After I returned from my LDS mission I was acclimating to being back home in Utah as a civilian when the movie "God's Army" came out.
The film was directed by Richard Dutcher who would go on to make a sequel and the film "Brigham City."
Those of you who were around back then probably remember God's Army. It created a bit of controversy in Utah. Going to see the movie in the theater felt a little bit exciting, a little bit forbidden, as if we were 15 year olds sneaking into a Rated-R movie without an adult.
It was 2000 and there was no "Mormon cinema" yet. Dutcher pioneered a whole new genre by showing on the Big Screen what happens in mission fields around the world with his unflinching camera lens.
I think the most shocking moment of the movie for me was the scene depicting a priesthood blessing.
Some people were put off by the realism. Others, like me, walked out of the theater shrugging, "Yup, that captured a lot of my mission experience."
But what did the Church think about the portrayal of its missionaries in God's Army?
"You are the Church!"
Recently I was listening to an interview with Richard Dutcher.
He said that after many screenings of God's Army, he would conduct a Q&A with the audience.
One of the common questions he was asked was, "What does the Church think about your movie?"
This question confused him, until he found the perfect response:
"I don't know. YOU are the Church [sweeping his arms towards the audience]. What do YOU think?"
At one of those screenings, a wife of a member of the Twelve Apostles attended. When he said that line, she began clapping loudly and the audience joined her.
This story illustrates, I think, a serious problem. It shows the way we view the Church as something "other" or "outside" of ourselves.
Over time we have begun treating The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as if it were run by, and belonged to, the leaders. The members are just along for the ride. In the backseat. Of a patrol vehicle. Handcuffed. This is why when leaders tell us to "stay in the boat," I wonder which boat they mean? The dinghy we're rowing by hand, bailing water, as fellow-servants of Jesus Christ, on the spiritual sea of Galilee?
Or in the glitzy motorized speedboat zipping around and flaunting its Catholic-size wealth in real estate, temples, and stock holdings as if it were the spiritual heir of the Wolf of Wall Street?
If anyone fell asleep during that analogy, I'll put it this way: there are, in fact, TWO churches within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
If "two churches" rings a bell, it is because we encounter this phrase on the lips of an angel who is teaching Nephi.
For a moment, let's see what happens if we apply these words to the Church itself; let's pretend that this verse is describing the body of believers who belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, divided between the humble "few" followers of Christ and the rest of us:
Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations.
(1 Nephi 14:10)
But don't worry. Joseph Smith gave us the key to solving this problem!
The Greatest Revelation We've Never Heard Of
I have gone on record several times in the past describing the reasons why I believe the General Handbook is an example of a modern day "abomination," every bit as damaging to the Church as Solomon allowing his wives to worship foreign Gods was to ancient Israel.
Something I have not talked about before is the fact the Church already has a divinely-revealed Constitution (no, NOT the United States Constitution).
The reason we don't need a Church Handbook is because the Lord has already established a Constitution for his people.
A Constituiton is the "highest" authority of law in the land; all other statutes, regulations and rules are subject and subordinate to it, and when there's a conflict, the Constitution is supreme.
The Handbook is trampling the Lord's revealed Constitution.
Yea, even the very God of Israel do men trample under their feet; I say, trample under their feet but I would speak in other words-- they set him at naught, and hearken not to the voice of his counsels.
(1 Nephi 19:7)
By way of introduction, this little-known revelation was given to Joseph Smith on April 25, 1844 (just a couple months before his death). It came "thus saith the Lord." There is no question it was authoritative because Sidney Rigdon formally moved for a vote to adopt and sustain this revelation. It passed unanimously.
This revelation was as earth-shattering as Joseph's King Follett discourse, in my opinion. It radically altered our orientation towards God and to each other in this body politick.
Why isn't this revelation in our scriptures? It deserves a place in the Doctrine and Covenants. It is one of the greatest and most important words of God ever revealed through Joseph Smith.
In a way, it was a fitting bookend to his prophetic career, which began with the heavens opening and the absurdity of God speaking to a 14-year-old nobody.
(As an aside, when the Church teaches the Constitution shall "hang by a thread," I think it has forgotten about this other, greater, Constitution).
Whereas the US Constitution was inspired by the Lord for a fractious, unruly people ("for all men"), this new revealed Constitution in 1844 was reserved for those who would serve Jesus Christ.
A Failed Attempt to Draft a Constitution
In 1844, one of the primary projects of the Council of Fifty was to draft a new Constitution for the Kingdom of God.
A committee was formed and the project began in earnest. But . . . it went nowhere. It stalled out. It was too big, too controversial, too enormous an assignment for them.
It was almost like the Lord was showing the Council their limitations. I mean, as great as these frontiersmen were, I am not sure they were up to the task. Nauvoo was not going to replicate the miracle of Philadelphia.
It was humbling, I think, for them to realize how weak and foolish they were.
Then Joseph stood up and set the record straight, telling them to abandon their attempt to draft a Constitution. All bets were off.
Instead, Joseph revealed the Lord's Constitution direct from the mouth of God: