During this conference and in other recent meetings,1 many of us have wondered, what can I do to help build up the Lord’s Church and see real growth where I live?
In this and every other important endeavor, our most important work is always within our own home and family.2 It is within families that the Church is established and real growth occurs.3 We are to teach our children the principles and doctrines of the gospel. We need to help them have faith in Jesus Christ and prepare them for baptism when they are eight years old.4 We must be faithful ourselves so that they can see our example of love for the Lord and His Church. This helps our children feel joy in keeping the commandments, happiness in families, and gratitude in service to others. Within our homes we should follow the pattern given by Nephi when he said:
“We labor diligently … to persuade our children … to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God. …
“… We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.”5
We labor diligently to bring these blessings to our children by attending church with them, holding family home evening, and reading the scriptures together. We pray daily with our family, accept callings, visit the sick and the lonely, and do other things that let our children know that we love them and that we love our Heavenly Father, His Son, and Their Church.
We talk and prophesy of Christ as we give a family home evening lesson or sit with a child and tell of our love for him or her and of our testimony of the restored gospel.
We can write of Christ by writing letters to those who are away. Missionaries serving, sons or daughters in the military, and those we love are all blessed by letters we write. Letters from home are not just quick e-mails. Real letters provide something tangible that can be held, thought about, and cherished.
We help our children rely on the Savior’s Atonement and know the forgiveness of a loving Heavenly Father by showing love and forgiveness in our own parenting. Our love and forgiveness not only draw our children closer to us but also build their faith in knowing that Heavenly Father loves them and that He will forgive them as they strive to repent and do better and be better. They trust this truth because they have experienced the same from their earthly parents.
In addition to the work we will do within our own family, Nephi taught that “we labor diligently to … persuade our … brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God.”6 As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, every one of us has the blessing and responsibility of sharing the gospel. Some of those who need the gospel in their lives are not yet members of the Church. Some were once among us but need to feel again the joy they felt when they embraced the gospel at an earlier time in their lives. The Lord loves both the person who has never had the gospel and the person who is returning to Him.7 To Him and to us, it doesn’t matter. It is all one work. It is the worth of souls, whatever their condition, that is great to our Heavenly Father, His Son, and to us.8 The work of our Heavenly Father and His Son is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life”9 of all His children, regardless of their current circumstances. Our blessing is to help in this great work.
President Thomas S. Monson explained how we can help when he said: “Our missionary experiences have to be current. It is not enough to sit back and ponder former experiences. To be fulfilled, you have to continue to naturally and normally share the gospel.”10
The work of naturally and normally sharing the gospel with those we care about and love will be the work and joy of our lives. Let me tell you about two such experiences.
Dave Orchard grew up in Salt Lake City, where most of his friends were members of the Church. They were a great influence on him. In addition, Church leaders in his neighborhood constantly invited him to activities. His friends did the same. Even though he didn’t join the Church at that time, his growing-up years were blessed by the influence of good LDS friends and Church-sponsored activities. After he entered college, he moved away from his home, and most of his friends left on missions. He missed their influence in his life.
One of Dave’s high school friends was still home. This friend was meeting every week with his bishop in an effort to put his life in order and be able to serve as a missionary. He and Dave became roommates, and as would be both natural and normal, they talked about why he wasn’t then serving as a missionary and why he was meeting frequently with the bishop. The friend expressed his gratitude and respect for his bishop and the opportunity to repent and serve. He then asked Dave whether he would like to come to the next interview. What an invitation! But in the context of their friendship and circumstances, it was both natural and normal.
Dave agreed and was soon meeting with the bishop himself. This led to Dave’s decision to meet with the missionaries. He received a testimony that the gospel is true, and a date for his baptism was set. Dave was baptized by his bishop, and a year later, Dave Orchard and Katherine Evans were married in the temple. They have five beautiful children. Katherine is my little sister. I will be forever grateful to this good friend who, together with a good bishop, brought Dave into the Church.
As Dave spoke of his conversion and bore his testimony regarding these events, he asked the question, “So, was it worth it? Was all the effort of friends and youth leaders and my bishop, over all the years, worth the effort to have just one boy be baptized?” Pointing to Katherine and his five children, he said, “Well, at least for my wife and our five children, the answer is yes.”
Whenever the gospel is shared, it is never “just one boy.” Whenever conversion happens or someone returns to the Lord, it is a family that is saved. As Dave and Katherine’s children have grown, they have all embraced the gospel. One daughter and two sons have served as missionaries, and one just received his call to serve in the Alpine German-Speaking Mission. The two oldest have married in the temple, and the youngest is now in high school, faithful in every way. Was it worth it? Oh yes, it was worth it.
Sister Eileen Waite attended the same stake conference where Dave Orchard told of his conversion experience. Throughout the conference, all she could think of was her own family and particularly her sister, Michelle, who had long been away from the Church. Michelle was divorced and trying to raise four children. Eileen felt impressed to send her a copy of Elder M. Russell Ballard’s book Our Search for Happiness, together with her testimony, which she did. The very next week a friend told Eileen that she too had felt that she should contact Michelle. This friend also wrote Michelle a note, sharing her testimony and expressing her love. Isn’t it interesting how often the Spirit works on several people to help one in need?
Time passed. Michelle called Eileen and thanked her for the book. She said that she was beginning to recognize the spiritual void in her life. Eileen told her that she knew that the peace she was seeking could be found in the gospel. She told her that she loved her and wanted her to be happy. Michelle began to make changes in her life. Soon she met a wonderful man who was active in the Church. They married and a year later were sealed in the Ogden Utah Temple. Recently her 24-year-old son was baptized.
To the others in Michelle’s family and all others who do not yet know that this Church is true, I invite you to prayerfully consider whether the Church is true. Allow your family and friends and missionaries to help. When you know that it is true, and it is, come join with us by taking the same step in your life.
The end of this story has not yet been written, but blessings have been given to this wonderful woman and her family as those who love her acted on a prompting and in a natural and normal way shared their testimony and invited her to come back.
I have thought a lot about these two experiences. One young man who was working to put his own life in order helped another young man who was seeking the truth. One woman shared her testimony and her faith with her sister who had been away from the Church for 20 years. If we will pray and ask Heavenly Father who we can help and promise to act on the promptings He gives us letting us know how we can help, He will answer our prayers and we will become instruments in His hands to do His work. Acting in love upon the promptings given by the Spirit becomes the catalyst.11
As you have listened to these experiences of naturally and normally sharing the gospel with those you care about, many of you have had the same experience that Eileen Waite had. You have thought of someone to whom you should reach out and either invite to come back or share with him or her your feelings about the gospel of Jesus Christ. My invitation is to act, without delay, on that prompting. Talk to your friend or family member. Do it in a natural and normal way. Let them know of your love for them and for the Lord. Missionaries can help. My counsel is the same that President Monson has given so many times from this very pulpit: “Never delay a prompting.”12 As you act on the prompting and do it with love, watch as our Heavenly Father uses your willingness to act to bring about a miracle in your life and in the life of the person you care about.13
My dear brothers and sisters, we can build up His Church and see real growth as we work to bring the blessings of the gospel to our family and to those we love. This is the work of our Heavenly Father and His Son. I know that They live and that They answer prayers. As we act on those promptings, having faith in Their ability to bring about a miracle, miracles will occur and lives will change. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
The Best Conference Talk You Never Read
One of the little ironies in modern church history was that In The Year of Our Lord Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Four, someone in the church hierarchy pulled a stunt right out of George Orwell's totalitarian novel 1984.
It was in October conference of that year that Elder Ronald E. Poelman of the First Quorum of the Seventy delivered an address that was hailed by many members as one of the best conference talks they had ever heard.
But the following month when those members picked up the conference issue of The Ensign magazine to read the text of the speech, they were baffled to find that the words on paper bore little resemblance to the televised talk they thought they remembered hearing the month before. What's more, anyone seeking the video record of Elder Poelman's talk would find that Poelman's segment had been pulled from the official Church archives and replaced with a counterfeit.
Thus one of the most interesting -and some would say most important- conference talks of the latter half of the twentieth century simply disappeared down the memory hole.
You'll remember that George Orwell first coined the term the memory hole in his novel 1984 to describe what became of information deemed unworthy by The Powers That Be. Whenever a particular truth interfered with the reality put forth by Big Brother, a new version of "truth” was created to replace it. The old evidence was dropped into a slot leading to a series of pneumatic tubes, “whereupon it would be whirled away on a current of warm air to the enormous furnaces which were hidden somewhere in the recesses of the building.”
What had once been common history gradually faded from the collective memory. Eventually it was forgotten altogether.
Something similar occurred with Elder Poelman's conference talk. Someone or some committee -we still don't really know who- consigned the original record to outer darkness and replaced it with some type of evil twin.
Video Cassette Recorders in the early 1980's could cost anywhere from 600 to 1300 dollars, and by 1984 fewer than ten percent of American households owned one. The number of Mormon households with VCRs at that time would have been minuscule. So unless you were one of those privileged few and you happened to use your machine to record general conference, you were not likely to ever see that conference talk again.
So What Was The Big Deal?
There was nothing unusual or radical about the talk itself, although Poelman did introduce some concepts that had not been openly discussed in the church for a while. The address contained pearls of pure Mormonism; treasures of truth that could just as well have come from the lips of the prophet Joseph Smith during a conference at Nauvoo. Church members old enough to remember how things were in the 1950's said that listening to Poelman's talk took them wistfully back to the days of President David O. McKay.
Elder Poelman began his talk by reminding the congregation that there is an important difference between the gospel and the Church. "There is a distinction between them which is significant", he said, "and it is very important that this distinction be understood."
Poelman cautioned that failure to distinguish between the two, and to comprehend their proper relationship, could lead to "confusion and misplaced priorities".
The gospel, he explained, is the substance of the divine plan for personal, individual salvation and exaltation. The Church, on the other hand, is the delivery system that provides the means and resources to implement that plan.
As Elder Poelman explained it, the gospel of Jesus Christ is eternal and unchanging. The Church of Jesus Christ is not. “Policies, programs, and procedures do change from time to time as necessary to fulfill gospel purposes.”
“When we understand the difference between the gospel and the church and the appropriate function of each in our lives, we are much more likely to do the right things for the right reasons.”
Elder Poelman admonished the congregation to remain mindful that every church member has not only the right, but also the obligation to exercise his free agency and receive a personal witness not only of gospel principles, but also of Church practices. “In response to study, prayer and by the influence of the Holy Spirit we may seek and obtain an individual, personal witness that the principle or counsel is correct and divinely inspired.”
Makes perfect sense, right?
Well, not to everybody.
Someone sitting on the stand that day was apparently not too keen on the idea of the common folk thinking about questioning Church practices.
But what really seems to have set off alarm bells among the The Brethren was this bombshell: According to Elder Poelman, the ultimate goal of each of us should be to eventually get to that point in our spiritual and intellectual growth where we will no longer need the institutional Church in our lives. Here is how Elder Poelman put it:
“As individually and collectively we increase our knowledge, acceptance, and application of gospel principles, we become less dependent on Church programs. Our lives become gospel centered.”
Whoaaa, Nelly! Hold the phone and stop the presses!
Members of the church not needing the church? Who is this guy?!
If you had been one of the pontifical poobahs sitting on the stand that day overlooking the crowd below, I suppose I can understand how you might have thought Poelman's words bordered on heresy. You may have come to believe during your lengthy career of service in the church that you and your vatic brethren had the sacred responsibility of protecting the testimonies of those beneath you. People do make unwise decisions for themselves, after all. They do not always choose the right. Many members are new to the fold and should be fed milk before they are exposed to the meat of the gospel. They need looking after. They need supervision. They need to be taught to obey.
To most of us listening, Elder Poelman's reminder was consistent with what we had been taught all our lives growing up. Didn't Brother Joseph preach similar distinctions? Are we not on our individual paths to perfection? At some point in our progress shouldn't we expect to no longer require someone holding our hand?
Sadly, there have always been those in positions of authority who are suspicious of unsupervised freedom and see it as a dangerous thing. And so it was that within days of the close of general conference, when the tabernacle was pretty much empty except for a cameraman and a teleprompter, Elder Ronald E. Poelman of the Quorum of the Seventy was secretly escorted back to the podium and instructed to deliver his talk a second time. Only this time it wasn't the same talk. The text had been fundamentally altered to make it more palatable to the corporate Church.
Afterward, an audio "cough track" was added into the background to give the impression that Elder Poelman was speaking live before a full auditorium. This reworked video was then spliced into the existing conference record where it replaced the original, then it was filed with the Church archives. Copies were dubbed into foreign languages and sent to missions abroad. This new version was now the official truth.
Meanwhile the original, true, and accurate video record of Elder Poelman's conference address simply disappeared.
Vanished down the memory hole.
Except not quite.
Rise Of The Machines
As it turns out, there actually were a handful of church members here and there who owned some of those expensive video cassette recorders, and some of them had used their machines to record general conference. The disparity between the words spoken by Elder Poelman on their video tapes and the redacted text in the Ensign were glaringly obvious. They didn't match up at all.
Sensing an awkward controversy developing, Church spokesmen trotted out a statement to the effect that Elder Poelman had decided, on his own, to revise his address for purposes of clarity.
But few were buying it. Those who read the bowdlerized do-over in The Ensign could tell that it didn't clarify a darn thing. This re-edit of the talk entitled The Gospel And The Church was a rambling muddle of platitudes. Elder Poelman seemed to be saying the exact opposite in the text from what he had asserted from the pulpit.
L. Jackson Newell described it like this: "The text was not edited -his ideas were turned inside out.”
Indeed. Poelman's conference address, originally a rare and inspiring defense of free agency became "yet another cry for obedience.”
In recent years there has been a subtle shift in the way some in the Church hierarchy have come to view their relationship to the rank and file membership. The once pre-eminent doctrine of free agency has been, shall we say, “de-emphasized” in LDS teachings for almost four decades now. Joseph Smith's view that his role was to “teach the people correct principles and let them govern themselves” has been supplanted by the relatively new dogma that asserts obedience as the first law of the church. It goes without saying that we ought to render obedience to God. But more often than not these days what is expected is obedience to Church authority.
From "The Gospel And The Church" To "The Gospel IS The Church"
So it was that the entire meaning of Elder Poelman's inspired dissertation was palpably inverted. For example, in his original address, Elder Poelman declared that “it is not enough that we obey the commandments and counsel of Church leaders.”
That line was changed to “We should obey the commandments and counsel of Church leaders.”
Poelman's statement that “the orthodoxy upon which we insist must be founded in fundamental principles and eternal law, including free agency and the divine uniqueness of the individual,” became this:
“The orthodoxy upon which we insist must be founded in fundamental principles, eternal law, and direction given by those authorized in the Church.”
Every reference to free agency in the original was deleted except one, and that had been altered to imply that free agency is only effective under Church aegis.
The new version completely eradicates any distinctions between the church and the gospel. One would get the impression from Elder Poelman's new talk that the church and the gospel are one and the same. In the redacted version, allegiance to the corporation had become no less important than adherence to the gospel.
Happily, someone has now posted both the original and the revised texts of Elder Poelman's talk online, and you can read them side by side if you click here. All the changes, deletions, and alterations have been highlighted, so you can determine for yourself which version you feel was actually inspired from on high.
Also, thanks to someone on YouTube, the original address before the congregation in the tabernacle is finally available for viewing here and here. If you want to see the censored version, contact Church headquarters and ask to see the original talk. You'll be directed to the fake one.
The Cheese Man Cometh
How's this for a metaphor:
As I've sat at my desk this morning writing the words above, I've also been excitedly awaiting the arrival of a special visitor. His name is John, and he's my local UPS driver. I'm looking forward to John's visit because today he is scheduled to deliver me a case of cheese. Real cheddar cheese packed in tin cans.
Two weeks ago I didn't even know canned cheese existed, and if the reports are true, this variety of cheddar cheese is going to suit me just fine. People say it's firm and delicious like regular cheddar, and just like deli cheese it can be shredded, sliced, and melted. Best of all it can be stored almost indefinitely. I ordered this cheese because I love, love, love cheese; I eat it every day. If the day arrives when fresh cheese is hard to come by, I'll now have something other than a No.10 can of dehydrated cheese powder on hand. I'll be able to retreat to my precious stash of cheddar 'neath the stairs, thanks in part to the noble efforts of John the UPS guy. I can't wait until he gets here.
Now, it should be obvious that it's not really John that I'm excited about seeing today; what I'm all a-dither about is what he's bringing with him. When John arrives I'll answer the door and sign his electronic gizmo, he'll hand over the box, then he'll leave. He will be entitled to, and he will receive, my effusive thanks.
Every couple of months or so John brings me something. Sometimes it's food. More often he brings me books that teach me things I didn't know or hadn't thought about before. So I suppose you could say that in some small way I am indebted to John for my spiritual and intellectual edification. I like John. John and his wonder truck are part of an impressive system that delivers sustenance to me. But neither John, nor his truck, nor that system is the actual sustenance.
You would certainly think it odd if I were to fawn all over John and his delivery truck to the point of forgetting all about any package he's trying to hand me. Likewise I would think John a bit screwy if he were to hint that I should accept deliveries from no other source but him, or that I obey his pronouncements and follow his counsel because he is so adept at getting stuff to me. I greatly appreciate the role John plays in my life. But I keep that role in perspective.
So here's my point. As Poelman taught, the Church as an institution has a divine function. It provides resources and materials that edify us and enrich our lives. The intrinsic purpose of the Book of Mormon is to bring people to Christ, so by publishing and distributing that book, the Church is providing an incalculable service. The Church also manages a way for us to gather together as a community of fellow believers. Perhaps most importantly, the Church disseminates the word of God and boldly proclaims the gospel of the restoration.
The Church provides us with spiritual sustenance. But the Church is not the sustenance. The Church is merely the vehicle that delivers the sustenance. As Elder Poelman insisted, it is very important that this distinction be understood.
How often do we hear our fellow saints extol the virtues of The Brethren and remark upon what a blessing they are in our lives? It's been my experience that few of these adulators exhibit the same high level of passion for Christ and His gospel. They seem to have a crush on the delivery man.
I have remarked elsewhere on the curious practice a lot of members have of bearing testimony of the delivery system while virtually ignoring the plain and precious goods being delivered by that system. Or even forgetting to mention the name of He who is the source of all those goods.
The people of George Orwell's futuristic dystopia had come to believe that they existed to serve their leaders, rather than the other way around. They were not concerned that knowledge was being kept from them; their daily mantra included the slogan, "Ignorance is Strength". Some of these people would have been right at home with those among us who insist that "not everything that is true is useful".
All truth is useful to those seeking their way back to The Father. That is why we are taught that the very essence of eternal progression is to be ever increasing in knowledge. Ignorance is not strength, it is weakness. Ignorance is not power; Knowledge is power.
We Mormons are a peculiar people indeed. We join the Church because the Book of Mormon brings us to Christ. But once we are enveloped in the church we often allow our allegiance to be nudged ever so gently away from Christ and directed toward the institutions of men.
Update February 22, 2013:
At the time I wrote this piece, it was quite difficult to find a video of the do-over, though the text of both talks has been available for side-by-side comparison. Yes, it's odd, because the do-over is supposedly the "official" video. My guess is the news of its fakery has motivated the Church to keep it on the down low as best they could. But now eagle-eyed viewer BNI has located a video of the notorious fake that has been sitting on Youtube without my knowledge since June of 2012. When comparing it with the original, live version, you'll note that the background behind Elder Poelman is completely blacked out, while in the original, members of the Tab Choir can be seen behind him. Here is that re-do:
Update March 4th, 2015:
Again that do-over video seems to have disappeared from the link above, but fortunately eagle-eyed reader Dave Butte has located it on, of all places, the Church's very own official website. I had not been able to find it there when I first searched for it lo these many years ago, but for now it resides at this link: