Allow Me the Agency of My Doubts


PeterJamesJohn

Update: A better title would have been: “Please Allow me the Freedom to Have Questions.” The word “doubts” causes people to think you are not a believer. I am a believer, yet I still have questions I want answered. I recognize it is my own responsibility to find answers to my questions but these particular questions are related to some of the fundamental truth claims of the Church, in particular, if the Church has the Fullness of the Priesthood and if it can be transferred by the laying on of hands. I addressed and sent this to my Bishop and Stake President.

I don’t know if you care what I am about to say, but I feel the need to share it. I have asked the Lord in prayer to bless my words that they will help you understand why I do what I do and have done what I have done on my blog especially over the past few years. I appreciate you taking the time to read this and hope it helps you to understand me better in light of the posts I have written that may have come to your attention.

I Have Loved Serving in This Church

First, let me express my love for you. I hope that doesn’t make you uncomfortable. I admire both of you tremendously. I know what it takes to be a Bishop or a Stake President – not first-hand, of course – but after more than twenty-five years of serving in Bishoprics, on a High Council and as a Stake Clerk, I know it’s time-consuming, at times heartbreaking and a lot of spiritual work. I have loved serving in this church all my life or at least from when I was a full-time missionary.

I Write a Blog at Elder Ballard’s Request

You both know I have been writing an LDS-themed blog for the last six or seven years. For the first five years I assumed a mission to defend the faith, to offer what I felt was the orthodox or standard narrative to combat falsehoods about the church I found on the Internet. I felt justified in what I was trying to accomplish when Elder Ballard asked members of the church, especially young people familiar with technology, to get involved in the on-line dialog about the church.

Conversing With the Lord Through the Veil

A little over two years ago I was introduced to the writings of Denver Snuffer, who, in case you haven’t heard of him, is a now excommunicated attorney from Utah who has written a series of popular LDS-themed books dealing with the subject of coming unto Christ. He has testified of the literalness of D&C 93:1, that we can Converse with the Lord through the Veil, meet the Savior in this life, receive Him as the Second Comforter and have Him introduce us unto the Father.

Passing the Heavenly Gift and Excommunication

It was his most recent book, Passing the Heavenly Gift that got him in trouble with the church and resulted in his excommunication when he refused to withdraw it from publication after being requested to do so by his Stake President at the behest of Elder Nelson. President, I don’t know if you are familiar with this book or of others in the stake who have read it (there are many), but I know you are Bishop, based on your response when we discussed my blog a little bit last year.

Uplifting Addresses from Priesthood Leaders

It is not my intention to teach you anything. Such is not my prerogative or right. I simply want to bring up two recent talks from President Uchtdorf and Elder Holland in our consideration so I can set the stage for what I am about to share. I assume you are familiar with them. The first was rather recent. President Uchtdorf delivered his address in October General Conference of 2013. The other from Elder Holland was from the previous spring’s General Conference in April 2013.

Teaching the Standard Narrative

They both deal with the issue of faith, testimony, doubts, and being accepted in this church in spite of having questions about some aspects of church history, which I confess I now have. I never thought I would confess such a thing to a priesthood leader. I have always seen myself as a stalwart member, convinced, convicted and converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ and what we teach as the “standard narrative” in regards to our church history. I want to focus on that idea.

We Simply Don’t Have All The Information

In President Uchtdorf’s address entitled, “Come, Join With Us,” he states, “… this Church … honors personal agency … we respect those who honestly search for truth. “ He then said, “We openly acknowledge that in nearly 200 years of Church history … there have been some things said and done that could cause people to question. Sometimes … we simply don’t have all the information … Sometimes there is a difference of opinion as to what the ‘facts’ really mean.”

There is Room For You In This Church

President Uchtdorf concludes, “It’s natural to have questions … regardless of the strength of your testimony, there is room for you in this Church …” He writes more, but the main points I wanted to share include his words that we can have differences of opinions as to what the facts of our church history mean. He also declares that in spite of those differences, all are welcome here. I’m going to ask you a specific question in regards to that invitation and how it applies to me.

Hold Fast To What You Already Know

But first, let me turn to Elder Holland’s April 2013 talk entitled, “Lord, I Believe.” In Elder Holland’s thoughtful, comforting, and compassionate way, he says, “In moments of fear or doubt or troubling times, hold the ground you have already won, even if that ground is limited.” He adds, “Hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes.” He invites us to demonstrate integrity toward the faith we do have and truth we already know.

Honest Declarations of Doubt and Faith

Elder Holland continues, “I am not asking you to pretend to faith you do not have. I am asking you to be true to the faith you do have. Sometimes we act as if an honest declaration of doubt is a higher manifestation of moral courage that is an honest declaration of faith. It is not! … Be as candid about your questions as you need to be; life is full of them on one subject or another.” He mentions the importance of being kind to others and ourselves as we work through our doubts.

I am Asking for Help With My Doubts

Elder Holland concludes with this observation: “When doubt or difficulty come, do not be afraid to ask for help.” He reminds us to do so with real intent, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God. He concludes with his testimony that we will receive help from both sides of the veil to strengthen our belief and quotes the Savior when he said, “Be not afraid, only believe.” He says he has the conviction of the “more sure word of prophecy.”

Following the Bishop’s Counsel – No Facebook Links

With the background of those two recent conference addresses, please let me now get specific. Bishop, when you called me in last year to chat, I wanted ever so much to talk to you about my doubts, but not once in our three visits did the spirit prompt me to do so. We talked about my health, about my love for my son, about my marriage and just a smidgeon about my blog. You counseled me to soften my headlines and to take the links to my blog off Facebook, which I did.

Temple Interview Loyalty and Affiliation Questions

My temple recommend expires in July. As we all know, there are two questions in the interview process that test for loyalty to the Brethren, specifically to the Prophet, and test for “affiliation” or “sympathy” toward any individual whose teachings are contrary or oppose those accepted by the Church. I’d like to address those two questions with a question of my own first. If I were to express a doubt about one of those questions, would I still be found worthy of a recommend?

Doubt About the Fullness of the Priesthood

RichYoungRulerIn other words, does what President Uchtdorf and Elder Holland taught in General Conference apply to the temple recommend process or was that just talk? If I were to tell you that I have some doubt about the fullness of the priesthood being upon the earth today, would you take away my temple recommend? What if I were to tell you I read the works of Denver Snuffer, a man who has been excommunicated for apostasy, and that I enjoy many of the points he has made?

Example of How Another Brother Was Treated

Before you answer my question, let me share with you what happened to one of the readers of my blog who answered those questions pretty much in the way I have just proposed. I share this with his permission. This individual, who is an Elder’s Quorum Instructor, went in for his temple recommend interview. He was honest in his responses and apparently his bishop had no problem with what he had to say so he signed the recommend and sent him on to see the Stake President.

To Sustain the Church President as the Prophet

After a few moments of cordial introductory chit-chat, they began the interview. When asked if he “sustain[ed] the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the prophet, seer, and revelator…” my friend responded as follows: “I sustain him but I don’t believe certain things that are being taught in our church today.” I’m sure you can imagine the bells that are now going off in the Stake President’s mind like, “Why did the Bishop sign this man’s recommend?”

Asking Questions – Asked to Be Taught – A No-no

So the stake president asked my friend to elaborate. He said, “There are some things I don’t understand about the higher priesthood. What is the fullness of the priesthood? How do we know that we have it in the LDS Church today?” I’m sure you can guess the Stake President was just a little bit aghast. According to my friend, he was livid. He said, “The Stake President took my recommend and then intimated they might have to consider disciplinary action against me.”

His Wife Feels She Has Lost Everything

He was immediately released from his calling. I quote now from his comments on my blog, “It has been a month and the word is getting out in the ward. I sit in the testimony meetings and my wife cries and mourns her loss when loving TBM husbands testify of their wife’s love or of their children’s innocence. She cries in Gospel Doctrine class when the discussion is following the prophet and “criticizing” the brethren is discussed. In my wife’s mind she sees that all is lost.”

Members Blame Him for Taking Away Her Hope

“She feels she now has no promise of celestial life, eternal marriage, no father for her children, all is lost since GOD’s oracle on earth has damned me to hell for my unbelief. Fellow Saints console her openly and cast sideways glances towards me grimacing. Priesthood leaders currently counsel together to strategize damage control ideas, or how to protect the flock and my family from me or my influence. In fact, the Relief Society is now bringing funeral meals.”

