Christians v Pharisees: Choosing Sides And How To Fight For Them In The Mormon Civil War
Episode 2 - MORMONISM HAS WORKED FOR ME BUT HOW CAN WE MAKE IT WORK FOR EVERYONE?
- WHO ARE THE REAL PROPHETS?
- WHITE MALE CISGENDER HETERONORMATIVE PRIVILEGE
- PONDERISE EMERITISE AND DECOLONISE
CHRISTIANS v PHARISEES: CHOOSING SIDES AND HOW TO FIGHT FOR THEM IN THE MORMON CIVIL WAR
Episode 2 - MORMONISM HAS WORKED FOR ME BUT HOW CAN WE MAKE IT WORK FOR EVERYONE?
I love Mormon Christianity. It has given me most of the good things in my life and most of the personal skills and strengths I am most grateful for and proud of. I know all the good it can do for a person. But I have increasingly become aware of its many dysfunctions and the terrible, unforgivable cruelty it has inflicted, and still inflicts, on far too many people who do not deserve it. Women. I have watched my mother as a ward and stake leader in primary and Relief Society tormented for years by her struggles to be listened to by the patriarchy and the wounds they callously inflicted on her sisters by not involving them in making the decisions that most powerfully impact LDS women’s lives. And the Apostles do this on a global scale too. Despite their hypocritical rhetoric to us minions to listen to our wives and and never make family decisions without consulting them as equals and to listen to women in ward and stake councils when planning a course of action, the First Presidencies did not consult or breathe a word to the international leaders of the Relief Society, Young Women or Primary about the existence or wording of their 1995 Proclamation on the Family or the November 2015 Policy of Exclusion which have had massive significance and impact on women and particularly mothers, often in very hurtful ways, before presenting them to everyone as a finished product approved by God.
Black people. Coloured people of all races that are not white and delightsome. LGBTQ people. People who I love who have not just been let down by our Mormon scriptures, rhetoric, doctrines, policies and practices, but tormented by them. Tortured. Intentionally harmed and shunned. Overwhelmed with guilt and self-loathing and feelings of never being good enough. And in some cases driven to suicide. And it is getting worse under the current leadership, much worse than it has been since we began to stop being so institutionally racist in 1978. Frankly I’m amazed now that anyone stays when I listen to what our current self-appointed Prophets, Seers and Revelators teach in far too many of their sermons.
WHO ARE THE REAL PROPHETS?
Why do I describe them as self-appointed? President Nelson’s First Presidency chose and ordained themselves in secret and started doing their jobs 3 months before the global membership outside the Quorum of Apostles were allowed to vote to sustain or oppose them being ordained to lead our entire Church in a General Conference. They didn’t even tell anyone they had done it and that they had ordained a new Prophet till the press conference a few days after the secret transfer of power. This completely violated the most basic principles of the laws of Common Consent in our scriptures which say that no leader is authorised to serve without the sustaining vote of the people they preside over. D and C 20:65 says “No person is to be ordained to any office in this church, where there is a regularly organized branch of the same, without the vote of that church.”
So technically we haven’t had a legitimate First Presidency for decades. In 1830 Joseph Smith insisted that the members of the Church all vote to sustain having him and his counsellors be its leading Elders before they were ordained to that role, and I am trying to find out when exactly the First Presidencies stopped doing that and started appointing themselves without the common consent of the membership.
If they aren’t even legitimate First Presidencies and are in open rebellion against the commandments to the modern Church in our scriptures, is it any wonder they have failed to have any significant revelations worth canonising and adding to our scriptures in that time that weren’t just clearing up their own mess of polygamy and racism, and have failed to prophecy of anything at all that we couldn’t guess for ourselves? Why is President Nelson constantly lecturing us and making such a massive deal about keeping the commandment about the name of the Church mentioned once in the Doctrine and Covenants while totally ignoring the Common Consent laws it describes repeatedly?
Why should God give them any more scriptures if they are so obviously ignoring the ones he already gave them about their own callings? I recall being taught several times by General Authorities over the years that the Saints would not be given any more of the further scriptures we have been promised until we actually studied and applied in our lives the scriptures God has already given us. It turns out it was THEM, not us who were the problem sabotaging that all along! WE’VE been studying the heck out of our scriptures all our lives. They still aren’t following the basic rules for how to lead the Church and be entitled to revelations and prophecies.
And how did we not notice that they ordained themselves before any voting? That would never happen for any other calling like ordination as a Bishop or Stake President or even a Primary teacher, so why is it not being done properly for the most powerful calling of all? And what’s with this system they have implemented, with no scriptural support for it at all, making the next President the longest serving Apostle who hasn’t died yet? The Apostles pretend revelation is involved in determining or confirming who God wants the next President to be, but this entire system represents chickening out of seeking an actual revelation about it. They have so little confidence in their actual revelatory abilities that they are too scared to take the risk of putting it to the test and all praying individually about who it should be and getting the same answer like the Apostles in the New Testament Church did when praying together about who to ordain as an apostle to replace Judas Iscariot. Much easier to claim that God calls His prophets now by murdering the other candidates and engineering a literal ‘fete accompli’!! It’s like how they chose the sultans in the 17th Century Ottoman Empire when the prince of the harem who managed to murder all his polygamous brothers first became the next sultan!
Once you allow yourself to look objectively at their oft repeated claims to unique Apostolic and prophetic power and gifts and authority you realise how much airtime we devote to those claims with so very little actual evidence or performance to back it up. When I was a kid we often heard stories about how the Apostles and prophets healed the sick and even raised the dead in at least one claimed case noone talks about any more. As it became clear that most of those stories were rather elaborated or just lies and the current Apostles don’t seem to have had much luck performing miracles they now give endless talks about people they are asked to bless and heal who end up getting worse and dying, and having “the faith NOT to be healed” in a talk by David Bednar, which is a spectacular climbdown from the New Testament which states very clearly that the ability to miraculously heal the sick is one of the key indicators of a true Apostle of Christ. This was brilliantly explored by Radio Free Mormon in his podcast #46 titled “General Conference Death March.”
So here we are with 15 Apostles insistent that they are the only prophets authorised to give revelations and scripture to the entire world who don’t HAVE revelations or create scripture any more, who cannot perform miracles like healing the sick, and don’t even trust themselves to have the same answer if they really sought a revelation about who God wants the next president of the Church to be, who has the best prophetic spiritual gifts. This is a textbook Pharisee win - replace every component of real, spiritual, revelatory and miraculous healing Christianity with a bureaucratic system that runs itself, guarantees status and comfort and power for its top executives and their families, and gradually brainwash the membership to adjust and then actually reverse their expectations so that the religion no longer requires them to actually practice what they preach, or prove that God is really working through them.
And to top it all off they administer to each other the super secret Second Anointing in the temple that makes their ‘calling and election sure’ or in layman’s terms tells them they have already proven they are faithful enough to be guaranteed exaltation in the celestial kingdom, so whatever sins they commit now, lying to everyone, committing adultery, whatever, they will still become celestial Gods in the next life as long as they don’t commit the unforgivable sin and blaspheme against the Holy Ghost. So they can lie and cheat to us as much as they like... and it doesn’t matter!
I spend 2 years as a full-time missionary in the Deep South Bible Belt and several more in my University Christian Union arguing with Born Again Christians that their belief that they had been saved and guaranteed a place in heaven regardless of any choices they make or wicked things they do in the rest of their lives were wrong, and all that time the General Authorities of my Church and the select few of other loyal members they decided to reward were giving themselves exactly the same get out of jail free card disconnecting their salvation from their own choices and behaviour, while teaching the rest of us to constantly repent and worry ourselves silly about enduring to the end of our lives in near perfect righteousness.
Did you know you can read all about this in our scriptures? One of the most difficult and disturbing things a faithful Latter-day Saint can do is read Section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants from beginning to end and pay attention to what it actually says. This is the section we base nearly all of our doctrines and temple rituals about eternal marriage and sealings on and we are used to dipping into it to read a couple of verses out of content and then recoil. But if you read it all the way through you have face the full scale of the vicious sexism of the original polygamous eternal marriage system we have worked so hard to edit and sanitise over time. You discover how it treats women brutally as property with no rights who will be damned if they say no to a priesthood holder’s proposal of polygamous marriage. You see how Joseph Smith is forgiven and promised exaltation despite his adultery, which it comes very close to openly admitting, while his wife Emma is threatened with damnation and destruction of she does not cooperate with polygamy, and told that even if she objects Joseph should go ahead and add more wives to his polygamous harem anyway.
And most astonishingly of all, it says that anyone who has had their marriage sealed in the temple has already had their exaltation guaranteed and can go on a spree of orgies and murder for the rest of their lives as long as they don’t commit the unforgivable sin, and they will still become Gods on the Celestial Kingdom and be in the first resurrection after doing some time on a naughty step with Lucifer to punish them a bit first. It’s all there! But somehow our religion has evolved since it was written to a point where we can’t even have a temple recommend or get into the Celestial Kingdom if we have a cup of tea!!
One can see why Emma had the sense to throw this revelation on the fire when it was first presented to her in writing. I suggest we need to do the same and I expect a lot of General Authorities agree, but we are trapped in a codependent relationship with D and C 132 because almost the entire house of Mormon eternal families is built upon this rather alarming foundation.
Bruce R McConkie included believing that D and C 132 teaches that temple sealing makes your calling and election to exaltation sure in his list of ‘Seven Deadly Heresies’ he famously preached about, but he had no real argument to disprove it and I presume he had by then been inducted himself into the Second Annointing and understood that the Apostles had decided to shift the promises made there up a level to just applying to them, while they were publicly teaching through the first half of my life that to have your calling and election made sure you had to receive a personal visitation from God! This messed with all our heads because it implied that some of the General Authorities had and this was something we were meant to be striving to achieve and earn ourselves by being extra superduper righteous and perfect. And we felt inadequate if this hadn’t happened to us yet.
Although none of the General Authorities talk about having your calling and election made sure any more - it’s one of the many things they used to go on about constantly and seemed to be an essential fundamental Mormon doctrine that has been completely dropped now, and few of our new or younger members will never have even heard of - the idea hasn’t gone away and it is interesting to note that one of the larger recent breakaway Mormon groups following Denver Snuffer has made having that personal real encounter with God a major focus of their belief system.
While we have much bigger fish to fry first, it seems that some editing or reframing of some of the scriptures we have canonised is going to have to be done at some point, particularly the specifically racist ones in the Pearl of Great Price and the horrifically misogynist ones in D and C 132.
Historically the most important prophets have rarely come from hierarchical bureaucratic systems. God usually calls outsiders and people on the fringes to testify and hold the powerful elites accountable and call them out for their corruptions. Even those born into privilege or inherited entitlements had to be humbled or taken out of society for a while to be able to return to it and have the passion required to challenge entire communities to change their ways. Moses and Jesus grew up in royal families but became refugees in exile. Alma the Priest of Noah had an existential crisis and fled into the wilderness. John the Baptist who inherited Aaronic priesthood authority also had to flee into the wilderness when his father the High Priest was assassinated in the Temple and came back kicking butt, criticising the Establishment and ready to baptise the Messiah. As often as not the younger brother, the runt of the litter, rather than the older one with a birthright ended up taking on the leadership role and being spoken to by God - Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, King David and Nephi.
I think if we are to really sell our religion to the rest of the world with a straight face it is essential to take a long hard objective look at what we are doing as an organisation and what we are claiming about ourselves and our leaders and make absolutely sure it doesn’t have gaping holes in its credibility before assuming nothing needs to change; or that we can sell this to the world as God’s completely perfect and supreme way to do things with a straight face and confident ways to justify it. If people aren’t taking us seriously or trusting us, it’s much more likely to be our fault than theirs. At the moment commercial products and belief systems based on the flimsiest of evidence and rationality are raking in followers in far greater numbers than our religion is. We should be doing far better than this, especially if it’s all or mostly true.
Simon and Garfunkel sang that “the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls.” In my lifetime by far the most useful and accurate and profound prophecies by any definition of prophecy, and in Mormonism we use the term to mean predicting the future or preaching the gospel with power, have not come from the ordained LDS Apostles. Sometimes they say something helpful and profound, but they have basically given up the predicting the future game after too many of Joseph Smith and other LDS prophets’ prophecies didn’t come true. Joseph Fielding Smith insisting in 1961 that man would never go to the moon because God had established it as a higher order of planet to the earth that we were not worthy to touch is my favourite of the prophecies that didn’t work. 8 years later Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and proved adulterous junky President John F Kennedy a more successful prophet of the future than he was. That was living proof, along with a lot of the other unscientific nonsense he taught about young earth creationism and racism, that you can be Mormon Royalty, a direct descendent of Hyrum Smith and work for decades as Church Historian studying all the secret archives of Mormonism’s founders with the closest access of any living person to the thoughts and wisdom of our founding prophets - and still be a dud as a prophet yourself IF you don’t also having a decent secular academic education, which for several tragic reasons he had missed out on as a child and as a young adult.
But because he was revered because of his ancestry and appointed to high office through nepotism with far too much power concentrated in his hands, Joseph Fielding Smith got to have a massive impact on what our religion became in the 20th century - extremely socially conservative, hostile to science, teaching me and my children’s generation that the earth was 6000 years old in Seminary (which was a testimony breaker for the most gifted and intelligent young man I ever taught in primary), and that evolution is a satanic lie. He evicted Hugh B Brown from the First Presidency like Russell Nelson did with Dieter Uchtdorf because he had been urging the Apostles passionately to end the racist segregation and as a virulent racist Joseph Fielding Smith entrenched that segregation for another 8 years after getting him out of the way.
He bulldozed over the far more educated scientists and academics among the apostles at his time. He wrote lots of books stating that his ideas were our Church’s doctrines because Pharisees are much more willing than Christians to confidently write textbooks lecturing everyone else about precisely what they should believe and do, and he inspired his son in law Bruce R McConkie to do exactly the same with the same anti-scientific and very socially conservative interpretation of our religion in his seminal work called “Mormon Doctrine.” Bruce R McConkie was just a Seventy at the time and had not consulted the Apostles at all about his book’s content or its publication, so he got in deep trouble with them and was forced to make hundreds of edits to it before they reluctantly let him publish a second edition years later. But because they were trapped in claiming the infallibility of The Brethren noone breathed a word of this to the millions of us ordinary members that this book wasn’t actually Mormon doctrine. So we lapped it up as our textbook - it was called ‘Mormon Doctrine’! and fed our desperate need for clarity and certainty in a Church riddled with speculations and a long legacy of crazy things taught by our early prophets to disentangle and make sense of. ‘McConkie Mormonism’ was born and is still with us today, causing most of our failure to thrive in the 21st century.
This is all so maddening - it would have been so easy to have an alternate timeline for the history of our Church in which we didn’t let the Pharisees infiltrate and take over and write the script for our religion. We should have been the most anti-racist, most feminist, most science friendly religion on earth all along. In Mormonism Eve is a brave innovator of the salvation of all mankind seeking knowledge over comforts, like every true intellectual, not the dangerous weak female temptress used by Christian culture to persecute and diminish women for 2000 years. And we have a Mrs God for goodness’ sake! And your Mum can become a Goddess! The Book of Mormon is an antI-racist polemic if you read to the end. We were meant to be enthusiastic emancipationists all along, not slave owning segregating bigots calling Martin Luther King a communist stooge as Apostle Ezra Taft Benson kept doing in General Conferences. Our founders were fearless about gaining knowledge from every source and made the symbol we wear over our hearts all about embracing all truth as part of the whole.
But no, we gave the reins of power to uneducated hayseed crackpots from rural polygamous Utah and switched off our brains. Instead of tolerating Russell Nelson trying to rewrite our timeline in his own image from the point we ignored his April 1990 talk about the name of the Church and he started his epic 30 year sulk and plotting his revenge on us all for presenting to the world as happy engaging MORMONS comfortable being diverse and part of modern life, let’s work on a course correction that gets us back to THAT timeline, which is still possible if we ditch the Pharisees or persuade them to repent and address this history the people my age lived through.
WHITE MALE CISGENDER HETERONORMATIVE PRIVILEGE
Despite these dysfunctions and self inflicted wounds in our religion and the real car crash going on at the top of the pontifical patriarchy, the less contaminated pure Christianity of most of the few remaining active Mormons at their best is still a portal through which I see and experience the pure love from God that has blessed and supported me all my life of privilege as a white, mostly heteronormative, male while others were having a much more difficult time. I have been served and loved, mostly unconditionally, by the members of my close-knit Church community since I was a baby. I love them deeply - they are my friends and my family. They have really stepped up to be there for me in my times of need and I hope to do the same for them, although I often fail.
Loving Mormonism comes particularly easy for me - my religion is entirely configured to make people like me feel awesome and important. I never have to think twice that my race is favoured by God when I read the racist parts of our scriptures and the appalling history of what our prophets have taught about, and how they treated, people of colour, and continue to. As a male I get to have all the privileges and all the power. I can be ordained to the priesthood. My mother and my sisters and my wife can’t. I can perform sacred ordinances. LDS women cannot, except for some anointings in the temple to other women, or to their husbands if they get lucky and inducted into the superduper secret Second Endowment or Second Anointing and can anoint and bless their husband once. I wonder how that works in polygamous marriages?... Did Wendy Nelson get inducted into the Second Anointed as Russel’s new wife or is it all about the man and only happens once for him with whichever wife he has handy at the time? I must ask him.
I can be a leader and be in the room when all the important decisions are made about the callings my congregation members will have, when their membership or temple recommends are authorised, or when their membership is judged and terminated in excommunication. LDS women cannot. Despite pretending to abandon polygamy the Church still carries on with it through temple sealings and as a male I can still add as many women as I like to my polygamous harem of wives in this life or the next as long as the last one died or has divorced me. I’ve got 2 already! LDS women cannot, and they are particularly haunted and tormented by the fear that they will be forced into polygamy and have to share their husband with other wives in this life or the next. And if the spouse THEY are sealed to dies they suddenly find themselves in the very difficult position of not being desirable for remarriage to other temple worthy men because they cannot be sealed to them and as often as not end up in very complicated relationships with men who are not even members of the Church because they don’t want to cancel the sealing to their first husband and marrying another Mormon becomes a minefield.
Women, particularly if they are mothers, do most of the heavy lifting to keep our wards going and to corral their kids and get them to and through Church on a Sunday. There are some really interesting conversations going on among members at the moment as we trickle back to our chapels after a long break from the usual routines during Covid lockdown about how many women are actually going to return because for many their usual experience of Church on a Sunday is an exhausting net loss spiritually compared to the men and lot of them have had a taste of much less stressful freedom and an actual day of rest that they are very reluctant to give up again. Conversely, for Mormon men some time alone with other men to talk about something deeper than work or sports is incredibly valuable to them because in most of our societies the only other option for us to socialise or have meaningful conversations with other men is while drinking booze at a pub, which isn’t an option for teetotal Mormons really. Women usually have lots of other socially acceptable opportunities to network and converse with each other. We need to make Church a much more enjoyable and elevating experience for women in particular.
I love our best deep doctrines and feel several of them are essential to saving mainstream Christianity from its fundamental flaws. I feel we have profoundly important things to offer the religious world. I can’t imagine myself being any other kind of Christian than a Mormon one. We have something worth fighting for. But these jewels we have been entrusted with are mostly being ignored and buried under a mountain of judgmental Pharisaical drek by a geriatric leadership that has decided to fight and fear the modern world rather than embrace it and help it to flourish. As great grandparents in a Church that was created by forward thinking revolutionaries in their twenties and thirties who cranked out scripture like confetti machines they are so old they cannot understand or see the good and potential in the modern world and mostly see themselves as the last guardians of a dying and threatened tradition based on the certainties of their past, which as they sink deeper into dementia are all they can remember and talk about with confidence.
This is why our Church has evolved from a game-changing visionary movement unafraid to embrace new ideas and opportunities to a creaking authoritarian Establishment terrified of change and looking to the past rather than the future, and constantly obsessed with the end of the world and judgment day always being just around the corner. It is for them of course because they all know they are going to meet their maker in the next couple of years and are on borrowed time already, but they forget that the rest of us are not and the Second Coming might not happen for another 2000 years.
Until we grant emeritus status to our older Apostles and retire them this dynamic is not going to change. ThEy do this with the Quorum of Seventy now to avoid the entire quorum consisting if incapacitated ancient men in their 80’s and 90’s unable to function but have not yet recognised the same problem in the Quorums of Apostles. They are exhausted and should be resting, not carrying the weight of running a global religion on their shoulders. It’s totally unfair to put them on a pedestal and expect them to perform like gods without the zimmer frame of common consent to help them not to make really dumb mistakes, and they don’t help themselves by revelling in it and insisting we treat them as infallible role models.
While we give the 15 Apostles absolute power to determine what our beliefs and priorities are and assume what they come up with is all directly from the mind and will of God, we are completely at the mercy of their personal hobby horses. The current First Presidency have demonstrated repeatedly that they don’t care how many members they have to sacrifice or shun in their fanatical obsessions with homophobia and not saying Mormon, including babies and children in their November 2015 Policy of Exclusion. And they have added to the pharisaical burdens we all carry instead of removing them as Dieter Uchtdorf pleaded with them to. So Of COURSE the vast majority of Latter-day Saints ran out of emotional energy to keep trying with this depressing nonsense that keeps telling them that they and their families will never be good enough, and left.
We could and should be SO much better at Christianity than this. It isn’t enough that most Church members are adorable and exemplary in their kindness and service when so many of the things they are being taught to also believe and teach and regurgitate from General Conference talks are the actual opposite of everything Jesus was and is about. It seeps into everything and contaminates it.
Other religions and Christian denominations we insist are terribly handicapped by not having the priesthood, scriptures, spiritual gifts and prophetic leadership we claim to have been uniquely blessed with have done far better than this with far fewer doctrinal and practical resources. It’s time to do some maths and have a reality check. Specially now our membership is falling rather than growing, growth that the LDS leaders used to gloat about constantly as a sure sign that God is with us and we are right. Now they have stopped even mentioning membership and growth statistics in General Conference and instead of wondering what has gone wrong they have just moved the goalposts and switched to teaching that the Church was always meant to be a microscopically small percentage of the billions of people on earth. And that is not enough. They seem to be hell-bent on purging the membership even further until the only people left are self-righteous temple married heterosexual families with all their children and grandchildren perfectly following the ‘covenant path’ with ‘exact obedience’ and doing exactly the same as well. Nearly everything they teach now about the ideal life acceptable to God that we must imitate is a rerun of the gender roles and rites of passage that they went through in the very specific economic and social context of 1950’s middle class Utah when they were young parents. 1940’s Utah in President Nelson’s case - he married his first wife in 1945.
It was a painfully slow process but we made a lot of progress away from those assumptions about family life, race, gender roles and sexuality in the 1980’s and 1990’s, but they are all back with a vengeance now with the current First Presidency. Motherhood at home being the only way for women to be truly happy is back. Gay and Transgender people NOT being born that way is back. It’s their own sinful choice and they aren’t trying hard enough to change according to Dallin Oaks. His main advice for years in his talks and Face to Face broadcasts with the young adults has been… drumroll please…. Stop calling yourself Gay! Then it will go away. As Elder Bednar famously taught, there are no Gay Mormons! It’s just a label! At least they’ve stopped the electric shocks to your genitals while looking at gay porn conversion therapy that Brigham Young University ran for the decade that Dallin Oaks was BYU Provo President and blackmailed the gay students they discovered to go through if they didn’t want to be kicked out of the university and lose all their academic credits. In some ways it’s hard to know which is the more damaging response to LGBTQ people when you think about it.
God being a racist is back thanks to Dallin Oaks, our next Prophet President. Unconditional complete obedience to every single thing the prophets and apostles say, and throwing away the contraception and having kids as a young student even though your husband is already working 2 jobs and you can’t afford it, is back in the recent Face to Face for young adults with the Rasbands on 13 September 2020…. In Episode 3 I will explore how these ideas are being assertively fed into the minds of your children in the Face to Face and devotional broadcasts the Apostles are targeted at young Latter-day Saints. You may have thought they had moved on from these archaic over-simplifications and realised those messages that didn’t work for previous generations and caused them so much harm have been abandoned, but they haven’t at all. If anything it has got far worse. Check out what they are really teaching the kids. The Pharisees only have one script. They haven’t learnt anything at all from how much it has not worked in recent decades while the Church crashed and burned, and they are still kidding themselves that if they just keep repeating it some more with a fresh batch to brainwash and tell the kids not to think about or question anything they say at all it will work out this time. But what they are really doing is setting up another generation for Disillusionment, Divorce and Disempowered women. And if they don’t stop it this will be the last generation of Latter-day Saints they can do this to because it will be the last generation of Latter-day Saints that we have.