Today, words have been redefined, deconstructed, reinterpreted, and used to deceive the elect, if possible.
A great example of wordsmithing is found in George Orwell's book 1984, where the oppressive Big Brother government has a:
"Ministry of Peace" (which serves as the War Department);
"Ministry of Truth" (which serves as the propaganda department),
"Ministry of Love" (my personal favorite) (which serves as the brainwashing and torture department tasked with suppressing dissent).
My Lawyer Hat
As a lawyer, I am very much interested in procedure. And I am wary of people who want to skip proper procedures in order to obtain a certain result.
I've always felt that the way we go about something is as important as the thing we're trying to achieve.
I guess it goes back to the notion of "lying for the Lord." The idea always struck me as odd. I always assume the end (no matter how noble) does not justify unrighteous means.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, wo be unto him that lieth to deceive because he supposeth that another lieth to deceive, for such are not exempt from the justice of God.
So it is a major red flag for me when an organization, government, or Church chips away at due process, our Constitutional protections, and natural rights. That shows we're on the expressway of injustice and abuse.
For example, the Constitution requires that courts be open to the public (so we don't get Russia's notorious "secret courts") in order to maintain the integrity of the court proceedings and to protect the rights of the accused.
Public scrutiny keeps everyone honest.
On the other hand, isn't it alarming how the Church conducts its business and discipline in private? Major red flag?
And when we say church courts ("membership councils") should be private because they are sacred, that is like an oil rig exploding in the Pacific, sending red and black plumes of toxic fire hundreds of feet into the sky, and shouting, "Everything's fine here. No need for concern. Please look the other way."
Shouldn't the subject of the disciplinary council (i.e., the accused) be the one who chooses whether to have it be private or public, since it is about them? Since they are the one on trial?
"No participant in a membership council is permitted to make an audio, video, or written recording. A clerk may take notes for the purpose of preparing the Report of Church Membership Council." Handbook, 32.10.3.
Yikes! (What happened to upholding and sustaining the "just and holy principles" (D&C 101:77) enshrined in the Constitution of the United States which was inspired by God? Do those "just and holy principles" apply to the Church?)
If the President of the United States decided to unilaterally bypass Congress and pass an Executive Order requiring citizens to do something unconstitutional, he would be stopped and taken to Court. We have checks-and-balances.
Why? Because he or she is not (supposed to be) a dictator.
In the religious realm, God never intended his prophets to act unilaterally.
God never intended that leaders bypass the religious checks-and-balances contained in the scriptures.
The reason the leadership of the Church can operate as it does today is because we have abandoned many of the cherished, God-given rights and privileges found in the scriptures and in the Constitution.
Does this cause alarm to anyone else?
Judging a Book by its Cover
Pop quiz time! Take out your No. 2 pencils and let's see how it goes.
1. True or False: "Canonization" is an antiquated, discontinued practice which is no longer necessary because the Church is led by a living prophet.
2. True or False: Joseph F. Smith said, "No revelation given through the head of the church ever becomes binding and authoritative upon members of the church until it has been presented to the church and accepted by them.” (Joseph F. Smith in the Reed Smoot Trial, 1904, cited in Richard S. Van Wagoner, Steven C. Walker, and Allen D. Roberts: “The ‘Lectures on Faith’: A Case Study in Decanonization,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, v. 20, No. 3, p. 74)
3. Multiple Choice. Which of the following has been canonized by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? a. The Doctrine and Covenants b. The Family: A Proclamation to the World c. Episodes IV - VI of Star Wars d. The General Handbook e. For Strength of Youth Pamphlet f. None of the above
A Masterclass in Canonization
On August 17, 1835 the members of the Church met in a conference to decide and vote on whether to accept the Doctrine and Covenants as binding and authoritative.
According to the minutes of that meeting, "it was deemed necessary to call the general assembly of the Church to see whether the book be approved or not by the Authoroties of the church, that it may, if approved, become a law unto the church, and a rule of faith and practice unto the same." (Minute Book 1, p. 98, Joseph Smith Papers.)
It appears to have been a very long meeting. A ton of people gave their opinion freely on the matter, including:
W. W. Phelps John Whitmer John Smith Levi Jackman Leonard Rich Newel K. Whitney John Corrill John Gould Ira Ames Erastus Babbitt William Burgess Thomas Gates Oliver Cowdery
"There being a very large portion of the church present. All of the above testimonies and votes were voluntarily & unhesitatingly given with the utmost freedom of conscience on part of the Assembly."Id. at 106.
I like that this was not a perfunctory matter. When something is important, I agree with Paul who said, "For this thing was not done in a corner" (Acts 26:26). The Saints were instructed on what it meant to accept the Doctrine and Covenants by vote:
"That they would receive the Book as the rule of their faith & practice, and put themselves under the guidance of the same and also that they were satisfied with the committee that were chosen to compile it." (Id. at 104.)
At the conclusion of the meeting:
"President O. Cowdery then arose with the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, (284 pages) contain[in]g the faith articles and covinants of the Latter Day Saints, then proceeded to take the vote of the whole House." (Id. at 103.)
What is the Pseudepigrapha?
The "pseudepigrapha" refers to non-canonical works which did not "make the cut" into the Bible, and are therefore not binding upon Christian churches.
Old Testament books (apocrypha) include the Book of Enoch, Book of Jubilees, Ascension of Isaiah, etc.
New Testament pseudepigrapha include books like the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Thomas, the Epistle to the Laodiceans, etc.
Which Works Are Authoritative?
When we have to choose between a work that is canonized and one that is not, do we give preeminence to what is canonized?
4. Multiple Choice. Which of the following should be regarded as binding and authoritative upon the members of the Church? (Choose all correct answers). a. Come Follow Me Student Manual b. Statements made by apostle Delbert L. Stapley in 1964 during the debate over the Civil Rights Bill that Blacks should not be afforded "full social benefits nor inter-marriage privileges with the Whites, nor should the Whites be forced to accept them into restricted White areas." (Elder Delbert L. Stapley letter to Governor George W. Romney, January 23, 1964); c. The General Handbook d. The New Testament
Oh, Say What is Truth?
Here are some basic facts:
1. The General Handbook has never been submitted to the members for a vote.
2. The General Handbook has never been canonized by the Church.
3. The General Handbook is without authorial attribution and so the members don't even know who wrote it.
4. The General Handbook is regularly amended as a living document. However, unlike the amendment process for the Constitution, Church members have no say over the amendments to the Handbook.
Based on the above, have we followed the law of common consent required by D&C 26:2?
Based on the above, is the General Handbook binding on members?
We can only conclude that the General Handbook is as authoritative upon us as Chicken Soup for the Soul.
We Already Have Two Written Laws of the Church; We Have the Guidance of the Holy Ghost (i.e., God); Do We Really Need a Legalistic Text?
Why do we need a bureaucratic General Handbook when we already have God's own law to govern us?
1. As earlier discussed, the Doctrine and Covenants was accepted by the Church in 1835 to be "a law unto the Church."
2. Section 41 - 42 is the revealed "law of the Church" given to Joseph by revelation on "how to govern my church and have all things right before me" (D&C 41:3). That seems pretty definitive.
3. We have the gift of the Holy Ghost to guide us, right? Or did Moroni really mean:
And their meetings were conducted by the church after the manner of the workings of the [Handbook], and by the power of the [Handbook]; for as the power of the [Handbook] led them whether to preach, or to exhort, or to pray, or to supplicate, or to sing, even so it was done.
Where is the revelation and sustaining vote saying the General Handbook was replacing the Doctrine and Covenants and Section 42 on Church government?
The Scriptures Have Preeminence Over the General Handbook
When there is a conflict between the scriptures and Handbook, why do we choose to enforce the Handbook over the word of God?
Why have we trampled upon the word of God with hundreds of pages of pseudepigrapha?
Ministry of Truth, indeed.
Objection, Your Honor!
Someone might say, "But Tim, if the Handbook is printed and distributed by Church Headquarters, then it tacitly has the imprimatur of the President of the Church, and is binding on us."
I think this objection has some merit and should be considered.
If I were to paraphrase the objection, I think it boils down to the "ace" that members pull when they make an appeal to authority: "If we sustain a living prophet, then we should accept anything that comes from Church Headquarters as authoritative."
1. Presidents of the Church have never taught that we have to swallow the entire enchilada cooked up by Church Headquarters.
In fact, Elder D. Todd Christofferson said in General Conference, "[I]t should be remembered that not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. It is commonly understood in the Church that a statement made by one leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, not meant to be official or binding for the whole Church." ("The Doctrine of Christ," April 2012)
2. The Church has a law by which it is governed, which is common consent (D&C 26:2). When we say the President of the Church can do whatever he wants and say whatever he wants, by virtue of his office, and that the members should jump on board if they truly "sustain" him, then we have crossed over the line from the rule of law to the rule of men.
The scriptures teach that following God's law = righteousness; following a man = idolatry.
We have covenanted to be witnesses of Jesus Christ, not witnesses of Church leaders.
3. The notion that the President is inerrant or infallible is problematic. Popes and Presidents are mortal men, doing their best; but following them instead of following Christ in instances where human legalism works to unravel Christ's labor of love, has serious implications.
4. Most of all I think the objection highlights a troubling abridgment of moral agency by basing obedience upon who is speaking rather than discerning whether what is said is of God.
I wonder if this is what the Lord had in mind when He said:
That ye may not be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men; for some are of men, and others of devils.
Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived; and that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts.
I am concerned we are at risk of redefining righteousness to mean our standing with the Church rather than our standing with Christ.
If we are forbidden from taking positions of conscience except those already taken by the Brethren, we will be reduced to a people who virtue signal their loyalty while hardening our hearts against the Spirit (unless, of course, the Spirit is rubber-stamping what Salt Lake is doing), which invariably produces a sterile priesthood. You know, one without power.
Let's be better!
Let's be spiritual patriots who stand for God!
Let's follow the celestial law of love rather than the telestial law of legalism.
Let's be a light on the hill rather than another bargain basement in Babylon!
Imagine a 1st Grader confidently telling his buddies on the playground how babies are made:
"Yeah, I know all about it," he nods knowingly. "A stork delivers the baby to the doorstep. Believe me, it's true."
Now we're adults, but we're still children in our understanding when it comes spiritual truths. We aren't even potty-trained yet (as evidenced by the fact we still sin in our diapers).
In fact, we are so error-prone that it reminds me of the nine-year-old boy I read about online, whose mother wrote:
We were driving in the car when my nine-year-old son suddenly started screaming, ‘It burns! It burns!’ We frantically tried to figure out what was hurting him when he blew something out of his nose. I picked it up. My son had stuck a mint cough drop up his nose because it was for congestion and he thought it would clear up his nasal stuffiness!
When it comes to objectivity and certainty, it might be a good idea to sprinkle a little pixie dust of humility and nuance on our truth claims.
1. Historical Truth Claims
As you know, I majored in history in college. My favorite definition of history is “a bridge connecting the past with the present, and pointing the road to the future.” (Allan Nevins, “A Proud Word for History,” in The Vital Past: Writings on the Uses of History, 1985, p. 237).
