While women's issues have risen to prominence in the Church recently, I haven't heard anyone frame the conversation around Joseph Smith's vision for the Relief Society and the role of women priests in the institutional Church he restored (which I find surprising since the founding prophet of the faith seems like a pretty good place to start).
I approach this subject with humility, being aware of my limitations: I am not a woman (although I am the son of one, the husband of one, the brother of three, and the father of two). I also do not have final answers. But it seems that in cases such as this, where our knowledge is lacking, it would be wise to approach God and ask.
If any of you lack wisdom, [that's me] let him ask of God, [that's not me] that giveth to all men liberally, [and women, naturally] and upbraideth not; [no harm in asking] and it shall be given him [that's what we desperately need].
So after reading this post, consider praying and asking God if there's something we can do to move the needle on this matter.
I want this post to be conversational; I am here to listen as much as to share; there's much to hear in the still small voice and in the voices of those of you who are reading this.
This is a chance for us to "teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom; teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you" (D&C 88:77-78). Among the topics facing the Church today that require grace and additional revelation, I would place women's issues and gay issues near the top.
I have pondered and prayed about what to teach my daughters about the Priesthood.
I recall a time in college when I was home teaching three sisters in the neighboring dorm. When my companion and I shared a lesson on the priesthood, they didn't know what high priests were.
I naively asked the sisters, "Don't they teach you about the priesthood in Relief Society?"
"No," the sisters said unanimously. "The only things we're taught about the priesthood at Church are (1) to sustain our future husband in his priesthood duties; and (2) ask for priesthood blessings."
While I am not as ambitious or eloquent as Nate, I think I share a similar hope that we can work together as brothers and sisters in seeking greater light and truth on these complicated subjects from our Father in Heaven.
To paraphrase Nate:
"My goal is to show that given the history and current practice of [male leadership] within the Church, the recognition of [equality for women] would be a less theologically radical move than many (including myself) have assumed."
Exploring the Implications of Joseph Smith's Relief Society
I think a productive way to approach this issue is to take a Restorationist framework or viewpoint, which is predicated upon continuing revelation, and the heavens being open, so as to guide us toward a holier pattern, even Zion.
A Restorationist perspective is not concerned about maintaining the status quo as it seeks the Celestial law.
I've written before about Joseph Smith's attempts in Nauvoo to restore a fuller understanding of divine female authority.
After 14 years of cutting his teeth trying to organize the men, Joseph had made enough fumbles and corrections that he appeared ready to tackle his next endeavor: organizing the sisters.
There Joseph was, at the end of his life, pivoting towards the women of the Church, when he was abruptly (prematurely?) interrupted due to his death.
Joseph's vision for the Relief Society bears little resemblance to the organization that carries the name today. We all know that Brigham Young disbanded the Relief Society for several decades and when he finally reconstituted it at Eliza Snow's bidding, it was nothing like the organization Joseph had created. For one thing, it was missing its President: Emma.
Then, what little independence the Relief Society had was snuffed out in the 1970s during the Correlation Movement, which placed it under the control of male leadership.
So what now? Where do we go from here? How do we pick up the torch and piece together the parts of the puzzle Joseph left behind, much as Nehemiah did when he rebuilt from the rubble the wall of Jerusalem?
How do we rediscover what the Restoration originally offered to women in order for them to reclaim it?
Back to the Beginning
Let's begin by trying to reconstruct Joseph's vision for the role of women in God's kingdom; it will give us a launching point. One of the problems we face is an incomplete historical and scriptural record. Luckily for us there are several guiding principles we can follow like breadcrumbs towards "a more excellent way." One of those is in Mormonism's foundational text, the Book of Mormon, which advocates for an inclusive and expansive view for those who follow Christ, stating, "none are denied" who come unto Jesus, both male and female, and "all are alike unto God" (2 Ne. 26:33).
Another interesting breadcrumb was given to Emma Smith, who was told in a revelation to "lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better" (D&C 25:10). At the end of that revelation, the Lord says, "this is my voice unto all" (D&C 25:16).
What are "the things of a better?" It is almost like the Lord is inviting his daughters to rise up and claim a heavenly birthright. It appears the will of God is for us to "lay aside" the things we're doing here on earth and seek a better, higher law.
One example: the Church didn't allow women to speak in a general session of General Conference until . . . wait for it . . . 1984. Whereas, as far back as 1830, the Lord instructed us to have women "exhort the Church" (D&C 25:7). Why did it take 150 years for the Church to follow the Lord's counsel?
From as early as 1829, we see Joseph laying a doctrinal and scriptural framework that was revolutionary (not only for his day but for ours) due to its theological grounding in the equality of the sexes, which culminated years later in his teaching of the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.
A. Eden's Curse Removed in Millennium.
First things first. Let's go all the way back to the beginning. To Eden.
Joseph prophesied that "the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory" (Article of Faith 10) during the Millennium.
What implications are there for women if things returned to the way they were before the Fall?
How much of our understanding about male and female roles is shaped by how things have degenerated after the Fall into a fractured and wicked worldview? Few issues are as opaque as this one, causing us to "see through a glass darkly" thanks to centuries of cultural conditioning.
Now ask yourself: What would the relationship of men and women look like Pre-Fall? What was the pattern of Eden before the curse?
You see, the challenge we have is we've conceived of a heaven that is constituted as a reflection of what we see now here on earth Post-Fall.
Well, forget about how things are now in this wicked world; what we want to know is what they will be like in the eternities.
Because we don't really think heaven is going to resemble a fallen world, do we?
Eve Gets Blamed?
Christianity has developed a lot of baggage around the role of women due to a fundamental mistrust of Eve's role in the Fall.
Church Fathers such as Tertullian and Augustine held Eve responsible for ruining paradise, whereas Latter-day Saints celebrate her for leaving it (that's a big difference!).
This is good in my opinion, because it means members of the LDS Church, who are already comfortable departing from mainstream Christianity's views about Eve, are perfectly-suited and predisposed to embrace what Joseph Smith was trying to do when he gave women divine authority in the institutional Church.
In our unfolding Restoration, what could be more reasonable than restoring women to their proper place as queens and priestesses? Well, so far we haven't been willing to go all the way. We've only been comfortable giving women these titles and roles for the hereafter, but not for the here-and-now.
Much of the confusion, I think, stems from this verse in Genesis:
Unto the woman God said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
So . . . does that mean, before the Fall, Adam did NOT rule over Eve?
So . . . does that mean, in heaven and during the Millennium, men will NOT rule over women?
Remember God never cursed Adam and Eve (which is a common misconception). God only cursed the snake and the land.
God never cursed his daughters! Let that reality sink in deeply. What might we learn from it?
B. Eve's Role in the Holy Priesthood After the Order of the Son of God
I want to suggest that Adam and Eve probably had a very different idea about what the Lord meant by "rule" than we do.
After all, we bring centuries of male-centric cultural bias to religion; whereas Adam and Eve were working from a blank slate. Now in the 21st century we all know what Satan meant when he threatened to rule and reign with blood and horror; but at the time in the garden, Adam and Eve hadn't encountered King Louis XIV or Napoleon yet.
During his translation of the Bible, Joseph Smith gave new insight into the role of women in the Pearl of Great Price, where we read:
And Adam and Eve blessed the name of God, and they made all things known unto their sons and their daughters.
Okay, we know the higher priesthood (Melchizedek) holds the "blessings" of God unto His Church (D&C 107:18); so what does it mean when it says Eve "blessed" the name of God? What was she actually doing?
Here it says Adam and Eve made "all" things known to their sons AND daughters. What exactly were they "making known?"
What if the religion of Adam and Eve treated the sexes equally and was not repressive towards women? What if, instead, some others came along later in Cain's tradition or under Satan's system ― who were "carnal, sensual and devilish" (Moses 5:13) ― and it was their false priesthoods (the priesthood of Pharaoh) that made women inferior in status to men?
In other words, since inequality is the hallmark of the devil, would it surprise anyone if the devil (not God) was responsible for injecting patriarchy-as-we-know-it into the structure of the priesthood?
And Adam and Eve, his wife, ceased not to call upon God.
What does it mean for Eve to "call" upon God? Was this something more than just prayer? Was this something to do with the original holy order of the priesthood that transcended the thing we understand today as the "patriarchal priesthood?"
Finally, was this what Joseph was aiming for? Was this the thing the Lord was pointing to when He said:
Now this same Priesthood, which was in the beginning, shall be in the end of the world also.
C. Zion stands for the equality of men and women as kings and queens.
In aiming for Zion, Joseph rejected out of hand the sectarian notions of original sin. Instead, he taught a gospel of (1) individual accountability (Article of Faith 2) and (2) equality. Read the following verse that is familiar, but this time pretend it were about gender equality:
That you may be equal in the bonds of heavenly things, yea, and earthly things also, for the obtaining of heavenly things.
What would it mean for women and men to share "equally in the bonds of heavenly things on earth?"
The primary justifications for denying divine institutional authority to women (that I am aware of) are based on historical and cultural precedents. But then Joseph Smith showed up on the scene and he tossed into the trash all the historical "precedents" from a Fallen creation.
Joseph ignored thousands of years of apostasy and manmade tradition and pointed us towards a more perfect union, even Zion, in which men and women are co-equals in Christ.
For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.
(1 Cor. 11:12)
Zion, after all, bears the image of God who is a Bridegroom (and you can't have a groom without a bride).
D. Gifts of Revelation and Prophecy Are Equally Available to Men and Women through the Holy Ghost From a theological (and practical) standpoint, perhaps the best evidence women can be prophets and revelators is they share equally in the gifts of the Holy Ghost. Two important gifts are (1) prophecy and (2) revelation.
Today we treat prophets and apostles as priesthood offices that can exist with-or-without the gifts of prophecy or revelation.
Recently Patrick Mason (who was interviewed on Mormon Stories) said that prophets do NOT have to be moral exemplars. He was right, of course, but wouldn't it be nice if they were?
The Holy Ghost is a member of the Godhead and given to all members of the Church. Christ is the head of His Church. Don't these two facts render meaningless the gender of whoever sits in the prophet's seat, when it is God in charge?
In the Pearl of Great Price, Enoch taught the Holy Ghost was the power of God:
Therefore it is given to abide in you; the record of heaven; the Comforter; the peaceable things of immortal glory; the truth of all things; that which quickeneth all things, which maketh alive all things; that which knoweth all things, and hath all power according to wisdom, mercy, truth, justice, and judgment.
I am very interested in your thoughts. As I've written before in Bride of Babylon, I do not believe the answer is ordaining women into the hierarchy we currently have, since the hierarchy itself is an obstacle to Zion.
What would a female priesthood look like? Can we envision something new, unique, and different from what we're used to?
As a concluding thought, when Joseph Smith informed the Relief Society a couple months before his death that "he was going to make of this Society a kingdom of priests as in Enoch's Day" (Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book, March 31, 1842), what did he mean?
