The Sanctity of Dissent
by Paul James Toscano
All is not Well in Zion: False Teachings of the True Church
“All Is Not Well in Zion: False Teachings of the True Church” was originally a presentation given at the Sunstone Theological Symposium in August 1993. This speech, together with my responses to the questions of the stake presidency and high council of the Salt Lake Big Cottonwood Stake concerning it, served as the sole evidentiary basis for my excommunication from the church on 19 September 1993.
[p.153]”Wo be unto him that is at ease in Zion! Wo be unto him that crieth: All is well!” (2 Ne. 28:24-25) This scripture, familiar to students of the Book of Mormon, warns that trouble, distress, and affliction—perhaps even divine judgment—await those who are at ease in Zion, who are comfortable in their knowledge, power, wealth, and connections, who have a stake in the status quo, who are prospering, who are secure (see 2 Ne. 28:21). There are many in the LDS church, of course, who would argue that this text does not apply to us or to our time, but to someone somewhere and somewhen else. To say this, [p.154]however, is to fall into the snare of the text. If we are not made uneasy by this text, then we define ourselves as those who are “at ease in Zion”—and wo unto us. If, on the other hand, we accept that the text’s warning applies to us, if we let it reveal our uncertainty and dis/ease, then the text can work upon us. It can move us to repent and forgive, to mature into spiritual beings of compassion and truth.
One of the stunning paradoxes of Jesus is that those of us who are most certain of our righteousness are likely to be farthest from the divine, from the attributes of love, compassion, justice, truth, vitality, authenticity, and holiness, while those in trouble, distress, and affliction, those who feel torn between the holy and the profane may indeed be in the womb of the Holy Spirit, suffering with God the labor of their own spiritual rebirth.
Even now the evidence of Zion’s sickness proliferates. The Mormon Alliance is documenting dozens of cases in which certain abuses are being repeatedly perpetrated by church leaders, not just on intellectuals, but on all categories of Latter-day Saints throughout the worldwide church. Members are being called in and threatened with disciplinary action simply because they have engaged in public or private discussions of religious and/or church-related topics. Leaders are regularly using the temple recommend and, in the case of Brigham Young University students, the ecclesiastical endorsement procedures arbitrarily to coerce members’ compliance not to the teachings of the church but to the private views of individual leaders. Increasing numbers of stake presidents and bishops are employing disciplinary procedures that are inconsistent with those set forth in the Doctrine and Covenants and with fundamental principles of fairness and due process. General authorities continue to maintain secret files on and to conduct surveillance of non-[p.155]violent church members, to instruct local leaders to tell members that an inquiry into the member’s church standing originated at the local level when in fact it did not, and to withhold from members information on such issues as church finances, history, and decision-making. Church leaders at all levels foster, as a matter of policy, the concept that power or influence may be maintained by priesthood authority alone, without persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned, kindness, and pure knowledge. Differences of opinion between a leader and a member are routinely treated as disobedience or lack of faith on the member’s part and such differences are not resolved on the merits of the respective positions, but by making the issue a test of the member’s loyalty. Saints who have concerns about church governance or doctrine are stigmatized as members in need of counsel or discipline. Ecclesiastical leaders are allowed to interfere with academic freedom, scholarly activity, and professional pursuits. And, perhaps worst of all, the church is fast evolving into a class-system of spiritual inequality based not only on church position but on gender discrimination that justifies the subordination of women in church governance, policy formation, and decision-making by discounting their contributions and devaluing their personal worth.
Most remarkable is that these wide-spread abuses are so invisible. Most Latter-day Saints refuse even to entertain the hypothetical possibility that such abuses exist. They cannot acknowledge or cope with them. They will either deny the evidence of them or rationalize that the church is true, God-ordained, God-directed, that its leaders are God-called and God-approved, and that God simply would not permit such abuses to infect the church. What problems, if any, that exist are attributed to the human imperfections of church [p.156]members. Even members who have themselves experienced abuses or witnessed them first-hand in the lives of relatives or friends tend to deny or discount their significance, severity, and universality. Few are prepared to admit that such abuses are not the result of the personal foibles and failings of individuals but of the systemic failings of the church itself: from false teachings, false doctrines, false perceptions, and false practices.
