I wanted to bring to your attention a very important talk on “Mormon gnostics” at the FAIR conference last week. The talk was given by Cassandra Hedelius, one of those young, smart FAIRMormon volunteers who are helping the organization grow.
We should address the term “gnostic.” Hedelius is using this term the following way:
Mormon Gnostics emphasize personal spiritual effort and de-emphasize the role of the church in spiritual progression. This can lead them to conclude that they have learned a new scriptural interpretation, contrary to what church leaders have taught, or that they have discerned that church leaders and members have strayed, and God has called new leaders or revealed a new means of spiritual progress without prophets. Gnostics try to get at a supposed hidden, deeper truth that most members don’t find due to supposed faithlessness or lack of passion for spiritual things. Gnostics seek for what the scriptures “really” mean, or what prophets are “really” saying, or for teachings that were known a long time ago but aren’t part of modern mainstream belief, perhaps because they were unofficial and hence abandoned, or prophets revealed better understanding.
In real life, a Mormon gnostic might be that guy in High Priests or Elders Quorum who loves to quote some apostle from 1850 revealing some deep secret that is not emphasized today. Or it might be somebody like Denver Snuffer, a dangerous apostate who is leading people away from the Church. The former is relatively harmless; the latter is very harmful.
If you have been around the Mormon blog world long enough, you may have seen liberal Mormons claim that if you are “too conservative” you will end up parroting Denver Snuffer. The claim is of course ridiculous because a conservative Mormon is, by definition, somebody who follows the prophets, i.e., the current prophets speaking at general conference every six months.
However, the Mormons liberals may have a point that *some* Church critics start out from the perspective of trying to be “more Catholic than the Pope” or, in our case, “more Mormon than the prophet.” And this is a tendency that can take you down the wrong path.
Hedelius points out that a Mormon gnostic might start out innocently enough trying to study new things that support the Church. She notices the following pattern: