Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Most Important Mission Of The Modern Mormon Church

Previously: A Plea Unto Every Latter-day Saint

On the shelf directly behind me is a hefty Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, which I like to browse now and then for a taste of how Christianity was practiced in the years immediately following the deaths of the original twelve apostles. One of the things I find fascinating about some of these entries is that one can track the almost imperceptible decline of "pure" Christianity by noticing how, by the second century AD, the independent Christian churches were on their way to being swallowed up whole by the centralized Catholic takeover following the council at Nicea in 325 AD.

The writings of Ignatius and Polycarp, both of whom lived in the first century and were personally acquainted with some of the original apostles, show little departure from the original practices taught by Jesus Christ. But little more than a century later we begin to detect a substantial shift. For one thing, the egalitarian view that God was no respecter of persons went by the wayside as priests and bishops began to see themselves as holding rank above their fellow believers. By the year 250 AD, Cyprian of Carthage was reporting that some of these self-appointed leaders had forgotten their charge was to serve without reward, and were instead pushing toward a religion of acquisition:
"Each one was desirous of increasing his estate. Forgetting what believers had either done back in the times of the apostles, or always should do, they devoted themselves to the increase of their property with the insatiable ardor of covetousness.  Among the priests, there was no devotion of religion. Among the ministers, there was no sound faith. In their works, there was no mercy. In their manners, there was no discipline. Their eyes were falsified from what God made them. 
"They would swear not only rashly, but worse, would swear falsely. They forsook their chair, deserted their people, and hunted the markets for profitable merchandise. 
"In the meantime, brethren were starving in the church. We deserve to suffer for sins of this kind."                                                                        
I was taught growing up that my church was patterned after the original first century church, but today the LDS Church more closely resembles that later incarnation Cyprian describes. The primary resemblance between the primitive church and the LDS church today is that we also have apostles. But they are "apostles" in name only. None of the current crop can claim to having been appointed by God as required in both ancient and modern scripture. Further, these modern "apostles"
long ago abandoned the role given the Twelve in the primitive church, as well as the role the apostles were commanded to fill by the mouth of the Lord at the time of the Restoration. They instead spend the great majority of their time overseeing the business interests of the Church -an oxymoron if ever there was one, because the Lord never authorized His church to engage in business interests.

It was not always so. Just as with the independently formed first-century churches, no one was "in charge" of the church founded through the prophet Joseph Smith -not even Joseph Smith himself. In both the first century and the 19th century, believers would gather together in small groups, often in each other's homes, to worship and partake of the sacrament. There were no chapels in Missouri or Nauvoo, and no plans to construct any. Even in pioneer Utah it was some forty years before anyone thought it might be a good idea to construct buildings that could house an entire ward for weekly sacrament meetings. Having formal meetings in chapels with an authority figure at the front and everyone else sitting in rows of seats paying rapt attention to him had been a practice the protestants had copied from the Catholics. It was not the Mormon mode of worship.

By that time, however, the entire LDS church structure had already been stood on its head.  Our early apostles, just as the ones in the primitive church, had been charged with going out into the world to preach the gospel, and were specifically forbidden to have any administrative or governing role within the church.  That all changed after Joseph Smith was gone. Suddenly the apostles were in charge of everything.

The Three-Fold Mission Of The Church
In April conference 1981, President Spencer W. Kimball announced that he and the First Presidency had come up with a mission statement they were calling The Three-Fold Mission of the Church. It consisted of the following three directives:
1. To proclaim the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people; 
2. To perfect the Saints by preparing them to receive the ordinances of the gospel and by instruction and discipline to gain exaltation; 
3. To redeem the dead by performing vicarious ordinances of the gospel for those who have lived on the earth.

No Wait, Back Up! We Forgot One.
Twenty-eight years after that announcement, a Church a press release announced the mission of the Church was actually four-fold. As it happens, we're also interested in helping the poor and needy. Yes, it's true! We just forgot.

This announcement came on the heels of criticism the Church was receiving for investing three billion dollars into a shopping mall and some snazzy condos in downtown Salt Lake City, one purpose of which was to clear out the homeless who were hanging out in front of the temple and making the whole town look shabby.

You would have thought that helping the poor and needy would have been at or near the top when the First Presidency came up with that first list three decades previous, seeing as how "helping the poor and needy" is usually considered a top priority for any church or religious society. Scott Trotter of the Church Public Relations Department tried to pretend this was not an oversight. "Caring for the poor and needy," Trotter said, "has always been a basic tenet of the Church."

Which is clearly the reason they forgot to include it in that original list of basic tenets.

Whatever the Church hoped to accomplish by rejiggering the Church's formal excuse for existing, the list never really caught on among the members. You can ask any latter-day saint today to enumerate all four of them for you and it's like watching a replay of Monty Python's Spanish Inquisition sketch.

Saving Face: The Only Thing That Matters  
There's one thing I notice about the early Christian church that differs markedly from the one that claims to be it's authorized descendant: aside from the annoying persecutions, back then members of Christ's church were not at all concerned about whether they were being portrayed properly in the media. None of them were preoccupied with how they were coming off in the public eye. Those authentic Christians were too busy proclaiming the gospel, perfecting the saints, redeeming the dead, and helping the poor, to waste time worrying about their public images.

For one thing, there was no organized, structured, institutional church back then that would have a reputation to worry about. There were churches -plural- but no central governing authority among or between them.

But once a church evolves into a monolithic, corporate institution with something to lose -money and property, for instance- well, now you'll be needing a public relations department. So today we have a fifth, unofficial "mission" of the church nobody really talks about these days, and that mission is first and foremost to protect the image of the Church. At all costs. No matter what.

Photo by Rick Bowmer, St George News
We're watching that modern imperative playing out right now over the McKenna Denson controversy. In case you've missed the story -and the story is still ongoing- McKenna Denson, now a woman in her fifties, recorded an interview with the man she claims raped her in 1984 when she was a newly called sister missionary and he was president of the Church's Missionary Training Center.

McKenna recorded certain admissions and confessions from the now elderly and sheepishly apologetic former president, but that's only the beginning. The real story is that Church leaders at the top have been attempting to cover up for Joseph Bishop's sins ever since he was a mission president -even before he became president of the MTC. General authorities even now are frantically scrambling behind the scenes in an attempt to discourage other victims from coming forward and making things worse. From all indications, they thought they had this thing contained years ago. But then McKenna Denson showed up.

That led to the discovery that Joseph Bishop had confessed to the BYU police department regarding separate instances of sexual abuse with other young women, as well as admitting that he had formerly confessed (to a member of the First Quorum of Seventy) that he was a sex addict while president of the Argentine mission. He said that that General Authority, Robert Wells, had told him his sins were forgiven.

Sometime after that unusual absolution, according to Bishop, he was promoted to director of the Missionary Training Center in Provo where he seems to have deliberately zeroed in on young sister missionaries whose files from home showed they had, shall we say, something in their pasts they might wish to confess one more time. In detail.

I'm not going to rework that story here, because there's a better place you can go to have it all clearly laid out.  All the facts of this case are carefully presented on the Radio Free Mormon Podcast, which now takes up three separate episodes as more information emerges detailing how leaders of the Church were very likely aware of Joseph Bishop's predilections, but chose to look the other way rather than risk negative publicity surrounding a high ranking Church official.

Because of Bishop's high standing in a trusted position, it would have been devastating to the image of the Church if word got out that the man thousands of parents had entrusted their children to was a known sexual predator.  All indications are that those in the hierarchy felt the matter was contained --until the tape was released with Joseph Bishop confessing to one of his victims. That revelation has been followed by the discovery that there is another audio recording of an interview with Joseph Bishop conducted by the BYU Police Department where Brother Bishop admits to additional improprieties.

The reason I recommend the podcasts presented by Radio Free Mormon is that he is an attorney with eight years experience as a prosecutor, and twice that many years as a criminal defense attorney. He has a rare facility for laying this complicated case out in a way that makes it perfectly understandable, as if he were presenting it to a jury. If you have tried to follow the ins-and-outs of who knew what and when they knew it, then this podcast will help it all make sense. He will carefully and deliberately walk you through the maze.

But be prepared to pick your jaw up off the floor.

You can find part one here, part two here, and the latest update here. There will very likely be an explosive part four soon, because information will be coming out that the Church PR department simply will not be able to wave away.

Why The Constant Cover-ups?
We expect honesty from our Church leaders. After all, isn't that what they constantly teach us lowly members? That we must be honest in all our dealings?

The problem for the Church -and the reason the Church PR department has such a difficult time cleaning things up- is that for years Church leaders have preached a two pronged doctrine, neither of which is strictly doctrinal. The Lord has never issued a revelation affirming these teachings, and Joseph Smith never taught them. In fact, both Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith repeatedly taught the opposite of what these false doctrines assert. Here are those false doctrines:
Church leaders cannot lead the church astray. 
Leaders at all levels in the Church today are blessed by God with the gift of discernment. 
Regarding the first, it should be self evident that Church leaders have been leading the church astray ever since Brigham Young usurped authority from the Church High Council following the death of Joseph Smith.

Here is how the LDS Church defines the gift of discernment: 
"To understand or know something through the power of the Spirit. The gift of discernment is one of the gifts of the Spirit. It includes perceiving the true character of people and the source and meaning of spiritual manifestations."
Besides his interview with Elder Robert Wells, before Joseph Bishop was called and ordained to his important offices of trust he is known to have been interviewed by Thomas S. Monson and Spencer W. Kimball. Both passed him with flying colors without having the slightest clue they were in close proximity to a sexual deviant who was even then struggling to restrain his demons. Neither apostle exhibited the gifts of discernment they are said to posses.

This should come as no surprise, because when Spencer Kimball was president of the Church, he posed for a photo-op with several other general authorities for a story about Mark Hoffman, who was sucking the GA's in with a tale of having located rare documents written by early Mormon apostle William Mclellin.

None of the men in the photograph had any clue that Hoffman was not really a rare documents dealer, but in fact a criminal forger whose plan was to first get Church leaders to trust him, then later "get even with the Church" by producing fake documents that would seriously disrupt the Church's historical narrative. Of course, the real scandal in this episode was that none of these men, the very top leaders in the Church hierarchy, had the gift to discern that very soon Mark Hoffman would commit two brutal murders just to cover up his fraudulent activity.
Left to right: Mark Hofmann, 1st Counselor N. Eldon Tanner, LDS President Spencer W. Kimball, 2nd Counselor Marion G. Romney, Apostle Boyd K. Packer and Apostle Gordon B. Hinckley. (Photo by Jed A. Clark)

There is another side to this whole "gifts of discernment" thing that a lot of people overlook. In addition to Church leaders lacking the true power of discernment when it really matters, many ecclesiastical leaders in the Church are not above destroying people's reputations because of a hunch that they mistake for the gift of discernment they fully believe they possess. Please watch Jonathan Streeter's 13 minute video and you'll see the danger this presents:

When "The Gift Of Discernment" Goes Horribly Wrong
Here's a quite recent example I've learned about first-hand that illustrates Jonathan's assertion above:

A pair of identical letters were hand-delivered to a church member here in Sandpoint, Idaho informing her that she and her husband were to be tried for apostasy five days later, and letting them both know they were welcome to attend the trial if they wished to.

The letters did not state a specific accusation or cause of action of any sort. The letters simply accused them both of being in apostasy. This woman and her husband, both devout believers in the gospel of the restoration, did not have a clue why they were being tried for apostasy. The husband had attended the local ward for some two years, but because his wife worked on Sundays, she had only been to Sunday meetings a couple of times. She had never been interviewed by the bishop nor met this stake president who was now threatening to excommunicate her. Yet apparently "somehow" the stake president knew something about her that she didn't know, and was moving forward with the trial. The gravest sin the husband could imagine he might be guilty of was not wearing a suit and tie to church.

So the husband contacted the stake president, with whom he'd only had a brief pleasant chat the year before, to ask what sins he and his wife were being charged with. The stake president, whose name is Rick Ballard, told the husband that he and the high council just wanted to get to know them, ask them a few questions, scope out their belief systems, and then make a decision.

That's a strange stance to take when the time and place of the hearing for apostasy has already been set, and the outcome -excommunication- a forgone conclusion. The husband told President Ballard that he is no apostate, that he believes pretty much the same things Ballard does regarding the Restored gospel of Christ, the Book of Mormon, the divine calling of Joseph Smith, and so on. He and his wife certainly weren't fundamentalists or sympathetic to polygamists, if that was the assumption.

After an act of God literally forced President Ballard to delay the proceedings, he prodded the husband and wife into meeting with him to discuss their beliefs. This was beginning to look like a "good cop" fishing expedition. I have heard the recordings of these interviews, and it's clear Rick Ballard didn't actually have anything to pin on either the husband or the wife. He had simply somehow "discerned" that these two were guilty of apostasy, and he was hoping they might tell him something he could use against them.

When the husband learned they would be absolutely forbidden from attending the proceedings unless they signed a legal agreement promising not to record them (which they would not do), he and his wife opted instead to only come into the room long enough to provide verbal and written statements declaring their testimonies.  They asked to be furnished any notes taken by the clerk while they were out of the room. Ballard made clear they were not entitled to copies of the record.

You would think those testimonies they provided would have been enough to show their innocence. But you would be wrong, because you are not a stake president and you have not been blessed with the gift of discernment

The Church Handbook of Instruction's definition of apostasy doesn't even contain anything related to actual apostasy, which everyone knows means turning away from the principles of the gospel. But here is what the CHI does say:

[A]postasy refers to members who:
  1. Repeatedly act in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders.
  2. Persist in teaching as Church doctrine information that is not Church doctrine after they have been corrected by their bishop or a higher authority.
  3. Continue to follow the teachings of apostate sects (such as those that advocate plural marriage) after being corrected by their bishop or a higher authority.
  4. Are in a same-gender marriage.
  5. Formally join another church and advocate its teachings.
So here is what happened a few days after that ex parte hearing: the woman was informed by letter that her church membership would not be taken from her (after all, no one had ever met her so they could not claim to know anything about her). But the husband...well, the husband was notified that he had been excommunicated for apostasy because, the stake president concluded, he had joined a "sect" which he named in the letter of notification. That, dear reader, apparently constituted the husband's "formally joining another church and advocating its teachings."

Except this guy had never joined any sect, or church, or even The Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks. This man had not joined any organization of any kind, either formally or informally. He had never advocated the teachings of any other church or sect. The only "sect" he had ever been a part of was The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and he actually had advocated the teachings of that society on a great number of occasions, even serving a mission to a foreign country. He has the papers to prove it.

Yet now he was getting kicked out of the only church he ever loved, and labeled a filthy apostate.

The husband had never even heard of the sect he was accused of having joined until he was told about it in the letter. I've never heard of it either. He and I both performed independent searches for information about that sect online, and you'll never guess: neither of us could find any sect, church, or other organization that goes by that name.

Rick Ballard, President Extraordinaire of the Sandpoint, Idaho Stake, had obviously made the whole thing up. I've seen that letter of notification, and one day, after the victim's appeal process has been completed, I'll share the full story on this blog, along with all the letters, documents, and audio recordings of President Ballard trying to weasel a confession out of these members who had nothing to confess. When you finally get a chance to read the parts of the record that are available, you freaking won't believe it. But until then I'm keeping this couple's names confidential.

Now, I happen to know this stake president, Rick Ballard. I had asked to meet with him last year because before I moved here from Sacramento I was unable to get my stake president there to tell me precisely what sin I had committed that resulted in my own excommunication for apostasy.  So once I  had relocated, I asked to meet with President Ballard in hopes he might be able to contact either my old stake president, whose name is Douglas Hansen, or someone at Church headquarters who would give me a straight answer.

Nothing came of my request for information, but Rick Ballard and I had a long, enjoyable chat, and at the time Rick did not strike me as a complete moron. He is a local orthodontist here in Sandpoint, which would indicate he has at least completed his high school education, so I've got to believe he is capable of critical thinking when he wants to.

Yet here he has gone and banished a believing latter-day saint from the church the man grew up in and loved all his life, and he did it based on absolutely nothing but his own hunch; a hunch that this man had left the church and adopted the creed of some imaginary sect that doesn't exist anywhere other than in Rick Ballard's head.

Uh-oh. Busted.

This is a perfect case study of the kind of damage Jonathan Streeter refers to in the video above. Men who think God has given them special gifts to discern the sins of others aren't likely to think twice about convicting another person of wrongdoing because, well, the guy must have been guilty of something, or else God wouldn't have planted those thoughts in the local leader's brain. "Look at how this guy shows up to church," Ballard must have been thinking, "Dressed like a flippin' potato farmer."

"He has to be guilty of  something, right?"

How Low Will Church Leaders Stoop? 
Pretty low, as it turns out. Not as far as murder, so far as we know. But many of them are not above committing spiritual murder, as that is essentially what they believe they are doing when they excommunicate someone. They believe they are literally cutting that person off from God. You would think they would be more cautious about such things. But caution goes out the window when the hierarchy in Salt Lake City starts to feel their power being threatened.

That's why gospel scholar Denver Snuffer was so rudely treated by the Brethren he once declared fealty toward. Denver Snuffer was a member of the high council in his Salt Lake City stake, as well as a gospel doctrine teacher for over twenty-five years. He remains singularly devoted to the gospel to this day.

Denver was also an obscure author of Mormon-themed books. Almost no one bought his books, and truthfully, he never expected anyone to. He did have one volume, "Come Let Us Adore Him" that I understand was sold at the BYU Bookstore and through Deseret Book; and eventually "The Second Comforter" got noticed. But the handful of others, mostly detailed analyses of the Book of Mormon, went largely unheralded by the masses.

The thing that finally raised hackles at Church headquarters was a book Denver came out with demonstrating how the Book of Mormon's prophecies were being fulfilled in our day by the unscriptural actions of the top leaders in the LDS Church. That book's title was Passing The Heavenly Gift.

Most damning to those in the Church hierarchy was the solid proof contained in the book, which cited early Church documents proving that none of the leaders of the Church after Joseph Smith had ever been appointed by God to hold the offices and authority they say they do. They simply do not have the "keys" or authority to govern the Church that they claim to have.

There is no getting around that fact. But it does explain the lack of miracles, manifestations, and revelations in our day that were common in the Church in Joseph Smith's time.

But we are not supposed to think about that.

A couple of years ago apostle Russell Nelson, next in line to hold the office of president of the Church, decided he could not have an expose like that on the open market. So he informed Denver's stake president to do something about it, namely this: unless Denver Snuffer ceased publication of his book, denounced the book as riddled with errors, and recalled all copies sold thus far, he would be excommunicated from the Church and labeled an apostate.

And that's how Russell M. Nelson guaranteed Denver Snuffer would become a best-selling Mormon author.

I've not read all of Denver's books yet, but I can tell you something about what I have read so far: Denver Snuffer carries the mantle of some of the greatest church scholars we have ever had. He is every bit as knowledgeable on church history and the Book of Mormon as were Hugh Nibley, Truman Madsen, and  Hyrum L. Andrus. Denver Snuffer and I have become pretty good friends and I have yet to stump him with a question he does not know the answer to. He knows virtually everything about Mormonism; scriptural, historical, theological, and doctrinal.

That, of course, is what makes Denver Snuffer such a danger to the status quo. You should know that at no time was Denver told his book was not accurate. It was. But accuracy was not the issue. The issue was that if that book were to receive general acceptance among church members, the truths contained in that book would undermine the faith the members have in their leaders.

And the member's faith in their leaders is more important to those leaders than the member's faith in Jesus Christ. If you think that's an exaggeration, you have not seen and heard the things I have seen and heard these past few years.

Excommunication is, in the eyes of those doing the excommunicating, akin to an execution. While it is true these executioners do not have the power to kill the body, they very much believe they are killing their victim's spirit, and casting those spirit corpses into outer darkness.

The fact that so many of them are so readily willing to pull God's condemnation down upon their own heads, to persecute the innocent in order to assure they remain in their chosen seats of power, makes them, in my opinion, little different from Annas and Caiaphas, the high priests of the ancient church who were willing to murder their own God because he posed a threat to their power base.

The first century Saints were persecuted for their beliefs. Many of the Saints today are also persecuted for their beliefs. Only now the persecution is coming from the Church itself.

Update, Sunday April 29, 2018:
There is yet another update on the Joseph Bishop coverup, with even more yet to come as police records are released. It will be clear from this report that someone or some group of someones really does not want the public to have all the information. Here is that update:

BYU Police Report Bombshells: MTC Sex Scandal Update