Thursday, August 27, 2015

All or nothing - a false approach to the Church!

Have you heard the metaphor about the stick and its two ends? The metaphor is used to convey the idea, that when one accepts one fact, another one (or any undisclosed number) will follow: when you pick up one end of the stick, you pick up the other one as well.

This is the way leaders of the Church we should relate to the truth claims of the Church, i.e. if the Book of Mormon is true, everything is true.

I believe it's wrong and that the assertion is dangerous, misleading and spiritually hurtful.

False teachings from the Conference center

During General Conference in April of 2003, Gordon B. Hinckley said the following:
"Each of us has to face the matter—either the Church is true, or it is a fraud. There is no middle ground. It is the Church and kingdom of God, or it is nothing."
Four years later, in a PBS-interview, Hinckley was asked to expound on this idea.
Question: You are talking about the foundational story of Mormonism and why it must be taken literally, that Joseph Smith had the vision he described and obtained the plates the way he did. You said there is no middle ground. Other churches are approaching their foundational stories and turning them into metaphor at times and going perhaps for the essence of the meaning. But that isn't true for you or for this church. I'm wondering if you can develop that idea: Why can't there be a middle ground in the way those foundational stories are understood?

Answer: Well, it's either true or false. If it's false, we're engaged in a great fraud. If it's true, it's the most important thing in the world. Now, that's the whole picture. It is either right or wrong, true or false, fraudulent or true. And that's exactly where we stand, with a conviction in our hearts that it is true: that Joseph went into the [Sacred] Grove; that he saw the Father and the Son; that he talked with them; that Moroni came; that the Book of Mormon was translated from the plates; that the priesthood was restored by those who held it anciently. That's our claim. That's where we stand, and that's where we fall, if we fall. But we don't. We just stand secure in that faith.
This teaching from Hinckley, perpetuated from the pulpet at General Conference and institutionalized in our manuals, is false. I strongly disagree with it. I believe that there is middle ground. I believe that we are equally exposed to truths as well as untruths and that the Church can be both right and wrong.

If the Book of Mormon is true, then (fill in the blank) is true!

While serving a mission, we got a new manuel–Preach My Gospel (PMG). It was a great day to be a missionary, for sure. Missionaries were generally enthused by the new way to do missionary work. I liked the PMG back then. Now, more than a decade later, I don't like it as much as I used to.

In chapter 5 ("What is the role of the Book of Mormon?") we read the following:
Many people will not believe everything you teach. President Ezra Taft Benson taught how the Book of Mormon can be the central resource in responding to such situations: 
“We are to use the Book of Mormon in handling objections to the Church. …
“… All objections, whether they be on abortion, plural marriage, seventh-day worship, etc., basically hinge on whether Joseph Smith and his successors were and are prophets of God receiving divine revelation. …
“… The only problem the objector has to resolve for himself is whether the Book of Mormon is true. For if the Book of Mormon is true, then Jesus is the Christ, Joseph Smith was his prophet, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true, and it is being led today by a prophet receiving revelation.
“Our main task is to declare the gospel and do it effectively. We are not obligated to answer every objection. Every man eventually is backed up to the wall of faith, and there he must make his stand”
(A Witness and a Warning, 4–5). 
For example, sincere investigators might object to what you have taught about the Word of Wisdom. Help them see that their real question is whether Joseph Smith was speaking as God’s prophet when this commandment was renewed in this dispensation. You might say: “Having the faith to accept this teaching will require the assurance that this commandment came to us through revelation from God to the Prophet Joseph Smith. The way to know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God is to read and pray about the Book of Mormon.” 
Investigators must resolve for themselves their concerns and objections. You can help as you focus them on what will strengthen their faith in Jesus Christ—reading and praying about the Book of Mormon. When they strengthen their testimony of the Restoration, they will have the strength to overcome their objections and concerns. 
As you answer concerns, remember that our understanding comes from modern prophets—Joseph Smith and his successors—who receive direct revelation from God. Therefore, the first question for an investigator to answer is whether Joseph Smith was a prophet, and he or she can answer this question by reading and praying about the Book of Mormon.
I don't like this at all. I honestly believe it's false and misleading.

If you have a stick where on one end, it says "The Book of Mormon is 'true'", what would it say on the other? Would it say that Jesus is the Christ, Joseph Smith was his prophet, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true or that it is being led today by a prophet receiving revelation from God? No, it would not. The question on whether the Church is led by a prophet today has to be resolved by the test described by Jesus:
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewndown, and cast into the fire.
Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
(Matt. 7:15-20)
A prophet is known by its fruit - prophecy! Not by the truthfulness of some book published in 1830.

The carefully crafted language of the Book of Mormon introduction

The introduction to the Book of Mormon was written by Bruce R. McConkie and was added during 1981. In the last two paragraphs we read:
We invite all men everywhere to read the Book of Mormon, to ponder in their hearts the message it contains, and then to ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ if the book is true. Those who pursue this course and ask in faith will gain a testimony of its truth and divinity by the power of the Holy Ghost. (See Moroni 10:3–5.)

Those who gain this divine witness from the Holy Spirit will also come to know by the same power that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, that Joseph Smith is His revelator and prophet in these last days, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s kingdom once again established on the earth, preparatory to the Second Coming of the Messiah.
Some members take these words as a basis for accepting everything related to the Church just because they've had the spirit testify that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. (I used to be one of these members. I'm repenting of this.) If you read the text closely, that's not what it says.

It says that we will "come to know by the same power" that all these other things are true (and I presume, if they aren't). This "same power" is the Holy Ghost confirming to our hearts, minds and souls of the truth of God. It's an invitation to seek confirmation on all things, just like Moroni implied.

If we know that the Book of Mormon is relevant for our journey into the presence of the Father and the Son, then we might give Joseph Smith the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the Church, Book of Abraham, polygamy, the King Follet discourse and so on. But we still have the responsibility to search these things out for ourselves.

I sure hope the wording of the introduction wasn't misleading on purpose.

The two ends of the stick

Now back to the question: If you have a stick where on one end, it says "The Book of Mormon is 'true'", what would it say on the other? My answer: Joseph Smith was a tool in the hand of the Lord to bring forth this volume of scripture! Nothing more and nothing less. The rest of Church doctrine, principles, policies and so forth, stand or fall independently.

As noted, there might be reasons for assuming that Joseph was a tool in the hand of the Lord to bring forth other revelations, knowledge and temple ordinances and so forth. But these things are separate and separate sticks, and need to be handled accordingly.

When developing faith, we need to start with the belief that it's is from God and try it (Joh. 7:17). This belief is often the result of preaching of the word of God (Rom. 10:14). This belief isn't enough. Faith is a principle of power, whereas belief isn't. Our belief has to develop into real faith. Inherent in this development is that we let go of our false beliefs when they prove to be wrong. Real faith is centered in God and Jesus and truth, so we have to be willing let go of our unbelief.

An often repeated mistake

Many members accept anything that comes from their priesthood leaders. They act under the assumption that every president of the Church is a prophet like Joseph was, just by occupying the seat of the President of the Church. They believe that everything coming from Salt Lake City is the word and will of God and that we need to obey with exactness, even though it might contradict scripture, the Spirit and common sense. They have an all or nothing, black or white, on and off relationship with the Church. This kind of relationship has its benefits, for sure (peace and quiet in the ship Zion, for one). The problem is that this relationship is based upon a faulty premise and is spiritually harmful.

When a member sees this bubble burst and the shiny veneer crack, everything is now dragged into question. If one thing is false, then everything is false. They leave the Church in frustration, disappointed and with a sense of betrayal. For the members who are spectators to this, this disaffected Mormon has left the Church, but can't leave it alone.

