With both religion and politics in order to create a group that can really make a difference in the world (or as I presume be exalted in the next life), it is often more important to be unified than to be “right” or perfect according to some subjective standard. Unity should be the ultimate goal, and wisdom, love and power exercised within the framework of free-agency are foundations upon which we build toward that goal. According to numerous scriptural sources, this is actually what allows people after death to raise to higher more blissful levels of heaven. I think perhaps the religious term “eternal life” is even referring to a similar idea that the primary goal of all religious organizations (like those on earth) is to create groups which progress eternally without being destroyed by division, apostasy and revolution. So in that light, I don’t say the following things to be divisive, but instead I say them as things which I believe may eventually need to be addressed in the LDS church if we are to minimize the inevitable division these doctrines and traditions cause, and avoid suffering the same fate as Israel, the primitive church and every earthly religion in recorded history. Reading through LDS blogs and Forums, I see way too much division; way too many people leaving the Church with very ill feelings usually because of misapplication of the following principles by active LDS members and leaders.
What the Church Does Right
Before I delineate many of the things I think the Church does to cause unneeded division, I want keep things positive by hitting on some of the things the Church does really well. My experience is that the LDS Church is full of people who are trying to be selfless. I think that on a local level the Church is often irreproachable (aside from inevitable interpersonal relationship difficulties). Every person and ward are different, but for the most part most people in the Church are doing their best to fulfill callings that serve others with little to no reward. This increases the level of love and selflessness of people in general which is the key to unity. The churches uniformity and government structure are highly organized and effective. The organizational structure and oversight programs match time-tested political and organizational structures. The Church promotes many, many doctrines which are supported by many non-LDS witnesses of the restorationism movement, as being true and beneficial to humanity. The active growth of the Church encourages people to turn to God and seek personal revelation as they question their culturally ingrained biases and traditions which have become “dead” or void of power to help people progress psychologically and spiritually. Local ward units work hard to help the youth avoid some of the pain and selfishness which are often a product of substance abuse and flagrant promiscuity or immorality (although the way this is done often causes division and selfishness too). In general I think the church is doing a lot of good in the world, but as I will explain I think there are a lot of things that we could obviously do better.
The Purpose of our Religion
In order to really make judgements concerning best practices in religion one needs to know the purpose and goals of religion. Knowing the purpose of our religion is like knowing the purpose of our individual lives. Its a difficult and deeply personal type of knowledge, but once you really can answer this question, your life has purpose and meaning. In my personal quest for answers to this question I have been given answers, parts of which resonate with those given in Mormon theology (and are actually quite similar in all major religions). That we are born of the creator for many of the same reasons that parents have children. To know oneself. To have duality which makes existence meaningful. That in order to have sentient existence one must create divisions and polarities, which give possibility to drama. That meaningful existence, and drama are the result of division, separation, conflict and pain which make possible the opposing states of unity, oneness, resolution and pleasure. In Mormonism and other religions we give names and attach stories to individuals who embody these states of being. Satan or the devil is the great divider. The cause of our fall from primordial unity. The primal cause and perpetuator of conflict. The source of all hate & pain. In Christianity, Christ is the living symbol of love and unity. The resolver of conflict, the atonement of fall or separation; the source of joy and happiness.
So my question to Mormonism is who do you want to follow? All religious leaders have been made free by the Creator to chose whether their religion is a Christ to the world or a Satan; a unifier or a divider. Throughout history, no dispensation or religion has been able to avoid being a little bit of both, but the real question is what do you want to be? What are you going to chose your purpose to be? No one wants to be the villain, we all want to be the hero… but the villain almost always sees himself as a hero. The question is, do you want to unify or divide? Separate or atone? Cause people to fall from happiness or redeem them from misery? The way is open for you to choose… and I think all who feign to follow Christ have already chosen. Now we just need to check ourselves to see how we are doing. Look to the apostates, the ex-Mormons, the cast out and divided and ask ourselves did we hurt them or force them out? And if so… how?
Agency as the Preeminent Principle
The Church teaches the principle that a person’s free-agency is preeminent; that Lucifer’s plan is one of force and Christ’s plan is one of freedom. But as I talk with and read the message boards of ex-Mormons, the primal underlying reason I find that has caused people to leave is the feeling that they were being forced or manipulated to believe what the church teaches and forced or strong-armed into keeping the church’s strictures. This is a very difficult organizational issue with no easy solution. But I believe simple awareness and discussion could help immensely to prevent division caused by it. How does one promote and maintain standards without some type of administrative or intellectual “force”. When does persuasion become manipulation? How do you keep those with differing opinions from feeling marginalized and undervalued? When does a quest to maintain unity (through agreeableness or acquiescence) actually end up causing disunity? Might it help to put forth a little extra effort to always stress in our persuasions that “we believe God has held forth these standards as the path to happiness and social stability, but we also believe that every person must chose their path according to their own mind and heart. So we love and accept you regardless of your path… but we hold up these certain standards of what we think is best.” We need to identify what types of talks or practices are causing so many to literally hate Mormonism because they felt so forced, manipulated and/or marginalized when they were believing members. We need to actually follow the last twelve verses of D&C 121.
Creeds, Tenets, Strictures and Dogma
The Churches of Joseph Smith’s day had become weighed down in creeds, tenets, strictures and dogma which divided the people instead of unifying them. In Joseph Smith history we are told that
“all their creeds were an abomination in His sight; that those professors were all corrupt [distorting the truth]; that: “they draw near to Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof”.
Unfortunately, following human nature, I think Mormonism has fallen into these same tendencies. As we are told, “we have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion” (D&C 121:39). That is, the leaders of religious systems draft up overly narrow-minded or manipulative creeds which are defined as “a formal statement of beliefs” or “a set of beliefs or aims that guide someone’s actions”. In Mormonism there are many, many of these, which just like in Joseph Smith’s time are well-meaning, but tend to divide and alienate people into subsets of “good christians/bad christians”. (The for strength of youth pamphlet contains many good examples). Sad experience also shows that religious leaders begin to create strictures or “commandments of men” which expand God’s law into a obligatory burden instead of common-sense, loving counsel. This was true with the Mosaic law and became true again in the early apostolic church. The Judeo-Christian cannon shows that God and Christ gave strict commands/counsel, but always left it to lower mediators to affix earthly penalties to transgression. This is a grave responsibility and history has shown that these earthly mediators have repeatedly used their religious authority (priesthood) to exercise “power, and influence” (D&C 121:41) which seeks to “exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men” (D&C 121:37) in unloving ways. The result of which causes members and non-members alike to “esteem them as their enemy” (D&C 121:43). Might we try harder to hold up a “standard of godliness” without making God’s law or standards a burden? Without so many one-size-fits all righteousness tests and punishments. Without manipulative tactics that make people feel like we’re saying “if you don’t believe or keep these standards, you’re not righteous and don’t love god, because if you loved him, you’d keep these commandments.”
Every parent must learn the best way to balance their children’s agency with their own responsibility to teach good works without permanent division or estrangement. Each church leader must use these same principles to lead their flock without pushing 25 of the 99 to join the proverbial one.
Elitism, Pride of “The Elect of God”
In my opinion many church teachings create an environment and atmosphere of pride and elitism. We stress how “elect” and “true” we are instead of how sinful and ignorant/untrue we are. We too often hear talks patting ourselves on the back and saying we have no need to apologize for being “the only true church”. See the article “the only true church” for thoughts on this suggesting that our own scripture does not agree with this prideful attitude.
When Joseph Smith began to reform/restore the North American branch of Christianity, his revelations declared that the united group or “Church” which he led was “true and living”, and that God was “well pleased” with them collectively (D&C 1:30). But by 1832 the “whole church” was “under condemnation” for “unbelief” and not obeying the things taught in the Book of Mormon (D&C 84:54-57). In accordance with the teachings of the Book of Mormon, in 1834 the quintessential doctrine of economic equality (united order) was revealed and the saints were told if they did not live it they would be “cursed with a very sore and grievous curse” and turned over “to the buffetings of satan” (D&C 104:1-10). The saints failed to make it work and because they couldn’t “impart of their substance” and were “not united according to the union required by the law of the celestial kingdom”, they were “not redeemed” and were left to be “chastened for a time” in the wilderness (D&C 105:1-7). Even greater condemnation and cursing occurred later because of abuses of priesthood (especially concerning polygamy) and culminated in the murder of Joseph Smith by defectors and the driving of the Church out of the United States. Joseph and the Church were repeatedly warned about lust, greed, and self-righteousness in their own revelations. Is it perhaps time for us to take a step back and collectively take accountability for the church’s part of causing this division? I believe this is starting to happen, but we have a long way to go.
The following are just a few suggestions, which compared to the whole of LDS doctrine and practices outlined in the Church handbook of Instruction are a very small percentage of the whole. I am also not advocating changing these things to fit solely my views, but that I have read of many, many ex-mormons and active mormons who have issues related to what I have written. I suggest that if church members were allowed and encouraged to be more involved in determining doctrine and practice (involvement I believe our scriptures advocate), each stake could implement changes according to what the Spirit dictated to them, which best suited their needs and views. And a lot of division could be avoided.
The Infallibility of the “Prophet”
-The idea that “The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray”, is pure fantasy (official decl 1). It is essentially a Mormon version of Papal Infallibility or the Divine Right of Kings. We don’t need to demonize presidents of the Church for saying this, but it comes from a place of ego, and causes more division than it prevents. I believe the Hebrew or Chinese Mandate of Heaven was a better way to convey the true principle. I think that D&C 68:4 and similar scriptures which teach that a prophet is only a prophet when the Spirit inspires them is similar to the idea of a ‘Mandate of Heaven’. But we need Oaspe 34/9.1-9.22 to help us understand that D&C 50:21-23 is saying that words spoken by the “Spirit” to a prophet are only binding upon a listener if that same “Spirit” testifies to the listener of their truth! In other words, no one is bound by the dictates of a “prophet” or priesthood leader unless the Spirit testifies to them personally that what the prophet says is true. For an LDS leader to manipulate or ‘guilt’ a member to keeping any moral law (such as polygamy, the word of wisdom or chastity) with reasoning which makes people feel like they “must follow the prophet” or they are unrighteous is wrong. Church leaders speak as common men, until their decisions are ratified by the “common consent of the church” (D&C 26:2, 28:13, 104:71-85); which process establishes that the majority of the church had the Spirit verify the prophet counsel to their hearts–and thus it should be democratically made into binding church policy.
To keep the church or its leaders from leading each other “astray” would be to abridge agency, and contrary to the nature of the redemptive God. Only “Lucifer” would lead an organization this way (not saying he does). There is no scriptural or historical precedence for this statement, in fact all historical evidence is to the contrary. But it does take a large responsibility of self determination off the shoulders of members who believe it and puts it on the poor leaders who perpetuate this philosophy. (Since many accounts suggest they are bound to their zealots in the afterlife.) Nearly all autocratic systems use this philosophy to keep the populace subservient. In this age are the LDS people really so unruly that such a doctrine is needed to keep social harmony and leadership support? When you abridge the agency of others with manipulative doctrines like this, you will always get considerable backlash.
Economic Equality & Money Mismanagement
I believe “God’s people” or the people of the prophets are meant to be a type or microcosmic example of the world in general. Higher beings send prophets to tell people clearly about the requirements and timetables for human progression and evolution. After visionary prophets next comes inspiration to the scholars, musicians and artists which create large cultural movements. If the people and politicians do not respond to these movements the protection and guidance of “the Spirit” is withdrawn, which allows autocratic despots to come to power in order to balance the scales and force progression (usually through revolution/war). After a long stream of prophets from the second great awakening (including Joseph Smith), God inspired many cultural icons to encourage imperialistic Europe & America to progress toward economic & social equality (see new imperialism). When that didn’t work he allowed Marx, Engels and others to ignite the revolutionary fires and let the autocrats do their work in WWI & WWII. I believe America and her churches which profess to be “Christ’s”, are under special responsibility to be an example in living the laws of economic and social equality.
As a church, we might not have the necessary influence to change national or global economic policy, But it might be helpful for us to listen to our detractors and defectors concerning where we put our money. Building multi-million dollar temples which have essentially become a club for our particular ideas of “righteousness” is an organizationally dangerous practice. It is no different than the cathedrals of Medieval Christianity which are denounced in our own scripture (2 Ne 28:13). What are we trying to teach with the lavishness of these structures anyway? That if your keep the law of tithing, chastity and Word of Wisdom you will be rewarded by a posh abode in heaven? I believe the highest blessings of the temple were always in working together to build the building which was symbolic of what true heaven is. That the building itself is simply a symbol of the spiritual condition of those who built it. It is a bunch of family & friends working together to build an organization of unity and love. Economic equality must take far higher priority than church buildings or our buildings run the risk of becoming “whitewashed sepulchres–shiny on the outside but inside full of dead mens’ bones”.
I think tithing is another issue we should continually reevaluate and revisit. I’ve seen many orthodox Christian believe they are “righteous” by paying their tithing and fast offering but then tend to vehemently fight anything that comes close to resembling socialism. I believe that tithing outside of the context of social economic equality is a distortion of the principle. In my reading of the Old testament, it seems tithing and the “Lord’s storehouse” were always meant to feed the less fortunate and promote economic equality. The LDS “welfare system” is a good start toward economic equality, but just as in Medieval Christianity it serves in some people’s minds as a bandaid that consoles our conscience but miss the whole point of consecration & social equality. I believe 4rth Nephi in the Book of Mormon goes to show that the entire purpose of “pure religion” is to establish a working version of socialism and economic/social equality. That’s not to say that the prevailing liberal views of socialism (which involve a lot of force, idleness & manipulation) are the way to go about social economic equality, but I am saying a working version of “socialism” which maintains economic equality seems to be required for entrance into even the lower sections of the terrestrial kingdom of LDS theology.
Word of Wisdom and Law of Chastity & Other Laws
The morality of sexuality and substance abuse/use is a can worms. All of these laws highlight important social problems and seek to curb dangerous human proclivities. However, the counsel and “words of wisdom” which we have turned into strictures and commandments cause massive division in our youth. The current system of chastity is most certainly the largest cause of apostasy among the youth–But how could it not be? I believe the key is in making God’s commandments a standard and not a dogmatic burden–which can only be done by emphasizing free-agency over dogmatic strictures. By appealing to gentle persuasion, wisdom in case studies, and statistics instead of priesthood & commandments. I believe D&C 121:39–46 is the key to properly teaching these complicated lessons. I think the morphing of the word of wisdom from a wonderful suggestion into a half-baked commandment (tea and coffee are evil but meat is fine?) has done more harm than good (although it does have its advantages). A greater living of D&C 121:39–46 would bring more harmony to the saints in regards to these important, but delicate laws and human tendencies. see some ideas in A Bit on Moral Purity Also lessons on pornography.
Once again we have become far too dogmatic and pharisaical just like the religions that God told Joseph Smith were “an abomination in his sight”. Instead of simply being taught the wisdom of sexual purity, youth are manipulated into sexual repression and then often manipulated and pressured into marriage covenants. The Bishop has been turned into an inquisitor instead of a judge and youth counselor. Constant yes or no interviews pretend to establish readiness and righteousness within a context of religious social pressure. If you don’t keep the temporal “law” you are made to feel unrighteous. The true principles of righteousness (unselfishness) become distorted. I believe God’s law is not supposed to be a burden but a guide (BOBK 31:13, 41:4). God expects his people to teach the world the positive and negative effects of sex, drugs, pornography, marriage, church attendance (all aspects of his law), but when we simply demonize certain human behaviors and make people feel “wicked” for doing them instead of lovingly helping them learn the lessons inherent in the behaviors, we become salt that has lost its savor and is ready to be cast away. A light on a hill shows the right Way, it does not demonize the wrong way. Marriage outside the temple does not necessarily make someone “unrighteous”–but that is how our teachings come across. Drugs and alcohol do not necessarily make you unrighteous–but that is how our teachings come across. Sex within marriage is not the only “righteous sex”–but that is how our teachings come across. I believe the proclivities of youth are most often a result of the habits or repressed desires of their parents, ancestors or culture passed through the group consciousness. It is best to help them work through their desires and slowly turn them to paths of unselfishness. To teach by demonizing them or labeling their behaviors as “wicked” simply shows your own unrighteousness. Everyone is here on earth to learn the fruits of our desires, and that cannot happen unless we are given freedom to learn from trial and error in a frank and open teaching environment.
In my experience, sexuality (although often unspoken) is the number one reason for division and apostasy in the youth of the church. I believe most people would agree that sexual morality is a very important part of personal and social health and balance. The problem is that every Joe or religious priesthood leader has their own ideas on the details of how that morality should be defined. The LDS standard works contain the whole spectrum of relativism, universalism, monogamy, polygamy, polygyny and polyandry. Perhaps more than any other human function sex can be used to unite or used to divide— as a archetypical Christ or Satan. There are baser aspects of the human sex drive which like a fire desire only to burn all available materials it can get its hands on, without care for the overall well-being of the forest. To take only for oneself without any thought of what is best for others. But because of its deeply personal nature, there are also few things which can divide and destroy a group more than the systematized demonization or proscription of its functions. The more selfish a people, the more strict and legalistic priesthood and political administrators seem to feel they need to be. The Mosaic law attempted to define every detail of sexual morality; but Christ did away with that law. Not surprisingly His few veiled words on sexual morality seem to suggest that the most important principle is that it be used to unite people, and that neither priests nor prostitutes were justified in practices which promoted division or divorce of any kind (Matt 19:3-12, Mark 10:2-12, John 8:3-11). Paul had quite a bit to say about sexual morality, but Peter, James and John say very little. Medieval Christianity also became full of legalistic strictures, but Joseph Smith did his best to do away with those. Like Christ, he attempted to break people free of the traditional medieval religious dogma and strictures and institute a system which honored both people’s sexual proclivities and the necessity for law, order, godliness and priesthood (read his letter to Nancy Rigdon for some insight into this). However, I believe his system failed because it caused too much jealousy and division (women were marginalized and made unequal, young women were coerced into being taken in marriages and mature men were manipulated into taking them, polygyny was institutionalized within a patriarchy without any balancing polyandry or matriarchy).
My belief is that there is no easy answer for this, but the more you use practices of force and manipulation to control sexuality, the more you will actually give rise to the kind of selfishness and disdain which all godly people are trying to avoid. I believe parents should hold the primary responsibility of teaching sexual morality. The Church should assure it is taught and give aid, but take care not to get too specific on moral strictures. It should not manipulate parents into giving their children one-size-fits-all rules that might not be best for their particular circumstances. It should do its best not to demonize human sexuality. Regardless of the standard the church decides to hold as “the best way”, it should not be made a burden to those not ready to live it. Those who let their light of a godly life shine to all men will naturally attract people toward that light. Those who “exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men” are inevitably simply going to cause division and animosity. In my opinion the Church’s entire current system of sexual morality as taught in the for strength of youth pamphlet, worthiness interviews, youth curriculum and temple marriage system is targeted too much toward controlling our children, instead of teaching our children—and just as in the polygamous environment of Joseph Smith’s day, the animosity and polarization of our apostates shows it is not working very well.
