Note: This essay was originally finished on May 23, 2014 (hence the post date), with a few minor corrections to spelling, etc. since, but for Reasons remained unpublished here until December 17, 2014.
I have also added some updates to my original text at the end of the post. Some updates were originally written with the intent of integrating them into the main text, so they may read a bit awkwardly by being separated out at the end. I’ve tried to clarify some of the text with brackets.
In the beginning
I have been struggling for some time with my beliefs in the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have read much and studied much, and pondered back to previous experiences where I felt that the Holy Ghost was speaking to me. Ultimately, I have come to the conclusion that the Church is not the one true church of God. I can’t pinpoint exactly what started my journey down the rabbit hole, I just know where I’ve arrived.
There are many issues that have come to my attention. Some matter to me a great deal while others, though certainly damning to the Church, are of no great import to me particularly. Every organization has skeletons in the closet, and I cannot rationally believe that the LDS church could be otherwise: as the saying goes, “The Church is perfect, but the members are not.” I have always believed that; I was a missionary once and it goes hand in hand with the other saying: “If the Church weren’t true, the missionaries would have destroyed it by now.” Individually, there are many things I could overlook—and have overlooked or otherwise explained away to myself. For example, I find that the lack of archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon, or anachronisms or strange words like “curelom” really don’t bother me at all. Taken as an individual problem, I can accept a simplistic answer such as that our faith needs to be tried. Compounded with everything else, I find myself unable to bear the collective burden.
Some of the things I have learned in my studying were, at first, no great surprise to me. I’ve read accounts of lifelong members saying they had never heard that Joseph Smith was a polygamist, for example. As a seminary student during my high school years, I was taught at least at the surface level some of the seemingly more troublesome aspects of the history of the church, but it was done in such a faith-promoting way that I never questioned that the story could be otherwise, or that important details had been omitted. I was stunned that these things didn’t seem to be common knowledge. Then again, I did grow up in Utah, and seminary was a daily class during school time; I probably had more exposure to things than members in other parts of the world where the Church is not such a prevalent part of everyday life.
I would like now to write about the biggest issues for me (though as mentioned previously, there are many others to be found). As the Church would have its members receive information only from itself, I have tried to keep my sources for quotes only to official Church publications or web sites as far as possible, though there may be some “unofficial” links to be found (e.g. at FairMormon—which I understand to be an unofficially supported pro-LDS apologist organization). This is not a “to whom it may concern” essay; rather it is an attempt to gather my thoughts for myself, to help me find clarity, and if it serves another purpose in answering the questions of others, so much the better.
The prophets can lead us astray, except they were just men of their times, so it’s okay
Perhaps one of the biggest deals about the Church, beyond its claim to be “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:30), is its claim to leadership by a living prophet, via direct revelation from God. This is a fantastic idea for believers. Indeed, it is also logical; if God did speak to men of biblical times, and He doesn’t change, then why would He not continue the practice today? All my life, I have been taught that the Lord will never permit the prophet to lead the Church astray. This teaching is first and foremost found in canonized scripture:
The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty. (Official Declaration 1)
There are several other expressions of this teaching throughout the history of the Church. Joseph Fielding Smith, while President of the Church, said:
I think there is one thing which we should have exceedingly clear in our minds. Neither the President of the Church, nor the First Presidency, nor the united voice of the First Presidency and the Twelve will ever lead the Saints astray or send forth counsel to the world that is contrary to the mind and will of the Lord. (“Eternal Keys and the Right to Preside,” April 1972 General Conference)
J. Reuben Clark, Jr., a counselor the First Presidency, said:
You will never make a mistake by following the instructions and the counsel of him who stands at the head as God’s mouthpiece on earth. (Conference Report, October 1945, page 166; quoted in Religion 324-325 manual Doctrine and Covenants, 1981 edition, page 391. The quotes in this manual also appear to be cited in the current edition.)
As an apostle, Ezra Taft Benson said:
Keep your eye on the Prophet, for the Lord will never permit his Prophet to lead this Church astray. Let us live close to the Spirit, so we can test all counsel. (Conference Report, October 1966, page 123; quoted in Religion 324-325 manual, page 391)
Harold B. Lee, President of the Church, said:
I bear you my solemn witness that we have a living prophet, seer, and revelator. We are not dependent only upon the revelations given in the past… we have a mouthpiece to whom God is revealing his mind and will. God will never permit him to lead us astray. As has been said, God would remove us out of our place if we should attempt to do it. You have not concern. (“The Place of the Living Prophet, Seer, and Revelator,” Charge, page 112; quoted in Religion manual 333 Teachings of the Living Prophets, 1982 edition, page 15)
As an apostle, Marion G. Romney said:
I remember years ago when I was a bishop I had President [Heber J.] Grant talk to our ward. After the meeting, I drove him home…. When we got to his home I got out of the car and went up on the porch with him. Standing by me, he put his arm over my shoulder and said: “My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church, and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.” Then with a twinkle in his eye, he said, “But you don’t need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray.” (Conference Report, October 1960, page 78; quoted in Religion 333 manual, page 15)
Another apostle, Delbert L. Stapley, said:
Safety is in following divinely appointed leadership and counsel….
The keys of this power and authority center in the president of the High Priesthood of the Church. It is not given to any other man to so represent God here upon the earth….
God will not suffer his Church, established for the last time in this the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times when a restitution of all things is to be accomplished, to be led by a fallen prophet, or by someone whom he does not want. (Conference Report, April 1952, pages 49-50; quoted in Religion 333 manual, page 15)
Finally, from Church President Joseph F. Smith, as an apostle:
I testify in the name of Israel’s God that He will not suffer the head of the Church, him whom He has chosen to stand at the head, to transgress His laws and apostatize; the moment he should take a course that would in time lead to it, God would take him away. Why? Because to suffer a wicked man to occupy that position would be to allow, as it were, the fountain to become corrupted, which is something He will never permit. (Journal of Discourses, 24:192; quoted in Religion 333 manual, page 15)
I find the last quote particularly interesting, because it says that if the prophet even starts to do something that would eventually lead the Church astray, God would remove him from the position.
The idea that the prophet cannot lead us astray has been reinforced as recently as a few years ago. The June 1981 Liahona reprinted a 1980 address called “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet,” given at BYU by Ezra Taft Benson (then the President of the Quorum of the Twelve). This talk includes two of the quotes I used above (Official Declaration 1 from Wilford Woodruff, and Marion G. Romney). The October 2010 General Conference had two talks that referenced “Fourteen Fundamentals”: “Obedience to the Prophets” by Claudio R.M. Costa, and “Our Very Survival” by Kevin R. Duncan. Both men were then members of the Seventy, and both talks specifically mention that “The prophet will never lead the Church astray.”
Clearly the prophet is God’s man, and is someone whom we can trust to give us accurate counsel and direction. However, of course this doesn’t mean that the prophet is infallible. I have never believed that. A reading of the Doctrine and Covenants shows many instances of Joseph Smith being reprimanded by God for doing some dumb thing or another. He repented, and kept being the prophet, just like any regular person repents and does better next time. The key concept is that when the prophet speaks to the Church membership at large, following what he says to do will always be for our good. We won’t be “led astray.” When the servant of the Lord speaks His words, it is the same as if the Lord himself has spoken (Doctrine and Covenants 1:38).
Joseph Smith said:
A prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such. (History of the Church, 5:265; quoted in Religion 324-325 manual, page 391)
Okay, so how do I know when a prophet is acting as a prophet? Apostle John A. Widtsoe comments on this:
That statement makes a clear distinction between official and unofficial actions and utterances of officers of the Church. In this recorded statement the Prophet Joseph Smith recognizes his special right and duty, as the President and Prophet of the Church, under the inspiration of the Lord, to speak authoritatively and officially for the enlightenment and guidance of the Church. But he claims also the right, as other men, to labor and rest, to work and play, to visit and discuss, to present his opinions and hear the opinions of others, to counsel and bless as a member of the Church. (Evidences and Reconciliations, 1:182; quoted in Religion 324-325 manual, page 391)
That’s fair enough; a prophet has as much of a right to some down time as anyone else. But wait—and the manual emphasizes this—Widtsoe goes on to say that
unofficial expressions [of a prophet] carry greater weight than the opinions of other men of equal or greater gifts and experience but without the power of the prophetic office….
…The unofficial views and expressions of such a man with respect to any vital subject, should command respectful attention. (Evidences and Reconciliations, 1:183-84; quoted in Religion 324-325 manual, page 391)
So have the prophets ever led the Church astray? Either they have, and the scriptures and other teachings (from prophets and apostles) that they cannot are false; or they have not, but current practices of the Church have invalidated past statements, therefore casting doubt on past prophets’ prophetic qualifications and abilities. In both cases, what is the point of having a prophet anyway? The situation that bothers me the most is that of withholding the priesthood from black men.
Firstly, I must say that I do not necessarily find the past ban against priesthood eligibility (and by extension, temple attendance) to be without precedent. Historically, God has only allowed certain groups of people to hold the priesthood. It seems reasonable to me (at least, on the surface) that a particular group could be withheld from its ranks, because God said so. If we believe that the prophet speaks for God, and that the prophet says that God wants a group of people not to have the priesthood, then there must be a reason, even if we don’t know what that reason is (or it seems bizarre). God said it, and we can trust that He knows what He is doing.
The problem is, I don’t think that’s what happened.
In 2013, the Church released a new edition of the scriptures, for the first time since 1981. (Technically, that is not true, since in 2004 and 2006 the Church updated the Introduction to the Book of Mormon to eliminate a reference to the Bible containing the “the fulness of the everlasting gospel” and to relegate the Lamanites from being the “principal ancestors of the American Indians” to just “among [their] ancestors.” This Deseret News article has some details.) The updated heading to Official Declaration 2 in the Doctrine and Covenants reads:
During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, a few black male members of the Church were ordained to the priesthood. Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent. Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice.
The last sentence is a slippery one. As background, in late 2013—the same year the scriptures were updated—the Church began publishing new, anonymously-produced essays in the Gospel Topics section of its web site, without fanfare. There are several of these to date:
- First Vision Accounts
- Are Mormons Christian?
- Book of Mormon Translation
- Race and the Priesthood
- Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah
- Book of Mormon and DNA Studies
- Becoming Like God
- Peace and Violence Among 19th-Century Latter-day Saints
They are all interesting reading, attempting to cover some of the more controversial topics of Church history. As I mentioned before, while there are many problems to be found, only a few are of large concern to me. I’ll talk about “Race and the Priesthood” here and “Book of Mormon Translation” later on. (I must also briefly mention here that it is weird to me that there are four first hand accounts of the First Vision, all with different details, and none written until 12 years after the supposed event, with the official, canonized version written 18 years after. You would think it would have been a bigger deal.)
Back to the slippery sentence: “Church records offer no clear insights into the origin of this practice.” The only word that makes this sentence true is “clear,” and that arguably. From “Race and the Priesthood”:
There is no evidence that any black men were denied the priesthood during Joseph Smith’s lifetime….
In two speeches delivered before the Utah territorial legislature in January and February 1852, Brigham Young announced a policy restricting men of black African descent from priesthood ordination.
The footnote in the essay indicates that the announcement was recorded in papers that are contained in the Church History Library. So Church records do “offer… insights into the origin of this practice,” they just are not “clear insights.” For all we know black men could have been denied the priesthood at any time from 1844 to 1852; it just wasn’t announced publicly until 1852. Perhaps the situation was similar to the beginning of polygamy practices? According to the heading of Doctrine and Covenants 132:
Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Nauvoo, Illinois, recorded July 12, 1843, relating to the new and everlasting covenant, including the eternity of the marriage covenant and the principle of plural marriage. Although the revelation was recorded in 1843, evidence indicates that some of the principles involved in this revelation were known by the Prophet as early as 1831.
The “Race and the Priesthood” essay states:
Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church.
What were some of these theories?
The curse of Cain was often put forward as justification for the priesthood and temple restrictions. Around the turn of the century, another explanation gained currency: blacks were said to have been less than fully valiant in the premortal battle against Lucifer and, as a consequence, were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings.
I remember being taught the “descendents of Cain” bit growing up, probably in seminary, though I don’t recall being taught the “less valiant” one. I did, however, recently read a statement from Joseph Fielding Smith:
There were no neutrals in the war in heaven. All took sides either with Christ or with Satan. Every man had his agency there, and men receive rewards here based upon their actions there, just as they will receive rewards hereafter for deeds done in the body. The Negro, evidently, is receiving the reward he merits. (Doctrines of Salvation Vol. 1, 1954, pages 65-66)
And from an unofficial source, apparently Joseph Fielding Smith also first denied that Elijah Abel (referenced in “Race and the Priesthood”) actually received the priesthood, but then changed his mind and said instead that Abel received the priesthood before “the Prophet Joseph Smith [not Brigham Young] declared that the Negro was not to be ordained.”
Back to “Race and the Priesthood”:
Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.
And therein lies the problem. The Church today is trying to ignore or erase words of past prophets. But weren’t they just theories? What the “Race and the Priesthood” essay leaves out is that the First Presidency in 1949, with George Albert Smith as President, did not think so:
The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time. The prophets of the Lord have made several statements as to the operation of the principle. President Brigham Young said: “Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the holy priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the holy priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to.”
President Wilford Woodruff made the following statement: “The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have.”
The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintain their first estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes. (First Presidency statement, 8/17/1949)
Okay, the “direct commandment of the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church” was that black men could not hold the priesthood. Brigham Young is quoted, citing the “curse [of] the seed of Cain,” implying that black people are descendants of Cain. Finally, another “doctrine of the Church is [to be] kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect” upon mortal conditions, and that not having the right to the priesthood is a “handicap which spirits are willing to assume” for the great privilege of coming to earth. This is like me taking my children to Disneyland and only allowing the ones who like The Lord of the Rings as much as I do to go on the rides. But at least they’re at Disneyland, right? (I won’t mention the children who suggested we drive instead of fly. They get to stay home.)
A question to pose is, does the First Presidency have the authority to make these claims? While an assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Marion G. Romney said:
What they [the First Presidency] say as a presidency is what the Lord would say if he were here in person. This is the rock foundation of Mormonism…. So I repeat again, what the presidency say as a presidency is what the Lord would say if he were here, and it is scripture. It should be studied, understood, and followed, even as the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants and other scriptures. (Conference Report, April 1945, page 90; quoted in Religion 333 manual, page 25)
And as a counselor in the First Presidency, J. Reuben Clark, Jr. said:
Only the President of the Church, the Presiding High Priest, is sustained as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator for the Church, and he alone has the right to receive revelations for the Church, either new or amendatory, or to give authoritative interpretations of scriptures that shall be binding on the Church, or change in any way the existing doctrines of the Church. (Church News, 1/31/1954, page 10; quoted in Religion 324-325 manual, page 391)
It certainly seems that the First Presidency does, in fact, have the authority. And it’s to be taken as scripture, no less. So the Church “[disavowing] the theories advanced in the past” regarding reasons for the priesthood ban is equivalent to denying that the men who declared such lacked God’s authority. Why is this such a big deal? Because if teachings of past prophets and apostles can be ignored and swept under the rug, how can I trust that teachings of current prophets and apostles will not suffer the same fate? And because only the President of the Church has the authority to change doctrines in any way, I assume President Monson sanctioned the content of this essay.
As trite as it is to “[disavow] the theories advanced in the past,” at least the essay was more tactful about it than apostle Bruce R. McConkie was when speaking on the subject:
And all I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. (“All Are Alike Unto God,” CES Religious Educators Symposium address 8/18/1978, emphasis added)
Finally, there is this funny statement from “Race and the Priesthood”:
While Church records for individual members do not indicate an individual’s race or ethnicity, the number of Church members of African descent is now in the hundreds of thousands.
If the records don’t indicate race, how does the Church know how many members of any given race there are? Did the prophet reveal the numbers? (Of course, that was supposed to be a snarky, rhetorical question. Then I found an article in the July 1971 Ensign called “Of Royal Blood” in which Spencer W. Kimball does mention membership numbers of various ethnicities. He was a few years shy of being the prophet at the time, though.)
Tithing, Church finances, and the City Creek Mall
As long as I can remember, I have always paid my tithing, and I have never had any serious financial problems. Therefore, I had a testimony of tithing. When I first got a job at sixteen years old, I paid tithing on my post-tax, net wage. After a while of this—I think maybe a year, but I don’t remember the exact timeframe—I decided that I should be paying on my pre-tax, gross wage. I was so adamant in my new resolve that I paid “back” tithing in an effort to catch up, lest I “rob God” (Malachi 3:8). I continued the practice of paying on pre-tax wage for the next 15 years or so, until shortly after I read a blog post on tithing in late 2012. It got me thinking, and after some discussion with my wife, we agreed that we would adjust our payment of tithing to be after necessary living expenses. I tried my best to be “fair”; I felt that my mortgage, for example, was a necessary expense, but the payment on our second car was not. I felt good about my decision, but I continued to study more about tithing (among other subjects), to be sure I was in the right.
During his time as President of the Church, Spencer W. Kimball said:
Inquiries are received at the office of the First Presidency from time to time from officers and members of the Church asking for information as to what is considered a proper tithe.
We have uniformly replied that the simplest statement we know of is the statement of the Lord himself, namely, that the members of the Church should pay “one-tenth of all their interest annually” which is understood to mean income. (“The Law of Tithing,” October 1980 General Conference)
Though not noted in the General Conference talk, this statement is simply a reiteration of an earlier letter from the First Presidency on March 19, 1970:
[We] have uniformly replied that the simplest statement we know of is that statement of the Lord himself that the members of the Church should pay one-tenth of all their interest annually, which is understood to mean income. No one is justified in making any other statement than this. We feel that every member of the Church should be entitled to make his own decision as to what he thinks he owes the Lord, and to make payment accordingly. (“I Have a Question,” Ensign, April 1974; “To the Point,” New Era, February 2008; “Tithes and Offerings,” The Latter-day Saint Woman: Basic Manual for Women, Part B, Lesson 6)
In 1970, The First Presidency—who has, as previously mentioned, the right to declare doctrine for the Church, even to the point that can be considered scripture—said that members of the Church are to pay 10% of their income, that members are to make their own decision about what that means for them, and that no one else can say otherwise. This statement was referenced as recently as 2008 in an official Church magazine, and as far as I am aware, it is the statement referenced in the most recent General Handbook of Instructions for the Church leadership.
So why, in my 1979 edition (printed in 1990) of Gospel Principles—the one included with the “Missionary Reference Library” that I took with me as a missionary in 1999—does it get more specific?
A tithe is one-tenth of our increase. This means that we give one-tenth of all we earn before we pay for our own needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. (Pages 197-198)
The 1997 edition says the same thing on page 208. The current edition does not, and generically refers to the 1970 First Presidency statement instead.
