LDS Discussions Blog
Thank You, President Nelson (September 18, 2019)
On September 17, 2019, President Russell M. Nelson gave a speech to a packed BYU crowd regarding what he labeled as five truths. This speech was carefully wrapped around the elephant in the room: The church's reversal of the November 15 policy, which was confirmed as revelation from God by Russell M. Nelson himself shortly after it was enacted.
Of course this cuts to the heart of what revelation means in the LDS church, and we've written about this subject quite a bit in the last year. For those who have not read them, a super quick summary:
We wrote about the use of the term "Mormon" to describe the church, which was Nelson's first implied revelation as prophet. This blog post was called "Rebranding Revelation," because it discussed how Nelson had spoke emphatically about this idea decades prior to the 'revelation,' but was rebuffed by both Presidents Gordon B. Hinckley and Thomas S. Monson until Nelson was in power to make the change himself.
After the November 2015 revelation was reversed, we wrote about the implications of the reversal and what it says about the idea of revelation in the church. It was titled, simply enough, "About the Church's LGBT Reversal."
Last, we wrote about how D&C 132 was produced by Joseph Smith, which is another very interesting look into how revelations are produced by prophets in the church, and what is says about revelation in our modern times.
So while there will be some overlap here, we will try not to cover too much that we already talked about there. But Nelson's speech yesterday revealed quite a lot about what the church values, and I want to cover those here because they are very important in understanding what they're worried about and what is most important to them.
I also want everyone to notice how this speech progresses - there is a very careful, yet deliberate building of themes that flows in this talk. Just as we've detailed in countless blog posts in 2019, Nelson begins by taking an early shot at outside information about the church's history and doctrines:
"The arbiter of truth is God, not your favorite social media news feed, not Google, and certainly not those who are disaffected from the church."
This is actually a fair comment to a certain extent - not everything you read online is true, and a quick Google search certainly does not guarantee you will get the correct answers. But at the same time, that also makes the clear assumption that Russell M. Nelson speaks to God and gets answers that contradict the evidence at hand, which has been proven time and time again to not be true. And if you don't believe me, I would point you to our annotated (official) LDS Gospel Topics essays, because the problems we point out are almost entirely from church sources, and not from random Google searches or social media:
Those are all the official church essays with our notes as to why their statements do not hold up to scrutiny. All of those essays were approved by the First Presidency. So the question I have to ask is - if those essays are filled with deflections, omissions, and untruths, why should I trust the church's leaders to be the only arbiters of truth when they have repeatedly violated that trust?
Again, we won't harp on this for long because we've written about it so many times on our blog this year, but the constant attacks on outside sources is very telling. If the church's truth claims were true, they would encourage members to go out and verify them. Just as a confident car salesman would ask you to take a test drive and have your preferred mechanic look at a car before buying it, the church would absolutely welcome and cite outside research if their history and claims could withstand that investigation.
This constant barrage of attacks is designed to put fear into members who realize the church's truth claims do not add up, and about elevating church leaders as the only authority for these questions. And that is a pattern we will see continue in this speech by Nelson to BYU students. As I mentioned earlier, this is the foundation Nelson is going to build on.
Wrapped in the middle of Nelson's story about his time as a heart surgeon, he mentions the need for obedience to the law, which he will then tie to "divine law:"
"Then one day, two truths articulated in the Doctrine and Covenants spoke to my inquiring mind. These truths were, first, that all blessings are predicated upon obedience to law; and second, that to every kingdom there is a law given."
"Divine law is incontrovertible! The same can be said of the law of gravity, and the laws of foil and lift that allow airplanes to fly. Each is an absolute truth. Doctors or pilots do not have the power to change those laws, but their understanding of them safeguards lives."
We're not going to spend much time here other than to note the progression of this speech: We are all children of God, truth is truth (unless it comes from social media, Google, or those who have left the church), God loves us perfectly, and his blessings only come with obedience to God's laws. We could mention that Nelson ignores the law of evolution being just as incontrovertible as gravity, but that can wait for another day.
This really leads to "truth four," which is the main point of Nelson's speech: "The Lord Jesus Christ, whose Church this is, appoints prophets and Apostles to communicate His love and teach His laws."
This entire speech is building up to this point, because Nelson wants to make sure that every member knows that obedience to God's law is critical, and God's law can only be given through the prophet, which also happens to be him. In other words, the leaders of the church are the only people standing between you and God, so whatever obedience you need to show to God, you also need to show to these leaders. Now that the authority of church leaders have been established, Nelson pivots to the November 2015 anti-LGBT revelation (which was promptly reversed 3.5 years later by another revelation to remove it). From Nelson:
"Sometimes we as leaders of the Church are criticized for holding firm to the laws of God, defending the Savior’s doctrine, and resisting the social pressures of our day. But our commission as ordained Apostles is “to go into all the world to preach [His] gospel unto every creature.” That means we are commanded to teach truth.
In doing so, sometimes we are accused of being uncaring as we teach the Father’s requirements for exaltation in the celestial kingdom. But wouldn’t it be far more uncaring for us not to tell the truth—not to teach what God has revealed?"
This is really the heart of the matter: Nelson is telling the students at BYU that the November 15 debacle was not their fault, but that they were just the messengers of God's desires. While the church teaches that prophets are not infallible, here is Russell Nelson telling you directly what the real doctrine of the church is: Prophets are fallible, but the living prophet is infallible.
Instead of doing the right thing and apologizing, Nelson instead is creating a "don't shoot the messenger" approach when it comes to the harm and pain their own policy caused, including suicides of young LGBT members who see no way to live a full life when they are looked upon as broken and unworthy. How refreshing would it be for Nelson to admit that their aggressive reaction to the same sex marriage movement in the United States was a mistake and apologize for getting it wrong?
But instead Nelson gives us this:
"It is precisely because we do care deeply about all of God’s children that we proclaim His truth. We may not always tell people what they want to hear. Prophets are rarely popular. But we will always teach the truth!"
I want everyone reading this to try and reconcile this statement with the belief the church tries to teach that prophets are fallible humans. This statement by Nelson is telling you that while you can't trust social media, Google, or those who have left the church, you should obey the prophet because they always teach the truth. But as we mentioned on Twitter shortly after the speech, this quote is completely nonsensical - and Russell M. Nelson knows this if he's ever looked at church historical issues. Here are just a few examples (emphasis added):
Prophet Joseph Smith: "...What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers." (History of the Church, vol 6, p. 411) (Joseph Smith had at least 25 wives when he made this statement)
Prophet Harold B. Lee: "This privilege of obtaining a mortal body on this earth is seemingly so priceless that those in the spirit world, even though unfaithful or not valiant, were undoubtedly permitted to take mortal bodies although under penalty of racial or physical or nationalistic limitations." (Decisions for Successful Living, Chapter 19, 1973)
Prophet Brigham Young: “Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the holy priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the holy priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to.” (First Presidency Statement, August 17, 1949)
Prophet Brigham Young: "True there is a curse upon the woman that is not upon the man, namely, that “her whole affections shall be towards her husband,” and what is the next? “He shall rule over you.” But how is it now? Your desire is to your husband, but you strive to rule over him, whereas the man should rule over you." (Journal of Discourses vol. 4, pp. 51-57)
First Presidency, 1949: “The attitude of the Church with reference to the Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the Priesthood at the present time." (1949 First Presidency Statement)
We could go all day pointing out when prophets (not even getting into apostles) have been not just wrong, but offensively wrong, but I hope this makes the point: prophets often times teach incorrect principles that are later proven by science, history, or the pressure of society. The church still teaches that Native Americans have dark skin because the Lamanites were cursed, even though DNA has long proved that Native Americans have nothing to do with Book of Mormon historicity.
Back to Nelson's speech:
"God has also not changed His law of chastity. Requirements to enter the temple have not changed. And our desire for there to be love at home and harmony between parent and child has not changed."
This is quite debatable for a number of reasons, but I'll focus on that second part for now because it is flat out untrue: The requirements of entering the temple have absolutely changed. First, in the past you had to not be a black person - blacks were banned from the priesthood. Second, the Word of Wisdom is not a commandment and has never been a commandment, yet is one of the sole measures of worthiness to get in the temple. It was not a requirement before the early 1900s, which is absolutely a "requirement to enter the temple."
Now we get into the main purpose of the speech, where Nelson throws the November 2015 revelation directly at God and claims the church leaders actually implemented it out of love. Instead of apologizing, Nelson instead seeks to elevate his authority as prophet at the expense of the idea of a kind, loving God. From Nelson's speech:
"Consider the policy announced in November 2015 related to the advisability of baptism for the children of LGBT parents. Our concern then, and one we discussed at length and prayed about fervently over a long period of time, was to find a way to reduce friction between gay or lesbian parents and their children...
Though it may not have looked this way to some, the 2015 and 2019 policy adjustments on this matter were both motivated by love—the love of our Heavenly Father for His children and the love of the Brethren for those whom we serve."
This is just an awful, dishonest statement. If the church was solely interested in reducing friction between parents and children, they would not allow children of mixed-faith marriages to be baptized. They are aware of the stress that children in mixed-faith marriages cause as the expectation is for them to be baptized at eight years old, yet they saw no need to show that same "love" by removing that burden on those couples, right? What about when teenagers want to be baptized into the church but their parents aren't members and disapprove? So the idea that this is about anything other than a reaction to the rise in suppose of same sex marriage is an unequivocal lie.
Second, the fact that the church "discussed at length and prayed about fervently over a long period of time" yet still created a policy that caused so much pain is a pretty good indication that it did not come from a loving God. We saw this with polygamy, when Joseph Smith created D&C 132 under the premise of Biblical events that did not happen such as Abraham being commanded by God to enter polygamy or contradicting the Book of Mormon which called polygamy abominable.
Compare the Nelson quotes above with his 2016 quote calling the November 2015 policy a revelation:
"This prophetic process was followed in 2012... with the recent additions to the Church’s handbook, consequent to the legalization of same-sex marriage in some countries. Filled with compassion for all, and especially for the children, we wrestled at length to understand the Lord’s will in this matter. Ever mindful of God’s plan of salvation and of His hope for eternal life for each of His children, we considered countless permutations and combinations of possible scenarios that could arise. We met repeatedly in the temple in fasting and prayer and sought further direction and inspiration. And then, when the Lord inspired His prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, to declare the mind of the Lord and the will of the Lord, each of us during that sacred moment felt a spiritual confirmation. It was our privilege as Apostles to sustain what had been revealed to President Monson. Revelation from the Lord to His servants is a sacred process, and so is your privilege of receiving personal revelation." (Nelson, "Becoming True Millennials")
I don't think it can be more clear that Russell Nelson declared this a direct revelation from God, and also goes to great length to explain that the revelation went through "countless permutations" until they received confirmation from God that the policy was correct. So how can we now believe that just 3.5 years later God would change His mind due to public pressure? The answer is that God wouldn't, but because Russell M. Nelson is more interested in keeping his authority intact, he places the blame with God instead of admitting that they made a mistake by overreacting to the same sex marriage movement.
The pattern of this speech is familiar to other talks we have covered this year: Create fear of outside sources regarding church history and then establish their own authority as the only source of truth for believing members. This is not OK - this is an abuse of authority. These decisions were not made out of love - if they were those exclusions would include other scenarios where the church causes constant friction such as mixed-faith marriages.
This speech was a chance for Russell M. Nelson to apologize for the pain and depression that their own policies caused, but instead Nelson used the speech to reestablish his authority as prophet and put the pain and anguish squarely on God. Anyone who reads or listens to this speech that is not already a believing member can see how manipulative and self serving it is - Nelson helped create a harmful policy and instead of apologizing, he is telling members that they should instead be happy with the love that the prophets (a nod to himself) are showing you by removing it.
Lindsay Hansen Park made a great post on Facebook after this speech, and I thought she made this point better than I could:
"One of the most persistent and damaging patterns I've witnessed in my life is the result of people who value OBEDIENCE over anything else. Over their own conscience, over the pain of others, over integrity. It's pervasive and frightening. I've been there, I've done that and here's what I've learned:
If your God is asking you to do things that harm others that is not a God that deserves your obedience. Not ever. If obtaining God's love and approval means you have to marginalize someone else, then your God is not the God of all."
This revelation was not from God just as polygamy/polyandry, banning black members from the priesthood, Adam-God, and countless others have not been from God. We have detailed over and over on this site why the church's truth claims do not hold up, and it becomes unavoidable when you notice that prophets and apostles are all 'products of their time' and never leading the cause for ending sexism, racism, or homophobia. If God truly loves each and every one of us perfectly as President Nelson states as "truth number three," then why would God create a policy that would cause so much pain and harm only to remove it 3.5 years later?
I want to thank President Nelson for this speech, because it is good for him to show the church and to the world that he would rather protect his own authority and infallibility rather than admit they made a mistake. I also want to thank him for once again demonizing people like me who have discovered the problems with the church's truth claims and have become "disaffected," because it reminds me of why I created this site - I wanted to help others who have doubts and questions to realize that they are not crazy and that the problems are both real and provable.
And I want to thank President Nelson for confirming yet again that I made the right choice in leaving. It was apparently from reading about polygamy years back that the church wasn't the one true church of God, but I always felt that they taught good things that were a net positive. That started to change as I dove into the history with black members, women who have subjected to polygamy while being subject to their husband instead of God, and the LGBT community that is comprised of such great people that were born with a different sexual attraction than the leaders of this church.
Last, I want to thank President Nelson for making believing members have to come to terms with the truths he spoke of. For those who can understand the implications of this policy and the creation of it under the guise of revelation, they now have to decide if it really is God who wanted to implement this painful policy, or if these leaders are not really speaking to God and instead only confirming their own biases and prejudices. Most of us are too young to understand how the chuch marginalized African Americans during the civil rights movement, but we can see front and center how this church continues to choose division over unity and stubbornness over love and acceptance.
The question we have to ask ourselves is - what do we do with this information? Do we continue to show obedience to a church that is not only untrue, but causing pain to so many without the willingness to admit they were wrong? From the posts I've seen since the speech, a lot of believing members are starting to see right through the authority of church leaders, and it certainly seems like the very corporate, official church video showing a few students praising Nelson's indefensible speech is the minority. Please watch that video - it is very sad to see these young people so blindly defend the indefensible and, as I've seen mentioned in other comments, has a very distinct 'Scientology' vibe to it.
So thank you President Nelson for showing us all who you are and what you value. And most importantly, for showing us that not only is the church not true - it's not good.
We've mentioned on many other posts how difficult it is to take in this new information and changes in policies, and we understand how painful it is to process. Please email us anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like more resources to learn about these issues or if you are looking for people that you can safely talk to as you continue your faith journey. And please email us if you disagree with our post - we welcome all comments!