I first need to make a cru­cial dis­tinc­tion here, between the Cor­po­rate and Insti­tu­tion­al Church, and the Church that exists in the lives of the indi­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies that com­prise the var­i­ous Wards and Branch­es of the Church.

Even though I was a con­vert to the Church, I raised my fam­i­ly in it, and was there­fore able to rec­og­nize and appre­ci­ate the real sense of com­mu­ni­ty and belong­ing that is cre­at­ed by the var­i­ous indi­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies in the con­gre­ga­tions, as they strived to live accord­ing to the beliefs they had accept­ed. I val­ued being able to move from one part of the coun­try to anoth­er, and instant­ly have a new set of friends who were more than will­ing to pro­vide phys­i­cal and mate­r­i­al assis­tance in the move, and in accept­ing us into the com­mu­ni­ty. I rec­og­nize, respect, and appre­ci­ate the integri­ty and moti­va­tion of the vast major­i­ty of those who fill the pews each Sun­day, and run the var­i­ous orga­ni­za­tions and activ­i­ties of the Church on the local lev­el.

That said, I also rec­og­nize that this same sense of com­mu­ni­ty and belong­ing can be found with­in the con­gre­ga­tions of most oth­er reli­gious tra­di­tions, so there real­ly isn’t any­thing par­tic­u­lar­ly unique about the com­mu­ni­ties of the LDS Church. So while these fruits are good, they don’t have any impli­ca­tions con­cern­ing the truth­ful­ness of the Church’s claims, just as they don’t for those oth­er reli­gious, or even non-reli­gious com­mu­ni­ties.

What I wish to address here reflects a real­i­ty dif­fer­ent from the one that exists in the Wards and Branch­es. In fact, many, per­haps most, mem­bers can live their whole lives total­ly at the local lev­el, and be com­plete­ly unaware of what is tak­ing place at the Cor­po­rate and Insti­tu­tion­al lev­el of the Church.

1. Financial Matters

There are sev­er­al aspects to this issue, and once again I’ll try to touch on the most impor­tant ones.

a. Lack of Financial Transparency

The Church does not dis­close much of any­thing about its finances. For a Church pur­port­ing to hav­ing been cre­at­ed by Jesus Christ, who often had some harsh things to say about the rich, this waves a huge red flag to me. The fact that they keep these mat­ters hid­den from pub­lic view, with no account­abil­i­ty to those who freely con­tribute their hard-earned funds, rais­es the inevitable ques­tion of what they might have to hide. Lack of dis­clo­sure doesn’t imply guilt, but it is not unrea­son­able to be sus­pi­cious. What do they have to lose by sim­ply being open and upfront about their finances?

On this top­ic, it is very inter­est­ing to note that Church lead­ers, includ­ing the Pres­i­dent of the Church, have been decep­tive on this top­ic when speak­ing to the media. On Jan­u­ary 9, 2002, Pres­i­dent Gor­don B. Hinck­ley was inter­viewed by Hel­mut Nemetschek of ZDF Ger­man Tele­vi­sion, at 47 East South Tem­ple in Salt Lake City. The fol­low­ing is an excerpt from this inter­view on the sub­ject of finan­cial trans­paren­cy:

HN: In my coun­try we say the people’s church­es, the Protes­tants, the Catholics. They pub­lish all their bud­gets annu­al­ly to all the pub­lic. Why is not this pos­si­ble for your church?
GBH: Well, we sim­ply think that infor­ma­tion belongs to those who make the con­tri­bu­tions, not to the world. That’s the only thing. Yes.
ZDF Inter­view with Gor­don B. Hinck­ley

This is sim­ply not true. The Church doesn’t make that infor­ma­tion avail­able to the mem­ber­ship of the Church, and they are the ones mak­ing the con­tri­bu­tions. Again, why mis­rep­re­sent the facts on this mat­ter, unless there are things that they would rather keep from the mem­ber­ship?

The Mis­sion­ar­ies are sent out to teach the world about the Church, and as part of their mes­sage they speak of the Church not hav­ing a paid min­istry. This is, at best, mis­lead­ing (although the mis­sion­ar­ies them­selves are inno­cent here, and are only teach­ing what they them­selves have been taught).

The fact of the mat­ter is that most of the Gen­er­al Author­i­ties, and Mis­sion Pres­i­dents, do in fact receive com­pen­sa­tion from the Church, in the form of ‘liv­ing allowances,’ or ‘stipends.’ Now I don’t think any rea­son­able indi­vid­ual would chal­lenge the appro­pri­ate­ness of their being com­pen­sat­ed for their ser­vices. But when they do this with­out being open about it, and while hav­ing its rep­re­sen­ta­tives teach oth­ers about there being ‘no paid min­istry’ in the Church, it does raise legit­i­mate con­cerns.

And why are the actu­al fig­ures not dis­closed? Are the amounts high enough that it would put them in a bad light, rel­a­tive to the mea­ger income of so many Church mem­bers?

Final­ly, I think it is use­ful to con­sid­er this quote from the Gospel Prin­ci­ples Man­u­al, Chap­ter 31, on Hon­esty:

When we speak untruths, we are guilty of lying. We can also inten­tion­al­ly deceive oth­ers by a ges­ture or a look, by silence, or by telling only part of the truth. When­ev­er we lead peo­ple in any way to believe some­thing that is not true, we are not being hon­est… Hon­est peo­ple will rec­og­nize Satan’s temp­ta­tions and will speak the whole truth, even if it seems to be to their dis­ad­van­tage.”
Gospel Prin­ci­ples Man­u­al, 2011, Chap­ter 31, Pages 179–83

The Church would do well to fol­low the same prin­ci­ples it expects its mem­bers to obey.

b. Tithing

The Church cur­rent­ly teach­es that Tithing should be a tenth of one’s income, and that this is gen­er­al­ly con­sid­ered to be one’s Gross income, before tax­es, liv­ing expens­es, or oth­er deduc­tions. There is some uncer­tain­ty on the Gross vs Net issue, although one can read­i­ly find Con­fer­ence Talks and oth­er offi­cial Church pub­li­ca­tions that endorse Tithing on the Gross.

But regard­less, this is, by def­i­n­i­tion, a ‘Regres­sive’ process. This tenth is applied uni­form­ly, regard­less of one’s income, and so will have greater impact on low­er income indi­vid­u­als than high­er income earn­ers. There is a sig­nif­i­cant prob­lem here for the poor, in that pay­ing a full tithe, as it is cur­rent­ly defined, could leave them with­out suf­fi­cient income to live, let alone save for the future.

For exam­ple, take a fam­i­ly of 4. Using a Liv­ing Wage Cal­cu­la­tor from an MIT web­site, such a fam­i­ly needs at least $40,000, before tax­es, to just meet their basic expens­es. If they earn this amount, and pay a Tithe of $4,000, this leaves them with $36,000, which is not enough mon­ey to meet basic needs.

Con­trast this with anoth­er fam­i­ly of 4, with Gross Income of $400,000. Yes, the Tithe here is much greater, at $40,000, but this doesn’t impact their abil­i­ty to meet their basic needs, and in fact, comes pure­ly out of ‘dis­cre­tionary’ funds.

The empha­sis on the impor­tance of Tithing in the Church is enor­mous. A recent arti­cle in the Ensign, by Aaron L. West, includ­ed the fol­low­ing:

If pay­ing tithing means that you can’t pay for water or elec­tric­i­ty, pay tithing. If pay­ing tithing means that you can’t pay your rent, pay tithing. Even if pay­ing tithing means that you don’t have enough mon­ey to feed your fam­i­ly, pay tithing. The Lord will not aban­don you.”
Ensign, Decem­ber, 2012

I find this atti­tude to be abhor­rent, and incom­pat­i­ble with the mes­sage I receive from read­ing Jesus’ words in the New Tes­ta­ment.

Yes, the Church does have its own Wel­fare sys­tem that should the­o­ret­i­cal­ly kick in, to make up the dif­fer­ence for that poor­er fam­i­ly. But it seems clear to me, after read­ing account after account after account, from actu­al mem­bers, that the Church has become increas­ing­ly restric­tive, and arbi­trary, in draw­ing on these funds. (The Church also dis­con­tin­ued their paid Jan­i­to­r­i­al staff years ago, and now require the mem­bers to pro­vide those ser­vices as vol­un­teers, but that’s a sub­ject for anoth­er time.) There is also the mat­ter of mem­bers being embar­rassed to seek assis­tance, which fur­ther com­pounds the prob­lem. And iron­i­cal­ly, in the absence of finan­cial trans­paren­cy, it is impos­si­ble to assess to what extent the Church is, or isn’t, meet­ing their respon­si­bil­i­ties to the poor.

Anoth­er aspect of Tithing which I find trou­bling, is the Church’s requir­ing that indi­vid­u­als pay a full Tithe before being grant­ed a Tem­ple Rec­om­mend, which pro­vides access to their most sacred Tem­ple Ordi­nances, regard­less of what­ev­er oth­er Christ-like traits and behav­iors they might have. I under­stand why access to these Ordi­nances is restrict­ed to those with a real com­mit­ment to liv­ing the com­mand­ments. And now it may be just my own per­son­al quirk, but I find it hard to imag­ine Jesus Christ telling some­body they can’t enter the Tem­ple because they had failed to fill a finan­cial require­ment (espe­cial­ly for the poor, who are bare­ly get­ting by to begin with).

c. City Creek Mall and other Financial Outlays

The Church recent­ly invest­ed between $1.5 bil­lion and $5 bil­lion dol­lars (appar­ent­ly the dif­fer­ence depends on whether or not oth­er aspects of the Salt Lake City down­town rede­vel­op­ment project are includ­ed) on a com­mer­cial enter­prise, the City Creek Mall. Regard­less of whether or not offi­cial Tithing funds were used, and whether or not it will be gen­er­at­ing prof­its down the road, I find this also quite trou­bling.

For a Church that claims Jesus Christ as its head, whose mis­sion is world-wide, I find it hard to under­stand why funds of this mag­ni­tude were uti­lized in this mat­ter, to ben­e­fit a very small geo­graph­ic area, in an area which is already quite wealthy by glob­al stan­dards. Again, it is hard for me to visu­al­ize Jesus Christ mak­ing this kind of allo­ca­tion while world-wide star­va­tion and dai­ly deaths of inno­cent, mal­nour­ished chil­dren are such huge prob­lems. Imag­ine what could have been achieved if these funds had been used to build schools, feed chil­dren (includ­ing mal­nour­ished chil­dren who are already Church mem­bers), com­bat malar­ia, build infra­struc­ture in devel­op­ing coun­tries, etc.

The Church has sim­i­lar­ly recent­ly invest­ed huge sums of mon­ey into com­mer­cial enter­pris­es in Philadel­phia, PA, Phoenix, AZ, Orlan­do, FL, and is the largest pri­vate landown­er in Flori­da. It is esti­mat­ed to have assets at least in excess of $30–40 bil­lion, and annu­al tithing income of $5–8 bil­lion. Again, exact fig­ures are hard to come by, because of the absence of finan­cial trans­paren­cy, but these are like­ly to be close to the actu­al num­bers accord­ing to mul­ti­ple news sources.

There is no inher­ent prob­lem with hav­ing assets of this pro­por­tion, but a rea­son­able indi­vid­ual can have legit­i­mate ques­tions about how these funds are being used, and how con­sis­tent those uses are with the teach­ings found in the New Tes­ta­ment.

Last­ly, the Church has spent quite a lot of mon­ey on Tem­ples — both the land, as well as the build­ings and accou­trements them­selves. While I under­stand the intent here, I still have trou­ble rec­on­cil­ing the vast sums of mon­ey that are spent here while so many chil­dren suf­fer and starve. Sure­ly, there must be a bet­ter way to bal­ance these con­cerns. This quote from the Book of Mor­mon seems to have this same mes­sage:

37 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.”
Mor­mon 8:37

And per­haps I have a fun­da­men­tal mis­un­der­stand­ing here, but it is very hard for me to see Jesus con­don­ing such large expen­di­tures for ordi­nances for the dead while there is so much pain and suf­fer­ing among the liv­ing, who would ben­e­fit enor­mous­ly, in very real, con­crete ways, if those funds were used in their behalf.

44 Then shall they also answer him, say­ing, Lord, when saw we thee an hun­gred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not min­is­ter unto thee? 45 Then shall he answer them, say­ing, Ver­i­ly I say unto you, Inas­much as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.”
Matthew 25:44–45

2. Church Leadership and Policies

a. Church Leadership

The main lead­er­ship of the Church includes the First Pres­i­den­cy, and the Quo­rum of the Twelve Apos­tles. They are seen as Apos­tles in the same sense as the Apos­tles in the New Tes­ta­ment. The hold­ers of these offices are also described as being Wit­ness­es of Jesus Christ. The impli­ca­tion of this ter­mi­nol­o­gy, and the way they speak of this to the mem­ber­ship, is that they com­mu­ni­cate direct­ly with Jesus Christ, just as they say Joseph Smith did.

But when they are asked direct­ly about this, they don’t give a straight for­ward answer, and some­times express dis­ap­point­ment at being asked the ques­tion in the first place. Some­times they’ll use cryp­tic word­ing, or deflect the ques­tion say­ing that those expe­ri­ences are too sacred to share. In more recent years, it seems that they refer to their call­ing as being wit­ness­es of the ‘name’ of Jesus Christ, which, to me, fur­ther obfus­cates the issue.

This all seems quite disin­gen­u­ous. After all, Joseph Smith is seen by the Church as hav­ing per­haps the great­est, most sacred expe­ri­ences of all, and he wasn’t shy about pub­licly pro­claim­ing them. My sus­pi­cion is that the spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ences of cur­rent Church lead­ers are sim­ply no dif­fer­ent from those of the mem­ber­ship, and there is noth­ing ‘Spe­cial’ about them at all.

Pres­i­dent Hinck­ley basi­cal­ly acknowl­edged this dur­ing sev­er­al dif­fer­ent inter­views he had done. It is not at all com­mon for Church lead­ers, espe­cial­ly Church Pres­i­dents, to speak pub­licly on this top­ic, so I think it would be worth­while to quote sev­er­al of these:

DR: As the world leader of the Church, how are you in touch with God? Can you explain that for me?
Gor­don B. Hinck­ley: I pray. I pray to Him. Night and morn­ing. I speak with Him. I think He hears my prayers. As He hears the prayers of oth­ers. I think He answers them.
DR: But more than that, because you’re leader of the Church. Do you have a spe­cial con­nec­tion?
Gor­don B. Hinck­ley: I have a spe­cial rela­tion­ship in terms of the Church as an insti­tu­tion. Yes.
DR: And you receive.….…
Gor­don B. Hinck­ley: For the entire Church.
DR: You receive?
Gor­don B. Hinck­ley: Now we don’t need a lot of con­tin­u­ing rev­e­la­tion. We have a great, basic reser­voir of rev­e­la­tion. But if a prob­lem aris­es, as it does occa­sion­al­ly, a vex­a­tious thing with which we have to deal, we go to the Lord in prayer. We dis­cuss it as a First Pres­i­den­cy and as a Coun­cil of the Twelve Apos­tles. We pray about it and then comes the whis­per­ings of a still small voice. And we know the direc­tion we should take and we pro­ceed accord­ing­ly.
DR: And this is a Rev­e­la­tion?
Gor­don B. Hinck­ley: This is a Rev­e­la­tion.
DR: How often have you received such rev­e­la­tions?
Gor­don B. Hinck­ley: Oh, I don’t know. I feel sat­is­fied that in some cir­cum­stances we’ve had such rev­e­la­tion. It’s a very sacred thing that we don’t like to talk about a lot. A very sacred thing.
David Ran­som Inter­view, Novem­ber 9, 1997

And there was this exchange between Lar­ry King and Pres. Hinck­ley, on Sept. 14, 2001, three days fol­low­ing the 9/11 attack:

KING: Pres­i­dent Hinck­ley, though, couldn’t He have pre­vent­ed this?
HINCKLEY: Oh, I sup­pose so. I believe he’s all pow­er­ful, yes. I don’t know His will. I don’t know how He oper­ates. His wis­dom is greater than mine. He sees beyond what I see. But I have con­fi­dence, over­whelm­ing con­fi­dence in the fact that He, who sees life, in its true and eter­nal sense will pro­vide for those who suf­fer as these peo­ple have suf­fered as a result of this atroc­i­ty, which has been com­mit­ted against the nation, which we love.
Lar­ry King Inter­view, Sept. 14, 2001

Last­ly, this is from anoth­er Lar­ry King inter­view in 2004:

KING: You are the prophet, right?
HINCKLEY: Right.
KING: Does that mean that, accord­ing to the church canon, the Lord speaks through you?
HINCKLEY: I think he makes his will man­i­fest, yes.
KING: So if you change things, that’s done by an edict giv­en to you.
HINCKLEY: Yes, sir.
KING: How do you receive it?
HINCKLEY: Well, var­i­ous ways. It isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly a voice heard. Impres­sions come. The build­ing of this very build­ing I think is an evi­dence of that.
There came an impres­sion, a feel­ing, that we need to enlarge our facil­i­ties where we could hold our con­fer­ences. And it was a very bold mea­sure. We had to tear down a big build­ing here and put this build­ing up at great cost.
But good­ness sakes, what a won­der­ful thing it’s proven to be. It is an answer to many, many needs. And I think it’s the result of inspi­ra­tion.

KING: And that came from some­thing high­er than you.
HINCKLEY: I think so.
Lar­ry King Inter­view, Dec. 26, 2004

As an active, believ­ing mem­ber at the time of sev­er­al of these inter­views, I clear­ly remem­ber how sur­prised and dis­ap­point­ed I was in how Pres. Hinck­ley pre­sent­ed him­self, and the Prophet­ic office. Here was an oppor­tu­ni­ty to speak bold­ly to the world, fol­low­ing the exam­ple of the Prophets of old, pro­claim­ing what­ev­er God would have him speak. But instead, I saw a very like­able, pleas­ant per­son, with a good heart, but with no more knowl­edge, pow­er or author­i­ty than any­body else, with no ‘direct line’ to God, despite what mem­bers may gen­er­al­ly believe, or are led to believe.

One final, brief quote, from cur­rent Church Pres­i­dent, Thomas S. Mon­son, at the rib­bon cut­ting for the City Creek Mall (dis­cussed above) in March, 2012:

1, 2, 3, let’s go shop­ping.”

Con­sid­er­ing the ques­tion­able finan­cial and eth­i­cal dimen­sion to this project, and the dig­ni­ty that might be expect­ed from God’s Prophet, this just seems com­plete­ly inap­pro­pri­ate. I have seen com­ments by active, believ­ing Church mem­ber who also expressed dis­com­fort about this quote.

In this con­text, I have also been both­ered over the years when the First Pres­i­den­cy issues let­ters request­ing that if mem­bers have ques­tions about the Church, the Gospel, etc., that they shouldn’t write to the Gen­er­al Author­i­ties, and should address them just to their local lead­ers.

Sim­i­lar­ly, as dis­cussed above, there are many issues and con­cerns sur­round­ing aspects of the Church’s his­to­ry and teach­ings, which are con­tra­dict­ed by the avail­able sci­en­tif­ic and his­tor­i­cal evi­dence. Sure­ly this would be an impor­tant, even cru­cial area, where the lead­ers of the Church, sus­tained as Prophets, Seers and Rev­e­la­tors, would be able to obtain rev­e­la­tion, and pro­vide at least some answers, once and for all. What is the point of hav­ing Prophets if they are unwill­ing to declare doc­trine, and pro­vide defin­i­tive answers to mem­bers’ ques­tions?

Instead, this task has seem­ing­ly been del­e­gat­ed to var­i­ous BYU Pro­fes­sors who have func­tioned as infor­mal, unof­fi­cial apol­o­gists for the Church. This leaves the mem­ber­ship in a quandary — they are told not to ask ques­tions of the Gen­er­al Author­i­ties, and are left sole­ly with the con­jec­tures of these men and women to try and deal with their ques­tions, but who can­not speak with any author­i­ty for the Church. And iron­i­cal­ly, many of their answers and expla­na­tions actu­al­ly con­tra­dict the state­ments and writ­ings of cur­rent and past Church Pres­i­dents and lead­ers.

In the last year (2014), the Church has final­ly pub­lished a num­ber of Essays on var­i­ous con­tro­ver­sial top­ics, but at least at the time of this writ­ing, it is dif­fi­cult to find them on the LDS web­site. They are also anony­mous and undat­ed, rais­ing ques­tions about their author­ship and author­i­ty.

When Church lead­ers want some­thing brought to the atten­tion of the mem­ber­ship, they have a let­ter from the First Pres­i­den­cy read at every Sacra­ment Meet­ing through­out the Church. Why not with this? Do they not want Church mem­bers to be more ful­ly informed on these mat­ters?

The Church seems to rely increas­ing­ly on its Pub­lic Rela­tions arm, to deal with ques­tions from the Press, or basi­cal­ly any­body else. I find myself ask­ing the ques­tion of why a Prophet, who is sup­posed to have the ‘ear’ of God, the only one on Earth with the author­i­ty to speak for God, has need of a Pub­lic Rela­tions Depart­ment to begin with?

I find it unset­tling that the Gen­er­al Author­i­ties sell a vari­ety of books on Gospel Top­ics, through Deseret Books, and pre­sum­ably prof­it from these sales (a rea­son­able assump­tion, in the absence of finan­cial dis­clo­sure). These men com­pare them­selves to the Prophets of the Bible, in terms of their rela­tion­ship with God, and their roles in pro­claim­ing the Gospel — I find it hard to imag­ine Moses, Isa­iah, Paul, and so forth, charg­ing the peo­ple for access to their mes­sages.

One final area I’d like to cov­er for this sec­tion con­cerns the Mark Hoff­man mat­ter. Hoff­man was a Church mem­ber, who sold the Church a large num­ber of alleged his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments, deal­ing with impor­tant aspects of Church his­to­ry. There is a now famous pho­to­graph show­ing Mark Hoff­man meet­ing with then Church Pres­i­dent Spencer W. Kim­ball, 1st Coun­selor N. Eldon Tan­ner, 2nd Coun­selor Mar­i­an G. Rom­ney, and Apos­tles Gor­don B. Hinck­ley and Boyd K. Pack­er.

As events unfold­ed, Hoff­man turned out to be a mas­ter forg­er, and as his oper­a­tions began to unrav­el, he end­ed up a mur­der­er as well, plant­i­ng bombs that killed inno­cent Church mem­bers.

This is impor­tant for sev­er­al rea­sons. First, it is often preached from the pul­pit how Church lead­ers, from the high­est author­i­ties, to the local Bish­ops and oth­er lead­ers, have a spe­cial gift of ‘dis­cern­ment,’ which pro­vides insight and knowl­edge, direct­ly from God, about Church mem­bers, assist­ing them in their ser­vice to the Church. I can­not imag­ine a more colos­sal demon­stra­tion of the absence of ‘dis­cern­ment’ than what is seen in the Hoff­man affair. The entire First Pres­i­den­cy and sev­er­al oth­er Apos­tles and Gen­er­al Author­i­ties were com­plete­ly fooled. Again, I acknowl­edge that these men can­not be expect­ed to be per­fect, but giv­en how mem­bers are expect­ed to respect and rev­er­ence the lead­ers for their gift of dis­cern­ment, and to obey any coun­sel they receive from them, this speaks elo­quent­ly to the absence of any such gift.

The oth­er rea­son I’ve includ­ed this inci­dent is because of the Church’s ini­tial moti­va­tion in pur­chas­ing these doc­u­ments. Many of them had mate­r­i­al that could prove embar­rass­ing to the Church regard­ing its his­to­ry. And so, for at least for some of these doc­u­ments, they were qui­et­ly pur­chased in order to be hid­den away in the Church vaults, so their con­tents would not be pub­licly avail­able or acces­si­ble.

b. Church Policies

Racism and Social Issues

It seems iron­ic, and the oppo­site of what might be expect­ed, to see the Church as an insti­tu­tion on the wrong side of the major moral and human rights issues of our time. The Church denied the Priest­hood to Blacks for almost 180 years, until this Doc­trine was reversed in 1978 (for doc­u­men­ta­tion that this wasn’t sim­ply a ‘pol­i­cy,’ see the state­ment of the First Pres­i­den­cy, August 17, 1949). Fur­ther, there is implic­it Racism in how Native Amer­i­cans are addressed in the Church’s teach­ings as well.

This is read­i­ly cat­e­go­rized as Insti­tu­tion­al Racism, involv­ing both Blacks, and Native Amer­i­cans, and is found in both the Scrip­tures them­selves, as well as in state­ments by Church Pres­i­dents. Con­sid­er the fol­low­ing quotes:

And Enoch also beheld the residue of the peo­ple which were the sons of Adam; and they were a mix­ture of all the seed of Adam save it was the seed of Cain, for the seed of Cain were black, and had not place among them.”
Moses 7:22

The first man that com­mit­ted the odi­ous crime of killing one of his brethren will be cursed the longest of any one of the chil­dren of Adam. Cain slew his broth­er. Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a ter­mi­na­tion to that line of human beings. This was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin. Trace mankind down to after the flood, and then anoth­er curse is pro­nounced upon the same race — that they should be the “ser­vant of ser­vants;” and they will be, until that curse is removed; and the Abo­li­tion­ists can­not help it, nor in the least alter that decree.”
Brigham Young, Jour­nal of Dis­cours­es 7:290–291

And he had caused the curs­ing to come upon them, yea, even a sore curs­ing, because of their iniq­ui­ty. For behold, they had hard­ened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; where­fore, as they were white, and exceed­ing­ly fair and delight­some, that they might not be entic­ing unto my peo­ple the Lord God did cause a skin of black­ness to come upon them.”
2 Nephi 5:21

The day of the Laman­ites is nigh. For years they have been grow­ing delight­some, and they are now becom­ing white and delight­some, as they were promised (2 Né. 30:6)… There was the doc­tor in a Utah city who for two years had had an Indi­an boy in his home who stat­ed that he was some shades lighter than the younger broth­er just com­ing into the pro­gram from the reser­va­tion. These young mem­bers of the Church are chang­ing to white­ness and to delight­some­ness.”
Pres­i­dent Spencer W. Kim­ball, Oct. 1960 Gen­er­al Con­fer­ence

And yes, it is under­stood that Church lead­ers, like any­body else, are human, with their own weak­ness­es and imper­fec­tions, and are not seen as being infal­li­ble. But yet, there were many, many peo­ple out­side the Church, dat­ing back to the ear­li­est years of the Church, who were some­how able to see this issue cor­rect­ly, and worked con­sci­en­tious­ly toward elim­i­nat­ing racism from soci­ety. Why wasn’t the Church on the fore­front of this issue, rather than seem­ing­ly being reluc­tant­ly dragged into the 20th cen­tu­ry? Fur­ther, it appears we are see­ing the same process going on now, with respect to both Women’s rights, Gay and Les­bian rights, Gay Mar­riage, etc.

Women and the Priesthood

There is then the issue of ordain­ing women to the Priest­hood. Pri­or to 1978, it was basi­cal­ly incon­ceiv­able for most mem­bers to see a change in Church doctrine/policy to allow Blacks to hold the Priest­hood, believ­ing that the Brethren, and there­fore God, had already clear­ly spo­ken on this issue. This seems to accu­rate­ly describe cur­rent atti­tudes on the issue of women’s ordi­na­tion.

As shown above, there are mul­ti­ple scrip­tur­al pas­sages jus­ti­fy­ing the pri­or racial­ly based Priest­hood restric­tion. Iron­i­cal­ly, with regard to the Priest­hood being restrict­ed to males, there aren’t even any actu­al scrip­tur­al pas­sages that jus­ti­fy this prac­tice. Ally Isom, offi­cial Church spokes­woman, dur­ing an inter­view with RadioWest’s Doug Fab­rizio, was asked:

D. Fab­rizio: Where does it say in Mor­mon doc­trine that women can’t have the priest­hood?”
A. Isom: It doesn’t.
Radio West Inter­view

Giv­en how things have worked in the past, I sus­pect that, down the road, Church doc­trine and pol­i­cy will change to allow women to hold the Priest­hood, just as it did with Blacks.

Church and the Family

The Church presents itself as being ‘fam­i­ly friend­ly,’ and in many respects it is. But unfor­tu­nate­ly, there are sev­er­al areas where fam­i­ly con­flict, which could oth­er­wise be avoid­ed, is being cre­at­ed.

One are con­cerns Tem­ple Mar­riage, specif­i­cal­ly Tem­ple Mar­riage in the Unit­ed States. ‘Eter­nal Mar­riages’ are per­formed only with­in the Tem­ples of the Church, and only mem­bers with a cur­rent Tem­ple Rec­om­mend are allowed to enter and wit­ness the cer­e­mo­ny. This cre­ates a major prob­lem for fam­i­lies who are not all mem­bers, or even for those who are mem­bers, but for what­ev­er rea­son do not hold a cur­rent Tem­ple Rec­om­mend (see the dis­cus­sion above, where finan­cial con­sid­er­a­tions and pay­ing of a full tithe will some­times have this result).

There is now a long-stand­ing pol­i­cy such that if a cou­ple, want­i­ng to include impor­tant fam­i­ly mem­bers who are not allowed to wit­ness the Tem­ple Mar­riage, decides to have a pub­lic, civ­il mar­riage first, they are then penal­ized by not being allowed to then have that mar­riage ‘Sealed’ in the Tem­ple for a full year. To me, this is uncon­scionable, and the very oppo­site of ‘fam­i­ly friend­ly.’

Iron­i­cal­ly, the laws in many Euro­pean coun­tries are dif­fer­ent, and it is actu­al­ly a require­ment for the civ­il mar­riage to be per­formed first. The cou­ple is then at lib­er­ty to go right away to the Tem­ple, to have their mar­riage sealed.

There is absolute­ly no rea­son that this same Pol­i­cy could not be imple­ment­ed in the Unit­ed States. Instead, the Church appar­ent­ly choos­es to cre­ate con­flict and ill-will with­in fam­i­lies, which would seem to be com­plete­ly incon­sis­tent with its claim to be ‘fam­i­ly-friend­ly.’ There have been rumors of such a pol­i­cy change tak­ing place, and if so, many fam­i­lies will breathe a huge sigh of relief. But even so, that fails to excuse the past and cur­rent behav­ior, which has caused so much pain and sor­row.

And while the Church pub­licly preach­es that the fam­i­ly comes first, the real­i­ty is quite dif­fer­ent. For exam­ple, if a close fam­i­ly mem­ber of a full-time mis­sion­ary, even a par­ent or sib­ling, dies while he or she is on their mis­sion, that mis­sion­ary is encour­aged to stay in the mis­sion field, and not return home even tem­porar­i­ly to attend the Funer­al. How is this putting the fam­i­ly first? And the real­i­ty of Church call­ings, espe­cial­ly ones involv­ing lead­er­ship posi­tions, is that huge amounts of time are devot­ed to the Church, rather than the fam­i­ly. Typ­i­cal­ly, the father and/or the moth­er are already required to be away from the fam­i­ly for many of the children’s wak­ing hours, to earn a liv­ing; call­ings often add sig­nif­i­cant­ly to the num­ber of hours spent away from the fam­i­ly. The mes­sage might be ‘fam­i­ly first,’ but the real­i­ty is ‘Church first.’

Messages from the Prophet

The world is filled with enor­mous suf­fer­ing, dis­ease, hunger, tor­ture, con­flict, war. One would expect the Prophet­ic Voice to speak out bold­ly on these top­ics. It is there­fore so incon­gru­ous when Gen­er­al Con­fer­ence talks, and coun­sel from the First Pres­i­den­cy, seems to place so much impor­tance on so many rel­a­tive­ly incon­se­quen­tial mat­ters: how many ear­rings are accept­able for a female to wear, the cru­cial impor­tance of obe­di­ence to one’s lead­ers, the pay­ing of a full tithe, and oth­er offer­ings, etc. Yes there are oth­er mes­sages about fol­low­ing the exam­ple of Jesus, which are more con­sis­tent with the mis­sion of the Church. But if I were to visu­al­ize what I would have expect­ed from God’s True Church, and his cho­sen Prophet, it would bear lit­tle resem­blance to what I see in the Church today.

Polygamy

One final top­ic for this sec­tion is Polygamy. Most peo­ple today rec­og­nize this as a prac­tice which deval­ues women, treat­ing them as male prop­er­ty, valu­ing them pri­mar­i­ly for sex and repro­duc­tion. In the ear­ly days of the Church, Polygamy was con­sid­ered an essen­tial part of the Church, and a require­ment for entry into the high­est degree of the Celes­tial King­dom. Brigham Young said:

The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy. Oth­ers attain unto a glo­ry and may even be per­mit­ted to come into the pres­ence of the Father and the Son; but they can­not reign as kings in glo­ry, because they had bless­ings offered unto them, and they refused to accept them.“Jour­nal of Dis­cours­es Vol­ume 11, P. 269

In fact, ear­ly Church lead­ers went so far as to con­demn monogamy, as shown by this quote from Brigham Young:

Monogamy, or restric­tions by law to one wife, is no part of the econ­o­my of heav­en among men. Such a sys­tem was com­menced by the founders of the Roman Empire.…Rome became the mis­tress of the world, and intro­duced this order of monogamy wher­ev­er her sway was acknowl­edged. Thus this monogam­ic order of mar­riage, so esteemed by mod­ern Chris­tians as a holy sacra­ment and divine insti­tu­tion, is noth­ing but a sys­tem estab­lished by a set of rob­bers.… Why do we believe in and prac­tice polygamy? Because the Lord intro­duced it to his ser­vants in a rev­e­la­tion giv­en to Joseph Smith, and the Lord’s ser­vants have always prac­ticed it. ‘And is that reli­gion pop­u­lar in heav­en?’ it is the only pop­u­lar reli­gion there…”
The Deseret News, August 6, 1862

Joseph Smith mar­ried at least 34 women, includ­ing 10 teen-agers, the youngest of whom was 14 (he was 37 at the time of that mar­riage). He also mar­ried 11 women who were then already mar­ried to oth­er men (called ‘Polyandry’). The Church has final­ly acknowl­edged these facts in the Essays I’ve already referred to.

In the case of that 14 year-old, Helen Mar Kim­ball, she was promised that if she agreed to Joseph’s request for mar­riage, that her whole fam­i­ly would receive exal­ta­tion. She lat­er expressed her thoughts on this sub­ject:

I would nev­er have been sealed to Joseph had I known it was any­thing more than cer­e­mo­ny. I was young, and they deceived me, by say­ing the sal­va­tion of our whole fam­i­ly depend­ed on it.”
Mor­mon Polygamy: A His­to­ry, by Richard S. Van Wag­oner, P. 53

This seems to me to be a manip­u­la­tive prac­tice of the worst kind.

Even­tu­al­ly, the Church was forced to aban­don Polygamy, but the scrip­tur­al basis for it as a prac­tice, both in this world, and the next, is still very much a part of LDS The­ol­o­gy (see Doc­trine & Covenants 132). And iron­i­cal­ly, if you do read that sec­tion care­ful­ly, you’ll see that Joseph actu­al­ly vio­lat­ed almost all of the stip­u­la­tions list­ed there, for how Polygamy was to be prac­ticed, and he would there­fore be con­demned by it, as a result.

But the Church now con­sis­tent­ly tries to dis­tance itself from this prac­tice, which was orig­i­nal­ly con­sid­ered an inte­gral part of the Restored Gospel. Con­sid­er this quote from Pres. Gor­don B. Hinck­ley, when he was asked about Polygamy by Lar­ry King on TV:

I con­demn it, yes, as a prac­tice, because I think it is not doc­tri­nal”.
Inter­view with Lar­ry King, Sept. 8, 1998

This is disin­gen­u­ous at best, and overt­ly decep­tive at worst. This reflects the behav­ior of a Pub­lic Rela­tions con­scious Cor­po­ra­tion, rather than the coura­geous dec­la­ra­tion of a Prophet of God, who would pro­claim even unpop­u­lar truths.

In this man­ner, the Church qui­et­ly changes its doc­trine, and the things it teach­es as true and impor­tant, while at the same time declar­ing that the truth nev­er changes. And they expect the mem­bers to sim­ply obey every­thing that they pro­claim as God’s ever­last­ing, unchange­able truth, despite the fact that these teach­ings have changed in the past, and most like­ly will change again in the future.

Series Nav­i­ga­tion: Exam­in­ing Church Claims — Don Cohen« Epis­te­mo­log­i­cal Con­sid­er­a­tionsExam­i­na­tion Sum­ma­ry »

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