Sunday, May 5, 2013

Danger Is My Middle Name

A Very Dangerous Man
I got a bit of a chuckle out of an email I received the other day. It was from a woman named Carol from a ward I used to live in, and she gave me quite a dressing-down. (How come it's always people who know me personally who don't like me?) Carol's letter is quite lengthy, so I am quoting here only a small part of it (among other things, she called me the founder and leader of a dangerous movement). Here is the pertinent part of her letter:
"Bro. Waterman,
You are playing a dangerous game. You are teaching people that obeying the prophet is a false doctrine when it is the most important doctrine in the church. You are driving people out of the church with the things you write on your blog. Even if that is true about Wilford Woodruff not having that vision of the founding fathers, what right do you have to damage other people's testimonies? You are not only a danger to yourself, you are a danger to other people and you are a danger to the church."
I have been accused before of driving people out of the church, but I have yet to be given any of these people's names. And my idea of a testimony is that it should confirm a truth, not bolster a falsehood; so that rebuke leaves me shaking my head. But the reason Carol's letter gave me a chuckle was because that very morning I had received a message from someone else who considered me a danger, but for very different reasons: 
"I just wanted to tell you how much your blog has helped me and my husband return to church even though we were getting ready to request our names be removed because we had become fed up with how much the church seems to have changed.  It did not take long for us to convince ourselves that the entire history of the church was a history of deception. After several months of study, I had completely rejected everything about it. I was done with Joseph Smith. I was done with the Book of Mormon. I was done with the whole church. I wanted to be done with it and start my life free from the chains of false authority that the Mormon church had come to represent.

"The only thing was, we could not help believing there was a lot of good in the Mormon religion. We could not completely separate ourselves from those beliefs that we identify with. Then my husband and I started reading your blog and that's when we realized it was not anything about the religion that had been suffocating us. In fact, as you have shown time and again, the doctrines we got through Joseph Smith are liberating. You helped us to realize there is nothing offensive about the basic beliefs of Mormonism when you take it in its pure form. What was keeping us, as you put it "stuck in our Mormonism" was the constant hammering we are always getting that we are supposed to be obedient to the church leaders. This teaching has permeated the church so that even our children are indoctrinated with it. And as you taught us, it is something that would have been rejected by Joseph Smith. We realized we could still be Mormons. We just did not have to accept the parts of it that do not come from God. So much of what we thought was doctrinal was just cultural baggage. We just had to learn to ignore those cultural things and only examine those that are true doctrines.

"What you did for us is help us realize we are not the only ones who have questions, and that it is okay to question and that doesn't make us less faithful than anyone else. We still have some things to sort out, such as how do we raise our children in the church when they teach the children that awful primary song to follow the prophet.  We have decided we just have to offset that by teaching them at home to only follow Christ.

We have decided we believe in the basic teachings and so this church is where we belong. And what we mean by that is that we belong to the church the way the Lord defined it in D&C 10: 67.  Anything else is a counterfeit church and we just ignore those who demand we meet their expectations that differ from what the Lord himself has spoken.

We are ashamed to admit the only scripture study we ever did was in Sunday School, and we noticed the lesson skips around and leaves out entire sections. We wonder if there is anything important in those left out parts so we have decided to spend more time reading the Book of Mormon at home and learning more about the things Joseph Smith felt were important like the Lectures on Faith which they don't even talk about anymore in church. We want to stay in the church but we just don't care to give our loyalty to men who have not earned it by demonstrating gifts but only because they have titles in front of their names. And that is okay, because we don't feel God expects us to put any man above us. We don't need leaders. We follow only Christ. And I think we can still be good Mormons by doing that. 

"We believe like Ezra Taft Benson said that the whole church is under condemnation, but we will stay in it because we believe one day that condemnation will be lifted and God will again speak his will and we don't want to be on the outside and miss out when that happens.

"We pray for you and for your wife, because we think there are those in the church who would want to silence your voice if they could. Your blog has changed the way we think about being Mormons and how lots of others think it means to be Mormons and that makes you a danger to the status quo in the church because so many LDS are convinced if you do not absolutely obey the leaders you cannot be a real Mormon, so I hope you are being careful. I think if you lived in Utah someone would be throwing rocks through your window and hoping you will go away. Anyway, we pray for you and thank you for your part in keeping us in the church because now we know this is where we belong."

