Some LDS people may need reform, but not the LDS Church.

By | January 31, 2012

I read an opinion article by Carrie Sheffield in the Washington Post today that was somewhat disturbing. In it, the author calls for reform in the LDS Church (a.k.a. the “Mormon” Church), based largely on some of her own experiences.

While her experiences with some members the Church are unfortunate, most of the information she presents as fact is simply not representative of Church doctrine.

This is a somewhat lengthy post, but I feel it necessary to correct the misinformation Carrie is spreading. If you’re not interested in a long post about the LDS Church, I won’t be offended if you stop reading now 😉

Alright. Now that you’ve decided to keep reading, I’ll jump right in, starting with Carrie’s very first paragraph:

There has been much talk recently about whether America is ready for a Mormon president. This tolerance question should cut both ways.


Meanwhile, though the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life recently found that 56 percent of Mormons think America is ready for a Mormon president, the church isn’t exactly welcoming of outsiders.

… Not welcoming of outsiders? As of December 31, 2010 we had 52,225 active full-time missionaries, each of them specifically called to try to teach “outsiders” the gospel. Most of our church buildings have written in bold letters underneath the name, “VISITORS WELCOME”. Church members are encouraged to bring their friends to church.

But, perhaps she simply means that Church members don’t like voting for non-members:

Mormons account for 57 percent of Utah residents yet some 91 percent of Utah state legislators self-identify as Mormons. The state that’s home to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has elected only two non-Mormon governors in nearly 116 years and has sent just one non-Mormon to Congress in the past five decades.

The fact is, most of the people running for office in Utah are Mormons, so it should come as no surprise that most of the people that get elected are Mormons. It’s a little silly to use that to conclude that Mormons are somehow unwelcoming of “outsiders”.

But let’s see what the Church’s instructions are regarding voting:

Latter-day Saints as citizens are to seek out and then uphold leaders who will act with integrity and are wise, good, and honest. Principles compatible with the gospel may be found in various political parties.

I don’t know about you, but it seems somewhat difficult to find political candidates these days who “act with integrity” and are either wise, good, or honest (let alone all three).

A given political candidate may hold any number of a wide variety of positions on a wide variety of subjects; unless the candidate has been in office before, it is difficult to know how that candidate will behave in office.

As it happens, the LDS Church holds its members to a rather high standard. In order to remain a member in good standing, one must obey the teachings of the gospel. In particular, if I want to remain in good standing, I must be honest in my dealings with my fellow man.

Why is this relevant, you ask? It’s quite simple — if I know nothing about Mitt Romney other than the fact that he’s an active Mormon in good standing with the Church, then I can make several accurate assumptions about his character and how he will behave in office. I may not be able to specifically predict his choices on a given issue, nor can I say whether I will agree with him on everything, but I can say for certain that he will act in accordance with the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ, to the best of his ability and understanding.

I can’t say anything with that level of confidence about any of the other candidates, in any political party. This is one reason religion is an important factor in voting; it tells you something about a person. If you’re looking for someone who will uphold the teachings of Christ, will you vote for the man who goes to a Catholic mass once or twice a year and never even glances at a church in the meantime, or will you vote for the man who you know reads the scriptures and prays regularly?

As you can see, it has nothing to do with whether I welcome outsiders, and everything to do with what I know about the candidates as a direct result of their religious beliefs. I would wager that the same is true for the vast majority of Church members — we vote based on who we think will best uphold the Gospel of Christ, and I really doubt an atheist will ever be better at upholding the Gospel than an active member of the Church.

Now, let’s get back to Carrie’s article. We’ll see that she’s not basing her comments on the Church’s official doctrine, but merely on an unfortunate set of personal experiences that she may or may not be remembering correctly.

Yes, Mormons love families. But the family-values facade applies only if you stay in the fold. Former Mormons know the family estrangement and bigotry that often come with questioning or leaving the church.

Her family treated her poorly when she left the Church, therefore all Mormons must be the same, right?

It gets worse:

The church I was raised in values unquestioning obedience over critical thinking.

This is not true on several levels. First and most basic is that from a very young age, we tell our children to do three things, in this order:

  1. Search the scriptures
  2. Ponder what you have read
  3. Pray and ask if it is true

Missionaries teach the exact same series of steps to people of all ages. When I served my mission, I encouraged people to ask questions, to think about what things meant and whether they could be true. Then I invited them to pray and ask God, and testified to them that if they were sincere in their search for truth, God would answer them. And guess what? He did.

