Friday, August 1, 2014

We Shouldn't Stop Baptisms for Our Own Dead Ancestors, No Matter What They Believed

Baptism for the dead of other people's ancestors is a highly emotional issue, especially when those ancestors were part of a group that died rather than deny their religion.  This is true of Jews, and particularly Holocaust victims, but it also is true of other groups throughout history.

I have heard the following analogy more than once from those opposed to our vicarious temple ordinances:

Imagine if a Rabbi said that Joseph Smith Jr. had been initiated in the Jewish religion now that he was on the other side of death. And because of that his whole life, all the work he stood for and his death are now worthless from the viewpoint of Mormonism. How would the LDS membership feel about that?  

I agree that this concept and principle is highly offensive to people, just like the example of the Holocaust victims. I really do. At heart, it can't be seen as anything but arrogant by those who aren't part of the group performing the ordinances. I get that.

Now, the inevitable "however" . . .

1) I think most of it is a result of a fundamental misunderstanding of the difference between baptism in the LDS Church and baptism in other Christian denominations. In other churches, a baptism is a choice made prior to the baptism happening and a binding, saving ordinance all by itself - and, since there is no concept of a "preliminary baptism, subject to acceptance later", baptizing someone else is seen as a violation of choice. Thus, people see baptizing others who have died as a violation of choice when, in principle within Mormonism, it isn't such a violation.

2) If I were a non-member, and if something like this happened with someone I know and/or revere, and if I understood Mormon doctrine better than most people do, I would be FAR more upset about the confirmation than about the baptism. I could understand the general concept of baptism for the dead, but I would have a hard time understanding the idea that a church continues past death and that my ancestor had been confirmed as a member of a particular church in the next life. I'm a firmly believing member, and even I don't see it that way. I'm OK with the practice of temple confirmations (since I can view it all symbolically), but I absolutely can understand why others would be upset about it who have no viewpoint other than the literal.

3) Finally, if we exclude some people, where do we draw the line? Do we stop baptizing everyone whose kin or nationality might get upset about it? That would include just about everyone. If so, we might as well shut down the temples completely - and I absolutely don't want that happening. The concept and principle of universal opportunity for salvation and exaltation is one of my favorite aspects of Mormonism - and I really do love the embodiment of that in the vicarious ordinances for the dead. Do we only stop baptizing celebrities and famous people - those whose names are easily recognizable? That just doesn't sit well at all with me. I'd rather shut down the temples than say, "We'll baptize all individuals whose work won't cause a scene, but we'll skip all those famous people whose work might do so."

Honestly, I really am torn on this one a bit - since I don't want to gut one of my favorite aspects of Mormonism. In many ways, my choice would be to have the Church issue a press release laying out exactly why we perform temple ordinances (with a Biblical justification), that there is no aspect of coercion or lack of choice in the practice, that the ordinances are not seen as binding in any way for those involved and that we won't stop doing something we believe has been commanded by Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. I'd rather have a strong statement saying, essentially:

"This is a core element of our theology, and we won't back down from it." 

I also would reiterate to the membership that their first concern should be finding and doing the work for their own ancestors, not submitting names of people to whom they are not descended directly unless they can show that they have exhausted all possibility of furthering their own genealogical research.

I know that would not help our missionary work with some people, but I think it actually would with others - and I just see it as the right things to do, if we really do believe in the concept and principle of the work done in the temple (even if we see it as purely symbolic).

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Clannishness Is Natural, but We Must Avoid It

Any religious group that values purity and morality must deal with the problem of clannishness. However, clannishness can be largely avoided if the members of the group have a vigorous concern to share. There is a big difference between reaching out and shutting out—and Jesus steadily opposed every hint of the latter.


(Richard Lloyd Anderson, “Parables of Mercy,” Ensign, Feb 1987, p. 20)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Post about Sex and How We Tend to Deal with It in the LDS Church

I, like nearly all people, am a sexual person, but my view of sex and my view of my own married status channels the expression of my sexuality. I'm fortunate in my situation, being Mormon and marrying my high school sweetheart shortly after my mission (which was perfect for me), since it's much harder for single adult Mormons to have any outlet that is seen by the group as proper. I just don't accept some of the commonly accepted boundaries, meaning I define sexual sin quite differently in some cases than many members do. The point isn't exactly how I define specific things; it's that I define them in the way that makes the most sense to me, based on my own view but not compromising what I see as the spirit of the law in any way. I take responsibility for that view and the results - thus, becoming an "agent unto myself".

