Very few characters in the Book of Mormon get as much press coverage as King Noah, our favorite wine-bibber (Mosiah 11:15).
Mormon went to great lengths to give us a fully-fleshed-out portrait of King Noah and his cohorts. But why?
History is full of wicked, adulterous men. What made Noah so special?
Well, I think Mormon was warning us about how religious leaders can use their priesthood authority to "cover [their] sins" (D&C 121:37), creating sacraments out of sacrilege and hiding behind God as they call evil good, and good evil.
What I always found interesting is the way King Noah's people revered him; he wasn't a "bad guy" in their eyes, but was their God-appointed, beloved High Priest.
Despite all of Noah's sins, strangely, the people believed he could do no wrong.
O king, what great evil hast thou done? or what great sins have thy people committed, that we should be condemned of God or judged of this man?
In hindsight we can easily see Noah's wickedness (read Mosiah 11). But why couldn't his people?
Why did those poor, oppressed folks reject Abinadi's warning and choose to defend Noah's virtue ― when Noah was running around committing all manner of whoredoms?
O king, behold, we are guiltless, and thou, O king, hast not sinned; therefore, this man has lied concerning you.
Abinadi got in trouble with King Noah's faithful followers because he "prophesieth evil concerning thy life [Noah's]" (Mosiah 12:9). Whoops. Didn't Abinadi know evil-speaking of the Lord's anointed was a no-no?
You'd expect the people of Noah to begrudge the 20% flat tax he charged them, of all their gold and silver and ziff and copper and sheep and grain.
Thus [the priests] were supported in their laziness, and in their idolatry, and in their whoredoms, by the taxes [tithes] which king Noah had put upon his people; thus did the people labor exceedingly to support iniquity.
"Labor exeedingly to support iniquity"? Those on Team Noah wouldn't have seen it that way, would they? After all, the "bad guys" were the Lamanites in the neighborhood over there; and the Lamanites didn't even go to Church!
"Change the Affairs of the Kingdom"
Question: How did King Noah bamboozle his people into going along with his wickedness, getting them to "labor exceedingly" on his behalf, as if it were a good thing?!
Ah, now we come to it, Noah's masterstroke: "thus he had changed the affairs of the kingdom" (Mosiah 11:4). What does it mean to "change the affairs of the kingdom?"
One of Noah's accomplishments (his resumé was replete with good works) was building "many elegant and spacious buildings that he ornamented with fine work of wood, and all manner of precious things" (Mosiah 11:8).
Sound familiar? Noah prided himself on being a temple builder. "He caused his workmen to work all manner of fine work within the walls of the temple" (Mosiah 11:10).
And don't forget his breathtaking monument, a symbol to his greatness: "he built a tower near the temple; yea, a very high tower, even so high that he could stand upon the top thereof" (Mosiah 11:12).
Notice how Noah liked to be at "the top"? From his vaulted station, he gave many wonderful discourses, which I am sure the people wrote down and studied in their synagogues on the Sabbath, all of Noah's "lying and vain words" (Mosiah 11:11).
The point: I confess that as I think about King Noah's people, I am struck at the similarities between them and us.
How have we "changed the affairs of the kingdom" in our day?
A New Sheriff in Town
Let's go back to the beginning (or in this case, the end of Joseph's life) and look at what I consider to be one of the greatest revelations ever forgotten:
"The chairman [Joseph Smith] then made some further remarks and advised that we let the constitution alone. He would tell us the whole matter about the constitution as follows--
"Verily thus saith the Lord, ye are my constitution, and I am your God, and ye are my spokesmen. From henceforth do as I shall command you. Saith the Lord.
"Er Rigdon motioned that the constitution be received and the vote was unanimous, whereupon the council adjourned."
What happened? How did we go from 'being the Lord's constitution' to autocratic government in the Church?
Since the Lord spoke those words on April 25, 1844, the government of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has gradually and systematically been altered and rearranged until, now, all power has become centralized in the President of the Church and Q12 (see, D. Michael Quinn, Origins of Power and Extensions of Power).
In other words, the affairs of the kingdom have (already!) been changed. When you think about it, we really don't need a constitution if we have a Prophet to make all the decisions. Because a constitution is to check the power of our leaders and protect the rights of the people.
So the Church doesn't have a constitutional form of government anymore.
Does that prophecy refer to the U.S. Constitution ― or to the constituiton the Lord spoke of on April 25, 1844, or both?
Approximately 1/2 of the world's governments are democracies, but sometimes democratic countries slide backwards into dictatorships.
Why would citizens voluntarily (at first) give up their liberties until it was too late to stop their freedoms from being removed (at last)?
One of the best secular examples of this phenomenon (speaking about the erosion of freedom and self-determinism) was Germany's descent from a constitutional form of government into Nazism after WWI.
It is a fascinating tale that bears an odd resemblance to how the Church went from the ideals of equality and common consent to the hieararchy we have today.
In 1919 Germany was constituted as a Republican Democracy. The important thing to remember for our purposes is that Germany had a robust Constitution that afforded all Germans broad representation and protections.
But in the 1920s, the Germans experienced a series of hardships that destabilized the Weimar government.
The Nazis showed up as a political party in 1923; they gradually infiltrated the ranks of the political establishment from the inside, and within a decade they had become the majority party of the German government.
As we've learned by sad experience, as soon as a party or faction gains control, the first order of business is to secure their power from other contenders.
Well, the Nazis just needed an "emergency" to use as a pretext to seize full dictatorial control. The "emergency" came in 1933 when an arsonist attempted to burn down the Reichstag (parliament building).
Then it was just a matter of time for the Nazis to gradually and systematically enact measures, bit by bit, that would dismantle the democratic checks-and-balances enjoyed by the people and overthrow their Constituiton.
Look, though: the coup did not happen all at once; there were no tanks and marching troops invading Berlin to depose the legitimate leaders.
Instead, it was the legitimate government itself, and those enterprising, authority-hungry individuals in it, that began to aggregate greater power until they had utterly transformed the nature of the governement.
There was a tipping point, and eventually the Nazis had enough power that they could do whatever they wanted.
Not all at once, mind you, but death by a thousand cuts.
So You Work For the Church . . .
No one wants to say the Church "abandoned freedom" or "fell away from its founding principles."
Now we are told we are part of an "ongoing Restoration," and so it is easy to recharacterize a falling away (apostasy) as falling-forward (progress).
"Between 1898 and 1930, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints undertook a number of significant administrative changes that helped it to function more effectively."
We see that the Church made a number of "significant administrative changes" because . . . the Lord instructed them to rearrange the affairs of the kingdom?
Because we wanted to be more efficient! (As the biographer of David O. McKay shared, Greg Prince, his secretary read many of President McKay's journal entries and her take-away about how decisions are made by our presiding councils, after having an insider's view? "Why, it's just a lot of corporate politics!")
Like Mussolini, we wanted to make the trains run on time (I mean, the early 20th century was, after all, the age of Henry Ford).
So it appears these changes were not inspired to bring us closer together in unity and love, but to modernize Church operations and finances through administrative consolidation that was consummated in the 1970s during the Correlation Movement; and we can witness the fruit of it.
We exchanged the General Assembly (D&C 107:19) for the Assembly Line.
There's been a lot of research done since WWII looking at how Hitler was able to "brainwash" the Germans.
The scary thing was, no one was brainwashed; they became willing collaborators or passively complicit.
But how? How could good people participate in, or stand by, while such atrocities occurred?
Here's what the research shows:
Control the Narrative
The Nazis developed a curriculum (propaganda) that indoctrinated people (what we might call today "fake news").
This is how Putin recently convinced the Russians to invade Ukraine, thanks to a government-run press, telling the people that the Ukraine war was a necessary "special military operation" intended to fight Nazism and corrupt NATO.
Elder Andersen approvingly included in his speech a young female student saying, "With all of the distractions, [the temple] is how I am able to find peace and redirect myself.... The temple is something I have tried to prioritize as my number one because I know when I do that, everything else works out."
Ummm. Is it just me, or is it alarming how the Church is making temple attendance and temple covenants the most important thing? It's almost like they're turning the temple into a golden calf.
But doesn't anyone remember what happened to the Temple in 600 B.C.? Or in 70 A.D.? Or in 1848?
Safety is NOT found in the temple. It is found in repentance (just ask Nineveh, who had no temple, except the one dedicated to Ishtar).
Salvation and exaltation are NOT found in the temple. They are found in Jesus Christ (just ask the Brother of Jared, who had no temple, except for the mountain top).
My son on Sunday (who is turning 8) received a ring they called "an emblem of belonging." For real.
Guess what is on the ring? That's right: the temple.
Create Antipathy for the Opposition
Okay, controlling the narrative still doesn't account for getting people on-board with genocide.
So the next step is to create an "us vs. them" mentality; today we call it "othering." You've got to feed tribalism and make one's institutional affiliation the central, core part of their identity.
We're talking about the Nazi Youth here, who would turn their own grandmother over to the Party, and narc on their best friends, because they viewed their allegiance to the Nazi Organziation as paramount, even over their familial relations (don't get me started on the social practice of "shunning" family members who are gay or who leave the Church).
By targeting another group and blaming them for the problems in the world, we create a scapegoat.
We see the same thing today: political parties demonize each other; the Church tells us not to study "unauthorized" sources or read from "unapproved" materials; we become distrustful of those who do not share our values.
"Approved curriculum materials . . . are listed in the current Instructions for Curriculum on ChurchofJesusChrist.org" (Handbook, Sec. 17.1.3)
Create Pressure to Conform
It is imperative for those who wish to maintain power to clear the ranks of dissenters. We see it with Putin, Xi, and Boyd K. Packer. The comparison shouldn't shock you: they were all authoritarians.
