Episode 13
Alternatives of Controversy
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Alternatives of Controversy

 Episode 13  Comments  Stop Play

Exploring a range of topics about our faith considered by some to be controversial.

Hello to all my ForeverLDS listeners! If you haven't yet noticed, the Professional LDS Storytellers Workshop is up! It has been officially released. Those with aspirations to learn such secrets and techniques in an environment of faith--writing stories that preserve and celebrate our LDS whiles while competing with the best storytellers on earth--I believe will come away with some incredible insight. The cost is small, but the classes or sessions will appear steadily over the next year, so aspiring authors can really focus on each topic. Just go to the main page on ForeverLDS and click on the Workshop link in the lower right corner. We had to sort of combine it with the donations link until we finish the programming that separates out the different elements of foreverLDS, but you're definitely buying a teaching course. Interviews with other authors will also likely appear here on the Workshop rather than the regular podcast. I hope the information is worth listening to once and then again. Other features will also steadily make their way to foreverLDS. Ambitions are high, hours are few. I promise those who become members of foreverLDS that there's a lot still to come.

What a week! I opened quite the floodgate with a question I posed on Facebook. I had such a good experience last week with posts my friends and followers had made regarding questions that I'd had regarding why one of our Apostles had made certain statements about Joseph Smith in the October General Conference. So this week I decided to just ask, "What are some of the other genuine concerns that members of the Church have had regarding certain doctrines of the LDS faith?" Talk about opening up a floodgate! I just spend the last several hours re-reading all the responses in that post, because the objective was in essence to discover from that a topic that I might focus upon for this week's podcast. So I hoped tonight one of those responses might pop out to me and crystallize as THE TOPIC I ought to address. All week long I've pondered this, and a few days ago I'd sort of decided I wasn't particularly interested in discussing any one of them! Not a single one struck me as something I was particularly excited to talk about this week. I seriously considered just bagging the idea and focusing on a topic that I found personally intriguing--some faith-affirming section of scripture. I was drinking in some of the writings of the Prophet Nephi last night and I was enthralled by the beauty of what I was reading. Why not just read a block of pure scripture and let it speak for itself, let the verses testify for themselves of the obvious reality that there's no way that these powerful, profound, sacred verses could not have come to us except by the revelation, from the mind of a true Prophet of God?

But here were all these matters of serious concern that had been expressed by followers and friends! Was I just going to ignore them? Honestly, that didn't seem such a bad idea. Let these matters percolate for a few weeks so I could address them individually and perhaps do a better job at addressing them. Still, that didn't seem where my heart wanted to go. After re-reading the entire thread, I decided I couldn't ignore so many sincere and thoughtful posts. The variety of souls who made contributions was one of the most interesting aspects of the experience. Among them were active, gung-ho Church members who were expressing heart-felt testimonies, alongside disaffected members who'd years ago fallen away from the Church and wanted to rant and rave about one topic or another, generally the issues that had probably played a role in driving them out of the faith. Then there were others who made posts who, it seemed, were hanging onto their membership by the fingernails, on the very edge of abandoning the Church. Finally, there were those who seemed to be active and striving to live the Gospel who were nevertheless struggling with particular doctrines, in some cases a doctrine or matter of Church history that had bothered them for years.

The actual controversies themselves were really not all that numerous. For the most part it boiled down to about five categories. Let me see if I can summarize them. It surprised me somewhat that one issue repeatedly brought up was polygamy in Church history. Really, I thought? After the Church officially abandoned this practice more than a century ago this was a topic that so many still found difficult to settle in their minds?

For some their struggle related to the history of polygamy as it relates to Joseph Smith. For others it was the rather slow process by which members of the Church ended the practice of polygamy, and the fact that some polygamous unions did not come to an end immediately after Wilford Woodruff's manifesto in 1894 ending the practice, and that several Apostles of the time openly rejected this change and continued to seal a number of couples, particularly outside the borders of the United States, but sometimes within the United States, and eventually that these men had to be released from their positions of authority and later excommunicated. The fact that the cessation of the practice was a gradual process that took a number of years shouldn't be all that surprising. What should people expect? There were women and children involved whose means of sustenance and support had to be carefully considered.

