Monday, December 21, 2015


I started this as a way of demonstrating my fulfillment of a promise to study the talks from the October 2014 and April 2015 LDS General Conferences. I've written these notes only for that purpose. The blog's stats show that no one, including the person to whom I made the promise to study, actually looks at this blog, and further, I believe that person considers me sufficiently trustworthy that proof of keeping my promise isn't required. Therefore, since this blog takes my time, benefits no one, and does nothing to fulfill my promise, I no longer plan to write on it. I will likely delete it after a while, provided no one asks me not to.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

"The Plan of Happiness" By President Boyd K. Packer

Find this talk here.

  • I'm grateful for the occasional testimony from those a fair bit older than I that "longtime married love", as Pres. Packer put it, is a really nice thing.
  • I'm not convinced that sealing really should be equated to marriage. I've probably mentioned that in other posts. If sealing and marriage aren't the same thing, it goes a long way toward explaining Joseph Smith's "polygamy" coincident with his repeated denunciations of the idea, it explains Malachi's "turn the hearts" quotes more fully, and it explains how the early D&C statement that marriage should always be public (removed when section 132 was added by Brigham Young in -- I think -- the 1870s) can still be honored.
    • It would also allow the Church to get out of requiring marriage licenses from candidates for marriage. The marriage license is an improper intrusion of government into what should be a private contract, In most states it makes the state the actual, legal owner of children produced by the marriage, which is how the state has legal basis for compelling education, taking custody through child protective services, and probably other stuff. Moreover, that contract is indissoluble, so once the state owns you, there's nothing you can do about it, even with a divorce.
  • After reading Pres. Packer's "Little Factory" talk ( I have a rough time listening to him discuss matters of intimacy, even in the relatively Puritan terms he uses here.
  • D&C 132 has enough internal inconsistencies that it's hard to trust it for much, but I think Pres. Packer's quote here is probably pretty close to correct. Too bad his quote of D&C 124, which is far more trustworthy, is taken completely out of context. It's speaking of baptism for the dead, not sealing.
  • "But unlike the case of our mortal bodies, when the repentance process is complete, no scars remain because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ." So Christ can't heal our physical body without scars?
  • It's certainly true that God's the Father and full of love, and that in His mercy, He'll repair wrongs and give just recompense. But it's too easy to use that fact to paper over the difficult bits in man's policies and behaviors, such as the Church's recent refusal to baptize children from same-sex couples.
  • It's too bad no one ever talks about what the Holy Spirit of Promise is. In the second anointing ordinance, I understand that the officiator claims to be the Holy Spirit of Promise, but that's obviously false given history and context. It can only be Christ confirming the promise (of sealing, or whatever) to someone in person.
    • We also tend to forget that D&C 132 (if you want to trust it) makes the blessings of sealing contingent on ratification by the Holy Spirit of Promise.
  • A testimony is supposed to be a statement of fact. Without recounting the evidence behind his testimony that Christ lives and is at the head of the Church, it's tough to take it seriously.

“Is Not This the Fast That I Have Chosen?” By President Henry B. Eyring

Find this talk here.

  • "When we offer succor to anyone, the Savior feels it as if we reached out to succor Him." This really does mean anyone.
  • He read Matthew 25 incorrectly. The Savior separates sheep from goats not "after our life in this world is complete", but "when the Son of Man shall come in his glory" (Matt 25:31)
  • It's true we can all obey the law of the fast. Those of us who can do more shouldn't confuse "something we can all do" with "the only thing we personally should do". Pres. Eyring seems to make that incorrect conclusion later on. A local high councilor here made exactly that mistake.
    • Isaiah's description deserves special notice. We tend to read it and say, "yay, we're fasting", but going without food is hardly the full extent of Isaiah's description. My own experience is that most Church members frown on libertarian political activism, yet does that not fall directly under the heading of "break every yoke"? How can we "let the oppressed go free" without stirring things up a bit?
    • "Hide not thyself from thine own flesh" means, as I read it, to take care of your extended family.
  • "Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am." That's a blessing I want. There's far more there than simply warm fuzzy feelings when someone tells a touching story in testimony meeting.
  • "then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday" I imagine this is the sort of thing people meant when they said Joseph Smith's testimony was given with power, and when they lamented that without Joseph, there might be no one left with such power.
  • "And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not." As a would-be desert farmer, I love this imagery.
  • And now we get Pres. Eyring's description of what our fasts our like. It has very little to do with the fast described in the scriptures. No wonder we're always praying for rain and health, instead of getting made like watered gardens.
    • Writing a check to the Church and letting them seek out and deal with the needy hardly fulfills Isaiah's instructions.
    • It's sometimes reported that local leaders informally compete to see who can send the most fast offering money back to Salt Lake, and that they'll avoid using it locally for "better" numbers in that regard. Regardless of the reason, there are thousands of instances where Church members have failed to receive help from ward leadership when it was clearly needed. Of course mistakes will happen everywhere, but we absolutely must be willing to go beyond a simple fast offering, to fill needs around us.
  • The story of the war refugee paying her equivalent of the widow's mite is certainly a remarkable instance of obedience, but given the Church's profligate waste of tithing funds and abject unwillingness to follow scriptural direction to disburse funds by common consent and reveal tithing use to all members, it's heart wrenching.
    • Early church leaders' counsel regarding tithing was that it should be paid after all other needs were met. "Interest", as used in section 119, means not "income" as a First Presidency letter in the 70's (I think) claimed, but "surplus" (ref. Webster's Dictionary, 1828). Elder Holland deliberately misquoted James E. Talmage in a conference talk in Oct. 2001 by removing the parts of Talmage's quote that very clearly said tithing should only be paid by people who can afford it. ( for details)
  • Does anyone else wonder if Christ's 40 day fast (and that of Moses) were miraculously managed without any food or water for that whole period? 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A note on women's conference

In contrast to those seeking a clarifying revelation on the relationship between gender and the priesthood, I have never felt particularly interested in the content of the wonem's conference. I wasn't specifically invited, and am willing to accept the implied assertion that the topics weren't necessarily for me. There's plenty of stuff I can study that's more helpful to me than General Conference; I study these only because I promised to do it. But I don't intend to study the women's conference, on the grounds that it was targeted specifically to a group I'm not in.

"Until We Meet Again" By President Thomas S. Monson

Find this talk here.

  • The things Pres. Monson encouraged his listeners to do were all good things. I hope we do them.
  • He says he "invoke[s] the blessings of heaven upon each of [those listening]". It would be interesting to study who has the right to do something like that, and what power such a blessing holds.
    • Historically, I'm told it would be very common for pretty much everyone to bless everyone else in similar ways.
  • Once again, he didn't testify of any of the Church's fundamental doctrines: Christ, Joseph Smith, or the Book of Mormon. Nor did he prophesy, translate, or reveal.

"Come and See" By Elder David A. Bednar

Find this talk here.

  • If we're supposed to go teach everything Christ has commanded us, well ... what has He commanded us, exactly? We've got lots of commandments of men, trying to place a barrier around the commandments so that we won't break them (prohibitions on piercings, rated R movies, and caffeine come to mind). Christ commanded us to repent, be baptized, and follow Him. Once we're following Him, we'll let Him tell us precisely what else we need to do.
  • I very much hope people were listening when he said "we do not receive prizes or bonus points in a heavenly contest" for bringing in new members. That's very true, and very often forgotten.
  • "We're not attempting to coerce you to believe as we do." Fair enough, the coercion comes after you're baptized.
  • He refers to D&C 68:1 saying we need to proclaim the gospel. That scripture says Orson Hyde was commanded, among other things, to expound scripture. I'd love to hear more scripture expounded in the Church.
  • Somehow I have no trouble picturing the two little boys working to patch up the scratched arm 
  • If we were really so excited to share the gospel, it wouldn't take so much effort to convince us to stop talking about, for instance, "a treatment or medication that alleviates pain with which we have long suffered" and actually share gospel.
  • It's helpful also to notice that Lehi's first recorded vision came as he was praying for his people

"Trifle Not with Sacred Things" By Elder Larry S. Kacher

Find this talk here.

  • Another talk saying, "Our choices are important. Here's a semi-relevant personal story."
  • One of the forces we regularly ignore is that of evil spirits. Fully half of Christ's New Testament miracles were casting out of evil spirits, yet today we pretend they don't exist and that it's all some psychological imbalance treatable by Zoloft.
  • "...the importance of acting for myself and not forsaking my agency to others." Exactly! That's one reason claiming the prophet can't lead us astray is so pernicious: it gives our agency away to the leader of the church, and denies him agency. The commonly promulgated doctrine that the Lord will kill off "His Prophet" before the prophet can lead the church the wrong way denies the leadership agency. If the Lord kills you before you can make a wrong choice, the Lord has taken away your agency.
  • I like his example of following what has given him comfort, and that he backs it up with properly applied scripture.
    • I also like his technique of setting difficult questions aside temporarily. This is different than ignoring them or contending in support of the "faith promoting" explanation for weird bits of Church doctrine, policy, or history. The problem is when "temporarily" turns into "forever".
  • If it's really ok to question, it would be nice of the Church to stop punishing people who do it.
  • If Christ won't "vary from that which He hath said", why do so many of our own revelations contradict current policy?
    • The history of polygamy is full of such things; one lesser known such revelation is the one John Taylor claimed to receive saying the Lord would never do away with polygamy. Another is the fact that D&C 132 and Jacob 2 directly contradict each other respecting David and Solomon.
    • The manners of church discipline, of sacrament, and of meeting in general have all changed drastically from what the Lord revealed.
    • For a time, the Church was not called in the name of Christ. This began in 1834 immediately after the law of consecration was abandoned, and continued for several years. Yet we've been told by revelation that it must be named after Christ.
  • Now we have another story of someone whose "heart turned in the wrong direction" because he questioned doctrine, and didn't "ask Heavenly Father for answers." The church talks a lot about people who "turn away", but always fails to recognize that these people's stories don't often fit within the nice box of obvious neglect of spiritual things. Many people have left the church after praying earnestly and at length that the Lord would answer their questions or at least present them some witness of the Church's truth, and have left only after this wholehearted effort failed to bring them discernible results.
    • The continued assertion that being in the Church is always equivalent to being on the path to Christ and salvation is likewise highly misleading, and obviously false.
  • "Priesthood was respected" in the Miller home. Great, but what priesthood was that, exactly? The one the scriptures teach, the one Joseph Smith taught, or the one the Church teaches today? They're not all the same thing.

