Wednesday, July 29, 2015

All that Glitters, Part 6:
Special Watches and Witnesses

Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.
—Romans 16:17-18

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

I once visited China, and in the course of business, went shopping for a watch. A friend had a connection who knew a guy who could get us past security and into a secret room in the back of a nondescript building, behind a guarded door.

The cramped, windowless room contained fake watches. Thousands of them.

Every luxury watch brand imaginable was represented in that room, in three levels of fidelity to the original. A cheap copy of a $10,000 watch might cost $50. A better copy might cost $100. And a part-by-part, exact copy, made of premium materials, might cost $1,000. The whole operation lived constantly on the verge of destruction, and would fold and disappear in moments if the authorities came knocking.

The salesman who showed me the watches called every deal "special."

I saw wide-eyed tourists eagerly buy two, three, even ten watches to take home and wear in imitation of worldly wealth, in hopes of worldly prestige. The eager buyers thought they had died and gone to fake-watch heaven, because they could imply, by imitation and deception, that they had something they did not.

Me? I walked out with just one watch, a gift for my wife. It stopped working in less than a week.

If you’ve read this series thus far, you’ve no doubt detected my theme: Real vs. imitation; the genuine article vs. the mere appearance. Satan, the great imitator, offers enticing mimics of the real thing, whether the category is scripture, messengers, marriage, righteousness, or religion. 

This should not surprise us, because nearly all facets of our rapidly crumbling culture have their basis in clever, or not-so-clever fakes, appearing as real. Manufactured performances substitute for real talent, easy credit imitates true wealth, politicians pretend to be everything they’re not, popularity is confused with courage, camouflaged slavery substitutes for true freedom, indoctrination displaces education, and manufactured emotion mimics divine communication. Whether in politics, pop culture, education or religion, a deceptive agenda tells us what to think, what to believe, and how to act. All else is defined as “evil.”

We are so immersed in, and enamored with imitations, that many of us have lost all ability to discern between the true article and the fake.

Religion is no different. Imitations, appearing as real, tempt us to accept fool’s gold instead of the real thing. Such a bargain leaves one feeling rich, until the day of reckoning, when all such fakery will be revealed, counterfeits rejected, and unpaid debts settled. In that coming day, only the genuine article will have any power to save. All else will be cast out, bound in bundles, and burned as stubble. (Matthew 7:23, D&C 101:66, Malachi 4:1) False religion will have no more value than fake watches in that day.

Rejected Strangers

Who will stand rejected of the Lord at that coming day of reckoning? Christ offered the following prediction that will befall the falsely religious:
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. (Matthew 7:21-23)
It’s worth noting that Joseph Smith changed this passage to read “And then will I say, Ye never knew me…”

Those who profess His name without actually knowing Him, are the counterfeits He rejects. 
For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart? And again, doth a man take an ass which belongeth to his neighbor, and keep him? I say unto you, Nay; he will not even suffer that he shall feed among his flocks, but will drive him away, and cast him out. I say unto you, that even so shall it be among you if ye know not the name by which ye are called. (Mosiah 5:13-14)
So unless you want your ass driven out, you’d better not be a stranger to the Lord.
For behold, in my name are they called; and if they know me they shall come forth, and shall have a place eternally at my right hand.  
And it shall come to pass that when the second trump shall sound then shall they that never knew me come forth and shall stand before me. And then shall they know that I am the Lord their God, that I am their Redeemer; but they would not be redeemed. And then I will confess unto them that I never knew them; and they shall depart into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. (Mosiah 26:24-27)
And so, it comes down to a question of knowing Christ. 
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. (John 17:3)
Special Witnesses

Who is a witness of the Lord? Who can truthfully bear witness of His resurrection? Who can reliably tell us the way back into His presence? 

Those who know Him. 

Due to language in D&C 107, we assume members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are automatically such men. Indeed, they are known to sometimes bear their “special witness” of the Lord. Many church members assume this is a personal witness born from having met the risen Lord.

I believe the words they use are carefully chosen, and ought to be carefully reviewed if we are to understand what they are saying, and what they are not saying. Here are some examples:
Boyd K. Packer: 
Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon recorded the following after a sacred experience: “And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!
“For we saw him” (D&C 76:22–23). 
Their words are my words. 
I believe and I am sure that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that He lives. He is the Only Begotten of the Father, and “by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (D&C 76:24). 
I bear my witness that the Savior lives. I know the Lord. I am His witness. I know of His great sacrifice and eternal love for all of Heavenly Father’s children. I bear my special witness in all humility but with absolute certainty, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Though Elder Packer bears both his “witness” and his “special witness” he still borrows the words of others rather than declaring anything he has seen or experienced himself. He "believes," and is "sure," and "knows," the things he claims (thought these are mutually exclusive ideas) but does not explain how or why he knows. 

Are we not all to stand as witnesses? (Mosiah 18:9) What makes Elder Packer’s witness unique? He doesn't say.
Henry B. Eyring: 
I am a witness of the Resurrection of the Lord as surely as if I had been there in the evening with the two disciples in the house on Emmaus road. I know that He lives as surely as did Joseph Smith when he saw the Father and the Son in the light of a brilliant morning in a grove of trees in Palmyra.
Elder Eyring points to the experiences of others as the source of his knowledge, just as we all can. He does not state anything that would make him an independent witness. He relies on others. "It's as if I've been there" is not the same as "I've been there."

Both of these apostles borrow from those who are actually willing to state they have seen the Lord. They compare themselves to those who know. They state they are witnesses without stating what they have witnessed.

That watch may be a Rolex, or it may be a knock off. They won't tell you which.
Bruce R. McConkie 
And now, as pertaining to this perfect atonement, wrought by the shedding of the blood of God—I testify that it took place in Gethsemane and at Golgotha, and as pertaining to Jesus Christ, I testify that he is the Son of the Living God and was crucified for the sins of the world. He is our Lord, our God, and our King. This I know of myself independent of any other person.
I am one of his witnesses, and in a coming day I shall feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet and shall wet his feet with my tears.
But I shall not know any better then than I know now that he is God’s Almighty Son, that he is our Savior and Redeemer, and that salvation comes in and through his atoning blood and in no other way.
Elder McConkie admits he has NOT felt the nail marks in the Lord’s hands and feet, but expects to do so “in a coming day.” And yet, this ceremony of physical proof is the first order of business when the resurrected Lord appears to mortals. (3 Nephi 11:14, Luke 24:39) In other words, Elder McConkie's witness is that he looks forward to meeting the Lord in a coming day (and he died 13 days later.)

Using the words of others to imply what one is not willing to say does not make one a witness, any more than copying a Rolex makes a genuine article. An actual witness states his testimony clearly and unequivocally. If you are called as a witness to give testimony in court, you are expected to state clearly and publicly that which you actually saw, then defend it when questioned. Mere implication will never stand. 

With that in mind, compare the above “special witness” testimonies with the following words of normal LDS people, without rank or position, who have actually met the risen Lord in person:
I know He lives, for I have seen Him. He has ministered to me. 
I have spoken with Him as a man speaks to another. He speaks in plain humility, reasoning as one man with another. He will reason with you.  
—Denver Snuffer

On April 14, 2012, I was carried away into the heavenly temple. I shook the hand of the angel that was my guide. I saw and heard the Father and the Son speak to me. This experience involved sight, touch, sound, and smell.  It was as real as anything I have experienced in my day-to-day life, only the glory and intelligence conveyed is indescribable. This was not my last encounter beyond the veil. 
I am a witness that Jesus Christ lives. He is a real, knowable person. 
—Daniel Rogers

I’ve been told by God, that I have received my Calling and Election. I have received many visitations by angels and have been taught by them. I have met my Savior more than once. I have spoken to other heavenly beings. I do not say these things to brag – and I am certainly not perfect in the eyes of man and have much to overcome, but to testify of them so others can see that if someone like me (a big huge nobody who has been “spiritually retarded” my entire life) can obtain them, then you certainly can too. 
—Linda Jules Martindale

Nudge, Nudge, Wink, Wink

Perhaps the most appalling, implied “special witness” I’ve heard recently came from Elder Russell M. Nelson. He recently visited a mission where a friend of mine lives, and met with the missionaries there. As part of the missionary meeting, he took questions from the audience. One of the missionaries asked him if he had seen the Savior. The following is his response, as reported by one who was there:
“Well, let me answer your question by asking you some questions. How many of you have been to the temple?” 
     (All the missionaries raised their hands) 
“And while there, how many of you saw and heard sacred things?” 
     (All the missionaries kept their hands raised.) 
“And how many of you covenanted you would not speak about the sacred things you saw and heard?” 
     (Hands still raised) 
“Next question.”
And that was it. Elder Nelson’s “special witness” consisted of the implication that he had special, sacred knowledge he promised he wouldn’t share. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Say no more!

So what is he saying? He has seen the Lord, but promised not to talk about it? But he’s still free to imply it, just as long as he doesn’t come right out and say it like Joseph Smith did? (Because, why on earth would a special witness actually bear witness of seeing the Lord, right?) Does this qualify for some apostolic loophole that allows him to keep confidences by merely implying something without actually saying it?

Or was he hedging his bets, by maintaining plausible deniability that he had ever claimed to see what he has not? Does he assume an implied false witness is not actually a false witness, and does not violate both the third and ninth commandments? 

Why not just come right out and say what you mean? A “yes” or “no” will do. (Matthew 5:37) Why leave us in confusion when your job is to bear witness?

Compare Elder Nelson’s deceptive farce to the Savior’s admonition to his newly called Nephite disciples:
And again, more blessed are they who shall believe in your words because that ye shall testify that ye have seen me, and that ye know that I am. Yea, blessed are they who shall believe in your words, and come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins. (3 Nephi 12:2)
How can we receive the promised blessings, unless there are those who will testify that they have seen Him and know that He is?

Why will lay members willingly testify of meeting the Lord, while the Apostles will not? (Incidentally, Elder Nelson is the one who personally insisted on the excommunication of Denver Snuffer, whose testimony of seeing the Savior is given above.)

Denying the Christ

In the recent fireside given by Elder Dallin Oaks and assistant church historian Richard Turley (now dubbed “The Boise Rescue”) the speakers simulated a question and answer session by providing their own pre-canned questions and answers. 

In one of his answers, Elder Oaks called the idea that we must seek the face of our Savior while in mortality a “familiar tactic of the adversary.” (1:00:36)

That’s right—that old Devil is always encouraging people to seek the Savior’s face. But don’t worry, we won’t fall for that old trick! Why, seeking the Savior’s face, that’s crazy talk. I mean, that’s the very definition of redemption after all (Ether 3:13), and who in their right mind would want to be redeemed? So what if a bunch of guys in the Book of Mormon got suckered into meeting Christ face to face—we know better and we won’t go there!

(Sorry, but Elder Oaks’s assertion is so far beyond reason, that I'm only left with sarcasm to highlight its absurdity. The fact that he makes such an assertion presumes his audience is preposterously uninformed and utterly gullible. Wanna buy a watch?) 

Here’s what Joseph Smith taught on the matter:
The other Comforter spoken of is a subject of great interest, and perhaps understood by few of this generation...When the Lord has thoroughly proved him, and finds that the man is determined to serve Him at all hazards, then the man will find his calling and his election made sure, then it will be his privilege to receive the other Comforter, which the Lord hath promised the Saints, as is recorded in the testimony of St. John, in the 14th chapter, from the 12th to the 27th verses...
Now what is this other Comforter? It is no more nor less than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself; and this is the sum and substance of the whole matter; that when any man obtains this last Comforter, he will have the personage of Jesus Christ to attend him, or appear unto him from time to time, and even He will manifest the Father unto him, and they will take up their abode with him, and the visions of the heavens will be opened unto him, and the Lord will teach him face to face, and he may have a perfect knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. (TPJS 150-151)
I could back this idea with numerous scriptures, but to save space, I'll offer just this one:
Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am (D&C 93:1)
Joseph Smith or Dallin Oaks. One teaches you to seek the Lord's face, one teaches you not to. Pick your prophet.

Later in the same presentation we hear this canned question and answer: (1:03:55)
Brother Turley:
Another claim that we sometimes hear is that current apostles have no right to run the affairs of the church since they do not meet the New Testament standard of apostles because they do not testify of having seen Christ.
Elder Oaks:
The first answer to this claim is that modern apostles are called to be witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world, Doctrine and Covenants 107:23. This is not to witness of a personal manifestation. To witness of the name is to witness of the plan, the work, or mission such as the atonement and the authority or priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ, which an apostle who holds the keys is uniquely responsible to do. 
So, let me get this straight…apostles have a unique responsibility, not to witness of the Lord Himself, but of the plan, the work, and the mission of Jesus Christ? How is that different than any missionary, or for that matter, any other church member?
Of course apostles are also witnesses of Christ just like all members of the Church who have the gift of the Holy Ghost. This is because the mission of the Holy Ghost is to witness of the Father and the Son. 
So there’s your answer. There is no difference between an apostle’s testimony and any other church member’s testimony, born of the Holy Ghost. Thanks for clearing that up.
In addition, while some early apostles and other members of the church have had the sublime spiritual experience of seeing the Savior and some have made a public record of this, in the circumstances of today we are counseled not to speak of our most sacred spiritual experiences, 
Counseled by whom? Who counsels the apostles?
otherwise with modern technology that can broadcast something all over the world, a remark made in a sacred and a private setting can be said abroad 
That would be awful! The world might hear your testimony of Christ! I believe Peter, Paul, Alma or Moroni would have given their lives to receive the opportunity you now dismiss. (See Alma 29:1-2)
in violation of the Savior's commandment not to cast our pearls before swine.
So…testifying that you’ve seen the Savior is casting pearls before swine? Now mind you, we’re not talking about revealing what happens when you meet Him, what He teaches you, what ordinances are performed, or any other sacred knowledge that is revealed. We’re merely speaking of the witness that He lives and is a real person. 

It's ironic that Elder Oaks is a lawyer, because he fulfills this scripture in two ways:
Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered. (Luke 11:52)
If testifying of Christ’s reality is “casting pearls before swine” you’ll need to take it up with Peter, James, John, Paul, Lehi, Nephi, Jacob, Alma, Mormon, Moroni, Joseph Smith, and many, many others who have testified of seeing the Lord.

"But those guys were prophets!" 

   —Exactly. Aren't you?

You’ll also need to take it up with Oliver Cowdery, who gave the following charge to the first apostles called in this dispensation:
You have been indebted to other men, in the first instance, for evidence; on that you have acted; but it is necessary that you receive a testimony from heaven for yourselves; so that you can bear testimony to the truth of the Book of Mormon, and that you have seen the face of God. That is more than the testimony of an angel. When the proper time arrives, you shall be able to bear this testimony to the world. When you bear testimony that you have seen God, this testimony God will never suffer to fall, but will bear you out… 
Never cease striving until you have seen God face to face. Strengthen your faith; cast off your doubts, your sins, and all your unbelief; and nothing can prevent you from coming to God. Your ordination is not full and complete till God has laid His hand upon you. We require as much to qualify us as did those who have gone before us; God is the same. If the Savior in former days laid His hands upon His disciples, why not in latter days? (Minutes, Kirtland, OH, 21 Feb. 1835; in Minute Book 1, pp. 158–159)
Witnessing the Name

Elder Oaks rightly points out that D&C 107:23 stipulates that apostles are called to be "special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling."

What does it mean to be a witness of His name? 

Elder Oaks states that it implies an obligation to testify of His gospel, plan, priesthood, etc. But there's nothing unique about this; all members carry the same obligation. This does not differ from anyone else in the church.

I'd like to offer a different interpretation. 

Witnesses of His name are those who have taken upon themselves His name by being adopted into His family, thus becoming His children.
Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ. (Moroni 7:19)
And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; 
And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. (Mosiah 27:25-26)
Those who have a personal witness of the Lord, who meet Him face to face, who become His children and take His name, are those who will know Him at the last day. One who bears the name of Christ has received His name by becoming His child. Such a situation belongs to those who have been in His presence, received redemption, and been accepted into His family, thus becoming His sons and daughters.

Such can then bear witness of His name indeed, because they carry it and He claims them. Such a witness necessarily requires having met the Lord face to face.

Of course, there will be many at the last day who claim the Lord's name as their own, but never knew Him. Such are false witnesses, claiming their fake watches ought to earn them prestige and recognition. 

And so, we end where we began:

Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Monday, July 13, 2015

All that Glitters, Part 5:
Appearance of Gold

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

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

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.

As I walked around inside the building, I finally found one room in which there were people. In this room there were stalls, out of which emerged perfectly beautiful people, completely covered in gold leaf. Their hair, skin, and entire bodies were covered in gold. It looked as if it had been sprayed on the people while inside these stalls. These people reminded me of living statues, much like Moroni on the spires of LDS temples. 

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.

Gold Leaf

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
When gold is beaten this thin and applied as decoration to other objects, it is called gold leaf. The process of applying the gold is called gilding. Gilding has been applied for thousands of years to furniture, pottery, fixtures, sculpture, books, even people. Though the appearance is impressive, what’s underneath may be quite unremarkable; wood, ceramic, base metals, leather, even paper can be gilded. 

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.

Yeah, right. 

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.

“White Leaf”

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.

Of course, we’re just speaking of a thin layer of cloth and a cultural tradition. Priesthood is in NO WAY dependent on clothing. And yet, we’ll send our young men home to change before we’ll let them touch the sacrament in a shirt that isn’t white. Later, we’ll send those same young men on missions, where they will not be allowed to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ without a white shirt and tie. 

Runway Sunday

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
There was no mention of spiritual preparation. They just had to look good. Damned good. (Yes, that’s a play on words.)

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.

Stinking Bishop

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. 
—Revelation 3:17-19

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Call for Conference

I was asked by a friend to post the following announcement:

This is the initial call for conference for a worldwide Conference on Tithing Experiences. 

On April 2, 2014, an invitation was extended to gather into fellowships and begin a tithing experiment. We were encouraged to govern ourselves and avoid contention and jarrings in caring for the poor among us and in distribution of tithing funds. We have had over a year to work out the kinks in each of our own fellowships and to put enough experience behind us to have established good hindsight of our own successes and failures. 

As individual voices in our groups we have worked forward and learned what worked best for us and what caused problems. We have had time to iron out wrinkles in our process.  Each fellowship has had their own methods and unique challenges.  

The purpose of this conference is to facilitate communication between the fellowships.  Perhaps a particular solution found by one group is fitting for another, or there were problems that have been worked though by one group that another is just beginning to experience and counsel can be given and accepted. Again, the purpose is to facilitate communication, that we may be closer and more towards one body. 

What this conference is NOT:  

This is not a call to further organize or hasten anything.  This is not a call to discover a "right" way or a "wrong" way. What worked well for one group may be disastrous for another. This is not a call to correlate. This is not a call to organize funds. (Although, of course, individual fellowships are free to work together if one group is experiencing a surplus and another overwhelming need.)

This call for conference is the initial call, asking that those who wish to participate can share a voice in the organization of the conference. As the purpose of the conference is to facilitate communication, we are looking at options to increase participation outside of a physical gathering (although that will occur). There have been suggestions of podcasts afterwards,   webcast of Conference, web conference, transcripts of talks, etc.  

If you are interested in having a voice in the organizational effort please have a representative contact or use the contact page

This call to conference was put forth by Remnant Ministry fellowship, second by Little Zion.

Second by Little Zion: 

We don't like any formal meetings. We don't like any control. We don't like any leaders. That is what we have felt in our group.  But we love all you guys so if you wanna hang for a weekend and talk about the gospel, then we're game.