I think some Latter-day Saints felt President Woodruff might eventually reverse the manifesto. After all, they'd been fighting to continue to the practice for decades despite fierce opposition from the Federal Government. Was the Church really so willing to abandon something they felt so strongly was a commandment from God? It doesn't surprise me at all that it took a second manifesto from President Lorenzo Snow in the early 1900s to finally declare that anyone still performing plural marriages or advocating plural marriage was to be excommunicated from the Church. Some of those who posted concerns about this issue last week seemed sincerely stymied that it took a number of decades for the end of polygamy to fully take effect.

As far as Joseph Smith and polygamy, it's never been a secret that he advocated the practice, except during the first few years that plural marriage was advocated. Every account I've ever read seems to indicate great reluctance on the part of Joseph Smith to institute this practice to a burgeoning Church membership whose European and puritan traditions considered the idea repugnant. Yet the pressure Joseph was under, reportedly from God Himself, to institute polygamy as part of the Restoration of all Things from ancient days, was apparently overwhelming. So he relented, but only among a few select leaders and members of the Church.

In my own studies--decades ago--it always seemed plain that this was not some lascivious exploit of Joseph Smith or others for their own gratification, but was actually very carefully instituted in an air of seriousness and sacredness that today's critics of the Church absolutely refuse to acknowledge. And it was complicated. There were sealings performed for time and eternity and some that applied only to eternity. Enemies of the Church seem particularly focused upon Joseph's sealing to 14-year-old Helena Mar Kimball, daughter of the famous apostle Heber C. Kimball. The very idea is appalling to those of a modern mindset, despite the fact that marrying at such an early age in those decades were perfectly legal and that Helena herself proclaimed that the union was "for eternity only," suggesting that it did not involve physical intimacy. After Joseph's death Helena remarried and became a staunch defender of plural marriage. In fact it's striking the lack of criticism or complaint that exists amongst those 30 to 40 women reportedly sealed to Joseph Smith for time and eternity, or just for eternity, although many of the women never left any kind of written record.

There are historical claims that Joseph was also sealed to several women who were already married, sometimes at the request of the woman herself, who in several instances continued to live under the roof of her husband afterwards. Such unions are reputed to have been performed for eternity, not for time, but the record is scant, so we can't verify this. It's remarkable that none of these women ever came out against Joseph Smith over the course of their lives--as opposed, for example, to one of the polygamous wives of Brigham Young--who actively participated in the publication of anti-Mormon tracts and propaganda.

When placed in the historical context that in the 1830s and 40s this practice was entirely new and unheard of in the western hemisphere, it's important to understand that much of the motivation behind it was to create eternal family bonds--not only between parents and children, but vertically, between siblings--brothers and sisters. Today we take all that for granted because in sealings performed in today's temples such unions are described as taking place "under the covenant”, with parents, children, and siblings automatically united in a multi-generational way. So one objective in those early days was to create unbroken familial chains. A full comprehension of these matters simply didn't exist in the 1840s. I'm still not sure we fully comprehend them now. I believe Joseph Smith died before some information was fully revealed, and like so many other doctrines it was due to be revealed line upon line.

Oh, there's no doubt that Emma Smith didn't like it. Well, actually there were periods when she supported it and played a role in choosing Joseph's polygamous wives and inviting them to live in her home, but it was always a serious thorn for Emma, yet incredibly there's no written record of her true opinion. She lived another 35 years after Joseph's death and never put pen to paper on the matter.

