Mormonism’s Divine Master … and Commander
Last Sunday, rather than attend Stake Conference in our new stake, we opted to take our grandchildren to St John’s (Episcopal) Cathedral in Spokane. A large and sumptuous Gothic style English cathedral with some French influence; every inch of which is in place and justified according to scripture. I began to think about the Jesus of liturgical tradition based on scripture as opposed to the Jesus of Mormonism portrayed on a basis of later theological projections of those who succeeded Joseph Smith.
As Lietta was tearfully moved by the service and a sense of returning to her “home,” I was also moved to tears by my recollection of the first liturgy I ever participated in; the sense of wonder and history as I participated in communion based on a re-enactment of The Last Supper.
There are striking differences between the 19th-Century Jesus imagined by the heirs of Joseph Smith and who is the theological and speaking figurehead of the LDS Church and the traditional Jesus of the New Testament.
Since accepting re-baptism into the Church and thereby formally identifying myself as culturally Mormon, I have found my most personal sense of integrity in expressing my beliefs – not in a conforming or true-churchy way – but as a reflections of my own personal experience of Christ.
Such is the purest honesty I can use if and when I have occasion to interact with active, believing Church members who live in what is called the “TBM (true believing Mormon)” reality.
I have to honestly declare that my personal, prayerful, revealed and prompted understanding of Christ as the Divine One, as a pattern of living, and as a model for behavior has nothing to do with any person’s or church’s religious orthodoxy – or as I have referred to it, “Someone Else’s Magic.”
My experience of Christ is mostly that of the Jesus of parables about Prodigal Sons and Good Samaritans, of Sermons on the Mount, of forgiveness, of the First and Second Great Commandments … in effect the Jesus that teaches me compassion as wisdom and shows me the way to be …
as compared to the “Jesus” of authoritarians.
Spiritual writer, Stephen Mitchell expressed in The Gospel According to Jesus, a comparison between the Jesus of scripture untainted by Roman or Protestant theology and the “Jesus” of orthodoxy and conformity. Mitchell’s comparison can also be easily expressed as that of scripture versus the Jesus Christ of Mormonism.
No careful reader of the Gospels can fail to be struck by the difference between the large-heartedness of such passages and the bitter, badgering tone of some of the passages added by the early church.
It is not only the polemical element in the Gospels, the belief in devils, the flashy miracles, and the resurrection itself that readers like Jefferson, Tolstoy and Gandhi have felt are unworthy of Jesus, but most of all, the direct antitheses to the authentic teaching that were put into “Jesus’” mouth – doctrines and attitudes so offensive that they ‘have caused good men to reject the whole in disgust.’
Jesus teaches us, in his sayings and by his actions, not to judge (in the sense of not to condemn), but to keep our hearts open to all people.
The later (and LDS) “Jesus” is the archetypal judge, who will float down terribly on the clouds for the world’s final rewards and condemnations.
Jesus cautions against anger and teaches the love of enemies.
(The LDS) “Jesus” calls his enemies “children of the Devil” and attacks them with the utmost vituperation and contempt.
Jesus talks of God as a loving father, even to the wicked.
(The LDS) “Jesus” preaches a God who will cast the disobedient into everlasting flames. (A Eloheim who will deliberately withhold blessings and mercy because of sin,)
Jesus includes all people when he calls God “your Father in heaven.”
“Jesus” says “MY father in heaven.”
Jesus teaches that all those who make peace, and all those who love their enemies are sons of God.
“Jesus” refers to himself as “THE Son of God.”
Jesus isn’t interested in defining who he is (except for one passing reference to himself as a prophet).
“Jesus” talks on and on about himself. (As does the LDS version of Jesus)
Jesus teaches God’s absolute forgiveness.
“Jesus” utters the horrifying statement that “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness but is guilty of eternal sin.”
(As does the LDS version of Jesus)
The epitome of this narrow-hearted, sectarian consciousness is a saying, which a second-century Christian scribe put into the mouth of the resurrected Savior at the end of Mark:
“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever doesn’t believe will be damned.”
(As does the LDS version of Jesus)
No wonder Jefferson said, with barely contained indignation:
‘Among the saying and discourses imputed to him by his biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence; and others again of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism, and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being.’
Joseph Smith’s and the LDS Church’s portrayal of Jesus fits well inside the “Jesus” of orthodoxy and conformity rather than the compassionate Jesus of scripture.
BYU professor George Pace wrote a book entitled, “What It Means to Know Christ.” The forward read that people should “center their lives in Christ and . . . develop their own personal relationship with Him.”
The Church did not agree.
Bruce R. McConkie, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, gave a devotional entitled, “Our Relationship with the Lord”, at BYU on March 2nd, 1982. In it he delivered a public rebuke to the ideas that were being popularized by Pace.
McConkie, speaking for the Church, took ownership of members’ most personal spiritual relationship, the relationship with Jesus Christ.
Among other things, the authoritarian apostle declared,
I shall speak of our relationship with the Lord and of the true fellowship all Saints should have with the Father.
I shall set forth what we must believe relative to the Father and the Son in order to gain eternal life.
