Sunday, April 29, 2018

Turn from Doubt and Come to Christ

I taught a Gospel lesson last week about turning from our doubts and coming to Christ. Below are some notes and outline from the lesson.

-Opening Questions: What is it you doubt when it comes to your own redemption, coming to Christ, and experiencing the fullness of the Gospel? Do you doubt yourself? Your qualifications? Do you doubt God? Your ability to follow God? Your ability to discern correctly?

-Repent/ance Definition from new RE T&C Glossary: This means “change.” It requires believers to turn away from the world and toward God. It is the change in life that follows from seeing things in a better, truer light. There is another, higher way to live available to everyone. But to move upward, people must make changes in their lives to incorporate more light and truth. By living a higher way, you are repenting. This process is not a single event. It does not happen once. It should happen over and over as we increase the light in our lives.1 It can be granted by God (Alma 10:4, 19:15; Acts 6:9). Repentance involves acquiring light and truth — meaning intelligence. Repentance is abandoning a foolish error, a vain tradition, or a false belief and replacing it with truth.2 Penitence is another way to describe repentance or the process of change and growing beyond sins limiting your happiness. It comes as you allow Christ to “succor” you through the power of the Atonement. Through penitence, people do away with the darkness in their lives and add light instead.3 The best definition of repentance is to turn away from all other distractions to face God.4

-Last sentience: The best definition of repentance is to turn away from all other distractions to face God.

- Doubt is one of those things both distracting and is counter to faith.
-Turning from doubt is part of repentance
-Doubts take energy.  Waste of energy.
-Doubt and faith cannot coexist according to lectures on Faith.

-Important: Turning from doubt does not mean some vague notion of “not questioning things”.

-In the LDS church when they say “doubt your doubts” it feels like they are subtly implying I shouldn’t question anything they teach or anything in or about the LDS Church. That is NOT what I’m addressing here.

-Doubt in today's discussion is talking about doubts as in insecurities, errors, misunderstandings, or inability to reconcile something regarding God or our life which prevents the confidence necessary to come to Him and actually receive the Lord. Whatever it is that causes lack of confidence in God to experience the fruits the scriptures speak of.

-Questioning things is normal and how we often get answers from God.  Which of course is healthy.

Quote: "In most cases it is our disrespect for ourselves that impedes coming to Him. We tend to think we aren't good enough. However, because He is quick to forgive sins, it really doesn't matter if you are not good enough. One of the first orders of business when you come into His presence is that He forgives you. He cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance, but He has the capacity and the ability to forgive sin. Therefore although your sins may be as scarlet, He can, He will and He does, make you white as snow, no longer accountable for your limitations. Therefore you needn't fear, but you can approach boldly, our Lord."  -DS

What alienates us from Him is not our sins. He will forgive them. What we lack is the confidence to ask in faith, nothing doubting, for His help. He can and will help when you do so. -DS 

Lectures on Faith 3:20 (including a portion from the QA at the end of the lecture)
But secondly: Unless he was merciful, and gracious, slow to anger, long suffering, and full of goodness, such is the weakness of human nature, and so great the frailties and imperfections of men, that unless they believed that these excellencies existed in the divine character, the faith necessary to salvation could not exist; for doubt would take the place of faith, and those who know their weakness and liability to sin, would be in constant doubt of salvation, if it were not for the idea which they have of the excellency of the character of God, that he is slow to anger, and long suffering, and of a forgiving disposition, and does forgive iniquity, transgression and sin. An idea of these facts does away doubt, and makes faith exceedingly strong. Because of the weakness and imperfections of human nature, and the great frailties of man; for such is the weakness of man, and such his frailties, that he is liable to sin continually, and if God were not long suffering, and full of compassion, gracious and merciful and of a forgiving disposition, man would be cut off from before him in consequence of which he would be in continual doubt and could not exercise faith: for where doubt is, there faith has no power, but by man's believing that God is full of compassion and forgiveness, long suffering and slow to anger, he can exercise faith in him and overcome doubt, so as to be exceedingly strong. (3:20)

Lectures on faith predicts our doubts. Says mans weakness and liability to sin will be something the mind at some point will recognize and have to reconcile.

-The answer according to the lecture:  Believing that God is full of compassion and forgiveness, longsuffering and slow to anger. Those attributes in particular are noted in the context of having faith to overcoming doubt.  So as to be exceedingly strong.

-Once you live past like 20 it's not hard to see or sense the weaknesses and liability of us humans to err, sin, and make mistakes.  The lectures reference the "great frailties of man, the weaknesses of man".  This Lecture is accurate. It's written by someone who is not naive, nor vain, nor puffed up, nor blind. It's written by someone who can see clearly.

-Lecture 3 identifies fallen man, and then tells you what to do about it.

-Answer revolves around the nature of God and God's excellency of character. "An idea of these facts does away doubt "

-Revelation of God's character usually accompanied by parallel revelation (realization) of man's fallen state. Hence the lecture speaks of both in the same paragraph. Another example is Moses. He has experience with God and almost the next thing is what then become apparent, which is "that man is nothing". Yet an idea of the facts of God's nature sufficient to overcome doubt and make strong.

LoF 6:12
12 But those who have not made this sacrifice to God, do not know that the course which they pursue is well pleasing in his sight; for whatever may be their belief or their opinion, it is a matter of doubt and uncertainty in their mind; and where doubt and uncertainty is, there faith is not, nor can it be. For doubt and faith do not exist in the same person at the same time. So that persons whose minds are under doubts and fears cannot have unshaken confidence, and where unshaken confidence is not, there faith is weak, and where faith is weak, the persons will not be able to contend against all the opposition, tribulations and afflictions which they will have to encounter in order to be heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ Jesus; and they will grow weary in their minds, and the adversary will have power over them and destroy them.

-Sacrifice isn't just one singular heroic act.

-Sacrifice can also be daily, hourly. A life lived, like a living sacrifice to God. It can be fun. It can be joyful.

-Sacrifice connected to consecration.

Part 2:

Q&A I had with a good friend who's testimony of Christ is one that has inspired me on a number of occasions. I posed some potential doubts to him and record his response.

Question: "I feel a lot of self doubt, I don't feel good enough, I sometimes doubt whether or not I read scriptures enough, or understand enough, am kind enough, or doing enough to qualify to come fully to Christ, what should I do to get past these doubts"?

Response: That statement is based on a misunderstanding of the character nature and attributes of God. They are misunderstanding just how much God loves them and just how much He is going to do the work of saving you. (Christ = Author and finisher of our faith)

"Your doubts are well founded and you shouldn't try to get past them. You don't qualify to come to Christ. That is why He came down to earth and that is why He will come down to you when the timing is right."

Question: "I'm doing everything I think I'm supposed to be doing as far as living the Gospel and trying to repent, but I don't see the fruits some people have, so it causes me to doubt myself or sometimes God and feel stuck, how can I move forward?

Response: "In my understanding, the essence of the gospel and living it are about being freed from guilt and shame as you try to be a practically decent person. So the bad news is we are cut off from god and will die. The good news is that we will be reconciled with God and live again. The fruits of that good news is that I can live my life with hope. Adding more practical skills in being a good person without having to get trapped in the guilt/shame cycle of never feeling like I will measure up. To me, that is the real fruit of the gospel. But this question too goes back to the misunderstanding of God's nature."

Conclusion: In the end it’s not which of the million doubts we happen to have given in to or surrendered to. It’s about what we believe and exercise faith in. Because we all have faith in something. We are currently acting consistent with faith in something.

-Take time to rest from your doubts. And let scripture and the Spirit of God show the truth.

-Lectures on Faith I believe contains the truth about God's nature and fallen man's weaknesses and yet shows why and how we can overcome doubt.

Analogy: Just as our physical body requires constant food and nourishment, so does our spirit.

-Overall health impacted by the quality of food you consume, so too with our Spirit.

Ending Quote:

"If we believe in the restoration, and take the faith seriously, we should be as willing to diversify our faith-structure as the LDS corporate structure has been willing to use tithes to diversify its portfolio. Just as they have branched out to own communications, publishing, farming, banking, retail, office, insurance, and real estate ventures in order to insulate the empire from failing if one of the side-ventures (the religion of Mormonism) fails, we should diversify and allow our faith to acquire enough independence to survive any disappointments coming from 47 East South Temple.

God did a work through the Prophet Joseph Smith that will continue on whether the RLDS, FLDS, LDS or UAB collapse into corruption, wickedness and financial ruin. We ought to be dependent on God and God alone for our hope to see the return of Zion and completion of the work begun through Joseph
." -DS

We can come boldly (because of God's nature) to the throne of Grace (Heb 4:6) God's nature is forgiving, kind, longsuffering, and full of compassion.  Which can overcome doubt. He can teach us, heal us. fill us with love, give us mercy and or whatever else we lack. He is the answer. Love is the answer. God is Love.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Fruits and Words

Christ says in Mattthew 6:14 (RE)

Either make the tree good and his fruit good, or else make the tree corrupt and his fruit corrupt, for the tree is known by the fruit. And Jesus said, O you children of vipers, How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man, out of the good treasure of the heart, brings forth good things; and an evil man, out of the evil treasure, brings forth evil things. And again I say unto you that every idle word men shall speak, they shall give an account thereof in the day of judgment: for by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned.

Christ connects fruit with words spoken.   Prophets provoke all sorts of anger and violence in scripture with their words.  So did Christ, but that doesn't mean their fruits were bad.

Our words will condemn is is a sobering thought.  For good reason we should measure our words before giving voice to them.  I don't think Christ's teaching above is referring to just the letter string of words pieced together.  I think the verse quoted above has reference to "words" as in the "message" you communicate.  With your words.  Jesus said "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks".  What comes out of your mouth is a reflection of the heart.  You could fumble over your words or be weak in writing like one BOM prophets and yet the message or fruit communicated could still be good.  Or on the other hand be like Sherem the Antichrist in the Book of Mormon. Sherem was “learned, that he had a perfect knowledge of the language of the people; wherefore, he could use much flattery, and much power of speech, according to the power of the devil” (Jacob 7:4).

As I was thinking about words it dawned on me you could take scripture and get out a dictionary and use the dictionary for every single word, and yet you wouldn't uncover the extent of what God was really saying in the passage.  Because the dictionary isn't the way to unlock scriptures full meaning.  I believe the Holy Spirit is.

Word meanings vary from culture to culture and time and place.  They evolve.  But one consistent trend is that words rarely acquire higher meaning.  Their meaning trends decidedly downwards.  Revelation can restore meaning, but for now consider this:

E. W. Bullinger was a biblical scholar and fluent in Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin, and other languages. His study of language led him to this interesting conclusion: “It is a strange commentary on fallen human nature to see words thus changing their usage; for this change is uniformly in one direction; it is always a change for the worse. We never find a word acquiring a higher meaning! It is always down, down, down, like fallen and falling man himself, who thus drags down with him the meanings of the words he uses."

How, for example, did the change in the usage of this word “prevent” come about? [Bullinger had been writing of the word “prevent” and how in earlier English usage it used to mean “precede, go in front of, go before”]. It was because whenever one man got before another, it was generally for his own advantage, and to the hindrance, hurt, and loss of the other; hence the word came to have this new and lower meaning.

The same may be seen in apology, which was used of a defense, as in Jewel’s Apology (i.e., Defense) of the Reformation. But, because man’s defenses of himself are usually so poor, the word has come to mean a mere excuse. Our word censure was used simply of judgment, which might be favorable or otherwise; but, inasmuch as such judgments have generally proved to be unfavorable, the word is used today only of blame. Our word story was originally short for history, but because so many histories and stories are what they are [i.e., made up or embellished], the word has come to mean that which is not true. Cunning meant merely knowing; but because knowing people generally know too much, or use their knowledge to a bad purpose, it has come to have its present usage. Villain meant a servant of a villa, or of a country or farm-house. The house has kept its good meaning, but the man has lost it.
” E. W. Bullinger, How to Enjoy the Bible (Samuel Bagster and Sons, Ltd., London, reprinted 1970), p. 230.

The meaning of words deteriorates!  Easy to notice if you pay attention in 2018.  And it's almost always downward in meaning.  Which reflects the heart, as Jesus said above. 

Take "hope" for example.  It used to mean something that was likely to occur, but the modern English usage of “hope” actually implies a wish, or something desired which is very likely not to occur. For instance, one might say “I hope to go to the store today” when there is substantial doubt that they actually may do so.  "Hope" in some modern usage even gives room for an excuse for not doing a thing because it was only a hope after all, not a certainty committed to.

Hope as defined in the Book of Mormon, assisted by revelation, is the time period between when God gives a promise and the realization of the promise.  During that time the person has hope. But the promise is sure because God's word does not return void and God cannot lie.  So the hope is an anchor bringing the possessor of it joy and assurance.

I believe it takes revelation from God for the words to re-aquire higher meaning.  Often takes going back to the original meaning as understood before numerous generations of deterioration.  This is why I generally think were someone to read a document like the Answer and Covenant, and get out the dictionary and define each word they would not necessarily acquire The Spirit behind the words and thus not acquire the full intended meaning.  Or the fruits.  Our minds are often polluted, our hearts broken, and our interpretations are all personal and private to our own biases.  When scriptures teach that no prophecy of scripture is for private interpretation, (KJV 2 Peter 1:20) I have to pause and really consider what that means.  

The Holy Spirit can shed light on subtleties of words that a dictionary cannot.  Foreign languages do a good job of identifying that there are sometimes numerous differences between closely related ideas or concepts because that language may have 3, 4 or more words for one English word.  Because there are differences in meaning based on time, place, context, and intent that some languages explore more than others.  Dictionaries often do not and cannot account for a persons intent.  The intent behind words matters, not just the actual words used.  For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

Having seen many a disagreement over the meaning of a word I'm looking towards seeking God's intent behind words when He speaks.  Would not God's intent play a major part in how to interpret or define his words or fruits?  Would applying only mans dictionary not often result in misunderstanding?   

I am reminded again and again that we must read the scriptures as much with our minds as hearts, and that too under the influence of the Holy Ghost.  The dictionary cannot unlock certain things.  Only the heart can.  The intent and meaning of some words may even go contrary to what might initially show up in the dictionary or the synonym section.  It may contain a message so elevated, and communicate intent so pure and express love to a degree that we don't even comprehend what the message even was. We can't even take it in.  Instead it all descends to bickering with the dictionary as the lowest common denominator to win a battle. When the heart and the intent were what mattered more.       

I've heard it said that it takes revelation to understand revelation.  I believe that to be true.  I also believe God's words are revelation and that God offers fruit that is desirable above all other fruit.

Psalm 119:105 (KJV) Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Solemn Assembly Vote

This past General Conference April 2018 there was a Solemn Assembly to sustain new LDS Church leaders. Each person was asked to stand and vote and either signify a sustaining vote, or vote to the contrary. This is a God given right and responsibility for LDS members as part of the Church's law of common consent. It was a solemn meeting for me. As in thought provoking and not taken lightly. I post a few thoughts below as part of my personal records.

No one was asked to assess or judge the people themselves.  So nothing said here should be read as doing that.  The vote was to sustain LDS leaders in specific positions of leadership.  A positive sustaining vote can mean very different things to different people.  A negative vote may also mean different things to different people.  A positive vote to some may indicate a degree of swearing allegiance and honor. To another it's simply agreeing to pray for and be supportive of those leaders.  A negative vote may not have anything to do with not liking the leaders.  It may also not mean that the voter doesn't genuinely desire their success in Gospel efforts.  I personally recognize and value the good that leaders of the LDS church do, and have done.  The topic here is that of sustaining in a particular capacity at this particular time.  For brevity this will hopefully be an adequate explanation of a few things you may want to consider.  There are more examples regarding ordinances or scriptures but those are for another day.        

Common Consent: 

LDS canonized scripture state before anyone can serve in a calling, they must first receive a sustaining vote of the people.  Doctrine and Covenants 20: 65 (emphasis mine):  "NO person is to be ordained to ANY office in this church, where there is a regularly organized branch of the same, without the vote of that church"

President Nelson along with a newly called First Presidency was set apart by the other members of the 12 last January 2018 soon after the death of President Monson.  Link.  This was months prior to the March 31st 2018 vote by the members of the Church.  They were set apart and began functioning in their capacity on their own contrary to the scriptures and the law of common consent.  The Church's teachings on this are clear and found in numerous places link.  This is not the first time ordination preceded a vote. And perhaps it’s only a procedural error that does not merit more than passing notice.  However you view the facts, it’s part of a pattern, and the pattern is perhaps what's worth noticing.  The pattern is a growing wave of “cult of personality” that has, in many instances, uprooted and replaced focus on Jesus Christ and the discarding of scripture.  That pattern is something worth considering as one contemplates sustaining.    

Below are quotes from LDS.org on the Law of Common Consent.  Underlining is mine for emphasis.  Here is a link to the LDS.ORG page where the below content was taken from.   Also printed here is the reference to the printed material. Section 26, The Law of Common Consent,” Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual(2002), 54.

D&C 26:2. The Law of Common Consent

Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained that “administrative affairs of the Church are handled in accordance with the law of common consent. This law is that in God’s earthly kingdom, the King counsels what should be done, but then he allows his subjects to accept or reject his proposals. Unless the principle of free agency is operated in righteousness men do not progress to ultimate salvation in the heavenly kingdom hereafter. Accordingly, church officers are selected by the spirit of revelation in those appointed to choose them, but before the officers may serve in their positions, they must receive a formal sustaining vote of the people over whom they are to preside. (D. & C. 20:60–67; 26:2; 28; 38:34–35; 41:9–11; 42:11; 102:9; 124:124–145.)” (Mormon Doctrine, pp. 149–50.)

Not only are Church officers sustained by common consent, but this same principle operates for policies, major decisions, acceptance of new scripture, and other things that affect the lives of the Saints (see D&C 26:2).

D&C 26:2.

When Should a Person Cast a Negative Vote?

I have no right to raise my hand in opposition to a man who is appointed to any position in this Church, simply because I may not like him, or because of some personal disagreement or feeling I may have, but only on the grounds that he is guilty of wrong doing, of transgression of the laws of the Church which would disqualify him for the position which he is called to hold.” (Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3:124.)

As quoted above regarding the Law of Common Consent this same principle operates with sustaining leaders before they serve as well as to policies and major decisions affecting the members.  Again policies in the church change all the time, and rarely are they presented to the body for a sustaining vote.  In fact I’ve never seen any policy change ever put to the members for sustaining vote in my lifetime. And some major policies or decisions have been made that very much effect the members.  I often wonder what good a law is that isn’t followed?  Seems to negate the purpose of common consent if a person in authority just dictates what happens via their authority because they were sustained in that position (and in some cases began acting before even being sustained). Going so far as to imply it's your fault or your faithlessness if you don't gain a testimony of their decisions.  Is that really the law of common consent?  D&C 26:2 says all things are to be done by common consent. If “all” things is the standard then I would expect to see at least a few things done by common consent.    

In 2015 there was a policy leaked by a non church affiliated organization disallowing children of gay parents to be baptized.  This policy’s scope may not directly affect millions of individuals from getting baptized, but the degree to which it affects the affected is significant.  It was done in the name of protecting children according to the LDS church news releases.  They didn't want to create a conflict in the home between a child's baptism and the view or lifestyle of the parent.   While I can see the case for that, I still find the decision and policy troubling.  There is no basis in scripture for restricting baptism due to the choices of parents. None. Denying a saving ordinance until additional non scripture criteria is met is sort of important isn't it? 

This is a policy with fundamental doctrinal conflicts.  Thankfully having a testimony of organizational policy isn't required by the Gospel.  What I'm not as thankful for is that if I'm ever to voice these concerns I'm met with "trust the leaders" as the response.  To me that ignores personal conscience, ignores scripture, stops thinking, and stops an individual's obligation to discern and compare what happens in our day to scriptural standards.  It's back to the cult of personality referred to earlier where thoughtless obedience to leaders is advocated.  
 


Baptism and Christ's Doctrine 

The Baptismal Interview Questions as seen in Preach My Gospel add to, and take away from Christ's Doctrine against Christ's explicit instructions in 3rd Nephi 11 of the Book of Mormon.  As an example I refer to this baptismal interview question (direct quote) Do you believe that [current Church President] is a prophet of God? What does this mean to you?

That interview question and belief in a current Church President is not a scriptural requirement for baptism.  See also D&C 20:72.  Confessing a man is not part of The Doctrine of Christ.  Anyone with scriptures can easily verify this.  Nor is paying tithing to the church, nor is living the word of wisdom for a set period of time.  Yet these things and more have been added as requirements (see Preach My Gospel under "Qualifications for Baptism" link) Adding requirements to baptism is a doctrinal conflict.  If a person has to confess a man, commit to giving money before being allowed to be baptized in Christ’s name (or live the word of wisdom or attend several meetings) does this conflict with Christ's Doctrine as given by Him by adding unscriptural criteria and pointing to a man? Christ said those who add or take away from His doctrine are built on sand and cometh of evil (3rd Nephi 11:40).  There were no exceptions allowed.  Hence my concern.  This merits a little more explanation. 

If you listen/read the baptismal prayer the individual is just baptized in Christ’s name (and the Father and Holy Ghost), they are not baptized a member of any church.  They are just baptized.  The LDS confirmation ordinance does mark entrance to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  The wording of the prayer is self-evident: “We confirm you a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints”.  The thing is the baptismal interview questions affect the individual’s ability to receive baptism as well as LDS confirmation.  One of which has Christ defined requirements, the other can have whatever requirements that institution chooses.  This is where and why I believe the unscriptural questions in the interview affect and conflict with the Doctrine of Christ because it potentially prevents not just confirmation, but baptism.    
 
Pointing the individual towards a man with a calling at a moment when Christ was to be the sole object of focus is in my view completely inappropriate.  When leaders enact policy contrary to scripture, it gives me pause.  Especially policy which points to themselves as the ones you should rely on and who's changes you should accept.   

The scripture are the standard to which we should measure things, but that is trending downward and being replaced by reliance and trust in whatever the current leaders say.  Whether the policy or teaching does or does not align with scripture is rarely a line of thinking tolerated.  The curriculum of LDS Seminary and Institute reflects this ongoing shift of discarding scripture.  Books of Scripture as courses of study have been replaced by topic based classes with only Church Leader approved topics which include more content from conference talks and official statements.  Link.  Even BYU scholars have deep concerns about these shifts.  Questioning is seen as lacking faith at times.     
    
Top Level Interference:

I have firsthand knowledge of President Nelson (as President of the Quorum of the 12) directing (as in instructing to be carried out) the excommunication of an individual I know personally.  Discipline requires a counsel, but who is going to go against the President of the 12 when they direct that an individual be disciplined?  Church discipline is a local matter, as publicly declared by the Church on numerous occasions, yet this is untrue.  The Church Newsroom after one fairly publicly exposed excommunication said to the media that excommunication is a local matter not something top Church leadership coordinates or directs. 

Quote: Sometimes members’ actions contradict Church doctrine and lead others astray. While uncommon, some members in effect choose to take themselves out of the Church by actively teaching and publicly attempting to change doctrine to comply with their personal beliefs. This saddens leaders and fellow members. In these rare cases, local leaders have the responsibility to clarify false teachings and prevent other members from being misled. Decisions are made by local leaders and not directed or coordinated by Church headquarters.  -Mormon Newsroom 

This is simply not true.  I don’t believe that the Official Church Newsroom and President Nelson have no knowledge of each other and act or speak contrary to each other.  President Nelson as President of the Quorum of the 12 did direct disciplinary action towards at least one I know of who did not merit it and then the entire First Presidency and Quorum of the 12 leaders dismissed the appeal.  Excommunication is a serious matter and is taught by the Church to remove or void saving ordinances and sever family sealing.  There have been other instances of excommunication that I am also familiar with that also involved top Church leadership or leaders higher than a Stake President as well as the Church's law firms.  It's no secret. See here and here. Seeing as very few Church authorities act without permission of someone higher than them in the organization it's a big concern and the truth is now being leaked.  Are top leaders in the dark as these things happen? Given what I know of these situations, what would I be indicating were I to sustain leaders in these actions?  I do not sustain these actions and the media announcement by the Church is dishonest.     

Truth Crisis:

 
The news media has recently (as of March 2018) been reporting on a case of sexual misconduct involving a Temple President of the MTC.  The Church’s public statements on this matter is what I would expect from a legal team rather than a church lead by Christ.  The official statements have been shown to contain misleading lies, and shown to have contained cover-ups of confirmed misconduct by the MTC president.  The attempts to suppress the truth and cover it up are visible and the news media recognizes this.  The actions of the Church and the public statements made have brought a profound and solemn set of thoughts to my mind.  Interestingly Elder Oaks in 2015 stated some interesting things when it comes to how the Church treats mistakes or problems.  He has said The Church does not apologize.
http://archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=2122123&itype=CMSID.  Excerpt here:

"I know that the history of the church is not to seek apologies or to give them," Oaks said in an interview Tuesday. "We sometimes look back on issues and say, 'Maybe that was counterproductive for what we wish to achieve,' but we look forward and not backward."

The church doesn't "seek apologies," he said, "and we don't give them."

The Mormon leader made the same point, only stronger, Thursday 
during a video chat on Trib Talk by insisting that the word "apology" doesn't appear in LDS scriptures.

Many Mormons across social media have reacted with dismay at hearing an LDS apostle reject out of hand the idea of apologizing.

That dismay is understandable.  Such words are not things I believe Christ condones or has directed.  These are prepared remarks, not off the cuff speech errors.  The Church teaches that apologizing is one of the steps of repentance.  By that standard the Church is restricting its own ability to repent by declaring they won't apologize.  The actions show a preference to protect leaders rather than investigate and seriously address situations of potential or confirmed abuse and misconduct.  Why would anyone refuse to apologize when it’s clearly merited?  Is this seeking deep to hide things? 

This may be one major reason the Church is having issues with its own history and the internet bringing so many historical facts to the public's awareness.  There is a refusal to accept certain mistakes or even apologize for wrongdoing.  Trying to instead do damage control by making it look like there has always been transparency.  And re-telling the history in a light that makes the Church look good.  If this sounds vague or like my biased opinion with no substantive evidence I apologize for not including a list of sources.  They exist, and are easily accessible if one is willing to look. I'm only trying to explain a few ideas that may be worth considering.  I'm not trying to accumulate evidence.  I'm only going through a thought process as a result of being asked to sustain.  The point here is protecting the "good name" of The Church as a public entity has at times become more important than the truth, history, or protecting actual living breathing members. Radio Free Mormon did an excellent analysis of the MTC President scandal as one example.      

The history the Church tells about its founder, priesthood succession, and various events in the Church's history are deliberately whitewashed to "promote faith".  The Church's Gospel Topic essays on various historical topics have been portrayed as attempts to tell an accurate history in response to what has been termed the “Google Apostasy”.  These essays have needed many corrections and have admitted the absence of revelation and incorrect teachings of past Church leaders. The essays were written by individuals outside the current leadership positions of the church.  I don't know who wrote them, but they contain content that is troubling and often contrary to scripture.  Joseph Smith has particularly been mis-portrayed. Current LDS teachings often do not line up with the teachings of Joseph but yet those same teachings teach that the current leaders occupy the same position in every respect as Joseph.  D&C 21:4-5 is commonly misquoted as evidence of this.  Verse 4-5 are clearly referring to Joseph.  There is no license or permission in those verses to apply them to anyone else.   

Protect Children or Protect Corporate Image? 

In March 2018 there was a march with over 2000 participants (some in person, some online) who marched to the Church Office Building to bring awareness and change to policies regarding private interviews between Bishops and youth.  A few days prior to the march, after a fair amount of publicity on the upcoming march, the church altered some of its policies surrounding interviews.  The changes were good.  My concern is it took an outside campaign, media pressure, and a public march (not revelation) to bring changes to a bad practice that has proven to have abusive consequences. On the one hand you have a silent policy change leaked to the public that denies baptism to children of gay parents, said to be protecting the children.  In response to an enormous PR nightmare.  On the other hand there were thousands of examples of actual abuse from the interview practice, yet nothing changed without pressure from the media.  It doesn't appear very prophetic when the media has to be the one to pressure a church to stop abusive practices.         

Thousands of people attempted to get the attention of LDS leaders at that march.  There was no acknowledgement the march or that anything is wrong.  If thousands of people can only trigger a professionally paid public affairs representative to listen to the cries of thousands of people I have to take a step back at look again at the situation we find ourselves in.  One question I'm curious about is are the leaders hiding behind a PR team and insulating themselves behind a legal department? I do not find any evidence in scripture of Jesus nor His apostles ever insulating themselves from the public who sought their attention with layers of lawyers, professionally paid public affairs representatives, and a professionally paid spokespeople.  The newsroom has a paid spokesperson whom I did not and have never been asked to sustain as being a representative speaking “for the Church”.  Does this newsroom speak for God?  These seem like easily recognizable actions indicative of any large corporation.  What am I to do if those actions prove false? Or contain lies? And cover-ups?     

If the LDS Church is following broader religious trends, which it is, then the sexual abuse and related scandals are only going to get worse as more is exposed.  

Tithing  and the Love of Money: 

The Church has refused to renew my temple recommend due to tithing donations.  More correctly it’s been my local leaders, but they inform me they act on behalf of The Church and receive their instructions from headquarters. Which begs the question of how "The Church" is defined. I do pay tithing mind you, always have.  I'm a full tithe payer.  My tithing donations go directly to the poor, and where I individually feel directed by God to donate.  I have been up front and honest about this at each tithing settlement.  I have been fully transparent, and made no attempt to be dishonest or hide.  I would hope for the same from the Church, therefore I have freely offered those same things I would like to see from them.  Such as transparency.  But when I'm transparent, I'm denied a temple recommend because my donations to the poor disqualify me as compared to donations given to the Church corporation.   

Members of the Church in my lifetime have never really had much say in what any donations are used for.  No transparency is offered.  Even the word "interest" which is what tithing is based on has acquired new and different meaning since the time of D&C section 119.  The Bishop is allowed to ask about my personal finances every 12 months, but if I ask about the Church’s finances and ask for the even a little transparency from them it’s denied.  I’m seen as faithless or somehow dangerous, and told I’m questioning things I ought to just have faith in.  Is that acceptable?  It back to the cult of personality, which says that because the leaders are called by God I shouldn't question them and should rely on them in faith regarding use of tithes.  This troubles me.  When the leaders "living stipends" were leaked to the public it appears they are quite well compensated, despite the traditional view that the LDS church has an unpaid clergy.  Living stipend is just a business word for a form of compensation.  If the HR department were to add up "total compensation", with Deseret Book deals and such, the LDS leaders are in the top 20% of earners just from their Church based "increase".  Is this really a "no paid clergy" church?   


Regarding tithing.  I don't think I'm accountable for what happens to a donation after it leaves my hand, however what if I am not comfortable giving in the way I'm directed by the LDS Church?  Despite still paying tithing and being up front and transparent I'm disqualified for a temple recommend. Not because of a sin (that anyone will give me a straight answer on), no moral violation, no commandment broken, yet voluntary donations going to someone (anyone) other than the LDS Church Corporation bars me from entrance.  This communicates to me that they love money above most everything else. Feels like a country club.  If money is one of the required means to acquire temple ordinances how then do we not see this is the SAME regrettable path that other religions followed in the past by exchanging forgiveness of sins, blessings, or God's favor for money?  Think about this.  Giving only one specific religious corporate entity money in exchange for a "worthiness" recommend to gain God's highest temple blessings.  Who cannot see this?  Who cannot see the money driven criteria for receiving God's blessing?   
        

The fine print on the tithing donation slip informs the giver that "... all donations become the Church's property and will be used at the Church's sole discretion to further the Church's overall mission".   This sounds like business jargon that legally prevents anyone from seeing what happens to donations.  The income generated by investing the tithing funds is used for profit producing endeavors like building the 5 Billion Dollar Shopping Mall in down town Salt Lake City.  Are shopping centers part of the Church's overall mission?  This to me represents a clear step of caring more for fine apparel than the poor and the needy.  As Nephi prophesied all churches (including the LDS church) would do (2 Nephi 28:11-15).  I am aware of all the good and humanitarian work the Church does.  I’m not discounting any of that.  Nor saying I should be given a say in every penny ever spent.  That's impractical and I agree the leaders have the right to disburse funds as they see fit.  But I'd like to "see" in at least some fashion where it goes as a matter of basic transparency.  What happens if the Church itself at some point could not pass it's own temple recommend questions?  I prefer to trust in Christ rather than an institution.    

One thing I can't find in scripture is any evidence for is Christ ever condoning in any fashion the building of a multi billion dollar shopping mall and high end housing complex as a Gospel priority. Downtown Salt Lake City is just one of many of these building initiatives.  It's a trend.  What I also can't find in scripture is justification for withholding transparency from the people who donate funds.  These are "major decisions" and if the law of common consent doesn't apply to them than what does it apply to?  Without common consent Church members are reduced to consumers of a product line (the religion) offered by an impersonal "Church" operating as "The Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints".  "The Church" in scripture is defined as those who repent and come unto Christ (D&C 10:67-68).  But there is a new "Church" that is sort of taking over, which is the impersonal business entity which dictates policy, diversifies it's investment portfolio, and operates often contrary to the members. It is that "Church" which apparently won't allow me a temple recommend.  That Church is overseen by the people we sustain as leaders.  Am I obligated to sustain a business corporation's tools and objectives?           

When I asked my local leaders (this was early 2016) what I would need to do to get a recommend back I was told a waiting period and repentance would need to happen.  I asked for which sin I would need to repent, and as you can imagine its hard for anyone to answer that.  The topic inevitably ends up with more talk of obeying and sustaining the Church Leaders.  Again the cult of personality where the primary doctrine of the Church is to set up a man as an idol to be adored and reverenced and chant "Follow the Prophet".  If there is a contradiction between what the current Prophet says, and scripture, it’s settled in favor of the current Prophet. This feels like a foundation of sand.  As it results in things like being barred from the temple, because of giving offerings to the poor.  Of all the bizarre Christian reasons to keep someone from serving in the temple.  Or perhaps it's not personal, it's just business.        