Having left the Church, they still have the all or nothing, black or white, on and off mentality. Now, the faith and religion that used to be all true has become all false. They believe, and suppose the have ample 'evidence', that Joseph was a total fraud and con man who did nothing good. This isn't true, of course. Joseph did many great and good things. And he made mistakes.

The mindset that once kept these members tied to the Church now keeps them out of it. We don't need more ultimatums ("either the Church is true, or it is a fraud"). As members we need more open hearts and minds, willing to search out and receive truth, regardless where it comes from. We need a balanced and nuanced approach to religion. We need to think, ponder, pray and ask.


The Book of Mormon is of divine origin and it's relevant for my journey towards and to the Father and the Son. I truly believe that. The other truth claims by the Church have to be examined and will fall or stand on its own merits. I won't let false teachings drag down the Book of Mormon with it.

[1] Think about it. If a sincere investigator objects to Mormon way of implementing the Word of Wisdom, I'd say that they're problem is this interpretation and the origin of the WoW itself, not whether Joseph was a prophet. Why do we feel the need to get a conviction of the medium of a revelation instead of the revelation itself? Are we so afraid of approaching the throne of God? Do we lack confidence before his face? Do we believe that we need mortal men between us and Him? If Joseph was given the WoW from God, that doesn't mean that the modern implementation of it is true.


  1. Very nice article. The stick analogy is especially appropriate. Do you remember the story of the bundle of sticks (problem of eastern origin), and the grandfather challenged his grandsons to break the bundle, and they couldn't. But the aged grandfather did, by taking the sticks and breaking them one by one.

    My testimony was initially a pre-packaged bundle of sticks, but the binding came apart in the last years. Most of the sticks in the bundle are still intact. A few new ones have been added. The binding is my knowledge of Christ's love and the power of His atonement.

    The logic of "the BOM is true therefore" really falls apart when it leads to the church being true. I might even accept that the church was "true" at one point - like in 1830. But this logical extension doesn't allow for the possibility that, while the BOM remains the same, and Joseph, having been martyred, remains a prophet, the church has changed. It is no longer the church that resulted from the publishing and acceptance of the BOM.

    I like where you said, "I sure hope the wording of the introduction wasn't misleading on purpose". I doubt that the individuals realize that they are doing the work of the adversary when they say these things. I suspect that they believe what they say is true. However, I have no doubt that it is according to SOMEBODY's purpose. I know increasingly that this church has been led by the hand of the adversary toward destruction, just as prophesied in 2 Nephi 26 and 28.

    1. Scott - thanks for stopping by and for a great comment!

      The challenge for all is to let go of false sticks, keep the true sticks and add new sticks of truth. I like the idea of having it bound together with the love of Christ and his Atonement. A bundle like that will never be broken, because you can't separate the sticks from each other (nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, to use Pauls words).

      One thing that's getting clearer is that we don't really believe God is a God of order, or patterns. We don't believe that the same thing that happened the Jews before Christ and the Church after him, the Israelites in the wilderness and then peoples of the Book of Mormon can happen to us. All is well in Zion, and everything is different now. We can never be mislead. The more I learn, the more i realize that the only currency eternal life can be bought with is a broken heart and contrite spirit. And, man, that's hard.

    2. Why don't we believe that God is a God of order? When and where did that change??

    3. Debbie, please explain why God couldn't be a God of order given that what I've written and Scott agreed on is correct? What do you mean?

    4. God is totally a God of order. Man has repeatedly rejected that order and inserted His own. This may sound harsh, but it has become increasingly clear to me that man has begun worshiping his own order in the form of the church, the correlation, the handbooks, and that this has been substituted for God's own order, which is the fullness of the priesthood. People are ACTIVELY DISCOURAGED from seeking a powerful personal relationship with Christ, being encouraged, instead, to simply follow the prophet and place our faith in the ordinances of the temple. None of this has ANY meaning at all if it does not lead to the powerful, one-on-one, living testimony of Christ - the testimony that can only come from a very personal, very real relationship and knowledge of Him - ultimate consummated by a personal visitation as illustrated in D&C 93:1, D&C 67:10 and other places.

      This reality saddens me. I loved being a member of the church, but their box is too small and too rigid. Enforcing its boundaries requires unrighteous dominion, and we know what happens to the priesthood of those who undertake to gratify their pride, their vain ambition, in ANY degree of unrighteousness. It saddens me, but I must move forward IN CHRIST.

  2. This goes along with what happened when the missionaries came over for dinner a few weeks ago. They gave the message they were to share which was showing a clip of elder Holland's Conference talk on the Book of Mormon, then the missionaries had each person in my family say what the Book of Mormon meant to us. Then they were going to invite us to share the Book of Mormon with others. The Spirit had me tell them I love the Book of Mormon and will NOT use it as a marketing tool. That having the Book of Mormon and it being true does not = LDS church being "true" or something like that. Later they were asking us to seek out the "lost ones" that's when once again I was guided by the Spirit to tell them- Until we come back into the presence of Christ, we are the lost ones. We are the lost sheep and spoke others things that now I don't remember what came out of my mouth.

    1. Thanks, Sally, for your comments. I kinda wonder what will happen next time the missionaries come to my house...

    2. Joshua, I'm having the missionaries over tonight. I'll be gentle!


  3. Wonderful article and conversation! Great critical thinking, it has helped me order my thoughts. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us.

    Lena Hansen

    1. Thank you Lena! I'm glad you stopped by and took the time to comment.


  4. Great post. Very well thought out and explained. Thank you!

    1. Thank you Melissa! I'm glad you took the time to read and to comment.


  5. Why not focus your efforts in preaching the truths that you have bundled together rather than the falsehoods. The gospel of Jesus Christ, faith, repentance, baptism and the gift of the holy ghost. Sounds like getting at the missionaries and teaching them that what they have been taught is false has become a game, how is that bringing others unto Christ? The key to all of this is understanding how the holy first speaks to us. I can honestly say that when I read the truths you write I feel the spirit but the intent behind your truths is fraught with negativity and the spirit withdraws. Your purpose seems to be more directed in negativity toward the church and its misdirections than it is with bringing souls unto Christ and to a greater understanding His love and the power of His grace. Whether the church is being led astray, as you believe, should be far less important than helping others recognize the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the importance of making sacred covenants with Him so that we can begin our journey back to Him. Often we talk about others being wolves in sheeps clothing but we need to beware of ourselves becoming those wolves and not even realizing it. Your last few post have given me a lot of food for thought and like i said I recognize the truths and will build upon them however I can't get past the negativity of your approach.

    1. Thank you, dear cousin, for taking the time to read, and to comment. I truly appreciate your warning, and I know it’s given in all sincerity and love.

      First of all, it’s not a game to ”twist the minds of the missionaries”. I’m willing to discuss doctrine and the scriptures with anyone who’s interested. Some missionaries want to discuss, others don’t.

      You are right, I am negative. And I try to repent of that. But I believe that I do put a lot of emphasis on the positive and proclaim my beliefs and my faith. It seems that I’ve been somewhat successful in that endeavor. It’s sad to hear that you fell that the negative takes away from the positive. I feel that there is a need for me to settle the score with some of the misunderstandings, false doctrines, the culture, traditions and the disabling orthodoxy I’ve experienced in the Church. I love the people, and I want all of us to be saved. I just don’t believe that the unbeliefs that we entertain within the Church are helping us. If someone is assisted by what I write, I’m glad. If someone doesn’t want to read what I write or don’t feel comfortable with it, so be it. The truth is, I don’t write for anyone who isn’t interested to read what I write.

      I truly appreciate your feedback. I believe that the blog will develop as I grow in light and truth.

      Lastly, there’s a wolf in me, for sure, as it is in all of us in one way or the other. I pray to God that he will help me detect it and also that he may purify my motives for doing what I do. It’s a work in progress, but I believe it’s progressing. So, bear with me.

  6. Hi, I stumbled on your blog. I like much of your reasoning. There are many circular arguments, and logical fallacies that many of us uncritically swallow - since we are brought up within a culture where questioning authority is wrong, and where loyalty and obedience are the most valued traits. I find church culture often create an enviroment that is stifling to intellectual thought and critical thinking. As soon as someone approaches some 'uncomfortable' subject, quickly voices arise 'hush, that is not important for our salvation', 'let us just focus on the basics', etc etc.

    The total disability of the mormon culture, and its leaders in general to really work through the tough issues - and boldly proclaim that some of the taught doctrines proclaimed for 100+ years are totally wrong and not of God - will continue to lead to many people leaving.

    The only thing I would object to in your essay is that I find the description of people who leave a bit simplistic. If you listen to the stories, and engage with people who've left, you will see that for many of us there are many years of thought, and much soul searching before we leave. There are a lot of really thoughtful people that have left, and often it's far from 'turning off a switch' - so suddenly all goes black.

    Just a few questions. You seem to rest in the faith that the Book of Mormon is true. I just wonder what is true about it? (Have you perchance read the studies of B.H Roberts?)

    * Is it true in the way it describes the culture and people of ancient america - with all the domesticated animals, weapons, grains etc?
    * Is it literally true that Jared and his people built barges that were almost one year on the water? Have you thought of the implications of this? How much fresh water they would have, the feasies produced, the food for the animals alone they'd have to bring...
    * Is it literally true that Nephi built a boat and sailed to america? A feat that would take many large cities cooperating together to accomplish. Study a bit of boat building. Think of how much ropes, how much cloth for sails, how many nails it would take, etc, etc...
    * Is it possible that they had democracy reminiscent of what was found in Joseph's society (which seems totally anachronistic)?
    * Is it literally true that they really had so many discourses around 'hot topics' of Joseph's time? Infant baptism - the church's name etc, etc.

    I could go on and on with questions. I used to treasure the BOM. I've read it uncritically many times. But when I just apply a bit of critical thought to it, for me at least, it falls apart. But I'm interested to hear what you find true about it.

    Anyways, I realize my comment is probably unwanted. And you are free to delete it. I wish you well on your journey, wherever you end up. I think it's good when people raise questions, and apply critical thinking - it is a virtue, not something to be feared - and it's sorely needed in the church. I stayed in the church for many years suppressing my thoughts and doubts, it was not a good place to be. Continue to think critically, and express your thoughts! I am sure you can do much good in the church, just by beaing a voice of reason!

    Take care.

    1. Dear Anon!

      I’m glad you came by and left a well written comment. I like that and enjoy the dialogue.

      No, I won’t delete your comment. Instead, I will try to reply to the best of my ability.

      We agree on the disabling culture of fourth phase Mormonism, so no need to rehash that.

      I believe the Book of Mormon to be true, but not in the sense that everything must’ve happened just like it’s written. To me, the BoM isn’t a book about history, it’s a prophecy. In that sense, I believe it’s true. It’s also true in the sense that it testifies of the Savior, just like Nephi wrote it would. It’s precepts are true, and I believe they are highly relevant for me in my journey to a fullness in Christ (as a matter of fact, I believe that’s the main message of the book - how to come to Christ and be saved in this life).

      As you’ve pointed out, there are quite a few reasons for logically dismissing the book altogether. I believe that’s a mistake. In my view, there has to be reasons for believing and reasons not to. Lehi said there needs to be opposition in all things, and that holds true even for the BoM, for God, Jesus and every other matter of faith. It it were not so, we couldn’t exercise faith nor show our hearts desire by what we focus on. For me, it’s not a problem that there are discrepancies or other ”fallacies” in the BoM. My appreciation of the book lies in another sphere.

      I haven’t read B. H. Roberts, but I’ve heard about his writings.

      I guess you would have some issues with how I seem to define truth. I like the definition from D&C 93 (knowledge of how things were, are and are to be). And for me, the things that matter in the BoM are true.

      Whether the people of Jared actually sailed as the record says, I don’t know, but the pattern revealed through that story is true. God is a God of order (that is, patterns) and whenever he is involved hands on with a group of people/a single person, that interaction is true, since it reveals the pattern by which God would be involved with anyone who invites him to. So, the account is true.

      This might seem like a stretch, but it’s just my belief, faith and focus on what God really wants me to know.

    2. Thank you for your generous response. I appreceiate that you emphasize more the spiritual (/methaporical?) things and allow for errors in the literal claims the book makes (if I'm interpreting you correctly?). I think that's the only way forward for the church (sadly I don't see much support for it).

      I get where you are coming from when you talk about 'the opposition in all things'. I do however not find the argument compelling. I guess I cannot understand WHY God has to keep so hidden. (After all the claim is that the BoM is the plain and precious truth). Even the most convinced believers who proclaim they KNOW God has spoken to them, often make severe errors in WHAT they proclaim God has spoken. As is often found out decades or centuries later.

      Are you familiar with Terryl Givens? He seems to talk alot about 'the need for opposition'. However, in real human experience, if it really was God's plan (as Terryl seems to argue) for people to come into the position in relation to faith in the LDS truth claims - to be on this tiny 'edge' where the reasons to believe and the reasons not to believe are equally compelling, thus really having to practice true faith - then my observation is that this plan is utterly failing for most of human kind.

      Think about it, how many strong believing (KNOWING) orthodox mormons find any arguments against the LDS church or the BoM compelling? Very few. How many non mormons (of which the world is filled to 99.8%) find the truth claims of the LDS church compelling? I would say very close to zero. Thus the people who fulfil God's plan of being in this position to really feel compelled by both sides, are a very tiny fraction of mormons who happen to have looked beyond the church approved correlated material - and have entered the realisation that many of the things they've learnt are not what they seemed.

      This went way longer than I set out to write. I was just going to write a short thank you line :-). Anyway, thanks for taking the time to respond, and explaining your views!

    3. Good thoughts, once again.

      I guess that God keeps hidden so that only those who really want to know him finds him. The way is plain and precious, but few be it that want to walk it and few want what’s at the end of it. As I’ve heard, the process can be a rough one. Many are called but few choose to go for it. Just like many want to be in the Marine but many won’t get through the rigorous training and sifting.

      My understanding is that we can’t rely on the experience or words of others–we have to get our own revelations, our own promises from God and make our own covenants with him. Whether Joseph, or anyone else for that matter, spoke truths doesn’t matter if I don’t become truer to my divine potential each day.

      The reasons not to believe are secondary for me. I’ve chosen my path and have had evidence enough to ”know” that this is the way I should walk. Regarding the rest of humanity I can’t say. I guess God knew from before that some wouldn’t choose him, and that others would. I believe that God would have done it all if it just happened to be ONE of his children who wanted to and got to know him. One is enough. The rest will get what they want. Fair and square. But, I’m open for the implications of me not knowing the ways of God, at all (Isa. 55:8-9).

      Oftentimes we believe whatever we want to believe. It requires a lot to change ones paradigm of thought and belief. It’s sad that many Mormons are more driven by fear and a compelling desire to preserve status quo instead of actually searching out truth, no matter where it’s found. I try to move away from that. My aim is to learn truth from God, and that requires more faith and commitment than I have ever had to put forth. God urges me to walk this path, and I believe he will lead me along, regardless of anachronism, mistakes of men and other factors that are ready to eat at our faith.

      Thank you for a good conversation.

      Talk to you later!