All is not well in Zion. But what exactly is wrong.; What is causing the plague of abuse afflicting the church.; The cause is not, as some leaders suggest, the disobedience of members nor, as some members suggest, the personal foibles of leaders. The cause, I think, is suggested in the scripture: “Wo unto him that is at ease in Zion.” Our disease springs from those teachings about which our community feels most at ease, from our most treasured perceptions, our most assured assumptions, our most settled convictions. Our greatest heresy is the teaching we find least paradoxical, most straightforward, least tenuous, and most basic. Our greatest idol is in our holiest shrine.
I am not comfortable branding any teaching a heresy. I believe in speculative theology. I have co-authored a book full of such speculations. I do not believe a doctrine is heretical simply because it is unfamiliar, radical, or insufficiently supported by scripture or revelation. For me, a heresy is a teaching of the church that is significantly more likely to lead to evil than to good, that has a high probability of causing people to systematically perpetuate or exploit the weaknesses or powerlessness of others.
I believe that in Mormonism our chief idol is a false concept of God, a heresy which I call “patriolatry.” It is the idolatry of God the Father. From this single heresy springs an unnumbered host of mischiefs and abuses, including—to [p.157]name the most egregious—a false concept of salvation; false ideas about priesthood and authority; misunderstandings about church structure and membership; poisonous teachings about gender and sexuality; misconceptions about ordinances; and a false picture of Zion.
I do not doubt that in his fourteenth or fifteenth year Joseph Smith went into a grove of trees, prayed, and beheld a glorious theophany. I do not doubt that Joseph Smith saw Jesus Christ and other divine and angelic personages. What I do doubt, however, is the accuracy of the modern church’s picture of God derived from this vision. My doubts arise because the church has ignored most of what Joseph Smith taught us about God. It has ignored the folk-magical context of the first vision, the strange angiology with which it is associated, and his later revelations about the nature, number, character, and roles of the Godhead. The church, over-simplifying God to the point of idolatry, now teaches that the main members of the Godhead are the Father and the Son, two separate and distinct beings with glorified bodies of flesh and bone, that the Father as the First Person in the Godhead is the superior, senior, and more-experienced deity, that the Son as the Second Person in the Godhead—though superior, older, and wiser than we—is in all matters subordinate and obedient to the Father, and that the Holy Ghost, not mentioned in the first vision but in later Mormon scriptures, is the least member of the trinity. Later extrapolations by leaders, especially the late apostle Bruce R. McConkie, have persuaded members to worship not the Son, but the Father— for he is supreme. Elder Boyd K. Packer has been persuasive in teaching that the plan of redemption is not the Son’s plan, but the Father’s. From the temple rituals, the church has adduced that the trinity is a chain of command. These teachings form the basis of patriolatry (or heavenly-father-[p.158]olatry), a God-concept that is concocted out of half-truths, misperceptions, and trivializations and that does no justice to the revelations or to the doctrinal richness of Mormonism.
To erect this idol, it was necessary first to sweep away nearly all those complicated teachings, especially from the Book of Mormon, that identify Jesus as God of the Old Testament, as giver of the law of Moses, as both Father and Son, as the eternal God, the Father of heaven and earth, who condescends to appear to us as Son in order to make himself accessible to us and save us. Ignored is the teaching that Jesus is the everlasting Father of the resurrection and redemption and that we are called first to be his children through rebirth and then his friends through spiritual maturation. Christ is now depicted by the church as “elder brother,” the subordinate rather than the equal of the Father. Patriarchal power is revered above redemptive power. Focus is on seniority rather than love, hierarchy rather than condescension. Authority is adored as the dominant divine characteristic, while sacrifice and humility are marginalized.
Utterly repressed from the Mormon God-concept are the teachings of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young that Michael the archangel is the father of our premortal spirits, that Michael came to earth as father Adam, that Michael entered into a covenant with Christ, the eternal God, in which each promised to serve as both the father and the son of the other in important ways. In the debates over the authenticity of this teaching, its power and Christocentricity have been completely lost.
The Adam-God doctrine is not about Adam. It is about Christ. Christ, the eternal God and father of heaven and earth, raised an archangel to divine status and then condescended to become the Son of that archangel. In so doing, Christ makes himself a little lower than the angels. He [p.159]condescends to become the Son of his son. He agrees to make his son a Father, not only the progenitor of our spirits and mortal bodies, but the heavenly Father of Christ incarnate. In this covenant the power of patriarchy is broken, the children set free. Parent becomes the child of child, and child becomes parent of parent. The all-powerful yield up power to empower the weak beyond reckoning. Thereafter, Christ calls Michael “my Father who is in heaven,” and Michael speaks to us of Christ in the gracious anthem: “This is my Beloved Son! Hear Him!” Thus, God not only makes himself equal to us, he makes himself less than we are, so we may be made equal to him. This is, in part, the meaning of the condescension of God.
Lost in the simplified God-concept of the modern church are the female divinities. Brigham Young taught that Eve is the mother of all living. She continues to be so denominated in the temple ceremony. “Mother of All Living” was the ancient epithet for the Great Goddess. Edward Tullidge, in his strange book Women of Mormondom, echoing Brigham Young, wrote not only that Eve is the Heavenly Mother, but that Mary Christ’s Mother and Mary Magdalene, his spouse, also held divine status. Thus for her children’s sake, Eve the Great Mother entered Eden as a daughter, yielding up her divinity to become the helpmeet of her son Adam. For her children’s sake she sacrificed her glory and immortality to inhabit the dreary world. For their sakes she suffered death to wander in the earth as a light to them that dwell in darkness—the Shekinah, the Hokma, the paraclete, the Holy Spirit—rebirthing, nurturing, consoling, comforting, reproving, inspiring, defending, and blessing her children as they, poor banished children of Eve, cry weeping and wailing in this veil of tears.
Forgotten, too, are the wonderful stories of how Jesus [p.160]loved his female disciples, how he conversed with them, elected them, liberated and empowered them, and chose them against all the prohibitions of their law and culture to be witnesses of his incarnation, his messianic mission, his crucifixion, his resurrection, his forty-day ministry, and his ascension. Forgotten, too, is his requirement that wherever the gospel is preached the story should be told of how a woman, Mary of Magdala, was chosen to bestow on Jesus the last anointings essential for his final work of redemption and resurrection. For as one Mary provided him his earthly tabernacle, so another Mary provided him with the chrism of his calling. She was elected to be a high priestess to him. She is an archetype for all who are called to be priestesses of and to the Most High. For women too are clothed in the robes of the Melchizedek priesthood and may officiate in all its ordinances.
Forgotten is the promise that in the end time Christ the Bridegroom shall come. The Bride, the Shekinah or Hokma, shall be revealed in power with the moon under her feet and twelve stars in her crown. Father Michael, the ancient of days, shall sit. And Mary, the Mother of Christ, shall be honored in the Godhead. The Father-Mother-Son-Daughter shall be made one. In that time there shall be no more strangers, no more servants, no more parents, no more children, no more Muslims, nor Catholics, nor Protestants, nor Buddhists, nor Mormons either. All who have loved God shall be equals, friends, and lovers. We seem to have lost sight of the truth that our Mothers and Fathers in heaven yield up their glory, descend into mortality, suffer as sinners, and die so that we their children may be exalted. The greatest of all become the servants of all, while we whom they serve, not knowing what the Gods are like, are promised that, when the Gods are revealed, we shall see that we are like them for we shall see [p.161]them as they are. For now, we are to think of ourselves as Adam and Eve. We are to walk in their footsteps, retracing their spiritual journey. Our purpose, like theirs, is not to accumulate power and honor, but to empower the powerless, to honor the dishonored.
All these teachings both leaders and members ignore or deny. Truly it may be said of us: Never have so many done so little with so much. In our desperate attempt to purchase the praise of the world, we have sold our tokens for money, our birthright for a mess of pottage. Instead of milk or meat, we content ourselves with the monotonous, thin, and inadequate gruel of patriolatry—the image of an all—male trinity ordered like cosmic corporate executives with the Father presiding as chairman of the board, the Son as his subordinate but still president of the corporation, and the Holy Ghost as their assisting chief executive officer. These trivializations of God are heretical not just because they are inaccurate (for all pictures of God fall short of the truth), but because their incompleteness and simplicity are contrived and imposed contrary to the will of God, because they lead inevitably to spiritual poverty, spiritual bondage, spiritual abuse, and spiritual death. Patriolatry is nothing but a composite of some of the most abusive characteristics of controlling, modern, middle-aged, white, Western males. It blows unimpeded through the church like a cold wind, chilling compassion, hope, and faith. It persists because it supports authoritarianism. Patriolatry promotes the authoritarianism that promulgates it. Like two drunks, they prop each other up.
Because God is pictured as patriarch, some church leaders believe they are justified in hammering us into subordination, in making us eternal children who must live forever under a patriarchal control we can neither outgrow nor [p.162]outlive. Because patriolatry sees God as hierarch, it fortifies the notion of a leadership elite, appointed by God and grouped into councils and quorums ordered in ascending ranks of power, mimicking the seraphim and cherubim, and even the trinity itself, while claiming the ultimate power to govern and control, to judge and punish. Patriolatry makes our role clear: we are to obey our leaders, serve them, sustain them, sacrifice for them, and love them for the privilege. The worship of God, the commandment-giver, reinforces the church’s claim to issue, multiply, and enforce commands as a way of preserving purity. The image of God as sacrificer of his Son serves as a model for the exercise of control over others, authorizing the church not only to demand sacrifices of its members, but to sacrifice its members in the interests of the church, its mission, its image. Because God is pictured as a sovereign without accountability, his leaders with little or no accountability may lay upon members the heavy burdens of guilt, confusion, depression, anger, doubt, rejection, alienation, fear, and spiritual abuse and not lift even the least of these with the littlest of their fingers.
Patriolatry then is the source of the modern church’s false concept of priesthood and authority. In Mormonism, priesthood authority and power is derived from Jesus Christ, who sent angels to call and ordain the apostles of the restoration, giving them the power of the ancient apostles that whatsoever they should bind on earth should be bound in heaven and whatsoever they should loose on earth should be loosed in heaven. However, Christ has never given to any of his apostles the power to loose on earth what Christ has bound in heaven nor to bind on earth what Christ has loosed in heaven. Thus the apostles have no power to act contrary to the will of Jesus. They cannot change his words, his ordinances, his gospel. Priesthood is inseparably connected [p.163]with the powers of heaven and cannot be used to oppose the spirit or will of God.
This view of priesthood as an authority that is limited by the will of Christ, divided among leaders and members, and balanced by the spiritual gifts is not the prevailing view of the current church leadership. That view was set forth by Elder Boyd K. Packer in his talk to the All-Church Coordinating Committee on May 18, 1993. There he set forth the source and pith of his theory of priesthood leadership. In 1955 Elder Packer, as a seminaries and institutes administrator, visited Elder Harold B. Lee in Salt Lake City. In this private meeting Elder Lee reportedly made an unelaborated comment that became the seed of Elder Packer’s understanding of priesthood authority. Elder Lee said, in essence, that church administrators and local leaders should not advocate the causes of members to leaders, but the policies of leaders to members. Leaders are to lead, and followers are to follow. It is very simple. Elder Packer gave Elder Lee’s comment the force of scripture and built his life of priesthood service around it. Elder Packer’s advice to us is never to face our leaders in opposition, but to face the direction our leaders face without question.
Elder Packer does not consider in his talk that one may be loyal to both leaders and members by being loyal first to Christ Jesus and to the Holy Ghost. I am confident of this higher principal, in part, because I learned it from Harold B. Lee. For I too had a personal interview with Elder Lee in October 1966. I had a doctrinal question as I was leaving on my mission to Italy and found myself in Elder Lee’s office. His advice to me was this: In order to test the truth of any inspiration, statement, or purported revelation—even of a church leader—it must be subjected to four tests: First, it must not be inconsistent with the scriptures; second, it must not [p.164]be inconsistent with the teachings of the prophets living and dead; third, it must not be inconsistent with one’s own spiritual promptings and experiences; and fourth, it must not be inconsistent with the principle of divine love. The fewer of these tests the claimed revelation or inspiration passed the less reliable it was. This means that members have the right and duty to put the claims of their leaders to the test. I accept this teaching not merely because Elder Lee told it to me, but because it itself is not inconsistent with scripture, with the teachings of the prophets living and dead, with my own spiritual feelings, and with the love of God.
There are those, like Elder Packer, who see it otherwise. They believe priesthood leadership is entitled to blind obedience without the application of these tests. Few are the members willing to oppose the view of Elder Packer and his proteges. Attempts to apply these four tests are dismissed or thwarted as dissent, opposition, or apostasy. Members who complain about coercive leadership are rebuked. Their letters to general authorities are returned to their stake presidents with instructions to call the members in. Those who continue to object are often intimidated, disciplined, and silenced. Once this happens, they are shunned as apostates by more conservative members, who numb themselves into believing blind obedience will keep them from being led astray. These members conveniently forget the track record of their leaders: Aaron built the golden calf. Moses was denied entrance into the promised land for taking glory to himself. Peter denied Christ three times. Joseph Smith promoted the ill-fated Kirtland Bank. Brigham Young taught that blacks were an inferior race. Wilford Woodruff held that the Second Coming would occur in the 1890s. J. Reuben Clark viewed Hitler positively even after the war began. Joseph Fielding Smith prophesied that men would never [p.165]reach the moon. Bruce R. McConkie insisted that blacks would never get the priesthood. The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve supported the Vietnam War, mainly to preserve the church’s patriotic image. Meanwhile, the church’s image has received blow after blow from its leaders: Though President Ezra Taft Benson once urged members to be ultraconservative, Elder Malcolm Jeppson and others now seek to excommunicate those same members for their ultra-conservativism. Meanwhile, Elder Packer insists that feminists, homosexuals, and intellectuals should not be publicly comforted, but quarantined. Elder Dallin H. Oaks counsels the use of obsolete prayer language to encourage, not greater intimacy, but greater distance from and respect for God. Elder Russell Nelson suggests that whenever he or his apostolic brothers enter a room, members should stand. I agree. We should stand—and leave. Moses was told, “Take off the shoes of thy feet”—maybe we should just take off. Am I mocking? Yes, but not God. Besides, does not such elitism deserve to be mocked? Is there any doubt that our prophets do not always speak as prophets? Do we not all recall the photograph of the First Presidency and Elder Packer posing with Mark Hofmann and examining with approval the Hofmann forgeries they wrongly thought were authentic historical documents?
In spite of my harsh recital of their errors, I do not fault our leaders for these mistakes. We all err. We all fall short of our callings. No one is infallible. What I fault is the pretense that our leaders do not or cannot err on important questions. What I object to is the counsel that we always face the same way our leaders face. This admonition only promotes tunnel vision. To see the full compass of 360 degrees we must stand face to face. If we don’t want our backs exposed, we must face each other. This does not have to be confrontational.
[p.166]We can do so in a circle of love, a circle of friends, a circle of prayer. Even if we disagree, we can have good will and respect each others gifts. Why do we forget that prophesy is a gift, not an office? Why do we confuse the worship of God with obedience to leaders? to trust in the arm of flesh? Why do we let leaders rule as “lords over God’s heritage” rather than examples to the flock? to feed upon rather than feed the sheep? to place barriers between us and God?
We do it because we live in a Descartesian silence where almost no one hears God anymore. We are desperate for prophets to link us with the divine because we hear little or nothing. This is unlike the view that obtained in the pagan or medieval worlds when people perceived God all around. We live in the declining decades of the Western world where the voice of God is blotted out by the sound of our inventions and our fears. We are much more desperate for God. So, we think we need prophets to maintain radio contact with deity. But this is not the true role of true prophets. True prophets are called to break down the illusion that we are isolated from God. Their job is to show us that we are all connected to God at all times, not to insinuate themselves between us and the Holy Spirit. Rather than teach us all to be prophets, they make us co-dependent on them, arresting our spiritual growth. We allow this because some of us, like some of them, prefer certainty over holiness, childishness over maturity, and the simplicity of idolatry over the complexity of truth and love. Yes, they encourage us to get personal revelation, but only the kind that confirms their authority, not the kind that tests it. The scripture warns us against this mistake. In Doctrine and Covenants 64:38-40 we read:
For it shall come to pass that the inhabitants of Zion shall judge all things pertaining to Zion. And liars [p.167]and hypocrites shall be proved by them, and they who are not apostles and prophets shall be known. And even the bishop, who is a judge, and his counselors, if they are not faithful in their stewardships shall be condemned and others shall be planted in their stead.
Perhaps the worst effect of our false picture of God is that it has begotten a false concept of salvation. Emphasis on God the Father, rather than God the Son, has shifted our emphasis from the New Testament to the most legalistic parts of the Old. For this reason we see salvation in terms of obedience rather than faith, law rather than spirit, and works rather than grace. A story may illustrate my point: In my Salt Lake City ward, the following object lesson was given by a primary teacher to the small children in her class. The teacher handed to each child two new clothes pins, the kind that snap shut by the action of a spring. The teacher asked the children to hold the clothes pins open for a whole minute. Those who would keep this commandment, would receive a treat. Unfortunately, the clothes pins were brand new ones with stiff springs. The children tried hard, but not one of them could hold open a single clothes pin for the allotted minute. The teacher was crestfallen. No child had been able to keep the commandment. This would have been a perfect time to drive home a point about the unconditional love and grace of Jesus Christ. But instead the teacher sighed with mild exasperation and said, “Well, I’ll go ahead and give you the treats anyway. But I want you to know that your Heavenly Father wouldn’t do this.” When I told this story to one church leader, he said: “She shouldn’t have given them the treats. Now they’ll think they don’t have to do anything.”
The message is loud and clear: Heavenly Father demands compliance. His love is conditioned on our obedi-[p.168]ence. This graceless soteriology is expressed by the oft-repeated Sunday school slogan: Salvation is a gift, but eternal life is earned. This means that salvation from mortality through the resurrection is a gift given to us because we cannot resurrect ourselves. But redemption or eternal life, which is salvation from the punishment for sin, is something that must earned because, as many of us believe, it is in our power to receive, understand, and obey the commandments and to perfect ourselves through obedience. This concept of salvation is essentially a concept of self-atonement that is everywhere contradicted by Mormon scripture. It persists in the church because it is the soteriology of choice of the correlation department and based on the theory that salvation is a result of natural cause and effect rather than divine mystery: If we obey the commandments (the cause), then we will be saved (the effect). We fortify this view with anecdotes about how people can indeed become perfect at tithing, perfect at church attendance, perfect at temple attendance, perfect at obeying our leaders. We forget that we need to be cleansed not only from our sins, but from our inclination to sin, from our low IQs, our blindness, our lack of knowledge, bad judgment, our egocentricity, our poor memories, our weaknesses, our lack of energy, our tendency to simplify—in short, we must be saved from ungodliness.
Modern Mormonism’s false concept of salvation refuses to see that the perfection of our spirits is just as mysterious and unachievable by human effort as the perfection of our bodies and that each is a product of the grace of God, not of human effort. This is made plain in the New Testament story of the palsied man who was brought before Jesus to be healed. Jesus said to him, “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee” (Matt. 2:5). The scribes, hearing it, said in their hearts: This [p.169]man commits blasphemy. Jesus said to them: Which is easier? to forgive sins or heal the sick? To show you that the Son of Man has power to forgive sins, I will also heal this man’s palsy. And he did. The scribes were enraged not because Jesus healed the man, but because he forgave him apart from the ritual and legal requirements of the law of Moses. What the scribes saw as blasphemy was the establishment by Christ of a mechanism of salvation based on the direct relationship between the individual and God, thereby rendering salvation free and without price (as declared by Isaiah) without the intercession of law, priest, or church. The Book of Mormon, consistent with the New Testament view, also teaches that salvation—both immortality and eternal life—is dependent only upon the healing power of Christ.
Salvation is available not through works but through grace. We receive this not by fear but by faith, not by obedience to law but by a change of heart, not by birth but by rebirth—of water and of the spirit of the living God. Yes, certain evil practices must be avoided. For Mormons certain ordinances of grace are to be received. But no one is empowered to prescribe the positive actions we must take to please God. We are to take in the breath of the spirit and walk in a newness of life, following the promptings of the Most High, without intercession. Obedience, works, and judgment are replaced by faith, hope, and charity. God is no longer our enemy but our lover. He loves us and comforts us in our sins, so he can save us from our sins. Without his unconditional prevenient love, we could not have faith, or hope, or charity. Repentance would be impossible. Our sins would remain. It is because God loved us while we were yet sinners that we have hope of a life without sin. It is on this very point that the church is unclear because we see God as the giver of the law rather than as the one in whom the law had its end, as [p.170]sacrificer rather than as sacrifice, as prosecutor rather than as accused, as judge rather than as condemned.
