This past Saturday and Sunday, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held its 179th Semi-Annual General Conference, at which Latter-day Saints (Mormons) gathered to hear sermons from their ecclesiastical leaders. At the afternoon session held on Sunday October 4, 2009, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles delivered a 16-minute address that quickly became the talk of the 10-hour-long conference. The text of all General Conference addresses are available at the LDS church's web site. The text of Elder Holland's address can be found here. The church web site also makes the talks available in audio and video formats. After the jump, I embed the talk as it appears on YouTube, in two parts, and then provide my commentary on it. In sum, Elder Holland's talk is rife with lies and logical fallacies, and relies on emotional and psychological manipulation rather than rational argument to affect his audience.
The LDS church teaches that people like me, i.e., former members of the church, are destined to be miserable, and that we are in the clutches of Satan. We are as Judas--traitors who would kill Christ if we could. This sounds harsh, and indeed it is. It sounds like one of those old 19th-century teachings (like blood atonement) that the church has swept under the rug. But, alas, this is one of the old teachings that is still alive and kicking in the modern church. In the current manual Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, published at the direction of the First Presidency (and the only extra-scriptural material permitted to be used by Priesthood and Relief Society teachers in the church) is found lesson number 27, titled "Beware the Bitter Fruits of Apostasy." From that lesson comes this quote, which is representative of the tenor and thrust of the entire lesson:
[A]postates after turning from the faith of Christ, unless they have speedily repented, have sooner or later fallen into the snares of the wicked one, and have been left destitute of the Spirit of God, to manifest their wickedness in the eyes of multitudes. From apostates the faithful have received the severest persecutions. Judas was rebuked and immediately betrayed his Lord into the hands of His enemies, because Satan entered into him.
There is a superior intelligence bestowed upon such as obey the Gospel with full purpose of heart, which, if sinned against, the apostate is left naked and destitute of the Spirit of God, and he is, in truth, nigh unto cursing, and his end is to be burned. When once that light which was in them is taken from them they become as much darkened as they were previously enlightened, and then, no marvel, if all their power should be enlisted against the truth, and they, Judas-like, seek the destruction of those who were their greatest benefactors. . . .
. . .
When you joined this Church you enlisted to serve God. When you did that you left the neutral ground, and you never can get back on to it. Should you forsake the Master you enlisted to serve, it will be by the instigation of the evil one, and you will follow his dictation and be his servant.
I believe that one reason why active Mormons often choose not to associate at all with former members of the church is that they actually believe that former members are possessed by Satan, as the above quote from Joseph Smith unequivocally states.
Every once in a while, I stumble on a web site or blog that has information on Mormonism presented in a unique way, or which contains information not commonly found elsewhere. For those looking for just such a site, I recommend clicking right here. It's a site by a former LDS missionary who has recently become disillusioned with the faith (sound familiar?). His latest post is on the racist doctrines of the LDS church (which have never been repudiated; only swept under the rug). Since tomorrow is Juneteenth, and this month is the 30th anniversary of the "policy change" declaration through which God decided He was no longer racist, it seems an appropriate time to send readers of Equality Time over there.
I originally posted this back on May 28, 2006. But in honor of the subject being "called" as a new "apostle" today in the LDS church, I thought I'd resurrect it and post it anew. I wonder if the opinions he expressed in the article will now take on additional heft among the members? Are words spoken prior to one's call given apostolic authori-tay?
If Jesus were to walk into an LDS church meeting today, how would He be received? If the latest article in a church magazine on the subject of dress and grooming is any indication, Jesus very likely would be asked to leave. Why? Well, let’s start with hair: in all the pictures I have seen of Jesus, He has long hair. And, typically, He is shown wearing open-toed shoes. According to an LDS church General Authority, such things are offensive to God.
The LDS church, in response to the article published in the Salt Lake Tribune about Peter and Mary Danzig, issued a press release yesterday reiterating the church's strict zero tolerance policy for members who criticize church leaders. The full text of the press release appears after the jump. The gist is that the church did no wrong and that Danzig was wrong to send the letter and express his views on the subject. The doublespeak evident in the press release is interesting: members can question and dig and come to their own conclusions, but cannot express those views publicly if they differ from what church leaders think. At the same time, the church says members were free to write their senators and express their views on the marriage amendment, but that the church didn't tell them what those views had to be.
The press release also erroneously ascribes an error to the Tribune's reporting by wrongly stating that the article said Danzig suffered official church discipline. The article does not say that, but does use the generic term "discipline." Danzig lost his place in the orchestra, was summoned numerous times for interrogations by church leaders, and was told he would be excommunicated. For the church to say he wasn't "disciplined" is disingenuous.
It appears that people can leave the church, but the church can't leave people alone.
At the April 2007 General Conference, Elder Holland gave a talk that I think is most appropriate. I know some members of the ward I am in sometimes read my blog. I am sure they will appreciate reading something positive and uplifting as the words of a blessed apostle. Especially touching to me are the words I have highlighted in bold lettering. So, here it is:
The Prophet Joseph Smith deepened our understanding of the power of speech when he taught, “It is by words … [that] every being works when he works by faith. God said, ‘Let there be light: and there was light.’ Joshua spake, and the great lights which God had created stood still. Elijah commanded, and the heavens were stayed for the space of three years and six months, so that it did not rain. … All this was done by faith. … Faith, then, works by words; and with [words] its mightiest works have been, and will be, performed.”1 Like all gifts “which cometh from above,” words are “sacred, and must be spoken with care, and by constraint of the Spirit.”2
It is with this realization of the power and sanctity of words that I wish to caution us, if caution is needed, regarding how we speak to each other and how we speak of ourselves.
There is a line from the Apocrypha which puts the seriousness of this issue better than I can. It reads, “The stroke of the whip maketh marks in the flesh: but the stroke of the tongue breaketh the bones.”3 With that stinging image in mind, I was particularly impressed to read in the book of James that there was a way I could be “a perfect man.”
Said James: “For in many things we offend all. [But] if any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.”
Continuing the imagery of the bridle, he writes: “Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.
“Behold also … ships, which though they be … great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm.”
Then James makes his point: “The tongue is [also] a little member. … [But] behold, how great a [forest (Greek)] a little fire [can burn].
“… So is the tongue [a fire] among our members, … it defileth the whole body, … it is set on fire of hell.
“For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, … hath been tamed of mankind:
“But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
“Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.
“Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.”4
Well, that is pretty straightforward! Obviously James doesn’t mean our tongues are always iniquitous, nor that everything we say is “full of deadly poison.” But he clearly means that at least some things we say can be destructive, even venomous—and that is a chilling indictment for a Latter-day Saint! The voice that bears profound testimony, utters fervent prayer, and sings the hymns of Zion can be the same voice that berates and criticizes, embarrasses and demeans, inflicts pain and destroys the spirit of oneself and of others in the process. “Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing,” James grieves. “My brethren [and sisters], these things ought not so to be.”
Is this something we could all work on just a little? Is this an area in which we could each try to be a little more like a “perfect” man or woman?
Husbands, you have been entrusted with the most sacred gift God can give you—a wife, a daughter of God, the mother of your children who has voluntarily given herself to you for love and joyful companionship. Think of the kind things you said when you were courting, think of the blessings you have given with hands placed lovingly upon her head, think of yourself and of her as the god and goddess you both inherently are, and then reflect on other moments characterized by cold, caustic, unbridled words. Given the damage that can be done with our tongues, little wonder the Savior said, “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.”5 A husband who would never dream of striking his wife physically can break, if not her bones, then certainly her heart by the brutality of thoughtless or unkind speech. Physical abuse is uniformly and unequivocally condemned in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If it is possible to be more condemning than that, we speak even more vigorously against all forms of sexual abuse. Today, I speak against verbal and emotional abuse of anyone against anyone, but especially of husbands against wives. Brethren, these things ought not to be.
In that same spirit we speak to the sisters as well, for the sin of verbal abuse knows no gender. Wives, what of the unbridled tongue in your mouth, of the power for good or ill in your words? How is it that such a lovely voice which by divine nature is so angelic, so close to the veil, so instinctively gentle and inherently kind could ever in a turn be so shrill, so biting, so acrid and untamed? A woman’s words can be more piercing than any dagger ever forged, and they can drive the people they love to retreat beyond a barrier more distant than anyone in the beginning of that exchange could ever have imagined. Sisters, there is no place in that magnificent spirit of yours for acerbic or abrasive expression of any kind, including gossip or backbiting or catty remarks. Let it never be said of our home or our ward or our neighborhood that “the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity … [burning] among our members.”
May I expand this counsel to make it a full family matter. We must be so careful in speaking to a child. What we say or don’t say, how we say it and when is so very, very important in shaping a child’s view of himself or herself. But it is even more important in shaping that child’s faith in us and their faith in God. Be constructive in your comments to a child—always. Never tell them, even in whimsy, that they are fat or dumb or lazy or homely. You would never do that maliciously, but they remember and may struggle for years trying to forget—and to forgive. And try not to compare your children, even if you think you are skillful at it. You may say most positively that “Susan is pretty and Sandra is bright,” but all Susan will remember is that she isn’t bright and Sandra that she isn’t pretty. Praise each child individually for what that child is, and help him or her escape our culture’s obsession with comparing, competing, and never feeling we are “enough.”
In all of this, I suppose it goes without saying that negative speaking so often flows from negative thinking, including negative thinking about ourselves. We see our own faults, we speak—or at least think—critically of ourselves, and before long that is how we see everyone and everything. No sunshine, no roses, no promise of hope or happiness. Before long we and everybody around us are miserable.
I love what Elder Orson F. Whitney once said: “The spirit of the gospel is optimistic; it trusts in God and looks on the bright side of things. The opposite or pessimistic spirit drags men down and away from God, looks on the dark side, murmurs, complains, and is slow to yield obedience.”6 We should honor the Savior’s declaration to “be of good cheer.”7 (Indeed, it seems to me we may be more guilty of breaking that commandment than almost any other!) Speak hopefully. Speak encouragingly, including about yourself. Try not to complain and moan incessantly. As someone once said, “Even in the golden age of civilization someone undoubtedly grumbled that everything looked too yellow.”
I have often thought that Nephi’s being bound with cords and beaten by rods must have been more tolerable to him than listening to Laman and Lemuel’s constant murmuring.8 Surely he must have said at least once, “Hit me one more time. I can still hear you.” Yes, life has its problems, and yes, there are negative things to face, but please accept one of Elder Holland’s maxims for living—no misfortune is so bad that whining about it won’t make it worse.
Paul put it candidly, but very hopefully. He said to all of us: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but [only] that which is good … [and] edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.
“And grieve not the holy Spirit of God. …
“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you. …
“And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”9
In his deeply moving final testimony, Nephi calls us to “follow the Son [of God], with full purpose of heart,” promising that “after ye have … received the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost, [ye] can speak with a new tongue, yea, even with the tongue of angels. … And … how could ye speak with the tongue of angels save it were by the Holy Ghost? Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ.”10 Indeed, Christ was and is “the Word,” according to John the Beloved,11 full of grace and truth, full of mercy and compassion.
So, brothers and sisters, in this long eternal quest to be more like our Savior, may we try to be “perfect” men and women in at least this one way now—by offending not in word, or more positively put, by speaking with a new tongue, the tongue of angels. Our words, like our deeds, should be filled with faith and hope and charity, the three great Christian imperatives so desperately needed in the world today. With such words, spoken under the influence of the Spirit, tears can be dried, hearts can be healed, lives can be elevated, hope can return, confidence can prevail. I pray that my words, even on this challenging subject, will be encouraging to you, not discouraging, that you can hear in my voice that I love you, because I do. More importantly, please know that your Father in Heaven loves you and so does His Only Begotten Son. When They speak to you—and They will—it will not be in the wind, nor in the earthquake, nor in the fire, but it will be with a voice still and small, a voice tender and kind.12 It will be with the tongue of angels. May we all rejoice in the thought that when we say edifying, encouraging things unto the least of these, our brethren and sisters and little ones, we say it unto God.13 In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
2. D&C 63:64.
4. James 3:2–10; emphasis added.
5. Matthew 15:11.
11. John 1:1.
12. See 1 Kings 19:11–12.
13. See Matthew 25:40.
Over at the Fox News web site, they have posted 21 questions posed to the LDS church and answered by the voice for the "one true and living church on the face of the earth"--yea, even the unnamed public relations spokesperson. While some of the questions are poorly worded, they do represent a decent sampling of questions frequently encountered by members of the LDS church. So, how did the church do in answering? I present here the questions, the answers, and my commentary. Before getting to the Q&A, I find this from the article interesting: "The Church objected to
answering some of the questions on the grounds that they misrepresent
the basic tenets of the Mormon religion." I am not sure why that would be an objection? Why not just correct any misrepresentation in the answer?
Also, the church's prefatory statement is curious: "Many of these questions are typically found on anti-Mormon blogs or Web sites which aim to misrepresent or distort Mormon doctrines. Several of these questions do not represent ... any serious attempt to depict the core values and beliefs of its members."
Which questions? And which blogs and which web sites "aim to misrepresent or distort Mormon doctrines"? Is the church perhaps referring to the www.josephsmith.net web site and its misrepresentations of the gold-plate translation process and Joseph Smith's family life? It's hard to know. And should questions that people have about Mormonism make a "serious attempt to depict the core values and beliefs of" Mormons? Isn't the point of the questions to find out about those beliefs and values? A strange objection, to be sure. On to the Q&A.
On December 15, 2007, Elder Russell M. Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS church gave an address to graduates of BYU-Hawaii. He spoke about the changes in media he has witnessed in his 80 years. In his address, he shows that he is up to speed on the new media--his grandkids gave him an iPod, he uses email, he is aware of Facebook, blogs, and podcasts. This in itself is refreshing. Some in the Bloggernacle have on occasion wondered whether church leaders are wary of blogs and discussion boards dealing with Mormonism, and whether the church might try to "crack down" on members' online expressions. Elder Ballard's talk appears to alleviate some of those fears (though it is not clear that all the Brethren share his views; nonetheless, it is gratifying to see a member of the Twelve embrace the new media). Here is an excerpt:
Today we have a modern equivalent of the printing press in the Internet and all that it means. The Internet allows everyone to be a publisher, to have their voice heard, and it is revolutionizing society. Before the Internet, there were great barriers to printing. It took money, power, or influence and a great amount of time to publish. But today, because of the emergence of what some call New Media, made possible by the Internet, many of those barriers have been removed. New Media consists of tools on the Internet that make it possible for nearly anyone to publish or broadcast to either a large or a niche audience. I have mentioned some of these tools already, and I know you are familiar with them. The emergence of New Media is facilitating a world-wide conversation on almost every subject including religion, and nearly everyone can participate. This modern equivalent of the printing press is not reserved only for the elite.
Of course, he has to put in the obligatory "Satan wants to take this great thing and wreak havoc with it" meme, but then he goes on:
That word conversation is important. There are conversations going on about the Church constantly. Those conversations will continue whether or not we choose to participate in them. But we cannot stand on the sidelines while others, including our critics, attempt to define what the Church teaches. While some conversations have audiences in the thousands or even millions, most are much, much smaller. But all conversations have an impact on those who participate in them. Perceptions of the Church are established one conversation at a time.
Far too many people have a poor understanding of the Church because most of the information they hear about us is from news media reports that are often driven by controversies. . . . You, too, can tell your story to nonmembers in this way. Use stories and words that they will understand. Talk honestly and sincerely about the impact the gospel has had in your life . . . . The audiences for these and other New Media tools may often be small, but the cumulative effect of thousands of such stories can be great. . . . You could help overcome misperceptions through your own sphere of influence, which ought to include the Internet.
I am gratified to know that what I am doing here as a Latter-day Saint with my little blog has the blessing of an apostle. I agree with Elder Ballard that there are many misperceptions about the LDS church. I hope that my blog helps correct some of those misperceptions. Whether people have misperceptions because of something they have read in an evangelical tract, a mainstream newspaper, or they have misperceptions because they received erroneous information from the missionaries, the gospel doctrine teacher, or the church PR department*, it is the same. And if I can help people gain a balanced, correct understanding of the church, well, I consider myself blessed.
*My next post will be devoted to correcting some of the misperceptions people may have formed as a result of relying upon the LDS church PR department's answers to questions posed by Fox News journalists. I hope Elder Ballard appreciates the effort I am putting forth in setting the record straight.
My friend, colleague, and fellow ward-mate Jordan F. recently put up this post on the "Mantle and the Intellect" at the blog he co-hosts with his brother John--A Bird's Eye View. In the post, Jordan defends an oft-criticized talk given by President Boyd K. Packer in 1981 titled "The Mantle is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect." In that talk President Packer, among other things, encouraged LDS church scholars and educators to teach a faith-promoting version of history and to downplay or ignore entirely any facts or evidence from the historical record that could cast the leaders of the church in a negative light. He discouraged the dissemination of information about church leaders that would show their humanity, telling church educators to focus exclusively on information that supports the Mormon truth claim that God is leading and guiding the leaders of the LDS church. I disagree with much of what President Packer says in the talk, and with the way he says it. Jordan has a different view, seeing the talk as "a beacon of light in today’s sea of spiritual darkness that is much of academia."
In his spirited defense of President Packer, Jordan notes that at the heart of Packer's talk is the idea that Mormon history cannot be properly understood without starting with the conclusion, born of the Holy Ghost, that the foundational claims of the LDS church are true. In other words, the only proper approach to Mormon history for consumption by members of the LDS church is from the perspective of a true-believing Mormon who accepts Joseph Smith as the prophet of the restoration, the Utah-based church as the only true and living church on earth, the Book of Mormon as literal history translated by the gift and power of God, and the authority of those who lead the LDS church as absolute. In other words, as Jordan puts it, the facts about Mormon history "cannot be properly understood divorced from a belief that God orchestrated the whole thing through imperfect and misunderstanding human beings." Jordan thinks that, regarding Mormon history, "one MUST look at the foundational events of the Church through a lens of testimony in order to see the evidence of the divine hand in them, and . . . this is also how church history MUST be taught in LDS classrooms."
In Jordan's post, he points to me as a living example of the "problem" Packer was seeking to prevent with his "Mantle and Intellect" talk. Jordan quotes from an earlier post of mine here at Equality Time, in which I discuss my decision to re-assess Mormon truth claims by examining the facts and evidence with my "testimony lenses" off. This re-assessment led me to doubt, then reject, the literal truth of the LDS church's foundational claims. And this gets to the heart of the disagreement between me and Jordan. He thinks that Mormonism's foundational truth claims should be assumed, a priori, and that one's evaluation of church history and doctrine must be filtered to support that beginning assumption. Any examination, exploration, or exposition of Mormon doctrine or history should be informed by and infused with a testimony of the divinity of the work. To quote my friend, we should "view the historical record through the lens of faith and our spiritual impressions." I respectfully disagree.
By Guest Blogger fh451
After a hiatus, I continue the letter with a discussion of Polygamy, Kirtland Anti-Banking Safety Society, the Priesthood Restoration, and Mountain Meadows.