The Danger of Neo-fundamentalist Worldviews: A Spiritual Autoimmune Response

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The 1918 Spanish flu epidemic — a devastating epidemic that killed up to 100 million people, or 5% of the world’s population — had a high mortality rate not for children or the elderly, but for young adults (20-30 years old). This was because the virus triggered a strong immune system response, which is what ultimately killed many of those who succumbed. Those with stronger immune systems were thus (ironically) more vulnerable to the disease.

Some ideologies and worldviews are particularly devastating to those with weak spiritual immune systems. I think that many secular and progressive ideologies are like this; a great many members are succumbing to secular liberalism (supporting progressive ideas over and against revealed truth) precisely because their spiritual immune system was not equipped to repel the ideas that were foreign to their faith.

Other ideologies and worldviews are particularly devastating to those with strong spiritual immune systems. The adversary knows that he cannot win their hearts through secular or liberal worldviews; the individual is too ready to detect those as falsehoods and cling to what they know to be revealed truth. But the adversary can gain purchase on their hearts by inciting their own spiritual immune system against benign organs within their (metaphorical) spiritual body, attacking core and essential systems within their spiritual worldview.

There are groups within the LDS faith community that are engaged in what I would call a spiritual autoimmune response, who feverishly attacking members and elements of our faith community for being — so they think — infected by foreign/alien worldviews and ideas. The Remnant movement, certain members of the Heartland movement, and others are examples of this. The growth of these and other similar groups is alarming precisely because those who are drawn into these movements were previously those of strong testimony and faith.

It’s one thing to see those we think to be weak of faith or testimony succumb to worldly ideologies — we can chalk that up to the normal attrition that comes from building a strong covenant community in a world of declining moral values. It’s another thing entirely to see those we thought strong and valiant leave the Church, and for movements that purport to be a truer versions of our own faith. A spiritual autoimmune response can range from mild (such as a member rejecting Harry Potter for its unsavory witchcraft, and condemning other members who read the books) to extremely severe (a group leaving the Church because they believe the prophet has embraced progressive worldviews).

What makes the metaphor so useful is that there really are (metaphorical) infections to be fought. The danger lies in the overwrought immune response that attacks and damages essential faith systems along the way. This spiritual autoimmune response can lead once-faithful, dedicated members into spiritually dangerous territories, while thinking they are fighting a spiritual infection instead.

The Remnant movement

The Remnant movement is a great example of a severe autoimmune response. The seeds of this start in something good: A deep recognition of our collective complacency in the things of God. To fully access the powers of heaven in advancing the Kingdom of God, we need to be more studious, more courageous, more bold, more discerning, more faithful to the instructions we’ve already been given from God. As President Uchtdorf suggested, we may all be “living beneath our privileges,” taking advantage of only a fraction of the divine power that God is able and willing to make available to us.

Someone who gets sucked into the Remnant movement might begin early on with a mere fascination with the “deeper” doctrines of the Church. They start to believe that their spiritual discontent is rooted with a perceived “shallowness” of Sunday classes and sermons. So they begin to dig, almost like a forensic archeologist, into Church history and doctrine. They start treating the obscure as if it were more valuable, by virtue of the fact that it is scarce; rarely taught doctrines come to be seen as more “important” than commonly taught doctrines. President Dallin H. Oaks taught:

Another strength Satan can exploit is a strong desire to understand everything about every principle of the gospel. How could that possibly work to our detriment? Experience teaches that if this desire is not disciplined, it can cause some to pursue their searchings beyond the fringes of orthodoxy, seeking answers to obscure mysteries rather than seeking a firmer understanding and a better practice of the basic principles of the gospel.

Some seek answers to questions God has not chosen to answer. Others receive answers—or think they receive answers—in ways that are contrary to the order of the Church. For such searchers, Satan stands ready to mislead through sophistry or spurious revelation. Persons who hunger after a full understanding of all things must discipline their questions and their methods, or they can approach apostasy without even knowing it. It may be just as dangerous to exceed orthodoxy as it is to fall short of it.((Dallin H. Oaks, “Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall,” Ensign, October 1994.))

Here’s how this works in practice: They might read some of Denver Snuffer’s earlier works, who seems only to encourage them to seek a stronger testimony of Christ. The books promise that if we follow our own teachings more fervently, we can access once again the charismatic spiritual gifts that have since been lost. And that is the trojan horse: a new view of the institutional Church, in which the Church is relatively barren of the charismatic spiritual gifts celebrated by early saints (healings, miracles, revelations, visions, visitations, etc.).

Snuffer claims that he has been visited by Christ. “When was the last time a prophet claimed the same?”, readers might ask. Snuffer casts subtle aspersions on Church leaders, implying that they are failing in their duty to help manifest the power of God in our lives. And because readers already have a fascination with the “deeper” doctrines of the Gospel that they feel are missing from modern Church meetings, this rings true. They start seeing General Conference sermons as “watered down” version of pure doctrines. They start to refer to the institutional Church as the “corporate church.”

Those in institutional power in Lehi’s day did not think they were wicked people. They saw themselves as the gatekeepers of orthodoxy, the very definition of what is right and good about the Israelite and Jewish faith. To them, Lehi (and others) were relative unknowns, railing against the chosen leaders of the day, leading followers away from the established promised land into unknown wildernesses. In many ways, Denver Snuffer appears to meet the scriptural “template” for a prophet more so than the men in business suits in Salt Lake City.

The secret ingredient that catalyzes all the above into a fatal autoimmune response is the allure of pride, a sense of spiritual superiority. Those who get pulled into the movement begin to feel the thrill of LARPing our own Restoration narratives, and feel of a kin with those who followed Lehi into the (metaphorical) wilderness, or Alma, or even Brigham Young. To be part of an enlightened group, to have secrets and knowledge that the rest of the saints do not, that is the drug that hooks people into the Remnant sect.

In short, their zeal for Gospel living, their deep testimony of the Book of Mormon and the Restoration, their commitment to causes greater than themselves, all turn against them in an autoimmune response against core elements of their faith. In their desire for a deeper relationship with God, they start to believe that the institutional church is standing in their way. Excommunication (or resignation) becomes a rite of passage, almost; it is part and parcel with their conversion to Christ that they get “kicked out” of their synagogues and thrown out of the community.

The Heartland movement

Some high profile members of the “Heartland” movement also illustrate a spiritual autoimmune response. Heartlanders assert that the Book of Mormon took place in the midwestern United States, and that the hill Cumorah — the hill at which the final battle of the Nephites took place — is the same hill in which Moroni buried the records (later to be found by Joseph Smith). This is a perfectly acceptable (perhaps even plausible) Book of Mormon geography theory, one that many faithful members hold. It is a view that some early saints also held, including Oliver Cowdery.

Other theories have been put forward since then that are also plausible, such as the theory that the Book of Mormon took place in a limited region of mesoamerica. Because neither Moroni nor Joseph Smith named the hill in New York as the same hill referred to as Cumorah in the book of Mormon, there is no scriptural reason to hold to a midwestern U.S. geography. Oliver Cowdery’s bold but speculative assertions on the matter (contained, for example, in a letter he wrote discussing the origins of the Church) are neither canon nor authoritative.

Right now, the mesoamerican theory is “ascendent” amongst many faithful scholars, intellectuals, and apologists within the Church. But the truth is, there are multiple Book of Mormon geographies, and none of them are officially endorsed by the Church, and Church leaders simply don’t consider it an issue of importance. The Church has not taken sides, and considers matters of geography speculative. They are considered helpful to the extent that they build faith, and unhelpful to the extent that they undermine faith.

However, because (1) Oliver Cowdery and other early Church leaders seemed to hold to a North American geography, and because (2) Church leaders in more recent decades have been largely silent on the issue of geography, some Heartlanders have concluded that those who hold a mesoamerican viewpoint are defying the prophets. They treat Oliver Cowdery’s speculative assertions on geography as doctrinal, and anybody who holds contrary views as heretics undermining the spiritual authority of chosen servants of God.

For this reason, they regularly condemn FAIRMormon, the Book of Mormon Central, and The Interpreter on similar grounds. These are faithful intellectual resources trusted by Church leaders, but they are being treated as borderline-apostate by growing numbers of the Heartlander movement merely for being open to multiple Book of Mormon geographies, and for not treating Oliver Cowdery’s speculations as canonized doctrine. For that crime alone, Jonathan Neville, a prominent Heartlander and prolific blogger, wrote: “The Council of Springville [The Book of Mormon Central] has long been seeking to usurp the authority of Church leaders to declare doctrine.” That is a thinly veiled accusation of apostasy. He continues in another post:

Letter VII is nowhere to be found in the curriculum. Nor are any of the other teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah. The [mesoamerican] citation cartel has successfully suppressed all of these things in academic writings. The Correlation Department has cooperated by making sure Church artwork, videos, and visitors centers promote [mesoamerican views].

Lately, revisionist historians in the Church History Department are censoring all mention of the New York Cumorah in the new book Saints. They are actually re-writing Church history by omitting historical references and replacing them with [mesoamerican] euphemisms. I think repudiating and censoring the teachings of the prophets will have disastrous consequences in the future.((Jonathan Neville,

In other words, even the Church’s own departments and programs are turning people away from the truth. Other Heartlanders have shared similar sentiments: the Church’s acceptance, or embrace, of mesoamerican views on Book of Mormon geography is one of the highest forms of heresy, something that is only permitted because prophets and apostles are either not fully aware of it or not fully in control of the institution. And that is where the danger lies. As C.S. Lewis wrote:

In the earlier history of every rebellion there is a stage of which you do no yet attack the King in person. You say, ‘The King is all right. It is his Ministers who are wrong. They misrepresent him and corrupt all his plans—which, I’m sure, are good plans if only the Ministers would let them take effect.’ And the first victory consists in beheading a few Ministers: only at a later stage do you go on and behead the King himself.((C.S. Lewis quoted here:

We understand the appeal of the Heartland view: it allows them to wed their fervent devotion to the Restored Gospel with their fervent American nationalism. This is troubling in its own right, and we will have more to say on this in a future article. But a localized North American Book of Mormon geography, by itself, is perfectly plausible and perfectly innocuous — and imminently plausible.

But the ferocity with which some Heartlanders attack good, faithful members who disagree? That can only be described as a vicious autoimmune response, in which they have wrongly tagged good, faithful organizations and members as dangerous heretics. And because it’s clear (to honest observers) that the modern First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve are perfectly comfortable with mesoamerican geographies — and with members holding those views — it’s only a matter of time before the autoimmune attack turns against the prophets themselves (as with the Remnant movement, for example).

A conservative autoimmune response

Conservatives within the LDS Church will readily note when liberals within the Church ignore Church leaders and teach and agitate for policies that violate Church teachings. It’s easy to point a finger at someone who supports same-sex marriage and argue that they are going against what the Church has taught on the matter, because it’s true. But sometimes the reverse is true: conservatives do not fully live up to what the Church is teaching when it contradicts perceived conservative orthodoxy. In fact, when the Church contradicts conservative dogmas, it can ignite an autoimmune response amongst members.

What’s interesting and relevant is that they will sometimes reject statements by the Church by citing Church leaders, or quotes from earlier prophets. For example, when the Church expressed support for non-discrimination laws to protect LGBT employees and renters, we saw a number of conservatives argue that the Church’s public affairs office has gone rogue, and that they are clearly violating the libertarian-esque teachings of President Ezra Taft Benson, who would be turning over in his grave over such policies.

And to some extent they are right: President Benson did indeed teach principles that would seem to contradict the Church’s current position on non-discrimination policies. (And as a libertarian myself, I would otherwise default to those very teachings.) This is what sets up the autoimmune response: having once tagged such policies as problematic (similar to how antibodies cling to foreign invaders in the body, and signal to white blood cells to begin their attack), their spiritual immune systems continue to fight against them even when modern prophets have since clarified and “untagged” them.

Here’s just a few comments from real members, from social media forums that cater to conservative Latter-day Saints:

“Unfortunately some of the new leadership have embraced a feeling of tolerance [for LGBT populations]. It’s Lehi’s dream, some are seeking the praise of men in the name of missionary work. It will only lead to moral decay and spiritual death. Lehi’s dream is a warning to all who seek the approval of man. Mormonism used to be the shelter in the storm. … Ezra Taft, David O McKay and Joseph Fielding Smith are rolling in their graves.”

“I’ve been seeing so much pro-LGBT sentiment coming from the LDS social media pages I’ve found, and ‘feminist’ church members etc that it’s worried me. I’m not in Utah so I can’t tell what the sentiment on the ground there is like but to see Utah preserved as a holy and conservative place is important to me but it seems under threat from elements within the church.”

“Glad to be holding fast to the Rod of Iron. Unaffected by those leftist Mormons in the large, and spacious BLDG.” [Referring, we think, to the Church office building.]

“The gospel will always remain true but, sadly it seems that the church is changing and siding with the left. So far I’ve read an ensign message stressing for LDS members to accept Islam as another religion that worships the same god and a couple of weeks ago my bishop announced during elders quorum that we will be receiving new hymn books with all patriotic and British songs removed and replaced by Hispanic songs.”

Church leaders are teaching members to be compassionate towards minority populations and to pay heed to our unique ministerial duties towards LGBT members. But even though the Church is simultaneously retrenching its core doctrines on marriage and sexuality (such as, for example, a policy that makes those who enter same sex marriage automatic candidates for church discipline), some conservative members are worried that, because of these messages of outreach and love, Church leaders are compromising core teachings. They experience an autoimmune response against even mild statements that we should be patient and compassionate with those with unique challenges, such as same-sex attraction.

Sometimes, to justify their immune response, they have to reframe what’s happening: the Church’s public affairs department, or its magazine editors, or its correlation committee, etc., are going rogue, interfering with the free flow of communication between the Quorum of the Twelve and the members of the Church. They are inserting their liberal dogmas into the message, standing between us and Church leaders and confusing the public and members of the Church everywhere. The Church needs to “clean house,” we have heard, and rid itself of these internal saboteurs. As with the Heartlanders, they think they are attacking only the “king’s ministers,” not realizing that they are rejecting the prophets themselves. Again, President Oaks warned:

A desire to follow a prophet is surely a great and appropriate strength, but even this has its potentially dangerous manifestations. I have heard of more than one group so intent on following the words of a dead prophet that they have rejected the teachings and counsel of the living ones. Satan has used that corruption from the beginning of the Restoration. You will recall Joseph Smith’s direction for the Saints to gather in Kirtland, Ohio, then in Missouri, and then in Illinois. At each place along the way, a certain number of Saints fell away, crying “fallen prophet” as their excuse for adhering to the earlier words and rejecting the current direction. The same thing happened after the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith, when some Saints seized upon one statement or another by the deceased Prophet as a basis for sponsoring or joining a new group that rejected the counsel of the living prophets.

Following the prophet is a great strength, but it needs to be consistent and current, lest it lead to the spiritual downfall that comes from rejecting continuous revelation. Under that principle, the most important difference between dead prophets and living ones is that those who are dead are not here to receive and declare the Lord’s latest words to his people. If they were, there would be no differences among the messages of the prophets.((Dallin H. Oaks, “Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall,” Ensign, October 1994.))

The danger of this autoimmune response is that it undermines our trust in modern Church leaders and their spiritual discernment. Once again, it sets up a narrative where the institutional Church is no longer being steered by men who speak for God, but rather by usurpers within the institution who are wresting power away from true servants of God. In their zeal for following what previous prophets have taught, they end up attacking the institution lead by prophets today — somehow thinking they are doing today’s prophets a favor along the way.

This autoimmune response is one reason that Dr. Ed Gantt and I have co-written a book called Who Is Truth. In this book, we explore what it would look like if we took seriously — and not as mere metaphor — Christ assertion, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” If we imagine truth as a divine Person rather than as a set of ideas, it changes how we think of our faith. Idea-truth is thought to be truth because it never changes; ideas and teachings that change over time cannot be truth. But Person-truth can reveal Himself anew to each generation, and adjust the content and emphasis of His doctrine for the unique needs of our time. Here is a passage from that book (the rest of the chapter can be read here):

We have witnessed friends question their loyalty to the Church when prophets or apostles have drawn into question their political worldviews. For example, some conservative and libertarian members of the Church questioned the Church’s decision to support non-discrimination policies in housing and employment in the State of Utah. These members used quotes from past Church leaders (such as President Ezra Taft Benson and others) to show that current Church leaders must be in error. The person view of truth can help us resolve these tensions.

When the Israelites were traveling through the wilderness, they began criticize Moses and complain about their situation. In response, “the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died” (Number 21:6). God then instructed Moses, “Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live” (Numbers 21:8-9). Those who looked to the serpent lived, but many chose not to look. Nephi, in the Book of Mormon, tells us that “because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished. And they did harden their hearts … and they did revile against Moses, and also against God” (1 Nephi 17:41-42).

Why would so many Israelites ignore such a simple instruction? They may have thought Moses was violating commandments that he himself had delivered from God: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image. … Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them” (Exodus 20:4-5). Perhaps they thought Moses was a fallen prophet, or that he was testing them to see if they would value their own lives over God’s commandments. Either way, the Israelites may have rigidly adhered to what they thought were the unchangeable commandments of God.

In this story, the ancient Israelites may have elevated the law over the Lawgiver. That is, they may have prioritized what God had said over what God was now saying. Perhaps Moses was teaching the Israelites the person view of truth, and the need for constant, ongoing communication with God. Perhaps God was teaching the Israelites never to idolize abstract systems of belief over continuing direction from the Living God of Israel. …

When evaluate the teachings of God’s servants against our ideological worldview (whether it be liberalism, libertarianism, conservatism, or any other perspective), we adopt the idea version of truth. In other words, the problem is not libertarianism, liberalism, conservativism, or any other belief system. The problem was with –isms entirely, when those –isms lead us to prioritize abstract ideas over ongoing revelation. This can lead to what we call, “ideolatry,” which what happens when we elevate an abstract system of belief (or ideology) to the level of “absolute truth.”

This is especially the case when we become dogmatic about our particular theological perspective, or hold to them with a fervor that defies correction by God or His servants. When we do this, we have supplanted the living God with an idea (or set of ideas). The God of Israel is not an abstract, universal, immutable set of ideas or laws, but a living, dynamic Person who communicates instructions tailored to our specific time and situation. Latter-day Saints can be flexible in matters of abstract belief while being resolute in matters of loyalty to God.

This, we argue, is precisely what it means to have living prophets and to worship a Living truth. Furthermore, the God of the Restoration is, above all else, a God who speaks. We do not only have records of what God has spoken, we believe that He continually guides His servants today. Nearly everything that we know about Him has the potential to change as He continues to reveal Himself to us.


Like physical autoimmune diseases, spiritual autoimmune disorders make us ill by turning us against our fellow saints where it is not needed, and tricks us into feeling like we are more faithful, more zealous, more discerning than other members for doing so. This can happen on an individual level. For example, I’ve seen members in social media draw into question the Church’s recent Gospel Topics essays, arguing that they take their information from apostates and do not represent actual Church positions. This is because the essays contain information and perspectives that they think contradicts prior narratives they had grew to think were indisputable truth.

The immense danger of the movements described above is that they compromise not those who are weak of faith, but those who think themselves strong of faith. What makes it an autoimmune attack (as opposed to other forms of apostasy) is that they are rejecting the Church’s activities, programs, initiatives, and directives by appealing not to worldly philosophy or imported ideologies, but to prior Church teaching. In other words, it is most likely to afflict those who are confident in their spiritual discernment, who zealously believe the doctrines of the Restoration, and who eagerly follow the teachings of prophets and apostles. It is their zeal to remain true to the faith, to “detect in every false way,” that is keeping them from embracing their faith community and its chosen leaders today. As Elder Oaks warned, our strengths can become our downfall.


  1. As a Libertarian, you should appreciate the importance of principle over the politics of personality.

    And yet you are claiming that the Person Truth is an ideal greater than Idea Truth.

    See no contradiction?

    You advocate a God who changes.

    Your sole basis for “exposing” the Remnant or other non-orthodoxy worldview-holders is to allege THEY have let insidious pride get the best of them, as they are misguided to seek the mysteries of God, calling such a search a “lure” that the devil uses to ensnare the most faithful among us.

    In other words your entire prosecution of the Remnant, the evidence you offer up to convict the Remnant is an ALLEGATION, a strawman!

    “They’re prideful!” The prosecution rests.

    Rather than look at the actual irrefutable evidence of institutional apostasy and compare the Brethren’s teachings to the gospel, you choose instead the age-old plot of sophists — distract from the real issues and engage in ad hominem. “They are full of pride!”

    1. I totally get what you are saying. And yet I believe the God we worship is a Person, not a set of ideas. All my ideas of Him are subject to correction by Him. All my ideas about the world are subject to correction by Him. And I believe He has chosen servants to represent Him to the world,out this prophets and apostles who are witnesses of Him and who relay particularized instructions for our day. And the measure for whether these men are prophets and apostles is the witness of the Spirit (another Person), not whether what they say matches my pre-existing ideologies or abstract beliefs. Because the latter would only elevate my own reasoning over the things of God and the Spirit.

      Check out this chapter (and the next one) for more context:

      I think you’ll find it valuable.

      1. You say you get what I’m saying but then you stick to your conclusion, which I think is a very dangerous and faith-destroying position. It smacks of secular humanism, and in fact, I sincerely ask if that is how you identify yourself. Your article appears to be written by a secular humanist, where all things are relative and there is no absolute truth. You’re basically teaching that, are you not? If not, what’s the difference? What’s absolute in your theology?

        Seems like you’re justifying the erroneous ways the Brethren have lead (and lead) us astray by saying God the Person can tell them one thing at one time, and then contradict Himself on that point at a later time, and then even change back yet later. Polygamy being a great example. He says No, then Yes, then No. Or what about blacks and the priesthood. Joseph ordained black men, but then Brigham forbade it, and then Kimball in 1978 reverts back to Joseph’s practice.

        And yet, in the case of Nephi-Laban, I can see how one could get confused at first glance. It’s a bit more complicated. “Thou shalt not kill” appears to contract “slay Laban”. But upon study of Nephi’s own reasoning, as he debates with the Spirit, one’s confusion dissipates and understanding comes about. In the case of the brazen serpent, nobody asked the Israelites to worship the snake, just to look at be healed. The snake was an obvious type of Christ, raised up on a stick with healing powers brought about by belief.

        I believe God is an unchanging God, the same yesterday, today, and forever. He makes this abundantly clear in the Scriptures, does he not, and yet you appear to outright deny this.

        Your thesis: “I believe the God we worship is a Person, not a set of ideas.”

        Why not both? You make them mutually exclusive.

        Father Lehi teaches that if even God didn’t live according to a certain set of ideas, he’d “cease to be God.” He is “the way”. He is “the truth”. The “way” and the “truth” are, for lack of much better words, “a set of ideas.”

        The Lectures on Faith (the original doctrine of the Church secretly decanonized without a Church vote in 1921) teach that in order to have faith in God,we must have “a correct idea of his character, perfections and attributes.” (LoF 3:4).

        To be honest, the Lectures on Faith give a complete and absolute rebuttal of your thesis, and the lectures were approved by Joseph. I’ll quote just verses 21 and 22 of the 3rd Lecture, in conclusion:

        21 But it is equally as necessary that men should have the idea that he is a God who changes not, in order to have faith in him, as it is to have the idea that he is gracious and long suffering. For without the idea of unchangeableness in the character of the Deity, doubt would take the place of faith. But with the idea that he changes not, faith lays hold upon the excellencies in his character with unshaken confidence, believing he is the same yesterday, to-day and forever, and that his course is one eternal round.

        22 And again, the idea that he is a God of truth and cannot lie, is equally as necessary to the exercise of faith in him, as the idea of his unchangeableness. For without the idea that he was a God of truth and could not lie, the confidence necessary to be placed in his word in order to the exercise of faith in him, could not exist. But having the idea that he is not man that he can lie, it gives power to the minds of men to exercise faith in him.

        1. “Your article appears to be written by a secular humanist, where all things are relative and there is no absolute truth.”

          I condemn secular humanism and moral relativism throughout this site. Give it a read! God is my anchor, and always has been, and always will be. It is Him that our hopes rest, our faith lies, and it is to Him that we owe our deepest loyalties. It’s rather strange, in fact, to claim that arguing for the moral and spiritual authority of contemporary prophets and apostles is “secular humanism.”

          “by saying God the Person can tell them one thing at one time, and then contradict Himself on that point at a later time, and then even change back yet later.”

          Yep! That’s exactly what I’m saying. I’m in good company too. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught:

          “That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another. God said, ‘Thou shalt not kill’; at another time He said, ‘Thou shalt utterly destroy.’ This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted—by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire.” — Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 256 (11 April 1842)

          “I believe God is an unchanging God, the same yesterday, today, and forever. He makes this abundantly clear in the Scriptures, does he not, and yet you appear to outright deny this.”

          We misunderstand this, if we think that this means God’s instructions to us never change. The Gospel was for the jews, then also to the gentiles. Animal sacrifice was vital, then it was forbidden. Israel must not submit to foreign power, but then was told to not rebel and submit to a foreign power. God gives instructions to us based on the specific historical/sociocultural needs of His children.

          The ancient prophet Moroni wrote: “[D]o we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing? And now, if ye have imagined up unto yourselves a god who doth vary, and in whom there is shadow of changing, then have ye imagined up unto yourselves a god who is not a God of miracles” (Mormon 9:9-10). And, somewhat further on, Moroni asks:

          “And who shall say that Jesus Christ did not do many mighty miracles? And there were many mighty miracles wrought by the hands of the apostles. And if there were miracles wrought then, why has God ceased to be a God of miracles and yet be an unchangeable Being? And behold, I say unto you he changeth not; if so he would cease to be God; and he ceaseth not to be God, and is a God of miracles. “(Mormon 9:18-19)

          From a Greek/modern perspective, these passages seem to clearly refer to the immutable nature of God. If we read the verses from this perspective, then we might conclude that if God’s servants deliver differing or conflicting instructions in two comparable contexts (which cannot be easily reduced to an abstract, universal principle), then one of those instructions is likely wrong.

          However, these passages can be easily interpreted differently. In context, Moroni reiterates the fact that God is active in the world. He communicates with His children, performs miracles, bestows spiritual gifts, and so forth. We can interpret Moroni as arguing that a God who is not active in the world is a God that does not exist at all. To deny the revelations of God, to deny the existence of spiritual gifts and miracles is to deny the very existence of God as a living, personal, and relational being in the world. An inactive, theoretical God, whose hand is not manifest in our lives and communities, is not the living God of Israel.

          The above passages (and others like them– see, e.g., Moroni 8:18, D&C 20:17, D&C 104:2) assure us that God is a thoroughly reliable, covenant-making and promise-keeping being. He does not betray His commitments to His children, and He does indeed have patterns that He frequently follows. He is neither fickle nor arbitrary. Jaroslav Pelikan, one of the most famous scholars of Christian history, has written:

          “In Judaism it was possible simultaneously to ascribe change of purpose to God and to declare that God did not change, without resolving the paradox; for the immutability of God was seen as the trustworthiness of his covenanted relation to his people in the concrete history of his judgment and mercy, rather than as a primarily ontological category.”

          God’s instructions do change from time to time, depending upon the circumstances and choices of His children. But He is nonetheless utterly and completely reliable in His promises, and unfailing in His redemptive activity towards those who serve Him.

          1. Jeffrey,

            I think I see where you’re coming from.

            The Lectures on Faith I believe establish a foundation of God’s “unchangeableness”. Do you agree with the Lectures?

            I assume you will.

            Which leaves us with the question of trying to articulate your thesis. Joseph said it this way, as you quoted, “Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire.”

            I believe you’ve stretched Joseph’s teaching to make God seem fickle, when the LoF go the opposite direction, and soundly rebut your ideas. My example of Nephi-Laban perfectly illustrates Joseph’s teaching above.

            I believe you’re searching for a LDS philosophy to justify the errors of the Brethren. Is this possible? Are you doing the work of an institutional apologist by striving to justify the Church’s past abominations (which were prophesied to happen)?

            To illustrate using two aforementioned examples: regarding blacks and the priesthood, it comes down to Joseph was right or Brigham was. One was lying. Same point on polygamy. One was lying. And in one was the truth.

            It is a matter of history that the Church reverted back to Joseph’s “way” on BOTH accounts. Now the Brethren side with Joseph, but in the past the Brethren opposed Joseph.

            Commonsense says one was right and one was wrong. An appeal to the Scriptures vindicates Joseph and thoroughly justifies Joseph’s side. Moreover, our individual consciences (the light of Christ in each of us) unequivocally support the equality of man, the impartiality of God (in the case of blacks being able to hold the priesthood), and in the case of polygamy, the chastity of women and men, while condemning the abominations of adultery/ polygamy, despite the desperate attempts of revisionist LDS historians to tell Brigham’s side of the story to save his reputation as one of the most lustful and wicked religious leaders of all time.

            Your philosophy is a tool, albeit weak and full of holes, to excuse the Brethren. It represents a refusal to repent. This pride of Ephraim was prophesied by the OT prophets. Why not just acknowledge the wrongdoing of your pioneer father’s, and reject their wicked traditions? Such a confession is a necessary first step in repentance. It’s what “becoming as a little child” is all about.

          2. I believe you’re searching for a LDS philosophy to justify the errors of the Brethren. Is this possible? Are you doing the work of an institutional apologist by striving to justify the Church’s past abominations (which were prophesied to happen)?

            Fascinating way to frame it. Yes, I consider myself an apologist of sorts. But I don’t see myself as trying to justify the errors of the Brethren. I have a witness from the Spirit that today’s prophets and apostles have spiritual and moral authority that comes from a divine apostolic calling, handed down through direct succession.

            And yes, if I accept that premises — witnessed to me by the Spirit — I am required to believe that God’s instructions can change from generation to generation (such as polygamy and the priesthood). But it also fits scriptural patterns as well, as God’s instructions to Israel changed from generation to generation as the sociocultural needs of his children changed, and as their identity as a covenant people matured over time.

            To illustrate using two aforementioned examples: regarding blacks and the priesthood, it comes down to Joseph was right or Brigham was.

            I don’t have answers on the priesthood issue. But I am familiar with the revisionist history that claims that Joseph Smith was never involved in polygamy. The best and most overwhelming evidence available says that he was. And since the scriptures (such as the Book of Mormon) acknowledge that God CAN institute polygamy if He wills it, I see nothing amiss in the practice, if done under divine instruction.

            And so I reject the idea that joseph was never involved, or that Brigham Young was wrong to continue the practice, or that Wilford Woodruff was wrong to end it. I believe all three were acting under divine direction.

            Your philosophy is a tool,

            All philosophies are. Rational philosophy is always and ever only a tool. Ultimate truth is always and ever a revealed truth. And I have had spiritual manifestations that Russell M. Nelson and his colleagues are prophets and apostles acting under His direction.

      2. “And the measure for whether these men are prophets and apostles is the witness of the Spirit (another Person), not whether what they say matches my pre-existing ideologies or abstract beliefs. Because the latter would only elevate my own reasoning over the things of God and the Spirit.”

        I do believe we have common ground here. I would phrase it this way, “We must beware of assuming traditions of men to be truth.”

        Or as the Lord said in DC 93:39: And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers.

        So, if you’re saying we must be careful to not confuse or elevate our traditions (our pre-existing ideologies…) over Truth”, then I 100% agree. And actually, this is precisely what is occurring in the Church now. Here are some sacred cows elevated over, as you say, “the things of God and the Spirit”:

        The Lord = the Church
        The Brethren = the Lord
        “My servants” = the Brethren (as in “whether by mine own voice or the voice of my servants”)
        The President can’t us astray.

        These are all expressions of the same idea, and they are all manifestations of gross idolatry. I confess, I was an idolater for many years, encouraged by the Brethren to keep my eye on THEM. Rampant priestcraft is unchecked in the Church. When priestcraft is pointed out, the observer is persecuted and excommunicated, creating one big echo chamber, where souls are contaminated with more idolatry, which cannot save.

        1. First, I want to say that I do NOT believe that Church leaders are infallible. Of course they make mistakes. They are mortal, imperfect people.

          But I also believe they have a divine commission from God. King Benjamin taught, concerning his own divine commission:

          I have not commanded you to come up hither to trifle with the words which I shall speak, but that you should hearken unto me, and open your ears that ye may hear, and your hearts that ye may understand, and your minds that the mysteries of God may be unfolded to your view. I have not commanded you to come up hither that ye should fear me or that ye should think that I of myself am more than a mortal man. But I am like as yourselves, subject to all manner of infirmities in body and mind; yet I have been chosen by this people, and consecrated by my father, and was suffered by the hand of the Lord that I should be a ruler and a king over this people. (Mosiah 2:9-11)

          Here, King Benjaming says three things: (1) People should not fear him as they might fear God, because he is a mortal man, subject to imperfection. (2) People should not trifle with his words, but should open their ears and hearts to what he has to say. (3) This is because he has a divine commission from the people and from God to be their teacher. This is what it means to treat prophets as authorities: we recognize their mortal fallibility, but we do not trifle with their words.

          My question for you, though: when the Lord says in the D&C, “Whether by my own voice, or the voice of my servants, it is the same,” are you arguing that this is a form of gross idolatry? Are you arguing that the Doctrine and Covenants is wrong in this passage? That we shouldn’t see the prophets and apostles as spokesmen for the Lord (even if we acknowledge their fallibility along the way)? I have a hard time understanding how one can accept the divine commission of Joseph Smith, and yet reject the revelations he recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants.

          1. Jeffrey,

            To clarify, I am not arguing that the D&C verse is wrong. It is true.

            I am actually implementing your advice: pointing out that we must be careful to not assume something is true based on whether it matches our “pre-existing ideologies or abstract beliefs,” as you put it.

            The false yet mainstream LDS tradition is this: the past and current “Brethren” and esp the president are true, “sent by God” (I.e., authorized) messengers.

            The temple correctly exhorts us to be looking for true messengers sent by Father.

            By their fruits ye may know them.

            The #1 false tradition (“unbelief” is the word the BoM uses) of LDS is this:

            * The Lord = the Church (as far as official “doctrine”)
            * The Lord = the Brethren (as far as official “doctrine”)
            * “My servants” = the Brethren (as in “whether by mine own voice or the voice of my servants”)
            * The President can’t lead us astray, because the President = the Lord (as far as official “doctrine”)

            All 4 statements express the same thing.

            You have to credit Satan. He’s gooood. It IS true that “whether by my own voice or the voice of my servants, it is the same.” However, Satan’s time, energy and money is heavily and ultra-successfully invested in misleading “the humble followers of Christ” (2 Nephi 28:14) to accept the false precept of man (a TRADITION) that the Brethren are true messengers, when in fact, there is zero supporting evidence (“fruit”) to justify such a belief.

            There is, on the other hand, ample evidence they all engage in priestcraft.

            Satan takes a true idea (the DC 1:38 idea), but with some savvy misdirection, DISTRACTS everyone from questioning what a true servant is, and when folks actually begin to question, he uses fear to inspire leaders to excommunicate the so-called “apostates”, when the “apostates” are faithful members actually obeying the command of Christ to discern between the sheep and wolf in sheep’s clothing.

          2. And thus we come to the heart of our disagreement. First, I believe in epistemic humility, which means that I can acknowledge the rational plausibility of worldviews that differ from mine. And this also means I reject claims like, “there is zero supporting evidence to justify such a belief.” That implies that there’s literally no way anyone could see them as anything other than fraudsters — a claim that is false on the face of it.

            Even if you disagree, if you pause and look from an objective point of view, there’s plenty of evidence that the Brethren are “true messengers.” I listen to them every time they speak, they speak words familiar to me as the words of Christ. They testify of Him and His ongoing work in the world. They invite us to be better, to do better, to come unto the Savior. They teach humbly and charitably.

            And more than anything, I have a witness of the Spirit that I cannot deny: these men are chosen prophets and apostles. I have received this witness over and over through the years. And that’s where we are simply going to have to disagree.

          3. You’re probably right. I have a personal story to share that I just experienced yesterday at Church.

            Here’s a key truth that explains are impasse: tradition blinds us to the truth; it CONTROLS our mind, so that even if truth is presented, the tradition wins the day! (DC 93:39)

            I believe I’m presenting truth, but my attempt to persuade you fails, for the moment, because your tradition controls your mind.

            Yesterday, in the Gospel Doctrine Class I attended, the class happened to be studying Lesson 27 (Old Testament), which scripture block includes 1 Kings 13, which is a chapter blacked out in the Church. There’s no question about it, chapter 13 is verboten knowledge in the Church. When I speak in absolutes and say “nobody is familiar with this story in the Church”, that is not casual hyperbole. It’s another question for another day, but an astute question is, Why would there be a coordinated cover-up of this chapter in the Church? The lesson manual of course won’t touch it, and I’ve yet to meet a Mormon who is remotely familiar with it. And a little research will show you that this chapter has never been discussed in General Conference nor in any Church materials, like manuals and the like.

            So I took the opportunity to make the class familiar with the chapter. I summarized it, to the stunned and gasping silence of the class, and then at the end of the class, there’s was a dazzling demonstration of how tradition trumps truth, which I wanted to share with you. It was truly a moment worthy of a week’s long discussion and analysis in any College Psychology class.

            The very quick chapter summary (of the juicy parts): One true prophet INTENTIONALLY misleads another true prophet. BOTH men were on errands of the Lord. The first (called “man of God”) was commanded by God to do something, which included to return directly home on a commanded fast, for he testified, “For so was it charged me by the word of the Lord, saying, Eat no bread, nor drink water, nor turn again by the same way that thou camest.” The key part being: “by the word of the Lord…”.

            Then, incredibly, another prophet, upon hearing of the first prophet, went way out of his way to go track down the first prophet, and upon finding him, executed a mind-blowing assignment from the Lord. What assignment? To test if the man of God would obey the Lord over a prophet. The test? To attempt to lead the man astray from God!

            Verse 18: The second prophet said unto the first prophet (man of God): “I am a prophet also as thou art; and an angel spake unto me by the word of the Lord, saying, Bring him back with thee into thine house, that he may eat bread and drink water…” The JST footnote then clarifies the divine intent: “…that I may prove him, and he lied not unto him.”

            So the man of God has a choice before him: to obey the Lord, or obey a true prophet of God who’s truthfully testifying that an angel has asked him to wine and dine the man of God. What would you do? What a dilemma! What a test!

            And this is not even a hypothetical “what if”. If it was, you better believe mainstream Mormons would say, “the president of our Church would or could NEVER do that. That’s a silly hypothetical situation!” But it DID happen.

            After summarizing the above, I concluded by saying to the class: What are we to deduce?

            Two things: we must be sure to always prioritize obeying God over any man, even a true prophet. And we must, however reluctant, acknowledge that a true prophet of God could be sent to mislead us, to test whether we will obey God over a contradictory command coming from a man who says the command is from God.

            We also learn that God is deadly serious about obedience. Ask the dead man of God, killed by a lion (a type of Christ).

            The punchline is coming up….

            Towards the end of class, one sister’s cognitive dissonance got the best of her, and she blurted out, “But we’re promised that the president of the Church could never lead us astray. He would be moved out of his place before that would happen.” To which the teacher confirmed, “That’s right. That’s very comforting to know, isn’t it!”

            I didn’t say anything more. What more could be said?

            Truth was presented, but what controlled the minds of those two sisters’ minds? TRADITION. Tradition blinds us. But it’s insidious because we are 100% sure we are right. We “know”. Just as Saul knew he was right in persecuting the saints. Just as the Sanhedrin knew, as they slew the Son of God.

            Which brings us back to your testimony that you “know”, even by the Spirit, that the Brethren are true messengers.

            I hope this story jars your mind, enough to get you to challenge your premise. Such a challenge requires you to become as a little child (a HUGE and necessary part of the doctrine of Christ…see 3 Nephi 11). You must admit you know nothing before God. Confess your nothingness, and that you’re an ignorant fool before Him. Have you ever done this, even once? (2 Nephi 9:42) Try it. Then ask Him to teach you truths.

            The important truth under consideration is: what is a true messenger? You and I oughta to find common ground. Wouldn’t a true messenger (think of the temple) be sent from the presence of God to deliver a message, to teach something? In other words, he would testify he’s been in the presence of God, obtained an errand (been “sent”) and then he’d deliver a “thus saith the Lord” type of message, so we could know what content (fruit) to judge whether it’s of God or not?

            Can we not agree to these basic fundamentals?

            If these basics are agreeable, then “the Brethren” don’t qualify, do they? They don’t claim to have seen God, or to have a “thus saith the Lord” message.

            The qualifications you list could just as easily be fulfilled by thousands of people in or outside the Church, i.e. there’s nothing unique about your listed qualifications.

            I would suggest looking for messengers who have been “chosen”, because, as you will recall, many are CALLED. A “chosen” messenger will humbly testify he’s been personally ministered to by the Lord, and has been sent with a specific message.

            I hope my Sunday School story from yesterday will help you consider (3 Nephi 20:45) something new and not just sweep the truth under the rug of tradition, like those two sisters in class did, comforting each other, and perhaps many in the class who want to hear “all is well in Zion.” That’s what it boils down to really. The mainstream Mormon wants comfort and ease, they’re happy to outsource their salvation to the Brethren, because that’s the easy way out of this life. The mainstream member is attracted to guarantees. “Carnal security” teachings are popular and pacify (2 Nephi 28:21), just like the clever, comforting, seducing teaching of “I can’t lead you astray” does. But wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leads to destruction, my friend.

            Sherem taught “flattering [things] unto the people; and this he did that he might overthrow the doctrine of Christ.” This is exactly what the “I can’t lead you astray” precept does. It overthrows free agency, as if the president of the Church doesn’t have free agency!

            Korihor taught things that were “pleasing unto the carnal mind,” which is exactly what the “I can’t lead you astray” idea is.

            Finally, Nehor was guilty of the same thing: teaching “popular” things to the people, like “I can’t lead you astray”. If you were wanting to set yourself up as a light, honestly, could you dream up a better slogan than “I can’t lead you astray”?! So bold, and yet effective, to those seeking the security and platitudes like Satan offered eons ago, “none will be lost!” Alma declared Nehor to be guilty of priestcraft, and ironically, just as Nehor tried to enforce his priestcraft by the sword, likewise so do the Brethren!! To be in conformity with the laws of the land, they have dialed back (disguised) their violence, but nonetheless, they use violence against ideas that expose their priestcraft, which violence is in the form of censorship and excommunication (the death penalty). If they could kill and get away with it, they most assuredly would. “Stone him!” “Crucify him!” Ask Jesus what the Jews did to Him, who didn’t appreciate Jesus shining light on their priestcraft.

          4. You said: “…there’s plenty of evidence that the Brethren are “true messengers.” I listen to them every time they speak, they speak words familiar to me as the words of Christ. They testify of Him and His ongoing work in the world. They invite us to be better, to do better, to come unto the Savior. They teach humbly and charitably.”

            Compare those “evidences” to the fruit of one whom we agree is a true messenger, Joseph Smith:

            *Testified to have met face to face God the Father and Jesus Christ.
            *Testified to face-to-face conversations with the Lord.
            *Testified to face-to-face conversations with angels.
            *Published many revelations.
            *Translated the BoM by the gift and power of God.
            *Gave us the books of Moses and Abraham.
            *Testified he was sent by God to restore truths.
            *Prophesied many things.

            The Brethren do NONE of those things.

            They do, however, spend a lot of energy testifying they have “the keys” and censoring faithful members who have different ideas. Where is their epistemic humility?

            And yet, you hold them up to be true messengers?

            Do you see the difference between the fruit I list and your alleged fruit?

            Using your definition of fruit, that would include just about anybody.

    2. Jeffrey’s article doesn’t constitute a “prosecution” of the Remant, or any of the ideologies discussed.

      Rather, he is writing from the presumption of the correctness of the institutional church, discussing what those ideologies mean from that perspective.

      A discussion about the correctness or incorrectness of those ideologies (e.g. looking at the “evidence of institutional apostasy”) could be had, but that is not the purpose of this article, which takes the falsity of positions in contradiction to the Church as given.
      It might be most accurate to say that the audience for this article is meant to be those who currently believe in the institutional church, and thus does not bother to establish what the audience is already assumed to believe.

  2. Hi Jeff. I appreciate your interest in the topic, but you don’t seem to realize that you are making my points. As a fellow blogger, I assume you’ll appreciate some substantive feedback.

    First, your CS Lewis quotation is a nice way to explain what I call the 14th Article of Faith.
    I’ll borrow that quotation for my blog one of these days because it epitomizes the position of many LDS scholars; i.e., they cannot be challenged because they have been hired by the prophet to guide the Church.

    On the merits, your categorical statement that “neither Moroni nor Joseph Smith named the hill in New York as the same hill referred to as Cumorah in the book of Mormon” is exactly the type of statement I blog about; i.e., it’s your interpretation of the evidence, but you falsely framed it as a fact. Of course, you’re free to disbelieve the people who said Moroni did name the hill Cumorah, including Joseph’s mother Lucy, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, Parley P. Pratt, Brigham Young, and many others. That’s fine. But when you make such a categorical statement, you mislead readers into thinking there is no evidence that contradicts your statement. To be accurate, you would write, “I don’t believe Moroni or Joseph named the hill…”

    You also state categorically that Letter VII is “not authoritative” even though it was written by the Assistant President of the Church with the assistance of the President (Joseph), and later endorsed by Joseph on multiple occasions. The prophets and apostles have consistently and persistently taught that Cumorah is in New York, including members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference. No prophet or apostle has ever disagreed or even questioned that teaching.

    True, certain intellectuals in the Church have disputed the teaching about the New York Cumorah. But that only clarifies the choice for members of the Church. Do you believe and follow the prophets or the scholars?

    Contrary to your assertion, this doesn’t make the scholars apostates, at least not to me, but it does make the choice clear. Everyone is entitled to form his/her own opinions. I don’t care if people want to believe the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica, Peru, Eritrea, or the United States. What I care about is censorship, obfuscation, and declaring that prophets are merely expressing their own wrong opinions whenever we disagree with them.

    Finally, I have to comment on your condescending assertion here: “We understand the appeal of the Heartland view: it allows them to wed their fervent devotion to the Restored Gospel with their fervent American nationalism.”

    For someone with the self-annointed title of LDS Philosopher, I would expect you to be more precise than this. If you want to portray me by name as a “fervent American nationalist,” you ought to at least cite my work as evidence. In reality, I think every nation is the promise land for its inhabitants. I currently live in Africa, and I’ve lived much of my life in Europe and Asia. I love every place I’ve lived, worked and traveled, which is most of the world. I support every person who sees the good in his/her own country.

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