We can tell from a leaf's shape what kind of tree it came from. A church's culture can tell us what kind of spiritual laws they follow.
1. Pretend there's a taxonomy of spiritual laws, into which we can fit them broadly into three degrees: there are the "higher laws" (Celestial); there are the "lesser laws" (Telestial); and everything in between.
2. Each law bears fruit after its own kind. If we plant a tomato, we are not going to harvest a giraffe. We don't get 24 karat gold from a copper mine. And we don't get Zion from tithing and home teaching/ministering.
3. So the problem we face is expecting "celestial blessings" from living a "telestial law." I mean, isn't that Lucifer's plan? To convince us we're progressing along the straight and narrow path when in fact we're knee-deep in the quicksand of a hollow religion, living on the scraps of a dead (i.e. lesser) law?
4. Oftentimes, doctrines and practices that are "lesser" end up becoming sacred cows (i.e. something held to be above criticism). Why is it, that in the midst of Christ's glorious Good News; in the bosom of eternal and infinite love; and in the presence of unfailing redeeming grace . . . we want to wrangle over which hand to take the sacrament with, or what color of shirt we should wear to church; or whether open-toed sandals are modest; or whether we should play with face cards; or drink caffeine; or watch rated R movies; or stand when a dignitary enters (or leaves) a room; etc.?
5. In other words, there seems to be a gravitational attraction between us and "lesser laws" ― toward legalism that produces spiritual death.
6. All of us have a circumference of ignorance. We possess a little truth, but in our childlike condition our knowledge is incomplete and distorted. THE POINT: we must discard the cherished lesser laws we have grown comfortable with in order to live by Christ's more excellent way.
7. When we cling to lesser laws rather than embracing Christ's law of the gospel (which is His celestial law of love), we are captive to the spirit of Anti-Christ, which prevents us from experiencing a fulness of God's intelligence (or glory), causing us to remain in gross darkness.
8. Jesus came to fulfill the Law of Moses so we would not be subject to a lesser law, which is just another form of "bondage." This is the "freedom" we find in Christ ― freedom from the rules, regulations, rituals and legalism that Paul calls "the letter of the law."
9. The Spirit of the law does not give us license to break the letter of the Celestial law. However, the Spirit of the law DOES give us license to break the letter of a terrestial or telestial law . . . ALL THE TIME.
10. Is it a big surprise to anyone that most of the preaching we hear in Church advocates for lesser laws? Ironically, this preaching benefits only those who are living an even lesser law than the one being taught ― and for those seeking to live a greater law, it creates confusion and spiritual stagnation.
11. When we advocate a practice we have personally benefited from that is not a celestial law, and teach it as a general principle for others to follow, we set ourselves up as the standard rather than Christ. For example, "I know God wants us to only eat whole grains. It is sinful to ingest bleached white flour. You shouldn't eat white bread because it'll make you sick. And if you are sick, it is probably because you're not obeying the Word of Wisdom. If we really want God's blessing, we must give up gluten entirely."
12.As we come unto Christ, lesser laws and practices become obsolete. Do we make 16-year-olds sit in a car seat? Does our elementary school principal have authority over us after we've matriculated to high school? Can a church leader supersede Christ's eternal, unchanging gospel? So as we mature spiritually, we graduate from the rules and regulations that define most religion.
13.The Law of the Harvest is about harnessing the creative and restorative power of Christ. This requires something important ― something fundamental to our intelligence and existence: agency.
(i) Agency requires a body to "act" and not to merely be acted upon;
(ii) Bodies are the means of Expression, or Logos ("by the word of my power"); creation occurred by the Expression of Christ's body; redemption occurs by the Restoration of it.
(iii) Spiritual and physical bodies are both made up of "element." They are of same substance (see D&C 131:7-8). "The elements are eternal" (D&C 93:33).
(iv) Christ embodies truth and Spirit and light and love (literally). His Body, or Tabernacle, endows all creation because He is the "light that proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space—The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things" (D&C 88:12-13).
(v) Christ is "in all things, and is through all things, and is round about all things; and all things are by him, and of him, even God, forever and ever. And again, verily I say unto you, he hath given a law unto all things" (D&C 88:41-42).
(vi) Jesus is not just the Lawgiver; He is the Law itself.
14. What if Christ's work and glory was the turning of the wheels of creation and restoration? What if we could only redeem what we had created? What if we could only become what we had redeemed? What if we could only create what we had become?
15. The current versions of church hierarchies that we see on earth all perpetuate a systemic form of spiritual bondage to some degree, because they rely on elements of priestcraft instead of the pure love of Christ required for Zion.
16. Rather than defying the authority of Rome, as the Reformers we celebrate did, we have created New Rome instead of the New Jerusalem.
17. The doctrine that the authority of leadership is unassailable has resulted in spiritual abuse and idolatry.
The Parable of the Baker
Long ago there lived a humble baker who made cakes and cookies for her family and neighbors.
Whenever she saw a stranger, she gave them a treat from her basket and took time to get to know them. Everyone loved the baker.
Everyone, that is, except the other bakers in town who were jealous of her delicious lemon chiffon cakes and creamy chocolate soufflés.
These other bakers could not reproduce the delicious smells and flavors of the humble baker, so in their ambition to out do her they created more extravagant and complex desserts, like the towering croque en bouche.
The town people became enamored with the elaborate creations of the other bakers, throwing celebrations catered with the expensive pastries of these other bakers, who became famous and rich.
Over time the townspeople came to despise the lowly, plain desserts made by the humble baker, and as a consequence, the baker became destitute since no one wanted to buy her baked goods anymore.
Superstar chef Gordon Ramsey and his team came to the bakery on a rescue mission, and told the baker, "If you want to compete in the modern culinary scene, you must update your brand. You must revamp your recipes. You need to refresh your ingredients with what is fashionable today."
The humble baker shook her head, and said, "No, I was taught to bake by my mother, and these are family recipes."
One day a proclamation was sent throughout the kingdom: for the Queen's 90th birthday celebration, all the bakers were invited to contribute their signature dessert, and the Queen (who had a sweet tooth) would conduct a blind taste test and choose a winner who would receive half of the kingdom as a reward.
The baking community flew into a frenzy, everyone practicing to perfect their recipes.
The humble baker had no desire to receive half of the kingdom, content with her little cottage on the edge of town, and so she had no plans to enter the contest. But when a poor small shepherd boy came to her, asking if she could teach him to cook so he might enter the contest, she said, "Why do you want to win? To become a Lord? To have wealth and power?"
"Oh no, ma'am," the boy said, "I just want to see the Queen smile."
And so the baker accepted, delighted to pass along her knowledge. She had the boy prepare a simple shortbread cookie with a powdered sugar dusting. "But surely this is too simple for the Queen?" he said. "Trust me," the baker said.
Soon the day of the Queen's birthday came, and the entire kingdom came to party with her. The castle was surrounded with dozens of tables holding all of the desserts for the contest.
The Queen, very wise and very old, tasted a bite from each dessert, relishing each morsel. She enjoyed mille-feuilles and strawberry tarts, eclairs and German chocolate cakes, and a thousand other confections.
At the very end of her feast, on the last table, on the last plate, was a plain shortbread cookie, looking quite out of place.
The shepherd boy stood at attention, holding his breath as the Queen took a bite of his cookie. As her mouth closed, he saw the corners curl into a beautiful smile. The Queen closed her eyes and ate the entire cookie, to the astonishment of the crowd.
"Who made this cookie?" the Queen asked.
The boy sheepishly stepped forward. "I did, your Majesty."
"Really? Who taught you to make such a thing?" The boy feared he was in trouble, that he had offended the Queen with his simple offering.
"She did," the boy said, pointing the humble baker, who had come to watch the festivities.
The Queen saw the baker and cried, "Daughter!" pulling her into a warm embrace.
Love is Simple
Love is simple.
