|A Very Dangerous Man|
"Bro. Waterman,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:
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 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.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?
"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,
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.
JoNow 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 Amazon.com or LDS.org. 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]