I went to Elders Quorum on Sunday. I honestly keep going expecting, as if by miracle, that the Church has decided to discard the Handbook in favor of practicing, by the power of the Holy Ghost, pure religion.
Why do I do this to myself? Why do I think things will change; that we'll live up to the noblest ideals and teachings of the Restoration?
It's like when Alma stepped down from the Judgment Seat because he just couldn't take the insanity anymore.
That he might preach the word of God unto them, to stir them up in remembrance of their duty, and that he might pull down, by the word of God, all the pride and craftiness and all the contentions which were among his people, seeing no way that he might reclaim them save it were in bearing down in pure testimony against them.
If anything I have said on this blog seems harsh, I suspect Alma would not mince words as I have.
Alma the Reclaimer
Alma spearheaded a mission to reclaim the Zoramites who "did pervert the ways of the Lord in many instances; therefore, for this cause, Alma and his brethren went into the land to preach the word unto them" (Alma 31:11).
I wish Alma had been at my Church on Sunday. Maybe he could have said something, done something.
Because the word of God is a rare thing to hear in Church these days.
But I fear that if Alma had attended my ward on Sunday, he would have received as warm a welcome as he did among the Zoramites.
Korihor the Reclaimer
Contrast Alma's example with Korihor, who also sincerely thought he was reclaiming a people gone astray.
In Chapter 30 of Alma, we read about Korihor's plan to reclaim the Nephites. Here is what he preached:
1. A gospel of works ("man fared in this life according to the management of the creature" v. 17)
2. A prosperity gospel ("man prospered according to his genius" v. 17)
3. A gospel that didn't need Christ ("Why do ye look for a Christ?" v. 13)
I mean, who needs Christ when we have our star varsity quarterback-prophet?
Sure, I bet Christ has no problem being the Water Boy (He is, after all, the Living Water), but the thing is . . . we really need him on the field!
So why have we allowed our coaches to bench Him in the final quarter, watching the disastrous results of their playbook?
In this metaphor I am pointing out that, sure, we all like to think Christ is on our team. But in practice, does the Church treat Him more as our mascot than our Messiah?
Korihor received his commission from the devil (presenting as an angel of light), who told him:
Go and reclaim this people, for they have all gone astray after an unknown God. And he said unto me: There is no God; [maybe this should have tipped his hand?] yea, and he taught me that which I should say. And I have taught his words; and I taught them because they were pleasing unto the carnal mind.
So what did Korihor teach that was so "pleasing unto the carnal mind?"
Simple: carnal security.
And others will the devil pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well-- and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.
(2 Nephi 28:21)
When I attend Church and listen to the doctrines of Korihor and Nehor being preached from the lesson manual and from the pulpit with confidence, I know we're in trouble.
You would expect, I'm sure, the lesson to focus on being valiant disciples of the Lord Jesus.
Pretty basic, right? Oh no. All (!) of the discussion and comments centered on being valiant disciples of the prophet. The lesson steered toward (as it invariably does in my neck-of-the-woods) obedience to Church leaders.
Notice the two key terms in the title of the talk:
Speaking of those who inherit a Terrestial glory, "These are they who are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus" (D&C 76:79).
The Savior told us, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:35).
It's a bit of deja vu to read in the New Testament the exchange between a disciple of Jesus Christ and the Pharisees:
[The blind man who was healed by Christ] answereth them, I have told you already, and ye did not hear wherefore, would ye hear it again? [he's sarcastically calling them deaf] Will ye also be his [Christ's] disciples?
Then they reviled him, and said, Thou art his disciple; but we are Moses' disciples.
I often scratch my head in Church. "Wait, whose disciples are we?"
Are we disciples of Jesus Christ ― who are known by the love we have one for another ― or are we disciples of the Brethren?
Where I Step In It
Towards the end of the lesson, I made a comment.
"Isn't it interesting," I said, "that we've framed this whole discussion about our discipleship around the issue of authority, whenChrist himself taught that the sign of our discipleship is love."
Paul Toscano said:
"When you see [the apostles] all arrayed in white, standing beneath a white Christus statue, it should make us shudder, because, what does that mean? What is that symbolizing? Love does not manifest itself by separating yourself and dressing in white and standing in front of the Christus statue. It’s picking up the phone and calling Paul Toscano in 1992 and saying, “Paul, what are you talking about? We don’t want you outside the church. Come on up. Talk to us.” But Boyd Packer wouldn’t do that because Boyd Packer never understood the difference between the church and the Air Force. . . .
"Bruce McConkie taught the saints that obedience is the first law of heaven. Obedience is the first law of hell!"
Why do we exalt authority over love? Why do we exalt the prophet above Christ?
We are a loveless people because we have been taught to love authority.
I concluded my comment in Elder's Quorum:
"O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, and declare to the Church, all 17-million-strong, that divine authority only arises from mutual love ― from pure love unfeigned ― and that authority is merely the bonds of love. There is no authority other than that found in love. Anytime we exercise authority in the absence of love, we show we have none."
The scriptures call it "unrighteous dominion."
A Witness and a Warning
As I sat in Elders Quorum, the words I had read earlier that morning came to mind:
Wo unto this great city, for I perceive, saith the Lord, that there are many, yea, even the more part of this great city, that will harden their hearts against me, saith the Lord.
Notice that Samuel the Lamanite repeats twice that he is quoting "thus saith the Lord." He wants it to be clear who is talking.
I wouldn't be surprised if Samuel were talking to very faithful, religious Nephites, who go to the synagogue each Sabbath and who follow the Rabbis.
But notice who they've hardened their hearts against: they "harden their hearts against me, saith the Lord."
I realized how hard our hearts have become in the Church.
Listening to my friends and neighbors, whom I love and with whom I have labored for many years, I could not help but notice a kind of "group think" ― a kind of conditioning in which we say things, almost as if we're reading lines from some common script.
A member of stake leadership lamented those people who lack enough faith to follow the prophet (he mentioned specifically vaccinations and LGBTQ issues), equating our lock-step with the prophet's current position as the best indication of our worthiness.
As I've commented before, this is not the same Church my mother joined when she was 20 years old, over 50 years ago, when President David O. McKay was prophet.
Since then the Church has radically changed. In fact, I would argue it's been radicalized. In the last generation, the Church has radicalized us into becoming acolytes of the PROPHET.
What an incredible cultural and spiritual revolution it has been.
Meanwhile, the Church is casting aside and excommunicating those men and women who call upon us by the power of the Holy Ghost to repent and to turn unto the LORD (not the prophet).
This is all a bizarre repeat of Catholicism's reaction 500 years ago to Martin Luther and the other Reformers whom they wished to silence.
Yea, wo unto this people, because of this time which has arrived, that ye do cast out the prophets, and do mock them, and cast stones at them.
The nodding heads and grunts of agreement among my brothers in Elder's Quorum reflected how we've fallen victim to the demonic spirit of authority. When we are under that spirit, we become like the Zoramites who thank God we are better than those poor souls over there, in the false confidence that comes from being "in the right."
If I could summarize the spell that has mesmerized the membership and put us to sleep, which has cursed the Church for the past 50 years, under whose weight the entire gospel of our Lord crumbles, it is this:
** Follow the man we call prophet, and you'll be fine. **
What an odd gospel message we now preach, isn't it?
As the Lord liveth, if a prophet come among you and declareth unto you the word of the Lord, which testifieth of your sins and iniquities, ye are angry with him, and cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him; yea, you will say that he is a false prophet, and that he is a sinner, and of the devil, because he testifieth that your deeds are evil.
Well, if following the prophet was the condition upon which exaltation rested, why do we need Christ?
What good is a Savior if he's merely decoration for the walls in our meetinghouses?
If our obedience to the prophet is the ice cream in our banana split, then we can get by without the nice-to-have-but-not-essential cherry on top, right?
Like the Zoramites, we can proudly declare:
O God, we thank thee [for a prophet]; and we also thank thee that thou hast elected us, that we may not be led [astray] [by the] Brethren, [and that there is no need for] a belief of Christ, which doth lead their hearts to wander far from [the prophet] [called by] our God.
But as I reflected on their comments, sitting on those hard folding chairs in the cultural hall, I knew these were good men, whose hearts are sincere.
So how is it that our hierarchical system has so effectively compromised our best instincts?
I wondered, how do we desensitize ourselves from decades of doublespeak?
The past was alterable. The past never had been altered. Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia.
(George Orwell, 1984)
Is there any hope the Church will repent and be reclaimed? Will we return to the Lord?
Or has the cancer progressed so far that now it is merely a matter of keeping the patient comfortable before the inevitable end?
O how long will ye suppose that the Lord will suffer you? Yea, how long will ye suffer yourselves to be led by foolish and blind guides? Yea, how long will ye choose darkness rather than light?
Yea, behold, the anger of the Lord is already kindled against you.
And as I prayed for grace to be granted toward this little corner of the vineyard where the Lord has seen fit to plant me and my friends, that perhaps we might turn again to Him and repent of our idolatry and blindness, I could not forget the words of Samuel who prophesied:
But behold, your days of probation are past; ye have procrastinated the day of your salvation until it is everlastingly too late, and your destruction is made sure.
Destruction made sure? Is that like the opposite of having our calling and election made sure?
How does this bode for the corporate "covenant path?"