I suppose it goes without saying that since this is my blog, these are just my thoughts and opinions. But I also want to say that the more I learn, the more I realize that I don’t know much :). I do feel a deep need to “speak my truth,” and so I am trying to do that. But the Lord keeps teaching me and refining my understanding (thankfully), so hopefully I will understand things better tomorrow than I do today. And I am not perfect in expressing myself, of course. But here we go with what I understand now about a few things, hoping you will be patient with my weakness of expression:
Several days ago I posted something about the Protect LDS Children March and their cause. In the course of some discussion that ensued, I was asked a question. I didn’t answer it directly on that Facebook thread, because I didn’t want my answer to the question to take away from the point of the thread, but also because I didn’t want to only give a one word answer, without explaining that answer a little bit.
Here is the question I was asked: “. . . you think its inconsistent with gospel principles for saints to have spiritual accountability with ecclesiastical leaders?”
My one word answer is “Yes.” I do believe it is inconsistent with gospel principles for anyone to have spiritual accountability to any other human being.
Here are a few reasons why:
2 Nephi 9:41 O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name.
D&C 1:19 The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh
2 Nephi 4:34 O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.
I think that it is clear from scripture that it is the Lord that forgives sin, and not any man. I know that people in most any Christian Church would say they believe that, but I do fear that this prophecy is currently being fulfilled:
2 Nephi 28:5 And they deny the power of God, the Holy One of Israel; and they say unto the people: Hearken unto us, and hear ye our precept; for behold there is no God today, for the Lord and the Redeemer hath done his work, and he hath given his power unto men
The reason this question came up is because of the Protect LDS Children movement, which is asking for the LDS Church to conduct no one on one interviews with children anymore, and that no sexually explicit questions be asked of children, ever.
I believe that the word “church” with a small “c” means a body or group of believers. When that word is used in scripture, that is almost always what it means – just a group of people who have a common belief. The way we think of a Church with a capital “C” today is usually quite different, because we are usually thinking of a legal entity, an institutional organization with a legal structure. Our modern institutions were not what was meant by “church” in ancient scripture.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a trademark name of CORPORATION OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS, which is a legal entity, a Corporation Sole, set up under the laws of the USA. As such, this Corporation (which actually legally consists of only the President of the Church) has the right to make rules about who can do what within its organization. It can and does make rules as to who can participate in its ordinances and who can enter its temples. The question is, should it have the right to harm people in the process of verifying and ensuring compliance with those rules. And that is why Protect LDS Children began. Not to change what the Church says is doctrine, but to ask for policy and procedural changes.
So the issue of how things are decided and how they are done in this world, even within a Church (capital C) organization is, to me, a very different thing than what the Lord requires and how He wants things done. It would be good if it were the same, but it is often not. That is why I did not want to say what I thought about spiritual things when the topic was not really about that.
Back to the question: “. . . you think its inconsistent with gospel principles for saints to have spiritual accountability with ecclesiastical leaders?”
I think there are many people we should have accountability to in this world. But to me the words “spiritual accountability” mean my relationship with God, and I believe that is between me and God.
I do think that if we have harmed another person it is good to “reconcile with thy brother.”
3 Nephi 12:23 Therefore, if ye shall come unto me, or shall desire to come unto me, and rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee—
24 Go thy way unto thy brother, and first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I will receive you.
There are many times when I believe it is appropriate to confess things to those we have wronged, and that is as an equal reconciling to an equal, or equals, whom we have harmed. I guess one question is, what does the Lord require as far as confession is concerned.
There are many scriptures about confessing to the Lord. Since God knows everything we have done, this confession seems to be our acknowledgement to God that we recognize we have done something wrong, something that has separated us from Him. I think that confession/acknowledgement to God would clearly be required for forgiveness from Him.
There are a few other times when confession to others is mentioned in scripture – mainly confessing to those people we have wronged. I think that can be an important step in obtaining their forgiveness, as I mentioned earlier, and we may need to do that in addition to going to the Lord for His forgiveness.
One of the most memorable examples of forgiveness in scripture is Alma the Younger. His experience of recognition of His sin, crying to the Lord for forgiveness, and being forgiven all took place while he was unconscious to the world. Not while, or because, he was confessing to an ecclesiastical leader, or to anyone else.
And that brings me to the part of the question mentioning “ecclesiastical leaders.” That implies hierarchy, one above another here in this world, in spiritual things. I believe we were never meant to be unequal. I believe we have lost much because of our extreme hierarchy. We give lip service to equality, but in practice, we do not act that way. We Gentiles love our supposed benefactors.
Luke 22:25 And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors.
26 But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.
Alma 1:26 And when the priests left their labor to impart the word of God unto the people, the people also left their labors to hear the word of God. And when the priest had imparted unto them the word of God they all returned again diligently unto their labors; and the priest, not esteeming himself above his hearers, for the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner; and thus they were all equal, and they did all labor, every man according to his strength.
27 And they did impart of their substance, every man according to that which he had, to the poor, and the needy, and the sick, and the afflicted; and they did not wear costly apparel, yet they were neat and comely.
3 Nephi 12:1 . . . Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants;
Alma 30:32 Now Alma said unto him: Thou knowest that we do not glut ourselves upon the labors of this people; for behold I have labored even from the commencement of the reign of the judges until now, with mine own hands for my support, notwithstanding my many travels round about the land to declare the word of God unto my people.
