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Author: Dan McDonald

What happens when the love of authority becomes more important than the authority of love?

What happens when the love of authority becomes more important than the authority of love?

The recent visit of President Nelson with Pope Francis reminds me of what some have referred to as the main difference between Catholics and Mormons.  Catholics believe the Pope isn’t infallible even though that is official Catholic doctrine. Mormons believe their prophet is infallible even though that isn’t official Mormon doctrine.  If we’re being honest, most Mormons equate obeisance to church leaders and authority with “faithfulness.”  But is loyalty to leadership really a qualification for true faithfulness?

I’ve been pondering Section 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants for more than two decades now.  It is a brilliant masterpiece.  I accept it as scripture.  However, as with all truth, it also raises many difficult and ponderous questions, especially for the modern Church and those who profess to love it.  Here are a few of mine.


Are we promoting compliance and obeisance to priesthood authoritarianism (and calling that faith) instead of promoting faith in Jesus Christ?

If “no power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood” (D&C 121:41) then why do we place so much emphasis on priesthood authority claims?  If no power can be maintained by virtue of the priesthood and if no power ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood then why do we place so much emphasis on sustaining priesthood authority, and is it ethical and right to do so?  If no power can be maintained by virtue of the priesthood and if no power ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood then why is there so much emphasis placed upon priesthood authority, priesthood keys, restoration of the priesthood and such?  If neither power nor influence among people can be attained or maintained that way then why do we even try to do it that way to begin with?  Is this, perhaps, one of the reasons why people are leaving the Church?  Will the Church lose power and influence by placing so much emphasis on the importance of priesthood authority?  If we accept the truth of D&C 121:41 there seems to be an obvious answer to this question.

If “it is the nature and disposition of almost all men” to exercise unrighteous dominion “as soon as they get a little authority” (D&C 121:39) then wouldn’t it also be the nature and disposition of almost all churches and church leaders to do likewise as soon they get a lot of authority?  If it is the nature and disposition of almost all men to exercise unrighteous dominion as soon as they get a little authority then wouldn’t it be wise to listen with compassion and patience to those who claim they have been injured by the misuse or abuse of authority?  And wouldn’t it be a good and healthy thing to downplay rather than overplay the importance of priesthood authority?


Shouldn’t we be talking more about the keys to loving and less about loving the keys?

Are the truths in Section 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants truths that we really don’t believe?  Have we supplanted these truths with a well-entrenched and de facto doctrine of infallibility?  By emphasizing priesthood and priesthood authority are we rendering the Church impotent and powerless for future generations since “no power or influence can or ought to be maintained” that way?  Are we promoting compliance and obeisance to priesthood authoritarianism (and calling that faith) instead of promoting faith in Jesus Christ?

If “power or influence can or ought to be maintained … only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned” (D&C 121:41) wouldn’t we be better served as a Church to de-emphasize the love of authority and emphasize the authority of love?  If “power or influence can or ought to be maintained … only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned” shouldn’t we be talking more about the keys to loving and less about loving the keys?

In fact, if no power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, then why are keys even that relevant?  Is it possible to accept the fact that the keys of authority are necessary (which I do) but not sufficient, as Section 121 seems to suggest? And, if this is true, then why all the fuss about why they are necessary to begin with?  If real power and real influence is attained another way then shouldn’t we be pursuing and emphasizing this other way?

When will our “confidence wax strong in the presence of God?”  (D&C 121:45.)  When will “[t]he Holy Ghost … be [our] constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth?”  (D&C 121:46.)  When our bowels are “full of charity towards all men.”  (D&C 121:45.)  Therein lies real power and influence.

The more I read about the mass exodus from organized religion, I can’t help but wonder if part of the problem is what the prophetic Soren Kierkegaard termed (almost two centuries ago) the “deification of the established order.” In his critique of the Danish state church, Kierkegaard pointed out that in continually making itself commensurate with God the church was actually destroying true spirituality and replacing it with an unsustainable and hollow religiosity.

In Kierkegaard’s view, requiring believers to continually accept the divine authority of the church and its inherently flawed leadership led to a distorted view of and relationship with God that, ironically, drove people away from the church and into secularization for the very reason that they (and the church) equated the church with God. Equating the church with God ultimately leads to alienation from God because, being inherently flawed, the church (and thus God) will eventually be exposed as something other than what it purports to be, thereby leading to disenchantment and disconnection.

People are incapable of separating the church from God when the church is continually claiming that it IS, for all intents and purposes, God. Hence, when the church lets them down, God lets them down. Also, people accept progress and advancement in status within the church organization and social structure as genuine spiritual progress when, in reality, it is nothing more than ego-feeding social security and social advancement.


All are alike unto God. By virtue of our baptismal covenants we are all “special” witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ. All of us are the Lord’s anointed.

“Deification of the established order is the secularization of everything!” Kierkegaard warned more than a century ago. And look what has happened to churches in Western Europe since and what we now see happening in North America as we speak! If you haven’t read Kierkegaard’s thesis, you should. I think there is much the modern church can learn from this.

One thing I would like to see is for the culture of the church–the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-27)–to move away from continually deifying the established order. We can do this not by leader-bashing but by treating everyone the way we would treat an apostle or prophet and ridding ourselves of any semblance of caste, rank or stratified importance, which is not pleasing to the Lord. (Luke 11:43.) All are alike unto God. (2 Nephi 26:33.) By virtue of our baptismal covenants we are all “special” witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Mosiah 18:9.) All of us are the Lord’s anointed and we share the same name. (Mosiah 5:7; see also Alma 5:14; Alma 36:23–26; Alma 46:15; D&C 20:77.)

We can change by learning and humbly accepting that religiosity and spirituality are not synonymous. We can do this by stripping ourselves of the arrogant viewpoint that righteousness consists of Phariseetical-like compliance with orthodoxy and outward piousness. We can do this by changing our conversations in church meetings and social media from being grounded in authority and the love of authority to ones that are grounded in the power and authority of love. We can do this by quietly living lives of love, compassion and service, secretly revealing God to others the way that Jesus taught. (Matthew 6:4.) That is speaking with the authority of love, which is the greatest power on earth and an authority that we can all wield.

For more ideas and discussion on this and other related issues, please read my books Gethsemamnesia and Built to Love, available now in paperback.

Where is God?

Where is God?

God can be hard to find.  He is buried. (Matthew 13:44.) “The well is deep” (John 4:11), and because we must dig so deep to find the living water “few there be that find it.” (Matthew 7:14.)  But, if you’ve ever felt Love’s pure flow possess your body, you would sell all you have to keep it.  (Matthew 13:44.)  I’ve felt it. It is real.  And my passion in life is to help others tap in to the same flow of living water.  But where is it?  Where is God?

God is not up there.

God is not out there.

God is in our very DNA. (Genesis 1:26-27; Acts 17:28.) God is that primordial light of goodness and instinct to love, deeply embedded inside each one of us. (John 1:9; D&C 88:6–13).

He “dwelleth not in temples made with hands.” (Acts 17:24.) He “dwelleth not in unholy temples, but in the hearts of the righteous doth he dwell[.]” (Alma 34:36.)

God is in our very DNA.

This indwelling of God is beautifully described in the Book of Mormon, Alma:32.  The “word”—which is simply a metaphor for the indwelling of Christ (Alma 34:5-6)—is compared to a seed (Alma 32:28).  Our job is to believe it is there, inside of us, and then yield to the flow and possession of God.  (See Alma 32:28-43.)

The Christ inside of us “swelleth and sprouteth” (Alma 32:30) and transforms us because “every seed bringeth forth unto its own likeness” (Alma 32:31), including the likeness in which we were originally created (Genesis 1:26-27).  We discover the light inside of us that has been there all along.  (Alma 32:35.)  This light is the original incarnation, God-in-us.  (John 1:9; John 8:12.)


Faith, to a large degree, is believing and trusting in who you already are.

And as we discover our true identity and that our separateness from God was really just an illusion, we begin to see ourselves as a joint venture.  The seed is now a “tree” (Alma 32:37), and our lives are now lived not in the separateness of “me” and “God” but in terms of “us.”  “Let us nourish it with great care, that it may get root, that it may grow up and bring forth fruit unto us.” (Alma 32:37.) We are the same. One.  Part of the same whole. Vine and branch.  (John 15.)

Unfortunately, so much of organized religion has focused on the alleged distance between us and God, constantly battering us with notions of our separateness through sin and unworthiness.  Hence, we try to bridge the gap through merit, achievement, worthiness, and personal righteousness.  We try to earn our way back into God’s presence.

But God is not some vengeful, thunderbolt-wielding king sitting on a throne in yonder heavens, waiting for us to earn our way back into his good graces.  God, in fact, is “not far from every one of us.” (Acts 17 27.) He is our very life force.  “[I]n him we live, and move, and have our being.” (Acts 17:28.)  Try to voluntarily stop breathing, for example.  God, who is the very breath of life inside of you, won’t let it happen!  (Genesis 2:7; Genesis 7:22; Moses 3:4–7, 19; Abraham 5:7; Job 12:10; Job 33:4; Psalms 104:29; Isaiah 42:5; Ezekial 37:5; Zech. 12:1; Acts 17:25; Rev. 11:11.) He’s right there!  On this point, we could learn much about getting in touch with God from the Eastern religions.

This discovery of who you really are, who you are a part of, who really owns you, and who really possesses you yields the “fruit” of “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, [and] faith[.]” (Galatians 5:22.) Discovery of this fruit allows you to stop striving, stop pretending, stop competing, stop trying to keep up with the endless programs and checklists.  It allows you to abandon the pursuit of perfection because you realize you are already enough!  Change your consciousness from one where you are focused on your separateness from God to one where you are focused on your oneness with Him.

When you are in this state of consciousness and possessed like this, “ye hunger not, neither … thirst.” (Alma 32:42; John 6:35.)  Perhaps you think the word “possessed” is too strong.  But consider this explanation, taken from the same sermon in Alma 32:

“34 … that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.

35 For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked.

36 And this I know, because the Lord hath said he dwelleth not in unholy temples, but in the hearts of the righteous doth he dwell[.]”

Digging deep to discover this inner light, this inner seed, this inner well (choose your metaphor) requires faith to believe in your own inherent goodness and then to give place for that goodness in your life in concrete ways. It requires you to let go of your ego, your pride, and your shadow self, which is focused on getting others to love you, and to get in touch with your true self, which is focused on giving and expressing love to others. Stop caring what others think of you. Start caring about what you think of others. Faith, to a large degree, is believing and trusting in who you already are and whose you already are.  Faith is conscious participation with God in carrying out God’s desire to love the world. Faith is the courage to say “I don’t care” to much of the external requirements of religion, focusing instead on the internal work of getting in touch with your core identity and then living out its true purpose.


It’s not what you consume but what you produce that defines and discovers you.

Let me give you a shovel so you can start digging and tap in to this divine flow today.  First, pause daily to deeply contemplate what it means to love others. Some people call this prayer. Let that count as prayer for you.  Second, practice loving ways of being each day.  Let that count as “repentance.” Third, consciously strive to recognize how many times each day you worry about what others will think of you and then let it go, choosing instead to focus on how you feel about others. Let me give you the following 5 steps to make it even more concrete for you:

  1. Awaken to the center of loving kindness inside of you by remembering a time or times you have felt God’s love flow in and through you, either towards yourself or towards someone else.  Think of a time you have felt a strong sense of love and compassion. Search until you remember.  Write these rememberings down if you need to.
  2. Once you remember being in that flow, bring to your consciousness someone you love very much and then contemplate a concrete way you can channel that very same flow of love to bless that person’s life in some small way. Carry out what you have contemplated.  Do this daily. Don’t overextend yourself.
  3. Consciously repeat step 2 daily for each person that you consider as “close” or within your inner circle.
  4. When you have become more adept, experiment with extending the reach of your loving kindness beyond your inner circle, towards more casual acquaintances, then towards strangers, and then further yet to those outside any circle—your enemies.
  5. If you fail at step 4 (and you will), start over with step 1 instead of beating yourself up.  This is not a contest.  You are not trying to earn anything or repay anything. You are simply being who you really are. You are accomplishing the purpose of your existence merely by acting as a conduit of God’s love.  Where you channel God’s love matters far less than the fact that God’s love is, in fact, being channeled through you.

Experiment upon this state of being for a while and see what happens.  Do this if you are struggling with “sin” or addiction.  Instead of focusing on what’s wrong with you, focus on what’s right with you.  Nurture your true self and your shadow self will disappear. Nurture how you feel about others and you’ll stop worrying so much about how others feel about you.

You will discover that it’s not what you consume but what you produce that defines and discovers you.  God bless you in your soulful journey to discover who you really are and, thus, to discover God!

For more ideas and discussion on this and other related issues, please read my books Gethsemamnesia and Built to Love, available now in paperback.

Speaking of rescue boats …

Speaking of rescue boats …

Speaking of rescue boats, they are a good idea.  Staying in the boat is also a good idea.

But staying in the boat doesn’t mean you have to pretend it’s the Princess Cruises or Royal Caribbean, like so many do.  Staying in the boat doesn’t mean you have to joyfully sing songs of praise and honor to the seriously-flawed individual who restored the boat ages ago.  Staying in the boat doesn’t mean you have to adore its captain or crew, honoring them with titles, imbuing them with super-human abilities, making them near demi-gods, placing them above the others on the boat in rank and importance.  Staying in the boat doesn’t mean that it’s essential for you to repeatedly affirm that it is the only “true” rescue boat (if that even means anything).

No, staying in the boat doesn’t mean a lot of what the other crazies and extremists in the boat think it means. But, by all means, you need to stay in the boat.   Please don’t jump out.


True faith is centered in Jesus Christ and no one or nothing else … not even boats.

To help you endure the boat, please keep in mind, that the boat is just a boat, floating out there in a vast sea.  It’s inherently transitory and fleeting.  It’s a means to an end intended to help you get by with a context for living until the Big Boat (see John 18:36; D&C 65:5-6) comes and you are delivered to the safety of a new reality and new existence.

Remarkably, our own doctrine teaches that the new reality will include people who weren’t on the rescue boat with us:

“Some members of the Church have an erroneous idea that when the millennium comes all of the people are going to be swept off the earth except righteous members of the Church.  That is not so.  There will be millions of people.  Catholics, Protestants, agnostics, [Muslims], people of all classes, and of all beliefs[.]…”

(Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, vol. I, p. 86, Publishers Press, 1954; see also Gospel Principles, Chapter 45, The Millenium .)


“There will be millions of people.  Catholics, Protestants, agnostics, [Muslims], people of all classes, and of all beliefs[.]…”

Unfortunately, the people on the boat forget this and often have a distorted view of themselves and the boat, which makes it difficult to want to stay in.  For example, rather than seeing the boat as a temporary means to an end, they see the boat as the end all, be all.  In reality, however, the Church is not the kingdom of heaven, which is the Big Boat, something much bigger than the Church.   More importantly, the Church is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is a difference.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the good news that, among other things, there is more to reality than just the boat!  And praised be God for that! The gospel of Jesus Christ is a state of consciousness, not a set of tenets or beliefs.  It consists of the laws of reality you need to not only survive but to be happy, including during your temporary time on the boat. Focusing on the gospel will help you be happy during your time on the boat.  It will help you be in the boat but not of the boat, as I have written elsewhere. More importantly, it will give you that state of consciousness needed for your entire existence.

The gospel, for example, teaches you that true faith is centered in Jesus Christ and no one or nothing else … not even boats.  (Articles of Faith 4.) That means everything else is ancillary.  Therefore, feel free to doubt everything else because it is nonessential, despite what the extremists and co-passengers in the boat tell you.


When your consciousness is transformed to love them as you ought, you will see the Big Boat on the horizon, hope will return, and you will be able to endure the rest of your journey on the little boat.

Faith in Jesus Christ, in turn, teaches you that your true identity and purpose is love. God is love.  (1 John 4:8.) You are a child of God.  Therefore, love is who you really are. If you really believe that, then you will realize your purpose is to love and to become the embodiment of love. If God is love, then that is what you must become. And if you can learn how to function at this level of consciousness, it will help you both endure and transform your boat community.  Love endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:7) … even our “peculiar” Church boat!

Being centered at this level of consciousness empowers you with the knowledge that how you behave matters more than what you (or they) believe.  It helps you leave—and when expedient, ignore—that often toxic level of consciousness that faith and faithfulness is the subjective submission to and acceptance of theologies and policies, conformity, or obeisance to authority.  Feel free to doubt and question those externalities all you want (although it’s a waste of time and will get you nowhere).  My advice, however, is to stay focused on who you are and who you are trying to become.

You’ll never find yourself by being by yourself .

Real faith is not conformity or subjective belief. It is trusting that the “true” religion is found in what you do, how you behave, and what you become. In a word, it is orthopraxy, not orthodoxy. (See James 1:27; Matthew 5.) Do you have faith enough to just shrug your shoulders and say “okay … whatever” when those in your boat prattle on about boat hierarchy or boat history that you know to be false?  Is your faith strong enough to recognize that those things really don’t matter and that how you treat your fellow boat members is what it’s really all about?  Is your faith strong enough to rise above?  In some sense, as you contemplate these questions you realize the boat is almost the ideal proving ground for real faith.


You will see the Big Boat on the horizon, hope will return, and you will be able to endure the rest of your journey on the little boat.

Your real journey, though, is to return to yourself. But you’ll never find yourself by being by yourself.  You need the boat and its castaway crew of crazies and conformists, all of whom you’ve been called to love.  When your consciousness is transformed to love them as you ought, you will see the Big Boat on the horizon, hope will return, and you will be able to endure the rest of your journey on the little boat. This is the way:

“20 Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward[] … and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.

21 And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen.”

(2 Nephi 31:20-21.)

For more ideas and discussion on this and other related issues, please read my books Gethsemamnesia and Built to Love, available now in paperback.

Three of my favorite prayers.

Three of my favorite prayers.

These are three of my all-time favorite prayers, and ones that I oft repeat. I invite you to ponder deeply the message of each. I hope they are as transformative for you as they have been for me!

A prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

A prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr (the AA Serenity Prayer):

God, Give us the grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed, Courage
to change the things which should be changed,
And the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.

Also stated as follows:

God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,
courage to change the things we can,
and wisdom to know the difference.

A prayer of Byron Katie (if she had a prayer):

God, spare me from the desire
for love, approval, or appreciation.
Amen.