—1 Nephi 8:33
Mr. C. destroyed the broom, and you need to know why. (He would have destroyed the vacuum too, but it was just too tough for him.) He fought a brave crusade against any floor-cleaning device, even at the risk of life and limb. It was a foolish crusade that he ultimately lost. He had no idea how silly he looked, lashing out and attacking what he didn't understand.
But we understand, you and I, or at least I hope we will by the end of this blog post.
Nevertheless, before we discuss broom attacks, let me first lay a foundation, of apostates and Saints and beliefs.
When you're LDS, being labeled an "apostate" brings all sorts of interesting consequences and responses. Mostly, some of our brothers and sisters in the LDS church aren't quite sure how to deal with one who has been thus labeled. Responses span the range from love and friendship, through indifference, discomfort, distaste, and even white-hot hatred.
I've experienced all these responses since starting this blog, and so, speaking from experience, I'd like to offer some insights and advice designed to help those who are struggling to know how to deal with "apostates."
I offer the following information in the spirit of concern, friendship and love. Whether or not you and I agree on matters of doctrine, there's no reason we can't be friends. As in all of life's situations, the words of the Master apply to this one as well. Let's talk about how Jesus Christ taught us to treat one another and why Mr. C. destroyed the broom.
The Labels we Apply
First, we need to address the labeling that goes on. There is a tendency among the LDS people to use the term "apostate" to generally apply to all those who don't believe, or no longer believe, what is deemed acceptable by the one applying the label. Regardless of what someone may believe, or the reasons why they believe it, the label gets applied as a condemnation and warning.
There are those who believe and study the scriptures deeply; who hunger and thirst after righteousness; who seek and receive personal revelation; who lay it all on the line and make untold sacrifices for the truth as they understand it; who are judged, condemned, cast out, mocked, derided, and scorned for doing so; who nevertheless continue to seek the Savior, placing His will above personal comfort, reputation, worldly praise, success, and family acceptance; who ultimately are asked to prove they love the Lord above all else, and are hated by men for doing so.
Such people, we call apostates, and we number them with others who are indifferent or even hostile to God, who seek to oppose His purposes, or who deny His existence or His goodness. Though they are at completely opposite ends of the belief spectrum, devoted believers and non-believers alike wear the "apostate" label.
Therefore, if you label me "apostate" it only signifies that you disagree with me.
And so I have a sincere question: if you and I disagree in matters of faith, why do you get to label me "apostate?" Does this make you "right" and make me "wrong?"
Fact is, you and I likely agree on much more than we might differ upon. We both believe in God the Father, Christ the Savior and the Holy Ghost. We believe Joseph Smith was a prophet, called of God to bring about the restoration of the Gospel. We believe the Book of Mormon is holy scripture, written by prophets and translated by the gift and power of God. We believe the Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price and Bible are holy scripture as well. We believe in salvation through the atonement of Jesus Christ. We believe the same gospel principles, ordinances and doctrine.
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.
Therefore, if we happen to differ on a few points about the modern church and our religious practices, is it really necessary to start name calling?
Joseph Smith lamented other faiths that “have creeds which a man must believe or be kicked out of their church. I want the liberty to believe as I please, it feels so good not to be trammeled. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine.” (DHC 5: 340.)By labeling somebody as "apostate" to make them "wrong" and therefore marginalize them and their opinions, do we take comfort in our conformity with a large group? Is there safety or guaranteed truth in large numbers?
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)Of course since I'm the one so labeled, it would be laughable for me to likewise call you and your large group apostate, because, after all, there are more of you. And incidentally, laughter is exactly how the Jews at Jerusalem responded to Lehi, because, after all, he was an "apostate" too. (1 Nephi 1:19)
(Easy there, I'm not comparing myself to Lehi. But I am comparing similar groups of very religious folks who like to use derogatory labels to marginalize others with whom they disagree.)
There's no need to name call, but if we must have names, let's use Brother and Sister.
I find it both amusing and sad that some who formerly called me "Brother Larsen" now insist on calling me "Mister Larsen" because I'm evidently no longer a child of God, or their brother. It's also curious that those who judge me most harshly are invariably those who hold the most beliefs in common with me. It's not my Baptist and Jewish friends calling me names. It's my Mormon friends (or former friends, as they seem to prefer.)
One of Satan's titles is "accuser of our brethren" (Rev. 12:10) because he plays the role of accuser before God, condemning those so accused.
Joseph Smith said:
I charged the Saints not to follow the example of the adversary in accusing the brethren, and said, "If you do not accuse each other, God will not accuse you. If you have no accuser you will enter heaven, and if you will follow the revelations and instructions which God gives you through me, I will take you into heaven as my back load. If you will not accuse me, I will not accuse you. If you will throw a cloak of charity over my sins, I will over yours—for charity covereth a multitude of sins." (DHC 4:445)I think there's value in discussing ideas, beliefs and doctrine. But there's no need to personally accuse others of sin. When we play the role of accuser, we serve Satan.
All of us sin. All of us desperately need Christ's grace. What is the virtue in calling each other sinners simply because when you read the scriptures and when I read the scriptures, we each understand things differently?
Judging and Forgiving
Faced with the fact that we all sin, the Lord has carefully taught how we must respond.
I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men. (D&C 64:10)The Lord's standard for how we treat one another demands forgiveness. In fact it is an absolute prerequisite of our own forgiveness that we first forgive all others.
For, if ye forgive men their trespasses your heavenly Father will also forgive you; But if ye forgive not men their trespasses neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (3 Nephi 13:14-15)It seems pretty black and white. Jesus said we must forgive one another if we ever hope to obtain forgiveness.
Similarly, when we undertake to judge the righteousness of another, we actually set the terms of our own judgment.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. (3 Nephi 14:1-2; Matt 7:1-2)Therefore, since I hope for mercy and wide latitude when I am judged of God, I must similarly offer mercy and wide latitude to all my brothers and sisters. Said our Lord, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." (3 Nephi 12:7) Forgiveness and mercy are our only safe course and our only hope.
Christ made an interesting observation about those who are inclined to judge the righteousness of another. Said he:
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother: Let me pull the mote out of thine eye—and behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast the mote out of thy brother’s eye. (3 Nephi 14:3-5; Matt 7:3-5)Note the size difference between the objects in the eyes. Christ said those who tend to judge others suffer from the much larger obstruction. This ought to cause us each to stop and reflect. I believe the Lord is serious. I believe he means it.
From a practical standpoint, I (and other "apostates" like me) tend to get accused of all sorts of sins, condemned as wicked, and given prescriptions about what is lacking or what must change for repentance to be granted. I don't know the hearts of those who thus accuse and condemn me, and I readily forgive them for their hasty conclusions. I would urge them to forgive me as well for whatever they perceive my sins to be. It's the only safe course.
Meanwhile, I'll take up my repentance with the One who can actually remit sins, not with men who cannot.
There's no point in arguing about beliefs. Such argument produces more heat than light. Said the Savior:
For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. (3 Nephi 11:29)I have good reasons to believe what I believe, and I assume you have good reasons to believe what you believe. As fellow seekers of truth, we can certainly discuss ideas, scripture and doctrine without the need to contend or be angry. I welcome such discussions. Sometimes this is easier said than done, but it's a standard to which we all should aspire.
I'll be the first to admit, this is sometimes difficult for me. My natural man wants to defend myself and my beliefs when I am attacked. But gradually, bit by bit, by the grace of Christ, I'm learning to let go of my need to contend. If we must disagree, I hope I can disagree with you in the spirit of love and meekness; likewise, I hope you can with me. I believe we can disagree without anger or accusation, and even learn from each other.
"I'm Telling Mom!!"
This one perplexes me.
While I was still a member of the LDS church, various people who thought they knew various things about me or my beliefs took it upon themselves to call my bishop or stake president and "report" me.
Now that I'm not a member of the LDS church, it's still taking place, as if my former church leaders still hold authority over me.
Let's examine the Lord's word on such matters:
And if thy brother or sister offend thee, thou shalt take him or her between him or her and thee alone; and if he or she confess thou shalt be reconciled. (D&C 42:88)
Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. (Matthew 18:15)The Lord is very clear. He expects us to settle such matters first with one another, privately, in the spirit of reconciliation. Any other course is against the Lord's word.