Never have I once heard anyone in the Church encourage “unquestioning obedience”.

Perhaps Carrie was simply unfortunate enough to have a misguided teacher or two. (I do not deny that some Church members might say such things; that does not make it Church doctrine, nor does it mean Carrie should judge the Church harshly as a result.)

Next Carrie moves on to issues of a scientific nature:

But I struggled after realizing that Mormonism’s claims about anthropology, history and other subjects contradict reason and science.

Carrie might have thought there were contradictions, but there are not; unfortunately, because she did not specify any of them, I cannot give any counter-examples.

Moving on:

While many faiths’ irrational claims are obscured by centuries of myth and rubble, the LDS church lacks the moderation and scholarship of its older peers.

I have no idea what this even means… so I have no idea how to respond. It’s not possible that she’s unaware the Church funds several respected universities with strong science programs, because later in the article she says she went to one of them.

[The LDS Church] also stifles efforts to openly question church pronouncements, labeling such behavior as satanic.

Again she leaves us with no examples, but I have never seen a Church leader do such a thing. I *can* give a counter-example, though; a while back, the Church came out officially in support of California’s Proposition 8. At no point did the Church require members to vote either way on the proposition, nor did the Church punish members who disagreed.

Carrie continues:

Critics of Mormonism include geneticists, Egyptologists and even the Smithsonian Institution, which stopped Mormon apologists from claiming the institute viewed the Book of Mormon as a factual document.

The first two are true, but not surprising. The third is true, to some degree; the Smithsonian did issue various statements over the years regarding what it viewed as problems with the Book of Mormon. Unfortunately, the Smithsonian’s statement is full of all sorts of holes, and isn’t a good source if you’re looking for valid criticism.

At any rate, there are critics of every organization and idea, and those critics come from a wide variety of backgrounds. It would be equally accurate to say that critics of Mormonism include the Pope and that one atheist guy who lives down the street, but that doesn’t make it relevant to the subject at hand.

While studying at Brigham Young University, I spiritually imploded after learning these things and other facts outside official church curriculum. Disturbed, I met with a high-ranking Mormon leader who told me to quit reading historical and scientific materials because they were “worse than pornography.” BYU’s dean of religious education wouldn’t answer my growing list of questions. Other leaders told me that questioning is acceptable so long as it’s done secretly.

This series of descriptions is what disturbed me, and is what prompted me to write this post. I want to make this abundantly clear:

Carrie’s experience is in no way representative of Church doctrine, nor does it reflect what I have heard from Church leaders.

However, I can’t help but think she misinterpreted some of what she heard. Did that high-ranking Mormon leader think she was reading anti-Mormon literature of the sort that is mostly invented accusations and mudslinging, in the guise of “history”? If so, yes, I would agree that such things are “worse than pornography”.

Did BYU’s Dean of religious education refuse to answer her questions because he couldn’t, as Carrie implies? Did she ask him in person, and if so, did he have time for such a discussion? If she wrote a letter or e-mail, how does she know he even read it? Deans aren’t exactly flush with free time. With no context to go on other than what Carrie says here, there’s no way to know, but given what I know of BYU, I find it difficult to accept her words at face value.

As for what “other leaders” told her, there are a number of pieces of advice that bitter memory could turn into “as long as it’s done secretly”.

I will reiterate again: I have never heard a Church leader advise a member to stop trying to think for themselves.

Salt Lake City’s male gerontocracy told me to avoid books and marry, but I could not stomach all their teachings.

(I’ll admit, I had to look up the definition of “gerontocracy”. I guess it’s technically accurate.) I’ve never heard Church leaders tell anyone to avoid books. Quite the opposite; the Church is rather emphatic in its encouragement that all Church members, male and female, seek a well-rounded education.

For example, mainstream Mormons banned polygamy in 1890 to obtain Utah’s statehood, but they continue to perform temple ceremonies that “seal” one man to multiple women in the hereafter.

I have two problems with this statement. The use of the word “mainstream” implies that there are Mormons who did not ban polygamy. Let me be clear: any Mormon found to be practicing polygamy is immediately excommunicated from the Church. Polygamy is not tolerated.

That said, I am unsure if I can explain “sealing” in this limited space to everyone’s satisfaction, as it would extend this discussion far beyond its current scope. A simple definition is that sealing makes a marriage eternal. If people are interested in a more thorough discussion of the topic, I would be happy to write another post on it, just leave a comment with that request.

Suffice it to say that her statement is only true in cases where there is a sealed couple where the wife dies, and the husband subsequently remarries; if both the husband and the second wife agree, the second wife may be sealed to the man as well. (If they choose not to do that, they may instead choose to be married for the duration of this life, rather than for eternity.) Nobody is forced into such an arrangement (though you could argue the first wife is), and it does not happen outside of that situation.

Those whose spouses leave the church are sometimes encouraged to get divorced and remarry a faithful Latter-day Saint.

Um… no. The Church would never advise or encourage a divorce based solely on the basis of a spouse leaving the Church — quite the opposite. (I’m quite familiar with how the Church handles divorces, and it’s not exactly a trivial process. If you want to annul a sealing, you have to convince everyone up the ladder that it’s necessary. “My spouse left the church” is not, by itself, sufficient reason.)

Non-Mormons are not allowed to attend family members’ weddings in Mormon temples.

This is true. I can understand why some see this as a bad thing. But it’s not an issue of “non-Mormons”, it’s an issue of “Mormons in good standing”. A Mormon who is not obedient to the gospel of Christ would not be permitted to attend, either.

Many gay Mormons have been driven to suicide, deeply conflicted about whether acting on their sexuality is, as the church teaches, a sin.

This does not surprise me. Some people choose suicide, as unfortunate as that is, but it seems disingenuous to blame the Church for those suicides. You may as well blame the FDA for the suicide of a chronically overweight person who could not reconcile their desire to eat more delicious ice cream with the FDA’s recommendations that an all ice-cream diet is not healthy. As the saying goes, don’t shoot the messenger!

The Church does not teach its members to avoid, antagonize, or otherwise mistreat individuals who identify themselves as homosexual. Quite the contrary; we are to treat them with love and respect, and encourage them to study the gospel of Christ. This does not require an antagonistic, fearful, or demeaning attitude; those attitudes are actually counter-productive.

With public interest in Mormonism so high, I hope the scrutiny will help break down the church’s fundamentalist trappings: secrecy about its finances, anti-women doctrine and homophobia, to start.

This is Carrie’s first mention of “secrecy about its finances”. Does she have some objection in particular? At any rate, the Church’s financial practices are well-documented, even if the actual numbers are not public.

I’ve never heard “anti-women doctrine” taught by the Church, so this is another accusation that falls in the “didn’t give examples” bucket. (I suppose you could count her vague references earlier in her article as examples, but if they count, they’re inadequate.)

As for “homophobia”, that’s just silly. There is a rather large difference between being afraid of someone for their sexual disposition, and simply teaching that acting on that disposition is wrong. As I said earlier, the Church does not condone antagonizing or mistreating homosexual individuals.

Perhaps someday the church will not excommunicate, fire and demote people who want honest, church-wide dialogue about Mormon history and doctrine.

That’s a serious accusation to level against the Church without even an example… and I rather doubt it has happened to someone who just wanted “honest, church-wide dialogue about Mormon history and doctrine”.

Carrie spent this entire column arguing that the LDS Church needs reform.  But she failed to do one very, very important thing (or if she did it, she failed to mention it, and thus missed the point of it entirely): She did not pray.  You cannot ignore one of the most basic principles of the gospel, and then complain that the gospel does not work.

Carrie, if you ever read this, I encourage you to do what we teach our children: Search, Ponder, and (most importantly) Pray.

24 thoughts on “Some LDS people may need reform, but not the LDS Church.

  1. Sam Curren

    Great post Dan. Against her claims of marriage over education, (not that there really must be a choice), I present a quote from President Hinckley:

    You need all the education you can get. Sacrifice a car; sacrifice anything that is needed to be sacrificed to qualify yourselves to do the work of the world. That world will in large measure pay you what it thinks you are worth, and your worth will increase as you gain education and proficiency in your chosen field.” -Gordon B. Hinckley, “A Prophet’s Counsel and Prayer for Youth,” Ensign, Jan. 2001, 2)

    Thanks for the post.

