Holding fast to the Iron Rod

This week, we are all blogging about the Sunday Afternoon Session of the April 1971 conference. This was incredible session packed with memorable talks which resonate across the ages. It is also the home of one of the more controversial conference talks, at least among LDS Bloggers. President Harold B Lee’s talk entitled The Iron Rod has been a veritable lightning rod of criticism, and yet its message could not be more timely or topical today.

Around the time of this conference, an article entitled What the Church Means to People Like Me was gaining popularity in some Church circles. The article argues that there are two types of Mormons, Rod of Iron Mormons, and Liahona Mormons. The author identified as a Liahona Mormon, or one who sees God’s revelation as merely a compass and not a handrail. To Mormons like the author, the gospel provided a series of questions rather than answers. He contrasted this with Iron Rod Mormons who seek answers in the standard works and the words of living prophets. The author voices his doubts about these sources of inspiration and states that it is better for him to follow the light of his own personal revelation.

Does this sound familiar today?  If you didn’t know the origin of this article, you would probably think it was written in response to recent controversies over Ordain Woman or the LGBTQ policy change.

Yet, President Lee rebuked this attitude in no uncertain terms over 40 years ago! President Lee spoke of Lehi’s dream as a metaphor for our day, when many are seeking for divine truth but know not where to find it. He noted the mists of darkness and allure of the great and spacious building. And then he emphasized “[i]f there is any one thing most needed in this time of tumult and frustration, when men and women and youth and young adults are desperately seeking for answers to the problems which afflict mankind, it is an “iron rod” as a safe guide along the straight path on the way to eternal life, amidst the strange and devious roadways that would eventually lead to destruction and to the ruin of all that is “virtuous, lovely, or of good report.”

President Lee quoted from the aforementioned article as he noted that some, even members of the church, ask “[d]o the revelations of God give us a handrail to the kingdom of God, as the Lord’s messenger told Lehi, or merely a compass?” He noted that these church members “are somewhat like the scoffers in Lehi’s vision–standing aloof and seemingly inclined to hold in derision the faithful who choose to accept Church authorities as God’s special witnesses of the gospel and his agents in directing the affairs of the Church.” He warned that such individual “are those who are blinded by the mists of darkness and as yet have not a firm grasp on the ‘iron rod.'”

President Lee noted that such liberal members “read by the lamp of their own conceit.” But such efforts are contrary to the very nature of a church led by continuing revelation. He quoted Elder Widtsoe who had stated that “It is folly to speak of a liberal religion, if that religion claims that it rests upon unchanging truth.”

To those who struggle with doubts and questions, President Lee urged holding fast to the word of God “which could lead them through faith, to an understanding, rather than to have them stray away into strange paths of man-made theories and be plunged into the murky waters of disbelief and apostasy.” For true conversion “must mean more than just being a ‘card carrying’ member of the Church” instead it “means to overcome the tendencies to criticize and to strive continually to improve inward weaknesses and no merely outward appearances.

But President Lee’s most stern rebuke was for those “who would seek to destroy the faith of an individual or lead him away from the word of God or cause him to lose his grasp on the ‘iron rod . . .'” For as the Savior warned, such an action carries severe eternal consequences (See Matt 18:16 “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better … that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”).

Ultimately, President Lee bore powerful witnesses that “the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” form “a bulwark to safeguard against the pitfalls, the frustrations, and the wickedness in the world.” The plan of salvation formed in the heavens points clearly to the straight and narrow path that leads to eternal life, even though there are many who refuse to follow that way.”

It is unfortunate that so many failed to head President Lee’s warning at the time. And that so many today continue to subscribe the false notion that revelations from God through his Prophets are mere suggestions. How blind, how miopic and how ultimately foolish.

In Sunday School today, I taught a lesson based on the final chapters of the Book of Revelation. In those chapters, a woman who is described as a great whore represents Babylon. The kings and the merchants of the world have become drunken and seduced by her seeming greatness. She can perform great “miracles” that can deceive even the elect. And so many will be seduced by her pleasures and false doctrines.  This is a vision of the world that we live in today. If we do not hold on to a rod of iron, we will be tossed to and fro by the seductions and false teachings of the world.