It has been suggested that history most closely resembles cartography.
A blue shape on a map, for instance, represents the Great Salt Lake (but does that shape capture the smell of salt or the sound of seagulls?).
Like maps, history is a representation, not a re-creation of the original. The verb to represent means “to stand for; to symbolize.”
I agree with Richard Bushman when he said that history “must constantly be recast to be relevant, the past forever reinterpreted for the present.” (“Faithful History,” in Faithful History: Essays on Writing Mormon History, 1992, p. 1)
In the end, what we believe about history says more about us than it does about those who lived in the past.
My point is this: our orientation to the past is not backwards but inwards.
The difference between history and memory is important. On the one hand there are stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments (an historical artifact), and on the other there is the effect those commandments had upon a believing people (preserved by their collective memory).
But the termites of time are constantly eating away at the pillars of the past. (Ask a member of the Church at random to name a handcart company, and the answer will usually be, "Willie" or "Martin." Why these two companies and no others?)
"The most constant element of recollection is forgetting [so] rememoration can occur at all. . . . Reduction is the essential precondition to representation. Loss is what makes our memory of the past possible at all.” (Richard Terdiman, Present Past: Modernity and the Memory Crisis, 1993, p. 22)
What we forget is as revealing (if not more so) about who we are as what we choose to remember.
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a Latter-day Saint historian, said, “A frontier is not a geographical space but a social space, an environment in which two different cultures meet and interact. In this sense, Latter-day Saints are at the pushing edge of a new frontier.” (“A Pioneer Is Not a Woman Who Makes Her Own Soap,” Ensign, June 1978, p. 55)
When we make historical truth claims, we have to remember that we cannot separate ourselves from the past.
And remember . . . we weren't there!
2. Doctrinal Truth Claims
I believe in the Doctrine of Christ.
But there are several reasons why I might want to be modest in making doctrinal truth claims:
2.1. We do not know all the doctrine that exists out there, nor could we comprehend all truth as God does. (In my experience, we get a glimpse at the truth a bit beyond where we currently stand, but we can't see much farther than that until we first follow the glimpsed-at-truth.)
2.2. We are not very good at discerning between doctrine pertaining to the telestial vs. terrestial vs. celestial kingdoms, but seem to lump all doctrine ― whatever its provenance ― into the same Bundt cake. This is dangerous because all doctrine is not created equally. We don't want to be following telestial or terrestial laws because such laws do not have the power to exalt us in the celestial kingdom. And yet, the bread-and-butter doctrine we are taught in Church is oriented primarily towards telestial and terrestial practices (i.e., tithing, word of wisdom, ministering, etc).
2.3. We know that "many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God" will be revealed, which may contradict our current understanding of doctrine, so maybe we should use more semi-colons and fewer periods.
2.4. The truths we have all learned from God by personal revelation lose something in translation. My neighbor's revelation won't apply to me or you because revelation is usually person-specific and not universally applicable. The great danger is to create religious traditions based on an individual's private revelation.
2.5.Maybe we should just read Romans 14.
Objection, Your Honor!
Somebody might say, "Hold on, Tim. If we don't have objectivity, are you arguing for subjectivity? Without a monolithic moral compass, won't we be forever tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine?"
Good point. Here's my response:
1. Historical truth claims do not provide a sure foundation.
2. Doctrinal truth claims do not provide a sure foundation.
3. So what doesprovide an anchor for our souls?
The Jews will reject the stone upon which they might build and have safe foundation.
But behold, according to the scriptures, this stone shall become the great, and the last, and the only sure foundation, upon which [we] can build.
If we base our faith (or testimonies) on historical truth claims or doctrinal truth claims, are we standing on "the only sure foundation?"
What if the only "safe foundation" is love?
What if the pure love of Christ is greater than historical or doctrinal accuracy?
What if His love is the only thing that will never fail?
If we have to choose a hill to die on, let it be Calvary.
[This Post is dedicated to Natasha Hefler and her witnesses, who last week chose to return love for reviling. God bless you.]
John Scopes was a substitute biology teacher in Tennessee in 1925.
So far so good. The problem? He taught evolution to his students . . . in 1925.
Back then, teaching the theory of evolution was against state law. So he was prosecuted in court.
His case became known as "the trial of the century," shining a national spotlight on the debate between creationism and evolution.
The courtroom drama centered around populist pope William Jennings Bryan, a stalwart supporter of creationism and Christianity, and Clarence Darrow, a devout atheist and crusader against religion.
The real issue, though, was not evolution but whether God or Caesar would rule in America.
It was about control.
Who would control the narrative taught to our children? Who would control the words we use, the beliefs we hold, the thoughts we share?
Bryan declared, "They came to try revealed religion. I am here to defend it.”
And thus was born "the most famous scene in American legal history," according to Edward Larson (who won a Pulitzer Prize for his book about the Scopes Trial, Summer of the Gods).
Planet of the Apes?
William Jennings Bryan wanted to defend democracy and the bible’s account of man’s origin against the “evils” he saw in Darwinism.
When Bryan learned that state schools were using taxpayer money to teach evolution (which he believed undermined students’ faith) he encouraged state legislatures to pass laws to preserve majoritarian morals.
Charles Darrow, on the other hand, liked to challenge traditional concepts of morality and religion. And he disliked Christianity in particular.
So what does this have to do with anything?
All of us are either Bryans or Darrows, crusaders for what we believe to be "right," convicted that we are on the side of "truth."
The Scopes Trial is relevant today because it shows the ongoing societal and cultural conflict between religion and science, grappling with issues such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, curriculum, truth claims, faith, secularism, and the role of authority in deciding morality.
