About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

Freedom and Church membership

This is a guest post by Michael Davidson, who is a friend of the Millennial Star and occasional contributor.  He also blogs at davidson-law.net occasionally.

In October 1905, Matthias Foss Cowley and John Whitaker Taylor resigned from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles over their disagreement with the Church’s decision to abandon the practice of polygamy. As the Manifesto was issued in 1890, this was clearly a long time coming, and the historical record makes it clear that Cowley, at least, had persisted in solemnizing plural marriages through 1905 even though he had been instructed to cease the practice and lacked the authority to do so.

In my study this morning, I was reading the remarks made by the Pres. Joseph F. Smith in the October 1903 General Conference, as he was getting ready to present the General Authorities and General Officers of the Church for a sustaining vote.  Elders Cowley and Taylor were among those to be sustained that day, two years before their resignations.  I can’t help but wonder if Pres. Smith had these two men in mind when he said the following:

“The freedom of the Latter-day Saints has never been curtailed or lessened one whit by their becoming members of the Church of Christ. Rather has it been enlarged. There are no freer people upon the face of the earth today than the Latter-day Saints. They are bound to the Church by no ties or strings, but their own conviction of the truth. And whenever a man makes up his mind that he has had enough of what is called “Mormonism,” all he has to do is to make it known and we will sever the bond that unites him with the body, and let him go his own way, only bearing toward him the feeling of sympathy and of true brotherly kindness, and wishing him still the mercies of God. We will cry, Father, have mercy upon him, because he knows not what he is doing. For when a man denies the truth, when he departs from the right way, when he rejects the right of God to counsel in the affairs of men, he is either ignorant or wilfully wicked, and it only excites our pity for him. As the Savior cried upon the cross, so will we cry in the same spirit, Father, forgive him; have mercy upon him; for he knows not what he does. Therefore, we expect only those to vote at this time who are members of the Church in good standing; but all such we do expect to vote, according to their own free will, whether it be yea or nay.” (a PDF of this talk can be found here)

I found myself wondering about what must have been going through the minds of these two men sitting on the stand and listening to the President of the Church say these words.  No doubt these men chafed under the direction given by the First Presidency on the matter of plural marriage and they clearly couldn’t be said to be one with the rest of the Quorum of the Twelve.  I suspect that they felt that their freedom to do as they wished was very restricted and that perhaps unrighteous dominion was being exercised over them.

As I consider this, it occurs that not much has changed.  There are some in the Church today that feel like it controls their lives, that feel constricted in their freedom.  Many, too many, of these individuals cut themselves off from the Church, either in name or just in deed, and gleefully proclaim their newfound freedom.  This exercise, by itself, merely indicates that they were never in bondage because they are always free to go.  I feel to echo Pres. Smith’s thoughts in this, as my heart goes out to these people in ways that they would not accept, and likely would not understand.

But, it is true that there are consequences to actions and words and thoughts.  Those that choose to take a path contrary to the doctrines of the Church; contrary to he warnings and admonitions of the prophets and apostles; will find themselves cutting themselves off from the blessings of the Church and the Gospel, irrespective of whether they are still on the earthly membership rolls of the Church.

What do readers think of #DezNat?

I don’t use Twitter, so I have completely missed the #DezNat phenomenon until now.

What is #DezNat? It is a Twitter hash tag used by people wanting to defend the Church. The reference appears to be to “Deseret Nation,” which I guess is meant to promote faithful members of the Church.

Why did the movement start? Here are some links that may describe some of the history:

https://www.abc4.com/news/local-news/deseret-nation-alt-right-mormon-militants-or-twitter-truth-defenders/

http://www.mormondialogue.org/topic/72212-deznat-deseret-nation-white-nationalism/

https://www.facebook.com/DeseretNation/

To sum up what I have been able to discover, Twitter has long been dominated by questioning/left-wing/or anti-Mormons when it comes to issues related to the Church. People who post things that support the Church have been consistently derided or attacked, often mercilessly. (This is one of the many reasons I don’t use Twitter).

Sometime in the last two years or so, people began to fight back. They adopted the hashtag #DezNat. To hear supporters tell it, this finally created a sense of community where defenders of the Church (always in a minority) could find common cause. There finally were social media members willing to defend the people defending the Church.

Critics of #DezNat appear to make various claims: 1)#DezNat people are often rude and sometimes use vulgar language. 2)#DezNat people are homophobic, sexist, encourage death threats, etc. 3)#DezNat people are alt-right. 4)#DezNat people create mean-spirited memes. 5)#DezNat people sometimes go overboard and use some of the same tactics as the anti-Mormons they dislike.

This is a post that offers people the opportunity to either 1)defend #DezNat or 2)point out specific examples of bad behavior. I will be moderating comments, so no profanity and please look at M*’s comments policy.

Anybody who has followed this blog knows that I constantly have defended the Church. The tone police have often accused me of being too harsh at times. But I don’t use profanity, and I try to be as fair as possible, and I try to follow these guidelines (the link is a talk by Elder Von G. Keetch, a General Authority Seventy, to students at Brigham Young University–Idaho):

In 1 Timothy 4:12, Paul teaches that members need to be an “example of the believers.” However, Elder Keetch explained that being an example “is much more than just living the principles of the gospel for others to see. … Those same principles need to be part of our conversations, of our love for others, as part of the spirit we convey, as part of the faith that defines who we are.”

When confronted about beliefs it is easy to want to “sound a hasty retreat,” or “become defensive in a point/counterpoint debate,” said Elder Keetch, who gave several suggestions on how to become an “example of the believers.”

First, he told students that whenever there is a heated argument or contention, “the best way to proceed is with love, respect, and understanding, while never abandoning the conviction of truth that we hold in our hearts.” Furthermore, it is the most effective to follow the Savior’s example and to engage people one on one, he said.

How does the above apply to social media? I think we are all working that out. Does #DezNat defend the Church in a way consistent with the above advice? That is what I am trying to find out.

Is anybody willing to defend the people defending the Church?

I have been in the on-line latter-day Saint world for almost two decades now. And in that time, I have seen several trends. One trend is that the vast majority of people active in the on-line world tend to move left over time. There are exceptions, of course, but the vast majority of people I have interacted with in the on-line latter-day Saint world are more left-wing today than they were 20 years ago.

To define terms: by left-wing I mean more willing to criticize Church leaders rather than to support them. And I also mean more willing to criticize your typical traditional, conservative latter-day Saint. I personally have observed the sad process of more than 100 people on-line transitioning from active, temple-worthy Church members to inactive, open critics of the Church. And for these people, the bad guys are always some “conservative TBM” who offended them in some way. (TBM: “True Blue Mormon” or “True Believing Mormon.”)

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Individual change is more important than trying to change society

I would like people interested in this post to watch the first half of the video above. To summarize: a climate activist asks Jordan Peterson what can be done to change society, and Jordan Peterson says people should concentrate on changing themselves first. The climate activist is very unhappy with the answer.

Setting aside the triumphalist nature of the above interchange, I believe there is a very important Gospel-related message for the Church of Jesus Christ audience: what is more important, trying to change society of trying to change yourself? The answer is clearly the latter, ie, trying to change yourself should take precedence. All you have to do is listen to one session of General Conference — or read a few chapters of Jesus’ teachings in the New Testament or read the Book of Mormon — to see that the Church of Jesus Christ concentrates on self-improvement over societal improvement.

And the reason is that true followers of Christ believe that self-improvement will naturally lead to societal improvement.

Now this does not mean you should not be involved in societal improvement. Far from it. The Church encourages its members to be involved in politics and in their communities. But the emphasis is clearly and emphatically on self improvement first.

Readers will be familiar with the Book of Mormon pride cycle. To summarize, society is doing well, people get filled with pride, things go down hill, people suffer, people are humbled, they turn to God in sincere prayer, and things get better. And then people get filled with pride again, and so on.

How does society get better? When individual people humble themselves and turn to God to overcome individual sins (such as pride).

What do the scriptures say? Jesus’ teachings concentrated almost entirely on individual improvement, not societal social justice. He called on his followers to improve themselves, and when Jesus was asked to take political stands, such as answering whether people should pay taxes, he said, “”Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21). Jesus’s message: God cares about individual improvements and individuals turning to God more than he cares about secular government.

Why do prophets and the scriptures concentrate on individual improvement? Because this is something we can control. I am not saying it is easy (far from it), but an individual has much more power to change himself or herself than to change society. On a local level, you may be able to organize hundreds of people to oppose that new development, and therefore change the society around you, but most people seem to care about big, national and international issues that they cannot control instead of the local issues they can effect.

The classic case of worrying about something that is beyond your control is of course the climate change movement. There is nothing we human beings can do to change the climate in the short term, and in the long term the amount of collective action needed to make any significant change is massive. The IPCC reports indicate clearly that collective action could only change the climate by a few tenths of a degree C over decades, and even then we see significant problems with all of the IPCC projections. There are serious reasons to believe that even collective action cannot change the climate. Yet we see people like the woman in the above video and people like Greta Thunberg spending a huge amount of energy on a issue they cannot control or change.

Satan loves it when people concentrate on things they cannot change, rather than the things they can change. Satan does not want us to improve ourselves. He wants us to spend our energies on causes that are the least important things so we will not have time for the most important things. Elder Oaks discusses this in his classic talk, “Good, Better, Best.”

Modern-prophets constantly ask us to improve ourselves through individual action: observe the Sabbath, go to the temple, spend more time with our families, study the scriptures, do ministering visits, teach Come Follow Me with your families. Notice that prophets concentrate on things that members of the Church are able to do — they don’t give us impossible to reach goals.

So, to summarize, there is nothing wrong with being concerned about international trends and national politics. I certainly am concerned about these things. But where are our hearts? Do we spend most of our time and energy on things we cannot control or on things we can control? That is the key question.

More on Mitt and Trump

Anybody who cares about the Mitt Romney campaign against Trump (and vice versa) should listen to this podcast by Dave Rubin. Rubin interviewed Richard Grenell, who is the current ambassador to Germany. (Grenell was just named Trump’s new director of national intelligence on Wednesday). Grenell was, for a short time, one of the leading foreign policy advisers to Mitt Romney during his 2012 campaign.

Grenell, who is openly gay, was forced out of the Romney campaign specifically because he was openly gay and had written an op-ed explaining why conservatives should support gay marriage. Grenell, using very diplomatic language, accuses Mitt of not defending him from social conservatives who wanted Grenell off of Romney’s presidential campaign, specifically because of his sexuality. In effect, Grenell says Mitt was too wishy-washy to defend Grenell, and Grenell was forced out of the campaign.

Four years later, Grenell says he found a candidate who didn’t care about the fact that he was gay, ie, Donald Trump. Grenell also admired Trump’s America First foreign policy. He joined Trump’s campaign and is now has one of the highest profile foreign policy posts in the U.S. diplomatic service. Grenell points out quite clearly that Trump’s foreign policy has been hugely successful, and says that Trump in three years has achieved considerably more than Obama or Bush ever achieved in Europe.

So, for those of you suffering from cognitive dissonance, let me reiterate a few points:

–Romney’s campaign was anti-gay and Trump’s was not, and Romney did nothing to defend the gay guy, whereas Trump had no problem with the gay guy and even promoted him to a high profile position.

–Trump’s foreign policy has been hugely successful in a relatively short amount of time.

To be fair, Grenell is just one voice out there, and of course he has an incentive to claim success. He is, after all, part of Trump’s foreign policy team. But if you listen to the podcast (and please do before you comment on this post), Grenell lists many examples of Trump’s successes in Europe. I found his arguments convincing.

I mention this because, frankly, many of the recent posts I have seen regarding the whole Trump and Romney brouhaha have been childish. What I mean by this is that these articles turn Trump and/or Romney into cartoon characters. Trump is either heroic or really, really bad, like Nazi bad. And Romney is either a sinister schemer or Captain Moroni waving that title of liberty.

Friends, life is never that simple. People are much more complex than this. If you listen to CNN and MSNBC, Trump cannot even tie his shoes correctly and walks around insulting every person around him and of course is secretly planning a Hitler-like takeover of the government. And if you listen to many of Trump’s defenders, the president is playing 3D chess and is outsmarting the entire world.

Here is the reality: the truth is somewhere in between. Trump, like all presidents before him and certainly like all presidents after him, has done some good things and some bad things. The economy is doing well (in the short term — in the long term we are in for some pain). Trump has cut taxes and decreased regulations. His education and energy policies are, in my opinion, excellent. He has put forward many good federal judges. Some of his foreign policy has been very good. But of course he is out-doing Obama on the national debt, and, personally, I find much of his rhetoric to be very ugly. So, as I say, some good, some bad.

Meanwhile, anybody who thinks Mitt Romney has acted heroically is way off base. Mitt sought Trump’s endorsement in 2012, then came out against Trump in 2016, and then went begging for a Cabinet position in 2017, then sought Trump’s endorsement when he ran for the Senate in 2018, and then repudiated Trump in 2019 and ultimately voted for impeachment in 2020. No reasonable person can look at this record and see a consistent policy of integrity. Mitt has acted like a politician which is, after all, what he is. But I don’t think Romney is evil — I think he is misguided and perhaps miffed that a vulgar loud mouth like Trump has become president while Romney could not win in two presidential campaigns. Nobody can read Romney’s mind, but it is worth pointing out that a very large number of people believe he is motivated by jealousy. Mitt Romney’s favorability ratings nationwide have fallen from 43 percent in October 2012 to 18 percent in a recent poll. A lot of people don’t see him acting honorably.

The recent posts by Romney defenders trying to argue that he is acting like Captain Moroni are simply not convincing to anybody except the small, insular group of people who already love Mitt Romney. And the fact that most of these people seem to be suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome makes their arguments even less rational.

I really miss the pre-Trump days in one sense: it was easier to have reasonable conversations in those days. No president is perfect, and no president is perfectly evil. President Obama (one of my least favorite presidents) nevertheless did some good things. So did President Bush and President Clinton, and on and on. And of course all of these presidents also did bad things.

Here is my suggestion to the anti-Trump/Romney hero worship crowd: please listen to the podcast I linked at the beginning of this post. If you listen with real intent to understand, it really will give you another perspective that may blow your mind a bit. And then watch this short video by John Stossel. Stossel is very tough on Trump and very critical. But he criticizes in a fair way, and even pro-Trump viewers I know are forced to admit that Stossel’s criticisms are on target. This, my friends, is how you convince people.