Mormons: Judging Righteously Since 1830

Many people, Mormon or not, have followed the recent events in the Mormon Church with a keen interest. For the last couple of months, disciplinary councils, excommunications, and church resignations galore have sat in the forefront, the effects of intense debates and often major conflicts in a mostly peaceful American religious movement. This post is the first of what could be many, where my intentions are to air out my own concerns, struggles I continue to experience because of what I see as a mishandling of men and women, people’s salvation (by their church standing), and a lack of clear guidance from church leadership in many of these matters, despite the best efforts of many true-blue-Mormons (TBMs) to wrest the scriptures and the words of the prophets into their own persecutive agenda. And why persecute? Why treat women and men whose beliefs don’t perfectly align with theirs? Why play the same role as many early persecutors of the Mormon Church? It’s simple. For Mormons, it’s all about the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) of the King James Bible (KJV):

“Now these are the words which Jesus taught his disciples that they should say unto the people. Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged; but judge righteous judgment” (Matt 7:1-2 JST).

And here’s a reminder of these exact verses in the KJV:

“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”

Too many Mormons see themselves as privileged to provide that righteous judgment because, after all, they know “the truth.” So here I begin what will at best be a series of focused posts with continuity and a clear narrative structure that is easy to follow, or at worst, it will be a chunky mess, a patchwork of all the thoughts parading through my mind the last couple of months—all the things I have wanted to write about exsanguinated into one long (hopefully coherent) series of statements.

Yes, I am Mormon. Yes, I judge people. I am not immune to this cultural misconception, but I often recognize it, nowadays, and try to understand it, to understand why I feel compelled to judge someone. It often leads me to ponder the prejudices with which Mormon culture and traditions have imbued me. After decades of indoctrination, paradigm shifts can take a lot of time and effort, regardless of how fast we want them to happen, regardless of how enlightened we feel.

The biggest frustration about the JST scripture quoted above is that it is a singular piece in a narrative filled with conflicting examples. Jesus didn’t just speak powerful words, he performed powerful acts. In his words, yes, but much more often in his actions, Jesus shows people how not to judge. Have these judgmental Mormons forgotten the woman taken in adultery? According to the law, she should have been stoned, but in perhaps the most powerful moment in Jesus’ mortal ministry, he demonstrates exactly what he meant by not judging others and what he meant by tending to the beam in one’s own eye. As he drew in the dirt at his feet, perhaps many of us have imagined Jesus spelling out the sins of every individual present until she or he left:

“When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (John 8:10-11).

Yes, Jesus, though choosing not to condemn the woman, did judge her. However, lest we forget, Jesus is a god, God the Son, and as modern Mormon Scripture declares, “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men” (Doctrine and Covenants 64:10). Also, he performed his sacred duty in private. Everyone else had left. Ultimately, the woman’s sin was between her and the Lord, with whom we are all to work out our own salvation, not the salvation of others.

So who are these people the Lord commands us not to judge? E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E. This includes, on my part, doing my best not to judge leaders whom I think have made wrong choices. I understand that ours is not a professional clergy. I understand that all of us are human and, therefore, prone to mistakes. However, I always believe it is far more important to err on the side of caution, on the side of the individual when what that leader does can impact that individual’s salvation.

Also, we should not judge women and men we might conceive as apostates, simply because they don’t follow long-held cultural traditions and performances. Condemn neither John Dehlin, of the Mormon Stories Podcast, because he seeks for all walks of Mormons to share her or his story regardless of the potential fallout, nor Kate Kelly, of Ordain Women, simply because she has serious questions about clear inequality in the Mormon Church and has sought to address it logically. Condemn not Rock Waterman, of Pure Mormonism, because he wishes to hold the Mormon Church accountable in situations where it appears to ignore its own doctrine or policies, nor a friend, who recently resigned from the church, because, despite “a deep love, affection, and testimony of Joseph Smith, a very personal relationship and testimony of The Book of Mormon, and most of all, … in Jesus Christ,” he “cannot in good faith, and for the betterment of [his] family, continue to be associated with the church as it stands in the 21st century … [or] justify staying because of a growing divide between [him] and it both religious [sic] and morally.”

Such things break my heart.

33 replies »

  1. I agree that it seems that a wholistic approach to the gospel, which includes a variety of different lived experience all coming together, is being lost. I have many worries about what will happen when President Monson dies, and what will happen to those who are on the heterodox end of the spectrum. I know of many people who are starting to prepare their children for the possibility that they may need to follow the promptings of the spirit, and leave the church someday. I also know of Primary leaders who are choosing not to have the children in their charge learn the song? Follow the Prophet, because they believe it teaches false doctrine.

    I look forward to reading your thoughts, as you continue to write about your thoughts around these issues.

  2. Beautifully written.

    People as a whole (not just in the church, but our focus here is the church) judge others way too much. We see snippets of their lives, know just one or two things about them, then judge them good or bad. We don’t know the private lives of people. We don’t know what their thinking, but we still place judgment as if we do.

    Jesus taught the people of the Holy Land to not be hypocrites, and to love one another. He taught the Nephites to not be contentious. What would he teach use today. (Not that we don’t have a prophet to tell us.)

    As for our mutual friend, I certainly hope for the best.

  3. I notice in your article that you refer to the Joseph Smith translation of the Bible several times. I do find it odd that he was able to translate a few extra verses at the end of Genesis chapter 50 that aren’t in other Bibles (and able to do that without manuscripts). And to find that these extra verses conveniently mention him as a future prophet. That must have worked out pretty well for him, at least until his death. The Apostle Paul did say that if anyone preached a gospel other than the one he preached that he would be eternally accursed.

      • Why would you ban Dave because he paraphrased a quote from Galatians 1:8? That is what the Bible says. The full quote is this: But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!

        This passage calls into question both the Muslim and Mormon accounts of how their religions started. Mormons need to be able to answer this objection if they hope to convince anyone that their faith is valid.

        If you publish a website expounding Mormon philosophy and theology you should have the courage to defend it with a rebuttal based on sound reasoning and theological evidence. Banning someone who points out questionable aspects of your faith displays a lack of confidence in your abilities as an apologist for your beliefs.

        • This is my first visit here. What would you say the overall purpose of your site is? Your magazine is about religion, politics, philosophy, and culture. In what context do you discuss these things? Are you trying to convince people of a particular position or just discussing topics that interest you?

        • Let me just add in AJ’s defense (even if AJ doesn’t need or maybe even want my defense of it) that downtown dave aka David Tiffany trolls every day almost anywhere. What I mean is, it appears that he looks pretty regularly at the RealClearReligion aggregator site, and looks for any article on Mormonism or Mormons. He will then go to that article and leave a comment that typically has no relevance to the article except that the article concerns a Mormon topic and Dave wants to post criticisms of Mormon doctrine or scripture. The comment today is just one example out of hundreds if not thousands.

          But since you (Tuscon) think that the paraphrased quotation ought to be taken up, I will offer to do so, I hope with AJ’s permission. The oft-repeated reference to Gal. 1:8 does not apply because Mormons don’t preach any other gospel than the one that Jesus Christ or his apostles preached. It is rather the Calvinists or other self-described fundamentalists who skip over inconvenient passages of the Bible to expound doctrine that can’t be harmonized with the Bible as a whole.

          When things like that are said, this normally triggers an incredulous response from the self-proclaimed Bible believer, who doesn’t want to admit how selectively he or she takes the actual Bible. You (Tuscon) and others are probably itching right now to start in on your list of things Mormons get wrong. I get seriously annoyed with this, because I was raised in evangelical churches and accepted Jesus as my personal savior at an early age. I heard all the Mormons-are-a-cult stuff and everything else. I know, now, that it is all unfair, distorted and un-biblical because, really, this one-and-done approach to salvation was never taught by Jesus Christ and appears to be, you know, “another gospel.” For which they might be cursed, right? I mean, Calvin didn’t invent his theology for hundreds of years after Christ. (For the Arminians, the same things could be said, as well as for Lutherans or any other follower of any theologian after about 200 AD. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claims to be the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, and the consideration of that claim is somewhat more involved than posting a reference to Gal. 1:8 on a message board before running away.)

          I am sure that AJ also gets seriously annoyed but for different reasons. AJ’s attitude has to be, “Here we are trying to remonstrate with our brothers and sisters regarding how we should deal with dissenters, and here come the counter-cult cultists who want want to hijack the discussion into the same tired, old, worn out nonsense criticisms.” I am very sympathetic to AJ on that.

          Of course then I’m also guilty of “feeding” the trolls, as I’ve done here, for which I ask to be forgiven.

        • As I said, it is my first visit here. I thought banning someone for a comment seemed harsh instead of simply rebutting what that person said with a well reasoned response. Mr. Henrichsen runs this site so it is his prerogative to ban anyone he chooses. As Dave has a history I now understand the response.

          In regards to your other comments.There has been no book added to the Bible since Athanasius of Alexandria outlined the canon in the year 367 A.D. Incidentally, his list removed from scripture all books written after the first century A.D., including to Gnostic Gospels which bear some similarity to Mormon teachings about men being able to elevate themselves to godhood through secret knowledge (gnosis). Luther preached no new Gospel. There is no Book of Luther that proclaims a new story of Jesus. The same can be said of most Christian denominations. We don’t have a book of Calvin or Wesley. We don’t have any Catholic additions to the New Testament either. The saints, like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, wrote many books of theology but nothing claiming to be a new gospel or “restored” gospel. While Christians may argue over points of doctrine, they all use the same New Testament that Athanasius used as their source material and apply various methods of interpretation to explain why they disagree with other schools of thought.

          Mormonism, in contrast, claims new scriptures: The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, The Pearl of Great Price, etc. These new books are based on new revelations by Mormon prophets. Galatians 1:8 applies in this situation because an angel supposedly came down and revealed a new gospel to Joseph Smith, or at least the existence of said gospel in a book of golden plates. This is similar to Mohammed claiming that Gabriel appeared and dictated the suras of the Koran to him. Both Joseph Smith and Mohammed made similar claims that the existing Christians (and Jews in the case of Mohammed) had corrupted the true faith and they needed to correct the story,

          I have not said anything that I think Mormons get wrong. I have simply stated what the Bible says and explained the history of the Christian scriptures in contrast with those of the Mormon and Muslim faith.

          I define a troll as someone who makes an unsubstantiated or obnoxious statement just to elicit a response. Dave’s comments are obnoxious in tone but do raise legitimate questions about Joseph Smith’s version of the Bible.

    • Really, Dave? Paul referred to his own works, not that of Moses, Matthew, or any other contributor to holy Writ. Indeed, the Bible as we know it today did not exist in Paul’s day so it can only be that he was referencing his own works.

      • Paul quoted or paraphrased from the Old Testament in most of his writings. A quick Google search will reveal to you numerous websites listing every passage in which he does so. One is here:

        Paul also referred to things that had been revealed to him by other apostles. Catholics refer to these teachings as Sacred Tradition.

        I am unsure of how your response actually proves anything Dave said was wrong.

  4. Isaiah 44:6, “Thus saith the Lord the King of Israel, and his redeemer the Lord of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.” Galatians 1:8, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”

  5. To me it appears you are broadly applying a single scriptural interpretation, when a more nuanced approach would be more appropriate. I’m a big fan of Elder Oaks’ talk: “Judge Not” and Judging. As he explains. “There are two kinds of judging: final judgments, which we are forbidden to make, and intermediate judgments, which we are directed to make, but upon righteous principles.”

    If you believe Joseph Smith to be a true prophet and modern scripture to be the word of God, then I am perplexed at your views on “judgement.” D&C extensively references Bishops and priesthood leaders as “judges in Israel.”

  6. I think the author misses the entire point of the Joseph Smith version of “judge not unrighteously.” The Lord does not tell us to not judge others, but to judge righteously. A bishop is called of The Lord to make these righteous judgments when it comes to matters of standing in the Church, except where a Melchizedec Priesthood holder is concerned, and then it is the role of the Stake President. And in either of these cases, it is by council, with the accused being represented by a member or members of the council so that fairness is had. As for members of the Church, we, too, are to make righteous judgments in the context of our roles as parents, friends, etc. for example, it is my right and responsibility to judge whether or not I am going to allow my adolescent youth to hang out with others, or to restrict their interactions based on the type of character others possess.

    As for me judging someone like Kate Kelly, I cannot. I can, however, judge her public actions and determine whether or not I agree with, condone, or dislike those actions, and then state my opinions. Unless something has been altered in the scripture “and by their fruits ye shall know them.”

    • It is clear by your comment you have missed the entire point of the post. In fact, your second paragraph reinforces it, so I guess I should thank you for providing such a good example.

  7. I love articles like this, because people fail to realize that one must be judgmental to even call someone judgmental, because by considering such they are already judging. It seems those who most often take the approach that people judge them too often are the same to quickly cast blame and judgment on others.

    There is nothing wrong with using common sense and making inferences about a person. When that judgment causes you to treat someone differently before their actions merit such a judgment, that is when you need to be careful.

    • I love comments like this because people fail to realize that one does not use a comma before “because.”

  8. There is much here on judgment that deserves careful consideration, but I can’t help but believe that the central message is the one that is specific to Dehlin, Kelly and Waterman (of whom I know little, but I have read a little of his blog after his name started to come up in public discourse). And I’m disappointed, Chris, to see in those comments the same kind of straw-man reasoning that is so characteristic of one side of the discussion regarding members who advocate for the adoption of different policies and doctrines from the pews. By straw-man reasoning, I mean phrases like, “Condemn not . . . Kate Kelly simply because she has serious questions about clear inequality in the Mormon Church and has sought to address it logically.” That’s a straw man because no one, and I mean almost literally no one, condemns Kate Kelly for having questions. Please be more intellectually honest than that. And while I think you’re being deliberately vague in using the phrase, “sought to address it logically,” the crux of the matter in relation to her membership in the Church concerned public-relations strategies and tactics designed to embarrass and put pressure on the Church. I don’t know that those things are logical, and we ought to be more candid about saying what exactly was going on.

    One she was engaged in strategies and organizing like that (by the way, I think Dehlin’s case has differences as well as similarities and seems to be on a different track in terms of Church discipline) the question for local priesthood leaders became to consider at what point her conduct crossed a line of being inconsistent with continued membership in the Church. From an ecclesiastical point of view, I don’t think that excommunication or other forms of discipline is contrary to the judge-not admonition of Matt. 7:1, because the Brethren have an affirmative obligation to maintain standards of righteousness and doctrinal integrity. Matt. 18:15-20; see also, Eph. 4:11-14. So then what happens is, when local priesthood leaders attempt privately to deal with conduct that may be inconsistent with membership … Sister Kelly goes public, seeks media attention and continues the effort (most recently at Sunstone – I’m guessing that’s not a coincidence in the timing of this essay?) to challenge, embarrass and pressure. If you think it is not OK to be critical of that, then I would ask you to do a better job of explaining why not.

    And you could also then explain why her accusations and the cacophony of other jeers and catcalls from all quarters – very much including from some members of the Church – in opposition to the actions of Church leaders does not constitute unrighteous judgment? There must be something to be said of letting leaders who we believe to be called of God to lead to, you know, do their jobs. Even if we might not like it in some cases. Because they hold the keys and we don’t, right?

    So if you want to know from whence comes unrighteous judgment, I think you’re pointing your finger in the wrong direction.

  9. It would appear that judging is “bad” unless you are judging the church. That is suspiciously convenient if ultimately you want to do your own thing. We all judge – life is a serious of choices and judgments and there is no harm in that. I judge Kate Kelly as being responsible for the outcome of his church court. That doesn’t mean I dislike her or would be unkind to her. What it means is that I have used my reasoning and awareness that I do not know all things and have drawn a conclusion. You are making this much harder than it needs to be. That is my judgment.

  10. I think that the idea that you do not agree with a person or an opinion is not judging.
    It is not rational to agree and accept actions of everyone and everything as one would have no judgement or a brain. Basically, it isn’t my business what people do or think unless it directly affects my life. I am responsible for myself and my flaws not for theirs. Otherwise, it’s not my day to watch them. As for the Churches, Governments, other organizations they have rules and have a right to disassociate with parties who don’t like the rules and vis versa. Judgement is too strong of word for people who simply do not agree – it is not human to meekly agree with everyone. Jesus may love all and will forgive
    all if asked but that doesn’t mean He approves of all the dumb things we do. He will be the final Judge.

  11. Comparing the persecution of Mormons in Missouri to the “persecution” of Dehlin and Kelly reveals very poor judgement on your part. Might I even say unrighteous judgement.

    Mobs that assault and murder are not the equivalent of excluding someone from membership in the Church.

    If you want to quote scripture, I think John 6:60-68 is more pertinent.

  12. I loved this post. The Saviour’s message was one of love, not judgment. We are asked to love not only our friends, but our enemies as well. This is, in my opinion, one of the greatest challenges we face. Thank you for sharing your perspective

  13. I am a fomer LDS member; I joined the Church in Russia then left after a few years, one main reason I left is the LDS attitude of intolerance & self-righteousness towards everyone else. I lived in Utah a short time & experienced myself how LDS persecutes & discriminates against non-members. (and they do trust me) If the LDS want to really build Zion they need to learn to respect beliefs of others and learn to love all people, but they won’t. When you’re the one & only True Church you can treat anyone else like Shit when you want to, right?

    • No, that’s not right. The Second Greatest Commandment requires much better than that. Your generalizations don’t seem to fit the people I know, although I admit to living elsewhere than Utah. 🙂

      • Go live in Utah for a little while & when asked tell them you’re a non-member. No it’s not right but that is what happens to non-LDS folks in Utah and elsewhere. Leaving the LDS is one of the best decisions I ever made….it freed me to have a relationship with God, not with J Smith jr, the Church, or the GA’s.

        • I’m sorry if you had a bad experience. I was trying to be a little lighthearted when I mentioned not living in Utah, but I’ve read comments from non-members who enjoy, appreciate and respect their Mormon friends and neighbors in Utah as elsewhere, so your harsh condemnation of Mormons generally might not be fair. My own history is that I was raised in evangelical churches where I learned a love for the Bible and Jesus Christ. Despite that background, I was enticed away from faith as a young adult and into mature years by the intellectual attractions (cold and sterile though they may be) of atheism, only to re-establish my faith in Jesus Christ through the Restored Gospel. No one asks me to substitute a relationship with Jesus for a relationship with Joesph Smith, let alone any General Authorities – that was kind of an odd thing to say. This isn’t really the place to have such a discussion, but maybe it helps for me to assure you that in my experience, Mormons are kind and loving, well beyond the norm of society today. My son served a Russian-speaking mission by the way and has a great love for the people of that region.

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  15. I am a Mormon that grew up in the south. I was constantly “Judged”, belittled, had anti-mormon literature put in my locker, invited to The God Makers more times than I can count, told I was not Christian, that I did not believe in Jesus Christ, that I was going to Hell, that I was damned, had KKK members kids threaten to have their fathers take justice out on me or any mormon they met. Yet, I went to Mass with my Catholic friends, I went to Methodist bible school, I went to Lutheran, Pentecostal, Baptist, Southern Baptist, and Presbyterian churches and I still have a Jehovah’s Witness friend that comes over monthly, because I have been taught through the LDS church, and in my home, a healthy respect for those inside of and outside of my faith. I have been judged by other Mormons, and people from all of the same religions and more listed above. I have had Baptist friends be told by their parents that they cannot play with the mormon kids down the street. I have never in my life been told to judge others because of religion or for any other reason, and I will never teach my children to be judgmental.
    The bottom line to all of this is that people will be people, no matter their religion, race, upbringing, or whatever. I value my mormon friends and my friends who are not mormon, equally. I could have a lot to be bitter about when it comes to the judgements of others and could choose to harbor these judgements deeply. But I choose not to! Each scripture (though worded differently) is taught with the same premise… “Judge not that ye be not judged.”
    People make mistakes. I trust and believe in the Atonement of Jesus Christ to take care of my sins, imperfections, sorrows, and stupid mistakes. I do not believe that any person is capable of being perfect. That job was given already to our Savior. While it is promised that a prophet will never lead us astray, I do not believe in blind faith. I served a mission in which my mission president was sent home for a grievous sin. I chose to continue to value the great lessons he taught while he was there, while some chose to have their testimonies shaken and leave the church. It was not my place to judge him. He made a mistake!! One that in truth did a lot of damage. The atonement takes care of that for him and me equally. It also says in the scriptures to not be easily offended, to love thy neighbor as thyself, to be a doer of good, etc.
    My husband and I have taught our children that if you are looking for truth you will find it and just as equally if you are looking for flaws you will find those just as easily. It depends on what you want to spend your life doing. I am one to seek after truth and to find the answers to my own own questions. It is easy to look for the flaws around us, but I find so much more joy in searching for the truths that are in everything I see. But then again, I’m a half cup full sort of person.
    There is not one person on this earth that has been asked to follow blindly. Especially in the LDS church. I have been taught my whole life to find my own strength and my own testimony by the leaders of this church. And I am so thankful for that, because my testimony of Jesus Christ is my own! I have read the Bible (Old testament and New), The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price of my own free will and know that they all testify of Jesus Christ! I also realize that I could find fault in any of those sacred scriptures. But I can not deny what I have experienced in reading them and the truth that I have found in them to guide my own life.
    My life has been one of constant sorrow and trials, yet I find comfort, peace, and guidance through the strength of my own knowledge that Jesus Christ lives and loves me. That he knows me. That he knows and loves my neighbors, be they mormon or not. If you have questions about something, all you have to do is ASK. I believe you’ll find that in all of the scriptures as well. Even if they are worded a little differently in each different book of scripture it means the same thing. “Ask and ye shall receive, Seek and ye shall find, Knock and it will be opened unto you!”

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