In saying that, I uphold the concept and principle of a Law of Chastity - absolutely. I just have my own view of it - one that makes sense to me and works in directing my sexuality and the expression of it.  It is influenced most dramatically by the definition presented in the temple endowment, but it also is influenced by the terrible damage I have seen done by the overly-strict, Victorian definitions I have observed throughout my life. 

Just to clarity a bit:

I believe it's not the sexual feelings in and of themselves that are "bad" or "evil" in any way (with some exceptions, of course). Rather, it's what we do with the feelings that can be bad, evil, good or holy.

I believe it's not technology itself that is bad or evil in any way (with no exceptions). Rather, it's what we do with the technology that can be bad, evil, good or holy. (and we can do lots of things with technology in this day and age to remain close to our loved ones that were unavailable to people only a few decades ago - like texting, voice and video communication, etc.)

I believe it's not sex or sexual activity in and of itself that is bad or evil in any way (with some exceptions, of course). Rather, it's what we do with sex and sexual activity that can be bad, evil, good or holy.

It's determining exactly what is bad, evil, good or holy that is the issue - and I tend to me more . . . expansive . . . in my view of what CAN be good and holy in some cases and situations and less . . . restrictive . . . in my view of what automatically IS bad or evil in all cases and situations.

Just as an example, without getting into any specifics, there are some things I believe one spouse can't do (for whatever reason) within a marriage and other things that that spouse could do but the other spouse can't do. They shouldn't do those things that either of them can't do - again, for whatever reason. However, there also are things one spouse might have no problem doing in a marriage that the other spouse "naturally" or instinctively wouldn't do (perhaps as a result of having been raised in a highly conservative household) - but, after discussing those things, they might come to agree about some of them and not about others. Therefore, what they actually do might change somewhat over the years - not because of any Absolute Truth belief about anything, really, but rather because they both agree that there's nothing bad or evil about those things in and of themselves and for them as a couple.

In a way, what I'm saying is that a couple can embrace part of the "natural (wo)man" feelings they have with regard to sexual activity - in such a way that they can transform those feelings into actions that are fine with both of them but which both of them feel would not be fine outside of marriage - and with which other people might not be fine even in their own marriages - and with which their own parents might not be fine. (I use "might not", because I can't be sure in the case of my own and my wife's parents - and don't want to know, frankly.)

I understand why people tend to take their own temptations and what works for them and extrapolate that to everyone. I understand why leaders tend to take what works for them and create rules that they firmly believe will work for everyone. I also understand that, in many cases, what works for some people and the rules they create actually do work for lots and lots and lots of people. I'm just saying that I personally believe in trying to understand myself and my wife and what works for us.

I believe the concept and principle of the Atonement covers any natural guilt, restraint, "sin", punishment or limitation that might exist without it and frees me to just work on understanding myself (and others) - and progressing and "being" the best "I am" possible for me. It allows me to shed the Victorian attitudes all around me without rushing pell-mell into the hedonistic attitudes all around me - to try to create a proper balance in my life. It allows me to chill out a bit and just focus on me - and not try to force others to see and act exactly like I see and act, even with regard to sexual matters (with some exceptions at the extremes, of course).

Again, I support fully the concept of a Law of Chastity and believe there are certain non-negotiable, universal prohibitions that ought to exist within such a law (such as the creation and dissemination of hard-core pornography, mostly for the abominable abuses and messages that are inherent in its production - an aspect about which I believe we talk far too little in the Church) - but I believe we have built too many hedges about the Law of Chastity and, in some cases, are in danger of losing sight of the pure law itself or altering it so significantly that it ceases to be the powerful force for good that it would be otherwise. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

It Is Better to Swear Like a Drunken Sailor than to Be a Hypocrite

There was one good man, Jesus. Many think a prophet must be a great deal better than any body else... I love that man better who swears a stream as long as my arm and [is attentive to] administering to the poor and dividing his substance, than the long smoothed faced hypocrites. 
I don’t want you to think I am very righteous, for I am not very righteous. God judgeth men according to the light he gives them.

(Joseph Smith, Sermon Delivered on 21 May 1843) 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Analyzing Scripture: Joseph Smith History 1:19 - "They Were All Wrong"

[NOTE: This post is longer than normal, since I am commenting on multiple phrases and words throughout the verse in question. Please pardon the length; I couldn't shorten it any more than I did - except to delete this disclaimer.]

Perhaps the most reviled verse among non-Mormon Christians in the entire Mormon scriptural canon is Joseph Smith History 1:19 – the words of Jesus to Joseph Smith at the beginning of the First Vision regarding why he should not join any church. This single verse encapsulates the reason why many call Mormonism arrogant and offensive and blind – and the misinterpretations of this verse by Mormons themselves only add fuel to this fire. So, in this post I am breaking out my parser’s pen and dissecting what Jesus actually said and did not say: word-by-word, sentence-by-sentence, concept-by-concept. It was a fascinating endeavor when I first undertook it, and it changed my perspective on The Restoration greatly.

First, the actual question Joesph asked (in verse 18) is:
I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right . . . and which I should join.

The entire passage (in verse 19) says:
I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.

Now, let’s break this down concept-by-concept and focus on the key words in each concept, focusing on what the words themselves actually mean AT THEIR MOST BASIC LEVEL – rather than secondary definitions and other interpretations that have been postulated (both within and without the LDS Church):

“I was answered that I (Joseph) must join none of them,”

Joseph prayed explicitly about the Protestant sects of his area and which one HE should join. Perhaps this appears to be a minor point, but I believe it is important to put the prayer in context. Joseph was working from the core assumption that he should join a Protestant sect, and, looking back, it is clear from a faithful Mormon perspective that Joseph had a specific mission to perform in mortality within Christianity. Other religions weren’t a part of the equation, at all – and neither was Catholicism, according to his own writings. I wonder what response a Buddhist or Hindu or Muslim would get with that exact same prayer – or if others might have specific missions to perform in mortality and receive different answers that will help them fulfill those missions, perhaps like Mother Teresa performing a wonderful work among the poor of Calcutta that would have been impossible as a Mormon. I don’t know, but parsing the text leads to interesting questions like these.

“for they were all wrong;”

At its most basic level, “wrong” simply means not right” / “not correct” – or “out of order; awry; amiss. Also, like with school tests, it often applies to answers that contain one or more elements that are not correct – even when most elements are correct. Thus “wrong” can mean 100% wrong or 1% wrong – or everything between those extremes. What “wrong” DOES NOT mean is “bad, evil, terrible, worthy of scorn, useless, etc.

“and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds

A “creed” is “an authoritative, formulated statement of the chief articles of Christian belief.” The most common creeds referenced by those discussing this verse are the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed, but these creeds essentially were the Catholic Creeds of the early centuries. The Athanasian Creed had a strong impact on much of the Protestant theology that existed in Joseph Smith’s time, but there were other “Protestant creeds” (like the Westminster Confession of Faith) that rarely are considered in the context of this verse – and those Protestant creeds are every bit as relevant as the early Catholic Creeds. (I believe, more so) [The closest thing in Mormonism to "creeds" are The Articles of Faith.] What “creeds” DOES NOT mean is “general teachings, statements, beliefs, general principles, etc.This means that much of what actually is taught in other sects is not addressed in this verse, only “their creeds”.

“were an abomination in his sight

Abomination means “anything greatly disliked, abhorred or loathed”. It is this word that is most “abominable, abhorred or loathed” by other Christians. However, when focused on the “creeds” [particularly in statements like the Westminster Confession], it is much easier to understand. Just a few examples are: hardcore Calvinist pre-destination that eliminates agency in all practical ways, the complete elimination of the Father as a separate being from Jesus, the incorporeal nature of God that led to a real and harmful loathing of the body and all things physical, the loss of all concept of eternal progression and exaltation, etc. There are more examples of creeds that truly would be abominable when viewed by Jesus ["in his sight"]. What this DOES NOT say is that everything taught by the other sects was an abomination. It leaves the door wide open for truth and beauty and goodness to be taught.

[Just as an aside, I find it fascinating to watch mainstream Protestantism move inexorably away from many of these creeds that were so strongly taught in Joseph's day toward what is taught in Mormonism - and the natural tendency of some Mormons to want creedal certainty.]

“that THOSE professors” 

 “Professors” means “those who profess” – nothing more and nothing less. “Profess” means “claim, allege, purport, avow” – and there is a strong association with making claims as part of a “profession” from a position of authority. The critical distinction in this verse, however, is that “professors” is tied directly to the “creeds” – NOT even implicitly to other teachings that are not creedal. What this means is that “those professors” DOES NOT mean ALLministers, preachers, pastors, priests, members, believers, etc.” Rather, it means anyone who “professes those creeds” – who teaches the creeds from a position of authority – who teaches things that are abominations in Jesus’ sight – who teaches them as “creeds” [as unalterable, immutable, unquestionable]. It places as much weight on the intractability of the profession as it does on what is being professed – meaning it focuses on those who are closed to continuing revelation and stuck on abominable creeds of the past.

[In a very real way, but not exactly analogous due to not being "creeds", it is like those who continue to espouse views from past Mormon leaders that have been abandoned or refuted by current leaders - like the justifications for the Priesthood ban that were repudiated by Elder McConkie shortly after the 1978 revelation lifting the ban or the continued practice of polygamy in the 21st Century.]

“were all corrupt;”

At its most basic level, corrupt simply means “tainted; not pure”. If someone professes abominable creeds, those creeds inevitably will taint those who profess them. To me, this is perhaps the most logical assertion of all the statements in this verse. What this DOES NOT say is that these people are “evil, bad, insincere, conniving, manipulative, worthy of scorn, etc.” It actually says nothing about their motivation or desires; it only addresses the inherent stain of abominable creeds.

“that:” 

The following statements are the only ones that are attributed as a quote directly to Jesus – rather than Joseph’s summary in the first part of the verse.

they draw near to me with their lips,” 

“They” refers back to the “professors of the creeds”, who speak of Jesus. There is no other implication and no insult, condemnation or criticism inherent in this phrase.

“but their hearts are far from me,” 

This is a painful statement for many, but “heart” in this case does not mean the actual physical organ – and it does not have to mean “intent or desire”. The “heart” in this context is defined as the “vital or essential part” of something – what lies at the very core. In other words, the “essential part” of the “professors of the creeds” is far from Jesus. For example, the essential parts of the creeds melds Jesus into the Father, prays to Jesus (instead of to the Father in the name of the Son), refuses to accept His oft-repeated request to show their love through their acceptance of His commandments (“by their fruits”) and rejects individual agency and will by preaching predestination, etc. In summary, they use and preach his name but don’t promulgate his teachings. What this DOES NOT say is that ALL Christians fit this description. It is pointed ONLY at those who profess the creeds, and it is pointed only at their “hearts” [what they believe deep down as bedrock doctrine], not their lips [much of what they say and teach].

they teach for doctrines the commandments of men,”

This phrase equates those who profess the creeds with those who substitute human commands for doctrine. It DOES NOT apply to regular members of other sects, at all – OR to ministers, preachers, pastors or priests who teach doctrine from the scriptures themselves and don’t preach the creeds.

“having a form of godliness,”

“Form” means “structure, appearance, shape, etc.” Thus, those who profess the creeds teach something that is shaped like and appears to be godly.

“but they deny the power thereof.”

This is the clinching argument against the creeds – that they reject the power of godliness. That phrase alone deserves its own post, but suffice it to say here that the creed professors are not accused of denying Jesus; rather, they are accused of denying His power – what He, through his Atonement, is capable of doing. They are accused of claiming that He can’t do what He has said He will do, which is the most basic abomination of all.


In summary, JSH 1:19 is a direct attack on the creeds of Joseph’s day (more so the newer Protestant ones than the older Catholic ones), defining the primary reason why he was told not to join any of them as being their profession of those creeds. The only people who are mentioned directly in any way are those who profess those creeds, and even these people are only described in terms of their acceptance of those creeds by which they are tainted. It says absolutely nothing about anyone or anything else, and it says nothing about the salvation of even the professors whose creeds it condemns.

At the most basic level, this verse has one message and only one message:

“The Protestant CREEDS are an abomination, and they taint all those who profess them.”

That certainly is harsh to those who profess the creeds, but it also says much, much, less than too many Mormons (and others) assume.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Guest Participation in Mormon Sunday School Podcast: The Influence of Wicked and Righteous Leaders

I participated last week in Jared Anderson's Mormon Sunday School podcast based on Lesson 27 (1 Kings 12; 13; 14; 2 Chronicles 10:7; 17; 20).  The lesson theme was "The influence of wicked and righteous leaders," and the discussion in Sections 2 and 3 focused on leadership in the LDS Church.  My participation starts at the second section - around 29:30 to the end

I normally don't post on Sundays, but I want to share the podcast and ask everyone who reads my blog to let me know what they thought.  

The Influence of Wicked and Righteous Leaders

(The audio link is at the bottom of the summary text, directly below the "resources" section.)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

My Sunday School Lesson Recap: Sacrament Covenant - Repentance; A Deeper, Fresh View

Yesterday, we focused on the lesson outline: "How can I make the sacrament more meaningful to me?" We had talked the first week about the sacrament and the covenants associated with it, but I really like the way the opening paragraph of the outline is worded, so I used that paragraph as the foundation of a deeper look at how to maximize the concept of the sacrament in practical terms in our lives.

The lesson outline starts with the following:

During the sacrament each week, we should examine our lives, ponder the Savior’s Atonement, and consider what we need to do to repent of our sins. We do not need to be perfect in order to partake of the sacrament, but we should have a spirit of humility and repentance in our hearts. The sacrament can become a source of strength and an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to living the gospel.


I started by reminding everyone of a lesson we had last year about repentance - particularly how we only understand half of the concept of repentance when we focus solely on remembering our sins / mistakes and vowing not to repeat them. (If anyone wants a fuller look at that concept before continuing with this lesson summary, read the following post from January 2008, since our discussion was based on that post: "A Fresh View of Repentance".)

I asked everyone what "repent" means, and they remembered that it simply means "change". I explained that we were going to talk about two ways to try to repent: 1) the traditional focus on recognizing past sins and committing to not repeat them; 2) changing our very nature by developing characteristics that will help us not feel and act in the same way we naturally would.

I mentioned that the first approach (the traditional steps of repentance method) is necessary for "hardcore" sinners (similar to what addicts might have to do because they might struggle with a temptation all their lives but simply have to commit to a sheer force of will no matter how long it takes, along with other strategies), but that, for most people, just suppressing an inclination generally results in that inclination eventually erupting through built-up pressure - which, as one student said, leads to a vicious cycle of failed attempts and self-criticism. I call this reactive repentance, and I stressed that the ONLY focus of this sort of repentance is to remain as good as we are at any given point - to not let our "badness" overcome our goodness, so to speak. There is no real "growth" in that approach; rather, it is much more of a fight to remain stationary.

The second approach is to recognize a weakness and work to develop a characteristic that will eliminate the inclination / weakness / undesired action. This also is focused on "change", so it is "repentance" every bit as much as the other approach. I call this approach proactive repentance. 

I asked the students if any of them had ever lost their temper and acted toward someone in a way that they regretted. (I picked a fairly generic issue in order to make it personal for all of them but avoid embarrassing anyone.) They all grinned and raised their hands. I asked them how they could change that - how they could go about trying to not do it anymore - other than simply committing not to do it. I asked them to think about exactly what they could do to tackle that particular issue. Eventually, we came up with the following:

1) Develop more patience;

2) Learn to understand the other person better - both their view/perspective and what things in their life might lead them to say and/or do something that bothered the students enough to get upset and lose their temper.

We talked about patience being the "lower" standard and understanding being the "higher" goal. One of the students in the class has Asperger's Syndrome and occasionally says something inappropriate or off the wall. He said it was okay to use him as an example, so we talked about why everyone else didn't get mad at him and lose their tempers when he said or did something that might make them mad if someone else said or did it. They all said they understand and love him - and, beside being a wonderfully tender moment, it helped them see what I meant about repentance being more than just not doing things. It also can mean doing something to improve one's self and change actions as a result, in this case by understanding someone enough to love them no matter what they say or do.

