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CES Reply: Purging Dissidents? (The Penultimate Installment)

We’re coming to the end of this series of posts, which are a serialized reproduction of my lengthy reply to “Letter to a CES Director: Why I Lost My Testimony” to Jeremy Runnells. Jeremy Runnells insists that nobody has answered his questions, and, when people bring up my answers to his questions, he insists that I didn’t actually answer his questions, and that all I did was make jokes and attack him personally.

Here’s my next-to-last batch of jokes/personal attacks. You can read all of them at once by clicking here.

As always, Jeremy’s original words are in green, the color of life. My words are in black, the color of darkness.

I’m also adding an image, because when I post this on FB and Twitter, it has this weird empty box if there’s no image in the post. So I’m adding a superfluous picture of Cylon and Garfunkel, because even though the late Glen A. Larson based much of Battlestar Galactica on Mormon theology, the Cylons never got a single mention in your letter.

That ends NOW!

med_1442042243_00032Great! On with the reply!


Going after members who publish or share their questions, concerns, and doubts:

September Six:

“The September Six were six members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who were excommunicated or disfellowshipped by the Church in September 1993, allegedly for publishing scholarly work on Mormonism or critiquing Church doctrine or leadership.”

Who are you quoting?

I find it telling that to illustrate the idea the Church routinely goes after members who “publish or share their questions, concerns, and doubts,” you have to reach back more than 22 years to find actual examples. If this really were an ongoing practice or concern, surely there’d be a great deal more support for your allegation.

In any case, the September Six are now the September Four, as two of these scholars have rejoined the Church in full fellowship. They continue to function as both scholars and faithful members of the Church.

A few months before the September Six, Boyd K. Packer made the following comment regarding the three “enemies” of the Church:

“The dangers I speak of come from the gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement (both of which are relatively new), and the ever- present challenge from the so-called scholars or intellectuals.”

Boyd K. Packer, All-Church Coordinating Council, May 18, 1993

You’re insinuating that Elder Packer ordered these excommunications, but there is no evidence that this is true, despite 22 years of innuendo to that effect. Even if Elder Packer was engaged in a systematic crackdown on Mormon scholars, you’d think that he’d have more than six excommunications to his credit over the course over 22 years.

Strengthening the Church Members Committee (SCMC):

The spying and monitoring arm of the Church.  

That’s rather melodramatic.

It is secretive

Indeed! So secretive that the First Presidency issued a public statement affirming its existence and purpose in the Church News in 1992.

Here’s the statement.

First Presidency statement cites scriptural mandate for Church committee

Generally, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not respond to criticism levied against its work. But in light of extensive publicity recently given to false accusations of so-called secret Church committees and files, the First Presidency has issued the following statement:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was established in 1830 following the appearance of God the Father and Jesus Christ to the Prophet Joseph Smith in upstate New York. This sacred event heralded the onset of the promised `restitution of all things.’ Many instructions were subsequently given to the Prophet including Section 123 of the Doctrine and Covenants:” `And again, we would suggest for your consideration the propriety of all the saints gathering up a knowledge of all the facts, and sufferings and abuses put upon them. . . .

And also of all the property and amount of damages which they have sustained, both of character and personal injuries. . . .

And also the names of all persons that have had a hand in their oppressions, as far as they can get hold of them and find them out.

And perhaps a committee can be appointed to find out these things, and to take statements and affidavits; and also to gather up the libelous publications that are afloat;

And all that are in the magazines, and in the encyclopedias, and all the libelous histories that are published…(Verses 1-5.)’

Leaders and members of the Church strive to implement commandments of the Lord including this direction received in 1839. Because the Church has a non-professional clergy, its stake presidents and bishops have varied backgrounds and training. In order to assist their members who have questions, these local leaders often request information from General Authorities of the Church.

The Strengthening Church Members Committee was appointed by the First Presidency to help fulfill this need and to comply with the cited section of the Doctrine and Covenants. This committee serves as a resource to priesthood leaders throughout the world who may desire assistance on a wide variety of topics. It is a General Authority committee, currently comprised of Elder James E. Faust and Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. They work through established priesthood channels, and neither impose nor direct Church disciplinary action.

Members who have questions concerning Church doctrine, policies, or procedures have been counseled to discuss those concerns confidentially with their local leaders. These leaders are deeply aware of their obligation to counsel members wisely in the spirit of love, in order to strengthen their faith in the Lord and in His great latter-day work.

– The First Presidency

and most members have been unaware of its existence since its creation in 1985 after President Ezra Taft Benson took over.

Actually, it looks like various versions of this committee have been around since Section 123 of the Doctrine and Covenants was received in 1839.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland admitted it still exists (2:29) in March 2012.

The transcript of that admission:

John Sweeney: What is the Strengthening Church Members Committee?

Elder Holland: The Strengthening Church Members Committee was born some years ago to protect against predatory practices of polygamists.

Sweeney: I asked what it is, not was.

Holland: That is what it is…

Sweeney: So it does still exist?

Holland: It does still exist…it does still exist…

Sweeney: And it…. looks at….it’s there to defend the church against polygamists?

Holland: Principally, that is still its principal task.

Sweeney: So what is its subsidiary task?

Holland: I just…. suppose to…. to be protective generally, just to watch and to care for any insidious influence. But for all intents and purposes, that’s all that I know about it….is that it’s primarily there to guard against polygamy. That would be the substantial part of the work. I’m not on that committee so I don’t know much about it.

The historical evidence and the September Six points to SCMC’s primary mission being  to  hunt  and  expose  intellectuals  and/or disaffected members who are influencing other members to think and question, despite Holland’s claim that it’s a committee primarily to fight against polygamy.

Then it should be a simple task for you to provide that historical evidence, which you don’t.

“When the prophet speaks the debate is over”:

N. Eldon Tanner, 1st  Counselor in the First Presidency, gave a First Presidency Message in the August 1979 Ensign that includes the following statement:

“When the prophet speaks the debate is over.”

In practice, he’s absolutely correct. The Church does not function as a democracy. Members do not debate and vote on doctrines or policies, and we do not change doctrines or policies by debating our prophets, who ultimately have the final say on such things.

This reminds me of President George Albert Smith, who responded to the false statement that “when the Prophet speaks, the thinking has been done” that I referenced earlier. (WAY WAY earlier. This thing is up to well over 100,000 words now. Sheesh!) Let me requote President Smith’s response to the earlier statement. This will only be a second requote, so there’s no need to drag Stephen Burnett back into this.

The leaflet to which you refer, and from which you quote in your letter, was not “prepared” by “one of our leaders.” However, one or more of them inadvertently permitted the paragraph to pass uncensored. By their so doing, not a few members of the Church have been upset in their feelings, and General Authorities have been embarrassed.

I am pleased to assure you that you are right in your attitude that the passage quoted does not express the true position of the Church. Even to imply that members of the Church are not to do their own thinking is grossly to misrepresent the true ideal of the Church… [which] gives to every man his free agency, and admonishes him always to use the reason and good judgment with which God has blessed him.

Granted, the two statements are not exactly the same idea, but this principle is important to remember as we try to make sense of what President Tanner is saying. Because saying “the debate is over” is not the same thing as saying “the prophet is never wrong.” We do not believe in infallible prophets. To the extent than anyone did or does, including even a good and wise man like N. Eldon Tanner, they are incorrect.

Some things that are true are not very useful

Which you misinterpret.

+ It is wrong to criticize leaders of the Church, even if the criticism is true

Which you also misinterpret.

+ Spying and monitoring on members

Which is a gross distortion.

+ Intellectuals are dangerous

“So-called intellectuals” was the phrase Elder Packer used. He was making to those dissidents who hide behind intellectual credentials. The Church adores faithful intellectuals. What was the mighty Hugh Nibley if not an intellectual?

+ When the prophet speaks the debate is over

We just covered this.

+ Obedience is the First Law of Heaven

That’s an ancient biblical principle. What’s wrong with it?

