Where Do We Go From Here?
I would like to talk about a perspective on where to go when confronted with cognitive dissonance with respect to the LDS Church. My approach is to do a general comparison between the early restoration and today’s church in terms of teaching and alignment with scripture. I picked 1844 as the time when Joseph Smith sealed his testimony. Really, this represents the range of church organization between 1830 with the organization of the church through the establishment of Nauvoo. I am assuming that all the critical doctrines and teachings were publically or privately held at this point. Here is how I would characterize it pictorially. In speaking of the church then and now as to truth and error.
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The above graphic defines four different perspectives one can hold relative to the church in the mid 19th century and the church today. One can hold that the church was true then and is true today. That is defined as the upper left quadrant, the others follow a similar general definition.
True then, True now
And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually— (D&C 1:30)
This is the quadrant where I would put most members of the church today. Those in this bucket accept the correlated version of the church story. The Book of Mormon was divinely inspired and the line of priesthood keys stands unbroken since the restoration. They are TBMs who pay their tithing and attend the temple. Home/Visiting teaching, fulfilling assignments, participating in the meetings are all part of the agenda. Items that may introduce discord or dissonance are ‘placed on the shelf’ assuming we will have the answers at some point in the future.
But… what happens if the shelf is not able to hold the weight? What if Rough Stone Rolling, or some other publication or internet sourced propaganda, illuminates the inconsistencies resident in the message of the restoration as preached in church meetings today? How does one rationalize the potential change in worldview prompted by this new information that can no longer stay on the shelf?
At a high level, I would characterize this as moving to another quadrant identified above. Let’s take a look at the options.
False then, False now
This seems to be, by far, the largest recipient of the “cognitive dissified.” (This is a clinical term defined as those who suffer from a chronic attack of cognitive dissonance.) The baby gets thrown out with the bath water. If the church isn’t telling the truth about its past, then it can’t be the true church. If it isn’t true now, it probably never was. The outcome is the exact opposite of the intended purpose of comments such as this by Carlos Costa in a recent general conference and cited in my recent blog titled “All Or Nothing.”
After I read, pondered, and prayed, the Lord gave me the assurance that Joseph Smith was His prophet. I testify to you that Joseph Smith is a prophet, and because I have received this answer from the Lord, I know that all of his successors are prophets too. (Carlos Costa, Oct 2010 General Conference)
Because of the view that it is all or nothing, some people facing these challenges are prone to choose ‘nothing.’ and walk away. Some seek solace in the confines of other denominations and find that love and charity abound. Some give up on God and adopt atheism or agnosticism in response to the view that God/Religion caused this problem. Those who had a ‘testimony’ of the core items of the church foundational aspects such as Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon attribute these spiritual experiences to emotion as opposed to true communication from God. It can be easy to rationalize this experience. Some are angry that they had been duped, they ‘leave the church but can’t leave it alone.’ These people are typically vocal in public and in the internet on the errors and discordance in the church message. Others capitulate and continue in minimal church activity to placate family and loved ones rather than move to a new box.
False then, True now
I have had members express the opinion that some rudimentary aspects of the gospel were not accurately defined in the beginning but were changed as a result of ‘further light and knowledge.’ The idea, for example, that the prohibition of blacks holding the priesthood was a policy rather than a doctrine suggests that there were things that were in error and needed to be corrected. The topic of polygamy could also be included. The question certainly can be asked, Why would God allow this to happen?
I can see where the agency of man could be used as an answer. We are humans are prone to take a concept and run with it before completely understanding the implications. Overall, I would consider this a weak argument since we are the recipients of the ‘fulness of the gospel.’ The definition that I would apply to ‘fulness’ would be – all that there is. There is no more. In this light, it is hard for me to consider a church maintaining its ‘trueness’ while at the same time abandoning early principles preached from the frontier pulpit as critical to salvation.
True then, False now
The final bucket, and unabashedly, my selection as the one most appropriate is that the restoration of the gospel was true and complete in the onset. Man, however, screwed things up along the way. This ‘cycle of apostasy’ clearly illuminated in the Book of Mormon, for some reason, is not applicable for many to the modern day LDS Church. It is an undocumented ‘truth’ that the church cannot fail. However, I have not found scriptural justification for that statement.
In fact, the opposite seems to be the case. Most members are aware that President Ezra Taft Benson warned us that the condemnation called out in D&C 84 was still in effect.
54 And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—
55 Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.
56 And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.
57 And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written—
Not much has been said on this topic since President Benson was taken from us. Perhaps this condemnation was lifted with his death and God didn’t deem it important to tell his prophet…
There is scriptural support for the idea that the church is facing a cleansing as one reads in D&C 112.
23 Verily, verily, I say unto you, darkness covereth the earth, and gross darkness the minds of the people, and all flesh has become corrupt before my face.
24 Behold, vengeance cometh speedily upon the inhabitants of the earth, a day of wrath, a day of burning, a day of desolation, of weeping, of mourning, and of lamentation; and as a whirlwind it shall come upon all the face of the earth, saith the Lord.
25 And upon my house shall it begin, and from my house shall it go forth, saith the Lord;
26 First among those among you, saith the Lord, who have professed to know my name and have not known me, and have blasphemed against me in the midst of my house, saith the Lord.
The ‘correction’ defined here seems to be targeted at those who claimed to be God’s instruments but were not. Are there clear indications that God’s ‘house’ needs to be the benefactor of God’s vengeance? If we, collectively as members, have not maintained the purity of the gospel; if we have allowed the precepts of man mingled with scripture to infest our teachings and programs, would that rate a correction? What program, doctrines, and policies are being taught as critical for salvation but are not found in the scriptural definition of the fulness of the gospel?
In 3 Nephi, chapter 16, we read the Lord’s perspective of those who accept the gospel in the last days:
6 And blessed are the Gentiles, because of their belief in me, in and of the Holy Ghost, which witnesses unto them of me and of the Father.
7 Behold, because of their belief in me, saith the Father, and because of the unbelief of you, O house of Israel, in the latter day shall the truth come unto the Gentiles, that the fulness of these things shall be made known unto them.
Are we not the Gentiles that are recipients of the truth and the fulness of the gospel? Do we not profess to have received our testimonies of the gospel ‘in and of the Holy Ghost’ in these latter days?
So what comes of us Gentiles? Here is what the Lord said would happen continuing in chapter 16 of 3rd Nephi:
10 And thus commandeth the Father that I should say unto you: At that day when the Gentiles shall sin against my gospel, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, and shall be lifted up in the pride of their hearts above all nations, and above all the people of the whole earth, and shall be filled with all manner of lyings, and of deceits, and of mischiefs, and all manner of hypocrisy, and murders, and priestcrafts, and whoredoms, and of secret abominations; and if they shall do all those things, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, behold, saith the Father, I will bring the fulness of my gospel from among them.
The Gentiles of the latter day church will sin against the gospel and reject the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. What better way is there to define apostasy?
So we of the latter day church are under condemnation, we face the vengeance of the Lord, and will ultimately, as the latter day Gentile church, will lose the fulness of the Gospel.
In the end, it is only our personal apostasy that should be of concern. Christ has extended the invitation to us regardless of what has happened or is happening to the church in general.
13 But if the Gentiles will repent and return unto me, saith the Father, behold they shall be numbered among my people, O house of Israel.
What are we to repent of? I would suggest that it is the same as any other group throughout history mired in apostasy. Stop doing what man would have you do and start doing what God is asking us to do.
It doesn’t matter if we are Jew or Gentile, what matters is where our heart is.
In 2nd Nephi, chapter 30 we find:
2 For behold, I say unto you that as many of the Gentiles as will repent are the covenant people of the Lord; and as many of the Jews as will not repent shall be cast off; for the Lord covenanteth with none save it be with them that repent and believe in his Son, who is the Holy One of Israel.
What matters is that we, individually, turn our face toward God. We are to repent and come unto Christ. Which happens to be the definition of the Church that Christ gives us in D&C10:67-69
67 Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.
68 Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church.
69 And now, behold, whosoever is of my church, and endureth of my church to the end, him will I establish upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.