A PLEA FOR HONESTY ~ A Further Open Letter to the Europe Area Presidency

Dear Area Presidency,

 

February 2015 is turning out to be an unusual month, and historians, I suggest, may well look back upon it and identify it as having been pivotal in the development of European Mormonism.

Recent events prompt me to write to you again, even though you never responded, either publicly or privately, to my letters sent to you in 2012. These may be found at:

First open letter dated 28 August 2012

Second open letter dated 04 October 2012

At the time your silence was a disappointment of course, if not a total surprise. Some had already asserted that you would ignore me, and not even issue an acknowledgment. I was sorry they were proven right, as it only reinforced their opinion that you did not care, when I, based upon previous personal interactions, genuinely believed that you did. My letters contained significant questions, and also an invitation to work together with many of us who believe in transparency. However, that opportunity to collaborate was missed, and this month’s events further suggest that we are embarking upon an altogether new era.

The recent excommunication of John Dehlin really sets the tone for that coming era. John, who has done much to support depressed, confused, overlooked and downtrodden members of the church throughout the world over the past decade, in the process of helping those many in need, seems unintentionally to have embarrassed a church leadership which was signally failing to perform its whole duty. John has literally saved lives, and marriages, and the mental wellbeing of hundreds and perhaps thousands or marginalised individuals. Some of those he helped have since chosen to leave the LDS fold, not because he ever actively encouraged them to do so, but because their eyes were opened to a wider reality, and LDS orthodoxy could no longer accommodate them.

Although John also encouraged people to stay with Mormonism if they felt able to do so, the fact that he was seen to be a catalyst causing some to leave, sadly meant that his excommunication in the end was as predictable as Kate Kelly’s had been in 2014. Unsurprisingly, John’s excommunication has been widely seen, (beyond foyer exchanges between ‘chapel Mormons’ at least), not as an indictment of him, but of the system which delivered that verdict. How much wiser it might have been to have embraced and worked with him, so that a welcoming place within a broader, kinder church, might have been made available to accommodate the needs of those in need of the support he offers. The LDS church has once more missed an exceptional opportunity by failing to grasp the right nettle at the right time, and an unfortunate message has been broadcast that those who entertain doubts or questions are not wanted. One more storm has been sown.

I realise of course that as the Europe Area Presidency you are far removed from this particular matter, and are in no way responsible for the decision reached. Equally I realise that your counterparts in Utah will not be in any hurry to accept responsibility for it, and of course it is a given that the Q12 will deny having had any kind of influence over it. It is clear that the ruling bodies of the church will, as usual, be fully sheltered from any possibility of criticism, and John Dehlin’s Stake President will be left to take sole responsibility for any future fall-out.

Yet of course long experience tells us that, regardless of the regular denials, interventions from General Authorities do sometimes serve to influence decisions reached by local disciplinary councils. There are the well-documented examples of ‘The September Six’, when it appears apostles pulled rank in order to ensure that excommunications were enacted. It was all officially denied at the time, but was later persuasively demonstrated by President Benson’s grandson that this had been the case. And at a more immediate level Elder Patrick Kearon will undoubtedly recall an instance in Bristol Stake a few years ago, when a decision reached in a stake disciplinary council was overturned within a few hours upon the advice of the Area Presidency. I was a witness to that intervention, as was he, (he having made the initial decision, before being told to contact all the participants to inform them that his decision had been reversed upon orders received from higher up the chain of command). Furthermore, I have since learnt of another such example in the same stake, so these interventions are not in isolation, and it is simply untrue to claim that Stake Presidents always make such decisions without guidance from General Authorities, particularly in cases when there might be an impact upon the so-called public standing of the church.

PUBLIC IMAGE

‘Good standing’, or in other words, a positive image, always seems to be the primary concern. This is true, both as it relates to the perceived worth of individual members, (whether for example they hold a current temple recommend), and also as it relates to the outward reputation of the church. In Mormon circles, image counts for much, and when a person is no longer considered in good standing, perhaps because he asks difficult questions, it is surprising how rapidly an ‘anti-Mormon’ label is applied, and then, what had been considered firm friendships, (some of them at least), melt away almost overnight. Yet I do not read of Jesus in the New Testament placing any emphasis upon self-certified or institutionally-backed ‘standing’ among his contemporaries. Nor do I ever see him dismissing out of hand those searching for truthful answers. Indeed the opposite is the case.

Have you ever paused and considered what the New Testament Jesus might say to someone in John Dehlin’s position? How likely do you think it would be that he would berate him for offering support to the lonely, hope to the poor in spirit, or factual ‘meat and drink’ to those who hunger and thirst after knowledge? Do you think he would he be angry with John for taking in and sheltering those whom the LDS priests had cast out and left to die in the wilderness? Would he cut John off from his wife and children and his extended family for all eternity in order to make an example of him, so that others would feel discouraged from following his example?

Or might he instead thank him for the compassion he had shown by trying to help each person in need, saying to him that inasmuch as he had helped even the least deserving individual, he had done it for him too?

You see, there is an enormous problem. The New Testament Jesus just does not fit into current LDS thinking at all. So what has changed? Is it Jesus, or is it those who claim to be his present mouthpieces?

And what might that New Testament Jesus say to the governing bodies of a church which had taken it upon themselves to excommunicate John? Might he advise them first to remove from their own eyes the heavy beams which are blinding them, before attempting to remove whatever motes are to be found in John’s? After all, if we accept the New Testament, that seems to be the way he operated, regularly challenging and condemning the actions of those who took upon themselves Pharisaic powers, and calling to repentance all those who flattered themselves with titles and offices through which they proceeded to administer unrighteous dominion.

“Beams?” you might ask in surprise. Yes brethren, beams, and some seriously substantial beams too. The kind of beams acquired through collective attempts to cover up from the general membership and prospective converts much of our true Mormon history, substituting in its place whitewashed narratives primarily designed to promote the organisation’s current political agendas.

President Hinckley, of course, used to counsel us to emphasise the positive and eliminate the negative, and I will be the first to acknowledge that perhaps in the case of human relationships his advice was sound, but when that same maxim is applied to manipulating the membership’s awareness of its history, then we are in very problematic and dangerous territory. When ‘historical content’ of lesson manuals is reduced to constant reliance upon faith-promoting anecdotal material, while uncomfortable truths which might point members towards a balanced understanding, are airbrushed away, then we are firmly in the domain of calculated misdirection. Will studied skewing of history, even if intended to promote a supposedly righteous cause, not have to surrender to objective truth in the end? Is the current practice of factual manipulation not symptomatic of a canker at the root of the whole enterprise? Might not misrepresentation of the past for the express purpose of misappropriating the present, also be called lying? And if used as a means to persuade or coerce individuals to hand over their time and means, is that not another name for fraud?

These are enormous beams then, and our New Testament Jesus, I suspect, would immediately identify them as such. Do you not think so? So when will the actual truth be openly taught? (I mean really openly and comprehensively, not just technically or arbitrarily, a little here and a little there in obscure, semi-approved, weasel-worded essays penned by well-paid Mormon apologists, and kept out of sight of the average member). When, for example, will the young LDS woman and young LDS man putting their lives on the line to promote at their own expense the LDS church in foreign lands, be properly and fairly informed before leaving home, that the version of the First Vision which they will be encouraged to learn and teach ‘as gospel’, is but a later reworking of an earlier, simpler claim, which Joseph Fielding Smith for several decades had deliberately suppressed as it told a less impressive, somewhat dissimilar story, rooted in a different theology?

When will they routinely be advised as students of the Church Education System that the founding LDS prophet Joseph Smith was clandestinely married to over thirty plural wives, including some girls as young as 14 or 15, and in ten or eleven cases to other men’s wives, (often while those men were away serving the church elsewhere), and that in many of those instances even Joseph’s own legal wife Emma did not know about his other illegal unions? When will established facts be taught as they appear in the historical record, in place of the fairy-tale version which makes Joseph appear to the uninitiated and the gullible to be the devoted monogamist, which he clearly never was?

When will the LDS church cease to be driven by its fears and become an open and honest champion of Truth, instead of constantly obsessing over image?

 

BEING HONEST WITH AND PROTECTING THE RISING GENERATION

Is it not entirely reasonable to expect the church to inform its young men and women about their church’s actual history before they are placed in the front line on streets around the world? Unless they know about these and many other critical issues, (which for the sake of brevity I will not detail here, though I have touched upon some of them in my previous letters), then how may it ever be said that these young men and women are legitimate representatives of the religious system they are sent out to promote? And if they are unfamiliar with the true nature of that system and the real history behind the ‘cure’ they believe they are taking to the rest of the world, then are they not by definition grossly misinformed, and programmed to misinform others? Has their choice not been compromised, limited, or coerced in some degree by withholding from them what they really ought to know? Are they not being knowingly sent out to bear false witness? Their ignorance, (and let’s be clear here, it is a wilful ignorance imposed upon them by the highest leadership of the church), is potentially a profound danger not just to themselves, but to others as well.

Following on from this is one of the saddest matters of all. It is a lamentable fact that not all those young people who enter the mission field starry-eyed and misinformed, will return home alive to their families and friends after serving their term. Missions are potentially dangerous enterprises, and too often, as you know, tragedies occur. Concerning those who do not return alive at the end of their service, the question must be asked whether they would actually have gone in the first place, had they and their families been properly informed about the real history. After all, it is a matter of record that many after completing their missions, for the first time do encounter authentic LDS history, and then leave in disgust. Might some already have been spared untimely deaths if church leaders had been open and honest with our young people all along? The stark and dreadful answer to that question unfortunately, is an almost certain ‘yes’.

Some at least would not have surrendered their lives in promoting the LDS gospel if they had initially been told the truth: [1] about Joseph Smith’s marital shenanigans; [2] his evolving account of The First Vision; [3] his proven inability to translate Egyptian; [4] his readiness nevertheless to claim that an ancient papyrus which the church owned was a lost Book of Abraham, (whereas it was in actuality a pagan Egyptian funerary text which made no mention of Abraham); and [5] the archaeological, textual and DNA advances in recent years, which highlight a series of anomalies which cast the gravest doubt upon an ancient origin of the Book of Mormon.

Despite these evidences, some, it has to be acknowledged, would still wish to serve LDS missions even having been made aware of the substantial challenges which now exist to the orthodox LDS narrative, but others, (perhaps many), you must equally acknowledge, would not. They would undoubtedly say, with a fuller knowledge available to them that they would invest their time instead in other pursuits. The fact that some, after being advised of the historical realities, might decide to refuse a call to missionary service, should never justify withholding those realities from them. When a person places their life on the line for any cause, is it not their moral right to know every available detail about that cause? Who then is going to own responsibility for allowing ignorance to fuel these tragic losses? Do you really imagine that the Jesus of the New Testament would make light of such a situation? Dying for, or even just wasting one’s precious time in promoting what is subsequently found to be flawed tenets and false histories, is no trivial matter. Would careful avoidance of such (potentially fatal) ignorance not always be far preferable to accomplishing arbitrary missionary targets?

If no-one else will tell you, then without apology, I must, (and call me apostate if you choose for daring to say it): This practice of keeping the upcoming generation ignorant in order to place these innocents potentially in harm’s way, has to stop. Those who sacrifice these children, present a very gross spectacle. They are senior churchmen, who should, and in some cases surely do know far better, yet constantly they strain at the facts, while swallowing cureloms without a second thought. It is time that curelom-swallowing was regulated out of the LDS syllabus. That, of course, will only happen when plain facts are no longer twisted and distorted for the consumption of young impressionable minds.

So I will ask you on behalf of the young men and young women and their families, who may yet be spared needless tragedy, what will you do personally as an Area Presidency to ensure that necessary changes are made, which will help to bring the LDS church into a state of safe practice, and an alignment with reality? What will you do to put an end to the old programme of misinformation, and all of the emotional abuse which grows out of it?

Perhaps you will dismiss my request and say it is not my business; maybe you no longer consider voices like mine worth listening to. It is certainly true that many like me who are prepared to ask hard questions, no longer find ourselves able to sustain the Pharisaic law, which apparently nurtures the LDS hierarchy, and so you may feel inclined to dismiss me as just another lost Samaritan who counts for little; but please remember that Truth will always count, and if you don’t embrace it fully, your ambitions are destined to fail. Dollars may purchase an illusion of power and authority, and also temporary favour with governments and judiciaries, but Truth will always prevail in the end. By concealing the truth you cannot set people at liberty; you can only enslave them by degrees. You may claim from the pulpit to lead millions, but Truth will claim them all, one by one, eventually. The best you can ever hope to do without Truth is to deflect attention from the hard evidence for a while, with stories which may seem momentarily newsworthy, but which are ultimately hollow.

THE MORMON STORIES WE ARE SUPPOSED TO HEAR

We need only look to the Mormon Newsroom to find such stories. Here is a recent one. Presumably it is the kind of information we are expected to read in order to increase our faith.

http://www.mormonnewsroom.org.uk/article/british-prime-minister-receives-personal-family-history-from-church

It appears that my former Stake President, and friend Elder Patrick Kearon, now serving as a member of the Europe Area Presidency, (I should clarify that while I have never ceased to consider him a friend, I do accept that it may no longer be convenient for him to consider the friendship mutual), has recently presented the British Prime Minister David Cameron with a beautifully bound six generation family history on behalf of the LDS church. The article shows Elder Kearon and an Area Seventy, Elder Herbertson, pictured with Mr Cameron, and two other Members of Parliament, David Rutley and Craig Whittaker, who are both apparently members of the LDS church. They are shown carefully inspecting the gift with what appears to be keen interest. The article explains:

David Cameron is one of several distinguished world leaders who have been given personalised copies of their family history archive.  Previous government heads to be honoured include US President Barack Obama, former Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and previous President of Germany, Johannes Rau.

Making the presentation on behalf of the Church, Elder Patrick Kearon of the Europe Area Presidency, said: “We are so pleased to be able to put together this family history record and present it to the Prime Minister and his family, we hope they will enjoy learning more of their heritage”.

What are the messages we are supposed to take from this article? I suggest the following:

  • The LDS church is generous and caring
  • It has mankind’s records at its fingertips
  • It values families
  • It is a significant player on the world stage
  • It is the friend of world leaders, notably in the USA, Britain, Australia and Germany
  • It has influence within the British parliament

And the subliminal messages might possibly be these, (or at least these are the messages I would have taken from the story as a fervent believer in the cause):

  • The LDS church is steadily growing and gaining power
  • Its leaders are favoured of God
  • All is well in Zion
  • The church must be true
  • The LDS agenda is being fulfilled even though people like David Cameron do not realise they are being used as instruments in establishing our secret Zionist aspirations

All of this might not much matter to the average bystander, except for one enormous and very pertinent irony:

One of David Cameron’s titles is First Lord of The Treasury, and as such it is his duty to ensure that The Treasury receives all due fiscal income to which it is legally entitled.

In 2013, (as you may possibly be aware), the LDS church was reported to H.M. Revenue & Customs by a former stake president for alleged acts of tax evasion amounting to several million pounds, in connection with undeclared Mission Presidents’ allowances. That complaint is currently under investigation. Mr Cameron was independently notified in writing of the allegations in October 2014. He personally acknowledged that communication, and advised that he would set in train further investigations.

This combination of factors raises important questions which the British public deserves to have properly answered:

[1] If the Area Presidency was at any time aware of the existence of a tax evasion complaint, was there possibly another motive in making a gift to Mr Cameron?

[2] If not, then was Mr Cameron politically compromised in accepting a gift from the LDS church prior to him having pursued a full resolution of the complaint?

[3] Assuming that Mr Rutley and Mr Whittaker have made certain covenants promising to further the cause of the LDS church, to what extent are they aware of these tax evasion allegations, and where will their duty lie if those allegations are found to have any merit?

[4] Has there been, or might there in the future be potential scope for complicity in attempting to dismiss this serious complaint against the LDS church?

If the allegations are eventually shown to be true, (and the evidence I am assured is not insubstantial – indeed some have indicated that this may be merely the first of a series of such disclosures), then might not the conspicuous public presentation by the LDS church of a family history to Mr Cameron at this juncture, be reasonably compared to an overly ambitious pupil presenting a schoolteacher with apples which had been scrumped from the teacher’s own backyard?

Clearly, some kind of explanation is going to be needed from each of the parties concerned, and presumably the media will agitate for such, until that Mormon story is also told.

THE ‘A’ WORD

Well, the tax evasion issue will undoubtedly grow in significance over time, and that is obviously a chapter yet to be written. Consideration may more profitably be focussed for the present however, on the attitude of the LDS church, not in its role as the accused, but in its more familiar role as the accuser of its questioning members. In this regard it must be said that recent signs are not promising, and indicate little progress.

For anyone who is inquisitive, (and surely that should be everyone), it is a fact of life that there is now enough evidence in circulation to suggest that there are significant anomalies in the orthodox LDS narrative. Intelligent people deserve intelligent explanations, and orthodoxy simply does not provide them. So people will speak to one another and try to place in context disintegrating worldviews which had hitherto governed their whole lives. Onto the stage enter individuals like John Dehlin and others, seeking workable answers, and solutions, and mutual support. They are not there expressly to cause trouble. They are there because they are suffering and feel abandoned. When the only official response is to label such people ‘apostates’, then the leadership is merely demonstrating that it is devoid of useful ideas, is judgmentally impaired, is suffering from siege mentality, and living in constant fear of losing its own over-inflated status.

The term ‘apostate’ has a unique meaning within LDS circles, which is rather telling: it refers nearly always to the challenge of authority, and almost never to the challenge of objective truth. Apostasy properly means a departure from true principles, and of course the age-old antidote to apostasy has been recanting, or in LDS parlance, repentance… but how is one who is accused of LDS apostasy supposed to repent, when their only offence is to have told the truth? Surely that kind of ‘repentance’ may only be accomplished by pretending, by covering up, or by keeping quiet. And that is precisely what we are asked to do when we start to find out about the true history. I know because I have received such requests, combined with warnings, that failure to heed those requests, might result in action being taken against me. All I want is intelligent, believable answers. Such tell-tale appeals from leaders at once indicate to those who receive them where truth is, and where truth most definitely is not any longer.

“Keep quiet. Do not speak to others about what you know.” These are the frequent instructions given to those who find that there is a more authentic and reasonable version of the past to be found within uncorrelated LDS church history. But how is one expected to keep quiet and remain in good conscience? How may one claim to be honest in one’s dealings, while covering up the facts from friends and neighbours? And how may one indefinitely separate his thoughts from his words and actions, and remain in a state of mental wellbeing? In effect pleas to be silent about newfound knowledge are actually entreaties to learn to think differently, and to suppress our human entitlement to discuss matters of concern with others. Anything, it seems, not fully supportive of the official position, effectively then amounts to ‘thought crime’, ultimately punishable by excommunication.

This cannot be right. Please brethren read the signposts and see where you are heading.

Remember that we British and European converts who have joined the LDS church since the first missionaries arrived on this continent in the 1830s, have always had to give up much of our cultural heritage in order to align ourselves with the requirements of our newly adopted religion. In many cases we have been resilient characters who have been prepared to stand for truth and righteousness despite being ridiculed and rejected by our families and peers. In our struggles, we have drawn strength from the assurances of our leaders and teachers that the LDS official narrative is 100% true, and we have trusted that it would always be underpinned by reason, and by the findings of scientific and historical enquiry. After all, we had been told that no amount of enquiry could ever harm truth. Truth was reason, and so need never be feared, for it would always support our position. Accordingly we have been prepared to give our all in that belief, not in order to serve a man-made organisation, but to serve our God, who we have held to be the God of all truth.

Why should there be any surprise then, that people like us must eventually speak out, when we stumble upon a greater reality, or when we discover that the claims we have lived by are unsupported by actual history, or when we realise that deliberate cover-ups have been practised all along, in order to keep the ordinary members in line? It was in our character from the first to question and to seek truth. That is what drew us to a church which promised us everything; and now that same need to question and to seek truth is what prompts us to explain to others how our church has failed to deliver on its promises. There should be no surprise in this. Are we not today the same people we were all along, still ready to stand for truth and right, despite ridicule and rejection (in this present era from our LDS peers, and the veiled threats of our leaders)?

You may recall this verse from an LDS song, slightly adapted here to explain our position?

 

Dare to be outspoken;

Dare to stand alone.

Dare to have a purpose firm;

Dare to make it known.

 

So, why is it that strength and resolve may be thought to be noble in one situation, and yet entirely heretical in another, when all the time the light of truth, (rather than idolatrous reverence for fallible leadership), has been our guiding star? You must understand that many of us who question here in Europe, are ‘truth-broke’ which is a virtue; we will never see any merit in being ‘church-broke’, as you require us to be, for that to us is a very obvious spiritual impediment, fraught with danger.

When a religion presents itself as the overarching ultimate truth, and then cannot accept any discussion among its ranks about its founding claims, then surely it is that religion which has departed from the Truth, not those followers who originally embraced it trusting that all truth would be circumscribable into one whole, and should therefore be our perpetual goal.

Please try to understand, it comes down to these two defining questions, which have been a perpetual feature of European religious history and development for the last 500 years:

  • Should Truth conform to religious dogma or should religion conform to the Truth?
  • Is it balanced and fair to accuse questioners of being ‘apostates’ because their consciences lead them to follow truth rather than dogma?

You, the leadership of the 21st century LDS church, may continue to show your ignorance by accusing truth seekers and truth spreaders of ‘apostasy’, but your policy will fail spectacularly if you do. Every disciplinary council which will be held will be further evidence to closet questioners who will sit upon them, and to the rest of the world, concerning the false and unsustainable position of LDS orthodoxy. Every excommunication will produce more publicity; every news article will open more eyes, and more ‘apostates’ will keep coming to the fore until the critical issues are well known in every community.

What will you do then? Will you condemn everybody except yourselves for daring to speak truth?

In all candour brethren: where is real apostasy to be found today? And who are the actual apostates?

 

THE FUTURE IN THE BALANCE

If you wish to convert the world, (which certainly was the commonly expressed ambition of LDS leaders when I first joined the church, even if it is no longer emphasised), then your ideas, your histories, and your financial structures must all be open to view so that they may compete in the common market place where alternative ideas, histories, and financial structures are found. They must all succeed on merit, and not by sleight of hand.

If you have the truth, then there will never be a need to hide or skew information, because the truth will speak clearly for itself, and all will be benefitted for having heard it. To question is our innate human right, and questioning is at the root of all progress.

Elder Hugh B. Brown was exactly right when he said: ‘Neither fear of consequence or any kind of coercion should ever be used to secure uniformity of thought in the church. People should express their problems and opinions and be unafraid to think without fear of ill consequences… we must preserve freedom of the mind in the church and resist all efforts to suppress it.’

That was part of a speech given almost 57 years ago. Should we not have moved forwards rather than backwards on this key issue during that time?

Perhaps you should join with others therefore, in feeling deeply obligated to men such as John Dehlin for bringing important evidence to the fore, and for seeking to heal those who have been damaged by an insensitive system too often characterised by unrighteous dominion. Would Jesus really care who gave succour to the poor, the downtrodden or the afflicted? Was not every charitable act valued by him? How has this simple and beautiful perspective been lost in the crossfire of LDS corporate ambition? How is it that John Dehlin loses his membership, and with it, according to LDS teachings, his family in the hereafter? Are the minds of the men who lead the current LDS church not large enough to embrace the teachings of Jesus? Is your sacred brotherhood greater or more important in the sight of God than the brotherhood of all of mankind?

When the scales are weighed, will fine suits, immaculate grooming, tele-prompted fear-inducing speeches, and business class lifestyles ever be a worthy substitute for genuine charity? Who is found to be the true believer and who is the Pharisee when New Testament principles are applied to this modern example?

I have tried to ask some questions many would like to ask. I have done so because they are questions which deserve proper answers. In all honesty, are you justifiably able to call me apostate for having done so? Will I be one more to be made an example of, separated, (if one accepts the dogma), from eternal family blessings, for doing no more than speaking honestly and forthrightly? Presumably my Stake President will answer those questions for you, unless you, or perhaps those who pull your strings, will have the courtesy to answer me directly this time.

But in parting, please do not view those like me, (who actually care), to be your enemy. Think of us more as fulfilling the role of your conscience. The greatest enemy is dishonesty; the espousal of truthfulness, and the flushing out of disingenuousness would bring us all together once more on the same side of this cavernous divide.

As already mentioned, this is a pivotal moment. Which way will the scales be made to tip? Towards glasnost, reason, real charity and inclusiveness, perhaps heralding future co-operation and progress? Or back into the dark ages of further dogma-driven myopia?

For now I have said what I need to say. I trust you will understand it is your turn.

 

Sincerely… Christopher Ralph.

Advertisements