Actually, I didn't really intend to get into all these nit-picky details which seem better suited to podcasts focused on the individual issues. The important point: is that I've never known the Church to hide any of this information. Never known it to be swept under the rug. Never known any leader to pretend it doesn't exist. The information was certainly available to me through various resources when I joined the Church in the early 1980s, but maybe I was different from the average convert because I was constantly asking questions, hungry for knowledge on any Gospel subject. I just couldn't get enough. If I wasn't satisfied with any topic, I studied it out until I was. Learning about the Gospel and Church history was an adventure for me and because I'd received a powerful spiritual witness of the truthfulness of the Church, I found it fascinating how it all fit together. Sometimes I don't think I fully understood how it fit together. I'm not sure I have a complete understanding today, but it's never really mattered over the last three and a half decades because my testimony is still based upon that core spiritual witness, since reinforced on countless occasions.

By offering that perspective I don't mean at all to make light of the fact that some Church members continue to have serious concerns about these subjects. In fact, I haven't even gotten to some of them.

Another common concern from those who posted on my page focused on gay marriage, same-sex attraction, and other issues related to the LGBT community. Many wonder how these issues could possibly fit into a Gospel framework. This is probably an appropriate place to make clear that I'm not your bishop. I'm not even an expert on issues like these. I don't struggle with them so it's undoubtedly more difficult for me to relate to the sincere pain and turmoil that some Church members experience. However, I am not convinced that such struggles are more painful or poignant than struggles I have dealt with directly. I feel we all come to this earth with what seems to be an individually tailored package of challenges. But we will be judged in the eternities by God Himself with regard to how we handled those challenges, and an ultimate judgment will not come from anyone inside the veil of mortality. Right and wrong are defined by the Savior and by General Church Authorities, and I believe part of the ultimate judgment we receive is based upon how humbly we submitted to those definitions, and how effectively we mastered our particular temptations and compulsions. At the same time these are matters that require an incredible level of compassion and empathy from the general membership of the Church, and that membership--me included--will be judged for how effectively we exercised that compassion and understanding.

I know some would prefer it if I focused upon individual concerns for the entire length of the podcast, but I wanted to move on to other common controversies--or supposed controversies--that were expressed. Some people expressed concern about women and the Priesthood. This issue is definitely worthy of its own podcast, but it's possible that I might have a little different perspective on this issue than most other people have expressed. It's not revelation. But it might be something to ponder. I have no doubt in my mind that many women could serve more effectively as leaders in many positions in our Church. Just look at the time and thought women put into Relief Society and Visiting Teaching compared to us guys. But that's not the point. HERE'S the point. It could well be true that the Priesthood is something men need because they are tasked with learning something that comes to women naturally. The leadership and structure thing for a male is necessary for their spiritual growth and progression. Women (I mean, most women--obviously you can't stereotype either gender) but it seems to me that most women already arrive in mortality at a level beyond that of men--at least in this particular category. Women have their own challenges, but for the most part they don't need the opportunity to learn the proper exercise of these "keys" as desperately as men.

No, I don't think women should feel "deprived" by not having the Priesthood. Certainly there are men who may THINK holding the Priesthood gives them some kind of license to exercise unrighteous dominion, but as it says in D&C 121:37, "amen" to their power and authority if they do so. I think God knew EXACTLY what He was doing by bestowing this "authority" upon men. Men need it. It serves as a kind of "vine" or "ladder" to a higher spiritual plane where many women are already standing. Did I just suggest men might be inferior and that the Priesthood could possibly be our best evidence of that? Eh, let's not get too far off track. The fact is, men and women are just different. They each have separate callings in life and separate challenges that prepare them for the eternities. Oh, I know. Some will say, "You just concocted that philosophy as a means to hold on to power. POWER!" No, I concocted it from observation, unfortunately. Whatever might be true, men who don't hold women--particularly their wives, maybe their mothers and grandmothers--on a pedestal much higher than themselves, I fear will be held desperately accountable for that myopic failure.

It was stunning to me to learn how many people expressed serious concerns about the Word of Wisdom. Maybe I miscounted. Maybe only two people expressed serious concerns, and one of those persons expressed such concerns over and over, giving me the wrong impression of the seriousness of this controversy. The fact is, I love the Word of Wisdom. Again, I have to remind myself to be truly sympathetic and recognize that even if I am not challenged by this principle, the challenge to others is quite sincere. But it's still surprising to me how many members are still hung up on the language of the 89th section of the Doctrine and Covenants that says, "Hey, it says right here it's just advice. Not a commandment." Okay, to be specific it says, "A Word of Wisdom, for the benefit of the council of high priests . . . and also the saints in Zion—To be sent greeting; not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation and the word of wisdom, showing forth the order and will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days--"

Are there really still Church members who don't realize that modern prophets have declared that this is not just "wisdom", it's now a literal, distinct commandment? Again, line upon line, precept on precept. We're trying to avoid the consequences of the evil and designs in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days here. The seriousness of that can't be overstated. One of the reasons I love the Word of Wisdom is because I, personally, am what is today commonly referred to as an addictive personality. If this wasn't a commandment, I think I'd be slave to quite a few of these substances. Considering all my various OCDs and ADHDs, yeah, I'd be toast. So the Word of Wisdom is all right by me. But the thing I like about it most is that it's one of the clear precepts that define us as Latter-day Saints. The health benefits, sure, those are obvious! But I love those things that help set us apart as a peculiar people, a unique phenomenon. Over the last decade or two I feel like some Saints have been running away from that, more determined to fit in. No, I like to ponder the ways we stand out.

One person who posted, it was quite clear, was experiencing severe pain and seemed to press the hope that if mari-ju-wana--cannabis--was ever medically legalized in Utah they wanted to be one of the first in line to partake, by prescription. I'm not really sure of the Church's perspective on that matter. Somebody from California or Oregon might fill me in. But acknowledging that there may indeed be ailments or pains best treated by this particular drug, I still tend to think the downsides are wholly underestimated. And folks, let's face it, you think we have a problem with the abuse of prescription drugs now? Wait until this one reaches the menu. Again, remaining sympathetic to those who may in fact have a genuine need only met by this drug, it's clear by the very tone of some posts that some Church members just want to partake! To me a Word of Wisdom, if you want to just define Wise Advice, is to speedily flee the other direction from anything that seizes control over us rather than us having control over it. That could apply to a lot of things that aren't mentioned in Section 89. Food. Soda. Computer games.

Dr. Thomas J. Boud and Russell Wilcox presented great articles in the Ensign and New Era a couple years ago about the addictive power and physical damage caused by energy drinks and similar popular substances. No, you can't be kept someone from holding a temple recommend by consuming these products, but come on. When exactly does common sense kick in? Conspiring men of the last days? I don't know how that could be defined any better way than by putting an explanation point after, before, and on every side of these substances.

The most heart-wrenching issue to me from the various posts I received were written by members who had been the recipients of sincerely appalling advice from their local bishops or Stake Presidents. Hey, I hear you. I've experienced this first hand. Now, I have no doubt that the vast majority of the men who hold these positions are doing the best they can. And it's no light matter that they hold a very sacred mantle that comes with the calling. Whether or not they truly exercise that mantle is a different thing.

Sure, they're fallible. No doubt about it. Many of them suffer the same flaws and weaknesses as the rest of us. We can only hope, we can pray, that the decisions they make regarding our well being are made on their knees. Obviously some advice can be tainted by their own biases, their own flaws of character, whatever. These men are generally not qualified therapists, but they're often called upon to give therapeutic advice. They're not psychologists, but they might be asked to offer specific counseling on extremely sensitive matters. In the best scenario that advice is received from the Spirit. And I think if we suppose such advise is never or even rarely confirmed by the Spirit, we find ourselves on pretty shaky ground. Don't forget the mantle. These men have the right to receive direct revelation for your well being. Still, the wisest of Bishops will direct you to qualified people if they are not themselves qualified to offer advice on certain subjects.

