Today, words have been redefined, deconstructed, reinterpreted, and used to deceive the elect, if possible.
A great example of wordsmithing is found in George Orwell's book 1984, where the oppressive Big Brother government has a:
"Ministry of Peace" (which serves as the War Department);
"Ministry of Truth" (which serves as the propaganda department),
"Ministry of Love" (my personal favorite) (which serves as the brainwashing and torture department tasked with suppressing dissent).
My Lawyer Hat
As a lawyer, I am very much interested in procedure. And I am wary of people who want to skip proper procedures in order to obtain a certain result.
I've always felt that the way we go about something is as important as the thing we're trying to achieve.
I guess it goes back to the notion of "lying for the Lord." The idea always struck me as odd. I always assume the end (no matter how noble) does not justify unrighteous means.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, wo be unto him that lieth to deceive because he supposeth that another lieth to deceive, for such are not exempt from the justice of God.
So it is a major red flag for me when an organization, government, or Church chips away at due process, our Constitutional protections, and natural rights. That shows we're on the expressway of injustice and abuse.
For example, the Constitution requires that courts be open to the public (so we don't get Russia's notorious "secret courts") in order to maintain the integrity of the court proceedings and to protect the rights of the accused.
Public scrutiny keeps everyone honest.
On the other hand, isn't it alarming how the Church conducts its business and discipline in private? Major red flag?
And when we say church courts ("membership councils") should be private because they are sacred, that is like an oil rig exploding in the Pacific, sending red and black plumes of toxic fire hundreds of feet into the sky, and shouting, "Everything's fine here. No need for concern. Please look the other way."
Shouldn't the subject of the disciplinary council (i.e., the accused) be the one who chooses whether to have it be private or public, since it is about them? Since they are the one on trial?
"No participant in a membership council is permitted to make an audio, video, or written recording. A clerk may take notes for the purpose of preparing the Report of Church Membership Council." Handbook, 32.10.3.
Yikes! (What happened to upholding and sustaining the "just and holy principles" (D&C 101:77) enshrined in the Constitution of the United States which was inspired by God? Do those "just and holy principles" apply to the Church?)
If the President of the United States decided to unilaterally bypass Congress and pass an Executive Order requiring citizens to do something unconstitutional, he would be stopped and taken to Court. We have checks-and-balances.
Why? Because he or she is not (supposed to be) a dictator.
In the religious realm, God never intended his prophets to act unilaterally.
God never intended that leaders bypass the religious checks-and-balances contained in the scriptures.
The reason the leadership of the Church can operate as it does today is because we have abandoned many of the cherished, God-given rights and privileges found in the scriptures and in the Constitution.
Does this cause alarm to anyone else?
Judging a Book by its Cover
Pop quiz time! Take out your No. 2 pencils and let's see how it goes.
1. True or False: "Canonization" is an antiquated, discontinued practice which is no longer necessary because the Church is led by a living prophet.
2. True or False: Joseph F. Smith said, "No revelation given through the head of the church ever becomes binding and authoritative upon members of the church until it has been presented to the church and accepted by them.” (Joseph F. Smith in the Reed Smoot Trial, 1904, cited in Richard S. Van Wagoner, Steven C. Walker, and Allen D. Roberts: “The ‘Lectures on Faith’: A Case Study in Decanonization,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, v. 20, No. 3, p. 74)
3. Multiple Choice. Which of the following has been canonized by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? a. The Doctrine and Covenants b. The Family: A Proclamation to the World c. Episodes IV - VI of Star Wars d. The General Handbook e. For Strength of Youth Pamphlet f. None of the above
A Masterclass in Canonization
On August 17, 1835 the members of the Church met in a conference to decide and vote on whether to accept the Doctrine and Covenants as binding and authoritative.
According to the minutes of that meeting, "it was deemed necessary to call the general assembly of the Church to see whether the book be approved or not by the Authoroties of the church, that it may, if approved, become a law unto the church, and a rule of faith and practice unto the same." (Minute Book 1, p. 98, Joseph Smith Papers.)
It appears to have been a very long meeting. A ton of people gave their opinion freely on the matter, including:
W. W. Phelps John Whitmer John Smith Levi Jackman Leonard Rich Newel K. Whitney John Corrill John Gould Ira Ames Erastus Babbitt William Burgess Thomas Gates Oliver Cowdery
"There being a very large portion of the church present. All of the above testimonies and votes were voluntarily & unhesitatingly given with the utmost freedom of conscience on part of the Assembly."Id. at 106.
I like that this was not a perfunctory matter. When something is important, I agree with Paul who said, "For this thing was not done in a corner" (Acts 26:26). The Saints were instructed on what it meant to accept the Doctrine and Covenants by vote:
"That they would receive the Book as the rule of their faith & practice, and put themselves under the guidance of the same and also that they were satisfied with the committee that were chosen to compile it." (Id. at 104.)
At the conclusion of the meeting:
"President O. Cowdery then arose with the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, (284 pages) contain[in]g the faith articles and covinants of the Latter Day Saints, then proceeded to take the vote of the whole House." (Id. at 103.)
What is the Pseudepigrapha?
The "pseudepigrapha" refers to non-canonical works which did not "make the cut" into the Bible, and are therefore not binding upon Christian churches.
Old Testament books (apocrypha) include the Book of Enoch, Book of Jubilees, Ascension of Isaiah, etc.
New Testament pseudepigrapha include books like the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Thomas, the Epistle to the Laodiceans, etc.
Which Works Are Authoritative?
When we have to choose between a work that is canonized and one that is not, do we give preeminence to what is canonized?
4. Multiple Choice. Which of the following should be regarded as binding and authoritative upon the members of the Church? (Choose all correct answers). a. Come Follow Me Student Manual b. Statements made by apostle Delbert L. Stapley in 1964 during the debate over the Civil Rights Bill that Blacks should not be afforded "full social benefits nor inter-marriage privileges with the Whites, nor should the Whites be forced to accept them into restricted White areas." (Elder Delbert L. Stapley letter to Governor George W. Romney, January 23, 1964); c. The General Handbook d. The New Testament
Oh, Say What is Truth?
Here are some basic facts:
1. The General Handbook has never been submitted to the members for a vote.
2. The General Handbook has never been canonized by the Church.
3. The General Handbook is without authorial attribution and so the members don't even know who wrote it.
4. The General Handbook is regularly amended as a living document. However, unlike the amendment process for the Constitution, Church members have no say over the amendments to the Handbook.
Based on the above, have we followed the law of common consent required by D&C 26:2?
Based on the above, is the General Handbook binding on members?
We can only conclude that the General Handbook is as authoritative upon us as Chicken Soup for the Soul.
We Already Have Two Written Laws of the Church; We Have the Guidance of the Holy Ghost (i.e., God); Do We Really Need a Legalistic Text?
Why do we need a bureaucratic General Handbook when we already have God's own law to govern us?
1. As earlier discussed, the Doctrine and Covenants was accepted by the Church in 1835 to be "a law unto the Church."
2. Section 41 - 42 is the revealed "law of the Church" given to Joseph by revelation on "how to govern my church and have all things right before me" (D&C 41:3). That seems pretty definitive.
3. We have the gift of the Holy Ghost to guide us, right? Or did Moroni really mean:
And their meetings were conducted by the church after the manner of the workings of the [Handbook], and by the power of the [Handbook]; for as the power of the [Handbook] led them whether to preach, or to exhort, or to pray, or to supplicate, or to sing, even so it was done.
Where is the revelation and sustaining vote saying the General Handbook was replacing the Doctrine and Covenants and Section 42 on Church government?
The Scriptures Have Preeminence Over the General Handbook
When there is a conflict between the scriptures and Handbook, why do we choose to enforce the Handbook over the word of God?
Why have we trampled upon the word of God with hundreds of pages of pseudepigrapha?
Ministry of Truth, indeed.
Objection, Your Honor!
Someone might say, "But Tim, if the Handbook is printed and distributed by Church Headquarters, then it tacitly has the imprimatur of the President of the Church, and is binding on us."
I think this objection has some merit and should be considered.
If I were to paraphrase the objection, I think it boils down to the "ace" that members pull when they make an appeal to authority: "If we sustain a living prophet, then we should accept anything that comes from Church Headquarters as authoritative."
1. Presidents of the Church have never taught that we have to swallow the entire enchilada cooked up by Church Headquarters.
In fact, Elder D. Todd Christofferson said in General Conference, "[I]t should be remembered that not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. It is commonly understood in the Church that a statement made by one leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, not meant to be official or binding for the whole Church." ("The Doctrine of Christ," April 2012)
2. The Church has a law by which it is governed, which is common consent (D&C 26:2). When we say the President of the Church can do whatever he wants and say whatever he wants, by virtue of his office, and that the members should jump on board if they truly "sustain" him, then we have crossed over the line from the rule of law to the rule of men.
The scriptures teach that following God's law = righteousness; following a man = idolatry.
We have covenanted to be witnesses of Jesus Christ, not witnesses of Church leaders.
3. The notion that the President is inerrant or infallible is problematic. Popes and Presidents are mortal men, doing their best; but following them instead of following Christ in instances where human legalism works to unravel Christ's labor of love, has serious implications.
4. Most of all I think the objection highlights a troubling abridgment of moral agency by basing obedience upon who is speaking rather than discerning whether what is said is of God.
I wonder if this is what the Lord had in mind when He said:
That ye may not be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men; for some are of men, and others of devils.
Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived; and that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts.
I am concerned we are at risk of redefining righteousness to mean our standing with the Church rather than our standing with Christ.
If we are forbidden from taking positions of conscience except those already taken by the Brethren, we will be reduced to a people who virtue signal their loyalty while hardening our hearts against the Spirit (unless, of course, the Spirit is rubber-stamping what Salt Lake is doing), which invariably produces a sterile priesthood. You know, one without power.
Let's be better!
Let's be spiritual patriots who stand for God!
Let's follow the celestial law of love rather than the telestial law of legalism.
Let's be a light on the hill rather than another bargain basement in Babylon!