I remember someone joking that Joseph tried for years unsuccessfully to obtain the gold plates, but it wasn't until he brought Emma along that he finally got them, and that there was a lesson in it.
Well, I would just like to point out that Enoch successfully established Zion and we haven't, so . . .
I was sealed to my sweetheart in the Salt Lake Temple on a beautiful spring morning a number of years ago. I was 27 at the time (which felt ancient in BYU's culture). But the wait made it all the sweeter.
It had rained earlier in the morning but by the time we exited the temple for our wedding pictures the skies had cleared and the sun shone happily upon our wedding party.
I love the temple. Partly because I love religious rituals; there's something I find attractive in symbolic clothing, brass door knobs and stained glass windows, soft carpets and crystal chandeliers.
Maybe that's why I love attending Catholic Mass with all the symbolism, Latin and pageantry (in a former life I must have been a monk).
But it's also the reason, I think, that it breaks my heart whenever I read Jesus's lament over Jerusalem and over the people he loved. They were blinded by their "religion" in the shadow of the physical temple ― to the point they failed to see the Living Temple of God standing right in front of them!
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.
How ironic they cast stones at the Chief Cornerstone.
It was a rough weekend (but at least my football team won).
I went to Church and spoke too plainly, perhaps, for my audience.
I forget sometimes that the members of my ward family don't have the same context as I do for my comments. I am apt to deliver too many punch lines without warming them up sufficiently first.
And so it was I found myself in Elders Quorum putting my foot in my mouth again, sharing some of my heart-felt feelings.
As we left Church, my wife turned to me and said, "Oh no. What did you do now?"
Nothing, really. I just made a few observations about the Church and Babylon, that's all, and how Christ is enough and why do we bury Him under the law (which we are currently calling "the covenant path")? I think at one point I may have exclaimed something about being uncircumcised (figuratively, of course).
Well, for those of you who read this blog, you would have found it old-hat.
"Are you allowing God to flow as much light through you as he can? You are behind enemy lines. . . . Are you shining the light God has given you, or are you letting them inject their darkness into you?
"Say and do what you imagine Jesus would say and do if he were in your place. . . . You need to speak these things into being, and then he will give you more.
"You see, the problem is not that you are still going to church or that you still have churchy friends. The problem is you are only still allowed to go to church, and still only have church friends, because you haven't said what you know Jesus would say in your place with these people. You have kept your mouth shut, because you were afraid of losing friends or getting kicked out of the synagogue.
"Don't hold back. Share the ideas. Post the quotes. Share what the Holy Ghost tells you to say. Do what the Holy Ghost tells you to do. Do not be ashamed of God, or he will be ashamed of you (Mark 8:38). Do not fear them cutting you off. When light is revealed, there are only two reactions: to move closer to God or further away. You cannot move closer to God without moving further away from those who do not do the same.
"Consider what it means to be 'valiant in the testimony of Christ' and why it is necessary (D&C 76:79). Consider what it means 'to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death' (Mosiah 18:9). You have been given what to say. What will you do about it?"
After Elders Quorum as we were putting up chairs in the Cultural Hall, I remarked to my friend, "I don't know. Maybe I'm just too Christian to fit in at Church?"
It's ironic, I know. But in my experience our meetings place greater emphasis on following the Prophet than on following Christ.
Let's see: on the one hand we have Christ who literally redeemed us from hell, and on the other hand we have the Prophet telling us to:
(1) pray using only "thee and thou" language;
(2) don't say "atonement" alone but refer to it as Christ's atonement;
(3) don't use the term "free will";
(4) don't use the term "unconditional love" because there's no such thing; and
(4) be "passionate" about censoring the nickname "Mormon."
See any difference between them?
So why is our gaze fixed on the Prophet instead of being single to the glory of God? I cannot explain it. I do not understand it.
What's funny is the quote the EQ instructor was sharing that elicited my comments was from Elder Jorg Klebingat, who said:
"Messengers of God who teach 'inconvenient' truths are often dismissed. Even the Savior Himself was called 'a man gluttonous, and a winebibber,' accused of disturbing public sentiment and being divisive."
I like that quote. I like it so much I actually tried putting into practice yesterday, modeling it in front of my quorum, by speaking "inconvenient truths" about ourselves rather than applying it to all the other "sinners" out there.
Well, guess what? They didn't want to hear any inconvenient truths spoken about ourselves or the Church from some Joe-Shmoe in the back row.
Instead, their comments about this quote involved (1) gays; (2) transgendered people; and the (3) "woke agenda."
I am not kidding! Consider the ramifications of what I am saying. In a Christian meeting discussing "valiant discipleship," my quorum's go-to was to bash sexual minorities ― which was perhaps the most un-disciple-ish thing we could do, and thereby proving my point.
Love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples if ye have love one to another [unless the person is gay or transgendered or woke: in which case you are justified in not loving them.]
(John 13:34-35, EQ Ed.)
When did the gospel become all about, and reduced to, enforcing a sexual purity culture?
Yes, chastity is important. But do you know what is an even bigger deal?
(Is it strange how fixated we are on physical purity when we're not nearly as concerned about the spiritual infidelity of mixing the gospel with Mammon? The Church is full of spiritual STD's and yet we're going to stand here and point the finger at Mary Magdalene?)
We can either follow Jesus Christ who told Peter to "put up thy sword" (Matt. 26:52) or we can be the ones to cast the first stone (which we now call "drawing our muskets").
Of Publicans and Pharisees
After I said my spiel, the Elders and High Priests in my quorum offered several opposing viewpoints to mine (which I appreciated actually because it takes guts to speak up in Church with anything other than the usual answers).
Nobody said, "Tim, can you explain why you feel tithing is a lesser law that is being used as a tool of priestcraft and extortion, so we may better understand where you're coming from?"
Instead, they became angry and offended. The brethren rebutted my comments. "Tim, I helped a single sister move yesterday with others from this quorum," one said, "so I know we have the love of Christ and the Church is true."
I can fairly summarize their rebuttals as follows (which also happens to reflect the testimonies in Fast and Testimony Meeting I listened to during the previous hour):
God, we thank thee, that we are not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as [our poor misguided brother Tim].
We fast twice in the week, and we give tithes of all that we possess.
And Jesus said, See ye this temple? There shall not be left one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down. (Matthew 24:2) You said no stone unturned each one thrown an insult I feel it the stone’s weight upon my chest disarray and destruction a sense of predation before the plunge I feel it the rejection of friends serenity crumbling granules of grief deep in my bowels a stone of stumbling the ruin of this House . . . The shattered stone I see was necessary for You to recreate from the rubble a new dwelling for your Glory
I feel it now
large enough for Us.
UPDATE: September 28, 2022
After I posted this, Clark Burt made a comment which I wanted to include here because it was very insightful, and it showed me how immature I still am (in my defense, didn't Jesus tell us to be like little children?).
My friend Mike once had a dream after an experience similar to yours. In his dream he saw people who had oil all over them and they were upset because it was messy and they couldn't wipe it off. He realized that the oil was light and truth for the virgins' lamps, but his Quorum members were not ready to receive so much light and truth. Sometimes we give them too much and it shouldn't surprise us if it gets messy. I have found also that sometimes it is better received (by one or two) if it is said by Nephi, Alma, Paul or Christ. Even Nephi was told to stop because he was saying too much. So what did he do? He let Isaiah say it. So I would not completely agree with Rob Smith. The word of God used as the Spirit dictates is much more effective in that it quiets the crowd so to speak and bears witness at the same time. And while not received by all because of ignorance, there will usually be one or two who hear it. Once from a comment by one of the quorum, I knew he heard and sent him a text with a few more scripture references. His response was all I needed.
I can feel your frustration, anger and disappointment, but with the exception of a few who do hear, will always be there. I do not agree with Smith that you be kicked out of the synagogue. Use the word of God as the sword it is. Let it judge them.
Your post moved me as you can tell from my comments and made me angry and sad that your quorum does not know what a gift God has given them. But it is no surprise either.
Clark, what a wonderful point you make about letting the Lord speak; it reminded me of Mormon, who said, "And I did endeavor to preach unto this people, but my mouth was shut, and I was forbidden that I should preach unto them . . . . But I did remain among them, but I was forbidden to preach unto them" (Mormon 1:17).
I see the wisdom in your words; the best way is to let the Lord speak through his scriptures and allow the Holy Ghost to fill in the blanks for the listeners.
This blog is therapeutic for me because it helps me to draw out my agitation and negativity on paper so I can process it and dismiss it. I'm much healthier now than I was when I used to keep it bottled in! You're a good example of achieving the "zen" I seek.
I will do better. Next time I will pause and try to think of a scripture that might convey the idea before getting carried away. Thank you! Tim
When the Lord needed to restore some truths to earth in 1820, why didn't He go to the venerable seminaries or hallowed halls of Christendom?
Why did the Lord go to a know-nothing 14-year old farm boy in rural upstate New York who had no credentials, training or authority?
Okay, ask yourself, If the Lord needed to restore some truths today in 2022 and followed the same pattern, where would He go?
Would he appear to the Twelve Apostles; maybe schedule a meeting in the Salt Lake Temple to set things in order?
I suspect the Lord would go to an unknown 14-year old farm girl on a Navajo Reservation without any credentials, training or authority.
Too Many "-archies" in Hierarchies
Yes, I said "girl." And why not?
Today everyone seems to be debating between patriarchy and matriarchy; and over all kinds of -archies ― but it's all malarky.
All we're doing is moving pieces around to see who gets to sit on top. The problem? There's still a "top."
It's like arguing over whether to bury or cremate the body: what difference does it make? No matter who wins, it won't change the fact the corpse is still dead.
The problem is hierarchy itself.
The distinguishing characteristic of the Nephite Zion was that they "were all made free" (4 Nephi 1:3). And what was the cause of their "freedom?"
1. They were equal (4 Nephi 1:3); and
2. They were all "partakers of the heavenly gift" (4 Nephi 1:3).
If we look at it in reverse, then bondage or captivity would be defined by:
1. Being unequal; and
2. Not letting everyone partake of the heavenly gift.
In the early days of the Restoration, the Lord promised to make us free, too:
Wherefore, hear my voice and follow me, and you shall be a free people, and ye shall have no laws but my laws when I come, for I am your lawgiver, and what can stay my hand?
Notice that freedom comes from following the voice of God; not from marching behind the rank-and-file leadership of the Church.
When the leaders seek to become our "lawgivers," creating all kinds of rules and policies for the members, then we are in spiritual captivity.
What About Women?
Are women "equal" in the Church? Do we permit them to partake of the heavenly gift?
In order to improve the status and role of women in the Church, we're going to have to do a lot more than allow them to be witnesses at baptisms.
On the other hand, it's a big mistake to frame this as a "give-women-the-priesthood" issue.
Let me explain . . . .
Women and the Priesthood
Those who advocate for women to sit in the presiding councils of the Church are missing the bigger picture: the Church hierarchy is organized in the image of Babylon the Great.
Giving women the priesthood is not going to fix the underlying problem (and might even magnify it by increasing pride, status and inequality in the Church).
The Bride of Babylon
We know Zion is depicted as a Bride in scripture. Her eternal mate is the Risen Christ.
And so, of course, Babylon styles herself that way, too. Minus the husband (she wants none).
Babylon is the False Bride, which the scriptures impolitely call "the whore of all the earth" (1 Nephi 14:10-12).
The False Bride is the archetype of all false religion. She appropriates the customs, dress and language of the Bride Zion, so it can be hard to tell them apart.
But it helps to remember Babylon is beautiful! She builds the most elegant temples for her children. She's impeccably dressed.
I mean, it's time we stop thinking of Babylon as a drunk john lying in a pool of vomit in some back alley in Amsterdam strewn with dirty needles and STDs.
Because Babylon-the-Bride appears clean and holy (at least on the outside).
What Does "Abomination" Look Like?
When we picture "abomination," do we imagine vices that are puss-filled, pox-marked, poor-smelling, putrid-looking, and poisonous?
Babylon doesn't want to sour our stomachs; to the contrary, she wishes to whet our appetites!
This the devil knows. All the worst sins, the devil knows, are gilt with gold. They shimmer like silver. They repose on scarlet cushions in the image of respectability and religiosity.
The best way to deceive the "very elect" (if possible) is to make them feel at home: in comfortable chapels that serve as prisons ― in religions that draw us away from the pure gospel of Christ ― manifesting a form of godliness without the power thereof.
And that is the snare of hierarchies.
Hierarchies make us comfortable in our inequality; we suppose they resemble heaven when in fact they mirror hell.
Rescuing the Restoration
If women wish to rescue the Restoration, it will not be through repeating the errors and excesses of the Brethren and replicating their priesthood structure.
Our young women, mothers, single sisters, old and young, black and white, gay and straight, are at the heart-and-center of the Lord's ongoing Restoration ― not by climbing a ladder, but by destroying it!
I have faith in the women of the Church because who else is better suited to teach us the nature of the Bride, Zion?
Because Zion is a marriage that produces family, not leaders.
I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:
But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
(Galatians 1:6, 8)
Well, just how many gospels are there?
It appears Paul is implying there is only one true gospel, which he describes as the gospel of "the grace of Christ."
Any other ain't gonna cut it.
In the New Testament there are four canonized Gospels chronicling Jesus's mortal ministry: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (Joseph Smith changed the titles of "Gospels" to "Testimonies" in the JST, but I'll continue to call them Gospels here).
And there are lots of other Gospels, of course ― such as the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Mary and Gospel of Peter ― which are considered pseudepigrapha (writings attributed to historical figures who were not the actual authors).
But the question is whether The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches the "gospel of Christ's grace" as Paul instructed?
And if not, whose gospel are preaching?
Which gospel do we teach in the Church?
Perhaps the best evidence of the gospel we believe in is not the one we preach, but the one we practice.
If we sit down and think about this for a minute, we'll discover the truth. It's a little secret which we don't talk about: it's okay to ignore those Four Gospels; in fact, we can disregard the entire New Testament.
You think I'm kidding?
We have created a sort of "Super-Gospel" for members of the Church, which has become the Fifth (and greatest) of all the Gospels.
But is it the same gospel as Paul taught?
Let's see: is this illusive Fifth Gospel, you ask, some kabbalistic treasure trove of Jesus's lost sayings? Is it the Sealed Portion of the Book of Mormon? Will we find the vision of the Brother of Jared in its pages?
The Fifth Gospel is the Church Handbook of Instruction.
The Gospel of the Prophet
The Gospel of the Prophet goes back to Wilford Woodruff who taught that he could never lead the Church astray, thereby leading the Church astray.
There's a popular story that President Woodruff shared in 1897 (more than 50 years after the incident, but who's counting?)
"Brother Brigham took the stand and he took the Bible and laid it down; he took the Book of Mormon, and laid it down; and he took the Book of Doctrine and Covenants,and laid it down before him. And he said: 'There is the written word of God to us concerning the work of God from the beginning of the world, almost, to our day. And now,' said he, 'when compared with the living oracles [living prophets] those books are nothing to me; those books do not convey the word of God direct to us now, as do the words of a Prophet or a man bearing the Holy Priesthood in our day and generation. I would rather have the living oracles than all the writing in the books.'" (Wilford Woodruff, Conference Report, Oct. 1897, 22–23).
Isn't it odd, this statement, saying that for us to have "the word of God direct to us now" it has to come from a prophet?
And here I thought that was what the Holy Ghost was for:
I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.
[Notice - It is God through the Holy Ghost (not through the prophet) who shows us all things we should do]
Behold, this is the doctrine of Christ.
(2 Nephi 32:5-6)
Nephi would have had a field day with the way we have corrupted the priesthood; Nephi would look at the elaborate Chess Board we have turned the priesthood into, with its pawns and bishops and kings, and he'd knock the whole thing over.
"What were you thinking?" he'd say.
So what is the priesthood actually for, then?
And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.
Where can we find this kind of priesthood?!
The Fifth Gospel is the Gospel of the Living Prophet (just take the name of the current President of the Church and stick it after "Gospel"). In the Gospel of Nelson, for example, it is written:
Thou shalt not take the name of Mormon in vain.
So we've made the word "Mormon" anathema? Is that what the gospel is about? Is this the "gospel of grace" Paul taught?
President Nelson said, "Being passionate about using the correct name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a vital way that we as a people take His name upon us." (Russell M. Nelson, "The Everlasting Covenant,"Liahona, Oct. 2022)
Something's not adding up. Here's what I find so interesting about the Gospel of the Living Prophet: the "living" part.
As a living Gospel, it changes and twists and turns depending on who is at the head. Never a dull moment!
No more stodgy old Gospels whose manuscripts were copied by monks on crumbling parchment; now we have the clarity of presentism to guide us.
Instead of an eternal and everlasting gospel of love we get one that is "till death do us part" (you know, until the prophet dies and is replaced; we treat the seniority of the Twelve as mechanically as a PEZ dispenser).
The other day I was reading a Facebook comment by a member of the Church who rudely rebuked another person for calling us "Mormons," comparing it to a disparaging racial slur (you know the one).
As I read the thread of comments, it struck me (as if I needed any further evidence this policy was not of God) how faithful members of the Church are now offended at others' use of the nickname "Mormon" (which never bothered them before President Nelson's talk).
Do we think our moral outrage pleases God when we chastise his children for calling us "Mormons?"
Why is it some members seem strangely delighted to catch others committing this infraction in order to correct them? Is it to virtue signal their loyalty to the prophet?
Why are these pious individuals hell-bent on making others "an offender for a word" (Isaiah 29:21)? They are like body builders in skimpy speedos at a competition flexing their biceps as if their oiled, bronzed muscles will impress us, signaling their allegiance to the prophet.
But why don't they flex their muscles in support of the gospel of love and grace? I rarely see members indignant over the way the poor and marginalized are treated in our wards.
I worry, though, because these loyal soldiers of the prophet appear to be doping on the steriods of obedience to a Gospel that is not Christ's.
Victory for Satan? Yes, indeed, but not in the way they think.
One Gospel to Rule Them All
In the exalted presence of the Fifth Gospel, all others wilt away into obscurity.
We can scientifically show that the Fifth Gospel is supreme in the Church because whenever the Four Gospels conflict with it, the Fifth Gospel prevails.
But don't worry! Just because the Fifth Gospel has never been canonized and has never been accepted by the membership of the Church; and just because it has no authorial attribution and is anonymously written; and even though it institutionalizes priestcraft and is posted online in all of its electronic majesty so it can be altered, changed, amended and rewritten without notice with just a click of a button, faster than a digital, Orwellian blink; and just because its contents are as impermanent as the morning dew, changing according to the whims of the current regime . . . .
. . . just trust in the Fifth Gospel! New Motto: "In [the Handbook] we trust."
In 2016 Camelot came to an end when Clark was abruptly released and our Sunday School presidency dissolved.
Clark's release was honorable; the leadership called him to serve as a High Councilor in a BYU Student Stake where he continued spreading the pleasing word of God to younger hearts and minds. I'm sure the students didn't appreciate what a gift they had been given!
As a parting gift Clark gave me a copy of the book The Blessings of Abraham: Becoming a Zion People.
Becoming a Zion people? Wouldn't that be nice! But remember: during this time in my life I was "waking up" to the fact that all was NOT well in Zion.
What was Clark trying to tell me?
This was a turbulent time for my faith. I was deconstructing my beliefs and struggling and yearning and wrestling with God.
This had been going on for a long time; my faith journey had stretched across several years by this point, seeking answers and wanting to know God's will for me. And for my young family.
And for the Church!
Which Church is True?
Back in 2016 we still had 3 hour Church (remember that?).
But on the clear spring morning of Sunday, April 17, 2016, I felt the need to be alone. So after Sacrament Meeting I begged off Church, making some lame excuse to my wife, and headed home early, skipping Sunday School and Priesthood.
With my kids in Primary at the Church I was able to have the house to myself (which was as close to a Sacred Grove as I could get).
I knelt down and leaned on the greenish/gray couch we used to have in our family room with fabric like corduroy that was worn where we sat on it.
The house was unnaturally quiet.
I poured out my heart unto the Lord and I received two answers ― though not exactly ones I looked for.
The first answer I received was a gentle rebuke. The still small voice said, "You have not relied upon my word enough."
"Enough" (that doesn't sound very God-ish, I know, but it is hard to quote the Lord). I recalled the words the Lord spoke to Oliver Cowdery as if they were given to me personally:
I give unto you a commandment, that you rely upon the things which are written;
For in them are all things written concerning the foundation of my church, my gospel, and my rock.
So I knew I needed to redouble my scripture study because apparently the answers to my questions about the Church would be found there.
The second answer was not so black-and-white.
The Lord said to me, "There is much good, and there is also much error, in the Church. Men do not always follow my will."
What was that supposed to mean?
Well, I understood (not from the words but from the Spirit) that "men do not always follow my will" referred to both the leaders and the members in the Church.
Maybe I wasn't crazy! It was comforting, really, knowing leaders can in fact lead us into error. It explained a lot.
The result of this experience had a big impact on my walk with God. I was no longer agitated in my Spirit.
I was comforted knowing the Lord was aware of what was happening in the Church and that He had things well in hand; and that the Lord was in fact working in and through all churches and faiths and peoples; that "good" and "error" were universal, really, so I should stop thinking in black-and-white of "is the Church true or not?" because it's both and neither; and there are paradoxes of faith I have not yet comprehended; and the Lord is drawing beauty from ashes all over the place as His watchful gaze encompasses all of His children across the world; and this was all long-ago prophesied in scripture.
