|The Church's flashy new high-rise in Philadelphia.|
Latter-day saints in the Salt Lake City area are finding it difficult to share the gospel with their non-member friends, when at the same time their leaders are boasting in the press about the Church's impressive real estate developments.
It isn't easy trying to convert your neighbor when your salient message -that Jesus Christ personally directs the leaders of your Church- is contradicted by the actions of those self-same leaders. Anyone can see there's a serious disconnect.
Efforts by members to invite prospective converts to join our ranks invariably invite uncomfortable questions such as these:
"You're telling me that Jesus Christ himself instructed your leaders to build a three billion dollar shopping mall that caters to only the wealthiest clientele?"
"Well yes, he must have, because our prophet is guided by personal revelation from Christ."
"How about those high-rise office buildings? Were those Jesus' idea too?"
"I'm sure they were."
"And the luxury condominiums downtown? And those expensive apartments in Philadelphia? Why would Jesus direct your Church to build a deluxe apartment high-rise?"
"Maybe the Church is building those apartments to house the poor."
"Your Church spokesman said they are being built 'because it is a very attractive investment opportunity' and that the units will be be rented out at market rates. Do you think all this was Jesus' idea?"
"Well, we believe we are led by a living prophet who guides this church under the direction of Jesus Christ, so I guess the Lord has his reasons. Maybe people will see how successful the Church has become and these investments will make good missionary tools."
"Okay, here's the problem. You want to convert me to a religion that claims to have the true gospel of Jesus Christ, but every time I turn around I see your prideful Church leaders showing off how they are spending billions of dollars on impressive architecture that has nothing to do with the gospel of Christ, and which actually appears to us outsiders to contradict His teachings. Your Church even donated millions toward the building of a theater in downtown Salt Lake City that will be the venue where The Book of Mormon Musical is booked to perform. I thought you people considered that show the height of blasphemy. But you're telling me your Church leaders believe that helping to provide that venue would make a good missionary tool?"
"Well, I don't know all the answers, but I can tell you God works in mysterious ways his wonders to perform."
"Okay, let's cut to the chase. Tell me why I should join your church."
"Because Jesus Christ directs this Church through his living prophet."
At this point the prospective convert gives up, buys a gun, goes home, and shoots himself in the head.
An Eternal Principle?
If the average members of the church today bothered to think things through, they would recognize there is something a bit off-kilter about the way their Church's leaders are currently managing the funds supposedly entrusted to them by the members. But most won't allow themselves to let critical thoughts enter their heads, because they have been conditioned to believe that challenging the actions of their leaders borders on sacrilege. You aren't allowed to find fault with the leaders, because to do so would make you an apostate.
Exhibit A: This statement attributed to Joseph Smith:
"I will give you one of the Keys of the mysteries of the kingdom. It is an eternal principle, that has existed with God from all eternity: That man who rises up to condemn others, finding fault with the Church, saying that they are out of the way, while he himself is righteous, then know assuredly, that that man is on the high road to apostasy; and if he does not repent, will apostatize, as God lives."There's only one thing wrong with that statement from Joseph Smith.
He never said it.
Adrian Larsen has documented an entire litany of myths and false teachings that continue to circulate in the church, even making their way into our modern Sunday School manuals, as did the phony warning from Joseph Smith above. Larsen has gathered them all into a fascinating six part series titled History, Hearsay, and Heresy.
It is admittedly not hard to appear smarter than everyone else in your ward (all you really have to do is chuck the manuals and read the scriptures instead.) But I'm prepared to make you a promise: if you become familiar with Brother Larsen's blog, you're guaranteed to be elevated to genius status in the minds of your fellow ward members. They'll think you're the next Hugh Nibley.
Adrian proves that the "apostasy" quote above is an obvious fake in Part 3 of the series on hearsay. I'll quote just an excerpt from his careful analysis:
This particular quote is cited [in the manual] as follows:
History of the Church, 3:385; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on July 2, 1839, in Montrose, Iowa; reported by Wilford Woodruff and Willard Richards.
Therefore, this quote is cited from three sources:
History of the Church by B.H. Roberts;
The quote does indeed appear in Source 1, History of the Church, but that's not the original source. History of the Church simply lifted the quote from the other two sources, as follows:
First is Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, where we find the lengthy notes Woodruff took during the meeting in question. Trouble is, Woodruff's Journal completely omits this quote, though it directly (and without interruption) supplies the rest of the sermon used in History of the Church.
The other source is Willard Richards' Pocket Companion, which does contain this quote.
OK, so got that so far? Woodruff omits this paragraph from the sermon. Richards has this paragraph in the middle of the sermon. Woodruff, no. Richards, yes.
Woodruff, who was present at the meeting in question, is considered the most reliable source because he recorded the notes of the meeting while in attendance. But this quote does not appear in that record. The sermon before and after this quote appears there uninterrupted, but the quoted paragraph is completely absent.
Richards' Pocket Companion is actually a collection of material Willard Richards copied from other sources. Therefore, though this material appears there, Richards was not actually present when Joseph gave this sermon, and Richards copied the material from elsewhere, most likely Wilford Woodruff’s journal. As to how the quote in question got into Richards' Pocket Companion while NOT appearing in the original record is a mystery. Nobody knows where it came from. It is therefore hearsay and not a historical record.
We are left to wonder where Richards obtained the quote and why he stuck it in the middle of a sermon he didn’t hear Joseph give. There is no original source that contains this quotation, and Richards was on a mission in England when Joseph was supposed to have said it.
The quote's dubious provenance is not helped by its doctrinal difficulties. For example, scripture is replete with true prophets, called of God, who did indeed "rise up to condemn others, finding fault with the church, saying they are out of the way." Some obvious examples are as follows:
Alma the Younger
Samuel the Lamanite
John the Baptist
In fact, you can pretty much summarize the mission of any true prophet as calling people to repentance. (D&C 11:9) How is this not "condemn[ing] others, finding fault with the Church, saying that they are out of the way?"
Therefore, since Joseph Smith himself was "on the high road to apostasy" if this quote were true, it is utterly preposterous that Joseph Smith ever said this. Nobody quite knows where this quote came from, but it wasn't Joseph Smith.Willard Richards, You Mischievous Imp!
It isn't hard to figure out how that fake entry made it into Joseph Smith's official Church History. Years after the prophet's death, Brigham Young directed his cousin, Willard Richards, to finish compiling Joseph Smith's history, which Richards proceeded to do, doctoring much of the record under instructions from Brigham. The result is that today our official record contains statements Joseph Smith never said, and it left out important things Joseph did say that no longer fit Brigham Young's preferred narrative. Charged to assist Willard in this chicanery was one Charles Wesley Wandell, who, once he realized he was expected to participate in a fraud, up and quit that job, then left Utah entirely.
Wandell is said to have left the church in disgust, but he only quit Brigham's branch of the Church. He went back to the states and rejoined those known as "the prairie saints," numerous quietly thriving branches that remained scattered throughout Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Wyoming, Ohio, and the Great Lakes region. Our Utah version of Church history treats these saints as if they had abandoned the faith, but some 10,000 devoted believers (including Joseph Smith's own family) simply elected to remain closer to where Joseph said Zion would be built rather than follow Brigham Young all the way to the Rockies.
It should be noted that by the time the History of the Church was published, years after Joseph's death, some 60 percent of it was not written by the prophet, although the six volumes are given Joseph Smith's byline and the reader is expected to believe the narrative is all his. After quitting the job where he was expected to bowdlerize the history, Charles Wandell remained stalwart in the faith, serving a mission in California and as mission president in both Australia and New York. After the revised church history was published in 1855, he recorded these words in his journal:
"I notice the interpolations because having been employed (myself) in the Historian's office at Nauvoo by Doctor Richards, and employed, too, in 1845, in compiling this very autobiography, I know that after Joseph's death his memoir was 'doctored' to suit the new order of things, and this, too, by the direct order of Brigham Young to Doctor Richards and systematically by Richards." (See Marjorie Newton, Hero or Traitor: A Biographical Study of Charles Wesley Wandell, John Whitmer Historical Association).This wasn't the first time Willard Richards was involved in some dubious chirography. In April of 1842 he delivered what amounted to a love letter to Nancy Rigdon, the pretty 19-year-old daughter of Joseph Smith's counselor, Sidney.
Richards claimed the letter was from Joseph Smith, even though it was in the handwriting of Willard Richards. Both Nancy and her father scoffed at the idea that Joseph sent the letter and refused to believe the prophet had anything to do with it. They had a pretty good idea who was behind it, and they knew it wasn't Joseph.
When Joseph Smith heard about the letter (it was unsigned), he made affidavit denying any knowledge of it, and a few days later the prophet preached to thousands in the Grove near the Temple and condemned "all adulterers, and fornicators, and unvirtuous persons, and those who have made use of my name to carry on their iniquitous designs."