The difference is in the Church we don't have concentration camps; we simply marginalize members who express views that are not aligned with leadership, or if things get too hot-and-heavy, the Church will excommunicate a member.
Those who supported the policies and agenda of the leaders were given titles, promotions, important positions, status, greater authority, money, favors, special treatment, and the property confiscated from the Jews.
In the Church, our current system rewards collaborators; those who support the policies and agenda of the Brethren rise to the top; they are given titles, promotions, important positions, status, greater authority, money, favors, special treatment, and so on.
Just ask Abinadi how his discipleship advanced his prospects in King Noah's church.
The eternal contest (and the struggle is real) will always be between Kingmen (Lucifer) and Freemen (Christ).
The Nephites fought the Lamanites who wanted to subject them to bondage, sure; but the real enemy was the internal power-struggle with the Kingmen. The threats from the inner vessel are always the ones that spell disaster.
In the Book of Mormon, the motivations of the Kingmen are spelled out with glaring clarity: they "sought power and authority over the people" (Alma 51:8).
Well, how were they going to obtain power and authority?
a. "Desired that a few particular points of the law should be altered" (Alma 51:2);
b. Desired "to overthrow the free government" (Alma 51:5); and
c. Desired "to establish a king over the land" (Alma 51:5).
Looking back over Church history, I am sorry to report that our history has been shaped from within by Kingmen who likewise sought for power and authority over God's people, whom many sustain as prophets and apostles, but who advocated for diminished agency and the erasure of common consent; who (however sincere or well-intentioned they may have been) chose the well-worn path leading to the Great and Spacious Building over the straight and narrow way that demands obedience to Christ's celestial law of liberty.
Look to the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein.
The truth shall make you free. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.
(John 8:32, 36)
Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.
So what are going to do? Throw tea off the Boston Harbor?
Put Away the Handbook
The answer to our predicament is simple: hearken to the word of the Lord. Feast upon the words of Christ, and they shall tell you all things we should do.
We have an embarrassment of riches from our Father to guide us; He has given gifts to His Freemen sons and Freewomen daughters to "awake, and arise."
(1)The Doctrine of Christ
The voice of the Son came unto me, saying: He that is baptized in my name, to him will the Father give the Holy Ghost, like unto me; wherefore, follow me, and do the things which ye have seen me do.
(2 Nephi 31:12)
(2)The Constitution of Christ April 25, 1844:
Verily thus saith the Lord, ye are my constitution, and I am your God, and ye are my spokesmen.
From henceforth do as I shall command you. Saith the Lord.
(3) The Light of Christ
And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully. (Moroni 7:18)
So let us be, in very deed, the Lord's Constitution! Amen.
Can you imagine going to the Spirit World and finding yourself in the cosmic-version of the Drivers License Division? (It makes me wonder if Douglas Adams was a prophet when he wrote his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series.)
Picture the angels behind the counter giving us a number and telling us to wait to be called. We pass the time in boredom (no cell phones, apparently) and watch others during the Resurrection of the Just and the second resurrection get called up, one by one, before us.
There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the order we're called; many who entered the waiting room after us are the first to go (see, Matt. 20:1-16). How unfair!
Finally, after what seems an eternity, we see our number start to blink on the screen and excitedly approach the desk.
"Do you wear glasses or contacts?"
"Put your face against the viewer and tell me the letters you see."
Me: Umm. I don't see anything.
"Interesting [marking notes on a scroll]. Do you have any medical conditions that would render you incapable of safely operating heavy equipment, such as the weightier matters of the law?"
Me: I don't think so.
"Your expired license needs to be renewed; do you have the required reinstatement fee?"
Me: [Searching my empty pockets]. I seem to have misplaced my wallet.
"I see [marking more notes]. Do you know of any person who would want your heart as part of an organ donation?"
Me: Well, I lived a pretty hard-and-rough life, so my heart is mostly made of pig-parts now after the surgery.
*** Have you ever wondered what it will be like when we pass beyond the veil into another kingdom?
And if we're lucky enough to make it to God's own kingdom, will there be dentists for our resurrected teeth?
"The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see."
– Alexandra K. Trenfor This Post will take us on a journey; stay hydrated while reading. Take a deep breath and . . . .
It's funny, as I look back on my college years, that I chose to major in History instead of Political Science.
Why? Because I am really interested in group-decision making. I care about the ways authority and power are administered and how to protect minorities from oppression.
I've pondered how to hold those in power accountable (it's scary to see what happens to the rule of law when a powerful leader can disregard, revoke, or change the law without the consent of those governed). Perhaps this is why I went to law school.
Anyway, lest you think I am an egg-head, I want to assure you these subjects are NOT academic.
They impact our day-to-day lives, both inside and outside of the Church; life is the story of how we navigate the cultural, religious, social, political and legal systems we're faced with while sojourning here on earth.
So the reason I think it would be proper to spend a great deal of time pondering on what constitutes "good government" is because wewant to understand how the government of God operates (and, while we're at it, try to improve the world we currently inhabit).
A New Earth Indeed
Would heaven be heaven if it had courts and jail cells; slums and homelessness; crime and punishment?
If those things don't exist in heaven, then do they belong here?
(If you're scratching your head, please read the two posts I've linked above for a fuller explanation).
So are we in heaven or hell? The answer is: Yes.
Once we understand the lay of the land, so to speak, it changes everything.
Sorry to spoil the surprise, but we aren't "going" to heaven in the strictest sense; we are going to create it. Here. On this earth that presently hosts the hosts of hell.
What did we think "Zion" was all about?
"Government is Force"
If we are to create heaven-on-earth, preparatory for the Lord's millennial reign and the Father's celestializing Presence (see D&C 130), then we have work to do.
It gives new meaning to making the desert blossom as a rose; Christ's followers are called to turn hell into heaven with a dash of love and pinch of mercy. And a lot of patience.
The first order of business is to create a kingdom; one "cut out of the mountain without hands" (so it isn't organized by human design; it will not have a Board of Directors or Knesset).
This kingdom will be unlike anything we've seen before. It will be a dwelling place for God's glory, which no one down here wants because you can't bottle and sell it.
Zion is called to unfurl God's love as an Ensign to the nations, populated by sons and daughters who are equals and governed according to the law of God.
Joseph Smith proffered just such a kingdom when he described a priesthood government that is the exact opposite of the kinds of civil government we see today.
When we undertake. . . to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of men . . . the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or authority of that man.
No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion.
(D&C 121:37, 41)
In order to understand how revolutionary Joseph's description of the kingdom of God was, we need to understand that for millennia the kingdoms of this world (whether civic or religious) were ruled through the sword and the might of Mammon: by fear and force.
As George Washington said so eloquently, "Government is force" (which is true, and the opposite of God's kingdom).
In other words (speaking as a lawyer now), government is the ability to compel people; to force them to pay taxes, behave lawfully, send their kids to school, and so on.
Or in religious terms, government is the power to grant or rescind a person's privileges within the organization; and also to patrol the pearly gates to ensure no one gets in unless they're paid-up (like going to the temple or taking the sacrament).
Where does the government's power come from? How does a government get us to obey?
Do We Govern like Christ or Constantine?
If I asked members of my LDS ward where the leaders get their authority, they'd probably say, "From the Lord."
Ah, but there's the rub. Can authority (power) that derives from force ever come from Christ (D&C 121)?
If we find, then, certain Church policies or practices relying on "force" to secure our obedience, then we can logically infer their power does not come from God, but from another source.
What is fascinating (and here's where my historian hat comes in handy) is the way the Church has chosen to structure itself. In the great galactic tug-of-war between force/and/submission, which side have we chosen?
Wouldn't it be devastatingly ironic if we, who fought for freedom in the War in Heaven, now switched to the other team, using Satan's tactics and tools to create inequality and pride, competing against God's own kingdom while invoking His name?
(Why do we think the devils are always laughing? What do they find so funny?)
Well, it's clear: we've fashioned a church that resembles civil and corporate government more than the priesthood government Joseph described.
For a Church that boasts it has the same organization as the primitive Church, why are we incorporated in the manner of the Catholic Church (as a corporation sole), acting no different than the Coca-Cola company?
Why does the Church Handbook resemble an employee manual given to government bureaucrats by HR?
A New Kind of Kingdom
But wait! Then Jesus traveled down Jacob's Ladder from Kolob (condescends) into the heart of the devil's kingdom (albeit one that inhabits space belonging to God's creations) and marches straight into the Boss's office (that is, Lucifer, the self-proclaimed prince of this world) and says, pointing to us, stuffed in the cubicles behind the water cooler, "These are mine." (John 17:10).
He leads us out of the Great and Spacious (Church) Office Building on strike. We march out of (Church) Headquarters with our Captain, and He shows us a better way; He leads us into His kingdom.
Jesus testified to Pilate:
My kingdom is not of this world.
We might think He meant His kingdom didn't exist on earth yet, and will come sometime in the future (perhaps during the Millennium?) ― but that can't be because when the Pharisees demanded to know when the kingdom of God was going to show up (as if they were waiting for tickets to a Taylor Swift concert to go on sale at Ticketmaster.com before the bots of Gog and Magog snatched them all up) Jesus answered:
The kingdom of God cometh not with observation . . . . The kingdom of God is within you.
Jesus was saying the kingdom of God had already come; it is here! In hell.
Imagine it! Doesn't this blow our mind? Here in the bowels of hell His light shines; in darkness a holy temple erected from wood and iron and blood; and to us, prisoners of death and hell, Christ came! He came! To rescue us out of the pit.
But no one recognized Christ's kingdom because, I guess, in hell we are all seemingly blind; everything around us is organized in the form of the telestial: religions and nations and corporations (things cast in concrete by Babylon's construction crews).
That's our challenge: discerning the kingdom of God in our midst, among us, when it is NOT in our traditional hierarchies and parliaments and councils; all of our churches are "corrupt" in the sense, and to the extent, they exercise unrighteous dominion.
