Society Magazine

Lake Wobegon Mormons

By Rockwaterman
Lake Wobegon MormonsLast month an anonymous reader left a comment which read in part:
"This is the most disgusting thing I've ever read in my life. I don't know what's worse: the article, or the comments. These members of the Church are of the worst kind. They literally make me sick."
I was immediately relieved to discover he wasn't referring to anything I had written, but to a piece by someone else I had linked to.  The commenter was referring to an article over at the Millenial Star blog entitled "Please Don't Question Church Leaders On Finances."  Here is the rest of his comment:
"Maybe they should take a break from reading the Ensign for a while, and try giving the D&C a perusal. But then again, why would they want to? The D&C, according to the modern faithful Monsonite, is full of apostate teachings, like accountability and discipline of Church leaders, the principles of transparency and common consent, not trusting in the arm of flesh, etc.

"D&C 104:71: "And there shall not any part of it be used, or taken out of the treasury, only by the voice and common consent."

"It is our RIGHT to question Church leadership on finances. If you don't like what the Lord has to say on the subject, then stop pretending to be the Church of Christ, and admit you're just the Church of Monson, acting in open opposition to the word of God."
I felt the writer's use of the word "disgusting" to describe the opinions expressed at Millenial Star to be a bit harsh, but I understand where this guy is coming from.  It is views such as those expressed in the piece he's criticizing that contribute to the image that Mormonism is a cult.  After all, the difference between a religion and a cult is that religions generally worship some god or another, while a cult is marked by obedience and blind devotion to a mere man or group of men. When members of the LDS church provide this kind of aid and comfort to our enemies by demonstrating such cultish attributes, I'm inclined to agree there is cause for concern.
I generally like reading the stuff they feature over at the Millenial Star; that blog is often quite informative. But I have to agree with my reader about that particular piece being beyond the pale. You can judge for yourself by clicking here.
The author of that Millenial Star piece was himself reacting in righteous indignation to those of us concerned over the current policy of hiding Church finances from the general membership.  We maintain this practice is both improper, and a violation of Church law.  We are asking that the Church return to doing things the way the Lord commanded they be done, and to that end a petition has been circulating requesting the leadership abide by God's imperative in this matter.  The writer at the Millenial Star sees things differently, insisting that how or where the leaders spend our tithes is simply none the member's business.
One of the things I find unsettling about this piece is the clear inference that those of us wishing to see the general authorities abide by their legitimate responsibilities are somehow siding with the adversary to "destroy our faith in the Church." 
Yet I can find nowhere in scripture to indicate we are instructed to have faith in the Church.  Joseph Smith taught that the very first principle of the gospel is "faith in the Lord Jesus Christ," not faith in the Church. The Church has an essential place in our lives, but as many people have learned, to put one's faith in an earthly organization made up of fallible people like you and me (D&C 10:67) can lead to a crisis of faith when those people inevitably disappoint.  As I have demonstrated previously, putting your trust in the earthly institution is a good way to keep your vision focused downward toward the mundane and diverted from looking heavenward and "doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God." 
In support of his argument that we members should not be informed about what the leaders do with our tithes, the writer quotes from former Church Presidents Gordon B. Hinckley and Spencer W. Kimball. Hinckley has assured us that the leaders "are constantly aware of the great and sacred trust imposed upon us as officers of the Church," and tells a story of how his father taught him that what the authorities of the Church do with the tithes he pays "need not concern" him.
It is all well and good to get Hinckley's take on the topic, and it's nice to know what his father thought about it, but since when does the president of the church teach doctrine he got from his daddy?  The thing that is missing from Hinckley's statement is any reference to what the Lord himself commanded on the subject.  Young Gordon's father may have been a good and honorable man, but his opinion does not trump scripture. And it is the scriptures that call for financial transparency.
The statement provided by President Kimball is equally insipid, but at least Kimball started out by admitting he was only expressing his opinion.  The writer seems to have elevated these two musings to the level of decrees from on high, apparently forgetting Joseph Smith's admonition that a prophet is only a prophet when he is speaking as a prophet.  When any of these men is expressing an opinion, he is not speaking for the Lord, and his statements are not to be taken as doctrine.
If we are to take seriously our popular assertion that Jesus Christ is the head of this church, then we should begin to show more interest in what the position of Christ happens to be on a particular point. Previous revelations make clear the Lord agrees with President Hinckley that the leaders have a sacred trust imposed upon them; but as a part of that trust they are expected to provide a full financial accounting to the general membership every April.  Contrary to the opinion of Hinckley's father, the scriptures are clear that what the Church does with the tithes we pay should very much concern us.
This is what those circulating the petition are asking the leaders to consider; that the Church return to its former practice of providing a thorough accounting of how Church funds are spent, so that the members can perform their part by either voicing or withholding their consent. That's all we want, a return to the doctrine the Church is required to obey, and which used to be followed every year without fail. 
Nowhere in that petition is there any suggestion that the petitioners want to direct the disbursement of funds themselves, or that they know better how the money should be spent because they are smarter and wiser than Church leadership.
Yet this is what the writer of that article claims.  He builds a straw man argument that has no relation to anything in the text of the petition, then provides additional quotes from Church leaders knocking that straw man down.  No one begrudges our Church leader's role in directing the disbursement of funds. That's what leaders are for.  But after those funds have been disbursed, the members are to be provided an annual report so they can have informed consent pursuant to the will of the Lord.  To suggest that the petitioners wish to direct the spending of the money themselves is dishonest and misleading, reminiscent of the kind of mischaracterizations readily found in anti-Mormon literature.  Perhaps it's understandable why my commenter calls this piece "disgusting." It is a deliberate distortion.
But perhaps a more appropriate word to describe this opposition to scriptural imperative might be "baffling." After all, judging by the number of commenters who agree with the writer at the Millenial Star, there are a large number of otherwise devout members of this church whose belief system is in sync with his.  For example, one reader wrote, "I second this. Nothing makes me sadder than when members question the Brethren."
Really? Nothing? How about when the Brethren ignore God's commandments? Shouldn't That make us just a little bit sad?
Reading this piece and the comments that followed, I was struck by the proclivity of these people to vigorously denounce those who merely suggested that perhaps, as the apostle Peter declared in Acts 5:29, "we ought to obey God rather than men."
This is an intriguing puzzle. Just how did it happen that so many believing latter-day Saints, good folks who belong to the same church as you and me, could arrive at such dissimilar systems of belief when it comes to a question of whether we are better off trusting in the arm of flesh, or following the sacred word of God?
In other words, how did the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which began as a theocracy (government by God) find itself largely transformed into an oligarchy (government by a small group of dominant elites)?
For the answer to that, it might be instructive to trace our history back several generations to the days of the early Mormon pioneers.
Joseph Smith's Other Biographer
Lake Wobegon MormonsA good many Latter-day Saints are unaware of the excellent biography of Joseph Smith written by Professor Robert V. Remini.  That's unfortunate, because Remini, though not LDS, is America's foremost historian of the Jacksonian era, the age when Joseph Smith and Mormonism took to the stage.  His biography of the prophet is a fair and sympathetic one, but what Remini brings to the story is the bigger picture.  He knows this time period front and back. Most of us in the church have studied Mormon history in a vacuum, as though our people were isolated from the rest of the country.  Remini provides a context missing from most Mormon histories, as he is intimately familiar with the religious landscape, politics, and the national character of the time.  Remini places Joseph Smith and the Mormons within the tapestry of all else that was going on in America in the early 19th century.  And from this we can deduce what kind of people the typical early Mormons were.
Frontier America in the 1820s, 30s, and 40s was the breeding ground of a nation of rugged individualists, particularly around Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois, where the incipient LDS church was sprouting. Most of the people alive at the time were either the children or grandchildren of those who had fought for America's independence from England.  Having recently thrown off the British crown, most Americans -particularly those on the frontier- vigorously objected to anyone who might try to place any kind of yoke upon them.  Anyone trying to impose his will on a feisty frontier American had better be able to prove his right of authority, or suffer some bruises for his impertinence.
One of the reasons we Mormons had so much trouble getting along with the Missourians was because some of our people were so much like them.  If a pack of Missourians raided a Mormon farm, a pack of Mormons was likely to gather the next night to ride off and burn out the farm of some Missourian.  Frontier Mormons could give as good as they got, often ignoring the rules of engagement revealed by God in Doctrine & Covenants 98 which required them to "bear it patiently and revile not against them."  Like famous frontiersmen Mike Fink and Davy Crockett, native born Mormons weren't the types to take any crap. The prophet Joseph had a devil of a time trying to keep some of these people in check.
But these early Mormons were diamonds in the rough, and their character was such that if you didn't try to lord it over them, you could get along with the Mormons quite well, as the Latter-day Saints were, by and large, a loving and accepting people.  Mormonism had at it's core a libertarian, live-and-let live philosophy, one reason it has been called The American Religion.  It was a faith where a man could believe as he wished and no ecclesiastical authority tried to rule over him.
By the time the city of Nauvoo was five years old, a large influx of converts had poured in from England, and at the time of Joseph Smith's death, it is estimated the population of Mormons had reached well over 20,000.  About10,000 of them elected to follow Brigham Young to the Rockies, and an overwhelming majority of that number were these new British converts.
These Brits were no less rugged than the Americans, but they were somewhat less spirited, and in that way they differed a bit from their rough and tumble frontier counterparts. Most of these people had belonged to the poor and servant classes of England; they were the coal miners, footmen, carriage drivers, and stable boys; charwomen, scullery maids, cooks, and servant girls.  They had more in common with the characters in Dickens novels than those of Jane Austen. In their home country these humble people had been accustomed to continually being told what was expected of them, and conditioned by centuries of class distinction to the understanding that they were to be subservient to their betters. They were brought up to know their place, and were ever careful not to overstep it.
The strong-willed "Lion of the Lord," Brigham Young, was well-suited to lead and dominate such a people, for many of them were unused to making decisions on their own.  After the murder of the Prophet, a large number of them quite literally did not know what to do next. Many of these new Mormons had been brought into the church by Brigham Young himself, or by some of the other apostles such as Heber Kimball, John Taylor, Orson Pratt and Orson Whitney, all of whom had served missions in the British Isles, and who now made up the new hierarchy of the Church in Utah.  It was natural for the converts to subvert their will to what some saw as the ruling class of the Church. They neither questioned Church authority, nor felt they had a right to.
My own great-great grandfather, Charles Law, was among the thousands of British converts who came across the plains and joined those already settled in Utah. He was not much different from the others.  If Brigham Young told one of these Saints to pack up his family and move to some faraway outpost such as Cedar City or Santa Clara, or even deep into Nevada or California territory, that Saint didn't ask any questions. He simply did as he was told.
I have never read an account of any of these early Mormons who described their move to the hinterlands as having been their own decision.  Rare also is any account of leaving the relative comfort of Salt Lake City as a result of a personal witness that the Lord wanted him to move.  It was always "Brother Brigham says I must go, and so I go."
Of course, Brigham's main reason for wanting settlements in all the outlying areas was not religious; it was so that he could establish the borders of Deseret.  Having people living in these distant borderlands was necessary to staking a claim to the Mormon empire.  But it's questionable whether the Lord actually revealed to Brigham that Brother So-and-So should leave the main body of Saints and go spend the rest of his life far away from friends and loved ones.  As Brigham Young famously admitted, he was not a prophet as were Joseph Smith and Daniel, and no one at the time considered him a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator as Joseph Smith had been.  So it's a testimony to his strong personality that so many would pull up roots and follow his orders without questioning whether those orders came from the mouth of God or simply the desires of Brigham Young.
Nordic Invasion
On my first visit to Utah as a young teenager from California, I had expected to find a bunch of hunched-over, plain looking girls wearing calico and bonnets.  Imagine my surprise to find the majority of girls I met were statuesque blondes.  These, I later learned, were the Petersons and Sorensons and Lunds, descended from the huge migration of converts who had joined the church in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.  Between 1850 and 1904, 22,653 of these Scandinavian converts joined the Saints already in Utah.  In many ways these Nordic converts were similar in temperament to the English already there.
I don't pretend to understand the cultural influences that molded the character of those from the Scandinavian countries, but it is telling that a 19th century Mormon immigrant farmer in Utah differed little from his counterpart in Minnesota.  They tended to be sturdy, stoic, and rugged, with one other marked characteristic: neither the Scandinavian who immigrated to Minnesota, or the Scandinavian who gathered to Zion were inclined to question religious authority.
If you're familiar with Garrison Keillor's stories of the inhabitants of Lake Wobegon, you may recognize the type.  Although the rural town of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota is a fictional village, Keillor based his stories on real people he knew and grew up with in rural Minnesota. The people he fondly writes about are good, salt of the earth types; fine neighbors, taciturn, and slow to pick a quarrel.  They are a people known for a preference of minding their own business.  And just as the Scandinavian immigrants in Utah tended to be good Mormons, those in Minnesota were known to be good Lutherans.  Even if they disagreed with their pastor, they would go along quietly rather than risk an uncomfortable confrontation.   Above all, these Lutherans were respectful and obedient to religious authority -which is a bit ironic really, since Martin Luther himself was probably the biggest religious dissenter of all time.
This similarity between the Mormon and the Minnesota pioneers came to mind recently while Connie and I were watching a sweet little independent film which was aptly titled "Sweet Land." It's a realistic portrayal of a community of immigrant farmers living in Minnesota just after the first world war. The story involves a reticent Norwegian farmer with a Moe Howard haircut who sends to his homeland for a wife, sight unseen.  When she arrives at the station, he and his new fiance are taken directly to the church to be married.  But at the altar it is suddenly learned that although the bride hails from Norway, she happens to be a German national.  The pastor is horrified at this revelation, as during the war just past, German women were all understood to be either prostitutes, harlots, or spies.  He refuses to marry one of his parishioners to a German woman, and sends everyone home.  "There will be no wedding," he declares.
Lake Wobegon MormonsHaving no where else to go, Inge stays in the home of her intended, Olaf, while Olaf sleeps in the barn.  This only makes things worse, because although the two of them are perfectly chaste, appearances result in their getting expelled from the congregation.  The couple work the farm together, always careful to keep their distance from one another.  Over the harvest season we see they are falling in love, even though they never get close enough to each other to touch.  Eventually there is a scene wherein Inge comes right out and tells the pastor in her broken English that whether he marries them or not, they are married in God's eyes. "You not marry us, but in my heart I know I am married."
That night after their usual silent supper together, Inge goes upstairs to bed as Olaf takes the lantern and prepares once again to head out to the barn.  Inge, hidden from view, calls down from the top of the stairs.
"Olaf?"
"Vhat?"
"Come."
Olaf hesitates. "Vhat?"
"Come."
And the viewer cheers because these two are finally going to live as man and wife as we know they are meant to.
And why not?  We want Olaf and Inge to be together because we sense instinctively that is what God himself would want for these two. This idea that a couple is not wed unless a ceremony has been  performed is one born of tradition and not etched in stone.  All it takes under American common law to be married (and this has been borne out over centuries the world over) is for the bride and groom to decide they are married.  Sure, it doesn't hurt to have witnesses, and it's a good idea to write up a certificate of marriage signed by the both of you, but the bible shows us that all God requires for a man and woman to be married is that they vow to cleave unto one another and none else.
In Genesis 30, for instance, we learn that Jacob selected Bilhah to wife and simply "went in unto her." That was it. There was no ceremony and no license.  Throughout most of recorded history, the wedding night was the ceremony.  Nothing else is needed for a marriage to be lawful in God's eyes; certainly not the approval of any earthly authority.
Smug Mormons who might scoff at these simple Minnesota farmers for allowing one stubborn country pastor to hold such control over them for such a long period of time might do well to remember we share much of that same DNA. In fact, as I was watching this movie, it put me in mind of a film I had seen produced by the LDS Church which promoted what I consider to be a very disturbing message.
The Worst Church Movie Ever
"Godly Sorrow" is a well-meaning short film on repentance produced for the department of Seminaries and Institutes. You can find it for about six bucks at Deseret Book as one of the lessons embedded on the New Testament DVD. It concerns a sweet LDS girl about to be married in the temple to the man of her dreams, "a return missionary and good student" played by a young Aaron Eckhart before he was famous.
So we open with this girl, Kim, in her bishop's office having a final interview just days before the wedding.  The invitations have been sent, the wedding dress has been bought, everything is ready for the big day.  After a little chit-chat about how much Kim is looking forward to her wedding day, her bishop, played by Chuck Metten of the BYU theater department, asks the dreaded question.
"Is there anything in your life, Kim, that hasn't been resolved with the proper priesthood authority?"
Uh-oh.
Kim cautiously admits that "before Matt returned from his mission, I was involved with another boy. We probably spent a little too much time together alone." The film doesn't give us the details, but Kim assures the bishop that she's not involved with that guy anymore, it was a long time ago, it's behind her, and now she is deeply in love with her husband-to-be.
None of that is good enough for Bishop Metten.  He pulls rank and tells her this is a very serious matter.  More than that, he pulls her temple recommend and, like the pastor in Sweet Land, tells her there will be no wedding, at least until he decides she has shown a sufficient degree of Godly sorrow.
The film doesn't tell us, but we all know what that means. Kim is going to be on probation for at least a year.
"But I'm not involved with that guy anymore," Kim pleads, "It's not a problem now."
"I'm sorry, Kim," the bishop explains in a patronizing tone, "True repentance is not merely the stopping of something that's wrong.  It's much more involved."  What that involves apparently is seeing Kim publicly humiliated for something in her past, a sin that should be of no concern to anyone but Kim and her future husband.
Lake Wobegon Mormons"But the wedding is coming up!" Poor Kim is frantic now, and crying. "The announcements have been sent out!"
Doesn't matter. The bishop is in charge now, and he has decided the problem has not been resolved.  Why? Probably because Kim hadn't mentioned this matter to him before.  He is, after all, "the proper priesthood authority" over her, and perhaps he resents having been kept in the dark.
When Confession Is Bad For The Soul
Ever since I was a deacon I have been conditioned to believe that God required me to spill my guts to my bishop over every little indiscretion.  It turns out that wasn't based on doctrine, it was based on conditioning.
Our bishops sacrifice a lot of time and energy into serving us, and for that they deserve our gratitude and unending support.  But we should never relinquish control of our lives to them.  God called these men to serve us, not to manage our lives.  We are responsible to God for our sins. No man has the power to forgive us, to punish us, or to be the one who decides whether we have spent enough time repenting.  Joseph Smith used to excommunicate people for sexual sin, then turn right around and reinstate them once he saw they were sincerely penitent.  He knew God's forgiveness was immediate, and understood he had an obligation to forgive as well.  In those days our leaders were guided by the spirit, not by the Church Handbook of Instruction.
So Kim's temple wedding is postponed indefinitely.  This being a Church film, there is no talk of going ahead with a civil marriage in the meantime.  In our community talk of that sort is off the table, so there's no way the possibility of a civil marriage would even be hinted at in a Church sponsored production. (Never mind that Joseph Smith declared that an open and public marriage was to be the only kind permitted in this church.)
Bishop Metten does not offer to perform a church wedding for this whore, he just pulls the rug entirely out from under her.  Next we see a montage set to music of Kim having a rough go of it, throwing herself angrily on her bed, lying alone in her room, crying into her pillow, friends failing to be supportive, etc. There's even a scene where her own fiance awkwardly avoids talking to her when he bumps into her at school.  In the end we find Kim having a heart to heart with Matt where she admits the struggle and humiliation she had to endure has all been worth it.  She clearly hadn't been forgiven before the bishop decided she was, but now everything is hunky. 
Pardon me while I call bullshit.
The Law Governing Confession
Yes, we should experience Godly sorrow, and yes it's necessary to confess our sins if we are ever to obtain forgiveness, but the scriptures make clear this confession is to be made to God and/or to the person we have offended.  There are a couple of narrow and specific circumstances where bishops may be brought into the confession process, and those are laid out in our Doctrine and Covenants. Such situations are necessary to uphold the purity of the church, but they are actually pretty rare.
Situations like Kim's do not warrant this kind of ecclesiastical interference.  On the website LDS Anarchy, you can find a detailed post that walks you carefully through the law of God governing confession as provided by our Doctrine and Covenants.  Aside from these narrow conditions God has revealed to us, there isn’t a single passage of scripture that states or even hints that to receive forgiveness, a Latter-day Saint must seek out his bishop and confess to him a sin he has committed. It doesn't matter what you were raised to believe, it just simply isn't so.
Sweet young Kim owed an apology to the unnamed boy she had been involved with, and she owed an apology to young Brother Ekhart, who, based upon what we know about him these days, probably wouldn't have cared. What Kim didn't owe is any explanation or confession to her bishop.
Why did Kim admit something to her bishop that was really none of his business? Because, like most of us, she found it easier to accept the false teachings about her religion that she had been raised with rather than seek the true process as furnished in the word of God. The clumsily forced "lesson" promoted by this film to the contrary, Kim was actually harmed by this false teaching, as are many real life latter-day Saints who follow such vain traditions in the church.
If there is anything to find encouraging about this film, it is that it surely had the opposite effect from that expected.  I am convinced that most of our young people exposed to it, and seeing the way the protagonist's life was turned horribly upside down, resolved then and there to never divulge any private information to their bishop under any circumstance. Which is too bad, because sometimes it's helpful to have clergy to talk to for counsel, guidance, and encouragement. People in the protestant denominations enjoy this privilege without fearing the consequences, but in the modern LDS Church, the bishop has often become The Holy Exacter of Justice, and though that is not his proper role, a person desiring to simply talk to his bishop about personal matters never quite knows going in exactly how things might turn out.
This religion of ours is just crawling with the vain traditions of men; traditions we have come to accept as true for no other reason than we have heard them all our lives.  Whether we reject the idea that Church finances should be transparent simply because it's never been done that way in our lifetime, or believe God doesn't want us drinking beer because we think it is prohibited in the Word of Wisdom, we are often acting on our own and contrary to the desires of heaven.  Quite often we'll see otherwise faithful members vigorously defending a false teaching rather than embrace that which is true.
The Desert Incubator
On my mission I met a direct descendant of David Whitmer, and we had a long conversation about his prominent great-great grandfather.  This man was proud of his historical pedigree and delighted in sharing stories of his famous ancestor.  He even let me hold a peep stone that was passed down from his great-great grandfather and reported to have been owned by Joseph Smith. Oddly, a true appreciation for the doctrines of the Restoration embraced by this man's ancestor had not been handed down in his family.  He himself identified with a local protestant denomination.
David Whitmer had been a proud and independent man, but like many others who chose not to follow Brigham, he did not have a hand in expanding the religion. Instead his religion died with him.  Some unsuccessful attempts were made by men like Lyman Wight and James Strang to build up Zion, but those diverse groups had their preferred way of doing things and often lacked an overall sense of cooperation and unity.  So these branches of the church also splintered and dissipated.
The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (now renamed the Community of Christ), though somewhat more robust than the others, has always remained somewhat in the shadows. For a great many of the independent frontier Mormons who stayed behind, their religion failed to carry on through their descendants, to grow and expand the way it did with the Utah Saints, and it's possible that one reason for this is that so many of them were just too damned independent-minded to unite and build something together.
So I guess a case could be made that moving out to the desert under the strong leadership of Brigham Young gave the Utah Church a chance to incubate, to be nurtured through hardship and isolation, giving it time to grow strong and harden in a way that might have been impossible had those Saints remained back in the states.  I suppose the case could also be made that a humble and compliant membership may have been necessary for this growth to occur, a growth that could only attain with a people who obeyed their leaders without question in order to birth a cooperative community.  Individualism has its place, but individualism can sometimes get in the way of unity.
But I think a case could also be made that the time for the members of this church to offer blind obedience to authority is long past. Once celebrated as the fastest growing Church in the world, we are now losing strength as fast as we are losing members.  Statistics show us now to be a Church in decline.
I think a good deal of this atrophy can be directly linked to our merry acceptance of doctrines we think our religion teaches rather than what it actually stands for.  If we want to know the true doctrines, we are going to have to start going to the source.  That means investigating the scriptures and organic teachings, and few of us really do that with any alacrity.  We prefer the indirect approach, receiving our doctrine as filtered through manuals, commentaries, and faith promoting stories.
In his recent presentation, A Cultural History of the Book of Mormon, LDS social anthropologist Daymon Smith has shown how a lot of what we believe about the Book of Mormon isn't even in there.  Much of what we "know" to be true about it originated in children's stories written in the 1880s, which over time made it into the BYU curriculum and eventually into our Sunday School manuals.  If we are ever to return to a type of pure Mormonism, we are going to have to shed our preconceived notions about what is contained in our religion and look at the pure teachings.
Lake Wobegon MormonsWe ought to respect and honor the efforts of Church leaders, but when anyone insists that our safety is to be found only in following them, we must say to those people, "Thank you. We love you, and we appreciate your intentions, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."  These men may frequently have some valid counsel to offer, but we must not elevate their opinions to the level of scripture.  It is our responsibility to question those opinions, to examine them and confirm the truth of them by comparing them to the revealed word of God and the witness of the Holy Ghost. We are not greatly edified by tuning into conference and hearing sermons that differ little in theme or substance from those offered on other Christian television networks.
I am beginning to think that one reason God no longer communicates revelations through his living prophets in our day may be because we are no longer a believing people.  Why don't we see our prophet healing the sick or raising the dead, or even taking a hand in translating the Dead Sea Scrolls?  Is it because we have grown up in a church where such miracles have been absent so long we no longer expect them?  What would happen if someone got up in Fast and Testimony meeting and suddenly started speaking in tongues as was common in the church in Joseph Smith's day?
Well, we all know what would happen.  Someone in the bishopric would stand up and gently usher this person away from the podium, and we would all sit in awkward silence and feel embarrassed.
The church today is markedly different from the church in Kirtland, Missouri, and Nauvoo. Moroni prophesied in Mormon 9:20 that the reason God would cease to do miracles in our day is that in our day we will have dwindled in unbelief.  That's the reason, pure and simple. We lay our hands on a sick person and bless them to get better. But face it: we don't really believe they will instantly be healed on the spot and made whole. And so they are not.  If the most memorable thing our Prophet, Seer, and Revelator has done all year is make a celebrity appearance at a shopping center opening, it may be time to examine how far we've fallen.
God honors our free agency, and will therefore give us only as much as we ask for.  Some members of the body of Christ are offended at the suggestion that we should be doing things God's way.  Why, they ask, should we suddenly go back to a time when the Church provided financial transparency?  That has never been required during our lifetime, so why insist on it now?
The answer of course, is because God says so.  "Come unto me," the Lord says to the church in our day, "and I will show unto you the greater things, the knowledge of which is hid up because of unbelief."  But we aren't really interested in that stuff, are we?  We are satisfied just wading around in the lesser things, like looking to our leaders and obeying their rules. "Greater things" like the baptism of fire, the ministering of angels, and the gift of the second comforter might be too much for us to handle right now.  And so we dwindle in unbelief, all the while convinced that our belief is strong because we frequently testify that "we know the Church is true."
Our faith in "The Church" has never been stronger.  But that's just the problem, isn't it?
We don't really want this faith challenged, either.  We like having our ears tickled by the familiar, and so we don't learn anything in church as adults that we haven't already learned in primary.  We prefer the milk since meat is sometimes difficult to chew.

Lake Wobegon Mormons

Those who sit in "the chief seats in the synagogue." -Mark 12:39

If we ever expect to receive further light and knowledge from God, we are going to have to start actively seeking for it.  If we are satisfied with the vapid opinions of men, that's all we're ever going to get.  And if we don't wake up and demand more, this Church will continue to be run by a team of corporate suits rather than by Jesus Christ Himself.
[A note about leaving comments: Many readers have posted as "Anonymous" only because they see no other option. This has resulted in an epidemic of commenters all going by the same name, which can be confusing.  I would prefer everyone use some type of username.
If you don't have a Google, Wordpress, or other username among those listed, you can enter a username in the dropdown box that reads "Name/URL." Simply put your name in the "Name" box, ignore the request for a URL, and you should be good to go. If the system still insists on a URL, enter any website you care to.  It doesn't matter.
I have a pretty firm policy of never censoring or deleting comments.  If your comment does not immediately appear, it probably means it is being held in the spam filter, which seems to lock in arbitrarily on some posts for reasons unknown.  If you have submitted a comment and it doesn't immediately show up, give me a nudge at [email protected] and I'll knock it loose. -Rock]

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