A close look at Mitt's Mormonism
May 21, 2012
Stephen Stone, RenewAmerica President

Now that Barack Obama has come out in favor of same-sex marriage, media reports have been quick to contrast the president's position with that of "conservative" challenger Mitt Romney, who portrays himself as a strong supporter of traditional marriage.

But Mitt's history regarding marriage has a huge gap between the rhetoric and the reality — a gap the Romney campaign refuses to acknowledge, and the media refuse to publicize, although going into the general election, that could change.

The facts about Mitt's hand in the institution of same-sex marriage in America cannot forever be swept under the newsroom carpet.

The truth is, Mitt set in motion the whole mess of state-sanctioned gay marriage in our country when he singlehandedly imposed same-sex marriage on Massachusetts in 2004, in the wake of the Goodrich decision by the state's Supreme Judicial Court. He did so without any requirement by the court to do so, yet he claims — on the basis of his pro-gay general counsel's self-serving guidance — he "had no choice."

At the time — the record shows — all Mitt had to do, and in fact all he was legally authorized to do, was do nothing. The Goodrich decision was directed solely at the legislature — whom the court advised (but did not order) to change the law to permit same-sex marriage in the state; the Governor's Office was left out of the court's decision.

When the legislature refused to change the law within the 180-day period set by the court "to take such action as it may deem appropriate," Mitt stepped in of his own initiative and created his own rule — ordering marriage licenses to be issued to same-sex couples in violation of the state's marriage law, a law still unchanged by the legislature to this day.

Mitt's actions regarding same-sex marriage — not his empty words — reveal a deceitful man willing to take the most morally-destructive executive action in our nation's political history, while claiming to defend the sanctity of marriage.

That's the story the press don't want you to know...yet.

But there's a larger story — one centering in Mitt's Mormonism.

Mitt's behavior as governor, and also as a candidate, reveals a man with an uncritical "Mormon" mindset — steeped in "supporting and sustaining" authority figures on the one hand, and abusing authority on the other. He's both a yes-man and a tyrant, in ways that reflect his Mormon upbringing, as we will undertake to show.

Let's take a close look at "Mitt's Mormonism."

A mystery inside an enigma

Just as Mitt's words conflict with the reality of his deeds, so does the Mormon church's nurtured image differ markedly from the reality of the church's actions and character, in ways that defy analysis.

This requires us to get below appearance and examine the essence of Mormonism if we are to accurately ascertain presumed GOP nominee Romney and his way of thinking.

To do so, we'll focus on the unusually authoritarian tendencies that set the LDS church apart from all other religions. The most distinctive thing about Mormonism is not the seemingly "unorthodox" nature of its doctrine, as many people assume, but the profound dependency upon human authority it fosters, and the virtual worship of presumably God-ordained leaders that encourages it.

As we proceed, we do so on this one premise: Mitt and his Mormonism are inseparable — especially since Mitt has become the foremost ambassador for the Mormon church, its "quintessential" member in the public mind.

It therefore does matter what he believes, and why, if he is to be considered a serious candidate for president, and hence aspires to be the most powerful person on earth.

"It takes one to know one"

So far this election, the media have treated Mitt's Mormonism as "off limits" — covering the story with a shroud of "political correctness." One reason for this is that the essence of Mormonism is unusually hard for outsiders to understand accurately, and the media know it.

The familiar school-yard taunt "it takes one to know one" would seem to apply to something so esoteric, and problematic, as the LDS church.

Until expelled from the church for refusing to quit my work for Alan Keyes (see A Mormon Story), I myself spent 60-plus years observing LDS culture from the inside — from an independent-minded perspective — and as a result, I have insights I believe are worth sharing. I offer these here with no intent to malign the church — only to identify the truth, at a time when Mormonism has become a legitimate object of public interest due to Mitt's candidacy.

As far as the church's evident inscrutability is concerned, the church itself is partly responsible for the disparity between appearance and actuality, with its constant focus on public relations, image-creation, and selective presentation (much like Mitt himself). But so are the church's defenders and critics alike partly responsible. Both sides have contributed to a widely-perceived mystique that is far from the reality of this uniquely "American religion."

We'll consider all these influences as we go.

A dearth of doctrinal knowledge

Members of the LDS church are typically unacquainted with the church's official canon — its "standard works" of the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price — except superficially. Rather than become knowledgeable firsthand of this immense body of scripture that has been adopted by a vote of the membership, members are content to accept secondhand what others define the church's doctrine to be. Those inclined to do so include not only members generally, but church leaders — who themselves are simply lay members elevated to high position by the church's lay leadership.

The result is perpetuation of countless myths that pass for LDS doctrine among both the membership and the leadership. Researching, scrutinizing, and documenting the doctrine is generally left to paid professionals within the church's education system — who themselves are under significant pressure to defend the prevailing social and doctrinal norms of the church if they wish to remain in the church's employ. They do little serious investigation of original sources, including the "standard works" themselves.

A popularly-held example will suffice — one that takes a vital point of saving doctrine and renders it utterly impotent. It typifies the kind of shallow analysis of the church's canon that is prevalent in the church.

Because this illustration is so indicative of church trends, let's take a moment and examine it carefully.

"Feast upon the scriptures"

Throughout the church's "cultural curriculum" can be found a constant myth regarding "feasting on the scriptures." Members and leaders often use the term as though it were scripturally sound and fully legitimate.

It's a favorite, in fact, in lessons, articles, and admonitions from the pulpit.

But it has no basis in official doctrine. In fact, it's a clear perversion of official doctrine — that is, the church's adopted canon. Exactly how it got to be widely accepted as though it were doctrine is of little consequence in a church where definitive study of the scriptures is left to paid "seminary teachers" and their respected associates in higher education: "institute teachers" at various colleges, and "religion faculty" at Brigham Young University and its branches.

The passage in the Book of Mormon from which the above prevailing myth derives is found in 2 Nephi 31:19-21. Unbeknownst to those who blithely misuse the passage is an interpretation in 2 Nephi 32:1-6 that defines precisely what the passage actually means.

After reviewing "in plainness" the saving "doctrine of Christ" that constitutes the central message of the Book of Mormon — a saving formula most members appear unaware of — Nephi says,
    And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path ["which leads to eternal life"], I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.

    Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.

    And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen.
This summation of how a person is saved centers in relying alone upon Jesus Christ. The converted soul is instructed thereafter to continue in such true faith for the rest of his or her life — "feasting upon the word of Christ" to guide them. If they do so, they are promised "eternal life."

In the verses that precede this passage, we might note, conversion is described as complete submission of heart in a way the results in "the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost," similar to the promise Jesus gave His disciples in the New Testament.

Because of its definitive nature, this part of the Book of Mormon is vital to understanding official LDS doctrine. Yet members, leaders, and "scholars" in the church ignore these definitive words and substitute a false doctrine in its place — a false doctrine that has been part of church culture going back decades.

The myth supplants the plain saving doctrine in 2 Nephi 31 with this inane, self-contradictory pabulum:

To "feast on the words of Christ" means to read your scriptures frequently, even daily, particularly for the spiritual "feeling" and assurance it instills in the reader. This simplistic formulation is found everywhere in LDS culture.

Important as reading scripture (beginning with the Bible) is to all who wish to be converted to Christ and know His doctrine, the above passage from the Book of Mormon says nothing about reading scripture at all; it's about relying solely on Jesus Christ.

Its meaning is similar to the words of Christ in John 5:38-40 — only more emphatic. In that passage, Jesus says,
    And ye have not [the Father's] word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not.

    Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.

    And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life. (emphasis mine)
In these words of Jesus, it is clear that we are to center our lives upon Jesus Himself. Those who miss the whole point, and mistakenly think we can substitute the written word for actual reliance on Christ, are mistaken. That is the obvious meaning of Jesus' words in John 5.

Likewise, readers of 2 Nephi 31:19-21 above delude themselves if they assume the passage admonishes them to "feast on the scriptures." Nowhere in the passage — or anywhere else in the LDS standard works — can such an idea be found. It reflects a longstanding LDS tradition — not authentic church doctrine.

Thankfully, the problem clears itself up if the reader is willing to read the verses that follow those cited. Shockingly, few LDS members appear willing to do so, and those willing do so ignore the actual words in deference to church myth.

The interpretation

So there can be no confusion, 2 Nephi 32:1-6 explains the preceding verses in a way that would be hard to misinterpret, unless the reader reads with cultural blinders:
    And now, behold, my beloved brethren, I suppose that ye ponder somewhat in your hearts concerning that which ye should do after ye have entered in by the way. But, behold, why do ye ponder these things in your hearts?

    Do ye not remember that I said unto you [in 2 Nephi 31:13] that after ye had received the Holy Ghost ye could speak with the tongue of angels? And now, how could ye speak with the tongue of angels save it were by the Holy Ghost?

    Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.

    Wherefore, now after I have spoken these words, if ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are not brought into the light, but must perish in the dark.

    For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.

    Behold, this is the doctrine of Christ....
Thus, what Nephi means is that once a person has truly been born again ("baptized by fire and the Holy Ghost"), through "relying wholly upon Jesus Christ," the Holy Ghost will "show unto [them] all things what [they] should do."

That's what it means to "feast upon the words of Christ" — nothing more, nothing less. If "angels" do it, so should you, Nephi says.

How Mormons could so diminish such exquisite words, words that are harmonious with the saving message of the Bible, is stunning. Yet they do — and they do so with remarkable self-assurance that they know the truth because "others" in the culture have done their thinking for them, namely their leaders and an array of church employees, who themselves are products of the same culture.

Official LDS doctrine

All this underscores what is required of any reliable study of Mormon belief: The only official source of LDS doctrine is the voted-upon, and thus binding, "standard works" of the church. The adopted canon of the church alone constitutes its official doctrine. Anything else — including pervasive church cultural myths, opinions of church leaders that have never been canonized by a vote of the membership, and contradictory statements published in church curriculum that are inconsistent with the canon — are irrelevant. They have no doctrinal significance, being outside the canon. At best, they have quaint historical value for those interested in tracing trends that have influenced the culture, and the culture's often-diehard myths, and that's about it.

Those inside and outside the church who misunderstand the authentic basis of church doctrine are the source of much confusion, and often-needless derision, regarding the church.

Non-Mormon critics

This brings us to the other main source of misinformation about the church: non-members.

It is common for non-Mormons — especially those offended by what they perceive to be unbiblical notions in the church — to perpetuate myths held by church members as though those myths constituted authentic LDS doctrine.

Among the nutty notions picked up by non-Mormons that they think comprise genuine LDS doctrine are the following:
  • God was once a man who "became" God.

  • Mormons can become Gods just like God the Father — complete with everything imaginable that God is, has, and does.

  • Mary was impregnated by God the Father in the same manner all women become pregnant.

  • Blacks are cursed (and can therefore be justly discriminated against) because they descended from Cain.

  • God withheld the priesthood — and therefore salvation in the highest heaven — from all blacks because of the wickedness of Cain.

  • Blacks are innately inferior to other races because they were less "valiant" in a pre-mortal life.

  • All who are born into the LDS church today were "generals" in the "war in heaven."

  • Only those who "practice polygamy" while they are on the earth have any hope of going to the highest heaven.

  • Polygamy is a "principle" of salvation, and is thus required of those who wish to please God.

  • Heaven will be peopled mainly by women, and thus righteous Mormon men can expect to be given multiple wives in the hereafter.

  • We all have a "mother in heaven" who is one of God's multiple wives.

  • The first man, Adam, was God Himself.

  • Only Mormons can rightfully claim to belong to the "true church of Jesus Christ," and thus are the only persons who will be saved.

  • Faithful Mormons will "progress eternally" — just as God is presumed to progress in His own way.

  • Christ's atonement for sin occurred in the Garden of Gethsemane; the purpose of His death on the cross was to make resurrection possible.

  • In LDS temples, members make covenants that are essential to eternal life.

  • Those who fail to go to heaven (the "celestial kingdom") will go to a lesser level of heaven known as the "terrestrial kingdom" or the "telestial kingdom." Only those banished to "outer darkness" as "sons of perdition" will actually go to what the scriptures call "hell."
Of course, these and similar unbiblical notions among "cultural Mormons" are merely things non-Mormons hear or read from sources other than the LDS canon. In many instances, the notions come from earnest, but ill-informed, members themselves. In other instances, they come from uncanonized — and hence not necessarily doctrinal — views of LDS leaders going as far back as church founder Joseph Smith.

In nearly all cases, it is Mormons — not non-Mormons — who have created such problematic misconceptions about authentic LDS doctrine, misconceptions often amplified and exaggerated by non-members. So there can be no mistaking what the standard for determining what LDS doctrine is, official LDS doctrine consists solely in the church's standard works. That which can be found with clarity and recurring emphasis in the standard works constitutes genuine church doctrine. All else — including curious anomalies and seeming contradictions that are obviously not recurring themes of the standard works — has less relevance for interpreting or understanding LDS doctrine.

By saying this, we're merely reiterating the church's own doctrinal standard for identifying the reliable core of LDS belief — a standard that says,
    Thou shalt take the things which thou hast received, which have been given unto thee in my scriptures for a law, to be my law to govern my church;

    And he that doeth according to these things shall be saved, and he that doeth them not shall be damned if he so continue. (D&C 42:59-60, emphasis added)
Note that these words from the canon are preceded, in a summary at the top of D&C 42, to mean the "scriptures govern the Church."

This definitive standard from the canon regarding the rules and doctrines of the church is clear enough to those LDS members and leaders who wish to be "orthodox" — yet Mormons generally tend to ignore it, focusing instead on traditions and myths that have long characterized the culture. In doing so, they ignore other parts of the canon that are equally emphatic in corroborating the scriptural standard for defining doctrine and duty. (See, for example, D&C 20:68-69, D&C 20:80, D&C 58:18-20, D&C 58: 23, D&C 107:72, and D&C 107:81-84.)

The world's most authoritarian religious system

Some pundits and observers have decided — in the face of the LDS church's complexity and indecipherability — that matters of doctrine are ultimately irrelevant in assessing Mormonism. Given the seemingly impossible task of figuring out the church's authentic doctrine, as well as its "unwritten order" of undoctrinal tradition, they've concluded that Mitt's "Mormon" beliefs and tendencies are a non-issue, because all major religions today share the same basic moral values, they say, including Mormonism.

Mitt's value framework, they suggest, should thus be fully accepted by other professing believers in God. End of controversy.

Except, such thinking is not quite accurate.

Mormon culture — and hence popular belief unique to the church — is unlike that of any other major religion in the extent of its extreme authoritarianism. We've highlighted some of this leader-dependent cultishness, but the problem is far deeper and far more controlling than reasonable people can imagine. No other major religion is so extreme in its subjugation of its members to the control of its leadership.

What those who only superficially glimpse into the LDS church fail to notice is that Mormonism is arguably the most authoritarian culture in existence.

Add to this demonstrable fact the church's unparalleled institutional character, and you have the most organized authoritarian entity on the planet.

Nothing compares, except perhaps Islam, which is not anywhere as organized or institutional.

For the benefit of skeptics of such claims, here is a partial list of some of the ways the LDS hierarchy controls church members — a list offered with no intent to embarrass or offend, only inform:
  • Mandated underwear. As many outside the church have already discovered, accurately or not, adult Mormons who are permitted to "go through the temple" — the pinnacle of LDS worship — are required thereafter to wear church-issued underwear virtually every minute for the rest of their lives, in order to be considered worthy to return to the temple, and thus attain eternal life.

    Those who are lax in wearing the "regulation undergarment" can be denied both entrance to the temple and their salvation, members are taught.

    The modern temple "garment" — patterned originally after the one-piece1800's "union suit" — is unflattering to wearers of either sex, we might point out. Arguably, the garment is meant to look unattractive, ostensibly to keep members focused on other things.

    To appreciate how controlling the leadership is regarding temple underwear, bear in mind that if a Mormon is excommunicated, he or she receives a letter forbidding them to wear the regulation undergarment — as though the excommunicant were still under the influence of the leadership. Church leaders obviously have no way to enforce such intrusiveness, but they try.

    It's fair to say that whoever controls a person's choice of underwear controls that person absolutely. More than any other thing, the garment symbolizes submission to church authority.

    We should stress that there's literally no doctrinal basis in the LDS canon for the temple undergarment, or for the kind of ultimate control it represents. The garment could be considered the most egregious violation of the church's own rules for governing, particularly those found in D&C 42:59-60, already cited.

    With no guidance in the canon regarding members' underclothing, the most the scriptures discuss is divinely-prescribed outer clothing in special instances or for special purposes. (In the case of Adam and Eve, we might note, God made them coats of skins, while they made their own underclothing.) The temple underwear requirement is thus outside the purview of LDS leaders' authority, and represents merely man-made abuse of power, as predicted in these words of caution from the church's official guidelines for leadership:

      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. (D&C 121:39)

    Since any attempt to control a person's underclothing is unscriptural, and thus undoctrinal, we can safely say it fulfills the above-described overreach by imperfect human beings.

    Interestingly, LDS founder Joseph Smith, originator of the temple undergarment near the end of his life, was once asked how he "governed the saints." His answer? "I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves."

    That obviously didn't pertain to something so basic and personal as underwear.

  • "Temple worship." Over the years, the LDS temple, and all things relating to it, has emerged as the most controlling feature of the LDS church.

    This is noteworthy, since there is scant scriptural support for most of the forms, rituals, and cultural beliefs surrounding the temple — and in the Book of Mormon, the "keystone" of the LDS religion, there is literally none.

    Members who undertake to search the LDS canon for doctrinal support for the various features of "temple worship" will in most cases come up empty-handed. Although some of the principles taught in the temple, or surrounding the temple, can be found in scripture (particularly those relating to the Old Testament's Law of Moses), there is very little scriptural foundation or guidance for the central particulars of temple worship.

    The saving "gospel of Jesus Christ" — as taught throughout the New Testament and the Book of Mormon — is itself conspicuously absent from the temple. (Attendees are instructed, instead, to learn it on their own, at home.)

    Despite this lack of doctrinal moorings in the scriptural formula for salvation, temple worship has long ago eclipsed the saving gospel in Mormon lore as the means of attaining salvation in God's heaven. This was highlighted not long ago by an LDS "general authority" who told a worldwide audience in "General Conference" that temple worship constituted the "second principles and ordinances of the gospel" — superseding the saving truths described by the LDS canon as the "first principles of the gospel." (See here and here).

    He was, of course, merely reflecting a view held by members of a church that has long been under God's condemnation — according to its own canon — for "treating lightly" the "new covenant" that is the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    The mechanism by which the temple has become the central means of controlling the membership is what is called a "temple recommend." To enter the temple, a member must possess a "recommend" signed by two local church officers following an interview with each that is itself highly controlling — in ways undoctrinal.

    Among other things, members are asked it they "sustain all the general and local officers of the church," even though the church canon imposes no such requirement, and expressly allows members the right to refuse to sustain any church leader, as provided by the Law of Common Consent — a doctrinal principle meant to ensure order in the church. Members must willingly forfeit their right not to "sustain" errant or abusive leaders in order to receive a recommend.

    I know. I was denied a recommend for refusing to sustain a handful of leaders who continually harassed me and my family for disobeying their illegal demand that we quit working for pro-life leader Alan Keyes. (For an account of this ordeal, see A Mormon Story.)

    Members are also asked if they sustain the current "First Presidency" as "prophets, seers, and revelators." Again, this is an undoctrinal requirement that gives high church leaders control over the membership by depriving them not just of temple attendance, but ostensibly of "salvation," if they feel they have valid cause to withhold their sustaining vote from any high leader who has seriously abused them.

    Such insulation of the president of the church and his colleagues from accountability is, in fact, expressly prohibited by the LDS canon. D&C 107:81-84 states,

      There is not any person belonging to the church who is exempt from this council of the church.

      And inasmuch as a President of the High Priesthood shall transgress, he shall be had in remembrance before the common council of the church, who shall be assisted by twelve counselors of the High Priesthood;

      And their decision upon his head shall be an end of controversy concerning him.

      Thus, none shall be exempted from the justice and the laws of God, that all things may be done in order and in solemnity before him, according to truth and righteousness. (emphasis added)

    Note that Joseph Smith himself was once tried for his membership under the above rule, but was acquitted.

    Not too many years ago, the "recommend" interview included highly-personal questions about married couples' intimate relations — again, without doctrinal grounds. Eventually that part was dropped. Nonetheless, it illustrates the degree to which high church leaders are prone to intrude even into so private a matter as husbands and wives' sexual relations.

    If you think you detect a pattern here, you're right. Try naming another entity on the earth so controlling.

  • Church "callings." Members are taught — without a doctrinal basis — that they are to accept whatever assigned "calling" they are given in the church. A calling is a lay position of some kind that requires a substantial commitment of time.

    Some members have numerous callings, and the time they are expected to devote to each can often be overwhelming to families, forcing many members to sacrifice their family's needs to satisfy the demands of the church. Nonetheless, turning down a calling is considered disobedient and disrespectful to leaders extending the call, and is frowned upon. Doing so can lead to subtle or overt sanctions that can strain the unfaithful member's relationship with his or her leaders.

    When members receive a call, it is common for them to be told that God Himself is making the call — not the church leader — and that He has revealed to the leader His selection of that particular member for a position or assignment. While this assertion — that God has actually chosen the person — may be plausible in some cases (since God works in mysterious, miraculous ways, no matter the setting), the prevalent notion in the church that all callings come routinely from God is undoctrinal — unsupported anywhere in the standard works — and could be considered inappropriate manipulation of the person being called.

    The notion that callings come directly from God stems from an equally undoctrinal notion that the leader himself has been called of God, and that by virtue of his calling, the leader knows the mind and will of God — still another undoctrinal notion unsupported by the standard works.*

    This string of false premises — all contrary to the LDS canon — is what makes the church "function" as the exceptionally authoritarian institution it is; without such presumptions, members would be reticent to allow the church to dominate their lives as much as it does.

    Interestingly, several years ago, when our family first began voting against local leaders who persisted in persecuting us for our refusal to abandon our work for Alan Keyes, I had an interview with an "area seventy" of the church in which I pointed out that a member's sole duty was to obey only God (a view most members would consider unorthodox). He responded that if members were taught to rely only on God, they might be reluctant to accept church callings.

    That's a significant admission. If callings come from God as a rule, and if members who are faithful have a right to know for themselves His will, isn't such thinking backwards? Shouldn't teaching members to rely on God result in greater acceptance of callings if the callings truly come from Him — rather than less? Is it possible that if members who relied on God turned down callings, it might be because they discerned that God had other purposes and plans for them (such as the welfare of their families)?

    Ultimately, of course, such shallow thinking as that voiced by the above "area seventy" should be viewed as irrelevant and self-serving. If members' salvation is the goal, then teaching them to rely wholly upon on God is more essential than teaching them to fit into the church's institutional structure. Unfortunately, the authoritarian nature of the church makes finding members or leaders who would agree with such God-centered independence of mind a unique challenge.

  • Two-year missions. Male members who are 19 can expect to receive a calling to go on a mission — unless they have lived a life of transgression that makes them unfit to serve. The church has over 52,000 missionaries in 340 total missions worldwide. Young women can be called on missions at age 21.

    The mission experience is the chief means by which the church hierarchy trains each succeeding generation in the expectations, values, and presumptions that define the church's culture. The regimen can be considered the LDS equivalent of military boot camp — but with a religious dimension. All important aspects of a missionary's life for two years are tightly controlled — including hours (bedtime and rising time), approved study, approved recreation, approved attire, approved means of transportation, approved daily activities, approved entertainment, and so on, and missionaries are required to plan and account for nearly every minute of their waking time.

    Those missionaries who conform willingly are typically made leaders over other "elders" and "sisters," in a structure that has at least four levels of authority. Young men who've never had substantial authority before may find themselves overseeing many others their age or older. Advancement in leadership is highly esteemed. When I personally went on my mission back in 1966, I spent a week with about 200 other newly-called missionaries in a converted hotel in Salt Lake City, where I sat most days directly behind Mitt Romney. I vividly remember the "mission mother" of the training facility drilling us all with the idea that "You will never rise any higher in life than you do on your mission" — in terms of position, prestige, and influence. Mitt, by the way, served as an "assistant to the president," the highest position attainable.

    All missionaries are expected to obey those leaders placed over them. I saw incredible abuses of missionaries at the hands of novice leaders as a result. Overseeing this authoritarian training were the mission president and his wife, who functioned as substitute parents over their missionaries — who were not allowed to call home, leave the mission without permission, be without their assigned "companion" (in an arrangement that changed every several weeks or months without the missionary's choice), or live other than where assigned.

    All very controlling. My father — who served in two "stake presidencies," and thus had access to data most members were unaware of — told me more than once shortly after my mission that fully half of the missionaries in my day became "inactive" members within two years of returning — so unpleasant and disillusioning did they find the overbearing regimen of a "mission."

    Scripturally, the idea of a worldwide "program" designed by the church to teach large numbers of young members to submit to an austere, highly-intrusive regimen of control at the hands of other "missionaries" and a mission "Dad and Mom" is undoctrinal. Serving "missions" is itself not undoctrinal. Doing so in an inordinately institutional, culturally-controlling environment that resembles brainwashing is.

    The classic definition of brainwashing, we might add, is to impose values and beliefs upon individuals in a controlling environment in which they are required to work long hours in a state of continual exhaustion. Medical training, in many ways, fits the definition. In a manner non-Mormons can only imagine, so does the Mormon missionary experience — times ten.

  • "Obey counsel." Once people join the church, they are taught that their very salvation — in addition to their standing the church — hinges on obedience to church authorities. The obligation to "obey" leaders is the centerpiece of a member's duties after baptism.

    This emphasis is clear throughout the church's various publications, curricula, and periodicals, all of which focus on the importance of obedience to church leaders.

    To be accepted for baptism, in fact, individuals must commit to "sustain" the current church president as the vehicle for knowing God's will, and thus to center their lives around his teachings and admonitions.

    As a result, Mormons tend to idealize the "prophet" as a virtual demigod — as someone inherently more attuned to the will of God than anyone else on earth by virtue of his high calling. Such "hero-worship" distils down to a simple precept for presumed orthodoxy that Mormons are fond of reciting: "follow the prophet."

    Taking their cue from the president of the church, local leaders often see themselves as the "prophet of the ward," or the "prophet of the stake" — and expect to be treated with the same reverence, and obeyed with same exactness, as enjoyed by the head of the church.

    Pushed aside of necessity is reliance on Jesus Christ, the "honorary" — but not de facto — head of the church, after whom the church is named.

    Entrenched as such human-centered authoritarianism obviously is in the LDS church, there is no doctrinal foundation in the church's canon to support it.

    The canon states, in D&C 20:68-69 — under the title "The duty of the members after they are received by baptism" — that:

      members shall manifest before the church, and also before the elders, by a godly walk and conversation, that they are worthy of [membership], that there may be works and faith agreeable to the holy scriptures — walking in holiness before the Lord.

    The canon thus summarizes the duty of LDS members as consisting in following the laws and doctrines in "the holy scriptures," and seeking to please God — in other words, living in harmony with the gospel of Christ and relying solely upon Him in true faith, as the scriptures repeatedly and emphatically teach.

    Such focus on obeying God directly — not any human being — is consistent with other parts of the LDS canon.

    D&C 1, for instance, considered the "Lord's Preface" to the D&C, says that the whole mission and purpose of the church is to help members learn to rely alone upon Jesus Christ, so "that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh — But that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world" (verses 19-20).

    Similarly, the Book of Mormon teaches, regarding the duty of members,

      And now I speak concerning baptism. Behold, elders, priests, and teachers were baptized; and they were not baptized save they brought forth fruit meet that they were worthy of it.

      Neither did they receive any unto baptism save they came forth with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and witnessed unto the church that they truly repented of all their sins.

      And none were received unto baptism save they took upon them the name of Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end.

      And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith. (Moroni 6:1-4, emphasis added)

    With unmistakable clarity, another verse from the Book of Mormon strictly prohibits doing what someone else tells you unless you know the truth of it by means of God's Holy Spirit:

      Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost. (2 Nephi 28:31)

    All this mirrors what we cited earlier in our analysis regarding those who have truly come unto Christ through yielding to his saving gospel:

      For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.

      Behold, this is the doctrine of Christ.... (2 Nephi 32:5-6, emphasis added)

    By contrast, nowhere in the LDS canon are members commanded to "follow the prophet," or any other church leader. Such authoritarianism at the heart of the cultural church is, in fact, doctrinally bankrupt.

  • Network of virtual spies. Nearly all active males age 14 and older are called as "home teachers" assigned to visit about a half-dozen homes of other members at least once a month. Women function in much the same way as "visiting teachers." This system of church representatives provides a double network of eyes and ears to "watch over" the membership and "see that there is no iniquity in the church" (see D&C 20:51-54).

    Since nearly all adult members (and the youth they train) are engaged in this program of oversight, human nature produces a system that is often little more than busybodies who feel it their duty to report anything out of the ordinary — culturally and institutionally — to local leaders. Each month, local leaders are responsible to interview the home and visiting teachers to obtain the latest information on the families the representatives oversee.

    Often absent in such visits is the central imperative in the canon for this system of watchcare: According to D&C 20:59, those assigned to check on members are primarily to "warn, expound, exhort, and teach, and invite all to come unto Christ" — using the scriptures as their guide, as commanded in D&C 42:59-60.

    Unfortunately, they tend to focus instead on making sure individuals and families stay safely within the authoritarian precepts and traditions that characterize the church.

    In practice, this system resembles the worst tendencies of any system of comprehensive totalitarianism — and can make life miserable for those members who define their God-given rights, duties, and faith in terms of the scriptural canon, not the norms that pervade LDS culture.

    When I was disfellowshipped at one point for refusing to abandon my work for Alan Keyes (an action later overturned by the First Presidency, by the way, before local leaders eventually excommunicated me over the same issue), my disfellowshipment was a direct result of testimony against me by home teachers and visiting teachers. When the visiting "eyes and ears" of local leaders came into our home, they invariably asked us if we had any "problems," and we sometimes told them — as tactfully as we could — of our frustration at being persecuted continually by the church for our lawful political work, and the fact our leaders refused even to sit down with us and resolve the matter in good faith. The bishop's summarizing words at my disfellowshipment centered in the testimony of these "visiting" witnesses against me.
O Brother, What's Wrong With The Church?

In view of the profoundly-controlling cultural traditions that govern the church — all of which reflect the church's inordinate authoritarianism — we are left to wonder how the membership and the leadership could venture so far afield from the church's official canon, with its explicit requirement that all fundamental rules, expectations, policies, and beliefs in the church be based in the "laws" expressly set forth in the canon.

Why is it that the church so thoroughly defies — or at least ignores — its own official doctrine in the "standard works," considered the word of God?

The answer is simple: Mormons mistakenly believe that "modern revelation" to high leaders trumps the governing canon, as though it didn't even exist. We might note that this cultural phenomenon, long-established in the church, is not just contrary to the church's canon, but has "brought the whole church under condemnation" (D&C 84:54-60; see also Gal. 1:6-9). To appreciate the extent of this evident lawlessness, consider the words of the Secretary to the First Presidency — spoken to me in a conversation a few years ago — that "the First Presidency can do whatever it wants" since that governing body is sustained as "prophets, seers, and revelators."

This, despite the fact that, for any "modern revelation" to be considered equal to the existing canon of scripture, it must be adopted by a vote of the membership, as required by the Law of Common Consent. All else said or done in the church is inferior to the canon, and must yield to it — not "trump" it.

The number of "modern revelations," it should be pointed out, that have been added to the original canon since the time of Joseph Smith can be counted on one hand, while the number of undoctrinal policies, declarations, pronouncements, and codified rules at odds with the canon — but widely accepted throughout the church as authoritative — appears innumerable.

There's a term for such errancy: it's transgression, which by definition means violation of God's laws. When such lawlessness persists, goes uncorrected, or is seriously defended, the more appropriate term is "apostasy."

I'm paraphrasing what the LDS church's own standard works make clear.

Three uber-myths

Let's wrap up this analysis of the LDS church by taking a brief look at three overriding myths in Mormondom that have led to such errancy and continue to perpetuate it. Each is widely held by members and leaders alike to be more vital to defining the church than the official canon.

Myth #1: Whatever the church president says is more important than the "standard works."

There's a story in Mormon lore — told by church president Wilford Woodruff long after it occurred — that, by itself, has caused the words of church leaders to overtake the standard works as the core of LDS doctrine.

One single story — one that is itself undoctrinal, never having been voted upon and included in the church's canon. It has supplanted all authoritative doctrine in the Mormon church with a doctrinal free-for-all.

Because the LDS canon is considerable, and requires diligent immersion in its actual words — not traditional reformulations — to be understood, Mormons have gladly embraced the notion that the standard works are ultimately unimportant compared to the "latest words of the living prophet," and the pronouncements of other presiding church leaders.

It's a lazy person's formula for salvation, and it leads inevitably to docile — and spiritually dangerous — dependence on virtual "demigods" to know how to live and what to believe.

The story that changed the church from reliance on the canon for knowing the doctrine to reliance on church leaders for that knowledge tells of how Joseph Smith's eventual successor, Brigham Young, stacked the books of the LDS canon in front of him and declared to an audience of Mormon faithful that these were "nothing" to him "compared with the living oracles."

Joseph Smith is described as saying on that occasion, "Brother Brigham has told you the truth."

From the time this story was first recounted in General Conference in 1897, it has shifted the standard of orthodoxy in Mormondom from the scriptures to the spoken words of LDS leaders, and elevated the "latest words" of the living oracles above anything previously spoken.

Given the vast library of statements by high church leaders over the years, this means a common member must maintain a well-stocked storage room — as well as attend countless "conferences" and other meetings (or view them on TV), just to have a clue what the latest version of church doctrine is. He or she must then keep buying up more books and periodicals, and view more new conferences and meetings, to replace the previous doctrine with its successor gospel.

Such "mythical" religion is time-consuming, unduly complicated, and hard to get a handle on. So most Mormons just distil it down to doing whatever they're told by their home teacher, bishop, or local "priesthood" leader, and skip any real effort to become doctrinally informed — unwittingly forfeiting any hope of salvation in God's heaven.

Regarding the latter, Mormons assume that if they do whatever they're told, they will gain eternal life in heaven, no matter whether they understand — or live — the scriptural formula for salvation itself.

Sound strange and un-Christian? Absolutely. It's not the saving doctrine of Jesus Christ, nor the "way" to salvation taught plainly in either the Book of Mormon or the Bible.

Myth #2: The church president will never lead the church astray.

The same Wilford Woodruff, president of the church when polygamy was dropped as a requirement for salvation in 1890, is the source of another "uber-myth" in Mormon culture: the notion that the president of the church "will never lead the church astray."

This now long-enshrined doctrinal premise was originated by Woodruff to assure Mormons that the 1890 Manifesto prohibiting polygamy was divinely inspired, and to discourage them from concluding he had become "fallen" or deluded in his decision to discontinue the practice. It has since become the most-quoted maxim in Mormondom — and lesser church authorities have applied it not just to the "prophet," but to other church leaders as well, to encourage greater dependency on the church's leaders.

Like the belief that the words of the "living prophets" are more important that the LDS canon, the above assertion that the church president will never mislead the church is without a basis in doctrine. Nowhere in the standard works can such a principle be found.

It's false doctrine.

But not only is the doctrinal myth unsubstantiated by scripture, it's often misquoted in the first place. President Woodruff never said what he is attributed as saying — at least not exactly. An examination of his actual words reveals that, in trying to defend the issuance of his Manifesto, he was simply assuring Mormons that the president of the church would never intentionally lead them astray.

That's a completely different idea than that routinely cited by Mormons as the most basic tenet undergirding the LDS religion.

Here is the text of the widely-misused statement (which appears in the appendix of the Doctrine & Covenants in support for the Manifesto):
    The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray.... If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty.
How the all-important context of this statement could be continually omitted in church circles, and the statement rendered to say something entirely different from its clear meaning, should be no surprise in a church whose leadership is reluctant to give up control of the members and focus on teaching the doctrinal means of salvation — which of necessity requires all persons to trust in God, not man; center their knowledge in scripture; and from the scriptural model, come unto Christ, be spiritually reborn by yielding their hearts to Him; and thereafter "live...by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4, D&C 84:44), by "tak[ing] the Holy Spirit for their guide" in all things (D&C 45:56-57; Prov. 3:5-6).

That's what the LDS canon teaches. Anything more or less than this "cometh of evil." (See 3 Nephi 11:31-41 and D&C 10:62-70.)

Myth #3: Everything church leaders say is "God's word."

Rounding out our look at the overarching myths that define LDS tradition and culture — myths directly in conflict with authentic LDS doctrine — is an isolated scripture that is almost as widely cited in Mormondom as the notion that the church president "will never lead the church astray" (a notion repudiated not just by the church's doctrinal canon, but by the glaring errors that pervade the church from top to bottom).

The scripture we have in mind — like the mythical quote from Wilford Woodruff declaring the LDS president virtually infallible — is essentially misused. On analysis, it means nothing akin to what it is purported to mean.

Here are the words, found in D&C 1:38:
    Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.
In Mormon lore, these words from the canon are considered to end any discussion of members' duty to obey their leaders.

But the passage obviously doesn't mean what those who condescendingly cite it wish it meant. It says nothing about following LDS leaders at all, in fact — or about viewing their words as equal to the words of God, as typically thought.

For its meaning is to be appreciated, the excerpt needs to be examined in its context.

In the words preceding the excerpt, God proclaims He "is no respecter of persons," no matter their position in the church (verse 35), and says "the Lord shall have power over his saints" (verse 36). He is then recorded as declaring,
    Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled. (verse 37, emphasis added)
The "commandments" referred to are those in the Doctrine & Covenants itself, beginning with those in Section 1 which state that the entire purpose of the church centers in teaching members "that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh — But that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world." (See D&C 1:17-23.) In other words, the church exists to help its membership learn to rely alone upon Jesus Christ, as commanded throughout scripture, an imperative we emphasized earlier.

The passage then says, regarding these commandments,
    What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same. (verse 38)
This verse simply emphasizes that God's scriptural commandments come from those he authorizes. The verse cannot, with integrity, be used to mean that whatever a Mormon leader says is inspired of God. That's not a valid meaning based on the words themselves.

It's an authoritarian twisting of the canon.

But there's a dimension we might add to the above consideration. The term "servants" itself is not defined in the verse cited, nor in the words immediately adjacent. There's therefore nothing in the passage that limits the term to mean the LDS hierarchy.

God's "servants," however, is precisely defined in another part of the D&C — in a way clearly not limited to the governing leadership. In D&C 68:2-5, we read,
    And, behold, and lo, this is an ensample unto all those who were ordained unto this priesthood, whose mission is appointed unto them to go forth —

    And this is the ensample unto them, that they shall speak as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost.

    And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.

    Behold, this is the promise of the Lord unto you, O ye my servants. (emphasis added)
This passage defines "servants" of God as those who have been "ordained" and given "priesthood" — which in the LDS church is nearly all active males.

The passage then makes the bold declaration that all priesthood bearers who are under the influence of the Holy Ghost may on occasion speak words that come directly from God Himself.

Of course, little children can sometimes do the same thing, we read elsewhere. It follows that anyone who is truly converted to Christ — priesthood bearer or not — can "speak with the tongue of angels," as we noted from 2 Nephi 31 earlier, and thus fulfill the purpose of the church identified in D&C 1:20, which is expressly to enable "every man [to] might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world."

What these verses mean is that there's no valid doctrinal basis for the myth that what church leaders say is uniquely God's mind and will. All who live righteously in the church have the same right and privilege to speak God's word, when filled with His Spirit (see Numbers 11:10-29); and no one — no matter his position — is automatically empowered to do so by virtue of his high calling (see D&C 121:36).

Such verses are antithetical to the man-made authoritarianism that runs the LDS church.

Whither Mormonism?

With the public spotlight on the Mormon church due to the candidacy of Mitt Romney, the church has a unique opportunity to sweep out a disturbing array of ungodly norms, traditions, unwritten myths, published myths, and authoritarian tendencies that have taken hold of the membership, including those elevated to high position. In place of these glaring deficiencies, the church would do well to re-focus upon biblically-sound portions of the LDS canon that have the power to save souls, something the church appears to have lost sight of.

Were the church to do this, its most offensive features would fade away, replaced by a genuine emphasis on Jesus Christ in more than name only.

Here's a cynical, defeatist alternative — one that suggests the church is beyond self-correction:

Both members and leaders alike would remain comfortable with their cult-like behavior, fulfilling the need of those who've learned to submit gladly to church control, and of those who've learned to function as the object of adoration. We might say, that's fundamentally what it means to be a "Mormon." But it's not what it means to be a Christian.

Which alternative will it be?

Meanwhile, Mitt has his own problems

Back to where we started — with Mitt Romney's seriously-flawed candidacy.

As someone trained in the myths, falsehoods, and excessive authoritarianism that characterize the LDS church, Mitt has a lot of extra baggage on top of his already troubling record and deceitful rhetoric. Unfortunately, he's never been truly vetted for the presidency: his actions, words, and religion continue to go largely uninvestigated.

Our purpose in this analysis is to raise valid questions that deserve to be looked into. Common sense, and commitment to the Bible-based values upon which our nation was founded, argue for a reasonable and objective study of Mitt's "Mormonism."


* The Fifth Article of Faith is usually cited to establish such unfounded belief. That verse states,
    We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.
A careful reading reveals the statement to be a commandment — one setting forth a standard to be faithfully followed in every instance. Unfortunately, Mormons take the statement to be a fact — one that fulfills itself automatically in every instance.

This twisting by Mormons of their canon is as absurd as saying the commandment to love and serve only God (see Matt. 4:10 and 22:37) is an accurate characterization of what all people in fact do — rather than what they ought to do. It trivializes and perverts all divine commandments by implication, as though they were descriptive, not prescriptive.

It's a grave error, one based in human, not godly, wisdom.

The truth is, nowhere in the LDS canon can we find an assurance that all who are called in the LDS church are in reality called of God. It's not doctrinal.

As far as the notion that all leaders in the church are not only called of God, but entitled to His inspiration as a consequence of their calling, the canon simply contains no such assurance. In fact, it consistently says the opposite: to be inspired of God, one must live worthy of the Holy Ghost, and none can expect to be inspired of the Spirit on any other basis. (See, for example, D&C 3, as well as D&C 121:34-40.)
© Stephen Stone

 


They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. —Isaiah 40:31