by J.J. Dewey(To read the previous chapter, click here. To start this series from the beginning, click here.)
A major doctrine for the LDS church is free agency. Joseph Smith put a lot of emphasis on this principle as evidenced by his famous statement: “I teach them correct principles and they (the saints) govern themselves.” (Millennial Star, Nov 15, 1851, pg 339)
Even though this doctrine is given much lip service today real free agency is only an illusion in the church as the following dialog demonstrates.
QUESTION: I understand that you believe in the doctrine of free agency. What does this mean to you?
ANSWER: It means I have freedom to choose.
QUESTION: Why is that such an important doctrine in the church?
ANSWER: Because the original war in heaven was fought over this principle. Satan wanted to take away the agency of mankind and God wanted man to have it.
QUESTION: Isn't it also said within the church that the spiritual war on this earth is a continuation or the War In Heaven?
ANSWER: Yes, I have heard that.
QUESTION: Have you also heard it taught that members sometimes have to give up some of their free agency for the good of the whole?
ANSWER: Yes, I have heard that taught also.
QUESTION: In what circumstances do you think it is right to give up your agency?
ANSWER: Well if I need money I should not have the freedom to rob a bank.
QUESTION: If you rob someone then the overall freedom of the whole is diminished, is it not?
ANSWER: Yes, I suppose.
QUESTION: Would you say that this should be the principle governing any yielding of freedom, that the freedom of the whole is enhanced?
ANSWER: That sounds right.
QUESTION: So how about the freedom of speech. Should this ever be infringed?
ANSWER: Maybe in exceptional cases where careless speech can be the cause of some type of danger.
QUESTION: You mean like shouting “fire” in a crowded theater?
ANSWER: Yes and some types of harmful slander should be governed by law.
QUESTION: That sounds reasonable. Could we agree then that there should be freedom of speech except in cases where real harm is done to another?
ANSWER: I suppose
QUESTION: And in these type of cases we are already governed by the laws of the land are we not?
ANSWER: Pretty much.
QUESTION: So if I disagree even with the President of the United States, should I be free to stand on a street corner, run an ad or speak to my friends to declare my views?
ANSWER: Yes, definitely.
QUESTION: What if the President does not like my views - should he have any power to punish me for them?
QUESTION: What if my views hurts the President's feelings? Does he then have any power to do me harm?
ANSWER: Unless you are slandering with lies, you have pretty much power to say anything about anyone or anything.
QUESTION: So, do you agree with having this type of freedom?
QUESTION: Does it not seem logical that since a core belief of the LDS church is free agency that you should have as much or more freedom of speech in the church as you do within our country?
ANSWER: I suppose.
QUESTION: Do you feel that this is the case - that you enjoy as much freedom of speech within the church as you do within your country?
ANSWER: Yes, I think so.
QUESTION: So, do you feel you can say pretty much what you want to express within the church then without fear of retribution?
QUESTION: Let us suppose you were in a Sunday School class and the teacher read a quotation from the current prophet that was totally contrary to your view. Would you feel free to tell the class that you
think the Prophet is wrong, just as you are free to express your opinion that the President of the United States is wrong?
ANSWER: That would not happen because I have never disagreed with the prophet and I never will.
QUESTION: And why is that?
ANSWER: Because he speaks for God upon the earth.
QUESTION: So disagreeing with the prophet is a little like disagreeing with God from your point of view?
ANSWER: Something like that.
QUESTION: So the prophet would never lead you astray then?
ANSWER: No. We are told that if he tried to he would be removed.
QUESTION: You mean God would zap him?
ANSWER: I wouldn't put it that way, but he would either be removed by the other General Authorities or suffer some calamity caused by God.
QUESTION: So the way you see it is that you have free agency in the church because you never have the need to speak anything in opposition to the brethren. In other words everything you desire to speak are things permitted in the church?
QUESTION: Let us take this basic idea and put it in a different location. Hans was living in Germany under Hitler during World Way II and agreed 100% with Hitler and the NAZI party. Does this mean the Germans as a whole had freedom of speech?
QUESTION: Why not?
ANSWER: There were many others who did not agree with Hitler and many of them were punished for their disagreements.
QUESTION: In other words, if someone spoke up on a street corner, ran an ad or communicated disagreement with Hitler with friends, then he was in danger of severe punishment was he not?
ANSWER: Sadly so.
QUESTION: So the fact that you feel free to speak your mind in the church because you agree with authorities does not mean that all are able to speak their mind, does it?
ANSWER: No. But everyone I know of are able to speak their minds.
