The Church’s Struggle Amid the World’s Darkness

Humanity is full of horror, and always has been. God wept that He gave humankind their agency, and asked them to love each other and to choose Him, but they were without affection, and hated their own blood (Moses 7). Tragedies in interactions between individuals, families, tribes, towns and nations add up to plagues like racism, sexism, war, and slavery—and they have always been endemic on earth. They still are, despite a modern Pax Americana that has mitigated much of them for those likely to read this. It is for these that God wept, knowing the suffering that people were bringing upon themselves and others because of their choices.

But God said not to despair, because He sent a Savior to redeem all who were willing to come to Him. That journey is made through the principles of love and righteousness which are taught by many inspired individuals. In addition to those basic principles, some groups of people are able to receive the covenants and ordinances of the gospel. The covenants, and ordinances which tangibly symbolize them, make one’s commitment to love and righteousness formal and accountable, and therefore more effective. The covenants also teach the individual to seek and receive divine strength and power. The principles, covenants, and ordinances are the bright hope set against the darkness of fallen humanity. Human progress can mitigate the darkness, but divine power can end and transcend it.

God could, perhaps, have planned for the ordinances to have always been administered directly by heavenly beings, but He instead revealed the organization of humans into a church. He called leaders within the church to receive revelation and teach it to fellow members, who could also receive revelation personally to confirm the truth of the leaders’ words and actions.

It is natural to think of a church, established by God to administer sacred ordinances, as holy, pure, and completely set apart from the horrors of humanity. In a sense this is correct, as one must come out of that horror (symbolized in the scriptures as Babylon) into God’s Zion. But in another sense it is misleading to think of the church as being fully separate from humanity because, obviously, it is full of humans. Striving, overcoming, inspired humans, but they are humans nonetheless. God makes use of “weak and simple” things and people, and the church progresses “line upon line,” “here a little and there a little.”

This is true specifically of the church’s leaders. Leaders are called of God to receive revelation and teach and administer in the church, but this does not mean or imply that leaders’ minds are purged of all wrong ideas. That would inhibit agency and, by miraculously removing them from humanity’s climb, make leaders less able to appreciate its difficulty and relate to others. Apparently, what God requires from leaders is loyalty to covenants and willingness to build upon and improve the light that one already has.

God does not love less, or refuse to work with, those who are to some degree trapped in the incorrect traditions of their fathers and mothers. The fact that future generations are able to see much more clearly the degree to which past beliefs were entwined with humanity’s darkness does not change this fact.

Some people now despair and complain at the church and its leaders’ past mistakes. They ask “what’s the point?” of prophets who didn’t overcome or prevent those mistakes. This point of view overlooks or dismisses the crucial works that God has effectuated through the church and its leaders:

  1. Active, outreaching teaching of true principles of love and righteousness.
  2. Access to covenants and ordinances which bring people closer to God.
  3. Keeping the flame of faith alight for those (both leaders and members) who were eventually prepared to receive the fuller implementation of true principles regarding race and other issues.

It can seem that groups outside the church are superior to the church, because they advocate truths such as racial equality, but have no institutional history of misunderstanding and imperfection to bear. They allow one to feel outside of, and free from, responsibility for humanity’s horrors. It is wonderful to join others to promote important truths, but illogical to use the formation of such groups as an argument against the church. The existence of newer groups does not compel the abandonment of the even greater breadth of truth and access to God’s power through covenants and ordinances.

It is good to be clear-sighted and open about truth and the harm that falsehoods have caused. It is not good to let disappointment in others’ imperfections turn our hearts against the only means God has provided to bind ourselves more fully to those truths through sacred covenants and ordinances.

Much of the world is still suffering in terrible horror. The principles of love and righteousness, and the covenants and ordinances that lead to Christ, are so badly needed. The church is, in part because of its progress beyond past misunderstanding, better able than ever to bless and heal blighted lives.

22 thoughts on “The Church’s Struggle Amid the World’s Darkness

  1. We have been striving to become a Zion people since the days of Joseph Smith and I doubt if we are much closer in practice to it now than we were then. However, we have to do it before the Lord returns to dwell with us, along with the Zion of Enoch (Moses 7:62-64). We will probably have to totally withdraw from the society around us (Babylon) before we can do it.

    • Theodore,

      I thoroughly disagree with your suggestion that we will have to “totally withdraw” from society. I don’t think we *can* be Zion by withdrawing from surrounding society; being Christlike includes loving and reaching out to those who don’t share our faith. And “Babylon” means the principles and institutions in opposition to righteousness, not “people who are not Mormon.”

      • Cassandra,

        Enoch had to withdraw from the world around him to establish his City of Zion, and according to the Lord’s word to Enoch, we will also have to physically withdraw from the world to establish our City of Zion (see Moses 7:62-63). Actually, it is more likely that we will be driven out, as we have in the past. The world is growing more wicked around us and this period of acceptance we are enjoying will not last.

          • Cassandra,

            For now we have been commanded to “tarry” but the command to build the City of the New Jerusalem in its designated place has never been rescinded (D&C 101:17-20). It must be built prior to the coming of the Lord; and it must be built upon the economic principles of the Law of Consecration (D&C 105:4-9), which principles conflict with the economic principles of Babylon.

            The world we have known is changing and the change is accelerating. I will give you one small example from as to what we can look forward to, from Revelation 11 where the two prophets of God seal their testimonies with their blood (as two other prophets did at the beginning of this dispensation). “And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth” (Revelations 11:10). If “the people and kindreds and tongues and nations” (v 9) of the earth hate our prophets that badly, how do you think they are going to feel about the rest of the members of the Church throughout the world at this time?

        • Theodore,

          As a last word in all of this, I’m with Elder Holland:

          “Zion. The promised land. The New Jerusalem. Where is it? Well, we are not sure, but we will find it. For more than 4,000 years of covenantal history, this has been the pattern: Flee and seek. Run and settle. Escape Babylon. Build Zion’s protective walls. Until now. Until tonight. Until this our day. In these last days, in this our dispensation, we would become mature enough to stop running. We would become mature enough to plant our feet and our families and our foundations in every nation, kindred, tongue, and people permanently. Zion would be everywhere—wherever the Church is. And with that change—one of the mighty changes of the last days—we no longer think of Zion as where we are going to live; we think of it as how we are going to live.”

    • “I get annoyed sometimes at some of our elders who when speaking, say the Lord will come when we all become righteous enough to receive him. The Lord is not going to wait for us to get righteous. When he gets ready to come he is going to come—when the cup of iniquity is full—and if we are not righteous then, it will be just too bad for us for we will be classed among the ungodly, and we will be as stubble to be swept off the face of the earth, for the Lord says wickedness shall not stand.”–Joseph Fielding Smith

      • That’s a good quote, but there is also the concept of “hastening the day” through doing all the work that we can do in righteousness now.

        The principle for that viewpoint coming from this verse:
        “Therefore, in consequence of the transgressions of my people, it is expedient in me that mine elders should wait for a little season for the redemption of Zion—”

        • Kaphor,

          I don’t think “redemption of Zion” in the verse you quote refers to the Second Coming of Christ.

          Regardless, I think we can all agree that we’d better be anxiously engaged, both among fellow church members and out in our communities, bringing to pass as much good as we can.

          • “and righteousness and truth will I cause to sweep the earth as with a flood, to gather out mine elect from the four quarters of the earth, unto a place which I shall prepare, an Holy City, that my people may gird up their loins, and be looking forth for the time of my coming; for there shall be my tabernacle, and it shall be called Zion, a New Jerusalem.” (Moses 7:62)

            It sounds like we will have to be gathered to a “place” and establish a “Holy City” before He comes. We are not there yet.

  2. I love that we are a living church. To me living means, growing, breathing and changing church. There is room and a necessity to grow and progress as fast as we are able. If God waited for a perfect person or group of people to restore His gospel we would never never get it. There really has only ever been one perfect being and we have to believe that and allow our leaders to be human to, just like everyone of us. I have always tried to be a good person but I wonder if my whole life and all my decisions were under a microscope just how bad it could look. Especially 170 years from now when hopefully humans will have learned and grown and advanced so much more than we are now.

  3. Sorry I didn’t finnish my comment….I just wanted to add, that I love that we can see and admit that there has been mistakes. Not because I like the mistakes and pain they have caused but because it shows the human aspect of our church. The church of Jesus Christ (perfect part) of Latter Day Saints (this is the imperfect part). I think if we spend so much time worrying or criticizing others past mistakes we are not left with a positive healthy spirit needed to recognize where we ourselves can grow and change. I love that for the most part I am uplifted and rejuvenated each Sunday. I am encouraged to love my neighbor, serve in the community and be healthy and so many more things that contribute to a happy rich life. I love to read and study church history because it is the vehicle that brought the restored Gospel to us. But mostly I love to study and spend my time learning about Christ’s Gospel and what he wants us to do. Loved this article. I to believe that the Church is better able than ever to heal us and move us forward!

  4. “Some people now despair and complain at the church and its leaders’ past mistakes.”

    Mercy is for the merciful. If people can’t forgive the great leaders of the past for being, in some measure, a product of their times, they can expect some day to be held accountable for thinking and acting like a product of our current time. If you won’t be kind to people in our history, history will not be kind to you.

    Myself, I have to wonder if the claims that our leaders of the past were a bunch of racist, sexist, homophobic bigots are greatly exaggerated. Here I am, sitting down figuratively by the tree of life, enjoying that delicious, pure fruit which brings joy to my soul. Jesus said a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, and that by their fruits we shall know them. Why are people trying to get me to think evil of or condemn the good folks who brought me down the path to the tree of life, which has brough me and others so much happiness?

    • I think it’s possible to be clear-sighted about the mistakes of others (for instance, past leaders’ racist remarks) without being smug or self-righteous toward them. And yes, our first and most prominent reaction should be overwhelming gratitude for the gifts of truth and light they prepared for us.

    • Were they mistakes or were they “line upon line, precept upon precept?”

      Who are we to judge the leaders? They were either God touched or they were not and in any case human and products of the world of their time.

      They did what they could do and as led by inspiration. Maybe some inspiration was thought out and God merely said, that is as good as anything else at this time. We cannot know the mind of God until we are more Godlike through perfection by Christ.

  5. This insight by Cassandra is excellent:

    “It can seem that groups outside the church are superior to the church, because they advocate truths such as racial equality, but have no institutional history of misunderstanding and imperfection to bear.”

    I sense that those “groups” superior perspective is inadequate and shallow. We moderns heavily judge the past as we sit safely and comfortably on an office chair or home sofa, enjoy the invigoration of air-conditioning and the pleasure of electric lights, feel the benefits a full stomach and enjoy instant communication via our computers and smart phones. What can a comfortably perched critic really know of the Church’s past and its sacrifices without walking in its shoes?

    I vote for giving our church leaders, past, present and future our intelligent confidence and love. The long-range fruit of their labors supports their goodness.

  6. The leaders racist remarks? Hardly take much looking under America’s covers to see why God inspired Brigham Young to end the ordination of blacks. American racism, blatant and volatile and the cause of Missouri Kansas border wars and the Mormon killings and expulsions from the states.

    The polygamy of the church was an excuse for the US to unduly disallow Utah the “popular sovereignity” respect that it did other, later territories that were made states sooner. Edmunds act that kept Utah in state of flux was created by a New Englander to rule Utah. If Utah had not been neutral in the Civil War or BY hadn’t said the New Englander cultured people didn’t need a slave economy more mischief from a bigotted and racist America. More conflict as trains rolled through Utah spouting hate and shouting curses as in the prelude to the MMM amd the march on U S citizens by the U S Army?

    In a racist America, any course but some racism or non-mixing of the races was necessary. No priesthood for black men kept the mixing with whites in marriage at a minimum. After the 1960’s some southerners were still harassing mixed marriage couples.

    The minute the ban was lifted, not many batted an eye on mixed LDS marriages. Racist? Not so much. Notice that those most prone to shout racism are those who had separate churches for blacks and whites. There are no separate churches in Mormonhood.

    Don’t let the world shame you into believing their slant and biases and out and out propaganda. They know not…

    • Lillith,

      Wow, that’s a LOT of history to plow through. I disagree with some of your observations, and I’m not sure why you’re responding to a case I didn’t make–I didn’t say anything about racism being the impetus for the Priesthood ban. There’s no point in saying much of anything about the origins of the Priesthood ban, because we have almost literally no data to study.

      I meant to address only a historically documented fact: some church leaders said and wrote objectively racist things, and opposed Civil Rights legislation. (Yes, I recognize there were non-racist grounds on which to oppose some of those laws.) I haven’t been “shamed” by “the world” into taking note of straight-up fact 🙂

      But I hope with this post I accomplished my purpose: to show that we need not loftily condemn anyone who made such mistakes, or the church led by those who made such mistakes.

  7. “God could, perhaps, have planned for the ordinances to have always been administered directly by heavenly beings, but He instead revealed the organization of humans into a church.”

    You may have meant this statement to be taken purely rhetorically, Cassandra, but I would like to point out that only mortal humans can perform those ordinances, and that they cannot be performed after this life. It is a burden we share as one human family, responsible to one another through all of time. For we cannot be saved without them, nor they without us.

    The LDS Church and priesthood may be God’s focal point in accomplishing that objective, but we risk missing the mark if we think of ourselves in narrow and xenophobic ways as the only group which seeks to obey God’s will. We should see as allies those other groups (new or old) which are dedicated to righteous endeavors, and we should make common cause with them to the extent possible — whether cooperating with local interfaith fellowships, or having them administer our vast relief efforts in areas where we have no immediate capability.

    One very old and august organization (which we usually overlook) is Judaism. Joseph Smith sent Orson Hyde to Palestine to dedicate the land to their prophesied ingathering, and they have returned by the millions. Judaism represents high ethical and moral principles, and also possesses the authentic priesthood of Aaron which will serve at a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem and will offer there once again an offering in righteousness. This is not only a story about Mormons, but about God’s far-reaching and multi-faceted plan of salvation.

    • Robert F. Smith on September 22, 2013 at 9:30 pm said:

      “Judaism represents high ethical and moral principles, and also possesses the authentic priesthood of Aaron which will serve at a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem and will offer there once again an offering in righteousness.”


      John Craig’s post encouraged me to go back and review this article and comments when I noticed your above statement, which I had missed previously. I agree with and support everything you wrote except, “Judaism…also possesses the authentic priesthood of Aaron.”

      If that is the case why did John the Baptist have to “restore” the Aaronic Priesthood to the earth? Notice the wording of the ordinance:

      “Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron…and this shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.” (D&C13:1)

      “Never be taken again from the earth” implies that it had been taken from the earth, and therefore the need for its restoration. As it had been taken from the earth then Judaism no longer has it. The only ones who have the “authentic Priesthood of Aaron” are those males who have
      been baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and have been so ordained, under the proper authority of the keys held by the Prophets.

      It is true that those who are direct descendants of Aaron have the “right” to the Aaronic Priesthood, but they still must be ordained to it under proper authority.

  8. I liked the article. I think there’s a lot of second-guessing of church leaders, past and present. One of the things I think is interesting is that in the history of God’s dealings with people (so far as we know and we don’t know all there is to know, for darn sure), God asks the people of faith to be very different from their cultures in some important ways–but not in all ways. Consider the example of the rules for slaves in the Law of Moses. May we say that the strictures on slave-owning in the Law are likely more humane than the cultures that surrounded them (and from whom they were escaping–having been, ironically, slaves themselves). Interestingly, while the faithful Nephites under Mosiah II and the judges are repeatedly reported to be following the Law of Moses, they have also outlawed slavery–even though that wasn’t a requirement of the Law. From our modernist point of view, that certainly seems to be a positive development, but why didn’t Moses forbid slavery? I don’t know, but it’s a pattern I see repeated in subtle and sometimes startling ways. I think we need to approach our review of past church leaders with some humility and plenty of patience. Thanks for expressing this idea well (and at a timely point).

  9. In your opening statement you mention that God wept because he gave men their free agency. I assume you meant that he wept because of the poor choices mankind makes and not because we have free agency.

    Understanding that our leaders are fallible and human strengthens my faith because I see is as living proof that anyone who comes unto Christ can be saved. Even people like me who have many faults.

    Great insights! Thank you for the article!

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