33 And notwithstanding the many labors which I have performed in the church, I have never received so much as even one senine for my labor; neither has any of my brethren, save it were in the judgment-seat; and then we have received only according to law for our time.
34 And now, if we do not receive anything for our labors in the church, what doth it profit us to labor in the church save it were to declare the truth, that we may have rejoicings in the joy of our brethren?
A King, in the Lord’s definition, is a Servant of all the people. We have made them oppressors. Almost no one manages to be a righteous King, or even a righteous leader, at all. We give lip service to equality, but in practice, we do not act that way. We give scant heed to this scripture, to our great detriment:
D&C 121:39 We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.
Do we really believe it is almost all, like the scripture says? We don’t seem to. We actually say it is very few. I see people saying all the time (especially now with the Protect LDS Children movement calling for change and exposing abuse, and with all the terrible scandals recently of sexual assault, and worse, perpetrated and covered up by high Church leadership) that it is only a very few. People use that as a reason to keep anything that seems negative quiet. They don’t want to harm the good name of the Church, because, they say, it is so very few doing anything wrong. I do believe the most heinous crimes are only perpetrated by a few, but I believe the cover-ups are endemic. And I believe much lesser “unrighteous dominion” is clearly a malady of “almost all.”
We seem to have forgotten what we often say is our core belief, that agency is paramount. We believe that Satan is the one who wants to take away agency, and that it is what the whole war in heaven was fought over. Perhaps we just really have very little idea of what it actually means to allow agency. That is one thing that the Lord keeps trying to show me over and over, and at deeper and deeper levels. It is clear I am only beginning to understand the ramifications of how to actually allow others their agency. And yet, I can already see that removing agency has become ingrained in most all aspects of our lives, including religion. Satan is a subtle beast.
I will give this aside that relates a bit: I do believe that the Lord sends us messengers and prophets, and people with other gifts, to tell us things from the Lord, and to teach us, and to help us in many ways. I believe they are equal to us. It is always about service and love. The greatest to ever live among us was the greatest Servant. I believe it is good to heed any words that are from the Lord, whatever the source. Throughout scripture, over and over, the Lord’s words come from sources that people living at the time don’t expect, nor generally recognize. And I do not believe that a position in an institutional Church, no matter what that position is called, means that someone in that position has any authority to deliver a message from God, or to prophesy, or do anything else in God’s name, unless the Lord Himself gives them that authority. There are great cautions given by the Savior in Matthew 23.
It would be too much to get into everything I think about interviews in the LDS Church, and requiring confessing to leaders, and leaders having the power to declare your worthiness and act as gatekeepers of ordinances and temples, because there are a lot of ramifications and nuance to all of that. But let me mention a couple of things that I think are problems.
To be baptized by someone in the LDS Church, you have to be interviewed and asked quite a few questions and be judged worthy by the man asking the questions. In the scriptures the requirements for baptism are repentance and belief in Christ. Much more than that is required in these interviews. To obtain a temple recommend there are several questions to be answered. These questions have changed many times. For the temple some are essentially the same, but some are not. For example: In 1856 you had to not swear, in 1877 you had to have been rebaptized, in 1966 you couldn’t work at a casino, etc. When we can look at these things, as well as many policies and doctrines even, that have changed over the years, then it is hard to believe we can, or should trust in the arm of flesh to decide things of eternal consequence for us.. And when we see abuse that has happened and been covered up, that makes it even more clear. Maybe we trust that God will make it all right in the end, but I believe we have been warned over and over in scripture not to put our trust in man.
I will just reiterate that I do not believe any mortal has spiritual authority (although they may have other types of authority) over me or anyone else, and I will end with something that happened to me many years ago, but which I recognize as one of the times when the Lord was trying to teach me something extremely important, and it relates to all of this.
Decades ago I was meeting with a member of our Stake Presidency for the second interview for my temple recommend. This man was a friend of mine. I knew him quite well, liked him a lot, and felt comfortable with him. I knew I could answer all the temple recommend questions honestly with answers that would qualify me to go to the temple. This man started by telling me that I should consider the things he was about to ask as though Christ were asking me the questions, because he was Christ’s representative, etc. I believe other leaders had said something similar at the beginning of other temple recommend interviews I had had, but when he said this, I was overwhelmed with thoughts and feelings that had not happened before. I had a thought that was so strong, it was hard not to say it out loud. I thought substantially these words, “I wish it was Jesus sitting here asking me these questions, because He knows me!” Suddenly everything in me wanted it to be Jesus there, and not this man. I felt extremely sad that it was this man (or any man) and not Jesus Himself. I felt like crying. I have thought about that a lot since. That moment has remained strongly in my memory all these years. I believe the Lord was trying to teach me in that moment that maybe it should have been Jesus Himself. That I needed to come to realize that it is only Jesus Himself who is the Keeper of the Gate. He is my advocate, because only He, through the atonement, KNOWS me. He knows me better than I know me, and I am, and want to be, spiritually accountable to Him.
(In this post, often I have used the word “we” when I am talking about myself and members of the LDS Church, but also any other organization that has a similar structure. I include myself in the “we” because 41 years of my life were wrapped up in the LDS Church, with me often saying it was my life. Under this definition by Joseph Smith, Mormonism is still my life: “The first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation or without being circumscribed or prohibited by the creeds or superstitious notions of men, or by the dominations of one another, when that truth is clearly demonstrated to our minds, and we have the highest degree of evidence of the same.” Also, bolded words in this post were made bold by me for emphasis.)