Just like we can tell a tree from its leaf's shape, we can spot a disciple of Christ by their love.
Love is the highest law; it is what the apostle James called "the royal law." Jesus' pure love is the main ingredient of the gospel.
Sure, we can "dress-up" lesser laws, making them look sexy, but an earthly hierarchy (croque en bouche) cannot replace Christ's divine love.
No authority can change the recipe.
And the angel said unto me: Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil.
Question:You are Captain Moroni. You have travelled to the year 1776 in your time machine. You find yourself in the midst of the American Revolutionary War.
1. The British Crown has rejected the American colonists' right to govern their internal affairs. Who do you side with?
A. The American Patriots B. King George III
2. Many American clergymen were Loyalists during the War who supported the Crown, arguing the Bible requires submission to authority and that the "freedom" mentioned in the scriptures is freedom from sin. The Loyalists rejected the Patriot's defiance of Britain's laws and preached against rebellion.
On the other hand, the Patriots argued that "when a long train of abuses and usurpations ... evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government."
As Captain Moroni, do you agree with the Loyalists or Patriots?
A. Patriots B. Loyalists
3. American colonists favored John Locke's theory of the "social contract." On the other hand, Loyalists favored the doctrine of the "divine right of kings." Which do you support?
A. Social contract B. Divine right of kings
4. Thomas Paine said, "But where is the King of America? I’ll tell you Friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the Royal Brute of Britain."
King George III said, "A traitor is everyone who does not agree with me."
As Captain Moroni, whose sentiment do you agree with?
A. Thomas Paine B. King George III
5. Which governmental system do you, as Captain Moroni, think is better?
A. Self-government with civil checks and balances B. British Monarchy
What if we had lived in 1776 and our clergymen preached that we should submit to the Crown because that was the "order of things?"
Would our gift of discernment have led us toward greater liberty or would we have doubled-down on tradition? Would we have loved freedom more than authority?
- Where were the Alexander Hamiltons when past Church leaders endorsed racist doctrines?
- Where were the Patrick Henrys when past Church leaders built the priesthood into an autocratic empire?
- Where were the Samuel Adamses when past Church leaders enacted the 2015 gay children policy?
So How Did We Turn into 21st Century Loyalists?
In discussing the Church's changing narrative on the priesthood ban, Jana Riess pointed out:
"This is an excellent case study of who gets promoted to leadership in the LDS Church and why. It’s the loyalists, not the idealists or the agitators, the ones who are willing to toe the party line — even if that position is not one they agree with — the ones who have demonstrated over years and even decades they are adept at prioritizing the institution over the individual."
(Jana Riess, "For Latter-day Saints, being led by old men can be a blessing and a curse," Salt Lake Tribune, February 15, 2021, accessed at https://www.sltrib.com/religion/2021/02/15/jana-riess-latter-day)
Latter-day "Give Me Liberty or Give me Death"
In 1775, at the Virginia Convention where the colonists debated a course of action, Patrick Henry stood and gave his immortal, inspired speech.
What lessons can we learn from Patrick Henry's speech to help us navigate this 21st Century spiritual space?
Are we disposed to be of the number of those, who having eyes, see not, and having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? [If the scales fell from our eyes, what reforms would bring the Church into greater harmony with the gospel? How can we "cleanse the inward vessel" in order to bring about Zion? Or do we wish to remain subjects of King George III?]
For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst of it.
[When we cling to a telestial law and reject the celestial path God offers us, we create cognitive dissonance. There is no growth without change. But it is difficult to let go of cherished traditions. Are we seeking for new, revolutionary revelation from God?]
Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled that force must be called in to win back our love?
[A person's authority can be no greater than their love. And love is expressed by persuasion, sacrifice, common consent and condescension. A hierarchy has no moral authority because it does not practice what it preaches: it creates status, privilege, double standards, and inequality.]
Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last hundred and fifty years. We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in vain.
[Why does it seem like the Church responds only to negative publicity? Why is its public image more important than doing what is right? Why can't it issue real apologies?]