Do they make mistakes? Yes. Absolutely. Does that make them a terrible person? Generally, no. Unless they're an utter fool, no man aspires to such a position. And if they do, they soon learn how foolish such aspirations were. The temporal rewards are few, and often temporally detrimental. These are noble human beings who have willingly consented to sacrifice enormous blocks of their time--for you. For their ward families. And if nothing else, we can hope and pray that their actions are guided and motivated by love.

Those who become inactive or fall away from the Church, primarily because of bad advice from a Bishop or a Relief Society President, need to develop much deeper roots to their testimonies. We're a lay Church. That's a positive, and it's also a negative, but the blessings far outshine the negatives. Everyone is given the opportunity to serve in different capacities over their lifetimes, providing us with opportunities for spiritual growth that we might otherwise never obtain. Sometimes when a bishop has done us a perceived or real disservice we may find it difficult to sit in the pews and even stare at that man's face behind the podium.  It might drive us crazy! My advice is to lighten up. The Church is no less true. And if you allow an imperfect leader to drive you away from Gospel of Jesus Christ, you don't hurt them. You hurt you.

Time to fast. Time to pray. Time to seek insight beyond your own mortal intelligence. Beyond your powers of judgment. Weary the Lord until He comforts you and confirms that you are in the right place. The test is underway, and I pray that you pass.

Honestly, I feel for every Bishop who sincerely strives to fill the various positions or callings of the Ward with worthy people, only to be rejected for some excuse or another. Sure, sometimes the excuse is real and needs to be expressed. Much of time we're just lazy or we think we're above working in the nursery or we just feel overwhelmed by the idea of teaching the Laurels class. Trust God. Trust your Bishop. And don't deny yourself the blessings that the Lord envisions for your life and for your family. Perhaps the blessings we obtain from the calling itself aren't detectible. But the blessings we receive in our general lives are indisputable and indispensible.

No, I haven't covered all the subjects that were brought up by those who left posts. But I actually covered most of them. The ones most repeated anyway. I'm sure I'll have the opportunity to expand upon every one of these issues in the future. They need to be expanded. Once one conflict is resolved in our minds, the adversary is often quite successful at replacing it with another. He's very good at what he does. Don't underestimate his powers of deception.

But I assure you, the Church doesn't hide its history. I've never felt anything has ever been hidden from me. Confusion and pain and stumbling blocks are real. But the Church's emphasis has always been that such obstacles are overcome far more effectively by emphasizing the principles of salvation, the healing power of Christ's infinite Atonement, and the methods by which we strengthen our testimonies. Please, I pray that emphasis never changes. I certainly hope we don't, as a habit, waste our precious Sacrament, Sunday School, and Priesthood lessons talking about obscure points of Church history--moehills that become mountains in the minds of those who are most likely suffering from, or dealing with, far more private matters. Let me talk address those things in my podcasts, if it's really necessary. Or just answer them for yourselves by nurturing a burning desire to learn. Just understand that if you try to feed that desire while your life is in a state of personal turmoil and unrepented sins, you better take care of those first, otherwise the adversary will have the power to twist every tidbit of information into a Gordian knot that can eternally entangle your soul in doubt and bias.

Which means, quite simply, stay close to the Lord. And that's the counsel I always give to close my podcasts. Therefore, we must be very close to the end of this one. And so we are. No podcast next week. Sorry. I have to get my arms around some of the other projects pressing in around me. I love and pray for all my listeners, readers, fans, and friends. I love and pray for my detractors. Let's hope I have less of those every time we get together. But you never know. If my list of detractors expands, maybe it means I'm doing something right. Hey, it's possible.

In either case, I remain Chris Heimerdinger. And this is foreverLDS. Good night.



  • Richard Elms

    Mar 31, 2016 7:58 am

    Thank you Chris!! I love your doctrinal and practical simplicity to these subjects!

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