Sunday, June 25, 2017

Joseph Smith's Big Mistake

Which of these things is not like the others?
Previously: Rejected Gospel

First time readers might look at the title of this piece and mistakenly assume I am a critic of Joseph Smith. But long-time readers know I hold Brother Joseph in the highest regard. I believe he was divinely appointed by God to be the prophet of the Restoration, that he translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God, that he received direct revelations from the mouth of God on numerous occasions, and that on numerous instances he enjoyed a personal audience with Jesus Christ.

That's not to say the man was perfect. Jesus Himself called Joseph Smith on the carpet more than once for demonstrating poor judgment. So let's start by acknowledging that the man was human like the rest of us.

While I recognize Joseph Smith as a true prophet, seer, and revelator, I do think he made one gigantic error, an error that continues to have negative repercussions today within the LDS Church, warping our collective assumptions about what a prophet of the Lord should be.

 So what, you may ask, was that mistake?

It happened in 1832 at a conference of the fledgling church in Amherst, Ohio, at a time when the total membership of the church was little more than two or three hundred strong. Two years previously, Joseph Smith had been called of God and ordained an apostle of Jesus Christ. His official designation at that time was "first elder" of the church, which was not a priesthood office but merely a title predicted by John the Baptist, and accepted by the 27 other members present. (Joseph Smith History 1:72) His actual priesthood calling, which he obtained from the Lord, was as an apostle, and along with that calling God had designated him a prophet, a vessel through whom God's words were to be disseminated to the world.

On January 2nd of 1832, the Lord gave a revelation through the prophet which, among other things, instructed the saints to elect certain men whose job it would be to look to the poor and the needy within the church and administer to their relief. "And this shall be their work," the Lord continued, "to govern the affairs of the property of this church." (D&C 38:35-36)

So three weeks later, when Joseph and Emma arrived at the conference in Amherst, one of the orders of business was to choose those men who would govern the temporal affairs of the church. Joseph Smith was himself nominated, then elected by the people to be the new "President of the High Priesthood."

And so it was that two years after the church had been organized, the newly created office of president -an administrative office that could have been held by Joseph's brother Hyrum, or Oliver Cowdery, or Sidney Rigdon, or David Whitmer, or pretty much anybody else- was intertwined with the divine calling of a prophet, seer, and revelator. And few there be in the church today who are able to untangle that titular mess in their minds.

Here's what Brigham Young had to say some years after Joseph's death:
"Perhaps it may make some of you stumble, were I to ask you a question—Does a man’s being a Prophet in this Church prove that he shall be the President of it? I answer, no! A man may be a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, and it may have nothing to do with his being the president of the Church. Suffice it to say, that Joseph was the president of the Church, as long as he lived: the people chose to have it so. He always filled that responsible station by the voice of the people. Can you find any revelation appointing him the President of the Church? The keys of the Priesthood were committed to Joseph, to build up the Kingdom of God on the earth, and were not to be taken from him in time or in eternity; but when he was called to preside over the Church, it was by the voice of the people; though he held the keys of the Priesthood, independent of their voice.” (Journal of Discourses 1:133)
A few years later, Joseph attempted to have his brother Hyrum take over all of his duties, because for one thing the office of Patriarch was a greater church office than the office of President, and if the church were to be governed by someone, it should be governed by the patriarch. For another, Joseph Smith had grown past the church, which he understood to be but a stepping-stone to his greater mission: to help institute the Kingdom of God on earth. The kingdom, which as we have seen, is perceptually distinct from the Church, was where Joseph's true interests now lay. So he tried to turn responsibility for the church over to Hyrum. But the members' vision was narrower than Joseph's and they would have none of it. They tended not to want to heed Hyrum Smith, despite Joseph's counsel that they should. They wanted the prophet to also preside over them. They wanted him to run the church.

The reason I feel it was a mistake for Joseph to go along with the people's wishes and take on the church's administrative duties, is because to this day most members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints don't seem to understand that those roles are vastly different. They have conflated the office of the President with the divine calling of a prophet, even though one has virtually nothing to do with the other.

Take a look at the collection of pictures at the top left corner of this essay. Each of those men has held the office of president of the church. But only one -the first one- has ever made the claim that he was a prophet of God. Indeed, out of all the men pictured, Joseph Smith was the only one who has ever been endorsed by God as His prophet. (See this previous post for a partial list of those scriptural endorsements.) God instructed the saints to "heed [Joseph's] words" as he receives them from God's own mouth. (D&C 21:4-5) The Lord has never given similar instructions to the church regarding any subsequent president.

What's more, Brigham Young specifically denied being a prophet and denied he was Joseph Smith's legal successor, and decades later president Heber J. Grant said he knew of no instance where the Lord has appeared to an individual since His appearance to the Prophet Joseph Smith. Likewise, you won't find one instance where any president of the Church, from Brigham Young through Thomas Monson, has claimed to have the gifts of a prophet, seer, or revelator. He does, however tend to sit back and allow his underlings to heap adoration on him, using such terms as "our beloved prophet." But I have never heard a sitting president refer to himself as a prophet, seer, or revelator, or affirm he has those gifts and abilities.

Don't you think that's odd? Out of that entire bunch -16 presidents over a period of 187 years- Joseph Smith was the only one who boldly made the claim to being the mouthpiece of the Lord.

We seem to be deeply conditioned to believe that any man who ascends to the presidency of the Church has somehow been appointed to that office by God. And we also assume, despite a complete lack of evidence, that on or about the same day the Lord chooses a man to be president, he has also bestowed upon that man the gifts and abilities of a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator.

But here's something worth remembering: although God did anoint Joseph Smith to be a prophet, a seer, and a revelator, he did not anoint him to preside over the church. That was a separate administrative office requiring a differing set of skills, and God left it up to the members to choose who they wanted to fill that role. A prophet is a divinely appointed calling, while a president is an administrative one. Anybody could have been elected president of the church, but not anybody can be a prophet. Joseph Smith's role as president required him to wear two different hats, depending on the occasion; sometimes he acted in his capacity as a prophet, and other times he acted in the administrative role as president of a religious society.

This modern conflation of prophet into president has caused us to lose sight of the prophet's true purpose. According to Elder B.H. Roberts, being a teacher is the prophet's highest and noblest office.
"First of all, a word of definition: This term "prophet" -what do you make of it? Generally, when you speak of a "prophet," you have in mind a predictor of future events, one who foretells things that are to come to pass, and in deed that is, in part, the office of a prophet -in part what is expected of him.

"But really this is the very least of his duties. A prophet should be a "forth-teller" rather than a fore-teller. Primarily he must be a teacher of men, and expounder of the things of God. The inspiration of the Almighty must give him understanding, and when given he must expound it to his people, to his age. He must be a Seer that can make others see. A Teacher that can make others see. A Teacher sent of God to instruct a people -to enlighen an age. This is the primary office of a prophet." (B.H. Roberts, Joseph Smith The Prophet-Teacher, 1907.)
Where Are The Revelations? 
Twice a year for most of my life I've plopped myself down in front of the TV during conference sessions expecting to be taught a message from the Lord coming through the president of the church. At least since Gordon Hinckley was president, I've paid close attention, listening for a message direct from the Lord -the type of clear, unmistakable oracles that members of the Lord's church received through Joseph Smith on a regular basis.

I don't know about you, but I don't recall being taught much that was noteworthy from either Gordon Hinckley or from Thomas Monson. I've watched over the years as they both conduct meetings, make announcements, report policy changes, introduce speakers, tell stories, compliment the choir, admonish us to pay tithing, and warn us to obey. But I've never heard either of them impart any new or worthwhile information as Joseph Smith constantly did. I've never heard either of these men actually teach.

I've listened to the current president repeat the same insipid stories he's been telling for over thirty years now, and I'll be frank with you: I'm not getting the feeling I'm being properly taught. In fact, on at least one occasion which I documented on this blog, Monson actually disparaged a salient teaching of Jesus Christ when he stepped up to the pulpit and quoted at length from an article in the Wall Street Journal.

The Wall Street Journal. Let that sink in for a moment.

The prophet of the Lord stepped up to the pulpit in general conference, ostensibly to deliver a message from God to the entire world, and for his text he presented, not a revelation he had recently received from the Lord, not even an excerpt from scripture; but an article he said he had recently read in the Wall Street Journal. I was so astonished by this choice of material that I wrote a blog post about it.

Now don't get me wrong. I like the Wall Street Journal, especially the middle column and the editorial page. Many years ago, in a life much different from the life I live today, I read that paper every morning over donuts. So I'm not knocking the Wall Street Journal.

But put this in perspective. Imagine you are one of the 1.2 billion members of the Roman Catholic church, and you have tuned in to watch the pope standing on the balcony of the Vatican looking down at the millions of his admirers who are standing there waiting for His Holiness to deliver a message from God, and he opens with, "I was reading an article the other day in the Wall Street Journal."

Wouldn't that seem a bit out of place for a major religious leader? You might understandably wonder what The Pontiff was doing poring over a copy of the Wall Street Journal in the first place. This is what the Holy Father does with his time?

We Mormons look at our prophet the same way the Catholics see their pope, only we believe our guy is the true messenger of God.

So then why doesn't he deliver a message from God? Why in heaven's name is he wasting our time quoting lengthy passages from the newspaper? Most active members of the church have an image in their heads of the prophet spending his study time diligently going through the scriptures, or having a personal audience with the Lord. Yet I don't know any active member of the church who thought it the least bit odd that the text of Monson's sermon during the Sunday Morning Session -the very session in which the president traditionally delivers his keynote address- centered around an essay from the editorial page of America's financial daily.

And what was that message? If you'll watch Monson's face at the 2:17 mark, you'll see him share the mocking disdain the editorial writer has for the very idea that the most important thing any of us can do is to love one another. Which just happens to be the first commandment of Jesus Christ.

Some teacher, huh?

But perhaps I'm being too hard on the president. Obviously someone thinks President Monson is a great teacher. The evidence is all over the internet, as many of his loving admirers have gone to the trouble of creating and distributing memes containing his various words of wisdom. Here are a dozen examples:
















Now, I don't want you to think I take issue with any of those aphorisms. In my opinion these couplets contain general truth. I'm just curious why it is that so many members are plastering these sayings all over the internet as if they prove Thomas Monson is a prophet of God. Nevermind that you can find the same sentiments contained in any decent collection of self-help books; what I want to know is this: if Thomas Monson is not just the president of the church, but a prophet as well, when is he going to start teaching us things Tony Robbins hasn't already come up with?

On my bookshelves I have an incomplete set of The Joseph Smith Papers. I also have a separate and unrelated two volume set titled The Papers of Joseph Smith, as well as books with such titles as Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith; The Words of Joseph Smith; The Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith's Teachings; The Journals of Joseph Smith; The Essential Joseph Smith; Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith; and Joseph Speaks. In addition to those, most members have in their homes the impressive body of scripture produced through Joseph Smith, which includes the Book of Mormon, the revelations contained in the Doctrine & Covenants, the Lectures on Faith, and Joseph Smith's Inspired Translation of the Bible.

All of these volumes are chock full of teachings that enlighten. By that I mean most of Joseph's speeches and writings contain bona fide profundities, information that had been lost to time or otherwise unavailable to the world before he came on the scene. My point is that president Joseph Smith was a true prophet, and because he was a prophet he fulfilled the most noble role of a prophet: he was an actual teacher. He taught things that were not widely known before he presented them to the world.

Conversely, you can go down to your local Deseret Book Store and find books that have been written by almost every president of the Church in modern times. You will find they contain nothing like the kind of information you'll find in any one of the volumes containing Joseph Smith's teachings.

Have you ever tried to read through one of those books beginning to end? I can't do it. Where the teachings Joseph Smith left behind are chock full of sagacity, these books of the modern presidents are overflowing with inanities; mostly rehashed conference talks and assortments of words of dubious wisdom ghostwritten by hacks in the Church PR department -much like the "words of wisdom" provided to Thomas Monson by staff writers and recycled in those memes above.

According to the editors of the Joseph Smith Papers project, today we are left with only a fraction of Joseph Smith's teachings. He gave some 250 sermons in his lifetime, but only about 50 of them were written down by scribes. So who knows what else we're missing?

Let's come to the proper conclusion here: a president is a vastly different animal than a prophet. In many ways their purposes are at odds with each other. A president's role is to command and control. A prophet is a teacher of righteousness, who successfully fills his role only as he operates through persuasion. Joseph Smith was somehow able to balance the two roles, but only because he understood he could not operate as a prophet and preside over the church at the same time. At those times when he had donned the hat of the president, he was not functioning as the prophet, and vice-versa. We don't seem to understand the difference in the church today, where everyone seems to use the terms "Prophet" and "President" interchangeably.

Joseph Smith could have done us all a favor back in 1832 and declined the people's invitation to become their president. But he didn't, so what's done is done. It's our responsibility now to wake up and be able to tell the difference so we don't continue to mistake a man with high rank and administrative titles with someone who has actually been given gifts and abilities from on high.

If we fail to discern the difference, we run the risk of following a false prophet.


Friday, May 26, 2017

Rejected Gospel

Previously: Why Our Scriptures Need An Overhaul

On this Memorial Day weekend, I'm re-posting a piece I wrote three years ago which I feel appropriate to the occasion. Memorial Day is a time to remember not only America's needless dead, but also the kind of pride and arrogance that has led both our nation and our church to suffer repeated tragedies.  

Vengeance And The Latter-Day Saint
Originally posted Memorial Day 2014

One of the strangest occurrences that took place after the sudden death of Joseph Smith in June, 1844 was that almost immediately his followers rejected the things he taught them about not holding a grudge.

The first reaction of the Saints to the news that Joseph and Hyrum had been murdered was disbelief.  Joseph and Hyrum dead? It was inconceivable! But as the truth of the deed was confirmed, disbelief gave way to overwhelming grief. The grieving period was short-lived, however, turning quickly to anger and demands for retribution against the killers.

Which is understandable; who wouldn't want justice? But when only five members of the mob were brought up on charges, and all of them acquitted (no surprise) by a jury of non-Mormons, the Saints began calling upon God to exact His own swift vengeance. William Clayton's prayer for retribution was typical of many, which he recorded the day after the murders took place:
"And now O God wilt thou not come out of thy hiding place and avenge the blood of thy servants.—that blood which thou hast so long watched over with a fatherly care—that blood so noble—so generous—so dignified, so heavenly you O Lord will thou not avenge it speedily and bring down vengeance upon the murderers of thy servants that they may be rid from off the earth and that the earth may be cleansed from these scenes, even so O Lord thy will be done. We look to thee for justice. Hear thy people O God of Jacob even so Amen."
Again, an understandable response, if not exactly Christlike. There is a difference between seeking justice and seeking revenge, but this is the early church so let's cut these folks some slack. I probably would have reacted just like Clayton, hoping God would smite those smirking killers who snuffed out the lives of Joseph and Hyrum. A perfectly understandable reaction.

Except right after the jury voted not guilty and the killers got away scot-free, Clayton demanded God enlarge the scope of his wrath to include the entire population of the state of Illinois just to get even with that jury:
“Thus the whole State of Illinois have made themselves guilty of shedding the blood of the prophets by acquitting those who committed the horrid deed, and it is now left to God and his saints to take vengeance in his own way, and in his own time.”
Seems a little harsh. And a bit lacking in reason and logic. I'm sure there were lots of people living in Illinois who had never heard of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, let alone wished them any harm. Why hold them all accountable for the verdict of one twelve-man jury in one corner of the state?

Curse Of The Gentile Nation
I've recently become friends with William Shepard after discovering his writings on Mormon history[1]so I'm currently reading a piece of his published in a back issue of The Journal of Mormon history entitled "The Concept Of A 'Rejected Gospel' in Mormon History." Shepard provides several examples of the Saints' intense desire for bloody retribution, and I was struck by how many of these early Saints were so blinded by grief and anger and a gnawing demand for "satisfaction" that they didn't care if every man, woman, and child in America was wiped out in the process. In fact, that's what they were hoping for. They soon laid the blame for the prophet's murders on the entire nation, and hoped to see America utterly destroyed for reasons that made little sense. As Shepard reports,
"For most of the nineteenth century, Brigham Young and the Twelve saw in the murders of Joseph and Hyrum Smith the final proof that the Gentile nation of the United States had reached the fullness of iniquity, had rejected the gospel, and would soon be cut off from salvation..." -Journal of Mormon History Volume 34, No.8 (2008)  (Subsequent quotes are from that article.)
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[1].  William Shepard is co-author (with Michael Marquardt) of Lost Apostles, the latest must-have book on Mormon History that you likely won't find at Deseret Book. Find out why by reading this free excerpt.

William Hyde, who was on a mission in Vermont when he heard of the murders, predicted in his journal  “For that blood the nation will be obliged to atone.”

And this from Wilford Woodruff's Journal:
“I asked my heavenly father in the name of Jesus Christ and by virtue of the Holy Priesthood and the Keys of the kingdom of God that he would speedily avenge the blood of Joseph the Prophet Seer and Revelator, and Hiram the Patriarch, which had been shed by the hands of the American gentile nation, upon all the heads of the Nation and State that have aided, abetted or perpetrated the horrid deed, of shedding the blood of those righteous men even the Lords anointed.”
This call for the destruction of America looks to put a crimp in the church's missionary efforts, but they didn't care. The Mormons figured the rest of America had had their chance, and by gum they were dusting their feet and done.

Most Mormons weren't patient enough to wait for God to get around to exacting punishment, but vowed instead to take matters into their own hands. After viewing the bodies of Joseph and Hyrum, Allen Stout took a personal vow of revenge:
"I there and then resolved in my mind that I would never let an opportunity slip unimproved of avenging their blood upon the head of the enemies of the church of Jesus Christ. I felt as though I could not live. I knew not how to contain myself, and when I see one of the men who persuaded them to give up to be tried, I feel like cutting their throats. And I hope to live to avenge their blood; but if I do not I will teach my children to never cease to try to avenge their blood and then their children and children's children to the fourth generation as long as there is one descendant of the murderers upon the earth."
Pretty heavy, right? The surprising thing is, Stout's keening oath was pretty typical of the time.

Mosiah Hancock tells how, at ten years old, his father Levi had him place his right hand on the cold bosoms of Joseph and Hyrum in turn, and raising his left hand to the square the kid then swore a similar oath to that of Stout's, "which vow I took with a determination to fulfill to the very letter."

If merely getting even with the killer's descendants was enough for some, others like apostle Orson Hyde were barely able to contain their enthusiasm for bringing on the destruction of their home country:
“Carthage Jail presents a scene of blood, and that blood has not been avenged; and when the time can come, and when it can be ordered in wisdom in the heavenly council, the scourge shall come.  And when you see these things come to pass, then rejoice and be exceeding glad.”
Hyde's fellow apostle, Orson Pratt, who referred to the enemy Americans as as "bloodthirsty Christians," was downright giddy in anticipation of the coming apocalypse:
 “It is with the greatest of joy that I forsake this Republic, and all the saints have abundant reasons to rejoice that they are counted worthy to be cast out as exiles from this wicked nation; for we have received nothing but one continual scene of the most horrid and unrelenting persecutions at their hands for the last sixteen years.”
If it seems a bit impatient for the Saints to give up on America after only sixteen years of proselyting, it's worth noting that apostle Parley Pratt had predicted the second coming would occur by 1845. So America's time was clearly up anyway.

Wilford Woodruff viewed the Saint's abandoning the United States as necessary so that “the judgments of God might be poured out on that guilty nation that is already drunk with the blood of the Saints."

The editor of the church newspaper wrote:
“And they [the Mormons] will go forth shaking off the dust of their feet upon her [United States], and leaving their curse upon the doomed and fated people and rulers of the United States.”
And let's not forget the Oath of Vengeance inserted into the temple endowment by Brigham Young:
"You and each of you do covenant and promise that you will pray and never cease to pray to Almighty God to avenge the blood of the prophets upon this nation, and that you will teach the same to your children and to your children's children unto the third and fourth generation."[2]
I've never been quite certain what it means to "defile the temple," but the introduction of something as distasteful as this into a sacred holy ritual would top my list. It would be hard to come up with anything more in opposition to the gospel of peace than to implore God to murder your enemies for you, and do so in the very place Jesus Christ purportedly calls home.

Happily, Almighty God chose not to act on those vindictive supplications, but we shouldn't take that to mean those who offered those imprecations weren't ready to do their part if the opportunity arose. Apostle Abraham Cannon tells how, when Hyrum's son Joseph F. Smith returned to Carthage at age 21, he encountered a man who said he had arrived five minutes too late to see the Smiths killed. Young Joseph F. came this close to knifing the poor guy before learning the man had disapproved of the killings. (Kenney, "Before the Beard: Trials of the Young Joseph F. Smith," Sunstone, November 2001.)
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[2].  The Oath of Vengeance was removed from the endowment ritual in 1927, thank goodness. Yet there are some Fundamentalists who take its removal as another evidence that the everlasting ordinances of the temple have been changed. Just proves you can't please everybody.

Anyway, you get the idea. A handful of men committed a horrendous crime, and the victim's friends couldn't wait to make an entire nation of innocents suffer for it. I couldn't help thinking there was something familiar about all this. Then I noticed the calendar showing Memorial day approaching, which brought back memories of vindictive conversations that took place in my ward priesthood quorum in the weeks following the attacks of September 11th, 2001.

Discussions of what should be done to the perpetrators often crowded out the scheduled lesson, with some in the class expressing hope that the U.S military would immediately retaliate. The military did retaliate, of course, and there was no shortage of young latter-day Saints rushing to join the fight.

But fight who? Even if you buy into the conventional narrative (which I don't) that the perpetrators of 9/11 consisted of 19 Arab hijackers armed with boxcutters, the perpetrators of that crime were now all dead by suicide. Justice served, wouldn't you think?

Nope. Those deaths weren't enough to satisfy the bloodlust of most Americans, least of all many of my Mormon brethren. I heard proposals from my fellow Saints wishing our government would just nuke the entire middle east and get it over with.  Our nation had been breached by unknown assassins, and they refused to be consoled.

Millions did pay, of course, including many of the young soldiers who so enthusiastically participated in our national revenge-fest. A dozen Memorial Days have come and gone since the first cries of vengeance were heard, and today, thankfully, the voices are more subdued.  Americans have died in these wars of vengeance. Mormons have died.

And to what end?

The tired bromide that "they fought to protect our freedoms" doesn't quite wash anymore. Look around: while our idealistic young warriors were occupied fighting phantoms overseas, our freedoms have been seriously eroded here at home. And in the cruelest twist of all, the very politicians most vigorously engaged in eroding those freedoms have officially declared returning veterans to be America's newest enemy.

And why not? There is nothing more dangerous to tyrants than a soldier who has awakened to the reality that he has been duped. A former soldier who is fully awake is a threat to the establishment, no matter which party is currently in power.

Is it any wonder the very government agency charged with caring for our returning wounded is dragging its feet and letting soldiers die while awaiting treatment? On The Daily Show of May 19th, Jon Stewart expressed bewilderment:
 "Somehow we as a country were able to ship 300,000 troops halfway across the world in just a few months to fight a war that cost us two trillion dollars -an amount that didn't count towards our deficit because we paid for it somehow under the table. Yet for some reason it takes longer than that to get someone hurt in that war needed medical care or reimbursement, all while we profess undying love for their service."
And John Whitehead recently noted:
"The plight of veterans today is deplorable, with large numbers of them impoverished, unemployed, traumatized mentally and physically, struggling with depression, thoughts of suicide, marital stress, homeless (a third of all homeless Americans are veterans), subjected to sub-par treatment at clinics and hospitals, and left to molder while their paperwork piles up within Veterans Administration offices."
We erect monuments to those who die while serving in the military, but those lucky enough to have made it back are learning a harsh lesson:  Their own government really doesn't want them here. You bought the lie. You served your purpose. Now please just go away.

With every Memorial Day that's passed since 9/11, a growing number of Americans -Mormons included- are waking up to the reality that they have been played. Their emotions were manipulated in order to get them to support two wars that have resulted in...what, exactly? Certainly not more freedom or safety.  Americans are less free and less safe than ever before, and the dangers we face today don't happen to have originated with some hapless "enemy" living in Iraq or Afghanistan.

As for the brave Mormon soldier, why did his Church leaders not issue a voice of warning against the secret combinations who were conspiring to undermine the country in his absence? Silly question. Because they were in collusion, that's why.

You think that accusation is a bit harsh? Then I invite you to watch a video that was produced by the corporate Church and distributed on DVD to LDS servicemen and their families to coincide with the start of the war with Iraq. With the passage of time, the reassurances contained in this film ring more and more hollow.

"What Is My Standing Before God?"
That was a question posed to Elder Robert Oaks of the Presidency of the Seventy by a young combat soldier struggling to reconcile his religious teachings with the obligation the government had put on him to engage in random shootings. This video, which used to be available on the official LDS website but has since been removed, can still be seen here on Youtube. It was intended to assuage the concerns of this young man and others like him. Entitled "Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled," it's a blatant propaganda piece that contradicts every legitimate LDS doctrine regarding war ever revealed.

And that's the problem. The film completely avoids addressing doctrinal questions such as where and when it is permissible in the eyes of God for his people to go into battle.  The only place I heard the word of God quoted at all was in the title. "Let not your hearts be troubled" was a comforting reassurance Jesus gave to his apostles at the last supper before he left them on his way to being crucified. It had nothing to do with palliating the concerns of worried young men headed into battle.

The purpose of this DVD is clearly intended to reassure the Mormon soldier that he need not worry about the consequences of his actions. Let not your heart be troubled, the narrators tell him. Don't worry about it if you end up inadvertently killing innocents. You'll be doing God's work.

From start to finish, this presentation is a disgrace to our religion.

The video is introduced by Boyd K. Packer, who assures the young LDS soldier that he will receive blessings for serving his country in this difficult time, and suggests that his efforts as a hired killer may even result in missionary opportunities. See son, you're not a mere soldier, you're an instrument of God in helping His kingdom roll forth! Sure, you may one day be forced to kill innocent Iraqi families, but look on the bright side: you're preparing for the day when our missionaries will come in and give the discussions to their surviving relatives.

Call me a cynic, but I don't think it works the way Packer expects it to. You can't convert people to the gospel of peace after violently decimating their homeland.

The DVD includes an excerpt from President Hinckley's conference talk given in April 2003, a talk that has given Hinckley a degree of posthumous fame as the most equivocating prophet ever in the history of the Church.  It was full of useless platitudes, and devoid of any useful doctrine. That talk couldn't have been more insidiously brilliant if it had been written by Lucifer himself. Don't believe me? Go read it for yourself.

The video shows us a short clip of apostle Robert D. Hales speaking before a roomful of young recruits and assuring them "You are the defenders of the constitution."

Oh really? Defenders of the constitution?  I wish you'd walk me through exactly how that works, Bob, seeing as the government that recruited these kids violated article one, section eight of the constitution by failing to obtain authorization from the people through their congress to wage this very war in the first place.

We used to have actual theologians as members of the Twelve, not just former executives who happened to distinguish themselves in the corporate world. I wonder what Robert Hales would think if he ever got around to reading D&C 98:7 where the Lord declares that, pertaining to the laws of man, whatsoever is more or less than the constitution comes of evil?  Non-members can believe what they want, but we Mormons can't have it both ways. According to the revealed word of God, either a war is constitutional, or it's evil. You can't send Mormon kids to fight an unconstitutional war and tell them they're defending the constitution.

Where's The Theology?
My guess is that anyone watching this video on their way to the front is hoping to understand how God feels about the adventure they are about to embark on. Anyone raised properly in the church is bound to have some reservations about being required to kill strangers. Presumably this DVD the Church has provided will answer their troubling questions.

They presume in vain.

Incredibly, the word of God is never used to bolster the feel-good message of this film. The viewer is introduced to Lance Wickman and Robert Oaks, two general authorities who were once career military men, and they offer their wartime stories about how life in uniform can be both difficult and rewarding.  Instead of delivering a message the LDS soldier can use, apparently it was thought the departing soldier could better identify with GAs who once had military careers. Too bad neither of these guys seems to know anything about LDS doctrine as it pertains to the issue at hand.

The message of the movie can be distilled in one sentence: War is dirty, nasty work, but it's unavoidable and necessary, so thank goodness we have righteous young priesthood holders like you to handle that dirty, nasty work that is for some reason unavoidable.  Oh, and by the way, thank you for your service.

Although the word of God is never quoted in this video, the twisting of scripture is apparent in several places. At one point Elder Wickman looks into the camera and says,
"Many have asked why so much of the Book of Mormon dwells upon battles and warfare. The answer, I believe, is that Mormon and Moroni understood exquisitely that we would also be forced to contend with war and bloodshed as we strive to live according to the teachings and examples of the master in these last days."
Holy cow. Face palm, anyone?

I'm usually considered the dumbest guy in the room, but even I can see that Oaks got the message of the Book of Mormon wars completely inside out.  What Mormon and Moroni understood exquisitely was that the record they wrote would one day be in our hands and they wanted to make super-duper certain that we did not make the same stupid mistakes their people did.  Mormon compiled the record and included all those chapters about war so that we gentiles could understand two essential teachings:
1.  God's people have a right and a duty to defend their homes, their families, and their lands from invasion. We are justified in repelling those who invade our homes and lands, even to the taking of life, if necessary.
2.  God's people are never, ever, EVER justified in taking the battle into the enemy's lands. When we do that, the enemy is justified in repelling us for invading their homes, lands, and families, even to the taking of our lives.
 There you go, Wickman and Oaks. I just saved you both a lot of reading.

In Boyd Packer's segment of the video, behind him on the wall we see the famous Arnold Friberg paintings of Book of Mormon war heroes Helaman and Captain Moroni. Packer even quotes a scripture from Alma showing that war is sometimes justified to defend our lands and families. But what he fails to remind the viewer is that these men are heroes because they repelled invasions, not because they led invasions. They did not fight because they chose to, but because they had no choice. Their lands were being overun, so they stood in defense of home and country. And this is the key element: they stood their ground and defended from inside the borders of their own country, not in someone else's.

We honor Captain Moroni as a great patriot not only because he stood up to the foreign enemy, but also because he challenged the corrupt manipulators behind the politicians at home. Tyrants quake at the thought of an army of awakened Moronis returning home.

If Lance Wickman wants to understand why Mormon and Moroni included all that stuff about war, he should have consulted Mormon himself, who tells us explicitly why he stopped participating in the wars with his Nephite Brethren:
"It came to pass that I utterly refused to go up against mine enemies; and I did even as the Lord commanded me; and I did stand as an idle witness to manifest unto the world the things which I saw and heard, according to the manifestations of the spirit which had testified of things to come." (Mormon 3:16)
Did you catch that, Wickman? Mormon didn't include those war chapters because he understood we would be forced to contend with war and bloodshed. He did it to warn us to beware of our own hubris that could easily lead us into unnecessary and destructive wars. He included those warnings in hopes we would be able to tell the difference between being forced to go to war and choosing to go to war. His entire personal saga is a warning to us to carefully differentiate between repelling an invader and being an invader.

Here's what got Mormon to throw down his sword in disgust and quit his own army:  A large force of Lamanite warriors had crossed over into Nephite territory and, mirabile dictu, the Nephites won the battle! They managed to drive the superior force of Lamanites all the way back across their borders and back where they had come from.

This unexpected victory drove the Nephite soldiers out of their heads with exhilaration. They had actually beaten back the mighty Lamanites!  They started cracking open beers and chanting whatever the Nephite equivalent is to "U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A!!  (It's all there in Mormon chapter 3, I swear.)

Next thing you know, the Nephite soldiers, full of piss and vinegar after that decisive victory, got it in their heads that they should put their armor back on and cross the border deep into the Lamanite's homeland so they could finish this thing with the Lamanites once and for all. Kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out.

That's why Mormon quit, because he knew God does not protect the soldier who is the aggressor, and he refused to have any part in such goings on. That, Lance Wickman, is the lesson we are meant to take from the war chapters of the Book of Mormon.  Here is how the Lord himself revealed that doctrine in the latter days:
"This is the law that I gave unto mine ancients, that they should not go out unto battle against any nation, kindred, tongue, or people, save I, the Lord, commanded them." (D&C 98:33)
The Lord goes on to instruct us that this law still holds for us today except that today we have to be extra careful not to take offense. That's the Lord's doctrine on war in a nutshell, and it sure seems plain enough to me.

So what I would ask Boyd Packer, Robert Hales, Robert Oaks, Lance Wickman, Gordon Hinckley, and every other person involved in the making of that little feel-good pro-war disgrace of a video monstrosity is this: Why didn't you include God's word as a counterweight to your own useless, hollow opinions? Why did you leave out the only counsel that would have really mattered to the doomed young man in my former ward who gave his life for nothing, instead of blathering into the camera about how "the military is a noble profession" and "You are mighty men of valor"?

Maybe if you had been honest in your counsel and presented God's will in all this, there might be one less pair of grieving parents in the graveyard this Memorial day; one less young Mormon widow; one or two less fatherless children. You men had the opportunity to tell the truth to those in your charge, and you failed. You made false promises about military service bringing blessings when you know it brings nothing but death, sorrow, and destruction.

How many additional LDS families will forgo the joyous picnic reunion this Memorial day and instead hang their heads with grief over yet another unnecessary loss of a young son or daughter?

Mea Culpa
I am sometimes accused of being less than deferential to LDS Church authorities."It's wrong to criticize leaders of the Church," Apostle Dallin Oaks smugly asserts in this video, "even if the criticism is true."

Oh Yeah, Dallin? Well, I'll tell you what: You just go ahead and show me where the Lord himself has ever made that statement, and I'll give you a dollar. Otherwise it's not doctrinal, so wipe that smirk off your face, stop making up your own rules, and try preaching the gospel of Christ for a change.

Young, idealistic young Mormon men and women are DEAD because they were taught not to question or criticize Church leaders. Other young latter-day Saints are maimed, divorced, depressed, homeless, and suicidal, much of their troubles traceable to the belief that whenever a general authority opens his mouth, even if it's two-bit lower rung GAs like Robert Oaks and Lance Wickman, their very utterances represent the word of God, the mind of God, and the will of God.

These palpably false teachings are causing real harm to actual, living, breathing members of our congregations. And they need to stop being promulgated right now.

What we could use from you in the next conference session, Elder Oaks, is a talk reminding the members that the leaders are as human and fallible as the rest of us, and that most importantly, a prophet is only a prophet when he is speaking the words God has put into his mouth, and that ANY OTHER TIME, he is presenting his own thoughts and opinions.

Joseph Smith would not have allowed the members in his day to slather adoration on him, yet you guys lap it up. Joseph had the integrity to rebuke the Saints when he found they were depending upon him and not Christ. He told them that following the prophet was causing them to be darkened in their minds.  Do your duty and teach the Saints that whenever a Church leader teaches contrary to the established word of God, that leader should be shunned and ignored, not slavishly followed like some dark-suited demigod.
                                                                     ****

Okay, I'm not sure where I was going with this blog entry, but it has clearly gotten away from me. I'm going to stop now and go cool down.

When properly observed, Memorial Day is a time for solemn introspection rather than playful celebration. I wish you all a happy Memorial day just the same.

Love and Light,
Rock



Related Post:
"Why Do We Keep Celebrating Our Disobedience?"

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Why Our Scriptures Need An Overhaul

                                                   Previously: Evil Speaking Of The Lord's Anointed

When Hyrum Smith arrived at the Palmyra printshop of Egbert B. Grandin in August of 1829 with a handwritten manuscript of what would soon become the Book of Mormon, it was the start of an unlikely alliance. Grandin had recently published a disparaging report about Hyrum's brother Joseph and his rumored "golden bible" in his newspaper, the Wayne Sentinel.  Yet here he was two months later, having reluctantly contracted to produce five thousand copies of that very item.

Grandin had initially rejected the request to print Joseph's book, but when he learned Joseph Smith was in negotiations with a printer in Rochester, and that Martin Harris, a wealthy local farmer, would be guaranteeing payment for the project, he decided he would rather accept the $3,000.00 himself than see it go to someone else. So he changed his mind and took the job. For most people money is, after all, "the one true religion."

Grandin was only twenty-three years old and had never published a book before. He was a newspaper editor, and a small town one at that. Back-country newspapers in those days were assembled by laying out the font one single letter at a time onto a hand-operated lever press, a process so time consuming and tedious that the typical newspaper often consisted of only one page printed front and back, and published once a week. The logistics of producing an entire book of 570 pages practically guaranteed the finished product would be rife with drastic fubars. And it was.

I had always believed that first edition of the Book of Mormon was the most accurate version possible. I could not have been more wrong.

Get Up In The Morning Slaving For Bread, Sir
From 1968 to 1970, I attended early morning seminary every school day at 6:00 a.m. So I'm certain sometime in those years I was taught something about the Book of Mormon. I couldn't tell you what, though, because religious instruction held no interest for me as a teenager. Early morning seminary kept me in a continuous soporific stupor, so if I did manage to learn anything it was through osmosis. Or more likely hypnosis.

Besides, I didn't attend seminary for the betterment of my soul; I went for Carolyn Watts. She and I were in separate wards and went to different high schools, so if I had any hope of spending some time with the girl I had a crush on, I'd have to get up every morning at four a.m., eat breakfast, take a shower, and trudge down to the stake center to plop my tired body into the seat next to hers.

That was the extent of my formal training in the Book of Mormon: sitting in seminary next to the girl I had a thing for, and sometimes hearing the Book of Mormon spoken about by the teacher while my thoughts were elsewhere. Whenever I was called on to open the book and read from it, those choppy little paragraphs with verse numbers in front of them just didn't do it for me. That whole "scripture chase" thing harshed my groove, man. Not really my bag.

When I turned nineteen, I ignored the grownups in my ward who were encouraging me to go on a mission. Then when I turned twenty-one some stake high council dude gave me a Deseret Book gift certificate, so I drove over to see what they had there. I found a replica of the first Book of Mormon, published in 1830, with real leather binding. It looked interesting. "Retro," in the lingo of today. So I took it home and started reading.

And I was converted. I found the narrative flow of that book so much more inviting than the dry,Church-published, versified edition used in church and seminary. I was converted through that book the same way Parley P. Pratt had been converted, and it happened by means of a copy of the Book of Mormon exactly like the one old Parley P had been reading when his soul caught fire.

So at a time when all my friends were returning from their missions, I suddenly felt the call. And I took along that favored copy of the Book of Mormon, because it was much more interesting to read than the one in the triple combination my mom and dad had bought for me. I recall my first Senior Companion advising me to put down that old version and instead start reading the authorized copy. Sorry, I told him. No can do. And by the way man, stop harshing my groove.

Years later I bought the much-heralded 1981 editions of the LDS Bible and and triple combination in the oversize editions. That version of the Book of Mormon was fine for looking up specific cites, but I still preferred my first edition for sit-down reading. Besides, I soon learned that the modern edition had some serious flaws.

Little did I know that my precious 1830 replica itself was full of errors. Royal Skousen, professor of linguistics at BYU, has gone to remarkable lengths comparing the many differences between the original manuscript and the way things ended up in that first print edition. Most disconcerting, Skousen's research exposes the substantial number of flaws that still remain in the editions we commonly use today. Skousen ended up publishing a more accurate transcription of the Book of Mormon, and he did so by painstakingly utilizing what remains of the original manuscript. Yet today's Church leaders seem to have taken no interest in making a more perfect edition available through its official publishing arm.

So I had to wonder: if we claim to believe the Bible as far as it is translated correctly, shouldn't the Church be taking steps to make sure the Book of Mormon we are using is also as accurate as possible?

A Grert Wokr In He Clowd 
After accepting the contract to publish Joseph Smith's manuscript, Egbert Grandin ordered 500 extra pounds of lead type shipped to him via the Erie Canal, and employed an experienced typesetter by the name of John Gilbert to handle the project. This was going to take someone who knew what he was doing, because typesetting was a talent that required the compositor to be able to read the individual letters of type upside down and backwards as he placed them into position on the press. If you're guessing this system resulted in some misspelled words and typographical errors; brothers and sisters, you don't even know.

Those misspelled words you see in the bold subheading above are just four of nearly two thousand errors in my 1830 Book of Mormon. They should read as "great" "work" "the" and "cloud." Harmless enough, you might think. Perhaps even mildly amusing. After all, a reasonably intelligent person should be able to detect what those words should have been. However, misspelled words are one thing, but when an error changes the very meaning of the text, as frequently occurred in numerous places, it can distort the teaching. And that can be problematic.

Here's what made printing an authentic copy of the Book of Mormon so hard to pull off: in order to print a book like that, the compositor first lays out sixteen pages of type one line at a time on the table of the press, and for reasons you'll understand in a minute, those sixteen pages have to be arranged upside down, backwards, and completely out of order from each other. This is why printers in early America were held in such high regard. To anyone watching a compositor at work, that job would have seemed nearly impossible.

It could take days for the compositor to do the typesetting for all sixteen of those awkwardly arranged sections of the Book of Mormon, and when they were ready to go, all sixteen pages were printed at once onto a large sheet of paper measuring almost a yard long and two feet wide. When that big sheet was printed, dried, then folded, John Gilbert had completed his first signature.

It's done that way because to create a book, you can't just stack a bunch of sheets of paper together and slap a cover on them; it would end up all cattywampus. To see how a book is bound properly, pull a quality hardback book off your shelf and take a look down the spine. You'll see what looks like a collection of pamphlets sewn closely together with thick thread. Each of those "pamphlets" are sixteen pages each, and have to be printed and prepared individually. Each time one of these pamphlets is completed, the printer pencils a mark or "signature" on it to show that he's finished with that one and ready to print up the next.

It's almost impossible to appreciate the logistics of such a project without having it demonstrated, so I found a Youtube video that explains it concisely. The first two minutes and ten seconds show how a signature is created, which the author demonstrates using a regular sized sheet of paper to make it easier to follow. Although technology today has eliminated the need for labor-intensive typesetting, signatures are still essentially the same today as back in Grandin's:


Inkballs: Can't Live With 'Em, Can't Live Without 'Em
Here's where it gets interesting. It turns out that my 1830 replica edition of the Book of Mormon very likely contains errors that differ from every one of the other 4,999 copies produced off that same press run. To understand why, first you'll want to take a look at this video demonstrating how a press in those days was inked. The inkballs used by the docent here would have been similar to those used by John Gilbert when he was inking type faces for the Book of Mormon. (You need only watch the first two and a half minutes to get the gist of it.)



As you can see, those inkballs can get pretty sticky. And if a piece of typeset -or even an entire line of type- was loose, the inkball might draw it right out without the compositor noticing. Gilbert could have printed three or four sheets and hung them up to dry before noticing the loose letters that ended up on the floor.

Would he go back and re-do the finished signatures? Not on your life. For a run of 5,000 books, 2500 prints of each "form," or identical sets of those sixteen pages, is going to have to be printed. The type will have to be constantly re-inked, and the ink pressed down onto those chases filled with type before the lever can even be lowered to press ink to paper. If a minor mistake was discovered, it was best to just keep going. Typographical errors were expected in those days. These sorts of things happened.

What the printer would do upon discovering loose type out of place is try and figure out where those missing letters were supposed to go and stick them back in so they wouldn't be missing in any of the succeeding pages. Then Gilbert would have continued printing until he noticed another piece of type had fallen out. When that was discovered, he would put that one back where he thought it should go and continue with the job. That is the way in which the known errors in the Book of Mormon got corrected at the time.

Back in 1973, Janet Jenson of the Church Historical Department published a study comparing 60 of the 70 copies of the 1830 edition then known to exist. Most were held in museums, university collections, or private hands. Her research discovered different combinations of corrections were found in all 60 copies. What that means is that changes and corrections were made on the fly as the Book of Mormon was coming off the press in 1830. So it is highly likely that the 1830 editions of the Book of Mormon have something in common with snowflakes: you will rarely see any two that are exactly alike.
"The discovery of additional variants might well cause even those which are considered now alike to become unique. Seventy is not quite 1.5 percent of the total 5,000 which were printed, but with just the 41 changes so far discovered, it is mathematically possible that each of the 5,000 copies could be unique." (Jenson, Variations Between Copies of the First Edition of the Book of Mormon, BYU Studies, Vol 13:2)
Remember that this examination took place in the early 1970's, when only 41 changes had been compared between extant copies thus far. Jenson doesn't take into account the biggest reveal of all: the handwritten manuscript that Hyrum provided to the printer wasn't even the original manuscript that had been translated by Joseph Smith. The manuscript provided to the printer was only a copy of the original. Joseph was holding on to the original for safekeeping.

The original manuscript, you will recall, had been written down at various turns by Emma Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris as Joseph dictated the words to them. When it was time to furnish a manuscript of the Book of Mormon to the printer, Joseph asked Oliver Cowdery to make a handwritten copy of the original. It was Oliver's copy that Hyrum delivered to Egbert Grandin in installments as fast as Cowdery could finish copying them. And these closely written manuscript pages weren't that easy for John Gilbert to decipher.  Gilbert recalled years later that "every chapter was one solid paragraph, without a punctuation mark, from beginning to end." (Memorandum made by John H. Gilbert, Esq; Sept 8th, 1892, Palmyra New York, quoted in Wilford C. Wood, Joseph Smith Begins His Work, 1958)

Gilbert had to do his best to translate Oliver Cowdery's handwriting, which itself was a copy of the translation previously written down by Emma, Martin, and himself. So this printer's manuscript was already one generation away from the source material before it ever arrived at the printer's. And we now know there were numerous differences between Cowdery's copy and Joseph's original. And since Cowdery's copy of the original contained no punctuation, Gilbert had to decide for himself where one sentence ended and another began, as well as penciling in where he felt the commas, dashes, and semicolons belonged.* That puts the translation yet another generation further from the source, before the thing ever got set into type.
_______________________________________
*Also, do you think John Gilbert knew the proper spelling of Amalickiahite? I'm betting he did not.

It's no wonder Professor Skousen estimates there were 2,000 textual errors in the 1830 edition. He has cited 600 corrections that have never appeared in any standard edition of the Book of Mormon and "about 250 of them affect the text's meaning." (Skousen, The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text.)

This raises a question in my mind: why has the general membership of the Church never been told that the copies of the Book of Mormon they purchased through Deseret Book contain substantial errors? Professor Skousen's research is not widely known outside academic circles, but if he has cited something in the neighborhood of 250 places where the text in our versions differs in meaning from that which was in Joseph's original manuscript, why has the Church publishing arm not rushed out corrected copies in order that our theology remains pure? Should they not at least furnish corrected copies to the seminaries and institutes?

What Happened To The Original Manuscript?
It's interesting to note that nearly three quarters of the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon is unreadable. It was hidden in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House for over a hundred years, which gave it sufficient time to get rainsoaked and turn to mush. But enough of it survived that forensic experts are able to show how it differs in many ways from Cowdery's copy that John Gilbert used as his guide. Also problematic was that although at various times either Hyrum, Oliver, or Martin were present at Grandin's to keep guard over the printer's manuscript, none of them fully kept an eye on John Gilbert, who, though trustworthy and well-meaning, took certain liberties with the transcription. Since he was left to himself to determine where punctuation marks should go, whenever the manuscript quoted passages similar to those in the Bible, he simply kept an open Bible handy and copied the punctuation directly from the King James version.

The problem with this, however, is that Gilbert copied more than just the punctuation. For example, we know that Nephi included extensive passages from Isaiah, and he did so that we in our day would have a more reliable version of those passages than could be found in our Bibles.  But Gilbert thought it more efficient to simply copy the words right out of the Bible and set them into type, thus entering those old errors into the new covenant of the Book of Mormon. So rather than clarifying doctrine, In some of our editions Nephi appears to be repeating the same errors that the biblical translators passed down.

Since even Joseph Smith recognized that the Grandin edition of the Book of Mormon needed fixing, in 1837 he made emendations to it, this time taking the revised manuscript to a book publisher in Cincinnati. This publisher used plates instead of typeset, which enabled Joseph to retain the plates and take them back with him to Nauvoo. Further proof reading convinced Joseph that he had overlooked some errors in his previous revision, so three years later he cleaned it up even further. Most scholars agree that, in the absence of the original manuscript -the one largely destroyed by water damage- the 1840 edition is the most accurate one we have. You can obtain an inexpensive version of the 1840 edition here.

Yet the Book of Mormon you're reading in your Quad or Triple Combination today is not descended from Joseph's 1840 revision. What happened was that the next year, the apostles in England needed a copy of the book they could distribute there, so they employed a printer in Liverpool to churn one out. This British edition was not based on Joseph's most recent 1840 revision, however, but on the one from 1837. The printer in England made some improvements to the book on his own, changing some words here and there that better matched colloquial British English. Joseph Smith had no input on this edition whatsoever. The Book of Mormon the LDS people read from today is descended from that imperfect 1841 edition.

That edition went through a number of alterations in the decades after Joseph's death, culminating with Orson Pratt's making a number of substantial structural changes: clarifying words, cleaning up the grammar, deciding where he wanted certain chapters to begin and end, dividing the text into verses, and other improvements he deemed necessary. Admittedly, there is an advantage to being able to refer to certain sections of scripture by citing chapter and verse. Numerous "improvements" culminated in 1921 with the Apostles Edition, a sort of "authorized version;" evidence that the Church of Christ had been completely taken over by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who now believed they had the right to own and control every aspect of the church, including the scriptures themselves.

You can see the problem. The further we get from a version of the Book of Mormon approved by the original translator, the less accurate a version we have.

I say we're better off with an edition of the Book of Mormon that reads closer to the original manuscript, even if the original contains idioms peculiar to 19th century America, than we are if we are depending on a version that has been polished and tweaked by unauthorized editors over time. This is, after all, our scripture, delivered through a prophet of God. We should not be comfortable with others making improvements to it, no matter how well meaning.

Happily, there is now a proposed version of the Book of Mormon available that is not descended from the 1841 edition, and should therefore prove more reliable. You can download a free copy of it here.  In the footnotes at the bottom of each page of this research edition, comparisons are provided for words and phrases as they differ between Joseph's original manuscript, his 1837 and 1840 revisions, the printer's manuscript of 1829, and the Grandin 1830 edition.

This is just part of a more ambitious project that proposes to embrace the most accurate versions available for all of the latter-day scriptures that Joseph Smith had a hand in producing.  That's the good news. The bad news is that this project has attracted a surprising amount of push-back from people I would have expected would embrace the idea. Some have even referred to the project as "Denver Snuffer's scriptures," even though Denver has had almost nothing to do with any of it.

The Restoration Scriptures
Here are the facts: Over a year ago, a group of individuals got together and decided to dust off the incunabula of our faith, which, in addition to the Book of Mormon, would include the earliest version of Joseph Smith's inspired translation of the old and new testaments, as well as the many revelations Joseph received from the Lord. The idea was to come up with the most accurate versions of all the scriptures, based on the earliest texts. They proposed leaving out those parts of the D&C that lacked Joseph's personal imprint, while including some additional pieces that did.  For example, rather than include only the Articles of Faith, they proposed publishing the entire Wentworth letter, of which the Articles of Faith are one part. Also included is a dream Joseph Smith related where he saw men quarreling and fighting for ownership of what he left behind after his death.

This group of researchers was made up of scholars, investigators, and historians, and one of them phoned Denver Snuffer for permission to include a handful of Denver's short pieces, including his description of what Jesus actually went through at Gethsemane.

Denver told the caller "I don't care where you publish them; do whatever you want." But he also told the caller that he was aware of another group of researchers who were working on pretty much the same kind of scripture project. Denver told him, "You should get in touch with those guys and compare notes."

So that's what they did. These two separate teams of researchers combined forces. After a year of intensive labor, they put together a draft of what they call the Restoration Scriptures, culling the earliest and most reliable words of Joseph Smith into what they hoped would be the most accurate versions in existence.

The idea was not to expand the scriptures, but to go to the sources so that the most accurate versions can be combined in one set. For example, regarding the Inspired Version of the Bible, it's well known that Brigham Young dismissed their importance, but we now know that was due to his feud with Emma Smith, who refused to turn those scriptures over to him. Joseph actually referred to that work as "the fulness of the scriptures," so it seems to me that an accurate revision of the old and new testaments would be something all latter-day Saints would want to be familiar with.

The RLDS church had the Inspired Version in print for years, but it turns out even that volume did not contain everything it should. The Restoration Scriptures committee has found at least twenty changes by the prophet where he provided further insight. Those additions are included in the new compilation.  You can download any of these books of scripture into the format of your choice by clicking here.

After editing and reviewing these drafts, the committee decided to submit the entire collection to the scrutiny of anyone who had further suggestions. Is there something they left out that should be in there? Parts anyone thinks should probably not be included? Suggestions are still being sought and considered. You can throw in your two cents by sending an email to the committee through this link.

Ultimately, of course, it doesn't really matter what either you or I or any committee decides should be included in our scriptures. That is really up to the Lord, because these are His scriptures, and it's His covenant. It may surprise you to learn that although the Doctrine & Covenants was put to the members for a vote, the Book of Mormon never was. The early Saints never sustained the Book of Mormon as scripture, nor made it binding upon them.

That is a remarkable thing to contemplate, because the Lord called the Book of Mormon "the new covenant." Yet the the body of the church neglected to enter into that covenant with the Lord and to abide by its precepts. It's no wonder the Lord declared the church under condemnation for neglecting that covenant. (D&C 84: 54-57) And lest we forget, President Benson reminded us over thirty years ago that the condemnation has never been lifted.

Many of us are finally, as Moroni put it, awakening to our awful situation. I'd say it's time we remedied that.

The two teams of researchers who worked to compile this new set of scriptures explain their reasoning and motivations here, including a discussion of why it is important for us all never to let any committee dictate what should or should not be considered scripture. You can follow updates to the project here. Besides the free online versions of each book, you can also purchase physical copies through Amazon. It should be noted, however, that the work as it presently exists is a proposed draft only. It will not be finalized until all suggestions are considered and it has been submitted to the Lord for His approval. Then it will require a suitable number of people willing to vote to accept it. After that, it will be put into print in fine, 100% cotton onion-skin paper with leather binding.

Although Denver Snuffer had very little to do with researching and compiling this version of the scriptures, he does have much to say about its importance. I highly recommend reading his 28 page exegisis, Things To Keep Us Awake At Night. I would hope you would read the whole piece to the end without skipping anything -it's that important. I also recommend this piece describing Scripture, Prophecy, and Covenant.

In closing, it shouldn't be necessary to do this, but I guess I have to remind some readers that the arrival of these proposed books of scripture does not mark the harbinger of any new church or religious denomination. And Denver Snuffer will not be leading this imaginary movement. Denver is a friend of mine, and I can tell you he has vigorously quashed attempts by two separate groups who proposed he be sustained as a prophet and leader. He will have none of it.

So let me repeat what I've said many times before: There is no "Snufferite Movement." There is no new Mormonite splinter group arising under Denver Snuffer's direction. Denver has no desire to lead, govern, or direct any movement, group, or person. Ever.

While it is true that thousands of believing latter-day Saints are awakening to further light and truth, this will not result in anyone or any group organizing any kind of church or faction. If you see any attempt to create an organized movement in your midst, run away from it. Fast. That is not the Lord's method.

The scriptures of the Restoration are available to everyone. Always have been. You are not required to belong to any religious denomination in order to claim them as your own. They are yours already.

Eventually, a covenant people will be gathered. But not because they belong to an organization. It will only be because they practice a true religion.

                                                                       *****



Sunday, March 12, 2017

Evil Speaking Of The Lord's Anointed

Previously: Misquoting God

There are numerous places in scripture where evil speaking is declared sinful.  Here are just a handful of verses I culled from the LDS topical guide regarding evil speaking. Maybe you can identify the common denominator in all of them that would indicate why evil speaking is considered such a serious trespass:

Psalms 34:13; 1Peter 3:10Proverbs 16:27; Matthew 5:11; 3 Nephi 12:11; Matthew 15:19; Mark 7:21; Acts 23:5; Ephesians 4:31; James 4:11; D&C 20:54.

In a revelation given in 1831, the Lord commands His saints not to speak evil of their neighbors or do them any harm. And in case you missed the lesson in Luke chapter ten, "your neighbor" means everybody. Everyone on the planet is your neighborSo when we engage in evil speaking of anyone at all, we are breaking a direct commandment given to us by Jesus Christ Himself.

Yet as bad as breaking that commandment can be, the scriptures suggest we could do far worse. A more egregious sin than speaking evil of our neighbor would be to speak evil of those whom God has anointed to His work. "Evil speaking of the Lord's anointed" turns out to be a sin so serious that it comes with its own set of curses on the heads of those who commit it. And those curses fall not only on the heads of the original perpetrators, but on the heads of their descendants as well, "from generation to generation." These miscreants "shall not escape the damnation of hell," the Lord assured Joseph Smith, for "I have in reserve a swift judgment in the season thereof for them all."  (D&;C 121: 16-21)

Yikes. Sucks to be those guys.

This is why I have always been very careful to never engage in evil speaking of the Lord's anointed.

That's not to say I haven't been accused of that very thing on more than one occasion. But such accusations are usually lobbed at me by people who don't know how to look up words.

Some of my fellow Mormons think "evil speaking of the Lord's anointed" has something to do with saying things about church leaders that, though possibly true, are uncomfortable to hear. But that's not even close to what it means. So before we go any further, let's look up the meaning of this phrase, shall we?  Because if we're going to examine a sin as deservedly denounced as evil speaking of the Lord's anointed, we'd first better understand the actual definition. So let's break it down into its two pertinent parts and define each one in turn:

First, what is "evil speaking"?
Secondly, who are "the Lord's anointed"?

Evil=Bad
Because the term "evil speaking" shows up in the bible so often, Noah Webster defined it in his biblically influenced American Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1828. This dictionary defines the meaning of words in use by Americans at the time Joseph Smith was translating the Book of Mormon and publishing the revelations he received from God. So whenever we come across a word or phrase in scripture that isn't perfectly familiar to us today, we should avoid assuming it means something we think it means, and instead look up the meaning of the word as understood by the people who wrote it down and used it.

I've come across a fair number of fellow Mormons who think evil speaking is synonymous with gossiping, backbiting, and unwarranted criticism. And although gossiping and backbiting are specifically warned against in scripture because they can be harmful, they don't come close to being as palpably harmful as evil speaking.

Backbiting is talking negatively about someone who is not present to defend himself. A Gossip is defined by Noah Webster as "One who runs from house to house, tattling and telling news; an idle tattler."

Some gossip, though not very nice, might not necessarily be false. If, for instance, I said to the woman who lives next door, "I heard Mary is pregnant;" it might be none of my business, and certainly not my place to announce the news without Mary's permission. But that gossip might not do harm to Mary's reputation, especially if Mary is happily married and planning to tell everyone herself. My gossip would have ruined Mary's surprise, but it wouldn't have ruined Mary.

But if I told the woman next door that "Mary is a slut and she's pregnant and it's your husband's baby," then I would be engaging in evil speaking.

Webster defines evil speaking using these synonyms: "slander; defamation; calumny; censouriousness."

I don't mean to minimize the harm that can be caused by idle gossip. But let's face it: slander, defamation, and calumny can be a lot more damaging than gossip for the single reason those words all denote a deliberate intent to do harm to another. That word "evil" in evil speaking should have been our first clue. In the immortal words of Michael Jackson, it's "really, really bad."

Let's look at that first synonym, slander. When you slander someone, you're speaking untruths with the intent to defame. "Defamation" can cause serious harm to others, so no wonder the Lord categorizes evil speaking as a sin. Defamation is not just immoral, it's punishable by law. Defamation is defined as,
"Any intentional false communication, either written or spoken, that harms a person’s reputation; decreases the respect, regard, or confidence in which a person is held; or induces disparaging, hostile, or disagreeable opinions or feelings against a person." (West's Encyclopedia of American Law.) 
Note the qualifying word in that sentence: "false." You can't slander a person by saying something about him that's true. You can only slander him by defaming him, and in order to defame him, you have to lie about him. That is the common denominator in the scripture verses I referenced above. Evil speaking means intentionally lying.

Today if you damage another's reputation by lying about him, or, as Jesus put it, "speaking evil of your neighbor," you can expect to be sued. You would probably lose and have to pay damages, and that would be that.

But back in the day when the common law ruled, you might have to do more than just fork over some cash; you would also be publicly shamed. The magistrate could require you to go to the parish of the guy you defamed where you would have to stand before the congregation, publicly pronounce the words you had used against him, admit those words were not true, and confess that you had knowingly defamed him. And then you would be required to "beg pardon, first, of God, and then of the party defamed, for uttering such words." (Clerk's Assist. 225; 3 Burn's Eccl. Law, Defamation, pl. 14; 2 Chit. Pr. 471 Cooke on Defamation, cited in Bouvier's Law Dictionary, 1856 edition.)

I was accused of slander myself just three months ago, but the accusation was hollow. Someone who appeared unfamiliar with this blog had stumbled across a post I wrote a while ago titled "How We Know Thomas S. Monson Is A Prophet, Seer, And Revelator." This person or persons (hard to tell which, since he/she goes by two first names, "ericnsabrina"), either didn't understand what was being said when I quoted the words of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Harold B. Lee, and others, or they were confused at the things Gordon Hinckley had said to some reporters. At any rate, I was caught up short when I saw this comment show up:
"This blog is horrible! The only up side to it is that if you're being unkind and slandering the people that are members of Tha Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is that y'all don't have time to go after and slander anyone else. We'll take the hit, we are strong enough to survive it. Good luck to all you Haters! You're going to need it! I will pray for all of you. Negativity begets Negativity...There is nothing positive here. Nothing uplifting and certainly nothing of value."
Well, that was harsh. I didn't recall saying anything slanderous about "the people that are members of Tha Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" when I wrote that post.  But then I wrote it a good year and a half ago. Maybe I did slander the members, and just forgot I had. Or maybe I'm just schizo.

Slander, let's remember, is a synonym for evil speaking. I figured I'd better go back and read that post again.

So I re-read it, but I still couldn't find any falsehoods in the piece. It seemed to me I was accurate with all my quotes, and hadn't made any doctrinal or theological errors. Maybe I'm just so close to the thing that I can't see my own faults. I certainly don't want to be teaching falsehoods on this blog, so I replied with the following comment to ericnsabrina, hoping they would return and show me where they felt I had acted dishonestly:
Ericnsabrina Gaskins,
If you would be kind enough to point out any specific examples of slander in this piece, I will happily go back and make corrections.
Later that day ericnsabrina posted this reply:
I will not get into anything that is going to feed your vendetta against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I leave that in the Lord's hands. This is not my fight or anger issues against His Church. My job is to declare the truth not to prove it. However, if you can release your anger for little while, long enough to pray and ask your Heavenly Father what is true. I know that if you're sincere, He will answer you. I will not argue these points, ask of God. I stand by my previous comment.
I'll be honest with you; I'm not sure ericnsabrina have any idea what slander is. Still, I take these accusations seriously. After all, one day I will have to stand before the judgment bar, and I'd hate to find out at the last minute that I had been guilty of evil speaking of anyone, member of the church or not.  So here was my response:
No one is asking you to "prove" slander, EricnSabrina; merely to point it out so it can be corrected. Jesus instructs us in Matthew 18 that if a brother sins, go and point out his sin, and if he hears you, you have gained a brother. 
Slander is defined as speaking falsehoods or untruths that result in harm or defamation. As a devout believer in the gospel as restored through Joseph Smith, I certainly don't wish to publish untruths. If I am in the wrong, I want to have it pointed out to me so I can immediately correct that wrong. 
You have accused me of sin, and I'm willing to have you point that sin out to me. Yet when I ask for correction, you are content not to answer, but only to "stand by" your accusation. You wrote, "my job is to declare the truth" and "I stand by my previous comment." Yet in throwing out a wild accusation and then letting it just hang there, you are refusing to either declare the truth or to stand by your comment.

That, my friend, is slander. And if you are unwilling to back up your accusation, you are guilty of engaging in the very act you accuse me of.

I would refer you to Jesus' warning about such accusations in Matthew 7:5, and why he calls it hypocrisy. 
If you are unwilling to point out even one example where you have found evidence of slander on this blog, I can only conclude you are motivated by a spirit of contention.
I haven't heard anything from ericnsabrina since I invited him/her to help me correct my errors.

But this sort of thing happens now and then. Someone will come on here and accuse me of all kinds of malfeasance, and when I ask them to show me where I've gone wrong, they are never heard from again. The most common allegation I get is that I'm an anti-Mormon. I don't know how to respond to that other than to point to the title of my blog, which is, after all, called Pure Mormonism. I would think "pure" Mormonism would be the near opposite of "anti" Mormonism.  But maybe not everybody gets that.

There are plenty of places on this blog where you'll find my fervent testimony of the restored gospel, Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and our founding principles, but I guess people will see what they want to see. In the immortal words of ericnsabrina, "good luck to all you haters!"

Which Brings Us To Censorious Calumny
Censoriousness is another synonym Noah Webster uses to define evil speaking. He describes a censorious person as one who is always finding fault. In Webster's words, this person is addicted to censuring others, finding them ill-mannered, ill-natured, and uncharitable. In short, the censorious person fathers onto everyone else all of his own shortcomings, yet doesn't seem able to recognize those flaws in himself. Not a fun guy to be around, I'd imagine. Lacks introspection.

 "Calumny" is a word we don't hear very much these days, but if you're looking for a one-word definition of evil speaking, calumny is that word with bells and frills. More intensely malicious than slander, defamation, and censorious all rolled into onecalumny represents the act of lying with deliberate, scheming intent to utterly ruin and destroy the targeted person. No accidental slip of the tongue, no inadvertent gossip, calumny implies deliberate, wicked intent to destroy another's good name and reputation.  Calumny is the knockout blow, the sockdolager of evil speaking. It is a majorly wicked act. Here's how Noah Webster defines calumny:
False accusation of a crime or offense, knowingly or maliciously made or reported, to the injury of another; false representation of facts reproachful to another, made by design, and with knowledge of its falsehood.
If slander is lying with the intent to defame, calumny is lying with intent to destroy.

You can see why the Lord commands us to avoid evil speaking. Idle gossip is bad enough. Unwarranted criticism is bothersome.  But evil speaking has the potential to destroy a person's life. You do not want to be found guilty of that sin at the judgment day.

Who Are The Lord's Anointed?
This brings us to the second half of our question. If the Lord doesn't like it when we tell lies about our neighbor with the intent to defame him, we shouldn't wonder why he hates it when we tell lies about those he has personally anointed to carry out his work.

So who are these people, anyway?

Well, just as the clue for recognizing the meaning of evil speaking was contained within the phrase itself, it should be easy enough for us to identify the meaning of  "the Lord's anointed." Let's put on our thinking caps. Are you ready? Here we go:

"The Lord's anointed" refers to someone who has been anointed by the Lord.

That was easy enough, wasn't it? Well, it should have been easy, I'll grant you that. After all, we know from numerous examples in scripture that the apostles of the primitive Christian church were personally anointed by God to their missions. Even Paul, who was not present among the original Twelve and had not met Jesus during his mortal ministry, informed the church at Corinth that he and Timothy had both been personally anointed by the Lord:
"Now he which established us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; Who hath also sealed us and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts."(2 Corinthians 1:21)
A great majority of those still active in the church today seem to think "the Lord's anointed" refers to anyone in the Church hierarchy with the title "Elder" or "President" in front of his name. But is that really the proper meaning of the term? Are all those guys at the top of the corporate flow chart the ones God is referring to in scripture when he speaks specifically of "mine anointed"? If so, it makes you wonder what they all did to deserve such a singular honor.


Strictly speaking, the word "anoint" means "to smear with oil." If you've been through the temple and had your washings and anointings, you have been anointed unto the Lord. I myself am one of the anointed ones, and that's no small privilege.

But did you catch that little qualifier?  I was anointed unto the Lord; I was never anointed of the Lord or by the Lord. So although you and I and everyone else who has been through the temple are indeed counted among the anointed, I don't think that suddenly makes us "the Lord's anointed" the way that term is used in scripture. There is a difference.

If we have read the Doctrine and Covenants and are somewhat familiar with church history, we will recall that only a handful of people called to leadership positions in this church were ever actually anointed of the Lord. And they seem to have died off long before the sun rose on the 20th century. We have no record of any modern church leader being anointed of the Lord, although our traditions hold that all of them have been.

Well, I'll grant the men governing the Church today have probably been anointed by somebody, just as a majority of the saints in the early church were, and just as I have been. But we're interested here in separating those who have been anointed by their fellow humans, from those actually anointed by the Lord. So let's examine what that difference might be.

In May of 1842 Joseph Smith assembled a group of nine men in the room above his red brick store where he and his brother Hyrum then administered to them the washing and anointing ceremony that would later be reserved for the temple. This group, which came to be known as "The Quorum of the Anointed," expanded during Joseph Smith's lifetime to include thirty-seven men and twenty-nine women.  Aside from washings and anointings, what else did these people do when they convened together? They took part in the true order of prayer for very long stretches at a time, and between prayers they sat and visited and discussed spiritual matters.

The one thing this quorum did not do was govern the church.

When Is A Quorum Not A Quorum? 
In this church, when we hear the word "quorum" bruited about, we tend to think it refers to a governing body, because that's what the word generally means.  A quorum is defined in most dictionaries as the minimum number of people required to be present at a proceeding before its proceedings are to be regarded as valid.

If you were to look at a list of the names of those present at the meetings of the Quorum of the Anointed, you might be forgiven for thinking this was an important governing body of the church. After all, both the president of the church and the patriarch were usually present, as well as the president of the high council of the church. All three of those men actually had been anointed of the Lord at one time or another, and all three officers together properly constituted the governing heads of the church. (Brigham Young, president of the Twelve Apostles, was present also, but as has been established elsewhere, he and the members of the quorum he presided over were specifically denied authority to exercise governing authority within the church.)

Most of the other men and women in the quorum had been anointed by Joseph and Hyrum. They had been anointed with oil, but were not, strictly speaking, "the Lord's anointed;" at least not in the sense that term is bandied about in the Church today.

As regards the Quorum of the anointed, "Quorum" is a bit of a misnomer for a couple of reasons. First, no minimum attendance was required when the Quorum of the Anointed got together; there were no rules regarding how many people were needed for the meeting to go forward. Whoever managed to make it there, made it there.

Secondly, no legislative or administrative business took place in those meetings.  Today we are liable to look back on that quorum through the distorted lens of history and assume that, because of the name, these were some sort of leadership meetings. They were anything but.

The purpose of the quorum of the anointed was to have a place for select members to gather as friends, hold prayer circles, and engage in theological discussion. Historian Michael Quinn points out that these meetings were the first time in church history that men and women together discussed theocratic issues. (The Mormon Hierarchy, Origins of Power pg 116.)

As Mormon historian Devery Anderson has written, "The quorum should be recognized for its comforting and invigorating spiritual power, acting as a body separate from those governing the Church administratively." (The Anointed Quorum In Nauvoo, 1842-45, Journal of Mormon History Vol. 29, No. 2, 2003, pg 157.)*
________________________________________
*Since Brother Anderson wrote the essay above, he and Gary Bergera have compiled a book documenting the minutes, activities, and discussions that took place during those gatherings: Joseph Smith's Quorum Of The Anointed, A Documentary History.

Identifying The Lord's Anointed
The Lord does not expect us to have to guess whether someone in his distinct service has been specially anointed or not; he'll come right out and tell us. Hence, we have some pretty clear evidence that Joseph Smith was chosen and anointed by God for a specific purpose, because we can read the oracles Jesus conveyed through Joseph that say so unequivocally. I listed a half dozen of them in this post back in December, so I won't repeat them here. I think it's undeniably clear that Joseph Smith was one of the Lord's anointed. So was his brother Hyrum. (See D&C 124, D&C 107, et al.)

Remember those cursings I mentioned at the beginning of this piece? Those are from a revelation given to the prophet while he, Hyrum, Sydney Rigdon, and others were unjustly imprisoned for nine months in a jail with a ceiling so low that none of them could stand erect the whole time. When they stood they had to stand hunched forward and head down, with the ceiling cramping the back of their necks. I spent a night in Liberty jail some 40-odd years ago, and I can tell you, trying to walk from one corner of that tiny room to another about drove me nuts. Those guys had to endure it for the better part of a year.

Here is what the Lord said about those who persecuted Joseph and Hyrum and put them in that hellhole:
"Cursed are all those that shall lift up the heel against mine anointed, saith the Lord, and cry they have sinned when they have not sinned before me, saith the Lord, but have done that which was meet in mine eyes, and which I commanded them." (D&C 121:16)
Why did God promise to curse Joseph and Hyrum's enemies? Because they wanted to do them physical harm ("lift up the heel against") and they lied about them, "saying they had sinned when they had not sinned." The Lord goes on to condemn those who accuse his special servants of transgression when they have committed no transgressions, evil men who swore falsely against them with the deliberate aim of getting them imprisoned and hopefully killed. (Verses 17-18)

You get the gist of it. Lying about anyone in hopes of getting them killed or imprisoned is an evil act in itself. But telling those lies about the Lord's anointed is so much more egregious that it would be better for the perpetrators "that a millstone had been hanged about their necks, and they drowned in the depth of the sea." (Verse 22.)

I wouldn't argue with that assessment one bit. The problem arises, however, when we take the words the Lord said about Joseph and Hyrum and apply them to members of the modern Church hierarchy. Should we speak evil of them? Of course we shouldn't. Evil speaking is evil no matter who the speech is directed against. But neither should we assume they have been anointed of the Lord when we can find no evidence such an assumption is based on fact.

For instance, most active members of the church believe Thomas Monson is God's anointed, same as Joseph Smith was almost two centuries ago. Yet can anyone name the date when President Monson's anointing took place?

So okay, maybe he wasn't actually anointed; perhaps he was just appointed by the Lord. At the very least he should have been ordained, right?

Okay then, why can't any of us find the date that important event-whatever you choose to call it- took place? How about the date Gordon Hinckley was anointed, appointed, or ordained by God?  Do we know that one? Why do we just assume some sort of anointing took place, while no one seems the least bit interested enough about it to want to know when exactly that monumental event occurred? This is supposedly the holy ordination of a prophet of God to the whole world, is it not? So why such disinterest?

We know from our scriptures that Joseph Smith was ordained of God, and Joseph informs us that all the prophets before him also "were ordained by God himself." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg 180.) It stands to reason then that any prophets succeeding Joseph Smith and claiming to have inherited Joseph's mantle would also have been ordained of God, for that is the very claim put forth: that Joseph's successors hold all the keys, gifts, priesthood, abilities, and responsibilities that Joseph Smith held, and they also have been (according to tradition) ordained as was Joseph Smith and all the ancient prophets who existed before Joseph Smith.

But when did those ordinations take place? When exactly was Thomas Monson "ordained by God Himself"? We have extensive written histories in this church, so it shouldn't be much trouble to do the research and find out.

So suppose you do some digging. Can you find the date when Brigham Young was ordained by God? Or John Taylor, or Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, or any of the presidents of the church all the way forward to Thomas Monson? Why is it no one can ever cite the date, describe the process, or testify to witnessing any of these sacred ordinations?  For that matter, when has any president of the Church since Joseph Smith ever so much as hinted about his anointing, whether from the pulpit, in a revelation, or in a private journal?

Why is it that when the president of the church is presented at conference for a sustaining vote, the words we hear are "it is proposed that we sustain President Thomas S. Monson as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator" without anything ever being said about the president having first been called, or appointed, or anointed, or ordained, or at the very least "set apart" to that calling by the Lord Himself sometime prior to conference weekend?  Is it proper for us to give a sustaining vote to affirm an ordination we can't even claim we know for certain ever took place?

This tradition goes all the way back to our assumptions about Brigham Young. Those familiar with the history of the church are aware that three years after the prophet and his brother were murdered, Brigham Young persuaded the Twelve to nominate him to be president of the church, then asked for a sustaining vote from the congregation. Brigham never claimed to be anything but the president, and he never claimed to have been either anointed or appointed to that office by God. H was careful never to promote himself as being the new prophet seer, and revelator. Yet, over time we have developed a tradition that says he somehow was exactly that.

Some members get uncomfortable when they learn that no president of the church since Joseph Smith has ever been appointed by God to fill the position of prophet, seer, and revelator. They are afraid this information could hurt their testimonies.

But why? Why should any of this news negate the reality of the Restoration?  Does the fact that Brigham Young took over Joseph Smith's administrative duties without having been called of God somehow prove the gospel is no longer true? Why would it? After Joseph's assassination, Brigham himself told the saints, "Heretofore you have had a prophet as the mouthpiece of the Lord to speak to you. But he has sealed his testimony with his blood, and now, for the first time, are you called to walk by faith, and not by sight." (Complete Discourses of Brigham Young, 1844, pg 20)

The restored gospel, and the history, and the theology we collectively refer to as "Mormonism" remains true and valid no matter what has or has not occurred within the administrative halls of the Church Office Building. The only effect this information should have on any of us is to remind us that we must depend more than ever on Jesus Christ for our salvation, and not look to mere mortals for direction.

Why should it damage your testimony of the restored gospel just because you discover the corporate Church is running on fumes? If you have a testimony of Jesus Christ and His gospel, what does it matter if the so-called "line of authority" has ceased to exist on the earth for a season? Does that mean the heavens are closed to you now and that God is no longer on His throne?

Or do you depend for your testimony on the authority claims of men? If claims to authority are the criteria upon which we are to base our testimonies, why are we not honoring Caiaphas today instead of Jesus Christ?

It may surprise some members to learn that aside from the fact Brigham Young was not anointed by God when he was elected to the presidency of the Church, he wasn't even set apart or ordained by his fellow apostles! Brigham maintained that the apostolic church president and counselors needed no setting apart or ordination. All that was necessary, in his view, was a sustaining vote of the congregation. I disagree with him, but so what? Brigham is long gone anyway, so what does it matter so long as the gospel remains pure? Which is more valid -doctrine or tradition?

Starting with president number five, Lorenzo Snow, Church presidents began to be "set apart" to the office by their brethren in the Quorum, but they were still deliberately not ordained to it by their fellow general authorities. And throughout the pioneer period they were certainly never recognized as being prophets, seers, and revelators. There were two reasons for that: first, those abilities were considered gifts that only God could bestow on a person, and second, the succeeding four presidents of the church had been alive when Joseph Smith was. They knew him, and they knew his prophecies. They understood that there would not be another prophet to lead the church until that prophesied day when the Lord would send one mighty and strong to set His house in order (D&C 85). At that future time, it was believed, The Lord would set his hand a second time to recover his covenant people (2 Nephi 29). In the pioneer LDS Church post-Joseph, the idea that the president of the church was also a prophet was not widely held.

In an 1899 meeting of the First Presidency and apostles, Joseph F. Smith explained that it was proper for the First Presidency to be set apart, but "not ordained." In 1916 Joseph F. Smith, the Quorum of Twelve's president, emphatically instructed the senior president of the Seventy that "the president was set apart and not ordained." (See Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy:Origins of Power, pg 252-253.) But years later the protocol was adjusted:
"On 12 April 1951 David O. McKay became the first LDS church president to be 'ordained' since the founding prophet. Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith 'ordained and set apart' President McKay. At seventy-four, Apostle Smith may have forgotten his own father's restriction against ordaining presidents of the LDS church." (Quinn, ibid.)
Here's something to think about: The current general authorities will tell you their line of authority goes all the way back to Joseph Smith, because, they believe, every one of the presidents was ordained of God the same as Joseph Smith was. But here's the thing: we can actually track the ordination of Joseph Smith, because he was personally called and ordained by God to the work in D&C 5:6 and elsewhere. While he was still alive, Joseph passed on his authority to his brother Hyrum. Joseph was the only one authorized by the Lord to do so, because he was the only one on the earth who possessed it all.

After Joseph and Hyrum departed this sphere, the historical record shows us that line of ordinations abruptly stopped. But then it somehow resumes in 1951. Assuming for the moment that George Albert Smith actually had any authority, the difficulty in passing it on to David O. McKay in 1951 is that by this time George Albert was dead. So instead, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, who did not have the keys, gifts, or authority of a prophet, seer, and revelator, performed the ordination on David O. McKay.

Even if said apostle did somehow hold the "keys" and pass them on, wouldn't it be a stretch for the current leaders to claim they have a continuous, unbroken line of authority from God going back to Joseph Smith, since that line was broken at the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum and only just recently resumed in 1951?

The salient question is this: if Brigham Young had no authority to act as prophet, seer, and revelator, where did Thomas Monson get his? 

And if Monson does have those gifts, why has he never used them?

Here is something else to consider: have you ever heard Thomas Monson, or Gordon Hinckley, or any president of the Church in your lifetime, ever make the claim that he was the mouthpiece of the Lord? Have you ever heard any of them personally claim to be a prophet? For that matter, have you ever heard any president of the Church in your lifetime deliver a message that he said had been given to him by God?

Eight men have been elected president of the Church in my lifetime, and I've never once heard any of them so much as pretend to be the mouthpiece of the Lord.  That endorsement always seems to come from those below the president in rank. The only president of the Church to openly make the claim of being a prophet, seer, and revelator was the first one, Joseph Smith, and he left behind plenty of evidence to back up that claim.

Let that sink in for a moment. With the sole exception of Joseph Smith, no president of the Church whom the members sustain as a prophet, seer, and revelator has ever declared himself to be a prophet, a seer, or a revelator.

Don't you find that strange?

Well, I don't find it as strange as the fact that during every conference session I watch, the president of the Church sits quietly in his comfy chair on the stand while those around him step up to the microphone to shower him with accolades, describing him as "our beloved prophet," when the object of their affection sits there knowing he has never exhibited the gifts of a prophet, nor has he been anointed by God to that position. What I find most remarkable of all is that never has a president of the Church told his obsequious underlings to knock it off and focus their praises on Christ Jesus instead of on him.

What About Honest Criticism?
One of the disadvantages of not having a living prophet on the earth who actually conveys the word of God directly to the people, is that sooner or later someone in Church government will start making things up on his own.  This is what happened a few years back when Dallin Oaks, ostensibly an apostle of the Lord, declared an opinion the Lord Himself never advocated.



If, as Oaks insists, "it's wrong to criticize leaders of the Church even if the criticism is true," then we may as well throw out all the scriptural admonitions that say otherwise. Dallin Oaks holds the same high office in our day as Caiaphas and Annas held in theirs, positions that assert the words of Church leaders outrank the teachings of the Messiah.

Several years ago Elder Oaks gave a talk to a congregation of young adults wherein he equated honest criticism of Church leaders with "evil speaking of the Lord's anointed." (Why is it that whenever some rogue G.A. sets out to promote a truly malodorous false doctrine, they always seem to try it out on the young people first?)

Dallin's talk promoted the idea that it was forbidden for members of the Church to even remotely suggest Church leaders might be capable of error. So yeah, you guessed it: I am going to criticize Oaks for saying that. But first, a quick story regarding an episode from my mission where a president of the Church was right and I was dead wrong.

"One Of Our Biggest Dangers Of Today"
I was twenty-one years old in 1973 when I entered the MTC, which in those days was located not in Provo, but in Salt Lake City. One day all us missionaries were herded through the underground tunnel to the Salt Lake temple, where we were told we would have the opportunity to meet with President Harold B. Lee in the upper room. We could ask the prophet any questions we wanted. That sounded incredible! I was really looking forward to learning the deeper doctrines first hand from a real live prophet of the Lord.

Well, I didn't have any questions for President Lee myself, but many of the others in my group did. And some of the questions they asked seemed like tough ones to me.  But every time a question was posed, President Lee would quickly thumb through the set of scriptures that sat on the podium before him, and read aloud the answer the scriptures gave.

It was really impressive watching him because he instantly knew just where to find the answer to every question, flipping through the pages of his quad with lightning speed -fwip, fwip, fwip- and then reading the answer to each question directly from the page. I'd never seen anyone with such a thorough mastery of the scriptures. Doctrinal mysteries that would have stumped any normal person were quickly dispensed with by Lee's reading aloud from the word of God.

But impressive as it was, afterward I felt a bit cheated. I had gone to that meeting with every expectation of hearing rare and profound words of wisdom from the mouth of a true prophet, and all the guy did the whole time was just stand there and read from the standard works.

My heck, I thought, I could have done that! Maybe not as quickly as he did, but I bet I could have eventually found those same passages if given enough time. He never said anything earth shattering at all. He just read to us. I expected something profound, but I came away profoundly disappointed.

What I realized years later was that Harold B. Lee knew something I hadn't known. Two things, actually: First, even if he was a prophet, why would anyone want to hear what he personally had to say? A prophet is never a font of wisdom on his own. As Joseph Smith succinctly stated, a prophet is only a prophet when he is acting as a prophet. And a prophet is only acting as a prophet when he is directly quoting words God puts in his mouth.

I had expected to hear President Lee deliver some world-shattering profundities to our group that day, but I hadn't realized that's not what a prophet is supposed to do. A prophet doesn't come up with sagacious outpourings on his own. He receives the words he is given from the mouth of the Lord, then repeats those words to the people verbatim, either orally or in writing. That is the only thing a prophet is authorized to do: accurately convey the message God gives him to deliver, exactly as it was received, and with no editorializing or additional commentary.

Even though I missed the opportunity to hear Harold B. Lee deliver a rip-roaring revelation that day, I later learned from him what I think is the most valuable lesson I've ever gleaned from any modern Church leader, when years later I came across a statement President Lee had published in the Ensign just a year before I saw him in person. This cautionary statement has become the template by which everything I write on this blog is measured:
"I say we need to teach our people to find their answers in the scriptures. If only each of us would be wise enough to say that we aren't able to answer any question unless we can find a doctrinal answer in the scriptures! And if we hear someone teaching something that is contrary to what is in the scriptures, each of us may know whether the things spoken are false -it is as simple as that...I think therein is one of our biggest dangers of today." (First Presidency Message, Ensign, December 1972.)
President Lee seems to have echoed a sterner warning attributed to Joseph Smith two months before he was killed:
"If any man preaches to you doctrines contrary to the Bible, the Book of Mormon, or the Book of Doctrine & Covenants, set him down as an imposter...Try them by the principles contained in the acknowledged word of God; if they preach, or teach, or practice contrary to that, disfellowship them; cut them off from among you as useless and dangerous branches, and if they are belonging to any of the quorums of the church, report them to the president of the quorum to which they belong." (Times & Seasons, 5:490-491, April, 1, 1844, emphasis in the original.)
Taking as our paradigm the statements of Harold B. Lee and Joseph Smith, let's examine that teaching of Dallin Oaks and see whether it measures up doctrinally. Because when Oaks came up with that doozy about it being wrong to criticize the leaders even if the criticism is true, he was not teaching anything remotely consistent with the scriptures. He just pulled it out of his butt.

A Useless And Dangerous Branch
When we read Elder Oaks' talk on criticism, the first thing we notice is that at first he is teaching obvious truisms. It is wrong to be needlessly critical of others, to engage in backbiting and faultfinding without cause. But before long Brother Dallin is equating evil speaking -which means lying- with the act of telling the truth. He sprinkles his talk with off-point scripture verses and immaterial quotes from other general authorities, and the next thing you know he is comparing himself and his fellows in the hierarchy as being equal to Moses.

It's a pretty neat rhetorical trick. But it's dishonest as hell.

Moses, you'll recall, is proven by the scriptures to have been the Lord's anointed, while Dallin Oaks and his cohorts have not. Oaks relates how the early Israelites in the wilderness -tired, hungry, and afraid- were complaining against Moses and Aaron, because of the situation they were now in. Moses responded by reminding them that he and Aaron did not bring them out here into the desert. They came here following the Lord.

What are we, that ye murmur against us?” Moses asked them. “The Lord heareth your murmurings which ye murmur against him: and what are we? your murmurings are not against us, but against the Lord.”

Moses, you see, had merely been acting as a conduit between God and the people. The Lord was advising Moses directly, and the only reason the Israelites found themselves in the desert was because Moses had been relaying God's instructions to the people through Moses. It wasn't Moses who led the Israelites out of Egypt, it was God.

Dallin Oaks uses that story to infer that when a member of the church expresses concerns about the actions of some Church leaders, that member is murmuring against the Lord Himself.  Because what Oaks is saying, you see, is that he and his pals are the Lord's anointed, and like, you know, you guys aren't supposed to be, like saying bad stuff about us and stuff because, y'know, when you do, you're actually saying mean things about God.

Someone ought to take Brother Oaks gently aside and explain to him that thousands of faithful, believing latter-day saints have some legitimate concerns about the way their leaders are taking the Church down paths that are inconsistent with the instructions God gave in the scriptures for the governing of His church.  He gets to understand that these members' desires to voice those concerns has nothing to do with lying, defamation, or calumny. Quite the opposite, I'd say. Dallin Oaks appears blind to his own shortcomings. He can spot the speck in a church member's eye from forty paces, but he is oblivious to the beam in his own.

"It's wrong to criticize the leaders of the Church even if the criticism is true."

That is an astonishingly stupid statement to come from the mouth of a man who carries so much influence. Yet in all the years since Dallin Oaks recorded that statement, he has made absolutely no effort to meet with his therapist. And he completely ignores the numerous places in scripture that command all of us to speak truth, to teach truth, to preach truth, to proclaim truth, to know truth, to love truth, and to testify of truth, all without qualification; which is to say authority figures are not exempt from hearing things about themselves they may not like hearing. The Book of Mormon is replete with lessons on the importance of speaking truth to power, especially when we detect iniquity taking root within the Church itself.

That's what the scriptures teach. Dallin Oaks, on the other hand, finds the truth hard to take. (2 Nephi 16:2)  He would have truth silenced if he could, and those advocating for truth cut off. Abinadi criticized the leaders of the Church in his day, and those criticisms were true. If Dallin Oaks had been a high priest in the court of King Noah, he likely would have sided with the other Church leaders in calling for Abinadi to be burned at the stake. (Mosiah 17)

The Duty Of The Faithful Latter-day Saint
I submit that the only time criticism of Church leadership is warranted is when the criticism is true. Otherwise it's not criticism, it's backbiting. Telling the truth is not evil speaking; telling falsehoods is.

Is it wrong, for instance, for Mormons to be concerned when the First Presidency of their Church turns out for the ribbon-cutting ceremony of a multi-billion dollar shopping center? These men have been commanded to preach nothing but repentance, yet there they are on camera admonishing the saints to go shopping and spend their money in some of the most wastefully extravagant stores in the state.

I get why Monson, Uchtdorff, and Eyring made fools of themselves in public that day. They were understandably concerned with the possibility of losing their investments in an obvious boondoggle when the national economy had tanked while the project was still under construction. But that raises the question of why the leaders of Christ's church should be foolishly investing Church money in a shopping center in the first place. And it raises a further question: if Jesus Christ is truly the head of this Church and directs the leaders in what they do, why did he command them to build an elaborate shopping mall scheduled to open just when America would be going through its greatest financial crisis since 1929, when few would have money to spend on the ridiculously overpriced goods offered at that mall?

Or is it "evil speaking" to wonder about that?

Is it "evil speaking of the Lord's anointed" to ask the leaders why they abruptly stopped providing church members with an annual accounting of Church spending after 1958? Is it evil speaking to remind them that Church funds under their control belong to the entire membership of the church, and do not exist as some giant slush fund for those in the hierarchy to spend on their own pet projects? Is it evil speaking to remind them that the Lord commands they give an accounting so the members can exercise their vote of common consent over these expenditures?

Is it "evil speaking of the Lord's anointed" to bring attention to the fact that the only official doctrine on marriage in this church was canonized in scripture by a vote of the members, and that that doctrine states that weddings are to take place in public where all can witness them, and not in secret where they are attended only by a select few deemed "worthy"? Is it also evil speaking to want to know why that doctrine on marriage was quietly removed from the Doctrine & Covenants absent a revelation from God and without being submitted to the members for a vote?

What about the many untruths that have been promoted by Church leadership for years distorting and changing the Lord's law of tithing?  Is it "evil speaking of the Lord's anointed" to suggest we should look to the law itself rather than rely on specious interpretations that contradict that law?  When Jeffrey Holland stood at the pulpit in general conference and read from a pamphlet written years earlier by apostle James Talmage regarding what is required of the tithepayer and what is not, was Holland not being demonstrably dishonest when he left out pertinent sections of Talmage's words while inserting his own opinions without telling his listeners? Is it evil speaking to draw attention to Holland's fully documented perfidy?

Is it "evil speaking of the Lord's anointed" to question the way Church leaders repeatedly misquote and misinterpret scripture in order to try to convince the unwary that they have special authority over the members that God never gave them?

Is it "evil speaking of the Lord's anointed" to remark on the fact that the necessary oracles are absent in a Church that claims continuous revelation? How about the way in which the meaning of oracles has been changed? When both Joseph and Jesus spoke of oracles, they were referring to the communications that came from the mouth of God through his prophets. Today's Church manuals define the leaders themselves as the oracles. Is it evil speaking to draw attention to that obvious fallacy?

Is it "evil speaking of the Lord's anointed" to suggest that Church leaders today don't seem to have the foggiest idea what they're talking about when they discuss the concept of priesthood keys?

When older men in Church leadership deliberately distort the tenets of our religion by telling young Mormon men that they are "doing the Lord's work" when they violate His commandment in D&C 98:33, then flatter them by calling them "mighty men of valor," is it wrong to criticize them for promoting completely unscriptural falsehoods that could lead to those young men's deaths or disfigurement? Or is it "evil speaking of the Lord's anointed" to suggest that in matters of life and death we ought to be following scripture rather than allow ourselves to be "carried about with every wind of doctrine by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness"?

Is it "evil speaking of the Lord's anointed" to wonder why Church management in 1921 excised the first 73 pages of the Doctrine and Covenants, a chunk of scripture which Joseph Smith felt was of utmost importance? These essential passages were removed from our scriptures without any explanation given, without a vote of the membership, and absent a revelation from God instructing the leaders to take it out.  Most members today (and a good number of leaders, I would wager) have never heard of the ample section of the D&C the prophet called "The Doctrine of the Church." What we have left is the section known as "Covenants and Commandments of The Lord," which is of great worth by itself, but it is far from being the complete doctrine and covenants that was canonized in 1835.

I could go on and on, and you're probably worried I will. But I'll stop now. I have written something in the neighborhood of two hundred blog posts documenting the way false traditions have edged out the true doctrines of the church -the ones easily available to us if we would only follow the counsel of Joseph Smith and Harold B. Lee and look to the scriptures for our doctrines instead of to those who seek to control the narrative. My friend Rob Smith has documented plenty of examples in his book, Teaching For Doctrines The Commandments Of Men, which you can either buy on Amazon or download here for free.

Rob's book contains nothing but truth. Page after page of truth. Would you care to guess what the self-described "Lord's Anointed" did to Brother Smith within days of his publishing that book? You guessed it -they expelled him from their church.

They expelled me, too, but I guess I should have seen it coming. After all, I'm the guy who accused one of their own of pulling dogmas out of his butt.