Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Must it be So Hard?

And it came to pass that the people hardened their hearts, and would not hearken unto their words; and the prophets mourned and withdrew from among the people.
Ether 11:13

Picture the following scenario:

The first thing to pierce your consciousness is the pain. You don’t know where you are or why there is such terrible pain, nor why you can't seem to move your legs. As you open your eyes, the scene comes slowly into focus, yet makes no sense. You recognize you are in your car, but everything is out of place. The roof is mostly caved in above your head, the windshield is shattered, and you aren’t sitting in the driver’s seat. You’re more wedged under the steering wheel, against the dash board and you’re stuck. The car isn’t sitting level, either, and there are tree branches, boulders, and a river outside.

Through the broken glass, you can see your car is mostly demolished and isn’t even on the road. The last thing you remember is driving on the mountain road and worrying about sliding on ice. 

As you try to move, the pain intensifies: both legs are trapped, and as you look to try to free them, you see blood pooling on the floor. Lots of blood.

An unkempt-looking, bearded man appears at your window, and yells at you to cover your head with your hands while he breaks out the window with a rock. Once the glass is out of the way, you can see him better. He’s wearing an oversized, threadbare coat over a dirty T-shirt and he appears to be quite weathered. He would look more at home holding a cardboard sign at an intersection than breaking out your window in a mountain ravine. He says the following:

“You’ve been in a terrible accident and your life is in danger. Your leg is nearly severed and bleeding badly. Help is on the way, but if we don’t stop the bleeding immediately you’ll die before help arrives. So here’s what I want you to do. I’m going to give you my handkerchief.”

“What do you want me to do with it? Where do I put it?”

“Don’t put it anywhere. Just touch it.”

“What? What do you mean? Just touch it?”

“My handkerchief has special healing properties. If you touch it, your bleeding will stop and you will live. That’s all you have to do.” 

“How is that possible? GET ME SOME HELP! I need paramedics, not a magic handkerchief! I’m bleeding to death! Hurry!”

“I know it doesn’t seem logical. But please, for your own sake, just do as I say. Touch my handkerchief.

And with that, he holds it out to you. 

Do you touch the crazy, homeless man’s handkerchief? Is there any chance at all that doing so will save your life? Or will you place your faith where it belongs, in the paramedics who are slowly making their way up the slick mountain road 17 miles from where you are?

Now think about it another way. Let’s just say that man’s name is John—the same who was called beloved by the Savior—the same who was translated and tarries still on the Earth. And let’s just say he really was sent to save your life. In fact, let’s assume, just for discussion, that every word he said is true. 

Of course, the only way you would find any of that out would be to do as he asks and touch his handkerchief. And maybe you aren't inclined to do that. Maybe magic healing handkerchiefs don’t exist. Maybe as you lose consciousness, your last hope is placed in the paramedics, and John withdraws in sorrow, unable to help you. 

Now, I know this is a bizarre, contrived story that bears no resemblance to reality and seems a bit ridiculous, but it’s very similar to another story we find in scripture. When Moses led the Israelites in the wilderness, you may recall the incident with the fiery serpents:

And he did straiten them in the wilderness with his rod; for they hardened their hearts, even as ye have; and the Lord straitened them because of their iniquity. He sent fiery flying serpents among them; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished. (1 Nephi 17:41 )

When the people were bitten by the serpents, all they had to do was look at the brass serpent Moses raised up on a pole. If they looked, they would be healed and live. If they didn’t look, they would die. Sadly, many refused to look and perished.

They didn’t die of snake bite. What killed them was a heart condition known as hardness.

But few understood the meaning of those things, and this because of the hardness of their hearts. But there were many who were so hardened that they would not look, therefore they perished. Now the reason they would not look is because they did not believe that it would heal them. O my brethren, if ye could be healed by merely casting about your eyes that ye might be healed, would ye not behold quickly, or would ye rather harden your hearts in unbelief, and be slothful, that ye would not cast about your eyes, that ye might perish? (Alma 33:20-21 )

Heart Disease is the Leading Cause of Death

Hard heartedness is a much-misunderstood condition, difficult to diagnose without experience, and seldom even considered as a possibility. It is a terrible and universal affliction, and if left untreated, it will ALWAYS lead to the loss of eternal life. And yet, we almost universally consider ourselves immune to this problem.

Just as it was with with the Israelites, so it is with us. Too often, when we are offered gospel truth, we reject it outright because of hard heartedness, unable to recognize what we are rejecting. Ironically, our reasons for rejecting truth are rooted in false religious belief, more commonly called unbelief. We refuse to accept truth because of what we already think we know. We point to our belief system as evidence we don’t have hard hearts, even as we use those beliefs to reject truth.

We cannot overcome our own hard hearts until we understand the affliction. So here’s a primer on hard heartedness. As you read these scriptures, ponder how they may apply to you:

1. If your heart is hard, you will not—and cannot—receive or understand truth.
And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full. And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell. (Alma 12:10-11)
See also Mosiah 26:3Alma 16:17Mosiah 3:152 Nephi 33:21 Nephi 15:11
In general, those with hard hearts reject new ideas outright that conflict with their existing ideas. In other words, if you have a hard heart, you cannot learn anything new because you assume you already know everything about the matter. It's a very effective tool of the devil to tell you that you have all you need, and therefore should reject anything more. It goes like this:
That’s not true!
--Why not?
Because it can’t be true.
--Why can’t it be true?
Because I don’t believe it. 
--Why don’t you believe it? 
Because it’s not true.
And so on.

The hard-hearted response may also involve a cursory search for evidence to support the ideas you already hold. Maybe you pull a few quotes or scriptures to prove you're right. This approach cannot lead to truth, because it is not a search for truth. It's merely a search for weapons to win a battle.

If your first response is a desperate attempt to prop up your own position rather than considering the opposite position, you will never learn anything beyond what you already think you know.

2. A hard heart makes you angry at the truth
And his brethren were wroth with him because they understood not the dealings of the Lord; they were also wroth with him upon the waters because they hardened their hearts against the Lord. (Mosiah 10:14)
Why should a new idea make you angry? In reality, it comes down to fear. You fear being wrong and you fear your ignorance. When this fear is coupled with potential loss and everlasting consequences, the emotions heighten and fear becomes anger. 

3. This anger even leads to violence
And it is impossible for the tongue to describe, or for man to write a perfect description of the horrible scene of the blood and carnage which was among the people, both of the Nephites and of the Lamanites; and every heart was hardened, so that they delighted in the shedding of blood continually. (Mormon 4:11)
See also Ether 8:25Helaman 10:151 Nephi 22:18
When faced with a troubling message, the hard-hearted reaction is often to attack the messenger. I've received several responses to what I've written that generally go along these lines: "I'm not confident enough to discuss doctrine, history or what you wrote, so instead I'll just go ahead and attack your style, motives, and personality. That way I can safely discount your message without ever giving it a fair hearing."

Attack the messenger. Destroy the message. This is the coward's way out. 

4. A hard heart prevents repentance
Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you. (Alma 34:31)
 See also Alma 21:12Alma 33:21Alma 12:33Alma 12:37Jacob 6:5
Repentance requires us to re-learn and re-think existing ideas in light of truth. As long as you are too correct to ever consider you may be wrong, you simply cannot repent.

5. If your heart is hard, you cannot enter into the Lord’s rest, and you will be destroyed.
And now, my brethren, behold I say unto you, that if ye will harden your hearts ye shall not enter into the rest of the Lord; therefore your iniquity provoketh him that he sendeth down his wrath upon you as in the first provocation, yea, according to his word in the last provocation as well as the first, to the everlasting destruction of your souls; therefore, according to his word, unto the last death, as well as the first. (Alma 12:36) 
See also: Alma 12:35
6. A hard heart is a tool of Satan
And many more things did the people imagine up in their hearts, which were foolish and vain; and they were much disturbed, for Satan did stir them up to do iniquity continually; yea, he did go about spreading rumors and contentions upon all the face of the land, that he might harden the hearts of the people against that which was good and against that which should come. (Helaman 16:22)
See Also 3 Nephi 1:22
But perhaps most amazing is how heard-heartedness functions in those who are religious. When Christ came to the Nephites, he brought new doctrine, new truth, and a higher law to replace the Law of Moses. The prophets knew this would be the case before it happened, and actually feared their children would reject Christ Himself because of the religious law they already accepted:
Wherefore, we speak concerning the law that our children may know the deadness of the law; and they, by knowing the deadness of the law, may look forward unto that life which is in Christ, and know for what end the law was given. And after the law is fulfilled in Christ, that they need not harden their hearts against him when the law ought to be done away. (2 Nephi 25:27)
Imagine that! They feared that Christ Himself couldn't teach the people because their hearts would not be prepared to accept anything new--even from their God!

And yet, as the record shows, this very nearly happened. The people were not able to receive Christ's word without more preparation. He almost left them to try again later:

I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time. Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again. (3 Nephi 17:2-3) 
At the last moment, because the people wanted him to stay, our Lord improvised an ordinance involving the children to save their parents. It's breathtaking in its beauty, and it brought about the necessary changes so the people could be taught. The key was the children, whose hearts were soft. This aligns perfectly with what Christ had just taught the people concerning his doctrine:
And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things. And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them. (3 Nephi 11:37-39)
Why Little Children?

Little children have the following qualities:
  1. Children are inquisitive. Ever spent time with a 4-year-old kid? How many questions per minute were asked? Heaven responds to questions. Joseph Smith's life is ample illustration of this principle. James 1:5 applies. You must ask.
  2. Children are open. Not only don't they know much, but they KNOW they don't know much. They happily accept new truth and readily believe it.
  3. Children are humble. They generally don't argue with what you teach them because they think they know better. They eventually learn this behavior, of course, but they learn it from adults.
  4. Children are believing. How many adults believe in Santa Claus? The Easter Bunny? Tooth Fairy? And yet, are we asked to believe in anything less miraculous in the atonement? The difference is that most adults have lost that sense of wonder, magic, and the divine. Do we really believe in miracles? Children do.
You might not reach for the handkerchief, but I guarantee a child would.

Here’s the upshot:

In this blog, I’ve taught truths that contradict our tradition. I’ve supported what I’ve taught by using scripture and historical record. These things are important and worth consideration. 

Too many of us respond to the truth with a hard heart. And remember, a hard heart cannot be changed unless it is broken--something Christ is willing to do for you, if there's no other way. He will break your heart, if he must, to save you, having already suffered himself the heartache you will experience. I can't imagine the love that motivates such a sacrifice! 

And even then, many will not respond. 

Why not choose instead to be humble?

The only remedy for a hard heart is recognition and repentance. We must voluntarily choose to soften our hearts, even to the point of breaking, so that the Lord can intervene and give us a new heart that is like His.

He CAN, He WILL, and He DOES work this miracle in the hearts of ALL who will come to him and seek it. I am a witness of this miracle. He IS mighty to save.

In Closing

I recognize there are many good folks who read what I’ve written and are desperately troubled. Faced with the cognitive dissonance between historical facts and scripture on the one hand, and long-held tradition on the other, you must make a choice. 

Either you can consider what is offered, and study it out, or you can close your mind, ignore the message, and try to pretend you never saw it. One is an act of faith, and one is an act of fear. One requires a soft heart, and one is a symptom of a hard heart. 

And that's the heart of the matter.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

History, Hearsay and Heresy, Conclusion:
Hastening What Work?

Wo unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope; That say: Let him make speed, hasten his work, that we may see it; and let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw nigh and come, that we may know it.
—2 Nephi 15:18-19

In this series, we've examined a sampling of the unbeliefs that are damning us. They take the form of false doctrines, false quotations, and mythical stories designed to promote "faith." And yet, rather than learning from the past, we seem intent on continuing the problem and amplifying it. This concluding post in the series will examine the making of a modern, Mormon myth.

Consider this:

We testify fervently and often that we KNOW the current President of the church is a prophet of God. We also like to throw in even more literal titles like "the Lord's mouthpiece on earth" or "the Lord's anointed." We teach this church is founded upon revelation, run by revelation, and currently receiving revelation. We're certain of it because we KNOW it (not merely believe it) with every fiber of our being (whatever that means.)

We up the ante with our Ninth Article of Faith, canonized as scripture: 

We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.
And yet, nothing new has been revealed in a very, very long time. The prophet doesn't actually prophesy, publish revelations, or claim to deliver any message he got directly from God. He mostly tells stories about himself and his good works, reads us poetry and thoughts from philosophers, quotes scripture, reminisces about the past, and encourages Christian living through positive platitudes. In the face of a world exploding in unprecedented wickedness and crumbling to chaos, God's mouthpiece tells us...well...pretty much the same thing he's told us the last umpteen times we heard him speak. God, evidently, has not much else to say.

Now I completely support President Monson's right to receive revelation for the church. He has our collective common consent, and the unequivocal right to preside over the church. Whatever keys the church has, he holds them. That's not my point. I sustain him in his office and pray for him to be inspired and guided, to receive the revelatory guidance we so desperately need.

My point is that we have received no new prophecy, revelation, vision, or word from heaven in a very long time. 

Faced with the cognitive dissonance of viewing the obvious gulf between the Joseph Smith definition of prophet and the Thomas Monson definition of "prophet," we deal with it in the way our Mormon culture has taught us to. 

We invent myths. 

We're so desperate for genuine revelation, for the "great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God," for proof that our leaders are, in fact, in direct contact with heaven, that we ascribe heavenly sources to the most mundane of acts. In other words, we INVENT revelation where there is none. This obvious fact shouldn't come as a surprise, as we've already discussed in this series how we're perfectly comfortable with inventing history, inventing doctrine, and even inventing miracles to satiate our need for the divine. 

We're not above putting the words in our leaders' mouths that God didn't put there. We'll even ascribe our invented words to God Himself if necessary. And soon, we'll believe we have ourselves some bone-a-fide revelation, a cause we can get behind, a testimony of it to share, and lots and lots of meetings to discuss, explain, and encourage the myth. Oh, we do like to keep busy and distracted.

It's fascinating to watch, much like a train wreck in slow motion, only even more tragic. 

Allow me to illustrate:

A curious problem began to percolate in the church around the year 2002. That's the year the First Presidency "raised the bar" for missionary qualification, and began excluding otherwise willing and repentant young people from missionary service due to past transgression. The predictable result was that the number of missionaries in the field began plummeting from a high mark of 61,638 in 2002 to 51,067 just 2 years later. That's a drop of over 10,000 missionaries, nearly 20% of the missionary force, in 2 years--as more willing prospective missionaries were turned away and told they didn't qualify and would never qualify to serve the Lord.

The missionary numbers continued falling, when measured as a percentage of church membership. See below.

To make matters worse, convert baptisms were falling and church growth was faltering as well:

This was, as you can plainly see, not good for the church's image of vibrant and continuous growth. Drastic steps were in order, and drastic steps were taken. 

As it turns out, the point at which many young prospective missionaries, the male ones anyhow, "fell off the wagon" was that crucial year between high school graduation and the magical mission age of 19. That was the year most young men spent away from their home, parents, ward, and the influences they had grown up with. Many did just great, but sadly, many did not. They made mistakes that would forever preclude them from missionary service, no matter their desire to repent. (Remember, the bar has been raised!)

And so it was, in October, 2012, ten years after the missionary implosion, President Monson surprised the church by announcing the change in mission age. At the time, he didn't announce it as revelation--quite the contrary, he outlined that the church had been successfully testing this age change in certain missions and areas of the world for years, so it was decided to roll it out worldwide. He specifically called it a "policy" and not a "revelation."

Similarly, at the official press conference that followed this announcement, the age change was called a "change in policy" that was arrived at after testing in a few, select countries. Revelation was not mentioned. Nobody ever claimed God was behind this. 

Well, as you know, the age change policy opened up an overwhelming flood of new missionary applications as more young men, and MANY more young women opted to serve at the new earlier, and much more convenient, age. The missionary ranks quickly swelled, and the church had to scramble to provide training and places for these missionaries to labor.

Soon, the massive growth in missionary numbers became the topic of much conversation, from the ward level, all the way to top leadership. Something was changing! Something was happening! And somebody noticed a scripture they thought applied!

YES! That explains it! The Lord is hastening his work!

Never mind that the scripture in question was pulled out of context--actually spoken by the Lord when telling a group of High Priests who had been on missions to stay home. But that's OK. It fit the bill and provided an important way to tie the missionary explosion to a "prophecy." 

Incidentally, the only other time this scripture reared its head in General Conference was when Elder Nelson quoted it in 1990, saying that the time of the hastening was THEN. Oops. 

Well, in the next General Conference after the age change, a Seventy tied "hastening" to the "work of salvation." And Elder Nelson tied the wave of new missionaries to "hastening the work" and "answering the Prophet's call."

Then in the following General Conference, now a year after the announcement, four general authorities spoke on hastening the work. But none did so with quite the aplomb of Elder Gifford Nielsen of the Seventy, who titled his talk, Hastening the Lord's Game Plan, and said the following:
All over the world, stakes, districts, and missions are experiencing a new level of energy, as the Savior’s declaration to Joseph Smith in 1832 is being fulfilled: “Behold, I will hasten my work in its time” (D&C 88:73). Brothers and sisters, that time is now! I feel it, and I’m sure you do also. 
(Do you find it confusing that Elder Nielsen contradicted Elder Nelson? But I digress)
By now, as you can see, the story had legs. The theme was popping up everywhere--in leadership broadcasts, in ward and stake meetings, in every stake conference, in testimonies on fast Sunday, and even on its own website. Heck, my ward did a whole-weeekend-long activity for youth based on the hastening theme.

Over and over we heard that President Monson told us it's time to hasten the work. I was actually assigned to teach the topic to my Elder's Quorum earlier this year, so I set about tracking down the original quote from President Monson about hastening the work. I wanted to read to my brethren the call from the prophet himself.

Except he never said it.

I went through every General Conference address, and every other speaking gig President Monson did since the age change, and I couldn't find even a single instance of him speaking of hastening the work. Not one.

And yet, in the April, 2014 General Conference, no fewer than FIVE speakers spoke on the "hastening," often tying it in some way to President Monson, and thus putting words he never said, squarely in his mouth.

Incidentally, President Monson has since written about hastening the work. It was in a First Presidency Message in the Ensign in June of this year. And it was about family history work. Confused? Predictably, the message has been adjusted and we are now hearing about hastening the work of salvation--among the living and the dead. No problem. 

Meanwhile, I've also been hearing increasing references to President Monson's revelation to change the mission age. Bam! We've got revelation! We've got a cause we can get behind! Whatever's going on, we're gonna HASTEN it baby!

So let's review:
  1. The church changed a policy in 2002, with disastrous consequences for missionary work
  2. In 2012, the church changed another policy, resulting in many more missionaries
  3. The resulting growth in the missionary force was tied to a scripture that didn't apply
  4. Excitement grew around the new explanation for the growth
  5. The whole thing was then pinned on President Monson as his idea
  6. And thus it became revelation
If you ask a typical Latter-day Saint to tell you what is the most recent revelation the church has received, I can almost guarantee you'll get told some flavor of the change in mission age or hastening the work. 

But the age change was NEVER presented as revelation! And the hastening NEVER came from President Monson! Nevertheless, we've invented a myth that does a good job of doing what myths do--
  • It provides us comfort that our leaders are in touch with God, so we don't have to be. 
  • It gives us evidence that we're on the Lord's team and enjoying his favor because we have an increasing number we can count and measure. We take this as proof of the Lord's favor.
  • It convinces us we're witnessing miracles when we are not.
  • It keeps us from having to awaken and arise to confront the awful prophecies about us, issued by the ancient prophets who saw us. 
  • It persuades us we are doing something important and meaningful in a world that is crumbling around us.
  • It keeps us comfortably asleep.
This one will be an interesting one to watch develop. On the one hand, our desire for the divine means we will likely continue to embellish this myth to make it even more miraculous, particularly in the face of the troubles that lie ahead. We'll call just about anything a revelation, just so we can claim revelation.

But on the other hand, a number of unintended consequences are beginning to take the shine off the "hastening." Convert baptisms are not up, despite the massive growth in missionary numbers. The primary missionary growth has come from sisters, not the elders originally targeted by the change. Missionaries are spread so thick in some areas that they have almost nothing to do. (In my area of Idaho, we're nearing one companionship per ward, in an area that's already 20% LDS) This means that the missionaries can personally contact every non-member in their area in about 3 days. And activity rates are very high, so there's little to do on the activation front either. The missionaries beg for service opportunities, and they are, literally, thrilled if you'll let them mow your lawn.

Faced with boredom, immaturity, lack of experience away from home, and few baptisms, increasing numbers of missionaries are calling it quits and coming home early. A missionary serving in my brother's ward has seen three companions leave early so far. He's been out ten months.

The Lord's work cannot be hastened. When he commences the gathering, it will not be in haste. The scriptures warn us not to hope the Lord will hasten his work, because we should be in no hurry to encounter the coming destruction. 

Why-oh-why don't we read the scriptures?

By inventing this myth and calling it revelation, we're doing exactly what's been done by past generations, ancient and modern. We're putting misleading words in the prophet's mouth, based on our own false beliefs, then claiming they came from God. Joseph Smith preached on Ezekiel 14 both early and late in his ministry. I believe this is why.

It's misleading, it's dishonest, it will damn us. We should stop.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is wondrous and amazing. It is stimulating and exciting. If you find it boring and stale, you should stop relying on others to spoon-feed you the same worn-out, warmed-over garbage we get in our manuals, and start seeking the Lord for yourself. The opportunities before us are incredible beyond words. 

If we spend our time and attention studying the truth, there's no time for, and certainly no need for, faith-promoting rumors, falsehoods for history, hearsay for prophecy, and heresy for doctrine. 

The truth is infinitely better than the myths. The knowledge of God is the only thing that will satisfy our yearning souls. 

If you must hasten something, hasten your efforts to know Him.


Postscript January 13, 2016: Not surprisingly, Elder Russel M. Nelson has officially declared, over 3 years after the fact, that the missionary age change came as a result of a revelation to President Monson. I've written about it here.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

History, Hearsay and Heresy Part 5:
Ain't that Brother Brigham?

And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
—2 Timothy 4:4

In this series of posts, we're examining so-called Mormon myths, also known as faith-promoting rumors. These are lies taught as truths, in hopes of promoting an agenda.

Some of them are dishonestly published in anti-Mormon publications; others are dishonestly published in official church manuals and materials. The point is that they aren't true, and therefore aren't faith-promoting at all. Remember, faith must be based on truth--the ultimate truth being God himself--and therefore belief in anything that is untrue cannot ever mature into saving faith.

Such belief will not, indeed cannot, save you. It will damn you. Therefore, uncritically believing any doctrine that is not taught in scripture and ratified by the Holy Ghost is dangerous indeed when your eternal life is at stake 

Similarly, substituting faith in leaders, for faith in Christ will damn you just as quickly. Only faith in Christ can save, and His faith requires His truth.

Unfortunately, we do seem to love us a good fable more than we love truth.

Take, for example, the well-known story of the transfiguration of Brigham Young. Here it is from the 2003 LDS-church-produced manual, Church History in the Fulness of Times:

The Mantle Falls on Brigham Young 
Thursday, 8 August 1844, stands as one of the most important days in the history of the Restoration. On that day a miracle occurred before the body of the Church—Brigham Young was transfigured before the people, and the succession crisis of the Church was resolved...
People of all ages were present, and they later recorded their experiences. Benjamin F. Johnson, twenty-six at that time, remembered, “As soon as he [Brigham Young] spoke I jumped upon my feet, for in every possible degree it was Joseph’s voice, and his person, in look, attitude, dress and appearance was Joseph himself, personified; and I knew in a moment the spirit and mantle of Joseph was upon him.” Zina Huntington, who was a young woman twenty-one years old at that time, said “President Young was speaking. It was the voice of Joseph Smith—not that of Brigham Young. His very person was changed. … I closed my eyes. I could have exclaimed, I know that is Joseph Smith’s voice! Yet I knew he had gone. But the same spirit was with the people.” 
George Q. Cannon, then a boy of fifteen, declared that “it was the voice of Joseph himself; and not only was it the voice of Joseph which was heard; but it seemed in the eyes of the people as though it was the very person of Joseph which stood before them. … They both saw and heard with their natural eyes and ears, and then the words which were uttered came, accompanied by the convincing power of God, to their hearts, and they were filled with the Spirit and with great joy.” Wilford Woodruff testified, “If I had not seen him with my own eyes, there is no one that could have convinced me that it was not Joseph Smith speaking.”
You can read it in a much longer recounting in the (2010) Teachings of the Living Prophets Student Manual. It's far too lengthy to quote here. 

But here it is, in a much more abbreviated form in the Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young manual (1997):
Many witnesses noted that President Young looked and sounded like the Prophet Joseph as he spoke, a powerful manifestation of divine approval. 
Well, who doesn't love a "powerful manifestation of divine approval?" Especially when that powerful manifestation tells you that you made the right choice, pleased God, revelation continues, and all is well?

Here's the trouble with this faith-promoting story about Brother Brigham: It never happened.

Now, rather than go into all the specific detail required to substantiate such a statement, I'll just save time by referring you to the thoroughly researched paper, published in 1995, that provides all the details. This is important stuff, but if you're not up for reading all 23 pages, here's the summary:
  1. The winners always write the history. It's well documented that the church under leadership of Brigham Young and the twelve redacted, revised, and rewrote history to promote their claims to leadership, and specifically to discount Sydney Rigdon's equally valid claim. 
  2. The minutes of the actual meeting (several sets by different scribes) make no mention of any  supernatural event being witnessed. For such a marvelous manifestation to received no notation whatsoever in the minutes is quite extraordinary.
  3. Apostles Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards, and Wilford Woodruff, all of whom made 8 August 1844 entries in their diaries, make no reference to any epiphany.
  4. Neither the Times and Seasons nor the Nauvoo Neighbor, local newspapers owned by the church, mention any miraculous event associated with the 8 August 1844 meetings.
  5. The earliest detailed accounts of a purported transfiguration did not begin to surface until long after the Saints were settled in Utah. The fact that no account was included in Joseph Smith's History, completed in August 1856, or in The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, completed before his 1857 death, suggests that the myth was not fully developed by that time.
  6. The first public reference to a "transfiguration" may have been an 1857 statement by Albert Carrington before a huge gathering of Saints that "he could not tell [Brigham Young] from Joseph Smith" when Young "was speaking in the stand in Nauvoo" during the 8 August 1844 convocation.
  7. As the event became more remote in history, increasing numbers of people began to record "memories" of the event decades after it happened, with many accounts disagreeing with one another and the story getting better with each retelling. Many journal entries are now cited as proof of the miraculous events, though ALL of them were written decades after the fact. 
  8. Apostle Orson Hyde, prone to exaggerate, particularly when attempting to undermine the succession claims of his archenemy Sidney Rigdon, did not arrive in Nauvoo until August 13th. Yet he left two elaborate personal reminiscences of a "transfiguration" he could not possibly have witnessed on August 8th because he wasn't there.
  9. Similarly, John D. Lee claimed to have witnessed the miraculous transformation, though he did not arrive in Nauvoo until nearly two weeks after the purported event. 
  10. Wilford Woodruff (also prone to embellishment) made a lengthy journal entry of the day's events, totaling nearly 2,200 words, that made no mention of any miraculous transformation. But by 1874, nearly 30 years after the fact, Woodruff was making lavish claims about a miraculous transformation, which he continued to embellish through 1892. 
  11. In the final analysis, there is not one, single, contemporary source that provides eye-witness testimony of anything extraordinary happening when Brigham Young spoke to the saints in Nauvoo on August 8, 1844. All such claims arose decades after that date.
This research was published two years before the church published the Brigham Young manual, eight years before the Church History manual, and 15 years before the Teachings of the Living Prophets manual; yet the church saw fit to continue the myth of the transformation of Brigham Young in the face of strong historical evidence that the event never happened. In short, the church lied. 

Why would the LDS church do such a thing?

Well, for the same reason that the story was invented in the first place: It serves a specific purpose.

When the Brigham Young transformation story first began its life in the late 1850's, it filled unique needs. Here's the climate in which the story was born:
  • There had been no new revelation to speak of since Joseph Smith's death
  • Brigham Young was promoting new doctrines that were difficult to accept, while also ruling the Utah territory with dictator-like authority
  • The church was struggling with intense economic, political and spiritual difficulties
  • The RLDS church was making plausible claims to be the true successor to Joseph Smith's restoration
In the midst of these turmoils, a cultural myth proving Brigham was indeed the one chosen of God to lead the saints was most welcome because it vindicated him and vindicated the saints who followed him. The transfiguration story provided a connection with the divine that had been desperately lacking since the days of Joseph Smith. And the story provided reassurance that all was indeed well, despite the hardships of the 1850's.

In the end, the story started innocently enough with claims that the "mantle of Joseph" fell upon Brigham, and from there it just got legs. Soon, folks were claiming that Brigham became taller, thinner, spoke with Joseph's trademark whistle, had the gestures, mannerisms, voice, and even face of Joseph. The more time went by, the better the story got.

But if it were really all that impressive, doesn't it make sense that someone would have mentioned something--anything--about it when it happened? Why is the first mention 13 years later? Why did the twelve issue a statement the following week that there was no longer a prophet on the earth? And why was the vote specifically for the TWELVE to lead the church, and not Brigham Young individually? Such a convincing display should have produced a vote for Brigham himself to be the next leader. But it didn't. 

Because it never happened.

Now, I'm not saying Brigham wasn't the man for the job. I'm convinced he was probably the only man in the church at the time who could have possibly kept the church together, relocated the saints to Utah, preserved the scriptures and teachings to the degree they were preserved, and left a legacy for us to comment upon 170 years later. Brigham did all this and more. He managed to preserve the church against nearly insurmountable opposition. It's no wonder people began making him into something more than a man who was voted in by a group. The saints wanted, no, needed him to be called of God, chosen in a miraculous way, and every bit the measure of Joseph Smith. 

But he never was Joseph's equal--a fact which he frequently pointed out to the saints. Nevertheless, the myth stuck and a hero was born. Sadly, Brigham did nothing to dispel it.

Today, we repeat the myth in our histories and manuals. It's clearly dishonest to do so. What would be so wrong with appreciating Brigham's contributions, without the need to make him more than he was? I personally appreciate Brigham Young for all that he accomplished so that I could receive the legacy of what Joseph started. I'm certain that if it weren't for Brigham's work, I would never have heard of Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon. I thank God for that legacy daily. 

I don't need any divine doppleganger display to convince me of Brigham's accomplishments. Why lie about the man? Insisting on such a sign in the face of clear evidence it is false does a disservice to Brigham's memory. Yet the myth continues.

And so it is with the Latter-day Saints of today. We love a good faith-promoting rumor so we can comfort one another as we march toward Hell in our unbelief. Since we don't publish new revelation, we instead publish falsehoods in our manuals and histories to promote a narrative of relying on leaders instead of the Lord.

So long as we value tingles over truth, we'll never rise up to become what God intended. Our God is a God of truth. Until we learn that lesson, we will remain unredeemed.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

History, Hearsay and Heresy Part 4:
Never Led Astray

I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm. 
—2 Nephi 4:34

In the previous posts in this series, we've examined some manufactured quotes--falsely attributed to Joseph Smith--which are used to promote false doctrine. Among the ideas promoted:

  • The majority of the twelve can never go astray.
  • The records of the church can never go astray (not sure how they could...)
  • The majority of the church members can never be misled.
  • The majority of the church members will go to the Celestial Kingdom, and
  • Anyone who says otherwise is on the high road to apostasy.

Oh yeah...and the moon is inhabited by people that dress like Quakers.

Now make no mistake, the above ideas are FALSE, never taught by Joseph, not supported by scripture, and frankly really stupid if you think about them. They were made up in an effort to strengthen an agenda and win a historical power struggle with other branches of the restoration movement. Yet we persist in believing and teaching these ideas, even featuring them in our official church manuals. We find it more important to win an argument than to be on the side of truth.

Not good, but it gets worse. 

If we really want to get to the root of the problem we must consider the holiest of the holy grails of unbelief.

Warning: Confronting unbelief is never easy. You may find the following uncomfortable to consider. I sympathize with you; this wasn't easy for me, either. All I can do is plead with you to please hear me out. If you love God, value truth, and want to develop real faith, you'll need to confront your unbelief and seek truth above tradition. Saving faith can only be founded upon truth. If it is founded upon anything else, it is not faith. If confronting unbelief is the only way to know God, I'll gladly make that trade.

OK, on to the problem. This is the 800-pound gorilla of false doctrine that affects every part of the church from top to bottom. It is simply stated as follows:

The Prophet can never lead us astray.

The mantra begins in primary, where we march to the drumbeat of "Follow the prophet, follow the prophet, follow the prophet, don't go astray."

By the time we reach adulthood, we take great comfort in the idea that no matter what, as long as we're following the prophet, we're A-1 guaranteed entry into the celestial kingdom, because there's just no way the guy can ever make a mistake.

So pervasive is this unbelief, that we've now placed the prophet in a place of priority above the scriptures, above the truth, and even above the Lord. These are bold statements to make, but they are absolutely true in our religious practice and beliefs.

For examples, look to Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet, a talk given by the apostle Ezra Taft Benson in 1980. In this talk, Elder Benson asserted, among other things, that words of the prophet are more important than what is written in our scriptures, that anything that comes out of the prophet's mouth is revelation, and that even if the prophet tells you to do evil, God is bound to honor you for doing it. 

When this talk was given, it was roundly rejected by Spencer W. Kimball, who was the prophet at the time. In fact this talk very nearly earned Elder Benson a formal rebuke from the First Presidency, and he was required to apologize to the Quorum of the Twelve and explain himself to a combined meeting of all the general authorities of the church. In short, President Kimball was MUCH displeased with what was said, and considered it false doctrine.

Oddly enough, the same talk, filled with the same false doctrine, was just given in General Conference in 2010, without a peep from the Twelve, the First Presidency, or the general membership of the church. Nobody bothered to address how the doctrine could be false in 1980, but true 30 years later. Did God change the doctrine? Or did someone else?

So consider this: Brigham Young taught many things that the church has since flatly denied and openly called false (polygamy, Adam-god theory, blood atonement, refusal to ordain blacks, for example.) Obeying Brigham in these items nowadays will get you excommunicated. Yet when Brigham taught these things, he insisted he was speaking the word of the Lord. 

Was Brigham wrong? Or is the church today wrong? Remember saving doctrine never changes. God does not vary. Somebody was wrong. Somebody misled you. Was it Brigham, or is it today's leaders? They can't both be right.

This deserves careful thought. Your salvation is at stake.

Since this series is about origins of doctrines, let's go back and take a look at where this particular doctrine of infallibility came from. Like many issues in our history, it all starts with polygamy.

As you may be aware, during Joseph Smith's day, the practice of plural marriage was limited and secret. But Brigham Young went public with the teaching in 1852, advocating plural marriage as a necessary part of the LDS faith, which he practiced with gusto.

Due to national backlash about this practice, government persecution threatened plural marriage in the LDS church. Seeking protection under the first amendment, Brigham began forcefully teaching that polygamy was not only part of the LDS religion, but a fundamental part of the belief system--so essential, in fact, that exaltation was simply impossible without polygamy. It was polygamy or damnation. Period.

By insisting plural marriage was so fundamental a part of the religion, Brigham hoped the religious freedom guarantee in the first amendment would protect the practice. 

The church then commenced a 30-year series of court battles against various laws and attempts to curtail polygamy. Losses mounted for the church as government pressure and threats increased.

By 1890, in a final blow, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Edmunds-Tucker act, disincorporating the church and seizing church assets, including the temples. Though Wilford Woodruff, church president at the time, had previously vowed that the church would never give up polygamy, he found himself in a tough situation.

On the one hand, there had been 40 years of insistent teaching by prophets that polygamy was absolutely necessary for exaltation, that the church would never abandon it under any circumstances, and that the Lord would uphold the church against all its enemies. 

On the other hand, there was the U.S. government, which had already disincorporated the church, seized church assets, and publicly stated it was coming for the temples next. Meanwhile many church members and leaders were languishing in jail, facing court fines, and living in secret to evade the law.

Wilford Woodruff was indeed in a tough situation. 

Faced with the destruction of the church and no chance of statehood for Utah, under pressure from the government, he issued the press release now known as the Manifesto (Official Declaration 1), in which he stated that the church would no longer perform plural marriages. This statement was designed to mislead congress into believing the practice would actually stop. 

Not to be misled, congress insisted that the statement not only be published in the press, but actually presented at General Conference and sustained by the church membership as a binding policy change.

And so it was that on October 6, 1890, Wilford Woodruff found himself standing at the tabernacle pulpit, before the church and the world, reading a statement that said he now intended to do what he swore he would never do, and which he himself had taught the Lord would never allow. He intended to publicly abandon polygamy. But he needed political cover for this fundamental change in the very foundation of then-practiced LDS Mormonism. As one doctrine was abandoned, he needed another to justify it. 

So he said the following:

"I say to Israel, the Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this church to lead you astray. It is not in the program. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty."
And thus was invented the doctrine of infallibility, now applied to each President of the LDS church. 

Why can't the President lead you astray? Because he said so.

Of course, the doctrine has since grown and expanded to the point that rational people actually believe they can safely entrust their salvation to another fallen mortal man, despite pointed scriptural warnings to the contrary. They actually consider it safe to surrender their agency to another, not realizing that this was Lucifer's plan from the beginning!

The doctrine teaches that it is impossible for the prophet to lead us astray, and that if he attempts to do so, the Lord is obligated to kill him. Seriously. And we're OK with that? Knowing how many mistakes I make, I'm sure glad I'm not the prophet...

This doctrine is not scriptural. This doctrine did not originate with Joseph Smith--Joseph actually taught the opposite. I'd say more along these lines, but there's no way I can possibly hold a candle to the summary given by Rock Waterman in his blog, Pure Mormonism:
"You can search the scriptures and the general conference archives until your eyes swim and never find one instance of a recorded revelation from God declaring the prophets will never lead us astray, or that God wants us to "follow" them.  We didn't get that doctrine from God. We have it because one fine day in 1890 Wilford Woodruff just pulled it out of his butt." 
Not much I can add to that. 

Wilford said it, he got the vote he needed to convince the congress he was serious, even though he wasn't (the church secretly continued polygamous marriages until at least 1904), and Utah got statehood. 

As a by-product, we were left with a lie.

We've since repeated the lie so often and so well, with so much passion and embellishment, that it's become THE new foundational doctrine of the LDS church. A recent example from General Conference states, "We have the Lord’s personal promise that the prophets will never lead us astray." I'd love to know when and where the Lord made that "personal promise." But all I can find is an apocryphal premise.

We've replaced polygamy with infallibility. 

Today, the prophet can do no wrong, and therefore, by extension, the church can do no wrong. And if it's impossible for the church to be wrong, then there's really no need for individual LDS members to do anything other than "follow the prophet" right into the Celestial Kingdom. 

We've traded the Savior's injunction of "Come, Follow Me" with Satan's imitation, "Go, follow him."

Cursed, indeed, is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm. (2 Nephi 4:34)

Speaking of our day, Nephi said, "...they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men." (2 Nephi 28:14)

Therefore, in our day:

  • ALL are astray
  • Except a few who are humble followers of Christ
  • And these humble followers are misled by their leaders in MANY INSTANCES.
Therefore if you're not astray, you're likely misled. 

So what's the solution?

There's really no need to despair. The gospel of Jesus Christ is designed to save you without the need for a man to act as the intermediary between you and God. Remember, "the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel, and He employeth no servant there." (2 Nephi 9:41) Salvation is an individual endeavor between you and God. It always has been. 

Certainly the church offers important things we need: Ordinances, opportunities to serve, a community of believers to love--in short, a lab in which to practice the gospel. 

But when it comes to the one you should follow, you can go to God yourself. You can receive the revelation you need. You can even commune with angels and know the Lord face to face. The most important first step is to actually receive the Holy Ghost. Know why? Because the Holy Ghost is the one who truly can't lead you astray.

I'll talk more about that in a future post. Until then, ponder this:

Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do. (2 Nephi 32:3)

 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things. (Moroni 10:5)