Subject: Me and Tommy Monson...or, how much does the church respect its members?
Date: Apr 13 23:02 2005
Author: Tal Bachman
I believe that if the church really felt a sense of respect - and responsibility - for its members, it would try to bring clarity to the many internal contradictions within the world of Mormon doctrine.
Despite the delusional bleatings of salaried church defenders about how "beautifully simple" and "simply beautiful" the "gospel" is, with all the ever-present insinuations that if it doesn't seem this way to you, it means you've "lost the spirit" and your "mind is clouded with sin", the fact is that not even the president of the church, Gordon B. Hinckley, can provide a coherent explanation of even the most basic of church doctrines. It shouldn't be a surprise, then, that no one else can, despite what we all used to tell ourselves.
Church defenders like to use words like "fluid" and "open" when describing "official church doctrine"; the truth is that euphemisms can't hide the fact that it is simply embarrassingly chaotic and nonsensical, carrying dozens of internal contradictions (read "impossibilities"). I regret that, but it is the truth.
And on the Larry King Live show, after years of FARMS chaos and his own obfuscations, GBH actually said that his role was to "declare doctrine". Wow.
Then, he puts out in the Ensign last year an announcement telling members to STOP writing in letters for clarification on what "church doctrine" is. So...church members are told repeatedly that they will be held responsible for not obeying the gospel, and for teaching it to their children...but when they wonder what it is, having been provoked into wondering what it is by the very obfuscations and revisions of Gordon B. Hinckley himself, he announces NOT a final clarification...but a demand that everyone stop trying to find out what it is! "Stop asking me!"
This strikes me as very disrespectful to the many sincere members of the church, who find themselves, much like we might have, bombarded by many conflicting answers about what should be an easily answerable question - IF the church were even close to what it claimed to be. Is it really too much to ask of a guy who demands to be obeyed as CHRIST'S REGENT, that he at least stick to ONE STORY? Yes, it is. The church can't even stick to one story on their founding scripture, the Book of Mormon. It's totally embarrassing.
This screwed up situation, on a few occasions, touched me personally (this was prior to the announcement that we all stop asking "prophets" what "doctrines" we were actually supposed to believe). Once, I wrote to Dallin Oaks raising a question, in the politest way I could, about a particular church doctrine which he had spoken about; his response was to tell me to write to the First Presidency about it.
I then wrote to the First Presidency as per his request, labeling my letter in large letters, "PERSONAL & CONFIDENTIAL". Thomas Monson sent back via his secretary Michael Watson what appeared to be a form letter recommending I read a number of scriptures - which I had actually already referenced and referred to in my original letter (great). But he didn't send his letter to me. He sent it to my Branch President, along with a copy of my original letter - the one marked "PERSONAL & CONFIDENTIAL" - for my BP [local church leader] to read and keep.
Why, after asking me to keep confidences vis-a-vis the temple and everything else, did Thomas Monson feel no hesitation in violating MY confidence?
I'd only sent the letter to him because an apostle told me to. Why did he make a copy of it and send it someone else? To embarrass me? As though I'd done something wrong in asking for clarification on something I HAD BASED MY ENTIRE LIFE ON, and which the current president was, in some measure, then REVISING OUT OF EXISTENCE? To deter further inquiries?
AND, of course...I'm not allowed a copy of the form letter, am I? Not that I asked for one - but my BP informed me that he had been instructed to keep Monson's letter, and not give me a copy. He was only allowed to read its contents to me, which he did - over the phone, no doubt suddenly fearing that I'd gone insane, and might snatch it or something.
I was a flame-throwing (although increasingly bewildered) member at that time, all my kids named after prophets, the whole deal, holding down two very time-consuming callings - gospel doctrine teacher and counselor - and in retrospect, all I can say is that a long list could be compiled of all the ways in which the church is forever avoiding any responsibility for anything it says or does, shifting every burden, physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual, on to members, at the same time its officers (and that includes me while I was in) can act in subtly, and not so subtly, abusive or disrespectful ways. They're so sensitive to being held responsible for anything, that they won't even send return letters back to people. (You end up thinking of Hitler keeping all references to the extermination verbal, so there's no paper trail. Sorry for the Hitler reference, I'm kind of sick of them myself.)
This little experience was insignificant compared to those of others. And yet, it, like all the others, is just another indication of what very much appears to be a double standard - one justified, like all double standards, on one group's claim of superior authority - which is the same as saying, one group's claim of superiority over another.
I am not so much bitter as totally amazed that I was so blind for so long.
Since Hinckley has outsourced the church's public relations [NYC public relations firm], something that divine revelation, one would think, would be more than enough to handle, why doesn't he outsource the task of coming up with a coherent doctrine for his church? I think, seriously, that would be one important way that the church could show genuine respect for its members.
FARMS, which appears to provide something of a cover of deniability for "doctrinal revision", has failed miserably in this task, to the point of a handicapped-kid-messing- his-pants-during-the-school-play awkwardness. I literally have no doubt in my mind that nearly anyone on this planet - outside the church - could sit down and hammer something out for the church which gets rid of most of its internal contradictions. And that includes the "Gentile Jews" over at Edelman.
Can you imagine the conversations THOSE guys have had over the past few years, dealing with the church?
I wrote a post saying Benson had been my favourite church president. Maybe I should amend that to Hinckley, since he has made it clearer than any other church president, that he does not believe himself to be a prophet in the way he is reputed to be, nor that he believes the church to be what members commonly believe it to be. And Monson...well, it's going to be interesting when he takes the reins. They say he is the most vain of all the GA's; and apparently, that's really saying something.
Anyway, it is no wonder there is such a hemorrhaging of members with these guys running the ship. Nearly every single thing about the way they run it screams, "it is not what it claims". It's totally nuts.
Subject: Well said, I say.
Date: Apr 13 23:40
It is rather hard to imagine, once one has rejected all the nutty claims, just what made one hold onto it for so long. I have a hard time with that one myself. On the other hand, I think this: the only way one ever truly can come to terms with Mormonism is by, in the first place, taking it very seriously. A hard-won liberation is, in my view, more productive than a simple or easy-going rejection. My instincts tell me that General Authorities, in general, don't take it seriously enough. Most of them are ambitious and have been seeking high church office all their lives. In this sense they're too corrupt, if very sublimely so, to have really asked themselves hard questions. In short, as you imply, GAs are not the paragons of virtue that TBMs regard them to be. They lack self-honesty, plain and simple. Too afraid of being nobody without their church callings, they can't look at things with real honesty. But, yeah, just my two cents.
Subject: I know exactly what you mean about Hinckley
Date: Apr 13 23:48
I was on a mission when he gave Mike Wallace that interview. I remember watching it at the mission office and feeling really strange about Hinckley's explanation of how he was "inspired." Here I thought that this guy walked and talked with Jesus on a regular basis AND that he had received direct revelation on where I should serve a mission, and here he was quoting some odd passage from Isaiah about the wind and waves and some such crap. I didn't expect him to say, "JC and I hang-out" but I did expect him to say exactly what we (missionaries) were saying about him: he is God's mouthpiece. I guess I expected God's true prophet to be bold.
BTW - about the BP not giving you the letter, that's creepy!
Subject: I have dealt with Brother Tom personally and he is vainglorious.
Date: Apr 14 02:20
I have related my encounters in other threads and won't retrace those steps. I know from a very reliable source that he is ridiculously demanding, to the point of abuse, and can't keep an admin. He once was furious when the donuts delivered to the brethren at their Thursday morning temple meeting weren't the kind he liked and he insisted the aide return with the appropriate ones.
Subject: Positively frightening
Date: Apr 14 02:41
All of his talks are devoid of intellectual or spiritual (even by TBM standards) contents as if they are tailored for third graders and/or nursing home residents.
And yet everything I have ever heard about the man personally suggests he's a bullying egomaniac with zero regard for the "little people."
Do you suppose Stalin was nice to kittens?
Subject: Very good post
Date: Apr 14 03:10
Author: Amelia A.
Thanks for relating this. You know what kills me? The image that TBM's have of us once we leave. When I read posts such as yours, I hear once again the betrayal of good will and honest inquiry. Sincere questioning is morphed into rebelliousness and ungodliness. I hate the twisting of our motives and intentions by those who have held themselves out as good shepherds, from our parents to our local leaders to the GA's.
They have betrayed those of us that believed that god was running this church and we have been rejected and punished for seeking truth and knowledge. What a gap between our youthful assumptions and the reality of our adult disillusionments. I never would have believed that seeking truth would have forced me into exile. We truly thought this was our home for eternity, and it couldn't even hold up for this lifetime.