Sir, we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on.
[There are two tempests we face: (1) Babylon is increasing its dominion on earth, and (2) We do not have a "refuge from the storm" (i.e., Zion). It appears the Church is on course to repeat the events of 3 Nephi 6:
And thus there became a great inequality in all the land, insomuch that the church began to be broken up;
And there began to be men inspired from heaven and sent forth, standing among the people in all the land, preaching and testifying boldly of the sins and iniquities of the people.
(3 Nephi 6:14, 20)
We have petitioned — we have remonstrated — we have supplicated — we have prostrated ourselves: but our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned. They tell us, sir, that we are weak — but when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week or the next year?
[Hierarchies enervate. Let me repeat, hierarchies enervate. We are drained of spiritual vitality and self-initiative when under the yoke of someone else's authority, which robs us of using our spiritual gifts that fall outside of what our "calling" is in the Church. Hierarchies create jurisdictional boundaries we are told not to cross.]
Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Sir, we are not weak, if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature has placed in our power. Sixteen millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, are invincible by any force which they can send against us.
[If the membership of the Church believes our agency is merely to do what the leaders tell us, then what about our accountability to God? Sometimes leaders give us inspired counsel; sometimes they do not. Isn't our accountability on being able to discern between the two?
Men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;
For the power is in them, ["IN THEM" -- not in leadership] wherein they are agents unto themselves ["UNTO OURSELVES -- not to leaders].
Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations; and who will raise up friends to fight with us.
[This is not about "us" vs. "leaders." We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. The leadership are our kindred. We need to work together to restore the Government of God to the earth, which is Zion. Having a hierarchy does not help us achieve that goal. Satan wants us to fight each other. God wants us to "be one." We can tell who is on God's side by whether they "walk the walk" of being "equal."]
There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged. Their clanking may be heard in the valleys of Salt Lake! Gentlemen may cry, peace, peace — but there is no peace.
[Jesus said a house divided cannot stand. But he also said:
If thy foot offend thee, cut it off; for he that is thy standard, by whom thou walkest, if he become a transgressor, he shall be cut off.
Therefore, let every man stand or fall, by himself, and not for another; or not trusting another.
(JST Mark 9:42, 44)
Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! — I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!
Always Remember - 66 B.C.
Do we struggle with a sense of spiritual elitism? Do we enjoy the spiritual aristocracy we have created, believing priesthood keys create a kind of "upper-class" nobility?
Which reminds me:
Now those who were in favor of kings were those of high birth, and they sought to be kings; and they were supported by those who sought power and authority over the people.
But those who were desirous [for freedom] took upon them the name of freemen; for the freemen had sworn or covenanted to maintain the rights and the privileges of their religion by a free government.
(Alma 51: 8, 7).
History will judge us; but we must decide for ourselves: are we spiritual loyalists or patriots?
Imagine if priesthood "keys" were not used as instruments of authority but of love...
Imagine if priesthood keys were used to unlock the windows of heaven for all of us...
Imagine if priesthood keys were used to create equality among us rather than status...
Imagine if priesthood keys were used to reveal the mysteries of God rather than to manage the membership... Recap
1. Priesthood keys are not literal; neither are they unilateral. They are figurative and reciprocal. They represent the rights, privileges, and powers that God grants to his children to do His work.
2. Because God commanded "all things shall be done by common consent in the church" (D&C 26:2), the primary function of priesthood keys is to make us equal (or one) by living common consent.
3. Instead of using keys to make us equal, priesthood keys have been leveraged to establish a hierarchy, whose fruit has been authoritarianism and priestcraft.
4. As a reality-check, priesthood keys ARE NOT EVEN MENTIONED in the Book of Mormon, the "most correct book" on earth. Ironically, the only person who "held keys" in the Book of Mormon was wicked Laban, who safeguarded "the keys of the treasury" (1 Nephi 4:20).
5. Christ holds all the keys (rights, privileges and powers) of His Father. As Isaiah put it:
I will commit thy government into his hand: [so we have one King of Kings] and he shall be a father [not a "president"] to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah.