Disagreements do not necessarily lead to contention, but they often do.
(And ― thanks to Jerry Springer ― we all know who the father of contention is.)
How Do We Treat Those We Disagree With?
Most disagreements are over petty issues and do not elicit much emotion.
But when we disagree over something like politics, religion, or money (notice: things that deal with power and control) then our voices can get heated.
Here are some options when we fundamentally disagree over something:
1. We can challenge the other person to a duel;
2. We can shun the other person;
3. We can take them to court;
4. We can excommunicate them;
5. We can love them and bless them.
Now, let's see if Christ used any of these options.
1. Did Christ challenge Caiaphas to a duel? Did he go thirty paces and shoot? No.
2. Did Christ shun anyone? Instead, he allowed a prostitute to massage his feet in Simon's home (Luke 7) and conversed with a Samaritan woman at the well.
3. Did Christ use the tribunals of Jewish or Roman law to sue someone? Did he use the Sanhedrin to get his way? No. He said if anyone sues you for your coat, give him your cloak also.
4. Did Christ excommunicate anyone around him? No. He said to all, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28).
5. Did Christ love and bless those that abused him, disagreed with him, accused him, and murdered him?
What if Christ Had Appeared as a Witness at the Scopes Trial?
Having been deprived of human dignity at his own trial ― being spit upon by his accusers, having false witness borne against him, experiencing the injustice of no due process ― what would Christ have said about the proceedings at the Scopes Trial, seeing His children tear each other apart over truth claims?
How would Christ have conducted Himself if he presided over one of the Church's "Courts of Love?"
One of the lesser-spoken-of but core beliefs of Christianity is hospitality.
Paul said saints were to be "given to hospitality" (Romans 12:13).
1. What does it mean to "use hospitality one to another" (1 Pet. 4:9)?
2. Why is "hospitality" listed as a necessary qualification for leaders (1 Tim. 3:2)?
Joseph Smith himself taught, "If ye will not embrace our religion, accept our hospitality." (Ehat and Cook, Words of Joseph Smith, p. 162)
Entertaining Fire Worshippers
"A story tells the visit of three angels to Abraham, who asked him what he charged for meals; the price was only that the visitor "invoke the name of God before beginning and praise it when you finish."
"But one day the patriarch entertained an old man who would pray neither before eating nor after, explaining to Abraham that he was a fire worshiper.
"His indignant host thereupon denied him further hospitality, and the old man went his way.
"But very soon the voice of the Lord came to Abraham, saying: "I have suffered him these hundred years, although he dishonored me; and thou couldst not endure him one night, when he gave thee no trouble?"
"Overwhelmed with remorse, Abraham rushed out after his guest and brought him back in honor: "Go thou and do likewise," ends the story, "and thy charity will be rewarded by the God of Abraham."
A robber broke into a house one night. Suddenly, a voice called out to him from the darkness, "Jesus is watching you.”
The robber froze. After a few moments, the voice returned. “Jesus is watching you.”
Confused, the thief searched the house and found a parrot. He asked the parrot, “Are you the one who’s been talking to me?”
"Yes," said the Parrot, "I'm Peter."
The man scoffed under his breath. “What type of idiot names a parrot Peter?”
The parrot answered, “The same type of idiot that names a Rottweiler Jesus.”
Speaking of parrots . . .
Yesterday I taught Elders Quorum and accidentally called "ministering" by its old name, "home teaching."
I didn't realize my mouth had betrayed me (muscle memory?) until the EQ President used the proper term. (At least I am not old enough to still be calling it "Ward Teaching," right?)
Can youteach an old dog new tricks?
After I apologized and received the quorum's forgiveness for my misspokenness, I began to think about another name I haven't been able to shake―Mormon.
When I was a little kid, I used to listen to a cassette tape called "I'm a Mormon," which had a very catchy soundtrack for "I'm a Mormon, yes I am."
Something was amiss (many of us sensed) when President Nelson told us in 2018 that we shouldn't use the term "Mormon" when referring to the Church or its members.
"When it comes to nicknames of the Church, such as the “LDS Church,” the “Mormon Church,” or the “Church of the Latter-day Saints,” the most important thing in those names is the absence of the Savior’s name. To remove the Lord’s name from the Lord’s Church is a major victory for Satan."
(Russell M. Nelson, "The Correct Name of the Church," October 2018)
"Who Am I? 24601!"
For the past couple of years this "cancelling Mormon" thing has nagged in the back of my mind like a melody I can't place.
As I have pondered it, I have asked myself what a "victory for Satan" really looks like, and whether this qualifies?
Does the Lord really get upset when we call ourselves "Mormon?"
In my attempt to "get understanding," there are a few things that still don't add up for me.
Problem No. 1: "Melchizedek" is used as a nickname for the Priesthood of God itself.
The use of nicknames in this dispensation is well established. As we all know, the "correct" name of the priesthood is "The Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God" (D&C 107:3).
Isn't using the name "Mormon" for the Church analogous to using the name "Melchizedek" for the priesthood? (And Mormon is easier to spell, too!)
But if we apply President Nelson's logic, would it be a "victory for Satan" to remove the Savior's name (or in this case, title) from the priesthood?
I mean, the priesthood is greater than the Church. We can have the priesthood without a church, but we can't have a church without a priesthood.
The priesthood is without beginning of days, whereas the Church is a recent creation. The priesthood endures into eternity, whereas the Church is a product of this earth-time.
So, should we stop saying "Melchizedek" Priesthood, too?
Problem No. 2: Aren't we supposed to refrain from using the name of the Lord too frequently?