QUESTION: Now getting back to the hypothetical Sunday School class here, I'm sure you will agree that all LDS are not as austere as yourself in agreeing with the authorities. Suppose there was someone in your Sunday School class who did disagree with the prophet. Would he or she have the freedom to speak up and voice their opinion?
QUESTION: And would you say then that there would be no discipline or punishment of any kind meted out for this freedom of speech?
ANSWER: No. I don't think there would be any.
QUESTION: But if the Bishop found out that this person did not agree with all the prophet said, would he not call him into his office to have a chat?
ANSWER: It's possible that the Bishop may want to see if he could help with his understanding.
QUESTION: And if, after questioning, the Bishop found out that he disagreed with the prophet on a point of doctrine, do you think he would just smile and let it pass?
ANSWER: It would depend on what it was.
QUESTION: Take Sonja Johnson, who was reported in the papers a few years ago, as an instance. She disagreed with the authorities on equal rights for women and was excommunicated because she exercised her legal freedom to speak her mind. Was she not punished for using freedom of speech?
ANSWER: But she was leading people astray.
QUESTION: But you maintain that the Church has as much or more freedom of speech than our country. Are the Democrats able to have a Republican arrested because they think he is leading the country astray?
ANSWER: No, but that is different.
QUESTION: How is it different?
ANSWER: It is very serious to lead members of the church astray. Their eternal salvation is at stake.
QUESTION: Is it more serious than taking away free will or free expression?
ANSWER: This is one of those cases where we should give up our free agency.
QUESTION: You never mentioned this situation when we talked of this subject earlier. So do you think then that there should be no free will in the church to express your opinion if it disagrees with the authorities?
ANSWER: You shouldn't be in the church if you disagree with the authorities.
QUESTION: Funny, I thought the church of God was supposed to be for all who are seeking the kingdom of God with a sincere heart. Now Sonja Johnson may have had some views that were impossible to prove right or wrong but suppose a person expressed views that were very accurate and could be proven beyond dispute to be true. Would the church allow freedom of expression in verifiable truth?
ANSWER: I would think so.
QUESTION: Are you aware there are many who have written accurately about certain parts of Mormon history and have been excommunicated for it?
ANSWER: If they distorted history maybe, but not if they told the truth.
QUESTION: One of the most famous examples is the BYU professor and church historian Michael Quinn. He had access to historical information never before published and was excommunicated for writing about it and refusing to retract on what he saw as historical fact. Is this what you support as free agency?
ANSWER: I am sure the authorities had good reason to excommunicate him.
QUESTION: Or how about Avraham Gileadi. He was excommunicated for writing his own interpretations of the Book of Revelations. Do you call that freedom of speech?
ANSWER: He was probably teaching doctrine out of harmony with the church.
QUESTION: It is interesting that in 1843 the High Council excommunicated a member named Pelatiah Brown for teaching unapproved doctrine from the book of Revelation also. Do you know what Joseph Smith's reaction was to this?
ANSWER: I imagine he approved of it.
QUESTION: He did not but was very upset by it and ordered the man to be reinstated. Does it not seem reasonable that if he were in charge today that he would also order Avraham Gileadi to be reinstated?
ANSWER: It's hard to say.
QUESTION: You might find Joseph's rebuke of the High Council interesting. He said: “I did not like the old man being called up for erring in doctrine. It looks too much like the Methodists, and not like the Latter-Day Saints. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammeled. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine.” (DHC 5:340)
This does not sound like the attitude of the current authorities, does it?
ANSWER: Perhaps circumstances are different today.
QUESTION: Do you agree with Joseph Smith’s statement, “it does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine.”
QUESTION: So if Michael Quinn, Avraham Gileadi and many others merely erred in doctrine they should not be excommunicated should they?
ANSWER: It depends. If they were leading members astray then perhaps they should be.
QUESTION: But the High Council thought that Pelatiah Brown was leading members astray and Joseph castigated them for taking away his freedom of speech. Aren't you concerned about this core principle over which the War in Heaven was fought?
ANSWER: Of course I am. I realize that all the brethren are not perfect, but if they do get overzealous in cleansing the church, God will work things out in the next world.
QUESTION: So should we let injustices such as the suppression of free expression, slavery, oppression, racism and other wrongs just continue here on earth because God will work things out in the next world?
ANSWER: No of course not.
QUESTION: Yet you and millions of members of the church just sit by and allow free expression to be suppressed, which thing is contrary to the teachings of your founding prophet. Why do you do this ?
ANSWER: We are told that our leaders will never lead us astray so we trust them.
QUESTION: But the scriptures tell you not to lean on the arm of flesh. Is not an example of leaning on the arm of flesh to place your faith in men of flesh whom you call your authorities?
ANSWER: Not if they speak for God.
QUESTION: Earlier we talked about the War In Heaven. Again, what was the battle over according to Mormon scriptures?
ANSWER: Free agency.
QUESTION: And before the war was fought how many of the hosts of heaven did Lucifer persuade to come over to his side?
ANSWER: A third of them.
QUESTION: How many do you suppose that was?
ANSWER: It would have been billions of them.
QUESTION: And how long do you suppose it took for him to convince these billions of beings that the Father was wrong and he was right?
ANSWER: I never thought about it, but it probably took a while.
QUESTION: When you think of how much time and energy it takes LDS missionaries to convert a few souls then one can indeed conclude that it probably took Lucifer quite a few years in our time to accomplish such a deed. But when was Lucifer kicked out of heaven?
ANSWER: The scriptures says that it was after the War in Heaven.
QUESTION: But before the war broke out there was a lengthy period of perhaps a hundred, a thousand or maybe a million years where Lucifer just preached to his heart's content and made converts. During this period, did God take away his agency to speak what was a dangerous doctrine?
ANSWER: I suppose not.
QUESTION: And during this period did God excommunicate him, or kick him out of heaven?
ANSWER: I guess not.
QUESTION: Is it not taught that Lucifer was not kicked out until he openly rebelled and made war?
QUESTION: So why then does the church not follow the example of God himself and allow for freedom of expression and cease excommunicating peaceable people who may have different opinions, but have no desire to make war against the church?
ANSWER: (He has no answer.)
QUESTION: When the church seeks to suppress the free will of its members is it not supporting the same side which Lucifer took in the War in Heaven?
ANSWER: (He becomes uncomfortable and wants to end the discussion.)
THE WORD OF WISDOM
QUESTION: The LDS are famous for their word of Wisdom and good members abstain from coffee, tea, alcohol and tobacco. Do you support this idea?
ANSWER: Yes, of course.
QUESTION: Do you view it as a commandment?
QUESTION: And apparently it is such a strict commandment that you can't get a temple recommend if you do not obey it, is that right?
ANSWER: That is correct.
QUESTION: Let me read you the introduction to the Word of Wisdom. It says: “To be sent greeting; not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation and the word of wisdom, showing forth the order and will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days.”( D & C 89:2) Now the church was given a commandment here that the revelation was only a word of wisdom and was not to be “by commandment or constraint.” Why is the church violating this commandment (to not make it a commandment) by making it a commandment?
ANSWER: It was not a commandment when it was given, but was made one later.
QUESTION: Who did this?
ANSWER: I think it was Brigham Young around 1860.
QUESTION: You mean the same Brigham Young who owned a distillery, made his own wine and kept it at his mansion, operated a bar in the Salt Lake House and drank coffee and tea?
ANSWER: I'm not so sure about that, but yes, we are told that it was Brigham that first encouraged strict obedience and then later presidents put more emphasis on it.
QUESTION: Now the original commandment stated it was to be a word of wisdom only and not a commandment to constrain people. This was given by revelation and you would think that any change to this would come by revelation. In other words, a revelation of the will of God can only be changed by revelation. Can you tell me of a revelation to the church that made this change?
ANSWER: I'm sure Brigham and other leaders received revelation about it.
QUESTION: Can you tell me where this revelation may be?
ANSWER: Brigham and other church leaders have spoken about the Word of Wisdom hundreds of times.
QUESTION: But did any of them speak in the name of the Lord or by way of revelation?
ANSWER: I'm not sure.
QUESTION: Let me assure you, my friend, that they have made no such claim. If the church leaders claim no revelation on the matter then why do you give them credit for something they have never said?
ANSWER: Because they have told us they will not lead us astray.
QUESTION: And a salesman told me the other day that his formula could grow my hair back. Are you aware that Joseph Smith and many of the early brethren drank alcohol in moderation after this revelation was given?
ANSWER: Yes, but, as I said, the members were later commanded to cease from drinking alcohol.
QUESTION: Yes, but this is a commandment given by men that makes no claim as being from God. Are you also aware that Joseph installed a bar in the Nauvoo house and Porter Rockwell was the main bartender?
ANSWER: I haven't heard that one.
QUESTION: Are you also aware that Joseph ordered in a bottle of wine to the Carthage jail to cheer their spirits just before he was killed?
ANSWER: I think I read that.
QUESTION: Now, if a little wine was all right for Joseph, Brigham and many other early brethren to use as wisdom dictated, then why is it not all right for you today? Do we have less brainpower today?
ANSWER: Because the current authorities say differently today.
QUESTION: Now read verse 17 of the revelation.
ANSWER: “Nevertheless, wheat for man, and corn for the ox, and oats for the horse, and rye for the fowls and for swine, and for all beasts of the field, and barley for all useful animals, and for mild drinks, as also other grain.”
QUESTION: What does it say that barley is to be used for?
ANSWER: The animals.
QUESTION: And what else?
ANSWER: Mild drinks.
QUESTION: What is the most popular mild drink made from barely?
ANSWER: We sometimes drink one called Pero. It's a good substitute for coffee.
QUESTION: Pero was not in existence in the days of Joseph Smith. Now think, for hundreds of years, what has been the most popular mild drink made from barley?
ANSWER: Surely you're not thinking its beer?
QUESTION: This my friend, is an historical fact. Beer is a mild alcoholic drink and it has been made from barley for thousands of years. If you are going to now consider the Word of Wisdom as a commandment then it looks like you are commanded to drink beer made from barley.
ANSWER: You're being ridiculous.
QUESTION: I don't think so. The revelation promises good health to those who are obedient, and recent studies tell us that mild beer drinkers have better health, especially healthier hearts, than those who do not drink at all. Moderate wine drinkers like Joseph and Brigham are also healthier than those who abstain completely.
It makes sense to me to follow the original intent of the revelation, that the members be allowed to use their own wisdom as to what to eat or drink without some authority “constraining” them. Are you going to follow this commandment and not allow others to “constrain” your sense or wisdom?
ANSWER: I'll follow the living prophet, thank you.
THE SACRED NAME QUESTION
QUESTION: I notice that each prayer and speech in the LDS church ends with the phrase “in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”
ANSWER: That is correct.
QUESTION: Do you know when this tradition began?
ANSWER: I think it has been in the church from the beginning.
QUESTION: Not so. Read here the end of one of the most solemn prayers given by Joseph Smith as he dedicated the Kirkland Temple in D & C section 109 verse 80.
ANSWER: “And let these, thine anointed ones, be clothed with salvation, and thy saints shout aloud for joy. Amen, and Amen.”
QUESTION: So how did Joseph end this prayer which is perhaps the most important one of his adult life?
ANSWER: Amen and Amen
QUESTION: Do you see it anywhere saying “In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen?”
ANSWER: No, I guess not.
QUESTION: Can you find any speech or prayer that Joseph ended with the phrase?
ANSWER: I'm not sure.
QUESTION: They were few and far between. Have you checked the Journal of Discourses for this phrase?
ANSWER: Not specifically.
QUESTION: It was used only once in a while by these early brethren. Do you know why it was used so sparingly?
ANSWER: I'm not sure.
QUESTION: It was because they were commanded to. Read D & C 63:61-64
ANSWER: “Behold, I am Alpha and Omega, even Jesus Christ. Wherefore, let all men beware how they take my name in their lips. For behold, verily I say, that many there be who are under this condemnation, who use the name of the Lord, and use it in vain, having not authority. Wherefore, let the church repent of their sins, and I, the Lord, will own them; otherwise they shall be cut off. Remember that that which cometh from above is sacred, and must be spoken with care, and by constraint of the Spirit; and in this there is no condemnation, and ye receive the Spirit through prayer; wherefore, without this there remaineth condemnation.”
Some of the early brethren were under condemnation, but for what?
ANSWER: Using the name of Jesus Christ in vain, not having authority.
QUESTION: Now these men were given the standard priesthood authority through the laying on of hands, so what authority did they lack?
ANSWER: I'm not sure.
QUESTION: In verse 64 we are told what we must do to obtain authority. What is it?
ANSWER: We must speak the name with care and constraint of the Spirit.
QUESTION: And how do we receive the Spirit according to the scripture?
ANSWER: Through prayer
QUESTION: So would you agree that we receive authority to use the name through revelation from the Holy Spirit?
ANSWER: I suppose
QUESTION: Do you think that everyone who gives a talk or prayer in church receives a revelation to use the name of Jesus Christ?
ANSWER: I must admit that is doubtful.
QUESTION: Would you agree that most use it as a matter of habit without even checking with the Holy Spirit for permission?
QUESTION: What does it say in verse 63 that God will do if the church does not repent of this sin and others?
ANSWER: We will be cut off.
QUESTION: Does this not concern you, then?
ANSWER: Not really. I'm sure the prophet will let us know when we are misusing the Lord’s name.
QUESTION: But if you are “cut off” how can the prophet let you know anything concerning God's will?
ANSWER: (He has no answer).
Copyright J.J. Dewey, used with permission.
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