I shall expound the doctrine of the Church relative to what our relationship should be to all members of the Godhead and do so in plainness and simplicity so that none need misunderstand or be led astray by other voices.
I shall express the view of the Brethren, of the prophets and apostles of old, and of all those who understand the scriptures and are in tune with the Holy Spirit.
These matters lie at the very foundation of revealed religion. In presenting them I am on my own ground and am at home with my subject. I shall not stoop to petty wranglings about semantics but shall stay with matters of substance. I shall simply go back to basics and set forth fundamental doctrines of the kingdom, knowing that everyone who is sound spiritually and who has the guidance of the Holy Spirit will believe my words and follow my counsel.
Please do not put too much stock in some of the current views and vagaries that are afloat, but rather, turn to the revealed word, get a sound understanding of the doctrines, and keep yourselves in the mainstream of the Church.
Now, it is no secret that many false and vain and foolish things are being taught in the sectarian world and even among us about our need to gain a special relationship with the Lord Jesus. I shall summarize the true doctrine in this field and invite erring teachers and beguiled students to repent and believe the accepted gospel verities as I shall set them forth.
There is no salvation in believing any false doctrine, particularly a false or unwise view about the Godhead or any of its members. Eternal life is reserved for those who know God and the One whom he sent to work out the infinite and eternal atonement.
True and saving worship is found only among those who know the truth about God and the Godhead and who understand the true relationship men should have with each member of that Eternal Presidency.
It follows that the devil would rather spread false doctrine about God and the Godhead, and induce false feelings with reference to any one of them, than almost any other thing he could do. The creeds of Christendom illustrate perfectly what Lucifer wants so-called Christian people to believe about Deity in order to be damned.
McConkie formally and officially told members of the Church that the highest Church Priesthood leadership is the source of any knowledge of what it is like to be in a relationship with the Divine
… that any individual idea of a personal relationship with Christ is in effect heresy and of the Devil.
In effect, McConkie declared that there is only one true relationship with Jesus Christ and that relationship is defined by formal procedural doctrine and policy of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve of the Church.
This notion has its evolution from the original perceptive beliefs of Joseph Smith who revealed not the crucified Jesus of the New Testament, but a resurrected and living Jesus Christ in our own modern era. Joseph’s Jesus was alive in the here and now, travelling between heaven and earth, and presenting his Divinity and Divine Self as the returning King and God as defined at the end of the New Testament gospels.
Joseph’s portrayal of Jesus Christ was in effect Joseph’s interpretation of the imagery proclaimed at the end of the New Testament Gospels and the Book of Revelation.
It is common knowledge that perceptively what we see, perceive, define and interpret tends to be more closely reflective of what we expect to see and perceive. Our definitions and interpretations give expressive form to those sights and perceptions.
When I realized this circumstance about myself, my understanding of the nature of a spiritual relationship with the Divine became more personally informed and defined.
Joseph Smith was obviously possessed of an exceedingly powerful image and love for Jesus Christ.
More than likely that image and love were borne in his heart and inspired by family discussions and his Bible reading. The Smith family perceptual understanding of religion and scripture were most likely informed by the 19th century evangelical and biblically-defined understandings and assumptions that formed the basis for preaching, evangelizing and debate.
As an increasingly independent spiritual thinker Joseph nevertheless remained immersed in the understanding of Christ as He who proclaimed the true gospel,
as He who was the basis of the idea of redemption and atonement
and as He who functioned as the Great Revealer of divine truth
and who stood between God the Father and human beings on earth.
What and how Joseph would present the Jesus who appeared to Him in vision and who subsequently commanded and informed Joseph’s understanding of Now and of Forever are revealed quite plainly in his revelations as well as his sermons from which his creativity and inspired channeling took flight.
The LDS Church today preaches, portrays and postures Joseph’s Jesus Christ in a form that is inherently spiritual but also aggressively righteous and decoratively judgmental.
In effect, as head of the Church, Jesus Christ speaks with a Divine Voice that portrays Him less as the non-judgmental Lord of Compassion and much more like the Master and Commander of a mortal galleon which He – at the Helm – navigates through both calm and troubled waters.
The Church has always paid a staunch and faithful lip service to this imagery.
Joseph also launched the corporate self-perception with his expression from Second Nephi 25 in the Book of Mormon:
23 For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.
26 And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.
The Church talks, rejoices, preaches, prophesy’s, and writes of the Jesus Christ portrayed by Joseph Smith … the Jesus Christ who for almost 200 years has been an uncomfortable fit to the Jesus Christ of the New Testament.
In the Book of Mormon portrayal of the personality and compassion of Jesus, Joseph Smith introduced an acting Master and Commander who in fullness of judgment behaves very much like the Old Testament Jehovah the LDS Church proclaims Jesus Christ to be.
We hear the Divine Voice of the New World Resurrected Jesus for the first time in chapter nine of 3rd Nephi.
3rd Nephi: Chapter 9
In the darkness, the voice of Christ proclaims the destruction of many people and cities for their wickedness—He also proclaims his divinity, announces that the law of Moses is fulfilled, and invites men to come unto him and be saved. About A.D. 34.