In the Church we are often taught that the “windows of heaven” will be opened to those who pay tithing. In my experience, the heavy implication is that this refers to temporal, or financial welfare. Indeed, among many of Spencer W. Kimball’s teachings about tithing is that it is “the cure to poverty.” The 1996 edition of the Religion 130 manual Missionary Preparation contains this statement, as part of a lengthy excerpt from a BYU 10-stake fireside given 9/27/1971. While relating a story of speaking to a member of the press in Lima, he continues:
I would have you come to the headquarters of Mormonism… I think you will not see a single beggar in Salt Lake City, none starving, and few, if any, unclothed and unhoused. (quoted in Religion 130 manual, page 131)
Perhaps in 1971 (or rather, whatever year Kimball was in Lima) Salt Lake City was in such fine condition. It is certainly not the case today, and I think not for lack of people paying their tithing. Perhaps only the rich are paying their tithing? Spencer W. Kimball also said:
There are people who say they cannot afford to pay tithing, because their incomes are small. They are the people who need the blessings of the Lord! No one is ever too poor to pay tithing, and the Lord has promised that he will open the windows of heaven when we are obedient to his law. He can give us better salaries, he can give us more judgment on the spending of our money. (Hamburg Stake Conference 1/21/1962; quoted in Religion 130 manual, page 130)
Kimball seems to be intimating that if poor people pay their tithing, they will be blessed with enough to meet their financial needs. This also seems to agree with a statement from an article in the December 2012 Ensign, in which a bishop counsels a family:
If paying tithing means that you can’t pay for water or electricity, pay tithing. If paying tithing means that you can’t pay your rent, pay tithing. Even if paying tithing means that you don’t have enough money to feed your family, pay tithing. The Lord will not abandon you. (“Sacred Transformations,” Ensign, December 2012)
However, current apostle Russell M. Nelson seems not to agree. In a message which is also disturbing for other reasons which I won’t get into here, he says:
Other laws are designed to bless us here in mortality. One such law is tithing: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse … and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord … , if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” (“Divine Love,” Ensign, February 2003)
On the surface, there appears to be nothing wrong with that statement. It’s the footnote wherein lies the problem:
The Lord did not restrict how He would bless tithe payers. Some are blessed spiritually more than they are temporally.
So really, there isn’t a guarantee that we will have enough to take care of our needs. We might only be blessed “spiritually.” Personally, I simply do not believe that the Lord expects me to fund a mall and other enterprises (as discussed subsequently) before ensuring that my children have a roof over their head and that they don’t go hungry.
Kevin W. Pearson, First Counselor in the Pacific Area Presidency, said:
But what is the value of a returned missionary to the Church? And, why is it so important that the youth of the Church serve full-time missions?… Consider this important point: a young man who faithfully serves a mission will likely marry in the temple and a raise a righteous family. His children, and their children, will also likely grow up to be active faithful members of the Church. In three generations that young returned missionary’s posterity will probably account for over eighteen active adult tithe-paying members. (“The Value of a Returned Missionary”, August 2012 Area Presidency Message)
Returned missionaries are more likely to stay active in the Church and provide the Church with more money. I know I did for nearly an additional 13 years after returning home. It makes perfect sense, but it’s still disturbing to see leaders openly admit it. Spencer W. Kimball also contributed to this attitude, when he said:
We frequently have people say, “Oh, we believe in tithing, but the tenth of December we had a serious accident that took all of our reserves, and therefore we couldn’t pay our tithing at the end of the year.” If they had been paying their tithing every time they had an income of a few dollars or more, then they might not have had the accident; at any rate, they would have had their tithing paid. (“The Oils of Righteousness,” BYU Stake Conference 1/13/1957; quoted in Religion 130 manual, page 129)
My translation: “If you pay your tithing, bad things will not happen to you, but even if they do, at least the Church got your money first.”
After reading the above quotes, coupled with discovering that the Church owns a lot of real estate and other for-profit enterprises—especially the City Creek Mall with its hefty price tag—I became sick at the thought of where my tithing money was going. I am fine with building meetinghouses and temples and other places of worship, with subsidizing education at BYU, with printing lesson manuals, etc. I am really not fine with building a giant mall. I’ve heard it said that the mall was not built with tithing money. Well, that money still came from somewhere; at some point money was donated to the Church in some form and eventually found its way to funding the building of a mall. To paraphrase a forum post I read somewhere, when Jesus chased the money changers out of the temple, I doubt he told them to take it across the street and give Him some of the proceeds.
The estimates seem to be all over the place with regards to the cost of the mall, but the most favorable (to the Church) seems to be about $1.5 billion. That’s a lot of money that could have been spent on more worthwhile things. The recent announcement of more commercial development in Philadelphia also left a sour impression on me, and made me consider the request for more donations to the Church’s general missionary fund with disgust.
The request I am referring to came from President Thomas S. Monson in the April 2013 General Conference, six months after announcing the lowering of age requirements for missionary service in October 2012:
The response of our young people has been remarkable and inspiring. As of April 4—two days ago—we have 65,634 full-time missionaries serving, with over 20,000 more who have received their calls but who have not yet entered a missionary training center and over 6,000 more in the interview process with their bishops and stake presidents. It has been necessary for us to create 58 new missions to accommodate the increased numbers of missionaries.
To help maintain this missionary force, and because many of our missionaries come from modest circumstances, we invite you, as you are able, to contribute generously to the General Missionary Fund of the Church. (“Welcome to Conference,” April 2013 General Conference)
Maybe the profits from the giant mall could be invested in missionary work instead of asking the members to do it on top of tithing and fast offerings that are already given. Even my nine-year-old can see this.
To further beat a dead horse, it’s funny that the Church can afford a giant mall but stopped paying janitors for meetinghouses, asking the members to take up the slack. In 1999, Presiding Bishop H. David Burton said:
The same opportunities to sacrifice for the kingdom do not exist today as they once did…. Members of the Church are invited to participate in the cleaning of their buildings in such a way that, by their sacrifice, they will come to honor and respect and love these beautiful houses of worship. The most important thing to understand is that this program was not primarily instituted to save money. This is a program to develop personal character and receive eternal blessings. (“News of the Church”, Ensign, June 1999)
Call me cynical, but I just don’t believe that this wasn’t a cost-saving measure, at least in part. I am also resentful of the fact that, at least in my ward, members are assigned, not asked, to clean the building and are expected to find replacements in the event that a conflict exists with their assigned time. So much for volunteering our own efforts. Also, cleaning the church building does not help me to respect it. Having been taught to be respectful of things helps me to respect it.
Finally, and amusingly, I was honestly shocked to discover that a member of the First Presidency had actually referred to the “payment of tithing [being] worthwhile as fire insurance” (“The Blessings of an Honest Tithe,” New Era, Jan.-Feb. 1982). I thought that was just something members said jokingly due to Doctrine and Covenants 64:23.
Not as amusingly, I find some irony in the fact that in the temple we are instructed not to sell the signs and tokens we receive for money, but without the payment of money, i.e. tithing, we cannot enter the temple to receive said signs and tokens.
Translation of the Book of Mormon
At one time, I had a testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. I have read it multiple times, and I believed it was the word of God for us in modern times. Today, I am still not terribly concerned about the purported unrealistic or plagiarized nature of the content that I have read about elsewhere. I have no problem with the Church’s current claim that “the primary purpose of the Book of Mormon is more spiritual than historical” (“Book of Mormon and DNA Studies”), i.e. “don’t worry if no archaeological evidence is actually found.” I can put the Book of Mormon in the same category as The Lord of the Rings; that is, I can enjoy the content and themes of good versus evil without worrying about where Bag End was actually located or if Took DNA has been linked to modern Scots. (I also enjoy The Lord of the Rings more.)
The basic method that I was taught all my life by which Joseph Smith translated the gold plates into what we have today as the Book of Mormon is “the gift and power of God.” But what does that mean, exactly? In seminary, church lessons, and other places I was taught that Joseph used the Urim and Thummim that he found buried with the plates in the Hill Cumorah in order to read the language of the plates and dictate its English equivalent to whichever scribe happened to be working for him at the given time. One piece of artwork the Church publishes is an image of Joseph Smith reading directly from the plates while Oliver Cowdery acts as scribe. It currently can be found in the media library on the Church’s web site. The printed edition of this picture is part of the Church’s Gospel Art Kit, and the back side contains the following text:
When the prophet Joseph Smith received the gold plates from the angel Moroni, he studied the strange language written on them. With Heavenly Father’s help, Joseph translated the writing on the gold plates into words he could understand. Oliver Cowdery helped Joseph by being his scribe. As Joseph read out loud from the plates, Oliver wrote down the words.
Which brings me to the “Book of Mormon Translation” essay published in 2013. The first heading of the essay is “By the Gift and Power of God,” and the essay page itself even includes links to two different Church publications that include the image of Joseph and Oliver described above (“Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon and Restoration of the Priesthood,” Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual, Chapter 5; “By the Gift and Power of God,” Ensign, January 1997. The second link does not include the picture on the page, but rather a note indicating that it existed in the print version of the magazine.).
First, the essay mentions that “an angel who called himself Moroni appeared [to] Joseph” but then includes a footnote suggesting further reading for information “on the identity of the angel.” Was it Moroni, or not? Is it one of those “Gabriel is really Noah” things, like maybe Moroni was Nephi or something?
Then, it tries to downplay the education of Joseph Smith, indicating that of course God had to help him translate the plates, because he wasn’t able to write well enough on his own at that point in his life. The essay cites Emma Smith saying, near the end of her life, that he “could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter, let alone dictat[e] a book like the Book of Mormon.” What is interesting is that the source of this citation is “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” in which she also denies that any revelation on plural marriage was ever received, or that it was taught as a principle of the gospel, or that Joseph ever practiced it. It doesn’t strike me as the most reliable source.
The essay then gets into the instruments Joseph used as part of the translation process, first citing the previously mentioned Urim and Thummim (though as the essay notes—in a footnote—these “interpreters” were not associated with the term “Urim and Thummim” until 1833, a few years after the publication of the Book of Mormon), and afterward “a small oval stone, or ‘seer stone'” that Joseph had discovered in the ground years prior, probably around 1822. At this point the essay starts to unravel for me.
As a young man during the 1820s, Joseph Smith, like others in his day, used a seer stone to look for lost objects and buried treasure. As Joseph grew to understand his prophetic calling, he learned that he could use this stone for the higher purpose of translating scripture.
Okay, what? “Like others in his day?” That’s a thinly-veiled euphemism for “everyone else was doing it.” Saying that Joseph found a “higher purpose” for the stone without condemning its former use as a peep stone is like saying it’s okay to masturbate as long as you eventually use your sex parts for the higher purpose of having children within the bounds of marriage between one man and one woman. Oh, the Church doesn’t teach that? My mistake. The footnote attempting explanation makes it even worse:
Joseph did not hide his well-known early involvement in treasure seeking. In 1838, he published responses to questions frequently asked of him. “Was not Jo Smith a money digger,” one question read. “Yes,” Joseph answered, “but it was never a very profitable job to him, as he only got fourteen dollars a month for it.”
Not “Yes, but it was wrong and I repented,” but “Yes, but I couldn’t make a good enough living off of it.” Continuing from the essay:
Apparently for convenience, Joseph often translated with the single seer stone rather than the two stones bound together to form the interpreters.
Again: okay, what? For “convenience?” Convenience? I must have missed all of the other times in scriptural history when God made it convenient for the prophet or His people to accomplish His will. Nephi murdering Laban to obtain the brass plates? Not convenient. Noah building a massive ark to save his family and all the animals? Not convenient. Jonah traveling part of the way to Ninevah inside a great fish? Not convenient. Moses wandering around for 40 years in the wilderness with the Israelites? Not convenient. Jesus Himself suffering for all mankind? Not convenient. You get the picture. So God goes to the trouble of having the Nephites pass down the interpreters from generation to generation, preserving them for Joseph Smith to use in translating the plates, and for convenience he uses his own seer stone instead?
And. Then. The rock in the hat.
[M]any accounts refer to his use of a single stone. According to these accounts, Joseph placed either the interpreters or the seer stone in a hat, pressed his face into the hat to block out extraneous light, and read aloud the English words that appeared on the instrument.
[Emma] described Joseph “sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.” According to Emma, the plates “often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen table cloth.”
So, not only did God have the Nephites preserve the interpreters for no reason, He also had them engrave on gold plates, in “reformed Egyptian” because there wasn’t enough room for Hebrew (Mormon 9:32-33)—yet somehow over 1200 instances of “it came to pass” were able to slip in—lug those plates around, preserve them for Joseph Smith, who didn’t use them to translate from (for convenience, maybe?). It’s also funny that the plates were out in the open, “without any attempt at concealment,” except of course for the “small linen table cloth” which was, what’s that word again… oh! concealing them.
In fairness, Emma’s account also comes from “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” which denies polygamy, so maybe she was lying about the rock in the hat, too. That doesn’t account, ha ha, for the other “many accounts,” though.
Another scribe, Martin Harris sat across the table from Joseph Smith and wrote down the words Joseph dictated. Harris later related that as Joseph used the seer stone to translate, sentences appeared. Joseph read those sentences aloud, and after penning the words, Harris would say, “Written.” An associate who interviewed Harris recorded him saying that Joseph “possessed a seer stone, by which he was enabled to translate as well as from the Urim and Thummim, and for convenience he then used the seer stone.”
This seems to leave virtually no wiggle room for mistranslation, or the theories that Joseph was allowed to choose whatever words he thought best for the English reader.
I can see why the Church has promoted, even if just by the artwork it puts in its publications, the “reading the plates to the scribe” version of the translation process all these years, because the apparently actual account is just ridiculous, and not just conveniently so.
I come to this topic last because it’s not really something that makes the Church untrue for me, but it is something I feel strongly about.