Our own personal compass is not enough. In Lehi’s dream, those who try to seek the Tree without gripping on to the Rod of Iron do not make it. They either join the scoffers in the spacious building, wander off into strange paths, or fall into the dark abyss.

The danger of Liahona Mormonism is that it takes a true principle, the importance of personal revelation, and distorts it. Ultimately, rather than having faith in Jesus Christ, individuals begin to rest on their own personal and special insight, wisdom, and foresight. But such a compass must be rooted on the sure foundation of the word of God. The Liahona without the Iron Rod is a broken compass that cannot point the way back to the Heavenly Father.

I pray that those who need to head President Lee’s words will be reached and touched by his powerful witness. Now more than ever, we need to unabashedly and unceasingly cling to the Iron Rod and press forward to the tree of life.

_____

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey

Here are the other posts discussing the same session of General Conference

Nathaniel Givens Comforting the Afflicted and Afflicting the Comfortable
J. Max Wilson LDS Conference April 1971 – A Rebuke from President Harold B. Lee and Debunking the Iron Rod vs Liahona Taxonomy
John Hancock The Eternally Durable Iron Rod
Ralph Hancock Harold B. Lee on The Millstone of “Liberal” Religion
Michelle Linford Religion, Revelation, and Resolutions
Walker Wright “And If It Be In You It Shall Abound”

 

Avoiding “the destroying angel of domestic bitterness”

I have always been amazed by President Hinckley’s declaration that in 67 years of marriage he had no recollection of ever quarreling with his wife. See Gordon B. Hinckley, Slow to Anger (Oct. 2007) (“I have no recollection of ever having a quarrel with her.”). Even though I have been married for far less time, and President Hinckley’s achievement seems unattainable at times. So when President Hinckley speaks about how to build a house of harmony and peace, he speaks with prophetic authority and with considerable expertise. And we should listen closely

In April 1971, President Hinckley entitled his address “Except the Lord Build the House.” 

President Hinckley begins by talking about a tragedy that he witnessed. A couple that he had sealed in the temple had come to him seeking a divorce. What had started out with great promise had become scarred and tarnished like ” a vicious March storm that suddenly follows the warmth of the first soft day of spring.” They had three children, but had decided that it was better to get divorced than “to expose[] the children to their constant quarreling” and the “deep wounds that will leave ugly scars.”

President Hinckley spoke in the backdrop of rising divorce rates and increasing juvenile crime, but he also noted that even where divorce is difficult to obtain, ” the same disease is evident–the same nagging, corrosive evils of domestic misery, of separation, of abandonment, and of immoral relationships.” Therefore, instead of focusing on the problems, President Hinckley spoke of the “prevention of such tragedy.”

 

He suggested four cornerstones upon which one could build a home that would diminish the perils of married life, allow love to increase and strengthen in time, bless the lives of children, and lead to happiness in this life and in the eternities.

The First is “respect for one another.” This respect must come from a realization that we are all sons and daughters of God and therefore “deserving of forbearance, of patience, of understanding, of courtesy, of thoughtful consideration.” President Hinckley noted that marriage can become “commonplace and even dull.” Therefore, one of the best ways to help let love flourish in marriage is to “occasionally . . . reflect upon the fact” that our companion is a child of God “engaged [together] on the great creative process of bringing to pass [our] eternal purposes.”

I believe that this advice is truly life changing. If we can look at our companions and see the eternal good in them, we will avoid harsh words and we will be motivated to kindness.

President Hinckley’s words reminded me of a favorite quote from C.S. Lewis in his The Weight of Glory: ““It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which,if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.”

The second piece of advice President Hinckley gave is closely related to the first: “The soft answer. President Hinckley noted that “[t]here is need for a vast amount discipline in marriage, not of one’s companion, but of one’s self.” As I wrote about last week, anger is such a corrosive influence in marriage, and President Hinckley’s advice hit close to home.

The third cornerstone is “[h]onest with God and with [o]ne another. President Hinckley focused on the problems that arise from financial trouble. He suggested that if we place the payment of our tithes and offerings first, we will avoid “the cankering selfishness that leads to so much strain in domestic affairs,” and “will deal more graciously more honestly, and more generously” with those we love. I have a strong testimony that paying tithing consistently brings heaven’s blessings and helps to put financial needs in proper perspective, and so I strongly concurred with President Hinckley’s advice.

Finally, as the fourth cornerstone, President Hinckley offered Family Prayer. He noted that “no single practice . . . will have a more salutary effect upon your lives than the practice of kneeling together as you being and close each day.” Such prayer “will bring peace into … hearts and a joy into … lives that can come from no other source.”

President Hinckley promised that great blessings will flow to children raised in such a home “where dwells the spirito f the lord. “[A] spirit of respect will grow in [the] hearts” of those who reside there and they will “mature with faith in the living God.” And most significantly, “[t]he destroying angel of domestic bitterness will pass you by and you will know peace and love throughout your lives which may be extended into all eternity.”

As a parent of a one and a half year old daughter whom I love more than I can express, and with another girl on the way, I desperately want to claim these promised blessings. I too can think of “no greater blessing.” And I know that those blessings are attainable by building upon the foundation that President Hinckley described.

_____

Other Posts based on this session of conference

Nathaniel Givens The Mormon Way to Love
G The Fall of My Rome
J. Max Wilson LDS Conference April 1971- Broken and Contrite Empires
Ralph Hancock Progress or Decline
Michelle Linford Treasure

Trump and the Establishment Clause

This post is primarily focused on law and politics, but I am posting it here on this blog because of the connection to the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution and to the theme of religious freedom which is one that I have often written about here.

In response to Donald Trump’s disgraceful proposal to ban all Muslim immigrants from this country, many prominent scholars wrote that while they found Trump’s proposal distasteful it wasn’t clear that it was unconstitutional. There scholars rely on the vast plenary power that the Federal government has over immigration, and the fact that Congress can regulate immigration based on national origin, contrary to settled principles of Constitutional law in other spheres. But while there is no settled case law on point, the tilt of constitutional  law in the past several decades has made it increasingly clear that while the government may enjoy vast or even plenary powers, it may not exercise those powers in ways that discriminate against freedom of expression and against freedom of religion.

One of the Supreme Court’s cases which heralded a dramatic shift in the understanding of the Government’s exercise of its power came in R.A.V v St. Paul. In that case, the Supreme Court struck down a ban on burning a cross for certain ideological purposes. Even though cross burning will frequently constitute unprotected true threats or fighting word, the majority led by Justice Scalia declared the statute unconstitutional because it discriminated based on the viewpoint of the speaker/actor. Even though the government had total power to suppress all true threats, it could not do so in an ideologically motivated fashion. In other words, the greater power to ban all true threats was nevertheless restrained by the governments obligation to be content neutral. The greater power most emphatically DID NOT include the lesser.

Something similar may be seem with the free exercise clause. Justice Scalia in Employment Division v. Smith granted government great power to limit religious conduct under neutral and generally applicable laws. Nevertheless, in the Lukumi case, the court unanimous struck down an ordinance that was intended to preclude the religious ritual of a particular faith. A similar law based on neutral principles would have likely survived scrutiny, but a law expressly targeted on ideological lines failed. Again, the greater power did not include the lessor.

One additional analogy that seems appropriate to me is with the prison context. States have vast power over prisoners and can deprive them of many freedoms. Likewise, it has long been understood that parole is a complete act of grace and that no one has a liberty interest in parole. Nevertheless, there is a growing consensus that a state cannot condition the right to parole on a violation of Constitutional rights. Looking specifically at the Establishment Clause, many circuits have held that parole for an individual may not be conditioned on attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings because of the religious nature of those meetings. Even in an area where the state has complete and total discretion, it may not exercise its discretion along discriminatory or religiously motivated lines.

And this principle that the greater power does not include the lesser power has even greater force with regard to the Establishment Clause which scholars have long noted presents a structural bar on governmental power. In other words if a law violates the Establishment Clause it is void because it exceeds the scope of governmental power. There is no opportunity for the government to justify an Establishment Clause violation because it has a compelling interest as as it can with violations of freedom of speech, free exercise of religion, or substantive due process. Thus, the compelling nature of national security interests cannot justify discrimination on the basis of religion.

Is this complicated or changed by the plenary powers that the federal government has over immigration? I don’t believe so. The scholar’s arguing that Trump’s proposal is constitutional point to Supreme Court case law where discrimination on the basis of national origin is permitted in the immigration system. There are two very real possibilities however. The first is that this precedent has been called into question by the developments of R.A.V. and other cases. The second which seems even more likely is that the Establishment Clause is unique because of the structural concerns discussed above. By effectively telling Muslims that they need not apply, the government is establishing a religion, or at the very least establishing hostility to Islam as its tenant.* This is simply not a power available to the government under the Constitution.

 

  • Of course, whether the policy actually violates establishment clause principles is a different and more lengthy topic outside of the scope of this post. But even under the more conservative interpretations of the Establishment Clause on the court today, this proposal seems flawed. Clearly, by enacting such a policy the government is no longer engaged in neutrality between religious groups. Instead, it is creating a religious test oath for admission into the United States. I struggle to see how this could not violate the modern interpretation of the Establishment Clause

Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd

When I was a missionary, I became aware of the sheer number of inactive members of the Church living in my ward boundaries. Many had left because they felt that the Church was not satisfying their needs. Others had been offended or drifted off. Often, they had also moved away making finding them even more difficult. Unfortunately, even though many of these less active members could be reached through fellow shipping and effort, ward/branch leadership often felt that they were doing enough simply keeping the active members active. Many of the less actives were not assigned home teachers or fellowshiped in any meaningful way.

I wish that those leaders who felt that way could read Elder N. Eldon Tanner’s powerful injunction to reach out and find the lost sheep that have wandered.

Elder Tanner noted that people wander for a wide variety of reasons, but ultimately we need to remember that those who were once members are seeking the same happiness that we feel through our Church membership. They simply have forgotten how the Church can bring them joy and eternal happiness:

“Let us as leaders, and all of us, always remember and never forget that everyone is looking for happiness. Everyone wants to be happy. It is our great privilege and responsibility to show him the way to happiness and success. Often some little thing, some slight, or a misunderstanding causes one to become inactive. There are those who are discouraged and inactive because they have felt neglected or have been offended; or they are guilty of some transgression of their own, and as a result feel that they are outcasts or that there is no place for them, that they are not worthy or wanted. They feel that they are lost and cannot be forgiven. We as leaders must let them know and make them know that we love them, and help them to understand that the Lord loves them, and that the Lord will forgive them if they will truly repent.”

Elder Tanner emphasized the responsibility that we all have to find those that have wandered. He analogized the spiritual wanderers who had strayed to those who are physically lost:

“If we had knowledge tonight that some young man was lost, if anyone knew of someone who was drowning, we wouldn’t hesitate one minute to do all in our power to save that individual, to save the one who was lost, the one who was drowning, the one who was in need of our help. These young men and these older men who are inactive in the Church, who have strayed away from the Church because of inactivity or for any reason, need our help and need our attention just as much. They need our prayers and our consideration, and nothing will bring us greater joy and happiness than to see one come back into activity.”

Most Poignantly for me, Elder Tanner spoke of the complacent attitude which many of those on my mission held

“Some of us seem to be very happy if we have from 40 to 70 percent attendance. If you have 40 percent attendance, you have 60 percent who are not in attendance. And if you have 70 percent in attendance, there are still 30 percent not attending, and those are the ones who need our attention, and they need it badly . . . Brethren, there is nothing more important in your whole lives than to save souls. We have programs and we have planning outlines for teachers, and we give them teacher helps, and all those things to take care of those who are attending, but I fear too often we are forgetting and neglecting and ignoring those who are not always there, satisfied to say we had 50 percent or 60 percent in attendance.”

When we focus solely on the 99 or the 70, and ignore those who have wandered, we fall far short of our responsibilities to reach out to all of those who are in our stewardships.  Elder Tanner tells us that we can never become complacent when we seek out  the lost. Instead, we must go after every one that wanders. The savior’s model is care and compassion for every single soul. We can never rest satisfied with our accomplishments along as one wanders and is lost.

I know that I can do better at trying to reach out to those I am assigned to home teach with greater diligence and persistence. I can do so much more. Elder Tanner’s talk helped me to remember the eternal significance of reaching out to all who have wandered, encouraged me to avoid complacency, and reminded me of the potential miracles that we can help bring about. “By saving one, we might save a family. We might even save a generation. By losing one, we may lose not only the individual but a family and his posterity.” I hope that we always remember the grave and sacred responsibility that we have to seek out all those who wander and to invite them to come back into the fold.

____

Here are the other posts writing about talks from this session of the April 1971 conference

Nathaniel Givens Love Fervently
G Bites from the April 1971 Priesthood Session
John Hancock Deep Down Inside Us There is Good
Ralph Hancock Betty Friedan and Bishop Brown
Michelle Linford Why I support Friends of Scouting
Michael Worley God’s Plan to Exalt His Children
J. Max Wilson LDS Conference 1971 – Meetinghouse Libraries and UX for Gospel Learning

 

 

Being Slow to Anger

I love General Conference not just for talks which focus on eternal doctrines, but also for the more modest talks which speak about our character and how we should act and treat one another. In the Saturday Afternoon Session of the April 1971 conference, Elder ElRay L. Christiansen, spoke of anger “a matter that concerns each and every one of us.” This talk really hit home for me, because I come from a family of hotheads and anger is an emotion that I have always struggled with. His words also have implications for our society and our civic culture.

Elder Christiansen described about the link between controlling one’s temper and development of a christlike personality. He noted that we are constantly surrounded by things that could irritate us, but that “How we react to these irritations is a reflection of our personalities and temperaments.” He memorably summarized this point as such: “The size of a man may be measured by the size of the things that make him angry.” This is profound both locally and globally. In the development of our personality, the tendency to anger is corrosive and leads to the loss of “the respect and love of others.”  More broadly, we live in a culture where anger fury are seen as things to celebrate. So much of politics is based on blind rage rather than controlled and disciplined discourse. Calm and reasoned conversation and thought is a sign of a well developed civic culture. We are too quick to condemn others, too quick to blow up rather than to empathize. Anger appears to me to be one of the key vices of modern day society.

He next spoke of the harmful impact of anger:

“Not only does intemperate anger affect us physically and mentally, in a negative way, but at the same time it also destroys wisdom and sound judgment. When we become upset,reason is suppressed, and anger rushes in. To make decisions while infuriated is as unwise and foolish as it is for a captain to put out to sea in a raging storm. Only injury and wreckage result from wrathful moments. When anger rules, tempered judgment flees.”

Anger is deeply destructive “sin of thought” which leads one to do and say things that one deeply regrets. I have seen from experience that this is true. In moments when I am angry, I make the worst possible decisions. I lash out at people I care about or say things that I know I will regret. I also feel the physical and emotional harm that anger brings. And this is true more broadly as well, anger in civic life leads to reputations destroyed, vile calumny and defamation, or even worse. Behind many of the mass shootings that we have seen recently, lies the evil of anger. Anger ultimately only can lead to injury and wreckage.

Elder Christensen poignantly described the impact of anger on the family. He notes that children are highly sensitive to anger and ultimately never forget what they feel, even if they forget the exact words that were said.  And such an environment cannot produce children that are a “refined and noble” His words make me want to do far better at controlling my emotions. It is tragic that the ones we most often get angry at are the ones we care most about. Anger can lead to bitterness, destroyed homes, and divorce.

My favorite aspect of this talk  is that Elder Christensen described the root of anger in a way that I had never heard before. He described a person with an uncontrolled temper as “an undisciplined child” who “disregards the feelings of those about him.” Ultimately then, anger is rooted in a sense of pride and self-centeredness.  In this way, Elder Christensen’s words remind me of President Uchtdorf’s powerful sermon on pride where he noted that “every other sin is, in essence, a manifestation of pride.”  When we anger, we “seek to hurt, diminish, and tear down others.” We think about our own self-gratification rather than the hurt that we inflict on others. In those moments of rage, we are truly only thinking about Seeing anger as an expression of pride helps me to turn outward and to try to think about the feelings of others rather than to focus on my own emotions.

Elder Christensen also spoke of ways to overcome anger. First of all, he describes a shift in perspective from seeing frustrations as irritants, to seeing them as opportunities. He notes that “[f]rustrations often offer us the means the progression, for by overcoming them harmoniously, we grow and become more Christlike.” I find this shift in perspective to be instrumental in helping to combat anger. When I realize that overcoming my frustration will help build me up, I am far more prone to forebare and to be kind.

Next, Elder Christensen spoke about emulating the example of the savior. He noted that even when Christ had great cause for anger, “[h]e did not retaliate in anger.” Instead, he displayed a divine conduct and a beyond human compassion for even those who persecuted him. Thinking about and following Christ’s example in moments of trial is a powerful remedy to the tendency towards anger.

Finally, Elder Christensen acknowledged that we need the Lord’s help in overcoming anger, when in his benedictory remarks he “pray[ed] for the help of the Lord in bringing this about.” Because charity is a gift from God, I have seen that one of the most powerful ways to combat anger is to pray for divine help and strength. Christ, who had great cause for anger and yet overcame, fully understand our tendencies towards anger and annoyance, and he therefore knows how to help us overcome. He will help us if we seek our his guidance and support.

I am grateful for the inspired admonition to put off pride and anger and to try to be more kind and loving to those we care about. If we could as individuals and as societies more fully put off the natural man and become like Christ, we would feel “ the sweet spirit of love and harmony and peace” and would be deeply blessed. 

 

Other posts focusing on this session of conference

Nathaniel Givens –Good Timber Does not Grow At Ease

G- The Adiabolist, or Jihad of the Heart

J. Max Wilson – LDS Confernece April 1971- The Sexual Revolution and Entertainment Media

John Hancock- Warnings from Warnings from the Past

Ralph Hancock- “Satan”- Moral Agency and the Problem of Evil

Michelle Linford – Creativity and Celebrating Success vs. The D.F.T. File

Walker Wright – The General Conference Project: Controlling the Hulk, Believing the Devil,  and Cussing GAs

Michael Worley – 58 Years of General Conference: What can we learn?/ Messages on morality, religious freedom, and the Sabbath from 1971

Chastity Wilson – When Thou Art Converted

 

 

Custodian and Dispenser of Saving Truth

I have not posted on this blog in a while, mostly because I have been posting on Millenial Star and have not been cross-posting as I should. But I am excited to be part of a project that will get me blogging here with much more regularity. Along with several other bloggers, I am participating in an effort to read and blog about general conference talks starting from the April 1971 Conference. Each week, we will be reading a session of conference and posting posts about the talk(s) that stood out to us. We will be cross posting/linking to each other’s posts as well. All told, it will take 14 years to complete, so it will keep me busy blogging for quite a while.

I actually began reading older conference talks on my own a few months ago , before this project was proposed. I found it incredible how topical and relevant the talks given 44 years ago are. I am excited to be participating in this project and to read all of the other posts and see all of the insights that others share.

The first session of conference in April 1971 (Saturday Morning) had some fantastic talks that really resonated with me, and I might write an additional post later on one of the other talks that stood out to me, but I figured I would begin with President Joseph Fielding Smith’s address entitled Out of the Darkness

President Smith’s talk resonated with me as I thought about all of many despondent posts responding with anger and venom to the Church’s recent policy change. President Smith’s address is a clear declaration that saving truths may only be found in the Lord’s Church, and that our goal should be to align ourselves fully with those truths taught through the Lord’s chosen servants.

President Smith begins by emphasizing the divine nature of the Church and our role in building the Lord’s Kingdom:

We are engaged in the Lord’s work; this is his church; he is the author of the plan of salvation; it is his gospel which we have received by the opening of the heavens in this day; and our desire and whole purpose in life should be to believe the truths he has revealed and to conform our lives to them.

President Smith makes it clear that the overarching goal of our lives is to hearken to divine truth revealed from God. He then again emphasizes the importance of placing our lives in total harmony with the teachings that God reveals through his Prophets and Apostles:

No person in or out of the Church should believe any doctrine, advocate any practice, or support any cause that is not in harmony with the divine will. Our sole objective where the truths of salvation are concerned should be to find out what the Lord has revealed and then to believe and act accordingly.

This is a hard teaching for all of us. At times, there will be teachings or doctrine which are difficult to hear. Yet, we must all ultimately choose whether we are willing to place of lives “in harmony with the divine will.”

President Smith then clarifies the role of the Church in Gods plan of salvation:

“[T]he Lord has revealed his everlasting gospel anew to us in this day and has made The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the custodian and dispenser of its saving truths . . .”

I love this description of the church as both a “custodian” and a dispenser” of saving truths of the gospel. In its role as a custodian, the Church is tasked with keeping doctrine pure and unaltered. It is tasked with protecting purity, enforcing boundaries, and excluding and removing heretics and heresies. This role is often under-appreciated. But it is one that is vital in preventing apostasy. Meanwhile, as a dispenser of truth, the Church is vitally concerned with spreading the Gospel throughout the world.

Members who balk at the recent addition of same-sex marriage to the definition of apostasy, or the excommunication of Kate Kelly or John Dehlin  seem to underestimate the importance of the Church’s role as a custodian of truth. But one of the primary roles of the Church is ensuring that false teachings are brought to light and exposed.

One thing that I’ve realized as I’ve studied and taught the New Testament in Sunday School this year is that we live in a truly remarkable dispensation in history, where the Church is more united in doctrine and in truth than it has been in any other dispensation. This may seem counter intuitive in light of the many highly public examples of members dissenting from Church teachings, but it is nevertheless true.

In Paul’s day, heresy’s spread so rapidly that the leaders could hardly keep up. Sects and schisms began to form almost immediately. And those heretics often claimed that their teachings were sanctioned by the Church. Combating heresies was a slow and tedious process.

In Book of Mormon times, Alma and his sons had to go out and travel throughout the land to combat heresies that spread. And as soon as one was put down, another heretical teaching or anti-Christ popped up.

The roles of custodian and dispenser were in conflict during these earlier dispensations because as the missionaries spread out across the world it became increasingly difficult to shut down heresies and prevent false doctrine from creeping in.

By contrast, in our day The gospel can spread and be preserved in purity at the same time. We get to hear our leaders speaking biannually to the whole church. We get letters, policy clarifications and newsroom declarations on an even more regular basis. It has never been easier to know the will of God revealed through the brethren. There is simply no excuse for ignorance. The only way to be deceived is by refusing to hearken to the truths that are being taught.

When I look at what has happened in other Church such as the Catholic Church, where majorities of members openly resist or go against core Church doctrines, I am grateful to belong to a Church that clearly declares what is true and is vigorously work as a custodian of those divine truths.

President Smith catalogs a variety of the divine truths that we are blessed to have in our Church thanks to modern revelation, and then declares that “[t]here is no need for anyone to remain in darkness; the light of the everlasting gospel is here; and every sincere investigator on earth can gain a personal witness from the Holy Spirit of the truth and divine nature of the Lord’s work.”

God wants us to each gain a personal witness of the divine truths taught in the church. He reveals it in purity through his living Prophets and Apostles, and invites us to partake. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a veritable feast and God wants us to be his guests. It is only through willful blindness or hardheartedness that we cut ourselves off from the divine truths so essential to happiness and exaltation.

Here are all of the other posts based on this session of conference:

Nathanial Givens – Beginnings and Endings

Ralph Hancock – April 1971: Nothing New Here – Just Same Ol’ Mormonism

G- Voices of the Prophets 

J. Max Wilson – LDS Conference April 1971- Hippies, Drugs, and Failure in the Home

John Hancock – Voices of the Past, of the Present, of the Future

Walker Wright – The General Conference Project: The End of the World, the End of Death, and the End of Shame

Michelle L – “Our Individual Battles to Overcome Our Worlds”