"Our Personal Ministries" By Elder Hugo E. Martinez

Find this talk here.

  • I agree with him. Christ is far more interested in us personally than we tend to give him credit for. In my estimation, anyway.
  • Interesting that he should mention water. For whatever reason, whenever the power goes out for more than an hour or two, I've felt it important to drag a few gallons of drinking water over to the neighbor's place. Our wells all quit working when the power's out, and the thought of our elderly neighbors being without drinking water has hit me forcefully.
  • So "serving is important." Got it.

"The Book" By Elder Allan F. Packer

Find this talk here.

  • Cute story, about the hatchet's sheath.
  • This idea that we have to pay attention to all gospel requirements is misleading. First, Christ's doctrine is simply to repent and be baptized; the Lord cursed those who declared more or less than that. Second, the Lord will teach us what we need to do to purify ourselves. We should come to know Him, and then follow His instructions. Our mortal minds are not, so far as we can tell, capable of multi-tasking decently, so we simply have to focus on one part of the gospel at a time.
  • "The Church helps but cannot do it for us." I couldn't agree more, not just with the part that says the Church can't do it for us, but the part that says the Church helps.
  • The gospel is certainly far more beautiful and expansive than man's mundane checklists for entering a foreign country.
  • Cool, we get a mention of equality of authority in the Church's quorums. Too bad it doesn't actually work that way in practice.
  • So speaking of these required ordinances, where does the second anointing fall in the list?
    • I wonder if the Church has changed the second anointing ordinance as much as they've changed the initiatory, sealing, and endowment ordinances. Or for that matter the baptism and sacrament ordinances.
  • I thought the ultimate end of the Church would be the same as the Lord's goal, to bring to pass man's immortality and eternal life. Apparently it's just focused on making happy homes. Surely a happy home wasn't the extent of the Lord's goal when He commanded Isaiah to run around naked for three years, or killed off all Ether's family and friends leaving him to get fed by ravens while living in a cave.
  • The Church's focus on family history is interesting, given Joseph Smith's teachings that largely contradict them.
  • I'm interested in how hard it apparently is for the Church to convince people to do family history. They're right that it isn't really that hard, at least for those of us in developed countries, yet even that little action is like pulling teeth, it would seem.
    • To be clear, I've done family history work, and taken to the temple names of family members I found and copied into the Family Search database. Temple work was more rewarding when I did that. I'm no longer convinced it's actually useful to the deceased for whom we try to officiate, but it had its rewards

"The Lord Has a Plan for Us!" By Elder Carlos A. Godoy

Find this talk here.

  • Jefferson and Franklin both encouraged what Elder Godoy here encourages, namely re-examining things in terms of the basics. Jefferson and Franklin called it "a recurrence to first principles" and today we generally apply it in a political sense, but it works elsewhere.
  • Moses didn't quite lead Israel "back to its home." Because of his sin, traditionally considered to be his taking glory to himself at the waters of Meribah, Moses wasn't allowed to enter the promised land. Neither was Aaron around to enter the land. Joshua, therefore, had to lead the Israelites on that final leg of their journey.
  • I suspect Moses received more promises than Elder Godoy mentions (of course, Elder Godoy didn't claim his list was comprehensive, of course), but I suspect also that some of those unmentioned promises were more important to Moses' ability to endure tribulation. Lectures on Faith (lecture 5, I think) tells us that it's when we get a promise from God that our course is right in His eyes that we're able to withstand torture and trial cheerfully, but that without that particular promise, we'd falter.
  • Note that Lehi didn't exactly "remain faithful" as claimed. He did murmur for a time, along with his wife. One is forced to wonder at the doctrine of "the prophet cannot lead us astray" in light of that account.
  • The section heading says we need to consider our choices with the end in mind, but all his examples are of individuals who had marvelous visions and as a result, by Elder Godoy's interpretation anyway, they could deal with serious hardship. He then claims without scriptural support that we can be similarly persistent and resolute even without "see[ing] an angel" because "we have the scriptures, the temple, living prophets, our patriarchal blessings, inspired leaders, and, above all, the right to receive personal revelation."
  • Now he says we need to be prepared for challenges, and repeats his list of visionaries who, because of their visions, were prepared for challenges. But we're apparently supposed to be satisfied with none of the spiritual blessings afforded Moses, Lehi, and Joseph Smith.
    • And then we get a faith promoting story of someone who mentioned God in a secular setting, followed by an encouragement to expand our knowledge. They'll spend the next two General Conferences teaching us that the internet is not an appropriate place to get knowledge, without any hint that it's actually possible to follow Joseph Smith's instruction to seek divine teaching.
  • And now we're supposed to share the vision we don't need, using as examples people who did get those visions.
  • I don't disagree at all that the Lord has a plan for us. But this talk did little to teach me to find and follow that plan.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

"Make the Exercise of Faith Your First Priority" By Elder Richard G. Scott

Find this talk here.

  • I don't disagree with what he's saying about needing to feel sadness to be able to feel happiness. I'd like it if he included the scriptures he's referring to in the text of the talk, rather than leaving them for footnotes.
  • He says our purpose is to come to earth "to be tested, tried and stretched." He doesn't include that the purpose behind this testing, trying, and stretching is so that we'll learn to come to Christ and follow Him. See Ether 12:27, Abraham 3:25, and lots of others.
  • I like that he talks about things we can do to use our faith. I tend to wait around for trials of my faith to appear, subconsciously considering those trials my only opportunity to use faith. I know intellectually that's wrong, but I tend to do it anyway.
  • I've found God to be far more talkative than I ever gave Him credit for. I don't take advantage of that enough.
    • There's more than just "buoyant peace" that comes from prayer. God talks back.
  • God does talk back through written word, but if you let Him, He'll talk back in much more interactive ways. Most of use refuse to let Him do it.
    • Even when talking back in ways other than by written words, God frequently quotes His scriptures.
    • The "voice of the divine" doesn't always sound like the King James bible.
  • Studying scriptures is a great way to show God you want a closer relationship with Him. It gives Him permission to teach you.
  • I don't doubt his promise that peace will come from studying the scriptures. I'll add, though, that you might not recognize it at the time.
  • "We all know there is no more peaceful place on this earth than in the temples of God" I'm not sure I know that. I've been in a lot of peaceful places that weren't the sort of temples he's talking about.
    • I certainly have enjoyed my temple experiences more when doing family names I found.

Friday, October 30, 2015

"Stay in the Boat and Hold On!" By Elder M. Russell Ballard

Find this talk here.

  • Brigham Young's examples of the Old Ship Zion come without any evidence to prove the truth of Brigham's claims. He seems to have felt it self-evident that the Church is the only way to avoid getting "drowned", and "[safely] into the harbor", and assures us that "you need not be concerned," but there's nothing to back up those claims. "We are on the old ship Zion ... [God] is at the helm and will stay there" is equivalent to chanting "All is well" unless supported by actual evidence.
  • Alma's question about continuing to feel a change of heart is important. It's a sign of having received the baptism of fire.
  • The difference between "experienced river guides" and Church leaders is that river guides show evidence (the scriptures call this "fruits") to back up their claims of being worth following. The scriptures ensure us that prophets and apostles will bear certain fruits, and modern Church leaders generally haven't done that. Christ even used his fruits to prove who he was to John's disciples, rather than making claims.
  • This is ludicrous. Elder Ballard quotes himself, as evidence that his leadership is infallible: "Keep the eyes of the mission on the leaders of the Church. … We will not and … cannot lead [you] astray." This is heretical, non-scriptural doctrine, which encourages idolatry and spiritual laziness.
    • It gets worse. He told the mission presidents to whom he first delivered that quote to "teach your missionaries to focus their eyes on us" No, we should follow Christ, not man. The scriptures are clear on that point.
    • Apparently, though, those who refuse to accept Ballard's heresy "leave the Old Ship Zion—they fall away; they apostatize."
  • "Our local Church leaders, like seasoned river guides, have been tutored by life’s experiences; have been trained and mentored by apostles and prophets and other officers of the Church; and, most important, have been tutored by the Lord Himself." This would be wonderful if they actually had been tutored by the Lord Himself, but most local Church leaders regularly admit they have not. This becomes obvious sometimes, like when our bishop determined that my wife and I were comparable to Ron and Dan Lafferty, convicted double murders, because we felt God had given us instructions the bishop didn't agree with.
  • "When you thoughtfully consider our lives and ministry, you will most likely agree that we see and experience the world in ways few others do. You will realize that we live less in a ‘bubble’ than most people" This is more of Ballard vaunting himself, claiming he can't lead us astray and is free of the commoner's problem of bias and provincialism. This is the same Elder Ballard who demonstrated his brilliant and unbiased grasp of life by gracelessly instructing an audience of young single adults that the women among them should wear a little lipstick so as not to look like boys.
  • "We need to become like the sons of Mosiah, who 'waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth.' We can become men and women 'of a sound understanding.' This can be accomplished only by our 'search[ing] the scriptures diligently, that [we] might know the word of God.'" Yes. Absolutely. It helps a lot in that process if you quit accepting the idea that any particular source must always be perfectly true.
  • "In addition to developing the habit of personal scripture reading, we need to be like the sons of Mosiah and give ourselves 'to much prayer, and fasting.'" This is also absolutely true.
  • He speaks of people he's known who leave "the boat" and of whom many "have lost their focus on the central truths of the gospel." It would help those of the Church who seek to address the flood of members leaving the ranks if they would admit that there are many who leave who have not lost that focus.
  • "If we keep our focus on the Lord, we are promised a blessing beyond comparison." Ok, but are we supposed to focus on the Lord, or on the leaders of the Church? Earlier, he says he taught mission presidents to teach their missionaries to "focus their eyes on us". Which is it?
    • As for me and my house, we'll choose the Lord.
  • "Members are always free to ask such questions and earnestly seek greater understanding" If this is true, quit excommunicating people for asking questions.
  • "The important questions focus on what matters most—Heavenly Father’s plan and the Savior’s Atonement." Again, are we to focus on the atonement, or on Church leaders?
  • "we will seek you, find you, minister to you, and pull you safely back onto the Old Ship Zion" This hasn't been my experience, but perhaps that's because I'm not convinced the "Old Ship Zion" is safe.

