I feel compelled to respond to a recent talk by Elder Ballard. In doing so, I do not judge Elder Ballard’s intentions. I think his plea to those who are disaffected with the LDS church is genuine. But I want to respond because there are incorrect assumptions within his questions. I want him and other members of the LDS church to understand more about the choices that others make.
Elder Ballard begins his talk by recounting events from John 17:
Several years ago my family and I visited the Holy Land. One of my vivid memories from our trip was a visit to the upper room in Jerusalem, the traditional site of the Last Supper. As we stood in that place, I read to them from John 17, where Jesus pleads with His Father for His disciples:
“I pray for them … that they may be one, as we are. …
“Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;
“That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.”
I was deeply moved while reading these words and found myself praying in that sacred place that I could ever be one with my family and with my Heavenly Father and with His Son. Our precious relationships with families, friends, the Lord, and His restored Church are among the things that matter most in life. Because these relationships are so important, they should be cherished, protected, and nurtured.
The false assumptions begin in the preceding paragraph. Elder Ballard states that “our precious relationships with…His restored Church [is] among the things that matter most in life”. That may be among the things that Elder Ballard believes matter most, but some of us are not worried about a relationship with an impersonal, bureaucratic, oligarchic organization. I care about the church with a small c, the people who consider themselves to be followers of Christ. People matter. God matters. Organizations do not. Elder Ballard, please understand that not everyone believes that Joseph Smith came to restore a hierarchical church.
Elder Ballard then continues by relating events from John 6 and tying them to the events of John 17:
One of the most heart-wrenching stories in scripture occurred when “many of [the Lord’s] disciples” found it hard to accept His teachings and doctrine, and they “went back, and walked no more with him.”
As these disciples left, Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Will ye also go away?”
“Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.
“And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.”4
In that moment, when others focused on what they could not accept, the Apostles chose to focus on what they did believe and know, and as a result, they remained with Christ.
Later, on the day of Pentecost, the Twelve received the gift of the Holy Ghost. They became bold in their witness of Christ and began to understand more fully Jesus’s teachings.
Given Elder Ballard’s statements about relationships with family, the LDS church, and then this story about disciples leaving Christ, he is clearly trying to tie together leaving the LDS church with people abandoning Christ. Elder Ballard, is it really so hard to believe that a person could actually choose to leave the LDS church because of their love for Christ? I understand that people can be deceived about what is right. My bishop essentially said the same thing when I resigned my church membership. But please, have some respect for differing opinions. I left the church because I sincerely believe that God wanted me to do so. I did not do it for spite, or anger, or offense, or even desire. I did it because I believe it was the right thing to do. I honor God the best I can. You don’t know me, Elder Ballard. You don’t know that our family is more prayerful, more considerate, more generous, more Christ-centered than ever, despite the fact that I have resigned and my wife and children are largely inactive. We care very much about what is right. I ask you to please accept that a person, even if deluded, can genuinely love Christ and serve Him outside of the LDS church.
Elder Ballard continues:
Today is no different. For some, Christ’s invitation to believe and remain continues to be hard—or difficult to accept. Some disciples struggle to understand a specific Church policy or teaching. Others find concerns in our history or in the imperfections of some members and leaders, past and present. Still others find it difficult to live a religion that requires so much. Finally, some have become “weary in well-doing.” For these and other reasons, some Church members vacillate in their faith, wondering if perhaps they should follow those who “went back, and walked no more” with Jesus.
Elder Ballard, in making this statement, you are equating church membership and attendance with following Christ. These two things are NOT, NOT, NOT the same. I could cite examples of your own leaders saying the same thing. If following Christ and being active in the church are the same thing, why do church leaders continue to find it necessary to continually admonish people for viewing pornography, treating people unkindly, and other things? Please, Elder Ballard, be honest. There are some, maybe even many, who have left the LDS church because they love Christ. I know that you claim that your church is the only “true” church, but Christ has repeatedly said throughout scripture that ALL MEN may come unto him and be saved. Even if your claim of being the only “true” church was correct, repentance and love for the Savior are not exclusive to your church.
Also, it is extremely discouraging to see that you accuse nonbelievers of wanting to sin. You don’t use those words, but when you say that some become weary in well doing, what else am I to conclude but that you think that defectors from the church want to sin? This is a tired argument that is beneath you.
If any one of you is faltering in your faith, I ask you the same question that Peter asked: “To whom shall [you] go?” If you choose to become inactive or to leave the restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where will you go? What will you do? The decision to “walk no more” with Church members and the Lord’s chosen leaders will have a long-term impact that cannot always be seen right now. There may be some doctrine, some policy, some bit of history that puts you at odds with your faith, and you may feel that the only way to resolve that inner turmoil right now is to “walk no more” with the Saints. If you live as long as I have, you will come to know that things have a way of resolving themselves. An inspired insight or revelation may shed new light on an issue. Remember, the Restoration is not an event, but it continues to unfold.
I have an answer for you, Elder Ballard. I will go to Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. Not to men who purport to speak for Him, but to Him and Him alone. He is the keeper of the gate and employs no servant there. I understand that prophets and apostles are sent to testify and warn, but true prophets and apostles do not set themselves up as middlemen in the great heavenly bureaucracy. They point to the light, they do not set themselves up as a light. Please understand that some of us do not believe that LDS church leaders are God’s “chosen leaders”. Some of us have a different understanding of what “chosen” means. Also, you ask why “some doctrine” would cause someone to leave the church? For myself, the doctrine of “follow the prophet” is a damnable, false, and pernicious doctrine that retards the spiritual growth of many. According to Russell Nelson, by sustaining the prophet I am binding myself to all of his counsel. What if his counsel is wrong? I wholeheartedly reject the doctrine that the leader of the LDS church cannot lead us astray. In fact, I believe they can, do, and have. If a person does not profess belief in the church president as a prophet, he cannot be baptized and certainly cannot receive a temple recommend without lying. When it became apparent that this “follow the prophet” doctrine is the driving force in the church, I concluded that I should leave because I was not suitable for baptism and would eventually be forced out anyway if I spoke to others about my “apostate” belief.
I also find it interesting that you state that the Restoration is not an event, but it continues to unfold. Elder Ballard, I find this ironic because you and the other church leaders continue to enact policies, make statements, change ordinances, and move away from the teachings of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. I could cite so many things – the pursuit of filthy lucre (i.e. business investments with tithing money, a paid clergy (please don’t try to say that you support yourself with your own labors), teaching the commandments of men (word of wisdom, 10% of gross as tithing) as doctrines. These are some of the things you and your colleagues in church leadership have done in opposition to what Joseph Smith taught and what the Book of Mormon teaches. And don’t even get me started with Brigham Young and polygamy. Please, Elder Ballard, do not accuse those who leave of moving away from the Restoration. I embrace the restoration. I just believe differently than you. I believe the restoration was one of knowledge, knowledge that God lives and will reveal Himself to ANYONE, not just a few special chosen people.
Never abandon the great truths revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Never stop reading, pondering, and applying the doctrine of Christ contained in the Book of Mormon.
Never fail to give equal time to the Lord through honest attempts to understand what the Lord has revealed. As my dear friend and former colleague Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said, “We should not assume … that just because something is unexplainable by us it is unexplainable.”
You will not get any argument from me about these statements. Unfortunately, the pondering and searching have led me squarely outside the mainstream of the LDS church.
So before you make that spiritually perilous choice to leave, I encourage you to stop and think carefully before giving up whatever it was that brought you to your testimony of the restored Church of Jesus Christ in the first place. Stop and think about what you have felt here and why you felt it. Think about the times when the Holy Ghost has borne witness to you of eternal truth.
Why do you think it is spiritually perilous to leave the church, Elder Ballard? Can a man only serve God in a church? Also, when has Christ or any true prophet ever taught that a testimony of an organization was necessary for salvation? Why do you not see that teaching these things circumscribes members’ beliefs into a creed? I have felt much good while at church. But it wasn’t because of the church. The Holy Ghost has provided me with much truth. It has led me to a broken heart, a contrite spirit, and through the grace, mercy, and love of Christ, to a remission of my sins and renewal of my soul. This did not happen at church. This happened in the privacy of my own home, with no one around, just me and Christ. Please do not presume to have played a role in my salvation.
Where will you go to find others who share your belief in personal, loving Heavenly Parents, who teach us how to return to Their eternal presence?
I have found fellowship with people who have similar beliefs. But even if those others were not there, I will always be able to go to Christ. Sometimes the journey of truth and righteousness is solitary, save for the company of the Lord.
Where will you go to be taught about a Savior who is your best friend, who not only suffered for your sins but who also suffered “pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind” so “that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities,” including, I believe, the infirmity of loss of faith?
Elder Ballard, I have the scriptures and the testimonies of eyewitnesses of Christ to give me hope that one day, a day here in mortality, I will enter into the presence of God. There are those who are alive today who have seen these things and testified of them. I am very sorry to say that based on your words, you are not among them. So for you to claim to be an apostle is to bear false witness. True apostles have seen our Lord. Otherwise they have only been ordained to become such. They still have not been true and faithful and had their ordination made sure. I am grateful for those who have seen God and testified of it, because it has given me faith in Him, that He lives. He is the one to whom I will go.
Where will you go to learn more about Heavenly Father’s plan for our eternal happiness and peace, a plan that is filled with wondrous possibilities, teachings, and guidance for our mortal and eternal lives? Remember, the plan of salvation gives mortal life meaning, purpose, and direction.
I agree with this, Elder Ballard, but I find the church’s teaching about the plan of salvation to be woefully inadequate. In fact, some of the things I have found from careful examination of the scriptures, sincere prayer, and the light and knowledge provided by true servants of God have shown that there are wondrous things about eternity that the LDS church simply cannot grasp. Also, I have to say that I find this to be a veiled threat. Many times I have heard you and other church leaders essentially teach that if I don’t toe the line of belief, that I will be forcibly separated from my family upon death. While there is merit to the idea that not all men will inherit the same kingdom, I do not believe that you are correct in your assertion that I will forever lose association with my family in the hereafter if I don’t believe as you do. Perhaps one day you will see fit to explain how it is that this doctrine is in harmony with the principle of free agency.
Where will you go to find a detailed and inspired Church organizational structure through which you are taught and supported by men and women who are deeply committed to serving the Lord by serving you and your family?
Hopefully I will not find a detailed organizational structure. I expect the structure of Zion to be flat, since all are expected to know the Lord. I will not have need that others will teach me for I will learn from the Lord Himself. Please, Elder Ballard, you need to understand that not everyone believes that the LDS church organization is inspired of God.
Where will you go to find living prophets and apostles, who are called by God to give you another resource for counsel, understanding, comfort, and inspiration for the challenges of our day?
Elder Ballard, I believe that the test of life is to find truth wherever it is. While some truth is present in the LDS church, please understand that I do not consider its leader to be a prophet simply because of his church calling. In fact, I believe that much counsel that comes from the presiding brethren is false, damnable, and filled with darkness. Prophets are around us in this day. In fact, you and Russell Nelson were involved in excommunicating some of them. You know who they are. They spoke truth and you cast them out. You and your colleagues claim that you are the only ones who can claim the title of prophet, seer, and revelator, but the scriptures do not support your claim. Further, you have not prophesied, you have not seen, and you have not revealed anything. None of you have. So how is it that you can make this claim? I’m sorry, but the hard truth is that you are not what you claim.
Where will you go to find people who live by a prescribed set of values and standards that you share and want to pass along to your children and grandchildren?
The only values and standards that matter are those given by the Lord. The number of earrings, the presence of tattoos, the consumption of beer, and the use of tobacco are the standards of men. Personally, I agree with most of the personal conduct standards set by the church, but Christ was found among the sinners, not the whited sepulchers of the church leadership. I do not believe our day is any different.
And where will you go to experience the joy that comes through the saving ordinances and covenants of the temple?
Here is that veiled threat again. Please, Elder Ballard, do not make the temple ordinances more than what they are. First, the ordinances do not save. Living the principles taught in the ordinances help us to come to Christ, the only one who saves. The temple endowment is merely a tool that teaches us how to come to God. How is that you do not understand this? The sealing ordinance is misunderstood and does not conform to what Joseph Smith taught. I do not believe that you or your colleagues or predecessors understand what Joseph was doing when he sealed people to himself. You have changed this ordinance. It still has value in teaching but it is not correct. Perhaps if you spent more time studying the life and teachings of Joseph Smith and less time presiding over the opening of malls and real estate developments, you would find out what God is really doing. Elder Ballard, you and your fellow church authorities and those who follow you are being left behind in the dealings of God.
Brothers and sisters, accepting and living the gospel of Christ can be challenging. It has always been thus, and it ever will be. Life can be like hikers ascending a steep and arduous trail. It is a natural and normal thing to occasionally pause on the path to catch our breath, to recalculate our bearings, and to reconsider our pace. Not everyone needs to pause on the path, but there is nothing wrong with doing so when your circumstances require. In fact, it can be a positive thing for those who take full advantage of the opportunity to refresh themselves with the living water of the gospel of Christ.
The danger comes when someone chooses to wander away from the path that leads to the tree of life. Sometimes we can learn, study, and know, and sometimes we have to believe, trust, and hope.
Elder Ballard, the path to God is an individual one. There is no big, safe, easy way for the masses to receive group salvation. Please understand as you ask these rhetorical questions that there are those who simply see things differently.
In the end, each one of us must respond to the Savior’s question: “Will ye also go away?” We all have to search for our own answer to that question. For some, the answer is easy; for others, it is difficult. I don’t pretend to know why faith to believe comes easier for some than for others. I’m just so grateful to know that the answers are always there, and if we seek them—really seek with real intent and with full purpose of a prayerful heart—we will eventually find the answers to our questions as we continue on the gospel path. In my ministry, I have known those who have drifted and returned after their trial of faith.
I have sought these answers you speak of, Elder Ballard. Is it so hard to believe that the answers I have received have led me to a path that is different from yours? My faith has been strengthened as I have moved down the path. You and your church do not have a monopoly on faith.
My sincere hope is that we will invite an increasing number of God’s children to find and stay on the gospel path so they too can “partake of the fruit, which [is] desirable above all other fruit.”
I’ll be honest, Elder Ballard. No one has stepped forward to find out why my beliefs are different than theirs. My bishop said he wanted to talk to me about my resignation, but after he read my letter he simply processed it and I have heard nothing since.
My heartfelt plea is that we will encourage, accept, understand, and love those who are struggling with their faith. We must never neglect any of our brothers and sisters. We are all at different places on the path, and we need to minister to one another accordingly.
It is very discouraging that you equate leaving the LDS church with “struggling with their faith”. I left as an act of faith. I acted on a prompting. I recognize that you would probably believe that I was deceived in this prompting. I obtained a more sure witness, the nature of which ought not to be public. But it was sure, and I have faith that what I did was right. I certainly know beyond doubt that my intentions were pure, and I would repent immediately if I believed I had made a mistake. Please, Elder Ballard, I am asking you to stop lumping those who leave into the same bucket. We are not all struggling with our faith.
Just as we should open our arms in a spirit of welcoming new converts, so too should we embrace and support those who have questions and are faltering in their faith.
Utilizing another familiar metaphor, I pray that anyone thinking of leaving the “Old Ship Zion,” where God and Christ are at the helm, will pause and think carefully before doing so.
Please know that even though great storms of wind and waves beat upon the old ship, the Savior is on board and is able to rebuke the storm with His command “Peace, be still.” Until then, we must not fear, and we must have unwavering faith and know that “even the wind and the sea obey him.”
I am beyond frustrated, Elder Ballard. The path (or boat) to God is not a giant vessel crammed with people, yielding the steering to an elite few. I think it is appropriate that Peter left the boat to walk to Christ. Some of us see the “old ship Zion” as being on a course for destruction. Personally, I have determined that Christ will steer my ship. I will not trust church leaders to do it for me. I do not see malls, land acquisition in Florida, condo complexes in Philadelphia, and financial savvy as the recipe to build Zion.
Brothers and sisters, I promise you in the name of the Lord that He will never abandon His Church and that He will never abandon any one of us. Remember Peter’s response to the Savior’s question and words:
“To whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.
“And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.”
I testify that there is “no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ.”
I also testify that Jesus Christ has called apostles and prophets in our day and restored His Church with teachings and commandments as “a refuge from the storm, and from wrath” that will surely come unless the people of the world repent and return to Him.
I further testify that the Lord “inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; … and all are alike unto God.”
Jesus is our Savior and Redeemer, and His restored gospel will lead us safely back to the presence of our Heavenly Parents if we remain on the gospel path and follow in His footsteps. To which I testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Elder Ballard, the Lord’s church is defined in D&C 10:67-68. They are those who repent and come unto him, and those who teach anything more or less than this come from evil. I am left to conclude that your teaching that the church is the only way back to God is evil. You do not speak for Christ. If you have a message given you directly from God or one of His angels, then speak it plainly and state the source. Otherwise, you are just a pretender. You are taking the Lord’s name in vain when you speak these words, and in doing so you are damning yourself and anyone who heeds your message. Please, Elder Ballard, I implore you to reconsider your statements. The LDs church is not the gospel path.
Elder Ballard, you have asked where I will go. I will go to my God, my Redeemer, my Savior. I will turn to Him with full purpose of heart. I will try to persuade as many of the children of men who will hear to do likewise. Not to leave the church, but to put God first in their lives. Is it really so hard to believe that someone who loves their Savior could have a different belief than you? If so, you do not understand the workings of God. Does God withhold forgiveness from those who do not believe in the LDS church? If you think so then you do not know your God.
And finally, Elder Ballard, I close with a question for you. Have you repented of your sins? Have you been baptized with fire? Do you have a testimony from heaven, a KNOWLEDGE that your sins are forgiven, that you are clean before God? Have you sought with your whole soul know the Lord and do every single thing He asks of you? Even if that means putting aside the culture, belief system, or teachings you have grown up with? Are you willing to sacrifice those things on the altar? Such things are of far greater significance than simple membership in a church. Your message of repentance should come through loud and clear, not your condemnation and mocking of those who do not conform to your way of thinking. Why do you care if people leave the church? You ought to be more worried about whether they love Christ and seek to serve Him at all costs.