Karen Strong and her husband were recently excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on April 11, 2017. After reading her defense, I asked her if she would be willing to share her testimony with others on a public blog.
In sharing Karen's testimony, it is my hope that believers in Christ will be given strength and courage to face the persecution and challenges in their own world. It is also important to raise the warning voice to as many as possible.
Stake Disciplinary Council Defense
April 11, 2017
You have brought us before this council on the charges of apostasy. The grounds for apostasy which President XXXXXX presented are derived from interpretation and application of the church’s Handbook of Instruction.
But the scriptural meaning of the original Greek word apostasy is DEFECTION FROM TRUTH, OR FALLING AWAY FROM TRUTH. Christ defines Himself as the Truth, as well as the words which He has declared in written scripture. Thus, apostasy is a revolt against Christ and the truth of the Lord’s word, as declared in the scriptural record.
The scriptures are binding upon us, and they contain the words by which we shall ALL be judged. They are the standard of truth, and the law upon which righteous judgment is based.
THESE (scriptures) should never be set aside in favor of Handbook rules established without divine revelation, kept secret from the membership, and then imposed upon the membership without the required vote of common consent. In Christ’s day, the Handbook of Instruction would be akin to the rigid commandments the Pharisees added to the scriptures, which they then used as a basis to falsely accuse the Savior of having committed sin. Christ rebuked the religious leaders for relying upon their additions to God’s word and said, “JUDGE NOT ACCORDING TO YOUR TRADITIONS, BUT JUDGE RIGHTEOUS JUDGMENT.”
Because you are accusing us of apostasy, or straying from the truth; and thus, falling away from Christ and His revealed word; THIS (scriptures hold up) is the RIGHTEOUS standard of truth that you should use to determine the legitimacy of your accusation against us.
Before I go further, I need to ask you a question.
Was Martin Luther guilty of apostasy when he pointed out the contradictions between the Catholic Church’s practices and teachings compared to what the scriptures actually taught? Or had the church wrongfully changed the ordinances and doctrines while relying upon their claim to authority as justification in making all the changes? Was Luther’s loyalty supposed to be to the Church, or to God and the truth found in God’s word? Whom will God vindicate in the matter? Christ and his followers were also cast out and charged with apostasy by the institutional church. It’s a recurring pattern that large institutional religion strays off course.
Those in power, then point to the individuals who notice the shift away from scripture and accuse them of apostasy claiming it is impossible for the institution to ever go off course because of their authority, or keys. The pattern has always been the same. The bottom line to all of this is that we believe that it is the institutional Church that has strayed from some significant foundational truths found within God’s word.
A few examples of the serious changes I am talking about are:
1. The extensive changes made in 1990 to the temple ordinances. Followed by additional significant changes in 2005 and 2016.
In addition to the temple ordinances being changed, the ordinance of the sacrament has been significantly modified contrary to Christ’s instructions and example clearly given in three books of scripture. Additions have been made to the doctrine of Christ recorded in scripture, concerning qualification for baptism. Any addition by anyone to the doctrine of Christ is contrary to Christ’s explicit instruction.
Both Isaiah and Joseph Smith specifically warned that God’s ordinances are not to be changed or altered by man. No provision is given because keys are held.
“Ordinances instituted in the heavens before the foundation of the world, in the priesthood, for the salvation of man, ARE NOT TO BE ALTERED OR CHANGED” (TPJS p. 308). (repeat underlined)
“…the ordinances must be kept IN THE VERY WAY God has appointed, otherwise their priesthood will prove a cursing instead of a blessing.” (Joseph Smith, General Conference Tal, Oct. 5, 1840)
We teach as a church that the changing of the ordinances by the primitive church was a clear sign of their apostasy and was directly connected to their loss of authority.
The Lord confirms in Section 1 that this earlier changing of ordinances had caused them to break the everlasting covenant, thereby requiring the restoration through Joseph Smith.
But did you know that Isaiah specifically warned that when the Lord returns to burn the earth at His second coming, it will again be because the earth has been defiled because the ordinances have been changed and the everlasting covenant broken as a consequence of those changes? Isaiah’s prophecy is not about the change of the ordinances made by the Catholic Church mentioned in Section 1. Instead, it is directly related to the breaking of the covenant in the last days, by changing the ordinances preceding Christ’s Second return. This is no small matter.
God’s ordinances because we believe keys allow such changes to be made; this is no different than the logic and reasoning made by the historic church. If changing of ordinances defined their apostasy, why do we excuse ourselves in the same thing we use to condemn them?
Continuing with the list of changes made by the Church:
2. There have been changes in what is taught as doctrine.
First, Joseph Smith clearly taught that all who have repented, been baptized and received the Holy Ghost were to go on and seek to receive their calling and election made sure and receive the Second Comforter; Christ taught the same truth to His disciples in the Gospel of John, as did Peter.
This true doctrine is no longer taught and encouraged in the church. Quite the opposite. In 2015, Elder Oaks even went so far as to say that those who seek this are falling for a familiar tactic of the adversary. His teaching is a direct contradiction to the words of Christ, Peter, and Joseph Smith found in the scriptures. And a changing of saving doctrine.
Two additional examples of changed doctrine pertain to the Adam-God doctrine taught by Presidents Young, Taylor and Woodruff; and the doctrine on blacks and the priesthood taught by the Church all the way into my lifetime, and confirmed in modern scripture.
Pertaining to the Adam-God doctrine, President Kimball rightfully declared that this doctrine taught by earlier prophets was false doctrine and denounced it. But Bruce R. McConkie went further and called it a heresy and said any who believe it are not worthy to be saved. Yet, Brigham Young taught this doctrine in the St. George Temple as the lecture at the veil and condemned members who did not accept it as truth. Did McConkie mean Brigham and those who believed him as their leader do not deserve to be saved? Why would a living prophet need to denounce the teachings of a former prophet if prophets cannot lead us astray, in the first place?
The same conundrum manifested itself in the official church essay written to explain the former church presidents’ teachings on blacks and Priesthood. The church stated previous presidents of the church were LACKING REVELATION FROM GOD ON THE MATTER, disavowed their teachings, and excused them as being products of their time. Enoch and Abraham were likewise discredited by the essay, as the essay contradicted what is taught in the Pearl of Great Price by these prophets.
We were told through the official essay that previous prophets lacked revelation and that scripture is wrong. We can’t have it both ways. We can’t be told to trust our current leaders because they can’t lead us astray; and yet justify them disparaging and contradicting former prophets of all ages, in an attempt to appease the public. This reveals inconsistency in teaching and contradiction in purported truth.
The church applies a standard of infallibility to the current leaders that they do not give to former leaders when the former leaders’ teachings are unpopular in today’s culture.
3. The original 1835 Doctrine and Covenants contained a series of Lectures on Faith that were included as the “doctrine” portion of that book of scripture. These were voted upon by common consent and accepted as scripture in Joseph’s day. In 1921, a committee of six apostles voted to remove this doctrine from our scripture, without a required vote of the members; again changing, or removing “doctrine” from the scriptures. This constituted an elimination of important truths about the process of how one attains to the faith required to literally know the Lord face to face.
4. Section 101 and 134 have very detailed teachings about the Constitution and the types of laws we should support. The Church has recently engaged in promoting and passing legislation that contradicts these revelations, but they exempted themselves from complying to the laws on moral grounds in the process; thereby compelling through legislation others to live laws that they find morally objectionable. When you advocate others doing something you refuse to do, this is hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is one of the worst offenses named by Christ in the scriptures and it was always directed at the religious leaders. (LGBT)
5. The church has disregarded the scriptural teachings concerning wealth, riches, costly apparel, and seeking the fine things of the world. The decision to surround the Salt Lake Temple with the very image of Babylon in all its glory, namely the City Creek Mall, teaches loud and clear that it is perfectly fine for all of us to attempt to serve two masters. This is counter to everything taught in the scriptures by Christ.