I am not okay with the Church’s attitude toward sex. While I do not advocate extramarital sex, neither do I agree with the ridiculous amount of guilt-inducing teaching that goes on. For 20 years, I felt like I was an awful, awful person for even the occasional viewing of pornography, or masturbation. I would feel shame that I was unable to control my impulses, and that shame would feed further indulgence so that I could escape the feelings for a time, which would lead to more shame, and rinse and repeat. This continued into my adulthood, preventing timely performance of a temple sealing, delaying baby blessings, etc.
I tried a lot of different things to overcome my so-called addiction. I prayed and read the scriptures. I hummed my favorite hymns. I went to a few meetings of the Church’s 12-step program. I read books that were supposedly helpful (one of which simply infuriated me for suggesting that pornography viewers generally became pedophiles or otherwise violent sexual offenders). I just couldn’t get there, and for a long time I was depressed, and I felt like it was my own fault that I was depressed, because I wasn’t trying hard enough to give my life to the Lord.
When I was 15, one day my seminary teacher told the girls in our class that if they discovered any boy they might want to date was involved in pornography in any way, that said boy was not worth their time and should be avoided at all costs. Boy, did that ever make me feel worthwhile. Luckily, the girl I was interested in at the time was understanding and really tried to help me overcome my problem. Of course, we were teenagers, and therefore stupid, and so the relationship fizzled after a few months anyway.
As an amusing side note, I once confessed to a girl my heinous crime of masturbation, but was too embarrassed to say the word out loud, so I used the 1990 edition of the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet to help me. I pointed to the word, and she gasped loudly. I then realized that I was actually pointing at the word “homosexuality,” which was one line above and slightly to the right of the word “masturbation.” I assured her that I was not, in fact, attracted to other men, but I don’t know how relieved she was. (Curiously, the current version of For the Strength of Youth does not mention masturbation specifically, but alludes to it in general terms. It does still specifically mention homosexuality.)
Speaking of homosexuality, I have no opinion on the matter, other than to say a few things. One, who’s to say that teachings against gay marriage won’t eventually go the way of teachings against the priesthood being withheld from black people because of their unrighteous premortal actions, etc.? Two, even though the thought of two guys together is icky to me, I don’t see how their right to be married infringes on my straight marriage, my right of religious freedom, or my right to think that two guys together is icky. I am also saddened by the following statement by current apostle Dallin H. Oaks:
Unmarried mothers have massive challenges, and the evidence is clear that their children are at a significant disadvantage when compared with children raised by married parents…. We should assume the same disadvantages for children raised by couples of the same gender. (“Protect the Children,” October 2012 General Conference)
I definitely believe that children benefit from a stable, loving home with two parents. To say that those two parents being gay is just as bad as having one parent struggling to make ends meet or with other challenges such as being able to provide adequate family time with the children is appalling, to say the least.
Back to pornography and masturbation, while I don’t want my children viewing hardcore sexual images as teenagers and developing a distorted view of sex, neither do I want them to be ashamed of having natural sexual feelings, or to think that women who wear tank tops are slutty, or that masturbation makes them dirty. I don’t want them to think people are evil if they choose to have sex outside of marriage. I want them to understand the importance of sex—that is, that it has consequences and should not be approached lightly—and to be educated adequately. I want them to know that if they do “mess up,” they are not bad people. If there is one thing that I wish I could change about my youth, it’s that. Once I finally was able to let go of the indoctrination and guilt I received for all those years, the “need” for porn or masturbation faded away.
The March 2013 issue of the Ensign contains a disturbing article entitled “The Lord’s Standard of Morality” by Tad R. Callister, then of the Presidency of the Seventy. I’ve read a few other people’s opinions on the article, but I’d like to just share my own here. First, a reiteration of the notion that God does not change His mind:
So it is with God our Father—He needs to speak only once on the issue of morality, and that one declaration trumps all the opinions of the lower courts, whether uttered by psychologists, counselors, politicians, friends, parents, or would-be moralists of the day.
Since God only needs to speak once on an issue, why again do doctrines of the Church change? But I digress. I applaud Callister’s self-proclaimed minimization of ambiguity:
I now cite some of the Lord’s standards of morality so as to minimize any misunderstanding or ambiguity…. [Fornication and adultery] constitute the ultimate use of the procreative power with someone of the opposite sex with whom we are not legally married.
I assume that by the “ultimate use of the procreative power” he means sex, but is too embarrassed to actually use the word. Indeed, the only use of the word “sex” in the entire article is in the phrase “the opposite sex” just quoted. So much for lack of ambiguity. On the positive side, does this mean it’s okay to get to third base with someone else’s spouse without committing adultery?
He’s also too embarrassed to say “masturbation,” instead resorting to the cringe-inducing “self-abuse,” which he defines as “the act of stimulating the procreative power of one’s own body.” I understand the use of the term in an LDS context, and indeed heard it many times as a teenager, but I think today it refers to something I think is much more serious, and that is cutting oneself or inflicting other self-harm.
Callister then talks about “same-gender relationships,” saying:
Some would have us believe that the Church’s stand against same-gender physical relationships is a temporary policy and not an eternal doctrine.
Again, given the Church’s track record on issues, that’s debatable. It’s also amusing that the words “gay” and “homosexual” are nowhere to be found in the article, because they are icky and unambiguous. The funniest part of the article, however, is when he states:
Satan is like an octopus trying to capture us. If one tentacle does not work, he will try another and another until he finds one that takes hold.
The reason this is so funny is that the same issue of the magazine contains an article by David A. Bednar, one of the current apostles, where he talks about tentacles—specifically, the “tentacles of Divine Providence.” He uses this phrase in the article 5 times. Five times! The tentacles of Divine Providence are there to rescue us when we go astray. Apparently God and the Devil are engaged in a giant monster fight for our souls, and I shudder to think where Godzilla may fit into all this. The editors must really have not been paying attention that month. Bednar also goes out of his way to assure us that, despite any past Church leaders’ teachings to the contrary, the righteousness of parents has no effect on the salvation of their wayward children.
Back to “The Lord’s Standard of Morality,” Callister goes on to talk about different tentacles, such as pornography, immodest dress, and unclean thoughts. There’s this gem of a quote:
The dress of a woman has a powerful impact upon the minds and passions of men…. Women particularly can dress modestly and in the process contribute to their own self-respect and to the moral purity of men. In the end, most women get the type of man they dress for.
In other words, women are responsible for men’s thoughts. Couple that with adultery being full-on sex and I can get to third base with a scantily-clad woman, and it’s not my fault. She gets what she dresses for, the tramp. It seems incredible, but lest we assume that this is just a rogue General Authority with his own ideas about women’s responsibility for men, let us note the words of current apostle Dallin H. Oaks. Near the end of a talk directed primarily to men about the evils of pornography, he says:
And young women, please understand that if you dress immodestly, you are magnifying this problem by becoming pornography to some of the men who see you. (“Pornography,” April 2005 General Conference)
Returning to Callister’s article, there’s more talk about sinning, rationalization, and eventually repentance, offering up such hopeful assurances that we can be forgiven of transgression. Then at the end the hopes are subtly dashed with the words:
…a [clean and moral] life will bring self-confidence and self-esteem. It will result in a clear conscience. It will make us eligible for a spouse of like purity…
So if you commit sexual sin and then fully repent, you’re not worthy to end up with someone who has always remained “pure.”
There are more teachings of the Church regarding sexuality that I find distressing, but I’ll just touch on a few more.
In a fantastically shaming message given during General Conference, Vaughn J. Featherstone (as a member of the Presiding Bishopric) told of a man who raised his child from the dead:
I know of a great man who held his dead son in his arms, and said, “In the name of Jesus Christ and by the power and authority of the Holy Melchizedek Priesthood, I command you to live.” And the dead boy opened up his eyes.
This great brother could not have possibly done that had he been looking at a pornographic piece of material a few nights before or if he had been involved in any other transgression of that kind. The priesthood has to have a pure conduit to operate. (“A Self-Inflicted Purging,” April 1975 General Conference)
Maybe I’m overly-sensitive, but I have a hard time believing God would let a child die for a reason so petty as his father having seen something naughty. I suppose this is an instance where the sins of the father are counted unto the third and fourth generation, as opposed to men being punished for their own sins.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure if that’s the most disturbing thing about that talk. The titular “self-inflicted purging” is in reference to making ourselves pure in heart. At first Featherstone talks about various sexually-related topics: pornography, masturbation, fornication, etc. Then he talks about something equally valuable: the importance of being on time for Church meetings. No, really:
Let me talk about another thing that keeps us from being pure in heart. We need to purge out of our lives the desire to come to meetings late and leave early.
He spends a good four paragraphs on the subject. He also agrees with a bishop who told a girl that she needed to lose weight to be more attractive, and finishes in magnificent form by professing his belief that cola drinks are indeed a violation of the Word of Wisdom. To recap: to be pure in heart, we must avoid sexual improprieties, encourage thinness, avoid caffeinated sodas, and be on time for our meetings (and no leaving early).
Moving on, apparently theft leads to sex, even consensual sex:
The boy who has learned to control impulses to steal… will be less likely later to steal a girl’s chastity… (“Teaching Adolescents: from Twelve to Eighteen Years,” A Parent’s Guide, Chapter 5)
I can make the connection between theft and rape. I simply cannot get there when two consenting adults engage in sexy times, even if said sexy times are not condoned by God. You cannot steal what is freely given.
Spencer W. Kimball is the gift that keeps on giving. He said:
Masturbation, a rather common indiscretion, is not approved of the Lord nor of his church, regardless of what may have been said by others whose “norms” are lower…. Sometimes masturbation is the introduction to the more serious sins of exhibitionism and the gross sin of homosexuality. (“President Kimball Speaks Out on Morality,” Ensign, November 1980)
This is actually a milder version of words from his book The Miracle of Forgiveness, in which he says:
[Masturbation] is of itself bad enough to require sincere repentance. What is more, it too often leads to grievous sin, even to that sin against nature, homosexuality. For, done in private, it evolves often into mutual masturbation—practiced with another person of the same sex and thence into total homosexuality. (2002 printing, page 76)
But it doesn’t stop there:
Homosexuality is an ugly sin…. It is embarrassing and unpleasant as a subject for discussion…. Sin in sex practices tends to have a “snowballing” effect. As the restraints fall away, Satan incites the carnal man to ever-deepening degeneracy in his search for excitement until in many instances he is lost to any former considerations of decency. Thus it is that through the ages, perhaps as an extension of homosexual practices, men and women have sunk even to seeking sexual satisfactions with animals. (ibid.)
Holy. Crap. Is all I can say to that. But it doesn’t stop there! In 1994 apostle Richard G. Scott went above and beyond the call of duty to suggest that any unauthorized sexual activity can lead to homosexuality, using Kimball’s 1980 Ensign message as the reference in the footnote. Answering the questions “Why is the law of chastity so important? Why is sex before marriage wrong?”, he said:
Within the sacred covenant of marriage, such relationships are according to His plan. When experienced any other way, they are against His will. They cause serious emotional and spiritual harm. Even though participants do not realize that is happening now, they will later. Sexual immorality creates a barrier to the influence of the Holy Spirit with all its uplifting, enlightening, and empowering capabilities. It causes powerful physical and emotional stimulation. In time that creates an unquenchable appetite that drives the offender to ever more serious sin…. Such stimulation can lead to acts of homosexuality, and they are evil and absolutely wrong. (“Making the Right Choices,” October 1994 General Conference)
With extramartial sex leading to homosexuality, and with that possibly extending to bestiality, it truly is a wonder that domestic animals enjoy peace of mind in our society today. I reiterate, Holy. Crap.
Finally, I find the following teaching from Spencer W. Kimball repulsive:
A few years ago a young couple who lived in northern Utah came to Salt Lake City for their marriage. They did not want to bother with a temple marriage, or perhaps they did not feel worthy. At any rate, they had a civil marriage. After the marriage they got into their automobile and drove north to their home for a wedding reception. On their way home they had an accident, and when the wreckage was cleared, there was a dead man and a dead young woman. They had been married only an hour or two. Their marriage was ended. They thought they loved each other. They wanted to live together forever, but they did not live the commandments that would make that possible. So death came in and closed that career. They may have been good young people; I don’t know. But they will be angels in heaven if they are. They will not be gods and goddesses and priests and priestesses because they did not fulfill the commandments and do the things that were required at their hands. (“Temple Marriage,” Young Women Manual 2, Lesson 15)
My wife and I were married civilly. We had the goal to get to the temple at the time, and it took us longer than we had planned, but we did get there. It’s not comforting to know that God’s prophet taught that God would ignore the desires of our hearts and the progress we were trying make if an accident had taken one or both of us before our goal was achieved. I suppose that proves the adage, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions”? We admittedly were not worthy by Church standards to obtain a temple recommend at the time of our marriage, so perhaps we deserved to be cast aside. However, after discussing it with each other we agreed that it would be better to marry civilly first, and our bishop agreed with and supported our decision, with the understanding that we would be working toward attending the temple as soon as possible.
