On June 16th 1844 Joseph Smith gave what is known as the “Sermon in the Grove.” It was one of the last things we’d ever hear from the prophet and it got cut short on account of the rain. He was only eleven days away from his martyrdom at Carthage and he knew that his time was drawing near. Before the rain ended the sermon, Joseph said something that is as applicable today as it was in 1844 Nauvoo. He said, “I have reason to think the Church is being purged.”
When you combine that statement with a revelation given in Kirtland on July 23, 1837 also known as Doctrine & Covenants 112…you get the feeling that it will not be an easy task to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the last days. The revelation states that “gross darkness” is covering the minds of the people and that “vengeance cometh speedily upon the inhabitants of the earth, a day of wrath, a day of burning, a day of desolation, of weeping, of mourning, and of lamentation.”
But what’s most interesting is that so many of us assume that it’s the secular world that’s going to take the brunt of these troubled times. That’s not the case at all. In fact, the Lord says that “upon my house (Mormons) shall it begin, and from my house shall it go forth…first among those among you, saith the Lord, who have professed to know my name and have not known me, and have blasphemed against me in the midst of my house.” (D&C 112:23-26)
So…I’ve observed 3 types of Mormons in the church these days, but I believe that only the third type will be able to endure the trials of faith that are here now and are coming soon.
1. The Stalwart But Stubborn Mormon
These Mormons are full of faith and are used to the standard narrative. They cling to what they’ve learned in primary and cringe at anything that might contradict the things they’ve learned for so long. Change is tough for this group of Mormons. They might quote the scripture that says “God is the same yesterday, today, and forever” and assume that the church will also be the same yesterday, today, and forever. They still think that Joseph Smith sat at a table with a sheet between he and Oliver Cowdrey as he traced the engravings on the gold plates and translated for hours on end. They like how Abraham sought for further light and knowledge but have trouble applying that same principle to themselves . What they know…is what they know, and nothing else seems to matter.
This type of Mormon doesn’t think much of church scholars. They have their old library of books at home that consist of Mormon Doctrine, Doctrines of Salvation, and a host of other similar titles that were published between the 1970’s and 1985. They have the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley on their shelf but had a hard time getting through them. Critics of the church would call these people…sheeple. They would sarcastically call them “TBM’s” or “True Believing Mormons.”
I love this group of Mormons. They are faithful and obedient. They always seem to be there to help and are generally service oriented. Their only issue is how they might react to people that have questions about their faith. If the questions or statements they hear from others contradict or disrupt their long held understanding of something…they can sometimes get defensive and exhibit a condemning attitude toward the questioner. This behavior might make the questioner feel stupid…and can really turn off a struggling member that may have not had the same testimony building experiences that they have had. As Paul said…this stalwart but stubborn Mormon may have a “zeal but not according to knowledge” wherein they are immoveable in their position on a portion of church history or doctrine, while being genuinely wrong all at the same time. Lots of zeal…but lacking correct knowledge causes the same situation Alma was witnessing in the church. They “began to be scornful, one towards another, and they began to persecute those that did not believe according to their own will and pleasure.” These people have a major problem with just saying “I don’t know…but lets discuss” which leads to innocently but ignorantly misleading others who might be honestly seeking.
2. The Curious But Furious Mormon
This group of Mormons is small…but growing very fast because of the transparency of the internet and social media. They are good hearted and sensitive people that have taken seriously the admonition of Joseph Smith to “go on to perfection, and search deeper and deeper into the mysteries of Godliness.”
But as they’re searching, they are finding things that contradict the things they may have learned in Primary and Sunday School. Some of those things as Elder Ballard has recently mentioned are “less known or controversial, such as polygamy, seer stones, different accounts of the First Vision, the process of translation of the Book of Mormon or the Book of Abraham, gender issues, race and the priesthood, or a Heavenly Mother.”
[I read the most amazing book on these topics recently called “A Reason For Faith” that gives clear and honest background on each of these topics. The “controversial topic” essays Elder Ballard is referring to can also be found here at LDS.org ]
Where the stalwart but stubborn Mormon might shun or ignore these topics and go about his or her business, the curious but furious Mormon might jump to wrong conclusions on incomplete information from less than reputable sources and make rash decisions regarding their faith. Once a person has made a rash decision, human nature and inherent pride makes it very difficult to reverse that decision for fear of seeming “wishy-washy.” Most of the time, when someone makes a rash decision, they end up getting behind their decision 100% regardless of whether they know if it was right or wrong.
This type of Mormon is the one that approaches the other type of Mormon (The Stalwart But Stubborn Mormon) discussed above and asks them why the Sunday School manual has a picture of Joseph and Oliver sitting at the table with a sheet in front of them when in reality, Joseph used a seer stone in a hat to translate while the plates remained covered. If the stalwart but close-minded Mormon reacts defensively or arrogantly…a battle of truth vs. tradition ensues and no one is the winner. In many cases, this type of Mormon is right about various aspects of church history but many times doesn’t stick around long enough to see the issue rectified in the upcoming manual. The curious Mormon now becomes a furious Mormon and believes they’ve been lied to maliciously for all these years…while the stalwart but close-minded Mormon has lost a brother or sister to help them run the ward council.
Both types of Mormons contribute to the attrition.
3. The Stalwart But Curious Mormon
Ahhhh. Finally…a group of Mormons that are exciting to discuss. This group of Mormons consist of a marriage between the two previous groups of Mormons. Interestingly enough…the two above groups of Mormons, put together, makes the sort of Mormon that has the intellectual and spiritual ability to pull down the powers of heaven on a regular basis and work modern miracles. This is the sort of Mormon Joseph Smith was. This is the sort of Mormon that is firm in their faith but always open to discuss different points of view. They’re looking for truth and willing to accept it even if it contradicts their current views. These are the Mormons that are truly learning and growing as they combine their faith and intellect to navigate through tough times.
These Mormons are more interested in helping people than they are at “being right.” They are better at listening and understanding than they are at speaking and postulating. This type of Mormon has no illusions of the church being perfect, the people or leaders being perfect, or the history being 100% accurate as it’s recorded in a 1980’s Sunday School manual. This Mormon is ready and willing to listen when Elder Ballard says you should learn about these controversial essays and topics and know them “like you know the back of your hand.” This Mormon knows that the narrative in the church can change over time, but that the doctrine can still remain pure and true and unlike any other theology this world has ever seen.
This is the true disciple of Christ. This is the peacemaker and knowledge seeker. This is type of Mormon that will usher in the Second Coming of Christ. This is the type of Mormon I want to be…