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:
1)I’m a loyal church member and I follow church leaders. I read about others’ prophecies because I long to hear more of God’s word and prepare for the future.
2)I assume church leaders have visions and prophecies just like these others I’m reading about, since they all come from God. It’s a shame church leaders can’t talk openly about them; it must be because most church members are too faithless to handle it. I’m glad I’ve found these other sources for learning these things.
3)Maybe church leaders don’t have these visions and prophecies. Perhaps because they’re too wrapped up in managing the church’s assets and employees. It’s a shame the church has become so corporate and uninspired. There is no prophecy or revelation from God to the church anymore.
4)The church is apostate. I have found the replacement.
Hedelius’ experience mirrors my own. I have been observing spiritual progression and regression on-line for many years, and I have seen dozens of unfortunate examples of people leaving the Church.
I want to say this as clearly as possible: the problem begins when you start criticizing Church leadership, whatever the reason. Let me quote Joseph Smith:
“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.” (History of the Church, 3:385)
It is significant that Brother Joseph points out that this is an “eternal principle,” i.e., a pattern that has existed forever. Criticism, murmuring, questioning, pride — these are the tendencies that get you in trouble.
Hedelius lists some of the obsessions of the Mormon Gnostics:
Inordinate interest in the Second Comforter or Second Anointing, complaints that the church does not teach or emphasize them enough, and belief that books or teachings by individuals who are not church leaders are the best way to obtain them.
Belief that visions claimed by individuals other than church leaders are authoritative for general church membership and important to temporal preparedness and spiritual progression.
Predictions about “tent cities” where those who diligently prepared for future calamities will go for protection.
Claims of divine authority that was not received via regular priesthood within the church, but from an angel or vision or other unusual divine means.
Claims that a “remnant” group of spiritually elect are more obedient and spiritually advanced than general church membership, or even that the “remnant” are the only non-apostates, and everyone else has gone astray. This of course violates the principle that Joseph called “a key that will never rust” and “a key by which you will never be deceived”–that if you stay with a majority of the church, a majority of the apostles, and the records of the church, you’re with the right group. A tiny “remnant” is not the majority and are therefore the apostates.
Criticism of the LDS church and its leadership for spending priorities, corporate organization, purported lack of recent revelation, or on other grounds. It is interesting how among ex-Mormons, those who have gone off in the atheist direction, and those who have gone off in the opposite, Gnostic, direction, still come together sometimes to generate and discuss criticisms of the church. They’re very different movements, but they unite in their hatred of the church.
I would urge you to read Hedelius’ talk in full. It behooves us all, as we strive to follow the prophet in these dangerous times, to remember that humility is a key attribute in Christ-like discipleship. And humility sometimes requires that we acknowledge we don’t know things that the prophets do.