In the world, but not of it: Why not just ‘pull up stakes’?
Stephen Stone, RenewAmerica President
January 3, 2013

One of the most instructive things about the life of Christ is that He could have, at any time, opted out of His mission to save the world from sin, had He been primarily concerned with His own comfort and safety.

He didn't have to remain among those plotting his death — something He foresaw — and could easily have fled to another part of the world, one safer than ancient Israel, where He'd been a target from the moment He first announced His mission to an easily-offended group at a synagogue. (See Luke 4:14-30.)

In the Mormon canon (a canon, we might add, that's generally ignored by the LDS culture*), we find exquisite words that define Jesus' single-minded motivation, and which also set a standard for all LDS members who seek to emulate Him. Of Jesus, we read,
    He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. (2 Nephi 26:24, emphasis added)
To Mormons — and certainly all others who profess to believe in Christ — there can be no question that Jesus gave His life willingly for the sake of all mankind, with little thought for himself.

Similarly, history is full of courageous, God-fearing individuals who put a high-minded cause above their own welfare, as they sought — like Christ — to
    preach the gospel to the poor;...heal the brokenhearted,...preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,

    To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18-19; see also Mark 1:14-15)
In many of these cases, God intervened and spared their lives, as well as their well-being, for reasons known only to Him. In other instances, He allowed those most faithful to Him to suffer death — or, if not that ultimate consequence, other severe loss or alienation for His name's sake, for reasons that would include testing their faith, as well as holding their tormentors to account.

Either way, persecution is the common lot — whatever form it takes — of ALL who seek to serve God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, in righteousness.

Jesus said,
    If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.

    If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.

    Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.... (John 15:18-20, emphasis mine)
    They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.

    And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me. (John 16:2-3, emphasis added)
"Spiritual murder"

The scriptures allude to a form of spiritual murder (without using the term) that can involve any kind of psychological, emotional, or mental abuse capable of causing a person severe harm, especially "internally." Such is the evident meaning of Christ's words in Matt. 18:6-7:
    But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

    Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!
The implication, of course, is that abusive treatment of another person — especially of an innocent — can be so serious in its detrimental effect that those responsible for it might truly merit "drown[ing] in the depth of the sea."

With that in mind, consider the words of Soviet dissident (and Nobel prize-winning author) Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who reportedly said, "The incarceration of free-thinking healthy people in madhouses is spiritual murder." Arguably, any extreme, sustained oppression that deprives a person of his or her God-given dignity, rights, or liberty is a form of "spiritual murder."

Keep in mind that such "non-violent" abuse of a person can, in time, take on a physical dimension, resulting in declining health, even death. Spiritual murder can thus ultimately cause the "real thing." It just may not be as obvious to casual observers up front.

Those who wish another person ill can literally kill them over time by sustained non-violent abuse.

I raise this issue because my previous article, "Spiritual murder: allegations of wrongdoing by the LDS church," describes twelve years of unremitting, deliberate persecution of my family (stemming from our political work) that took more than a "platonic" toll on us: it increasingly harmed us physically as well — sending me, for example, eventually to the emergency room of a hospital for an ulcerated duodenum that nearly took my life.

The continual stress of the church's intimidation, threats, and intrusion cannot be dismissed as a factor in that health crisis.

Other family members have suffered in other serious ways that can be laid at the feet of the church. Early, my wife DeeAnn developed excruciating shingles that she says were triggered by the intense trauma of the incessant "church problem." The effects of this condition still persist.

Diabetic daughter Siena said the First Presidency's heightened cruelty to our family at one point caused her "heart to hurt" — literally, not just figuratively.

The ongoing stress caused some family members to have suicidal thoughts.

Add to this the extreme poverty we've endured off and on as the church repeatedly damaged our political work (our primary source of employment from the outset), occasionally leaving us with little to eat. We're still alive — if not necessarily well. We've suffered incalculable loss to our family's high-energy, computer-based political business due directly to the LDS church's cruel interference with our lives and livelihood, loss that has affected us materially.

Miraculously, we managed to keep from losing our small farm during the worst moments of this unending ordeal, and now own it debt-free (the result of God's mercy, for sure), and we finally completed the main living quarters of a large, complicated passive-solar home we'd been building seemingly forever on the site, and just moved in this past year.

All on a shoestring. We're slow, but we're sure — sure that the church's interference with our work cost us valuable time and resources. It would be interesting (but impossible, of course) to know how much we could have accomplished on our home had we not been forced to spend thousands of hours over the past twelve years just trying to keep our political work from dying a premature death at the hands of LDS leaders at every level, including the governing First Presidency.

Speculation aside, we almost lost our farm, our home project, our sanity, our health, even my own life, due to the church's harm to our employment and intrusion into our happiness. That harm and intrusion continue to damage us in countless ways, here in tight-knit Mormon culture.

(For verifiable facts about this persecution, see "Spiritual murder: allegations of wrongdoing by the LDS church." For a more detailed account, see A Mormon Story.)

"Mission to the Mormons"

In the ever-widening wake of this arduous journey through a very real hell, I often receive well-meaning suggestions that our family could have avoided it all by "pulling up stakes" and leaving both the LDS church and Mormon-dominated Utah where my wife and I were raised, and where we've lived continuously since the early 1970's — while raising all eight of our homeschooled children to be authentic Christians.

I can appreciate the sincerity of such seemingly-sensible advice, and mean to imply no criticism of it. But in our case, it would not be the solution, nor has it ever been.

Most of my life, I've felt a deep sense that one of my divinely-intended purposes has always been to be "on a mission to the Mormons."

I know this much —

The LDS church and culture are so immersed in authoritarian virtual worship of church leaders at every level that the membership are implicitly (and sometimes expressly) discouraged from relying alone on Jesus Christ. They are thus effectively deprived of salvation if they persist in such misplaced faith, according to both the Bible and LDS scripture. (See John 15:5, 2 Nephi 31:19-21, 2 Nephi 32:1-5, and Moroni 6:4.)

This profound error by the church is disturbingly real, for I've witnessed its reality firsthand all my life. Obedience to leaders is the foundation of LDS culture, even though such a misguided tradition defies the church's actual canon, which clearly forbids "trusting in the arm of flesh." (See, for example, D&C 1:17-23, D&C 3:1-20, D&C 45:56-57, D&C 46:7-9, and 2 Nephi 28:31.)

Mormons are taught, in fact, that the words of the president of the church (as well as the sermons of other high leaders) supersede the canon — in abrogation of "the law of the church," found in its Doctrine & Covenants, which states:
    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)
The last words are plain enough, one would think — making it clear that those LDS members and leaders who disregard this statute are "damned."

Yet, church members are led to believe — in countless sermons, books, person-to-person "counsel," and other communication from LDS authorities — that obedience to church leaders is required of all members if they are to be adjudged in good stead and thereby assured of "exaltation" in God's heaven. The widely-circulated, but undoctrinal, precept "Follow the prophet," coupled with its equally undoctrinal presumption "The president of the church will never lead the church astray," epitomizes this emphasis.

This wouldn't be such a problem if church leaders at every level confined their authoritarian notions to the limitations found in the official canon. This includes the church president — who, according to the canon, can be tried for his membership for transgressing the laws of God found in the canon (see D&C 107:80-84). But the canon is largely ignored and the leaders held supreme, free to claim that their "divine calling" entitles them to supplant the canon and impose their own will and limited understanding on others, in serious disregard for the canon itself.

It's no small phenomenon. It's the way the church operates from top to bottom — justifying such lawlessness on the erroneous belief that leaders are automatically open to God's inspiration by virtue of their calling.**

Teach your own

In the face of such institutional and cultural absurdity, absurdity unsupported by scripture, I've done what I felt God wanted me to do to lead sincere Mormons to Christ through the "doctrine of Christ" found in the Bible and mirrored by the LDS canon. This required me and my family to live "in the world of Mormons" (where large numbers of our extended family live) without adopting the nutty notions of "Mormonism."

Until "cast from the [LDS] synagogue" for refusing to abandon my political work, I remained in the faith, but centered my beliefs in the verifiable, recurring themes and doctrines of the Bible (while cross-referencing the many equivalent passages in the LDS canon upon which to stand in teaching "Mormons").

In this sincere effort, I've been reprimanded occasionally by church leaders over the years for teaching the express, indisputable need — found throughout scripture — to rely solely on Jesus Christ in all things. I've been told this emphasis undermines LDS members' need to rely primarily on their leaders, who will never lead them astray.

It should be obvious that any LDS member or leader who would challenge the very doctrine of Christ as taught in their own canon, and emphasize, in its place, leader-dependent authoritarianism, is simply ignorant of that canon, or motivated by undoctrinal notions of their own importance, or both.

Unfortunately, such authoritarianism is the bedrock of LDS culture, while the need for direct reliance on Jesus Christ above human authority is typically relegated to "teachings that will get you into trouble with church leaders" — who, as often as not, are not well-grounded in doctrine, having been trained all their lives to rely on other church leaders for their knowledge.

Images of the blind leading the blind and both falling into the ditch come to mind, as Jesus vividly characterized such prideful foolishness. (See Matt. 15:14.)

Despite the frustrations of doing so, I've sincerely sought for four decades to teach all within my influence in LDS church settings (and family gatherings) to base their salvation directly on Jesus Christ — not on the cultural or doctrinal myths prevalent in the church — and to obey His simple, saving gospel above any notion of subjugating their will to imperfect human beings, no matter who they are or what title they hold.

I've sought to do all this tactfully, I should stress, with LDS scriptures in hand, and had never been seriously taken to task for my canon-based view until I began working for former Assistant Secretary of State Alan Keyes — when local, and then increasingly higher, church officers began persecuting me and my family for that choice of livelihood, and never let up.

It's noteworthy that throughout my years in the church, I had been "called" repeatedly by local leaders to teach in numerous church settings; been thanked innumerable times by other church teachers for "saving" their lessons (their term) with my canon-based comments from the audience; been told more than once that I was the local congregation's de facto "scriptorian"; been complimented many times by even those persecuting me as having an exceptional grasp of the LDS scriptures; and am still looked up to by friends and extended family for my doctrinal understanding.

More importantly, I've seen countless times over the years when my doctrinal insights made a positive contribution to the understanding and growth of LDS members.

I'm first and foremost a teacher, and I've been held in high esteem by many Mormons I've taught and helped over the years for my gospel-centered, unquestionably-orthodox teachings.

This was particularly the case when I taught English at Brigham Young University years ago in a tutorial setting, as well as in an innovative writing course I created, both premised on Bible-based principles. I worked closely with about 5,000 students (and occasional faculty) during those years, and some students, including one remarkable student body president, told me my influence was a highlight of their studies at BYU.

At the funeral of my parents (who were killed by a drunk driver on a freeway in front of Disneyland in 1988), one of the local "stake presidency" took me aside and told me he still vividly remembered a lesson I taught him and his associates years earlier in "Sunday School" — a lesson that defined the gospel of Christ according to the Bible and the LDS canon. He said it was one of the best lessons he'd ever heard.

In later years, a member of the local "elders quorum" came up after a scripture-based lesson I gave on the "doctrine of Christ" and expressed similar words with deepest appreciation.

Not long afterward, I gave an extemporaneous lesson from scripture on the need to rely on Christ, when the regular teacher failed to show up in another "priesthood" meeting. Afterward, one of the leaders said he'd never seen such an effective presentation.

This kind of response has repeated itself many times during my years in the church.

All because I see myself as "on a mission to the Mormons." I couldn't fulfill that redemptive purpose if I didn't "tough it out" — as Jesus Himself did in His way, in His own day — and stay put, "blooming where I've been planted."

"It is I, Lord"

Let me end with an experience that has many levels of meaning, as the reader tries to sort out what it must be like to "immerse oneself in the world of the Mormons" without adopting "Mormonism" itself (that is, the unbiblical norms and notions of this cult-like religion).

In 1973, I was ordained a "seventy," a Mormon priesthood office patterned after New Testament references to the "seventy" Jesus called to preach His gospel — one of whom was a man "full of the Holy Ghost" named Stephen who was stoned to death while Saul (later the apostle Paul) watched.

As a new "seventy," I thought the biblical account of the "stoning of Stephen" was something to keep in the back of my mind, for reasons that should be obvious. It was ultimately fulfilled when I was excommunicated for no definable offense other than refusing to "obey church leaders" in my choice of livelihood, and for my subsequent votes against certain leaders who'd repeatedly abused my family for that refusal, when we were asked to vote either for or against those abusive men during routine "sustainings."

Wanting to understand my role as a "seventy" soon after I was called, I diligently consulted the church's published guidelines to understand my duties — guidelines based on the official canon. Thereafter, I taught these guidelines to other "seventies," both as a teacher formally called to instruct them during "quorum" meetings, and informally as I had opportunity. I became fairly expert in these guidelines, in part because I understood the thrust of the LDS scriptures.

At one point, I was invited to teach these guidelines to "stake" seventies leaders in monthly gatherings.

Then we moved to another part of town.

Things quickly deteriorated whenever I mentioned our official duties in local seventies meetings. The "ward" seventies leader wasn't interested in such things, and, in fact, said we "as seventies" weren't even supposed to have instruction of any kind in our weekly meetings. So the meetings were gab-fests with no evident purpose.

That man later went to prison for tax evasion, stemming from his defiance of both LDS and federal policy.

In such a local climate, I dutifully attended weekly meetings (and succeeded in nudging the local seventies toward some kind of meaningful lessons), but steered clear of periodic "stake" seventies meetings — where the local problems originated. These gatherings were a waste of time, since the leaders themselves were uninformed of their duties.

Finally, after a couple of years of reported "inactivity" as a seventy because I failed to attend stake-level meetings, I got a feeling that I should go to an upcoming one. Reluctantly, I drove over to the "stake center" and walked inside toward the meeting room.

As I was entering, a stocky man introduced himself as the stake seventies leader and looked at me intently. I went in and sat down.

The leader — whose name was Swanson, as I recall — stood up and announced that he was dropping his plans for the evening because "there is someone here who has the Holy Ghost, and he has something to say to us."

When he said this curious thing, I thought, "He couldn't possibly mean me, could he?" — even though he'd looked at me in an unusual way when he introduced himself at the door.

So I sat and watched as one "seventy" after another stood up presumptuously and addressed the group, as if to say "It is I, Lord."

None had anything of consequence to say, just clichés from Mormon culture.

Musical chairs

I watched this fascinating, and of course revealing, charade take up nearly an hour, wasting everyone's time, as uninformed young men in their twenties and thirties stood before the rest of us and said empty words. Finally, with just minutes to go before the meeting was to adjourn, President Swanson walked over to me and said, "I understand you have something to tell us."

Quite surprised (since I wasn't planning to speak), I stood and briefly rehearsed the most important duties of "seventies," as published in the church's official guidelines — things few in the room appeared to have any inkling, let alone understanding, of. I cited the official sources from memory, focused on making sure every point I shared was clear, and said, "The seventies work in this stake will never succeed until these guidelines are adopted and made the center of our efforts."

I then sat down. End of meeting.

Immediately afterward, a man I knew indirectly because we'd both served in the same LDS mission years earlier (but whom I had no personal relationship with), came over to me and told me how much he appreciated my words. He was shortly afterward made the head of the seventies in the stake, and his first act was to make me his "secretary," which he defined as his right arm in running the seventies work. Together, we drew up a plan based on the official church guidelines for seventies, and proceeded to put it to full use.

When he was later released, his replacement kept me as his secretary, and together we made an even more elaborate effort to implement the officially-adopted, but typically-ignored, official guidelines for seventies in the LDS church. We did so until the church's seventies program was disbanded altogether (obviously for lack of success churchwide), and thereafter the only "seventies" recognized by the church leadership were those at the highest levels. A seventy became an office reserved only for "general authorities."


As I said at the outset of this true story, the story has many levels of meaning. One is the obvious lesson it reveals regarding the consequences of a leader-dependent culture whose adherents are inclined to be ignorant of the church's actual canon (as well as its application) because they focus on "doing whatever they're told" and take little initiative to "learn their duty," in direct violation of the LDS canon itself (see D&C 107:99-100).

Such sloth produces a society of ignorant, servile, unfruitful "stewards" who profess belief in Christ but behave as virtual agnostics or atheists, tossed to and fro upon the ever-changing tides of man-made relativism (see Eph. 4:13-14 — a passage that is about the need for "all [to] come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God," and thereby avoid being deceived).

A second lesson from the story is the tendency of LDS members to "jump to their feet" in defense of their unenlightened view of their role and divine obligations, devoid of clear vision due to a lack of appreciation for the biblical word of God. A corollary of the first lesson, this implicit message suggests the need for Mormons as a culture to graduate from reliance on imperfect leaders to dependence directly upon Christ — as a result of true conversion to Him, not to any particular "church," including their own, none of which can save.

A third lesson is that not all "Mormons" are lost souls who worship at the feet of the devil himself, as is widely reputed. At least a few here and there have commendable regard for godly things, including the biblical word, and can discern the truth when it's placed squarely (and tactfully) before them.

Of course, the same could be said of any denomination, religion, or group, given human nature. Thankfully, God plants decent people everywhere, as he draws all unto Him from every sector of the world's institutions and cultures. By the same token, mischievous, malevolent characters are also everywhere to be found, in every society and nook — though they need not necessarily be viewed as the "norm" in their affiliated group or class, despite their disproportionate influence.

The challenge for the LDS church is to rise above its historical reputation as a "tyranny" and "menace to free institutions" and take to heart its own mission statement, which is to "invite all to come unto Christ" (see D&C 20:59) upon a version of His gospel that faithfully reflects that found in the New Testament (and which can include corroborating sections of the Book of Mormon, which purports to be a companion to the Bible and a second witness of Christ — see D&C 42:12).

In a word, the LDS church needs to grow up, and jettison its gospel of subservience to men in favor of the gospel of complete submission to Jesus Christ, as taught throughout both the Bible and the LDS canon. The church might then begin to be viewed no longer as a threat to decent Christians everywhere, but might, in time, be seen as a benign (even benevolent) fellow-citizen with true saints, notwithstanding the non-saving anomalies — call them puzzling quirks, if you will — of its doctrine.

Just something for defenders of "Mormonism" to think seriously about.

Meanwhile, back at the Stone ranch —

I have no desire to abandon my lifelong "mission to the Mormons." I've got too many friends and relatives throughout culturally-oppressive Mormondom whom I care deeply about and want to lead effectively to Christ and His gospel, to consider such an unwise thing.

I also have a definite "bone of contention" to settle with the church, for its deliberate near-destruction of my family's peace, happiness, health, political work, and livelihood.

The church's contentious, unChristlike behavior toward us must end, and it must be fairly reconciled.

*The reason the LDS canon tends to be ignored in LDS culture is that Mormons are taught that church doctrine consists of the latest statements by high church leaders (to some members, this includes local leaders as well).

The church's canon is thus held to be secondary in all matters of practice and belief. The result is doctrinal chaos, leaving members with a lack of reliable absolutes — other than the need to depend on their leaders to know what to believe and how to behave.

This tradition, unsupported by the canon, stems from a single story in church lore told by President Wilford Woodruff more than fifty years after it occurred. The story tells 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 words of LDS leaders, and elevated the "latest words" of the "living oracles" above anything previously recorded.

Because the LDS canon is considerable in its sheer volume, and requires diligent immersion in its actual words — independent of prevailing cultural myths — to be understood, Mormons have gladly embraced the notion that the canon is ultimately unimportant compared to the latest pronouncements of the "living prophet" and other presiding church leaders.

It's a lazy person's formula for salvation.

We should note that the LDS canon itself consists of those statements and teachings by LDS "oracles" that have been "canonized" (along with the King James Bible) by a vote of the church. Not only is the canon therefore binding on all members (leaders included), but it is also inherently superior to the non-canonized words of any LDS leader — revealing the above story by President Woodruff to be doctrinal folly. It is authoritarian nonsense and has no power to save, particularly since it relegates the saving principles of the Bible — which center in the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and the need to be reconciled to Him — to secondary consideration.
**The Fifth Article of Faith is usually cited to establish the unfounded belief that all church leaders are not only called of God, but inspired of Him by virtue of their calling. 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 or a directive — 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 injunction to love and serve only God (see Matt. 4:10 and 22:37) is an accurate characterization of what all people actually 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 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 no person 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.)
[Updated Jan. 3, 2013, with a more explanatory title and some edits.]

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