Some months back, a vivid dream came in answer to prayer:
I was visiting the LDS church building of my youth, hoping to find other followers of Christ. The building was under extensive renovation, and most parts of the church building were not functional or in use, due to the construction debris and demolition. Though the inside of the building appeared to suffer from long neglect and unfinished construction, the outside was beautiful and well kept.
Though these people possessed impressive beauty with their gold covering, they could not function—for if they moved too much, the gold would crack and peel off.
I left that room and headed through the foyer into the chapel. I found it dark, completely gutted, and filled with rubble and destruction. In the chapel, I also found a few followers of Christ, standing and staring in wonder at the destruction of the chapel. They were dressed very plainly in jeans, boots and flannel shirts. The small group included men, women and children. Their plainness offered a striking contrast to the beautiful gold people in the other room. Their rough manner of dress would be very out of place at an LDS meeting.
As I walked outside the building, I discovered the church was recruiting models to be sprayed with gold. A sign stated that only the most perfectly proportioned and beautiful young men and women were permitted to apply for the modeling jobs. They would be sprayed with gold every Sunday, put on display to attract others, then go back to their normal lives and occupations the rest of the week. They were there for show.
One of the most interesting properties of gold is its malleability. As the most malleable of all metals, it can be beaten into sheets only a few atoms thick. A thousand of these sheets stacked together would equal the thickness of a single sheet of typical printer paper.
|Gold Leaf Adorning the Temple Ceiling|
Likewise, architectural gilding has been used for centuries to give a more opulent appearance to building finishes. It is still quite commonly used to adorn the interiors of LDS temples.
Though the gilding process produces a beautiful appearance, the gold surface is incredibly thin and often quite fragile. Gilding is no substitute for pure gold.
Keeping Up Appearances
When Moroni spoke to the latter-day readers of his book (that's you and me), he said the following:
Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.
And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts.
For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.
O ye pollutions, ye hypocrites, ye teachers, who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God? Why are ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ? Why do ye not think that greater is the value of an endless happiness than that misery which never dies—because of the praise of the world?
Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not? (Mormon 8:35-39)One of the hallmarks of false religion in the Book of Mormon—both anciently and in prophecy about our day—centers on the clothing worn by the religious. It’s variously called, “very fine apparel,” “costly apparel,” “precious clothing,” and the ever-popular, “silks, and scarlets, and fine-twined linen.”
Because false belief often partners with costly apparel, I’ve always been pleased that my white shirts come from discount stores, my suits are inexpensive, and my shoes are not particularly nice. Similarly, my dear wife shops the sales and only buys what’s cheap to clothe our family. I actually took comfort in our inexpensive clothing because I believed it meant the Book of Mormon warnings couldn't apply to me (or, frankly, to most people I know.) Whew, dodged a bullet there.
That false notion fell apart one day when I realized what Moroni actually saw.
You see, I always thought he had toured around our times in vision, looked in on all the various non-Mormon churches and religions, and called them out on their hypocrisy. He actually called them pollutions! That’s harsh!
But wait. Have you ever been to church services that are NOT Mormon? Have you visited other Christian churches? What do they, for the most part, wear?
When looking at all those who espouse a belief in Christ in our day, Moroni took pains to describe, repeatedly, the “fine apparel” of those who had “polluted the holy church of God.”
So…if you drive from church to church on any given Sunday, what's the best-dressed congregation you’ll see? Friends, it ain’t the Catholics. It’s not the Baptists, Methodists, or Pentacostals.
No, the Mormons win the “fine apparel” contest by a mile. We do look good! Moroni saw...US.
When I was preparing for my mission at the missionary training center, our branch president taught us one Sunday about the priesthood. He spoke of worthiness, faith and authority required for priesthood ministry. Then he added one more thing. “Elders,” he said as he pointed to his clothing, “THIS is the uniform of the priesthood. Whenever you perform a priesthood ordinance, you should first make sure you are wearing the uniform.” He was, of course, wearing a dark business suit with a white shirt and conservative tie.
I believed him, and for the next 20 years I strove to always put on my “priesthood uniform” before blessing the sick, performing an ordination, or even giving a father’s blessing. I thought the white shirt was an integral part of priesthood power. After all, no deacon is “worthy” to even pass the sacrament if he’s not wearing the correct white shirt.
It’s a standing Mormon joke that colored shirts for men are somehow less “appropriate” or “worthy” than white shirts, even when accompanied by the requisite dark suit and conservative tie. I know of a bishop who believes he can tell which men in his congregation struggle with pornography each week, based on the color of shirt they wear to church that Sunday. Seriously.
Similarly, we inflict our cultural expectations on women in the church. Depending on the area, a certain look is expected for women attending LDS meetings. In suburbia USA, it can be defined as “dressed to the nines.” Perfect hair. Perfect makeup. Perfect figure. Perfect dress. Heels, jewelry, and accessories to complete the package. If you don’t attract attention, you’re not doing it right.
This image of Babylon doesn’t merely result from social expectations; it’s actually taught at Relief Society meetings on dress and grooming (or so I’m told by sisters who attend the meetings.) At BYU, where appearance is also an unhealthy institutional obsession in the honor code, the sabbath fashion show is commonly called “Runway Sunday.”
Salt Lake City has been rated by Forbes magazine as the “Vainest City in the Nation” based on the fact that it has more plastic surgeons per capita than any other city in the U.S. It also leads the world in spending on cosmetics, skin care and hair care, with TEN TIMES the spending of other cities of comparable size. Appearance is a VERY big deal in Mormondom’s capital.
Coincidentally, Utah also leads the nation in Anti-depressant prescriptions, with nearly double the national average.
Inspecting the Troops
Elder Russel Nelson of the Twelve recently visited a mission where a friend of mine lives. The missionaries were instructed to prepare in the following way to meet with the apostle. Those who didn’t take these steps would not be allowed into the meeting:
- Get their suits dry cleaned
- Get a haircut
- Shave just before the meeting
- Wear a tie that an apostle would wear
Appearance is so deeply ingrained in missions, that I know of a young lady who was refused baptism because she had multiple piercings in each ear. The mission president simply wouldn't allow her baptism unless she removed the other ear rings and let the holes close. I wouldn't believe it if I didn't personally know the people involved.
And perhaps you're familiar with the recent convert who wasn't allowed to serve a mission because of a visible tattoo. When laser removal failed, he underwent painful surgery and had the tattoo literally cut out (leaving a nasty scar) so he could present the right appearance while preaching Christ and Him crucified.
Contrary to the word of the Lord, we're more invested in the gospel of appearance than the gospel of repentance.
Gilding The Lilly
And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin; And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon, in all his glory, was not arrayed like one of these. (3 Nephi 13:28-29 and Matthew 6:28-29)An undue emphasis on appearance endangers us in several ways:
- It becomes a substitute for actually worshipping God.
- It encourages uniformity in thought and culture, leading to a “membership” groupthink mentality of “us” vs. “them.”
- It provides a false standard by which we judge our own righteousness and that of others.
- It engenders a false belief that God only accepts those who look or dress a certain way, and that improving our appearance improves our standing with God.
- It convinces us that priesthood power—and even faith—are predicated upon our clothing.
- It shows that we love the "adorning of our churches" more than we love the poor, who are made to feel unwelcome among us if their clothing does not meet our standards.
- It deceives us that, because we look good, we are good.
Moroni seemed quite shocked at this behavior. Christ, in speaking to a similar group of righteous-appearing people said:
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. (Matthew 23:27-28)Neither gold nor garbage are improved by gilding, “for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” (1 Sam. 16:7)
Perhaps we ought to be less concerned about appearances and more concerned about hearts.
A few months ago, a relative of mine showed up to teach his elder’s quorum wearing a T-shirt, jeans and flip flops. He taught the lesson as if nothing were amiss, then concluded by telling his brethren that he dressed that way because he wanted them to focus on the message, not the messenger.
He later found out that half the elders quorum was jealous that they weren’t dressed that way. Regardless, I thought it was a gutsy move.
But, perhaps even gutsier, was the project undertaken by Bishop David Musselman of Taylorsville, Utah. He engaged a professional makeup artist to transform his appearance to that of a disheveled, scarred, filthy, homeless man. With dirty, ragged clothing and a crutch to complete the ensemble, he showed up to his own ward sacrament meeting in November, 2013. Wishing passers-by a Happy Thanksgiving, and asking for food and money, he received varied reactions from his ward members, none of whom recognized him.
Some offered him help. Some refused to acknowledge him. At least five asked him to leave the property.
And then this dirty, scarred, disheveled old man hobbled to the pulpit and gave a speech. He thanked those who had helped him and acknowledged their kindness. He expressed a desire to donate back to the ward some of what he had received. He asked where the bishop was, and looked around expectantly.
When nobody could locate the bishop, he removed the disguise, to the absolute shock of all present. Many had judged and condemned their own bishop by his appearance alone. Many were ashamed.
Angels Among Us
Let’s not underestimate the value of what Bishop Musselman taught us all that day.
Anyone who has received the LDS endowment has been taught that angels come among us without revealing their true identities, to observe conditions generally, see if we have been true and faithful, and to return and report to the Lord.
Do not expect them to come in business suits or fashionable dresses, presenting themselves as people of importance, or objects of envy. No, the more effective way to reveal the contents of our hearts is for the angels to come among us disguised as strangers, “different,” and perhaps even unattractive or loathsome. How we react to them tells them all they need to know.
Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. (Hebrews 13:2)Getting Naked
And so, here’s the point:
Our fine clothing doesn't make us fine people. A business suit is NOT the "uniform of the priesthood;" it is the uniform of babylon. And being the best-dressed religion on earth is NOT proof that we honor God. We offend him.
God loves us all, regardless of appearance—because, in the end, we’re all poor, and desperate, and naked, no matter how we may try to appear.
Wherefore, we shall have a perfect knowledge of all our guilt, and our uncleanness, and our nakedness; and the righteous shall have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness, being clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness. (2 Nephi 9:14)
For behold, when ye shall be brought to see your nakedness before God, and also the glory of God, and the holiness of Jesus Christ, it will kindle a flame of unquenchable fire upon you. (Mormon 9:5)The only way to prevent this burning is to see ourselves HERE and NOW in our true, naked state, so we may repent while there’s yet time:
And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.
And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them. (Mosiah 4:2-3)As long as we hold ourselves to a false standard of righteous appearance, we’ll never look in the mirror and see what we truly are.
In the dream, when I met the gilded people, I carried small gifts in my hands. I asked for something in which to carry the gifts, but the beautiful, golden people couldn’t offer me anything, because they couldn’t allow their gold to crack by moving to offer me any help. They had no interest in receiving the gifts themselves.
Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:
I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.
As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.