The Most High God as the Head of our Religion
-God is the “Father” of all intelligent life in the universe and is no respecter of persons. Both Christian and Restorationism texts suggest that mortal organizations are led through a line of super-human and human mediators according to their agency. When we portray every or most acts of our leaders or “prophets” as coming straight from the mouth of the Most High God (or even Jesus Christ), we doom ourselves to inevitable internal and external division. When we claim special privilege to Jesus Christ, as if he is the head of our Church and not other people’s church we pridefully invite division. This idea is contrary to our own theology, and people intuitively know it is not the case especially when someone gets to studying Mormon history. The idea that earth is ruled through a hierarchy or “chain” of higher beings and not by the “most high God” himself (Telestial through ministrations of the terrestrial D&C 76:88) is one of the most profound doctrines taught in LDS theology. Intertwined in this theology is the principle that man can become a God and that the “God” or higher beings who direct us are exalted men. (see TPJS, as well as detailed descriptions of how this works in Oahspe) When we shy away from these important doctrines (which are integral aspects of the restorationism movement) in order to cater to the biases of Medieval Christianity, we invite the division that was inherent in their belief systems. Whether it is the Pope or LDS prophet, it is scripturally and morally wrong to pretend that all your religious actions are direct consequences of direction given by the Most High God. This is the true meaning of “taking the Name of the Lord in vain” and we do it in earnest. The LDS temple endowment teaches with incredible simplicity and beauty this principle that revelation comes down through the kingdoms or dimensions (celestial “Father” to terrestrial “Son”, to telestial Peter, James & John and finally to mortal man), and that these higher beings always wait for a time to see if the earthly recipients obey, before they give more knowledge and guidance. During this waiting period we are taught by lower angels and deceivers symbolized by Lucifer. So during the waiting periods, all higher Gods give lower gods, archangels (whatever terminology you want to use) and earthly prophets and organizational leaders almost universal agency to run things according to what people seem to want and need; and much of the “revelation” during these periods ends up coming from lower and even “earthly” sources. When we don’t fully understand these principle (taught plainly and beautifully in many other sources), it is natural to fall into the errors delineated in the next paragraphs. When organizations feign power and authority that their history and works show are not valid, they lose the faith of their of populace and fall. Teaching principles of authority more like Hindu thought and less like medieval Christianity and Catholicism would go a long way toward preventing apostasy and division.
Rejecting the Living Prophets
I believe that probably the most damning (or something that stops or impedes our progression) aspect of modern Mormonism is our rejection if the living prophets. This is pretty ironic, considering that we pride ourselves in being the “only true church” who has living prophets and apostles. But we as LDS Church members should stop and think about this for a minute… Israel and the world in general have nearly ALWAYS rejected the prophets, and yet Israel and every church in the world has nearly ALWAYS accepted and supported their priesthood/religious leaders as the “mouthpieces” of God. We completely forget that the gift of prophesy (a gift of the spirit) is not the same as priesthood authority! Very few of the biblical prophets were priests or even held the priesthood for that matter (ie. being Levites). Instead most seem to have come from eccentric cults, and because they were not “mainstream” (either weird or nobodies or do strange things like walk around naked and barefoot) they were rejected. Jesus himself was excommunicated or “thrown out” because his teachings were too radical for the jewish religious establishment, and the President of the High Priesthood (a title we misleadingly label the “prophet”), was actually a main player in plotting his death “for the good of the fold”. God continually gives varying degrees of the gift of prophecy to people of every religion and decade. The “restoration texts” and “prophesy” sections of the this website house just a few of the many modern prophets (or those exercising the gift of prophecy, and gift of revelation). In my experience, just like a Catholic or any other religion, LDS church members fear anything that doesn’t come from their leaders. They do not support or seek out truth or continuing revelation in the world.
A Theocratic Autocracy instead of Rule by “Common Consent”
As I already mentioned, no advice, decree or edict of the “prophet” or church’s priesthood is binding upon any individual in the church unless the Spirit testifies the truth of it to that individual, causing them to covenant to obey. (See D&C 68:4 contrasted with D&C 50:21–22 & Oaspe 34/9.1-9.22) When leaders really understand this, it forces them to both understand and follow the principles of D&C 121:41-45. When you can no longer maintain “power or influence by virtue of the priesthood [hierarchy]” (D&C 121:41), you realize your only real recourse is using positive attributes like “persuasion, gentleness and meekness, love unfeigned, kindness, and pure knowledge” (D&C 121:42). Which lays the groundwork for the democratic system of “common consent” revealed by Joseph Smith. That every policy and edict given “by the Spirit” to church leaders can only be binding if a majority of members (and in some cases unanimously without objection; D&C 107:27-29) also felt the spirit verify the truth of the policy change to them so that the policy can be instituted by the common consent of the church.
In my experience, the number two reason for people leaving the church is the perception that there is very little “common consent in the church” (Despite the scriptural mandate to rule this way: D&C 26:2, 28:13, 104:71-85). To most objective non-members, our form of “common consent” is like calling China or the USSR a democracy. It’s like saying the People’s Republic of North Korea is actually ruled by the people. It’s understandable why the church has been so secretive and autocratic from the time we were chased out of Missouri, might it be time to change. I believe that in recent years the Church has been making strides to change, but I believe it might need to happen a bit more quickly if we are to keep from losing half of the next generation (they are already losing more than a quarter of the current one). Below are some ways in which I believe we could better live up to our doctrinal mandate for equality and common consent.
The Proper Balance of Power in the Priesthood.
-The church’s balance of power between “federal” and “local” authority is all wacked up right now. It has also completely distorted the principle of common consent (D&C 26:2, 28:13, 104:71, 104:72, 104:85). D&C 107 makes it clear that stake presiding councils are to be equal in authority to the general councils or authorities of the church. Currently, the church membership has given WAY too much personal authority to the general or “federal” councils of the church in the same way that the United States government has whittled away local and states rights, foolishly giving too much power to the federal and upper executive branch of government. This imbalance of power is dividing and destroying our nation and the same imbalance of power is causing great problems in the church. It is this imbalance, caused largely by Brigham Young, that has caused the church to become far too, robotic, authoritarian and pharisaical. Centralized power serves its purpose in the early stages of a nation or organization, but as the group forms a self identity and matures this power structure must relax or it will bread division. The church is commanded in all things, when history as well as D&C 58:26-29 and D&C 121:41 make it clear that this type of governance leads to a poor outcome (a robot populace, bondage and division). Doctrine and covenants 107 makes it clear that the “three presidents” or first presidency (D&C 107:22) form a quorum that is equal in power and authority with the “twelve traveling councilors” or quorum of the twelve apostles (D&C 107:23-24), which is also to be equal in authority to both the seventy or “traveling ministers” and the “standing high council” or or stake high councils (D&C 107:36).
Does any Mormon (especially Mormon youth) give equal weight to the counsel of our celebrity apostles during general conference as they do for the discourses of a high counselor on “dry council Sunday”? Does any High Councilor dare contradict an apostle? If they did they would be excommunicated, because of repeated systematic apostolic abuse of priesthood (D&C 121:41) has destroyed this balance of power in the Church. The imbalance caused by our disobedience to the proper emphasis on authority structure explained to us in our own scripture causes many to fall away from the church. When through preaching, general conference and fan-fare, we make the general councils of the church into God-ordained celebrities, the populace of the church gains improper expectations and understandings of the role of the differing levels of government in the church. They come to believe the “apostles” are more righteous than themselves. It creates a class structure of a ruling elite and subservient “unworthy” proletariat which is a strictly service-to-self practice. It causes members to lose the understanding of the difference between priesthood and prophets. They come to believe the general authorities are more worthy of revelation to rule a member’s life than that member or that member’s parents. This is emphatically not so, and the imbalance caused by this abuse of priesthood power and authority (D&C 121:41) causes imbalances in the hearts of the members… which in turn leads to their leaving the church. This is a difficult issue, because it is born out of good intent, but I fear our church’s organizational emphasis now so closely resembles that of Catholic Church which Joseph and his father so despised, that we are beginning to see more and more like-minded members repulsed and apostatizing.
36 The standing high councils, at the stakes of Zion, form a quorum equal in authority in the affairs of the church, in all their decisions, to the quorum of the presidency, or to the traveling high council.
37 The high council in Zion form a quorum equal in authority in the affairs of the church, in all their decisions, to the councils of the Twelve at the stakes of Zion.
A good start to a solution might be to give equal time to Stake High Councilors in General Conference as is given the apostles. Certainly we need to do far, far more things “by the common consent of the church” (D&C 26:2, 28:13, 104:71, 104:72, 104:85) . But more importantly the apostles need to greatly humble themselves, and explain by word and policy that they are no higher nor more righteous than the stake high councils. Many people wrongly crave a celebrity to worship, and I very rarely see the LDS Church celebrities doing much to reverse the trend. In fact, just as with the Catholic Church before Pope francis, I see mostly the opposite.
The Only True Church
-Teaching that the church is the “only true church” is foolish and egocentric. we should find a better way to teach this complicated topic of what it means to be “true”. I think this leads more people out of Mormonism than any other doctrine. And worse, it creates great anger in many of the apostates for having believed it. It is understood that this idea helps build pride and polarize people with a desire to serve God by serving the church, but this type of zealousness inevitably leads to disillusionment and anger. I understand the perceived need and effectiveness of this doctrine when a religion is young, but at what point do you give it up? Both Israel and Catholicism were essentially destroyed by the pride created and inherent to this doctrine. It distorts the very meaning of the word true, and is a gross distortion of the “truth”. I cant even begin to explain how unscriptural and how riddles with issues this claim is. Read Is The LDS Church The Only True Church? What Really is Truth? for a detailed explanation of a more correct view of truth and priesthood.
Ordinances & Assembly-line Salvation
Part of the “creeds” and corrupted aspect of medieval Christianity had to do with their distorted idea of ordinances. Distorted and manipulative beliefs such as that sprinkling a baby meant the difference between being saved or damned. The idea that saying a sinners prayer meant the difference between salvation and damnation. My observance is that we have become so very similar our use of “dead” ordinances. Our idea that our dead must have “saving ordinances” in order to gain salvation is often used in frighteningly similar manipulative ways when I believe it was actually instituted to achieve the opposite. I believe that vicarious ordinances were largely instituted to console and give hope to those entrenched in the belief that their dead were damned because they were not baptised. By instituting the doctrine that everyone who ever lived will at some point (presumably “during the millennium”) have ordinances vicariously performed, ordinances as a requirement for “salvation” becomes a mute point. A child or acquaintance who is not baptised or “married in the temple” is no reason for sorrow or manipulation because conformity based on unity can be achieved just as easily after death.
Many things I read from disillusioned Mormons, as well as my own experience suggest imbalanced views exist on these topics. Ordinances certainly have their place, as does ancestor worship and redemptive work, but it must be kept in perspective. But do ordinances feed the poor? Do ordinances do one bit to alleviate the ills of human society? Can ordinances even really make you part of a group at heart? I believe ordinances were instituted as a means to an end (a teaching tool & symbolic gesture), not an end in themselves. I think the oft taught idea that the “sacrament” is the most important part of Church causes people to look beyond the mark. I think not stressing that ordinances for the dead are as much for the living as anything causes people to look beyond the mark. I think advancing pupils through levels of priesthood office or performing ordinances such as baptism by AGE instead of by an individuals showing a willing desire and readiness for the responsibilities and covenants ordinances symbolizes (devoid of family or social pressure) is also problematic. (but then again so is ordination by “readiness” & invitation such as the office of High Priest. There is power and efficiency in the present system, but how can the ills it causes be better illuminated and the good it accomplishes accentuated?
The Gifts of the Spirit vs. Priesthood Authority
-There needs to be better understanding of how righteousness and priesthood relate to miracle work and adepthood (one who has mastered a miraculous spiritual gift). We need to better understand the difference between priesthood and prophets. You do not have to be “righteous” (in the sense of keeping strictures or mosaic-like commandments) to be a healer or exercise other spiritual or miraculous gifts. Both Mormon and general Christian doctrine teach that Lucifer and his angels hold priesthood and can perform miracles (and they obviously dont keep our commandments). Clairvoyance, Clairaudience, seership and prophecy are “gifts of the Spirit” available to all men who learn the principles of faith and consciousness governing these abilities. (3 Ne 8:1 is highly misunderstood.) Seems sad to me that in some ways Star Wars seems to do a better job of teaching how to access God’s power or “force” than most Mormon handbooks. Our way of teaching these principles has destroyed our faith in them (Ether 12:12). We have countless talks and videos suggesting that “if you don’t keep the mormon strictures/commandments, you wont be able to exercise your priesthood to heal someone when the time comes”. The gift of healing is a gift of the Spirit, not solely a priesthood ordinance, and the gifts of the Spirit are not dependant upon the keeping of religious law. They are dependant upon the spiritual faith and balance of the individual seeking to tap into God’s power. The ‘law of one’ does a really good job of explaining how these supernatural powers are obtained and developed. The ritualistic “temporal ordinances” associated with healing are powerful psychological aids, and can be effectively utilized by both men and women, members and non-members. The distorted Mormon views on this are tragedies, because it forces many natural adepts (healers, prophets, clairvoyants, and clairaudients) out of the Church. They generally go join eastern or new age movements because those movements have a more correct free philosophy concerning faith and the gifts of the spirit. However, our church has a lot of really good teaching concerning these abilities as well.
Mechanics of Prophecy, Revelation and Channeling
-As mentioned before, most prophets, revelators or god’s “channels” exist outside of the Church because of our distorted views on these gifts of the Spirit has destroyed our faith in them. Thats not to say our “Prophet” (president of the High Priesthood) or bishops or members don’t receive revelation, because they most certainly do. But most revelation to the world (both positive and negative) is presently coming primarily through the new-age movement (and Hindu based religions). Our distorted views range from an idea that only the Apostles can receive revelation for the world or Church (they have overstepped their priesthood by teaching this), to an idea that only men can prophesy or receive revelation, to preconceived ideas on what what revelation should sound like (17th century english) . This keeps us from understanding the true nature of revelation, and keeps us from believing much of the modern revelation that comes from the spirit world and keeps us often from exercising the gifts of the spirit. A prophet is a channel or mystic. Revelation is channeling. The question is “who is it coming from?”, and this is the bishop’s job to decide and regulate. (D&C 46:27) Once again, the ‘law of one’ explains this as well. Its sad that so many have issues with the translation of the Abraham papyrus/book of the dead and Isaiah sections of the Book of Mormon because of not understanding these principles. Channelling always sounds a little hokey (like much of the D&C) and adepts are often a bit weird frankly (Joseph putting his face in a hat and using “props” to enter the needed trance state which makes communication possible). An adepts “righteousness” (selflessness/balance) dictate what “spirits” or levels of heaven the adept can/will connect to, and more importantly the distortion that he/she will introduce to the revealed/channeled material. Revelation is far more like connecting to a mainframe full of information in binary code than reading english words on a computer screen. Oahspe talks about the “line of light” but Seth Material explains better the “Jacobs ladder” of spirits needed to relay and translate data/revelation from the higher planes. Each step of the relay has the possibility for distortion. Crystals (Urim & Thumim) are used to train, focus and enhance the abilities of the adept. The piezoelectric effects and holographic storage properties of crystals were far better understood by the ancients; as well as techniques for using them to interface with human consciousness. I suspect this issue will be addressed as the millennial age progresses, and channeling (revelation with God/gods through the veil) will become a regular part of the temple ceremony. Our culture probably just isn’t ready for this stuff because of the negative stigmas attached to the occult and mysticism. Unfortunately, modern negatively oriented groups which have mastered these principles (secret combinations) are gaining the upper hand in many social and political arenas because they understand these principles better than most Christians and Mormons.
The Nature of God
Teaching that the Most High God has a body, and that this “restored truth” is what makes our church more true than others. This is a touchy and complicated topic because it involves reconciling the monotheistic and polytheistic aspects of Joseph Smith’s revelations and restorationism. But I fear our concept of God has become just as much an idol or creed as the rigid concepts that Joseph Smith sought to escape. We seem to define our view of God exclusively by contrasting it with that of Medieval Christianity’s trinity (and claim our view is the only true one) but we fail to see the complexities of abstract polytheism which are woven into our doctrine. Like hinduism or Buddhism, Mormon’s should understand the semantic difficulties in defining the different levels of beings we call “God” or “gods” and be less prideful in our supposed ownership of them. Mormon’s generally know that in the “One True God”, “there are god’s many” (D&C 121:28) who are one in purpose but separate entities, but we should teach the unique aspects of each level of the being/beings we call God and admit that we just don’t know much about “The Most High God” (D&C 121:28-32). It’s a difficult concept and history will show which religion’s approach was the most effective, but given our concepts of divine investiture of authority it just doesn’t fit logic or our doctrine to teach that the “Father” who appeared to Joseph Smith was the one and only form of the Most High God in the universe. And it is especially silly for it to ever be a source of pride or contention. Based on our own cosmology we could speculate as to which level of mediator god is being described in most accounts & appearances of God in LDS scripture (think of Rev 22:7-9); as well as speculate as to the nature of the Unity which makes them all One God. Can we at least agree that God may seem to reveal himself as a human at times and but that we only know of Him what he chooses to reveal? Perhaps when the church begins to grow in India the time will be right to release our view of God from the strict idol it has become? Joseph Smith’s revelations really do hold the key in reconciling the extremes of Hindu polytheism and Islamic extreme monotheism; I think its time we are more intelligent and less prideful in our teaching of those doctrines.
Book of Mormon Historical, Archaeological and DNA Evidence (& other scriptural issues)
There are a lot of scriptural issues which cause people to leave the church. Many of these are resolved by interpreting the facts with a broader understanding of revelation. If people believe, as the Church often suggests, that the Book of Mormon or Doctrine & Covenants are the exact words of Mormon or The Most High God or an omniscient Jesus Christ as he spoke directly to Joseph Smith in King James English; then once the facts are known it is difficult for any rational Mormon NOT to lose their testimony. But instead if we stress the obvious fact that revelation and visions are more like an individual subjectively tapping into a mainframe of information, and consciousness; and that the revelator uses his own judgement to formulate the ideas contained in the mainframe into words and ideas as interpreted through his own cultural and language biases, then inconsistencies suddenly start to make sense. At the same time we should stress that that current scientific and cultural biases are likely clouding our own judgement as we point out supposed inconsistencies. In my perspective, I believe archaeologists have found every major city mentioned in the book of Mormon, and Mormon/Moroni did really good jobs describing things; but it is minor geographic changes and skewed radiometric dating methods which lead to the apparent inconsistencies (in both Book of Mormon and DNA testing). In my worldview, the same is true with the apparent inconsistencies with the biblical story and geological/archaeological evidence. In my opinion, it seems hurtful to our cause to say “this is how it is, and the world is wrong”. And better to say, “this is what our scriptures say, and we’re trying to get the truth things just like anyone else… ” That just because something is considered “The word of God” it doesn’t mean its not a jumble of principles completely distorted by the messengers, but we do not wish to be so presumptuous or judgmental as to accuse it of being so. We instead want to get all the truth out of it we can. And there’s a lot we just aren’t able to understand, but lets all work together to find the truth of the matter.
Effective encouragement of the Arts
In my perspective the LDS view of appropriate outlets for the arts needs work. In my experience the thought of having “non-approved” music in church (which these days is only the 19th century hymns) was anathema. Essentially, It can not be underestimated how important music, literature, dance and art are in shaping society and in worship. Currently the evangelical Christian community is doing the best job in combating moral decay in our society by music, etc… [finish this later]
See the article Needed Reformation in the LDS Church – Specific Actions