Your Sister in the gospel,

Now you will notice that the only real assistance I gave to Brynn and her husband was that I helped them to realize they were not alone. I did not convert them to Christ; they were already there. But receiving these two emails on the same day got me to thinking. What in heaven's name would make anyone think I had the power to influence anyone to either quit the church or convert back to Christ? 

If you'll look to the right of this page near the bottom, you will see on my blogroll the names of several blogs that often take positions similar to mine,which is to say their authors believe in the the gospel of the Restoration, but recognize there is something off-kilter about the modern LDS Church.  That recognition does not affect nor diminish their testimonies of what is true and valuable about our religion.

Most of these bloggers have arrived at their conclusions entirely independent of me -in fact many of them existed before I ever realized myself that something was askew, so I'm the one who's late to the party.  I am not, as Carol suggested, the founder of any movement.

And as much as I would like to take credit for the turnaround in the lives of Brynn and her husband, you will note that they came to the realization on their own that the core teachings of the religion they grew up in were true and valid. That was not their issue. Their issue was how to resolve the dichotomy between the organic teachings of the religion versus the current mantra of obedience to leaders that seemed to them so antithetical to scripture.  Their letter is similar to the many others I receive, in that most of them tell me they are grateful to learn they are not alone. My only contribution to their awakenings is to assure them there are many others asking questions, and that God approves.

There is a spiritual awakening occurring on an individual level within the church today, and I think it is a healthy one.  Although many are unable to resolve the problems they perceive and wind up leaving, many more are able to accept what is right and true and pure about Mormonism, and ignore what is not. The Lord promises that one day he will "set his house in order." Like Brynn, I want to be in the house when he does that.

This is not to say that I've never fallen into anything dangerous. I have. I'll give you an illustration of how that happened recently.

Is Following The Prophet A Commandment?
That was the questioning title of a thread on the LDS Freedom Forum. It stirred a vigorous discussion that has so far extended to 20 pages. Now, those who have followed my opinions expressed on this blog already know what I consider to be the obvious answer to that question: only when he is speaking the words God has put into his mouth.

Many others who responded on that thread expressed sentiments similar to mine, but there was a vocal -and, dare I say, adamant- contingent that held the president of the Church is a prophet purely by dint of his calling and ordination, and therefore we should follow him at all times.  He does not have to issue prophecies, he does not have to provide revelations. His word alone, goes the implication, should be considered equal to the word of God, and just as valid.

Now, I'm generalizing, because not everyone on that side of the question had such a precise way of looking at it, but there were some who were very intent on convincing the others that those who did not see things as black and white as they did were bordering on apostasy. My position, and the position of several others, was consistent with what Joseph Smith taught:

This morning I visited with a brother and sister from Michigan, who thought that "a prophet is always a prophet;" but I told them that a prophet was only a prophet when he was acting as such. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg 278)
Well then, how do we tell when a prophet is acting as a prophet? Very early on, at a time when Moses was the first and only prophet the Israelites had ever known, the Lord revealed how He would operate after Moses had departed:
 I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee [Moses], and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.
Our Doctrine and Covenants contain several chapters where it is clear Joseph Smith is speaking his own words. But many other chapters are clearly instances where Joseph Smith is speaking the words God has put in his mouth. Those are the times when Joseph Smith was acting as a prophet. Do I discount everything else Joseph Smith taught? Of course not. He is, of course, the founder of our faith, so the policies he put in place should carry ample weight. But I am careful not to give his words vatical authority. Only when he is speaking the words God has put in his mouth is he speaking as a prophet.

I Am The Danger 

So here is where I began to run off the rails. After I expressed myself on that thread in so many words, someone took issue with my position and began to pick it apart, citing mostly past presidents of the Church, along with scriptures that I felt were off point. So I replied back. My opponent rose to the challenge and picked me apart again. I responded a third time, providing arguments that I felt sure would be the final word on the subject.

No such luck. This guy was persistent. Boy, did he like to nitpick! He went after me again and again with arguments I felt were not only weak, but irrelevant. In addition to attacking me, he seemed to feel some moral obligation to hammer to death every other person who expressed a view contrary to what he believed to be the orthodox one. And so we went, this guy and me; back and forth, swinging our verbal swords like a couple of gladiators in a fight to the death.

Before long I was no longer attempting to lovingly share the discoveries I had made on my personal quest for truth. No, I wanted to stop this guy, to clean his clock, to put him in his place once and for all. I wanted him to shut the hell up. I was no longer involved in a discussion with a fellow disciple of Christ. I had myself an honest-to-goodness nemesis, by golly. And I didn't like him.

That's when I knew I lost the argument.

Oh, I'm pretty sure I didn't lose the intellectual argument; I still believe a prophet is only a prophet when he speaks as a prophet. But winning the intellectual argument doesn't really matter. By allowing myself to grow contentious, I lost the light of Christ, and that made me ineffective. Somewhere along the way I found myself motivated not by an interest in teaching or sharing, or of even learning something the other guy had to offer. I just wanted to win. And that is where the danger crept in and took me over.

There are few things I find more stimulating than a vigorous theological discussion; it is one of the best ways I know of to gain a depth of understanding of gospel principles. But such a discussion is only effective if the participants engage in it in a spirit of mutual respect, and with the desire to learn from one another concepts they might not have previously entertained. When we start wielding swords, we become dangerous, not so much to the other person, but to ourselves. Once I realized I was arguing without the aid of the spirit, there was nothing for me to do but walk off the field and let the other guy own it.

When Mosiah taught us to yield to the enticings of the spirit and "put off the natural man," what he was telling us to do is let go of our egos. That is what is meant by the natural man: our ego self. We all need a certain amount of ego to survive, but we need a lot less of it than we think. If we aren't continually on our guard, our egos can completely take us over.

My wife and I used to fight a lot, and it was almost always about some stupid thing that didn't really matter. After the dust settled, we would both realize we weren't fighting each other, we were in a clash of egos. Once we learned to put aside that "natural man" we found there wasn't really much that could divide us.

What finally placated me when I was in the middle of my epic online battle with my obstreperous nemesis was reading the comments offered by my allies on that thread, who somehow managed to keep their heads while I was losing mine to frustration. I was particularly impressed by a woman with the username "Jo1952," who couched all of her comments in a spirit of love, even when she was put down and attacked for some previous comment she made. If an opponent was insulting, she shrugged it off and simply continued to offer her view of things. I'd like to present here an example of one of her calmly delivered arguments. She is responding to someone who claimed that those who question the authority of the modern leaders must therefore believe the leaders to be false prophets, and such unbelievers don't belong in this church. So first, here are the words of her challenger, who calls himself "Seek The Truth":
"If Joseph Smith's successors are not prophets as they claim then they are false prophets. They stand and accept the calling and sustaining vote of prophet seer, revelator. They refer to each other as prophets, seers, and revelators. If they are not these things then they are lying false prophets, which leads to 2 questions;
Why belong to a church led by lying false prophets? Why would Jesus allow his church to be led by false prophets? How could it be the true church of Christ if it is led by lying false prophets?
 And here is the calm reply from Jo1952. I have abridged it somewhat; it was actually much longer:
Hello Seek the Truth,

I think they are trying to do the best they can. They believe that Joseph was a True Prophet (which I also believe). They believe the Book of Mormon is a true second witness of Jesus Christ (which I also believe). They believe that the D&C is the word of God (and, for the most part, I also believe this). They believe that the Pearl of Great of Price is the word of God (which I also believe). They are trying to carry on God's work for the purpose He Restored the Gospel (which I believe they are doing). However, I do not believe that they have been anointed by God as His True Prophets. I think at best that they are minor prophets; but are still greatly inspired men who try to follow where they believe the Holy Spirit is leading them.

I used to believe that they were True Prophets. As my journey progresses and the Holy Spirit reveals more and more Truth to me, I cannot ignore that what is being revealed to me is not always in accordance with what our leaders are teaching. Even their own teachings contradict each other; they can't have things both ways. Now, even though I do not believe they are True Prophets, that does not mean that they are false teachers....though I believe that from time to time they do teach falsely. Yet, I believe Father is still guiding and directing the Church; just not in the way it could have been.

The Holy Spirit is increasing an out-pouring of Truth all over the earth...not just to members of the Church; but everywhere. As more and more members begin walking in the Spirit, they all face the same dilemma of what to do. As their eyes and ears open to the meat of the teachings in scripture, as their spirits awaken from sleep, they cannot help but desire to feast on more and more Truth. However, the Church is not providing the higher teachings. So what are we to do? I study from the Standard Works on a daily basis. Things which used to be hidden from my understanding are opening up to me. 
While I rejoice in having more Truth revealed, I also mourn for the Church. I converted to the Church at the age of 22 and have been a member for 38 years. It is only in the past two years that I really started to experience a great awakening of my spirit. Now, I cannot un-know what has been revealed to me. It wasn't until this past year when things really started to speed up. Very specific revelations I have personally received are in conflict with what the Church teaches. It has become a dilemma; but I must follow where the Holy Spirit is leading me.
Now, in accordance with the 14 Fundamental steps given by Ezra Taft Benson, a True Prophet cannot teach falsely. Yet, the Church has renounced a great deal of what Brigham taught. Isn't the Church in conflict here? Either a True Prophet cannot teach falsely; or a True Prophet can teach falsely. The Church can't have it both ways.
Inasmuch as the Church has renounced several teachings of Brigham, then by Church standards, Brigham was not a True Prophet (even one false teaching would have disqualified him). Now, if they insist that he was a True Prophet, then the Church should never have renounced any of Brigham's teachings. The Church has some explaining to do; and these conflicts were not of my making or figments of my imagination.
I do believe that Brigham was a great leader; and his leadership skills were absolutely necessary in order to save the already splintered Church from complete destruction. He was definitely inspired; but he was never annointed by God. Joseph could not have appointed him due to the fact that he was no longer the Prophet when he was martyred as he had already appointed Hyrum as Prophet. The Church doesn't even recognize Hyrum as ever being a Prophet of the Church; which is another issue.

Even with all of this information, I still desire to support the Church. The Holy Spirit is directing me to stay with the Church; and I am not the only one caught in this dilemma. As the D&C teaches, anyone who believes in Jesus Christ as our Savior IS a member of His Church. As such, if the Church decides to excommunicate members like me who are exposing her problems, she really doesn't have the authority to excommunicate us from Christ's Church; and Christ will still recognize us as being a part of the body of Christ.

Now that's what I should have written. And maybe I might have had I put off the natural man and yielded to the enticings of the Holy Spirit. When we quarrel in anger, and endeavor to gratify our pride by trying to make others see things our way, the spirit is grieved, and ceases to take our side, even when we are in the right. This is why we are warned so much to avoid pride. Pride is dangerous. It's dangerous because it is often the one sin we never recognize in ourselves.

I got in touch with Jo privately, and it turns out she had never heard of me or my blog, so I can't take even a little credit for her personal awakening or any part of her astute observations. My ego is really bent about this. But I don't care. I think I'll just let my ego sit in the corner awhile and sulk. 

A Not So Dangerous Man

[About Comments: Please, people, try to stop commenting as "Anonymous." So many people use that option that it's become impossible to know one commenter from another. The simplest option is to put a username in the dropdown box that says "Username/URL." You can usually leave the URL box blank, but if the system insists, just type in a random name, such as or I am informed that some browsers don't allow the use of any option other than "Anonymous." If that is the problem in your case, and you MUST use the anonymous option, please put a username of your choice at the end of your comment so that others can be clear about who they are responding to. -Rock]


the_mormonion said...

"Even if that is true about Wilford Woodruff not having that vision of the founding fathers, what right do you have to damage other people's testimonies?"

If that doesn't sum up the Lake Wobegon Mormon perfectly, I don't think anything could. Sounds like Sister Carol needs to brush up on some of the sermons by these prophets whose words she holds so dear. I recommend Joseph Smith's discourse on how Mormonism is truth.

And amen, my dangerous friend, on the pride issue. It's tough to quell sometimes, especially when you believe you have the truth. It's easy to fall into the trap of contention--it masks itself as a righteous crusade of spreading that truth, but it can quickly lead to the same rigid attitudes prevalent in the orthodox church to which we are opposed. I appreciate your candor on how you've dealt with and seen others deal with this.

Again, excellent post. God bless you and your family!


Anonymous said...

Nice hawaiian shirt! I also like the beard and long hair.
Sort of Porter Rockwellish.
Great post and pretty well encapsulates what the Spirit has also shown me...that there is still good in the church but I am to leave offf criticizing the church and the brethren because there is no point in it. God will deal with the errors in His due time, in His own way.
As Moroni put it so well (he very clearly DID see our day): lay hold upon every good thing and condemn it not (Mor. 7:19).
Thank you again for all the GOOD you are doing.
Your brother in Christ,

Anthony E. Larson said...

I know you personally, Rock, and I like you. (grin)

Anonymous said...

But "Follow The Prophet" is so damn catchy.

Anonymous said...

Never been more jealous in my life. LOVE the hair.

Anonymous said...

Nice post here Rockman. I hear you on losing the spirit through argument, however I do think your posts on the LDSFF thread offer great value to those who are sincerely considering these things for the first time with an open heart.
I have been there before, where something was missing and seemed stale and I was unable to pinpoint what it was and I was searching and reading and praying and purusing blogs. It was that "good argument"(for lack of a better term)or maybe I should say bringing to light again hidden things, scattered here and there that helped me reconsider my paradigm prayfully with the Lord.

Ajax from LDSFF

LDSDPer said...

I should have said this on the Wilford Woodruff's pants essay/blog entry--
but when I was a girl (about 50 years ago, LOL!) or even in some institute class (about 50 years ago! *even more laughter*)--
I heard a quote many times from Woodruff about each person having his own light (testimony of Jesus Christ) and not to be foolish enough to lean on anyone else, anyone--
That always resonated with me, and so the business about "the prophet won't lead you astray", as Wilford Woodruff put it, conflicts with his message about having your own light--

I like what Jo said about how truth is 'exploding' (she didn't use that word, but that is how it feels to my husband and me right now and one of our children who is on this journey with us)--

throughout the world; I believe that. I also believe that verse about things being shouted from the rooftops.

I have been hard on Brigham here lately. Poor old Brigham. And I know I need to stop. He doesn't need to be my new 'bad guy' or the black fish who takes the evil out of the household--

But sometimes when you begin waking up about particular things it's hard not to grind axes.

The only thing that matters, I am beginning to believe, is that we treat everyone with Christlike compassion. It's very hard to do. I don't know what to say about Carol. It's harsh to say that Carol is like a lot of LDS who, like the old Jews,
7 And all this have they done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men.

14 But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which veil is done away in Christ.

I've noticed lately that a lot of my fellow LDS are the way I used to be (*blush*); they get caught up in callings and works and fulfilling obligations of all kinds, and they forget that it is all naught without Jesus Christ. He's not just a figurehead. He's not just a nice thought. He's the whole thing. Without Him there is no point in any work or in any mission/calling of any kind.
Once a person awakens to Jesus Christ it changes. And that person can see things they could not previously see and can hear things they could not previously heard. But to be proud about it nullifies the entire process, because it comes from Jesus Christ, not from our own mortal selves.

to be continued

LDSDPer said...

I think the 'brethren' are doing their best, but I think they are in captivity of a kind so foul that many of them cannot even perceive it, a captivity that began long, long ago--

like the righteous captive kings in Ether. I think Wilford Woodruff knew something about that and could explain it to *us* better than anyone, but I don't know why I know that. I just suspect it.

But I've just said things everyone else has said. Rock, you do provide a place where people can feel less alone. And that is important. It's not a 'ward'. It's just a blog site, but it's like a really good book. A person reads a really good book and feels gratitude to the author and goes away better, and that person shares that appreciation with everyone who read that book. The author doesn't claim to be a Savior, but who knows how much good (or bad for a corrupted writer) a good writer/author can do. How many of *us* who are book lovers have felt restored and renewed by reading good books.
C.S. Lewis gave credit to George MacDonald for bringing him back to belief/God. George MacDonald had long been dead. He wasn't 'called' to be a prophet (though at times I think he was a minor one; that's just my bias)--
And think of all the lives C.S. Lewis has influenced. C.S. has said some controversial things himself that not all LDS would agree with (though Maxwell quoted both Lewis and MacDonald, after I had already become acquainted with MacDonald, so I caught it in a conference talk and thought, "aha, we have that in common")--

I suppose there are people who don't like C.S. Lewis. I know at least one devout Mormon who thinks his Narnia books are wicked. LOL!