= Policies and practices you’d expect to find in a totalitarian system such as North Korea or George Orwell’s 1984; not from the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Funny you should mention 1984. I recently re-watched the John Hurt/Richard Burton film adaptation of that seminal work. (And yes, it was an R-rated movie.) My memory is fresh enough to recognize this as a ridiculously hyperbolic comparison. At what point have Church leaders set up video monitoring screens in all members houses to enforce orthodoxy under threat of torture by means of a bucket of rats attached to their faces until they publicly confess to non-existent crimes?

The North Korea comparison is equally absurd. Were the September Six sentenced to Mormon gulags where they were worked and starved to death? Are rank-and-file members hauled off to such camps when they take down the framed pictures of Thomas S. Monson that they are required by law to have on display in their homes at all times?

As a believing member, I was deeply offended by the accusation that the Church was a cult. “How can it be a cult when we’re good people who are following Christ, focusing on family, and doing good works in and out of a church that bears His name?  When we’re 14 million members? What a ridiculous accusation.” It was only after I lost my testimony and discovering, for the first time, the SCMC and the anti-intellectualism going on behind the scenes that I could clearly see the above cultish aspects of the Church and why people came to the conclusion that Mormonism is a cult.

The word “cult” is objectively meaningless. It used to have reference to any religion and was essentially a measure of size – i.e. a cult is “a small group of religious followers.” In today’s vernacular, though, the word “cult” is reserved for spurious or unorthodox religions that deserve scorn and ridicule. People who throw the word “cult” around with regularity and think they’re saying something factual are simply telling you which religions they don’t like.

The best and most useful definition of “cult” came from my brilliant high school government teacher, Lee Shagin, who put it thusly:

“A cult is someone else’s religion.”

Dr. Walter Martin, arguably the most influentially vitriolic critic of the LDS Church in the 20th Century, wrote a book titled “The Kingdom of the Cults” in which he derided several different groups that went afoul of his thinking of what Christianity ought to be. However, in order to begin mudslinging at all the cults he despised, he had to have an ironclad definition of same to anchor the discussion.

The problem was that every part of Martin’s definition could also be applied to early Christianity. All cults, according to Martin, follow a charismatic leader and insist that they’re the only way to heaven. They require sacrifices; they have their own vocabulary. Sounds like he’s describing all those folks following Jesus of Nazareth circa 33 AD. Martin spewed an awful lot of words in an attempt to clarify what a cult is, but ultimately, Lee Shagin’s definition is the better one.

In any case, the way you’re using the word “cult” in connection with 1984 and North Korea suggests you see the Church as some kind of prison that wreaks great havoc on dissidents. But that’s demonstrably nonsense. The fact is that the Church welcomes all, and it also allows all to leave.

This is no totalitarian state; you’re not going to get shot on your way out. As soon as you resign your membership, a simple process that only requires a single letter to your bishop, you will be free and clear. No one will follow you; no one will spy on you, and no one will punish you. Even your home teacher will leave you alone.

[I wrote this prior to your resigning of your membership. You now know by your own personal experience that no 1984 tactics have been employed to bring you back into the fold.]

There is the likelihood, however, that your Mormon friends and family will still love and care for you and pray on your behalf, but, alas, such kindness can’t really be stopped.

Next: THE CONCLUSION!!!!!

CES Reply: Not Very Useful
CES Reply: THE CONCLUSION!!!

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  1. Thanks for all your time in this effort, Jim! You’ve helped (and along the way entertained,as well) lots of folks. As you guessed from the outset, Jeremy may be beyond reach.

    Just before Jeremy resigned earlier this year I bumped into him on a Facebook thread. I engaged him, asking him ?s about earlier ex-MOs, such as Ed Decker, the Tanners, and others. I asked specifically how he created the CES Letter. That is, what were his sources, why he believed those sources, who on reddit helped him edit, when he no longer trusted LDS sources, etc. I wanted to understand the letter from its beginnings.

    Jeremy did respond to some of my posts, but he never responded to my very direct questions that shed light on when and why he believed ex-MO source materials. Even when I insisted I was acting similar to him — just seeking the honest answers — Jeremy was awfully quiet. Ironically (but not really to me, it was what I’ve learned to expect), I got no answers from Jeremy Runnells, the supposed truth seeker. Yes, all I wanted from Jeremy were answers! The silence was deafening!!!