Bearing False Witness? – On Obscuring the Earthly Source of Temporal Resources, and on Seeking Our Own Spiritual Riches Rather Than Co-Opting Someone Else’s
By Ken K. Gourdin
A couple of instances have me wondering what people must be thinking when they obfuscate so that something “of good report or praiseworthy” (see Articles of Faith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 1:13, available here and last accessed May 24, 2014: https://www.lds.org/scriptures/pgp/a-of-f/1.13?lang=eng) they wish to promulgate cannot be traced back to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In one case, a non-LDS (presumably Christian) group relabeled goods which the Church of Jesus Christ provided in the course of aiding victims of Hurricane Katrina. My thread at Mormon Dialogue & Discussion about the incident is here: http://www.mormondialogue.org/topic/57350-we-appreciate-the-help-but-cant-let-anyone-know-it-came-from-mormons/ (last accessed May 24, 2014). The Salt Lake Tribune article about the new Central Storehouse for humanitarian aid goods, in which the relabeling incident is discussed, is here: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/53651373-78/storehouse-church-humpherys-lake.html.csp?page=3 (last accessed today).
And in the other case, someone (presumably a non-LDS Christian) removed specifically-Mormon details from a story told by a father of his toddler son’s visit to the afterlife after the son was injured (and died clinically) when a garage door closed on his chest. The Snopes account of this incident and its retellings is available here (last accessed May 24, 2014): http://www.snopes.com/glurge/birdies.asp. My thread about this is here (last accessed January 25, 2014): http://www.mormondialogue.org/topic/57568-co-opting-an-account-and-removing-the-mormon-details/page-2.
With respect to the instance of food relabeling, I ran across an old thread I started at Mormon Dialogue & Discussion in March 2012. A non-Mormon (presumably Christian) group had relabeled food originally produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints so as to obscure its origins before distributing it to those who sought aid from the group. (Personally, I think that’s hilarious – seriously!)
Upon learning of the relabeling, an indignant LDS sister missionary providing assistance in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina called the Church’s Humanitarian Aid office in Salt Lake. Manager of the Church’s Central Storehouse, Richard Humpherys, took the call. When she explained the situation to him, Humpherys asked, “What’s the problem [meaning, what’s the overriding problem you’re there trying to solve]?” She replied, “People are hungry.” He said, “Exactly”—meaning, it doesn’t matter that people don’t know where the food really comes from; the only thing that matters is that it satisfies their needs.
Another poster pointed out that federal law requires that labels be affixed indicating where the food came from. To another poster, who claimed I was advocating the position that any good the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does needs to be trumpeted as loudly as possible from every rooftop, I responded that I believe the Savior’s admonition that those doing good works should avoid doing them simply to be seen of men, but I also believe in avoiding bearing false witness. (And, while I didn’t point this out in my response, I also believe in “rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and unto God that which is God’s” by obeying both divine and mortal law, including truth-in-labeling laws, whenever possible.)
Imagining what might have happened if the relabeling had simply involved placing a new label over the one originally affixed by the Church of Jesus Christ, and if someone had chanced to find the original label, I wondered (tongue-in-cheek, of course) if someone making such a (horrid!) discovery might have said, “Quick, Honey! Load the kids up in the car! We need to go to the hospital so we can all have our stomachs pumped! We just ate some [Gasp!] . . . Mormon peaches!” When another poster suggested that perhaps the Church of Jesus Christ itself ought to relabel the goods, I suggested (again, with tongue firmly planted in cheek) a label reading “This nourishment brought to you by a Devil-worshiping, soul-destroying Cult! Bon apetit!” Then later, I added, “Or, if you prefer, you could always fast!”
To those who suggested that perhaps it would have been in the best interest of the Church of Jesus Christ to initiate litigation (or even to file a criminal complaint) against the group responsible for the relabeling, I responded that such action was unlikely to serve the Church’s best interest: the group which relabeled the food already was ill-disposed enough against the Church that it went to great lengths to obscure the true source of the relief goods it distributed, and filing suit (or filing a criminal complaint) wouldn’t change that. Indeed, it likely would have the opposite effect, causing people who already were ill-disposed toward the Church to harden in their views and ensuring that even if the Church won the legal battle, it would lose the public relations war, at least partly by being seen as Goliath in a David-and-Goliath situation.
Then, of course, there is the account of the young boy, Brian, his encounters with angels, and his visits to the interior of LDS Temples, which occurred when Brian’s spirit temporarily left his body and he was escorted on that journey by angels. Please forgive a lengthy background explanation, which I believe is integral to an uninitiated reader’s understanding of Brian’s story. As Latter-day Saints, we believe that God joins (“seals,” “sealed,” and “sealing” are the terms we use) families together, not just “until death do us part,” but “for time and for all eternity.” Many people believe an interpretation of Matthew 22:23-30 (and analogous synoptic accounts) that precludes this opportunity. While many others believe, in contrast, that, such unions endure beyond the grave notwithstanding the seeming finality of the former phrase and of the interpretation of the scripture mentioned above, to the best of my knowledge, Latter-day Saints are the only ones who practice an explicit rite joining couples and families together forever (both in mortality, for those who have the opportunity to have these ordinances performed for themselves in this life, and by proxy for those who have passed on before receiving such an opportunity). For one view as to why the scripture in Matthew 22 does not preclude sealing by proxy of families whose members have passed on, see here (last accessed today): http://www.fairmormon.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/schindler.doesnt-matthew-contradict-eternal-marriage.pdf.
Latter-day Saints believe that Christ meant what He said when He told Nicodemus, “Except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God” (John 3:5). We also believe that while authorized baptism and bestowal of the Gift of the Holy Ghost, for example, are earthly ordinances, they, too, can be performed by proxy in Temples for those who did not have an opportunity to receive them in this life. We believe that Paul meant what he said when he spoke to the Corinthians of baptism for the dead (see 1 Corinthians 15:29). We believe also believe that Paul performed a necessary ordinance when he conferred the Holy Ghost on “certain disciples [at] Ephesus” (see Acts 19: 1-6), and that Peter meant what he said when he spoke of Christ preaching to the spirits of those who died without the Gospel (see 1 Peter 3:18-20). We also believe that receiving all of these ordinances is part of what Peter meant when he spoke of the spirits of the deceased being “judged according to men in the flesh, but liv[ing] according to God in the Spirit” (1 Peter 4:6).
In short, it makes no sense to me (nor, I believe, to most all believing Latter-day Saints) for a loving, just, and merciful God to say that certain ordinances and opportunities are necessary and available to those who have departed this life (e.g., baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost), while other ordinances and opportunities (e.g., marriage which continues after death) are not. Through his experience in the spirit world following his temporary departure from this life after his accident, Brian learned this firsthand.
The overriding question I had after reading Brian’s account (along with its “watered-down” versions, from which the details unique to a Latter-day Saint understanding of the afterlife [and of the role of Temples in that understanding] has been removed) is, Why is there apparently such a poverty of spiritual experience and encounters with the divine in the lives of those who altered this account that they couldn’t use one of their own (or one from someone who shares their religious convictions), and had to co-opt an account from a Latter-day Saint, instead?
One poster (an Evangelical whom I respect tremendously, as I hope can be seen from the cordial tone of the thread) theorized that perhaps a Latter-day Saint, wanting to extend the appeal of this account to a general Christian audience, removed those details in a later recounting. I replied that most Latter-day Saints would see such details as fundamental to the account. There are plenty of accounts of near-death experiences and encounters with the divine that, for whatever reason, lack details specific to LDS belief. Why not use one of those accounts instead of fundamentally altering an account that originally contained explicitly LDS details? I could be reading too much into the apparent co-opting and dilution of this account, but perhaps such co-opting and dilution speaks, sadly, to a certain poverty of one’s own spiritual experience.
And what of accounts of encounters with the afterlife and with the divine that don’t square with Latter-day Saint belief in some (or in many) particulars? Stephen R. Covey once said that “We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.” We each bring our own past experiences, unique perceptions and perspectives, and perhaps our prejudices, to bear on anything we experience in the present. It stands to reason that if we don’t see even the present as it is, it is that much more challenging to see things that are even more opaque (such as the past or the future) as they are. This is true of everyone, regardless of the faith path he follows. As Paul put it, we all “see through a glass, darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Latter-day Saints are counseled to exercise great care in sharing encounters they have with the divine with others. Part of the reason for this is because attempting to reduce an experience which transcends words to human language may change that experience fundamentally, and may limit it in the minds of listeners in ways that its teller does not intend. Brian experienced this in a way, when he had difficulty finding the words in his limited vocabulary to share what had happened to him.
Perhaps part of the answer for why details differ can be found in sources which Latter-day Saints revere as holy writ. In one such account, a former apostate and agitator against the Lord’s people, Alma, is miraculously converted, and then desires to cry repentance with angelic zeal. After expressing that desire, he says, “[But] behold, the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have; therefore we see that the Lord doth counsel in wisdom, according to that which is just and true” (Alma 29:8 in The Book of Mormon). Latter-day Saints believe that Christ visited the American Continent following His resurrection and preached the Gospel here, just as He had done in the Old World. At one point, He tells the people during that visit, “I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time” (3 Nephi 17:2 in The Book of Mormon).
In any event, as I’ve said elsewhere on the Blog, I don’t believe God gives me bread, fish, and fruit when I ask for spiritual sustenance while giving my non-Mormon brothers and sisters stones, serpents, thorns, and thistles (see Matthew 7:7-11, 16-20). Bread is bread, fish is fish, and fruit is fruit – period. He gives all of us “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little” (2 Nephi 28:30 in The Book of Mormon). To sum up, as I said in the thread about Brian’s experience, here’s to all of us seeking and obtaining our own experience with the divine.