Welcome to another edition of Read It Now, with your team of investigative reporters. Today we will delve into the underbelly of the Mormon Church to answer one simple question. Is the Mormon Church a high demand religious organization that exerts undue influence over members?
To get started, this investigative reporter consulted with some of the top experts in the field, including the esteemed Dr. Robert Lifton. Their input has guided the criteria we will use to determine for ourselves if this organization falls into this category. The evidence we will look at will be from the records and archives of Church history, including the words of leaders of the organization under investigation. Let us begin with the first criteria of a high demand group.
- Milieu Control. This involves the control of information and communication both within the environment and, ultimately, within the individual.
The Church wants to establish the environment of members by controlling information and/or access to the outside world. This creates unhealthy boundaries where members are encouraged to get their information from approved sources and material. This allows the leaders to more easily manipulate the rank and file member. In addition, it creates an ‘us vs them’ mentality where those who are dissidents within the group or outsiders are to be viewed skeptically and the member should not look to them for information. Tragically, we see this in homes where a spouse or family member has left the faith. After looking at the evidence, the best I can say about the Church in this regard is it gives mixed messages as to how to deal with people who no longer believe. The following examples show an obsessive need by the Apostles to control the milieu.
Example: Whitney Clayton, a general authority of the Church told BYU students in April 2016 to guard against certain people. He said,”We should disconnect, immediately and completely, from listening to the proselytizing efforts of those who have lost their faith, and instead reconnect promptly with the holy spirit.”
Example: Russell Ballard said this in February 2016, when talking to a group of church education employees.He said, “many of them are already exposed through the Internet to corrosive forces of an increasingly secular world that is hostile to faith, family, and gospel standards. The Internet is expanding its reach across the world into almost every home and into the very hands and minds of your students…It was only a generation ago that our young people’s access to information about our history, doctrine, and practices was basically limited to materials printed by the Church. Few students came in contact with alternative interpretations. Mostly, our young people lived a sheltered life…Today, what they see on their mobile devices is likely to be faith-challenging as much as faith-promoting…you will need to study from the “best books,” as the Lord directed. The “best books” include the scriptures, the teachings of modern prophets and apostles, and the best LDS scholarship available. Through your diligent efforts to learn by study and faith, you will be able to help your students learn the skills and attitudes necessary to distinguish between reliable information that will lift them up and the half-truths and incorrect interpretations of doctrine, history, and practices that will bring them down.Teach them about the challenges they face when relying upon the Internet to answer questions of eternal significance. Remind them that James did not say, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him Google!..Wise people do not rely on the Internet to diagnose and treat emotional, mental, and physical health challenges”
Example: David Bednar said this in May of 2009, “Sadly, some young men and women in the Church today ignore “things as they really are” and neglect eternal relationships for digital distractions, diversions, and detours that have no lasting value.”
Example: Dallin Oaks said this in April conference in 1989, “Some voices speak of the things of the world, providing the useful information we need to make our way in mortality. I will make no further reference to these voices. My remarks will refer to those voices that speak of God, of his commandments, and of the doctrines, ordinances, and practices of his church. Some of those who speak on these subjects have been called and given divine authority to do so. Others, whom I choose to call alternate voices, speak on these subjects without calling or authority.In the five years since I was called as a General Authority, I have seen many instances where Church leaders and members have been troubled by things said by these alternate voices. I am convinced that some members are confused about the Church’s relationship to the alternate voices.
Example: “I have a hard time with historians… because they idolize the truth. The truth is not uplifting; it destroys. Historians should tell only that part of the truth that is inspiring and uplifting.”- Apostle Boyd K. Packer, as related by D. Michael Quinn, “Pillars of My Faith,” talk delivered at Sunstone Symposium, Salt Lake City, August 19, 1994.
Clearly, the Church looks to scare members into not listening to alternate voices that do not keep to the company line. The Apostles are not so much concerned with truth, as they are with faith promoting stories. Mr. Ballard lamented the good old days when the Church had more control over the information that was fed to the members. If only they could go back to the good old days!
- Mystical Manipulation. The group leader manipulates circumstances or information to create an impression of supernatural wisdom or divine favor. Experiences which appear to be spontaneous are actually orchestrated to show leaders have divine authority and have the answers other people do not. Cults often will use a coincidental experience and say it shows divine favor toward the organization. Leaders have a long history of engaging in this type of behavior starting with Joe Smith.
Example: Mr.Smith begins telling followers that he saw God and Christ in a vision. It is presented as a spontaneous spiritual event. Closer analysis suggests it was an evolving story that became more elaborate over time and was not the spontaneous event it is presented to the world. For instance,Mr. Joseph Smith has more details in his 1838 account than he does in the 1832 account. Memory just does not work like that. In addition, early members of the Church had never heard of the account and the various accounts contradict one another to the point of absurdity.
Example: Mr.Smith supposedly was given the priesthood by biblical characters. Contemporaries doubted the reality of the account since it was not mentioned until years later.
Example: Mormon Apostle Ballard said members were saved by a terrorist attack in Brussels and the Temple spared in Fiji because of divine protection. He suggested terrorism and physical disasters can be averted for righteous Mormons who pray. He said this, “He does not prevent all disasters, but He does answer our prayers to turn them aside, as He did with the uniquely powerful cyclone that threatened to prevent the dedication of the temple in Fiji; or He does blunt their effects, as He did with the terrorist bombing that took so many lives in the Brussels airport but only injured our four missionaries”. I guess all the people hurt in Brussels did not curry favor from the Mormon God. Just a tad bit insensitive, don’t you think?
3. Demand for Purity. These groups encourage members to reach toward unrealistic levels of perfectionism that can lead to feelings of discouragement in the individual that they do not measure up to the lofty standards that are presented as the ideal. Church leaders and lay members alike have long accused members who leave the group of doing so for the purpose of “sinning.” There are no legitimate reasons to leave the group. Is the Church guilty? No question about it.
Example: “Some who do not know the plan of salvation behave like promiscuous animals, but Latter-day Saints–especially those who are under sacred covenants–have no such latitude. We are solemnly responsible to God for the destruction or misuse of the creative powers he has placed within us.” Dallin Oaks,The Great Plan of Happiness Ensign, November 1993, p. 74.
Example: David Bednar said this in April 2016 conference, “The merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah can help us triumph over the self-centered and selfish tendencies of the natural man and become more selfless, benevolent, and saintly. We are exhorted to so live that we can “stand spotless before [the Lord] at the last day.”
Example: Mr.Nelson said this in October 1995 conference,” Mortal perfection can be achieved as we try to perform every duty, keep every law, and strive to be as perfect in our sphere as our Heavenly Father..”
Example: Elder Orson F. Whitney, in a general conference of 1929, gave a promise with these words,“Pray for your careless and disobedient children; hold on to them with your faith. Hope on, trust on, till you see the salvation of God.” If members stay true to the faith, they are promised their wandering prodigal child will return to the fold. This puts enormous pressure to stay in the group.
The Mormon Church keeps members busy with callings and other obligations with the goal of perfection. In reality, it keeps the members bound to the Church. Sunday is often the most stressful day in the life of a member. Twice a year, they hold a General Conference that lasts an entire weekend where members do nothing but listen to talks from their leaders. Members have a glazed look in their eye come Monday morning after conference.
4. The Cult of Confession: These groups rely on group or one on one confession of sin, which can lead to dependency on the leader. One of the more disturbing aspects of this within the Mormon Church involves Bishops with no professional counseling training, interviewing children as young as eight years old in sexual matters. This is often done in a secluded environment without parental oversight. The Church has a history of engaging in group and individual confession. Starting in 1921, the official handbook manual for church leaders outlined the process for public confession of sin to the group. Here is an excerpt from the 1928 manual,
Example: “if information or evidence of alleged wrongdoing comes to the knowledge of the bishopric…the bishopric should instruct.. men invested with the Melchizedek Priesthood..to investigate the matter and report their results….Where persons guilty of adultery or fornication confess their sin, and their transgression is known to themselves only, the confession to the bishopric should not be made public.. But where publicity has been given to it, the confession should be made before the priesthood meeting. In the case of women, their confession may be made to the bishopric of the ward, and the bishopric may make explanations to the priesthood as they may consider necessary…if it is deemed advisable that a still more public confession be made, it should be at the monthly fast meeting.” This policy or some form of public shaming of excommunicated individuals continued until the 1985 handbook.
5.Sacred Science: This involves a closed system for discovering truth where the leader is portrayed as the best and often, only source of real truth. Individuals and sources outside the group are not to be trusted. If science contradicts the teaching of a Prophet in Mormonism, the member has to decide to reject the words of the living Prophet or experience cognitive dissonance. Members have become quite adept at selectively accepting truth when it disagrees with the position of the Prophet.
Example:“I will make a statement here that has been brought against me as a crime, perhaps, or as a fault in my life. Not here, I do not allude to anything of the kind in this place, but in the councils of the nations that Brigham Young has said “when he sends forth his discourses to the world they may call them Scripture.” I say now, when they are copied and approved by me they are as good Scripture as is couched in this Bible, and if you want to read revelation read the sayings of him who knows the mind of God, without any special command to one man to go here, and to another to go yonder, or to do this or that, or to go and settle here or there.” Prophet Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, v. 13, p. 261, October 6, 1870.
Example: “The Lord will lead [the President of the Church] where he wants him to go. We know God is with him, and has led him all the time. … It requires [the Prophet] to tell us what is right and what is wrong in many things, because that is his place and calling. … A perfect channel exists between the Lord and him, through which he obtains wisdom…The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray.” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, (2011), 195–204.
Example: “The living Prophet is more vital to us than the Standard Works.. The living Prophet is more important to us than a dead Prophet.. The living Prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet.. The Prophet is not required to have any particular earthly training or diplomas to speak on any subject or act on any matter at any time.. The Prophet does not have to say “Thus saith the Lord” to give us scripture.. The Prophet is not limited by men’s reasoning..” Ezra Benson, February 1980,Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet.
The Apostles want to be the oracles of information and have members rely on them for truth. It is common to hear members speak of the Prophet in God like terms, where he is viewed as the mediator to Jesus and Jesus is the mediator to God. Members are viewed as little children who can not function without a Prophet.
6. Loading the Language: These groups have their own jargon and language for things that tends to isolate them form outsiders during a discussion. Mormonism is renown for having its own language that outsiders are not privy too. Words such as Endowment, Temple Recommend , Aaronic Priesthood, Blood Atonement, and so on. One of the more effective ways the leadership loads the language is how they refer to people who say things the brethren do not like. They are simply labeled as anti-mormon. This has the effect of the average Mr. and Mrs. Mormon of not having to critically listen to what is being said. No need! They are antis. In this way, members view negative comments about their leaders or doctrine as persecution or oppression of their religious rights.Leaders of unhealthy groups also use what Dr. Lifton calls “thought-terminating clichés.” It is common for members engaged in a discussion about LGBT rights with a conversation stopper such as “love the sinner, but hate the sin.” They also do this with information that shows Joseph did not translate the Book of Abraham, anachronisms in the Book of Mormon, failed prophecies, etc, by saying, they have a testimony of the Spirit which trumps all the evidence that was just presented to them. Leaders have effectively use the words, “attitude, sincere, honest in heart,” as a way of labeling people the opposite of these, if they reject the group and their ideas.
Example: Mr.Dieter Uchtdorf from October 2015 conference said this, “I wish I could help everyone to understand this one simple fact: we believe in God because of things we know with our heart and mind, not because of things we do not know. Our spiritual experiences are sometimes too sacred to explain in worldly terms, but that doesn’t mean they are not real.” This is a classic thought-terminating cliché.7. Doctrine over person: Member’s personal experiences are subordinated to the sacred science and any contrary experiences must be denied or reinterpreted to fit the ideology of the group.“Doctrine Over Person” means that a group leader puts his or her interpretation of scripture above the needs of the people in the group. While this may sound good at first, in reality this practice is harmful because the leader’s interpretation molds the reality of members. The result is a cloning of the leader’s personality and opinions. One of the mantras of the Church is the scriptures are not of private interpretation. This always means that scripture means what a Prophet says it means. The Church has a long history of one prophet saying one thing and a later prophet overruling him.
Example: The Church puts undue emphasis on conformity. Young men who pass the Sacrament should wear ties and white shirts. Women should wear a dress to church instead of slacks. This behavior even takes place at the highest levels of Mormonism. The twelve apostles leave and enter a room based on their seniority standing in the quorum.
8. Dispensing of existence:The leader has the prerogative to decide who has the right to exist and who does not. This is usually not literal but means that those in the outside world are not saved and they must be converted to the group’s ideology. If they do not join the group or are critical of the group, then they must be rejected by the members. In conjunction, should any member leave the group, he or she must be rejected also.
Example: “I say, rather than that apostates should flourish here, I will unsheath my bowie knife, and conquer or die Now, you nasty apostates, clear out, or judgment will be put to the line, and righteousness to the plummet. Let us call upon the Lord to assist us in this, and every good work.”Prophet Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, v. 1, p. 83.
Example:“…it was the imperative duty of the Church to obey the word of Joseph Smith, or the presidency, without question or inquiry, and that if there were any that would not, they should have their throats cut from ear [to] ear.” Sidney Rigdon letter to Apostle Orson Hyde, October 21, 1844, in Nauvoo Neighbor, December 4, 1844; see also Quinn, Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power, p. 94.
Example: “Remember: when you see the bitter apostate, you do not see only an absence of light, you see also the presence of darkness. Do not spread disease germs.”Apostle Boyd K. Packer, The Mantle is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect, speech given August 1981 at BYU, Brigham Young University Studies, Summer 1981.
Example: “Defectors became a kind of bogey to haunt all inhabitants of the Mormon Kingdom. Without vigilance and strength of character they [other members], like the defectors, could become overwhelmed by the baseness of their character and, thus, open to Satan’s enticements. In this way blame was shifted from the Kingdom to the individual defector. More importantly, dissent was portrayed as the outward sign of personal weakness and sin. Dissent, therefore, could no more be tolerated than sin itself. This attitude within the Kingdom militated against any legitimate expression of doubt. There was no loyal opposition within the Kingdom of God. As no dissent from orthodox opinion was allowed, either the inhabitant accepted it or he was compelled to withdraw.”Gordon D. Pollock, “In Search for Security: The Mormons and the Kingdom of God on Earth, 1830-1844,” p. 22-23, Ph.D dissertation, Queen’s University, 1977, The Case of General Authority George P. Lee.
Conclusion: The examples provided by this reporter are a small sample of what could have been presented as evidence in each case. The Mormon Church has all the characteristics of a religious cult. Is it any wonder the Mormon Church has so many upset former members? People are understandably upset when they based their life on a lie. Is it a cult?