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). 

If that prevailing narrative has any problems at all, what’s the alternative?  Especially considering the enormous agitation, confusion and sheer suffering many of us believe have arisen from this movement, I will outline and make the case for another framework that helps illuminate more clearly what I believe has actually taken place. In doing so, I encourage a pivot away from persuasive activists setting the terms of the conversation, and towards plain-spoken scripture as outlining the parameters of a more truthful view of what’s taken place.  

Biblical warnings. Hints of this other vantage point show up throughout the sacred canon. For instance, Isaiah writes about “the scorner” and they that “watch for iniquity” and which “make a man an offender for a word.” And John describes in vision, “the accuser” who in our previous experience before coming to earth accused “our brethren” relentlessly, even as the record says, ”day and night.”

The author of Proverbs also warns, “Scornful people inflame a city” and “bring a city into a snare” – but “those who are wise turn away wrath.”

Given this, what are we to make of those in our day who turn people towards wrath – through scorn, accusation, and seizing upon words and perceived fragments of so-called iniquity? 

More clarity from the Book of Mormon. It’s the Book of Mormon that gives the most guidance in that regard – clarifying powerfully the truly corrosive influence of anger all around us. 

Although we all know what it’s like to be “stirred up to anger” at different times of our lives, there are a subset of people highlighted in the Book of Mormon text whose anger rises above anyone else – and who distinctly create the most damage. These people are variously described as “exceedingly wroth” (Alma 44:16), “wroth against their brethren”(Alma 46:3), harboring “extreme hatred” (Alma 43:11), and with a “hatred …exceedingly sore” (Alma 24:2).[2] 

Who are those people? With only a few exceptions, the Book of Mormon narrative documents that those with the most intense frustrations and who subsequently end up “stirring people to anger” the most (and with the greatest cost), are dissenters from the true Church of Christ.  As if that pattern wasn’t clear enough to casual readers, it is mentioned 13 times throughout the text, by my count.[3] 

Across those instances, one pattern is clear: Those individuals who feel most intense in their animosity almost inevitably seek actively to influence others to feel the same. 

Once again, this is not a new discovery. The ancient author of Proverbs describes strife (Prov. 16:28) and discord (Prov. 6:19) as something that can be “sown” – with bad seeds potentially spreading in every direction. The same book compares a contentious man to “burning coals” and “fire” that “kindle strife” (Prov. 26:21).

Nephi himself also prophesied of organizations in the last days before Christ’s coming “built up which cause envyings, and strifes” (2 Ne. 26:21).

The virus we’re not talking about. Social psychology researchers have had interesting things to say about these patterns too. First used over a century ago by French scholar Gustave Le Bon to explain undesirable aspects of behavior in crowds,[4] the concept of social or behavioral “contagion” has subsequently been studied over decades of social psychology research. 

Dr. James Ogunlade described behavioral contagion as a “spontaneous, unsolicited and uncritical imitation of another’s behavior” that is more likely to occur when: (a) two people share a similar situation or mood (b) one gives encouragement to another to change their behavior and (c) those inviting change are “assumed to be a positive reference individual” (e.g., trustworthy).[5]

However much this describes well the rapid spread of many ideas in social media, it’s important to emphasize again that these conditions are a stark contrast to the fundamental condition of healthy dialogue.[6]  Indeed, they create something vastly different from open dialogue – and with a very different outcome:

And what is that?  Mass dissemination of a particular view or a particular feeling.  And quickly. 

That, I would argue, is a more accurate way of understanding how organizations like Mormons Building Bridges have functioned over the last decade:  disseminating not just a particular message – but one with distinctive power to invoke feelings of suspicion and resentment in those adopting it.   

If that’s true, of course, MBB would be only one of many thousands (even hundreds of thousands) of similar influences online across a variety of social, cultural, and political domains – and would best be understood as one instantiation of that much larger trend.

The message behind the frustration. Whereas many will push back here and insist that “heteronormative, narrow, oppressive, out-of-touch, hostile, bigoted” religious teaching itself is the cause of legitimate frustration, I push back once more and suggest – as I’ve written for years – that one especially accusing, suspicion-laced interpretation of that religious teaching is which leads people to such animosity.   

Not the pure doctrine of Christ (including about the family). 

And what interpretation am I referring to here?

Exactly what it always has been throughout sacred history.  The quintessential voices for this message in the Book of Mormon text are Laman and Lemuel, with their seemingly never-ending, even conspiratorial accusations towards Nephi – “and after this manner did my brother Laman stir up their hearts to anger” (1 Nephi 16:38).

But Nephi’s fraternal archenemies were only the beginning.  If you take all of Laman’s tirades against Nephi – and lay them alongside others stirring people up throughout Book of Mormon, you see patterns very much present in the “stirring up” narratives of our day, including the following:   

  1. What those prophet leaders (you used to trust) are really after is power and control – both of which allow these sanctimonious souls to actuallyindulge their own desiresat the expense of what would bring other people real joy.[7]  
  2. The message of repentance shared by these prophets is the real problem – persuading people to not be okay with exactly who they are and what they want and feel.  That is rightly seen as shaming and hateful.[8]
  3. Furthermore, this message of expected change (to something beyond where you already are) and trust (in something greater than yourself) is a perversion of the true gospel – which won’t make anyone feel bad. If you want the real message God wants you to hear, we’ve got it![9]
  4. Anything those leaders say about God or this life (or the next) is either a lie,[10] outright delusional (they believe it, but they’re crazy),[11] impossible to know – or a combination of all the above.[12]

Each of these arguments above has been heard literally millions of times online in various iterations.  At the heart of these ancient grievance speeches in the Book of Mormon is a continual insistence that the people had been wronged about so very much. As Zeniff described the descendants of Laman and Lemuel in his day, for instance: “Believing…that they were wronged in the wilderness by their brethren, and they were also wronged while crossing the sea; And again, that they were wronged while in the land of their first inheritance” (Mosiah 10:13).[13]

And in the very moment when Giddianhi threatens to command the annihilation of the Nephites by his band of robbers, he justifies their “everlasting hatred towards” this people by reference to the same thing: “because of the many wrongs which ye have done unto them.”

As the Book of Mormon text so clearly highlights, it’s this larger story about being wronged, lied-to, taken advantage of (etc.) that fuels and foments the metastasizing anger – to the point that many end up angry about virtually anything the people of God end up doing.[14]

More than anyone else, however, there is one voice in the Book of Mormon whose message I would argue has the greatest relevance to the discussion at hand. His message spread the farthest – then and now – and I would argue has had the greatest impact in our conversations about sexuality today. 

Nehor’s profession of true love.  In the same year in which self-government among the Nephites was instituted, a man came among the people “preaching to them that which he termed to be the word of God.”

In contrast with other prominent critics, what was especially alluring about this man’s message was that he promised to share a gloriously hopeful message of God’s love.[15] What was especially puzzling about this same message, though, is that Nehor couldn’t help but also simultaneously “bear down against the church.”
 
As he taught these things, “many did believe on his words” to the point that he began to establish a new community “after the manner of his preaching” – dedicating himself to sharing this truth with any who would listen (“hey, I started following this guy named Nehor…he’s got some really interesting things to say!”)

Even after his death, this man’s message lived on – becoming a formidable force against the Church of Christ. But why is that? 

Compared to others who openly fought against even the idea of a Christ, what differentiated Nehor’s message was the way in which it presented it’s withering critique of Christ’s people in the name of a higher, more enlightened view of God’s love

In this way, people who would never be persuaded by a Korihoresque (Christ-as-fairy-tale) attack, came to embrace the same essential principlesof that later Anti-Christ – but, instead, as a great, new revelation of divinity.  

And what happened next? That same puzzling paradox: these people newly enlightened about God’s expansive love couldn’t help but persecute those who did not believe as they did.[16] Ultimately, some of the hardest enemies of Christ’s Church – including those who eventually murdered and fought against them with the sword – adhered to Nehor’s credo. 

Nehor’s message today. Nehor’s focus on the preachers being paid is less relevant than other things he taught, especially this

All mankind should be saved at the last day, and that they need not fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice; for the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men; and, in the end, all men should have eternal life.

In professing a higher, more enlightened understanding of God’s love, what specific accusations did the followers of Nehor wage against the Church of Christ? Further hints of this show up in communications with Aaron and a self-identified follower of Nehor in the later years after this man’s death:

Behold are not this people as good as thy people? Thou also sayest, except we repent we shall perish. How knowest thou the thought and intent of our hearts? How knowest thou that we have cause to repent? How knowest thou that we are not a righteous people? Behold, we have built sanctuaries, and we do assemble ourselves together to worship God. We do believe that God will save all men. (Alma 21 emphasis mine).

As reflected here, the essential Nehor critique could be modernized as, “How dare you say we are not good enough exactly as we are? You haven’t lived my life – and can say nothing about it (or what’s in my heart). And if you knew God’s true lovelike we do, you’d know how ridiculously judgmental you’re being!”

As we see in the incessant reviling against the Church of Christ today, these ancient dissidents zeroed their ire on the presumed hatred of ancient Saints – much like today:  We have a message of love so wonderful that it must be shared with everyone – declaring (as God surely would have us) a love that unmasks the true hate at the heart of the “love” declared by the so-called Church of Christ.    

Even while preaching a message of more expansive love and enlightenment, many who have embraced the gay rights movement haven’t seemed to be able to stop “bear[ing] down against the church” – engaging in almost compulsive patterns of accusation towards much which had previously been precious, sacred and beautiful in their lives. 

It has broken all our hearts. 

And it is this message that Mormons Building Bridges (and other similar organizations) have assisted in promulgating to Latter-day Saints and people all over the world – often in conflict with the stated words of living prophets and always framed and promoted as a higher level of beautiful love. To such, Joseph Smith once cautioned about a false spirit that “flatter[s]” people that they are “very righteous, when [they] are feeding on the faults of others.”

In fairness, those speaking out about God’s truth throughout history have been portrayed as hateful and devilish.[17]  Even Jesus himself was accused of being inspired of demons by people who saw his miracles and knew him face-to-face: “But some of them said, He casteth out devils through Beelzebub the chief of the devils” (Luke 11:15,18-19).[18]

In the same vein, it won’t be surprising to see this essay series condemned as hateful, attacking, bigoted, yet-more-evidence at how people-like-me don’t get it, etc. This is the lens many people take for granted now, and that means they see everything out of that lens – including (and perhaps especially) arguments that challenge the narrative implicitly shaping their own experience.

Grave warnings. Although I feel sad and heavy in pointing it out, it’s important to not ignore the fact that few warnings in scripture are more serious than against those who “shall breathe out wrath and strifes against the work of the Lord, and against the covenant people of the Lord” (Morm. 8:21). As Isaiah himself warned, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”

But it’s more than a general “woe” raised.  Nephi and his brother Jacob make especially clear God’s pointed warnings against this particular group of people – namely:

Indeed, it’s only those who actually physically murder God’s children and “kill the prophets” who receive warnings so severe. That illustrates the gravity of these charges in God’s eyes. 

  • “All they that fight against Zion” (Ne. 22:14; 10:13, 16) and “the covenant people of the Lord” (2 Ne. 6:12–13)
  • “All those that “war against…[the] O house of Israel” (Ne. 22:14)
  • “Those who digged [a pit] to ensnare the people of the Lord” (Ne. 22:14)
  • “All…that distress [Zion]” (2 Ne. 27:3)

And what is the charge put forth?  If I’m right in my analysis, any people (whether ancient or modern) promoting these kinds of messages are responsible in a very central way for a much of the heartbreaking suffering and deep spiritual estrangement that ensues – yes, prompted directly by some of the very ideologies they declare as truth.  As Mormon describes similar heartache in his day, the contention that arose in this contest of ideologies was a “cause of much affliction to the church; yea, it was the cause of much trial with the church. For the hearts of many were hardened, and their names were blotted out…And also many withdrew themselves from among them.”

Sound familiar? 

Nehor’s narrative is incredibly persuasive.  It seizes upon people.  Takes hold…and doesn’t let go. 

Indeed, for many people living online today, this is no longer taken to be a narrative or “way of thinking” at all. Instead, this is presented and experienced as reality itself – and an obvious reality at that. 

But it’s not.

The most important truth about identity. The most essential truths about love and about identity are plain and precious. Even while there are many things still to be revealed, current revelation has consistently confirmed that our fundamental identity as sons and daughters of God is not simply (or fundamentally or essentially or exclusively) defined by sexual attraction – but by something deeper and bigger than that. This was underscored over and over by President M. Russell Ballard throughout his BYU speech earlier this year, “Children of Heavenly Father.”   

There is one important identity we all share now and forever, one that we should never ever lose sight of, and one that we should be grateful for. That is that you are and have always been a son or daughter of God with spiritual roots in eternity….Those aren’t just words from a beautiful Primary song. They are words of truth.

He added:

The foundational fact of heavenly parentage is not just my truth or your truth. It is eternal truth. It is written in big, bold, capital letters. Understanding this truth—really understanding it and embracing it—is life changing. It gives you an extraordinary identity that no one can ever take away from you. But more than that, it should give you an enormous feeling of value and a sense of your infinite worth. Finally, it provides you a divine, noble, and worthy purpose in life.

After repeating this same theme in other ways throughout his talk[19], President Ballard then closed:

My young friends, do you understand what I am saying? We have this in common with every person. We are all children of God. That makes us family—brothers and sisters bound by a common divine heritage. That one simple, unifying fact should override all else that we allow to cause separation and division among us. Through the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, all people may “progress toward perfection and ultimately realize their divine destiny.”6 As a child can follow and develop the attributes of his or her parents over time, the divine nature that humans inherit can be developed to become like that of their Heavenly Parents.

Does this sound like a discouraging message?  A shaming one? Does it apply only to some children of God – while excluding others? 

Of course not. 

To all my precious brothers and sisters who have come to feel otherwise, please reconsider. 

Breathe deep and look with new eyes on all that has transpired. Maybe you might then consider something else.     

Coming home. While my primary hope in writing this has been to strengthen those who feel shaky in the face of these online attacks, I also hope to encourage those who have unwittingly adopted Nehor’s narrative and cause in our day to abandon both – and return to us. 

Not to an angst-filled life of pained attendance on the back row. 

Back to a joy-filled, peace-saturated re-embrace of the people you used love (and who still love you today)

We need you – all of you.  Your hearts.  Your minds. And your faith reborn. 

We miss you.  And we want you back. 

Please reconsider the articulate, persuasive voices that have led you to a place of estrangement with new critical scrutiny.  Find again the part deep inside that used to thrill with an approaching general conference and delight in hearing the voices of living prophets. 

With brothers and sisters of old, we pray that you may be persuaded to “lay down” your warfare against this community and also your “hatred” (Helaman 5:51). Instead of being consumed with bitter feelings, we pray that perhaps you might be cured of your hatred and “brought to rejoice in the Lord your God, [and] become friendly to one another, and that there should be no more contentions in all the land” (Mosiah 28:2)

That is my heart’s prayer (and surely that of many others who know you).

Please pray about it yourself.

Although healthy contestation of honest disagreements is necessary and important at times, Christ pleads with His people throughout scripture to lay its more destructive forms aside.[20] 

Father can help us all do this. It may not be easy. Indeed, given the hold anger can have over the mind and heart, stepping away from it can be as hard as healing from compulsive-addictive patterns (with rage itself recognized as having addictive qualities).

Don’t let the real turbulence that can arise in the return process dissuade you. Whatever your circumstance, and however distant you feel, let Him lead you forward (watch this or this to get a boost).

Oh, how we hope you find The Strength to come back!   

Another invitation.  All that being said, I understand there may be many who retain their fervor of conviction about this larger movement.  To those unable to coming back at this time, I have a second invitation. 

If you cannot walk away from these ideas, walk away from the taken-for-granted conversational frame that sets us at war against each other – suggesting, for instance, that we must simply choose between “love and hate” or “the Church and gay people.”   

That’s not true. And as I’ve detailed here in depth (and elsewhere at length), that sort of conversational framework is both dishonest and a harmful attack – and is leading people to abandon their faith and reshape their whole lives in tragic ways.

I don’t believe that many involved in propagating these ideas have been conscious of their ultimate fruits (or source). So, part of my purpose in writing this is trying to make that process more conscious for all involved – so they can choose whether to continue be involved, or how to make some adjustments.

And for those who are aware of all the foregoing, but choose to continue proclaiming the popular narrative and engaging in the larger movement without modification, then proceed with this awareness, and count the cost.    

Don’t ignore warnings in scripture about anger contributing to blindness and hardness[21] – as well as vulnerability to Satan’s own grasp.[22] 

And don’t be surprised if you’re not invited to future parades – and we feel a need to defend against your work. As Alma put it, “What shepherd is there among you having many sheep doth not watch over them, that the wolves enter not and devour his flock?” And quoting the Lord, “he commanded you that ye suffer no ravenous wolf to enter among you, that ye may not be destroyed.”[23] 

A better way to love. For those wanting to express true love to the gay community, the good news is this:  there’s an abundance of ways! How about joining with your active Latter-day Saint brothers and sisters who share your desire to help, serve, and love, and who want to show compassion and seek understanding? 

Let our goal be growing in light and knowledge, while treasuring everyone around us. Let’s stop battling and join in peaceful efforts to reduce suicide, increase faith, and expand the love of God. 

If you’re looking for examples of this, Tom Christofferson, John Gustav-Wrathall and Ty Mansfield all embody a spirit of vibrant, faithful loving. And the organization North Star lives up to its name as a bright beacon in a confusing sea of efforts and organizations, saying to the world: yes, you can be both loving and faithful. 

To any other Saints who care deeply about these questions, rather than trembling in our boots before our many accusers, let us be clear:  Our message is an inexhaustibly uplifting one:  highlighting the eternal identity and potential of everyone as sons and daughters of God.[24]

The best evidence. I could be wrong about all of this. No doubt, many believe I am. 

They will also insist that a community like MBB has yielded wonderful fruit – saving lives, promoting happiness, and assisting heavy-laden hearts.    

In some cases, I do believe this has happened.  But ultimately, how are we to know a truly good seed – and legitimately delicious fruit?  That is something about which we all must judge.[25]  But it’s a big decision – one that we need to get right. 

Because lives are on the line – both mortal and eternal.

Just because we feel something strongly, doesn’t make it true (not for me, and not for you).

It just means we feel it strongly. 

So, if you’re feeling strongly and I’m feeling strongly, how do we differentiate what is true? 

Peace…that’s how. 

I’m open to being wrong, but I don’t think I am.  Because of the peace…The peace running throughout the cause I represent and the life of the Saints I enjoy. 

Deep.  Visceral.  To the bones. 

You can’t narrate away the pain of a lie. And there’s no story so good that it can make a lack of peace vanish.

But there is something else that can – for all of us. 

And He’s waiting for you with open arms. 

We all are. 

Jacob Hess is the author of 14 peer reviewed articles exploring contrasting narratives of mental health and sociopolitical issues – and has (co)authored four books: You’re Not  as Crazy as I Thought, But You’re Still WrongOnce Upon a Time…He Wasn’t Feeling It Anymore; A Third Space: Proposing Another Way Forward in the LGBT/Religious Conservative Impasse & The Power of Stillness: Mindful Living for Latter-day Saints. His work with Phil Neisser at State University of New York was featured on This American Life and honored by Public Conversations Project. Jacob has worked for many years with Living Room Conversationsthe Village Square and served on the board of the National Coalition of Dialogue & Deliberation – and helped create the Red Blue Dictionary and the Respect and Rebellion Project. He was invited in 2019 to be a Bridging Fellow at UC Berkley’s Greater Good Science Center.


Notes:

[1] With one exception in the Bible and a few in the Doctrine and Covenants. 

[2] Laman, Zerehemnah, Amalikiah, and Paanchi are all described as being “exceedingly wroth.” Those “stirring up strife” are also described in the Bible as “wrathful” Prov. 15:18 “angry” Prov. 29:22 “forward” (difficult to deal with) Prov. 16:28 and having a “proud heart” Prov. 28:25.  Elsewhere the scripture says, “Only by pride cometh contention” Prov. 13:10 – hinting at the source of this anger:  “Hatred stirreth up strifes” Prov. 10:12.

[3] Here they are:
(1) Laman & Lemuel attempt to stir up the family to anger against Nephi many times.  For instance, “and after this manner did my brother Laman stir up their hearts to anger” (1 Nephi 16:38).

(2) “But the priests lifted up their voices against [Abinidi], and began to accuse him, saying: He has reviled the king. Therefore the king was stirred up in anger against him, and he delivered him up that he might be slain.” (Mosiah 17:12).

(3) “Amlici did stir up those who were in his favor to anger against those who were not in his favor.” (Alma 2:8)

(4) “The Lamanaties…were stirred up by the Amalekites and by the Amulonites to anger against their brethren.” (Alma 24:1)

(5) “Amalekites…began to stir up the people in anger against their brethren, the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi; therefore they began again to destroy them.” (Alma 27:2,12)

(6) “The Zoramites…began to mix with the Lamanites and to stir them up also to anger against [the new converts who left the Zoramites].” (Alma 35:10)

(7) “Zerahemnah [a likely Amalekite or Zoramite] was exceedingly wroth, and he did stir up the remainder of his soldiers to anger, to contend more powerfully against the Nephites.” (Alma 44:16)

(8) “Amalakiah’s  designs were to stir up the Lamanites to anger against the Nephites; this he did that he might usurp great power over them….and did stir up the Lamanites to anger against the people of Nephi…Therefore he had accomplished his design, for he had hardened the hearts of the Lamanites and blinded their minds, and stirred them up to anger, insomuch that he had gathered together a numerous host to go to battle against the Nephites.” (Alma 43:8; Alma 47:1; Alma 48:3)

(9) “And it came to pass also in this year that there were some dissenters who had gone forth unto the Lamanites; and they were stirred up again to anger against the Nephites.” (Alma 63:14)

(10) “Tubaloth (son of Ammoron) did stir them up to anger, and he did gather together his armies.” (Helaman 1:17)

(11) “There were dissenters who went up from the Nephites unto the Lamanites; and they succeeded with those others in stirring them up to anger against the Nephites; and they were all that year preparing for war.” (Helaman 4:4)

(12) “And it came to pass that thus they did stir up the people to anger against Nephi, and raised contentions among them.” (Helaman 8:7)

(13) “There were a certain number of the dissenters from the people of Nephi, who had some years before gone over unto the Lamanites, and taken upon themselves the name of Lamanites, and also a certain number who were real descendants of the Lamanites, being stirred up to anger by them, or by those dissenters, therefore they commenced a war with their brethren.” (Helaman 11:24)

[4] 1895, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind

[5] Ogunlade, J. O. (1979). Personality characteristics related to susceptibility to behavioral contagion. Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal, 7(2), 205.

[6]The conditions of contagion and dialogue are distinct in two important ways:

  • Instead of sharing the same situation/mood, the explicit intention in dialogue is juxtaposing contrasting feelings and life experiences – at the very least, involving the “bilateral, free and un-manipulated engagement of at least two persons, two unique perspectives and ultimately two distinct agendas.”
  • Instead of attempting to encourage someone to change, the focus of dialogue is to seek understanding across these respective views.  As Brazilian educator Paulo Freire once said, “Dialogue cannot be reduced to the act of one person’s ‘depositing’ ideas in another, nor can it become a simple exchange of ideas to be ‘consumed’ by the discussants.”# Or to put it more bluntly, “the moment a space becomes, in actuality, a site for unilateral, instrumental and manipulated engagement, it arguably ceases to be ‘dialogue.’”

[7] This is a core argument – starting with Laman accusing Nephi:  “thinking, perhaps, that he may lead us away into some strange wilderness; and after he has led us away, he has thought to make himself a king and a ruler over us, that he may do with us according to his will and pleasure.” (1 Nephi 16:38)

  • And repeated over generations of their children: “they were wroth with him when they had arrived in the promised land, because they said that he had taken the ruling of the people out of their hands Mosiah 10: 13
  • Culminating most famously in Korihor’s preaching: “Because I do not teach the foolish traditions of your fathers, and because I do not teach this people to bind themselves down under the foolish ordinances and performances which are laid down by ancient priests, to usurp power and authority over them, to keep them in ignorance, that they may not lift up their heads, but be brought down according to thy words….Ye say that this people is a free people. Behold, I say they are in bondage….Thus ye lead away this people after the foolish traditions of your fathers, and according to your own desires; and ye keep them down, even as it were in bondage, that ye may glut yourselves with the labors of their hands, that they durst not look up with boldness, and that they durst not enjoy their rights and privileges….Yea, they durst not make use of that which is their own lest they should offend their priests, who do yoke them according to their desires.” (Alma 30)
  • These same accusations had such sticking power that they showed up in later leaders of the secret combinations: “For behold, your fathers did wrong their brethren, insomuch that they did rob them of their right to the government when it rightly belonged unto them. And behold now, I am a bold Lamanite; behold, this war hath been waged to avenge their wrongs, and to maintain and to obtain their rights to the government.” Alma 54:17,24

[8]  “But the priests lifted up their voices against him, and began to accuse him, saying: He has reviled the king. Therefore the king was stirred up in banger against him, and he delivered him up that he might be slain.” Mosiah 17:12

[9] Sherem says to Jacob: “I have heard and also know that thou goest about much, preaching that which ye call the gospel, or the doctrine of Christ. And ye have led away much of this people that they pervert the right way of God.” (Jacob 7) And Nehor is described as going “about among the people, preaching to them that which he termed to be the word of God” (Alma 1)

[10] “Now, he says that the Lord has talked with him, and also that angels have ministered unto him. But behold, we know that he lies unto us and he tells us these things, and he worketh many things by his cunning arts, that he may deceive our eyes.” 1 Nephi 16:38

[11] “For behold they did murmur in many things against their father, because he was a visionary man, and had led them out of the land of Jerusalem, to leave the land of their inheritance, and their gold, and their silver, and their precious things, to perish in the wilderness. And this they said he had done because of the foolish imaginations of his heart.”

“Ye look forward and say that ye see a remission of your sins. But behold, it is the effect of a frenzied mind; and this derangement of your minds comes because of the traditions of your fathers, which lead you away into a belief of things which are not so.” (Alma 30)

[12] “Ye say that those ancient prophecies are true. Behold, I say that ye do not know that they are true….[you] have brought them to believe, by their traditions and their dreams and their whims and their visions and their pretended mysteries, that they should, if they did not do according to their words, offend some unknown being, who they say is God—a being who never has been seen or known, who never was nor ever will be.” (Alma 30)

[13] “For behold, your fathers did wrong their brethren, insomuch that they did rob them of their right to the government when it rightly belonged unto them. And behold now, I am a bold Lamanite; behold, this war hath been waged to avenge their wrongs, and to maintain and to obtain their rights to the government.” Alma 54:17,24

[14] “And again, they were wroth with him when they had arrived in the promised land, because they said that he had taken the ruling of the people out of their hands…And again, they were wroth with him because he departed into the wilderness as the Lord had commanded him, and took the records which were engraven on the plates of brass, for they said that he robbed them.” Mosiah 10: 13

[15] He “testified unto the people that all mankind should be saved at the last day, and that they need not fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice; for the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men; and, in the end, all men should have eternal life.”

[16] “Whosoever did not belong to the church of God began to persecute those that did belong to the church of God. Now this was a great trial to those that did stand fast in the faith; nevertheless, they were steadfast and immovable in keeping the commandments of God, and they bore with patience the persecution which was heaped upon them.”

[17] Those who come out strongly against evil especially receive these accusations. From Noah’s anger at Abinadi, to the rage against President Packer and President Oaks, who despite years of Christian ministry, have been painted as monsters. Should that really surprise us? 

[18] As remarkable as that is, Jesus warned not to be surprised when others did that to his followers: It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?” Matthew 10:25 He added, “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved. Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known.”

[19] Like prophets have before, this theme kept coming up here: “Your eternal nature as a child of God is absolutely and completely sustainable. It will continue throughout time and eternity. You are a child of Heavenly Parents and will be forever—no matter what…I plead with each of you to please keep your divine identity at the center of everything you do.”

And here: “For us, the group that is most important to identify with is being the children of God. We declare that we are all the spiritual children of Heavenly Parents; thus, we are brothers and sisters in God’s family. We will continue to be a part of God’s family after we die and throughout all eternity. Nothing can change that relationship. We must always keep this uppermost in our minds. This knowledge also provides a divine, noble, and worthy purpose.”

[20] Could God actually be glad we’re finally having the inevitable grappling along a march to greater justice? Christ makes clear his feelings about divisive tactics when he visits his people – as one of his most poignant, and earliest counsels to the Nephite survivors: “there shall be no disputations among you” (3 Ne. 11:22). “He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away” (3 Ne. 11:29-30) He later adds, “blessed are ye if ye have no disputations” 3 Ne. 18:34. And throughout history, he has expressed the same sentiment through prophetic voice:

  • “Let there be no strife” Gen. 13:8
  • “Strife and reproach shall cease” Prov. 22:10.
  • “Keep them … from the strife of tongues”  Ps. 31:20.
  • “Let nothing be done through strife…Do all things without murmurings and disputings” Philip. 2:3./ 2:14.
  • “Avoid foolish questions … and contentions” Titus 3:9.
  • “Beware lest there shall arise contentions” Mosiah 2:32.
  • “Commanded them that there should be no contention” Mosiah 18:21.
  • “It grieveth me that there should disputations rise” Moro. 8:4.

We’ve become so accustomed to anger that seems normal.  But in the New Testament, “works of the flesh” are described as “adultery, fornication, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, heresies, envyings, murders” AND this:  “hatred, variance (quarreling, Difference that produces dispute or controversy; disagreement; dissension; discord dissension or controversy; in a state of enmity), wrath, strife, seditions” (conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority, incitement of resistance to or insurrection against lawful authority) (Gal. 5:20)

[21] “He hadhardened the hearts of the Lamanites and blinded their minds and stirred them up to anger” (Alma 48:3).

[22] For instance, Nephi states that without repentance, “the devil will grasp them with his everlasting chains, and they be stirred up to anger, and perish” (2 Nephi 28:19-20). Those consumed with language are described using even torturous terminology:  “racked with hatred against us” (Alma 26:9, 34)

Christ himself warned about he who inspires “stirr[ing] up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another” (3 Nephi 11:29). As detailed in modern revelation, Satan is very conscious of this as part of his designs:  “And Satan will harden the hearts of the people to stir them up to anger against you, that they will not believe my words…..yea, Satan doth stir up the hearts of the people to contention concerning the points of my doctrine; and in these things they do err, for they do wrest the scriptures and do not understand them.” (D&C 10:32, 63)

To be clear, there is space for honest disagreements about what scripture says.  That’s not what this verse is referring to here. 

[23] “Ravening wolves” is also what Jesus called those who come in “sheep’s clothing” (aka, looking on the outside like His disciples or prophets), but who ultimately ensnare people in messages that gut their living faith. E.G., “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” 3 Nephi 14:15  

[24]Anything else is less essential, and that includes sexual orientation. The consequences of over-defining identity around sexual orientation were described in one of Terryl Given’s recent book as follows:

“Gender is eternal,” reaffirms the 1995 “Proclamation on the Family,” reiterating a position that has never varied in Mormon theology. Gender is defined as co-eternal with core human identity, that is, intelligence. Certainly, one does not experience one’s own sexual orientation as a contingent rather than essential facet of one’s identity.  However, Mormon theology of the human soul implies that, notwithstanding the reality and validity of the affective and emotional bonds that may unite same-sex couples as deeply and powerfully as those that govern heterosexual unions, the sexual component of a same-sex bond (which the church acknowledges is not itself a willed factor) is an epiphenomenal aspect of identity, in contradistinction to a competing eternal constituent, that is, gender.  Hormones and chemistry and conditioning all play indisputable roles in sexual attraction and sexual satisfaction, and Mormon theological anthropology implies that these may be aspects of a transitory mortal form peculiar to our temporal existence.  And in the case of same-sex attraction, that epiphenomenal dimension threatens to usurp the primary and more essential gendered difference and re-directing two mortal beings from the only path that would in the eternities eventuate in the fullest measure of joy consistent with a particular eternal identity and destiny. 

He continues, “Such, at least, appears to be the Mormon theology of gender and sexuality that drives the shape and limits the scope of temple sealing. At the same time, Mormon leaders have acknowledged that Mormon theology is not – or not yet – fully adequate to address a range of sex and gender issues that have become urgent in the contemporary environment.” Feeding the Flock: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Church and Praxis 1st Edition, p. 190 by Terryl L. Givens.   

[25] “If it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.” (Alma 32)

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

  1. I get the feeling that comments are being deleted. This was really bad. Poorly written, poorly researched, and a disappointing resolution to the cliffhanger that had me on the edge of my seat last week.
    You seem to have no clue what the struggle of an LGBTQ Mormon is actually like. You sit in a place of privilege, where “you have challenges too”, and you blind yourself to the real complexities of the actual living world around you. I have no respect for that or for you.
    But I do hope that you change your views and become a true ally. I hope that you do the real research, the real epistemology of your own views, and actually use that PhD brain of yours for something meaningful. This ain’t it. If I were you, I would delete all of this before somebody professionally associates you with this.

  2. Jacob,
    Thank you once again for expressing in a very compelling and well-considered way what I and perhaps others have often felt from time to time over the past several years.

    Cheers.

  3. Jacob, this was an excellent article and well researched. Thank you so much for taking your time to walk through these issues carefully and faithfully. You’re a breath of fresh air in this discussion, and desperately needed.

  4. I was recently wondering why the Nehors kept cropping up again and again in the BoM. It’s a strong message.

    It makes sense that what I’ve been observing my whole life is a resurgence of that movement in our time.

  5. Terry, it’s interesting that after an introduction statement of, “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,” you comment saying, “I have no respect for you,” for seemingly having a different opinion/world view. It just seems to me that these two parts have thoughts been about groups and implications of their views, but your criticism seems to be personal in nature rather than addressing Jacob’s arguments.

    Thank you Jacob for your thoughts and insights! The nuance and quality of what you have written is very much appreciated.

  6. @Tyler:

    I find your post an astonishingly good example of everything that Jacob wrote about in the OP. First, I followed your link to your webpage and read your article on this (and Jacob’s previous) post and the rage was painfully apparent — just as Jacob (and Alma) described.

    You actually condemned Jacob’s description of peace as a fruit of the truth as “asinine.” You, with your cookie analogy, allege that “he should make no affirmative statement” until and unless “a measure has demonstrated” the claim to be presented. Did you read Jacob’s article? Because this is literally exactly what Korihor was claiming — it is impossible to know what you cannot prove.

    It seems quite clear you hate the idea of repentance (for you — you are quite comfortable saying that Hess is being hateful hoping you will repent but you are not in hoping he will repent). Truth is — you need to repent. So do I and so does Jacob. We all need to repent of everything not in alignment with God’s will — matter how difficult or how much it is central to our perception of our own identity. But to not understand the connection between urging repentance and love is to not understand the very basics of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If you don’t see that link, than whatever you hate is an illusion because it isn’t the Gospel. The greatest act of love in the history of the world — the Atonement — was precisely loving because it permits repentance.

