I Want the Liberty of Believing as I Please

It Feels so Good not to be Trammeled

In April 1843, Pelatiah Brown sought to silence certain critics of the LDS Church by stretching and twisting the meaning of passages from the book of Revelation to make his point. After Brother Brown had been disciplined for doing so, Joseph Smith said: “I did not like the old man being called up for erring in doctrine. It looks too much like the Methodist, and not like the Latter-day Saints.

“Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammeled. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine.” – Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 2nd ed. rev. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 5:340.

The same account, as reported by William Clayton: “I never thought it was right to call up a man and try him because he erred in doctrine. It looks too much like Methodism and not like Latter-day-Saintism. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be kicked out of their church. I want the liberty of believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammeled. It doesn’t prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine.” (Joseph Smith, Discourse, 8 Apr. 1843, JS Collection, Church History Library)

Do Mormons Have Creeds?

The standard answer to this question is, “No, we have the Articles of Faith.” But are there standard doctrines that must be believed in order to be considered a faithful Mormon? The answer to that question is an absolute yes. There are also standard teachings about the history of the LDS Church that one must hold to be considered orthodox and a member in good standing. For example, one must accept the doctrine of succession in the presidency, particularly as it relates to Brigham Young, keys of authority and the current church president.

These doctrines that must be accepted and believed are contained in the baptismal, priesthood and temple interview questions. Your answers to those questions are what I mean by absolutes or final truth or authoritative judgement. There is some leeway outside of those “covenant path” questions, but for those who want to be considered “true and faithful” you must accept certain things and respond in the appropriate manner when asked by those in authority. In particular, only certain interpretations of scripture and history are acceptable.

Back to my example of succession in the presidency. I have no problem with Brigham Young claiming he was elected president of the LDS Church. But I do have a problem with the claim of the modern leaders of the LDS Church that they have all the same rights and keys that were given to Joseph Smith. Being a prophet, as Joseph Smith, is not the same as being the President of the LDS Church. The idea that anything the current president of the church proclaims is scripture is simply not true. I’m grateful for the gift of agency to not believe this.

Agency and Gratitude

There are two things I have been pondering over the past few months. These ideas seem to be recurring themes I am seeing almost every day in various aspects of my life. I believe the Lord has a way of bringing certain suggestions like these to our minds in a way that merit our attention. These divine promptings deserve our deep and ponderous thought. One is agency and the other is gratitude. I know that anyone who truly believes God is in charge and has a plan for us also accepts the absolute truth of agency – our right to choose our path.

This allows me to have a conversation with just about any good-hearted person without having to justify why I believe as I do. I can trust that they, like me, value agency, liberty of thought and belief, and will honor my agency as I honor theirs to believe as they do. Of course, I would like to be able to persuade them to logically consider my story which I hope explains how and why I’ve arrived at the beliefs I have. But in the end, my story is mine, their story is theirs, and I trust they are living true to what they believe will bring them eternal happiness.

That brings me to gratitude, and specifically why I am grateful to all the wonderful people I associate with in the LDS Church. Even though I am not a member, I continue to attend each Sunday, to participate as much as I am allowed, and to keep my mouth shut when I might disagree with some doctrinal or historical teaching that I see otherwise because of my life story and the sources I choose to trust and to believe. I have no desire to make anyone feel uncomfortable by raising doubts or questions. I desire only their happiness and success.

Focus on Common Beliefs

In my home, I try to focus on things Carol and I have in common such as our politically conservative beliefs, and our love of reading, writing and publishing. We are both seeking to hone our craft, especially as we are entering our retirement years. While it would be nice to write, publish and market a best-seller or maybe just a bunch of good stories, for me, I simply enjoy the process of improving my skills in this area. But I encourage Carol in every way I can, financially and otherwise, as she is determined to publish and sell her many stories.

We simply don’t talk about why I resigned from the LDS Church. That’s old news now. I know Carol would very much like me to become a full-fledged member once again. After all, I was faithful to the church for most of my life. I hope the fact that I still attend LDS Church services with her each Sunday is some comfort. I support and sustain her in all her activities, attending social activities organized around the church and the local members, singing in the choir, encouraging her to attend the temple and participating in “empty nesters” FHE.

I have been meeting occasionally with our local bishop. We’ve both been investigating the possibility of reconciling my differences with the church. I’ve been trying to follow his suggestions but so far have not been persuaded that the assignments he has given me will help me “repent” and become worthy of rebaptism. As I have often said, I studied, pondered and prayed for two years about the teachings I now hold before committing to baptism as a sign to the Lord I accepted the message He had caused to be delivered by His Servant.

Gratitude for my Agency

I have had a lot of conversations with the Lord lately about how powerful this gift of agency really is. He has made it abundantly clear he will always honor my agency. He has also demonstrated His love for me by not chastising me for foolish mistakes or human weakness. Yet he continues to strive with me, bringing things to my mind that help me know He is thinking of me and would like me to ponder and pray about something that He knows will help me. For example, I felt led to read the account of his sufferings in Gethsemane again last night.

I believe each of us must come to personally view Christ’s sufferings in the Garden in order to be motivated to rise up and come into His presence and to have a true understanding of His love for us. Understanding what happened that night will give each of us strength to ascend up on high, to rise up above the bonds of mortality and walk in the paths of heaven. I am grateful for my own revelations of Gethsemane that gave me strength and understanding of why certain things are as they are in my own life with spirit world influences.

It has been well over thirty years since I received what I considered a revelation, intended personally for me, to teach me in a way I could understand, how the Savior suffered specifically for me and overcame all the darkness the adversary and his followers were allowed to inflict upon him. I continue to ponder it and other spiritual experiences I consider revelations designed specifically for me. I thank God for my agency that He continues to honor as He waits for me to rise up and walk the paths of heaven with Him. Gratitude fills my heart.

Honoring Each Other’s Agency

I am especially grateful when I converse with others about what it means to be a follower of Christ. I believe that although the Church was organized under the direction of the Lord, and was at one time “The Only True and Living Church Upon the Face of the Earth,” that was because Joseph, a dispensation head, was alive to receive the oracles of the Lord. He had the keys of knowledge of how to call upon the Lord and receive answers. One must ask, “Was that heavenly gift passed to another when Joseph was betrayed by his friends and killed?”

I do not believe Brigham, who was an adulterer (I know that’s harsh, but it’s true), could in any way claim that he had the same gifts of prophecy and revelation that Joseph had. Joseph was not an adulterer. Read “Joseph Smith Revealed: A Faithful Telling” to understand. There is something wrong with the idea that an adulterer could also be a prophet of the Lord. I say it again: Joseph was not an adulterer but Brigham was. Brigham did not have the keys of knowledge to prophecy or receive revelation. He got himself elected church President.

I appreciate those who honor my agency to believe these things. When I resigned my membership in the LDS Church, I was told I no longer could have the gift of the Holy Ghost or priesthood. That is a false teaching. The LDS Church does not control priesthood or the ministrations of the Holy Ghost. The LDS Church is dependent upon those who hold priesthood, not the other way around. And for those who study it out, especially in D&C 124:28-32, they will understand that the LDS Church was rejected “along with all their dead.”

[For those who wonder, here is the link for the image of Joseph Smith I used]