Soon, wouldn't you know it, Joseph Smith's meanest adversary, John C. Bennett, claimed to have gotten ahold of the letter himself (I wonder who he could have gotten it from?) and published it in the Sagamo Journal with the design of raising a scandal. After Joseph's death, Richards simply inserted that debunked counterfeit into the official history of Joseph Smith. No authority in the Utah Church ever questioned the provenance of that letter, and it remains in the record today as "proof" that Joseph Smith taught "that which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another." (See Price & Price, Bennett's Sixth Letter or The Letter on Happiness.)
But I digress.
What If Joseph Really Did Say It?
Every now and then some faithful member of the church will read something on this blog that upsets him and throw that phony quote at me to tell me I'm apostatizing. (Believe me, I've already been told that.)
No matter how much I try to persuade such people that the Lord would have us rely on our scriptures rather than on dubious "faith promoting" fabrications, some people simply will not allow historical truth to deter them. They insist that if that story is in the Church manual, then the Brethren approved it, and if the Brethren approved it, blah blah blah magic.
Okay, fine. Let's suppose Joseph Smith actually did say that those finding fault with the church are on the high road to apostasy. It still wouldn't mean what they seem to think it does. Because when Joseph Smith spoke of "the Church" he didn't refer to it in the way we modern Mormons constantly do.
In the modern LDS vernacular, "the Church" has come to mean the organizational structure at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City; in other words, the institutional, corporate Church, and primarily its leaders. But when Joseph referenced "the church" he meant just the opposite. He was talking about the rank and file members. Joseph's definition of the church was the same as the definition given by the Lord in D&C 10:67: all who repent and come unto Christ, "the same is my church."
Naturally that would include the leaders of the church as well as every other penitent within the body of Christ, but any member foolish enough to assume "the church" referred to Joseph Smith and his inner circle would find himself on the outs with Jesus, who warned in verse 68 of that chapter that anyone declaring contrary to the words he just spoke was not of him and not of His church.
Over the past decades I've read a lot of Joseph Smith's speeches, writings, and journal entries. He spoke of the church many times, but I have never once seen him use that term to refer to himself or others in positions of authority within the church. In every single instance when he used those words, he was referring to the community of saints in general. (For a fuller analysis of the meaning of the word "church," as our scriptures teach it, see "My Testimony of the Church.")
Joseph Smith's definition of the church was right in line with the definition given by the Lord. "The church is a compact body composed of different members," he explained on one occasion, after which he extrapolated from the apostle Paul's comparison of the church to a body where no member is more important in rank or more exalted than another. (HC 5:28-29)
So let's look at this controversial talk Joseph Smith gave that day in 1839, and look at it in context. This was not a general meeting of the Saints. The prophet was not addressing the rank and file at this time, because none of them were present. This was a meeting of the hierarchy, for lack of a better term. Joseph had come to address the quorum of Twelve Apostles and a few Seventies prior to their departing on their missions to Great Britain. He spoke to them for some time, repeatedly admonishing them to "be humble, and not be exalted, and beware of pride, and not seek to excel one above the other."
Now why do you suppose the prophet so emphatically warned these men about being careful not to exalt themselves? It was because just prior to his calling these men to their offices, the church had been rocked by apostasy as one apostle after another either left the church or was excommunicated. This new quorum had been called to replace those who had left, because invariably the old guard had assumed, because they had been promoted to high office, that they were in a class separate and above the other members of the church. They had been captured by "pride and vain ambition" and as soon as they got a little authority as they supposed, they had begun to exercise "control, dominion, and compulsion upon the souls of the children of men." (D&C 121)
And now that bunch was gone. Apostatized.
So in light of the context we now have, let's look again at those words Joseph is supposed to have spoken to the new guys:
"That man who rises up to condemn others, finding fault with the church, saying that they are out of the way, while he himself is righteous, then know assuredly, that that man is on the high road to apostasy; and if he does not repent, will apostatize, as God lives."
You can see why I have no problem with the claim that Joseph Smith made this statement. In fact, I wish he had said it, because read in its proper context, with a proper understanding of what Joseph would have meant when referring to "the church," this statement utterly condemns most of the Church hierarchy today. Many within the leadership today rise up to condemn many of the members, finding fault with them, saying that they are out of the way while they themselves are righteous. The late Boyd K. Packer was notorious for this attitude toward those below him in status, as was Bruce McConkie. Dallin Oaks has come right out and declared that "it's wrong to criticize the leaders of the Church, even if the criticism is true." If that isn't an elitist attitude toward the rank and file, I don't know what is.
There are plenty of disaffected Mormons who will tell you they have been shunted out of the church by leaders who felt they (the leaders) were righteous, while the lowly member was out of the way and in need of correcting. These modern leaders have turned the definition of apostasy on its head. An apostate was traditionally understood to be someone who had turned against his religious beliefs and principles. Now it refers to someone who fails to show proper deference to Church authority.
(I use the word "disaffected" not to refer to unbelief, but by its actual definition of "dissatisfied with the people in authority and no longer willing to support them." Thousands of disaffected Mormons remain completely devoted to the faith.)
Whatever it was that possessed Willard Richards to slip that paragraph into the official record, it seems to me he tipped his hand in the introductory sentences where he has Joseph saying "I will give you one of the keys of the kingdom. It is an eternal principle that has existed with God from all eternity."
One of the keys of the kingdom? An eternal principle? One that has existed with God from all eternity?!
Seems to me old Willard took it a step too far. Couldn't resist crossing the line into hyperbole. That's what I see as the first clue that he made it all up.
Finding fault with others is a serious sin, don't get me wrong. And when committed by a person who holds authority over others, that becomes the very definition of iniquity -to Lord it over others in an unequal manner. That was King Noah's great sin, and has been the sin of men in authority for all recorded history.
But "eternal principles that have existed with God through all eternity" denotes the operation of the laws of the universe; things that supercede time, space, and the cosmos. I think Brother Willard tried too hard with this one.
The worst part of it all is that Joseph Smith's warning -whether real or fake- was almost immediately distorted to completely erase whatever it might have meant. Here is Heber Kimball years later repeating what he thought he had read from Willard's account of Joseph's words that day in 1839. Notice how Kimball turns it all inside out:
"I will give you a key which Brother Joseph Smith used to give in Nauvoo. He said that the very step of apostasy commenced with losing confidence in the leaders of this Church and kingdom, and that whenever you discerned that spirit, you might know that it would lead the possessor of it on the road to apostasy."So there you have it. losing confidence in the leaders is the one sure sign of apostasy. Not turning your back on Christ, not abandoning religious faith, not denouncing the gospel. "Losing confidence in the leaders" is the one thing that will get you kicked out of the church and branded a filthy apostate. Believe me, I know.
It's no wonder thousands of faithful, gospel-loving members are being called in by their bishops after letting it get out that they are striving to become more Christ-centered in their lives. Members today are instructed to center their focus on the leaders. "You keep your eyes riveted on the prophet and the Twelve apostles," counseled one of our modern apostles, "We will not lead you astray. We cannot. So keep your eyes riveted on the leadership of the Church." (Russell Ballard speaking at BYU, 1996)
Never mind having an eye single to the Glory of God. That advice comes from scripture, and scripture is passe' and unnecessary in the era of "follow the prophet." You may manage to find your way to God eventually, but first things first: keep that wandering eye fixed on Russell Ballard and his merry band if you really want to be saved.
You say you're striving to become more Christ-centered? Church headquarters has sent out notices to bishops and stake presidents to be on the lookout for statements like that because they are the warning signs of apostasy.
I kid you not. I hear from people nearly every week with horror stories of being called up for discipline because they bore "overly fervent" testimonies of Christ.
It's no surprise why Church headquarters tried to destroy all traces of Elder Poelman's original conference talk from 1984. He taught that our goal as members of Christ's church was to become so Christ-centered that we would no longer need the institutional Church to hold our hands. That kind of talk is anathema to the suits in the boardroom at 50 East South Temple. Why, just imagine! If the members got to the point where they no longer needed the leaders, where would they get the money for their fancy shopping malls and condominiums?
Joseph Knew Best
Back in the pioneer era, others picked up on Kimball's distorted version of what Joseph reportedly said and embellished it further, until even the original falsehood has been all but lost in a crazy game of Chinese Whispers. *
*Yes, I'm aware that's racist. Everybody knows Chinese people don't whisper.
false traditions that lull the members into the comfortable security of knowing all is well; our leaders have everything under control. "And thus," Nephi warns, "the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell."
Even the program of scripture mastery has been replaced in our seminaries and institutes with a program called "Doctrinal Mastery." In a Church where very few bother to read scripture anymore, preferring instead to wait for their leaders to disseminate instructions, those leaders can shape the doctrine into any form they want.
If by some fluke of history we don't know about, Joseph Smith really did say those words about what it is that puts a man on the high road to apostasy, we know from the rest of his speech that day that he would not have been issuing that warning to the average, everyday member of the church. In Joseph Smith's day, it was rarely the faithful believer at the bottom who apostatized from the true path. It was the leaders.
It has always been the leaders.