And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; [so all keys belong to Christ] so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.
And I will fasten him as a nail in a sure place; and he shall be for a glorious throne to his father’s house.
6. The Lord conferred on Peter the "keys of the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 16:19); and the "kingdom of heaven" is not of this world. Suppose these "keys" had nothing to do with being the boss of an earthly institution, or church (since the believers have always belonged to Christ)?
7. The "keys of the church," in any event, have been bestowed on all of us (see, D&C 42:18-69: "Unto you the kingdom, or in other words, the keys of the Church have been given").
8. But if we want to have a "my-keys-are-bigger-than-your-keys" contest, then Joseph Smith wins, whose rights are preeminent in this dispensation. The Lord said, "The keys which I have given unto him . . . shall not be taken from him till I come" (D&C 112:15).
9. But since Joseph Smith is no longer with us, how are we supposed to be governed? By common consent! The Church is supposed to be led by the gift and power of the Holy Ghost, which all of its members possess.
10. The sign of priesthood keys is condescension. Beware those that exercise authority by virtue of their "keys."
11. Joseph Smith bestowed priesthood keys on women, including the keys of presidency. (See, Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book, discussed in detail in Part 5 of this Series.) We have not yet begun to realize the vision Joseph had for the Church as he walked us back towards Eden.
Uncle Joseph Wants YOU
What if we haven't achieved Zion because we have not taken seriously the keys of common consent; and in fact, have focused exclusively on the keys of presidency at the expense of common consent?
What if Joseph's vision for the church has stalled because we've been too busy building the Great and Spacious Church?
I wonder if Paul's warning applies to us:
They became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man. . .
Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts. . .
Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator.
(Romans 1:21, 23-25)
Have we made "keys" into an idol, worshipping those that hold them, claiming they can never lead us astray (as through the creature were greater than God)?
Have we been seduced by our own vain and lustful desires, allowing the Church to seek for power, wealth, and the praise of the world?
Have we mocked God and taken His name in vain by invoking His "keys" as a means to control his children and to accumulate the riches of this world by placing grievous burdens on the poor?
Have we dishonored His daughters by exercising institutional unrighteous dominion?
Shall we go on breaking the hearts of our tender wives, and losing the confidence of our children, because of our bad examples in usurping the government of God that should have been perfected by common consent?
I love Philip Barlow. He held the Leonard J. Arrington Chair of Mormon Studies at Utah State University before being appointed the associate director of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute at BYU.
Some of the things he has written about the Restoration have been eye opening. According to Barlow, Joseph was not trying to restore a "New Testament" church (that was Alexander Campbell's project). Instead, Joseph was trying to "mend a fractured reality."
Joseph's "doctrines, policies, priesthoods, keys, revelations, ordinances, and actions were not ends in themselves. They were ultimately in service of 'restoring' proper relations and order in time and eternity. That jaw-dropping scope exceeds Smith's commonly understood attempt to restore the primitive Christian church. His intent was restore to wholeness a fractured reality. Smith saw, for instance, a chasm in traditional Christianity's perception of the relation of spiritual to the temporal and of the spiritual to the physical--chasms he worked to bridge. His efforts included the healing of fractured "time," of broken language, and of the earth's sundered geology. Smith diagnosed a breach in the meaning and nature of 'family' and generational memory and attachments . . . . Yet Smith went further, finding broken or incomplete virtually every essential dimension of how humans related to one another: their rudderless sectarian religion, their baseless sources of authority, their social classes which no longer cohered, and their politics and economies. Smith was moved to respond creatively to his environment; the result was something new."
(Excerpts from Philip L. Barlow's preface to Mormons and the Bible (2013 edition), accessed at https://sunstonemagazine.com/a-joseph-smith-too-small-2)
Like Joseph Smith, God can inspire us to create "something new" in the 21st century.
God's keys are not to lock us into a past tradition; they are to open the windows of heaven and bring us new truths, new ways of understanding our place in history and future destiny.
For I deign to reveal unto my church things which have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world, things that pertain to the dispensation of the fulness of times.
If a building is on fire, whose responsibility is it to put it out?
The home's owner? The neighbors, who are at risk of catching fire, too? The Fire Department? Passers-by who witness the flames? If a Church is on fire (not the building, but the religion), whose responsibility is it to put it out?
The members? The leaders? The government? Other churches?
(Me and my companion as missionaries in Paris, France, standing below the Notre Dame cathedral.)
A Cautionary Tale: 1857
In 1857, Isaac Haight was 44 years old. He was the Stake President as well as the commander of the Iron County Militia in Utah.
At a high council meeting, President Haight discussed a course of action against the Baker-Francher party, a group of migrants passing through town.
Invoking the "defense of Zion," Isaac Haight marshaled the men. As both their spiritual and military leader, how could people know whether he was acting in one capacity or the other?
Following their leader, on September 11, 1857, the men of southern Utah murdered 120 migrant men, women and children.
And then they blamed the Native Americans for the massacre.
The First Law of Heaven . . . ?
How can "obedience" be the first law of heaven?
Can someone explain that to me? Because how can we know whether we should obey, in the first place, unless we know we are doing God's will?
Obedience requires no discussion, no common consent, and no persuasion.
Just orders to be followed.
Discernment, on the other hand, requires far more: humility, temperance, and persuasion. Under common consent we know God's will . . . together.
Together? Isn't discernment supposed to be an individual, personal gift of the Spirit? For example, a way to detect evil in our neighbors?
Well, hold on. What if discernment was a corporate gift of the Spirit, as well? Intended to be shared by the Church?
Is our discernment enhanced when we share wisdom with each other, teaching each other, counselling together? I might have a blind spot. You might be near sighted. Fred might think of something the rest of us missed.
How did the 3 Nephites discern God's will? By having their Chief Nephite tell the others what was right? No!
It came to pass that the disciples were gathered together and were united in mighty prayer and fasting.
And Jesus again showed himself unto them, for they were praying unto the Father in his name; and Jesus came and stood in the midst of them, and said unto them: What will ye that I shall give unto you?
And they said unto him: Lord, we will that thou wouldst tell us the name whereby we shall call this church; for there are disputations among the people concerning the matter.
(3 Nephi 27:1-3)
What do we learn from this? They couldn't agree, so did they defer to the Nephite-With-The-Most-Keys? No!
They discerned the will of the Lord together, and asked Him to "tell us." They were equal before the Lord!
Then, possessing real intent, they moved forward in unity and in the strength of the Lord.
So can we, if we follow this pattern of common consent.
And maybe we should start saying that discernment is the First Law of Heaven.
(Otherwise, for all we know, we might be following an evil spirit.)
(Nauvoo Temple on Fire, 1848)
A Cautionary Tale: 2018
In 2018, Sam Young expressed publicly his concerns about the practice of priesthood leaders questioning children about sexually explicit conduct in worthiness interviews.
According to his discipline letter, he was excommunicated for his "effort to persuade others to your point of view by repeatedly and deliberately attacking and publicly opposing the church and its leaders."
Here's what I don't get: if the leaders agreed with his position (as apparently they did, as demonstrated by the fact that the Church changed its policy in response to the media attention), then why was he excommunicated?
I guess I am looking for an answer because I want to know what he was supposed to do? Stand by and watch the fire burn?
Or, convicted in his heart, was he supposed to take up a bucket of water and do his part in trying to put out the flames?
What flames are we willing to put out?
Because it's getting pretty toasty in here.
Cloven Tongues of Fire
There's a fire that purifies rather than destroys.
On the day of Pentecost, the people heard a mighty rushing wind and "there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:2-3).
Joseph Smith prayed that a similar experience would accompany those attending the Kirtland Temple dedication in 1836: "Let the gift of tongues be poured out upon thy people, even cloven tongues as of fire, and the interpretation thereof" (D&C 109:36).
Have we amputated our gift of tongues, and become mute?
According to Elizabeth Ann Whitney, she was promised by Joseph Smith that she would have the "pure language." She recounts that in the Kirtland Temple, she rose from her seat and sang in tongues, the first song of Zion ever given in the language of Adam.
If she is to be believed, Parley P. Pratt interpreted her song and wrote it down:
One of the nobles of the Earth, Had mighty power in blessing; Received the Priesthood, and went forth And blessed his seed. . . The Holy Priesthood long remained In all its power and glory, Until the Priests of God were slain, Their remnants sank in sorrow down. . . To misery and sorrow doomed, Their pleasant fields overspread. . . In Adam-ondi-Ahman, So shall our aged father bless His seed who dwell in righteousness Upon the land of Zion.
You know, I wonder what makes a "beehive" such a good symbol for Deseret? Is it because it represents industry, or because it represents hierarchy?
Bee colonies are composed of a queen and . . . everyone else. If you're female (but not a queen, sorry), then you're called a "worker bee." If you're male, you're just a "drone."
Guess what? An ant colony is structured just like a beehive. We've got a queen ant, who is the leader of the colony; then there are the female worker ants; and finally, male drone ants.
You guessed it! Most Christian churches are structured like beehives and ant colonies: there are (1) leaders, (2) workers and (3) drones.
To Bee or Not to Bee?
Martin Luther said true reform of the Church was impossible when "they have given the pope full authority over all the decisions of the council, so that it is all one whether there are many or no councils."
(Martin Luther, Open Letter to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, 1520)
What is the Point?
1.What is the point of individual spiritual literacy if we are supposed to stick to what the leaders say?
I mean, it is like eating at Taco Bell for every meal: all of the menu items are comprised of essentially the same five ingredients, just in various configurations.
What if we want to eat at Chick-fil-A? (Or, heaven forbid, Chipotle?)
As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.
Don't get the wrong idea! I am not saying that General Conference talks are dog vomit (much of the preaching is quite good.)
But we have been on this hamster-wheel for a long time and what do we have to show for it? Maybe we need to allow the Test Kitchen Chefs a little more leeway.
Because if we keep "going along" the same way as we have been, doing business-as-usual, how will we ever get to Zion?
2. What is the point of spiritual intelligence if we are supposed to depend on leaders to tell us right from wrong rather than the light of Christ?
Do we really need a Handbook to decide whether to get a vasectomy or not?
And what good is a Handbook we had no "hand" in drafting?
An "adhesion contract" is a contract drafted by one party (the one with the power), and signed by another party in a weak bargaining position, who is unable to change the terms of the agreement.
That's the whole point: the weaker party can't negotiate a better deal because they're stuck with "take it or leave it."
Many adhesion contracts are illegal because courts find them to be "unconscionable," since those who have power can use them to take advantage of those who don't.
For example, once I "shopped around" for a gym to join (yes, that's right). I finally chose one and tried to get the gym to modify some of the boilerplate language in the "fine print." They refused.
So what did I do? I signed the membership contract anyway. What choice did I have?
3. What is the point of belonging to a group that does not require (or want) our input?
If we don't like our cable TV service, or cell phone provider, we simply choose another company. We cancel the contract and find better service.
But what if there were no other choices? What if there was a monopoly?
Well, that's bad. So under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, the Government will step in and break it up.
Are Monopolies Bad?
A monopoly allows a company to (1) fix prices, (2) gouge customers, (3) offer inferior service and products, and (4) drive inflation.
How can they do all that? Because the customer has no other options. There's no competition. The customer is stuck.
But the worst part of a monopoly is that they are proven to stifle innovation and creativity.
A company can sit back, allowing the revenues to flow in, and do nothing. Because where there is no competition, there is no pressure or incentive to improve, innovate, or find better solutions.
Now, consider if a Church claimed a monopoly on God's authority.
What are the implications of a spiritual monopoly?
And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor.
Ah, but there are hundreds, if not thousands, of churches to choose from, right?
Well, no. That is the point of priestcraft and sectarianism. If you want to be "in good" with God, you've got to ride in myturnip truck. Are We Oppressed?
Well, let's just say that we are "poor" because we lack institutional authority.
We are "poor" because we are unable to effect meaningful change in the institution.
We live in a "my way or the highway" world.
The worst part about spiritual monopolies is that they think, since they have a monopoly, they can treat members as things to be "acted upon."
There once was a humble man who lived in a grass hut. Despite his poverty, he loved to collect thrones. When he sat on a throne he felt like royalty.
Over the years he purchased so many thrones he had to store some in his attic. One day, while sitting on his favorite throne, the ceiling gave way and over a dozen thrones crashed on top of him, killing him instantly.
And that is why people who live in grass houses shouldn't stow thrones.
A Royal Priesthood?
Does the priesthood entitle us to act like the British Monarchy?
So why have we structured priesthood authority as if we wanted to be Prince Harry, who is sixth in line to the throne (i.e., the royal equivalent of Elder David A. Bednar).
But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.
(1 Peter 2:9)
Have we turned a royal priesthood into a royal mess?
The British Are Coming!
At Least the Brits Have a Constitutional Monarchy.
I mean, a Constitutional Monarchy has to share its power with an organized government. The Monarch is mostly a ceremonial leader. The real power likes with the legislature and judiciary.
But in Mormonism, we are structured as an Absolute Monarchy.
The distinguishing characteristic of an Absolute Monarchy is a leader who holds supreme autocratic authority. He (or she) is not restricted by written laws, legislatures, or customs.
If we take a look at our legal incorporation, which vests all authority in the senior member of the 12 (under what we call a Corporation Sole), we find that we do, in fact, have a Spiritual Absolute Monarchy.
Spiritual Absolute Monarchy? In our Church, is the President able to revoke written law, change scriptures, and create new rules? (Hello, continuing revelation!)
Is he able to overturn tradition, customs and precedent? (Thanks, by the way, for 2-hour church.)
Is he subject to a legislative body? (Where'd all the checks and balances go?)
Jana Riess, Mormon scholar and author of The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church (2019), wrote a fascinating article about the dynamic power shift occurring in Mormonism:
"In terms of power structures, the LDS Church is more like the royal family than it is like a contemporary evangelical megachurch. There is a clear hierarchy, with a next-in-line flow chart and carefully delineated protocols for leaders’ behavior and dress. At General Conference, this protocol is on vivid display. Every male leader wears the requisite uniform of dark coat, white shirt and restrained necktie and sits in an assigned seat according to his place in the line of succession. A royal coronation could not be more conventionally ordered.
"Most importantly, leaders score rhetorical points by drawing from other LDS leaders’ speeches, reifying the internal power structure every time they quote current or past presidents of the Church while only rarely citing people outside that narrow channel of leadership.
"The language of priesthood “keys” extends from this traditional power structure and approach; by definition, not everyone can have a key, which highlights the difference between those who wield power and those who do not. If power were universally accessible, there would be no need for keys because the symbolic “door” would already be unlocked. The language pinpoints an almost ontological divide separating those who hold keys from those who don’t and trades in the hint of secrecy, which is another longstanding tool used to underscore a high power structure."
(Jana Riess, "Mormon Leaders and the Erosion of Traditional Power," Religion News Service, January 29, 2021, accessed at: https://religionnews.com/2021/01/29/mormon-leaders-and-the-erosion-of-traditional-power/?fbclid=IwAR1e-gsOwc-NfmOlNkyvRgCgpsNnJYeov-BUc6ip7Ppbf0aTrZkwowJn4yQ)
The True Meaning of Royalty
The idea that priesthood keys enable a person to rule over us, who are brothers and sisters, equal kings and queens who govern themselves, is a terrible departure from Christlike authority.
In fact, the only Royal Law we should be concerned with is this one:
If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:
But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin.
The hierarchy we have created institutionalizes "respect to persons."