Subject: About NMUGrad's point...Is Monson potentially scary?
Date: Apr 14 04:07
Author: Tal Bachman
I'm just thinking...Monson's talks are totally devoid of substance (unlike, say, Packer's or Oaks'); he comes across as completely vapid. I used to sit there silently watching General Conference, trying to figure out what Monson's talks were about WHILE HE WAS ACTUALLY GIVING THEM. It would be really difficult to describe this to someone who'd never been a Mormon. How can a guy speak for twenty minutes, and not actually say anything about anything? Yet, it seemed as though he would.
So, I don't know if Thomas Monson is a closet genius who's furiously reading through his scriptures every night, but who keeps this part of himself secret. It's possible. I know guys who are dumb as rocks who write deep sounding songs, and people think they're geniuses, and vice versa. So you never know.
But what if Thomas Monson is really that vapid? And...what if it is really true, as I hear without exception from people who have dealt with him, that his ego is gargantuan to the point of actually seeming inexplicable to average humans? You mix vapidity and megalomania together...and stick him at the top of an organization, the internal psychological dynamics of which have not changed since the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and yeah, you have some serious potential for lunacy.
People on here always worry about Packer becoming president. But Packer strikes me as earnestly being rooted at least in some model of the gospel which has actual substance, whether you like the substance or not. The thing is, that Packer, like Benson, thinks the gospel matters. If you believe that, then you don't try to revise it out of existence, or really take into some whole new weird direction, as did Joseph Smith regularly did, or as Hinckley has to a smaller extent.
Hinckley and Monson give every impression that they're pretty clear on the real point, the real secret at the top of the pyramid: "we are the gods". (If so, the FARMS guys are really being played). In over forty years as a GA, Monson's never seen God show up and announce that the latest decision of the twelve was a mistake. And he doesn't seem like the kind of guy to think about things like this. He seems very clear that whatever is decided goes - and though he no doubt believes in God, he betrays no worry that anything he might say or do might incur God's disapproval. I don't see Packer as the same kind of guy, though. I think he really believes that the gospel matters; I think he thinks God is watching, and is very much concerned with how God might view his actions. If that is the case, I don't see him veering too much in any direction.
Anyway, when we talk about separatism in Canada, everyone says Quebec - but I've always said if anyone goes first, it will be Alberta. And when we talk about loons running the church, it seems to me there might be more potential for lunacy with Monson at the helm (supposing he is the vapid egomaniac people say he is, which I hope he isn't), than with Packer. Hopefully, though, for members who still have no idea the church could be anything other than the one true church, both will keep a very even keel.
Lurkers might chuckle at all this. But if we could rewind to 1985, with Benson in full stride...could ANYONE have imagined that a church president would in a few years announce that it wasn't official church doctrine that God was once a man? That he would allow articles posted on the church site which essentially disavow what Joseph, Jesus, and Moroni all said about the Book of Mormon?! That he would tell Larry King that he doesn't know what happens when we die?! It would have seemed totally surreal. If any TBM would have seen Donny Osmond say any such thing, he would have scorned him as weak, sucking up to the world. And yet the Hinckster is making, and allowing statements, that would have caused any one of us, if we'd made them in public, possibly to have been excommunicated for apostacy not all that long ago.
I'm feeling a real love for reality right now. It has a way of coming out on top. It humbles all, sooner or later, even all the "one, true churches" out there.
Subject: Status Quo
Date: Apr 14 09:31
I seem to remember that everyone thought Benson would do all sorts of radical (read harsh) things once he became prez and that never happened. Granted, he was mostly enfeebled by then, but he had about a year or two of lucidity didn't he?
I've always assumed Monson would just be a Hinckley redux.
Sometimes I wonder if the guys at the top have any power at all. Who is holding the strings?
Subject: an astute observation, Tal. you hit that nail squarely on the head.
Date: Apr 14 04:22
Author: Random Lamanite with Insomnia
That is such a lack of respect for members, and evasion of their purported prophetic responsibility.
For someone who requires unquestioning obedience of their minions, you'd think they'd not be so blatant in demonstrating that they've not earned it.
I'd never thought about Monson that way, relative to Packer. Very interesting to contemplate.
Subject: Re: Me and Tommy Monson...or, how much does the church respect its members?
Date: Apr 14 06:26
Author: i cannot reveal it at this time
It's interesting to me that they stopped asking questions. They never had good answers, so they probably got sick of wasting money on form letters. In any case, you'd think they would want you to ask them all questions so that they could have total control over information.
On the other hand, local leader that don't know anything always can play the 'Feel My Testimony' card and everything is OK. It's hard to get feelings from a form letter.
Speaking of form letters, Monson's talks always seem like fill in the blank speeches. 'The other day I was helping a (choose one: old woman, paperboy, single mother, less active member) and I (choose one: prayed for her, helped her move, drove him to baseball practice). I then felt the spirit come upon me...' Someone should do some research as to how many times he says 'I' and 'me'.
Subject: This goes back to my old theme of the brethren being administrators, not ministers.
Date: Apr 14 08:14
Author: Stray Mutt
Their loyalties are to the institution, not the members. If they truly wanted to minister unto the fold, they would, as you said, Tal, do all they could to make the gospel clear and coherent -- simply beautiful/beautifully simple. They would answer as many inquiries as possible. But they don't, because they don't want to be distracted by their true mission: running the Kingdom.
In reality the members are there to serve the Kingdom, not the other way around. The gospel is just the schtick that draws people in. What is the gospel? It's whatever works at the moment to extract obedience. And, as we all know, obedience is the first law of heaven -- and organizational control.
In a way, the brethren are like the kiddie photographer who waves various appealing objects to attract the child's attention. Oh lookie lookie lookie at Forever Families! Lookie lookie at Blessings! Lookie lookie at Clean Living! There you go, smile for the camera! And when when one of the shiny objects makes too may kids cry, it's put away in the trunk.
Subject: I had the same thing happen to me
Date: Apr 14 08:47
After Hinckley's obfuscation in a newspaper interview about God once being a man, I wrote him a letter asking what range of options members have regarding the doctrine of the Godhead. I wanted clarification about what he said. Instead of sending me an answer directly, I received a form letter back saying they had sent the answer to my Bishop and I was to ask my Bishop what the answer was after identifying to my Bishop that I was the one who sent the letter to Hinckley. I never did go to my Bishop to find out what the letter said.
The Church doesn't give people direct answers because the answer is either too much of an embarrassment or because the Church can't figure it out either.
Subject: happened to me too. and then
Date: Apr 14 14:36
the bishop tried to force me into some admission of sin, with the express purpose of taking my TR [temple recommend] away from me (he told me at the end of the inquisition, when he couldn't find anything to convict me, that he had called me in specifically to find a reason to rescind my TR - on the SP [stake president's] orders)
Subject: The Church Leadership and Confidentiality: They've got it completely backwards...
Date: Apr 14 09:00
Author: Perry Noid
In other churches (at least ones that don't have a lot to hide) the whole purpose of confidentiality between clergy and individual members of their church or congregation IS TO PROTECT THE PRIVACY AND REPUTATION OF THAT INDIVIDUAL MEMBER. That's the way it works in doctor-patient confidentiality and in lawyer-client confidentiality as well. The professional, the expert, is expected to protect the privacy of the vulnerable people who come to them in need, seeking their assistance.
But when it comes to the General Authorities, the whole purpose of confidentiality IS TO PROTECT THE REPUTATION OF THE CHURCH FROM THE WORDS OF ITS OWN LEADERS. The GAs don't want to be held accountable for anything they do, write or say in private to individual members or small groups of members. It's always off the record and on a non-attribution basis. The very last thing on the minds of the GAs is the thought that they should be protecting the privacy of the trusting and vulnerable congregants who have sought out their counsel and advice.
It always strikes me as funny that these guys who call themselves prophets, seers, revelators and apostles are always trying to "take the fifth."
Subject: I had a similar response with a form letter....
Date: Apr 14 11:24
which actually resulted in my search for the truth.
I was trying to get a temple cancellation from my 1st husband who I married at 18. It is quite a process- we had to have interviews with the bishop, stake president and write letters & have our ex's write their letters (my-ex wouldn't, so a phone call from the bishop and a letter about their phone call was ok too). We had to send it all in to the first presidency and wait for them to grant us the cancellation so we could get sealed. We got our temple recommends back & were doing work for the dead when the stake president came over one Sunday with some letters that were sent to him from the first presidency. Basically, they wanted more information. They wanted letters that stated all of the sins we committed- regardless if we'd repented for them, since the first time we went through the temple.
That really pissed me off! It makes no sense. We were already GOING to the temple for the dead.... suddenly our past sins that we'd already repented for can actually come back to haunt us? What about "remember your sins no more"? That "form letter" signed by the first presidency made me question everything, and eventually made me wake up to the reality of Mormonism.
Subject: More evidence that LDS Inc. is not a Christian organization
Date: Apr 14 12:17
The people in LDS Inc. revel in hearing people talk about their sins to them. They're certifiably a cult.
Subject: I have two great examples of the same disrespect . . .
Date: Apr 14 13:06
A woman I know wrote the First Presidency asking what the Church's position on evolution was. She had been told it was almost word for word the same as the entry in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Actually it is slightly milder than the EoM statement, which is pretty neutral itself.
The response was sent to her SP, who read it to her over the phone, having been instructed to not give her the letter. She read the EoM version back to him, and they were both rather puzzled why all the ridiculous hush-hush run around.
BTW, for Tal, she lived in California, and Loren Dunn, area mucky-muck at the time, had several times demanded her SP "deal" with her, and the SP talked to her, and basically decided she was a fine member, and stiffed Loren, at least twice. There are a few brave souls out there.
The other sign of disrespect is that if you look at older church publications, the First Presidency is listed as trustee-in-trust for the church, in the copyright or ownership statement. I think somewhere in the 1990s that was changed to the Corporation of the First Presidency, and I suspect someone at Kirton McConkie law firm told them that as trustees, they have a legal obligation to report to the trustors (i.e. the members) on the details of church business, if the trustors ask.
Can't have that, doncha know, so they stopped being trustees for the members and made themselves the owners of the church. I bet that little transaction wasn't announced over the pulpit.
Subject: My experience
Date: Apr 14 15:59
While serving as a ward mission leader, I was teaching a discussion to a part-member family. At one point, the nonmember wife looked at me and said, "Christianity is so much easier -- you just accept Jesus and follow the Holy Ghost."
My post is not a defense of Christianity or any other religion but her comment was illuminating. Mormonism is so convoluted, it's hard to understand, let alone explain. Most true things possess a simple elegance. Mormonism is a mind f***.
Subject: Why the GAs won't let members keep their letters.....
Date: Apr 14 19:18
Author: Randy J.
It's simple: If the GAs respond to a member on doctrinal points, the member has a paper record of that response. So, the GAs have the bishop or BP read the letter to the member, but not keep the actual letter. That way, if in the future, the GA's response contradicts any statements of doctrine published elsewhere, the GA has plausible deniability---no paper record.
An example of this is the FP's response years ago to a member regarding the location of the Hill Cumorah. The response stated that the hill in NY is the same one referred to in the BOM. That response conflicts with modern Mopologists' "limited geography" theory, so the existence of the letter is embarrassing to church leaders.
When I was a missionary in 1975, apostle Marvin Ashton spoke in our mission and had a Q&A session afterwards. One missionary asked him a sort of controversial or difficult question, and Ashton replied, "Well, I'll give you my opinion, but if you quote me on it, I'll deny it." We all chuckled at that, but now that I know the truth about the church, his joking response is not so funny to me anymore. He as much admitted that he didn't know the answer to a question (even though he was undoubtedly asked that type of question on a regular basis), and he refused to give an authoritative answer, or be tied down to any answer.
The GAs have learned over the years that the less substantive things they utter, the better. Gone are the GAs like Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie, who boldly issued statements on doctrine and policy. The problem is that so much of what JFS and BRM said has now been disavowed or distanced away from, so modern GAs have learned to say as little as possible of substance on any subject anymore. They don't want anti-Mormons quoting their contradictory statements 20 years later.
Another reason the GAs send those responses to bishops or BPs, rather than to the questioning member, is so the local leaders can determine if the questioner is a doubter or potential troublemaker. The GAs can't personally handle such people, so they pass the problem down to local leaders, who can intimidate or guilt the questioners personally. The funny part is that the bishop or BP, whom the GAs trust in to set the member straight, may be just as much a questioner or doubter himself.