“Mormon” is the new “Pharisee.” Don’t believe me? Just ask the Brethren

“Mormon” is the new “Pharisee.” Don’t believe me? Just ask the Brethren

“Mormon” is the new “Pharisee” … a collective consciousness that tends to love the church more than people. Don’t believe me? Just ask the Brethren.

What are we to infer about ourselves when modern prophets urge us to leave our immature religious practices (which were probably really cultural practices) and conduct ourselves in a higher and “holier” way centered on the commandment to love?  (See President Russell M. Nelson, “Minstering” (April 2018); Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “Be With and Strengthen Them” (April 2018).)

When God’s prophets say one thing, the people of the church are almost certainly doing the opposite.

When modern prophets say “we should mature personally” that probably means that what we’ve immaturely passed off as our “religion” is not really true religion at all. (Id.) When modern prophets say we need to “ris[e] above any mechanical, function-without-feeling routine to the heartfelt discipleship articulated by the Savior at the conclusion of His earthly ministry” it probably means that our idea of religion has been too mechanical and more focused on the functions of the church rather than any deep spiritual connection with God and others, that we have strayed from true Christianity. (Id.)

When modern prophets say “we want more care and concern” that probably means we’re not really good at genuinely caring about others.  (Id.) When modern prophets explain that changes in the church are motivated by a desire to be “more gospel-based” that probably means that what we’ve been doing in the past is more culturally-based—that what we’ve passed off as the “gospel” isn’t really the gospel at all! (Id.)

How can I be so bold? There’s one thing you can be sure of.  When God’s prophets say one thing, the people of the church are almost certainly doing the opposite. As God told the prophet Isaiah long ago—and, yes, he was referring to us, too—“These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.” (Isaiah 29:13 – NIV.) Why do you think Isaiah saturates the Book of Mormon? He’s talking about “us” not “them!”

Isaiah by (Jean-Louis-) Ernest Meissonier
(c) The Wallace Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Isaiah pointed out that we have transformed religion into something that is largely cultural and not grounded in any deep spiritual connection with God. It is based upon human social constructs that have lead us astray.

In other words, with our rock star prophets we think that talking about their talks is actually walking the walk!  It’s always been that way with us.

Observing a different aspect of the same general phenomenon, the prophet Ezekiel elaborated on the cognitive dissonance that has always characterized cultural Israel and that so aptly describes the predominant “Mormon” culture and Mormon Consciousness in the church today. God told Ezekiel that prophets, by definition, are ones who are “followed” largely in hearing and adored by a people who confer rock star-like status upon their beloved cultural icons and then behave like stubbornly selfish asses:

“As for you, son of man, your people are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord.’ My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice. When all this comes true—and it surely will—then they will know that a prophet has been among them.”

(Ezekiel 33:30-33 – NIV.)

In other words, with our rock star prophets we think that talking about their talks is actually walking the walk!  It’s always been that way with us!

Ezekiel by Michelangelo

Indeed, for most of our history, both ancient and modern, we Israelites have struggled to transcend a cultural consciousness that really amounts to no more than ritualistic tribalism, a collective consciousness grounded in a shared story, shared traditions, shared icons, and shared rituals that, as a culturally-perceived whole, more closely resembles patriotism than any deep and abiding spirituality grounded in love and internal transformation. Our people are prone to confuse the means with the ends (Mark 2:27), conflate the message and the messengers, look beyond the mark (Jacob 4:14) and see loyalty to cultural ideals and icons (like Joseph Smith) as being synonymous with righteousness and genuine spirituality. (See John 9:28-30.)

What Jesus said of the Pharisees could be rightly said of us:

“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life…. but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts.”

(John 5:39-42 – NIV.) We, like the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan, think scripture study, temple attendance and church attendance IS righteousness when Jesus so very clearly taught an alternative consciousness. (See Matthew 25:35-37; James 1:27.)

The Good Samaritan by Pelegrin Clavé y Roqué

But just when the predominant consciousness believes (in their dualistic, binary, us-against-the-world way) that through scripture study, prayer, fasting, and temple attendance “all is well” in the familiar and comfortable cultural church they have created for themselves, (2 Nephi 28:21), God sends an annoyer and disturber like Jesus to disrupt the status quo and challenge the predominant consciousness.

In our day, it seems that none other than President Russell M. Nelson and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are playing this role, telling us, among other things, that it’s time for a “better way” … to be more “mature” and live the “true, pure, and simple gospel of Jesus Christ,” (President M. Russell Ballard, “The True, Pure, and Simple Gospel of Jesus Christ” (April 2019)) which is grounded and centered in loving kindness. They are urging us to see loving kindness and compassion as our purpose. ( Elder Quentin L. Cook, “Great Love for Our Father’s Children” (April 2019) (“Love of the Savior and love of our fellow men and women is the primary attribute and motive for ministering and the spiritual purposes we were charged to undertake by our beloved prophet, President Russell M. Nelson, in the adjustments announced in 2018.”).)

The Mormon Consciousness is so immaturely focused on the church instead of the gospel we continue to be like the toddler who plays with the box and packaging instead of the gift inside of it!

They are saying we need to put away our immature traditions and get on with real gospel living. Not only is President Nelson urging us to jettison the name “Mormon” he is also slimming down the church infrastructure, loosening its reigns, and urging us to adopt a more mature consciousness grounded and centered in love, not structure and method. As my wife has wisely pointed out to me, the name change, alone, is bigger than you think. It represents an emerging shift in the predominant consciousness of the church designed to disrupt the predominant Mormon Consciousness.

Despite these recent efforts, the predominant subculture—what I have called the “Mormon” culture or the “Mormon Consciousness”—remains as defensive and intransigent as ever.  The outside-in, structure-based Mormon Consciousness is so entrenched, in fact, our leaders “worry that the spiritual purposes of these adjustments might become lost in the excitement about the changes themselves.” The Mormon Consciousness is so immaturely focused on the church instead of the gospel we continue to be like the toddler who plays with the box and packaging instead of the gift inside of it!

What you have experienced in the church is not necessarily the Lord’s way but its cultural counterfeit.

But the emerging subculture is changing the established order. This emerging subculture within the church is what I would call the “Christian” culture or the “Christian Consciousness,” and this subculture is putting ever-increasing pressure on the Mormon Consciousness. If you consider a “church” to be a collectivity of consciousnesses then you could say we have several churches within the church. We now have “Mormons” and “Christians” within the same church!

I see President Nelson leading the push towards the emerging Christian Consciousness. While, candidly, I remain skeptical about whether the Mormons within the church can rise above the patriotic-tribalism that has always plagued its culture (dating back to even before our perennial Pharisee phase), I think the leadership of President Nelson should give hope to many who struggle to thrive within the predominant Mormon Consciousness. What are the implications of these changes?

For one, you can take comfort knowing that what you have experienced in the church is not necessarily the Lord’s way but its cultural counterfeit.  You are not alone, nor are your misgivings and concerns about the Pharisaical Mormon Consciousness a figment of your imagination.

It means you should have courage to speak up, using the words of the prophets and apostles to influence discussions in Sunday school, Relief Society and priesthood meetings, which are prone to be driven by the predominant Mormon Consciousness that President Nelson and his cohorts are trying to alter. It means you should have courage to try thinking and acting in new ways that are not grounded in tradition. Be unconventional. Be nontraditional.

Have courage to reject the traditions of your fathers (Helaman 15:7), which, by the way, include a very unhealthy Lamanitesque persecution complex. (Compare Mosiah 10:12). Bear your testimony differently. Don’t just ape the standard homage to the church being “true” (whatever that means) and your adoration of Joseph Smith. Keep it centered and grounded on the true gospel, as President Ballard has urged.

Have courage to interpret the scriptures differently than the traditional Mormon Consciousness does. When the Mormon Consciousness in your neighborhood or ward engages in leader worship, which is a Pharisee-prone acute departure from our love-centered purpose (Matthew 23:6-12) have courage to point it out. It pollutes the environment.  We don’t need to inhale that air.

Pray differently—don’t give the showy Mormon prayer/talk that feels compelled to adulation of all the traditional sacred Mormon relics and icons. Keep your prayers short, simple and love-focused (Matthew 23:14). Let go of the belief that rituals and rules work like magic spells that make you righteous just for observing them. (Luke 18:10-14.) Rule keeping is not righteousness. (Matthew 19:16-22.)

To love as we have been encouraged to love means we need to open up our closed systems, our closed theologies, our closed minds. Line-drawing like “member” and “nonmember” “active” and “inactive” has to stop.

We need to let go of piousness and our acute focus on rote routines and rituals. You can’t embrace another when your arms are folded and your head is bowed.

Since the Mormon Consciousness is the predominant cultural consciousness in the church right now—especially in certain parts of Utah—it is very difficult for those embracing the Christian Consciousness to survive. The Mormon Consciousness and Christian Consciousness tend to see things so differently that going to church can be full of triggers and very painful for the latter. And, because they are so much like their Pharisee forbears, the Mormon Consciousness is not above actively persecuting those who see and think differently than they do in the name of defending what they perceive to be doctrine, protecting the church or expressing their distorted perception of love. (See John 10:31-33; Luke 4:29.)

Because of this, I know many very good people who are leaving the church because they feel that there is no room for them or their ideas. But please don’t give up!  Things are changing. We need you. We need your voice! We need you to stay strong, stay in, and be part of the change. Love is worth fighting for.

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

63 thoughts on ““Mormon” is the new “Pharisee.” Don’t believe me? Just ask the Brethren

  1. Thank you for this article. You articulated what I have been feeling for the last 30+ years. I’m exhausted from the internal battle, but I find peace in knowing that I am not alone. I believe that the “changes” that we are so excited about/scared of, are what we need and are only the beginning. It’s no accident that we are “studying” the New Testament at this time. Religion (in my opinion) should be a framework to assist us to worship our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. The temple helps me in this quest. “Church” does not. Again, thank you.

  2. I suspect you may be giving the brethren too much credit when suggesting that they speak for God. While they do say some good things from time to time (they speak so much that they would naturally get something right once in awhile), most of current Mormon culture started with the words of these brethren at one time or another. As an example, consider the things taught by the leaders of the church regarding personal appearance (tattoos, piercings, hair, clothes, etc.). I don’t believe God really cares about such things, yet through their teachings, prophets have created another way to class people within the church as not fully obedient.

  3. Dan, this is so perfect. For the first time in three years since my faith crisis and trial, you may have given me a visual corner that I can potential turn. Keep writing, please. I, personally, need your voice, but so does this church. Love to you.

  4. Dan, I needed to hear this so badly today. Thank you. Somehow I missed it when you first wrote it. Jeff and I were having a church culture discussion this weekend. I told him that we probably needed to talk to you again to help us through some of our feelings. Then I come across what you wrote today. You addressed everything that I needed to hear. Like Dana commented above, please continue to keep writing. I need to hear your voice. It helps me sort through the dissonance that we see.

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