I am not concerned about our past. It is what it is.
I am not concerned about the way things are. They are what they are.
So what am I concerned about? Our future. The way things could be.
When President J. Reuben Clark called Matthew Cowley to be a mission president in New Zealand, he said: "Now kid, don't forget Rule Six."
"What is Rule Six?" Cowley asked.
"Don't take yourself too darn seriously," President Clark replied.
"What are the other five rules?"
"There aren't any," answered President Clark.
(Ensign, June 1974)
I remember reading a quote by President Thomas Monson that said something like, "Don't take yourself too seriously. Take your assignments seriously, but don't take yourself too seriously."
Have you noticed we often turn this advice on its head? Do we take our positions of leadership, our keys, our "authority," too seriously?
Do we expect people to respect and obey us because of the office we hold rather than the fruit we produce?
Let's call this sickness "Seriousitis."
It seems like we should take the gospel seriously. It seems like we should take being equal seriously, living by common consent, since it is a command from Christ. So why is it we take ourselves too seriously, and the gospel not seriously enough?
We see signs of Seriousitis everywhere. It shows itself when we draw attention to leaders rather than to Christ; when we garnish with praise the men and women who serve in leadership roles over that of our Savior; when we make the mantle to be greater than the Master; when we refer to "faithfulness to the Church" as synonymous with "faithfulness to the Lord" . . . in other words, when we set ourselves up for a light and standard to others.
Seriousitis is a symptom of idolatry. Seriousitis is a cancer in every hierarchy.
The picture above is a screen capture I took Sunday of a website my Stake created to broadcast Stake Conference. Because of coronavirus everyone streamed Stake Conference in their homes. I laughed out loud when I saw this disclaimer on the landing page:
"This website is not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
Yes, it said that. I think it reflects a common mentality of "headquarters vs. members," which is endemic of widespread disenfranchisement.
Have we officially entered The Twilight Zone, where a Stake of Zion is not affiliated with "The" Church?
I thought of Paul Toscana's zinger:
"This is not the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Leaders. The leadership of the church is not the church . . . . The scripture says that the head should not say to the foot, 'I have no need of thee.' But this is . . . the message we get from how the church functions: leaders sit in council, preach in conference, lay down rules, while the members are there to soak it all up--and if we do this long enough and well enough, then perhaps we too, if we have been prudent and wise and male, may become leaders. But the church should not be divided this way . . . . [Christ] made himself equal to us, so that we could be made equal to him. The problem with us is that we are not equal." (Paul James Toscano, The Sanctity of Dissent, 1994: pages 63, 66).
What is the Church?
When did we begin to think of "the Church" as those who lead it? (Do we think of "the United States" as belonging to Donald Trump?)
What is the Church? Is it a community of believers? The Body of Christ? Those who follow the Lamb? Is it the Family of God?
Which do we want to be affiliated with?
Right and Really Right
Someone said (maybe Hugh Nibley?) that you couldn't hold him to anything he had written more than five years earlier. The idea being that, as we continue to grow in understanding, our old notions may become outdated or incorrect.
We may have cherished a belief in Santa Claus as a child, but we have to grow up and smell the roses someday.
We may have naively thought an hierarchical organization was compatible with a society of co-equal kings and queens who govern themselves by common consent . . . but we have to grow up someday.
Let's talk about what it means to be "right."
There are two kinds of people:
1. Sacred Cow People: People who know they're right and will defend their position from attack. These people look for answers so they can categorize the world into a binary-Right-and-Wrong-existence. These people are often authoritarian, inflexible, and apologists. They take themselves seriously.
2. Seekers: Seekers, on the other hand, know there is always greater light and knowledge awaiting honest seekers of truth. These people often embrace divergent thinking, ambiguity, and uncertainty, waiting upon the Lord to correct their imperfect and partial understanding.
Have you ever overheard two Sacred Cows debating a point? Yikes! They will talk past each other trying to convince the other they are wrong. You, as a seeker, can see merit in both sides of their argument. You are able to reconcile their views rather than arbitrating between them.
Think of a baseball field. Every person is playing their hardest. But everyone has a different perspective. Someone standing on third base has a different perspective than the batter or pitcher. Same game, different positions.
David Bokovoy said, "Apologetics assumes that we have the answers. Instead of allowing critical thinking to shape our relationship and understanding with divinity, apologetic defense may simply disguise a fear that God and the universe are much more complex than we would like to believe. It doesn’t take too much understanding of history to recognize that religious paradigms exist in a perpetual state of flux. Apologetics, therefore, may be evidence that we don’t really trust God’s ability to grant further light and knowledge. From this angle, failing to allow critical thinking to enhance our understanding of scripture creates a barrier to true faith."
(David Bokovoy, "Critical Studies vs. Apologetics," January 2015, at https://www.patheos.com/blogs/davidbokovoy/2015/01/critical-studies-versus-apologetics-my-own-personal-journey)
A Bible, A Bible!
Even when we are on the side of right, won't there always be a higher level of consciousness that is "more right?"
A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible.
The Bible is "right." But why would we settle for just the Bible?
Usually when I hear someone at church label something as "false doctrine," the thing they are condemning is not false doctrine to me.
Thou fool, that shall say: A Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible.
The only way a person could know if something was a false doctrine is to possess alltrue doctrine, and then use the process of elimination. Otherwise, our false doctrine may just be a true doctrine we haven't learned yet.
And nobody knows all truth (except Christ). So I guess there is one other way to know if something is false doctrine: when Christ tells you so.
I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure. And because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another.
The worst thing in the world is trying to teach Third-Base-Truths to someone in the Dugout. Anyone who hasn't passed First Base will not understand the truths found in Second Base, and so on.
Joseph Smith said:
Would to God I could tell you what I know! But you would call it blasphemy [false doctrine], and there are men upon this stand who would want to take my life.
(Quoted by Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball , 322)
Why listen to others if we already have the truth? Why dialogue with those who disagree with us but to convert them to our way of thinking? Well, is it possible our truth is incomplete and could be enlarged, expanded, increased, and enlightened?
The problem is no one, no group, no church, has "all" the truth. So my Tribe can only teach me the truths it knows; in order to get "more" we have to go outside our sandbox, humble enough to learn from other cultures and religions and peoples.
I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them.
When we find a pearl of great price, why would we keep searching for more? Well, what if there is treasure still out there -- something greater than just a single pearl? What if the Lord wanted us to collect enough for a necklace?
Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
Shouldn't members of the church be the most open-minded people on the planet since we believe in an open cannon? Ongoing revelation? Gifts of the Spirit?
Will we seek for greater light and truth from unlikely sources? From the poor and downtrodden; from the sinful and shamed; from the outcasts and ridiculed? Of course! How else would the Lord be able to "yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God" if we ignored His wedding guests? (Matt. 22:1-14)
We do not have all the answers. And the answers we cling to may just be the pearls that damn us.
Bitter and Sweet Fruit: Hierarchy vs. Common Consent
What does this have to do with Common Consent?
1. Hierarchies create echo-chambers where leaders council with each other and call the shots. (Have you noticed that leaders seem to talk more about members in their leadership meetings than they do talking directly with the members talked about?)
Where is the line between talking about people's struggles and needs and gossiping?
Common Consent is the opposite, where everyone is listened to. We talk to each other rather than about each other in confidential councils.
We don't exclude members from our councils, but all are welcome, even those who are different from us, who do not hold the high seats, or who disagree with us -- until we arrive at a unity of faith in love and respect.
2. In a Hierarchy, doctrine is established from the Top-Down ("Honey, where'd I misplace my keys?")
Common Consent allows us all to "teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom. Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you" (D&C 76:77-78). Instead of being talked at, we will be talked to.
The leaders do not establish doctrine. That would be heretical! Doctrine comes from God, and only God. And it comes from a variety of sources, through many messengers, even out of the mouths of babes.
The worth of a person's words will not be weighed by the calling they hold, but by the truth they impart.
I wrote in a previous post, "It is not the messenger that matters: it is the message; and in fact, the message proves whether or not the messenger is of God, not the other way around."
And this is the ensample unto them, that they shall speak as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost.
And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghostshall 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.
3. A Hierarchy gives power and control to leadership, who make the decisions and policies.
Common Consent, on the other hand, lets "one speak at a time and let all listen unto his sayings, that when all have spoken that all may be edified of all, and that every man may have an equal privilege" (D&C 88:122).
4. Question: how do we prove we are right in a Hierarchy? By appealing to an authority figure to support our position. "So-and-So taught X, Y, and Z." (Umm, what happens when different leaders have given different opinions? I mean, we can quote Brigham Young on both sides of any issue.)
I am sure the Telestial Kingdom is filled with people playing the "My Prophet is Better than Your Prophet" game. Does this sound familiar:
And the glory of the telestial . . . are they who are of Paul, and of Apollos, and of Cephas.
These are they who say they are some of one and some of another-- some of Christ and some of John, and some of Moses, and some of Elias, and some of Esaias, and some of Isaiah, and some of Enoch.
Why, it's just like the world in which we now live!
Common Consent, though, recognizes only One authority: God.
So how do we discern God's will? Is God's will handed down to us like the check after dinner? Is it something leaked to the press that we learn about on the 10 o'clock news?
Or is it something we seek by gathering together, united in mighty prayer and fasting, counseling together and seeking the Lord; having skin-in-the-game, hungering and thirsting for God's love, wrestling angels and weeping on each other's shoulders.
We become one.
Or, you know, we could let the leaders do the heavy lifting and just do what they tell us.