So why was the priesthood given a nickname?
Because "out of respect or reverence to the name of the Supreme Being, to avoid the too frequent repetition of his name, they, the church, in ancient days, called the priesthood after Melchizedek" (D&C 107:4).
Hmmm. But if we use the full name of the Church all the time, aren't we actually showing a lack of reverence and disrespect to God? Won't we be violating the principle established by the Lord to "avoid the too frequent repetition of his name?"
(Kind of like how the Jews believe his name is too holy to be spoken, substituting instead HaShem ("The Name") or Shem HaMeforash (“the indescribable Name”).
Problem No. 3: The Lord's Church (i.e., the "Church of the Firstborn") does NOT include his Proper Name.
I guess cancelling "Mormon" seems a little silly, showcased by the fact that the name of the Lord's church, or Church of the Firstborn, does not contain his given name.
Well. So the celestial saints belong to a church that does not bear his name? Yes. "They are they who are the church of the Firstborn" (D&C 76:54).
If The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not exist in the celestial kingdom because its faithful members have all matriculated to the Church of the Firstborn―along with the faithful of previous dispensations into one fold, one church with one Shepherd―then how does this constitute a "major victory for Satan?"
Problem No. 4: The Lord had no problem with calling his Church the "Church of Enoch."
The Lord acknowledges the faithful saints who belong "to the general assembly and church of Enoch" (D&C 76:67) in Enoch's day. So . . . His name isn't there, either.
Does any of this add up?
Problem No. 5: Things can have more than one name, and names can change.
1830: The "correct" name of the Church was originally "the Church of Christ" (see D&C 20:1, which states, "The arise of the Church of Christ in these last days").
1836: Then Sidney Ridgon comes along and loves the term "latter-day saints." So the Church is called "The Church of Latter-day Saints."
1838: Finally, in 1838 Joseph received Section 115 which states, "For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints" (D&C 115:4).
There was no question after that about what the Church was to be called. But the Lord never stated that the name was to be used exclusively.
In fact, the Saints and leaders at that time adopted and used the name "Mormon," too.
Joseph Smith is credited with writing the editorial in the Times and Seasons in 1843 which celebrated the name "Mormon" (see, Times and Seasons, May 15, 1843).
Joseph Smith is famous for saying he'd be as happy dying for a Methodist as he would a "Mormon."
Problem No. 6: Previous Prophets had no issue with the name "Mormon," so this is causing spiritual whiplash.
Does anyone else remember the "I'm A Mormon" campaign under President Monson?
Does anyone else remember the "Meet the Mormons" movie?
How could the Lord be okay with the nickname "Mormon" between 1830 - 2018, but suddenly change His mind (when He is the same yesterday, today and forever)?
President Gordon B. Hinckley said:
"The Mormon church, of course, is a nickname. And nicknames have a way of becoming fixed. I think of the verse concerning a boy and his name:
Father calls me William, Sister calls me Will, Mother calls me Willie, But the fellers call me Bill.
"Anyone who comes to know the man Mormon, through the reading and pondering of his words, anyone who reads this precious trove of history which was assembled and preserved in large measure by him, will come to know that Mormon is not a word of disrepute, but that it represents the greatest good."
(Gordon B. Hinckley, "Mormon Should Mean 'More Good,'" October 1990)
So what is really going on here?
Whoops, I Missed a Spot
In the Church's revised Style Guide quoted by President Nelson in his 2018 talk, it states "the full name of the Church is preferred."
So let's look at two strange examples of how the Church has complied with President Nelson's mandate.
Example 1: The rebranded church web-address does not contain the name of the Church either.
What? We must be kidding.
In response to President Nelson's talk, the Church moved away from www.lds.org to . . . wait for it . . .
Huh? Surely they would not leave out part of the "full name" of the Church, right?
But they did! Our new web address is NOT the name of the Church the Lord gave in 1838.
This is especially bizarre considering that Elder Nelson in 1990 stated about the name of the Church, "Note that the article "The" begins with a capital letter. This is an important part of the title." (Russell M. Nelson, "Thus Shall My Church Be Called, April 1990).
No "of Latter-day Saints," either. (Which is funny because Elder Nelson said, "A saint is a believer in Christ and knows of His perfect love." Id. Oh well, who needs "Latter-day Saints," anyway?)
So . . .
I guess the new internet domain name does highlight Jesus Christ more than lds.org, so that is something.
Example 2: The rebranded name of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir does not point to Christ.
Waaait a minute. If this is about focusing on Christ, then why didn't we include Him in the name of the Choir?
The old "Mormon Tabernacle Choir."
Now we have . . . wait for it . . .
The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square
(1) The name of the Choir was never revealed by revelation, so there's no problem changing it into anything we wanted, right?
(2) The old name did not have "Jesus Christ" in it, and therefore it did not bring attention to Him, which seems to be the whole point.
(3) The new name does not have "Jesus Christ" in it, either, and therefore does not bring attention to Christ.
(4) But the new name does discard that troublesome word "Mormon."
1. From the change of the church's web address, we know that the actual, full, revealed name of the Church is not the issue. That is a red herring.
2. From the change to the Choir's name, we know that focusing on Christ is not the issue. That is a also red herring.
3. It appears this whole exercise is simply to scrub "Mormon" everywhere we find it (except, of course, from his book).
The Trademark to "Mormon"
Before we go any further, let me explain the difference between a trademark, a patent, and a copyright.
1. A Trademark is a word or slogan or logo (like Toyota).
2. A patent protects the invention of machines and processes (like a new way of hardening rubber for tires).
3. A copyright protects an artistic expression (but not an idea). Like the Harry Potter books or the soundtrack to "I'm a Mormon."
In the United States, the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) governs the issuance of trademarks.
The Church no longer holds the copyright to The Book of Mormon because it has entered into the public domain.
In 2003, the law firm Kirton McConkie attempted to trademark the word "Mormon" for the Church, giving it sole rights to use the term in "religious services, namely, operating places of assembly for worship and gatherings; ministerial services."
However, the US Government refused to grant the Church the trademark to "Mormon."
(What would happen if Pepsi lost the trademark to its brand? Or if Coca-Cola couldn't protect its name from copycats and musical theater playwrights?)
Generic and Merely Descriptive
The government said the term "Mormon" was generic and "merely descriptive of the identified services" and therefore ineligible for trademark protection.
The USPTO trademark examiner issued a rejection letter called an "Office Action," but offered this passing compliment: "The term "MORMON" is well recognized in the United States as one of the great religions."
After years of legal wrangling, the Church abandoned its attempt to trademark "Mormon" in 2007 (although it did receive a separate trademark relating to "educational services").
I'm a Mormon?
Personally, I do not believe these legal trademark issues had anything to do with President Nelson's decision to scrub "Mormon" from our lexicon, as evidenced by the fact he has been teaching these things for 30 years.
In April 1990, then-Elder Nelson gave a talk called, "Thus Shall My Church Be Called." His views have remained unchanged since then.
So what has changed? Well, 30 years ago Elder Nelson was unable to persuade his other Brethren over to his point of view (as evidenced by President Hinckley's gentle rebuttal six months later in the October 1990 General Conference).
But now, as President of the Church, he no longer needs their consent to implement policies he believes to be correct.
You all know by now I like painting bullseyes on sacred cows. But I am (1) an amateur, (2) a nobody, and (3) lucky enough to have a wife who tries to keep me in line.
So when I came across something as eloquent as Robert Rees's latest article in Dialogue ("Tikkun K'nessiah: Repairing the Church," Dialogue 53, no. 4, Winter 2020, 109 - 122), I shouted Halleluiah because Brother Rees is far better-spoken than I am, and he says some really important things that I wish could be shouted from the rooftops.
So for those of you who have not read his incredible article, you're in luck. I have excerpted it here.
Bio for Robert Rees
ROBERT A. (“BOB”) REES is Director of Mormon Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. He is the author or editor of numerous studies, including the forthcoming second volume of Why I Stay: The Challenges of Discipleship for Contemporary Latter-day Saints and A New Witness to the World. He is the co-founder and vice president of the Bountiful Children’s Foundation, which addresses children’s malnutrition in the developing world.
Robert Rees, Tikkun k’nessiah
"I have coined the term “Tikkun k’nessiah”—meaning repairing or healing the Church. In this essay, I hope to explore the dimensions of what “Tikkun k’nessiah” may mean to those of us who are members of the restored Church at this critical juncture in its history...."
"When I spoke at the Berkeley Institute of Religion several years ago, I asked the students, “Whose church is this?” They responded, “It’s the Church of Jesus Christ.” I replied, “There are two possessives in the name of the Church: it is the Church of Jesus Christ, certainly, but it is also the Church of the Latter-day Saints. It isn’t the Church of the First Presidency or the Quorum of the Twelve or the General Authorities, it isn’t the Church of conservatives or liberals or of any particular group, but rather the Church of all those who are or can be called saints. Thus, the Church is our joint stewardship. Ultimately, it will be no better or no worse than we ourselves choose to make it, than we ourselves choose to be."
"It is in this sense of joint stewardship that I want to say a few words about repairing and healing the Church. At the outset, I want to make it clear that I don’t consider myself a member of the Ark Steadier’s Society (whose initials are A.S.S.!) or in any way presume to have an elevated or enlightened position or to have any special calling in relation to the Church. Like other Latter-day Saints, I am simply a member, a disciple, a follower of Christ, one of the workers in his vineyard. But as such, I feel I am called to try and help the Church more perfectly to reflect the truths, glories, and beauties of Christ’s gospel, to help set right, first, those things that I need to repair and heal within myself, and then, along with everyone else who feels so called, to do the same in the Church."
"Reading Church history, that brokenness is apparent; but it is also apparent in our own time as the Church has grown into a worldwide faith and faces the challenge of adapting to an increasingly secular society and an increasingly complex and diverse membership. While some might consider it disloyal to speak of the brokenness of the contemporary Church, anyone who has an authentic engagement with the Church knows that invariably it is in some ways less than its promise. Saying so is to state a reality, not voice a criticism."
"Throughout scriptural history, we read of God pleading, persuading, cajoling, at times even bribing his children to take ownership of the Church (however it was defined in different dispensations), to build and magnify it, to expand its borders of thought, imagination, and action. I think it is safe to say that at times we have broken God’s heart over our reluctance to better shape ourselves and therefore the Church to the ideal and standard to which he has called us."
"There is immense pain in the Church today. Addressing that pain depends on our individual acts of courage, of sacrifice, and especially of love. It is in that realm where much of the most important work of repairing is to be done."
"In practical terms, how do we go about repairing the Church? As I said at the outset, it should begin by each of us doing (and maintaining) a thorough inventory of our intentions, motives, and integrity. Next, we should carefully consider how and under what conditions to participate in the work of repairing. Most Latter-day Saints I know would immediately shift their attention to the leaders of the Church, but before focusing on them, we should consider reform and repair in our individual lives and among the membership. Where to begin? For me, the following suggests brokenness among the body of the Saints and represents opportunities and challenges for grassroots repair."
"[T]he question for individual Latter-day Saints, especially the vast majority without any significant power or position, is when, by whom, and by what means it should be done. This is a critical question, if for no other reason than that many would consider it presumptuous for any individual to feel that he or she could help repair the Church when the consensus is that such work is “best left to the brethren.” But, as I have tried to argue, this is the work of all who have covenanted to build and expand Christ’s kingdom. It is also the charge the Lord gives us in the Doctrine and Covenants where, speaking to all members (tenderly calling us his “little flock”), he says, “The kingdom is yours until I come" (D&C 35:27). In other words, he is entrusting the Church to the collective care of the Saints and, I believe, will hold us accountable for whatever condition the Church is in, not only when he comes but each step along the way."
"I’m aware that to want, out of love, to repair the Church, to hope for change is not easy. Nevertheless, if we don’t do this work, who will?"
"To illustrate the concept of repairing the Church, I would like to use the metaphor of repairing or renovating a house. Having owned several houses in my lifetime, all of which needed continuous repair and sometimes major renovation, I know something of what it takes to make a house work for those who live in it. I’m not very skilled as a carpenter, electrician, or plumber, although I have done such repairs on my homes. Mainly I am a handyman, one who is continually solving small problems and calling on more skilled craftspeople for major, more complicated tasks. I have always felt a sense of satisfaction when I have been able to fix a leaky toilet, a broken window, a jammed garbage disposal, or a faulty electrical junction. I also work on the outside when necessary, but I do so with a familiarity and knowledge of what’s on the inside."
"What I have learned is that almost all repairs have to be made from inside the house. Most of the time, one has to climb into the attic or crawl under the sink, raise floorboards or replace light switches. The same is true for the house of my faith: to have any chance of repairing this house, I have to live in it."
"As I said at the outset, I have no authority beyond the authority of my own conscience or power beyond that of my own mind, voice, and spirit; I have no knowledge beyond that of an ordinary person who has lived long enough to have learned a few lessons, including, especially, from his own mistakes and misdeeds; I have no calling beyond that which Christ calls all of his followers to fulfill—to love him and the Father with all our heart, might, mind, and strength, and to love others as we love ourselves. Embedded in those two “great” commandments, I believe, is another commandment that involves both deity and humanity—to love the Church enough to try and change it, even if that means risking the displeasure of the Church."
For those who have wondered where I've been, I can explain.
Last month I contracted Covid-19. I was not one of the lucky ones who was asymptomatic. I ran a 106 degree fever which stretched for nearly two weeks, couldn't eat or move without throwing up, and my oxygen saturation levels dangerously plummeted to the 60s.
So there I was, on my maybe-deathbed, making sure I was ready to leave this world with a clear conscience, and thought, "I can't die yet, I haven't finished my series on common consent!"
So after many prayers, oxygen tubes, and bottles of Gatorade, I am back.
Fully recovered, thank the Lord.
However, just to be safe, I decided I better wrap up this series.
Because . . . we never know how long we have left.
And thank you to everyone who sent me well-wishes, prayers, and pizza. May God bless you.
Now A Word From Our Sponsor
In a quiet moment the Spirit whispered these words to me, which I wrote down:
"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is full of my children who must be called, and then chosen, in order to bring them into fellowship with the Church of the Firstborn . . . . Speak in love, not judgment; speak to save, not condemn; speak in meekness, not anger, and my sheep shall hear my voice and know the Shephard calls."
(1) Does common consent precede or follow our becoming of "one heart?"
(2) What is the correlation between common consent and pure love?
(3) What if membership in the Church is simply a layover as we travel towards our final destination: Jesus's only true and living Church (the Church of the Firstborn)?
(4) Unlike the earthly Church, what if the Church of the Firstborn is composed of those who live the Order of Common Consent?
Politics plague every organization, be it civic, business, or religious.
But Zion is not a political system. It is not a church. It is not a "kingdom."
And Zion is certainly not a democracy.
Wait a minute. Common consent is not a democracy? Aren't we supposed to vote on things and sustain stuff?
The tyranny of a majority can exercise unrighteous dominion as easily as an earthly theocracy.
So what is Zion?
Zion is a marriage.
Zion is a marriage that produces a family.
Zion is a marriage that produces a family of equals.
Zion is a marriage that produces a family of equal sons and daughters of Christ.
Zion is a Marriage?
The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son.
The first miracle Christ performed was at . . . a wedding.
For the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.
If Christ is the Bridegroom, then who is the Bride?
I know this will sound crazy, but consider the Marriage of the Lamb in this context:
And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage].
What does it mean to be sealed . . . to Christ?
How Do Marriages Work?
Structure can be imposed (external), or structure can arise voluntary (internal).
An example of external structure is a Police Officer who sees me driving 100 mph on the freeway. He will impose order (structure) by initiating a traffic stop and giving me a ticket to encourage me to drive the speed limit.
Or I can choose voluntarily to drive the speed limit.
There Are No Police Officers in Heaven
The problem with external controls is that there are no police officers in heaven. (Why would there be law enforcement in a place where "no unclean thing can dwell?")
The problem with using external controls in the Church is that it is antithetical to Zion.
Why? Because the structure of Zion is internal. You know, with the law written in our "inward parts."
Anyone who seeks to impose external controls upon Zion is misguided because they do not understand the fundamental, essential nature (or order) of Zion, which is common consent through love.
External structure is directly inverse to one's maturity.
When we were children, we had lots of rules and boundaries to prevent us from running out into the busy street. But now as adults we learn to govern our own actions.
What are the "Gifts and Callings" of God?
Ordering the Body of Christ is a bit clumsy when we attempt to do so by external means.
In the Church, we task a bishop or Stake President to issue callings or assignments to the membership, and they seek the inspiration of the Spirit in making those decisions.
However, haven't we all noticed that a hierarchy creates a Frankenstein of the Body of Christ? Despite their best efforts, we see mortal leaders attempting to put a "nose" in the place of an "ear"; they try to stick a "foot" where the "eye" should be. (For more on this topic, see Paul's explanation in 1 Corinthians).
To change up Paul's analogy, if we are in an orchestra and have spent our lifetime perfecting our skill with the flute, why would the conductor tell us as the concert begins to switch to the violin section? We will do poorly in a position we are not prepared for or do not have the talent for.
Someone might say, "But Tim, we need to be cross trained. We need to expand outside of our comfort zones and be put in positions that stretch us."
I completely agree with that statement. But that is not what the diversity of operations is about.
I guess the challenge is when a leader tries to force someone (who is a foot) to act like an eye. We have all sorts of trouble when the leader applies external control rather than allowing the foot to grow organically.
Every elder, priest, teacher, or deacon is to be ordained according to the gifts and callings of God unto him; and he is to be ordained by the power of the Holy Ghost.
Common Consent cannot be engineered or master planned, where leaders decide where everything goes.
Common Consent is a garden in which we grow where God plants (or transplants) us.
Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?
What surprises me is how we quench the Spirit by denying the gifts of God held by those around us.
The good news is none of us wants to deny God's power. We don't doubt Him.
Instead, we doubt each other.
Our doubts regarding so-and-so ("Oh, they wouldn't be a very good Relief Society president because...") are surprising because of Christ's infinite and eternal faith in us.
Tight or Loose?
We find that cultures can either be "tight" or "loose."
When a culture feels threatened, they tighten up (example: after 9/11 we created the Department of Homeland Security and were blessed with the TSA).
But the real question is why we have created a "tight" culture in the Church?
Who do we have to fear? Why in the world would we feel threatened by freedom?
Therefore, fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail.
"Make Money and Make Converts"
In the Great Commission, Jesus left his disciples with this charge:
Go ye therefore [and make money], and teach all nations, [tithing] them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
Patrick Mason, a professor at Utah State University where he holds the Leonard J. Arrington Chair of Mormon History and Culture, is the author of the book Restoration: God's Call to the 21st Century World (2020). He said on a podcast I recently listened to that the Church engages with the world in two ways: to make money and to make coverts.
Another thing I learned from Professor Mason was that Joseph Smith never spoke about "a restored church." Joseph Smith always referred to "restoration" in terms of restoring a covenant family (Israel), not a Churchly institution.
In sports, a referee uses a whistle to draw attention to infractions, flags and fouls. Everyone on the field pays attention when the whistle is blown.
So why is it in the Church that we treat whistleblowers as though they were disloyal? Why do we excommunicate those who lovingly want to help us play by God's rules, and keep His laws?
And one more question: To whom do we owe our highest loyalty? To the Church (an imperfect institution) or to the truth?
Why would the Church need to protect itself from the truth?
Shouldn't the counsel we have been given by our leaders in General Conference to "seek after correction" apply to the institution, too?
Elder D. Todd Christofferson:
"I would like to speak of one particular attitude and practice we need to adopt if we are to meet our Heavenly Father’s high expectations. It is this: willingly to accept and even seek correction. Correction is vital."
("As Many as I Love, I Rebuke and Chasten," April 2011 General Conference)
If the Church is supposed to "seek correction," then why does it excommunicate those who give it?
At baptism, we should all be given a whistle as a witness of Christ.
On April 15, 2013 the Boston Bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, planted bombs in a pressure cooker that killed three people and injured 280 others during the Boston Marathon. He was convicted of terrorism.
The moral question: is a person who is converted to Radical Islam justified in harming others to forward the faith?
"Jihadists see violent struggle as necessary to eradicate obstacles to restoring God's rule on Earth and defending the Muslim community, or umma, against infidels and apostates. If the umma is threatened by an aggressor, they hold that jihad is not just a collective obligation (fard kifaya), but an individual duty (fard ayn)."
(BBC News, "What is Jihadism," accessed at https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-30411519)
Is spiritual terrorism justified because we believe our faith is "right" while others' faith is wrong?
Does a jihadist believe a person's profession of faith is more important than their life?
Do we turn people into objects when we judge them based upon whether they assent to a certain set of beliefs or creeds?
Christ taught that saving belief cannot come by violence (i.e., force or external control).
Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath.
In the church, have we also learned to judge a person's worth based on whether their beliefs are "correct?"
For example, when we label someone an apostate or when we excommunicate someone for their beliefs, aren't we saying to the membership: "You can ignore this person. This person is persona non grata because they don't hold the same beliefs as we do."
Is this kind of shunning the spiritual equivalent of jihad?
When we choose orthodoxy over love, do we make people's worth to be less than that of our religious beliefs?
In other words, does religion dehumanize others?
There is a great gulf between religion and the gospel of Christ.
From Christ we learn that the worth of souls is greater than adherence to Creedal Orthodoxy.
This why His gospel is called “pure religion.”
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this,
(1) To visit the fatherless (2) and widows in their affliction, (3) and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
(James 1:27) Why do we make religion into a bundle of truth claims when, in fact, pure religion is about keeping MYSELF (just minding my own business) unspotted from the world, and caring for those in need.
Notice it says nothing about making sure my neighbors profess to my version of the gospel and conform to my set of beliefs.
19 posts? This has been fun and I'd love to hear your thoughts on the topic.
I hope these posts have accomplished at least one thing:
We'll all think twice the next time we're told common consent means a one-sided "you support what we decide."