“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
Many of you may have heard of the most recent rupture within the LDS faith as reported in the Salt Lake Tribune here. The movement, called the Remnant, met in Boise, Idaho, this past week to vote by common consent on new Restoration scripture, including several revisions to the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants, a new translation of the Gospel of John, as an expansion of the Pearl of Great Price to the Pearls of Great Price. The movement is hard to measure in numbers, but is estimated at around 5,000-10,000 followers.
It seems to have the Church on edge as well. Recent documents released on MormonLeaks show worried members writing to their stake presidents as well as general authorities asking on how they should respond. One brother reported:
“I asked this group why they come to church if it’s no longer true. They say it’s to get as many of the “elect” out as possible. They lie to keep temple recommends and stay active in everything to get us to listen one by one. They actively Hometeach, go to activities, greet new move-ins and actually seem more valiant than a lot of members. They teach us pieces of this “new enlightening truth” in our Sunday classes or in between classes. They come to our homes or text us messages telling of their “election made sure” and the pending doom for those who won’t follow them.”
That IS impressive that they actually get their home teaching done, but I feel it particularly threatening that they are actively recruiting and preaching within LDS congregations.
The movement was started by a former member by the name of Denver Snuffer. I have actually read most of Brother Snuffer’s published works leading up to his excommunication including The Second Comforter, Eighteen Verses, Nephi’s Isaiah, Beloved Enos, Ten Parables, Come Let Us Adore Him, and Passing the Heavenly Gift. I began reading shortly after I returned home from my mission when I found a copy of The Second Comforter on the shelf, and I was fascinated. I had no idea that he had been excommunicated at the time. Brother Snuffer has an amazing comprehension of the gospel, and he reinvigorated my faith. Brother Snuffer helped me realize that I wanted to be fully committed to my faith and never allow myself to merely go through the motions.
But even then, every once in a while he would throw in a passage like the following that would make me cringe a little bit:
Once again, these contemporaries of John and Christ were not lacking in organized religion or in devotion to religious performances. The Temple at Jerusalem was acknowledged by even Christ as His house. Further, Christ never challenged the presiding authorities’ right to preside. Quite the contrary, He asserted that right. “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works.” Christ made no challenge to their status; but instead invited all who were interested in doing so to live their lives at another, higher, more spiritual level. Even so, they took such offense at this they had him killed.
There is always tension between the Spirit and control. The Spirit involves a certain degree of inevitable risk and uncertainty. As Christ states in John 3:8: “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence to cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” When men rely upon the Spirit to be the final guide, they often encounter inconvenience and imposition. The Spirit can be most imposing. For this reason, the tension is always against the continuation of inspired, Spirit-filled leadership. Continuity and predictability are needed to preserve an organization. The best way to obtain that continuity and predictability is to impose limits on the Spirit. However, it is the Spirit which ought to take priority, not predictability or organizational convenience.”
On the surface, there is no real direct criticism of the organized Church. But it doesn’t take a genius to connect the dots. Brother Snuffer sets up a tension between the Spirit and what he terms “control.” He advocates for the side of the Spirit, and implies that the Church overly emphasizes control in a need to achieve continuity and predictability. He acknowledges that institutions, out of necessity, need continuity and predictability to preserve themselves; that is why Christ organized a Church while he was on the earth. But he sets up no solution to maintain these two necessities in balance.
I later looked up Brother Snuffer’s Wikipedia page, because I wanted to find his entire collection of published works. But when I did, I found that he had indeed been excommunicated. The situation was interesting. Brother Snuffer was just publishing his latest book Passing the Heavenly Gift. This book had as its premise that the succession crisis after Joseph Smith’s death did not have a happy ending. Brigham Young and the Apostles claimed to have received all the necessary keys to continue the Church in Joseph Smith’s stead. But Snuffer claims that no one can receive all the keys through man alone, but must have a personal audience with Christ. He explains that the poor treatment of the Saints and their hardships coming West were a punishment from God for not completing the Nauvoo temple on time. Because they weren’t able to complete it, their sealings and initiatories had no binding power. In essence, the Church is currently in a state similar to that of the Israelites after Moses passed away, only having a lower priesthood and not the higher.
Brother Snuffer’s stake president met with him, and asked him to stop publication, or else he would be subject to excommunication for apostasy. Snuffer refused, and he was excommunicated. Brother Snuffer originally intended to never set up a competing organization with the LDS Church, but after his excommunication, he seems to have taken a different approach.
I wanted to briefly write out my thoughts. When I first found out that Brother Snuffer had been excommunicated, I felt a deep sense of betrayal. He had taught with such clarity, virtually everything he taught seemed to align with what I knew to be true. I would have wanted to sit down with him and discuss the gospel, or have him teach a Sunday School class. Had he somehow lost his way, or was it something that was there the whole time? Is there some risk with seeking after knowledge? Should I just be content, and live within my bubble, or is it OK to seek after truth?
I was in a bit of a shaken state overall. At the same time, I was coming out, still deciding where I fit in the gospel. In addition, I had no real idea how to interact with or talk to people who had left the Church. I had two difficult experiences with people I knew who had left.
The first involved a friend of mine I had known for a long time– since high school really. I wrote to her every single week of my mission without fail. But for a long stretch of about six months, she never wrote back. I wasn’t sure why. When I came home, I had hoped to date her. But when the time came, there was an inexplicable tension. I wasn’t sure what was wrong. One night, she explained to me that while I was on my mission, her father had left the Church. She mentioned several bits of evidence of false prophets, including Joseph Smith’s varying accounts of the First Vision, and the business interests of the modern LDS Church. She told me that her wasn’t whole either. I was shocked, and I didn’t know how to respond, except that I would pray for her. I had had several good-natured conversations with her dad in the past, and I was surprised. He tried to reach out to me to explain his point of view, sending me a few articles. But I would have none of it. In a burst of righteous indignation, I wrote a furious letter condemning him for sending me “anti-Mormon” literature. I wouldn’t even read the article, for fear that I would somehow lose my own faith. I did my best to refute his arguments, and to take him to task for letting himself lose his faith. Then I blocked him on Facebook so I wouldn’t get any more of his messages. I burned some bridges there. Now that I have since grown older, I regret my visceral response.
The second involved a member of my singles ward. I was serving as elders quorum president. In a meeting with this particular brother, he mentioned that he had found a deep source of inspiration in a book purporting to be the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon as received as translated by Christopher Nemelka. I read his account of how he had receieved them, and I was spooked. I had never heard of a man with these kinds of claims before. It was a modern Hiram Page! In that moment, I waited for the Spirit to tell me how best to help this brother. But no miraculous answer came. I did my best with what I knew. I asked him whether he believed Thomas S Monson was called to be a prophet of God. And I asked him to take this matter to sincere prayer before making any decision.
Before Denver Snuffer, before friends losing their faith or finding other sources of faith, my faith had seemed so simple. There just was no alternative to the truths of the restored gospel. Why couldn’t things be simple again? But the combination of these several doubts were actually a benefit. It made the doubts seem commonplace rather than novel. It helped me to turn these criticisms into strengths. Paraphrasing Joseph Smith, when someone criticizes me, I learn take what is true from it, try to become better, and discard the rest.
I feel firm in my faith now, but not because of a need for a rock-solid answer from the heavens. I didn’t get one. What this moment did for me though, was it helped me realize that faith is complicated. I can’t judge someone for not joining the Church, or even for leaving the Church. Others are own their own search for truth. Is not an article of our faith that “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all ment he same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may”? I began to read books by Anglicans, Catholics, Jews, and more, to understand their own perspectives, and to glean truths from their own faith. Joseph Smith was a seeker after truth wherever it was to be found, and I found a new love in learning from others.
So even if I don’t completely agree with Brother Snuffer, I am grateful for what I have learned from him. If anything, maybe I’ll be better at my home teaching haha.
P.S. A few other references on the idea of tension between organization and freedom that I found aligned well with this discussion. The first is from Elder Oak’s 2010 talk “Two Lines of Communication”:
“Some members or former members of our church fail to recognize the importance of the priesthood line. They underestimate the importance of the Church and its leaders and its programs. Relying entirely on the personal line, they go their own way, purporting to define doctrine and to direct competing organizations contrary to the teachings of prophet-leaders. In this they mirror the modern hostility to what is disparagingly called “organized religion.” Those who reject the need for organized religion reject the work of the Master, who established His Church and its officers in the meridian of time and who reestablished them in modern times.”
The second is from Terryl Givens’ Feeding the Flock in the chapter on Boundary Maintenance:
Organizational identity presupposes boundaries, lines of demarcation, and criteria by which membership is achieved or maintained. As William Temple declared, “There must always be a tension between the right of the individual to freedom and the right of the institution to have a determinate character.” More recently, Timothy Keller has noted that “any community that did not hold its members accountable for specific beliefs and practices would have no corporate identity and would really not be a community at all.” Boundary maintenance, therefore, constitutes a virtually inescapable dimension of ecclesiology.
I also wanted to include a quote from Conservatism: An Anthology of Social and Political Thought from David Hume to the Present but I unfortunately don’t have a copy. It includes a great discussion of the need for institutions despite the weaknesses accompanying them. It helped me to realize that many of the problems in in the institutional Church are inherent in institutions. It helped me come to grips with things like the Correlation Committee, committees in general, and slowness at adapting to change.
Image Credit: lds.org