But the kingdom is real. It is only invisible ("cometh not by observation") to those who are looking in the wrong places, thinking God's kingdom will resemble a worldly church (which shows us that we're as misguided as the Jews who looked for a political deliverer in the Messiah rather than the Christ-child who came meek and lowly, to serve and not rule).
If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight.
You see, if Jesus's servants behaved like a "kingdom of this world" should, His followers would use force; they would "fight!"
If His kingdom were of this world, then we would take up arms, amassing navies and armies and hundreds of billions of dollars with which to exert our dominion upon this planet, engaged in righteous crusades, trusting in the arm of flesh and in our own strength, sleeping as bedfellows with Mammon and her concubinage.
Why do we pretend we're the same as the primitive Church, when Jesus's word clearly shows we're not?
How Many Members of The Church of Jesus of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Are There? (Surprise: Just one)
Whenever someone quotes membership statistics for the Church, please take it with a grain of salt.
Earlier this month, after the SEC scandal (in which the federal government fined the Church for creating 13 shell corporations to prevent disclosure of its assets), the Church released a new Gospel Topics Essay called "Church Finances."
So I went to Nate Oman's article and read it. And, because I'm the kind of person who reads footnotes, I want to draw your attention to Footnote 164 of Nate's article, which states:
"In 2019, the Corporation of the President was merged into the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop, which has been renamed The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Church President Russell M. Nelson became the new incumbent of the corporation.… The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a legal matter remains a corporation sole, meaning that as of 2019 it has but a single member, Church president Russell M. Nelson.”
So officially (legally-speaking) there is only one member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and it isn't us.
The rest of us, I guess, are just Mormons.
Support Your Local Sheriff
During my professional career I've come to believe that in most aspects of civil government, he or she who governs closest to the people governs best.
I mean, you can call up Bobby (your town mayor) and complain about public policy; maybe even effect some change through public service; but I doubt President Joe Biden will take our call (there are way too many Secret Service agents for any of us to get close).
The question we should be asking is does this same principle apply to godly government?
Is the Bishop (who knows our name and sees our situation in real-time, on the ground, and who is animated by personal love for us as his neighbors) or the Prophet (who is able to see the wide-reaching global impact of Church policies but who does not know us personally) better suited to attend to our spiritual shepherding?
The Lord didn't issue executive orders from the heavenly White House; He got out among the people, becoming one of us; He lived His life fully human and knows exactly what it is like to be in our shoes.
This should inform our understanding as to why Christ requires no middle-men (2 Ne. 9:41). Of all the sickening creeds of men, "Return-and-Report" has always struck me as particularly perverse: a form of corporate delegation that removes the Father's personal touch.
Why does God call us by His own voice, by name, and encourage us to approach the throne of grace boldly? Why does God want us to pray and personally speak with Him and receive wisdom from Him, straight from the firehose of eternity's bosom?
You see, once we've put the hierarchy and corporate structure of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints under a microscope, comparing it to God's celestial kingdom, we discover something alarming.
Our kingdom is of man and men, not God. By representing our Church as God's, but acting contrary to His word, it is not only regrettable, but actively mocks God (my patriarchal blessing warns me to not mock God, so I really do take this seriously).
A Punky Brewster World I grew up in the San Joaquin Valley of California in the early 80s.
It was a different world back then, before 1080i HD and personal computers, when televisions were 13 inches wide and weighed two tons.
We listened to music on vinyl records or cassette tapes because compact discs (CD's) weren't sold yet. And no one had heard of VCR's or cell phones except on the cartoon The Jetsons.
Media was fairly limited; I woke each morning to a radio alarm without emails or Facebook. To learn what was going on in the world we (1) watched the evening network news (we weren't cool enough to have cable); (2) read the newspaper; or (3) thumbed through a magazine like Time in the dentist's office.
The Nintendo (NES) was released when I was 7 years old; we didn't own one but my friend Brandon did. Without the internet, there were no cheat codes or the ability to look up solutions to puzzles (I remember my stunned, surprised reaction playing Castlevania and finding a "secret" area; it was the talk-of-the-playground the next day).
If you wanted to connect with friends and family, you basically had three options: send a letter through the US Post, use a fax machine (yeah, right), or pick up the telephone.
No texting. No apps. Those really were the good old days!
Well, not quite. Despite the relative stone age (technologically) I grew up in, human nature is what it is, and I grew up among many prejudices.
We all do.
Children are alarmingly perceptive and have an uncanny ability to intuit the political landscape they grow up in.
At a young age I was told Jane Fonda was a bad person (though I didn't really understand why, but knew it had to do with Hanoi and the Vietnam War when she campaigned for the enemy).
I learned Martin Luther King, Jr. was an adulterer, having up to 40 affairs. That sort of tarnished the beauty of "I have a dream" in my young mind.
And for reasons still unclear, we didn't listen to Barbara Streisand's music in my home ― I suppose because her political viewsdid not coincide with ours (and don't even get me started on the Kennedys).
Nowadays social media has made it easier for people to share their dislike online, expanding our ability to "cancel" complete strangers whose views differ from our own (like J.K. Rowling).
It's been 50 years since the Watergate scandal and we've learned little. What President Nixon was impeached for has now become a national pasttime — destroying our opponents.
In 1973 the Senate Watergate Committee hearings made Richard Nixon's "Enemies List" public.
Nixon's Enemies List contained the names of people the president did not like, such as actor Paul Newman (tough critic).
I know it sounds silly to carry around an actual blacklist, but I think many of us have an informal list in our minds.
Who is on your list? Trump? Hillary? Madonna? Chris Pratt? Dallin Oaks? Denver Snuffer? Joseph Smith? John C. Bennett?
My Personal Enemies List
I suppose having enemies is normal; it's a complicated world. Searching my own heart, I decided to list on paper all of my enemies.
Because the Savior said:
Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.
You see, it is actually a good idea to have an Enemies List. Because then you'll know who to love.
What if we turned our Enemy Lists into Love-Lists-in-progress?
"Surely Not Hitler"
How can we love someone who is . . . evil? Someone who is worthy of our condemnation? Who is actively working against God and Zion? Surely someone like that is undeserving of our love.
When the Lord commanded us "to forgive all men" (D&C 64:10), did He really mean all of them? Heaven help us.
Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.
At the conclusion of World War II, President George F. Richards of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had a dream. During General Conference in 1946, President Richards said:
"A few years ago, at the closing of a conference of the St. Johns Stake ... I was sleeping in the home of the president of the stake, Brother Levi Udall, and that night I had a remarkable dream.
"I have seldom mentioned this to other people, but I do not know why I should not. It seems to me appropriate in talking along this line.
"I dreamed that I and a group of my own associates found ourselves in a courtyard where, around the outer edge of it, were German soldiers, and Fuhrer Adolph Hitler was there with his group, and they seemed to be sharpening their swords and cleaning their guns, and making preparations for a slaughter of some kind, or an execution. We knew not what, but, evidently we were the objects.
"But presently a circle was formed and this Fuhrer and his men were all within the circle, and my group and I were circled on the outside, and he was sitting on the inside of the circle with his back to the outside, and when we walked around and I got directly opposite to him, I stepped inside the circle and walked across to where he was sitting, and spoke to him in a manner something like this:
"'I am your brother. You are my brother. In our heavenly home we lived together in love and peace. Why can we not so live here on the earth?' And it seemed to me that I felt in myself, welling up in my soul, a love for that man, and I could feel that he was having the same experience, and presently he arose, and we embraced each other and kissed each other, a kiss of affection.
"I think the Lord gave me that dream. Why should I dream of this man, one of the greatest enemies of mankind, and one of the wickedest, but that the Lord should teach me that I must love my enemies, and I must love the wicked as well as the good?"
(President George F. Richards, Conference Report, October 1946, 140)
"Give Brother Joseph a Break!" I spend a great deal of time rolling my eyes, such as when I read arguments over Joseph Smith's character.
Why? Because Joseph Smith's flaws (or lack thereof) are irrelevant. It would be like trying to disprove a mathmatical equation by attacking the character of Sir Isaac Newton (who invented calculus).
Let's assume Newton was a jerk; okay, does that change the answer to the problem of ab ≤ 1/2(a+b)=xyz?
Using a person's character to discredit their work is called an "ad hominem attack." It is one of the most common logical fallacies we make.
Like calculus, one does not disprove the Book of Mormon by impeaching Joseph Smith or the manner of translation (looking at you, Book of Abraham). We've got the text in front of us, like a mathmatical proof. We can test whether it holds up or not! But not based on historical claims (which are subject to interpretation and re-interpretation), but by looking at the works themselves.
It is like holding the Hope Diamond in our hands and tossing it aside, "This came from dirt? Worthless!" Regardless of where the Hope Diamond came from, we can authenticate it by looking at how it holds and sheds light.
You can take a jeweler's loup to peer into the crystaline structure of the stone and grade its color; when you know what to look for, you can judge the diamond's bona fides for yourself.
Take the example of Jesus, whose character the Pharisees challenged ("This guy is of the devil; he has no authority; he's a hick from Galilee").
These were ad hominem attacks because they were "directed against a person rather than the position they are maintaining."
How did Christ respond? Not by defending His character, oh no. He was too meek for that. Look at what He directed their attention to:
The works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me.
If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not.
But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works.
(John 10:25, 37-38)
Isn't the devil clever to blind us by getting us to focus on the person ("so-and-so was a sourpuss, so forget everything they did")? After all, it is NOT hard to find fault in anyone since we are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God. It's pretty easy to take potshots at our corruptible natures.
But what happens when we discount everything a person says or does simply because they are imperfect, frail, and sinful vessels? Think of what we lose by denying the words and works of God that He performs through shoddy sons and daughters.
Imagine Alma the Younger standing up in Church and someone shouting, "Sit down Alma; we know you were the very vilest of sinners! You have nothing worthwhile to share because how could God work through such a broken vessel?!"
If perfection was the prequalification for us to labor in the vineyard, there would be no one to tend the grapes but Christ.
In terms of LDS discourse (on both sides of the aisle) I see a lot of ad hominem attacks. I apologize if I have participated in some of that (I am trying to be better about focusing on ideas and not individuals).
There was something of a renaissance around 2009 - 2014 as everybody hopped online and began blogging, sharing their testimonies and preaching the gospel one post at a time.
It was quite beautiful: there was such a diversity of experience and viewpoints, and threaded through it all was a sense of genuine hope and anticipation for building a better community and Church. It was a kind of digital School of the Prophets.
I was somewhat late to the Prom, having been a bookworm (that is, a consumer of actual paper books and journals) and only began reading a lot online at the tail end of the renaissance.
Going back now, I've noticed that a bunch of LDS blogs went dormant around the time I found them in 2013-2014 (it has made me wonder why so many lost their steam and stopped blogging).
There remain a few stragglers, but that initial outpouring of floodwaters, like a dam breaking, has now become more of a trickle.
I want to credit some of the blogs that resonated with me, their voices helping to open my eyes and heart. I owe a great deal to those who took time to share the word of the God publicly for all the world.
Climbing our spiritual Everests requires many Sherpas (or what Nicodemus called Christ: "a teacher come from God"). I would not be the man I am today without many of you, who have taught me and continue to put up with my shinanegans.
As a disclaimer, I do not agree with everything I've read in the blogs below, nor with all of the things these folks have written. And yet I am filled with hope and love when I read their words, so that I know there is good to be found in what they've shared. (I have learned not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.)
With gratitude, here are a few of the ones that have meant a great deal to me:
What is a "dead work" (D&C 22:2)? It must be the opposite of a living one, sure; but how can we tell the difference?
Although a man should be baptized an hundred times [that's covering our bases] it availeth him nothing [oh dear; I thought all the premiums I paid for flood insurance meant something] for you cannot enter in ["You. Shall. Not. Pass!"] at the strait gate by the law of Moses, neither by your dead works. (D&C 22:2)
Notice the Lord compares "dead works" to the lesser law. Does this mean the higher (celestial) law is the only law truly "alive?"
Picture Zion: what would happen if we built upon a foundation of "dead works?" Maybe this explains the reason we haven't moved the fantasy football down the field into the End Zone of the New Jerusalem.
Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom [ain't no lesser law gonna do it].
Now, when we talk about dead works, I don't mean sinful acts ― we already know to avoid those.
No, a dead work is tricky because it looks so good on the outside. That's right: they are whited sepulchres; but if we open them up and look inside, we won't find the power or Spirit of God in them. They are seedless fruits.
Two Types of Deadness
We can group dead works into two categories:
• Doing what God asks but without real intent and faith (see, Moroni 7:5-10)
• Doing what God has NOT asked and thinking our actions show faith and will be blessed (see, 1 Sam. 15:20-22)
A good example of a dead work (and why I talk about it so much) is the lesser-law of tithing.
People arguing over works-vs-faith are missing the boat entirely, keeping us busy treading water in the deep end until a stomach cramp finishes us off (or the sharks, if we're lucky).
Look closely at Mormon's words:
For I remember the word of God which saith by their works ye shall know them.
At first blush, we might think this means "I need to do good works like obeying the word of wisdom and doing my monthly ministering and volunteering at the soup kitchen."
But we're missing the mark, I'm afraid; we can do all those things and still be an unsufferable Pharisee going to hell ― uh, enfer (pardon my French).
Why? Because "works" do not equal "obedience to the law." Let me repeat: good works do not refer to obedience to the law (particularly a lesser one). Good heavens! Paul must be pulling out his goatee in his grave, as if we'd never opened our New Testament before.
For if their works be good, then they are good also.
"See, Tim?" someone says. "It says right there good works do make us good people. Neener neener."
I confess it would be easy to interpret those words as meaning we are "good" when we do good things, like baking brownies for the homeless. Sadly, too many of us believe it.
But is that what Mormon is saying?
A "work be good" when it is alive (in Christ), like a fruit that bears after its own likeness. On the other hand, a "work be dead" when it does not bear the fruit of His Spirit.
Let's put it another way: replace the word "work" with "gift." This will provide a key of understanding as we study the word of God.
And I would exhort you, my beloved brethren, that ye remember that every good gift [work] cometh of Christ.
If you'll allow me to lead you down a rabbit hole: ALL works are defacto dead ― every one (picture sowing seed that is lifeless and will never result in a harvest)!
Except (here's the big exception to the rule) those works that are performed in the Spirit/through the gifts/of Christ. We know the work is good because it grows into the likeness of Christ, which can only occur through His Spirit.
Thus the goodness of a work is not a function of the work itself, but whose power makes it grow.
The Battle of the Casseroles
Let's pretend this is true. It might shed some light on this cryptic passage:
And my vineyard has become corrupted every whit; [what percentage?] and there is none [what percentage?] which doeth good [what about all those orphanages and hospitals, huh?] save it be a few; and they err in many instances because of priestcrafts, [oh, so we see priestcrafts feed off of dead works; they are its main diet] all [what percentage?] having corrupt minds.
So the world can be filled with philanthropies and non-profits and charitable foundations and still be stuck in hell's mud, marching forth in the quicksand of our own strength (as opposed to the strength of the Lord).
Is that strange?
Take two people: Sister Smith and Sister Jones. Both of them take casseroles to a needy single mother in the ward. Sounds like a good work, no?
• Sister Smith bakes a delicious broccoli chicken casserole and delivers it with a smile
• Sister Jones bakes a delicious broccoli chicken casserole and delivers it with a smile
Which sister performed a "good work?"
Well, we can't tell. It is impossible to say because we can't judge based on outward appearances (think: the lesser priesthood is confined to "outward ordinances," D&C 107:14).
In order to answer the question we must assume facts not in evidence. God alone knows if the sisters acted in and through His power or not.
Because the sad reality is we can do many wonderful works through our own power and/or the power of the devil. This is the real trap: a lot of "good" is accomplished by means other than God, leading us carefully down to . . . the bad place.
Wherefore by their fruits [think: works/gifts] ye shall know them.
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
How can "wonderful works" be described as "works of iniquity?" That's like calling a cute little kitten a boogeyman!
Is the Lord saying the only works that are "good" are those performed through the power of (through the gifts of)the Spirit of Jesus Christ?
So the debate isn't faith-vs-works at all; it is (1) dead-or-(2) alive.
What we should be asking ourselves very seriously is, Am I acting in Christ's power or by my own strength?
"The field is ripe? Thrust in my sickle? Well, just look at these biceps I have. Let me at it!"
"Let the Dead Bury their Dead"
This isn't a question of motivation or sincerity. It is a matter of who animates our actions; whose Spirit is in us?
Maybe we need more curriculum on exorcism at BYU; we see the Lord casting out devils right-and-left in the Bible and I'm left to wonder where all the devils have gone.
The will of the flesh . . . giveth the spirit of the devil power to captivate, to bring you down to hell.
(2 Nephi 2:28)
Well, that's both scary and interesting: the devil doesn't force anyone down the road paved with good intentions. Our captivity is of our very own making; we walk on our own two legs down to hell ― not kicking and screaming, but whistling and skipping!
Why would we choose this terrible path? Don't we know the direction we're going? Well, the answer is simple: we have deceived ourselves. The devil has marked the road with signs that say, "This way to heaven!" and we follow it merrily as if it were a yellow brick road.
What's one way to realize we're actually on the road to hell (despite what the signs say)? Look around: do we find ourselves in the company of fellow travelers who pride themselves on being "good" because we do such wonderful works?
Ask yourself: do we worship among those who believe their good works are a sign of their righteousness, when in fact they are flexing their muscles in front of the mirror, amped up on Satan's steroids?
When Peter healed a lame man, the onlookers were astonished. Peter didn't pat himself on the back. No, Peter's response was perfect:
Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this? or why look ye so earnestly upon us [Peter didn't want them to credit him; he wanted their eyes to be single to the glory of God; so no 'follow-the-prophet' message was delivered on this day] as though by our own power [this was the real danger: that the worker would take credit for what God worked through the worker. We see that the work was good not because the man was given power to stand, but because he stood by the power of God] or holiness [Peter would be the first to admit he was no saint] we had made this man to walk?
You recall the famous scripture-mastery-verse in Helman 5:12 about Christ being the "rock"? Yeah, well, flip it to Helaman 12:5 and we'll find the exact opposite. Instead of building upon Christ's "sure foundation," our beach houses are built upon boasting in our own strength:
Yea, how quick to be lifted up in pride; yea, how quick to boast, and do all manner of that which is iniquity.
"Iniquity" in this sense is not committing sinful acts (everyone knows kicking a nun is bad), but a people boasting of "good" works they have performed irrespective of whether it was through God's power or not.
Are Dead Works Found among Latter-day Saints?
How much of what goes on in the Church (the "good" the Church does) is in fact accomplished through our own strength?
We celebrate our leaders, when in Joseph Smith's day we were humble enough to admit that his gifts were not to his credit, but God's.
And we also know that [the Book of Mormon] has been translated [by Joseph? No, no, no] by the gift and power of God.
(Testimony of Three Witnesses)
You already know I hate haunted houses. So imagine my horror every Sunday going to Church and being surrounded by dead works ― by the chainsaw-wielding platitudes of self-improvement and blood-draped legalism; the clown-faced carnal security of priestcraft; the shrieking, echoing voices calling out from the rafters:
All is well! All is well!
The terror! A man can hardly sleep at night with all that in his head. As the bones in Ezekiel's vision chanted, "Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts" (Ezekiel 37:11).
Question: When the Lord says "Amen" to the priesthood authority of a person or organization (D&C 121:37), what happens if they keep on going business-as-usual, performing ordinances as if nothing has changed? In other words, in cases where we don't repent and persist in dead works, what does a Zombie Priesthood look like?
Without . . . the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh.
Hmmm. Is this why many of us feel like attending Church is a chore, where we fail to feel uplifted ("the power of godliness")? Wouldn't it be a plot twist if we unwittingly were courting death (I'm not talking about the Grim Reaper but the spiritual death that Paul described)?
How better for the devil to deceive us than to get us making offerings upon his (Satan's) altar while supposing we were making our offering to God? See:Cain.
Even when we were dead in sins . . . according to the prince of power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience [whose spirit "worketh" in the dead?].
(Ephesians 2:5, 2)
Before we leave Zombies behind, let me ask, does the Church embrace the lifeless form of dead works (2 Tim. 3:5) when it presses its lips against the lecherous mouth of Mammon in the spiritual kiss of death ― and all the while call its coupling "good"?
I mean, what authority or power (if any) do we find in performing dead works? What happens when the daughters of Zion become smitten with obedience to a dead law of carnal commandments but leave the weightier matters undone (Matt. 23:23)?
Instead of sweet smell there shall be stink [no amount of cologne is going to cover the stench of our self-righteousness] and instead of a girdle a rent [in the eyes of God our fine linen and robes are filthy rags; if we haven't put on His robes, then no amount of washing and ironing will make any difference] and instead of well set hair baldness; [now I'm taking this personally] and instead of a stomacher a girding of sackcloth [why is it we repent in sackcloth of our high-mindedness only when we are brought low?] and burning instead of beauty.
Can we spot a Zombie-work from the living oracles and ordinances vivified in Christ's Spirit and power?
I'd like to perform an autopsy on the priesthood authority of the Roman Catholic Church. If we dig into the Coroner's Report, perhaps we will discover what went wrong.
Most importantly, can the Medical Examiner explain the cause of death and the time of death? When precisely, during the Great Apostasy, did the patient succomb? And why?
Because if the Catholic Church could lose its divine authority, can the LDS Church?
Does it surprise anyone that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a unique blend of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism? You know what I mean ― fewer crusades and witch trials, but with more polygamy.
We believe in ordinances ("sacraments") and have a Pope-like leader. On the other hand, we condemn infant baptism and have a theology that draws heavily upon the teachings of the Protestant Reformation (while I have never heard of any Popes being celebrated in Sacrament Meeting, I have heard praises for John Wycliffe, Martin Luther and "courageous" William Tyndale).
Despite our religious mancrush on the Reformers, when it comes to priesthood authority and "keys," we fall squarely in line with the Catholic-camp.
What's funny (here's a bit of bait-and-switch) is that even though we reject papal authority, we've inhaled the fumes of it; we've gotten high off the doctrine of One Man ― just substituting the President of the Church in place of the Pope.
In other words, we've adopted the Catholic framework for divine authority with different names and faces. You know what I mean ― fewer palliums and pointy hats, but more aprons and designer suits.
(And don't get me started on the ways we've appropriated Jewish traditions into the LDS Church. Watch out Buddha, we're coming for you next.)
Same but Different?
In Part 7, I gave my opinion that there's one LDS creed that is wreaking havoc today, weighing the Church down unnecessarily:
"The belief that we have a monopoly on priesthood authority in the Church; and that we're the only ones who can act as God's officiators ― all others are illegitimate and pretenders ― and, worst of all, our authority endures in perpetuity regardless of whether we are righteous or not, because divine authority, once bestowed upon an instituiton, transcends all other considerations for all time and space."
But couldn't the exact same thing be said by our Catholic friends?
Re-read it in the context of Roman Catholicism:
(a)The Church has a monopoly of priesthood authority.
Catholics believe that Jesus Christ founded their Church and is the Head of it (sound familiar?) and they alone possess the authority to administer the saving sacraments of the gospel.
Contrast that with LDS doctrine:
"Just as Jesus Christ led His Apostles through revelation after His Resurrection, He continues to direct the Church today through living prophets and apostles. The President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the chosen prophet of God today."
(b)The Church is the only one who can act as God's officiators.
Papal supremacy (what LDS folks describe as the President holding all priesthood keys on earth) regulates and governs who may act in God's name. "Papal supremacy is the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church that the pope, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ and as pastor of the entire Christian Church, has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered."
Contrast that with LDS doctrine:
"A prophet is a man called by God to be His representative on earth. When a prophet speaks for God, it is as if God were speaking ... He has the right to revelation for the entire Church. He holds “the keys of the kingdom,” meaning that he has the authority to direct the entire Church and kingdom of God on earth."
(c)The Church's divine authority endures in perpetuity.
Catholics are taught that Christ promised that His (Catholic) church would always continue. There would never come a time when they would cease to exist. Because the Church is the custodian of God's truth, it is incapable of error and the Pope's pronoucements as God's mouthpiece are inerrant.
Contrast that with LDS doctrine:
"The Church will never again be taken from the earth. Thousands of years ago, the Lord said He would 'set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people … and it shall stand for ever' (Daniel 2:44)."
Hmmm. This all reminds me of something Joseph Smith taught at the end of his life:
"The old Catholic church traditions are worth more than all you have said. Here is a principle of logic that most men have no more sense than to adopt. I will illustrate it by an old apple tree. Here jumps off a branch and says, I am the true tree, and you are corrupt. If the whole tree is corrupt, are not its branches corrupt? If the Catholic religion is a false religion, how can any true religion come out of it? If the Catholic church is bad, how can any good thing come out of it?"
Odd, then, to see the LDS Church returning to its Catholic-lite roots.
Point 1: No Non-Competes
Let's first address the idea that the Church has a monopoly on priesthood authority.
This presupposes that divine authority belongs to an institution and its offices, transmitted through ordination (overseen by the clergy) over generations.
But remember when Jesus's disciples complained that an unaffiliated, random guy was performing miracles without their express authorization?
Who was this rogue fellow?
Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us.
Seems perfectly reasonable. Some guy is invoking God's name without permission, and the disciples crack down on their supposed-monopoly. "We forbad him."
How curious that the first thing those with authority want to do is control the entrance and exits; to barracade the doors against unlicensed use of God's name.
Was he taking the name of the Lord in vain (the devils skeddadled, didn't they)? Surely the Lord would approve of his disciples' zeal, right? Did they collect the man's name and phone number to contact his Stake President and have him put in his place, and be instructed in the unwritten order of things?
And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.
Ummm. That didn't go as expected.
Moral of the Story: Jesus's disciples wanted to treat Christ's name (His authority) as a belonging. Something they could regulate and patrol, like a police officer on the freeway watching for illegal lane changers. "Whoa, buddy, you need to stay in your lane. You don't get to cross over the line without flashing lights and sirens, like I have."
Who, in the end, was taking the Lord's name in vain? Him who acted to cast out devils, or those who would restrict him?
But Christ rebukes them and teaches us that His name is not something we can own, or control.
Authority comes from the word of God, not from our offices. Let me repeat: the word of God is the ultimate authority.
If God taps you on the shoulder and says, "Bob, would you please cast that mountain into the sea?" ― that's all the permission Bob needs. You don't need to appear before a Mountain Moving Committee presided over by one who holds "keys" and get their notarized authorization.
Point 2: [Over]throwing a Party
The question that should preoccupy the Church is: How does a people lose their divine investiture of authority? Because it seems to happen a lot (every dispensation or so).
The law of carnal commandments [we're talking about the lesser law, or Law of Moses; the Levitical-level of authority] which the Lord in his wrath [see, the Lord was not a fan; the lesser, Levitical way of doing things was a curse; the people were denied the liberty of Christ's law that comes with the higher priesthood, because of the hardness of their hearts] caused to continue with the house of Aaron among the children of Israel until John [the Baptist], whom God raised up, being filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb [no laying on of hands necessary].
For he was baptized while he was yet in his childhood, and was ordained [who does the ordaining? The Three Witnesses?] by the angel of God at the time he was eight days old unto this power: to overthrow the kingdom of the Jews.
So how did John "overthrow" the Jewish kingdom? What armies did he use?
What does it take for God to send someone to "overthrow" our current regime?
And what precipitates it?
The absurdity of the idea that God's authority persists among a people who turn away from Him is illustrated in the following example.
Let me say upfront that the point of this story is to show divine authority is always conditioned on obedience to God's word.
Let me repeat: divine authority is always conditioned on obedience to God's word.
"What, are you okay, Tim?" someone says. "You're advocating for obedience?! I can't believe it."
Well, wait until you see what I mean.
The Son Who Shoveled
Say I pay my son an allowance to shovel the snow on the driveway each time it snows.
It’s important to shovel the driveway and walk because the UPS man (angels) have a lot of packages to deliver and we can’t have them slipping on ice.
One day it snows and snows, three feet high. My son ignores my requests to shovel the walk, playing video games in the basement.
He knows it’s his job, but maybe he's tired; I've seen him sniffling and perhaps he’s caught a cold from being out in the snow so much.
And to be honest, maybe I paid him too well, enough that he's saved up a lot of money and, at the moment, doesn't really feel the need to get more. No urgency.
(That's the set up: but here's where the story is going to make my point.)
So I go to my daughter, Sparrow, and ask her to do his chore. "Can you shovel the walk for me, Sweetie? Your brother is busy."
She happily complies; in her case she's saving up for Barbie's Dream Mansion (and that ain't cheap).
As she begins shoveling the heavy snow, my son sees her out the window.
Whereas before he couldn't be bothered, now he’s all action! He storms out and demands my daughter stops. "This is MY job. Dad gave it to me. Stop this minute. And I won't be splitting my allowance with you."
Instead, my daughter shrugs. "Sorry. Too late. Dad asked me to do it, and I’m going to."
Moral of the Story: Only those who actually DO the will of the Father have authority. When we fail to act, He calls another in our stead.
Thus saith the Lord, that inasmuch as there are those among you who deny my name, others shall be planted in their stead.
Isn't that interesting? That says others "shall be planted." You see, the Lord doesn't need to cut down the rotten tree. He often leaves it be. Instead, the Gardner goes to another spot in His vineyard and plants something new.
This is why we see the relics of previous religions going full-steam-ahead today: they did not realize as they busily sought for riches, that God had left the building and started over.
Lesson: The easiest way to lose our priesthood commission as a people is to ignore the Lords words.
Parable of the Two Sons
Now, I didn't come up with that story about Sparrow shoveling snow. It's a modern take on Jesus's parable of the two sons.
What's important to understand is that Jesus's parable was in response to the Pharisees challenging His authority (yup, there it is again: authority; we can't spin an armadillo by the tail without rubbing up against the Pharisees' sensitivity over authority).
The chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?
Jesus puzzled them by asking about John the Baptist's authority. And then He gave them this parable:
"A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard.
"He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went.
"And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not.
"Whether of them twain did the will of his father?
"They say unto him, The first.
"Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you."
See, in the end, it doesn't matter who was "called" (given an ordination or received the priesthood). It doesn't matter who gives lip service to the Lord, and claims to be His people.
(As I drove into work today, I saw a billboard from a local beauty parlor that said: "Life is short. Buy the lips.")
Ignore the lips of those who say, "Lord, Lord," but do not labor for Zion.
A lot of people today claim divine authority.The only ones who actually have it are those doing the will of their Father.
If you asked me to put my finger on the doctrine I think causes the most mischief in the Church, I wouldn’t even blink.
And no, it is not "follow the prophet who won't lead us astray" ― that idea is merely a symptom of a larger doctrinal problem.
The real culprit is the belief that we have a monopoly on priesthood authority in the Church; and that we're the only ones who can act as God's officiators ― all others are illegitimate and pretenders ― and, worst of all, our authority endures in perpetuity regardless of whether we are righteous or not, because divine authority, once bestowed upon an instituiton, transcends all other considerations for all time and space.
Sorry, Charlie. Just the way it is.
And so old-timers like me used to carry around in our wallets our "priesthood line of authority," showing the generational ordinations we descend from, as if that's what's really important to God who can raise children unto Abraham from common stones.
Believing we're the "only-true-and-living" priesthood with divine authority in 2023 places spiritual landmines around the body of Christ; not to keep others out, mind you ("By all means, join our church; come to us because we're the only ones who can save you,") but to create an explosive periphery with which to keep those inside the Church from leaving.
It's like we see God across the street, working through other means, and we pull our handgun. "This is a hold-up; stick-em-up! Hand over all Your covenants with the House of Israel. You can only fulfill those promises through, and under the supervision of, the General Authorities of the Church. Do not pass Go. Don't try anything cute, you hear?"
Will a man rob God? Wherein have we robbed thee, Lord? In claiming my authority to confiscate tithes and offerings like punks collecting spritual protection money from the single mother at the 7-11.
This all boils down to one question: Is God required to perform his marvelous work and wonder only through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Or are we just one piece of a larger picture?
"But Tim!" someone says, "Are you advocating for a priesthood of all believers?'
No, I am not. I am suggesting, though, that priesthood authority does NOT arise from, or inhere, to particular prietshood offices or ordination (see Joseph Smith's magnum opus on this point in D&C 121). Many are called, but few are chosen.
I have had several conversations lately with close family members and friends who end the discussion with, "What does it matter? The Church has the authority." Full stop; pull the plug and take the patient off life support.
It's sorta like saying, "Yes, Tim, it is regrettable we have to put up with a bit of priestcraft and idolatry. But we've got to suck it up, because the Church has the only God-endorsed priesthood; so what're we gonna do? So what if Eli's sons sit at the table; I'm sure God'll straighten it out eventually. Until then, follow the Brethren. Beyond our pay grade."
The cost? I'm afraid we pay a hefty price to maintain our prideful illusions: blindness of mind and heart.
The Ultimate Clic
Nephi faced this obstinate way of thinking when he wrote 2 Nephi 29, addressing those who believe they can set up stakes around God's word (authority) and pin Him down.
A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible and there cannot be any more Bible!
(2 Nephi 29:3)
There are only 783,137 words in the King James Bible. Do we really think that is sufficient for God, who said, "My works are without end, and also my words, for they never cease" (Moses 1:4)?
Have you ever tried to reason with a Baptist from the Bible Belt who is convinced the Book of Mormon is the greatest heresy of all time because it purports to add to the Bible? Good luck trying to persuade them there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in the Bible.
But before we pat ourselves on the back, remember, blindness of mind can also creep into the LDS Church. I would even say we're experts at this type of reductionist thinking. How? Instead of placing the Bible on a pedastal, we point to the Prophet in all of his glorified keys-ship.
A Prophet! A Prophet! We have got a Prophet and there cannot be any other Prophets!
Those who think this are described in scripture as (not my words, so please don't shoot the messenger) "fools" (2 Nephi 29:6). Why are they fools? Because they're trying to box God in, and tape the box shut with loads of duct tape so none of His power can leak out to anyone else, marking the cardboard box on the outside with permanent marker, "Mine; all mine! Do Not Open."
For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them.
(2 Nephi 29:11)
You see, it's too late: God's authority has been let out of the bag. He is working among all nations, kindreds, peoples and tongues.
When we reject the word of the Lord because it doesn't come from a recognized, "authorized" source, that is perhaps the best evidence of our "blindness."
Seeing Eye Dogs for the Spiritually Blind
Jesus had a thing or two to say about "blind guides" (Matt. 23:24). But the reason I am interested in "blindness" is because it is the primary tool used by the Great and Abominable Church to bring us into captivity. And don't you sense that we are, in fact, captives of false creeds?
Wo be unto the Gentiles if it so be that they harden their hearts against the Lamb of God . . . [for] I will work a great and marvelous work . . . unto the deliverance of them to the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds unto their being brought down into captivity, and also into destruction, both temporarly and spiritually, according to the captivity of the devil.
(1 Nephi 14:7)
Ummm. That's the worst deliverance I have ever heard of. Normally we'd expect God's "deliverance" to be a good thing, right? Well, not here!
God is not delivering us from the devil but delivering "the blind" to the devil. Wait, what?
How better to describe spiritual captivity than the contentment we feel in having God's authority, so that we no longer seek for greater light and truth and blessings from God?
In other words, what better way to "destroy" a people (I hope the demons are shutting their ears) than to make us believe we "have enough?" We sit back in our soft chairs with our stomachs full, wiping the corners of our mouths with a linen napkin in the upper room, thinking we can pass priesthood keys around the dinner table as if they were a side dish of glazed carrots.
We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough!
(2 Nephi 28:29)
Isn't this how the Lamanites and Nephites "dwindled in unbelief" (1 Nephi 15:13)? They hardened their beliefs, and hearts, around the traditions of their fathers? (Forget about the Pride Cycle; I want to hear more about the Unbelief Cycle!)
What does this have to do with the priesthood? Well, I think it explains pretty well why we talk-a-big-talk, but have such a limited, errant, infantile understanding of the priesthood and divine authority.
The danger of thinking we've got what everybody needs under lock, stock and barrel (and worse, we're not just stewards and servants but are in charge of the whole shebang), is that:
From them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.
(2 Nephi 28:30)
Isn't this the point Jesus was making to the Jews, when He said, "But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in" (Matt. 23:13)?
I would paraphrase this for our day: "Church, you might as well build a fence around the Sacred Grove and post No Trespassing signs, since you only allow the word of God to come from 47 E. North Temple St., Salt Lake City."
Like a balloon losing its helium, our fates are plummeting, the sign of which is the famine of the word of God in our midst, now almost as rare as a mule giving birth.
But we still believe in miracles, right?
I want to discuss this frighening notion that God "delivers" us into destruction and captivity. Why would a loving Father do that?
I think a better way to say this is that God delivers us up to the desires of our hearts. Whatever we really, really want, in the end we really, really get. That is God's deliverance (or what the scriptures call God's "justice").
So what do we want? To dance at the Ball with the Prince in a beautiful gown and glass slippers, hoping to become Mrs. Prince; or to be a scullery maid who serves among rodents and cleans the scraps from the Master's table? As I've said before, Christ's condescension flips the fairytale upside down: we are not here, Cinderella, to become a princess; we are princes who are to become the servants of all.
Being selfish with God's gifts and authority does not reflect well on our desires. It sounds, to me, like "gratifying our pride" and seeking the praise of men with vain ambition (which is why General Authorities do not keep their day jobs and do not renounce the high seats and perks of office).
I know that God allotteth unto men, yea, decreeth unto them decrees which are unalterable, according to their wills, whether they be unto (1) salvation or unto (2) destruction.
Seal Up the Law
Consider what these words mean: Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples.
Let's situate these cryptic words, this commandment given by God to Isaiah, between the verses that come immediately before and after it, and see what our spiritual harpoon hits.
And many among them shall stumble [why do we stumble?] and fall [what causes us to fall?] and be broken [who breaks us?] and be snared [how are we snared?] and be taken [yikes!].
This sounds dire. I am distressed just reading these verbs. So let's back up one more verse:
And [the Lord] shall be for a sanctuary [where is safety found?] but for a stone of stumbling [why do people stumble on Him?] and for a rock of offence [what do we find offensive?] to both the houses of Israel [who are we talking about?] for a snare [who is the snare? The Lord?] to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
Is God for us, or against us? Is God our deliverer or captor? Like the Continental Divide that splits rain across the hemisphere, down one side (flowing to the Pacific Ocean) or the other (to the Atlantic), Christ's word divides.
