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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