That's a lot, I know (the Lord can really pack a lot of information into a few words!). But things were proceeding apace. Gives a guy peace to know that.
And now for the part about how Clark played into all of this.
Timing Is Everything
I have learned that the answers we seek are generally in plain view, and have been all along, but we were not prepared to see them.
It must be part of the Lord's sense of humor to leave these things hidden in plain sight. The secret is not discovering something hidden, but to discover a new way of seeing what's right in front of us.
Everything I was "discovering" were things that Clark already knew. He had learned them long before me. After all, they are right there in the scriptures!
This is why I titled this Series, "In the Mouths of Two or Three Witnesses," because the Lord led Clark and me to the same place through our study of His words: Trust the Lord. Place our faith in Christ alone. Love as He does.
Not so complicated, is it?
In his own way, Clark had been telling me these things all along, but I wasn't "hearing" them. My ears weren't tuned to the language he spoke and so I wasn't able to interpret what he was saying.
The language, of course, is the word of God we find in the scriptures and which comes alive in His Spirit.
It's like being colorblind and seeing rainbows in only black-and-white, and then one day you see one in its full-color splendor!
With my ears unstopped, I understood at last what Clark meant when he said:
"Just as the Lord's people Israel suffered the Lord's covenant curses when they were taken by the Assyrians and were captured and taken to Babylon, we too, as the Lord's latter-day people, will suffer the Lord's covenant curses. And it will be for the same reasons. It is always the failure of the Lord's people to repent that is the catalyst for these judgments, and we cannot say that the scriptures have not adequately warned us."
If that statement made any sense to you, then you, too, see what it took me decades to decipher with my spiritual dyslexia.
Clark's Prophetic Warning
"In Nephi's endtime scenario the Mormon Gentiles' final fate hangs in the balance depending on whether or not they harden their hearts against His words by setting their hearts upon the things of the world and putting their trust in men.
"Mormon Gentiles carrying on as if a lesser law constituted the whole law has led to their 'ever learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth' (2 Timothy 3:7). It is the word of God we do not heed that will condemn us (2 Nephi 33:14).
"This raises a specter of something Mormons may never have imagined of themselves, only of others, that this time around we are the ones whom God warns and calls to repentance lest we perish from the earth.
"In Jacob 5 we read that when 'the end soon cometh' the Lord of the vineyard directs his servant to call other servants to assist him in grafting branches from the three daughter trees (the house of Israel comprised of the Jews, the 10 Tribes, and Lehi's descendants) back into their own olive tree.
"What triggers that event, however, is that the mother tree has brought forth much fruit but 'none of it is good' because of the wild branches 'overrunning the roots' and 'taking strength unto themselves' (Jacob 5:29–69).
"That being so, why is no one today inquiring into the tree’s 'much evil fruit' (Jacob 5:37)?
"The great and marvelous work began with the bringing forth of the Book of Mormon. There are an additional fourteen events associated with the Lord's great and marvelous work that have not yet happened and are indeed endtime events which will take place in domino fashion before the Lord's second coming.
(1) God's "setting his hand the second time" to restore the house of Israel.
(2) God's "baring his arm" in the eyes of all nations.
(3) God's servant fulfilling a mission to the nations.
(4) The Gentiles, including so-called believers, reject the fulness of the gospel after having received it.
(5) God's performing his "great and marvelous work" among the nations.
(6) Gentiles, including so-called believers "fighting against Zion."
(7) The spiritual kings and queens of the Gentiles shall nurture the house of Israel.
(8) The house of Israel (Jews, 10 Tribes & Lehi's Descendants) will receive the fulness of the gospel.
(9) God's righteous people will be endowed with power.
(10) The House of Israel returns from the four directions of the earth.
(11) The destruction of the wicked.
(12) The deliverance of the righteous.
(13) The house of Israel receives lands of inheritance.
(14) The Father fulfills His covenants with the house of Israel.
You will discover, as I have, a teacher come from God. _____________
I just need to say, after reading that list, if any of us are feeling exhausted, drink some caffeine because the Lord has a lot (!) of exciting things in store for us. There are adventures coming our way we never dreamed of. Buckle up!
It's Us, Not Them
Now Clark has moved out of state to Arizona but we stay in touch. One of the things I love is how he continues to teach me.
For example, anyone who has read my poetry and this blog know I give the leaders a hard time.
But Clark has been helping me to understand it's not the leaders' fault.
He's shown me that our leaders are merely a reflection of ourselves; the Lord gives us exactly the leaders we deserve.
In other words, we prop up prophets who teach the commandments of men because that's what we as a people truly want. Our leaders are a manifestation of our hearts.
Clark taught me:
"I don't see this particularly as a 'top down problem,' but as a result of the members' apostasy. It becomes 'top down' because we like it that way and abdicate our responsibility to the leadership.
"We get the type of prophets we want and therefore we have the prophets you describe. We become disciples of Moses, or whoever the current prophet is, because that's who we want. If we wanted Samuel the Lamanite or King Benjamin we would have them.
"The irony is that we do have them and still prefer the church prophets. They (the members) choose this because it is easier than searching the scriptures to know for themselves. Just like the children of Israel not wanting to see God (send Moses instead), we choose the hierarchical system over the word of God.
"Everything you warn us about in your blog existed with Israel’s ecclesiastical leaders anciently and is the same, as prophesied, today. It was a sad time for me during the early 90s [seeing the unrighteous dominion of leadership] but I remembered what Jeremiah said, 'My people love to have it so.'"
So now I have tempered my views and have begun to exercise more charity towards our leaders.
I can see how we've put them in a tough position.
So today I ask you to pray for the Brethren. They really do need our prayers and love.
Charity is the greatest of all. Some time ago Clark shared with me a poem he wrote that teaches an important principle about love.
The excerpt I quote below reminded me of the sacrifice Eve made by partaking the fruit (as a type and shadow of the sacrifice we all made by coming to earth) and being cut off from God as a condition of the Fall so that we might be added upon; but what I had not considered before was how Eve is a type of Christ himself. Think of Him as you read these words:
If everything is everything who would risk it all? Only those who love know love is risking all.
As a tribute to Clark, I would like to continue the poem by adding my own stanzas and testimony to his (this is something I've not done before, but they say the sincerest form of flattery is imitation).
"The important thing to remember is that requiring obedience to a tradition is bad. Word of Wisdom. Tradition. Tithing? Tradition. White Shirts? Tradition. Deacons passing the Sacrament? Tradition. Baptism? Not tradition."
I don't think people liked me calling tithing a tradition because we've been taught it is a law of God which we must keep. I think this post will be eye opening for those that hold this view.
The context for my remark was a broader discussion about the way our traditions can easily devour the word of God as a tiger swallowing a wildebeest.
"In modern terms, we see the same thing with the Word of Wisdom. The revelation came as wise counsel, and was specifically NOT "by way of constraint." Then the Church began creating traditions and interpretations around it. The tradition, over time, became more important than the actual words God had given. Now the Church enforces the tradition (through a Temple Recommend Interview) instead of the revelation itself ― which was supposed to be elective all along. You see what a mess it has become."
A mess? Can the same be said about tithing? How has tithing become a "tradition?"
Don't Pick at Scabs
As a young man I played football for my school.
My position on the scrimmage line was left guard (I was too big to be a running back and too clumsy to throw the ball; but toss my body in front of others to block? No problem.)
One hot afternoon on the practice field I was injured during a skirmish. A defensive player's shoulder pads got locked with mine like the horns of two mountain goats fighting over territory.
In the process, something sharp and jagged shredded my lower shoulder and upper arm, leaving a long bloody gash.
The thing I remember about my injury was how my dad encouraged me afterward to apply Vitamin E to the wound to reduce scarring (I still have a scar, but it's hardly an impressive Football Injury to brag about).
Vitamin E came in little capsules and for several weeks I used my mother's sewing needles to pierce the capsules and push the sticky liquid onto my red, puckered skin.
The second thing I remember was my dad telling me to stop picking at the scab and allow the wound to "be."
Tithing is something of a scab. It itches my spirit; it's a pustule that weeps pus in my heart; a thorn in the side of the gospel used to purchase entry into the temple.
Believe me, I take no delight in writing about tithing. Some people get fired up about women's issues; or gay issues; or race issues; and all of those are important to me, too, because I have covenanted to mourn with those that mourn. But it stings like cold iron when I see tithing being used as a tool of priestcraft ― it affects every one of us.
So this morning on the train I felt like maybe it wouldn't hurt to pick at this scab just a little more.
Why Are Religious Traditions Bad?
When I talk about traditions, I am not talking about giving pj's on Christmas Eve or cooking a goose for Thanksgiving.
We all have many wonderful, harmless, endearing traditions.
But religious traditions are different: they become a hedge we build around the law; and as a hedge blocking our path, even so traditions impede our coming unto Christ by getting us to stop short, viewing the Tree from behind the hedge where we are unable to pluck the fruit thereof.
They arise when we take any commandment, principle or doctrine and begin telling others how they're supposed to faithfully obey it (like how many knots we can tie on the Sabbath before it becomes "work").
Let's take a harmless example: church worship music. We want the songs to be sacred and so the Brethren do not allow electric guitars to accompany us in Sacrament Meeting.
But I don't know if you have noticed how often the scriptures talk about rejoicing and shouting and clapping for joy. Hardly the reverent strumming of a harp's strings, to be sure.
And so we concoct a "proper" version of reverence, playing hymns like funeral dirges, and think God is pleased?
What makes the sound vibrations produced by an organ so much more spiritual than a bass guitar?
But here's where it gets tricky: once a tradition is born, we will begin developing new commandments, principles and doctrines based on the tradition!
This is why requiring obedience to traditions is so dangerous ― because traditions multiply and replenish like locusts that consume God's word, leaving us famished.
I don't want to gloss over this point. When we extrapolate doctrine from our traditions, we've really put the cart before the horse.
President Packer was famous for doing this, like in his Unwritten Order of Things talk, which was an apologetic for our traditions.
I don't know about you, but that talk sent shudders down my spiritual spine. When we give authority to our traditions, we are saying, "Whether the tradition is correct or not, and whether we've consulted God or not, and whether there's a better way or not ― the important thing is we're doing things as we've always done them, which means they must be right, right?"
Zechariah warned us not to become too attached to our traditions, which have a way of making us intractable and hard-of-hearing to the whisperings of the Spirit. The prophet Zechariah said:
Oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor . . . . But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear.
Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law.
I love the imagery in this passage that describes us "pulling away the shoulder" and "stopping their ears that they should not hear" ― like my toddlers when they ran across the kitchen floor with no clothes while I tried to herd them towards bed, telling them to put on pajamas and brush their teeth, and they covered their ears with their hands, crying, "I can't hear you, I can't hear you!"