Christ is our Continental Divide.
This may make sense if we consider the context of Isaiah's warning:
- Don't make alliances (Isaiah 8:9)
- Don't divide into factions (Isaiah 8:9)
- Don't trust the words of men (Isaiah 8:10)
- Don't trust in "a confederacy" or treaties (or tanks or nuclear arms or anything but God) (Isaiah 8:12).
So what comes after the verse about binding up the testimony and sealing the law?
And I will wait upon the Lord, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob [wait; who is He hiding from? Why?] and I will look for him.
My friends, God is faithful; but that's the problem. He has promised that if we follow anyone but Christ, we are blind; and those who follow blind guides shall fall into the pit.
And they shall fall into the pit which they digged to ensnare the people of the Lord. And all that fight against Zion shall be destroyed, and . . . tumble to the dust and great shall be the fall of it.
(1 Nephi 22:14)
You see, we need to "bind up the testimony and seal the law" because we're entering a time when destruction will tear down everything that is not of God or by His word. If God's word is not found in us, we'll have a hard time finding it when oil is in scarce supply.
So let's follow Christ, who is our only Sanctuary.
We drove through Yellowstone watching Old Faithful in ponchos, welcoming the geyser’s predictability. Blood (we knew) is half water. We drove with the radio low listening to unfamiliar stations, staring at bison herds dotting the prairie like raisin clumps. The rain stopped. We crossed over the Continental Divide splitting watershed without consensus between Pacific and Atlantic― the indifference of geology we call nature.
Natural? a great caldera of pressure built by earthquake and fire and salt― not loss alone but loss of self.
The rain resumed. Lines on the wet pavement blurred as we drove in the dead of night feeling the asphalt murmur, miles melting our wafer-hope. We drove on searching ourselves for second opinions, for absolution, reaching home― finding home was not what we had thought. A raisin is just a shriveled grape missing its water. Yet small things form a wedge as sure as any mountain peak parting rainfall flowing toward different seas.
The gospel is all about orphanages. In what way? We were the children of sin, but along comes a nice Couple who tells the polite nuns They want to adopt.
"Not him, surely?" the nun says. "He's a trouble maker and a leper."
God sent forth his Son. . . that we might receive the adoption of sons.
Gazing up from our coloring book, we smooth our hair and sit up straight. They approach and the Man kneels down, eye-level, and speaks. His voice is gentle but strong. "Hello young man. We'd like to take you home with us. Would you like to be our son?"
Confused, but flattered, hope begins to swell within our heart. However, part of us remains wary. "Umm," we say, "why would a nice Couple like you want to adopt a runt like me? I mean, you don't even know me! You don't even know my name."
"We've come to share Ours' with you; we'll give you a new name. As for not knowing you, dear boy, We desire to know you completely, inside and out, warts and all. What better way to get to know you than by becoming your Parents?"
The children of God. . . waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
(Romans 8:21, 23)
"Well," we say, looking a gift horse in the mouth, "what if I'm a bad apple? What if you take me home and discover I am an awful person? Then you'll just cast me out and I'll be Parent-less again, alone. How can I trust that you'll like me once you get to know me ― the real me?"
We look down and are ashamed to see our shoes are unpolished and caked with mud. So much for making a good first impression. The Woman takes our hand, and we want to pull away; after all, our fingernails are unseemly, over-long with dirt in them. She smiles and doesn't let go. "My sweet angel, is that what you think of Us? Will you trust Us; will you trust We love you and won't ever abandon you?"
Ever? Worlds without end? Sounds too good to be true. We frown, "But how can You love me, when you don't even know me! And worse, why would you love me once You do know me? Do you know why I'm an orphan in the first place? Because I am unloveable. My birth parents did not want me, why should you?"
He hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself.
(Ephesians 1:4-5) "Why do we want you?" They say. "Because . . . . "
Here we must fill in the blank. Why does God love us? Why does He want to make us part of His family?
"I'm Too Sexy for Your Love"
What did we ever do to deserve all this divine love? I mean, isn't it a bit far-fetched for God to love us bunch of idiots so much? Is He crazy?
This is why, I think, we want to earn our reward. We want the Couple in the orphanage to pick us because we're better than the others; They see our handsomeness, or how witty and clever we are.
Why? Because our thick skulls cannot seem to accept the eternal reality of God’s love! Here on earth, it just doesn't work like that. In this Telestial Kingdom His love doesn't make any sense. Wouldn't it be better if God's love was given in response to our own efforts, or attributes? "God thinks I am swell because I can solve a Rubik's Cube in 30 seconds!" Quid pro quo.
But how gauche would it be if a person, when they passed though the pearly gates, took a bow? Isn't that what we're all hoping for? "I made it! I did it! Hello Seraphim, did ya miss me?" The spotlight, you see, will be on us (as if we had purchased our robes off-the-rack from Nordstrom with our own righteousness, instead of wearing the hand-me-down robes offered by Christ).
Are we really that egotistical? As C.S. Lewis pointed out, "No sooner do we believe that God loves us than there is an impulse to believe that he does so, not because he is Love, but because we are intrinsically lovable. Deep beneath remains some lingering idea of our own, our very own, attractiveness." (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves (London: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1960), 130-131.)
How bizarre, that even when it comes to God’s love, we want somehow to take credit for it.
What Are the Articles of Adoption?
Joseph Smith taught, "We must have a change of heart to see the kingdom of God, and subscribe to the articles of adoption to enter therein." (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, vol. 6, page 58.)
So what are these "articles of adoption" Joseph is talking about?
An adopted child takes the surname of their new parents. So what is our new name?
Is this a literal adoption? "There shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ" (Mosiah 3:17).
When Saint Peter reads the names off of the rolls of heaven at the pearly gates in alphabetical order, they will all be found under the letter "C" ― for Christ (or whatever passes for that in the Adamic tongue).
But what is remarkable, and unlike a normal adoption, is that when we join Christ’s family, we not only gain a new name, we receive also a new nature.
Loving like Christ shows we are indeed His children (Matt. 5:44-45); it is the sign of our adoption and heavenly parentage.
For without Jesus's love, we would remain orphans forever.
"But I Thought We Were God's Children Already"
Someone might be thinking, "Wait! Why do we need to be adopted by Christ when we are already children of God? Isn't God the Father of our spirits? So why do we need to become Christ's sons and daughters to be heirs of eternal life?"
Ye are sons of the living God.
See? It says so right there in the Bible. We're children of God! So why do I need to be adopted?
Let's take, for example, a non-Christian. Pick a random person who lives in Timbuktu who is an awful sinner. Is he a child of God?
But as many as received [Christ], to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
If we were already the children of God, then why do we need to be reborn? Why become part of Christ's family if we are already members of it? Forget baptism.
You see, I am starting to wonder if there's something amiss with the Family Proclamation. Because it sounds lovely, it has withstood scrutiny. But no longer:
"All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents."
Is this what Joseph Smith taught? Where in the world did the idea of "spirit birth" come from?
No More Birds and the Bees in Kolob?
Let's forget everything we've been taught for a minute. Pretend Christ already had a family before the foundation of this earth. Let's call these family members "noble and great ones."
Also, let's pretend that Christ calls his family "my people."
Well, guess who the Lord's people are? "My people, which are the house of Israel" (2 Nephi 29:1). In case we missed it, He repeats it again, "My words shall hiss forth [what hisses? Remember the serpent is a type of Christ] unto the ends of the earth, for a standard unto my people, which are of the house of Israel" (2 Nephi 29:2).
Well, it seems pretty clear that the Lord has a people (family) who are called Israel.
The Lord's work is to fulfill His promises which He has made, from before the foundation of the world, with this (His) people. "I the Lord have not forgotten my people" (2 Nephi 29:5).
I will show unto them that fight against my word and against my people, who are of the house of Israel, that I am God, and that I covenanted with Abraham that I would remember his seed forever.
(2 Nephi 29:14)
Ummm. Wait, are we Christ's children, or Abraham's? (D&C 84:34).
Would it surprise you that Joseph Smith did not teach, or believe, in spirit birth the way we do today?
What are the implications of our spirits being co-eternal with God's? Take your time, this is important.
Spirits . . . have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end, they shall exist after, for they are gnolaum, or eternal.
"The Spirit of Man is not a created being; it existed from Eternity & will exist to eternity. Anything created cannot be Eternal."
(August 8, 1839)
"Spirits are eternal. At the first organization in heaven we were all present and saw the Savior chosen and appointed."
(Jan. 5, 1841)
"The spirit or the intelligence of men are self Existent principles before the foundation this Earth."
(Mar. 28, 1841)
"The immortal spirit, all men say God created it in the beginning. The very idea lessens man in my estimation; I do not believe the doctrine … The mind of man is as immortal as God himself. I know that my testimony is true."
(Apr. 7, 1844)
Is it possible the Father did not "organize" us into spirit bodies, after all? But that He organized us into a family structure?
Sure, Brigham Young taught "spirit birth." But I am persuaded by Joseph Smith that our spirits (intelligences) are uncreated; and that to have "eternal increase" does not mean we're going to be giving birth to spirit babies for eons; it means we will gather other spirits (uncreated intelligences) into our families. At the moment, Christ's work is to gather us into the family, or Tree of Life, which is Israel's.
"But Tim! What does any of this have to do with the priesthood?"
Ah, I am glad you asked. This has everything to do with the priesthood of God, with Him expanding His family by making us sons and daughers in the Household; in the New and Everlasting Covenant, or in other words, in the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God (D&C 107:3).
So who will we choose? Do we want Christ to be our Heavenly Father?
Isn't that the reason we came to earth, to choose whose family we want to be part of going forward?
Over the past week I was traveling for work in Ohio conducting a training for the attorneys in the Ohio Attorney General's Office. I made some new friends and learned that the official Ohio State Tree (and its fruit, the mascot for Ohio State University) is the Buckeye.
What's a buckeye? Well, it's a dark brown nut that grows on buckeye trees, with a distinctive tan spot.
According to legend, back in 1788 Colonel Ebenezer Sproat arrived in what would become Ohio and was greeted by some Native Americans who shouted, "Hetuck, Hetuck!" (their word for Buckeye) because, I guess, he was so tall (like the tree). The nickname stuck.
Sadly, buckeye nuts are poisonous. Not just the nuts, but also the leaves and bark of the tree. From top to bottom, the whole of it is deadly. So don't eat buckeye nuts; instead, there's a confection of peanut butter and chocolate called "buckeyes" that are made to resemble the nut ― without the lethality.
In a way, the gospel of Jesus Christ is like a buckeye. I know that sounds backwards, since the tree and its fruit are deadly. But guess what? The gospel costs our very lives (Matt. 16:25). It kills the natural man. What did we think happens when we partake of the fruit of the Tree of Life?
So Satan and his great and abominable churches called a conference, where they created a substitute: the candy version. It sorta looks the same; but theirs is sweet and fattening. But at least it won't kill us! We start craving the delicious, peanutty buckeyes, until at last we come to believe they are as good as the original, if not better.
You know the worst part? We start to warn others not to eat the real nuts. We tell them they're toxic and dangerous. "Leave Zion alone. Stop steadying the ark. Stop worrying about all that and try these yummy doctrines."
For it shall come to pass in that day that the churches. . . shall teach after this manner, false and vain and foolish doctrines.
(2 Nephi 28:3, 9)
Isn't it ironic to see Churches running an ambulance service for the natural man, doing everything they can to keep him alive for as long as possible? "He's going into anaphylactic shock! He must have eaten a buckeye. Quick, administer 10 cc's of carnal security. Clear!"
Great and Marvelous Things Ahead
During my trip, while eating buckeyes (the candy, not the paralysis-inducing nut), I had ample time to read and ponder (and to watch the Food Network), and to be filled with hope for 2023.
There is so much I hope to share with you; there are things I feel need saying about the priesthood, Romans 14, spiritual kinship and kingship in the Kingdom of God, contention and charity, the doctrine of Christ and the baptism of fire; about being born again and grace; the role of ordinances and covenants, both individual and collective; things that are super important, that relate to establishing Zion, and things more mundane, like why we don't serve concessions in the foyer before Sacrament Meeting.
I want to share, God willing, the whisperings of the Spirit regarding preparing for the future; how we can better include all people into our ecclesial communities, especially those who have historically been oppressed; I get excited thinking about the gifts of the Spirit and how we might grow in discernment and love for one another.
Who doesn't want to embrace Paul's teaching that "all things are lawful" in a time of division and "othering"? I want to explore the highest heavens and admire God's celestial laws as well as praise their Giver, and be done treading the murky mire of lesser laws; I want to re-write Brother Stephen Robinson's Parable of the Bicycle; I am looking forward to seeing God's work advance among the meek and outcasts; and we haven't even explored yet the rich material in comparing Big Tobacco to Big Religion. . .
. . . you see, my heart is full unto bursting and I feel as Alma did:
O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!
Yea, I would declare unto every soul, as with the voice of thunder, repentance and the plan of redemption, that they should repent and come unto our God, that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth.
But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me.
There's so much to accomplish; and yet so little time. But . . . maybe that's just the buckeyes talking.
I am regularly asked to contribute to good causes. "Hi Tim," a promoter says, "I'm raising money for [fill-in-the-blank] foundation, who is working to end [fill-in-the-blank good cause]. Can I count on your support?"
How are we to know which causes to support? Where to donate our money? Who is deserving? (We used to answer "the Church" ― thinking it was a safe bet ― but with the SEC scandal involving Ensign Peak, I don't think we can say that anymore.)
Look, I may appear like a nice guy, but I'm not; I am highly skeptical of the motivations of organizations who ask for money.
I find it hilarious that people are suspicious of pan handlers (as if the poor beggars are going to buy cigarettes) when they give money to large companies and causes that actively seranade Nebuchadnezzar with their cornets, flutes, psalteries and dulcimers, falling down to worship, saying, "O king, live forever" (Daniel 3:9-10). And we're worried about the guy in the wheelchair holding a cardboard sign?
Whenever a cause celebre calls, "Have you any money?" I am immediately suspicious (don't get me started on the sordid history of the Sierra Club).
I wish we could say that good causes always attracted good people, but we've learned by sad experience that no matter the cause, no matter their noble mission statements, money is making the world go round. "You can buy anything in this world with money." And so we start to believe we need capital if we're to build God's kingdom. "Think of the good Jesus could have done if He had just formed LLC's to conceal his money from the Roman tax collectors! They might have been able to hire a good lawyer for Stephen!"
Ummm. Maybe I should start replying as Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego did:
Be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.
Which Cause is the Lord's?
Perhaps we're asking the wrong question. Rather than asking what the "good causes" are, we should ask, "What is the Lord's cause?" I mean, how does God expect to lessen His tax burden? He must be a generous donor for the write-off.
Whoso layeth down his life in my cause, [ah, so the Lord does have a 501(c)(3)] for my name’s sake, shall find it again, even life eternal.
This verse contains some fascinating details. First, it introduces the idea that God does, indeed, have "a cause." He owns it; He says it is "my cause."
Well, now I'm interested. What is His cause? Because we have to identify His cause before we can "lay down our lives" for it.
So let's not be wrong about what the Lord's cause is, else we spill our blood on the wrong field.
But make no mistake: this Cause (I'm capitalizing it now) requires far more than we might expect. It must be something worthy of "life eternal." So the Cause extends into eternity; it is endless. It is a pearl of great price we would sacrifice everything for.
But hold on. Let's double check our math before we get carried away. Does the Lord mention His Cause anywhere else?
In 1830, the Lord said to Oliver Cowdery:
Continue in bearing my name before the world, and also to the Church. And he shall not suppose that he can say enough in my cause.
Wait, did you notice something funny? In both verses the Lord connects His Cause to His "name" and "name's sake."
How are His name and Cause related?
And once we answer that question, we'll begin to understand why "we cannot say enough" about it.
The Cause of Zion
By now you've probably figured out that the Lord's Cause is . . . *drum roll* . . . the "cause of Zion" (see D&C 21:7).
I hope bells are going off because we've already discussed the relationship between Zion and the Lord's "name" in Part 10 of the Series, "Lord, to whom shall we go? Charting the Course of the Church from Here to the Second Coming."
In that post, we saw that Zion is far more than a holy city; it describes a people who bear a holy name. God consecrates His people as He does their land.
Remember how King Benjamin gave his people a holy name when they entered into the covenant?
Ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters. . . . There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ.
So here we've got (1) a holy house (Israel) that is (2) gathered into a holy city (New Jerusalem) and who receive (3) a holy name, even the name of Christ.
In this context, consider the 144,000:
When the Lamb shall stand upon Mount Zion, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand, having his Father’s name written on their foreheads.
These are the "oil" or "wine" that will be preserved (bottled) in order to survive the coming calamity and judgment. The Lord promised:
I will make my holy name known in the midst of my people Israel; and I will not let them pollute my holy name any more.
We are the Lord's Constitution: but a people remain "pure" only insofar as they do not "pollute" the holy name of God.
How Do We "Establish" the Cause of Zion?
Our errand is simple.
Seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion.
That's it; just 10 words! But how are we supposed to do it?
Well, lo-and-behold, it's as if the Lord anticipated our question. In the VERY NEXT VERSE He says:
Seek not for riches
Whoops; looks like we took a wrong turn 180 years ago.
but for wisdom
Oh come on! Wouldn't it be better to be wealthy than wise? Wisdom isn't going to pay the bills and build those temples. Think of all the good we could accomplish with money, like funding missionary work from our vast wealth ― of course, that doesn't guarantee our missionaries would be wise. But at least they'll dress nice and look the part!
and, behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you
Ah, now we see the real trade-off: we can either be rich with gold and silver, or we can be rich with the mysteries of God. Clearly the Church made its choice clear, for we are told where our treasure is, there will be our heart, also.
and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich.
Well, I'm not saying anything new when I paraphrase Hugh Nibley, who told us we sold our birthright, Zion, down the river for a mess of money long ago.
You see, there IS a real, great contest between God and Mammon; we think we're not literally at war, when in fact the war consumes our lives: the Cause of Zion vs. the cause of Babylon.
- In Babylon, you can buy anything in this world for money.
- In Zion, our money is worthless; there's nothing to buy.
Spiritual disarmament means we forsake the love of money for the love of one another.
This gives a whole new flavor to Jacob's words:
Come, my brethren, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come buy and eat; yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Wherefore, do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy.
(2 Nephi 9:50-51)
Don't you love how we keep building up churches that write counterfeit checks drawn from the devil's bank, pretending our savings accounts in heaven are swelling to bursting?
The bank register of the devil is a marvelous work. It is a wonder how his funds funnel cleverly offshore (whoever said Cerberus was a pass-through?)
So the rich cannot pass a needle’s test? It is for the best: you cannot have clients packing their belongings when they themselves are the collateral. Satan loves to secure his transactions for a rainy day (just ask Noah).
Wealth may be a poor liability but the devil is careful to treat his pensioners like good expenditures. Counterfeit coin? Calm now, even the devil obeys standard accounting practices.
But the ledger of the Lamb is alarming in its simplicity as though written by a child. Any financial adviser worth his salt (just ask Lot) would roll over seeing it bleed red like that. If you want my advice you must follow the profit to get in the black. Cross-out the charity ─ why, there’s not even a 501(c)(3) for heaven's sake!