Notice that the offense must be personal. The trespass must be against you. Therefore if you happen to eavesdrop on my conversations that don't involve you, and you don't like what I say, or if you believe I err in my understanding of scripture, or even if you believe me to be guilty of various sins in my own life or religious practices, I have not trespassed against you. You therefore have no cause to take action against me.
We would all do well to mind our own business in such matters. I see no need to persecute you for your beliefs, and hope you see no need to persecute me for mine.
If you choose to call my bishop or stake president, your act of cowardice in running to an authority figure says far more about you than it does about me. It is a sign of emotional immaturity to depend upon authority figures for validation when you find fault with others in personal matters. "I'm telling Mom" is the common resort of five-year-old children, not emotionally mature and rational adults. "I'm calling your bishop" is no different, and is expressly against the Savior's teachings. What is against Christ is Anti-Christ.
There is—still—entirely too much tattle-taling taking place among us. If you feel you must pick up the phone and make the call, please be aware that in so doing you will in fact invoke all of the laws we have discussed so far. You will become the accuser and thus set the terms of your own judgment. You will answer to the Lord for ignoring his word and refusing to handle your issue the way He said to. You will do no harm to me, but you risk doing great harm to yourself.
I cannot and will not condemn you. But God can and will. Please don't pursue a course leading to that unfortunate end. I'm not worth it. Don't risk your own soul over the need to correct me or anyone else who believes differently than you. I cannot emphasize enough how dangerous such a course is to your soul. If you proceed to knowingly act against Christ's word, you will invoke his condemnation. Unless you believe he is a liar, that is.
My dad used to tell me "Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people." I didn't know it at the time, but he was quoting Eleanor Roosavelt.
Since starting this blog, I've heard all sorts of amazing things about myself through the grapevine. Some are so absurd as to be laughable. Some are merely unkind. Some are foul and angry. I've been falsely accused of all sorts of strange practices, wickedness and evil by those who want to accuse me behind my back.
You know what? I'm not worth talking about. Really. I don't matter at all. The gospel matters. Doctrine matters. Jesus Christ matters. Why not spend your time talking about those things? And if you have a personal issue with me, why not come to me? I would welcome the opportunity to hear your concerns and be reconciled. We don't have to agree, but we can still shake hands and be friends. And perhaps you'll rest easier once you've discovered first hand that I'm not guilty of the malignancy you supposed.
It really doesn't hurt my feelings if you hold a negative opinion of me. It doesn't bother me if you want to spread false rumors about me. What hurts me is the damage you're doing to yourself on my account.
Said Joseph Smith:
The Savior has the words of Eternal life—nothing else can profit us—there is no salvation in believing an evil report against our neighbor. (May 12, 1844, reported by Thomas Bullock)If you do decide to waste your time in gossip about me, please don't be surprised if I reach out to you in the spirit of reconciliation, as the Lord has commanded:
Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)I have a divinely imposed obligation to seek reconciliation with you, just as you do with me. Only then can I go to the Lord with my offering and you can with yours.
Control, Dominion and Compulsion
In explaining priesthood rights to Joseph Smith, the Lord said,
That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man. (D&C 121:37)It's most interesting that this word came from the Lord to Joseph while he was incarcerated in Liberty Jail—under the unrighteous control, dominion and compulsion of wicked men.
Of course, we don't throw people in jail just because we disagree with their doctrine. But we do issue commands and ultimatums, insisting on controlling the behavior and beliefs of others. Is there a difference in the Lord's eyes?
I have witnessed such behavior first hand, and it is tragic. I know of those who are, right now, commanding and seeking to control others, issuing ultimatums and deadlines, with threatened consequences for failure to comply. They view themselves as defenders of the faith, yet exert themselves not in defending Christ, but in angrily attacking those whose focus is on Christ. And these attempts are NOT all coming from church leaders. I've watched those who have ABSOLUTELY NO BUSINESS doing so, nevertheless attempt to change the gospel beliefs and behaviors of others by force and threat.
This is wickedness. Amen to the priesthood or authority of such men.
Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God. (D&C 121:38)With the Spirit of the Lord withdrawn, such are left to play the role they have adopted for themselves: Persecutor of the Saints. And persecute they do.
