Monday, December 31, 2018

Millenials (Journal Entry 12/31/18)

Journal Entry 12/31/18

Elder's Quorum this week spent a good portion of the time discussing how to talk to Millennials about God, Church, the Gospel and religion.  In context of how to deal with doubts and questions.

One class member cited an interesting study that indicated Millennial age folks are more likely to self identify as "spiritual" but are less interested in formal organized religion.  This was concerning to the Elder's Quorum.  Many people wondered and asked out loud more than once if this was a good or bad thing. No one knew, or if they did, they didn't volunteer anything.

The lesson was based on a recent general conference talk and the instructor summed it up by saying that we should not go about addressing our doubts and questions from a place of doubt first, but begin with our belief first.

I sat and puzzled over that because it didn't make a lot of sense.  Believe what first?  What are you supposed to believe first when you have a question?  It seemed to be getting at an attitude one should maintain when confronting doubts.  Which is fine. But that would have been easy enough to say.  Instead it was about believing in some vague nothingness which didn't address anything nor produce answers to peoples questions or doubts.  It almost seems like it just covers them up by painting a pretty attitude around it.  Telling someone who has a question or doubt to simply have a better attitude or "believe first" bypasses the main issue and makes the questions seem less legitimate.  Shouldn’t we instead teach how to reason?  How to know when we’ve arrived at the right conclusion?

I was even more puzzled by the discussion taking place about that conference talk.  More than a few quorum members said things like "Just have faith if you don't know the answer" and "believe first, don't doubt first" and if you have doubts or questions "just remember what you already know"  "Remember what you felt when....."  "Don't think you can be spiritual without all the formalities of organized religion".   One member said the great lie was that you can be spiritual without the formalities of religion.

Those are as close as I can remember to actual comments made.  These answers were extremely disturbing to me because they all carried an underlying message of "don't think".  Having the right attitude was held in high importance as well as feeling the right things.  There was no mention of actually putting forth effort to study and research and gain knowledge and understanding so as to answer questions that arise.  There is fear about doing that.  Thus there is a downplaying of thinking because when you think or encounter contradictory information there's fear of some big bad black hole you'll fall into.  These are the attitudes that are forming because of what we are taught by our leaders.  There is fear of the internet even if what a person finds is accurate.  We shouldn't fear the truth.

I saw a quote the other day and don't know who to attribute it to but I liked it.
When an honest man discovers that he is mistaken he can either cease to be mistaken or he can cease to be an honest man.   
When members of the Church don't know the answer to something, or discovers new information it doesn't seem to be a welcomed experience.  If their Millenial children or acquaintances come upon new or troubling stuff the overwhelming answer in class boiled down to some degree of not thinking.  Don't investigate.  Don't look at any unapproved source, and if the approved source doesn't have the answer, postpone the question and just trust until "God reveals the answer".  This is mind numbing.   No one will have any understanding or be interested in gaining any if this is what we teach.  The scriptures on the other hand have answers and encourage us to seek, ask, and knock and to utilize reasoning.

These are intelligent and successful men in the quorum meeting.  In their respective areas of professionalism these types of answers would not be tolerated.  They would put forth effort and study and reasoning to figure out the issue.  But when the topic is religion, there is a weird tendency to shut off and not think and trust some other person to do your thinking for you and then tell you what is right and wrong.  It's surprising how you can take the same group of people put them in a different setting with a different topic and they would not behave this way.
I offered a comment in class that no one in the room was going to be able to help someone answer a question they themselves do not know the answer to and refuse to investigate.  Millenials are less likely to accept "doubt your doubts" shallow responses to their legitimate questions about what is happening inside the LDS church, it's history, practices, policies and general state in 2018.  Especially with all that is accessible on the internet.

 Telling younger folks not to think or only look at certain sources is going to set off red flags.  The younger generation is seeing holes and gaps in the reality that many life long members have never questioned most facets to their religion or never had any mental incongruity about anything.  That doesn’t command any respect.  It doesn't cause anyone to want to emulate that.  It comes across as naive.  Due to never having thought about important religious topics because they were taught not to, or were taught that they should just have faith and follow the prophet.  The younger generation does not see this as noble, or appealing.  It sounds downright stupid to many of them

The only response to the comment was a question to the rest of the group about how many millennials were in the room.  I was the closest there was, but kept that to myself.  Unfortunately the class continued on the direction that we need to just believe first (because that's what the conference talk said to do).  Being a Gen X, I feel like I see both sides.  Both generations are confronting harsh reality from different points of view.  For one group it will be that they know sometimes little about the Gospel but are really good at obeying their leaders.  They cannot answer many questions about any difficult topics because they don't know enough about them to make any comment, and are often encouraged to just believe instead of think.  So, as would be expected they have little knowledge, understanding, or practice reasoning on such things.

The other younger group is confronting a host of issues that the older generation is hesitant to answer.  They are good with the internet but need to remember that not all topics of importance can be explained or understood in a sound bite facebook length video or meme.  They have been fed sentimentalism which won't hold up.  It takes sometimes time and experience and careful and ponderous thoughts to find out the things of God.  Not just swiping.  For younger folks religion sometimes offers little appeal and too little substance to put faith in.  Why have faith in religion that is seemingly so easily debunked on google?  The older folks are facing the hard truth that what they've been taught is often full of falsehoods, but it's scary to investigate because look at what happens to some folks when they do?  So both face different challenges.

It was a concerning experience today.  I'm almost glad this type of thing is now only going to happen every other week at Church.  Not thinking is not an intelligent solution, especially in matters of God and the Gospel since the glory of God is intelligence.  No matter how pretty you make it sound to not think, it's still stupid.

The younger generation is going to change the future of the LDS church for sure.  Facts are going to change the LDS church.  The truth is going to change the LDS church.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Vitamins and Church

During a holiday family get together recently the topic of Church and religion came up. One person quoted President Nelson as saying "Wait till next year, and then the next year," "Eat your vitamin pills. Get some rest. It's going to be exciting." "If you think the Church has been fully restored, you're just seeing the beginning"

That led to a discussion about the many recent changes the LDS church has made. Including but not limited to:
-Cutting ties with the BSA
-2 hour church block
-Reorganized Elder's Quorum
-Switching to an alternating Women's and Priesthood General Conference Sessions every 6 months.  
-Sister Missionaries able to wear pants
-Church policies regarding children of Gay parents. 
-Home/Visiting Teaching replaced by the new "Ministering" program.
-Home Centered, Church Supported Sunday School to take place starting 2019. 

After a few minutes of discussion the topic changed to predictions for what changes may be coming and trying to anticipate what President Nelson may be referring to.

I sat and pondered on that and wondered if there was anything scriptural on this that would help people (who don't have any inside sources or leaked information) do more than just speculate. So what do the scriptures prophesy we should see in our day?  That seems like a respectable way to look ahead.  Specifically what events, trends, or behaviors are foretold? We know there are various signs of the times mentioned in scripture. So, what signs will Church's exhibit? Below are a few thoughts on that.

But first:

What is “the Church” anyway? The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is an organization you join by baptism and confirmation. It has doctrines, rules of conduct, traditions, and social norms. You can withdraw membership via excommunication or resignation. Church in the Greek is: ekklesia, “an assembly of those who have been called out.” So in reality Church is the people, not the organizational structure, leadership, or facilities. But organizational structure, leadership, facilities, rules, and traditions are extremely common things for people to include with their definition of a Church.  The Church and the Gospel are also not the same thing.

D&C 10:67-68 says Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church. Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church. Membership in this Church depends on repentance and coming unto Christ.  This allows for a lot of  diversity on other aspects.  There are many who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who are not part of Christ’s Church.

So, in a general sense what actions and behaviors Churches will exhibit (per scripture) depends on which Church we look at.  Nephi says there are save two churches only. 
1 Nephi 1:14 10 And he said unto me: Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth. 11 And it came to pass that I looked and beheld the whore of all the earth, and she sat upon many waters; and she had dominion over all the earth, among all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people.
We can't just look at formal organizations identifiable by names recognized in the public sphere or on tax forms. We think of Presbyterians, or Catholics, or Mormons etc. etc. But as we've covered the "Churches" Nephi describes are not defined that way.  The Church of the Devil would include any assembly or association of people bound together by their loyalty to that which is contrary to God. Could include any number of formal Churches or belief systems. So even though it's easier and more convenient to look at organizations, we should instead look for fruits. Perhaps most importantly our own fruits.

I thought a while on what signs or fruits the true Church of the Lamb of God will exhibit and what signs the other Church will exhibit.  

Great and Abominable Church

The Church of the Devil is "that great Church" the mother of abominations/whore of all the earth.

Abominations involve religious justification of wrongdoing. Something becomes "abominable" when it is motivated out of a false form of religious observance, or is justified because of religious error.  This Church does this and is the mother of this kind of thing. 

Jacob comments broadly on who belongs to the Church of the Devil.
2 Nephi 10:16: “He that fighteth against Zion, both Jew and Gentile, both bond and free, both male and female, shall perish; for they are they who are the whore of all the earth; for they who are not for me are against me, saith our God.
Another interesting verse is 1 Nephi 13:26.
26 And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away.
So what interests does this Church have?  And what tends, and behaviors might we expect to see from it?  If we only use scripture here's some relevant verses.  

1 Nephi 22:23
23 For the time speedily shall come that all churches which are built up to get gain, and all those who are built up to get power over the flesh, and those who are built up to become popular in the eyes of the world, and those who seek the lusts of the flesh and the things of the world, and to do all manner of iniquity; yea, in fine, all those who belong to the kingdom of the devil are they who need fear, and tremble, and quake; they are those who must be brought low in the dust; they are those who must be consumed as stubble; and this is according to the words of the prophet.
Alma 1:3.  There once was a guy named Nehor
3 And he had gone about among the people, preaching to them that which he termed to be the word of God, bearing down against the church; declaring unto the people that every priest and teacher ought to become popular; and they ought not to labor with their hands, but that they ought to be supported by the people.
3 Nephi 27:11
11 But if it be not built upon my gospel, and is built upon the works of men, or upon the works of the devil, verily I say unto you they have joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence there is no return.
A season of success and joy built upon the works of men is predicted by scripture.  It needs to look and feel joyous for a season or else it doesn't fit what is foretold by Christ.  The deception doesn't deceive if there's no success for a season.

1 Nephi 13 5-9
5 And the angel said unto me: Behold the formation of a church which is most abominable above all other churches, which slayeth the saints of God, yea, and tortureth them and bindeth them down, and yoketh them with a yoke of iron, and bringeth them down into captivity.  6 And it came to pass that I beheld this great and abominable church; and I saw the devil that he was the founder of it.  7 And I also saw gold, and silver, and silks, and scarlets, and fine-twined linen, and all manner of precious clothing; and I saw many harlots.  8 And the angel spake unto me, saying: Behold the gold, and the silver, and the silks, and the scarlets, and the fine-twined linen, and the precious clothing, and the harlots, are the desires of this great and abominable church.  9 And also for the praise of the world do they destroy the saints of God, and bring them down into captivity.
Ok with those scriptures in mind here's a few things this great false and abominable Church will exhibit:

-Fights against Zion
-Built up to get gain.
-Built up to get power over the flesh. 
-Built up to become popular in the eyes of the world.
-Seek after the lusts of the flesh.
-Seek after the things of the world.
-All manner of iniquity.
-Priests (those claiming religious authority) and teachers ought be supported by the people.
-They have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away. (1 Nephi 13:26)

A few personal thoughts on some of these items.  These verses are perspectives of a prophet, informed by a vision from God.  Other people may look at the same set of modern events Nephi saw and not see them in the same light at all.  They would have a completely different perspective and interpretation.  What is normal to us in 2018 may look like absolute madness and depravity from heaven's view.  So I want to try and see what Nephi sees from his perspective.  Otherwise we're just reading our own perspective onto the scriptures and that's not going to help anyone. 

Built up to get gain. Gain would include money, property, power, and authority, religious, political and social.  But this agenda is not likely going to be something the Church of the Devil broadcasts to the public.  But it will be visible by the fruits.  Who do you suppose they will take advantage of or utilize to build this up?  In our society money and power go together.  So the more money you have the more power you can wield.  Safe to say the Church of the Devil will likely be dealing in plenty of wealth, since that is what they seek after.  

Built up to get power over the flesh.  This seems like dominion.  Meaning you can control or heavily influence lots of people, their beliefs and actions.  Political, social, religious.   Also not something this Church is likely to advertise or view in the same light Nephi would.  If you seek power over the flesh you'd need to claim or behave as if you had all power on heaven and earth.  Maybe even a portion of God's power.  Then you'd need to exercise that power over people.   

Seeking popularity and praise of the world.  Again, this is Nephi's perspective.  The Church of the Devil is not going to share his perspective of their motive.  Count on this Church having and promoting a very different interpretation of their actions.  Praise and popularity are mentioned various times.  Seems to merit some thought.  If you wanted to be popular in the eyes of the world what would you do?  Maybe you'd find out what's popular through surveys, taking the results of those surveys and then implementing them in a way that appeals to popular opinion.  The changing opinion of the public would be a higher priority than the truth.

The Church of the Devil is said by Nephi to sit upon many waters.  An interesting symbol.  What sits on water?  A boat or ship.  Constantly rocking back and forth. Ebbing and flowing, ever changing.  An interesting foundation to sit on.  As opposed to God who does not change.  Christ is the Rock.  We are to build on the rock, not build upon water.  Food for thought. 

If you wanted to be popular you'd do what popular people do, right?  What do famous stars and celebrities do?  They travel the world, put on tours, play music, and draw crowds of tens of thousands. They meet with high profile people, go to expensive dinners, and get awards.  If you seek popularity, you'd need to get massive stadiums to enforce the perception of just how popular you are.  Very large crowds are part of popularity.

If you want power and popularity you'll need to be noticed.  You'll need professional advisers to make sure you are bold at just the right time and in just the right way so as to not loose your popularity in the eyes of older generations while still capturing and appealing to the younger generation. If you want popularity you'll need to be in the news a lot.  You'll prob want a PR team to make sure the public image is positive.  Popular people have a big following so that would be expected. You'll probably need to promote and show off big numbers as if that was evidence for authenticity.

More about the Church of the Devil:

-Yokes with iron
-Holds captive

Desires of the Church of the Devil:
-Gold, silver, silk and scarlets and fine clothing, precious clothing. 
-Praise of the world

You have to wonder what Nephi witnessed.  People do hideous things to each other but these are things specifically done to The Saints of God.  Not sure if Nephi is giving them that label or if the people themselves identify as such.  It’s likely indirect persecution but possibly some direct too. In any event, this is a pretty good scriptural list.  Seems like this Church and it's behaviors should be easy to spot.  And yet you don't hear much about this.  Why is that?  If it is ever brought up, the Church of the devil is always some other formally known organization, other than your own of course.  But if the Church of the devil comprises all false beliefs and philosophies then we should look for the behaviors and actions and less of the particular organizations behind them.

Nephi talks about torture, binding and yoking.  How do you torture someone in a religious sense? I don't think Nephi is referring to military type torture although that isn't excluded. Torturing is an action or practice of inflicting severe pain on someone as a punishment or to force them to do or say something, or for the pleasure of the person inflicting the pain. Needn't only be physical.

You know what comes to mind when I think of torture in a religious sense? Plural marriage as taught by Brigham Young and some of those after him. I think you needn't look much further than the history of the the LDS church to see examples of torturing people in this manner.  Others may also be involved in this but this is one example.  Teaching that type of plural marriage doctrine is required to live with God forces and binds people into situations they may find abhorrent.  That sounds like torture.

Yoking with Iron.  Yokes go around the neck.  Like someone having you by the throat.  They can do as they please with you because it only requires a little squeezing around your neck for you to pass out.  Making you feel like your life is their hands.  Someone (besides you) is also of course controlling the yoke.   

Holds captive.  To accomplish this you'd need to do things like teach damming doctrine that keeps people captive in a hellish world of unbelief and prevents them from learning and knowing what they need to learn and know to rise up and dwell with God.  That type of thing would keep people captive and is one of the things the Church of the Devil does.  They remove true doctrine (or never bother to learn or preserve it) and replace it with cheap shallow sentiment that keeps people distracted. People likely won't notice this unless they are watching.  The Church of the devil would on doubt portray this behavior as something attractive and praiseworthy.  They destroy peoples chance at learning saving truths because they have exchanged it for popularity.  Or they intentionally remove it from scripture for reasons which they explain as totally understandable and reasonable.

Clothing.  Why on earth are these ancient prophets often warning the latter-day readers so much about clothing and fine apparel?  Who cares what people wear?  Is it a matter of where clothing is made?  Do the poor produce the clothing of the rich?  You bet they do.  Clothing seems to be one of the first cultural ways of separating people out into classes.  If you were the Church of the Devil you'd need to spend considerable time making sure your outwards dress was of highest standards.  They of course don't share Nephi's view of fine clothing.  Sheep clothing is key to deceiving.  Everyone who could possibly portray your organization would need to dress in a way so as to uphold the image and popularity that is sought for.  

Then there's talk of whores and harlots and lusts of the flesh. Sexual abominations of course.  But not just that, it would include lusts for power or wealth or influence or popularity. This Church of the Devil is a mother.  So religious offspring has been produced by this Church.  The idea of harlots also seems to denote unfaithfulness to God.  Idolatry.  Or faithfullness to someone or something else which gave off false allure but ends up only taking your money and offering emptiness, sin and disease in return.  

"All manner of iniquity" Iniquity has a lot of meanings. The one I like that fits here is when when people become increasingly determined or committed to the wrong course. Working in a contrary way to God.  That's iniquity.  The Church of the Devil is at cross purposes with God.  Iniquity seems to resemble inequality.

Priestcraft.  The Church of the Devil has priests involved in a craft.  They get paid for priestly religious service.  Setting yourself up as a light to be followed.  Seeking adoration.  Payments in the corporate world also can carry the name "stipends" or reimbursements.

Geeze what a nasty list.  So taking this list what might we expect to see in 2018? 

I can't say for sure, but below are a few musings based on the above scriptures. What would you expect to see?  If you feel so inclined, leave a comment.

The verses above reference removing plain and precious parts from the Gospel and many covenants of the Lord.  This is often only talked about as if it has already happened. Which a lot of it obviously has.  However, do you suppose they get tired of the removals? I doubt it.  So what if these prophesies have had fulfillment in the past but ALSO have fulfillment in present day or the near future? 

To remove plain and precious parts of the Gospel and covenants of the Lord you could:
-Delete it.  Straight up remove it from the scriptures or ceremonies.  This of course would be done in the name of "focusing on the most important parts, to enrich our worship"  Or some other sugar coated nonsense.
-Alter it so it gets distorted or is no longer saying the same thing
-Changing the official meaning and interpretation so people can't understand
-Removing covenants can be done by the same things. Changing a covenant breaks it.  So to remove a covenant you can just change it or bar people from it by adding requirements that render the thing broken.

If the Church of the devil does this stuff I bet they will continue to do so.  I heard the other day that some officials in the LDS church have a plan to distance the Church from the Book of Mormon as a literal history.  There's a multi year plan to alter the BOM narrative into more of a figurative "revelation" rather than a historical "translation" from gold plates.  Would this count?  If it's transformed into a figurative story is anything plain lost by doing that?

Based on the above scriptures, I wonder if we may also see: (As of 12/28/18)

-Poor get poorer and rich get richer?
-False teachings taught with more emphasis, and uncensored, more bold?
-Appearance of success by touting numbers, projects, growth, expansion?
-Appeals to popularity?  Maybe making everything shorter, easier, faster, more convenient, but no longer salivific?  Whatever public is putting pressure on, will it change?
-Relaxing standards on issues or substances (like tea and coffee).  Maybe even removing tea or coffee from official interpretations?  And instead supporting overall health?  This is needed since no one can really define exactly which teas and coffee's are ok and which aren't.
Look for this section of handbook 2 to change:


Word of Wisdom

The only official interpretation of “hot drinks” (D&C 89:9) in the Word of Wisdom is the statement made by early Church leaders that the term “hot drinks” means tea and coffee.
-Softer and softer and more supportive view of same sex marriage?
-Shorter Temple ceremonies?  Maybe condensed and allow people to finish sooner?
-Maybe more equality for women in terms of authority and priesthood?  Women doing more under the "keys" of the priesthood?
-Removing gender inequality in temple ceremonies?  (as a response to public pressure from things like the Ordain Women movement)
-Programs not making money get discarded or revamped?  New face but no new underlying content?
-More "missionary volunteers" replacing paid employees?
-Lots of big events with big press? 
-Maybe Canonize existing documents that are not revelatory but which are popular with membership? (proclamation on the family, or that Living Christ document)
-Cast people out who threaten the established order of things?
-More and more legalities and legal presence to handle and accommodate social pressure and changing legal temperature of the country? 
-More secret works done behind closed doors and off the record?  (think scandals)
-More political presence and power?

What do you think?  What behaviors, beliefs, attitudes or ideologies would you expect to see (before the prophesied fall of this Church) based on what scriptures tell us?

Church of The Lamb
1 Nephi 22:12 And it came to pass that I beheld the church of the Lamb of God, and its numbers were few, because of the wickedness and abominations of the whore who sat upon many waters; nevertheless, I beheld that the church of the Lamb, who were the saints of God, were also upon all the face of the earth; and their dominions upon the face of the earth were small, because of the wickedness of the great whore whom I saw.
3 Nephi 27:
8 And how be it my church save it be called in my name? For if a church be called in Moses’ name then it be Moses’ church; or if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man; but if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel. 9 Verily I say unto you, that ye are built upon my gospel; therefore ye shall call whatsoever things ye do call, in my name; therefore if ye call upon the Father, for the church, if it be in my name the Father will hear you; 10 And if it so be that the church is built upon my gospel then will the Father show forth his own works in it.
1 Nephi 14:14
14 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the power of the Lamb of God, that it descended upon the saints of the church of the Lamb, and upon the covenant people of the Lord, who were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory.

Church of the Lamb traits:

-Numbers are few because of the abominable Church. The Church of the Devil has uniquely situated itself to prevent, impede, and hinder people from becoming part of the Church of the Lamb.
-Err in many instances because they are taught by the Precepts of men.  They are taught by teachers and leaders who do not teach the truth.
-Seek Zion
-Persecuted by the other Church
-Build upon Christ's Gospel (found in scripture)
-Carries his Name AND build upon his Gospel.  "If it so be that they are built upon my gospel"
-Shows forth the Father's own works
-Make known plain and precious things which had been removed. 
-Armed with righteousness and the power of God in great glory.  (glory of God = intelligence) 
-Baptized with power and authority.  (3 Nephi 26: 21) And they who were baptized in the name of Jesus were called the church of Christ.
-Receive and wrought upon by the Holy Ghost  (4 Nephi 1:1)
-Rely alone upon the merits of Christ (Moroni 6:4)
-Names recorded  (Moroni 6:4)
-Covenants kept, remain unchanged, and have the actual power of Godliness.
-Christ manifesting Himself in power word and deed 

This Church may go unrecognized unless someone is looking.  You might need to do more than just take some pills to find it.  You may need to be born again. 

Friday, December 21, 2018

Who were you back then?

A discussion in Elder's Quorum a few weeks ago led to an e-mail exchange with the instructor.  The discussion from quorum was about whether LDS conference talks are "scripture".  In the e-mail exchange he commented that while we do see Peter and Paul's writings in the new testament as scripture, back then they would have been the words of the "living prophets and church leaders" of their day.  The implication being that we should see the living prophets and church leaders word's in 2018 as scripture.

That prompted these thoughts below, which I didn't share.  The conversation politely ended and hopefully on a good enough note that another future conversation might be possible.  I put the thoughts here for my own record. 

We do consider Peter and Paul's writings as scripture. That got me thinking though as to who and what you and I would have needed to be back then to identify them as living prophets and church leaders. Back in their day the people who 1. Had a Temple. 2. Collected Tithes. 3. Claimed authority (Priesthood) to act in God's name.  4. Observed the religious feasts and holidays. That would have been the Jews and the Jewish leaders. The Jews were “God’s Chosen people”.

Christ said, referring to the Scribes and Pharisees,  “They sit in Moses's seat" Matthew 23:2. Meaning they occupy or sit in a position handed down from Moses, who was/is a recognized authentic Prophet. But they had become corrupt and couldn't recognize how the scriptures were being fulfilled by Christ and John and others.  It's hard to see in real time the same thing you see with thousands of years of hindsight.

So, if I'm not mistaken the living Church Leaders in Peter’s day would have been those who ran the existing religion, the temple, the tithing, interpreted scripture, and taught the people using recognized authority.  Peter and Paul by contrast would have seemed more like a crazy looking small band of loosely organized folks newly calling themselves Christians.  A term not previously recognized.

These preachers were teaching some differing and radical ideas that departed from typical Jewish traditions and understanding of scripture. They would have been different from other offshoots and not recognizable by trusting in the social or religious norms and traditions.  They accepted a fulfillment of their own scripture that was happening before their eyes. Some being cast out of the synagogue (excommunicated). Hardly church leaders, they were almost rebels who were persecuted by the traditionalists of the day.

Unless you or I are part of a crazy looking offshoot of LDS Mormonism then the equivalent of you and me back then would have been a practicing traditional Jew. It’s easy to see ourselves as Christ’s disciples back then but we should consider what it would have required of you and me to become His disciple or to have ever had a chance of viewing Peter or Paul as authentic ministers of Christ. We would have to listen to an outside preacher. It would be like you and me listening to some non LDS teacher or former LDS (since Paul was a former Pharisee) person. And listening in spite of our church leaders.

We'd have to know how to listen to a message.  We would have to know how to recognize truth when it comes.  Regardless of the person or lack of position they hold. We would have had to recognize the truth from the lies. We’d have to rely on something other than what the religious leaders said about them. If your anything like me, that gives me pause.

If a person in 2018 would be unwilling and rejecting of such a teacher coming among us today, preaching the predominant religion (that started out inspired) had become corrupt and God was doing something new, then how would that same person have accepted John the Baptist, or Peter or even Christ back in that day?  The early Christian Churches were not the organized publicly recognized structure we have today that gives people assurance they are trusting in the right source.  Back then they wouldn't have regarded the word "Apostle" as anything noteworthy. Back then they were charismatic preachers who’s religious sounding titles hadn’t yet acquired any meaning or respect.

Same goes for those living in Joseph Smith's day.  The predominant Christian religion had become corrupt and God was doing something new.  But to accept Joseph as an authentic minister of Christ would require you to go against what your local church was telling you. Perhaps go against family, friends...  It wasn't for them a matter of just figuring out who had the biggest most respected religious title of the biggest or most successful wealthy religion, and then trusting in them.  It was the same challenge as those living at the time of the NT encountered.

Our day's equivalent of "sit in Moses's seat" would be "Joseph Smith's position" and whomever is the leader of the Church in our day. The Jews held the priesthood keys from their point of view. I have to ask my self if they believed they had lost their keys when John the Baptist came along? Of course they would deny that, and continue to claim their keys could never be lost. And yet they did loose the keys. This from Joseph Smith: "The son of Zacharias wrested the keys, the kingdom, the power, the glory from the Jews, by the holy anointing and decree of heaven, and these three reasons constitute him the greatest prophet born of a woman." (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 5:260-261). If it's possible to loose keys, how would someone back then have known about it? How would we know about it if it happened in our day?

Even the kingdom, the power and glory was lost to the Jews. But who knew it?  They of course would warn everyone about anyone who would make such a claim. They would probably cast you out if you believed they lost their keys. And yet it was true. Which is easy to see since history makes it obvious, but it would have been anything but obvious at the time, and would require a totally different set of tools and discernment than what people think is needed now days.

So who might you have been back in NT times?  A loyal Jew?  A non believer? A sincere seeker?  A member of a heard that goes along with whatever the heard does?  Which one would you have had to be in order to see any of the NT figures as having a true message from God?  On what grounds would you or I have accepted their preaching?   Who's to say that isn't a possibility in our day to need to have the same focus on God and scripture so as to recognize God's hand again now? 

Sunday, December 16, 2018

"Self"-Reliance Doctrine

Below is a snapshot taken from the Church's Self-Reliance program and website.  Link to the actual site.  I did some investigating and research and have organized the sources and scriptures below for a reference for myself and anyone interested.  Something about this program never sat right with me so I decided to delve in and see what I could find.  Below are some personal thoughts and discoveries.  

Lately (see previous posts) I've been looking at how the LDS church publicly utilizes scripture.  The results have not been very encouraging.  Proof texting and terribly out of context quotes are common practice across General Conference talks.  Below is another very interesting example of the Church using partial scriptures to promote and teach something quite different from what the scripture they quote actually said when you read it.   

Who's this Self-Reliance program for anyway?  

I'm hard pressed to say or conclude this program is for the rich, since they are already relying on themselves. So, that leaves either the middle class or the folks towards the poor end of the spectrum as the primary audience of this program. The program's scriptural backing as you can read above purports that the revelation (D&C section 104) is a promise that the Lord will provide temporal blessings and open the door to self-reliance.  That clears up who the program is directed at.  But lets see if the scriptures cited support the premise.

The citation from section 104 hardly quotes even 1 complete sentience.  It cuts off mid sentience and omits critical parts of the thought.  Verses aren't very long in the LDS cannon so when official sources deliberately exclude part of a solitary verse it raises questions for me.  I'll go through some evidence and you can decide for yourself what your own conclusions are.  But hopefully there's some useful information and background regardless of your conclusion.

Here is the context for the first scriptural citation.  I start at verse 13 of section 104 so we actually have some surrounding context. 

Below in blue font are the snippet parts quoted by the Church.  In orange are the chopped up parts of the verse that are vital to understanding the blue part but which were not included in the Church's citation.  And the black font shows relevant surrounding verses that help with context which neither got cited nor chopped up but were just never cited at all. 
13 For it is expedient that I, the Lord, should make every man accountable, as a steward over earthly blessings, which I have made and prepared for my creatures.14 I, the Lord, stretched out the heavens, and built the earth, my very handiwork; and all things therein are mine.15 And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine.16 But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.17 For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.18 Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.
The introduction to Self-Reliance took only parts of parts of sentences, lifted them out of context, and then changed the meaning to point to to the program itself as if the prgram was the "Lord's way".  Curious use of scripture. 

The actual verses themselves explain how the poor are to be cared for.  (Spoiler, it wasn't by relying on themselves as the Self Reliance Program portrays).  Section 104 is about the United Firm (not to be confused with the United Order).  The United Firm was not something you live, it was an organization with members called by revelation.  It only lasted a few years. From describing the United Firm.
The United Firm was an administrative organization that oversaw the expenditure of Church funds between 1832 and 1834. In March 1832, the Lord commanded Joseph Smith to establish this organization in order to coordinate “the Literary and Merchantile establishments” of the Church in both Ohio and Missouri.1 Joseph convened a council of high priests in April 1832 in Missouri for this purpose. At the council, Joseph received another revelation indicating that he, Sidney Rigdon, Newel K. Whitney, Edward Partridge, Sidney Gilbert, John Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, William W. Phelps, and Martin Harris would be part of the organization. The revelation further explained that these men could use a portion of the collected funds for their own necessities, and any remaining funds would be used for Church purposes. They were responsible for the firm’s debts. 
The nine men appointed to the United Firm each had a specific stewardship. Six were “stewards over the revelations” (a group that became known as the “Literary Firm”) and oversaw the Church’s publishing operations. Partridge and Whitney were the two bishops in the Church, and Gilbert was an agent to Partridge. Together, these three managed Church storehouses in Ohio and Missouri. In 1833, two additional members—Frederick G. Williams and John Johnson—were added to the firm, both by revelation. Williams, a member of the Church’s governing presidency, had large landholdings in Ohio, as did Johnson. Their holdings became resources of the United Firm.
For two years, much of the Church’s business was done through the United Firm, including the purchase of property on which the House of the Lord in Kirtland would be constructed. When the Saints were driven from Jackson County, Missouri, in fall 1833, the Church lost two vital components of the firm: Phelps’s printing office and Gilbert’s storehouse. In addition, the United Firm had debts from the purchase of goods for the storehouses, a new printing press in Kirtland, and land for Kirtland’s development. On April 10, 1834, members of the United Firm in Kirtland decided to dissolve the organization and a few weeks later the United Firm ceased to function. The Kirtland high council, formed in February 1834, assumed the role of governing the Church’s mercantile and publishing efforts.
The United Firm was dissolved and the covenant associated with it was broken due to covetousness and feigned words, see section 104.  The law of consecration (United Order) was not an organization but was a system for the support of the poor and to ensure that all members would be "equal according to his family, according to his circumstances and his wants and needs" (D&C 42:30; 51:3.).  During these years the Law of Consecration was what you as a member living at the time would have been familiar with.  The United Firm and the United Order are two are different things but related.  And you need to keep both in mind.

Participants of the United Order were asked to voluntarily consecrate their property to the church and the church then would assign to each member a "stewardship" of property "as much as is sufficient for himself and family" (Doctrine and Covenants 42:32).  If consecrated property became more than was sufficient for the assigned steward, the surplus or "residue" was "to be consecrated unto the bishop" and kept for the benefit of "those who have not, from time to time, that every man who has need may be amply supplied and receive according to his wants (Doctrine and Covenants 42:33).

Does that sound anything like Self-Reliance?  The Lord said in section 104 that it must be done in his own way.  In the same sentence he tells the reader what his way was.  But that portion of the verse got excluded, and in it's place the Self-Reliance program was inserted.  The original meaning is now totally obscured and replaced by something else.  Also obscured is what a relevant model of us to follow right now in 2019 might be.

The Lord providing for His saints was to be done in "His" way.  But when only that tiny snippet was quoted as the backing for the program it's as if to imply that whatever else the Self Reliance program has to say, it's categorized as the "Lord's way".  This is in direct conflict with the scripture.  It's totally at odds.  The Lord's way got coopted and swapped out for something completely different.  I wonder if someone at Headquarters just used a search engine to find phrases that appeared to support an agenda and then didn't bother to even look up what the phrases were referring to.

So far this program is at complete odds with the verses cited for it's existence.  But moving on.  Here's the video going along with the Self-Reliance program so you get a sense for what it's all about from the leaders themselves.  :

Both Sides of the Table

Before going any further I wanted to mention some scriptures that teach about how all are required to labor and not be idle.  These scriptures below dovetail similar meaning as was found in section 104 above.  My point with this tangent is that everyone has God given responsibilities regardless of being rich or poor.  The rich are to assist the poor.  These are a few scriptures that address both sides of the table.

D&C 56:16-17
16 Wo unto you rich men, that will not give your substance to the poor, for your riches will canker your souls; and this shall be your lamentation in the day of visitation, and of judgment, and of indignation: The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and my soul is not saved! 17 Wo unto you poor men, whose hearts are not broken, whose spirits are not contrite, and whose bellies are not satisfied, and whose hands are not stayed from laying hold upon other men’s goods, whose eyes are full of greediness, and who will not labor with your own hands!
D&C 42:38-42
38 For inasmuch as ye do it unto the least of these, ye do it unto me. 39 For it shall come to pass, that which I spake by the mouths of my prophets shall be fulfilled; for I will consecrate of the riches of those who embrace my gospel among the Gentiles unto the poor of my people who are of the house of Israel. 40 And again, thou shalt not be proud in thy heart; let all thy garments be plain, and their beauty the beauty of the work of thine own hands; 41 And let all things be done in cleanliness before me. 42 Thou shalt not be idle; for he that is idle shall not eat the bread nor wear the garments of the laborer.
Personal responsibility is a true principle.  It applies to the rich and poor. "Self-Reliance" on the other hand only applies to....well you can figure that out if you think for a second.  As long as the Church is into name changes these days, I think a better construct for a program would be "God Dependent, Personally Responsible" or something along those lines.  First because it's true, and second because it addresses the fact that everyone carries personal responsibilities.  And that we are all wholly dependent on God. 

But back to the research on the self reliance program.  But what about the rest of the program?

12 Steps for not asking the Church for help. 

The program presents 12 principles to receive the blessings of Self Reliance.  The principles themselves are fairly common and in essence they are good.  If you strip away the LDS flavor what's left are principles that extend beyond religion and culture.  Working together, integrity, good management of money, individual responsibility, problem solving, perseverance, not misusing your time, not being lazy.  These are good things not unique to Mormonism or Christianity.

However good these things are, what did section 104 say was the Lord's way?  He said it "must needs" be done His way so we'd better be sure what that is. Because if we're not doing it the Lord's way how can we claim the associated blessings?  The Lord's way was what you can read above.  To recap: The rich are made low and the poor exalted (vs 16).  And how are the poor going to be exalted in that the rich get made low?  As mentioned above The United Order was intended to solve that by creating equality for the participants.  It leveled the playing field.  The rich were made low by giving, and the poor got lifted upwards by receiving.  Equality and having no poor among them are things that describe Zion and the saints during that day were attempting to go in that direction.

Vs 17 (still talking about section 104) says there is enough and to spare. No one need hoard or be unequal.  God says there's enough for everyone if we'd obey God.  Verse 18 needs to be read as part of the overall context because it's God that gives us our abundance, that's where it comes from. People are stewards.  And those who have received from God are supposed to give the portion that ought to be given to the poor according to the law of the Gospel.  This is how the Lord describes His way of providing.  The goal was equality.  Rich give, poor receive. Still with me?

Now we turn to this self reliance program of 2018.  The "Lord's way" of providing for the poor mentioned back in 1840 takes a crazy U turn in 2018.  Now instead of the poor getting some of the consecrated wealth of the rich, there's a new program for the poor that shifts the (entire) burden back onto the poor themselves.  They got robbed in the name of  "self-reliance".  We're not practicing the United Order in 2018, however the Church does still ask for and collect tithing.  They require it if you want to get baptized or go to the Temple.  The message to the poor now is "rely on yourself" "get your money elsewhere" and "don't ask us until you've already asked other soruces first, such as your family or the government" and this is all implied as if it was "The Lord's way".  I can't help but notice how different that is from the scriptures used as the backbone for this program.

Where are the rich made low in any part of this Self-Reliance program?  They aren't.  The responsibilities of the rich towards the poor are not even mentioned.

So what of these 12 principles the program teaches?  Some of the scriptures they cite for them are way out of context, but others are good.  The first principle of the program, Faith in Jesus Christ, seems like a solid one right?  But then I start thinking about it.  I'm not sure how you can have saving faith in Jesus Christ and yet still think you are reliant on yourself.  We depend on God for every breath so how exactly are we self-reliant?  Perhaps others can reconcile the two.  I take the side that we are all wholly dependent on God and only our pride prevents us from realizing how God dependent we are.  Should we be personally responsible?  Of course.  But Self-Reliance sounds a bit like Korihor who taught that a person fared in this life according to their genius and the management of the creature (Verse 13 from section 104 also uses the term "creature').
Alma 30:17 And many more such things did he say unto them, telling them that there could be no atonement made for the sins of men, but every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime.

Money First, Food Second.  

Principle number 4 of the program is about managing money well.  Which in scriptural terms often goes alongside talk of being a good steward.  Being a good steward would have special relevance for you if your allotment of property or goods was given to you according to the United Order.  Good stewardship is a solid principle and something we all ought to be intelligent about.  But how is the principle taught as part of the self reliance program?  The first principle according to the church about managing money well is to pay (them) tithing.  There is a whole lot more to be said about tithing than what I hope to contribute here.  I'll try to keep in context of Self-Reliance.  The video accompanying this section of the program has 2 little children as actors portraying an adult couple conversing about money.   Link here to watch the video.  Here's a transcript:

I'm home, dear.
Welcome home.
Oh my, you look tired.
You do too. You work very hard, don't you?
Well, we're supposed to, aren't we?
I earned 10 today.
Oh, what a blessing. First things first. Let's pay our tithing.
But what if we don't have enough?
That's where faith comes in.
So what's next?
Let's buy our food and bus fare and pay rent. And then it would be nice to buy a chair.
But we can't, see? We don't have enough money.
Well, we can borrow some.
They say debt is dangerous. We don't want to get in trouble.
OK. You're right. So what do we do with this?
We'll save it. We never know what will happen.
That feels right. But there's nothing left for fun.
We have each other, and I'll try to earn more.
I'll try to spend less.
That way we can be happy and self-reliant.
That wasn't so difficult. Why do grown-ups make it so hard?
Oh, you know. That's how grown-ups are.

At least one message is clear form this video.  Pony up tithing before buying food! The little kid actors combined with happy-go-lucky background music helps the bad tasting medicine go down easier. Paying the Lord (read Church) first is a consistent teaching across other church publications.  According to this video when you come up short with money your supposed to just spend less or save more and then "have faith".  How does that make the rich low and exalt the poor?  Because that was what section 104 said.  This video does the opposite. The poor are left with little to put faith in other than insubstantial promises taught to them by the rich.  They are definitely not taught that the Lord's way is for the rich to be made low.  Cause how popular is that philosophy for the rich? 

The rich pay tithing and offerings too, but they have a lot of perks, like being able to put food on the table in addition to their tithes.  There are even more perks if you are a top Church leader.  Top LDS church leaders according to various sources have exempted themselves from paying tithing due to their Church service, and there are living stipends, and reimbursals for education and various other perks that are beyond the scope here. 

All this being said, I believe God can recognize someone's faith and respond to their sincere efforts no matter how corrupt the teachings they inhale from the leaders.  We've all heard those stories of someone paying tithing first, having nothing left, and then suddenly an envelope shows up or some unusual situation occurs that gives the person just enough food or money to get by.  Each time we hear these stories the audience is emotionally moved to pay tithing first.  We forget about the overwhelming stress those people endured, and will likely endure again if this situation happens to not be a one off event.  Those happy endings don't happen to everyone, but everyone at Church gets to hear about those people for whom it does happen.  And I think those stoires of faith are awesome.  But what about the non happy ending stories?  Did those people lack faith?  How dreadful an assumption.

It would seem logical that the Church to whom you paid tithing in such a dire straits would turn around and help you out.  But that isn't what the self reliance program teaches people to expect.  The poor are taught subtly and indirectly NOT to expect any help from the Church but instead to have faith.  Often in these stories of God's providence it's a generous neighbor, or some random person, or some anonymous situation that fills the person's need.  God apparently doesn't want them to get help from the Church to whom they paid the tithe until God himself has exhausted his other resources. 

I know the Church gives aid to LOTS of people, I'm not overlooking that.  I just can't help but see a self-reliance program as possibly attempting to limit and ultimately reduce the aid the Church has to give yet still allowing the Church to continue to collect.

Moving on.  One thing I want to know is where the teaching came from that tithing was based on your income and is to be paid before basic necessities of life.  Is that practice congruent with scripture?  Is it possible we have misunderstood tithing?

Consecration vs Tithing

So where exactly is the cutoff between consecration and tithing?
D&C 119 given in 1838 is the section of D&C most directly describing many aspects of tithing.  It came as a result of Joseph Smith asking “O Lord! Show unto thy servants how much thou requirest of the properties of thy people for a tithing.”  There must have been some disagreements or confusion on the matter or Joseph wouldn't have asked this.  The Lord responded:
1 Verily, thus saith the Lord, I require all their surplus property to be put into the hands of the bishop of my church in Zion, 2 For the building of mine house, and for the laying of the foundation of Zion and for the priesthood, and for the debts of the Presidency of my Church. 3 And this shall be the beginning of the tithing of my people. 4 And after that, those who have thus been tithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually; and this shall be a standing law unto them forever, for my holy priesthood, saith the Lord.
Vs 1 uses the word surplus.  Vs 4 uses the word interest.  Both words denote substance beyond what one needs to subsist.  And that is how both the dictionary and the early saints understood it.  This puts more money in the pocket of the people and less in the hands of the Church.  Interesting.  So what happened between then and now?  Why did the obvious definition of interest and surplus change?  Maybe the Church's essays and articles can answer this.  Link here.  Relevant excerpts below.
Shortly after Joseph received the revelation in section 119, he assigned Brigham Young to go among the Saints “and find out what surplus property the people had, with which to forward the building of the Temple we were commencing at Far West.” Before setting out, Brigham asked Joseph, “‘Who shall be the judge of what is surplus property?’ Said he, ‘Let them be the judges themselves.’”18 
Sadly, during the autumn of 1838, the Saints were driven from Missouri, their Zion-building project apparently on temporary hold and the temple marked out by only a few stones. Exiled from Missouri, the Saints regrouped in Illinois, joined by thousands of converts from the British Isles, the eastern states, and Canada. There Joseph led them as he always had—revealing the way forward line upon line—until they understood and paid, as tithing, a tenth of their overall increase, together with other freewill offerings of time, talent, and surplus property.25 When the Apostles invited the Saints to offer all they could toward the construction of a temple in Nauvoo, many responded, offering tools, land, furniture, and money.26 John and Sally Canfield consecrated all they had, including themselves and their two children, “to the God of He[a]ven and for the Good of his Cause.” In a note to Brigham Young, Brother Canfield wrote, “All I possess I freely give to the Lord and into thy hands.”27
Some Things Definitely Shifted

That second paragraph describes the shift as viewed by the LDS Church. There's no scriptural or revelatory reference for the transition from "interest" to "increase" to "income" as it pertains to tithing. It was just a change in understanding for the saints according to this "Revelations in Context" article.  Who I ask stands to benefit from this change in understanding?

