Thursday, December 20, 2018

Epilogue: Occupied Synagogue Territory

"For behold, they were cast out of the synagogues because of the coarseness of their apparel, therefore they were not permitted to enter into their synagogues to worship God, being esteemed as filthiness." (NC Alma 16:22

Coarse & Fine Apparel

For my final three years as an active member of the LDS Church, I deliberately chose to attend Sunday meetings dressed in jeans, sneakers, and a t-shirt. (without lettering or logos--I didn't want to offend) I allowed my hair to grow long and I chose not to shave my face naked. In short, my appearance was not what normal active members of the LDS Church would refer to as "up to standards." Interestingly, even when my coarse appearance was directly referenced by the leader during high priests group meeting during the third hour, no one ever dared ask why. The reason was assumed to be that my "testimony" was "weak."

My actual reason was nothing of the sort. Having awoken to the fact that the Book of Mormon was not merely written to us as LDS Church members, but about us, I completely lost all interest in assisting with even the slightest degree of further fulfillment of this Book of Mormon prophecy, which the writer has written to the LDS reader (who else reads this book!?):

"Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shewn you unto me, and I know your doing, and I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts. And there are none, save a few only, who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquity. And your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts. For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted. O ye pollutions, ye hypocrites, ye teachers who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God?" (NC Mormon 4:5)
I could no longer bring myself to wear "fine apparel" or "very fine apparel" as I've done all my life. The thought literally turns my stomach now. It is money wasted on keeping up apperances under the guise of "being pleasing to God." Apparently our pretenses didn't make it far with the prophet-historian Mormon, who had the pleasure of being shown us in vision. He saw right through them to our actual sins--the pride of our hearts and all the black sins that come with it, including not helping the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.

The only place I see people wearing business attire in our modern world (fine suits, ties, dress shoes, fancy dresses, etc.) is for a small subset of professionals: lawyers, some bankers, and some politicians. Oh, and LDS Church members going to their meetings, who stick out to the world in unmistakeable fashion.

Esteemed as Filthiness Worthy of Trespass Notice

All are welcome, except those deemed filthy,
who will be forceably removed.
In spite of having been deemed unworthy of any attempt at reclaiming and then having also been excommunicated from this institution, I continued (and continue) to feel a closeness to my friends within our ward here. I enjoy seeing and talking with them. I enjoy discussing the gospel of Jesus Christ with them. And so, as invited in the letter informing me of the removal of all my eternal gospel blessings, I returned to Sunday meetings to fellowship with my friends there who had no idea I had been cast out. I had been promised I was fine to attend as long as my conduct was "acceptable."

During the Sunday school hour of that Sunday in May, the class was discussing Numbers, chapter 11. As the teacher neared the end of the chapter, she quickly skipped over a fascinating part of it and moved on to chapter 12. I raised my hand and, after being called on, suggested that a passage there might be worth reading. The teacher invited me to read it:
"But there remained two of the men in the camp, the name of the one was Eldad and the name of the other Medad. And the spirit rested upon them — and they were of them that were written but went not out unto the tabernacle — and they prophesied in the camp. And there ran a young man and told Moses and said, Eldad and Medad do prophesy in the camp! And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses, one of his young men, answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them! And Moses said unto him, Do you envy for my sake? Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!" (OC Numbers 7:19)
I suggested that it was an interesting response on the part of Moses. The teacher pointed out that although true then, today only the Fifteen can be prophets. She then moved on in her lesson.

About two minutes later, the only bishopric counselor there stood up on the far side of the room, marched across to where I was sitting, and abruptly announced that I needed to come with him out into the hallway right then and there. The entire class stopped and watched the spectacle unfold. After managing to gather my belongings and put my glasses away, I followed him to the far side of the building, where I was told to wait there for the bishop to arrive "who has something he needs to talk with you about." (Perhaps they had exchanged text messages.)

When the bishop finally arrived, he expressed no interest in talking there in the foyer. He needed to talk to me in his office, even if the door were going to be left open. (I think those in the foyer got to overhear an interesting conversation.)

There I was curtly told that I was never to make another comment in any class again. If I did, he, the bishop, would legally serve me trespass notice and have local law enforcement remove me from the property, as necessary. "Therefore [I would] not [be] permitted to enter into their synagogues to worship God, being esteemed as filthiness," just as Mormon foresaw would be repeated in our day. (NC Alma 16:22)

The bishop further took occasion to inform me that I was a "wolf in sheep's clothing." (I still to this day wonder how he mistook my coarse apparel for "very fine" apparel--granted, it was a tense moment for him, so I concede that this could be missed.) He also expressed his deep concern & disapproval of my having had any contact with his ward members outside of church meetings. This chastisement was for my having tried to thoughtfully reach out to a friend in the ward who was going through a very rough time. I let him know that he had nothing to fear and that I intended to continue to try to be a support to my friends.

None, Save a Few Only, Who Do Not Lift Themselves Up

By the time I had been warned and sent on my way, it was the third hour of church meetings. I went to the newly combined quorum of elders and high priests, sat, and listened to the lesson while studying my scriptures. I did not attempt to make any comment.

Afterward, before I was able to head out, I was approached by two different high priests who had been present for the big commotion of the second hour. Each of them offered me an apology on behalf of the bishopric member who had interrupted the class and unceremoniously removed me from it. They claimed they weren't aware of what could have possibly been going on, but that the actions of the bishopric member were completely uncalled for and inappropriate. They felt my comment had been entirely appropriate. They were honestly embarassed at what had happened. (They might have been more embarassed had they known more.) I thanked them for their concern and reassured them that it would not cause me to avoid returning to future meetings.

How God's Words Offend

I did ask both the bishop and his counselor what I had said that they had deemed "inappropriate" and worthy of issuing a threat of legal trespass notice and physical removal by law enforcement. Neither was willing then or since to give any explanation.

To those familiar with modern LDS doctrinal drift, it is not difficult to infer the reason. (although the degree of anger in the response was a surprise even to me) The only real remaining doctrine of the LDS Church is: "We follow a man whom we call a prophet." Anything in scripture that contradicts or threatens this comforting, soothing doctrine, even when spoken by so great a prophet as Moses, is an affront to all loyal followers of the brethren. The greater the degree of devotion, the greater the intolerance and the more forceful the bitter response to those who might disagree.

Unfortunately, LDS scriptures not only do not support the idea of putting our confidence in a man to bring us salvation--even if a true prophet--but they actually teach that we are "cursed" if we do so (see NC 2 Ne. 12:6) and that this practice is the primary qualification for those who will inherit a telestial kingdom. (T&C 69:26) Only Christ is to be "followed". Certainly prophets must be discerned by each of us, whether they be true or false messengers, but either way they are only to be "heard" and not "followed." It is the message they bear and the source of the message that is important. Not the bearer.

I think applying extraordinary titles (i.e. "prophet, seer, revelator") are less impressive than having a man preach the truth. If the content of his sermon is prophetic, then everyone can decide for themselves the measure of the messenger. I can think of nothing that would offend the Lord more than a mere man inviting adoration. It is wrong. Adoration should be reserved for Christ, not dispensed to mere servants. Even if a man is sent to declare Him to you, focus should be on the Lord, not on His messenger. Only a false messenger, who seeks approval and who hopes for gain, will divert attention from the Lord to himself. A true messenger would not dare do so.

Nephi explained the source of such virulent reactions to truth born by messengers and why it is so offensive:
And now it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had made an end of speaking to my brethren, behold, they said unto me: "Thou hast declared unto us hard things--more than which we are able to bear!" And it came to pass that I said unto them that I knew that I had spoken hard things against the wicked according to the truth, and the righteous have I justified and testified that they should be lifted up at the last day. Wherefore, the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center."
It should therefore be unremarkable that Moses's message in KJV Numbers 11 still has this effect even today. That it could be scripture which LDS Church leaders actively work to prevent any discussion or consideration of.

Occupied Synagogues

I suspect Lehi, too, may have been threatened with trespass and ejection by authorities in the Jerusalem synagogues of his day for this very reason--it was uncomfortable for its church-goers to hear the truth the Lord commanded Lehi to speak to them. (Of course, in my case, the Lord has given me no such errand, nor have I preached as Lehi. I have only done as commanded me: "it becomes every man who has been warned to warn his neighbor." -- T&C 86:15)

Christ later predicted this would be the normal course of events for His disciples:
"And again I say unto you, Go into the world and do not care for the world, for the world will hate you and will persecute you and will turn you out of their synagogues." (NC Matt. 3:35)
When the Lord tells us to expect to be "turn[ed] ... out of their synagogues," it's worth pondering who would do that casting out. It can only be done by those who own buildings, who control houses of worship, and who expect believers to come to their religious buildings to worship God. It can only be done by those who think they have the right to enforce their religious ideas by compulsion, demanding conformity and suppressing ideas they dislike.

But just as in the days of Joseph Smith (when not a single chapel was built) or in the days of early Christianity (when believers met in homes and never in church buildings), the Book of Mormon similarly describes this pattern in NC Alma 16:22-24 when the humble followers of Christ are cast out of the apostate church they had belonged to and come to the apostate Alma (whom their church leaders feared):
And they came unto Alma, and the one who was the most foremost among them said unto him, "Behold, what shall these my brethren do? For they are despised of all men because of their poverty, yea, and more especially by our priests. For they have cast us out of our synagogues, which we have labored abundantly to build with our own hands [these were full-tithe-paying, active members of the church]; and they have cast us out because of this, our exceeding poverty, that we have no place to worship our God. And now behold, what shall we do?" 
[Alma] stretched forth his hand and cried unto those whom he beheld, who were truly penitent, and said unto them, "I behold that ye are lowly in heart, and if so, blessed are ye. Behold, thy brother has said, What shall we do? For we are cast out of our synagogues, that we cannot worship our God. Behold, I say unto you, do ye suppose that ye cannot worship God, save it be in your synagogues only? And moreover, I would ask, do ye suppose that ye must not worship God only once in a week?"
Well, according to this apostate's voice (Alma's), the idea of needing to worship only in chapels or only once a week is utterly false. According to him, it turns out it was a good thing they were excommunicated and cast out. It resulted in their humility, so they could be taught the word of God and leave their apostate traditions and incorrect beliefs behind.

Throwing Joseph Smith Out of His Own Synagogue

As LDSs, we often invited others to read and consider the meaning and implications of the accounts of Joseph Smith's first vision. But almost no one reads and considers the meaning and implications of his last vision. (T&C 153; not available in the LDS D&C)

His last vision of the LDS Church as a barn in its future dilapidated state has proved to be stunningly prophetic. It perfectly depicts what would happen in our day were Joseph Smith to look and see what his work had come to. (And why would you suppose he could not do so?)

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