LDS Discussions Blog
The Prophet's New Clothes: Russell M. Nelson's Gratitude Campaign (November 23, 2020)
On November 20th, the prophet and president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Russell M. Nelson, gave “a special video message with the world” via YouTube that was highly publicized by the church’s public relations through social media as well as the stakes and wards throughout the world.
Leading up to this message, there were many who were expecting some true revelation from “God’s prophet on the earth.” Others noticed that the message would be given one week before Thanksgiving and predicted that there would be a call to use social media for 7 days leading up to Thanksgiving expressing gratitude.
Given that we are now eight months into a global pandemic and are dealing with a lot of division due to the recent presidential election, one would expect that the prophet of God would have some divine insight. Nelson has now had two General Conferences to provide members with words from God, but has given none of the revelations that church members are raised to expect, no prophecies that the church prides itself on, and not even any health guidelines such as wearing a mask which could have been crucial to know back in February and March.
Furthermore, the church has held two worldwide fasts to petition God for relief from the COVID pandemic. The first was on March 29th and the second was on April 10th. Neither of these church-wide fasts brought COVID to an end as we can see today, and both fasts further illustrate how this church’s exclusive claim to priesthood power in healing is no more effective than any other person or religion.
We’ve covered in recent posts how revelation in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been watered down since the days of Joseph Smith, and we’ve also covered how the use of revelation for the November 2015 LGBT policy backfired, leading to another revelation 3.5 years later rescinding the previous revelation.
You can read those posts below, because they provide a foundation of the problems that are amplified by Nelson’s lack of revelation, prophecy, or medical foresight since COVID began:
Rebranding Revelation: Our recap of Russell M. Nelson’s first revelation as prophet, which was to enact a policy he fought his entire life for: No longer using the term Mormon. As his second wife Wendy Nelson inadvertently admitted, “It is as though he's been unleashed… He's free to follow through with things he's been concerned about but could never do. Now that he's president of [the church], he can do those things.”
In other words, Wendy is admitting what we can detail with every Mormon prophet from Joseph Smith until Nelson: Their revelations always match their worldview, which is why apologists often brush aside their incorrect views as being a ‘product of their time.’ Joseph Smith used revelation to get young women to marry him in polygamy, prophets from Brigham Young through 1978 claimed that it was from God that blacks be banned from the priesthood, and Russell M. Nelson just happened to receive a revelation about using the word Mormon that he was fighting his whole life for in the church, even being rejected by the two prophets before him.
The Larger Implications of the LGBT Reversal: Our recap of the above mention reversal of the November 2015 revelation via another revelation just 3.5 years later. Again, this really details how revelation is nothing more than these men imposing their personal views in the name of God, and that was beyond apparently with the November 2015 overreaction to the legal cases on same sex marriage.
And last, we recently wrote about what Joseph Smith’s dictation of D&C 132 on polygamy tells us about revelation. While we are focusing today on modern church prophets, it’s important to contrast today’s complete lack of any revelation to Joseph Smith’s ability to talk in the voice of God off the top of his head when he needed to get out of trouble, which in this case was when his wife Emma was not happy that Joseph was marrying and having sex with young women behind her back. I realize that phrasing makes many members uncomfortable, but I really hope you’ll read the article to understand how D&C 132 was produced and the implications that come from Joseph Smith’s abilities to speak in the voice of God on command when he needed to use that authority to convince those around him.
The point is that when you read the other articles we’ve written by us and other historians, it’s clear that there is no revelation from God in the church, and that these constant “adjustments” are made in our day to give the impression that this church is being led by God when in fact it is demonstrably not a true church of God, which we can detail at length by looking at biblical scholarship, the Book of Mormon, or the Book of Abraham.
Just as in the Emperor's New Clothes, the church is weaving the most magnificent suit for the prophet, full of revelations, prophecies, and insight that comes directly from God. All of the leaders praise Nelson in their General Conference talks, speaking of how they can see God speaking through Nelson, and all members are told from birth to "follow the prophet" because only he knows the way.
But while the church tells us that Nelson is wearing the finest, most divine prophetic clothing, everyone else can see that he is, in fact, just a naked man with no ability to tell us anything that the outside world doesn't already know. In fact, everyone outside of the church can see why the Book of Mormon is a 19th century product through biblical scholarship, why the Book of Abraham is an undeniable smoking gun against Joseph Smith, or that DNA proves the entire Book of Mormon narrative along with Joseph Smith's revelations are simply untrue.
The church then tells members that, just as in the Emperor's New Clothes, those who present the evidence that the church is not true are simply being fooled by the adversary, and leaders and members continue to tell each other Nelson is wearing the finest prophetic clothing around, knowing that there are serious problems, but being unable to look at the evidence due to leaders telling us not to look under the hood, that leaving the church is like suicide, or that we're bratty children trying to leave the boat.
Church leaders have conditioned members to see 'adjustments' such as the recent temple changes, civil marriage allowance, or letting women be witnesses to baptisms as revelation, when in fact the church constantly conducts surveys of its members to make needed changes to keep them active in the church. In other words, they are not revelations from God, but the work of marketing research to adapt to the needs of members and society as a whole.
But this recent statement from Russell M. Nelson was given at a time of great worry in this country, when almost 2,000 people a day are dying from COVID and cases are spiking at an exponential rate. There was great hype leading up to it from those I saw on social media, and a lot of hope that this would be a moment that the prophet came through when people needed him the most after Nelson, a doctor that we are told was prepared all his life to be a prophet for this moment, failed to give any foresight in the Spring when knowledge of wearing masks would have been beyond helpful.
Instead, the church used this very worrisome time to launch a marketing campaign. There is simply no other way to frame it, and as someone who works in marketing, this video from Nelson has all of the fingerprints of a corporate marketing campaign.
First, we had the very sweet but generic talk that spoke of themes that had absolutely nothing unique to Mormonism, but are meant to reach a broader audience. There was no revelation, there were no prophecies, and there was not even any mention of wearing masks (they did briefly flash a mask in the video), washing hands, or pausing in-person church to remain safe until the record cases begin to recede.
Then the real call-to-action of the talk came near the end, when Russell M. Nelson challenged all church members to flood social media with posts of gratitude using the hashtag #GiveThanks, which any business could have come up with given it’s a week before Thanksgiving.
Furthermore, the church has linked this hashtag to the website powerofgratitude.org, which just happens to direct the potential investigator straight to the church’s website and ends with an invitation to sign up for the church’s “Walk with Christ” email list.
In other words, at a time of great need and stress in the world, the prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has instructed all of his followers to participate in a social media campaign to accomplish two things: Reinforce the church to those who might have realized during this pandemic that the church isn’t what it claims to be, and to hopefully get some who are not members of the church to check out the #GiveThanks hashtag in posts they see from friends or follows and possibly sign up with the church on their rebranded website.
In a moment when Russell M. Nelson could have provided revelation to the people on Earth, he instead used the opportunity to launch a one week marketing campaign for the church. At a time when the church has over $124 billion in an investment fund (that is likely much higher now) that could be used to help those who are struggling to put food on the table at Thanksgiving, he asked members to flood social media with how great things are in order to, as Dallin Oaks famously said, help “gain or strengthen a testimony by bearing it” through a week of posting about how great things are while thinking of the church.
Not only does this marketing campaign get members to bear their testimony by posting daily about what their grateful for using the #GiveThanks tag, but it allows for virtue signaling and social pressure for members who do not participate. Just as I hear story after story where family members will do a "garment check" to make sure their family and friends have the outlines of the garment shirt and shorts under their clothes, members will now know which ones are following the prophet and which ones are not based on how much they flood their timelines with the #givethanks advertisement for the church.
While some may call my thoughts cynical, I would just say that as someone who worked in marketing their entire life, this has all of the earmarks of a corporate marketing campaign, and none of the earmarks of a message of revelation or prophecy from God. Not only is there no revelation from Nelson, but there’s not even a single unique Mormon concept within it, because this is a marketing campaign using members of the church to proselytize on social media not just to convert others, but to help convert themselves back to the church at a time when the church’s power and usefulness seems small when the leaders cannot predict, control, or impact real world events.
As I said earlier, the video by Russell Nelson was a genuinely sweet talk. It had messages about loss and coping during difficult times, and it also talked about how showing gratitude is good for one’s health which is true. But again, this is a talk that could have been given by any religious leader, politician, or Ted talk presenter.
And while it was a talk that was uplifting, the church used their “HeartSell” method to use music, lighting, and moving video to get members to buy into the message emotionally just as we talked about in the recent youth face-to –face, and it was a meticulously crafted video to launch a marketing campaign with a call to action of flooding social media with how grateful you are for things that just happen to promote the church itself. Not only was the message carefully produced as a marketing event to non-members and members alike, the church then sent a separate message to members four hours after the video launched. From the church's email:
"Have you ever had the experience of waking up in the middle of the night with a distinct thought or impression? Since beginning my ministry as the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I’ve had my share of unexpected awakenings. Many of these have proven to be special and sacred moments from God. I want to share one such experience related to the special video message that was released today, November 20, 2020.
A few weeks ago, I woke in the middle of the night with the thought that I should offer a prayer of gratitude to God for all of His children around the globe. Thoughts flooded my mind of all of the things for which we should be grateful and how expressing that gratitude could become a healing spirit in our lives. As the inspiration came, specific details, including when and how I should share this message, came to my mind and heart. The video message shared today was not one that came by chance; it is one that came from heaven."
This is exactly what I've talked about in this write-up: The church releases a video that contains absolutely no revelation or prophecy, but then sends out emails to members afterwards telling them that it absolutely was revelation, and Nelson himself uses this email (that does not go out to non-members as the video did) to reestablish not just his authority, but to further get members to buy-in to the marketing campaign that we are to believe God revealed to Russell Nelson.
Nelson wants us to believe that God woke him in the middle of the night to reveal a campaign to use a social media hashtag and a new church website, which sounds ridiculous because it is. To put it clearly, we are to believe that God didn't reveal an upcoming pandemic, didn't reveal that masks could save lives, but did reveal how to use Thanksgiving to bookend a marketing campaign on gratitude to God? This story from Nelson is his way of telling members that he absolutely is wearing the finest prophetic clothing ever produced, even as the video itself tells us that there is absolutely no revelation coming from God in this church.
Look, this is not the worst thing the church has done in any way, and my point here isn’t to say the church is awful to use a global pandemic to launch a self-serving marketing campaign even though I believe they should’ve tapped into their $124 billion investment fund (that was funneled through a dozen shell companies) if they really want to show their gratitude.
The point is that time and time again we can show with evidence that this church is not led by God, and that we can prove that it is not led by God by looking at the church’s own scriptures and Joseph Smith’s early revelations, teachings, and translations. It’s not that we can’t prove that the church is true, it’s that we can prove that the church is false.
And I am truly grateful for all of the members before me who took the time to research and uncover the evidentiary history so that I can know that this church is absolutely not true today and walk away with no regrets. I want to give thanks for the Tanners who forced the church to release Joseph Smith’s 1832 First Vision account, Dr. Robert Ritner for using his lifetime of Egyptian scholarship to outline why the Book of Abraham is pseudepigrapha from Joseph Smith, and Dr. David Bokovoy for his insights on using biblical scholarship to understand the Book of Mormon is a 19th century text.
I also give thanks for Fawn Brodie’s writings on Joseph Smith that even church historian and patriarch Richard Bushman agrees are accurate, Dan Vogel’s meticulous work on church history, and all of the amazing podcasts that cover these troubling issues with church history, and so many others that have helped to build on scholarship to let members not to “doubt their doubts,” but to use research the church’s truth claims with an open mind to know that this church is not true and the version of God in Mormonism that demands eternal polygamy (yes, it’s still doctrine) and is willing to separate families over drinking a cup of coffee is not worthy of my worship.
One last point is that while I think Nelson’s talk was overall a positive, albeit generic message, he referred to himself twice as a “man of science.” This is a problem with Mormonism, because if you truly want to claim that you are a man of science, you then have to admit:
-Native Americans are not Lamanites from Israel as the Book of Mormon and prophets have stated, but from Asia and have nothing to do with the Book of Mormon as there are no Lamanites.
-That there was not a literal, historical Adam and Eve born six thousand years ago that the church has based its doctrines on, as we can show through many areas of science along with biblical scholarship.
-There was no global flood which is imperative to the truth claims of Mormon scriptures, which can be shown clearly by science and is a consensus among scientists
Furthermore, if Nelson wants to claim that he is a prophet of God and a man of science, he needs to explain how he could be so ignorant to the law of evolution to say that “Man has always been man. Dogs have always been dogs. Monkeys have always been monkeys. It’s just the way genetics works.” (Pew Research Interview)
You cannot claim to be both a “man of science,” but also deny any science that proves the church is not true. That’s not how science works nor is it how critical thinking works. And this is really a problem the church has focused on over the last few years: Keeping members from not asking those questions about church history that their own documents, history, and science show prove the church is not from God.
I know this can be a very triggering write-up for a believing member, because after eight months of COVID everyone was really expecting more from the man who regards himself as the prophet of God. And I know how we are hard wired to reject any information that conflicts with beliefs we were raised with, and I know from personal experience how the backfire effect is so powerful in not only rejecting evidence, but doubling down on our prior beliefs.
So many members had such high hopes for Nelson’s talks during General Conference and now with this heavily publicized video, and each time when it was over many members were left trying to convince themselves that it was from God just as we’ve been trained to do when minor adjustments are treated as divine revelations. Just like the advisors to the Emperor, we convince ourselves that the prophet’s complete lack of revelations and foresight are as magnificent as the church claims that they are because we are too afraid to admit that the prophet has no clothes because that would mean that the church is not what we were all taught to believe it is.
All I can ask is that you read our site, as almost every page covers the apologetic responses and begins with church sources. We don't dive into conspiracy theories or "anti-Mormon" sources, but we start with he church's positions on these issues and then look at what their own historical records tell us about their truth claims. The information is difficult to take in and it is not easy to come to terms with the church not being true, but the evidence is absolutely clear from every area of study that the truth claims of this church do not hold up to the evidence.
While it was very difficult to learn about the church’s true history by going down the rabbit hole, I now am so grateful for those who I have gotten to talk to, email with, and get to know through this journey. I quickly learned that as weird as it feels to learn the church isn’t true, the other side is so much brighter once you realize you don’t need church leaders to tell you how to dress, who should be allowed to get married, or how to use social media, but that you can strive to be a better person because you want to be a better person regardless of what that means for your afterlife.
And for all of that, I #GiveThanks for those who have helped me (and still help me) on that journey, and I hope to help others through this site as well. For those of you who are where I was two years ago just realizing things aren’t what you were raised to believe, you are in for a wild ride but it absolutely does get so much better.
Thanks for reading, and I hope everyone out there has a Happy Thanksgiving wherever you are. Please stay safe during this COVID pandemic, and I really am grateful to everyone who takes the time to read this as well as those who have reached out in the past.