  2. Tiffiny Felix

    This was a perfect counter to her opinion piece. I wish it could be put next to her article so people could read both. There will be those who take what she writes at face value, and that’s really unfortunate. Nicely done 🙂

  3. Matt Jaeckel

    Well done! There was a talk given by Elder Richard G Hinckley that talked a bit about what Carrie is having issues with, too.

    It’s disheartening to hear a member that is struggling/has struggled with his/her faith paint sweeping generalizations about the Church as a whole.

    Everyone should read your rebuttal. Great Job

  4. Jettboy

    Thanks for this. I loved the response. Like others said, too bad Washington Post won’t print a counter opinion. That said, have you sent this to the editorial board?

    1. Dan

      I haven’t. Perhaps I should…

      (I fixed your typo and removed the extra post, hope you don’t mind.)

    2. Dan

      Unfortunately the Post’s op-ed article guidelines are quite specific, and therefore if I were to try submitting this post, they wouldn’t publish it:

      Submissions must be exclusive to us and can be of any length, though they are unlikely to be accepted if they are longer than 800 words. We do not consider articles sent to other publications or posted online, including on a personal blog, nor do we consider anonymous or pseudonymous submissions.

      Letters to the editor have even more stringent guidelines, in that they cannot exceed 200 words. (For reference, my post weighs in at over 2600 words.)

  5. Luman

    “visitors welcome” should have an asterik next to it tough. visitors are welcome as long as you eventually become one of us. The church does NOT value critical thinking at all. Yes you can ponder and pray for yourself but if you receive a different answer than church authorities you are told it’s not the right answer. I.E. I have given it alot of thought and prayer and I feel that homosexuals should have the right to marry and I feel that the proclamation to the family is not from God. I’m not allowed to think this though. I would not be given a temple reccomend if someone knew I thought this. As far as gay teens commiting suicide I place the blame squarely on the church .Yes if it was just another church it would not be fair to do so but if you are claiming to be God’s church then it you deserve that accusation.
    Examples of high standing intellectuals who were excommunicated for their studies: Grant Palmer, Paul Toscano, D Michael Quinn, Margaret Toscano.

    1. Dan

      The Church is either true or it is not. You would have us behave as if the Church is not true (by doing nothing in these types of situations), merely to avoid offending those who already do not believe our teachings. What could possibly motivate us to do that?

      “visitors welcome” should have an asterik next to it tough. visitors are welcome as long as you eventually become one of us.

      I’ve known people who attended our church for years without getting baptized. They were never mistreated or told to leave, and their welcome was never made conditional upon getting baptized.

      Sure, we’re interested in getting people to join the Church, but we do not kick people out if they drag their heels or even if they refuse.

      The church does NOT value critical thinking at all. Yes you can ponder and pray for yourself but if you receive a different answer than church authorities you are told it’s not the right answer.

      You can’t have it both ways. Either it’s the true church or it’s not; if it is the true church, then the truth is the truth, regardless of whether a particular member decides upon a different answer.

      Would you have the Church alter its doctrine every time a member says they received a different answer?

      I.E. I have given it alot of thought and prayer and I feel that homosexuals should have the right to marry and I feel that the proclamation to the family is not from God. I’m not allowed to think this though. I would not be given a temple reccomend if someone knew I thought this.

      One of the temple recommend interview questions asks whether you sustain the Prophet and the Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators. How can you honestly answer “yes”, if you don’t believe that what they publish as doctrine is from God?

      You cannot claim to sustain the Prophet if you ignore half of what he teaches. If you answered “yes” to that question in order to get a temple recommend, then you’ve lied to yourself and to God.

      I’m not telling you what to believe, I’m just telling you that you’re trying to live a contradiction. You cannot both believe the Church is true *and* believe its leaders are publishing false doctrine.

      It seems you need to spend more time studying the scriptures and praying, in order to resolve this contradiction you are trying to live.

      As far as gay teens commiting suicide I place the blame squarely on the church .Yes if it was just another church it would not be fair to do so but if you are claiming to be God’s church then it you deserve that accusation.

      So the Church is to blame for people choosing suicide over attempting to reconcile their feelings with their beliefs? You are effectively arguing that those people are not responsible for their own actions, merely because the Church told them not to act on a particular set of feelings.

      What would you have the Church do?

      Examples of high standing intellectuals who were excommunicated for their studies: Grant Palmer, Paul Toscano, D Michael Quinn, Margaret Toscano.

      Grant Palmer was not excommunicated, only disfellowshipped, meaning he was no longer given responsibilities to serve in the church, and he was asked to refrain from taking the sacrament. He chose to stop attending church “to avoid offending other members with his opinions as well as due to his rejection of standard LDS beliefs”.

      It wasn’t for his “studies”, it was for publishing a book questioning the Church’s origins. How could the Church possibly allow him to remain in good standing when he actively and publicly admitted that he did not believe the Church’s teachings?

      Paul Toscano was excommunicated for teaching false doctrine. (His wife Margaret was excommunicated a few years later for the same reason.) It was not for his “studies”, it was because he actively and deliberately taught false doctrine. Would you prefer that the Church simply sit by and do nothing while a handful of prominent members teach others things that specifically contradict official Church doctrine?

      D Michael Quinn was excommunicated at the same time as Paul Toscano, and for much the same reason.

      1. Paul Toscano

        To set the record straight, I was not excommunicated for teaching false doctrine. The Wikipedia article on the “September Six” states false teaching as the basis of my excommunicated “as reportedly given by church leaders.” But the leaders of the church, for privacy reasons, have never divulged their version of the reasons for my excommunication. They have been absolutely silent on this question.

        The official reason for my ouster as set forth in the formal letter of excommunication was that I was “too critical” of church leaders. That not false doctrine was the basis of my apostasy. There was never an allegation or accusation or even a discussion of my having taught any false doctrine.

        I admit that I was critical of church leaders, but not “too” critical, I think. And I do not believe criticism is apostasy as long as it is intended to correct error. Besides, Jesus did not consider himself above criticism–very hostile criticism at that–and endured considerable criticism of that type without reproach (crucifixion being an extreme form of criticism). I, therefore, do not think the Lord’s apostles are entitled to insulate themselves from criticism, especially when it is intended to improve matters. I certainly did not question the authority of the church leadership, only their positions on questions that I believed were and still are open to question and consideration by all members and even non-members. I did not attack the divine origins of the church or of the Standard Works. I did not criticize Joseph Smith or his work or personal life. I did not attack the Book of Mormon’s provenance or historicity. My criticisms are documented in the book The Sanctity of Dissent, which is available on-line to anyone interested in forming an opinion about me based on facts rather than rumor and supposition.

        The notion that the “church is either true or it is not” is an irrelevant and immature position. The issue is not whether the church is true or false. The issue is whether the church is perfect or imperfect, whether its leaders are perfect or imperfect, whether they are infallible or fallible. The Church can be true and imperfect. Its leaders can be called of God and be wrong or even sinful.

        The Vatican teaches that the Pope is infallible, but Catholics do not believe it. The LDS Church teaches that LDS church leaders are NOT infallible, but Mormons do not believe it. Why? Because they want certainty instead of faith; but faith is never certainty. Faith stands in the place of evidence of transcendent experiences for which there is rarely any demonstrable, verifiable and quantifiable evidence. (Remember that Jesus raised from the dead the daughter of the man who said to him: “Lord, I believe. Help Thou my unbelief.”)

        Of course our leaders are imperfect. Think of the Kirtland Bank fiasco, the 1850s Handcart fiascos, the baseball baptism fiasco (in the British Mission in the 1960s), the withholding of priesthood from black men for over 140 years for no reason other than prejudice (else why did Joseph Smith ordain a couple of black men to the Melchizedek Priesthood, which Brigham Young refused to do). Think of the abandonment of the law of consecration and stewardship and the united order (Christian cooperative enterprises that should have been reformulated for the post-agrarian and post-industrial ages). Think of the LDS leaders’ attraction to hierarchy and corporate structure, despite the law of common consent. Think of the side taken by the LDS church with respect to nearly every social justice issue in the 20th and 21st centuries. Take a survey of the revelations of Joseph Smith and ask yourself which ones are mentioned in general conference any more. The only revelation current church leaders focus on today is that the Prophet Joseph received the true priesthood from God and passed it on to his successors. But the purpose of the priesthood is not mainly to empower leaders, but to reveal ordinances through which the power of God is made manifest to individual church members who, thereby, may be led into spiritual truths. The purpose of the priesthood is transformation, not corporate control.

        No, we should not imagine that our leaders are perfect. That is idolatry. But I did not criticize leaders for their personal imperfections. I criticized them for teaching things that I believed were contrary to the revelations and to the teachings of Jesus when he was present with us on earth. I do not believe it can be fairly said that my criticisms, though harsh, were either ad hominem or unconstructive; besides my criticisms were only in words and cannot compare in harshness to the retaliatory criticism of church leaders that was issued in the form of excommunication and disfellowshipment.

        I wished here to set the record straight on the causes of my excommunication. But I wish also to point out that it is easy for true believing Latter-day Saints to be dismissive of people like me if they never deal with what we actually said and did.

        Let me assure you, however, that I wish none of you or any of my critics any ill whatsoever. Rather, I wish you well and commend you in the Holy Spirit to the grace of Jesus our Lord.

        –Paul Toscano

        1. Dan

          Thank you for taking the time to reply, Paul.

          I admit I did not do much research on you or the causes of your excommunication; I took what I read on Wikipedia more or less at face value. I will take some time in the next few days to become more acquainted with your views as described in your book, and I will form my opinion from there.

          What I was getting at by the statement that the Church is either true or it is not was that if (for example) one does not agree that the Proclamation to the Family is actually Christ’s doctrine, then it is a contradiction to believe that Christ is still the head of this church.

          It is the purpose of prophets to prevent us from being “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (as we learn in Ephesians), and as such, I cannot believe that Christ is the head of this church without also believing he would prevent the Prophet and the Twelve from officially endorsing something false as doctrine.

          I would be among the first to agree that even prophets and apostles are fallible people, entitled to their own opinions, and quite capable of being wrong and making mistakes. However, while they are acting in their official capacity as Prophets and Apostles of Jesus Christ, I do not believe Christ would allow them to mislead us — certainly not in such a manner as claimed by Luman, to whom I was replying.

          1. Paul Toscano


            You are well-meaning and courageous, but I think, incorrect in your assumption that the Lord would not allow LDS church leaders to be led astray or even lead others astray, though inadvertently. I agree that Christ wouldn’t mislead us, but he will not interfere with our free agency or that of church leaders. The Saints are free and in constant need of spiritual guidance, both members and leaders. Your view contradicts the revelation in the D&C that sets forth the procedure for excommunicating the Church president. Why would this revelation and procedure be there if Christ would always prevent leaders from erring in doxy or praxis? We have been misled by leaders in the past–for example, it is misleading to teach that the Church cannot be wrong. The Nephite Church was true, but wrong and had to corrected by Samuel the Lamanite, whose teachings the Nephites attempted to leave out of their scriptures. Jesus made them put them back in the sacred recrod. Aaron built the golden calf, Moses was not allowed to enter the promised land, Peter denied the Lord, Brigham Young had indentured servants, Heber Grant felt that Prohibition was divinely inspired (read about the horrendous damage dealt the country as a result of Prohibition).

            As I said, the Church–meaning the body of the Saints–are the recipients of the ordinances that, because of faith, connect each believer to Christ, as born-again children of Christ, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. In this sense, at least, the Church is true; but that does not mean that the Saints cannot be persuaded by church leaders to err in doctrine. (I think Elder Nelson’s teaching that God’s love is conditional is such an error, though well-meaning.) It requires the vigilance of all, sustaining and correcting each other, to avoid being led astray. Of course, no one is deliberately attempting this, I think–not me, not you, not leaders. But we must remind ourselves of the hard lessons of the past which we wish to forget in a fog of amnesia. Trust not in the arm of flesh has ever been good advice. The Lord is not the ordinances, the ordinances are not the gospel, the gospel is not the church, the church is not the leadership. Our allegiance is to the head of the order, which is Christ revealed by the Holy Spirit. The scriptures do not call us to be pure in doctrine, but pure in heart. But believing in bad doctrine is not a sin, it is not very helpful either, and leaders and members should bear with humility correction and criticism, even from those they do not count as their equals.

            Best regards,

            1. Dan

              Several Church leaders have taught that the Lord will not allow the Church to be led astray. For example, Harold B Lee said (emphasis mine):

              I bear you my solemn witness that we have a living prophet, seer, and revelator. We are not dependent only upon the revelations given in the past… we have a mouthpiece to whom God is revealing his mind and will. God will never permit him to lead us astray. As has been said, God would remove us out of our place if we should attempt to do it.

              Note that he did not say those leaders cannot make mistakes, or say wrong things — only that God would remove those leaders from their places should they attempt to lead the Church astray.

