mormon is still the key

Back to the point of the essay and why prophets have said that there can be no middle ground when it comes to things like authority and revelation and Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.  My mother, who was a convert to the church, once said to me that as an investigator, she could accept everything about it except the Book of Mormon.

It wasn’t until much later in life when she took an Institute class on the subject that she really began to understand just how important it is to our claims of divine origin.  I love the fact that we do not have the plates to “prove” the historicity of the book.  Prophets have taught that the Book of Mormon is a great sifter of those who are honest in heart.

The power of a divine witness

I know there are those who have said that they have tried and failed to obtain a witness of the veracity of the Book of Mormon.  I have had dialog with people both inside and outside the church who have struggled with this.  I confess that I cannot offer a perfect empathy because I received a witness of the truthfulness of the book many years ago.

Because of that divine manifestation to me, not just once but on several occasions, I have never doubted the Book of Mormon, or the claims of the prophet Joseph Smith. I understand why the prophets have said that the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion and why our claims of divinity rest upon the veracity of that book.  I also agree with the statement that the strength of this church is in the testimony of each member.

The promise of personal revelation

One of my evangelical visitors once called this security that I feel, the Mormon bubble.  He says it is not logical but it makes perfect sense to me.  You can throw out all kinds of arguments about the Book of Abraham, Polyandry, Post-manifesto plural marriage, the Kinderhook Plates or any one a few dozen other things that can be found on the Internet.

None of them bothered me when I first learned about them and none of them do now.  I have written essays on dozens of these objections and have come to the conclusion that they really aren’t the real problem with why people doubt or leave the church.  In my opinion, those who struggle with these doubts have not received personal revelation.

Summary and conclusion

I know that a testimony is a very sacred and personal subject.  I also know that making a generalization like I just did will bring all kinds of protests.  But I stand by it as truth.  If a man has received a witness from God that the Book of Mormon is true then God has a responsibility to help that man as he goes through the ensuing trials of that testimony.

I know that God will help the honest in heart keep their testimonies strong and vibrant.  If we study we are going to find out things that will test our witness.  We will then have the opportunity to strengthen and deepen it.  That’s what opposition is for.  We do not have to wallow in doubt.  But those who doubt are welcome while they work things out.

Rachel Esplin video continues to be a hit


Last November, LDS Harvard undergrad Rachel Esplin made viral video news with her incredibly articulate and intelligent responses to some very difficult questions about the Mormon faith. She was asked whether she wears sacred undergarments, if Mormonism is a cult, how she views the role of women in her church, and what her relationship is with Jesus. For not having served a mission, this young 20-year old is an amazing missionary for the LDS faith.

The interview is twenty minutes long and something you may enjoy viewing as part of a Family Home Evening or perhaps even burning it to a DVD and sharing it in a Sunday School lesson about how to share the gospel in today’s media savvy world. Rachel was on the debate team in her high school and her mother teaches at BYU Idaho. But still, this young woman did a better job than I ever could at responding to difficult questions with poise and confidence.

You may also be interested in viewing some of the hundreds of comments that accompanied just one typical news piece covering the popularity of the video as it appeared in the Boston Globe.  I think the very first comment is excellent as it helps us to see how the world perceives us as being closed and secretive.  Especially note the tenor of the comments that focus on the claims of exclusivity.  This continues to be a difficult point for many to deal with both within and without the church.

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=2120177&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=&fullscreen=1

Day of Faith: Personal Quests for a Purpose – 3. Rachel Esplin from Harvard Hillel on Vimeo.

A different kind of knowledge


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

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

The bearing of testimonies

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

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

Direction from the Brethren

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

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

Brainwashing or groupthink

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

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

Discovering a testimony

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

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

A testimony must grow

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

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

The influence of leaders

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

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

A powerful example

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

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

Strengthened by sharing

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

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

Revelation is the source

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

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

Summary and conclusion

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

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

For more information:

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

Spiritual experiences as a foundation for faith


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

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

Youthful revelatory experiences

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

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

Foundational spiritual events

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

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

Deep impact on my faith

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

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

Working with imperfect people

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

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

Imperfections even at high levels

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

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

Sacred things exposed and mocked

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

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

Not all members receive revelation

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

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

Memories can be enlarged

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

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

How to explain all this

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

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

Summary and conclusion

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

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

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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.

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