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"?

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. He 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.)
So now over a hundred years after the death of Joseph Smith, we finally have a president of the church who got ordained. But who ordained him? Was it the Lord? No, it was one of the apostles.

Did this apostle anoint him? No, he merely "ordained" him, something that could be done for anyone called to serve in any office in the church. So by the middle of the 20th century we have a president of the church who has been ordained by another man to the office of president, but we're still waiting to hear if this president has been anointed by the Lord.

And did that apostle ordain President McKay to be the new prophet? Nope. Just the president. Even as recently as the mid-nineteen fifties, every one in the church understood that only God could bestow the gifts of prophet, seer and revelator.

Here's something else 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.

Update, July 15, 2017:
I came across this apropo meme at the Mormon Skeptics Facebook Group:

Update March 14th, 2018:
Fellow blogger "Thinker of Thoughts" just put out this excellent 10 minute video: