Posts Tagged ‘Denver Snuffer’


We left off the previous discussion on church finance with a discussion on how the church derives investment income from tithing, and then uses that investment income to invest in projects small and large, fat and skinny, the named and nameless.  And, lest the wondering minds of inquiring members get concerned, the church uses this “investment income” and is careful to point out that they are not using “tithing” funds for such projects.  Not tithing funds – just the income earned by investing tithing in largely Babylonian investments over a couple of years.

The Church is The Kingdom

So, now we get to the original reason why I started looking into this stuff in the first place, though it’s a circuitous route and has more than a few twists and turns I didn’t originally anticipate.  Not the most exciting stuff, mind you, but certainly bizarre.  Just what else does the Church ™ invest in?  What other projects do they control with their “investment income”?

One of the top items on the list of strange things a tax-exempt Church ™ owns, just so happens to be a couple of private hunting reserves.  Not your typical run of the mill religious item – after all I’m admittedly not sure how killing animals for sport/pleasure persuades people to believe in Christ – but at least it’s a potentially profitable one.  In Daymon Smith’s book, The Book of Mammon (a good read, mind you)[1], he talks how the church went from providing paid positions to unpaid, volunteer positions masquerading as “missions” within the organization in order to save money and increase profit.  The public perception of these “missions” doesn’t come off that way, but that was, and is, the net result.  Instead of a “money saving” idea, it’s billed as an opportunity to work for God’s Kingdom here on the earth.  After all, what better way to serve God than to volunteer your time building the “Kingdom”?  And, when the “church” and “kingdom” have become conflated to such an extent as to where the two are used simultaneously from pulpits far and wide, why not pimp the idea that you’re working to build the kingdom?  Interestingly, how often do we take note of this conflation and realize that never were the two to be considered twain?

Many talks over the pulpit have increased this propensity to fail to see the differentiation between the church and the Kingdom of God.  Gordon Hinckley did it several times:

“What I say of myself concerning this matter is equally applicable to all who hold office in this the Church and kingdom of God.”[2]

Ezra Taft Benson likewise asserted as much in his famous talk, I Testify:

“The church and kingdom of God was restored in these latter days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints…”[3]

LeGrand Richards likewise helped conflate the issue when he stated:

“When I was president of the Southern States Mission, one of our missionaries preached on that dream of Nebuchadnezzar in one of our meetings where we had some investigators, and I stood at the door to greet them as they went out. A man came up and introduced himself as a minister, and he said, “You don’t mean to tell me that you think that the Mormon Church is that kingdom, do you?”

And I said, “Yes, sir, why not?”

He said, “It couldn’t be.”

I said, “Why couldn’t it?”

He said, “You can’t have a kingdom without a king, and you don’t have a king, so you don’t have a kingdom.”

“Oh,” I said, “my friend, you didn’t read far enough. You just read the seventh chapter of Daniel, where Daniel saw one like the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven, ‘and there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him.’ (Dan. 7:14.)

“Now,” I said, “my friend, tell me how can the kingdom be given to him when he comes in the clouds of heaven if there is no kingdom prepared for him? That is what we Latter-day Saints are doing.”[4]

Now, it should probably be noted that there is a difference between working to establish the Kingdom (as Richards noted in that last sentence) and professing that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints™ is that kingdom.  This belief is perhaps best witnessed by hearkening back the Ronald Poelman’s talk, given in 1984, on the differences between the “Gospel” and the “Church.”[5] In the original talk, Poelman made the following astute observations:

“Of equal importance is understanding the essential relationship between the gospel and the Church.  Failure to distinguish between the two and to comprehend their proper relationship may lead to confusion and misplaced priorities … when we understand the difference between the gospel and the Church and the appropriate function of each in our daily lives, we are much more likely to do the right things for the right reasons … .”

In commenting on Poleman’s talk, and the reasons why it was re-recorded, Denver Snuffer noted the following:

“Right now testimonies within the church recite the mantra “I know the church is true.”  The correlation process has made the church into god.  People’s testimonies of the “church” have supplanted their testimonies of Christ.  Read any Ensign issue of any conference held within ten years after the correlation process, and consider how many talks focus upon the church and the church’s processes and goodness, in contrast with how many of the talks focus upon Jesus Christ and His doctrines.  Christ’s role has been diminished by the emphasis upon the correlated church.”[6]

A peculiar people, indeed.

Volunteer Missions

The Church™ was never intended to be the Kingdom, nor the Kingdom the Church.  Complementary, certainly, but never the same thing.  Now, members reaching retirement age and with sufficient financial reserves to devote a year or three of their lives are encouraged to serve a “mission” for the church.  Some of these very “missions” are served in mission homes, some as service missions and some, yay verily, are working for “for-profit” industries.  And, no matter the call, these missions are viewed as the next best thing since sliced bread.  Generations will be affected, for the better, or so the reasoning goes.  Kim Clark, now president of BYU-Idaho, offers us a glimpse into this mindset.  If you remember, Clark was the president of the Harvard Business School for nearly a decade before leaving to become president of BYU-Idaho in 2005.  Clark received a good amount of flak for his decision to leave from member and non-member alike, and rationalized his decision thusly:

“We believe that that man, Gordon B. Hinckley, is a prophet of God,” Clark told television host Charlie Rose in an interview in July, explaining his decision to leave Harvard. “And Moses says—the man who is acting like Moses says—he would like you to do something. Now, in this case, of course you`d say yes…”[7]

So, the effort becomes threefold:  (a) you label the call to serve wherever in the church a “mission,” (b) you have those missionaries convinced that they need to pay their own way as a way to build up the “kingdom” of God and (c) you belabor the idea that the “Kingdom of God” and the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ™” is that very kingdom and (d) each “mission call” is signed, sealed and delivered with the “Prophet’s” very name and signature on each call.  And, following these four steps you reach a point where virtually any position, in any corporation within the Church can be staffed by “volunteers” more than willing to pay their way to build up the Kingdom, errrr, Church.

Private Hunting Preserves

Take, for example, Clair Huff, and his wife.  Huff spent his entire career as a wildlife biologist, including working as the Director of Operations for the Division of Wildlife Resources.  As retirement age approached, Huff and his wife began contemplating serving a mission for the Church™.  Huff had an interesting skill set, honed over years of work within the Division of Wildlife Resources.  And, the Church with its varied needs and interests, is quick to match people up with positions that match their skill set.  A mission, as is taught throughout the church system, was the most logical outlet wherein he and his wife could use their talents to “build the kingdom.”

Well Clair Huff and his wife did just that when they worked for a “private hunting preserve” along the “southwest shores of Utah Lake.”[8] Yessiree, full-time “missionaries” employed for the Church ™, working on a “private hunting preserve” that covers approximately 11,000 acres just outside of Elberta, Utah.  That “private hunting preserve” is owned, part and parcel, by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  That “preserve” is a profit making venture, or at least that’s the goal.  And, according to an article written in 2000[9], when hunting permits were running upwards of $1,500 per person, it wasn’t yet churning out a profit, though Huff could see the silver lining on the horizon.

And, lest you think the permit is only a one-time benefit, it seems as though there are lasting benefits many people would do well to acknowledge:

“Only a few pheasant and goose-hunting permits are sold each year, with hunting aficionados paying as much as $1,500 for the opportunity to hunt what is fast becoming an exclusive “club” for “members only.”

Once a hunter ponies up the cash to secure a permit, he’s not only guaranteed a permit for the following year, but his chance to draw the prime target areas on the preserve improve along with his seniority in the exclusive group.

“All of our hunters are from Utah, many of them doctors, dentists and attorneys from Payson north to Ogden, including Park City,” Elder Huff said. The flatlands also provide an additional advantage for the well-heeled hunting crowd — a 2,600-foot landing strip where private aircraft can whisk hunters in and out of the remote preserve, saving them the long and lonely drive. … “Just like the farm derives revenue from harvesting crops, the preserve is designed to produce revenue when hunters harvest the wildlife here,” Elder Huff said. … ”

As these words suggest, it’s a “private hunting preserve” that is geared toward the affluent.  Heck, how many people do you know would fly into a “private hunting preserve” in order to avoid a “long and lonely drive”?

But, this is not all. According to this same Deseret News article, the church owns at least one other preserve in Utah:

“The church owns thousands of acres of farm and ranch land throughout the West, including the Deseret Land and Livestock Co., a private big-game hunting preserve scattered over 200,000 acres in northern Utah. Hunters from around the country vie for a limited number of elk and moose permits there that cost as much as $8,500 each.”

Complete with a formal hunting lodge for housing and meals, the hunts are guided by a local outfitter in search of their “trophy” elk or buck. And while there’s no guarantee that a hunter’s bullet will find its mark, hunting on the preserve is so popular that there’s a six-year waiting list to buy a permit.

“Elder” Huff was optimistic that the operation will turn a profit for the first time in 2000, but I was unable to find any financial information on the reserve, but the track record of the church is fairly good at turning a profit, so I’m assuming that they do. Huff continued, “This is a very viable habitat, and if they continue to invest the profits back in and find an innovative manager to run it, there’s the potential to boost the number of permits we issue up to a maximum of about 250 someday.”

And as the habitat, and consequently, the number and variety of wildlife improves, the price of the permits would logically go up as well, he said.

“Imagine if we got to the point that we could boost the price (of each permit) to $2,000 or $2,500. Times that by 250, and it doesn’t take a lot to understand that this could be a very profitable operation.” (emphasis is mine.)

Count that among the things I likely will never experience in my life, what with permits ranging from $2,000 to $8,500 (and likely more, today), with their own private hunting lodges and airstrips.  Seems like the good ole boys’ club has come to roost in Utah.

The Deseret Land and Livestock, located in northern Utah, states,

“The LDS Church ownership era has been marked by conscientious business practices including strategic planning, cost control, increased production, and accountability. Emphasis on holistic management has brought a uniqueness to the ranch that is attractive to visitors from many walks of life.”  At the ranch, “hunting is a key means of generating ranch revenue.”[10] (emphasis is mine.)

So, one “preserve” just south of Utah Lake leaves us with a statement that it could be a “very profitable” venture, while another preserve up north states that hunting is a “key means of generating ranch revenue.”  Is there any real question that the church – the owner of both preserves – is operating these preserves with little other interest other than to turn a buck (pun intended)?

Not only can you hunt on these lands, but one can also experience guided fly-fishing tours.  One guide, linked to the official website of the reserve, offers one-on-one tours for “Trophy Elk” on Deseret Land and Livestock land for an insignificant sum of $17,500.[11] Or, should that be slightly out of reach of your discretionary income budget, you could just stick to hunting antelope for only $4,250 (that’s the lowest priced permit offered through this outfitter).  It’s no wonder that Huff mentioned that these preserves cater to a very specific, very affluent crowd.

As of 2005, the church owned Deseret Ranch, a different cattle ranch in central Florida, was the largest working cattle ranch in the United States.  That ranch, valued at an estimated $500 million when purchased back in the 1950s, covers approximately 300,000 acres of Florida swamp and pasture land.  It includes 1,000 miles of canals, 250 miles of roads and 1,400 miles of fencing.  The ranch employs approximately 75 full-time employees (and their families), most of which live in houses across the ranch.  On-site amenities for the employees that stay on the ranch include a swimming hole, campgrounds and a rodeo arena.  As of 2005, the ranch maintained a herd of 44,000 heifers and purebred cows.  One article estimated annual income to be in the neighborhood of at least $16 million just from the calves they sell each year at cattle auctions.[12]

Cynthia Barnett, in an article entitled, The Church’s Ranch, discussed what she called “ecclesiastical entrepreneurism” and the church and wrote:

“While the church is committed to stewardship of the land, it is just as committed to squeezing profits out of its private companies. …

And eventually, those two missions; are sure to clash on this prime central Florida property. Real estate sources estimate Deseret’s spread is worth some $900 million, though the assessed agricultural value is far lower than that. For decades, the family cattle ranches that once made up Osceola and outlying Orange counties have been gobbled up by housing developments – a pattern that’s repeating itself throughout Florida and the nation. But because the church is so rich, it has not yet buckled to pressure to sell any of its Florida land to developers. Ten years ago, the church backed off a plan to develop 7,000 acres near the Bee Line Expressway under sharp criticism from environmentalists.

Often at odds in other parts of the country over issues such as animal waste and grazing, the tree-huggers and the cowpokes in central Florida have for now become allies. For example, environmentalists helped Deseret fight a huge landfill Brevard County wanted to put adjacent to the ranch. That area is also home to one of the largest bird rookeries in the state.

Squires says the church’s long-term plans for the majority of Deseret Ranch are to keep it agricultural. But he acknowledges the business-savvy church will develop the fringes – particularly its property outside Orlando – as the land becomes more valuable. “The pressure is here,” Squires says. “But we want to be responsible and be good neighbors.” It’s in his church’s ecclesiastical and entrepreneurial missions to do so, he says.”[13]

Interesting, I wasn’t aware of an “entrepreneurial” mission to the church.  At least not an official one, but it should be noted that while outsiders view the church as “business-savvy” and striving to “squeeze” as much profit out of whatever private business their running these days, members are largely clueless as to the holdings the church has on its books.

As part of the Deseret Wildlife plan, some 45 hunt clubs lease portions of the ranch to hunt (the favored politically correct term of these articles seems to be “harvest.”  It sounds much more humane when you say we’re “harvesting” animals versus “hunting”) animals.  The ranch also harvests timber and leases TV and radio towers as a way to increase revenue.[14]

Sunstone Magazine[15] posed a thoughtful question on the matter, as well as an interesting mp3 listen, of these for-profit “hunting preserves” sometime back:

“To what degree should the principle of ‘respect for life” be extended to bird and animal creations? What do the scriptures, Joseph Smith, and other early Church leaders teach about the grand design and purposes of God’s non-human creations? Does having “dominion” over the kingdom of creatures mean we are their predators and exploiters or does it suggest a “stewardship” relationship in which we become their caretakers in order to help them “fulfill the full measure of their creation?”

If the scriptures teach, “woe be unto man that sheddeth blood or wasteth flesh and have no need,” and “the blood of every beast will I require at your hands,” what rationale could be used to explain Church-owned, revenue-generating enterprises such as Deseret Land and Livestock and the Westlake Hunting Preserve? Do these operations constitute sacrificing principle for profit?”

Aside:  The mp3 (see footnote below) has an interesting discussion on some Mormon leader (a Regional Representative) who went on several safari’s while on a church trip to visit some congregations in Africa.  While on this trip, the regional representative later related  killing both a lion and a “rare Roman antelope,” and yet had the moral strength to turn down an alcoholic beverage at a dinner that same evening.  “What peculiar priorities,” indeed.

Mormon Matters[16] and The Faithful Dissident[17] both discussed these preserves sometime ago, and in good depth.  Both touched on the aspects of hunting, or canned hunting[18] as happens at these LDS preserves, as it relates to a gospel principle and what part hunting for sport has amongst the church.  This particular article has nothing to do with the hunting aspect, but rather is to focus and touch on the financial aspect owning such enterprises – as in, why the hell is the church investing in a for-profit “hunting preserve” or “cattle ranch” or whatever the investment du jour is?  But, even with that said, one would do well to consider the ramifications of canned hunting.  Even some of the more correlated church curriculum manuals state,

“We may also eat the flesh of animals and of fowls of the air and use the skin of animals for clothing (see D&C 89:12–13; 49:18–19); however, we are not to kill animals for mere sport or pleasure and waste the meat (see D&C 49:21).”

But, with that being said, I fully admit I’m not sure just how these animals spend their dead hours.  Do all the canned hunters save the meat to eat, do some, do none?  I think, generally, your average run-of-the-mill hunter is as conscientious about what they are doing, but I wonder whether the more affluent of the bunch – those who have access to the church owned preserves through their expensive permits – have the same conscientiousness.

My guess is that it may be lacking in some areas.  For example, on the “referral” page of some of “approved” outfitters one can read the following accounts:

Whether you want a trophy deer or elk, or just want to catch some large trout, these guys can take you to the right spot. I’m already looking forward to next season. Thanks for the wall hangers!!” – Robert H. (emphasis is mine.)

“I can honestly say that they have One of the best hunting experiences you can imagine. They have a very knowledgable guides , great packers and great food. Their quantity and Quality of game can’t be matched. You will see more Elk , deer, moose in one day than you will see on most places in a season. I tell my friends that It is the Disneyland of Elk hunting because you can”t believe the quality experience that you will have.” – Matt T. (emphasis is mine.)

“We looked at close to a hundred bulls, maybe more. He never pressured me to shoot any of them, and I’m sure many hunters would have been happy to take several of them. I would recommend you to anyone that wanted a first class elk hunt. I took a heavy bull that I am very happy with. I know several people were involved in putting me on that bull.” – Ed G.

“I’ve never had an opportunity that paralleled what we were able to experience.  Fishing water that I suspect never has been fished in recorded history, not seeing a boot track, another human being, or any sign of human habitation for two days, and I personally having caught probably over 500 fish.  What an experience!!” – Lynn W.

Take those accounts for what they’re worth.  Regaling over catching a couple hundred fish, smarting about the most recent piece to the collection hanging on your wall or visiting the most beautiful of “God’s creations” while “harvesting” some of His other creations.  Canned hunting or not, in spite of it all, we’re shown time-and-again that the very “missions” the church claims as being a means to establish the “kingdom” of God have very little to do with anything resembling Christ, but rather with making money.  Profiting from animals, the land and virtually everything on this God-given earth.  No wonder the church plucked Clark from HBS to serve as the new president of BYU-Idaho in 2005: one attends HBS to make “shedloads of money,” which somehow attests that those who make the most money, are the “most morally good.”[19]

Peculiar, indeed.

***To be continued …***


[2] Hinckley, Gordon B.  “God is at the Helm.”  April 1994.

[3] Benson, Ezra Taft.  “I Testify.”  October 1988.

[4] Richards, LeGrand.  “Prophets and Prophecy.”  October 1975.

[6] Snuffer, Denver.  “The Traditions of Men, Pt. 3”  Retrieved 10/10/2010.

[7] Hemel, Daniel J.  “Summers Visits Idaho Mormon College,” The Crimson.  October 12, 2005.  Retrieved 10/10/2010.

[8]Couple Serve Wildlife Mission in Utah.”  Church in the News.  July 8, 2000.

[9]Tending the Flock,” Deseret News, July 10, 2000.  Retrieved Oct 3, 2010.

[10] See http://www.dlandl.com/pages/hunting/index.html for more details.  Retrieved 10/4/2010.

[11] See http://www.wildcountryoutfitters.com/ for the entire fee schedule.

[12] Barnett, Cynthia.  “The Church’s Ranch,” AllBusiness.com.  Dec. 1, 2001.  Retrieved 10/4/2010.

[13] Ibid.

[14] See “Discovering the Deseret Ranch” news article for more information.  May 23, 2005.  Retrieved 10/4/2010.

[15] Madson, Mac and Watts, Prestwich.  “Sacrificing Principle for Profit:  Church Wildlife Enterprises and Hunting Preserves,” Sunstone Magazine.  08/10/2001.  Retrieved 10/4/2010.

[18] Per Wikipedia:  “A canned hunt is essentially a trophy hunt in which the animal is kept in a more confined area, such as in a fenced-in area, increasing the likelihood of the hunter obtaining a kill. According to the dictionary definition a canned hunt is a “hunt for animals that have been raised on game ranches until they are mature enough to be killed for trophy collections.”

Whether you want a trophy deer or elk, or just want to catch some large trout, these guys can take you to the right spot. I’m already looking forward to next season. Thanks for the wall hangers!!

As general conference approaches, members across the world will once again convene in front of TV sets, internet connections and in other meeting houses far and wide to hear counsel from church leaders.  Every spring general conference these same members are treated to the report from the Church Auditing Department on the financial status of the Church ™.  These reports are generally banal beyond description, with no specifics given as to the findings of the Audit.  The most recent statement says this:

To the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Dear Brethren: As prescribed by revelation in section 120 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Council on the Disposition of the Tithes authorizes the expenditure of Church funds. This council is composed of the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and the Presiding Bishopric. This council approves budgets for Church departments and operations. Church departments expend funds consistent with approved budgets and in accordance with Church policies and procedures.

The Church Auditing Department has been granted access to all records and systems necessary to evaluate the adequacy of controls over receipts of funds, expenditures, and safeguarding of Church assets. The Church Auditing Department is independent of all other Church departments and operations, and the staff consists of certified public accountants, certified internal auditors, certified information systems auditors, and other credentialed professionals.

Based upon audits performed, the Church Auditing Department is of the opinion that, in all material respects, contributions received, expenditures made, and assets of the Church for the year 2009 have been recorded and administered in accordance with appropriate accounting practices, approved budgets, and Church policies and procedures.

Respectfully submitted,
Church Auditing Department
Robert W. Cantwell
Managing Director

This particular report is word-for-word identical with each of the previous five years reports, accounting for the change in the year.  Otherwise, it’s 99.5% identical (203 out of 204 words).  These auditing reports use D&C 120 to justify their existence.  In reading over D&C 120, though, I’m struck by the inherent differences between what Section 120 is actually saying, and what the auditing report sets forth as the authorization of the “expenditure of Church funds.”  Section 120 reads:

Revelation, given July 8, 1838, making known the disposition of the properties tithed as named in the preceding revelation:  Verily, thus saith the Lord, the time is now come, that ait shall be bdisposed of by a council, composed of the First Presidency of my Church, and of the bishop and his council, and by my high council; and by mine own voice unto them, saith the Lord. Even so. Amen. (See also History of the Church, Volume 3:44.)[1]

As the heading for that section indicates, section 120 is a revelation in direct response to the issue of the disposition of tithed properties named in section 119.  Section 119 is generally referred to as the section in the D&C on tithing in general and is the source of many a disputation regarding exactly what it means.  Mainstream members, and church leadership in general, adhere to the belief system that Section 119 is where we read of a 10% tithing on all income, wherein “interest” has been redefined as income.  Section 119 defines tithing as,

“Verily, thus saith the Lord, I require all their surplus property to be put into the hands of the bishop of my church in Zion, For the building of mine ahouse, and for the laying of the foundation of Zion and for the priesthood, and for the debts of the Presidency of my Church. And this shall be the beginning of the atithing of my people. And after that, those who have thus been atithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually; and this shall be a standing law unto them forever, for my holy priesthood, saith the Lord. Verily I say unto you, it shall come to pass that all those who gather unto the land of aZion shall be tithed of their surplus properties, and shall observe this law, or they shall not be found worthy to abide among you. And I say unto you, if my people observe not this law, to keep it holy, and by this law sanctify the land of Zion unto me, that my statutes and my judgments may be kept thereon, that it may be most holy, behold, verily I say unto you, it shall not be a land of aZion unto you. And this shall be an ensample unto all the astakes of Zion. Even so. Amen.” (Emphasis is mine.)

Surplus.  Tithing.  Payment of one-tenth of our “interest” annually.  Zion.

Where in life do we interpret “interest” as synonymous with “income”?  The jargon of the day, back when this was written, would define these two terms as follows:

Interest:  Premium paid for the use of money; the profit per cent derived from money lent.  … share; portion; etc.[2]

Income:  The gain which proceeds from labor, business or property of any kind; the produce of a farm; the rent of houses; the proceeds of professional business; the profits of commerce or of occupation, …[3]

Now, admittedly, I’m not well versed in how the lexicon underwent a change to fully become synonymous, but one such quote comes from Howard Hunter, former president of the LDS Church:

“The law is simply stated as ‘one-tenth of all their interest.’ Interest means profit, compensation, increase. It is the wage of one employed, the profit from the operation of a business, the increase of one who grows or produces, or the income to a person from any other source. The Lord said it is a standing law ‘forever’ as it has been in the past.”[4]

I’d agree with the part where he states that interest means “the increase,” but not where he defines it as “the wage of one employed, the profit … or the income … from any other source.”  Logically speaking, I have a hard time imagining how we interpret “interest” and “income” to be synonymous.  So would most people not of the LDS faith.  Gordon Hinckley, also a former president of the church, offered this insightful comment as to how these two terms coalesce into one:

“The Brethren have interpreted the word interest to mean income. Beyond that they have not given interpretation.”[5]

The new Church Handbook of Instructions, published this year (2010), defines tithing by hearkening back to a letter issued by the First Presidency back in 1970.  This letter reads:

“The simplest statement we know off is the statement of the Lord himself, namely, that the members of the Church should pay ‘one-tenth of all their interest annually,’ which is understood to mean income.  No one is justified in making any other statement than this.”[6]

There’s that statement by the “Brethren,” those who take it upon themselves to re-define and, dare I say, transfigure the word of God.  Here’s a valid question (valid to me, at least):  how can anyone define “interest” as “income”?  What am I really missing here?  Is it some archaic definition that I haven’t yet stumbled upon, or something philosophically out of my reach?  Honestly…if any of you that read this know, please shed some light for me.  If we contrast it with the way it was practiced in Alma’s time, or 4th Nephi, we’re left with a starkly different picture:

And again Alma commanded that the people of the church should impart of their substance, aevery one according to that which he had; if he have more abundantly he should impart more abundantly; and of him that had but little, but little should be required; and to him that had not should be given.

So, let me get this straight:  the rich paid “more abundantly” while the poor that “had not should be given”?  Hmmm.  Instead, we have a flat tax tithing.  Ten percent for all parties involved.  Fast offerings when you feel generous.  As Boyd Packer allegedly said in a recent conference, “tithing is equitable for everyone: 10%. If you have nothing, then it’s 10% of practically nothing. Pay your tithing, do what you’re supposed to do.”  Right.  But then that gets back to the whole “interest” and “income” synonimization thing, something clearly way over my head.

Next we see that Utopian society in 4th Nephi discuss their way of donating:

And they had aall things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly bgift.

And yet, here we believe that the stratification of incomes, tithes and offerings a good and hallowed thing.  But then, according to many, even asking those questions or bringing them up is mere pride.  Blind obedience is a requirement of the church, for those interested.  Don’t believe me?  Ever hear why so many Mormons are enrolled in the hallowed halls of Harvard?  One author suggested that it had to do with this:

“… He is surprised at the large presence of earnest Mormons and unimaginative former-military men in this cauldron of capitalism. But gradually this begins to make sense, for HBS is pervaded with an oppressive atmosphere of unquestioning obedience and creepy religiosity. … For all its vast reputation, power and pomposity, you feel that HBS neither understands the complexity nor acknowledges the chaotic unpredictability of the world economy any better than anyone else. More conclusively, it encourages its little alumni to major in hypocrisy. You go there for one simple reason: to make shedloads of money. Fine, so it’s no crime in itself to want to be absurdly and pointlessly rich, although it’s certainly no virtue. What sticks in the gullet is graduates’ self-flattering delusion that they’re on some kind of crusade, their “very American” insistence, as Delves Broughton puts it, on being not only “the most powerful, the richest and most successful”, but also “the most morally good”. At the same time as learning how to manipulate billions in order to profit, say, from ordinary people’s fretful indebtedness during a recession, you can believe that you are a philanthropic leader of men.”

Manipulating billions of dollars?  Sounds sort of like our recent spending sprees and rationalizations.

Thrift, Prudence and Conservatism in Action

Hinckley, in the same talk he gave which referenced the divine word that flows from the “Brethren” informs us, “I deplore waste.  I deplore extravagance.  I value thrift.  I believe in prudence and conservatism.”[7] Most people who grew up through the Great Depression could likewise echo such sentiments, and most truly believed and practiced such thrift.  That is, practiced such thrift with their own money.

A mere six years after making this statement, the church (with Hinckley now in charge as President of the Church) announced that it would build a new “Conference Center” to replace the worn and tattered Tabernacle on Temple Square.  Hinckley then, later, went on to describe the Conference Center as “a unique and remarkable building.”  He also went on to describe the “planning” of the building, stating, “we were not concerned with building the largest house of worship to be found anywhere.  We were concerned with a plan to accommodate the needs of our people.”[8] Actually, that notion may not have concerned those involved in the planning process, but it certainly didn’t stop them either.  LDS.org is careful to point out that the Conference Center is, “the largest religious indoor auditorium in the world.”  Could it be aptly described as a “great and spacious building”?

Hinckley then recounts his announcing the building of the Conference Center back in 1996.

“About a year ago [1995] I suggested to the Brethren that perhaps the time has come when we should study the feasibility of constructing another house of worship on a much larger scale that would accommodate three or four times the number who can be seated in [the tabernacle].”[9]

In describing the building, Hinckley then tells the audience that it was to be built “of the finest materials by the ablest craftsmen … a magnificent center.  It is not a museum piece, although the architecture is superb.”  And, the main justification was to replace the 3,500 seat capacity tabernacle with something “three or four times” larger.  For those keeping track, the LDS church originally sought to build something that could seat 26,000 people, before settling on the “prudent” number of 21,000 and change.   That’s a mere 6x larger than the old tabernacle.  So much for sticking with the “three to four times” figure.

During this same time (1999) the Nauvoo temple rebuild was announced.  Hinckley noted, on more than one occasion, how “…large contributions of money and skills were offered. Again, no expense was spared.”  It’s not like the precedent hadn’t already been set elsewhere – the church has a reputation for the “no expense” mentality, whether it’s on a temple, the Joseph Smith memorial building or this conference center.  So much for thrift, prudence and conservatism.

Then, in reading Isaiah 2:2-3, 5, Hinckley informs us that the Conference Center, in conjunction with the SLC Temple, is how that prophecy should be applied (as fulfilled).  Isaiah 2:2-3, 5, for those interested, reads:

“And it shall come to pass in the alast days, that the bmountain of the Lord’s chouse shall be destablished in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all enations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us ago up to the bmountain of the Lord, to the chouse of the God of Jacob; and he will dteach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of eZion shall go forth the flaw, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.  … O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us awalk in the blight of the Lord.”

Am I reading that correct?  The SLC Temple + the Conference Center fulfills this particular prophecy by Isaiah?  Hmmm.  So now we build buildings unto ourselves so that we can say a prophecy is satisfied?

During the dedicatory prayer for the Conference Center, Hinckley led the Hosanna Shout.  The Dedicatory prayer of this edifice contains this language:

“Together they [Church Office Building, the Administration Building, the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, the Lion House, the Beehive House, the Tabernacle, the Assembly Hall and the SLC Temple] become a testimony of the strength and vitality of Thy work, the headquarters of Thy Church, and the fountain from which truth rolls forth to fill the earth. … We dedicate this magnificent hall, unique in its design and size, constructed to house the thousands who through the years will gather here to worship Thee and to be entertained in a wholesome and wonderful way. … May all who pass this way … look upon this structure with respect and admiration.  We dedicate the great organ, the beautiful halls and other rooms … May it be a thing of beauty to the beholder both inside and out.  … May it give expression to the declaration … that “if there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.”  … We also dedicate the theater … it is a beautiful structure.  … May the desire of the people of Thy Church to improve and beautify this area be appreciated by all who pass this way.  We pray that favorable expressions may prevail and grow until there is universal acceptance and appreciation for what has been done.   … This is the area to which Thy people came seeking asylum from the oppression they had known. Now this has become a great cosmopolitan society to which people from all over the nation and the entire world have gathered. …”[10]

I’m caught by the humble nature this dedicatory prayer rolls off his tongue.  The buildings erected by man – the COB, the Administration Building, the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, etc. – testify of the strength and vitality of “THY work”?  Really?  The Lord needs buildings and monuments built by men to testify of His work?  And, am I reading that right to suggest that this Church is “the fountain from which truth rolls forth to fill the earth”?  All from the Conference Center.  Like this past weekend, where the truthfulness of “Follow the Prophet” was rammed into our heads every 10 minutes or thereabouts?  Even my mother, a true blue member if there ever were one, remarked how something must be “amiss” with the members to have such a message shared so frequently in one conference weekend.  Man, if that’s the fountain of truth, maybe someone might want to look at putting a new filter or two in the water system.  After all, we’re not talking about natural fountains, but man-made fountains as the testimony of His work.

And, lest these details get lost on us, Hinckley – the man who proclaimed to value “thrift,” “prudence,” and “conservatism,” all while deploring “waste,” and “extravagance” – states (in a dedicatory prayer nonetheless) that the building is “magnificent,” that the building itself demands to be looked upon with “respect and admiration,” that it is a veritable “thing of beauty to the beholder both inside and out,” and, lest we forget, a “beautiful structure.”

Thomas Monson, the current president of the Church ™ and successor to Gordon Hinckley, preceded this hubris (if only in time and space) by saying,

“Thanks be to God for our noble prophet, President Gordon B. Hinckley, who, with the foresight of a seer, recognized the need for this magnificent facility and, with the help of many others, “went to work.” The result is before us today and will be dedicated this morning.”[11]

Yes, the Church ™ fully believes that the foresight needed to build such an expansive and expensive building could only be done by a Seer.  Really?  The gifts of seership are in use, and we didn’t even know it.  Ammon, in teaching the people of Limhi (thanks be to Bruce for those handy chapter headings), described a seer in the following terms:

“…a seer is a revelator and a prophet also; and a gift which is greater can no man have, except he should possess the power of God, which no man can; yet a man may have great power given him from God. But a seer can know of things which are past, and also of things which are to come, and by them shall all things be revealed, or, rather, shall secret things be made manifest, and hidden things shall come to light, and things which are not known shall be made known by them, and also things shall be made known by them which otherwise could not be known.”[12]

Would it be presumptuous of me to borrow from Isaiah wherein he stated, “…the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep. For behold, ye have closed your aeyes, and ye have brejected the prophets; and your rulers, and the seers hath he covered because of your iniquity.”  Or, perhaps from Micah wherein he stated, “Then shall the seers be aashamed, and the bdiviners confounded: yea, they shall all cover their lips; for there is cno answer of God.”?  Otherwise, can we really deem the building of the conference center as evidence that a seer is among us, using the gifts of seership?

Ah, the hubris of me.  But, I digress.

And, perhaps with sarcasm dripping from his mouth, Monson, in this same talk, continued on to say,

“As we view the disillusionment that engulfs countless thousands today, we are learning the hard way what an ancient prophet wrote out for us 3,000 years ago: “He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase.” [Eccl. 5:10.]

Sarcasm, over the pulpit in general conference?  We’d only be so lucky.  Instead, he (and we) fully believed this statement.  It simply can’t apply to us, the Chosen Ones, but rather to other churches, other people, other nations, other whoremongers and other idolaters.  But, certainly not the LDS Church ™.  We just dedicated a $300 million building[13] towards which we could look with “respect and admiration,” surely we’re exempt from these vices of clinging to our silver.  Then again, maybe we don’t love our silver, just our buildings and our money.  And our cash.  Cash is the denomination of choice.  “You can buy anything in this world with cash.”

The subsequent Church News likewise glowed with optimism:

“While the new Conference Center was the focus of much attention during the 170th Annual General Conference, it could not overshadow other indicators of spiritual growth and progress in the Church. Two members of the Second Quorum of the Seventy were sustained to the First Quorum, two other men were called and sustained to that quorum, and five Brethren were sustained to the Second Quorum of the Seventy. In addition, 39 new Area Authority Seventies were sustained, and plans were announced for six new temples.”[14]

As the above indicate, the Conference Center is not only a “magnificent” building, but also an “indicator” of our “spiritual growth and progress in the Church.”  Sounds sort of like my financial life.  If I live with my parents, I’m necessarily delegated to “destitute” status.  But, if I buy that house that’s 8000 square feet too big for my needs – then it’s an indicator of my growth and progress in the world.  Only then can I attest to my growth and progress.  The bigger, the better.

The Channeling of H. David Burton

It seems as though the writers of these blurbs were channeling the same thinking that H. David Burton has used to build (and publicize) the building of the City Creek Center.  Recently, Burton provided an update to the Salt Lake Tribune and offered these glowing thoughts:

“Salt Lake City is a dynamic, wonderful place to live, work and visit. We want to do our part to keep it that way.  For the church, our world headquarters and some of our most sacred and historic sites and grounds are located right across the street from City Creek. It’s important for us to protect what we consider sacred space. City Creek’s design and the overall environment it creates will help us do that. … This is a huge project that has taken years of planning and work, and I personally feel a great sense of satisfaction seeing it come to fruition.”

Well, I’m glad someone is feeling the satisfaction at spending billions of dollars redeveloping downtown SLC.  D&C 101 has an interesting parable that I thought of in re-reading this quote.  In that parable (verses 43 through 57 or thereabouts) a nobleman had a “very choice” spot of land.  In that “choice” location, the nobleman commands his servants to go into his vineyard and (a) plant 12 olive trees, (b) set watchmen “round about” the olive trees, (c) build a tower in order to look over the land “round about” such that the nobleman’s land might not be broken down “when the enemy” comes to steal the fruit of his vineyard and (d) an hedge for protection purposes[15].  Simple instructions, or so it seemed.

Then, as they’re building the foundation of the tower they stop (they had dutifully fulfilled the other requests), start to argue and rationalize not building the tower by suggesting that the money might be used for other, more profitable ventures.  Then – surprise – the enemy comes and wrecks the whole scene.  While the servants were arguing about the tower, they became “slothful” and forgot about the enemy.  Interestingly, the first thing the enemy did was to break down that hedge, which caused the servants to flee in fear.  Then, though the account doesn’t contain the particulars, sometime while the nobleman is chastising his slothful servants, the enemy built a (a) wall, (b) tower and (c) set up his own watchmen.

Where the nobleman used “natural” (i.e. hedge) protection, the enemy used “manmade” (i.e. wall) protection.

As I read Burton’s comments – both in the above quote and elsewhere, it’s been a running theme of the City Creek project – I can’t help but note how he is justifying the billions of dollars of money on the project as a way to “protect” sacred land and sacred sites.  It’s the same logic that ruined the Black Mesa for the Hopis.[16]

Investment Income

But, at least they aren’t building such extravagant “walls” (i.e. City Creek) with tithing funds.  Right?  Right?  Well, we, as members of the Church ™ have been told that tithing is used for “the construction of temples, the financing of the worldwide missionary effort, the building and maintenance of meetinghouses, and other worthy purposes.”[17] And, we’ve been told ad nauseum the City Creek project isn’t using any tithing funds.  But, perhaps we should dissect how exactly tithing funds are spent.  Denver Snuffer made an instructive comment on the process in which tithing funds are used, and how, several months back.  It is worth the time to read, so I’m including it here for our collective reading pleasure:

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a three-year system for collecting and spending tithes.

In the first year the funds are collected.

In the second year the funds remain invested while a budget is prepared for spending the tithing.

In the third year the funds are spent.

During the time when the funds are collected (first year), they are put to use in investments or deposits which yield a return.  Similarly, while they remain invested during the second year, they also yield a return.  When the third year arrives, and the funds are being spent on budgeted expenses, until the day they are spent they continue to collect interest or a return.

The amount of tithing collected in the first year is the amount designated “tithing” contributions.  This is the amount that is budgeted and spent in the third year.  All of the return on tithing yielded in the form of interest or return on investments is treated as “investment income” not tithing.

When the church spends “tithing” on temples, chapels, publications, etc. those monies are confined to the original amount collected as “tithing” only.

When the church spends “investment money” those include the interest, return, etc. collected on the tithing money during the three year cycle from when originally collected until the time it is spent.  It also includes the returns on the returns as they accumulate over the years.

Therefore, when the church announces that a project (like the large reconstruction of downtown Salt Lake City) is not “tithing” but is “investment income” of the church, this is the distinction which is being made.”[18]

The Difference Between Shrewd and Dishonest

So, they invest tithing funds in interest bearing accounts (stocks, bonds, hedge funds, etc).  The tithing they use “official” projects, but the income they earn on our tithing money is used on projects like City Creek.  Sort of reminds me of how Ernest Wilkinson used to hold firesides to instruct people on the difference between being “shrewd” and “dishonest.”

Hugh Nibley recounts these stories in Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints and writes:

I got to know [Ernest L. Wilkinson] quite well, beginning with our clash at the very first faculty meeting. He had given a degree to a friend in Washington, and some of the faculty protested that degrees should be bestowed or at least approved by colleges, such being the immemorial practice of universities. Well, a paper was circulated to that effect, and some people signed it. Wilkinson stormed into that first faculty meeting in a towering rage: This has nothing to do with right or wrong, whether it was moral or immoral is irrelevant. The only question is, was it legal? Who would dare question him on a point of law? Who signed this protest? I had signed it, so I stood up, and I was the only one. “Come and see me in my office!” I did, and we became good friends—being a lawyer, he was not at all upset by adversarial confrontation; in fact, he enjoyed it. I was his home teacher at the time, and he started out at the “Y” by familiarizing himself with the students with a fireside at his house, followed by other such firesides, some of which I attended. The theme of his discussion in all of these was, “What is the difference between being dishonest and being shrewd?” He illustrated each time by his own case. When he was in Washington fresh out of law school, he was looking for a job, and so found himself in Senator King’s office. The senator was not there, but the secretary allowed him to use the phone for what he said was an urgent call. It was urgent indeed, for he called up the office of Justice Charles Evans Hughes and said, “This is Senator King’s office speaking. I would like to recommend a certain young man, etc., of high qualifications to work for the Justice.” And so he became a clerk to the celebrated Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes—not dishonest, just shrewd.

At the second faculty meeting we got another shocker. The family that owned the farm on Temple Hill where President Wilkinson wanted the land for expansion refused to sell. President W. would appeal to eminent domain, but it was his introductory remark that rocked us: “I never yet saw a contract I couldn’t break,” he boasted.[19]

So, perhaps the church is only being shrewd in suggesting that our tithing funds aren’t funding projects like City Creek Center.  Not dishonest.  Just shrewd.  Maybe I should use that logic on my wife and see how she takes it.  I’d be willing to bet that distinction isn’t recognizable in my household, but then I don’t have billions of dollars burning a hole in my pocket.

In thinking on this, I did a few calculations, just to see what kind of tithing funds would be needed in order to produce enough investment income to pay for a $3 billion project.  Here is the math.  For ease in calculations, I assumed that the church held the tithing funds in an interest bearing account earning a relatively conservative 10% interest per annum for three full years.  This will necessarily underestimate the total tithing funds in play, but will give the reader a glimpse of the figures we’re looking at coming into the general tithing fund.  And, likewise, this helps out on the back end where the full $3 billion wouldn’t be spent all at once, but rather over the life of the project.

So, in order for the church to generate a $3 billion fund at the end of three years, at 10% annual interest, compounded monthly (see, that Babylonian education does provide dividends – pun intended), the church would need to set aside no less than $861,6xx,xxx each of those three years.  Now, according to what the church tells us, 100% of these funds are entirely devoid of any tithing.  That means that the church is generating at least $860 million per year in investment income, for this project alone.  Think on that for a minute.  This analysis assumes that 100% of the investment income for that 3 year time period was being dumped into one account, that the church had no other “for profit” needs at the time.  (Yes, that’s a ludicrous proposition.  If the church is generating that kind of investment income, one would do well to ponder where else the money is going.)

If we continue this cat and mouse game, that would mean that the church was generating somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 billion per year in tithing income.  And, that’s assuming that no other money was going to any other project of any kind for any reason.  And, it’s not like transparency is a big deal over at the COB, so we have no idea what projects they have going on.  City Creek just happens to be one of the more (if not the most) prolific projects the church has done in sometime.

***To be continued…***


[1] See:  http://www.boap.org/LDS/History/History_of_the_Church/Vol_III.  Retrieved 09/30/2010.

[2] http://1828.mshaffer.com/d/search/word,interest

[3] http://1828.mshaffer.com/d/search/word,income

[4] Hunter, Howard W.  In Conference Report, April 1964, p. 35.

[5] Hinckley, Gordon B.  “Rise to a Larger Vision of the Work,” Ensign, May 1990, p. 95.

[6] First Presidency Letter, March 19,1970.

[7] Hinckley.  “Rise to a Larger Vision of the Work.”

[8] Ibid.

[9] Hinckley.  “This Glorious Easter Morn,” Ensign, May 1996, 65.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Monson, Thomas S.  “Dedication Day,Ensign, May 1996, 64.

[12] See Mosiah 8:13, 15-17.

[13] It’s semi-hard to peg down the actual cost of the Conference Center.  Some have the final cost at $240 million, some have it at $300 million, some have it at $350 million.  So take that for what you will.  I’d actually venture to guess it’s at the higher end of those figures, if not more.  Just a guess.

[14] “News of the Church,” Ensign, May 2000, 102-12.

[15] See D&C 101:53.

[16] See this write-up for more detail on the Black Mesa, including how I think it relates to H. David Burton:  The Hopi, Mormons and Mother Earth.

[17] Johnson, Daniel L.  “The Law of Tithing,” Ensign, Nov. 2006, p. 35-36.

[18] Snuffer, Denver.  “Tithing.”  Apr. 1, 2010.  http://denversnuffer.blogspot.com/2010/04/tithing.html.  Retrieved 10/2/2010.

[19] Nibley, Hugh.  Brother Brigham Challenges The Saints.  Pages 87-90.


“But woe unto you, ascribes and bPharisees, chypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.”

– Matthew 23:13

Allow me, if you will, to borrow a line from Pure Mormonism’s blog.  A while back he posted an article truly worthy of its title – a talk by Ron Poelman – and used the title “The Best Conference Talk You’ve Never Read.[1]”  While I’m not one for hyperbole, or maybe I am, the source of this post may just be worth reading, even if you already have 2nd place in your list of most important things to read filled up.  Indeed, one of those commenting on the Poelman article even brought up this talk which, back when I originally read it, I meant to follow-up on.  Like many things, though, it got lost in the shuffle that is my brain (interesting note:  I make pizzas – a fair amount of them – at farmers’ markets and it’s usually a fair bet that I’ll forget something.  Today, of all things, it was the sauce.  Good luck making pizzas without sauce).  So when I say it got lost in the shuffle, it probably did.

The reason I decided to bring up this talk was because one of its main topics or ideas, what the author terms as the “tyrant,” and a guilty one at that, is worth some attention.  It’s a tyrant we see more and more in our lives, and the church, and unnecessarily so.  I’m not sure when the tyrant first arrived on the scene, though apparently it was present (or becoming so) back in the day when this talk was given.  Certainly, though, the tyrant gained esteem, honor and power in the 1980s with a General Authority Who Won’t Be Named.[2] Modern examples seem to have gained strength in several different ways, but perhaps most notably in the way we use “in the name of Jesus … “ to end everything we say, invoking His name as if everything we said – every prayer, every talk and ever sermon – were divinely inspired by Him.  A useful history/study can was done by someone over at BCC a while back, and it’s interesting to see how that trend came about.[3] This same generic authority, it was noted in the study, “is the first to consistently use [“in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”].”

If you read the post I did some time back – “Anyone Care to Disagree” (footnote 2) – you’ll see some evidence of the topic at hand, namely that of dogmatism.  Dogmatism is the “guilty tyrant” Stephen Richards refers to throughout his discourse, and one which might be worth looking into a little deeper outside this article.  When I say dogmatism, I use a loosely defined form of the word.  Some may define it as “arrogance,”[4] while others may define it as “authoritative and not to be disputed, doubted or diverged from.”[5] This latter definition is probably more accurate and useful to this discussion.

I must admit that I’ve had my fair share of dogmatic times in my life.  I prefer to see those times as me walking in the shoes of a modern day Pharisee.  One time, four or five years ago when we were out eating dinner with my in-laws, my father-in-law accidentally ordered a Tiramisu dessert.  When we were back at home a healthy discussion ensued where I couldn’t believe he had actually tried it.  I told him that there’s no way he should have eaten it, that we cannot eat such things and that it was a certain breaking of the Word of Wisdom.  Now, not only would I not care that he ate it, but I would more than likely take a bite of the same with him.

I also have a close friend who sees the world and church through a different set of lenses than I do, and is providing me with the same experience I gave my father-in-law.  If I find anything that contradicts the current teachings of the church, or something that illuminates this or that teaching, or anything that says that someone within the church said this or that, this friend won’t even touch it unless it comes from a church approved source.  And, even then, hard copy is better.  For example, a week or so ago I had a discussion with this person on the Word of Wisdom and I talked about how it was never a commandment and never meant to be a commandment.  I conceded that it was certainly a good recommendation, but it was written using very specific language.  In debating the actual words that were used in the scriptures, I inquired how we, as men, could turn something into a commandment when the scriptures specifically state otherwise.  To these points, my friend asked for sources.  Not just any source, mind you, but LDS-approved sources.  I opened up the internet version of the LDS scriptures (scriptures.lds.org/dc) to read Section 89, but even that to this friend wasn’t enough.  They requested an actual hard copy.  What’s interesting is that I doubt this sort of experience is all too unique.  I’d wager (were I to be a wagering kind of guy) that this sort of mentality is held by most members.  Things simply must come from approved sources, and, I believe, this is largely the result of scaring members that they’ll be “deceived” if they search after any mysteries.

Over the past couple of years I’ve come across several statements about avoiding such deception.  In most of these comments, there is typically only one way, we’re told, whereby we can be assured that we can avoid deception.  If we venture outside these proscribed boundaries we risk losing everything.  As such, we rely on the “church approved” documents and materials.  Anything else just isn’t trustworthy.

And, yes, you probably guessed it, the only way we can really be safe is this:  “All we need is to follow the Prophet in all that he says and we will not be out smarted.”

There it is again:  follow the prophet.  In all he says.

Or, perhaps this:  “Members must have a very strong testimony of Jesus Christ and the Restored Gospel in the way the doctrines teach, a strong testimony of the scriptures and doctrines of the church, a strong testimony the Prophets counsels and be willing to follow the leaders of the Church in ALL that they are told to do by them. If Church tells them to do or not to do something they do not agree with they will dismiss it. They will then fall victim to the consequences of their actions. They will either leave or be excommunicated. I feel the majority of the separation will be voluntary.”

As both of these statements evidence, and trust me there are many more like it, the only way for us to avoid deception, and avoid any “separation” in the last days is to follow the leaders of the Church in “all that [we] are told to do by [the leaders].”  Another common refrain, which also ties into the issue of dogmatic beliefs, is that some things are better left unstudied.  Mysteries, as we commonly refer to them today, are derided as unnecessary, fraught with deception and generally referred to as taboo.  One such comment reads this way:

The deeper mysteries or taboos will not save us … they can distract us from doing what we have been told to do or even lead us out of the Church.  … the basics is where safety and salvation is at.”

Poppycock, I say.  (Just using the word “poppycock” like that seems to make things sound better.)  Believing and, worse, trusting someone in all they say is the epitome of idolatry[6] and the very essence of trusting in the arm of the flesh.  Never mind that brother Joseph (and many others) have urged us to study more and more, today that very act is frowned upon within LDS culture.  Why study when the correlation department has already done the work for us?  Assuming that we have to do all that someone says is the very doctrine of infallibility that is elucidated by this quote from Hugh Nibley:

One does not have faith in propositions, creeds, or institutions, to which one is merely loyal. One has faith in God alone—all else is subject to change without notice. Faith does not seek security by boxing itself in with definite and binding creeds, as did the Doctors of the Church in a time of desperate uncertainty and insecurity. . . . Professor Gaylord Simpson likes to cite the case of Santa Claus as providing the futility of all faith. But has belief in Santa Claus ever closed the door to knowledge as loyalty to a scientific credo so often has? Is it better for a child to believe in Santa Claus with the understanding that someday he is going to revise his views than for him to be taught what is scientifically correct . . . from infancy, so that he will never, never have to revise his views on anything and thus go through life always right about everything? Which course is more liable to lead to disaster, the open-ended Santa Claus, or the ingrained illusion of infallibility? (“Sophic and Mantic,” CWHN 10:332.)

A few days back Justin posted a link to an interesting discussion over on MormonMatters.org which has been a fun read.  Fun in the sense that it’s incredibly refreshing to see some of the thoughtful comments that are more or less devoid of the dogmatism that pervades our LDS culture.  In that article[7] the following exchange, from David McKay (then president of the church), is reported to have happened:

“At a reception McKay attended, the hostess served rum cake.  ”All the guests hesitated, watching to see what McKay would do.  He smacked his lips and began to eat.”  When one guest expostulated, “‘But President McKay, don’t you know that is rum cake?’  McKay smiled and reminded the guest that the Word of Wisdom forbade drinking alcohol, not eating it.”

What I love about this statement is (even accounting for the doctrinal error in suggesting that the Word of Wisdom forbids the drinking of all alcohol) is the tolerant attitude he portrays.  Many members (if not most) would have used that time as a “missionary moment” and as an opportunity to flaunt our general holier-than-thou attitude[8] that we’re all too good at (i.e. I’m essentially better than you because I don’t drink beer, don’t smoke and don’t even drink caffeine – the prophet supposedly told me it was bad – but I do love me some meat.  No one’s told me to refrain from eating meat at every meal in the last 150 years, so that’s become mostly outdated).  Here, though, McKay simply makes a joke out of the whole situation and enjoys a treat.  No harm, no foul.

Stephen Richards points out in his article Bringing Humanity to the Gospel – Richards, the focus of this post, that:

“Ridicule and ostracism often amount to compulsion.  I deplore their existence.  I fear arrogant dogmatism.  It is a tyrant guilty of more havoc to human-kind than the despot ruling over many kingdoms.”

The ultimate result of all the dogmatism we adhere to, I think, is a judgmental attitude.  When we adhere to dogmatism, we adhere to a set of beliefs which suggest that we are right, and they (anyone, really) are wrong.  When we suggest that we follow all that the leaders of the church say, we’re already well on our path towards infallible dogmatism (a little redundant, but it works).  When we suggest that we are creatures prone to error, while our leaders are infallible, we’re entrenched in dogmatism.  This is quite similar to a thought Denver Snuffer shared in Come, Let Us Adore Him that seems to fit here:

“(Matt 21:23-27) … ‘by what authority doest thou these things?’ For those who have no connection with heaven, authority is always everything.  Once they establish they have ‘authority’ the debate is over, so far as such people are concerned.  They never learn that the rights of the priestly authority are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven; and when they have no connection to heaven they have no authority.”[9]

In talking about the Priesthood, Richards continues:

“When the Gospel was restored in this age all the goodness and mercy of Christ was restored. … The powers of the Priesthood were restored, but with a constitution defining the nature and procedure of this divine authority so explicit, so kind and merciful, and so beautiful as to stamp it with the unmistakable signature of the Christ himself.  The essence of the new constitution of the Priesthood, as of the whole restored gospel, was and is election without coercion, persuasion not compulsion, no unrighteous dominion, only patience, long suffering, meekness, kindness and love unfeigned.”

Whereas today it’s easy to confuse the Priesthood – or rather those within the Priesthood who sit in seats of judgment – as leaders using their calling and position to impose sanctions and restrictions on members, or at least order, the above comment necessarily reminds us that Christ would have us seek for (and offer) mercy and love and persuasion, among other necessary attributes.  Continuing on, Richards states:

“The revelations of God which restored the Gospel and breathed new life and vitality into it were exceptionally straightforward and plain, far freer from ambiguity and uncertainty then are the revelations of the Bible generally speaking. Nevertheless, the revelations of the new dispensation, as well as those of the Bible, were in the beginning and are now interpreted by men, and men interpret in the light of experience and understanding. A prophet can receive and deliver the express word of God in the precise manner in which God chooses to express himself, but the application of God’s word in the lives of men is dependent on the wisdom of men. The spirit of God will influence the judgment of a good man and augment his wisdom, but the finest of human wisdom is to be distinguished from the word of God. One may fail, the other never. No man lives or has lived whose judgment is perfect and not subject to error. To accept the doctrine of human infallibility is to betray gross ignorance of the divine plan of human life-the fall, mortal probation, repentance, and final election. There could be no election with perfect knowledge, omniscience. We walk by faith in mortality and by faith we exercise our agency.”


This is an interesting point.  There is “no election without perfect knowledge … we walk by faith … and by faith we exercise our agency.”  Faith, as the epistle to the Hebrews reminds us, “is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  Faith, according to this same epistle, is what Abel exercised in offering his sacrifice; what Noah exercised in building an ark, what propelled Moses’ parents to hide him after his birth, what led Moses to deny the pharaoh’s family, what made the walls of Jericho fall down and many other events.  Faith led to all these events.  And, if this is the case, if our agency is limited through a dogmatic culture, a culture that prescribes our routines and manuals and prevents us from studying or doing this or that, then this same dogmatism is really serving to destroy faith.  If faith is hindered by such actions – and I’d argue it is – then dogmatism is the ultimate destroyer.  When we seek to control others, in any way, we not only lose any priesthood we may have had, but we also serve to destroy opportunities for people  to exercise their faith.  Therefore, following this line of thought, more tolerance to allow for people to exercise their God-given agency and ability to elect what they choose to elect is the route we should take.


When Richards originally gave his sermon, he mentioned how the “very elasticity of prayers, ceremonies and procedure” was “additional evidence … of the adaptability of … religion to human needs, and therefore of its divinity.”  What Richards saw as elasticity seems to have hardened, like an old rubber band, over time.  Ceremonies and procedures are generally not only prescribed today, but written down for us.  We now not only have written procedures for things, but there is also an unwritten “order” of things[10] that we’re told to follow.  We’d be hard pressed to walk into a Sacrament meeting that wasn’t already planned in advance, a Sunday school meeting that didn’t already have the subject planned out (years in advance, given the use of manuals these days) or any other church meeting that wasn’t scheduled or planned out.  When was the last time we saw a meeting that was quite literally[11] “conducted … after the manner of the workings of the Spirit, by the power of the Holy Ghost”?[12]


That doesn’t mean that the spirit can’t or won’t influence and inspire those directing the meetings, nor those participating in those meetings, but we certainly prevent some “fly by the seat of your pants” type spiritual moments from occurring due to the desire to control everything that happens.  I honestly don’t know what those meetings would look like, how they would be run or what would happen.  Knowing myself (and having been able to observe others), it would probably take a couple of weeks, if not more, for the routine to run out of our system and clear our minds of what we feel we “should” be doing to fill the time.   It would be a detox of sorts, ridding ourselves of burdensome monotony and scheduling and allowing us to be led here or there or wherever the conversation and Spirit may go.


Richards, later, continued his talk by focusing on several “vices” and what we should be doing to those who succumb to such vices.  After a rather lengthy discussion on what he would say to those who fall prey to “brilliant, seductive advertising” or the idea that a practice is “universal,” he states:


“I want us to continue to lay emphasis on good, clean, wholesome living, but not in such  a way as to in any manner obscure the primary objective of our work, which is to open the doors of the Celestial Kingdom to the children of our Father.  We do not know how many will enter.  We hope for all.  For my part I desire to deny none entrance for weaknesses of the flesh if the spirit is willing.”


And, while reminiscing about these same vices (cigarettes, card games, etc), Richards concludes:


“I have said these things because I fear dictatorial dogmatism, rigidity of procedure and intolerance even more than I fear cigarettes, cards, and other devices the adversary may use to nullify faith and kill religion.  Fanaticism and bigotry have been the deadly enemies of true religion in the long past.  They have made it forbidding, shut it up in cold grey walls of monastery and nunnery, out of the sunlight and fragrance of the growing world.  They have garbed it in black and then in white, when in truth it is neither black nor white, any more than life is black or white, for religion is life abundant, glowing life, with all its shades, colors and hues, as the children of men reflect in the patterns of their lives the radiance of the Holy Spirit in varying degrees.”


A poignant – and thoughtful – ending to a worthwhile discourse.  I admit to being far too dogmatic at times, requiring those around me and within my sphere of influence to adhere to what I say (or at the very least pay attention to it).  In times like these, it’s important to remember that this strange journey of life provides us all with different experiences, pathways and feelings.  May we all, as fellow traveler’s here on earth, enjoy this variety and difference without trammeling[13] others for their beliefs.


Interestingly, this same idea is indeed what Joseph Smith seemed to have in mind back in the 1800s.  His father seems to have “reacted against the strict discipline required by … contemporary religions of the day,” and, according to Leonard Arrington, ministers of his day were seeking to product “spiritual athletes – that is, work unceasingly at being a religious person.”[14] Brigham Young was raised under such auspices, claiming:


When I was young, I was kept within very strict bounds, and was not allowed to walk more than half-an-hour on Sunday for exercise. [In fact, he said], the proper and necessary gambols of youth [were] denied me. . . . I had not a chance to dance when I was young, and never heard the enchanting tones of the violin, until I was eleven years of age; and then I thought I was on the high way to hell, if I suffered myself to linger and listen to it. . . . The Christian world of my youth considered it very wicked to listen to music and to dance. … they bind them to the moral law [and] when they are freed by age from the rigorous training of their parents, they are more fit for companions to devils, than to be the children of such religious parents.[Journal of Discourses, 2:94.]


Because of such a dogmatic upbringing, as reiterated in Arrington’s article, some 90% of the parents of Joseph Smith’s and Brigham Young’s generation did not belong to any church.  The guilt they felt for enjoying the ordinary things of life was evidence of just how far they strayed.  I wonder if we, as LDS, aren’t raising a similar generation of kids who are will feel guilt at everything they do.  We proudly teach them all the vices they simply must avoid and instill in them the same guilt those parents felt.  We even produce sin where none exists, all because of what?  Is it control?  Fear?  Both?  Something else?


Perhaps it’s time to revisit the experience Joseph Smith had, as related by Arrington:


“But before [Joseph Smith] went through the stage of rebellion, before the development of a guilt complex, the Lord granted to him, at the age of fourteen, that glorious First Vision. The Lord got to him, in other words, before the religions of the day were able to deaden his youthful exuberance and openness, his capacity for enjoying the mental, cultural, and physical aspects of life. He thus avoided the artificially severe, ascetic, fun-abhorring mantle that contemporary religion seemed to insist upon. He was pious, but not inhibited; earnest, but not fanatical; a warm, affectionate, and enjoyable personality–a prophet who was both serious and playful–a wonderful exemplar of the precept “Man is that he might have joy.”[15]


And, lest the humor get lost on us, pay close attention to the wording of this paragraph from the same article:


“Jedediah M. Grant, who knew the Prophet well, underscored this point when he declared that Joseph Smith preached against the “super-abundant stock of sanctimoniousness” that characterized contemporary religion. According to Elder Grant, a certain minister, out of curiosity, came to see the Prophet in Nauvoo and carried this sanctimonious spirit so far that the Prophet finally suggested to the minister that they engage in a little wrestling. The minister was so shocked that he just stood there rigid and dumbfounded, whereupon the Prophet playfully acted as though to put him on the floor and help him get up and then called attention to the so-called Christian “follies” of the time, the absurdity of the long, solemn, “asslike” tone of speaking and acting, and the dangers of excessive piety and fanaticism (Journal of Discourses, 3:66–67).[16]


Whereas I see many in the church who flaunt the seriousness of religion around as something to bind us down, even in “asslike” tones, perhaps we could learn a little from brother Joseph’s jovial nature.  Whereas he was referred to – throughout his day – as brother Joseph, now we have “our beloved prophet” or we’re told to use the official titles whenever we address someone in church – Elder, Bishop, etc.  “Religion was not to confine spirits,” as Arrington states, “but to expand them.”  Joseph gladly taught people the essence of religion and worship, and his teachings, again according to Arrington, taught “very graphically that [religion] was not sanctimonious.”[17]


Arrington’s conclusion ought to be mine, also.  As we look at the dogmatism around us (and, if you see none, I hope you enjoy it), I hope we can encourage a different worldview that encourages independence, agency and uniqueness.


“We all have exaggerated expectations of life, and sooner or later we discover that we are less clever than we had thought, that we have to be satisfied with less income, less popularity, even a less ideal marriage than we had hoped for. In an unhealthy situation this leads to resentment, projection of blame, distress, and maladjustment. The Latter-day Saint has an ideal background for coping with this situation as he adjusts his ambitions to the place in life which the Lord has in store for him. I pray that as individuals and as families we may laugh together, just as we pray together; that we may recognize our heritage, its … weaknesses along with its … strengths, without fear; that we may develop the cultural pride which others will expect of the Lord’s chosen people; … and that we may continue to exhibit that loyalty to the principles of the gospel that would make the angels in heaven rejoice.”


[3] Invoking the Name of the Lord – A Quantitative History.  http://bycommonconsent.com/2007/08/30/invoking-the-name-of-the-lord-a-quantitative-history/.  Retrieved 09/08/2010.

[6] The word idolatry means, at least according to the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary, “excessive attachment or veneration for any thing, or that which borders on adoration.”  In other words, if we replace the word veneration with its own definition, we come up with this definition of idolatry:  excessive attachment or the highest degree of respect and reverence; a feeling or sentiment excited by the dignity and superiority of a person, or by the sacredness of his character, or that which borders on adoration.  I’ve discussed idolatry here.  This idea of granting certain offices or people a perceived superiority takes on even more meaning if we consider these words by Hugh Nibley:  “The moment I even think of my priesthood as a status symbol or a mark of superiority, it becomes a mere hollow pretense. At the slightest hint to gloating or self-congratulation the priesthood holder is instantly and automatically unfrocked.” (“Best Possible Test,” CWHN 12:536.)

[9] See Come, Let Us Adore Him, page 63.

[10][10] See, The Unwritten Order of Things by Boyd K. Packer (15 Oct. 1996).  In this discourse, Packer states how proper clothing is required to satisfy our “Sunday’s best,” how programs ought to be written out such that a Liz or Bill or Dave never appear on the program (rather Elizabeth, William and David are how things should be), how funerals are not to be used as a time to reminisce about loved ones passed on, that those in senior positions are not to be questioned and several other “unwritten” rules we must follow.  Pretty soon we’ll be like the Pharisees (if we’re not already there), where the order our leaders enter and exit a room will be either a written rule, or one of the unwritten variety Packer refers to:  “And they which heard it, being convicted by their own aconscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.” (See John 8:9.)

[11] See Learning the Lawhttp://whitegreenredblack.blogspot.com/2010/09/learning-law.html.  Retrieved 09/10/2010.

[12] See Moroni 6:9.

[13] “I did not like the old man being called up for erring in doctrine. It looks too much like the Methodist, and not like the Latter-day Saints. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their Church. I WANT THE LIBERTY OF THINKING AND BELIEVING AS I PLEASE. It feels so good not to be trammelled. It does not prove a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine.” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church 5:340)

[14] See The Looseness of Zion:  Joseph Smith and the Lighter View.  Leonard Arrington.  http://speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=6012.  Retrieved 09/10/2010.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17][17] See also, Journal of Discourses 3:66-67.

[1] http://puremormonism.blogspot.com/2010/02/best-conference-talk-you-never-read_13.html – retrieved 09/08/2010.

[1] https://truthmarche.wordpress.com/2010/01/26/anyone-care-to-disagree/ – retrieved 09/08/2010.

[1] Invoking the Name of the Lord – A Quantitative History.  http://bycommonconsent.com/2007/08/30/invoking-the-name-of-the-lord-a-quantitative-history/.  Retrieved 09/08/2010.

[1] http://1828.mshaffer.com/d/search/word,dogmatism. Retrieved 09/09/2010.

[1] http://www.google.com/search?q=define%3Adogmatism&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a.  Retrieved 09/09/2010.

[1] The word idolatry means, at least according to the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary, “excessive attachment or veneration for any thing, or that which borders on adoration.”  In other words, if we replace the word veneration with its own definition, we come up with this definition of idolatry:  excessive attachment or the highest degree of respect and reverence; a feeling or sentiment excited by the dignity and superiority of a person, or by the sacredness of his character, or that which borders on adoration.  I’ve discussed idolatry here.  This idea of granting certain offices or people a perceived superiority takes on even more meaning if we consider these words by Hugh Nibley:  “The moment I even think of my priesthood as a status symbol or a mark of superiority, it becomes a mere hollow pretense. At the slightest hint to gloating or self-congratulation the priesthood holder is instantly and automatically unfrocked.” (“Best Possible Test,” CWHN 12:536.)

[1] http://mormonmatters.org/2010/09/07/coke-rum-cake-and-president-mckay/.  Retrieved 09/09/2010.

[1] http://puremormonism.blogspot.com/2010/08/why-dont-they-like-us.html.  Retrieved 09/09/2010.

[1] See Come, Let Us Adore Him, page 63.

[1][1] See, The Unwritten Order of Things by Boyd K. Packer (15 Oct. 1996).  In this discourse, Packer states how proper clothing is required to satisfy our “Sunday’s best,” how programs ought to be written out such that a Liz or Bill or Dave never appear on the program (rather Elizabeth, William and David are how things should be), how funerals are not to be used as a time to reminisce about loved ones passed on, that those in senior positions are not to be questioned and several other “unwritten” rules we must follow.  Pretty soon we’ll be like the Pharisees (if we’re not already there), where the order our leaders enter and exit a room will be either a written rule, or one of the unwritten variety Packer refers to:  “And they which heard it, being convicted by their own aconscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.” (See John 8:9.)

[1] See Learning the Lawhttp://whitegreenredblack.blogspot.com/2010/09/learning-law.html.  Retrieved 09/10/2010.

[1] See Moroni 6:9.

[1] “I did not like the old man being called up for erring in doctrine. It looks too much like the Methodist, and not like the Latter-day Saints. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their Church. I WANT THE LIBERTY OF THINKING AND BELIEVING AS I PLEASE. It feels so good not to be trammelled. It does not prove a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine.” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church 5:340)

[1] See The Looseness of Zion:  Joseph Smith and the Lighter View.  Leonard Arrington.  http://speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=6012.  Retrieved 09/10/2010.

[1] Ibid.

[1] Ibid.

[1][1] See also, Journal of Discourses 3:66-67.


Follow the Prophet, Don’t Go Astray?

So I found myself sitting in nursery this past Sunday watching my 2 year old son play around and saw Ursula reincarnate.  Not really, but certainly the thought came to mind more than a few times.  For those who try and break free from the corporate church, and its teachings, primary is often referred to as one of the last few bastions where the gospel is still pure and simple, where the teachings still focus on and about Christ.

I had that in mind as the scene played out in front of me.  I’m not sure if it’s a churchwide program that our unit (nice, I just called it a unit – very correlated) has been following with what primary songs they sing and when, but ours has been on a program which has been focusing on the infamous (to me, at least) primary song:  Follow The Prophet.  It would be safe to say that chills nearly run up and down my spine when forced to listen to that song, for reasons I’ll try and discuss.  But these aren’t ones that I enjoy.  Probably more like fingernails going down a chalkboard.

A few weeks (months?) back the primary president gave me a CD of the primary songs the primary was working on so that I could pass it along to my wife who could then listen to those songs as we drove with the kids in the car.  Problem is, it’s only a 5-track CD and one of those tracks is “Follow the Prophet.”  So somehow – and I promise it was an honest mistake – the CD was misplaced for a couple of weeks before my wife finally found it.  I’ve managed to skip that track a few times while present, but so far the inundation of that song at church is beyond my control.  Unfortunately.

A few years back, I overheard my nephew singing that song by memory and thought about how cool it was that he had learned such an inspiring song.  Now, I’ll be damned if my kids sing it.  Shows just how far I’ve fallen.

Seeds of Dislike

So, why my particular dislike for this particular song?  Well, it’s not quite as simple as you might guess, though it really is.  Sound confusing, or at least a bit muddy?  Good.  Now we’re getting somewhere.

My dislike probably had origination with the whole “the prophet will never, indeed cannot, lead us astray” meme.  Though even that is a tenuous link.  It really is just one of those things that happened, and really happened overnight more or less.  Whereas before (as in the case of my nephew mentioned above) I found it entirely beneficial, and probably inspiring, to sing such a song, now I can’t stomach it.

I did a simple search on google using the terms, “Follow the prophet” and found a few worthwhile links which will help reinforce this point, and it’s a point I labor with at home as well.  We’ve been taught by many that the Lord will still bless us if we do what the prophet tells us, even if he’s wrong.  We’ve been taught for 120+ years that our church leaders simply cannot lead us astray – try as they might.

This is recorded by Marion Romney and repeated in Ezra Benson’s Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet (a talk which is difficult to find anything within to agree with):

President Marion G. Romney tells of this incident, which happened to him: I remember years ago when I was a Bishop I had President [Heber J.] Grant talk to our ward. After the meeting I drove him home….Standing by me, he put his arm over my shoulder and said: “My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church, and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.” Then with a twinkle in his eye, he said, “But you don’t need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray.” [In Conference Report, October 1), p. 78]

Blind obedience is required – check your coat (and free will) at the door.

Primary Revisited

So, just what are we teaching our primary aged children, and younger?  Well, taking a couple of the verses of the song might elucidate the conversation, if only slightly:

Adam was a prophet, first one that we know.
In a place called Eden, he helped things to grow.
Adam served the Lord by following his ways.
We are his descendants in the latter days.

Enoch was a prophet; he taught what was good.
People in his city did just what they should.
When they were so righteous that there was no sin,
Heav’nly Father took them up to live with him.

Noah was a prophet called to preach the word,
Tried to cry repentance, but nobody heard.
They were busy sinning-Noah preached in vain.
They wished they had listened when they saw the rain.

Abraham the prophet prayed to have a son,
So the Lord sent Isaac as the chosen one.
Isaac begat Jacob, known as Israel;
Jacob’s sons were twelve tribes, so Bible tells.

Moses was a prophet sent to Israel.
He would lead them to the Promised Land to dwell.
They were slow to follow, or so it appears.
They were in the wilderness for forty years.

It might not appear so “slow,” if you step back and realize that we’re now treading on 180 years of wandering in our own wilderness, awaiting the redemption of Zion and our own promised land.  The problem then becomes, though, what happens when the term “promised land” gets redefined by the same church that has been wandering aimlessly, or nearly so, in regards to Zion?

For example, at this past summer’s commencement speech, Whitney Clayton gave a speech on the promised land.  Though I, as of yet, have been unable to find the transcript of the speech to ascertain the entire message he intended to give, we’re given a few snippets in the LDS Church News.  These tidbits suggest that (a) the land of promise is, today, merely a way of life, “not a place like it was in the Old Testament,” (b) the “promised land” usually isn’t a place – “it’s found wherever an individual is at the moment,” and (c) today’s college graduates are “cross[ing] a modern Red Sea or River Joran, as you graduate from BYU and move one – no generation has been better trained or more richly prepared for its future.”  Better trained and “richly” prepared?  To do what, presactly?  To continue building up and sustaining Babylon, or to actually redeem Zion?  Based on the text of the talk I’ve been able to read, it leaves little doubt – we’re to continue our toils in Babylon, seeking for our land of milk and honey and, not so coincidentally, riches.

Daniel was a prophet. He refused to sin;
So the king threw Daniel in the lion’s den.
Angels calmed the lions, and the king soon saw
Daniel’s pow’r was great, for he obeyed God’s law.

Here’s an interesting conundrum:  was Daniel’s power great because he obeyed the law, or did Daniel really have any power at all?  And, did he refuse to sin, or did you merely listen to the spirit in doing what he did?  Granted, a song – especially a primary song – has got to rhyme, so we should probably grant the author a little leeway, but still, who here is exactly comfortable with the lessons being taught here?

Now we have a world where people are confused.
If you don’t believe it, go and watch the news.
We can get direction all along our way,
If we heed the prophets-follow what they say

Follow the prophet, follow the prophet,
Follow the prophet; don’t go astray.
Follow the prophet, follow the prophet,
Follow the prophet he knows the way.

Here, really, is the crux of the song.  The last verse talks about the troubled times we live in – which we’re constantly being reminded of – but then it takes a turn for the worse, much worse.  Instead of reinforcing the idea that we should seek to get answers directly from the Lord, as is evidenced in several of the verses of this song, we’re redirected into a belief that we need to follow what they say.

Verse 1:  Adam served the Lord by following His ways.

Verse 2:  Enoch leads his people in righteousness.

Verse 3:  Noah was called, as an individual, to preach the word.

Verse 4:  Abraham prayed and received individual revelation.

Verse 5:  Moses was called, as an individual, by God to lead the people.

Verse 6:  Samuel answered, as an individual, “Here I am!”

Verse 7:  Jonah learned to listen.

Verse 8:  Daniel disobeyed the laws of the land and prayed.

Verse 9:  Now we’re confused, and we need someone else to tell us what to do.

Alternate Ending

So, the next time you listen to that song, perhaps we could think of this alternate ending that some seem to like:

Now we have a prophet, in the latter-day,
He is here to guide us in so many ways.
If we choose to follow all that he may say,
We will have the Spirit with us every day.

alternate ending verse for the primary song “Follow the Prophet”

Perhaps even worse than the first couple of verses, now we’re told that if we follow all that the current prophet says, we will have the Spirit with us every day.  That, of course, gets back to the whole blind obedience argument.  Blind obedience, though, has never been taught in the church, or so Joseph F. Smith stated back in 1892.

“Not a man in this Church, since the Prophet Joseph Smith down to the present day, has ever asked any man to do as he was told blindly. No Prophet of God, no Apostle, no President of a Stake, no Bishop, who has had the spirit of his office and calling resting upon him, has ever asked a soul to do anything that they might not know was right and the proper thing to do. We do not ask you to do anything that you may not know it is your duty to do, or that you may not know will be a blessing for you to do.” (Joseph F. Smith, Collected Discourses, ed. Brian H. Stuy, Vol. 3 (Burbank, B.H.S. Publishing 1987-1992).)

If only he’d waited a few years, his eventual successor, Heber J. Grant, he’d have heard this very thing taught to the members.  Quoting, once again, Marion Romney:

“Standing by me, [Heber J. Grant] put his arm over my shoulder and said: “My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church, and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.” Then with a twinkle in his eye, he said, “But you don’t need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray.” [In Conference Report, October 1), p. 78]

It really is shocking, to me at least, when you look at it this way.  Perhaps it’s true that the culture is so screwed up that they’d benefit from a prophet coming amongst us to tell us to repent, or await the certain destruction that’s coming.  Perhaps it’s true we need an outside voice.  That’s fine.  But, how about we draw the line somewhere?  Perhaps we could draw that line at – oh, I don’t know – Follow the Savior, He Knows the Way.

That’s what is so bizarre about this song.  Where it could be good, it falls measurably short.  Where it could teach kids to follow the Savior, it teaches them to rely on the arm of flesh.

Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.” (D&C 6:36.)

The scriptures teach us – almost ad nauseum – that we need only follow one person – Christ.  And yet, here we have a primary song that teaches us to follow someone else.  If this could be broken down into images, it would look something like this (in my mind):

Doc2

In these two representations, the one on the left is what I’d call the “Joseph Smith Model,” whereas the one on the right I’d call the “Follow the Prophet Model,” or the model now espoused by the church, and church membership, generally speaking.  The reason I’d call the one on the left the “Joseph Smith Model” is because it’s the egalitarian approach he seemed to espouse, while the one on the right highlights just how much we’ve abdicated our personal responsibility in seeking truth.

“Do you believe Joseph Smith, Jun., to be a Prophet?’ Yes, and every other man who has the testimony of Jesus. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. … Salvation cannot come without revelation; it is in vain for anyone to minister without it. No man is a minister of Jesus Christ without being a Prophet. No man can be a minister of Jesus Christ except he has the testimony of Jesus; and this is the spirit of prophecy. Whenever salvation has been administered, it has been by testimony.” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pages 119, 160.)

Wild Things

So, with that in mind, it might do us some good to revisit Ursula.  In our nursery, as is probably typical of most (and is of the ones I’ve ever attended), a member of the primary presidency comes in each week for music time.  This past Sunday the song of choice was, as you rightly guessed, Follow the Prophet.  But, it wasn’t just that.  The sister passed out maracas, tambourines and all sorts of musical gadgets and gizmos to the 11 or 12 kids in nursery.  The effect was one of no small mayhem.  So, picture if you will, a scene from Where the Wild Things Are (which just may have been the worst movie I’ve ever seen, but the images work) where all the monsters are dancing and singing and chanting around the fire.  The member of the primary presidency leading the pack of wild, ravenous 2 year olds as they listened to a cultic song and shook their maracas with all the muster their tiny arms could.

That, in miniature scale, is what I saw in nursery.  I even tried to snap it on my cell phone, but didn’t get it out in time.  I was nearly appalled and probably would have been had I not been so taken back by the whole scene playing in front of me.

Cyberspace Questions

And, not so appalled as I am at some of the websites currently floating around which reinforce our idolatrous ways.  The President of the church has his own website, owned, managed and ran by the church, which reads more like a resume than anything else.  And, there are countless others devoted to following just what the president is doing on any given day – like www.followtheprophet.net – which literally seeks to “follow” him on his travels.  Once there, you might have some fun going to their post on May 24th of this year and asking yourself, should a prophet be limoed around in a Gulfstream IV – the Huntsman jet – which has a price tag hovering around $36 million and change (new).  Just a question.  We’d all do a little better to ask a few more questions each day.  Start with that question.  Then, imagine that Gulfstream landing in rural Guatemala, or Mongolia, or Uzbekistan or wherever it lands.

“We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself.” – Lloyd Alexander

As a culture, we’re so far removed from processes which create the goods and services we want that all we really care about is the end result.  When we go buy a toy at our nearest Wal*Mart, we care not how it came to us or where it was made.  We couldn’t care less that an 8-year old kid is working 12-hour days to help support his family, just so they can have a ¼ cup of rice on the table at night.  No, so long as we get our toy at a good price, that’s really all we care about.  Same with our groceries, shoes or whatever it may be – just so long as it has an appropriate price tag on it.  The last quote of my post on Samsara and Perfume discusses this idea and refers to it as “world building.”

The same principle goes with this Gulfstream.  Instead of asking ourselves some questions like these:  “does he really need a $36 million airplane to traverse and gallivant across the globe?”, “So what if it reeks of extravagance to the extreme?,” and others along the same vein.  Instead, we simply throw those questions aside and, as the original story on FollowtheProphet.net mentions, find no shortage of adulation for such conveniences.  Questions, lots of questions.

“The power to question is the basis of all human progress.” – Gandhi

Alternate Ending, Part 2

So what’s my whole beef with this issue?  Mainly one of focus.  We, as a church and a people, are so fixated on an office that we can’t see the forest for the trees.  We have developed such a cult of personality that we no longer verify things, no longer think that God can (or does) work outside the bounds of the corporate church.  We think that all we have to do to be saved is listen to a man.  Any man, really.  So long as he ascends the hierarchy and holds on longer than the rest, that means we are bound to listen and adhere to everything he says.

Like the above graphics note, we’ve replaced intimate relationships with corporate institutions.   The idea and belief that Christ now must speak through someone else, and that that someone else is impervious to ever doing anything contrary to the will of the Lord is about as egregious a teaching as I know.  We’ve strayed from the path that instructs us to go on and on in our search for Christ, and strayed into a path that we only need search for a president – for then we’ve found the only person we need listen to (allegedly).

Denver Snuffer wrote about this in his 3-part series on the Traditions of Men (Part I, Part II, Part III – which are well worth your time), part of which I include here:

“In our context, what has happened as a result of this alteration is that the former significance of the church’s president was administrative, and priestly.  He was a final arbitrator and judge, a presiding authority and a leader whose words were to be considered carefully.  He was NOT considered infallible or to be invariably inspired.  In fact, during the presidencies of the Prophet Joseph Smith, President Brigham Young and President John Taylor, they all spoke against any notion of infallibility of the church’s president.  President Young was particularly cautionary about trusting church leaders instead of the Holy Spirit as your guide.  President Young said too much trust of a church leader would bring the saints to hell.

President Woodruff was so criticized by members for the Manifesto that he defended himself by claiming that the Lord wouldn’t let him make a mistake on that order.  He said that the Lord just wouldn’t let the church’s president lead the saints astray.  That comment was what would later be used to buttress the notion popularly believed today that the “prophet is infallible.”

President Heber J. Grant was an unpopular church president.  One of the problems with getting the saints to respond to the church president’s counsel was solved when the president of the church became the living “Prophet.”  You can reject or question counsel from an administrative authority.  But to question a “Prophet of God” was to invite the damnation of hell.  So the change in nomenclature worked a mighty change in the perceptions of the Latter-day Saints.  The “cult of personality” was an inevitable result.  Everything the president did would be done as “God’s Living Prophet.”  No matter what decisions were made, no matter their wisdom, goodness or undesirability, the result was the same: “They MUST be inspired.  We may not have the human capacity to see it, but God’s ways are higher than man’s after all.  To question is to lack in faith.”

The change put the president into a league in which at a minimum criticism was disrespectful.  Worse, if you were convinced that he made a mistake, it followed almost as an inevitability that you were absolutely forbidden from saying so because to do so revealed a “weakness in the faith.”  In fact, there are General Conference talks which speak about criticizing the church president (or “Living Prophet”) claiming that the criticism was due to a weak faith, and it would lead to apostasy unless a person repented.”

Weak Faith

So, I guess at the end of the day, all this probably means that I have weak faith and am on the road to apostasy.  Such is my plight.  If you’re here, perhaps you’re experiencing the same weaknesses.  If so, soyez le bienvenue (French for:  “Welcome”).

So while the primary may generally be one of the last few bastions of pure Christlike doctrine, that song isn’t doing us any good.