Posts Tagged ‘Thomas S. Monson’


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.

Advertisements

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.


Wordle: LDS

For the past month or so I’ve been compiling a rather benign spreadsheet.  I’ve been gathering news articles on the Church, either through Mormon Times, LDS Church News, Deseret News, and the Church Website.  It started out thanks to this article and sort of snowballed from there into a list of 35 different articles.

What I did was a simple search of various “terms,” as a way of trying to pigeon hole the focus of the article – not the topic – but where the focus is (on a person, a place, an organization, Christ, etc).  I am quite sure there are better ways to do this, more refined, more accurate, but this is what I came up with.

First, for the visual learners, a simple click on this link will take you to a word cloud of this search/project.  This word cloud is made up of the first 15 articles I scanned/searched.  The more prominent the word in those articles, the larger the word will be in the word cloud.  Quite useful, methinks, and instructive.

Second, for the number oriented folk…here’s what I found.  I limited my search to a couple of categories, namely (a) Church/LDS/Mormon, (b) President/Presidency, (c) Prophet, (d) Monson / Hinckley, (e) Apostle / Elder, (f) Lord, (g) Savior, (h) Jesus, and (i) Christ.  I did a search in each of the articles for these terms and tallied them up just to see how the news, events and such were being reported and, as a result, how members were viewing the information.

Of all these categories, there were a total of 752 terms queried.  These 752 terms consisted of the following:

Church / LDS / Mormon:  248x (7.29x per article)
Apostle / Elder:  232x (6.82x per article)
President / Presidency:  87x (2.56x per article)
Monson / Hinckley:  54x (1.59x per article)
Christ:  39x (1.15x per article)
Jesus:  35x (1.03x per article)
Prophet:  25x (0.74x per article)
Lord:  21x (0.62x per article)
Savior:  11x (0.32x per article)

I also did a slightly altered tally for the terms Christ and Jesus.  If we remove those instances where “Jesus” and “Christ” were only stated in unison with the name of the Church, then the number of times these words were used dwindles to 7 (“Jesus”) and 3 (“Christ”), or approximately 0.21x and 0.09x per article, respectively.

Does this show where our focus lies?  I also noticed a tendency towards self-congratulating articles, either on how much good the Church’s humanitarian efforts are, or how great Mormons are at rendering service in natural disasters, though this is difficult to put into one of these types of analyses, no matter how imperfect this particular one is.

Anyway…thought you’d all like to see it.  Really, the word cloud shows it all.