June, 1828: Joseph Smith and Martin Harris take a break from translating the golden plates onto foolscap because Emma Smith is about to deliver a baby. Harris desperately wants to take the 116 pages to his wife in order to justify the time and money he is investing in Smith. Smith reportedly prays twice for permission to let Harris show the manuscript to his resentful wife. Twice he’s told no. Harris persists and Smith, who imagines (financial) value in winning Lucy Harris back to his prophetic corner, prays a third time. And this time, the wearied Lord tells him Harris may take the pages. Cue foreboding music.
You know the rest of the story. Months after Emma is delivered, Smith journeys to Palmyra to learn why Harris hasn’t returned with the manuscript. Smith finds a distraught Harris, who admits the pages are missing and assumed stolen. Grief-stricken, Joseph loses his ability to translate further. After a period of repentance, his gift is restored.
Moral of the story: Don’t tempt God. Respect His answers. It’s often said that the Lord agreed to let Harris take the manuscript to teach his prophet a lesson about the difference between following the Lord’s will versus following his own. I propose it also teaches what happens when our study and faith is grounded in faulty assumption.
Like all lessons of history and scripture, the lesson of the lost manuscript is meant for more people than just Joseph Smith.
We all need to learn to differentiate between our will and God’s and to vigilantly guard against getting ourselves into a similar position. A lot of us have fallen into the trap of petitioning the Lord long and hard for things that seem righteous, but are based on faulty assumption, inadequate knowledge, fear, or pride. As with Smith, sometimes God shrugs at our stubbornness and says, “Go ahead. Do it.” And we do. But the outcome isn’t positive. It’s a hard-won lesson to recognize that God can only answer a wrong, or ego-centered, or faulty question with a shaded answer.
The onus to get our questions right is on us, no matter our position in the church. It’s a process all disciples of Jesus should engage in. When I say everyone, I mean everyone, including the president of the Church, the apostles, the general authorities and local leaders, as well as the members. For me, it’s a continuing, life-long struggle. And just as with Joseph Smith, a man who received revelation in ways more powerful than any described by subsequent presidents of the church, our present-day leaders also engage in this struggle.
Jesus taught us to identify a tree by the fruit it produces. Likewise, we can know the revelation a church authority receives by the results it produces. When a debilitated President Monson and the apostles crafted what is often called in the Mormon LGBTQ community the Policy of Exclusion (sometimes represented as PoX), they planted a tree. The fruit it is growing is clear.
The PoX has so alienated many believing members, both in and outside the LGBTQ demographic, that their integrity requires they leave the church. Certain children are denied baptism even though Jesus directed us to feed his lambs ahead of his sheep and to suffer the little children to come to him. Members of the church have been shaped into hypocrites, encouraged to profess love while closing the door on people who desire to worship beside them. The PoX has harmed the mental, emotional, and spiritual health of LGBTQ members, their families and friends, and others who are spiritually sensitive and cognizant of the immense goodness and worth of these children of God. Although hard data is still to be compiled, circumstantial evidence strongly suggests a spike in LDS suicides has occurred since the PoX was enacted.
According to the test Jesus provided, the fruit produced by the PoX is rotten.
Some report feeling the comfort of the Holy Spirit regarding the policy and assume this must mean the policy is, indeed, God’s will. I remind these people that Joseph eventually received comfort, but that comfort didn’t change the reality that he was wrong to tempt God or that the manuscript had been lost. It didn’t change the real-world consequences. Many members wrongly believe the leaders of the church can never lead the church astray in any regard, but, by their own admission, this isn’t so.
President Nelson, while serving as the head of the Quorum of the Twelve, indicated at a devotional that the “prophetic process” had been followed as the Brethren wrestled with several questions after the legalization of same-gender marriage in the USA. This is reminiscent of the wrestling Joseph Smith did with the Lord regarding Harris’ request to take the manuscript to his wife. To Joseph, it must’ve seemed that his ability to proceed with the translation was less at-risk if Mrs. Harris approved. This assumption, at least in part, may have fueled his repeat petitions to the Lord.
The question is, would Joseph have prayed that second or third time if he’d dropped his assumption that the support of Harris’ wife was needful for the work to proceed? Likewise, I wonder how much wrestling would’ve been needed by the Brethren if they’d recognized the faultiness of their assumption that same-sex marriage is the devil’s plague. Or, dare I say, if they were less concerned about the floodgate of financial loss that might open if a gay parent successfully sues for alienation of affection.
What frightens me today is that President Nelson’s words, spoken at that devotional, are included in this year’s seminary curriculum and offered as an example of how prophetic revelation happens. Make no mistake, inclusion of the policy of exclusion has the potential to do a whole helluva lot of damage, especially to closeted LGBTQ high school students. To add insult, these at-risk students will be expected to parrot the approved answer on tests.
Watch the rates of seminary attendance drop. Watch the disharmony in our homes grow as teenagers feel the injustice. Watch the fruit rot in your own homes. Young people understand this self-evident truth: LGBTQ people are no different from straight, cis-gender people, no different from any other child of God, and are equally loved and wanted by Him who created them.
I will boldly and with a conviction backed by the Holy Spirit state that Church leaders have made a mistake, not only in issuing the PoX but also in placing it in the seminary curriculum. By doing so, they are offering to our precious children as gospel truth what may be one of the most damaging and wrong-headed positions ever taken by the Church. The current policy is untenable for a religion that so adamantly wants to be perceived as the restored church of Jesus Christ.
I ask my readers to please do what you can to let the seminary teachers in your area know your concerns about this lesson. Encourage them to go to the Lord in earnest prayer now, without ego or concern for maintaining their calling and/or status in the Church. Insist they seek what is in the best interest of these, our most vulnerable children of God.
We must stop serving rotten fruit to our children. It stops when we stop it.
“Our religion will not clash with nor contradict the facts of science in any particular.” Brigham Young
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6 thoughts on “The Prophet, the PoX, and the Vulnerable Seminary Student”
Where was the concern for the children when an identical policy was utilized with the children of polygamous families? (FYI, in those instances, the policy has worked quite well. I know many converts from polygamous families in my area.)
Jesus’ admonition to feed his lambs may be interpreted in a variety of ways, only one of which would be the notion of lambs being young children. I side with those who interpret lambs as new converts.
Would a direct comparison be better made for those advocates of SSM and Martin Harris, both of whom have repeatedly gone to a prophet and told him to ask again, the first answer being not good enough?
The issue with suicide is frequently asserted but hardly convincing. In most cases, hardships REDUCE the suicide rate. For example, for the last century, the black suicide rate has been lower than the white suicide rate. Blacks who survived Jim Crow, lynchings, the Civil .Rights movement… to today have a lower suicide rate. Why would a policy regarding the baptism of minor children of SSM parents affect the LGBT community? Suicide rates have increased across the U.S. since the advent of nation-wide SSM. I suggest the factors causing the increase in the broader U.S. populace are also affecting LDS members.
Alienation of affection? Was that not the reason for policy in the first place? We will not teach a child that the primary caregivers are in an unrecognized relationship and ask a minor to renounce that form of relationship.
Seminary enrollment has been unaffected by the announcement of the policy. It has actually increased. I doubt the use in a lesson will have the impact you predict. Students are taught by their leaders and teachers the law of chastity. Homosexual relations are expressly and repeatedly taught as being a violation of that law.
As a gay male and former missionary for and member of the LDS Church (yes I know, President Nelson doesn’t want that term used anymore or something… call it whatever you want), I just wanted to thank you SO much for writing this article! 🙂 It so eloquently articulates many of my concerns and helps to give a voice to both gay and straight members who take issue with the November policy. I appreciate you and many of the other articles you have written. Keep it up. 🙂
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This was it exactly
“floodgate of financial loss that might open if a gay parent successfully sues for alienation of affection.”
To me what’s worse is that this is what passes for revelation.
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There is a surprising lack of self-awareness in this article.
Brethren: “We love those who struggle with same-sex attraction, but the law of chastity applies to all of God’s children.”
The Crowd: “Wait, that’s not the answer I want. You just don’t recognize the faultiness of your assumption that same-sex marriage is the devil’s plague. Ask again.”
Brethren: “Marriage is ordained by God between husband and wife.”
The Crowd: “No, you don’t understand the current social-science literature. The current policy is untenable for a religion that so adamantly wants to be perceived as the restored church of Jesus Christ. You are wrong. Take it back to the Lord — surely the Lord won’t disagree with me because I am right.”
Brethren: “In order to protect children growing up home environments antithetical to such a key principle in the Plan of Salvation, this policy is being put into place. It has worked with those who apostacized by living a polygamous lifestyle. We’ve received it as revelation, and expect it will work with those who now apostacize by engaging in same-sex marriage.”
The Crowd: “No, that cannot be true because it disagrees with my firmly held beliefs and I am a good person. If only you knew my LGBT son/brother/sister/friend/daughter. You cannot say this is revelation because if it was God’s will it would agree with me. Ask again!”
You are quite right that “the lesson of the lost manuscript is meant for more people than just Joseph Smith.” It is meant for all of us when we kick against the pricks and demand that the Lord will agree with us if only we take the question back to Him enough. The problem is inadequate self-awareness to recognize that this is exactly what LGBT agitators are doing.
The reality is that when we agitate to enact change in the Church to achieve conformity with our social views (Ordain Women, Sam Young, etc.), we are being Martin Harris. The best case scenario is that God doesn’t respond to us. The worst case scenario is that God gives us what we agitate for and it leads to our destruction.
This absence of self-awareness seems to be a recurring issue — reading through your other posts, you seem ready and willing to condemn those who disagree with you as being unloving individuals blinded by the culture of their day but fail to recognize the way your social and cultural views are coloring your perspective. You accuse others of not loving because they do not share your political stance — and you put it in religious terms (as if Christ didn’t call people to repentance — was He unloving?). Confirmation bias for thee, but not for me.
In truth, our politics must be subservient to the Gospel. I have nothing against those who are LDS who happen to be liberal and who happen to be conservative. In fact, Hugh Nibley (who liberals now seem to hate) was well to the left of Bernie Sanders on just about every economic issue. But he also was a disciple of Christ first and foremost, and his politics formed and were based upon that fact. In fact, it isn’t uncommon that I read him and find myself convicted in conscience in ways my politics have diverged from the Gospel.
But what seems to happen now, however, is the Gospel is secondary to the politics/cultural/social worldview. There are far too many liberals who happen to go to Church or conservatives who happen to go to Church and the Church becomes a political football. And what is lost in all of that is the truth — in this case that same-sex attracted individuals are children of Almighty God and of infinite worth who He loves beyond our comprehension (and to whom we must reach out and love) and that violations of the law of chastity brings misery and despair regardless of whether those violations are culturally permitted/encouraged or not.
You are correct that “[w]e must stop serving rotten fruit to our children.” The rotten fruit is the idea that we can violate the laws of God and this somehow leads us to be happy. The only way out of misery for any of us is to repent — otherwise we will remain miserable. Just as same-sex attracted individuals aren’t given special dispensation to ignore the law of chastity (i know you hate that presentation, but it is still true), they are also not given special dispensation to not need to repent. Is the Atonement real? If so, you, I, and your hypothetical seminary student each need to repent — peace can come in no other way. You can affirm others all you want, you can overturn whatever policies you may desire, but if they (and we) don’t repent nothing will provide peace. If you know God lives and you know the Atonement is real, and you know Christ is the way back, then teaching any youth not to repent is the cruelest, most hateful, thing you can ever do.
Yes, sainthood is hard — for all of us. Yes, same-sex attraction may or may not be natural, but regardless we are all to put away the natural man. I can even concede that same-sex attraction might be a particularly difficult situation for any number of reasons. But it is also part and parcel of the natural man that needs to be put off so that we can become saints. Stop telling people not to repent — that is a horrible, horrible thing to do to someone. You encourage the destruction of their souls. What you offer them isn’t happiness, it is comfortable damnation.
Jonathan, I’m sorry for my delayed response. I’ve been a bit overwhelmed with real life. I hope you see this. Your comment is welcomed and carefully considered, I assure you.
The greatest problem in discussing religious topics, it seems to me, is that we are working in a world of floating abstraction. Ayn Rand defined floating abstractions as concepts that are detached from provable reality, an idea I often find as useful as it is challenging. You say God wants X and I say God wants Y, and neither of us has tangible proof of either. We base our stances on what makes sense to us in a paradigm that cannot be proven. This is why arguing about religion, or any floating abstraction, is pointless. What I say will touch some hearts and offend others. I hope for more of the former than the latter, but I write for Mormons about Mormons and I don’t work from an approved script.
So here we are–you and me–trying to hash out core ideas of big T- and little t-truth. Why do we do this? Because we want a better world, both now and hereafter, both for ourselves and others.
Neither of us may be able to prove to the world that God exists, but surely you and I accept basic things as evidence of God’s existence–evidence found in our hearts and in the world around us, evidence confirmed by the witness of the Holy Spirit. Maybe its best for us to focus on that common ground because you are correct; human beings (all of us, yourself included) choose a worldview and then hang on it our choices and our perspective (what we focus on). While I agree it appears many frame their religion around their politics–or, for that matter, make their politics into their religion–most LDS genuinely center their lives first and foremost around religion. From that starting point, its very easy to discover ideas in the LDS canon that support and justify whatever political bias a person may have. I think you sell Mormons short on this.
All this to say that you seem to have made some incorrect assumptions about both my politics and my intent and to assure you that I won’t argue with you. Instead, I’d like to tell you a little about myself.
First, I’m no political progressive. Most of my life, I identified as a conservative and Republican. I thought like most LDS and saw my conservative politics as supported by the LDS canon.
But I’ve grown frustrated with all politics as I’ve watched politicians in my former party consistently work against the ideals I support. I sloughed off the monikers of conservatism and embraced the term that best suits what I am–a classical liberal. I trust you understand the differences between classical liberalism, conservatism, and progressivism. To me, the great value of mortal existence is freedom; indeed, free agency and the right of self-determination, coupled with accountability.
The same way I’ve grown angry and distrustful of my political home, I’ve grown angry and distrustful of some aspects of my religious home. When obedience is thrust upon me as the first principle of a gospel that Jesus defined as love, I connect the dots and find, at the end, control and oppression. These are the themes I write about often. When control and oppression call themselves “love,” I will use my keyboard to strike back.
There are many LDS who respond to the things that come out of SLC as if decision makers there are infallible. Obviously, I’m not one of these people. Putting aside the tenets of my faith practice, I believe in accountability. I put my name on difficult things and will continue to do so. Why? Because I love my church. MY Church. And I believe opposition in all things makes us better. Imagine, for a moment, what would become of the patriarch of a family who was only praised by his wife, children, siblings, etc., whether he was right or wrong. He would become insufferable and unchanging, convinced that he must be beyond reproach. When we are wrong, we need someone to say, “Hey, rethink that.” And when we are right, we are not made wrong when someone disagrees, but are often improved and strengthened because of the conversation.
Now, back to the question of where LGBTQ members stand in the Church. This is the core of my thinking:
Someone who is born gay, which the Church now acknowledges is the case, can go through his entire life making the same moral choices as a heterosexual person. He can choose baptism and confirmation, obediently live the gospel as Christ taught it and even conform to the added steps found in LDS tradition, culture, and administration. He can participate in every church program and receive all the awards. He can serve an honorable mission. He can choose abstinence before marriage and then live in a monogamous and chaste marriage thereafter. He can make the same moral decisions as a faithful, heterosexual male member of the LDS Church. He can die having spent his entire life modeled after the Savior.
Yet, because of who he marries and how he achieves sexual satisfaction, he is cast out. And this, to you, is love? This, to you, is how God behaves?
The God I worship (the God Jesus taught) looks upon the heart and lets the atonement take care of the rest.
In my eyes, to worship a God who does not look upon the heart is to reject the atonement, to reject Jesus’ offering, or to deny it, which, I suppose, is the same thing.
So will I call people to repentance? Consider it done.
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