I opposed the vote to sustain the President, First Presidency, and 12 Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the 185th General Conference yesterday. I wouldn't be making this public, except for the fact that I fear that the published reason that the group Any Opposed gave for their opposing votes will unduly influence the discussion about what happened from hereon out because it opened and ended with discussions of LGBT issues, therefore emphasizing them. While I don't claim that LGBT issues are unimportant (especially the suicides of LGBT individuals, which is truly tragic), I believe that these other issues are more pressing, and hence need more discussion and exposure. I wasn't in any way affiliated with the actions of Any Opposed, although I was aware of their intentions to oppose before Conference. My decision to oppose wasn't connected to their actions, but was instead something that I felt needed to happen for my own reasons.
For me and hundreds of people I know, our issues with the Church have almost nothing to do with LGBT issues. We are not political or social crusaders trying to force a discussion on social issues or push the Church into changing doctrine or policies to align with a progressive philosophy. What we would like to see, what we believe is mandated in the scriptures that are given as "a law unto [the] Church" (D&C 42:49), is a return to the original doctrine as taught by Joseph Smith, and the more pure, Gospel-centered practices contained in the scriptures. Many of those who share my take on these issues have been excommunicated for their beliefs (you can read a partial list here), but undoubtedly they would have voted in opposition given the chance. My hope is that any faithful member coming across this will take time to read for understanding: even if you don't agree, try to understand where I and many, many others like me are coming from. I personally don't like contention; I eschew confrontation in my own life and, despite my failings and imperfections, want all members to come to a unity of the faith delivered to us by Christ, and restored through Joseph Smith. I am afraid that, if the Church doesn't correct its course soon, the Church will do things that will lead to a loss of that faith, and the fullness of the Gospel will be given to another people.
I can't speak for anyone else, but I can list the reasons that I personally couldn't, in good conscience, either support or abstain from the sustaining vote of the leaders. I believe that every single one of those men are spiritual men. I believe they can be, and very often are, inspired. I believe many of them are honest. I believe many of them do the best, according to the traditions of their fathers and the Church, to be Christlike, and I believe that many of them succeed in becoming very Christlike. However, there is a difference: being spiritual, inspired, honest, and partially Christlike, is not the same as acting in full harmony with the requirements of your appointed station.
I will not engage in the idolatrous notion that "they know more than me", and that therefore the problem lies with me, and that I should keep my thoughts to myself and get back in line. I don't claim to know more than the leaders; I claim that God knows more than us all, that His will is revealed in the scriptures, and that it is the duty devolving on every single member to know His will and use the light and truth that God gives us to judge whether our leaders are leading according to His will. If they're not, it is our duty to oppose the vote to sustain them, that the problems may be brought to light and fixed or, in the worst case, remove the leaders from their office. I don't have any illusions that the latter is going to happen, nor would I want to see it happen; I do, however, hope that the former will.
This list isn't as well-sourced as I'd like it to be. There's a narrow window of time with which I can publish this and have it be even slightly effective. I wrote this up to solidify, in my own mind and heart, the concrete reasons for opposing. I didn't expect it to be published and, so, didn't source it when I first wrote it. I've tried to do what I can but, because it's Easter and I'm not a regular blogger, this is going to be somewhat hasty. I'm not going to explain the background or give a lot of support for a some of these claims for the same reason. During the editing process, some text has shrunk, and I can't figure out the reason for that, although I tried to fix it. That's life, I guess.
These are the reasons--shared in part by hundreds, if not thousands, of God-fearing members--that I cannot sustain Thomas S. Monson as a prophet, seer, or revelator, and why I cannot sustain him as the President of the Church. By virtue of their connection to, and sustaining of, President Monson, I cannot sustain the rest of the First Presidency or those consisting of the Quorum of the 12, who meet so regularly with the First Presidency and form a united front on these issues. I abstained from sustaining the other general authorities of the Church, and am able to sustain the local leaders because, through interaction with them, I am enabled to partially judge their character and hearts, and I believe them to be sincere. I also believe that my local leaders lead according to both the scriptures and the Spirit, and trust that whenever there was a conflict between the Church Handbook of Instructions and the dictates of the Spirit, they would choose to follow the Spirit. I cannot say the same for the general authorities of the Church, because I do not know them.
- President Monson has given no indication that he is a prophet, seer, or revelator (PSR) by producing the fruits required to be one (the fruits of being a prophet are prophesies and expounding the scriptures in a prophetic manner; the fruits of being a seer is visions; the fruits of being a revelator, published revelations). To my knowledge he has never made these claims for himself, but he has allowed others to make these claims about him without any sort of correction. Therefore, he is content to let the Church view him as a PSR. Because there are no fruits of his being a PSR, I am under no obligation to accept him as such, although if it were clear it is only in title or aspiration alone he is a PSR, I could do so. However, because he is willing to allow others to sustain him as a PSR (not in aspiration only, but in actuality) without bringing forth the fruits of being one, I cannot in good conscience sustain him, because I believe that is dishonest, even if it is well-intended. The same principles apply to the other presiding Brethren of the Church, none of which (to my knowledge) have brought forth the required fruits to be true PSR's.
- Under the assumed approbation of President Monson, multiple leaders, including Russell M. Nelson, Henry B. Eyring, Carol F. McConkie, and M. Russell Ballard all gave iterations of an intense "follow the prophet (and us), because he (and we) can't lead you astray" message at the October 2014 General Conference of the Church. The promises offered by these speakers regarding "following the prophet" are not well rooted in scripture. I believe that this message is spiritually toxic to anyone who will heed it, because it takes the emphasis off of God and claims, in a fashion, that "he hath given his power unto men" (2 Nephi 28:5). I believe that this de-emphasis of God will damn anyone who heeds this message because, according to the Lectures on Faith, it is on God and God alone where we must center our faith for life and salvation (LoF 2:2, 3:1, 3:19). The focus on prophets as spiritual luminaries, while de-emphasizing the importance of approaching God for one's self, seeing His face, and receiving one's calling and election, et al. serves to move the center of our faith to man, or somewhere between God and man, and therefore cannot produce faith unto life and salvation. Indeed, there is talk about "personal revelation", but more and more the kind of personal revelation we're encouraged to seek is a confirming witness that "the Prophet" is God's spokesman on Earth, and that we should follow him. There is no longer any substantive general discussion about receiving the mysteries of godliness, how to do so, and why we should do so. We are also told, implicitly, that if we don't receive the confirming revelation that "the Prophet" isn't actually a prophet, to just keep trying and believing and we'll get it one day, and if we don't, the problem is with us. Moreover, the psychological ramifications of encouraging an entrenched "follow the leader, even if you must do so blindly" mentality are serious, and Christ condemned this kind of thing as the blind leading the blind. I cannot in good conscience agree to perpetuating such a system when it is my duty as a priest and elder of the Church to preach, teach, warn, and exhort using the scriptures and the truths of God (D&C 20:38-59), which warn against this kind of trusting in the "arm of flesh" (2 Ne. 28:31). Joseph taught that, in his day, the Saints were "depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds, in consequence of neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves". This kind of dependence on the prophet is now explicitly encouraged by Church leaders.
- Under the direction of previous leaders, the curriculum of the Church has been increasingly simplified, and critical doctrine has been de-emphasized or ignored. While President Monson and other leaders aren't directly responsible for this, they continue the trend, and it is getting to the point where deep study into Gospel topics is implicitly or, in some cases, explicitly discouraged. Study is encouraged to a certain point but there is an uncomfortable silence about certain topics, such as having one's calling and election made sure, the doctrine of the Second Comforter, the coming forth of Zion and the abomination of desolation, and other similar topics that are involved with the fullness of the Gospel.
- For instance, True to the Faith, which was released in 2004 (when President Monson was the First Counselor to President Hinckley) contained the following message from the First Presidency: "This book is designed as a companion to [one's] study of the scriptures and the teachings of latter-day prophets. We encourage you to refer to it as you study and apply gospel principles. Use it as a resource... [to] answer questions about the Church. As you learn gospel truths, you will increase in your understanding of Heavenly Father’s eternal plan." Despite being a resource to answer questions, learn gospel truths, and increase understanding of Heavenly Father's "eternal plan", the topics of "Second Comforter" and "Calling and Election" are not mentioned at all; the topic of "Zion" is briefly mentioned and primarily seen as being "the pure in heart", with no meaningful discussion about it being a physical place we hope to one day build. All three topics are critical pieces of the Restoration that Joseph Smith died to bring about, and we have neglected and forgotten them and their implications.
- President Monson signed a great deal of control of Church financial decisions to 3 relatively unknown bureaucrats (Robert Cantwell, Douglas Martin, and Steven Penrose)**. I have never been asked to sustain or acknowledge them in any way, but they have been given incredible amounts of power to deal with the financial assets of the Church, which are ostensibly undergirded by tithing donations, which belong to the Lord. This is continuing a trend that seems to have been established or continued by President Hinckley. While this may be for purely legal reasons, to my knowledge these actions aren't comprehended in the rules and regulations of the Church as found in the scriptures, which are a “law unto [God's] church” (D&C 42:59). All things are to be done “by common consent, by much prayer and faith” (D&C 26:2), including financial matters (D&C 104:71). The nature of the Church's legal structure (the fact that it exists as a corporate sole in Utah, for instance) is not widely disseminated information, and the Church does not do its part to make that information known to the average member. This allows ignorance, confusion, and obfuscation to reign in the minds of the Saints. The leaders ask us to take it all as a matter of faith that everything is all right, and the general message is that “all is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth” (2 Nephi 28:21). In that vein, we are given only a general assurance that the Church uses tithing money correctly, according to "approved Church budgets, policies, and accounting practices", which at this point include a great deal of extra-scriptural (and possibly anti-scriptural) instructions. I believe this is dangerous and against the principles that God founded the Church upon. I believe President Monson and the rest are failing in their responsibility to be open and honest about Church finances and structure and to follow the revealed will of the Lord for the Church. If they have received revelation justifying their actions, they have neglected their duty as revelators to let the Church know the will of the Lord on the matter. Either way, they are neglecting the fullness of their duty. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that failing to release a more detailed budget to the members, to ensure that the tithing money is honestly used, is also something that should be fixed, although the failure to disclose the budget is another tradition President Monson inherited and didn't start.
- President Monson has allowed the Strengthening the Church Member Committee (SCMC), currently headed by Elder Nelson, to continue their work. In my opinion, their work is akin to the Danites in the early Church, which Joseph condemned as a secret combination. The SCMC is responsible for finding and “weeding out” undesirables, and has been a critical cog in the machine of modern Church discipline in at least a few high-profile instances (probably including, but not limited to, Denver Snuffer, Kate Kelly, and John Dehlin). The fact that such a group exists, contrary to the principles found in the D&C and Book of Mormon, is disturbing. “The Lord God worketh not in darkness” (2 Nephi 26:23) and the Church isn't supposed to, either. The principles of common consent cannot operate correctly when a large degree of what happens is obfuscated by shadow. Indeed, if we are being lied to or if the truth is being withheld, the principles upon which common consent rest are rendered obsolete, and the sustaining vote becomes a sham and completely meaningless.
- The Correlation Department's operation and existence continues to harm the Church. Although the motives may have originally been good, I believe it is not of God and continues to direct doctrinal shift by choosing which doctrines are acceptable for member consumption. At this time, it is impossible to determine exactly who's on the committee because that's not public knowledge, yet their power is immense. Even General Conference talks must go through the committee before they are given, according to rumors (again, there isn't much information known about this very important, but secretive, organization).
- SB 296, the Utah “Antidiscrimination and Religious Freedom” bill. The Church openly endorsed this bill, which I feel goes against the natural right to freedom of association. Based on how the Church has modified its stance on gay marriage in the past 5-6 years, I believe this is a shrewd political move to try to curry favor with the world and the millenials who are leaving the Church over issues like gay marriage. The Church puts a great amount of pressure on the legislature of Utah, and thereby wields undue influence in its politics and policy. The bill would keep the Church exempt from its requirements, but force Church members to abide by its requirements. While I don't disagree with the idea that people shouldn't be fired for sexual orientation or gender identity, I do believe it is wrong to force people to do what I think is right. The Church is wielding unrighteous dominion for the sake of a public relations move that will prove to be noneffective and will probably backfire in the future. As the leaders of the Church President Monson, the First Presidency, and the other Apostles should be held accountable. Perhaps more than any other social issue in the world right now, we need more light and truth from God on the subject of same-sex attraction. However, Church leaders continue to take stances that are a combination of LDS scripture, past policies and doctrinal declarations, and the philosophies and practices of men. Those stances are changing, and will undoubtedly continue to change.
**Note: The link is to mormondisclosures, which contains a great deal of content I disagree with. However, it is the best source I know of to support the claims made here, because it has facsimiles of the legal document in question. I know the document in question is expired, but it did happen, and I'm sure there's been another drafted to take its place.