              Paul, is it your contention that this is wrong? That God would be perfectly willing to let the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve lead the Church astray by publishing false doctrine as revelation?

              I should add that your claim that God would not interfere with the free will of Church leaders is not supported by scripture — for example, God interfered with Saul’s persecution of the Church, and the same thing happened to Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah. If your logic were correct, God would not have done that. (If he’s willing to interfere with those who persecute the Church, it’s silly to claim he would not interfere with Church leaders who attempt to mislead it.)

              1. Paul Toscano

                I’m not sure what President Lee meant by the phrase “lead the church astray.” Certainly, leaders of the church have said things and written things that have turned out to be false–that there are people living on the dark side of the moon dressed like Quakers (Joseph Smith), that cutting your hair causes the vitality to leak out of you (Brigham Young), or that blacks would never get the priesthood in this life or until Able was resurrected–I can’t remember(Bruce McConkie), or that the Catholic Church is the Great and Abominable (Bruce McConkie), or that the love of God is conditional (Russell Nelson), or that practicing birth control is a sin (Joseph Fielding Smith). You are correct, that these false messages do not constitute leading the Church astray.
                But what about removing the penalties and the five points of fellowship from the temple endowment ceremony? Is such a change in revealed ordinances leading the church astray? Is it on a par with replacing baptism by immersion with baptism by sprinkling–a change in the ordinances?
                Is it leading the church astray to teach that women do not hold priesthood, when in the temple, women and men and simultaneously told that with the robe on the right shoulder they can officiate in any ordinance of the priesthood–expecially in light of Joseph Smith’s promise to the women of the Relief Society of Nauvoo that he would make that society a “kingdom of priestesses”? Is the deprivation of priesthood to women leading the church astray?
                Is it leading the church astray to impose the word of wisdom as a strict requirement, when it was not so imposed by Joseph Smith or Brigham Young?
                Is it leading the church astray to renounce polygamy publicly, but to allow its practice secretly between 1890 through 1910 and beyond?
                What would it take to constitute leading the church astray? Supporting war when we should publish peace?

                1. Paul Toscano

                  Perhaps, Dan, you are correct: The Lord would not allow a Church president to lead the Church astray. Is that why so many church presidents in recent years ascend to the presidency and soon thereafter become senile or senile?
                  This is harsh, I know. But you must understand that for me the phrase “leading the church astray,” has no real meaning. The gospel is not about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is about the Saints. Its purpose is the bring about repentance and forgiveness. It is the means of justification, sanctification, and glorification for individuals. The Church is not the source of salvation, it is what needs to be saved. The Church is always astray. It is awash in contradictions and imperfections.
                  In my view it is pointless to talk about “astray,” when even the church of the Nephites after Christ’s visit, after three generations of Zion when there were no poor among them and no isms, apostatized. We are not immune. Our leaders are not immune. We are all prone to wander.
                  We desperately want to believe that we are safe in the hands of our leaders, but there hands of flesh; and we have been warned not to trust in the arm of flesh. it is a warning we want not to believe because it places the burden of sorting truth from error on us rather than on someone else.


                  1. Dan

                    Almost the first thing President Hinckley did was present The Family: A Proclamation to the World as doctrine, with the support of his counselors and the Quorum of the Twelve. He then proceeded to spend 12 years as president, and died with a clear mind (which is to say, he was never senile).

                    Based on what I’ve read on your blog, I feel safe assuming you believe that the Family Proclamation is false doctrine, given what it says about the eternal nature of gender identity (and the implications that has on the morality of homosexuality).

                    So, you must choose: either the Lord will not allow Church leaders to lead us astray, and therefore the Family Proclamation is doctrine; or the Lord will allow Church leaders to lead us astray, in which case we may as well all leave the Church, since a church led by false prophets is no place for anyone wanting to follow Christ.

                    (We’re near the thread depth limit of WordPress; I’d be happy to continue this discussion via e-mail.)

                2. Dan

                  You seem to have deliberately avoided answering the question: do you claim that Harold B Lee was incorrect, and that God will allow Church leaders to lead us astray?

                  If you insist on a specific definition of “lead astray”, use this rather unambiguous definition: one who teaches false doctrine and claims it is revelation from God qualifies as “leading astray” the members of the Church.

