Leading up to the Civil War, the Mason-Dixon Line demarked the North from the South; it was important for everyone to know where "the line was drawn" between the slave states and free states.
Likewise I have observed spiritual lines forming in the Church. Let me give two recent examples.
1. Someone posted online a simple question: "I often hear people say that a transgression is different than a sin. Why is this? Where does this idea come from?"
I commented, "I heard a professor say once [at BYU] that in Hebrew there is no difference between sin and transgression, which are the same word in the original text. I am not a linguist and have not fact-checked the professor, but I remember hearing that the LDS precept of distinguishing transgression vs. sin arose from Joseph F. Smith giving an apologetic for Adam and Eve's "transgression" (2nd AofF) creating a distinction where there is none."
That's it; all very ordinary. I just wrote a quick response off the top of my head; but from the response it received, you would have thought I was on a tirade trying to discredit the prophet.
a. One person said, "Tim, the prophet has a right to draw a distinction and clarification if directed by the Lord whom he serves."
b. Again, "It doesn't matter whether that distinction did or did not exist in the Hebrew. A prophet isn't bound by what is written in prior scripture. A prophet's role is to serve as the Lord's messenger and declare His will, and if that means declaring new doctrine or giving a clarification to existing doctrine or scripture, he is the man to do it."
c. Another: "Scripture is limited by the language available at the time it is given. And as language and context drifts or changes, a prophet can, at his discretion, provide another translation into the language and context of his day for the benefit of the saints in his stewardship. So I guess I am saying what was written previously in Hebrew doesn't matter if a loving prophet feels the need and inspiration to offer an entirely new one."
I found this interaction interesting because it showcased how lines are being drawn to divide us into two camps:
(1) Those who profess to follow the prophet (regardless of whether they do); and
(2) Others who members in Camp No. 1 subjectively label as "not-following-the-prophet" (regardless of whether they do).
Notice who is drawing the lines, and of them beware.
I used to think it was funny how members got so worked up about "following the prophet" in small things, like how many earrings a person had, while ignoring him in bigger things, like donating to the Perpetual Education Fund.
It highlights the fact that we all pick-and-choose the counsel we keep; and why LDS #DezNat extremists get a pass (advocating violence against "apostates" in the name of following-the-prophet, but in fact doing the opposite) whilst people like you and me (who do not present the proper public persona in Church) get called into the Stake President's office under suspicion of apostasy.
When someone claims to "follow-the-prophet" it begs the question: which prophet? since prophets do not speak with a unified voice; neither do they agree on important issues (as we've seen with the new For Strength of Youth pamphlet that removed many of the jot-and-tittles taught by previous administrations).
The solution? The Church has tried to solve this quandary in recent years by introducing a novel precept: let's make the living prophet the most important one. (See, Sheri Dew, "Prophets Can See Around Corners," November 2, 2022, under her 'Truth No. 2'.)
In doing so, the problem only becomes worse, as illustrated by polygamy: if we lived under Brigham Young and rejected the principle of polygamy, we'd be deemed "apostates" and be damned; and today, if we accept the principle of polygamy, we'll be deemed apostates and excommunicated.
Following the living prophet is no guarantee our children's prophets will not disavow our most precious beliefs.
And thus we see that "follow-the-prophet" creates an arbitrary standard; it advocates a sandy foundation instead of our Rock, Jesus Christ and his unchanging word, upon which we are to build.
Example No. 2
I wanted to share one more illuminating interchange from online.
Someone posted, "The simple message of the gospel is the kingdom of God is within you; no earthly church can be the kingdom of God."
Here is my comment, "I think it is worth considering Joseph Smith's statement to the Council of 50: "There is a distinction between the Church of God and the kingdom of God. The laws of the kingdom are not designed to effect our salvation hereafter. It is an entire, distinct and separate government....The literal kingdom of God and the church of God are two distinct things." (Joseph Smith, Administrative Records, The Joseph Smith Papers, Church Historian Press, 2016, p. 128)."
That's it; all very basic. One of the responses I received was, "Tim, okay, but this is not canonized doctrine. This was something Joseph Smith said to the Council of 50 and that is all that is right now."
I replied, "To your point: the Church Handbook is not canonized. So the governance of the Church is currently based on something as authoritative as Chicken Soup for the Soul, and that is all that is right now."
I don't comment much online anymore because it doesn't seem to do any good.
Speaking Past Each Other
By nature I am questioner; I am drawn to other truth-seekers; I have been called a 'true believer' (not a compliment but an indictment from my atheist friend), but some in my family view me as a black sheep?
So what am I, really? What are we? What's funny is that people usually aren't seeing us (not as divine beings, at least); instead they are seeing themselves through us; whether we confirm their beliefs or contrast them.
And so a person's worth becomes the product of another's ego; whether our existence affirms or threatens their conception of the world.
The "sifting" we have been discussing in this Series is happening all around us, as groupings organically emerge. For example, I am repelled by the brash, dogmatic positions of many of my friends and family; at times it seems as if we're speaking two different languages, and the divide is growing, much to my dismay.
We attract what we are. Those who adhere to the "follow-the-prophet" mentality will find themselves surrounded by likeminded individuals who weigh another's worth based on their allegiance to a man they call prophet; the Church will become a museum of virtue signaling as members rehearse their blessedness of being led by such a man; such will maintain their endorsements from the Ecclesiastical Clearance Office and continue to hold temple recommends; they will congratulate one another from the pulpit and the congregants in the pews will feel their hearts swell with pride knowing they belong to the One True Priesthood; and they will exult in a holy God who favors them whilst He casts down to hell all those misguided souls who were not as valiant as they.
Holy God, we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren; we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children; whilst all around us are elected to be cast, by thy wrath, down to hell; for which holiness, O God, we thank thee.
Yesterday the Church caused a minor kerfuffle when its Newsroom announced the return of opening prayers in Sunday School. That wasn't the controversial part; it was the fact they cited Section 29.6 of the Church Handbook, "Prayers in Church Meetings" that says:
"Members should pray using words that express love and respect for Heavenly Father. In English, this includes using the pronouns Thee, Thy, Thine, and Thou when addressing Him."
Using the King's English in prayer ("How do I love THEE, let me count the ways") is nothing new for members of the Church; it seems to be a hobby horse of President Dallin H. Oaks (see his talk, "The Language of Prayer," April 1993 General Conference; republished in January 2006 Ensign as "The Special Language of Prayer"); as well as for President Nelson (who, let's admit it, rides more hobby horses than any church leader in recent memory). Elder Nelson taught in 2009:
"We can use “right words”—special pronouns—in reference to Deity. While worldly manners of daily dress and speech are becoming more casual, we have been asked to protect the formal, proper language of prayer. In our prayers we use the respectful pronouns Thee, Thou, Thy, and Thine instead of You, Your, and Yours. Doing so helps us to be humble. That can also enhance our prayers." ("Lessons from the Lord's Prayers," April 2009 General Conference.)
But this Post is not about the "proper" and "right" way to pray ― the reason I bring it up is because it is a case study in how members frame what is "right"; yesterday I read a number of online comments about the prayer-pronouns controversy, which invariably ended the argument with "follow the prophet." Obedience, after all, is the soup du jour.
(Since no one asked, I will share my opinion on the matter. For all I care you can pray in Pig Latin as long as you do it with "real intent" (see Moroni 7:9). The Church makes much ado about nothing, when the Lord teaches us to do "as seemeth you good, it mattereth not unto me; only be faithful" (D&C 62:5). It is faith, not observing proper forms, which brings power.)
Argumentum ad Verecundiam (no, that's not a spell from Harry Potter)
How do we decide whether something is right or wrong? Let's take prayer-pronouns as an example; how are we supposed to decide what pronouns to use?
1. Option A. Let the Prophet do the thinking for us and simply follow the Handbook.
I think Option A is the most common way we resolve differences of opinion in the Church: by appealing to authority.
But unfortunately the notion of "appealing to authority" is premised on a logical fallacy (yes, that's right; let it sink in: the bedrock of how the Church governs is fallacious; it is based on the sandy foundation of a logical fallacy).
This fallacy is called (since we like high-falutin words) argumentum ad verecundiam. "Appeals to authority are not valid arguments, but nor is it reasonable to disregard the claims of experts who have a demonstrated depth of knowledge unless one has a similar level of understanding and/or access to empirical evidence. However, it is entirely possible that the opinion of a person or institution of authority is wrong; therefore the authority that such a person or institution holds does not have any intrinsic bearing upon whether their claims are true or not." (Logical Fallacy).
Watch out: I am going to invoke President Boyd K. Packer to illustrate my point. One of President Packer's favorite stories to tell in General Conference (I lost count how many times I heard it) was about a . . . kitten.
President Packer's Story
"On a visit to a school at Albuquerque, the principal told me of an incident that happened in a first grade class. During a lesson, a kitten wandered into the room and distracted the youngsters. It was brought to the front of the room so all could see it.
"One youngster asked: “Is it a boy kitty or a girl kitty?”
"The teacher, unprepared for that discussion, said, “It doesn’t matter; it’s just a kitten.” But the children persisted, and one little boy said, “I know how we can tell if it is a boy kitty or a girl kitty.”
"The teacher, cornered, said, “All right, you tell us how we can tell if it is a boy kitty or a girl kitty.” The boy answered, “We can vote on it!”
I am going to tweak the story: let's pretend the teacher (the authority figure) tells the class the cat is a boy, when in fact it is a girl. In other words, the teacher gets it wrong.
Should the class jump on board and defend the cat's boyness? Is it wrong for someone to stand up and claim, "It is a girl kitty" against the teacher's declaration?
You see, the very point Elder Packer made refutes (!) the way the Church operates; we have merely to substitute an authority figure's pronouncement for the class's voting results: neither guarantees the truth.
To quote President Packer, "Some things cannot be changed" ― regardless of what the Prophet says.
2. Option B.Truth is discerned through the power of the Holy Ghost and the light of Christ.
A different approach we could take to discovering truth is, instead of appealing to authority, to rely upon God. You know, ask Him.
You might object, "Tim, that's like appealing to the ultimate authority!" Or someone might argue, "That would result in disorder and confusion, if everyone followed their own inspiration! Cats and Dogs living together? Get with the program, man."
Let's look at what the scriptures teach:
a. Holy Ghost
If ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you [how will He?] by the power of the Holy Ghost.
And by the power of the Holy Ghost [how; whose power?] ye may know the truth of all things [what percentage is "all"?]
b. Light of Christ
And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, [how are we to judge?] which light is the light of Christ, [whose light?] see that ye do not judge wrongfully. [how do we 'judge wrongfully?']
c. Trust in the Spirit
I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit.
And then shall ye know, or by this shall you know, [how will we know?] all things whatsoever [what percentage is "all"?] you desire of me.
(D&C 11:12, 14)
Okay, I think we get the idea. The point I want to make is that freedom exists in following Christ and His light. Not from obeying the Handbook as if it were our master (which is akin to being in spiritual 'bondage').
Wherefore, hear my voice and follow me, and you shall be a free people.
We are free insofar as we become His Constitution; otherwise, we remain serfs.
"We the People" No More?
How can we become the Lord's Constitution when the Church operates against Constitutional principles?
- Instead of "We the People," we get "We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles."
- Instead of due process, we get "do your ministering."
- Instead of checks-and-balances, we get "write your tithing checks."
- Instead of independent judges, we get bishop roulette.
- Instead of representative government, we get "Which Way Do You Face?"
- Instead of Term Limits, we get a gerontocracy.
- Instead of freedom of conscience we get the Handbook's definition of "apostasy."
- Instead of the 4th Amendment protecting us from unreasonable searches and seizures, we get the Strengthening Church Members Committee.
- Instead of FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) and transparency, we get closed councils and secret finances.
. . . and on it goes. What happened; how did the Church go from being a champion of liberty to resembling the repressive sultanates of the Middle East?
Restoring Liberty to the Restoration
Have you ever heard the idea that the Lord established America as a land of liberty so He could restore His church here, where Joseph Smith enjoyed religious freedom? As if implying that the Restoration could not have transpired in Tudor England?
Well, I have news for you. The Church in 2022 resembles Tudor England more than it does Frontier America.
If Joseph attempted to teach the truths he did 200 years ago, today in the Church, he'd be excommunicated; the Church he founded would not welcome or want him; just as the Jews rejected their Messiah.
The Restoration will continue, but only among a free people.
I was a prosecutor for 13 years. Occasionally a defendant would come to court and argue with the judge, "Your honor, I didn't know it was against the law! You can't fault me for something I didn't know was illegal."
But if you've taken a beginner's Criminal Justice course, then you know it is axiomatic that "ignorance of the law is no defense."
That means if I kill somebody, I can't rest my defense on the fact no one told me murder was wrong. "How was I supposed to know I couldn't throw toasters in the bathtub while my boss was bathing?"
I mean, if we think about it, imagine if society predicated accountability on our knowledge of the law; it would incentivize people to remain ignorant since anyone charged with a crime could just profess ignorance and avoid punishment.
That would be terrible public policy!
No Man Saved in Ignorance
Okay, but what about in the spiritual realm? How does "knowledge" differ in heavenly jurisprudence?
It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.
Hmmm. Looks like ignorance of God's law is no defense, either.
But before we give up, how do we reconcile the fact that people who have no law come forth in the First Resurrection?
They that knew no law shall have part in the first resurrection; and it shall be tolerable for them.
I think we're discovering that "ignorance" straddles the fence, holding the middle-ground; the Doctrine and Covenants tells us that folks going to the Terrestrial Kingdom include "they who died without law" (D&C 76:72).
That is why we can infer from Joseph Smith's statement the following, inverse truth:
It is impossible for a man to be [damned] in ignorance.
After all, Lucifer could not have fallen so low if he hadn't risen up to become "a son of the morning."
What I am trying to say is that in order for a person to be exalted, they must obtain knowledge; but once they obtain knowledge they also become candidates for the pit, should they fail to abide by it.
Scary? The word of God is indeed a double-edged sword.
On Second Thought
While I often give hierarchies a hard time, there's a positive side to them.
Besides the obvious efficiencies created in a dictatorate ("He was a tyrant, but at least he made the trains run on time"), the people below their stewardship are insulated, in a measure, from personal accountability.
This is what the Lord was telling us about the Constitution, and why becoming His "constitution" is a risky proposition.
The Lord explained He established a constitution in order to make "every man accountable for his own sins" (D&C 101:78).
Let's just back up; we need a moment to digest that. Being self-governing increases our individual accountability, versus being subject to an unjust leader or a lesser law (the "where much is given, much is required" principle).
For this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land.
What purpose, again?
"that every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment . . . And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land."
On second thought, maybe this whole Constitution-thing was not such a good idea; maybe it was better to sit underneath the sins of our wicked kings and NOT be accountable.
As Mosiah II declared:
I command you to do these things, and that ye have no king; that if these people commit sins and iniquities they shall be answered upon their own heads.
For behold I say unto you, the sins of many people have been caused by the iniquities of their kings; therefore their iniquities are answered upon the heads of their kings.
So before we decide to sign our John Hancock and become the Lord's constitution, we should ask ourselves if that is what we truly want.
Up until this time in 2022, we have not seen Zion because no people on earth have been willing to be the Lord's constitution; they've preferred the relative anonymity of co-habitating among Babylon's kings and lords, in ignorance.
"Ye Are My Constitution?"
On April 25, 1844 . . .
[Note the date: this was a month after the "Last Charge Meeting" in which Joseph rolled off the Kingdom of God to the Council of 50.]
. . . the revelation was received that fundamentally and forever changed the government of the Church on earth.
Or should have.
As you know, Joseph died two months later; what he might have done with this revelation we do not know, for in the wake of his departure, his followers wrestled for leadership of the Church and splintered into 100 various factions (and counting). Today the LDS Church is the largest and wealthiest of them.
Sometimes I wonder if we, who have the advantage of hindsight, have learned anything in the intervening 178 years?
"The chairman [Joseph Smith] then made some further remarks and advised that we let the constitution alone. He would tell us the whole matter about the constitution as follows--
"Verily thus saith the Lord, ye are my constitution, and I am your God, and ye are my spokesmen. From henceforth do as I shall command you. Saith the Lord.
"Er Rigdon motioned that the constitution be received and the vote was unanimous, whereupon the council adjourned."
Has this revelation been repealed, replaced, or set aside? Then why are we governing the Church like we're still in the middle ages?
As Joseph's spiritual heirs, we were bequeathed a dual legacy, for those brave enough to embrace it:
1. The Doctrine of Christ
First we have the Doctrine of Christ, which is the crowning doctrine of the kingdom:
Behold, this is my doctrine― whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.
Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church.
How should we interpret this simple statement? May I proffer that, at a minimum, it means that anyone who teaches we come unto Christ by any means other than repentance is placing a stumbling block in our path?
For example, is declaring we come unto Christ only through the keys held by men and the covenants and ordinances they control "more or less than this"?
2. The Constitution of Christ
When the Lord called us His constitution, saying, "From henceforth do as I shall command you," He was merely codifying what Nephi taught long ago:
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.
Behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and there will be no more doctrine given until after he shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh. And when he shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh, the things which he shall say unto you shall ye observe to do.
(2 Nephi 32:5-6)
Well, will 'ya look at that; the two doctrines are the same!
When we actually compare the Doctrine of Christ and what it means to be His Constitution, they're speaking about the same thing; to wit: (1) come unto Christ and receive His word; and (2) do it.
In this Post we are going to identify some of the patterns and principles of the Gathering that we find in the scriptures (it might sound tedious, but believe me, it is going to be thrilling!).
Since we are part of the great latter-day Gathering and Restoration of Israel, this is particularly relevant for us.
Q. Who is gathered first, the Wheat or the Tares?
First things first: always remember that the Wheat is gathered first (this is significant because it flips the standard narrative on its head, as we'll see shortly).
Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the wheat into my barn.
(Matt. 13:29-30, JST Version)
Let's pretend for a moment that what we're taught in Church is correct; I'm talking about the idea that the Church is composed of both Wheat and Tares who are co-existing and growing together in our Wards and chapels ― for now.
But just you wait, Henry Higgins, because in a coming day there will be a sifting. What is this "sifting" everyone is so excited about?
Well, it refers to all the unfaithful folks (the bad apples) being shaken out of the Church like rotten fruit falling from a tree's branches. "Finally! About time we start cleansing the inner vessel."
In other words, "sifting" is the process of Tares being weeded out of the Church; "Tares" meaning those who leave the Church, those apostates! (In fact, their leaving the Church is all the proof we need of their Tarehood.)
And good riddance! With all those "Tares" gone, maybe now we can get serious about the business of building Zion, seeing as we just have super-faithful Wheat left. Jackson County, here we come.
Did any of that sound familiar?
"A TEST is coming"
I think this all goes back to something Heber C. Kimball said long ago when he warned the Saints that Salt Lake City would become one of the wickedest cities in the world. "The time is coming when … it will be difficult to tell the face of a Saint from the face of an enemy to the people of God. Then … look out for the great sieve, for there will be a great sifting time, and many will fall." He concluded that there is "a TEST coming." (Quoted by Elder Quentin L. Cook, "Valiant in the Testimony of Jesus," 2016 October General Conference.)
What test? What is the test the Tares fail?
According to the Church, the Test is, of course, whether we follow the Prophet (not, incidentally, the Lord).
But that is not the test the Lord described, is it?
For whoso cometh not unto ME is under the bondage of sin. And whoso receiveth not MY voice is not acquainted with MY voice, and is not of ME.
That which you hear is as the voice of one crying in the wilderness-- in the wilderness, because you cannot see him—my voice, because MY voice is Spirit; MY Spirit is truth; truth abideth and hath no end; and if it be in you it shall abound.
(D&C 84:51-52; 88:66)
Apostles and prophets of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speak with God's voice when they share the words of Christ; but remember, a prophet is only a prophet when he speaks by the power of the Holy Ghost.
The gift and prerogative to speak the truth with the tongue of angels is available to us all, regardless of race, gender, age, calling, office, sexual orientation, denomination, economic status, and so forth:
They shall speak as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost.
And whatsoever they shall speak WHEN moved upon by the Holy Ghost [which is the only time it counts] shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.
Behold, this is the promise of the Lord unto you, O ye my servants [see, this is the privilege of all].
There is no hierarchy for speaking truth when the Holy Ghost gives utterance; the Holy Ghost renders rank and office obsolete.
So we see the Great Divide has already begun: on the one hand, the Church teaching us to follow a man because of his title and office; on the other, the Lord telling us to follow His voice regardless of its source.
Here is an example of the Church's position:
"This is a time of sifting, a time when, more than ever in the history of the modern world, the adversary and his followers have shown themselves to be enemies of God....The time has come for each member of the Church to keep close to the Lord, to be steadfast by sustaining and upholding and following the counsel of his divinely appointed servants." (Elder ElRay Christiansen, "The Sifting," 1971 October General Conference.)
Thus we see our Wheatie-ness in all of its pre-1978 white-bleached-flour-glory: obey the Prophet; when the Prophet speaks, the debate is over; the Prophet will never lead us astray.
A Different Paradigm
I want to suggest another possibility: what if the "sifting" described the process of Wheat being led out of the Church by the angels of God?
Hold on, before you have an aneurysm, ask yourself, is it possible? What if, instead of Tares leaving the Church because they're unfaithful, the Wheat leave the Church because the Stone the builders rejected (Christ) is no longer its cornerstone?
What if the cornerstone of our religion has become "follow the prophet," and brought us under condemnation?
Take the example of Lehi: sure, to a Jew in Jerusalem circa 600 B.C. it may have seemed like Lehi leaving the Church was faithless, the brazen act of an apostate. "Lehi, why aren't you more obedient to the priests? Why can't you be happy with your temple sacrifices and the Rabbi's teaching in the synagogue? Surely you know we are the Lord's covenant people! Stay in the boat here in Jerusalem where the Lord will protect his people."