Church Leader Worship:

President Nelson said this about sustaining the Prophet in Oct 2014 General Conference.  "Our sustaining is an oath-like indication that we recognize their calling as a prophet to be legitimate and binding upon us."   This is different than what LDS history meant by the word "sustain".  I'm willing to support, listen to, and pray for the leaders.  But worshiping, revering, swearing oaths, or deferring once conscience to them is quite another thing.  Oath like indications and standing when Church leaders enter the room is a curious development in modern Mormonism.  With this new definition of sustain by President Nelson the members are put in an awkward position.  People now legitimately need to question what was the original intent of sustaining, and whether it was to make a binding oath upon yourself due with respect to someone else's institutional "calling".  Which is strange because scriptures differentiate between being "called" and being "chosen".

President Eyring in Oct 2014 General Conference said this about the Prophet (underlining and italics mine):

Don’t take lightly the feeling you get of love for the prophet of God. Wherever I go in the Church, whoever the prophet is at the time, members will ask, “When you get back to Church headquarters, will you please tell the prophet how much we love him?”

That is far more than hero worship or the feelings we sometimes have of admiring heroic figures. It is a gift from God. With it you will receive more easily the gift of confirming revelation when he speaks in his office as the Lord’s prophet. The love you feel is the love the Lord has for whoever is His spokesman

"That is far more than hero worship".   Calling such mortal worship a gift from God is at minimum an odd statement for someone who's a special witness of Christ.  Prophet is also not an "office" in the Church.  Church President is, but being a Prophet is not something automatic due to a church office. They are separate despite our culture's current view that they are synonyms. Speaking from scriptural teachings, we are only supposed to worship and follow Christ.  Prophets in scripture point to Christ, not themselves. These teachings in General Conference of excessive adoration lead to or modern day idolatry and the fixation and admiration of men.  I've lost track of the number of Sunday worship services that do not even mention Christ.  To any who view themselves as a disciple of Christ, is this not a little concerning?  To those who see me as simply a critic I'll try to answer why this all matters.  Hero worship of men was never the purpose of the Gospel of Christ and can damn people and can keep them from Christ.  The purpose was to bring people TO Christ, not just to mortal men to admire.  That is not a gift I've ever seen scripture identify, nor suggest anyone should seek.  

Some leaders take this idea to further lengths and assure the members that the leaders cannot lead them astray (see various talks by Elder Ballard and even the canonized OD 1).  The excessive focus on “follow the Prophet” has grown significantly in my lifetime.  It permeates almost every Gospel discussion.  The leaders are lavished with birthday parties, private jets, Six figure living stipends, book deals, and are taught to be relied upon over scripture (14 Fundamentals of Following the Prophet talk given in Conference).  Those who taught these things are ironically now the ones being sustained in conference.        

I'm not a casual observer of Mormonism or the LDS church.  I've spent my life in it, and have been blessed because of it.  I've also found deep truth and revelatory teachings from the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. Teachings which the LDS church now unfortunately discards and even teaches against in some cases.  I have witnessed many changes in the LDS church over the course of years of observation and study.  Christ taught "by their fruits ye shall know them".  I am willing to pray for and support my leaders.  But to adore, hero worship, or make oaths that contain false teachings as binding upon me or stand when they enter a room is never something Christ asked of us. Elder Anderson's recent conference talk the day before Easter Spring of 2018 is full of prophet adoration and idolatry as yet another example.  

Honest Conclusion 

I consider myself very understanding of the reality that we are all human and make mistakes.  Mistakes are part of life and I am fine with anyone making them.  Mistakes are not what this post is about.  This post is about sustaining leaders in certain capacities as they make claims to speak for and be led by Christ. 
It's been said that a person cannot truly say they understand an issue until they can persuasively present both sides of the issue.  I've taken the time to be able to do this although for brevity I have not written all of the points to be made on both sides.  But having engaged that discussion carefully considered many sides of each issue, I have persistent and sufficient concerns so as to cast a negative sustaining vote. I've tried to consider the trends and evidence without regard to traditions or even what is easy or convenient for me to simply go along with.  I value the truth, even if it is upsetting and requires me to change or do or say difficult things.  

This does not mean I don't recognize the good the LDS church does nor the sincerity of the leaders.  Many organizations do good. The presence of humanitarian work or public charity shouldn't ever cover up legitimate problems or real concerns.  They don't cancel each other out.  The issue at hand is sustaining leaders as what they have asked me to sustain them as and the oath like indication I would thereby be giving per these same leaders.  Frankly I'm unsure what this negative sustain vote means because if I should inform my Stake President, as I'm directed to do, I'm likely to only receive discipline.  Because sustaining the leaders is evolving into the most important aspect to Church membership. Which is is ironically why I can't sustain it. My testimony of Christ and attempts to align with scripture is my honest intent.  I am uncertain if that's enough for my leaders.  I guess time will tell.   

As I discover new information, or gain a better perspective, I reserve the right to align with added light or correct my misunderstandings.
  This has been my desire all along.  And I offer the same to others.  I think this part of repentance.  This post on why I voted opposed is not a reflection of a faith crisis, nor lack of a testimony of Christ.  It’s at attempt to find the truth and distinguish it from error and to help the truth endure.   It is an expression of my faith in Christ and my intent to follow Him.  This is ultimately about Christ and His teachings and my attempt to align with them.