Praising and Complaining About an Apostle

A few days ago, Elder M. Russell Ballard gave a timely talk to teachers and parents about promoting and sustaining faith in young people.[1] Many welcomed it as a useful and inspired summary of principles which he and others have long advocated.

One thing troubled me, however, as I watched the reaction of Church members who discussed it on social media. And it troubled me because they were members.

The troubling side-show

In almost the next breath, many of those who were publicly applauding his talk’s content soon switched to complaining. Why complaining? Because Elder Ballard had also mentioned the importance of marriage in LDS doctrine and theology, and this troubled some members who are at present single.

Some wished they had not heard this section. One man faulted the apostle for not providing any concrete examples of how a single member could alter this current state of affairs. Others postured that they had merely been thrown a consolation prize of being assured that life would be better in the hereafter. And so on.

I do not deny—as the leaders of the Church have pain at pains not to deny—that being single can be a painful burden, especially in a Church and theology that holds out marriage and parenthood as a divine summit.[2] (Single members sometimes forget, however, that we currently-married members were once single in our turn, and so do know something about that experience.)

And, I realize that if something touches an area of pain for us, we can occasionally “react” rather than think. Yet, I found the display troubling. People actually went to the trouble of putting their reaction down on digital paper, as it were, and spreading it about. That takes some forethought and intent.

Unsurprisingly, those who were excited by the talk seemed to be those who had long believed in or advocated for a similar approach in the Church’s youth curriculum and seminary program. This too is understandable—it can be gratifying when our concerns, intuitions, or inspirations are validated and publicly endorsed by someone with priesthood authority. This not only confirms our personal strivings and our sensitivity to God’s Spirit, but it can smooth the way to implementing them locally when an apostle endorses such an effort.

There was, however, an incredible irony in this display of enthusiastic praise followed by grumbling and complaining. In the first breath, they were praising Elder Ballard’s talk and saying how wonderful it was. But, in the very next breath, they were criticizing a relatively small section of that talk for being either untrue, or unhelpful, or hurtful, or whatever.

A difficult but necessary question

This raises a difficult question, which we might all do well to ask ourselves—when we rejoice in apostolic or prophetic teaching, are we rejoicing because it is apostolic and prophetic, or are we rejoicing because they happen to agree with us?

From what I saw, I fear that in some cases there was a definite slant toward the latter. “Finally,” some seemed to suggest, “an apostle has got it together and said what I’ve long known needed to be said.” This was swiftly followed by, “Now, if only they would get on board on this other issue of how to give (or avoid) counsel about marriage. Then I could have enjoyed the meeting fully. Close, but no cigar.”

In a sense, such apostolic guidance is thus seen as valuable and praiseworthy not because it represents the inspired word of the Lord to members of the Church, and not even because it is true (though those who praised it certainly believed that it was true), but instead because it allows a somewhat Nietzchean power play—apostles have social power and authority, and so that power and authority can be leveraged by me for my purposes to get my ideas ratified.

Put another way, are some not relieved that their intuitions were correct (because they knew that already), but instead happy that their previous certainties can now more easily be implemented?

Three possibilities

It seems to me that there are three possibilities regarding Elder Ballard’s remarks about marriage. These options are:

  1. They are a summary and reaffirmation of inspired prophetic teachings on the subject, acceptably expressed;
  2. They are a summary and reaffirmation of inspired prophetic teachings on the subject, marred by an insensitive delivery or unhelpful approach;
  3. They are mistaken.

Let us consider these in reverse order.

Mistaken?

We certainly hold no doctrine of apostolic or prophetic infallibility in the Church. But, even if we presume that the counsel was mistaken—why would one undermine an apostle who is also advocating a course that we too endorse? After all, if he is mistaken about the marriage issue—why not assume he’s equally mistaken about curriculum? Why undercut the authority I hope to appeal to on the matter of teaching and curriculum?

This looks like an attempt to maintain superiority and control in our own eyes, or others’: we demonstrate how critical and unsparing we are, how well we distinguish truth from error. No one sneaks anything by us!

Or, it’s an effort that reveals the underlying problem—we see ourselves and our beliefs and priorities as normative. Thus, when an apostle agrees with me, he’s right. If he doesn’t, then he’s mistaken or insensitive at best. We’re back to using our endorsement of an apostle’s talk as nothing more than an exercise of social power.

Correct but insensitive?

All the above considerations apply here—if we don’t agree with prophetic infallibility, we believe even less in prophetic stylistic perfection.

If Elder Ballard was correct, but simply poorly phrased, all the less reason to break out the rhetorical knives on Twitter or Facebook. We risk becoming like those who rejected Peter because he had not been to the right schools (Acts 4:13), or Moses because he was slow of speech (Exodus 4:10), or Samuel because he was a Lamanite (Helaman 13), or Jesus because he came from the backwater Nazareth (John 1:46; John 7:52).

We join those who dismiss a prophet because he has an accent, or a speech impediment, or because of the cut of his clothes.

If what he is teaching is true, oughtn’t we to endorse and push it to all—not murmur and fault-find to give others a potential excuse to ignore the truth?

Correct, full stop?

And, finally, if this is the case—and I personally think that it is—we have even less excuse. We might pause and ask, however, whether our desire to find fault or minimize the authority of apostolic counsel reflects fear that we aren’t doing all we can in an area that pains, saddens, and frightens us.

But really, what other purpose is there in prophets and apostles?

If they are merely instruments of social power to enable us to push our own agenda, why bother? Life is too short to waste on a faith that operates that way, the embodiment of all the worst atheist caricatures about religion.

If they are so fallible that I substitute my conviction of my own correctness whenever I disagree—unwilling even to remain quietly questioning while I wait upon the Lord—why have them? You or I could do as well.

But, if they truly are prophets, watchmen on the tower—who see further and better not because of any innate worthiness or merit[3] but principally because of the divine authority given them and in which we ostensibly sustain them—shouldn’t my discomfort at some teaching or phrasing at least give me pause?

Should my first reaction perhaps not be to rush onto Facebook or my blog to air my grievances or cluck my tongue? Even if I don’t need to hear a particular message, am I so sure that many others do not? And, if they do, am I not guilty of a grave sin if I through my murmuring and complaints impair others’ ability to hear it?

Conclusion

In this particular case, I have it easy. I agreed with everything he said. Rejoicing was easy.

But, the day will undoubtedly come when I do not, at least at first blush. (In fact, I’ve had such experiences in the past, and so fully expect I will have them again. There is not, I think, any shame or sin in that. What matters is how we respond.)

This is the danger and difficulty with living oracles, which religions have always striven to tame: you cannot control a live prophet, while dead ones committed to the page can be massaged and finessed. But, it is also the power and necessity of them. As President Eyring noted years ago,

Leo Strauss, in Studies in Platonic Political Philosophies, had it right when he saw that the prophets give us the greatest gift when they tell us truth which does not square with our reason. He said: “True prophets, regardless of whether they predict doom or salvation, predict the unexpected, the humanly unforeseeable. What would not occur to men, left to themselves, to fear or to hope.”[4]

So, I write this now so that the judge of memory may hold me more strictly to account when my own next trial comes in such a matter, as it must for everyone.

ENDNOTES

[1]An Evening With Elder Ballard: How To Achieve Mature, Lasting Conversion to the Gospel,” lds.org (26 February 2016).

[2] I hope to say more about this another time. For one recent example, however, see Dallin H. Oaks and Kirsten M. Oaks, “Trust in Heaven’s Timing,” 146 stake broadcast from Marriot Center, BYU (16 September 2012), reproduced in Ensign (February 2016).

[3] Though I hasten to add I regard them all as people of great worthiness and merit.

[4] Henry B. Eyring, “Faith, Authority, and Scholarship,” in On Becoming a Disciple–Scholar, edited by Henry B. Eyring (Bookcraft, Salt Lake, 1995), 64.

To judge or not to judge: not much of a question

Justice_scales

I recently noticed a web article on Facebook which explains, in essence, that idea of “Love the sinner, hate the sin” isn’t a good way for Christian to approach such things. Instead, we are supposed to love our neighbor, and hate our own sin.

Now, surely hating our own sins is a good idea. And certainly loving our neighbors is part of the Christian call.

It is not surprising that this approach is superficially appealing. It speaks to the primary “sin” or zeitgeist of the modern, liberal (in the traditional sense of the term, not the politicized variety), secular west. And, that is this: tolerance is the great good, and the only sin that is unpardonable is the sin of intolerance. (I have written about this in detail here.)

Problem #1: Moral Confusion

For starters, though, if this doctrine was really implemented, it leads to moral confusion, if not outright moral paralysis.

If we are only allowed to recognize our own sins, then we become mute in the face of the great evils of the world. I had nothing to do with the murder of six million Jews—thus, under the dictates of “ignore others’ sins,” I’m not either supposed to or required to abhor and resist things like the Holocaust. But, that is absurd.

A double standard?

Now, I’m sure that the author or advocates of this theory don’t really believe the Holocaust or ISIS, or the kidnappings by Boko Haran, or Mao’s murder of millions by famine or Stalin’s in the gulag were of no moral moment; or that we shouldn’t denounce, resist, and even fight and die against such sins and evils.

They simply apply their ideas inconsistently. Thus, they see no irony in denouncing those who notice sin in others—because after all, wouldn’t it then inappropriate for them to point to my supposed sin in recognizing sin in others? Should they be preaching this doctrine at all, save in the chambers of their own hearts? It is logically inconsistent.

But, this doctrine is useful—and thus attractive—if one wishes to silence people who speak against sins that one wants left uncriticized—be it unwarranted divorce, or abortion, or homosexual acts, or whatever.

To speak against these acts is to be intolerant (the great secular sin, remember). So, this “don’t notice others’ sins” claim is a clever method of trying a bit of religious ju-jitsu against the Christian. But, it isn’t likely to be invoked when we are confronted with the sins or evils that the liberal secularist wants to eradicate: like homophobia, or racism, or sexism, or “intolerance.” Those will continue, one suspects, to be fair game for identification. They might even be decried, and those judged guilty of the same might even be persecuted or shamed into silence.

But, either ignoring great evil or selectively focusing only on a certain select class of sins isn’t this doctrine’s only weakness.

Problem #2: Personal evils

Perhaps even more troubling is how this idea eviscerates one of the great beauties and powers of Christianity—the idea that God can liberate us from the effects of others’ sins upon us. This applies not just to the massive, industrial-scale evils of genocide and terror discussed above. It applies to the searing personal ones as well.

Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? (Matthew 18:21)

Under the proffered doctrine, one might expect Jesus to say something like, “Peter, you shouldn’t be noticing the sin at all. Hate your own sins, my man.”

But, that isn’t what Jesus says. Instead, he says:

Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. (Matthew 18:22)

The very idea of forgiveness, the whole doctrine itself, presupposes two things:

  1. The existence and genuine reality of sin and evil; and
  2. The recognition and identification of that sin and evil by the Christian, and the necessity to react to it in a way that will be spiritually helpful, rather than damaging.

But bluntly, one cannot forgive what one does not spot. (I have written elsewhere of the difficulties people encounter when urged to “forgive” before they have counted the cost of a sin upon them.)

Here again, I suspect the author and advocates are not really taking their doctrine fully and seriously. Are we really to tell a victim of rape, or child abuse, or physical violence that they are not to even notice that they have been deeply wounded, violated, and sinned against? One hopes not.

Is someone violates my trust, am I not to have it register? If a sin causes me sorrow, am I to deny the reality of my tears? The beatitudes (Matthew 5:1–12) presuppose the recognition that one has been sinned against—and yet Jesus offers freedom from that. He does not, however, start by a denial that such suffering has occurred, or an insistence that we not notice it. (That, if anything, seems more Buddhist than Christian.)

Only among our own, or up the power structure?

Another related idea is that Jesus only intends a critique of his own religion or people, and then only of what we might call “the power elite.”

This likewise isn’t true. Jesus was quite happy to call Jews to account for sin. He did not reserve that right to himself; he clearly instructed his followers to reject the teachings and acts of others (e.g., Matthew 7:6; 16:6; Mark 8:15), which certainly implies that one will notice, assess, and then reject.

But, he was likewise willing to critique pagans (e.g., Matthew 6:7; 18:17; 20:25).

Other Biblical data

Besides the gospels, there’s a great deal of other data that shows that this stance simply isn’t Christian or biblical in any meaningful sense.

At the very beginning of the Christian era, Peter speaks to a large crowd. Presumably he’s putting into practice something of what he learned from Jesus. And his very first remarks address sin:

Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know:

Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain… (Acts 2:22–23)

Shouldn’t Peter just be forgiving and loving them? Apparently not—he is confronting them with their sinful behavior, and even labels it “wicked.”

But, in a key and more profound sense, Peter is forgiving and loving them. It would be unloving not to speak the truth—to ignore or wink at their sin. And, he is pointing them to the source of forgiveness. His own forgiveness matters little for them (though it matters for Peter, of course). They need God’s forgiveness, and so Peter’s invocation of their sin is prelude to an offer to help solve it.

Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.

Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Acts 2:36–38)

Now, to be sure, they can accept or reject the offer. But, Peter seems duty-bound to make it. And, that offer presupposes the existence of sin. It makes no sense to offer someone the atonement and redemption of Christ if one is unaware that one is a sinner. Notice that some in the crowd “were pricked in their heart”—they had not known (or faced up to) their sin, until Peter called them on it. And, Peter went on at length, saying “Save yourselves from this untoward generation.” In other words, he indicted all of sin. Far from never mentioning sin and simply spreading love blossoms around, Peter mentioned everyone’s sin.

He returns to this theme repeatedly:

But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; And killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses….And now, brethren, I [know] that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers. (Acts 3:14–17)

Notice that Peter is not simply calling the power elite to task—he calls everyone, the lowly Jews up to “your rulers.”

Peter later calls Ananias and Sapphira out for lying to the Lord (Acts 5).

Stephen, the first martyr, is pretty clear about sin (Acts 7:40, 51–53) and gets killed for it.

And, don’t get me started on Paul’s writings, or we’ll be here all night.

“Judge not”

It is common, of course, to invoke Jesus’ command to “Judge not, that ye be not judged” in these circumstances. Yet, as we have seen, Jesus at times seems to have encouraged his followers to do some judging, of both ideas and behavior. Furthermore, he encouraged us to follow his example—and the early Christians did so.

Those who invoke this trope tend to ignore (if they know) that elsewhere Jesus explicitly says, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24). So, there are contexts and ways in which judgment must be undertaken.

Judge not and judging righteously

So, how might we reconcile these ideas? We are both not to judge, and yet to judge. Was Jesus really that inconsistent? The early Christians did not think so.

I think the best treatment is by Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “Judge Not and Judging.”

I strongly recommend you consult the entire thing. I offer, in conclusion, only a few highlights:

We must, of course, make judgments every day in the exercise of our moral agency, but we must be careful that our judgments of people are intermediate and not final. Thus, our Savior’s teachings contain many commandments we cannot keep without making intermediate judgments of people: ‘Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine’ (Matthew 7:6); ‘Beware of false prophets….Ye shall know them by their fruits’ (Matthew 7:15-16); and ‘Go ye out from among he wicked’ (D&C 38:42).

We all make judgments in choosing our friends, in choosing how we will spend our time and our money, and, of course, in choosing an eternal companion. Some of these intermediate judgments are surely among those the Savior referred to when he taught that ‘the weightier matters of the law’ include judgment (Matthew 23:23).

I will let Elder Oaks conclude, and again encourage the reader to consult his far better treatment of the issues we’ve raised here:

Let us consider some principles or ingredients that lead to a ‘righteous judgment.’

First of all, a righteous judgment must, by definition, be intermediate. It will refrain from declaring that a person has been assured of exaltation or from dismissing a person as being irrevocably bound for hellfire. It will refrain from declaring that a person has forfeited all opportunity for exaltation or even all opportunity for a useful role in the work of the Lord. The gospel is a gospel of hope, and none of us is authorized to deny the power of the Atonement to bring about a cleansing of individual sins, forgiveness, and a reformation of life on appropriate conditions.

Second, a righteous judgment will be guided by the Spirit of the Lord, not by anger, revenge, jealousy, or self-interest….

Third, to be righteous, an intermediate judgment must be within our stewardship. We should not presume to exercise and act upon judgments that are outside our personal responsibilities….

A fourth principle of a righteous intermediate judgment of a person is that we should, if possible, refrain from judging until we have adequate knowledge of the facts.…

A fifth principle of a righteous intermediate judgment is that whenever possible we will refrain from judging people and only judge situations. This is essential whenever we attempt to act upon different standards than those of others with whom we must associate–at home, at work, or in the community. We can set and act upon high standards for ourselves or our homes without condemning those who do otherwise….

A final ingredient or principle of a righteous judgment is that it will apply righteous standards. If we apply unrighteous standards, our judgment will be unrighteous. By falling short of righteous standards, we place ourselves in jeopardy of being judged by incorrect or unrighteous standards ourselves. The fundamental scripture on the whole subject of not judging contains this warning: ‘For with what judgment je judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again’ (Matthew 7:2; see also 3 Nephi 14:2)….

A standard can be unrighteous because it is too harsh–the consequences are too severe for the gravity of the wrong and the needs of the wrongdoer…. [1]

Conclusion

Can and do people—including and especially Christians—judge unrighteously? Of course.

But, the mere presence of a judgment is not sufficient evidence that such unrighteous judgment has occurred. To make that judgment, ironically, requires the same approach as any judgment. It requires judging.

So, we all must and will make such judgments. We might as well be honest with ourselves that we are making them.

It is either that, moral nihilism, or self-deception.

Jesus hadn’t much patience with the last two options—you might even say he judged them as wanting.

Endnotes

========

[1] Dallin H. Oaks, “Judge Not and Judging,” address given at BYU on 1 March 1998, reproduced in Brigham Young University 1997–98 Speeches; all citations here are from this address unless otherwise noted.

Avoiding spiritual gangrene

God refuses to give his children an aspirin for treating the consequences of sin when what we need is surgery. He will refuse to give us a rubdown when what we need are splints or a cast. He is not a silent, indifferent monarch in the sky, nor is he an indulgent grandfather figure who will give his children the irrelevant and incomplete therapy of partial truth. Only a portion of what he knows can we understand; and so much of what he would have us avoid, we must avoid by simple faith in what lies behind his “divine don’t.” This leaves us in a position like that of Adam, who acted in part on faith: “I know not, save the Lord commanded me.” (Moses 5:6.)

 Neal A. Maxwell, “Talk of the Month,” New Era(May 1971).

More and more I am seeing a strange idea. The idea is often present implicitly, but I’m starting to see it stated outright, as a sort of axiom or self-evident point.

That claims is that nothing God will ask of us would make us unhappy, or cause us discomfort, or make us suffer, or ask us to give up something good.

Certainly, nothing God asks will make us unhappy in the long view—but that long view extends beyond death and into the millennial years of the Lord.

“My kingdom is not of this world,” however.

For those who push it, the utility of this point of view is clear, though—one can simply use one’s reaction against a commandment or demand as evidence for whether it comes from God.

With such reasoning, Lehi’s journey in the desert could have been safely discarded. Indeed, Laman and Lemuel did so, complaining years later that but for Lehi’s visionary nature,

it would have been better that they had died before they came out of Jerusalem than to have suffered these afflictions. Behold, these many years we have suffered in the wilderness, which time we might have enjoyed our possessions and the land of our inheritance; yea, and we might have been happy” (1 Nephi 17:20-21, italics added).

Those who so argue will find many with welcoming, itching ears. But, those are not ears that have listened very closely to Jesus’ warnings. Eyes and hands are unarguably good things. Yet, Jesus tells us that even they must be severed and cast from us, on occasion. And, not insignificantly, such warnings come in the context of sexual morality:

But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell (Matthew 5:28–30).

One of the cruelest things people do is assure others that their sins aren’t sins, or that they won’t be regarded as sins for long. This distracts from the steeling of self to do the plucking out, cutting off, and casting away.

Such things will undoubtedly hurt. But, it is a poor physician who assures you that a soothing poultice will do when amputation is the only answer. Gangrene does, eventually, set in.

And when it does, the quack is nowhere to be found.

“However” organizations versus “therefore” organizations

President Boyd K. Packer tells an interesting story:

Professors from Harvard University who were members of the Church [of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] invited me to lunch over at the Harvard Business School faculty dining room. They wanted to know if I would join them in participating in a new publication; they wanted me to contribute to it.

They were generous in their compliments, saying that because I had a doctorate a number of people in the Church would listen to me, and being a General Authority,…I could have some very useful influence.

I listened to them very attentively but indicated at the close of the conversation that I would not join them. I asked to be excused from responding to their request. When they asked why, I told them this: “When your associates announced the project, they described how useful it would be to the Church-a niche that needed to be filled. And then the spokesman said, ‘We are all active and faithful members of the Church; however,…’ ”

I told my two hosts that if the announcement had read, “We are all active and faithful members of the Church; therefore,…” I would have joined their organization. I had serious questions about a “however” organization. I have little worry over a “therefore” organization.[1]

The above story is about a specific religious denomination and a specific organization, but that really isn’t what I want to point out. For Pres. Packer, his faith was his item of ultimate allegiance.

We all have one—and it’s interesting to think about what it might be. It can be useful to fill in the blank:

“I am [blank], therefore….”

There are many options:

  • A believing Catholic
  • A skeptical humanist
  • A red-blooded American
  • A police officer
  • An intellectual
  • A parent to my children

What would you put in the blank, such that you cannot picture yourself ever saying,

“I am [blank], however….”?

Ultimately, we have only one thing that always yields a “therefore”—everything else will, when push comes to shove, be a “however” that bows to that “therefore.”


 

[1] Boyd K. Packer, Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1991), 113.

The ninth commandment is neglected, being seldom discussed at any length. There are so many different ways to breach “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). We can spread falsehood knowingly and maliciously rather than inadvertently. Perhaps that is the worst form of breaking this commandment. We can also spread falsehood by simply passing it along in the form of idle gossip without malicious intent, which is somewhat mitigating. Either way, the innocent victim usually experiences a double blow: first, damage to his self-image/self-confidence; second, the diminished regard of others. Additionally, the victim probably comes to have diminished regard, even anger, toward those who so traffic in untruth.

– Neal A. Maxwell, That Ye May Believe (Bookcraft, 1992).

It is interesting, and telling, that the victim in this case also has the added burden of struggling against a sin that he or she would not have been liable to: harsh feelings toward the gossip. The victim of gossip must overcome these feelings, but that doesn’t mean the gossip is guiltless of inducing the sin either.

I always sobered by how evil–or even careless–acts tend to ramify and spread. One hopes good acts are as hardy.

Neal A. Maxwell on bearing false witness

Timely quotes on the passing scene–Part 7: Other scriptures

Book of Mormon:

Therefore I say unto you, that he that will not hear my voice, the same shall ye not receive into my church, for him I will not receive at the last day. Therefore I say unto you, Go; and whosoever transgresseth against me, him shall ye judge according to the sins which he has committed; and if he confess his sins before thee and me, and repenteth in the sincerity of his heart, him shall ye forgive, and I will forgive him also. 30 Yea, and as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me….Now I say unto you, Go; and whosoever will not repent of his sins the same shall not be numbered among my people; and this shall be observed from this time forward….

And it came to pass that Alma went and judged those that had been taken in iniquity, according to the word of the Lord. And whosoever repented of their sins and did confess them, them he did number among the people of the church; And those that would not confess their sins and repent of their iniquity, the same were not numbered among the people of the church, and their names were blotted out. (Mosiah 26:28-36)

 

Bible:

Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened.  For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without?  do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth.  Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person. (1 Corinthians 5:6-13)

Timely quotes on the passing scene–Part 6: Doctrine and Covenants

D&C 134:10

We believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members for disorderly conduct, according to the rules and regulations of such societies; provided that such dealings be for fellowship and good standing; but we do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or life, to take from them this world’s goods, or to put them in jeopardy of either life or limb, or to inflict any physical punishment upon them.  They can only excommunicate them from their society, and withdraw from them their fellowship.

D&C 42:90-93: Why are some discipline matters announced publicly?

And if thy brother or sister offend many, he or she shall be chastened before many. And if any one offend openly, he or she shall be rebuked openly, that he or she may be ashamed.  And if he or she confess not, he or she shall be delivered up unto the law of God. If any shall offend in secret, he or she shall be rebuked in secret, that he or she may have opportunity to confess in secret to him or her whom he or she has offended, and to God, that the church may not speak reproachfully of him or her. And thus shall ye conduct in all things.

D&C 41:5

He that receiveth my law and doeth it, the same is my disciple; and he that saith he receiveth it and doeth it not, the same is not my disciple, and shall be cast out from among you;

D&C 50:6-9

But wo unto them that are deceivers and hypocrites, for, thus saith the Lord, I will bring them to judgment. Behold, verily I say unto you, there are hypocrites among you, who have deceived some, which has given the adversary power; but behold such [those deceived by hypocrites] shall be reclaimed; But the hypocrites shall be detected and shall be cut off, either in life or in death, even as I will; and wo unto them who are cut off from my church, for the same are overcome of the world. Wherefore, let every man beware lest he do that which is not in truth and righteousness before me.

D&C 64:34-35

Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days. And the rebellious shall be cut off out of the land of Zion, and shall be sent away, and shall not inherit the land.

D&C 85:11

And they who are of the High Priesthood, whose names are not found written in the book of the law, or that are found to have apostatized, or to have been cut off from the church, as well as the lesser priesthood, or the members, in that day shall not find an inheritance among the saints of the Most High;

 

Timely quotes on the passing scene–Part 3: The Abuse of President Uchdorf

In another desperate attempt to imply that one can do or say anything and remain a member of the Church in good standing, some are quoting President Uchdorf:

Regardless of your circumstances, your personal history, or the strength of your testimony, there is room for you in this Church.

— Dieter F. Uchdorf, “Come, Join With Us,” Ensign (November 2013).

Things Unsaid

There are a number of things which President Uchdorf does not say in this sentence:

  • He does not say, “regardless of what you teach to others as the truth, there is room for you.”
  • He does not say, “regardless of what you induce others to do, there is room for you.”
  • He does not say, “regardless of how you try to force Church leaders to act through public-pressure and political tactics, there is room for you.”
  • He does not say, “regardless of what truths you deny and what untruths you spread, there is room for you.”

Things Unquoted

There are also a number of phrases from the very same talk which rather undercut what those charged with apostasy would like us to conclude.

President Uchdorf said:

[A non-member] met a nice couple who represented The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and asked, “What do you require of your members?”

We do not require anything,” they replied. “But the Lord asks that we consecrate all.”

If God requires everything of us, that would seem to include such things as:

  • our desire for power and control
  • our desire for prestige or dominance
  • our desire to use pressure tactics to push for change
  • our doubts, our worries, or our hangups.

This leads to another of President Uchdorf’s quotes, which those circles who support or encourage apostates have treated with considerable scorn:

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters—my dear friends—please, first doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.

We consecrate our doubts through our walk of discipleship. We do not fondle them, spread them, or loudly declare that others should share or embrace them.

Some might say, “I don’t think I could live up to your standards.”

All the more reason to come! The Church is designed to nourish the imperfect, the struggling, and the exhausted. It is filled with people who desire with all their heart to keep the commandments, even if they haven’t mastered them yet.

No one is perfect with the standards of a Christian life. But, there is no room for those who decry such standards, or teach others to violate those standards, or who argue that such standards are oppressive or evil:

None of us is quite as Christlike as we know we should be. But we earnestly desire to overcome our faults and the tendency to sin. With our heart and soul we yearn to become better with the help of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

All are welcome who are likewise engaged. But, it is a huge strain to believe that President Uchdorf meant that it’s OK to be part of the Church while flaunting our sin, denying that it is sin, or encouraging others to sin, to “call good evil, and evil good.”

Will we also go away? Or will we, like Peter, hold fast to the words of eternal life?….I plead with all who hear or read these words: Come, join with us. Come heed the call of the gentle Christ. Take up your cross and follow Him.

This last is the core of President Uchdorf’s message–join with us in Christian discipleship. And, that includes taking up the cross, and following Him. Or, as he said elsewhere:

Brethren, discipleship is a lifelong journey following our Savior. Along our metaphorical path from Bethlehem to Golgotha, we will have many opportunities to abandon our journey. At times it will seem that the path requires more than we had wished for. But as men of the priesthood, we must have the courage to follow our Redeemer, even when our cross seems too heavy to bear. [“Four Titles,” Ensign (May 2013).]

To take up the cross is to bear our burdens, our weaknesses, and our thwarted desires. There may be sins we desperately want to commit–we should, instead, take up the cross and not commit them. There may be things we don’t want to do, but should–we should take up the cross, and do them.

We must “hold fast to the words of eternal life”–embrace the scriptures, not denigrate them as nineteenth-century fictions concocted by a fraud.

There is room for everyone who wishes to follow Christ, and will show it by their acts.

If you do not wish to follow Christ–if you wish to deny him, reject his divinity, mock his atonement, criticize those whom he has called to lead, deny his commandments and teach others to neglect them: you may well find (to our chagrin but not our surprise) that there is no place for that. As President Uchdorf taught elsewhere:

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are united in our testimony of the restored gospel and our commitment to keep God’s commandments. But we are diverse in our cultural, social, and political preferences. [“Four Titles,” Ensign (May 2013).]

His invitation is to this unity–a unity of belief in the gospel, and commitment to obey. If we reject that belief and fight against it and urge others to adopt our way of thinking, if we disparage and actively work against commandment keeping in ourselves or others–we may find ourselves on the outside, looking in.

Other ignored addresses

Those who are anxious to twist President Uchdorf’s words also ignore other counsel which he has given that does not mesh with their view that you can say anything and do anything and remain a member of the Church in good standing.

For example:

Those who are selfish seek their own interests and pleasure above all else. The central question for the selfish person is “What’s in it for me?”

Brethren, I am sure you can see that this attitude is clearly contrary to the spirit required to build God’s kingdom.

When we seek self-service over selfless-service, our priorities become centered on our own recognition and pleasure.

Past generations had their struggle with variations of egotism and narcissism, but I think today we are giving them serious competition. Is it any coincidence that the Oxford Dictionary recently proclaimed “selfie” as the word of the year?…

What is the remedy?

The answer, as always, lies in the words of Christ…. [“Are You Sleeping Through the Restoration?,” Ensign (May 2014).]

Such teaching requires that we lay aside our priorities, obsessions, hang-ups, and hobby-horses. Once again, we must embrace Christ and his word–which leaves little room for one who would deny Christ, ridicule his word, and urge others so to do.

When we are tempted to do things we should not do, let us listen to the loving warning of trusted family and friends, our beloved prophet, and always the Savior.

Church membership involves things we will and won’t do. What is to be done for those who urge us to ignore the prophets, ignore the Savior’s teachings, and do those things we should not do? Are we really to believe President Uchdorf thinks such people should be given free reign?

Often we devote our best efforts in pursuit of a hobby, a sport, vocational interests, and community or political issues. All these things may be good and honorable, but are they leaving us time and energy for what should be our highest priorities? (emphasis added)

Many of those currently charged with apostasy have political priorities that are very dear to them. Some seem to put these priorities over their covenants, over their obedience to Christ and his prophets. They encourage others to do likewise.

I wonder why they cling so tightly to one (misinterpreted and decontextualized) sentence from one Church leader, when that same leader and dozens of others have also clearly taught that what they are doing is wrong?

Are they trying to persuade us? Or themselves?