This is stern stuff, spoken by the Lord, to protect us from ourselves. We ought to heed His counsel.
If you are playing the role of persecutor, you are fulfilling prophecy.
And blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake; For ye shall have great joy and be exceedingly glad, for great shall be your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets who were before you. (3 Nephi 12:11-12)As Christ plainly said, those who follow Him will be persecuted. This is a given. And since persecution must needs come, the question we must each answer for ourselves is which role we are playing. Do we persecute others for their beliefs? Or do we seek to do what Joseph advised is a better way, speaking of those who persecuted him:
[I was] persecuted by those who ought to have been my friends and to have treated me kindly, and if they supposed me to be deluded to have endeavored in a proper and affectionate manner to have reclaimed me...(JSH 28)Christ's teachings in the parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Prodigal Son teach us how the Lord deals with those who stray and are lost. He does, indeed, endeavor in a proper and affectionate manner to reclaim them.
According to D&C 121, such an endeavor is to be undertaken "by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge..." Never by virtue of priesthood, by control, dominion, or compulsion.
Who Gets Attacked?
As LDS people, whom do we tend to persecute? Is it Jews? Muslims? Other Christians? Generally speaking, no. We teach respect for all God's children, and seek to build bridges and cooperate with those of other faiths.
Unless they are LDS "apostates," that is.
Then, all bets are off, and the veneer of love and mutual respect drops like a lead balloon. Try this: Post something on Facebook that supports the general positive ideas of another faith. You'll get likes, kind comments from other LDS people, and a reputation for being broad minded.
Now try posting something scriptural on Facebook that challenges the LDS status quo, raises a question about our practices, or contradicts a church manual. You'll be reported, challenged, corrected, named and shamed, and outright attacked. And it will be your fellow Saints who attack you.
The Root of the Problem
And now we can finally get to the root of the problem.
In all the examples I've cited above, the root cause is the same. Labeling, persecution, gossip, compulsion, accusation, contention—all of these branch from the same stem.
So let's talk about Mr. C. and the broom.
Mr. C. was my cocker spaniel, Chewey. I took him to a professional trainer because, whenever we would sweep the floor, Chewey would attack the broom. Snarling, growling and biting, he went after the broom with vigor and malice. I had no idea why.
The dog trainer told me something interesting: dogs attack what they fear.
Somehow, as a puppy, Chewey had been scared by the broom, and now he attacked it every time we got it out. It was a foolish, destructive fight, ill-conceived and wrong-headed, but Chewey couldn't let go of his fear. All he knew to do was attack even though there was no threat to him whatsoever.
The thing is, it's really no different with humans. We tend to attack what we fear.
As LDS believers, we really don't fear other religions, or those who believe differently, unless, of course, they are LDS "apostates." Such are attacked because they are feared.
Let's consider why:
As Latter-day Saints, we place a lot of stock in being "right" while everybody else must be "wrong." It is our tenet that the LDS church is the only true church, that it's impossible for us to be led astray, ever, about anything. Therefore, if we do what we're told, we'll go to the Celestial Kingdom while everybody else goes to Hell. We've got a LOT of religious belief, and hope, and devotion, and even money tied up in the idea that we absolutely must be right.
Therefore, when someone comes along and starts pointing out things in our own scriptures that we're not doing and should be, or that we're ignoring, or that flatly contradict our current practice, the first reaction is fear that we may be wrong, and that the scriptures may be right.
But such an idea is unthinkable, because if there's anything—anything at all—wrong with our belief and practice, the sand upon which we have built our foundation begins to shift, and we fear that we will fall.
No, we cannot, we must not, entertain ANYTHING that contradicts our current views, because we might find out we got some things wrong, and that's simply unthinkable.
The Devil's Tool
When you fear ideas, you can NEVER grow in light and knowledge. When you fear truth, you are absolutely guaranteed to never obtain more of it. You can plug your ears, close your eyes, and pretend there are no contradictions, no historical issues, no errors whatsoever; but in so doing, you also let in no light, no revelation, and no means to grow.