                  1. Paul Toscano

                    I did not avoid answering the question. I believe President Lee was incorrect. I do not believe God interferes with a leaders’ free agency. However, using your definition, I think there is little chance that leaders will lead the church astray because leaders no longer claim to get revelation. They no longer say, “Thus saith the Lord.” Rather, they speak and let church members assume that what they are speaking has been revealed to them based on the office they hold in the church.

                    Joseph Smith always made it clear when he was revealing versus when he was sermonizing.

                    Now try this unambiguous definition of leading the church astray, instead: one who teaches any doctrine but fails to clearly state whether or not the doctrine was revealed or is simply one’s personal opinion, but allowing church members to believe it was revealed even if it was not (for example, withholding priesthood from blacks, which was never a revelation, but was believed to have come from God, thereby allowing many LDS to harbor prejudicial attitudes toward black people contrary to the will of God). Isn’t this leading the church astray?

                    1. Dan

                      First, I want to know how you can reconcile your claim that God would not interfere with a leader’s free agency (that he would allow a prophet to mislead the Church) with God’s record of interference in efforts to destroy the Church. Are you claiming that God is willing to interfere when outsiders try to mislead Church members, but not when leaders try to mislead Church members? What scriptural basis could you possibly have for that idea?

                      Second, I don’t know why you think church leaders no longer claim to receive revelation. For example, the Family Proclamation was clearly presented as revelation (emphasis added):

                      We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.

                      The statement that “marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God” is clearly and unambiguously a claim that this is what God has to say on the matter. I do not believe that tacking the phrase “Thus saith the Lord” to the beginning of the proclamation would make any difference in whether they’ve presented it as revelation.

                      I do not think your example (regarding the priesthood) is “leading the church astray”. Quite the contrary, church leaders were clearly concerned about the issue, thus the 1978 revelation on the subject. The scriptures contain many examples of God or Christ not correcting people on incorrect ideas until they think to ask.

                      As I mentioned in my other reply, we’re at WordPress’ thread depth limit, but I would be happy to continue this discussion via e-mail.

    2. Sam Curren

      If you have decided that revelation from the leaders of the church is not from God, then you must consider those leaders to be false prophets.

      Why for any reason would you want a Temple recommend from a Church led by false prophets?

      Dan expands this question further in his comment, but that’s my main question for you.

  6. Michelle

    Your response is typical of a closed mind with blinders on. I hope Carrie’s piece will allow more members to talk honestly about their doubts of “the gospel”. Most silence their nagging questions because of the fear of the social and familial consequences. Carrie’s experience is COMMON and resinates will MANY people I know.

    1. Dan

      I would be happy to discuss specific objections to Church doctrine or practices, but Carrie was quite vague about almost everything she said.

    2. Sam Curren

      Michelle, your response is typical of a closed mind with blinders on. Specifically, it’s much easier to label Dan (and I, I expect) as close minded then to have an open discussion about what is bothering you.

      Please do continue the discussion of any specifics that you want to discuss. Please do not slap a label on us and then refuse to continue what has become a well cited discussion.

    3. Dan

      I’ve tried to find places where Carrie’s arguments are valid, and where I’ve found them I have pointed them out. It is unfortunate that they are few and far between, and that Carrie was not specific enough in her accusations for me to do any more than disagree, but Carrie’s vagueness does not mean anyone who disagrees is closed-minded.

      I recognized from the very beginning that Carrie’s complaints are largely based on some unfortunate personal experiences. I have not denied that she had those experiences; I’ve merely pointed out that she has not given us any information to go on other than her one-sentence descriptions of those experiences, and that there are many possible reasons she could be remembering things the way she does.

      I’ve also pointed out that even if she did have those experiences with a handful of Church leaders exactly as she described them, the responses she was given do not represent official Church policy — and where possible, I gave supporting evidence, which is something that Carrie did not do for her accusations.

      Perhaps you should watch this video:

      Having an open mind does not mean you have to agree with what someone says. And having a strong opinion and being open-minded are not necessarily contradictory.

      Being open-minded means no more or less than being willing to listen, recognize, and even look for the validity of the supporting arguments on both sides of an issue.

  7. JTrevors

    I dunno. Be where you want to be in life. It’s too short on this earth.

    I’ve found a happy life outside of the LDS Church and I hope others do too. Everyone has an opinion 🙂

    Peace be with you.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *