EquippingChristians

Oct 08‍‍2014 - 5774 / 5775
 

Thomas S. Monson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and revered as prophet, seer, and revelator by millions of followers, must be running out of new revelations. If you’re wondering why his recent address in the Priesthood Session entitled Guided Safely Home sounded vaguely familiar, it’s because he gave the same talk in General Conference in April 1982, albeit with a few variations to freshen it up for younger members of the Church. The conference address was then titled, Sailing Safely the Seas of Life.

It has long been rumored that President Monson suffers from dementia, a debilitating deterioration of cognitive abilities that usually manifests itself in old age. I do not delight in President Monson’s condition, and I extend my heartfelt sympathy to him, his family, and close friends. Having had loved ones with dementia who since passed away, I know firsthand how devastating the condition is. My issue is not with Mr. Monson, but with the organization, in which leadership strives to hide problems, obfuscate facts, and put on a front instead of being upfront with members and the public. It could aptly be called the “All is Well in Zion Illusion.”

Clearly some staffer—perhaps Mr. Monson’s personal secretary or one of his counselors in the First Presidency—put together the conference address in his behalf, not realizing that,

You are committing self-plagiarism if you reuse your work from previous classes or degrees without appropriate citation. If you have made a point or conducted research in one paper that you would like to build on in a later paper, you must cite yourself, just as you would cite the work of others. (Walden University, 2014)

The references at the end of Monson’s talk transcribed and published at LDS.org, omit any citation or link to the April 1982 conference address.

Monson's talk citations

It could just be an oversight or it could be that the First Presidency thought no one would notice it was a rehash of old inspiration dressed up to look new and freshly delivered from the Celestial Courts above. Considering the lack of inspiration plaguing the LDS Church (prophets who don’t prophecy, seers with no vision, and revelators that don’t reveal new truths), it’s no wonder leaders resort to recycling old material.

If President Monson’s mental faculties are in decline and other board members, a.k.a. prophets, seers, and revelators, are scrambling to maintain the façade that all is well, it’s only fair to ask; who exactly is running the show? The Church’s public relations department? Mormons deserve to know, if no one else. You can only perpetuate a myth for so long before it crumbles, unless you have people talking themselves into believing it, “come hell or high water.” Oh, let me see…Elder Neil L. Andersen took care of that in his address entitled Joseph Smith, where members of the Church are advised to ask God to confirm what they already believe; a topic to be covered in the next post.

If the Church is run by a continuing stream of revelation (ninth Article of Faith), then perhaps it should behoove the Mormon Holy Spirit to do a Google search before guiding and directing the prophet’s next conference address, or at least brush up on how to cite sources.

 

References:

Thomas S. Monson, “Guided Safely Home,” General Conference, October 2014, retrieved from https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2014/10/guided-safely-home?lang=eng

Thomas S. Monson, “Sailing Safely the seas of life,” General Conference, April 1982, retrieved from https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1982/04/sailing-safely-the-seas-of-life?lang=eng

Walden University, “Citing Yourself,” Online Writing Center, retrieved from http://writingcenter.waldenu.edu/656.htm

Aug 26‍‍2014 - 5774 / 5775
 

I read an article about the Mormons this morning with interest. It was called Putting Eternal Salvation in the Hands of 19-year-Old Missionaries  (Bennett & Fu, 2014). I was saddened by how I perceive the Church to be exploiting its youth. Having had two of my sons serve LDS missions, I was reminded of the sorrow I felt while they were gone for two years, as I had converted to Christianity before they left. Following are some of the aspects of LDS missionary work that trouble me.

Isolation from Family

The missionaries are only allowed to call home twice a year; on Mother’s Day and Christmas. Depending on how strictly a mission president enforces the rules, calls are  limited to 30 to 40 minutes according to the Church’s missionary handbook. One of my sons, who was in Uruguay (I suspect he was sent out of the country to be away from my influence, as I was considered an “apostate”), was told he should keep the phone call to 10 or 20 minutes. Oh my heck! I told my son that he would stay on the phone until we were good and ready to hang up or else I would raise a stink publicly about it (the Church hates negative publicity, so I felt like I had the leaders by their spiritual cojones). We talked for well over an hour.

Missionaries can write letters or email home only once a week, if they even have time. Considering that on P-day (preparation day) they have only from about ten in the morning until six in the evening to do their laundry, clean their apartment, go grocery shopping, wash their car or bike, get a hair cut (must be above the collar and ears, “white walls”), engage in Church-approved recreation like basketball and volleyball (but keeping score is forbidden) or going to an exhibit or museum (I suppose the Museum of Eroticism in France would be out),… Fetch! Who would have time to write letters?

LDS leadership would say the prohibition against communicating with family and friends is to keep missionaries focused on “the work” and free from distractions. However, the reality is that some of these young 18 and 19 year-old men and women struggle with depression or anxiety, which could be allayed by more frequent contact with loved ones. Keeping missionaries from close family contact keeps them dependent upon the Church and its leaders.

Being Kept in the Dark

The majority of missionaries are left clueless about the troubling aspects of Mormon history and doctrines until they are presented with the facts by non- or ex-Mormons. They usually don’t know that founder Joseph Smith had 33 documented wives, 11 of whom were married to other men concurrently.  In seminary they were taught about Mormons being persecuted for their faith, but not about the Mormons who burned houses, looted, and drove Missourians from their homes. They have no idea that 2nd church president, Brigham Young, taught that Adam is our god or that Christ’s atonement doesn’t cover all sins.

The missionaries know little to none about Jewish or Christian history, the early church (comprised of small messianic communities of Jew and gentile followers of Jesus), or what the first and second temple periods were all about. In their minds they probably picture the ancients attending the temple to be sealed in eternal marriages, doing baptisms for the dead, and enjoying great cafeteria food (minus the pulled pork and deep-fried scones) all right alongside of the sacrifices. When the missionaries tell prospective converts wrong things about Biblical practices, history, or teachings, it’s a bit like Scuttle in Disney’s The Little Mermaid calling a fork a “dinglehopper” and a pipe a “snarfblat,” and that they are used as a comb and trumpet-like instrument respectively. And to say it with a straight face. Their off-the-wall explanations for Biblical doctrines would be embarrassing if it wasn’t so very sad.

Sent Out With a False Paradigm

As a Mormon I was taught that true happiness cannot be found outside of membership in the Church; that people might say they are happy, but that’s because they don’t know how unhappy they really are, until we—as Latter-day Saints—could show them what miserable lives they had without the One True Restored Gospel. If “gentiles” (non-Mormons) would just give us a chance to bear our testimonies to them, they would clamor to obtain the happiness that we had as members of the Church. Never mind the fact that about a third of the women in my ward’s Relief Society were on anti-depressants. Never mind that as faithful Mormon moms we were burnt out and stressed out and overwhelmed by all our church callings that required hours of preparation and service in addition to raising families of three to a dozen or more children. Never mind that we often cried at night wondering how we would be able to get our husbands and kids to the Celestial Kingdom. We just planted a smile on our sullen faces, unable to hide the weariness in our eyes, no matter how much Nu Skin eye-shadow we put on.

My husband told me how while on his mission he met a lot of happy people. So happy, in fact, that they said they already went to good churches, with great pastors, and had a personal relationship with Jesus.

“Yes, but…but,” he would stammer on their doorstep, “but you could be even happier as a Mormon. If you’ll just let us in…” (Sound of door closing. Deadbolt sliding).

And then there were the miracles. No one in the Church preps the missionaries that other people have deeply profound spiritual experiences and even miraculous answers to prayer. Sometimes they are left wondering, like my husband was, how it was possible that Christians without the True Gospel—the Mormon gospel—could experience such peace and fellowship with the Holy Ghost; like they were practically on a first name basis with him, if he had a name that is.

Although the vast majority of the LDS Church’s 80-something-thousand missionaries serve out their full missions with what they would consider success, a significant number of them are blindsided by the disturbing things they learn about Mormonism from strangers. It’s kind of like discovering that everyone except you knew you were adopted. It’s bad enough finding out there’s a skeleton in the family closet; much worse finding out that you’re the skeleton!

The Atlantic article brought back memories of the heaviness I felt when my sons were on their missions. It was a heaviness that came from not being able to contact them because the Church controls every facet of their lives for two years. There was sorrow because I knew they would be spreading the gospel of Joseph Smith rather than the Good News of Jesus the Messiah. It was a sadness born from the knowledge that the very institution they loved and revered was keeping them in the dark, denying the facts, and spinning its history to make Mormonism appear to be something it isn’t. And it’s painful to see how LDS leaders demonize those who expose their lies, turning the hearts of the children against their fathers and mothers who left because truth matters.

Yes, the Mormon Church exploits its youth by capitalizing on their enthusiasm, optimism, and naiveté to bolster its dwindling numbers. It’s much more than ri-flippin’-diculous; it’s a tragedy of eternal proportions.

 

Bennett, A., & Fu, K. (2014, August 26). Putting Eternal Salvation in the Hands of 19-year-Old Missionaries. The Atlantic.

Jul 09‍‍2014 - 5774 / 5775
 

I just read a blog article entitled, You Should Not Leave Mormonism for Any of These Five Reasons. The article is disturbing to me because the writer advances the stereotypical and shallow explanations for why people leave the LDS Church, and goes on to advise Mormons not to leave the Church for those reasons. I agree that members shouldn’t leave for the reasons listed, but I strongly disagree that those five reasons accurately characterize the majority of members who leave the Church. The five reasons given by blogger Greg Trimble are:

1. Being offended
2. Not understanding the doctrine
3. It’s just too hard
4. Anti-Mormon literature
5. Sin

If I was still Mormon I would be cheering Mr. Trimble on, nodding my head in unquestioning agreement, and declaring to myself (or to my family if I had read the article aloud to them during our daily devotional time); Yep. The Church is true. People fall away from the Church because they are weak or have shallow testimonies. You can’t fall out of bed if you are all the way in it. And thus I would have perpetuated the myths of apostasy, not out of maliciousness, but simply because I didn’t know any better. In fact, this is what I—as a LDS mom—taught my children, and that’s what was bandied about in an occasional Relief Society or Gospel Doctrine class.

One time I was teaching R.S. on the first Sunday of the month. We always left a little extra time at the end of the lesson for the ladies to share their testimonies. One woman stood up and said, “My cousin just left the Church, and now she’s just so bitter I can’t even talk to her. It’s amazing how people can leave the Church over trivial things. Please put her name on the prayer roll at the Temple.” She went on to elaborate on her cousin’s apostasy. The comments that followed were along these lines:

“People leave because they just can’t cut it. It’s too hard for them to live the gospel.”

“I know someone who was offended by something her visiting teacher said 20 years ago and she’s never been back to church since.”

“Well, my husband’s niece’s best friend’s sister started drinking beer and then left the Church. People just want to sin; that’s why they leave.”

“There’s an inactive sister on my visiting teaching route and she has a coffee maker right there on her kitchen counter!”

“If these people don’t want to live the gospel or be in the Church, I don’t know why they just don’t get their names removed!”

“They don’t get their names removed because deep inside they know the Church is true and they just want to cover all their bases.”

I’m sad to say that I was just as uninformed and misinformed as everyone else making those comments. Now I have a whole new perspective because I’m viewing things from the other side. I was a devout LDS woman serving in the capacity of Relief Society president when I left Mormonism.

I wasn’t offended by anyone. I had support and encouragement from fellow ward members. They treated me with respect and—for the most part—were loving and kind. There were a few people I got unfriendly vibes from over the years, but nothing I wouldn’t expect from any group I might belong to. The simple truth is that not everyone is going to like you, no matter how wonderful you are (or think you are).

I understood the doctrine very well (and perhaps better than most). I attended seminary in high school, took LDS Institute of Religion classes at the local college as an adult, went to BYU Education Week every other year, read the Book of Mormon cover to cover a few dozen times for personal study and during daily family study. People were always amazed at how much doctrine my children knew; in fact, their knowledge of the gospel exceeded that of many of their Primary, Sunday school, and Young Men/Young Women teachers. How did they know so much? Because their father and I taught them through daily home school lessons, family prayer, and scripture reading time.

“Living the gospel” wasn’t difficult. Was it challenging at times? Yes. It was challenging to raise ten children, get them ready for Church, and take them back and forth to youth activities. It was a commitment to hold regular Family Home Evenings, daily prayer and Scripture reading, and trying to lead by example. It required time and resources to magnify my callings, attend the temple regularly, prepare Primary and Relief Society lessons, hold Cub Scout Den meetings, and live for the Church so we could be an eternal family. I was weary at times, but not enough to throw in the towel! You don’t quit when the prize is eternal life for yourself, your spouse, and your children! Living the gospel was a no-brainer: “Gee, do I want to take up coffee or do I want to go to the Celestial Kingdom? Would I rather have a cold bottle of beer or would I rather live with all my posterity and Heavenly Father forever and ever?”

Anti-Mormon literature did not cause me to lose my testimony. Official Church literature is what served the death-blow to Mormonism for me. I read a sermon by Brigham Young, who said,

Suppose you found your brother in bed with your wife, and put a javelin through both of them, you would be justified, and they would atone for their sins, and be received into the kingdom of God. I would at once do so in such a case; and under such circumstances, I have no wife whom I love so well that I would not put a javelin through her heart, and I would do it with clean hands…There is not a man or woman, who violates the covenants made with their God, that will not be required to pay the debt. The blood of Christ will never wipe that out, your own blood must atone for it; and the judgments of the Almighty will come, sooner or later, and every man and woman will have to atone for breaking their covenants. (Discourse Delivered in the Tabernacle, Great Salt Lake City, March 16, 1856)

As disturbing as this was to me, it was certainly not the only thing that led to my leaving the Church. Reading Young’s sermon was the catalyst that spurred me on into further research and study. It wasn’t just one thing, but a boatload of problems, issues, and discrepencies that I discovered in my research. The final nail in Mormonism’s coffin—for me—was learning that of Joseph Smith’s 33 documented wives (and he may have had more), 11 of them were currently married. Seven of his wives were under 18, the youngest being 14. Not only was that outrageous to me and proved to me he was not a prophet of the Biblical God, but the fact that he lied about his marriages publicly and to his first wife, Emma was further proof he was a false prophet.

I didn’t leave the Church because of sin. I was sincere, humble, and always asking Heavenly Father for direction and guidance. Although I often fell short, I strove diligently to live the gospel, to keep the commandments, and to please the Lord. I was honest in my temple recommend interviews and was found worthy enough in the eyes of my Bishops and Stake Presidents to issue me Temple Recommends over the years.

My experiences in leaving the Church are not uncommon. In a survey to over 3,000 disaffected Mormons, John Dehlin, founder of MormonStories.org, found that only 4% had left the Church because they were offended or wanted to engage in behavior contrary to LDS values. 96% of respondents stopped believing in Mormonism due to:

  1. Historical issues
  2. Scientific issues
  3. Doctrinal and theological issues
  4. Socio-political and cultural issues
  5. Spiritual issues

A great majority of these people had served on missions (73% of the men), and held callings as bishops, stake presidents, mission presidents, Relief Society presidents, Primary and Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, and Elder’s and High Priest Quorum leaders. To accuse them of being offended ignorant lazy anti-Mormon sinners or dismiss them as being weak is uncharitable and hurtful. In the October 2013 General Conference of the Church, President Dieter Uchdorf cautioned members;

Sometimes we assume it is because they have been offended or lazy or sinful. Actually, it is not that simple. In fact, there is not just one reason that applies to the variety of situations.

He further acknowledged that “there have been some things said and done that could cause people to question.” If a Mormon General Authority can extend understanding and compassion to disaffected and former Mormons, it affirms that it’s time for “rank and file” members to cease stereotyping them and consider the prospect that people can leave Mormonism for significant reasons.