Leader Tells Son to Beware of His Own Father

I found this outrageous scene so unbelievable I just had to call him to confirm. We spoke for about 45 minutes on Wednesday. It was a delight to speak with him. He was not downcast or unhappy in any way. He expressed love and sympathy for his priesthood leaders. He said he understood why they reacted the way they did – that it was typical for his area there in Northern Utah. He said the Stake President called his 17-year old son in to warn him against his father.

Unrighteous Dominion is Alive and Well Today

At this point my jaw just about hit the floor. I could not believe what I was hearing. Did we belong to the same church? Does this Stake President not realize what he has just done to this man’s family, his marriage and his testimony? Talk about spiritual abuse and unrighteous dominion. This Stake President was the epitome of a priesthood leader who had no clue about the right way to help a fellow priesthood brother who had simply asked an honest question.

Persuasion, Long-Suffering, Gentleness, Meekness, Love

We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—

My Blog is All About LDS Book Reviews

President, Bishop, if you haven’t read my blog, and I don’t expect you to have done so since you are both such busy men, you would know it is mainly about writing LDS book reviews. I started out reading Denver Snuffer’s books a few years ago and have written book reviews about just about all of them. I have not advocated anybody believe what he has shared. I have simply done these reviews because he is a controversial fellow and I was asked my opinion by others I trust.

I Seek Deep Understanding – No Cursory Overview

However, in order to understand the books more completely, I had studied them extensively, both because the subject matter is intensely interesting to me – how to come unto the Savior – and about the early history of our church. President Uchtdorf may have been referring to Denver Snuffer’s books when he mentioned there have been some things said and done that could cause people to question. It’s OK to have a difference of opinion as to what the ‘facts’ really mean.

I Want The Temple To Be A Part Of My Life

I’d like to conclude with a few thoughts and then ask one final question. I plan to go to the temple today to participate in our quarterly stake chapel and endowment session. I love to go to the temple. I love to serve in the temple. I love to be with the members of our stake. I love to serve in my present calling as Stake Financial Clerk. I hope my service is helpful. I’m grateful the temple has been such a big part of my life for almost forty years. It has blessed my life.

I Only Teach Authorized Correlated Material

I love this church. It has blessed my life since I was a little boy. I loved serving a mission. I have always loved teaching the gospel to the saints from the pulpit or in the classroom. I always make certain I stay within the boundaries of the authorized correlated material found in the manuals. I love the Brethren. I sustain the General Authorities. I’m grateful to be able to pay my tithing. I know it pays their salaries, including my sister’s salary, who is Elder Perry’s executive secretary.

I Will Serve Wherever I Am Asked

President, I have tried to serve faithfully in any calling or priesthood assignment I have received. I try to be a 100% home teacher. I love visiting Brother and Sister Harris each month to provide priesthood blessings as he finishes up his cancer treatments. I miss teaching the saints. I loved being a primary teacher, a High Priest Group Leader, a ward missionary, Bishopric counselor, ward clerk, and in my previous stake, High Councilor, Seminary Teacher and Mission Leader.

Only Desire To Build The Kingdom of God

My only desire is to build the Kingdom of God on the Earth and contribute to the preparation of this Kingdom for the return of the Lord. I have never had a problem with tithing and love to be able to contribute in this manner. I strive to keep my temple covenants to give of my time, talents and everything with which the Lord has blessed me to the building up of the Kingdom of God. I love my wife and strive to do everything to help her find happiness, especially as we worship.

 Permit Me Agency of My Doubts and Questions

Here’s my concluding question: If I confess my doubt, or my question really, about what the fullness of the priesthood really is and if it is found on the earth today, will expressing this doubt preclude me from being found worthy of holding a temple recommend, serving as a stake clerk or will my confession cause me to face disciplinary action? I have thought about this and written about this previously here in my blog. Why am I making this confession? In order to be honest.

Others Are Punished For Asking Questions

God bless you Bishop and President. I hope you will look kindly upon the confession I share. Is there still room for me in this church, as Prsident Uchtdorf has declared? I do not look upon my questions about the priesthood to be doubts, really, but simply questions. I want to be taught. What is the fullness of the priesthood? Is it the same as the Melchizedek priesthood? Is it the same as the patriarchal priesthood? Does it contain the sealing power like Nephi received it?

Cut Off From Among My people


LDSChurchHandbooks1When one is excommunicated from the LDS Church, he is provided instructions by the Bishop or Stake President as to what he can and cannot do. Given that the church just severed the relationship with the individual excommunicated you would think the instructions provided are no longer applicable. It is assumed they are given with the intention of helping the individual make their way back to baptism again within a short period of time, even as little as one year.

Instructions Provided When Excommunicated

It has been my sad duty over the years to write and deliver the notice to appear, then to write the summary of the disciplinary council for the report sent to Salt Lake, and the instructions given to the individual who has been the subject of church discipline. Frankly, I have found it a difficult process. It requires that I listen intently and take copious notes so as to capture the essence of what transpired, what was considered, what was decided and finally, what instruction was given.

Alternative Method – Administrative Action

I’m sure you know that many individuals forgo the trauma of a disciplinary council and elect to simply resign their membership. The Stake President is supposed to contact the individual and make sure they are aware of the seriousness of what they have just done. Most Stake Presidents I have worked with have been hesitant to perform this duty, and, in fact, have let it drag on for a year or more before executing that final step which cuts the individual off from the LDS church.

Rights, Privileges and Authority Removed

They are supposed to instruct them what they are giving up, such as all rights to the priesthood, to the temple, to the sacrament and any claims they may have on others such as the sealing of a spouse or even children born in the covenant. As with any individual excommunicated, they are told they may no longer wear the garment of the holy priesthood, may not exercise priesthood authority, may not speak in church, offer prayers, serve in any church callings or pay tithing.

Defending Oneself in a Disciplinary Council

For many individuals, this is a relief. For those who chose the administrative action (no council), it is fairly obvious they no longer believe and simply wanted to stop being bothered by home and visiting teachers. For those who elected to go through the formal council proceedings, one can assume they had hopes to avoid excommunication. In other words, they believe in the cause of the church, enjoyed the privileges of membership and were willing to petition to retain them.

Apostasy is a Whole Different Animal

In the case of someone accused of apostasy, the case has pretty much been decided before the council is held. Either the Stake Presidency has received instructions from the Area Presidency to “take care of it,” or they have decided on their own that the member is too much of a pain in the butt and can no longer put up with the things he or she is sharing among church members that are out of line with accepted church doctrine. Of course, they are supposed to have been warned.

Role of a High Councilor

The wheels of the church grind slowly, but they usually grind smoothly. It’s a bit of a burden to serve on a high council. Besides speaking in church each month, attending early-morning stake council or high council meetings, High Councilors are to serve as advisors to the Stake President in disciplinary councils. They are supposed to be evenly divided with half to see that the interests of the church are met and the other half to see that the interests of the individual are represented.

Apostasy Usually Decided in Advance

In reality, the high councilors probably know nothing of the circumstances regarding the man or woman being tried for their membership until a few minutes before the council begins. It’s pretty hard to represent someone being tried for apostasy when it is clear the “apostate” knows more about church doctrine and history than you do. Therefore, apostasy is usually decided based on the attitude of the individual – if he or she is willing to do whatever is asked of them by the SP.

Keep Your Beliefs to Yourself

I have now had several online friends – fellow bloggers – excommunicated for apostasy because they wrote things in their blog indicating they believed something was missing from the church. Apparently you can believe what you want about the church as long as you don’t share it with anyone else. I even had one individual in a previous stake claim he had just as much right to lead the church as the then-prophet Gordon B. Hinckley, but he also had extenuating mental issues.

I Sustain the Leaders of This Church

I think it’s a little foolish to be so “in-your-face” in your comments about the Brethren or about the Prophet in particular. Unless you are so ticked off at what they are teaching and feel they are perpetuating a myth, then you might want to hold back on the public statements opposing their actions. Lest I be accused by any of being an apostate, let it be known here and now I love the Brethren who lead this church. I sustain them and accept their leadership, guidance and direction.

Open Dialog, Free Speech and LDS Bloggers

As I wrote for many years, if the Brethren or my local leaders ever felt my blog was out of line or too provocative or placed the church in a bad light, I would gladly change it or remove it. I had even expressed that I would have no problem discontinuing the blog altogether, although of course with the Internet Way-back machine, what I have written is preserved for a long time, or at least as long as there is electricity and the server on which it is stored is not nuked by an EMP.

A Preview of Things to Come

I shared in a recent post a conversation I had with the Lord in which I asked for and received his permission to share a few things on my blog in the months to come that I have been hesitant to write about for fear of offending the leaders of this church or causing others to doubt their own testimonies and commitment to the church. I still feel strongly one should look for the good in all things, especially when you have invested a lifetime of time and money to building a good cause.

An Honest Seeker of Truth

I am going to explore a few scriptures and offer alternative interpretations of those scriptures. I am also going to be looking at a few events in our church history and noting interpretations of those events that differ, sometimes radically, of the “standard narrative” we have all been taught or grown up with all our lives. Please don’t label me an apostate or trouble-maker. I believe I am an honest seeker of truth and have felt led to these conclusions by much pondering and prayer.

Living With Difficult Church History

You may think I am parroting the views of Denver Snuffer and in fact, I will be quoting some of his insightful points, but only because he has been bold in bringing them to our attention. I did not hear about these things first from Denver. I learned them in my youth from my mother in the things she taught me and books I read, or I learned them later as I felt led to certain sources that one can find online which were not available until recently. The Internet has changed everything.

Troubling Issues in the Standard Narrative

You may ask why I choose to do this. You may wonder if I am looking to force the Brethren to take action. No, I am only looking for certain troubling issues to be addressed. I recognize that I am in the minority in this church. Some estimate that as few as two percent of the LDS members actually do any serious study of our history and the evolution of our doctrines over time. And if we are to believe John Dehlin (which I do), the Brethren have decided we are irredeemable.

Home Sanctuary – A Sacred Altar

Up until recently I was greatly concerned about missing out on the blessings of the sacrament and the temple if I were to be excommunicated from the church. With what I have learned about the home sanctuary in the last few weeks that concern about the temple has been resolved. And with what I have determined in my own mind about priesthood authority and priesthood power, remembering the Lord through administering the sacrament in my home is no longer an issue.

Bishop Holds Keys to Administer Sacrament

I know what you’re thinking, “Brother Malone, don’t you know that the Bishop holds the keys of administering the sacrament? You can’t do that without his permission.” Well, if the church cuts me off, then they no longer have any say about what I do in my own home, do they? Let me make it clear my issues with the church are not with my local priesthood leaders. I have many times expressed my love for them on my blog and will continue to do so. My issue is priesthood.

Sealing Power Received by Voice of God

The bottom line for me is I am not so sure the higher priesthood can be passed from one man to another. It can only be received by hearing the voice of God or by receiving it directly from God by the laying on of hands – the Lord’s hands, even Jesus Christ. Even if one receives this higher sealing power from the Savior, it cannot be passed on to another. Each man must receive this power for himself. I’m not saying the church doesn’t have authority because I know it does.

A Kingdom of Priests with Priestly Authority

I liken the authority of the church to that of the tribes of Israel after Moses and before the advent of the Lord in the Meridian of time. It is a priestly authority, authority of the Aaronic priesthood, or a type of authority that invites us to go and get the real thing, the power of the priesthood from the Lord and Master of the universe. I know this is quite a claim. We teach Peter, James and John gave this authority to Joseph and Oliver and I have no doubt they did. But was it later passed on?

Seek to Behold the Face of the Lord

Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer were asked to choose the twelve apostles. They did so. After they were ordained, Oliver gave them this charge:

“…it is necessary that you receive a testimony from heaven for yourselves; so that you can bear testimony to the truth of the Book of Mormon, and that you have seen the face of God. That is more than the testimony of an angel. When the proper time arrives, you shall be able to bear this testimony to the world. When you bear testimony that you have seen God, this testimony God will never suffer to fall, but will bear you out; although many will not give heed, yet others will. You will therefore see the necessity of getting this testimony from heaven.

Never cease striving until you have seen God face to face. Strengthen your faith; cast off you doubts, your sins, and all your unbelief; and nothing can prevent you from coming to God. Your ordination is not full and complete till God has laid His hand upon you. We require as much to qualify us as did those who have gone before us; God is the same. If the Savior in former days laid His hands upon His disciples, why not in latter days?”