The idolatry of the Heavenly Father is demeaning not only to the Son of God, but to the Holy Ghost, who—as the female member of the Godhead—provides us with hope, nurture, and comfort, as well as reproof, revelation, and charismatic or spiritual authority. Elder Packer addressed the issue of comfort on May 18, 1993. He read a portion of three letters from troubled Saints: the first, from a homosexual; the second, from a feminist; the third, from an intellectual— all seeking comfort from the church. Brother Packer then asked the following rhetorical question: “How can we give solace to those who are justified without giving license to those who are not?” In other words, he asks, how can the church comfort the clean without inadvertently comforting the unclean? In a drought of love, how can the church let the rain fall on the just, without letting it fall on the unjust? Elder Packer gave the simple answer: the church should not comfort such members—at least not publicly. In his view, the corporate church is exempt from Jesus’ teachings: The church need not do good to its perceived enemies, or walk an extra mile with them, or give them a coat and a cloak, or turn the other cheek. The church, instead, must stick with the ninety and nine and resist the temptation to go after the one. In this counsel, the feminine aspects of God that long for and give hope to the lost, the prodigal, are denied; the Holy Spirit, quenched; the spiritual gifts, restricted; and personal spiritual experiences, marginalized—all in the interest of gratifying the church’s insatiable and obsessive lust for purity.
This obsession has had poisonous effects on the modern Mormon view of gender and sexuality. Today, most leaders and members confuse sexual repression with chastity, and [p.171]chastity with spirituality. Sexuality is viewed with envy and suspicion. Sexual pleasure is considered lewd and corrupting. Male sexual energy is acknowledged, but is shamed as weakness and repressed. Often it is channeled by men into the corporate church where it is transformed and emerges as self-control and control of others. In this way many Mormon men forfeit natural affection. Loyalty replaces love, interviews replace intimacy, fraternity replaces foreplay, rectitude replaces erections, and ordinations replace orgasms. Power entices with pornographic intensity. Men lust for authority, fantasizing not centerfolds of naked women, but organizational-charts and photo displays of leaders ranked in seniority order. Female sexual energy is ignored or denied. In a homocentric system where God the Father is pictured as having no significant contact with women, no need of women, no interest in women and as issuing commandments and revelations from a transcendence that appears utterly innocent of the existence, aspirations, or spirituality of women, the feminine becomes irrelevant. Women are of no interest, not even as the objects of desire. Joseph Smith had, obviously, a different view. Whatever may be said of him, he did not think women uninteresting. I believe he saw them as essential to the restoration and the exercise of the fullness of the priesthood. He taught that the fullness of the priesthood could be conferred only on men and women jointly, thus acknowledging that the priestly role of women is essential to the full manifestation of priesthood power. Patriolatry denies the priesthood role of women. It prefers an apostolic dispensation of males rather than the dispensation of the fullness of the male and female priesthoods.
Patriolatry is also destructive of community because it asserts that everything belongs to the leaders. Members have no rights, only privileges that are always conditioned on [p.172]obedience. But this view flies in the face of scripture that tells us that salvation and exaltation are gifts of God, that priesthood is bestowed by revelation, and that these blessings vest in the Saints personally and are not privileges granted to us by mortals. They may not be taken from those of us who claim them by faith, by covenant. Church leaders do not keep the gate of heaven. The Lord is the keeper of the gate and employs no servant there (2 Ne. 9:41). Nor may these blessings be annulled or withdrawn arbitrarily to compel conformity. Any action to excommunicate a believing member for the purpose of coercing obedience to church leaders, church policy, or in the interest of church image is an abomination in the eyes of God, is utterly invalid, and will result in the de facto excommunication of the perpetrators who will suffer a withdrawal of the spirit and then amen to the priesthood of those leaders (D&C 121:37).
All is not well in Zion—not because some people are imperfect, but because there is a steady, relentless advancement of an heretical concept of God that fosters an ever-increasing tendency in church leaders to preach and interpret the gospel of Jesus Christ in legalistic and controlling terms thereby undermining the Saints’ faith in Christ’s unconditional love and power to save. I believe all Zion’s ills, including spiritual abuse, spring directly or indirectly from modern Mormonism’s oversimplified God-concept.
To combat idolatry it was once thought necessary to destroy the idols. Iconoclasm, however, does not usually result in the elimination of idolatry, but in the destruction of a lot of art work. Idolatry, after all, is not in the icon, but in the idolater. And since idolaters are people whom we are to love and respect, dealing with idolatry boils down to persuasion. This is tough work—principally because idolaters see themselves as guardians of true religion and view any attack upon it as persecution or apostasy. Discussions turn into [p.173]arguments which turn into feuds which settle into permanent hostilities housed in schisms. What do we do?
First, we must not fear excommunication. I know our voices can be muted, even silenced by excommunication. But they can also be muted and silenced by our fear of excommunication. Either way, the silence works in favor of those abusing power. The choice is simple: Shall we silence ourselves or be silenced by others. I say let others do their own work. I will not live a life of self-imposed silence simply to avoid wrongful discipline. Second, we must admit that the modern church is a dysfunctional family: with some leaders in the role of abusive parents, some members in the role of brothers and sisters in denial, others are like siblings in exile, while others staunchly defend what they wish were true but is not. In this growing chaos, we must stand firm and tell the truth in love despite the pain. Third, we must continue to subject the teachings and practices of our leaders to the tests of scripture, prophets, personal spirituality, and charity. These tests cannot settle all differences. But there is no need for this. We need not settled questions but continuing revelation. We must see our religion in ever-fresh contexts, in ever-fresh readings, in ever-opening vistas of knowledge and experience. We should not seek to be at ease in Zion. We should glory in tribulations, live graciously with doubt, eschew rigidity, accept diversity, avoid complacency, comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable. Only when Zion is uneasy with its sins and shortcomings can all be well.
Mormonism claims to be the true church restored as it was in the time of Christ. I believe in the restoration, but I do not believe it is complete. More must take place. This is suggested by the mythic structure of Mormon history: Joseph Smith, according to the Book of Mormon, was not a type of Peter or Paul but of Joseph who was sold into Egypt. Brigham [p.174]Young was a modern Moses, leading the exodus of the pioneer Saints. There is evidence that the first pioneers carried with them the body of Joseph Smith, even as the Israelites of old carried before them into the promised land the sarcophagus of Joseph of old. The Mormon promised land is strangely similar to the land of Israel—a desert with a dead salt sea connected to a fresh body of water by a river which the pioneers named the Jordan. Like ancient Israel, Mormons experienced a patriarchal period (complete with polygamy), then a period of settlement and expansion, then a period of temple building, then in the twentieth century a Talmudic-type period when teachings were developed and solidified. In broad strokes, Mormonism appears to be a microcosm of the mythic journey of the House of Israel. We seem to be approaching on that mythic continuum a time comparable to the time of Christ’s birth. For now the church is a settled feature of America, even as Israel, two millennia ago, was a fixture of the Roman Empire. In the modern church we have zealots, essenes, sadducees, pharisees, and far flung members like Jews in the diaspora. We also have ever-increasing numbers of members who are looking for inner life, for renewal, for the coming of the Christ—even as the pre-Christian Jews looked for deliverance, for peace, for the coming of the Messiah. The grand themes of Israel’s story seem to have been recapitulated in Mormon history. Is this the prelude to some apocalypse? If so, what could it be? In the words of William B. Yeats: “What rough beast, its hour come round at last,/ Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?” (“Second Coming,” 1920-21)
The Heavenly Father was revealed 4,000 years ago, and the Redeeming Son 2,000 years ago. Could it be time now for the revelation of the Bride, the Comforting Woman of Holiness, the Lady, the Queen of queens and of her connec-[p.175]tion to the earth, the environment, the heavens, the angels, and the Father and the Son whom we have heretofore worshipped? Could we be standing on the eve of a second restoration, when—as the Book of Mormon prophesies—the Lord shall “set his hand again the second time to recover his people” (2 Ne. 25:17; 29:1)? Must the same Goddess who in the beginning condescended first be in the end unveiled last? Must She, the last God to be worshipped, be the first to come again as part of the final parousia?
I cannot say. I say only that all is not well—nor is it likely ever again to be well—in Zion. For unless there is a spiritual revival of mythic dimensions, the restoration, I fear, is doomed to resolve itself into yet another sect full of ethical pretensions and xenophobic aspirations—and nothing more. But if we Saints can be shaken from our idolatries, but if we can be roused from our fawning fascination with ourselves, but if we can abandon our obsession with power and patriolatry—”but if our lives are spared again, to see the Saints their rest obtain, O how we’ll make this chorus swell: All is well, all is well.”