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."