As has already been pointed out by several people in different forums (I recommend Radio Free Mormon’s “Elder Ballard Blows Up The Church” if you prefer to listen rather than read), parts of the 19 November 2017 ‘Face to Face’ event for Young Single Adults with Apostles Dallin H Oaks and M Russell Ballard turned out to be just as much of a car crash as it looked like it was going to be after the disheartening trailer they made advertising it, in which they proclaimed that they were going to filter out and ignore the difficult questions.
Elder Ballard admitted “And they are in-depth questions. They are questions that matter a lot in the lives of our Young Single Adults around the world…” Yes, thousands of earnest and intelligent young adult Church members opening their souls to post difficult questions about the struggles and conundrums in their lives and testimonies on the Church website as they had been invited to. They included questions about being LDS and homosexual, or finding themselves uncomfortably judged by their peers because of the Church’s anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, policies and political action. Questions about Church history which have rocked thousands of members’ testimonies and, supercharged by the truth-revealing internet, triggered an avalanche of reform and revision of the official histories approved of, or published by, the Church.
For many these admissions, and finding out how much they were resisted by Apostles for decades, has fundamentally damaged their trust in the integrity and honesty of the General Authorities past and present, and been the catalyst for their gradual or rapid exit from the chapel doors. We have always had devoted and fully active members leave the Church through exhaustion and burning out on very rare occasions, but the scale of such highly involved people of all ages leaving specifically because of doctrinal, historical and trust issues – ideas rather than emotions – over the last few years has been unprecedented since the schisms at Kirtland if the stakes I am familiar with are anything to go by. We are losing too many of our brightest and best leaders, teachers and young people.
After acknowledging how important these kinds of difficult questions are to these members, they were metaphorically slapped in the face:
Ballard: “I think we’d also have to be honest there may be some of these questions that there is no answer to. They’ll be the ones we avoid.”
Well, great. What is the point of a Q and A with a super-important rising generation of “future leaders” of the Church if you aren’t prepared to even try offering A’s for the difficult Q’s?! And more fundamentally for everyone in the Church, what is the point of claiming to be a Prophet, Seer and Revelator who can go to the Lord and receive revelations and answers to questions on behalf of the general Church membership, while forbidding the general membership from seeking revelations and answers to questions on behalf of the general membership because only Apostles are allowed to do that, and then saying as an Apostle you’re not going to bother even trying because we all have to make do with the limited information we already have? Are they actually any more inspired or connected to channels of communication with the Divine than the rest of us? Is revelation ‘ongoing’ or not in our Church? They did not seem to think that asking for new guidance or insights to the difficult questions was even an option.
Continuing revelation that ends confusion and mysteries rather than adding to them and pours down “plain and precious truths” from heaven into our religious lives is meant to be the whole Unique Selling Point, the raison d’etre, of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. We don’t have to wander around in darkness and doctrinal confusion struggling with limited information to try and arrive at answers to important questions because we have living Prophets, Seers and Revelators who can receive definitive revelations and interpretations about our questions and concerns in our day, now.
That’s what we keep teaching and saying in our wards and missions, but it seems that the reality is they have stopped even trying to do that anymore, and we are so used to that it now seems unreasonable to expect or ask for them to actually provide that service in response to our questions, even though most of our Latter-Day revelations and scriptures came in response to asking questions…in a not so very latter day at all anymore. More like yesteryear. Mostly in the 19th Century. The many excuses that have been made for the failure of recent generations of prophets and apostles to have clear and doctrinally significant revelations (not just administrative tweaking) like the good old days are starting to become the mainstream message and expectation when it used to be ‘Come to Zion to live with the prophet – he talks to God and answers your questions!’ These trends in General Conference talks and the Face to Face broadcasts and devotionals are adding up to a paradigm shift towards avoiding revelation and keeping people distracted with vague generic lifeskills advice with some religious jargon and little more.
Indeed, it is becoming increasingly apparent that there is effectively a coup attempt going on at the top to replace actual revelators who have vibrant spiritual lives and a focus on theology with bossy bureaucrats focused on managing the Church as a corporation with a really specific dress code rather than a religion. They are now insisting on their own infallibility and our total loyalty while at the same time playing down the need for them to experience the direct and intimate communication with God that would justify that level of trust and loyalty. They are trying to disconnect the revelatory, healing and spiritual gifts the scriptures tell us to look for in true Apostles from their position and power as our leaders. This may be deliberate, or the unintended outcome of a tragic convergence of particular personalities and events out of their control as so often happens in secular and religious history, but it is happening nonetheless.
Wise voices throughout the history of the Church, including some of the LDS prophet presidents, Hugh Nibley, disillusioned dissidents, and most powerfully Jesus Christ Himself, have warned against the ever-present danger posed to the flock by “wolves in sheep’s clothing” who include managers and Pharisees seeking to control and replace the true religion of inspired leaders and Christians. These predators value procedure, rules and control over the Holy Spirit and the freedom of individuals to really engage with and save the world. In doing so they sabotage the Church from within, devouring members of the flock and chasing away the lambs before they can grow. They keep it small, parochial and unappealing instead of growing it exponentially to fill the world with a message and community that is relevant and inspiring to everyone of every culture and class, which is the mission Jesus gave His Church.
The principles of revelation, and the individual’s autonomy to prayerfully decide for yourself what to sustain as revelation, is enshrined in what should be the foundations of Mormonism. We have a premortal narrative about Lucifer’s coup attempt with a doctrine of control and removing the individual’s freedom to think and learn for themselves. The principles of spiritual autonomy sing out like poetry in the second half of Doctrine and Covenants 121 which deconstructs command and control male authority and replaces that with truth and “love unfeigned” leading to personal transformation into something glorious. They sound a clarion call to action in D & C 58’s instruction to not wait to be told what to do by leaders but be anxiously engaged in good causes as we personally feel inspired by the Spirit.
In what follows I am going to criticise what some of our Apostles have publicly taught pretty intensively. Not because of a personal animosity but because of their power to determine the destiny of our Church. I am going to take what they say seriously and hold them accountable for it. I am going to present reasoning and evidence to support my concerns and alarm, but I hope it is clear throughout that I am not doing so from a position of trying to damage or compromise Mormonism or its core principles and scriptures, or what I believe is a legacy of real inspiration and revelation. The source of my worry and anger is a desire to protect Mormonism, the religion of most of my extended family and most of my dearest friends, and all that is wonderful about it, from wolves, including the most dangerous ones at the top. All priesthood holders are called to be shepherds and watchmen of the flock, so I claim this as my right and duty.
You are welcome dear reader to conclude that I am a fool trying to fix something that is too broken to save, or a heretic trying to ‘steady the ark’, but I invite you to hear me out first before making that judgment. There is a growing wave of loyal Latter-Day Saints who share these concerns and have left with heavy hearts, or are trying to stay and make it work. Several things happened this year, particularly in the General Conferences and this Face to Face broadcast, which ramp up our concerns about the ideological conflict between Christians and Pharisees, Truth and Lies, to Defcon One. Even if you are a totally active Latter-Day Saint generally satisfied with how things are going, consider this: If a senior Apostle, third in line to be Prophet after Thomas S Monson, tells a huge and obvious lie about the biggest challenge to our collective testimonies in a broadcast to the world, and tells all the young people watching to tell the same lie to everyone who asks them about it, this is a big problem for us all and cannot be ignored.
I can understand that there is something of a revelatory and leadership hiatus occurring right now as President Monson is out of action with old age dementia, but it turns out that this hasn’t stopped the other apostles going ahead with some radical innovations in policy and doctrine that they have claimed are top-notch revelations, such as the November 2015 Policy to deny even the most basic saving ordinances and priesthood to children and teenagers with a parent who currently, or HAS EVER, cohabited homosexually (still the wording in Handbook 1), Elder Oaks proclaiming the 1995 Proclamation on the Family to be canonised essential doctrine, and recent changes to allow teenage Aaronic priests to administer the temple ordinance of baptism for the dead…and allow teenage girls to do the lady job of handing out the towels and wiping the wet floors, which isn’t exactly a 21st century feminist revolution. Watching how that gets spun as a sacred privilege is already proving to be a festive feast of schadenfreude.
These innovations seem though to have been rooted in the Apostles’ personal homophobic American culture war priorities and their other obsession with inducting our children into serious roles and responsibilities at increasingly younger ages to consolidate their loyalty, not responding to the many frequently expressed questions and needs of the ordinary members about far more important and urgent matters. They had an opportunity in this Face to Face to really show an empathetic servant’s attitude to the deep and often complicated needs of the membership in how they responded to these adults, not children, who are on the cusp of taking over the local leadership of the Church, but it mostly became an exercise in asserting their own authority, dumbing down their rhetoric to Primary level unsophistication, and revealing priorities and tactics that bode very badly for the future of the Church.
Since they did not feel able to prophesy, see and reveal anything new or helpful I will risk stepping in and prophesy that this strategy and worldview of theirs will sooner rather than later lead to some serious unrest among the mainstream membership in rebellion against the complacent and comparatively wealthy oligarchy that the apostles and their monocultural circle of close family and acquaintances have become. They are taking bigger and bigger risks with our patience, and have revved their counter-reformation engines this year rather than continuing the climbdown towards less arrogance and more honesty that has been the larger and encouraging trend over the last few years.
So we were forewarned by Elders Oaks and Ballard themselves that the Young Single Adult Face to Face was going to be a shallow propaganda event with carefully censored questions rather than an actual face to face dialogue addressing the needs of the YSA’s, much like the last one where Elders Holland and Eyring told the entire youth of the Church that God hasn’t got a whole lot of time for them, so their best chance of getting an answer to their prayers is to put on a Sunday suit and get on their knees in a darkened room with the curtains drawn…and not be surprised if they get nothing. I kid you not. What a shameful message to deliver to the teenagers of the Church at the Palmyra Temple which is dedicated in the place where a teenage boy prayed with faith in the open air and sunlight and was answered with a visitation of deity. You just couldn’t make it up.
The whole ‘Face to Face’ enterprise has been an unsettling disappointment and a missed opportunity in my opinion, but none the less historically important and revealing for that. Like the Kremlinology of my Cold War teenage years, our only insight into what the secretive upper echelons of our self-appointed leadership class, which doesn’t do interviews with real journalists any more, is thinking comes from their formal public pronouncements in conferences and broadcasts like this. We the proletariat have to try and piece together some kind of understanding of what their general direction of travel is ideologically, who the members of competing factions are, what the thinking behind their edicts might be, and whether they represent a temporary or permanent shift in policy, or just a power play in some hidden game of internal politics.