Ponder the Path of Thy Feet By President Thomas S. Monson

Find this talk here.

  • I suspect we left our Father with more than just "an overwhelming desire to return to Him." I suspect there were ordinances and covenants involved in ways we don't currently understand. To be clear, I have no reason to believe Pres. Monson disagrees with that assessment.
    • Ether 12 tells us Christ has given us weakness to teach us humility, and that we are supposed to learn to humble ourselves to allow Christ's grace to convert those weaknesses to strengths. So what were we like, I wonder, before Christ gave us weakness?
  • He talks of Christ's "lament over Jerusalem as He closed His public ministry." That's an interesting event we don't hear much about, and I'm glad he mentioned it. It reminds me of Mormon talking about "ye fair ones".
  • "We, as servants, can expect no more than the Master, who left mortality only after great pain and suffering." Lectures on Faith says much the same thing, that if Abraham was required to sacrifice his only son to gain salvation, we can hardly expect to gain salvation ourselves without a similar offering on our part.
    • Those who blithely suggest they're saved simply because they've been endowed and sealed -- and those who suggest I must be damned because I openly question the validity of those ordinances -- demonstrate woeful ignorance of scripture and dearth of thought.
  • "Let us remember that the end result of disobedience is captivity and death, while the reward for obedience is liberty and eternal life." True enough, but what sort of obedience are we concerned about? Put another way, as we're striving to be obedient, do we focus on the most important things? Or do we "pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and [omit] the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith"? It's most important to recognize and obey the Spirit, but if you listen to conference you'd think avoiding doubt and pornography are the most important things.
  • "His parables teach with power and authority." I sometimes wonder what that actually means.
  • "With the parable of the lost sheep, He instructs us to go to the rescue of those who have left the path and have lost their way." No mention of how to identify the path and those who aren't on it.
  • I'm grateful to see another conference talk that talks about Christ. I wish his testimony of Christ resembled that of Joseph Smith's. There's lots of power in hearing a credible witness testify they've seen Christ.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

"The Sacrament and the Atonement" By Elder James J. Hamula

Find this talk here.

  • I think it's interesting that in the Luke 22 version of the last supper, Christ passes the wine before the bread. The Matthew, Mark, and 3 Nephi versions all do it in the customary order, and John doesn't seem to talk about it (or perhaps I missed it).
  • "To those who would so signify and conduct their life, spiritual death would 'pass over' them, and eternal life would be assured." It's the meal of the passover that signifies that passing over, not the bread and wine. The only promise mentioned in the sacramental prayer is to have Christ's spirit to be with us.
  • It's interesting that so many believers insist on an ordinance similar to the Last Supper, because the scriptures command that we always observe to do it, but we ignore feast days and sabbaths that come with similar commandments, thinking they've been done away with the rest of the Law of Moses.
  • It might be sort of a stretch to suggest that by taking the sacrament "we acknowledge" our own resurrection.
  • "small cup of water" is interesting. The scriptural accounts of the sacrament that talk about the amounts agree that the partakers ate until they were filled.
    • Some have suggested that the bitterness of red wine is symbolic of the bitterness of the crucifixion. I don't know about that, and I do know that today's D&C 27 says "it mattereth not" what we use. But I think we miss something by using little morsels of bread and tiny thimbles of tap water.
    • The Church History Museum has a display of the last supper which is almost laughable. Glass glasses filled with water, but laid on a red tablecloth so they kind of look like there is something red in them.
  • Now he mentions the sequence of bread followed by water, which again reminds me of Luke's unconventional ordering. But I think he might be describing an important symbol I hadn't considered, in that part of his discussion.
    • I'm certainly willing to believe that our modern version of Luke simply gets the order wrong.
  • He doesn't explicitly reject the commonly preached doctrine that we need to struggle against our own sins, ourselves, but he comes close, and it's very nice. The scriptures make clear that though we shouldn't necessarily ignore our weakness, and certainly shouldn't simply embrace it and allow it to control us, we're expected not to conquer our weakness ourselves but to come to Christ and let Him make weak things strong for us.
    • Later he falls back to the "we've gotta overcome" Kool-Aid.
  • "This is the doctrine of Christ" (that we repent and be baptized)  Scripturally, our insistence on other ordinances and nuances of doctrine are not the doctrine of Christ, and if we really insist on them, we're preaching "more or less than [His gospel]" and are condemned for doing so.
  • The Church talks about the "Spirit of Christ" as distinct from the "Holy Ghost" or "Holy Spirit" (these last two are interchangeable in modern Church parlance). The sacrament prayers are pretty clear that it's "His Spirit", that is, Christ's Spirit we're always to have with us if we keep our end of the bargain, which contradicts the common assertion that everyone has Christ's Spirit.
  • Nowhere do the scriptures back up the Church's insistence on having the sacrament only when a bishop is around to bestow his favor on it. It's interesting that the sacrament, which everyone agrees is so important, will get you excommunicated if you do it without the bishop's say so.

"Eternal Life—to Know Our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ" By Elder Robert D. Hales

Find this talk here.

  • The Father's love for Christ is definitely noticeable. I was thinking of that the other day when reading John 1:18, which the JST helpfully expands. The King James says that "no man hath seen God at any time", but Joseph Smith clarified that by adding "... except he hath borne record of the Son." Christ really is our intermediary in every way, so God the Father simply testifies that Christ is the one we need to pay attention to, and then He steps aside and lets Christ run the show.
  • "[Eternal life] comes through a matter of personal revelation" Absolutely true, and it's wonderful that someone would say this. Joseph Smith taught that we can only know we're on the proper course in our lives through revelation from heaven, and that if we obtain salvation it will be because Christ has come to us and promised it. The Church today will deny this interpretation, but D&C 76 is clear that we need to receive Christ while we're in the flesh in order to obtain the celestial kingdom. We must have Christ visit us and promise us eternal life, in order to get to the celestial kingdom. That's what it means to "know" God, and that's the personal revelation that gives us eternal life.
    • Fortunately, with some searching, we also learn that God is far more forgiving and merciful than most of us give Him credit for, meaning we're not nearly so eternally stuck as we might tend to believe, if we don't receive Christ in the flesh.
  • "this does not mean that some people will forever be dependent upon the testimonies of others." This, too, is very helpful. It's easy for people to despair when they don't believe as strongly as they'd like to, or put another way, they want to believe, like Alma said, but they can't yet find sufficient evidence to convince themselves. That's a hard position to be in, and we're all in it unless we've received our calling and election, or we're willing to lay hold on fallible, emotion-based evidence.
  • "My own testimony grew as I learned about Heavenly Father and the Savior from [various sources] and especially the Holy Ghost. ... In this process, seeking for personal revelation is a key" The scriptures tell us that faith comes from hearing the word of the Lord, so this is exactly how it should work
  • It's awfully nice to hear someone teach from the scriptures. We do that so rarely.
    • It's also nice to hear some actually testify of Christ

Sunday, October 25, 2015

"Live according to the Words of the Prophets" By Carol F. McConkie

Find this talk here.

  • Do prophets always hold keys? I've mentioned before that I find our discussion of keys in the Church somewhat lacking, and if that's true, this question may be unanswerable.
  • It's interesting she'd cite D&C 132. We almost never read it, perhaps because it is confusing. For instance, it contradicts itself when saying once that plural marriage is fine when the first wife gives her consent, and then later suggesting her consent isn't actually necessary. It also says plural wives should be virgins, yet many of Joseph and Brigham's plural wives were either previously married, or in some cases concurrently married. Finally, it directly contradicts the Book of Mormon when it claims David's plural wives were actually justified, in some cases. Frankly, I think Brigham Young tampered with section 132 before it was canonized; we don't have anything remotely like the original copy anymore to verify it against, and it's far less internally consistent than Joseph's revelations usually were. Anyway, it's interesting to see it quoted.
  • She quotes from D&C 21 and claims it refers to the prophet of whatever time we happen to live in. In fact, that verse refers only to Joseph Smith, as is clear upon close reading.
  • She says the Apostles "prophesy in the name of Christ." But they don't. Even when you take the broader definition of "prophet" and "prophesy", which doesn't require telling the future but instead denotes supernaturally received information or power (supported in scripture by such incidents as Christ and the Samaritan woman at the well, or the man "blind from birth"), they still don't meet that qualification.
  • Once again, we get the modern misinterpretation of “Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.” It doesn't mean that anything a Church leader says is the word of God, as is clear from reading the context. It means the Lord will fulfill His promises, whether He does it Himself, or gets a servant to do it.
  • "We are grateful for a church 'built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.'" Yes, we definitely are. It was the testimony I heard from someone who claims to have seen Christ (and would thus qualify as an apostle) that started getting me excited about the gospel. I still don't know for myself whether that man's testimony was true, but it doesn't really matter; I'm not following that man, anyway.
  • "We need not be 'tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine.'" If you compare the doctrine of the early church with that of today, you can see we've been tossed exactly like that. Hence polygamy starting and ending, temple ordinances changing regularly despite Joseph Smith (and Isaiah, and others) making clear they must never be changed, blacks and the priesthood, etc.
  • The "knowledge of the Son of God" Paul refers to in the scripture she quotes is more than just intellectual knowledge; it means we've seen Christ, talked with Him, and made covenants directly with Him.
  • It's interesting to consider what previous exposure the widow may have had to Elijah. The scriptures give no indication that he was some sort of ecclesiastical leader to whom the widow would have given a sustaining vote, for instance. Presumably the Spirit confirmed Elijah's promise (made, notably, in the name of "the Lord God of Israel"), to the widow. We should seek the same confirmation when leaders or others tell us to do something.
  • "We heed prophetic word even when it may seem unreasonable, inconvenient, and uncomfortable." Yes, given the Lord's confirmation, we do. And we receive subsequent witnesses from the Lord that it was right. This sustains us even when unthinking family members and friends accuse us of deception and evil because of the uncomfortable things we've chosen to do.
  • "But following the prophet is always right." I wonder if she's read the story of the two prophets in 1 Kings 13...
  • "The words of the prophets are like manna to our souls." I mentioned a man who claimed to have seen Christ. I found his words "like manna", because they helped me understand the scriptures. The Lord then opened my eyes further, that I understood the scriptures still better. Generally Church leaders don't talk in detail about scripture anymore, so I don't have that experience listening to them.
  • The line attributed to J. Golden Kimball about not getting anywhere in the Church without either "inspiration, perspiration, or relation" came to mind when she started quoting Bruce R. McConkie, her uncle-in-law.
  • "May we open our ears to hear, our hearts to understand, and our minds that the mysteries of God may be unfolded to our view." This is an excellent thing to be praying for. It's what Nephi prayed for when he needed to know whether to follow Lehi and the rest of the family, and it's what the scriptures call a "softened heart".