So, Rock, you are in good company. You are a writer and an author, and you influence people. Some people like you and are helped by what you write; others don't.
It's not easy being an author/writer. And sometimes there is no remuneration.

I've said enough for one long post. Now, let me try not to say anything else on here. :)

Oh, and there are LDS who think Ron Paul is a bad man, too. I've heard/seen/read people who have said "he's dangerous"! Even Noam Chomsky, whom, otherwise, I have respected, said he thought Ron Paul was dangerous. I've never been able to figure that one out. But people who try to do good will always come under fire.

Cornhusker said...

Rock, you're a dangerous man. I suggest a new tagline for those that are familiar with Breaking Bad...

Rock is the one who knocks.

Alan Rock Waterman said...

Thanks, Ajax. High praise coming from you as I count you among the intelligent level-headed ones on the LDS Freedom forum thread I referred to in my piece above.

I highly recommend everyone who is able take the time to examine the arguments pro and con put forth on that forum. I can't think of a place where the topic is completely hashed out (and I mean that in a good way) so that inquiring minds can read and weigh every possible point of view in order to come to their own conclusions.

If all you have time to do is skim the thread, below is a list of contributors whose arguments I found most impressive, so if you only have time to skim, you might want to keep an eye out for these contributors. I realize the thread is massive, but those who are able to take the time to read through the entire thing will be edified, I'm certain.

This list is not complete, but just off the top of my head:

FrankTalk (who happens to be the husband of Jo1952)
Ashley B

And of course, I'm in there too somewhere. That link again:

Happy reading!

Alan Rock Waterman said...

Oh, stop it!

Alan Rock Waterman said...

Always delighted to find a fellow Breaking Bad fan, Cornhusker. You probably noticed I borrowed one of my subheadings from something Walter White confided to his wife: "I AM the danger."

Jamie said...

You really should be holding your pinky up to your lips in the first picture. ;)

Jamie said...

For you Rock!!!

Alan Rock Waterman said...

Dang! Where were you to advise me when that picture was taken?!

Bruce said...


Excellent article as always. At your suggestion I used the link and read the back and forth comments with the guy who calls himself "Seek the Truth" I'm pretty sure he's the same guy (Ezra Taylor) who presented the article on "A Higher Law of Chasity in Marriage" on the Mormon Chronicle blog.

He has the same annoying…I'm always right and whatever you have to say is wrong attitude as the guy you tangled with. So it might be the same guy. By the way…I've stopped reading Mormon Chronicle. There are so many voices asking for your time. You have to pick your teachers carefully. And I think this guy is not worth my time. And yes….that's me calling Orson Hyde a stupid ass.


Anonymous said...

Hmmm. If it IS Ezra Taylor, I have to let you know that I like Ezra and agree with many of his doctrinal viewpoints. Of course, Rock is not here to disprove Ezra's or anyone else's doctrinal beliefs, but to present the law of charity as the higher alternative. We should all treat each other with kindness, because in the end, none of us has it ALL right. All of us have SOME of it right. And without charity, all of our arguing about religion will sound as tinkling brass compared to the truth as the Eloheim comprehend it. Our discovery of truth is very personal and our journeys are tailor-made to our understanding and life circumstances. I'm so grateful that the Lord is kind enough to remain lovingly silent while we rifle our way through all the information there is out there, while trying to make sense of it. Winnie.

Anon 23 said...

I agree that one must possess charity (and the Golden Rule) in order to understand the truth and to see clearly how evil and abusive polygamy always is.

For Christlike love and polygamy are polar opposites and until men are willing to have true exclusive unconditional love and respect for their wife they will continue to easily fall for polygamy and those who preach it.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Bruce, but you are wrong. It is not Ezra Taylor Rock is referring to. I just asked him. Winnie

Ezra Taylor said...

"Seek the Truth" is not me, as arrogant and pompous as I may be.

Sorry, you haven't been checking out our website any more Bruce,