Recently I was invited to participate in a panel discussion for an episode of Mormon Expression podcasts. If you're not familiar with this website, you'll want to check them out. Their website is chock full of wonderful audio files of interest to latter-day Saints on every imaginable facet of the Mormon experience.
Likewise, if you haven't discovered Mormon Stories Podcasts, you're really missing out on some amazing stuff. Where Mormon Expression consists primarily of panel discussions, Mormon Stories provides personal interviews with some of the most intriguing people to come through the Church in our day. These two sites provide a veritable "Mormon Library of Congress" of audio and video archives.
Both websites provide their content for free, though you're certainly encouraged to donate to each cause through Paypal, as both are labors of love of the individuals involved. If I was stuck on a desert island and had access to nothing but the libraries of each of these websites, it would be a paradise I could live out my life in.
Now You Can Hear My Golden Mellifluous Tones
A while back I wrote an entry here entitled “The Best Conference Talk You Never Read,” and it's because of that piece that I was invited onto the latest panel to discuss the topic of that entry.
The subject of this broadcast was the fascinating and informative talk Elder Ronald Poelman delivered in general conference back in October of 1984. Besides me, the panel consisted of two very knowledgeable young men named Jesse and James, and the very capable moderator, Glenn Ostlund.
If you are unfamiliar with the subject, in October of 1984, Elder Poelman spoke on the importance of understanding the distinctions between the gospel and the Church, dispelling the confusion that had been creeping into the Church as a result of programs and policies that tended to conflate the two.
What made the incident all the more remarkable was that before the printed version made it into the Ensign the following month, it had been redacted, bowdlerized, and doctored until the pure truths contained in it had disappeared and the words now conveyed an opposite message. Rather than make clear how the Church was merely the vehicle by which we receive the gospel of Christ, the message now strongly inferred that the institutional Church, for all intents and purposes, was the same as the gospel of Christ. What had earlier been a clear illustration of sublime truth had been transitioned into a polemic calling for institutional loyalty.
Even worse than the changes in the text, Poelman was sneaked back into the tabernacle under cover of darkness and instructed to deliver the fake version from the podium. A video recording of this was then doctored to give the impression that a full congregation was present, and inserted into the official conference record in place of the original.
As Jesse states on the Podcast, this talk was the high water mark, the turning point at which the corporate Church began heading into the direction of protecting its own power, of digging in against perceived enemies, while abandoning or downplaying its traditional teachings.
James observes that at the time this talk appeared, the institutional church seemed to be in a period of retrenchment, when the Brethren felt that members could not be trusted with their own free agency, but must be convinced of the the necessity for the leadership to supervise and guide them at every step in their lives.
This incident of changing a conference talk, inventing a counterfeit of it, and then attempting to pass off the fake as the original had an unfortunate effect when it was found out. It was becoming apparent to many that the aggrandizement of their own power was more important to certain Church leaders than a clear explanation of what the Church was, and what it was not. As Glenn Ostlund suggests, allowing the original talk to stand might have led the the membership to assume that the leaders did not have all the answers, and the leaders simply could not have that. So they deep sixed it.
For the first time in modern LDS history, some person or group of of persons in the hierarchy of the Church engaged in bald subterfuge right in front of our faces. It was a disgrace.
And it was unnecessary.
This incident is key to understanding what is right about the modern LDS Church, and what seems to be going terribly wrong. Joseph Smith stressed continually that the Church of Jesus Christ consisted of the members of the church. It was never intended to operate as a top-down organization. The "body of Christ" is not the proprietary claim of those who have positioned themselves as gatekeepers of that body, no matter what claims to authority they may invoke, and no matter how well intended their motives. Had they left Elder Poelman's talk alone, the leadership would have enabled the membership to better understand their place within the Church, and tens of thousands of those who have since thrown up their hands in frustration and left, might still be here within our ranks.
I invite you to read my exposition on the Poelman incident if you have not already done so. And I hope you'll watch or read Poelman's talk in it's original form, because it is important. It is, in my opinion, one of the most valuable presentations delivered from that pulpit in my lifetime.
In the meantime, enjoy this latest discussion about it, which you will find in episode104 of Mormon Expression Podcasts here.
At that site you will also find links to a video of the original talk, a side by side comparison of the text, and a link back to my own article about it here at Pure Mormonism. You can judge for yourself which version of the talk you feel was inspired of God. Truth is usually pretty self-evident.
The Lord meant us to have this understanding. It should never have been hidden from us.