We know there were different laws being attempted during early Church years at different points. Consecration as we saw was attempted but failed.  The Lord ended consecration through Joseph in 1840 and the people were supposed to desist from trying to keep it. Joseph said if they persisted it would produce a perfect abortion (link).  Spelling as in original.
He said that the Law of consecration could not be kept here, & that it was the will of the Lord that we should desist from trying to keep it, & if persisted in it would produce a perfect abortion, & that he assumed the whole responsibility of not keeping it untill prosposed by himself.
God never gave a command to start up consecration again.  Whether that abortion Joseph talked about took place or not is not for me to say.  There's a link to 20 affidavits of consecration from 1842 found here if you want to see them.  The piece itself is available on the BYU website.  (Mitchell K. Schaefer and Sherilyn Farnes, “‘Myself … I Consecrate to the God of Heaven’: Twenty Affidavits of Consecration in Nauvoo, June–July 1842,” BYU Studies,vol. 50, no. 3 (2011), 101–32.)

Tithing as mentioned in section 119 was in 1838 and the Lord used the word "interest" and "surplus" and called it a "standing" law "forever" in that revelation.  So, it's safe to say this one was intended to last. What didn't last however was the common and still common definition today of the words interest and surplus.  The members were taught about tithing early on and expected to help out with the Church's debts and I don't take issue with that.  It's there in section 119.

Webster defines "surplus" as "that which remains when use is satisfied; excess beyond what is prescribed or wanted." The pertinent definitions of "interest" provided by Webster's 1828 dictionary inform us that it is a "share; portion; part; any surplus advantage."  The word surplus shows up again and is almost synonymous with interest. Gain is like profit and interest and refer to what you have left of your wages after providing for your needs (or operating expenses if you were a business).  That's "increase".  If you break even or come up short, has there been an increase?

These shifts in understanding appear to have happened while the saints were regrouping in Illinois.  I'm not a historian, and don't have unlimited time to research.  But I tried to read the original source material itself, without reading anything into it.  So why did this shift in understanding happen? One possibility that seems likely, is this shift was simply a mixture of consecration and tithing depending on who the leaders were and how they taught the people to interpret the words.  The more dire the economic situation, the more pressure to define the words in an advantageous way.  While consecration ultimately failed, some of the elements lived on in people's psyche as they were no doubt repeated from the pulpit for years.

The shift to paying before providing things like food seems to date back to this same time period when words like "surplus" changed to "income".  Tithing is usually viewed as the "lesser" law and still includes donations to the Church.  There were never provision for if/when the Church had no more debt and became wealthy since that wasn't the goal of tithing.  The ultimate plan was for Zion, equality, and not having any poor.  Are we closer to that goal in 2018 than a century ago?  Is this self reliance program doing things the Lord's way?  The goal of tithing wasn't to create a multi billion dollar Church institution with members in many countries than cannot provide basic necessities.

It seems reasonable back in the early days of the Church for people of faith to give/consecrate to the Church with understanding you would receive an allotment sufficient for your needs in return. That takes some faith but there's logic to it.  With tithing it also seems reasonable to pay tithing after your basic needs are met.  By contrast in today's manual the poor still give first but then they are taught to rely on themselves and their faith for even basics.  Wait a minute.....for the poor that's even harder than the law of consecration. There's no substance for them to put faith in. The Church to whom the poor are asked to donate as a top priority curiously puts itself as a third resort for giving back to the donors. See handbook quote below.  Is this the Lord's way where the rich are made low and the poor exalted?

After Joseph Smith's death and the resulting succession crisis, various factions of the Latter-Day Saint movement developed their own tithing practices. Brigham Young defined tithing as 10 percent of one's property upon conversion and then 10 percent of one's annual income. He also instituted an "immigration tithe" requiring 10 percent of one's net gross upon arrival in the then State of Deseret.  But even Brigham struggled with that.  Lots of people (everyone) did.  Historian Michael Quinn has a paper on early Church finances.  Relevant part cited below.  His full paper is available here:
Otherwise faithful Mormons withered before an overwhelming tithing obligation. Young told the October 1875 general conference that neither he nor anyone else "had ever paid their tithing as it was revealed and understood by him in the Doctrine and Covenants."
Tithing was a terrible sacrifice under Brigham Young and consequences were severe, sometimes being threatened with excommunication for not being a full tithe payer.  The rules and definition of tithing have eased over the years but adherence is required to be baptized and posses a temple recommend.  So tithing has never been totally consistent and had various faces involving differing amounts, differing levels of public disclosure of Church finances, and differing levels of enforcement.  Tithing as a temple recommend requirement began being enforced around 1910.  The leaders dictate how words from revelation are defined and enforced by way of their claim of possessing Priesthood keys.  So they change.

100%  2%  10% 

Where did the 10% come from?  Early on, like December of 1836, Bishop Edward Partridge and his counselors officially defined tithing as 2 percent of the net worth of each member of the church, after deducting debts (link). This money was put to covering the operating expenses of the Church.  It appears the percent was just a decision by the leadership. So where did the 10% come from?  Didn't Abraham pay Melchizedek 10% of everything he owned?

In Joseph Smith's newer translation we find that "Abram paid unto him tithes of all that he had, of all the riches which he possessed, which God had given him more than that which he had need. (JST Genesis 14:39). See now this sounds a lot more like section 119. It wasn't a tenth of of everything. Abram gave only a tenth of his surplus. God's law have always been extremely fair and doable. It's that men have a tendency to tweak God's law for advantage and to get gain.  Book of Mormon uses the term "gainsaying" if you want to look that up.  The scriptures show consistencies which I believe help us reach the right conclusion.

The fine print in our day on the donation slip informs everyone that the donation is now Church property and going to be used at their sole discretion.  Which if you read section 104 (the section we've been dealing with all post because it introduced the program) it has  been flipped upside down.  See vs 71 for example.  Compare vs 71 to the fine print on the tithing slip.  What used to required the voice and common consent is now legally something you are not allowed to even see. 
D&C 104:71 And there shall not any part of it be used, or taken out of the treasury, only by the voice and common consent of the order.

God does not ask what we cannot do.  But what if we do what God never asked?  

So, what does the Church do with the donations?  If the donations back in early days were used to help create equality what are they used for now?  By 2018 enough Church practices have been leaked and enough of those who know the details have spoken up that we know the following.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints follows a three year plan for tithing.

Year 1 tithing funds are collected.
Year 2 The funds are invested while a budget is made for how to spend it.  
Year 3 The (original) funds are spent.

The members do not have any say in this.  Nor are they allowed to view it or see details of it.  During years 1-3 since the funds were invested and not spent, they earn a yield right up until they are spent. The income from the investment is "investment income".  The original money still gets called tithing.  Investment income is used for any business venture, whether Church related or not.  The increase/yield on invested tithing and who owns those funds is a post for another day.  But a few facts to break up this post.

Business Week reported the following in this July 2012 article:
According to an official church Welfare Services fact sheet, the church gave $1.3 billion in humanitarian aid in over 178 countries and territories during the 25 years between 1985 and 2010. A fact sheet from the previous year indicates that less than one-third of the sum was monetary assistance, while the rest was in the form of "material assistance." All in all, if one were to evenly distribute that $1.3 billion over a quarter century, it would mean that the church gave $52 million annually. A recently published article co-written by Cragun estimates that the Mormon Church donates only about 0.7 percent of its annual income to charity; the United Methodist Church gives about 29 percent.
0.7 percent.  I'm aware of the humanitarian efforts of the Church.  In talking about this it should be noted that the Church, like other Church's does humanitarian work.  I'm not overlooking that or only focusing on the bad.  Nor am I trying to be negative.  I'm just looking at this reliance program and what it entails.  And asking myself why it has occupied special meeting at church over the past few months.  Yes, the Church does lots of humanitarian work. Yes, they build excessive meetinghouses all across Utah and publish manuals take care of Church properties and programs.  Lots of the Church's humanitarian work is likely not even public. I want to recognize and look at both sides.

The facts are readily available. The Church is much more heavily involved in business.  The religion is just one of many products offered by the central corporation.  Some of the other products offered are media services, real estate, communications, hunting preserves, hotels etc. etc.   I've lost track of how many for profit companies the Church owns and runs.  I think it's over 65.  They legitimately have a giant empire to manage.

Nephi has a troubling comment that fits here.  This is from 2 Nephi 28.  The context is Nephi speaking to those who read his book about Churches in the last day:
11 Yea, they have all gone out of the way; they have become corrupted.  12 Because of pride, and because of false teachers, and false doctrine, their churches have become corrupted, and their churches are lifted up; because of pride they are puffed up. 13 They rob the poor because of their fine sanctuaries; they rob the poor because of their fine clothing; and they persecute the meek and the poor in heart, because in their pride they are puffed up. 
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, speaking in factual terms, has enormous wealth, is very powerful, owning billions in stock, even more billions in real estate, spending billions on high end building projects, shopping malls, and exerts substantial power in politics.  The poor have this especially in their face in the cities where they have to gaze at the Church's skyscrapers.  Is the Church building the city of Zion?  Last I heard the answer was definitely no, since they are building some other city in Florida that will take decades and bring a trillion dollar return.  Maybe it's a trial run for Zion?  Meanwhile the assistance the poor were to receive as part of the Lord's way described in scripture has been replaced by a do-it-yourself program.  The poor thus seem to remain poor and the Church grows its money to the point it has stopped offering any financial disclosures to the public.  But rest assured, this is the Lord's way apparently. 

There is a whole lot more than can be said about tithing. I've already gotten off track from the Self-Reliance program so will point you to other resources if you want to read more about tithing.  One place is here: Link.  I discovered I had independently arrived at many of the same conclusions. 

Back to Self-Reliance.  We've been talking only economic poverty so far.  What about spiritual poverty?  This Self-Reliance initiative says we're also supposed to be spiritually self-reliant.  The Church does publish scriptures so that's a big win in the camp of helping people be spiritually self-reliant.  But the Church owns, controls, and exercises authority over saving ordinances.  Which you cannot receive without paying them your tithing.  That seems more like Church reliance.  I fail to see how this program teaches Self Reliance.  If you were to rely on your own spiritual promptings, should those ever differ from what the Church teaches and says, guess how Self-Reliant they would want you to keep being?

Auto-Help the Poor

In 2018 caring for the poor is something the Church handles.  Members can just stick their tithing on Auto Pay, and just forget about it.  The Church in many people's minds will handle the rest. I personally cannot accept that. I see my responsibility towards the poor in scripture and the Church is not meeting it.

On the note of giving tithing only to the "Church".  How is "Church" defined in scripture?  Is it a corporation?  Or is it the people who repent and come unto Christ as the scriptures say (D&C 10:67-69)?  At present, your donations are not considered tithing if the donation goes to anyone other than The Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  It's still a Christian charitable donation, but not deemed "tithing".  Or so says the organization who requires your money be given to only them. I've verified this at a personal cost with a handful of Church leaders.  But the actual Church are the people.  And technically you could still give tithing to the "Church" in this regard.


To sum up. I fully support personal responsibility. Being smart with time, money, gaining education and gaining intelligence through true principles and effort. Other organizations and even the government will also teach helpful principles to improve your life and finances. Often for free. So, what’s personally troubling with this “doctrine” of self-reliance is it teaches or implies the Lord will provide for the poor (curiously by a preferred means not involving the Church) if they will just follow these 12 principles, which include paying the Church first.  The Church is a hidden beneficiary, because the poor are pointed away from the Church for God's promised temporal providence. Isn't that interesting? It's kinda sorta backwards from section 104.  I'm not saying consecration should be the next initiative.  I'm just questioning in which direction are we even headed.

Whether intentional or not, the program seems calculated to limit the poor from asking the Church for help.  Because after all, the poor need to learn to be self reliant and manage the creature better right? My Institute teacher in college at the UofU taught me that the portion of Korihor's message dealing with how we fare in life was the true part of Korihor's message.

I don't know who developed the program or who approved it.  The motives are likely good.  The program just doesn't sit right.   

Hand Book 2

The handbook's first 2 paragraphs don't offer any insight into our dependence on God for everything, even our breath.  It doesn't even acknowledge it.  It speaks to personal responsibility but something about it just feels empty.  It mixes truth with error and omits the entire overall picture of the scriptures used to support it.  There is no talk of people being equal. Only partial verses are cited while ignoring the context, and plainly stated teachings from the Lord relevant to the topic.  Like this:
D&C 70: 14 Nevertheless, in your temporal things you shall be equal, and this not grudgingly, otherwise the abundance of the manifestations of the Spirit shall be withheld.
Have the manifestations of the Spirit been withheld from the largest sect of saints claiming Joseph as their founder?  We all need to labor.  Truth.  And personal responsibility can't be delegated. Also, true. The word Self Reliance however is just not accurate.  Nor does it seem right to extract unscriptural amounts from the poor, use that to become rich, and then from that position of wealth teach the poor to rely on themselves.

A bit of my conclusion

I honestly wonder why the Church choose section 104 to introduce the Self-Reliance program. If you've read this far (or read section 104 yourself) it's uniquely contradictory in ways few other D&C sections could compete with for being more contradictory.  In looking further at the monetary aspect (because that's what it's really about) I conclude tithing was never intended to accumulate wealth.  The law has been abused.  If early saints had difficulty and failed with the administration aspect of the law of consecration, then have we fared any better with the administration of the law of tithing?  It was intended as a fair and practical method for assisting the early Church with debts and for the assistance of the poor.  To help people be less selfish. Not to be taken from the necessities people need to live on, but from the excess so that there is enough for people to subsist and also begin to help those in need.  That is the conclusion I'm led to. 

So, while the Self Reliance program includes some redeeming principles, it is at odds with the scripture it is based on.  The poor must rely on themselves meanwhile the Church collects their money, amasses and displays towering luxurious wealth all over the city and country.  This can't possibly be the Lord's way.  It has brought anything but equality.

True principles can still be taught to help everyone improve their lives while not divorcing the teachings from scripture!  Scriptures themselves thankfully remind both rich and poor of their duty toward each other and helps us not forget that in this life we are never truly self-reliant.

So what's a good model to follow if the Church's is misleading? 

I don't have all the answers, but have given this a lot of both thought and meditation as well as practical trial and error.   Some overall beginning ideas:

-Scriptures, not Church programs run by the rich should be the foundation.   Scriptures teach about helping the poor in many many places.  They show how it's an obligation for Christ's followers.  They also teach that each person is responsible and accountable. 
-Don't centralize tithing as part of a religion.  Let each person and group of believers or fellowships organize themselves and distribute donations through common consent.  This prevents a disconnect between giver and recipient.  If you disconnect those two parties, I believe power is lost.
-Caring for the poor isn't just economic.  It requires the mind and heart.  It requires sensitivity to situations, sensitivity to what's needed. 
-Knowledge and Wisdom are needed to get it right.  Not just throwing money at people and problems.
-Not everyone is financially mature.  Perhaps they had horrible examples growing up of mis-prioritizing spending.  Donations + some key education might change the thinking and patterns that have existed for generations.  Maybe education in some cases is more important.
-The poor in 30 years will likely be different people than the poor right now.  What responsibility do parents and believers in Christ have to live intelligent principles and be an example of wisdom with finances? 
-Sacrifice.  Getting principles right always seems to involve sacrifice.  Some sacrifice money, some sacrifice pride, could be anything.

This is just the beginning of some thoughts on this.