1 And it came to pass that there was a voice heard among all the inhabitants of the earth, upon all the face of this land, crying:
2 Wo, wo, wo unto this people; wo unto the inhabitants of the whole earth except they shall repent; for the devil laugheth, and his angels rejoice, because of the slain of the fair sons and daughters of my people; and it is because of their iniquity and abominations that they are fallen!
3 Behold, that great city Zarahemla have I burned with fire, and the inhabitants thereof.
4 And behold, that great city Moroni have I caused to be sunk inthe depths of the sea, and the inhabitants thereof to be drowned.
5 And behold, that great city Moronihah have I covered with earth, and the inhabitants thereof, to hide their iniquities and their abominations from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints shall not come any more unto me against them.
6 And behold, the city of Gilgal have I caused to be sunk, and the inhabitants thereof to be buried up in the depths of the earth;
… 9 And behold, that great city Jacobugath, which was inhabited by the people of king Jacob, have I caused to be burned with fire because of their sins and their wickedness, which was above all the wickedness of the whole earth, because of their secret murders and combinations; for it was they that did destroy the peace of my people and the government of the land; therefore I did cause them to be burned, to destroy them from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints should not come up unto me any more against them.
… 12 And many great destructions have I caused to come upon this land, and upon this people, because of their wickedness and their abominations.
13 O all ye that are spared because ye were more righteous than they, will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you?
… 15 Behold, I am Jesus Christ the Son of God. I created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are. I was with the Father from the beginning. I am in the Father, and the Father in me; and in me hath the Father glorified his name. 16 I came unto my own, and my own received me not. And the scriptures concerning my coming are fulfilled.
The logic fully implied in these verses from the interpretations of Joseph Smith constitutes nothing less than Jesus Christ- as Joseph Smith understood Jesus Christ – expressing with his Divine Voice His ownership of vengeance.
Like contemporary terrorists who claim responsibility for bombings, death and destruction of enemies and innocents alike, Jesus of 3rd Nephi claims a very similar responsibility.
No amount of acculturated respect and reverence can construct any kind of rationale for the astounding and horrifying “divine” declarations, admissions and justifications that appear in 3rd Nephi.
Joseph introduced Jesus Christ to 19th Century readers as a God acting in full fury much like the judgmental and murderous Jehovah of the Old Testament – including the horrifying acknowledgement that in destroying all the wicked inhabitants of those cities named, Jesus Christ also destroyed — by his own admission – the wives and children of the wicked.
This regardless of the Divine Voice expressed by Moroni in his 8th chapter:
8 Listen to the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord and your God. Behold, I came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; the whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them; and the law of circumcision is done away in me.
The source personality of the Mormon Church; the Divine and Holy Head of the Church to whom and about whom the entirety of the LDS Gospel is taught, the laws and ordinances are proclaimed and practiced, the oaths and covenants avowed and honored is in fact a punitive Master and Commander –
… comparable in word and deed to the most contemporary religiously ideological mass murderers.
We read the much more contemporary declaration of that ancient 3rd Nephi Jesus Christ expressed in an identical manner. We see the Divine Micro-Manager in action, presiding by edict and threatening multiple forms of punishment – some of which in many cases is portrayed as reluctant Divine estrangement from those who do not obey.
Look at the first Section of the Doctrine and Covenants
1–7, The voice of warning is to all people; 8–16, Apostasy and wickedness precede the Second Coming; 17–23, Joseph Smith is called to restore to earth the Lord’s truths and powers; 24–33, The Book of Mormon is brought forth and the true Church is established; 34–36, Peace will be taken from the earth; 37–39, Search these commandments.
The LDS Church teaches that Section 1 is special in that Jesus Christ announces and introduces Himself and then somehow authorizes the Church as his mortal and authorized voice
… that Jesus Christ has in fact established an intermediary relationship between human beings and Himself in the form of a “true” church.
Apostle McConkie affirmed and asserted this relationship when he publicly rebuked a devout Mormon educator who thought otherwise.
All I can add is that when one such as McConkie speaks, can you not hear the unspoken but bitterly implied
“Me and You, Jesus. Not You and Them. Ain’t that Right?”
The scriptures [John 17:3] teach us that
“this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”
They do not teach us that Jesus Christ is personally distant from us or above sharing intimacy with us
They do not teach us that any so-called Christian Church – which did not exist during His divinely mortal life – was or is inserted as some sort of middle agent into our relationship to Christ or to The Father
They do not teach us and there is nothing that justifies any notion that any church is authorized to assert or enforce definitions relating to the human relationship to God.
If I testify publicly that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that a human being can get closer to God and Christ by means of personal efforts, I am not kidding in the slightest
… nor do you or I need anyone’s agreement with that kind of testimony. It is no one else’s to perceive for us, to know for us or to control for us.
Please understand then that I am not accepting the reality of Jesus The Christ according to LDS definitions and portrayals.
Such is not my experience of Christ.
Nor does it have to be anyone else’s.
As John 17:3 lovingly declares, without judgement, pre-conditions or satisfied orthodoxy
… we can know God and Jesus Christ. We can have a personal relationship upon which we can make my life’s choices if we want to.
… all of us.