Didn't President Packer understand that the Catholics had already cornered the market on tradition? Quite literally: in response to the Protestant Reformation the best theologians in the Catholic Church met during the Counter Reformation, and in the Council of Trent (1545-1563) they developed two sources of authority: (1) Scripture (herein they agreed with the Protestants) AND (2) the tradition of the Church.
How dare we accuse the Catholic church of apostasy for governing through councils and tradition when today WE'RE DOING THE EXACT SAME!
To continue with our example of worship music, I remember reading then-Elder Packer saying: "We would be ill-advised to describe [sacred gospel themes] in the company of rock music, even soft rock music. . . . I do not know how that can be done and result in increased spirituality. I think it cannot be done." (Boyd K. Packer, "The Arts and the Spirit of the Lord, 1976).
Here we see Elder Packer leaning into his tradition and his upbringing, drawing conclusions about rock music and "modern beats" based on the Church's musical culture that he was familiar and comfortable with.
But ask your Evangelical friends how many of them can testify that they have been spiritually edified listening to modern Christian soft rock music?
Traditions are rooted to our cultural bias and experiences. But the Lord's gospel transcends such inconsequential things as time and culture.
My Tithing Declaration
Considering the gymnastics the Church has put tithing through, here is my Declaration:
I DECLARE that we do not keep the law of tithing as it has ever been revealed by God to man.
(1) Tithing Was For the Poor.
Melchizedek (the person, not the priesthood) received tithes from Abram for a particular purpose. Guess what the divine purpose of tithing was in the City of Peace, or Zion?
And this Melchizedek was called the king of heaven by his people. And he lifted up his voice, and he blessed Abram, being the high priest and keeper of the storehouse of God;
Him whom God had appointed to receive tithes FOR THE POOR.
(Genesis 14:36-38, JST)
Do we pay tithing "for the poor?" No, we collect tithing from the poor.
What an upside-down world we live in. We tell the poor folk in Africa to pay tithing, and why? So they can receive the blessings that come from paying tithing? That's a poor excuse, I think, for grinding the faces of the poor.
What do we need their money for? Is it to build chapels and temples and pay for sexual abuse settlements (to the tune of $250 million) and the salaries of Kirton and McConkie lawyers and to fund the BYU universities and vacation homes for the apostles and a fleet of vehicles and gardeners and security guards and computer programmers and the budget of the Church Office Building and . . . . boy it's expensive to have a respectable church these days!
(2)Tithing Was Paid in Kind.
Remember when, under the Law of Moses, tithing (the heave offering) was paid in foodstuffs? It was like a potluck supper that everybody rejoiced over together? We shared a meal and broke bread as brothers.
What I like about tithing under the Law of Moses was the way it was intended to bring the priests and the laypeople together in unity and shared fellowship.
(3) Leaders Were Not Exempt from Paying Tithing.
The priests under the Law of Moses were not exempt from tithing. But in the Church we don't tithe tithing, do we? We exempt mission presidents and who-knows-who-else (like the General Authorities) from paying tithing on their "necessary living expenses" (despite the fact that Church employees and university staff and faculty must pay tithing on their earnings in order to retain their employment).
Read carefully the following passages from the Mission Presidents Handbook:
Okay, well-to-do mission presidents get a pass on tithing while we require poor saints to pay?
"Wait, Tim!" someone objects. "It says right there that if mission presidents have outside income they should pay normal tithing in their home wards."
True. So we need to figure out what is "reimbursed" by the Church, which is NOT tithed. Well, lucky for us, the Handbook tells us (no, not the public one; I'm talking about the secret Handbook for leaders).
Leaders are reimbursed for "necessary living expenses" which include:
- food - clothing - household supplies - family activities - dry cleaning - phones - modest gifts - medical expenses - dental care and eye doctors - support for full-time missionary dependents - travel expenses - school expenses - extracurricular activities - babysitters - undergraduate tuition for dependents - utilities - rent - life insurance - health insurance premiums - a gardener - (yes, this is for real) a part-time housekeeper and cook.
You think I am making this up? No, these are all listed in the Church's own Handbook.
Repeat: these are what the leaders consider to be NECESSARY living expenses (which are Tithing-Exempt).
In other words, the Handbook appears to justify us in covering all of our "necessary living expenses" before paying a dime of tithing. Good to know!
(4) Tithing Becomes Extortion When Exacted from Widows and the Poor The architect of tithing in modern times was Lorenzo Snow. But President Snow was not a cad, recognizing that tithing should NOT be required of those living paycheck-to-paycheck.
In a bit of subterfuge, the Correlation Department quoted President Snow in the Teachings of Lorenzo Snow study manual on tithing . . . but did they quote him accurately?
Ummm. Here's what we got from the Manual:
Now, contrast that quote with the original Conference Report from October 1899:
Ah, those magical ellipses. Ellipsesgate, I call it. Those three little dots tell us everything we need to understand about the avarice of tithing in the current regime.
As we learn from The Book of Proverbs:
Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker.
(Proverbs 14:31, NIV)
(5) Joseph F. Smith 1907 Statement on Tithing.
Joseph F. Smith, the President of the Church, promised the members in General Conference in April 1907 that the day would come when we would stop paying tithing to the church.
When will we see the fulfillment of this prophecy?
"Furthermore, I want to say to you, we may not be able to reach it right away, but we expect to see the day when we will not have to ask you for one dollar of donation for any purpose, except that which you volunteer to give of your own accord, because we will have tithes sufficient in the storehouse of the Lord to pay everything that is needful for the advancement of the kingdom of God. I want to live to see that day."
Today the The Church has at least $124 billion dollars invested in stocks and bonds, which generates enough income for the Church from interest (about $7 billion dollars) to cover all of the Church's budgetary needs annually. And it also has all of the land holdings and other business enterprises.
(6) The Church Lost Any Divine Prerogative to Collect Tithing When it Abandoned the Law of Common Consent and Refused Financial Transparency and Accountability.
I didn't know we could pick-and-choose which of God's laws we keep.
Isn't it revealing that of all the commandments, tithing is the one we have an annual check-up with the bishop about? They really do want us to be paid up!
Nevermind that tithing didn't even make the Top Ten List of Moses' Ten Commandments; nevermind that Jesus never instructed his disciples to pay tithing, but told them to liberally care for the poor anonymously, promising that our Father who seeth in secret shall reward us openly.
But fair-is-fair. It seems like it would be fair to say the Church lost any right to collect tithing when it forsook the law of common consent (see D&C 26:2) and chose to keep its counsels and doings hidden from the membership.
(7) Can't use D&C 119 to justify current practice.
Those who wish to defend tithing use D&C 119 as their silver bullet, quoting the verse that says tithing is to be "a standing law" forever.
Well, I have bad news. The practice of tithing has changed so much over time that it bears little resemblance to what Joseph Smith restored. If they think they are keeping the law of tithing as it was given to Joseph Smith, then they haven't paid attention to what the revelation actually says.
Just because we have appropriated the term "tithing" and slapped the label on what is more accurately called protection money, that doesn't make our financial contributions "tithing" anymore than calling coffee "warmed Coca Cola" makes it soda.
We can call tithing whatever we want; just don't call it a law of God when we are doing something different than what God said.
So any claim to authority ― in this case D&C 119 ― goes right out the window because we aren't keeping the law Joseph revealed, the way it was given.
This shall be a standing law unto them forever, for my holy priesthood, saith the Lord.
And so we can conclude:
a. Tithing in ancient times was for supporting the poor.
b. Tithing in 19th Century was for supporting the church.
Wait. What? This has been such a weird journey tithing's been on.
(8) History shows "standing laws" don't mean "forever"
Well, speaking of sore subjects, we need to talk about circumcision by way of analogy to tithing.
This is a sensitive topic, I know. But of all the signs the Lord could have established with Abraham, here we are.
Tithing being a "standing law" unto the Church pales in comparison to the ultimate standing law of circumcision.
The whole episode is related in Genesis 17. The Lord told Abraham:
This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and they seed after thee: Every man child among you shall be circumcised.
He that is born in thy house must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.
(Gen. 17:10, 13)
The important things to remember are circumcision was (1) a God-given commandment that (2) applied to every male in the household of faith and (3) was to practiced forever as an everlasting covenant.
The penalty for not being circumcised was quite severe:
[He that is not circumcised] shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.
"Cut off?" Sounds painful.
And then the apostle Paul stumbles into Christianity on the Road to Damascus 2000 years later (who was an expert on circumcision: just ask Timothy).
Paul catches the fire of the gospel and runs from synagogue to synagogue preaching:
"Psych! No more circumcision. No, I'm not kidding. Christ has done away with the lesser law. We're free!"
It was as crazy as me running around Elders Quorum jubilantly saying:
"Psych! No more tithing. No, I'm not kidding. Christ has done away with the lesser law. We're free!"
In fact, Paul viewed it as a sign of faithlessness if a person required others to be circumcised: it showed they were stuck in their old tradition and didn't trust God's work through His Son; to them he said:
Christ is become of no effect unto you.
In order to get the full effect of Paul's statement and how jarring it must have sounded to his listeners, just remember that circumcision was a covenant from God that was supposed to last forever, and was the primary-identifier for spotting one of the Lord's chosen people.
How would we have responded, hearing Paul preach, "Do you believe in Christ or circumcision? You must choose. What's going save you at the last day?"
Well, then all hell broke loose. Literally!
The early Church was torn apart between two opposing camps like the Israelites marshalled against the Philistines for war: (1) the Judaizers who were on Team Circumcision and (2) Paul with his gentile converts for Christ.
Where stood Peter? Well, I'm glad you asked, because that was a bit awkward. Peter was caught trying to play the middle.
You see, Peter got it. He had a vision of unclean things and was told that the gospel must be preached to the gentiles, who were uncircumcised. So his heart was in the right place.
But socially things were complicated for Peter, who was getting lots of pressure and criticism from the Judaizers who faulted him for eating with unclean, uncircumcised folk.
In Antioch it all hit the fan in spectacular fashion when Paul rebuked Peter in public for caving to the circumcision-crowd, trying to placate those who placed confidence in their tradition:
But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ.
(Galatians 2:14, 16)
Lesson learned: Don't get between Christ and his servant, Paul!
Modern Revelation to the Rescue
In the Doctrine and Covenants we have an entire section dealing with the circumcision controversy in Section 74.
And it came to pass that there arose a great contention among the people . . .
Well, we all know how the Lord feels about "contention." Now imagine a "great contention" among His children.
concerning the law of circumcision for the unbelieving husband
This unbelieving husband we're talking about was the Judaizer husband who wanted to keep the law of circumcision. He is referred to here as "unbelieving" because his faith was in the Law as opposed to Christ.
was desirous that his children should be circumcised and become subject to the law of Moses, which law was fulfilled.
What's the problem with having it both ways? Why can't we follow Christ and also follow the law of circumcision?
the children, being brought up in subjection to the law of Moses, gave heed to the traditions of their fathers
Oh oh. Notice the focus on "the children." We really are in trouble if we get the rising generation off on the wrong foot.
When we mix the gospel with our traditions, what do we create? Ten Points to Gryffindor if you said "abominations."
and believed not the gospel of Christ, wherein they became unholy.
I don't think the Lord could say it any more plainly: traditions make us "unholy." Why, though? What is so destructive about overlaying our traditions onto the gospel?
And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers.
But I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth.
We don't often quote that second verse, but I think it's important because the Lord is implying that when we pass along to our children our traditions we are doing them a disservice. It is not the faith of our fathers we want to pass along but a living faith in Christ.
Continuing with circumcision:
Their children might remain without circumcision; and the tradition might be done away.
I don't know about you, but if I'm going to "bring up" my children in the light and truth of the gospel then I will need to discourage them from following the traditions of their fathers which are incorrect.
Christ is saying: Let it end here, now.
On Sunday I sat in a side pew in the chapel for Sacrament Meeting. There was a double-missionary farewell so the room was packed.
Sitting beside me was my 15 year old daughter as the counselor in the bishopric made his announcements, including how important it was for everyone to sign up for Tithing Declaration.
I leaned over to my daughter and whispered, "I wrote a poem about that!"
"Oh?" she replied.
I handed her my phone and let her read it as the organ began to play music. Tithing Declaration a poem
And Jesus went into the temple and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and said unto them, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.
― Matthew 21:12-13
Whomsoever loves to make a lie that will not die: There’s nothing in this world he says your money cannot buy. But Whosoever my words believe they shall be born anew: Whose money can buy nothing here where I have ransomed you.
Q:Which do you think is more important in the life of a Christian: obedience or faith?
Answer: I guess we need to distinguish between:
(1) Obedience to the commandments of men and their religious tradition (institutional obedience); and
(2) Obedience to the will of God (sonship obedience).
The problem is when these two forms of obedience clash. We see the stark difference between the two in the life of Christ. What I find fascinating is the way the Pharisees and Sadducees accused Jesus of being disobedient.
Here was the Son of God keeping every jot and tittle of the Law of Moses but his obedience wasn't "legitimate" in their eyes because he wasn't keeping the Law their way.
Jesus had no respect for their traditions, which he in fact called wicked (see: "corban").
In modern terms, we see the same thing with the Word of Wisdom. The revelation came as wise counsel, and was specifically NOT "by way of constraint." Then the Church began creating traditions and interpretations around it. The tradition, over time, became more important than the actual words God had given. Now the Church enforces the tradition (through a Temple Recommend Interview) instead of the revelation itself ― which was supposed to be elective all along. You see what a mess it has become.
People joke that Jesus would have failed a Temple Recommend Interview, but this is quite serious. Jesus was just too busy doing the will of His Father to mind all the traditions of the elders.
So institutional obedience, as the Pharisees proved, requires very little faith, if any. Whereas obedience to God requires quite a bit of faith because it usually goes against the grain of our traditions.
The important thing to remember is that requiring obedience to a tradition is bad. Word of Wisdom. Tradition. Tithing? Tradition. White Shirts? Tradition. Deacons passing the Sacrament? Tradition. Baptism? Not tradition.
Another thing to remember is that when we focus on No. 1 Obedience, we're not changing the status quo.
Faith on the other hand is looking forward to "what can be" ― searching for a "more excellent way." Because faith is meant to enlarge boundaries, expand our vision, elevate our spirits, believing that through Christ all things are possible.
Think of a garden plot. If my dad asks me to weed the garden, I can obey him by removing the weeds. And they'll grow back. Every Saturday you'll find me out among the carrot patch on my hands and knees, pulling them out by hand. You see, the institution requires me to weed in this particular way, which becomes over time the traditional way; we come to believe it's the only "proper" means to fulfill my father's request. Generations pass away as we weed the garden "the right way."
Faith, on the other hand, would look at the weeds and wonder, "Is there a better way?" I might go and buy some weed cloth at Home Depot or research organic herbicides or consider planting crops where weeds don't matter (have you ever been in a corn field?).
So when the Church talks about obedience, managing its weeds ― pay tithing, attend your meetings, don't drink coffee ― notice that none of those things asks: What should tithing be used for? Why go to meetings if they are unedifying? What makes coffee bad?
You see, institutional obedience doesn't ask questions (and in fact it discourages them).
Faith, though, is all about the questions! Faith is asking, knocking, and seeking greater light and truth from our Father in Heaven.
Obedience looks to the Handbook; faith looks to God.
Q: What Suggestions Do You Have for Increasing Faith in the Church?
Answer: There's not much room for faith in the Church. That's strange, right? I think it is because the leaders might be afraid of what would happen if they let the members loose.
For example, my wife used to be the Cub Scout leader in our ward. She sought inspiration and wanted to magnify her calling. Rather than going through the motions, conducting business-as-usual, she exercised faith and came up with some new ideas for the program.
But what happens when members begin to think outside the box in the Church? My wife went to the Primary President, who relayed the ideas to the Bishopric. Well, she heard back from the Primary President that it was a "no." The Bishopric never spoke to her about it (isn't it interesting that even though they had issued the calling to my wife, they didn't sustain her when she received inspiration on how to fulfill it, and they didn't take time to counsel with her to discuss their reasoning?).
I've seen so many members have their wings of faith clipped when they dare to fly a bit. Are we eagles taking to the skies; or barnyard chickens whose wings need severing lest we fly the coop?
Many times I've observed members just give up after being accused of "steadying the ark" or "rocking the boat." Inspiration is often mistaken for insubordination.
So we get the trouble-maker beaten out of us, I guess, to the point we learn to not take initiative to any meaningful extent (unless, of course, we serve in a leadership role, in which case we are marginally permitted to flex).
So if we're going to increase faith in the Church we need to look for situations where leaders are acting like Hall Monitors telling members, "We can't do that," and get them to change their mindset; they should be coaches cheering us on, saying, "How can I help bring your vision to life?"
Q: What is the worst counsel you ever received from a Church leader?
Answer: Probably then-Elder Nelson's article Divine Love. It was a good example of killing the patient while trying to cure the disease.
But if we're talking about local leaders, I remember one time in law school going to Stake Conference with my roommates in the Provo Tabernacle (before it burned down).
The Stake President stood up and told us that he wanted everyone in the Stake to display a picture of Christ in each and every room of our homes.
That generated a lot of discussion in our apartment. But we dutifully complied and hung a picture of Christ (do you remember those pass-along cards?) above the washing machine, the refrigerator, the couch, our beds, and in the bathroom shower (but really, the last thing the Lord needs to see is a bunch of naked hairy bums).
Even though we were "being obedient," it made me cringe because we were treating pictures of Christ like talismans (nevermind that Ten Commandments forbid making graven images).
I suppose the Stake President was well-intentioned. But it shows why I have little patience for institutional obedience.
Let me explain. Institutional obedience (No. 1 Obedience) seeks to create conformity. But the cost is too great because we actually end up creating inequality through a caste system composed of (1) those who give the commandments and (2) those who obey them. Whenever we structure obedience this way we invite double standards and hypocrisy (I don't know if my Stake President had a picture of Christ in his bathtub, but I doubt it).
A good example of this was when my wife was expecting another child and her due date fell on the regularly-scheduled stake baptism date. We had an 8-year old getting baptized and asked if we could make alternative arrangements for the baptism.
We were told "no," which we took in stride. During the baptismal service and confirmation, my wife was in labor having contractions. She paced back and forth in the cultural hall while I timed the contractions on my watch.
Meanwhile, my brother was serving at the time as bishop of his ward. He also had an 8-year old and asked the Stake President if he could baptize his son in a lake in the Uinta Mountains. Sure, he was told.
That is why the thing that interests me is No. 2 Obedience, where we treat God as a Parent, the kind that honors the workings and will of God as it manifests in each of our lives through the gifts and power of the Holy Ghost.
I wish the Church understood that it's a big tease to confer the gift of the Holy Ghost on members and then have them spend the rest of their lives following the Prophet instead (just saying: a member of the Godhead is greater than a prophet, right?).
The primary faith-killer is when we prioritize institutional obedience over sonship obedience, which creates Pharisees rather than disciples.
Q: But aren't prophets leading the Church in accordance with the the Lord's will?
Answer: Paul taught the Church should be run by the gifts of the Spirit, not by leaders.
That's how the Lord presides over the Body of Christ: not through priesthood but through the diversity of His gifts.
This is why the Nephites were always doing things in the church "after the manner of the workings of the Spirit, and by the power of the Holy Ghost" (Moroni 6:9).
Today we think of prophets and apostles as administrators who run the Church as if it were the Ford Motor Company, with the Twelve sitting on its Board of Directors.
Well, this is the sort of thing Jacob forbids when he said we "deny the good word of Christ, and the power of God, and the gift of the Holy Ghost, and quench the Holy Spirit, and make a mock[ery]" of God (Jacob 6:8) when we reject His spiritual gifts and their expression in the Church, replacing the gifts with protocol and policy.
How are we supposed to become Gods if we can't even be trusted with keys to the ward library? How can we become like our Heavenly Parents if we aren't allowed to pick a special musical number for Sacrament Meeting without the Bishop's go-ahead?
At the beginning of this dispensation, the Lord said, "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" (D&C 20:60).
Well, we can deduce that the Brethren do not really trust members to use the power of the Holy Ghost by the fact we're not allowed to use the oven in the church kitchens, or put mini-fridges in the Clerks Office, or call missionary farewells "Farewells."
The micro-management of the membership and the codification of the Church Handbook all but guarantee no one will have any room to exercise the gifts and power of the Holy Ghost in Church.
Whenever someone says the Brethren are only doing the Lord's will, I look around and ask, "This is Lord's will?"
Q: But aren't priesthood keys the established means by which the Lord orders His house?
Answer: If we look in the Book of Mormon (which we're told contains the fulness of the gospel) we find a lot about the "power and authority" of God but very little about the priesthood.
In fact, the only mention of the priesthood in the entire book (!) is in regards to Alma the Younger.
Sure, there are priests and teachers running around all over the place as early as Nephi; but priesthood? The first time we see the word "priesthood" used is in Alma Chapter 4 in reference to the "high priesthood of the holy order of God" (Alma 4:20). Whenever "priesthood" is used in the Book of Mormon it is always referring to this Holy Order.
Alma delivered up the judgment-seat to Nephihah, and confined himself wholly to the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to the testimony of the word, according to the spirit of revelation and prophecy.
Okay, we learn something here about what "the high priesthood of the holy order" means:
1. To bear "testimony of the word according to the spirit of revelation and prophecy."
Well, these are gifts of the Spirit, aren't they?
The only other time in the Book of Mormon we see any mention of priesthood is in Alma 13. Alma says "the office of the high priesthood according to the holy order of God [is to] preach repentance unto his people" (Alma 13:18).
2. Preach repentance unto the people.
Who needs a boardroom and chauffeur and fancy keys for that?
Melchizedek was ordained an high priest after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch, It being after the order of the Son of God; which order came, not by man, nor the will of man; neither by father nor mother; neither by beginning of days nor end of years; but of God;
And it was delivered unto men by the calling of his own voice, according to his own will, unto as many as believed on his name.
Figuring out who his disciples are, I mean. Why did the Lord make the standard be our love for one another?
Isn't "love" too abstract? Wouldn't it have been easier to tell who-is-who ("Who's on the Lord side, who?") if we used something more obvious, say, like bright neon orange vests, or priesthood keys, or presidential titles or drivers licenses?
Why can't there be a Kolob-issued Amber Alert every time someone tries to invoke God's authority unrighteously? (I hope the angels are listening and someone up there secures for me a provisional patent.)
Love one another as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
Please. Just give me an Org Chart any day of the week. It'll show me who's on top and I'll know who to follow.
But love? Come on! How am I supposed to "follow the love?"
Really: Why Love?
In the posts I have written over the years, I've invited you to consider that Christ's gospel is really about love ― not authority.
It is a simple proposition. And yet it changes everything.
I have tried everything I know ― from quoting scripture to using satire and sarcasm; poems and parables; stories and wit and witlessness ― using every means available to persuade you that pulling rank is lethal to love.
The quickest way to ruin the gospel is to start a Church hierarchy because the first order of business will be deciding who's in charge.
(Wasn't Christ in charge? Oh sorry, my bad.)
Well, hold on. If Christ were in charge, wouldn't his disciples prioritize love above all else?
Blame the Great Apostasy, I guess. It must have left such a deep scar on our religious consciousness that we've swung too far in the opposite direction. We go around championing our divine right like we're medieval French monarchs:
En garde, ye Baptist!
But really, sectarianism is so passé. So why do so many members of the Church act like they're getting Ph.D.'s in it?
Can anyone tell me why we have made priesthood authority the central feature of our Church, even over love, just like the Catholics, when we teach the Catholics were wrong?
An Example of Divine Authority
If you ignore everything else I say, please just consider this:
Everything we need to understand about authority is demonstrated in Christ's relationship with the Father.
Heavenly Father didn't order Jesus around. He asked, "Whom shall I send?" He never forced Jesus to do anything.
All of the Father's authority arose from the mutual love that Jesus and the Father shared.
But here's the good news: we can get in on the action! We can join Them in this loving union (John 17). You see, Jesus was trying to replicate this love-dynamic with us.
Let's see, didn't Christ tell us to obey him because he had the greatest authority? No? My mistake.
Jesus said, "If ye love me, keep my commandments."
Isn't it curious that Jesus never pulled rank on us? Instead, he condescended to our level to show us how to love.
He loved us first.
The Love of Men Grown Cold
Is it any wonder love has grown cold in an environment that exalts (1) obedience to authority over (2) love?
So where does divine authority come from? How do we know who has it? How can we get some?
Pretend for a minute, just for fun, that the following proposition were true:
Divine authority only arises from love.
What would that mean? Who would have it then? How could we obtain it?
This would explain, of course, Joseph Smith's statement that when we try to exercise authority in the absence of love unfeigned, then we are left without any authority whatsoever (D&C 121).
That is logical because if authority is derivative of love, it could not exist where love is not found.
A Real Victory for Satan
Things got off on the wrong foot when the Catholic Church gained control of the gospel (I could make a list but Martin Luther already gave us 95 reasons; that was the original click-bait).
Well, the Catholic Fathers created a hierarchy and . . . you know the rest.
Are we in danger of doing the same?
The first order of business was deciding who was in charge. Who decided who got to be the Vicar of Christ? The Great Schism occurred when the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Pope in Rome butted heads over whose authority was supreme (no one butts heads over love, unless it's over Helen of Troy; wars are about boring things like real estate and who gets to be top dog.)
Now ask yourself, Do we really need another Holy Roman Empire?
I have observed that we are not too good at building the New Jerusalem; but we excel at building the New Rome.
But do we really want all of Rome's political and economic entanglements, with its Crusades and Prop 8's and German Princes and Beneficial Life Insurance Companies and Cathedrals and City Creek stores and reflecting pools that allow us to admire our pride from above and beneath?
Then came the Protestant Reformation, challenging the Catholic Church's authority.
The Reformers settled on a doctrine of Sola Scriptura ("By Scripture Alone"), which they based their authority upon. You've probably heard of it: a Bible, a Bible, we have a Bible.
But what's shocking is that everyone got it wrong.
I mean, who can believe that a 14 year old farm boy figured out what has stumped Christian theologians and the professors of religion for millennia?
Joseph Smith appears on the scene and eats their creeds for breakfast as if they're Cornflakes. He rejects priesthood as a means to exercise dominion (Catholic way); and Joseph rejected authority from the Bible (Protestant way).
Instead, Joseph went back to the primitive Church, "How about we try it Christ's way; you know, where Christ taught authority comes from the way we treat each other?"
No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood. [Full Stop]
So where does power and influence come from?
Only [ONLY?] by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge.
Based on this, I wonder if we should reframe the Priesthood Restoration narrative to be less about angelic ministrants and keys and offices, and more about love and sacrifice and condescension.
But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.
And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.
How else could it be?
Coca-Cola Cannot Love
I'm sorry to break this to all the corporate marketers out there, but divine authority cannot reside in trusts, corporations, churches, governments or the Society for the Preservation of Pink Poodles.
Why? Because legal entities cannot love.
Only people can love; and only disciples of Christ can love with divine charity, which is a gift of the Spirit.
(Corporations don't get spiritual gifts and neither do governments; they belong to the people, people!)
Pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God.
We see here that divine authority is "bestowed" by God as an endowment of love (in which dwells the power) upon the "true followers of his Son."
Coca-Cola Can Exert Authority
So where do corporations and governments and religion get their authority?
Great question! Their authority is bestowed by Babylon the Great, which is a type and shadow of the world.
Anyone can access Babylon'skind of authority, if they have enough money or armies or navies or citizens or slaves:
And the angel said unto me: Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters:
With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication.
And I saw a woman arrayed in purple and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness:
And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.
Babylon's authority derives from control, fear, guilt, power, pride, wealth, pressure, media, secret combinations, inequality, and the blood of the saints.
(Notice that all those things are the opposites of love.)
This is why Babylon is described as a Harlot: because her "authority" is transactional and can be trafficked, bought and sold with gold and silver.
The congress of bodies making love has an unusual way of crossing interstate lines. The power to tax is the power to destroy what is most holy. The windows of hell open for the widow whose dowry is devoured by the oldest profession of Nehor. Eternal revenue services the treasured Mystery-of-the-Bed:
You can skip the wedding supper and exchange money instead.
How Do You Run a Church with . . . Love?
This is all impractical, of course. Who ever heard of running an organization with love? It is terribly inefficient.
And the pay is lousy.
Remember, though, that the well-oiled authority of Caesar and Pilate and Caiaphas did not come from Jesus; their authority was not part of Christ's kingdom (which is not of this world).
So there we have it: we get to choose between the authority of Babylon, which comes fully loaded with all the bells-and-whistles, and the authority of the Kingdom of God, which is a total clunker.
Before you choose, be aware only one of them has bank accounts and stock portfolios.
Did you pick the stock options and bonds? Good. So did the Church.
But everything I am saying was said by the apostle Paul thousands of years ago in 1 Corinthians 13.
Though I speak with the tongue of men and angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.
Paul is pointing out that we can say whatever; we can talk a good game and use all the right terminology, telling people how much we love them . . . but if we don't actually walk-the-walk of charity, we're just noise.
All our authority is for naught.
Though I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge and though I have all faith to move mountains and have not charity, I am nothing.
Here he's saying we can follow the prophets (the gift of prophecy) and study the Come Follow Me manual (knowledge) and have faith to move mountains (*insert* latest Church Newsroom Press Release patting itself on the back), but if we aren't filled with charity, it's all just chaff.
All our authority is for naught.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
All of our "good works" and Helping Hands and humanitarian efforts mean squat if we aren't animated by the pure love of Christ, being precious to one another.
I think of the example of Lavina Fielding Anderson. She was one of the September Six who was excommunicated for publishing a scholarly article in Dialogue about the Strengthening Church Members Committee. You can read her article here.
Sister Anderson got in trouble for naming by name some of the Brethren who were behaving badly.
After her excommunication, she continued to attend her local ward faithfully for 25 years. Her bishop and stake president petitioned the First Presidency for her reinstatement.
The First Presidency (Presidents Nelson, Oaks, and Eyring) rejected her request for rebaptism in 2019.
Why? Well, as President Packer liked to say, the Brethren have loooooong memories.
After 25 years (!), the First Presidency still had not forgiven her for the things she wrote in that article.
The First Presidency sent a form letter through the proper priesthood channels, summarily rejecting her request for rebaptism. No explanation was given.
Lavina said after her rejection, "I was not surprised or angry about the outcome. I have kept my covenants, remained close to the church and have felt that what I have done is accepted by the Lord," she said. "If there is unfinished business, it’s the First Presidency’s, not mine."
Hierarcies Abound; Authority Not So Much
Despite the Lord's call to love one another and to be equal in earthly and heavenly things (D&C 78:5-7), hierarchies yet abound.
As a father I have trouble teaching my children to share. I can only imagine how our Heavenly Father must feel trying to get his children to share "authority" in the Body of Christ so we can become "one."
Honestly, I never thought I would convince anyone with cunning arguments or my own intelligence, flawed as it is. No, I believed if I pointed others to Christ, who is meek and lowly, then they would come to know Him and his Spirit, which is the Spirit of love and liberty.
But now I see how naïve I have been. The temptations of the Great and Spacious Building, with all its amenities, are too great.
We have chosen the Spirit of authority over the Spirit of love.
I would just like to point out that it was in the Spirit of authority that the Sadducees sat in judgment of Christ himself.
If God is love, and if charity is the pure love of Christ, then anything that is unloving is by definition Anti-Christ.
Do you agree with that statement? Is my reasoning faulty? Are there times when we should be uncharitable?
But if that statement is true, then:
- Inequality is Anti-Christ. - Status systems are Anti-Christ. - Hierarchies are Anti-Christ. - Control and compulsion are Anti-Christ. - The General Handbook is Anti-Christ.
Has the Church itself become Anti-Christ in its pursuit of vanity, reputation, and wealth at the expense of love?
I cannot say; I see but through a glass darkly.
But my heart whispers, "Follow Christ where the love leads."
Wasn't it great how George Lucas began his Star Wars Trilogy with Episodes 4-6?
He just threw us into the middle of an ongoing family saga with no backstory and no idea how it was all going to end.
Just like life, right?
In 2019 I began Owl of the Desert to share with you the Exodus Trilogy, a series of poems that I believe reflect the current climate of modern religion and of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in particular.
Well, I've finished. I accomplished what I set out to do. In those poems I recorded my innermost spiritual yearnings. I published them because that is what the Spirit asked of me.
I can say with Mormon (who said it best):
And I [did] this for a wise purpose; for thus it whispereth me, according to the workings of the Spirit of the Lord which is in me.
And now, I do not know all things; but the Lord knoweth all things which are to come; wherefore, he worketh in me to do according to his will.
And my prayer to God is concerning my brethren, that they may once again come to the knowledge of God, yea, the redemption of Christ; that they may once again be a delightsome people.
(Words of Mormon 1:7-8)
As mentioned in Part 6 of "Would God That All the Lord's People Were Prophets," I was writing primarily for the Lord and his angels (who can always use a good laugh). But I hope they've meant something to you, too.
So what now?
No Mastermind At Work Here
Well, it won't surprise anyone that I am no mastermind; I spend most of my brain cells wondering what's for lunch.
I admit I wake up each day pretty clueless. Then I say my prayers and ask the Lord, "What do we have going on today?"
Most of the time I am like Nephi trying to be "led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do" (1 Nephi 4:6).
So now that the Exodus Trilogy is done do I clock out? Am I done? Is the Lord satisfied with my work? (In my defense, He knew my ability ― or lack thereof ― when I started.)
You get what you pay for.
Build an Ark (or Barge, Whatever)
In Sunday School last week, a friend made a comment I could relate to:
"In the scriptures," he said, "the Lord's instructions to his prophets seem so clear. Do this. Go there. Build an ark. But it's not as easy figuring out what he wants me to do in the moment."
It made me reflect on why it is that faith often thrives in an environment of uncertainty; why faith flourishes in the dark as we grasp our way forward without the aid of sight or knowledge.
Faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.
Something I've learned from Moroni's writings is faith needs an anchor. But what does Moroni mean when he says faith and hope "maketh an anchor" to our souls?
Whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men.
Is Moroni using the right analogy here? I thought faith was supposed to move us along the path, but don't anchors keep us fixed in the same place?
How are Faith and Hope in Christ "Anchors" to our Souls?
Q. Which direction do anchors go?
A. Anchors always sink when we throw them overboard. It's sort of the point. An anchor that floats is no help.
If we're in a pirate ship and the captain tells us to deploy the anchor, gravity is going to pull the anchor down to the bottom of the seabed, keeping the ship anchored while the winds and waves toss it to and fro.
Q. Do you see yourself on the deck of the ship or at the bottom of the sea floor with the anchor?
A. Good point. Forget the ship for a minute. Let's presume we're all at the bottom of the seabed of God's kingdoms, in the telestial world. We'll call this murky, seaweed-infested dark place "hell." Our jailor, Satan, is keeping good watch over us, sleeping with the fishes.
Q. How is Christ like an "anchor?"
A.Here's the important thing to remember: an anchor is NO GOOD unless it is attached to a rope or chain. Like an anchor, Christ condescended (sunk) so we might ascend, but it only worked because he was connected to the Father.
Q. How does an anchor help us?
A. Do we climb up the rope? The rope is "straight," after all, because it is held taut between Christ and the Father. The straight and narrow way is vertical not horizontal.
I love Moroni's analogy of the anchor because of how it flavors these words spoken by Christ:
And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father.
(3 Nephi 27:14)
Presidential Fitness Award
The point I want to make is our climb up the Covenant Path (sorry, I couldn't resist) is not like we're in high school P.E. class climbing a rope.
If you saw my biceps, you'd see I have no upper body strength. If I had to climb the anchor chain to Christ, as though Christ were on deck waiting for me, it would be hopeless.
But it's not hopeless because all we have to do is "hold on" to the anchor (which represents our faith in Christ) and the Father "draws" us up.
See that? We don't climb by our own strength.
All the strength we have is for wrapping our arms around Him. The Father hoists us up out of this abyss by His strength.
So what does this have to do with Owl of the Desert?
Stations of the Cross
An anchor is shaped like a cross, isn't it?
Anticipating the completion of the Exodus Trilogy, I assumed I would have some Shore Leave saved up.
Last week that changed.
It looks like shore leave is postponed.
I'd like to announce the next chapter of Owl of the Desert:
I know that tradition lists more than seven stations along the Via Dolorosa. But there's something nice and complete and perfect about the No. 7.
I've left more unsaid than I've said, and so I have organized my next project, chronicling our walk with God on our premortal to post-mortal journey, around the symbolically significant stations of the cross that Christ walked on his way to Golgotha.
As the prototype of the Saved Man, we might consider our own walk towards death and attaining unto the resurrection dead.
People joke that our bodies begin falling apart in our 40s. Well, I must be an overachiever because my body started going haywire a decade earlier.
It was 2016 to be precise.
My hands were going numb. I was losing sensation in my fingertips (you've heard of butterfingers? That was me, but double-the-butter).
I figured I had neuropathy or carpal tunnel syndrome. I slept with braces on my wrists, tried to reduce inflammation, underwent electrical-current testing, saw M.D.'s and natural healers (I don't discriminate) and prayed like the dickens.
In other words, I did what most people do when they freak out.
I feared the worst.
I envisioned my hands becoming useless and having to use voice-to-text technology like Stephen Hawking.
I asked Clark Burt for a priesthood blessing.
We were serving together in the Stake Sunday School presidency.
Clark asked me if I had faith to be healed.
And again, to some it is given to have faith to be healed.
Sure I had faith, I thought. The Lord said in D&C 42 that if I have faith to be healed (and if it wasn't my time to die), then I shall be healed.
He that hath faith in me to be healed, and is not appointed unto death, shall be healed.
Notice it says "shall," not "may."
Assuming I had a few good years left, and believing all things are possible, I believed the Lord would heal me of my neurodegenerative issue or whatever it was, as simply as he had healed the lepers of their leprosy.
Is anything too hard for the Lord?
So I answered, "Yes. But do you have the faith to heal me?"
And to others it is given to have faith to heal.
Surely between the two of us we could muster the faith of a mustard seed, right?
Clean Hands, Pure Heart
Clark wasn't worried about my hands. He was worried about my soul.
"The greatest part of our energy in this life is spent endeavoring to rid ourselves of discomfort," he once said. "But God did not promise us comfort but to send us a Comforter. The irony is He makes us uncomfortable with our sin. One master sin is at the root of all the rest. It is the non-recognition by us ― and the consequent inactivity in us. It is the absence of our being in harmony with our Father and His Son. The Lord cannot save us from our sins while we hold on to them. So let go. Open your fists and let the Lord put His mark in the palm of your hands."
He who hath faith to see shall see. He who hath faith to hear shall hear. The lame who hath faith to leap shall leap.
Where I Cut My Wrists
Clark's blessing gave me confidence and bolstered my faith, but I decided it would still be prudent to operate (not from a lack of faith, but in a doing-my-part sort of way).
My orthopedic surgeon came highly recommended; after my consultation I ran into him at the American Fork Temple, where he was a temple worker.
So that was a good sign.
The first time he performed bilateral carpal tunnel surgery on me (you heard me right, first time), he cut into my wrists and enlarged the canal that protects the nerve going from our neck down our arms into our hands.
In Post-Op, the doctor visited me after I woke up from the anesthesia and wiped sweat from his brow. "It kicked my butt," he said (that's the closest to swearing a Temple Worker gets).
It had taken him 4 times longer than normal because my wrists were in such bad shape. For reasons unknown, underneath my skin is a wonderland of thick scar tissue.
Back at home, recuperating with my wrists and hands wrapped in bandages, I was barely able to text Clark an update. "I am doing well but am very sore. It's okay: I can still work the TV remote," I wrote after the surgery.
He texted back, "I am glad it went well. And if you can hold a remote you can hold your scriptures."
Now there's a man who takes his gospel study seriously!
"More Painful than Childbirth"
A couple months later I felt sick to my stomach. The pain increased and I wondered if I had appendicitis. They say to never Google your symptoms because you'll think it's terminal.
I was sure I was dying.
It was the middle of the night and I woke my wife up, telling her I was going to drive myself to the hospital. She wanted to take me, but we had young toddlers and no one to stay with them, so I told her I'd be fine.
I wasn't fine.
It was probably the stupidest thing I've ever done, driving while in so much pain, but thankfully I didn't hurt anyone (and an ambulance ride would have cost thousands of dollars!).
I stumbled into the Emergency Room and the nurse took one look at me and knew exactly what it was.
"Honey, you got kidney stones."
"Umm, not that I know of," I said.
A CT scan revealed an 11 mm stone (they call it a "stone," but these aren't like smooth river rocks; if you look at them in a microscope they are jagged crystals with a million spikes that pierce your ureter between the kidneys and bladder).
So, I had my first stone (yes, you heard me right: first stone. It gets easier once you know what's happening. Maybe someday I'll tell you about passing one in the bathroom at work after telling the Judge in chambers at the beginning of a jury trial that if I made any odd noises or gestures during the trial, it was because I had a stone stuck in my ureter).
The nurse told me she had stones, too, and it was more painful than childbirth (a detail I delight in repeating to my wife at every opportunity).
There's a procedure where they electroshock the stone with sound waves, bursting it into little pieces of sharp sand that can pass through . . . you know.
Clark brought me some homemade bread before the procedure. The risks weren't great, but it bruises your kidneys, and you never know.
I accepted the bread thankfully. "What's this?" I said, referring to some papers he passed to me with the bread.
"Something I wrote that I think you should read," Clark said.
I looked at the title of a multiple-page essay called, "Saved From Our Sins."
Well, I packed the essay in my hospital bag, for some easy reading. The day of the surgery, while I was being prepped for anesthesia, I read it.
The anesthesiologist came in. "Mr. Merrill, are you ready?"
He meant was I ready to go to sleep. But in the back of my mind, one wonders, what if there are complications and this is it? What if this is my last day on earth?
I put Clarks' paper down and smiled. "As ready as I'll ever be."
Put Your Trust in God
One of Clark's favorite scriptures to quote is from Romans Chapter 1.
Like the apostle Paul, Clark always warned me not to put my trust in men. He always pointed me to Christ and His holy word.
Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man. Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator.
(Romans 1:21-23, 25)
I had never read this scripture as being about prophets or living idols, always interpreting "creature" to be the natural man or carved wood or something. But re-read this scripture.
What better definition for "Anti-Christ" than when we "change the glory of God into an image like a man," as we do when we worship our leaders?
Do we turn the gospel "of God into a lie" when we serve those in authority above our Creator?
And so the greatest lesson Clark taught me was this:
We shouldn't put our trust in men, because our trust is in God alone. But in men we put our love; we pour our hearts into one another, never-ending.
I know in whom I have trusted. My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; He hath filled me with his love.
(2 Nephi 4:19-21)
One of the greatest things in life is to be loved by someone who truly trusts God, because their love is not their own but is a gift from God.