The Cold War taught us to do this automatically with any secretive regime which carefully manages its public pronouncements, and growing up very far from Utah my generation of British Mormons and our leaders had to play this game all the time with the Apostles. We did not have the personal contact and insider knowledge or family connections with General Authorities of the members there. We assumed they were constantly receiving revelations and were in complete harmony with each other. Our stake president would go to a couple of meetings in Salt Lake every other year or so and relay to us all the subtle nuances of emphasis he had noticed in what they said. We were seeing their world through a pinhole. Most of us had no idea about Utah politics or the intellectual dialogues and controversies that had been going on in community and academic circles there for 150 years, so we got good at tracking trends from revealing clues just in their official broadcasts. If you are prepared to replace your rose-tinted glasses with your Game of Thrones / Kremlinology goggles and pay attention to the details, a clearer picture of what is actually going on comes into sharp focus.
Always there is the question ‘Are these Machiavellian geniuses wielding influence and power in sophisticated strategies, or just ordinary old men who have somewhat accidentally got to the top in an imperfect system and may one day be revealed to not have much of a clue what they were doing after all?’ Russia’s President Yeltsin seemed to be a people’s champion of democracy who skilfully survived a counter-revolution by communists, then he kept turning up at important state events completely sozzled, unable to stand and slurring his speech until he was replaced by the real deal Machiavellian Putin. Whatever one’s views on Donald Trump politically, his ascension to the leadership of the free world demonstrates beyond all doubt that even the most virtuous systems can result in less than ideally capable individuals becoming the boss.
It is therefore very important to pay close attention to what our Church leaders actually say on these occasions and look out for any metaphorically heading for the bottle and slurring their speech. Indeed, they command us to pay close attention with the oft-repeated and scripturally sanctioned reminder that they are the literal mouthpieces of God and what they say should be scripture to us. So let’s do that and scrutinise, because I think there are several very revealing layers to peel back and learn from.
The Plan and the Proclamation
In the trailer Elder Oaks made a very significant admission about his game-changing October 2017 General Conference talk ‘The Plan and the Proclamation’ in which he had unilaterally declared the Proclamation on the Family to be a revelation and doctrine of such importance that if you are a “converted Latter Day Saint” (he used that phrase twice) intending to be exalted you HAVE to accept it as such and make it fundamental to your religion. This was followed by absolutely no sustaining vote by the other General Authority quorums or any Common Consent sustaining vote by the general membership, which are required by the Doctrine and Covenants before a doctrine can be canonised in the Restored Church.
In government and politics an individual or cabal of individuals who declare things to be laws that everyone must follow without following the legislative procedures of their nation’s constitution are staging a coup and declaring their dictatorship. In Mormonism declaring something to be a doctrine that everyone must believe to be recognised as “fellow citizens with the saints” (Ephesians 2:19) while not seeking the sustaining vote of the leading quorums or the membership is risking apostasy and false-propheteering, and it has been happening more and more frequently in the 40 years since the last revelation that was presented to the quorums and membership in 1978.
He said “The gospel plan each family should follow to prepare for eternal life and exaltation is outlined in the Church’s 1995 proclamation, “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” “I testify that the proclamation on the family is a statement of eternal truth, the will of the Lord for His children who seek eternal life.” “I testify of the truth and eternal importance of the family proclamation, revealed by the Lord Jesus Christ to His Apostles for the exaltation of the children of God.” But we were not asked if we agreed that the Proclamation is “a statement of eternal truth” essential to our exaltation, even though things that are that essential are a pretty big deal rhetorically and existentially.
Revelation by Committee
While Elder Oaks described a year-long process of separate committees working on parts of the Proclamation’s text and constantly reviewing and revising it, I was wondering to what extent either Jesus or the Apostles and Prophet actually got a look-in, never mind whether that really sounds like how revelations are communicated by God. Surely any of us could come up with some pretty amazing proclamations given a year and a bunch of subcommittees with lawyers in to review and revise the text. In fact, if that’s how revelation about the most essential paths to exaltation for the whole Church is done these days, why are we paying them to do it? Why not involve the whole membership in this very democratic-sounding methodology? Then maybe some brown people could get a look-in as prophets, seers and revelators before the 22nd century dawns. Imagine the power of the collective wisdom that would be made manifest.
But no, they are 15 uniquely authorised Prophets who get revelations essential to our exaltation…through year-long committee meetings with lots of people who aren’t “His Apostles.” That doesn’t really make sense, but rather than minimise it he shouted this embarrassing secret about the Proclamation from the rooftops and demanded complete submission to his demand that we all hail it as the work of Almighty God as if it had been delivered to President Hinkley by an angel.
Is this the first time an Apostle has proclaimed that God makes doctrinal revelations to His Church through the deliberations of committees rather than communication directly to an Apostle or Prophet or a quorum of Apostles and Prophets? They have been promoting collaborative committees for decision-making on a local level, but this is a whole other ballgame. It is also a pretty big deal after 2 centuries of criticising the same methodology in other churches as a sign of apostasy and their tragic lack of real prophets and revelation.
Did Moses go up Mount Sinai with a team of subcommittees and lawyers? Our current Apostles seem to have normalised in their minds their boring admin roles as committee chairmen of the various investment and ecclesiastical branches of the Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as what Apostles of Jesus Christ DO to such an extent they don’t even try to hide it any more behind a performance of mystical dialogues with God or miracle-working like the good old days of Mormonism. Even their healing stories in Conference talks these days are nearly all about people having “the faith not to be healed” (another Elder Bednar classic) when the Apostle came to give them a blessing in hospital. If I’m in trouble in hospital don’t ask an Apostle to bless me – that seems to be an automatic death sentence these days! Bring the most humble newly ordained Elder from my ward please.
Dreams and visions seem to have fallen by the wayside as the way God communicates to His prophets in our allegedly “unchanging” Church. Maybe this is refreshing honesty and it’s always been like this, or maybe they have somehow gone adrift and lost the powers and revelatory experiences their predecessors appeared to have in much greater abundance. Time will tell. But it feels like this is all adding up to an abdication of Apostolic responsibility.
It is wonderful that the Apostles are being more cautious and delegating more of the historical research and lesson curriculum duties to actual professionals these days, but they seem to have gone too far and washed their hands of all the tricky mental lifting in research, theology and interfacing truly interactively with a sometimes hostile world. The committees, ‘President Newsroom’ who releases a steady flow of often very significant official statements that don’t have any Prophet or Apostle’s name on, historians and semi-official apologists like Fairmormon are taking care of most of the scary real-world ‘Answer tough questions and defend the faith’ stuff.
This has left the Apostles free to withdraw into a bubble or ivory tower where they can continue believing child-like and very naïve mental models of how Mormonism works. Complicating realities are kept at arm’s length. The problem is that they then insist in their preaching to a more sophisticated world membership very much outside that bubble that this is enough, and anything more nuanced or complicated than their bubble Mormonism is dangerous, unfaithful or disloyal. If your family, education or sexuality don’t fit Simple Bubble Mormonism, then the problem and responsibility and blame is with you and you have to change so you can fit in and find a place in the Church, not them.
This disconnection between their unreal perceptions and our really complicated lived experiences and intimate knowledge of Mormonism’s history and flaws is going to destroy the Church if it persists. It demands far too many contradictions and mental gymnastics to reconcile and leads to the crazier things that were said in General Conferences this year and the Face to Face. They need to get back out of their bubble in a hurry.
Bruce R McConkie and then Boyd K Packer were confident, assertive control freaks who did a lot of good and possibly even more bad on reflection as the prime guardians of doctrine in my lifetime, but at least they weren’t lazy. I can’t imagine them being indifferent or not engaging with intense dedication with all the theological nuances of what the Church is doing and teaching, and making a pretty decent effort to be ahead of the curve on things like the content of the Joseph Smith papers project. The current leaders don’t seem to have that historical and theological interest. I can’t imagine any of them editing a Bible Dictionary or a Topical Guide. They were mostly educated and employed as business managers and get most excited and passionate about a very limited range of culture war political issues and systems management, which seems to be becoming their religion. Some are becoming like congressmen and senators who bang on about one or two issues, vote to pass legislation they haven’t read properly, and read from scripts prepared by party apparatchiks, saying the right words but not really understanding them.
This is very risky for an institution that devotes so much energy and time to educating its membership about doctrine and history.
I wonder which of the Family Proclamation subcommittees got the revelation that “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose” since there is nothing in our canonised scriptures about our “co-eternal with God” premortal intelligences being gendered before they became spirits.
Every discussion asserting that gender is an essential characteristic of our current mortal state comes to a juddering halt with the words: ‘hermaphrodite’or more commonly these days ‘intersex’, the response to which reality can be very messy indeed. The Church’s advice to parents of intersex babies, which is not specifically described in the handbooks but is out there verbally, is to pray for guidance when deciding which bits to chop off or construct and therefore determine who does or doesn’t get ordained to the priesthood or ends up as the Mummy or the Daddy in an eternal family when they grow up. But if older people choose to have gender assignment surgery they have to get First Presidency clearance to be baptised and cannot be ordained or go to the temple, so the pressure is on to do any surgery quickly as a baby, which may not be the best way to proceed. And now we are discovering the many other variations of genetic gender identity that get some Olympic athletes on the front pages, these matters seem even less clear-cut (excuse the pun.) So whoever received a new revelation about eternal gender identity was rocking it prophetically – perhaps we will never know who it was. Maybe it was one of the subcommittees with the lawyers in. Either way, any assertion of any absolute or over-simplified truth stands or falls on the reality of the exceptions to those rules.
The Memory Hole
Elder Oaks said in the trailer “I gave a talk on the Plan of Salvation at Conference and I tried to stay away from the questions we don’t have answers to because the Lord hasn’t revealed a lot of that, but He’s given us enough to go on. We just need to know how to go on it!’
Why did he even bring this up? He didn’t have to mention it. This seems to indicate that he was feeling uncomfortable about it and needing to offer some kind of further explanation or excuse for what he did while he had a big audience listening to him outside of the constraints and scrutiny of a General Conference talk. He must have heard some of the reaction to that talk which has pointed out that in asserting an eternal norm of monogamous marriage he completely ignored several exceptions to his rule.
By implication he threw nearly all the polygamous marriages of the prophets, apostles and first generations of Mormons under the bus by insisting that God only recognises the marriage of “a man and a woman” that is “legal and lawful”, which the very illegal and unlawful majority of Mormon polygamous marriages definitely were not.
He also said “Just 20 years after the family proclamation, the United States Supreme Court authorized same-sex marriage, overturning thousands of years of marriage being limited to a man and a woman.” Where Who What When?!
All this entirely ignores the long struggle his predecessors in the plush apostolic chairs had with the legal authorities of the USA to recognise or at least tolerate their God-ordained polygamous marriages. It ignores the polyandrous marriages Joseph Smith and his successors authorised of one woman to at least two men, and all the non-monogamous marriage traditions of the world’s cultures over the last few thousand years. This includes the polygamous Israelites, specially several key biblical prophets. The problem is, these are all historical facts, not tricky questions we don’t have answers to. Elder Oaks excused himself from having to acknowledge facts, from dealing with reality.
And what Adam and Eve’s children got up to incestuously with each other to start populating the world around 4,000 BC according to my Seminary Old Testament bookmark doesn’t bear thinking about too hard! Specially as the Anatolian temples of Gobekli Tepe were already 5000 years old by then. And in 2017 paleontologists announced that remains found in Morocco indicate that Homo Sapiens has been around as a distinct species for at least 300,000 years rather than just 200,000 as they previously estimated. More tricky facts…
He also seemed to feel there isn’t “enough to go on” to include his own form of polygamous marriage – polygamy by sealing, which he practices as a man sealed to two wives, as does Elder Nelson, next in line to be Prophet before him.
It’s a classic straw man argument – get outraged about marriage laws changing on the basis of a completely unreal invention of an imaginary ancient historical norm. And classic gaslighting – look at my made up scenario of universal Christian heterosexual monogamous marriage instead of looking at the reality of Mormon polygamy and my own plural wife Kristen McMain sitting over there.
The issue of secular legality was a strange thing to insist upon when his audience would have no problem accepting that at times God’s laws are going to be in conflict with secular concepts of what is ‘legal and lawful.’ Elder Oaks has repeatedly insisted that the legalisation of gay marriage has no impact whatsoever on God’s laws regarding marriage, so he has already disconnected what God recognises as marriage from secular legal recognition. But he went for it anyway, declaring that the only form of marriage approved by God for thousands of years is “legally and lawfully” recognised heterosexual monogamy. Doublespeak, as George Orwell put it in ‘1984.’
And it’s not just marriage that he told the entire membership in General Conference has never changed till now – apparently ALL the religious ordinances of the gospel as we do them now are identical to how they have always been done: “Latter-day Saints who understand God’s plan of salvation have a unique worldview that helps them see the reason for God’s commandments, the unchangeable nature of His required ordinances…” That would certainly be a unique worldview, but also ignorant of the constant evolution and transformations of God’s “required ordinances” between and within the Patriarchal, Mosaic, Christian and Restoration eras. Sacrificial goat anyone? You bring the rocks unhewn by human hands and I’ll bring a big sharp knife. I’ve got the priesthood so I get to eat it afterwards. Yum yum! Is mint sauce kosher?…
In pretending that the Proclamation was 20 years ahead of its time and some kind of surprising bolt from the blue Elder Oaks failed to make any reference to the reality that it was created in order to try and give the Church credibility and justification to be legally entitled to a voice as an ‘amicus’, or friend of the court, regarding the challenge to the existing ban on gay marriage legislation already going through the Supreme Court of Hawaii 20 years ago. After introducing his talk as a truthful witness statement “As one of only seven of those Apostles still living” from that time in ancient history (apparently forgetting that millions of us were also around at the time and could read newspapers) because “I feel obliged to share what led to the family proclamation for the information of all who consider it” he then completely misrepresented the history of what led to the Proclamation with a certainty and authoritative tone that indicated not a hint of the caveats or hesitation he later admitted to in the trailer. I don’t “consider” that to be very reliable “information.”
He gave a rallying cry to the entire membership to not compromise a jot or tittle on the homophobia and ‘new normal’ of monogamous, heterosexual, LDS marriage legally and lawfully recognised by secular authorities even though this will inevitably lead to “conflict” with family members and friends: “Forty years ago, President Ezra Taft Benson taught that “every generation has its tests and its chance to stand and prove itself.” I believe our attitude toward and use of the family proclamation is one of those tests for this generation. I pray for all Latter-day Saints to stand firm in that test.” So according to his Conference talk this unassailable and essential doctrinal proclamation is the single defining message of our generation to the world and should be defended at all costs.
But in the Face to Face trailer he indicated a much more uncertain point of view about the hill he had commanded the entire faithful membership to fight and die on when he said this. Now it would appear that he always has realised that there are conundrums and aspects of the whole matter that he doesn’t fully understand or feel he has answers for, but instead of acknowledging this and being more cautious in his certainty and pronouncements about the Family Proclamation, he just ignored them as if they didn’t exist or matter, leaving himself clear to proclaim black and white certainties about marriage and eternal gender identity and rail against “the World’ and its complications and nuances about these matters as representative of satanic deceptions, rather than being actually much closer to the messy truth than he was being.
History: Edit – Censor – Repeat
We should remember that 15 years after the Proclamation was first proclaimed Elder Boyd K Packer, President of the Quorum of Twelve and next in line to be Prophet if he had survived Thomas S Monson, made a very similar attempt to canonise it in the October 2010 General Conference using similar language to Elder Oaks’ much more assertive bid to do the same. When you listen to both you can see that Elder Oaks probably modelled his talk on Elder Packer’s.
In his original talk ‘Cleansing the Inner Vessel’ Elder Packer said “The Family: A Proclamation to the World, is the fifth proclamation in the history of the Church. It qualifies according to scriptural definition as a revelation, and it would do well that the members of the Church do read and follow.” (He struggled to read that last bit.)
However, when his talk appeared in the Conference report Ensign it was edited to remove the declaration that it was a revelation according to scriptural definition and now reads: “Fifteen years ago, with the world in turmoil, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles issued “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” the fifth proclamation in the history of the Church. It is a guide that members of the Church would do well to read and to follow.” Ironically on the Church website you can still watch the original talk while reading the edited text below it.
Elder Packer then railed against “Satan’s many counterfeit substitutes to marriage”, which he also ignored living and temple-sealed polygamy to define thus: “Pure love presupposes that only after a pledge of eternal fidelity, a legal and a lawful ceremony, and ideally after the sealing ordinance in the temple, are those life-giving powers released for the full expression of love. It is to be shared only and solely between man and woman, husband and wife, with that ONE who is our companion forever. On this the gospel is very plain.” (My emphasis.)
Another significant edit was made to Elder Packer’s original statement that “Some suppose that they were pre-set and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember He is our father.”
In the edited and published text version ‘tendencies’ was replaced by ‘temptations’, perhaps to somehow match the shifting official rhetoric which had just started to accept that you can be born gay, and the comment about God not putting someone into a life with homosexual orientation was removed. It now reads:
“Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn temptations toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Remember, God is our Heavenly Father.”
So who slapped Elder Packer down and forced a rewrite of his talk? He was second in seniority in Church leadership, so the only person with the power and status to do that was President Monson. His predecessor President Hinckley who oversaw the creation of the Proclamation did not feel able to declare it to be a revelation or canonise it during his presidency, somewhat to the surprise of the membership, and a couple of years into his leadership President Monson apparently felt the same, so moved against the Big Beast of the apostolic hardliners.
At least they didn’t go as far as they did in October 1984 when they dragged Elder Ronald Poelman of the First Quorum of Seventy back to the General Conference pulpit to re-film his brilliant talk “The Gospel and the Church” about how we need to rely on our own intelligence and the witness of the Spirit rather than just trusting the institution and leaders of the Church and the pharisaical cultural traditions that have built up over time to do all our thinking for us and determine God’s will or orthodoxy. The faked rerun was spliced into the videos of the Conference sent out to the world to look as if he had said it all live in Conference in the first place. They made him preach literally the opposite message to his original talk, this time asserting the dominance of the leaders’ authority in determining what is true as if it was a Soviet show trial and he had just been tortured into changing his mind and accepting that Stalin is always right, and his family shipped off to a gulag. At one point the words “free agency and the divine uniqueness of the individual” were changed to “direction given by those authorised in the Church.”
The Youtube edit of both films side by side is a hoot, and preserves the original which I think was one of the greatest and bravest talks ever given in General Conference – a truly prophetic warning about the suppression of individual free will and thought that has come close to destroying us in the decades since. To his credit Elder Uchtdorf had another go at railing against false cultural and traditions and expectations about what our Church and membership should be like in his October 2015 General Conference talk ‘It Works Wonderfully’ in what can be easily read as a loving tribute to what Elder Poelman tried to say in 1984, teaching the same Big Idea. Thank goodness it was not just the control freaks of the past who have inspired the current generation of GA’s. The brave souls who really understand what Joseph Smith’s radical and empowering philosophy was all about may be a struggling and sometimes persecuted minority, but they fight on to be heard and one day I hope they will win and save the Church because they are right and pharisees are always wrong.
What Is Real?
So ‘What Is Real?’ as my favourite mission video used to ask. And what about all that teaching that a sin or lie of omission can be as serious as one of commission? Elder Oaks intentionally omitting polygamy from the Mormon marriage doctrine while being an actual polygamist within the current rules and ordinances of Mormonism (as am I), and omitting the real reason the Proclamation was created while offering the Church in General Conference a first-hand witness of “what led to” it that he wants to become the official collective memory of its origins, are pretty significant sins of deception through omission.
And what kind of Kremlin level powerplays are going on among the 15 Apostles that as soon as President Monson is out of action with dementia and no longer able to contain the homophobic canonisers, Elder Oaks rushes to the pulpit to declare the Proclamation to be not only revelation, but eternally and doctrinally fundamental and essential doctrine?
The reason for his zeal seems to be that this is his baby. One of his first major assignments after being recruited to the Apostleship after a career as a Utah Supreme Court Justice and President of Brigham Young University without first serving as a Seventy was to start exploring the Church’s legal strategies in response to the growing momentum to legalise gay marriage. He was to be the expert lawyer in the leadership, so this is his mission, the primary reason for his elevation to apostleship, and soon the Presidency. One can understand then why he sees himself as the prime guardian and champion of this interpretation of doctrine, the Chosen One called by God to hold the line and preserve the True Faith and the Eternal Family from these threats.
Repent or Obey?
The trailer for the Face to Face also offered another very revealing gem when Elder Oaks said he had nothing to offer as advice about how to repent. Surely, even if they are drawing a blank when it comes to Prophesying, Seeing and Revealing, that is literally their one and only job description as Apostles of Jesus Christ – to preach repentance! We aren’t paying them each a ‘stipend’ of well over $100,000 a year, which means that in the 33 years Ballard and Oaks have served together that they spoke of they have each been paid several million dollars as a salary (which doesn’t even include the additional expenses that were paid for them) well into retirement age when the rest of us don’t even get a salary any more, to flunk preaching repentance as well.
Although Elder Oaks said he had nothing to offer regarding the ‘very personal’ matter of repentance he said he was, however, very keen to tell the young how to make life decisions about a list of other very personal matters like choosing a major, where to live, a marriage partner and how to share the gospel – prioritising like a Pharisee as usual. Sort your spiritual relationship with Jesus out yourself, but just make sure you follow our tried and true practical lifestyle template for making and retaining active and faithful young Mormon families to be our ‘future leaders’ and staff the bureaucracy.
After the toe-curling Statler and Waldorf act of the trailer, the main event did not disappoint.
After the deceptions Elder Oaks had effectively admitted to in the trailer, Elder Ballard joined in and told Porky Pies. Whoppers. Falsehoods. Not naïve bumbling your words lies. Not little white lies. Not lies of ignorance. Not lies you might tell by accident while flustered in a tough interview you had not prepared for or were not in complete control of. He looked at all the LDS Young Single Adults in the world and lied to them, and then instructed them to tell the same lies to anyone who asks them about historic cover-ups of uncomfortable truths in our history…or for that matter hiding ANY kind of information EVER:
“There has been no attempt on the part, in any way, of the Church leaders trying to hide anything from anybody.”
Despite the clumsy grammar it was such a throbbing humdinger of a blatant lie that anyone with basic knowledge about the history of the Church should immediately recognise it as such. It rather eclipses the other fascinating and worrying things they said, so let’s rewind a tad and look more closely at the context and the other significant statements they made first.
Generally the Face to Face propaganda event was pretty shallow – they defensively explained at the start that they were going to try and “hit some kind of middle ground” because their audience, and the questioning pair of YSA’s, included very new members as well as more experienced ones. But the level it ended up being pitched at was an extremely safe and cautious way you would perhaps speak to older children, nowhere close to even a middle ground level appropriate for intelligent young adults, emphasis on ADULTS, many of whom are university students and graduates very used to analysing complex information in a sophisticated way. They are already living real lives fully exposed to most of the social, personal and political dimensions of adult life in the real world. Many of them are already soldiers and civilian casualties caught up in the intense culture war being fought out on all fronts in the USA as well as many other parts of the world between tolerant liberal democracy and intolerant religious fundamentalists, particularly regarding LGBTQ rights, and the challenges to delusional and unscientific beliefs in religions being made by rational historians, secularists and atheists. To summarise as it impacts Mormons, the matters of LGBTQ rights and dignity, and accurate Church history, are the biggest mammoths in the room for most YSA’s these days.
If ever there was a moment to finally be honest and brave enough to admit we have serious problems in these areas and offer powerful and if necessary apologetic (as in sorry, not argumentative) apostolic comfort to these intensely pressurised and often traumatised members of the flock, this was it. But they didn’t. Even though Elder Ballard himself has already gone much further in a much more sophisticated way in his 2016 address to the CES staff that was then published nearly word for word in the December 2016 Ensign titled “By Study and By Faith”.
I say ‘nearly’ word for word because, as I never tire of chuckling about, some kind of dysfunctional ideological struggle occurred in yet another editing process between spoken word and what got printed in the Ensign and they removed the phrase “like you know the back of your hand” from the end of the sentence “It is important that you know the content of these essays” with reference to the Gospel Topics essays, which admit a lot of examples of the Church leaders concealing the truth from members and non-members in different situations. The mind boggles. Why was saying “It is important that you know the content of these essays like you know the back of your hand” too strong for them to print? It seems to imply the CES teachers should only know the true history vaguely, preferably not at all, which undermines the whole message of that talk. Or maybe, read the essays enough to answer some questions but don’t get so familiar with them they make you have questions yourself. The Church commissioned and authorised the essays but at the same time still treats them like kryptonite to stay away from. This is bizarre as Elder Ballard went to town explaining why we shouldn’t do that in his CES address:
“You know we give medical inoculations to our precious missionaries before sending them into the mission field so they will be protected against diseases that can harm or even kill them. In a similar fashion, please, before you send them into the world, inoculate your students by providing faithful, thoughtful, and accurate interpretation of gospel doctrine, the scriptures, our history, and those topics that are sometimes misunderstood. To name a few such topics that are less known or controversial, I’m talking about polygamy, seer stones, different accounts of the First Vision, the process of translation of the Book of Mormon or the Book of Abraham, gender issues, race and the priesthood, or a Heavenly Mother.
The efforts to inoculate our young people will often fall to you CES teachers. With those thoughts in mind, find time to think about your opportunities and your responsibilities.
Church leaders today are fully conscious of the unlimited access to information, and we are making extraordinary efforts to provide accurate context and understanding of the teachings of the Restoration. A prime example of this effort is the 11 Gospel Topics essays on LDS.org that provide balanced and reliable interpretations of the facts for controversial and unfamiliar Church-related subjects.
It is important that you know the content in these essays like you know the back of your hand. If you have questions about them, then please ask someone who has studied them and understands them. In other words, “seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118) as you master the content of these essays. You should also become familiar with the Joseph Smith Papers website and the Church history section on LDS.org and other resources by faithful LDS scholars. The effort for gospel transparency and spiritual inoculation through a thoughtful study of doctrine and history, coupled with a burning testimony, is the best antidote we have to help students avoid and/or deal with questions, doubt, or faith crises they may face in this information age.”
So despite Elder Ballard’s very thorough and passionate manifesto a year ago about answering ALL the difficult questions of the young with facts and detail rather than faith and flannel because they can handle it and be “inoculated” against future faith crises, these were filtered out before the event. They chose the questions they were comfortable answering. They had weeks to prepare really great answers to those, and then they play acted in front of the audience as if they were speaking off the cuff. And, perhaps most shamefully of all, they got the YSA interviewers to tell the YSA’s watching live that they could still send in new questions, and had them pretend to receive online a new question posted during the broadcast from Mexico. That was pretty messed up – why make the kids lie too?
The Church media boffins sometimes seem to have accepted unethical norms in broadcasting as acceptable and pride themselves on playing the same manipulative professional deceptions towards viewers as a badge of honour, as in ‘look how much our stuff looks like the best of their stuff’ even while Elder Oaks is railing against being contaminated by the norms of “The World.” They are so excited about playing with the big boys by the big boy rules, they forget to question whether they should be even trying to in the first place, and whether those methodologies are ethical. Just one example speaks for many – a Deseret Books employee who was uncomfortable with being employed on a Sunday to generate live branded memes based on General Conference quotes to release quickly online and hopefully go viral as an advertising strategy which totally compromised spiritual and commercial boundaries, and LDS principles about not working unnecessarily on a Sunday, eventually became one of the critical exmormon bloggers of the disillusioned online multitude.
Church-owned Bonneville Communications which has done most of the Church’s media work with the omnipresent orchestral music to make people feel spiritual and tear-jerking plotlines for decades created a manipulative formula it marketed as ‘HeartSell” and advertised thus: “Our unique strength is the ability to touch the hearts and minds of our audiences, evoking first feeling, then thought and, finally, action. We call this uniquely powerful brand of creative “HeartSell”® – strategic emotional advertising that stimulates response.” All advertising tries to do this of course, but it was rather uncomfortable to be this obvious about it when it got bad press and made the Church look manipulative, so they dropped it and have tried to purge the internet of all trace of Heartsell.
Generations of hostile persecution have made far too many Mormons at all levels treat any kind of compromise or acceptance of us as part of the normal social landscape look like a religious triumph and very reluctant to look these gift horses in the mouth and see how rotten their teeth are. Even TV game shows get in trouble for faking spontaneous phonecalls or interactions with a live audience or the public at home, but we watched it happening before our eyes in this sacred broadcast. It seems none of the support team and production professionals who prepared the script and staged it all pointed out that faking a live question was going to look suspicious when they had already said in the introduction that the questions had all been carefully prepared in advance. Maybe they agreed in advance which question they would look for among any new ones actually posted during the broadcast. It did not look like they were dealing with anything unexpected at any point.
There were a few generally helpful bits of advice given to the young audience like not expecting to exactly control how much time we will spend each day on the many competing responsibilities and needs we are all trying to balance in our lives, but like this oft-repeated truism they trotted out several tired old clichés that the audience will have already heard a hundred times if they grew up in the Church. Repeating the same over-simplified advice has proven completely inadequate to the challenge and duty we all have to pull out the stops to keep in the membership the children we have invested years of our lives in supporting and teaching as parents, Primary teachers, youth leaders, Seminary and Institute teachers and bishoprics. We lose 3/4 of our young members by the time they become adults and there wasn’t a single new concept or way of speaking about these crucial issues which contribute to that terrible statistic in the whole event (apart from the massive lie, which I don’t think I’ve ever heard an Apostle be so stupid as to dare say with such uncompromising certainty before.) The average Ensign has more useful realism and depth and nuance than what they were saying.
In amongst the generic waffle about praying and studying the scriptures, keeping the commandments and trusting the leaders they did try to address some safer aspects of the pressing issues of the day: How can we trust the Church leaders when we know they have got things wrong? How can LGBTQ members of the Church make it work? What about the lies we were told about Church history that the Church is now admitting to as it rewrites that history? The questions weren’t worded exactly like that, but these are the biggest controversies, and they had a go at addressing them in general terms, while carefully avoiding any of the difficult details and specific situations that cropped up repeatedly in the 4,000 online questions.
The Circular Argument for Infallibility
Regarding trusting leaders Elder Oaks said “If we get an impression contrary to the scriptures, to the commandments of God, to the teachings of His leaders, then we know that it can’t be coming from the Holy Ghost. The gospel is consistent throughout.”
This repeated the circular argument given by Elders Holland and Eyring in the first Face to Face aimed at LDS Youth and that now features regularly in General Conference talks. Ask the Holy Ghost to witness truth to you, but if the Holy Ghost tells you anything different to what the General Authorities of the Church are saying right now, or tells you that they aren’t speaking truth from God but something that is their own opinion or not as inspired as they assume, you can be sure that that impression or message is not coming from the Holy Ghost. Therefore the Holy Ghost is not the actual ultimate testifier of truth in our Church, the Apostles are, because they trump the Holy Ghost. The situations that are most damaging, and they should be a lot more worried about, are where “the teachings of His leaders” are what are out of harmony with the scriptures and the commandments of God, not the spiritual “impressions” members receive. That is what people lose their testimonies over.
To put it another way their message is ‘Even though we sometimes admit that General Authorities are not infallible and have made serious mistakes in what they taught as doctrine and authorised at times, if the Holy Ghost identifies to you that WE are making one of those mistakes right NOW, you should ignore it and assume we are right and that the Holy Ghost is not (and conceptually cannot) be telling you we are getting something wrong because we are, as we have told you, always right…even though we aren’t. Er…our authority supersedes your prayerful witnesses from the Holy Ghost!’
And to add a further ingredient that still keeps rearing its ugly head, including the recent Ezra Taft Benson manual chapter 11, even if you know for sure that what a GA is telling you to do is wrong, do it anyway! Chapter 11 includes these quotes:
The prophet will never lead the Church astray.
President Wilford Woodruff stated: “I say to Israel, The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as president of the Church to lead you astray. It is not in the program. It is not in the mind of God” [see Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff (2004), 199].
President Marion G. Romney tells of this incident which happened to him:
“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. … 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, p. 78.)
I wonder what the word for that is – infalligullibility?…Oh yes, the “Nuremberg Defense.” Nice. Since Elder Ballard then went on to tell a massive lie and command everyone listening to tell it too, we all got an opportunity to test this infalligullibility concept to destruction before the hour was through.
Don’t Say Gay!
On the subject of how heterosexual members can support homosexual members of the Church Elder Oaks made a clumsy attempt to repeat the concept in Elder Bednar’s infamous “There are no homosexual Mormons” broadcast to Latin America. They both love redefining the meaning of words to make problems disappear so they seem to be riffing off each other these days. Bednar learnt the trick from Oaks, and now Oaks seemed to be echoing Bednar, although as we will see it has an even older history. He started with kind words about loving our gay brothers and sisters, but they are all the more painful to listen to because they represent the Doublespeak that has sadly become their norm, totally contradicting the content and ethos of his tub-thumping rant against ‘The World’ and by implication the gays and the trannies and the queers and all those other perverts in his Conference talk, and the actual policies he has signed up to which exclude, shun, persecute, punish and denigrate the “counterfeit families” of the LGBTQ people and even their innocent children:
“…Loving one another despite the differences that inevitably exist in the world along so many different lines; but across all of that is the commandment to love one another and help bear one another’s burdens, and that comes first, especially in this subject where bullying and physical brutality and harassment have played a part, I hope never with latter-day Saints, but verbal abuse, we hear a lot of reports of that and we just encourage that we… We struggle with this very real problem in an atmosphere of love.
“There is another thing that occurred to me and that is that we need to be cautious not to label ourselves or to label one another. The most important label any of us can carry throughout our life is “I am a child of God“, that very simple theme of our wonderful Primary hymn. That’s the important label that stays with us all our lives and we shouldn’t label ourselves as anti-this or that, or this or that, but carry on as children of God, and realise that all of us have temptations and problems, inclinations, burdens that we are wrestling with and if I were a bishop counselling each one of you I would say “Don’t label yourself as a this or that”, whether the label is “Kleptomania” or “I’m from Texas.”
Why can’t he just actually say ‘Gay?!’ “Don’t label yourself as Gay.” But no. So homosexuality in his head is a temptation, a problem, an inclination and a burden. It is also on a list with kleptomania and Texan. Well at least maybe he will work out one day that since you can be born Texan or kleptomaniac you can also be born gay.
So he hopes the Latter-day Saints have “never” been involved in the harassment or physical brutality towards gay people. Does he know the history of spying, denunciations and blackmail that the authorities at Brigham Young University used to engage in to discover and expel gay students there? How they intimidated any they found into giving them the names of any other gay students they were aware of and then calling them in for interrogation? Does he know about the aversion therapy program running at BYU from 1959 to 1983 that gay students who were discovered were then pressured into ‘volunteering’ for if they wanted to continue their courses where they were given vomit-inducing drugs or electric shocks while watching gay pornography in order to reconfigure their sexuality? How gay members were encouraged to get married heterosexually and have the children they now want to deny ordinances to if they couldn’t make it work and came out later? Of course he does – he was president of BYU from 1971 to 1980 and responsible for overseeing those policies and programmes while they continued on his watch. Beating people up in the street isn’t the only way to engage in physical brutality, as we have also learnt from the Mormons who notoriously devised some of the torture protocols for the CIA in recent years.
Elder Oaks also personally initiated a major purge of gay students from BYU in 1975 involving interrogating the Fine Arts and Drama students (because there aren’t any gay scientists or engineers of course! Facepalm) and undercover surveillance by the BYU security teams to catch students at gay venues.
It was 30th May in 1975 when the First Presidency issued a letter to local leaders encouraging them to not label people as homosexual because it makes the condition seem permanent and thus harder for them to believe they can “conquer the habit.” (Wikipedia’s ‘Timeline of LGBT Mormon History’ is a fascinating read. Who knew that one of Brigham Young’s sons Brigham Morris Young who co-founded the Young Men programme was an acclaimed falsetto operatic drag performer all his life!) So the ‘don’t call them / label yourself homosexual!’ mantra that was repeated again in this Face to Face has a long history. Focus on the words instead of the actual sexuality – if you stop calling yourself gay you might stop BEING gay. Super-helpful strategy chaps! Thanks for that.
It hasn’t worked for 42 years, but why not pretend it can yet again in 2017, and pretend nothing else has happened since 1975, including the Church’s “Mormon and Gay website” Elder Oaks has features in himself but did not mention. Is this really the only idea he has picked up in all that time and all those dialogues to share with the YSA’s of the world as a way to deal with being or caring about a gay Mormon?! Don’t call them / yourself gay? And to talk wistfully about hoping no Latter-Day Saints have been involved in harassing gay people when he is literally, of all the GA’s we have ever had, the Queerfinder General himself is disgraceful. It’s like watching the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang presenting Mr Roger’s Neighbourhood.
It is also maddening that Elder Oaks and his peers have used exactly the same language to condemn legalising gay marriage as was used against Mormon polygamy back in the day, calling it unchristian, unnatural, un-American and so on. So how interesting to discover that in a 1984 memo to the Apostles Elder Oaks acknowledged it would be ironic to use the 1878 Supreme Court ruling Reynolds vs United States which established that legal marriage was between one man and one woman “as an argument for the illegality of homosexual marriages [since it was] formerly used against the Church to establish the illegality of polygamous marriages.” He is fully aware of his hypocrisy as he smiles like the Cheshire Cat.
The third big issue, along with leadership infallibility and how to respond to gay Mormons, was framed as dealing with doubts.
44minutes 20 seconds in: “Elder Oaks, Elder Ballard, we have a lot of questions in the YSA about their friends dealing with doubts. A question from Utah asks ‘What advice/guidance would you give for answering tough questions about Church history when we are asked about them by someone who is struggling with their faith?”
Oaks: “I think the first thing is to distinguish between questions and doubts. Some people merge those as if they were the same. A question asked with a sincere desire to increase one’s knowledge and understanding is the way to increase knowledge. We encourage questions, and on the other hand, a doubt is an ambiguous word. Sometimes a doubt is a synonym for a question—you just want to know the truth about something. One dictionary definition of doubt is ‘Accompanied by distrust, a rejection of something.’ That’s the kind of thing that the scriptures have condemned.
“The Saviour, for instance, said ‘O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?’ He said that to his apostles when they were in the midst of the storm. And, ‘Doubt not but be believing,’ comes out of Moroni, chapter 9. And ‘Look unto me in every thought, doubt not, fear not,’ that’s Doctrine and Covenants section 6.
“So, doubt is a confusing word. In some aspects we don’t encourage doubt and the scriptures condemn it. On the other hand, questions—sincere desire to know that aren’t accompanied with a presumption of rejection—are something that we wish to encourage.”
So Elder Oaks began his response with a convoluted attempt to explain the weird mantra that has become common among the General Authorities in which they try and make a judgmental distinction between ‘questioning’ and ‘doubting’, which relates to the other weird Newspeak phrase they use now: “honest questions”. This ramble about doubt did not actually make any sense, but it didn’t need to. The tactic these General Authorities keep deploying seems to be to sow “confusion” where there isn’t any and imply that anyone asking uncomfortable questions about Church history is by definition hostile to the answers that may be offered, and faithless, and making a big fuss about nothing significant.
This tactic was also apparent in how he worded another bit of the trailer for the event, 2 minutes in: “The young adults that we meet are across a broad spectrum. Some are filled with the kind of questions that we have here, and some are going forward with their lives in a very confident way, and they look good to me.” This adds the idea that people with doubts or questions are not confident…and not even good looking! Far better to just move forward with your Mormon life in happy oblivion and not even ask these pesky questions – you’ll look a lot happier for it.
I guess it’s kind of endearing that Elder Oaks is really rubbish at being sneaky and hiding what he is really thinking when he hasn’t got a teleprompter. Maybe he’s not so Machiavellian after all. As a teacher of teenagers in Church and State my experience has been that that there is nothing more good-looking and confident and inspiring than a young person prepared to take their beliefs and religion seriously enough to ask tough questions about it and investigate any areas of weakness intensively. It is the people who don’t constantly question who learn very little and have no enduring clarity or depth or confidence in their own beliefs. I just don’t understand how a man who was a president of a university for 9 years thinks sailing through to adulthood untroubled by any doubts is an ideal to aspire to and promote. It implies a complete shutdown of the intellect. I was born at BYU in the first year of his presidency there and my parents managed to graduate unafraid to doubt and question, and they looked film star gorgeous!
I’m really glad they went ahead with broadcasting these revealing statements – it is incredibly important to know what the personal belief systems of our Apostles are before following them like sheep – but the PR people must have been screaming inside their heads watching this unfold if they are not complete morons. But then if they aren’t complete morons they would have destroyed all copies of the trailer, ‘Men In Black’ Neuralyzed everyone who was in the room to wipe their memories, and then recorded something completely different to broadcast.
Mike Otterson must be sitting in his London Temple President office alternately gnawing his own arm off and thanking his lucky stars that he had the sense to get out before any of this was happening on his watch as chief PR honcho. I think we can see the moment he chose to resign towards the end of his interview with Elder Christofferson trying to make the November Policy sound like it is kind to children. There is a steely cold glint in his eye and the footage ends abruptly, at which point I am convinced he had some kind of Hitler In His Bunker meltdown and smacked Christofferson on the side of his head with his clipboard. One day the footage of that will emerge and go viral.
Doubt Doubting Your Doubts
Any normal human thinker, never mind trained academic, understands that you cannot learn more about anything without testing what you already know or are being told with probing questions to find the weak spots and considering counter-arguments, or new information, with an open but also sceptical mind. You have to be prepared to abandon your assumptions and preconceptions, and you have to be prepared to continue sceptically questioning and challenging any new answers you are given to ensure a continual arc of learning and improving your concepts towards more and more accurate ones. Even the Book of Mormon extols this scientific method approach to gaining spiritual knowledge in Alma 32 – you start with a belief hypothesis, experiment with living it for a while, review and work out what is true or not from that experience, then remind yourself not to overclaim and think you know all about everything, just a bit about that one thing, and start working on the next spiritual experiment.
Elder Oaks contradicted this by teaching that any expectation that the answer you get to your gospel-related question might be inaccurate is faithless and ‘doubting’ in the worse sense of the word. The underlying assumption of this assertion is that any answer you will be given, presumably my any member in authority, will be infallible, 100% reliable. He already taught this on his April 2016 General Conference talk ‘Opposition in All Things’ when he said:
“Some of this opposition even comes from Church members. Some who use personal reasoning or wisdom to resist prophetic direction give themselves a label borrowed from elected bodies—“the loyal opposition.” However appropriate for a democracy, there is no warrant for this concept in the government of God’s kingdom, where questions are honored but opposition is not (see Matthew 26:24 …which refers to Judas Iscariot betraying Christ!! The implication being that opposing anything a GA’s says is the same as wanting to kill Jesus for money!) As another example, there are many things in our early Church history, such as what Joseph Smith did or did not do in every circumstance, that some use as a basis for opposition. To all I say, exercise faith and put reliance on the Savior’s teaching that we should “know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16). The Church is making great efforts to be transparent with the records we have, but after all we can publish, our members are sometimes left with basic questions that cannot be resolved by study. That is the Church history version of “opposition in all things.” Some things can be learned only by faith (see D&C 88:118). Our ultimate reliance must be on faith in the witness we have received from the Holy Ghost.”
The scriptures about doubt that Elder Oaks quoted to the YSA’s in the Face to Face have nothing to do with trusting General Authorities or their answers about Church History. They are all about trusting God and believing that He is totally reliable. But as I have already pointed out, some of Apostles apparently don’t see any difference between what they think and preach and what God thinks, or is the absolute truth in any given moment. Therefore in their mind anyone opposing anything the prophets do or teach is disloyal to Jesus like Judas Iscariot was, and an apostle’s word trumps an opposing witness of the Holy Ghost.
The Big Fat Melton Mowbray Porkie Pie
Having watched Elder Oaks slander the YSAs or their friends who have doubts as hostile, faithless, timid and ugly, Elder Ballard stepped forward and made a suicidal leap into freefall off the precipice of logic and truth into oblivion.
It was a breathtaking moment, as if he had finally had it with all the complications of dealing with the lies and mayhem of real Church history and wants to just make it all go away. Maybe he’s just tired, or has started on the inevitable decline into old age dementia that has become the stuff of our religious lives now we are to be forever ruled by a gerontocracy of prophets in their 90’s slowly shuffling off this mortal coil. Maybe he forgot to get to know the Essays like the back of his hand.
46 minutes 20 seconds in: Ballard: “And some are saying that the Church has been hiding the fact that there’s more than one version of the First Vision, which is just not true. The facts are we don’t study; we don’t go back and search what has been said on the subject. For example, Dr.James B. Allen of BYU, in 1970 he produced an article for the Church magazines explaining all about the different versions of the first vision.”
Oaks: “How long ago was that article?”
Ballard: “1970. That was back in 1970.”
Oaks: “We’ve been hiding that for a long time…” [laughter]
Ballard: “It’s this idea that the Church is hiding something, which we would have to say as two apostles that have covered the world and know the history of the Church and know the integrity of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve from the beginning of time – there has been no attempt on the part, in any way, of the Church leaders trying to hide anything from anybody.”
So the first example Elder Ballard offered that the Church has been completely open and transparent is an example that actually illustrates perfectly the opposite – and he just did not seem to realise this at all. It beggars belief. I mean, What The Actual Heck?! It turns out that the 1970 article which he read about from a folder, presumably provided by a very incompetent researcher underling, is STILL impossible to find and read for yourself in any LDS sources, even though it is a reference in the footnotes of the Gospel Topics essay about the First Vision accounts. They literally actually HAVE been hiding it for my entire lifetime. It’s nowhere to be found on LDS.org. The magazine it was written for (which he did not even name – so much for transparency!), turns out to be the Improvement Era, the Young Men’s magazine, so already with a more niche readership, and obviously completely unavailable to any member of the Church who didn’t happen to have a copy of the April 1970 Improvement Era around the house or in the 30,000 ward libraries in the 47 years since, during most of which time there was no internet. My ward library doesn’t have any Improvement Eras from 1970. Does yours?
If you know what you are looking for and do some hunting around you can arrive online now at a scan of that magazine on the archive.org website – click here to see it.
As the delightful Radio Free Mormon has explained in his podcast responding to this debacle, the reason an article about the different First Vision accounts even appeared then was because after cutting out the 1832 version of the First Vision from Joseph Smith’s autobiography in “Letterbook 1″ in the Church archive and hiding it in his personal safe from the few historians allowed anywhere near the archive by the First Presidency for 30 years, Joseph Fielding Smith (Church Historian from 1921 to 1970 when he became President of the Church) was dobbed in to the national press for hiding it in 1965 after its existence leaked via the President of the Seventy who he had shown it to. He then had it put back into the Letterbook, invited BYU graduate Paul Cheesman to write about it for his Masters thesis, failed to publish the study, and so it first saw the light of day when notorious ‘anti-Mormon’ royalty Gerald and Sandra Tanner published it. Soon after that this 1970 Improvement Era article appeared somewhat whitewashing the whole different First Vision versions issue.
You cannot know anything at all about that history and assert honestly that this is a good example of openness and that “from the beginning of time – there has been no attempt on the part, in any way, of the Church leaders trying to hide anything from anybody.” In fact it is a strong candidate for being literally the worst example, including an Apostle personally hiding a crucial historical document – the only First Vision account Joseph wrote by hand and the earliest written account of it – in his personal safe because it only described seeing Jesus, not God the Father as well.
There is a very long list of other examples of the prophets and apostles hiding truths from the world which anyone familiar with Church History could reel off for you, including the statement Joseph Smith had his many plural wives in the Relief Society sign and publish, some of whom didn’t even know that the others were also married to him, denying that there was any polygamy going on among the Nauvoo Mormons.
So how ignorant is Elder Ballard? Did he even write or understand a word of his address to the CES that was published in the Ensign? That seems to have come from the mind of a completely different person to the one in this Face to Face.
And the thing that cracks me up even more is that with about 2 minutes of searching LDS.org for ‘first vision accounts’ you can find the January 1985 Ensign article by Milton V Backman Jr about the different First Vision accounts, but neither Elder Ballard or his researcher seem aware that this much better example to support their openness assertion even exists, although maybe he just wanted the oldest one. At least the unaware members he blamed for not bothering to research properly have half a chance of finding that article – click here to see it.
Then after asserting that nothing has ever been withheld Elder Ballard dropped the most epic clanger possible – he supported this assertion with another piece of evidence that also proves, instantaneously, that the assertion is a total lie:
“Now we’ve had the Joseph Smith Papers. We didn’t have those, where they are in our hands now. And so we’re learning more about the Prophet Joseph. It’s wonderful we are. There’s volumes of it. There’s so much in those books now on my book shelf. Maybe you’ve read them all (gestures to Elder Oaks who says “No, not much!”) but I haven’t got there. I’m a slow reader.
“So, just trust us wherever you are in the world, and you share this message with anyone else who raises the question about the Church not being transparent. We’re as transparent as we know how to be in telling the truth. We have to do that. That’s the Lord’s way.”
Aww shucks! He’s like an honest cowboy isn’t he? So heartwarming and cute. If he had a Stetson on he’d have tapped it’s brim and said “Well, if you’ll excuse me Ma’am, I have to be moseying along now to electrer-cute some same-gender-attracted young’uns” and ridden off into the sunset.
So why do you think it is we only recently have the Joseph Smith Papers “in our hands” and are learning all these new things about Joseph Smith for the first time, Elder “John Wayne” Ballard? Could it be because most of them for the last century and a half have been kept under lock and key in the archive by the Church leaders hiding them from the world, until they decided just as the internet went global in the early 1990’s to start making them all available to everyone for the first time? Will the real Elder Ballard please raise his hand, and if it’s this one, do we really think he’s capable of leading the Church as President? 2016 Ballard who realised we must go for full disclosure with the young members has a chance of navigating us through some of the 21st century, but this guy hasn’t a clue what he is doing.
We are used to bias and spin in the Church but I have found the brazen incompetence of all this hypocritical lying this year shocking. It has entered new territory, crossed a line. The overstatement involved in asserting that they are (a) experts in Church History, and then claiming that (b) they know “the integrity of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve from the beginning of time” while telling obvious lies about both themselves is farcical. From the beginning of time?! Even if we rule out any apostles on the other worlds stretching back through the aeons of time and limit ourselves to planet Earth, what do they know of the integrity of all the Nephite Apostles in the Book of Mormon? What integrity did Judas Iscariot have?! He was in the very first Quorum of Twelve Apostles.
What about the November 2017 Ensign article by Matthew C Godfrey of the Church History Department called ‘Five Lessons for Young Adults from Young Apostles’ which is surely recent enough for an old man with memory problems to have recalled a few weeks later, or maybe he doesn’t read the Ensign either while avoiding reading the Joseph Smith Papers. It reminds the Young Adults, the Face to Face target audience, that some of those young Apostles later left the Church and bitterly attacked Joseph Smith.
Maybe he should reread his own words to the CES leaders, assuming he even wrote them, which I am starting to doubt: “As you teachers pay the price to better understand our history, doctrine, and practices – better than you do now – you will be prepared to provide thoughtful, careful, and inspired answers to your students’ questions….. Now I offer a word of caution. Please recognize that you may come to believe, as many of your students do, that you are a scriptural, doctrinal, and history expert. A recent study revealed that “the more people think they know about a topic, the more likely they are to allege understanding beyond what they know, even to the point of feigning knowledge … and fabricat[ing] information. Identified as overclaiming, this temptation must be avoided by our gospel teachers. It is perfectly all right to say, “I do not know.” However, once that is said, you have a responsibility to find the best answers to thoughtful questions your students ask (see D&C 101:32–34).”
If only he had followed his own advice and resisted the “overclaim” and accepted the “responsibility to find the best answers to thoughtful questions your students ask.”
They invited the whole world to come and listen to them, preferably with their non-member friends, to have their questions and their challenges answered and healed by prophets, and instead delivered oversimplified nonsense, misinformation, lies delivered in both commission and omission form, and supported by evidence that proves the opposite of what they claimed for it. Isaiah 5:20 cries “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”
Woe indeed – woe in the torrent of derision that this disastrous broadcast has rightly invited. Woe for the thousands of intelligent, thoughtful and rational LDS Young Adults who have been insulted by this refusal to engage with their actual concerns and experiences in a useful or realistic way. These men minimised and ignored most of what they asked for help with, offering Heartsell instead of truthful answers or revelations.
Woe to the members of the Church still trying to defend the Apostles as men of integrity and trustworthy or reliable guides in this time of upheaval and disillusionment. These Apostles have just handed their opposition an unassailable propaganda weapon that will never go away.
Woe to the members who are fully aware of the concerns and complexities of Mormon doctrine and history and have battered testimonies hanging by the remnant of a thread who desperately needed them to step up in this broadcast and build on the recent momentum in Elder Ballard’s own talks to start acknowledging and seriously, truthfully and humbly addressing the problems. Instead of Balm of Gilead they were fed a thin gruel of obvious lies only suitable for young children in an authoritarian mind control cult. We all deserve and need a lot better than that. We should all be CAPABLE of much better than that, specially our global Church’s top tier of leadership.
Who Can Save Us?
If these conflicted and frustrated members stay, they are facing the next few decades being asked to sustain as Prophet and President of the Church first Elder Nelson, who unilaterally declared in a broadcast to the Church’s young adult Millennials from BYU Hawaii on 10 January 2016 that the November 2015 Policy was a revelation to a prophet on a par with the 1978 revelation ending racist priesthood discrimination, without any basis in reason or support from his peers. He claimed “Ever mindful of God’s plan of salvation and of His hope for eternal life for each of His children, we considered countless permutations and combinations of possible scenarios that could arise. We met repeatedly in the temple in fasting and prayer and sought further direction and inspiration. And then, when the Lord inspired His prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, to declare the mind of the Lord and the will of the Lord, each of us during that sacred moment felt a spiritual confirmation. It was our privilege as Apostles to sustain what had been revealed to President Monson.”
We don’t have all the evidence that this is a lie yet, but it seems to me it probably was because none of this was mentioned by Elder Christofferson when he was interviewed about the policy soon after it first came out and they seemed to be rushing to make excuses for its existence as if they had never heard of it before. They obviously had NOT “considered countless permutations and combinations of possible scenarios that could arise”, or consulted the female leaders of the Church which they are pretending to do these days, as the Policy is so badly written and conceptualised they had to send a follow up letter changing significant parts of it to moderate some of its more immediate injustices of harm to active LDS children and teenagers after it caused a traumatised reaction among the membership, particularly the families of faithful adults and children already in tough situations who it shuns and persecutes. There is no evidence that they considered any permutations at all since they hadn’t even considered the first and most obvious one of what to do about children in this newly created forbidden category who were already baptised and ordained and active. Are they so ignorant and bigoted they could not even imagine that such children of a gay parent were already on the pews at Church? Did they not check first just in case even if their imaginations could not stretch that far? Don’t they do that sort of thing as a matter of course when running the business interests of the Church with all their degrees in Business Management? If they really did deliberate at length and this was the best they could come up with, Elder Nelson revealed in his statement that they are even more incompetent and unfit for their callings than I am suggesting in this essay and they should all be released immediately.
There are still honest questions to answer about why it even happened in the first place that would justify not suffering children to come to Jesus and breaking the very Articles of Faith we ask our children to memorise in Primary about baptism being fundamental and not punishing children for their parents’ transgressions. The most likely scenario the bloggernacle has come up with is that it is a cynical move to try to avoid getting the Church entangled with child custody battles in American law where a gay parent might accuse the active LDS co-parent of creating ‘hostility’ to the gay parent by having the child officially enrolled in the Church which opposes homosexuality. Lawyers being allowed to run the religion regardless of devastating harm to faithful families. Some of the language Elder Christofferson used points strongly towards that motivation.
My wild card theory, shared by some, is that some minor subcommittee came up with the idea, added it to the online version of Handbook 1 without most of the higher ups knowing about it and when it went viral they all panicked and in a comedy of errors and cover-ups ended up with this mess instead of just admitting it was a mistake in the first place. The PR people clearly had no forewarning about it.
The original wording is still in handbook 1 (including a fatwah on children of parents who have EVER in the past homosexually cohabited, which would include before being converted and having your previous sins washed away by baptism!) and has not been modified, although there is now a reference to the later letter. So we don’t even know which version or reasoning for the policy is the actual one they are talking about or should be regarded as the ‘revelation’. Probably not the first one if they had to change it, even though Elder Nelson asserts they all received a spiritual witness that that one was from God via His prophet. What an embarrassing mess.
When 93 year old President Nelson dies (…he’s 93!) we will be asked to sustain Elder Oaks, who genuinely believes there can be no concept of opposition to anything the Apostles of the Church say because they are infallible and more reliable sources of truth than even the Holy Ghost, the deity who the scriptures say was appointed by God to be the prime witness of truth. Then Elder Ballard who is a proven liar who does not practice what he preaches, and urges all of us to lie too when asked about our Church’s fascinating and controversial history. Then Elder Holland who rants about people leaving the Church being weak taffy-pullers who make him angry, and often uses irrational arguments in his talks to justify staying in the Church. Then if Elders Eyring and Uchtdorf, who seem to be gentler and more rational souls, are still alive they may get a brief look-in, followed by a very long presidency of the much younger Elder Bednar who is the scariest control-freak of them all and insists there are no homosexual Mormons.
Realistically, what chance is there of any of those men having the courage to stand before the world, admit openly that our history is littered with lies and sins, and start apologising for them and their toxic impact on the religious lives and beliefs of the entire membership, and uncompromisingly offer a way forward for reconciliation and progress with integrity?
Only President Uchtdorf has made serious and consistent efforts towards that in his General Conference talks for several years, and now Elder Ballard has totally backtracked from his one attempt to do the same, Uchtdorf is still very much a lone voice regularly ignored and contradicted by the other apostles. He is a long way from the President’s chair, and introduced the nonsense about “doubting your doubts” so hasn’t quite got there in his own head yet or the courage to be consistent.
Elders Nelson and Oaks have little of the folksy cuddliness of Hinckley and Monson that allowed them to get away with and conceal some very nasty moments of homophobia that set us on our current collision course with the increasingly liberal democratic world, so I suspect their administrations are really going to challenge the loyalty and patience of the mainstream membership.
They are both intense ideologues who don’t hesitate to preach in absolute terms and demand uncompromising loyalty, and the third ‘Face to Face’ that has been announced for 3 February 2018 is going to be heir apparent Elder Nelson and his plural wife taking questions from…wait for it…his own grandchildren and great grandchildren, and some great nephews and great nieces! Just think about that for a minute.
But of course we haven’t become a personality cult dominated by a few Utah based white families running a multi-billion dollar oligarchy. We only do things “the Lord’s way”. The hearts of the Latter-Day Saints living in the slums and social housing of Brazil and Romania and Nigeria and England will surely be warmed as they watch these privileged, rich, probably all white American children wearing their sunday best and granted an audience with the man whose picture they will all have on their walls in a year or two and call ‘Prophet’. It will be like being invited to peek in on Christmas with a royal family, but without any actual discussions. I’m sure they won’t end up feeling resentful of the whole charade at all as they do what they were told in General Conference and pay their tithing before buying food for their own children…it doesn’t feel very Sermon on the Mounty though does it? Is this really the best Christ’s representatives on earth can come up with? What kind of incompetent PR ubershambles led to anyone at all thinking that was going to be a great idea?
Will we ever again see an Apostle or President of the Church interviewed by a real person with real questions and the confidence to insist on real answers instead of this North Korean totalitarian propaganda where the Men in Charge can say nonsense and lie while ranks of carefully dressed young people look on in rigid adoration as if they are speaking the wisdom of the age?
The Church is not going to thrive while this trajectory continues, so after abandoning hope for growth in the forseable future the best hope left is to at least survive the current accelerating decline until some truly inspired, or at least generically realistic and rational, leadership emerges. We need to get serious about emeritus status for Prophets and Apostles who can no longer function. There is a long history of Apostles promoting their personal projects while the boss was heading towards a coma and usually no good has come of it, from Bruce R McConkie publishing a book called “Mormon Doctrine” that wasn’t and has now been withdrawn, to Boyd K Packer excommunicating intellectuals.
With the internet assisting communication a mainstream grass-roots revolt could make the schisms of the Kirtland and Nauvoo eras look like a gentle Sunday afternoon game of croquet. Or will the American Apostles see the writing on the wall and get their act together in time? German Dieter Uchtdorf gets it. Brit Patrick Kearon gets it. French Gerald Causse gets it. White Kiwi Elder Ardern, uncle of the new Prime Minister of New Zealand who felt she had to leave the Church to maintain her integrity, doesn’t seem to get it after his useless attempt at Book of Mormon Apologetics in General Conference. We are desperate for some brown or black apostles, but maybe our best hope for now is more white but properly European ones.
Elder Oaks may have checkmated us all with his ‘Proclamation and the Plan’ talk, which I have no doubt was his intention. Noone can soften the Church’s official doctrines and practices related to LGBTQ members, their children and concepts of marriage in any way now without directly contradicting that talk and appearing to have succumbed to the deceptions of ‘the World’, which Elder Oaks mentioned 30 times in it. 30! He hopes he has consolidated the status quo for another generation, shutting down the ‘that was a while ago’ excuse that allows them wiggle room to make overdue reforms and course corrections. We are never going to appeal to normal compassionate and tolerant potential converts without significant changes of practice and tone regarding civil rights and sexuality.
You can inspire and radically transform a convert’s life with an ethos of forgiveness and unconditional love, but shunning and bigotry only appeals to bigots and we’ve already got too many of those. Bigotry simply can’t be the defining characteristic of our generation of Mormons like Elder Oaks wants it to be. We are still paying a terrible price for doing that to black people in the generations before mine and making that our battlefront with “The World”. Has he really learnt absolutely nothing from that devastating disaster?
Whether the assertively autocratic Apostles are shrewd schemers or confused and fearful old men winging it and stubbornly refusing to change their ways, the over-deferential bureaucrats and lesser General Authorities who kowtow to them need to wake up fast and smell the decaffeinated coffee. These old men won’t be around to face the medium and long-term consequences of their current actions which WE will be left to try to repair and rebuild. They are spending the last few years of their lives threatening the credibility of our whole leadership system, and the integrity the average member considers sacrosanct and representative of the heart and soul of their own lived Mormon Christianity. They are actually lying to the kids now, and telling the kids to lie too for goodness’ sake! A Hitchcockian swarm of chickens is on its way home to roost. Someone they will listen to needs to have the courage to say this to them instead of just thinking it.
So what do I do or think now personally as a lifelong member who loves the Restored Gospel and wants to be proud of my Church and see it grow for the rest of my life?
Freaking out with alarm at the startling revelation that some of our leaders are shameless liars and hypocrites is frankly embarrassing in the presence of my ex-Mormon friends and family who concluded long ago that the Church was founded by a skilful charlatan and has been led by tricksters ever since. To them Joseph Smith was a man who from his early teens had a gift for manipulating people into believing he could find buried treasures and pay him to chase it while never finding any of it and who, like pretty much every influential conman in history, made concubines of his young housemaids behind his wife’s back, and invented dodgy scriptures.
But there is also the Joseph who wrote scripture that takes Christianity, rescuing and preserving its broken theology, and living it wholeheartedly, completely seriously. The Book of Mormon reads like a cry from the heart of the universe to embrace the redeeming Christ whoever and wherever you are in the wide world. The Book of Abraham opens our religion up to embrace the Space Age and the universe of the Hubble Telescope, and in the Book of Moses the fully human and humane deity weeps with pure compassion for us. Joseph taught that we have a female Mother Goddess and made Eve the hero of Genesis and the Temple Endowment. He effectively gave priestesshood to women. He filled in many of the cracks and fatal flaws in fundamental orthodox Christian doctrines, and saved the billions of unbaptised dead from an eternal burning hell. That is my religion, and noone else has it.
We are sitting on a mountain of theological gold with Joseph Smith’s signature on it, but when we need highly informed and miraculously skilful leaders to sift the treasure from the treasure-seeking and reform our institutions and traditions to break through and destroy the mountain of pharisaical sediments crushing the flower of the real gospel Elder Uchtdorf has pointed us to in General Conference, we get these people who think they are getting away with being intellectually lazy and bad liars.
This Face to face was a disgraceful performance and apart from the shouting on the fringes, the indifferent silence about it I have heard from my ward and stake members speaks even louder in its own way. I haven’t heard anyone even mention it. They have frankly stopped paying much attention to what the Apostles say any more – their talks are boring and repetitive, they hardly ever say anything we haven’t already heard a hundred times and they are becoming increasingly irrelevant to our lives, except for their passionate reinforcement of boundaries of pharisaical rules and bigotry, which does get noticed and parroted by the fanatics when one tries to nudge a conversation in a more tolerant direction.
I’m still trying to fathom where this apostolic mindset of not bothering to research properly or be rational comes from. Despite what should be the unforgettable lesson of lying story-telling Seventy Paul H Dunn, Elder Holland recently got caught with his pants down telling a very inaccurate version of a faith promoting story that had not bothered to fact-check. He had the integrity to apologise and retract it afterwards. I wonder if Elder Ballard will retract his Porkie Pie?
Since they have shut down the accountability checks and balances of consulting the other quorums and the general membership through ‘Common Consent’ procedures decades ago when defining official doctrine, maybe the Apostles have collectively drifted away from reality and logic because they only listen closely to each other to determine the nature of what God is saying and revealing to His Church. The trains of thought and logic they use to explain or justify their positions get so entrenched they become a shared orthodoxy.
The leaked videos of the briefings they get from invited guests and the in-house minions who make powerpoints for them about the issues of the day indicate a level of carefully worded sycophancy and spin that keeps the real world far out of sight and mostly mirrors back to them a charade of confirmation bias.
When the diversity of life experience and perspective of these 15 Apostles is also so incredibly demographically concentrated on old white men, 10 of whom grew up in Utah even though the Church went global during the last century, is it any wonder they emerge from their meetings with policies and trains of thought to communicate to the world that are so disconnected from reality and the real issues the worldwide membership face?
At times they look cheery and pleased with themselves after saying something illogical or inaccurate as if it’s all going incredibly well because no one has told them otherwise. The audience can’t boo, the interviewers can’t ask follow-up questions. Noone is ALLOWED to tell them otherwise, or feels able to because they have just asserted their infallibility. They pretend to have face to face dialogue with the young, but clearly are not listening to learn anything from them. It is a one-way conversation and they don’t ever have to actually defend their positions and thus realise where the weaknesses are like the rest of us.
They promote as religious duty and wisdom a lifestyle and Church culture based on their own life experiences that seems to work for middle class people in the Wasatch Front with nuclear families but ignores all the other countries and social classes in the international Church. I rarely hear from them now the clarion call to be like Christ in the world; forgiving, hopeful, open-minded to the beauty and truth and potential in every soul, kind and welcoming to the sinner and their children instead of ostracising and judgmental. Or if they do manage some rhetoric like that it rings hollow and screams hypocrisy because it so directly contradicts what they said in another talk, or a policy of shunning and exclusion they just foisted on us all.
I was led to believe all my life that the Apostles were holy men living and travelling without purse or scrip and living modestly on their shared consecrated resources, but that was another lie. They are paid a big salary from the Church’s multi-billion dollar property and business investments which they manage and are entirely cocooned from the financial struggles of daily life most of the membership face. But they have fired the chapel custodians to save money and added those chores to all the other time consuming burdens of the unpaid local clergy. Methinks a class war is brewing as well as a truth war.
Pretending the problems are not real is not a long-term strategy that is going to work or future-proof our Church. That is the last desperate gasp of old men who don’t have a vision for our future clutching at straws from the past and panicking while Rome burns instead of acting decisively to put the fires out. Their response is ‘Don’t look at the fires, they aren’t really there. Look at us! The alleged fires are not even real! You weren’t born gay – that’s not real, but you kept calling yourself gay so it made you gay. It’s your neighbour’s fault that their testimony burnt down. They didn’t look hard enough for the information we refused to provide, and had doubts instead of “honest questions”. Your family members’ testimonies did not just burn down because of discovering that the Prophets and Apostles past and present were lying to them because “we would have to say as two apostles that have covered the world and know the history of the Church and know the integrity of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve from the beginning of time – there has been no attempt on the part, in any way, of the Church leaders trying to hide anything from anybody.”
The Millennials are growing up in a world where quantum computers and genetic engineering are going to revolutionise technology and science, facilitating artificial intelligence that could match human minds, where scientists are pretty sure that we live in a multiverse of infinite universes, and these men are pretending it’s still the Middle Ages and all you have to do to deal with uncomfortable realities is pretend they aren’t there, and tell everyone who follows you to also deny their existence and read only the approved books.
‘Lying for the Lord’ used to be the most ridiculous-sounding anti-Mormon accusation of many ridiculous accusations I read as a teenager in the mostly incompetent anti-Mormon propaganda of the 1980’s, but flipping Nora…What did Elder Ballard think he was doing after having weeks to carefully prepare what he was going to say?!
If we generously treat our Apostles as frustrating but indulged bumbling grandfather figures who are getting a bit past their prime and being embarrassing, but who we have affection for because of their long service and past glories, we cannot also genuinely look to them and trust them as being more inspired and informed than we are. Everyone needs to stop mollycoddling them and expect better – if they are like grandparents in a retirement home who we are looking after and making excuses for then we should retire them. If they are actually up to their job and responsible for looking after us they need to experience some assertive accountability and Common Consent. Failing to keep that accountability front and centre has led to most of these crippling dysfunctions in the Church that require urgent reform.
I was blessed to learn as a teenager that there is no human trouble that cannot be healed, or at least comforted and articulated, by 1980’s New Wave Synth Funk-Pop created by nerdy white poets who were a bit rubbish at dancing. So my iphone shuffle spoke to my soul as I walked to work last week fuming about the mess this Face to Face has dropped us in. Good old China Crisis, who created the most beautiful audio comfort blanket ever with their cryptic song ‘Christian’, sang me another lullaby that I had not paid much attention to before, but perfectly spoke to this ‘Tragedy & Mystery’:
Winter displayed in a snow white haze
Fires burning brightly in the night
Tragedy and mystery
Open your mind and you will see
From waterfalls I hear romantic calls
Feather in a ray of sunlight
Open your mind and you will see
Your world is changing though you cannot see
There’s no room for secrecy
Your world is changing faster everyday
There’s no truth in what they say
Two by two
My heaven made blue
Life in a world of love and truth
As I watch the fires as my friends’ and family’s homes of testimony are burned to the ground by all the lies of the Apostles who cannot see that there’s no room any more for secrecy and the world is changing faster every day, and that there is no truth to their assertions that the General Authorities have never hidden truth, I still catch a glimpse of a feather from an angel’s wing. It is shining in a sunbeam somewhere in a clearing in a wood or by a tranquil river in New York State. The echo of a divine intervention that poured living water like a waterfall from heaven and restored the gospel of Jesus Christ to the earth in a real or metaphorical pillar of light. A glimmer of hope that angels still surround us and can speak to us if we just have the courage to set fire to the lies covering their hiding place instead of burning the truth and policing the love.
Or if you prefer a less wafty and ethereal conclusion, Jon Stewart got it spot-on in The Daily Show, bless his heart:
“BSers have gotten pretty lazy, and their work is easily detected, and looking for it is kind of a pleasant way to pass the time, like an ‘I Spy’ of BS. So I say to you tonight, friends, the best defence against BS is vigilance.”