"Sustaining the Prophets" By Elder Russell M. Nelson

Find this talk here.

  • Elder Nelson asks if we understand what sustaining means. I wonder if he does. This talk mentions "common consent", which is where the idea of sustaining comes from, but it doesn't talk about what it meant at the time nor the scriptural basis for that meaning. Instead, it builds on modern tribal interpretation to concoct a whole new meaning for sustaining.
  • He claims the counsel of the prophet will be "counsel will be untainted, unvarnished, unmotivated by any personal aspiration, and utterly true!" Where does he get that idea? The scriptures are full of examples of prophets that were far more fallible and human than that. For a few examples, let's look at 2 Samuel 7, where through Nathan the Lord promises David a prophet descendant and predicts that the prophet will sin, and be chastised by men because of it. Or 1 Kings 13 where a prophet sinfully accepts an invitation to dinner, and is killed because of it? Or all the times Joseph Smith is chastised for his failures in the D&C? Or the comments from modern church leaders about never landing on the moon? Or the chapters in Ezekiel that warn that the Lord will blind the peoples' prophets if the people trust them too much (Ezek 14:4 is one such)? Frankly I think that last promise has been fulfilled in our day, in spades.
  • "Prophets testify of Jesus Christ—of His divinity and of His earthly mission and ministry." Exactly true. And through the time of Joseph Smith, they actually testified that they had seen Christ and stood in God's presence.
  • The verse he cites regarding common consent doesn't have anything to do with common consent. Common consent means the members of the church have to agree when they do things, and that's how it was treated for some time after the founding of the church. These days, however, voting against whatever the leaders say will get you disciplined.
  • "No prophet has ever been elected." That's sort of true. He's right that most of the time people don't campaign (the 1844 succession crisis is one notable exception). But some have not taken office, or have been delayed, because the people didn't sustain them. Frederick G. Williams is one notable example.
  • "You and I do not 'vote' on Church leaders at any level." Not anymore, we don't.
  • "Man’s ways remove people from office or business when they grow old or become disabled." God's way is for people to remove themselves, like King Benjamin did.
  • "Our sustaining is an oath-like indication that we recognize their calling as a prophet to be legitimate and binding upon us." What does it mean that some other person's calling is binding upon us? Does that mean that if they're in a position of authority over us, we are by our sustaining vote indicating we've sworn an oath always to follow their instructions? The Lord certainly wouldn't ever ask us to swear such allegiance to a fallible human, so either the prophet is infallible (something Church leaders routinely deny), or we shouldn't be making that kind of oath.
    • For that matter, the only test for a prophet's legitimacy given in scripture is that that prophet brings forth prophetic fruits. Few Church leaders have even claimed to have brought forth such fruits, let alone proven their claims.
    • The George Albert Smith quote helps clarify this, particularly in that "we will strive to carry out [the instructions of the person we sustain] as the Lord shall direct." I might be willing to take an oath to carry out some person's instructions if the Lord ratified those instructions.
  • "They hold all the priesthood keys that have ever been conferred upon man in this dispensation." It would be fascinating if someone would finally talk about what priesthood keys there are, and who has them. Right now the entire subject is, in its details, a matter of cultural speculation.
  • "[The] decisions of these leaders must be unanimous." They also need to follow the scriptures. Unfortunately many of those decisions made today don't.
    • "These 15 men—prophets, seers, and revelators—know what the will of the Lord is when unanimity is reached!" This brings up an important point, namely how we know what the Lord's will is, or more generally, how we recognize the Spirit. I've felt the same good feelings others have, when a church leader enters the room and everyone stands, or when listening to General Conference, or when taking the sacrament or attending the temple. I have, however, come to doubt that those feelings are a reliable indicator of truth. Joseph Smith said the Holy Ghost communicates pure intelligence, and many of those feelings in my experience don't communicate intelligence. Moreover, I've felt much the same feeling in entirely non-spiritual situations, like at a rodeo, when there has been nothing for that feeling to confirm as true. Finally, psychology shows people have feelings like that all the time, like when they're raised in North Korea and the Dear Leader comes on TV. On the other hand, I have felt pure intelligence, and I've had confirmatory experiences when I've followed that intelligence. I do know the Spirit works, but it doesn't work the way the Church teaches.
  • "Counterbalances and safeguards abound so that no one can ever lead the Church astray." So why do the scriptures predict the institutional Church will grow apostate? D&C 85 says the church will require "one mighty and strong ... to set in order the House of God".
  • Having those people in whose hands the Church rests say "I assure you that the Church is in good hands" doesn't necessarily mean a lot. It's like when Elder Ballard quotes himself saying he and his colleagues can't lead the Church astray.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

"Continuing Revelation" By President Henry B. Eyring

Find this talk here.

  • "There are many listening today who feel a pressing need for that blessing of personal revelation from our loving Heavenly Father."  Yes, there are.
  • "with [the establishment of the Church] was restored the power to invoke the Holy Ghost so that revelation from God could be continuous." This betrays a misunderstanding common in the Church. The scriptures teach not that duly authorized men give the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, but that the Lord gives the gift, in His own due time. Also, even without the gift of the Holy Ghost, revelation can be continuous. The gift of the Holy Ghost, remember, is the promise that its companionship will be constant; it can be constant without that promise.
  • He says Pres. Packer told us about revelation as "that identifying mark of the true Church", but that's not what Pres. Packer said in his quote, and it's not an identifying mark of anything. Everyone, church member or not, gift of the Holy Ghost or not, is able to receive revelation, if the Lord chooses to bestow it. It's not a marker of anything, other than the Lord's favor, and we certainly don't have a monopoly on that.
  • In another story of a response to another of Lehi's revelations, Nephi tells us precisely how he went about securing the confirmatory revelation Pres. Eyring talks about. Nephi tells us he prayed that his heart would be softened. We need to do the same thing.
  • Now Pres. Eyring is equating family rules with revelation. Is that the personal revelation he told us earlier so many people are searching for? The revelation that their family should have rules? As Joseph Smith put it, God isn't trifling with us. Yes, family rules are important, and yes, "small and simple things" and all that. But having family rules is exactly the sort of thing "human judgment and logical thinking" will come up with on their own; the same judgment and thinking that Pres. Eyring rightly told us earlier aren't sufficient for the things that matter most.
  • It's stuff like the Teton Dam story that I think we need to hear more of. Clearly there were times there when God reached down and directed things in such a way that those involved knew it was His power and not theirs. We need testimonies in our day that such things are possible. Poetry and faith promoting rumor are nice, if you don't mind taking the time, but what we really need is testimony, or in other words, we need to share the evidence on which our faith is built.
  • "[A feeling of love for the president of the Church] is far more than hero worship or the feelings we sometimes have of admiring heroic figures. It is a gift from God." Perhaps, but do you have any evidence of it? Something in scripture, perhaps? Because from my perspective, the love most Church members show for their president matches very closely with the hero worship we see in North Koreans for whichever Kim Jong happens to be in charge at the time. On the other hand, there is evidence -- actual hard evidence -- that Joseph Smith received intelligence from some higher power, that God has a hand in our daily lives, and that angels visit the earth. But I don't see any evidence beyond unsupported claims of Church apologists that love for the leaders of the Church is anything more than hero worship.
  • "the Lord often asks His prophets to give counsel that is hard for people to accept." You mean like the counsel to be a good example that Pres. Monson gave in the priesthood session? Not particularly hard.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

"Guided Safely Home" By President Thomas S. Monson

Find this talk here.

  • I wonder sometimes that we talk remarkably rarely about how to identify priesthood, in the Church. The scriptures make several things clear enough:
    • The Hebrews had the higher priesthood, but God took it away from them, leaving them with the Levitical priesthood. Note that the scriptures don't make clear whether the Hebrews knew they'd been deprived of higher priesthood, or not, nor how they'd have known.
    • Christ acknowledged the lesser priesthood still held by the Jews, during His ministry. Apparently it's hard to lose the lesser priesthood through bad behavior.
    • D&C 121 makes clear that some form of the priesthood, at least, is conditional upon good behavior. 
    • D&C 121 also says we'll understand the "doctrine of the priesthood" only after we let 'virtue garnish [our] thoughts unceasingly" and have "bowels ... full of charity". So on the assumption that most of us haven't done that, the priesthood is something we probably don't understand all that well.
      • That's probably why, for all its talk of priesthood keys, the Church can't provide a list of those keys, nor what they do, and why even though Brigham Young taught that there are keys we don't have, the temple recommend interview requires members to claim the president of the church holds all priesthood keys.
    • D&C 124 makes clear that the fulness of the priesthood was something we had, but it was taken away, and couldn't be restored until we built the Nauvoo House -- something we never completed.
      • The standard Church narrative is that these verses speak of the Nauvoo temple, but the section talks about the Nauvoo House just previous to those verses, and never indicates that it is changing subject. Further, the Church claims the Nauvoo temple was completed, but this is very debatable, perhaps most obviously because we have no record of the fulness of anything having been restored.
  • Anyway, whether the body gathered there had the priesthood or not, I don't blame Pres. Monson for feeling humbled at having to speak to such a crowd. That would be tough.
  • It's interesting that after talking about how important it is to have guidance in life, the first concrete example of something from which to get guidance that Pres. Monson gives is the stars. The scriptures make clear the heavens are there to communicate messages from God to us (cf. Jeremiah 31:34, or most of the book of Abraham), and the most reasonable interpretation of the book of Revelation, of which I'm aware anyway, involves constellations and planets intimately. Yet the Church doesn't even talk about astronomy anymore, and tries to diminish the credibility of those Church members who do talk about such things.
  • Pres. Monson says we should follow "the Master", but he gives no concrete examples of how to do that, other than "be worthy." Is this the message of revelation and prophecy we're to expect from the Lord in times Pres. Monson rightly describes as surrounded in sin?
    • Ok, now he's saying we should be good examples. Thanks for that.
  • "Our Heavenly Father will not leave our sincere petition unanswered." I'd love to hear specific testimony of that claim. I believe it; it seems to have been true in my life. But of all the messages I've ever heard regarding the gospel, the most influential have been those that either expounded the scriptures, or that testified that principles taught there are true.
    • For instance, I can testify from experience that living what Christ tells you to do will get you dragged before Church and government leaders, and that when that happens, we don't need to worry about what to say, because Christ will tell us in the very moment what we should say (cf. Matt 10)
    • Easily the most immediately meaningful gospel message I've heard was one where a man claimed to have seen Christ, and received promises from Him. I don't know if the claim to have seen Christ was true, but I've learned that the scriptures teach it could be, and that that's the blessing we need to seek in this life. That has taught me to love the scriptures, more than any other message I've ever heard.
  • Too bad this talk didn't really say anything.

Friday, September 25, 2015

"The Preparatory Priesthood" by President Henry B. Eyring

Find this talk here.

  • He says he's "gathered with the priesthood of God". Given that the Hebrews had the higher priesthood taken from them and didn't know it, I wonder if we'd know if we really had the priesthood.
  • I'm halfway through the talk and still not sure what he's trying to talk about. He's telling stories about quorums working together, which is pleasant, but seems little more than that.
  • "All of us in the priesthood have an obligation to help the Lord prepare others." Um, prove it, please. We have an obligation to take care of the poor, to teach the gospel to those in our care, and to seek out Christ in our own lives. I can't think of any scripture right off that says we're obligated to help prepare others for the priesthood. I can think of one that says that if we let are charitable and let virtue garnish our thoughts unceasingly, "the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven," suggesting that we don't understand the doctrine of the priesthood until we have been charitable and virtuous.
  • He says our words aren't as important as our behavior, but Romans 10:17 says "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." So those we're teaching won't get faith until they hear the word.
  • It looked like we were going to have another "Praise President Monson" session, but it ended after two sentences, without any detail. The bits of talks that try to hold President Monson up as an example are bothersome. "Why not speak of the atonement of Christ?"
  • He's definitely right that a bit of respect toward a young person from an elder they respect can work wonders.
    • He's also certainly right that it's important to show love in advance of the chastisement

“Lord, Is It I?” by Pres. Uctdorf

Find this talk here.

  • Though the first third of this talk is stories trying to teach the same subject, it's an important subject, and I'm glad to see it addressed. Scriptural study in the church often demonstrates the spiritual blind spot problem Pres. Uctdorf discusses: we read scriptures to prove what we already think, rather than to determine what we're supposed to think. Thus, members of the church are often at least as Pharisaical as Christ's mortal persecutors, strictly adhering to the letter of an oral tradition built up as protection for God's simple and straightforward law. We have an entire book of scripture devoted to telling us how badly the Gentiles will reject the gospel in the latter days, but often fail to realize that *we* are those very Gentiles. We somehow figure King Benjamin's very clear instructions with regard to beggars and the needy somehow don't apply to us. We read scriptures condemning priestcraft, and faithfully pay tithing to support our professional priests, their fleet of high-end Toyota Avalons, and their high seats in our famous synagogue.
  • "The ward had every outward indication of faithfulness". It's wonderful that he would put it that way. Clearly the outward signs we consider to be hallmarks of the righteous aren't everything we sometimes think they are. Perhaps, to carry the thought a little, those outward signs we interpret as abject wickedness may not merit our trust, either.
  • Yes, in this world it's easy to procrastinate scripture study. It's even easier when your bishop warns you against studying on your own.
  • "Where is my treasure" -- an excellent question. Do we treasure our church membership more than anything, or are we interested most in our relationship with Christ? Pres. Grant says he specifically prayed not to meet Jesus Christ because he knew of too many people who claimed to have met Christ, and then fallen from the Church. So which is more important: the earthly organization, or the Savior?
  • "Does the Spirit of God dwell in your hearts?" How do you know? I know I don't regularly receive what I'd call "revelation", and Joseph Smith says that since the Holy Ghost is a revelator, you can't have received him and not be receiving revelation, then I guess I have somewhat to work on.
  • Pres. Uchtdorf is exactly right: it's awfully hard to look at ourselves with sufficient candor to spot our weakness and humbly seek to change.
  • It's nice to think of ourselves deciding to become better sons, husbands, etc. when we acknowledge our failures, but the scriptures say the right thing to do is to humble ourselves and ask Christ for grace, so that those weaknesses may become strengths. In other words, don't get so caught up in behavior; get caught up in Christ.

"The Law of the Fast: A Personal Responsibility to Care for the Poor and Needy" by Bishop Dean M. Davies

Find this talk here.

  • These are remarkable times, indeed, in terms of the technology and science the Lord has given us. It's also remarkable that now, when we have people who we claim are prophets, seers, and revelators, they almost never show evidence of the spiritual gifts of healing and revelation their scriptural counterparts manifested.
  • It's also interesting that although General Conference talks regularly point out, as this one did, increased human violence and natural disaster around the world, as the scriptures have predicted, the Church downplays the rest of the scriptural predictions, namely that the world is imploding.
  • Yes, "when and where possible" the Church does an awful lot of humanitarian service, which is no doubt a good thing. One wonders how much more they could do if they quit buying advertising in Times Square, and making big screen movies about caricatured "Mormons". If we're really supposed to take care of the poor, let's quit wasting time and money on relatively worthless endeavors such as those, or on employing thousands of Church employee drones who waste their days trying valiantly to live their idea of the gospel against the constant restraint of an institutional bureaucracy that rivals the government in stagnation and corporate boot-licking. Let's instead use our resources for the poor. The amount of money spent on Church educational materials (most of which the members ignore and all of which are wholly inane), advertising and public relations materials, focus groups and market research (yes, the Church does lots of market research, such as before making changes to temple ordinances to see if they'll go down well), and especially on our army of paid clergy, dwarfs the Church's fast offering and humanitarian budget. That this fact is widely known despite the Church's far-reaching efforts to keep its accounting secret demonstrates even more clearly just how wide the gulf between the two budgets really is.
  • How many of us call, and have the Lord actually answer, as Isaiah promises, even when we obey the Church's regular fasts with strictness? In our stake conference, Elder Ballard told us that he's grateful for "trained scholars" in the church who can answer his questions about Church history and the scriptures. So it sounds like Elder Ballard, at least, isn't in the habit of asking the Lord and receiving answers from Him.
  • Bishop Davies tells us that the commandment to fast and give fast offerings promises extraordinary blessings. But the Isaiah text he refers to doesn't limit our requirement in that way. Instead, Isaiah says we're commanded to loose the bands of wickedness, undo the heavy burdens, let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke. That's far more than just fasting and giving an offering, and it's not everything Isaiah says we're supposed to do. He also tells us to bring the poor into our houses, cover the naked, and assist our needy relatives.
  • Once again we have mention of priesthood keys, this time used to distribute fast offering resources. Does anyone actually have a good idea what priesthood keys exist, in the church's thinking? Is there a list somewhere? (Answer: No)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

"I Know These Things of Myself" by Elder Craig C. Christensen

Find this talk here.

  • Here again we're asking deacons why they admire Pres. Monson. Let's quit worshiping a man and worship God instead. "Why not speak of the atonement of Christ, and attain to a perfect knowledge of him?" says Jacob 4.
  • I'm glad he's getting into scriptural examples now. I suspect many of us could benefit from fasting and praying "many days" like Alma did, though what we're taught today about fasting discourages it greatly. Certainly we'd do well to pray for soft hearts, as Nephi did when trying to accept Lehi's vision. The modern church unfortunately tends to go after people who report having had visions, or even experiences wherein they "know for themselves" something the correlation committee might not approve of, even when they clearly understand those visions were for them alone.
  • Nephi's example of wanting to see what Lehi saw somewhat contradicts the idea that we should simply "follow the prophet".
  • I'm grateful for Elder Christensen's focus on knowing for ourselves. The gospel is a personal things.
  • We concentrate too much on "feelings" in the church, as Elder Christensen does here when he describes the seeds of a testimony. "The first Comforter or Holy Ghost has no other effect than pure intelligence," said Joseph Smith. That's not necessarily feelings. Moreover, the boy in Mark 9 who had an evil spirit approached the Savior, and the boy's first feeling was of being tossed on the ground and torn by the evil spirit. We can't trust feelings, unless perhaps we're sure we're not influenced at the time by evil spirits.
    • I agree, though, that we must not ignore spiritual evidence, and we must pray to continue to have more such evidence.
  • We get the "many sacred experiences with the Holy Ghost" line again. The seventy have an apostolic calling; to be an apostle is to witness that Christ was resurrected, by having seen him. That's what Oliver Cowdery told the first apostles when they were ordained, and it remains true. Instead, Elder Christensen testifies of President Monson.

"Choose Wisely" by Elder Quentin L. Cook

Find this talk here.

  • I think it's interesting that Elder Cook would throw in this quote about how we spend our time on the internet: “You can get caught up in endless loops of triviality that waste your time and degrade your potential.” (from Randall L Ridd, Ensign, May 2014) I was trying to find something worth writing about in this talk, and all I found was triviality. Elder Packer was right when he taught that studying doctrines improves behavior faster than studying behavior; I have had that experience in my own life. So here's a talk all about minutia of behavior. Elder Cook later says, somewhat ironically in my view, "Sometimes it feels like we are drowning in frivolous foolishness, nonsensical noise..." Frivolous foolishness and nonsensical noise, indeed.

"Finding Lasting Peace and Building Eternal Families" by Elder Perry

Find this talk here.

  • Most of this post is a long aside about "eternal families". I put it here in case it's helpful later on. Elder Perry doesn't discuss the doctrine of sealing directly in this talk.
    • Alongside the mantra "follow the prophet" because he can't lead us astray, there are few more prominent doctrines in the modern LDS church than that of eternal families. The "follow the prophet" doctrine didn't exist at the time of Joseph Smith, and the idea of eternal families has been heavily modified from what Joseph introduced. Of course, a belief in continuing revelation might make room for such changes, in theory. Joseph Smith taught, however, that one key to identify revelation is that it doesn't contradict previous revelation. He also taught specific doctrines about the nature of ordinances, in particular that they were instituted from the beginning of the world and may never be changed, if they are to retain their salvific power. Modern Mormonism must ignore both those teachings to make room for its modern innovations about eternal families.
    • Yes, I'm aware of the modern teaching that a live prophet is more important than a dead one, which suggests it's no problem to abandon whatever Joseph Smith may have said. This comes from Ezra T. Benson's "Fourteen fundamentals in following the prophet" talk, originally given at BYU in 1980. The principles given in this talk form the foundation of the "follow the prophet" doctrine as taught today. However at the time, the talk so bothered President Kimball that he called Elder Benson before a meeting of all the General Authorities and demanded he explain himself, saying Elder Benson's talk promoted "an unthinking 'follow the leader' mentality". He also required Elder Benson to apologize to the combined twelve apostles in a later meeting. The apostles reporting having been "unsatisfied" with the apology. (D. Michael Quinn, "Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power") Most of the doctrines Elder Benson advocated in the talk are without basis in scripture.
    • Joseph Smith is the only one of the LDS church's leaders who demonstrated the fruits of "prophet, seer, and revelator" as defined in scripture. The rest all did plenty of good things, but good works do not a prophet make, if we're following the definition in scripture. Therefore, I consider Joseph Smith's teachings of more weight than those of later church leaders. I also believe that even his teachings were not necessarily perfect, especially his teachings as we have them today. Many were hastily recorded for the recorder's own private purposes only, many things we attribute to the Prophet were "remembered" years after the fact, and Brigham Young began a concerted effort to doctor our history which continues today. See, for instance, Charles Wandell for information on that score.
    • As a result of the above, my take on "eternal families" differs greatly from what the modern Church preaches. I won't attempt to lay out my own belief here; among other things, frankly, I'm still sorting it out. I expect that will take a very long time. I will only start with the idea that Joseph Smith taught a doctrine of "adoption", involving sealing individuals to "the Fathers", one of a group of heads of gospel dispensations, with whom God had made specific promises. Hence Moroni's version of Malachi, that Elijah would "plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers." Note also that the Nauvoo temple not only remained incomplete when Joseph died, it was never completed according to its original plan. Though the Church today claims the temple was nonetheless completed, when section 124 commanded the temple to be built, the church was promised it would not be moved out of its place if it completed the temple in time. Clearly we were moved out of our place; I consider therefore that the temple was never completed to the Lord's satisfaction. Without a working temple, Joseph was unable to preach temple ordinances as he would have liked.
  • It's true Christ should be our example, of course. So I'm grateful Elder Perry wants actually to talk about Him, rather than telling stories of President Monson's earlier service in the church like so many conference talks do. Jacob 4 says, "why not speak of the atonement of Christ"? 
  • The parable of the wheat and tares doesn't liken tares to ways Satan influences us, as Elder Perry insinuates when he talks about "worldly ways" coming "by wire and through the air" into our electronic devices. Wheat and tares are people.
  • I certainly agree that "family values" generally must be retained in our homes and lives, and that whatever the truth may be of eternal families and sealings, the family is the perfect place to teach gospel principles and proper living, with a father and a mother, and we must not shirk the responsibility to teach there.

Monday, September 21, 2015

"Are We Not All Beggars?" by Elder Holland

Find this post here.

  • I'm grateful to see Elder Holland willing to discuss the topic of administering to the poor. We've had lessons in our ward from stake visitors claiming it's sufficient to write our fast offering check and know, thereby, that we've done our allotted portion. King Benjamin and others, in contrast, tell us never to let the begger pass us by. My own experience is that King Benjamin had it right, and our high councilor didn't, but many people report their congregations simply don't buy the idea that King Benjamin's instructions mean what they very clearly say.
  • It's helpful to realize Christ was probably homeless. It's also helpful to realize this was likely by his own decision. Of course he could have set up shop somewhere doing whatever he wanted and doing it better than all the local competition, but instead he simply let God provide for his needs. By contemporary standards, God didn't pay terribly well, but God doesn't necessarily promise us mansions on earth.
    • In our day, as in Christ's, and as in the Book of Mormon, the priestly class who are paid for their labor are unequivocally condemned. Alma and Amulek's city of Ammonihah, wiped out by marauding Lamanites in just one day, were "of the order of Nehor," or in other words supporters of priestcraft; this evil earned them the destruction they received. Here, the LDS church is just as full of priestcrafts as everyone else. We simply can't get around the fact that our leadership are all paid. Not only paid, but paid from tithing funds whose disposition is hidden from Church members, directly contradicting scripture that commands tithing be used by common consent -- meaning everyone votes how it gets used.
  • Loved the Mother Teresa example, and the humbled journalist
  • I appreciate the distinction he points out between "obtaining" a remission of sins, and "retaining" it.
  • We've had good experiences "bring[ing] the poor that our cast out to [our] house"
  • Pres. Monson's example of giving away his shoes is an excellent one. If we quit vaunting him as something better than we our, it might go a long way toward convincing us to do the same things ourselves.
  • This was an excellent talk. I liked it a lot.

Monday, August 17, 2015

"Yes, Lord, I Will Follow Thee", by Elder Eduardo Gavarret

Find this talk here.

  • The analogy in the "follow the voice" game is kinda silly, because there are no concrete criteria for distinguishing between the correct voice and other voices. He says he "felt confident" he was following the right voice, and his experience demonstrates perfectly that we can't rely on that confidence.
    • That said, it's helpful to promise the Lord, concretely, that we will follow Him.
    • Later he says the Lord's voice "cannot be confused".  Does that mean the Lord won't get confused, or we can't possibly confuse the Lord's voice with something else? Certainly the former is true, but it sounds like he's saying the latter, which is provably wrong. The scriptures never tell us we'll recognize Christ by some unmistakable voice we automatically recognize; they tell us to recognize Him by His fruits. Joseph Smith gives us keys in D&C 129 to test angelic visitors by shaking their hands; if Christ's message were unmistakable there, we wouldn't need those keys.
  • Elder Gavarret tells us non-members will receive the invitation to come unto Christ through the missionaries' invitation to be baptized, but he over-simplifies the situation. Many reject that invitation because they simply don't care about Christ, whether He lives or not, but many do care about Christ yet don't see His connection to the Church.
  • These days, the Church talks far more about following the prophet than about following Christ. Certainly most, if not all, members would agree they're following the prophet in order to better follow Christ, but Christ didn't tell us to find some proxy by which to follow Him; in fact He told us we'd be cursed by accepting someone else as our intermediary for Him.
    • "and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate;" 2 Ne 9:41
  • "As you strive to come to Him, you will gain the power to relieve life’s burdens, whether physical or spiritual, and experience a positive inner change that will help you be happier." This is exactly the sort of looking for Christ's fruits that we should be engaged in. It's not until we see that fruit that we can be confident we're doing the right thing.
  • The Lord's invitation to Enoch was far more than "walk with me." It included promises of great power, and the blessing of becoming a seer.
  • The change generated within a person such that they no longer want to do evil is related to following Christ, but it's the specific fruit of the baptism of fire, an experience few claim to have had anymore, and a doctrine about which the Church no longer allows itself to preach specifically. The Correlation committee requires all Church materials -- including General Conference talks -- to remain within a specific list of about 70 topics, and the baptism of fire is not on that list. I think I've mentioned this essay in earlier notes, but refer to it for more details, specifically chapter 13.
  • His list of steps to walk with Christ differs from the scriptural pattern. Alma 32 tells us to experiment upon the word, and check its fruits. Abraham, we're told, sought after the priesthood by following righteousness (Abraham 1:2). We can't find someone's message, assume it's from Christ, and follow it bull-headed to wherever it leads; we must find evidence that a message really is from Christ.

Friday, August 14, 2015

"Approaching the Throne of God with Confidence" by Elder Jörg Klebingat

Find this talk here.

  • This topic is incredibly important. Lectures on Faith makes clear that we must know God approves of the direction we're taking in life.
    • "we ... proceed to treat of the knowledge which persons must have, that the course of life which they pursue is according to the will of God, in order that they may be enabled to exercise faith in him unto life and salvation." (Lectures on Faith 6:1, emphasis added)
    • In other words, we can't have faith "unto life and salvation" without a knowledge that we're following the will of God.
    • In verse 3, the lecture talks about "knowing, (not merely believing,)" which makes clear there's a difference.
    • Quoting verse 4: "nothing short of an actual knowledge of their being the favorites of heaven, and of their having embraced that order of things which God has established for the redemption of man, will enable them to exercise that confidence in him necessary for them to overcome the world, and obtain that crown of glory which is laid up for them that fear God."
    • Rephrased for brevity, the only way to be saved is to know ("more than mere belief, or supposition", v. 5) you're doing what God wants.
  • He asks if we were to have an interview with the Savior, "Would sins, regrets, and shortcomings dominate your self-image, or would you simply experience joyful anticipation?" It's unfortunate that we tend to think "sins, regrets, and shortcomings" generally would make us hesitant to speak with the Lord. Scripturally, the ones the Lord chastised were those who were prideful and hard hearted, but so long as people were teachable, He was willing to work with them no matter their sins.
    • Elder Klebingat points this out nicely in his own words: "The adversary knows that faith in Christ—the kind of faith that produces a steady stream of tender mercies and even mighty miracles—goes hand in hand with a personal confidence that you are striving to choose the right. For that reason he will seek access to your heart to tell you lies—lies that Heavenly Father is disappointed in you, that the Atonement is beyond your reach, that there is no point in even trying, that everyone else is better than you, that you are unworthy, and a thousand variations of that same evil theme."
  • "the kind of peaceful assurance and spiritual confidence that is yours to have if you only want it. "  The assurance our ways are right before heaven, as described in Lectures on Faith, may differ from the assurance he's talking about here. But the Lectures on Faith variety requires more than just wanting; it requires sacrifice. See, for instance, v. 9, which begins by saying, "It was in offering sacrifices that Abel, the first martyr, obtained knowledge that he was accepted of God".
  • "Take responsibility for your own spiritual well-being" Yes! That includes not pegging the leaders of the church with the responsibility to get you saved, by saying, "If I just follow the prophet, I'll be exalted."
  • Physical well-being is important, but I'm not sure it's of the same importance. D&C 123:13 says "we should waste and wear out our lives in bringing to light all the hidden things of darkness", which obviously is interesting wording and could probably be taken many different ways. Be that all as it may, personal experience has taught me that taking responsibility for our physical selves opens the door for God to teach us what's really important, even if physical well being isn't it.
  • "If ye love me, keep my commandments" is important, but let's remember that many of the commandments we see as so very important are the commandments of men. For instance, because of prohibition, the Church went through a phase where the fact that we didn't drink alcohol was no longer sufficient to demonstrate to the world that we were proper Christians, so we started coming up with all kinds of other rules we'd live by, such as not using face cards. The scriptures say nothing about having a year's supply of food, and the "if ye are prepared, ye shall not fear" statements talk about other things entirely. So yes, let's be obedient, but to God's commandments, including those that come directly to us through the Spirit, and not to the commandments of various men.
  • "Make the Church and the restored gospel your whole life, not just a part of your outward or social life. Choosing this day whom you will serve is lip service only—until you actually live accordingly." This statement presupposes "the Church and the restored gospel" are synonymous with the Lord whom Joshua said his house would serve. Rather than choosing the Church as a proxy for Christ (you could also call it an "idol"), let's just make Christ the center of our whole life, and see what happens.
  • Repentance is important, but I'm not sure it means what we think it means. We sometimes think we're supposed to pray for forgiveness for every misdeed we've ever done, but that obviously doesn't work because we can't remember 'em all. Moreover, the Lord regularly forgave people the entirety of their sins, wholesale. To "repent" means to turn to God, and to "sin" means to miss the mark, so "repenting of your sins" essentially means to focus on God, not to pray daily for forgiveness for each of the day's specific sins.
    • Repentance in any form is essential, even if we've gotten the general idea a bit wrong, because it encourages the humility and teachability the Lord looks for.
  • I have nothing to add to his comments on forgiving.
  • Speaking of trials he seems again to channel Lectures on Faith #6.
  • "Yours is the privilege, if you want it, to come to know for yourself, today or soon, that you are pleasing God in spite of your shortcomings." Here again, he figures you get the knowledge just by wanting it, and whereas last time he used the word "confidence", now he uses "knowledge." We only get that from the Lord when He tells us in His voice that we'll be exalted.
    • "After a person has faith in Christ, repents of his sins, and is baptized for the remission of his sins and receives the Holy Ghost (by the laying on of hands), which is the first Comforter, then let him continue to humble himself before God, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and living by every word of God, and the Lord will soon say unto him, Son, thou shall be exalted. When the Lord has thoroughly proved him, and finds that the man is determined to serve him at all hazards, then the man will find his calling and election made sure, then it will be his privilege to receive the other Comforter.' To receive the other Comforter is to have Christ appear to him and to see the visions of eternity." (TPJS p. 149-151, quoted in Mormon Doctrine)

Saturday, August 8, 2015

"Parents: The Prime Gospel Teachers of Their Children", by Tad R. Callister

This talk can be found here.

  • Hooray for homeschooling :)
  • Not much to say about this talk; it's mostly storytelling and philosophies of men he doesn't even try to justify.
  • "No doubt most of our youth have their evening prayers, but perhaps many of them struggle with the habit of personal morning prayer." Rather than adopt a schedule of prayer, perhaps we'd do well to learn to pray always (Ephesians 6, D&C 10:5)
  • "That is one reason it is so important to honor our responsibilities as parents here on earth so we can prepare for those even greater, but similar, responsibilities in the life to come." How does he know they're greater? Can he offer any proof? Joseph Smith made clear that we don't know much about the afterlife.

"Joseph Smith", by Elder Neil L. Andersen

Find this talk here. I was excited about this one, because from the title it sounded like it would share details of actual history. Unfortunately it was all apologetics, and not particularly well reasoned apologetics at that.

  • It's interesting to see Elder Andersen talk about a bunch of righteous people who had very difficult lives, shortly after a talk that claimed the Lord doesn't want anyone to be poor.
  • The wise, the pure in heart, and the virtuous will have to be willing to do things others -- including some of their loved ones, presumably -- will disapprove of, in seeking blessings under the hand of someone everyone else holds in derision.
  • "Many of those who dismiss the work of the Restoration simply do not believe that heavenly beings speak to men on earth." My own experience is that actually those who aren't wholly atheist tend mostly to believe God can talk to people.
  • His statement that "we always welcome honest and genuine questions" is frankly false.
  • "We are especially saddened when someone who once revered Joseph retreats from his or her conviction and then maligns the Prophet." This of course is true. It would well serve those of us who claim to revere the Prophet Joseph to gain some idea of what he actually taught. The Book of Mormon is clear that most of those who claim to receive the gospel from Joseph will fall into apostasy. Joseph's teachings also make clear that we must seek to meet the Savior in this life. Unfortunately, that's one of several topics the Church's correlation committee won't allow Church materials to discuss. Joseph made very clear several times, including in D&C 13, that animal sacrifice will be reinstituted, yet Mormons often insist this is false. Joseph Smith tried to teach that temple sealings were to seal people to the head of their dispensation through what was called "adoption" (another topic the correlation committee prohibits), but the modern version of sealing instead comes from Wilford Woodruff, who openly admitted he didn't know anything about "adoption" and invented the current way of doing things in its place. Most importantly, Joseph made clear we need to work to have Christ promise us salvation, while we're in this life. This is yet another topic correlation refuses to countenance, but Joseph's teaching was that those that don't receive that promise in this life won't be saved.
  • "We might remind the sincere inquirer that Internet information does not have a 'truth' filter." Neither do the Church's published materials, which are often hilariously inaccurate.
  • "You may understandably question what you hear on the news, but you need never doubt the testimony of God’s prophets." The scriptures never promise prophets, real or so-called, won't be wrong. 1 Kings 13 and most of Ezekiel make very clear that while prophets are crucial, they can also make mistakes, and people who depend on their prophets to lead them to salvation will be damned.
    • Of course, trusting too heavily on the internet is similarly foolish.
  • Elder Andersen accuses Joseph Smith's detractors of presenting truth without adequate context. That's exactly what the Church's "Gospel Topics" essays do, too, for the most part.
  • His constant refrain of "we might remind" people is awfully defensive.
  • "A sincere inquirer should see the spreading of the restored gospel as the fruit of the Lord’s work through the Prophet." So the simple fact of an idea spreading widely is a sign of truth? I think we can all find contrary examples.
    • 2 Nephi 26:20: the prideful and unrighteous Gentiles have built up many churches. Sounds like an idea spreading to me.
    • By the way, vs 26 ("Behold, hath he commanded any that they should depart out of the synagogues, or out of the houses of worship? Behold, I say unto you, Nay.") doesn't describe the modern LDS church. An acquaintance of mine was excommunicated and presented with a restraining order prohibiting him from entering any Church-owned property. The Church still hasn't told him why he was excommunicated, or given the order.
    • While we're in 2 Nephi, 28:29 says "Wo be unto him that shall say: We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough!" So what do we do when Pres. Hinckley in a newspaper interview (San Francisco Chronicle, Apr. 13, 1997) (and our recently released bishop, in his office) claim we don't need much revelation anymore, and Elder Wirthlin tells us everything necessary for our salvation has already been revealed (Gen. Conf., Oct 1994)? We should still pay attention to Joseph, who taught that you can't receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelation, because the Holy Ghost is a revelator. (TPJS p. 328) So if you've not got revelation, you haven't received the Holy Ghost yet.
      • Elder Wirthlin in the same talk tells us to "avoid delving into so-called mysteries", which also flatly contradicts Joseph Smith ("I advise all to go on to perfection, and search deeper and deeper into the mysteries of Godliness."  HC 6:17)
  • He keeps talking about fruits. That's a good criterion to judge -- it's the one the scriptures recommend, even (Matt 7:20, among others), but our fruits demonstrate only a good and kind people, not "one true church". Joseph and the scriptures taught that true belief leads to much more impressive fruits (Mark 6:17, for instance)
  • "Each believer needs a spiritual confirmation of the divine mission and character of the Prophet Joseph Smith. This is true for every generation. Spiritual questions deserve spiritual answers from God." This is absolutely true. It would be nice if he'd include Joseph's teachings that indicate that the Holy Ghost who will deliver these answers is more than the warm fuzzy feeling by which we often allow ourselves to be guided.
  • "you won’t be of much help to others if your own faith is not securely in place."
    • This is perhaps also true, but it would be helpful if we in the church had any idea what faith is, anymore, or in whom it should be placed. Since Lectures on Faith isn't considered scripture anymore, we have deprived ourselves of probably the best explanation of faith ever written.
  • "The constant water balloon volleys from the sidelines may occasionally get you wet, but they need never, never extinguish your burning fire of faith." So we should assume that everything false comes from "the sidelines", whatever they are, and that truth always comes from whatever isn't the sidelines? Presumably that should mean the Church? So the Church never says anything false?
  • "First, find scriptures in the Book of Mormon that you feel and know are absolutely true." So we're trusting intuition again?
  • "I testify that Joseph Smith was an honest and virtuous man." Ok, so how do you also explain his polygamy and polyandry, historical occurrences the Church openly accepts? There is an explanation for those historical facts, and one which preserves Joseph's virtue and honesty, but it's not the one the Church presents.
  • "In our society beyond the veil of death, we will clearly understand the sacred calling and divine mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith." The point of revelation is that we don't have to wait until death.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

"Loving Others and Living with Differences", Elder Oaks, Oct. 2014

Find this talk here.

  • I have always interpreted "As I have loved you, love one another" or its other variants to mean, "I've loved you; you should therefore love others", rather than the slightly different meaning, "Love others in the same way I've loved you." This latter interpretation, though, makes more sense.
  • The reminder not to contend is an awfully important one. It reminds me of a time I listened to a friend talk about the Church in a way I felt was negative and dishonest, and it made me angry. I didn't act on the anger; rather I revisited the experience later on to see why I'd been angry. I reviewed my friend's statements and determined that in fact, they were all true (his tone when making the statements may perhaps have been inappropriate; I don't remember his tone well, and it's not my place to judge anyway). It taught me a great deal about paying attention to the actual wording of scripture, and the fallibility of my first impressions.
  • I'll insert at this point, in case anyone ever reads this, that my current beliefs differ somewhat from those of my childhood, and those of much of my family. I hope I don't resort to contention to promote or defend those beliefs, and would welcome others to point it out if they feel I'm being contentious. I don't intend even to share my more contrary positions beyond those I'm commanded to teach, unless asked about them specifically, and I don't want to contend at all.
    • I will share my beliefs in detail when prompted to do so, or when people ask specific questions.
  • I wish "in dedicated spaces like ... houses of worship" we actually could "teach the truth and the commandments plainly and thoroughly as we understand them". Unfortunately at least in our ward, the instruction is always to keep things positive and simple. In the Church generally, the correlation program has reduced the allowed topics to a list. There are something like 72 specific subjects about which lessons and curricula may be produced, and anything outside those topics is off limits. See Daymon Smith's Ph.D thesis here for specifics. This list doesn't include much of Joseph Smith's most pressing concerns, such as having one's "calling and election" made sure, or receiving the Second Comforter. This strikes me as organizationally enforced rejection of "the greater portion of the word", which Alma 12:10-11 tells us leads to damnation.
  • I appreciate his wording, that "Less grievous behaviors, even though unacceptable to some believers, may simply need to be endured if legalized by what a Book of Mormon prophet called 'the voice of the people'".
  • "Surely we can teach our children values and standards of behavior without having them distance themselves or show disrespect to any who are different." This is important. I've seen a few too many instances where one LDS family refuses to allow their children to become close to non-LDS children, simply because of religious differences. One neighboring LDS family has a daughter who is (or was) close friends with a non-LDS girl across the street. Hearsay (and, to be clear, I have no evidence of this beyond the report of a potentially biased friend) has it that the LDS father felt his own salvation was at risk unless the non-LDS girl was baptized, or the two girls distanced themselves from each other. This is, of course, completely contrary to scripture and to LDS teaching.
  • I may have to keep his comments on maintaining civil political discourse on hand, because municipal elections are coming up and I live in a politically rancorous area.
  • A study I read (and I realize one can find a study to back up whatever position one chooses to take, more or less) said Utahns in general and Utah Mormons in particular tend to avoid confrontation at the expense of their own interests, and at the same time to feel dismissive of the validity of others' interests. I imagine the study's authors had some ideas about what caused this attitude, but I don't remember what they were and don't claim to have any specific idea myself. If there's something to the study's claims, perhaps anymore it's just cultural inertia. In any case, Elder Oaks' advice is important: there are some things we can't compromise, at least when it comes to our own behavior.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A few comments on "sustaining"

The next bit of the conference involves the sustaining of officers, which merits some comment.

The whole idea of "sustaining" office-holders in the church stems from what the D&C calls "common consent." All actions of the church are meant to be governed by this common consent, which means the membership of the church directs the operations of the church, if we're following the scriptural forms. See D&C 26:2 and D&C 28:13. The D&C describes a church where leaders get authority from the consent of the members they'll lead, not by virtue of a priesthood office, and in the early days of the church it wasn't uncommon for members to engage in some discussion as they tried to find someone they could agree on, to fill a vacant office.

Today, on the other hand, members are expected to vote for the leaders they've been assigned, and if you can't do that in good conscience, you lose your temple recommend. In other words, you have to be willing to vote the way the church tells you to vote. This in contrast to the system the scriptures describe, where the church is required to abide by the vote of its members.

The idea of voting for church officers in any situation where the outcome is not necessarily a foregone conclusion may seem somewhat repugnant to modern members, but serves a real and valid purpose. D&C 124:144 specifically allows church members to disapprove people called to offices. In the 1940s the church patriarch was yet another Joseph Fielding Smith (not the famous one, nor his famous abbreviated father). Smith was widely known for predatory homosexuality, as witnessed by his police record full of complaints regarding University of Utah students he had propositioned, or worse. Yet because the church had already become so proficient at stifling dissent, his sustaining as church patriarch was as mutely unanimous as the sustainings we're used to today. It wasn't until a few years later that someone finally got the word to church leadership, and Smith was released for "ill health." (see Smith's wikipedia article, or for details). The church called Smith's cousin, Eldred G. Smith, to take the office, which he held until he was given emeritus status in 1979. The office was never refilled, and today no longer exists.

Today, however, we have this strange new idea of sustaining. In October 2014, Elder Nelson went so far as to say this:
Our sustaining of prophets is a personal commitment that we will do our utmost to uphold their prophetic priorities. Our sustaining is an oath-like indication that we recognize their calling as a prophet to be legitimate and binding upon us.
The scriptures say nothing of an oath when establishing common consent. Does Elder Nelson mean we promise to do whatever the church's leadership tells us to do? We're not supposed to put faith in mortals, only in Christ; therefore, the church's leadership can mess up just as much as any of the rest of us; we'd best not covenant before God to obey them no matter what.

The temple recommend question on the subject is interesting:
Do you sustain the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator and as the only person on the earth who possesses and is authorized to exercise all priesthood keys? Do you sustain members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators? Do you sustain the other General Authorities and local authorities of the Church?
Taking a dictionary definition of "sustain" instead of Elder Nelson's oath definition helps make sense of this question; we can thereby consider that to sustain is to uphold, encourage, support, etc. And it's clear who we're talking about in the first question: the one president of the church. But what does "the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator" mean? "The" is a definite article; is there only supposed to be one? Moses wanted everyone to be prophets, and the scriptures talk about times when there were many. What exactly qualifies someone as a "prophet" is a question worthy of a dissertation, and revelator too, but "seer" is very strictly defined in Mosiah 8:13 as someone who has "wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date". The church hasn't had a translator since Joseph Smith -- no one even claims that ability -- so apparently we don't have a seer. Should President Monson or his successors ever make that claim, I'll certainly take notice, and uphold him in any way I can if it checks out. Certainly he is called to be a seer, but I see no evidence he has fulfilled that calling.

As to priesthood keys, Brigham Young himself tells us the church doesn't have "all priesthood keys," (Journal of Discourses, 15:137) and in case we thought we might ignore Brigham, Pres. Kimball quoted him (General Conference, April 1977), and Elder Oaks recently quoted Pres. Kimball quoting Brigham Young (General Conference, April 2014), all saying there are keys we don't possess, including specifically the key of revelation. Therefore the president of the church is not authorized to exercise all priesthood keys.

But don't bring any of this up, because if you do, you won't get your temple recommend.

I'll gladly support anything the leadership of the church does which indicates they are indeed prophets, seers, or revelators. But they've never demonstrated those fruits, as far as I know, and Christ tells us we should distinguish true prophets from false ones by their fruits (3 Nephi 14:20). Meanwhile, it doesn't take long to come up with a long list of actions taken by church leaders in direct contradiction of scripture. These violations were, I'm confident, not committed maliciously, but they're still non-scriptural, and the leaders involved have refused to correct the problem even when it is called to their attention. I cannot in good conscience support violating scripture, so I can't sustain those actions they have taken.