Authoritarianism run amok: The excesses of 'Mormonism'
Stephen Stone, RenewAmerica President
January 21, 2013

During the 2012 presidential campaign of Mitt Romney, the LDS church came under unprecedented scrutiny, since if Mitt won, he would be the first Mormon elected president and elevated to the most powerful position in the world.

Even though he lost, some say Mitt's candidacy did more to advance Mormonism than anything else in the church's history.

Unfortunately, while the church received more publicity than ever from the election, the vetting of the church tended to be timid and credulous on the part of the media — and even on the part of mainstream Christianity. Skeptics of Mitt's Christian credentials, with few exceptions, followed the Obama campaign's lead and took a "hands off" approach toward Mitt's Mormonism.

Repeatedly, the church was given a pass in the public arena, much as Obama himself has enjoyed from the establishment media. Such superficial examination of the LDS church made the church's elevation in the public mind undeserved.

"We all share the same values"

The reticence to delve into verifiable fact regarding the church was epitomized by a well-known politically conservative Jewish writer, who argued that Mitt's Mormonism was irrelevant as a campaign issue — even though Mitt was clearly the product of his upbringing in the church's highly-controlling environment — because, after all, "Mormons hold the same values" as all other Judeo-Christian traditions.

To outsiders willing to buy into the church's carefully-crafted image in order to justify supporting Mitt, such a trusting embrace of Mormonism defused Mitt's chief obstacle to winning the election, rendering it insignificant to much of the electorate, particularly self-professed conservative leaders.

To LDS insiders, however, who know how to navigate among the myths, contradictory policies, and authoritarian excesses of Mormon culture, the illusory image of the church uncritically adopted by Romney apologists is, in fact, far from accurate. It's simply untrue that "Mormonism exemplifies the same values" as other major religions.

Unless we include perhaps Islam, as some Evangelicals do, a parallel generally ignored or overlooked by many observers.

Like Islam, the LDS church is among the most authoritarian societies that could be named. Indeed, a case can be made that the church is even more controlling and domineering than Islam itself because — while Islam is largely an amorphous, loosely-organized culture — the LDS church is by some measures the most highly-organized institution in existence, having long ago transformed its cultural features into an unusually-controlling hierarchical bureaucracy.

Nothing compares to the LDS church in both its authoritarian control over its members and its tightly-disciplined organization. The result is a society that outsiders have no way to fathom or appreciate, having never been immersed in such an unbelievably elaborate leader-centered enterprise.

Were the deep and wide sinews and cords that bind LDS culture fully understood by outside observers, no one among them would claim that the church's rock-bottom values were similar to those of other Western-civilized faiths.

"Follow the prophet"

To understand the core values of the LDS church, one must begin with the most popular maxim in Mormondom: "Follow the prophet" (meaning the church president).

Mormons are taught by the LDS culture that this maxim is the epitome of what it means to be a Mormon — the belief that, unlike other churches, the LDS church has "a living prophet."

The basic tenet here is that the president of the church is called of God and therefore speaks for Him, leading to the logical imperative to obey the president in all things.

This imperative trickles down to its logical corollary — "follow church leaders generally" — since all leaders in the church are believed to be called of God through the authority of the prophet, and entitled to speak for Him in their own sphere as a consequence of that divine calling.

The result is an institution of 14-plus million members worldwide whose most fundamental duty is to obey LDS leaders — they believe — beginning with the president and descending to the lowest leader called to preside over them. To many Mormons, the chain of command goes down even further to include anyone called to teach, influence, fellowship, or otherwise have responsibility over the individual member.

In practice, this leader-centric tradition is arguably the most authoritarian value system on earth. And Mormons as a group accept it as the very essence of their religion. It's what distinguishes them from all other faiths (with — again — the possible exception of Islam).

Zeal without knowledge

What's missing in this authoritarian formulation is a doctrinal basis. The system derives, instead, entirely from LDS culture, custom, and myth — without express teachings from the church's official canon to support it.

In fact, it's a tradition entirely at odds with the canon itself.

The LDS canon plainly teaches that the only duty of a member of the church is to obey Jesus Christ. Such teaching is central to the message of the Book of Mormon, which declares regarding conversion to Christ:
    And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, 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. (2 Nephi 31:19, emphasis added)
Similarly, in Moroni 6:4, we read regarding all true members of Christ's church,
    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. (emphasis added)
Likewise, the entire mission and purpose of the LDS church are summarized in these words from the Doctrine & Covenants, Section 1:
    Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments;

    And also gave commandments to others, that they should proclaim these things unto the world; and all this that it might be fulfilled, which was written by the prophets —

    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 —

    But that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world;

    That faith [reliance on Christ] also might increase in the earth;

    That mine everlasting covenant might be established;

    That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world.... (D&C 1:17-23, emphasis mine)
This last reference brings to mind the words of Moses to those critical of the seventy elders of Israel who were filled with the Spirit of God and began to prophesy in the Book of Numbers. An observer, seeing Eldad and Medad prophesying in the camp, ran and told Moses, evidently thinking anyone speaking by the Spirit posed a threat to Moses' authority. Joshua added, "My lord Moses, forbid them."

Moses responded,
    ...Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them! (Numbers 11:10-29, emphasis mine)
It further brings to mind the verses immediately following the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 —
    And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off.

    And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.

    And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not. (Ex. 20:18-20, emphasis added)
Clearly, reliance on the messenger — typical of human nature — is not pleasing to God, who alone — as the very Message of salvation — is worthy of our trust, as is taught with plainness in such familiar words as those from Proverbs 3:5-6:
    Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.

    In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. (emphasis added)
If we are commanded by God to "trust in Him with all our heart," any notion that we are to trust in man — or otherwise in what the scriptures call the "arm of flesh" — is apostasy from the laws of God, and makes us accursed. (See Jer. 17:5-8 and 2 Nephi 28:31.)

Among the many other passages from the LDS canon that could be cited to establish such clear, unmistakable teachings of doctrine is another from the Doctrine & Covenants, in Section 20 under the heading —
    The duty of the members after they are received by baptism. — The elders or priests are to have a sufficient time to expound all things concerning the church of Christ to their understanding, previous to their partaking of the sacrament and being confirmed by the laying on of the hands of the elders, so that all things may be done in order.

    And the members shall manifest before the church, and also before the elders, by a godly walk and conversation, that they are worthy of it, that there may be works and faith agreeable to the holy scriptures — walking in holiness before the Lord. (D&C 20:68-69, emphasis added)
And so on. These passages are just a portion of the overwhelming thrust of the LDS canon: obey only God (through relying on His Spirit and His word), and refrain from trusting in man.

Just as important, nowhere in the LDS canon are members expressly commanded to "obey" their leaders — including the church president. Obedience is reserved for God alone.

The church's longstanding tradition may be "Follow the prophet," but the church's authentic doctrine is "Follow Christ, and be saved."

Sandy foundation

Not only is the inordinate authoritarianism that undergirds the LDS church undoctrinal, despite its long tradition as the most distinguishing characteristic of Mormonism, but so is the presumption that church leaders are called of God in the first place.

The canon's Fifth Article of Faith is the sole reference cited by church leaders to establish the unfounded belief that, in every significant instance, they have been called by God and not merely by human choice. There is literally no other passage to cite, yet this one verse says nothing like it is presumed to say.

The passage 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.
Note that the passage declares that anyone professing to represent God must first be called of Him by the inspiration and authority of someone already thus called. Note further that the passage does not declare that all those who have been given callings in the LDS church have in fact been called in such a manner. The passage merely indicates what ought to be, not what actually is.

Thus, rather than establish that LDS leaders are "called of God," the above words simply make clear that all LDS leaders need to be so called if they are to represent God in any authorized manner. That's all the passage says — quite the opposite of presuming leaders are routinely called of God just because it's imperative for them to be if they are to serve legitimately.

Everything about the church — its claim to prophetic guidance; its claim to divine inspiration in the issuing of all callings at every level; and even its claim to be the "one true church of God" — hinges on the clear meaning of the words above. If the words can readily be shown to say what Mormons claim they say, the church might have a valid claim to divine authority and guidance in general, assuming other essential things are also in place to assure it. But if the words can be shown to say quite the opposite, the church falls apart doctrinally and organizationally.

All over one verse — one vital to the perpetuation, as well as the credibility, of the church.

Unfortunately, nothing in the cited words themselves can be construed to mean LDS leaders are necessarily called of God at any level, high or low. It's not in the words. The only way to arrive at an interpretation that assures that all LDS leaders, and others with responsibility, are called of God (on the premise that they are required to be) is to ignore the words themselves and substitute a man-made meaning.

The customary LDS interpretation confuses a commandment with its fulfillment. Just because God requires obedience does not mean imperfect human beings are inclined to obey, as is obvious.

Rather than base an entire religious culture and institution on such a sandy foundation, the LDS church would do well to concede that everything of eternal significance is conditional (notwithstanding that salvation is fundamentally free, provided we are willing to submit our whole souls to Christ). Indeed, God requires our obedience in all things; otherwise "we have no promise" (to paraphrase the Mormon canon).

Here's the bottom-line issue: The "Fifth Article of Faith" says that ONLY as a person is called of God by genuine inspiration — not imagined, feigned, or presumed guidance — is that person accepted by God as a true representative of Him, authorized to act and speak for Him. But with human nature and imperfection being more the norm than the exception, we can reasonably assume that many persons since the church's inception in 1830 have not been called in such a divinely-inspired manner. Perhaps even most, if not nearly all.

There is literally nothing in the canon to support the belief that LDS leaders — or anyone else in the church who is given any kind of calling — is necessarily called of God. The church's obvious misuse of the above passage is arguably the church's undoing, in the sense of wholly contradicting its foundational premise.

As far as the widespread presumption in the church that all LDS leaders are entitled to God's inspiration as a consequence of their calling, the canon simply contains no such assurance either. In fact, it consistently says the opposite: to be inspired of God, one must live worthy of the Holy Ghost, and no person can expect to be led by the Spirit on any other basis. (See, for example, D&C 3 — as well as D&C 121:34-40, which we will now consider.)

"God's principles of leadership"

But let's assume, for the sake of argument, that all callings in the LDS church come from God, and that those who are thus given responsibility are authorized to speak and act for Him.

Even if such is the case, the LDS canon does not allow any authoritarianism of any kind in that framework — not even a shred. The canon, in fact, forbids it — no matter who holds authority, or whether that person has actually been called of God.

The bedrock principle of the canon, instead, is reliance solely on God in all things.

To ensure that the church avoids the excesses and abuses of authority by any who presume they are called of God, and are thus inclined to think they have a divine right to impose their will on others, the LDS canon contains a set of what members and leaders believe to be God-inspired principles of leadership, designed to guide all that is done in the church.

The principles are found in Section 121 of the D&C.

These principles — recorded in 1839, nine years after the church's founding — became part of the canon in 1876. Unfortunately, by then, the authoritarian, leader-dependent tenets of LDS tradition and culture were deeply in place, centered in virtual worship of high church leaders and seemingly impervious to the countermanding requirements of the LDS canon.

The newly-received leadership guidelines thus did little to erase the entrenched authoritarianism at the heart of early Mormonism — authoritarianism directly at odds with the "doctrine of Christ" found in the Bible, with its imperative to rely alone on Him.

The requirements of Section 121 are premised on the following summation of human nature:
    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. (verse 39)
In other words, nearly everyone who receives any kind of authority over others is prone, by nature, to abuse that authority and seek to dominate and control those over whom they preside.

This is true of parents, teachers, professionals of every kind, government officials of every kind, business owners and bosses, and just about anyone else in any significant leadership role.

We all encounter such people everywhere, for "they are us," common folk who can't resist the "temptation for power" once they get a taste of it. It's all a normal part of life.

But such "normal" human nature becomes magnified when people are given to believe they have been "called of God" and are therefore "entitled to speak for Him." If a taste of authority is inherently corrupting, imagine what a taste of divine authority does to imperfect, error-prone human beings. It often unleashes the worst elements of human nature, and the worst formulations of man-made dogma and coercion.

It creates a hell on earth — only those immersed in it may not know it, being themselves party to it.

I just described the dominant character and culture of Mormonism, in my observation and experience.

Incomparable authoritarianism

In the LDS church, almost every "active" member is given some kind of "calling," and with that calling, some measure of responsibility over others. It may involve:
  • Tending infants and small children grouped together in the "Nursery" (i.e., structured babysitting).

  • Leading older children in "Primary" (i.e., systematic instruction and indoctrination of children three through eleven).

  • Guiding the "Young Men" or "Young Women" programs (i.e., continued instruction and indoctrination of youth twelve through seventeen).

  • Presiding over an "Elders Quorum" (i,e., scripted meetings and projects to train relatively young men for positions of leadership).

  • Presiding over the local "Relief Society" (i.e., a setting for training women of all ages in their church duties and family-related skills).

  • Presiding over a "High Priests Group" (i.e., older men, or those in high local leadership, who meet and train much like an Elders Quorum).

  • Fulfilling the role of "home teacher" (i.e., going out in pairs as part of a large number of local Elders, High Priests, and young men responsible for visiting members' homes at least monthly to see that all do their duty).

  • Functioning as a "visiting teacher" (i.e., the Relief Society's counterpart to home teachers, with the focus on women).

  • And so on.
Or it may involve more substantial commitments or responsibilities, like those of —
  • Church "missionaries" (young men sent for two years, or young women for 18 months, for training in strict obedience to leaders in a highly-controlled regimen, while separated from their families and charged with converting the world to Mormonism).

  • "Bishops" (local authorities responsible for the religious conformity, advancement, and performance of a few hundred "ward" members — as well as the conversion to Mormonism and wellbeing of all non-members within their ward boundaries).

  • "Stake presidents" (local authorities responsible for several wards, with duties — largely unscriptural — much like that of bishops, but greater and more far-reaching). In my experience, this level of leadership is the most influential in the church, and the weakest, depending greatly on the knowledge and character of those called, in the absence of scriptural details that define and delimit their role.

  • "Area authorities" (liaisons between stake presidents and church headquarters).

  • "General authorities" (financially-secure, church-supported, life-tenured officials who oversee the church's extensive bureaucracy, constituting, for all intents and purposes, an elite ruling class in the church).

  • "Twelve apostles" (men of considerable training and experience in church operations called to preside as a group over the church).

  • The "First Presidency" (the church president and two counselors who are the ultimate authorities over all facets of the church — with the president, himself, viewed as God's spokesman to the entire world).
This overview of LDS church organizing is actually just a drop in the proverbial bucket of an immense institution. There are now over 14 million members, and most willing members hold at least one significant calling, often two or three simultaneously, including things not on our list. There are seemingly endless duties in the church for just about everything imaginable, not just to keep the church running in a way other organizations can only dream of, but to bind the membership together as a cohesive unit dedicated to the ultimate creed of obedience to local, mid-level, and high-level church officers — all of whom have at least some measure of belief in collective salvation.

The familiar church slogan "families are forever" — premised on Joseph Smith's teaching that faithful Mormons cannot be saved apart from other family members — thus has broader implications than one might think. Mormon congregations are often referred to as "ward families," and bishops are often called the "father of the ward" (ironically mirroring a half-century of large polygamous families in the church's early history). Group salvation is an implicit value among serious-minded Mormons, many of whom labor hard to ensure that all within their influence and responsibility ultimately "go to the Celestial Kingdom" together, an extension of attaining worthiness here and now to go to the temple together — a prominent social/spiritual calendar item among dutiful ward members and leaders.

Such elaborate organizing and brother's-keeper custodialism, orchestrated by leaders presumed to act for God at every level, who view members as literally "belonging" to the church, virtually owned by it, the deep hooks of which are designed to retain all those "under covenant" to it, rival the most remarkable "wonders of the world" in their precision and magnitude. Represented as a restoration of the original organization of the church of Jesus Christ in ancient times — a society that, according to scripture, was actually quite simple and non-institutional — the LDS church is arguably the most systematic, bureaucratized, codified institution in the world.

Not to mention servile — being rooted in dependence on human authority at every turn for its tight-knit, well-oiled operation and organizational strength.

The origins of such practical, pragmatic authoritarianism can be traced mainly to Brigham Young, "the colonizer of the West" who succeeded in creating an estimated 800 communities, towns, and cities during his 30-year reign over an unusually compliant culture, which saw him as God's spokesman in all things, much like an American Moses.

Leading in righteousness

None of this custodial approach to human relations — as exhibited in the layers upon layers of authoritarianism that cohesively bind LDS culture — is consistent, however, with the church's actual laws and doctrines, as laid out in its canon.

In fact, it's expressly prohibited.

That's made emphatic in the key provisions of "God's principles for leadership" set forth in D&C 121 — principles meant to counter the excesses of human nature, in these words:
    Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen?

    Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson —

    That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.

    That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man....
It is with these precepts in mind that the passage then warns,
    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.

    Hence many are called, but few are chosen. (verses 34-40, emphasis added)
The guidelines are self-explanatory. Any LDS member or leader who uses his calling to "cover his sins," "gratify his pride or vain ambition," or "exercise control or dominion or compulsion" upon others, "in any degree of unrighteousness," offends God's Spirit and has no claim to God's authority.

The provisions are strict, even harsh, taking into full account the tendency of human nature to rationalize, pretend, and excuse. ANY such overbearance, in any degree, disqualifies the errant "priesthood" bearer from divine approval and makes his priesthood, evidently, null and void in God's eyes (at least while he persists).

Pretty strong words, and pretty severe penalties. No wonder the passage is all but ignored in the church by members and leaders alike — which indeed it is, being considered beyond orchestrated application. Instead, the words tend to be given little more than lip service in the church, with its millions of callings, as though God weren't serious.

As a result, control, compulsion, and covering of sin remain the prevailing norm, even essence, of the church — particularly at the highest levels, where the hierarchy govern by unaccountable edict, thus to ensure their controlling influence. I am a firsthand witness that this is true, not just in overt ways, but in cleverly-subtle, manipulative ways as well.

A close look at the church's remarkably-controlling advertising campaign on the internet, designed to present an exaggerated image of personal and cultural superiority, should disturb anyone with discernment.

The "law of the church"

This attitude of lawlessness, common throughout the church as a result of the profound authoritarianism that pervades it (a phenomenon that focuses members' minds and hearts upon the "commandments of men" above the "things of God") is directly contrary to the simple, definitive prescription for governing the church found in D&C Section 42, recorded in 1831 and canonized in 1833.

This section (referred to as the "law of the church") states succinctly,
    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 mine)
Thus, the LDS canon — particularly those sections and verses that are reasonably plain and direct — constitutes the rules by which the LDS church is to be governed in all its details; and all those in church leadership who defy this divine injunction are condemned to hell for their disobedience, unless they desist.

Plain as day, and simple enough to cut through the follies of human nature. What could be more clear?

Anyone in the LDS hierarchy, therefore — or the church's rank and file, for that matter — who persists in disobeying the canonized laws of God set forth to govern "His church" is impotent before Him; and nothing that person "binds on earth will be bound in heaven" (Matt. 16:19), other than his own soul.

Without question, the above guidelines, and the many others like them in the canon, serve to outlaw authoritarianism in all its forms — and with it dependence on human authority above reliance on the canonized word of God, which teaches throughout its pages that salvation comes only through relying upon God Himself.

Called vs. chosen

Bear in mind that all such guidelines for leadership in the LDS church are set in the broad context of the distinction between being "called" and being "chosen" (see D&C 95:5-6). The first encompasses the many who may find themselves entrusted with responsibility; the second, the few so entrusted who are actually worthy of God's trust.

D&C 107:99-100 warns that only those who "learn their duty," in harmony with the laws of God in the adopted canon, and who adhere to those laws "in all diligence," shall be "counted worthy to stand" — that is, approved of God.

All others — those whose "nature and disposition," like that of "almost all men," is to "exercise unrighteous dominion" as soon as they "get a little authority, as they suppose" — are not approved of God, not "chosen," and stand condemned by Him for their sloth and disobedience.

"Hence many are called, but few are chosen" (D&C 121:40).

Such words, according to the Mormon canon, are the word of God — who is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34-35); who "cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance" (D&C 1:31); who says that "unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required" (Luke 12:48); and who, when He commands, expects to be obeyed (Deut. 6:17).

Add to this, Christ's admonition that they who are "great" in the sight of the world are enjoined from "exercis[ing] authority upon" those less powerful than themselves. Rather —
    [W]hosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;

    And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:

    Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Matt. 20:25-28)
The notion that "might makes right" — in other words, any notion of authoritarianism — in the kingdom of God is anathema to Him, clearly contrary to His word and will.

"Found in the scriptures"

Everything to this point in our discussion can be summarized by the words of a former LDS church president, Harold B. Lee, who repeatedly taught in the modern era of the LDS church,
    All that we teach in this church ought to be couched in the scriptures. It ought to be found in the scriptures. We ought to choose our texts from the scriptures. If we want to measure truth, we should measure it by the four standard works [i.e., the LDS canon], regardless of who writes it. If it is not in the standard works, we may well assume that it is speculation, man's own personal opinion; and if it contradicts what is in the scriptures, it is not true. This is the standard by which we measure all truth. ("Using the Scriptures in Our Church Assignments," Improvement Era, January 1969, pp. 12-14, emphasis added)
In reminding his fellow leaders and members of this doctrinal premise, a premise essential to orthodoxy, President Lee drew upon the plain words of D&C 42:59-60, already cited, which stress that the "scriptures" — not uncanonized human thoughts or directives — are the "law of the church."

Unfortunately, Mormons on the whole tend not to be well-versed in their own canon of doctrine — being led by many church leaders, contrary to that canon, to rely unduly on their leaders for knowledge and guidance. As a result, Mormons tend to adopt countless myths prevalent in the church in defiance of the canon, leaving them ignorant of church law and doctrine, and prone to authoritarian tendencies.

It's hard to say whether the impetus for this phenomenon comes more from the leadership or from the members — vast numbers of whom appear to choose the LDS lifestyle because of the easy (that is, highly routinized) path to salvation it offers (despite its extraordinarily disciplined regimen).

Regarding this phenomenon of undue authoritarianism, early church president Joseph F. Smith, son of Joseph Smith's brother Hyrum, observed,
    One fault to be avoided by the Saints, young and old, is the tendency to live on borrowed light....

    Men and women should become settled in the truth, and founded in the knowledge of the gospel, depending upon no person for borrowed or reflected light, but trusting only upon the Holy Spirit.... They will then have light everlasting which cannot be obscured. By its shining in their lives, they shall cause others to glorify God. (Gospel Doctrine, 1975 ed., pp. 87-88, emphasis added.)
To so live, members need to know the word of God for themselves, so they are familiar with the principles that enable them to rely providently on the Lord and avoid being deceived. Undue reliance on their leaders prevents LDS members from attaining such salvific, prudent living, to their own — and the church's — shame and detriment. (See D&C 84:54-60.)

A brief note: Both Harold B. Lee and Joseph F. Smith were exceptional figures in LDS history. Though staunch defenders of cultural Mormonism, they nonetheless tended to steer the authoritarian culture toward dependence on God. I once heard President Lee say that if he were to teach something contrary to the scriptures, members should reject it. President Smith similarly declared that he wanted "no man to lean upon me nor to follow me, only so far as I am a consistent follower in the footsteps of the Master." In the late 1980's, another exceptional president, Ezra Taft Benson — who as an apostle in 1980 had delivered an often-cited authoritarian talk titled "Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet" — never again uttered an authoritarian word once he became president, to my knowledge, stressing instead the need to rely directly on Christ and the written canon, for which he (like Presidents Lee and Smith) was largely ignored by members and leaders, even though they pretended to "follow the prophet."

Predictably, the longstanding authoritarian culture pushed back against such "innovations" — and doctrinally-illiterate local leaders, mid-level bureaucrats, and authorities in the church's inner circles, all steeped in tradition, won out and suppressed any significant canon-based emphasis.

In more recent years, President Gordon B. Hinckley — who arguably defined the church's values and image more than any of his contemporaries — took deliberate steps to undo the inroads made by these few exceptional presidents and re-emphasized the church's cultural and historical myths, consolidating the church's already deeply-authoritarian foundations. Among actions he took was to drop President Lee's establishment of the canon as the centerpiece of the church's adult curriculum and make former church presidents' teachings the focus of instruction.

These are all trends I've personally witnessed during my lifetime.

Hitting the fan

With this understanding of the inherent tendencies in Mormonism, it should be no surprise to anyone that the LDS church leadership would collide with the independent-minded efforts of my family in the political arena, as we have alleged.

The truth is, the unusual magnitude of our family's dedication to grassroots activism would appear unparalleled in modern Mormonism. When Mormons act politically, on any scale, they tend to do so only when encouraged by the church (as with California's Proposition 8, for example). Taking considerable initiative in politics on the scale our family has done is, by all indications, unprecedented in the "ant-like" culture of Mormondom. This has resulted in magnified hostility toward us from the church, from many directions.

When we were told by our leaders to conform with church norms and drop our self-sacrificing activism in behalf of national pro-life advocate Alan Keyes, we refused — and from then on we've been harshly and cruelly persecuted by numerous church leaders at every level, including the governing First Presidency.

When we appealed such misdeeds to higher-ups, those with greater authority routinely sided with lower-level surrogates who were long engaged in harassing us, deferring to them because these lesser church officers were presumed to be called of God and automatically endowed with His inspirationwhile as ordinary members with little responsibility, we ourselves were considered to lack standing and credibility, no matter the strength of our testimony, witnesses, or tangible evidence.

We were clearly less important than those in the bureaucracy, and were thus abused with impunity by those intent on tormenting us, since the governing leaders protected their lesser associates, in ways typical of any bureaucracy, but inconsistent with an institution that professes to be the "only true and living church" of Jesus Christ "upon the face of the whole earth, with which [God is] well pleased" (D&C 1:30).

No genuine church of Christ would condone such unlawful, un-American behavior as we've encountered repeatedly in this unthinkable controversy, now spanning more than 12 years.

Preventing any resolution or relief has been the fact that we've been repeatedly presumed to be lying, and our lying leaders presumed to be telling the truth, simply because we were "only members" and our leaders were part of God's elite "governing authorities." This kind of presumptuous condescension has dogged us throughout the entire controversy — resulting in my excommunication three years ago, with the blessing and collusion of those at the top of the LDS hierarchy, for charging a handful of church leaders with wrongdoing toward us, allegations I leveled when invited by the leadership to share my view of my tormentors.

Even after that ultimate penalty, exacted for doing nothing definably wrong, I and my family continue to suffer hardship and abuse at the hands of church authorities — who have all but destroyed our livelihood and severely damaged the work of RenewAmerica, including our dedicated efforts in support of Dr. Keyes.

It goes without saying that members of the church in general, with their deeply-held authoritarian values, would tend to reject out-of-hand the possibility that the church could be so mean and controlling as I've just described, because — like the leadership — they believe LDS leaders are inspired of God, and thus godly in their judgments. This tendency compounds the mischief inflicted on us by the church as we run into Mormon friends, extended family, and associates.

Authoritarianism is as authoritarianism does

In the face of the authoritarian phenomenon wherein Mormon leaders are assumed to be inspired of God and thus inherently "right" in their judgments, due to their calling, while regular members are thought to be inherently errant, sinful, and dishonest, solely because they are not part of the governing elite, I ask —

What kind of unAmerican tyranny and menace as I've described throughout my writings could possibly treat people as badly as we allege we've been treated by the LDS church, despite our many appeals to the highest church leaders for respite?

Indeed —

What could possibly cause a huge, powerful institution like the LDS church to so abuse a little family who was busily engaged in minding its own business and advancing the cause of saving America?

Since all of our claims are true — no matter the defensive, even abusive responses we continue to receive from indignant church members — the answer to such questions is actually quite simple: authoritarianism is as authoritarianism does.

And, despite the checks and balances of its own canon, there is no more authoritarian entity on earth than the LDS church.

In upcoming installments, we'll look closer at the un-American behavior of the church and its effect on our nation's political system, which has been trampled repeatedly by the church.

In the meantime, see A Mormon Story and "Spiritual murder: allegations of wrongdoing by the LDS church" for details about the church's unlawful interference with the work of the Stone family.

STEPHEN STONE, RA PRESIDENT — As the gay agenda rolls forth unchecked in fulfillment of its published goals and tactics — dragging Western Civilization down more predictably than the Muslim Brotherhood is likely ever to do — rational Americans need to come to grips with one of the most damnable frauds in the world's history: the belief that there is such a thing as "being gay."... (more)
© Stephen Stone


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