The Church simply does not teach a healthy view of sex. It’s all “Don’t touch yourself!” and “Immodesty is bad!” (with a definition of immodesty that invariably focuses on the amount of skin showing, rather than the attitudes or actions of the person), and then “Get married quick, and then sex is okay!” Attempting to flip a switch in your head from “sex bad sin next to murder” to “sex good make many babies” does not make for healthy results. I sometimes still experience feelings of guilt for normal, Church-approved intimacy with my wife.
In the end
I feel as though I have laid bare my soul, and at the same time barely scratched the surface of all that I have been feeling.
I still believe in God. I have had spiritual experiences that I cannot discount. I believe that we have a purpose here. I believe that humanity exists to be good to each other, to take care of each other, and to be the best people that we can be. Beyond that, I hope that by putting my feelings into words, and supporting my claims and feelings with “official” Church sources—not relying on what other disaffected members or those critical of the Church say, but on my own study and experience—that I can continue to move on and rebuild my faith in something that I can believe in wholeheartedly. I have no idea what that may be, or when or even if I will get there. Right now I am taking it one day at a time. Some days are miserable, and some days are not.
I have worried that I am leading my family astray. The draw of an eternal family is a powerful one. I believe, however, that God will judge me for my heart and that He will not separate me from my loved ones unjustly. I am also unable to withhold the things I have learned from my children, as they deserve to know the truth as it can be appropriately relayed to them at their ages. I am profoundly grateful that I have a loving wife who supports me and stands by me. Like all couples, we have our happy times and our trying times. I don’t know what I would do without her to help me through this transitional period of my life, and I cannot thank her enough for putting up with my disappointment, feelings of loss, and tears as I try to become a better man.
I don’t generally begrudge my time as a believing member of the Church. I’ve had many wonderful experiences and I believe that, by and large, the members of the Church are good people trying to do good things. I have fond memories of my time as a missionary (and some really not fond memories, too). It is just simply not for me anymore.
Finally, I have, as I said, only touched on the few issues that affect me the most. A more involved treatment of many issues can be found in what is known as the CES Letter. I also found An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins, by Grant Palmer, to be an interesting read.
Updates to the Original Text
10/9/2014: This teaching [the prophet cannot lead the Church astray] was also mentioned more than once in the October 2014 General Conference. Current apostle Russell M. Nelson declared:
Imagine the privilege the Lord has given us of sustaining His prophet, whose counsel will be untainted, unvarnished, unmotivated by any personal aspiration, and utterly true!…
Counterbalances and safeguards abound so that no one can ever lead the Church astray. (“Sustaining the Prophets,” October 2014 General Conference)
Later that day, apostle M. Russell Ballard extended this to “the leaders of the Church” (by which I assume from his comments he means the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve):
Recently, I spoke at the new mission presidents’ seminar and counseled these leaders:
“Keep the eyes of the mission on the leaders of the Church. … We will not and … cannot lead [you] astray.
“And as you teach your missionaries to focus their eyes on us, teach them to never follow those who think they know more about how to administer the affairs of the Church than … Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ do” through the priesthood leaders who have the keys to preside.
“I have discovered in my ministry that those who have become lost [and] confused are typically those who have most often … forgotten that when the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve speak with a united voice, it is the voice of the Lord for that time. The Lord reminds us, ‘Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same’ [D&C 1:38].” (“Stay in the Boat and Hold On!,” October 2014 General Conference)
10/21/2014: More essays have been added.
- Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham
- Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
- Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo
- The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage
12/23/2014: This teaching [the prophet cannot lead the Church astray] is present yet again in the First Presidency Message of the January 2015 Ensign, attached to the name of none other than current Church President Thomas S. Monson. He relates a story of an apostle counseling him to choose his duties as a bishopric counselor over being a commissioned Naval officer. Setting aside the statement that “I would not hold the position in the Church I hold today had I not followed the counsel of a prophet”—though at the time that prophet (Harold B. Lee) held the position of apostle, members of the Church sustain all members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators—the message concludes with the following:
If you want to see the light of heaven, if you want to feel the inspiration of Almighty God, if you want to have that feeling within your bosom that your Heavenly Father is guiding you, then follow the prophets of God. When you follow the prophets, you will be in safe territory (“Follow the Prophets,” Ensign, January 2015).
It would seem that if one does not follow the prophet’s counsel, one is not even entitled to the guidance of the Holy Ghost.
12/30/2014: I should also mention that some of the sordid details of Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy also bother me, most notably the account Helen Mar Kimball, “who was sealed to Joseph several months before her 15th birthday” (“Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo”)—with him aged 37; that Joseph married other men’s wives (sometimes after sending the husband away on a mission); and that his first plural wife, Fanny Alger, apparently became such 1. while plural marriage was against the state law, and 2. before the sealing power was restored in 1836.
However, the subject of polygamy is beyond the scope of my original essay (and the later plural marriage essays were not yet published) and would require more time and effort to discuss than I care to offer for now.
The only other thing I wish to note here in connection with the essays is that finally, and only after The New York Times published an article called “It’s Official: Mormon Founder Had Up to 40 Wives,” the Church itself formally acknowledged the essays on its Newsroom site.
10/27/2015: Along with a firm statement implying that questioning anything Church leaders say is inappropriate and unnecessary, the teaching that the prophet cannot lead the Church astray was again reinforced in the closing remarks of a talk given by apostle M. Russell Ballard to Young Single Adults in Provo, Utah on 10/24/2015.
It’s wonderful to know what we know. We’re so blessed. We don’t have to wonder what we’re here for. We don’t have to question anything in the Church. Don’t get off into that. Just stay in the Book of Mormon. Just stay in the Doctrine and Covenants. Just listen to the prophets. Just listen to the apostles. We won’t lead you astray. We cannot lead you astray. That’s why there are fifteen of us. We’re pretty hard on each other to be sure we keep the white line, the Church, right on the white line of life. We will do that (
“Provo YSA Devotional with Elder M. Russell Ballard and Elder L. Whitney Clayton”).
More essays have also been added.
The Gospel Topics Essays page has also been updated with language stating that each of the referenced essays have been approved by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. There is also a short video interview with Church Historian Steven E. Snow where he states that “those answers [in the essays] have been approved by the presiding brethren of the Church.”
5/17/2016: The Church removed the video of the Provo YSA Devotional from 10/24/2015 from its web site. However, the audio of M. Russell Ballard’s talk can be found on YouTube.
In February 2016, Ballard also encouraged CES instructors to become familiar with the Gospel Topics Essays, though I find his assertion that the essays “provide balanced and reliable interpretations of the facts for controversial and unfamiliar Church-related subjects” somewhat lacking in accuracy (“The Opportunities and Responsibilities of CES Teachers in the 21st Century”).
The page with the image of Joseph Smith translating the plates has also been removed from the Church’s media library, but various sizes of the image are still available via direct link.