6. The church changed the organizational structure of its’ highest quorums revealed in Section 107 without revelation to do so. The quorums of the First Presidency, the Twelve, the Seventy and the Stake High Councils were all established to be equal in authority for the very purpose of eliminating the possibility of centralized top-heavy control and power over the church. The Lord even made the Quorum of the Twelve subordinate to the Stake High Council when they were visiting and were only allowed to preside where there was no organized stake. We have completely altered and ignored the Lord’s design for how the church was to be governed and eliminated their equality.
More examples could be added. Everyone one of the above matters is rooted in a contradiction or change from what is given by the Lord in the scriptures.
Over the years these changes became a troubling matter to us because of our deep love for the Lord, His church, and His gospel. We have never been rebellious. But as we observed contradictions and serious changes that countered the scriptures, we also began to wonder if this is exactly what Nephi and Moroni were witnessing when they saw our day.
Nephi saw that ALL the churches in the last days have gone out of the way and become corrupted. (2 Ne 28:11)
And Moroni lamentingly asked when he saw us, “Why have ye polluted the holy church of God?”
After years of pondering and wondering how such changes could be occurring within the Lord’s church; we found our answer in Section 124.
In 1841, after a decade of failed attempts to establish Zion, the Lord gave Section 124 and commanded the Saints to build the required temple in Nauvoo. In verse 28, He reveals exactly WHY that temple was required.
“For there is not a place found on earth that he [the Lord] may come to and restore again that which was lost unto you, or which he hath taken away, even the fulness of the priesthood.”
Did you get that?
The Lord told the Saints in 1841 that they did NOT actually have the required fulness of the Priesthood anymore. He confirms that they had previously had it restored, but that they had lost it through disobedience, and therefore, the Lord had taken it away from them and so He had to restore it again. Additionally, the Lord directly states that it is He that must personally come and return it to the Saints in a completed temple.
Had you ever realized that was the case? The point to take note of is that it’s not a question of whether they lost it. The Lord clearly states the church did NOT have the fulness of the priesthood in 1841.
The Lord then tells them that they only have a certain amount of time allotted for them to complete the temple. Whereupon, He then warns them that if they fail to complete it within the designated time, THEY WILL BE REJECTED AS A CHURCH WITH THEIR DEAD. He says:
“I command you, all ye my saints, to build a house unto me; and I grant unto you a sufficient time to build a house unto me…
and if you do not these things at the end of the appointment ye shall be rejected as a church, with your dead, saith the Lord your God” (v. 31-32)
The Lord promises them that if they succeed in building this temple in the time permitted, then they will not be moved out of their place. In other words, they would remain in Nauvoo as a cornerstone of Zion. But failure would mean cursing, wrath, indignation, judgement, and not receiving the blessings they expected at His hand.
So the question is, did they succeed within the allotted time to build the temple? Did the Lord ever come to the Nauvoo Temple, and did He restore to them again the fulness of the priesthood? Or did they fail and become rejected as a church, remain without the fulness and get moved out of their place?
Time does not permit a proper examination of the facts, but in short, Joseph and Hyrum, who was the revealed and appointed successor to lead the church, were killed 3 ½ years after this revelation. At the time of their death the temple was still only built up to the exterior walls of the second story.
But the Saints were fully aware of the requirements given in Section 124, as Joseph had admonished them repeatedly that they were in jeopardy of failing. So after the Quorum of the Twelve won the vote of the members to lead the church, they anxiously worked to try to complete the temple.
But God allowed the wrath of their enemies to be upon them, and they were forced out of Nauvoo in the dead of winter before the temple was complete. The endowments they performed were done in the attic of the unfinished temple. Two apostles and a handful of saints remained behind to finish and dedicate the temple months later. But there is no record of the Lord appearing in this temple and accepting it as He promised, or of the Lord bestowing again the fulness of the priesthood as stated was the very purpose for building it.
Instead, the temple was abandoned by the Saints due to their forced exodus, and it was left to eventually burn, be destroyed by a tornado, and remain with not one stone upon another. A complete loss, mirroring the pattern of Biblical temples that were destroyed.
We realized that what had happen to our early church, followed the same pattern that was exemplified by the children of Israel with Moses. The Saints in Joseph’s day had been given two opportunities to come into the presence of the Lord, Missouri and Nauvoo. But they failed to rise to the invitation. Their first failure resulted in the Lord removing the fulness of the priesthood, and their second failure left that priesthood still out of their possession.
Section 84 talks about the ramifications of what it means to a people when the Lord invites them into His presence, but they fail to receive the invitation. Such people are always left with a lesser portion of the priesthood than the fulness that is required to see Him face to face.
But a lesser priesthood does NOT mean the Lord isn’t still working with us. It doesn’t mean He doesn’t love us. It doesn’t mean we can’t obtain the spirit. It doesn’t mean there isn’t a work for the body of believers to accomplish. It doesn’t mean much truth isn’t possessed. It doesn’t mean God’s plan was thwarted or that it failed.
It merely means, that we, as a people do not have what we could have had had we risen up. It means that God has eternal laws that He obeys and when we fail, He is bound to enact certain consequences upon us. He calls those consequences a curse because the consequences prohibit us, as a people, from entering into His literal presence. For us, the latter-day saints, that consequence resulted in 4 generations, or 160 years, of operating with a lesser portion of priesthood that has made obtaining Zion impossible. But the cursing was never intended to be permanent. The Lord always intended to set His hand again the second time to make the offer to us again when sufficient time had passed to satisfy the blood spilt by Joseph and Hyrum’s death because of the Saint’s failure.
But it does not change the fact that during this condition of cursed probation since Joseph’s death, lacking the degree of priesthood Joseph possessed, we have slowly drifted further and further from what Joseph originally intended and restored as a religion. If you don’t like our saying so, then will you accept the words of Joseph Fielding Smith on the matter:
“It is a VERY APPARENT fact that we have traveled far and wide in the past 20 years. What the future will bring I do not know. But if we drift as far afield from the fundamental things in the next 20 years, what will be left of the foundation laid by the Prophet Joseph Smith? It is easy for one who observes to see how the apostasy came about in the primitive church of Christ. ARE WE NOT TRAVELING DOWN THE SAME ROAD? (Joseph Fielding Smith Journal, entry for 28 December. 1938)
Joseph Fielding acknowledges that the church has traveled far and wide in just the 20 years he had observed while in leadership. He admits that the drift had been from fundamental things that were part of the foundation laid by Joseph Smith. He sees what has happened and admits he can see how the primitive apostasy occurred and then stunningly acknowledges we are traveling down the very same road. Did you notice that he began by admitting that it was very apparent to see this fact? That was 80 years ago. What would he say and observe today? You are asking us to not observe and acknowledge a very apparent fact that even a former prophet admitted. You are asking us to turn a blind eye to changing of ordinances, the elimination and changing of doctrine, and institutional disregard for teachings found in scripture as outlined previously.
I declare to you that we have not apostatized. We have not fallen away or defected from Christ or His truth. We have been faithful and loyal to Him. We serve Him and Him alone and fear no man, nor council of men who consider themselves beholden to a handbook of instructions over the word of God.
If you cast us out, you cast out innocent people and you cast out those whom God has approved. We admonish you to think seriously before you do so. Do not use the traditions of a religious culture and Handbook to judge us. With what judgment you mete against us, it will be meted unto you by the Lord in a coming day. Let us go in peace worshiping God according to the dictates of our conscience and according to His written word which the church has refused to keep intact. The scriptures inform our beliefs and they vindicate everything we think and everything we have done.
If I were Martin Luther, you would be asking me to deny the word of God to protect the church that has made clear changes to ordinances and changes in doctrine against the word of God written in scripture. Because of the obvious parallel, I close with the words of Luther when asked by the church in his trial if he would recant his statements to save himself.
“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures and by plain reason and not by popes and councils alone, who have so often contradicted themselves---I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. I cannot and I will not recant. Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me.” In the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, Amen.