The Church Under Condemnation: Tips for Those Tempted to Condemn Church Leaders

Apostasy often begins with attacking Church leaders. This is easy to do, and frankly, there are plenty of targets to go after and many reasons one can find to be offended. It’s not just members on the fringe with weak testimonies who are offended and troubled by the occasional behavior or attitudes of mortal Church leaders. Maybe we can be more sympathetic with their irritation when we see that some very credible, trustworthy, and righteous people stand in the ranks of the offended, chief of whom is … the Lord Himself. No kidding. This is not empty rhetoric. The Lord Himself has been troubled with the behavior of Church leaders, as He plainly explains in LDS scripture, namely, Doctrine and Covenants 64:8:

My disciples, in days of old, sought occasion against one another and forgave not one another in their hearts; and for this evil they were afflicted and sorely chastened.

They were chastened and afflicted for the evil in their hearts. This brought them under condemnation and implicitly limited their ability to lead the Church in unity, through revelation. Shame, shame, shame!

The Lord’s offense at some of his early leaders was not first expressed in Joseph Smith’s days, but way back in New Testament times. For example, in what can hardly be taken as a ringing endorsement of the great Chief Apostle, the Lord said (Matthew 16:23):

Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.

Peter would continue to offend the Lord when he cut off a man’s ear as the soldiers came to take Christ away, only to be followed hours later with his tragic triple denial of Christ. Like Joseph Smith and all mortals who seek to serve and follow the Lord, Peter the Chief Apostle was a “rough stone rolling” with plenty of flaws for critics and apostates to reject.

Peter was not the lone fallible sinner among the Apostles. For example, that great Apostle, Paul, described himself not as chief among the godly but as chief among sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). Fortunately, he was a penitent sinner on the path of following the Lord. But in his strong-headed contentions with other apostles, he may well have been one of those whom the Lord referred to in the previous quote from Doctrine and Covenants 64.

In our day, the Lord has also expressed his displeasure with the Church and even stated that it is under condemnation for some of its faults. See, for example, Doctrine and Covenants 84:54-58, where we learn that the Lord is offended with how lightly we have taken (and probably continue to take) the miraculous gift of the Book of Mormon:

54 And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—

55 Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.

56 And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.

57 And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written—

58 That they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom; otherwise there remaineth a scourge and judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion.

This leads us to a critically important question: In a Church founded by the Lord but discovered to have fallible leaders that have been known to offend God with serious gaps in their behavior, in a Church that stands under condemnation for its lack of faith and failure to do some of the things the Lord yearns for, what is the proper response for early and modern Christians? For Saints in the Church of Jesus Christ in both Peter’s day and ours, here are three options that come to mind:

1) Speak out against their leaders, criticizing and condemning them, while trying to remain in the Church in order to correct it;

2) Leave the Church and perhaps even fight against it; or

3) Cope with and even forgive the errors of leaders while recognizing that they are among the authorized servants of the Lord whom we should patiently respect as we work to build up the Church, in spite of human flaws.

I’m for option #3. But that may not be the preferred option for some, especially if they want to force change on their own terms or perhaps gain attention, draw crowds, or sell books. Further, option #3 is a tough one to defend because we mortals tend to expect prophets and apostles to be, well, sort of infallible, right?–even though we ought to know that they aren’t. Those who want to stand out as progressives and intellectuals as they fight against the Church have a much easier time because they can draw upon all the flaws of the past and cast all the barbs that critics have honed with piercing sharpness, leaving the robes of faith rather tattered to those unprepared for the assault.

The mistakes of the Church that Elder Uchtdorf referred to in the October 2013 General Conference need not be limited to those of the present dispensation. Moses angered the Lord and had to be rebuffed several times. Jonah had related issues. In addition to Peter’s personal shortcomings, contention raged among the early apostles, and disunity also occurred among the modern apostles in Joseph’s day and occasionally afterwards. Joseph Smith himself stood condemned before the Lord for serious sin that resulted in losing 116 pages of precious scripture. It was a dark and depressing time, and even his gift of translating the Book of Mormon was taken away during the period. There were other steps he took later in life that may have been too harsh or unfair to others–numerous actions can be criticized and some are difficult to defend. Mistakes. Gaps. Puzzles.

Some of the things that offend us today may be due to limitations in the historical record and our lack of understanding, but some things from modern Church history may be genuine offenses to the Lord as well. But if the Lord did not abandon the Church and give the keys of authority to someone else, then those errors, if real, are for the individual leaders to deal with and are not an excuse for us to condemn and abandon the Church. Condemnation and judgement is the Lord’s role, and He’s got that under control. Accusation, of course, seems to be Satan’s role, and he excels at it. Beware those who steadily point accusing fingers at those whom the Lord has asked to serve. (see Doctrine and Covenants 121:16-19).

Yes, the Church is imperfect and has been far from perfect. It may be under condemnation from the Lord for it’s failures, today as in times of old. We need to do our part to lift that condemnation by paying more attention to the Book of Mormon, by helping the Church move forward, and by raising the level of our own righteousness.

And so, you fans of modern critics of the Church leaders, consider your ways. That includes fans of seemingly sincere and nice Mormons or former Mormons, such as one man who claims to have been visited by Christ and claims to be a supporter of the Church while vocally and publicly condemning its leaders. I don’t buy his story. I don’t buy the idea that publishing an anti-Mormon book can be a sincere effort to help Mormons be stronger in the Church that it condemns. This seems to fall into an old “fundamentalist” pattern of unauthorized people rising up and claiming special revelation and privilege in leading people back to the earlier ways, to the pure ways of Joseph, but ultimately away from the blessings of the Restoration and the blessings of the Temple that some of these apostates mock.

Change happens in Zion and always causes discomfort for some. The old ways of animal sacrifice and the Law of Moses looked like they were supposed to be in force “for all generations,” until Christ came and began changing things. The priesthood was supposed to limited to certain men in the House of Israel only, until Peter received a revelation that changed things dramatically. A revelation in 1978 through Spencer W. Kimball further opened the ranks of the priesthood–and, as with most modern revelation, offended a few who felt the old ways were better. Beware Fundamentalists who claim they are just bringing us back to the pure old ways in their attacks on the modern Church and its leaders.

The Restoration is real and the authority restored by the Lord in these modern days, is real, though the vessels that bear it are flawed in many ways. Even the inspiring and devoutly Christian servant who leads the Church today, Thomas S. Monson, is fallible and can be criticized by anyone out to find reasons to accuse. But those who do so may find that they are actually the ones who are offending the Lord and fighting against His work. A painful and bitter irony.


Update, Oct. 10, 2013: I just read a marvelous essay by Ardis Parshall over at Keepa. In “A Living Faith: What You Know that Harold Bloom Doesn’t,” Ardis reminds us that those who find fault with constant change in the Church misunderstand the basic nature of our religion:

When a people’s religion and faith have as the foundational premise that God continues to speak to prophets, revealing new truth and inspiring guidance for changing times, evolution is inevitable. The surest sign of the death of such a faith would be a static, stubborn refusal to receive new direction. While Bloom – or more properly, someone who believes in continuing revelation – might legitimately debate whether any specific change is the will of God, the expectation of change within such a faith is undebatable: it lies at the heart of the faith. Mormonism2011 wouldn’t be any kind of Mormonism if it were a fossilized Mormonism1830.

What too many observers don’t understand is that they are looking on the outward forms only, generally missing the point of those forms. A man like Bloom looks at polygamy, and gathering, and missionaries traveling without purse or scrip, and the communal life of the United Order, and building the Kingdom — or whatever his particular bugbears are — and sees only abandonment, betrayal of the vision of Joseph Smith, a “dwindling … into just one more Protestant sect.” What we see, though – what you respond to when you read a post on Keepa – is the reason Latter-day Saints of the past lived as they did. That internal motivation carries on in our lives in real ways, even as the outward forms of marriage and missionary work and interactions with our fellow Saints develops under the guidance of leaders we sustain as being as inspired as Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and John Taylor, or whoever was leading the Church at whatever date an observer considers to be that vanished perfect past.

Keepa’ninnies [readers of his Keepa blog] – and Mormon readers of Mormon history in other packages – have no trouble in recognizing a common commitment with the Saints of the past, living the commandments, building eternal families, sharing the gospel, caring for our fellow Saints and others – even while the visible manifestations of those commitments change. It’s why you enjoy reading about history: the forms have changed, which attracts our eyes and ears and imaginations; the spirit is the same, which engages our affections and sustains our hopes and resonates in our souls.

Beautifully said. Yes, we are a different Church today in many ways, but the vision, the eternal purposes, the Spirit, and even the spiritual gifts and miracles we experience in living the Gospel, are the same, and unite us with our predecessors among the pioneers and the early Saints of Joseph’s day, not to mention the Saints of New Testament times, the Saints of Enoch’s day, and the Saints throughout history as well as those who will serve God day and night in the Temple during the future Millennium. The forms will differ, but the core is the same, and we are brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

69 thoughts on “The Church Under Condemnation: Tips for Those Tempted to Condemn Church Leaders

  1. Jeff, the "anti-Mormon" book I believe you were alluding to (which I won't mention by name since you didn't) might just be unique in that it has brought a number of formerly disillusioned people back to full fellowship & activity in the Church. Curious if you've read it, or any of the authors previous (very Orthodox) books?

  2. I too was wondering if Jeff was referring to a certain book that has resulted in the author getting excommunicated. When ever that book and its author comes up it seems like there is always someone who says something along the lines of, "But his books and that book in particular have helped so many people! Why would they excommunicate him for helping so many people keep their testimonies?"

    My answer to that is, he was not excommunicated for all the good things that he has done, nor for the people he has helped, but for explicitly stating that the first presidency does not have the keys nor the authority to lead the Church (among other things). It is like Sidney Rigdon. He did so many good things to build up the Church and was a great help to Joseph Smith, so why would Joseph Smith even consider excommunicating him? Or any of the three witnesses. Why, given all the good that they did for the Church, and all the people they brought to the Church, would they be excommunicated? They were not excommunicated (or threatened with excommunication) for any of the good that they did, nor for the people they converted and helped in the Church. They were excommunicated because they did not recognize the authorized servants of the Lord.

    So is his book "anti-Mormon"? He does not view it as such, but his stake president and high council disagree. It certainly does pit him against the Church, it leaders and some fundamental doctrines, by his own admission. I find it hard to believe that God informed him of problems with the Church and told him what God intends for His Church, yet that man does not claim to be a prophet, nor even to have the authority to be a prophet, yet some how claims that God failed to inform His chosen representatives of the issue.

  3. Why must criticizing leaders mean condemning them? To take it further: why can't you criticize a policy or doctrine without criticizing leaders?

  4. So are you advocating that members should refrain from criticizing church leaders because they are anointed by God, and that therefore, even if they might be wrong on some point, or in error in their judgement, to criticize them dishonors the Church. So we refrain because we want to maintain cohesion, or unity?

  5. Are we talking about Visions of Glory and the mysterious "Spencer?"

    I hadn't heard he got excommunicated. Citation needed, please.

    Normally I wouldn't request this kind of sensitive information, but I feel such information is germane to our evaluation of the claims he made in his story.

  6. Quantumleap – having read some of the material of the author you mentioned, and whom this post seems to be about, perhaps it might be worth clarifying something.

    I'm not defending him, nor am I intending to defend his ideas…I intend only to clarify what so often people seem to get wrong because they haven't read his writings.

    He doesn't say the current leaders don't have keys or authority. He does say they have lost a fulness of those keys. He has stated time and again they have the right to lead the church, they are the proper guardians of the ordinances of the church, and the priesthood authority that administers those ordinances.

    The analogy of Moses' people is appropriate, not because I believe we are in the same position to them, but because they lost a fulness but retained keys and authority to lead Israel and do the work of God.

    When he says the sealing power does not reside in the church, I don't think he is referring to temple marriage. It seems he is referring to the second anointings. In all the ordinances prior to the second anointing, you are being invited to receive something, in no place is it being conferred upon you simply because you went through the process.

    The second anointing, on the other hand, claims to seal you up to the blessings previously promised to you. When he claims that we have lost the sealing power, I appears to me he is referring to that.

    He claims, however, that such promises are still attainable from God, even if the church is not authorized to seal it upon you, God can through his own voice.

    That is a distinction often lost by those who are only casually familiar with his writings, or only think they know what it says because someone else told them what they understood.

    He has clearly stated many, many times that the church has full authority to convey priesthood authority, to baptize, to lay on hands, to administer washings and anointings, endowments, and such. He encourages people to be faithful to those covenants made.

    He very much agrees with President Packer, that authority of the priesthood has far outstripped power of the priesthood.

  7. Now for my personal opinion:

    I respect that Jeff feels differently about him (especially because I respect Jeff's writings and have learned a great deal and often go to his resource pages). I completely understand. I don't know that I agree with everything the author states. But I like to read things that challenge my view, because it forces me to ask questions and get down to the truth.

    If I thought the author was advocating fundamentalism in the form of a return to Polygamy or a restriction of the Priesthood, I'd run away from him faster than you can imagine.

    But since the fundamentalism he urges is a return to seeking after mysteries of Godliness, mysteries the scriptures command us to seek after, I am interested in hearing what he has to say. He writes to encourage me to understand what it means to have "no other Gods before Him", much as Elder Oaks encouraged this weekend. He encourages me to follow the pattern of 2 Nephi 31 and 32, and truly seek to be born again of the spirit and by fire and to converse with the tongue of angels, because they will tell me all things what I should do…because THIS IS THE DOCTRINE OF CHRIST, and there shall be no more doctrine given after He shall manifest Himself unto you in the flesh. This is the same pattern established in the temple endowment. This is the same pattern established in the Oath and Covenant. This is the same pattern established in Christ's visit to in 3 Nephi.

    My own PB strongly encourages me to know and understand and seek after one of the mysteries he expounds upon. His writings are the clearest I've read, and have opened my eyes to the beauty of the Book of Mormon in clearly showing the path to fully reconnecting with God…in a FULNESS.

    I do not take everything he says as truth. But for those simple things above, I am eternally grateful. His book was an answer to my prayer (because other than a few quotes in TPJS and a conference talk, and the scriptures I'd discovered on my own, I couldn't find anything that helped me understand what I was told to study out) and I knew it the second I came across the book. My heart truly burned within me, and the Holy Ghost seemed to fill my head with pure intelligence as I read, making many connections to scriptures I'd previously been blind to.

    Does that mean everything he has written is of equal value. No, it doesn't. But I am willing to investigate with an open heart, to honestly consider what he puts forward, to prayerfully invite God to help me understand truth (not as he defines it, but as God defines it). To do otherwise would be to ignore what I have learned already which has been deeply nourishing to my soul.

    I still love our leaders. I still listened anxiously to GC this weekend, and I was still fed. Even if I learned this author was correct, and that we had lost a fulness of the Priesthood – I still would not condemn or criticize the leaders. I would honor them for the role they do play, and look to God for the role they do not play.

  8. ***Important Correction

    THIS IS THE DOCTRINE OF CHRIST, and there shall be no more doctrine given ***until*** after He shall manifest Himself unto you in the flesh

  9. You make a very curious argument.
    Church leaders are fallible because they are human.
    Church leaders are called to serve by God, who is infallible.

    Therefore, don't condemn church leaders for their fallibility, because they are still actually infallible by virtue of being called to serve by God.

    Just a simple logical error you may want to consider for your future arguments. Have a nice day!

  10. No doubt it's Denver Snuffer but, of course, it could be the women of Ordain Women. Or the women who wore pants. Or anyone why sees the meddling in the affairs of politics and denying civil rights and is concerned.

    There's so much that's wrongheaded and no one can even enter into discussion with the Brethren or risk speaking about their own personal revelation.

  11. Church leaders are fallible because they are human.
    Church leaders are called to serve by God, who is infallible.

    Therefore, don't condemn church leaders for their fallibility, because…
    they are the only people God has authorized to receive revelation for the world and to direct the work of salvation on earth.

    Also because forgiveness is one of the most vital Christian attributes.

  12. "Enter your civil, intelligent comments here. Insults are discouraged. Anti-Mormon links are frowned upon"

    Pretty much giving yourself free reign to exclude any comment you don't like. Nice!

  13. Michael, regarding Denver Snuffer's books, Passing the Heavenly Gift, I'd like to know who these people are who have been brought back to the Church. As far as I can tell, the only source for that claim is Denver himself who cites one anonymous example.

    Over here in China, I rely on ebooks, and this book isn't available in that form. I've read about as much as I can by "looking inside" at Amazon, in addition to reading recent statements from Denver, from those who've attended his lectures, and of course, the overview of the book itself. I can grasp but also disagree with the thesis that the Church has departed from the mystic, spiritual days of Joseph and now become an empty business malleable enough to abandon every doctrine and do things in stark opposition to the foundation Joseph gave. But I cannot see how this thesis and his many criticism of the Church and its leaders (Brigham Young as a murderous despot, etc.) could lead a person to come back to the Church. Just how did it help the alleged rescued souls?

    Yes, I think it's possible to disagree with Church leaders without condemning them. In fact, members need to learn how to sustain even when they may disagree. In my church service, I have had intense disagreements with Stake leaders or other leaders on a variety of issues and learned, I feel, to cope with that. I expressed my views (OK, sometimes too strongly), and even appealed decisions a time or two, and yet respected them and chose not to rebel nor publicly criticize, and opted to abide and work with them in spite of differing views. Yes, most of the time we just need to be patient, kind, and generally quiet when we disagree with something, yet sometimes there may be appropriate ways to offer other views and input.

    Arguing that current leaders have apostatized, are corrupt, don't have the sealing keys, are just focussed on business and manipulation, etc., is NOT appropriate for someone who wants to be a faithful member of the Church. It is called apostasy and rebellion, even if one is not asking people to leave the Church.

    If I am misunderstanding Denver and his writings, help me out. I'm more fallible than most so that's entirely possible. And I have to admit that when someone comes out of the blue and publishes the claim that they've seen received the Second Comforter, that really raises all sorts of problems for me. Too much like the path we've seen from other apostates in the past. I don't think he's leading people in a healthy direction, but again, this may be in part due to my bias and misunderstanding.

  14. Here's an excerpt from pp. 261-263 of Denver's book:
    p. 261
    By the end of the third phase this ambition to gain enough influence to affect the saints’ business affairs had been accomplished. The president was presumed to have the right to speak on all matters, and the advice he gives on any matter should always be followed. As that idea took, the stage was set for the forth phase to begin. The pivot between the two happened with the ascendency of David O. McKay, as the ninth church president. His presidency would take full advantage of a cult of personality surrounding the church president. He would become the first living man regularly referred to as a “living prophet” in church publications…

    In the first phase, an actual ascension to God’s presence was the aspiration of every follower of Christ. By the third phase, fearless, unquestioning submission to church’s president replaced the ascent to God. Between these, the alteration of Mormonism was dramatic. The forth phase included an intensification of business management principles, marketing techniques, and associated success in growth, wealth, and numbers. The forth phase, where Mormonism is today, is posed to become a world religion now malleable enough to accept changes which contradict, disregard, or denounce principles that governed the faith in previous eras. This was only possible because of events in the third phase. The fourth iteration of Mormonism has proceeded on the bedrock principle that the church’s president does not indeed cannot, err. If he were to do so, God is required to intervene and take him. Therefore, in this final phase it has become possible for Mormon adherents to continue claim to an unbroken heritage descending from the original Prophet, Joseph Smith. Now even jarring contradictions of the original faith are accepted. Any change is presumed to come about as part of God’s will because God has not intervened to stop the changes. The operating assumption requires God to literally start killing church presidents before they can be said to have erred.

    Presidents are allowed to adopt any new idea no matter how foreign the idea may be to the faith. Rank and file members are assured that so long as they continue to follow in lock-step “the Lord will bless [them] for it.”…

    When it is believed a man can bind heaven, then it is believed that salvation is available by and through that man. Therefore, loyalty to him can be rewarded with eternal prosperity, and disloyalty is all the more fearful because he can eternally withhold, as well. Even the scriptural caution about “control, or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men” is arguably circumvented by such authority thought to be held by a church president. Abuse of his priestly authority is only evident if the Lord kills a church president.

    Several problems here. For example, arguing that the Church developed a cult of personality around David O'McKay strikes me as odd. The early leaders spoke often about their leaders as "living oracles" (maybe oracle was used more than prophet, but similar concept) and urged people to follow Church leaders. It's not a recent phenomenon. Goes back to Joseph's day. And he takes one famous quote about God's ability to remove prophets who stray and extrapolates that way too far. There are different ways to view the growth and changes in the Church. We need to recognize that his is highly critical of the Church and its leaders, and I can understand why his refusal to back down from these public teachings would get him excommunicated.

  15. Mysterybaby, I didn't give myself this great power to delete comments. Google did. It's one of the privileges of running a blog (get one and give it a try!), though I rarely exercise that power. Not even for your comment. Apart from obvious spam selling something and some completely off-topic rants, nearly all comments are allowed to stand.

  16. Regarding President McKay – the following excerpt from D. Michael Quinn is useful (I understand that some may question him based on his conclusions….but the observations he presents can be considered separate from his conclusions):

    By the min-1950s a change was underway in Mormonism that profoundly affected its political influence. The hierarchy and church publications encouraged an unprecedented adoration of church president David O. McKay. His "graceful, witty manner, his imposing physical appearance, his deep warmth, all made people see him as THE prophet, to be classed with Joseph Smith and Brigham Young." Extensive television broadcasts of two general conferences annually after 1953 heightened McKay's personal and ceremonial impact on members of the church. By the late-1960s LDS publications and speakers routinely identified McKay as "the Prophet," "our Prophet," and "Beloved Prophet." Those terms had previously applied to the martyred prophet, Joseph Smith, while the living LDS president had simply been "the President."

    That changing devotional status of the LDS president can be dated precisely through the official Church News. Published weekly by the Deseret News since 1931, every headline reference of Church News to each LDS president referred to him as "President" until 1955. During those twenty-four years no headline referred to the living LDS president as "prophet," and that term was used exclusively to refer to Joseph Smith or to prophets of the Bible and Book of Mormon. In February 1955 the Church News published the first headline reference to the living LDS president as the "Prophet."

    Concerning such "adulation," a First Presidency secretary acknowledged that McKay liked his "celebrity status," and wanted "to be recognized, lauded, and lionized." However, that was something J. Reuben Clark had declined to give to any of the church presidents he had served as a counselor since the 1930s, and he seemed to avoid calling anyone "the Prophet" except Joseph Smith. Rather than adulation, Clark reminded LDS religion teachers in July 1954 that "even the President of the Church has not always spoken under direction of the Holy Ghost." The only known time Clark referred to McKay by any other title than "President" was in a letter to the church president's secretary about "your Chief." Clark's influence may have been the reason why no other reference to McKay as "the Prophet" appeared in the Church News until after the counselor's death.

    In apparent response to "loyal opposition" against the First Presidency's political wishes, the Church News began emphasizing that David O. McKay was "the Prophet." On 11 September 1965 there was an article headline: "Honors For a Prophet," and within a year typical headlines proclaimed: "The Beloved Prophet, Seer and Revelator, President David O. McKay."

  17. Jeff,

    One thing I've been reflecting on is how difficult some truth claims can be to hear. Sometimes our own ego/natural man nature gets in the way of us evaluating the claim all on its own, and instead we see the claim as perhaps threatening our identity or status or the traditions we've come to honor. In this case, it isn't because truth is actually under attack by the claims someone makes (whether that person is Thomas S. Monson, Denver Snuffer, Richard Bushman, or Jeff Lindsay), it is because the identity that we value and have built up is under attack. Sometimes that identity needs to be attacked, because it is all too easy for us as individuals, even truth seeking individuals, to build our foundation on something that ISN'T Christ.

    This, for example, is what happens to Laman and Lemuel. They hear Lehi's and Nephi's words, and they see it as an attack of the life and traditions that they value. "We know that the people in Jerusalem aren't wicked…you've just been lying to us so you could get us out into the desert and exercise control over us!"

    The claims Nephi made were hard to hear, and if your foundation was built on something other than Christ, you were likely to see it as threatening and you were going to resist it, because to accept it is to threaten and destroy that identity that builds your ego.

    The same is also true of Christ. He'd say something that to the Jews was terribly offensive and seemed to be not just an attack on them, but on God Himself – "Destroy this temple, and in 3 days I will raise it up." That was truth, which to the Jews was total blasphemy and entirely improper in ANY context. Christ didn't bother to explain to them his motives in challenging such a sacred symbol…perhaps if he'd elaborated and said "I'm actually talking about my own body" it wouldn't have been a big deal. But he left that truth to stand, even in it's seemingly offensive manner.

    Whether or not this should apply to Brother Snuffer, well that would be for each person who comes across his words to decide for themselves. I've read enough to understand the context to the point that I read what you quoted and don't feel threatened, because I'm familiar enough with what his motives seem to be. You are reading absent that context, and therefore perhaps find it as threatening as the Jews did about Christ's statement about temples, which lacked context to those who heard.

    I'll follow in the next comment with why I think people actually are coming back to church (I happen to know a few) as a result of his writing.

  18. So why are people coming back to church? Why would something like you've quoted above help someone struggling with their faith actually bother to return to a church like he seems to be describing?

    As I stated above, it is all too easy to build our foundation upon something that is not Christ. I would argue that anything that is not Christ, is sand. Only Christ qualifies as "the Rock". Perhaps the only other thing that could even come close to being "a rock" is revelation, since you can not know Christ without revelation.

    Even though that is true, and even though we all know that and nod our heads, there are many who have unwittingly built their foundation on things that they thought were "the Rock", but turned out to be sand.

    For example, the church is not the rock. It is sand. It's a great piece of sand, hopefully it's a sand castle that points someone to The Rock that is Christ, but it cannot substitute for the Rock. Neither is the Prophet, past or current, the Rock. To build our foundation upon them is to set yourself up for disappointment, because at some point that imperfect church led by inspired but imperfect leaders are going to disappoint you. Some are going to read Richard Bushman's "Rough Stone Rolling", and when they discover that Joseph translated the BoM differently than they were lead to believe (or find out just how flawed he was), they find them selves crushed, they feel betrayed. Why does that happen? Because they were treating Joseph himself, or at least the narrative of the church about Joseph, as a sure foundation that they could confidently rest all of there trust. But the rains came, the floods rose, and the winds beat upon that house and it totally fell out from underneath them. It turns out they'd built on Sand (Joseph himself, or the church and their trust that if it is the only true church it wouldn't ever deceive them).

    Perhaps if their testimony had been more properly grounded in Christ, learning something would not have been faith shaking at all. They may have still felt the sting of the deception (or the disappointment of their own ignorance), but that fiery dart would have had no power to drag them down. Their relationship with Christ would have been sufficient to help them see things in perspective, and they would be grateful that it isn't Joseph's or the Church's perfection that gives them hope in the Gospel, it is Christ's. It makes it easier to forgive Joseph's mistakes, and the Church's, when built upon Christ.

    The only problem is, our language at church too often doesn't respect this, and actually encourages us to rely on the arm of the flesh (or sand…or things that by their very nature are not perfect) instead of Christ, who is the rock, and who is perfect.

    "The Prophet cannot lead the church astray" is an example of building upon sand. Of COURSE a prophet could lead us astray! But to build such confidence that they will NEVER lead us astray causes us to begin to build on something that is not Christ as a foundation. And then when we discover something like "Mountain Meadow Massacre", or when we see the racist comments of some former leaders like BY, suddenly we question "can't lead us astray" and then question everything.

    Continued….

  19. Continued from above….

    The problem is, institutions, by their very nature, are interested in protecting their power and influence. That means even a great institution, even a "true and living church" is going to engage in practices that encourage people to trust the institution, for if they don't have that trust, how can they get people to do the great things they're trying to do. So we create a cult of personality, we begin different forms of idolatry to Church and Leaders (even if they are quite small and moderate, they can still be idolatry). Those moderate forms of idolatry aren't always intentional. But they exist, and they take us away from "the ONLY name under heaven whereby you can obtain salvation is Christ."

    My point….Denver is interested in getting people to turn to Christ. Often his writing is very harsh against all of the moderate or extreme examples of idolatry that can creep in, which take focus off of the relationship with Christ, and place it on men and institutions which carry his name. Denver brings up many hard things to point to the very fact that you need to remove all false traditions, you need to repent of all forms of idolatry, and you need to turn to Christ.

    The writings are not done with the intention to make one angry toward the church, but to show just how futile it is to build your house of faith on anything that isn't Christ.

    I read him and I am not threatened. Nor do I criticize leaders, nor do I feel as though I'm in a fallen church. I read and I am reminded that ultimately, everything the church does offer, and all that the church leaders teach, is only useful and good to the extent that it points me to Christ. Isn't that the message of Moroni 7? You might say "yeah but Moroni never speaks of the church the way Denver does." Well, that depends. Who was Moroni truly speaking to in Mormon 8…was he writing to people who would never read the book, or is he writing to those who have the book, because "Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me".

    I believe these forms of idolatry that can creep in, often with good intention to build trust in leaders and institution, are still idolatry and an abomination to God. The church can still exist, and true prophets can exist, without out us making them our foundation, which we are too often encouraged to do.

    Denver shows how futile it is to rely on those things which don't have power to save, but who's only job should be to point you to Christ who DOES have power to save.

    That is why when he encourages you to stick with the church, and to sustain the prophet and apostles, people hear his message and understand. They sustain them with the proper perspective, that they are not The Rock itself, and that even in their imperfection, they can still be capable of pointing you to Christ. They publish the scriptures, they carry the gospel to all the world, they are stewards of the priesthood of God, they officiate in holy ordinances and build temples which point you to God/Christ. They teach inspired things (when moved upon by the Holy Ghost). But in all of, they still aren't the Rock. They only point to it. Placed in their proper setting, they can be of great worth. Placed anywhere else, and sooner or later they will be a stumbling block.

    Hope that helps you understand why reading something like what you quoted could actually be helpful.

  20. Jeff,

    I was walking to a church meeting tonight, and thinking about the issue we've been discussing, and I thought of one other simple example of how seriously I think God takes even moderate forms of idol/hero worship, or any cult of celebrity, or anything that takes focus off of the true power to save.

    It is in Numbers 20:11 – when Moses strikes the rock and lets the focus be on him. Having the focus on him didn't stop his ability to do the miracle, nor did it negate everything wonderful he had ever done, or would ever do after. But this thing was still grievous to God, and it stops Moses from being brought into the land of promise.

    Do we consider the full significance of our words when we use language that is designed to build faith where faith is not designed to be placed? Is that also grievous to God? Is there something God withholds from us, as he withheld full blessings from Moses, as long as this language persists? Will such language exist in a Zion society? Can it exist in a Zion society?

    This doesn't mean that any who does this is fallen, or no longer a servant of God, or unable to do the work and perform miracles? It would appear it is not. But it is worth considering if we go too far, and if we create stumbling blocks that never need to exist stumbling blocks that in a google age most certainly will be stumbled upon by any who wants to understand just how imperfect and human our leaders have been on occasion.

    Perhaps if we did a better job of not setting the stage in the first place with "a Prophet can never lead us astray" (which God must have forgotten when he told us in D&C how we could have a disciplinary court in case they did), we would have more people focused on the true object of faith, and less concerned with the faults of others.

    Blessings to you. I honestly do love your blog, and the sincerity of your approach to the Gospel and faith.

  21. I will condemn abuse from anyone. If a church leader is abusive, exercising unrighteous dominion, or belittles me or anyone, I will criticize and condemn it.

    I do not believe God wants his people so disempowered that they can't even detect or act when men go bad. And it happens. And the proper response is to call it out.

    Do I need to feel bad for calling the cops on the Bishop, for example? Oh, but that's so rare we never need to mention it. Well there's quite a spectrum from calling the cops to calling him out on bad behavior.

    I've worked for the church and seen how some real mean manipulators climb up the ladder. Perhaps I should just shut up because apostasy often starts with criticizing leaders.

    Or maybe we should stand for truth and right in all places, even at church. And maybe we should do what's right, let the consequence follow.

    Or maybe we should just shut up, fear that we are going to become apostate, and feel guilty that we ever dare question anything leaders ever do.

  22. The thesis that Mormons didn't recognize and honor the President of the Church as a prophet until recently is hard to swallow. If that thesis is correct, then we might expect that the popular LDS hymn, "We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet" was not composed and added to the hymn book until after the 1950s. But it was actually written around 1860 or so, and added to the LDS hymnbook in 1863. And no, its title then was not "We Thank Thee O God for an Administrator" nor "… for a President". The history of this hymn is covered briefly in Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_Thank_Thee,_O_God,_for_a_Prophet and in the Jan. 1937 Improvement Era (Vol. 40, No. 1 – not vol. 9 as Wikipedia states – I'll see if I can correct that). See http://archive.org/stream/improvementera4001unse#page/n37/mode/2up. Mormons have been singing that and often meaning it, I think, for 150 years.

  23. And I don't buy the argument that referring to the President of the Church as "beloved prophet" was an innovation in David O. MacKay's day. It took 5 seconds on Google to find this example from 1919:

    Heber J. Grant, Conference Report, June 1919, p.3

    But we feel that those who have met in the Assembly Hall are entitled to hear some of the general authorities of the Church speak upon the life and labors, and bear witness of their love and reverence for, and their faith in, our beloved prophet, the late President Joseph F. Smith, who has departed this life since we last met in general conference.

  24. "Perhaps if their testimony had been more properly grounded in Christ, learning something (about Smith/Church) would not have been faith shaking at all."

    Sorry dk, but your position does not hold water.

    You cannot say one's testimony should be grounded in Christ alone when it was Joseph Smith/Church who restored the corrupted gospel of Christ in the first place.

    "…they find them selves crushed, they feel betrayed. Why does that happen? Because they were treating Joseph himself…as a sure foundation that they could confidently rest all of there trust."

    How else would someone feel but betrayed?? The Church is founded on Smith's teaching that it is IMPOSSIBLE to be saved or to even know Christ at all without Smith's revelation restoring the saving ordinances and commandments of the gospel!
    Now you're saying we need to trust in Christ alone? Exactly how are we supposed to do that without trusting in Joseph Smith and the Church?

  25. Anon, I'm not saying to disregard Joseph Smith, or the Church which he restored and which promotes the truth of the Gospel. I am saying that when you seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness first (I interpret that to refer to Christ and the relationship we develop with God through Him – as in The Kingdom of God is within you), all other things fall into their proper perspective.

    The same thing needs to happen in your marriage. If you get your personal worth and value from the way your spouse treats you, you will be entirely at the mercy of the ups and downs of a flawed human, their bad day and there temporary outburst will have a devastating impact on you. However, if your worth and value comes from your relationship to God through Christ, then your worth is not longer threatened by the bad day or unkind comment. You know who you are separate of your spouse…this allows you to view them with compassion instead of defensiveness. This is the reason you are capable of patience when offense is given. This is where such powerful words like "forgive them for they know not what they do" come from. They come from one whose worth is not based on how others treat him or think of him. They come from one who knows their value comes from God and no one else and no place else, and one whose identity is summed up in his title "I AM".

    This is entitly true of our relationship to the church. If a person gets a strong sense of identity from belonging to the one true church, when they encounter a mistake made in the past or present, that mistake will threaten that identity and may cause a faith crisis. If instead the strong sense of identity comes from belonging to the one True God, the church that does indeed represent Him can make a mistake without creating a threat to identity. Instead of faith crisis, there is charity and perspective. Instead of defensiveness, there is compassion. Instead of seeing that mistake as making the claims of JS or the Church suddenly incorrect, one can see the mistakes in the proper perspective and move forward in faith.

    I'm not trying to diminish the value of the church or its leaders. Only placing them in their proper perspective, so we can get from them what we are supposed to get from them without being dismayed at the faults they will occasionally display.

    They are not the rock. Only Christ is.

  26. Jeff,

    Regarding We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet…

    I find it interesting that that is the only line in the song that is about a prophet. The rest of it, all of the praise, faith, deliverance, hope etc….is all directed at God. Only that first line mentions a prophet, and even when it does, it is done in the context of thanking God, not the prophet.

    I think that is entirely consistent with what I'm suggesting the proper place of the prophet should be. We should be grateful for a prophet, but the praise and honor and faith should be directed to God.

  27. I have been most intrigued by Snuffer's book and have been wanting to join in a conversation somewhere–this is actually my first comment on a blog…ever, so I hope it is worth something. Lindsey's website is one of my personal favorite's, so I can't think of a better place. I too disagree with Snuffer’s approach to helping people come back to the church or remain in the church. I also take issue with a lot of the history that Snuffer uses to back his teachings. I agree with Jeff in the area of living prophets and oracles in the days of Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith was venerated by many and sought after. That also seems to be the case as you follow other prophet's in this dispensation. Just because they don't use the same phrasing that we use now to venerate a prophet does not mean it was not happening.

    I have read parts of Passing the Heavenly Gift, I have not finished reading it yet, but I will. I read the introduction and then continued and read several chapters that interested me (granted, I have an avid interest in church history and doctrine and had heard much about this book and am familiar with almost everything I read in his book so far). I found certain areas to be very lopsided and stretched to fit what he was going for. I can't say that I was comforted or that the Spirit testified to what he was saying. I find more comfort in reading straight from the church documents that the church has been publishing and what other more area specific books provide, such as Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Bushman, Parley P. Pratt: Apostle Paul of Mormonism by Terryl Givens, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy by Brian C. Hales, etc…

    Before this gets too long and involved, I wanted to mention that his footnotes and references don't exactly make me excited. He has some good ones, but I have been familiar with Quinn and anything Signature Books publishes for quite a while, and can't say that Snuffer quoting heavily from those types of books makes me feel closer to Christ. I can’t judge people, but I can judge interpretations of history and selective history.

    I do think Snuffer’s focus on Christ, or re-focus as he seems to be advocating, is something that needs to be done, but I agree with Jeff here that telling people the church has lost a fullness of Priesthood authority and saying very harsh things about church leaders is not the proper way to go about it. On a slightly different note, I have found the churches new curriculum for the youth to be very Christ centered as my young adult Stake decided to adopt it at the beginning of this last year.

  28. to dk,

    Can you honestly reduce "discovered" issues such as Joseph Smith's polyandry to a "bad day and temporary outburst" of a spouse? I'd say discovering your spouse has been cheating on you for the last ten years is more of an accurate analogy. Considering the eternal implications, a case can be made that it's worse.

    Let's examine the gravity of what I'm talking about. This was no short-lived failing of a flawed human. This was an on-going, deliberate lifestyle defended by "revelation" from God Himself. A lifestyle Emma Smith had to accept under the threat of destruction!(D&C 132:64) A lifestyle practiced by someone who I am supposed to TRUST in restoring the requirements of my very salvation!

    This is one of many "discovered" issues facing sincere, agonizing believers searching for truth. Please don't brush them aside as a minor offence.

  29. To Anon,

    I'm not trying to brush things aside. My apologies for not listing all of the most serious grievances that anyone could have with the church or its founder and subsequent leaders. I'm not trying to minimize it, I just didn't make an attempt to describe all of the reasons that someone could justifiably have.

    As for can I reduce "discovered" JS polyandry to "bad day and temporary outburst"? Yes. And I can do that because my first marriage ended as a result of an ongoing affair by that spouse. It is in that time that I learned what it means to build on The Rock, to get my worth from God and not my imperfect spouse. That is where I learned how "idolatrous" I was with many things in my life, by looking to them for my happiness and wellness. Learning how to obtain wholeness in Christ gave me the ability to see my wife's actions from a different perspective. As I wrote above, it was the source of my compassion to her, it was the source of my forgiveness. The same lessons I learned from that difficult time applies to the day to day things that happen in my current marriage, which has been characterized by happiness because we both seek to God for wholeness instead of each other. That lets "bad days and temporary outburst" seem like quite nothing at all. The same principles that allow for forgiveness to exist in a small matter, are at play in the more grievous matters as well.

    Learning how to have that kind of love for someone who had betrayed me in the most intimate of ways translates quite well to my experience in whatever troubling things I have learned about the church.

    I've learned that though the church is the Bride of Christ, but it can and does turn from him…but that doesn't mean he has given it a bill of divorcement. The issues in our history can be and often are quite severe, but I believe God still has a covenant that he is working on with this people.

    If I can forgive an adulterous wife and be willing to work with her, my guess is God can forgive a church that is His bride, and continue to invite the church to return to him and receive the full blessing of relationship with Him.

    You may not feel the same. And that's okay. If you find healing in a different matter, I'll be happy for you and anyone else. But this is how healing has come to me, and to countless others. Looking to Christ first takes the sting away of a great many injustices that we are exposed to in this world.

  30. dk,

    I am truly sorry for what you've gone through in your first marriage, I would not wish that on anyone. And I applaud your ability to forgive.

    I don't really need to know the answer to this, but did she ever repent of her actions?

    Because, there is an enormous difference between a fallible person who realizes and repents of their failure, and one who not only sees nothing wrong with their actions but defends and promotes it.

    I'm not expecting perfection from Joseph Smith anymore than I would the apostle Paul or the disciples of Christ. But when a true prophet of God fails, repentance follows. Smith initially hid, then defended and promoted polygamy. I can't even imagine how he could defend polyandry, but he obviously saw nothing wrong with it!

  31. Who gives a flying fig about all these ridiculous accusations and insinuations? Who is arrogant enough to really think we know it all, that our culture is the model of the culture we will find after this life? Good grief. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." Why don't we cut Joseph Smith a bit of slack and get on with our lives instead of wasting so much energy debating angelic dancing space on pinheads?

  32. To anon 8:01

    Let's see, a man comes along after almost 2000 years of the time of Christ and claims a dramatic "fixing" of what we need to do to be saved. Claiming everything we thought we knew about the gospel iswrong.

    Do you realize how big that is? The eternal implications?

    Do you think character plays a role in trusting the validity of these claims? Should we bother investigating the person making such important claims?

    Who gives a flying fig? I do!! I suppose it's easier to go through life with my eyes closed, swallowing everything fed to me, no questions asked.I bet you investigate when choosing between cable or dish, but a prophet restoring the gospel? Who cares, get on with your life. Really?

  33. Yes, really, get on with life. I know that Joseph Smith was called of God to restore the Church and gospel of Jesus Christ. I know it through spiritual means. That's good enough for me. It doesn't affect me one way or another that God commanded Joseph Smith to be sealed to multiple women, some of whom were married to other men. That's between God and the parties involved. I don't feel God has any obligation to explain it to me – I probably wouldn't understand it anyway. It has nothing to do with the challenges I face in life to be a better disciple of the Savior, to work with Him in eliminating the defects in myself, and to better love and serve those around me.

  34. " Why don't we cut Joseph Smith a bit of slack and get on with our lives instead of wasting so much energy debating angelic dancing space on pinheads?"

    Why don't we forget about bedding 14yos, dispatching husbands & bedding their wives, repeatedly humiliating his own wife and pressuring associates to give up their daughters & wives??? Making such a person a role model?? Could you possibly be serious?

    Did you endorse it when Jim Jones was doing it? Do you think as H Ron Hubbard did, that giving it the gloss of religion changes anything about it? There are people today that will make the same rationalizations about him. Do you think the fact that people have been hiding and rationalizing the same behaviors for about 200 years makes it less odious or more legitimate?

    What's wrong with you?

  35. I know it through spiritual means. That's good enough for me. It doesn't affect me one way or another that God commanded Joseph Smith to be sealed to multiple women, some of whom were married to other men. That's between God and the parties involved."

    At least you can admit and embrace your complete blind faith. I pray this is not how you would advise your children, if you have any. Who knows when the next Jim Jones or David Koresh will come along and ask them to simply believe and follow. I often wonder how people could be duped by men like that. Now I know