Thursday, February 7, 2019

Bishop Vaughn J. Featherstone’s Experience with the Scriptures and the Savior


Cobbled together by Dennis B. Horne

            Note: In his earlier years, in some talks given in the 1970s, as a counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone referenced a marvelous spiritual experience he received. The below contains both published text and newly transcribed wording that was withheld for whatever reason (perhaps felt to be too sacred then), from the published version, that gives further insight into the experience. Links are provided so readers can listen to both of the talks at their convenience:

Let me tell you the greatest experience I believe I have had in all my readings of the scriptures—and I am sharing something that is very tender with me. I remember the night that I read 3 Nephi the 17th chapter [3 Ne. 17]. That is when I discovered the Lord Jesus Christ, my Redeemer, the Lord of lords, the King of kings, my Savior, my personal Savior; and I believe that is where I finally found the description of the Savior as I thought him to be.


He had been with the Nephite people all the day long, you will recall, and finally said:

“I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time.

“Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and … I come unto you again [on the morrow].

Monday, January 28, 2019

“Ye are not sent forth to be taught, but to teach” (D&C 43:15)



            Questions have arisen, and various thoughts expressed by some, regarding the role that non-Latter-day Saint scholars, meaning academics of the world (friendly or not), have to play within scholarship of the Restoration. Simply put, should we be studying their works to inform our own understanding of scriptural texts? Let us review this issue.
            Twenty-five years ago I attended a lecture on the Dead Sea Scrolls by Emanuel Tov, given at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City. Sitting on the stand was then-Elder Russel M. Nelson and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. Elder Holland conducted the meeting. Tov gave an excellent presentation and Elder Holland indicated afterward that he considered it outstanding himself and even said that if the building wasn’t dedicated that we would all have applauded.
            I feel safe in suggesting that neither of these apostles were there to learn new doctrine or to obtain an improved interpretation of any scriptural text from this fine Jewish scholar, who did not believe that Jesus was/is the Christ. Neither of them could be taught doctrine about God and the plan of salvation by Tov. But they both wanted to know more about the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were a trending subject of scholarly study at that time, and Tov was an expert. So they enjoyed learning from him, as did I.
            This illustrates a wise way to approach the scholarship of the world. Where they know more than Latter-day Saint scholars, in matters related to historical, linguistic, geographical, or specialty subjects, their studies may make a helpful contribution. Yet when it comes to doctrinal explanations or interpreting any of the standard works (usually the Bible), we should be very wary of accepting their conclusions.
            Elder Mark E. Petersen gave the following counsel to Church Education System instructors. While it is true that teachers employed at church universities have greater (academic) freedom in their teaching than do those in the Seminaries and Institutes, Elder Petersen’s general cautions still apply:

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Why Some People Leave the Church


            As President Gordon B. Hinckley acknowledged, “It is a fact that we lose some—far too many. Every organization of which I am aware does so.  But I am satisfied that we retain and keep active a higher percentage of our members than does any other major church of which I know.” (“The Church Grows Stronger,” Ensign, May 2004, 4.)
            An unfortunate trend is to leave the Church over the so-called social issues. It is on these grounds that I see need for further and deeper thought. We will look closely at this question: Where do most people today, including some Latter-day Saints, get their values/conscience/feelings/attitudes/ideologies from? Where do they get their ideas on how to behave, to live, to conduct their lives? Is there such a thing as wrong or foolish values? And if we learn the source of that information, meaning the answers to these questions, can it be trusted or is it false? These are questions that may decide whether certain people will remain in the Church or leave it. So, where is “society” or the “world” and now, and how did we get there?

A Decrease in Morality and Increase in Sin and Disbelief

            Elder Boyd K. Packer believed that the United States of America, has from its beginning been a mostly moral and decent nation, deserving of the title “good, moral Christian people,” but that around the time of the Vietnam War, that majority shifted and became a minority; also that the United States has been in rapid moral decline ever since. He wrote: “Perhaps for the first time . . . that balance of decency and morality is shifting past the center. The balance . . . is slowly tipping in the wrong fatal direction.” Further, “It happened first in and to the universities of America. It happened when agnostics and atheists were protected in teaching their philosophy of religion in public institutions of higher learning. Because they claim affiliation with no church, the principle of separation of church and state is supposed not to apply to them. They are free to teach their faithless philosophy at public expense, to shake, even destroy, the faith of their students. Meanwhile teachers of faith are restrained and churches are kept off campus. What happened, happened in and to the schools and the churches, to the towns and cities, it happened in the homes and in the hearts of the American people.”
            Elder Packer then stated: “Something is weakening the moral fiber of the American people. We have always had couples live together without marriage, but we have not honored it as an acceptable life style. We have always had children born out of wedlock, but we have never made it to be respectable. And, we have never before regarded babies, conceived in wedlock or out, to be an inconvenience and destroyed them by the thousands through abortion. And this while barren couples yearn for a child to raise. We have always had some who followed a life of perversion [homosexuality], but we have never before pushed through legislation to protect that way of life lest we offend the rights of an individual. . . .”  This address, given thirty years ago, presaged well what has become of the United States and the rest of the world as well.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Doubters' and Dissidents' True Colors Shining Through


            President Russell M. Nelson, the Prophet of the Lord on the earth right now, just shared a revelation from Jesus the Christ with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (His Church) and the public. The prophet used unmistakably direct wording: “The Lord has impressed upon my mind….” Having so acted in his prophetic office, and given this revelation for the Church of Jesus Christ to the Church of Jesus Christ, a number of people who want to be seen as insightful commentators have now commentated. And their (anything-but-insightful) comments have shown all of us where they stand.

            A reporter for the Salt Lake Tribune, who can be consistently counted on to get her story filler from doubters and dissidents, proved her consistency again. She tirelessly reached out (for a few minutes) to a few websites and her email inbox and copied and pasted some negative reaction to President Nelson’s revelation posted by her dissident and doubting friends (she calls them “believing members” but they clearly aren’t as evidenced by their reactions), and wrote a negatively biased story: Rocky Anderson (!!!), Jana Reiss (“also believes the drive may fail”), Steve Evans (“it won’t succeed”), Patrick Mason (“’Mormon’ will continue to be dominant”), and Matthew Bowman (“a move toward boundary maintenance”).

            If nothing else, I hope readers can remember how President Nelson’s direct language of receiving an impression from the Lord on this was casually dismissed by these dissidents and proclaimed as most anything else, including a failed effort before it has hardly begun. We need to remember their disbelief and disloyalty on past and other yet future occasions when they also express their opinions—they have again proclaimed to the world their true colors and feelings. President Nelson seems not to be a prophet to them; they are prophets unto themselves, drawing their great wisdom from their pride and academic learning. It seems whatever President Nelson says, they are smarter and wiser than him and his source of revelation. His teachings and counsel to the Church of Jesus Christ need to be qualified and reinterpreted and discounted.

            Dissidents are placed in such a quandary when a prophet speaks for a god they are not sure exists; they are really only “cultural” Latter-day Saints, born and raised in the forms, but they have never known the power. So, we get what we got—useless rubbish. I prefer to follow the prophet.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Blackmail: An Increasingly Common but Ineffective Anti-Mormon Tool


“Extortion or coercion by threats especially of public exposure or criminal prosecution.” Such is the dictionary definition of blackmail. Since threats of criminal prosecution of the Church or its general leaders are ludicrous, we will concentrate on “coercion by threats especially of public exposure.” These types of threats are also absurd, but have still become increasingly popular among desperate anti-Mormons seeking publicity for their grievance or cause. The reason I say absurd is because in order for blackmail to work, they have to have something substantial—some leverage—behind their threat—and anti-Mormons don’t.

            A couple more definitions should be reviewed: “Whistleblower”; “a person who informs on a person or organization engaged in an illicit activity.” (Note that illicit is usually equivalent to illegal, though not always.) And also “traitor”; “a person who betrays a friend, country, principle, etc.” I mention these words because people fitting these descriptions are often involved with blackmail schemes. Whistleblowers, those who expose illicit/illegal activity, are sometimes thought, even begrudgingly, to be principled, even heroic, people for enduring the risk of exposing such activity. Traitors, on the other hand, are thought to be among the lowest forms of humanity; no principles, only deceit and money (or fame) motivate them. They are thought or spoken of like Judas or Benedict Arnold. Often, alleged whistleblowers are simply traitors, designated so because they just didn’t like something they found out about and are using illicit/illegal means to expose something that may be quite innocuous, ethical, and/or legal.

             Having laid this groundwork, let us examine some examples of anti-Mormons trying to blackmail the LDS Church with various schemes. First, we quickly review an incident from Mormon history. David R. Seely gives us this narration:

On 16 September 1911, the Salt Lake Tribune published an account of certain individuals who had secretly taken pictures of the interior of the Salt Lake Temple and who had attempted to sell them to the church. The headlines read: "Photographs secretly taken of Mormon Temple's interior; sent for sale to Church chief. President replies: 'Church will not negotiate with thieves and blackmailers."' The blackmail scheme was perpetrated by Max Florence, who was at the time in New York City trying to sell sixty-eight unauthorized photographs of the interior of the Salt Lake Temple. Florence had employed the help of a recent convert to the church, Gisbert Bossard, who, disenchanted with the administration of the church, had, assisted by a gardener for the temple grounds, gained access to the Salt Lake Temple and had taken a series of photographs of the interior of the Salt Lake Temple. Apparently motivated by money and "revenge" on the church, these individuals had taken the pictures when the Salt Lake Temple was closed for renovation during the summer of 1911. Florence and Bossard had sent a letter to the First Presidency with a proposal of blackmail—that the church would give them $100,000 and the photographs would be returned; otherwise. they would be shown publicly. President Joseph F. Smith, the recipient of the letter, was outraged, and his response was, "I will make no bargain with thieves or traffickers in stolen goods. I prefer to let the law deal with them."[1]

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Strange Saga of a False Prophet: Charles W. Stayner, Orson F. Whitney, and George Q. Cannon



            We now look as far as history allows into the lives and doings of three largely forgotten men (and their associates), to tell a story of strange doctrine, misplaced loyalty, and exasperated concern.

            In 1881, Bishop Orson F. Whitney was called on a mission to England, where his assignment was to preach the gospel as a proselyting missionary for several months, and then move into the main mission office in Liverpool, where he would become the sub-editor of the Millennial Star. In this capacity he would take over for the departing sub-editor, Charles W. Stayner. Unbeknownst to most in his day and ours, Charles Stayner was a self-proclaimed prophet and seer, who evidently had a very magnetic personality, enabling him to persuade Bishop/Elder Whitney, and also many of the other missionaries serving there, that he was a prophet of God that would someday lead the Church.

            The below diary entries and historical sources unfold as much as I know of Stayner’s (and his disciples) beliefs and actions in life. Bishop Whitney was the most prominent among them and had the best contacts with the senior leadership of the Church. For those who have not read my biography of Elder Whitney, after thorough study of his diaries, I came to realize that because of a susceptibility to flattery, difficulty coping with serious depression, and a hungry mind that thirsted for heavenly knowledge almost to a fault, Whitney was particularly vulnerable to Stayner’s claims. Beyond that, I cannot say why one as gifted and brilliant as Bishop Whitney would be so gullible as to accept Stayner’s strange doctrines and revelations. Stayner was not the only man to have a beguiling effect on Whitney during his lifetime, but he did have the most worrisome influence for the longest time—almost two decades.

            I present this material now for several reasons. Some of it (the entries from President George Q. Cannon’s diaries) has just recently become available after languishing in the First Presidencies vault for a hundred plus years. Further, most of the entries quoted below from Whitney’s diary are already published in my biography of his extraordinary life and are therefore not really new. But the main reason to narrate this unusual chronicle is because it tells a story that is repeating itself today in tragic ways. False prophets have arisen among us and should be recognized for what they are.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Ruminations on Doubt, Again


            It recently came to my attention that Terry Givens has revisited the subject of doubt in an interview from last January. I don’t follow him so I often learn about things he has said later. Such was the case with his “Letter to a Doubter” (that was so troubling) and an online interview, also troubling.

            From what I can see, in this interview he is trying to walk back (without it looking like it) some of the things he has said about doubt being good in the past that have disappointed knowledgeable and faithful members so much. Some years ago he appointed himself to minister to doubters, a highly dubious proposition (for reasons I will touch on below).

His academic standing has given him enough prominence and following/disciples so that he somehow finds himself speaking in various locations throughout the church on that subject and others. I think it likely that many bishops and stake presidents don’t know in advance what he is going to say to their audiences. I have learned that local priesthood leaders often don’t know when a guest speaker might use the opportunity for priest-craft (selling books, like the Tattooed Mormon), or to advance opinions and agendas that aren’t in harmony with church teachings.