1. Common consent is a law the Lord wants us to live;
2. We are not living it;
3. Common consent cannot be lived without "equality" among believers;
4. We cannot be equal in a hierarchy that divides us by status;
5. Therefore, we cannot establish Zion as currently constituted.
A STORY ABOUT BEARDS (Guest Starring Elder M. Russell Ballard)
When I was a senior in high school I grew a beard. A lumberjack beard--as wild as a toddler and as gnarly as a hell's angel's leather saddle bags. In other words, I looked like most teenagers who grow beards.
Are beards good? Are they bad?
I guess it depends. Are we asking BYU (Brigham Young University) whose honor code famously forbids male students (but not females) from growing beards--even though its namesake sported an impressive one?
Are we asking bishops, whose commission as common judges requires them to grow no facial hair today (like Nazarites, but the opposite)?
No, we're asking Elder M. Russell Ballard! Or at least, I did. Sure, I could have asked about something more eternally significant. But there I was, a senior in high school looking like a rodent with hair sprouting from my cheeks, asking Elder Ballard this question:
"Why won't some bishops allow young men with beards to bless the sacrament?"
The question, as I look back now, was not about beards. It was about authority.
Who gets to decide how we look, how we groom? How come some leaders have issues with beards? How can beards be wrong today when the majority of prophets have worn them? Should we be encouraging uniformity in appearance? Does that lead toward Phariseeism?
I like Elder Ballard. I remember him saying in General Conference one time that our Heavenly Father loves us all equally. That tickled my spiritual senses. And he wrote the book Counseling With Our Councils, which is right up my alley.
So there Elder Ballard was, this venerable (and clean-shaven) man, and he took my upper arm in his hand and turned me around.
"You see those men, there?" he asked, pointing with his other hand to the photos of the First Presidency that hung on the wall in cheap picture frames.
(At the time, the First Presidency was composed of Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson and James E. Faust. I can still remember their middle initials because . . . well, that's the point . . . because of our culture of officiousness when it comes to titles, despite Jesus's clear admonition in Matthew 23:7-8.)
"Yes," I nodded.
"Well, this is what I do. I do what I see them do," he said, matter-of-factly. "And they don't have beards."
Well, that settled it. From that point forward I started wearing fedoras.
. . . but wait . . . Jesus had a beard, didn't he?
Notice the lesson I was taught by an apostle. That day he taught me he was a special witness of [the President of the Church].
COMMON CONSENT CANNOT CO-EXIST IN A CULTURE OF "STRONGMEN"
I'm Popeye the sailor man. I'm strong to the finich, cause I eats me spinach. I'm Popeye the sailor man.
Who are strongmen? They are authoritarian-minded leaders.
But let's not assign all the blame to the figureheads. We also need to assign responsibility to the followers who permit, enable, encourage, support, and demand loyalty to their Strongman.
The last thing in the world they want is common consent. Why is that?
Because if we had to make decisions by common consent, it would be too much work. It is too messy. It would require too much humility, and prayer, and faith.
It is so much easier having a Strongman just tell us what is right and wrong; having someone speak to God for us; having the comfort of certainty in this ambiguous world; having black-and-white answers, even if they are incomplete . . . .
[*Gasp*] We actually like having someone in charge. "You pick the restaurant tonight. I am tired of making all the decisions."
Hello, Carnal Security
And so we settle for a hierarchy that resembles the hanging gardens of Babylon, tiers of offices and keys, layers of authority and chains-of-command. Oh yes, the ancient wonder of the world.
Too bad Jesus's kingdom is not of this world.
If anyone dares to risk my "Fisk" It's "Boff" an' it's "Wham" un'erstan'? So keep "Good Be-hav-or" That's your one life saver With Popeye the Sailor Man.
SIGNS OF A STRONGMAN CULTURE
Here are some indicators we may be dealing with a Strongman or a strongman culture:
1. They are "President for life."
They have no term limits. This is the way that strongmen remove future challenges to their authority and legitimacy.
Examples of people who extended their term of service for life:
Julius Caesar (Rome) Napoleon Bonaparte (France) Adolf Hitler (Germany) Kim II sung (North Korea) Xi Jinping (China) It is the tendency of those with power to make it permanent. If you're gonna marry the golden goose, it might as well be until 'death do you part,' right?
Well, no. George Washington stepped down from the Presidency after two terms. When the king of England, King George III, heard that Washington was going to give up all his power, he said "If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world."
Back in the 60s and 70s, leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints discussed the issue of term limits, after a fashion. The result was they made General Authority Seventies emeritus at age 70 (before that, members of the First Council of 70 had served until death, like apostles).
While they discussed the idea of making apostles emeritus as well, there wasn't enough support for it among the Quorum of the 12.
Trickle Down Theory
So what's the problem with someone being President for life?
For behold, how much iniquity doth one wicked king cause to be committed, yea, and what great destruction!
Take the principle of "poison the well": if Satan wants to cause the greatest damage with the greatest ease, he simply has to poison the source; he just needs to deceive those at the "top" and it will trickle down to those beneath them.
We see this happening to Christianity, whose creeds became abominable because they taught believers to follow the commandments of men.
In other words, they allowed the pope, the Holy Father, to stand in loco parentis for our Heavenly Father.
The danger of a hierarchy is that the mistakes of the leaders get passed down to their adherents--who instead of asking themselves if a thing is right, instead ask themselves how they can justify what they know to be wrong (i.e., the denial of the priesthood based on race; or the lack of transparency in Church finances; or the November 2015 Anti-Christ policy denying baptism to God's little ones).
That is why the Founding Fathers wanted to spread authority out far and wide through federalism and the separation of powers, so power would not concentrate in one place, or in one man, like it had in King George.
Strongmen try to consolidate authority. Liberty, on the other hand, seeks to circulate authority as widely as possible.
2. Strongmen Don't Tolerate Criticism.
Strongmen send their critics to the gulag. Just ask Putin. Just ask the political prisoners interned by Kim Jung-un. Or the victims of Muammar Qadhafi.
But in the media-savvy world of the 21st century, modern strongmen have to become more sophisticated.
Does this sound familiar:
"[They] simulate democracy, holding elections that they make sure to win, bribing and censoring the private press rather than abolishing it, and replacing ideology with an amorphous anti-Western resentment.
"Their leaders often enjoy genuine popularity—albeit after eliminating plausible rivals—that is based on “performance legitimacy,” a perceived competence at securing prosperity and defending the nation against external or internal threats. State propaganda aims not to re-engineer human souls but to boost the leader’s ratings, which, so long as they remain high, are widely publicized.
"Political opponents are harassed and humiliated, accused of fabricated crimes, and encouraged to emigrate."
(Sergei Guriev, "How Modern Dictators Survive: An Informational Theory of the New Authoritarianism," November 2015, p. 2, accessed at https://www.eui.eu/Documents/DepartmentsCentres/Economics/Seminarsevents/Guriev-Micro.pdf)
Cat Got Your Tongue?
Now, Christian religious authorities are prone to purges, as well. Just ask the Inquisition. Or the French Huguenots. Or the September Six.
What's the big deal behind silencing a few critics? Well, for one thing, it has a chilling effect so people won't speak forthrightly to you, which creates an echo-chamber of "yes-men" that surround strongmen.
If we cannot speak the truth to someone because they have authority over us, then they do not value the truth as much as their position. This is why strongmen do not want free speech. They enforce politically-correct speech.
How can common consent survive in that type of suffocating, suppressive environment?
President Dallin H. Oaks said, "Criticism is particularly objectionable when it is directed toward Church authorities . . . . It does not matter that the criticism is true." Dallin H. Oaks, "Criticism," Ensign, February 1987.
This reminds me of the great debate in the 1980s between apostle Boyd Packer and BYU historian Mike Quinn, who said: "The tragic reality is that there have been occasions when Church leaders, teachers, and writers have not told the truth they knew about difficulties of the Mormon past, but have offered to the Saints instead a mixture of platitudes, half-truths, omissions, and plausible denials." (D. Michael Quinn, "On Being A Mormon Historian," 1982).
Is it possible to be both truthful and faithful?
3. Strongmen Are All About Status.
How do we know who's important? By one's status. And how do we know a person's status?
We look for who occupies the chief seats; We stand when they enter the room; We use their titles and middle initial; We note their manner of dress and speech; We are taught to repeat their sayings; We hang their pictures like murti in a Hindu shrine; We support them with our money and tithing; We see them ushered about by hired security; We spot them at ribbon cuttings and ground breakings; We see them chauffeured in sedans; We stand at attention like soldiers when they pass; We hear others praise them as "beloved leader"; We are told they are above reproof and cannot "lead us astray";
. . . and on and on it goes.
Moa Zedong was viewed as a god among his people. They were taught to love him even though his blunders and mass murders led to the misery and death of countless souls. His Cultural Revolution cost millions of lives. His Great Leap Forward starved tens of millions. Yet the people studied his "wisdom" in the Little Red Book, treating it like sacred scripture.
Cults of Personality
Personality cults are a common feature of authoritarian regimes. They are created by propaganda, symbolism, imagery, manipulated information, and distorted history.
Here are some examples of the "status" creation of strongmen:
(A) They love titles. Mao was given the title of Great Teacher, the Great Commander, the Great Leader or the Great Helmsman.
(B) They publish white-washed histories. In 1951, the Chinese Communist Party adopted an official history which claimed that Mao was a "genius" and made him into a superhuman, while ignoring his atrocities.
(C) They are regularly praised by others. Mao's right-hand-man, Lin Biao, was the head of the Politburo Standing Committee and used his position to glorify Mao in his speeches. "Everything the Chairman says is truly great," he said. "One of the Chairman's words will override the meaning of tens of thousands of ours."
(D) They are depicted heroically in art and sculpture. Mao's picture was prominently displayed in people's homes. Not having a picture of the Chairman was viewed as disloyal.
Sweet Home Amalickiah
Remember the Great Strongman in the Book of Mormon, Amalickiah? To his followers, he was a great "leader." And he was going to improve their prospects!
Now the leader . . . was a large and a strong man; and his name was Amalickiah.
And Amalickiah was desirous to be a king [naturally]; and those [who supported him] were the greater part of them the lower judges of the land, and they were seeking for power.
Why did the Nephites follow this wicked, awful man? Because Amalickiah promised them "that he would make them rulers over the people" (Alma 46:5). They wanted to climb the leadership ladder.
Rulers get the skybox, the honorary degrees, the book deals.
Servants, like Christ, get killed.
We must pick between Martyrs and Millionaires.
4. Strongman Motto: Rules for Thee, Not for Me
Double Standards wither away in the presence of common consent. But hierarchies feed on double standards.
I majored in history in college. When I studied communist Chinese history, I remember learning that Mao had special travel lanes built for his personal use on the freeway. No traffic jams for him. "Excuse us, make way, important man coming through." Strongmen receive the VIP treatment.
That's right: Mao and his cronies participated in all kinds of vice that they publicly preached against. Mao preached that communism was all about equality, yet made himself greater than everyone else. He said his responsibility was to "protect the interests of the youth, women and children" in his Little Red Book, when in reality, he had a steady stream of sex servants, used women and men for his personal gratification, and spent the lives of millions of young students as cannon fodder to rise to power.
Authoritarians are masters of double-speak. For example, they will call it a loving act to shun one's family members; they will describe trusting in the arm of flesh as a sign of faith; they will use scripture to justify their prideful ways.
Yea, even the very God of Israel do men trample under their feet; I say, trample under their feet but I would speak in other words-- they set him at naught, and hearken not to the voice of his counsels.
(1 Nephi 19:7)
A Tale of Two Baptisms
In Utah where I live our Stake has a monthly baptismal service for all the children turning 8.
Well, several years ago my wife was pregnant and her due date fell on the same day as the the Stake's baptism. We had a child scheduled to be baptized, and so we asked if we could arrange a different day.
The local leaders told us they would "check with the Stake." Unfortunately, "the Stake" said no. I guess there were too many requests for special accommodations, so they had to draw the line somewhere.
The day of the baptism there were two children from my ward getting baptized: my daughter, and the daughter of a friend who had a terminal illness. My friend was so weak and emaciated that he had trouble supporting the weight of his head. His condition was moment-by-moment.
At the same time, my wife had gone into labor. She was having regular contractions, but decided to wait until after the confirmation to go to the hospital. I asked her, "Honey, are you sure you can wait?" She said, "I'll do my best."
There were around 10 wards in the Stake, and each ward had to take its turn at the baptismal font. So they called each ward back one-by-one.
We alerted the presiding authority at the baptismal service that (1) my wife had gone into labor (she was pacing up and down the cultural hall, huffing like a deacon playing basketball); and (2) my friend, whose skin appeared translucent as if he was already halfway through the veil, may literally die at any moment.
Our request? To be called back to the baptismal font first.
The answer we received was no. I guess they had a system and our extenuating circumstances were not going to mess it up.
There I was, sitting in the front pew with my eight year old daughter, counting the seconds with each heartbeat as we sang, prayed, listened to talks . . . and as the other wards were called back one-by-one.
The Stake played a series of Church videos for us to watch while waiting. In one of the videos, I watched a woman testify about the gospel and how it was all about loving one another.
I wish I could have edited that video and done a voice over:
"Brothers and sisters, we must love one another [as far as our institutional policies and practices will allow]."
After the ceremony I took my children home and I took my wife to the hospital, where she gave birth to a baby boy. My friend lived long enough to confirm his daughter, and departed this world shortly thereafter.
Meanwhile, contrast that experience with this story involving a family member:
Bishop: Hi President [So-and-So], I was wondering if I could baptize my child in a mountain lake. I've always wanted to have an intimate ceremony out in nature.
Stake President: Sure, that's fine.
If you want preferential treatment, you better be serving in a leadership calling.
WAS JESUS A STRONGMAN?
Rather than getting special treatment because of his status as the Son of God, Jesus chose to become a man; he chose to suffer with us; he submitted to baptism to show us the way; he chose a life without wealth; he chose to be crucified among sinners.
WILL THE "ONE MIGHTY AND STRONG" BE A STRONGMAN?
He will be like Christ. Strong in the Spirit of God, but meek and lowly of heart.
I, the Lord God, will send one mighty and strong, holding the scepter of power in his hand, clothed with light for a covering, whose mouth shall utter words, eternal words; while his bowels shall be a fountain of truth.
WHAT ABOUT THE GUY MENTIONED IN D&C 103? WILL HE BE A STRONGMAN?
He will be like Christ. Strong in the Spirit of God, but meek and lowly of heart.
I say unto you, the redemption of Zion must needs come by power;
Therefore, I will raise up unto my people a man, who shall lead them like as Moses led the children of Israel.
For ye are the children of Israel, and of the seed of Abraham, and ye must needs be led out of bondage by power, and with a stretched-out arm.
WHAT ABOUT YOU? WILL YOU BE A STRONGMAN?
Let's make a promise to each other to NOT be strongmen (and women), thinking we know best and imposing our will on others.
Let us point others to Christ instead of pointing toward strongmen.
Jesus was a tender plant. He did not grow to his full stature by standing in the shadow of strongmen; rather, he stood in the noonday light of His Father. There is no shadow in him.
Let us come unto Christ and receive a fullness of His light.