    This carried through to your comments. Perhaps it was sarcasm when you said “a disappointing resolution to the cliffhanger that had me on the edge of my seat last week” but your post on your board about his article states:

    “Hess’ article is bad. The points raised in it are bad. The argumentation is bad. There is no point where Hess makes a substantial, actionable point. Instead, he disparages groups that are actually trying to help the situation because they gave his feelings an “owie”. This article is not worth your respect, nor is it worth your time. If you have already read Hess’ article, and you were at all hurt by it, know that you are not alone in that feeling. And know that Hess has presented himself as ignorant and a bad actor. His efforts to build bridges should be seen with Admiral Ackbar eyes.”

    Doesn’t sound like someone disappointed with the second part of the article. And, quite frankly, it doesn’t sound like someone who engaged in any meaningful way with Jacob’s article — having read both articles your description of both are pure fantasy. You took from it what you went in to find — that doesn’t fall on Jacob but on you. He wasn’t the person blinded by an “owie.”

    You also state:

    “You sit in a place of privilege, where “you have challenges too”, and you blind yourself to the real complexities of the actual living world around you.”

    This, sadly, demonstrates a shocking level of narcissism. I don’t know either you or Jacob personally, but I guarantee it is true of each of you that “you have challenges, too.” We are all tested to our fullest capacity — the narcissism comes with the idea that your particular challenges are uniquely more challenging than all the other challenges (especially the easy challenges of the “privileged” — your word, not mine — and/or those encouraging you to repent). Do you honestly think that there are those “privileged” who escape the challenges and testing of mortality? Because, I can assure you, that is a Satanic idea spread by him to turn us outward looking for evil instead of inward (the only place we are certain to find evil). Oddly enough, we are all supremely special in the eyes of God but none of us are ‘more special’ and we run afoul of pride when we think that we are. Your path to God is faith, repentance, baptism, the Gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end — same as me and same as Jacob. It will require all of us to repent and all of us to endure. You don’t magically get to claim because you super-duper endure (unlike those with wicked “privilege”) then you don’t have to do the repentance step.

    You say:

    “If I were you, I would delete all of this before somebody professionally associates you with this.”

    which I read as thuggery. ‘That’s a nice career you have there…it would be a shame to have something happen to it.’

    Finally, I will put two quotes side by side — one of them yours, from your response to Jacob’s first article and one from Joseph Smith. I would encourage you to compare your statement to the statement of a prophet of God and see where the course you are currently on will be taking you — “as God lives” — while there is still time to change direction.

    You say:

    “First off, I am just going to say it, either the Brethren are wrong about LGBTQ issues and they need to get a clarifying revelation from God to fix that problem (where’s an angel with a flaming sword when you need one?), or God treats his LGBTQ children sadistically and eternity with Him would be Hell, or the church isn’t true. Now you can pick your flavor of the week. Hess seems to have chosen option 2, though he dresses it in sophistry and dull, uninspired writing.”

    Joseph Smith says:

    “I will give you one of the Keys of the mysteries of the Kingdom. It is an eternal principle, that has existed with God from all eternity: That man who rises up to condemn others, finding fault with the Church, saying that they are out of the way, while he himself is righteous, then know assuredly, that that man is in the high road to apostasy; and if he does not repent, will apostatize, as God lives.”

    So Joseph Smith is likewise encouraging you to repent. I wish you the best.

  7. @ Tyler Perry,
    In other words, you’re so certain that you’re right that you can’t read this while setting aside your preconceived notions? You’re using all the ‘woke’ terms that signal that you’re not interested in an actual dialogue with the author; you just want to shout him down because he’s thinking wrong thoughts. I find that kind of activism off-putting.

    @ Jacob Hess,
    Thank you for articulating something that many have had an uneasy feeling about for years. I fear that, as per the comments section here, the divide is growing wider despite attempts to reach out. I appreciate your re-framing of the issue, and I hope that actual conversations in good faith can happen.

  8. Thank you. This was very well done. The comparison to Nehor is spot-on. I don’t know how I didn’t see it before. Excellent work, and I hope it will touch someone’s heart beyond just mine.

  9. Wow. This is a wonderfully illuminating analysis of what I thought was a modern controversy. The Book of Mormon really does lay bare the adversary’s snares. Thank you for writing this!

  10. Jacob: Thank you for this. This is perhaps your most powerful post here. Your logical presentation of gospel principles goes well beyond issues of sexual orientation.

    Your words and your use of scripture convicts me of my complaining/belly-aching and beam/mote problems.


    I also believe there needs to be more psychological science used in the discussion of SSA issues, in order to untangle the improper linkage of SSA to identity, temporal and eternal. That false linkage seems to be at the root of things.

    So strong and fundamental is the linkage, that Peter Kreft summarized an interlocutor’s argument saying “[Your point is that] sodomy is your religion.” But you have to read the entire discussion, in chapter 6 of the book I previously mentioned, to understand that quote in context. I realize it is shocking to see it stand alone without the full discusssion that led up to it.

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