One student said he would like to read the scriptures more, so we talked about how repentance also can apply to things that aren't seen as sin but are strictly things we want to do better - things we want to change. For this discussion, I focused on the idea of needing to examine one's life and make "repentance" a very practical exercise. We talked about needing to think about themselves and when they are most alert - to look at their real-life schedule and choose a time that will work to read the scriptures - to actually calendar the time so it becomes habitual - to perhaps let others know so they can remind us of the commitment - etc. There were seven people in the room, and we came up with at least four approaches that would be best for someone.

This highlighted that repentance is an individual thing - that there is no one-size-fits-all, universally right approach - that nobody ought to try to force someone else to repent in the same way that person does.

Finally, I returned to the sacrament and pointed out that the ideal is not just to "think about Jesus" but rather to have faith in the Atonement enough to examine our lives and use the sacrament as a way to recommit to a practical examination and plan to change - to move from a warm fuzzy spiritual contemplation to a difficult, reflective, practical exercise founded on a spiritual hope.

I left them with the request to pick something that they want to improve about themselves and start focusing on doing so, if only one thing at a time for a limited time and if only to make some limited improvement during that time (rather than trying to overcome it completely and be "perfect" [whole, complete, fully developed] at it in the short-term).

Friday, July 25, 2014

Judge Not: Laman and Lemuel

I try to read the scriptures with a focus on trying to understand the people in them and the "background story" behind the accounts.  I understand that is a subjective process and that some of my conclusions might be incorrect, but it's important to me to try to get to know the people themselves as well as possible and not just read the stories shallowly.  

In that light: 

If you want an interesting experience, read 1 Nephi from the perspective of Laman and Lemuel constantly hearing their father rag on them.

Read how Nephi describes it and see if "the words of a tender parent" feel tender to the person on the receiving end of the sermons.

It was easy for Nephi, I think, to agree that his father was being a loving, concerned parent - but I can't imagine that Laman and Lemuel felt anything except constant criticism and negative comparison to their "perfect little brother, the spoiled brat".

Lehi, I'm certain, loved all of his children, but he "exhorted" those whose lives were different than his goals for them. His family, in my mind, was very dysfunctional - and I'm sure some of it was a result of internal family dynamics and unrealistic expectations.

My point for this post?

In our own lives, we should strive not to react like Laman or Lemuel, even if some people act like Lehi.  However, knowing how brutally hard that is in many situations, we should strive just as diligently to avoid judging people in the way we tend to judge Laman and Lemuel - especially in situations we probably understand no better than theirs due to our relative lack of information about dynamics we can't see and/or understand fully.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Falling, Losing, Failing, Transgression and Sin Are the Path Back Home

“It seems that in the spiritual world, we do not really find something until we first lose it, ignore it, miss it, long for it, choose it, and personally find it again—but now on a new level. Three of the parables of Jesus are about losing something, searching for it anew with some effort, finding it, and in each case throwing a big party afterwards . . . . Falling, losing, failing, transgression, and sin are the pattern, I am sorry to report. Yet they all lead toward home.” (Richard Rohr, "Falling Upward", 66-67)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

It's Not about Jesus; It's about You and Me

Jesus, from the view of a hardcore non-believer, was a complete failure. Some of his followers perpetrated some truly horrific, evil things.

Jesus, from the view of a hardcore believer, was a complete success. Some of his followers have done remarkable, marvelous, great things.

What separates a "faithful" torturer during the Inquisition from Mother Teresa? After all, both of them claimed to be doing the will of God, via Jesus.

It's not really Jesus that is the key, in any real, material, practical way. It's the specifics of the devotion of the different followers - the path each took in crafting their devotion, if you will. It's not the founder; it's the follower. In other words, at the most practical level, it isn't the "founder" of the religion that is paramount; rather, it's what followers individually and collectively make of the founding in their own lives.

There is plenty in Mormonism for someone to make himself be damned - but there's plenty in Mormonism for someone to be given exaltation.

One of my favorite questions when it comes to discussions of culture, practice, doctrine, etc. is:

"Lord, is it I?"

"We" are "The Church" - in every way that matters, and, I believe, it is up to each of us (as an individual "I am" within the collective "we are") to own that question - not to "outsource our sin" by blaming others for what "we are" but to model the devotion we hope to see from others. It really isn't about Joseph Smith, since there are good and bad "Mormons" sharing his heritage; it's about me - so I need to ask myself regularly:

"Lord, is it I?"