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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Where'd Everybody Go?

Previously: My Near Death Experience

On a Friday afternoon several months ago, Connie and I got a surprise visit from our ward's new sister missionaries.  They were just assigned to the area and had decided to go through the ward list and introduce themselves to the members.  They were delighted to find us welcoming and accommodating, and we enjoyed a wonderful visit together.  Connie and I both shared our testimonies with these pleasant young girls and they seemed very glad to be in the company of a couple who appeared to love the gospel as much as they.  We were asked if they might be permitted to come by again, and we said absolutely, please do.

One of them pulled out her calendar (which I could see had no entries in it) and asked if Monday was too soon.  "No, not at all, we'd love to see you again as soon as it's convenient for you,"  I replied, so a time was settled on for them to return in three days.  Before they left I asked if I could offer a prayer, which seemed to impress them because usually they have to ask if the family would mind if they offered a prayer.  I sent them off with a heartfelt blessing for God's good will to shine upon them and their endeavors. It was a very nice visit. Connie and I, who rarely have any visitors, had just made two very good new friends.

When the Monday appointment time came and went, I called the number they had left me and was told apologetically that something had come up that forced them to have to miss our appointment. "No problem, I assured her, let's reschedule."  The nice sister seemed flummoxed for a moment, then told me she would check their calendar and get back to me.

She never did.  I left messages twice in the weeks since, but never got a return call from either her or her companion. What I suspect happened was that at a correlation meeting at church that Sunday, they mentioned their happy meeting with the Watermans, and someone in authority likely warned them to steer clear of us. 

Getting dumped by the missionaries shouldn't have surprised me.  More than a year ago my home teacher, who I considered a good friend, told me he had been reassigned, but that I would be given a new home teacher right away.  I never was.

Back then I was still attending church once or twice a month, and after sacrament meeting I would always ask my former home teacher, "Hey Sean, where's that replacement home teacher I was promised?" Sean always assured me he would check with the bishop and find out what was the holdup.  I emailed the bishop myself twice asking for home teachers, using the private email account the bishop had given me personally two years before in case there was anything-"anything at all"- I might ever need.

The only reason I ever used that email address was to ask for home teachers.  The reason for that is because although we no longer find it rewarding to attend Sunday meetings, it's very important to me that I have the opportunity to pitch in if there are any service projects going on, or if someone needs help moving.  I wanted to be kept informed of what's going on so I can assist.

I never got a response to those emails, and when I finally asked the bishop in person why he hadn't responded, he brushed me off with, "Oh, I hardly ever read my emails."  I asked him again at that time about getting home teachers, but he changed the subject.

Connie's visiting teachers, an enthusiastic couple who used to stop by for regular visits without fail, always with a plate of cookies, suddenly stopped coming at all without a word.

This is what happens when you get branded as apostate. The funny thing is, if we were a couple of Jack-Mormons who had a daily coffee habit, members of this ward would be falling all over themselves to fellowship us and get us to come back.  But because I write this blog, we are anathema.

We could have used some of that fellowship recently when I was near death with pneumonia and Connie was experiencing similar distress.  Our 27- year-old car finally breathed its last a couple of weeks ago, and it would have been nice if there had been someone from the ward we could call to ask for a ride to the doctor.  Heck, we would have appreciated just a kind word from someone in the ward who was willing to pretend to care.  But there is no one in our ward who calls or drops by anymore.  As Connie put it recently, "Face it-We're poison."


"Go Faster! Rock and Connie are RIGHT BEHIND US!!"

Better Get Your Cootie Shots
The irony is that these days Connie and I are both more devoted to the faith than at any other point in our lives. We spend a great deal of time immersed in gospel study. We revere Joseph Smith as a prophet of God, embrace the Book of Mormon as literally true, and adhere to the doctrines of the Restoration.  So what makes us different from most of the other members of the church?

What makes us different is our resolve to put Christ first and foremost in our lives, which requires putting Him before the institutional Church. As other uncorrelated Mormons will attest, that is a radical position to take in this curious era where "Follow the Prophet" is the new Church slogan.

In just the past year or two, thousands of devout latter-day saints have come to learn to their chagrin that faith in Christ is no longer the first principle of the gospel -not if they hope to remain members in good standing.  Desiring to follow Christ first has gotten a lot of members in hot water. To be a valid member of the church today, you must confess undying loyalty to the Church itself, or more specifically, to its leaders.  Just ask Will Carter, who received a letter from the Church's attorneys warning him to never step foot on Church property again or he could be arrested for trespassing.  That means he can't attend church, or even drive his car into the parking lot to drop someone else off.  He can't tour BYU or visit temple square.  Presumably he would be arrested if he showed up at the City Creek Mall.

You would think Brother Carter had committed some act of vandalism, or disrupted a Sunday School class by lobbing a hand grenade into the room just prior to the closing prayer.  But no. What Will Carter did was suggest that, according to scripture, there may be other prophets on the earth today serving God in addition to those holding high office in the LDS Church.

But that's not actually what got Brother Will banished from Church property. That was just what got him excommunicated. At least that's the reason as near as he can tell, because Will never was told the official reason for his excommunication.  One high priest told him privately afterward, "What you haven't learned is that you need to bow and kneel to the sceptre of authority."

This would be an unbelievable admission were similar scoldings not also being delivered to other devoted members in wards all over the Church right now.  The "sin" is often delineated as "refusing to obey priesthood authority."  I hear from members who are being threatened with discipline all the time, whether it's a young mother admitting to giving her own child a blessing in her own home; or someone asking a simple question such as, "if the current President of the Church is said to be a prophet, seer, and revelator the same as Joseph Smith, why doesn't he ever present revelations to the church the way Joseph Smith did?"

Will Carter was excommunicated for wondering aloud about stuff like that, but the thing that got him banished for life from Church property was for was telling a semi-active ward member who happened to be female that he loved her and would be glad to help her out if she needed anything.

Crazy, I know.  After failing repeatedly to get his stake president to tell him the precise reason for his excommunication, Will took to the blogosphere and wrote about the trouble he was having getting a straight answer.  Likely because of the embarrassment Will was causing the Church by going public, his local leaders then latched onto this totally innocent statement he made to someone he merely offered assistance to, so now they could paint him as morally debased.  I kid you not.  As Ted "Theodore" Logan famously observed to Bill S. Preston, Esquire; strange things are afoot at the Circle K.

Want to hear the punchline? The woman in his ward Will was supposed to have greatly offended never complained about it to anyone, wasn't affected, never knew she was at the center of this storm, and likely never knew her name was involved in any controversy whatsoever.  Oblivious to it all, a few days later she dropped by Will's house to ask if he and his wife wouldn't mind babysitting her child.

Full disclosure: I've told countless women in various wards I belonged to that I love them, often right there in the chapel foyer with my wife present and within earshot.  And Connie has told persons who happened to be the opposite of her sex the same thing.  No wonder we're on the outs! Good thing neither of us followed examples given in the bible and fell on these people's necks and kissed them, or we'd really be in trouble.

Thus Spake Zarathustra -Or Some Area Assistant
I believe in the doctrine of direct revelation.  Growing up in this church, I was rightly taught that what separates us from every other Christian denomination was that we do not rely upon the opinions of men for our beliefs.  The things we are to consider doctrinal are only those things that are revealed directly from God through his prophet.  I also believe that through the prophet Joseph Smith, God set the pattern for how revelations were to be conveyed.  That pattern shows that while revelations are received through His prophet, in every valid instance, they are delivered in the voice of the Lord -using the exact words the Lord used to convey his message to the prophet.  His voice-His words.  Every time we hear a message from the Lord it should be prefaced by some variant of "thus saith the Lord." As I wrote in a recent post "Not Quite The Same":
Those revelations God introduced in the Book of Commandments provide us a template for recognizing when someone's voice is to be considered the same as God's, and when it is not. Since "the word of God" consists of the words that God speaks, the person claiming to speak for God should inform us in no uncertain terms whose words it is we are about to hear. Whenever the Lord has spoken to us through a latter-day revelation, he has made himself known. He introduces himself by using some variation of  "Thus saith the Lord."  Our Doctrine and Covenants is riddled with examples:

"Hearken unto me, saith the Lord your God" (Section 51); "Behold, I am God; give heed unto my word" (Section 13);  "Listen to the voice of Jesus Christ, your redeemer, the Great I AM" (section 29); "Listen to the voice of the Lord your God, Even Alpha and Omega" (section 35), and so on.
So here's where I start from: When I hear a conference talk, first I want to know if it is being delivered as a revelation from God.  Any speech, statement, decree, or declaration that comes from a leader of the church that does not profess to have come to us via direct revelation is not to be taken as if it issued from the mind of God.  It should be weighed against the canon of actual revelations to test its legitimacy, or it can be discarded and ignored. This method of judging the statements of General Authorities by holding them up to the light of scripture used to be the basic modus operandi within the church for separating the true from the false. Former President Harold B. Lee taught:
“It is not to be thought that every word spoken by the General Authorities is inspired, or that they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost in everything they write. I don't care what his position is, if he writes something or speaks something that goes beyond anything that you can find in the standard church works.” (Harold B. Lee, "Stand Ye In Holy Places" pg 162-163)

Apostle Bruce McConkie had this to say:
“Though general authorities are authorities in the sense of having power to administer church affairs, they may or may not be authorities in the sense of doctrinal knowledge, the intricacies of church Procedures, or the receipt of the promptings of the Spirit. A call to an administrative position of itself adds little knowledge or power of discernment to an individual, although every person called to a position in the Church does grow in grace, knowledge, and power by magnifying the calling given him.” (Mormon Doctrine, "General Authorities")

Elders Lee and McConkie represented an era in Church leadership when actual scriptorians and theologians held office in the hierarchy.  In the old days, when a general authority represented a statement as being true, members had a responsibility to weigh that statement against the scriptures to make certain it passed the basic smell test.  If the statement was presented as having come from the mind of God, the members were expected to return home and pray about it in order to obtain a witness from the Holy Ghost, after which they would reconvene at the following conference and vote to accept that revelation as binding on the whole church.

Today we have abandoned that method and are expected to assume without question that everything spoken at conference or printed in a Church publication comes to us as if directly from the mind of God.  Here is how Dallin Oaks, currently a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has instructed us to approach statements made by Church leaders such as himself:
“We respect our leaders and presume inspiration in their leadership of the Church and in their teachings.” (The Ensign January 2011)
According to my American Heritage Dictionary, the word "presume" means:
To take for granted as being true in the absence of proof to the contrary;

To take for granted that something is true or factual.
That seems to fly in the face of the counsel given above by Elders Lee and McConkie to test the teaching by comparing it to scripture.  But oh well. Yesterday's true prophet is today's dead prophet. Don't listen to them, listen to us.

A year after Oaks attempted to turn established Church protocol on its head with that statement above, Randall K. Bennett of the Seventy went and did him one better. In speaking of the current Church leadership, Bennett said:
“We have learned not to question the validity of what the prophets and apostles teach or to wonder if it makes sense. … Some might call our actions blind obedience. But we have the Lord’s personal promise that the prophets will never lead us astray.” (The Ensign, March 2012)
If you were to (rightly) follow the counsel of Lee, McConkie, and countless earlier Church leaders, you might start digging around among the Lord's revelations to find where He gave that "personal promise" Elder Bennett spoke of with such certainty.  When you failed to find that promise, but instead found countless examples in scripture where the Lord said precisely the opposite, you might (rightly) conclude that Elder Randall K. Bennett is full of crap up to his eyeballs.

Better keep it to yourself, though, unless you want to end up friendless pariahs like me and Connie. Because as Denver Snuffer aptly described the situation in the Church today:
 "In LDS Mormonism there is really only one doctrine left. Everything else is subordinate and changeable. But this single demand is paramount. If you disbelieve this position, then LDS Mormonism has no place for you. The doctrine:

'We follow a man whom we call a prophet.'

"If you disbelieve this, and think you ought to follow Christ first, and the church's 'prophet' is secondary, then you are insubordinate and a threat.
As I documented previously, last May I was called in by my bishop, who asked the question, "Rock, why are you a member of this church?"

I was asked the same question several months later by my stake president.  The answer I gave to both men was that I'm a member of the church because I qualify under the Lord's definition where He says whosoever repents and comes unto Him, the same is His church. (D&C 10:67)

That was the true answer. But it wasn't the "right" one. At least it was not the answer either man was looking for.  In thinking about those conversations later I realized that the problem those good men had was that they saw the church of Jesus Christ in vastly different terms than I did; indeed, quite differently than the way Jesus Christ himself defined His church.  They thought of "The Church" as somehow embodying the leaders in Salt Lake City, a group who are now viewed as "owning the brand" we call The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Because I sometimes differed with statements and actions of those leaders, they were honestly curious as to why I would want to remain a part of the organization.

I suppose that's to be expected after the last six decades of this Church operating under a corporate mindset. What my bishop and stake president really wanted to know was "Why would you want to remain employed with a company when you have problems with the Board of Directors?"

Sadly, a great many members of the Church share that mindset, which is why a great many others are suddenly awakening from their slumber and realizing they would prefer to identify with the church of Jesus Christ, and not The Church Of Those Guys Socking Money Into Malls And Condos.  But when these good saints awaken to their awful situation, they frequently find themselves suddenly at odds with family, friends, and fellow members who remain in the dwindle stage.

Some are hurt by the reaction of loved ones who see them as traitors to the faith. To them I say, be patient.  The honest in heart will come around.  I'm hearing more and more frequently from people who despised my blog the first time they happened upon it, but who, over time, have recognized that, as the apostle Peter declared, "We ought to obey God rather than men."  Not long ago I got a long letter of apology from a member who wrote me,
"When I first came upon your blog I thought you were the worst kind of traitor to the church. A wolf in sheep's clothing, a secret anti-Mormon posing as a Mormon in order to lead good people astray. I wanted to wrap my hands around your neck and strangle you.  Now I just want to wrap my arms around you and say thanks."
A letter like that is very rewarding, and I'm seeing similar sentiments expressed by the week.  But not everyone who walks into the light sees immediate rewards.  Many are ostracized by friends or unjustly disciplined by local leaders, all for wondering aloud why the structure of the Church today is so starkly different from that founded by Joseph Smith.  They want nothing more than to be left alone to follow the gospel as set out in our scriptures, but instead find persecution from those who feel they should walk in lockstep with the hierarchy.

On the other hand, countless new Facebook groups and online forums are springing up full of awakened souls who enjoy communicating with each other, and couldn't care less what others think about the way they choose to worship.  So you may feel rejected in some quarters, but you'll be accepted in others with open arms.

Welcome To The Remnant
Almost thirty years ago I read an essay by Albert Jay Nock, the famous libertarian theorist and former Episcopalian Priest, that had been published in the Atlantic Monthly clear back in 1936.  If you are among the newly awakened who just joined us, but are feeling beset by friends and family who accuse you of having abandoned your religion, this may help you take heart. You are not going to win over everyone, but eventually those who make the effort to understand will discover on their own that you have abandoned nothing about the religion except those parts of it that were false and don't matter. The honest in heart -and there are many, many honest in heart within the Latter-day Saint community- will bubble up to the top and find the greater truths hidden within Mormonism just as you did.  You will be surprised how many kindred spirits are out there. And more are awakening every day.

I will close this month by leaving you with those words by Father Nock.  This is a substantially edited version of his original essay, as I've included only a few pertinent paragraphs. The full version can be found at the Mises Institute.

Isaiah's Job
 By Albert Jay Nock


The prophet Isaiah's career began at the end of King Uzziah's reign, say about 740 B.C. This reign was uncommonly long, almost half a century, and apparently prosperous. It was one of those prosperous reigns, however, where at the end the prosperity suddenly peters out and things go by the board with a resounding crash.

In the year of Uzziah's death, the Lord commissioned the prophet to go out and warn the people of the wrath to come. "Tell them what a worthless lot they are." He said, "Tell them what is wrong, and why and what is going to happen unless they have a change of heart and straighten up. Don't mince matters. Make it clear that they are positively down to their last chance. Give it to them good and strong and keep on giving it to them."

"I suppose perhaps I ought to tell you," He added, "that it won't do any good. The official class and their intelligentsia will turn up their noses at you and the masses will not even listen. They will all keep on in their own ways until they carry everything down to destruction, and you will probably be lucky if you get out with your life."

Isaiah had been very willing to take on the job — in fact, he had asked for it — but the prospect put a new face on the situation. It raised the obvious question: Why, if all that were so — if the enterprise were to be a failure from the start — was there any sense in starting it? "Ah," the Lord said, "you do not get the point. There is a Remnant there that you know nothing about. They are obscure, unorganized, inarticulate, each one rubbing along as best he can. They need to be encouraged and braced up because when everything has gone completely to the dogs, they are the ones who will come back and build up a new society; and meanwhile, your preaching will reassure them and keep them hanging on. Your job is to take care of the Remnant, so be off now and set about it."

Apparently, then, if the Lord's word is good for anything — I do not offer any opinion about that, — the only element in Judean society that was particularly worth bothering about was the Remnant. Isaiah seems finally to have got it through his head that this was the case; that nothing was to be expected from the masses, but that if anything substantial were ever to be done in Judea, the Remnant would have to do it.

As things now stand Isaiah's job seems rather to go begging. Everyone with a message nowadays is eager to take it to the masses. His first, last and only thought is of mass acceptance and mass approval.

Isaiah, on the other hand, worked under no such disabilities. He preached to the masses only in the sense that he preached publicly. Anyone who liked might listen; anyone who liked might pass by. He knew that the Remnant would listen; and knowing also that nothing was to be expected of the masses under any circumstances, he made no specific appeal to them, did not accommodate his message to their measure in any way, and did not care two straws whether they heeded it or not.  Hence, with all such obsessions quite out of the way, he was in a position to do his level best, without fear or favor, and answerable only to his august Boss.

In any given society the Remnant are always so largely an unknown quantity. You do not know, and will never know, more than two things about them. You can be sure of those — dead sure, as our phrase is — but you will never be able to make even a respectable guess at anything else. You do not know, and will never know, who the Remnant are, nor what they are doing or will do. Two things you do know, and no more: First, that they exist; second, that they will find you.

One of the most suggestive episodes recounted in the Bible is that of a prophet's attempt — the only attempt of the kind on the record, I believe — to count up the Remnant. Elijah had fled from persecution into the desert, where the Lord presently overhauled him and asked what he was doing so far away from his job.

He said that he was running away, not because he was a coward, but because all the Remnant had been killed off except himself. He had got away only by the skin of his teeth, and, he being now all the Remnant there was, if he were killed the True Faith would go flat. The Lord replied that he need not worry about that, for even without him the True Faith could probably manage to squeeze along somehow if it had to.

 "And as for your figures on the Remnant," He said, "I don't mind telling you that there are 7,000 of them back there in Israel whom it seems you have not heard of, but you may take My word for it that there they are."

At that time, probably the population of Israel could not run to much more than a million or so; and a Remnant of 7,000 out of a million is a highly encouraging percentage for any prophet. With 7,000 of the boys on his side, there was no great reason for Elijah to feel lonesome; and incidentally, that would be something for the modern prophet of the Remnant to think of when he has a touch of the blues. But the main point is that if Elijah the Prophet could not make a closer guess on the number of the Remnant than he made when he missed it by 7,000, anyone else who tackled the problem would only waste his time.

The other certainty which the prophet of the Remnant may always have is that the Remnant will find him. He may rely on that with absolute assurance. They will find him without his doing anything about it.

                                                          ****
Announcements:
If you feel you may be a part of the Remnant, let's find each other. Please join us on May 15-17 for the first ever Remnant Family Reunion.  It's free, and it's only a five hour drive from Salt Lake City.  Click on the link below, then click on the image for a pdf file for details.

http://www.totheremnant.com/2015/01/more-details-about-reunion.html


Rules For Commening: I again remind those who wish to comment that posting only as "Anonymous" has not been working for us. You do not have to use your real name, but if you insist on choosing "Anonymous" from the drop-down menu, you must invent a username and place that either at the top or bottom of your comment so that readers can tell you apart from the many others who for some reason keep choosing to post under the "anonymous" option.   If you have a Google registration, use that one, otherwise it's best if you check the box that says "Name/URL", place your preferred username in in the "name" box, and ignore the box that asks for a URL. That way you can still remain anonymous if you so wish, but then other readers have a handle to address you with when responding. Comments missing any kind of identifying moniker are at risk of being deleted. I have to be strict about this because too many people posting as "anonymous" has resulted in chaos in the past.