Let’s Talk about Sorcery

Jacob Z. Hess, Ph.D.

In the days since a Church Handbook update offered a new point of caution against “seeking miraculous or supernatural healing” from those who claim to have “special methods for accessing healing power” (outside of prayer and God’s priesthood power), some members have taken the opportunity to publish their additional concerns on these matters publicly. Here, one man shared his own feeling that the whole of energy healing was inextricably tied into spiritualism, magic, witchcraft, conspiracy, and “going beyond the mark.” 

This brother went on to reference an instance of “sorcery” in the Bible to encapsulate what he saw embodied in energy healing. I’d like to go deeper on this argument – as a way to gently push back on this thoughtful and faithful brother (who is voicing honest thoughts many other members have) – while also raising some of the honest questions about this point of view held by many other members, myself included.

For the sake of brevity, I will only focus on his reference to sorcery– which is a good stand-in for all the other words he cited in his commentary, and a good entree into the discussion as a whole. My essential argument is that this good man is stepping beyond the text of the handbook in an important way – and extrapolating beyond the spirit of the counsel given, which some of us see as more bounded than many members seem to presume. 

The words SORCERER, SORCERERS, SORCERIES, and SORCERY are used 15 times in the Bible (7 times in the Old Testament and 8 times in the New Testament – with four in the Book of Revelation alone). Most of the biblical references to these words (including the specific Old Testament story this man cites) refer to either the Greek word Mag-os (meaning Magician, wise man, or sorcerer) – or the Hebrew word Kashaph (meaning to whisper a spell, practice magic, sorcery, witchcraft). 

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It’s Time for the Saints to Meet Laura Delano

Summary: Laura Delano’s life changed when she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder as a teenager. Even after nineteen medications across a span of fourteen years, she felt deep emotional pain. This is her story of finding deeper, and more lasting healing – along with a happiness she could not have imagined possible. 

This will be different than anything I’ve ever written. My intent is very simple:  to tell a story that I believe many could benefit from in our faith community. 

Why?  Because Laura’s story is that of many Latter-day Saint teens and young adults growing up today – or at least it could be. Her story ends differently than many people you and I have known and loved – but that’s precisely the point. While many have started a story very similar to Laura’s, they haven’t yet found her ending (which is actually a new beginning – as Laura’s story continues today hopeful and vibrant).   

I believe it’s possible that many of these we love could also find a similar change…if they became aware it was even possible. That’s why I’m writing today – to highlight this woman’s experience because I believe the trajectory of her heartening account could represent a path for many other Latter-day Saints with mental health challenges to find renewed hope and healing in their own lives.

What follows combines quotes from Laura’s other videos, and my own observations of her, with a condensed adaptation of a remarkable feature piece in the New Yorker last year. I supplement this narrative with some additional references to the larger context and some clarifying comments from her directly, having worked with her on a volunteer basis for the last couple of months in her important non-profit organization, Inner Compass Initiative and their signature effort, The Withdrawal Project. As a way to make this more accessible, I have necessarily shortened many parts of the story – and encourage you to review original sources to go deeper. I’ve also embedded here a shorter, recent video of Laura providing a more personal glimpse into her experience.    

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How Mormons Building Bridges (et al.) Became a Bridge Distancing Many from their Spiritual Home

Part II. Nehor Rises Again

Jacob Z. Hess

Note: I believe healthy deliberation includes space for strong critique, passionate contestation, and efforts to persuade. I do all of that here without questioning the sincerity, intelligence, or intentions of those with opposing views. Although I believe most people are doing the best they can to love, to help, and to understand, I also believe the patterns outlined in these essays are little considered or understood in the broader discourse.

That’s why I write. These are perilous times for America. In my view, anyone willing to preserve space for thoughtful people to disagree on these and other matters (no matter your actual position) is part of the solution – and helping lay the foundation for our collective future. Anyone contributing to a recession of this same space (no matter your position) is part of the problem – and helping lay the foundation for even greater misunderstanding, hatred and violence than we have yet seen in our country.

Latter-day Saints revere the Book of Mormon for its role in re-establishing truth that was lost, or made dim, by a Biblical interpretation process that confused or omitted certain “plain and precious” parts of God’s message to the world. 

One of the lesser-appreciated truths clarified in the Book of Mormon is the role of anger in subverting the long-term trajectory of both individuals and entire communities, through a variety of means.  For instance, virtually all scriptural references to a people being “stirred up to anger”[1] happen in the Book of Mormon. 

In part I, I summarized the way in which Mormons Building Bridges (and other allied organizations) became a persuasive force that convinced many Latter-day Saints to adopt the larger narrative of the gay rights movement, along with its accompanying anger (and built-in explanations for that anger).        

In that first part, I only began to touch on problems with that larger narrative frame – mostly focusing, instead, on how these new ways of seeing identity and sexuality became a significant wedge for so many people in their faith – effectively distancing so many precious brothers and sisters from their spiritual home, and leaving them wounded in their attachment to anything related to the same.  As one woman told me recently, “I’ve got to stay away from the Church…it’s just too toxic for me!” 

In what follows, I round out the picture, introducing an alternative way to make sense of this movement that has unfolded and overflowed into members’ lives – one that contrasts sharply with the framework outlined in Part I (true-identity discovery in a larger movement about liberation and civil rights that welcomes any allies willing to stand by their bravery). 

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How Mormons Building Bridges (et al.) Became a Bridge Distancing Many from their Spiritual Home

Part I. Stirring Up the Saints

Jacob Z. Hess

Note:  At a time when many are turning to their faith for consolation that brighter days are ahead, others unable to do so. This two-part essay series (see Part II here) examines one force I believe has had a corrosive impact on many people’s faith – and yet, has received only sporadic scrutiny. By considering more forthrightly both the history and nature of this force in some depth, I hope people can find ways to extricate themselves from its influence.

If Latter-day Saints were confused to see students protesting at BYU earlier this year, they should be.

After all, these were active members of the Church of Jesus Christ protesting. How does a committed Latter-day Saint arrive at a place of being willing to shout loud demands in Provo or in front of the Church office building? 

If you were following the story, you likely heard one answer from the 8 or 9 articles about the rallies in the Salt Lake Tribune (if you missed their live stream of the protests). 

Here’s another answer.  

Two kinds of listening. When I started writing about the possibility of a more productive conversation between religious conservatives and the gay community several years ago, I was intrigued to discover a Latter-day Saint-specific Facebook community called “Mormons Building Bridges” that seemed to have similar hopes. “Wonderful,” I thought – “a group in my own faith community working to build bridges on this hardest of disagreements … these are definitely my people!”

So, you can imagine my surprise at the tepid response in the MBB community to a series of essays exploring ways to deepen understanding across these disagreements – met largely with a mixture of annoyance, indifference and sometimes outright contempt. 

By comparison, when someone posted something that began, “You’ll never believe what my Bishop just told me…” or “This guy said the stupidest thing in Sunday School today…” the outpouring was overwhelming – with pages upon pages of indignation and eager elaboration.

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New Heart, New Mind, New Year

Jacob Z. Hess

This is the last of a seven-part seriesRecruiting Alma the Younger that began on Millennial Star and expanded to Meridian Magazine (earlier pieces explored competing ways of making sense of faith struggles, the pain of walking awayhistorical concerns, and the impact of The Church of Jesus Christ – along with considering the implications of socio-political views on faith and an appeal to come back to one’s spiritual home for Christmas). 

“It is never too late to be who you might have been.” -George Eliot

I didn’t always feel this happy.  Or carry with me a peace that rarely goes away.

For many years, I lived life in a cloud, surrounded with a palpable fog of regret, despondency and gloom that seemed to follow me – like Charlie Brown’s Pigpen or Little Abner’s Joe – wherever I went. 

My life for a long while.

After carrying that weight for so long, I know what it’s like to start believing – really believing – that underlying sorrow and fear is “just going to be my life.” 

Faced with this kind of internal angst, no wonder people like me numb out – finding something to push away what we’re feeling.

Anything but this. 

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