Behold he [Lehi] [and Clark] [Lavina] [Teresa] [Denver] [Adrian] [Rock] [Paul] [Tim] [Rob] [Ruth] [Cameron] [Nathan] [Dave] [Laura] [Harry] [Hugh] [Dieter] [Mike] [George] [Avraham] [and on and on and on] went forth among the people, and began to prophesy and to declare unto them concerning the things which [t]he[y] had both seen and heard.
And it came to pass that the Jews did mock [them] because of the things which [t]he[y] testified of them; for [t]he[y] truly testified of their wickedness and their abominations;
And when the Jews heard these things they were angry with [t]h[e]m.
(1 Nephi 1:18-20)
So if you're a Russian soldier and a fan of Stalin, and you see your admiral defect to the United States in The Hunt for Red October during the Cold War, you probably view him as a traitor and an enemy of the state.
But in America? He's a hero!
It all depends upon your allegiance.
So when we see shrinking numbers at Church, it may not be because we're shedding the dead weight; it is more likely we're losing the Wheat.
Q. How Does the Lord Gather His Wheat?
Because the Wheat is gathered first (before the destruction of the wicked), we need to identify the mechanism by which the Wheat finds its way to the barn.
Do the faithful call an Uber and wait for the angels to show up, curbside, in a black limousine? Do we ride horses aflame with heaven's fire bareback to Kolob? Do we build an Ark out of gopherwood and watch the forecast?
As complex as it may appear at first, it is not rocket science; because in the end, the righteous are always gathered in only two ways:
1. The righteous are cast out; and/or
2. The righteous are led away.
1. Righteous Are Cast Out.
Being "cast out" of society may not seem like a very efficient way to gather, but make no mistake: it is foolproof. In a way, we owe the Tares some credit; after all, they're the ones who do the sifting by throwing out the Wheat!
That's right: watch for Wheat among those who have been rejected, scorned, ridiculed, and excommunicated.
a. Jesus told his disciples:
They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.
Notice that Jesus was talking about faith-groups here: those who believed they were doing God a favor by tossing his messengers out of the Church.
Jesus was, Himself, the best example of this type of persecution; religious persecutors are always the worst.
b. Samuel the Lamanite warned:
The time cometh, saith the Lord, that when (NOT "IF") ye shall cast out the righteous from among you, then shall ye be ripe for destruction.
This all begs the question, What are the Tares thinking?! Why would they cut off the very leaven that is sparing the loaf?
Well, that's the sad part: they think they're on the Lord's errand by "defending the faith," using their authority to shun, excommunicate, and even kill, those who threaten the regime.
The spirit of the Crusades and the spirit of the Inquisition and the spirit of September Six are all examples of men causing injury because they think they have the Spirit of God when they are under a false spirit.
c. Alma and Amulek saw first hand what happens when the Spirit ceases to strive with a people in Ammonihah:
And they were also angry with Alma and Amulek; and because they had testified so plainly against their wickedness, they sought to put them away privily.
And they brought their wives and children together, and whosoever believed or had been taught to believe in the word of God they caused that they should be cast into the fire.
(Alma 14:3, 8)
"Not me, Tim; I would never cast anyone into the fire; I don't kill people! And neither would our priesthood leaders, for cryin' out loud!"
That is good. But . . .
I had murdered many of his children, or rather, led them away unto destruction.
I wish (I wish!) we would teach in Sunday School that the Nuremberg Defense is not available to the participants in the Mountain Meadows Massacre, who were just "following orders" of their Stake President, Isaac C. Haight. What about those who excommunicate members of the Church at the direction of Headquarters for preaching the word of God?
2. The Righteous Are Led Away
So you've been rejected and cast out of your community ― yes, the one you love and have labored with and would die for ― but they want nothing to do with you anymore; so where do you go?
Well, this is the fun part! Welcome, dear brothers and sisters, to the "Fellowship of His sufferings" (Phil. 3:10).
Blessed are ye! For they reviled you, and persecuted you, and said all manner of evil against you falsley for His name' sake (see Matt. 5:11).
Rejoice! For great is your reward in heaven.
a. Mosiah the First warned to flee.
There are far too many illustrations in the scriptures of the righteous being led away (think of Lot leaving Sodom) for me to cite them all; but this one sums it up beautifully:
He [Mosiah I] being warned of the Lord that he should flee out of the land of Nephi, and as many as would hearken unto the voice of the Lord should also depart out of the land with him, into the wilderness--
And it came to pass that he did according as the Lord commanded and they departed out of the land into the wilderness, as many as would hearken unto the voice of the Lord; and they were led by many preachings and prophesyings.
And they were admonished continually by the word of God; and they were led by the power of his arm.
I wanted to point out the last part: "the power of his arm."
This should spark some comparisons to Isaiah's writings about the Lord's "arm."
Also, in D&C 103 we get these goosebump-inducing words:
I say unto you, the redemption of Zion must needs come by power;
Therefore, I will raise up unto my people a man, who shallalead them like as Moses led the children of Israel.
For ye . . . must needs be led out of bondage by power, and with a stretched-out arm.
And as your fathers were led at the first, even so shall the redemption of Zion be.
So hush little baby, don't you cry; Papa's gonna deliver you by-and-by.
On August 3, 2004, while residing in off-campus housing in Provo, Utah, preparing for a new semester of law school ― on that hot Tuesday afternoon, as I was fasting and praying in my bedroom, the voice of God called me by name and blessed me.
I recorded the words He spake, all 876 of them. It feels weird sharing this, but the Lord commissioned me at that time to "teach my word unto my children and bring them unto me through faith and repentance on my name, unto the striking down of unbelief, false tradition, and pride."
You may recall something the Lord told Hyrum Smith in 1829:
Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men.
So I spent the next decade and a half preparing: studying the scriptures, searching Christ's words, pondering the celestial laws undergirding Zion, and longing for the redemption of the daughters of Jerusalem.
All this while life went on as it has for millennia; I married, became a father, passed the bar, applied for jobs, and gained weight.
All very ordinary.
I learned one of the hardest things to do in life is to do "nothing." The old Protestant work ethic, I guess, makes waiting upon the Lord feel like shirking. "Where are all those wheels needing shoulders to press along?"
I remember driving to work some mornings feeling like I might burst, wanting to rush to the front lines with my spiritual bayonet and charge the cannon fire. But this verse stuck in my mind:
Let your hearts be comforted concerning Zion; for all flesh is in mine hands; be still and know that I am God.
So it was, on September 2, 2018, some 16 years later, that the voice of the Lord came again.
On a Sunday afternoon with the house to myself, I relished the peace and quiet and knelt in prayer and heard the voice the Lord.
It was go-time.
My mission: to point to Christ as He points to the Father. Nor would I serve alone; I was told many others were called so that His words might reach every part of the vineyard.
I share this because it relates to the Parable of the Wheat and Tares.
Among the 975 words the Lord spoke that day was, "Sing unto the East and to the West; let your voice be heard near and afar; time is hastening and the field is ready to be reaped."
Notice He did not say the field was "ripe." This time, the Lord indicated the field was "ready to be reaped."
And remember what the "reapers" do in the Parable of the Tares? The Lord told His disciples:
The harvest is the end of the world, or the destruction of the wicked. The reapers are the angels, or the messengers sent of heaven. As, therefore, the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so shall it be in the end of this world.
(Matthew 13:39-41, JST)
But how? How was I supposed to raise my voice among the chorus, both "near" and "afar"?
For those of who have read my post "Reflection," you'll know what happened. Ten days later, on September 12, 2018, the idea for Owl of the Desert began to take shape.
I put the Lord's words into poetry, and then in May 2020 I began writing this blog.
I was singing!
And my song was always of Christ's redeeming love (and the corollary of what quenches it: hierarchy, priestcraft, idolatry, status, authority and hypocrisy).
It was in the spirit of grief and mourning, over what had become of the Lord's people, that I wrote the lament, The Orchard.
And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard wept, and said unto the servant: What could I have done more for my vineyard?
But on July 24, 2021 in the early morning (not sure if the date is significant) I awoke from a dream.
In my dream I was told the location of a future gathering place for the saints. The strange thing was I had never heard of this place before (and no, it wasn't in Utah or Missouri).
I said "a" gathering place and not "the" gathering place because the gathering will not be en masse, but will transpire over time as small groups coalesce into larger ones, and so on and so forth, until everyone is gathered by the providence of the God.
I cannot tell you where the Lord wants you to gather, for though He led Lehi's family out of Jerusalem, He instructed Jeremiah to stay behind and go into exile.
The Lord really does know what He is doing. He has a plan for each of us.
That is why it would be prudent for everyone to seek personal instruction from the Lord on the matter of gathering, even as He told us in D&C 45:57:
For they that are (1) wise and (2) have received the truth, and (3) have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and (4) have not been deceived―
Notice that our guide is to be "the Holy Spirit."
I suppose that means if we follow another spirit (or person or priesthood office) we risk being "deceived" (which ironically is the opposite of what we generally hear from those who warn it would be mass-apostasy-chaos-disorder if we all hearkened individually to God, urging us instead to just listen to priesthood leaders).
I am quoting this verse because it speaks directly the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, surprise!
The verse concludes:
verily I say unto you, they [those who are (1) thru (4)] shall NOT be hewn down and cast into the fire, but shall abide the day.
So we get an interesting explanation of "Tares" by reverse-engineering this verse. A "Tare" is someone who:
(1) Is foolish (2) Has rejected the truth (3) Has not taken the Holy Spirit for their guide; (4) Has been deceived
These Tares, the Lord promised, will be "cast into a furnace of fire" and "burned" at the end of the world (Matt. 13:40, 42).
Anyone think it's getting hot in here? Who's turning up the thermostat?!
A Gathering Primer
Soon after my dream in 2021, I traveled to the place I had been told would become a gathering place when the world falls apart, I guess.
My dad picked me up at 4:30 a.m. and we began a long drive in his Honda Accord (it was a father-son road trip). We listened to a book on CD about the Civil War, the two of us, stopping at all the Chinese Buffets we found along the way (and Costcos, because my dad loves getting gas there).
Interestingly, when we arrived at our destination we discovered many other wonderful, quirky people had been led there as well.
In fact, a small community had formed among those who felt "called" to the area in order to prepare for the coming storm.
Some of them had been living there for years, others were newcomers; some were members of the LDS Church, and some were not; denominational differences didn't matter because they were all waiting upon the Lord, building homes and farming and going to their jobs (when COVID hit, some of them got excited thinking things were about to get interesting; but then, life went on much as it had).
I tell you this because I realized something on that trip: revelation can be an anchor or a millstone, depending on how we treat it.
The funny thing about revelation is there's always more to come; since our understanding of the Lord's plan is limited, ask yourself: is it wise to cling to an inflexible, narrow view of what the Lord has told us, when we don't even see the bigger picture?
I mean, how often do we fixate on what has been revealed, forgetting we're swimming in a prophetic current of water that is flowing, rushing onward, dynamic and responsive to our agency and the agency of others, towards what yet will be revealed?
Sometimes revelation is cumulative; but not always, such as when the Lord seems to go in an entirely new direction. That's why I always remember something the Lord told the saints in Nauvoo (I think it is just as pertinent today):
[If you] do not do the things that I say, I will not perform the oath which I make unto you, neither fulfil the promises which ye expect at my hands, saith the Lord.
Yes, the D&C says the New Jerusalem is going to be in Missouri:
The land of Missouri, which is the land which I have appointed and consecrated for the gathering of the saints.
Wherefore, this is the land of promise, and the place for the city of Zion.
Yes, the Lord said Zion would not be moved out of her place:
Surely Zion is the city of our God, and surely Zion cannot fall, neither be moved out of her place, for God is there, and the hand of the Lord is there.
Zion shall not be moved out of her place, notwithstanding her children are scattered.
But. But . . . .
Gathering for Winter
During our trip, I stopped at several Indian Reservations and visited with some of the tribal elders. I must have caught them at a bad time because each home I entered seemed to have a tale of tragedy they shared with me, of someone who had recently died, overdosed, or committed suicide.
As much as the Lord wants us to prepare in faith to gather, so too does the devil want to divide us and keep us stuck-in-the-mud; for every still-small-voice calling you to gather, there will be a dozen voices telling you to stay in the boat. So I encourage everyone to take another look at the scriptural teachings on "gathering." This plays a central role in the Parable of the Wheat and Tares, in which the angels gather the Wheat to the barn (i.e. Zion); as well as gathering the Tares to be bundled and burned.
In Isaiah 52, we're told:
For ye shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight: for the Lord will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your rearward.
Think of squirrels: they gather nuts in preparation for the snow to fall (or in our case, Yellowstone's super volcano to erupt).
But have you considered the fact that we bring in the harvest AFTER the growing season is over? Does this mean, perhaps, the window in which to repent ("the field is ripe") is closing; and soon all that is left will be for the angels to lay in store for the wintertime?
The Lord gathers His children to preserve them like we gather summer strawberries to preserve them in our pantry, safely canned in Mason jars.
"Sure, we could build a bunker for ourselves and our family, shutting ourselves off from everybody. We could stockpile canned food and water while waiting out the storm, playing Monopoly and eating microwaved popcorn as the world burns.
"But has the Lord called us to isolate ourselves in some remote ranch in rural North Dakota? Does the Lord want us to retire to our private island in the Pacific and turn our backs on His suffering children? Are we more concerned with staying alive than we are with being alive in Christ?"
The apocalyptic Section 133 of the Doctrine and Covenants provides some guidance on gathering. If you haven't recently, I recommend pondering the whole Section and ask the Lord what steps you could take, now, to prepare for what is coming.
Yea, let the cry go forth among all people: Awake (!) and arise (!) and go forth to meet the Bridegroom; behold and lo, the Bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Prepare yourselves for the great day of the Lord.
But verily, thus saith the Lord, let not your flight be in haste, but let all things be prepared before you; and he that goeth, let him not look back lest sudden destruction shall come upon him.
Hearken and hear, O ye inhabitants of the earth. Listen, ye elders of my church together, and hear the voice of the Lord; for he calleth upon all men, and he commandeth all men everywhere to repent.
(D&C 133:10, 15-16)
The Lord's voice is calling to you, and to me, to all of us, to take His hand so He can guide us through the coming gathering.
Facebook Dumpster Fire? Or "The Spirit of God like a Fire is Burning?"
I know, I know. I should stay off Facebook. In my defense, I am a late adopter of technology and only signed up for Facebook around the time of the COVID pandemic, wanting to reconnect with missionary buddies and old friends.
Today, however, I experienced my first Facebook explosion. Nothing viral, but exciting for someone who is usually in bed by 8:00 p.m.
This is what happened:
Facebook recommends "groups" to join based on some unknowable Algorithm. A lot of the groups I belong to are, naturally, associated with Mormonism and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And the comic strip Dilbert.
A couple of weeks ago the All-Knowing Algorithm recommended a group called "Thoughtful Saints."
While the name "Thoughtful Saints" does not necessarily describe me, I thought it to be at least aspirational. So I joined.
I've enjoyed some of the content, but sometimes things are posted that are little too toothy in the donkey's mouth, if you know what I mean.
Such as, this morning, when I read, "Beware the saints who advocate a Mormon Protestantism," in which the author was saying we have a hierarchy so there is no priesthood of all believers, I felt like responding.
Here it is . . . .
My Original Post
Recently I've read several posts and comments and wanted to offer some reflections on them.
1. "Beware the saints who advocate a Mormon Protestantism."
I suppose we could, instead, advocate a Mormon Catholicism? Because the Catholics wrote the book on hierarchy and keys. Instead, would it be more productive to frame the discussion around the latter-day Mission-Statement of the Restoration contained in D&C 1 that says "man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh--but that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord" (D&C 1:19-20)? That description of the latter-day work sounds like a "priesthood of all believers." Am I wrong?
2. "You can’t follow Jesus Christ if you don’t follow those he has sent (apostles)."
I think I understand this precept, but it requires some nuance. The Book of Mormon gives an interesting counterpoint: "The keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there" (2 Nephi 9:41).
A prophet is only a prophet when he speaks the word of God. And so I find it unhelpful to advocate any kind of carte blanche obedience to those in authority. I would not boast of following apostles' politics when they legalized slavery in the Utah Territory when D&C 101 says it is not right for man to be in bondage one to one another; I would not follow an apostle's social views who advocated for racism in the 1960s during the Civil Rights movement; I would not sustain policies that sell tokens for tithes when Christ forbade His Father's house from becoming a den of thieves, where sacred ordinances of the temple can be obtained only upon payment of money, when Nephi and Lehi taught "salvation is free" (2 Nephi 2).
Instead I would encourage hearkening to our leaders when they speak by the power of the Holy Ghost the words of Christ. For truth is known by the message, not the messenger.
3. "Hold to the rod. Follow the Prophet."
Here we see the conflation of two things which are not always simpatico.
Yes, prophets can speak the words of Christ; but they also have agency to preach Adam-God.
Following our "leaders" in lockstep is a kind of idolatry that Nephi warned against in 2 Nephi 28.
After all, we already follow a Living Prophet, even Jesus Christ.
So following a lower-case, mortal prophet is not "holding to the iron rod." The iron rod is the Word (Christ) of God, whereever we find it, and from whomever's mouth (even the mouths of babes, see 3 Ne. 19).
Taken together, the sentiments expressed seem to center the good news of the gospel on having latter-day authority figures to follow, as if to eclipse the reality that we already have the gift of the Holy Ghost, who is a God, to follow.
Does a doctrine that detracts from Christ remove our single-eye-focus from God? Does it create a spiritual bureaucracy that would disappoint the Apostle Paul, by bestowing greater honor on the nose and ears than the feet and knees?
Didn't Paul teach us to "covet to prophesy" (which would make us all prophets, as Moses hoped). I would suggest that Christ is the door, and anyone who stands to block His sheep from entering is a hireling and a thief.
Apostles and prophets are witnesses of the name of Christ, but do not replace Him as the object of our loyalty and faith.
I expected some pushback but was delighted by how my expectations were exceeded.
Here are some of the highlights:
Group Member: Here's a scenario Tim: I feel the Holy Ghost tells me that gay temple sealings will be a reality of the future. I therefore become an activist against the Church. Am I laboring for Jesus Christ?
The keys necessary for governing the Church in the latter days were restored to Joseph Smith by heavenly beings—for instance, John the Baptist, Peter, James, John, Moses, Elias, and Elijah. The current 15 have those keys. Adam-God, slavery, etc have already been filtered in time, Tim. Without the 15 and the keys, you're going to be at the whim and mercy of personal biases and cultural morality (that will make whatever you believe appear correct.) How will you choose between popular cultural morality, bias and the divine direction that contradicts those forces?
I see the problems as well, as you've pointed out, regarding "personal biases and cultural morality." But is the Holy Ghost also subject to those? If so, then what is the point of having the gift? If not, then doesn't it create an objective standard for God's standard of truth?
Regarding the keys held by men today, I think we need to have a broader discussion of their transmission and the Last Charge Meeting. See, "The Last Charge Meeting."
Group Member: It seems to me that you are still stuck with the "15" since they have outwardly demonstrated that they can and continue to fulfill the purposes of the keys given from John the Baptist, Peter, James, John, Moses, Elias, and Elijah manifested outwardly than anyone one person or combined persons (DC 107:18). Which other group has fulfilled these purposes greater than the Quorums (First Presidency, Quorum of the 12, Seventy) of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? You're saying there is a better vessel to fulfill the Lord's purposes, right? Where is it?
If keys cannot be lost, then how did the Great Apostasy occur? And if they were lost then, could they be lost in our dispensation? I sustain the Q12 not because their authority comes from above, but from below: by the prayer and confidence of the body.
It says it right in D&C 107:22: "Of the Melchizedek Priesthood, three Presiding High Priests, chosen by the body ["body," so NOT BY GOD] appointed and ordained to that office [who appoints and ordains them to their positions? The President of the Church, so again, even if he is inspired in his calling, it is NOT the same as being ordained BY GOD], and upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church [that's us again, the Church, so NOT GOD], form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church."
This explains how the leaders can call their successors and why we have the means of succession as we do, rather than requiring an angel to come down from heaven, as was the case for Joseph Smith. We voted for Brigham Young, and therefore God worked through him.
Group Member: No offense, but this seems like splitting hairs. You're saying that something significant exists here when it doesn't seem to matter all that much to the body, the mission, or the establishment of Zion in the latter days. Are you not personally inserting "Not by God" as an exclusive definition into this, striving to separate God's intervention or "choosing" emphasizing only the body's support, making that the exclusive hinge point of authority, rather than wanting to admit that those chosen are the ones chosen by God?
As for splitting hairs, I'm bald. 🙂 But when it comes to my eternal welfare, I am happy to split hairs.
I am only offering a counterpoint to show authority does not always need to be divine, and that God can work through his children in all kinds of ways. Those who harp on keys usually have tunnel vision when it comes to God's dealings with us.
[Do I get any points for using an emoji?]
Group Member: I sense that you are overstating the role of the Holy Ghost, our privilege to receive revelation, and our relationship with Christ relating to the governance of the Church and to change or alter doctrine in the present or the future. Is that accurate?
"I sense that you are overstating the role of the Holy Ghost." If so, I am in good company, for Joseph Smith answered President Van Buren, "We differed in mode of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands--We considered that all other considerations were contained in the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Joseph Smith and Elias Higbee, "Letter to Hyrum Smith and Nauvoo High Council, 5 December 1839).
This quote subordinates "keys" to the gift of the Holy Ghost. As a further point, I would argue the Church undervalues the gift of the Holy Ghost, because truth is manifest by the power of the Holy Ghost, not by what is taught from the pulpit (Moroni 10:5).
HG > Keys, as God > Q12.
[Do I get points for using mathmatical symbols correctly?]
(Image: FLDS Women Writing to Polygamist Prophet Samuel Bateman, currently incarcerated after 3 girls were found in his locked cargo trailer; published in Salt Lake Tribune, December 6, 2022)
Eat Your Wheat-ies
I think the most common way for us to judge whether someone is a Wheat or Tare is to look at their affiliations and decide whether they coincide with our own (yes, you're right: that's the worst possible way to judge).
- Do they "follow" the right authority figures? - Do they "belong" to the right Church? - Do they profess belief in the "proper" doctrines? - Do they obey the "correct" commandments?
These questions encapsulate the Spirit of Sectarianism, but not-so-much the spirit of Christ's gospel:
He numbereth his sheep, and they know him; and there shall be one fold and one Shepherd; and he shall feed his sheep, and in him they shall find pasture.
(1 Nephi 22:25)
We see from this verse that there are only (1) Christ and (2) his sheep; all other distinctions are not terribly important.
But when we seek to root out the "weeds" among us, like blood hounds defending the faith, we begin to see this whole endeavor is doomed to fail because our judgments are subjective: what we're really doing is seeing whether a person fits within "our" definition of "Wheat."
(Chances are, "Wheat" will resemble what what we see in the mirror.)
The so-called "culture wars" are a by-product of religious sensibilities competing in the marketplace of ideas; we reduce the good news to a battleground of toilets and urinals and which are appropriate for transgendered folk, whilst Satan laughs himself sick.
Look, if we're going to be blunt about it and skin the skunk for what it is, we need to ask ourselves: Are we using the idea of "Tares" to create a false dichotomy of "us vs. them"; to discriminate against those who are different; as an excuse to be unloving ― and all the while feel good doing it?
Pride is the ultimate dopamine; the cherry-on-top of feeling justified, being infused with the spiritual serotonin of self-righteousness, as though we're pleasing God; such is an addiction we have to our delicious Wheatie-ness.
I have actually heard conversations in my ward about who is "safe" for our children to play with ("not them, they are inactive; no, not them either, they are Unibaptists").
I recently sat in Elder's Quorum and endured an hour of people describing the characteristics of "Tares" (meaning the reasons others leave the Church) while discussing Elder Pearson's last General Conference talk "Are You Still Willing" (a great read for Tare-minded folk).
We have only to look at our zeal for missionary work: isn't it to knock some sense into all the Tares out there, who need to 'get with the program' and start living as we do?
Won't You Be My Neighbor?
But then we're faced with Jesus's preaching, which flies in the face of spiritual segregation.
Christ was born with huge scissor-hands to cut all the red tape blocking access to heaven, to burst the bands that divide us from Father, and to break every bond. His scissor-hands slice through the chains of hell as if they were butter.
While we're clumsily counting mint and anise and cummin, Jesus was out there delivering the Parable of the Good Samaritan, telling us in graphic terms how the Levite's sense of duty, and the ritualistic purity of the Priest, prevented them from loving their fellowmen (!).
Their pious actions, they felt, I'm sure, were justified; they were in the service of their small-hearted Grinch-God.
And Jesus just torpedoed their religious worldview straight to the pit. People, even today in liberal 2022, talk about Christ's "radical love" and I want to say to them, "What do you mean, 'radical'? It's just LOVE!"
How sorely we must lack charity when the appearance of divine love shocks us by its radicalness.
To those who rejected Christ's ministry and message of love, He said (and He was not speaking to homosexuals, no sir):
But I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable in that day for Sodom, than for that city.
If you think I'm making too big a deal about this, and hope some General-Authority-quotes are coming to the rescue, to stick God's love into a neat, conditional square box where it can't do any damage, then read on! Because after the Savior invoked Sodom, He is challenged:
And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, [why is it always the lawyers?] and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
Surely the Lord will explain the Covenant Path to this poor, hapless attorney; for isn't that what is required for eternal life? Now we'll hear the Savior spell-it-all-out, at last: baptism, temple work, meetings, and follow-the-prophet:
And Jesus answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.
Well, THAT went sideways fast.
"Forget that hipee, new-agey, mushy love-talk, Lord, because we want you to bring the fire!"
With that simple declaration of love, the Savior introduced His Parable of the Good Samaritan.
"But Tim!" someone shouts. "This Series is not about the Good Samaritan. It's about the Wheat and Tares."
That's right: so we should ask ourselves, what is it about our religious traditions that prevent us from loving the Tares . . . I mean, each other?
Elder Oaks on the Good Samaritan
Let's go to our Lawyer-in-Residence, President Dallin H. Oaks, to explain the Savior's legalese regarding love.
Q. President Oaks, isn't it true we are to love our neighbor?
A: "The love of neighbor — however important — does not come ahead of love of God and obedience to His commandments. If we truly love God and serve Him as He has taught us, we will love our neighbor as God loves him or her and as He would have us love and serve them" (BYU Address, "Going Forward in the Second Century," September 13, 2022).
Q. Okay, can you expound on situations where it is okay NOT to love our neighbor? Are you saying there's a time God doesn't love them? Is there ever a time when it is appropriate to shun them?
A: "I can also imagine some circumstances in which it might be possible to say [to a gay child], ‘Yes, come, but don’t expect to stay overnight. Don’t expect to be a lengthy house guest. Don’t expect us to take you out and introduce you to our friends, or to deal with you in a public situation that would imply our approval of your partnership" (Interview with Elder Dallin H. Oaks, 2006).
Q. As a follow-up, isn't treating a gay family member the way you propose like treating them as the fellow in the parable, encouraging parents to act like the Levite and the Priest who passed by on the other side? I mean, isn't the example of the Samaritan the opposite of what you're saying?
A: "We should note that the words homosexual, lesbian, and gay are adjectives to describe particular thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. We should refrain from using these words as nouns to identify particular conditions or specific persons. Our religious doctrine dictates this usage. It is wrong to use these words to denote a condition, because this implies that a person is consigned by birth to a circumstance in which he or she has no choice in respect to the critically important matter of sexual behavior." "Same-Gender Attraction,"Ensign, October 1995).
Tares, Tares . . . so many Tares
1. Mohammad, a Muslim, Looks Outside, Across the Street, at His Neighbors:
- Jill, a Methodist, eats pork - Jack, a Mormon, doesn't kneel towards Mecca to pray 5 times a day - Barb, an Evangelical, doesn't cover her 60s hair-do - Bill, a Hindu, doesn't observe Ramadan
2. Jill, a Methodist, Looks Outside:
- Jack, a Mormon, doesn't believe in the Trinity - Mohammad, a Muslim, hasn't been baptized unto Christ - Barb, an Evangelical, interprets the Bible incorrectly when it comes to the doctrine of grace - Bill, a Hindu, believes in reincarnation
3. Jack, a Mormon, Looks Outside:
- Jill, a Methodist, drinks wine with dinner - Mohammad, a Muslim, drinks the devil's drink, coffee - Barb, an Evangelical, drinks earl grey tea - Bill, a Hindu, drinks Scotch and Whiskey
(Is it just me, or are members of the Church obsessed with what others are drinking?)
You get the idea. Over time, as we meet together in our insular communities and reinforce our cultural behaviors, creating a "bubble," those who do not adhere to our faith-standards become outsiders, they start looking a lot like "Tares."
But look at how members of The Church of Jesus Christ might appear to a believing polygamist:
4. Susan, a Polygamist, Looks Outside:
- Rachel, LDS, an old high school friend, shuns her when they run into each other at Wal-mart because Rachel views Susan's lifestyle as "apostate."
- Hyrum, LDS, gives her funny looks when she orders from Arby's because of her long dress and braided ponytail.
- Gary, LDS, judges her in the line at the Post Office where she's mailing a care package to her polygamist prophet in jail, thinking her "deceived."
- Marshal, an LDS bishop, offers her financial assistance if she'll renounce her family and sever ties with the FLDS.
Ask youself: What would it feel like if everyone viewed you as a "Tare"?
"I guess it's good and all for God to send rain upon the just as well as the unjust, but He wouldn't mind if I held an umbrella over the unjust, would he? In fact, it'd probably please Him! Let's dry out those Tares so they wither away."
It reminds me of something I saw on Facebook, where someone tweeted:
"Instead of putting 'Christ' back into Christmas, I would be okay with just putting Christ back into Christians."
I remember hearing someone say parables have only one interpretation, but a myriad applications.
I can't remember who said that; maybe it was a quote. But the idea stayed with me: there's a formal "interpretation" for each parable, which is the thing Jesus had in mind when He spoke it.
And then, separate and apart from this one-true-interpretation, there are endless "applications" we can make from it.
But let's pretend, for the purposes of this Post, there's an OTI ("one-true-interpretation") of the Parable of the Wheat and Tares (also called the Parable of the Weeds).
Since "no prophecy of scripture is of any private interpretation" (2 Peter 1:20), we'll begin with what the Lord said Himself about the parable's meaning; that should seal-the-deal, right?
We'll read a few verses and break for an early lunch, easy-peasy.
Ummm. We're going to find out this is NOT as clear-cut as we may think.
VIP Backstage Access
We're lucky because we get Jesus's own interpretation of the Parable of the Tares, which he gave in private to his disciples:
Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field.
Out of the gate, then, and we're already ahead. This wasn't Christ casting seed to the public, giving them some oblique morsel to chew on; but here we find the Lord giving straight answers to His confidantes.
They're secluded in someone's house, hanging out in the Mancave, the door closed; now it's time for the Lord to dish. Why? Because the disciples ask.
That's important: they exhibit a willingness to listen and learn. They are following the command to "ask, and ye shall receive."
He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man.
1. Sower = Son of man (keep track of these, we're going to have your neighbor check your work).
The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one;
The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.
Slow down! I can barely type fast enough to keep up.
2. Field = World
3. Good seed = Children of the kingdom
4. Tares = Children of the wicked one
5. Enemy = devil
6. Harvest = End of the world
7. Reapers = Angels (of God, I presume)
Well, that's it; I told you this was easy. Memorize those answers and you'll have no problem aceing the midterm.
But read on if you want to prepare for the final.
Okay, you stuck around; good, because now things are getting juicy. In Sunday School, we normally stop after No. 7. But guess what? The Lord goes on . . .
As you read the following, keep an open mind:
As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.
The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;
And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
What do the angels "gather?"
Where do they find the Tares; I mean, where are the Tares gathered from?
"Out of his kingdom."
What are the Tares doing? What are they up to in the kingdom?
"Offend" and "do iniquity."
What does the fire represent? What causes the Tares to wail?
I like the poetic way the New International Version phrases it:
"The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil" (Matt. 13:41, NIV).
Ugg. You're telling me there's weeding in heaven? Haven't the angels heard of crop dusting?
JST Changes to the Parable of the Tares
The Joseph Smith Translation made several fascinating changes to the Parable of the Tares (highlighted in bold):
Let both grow together until the harvest, and in the time of harvest, I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the wheat into my barn; and the tares are bound in bundles to be burned.
The harvest is the end of the world, or the destruction of the wicked.
The reapers are the angels, or the messengers sent of heaven.
For in that day, before the Son of man shall come, he shall send forth his angels and messengers of heaven.
And they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity, and shall cast them out among the wicked; and there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Four Important Take-Aways from the JST
1. First, we are given a clear, definite timeframe: the reaping occurs prior to the Second Coming, "in that day" (which day is that?).
2. Second, we see that "angels" are not just holy beings from heaven, but also mortal "messengers of heaven." Looks like everyone on Team Jesus will be working together, whether quick or dead.
3. Third, the destruction of the wicked is equated with them being "cast out among the wicked." So we're not necessarily talking about physical destruction.
4. Finally, I think the most important change in the JST is to verse 29, which clarifies (and makes consistent with D&C 86) that it is the Wheat that is gathered first, NOT the tares.
In other words, the Wheat leave the field and are gathered to the "barn" while the Tares remain, never-the-wiser, hanging around in bundles, cut-off from the Lord.
So far, none of this mentions the Church at all: just the "world" and the "kingdom".
Doctrine and Covenants 86
In 1832, as Joseph Smith was translating the Bible, he received what is now D&C 86.
Let's see if D&C 86 lines-up with what we've read so far.
1. Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servants, concerning the parable of the wheat and of the tares:
2 Behold, verily I say, the field was the world, and the apostles were the sowers of the seed;
NT: Field = world D&C: Field = world
NT: Sower = Son of man D&C: Sower = Original 12 Apostles
3 And after they have fallen asleep the great persecutor of the church, the apostate, the whore, even Babylon, that maketh all nations to drink of her cup, in whose hearts the enemy, even Satan, sitteth to reign—behold he soweth the tares; wherefore, the tares choke the wheat and drive the church into the wilderness.
NT: Enemy = devil D&C: Enemy = Babylon et. al.
4 But behold, in the last days, even now while the Lord is beginning to bring forth the word, and the blade is springing up and is yet tender--
5 Behold, verily I say unto you, the angels are crying unto the Lord day and night, who are ready and waiting to be sent forth to reap down the fields;
NT: Reapers = angels D&C: Reapers = angels
6 But the Lord saith unto them, pluck not up the tares while the blade is yet tender (for verily your faith is weak), lest you destroy the wheat also.
7 Therefore, let the wheat and the tares grow together until the harvest is fully ripe; then ye shall first gather out the wheat from among the tares, and after the gathering of the wheat, behold and lo, the tares are bound in bundles, and the field remaineth to be burned.
NT: First gathered = Tares JST: First gathered = Wheat D&C First gathered = Wheat
Before you go, the Lord has one more thing to say about this parable in D&C 101:
64. That the work of the gathering together of my saints may continue, that I may build them up unto my name upon holy places; for the time of harvest is come, and my word must needs be fulfilled.
* Time of harvest ("in that day") = Now
* Barn = Holy places
65. Therefore, I must gather together my people, according to the parable of the wheat and the tares, that the wheat may be secured in the garners to possess eternal life, and be crowned with celestial glory, when I shall come in the kingdom of my Father to reward every man according as his work shall be;
Wheat = those crowned with celestial glory
Stop the presses! Does this mean that the barn is Zion (the holy city), which is built upon a celestial law, inhabited by the Wheat, i.e., those who "possess eternal life"? Why aren't we teaching this in Church?
66. While the tares shall be bound in bundles, and their bands made strong, that they may be burned with unquenchable fire.
Notice the "bands" prevent the Tares from leaving the field. They're stuck, perhaps because they don't hear the voice of the Lord calling them to flee Babylon?