Such a response is born of fear that the crazy apostate over there in the corner, reading from the scriptures you claim to believe, might, just possibly, be right. And if that's the case, and you believe the scriptures, you might end up just like that crazy apostate! Then you might lose your reputation, good name, family relationships, worldly honors, and possibly even church membership! (See Lectures on Faith, 6:5) Furthermore, you'll end up being persecuted by your former friends and church leaders. It's a formidable sacrifice to contemplate.
It takes courage to open yourself to new ideas. It takes courage to seek truth. Because of fear, very few will ever undertake an unflinching search for truth. The only path that overcomes this fear is Love:
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18)Sadly, few love the Lord enough to put all else on the altar. And when they don't, they end up persecuting those who do. Joseph Smith taught what sort of sacrifice is entailed in the search for truth:
Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things, never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things...It is in vain for persons to fancy to themselves that they are heirs with those, or can be heirs with them, who have offered their all in sacrifice, and by this means obtained faith in God and favor with him so as to obtain eternal life, unless they in like manner offer unto him the same sacrifice, and through that offering obtain the knowledge that they are accepted of him. (Lectures on Faith 6:7-8)And the fear that keeps us from putting all things on the altar ultimately is what destroys us:
But those who have not made this sacrifice to God, do not know that the course which they pursue is well pleasing in his sight; for whatever may be their belief or their opinion, it is a matter of doubt and uncertainty in their mind; and where doubt and uncertainty is, there faith is not, nor can it be. For doubt and faith do not exist in the same person at the same time. So that persons whose minds are under doubts and fears cannot have unshaken confidence, and where unshaken confidence is not, there faith is weak, and where faith is weak, the persons will not be able to contend against all the opposition, tribulations and afflictions which they will have to encounter in order to be heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ Jesus; and they will grow weary in their minds, and the adversary will have power over them and destroy them. (Lectures on Faith 6:12)Sadly, I'm personally acquainted with those who actually refuse to even open their scriptures for fear they might learn something that contradicts what they already think they know. I wish I were exaggerating, but I'm not. For the same reason, some fear to study history, doctrine, Joseph Smith's teachings, or the foundations of our faith.
And thus, we damn ourselves.
Fear is a powerful tool of the adversary; it is not of God.
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)The Remedy
If you are so insecure in your beliefs that you cannot defend them, or even allow yourself to be exposed to anything you don't already believe, you should study and seek until you have gained enough light and knowledge for yourself that you no longer fear being exposed to new ideas. Study your beliefs until you know why you believe them and can defend them against contrary views. And please, do it now, before it's too late.
As the last days progress, challenges will come for which you are utterly unprepared if you don't have a deep and sound understanding of the Gospel. Your foundation will be destroyed and you will fall if you're not built firmly on the rock of Christ. Build now, while you still can.
Building such a foundation requires removal of unbelief, false tradition, superstition, and the philosophies of men. Joseph Smith spent his life in this pursuit:
I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions: they cannot stand the fire at all. DHC 6:183-185.
What many people call sin is not sin; I do many things to break down superstition, and I will break it down (TPJS 193)When you have given up your unbelief and built on the sure foundation of Christ, you have nothing to fear from "apostates." They cannot harm you. And if you believe they can harm you, you yet doubt your foundation.
When your foundation is secure, you feel no need to label or exclude others, to point the finger of scorn, to accuse and deride. When your foundation is the rock of our Redeemer, you will only seek to do what He would do. And in doing so, you will come to know Him.
Love is one of the chief characteristics of Deity, and ought to be manifested by those who aspire to be the sons of God. A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race. (DHC 4:227)In Closing
This has not been an easy post for me to write. I wish those who persecute the humble followers of Christ could rely on ignorance as an excuse for their actions, though I doubt that would help much in the day of judgment. I wish I didn't have to offer this unpleasant warning. I wish there weren't so many to be warned.
And great was the multitude that did enter into that strange building. And after they did enter into that building they did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking of the fruit also; but we heeded them not. (1 Nephi 8:33)Please understand that, regardless of what some may think of me, I'm doing my best to love and forgive those who persecute me and my family. I try to use their criticism of me as an opportunity to improve. I hold no animosity toward you, and pray you will hold none toward me. If I've wronged you, please tell me so I can repent. May we all "Come unto Christ and be perfected in Him."