The Church has changed through being challenged
In essence, the Church has been changed in several ways by the process of Tom Phillips challenging the Truth Claims of the Church.
1. Beliefs should no longer be considered facts
2. Priesthood Leaders not needed to represent the Lord’s Church, instead lawyers who make pronouncements on behalf of the Church.
3. One more step to having true freedom of, & from, religion
4. Tithing is voluntary and optional
5. Catalyst For Change
Beliefs Not Facts, & Lawyers Not Priesthood Leaders Speak For The Church
Many members now know of the ten recent essays which the Church Historical Department has produced to clarify certain controversial issues. (Responses To LDS.org Essays)
Issues which have become more significant as an ever-increasing number of committed members leave the Church every year on discovering the ‘truth behind the curtain’. It could be said that the Church has been forced into producing these essays as an attempt to quell the losses from the ever-decreasing tithing receipts because the majority of those leaving are tithing worthy members.
It is because of the work of many diligent, truth-seeking historians and due to the excellent websites like MormonThink.com that these issues are being brought to light and the Church leadership are being forced to come clean about them, admitting they were in error. (President Uchtdorf, “To be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the church have simply made mistakes,” – http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/mormon-leader-dieter-uchtdorf-says-church-has-made-mistakes-8862663.html)
These essays can be seen as admissions of guilt by the Church that many erroneous historical and doctrinal ideas were taught in the past as facts. Often those prophets and apostles of the recent past who taught these now disavowed ideas etc. are seemingly blamed as speaking as men, and of inflicting their own opinions on the Church as a whole. (“if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God” – Book of Mormon Introduction. Book of Mormon Title Page)
Just the examples of some of the fundamental teachings of the Church which have changed include:
Blacks & the Priesthood
Indigenous Americans are not descendents of Lamanites
Joseph Smith used a stone in a hat to translate the Book of Mormon
It is believed that more essays are in the pipeline.
We can take heart for our loved ones still in the Mormon Church that more openness, and transparency is coming when we hear Elder Steven Snow commenting on this subject:
“My view is that being open about our history solves a whole lot more problems than it creates. We might not have all the answers, but if we are open (and we now have pretty remarkable transparency), then I think in the long run that will serve us well. I think in the past there was a tendency to keep a lot of the records closed or at least not give access to information. But the world has changed in the last generation—with the access to information on the Internet, we can’t continue that pattern; I think we need to continue to be more open…. Fortunately Seminaries and Institutes and Curriculum have really stepped up and said in essence, ‘You know we really want to take this on, we would like to talk about these sensitive issues in our seminaries and institutes.’ It’s one thing to tell a fourteen-year-old some of these sensitive things and they say, ‘OK, that’s great.’ But sometimes when you are twenty-something, it comes across a little differently. I think we can build faith and better prepare people if we weave some of the unusual threads in history into the curriculum…. We have an obligation to provide our members with reliable information on some of these more difficult questions from our history. We are committed to do[ing] that.” (“Start with Faith: A Conversation with Elder Steven E. Snow,” Religious Educator 14, no. 3 : 4–5)
The question surely arises in the enquiring minds of those who seek the truth, how do we know that today’s leaders are speaking as the Lord or as men when they teach us of anything in the Church? Or is it all ‘of Man’ with no influence from God?
Beyond this, because of the Tom Phillips’ Court Case, the Church has now been forced to admit there is no factual truth in the Church teachings.
The Church leadership sent lawyers to defend President Monson against accusations that tithing was being obtained, or sought to be obtained, from its members by the making of untrue statements of fact.
In defending the Church from the accusations of fraud those lawyers admitted on behalf of the Church in a Court of Law that there is no factual basis to the claims for Mormon beliefs.
The Church lawyers said, “the question of beliefs is not allowed in law.”
“Statements made by the Church are not facts, they are beliefs. Nothing is ever said as fact, it’s just belief!!!!”
Every General Authority’s testimony and all the members too will now be seen in a different light. Not as truth, but merely belief.
So from now on we know that there are no facts in Mormonism, only beliefs!
One more step to having true freedom of, & from, religion
The act of challenging the Church in this way has eroded the legal and political systems’ reluctance to consider religious fraud.
At first sight it looks like Tom Phillips’ evidence in the case wasn’t tested in court, but actually it was. Not by a jury as we wanted, but by the very experienced District Court Judge, Elizabeth Roscoe.
Tom’s evidence for the fraud being carried on by the Church was tested by Judge Roscoe. She tested the evidence very thoroughly in Court for nearly four months, putting every conceivable defense to Tom’s legal team until in the end she had to accept 90% of the evidence and issue the Summons. She did not do this lightly, her own reputation was on the line.
Now it seems another Judge, or the legal/political system in the UK, has decided it is not time to attack religion in this way. Maybe they are thinking there are bigger repercussions for religion generally?
Nevertheless, for this case to get this far in a Court of Law is unprecedented in legal history.
Just as with gaining votes for women with the suffragette movement, or overcoming people’s attitude to slavery, social change takes time and effort. It takes losing a few battles to gain the greater victory eventually. The time in which religion can commit crime with impunity is coming to an end.
Religion cannot get a free pass to do what it likes. It cannot be allowed to break the law without consequences.
At the moment there is still far too much respect for religion generally in our societies. Yes we should respect people’s rights to hold ideas or beliefs which are different than our own, but those ideas don’t deserve to be respected just because they are religious ideas. If that was the case we’d still be living in the Dark Ages with Catholic beliefs determining our daily lives and behaviour. Thank goodness for people of courage through the centuries like Galileo who challenged the thinking of his day to become “the father of modern science.”
One day in the future, people may look back in time to thank Tom Phillips for his actions in challenging the ability of religions to commit fraud without fear of legal redress.
Tithing is Voluntary & Optional
I was taught that tithing is a commandment of God with consequences for disobedience including being burned at Christ’s Second Coming and losing my Eternal Life.
Children as young as four are taught that tithing is necessary to obey God.
Notice question 6 states that it is wrong to say, “It doesn’t matter if we pay tithing”, strongly inferring in the vulnerable minds of very young children that tithing is not optional.
People cannot even join the Church without agreeing to pay tithing for the rest of their lives in a Baptismal Interview.
Since the Tom Phillips Fraud Case we now also realise, through the lawyers acting on behalf of the Church, that tithing is no longer required, but is optional.
Several times throughout the Initial Hearing in the Fraud Case the Church lawyers stated categorically that “tithing is a voluntary donation” made by members of the Church.
This being the case, maybe members being asked to serve in a Calling in the Church, attend an LDS Temple, or as a priesthood holder baptising their own child, could ask their Bishop if they are okay with them choosing not to pay tithing, because it is optional!???
The Tom Phillips fraud case against Thomas S Monson should be seen as a catalyst in growing support for change in the Church
The court case has raised awareness of the controversial issues to vastly more people than ever before. More members are now reconsidering their own testimonies.
This means many more people are talking about the controversial issues this case has raised than ever before. Many previously unmentionable subjects (the ‘elephants in the room’ we all know of) within in Mormon/Ex-Mormon relationships have been noticed and spoken of since this case became world news. Many of those relationships have improved as new levels of understanding have been achieved, whilst it’s sadly true that some have worsened, I am heartened to hear of many situations where relationships have been strengthened because of this action.
I celebrate the fact that many new avenues of communication have opened. I believe in authenticity for ourselves & with others. For ourselves as we live lives of honesty & integrity, and with others as we can be open and honest in our communications with friends and relatives, rather than living with the unspoken differences of opinion.
With the courage which Tom Phillips’ has shown in bringing this case against the Church for fraud, many more disenfranchised members and former members have felt emboldened to come forward and plead for change. Tom Phillips bravery has acted as a catalyst for other action to gather pace. Because of this case we now have the wonderful Mormon Open Letter which in only a few weeks has been signed by several thousand members and former members, with every growing support across the world. The aims of the Mormon Open Letter of encouraging the Church to be honest, open & transparent regarding the controversial issues in its doctrinal beliefs and history I believe will bring about more positive change in the Church. Another aim of the Mormon Open Letter is to encourage more acceptance of those who question or change their beliefs, which I think will happen at an accelerated rate because of the issues raised by this case.
My own view of the Church is that it was built from a rotten core of lies from its inception. That doesn’t mean I don’t accept there has been some good achieved by the Church. However, I mainly think that any good that has been achieved has been because of the members and in spite of the Church.
Just because I think the Church has done some good things in the past, I don’t think it should necessarily continue.
Much like I agree that the First World War helped emancipate women.
Both of the vehicles of change were tragically flawed, but there were some good outcomes.
From a personal context I do wonder if it hadn’t been for the Church and my eventual epiphany from it that I may not have had such a curious interest in psychology of belief etc. Which again I see as a good thing.
However, I tend to think of Mormonism a bit like hitting one’s head against a wall. It’s only a good thing when you stop it!
Music which became very poignant for me during my transition out of Mormonism was the stirring musical piece ‘Now We Are Free’ from the movie Gladiator by Ridley Scott.
We will continue the campaign for Honesty, Openness, Transparency and Acceptance.
We will find other ways to challenge the Church to be obedient to the laws of the land and be honest with its members and investigators about its history and doctrines. The Church will eventually be forced to give full and frank disclosure instead of ensnaring members in a web of deception, half-truths and lies.
History is on our side. This is what happens to all religions – eventually.
“Dr. Martin Luther King said, “We must not drink from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” We can be angry about the injustice, but we can’t let it get us down. We have to remain happy, joyful, fun-loving people. We can be the more fun people. We can have the most fun! We don’t have to be repressed by their morality. Let’s live happy, joyful lives. Yet, we can never compromise on our critique of dogma. We need to increase the understanding of who we are by coming out and living openly.
“We need to be humanitarians. We need to do charity work. We need to choose to be good because it feels good, it is the right thing to do, and it will lead to the salvation of humanity, not in the next world, but in this one!
“No longer will we let discrimination stand. No longer will we hide what we believe. We believe in truth, integrity, love and honesty. We believe in freedom. We will gain respect as we gain the love of our friends, our family, and our neighbors. We love and we deserve to be loved like anyone else.”
~ Delivered March 24, 2012 by Todd Stiefel at the Reason Rally on the National Mall in Washington D.C.