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Why Snuffer Got Exe’d

I finished Denver Snuffer’s book a few weeks ago, and I really enjoyed the book.  Snuffer gives some original readings of both LDS Church history and scripture.  I did a partial review of his book a few weeks ago when I talked about Snuffer’s position on polygamy (Snuffer believes that God permitted, rather than commanded polygamy, and that Church leaders misunderstood D&C 132 which is really 4 revelations.) If you haven’t heard of Denver Snuffer or his book Passing the Heavenly Gift, you should be aware that this book got him excommunicated.  I have stated in the past that I strongly disagree with the LDS Church’s decision to excommunicate Mr. Snuffer.  Now that I have completed the book, I would like to talk about where I believe the Church takes issue with Snuffer’s book. The LDS Church is in Apostasy

It’s more than a little ironic that Denver was excommunicated for apostasy;  Snuffer claims in his book that the LDS Church is in apostasy and has been rejected by God.  Snuffer uses the Book of Mormon to make his point.  He quotes 3 Nephi 16:10-12 which states that

the Gentiles shall sin against my gospel, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, and shall be lifted up in the pride of their hears above all nations, and above the people of the whole earth, and shall be filled with all manner of lyings, and of deceits…. and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, behold, saith the Father, I will bring the fulness of my gospel from among them… (abbreviated for brevity)

Snuffer gives his interpretation of this scripture.

Christ’s prophecy does not anticipate gentile success.  The gentiles will reject the fullness offered to them.  “At that day when the Gentiles shall sin against my gospel” does not raise the possibility of “if” but only “when.”  According to Christ, the gentiles “Shall reject the fullness of my gospel.”  Taking these words at their plain meaning, it leaves no room for gentiles to obtain and perpetuate the fullness of priesthood.  They will instead reject it when it is offered them.  But, despite having rejected it, gentiles are allowed to repent, and join the Book of Mormon people and be saved.  {Snuffer goes on to quote verses 13-16.  Snuffer continues on page 333.} … Nephi’s prophecy about the future gentile history is also speaking of the latter-day church.  {Snuffer quotes 1 Nephi 13:30-34} {p 334}  Through Joseph Smith’s ministry, the Book of Mormon has been brought to light.  “Much of [Christ's] Gospel” has been given to the gentiles.  Significantly, Nephi does not foresee the gentiles obtaining “all” or a fullness, but only “much” of Christ’s Gospel.  We were offered more.  The “fullness” that was lost to the gentiles was offered again, they only had to complete the Nauvoo Temple as required.{footnote 421}  The traditional Mormon view is that Joseph was able, outside the temple, to transfer all keys in his red brick store, and the church received and has kept the fullness.  However, Nephi’s description of what was to be given the gentiles says only “much” will be returned, not that a “fullness” will be given. The traditional narrative also requires the language of revelation be not only meaningless, but contradicted.  The requirement to build the Nauvoo Temple was because, as the Lord explained it:  “For there is not a place found on earth that he may come to and restore again that which has been lost to you, or which he hath taken away, even a fulness of the priesthood.”  (D&C 124:28.)  If a red brick store is an adequate substitute for a temple, then there must have been plenty of places that could be found for the Lord to come and again restore a fulness.

Snuffer states his position even more strongly on page 336, after quoting 2 Nephi 28:11-14.

The churches of the gentiles have “all gone out of the way; they have become corrupted.”  There is no exception.  There isn’t a “one true church” which stands out against a background of fallen, false churches.  All of them are out of harmony with the Lord.  Gentiles have not maintained the gospel in purity and power.

Page 337 he continues

False religions offer everything but worship of Christ.  They will use good ideas, virtues, even true concepts as a distraction to keep followers from coming to Christ.  The way to prevent souls from receiving redemption is to distract them.  Good people want to do good things.  So long as they are kept occupied with hollow virtues and sentimental stories they cannot come to Christ, enter His presence, and gain salvation.  The stories urged by false teachers are filling, but no nourishing to the soul.  As long as the false precepts of men distract the “humble followers of Christ” from coming to Him, it is enough.  Nephi says this will happen.

Page 338,

The false virtues will be defended as the whole truth, despite the fact they do not lead men to Christ.  Those who claim repentance is necessary will be accused of looking beyond the mark.  They will be thought of as false messengers, with a false message, trying to steady the ark.  They will be asked by what authority they preach repentance, because they are not called to lead.  However, Nephi condemned those who “lead” because they “teach by the precepts of men,” and not by the Holy Ghost.  Therefore a call to repentance cannot come from a leader.  It must come from elsewhere.  When it does, the result will be anger, even rage as Satan stirs up the hearts of men.

Page 339,

So each week these gentiles will declare to each other “I know the church is true” as a mantra to console them.  Yes, “All is well” with this imitation Zion.  It does prosper, after the world’s meaning of that term.  But Nephi warns us in unmistakable sobriety:  “wo be unto him that is at ease in Zion!”

I could go on, but it is pretty clear that Snuffer writes a pretty scathing critique of current church culture, and that the current LDS Church is an apostate form.  I’d like to talk about some other things that Church leaders would find unsettling.

Denigrating Church Leaders

In calling for the disciplinary council, Snuffer’s stake president stated that Denver’s book “denigrated virtually every prophet since Joseph Smith, and placed the church in a negative light.”  I’m not sure I agree that this is grounds for excommunication, but I do think that this charge is mostly accurate. Snuffer’s book says there are 4 phases of Mormonism

  1. The Joseph Smith period (1820-44),
  2. Plural Marriage (1844-1890–perhaps to 1904),
  3. Abandonment of plural marriage (and resulting excommunications approx 1904-1955),
  4. David O. McKay era to present.

Snuffer’s 4 divisions of LDS Church history are reasonable, but where church leaders will have problems are with Snuffer’s characterization of Church leaders.  From page 241, Snuffer writes,

Third Phase Mormonism abandoned, and denounced as heretical, principles and practices that were a vital part of the earlier phases.  The denunciation of these new found heresies became so ardent as to justify excommunication.  Whereas, the second phase venerated and tried to live all of the first phase’s teachings, the third phase did not.  In order to accomplish this kind of adjustment to the religion, a cult of personality, comparable to Catholicism’s veneration of the Pope, needed to attach to the office of the President of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  These changes in third phase Mormonism made it possible to create a faith on a distinctly different trajectory than the original. Mormonism no longer believed that persecution was a badge of authenticity {footnote 367}, but began to work for acceptance, even popularity.  Instead of the ambition to be “independent above all other creatures beneath the celestial world,”  {footnote 368} the new hope was to become mainstream American; accepted, and even admired by as many fellow Americans as possible.

Snuffer goes on to explain that many apostles were chosen not for their spirituality, but for their business acumen.  He quotes Michael Quinn’s book Mormon Hierarchy:  Extensions of Power.  (It is noteworthy that Quinn has been excommunicated not for this book, but for previous books he wrote.)  Quinn writes

The change in the apostolic “charge” apparently began with the appointment of Reed Smoot as an apostle in 1900.  General church authorities had long regarded him as “reliable in business, but [he] has little or no faith.”  President Lorenzo Snow blessed him to receive “the light of the Holy Ghost” so that he could bear testimony of Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith.  This was an extraordinary departure of the apostolic charge as given since 1835. The lessening of charismatic obligation continued during Joseph F. Smith’s administration.  In 1903 the “charge” to new apostle George Albert Smith spoke of his obligations to attend quorum meetings, to sustain the First Presidency and Twelve’s leadership, to express his views “boldly” in quorum meetings, and to lead an exemplary life.  There was no mention of visions.  In 1907 Francis M. Lyman instructed newly ordained Anthony W. Ivins:  “The Twelve are the Special witnesses of Jesus Christ & should be able to testify that he lives even as if he had been seen by them” (emphasis added).

Snuffer then goes on to discuss Heber J. Grant’s calling as apostle, and Grant’s skepticism of spiritual manifestations such as visions.  From page 246,

{Grant} entertained doubts not only about his capacity to have spiritual experiences, but also about the propriety of such things.  He feared that they would not contribute to faith, but undermine it.  His diary records:

[May 30, 1890; in apostles' meeting] … Heber J. Grant.  Stated that he had never had an inspired dreaming in his life and that although he had always desired to see his father in dream or vision that he had never been allowed to enjoy this great privilege.  He had at all times been afraid to ask for any great spiritual manifestation as he would then be  under greater obligations and he had feared that he might become unfaithful as others had done who had been blessed with great manifestations.  He was ready and willing to obey his brethren who preside over him and said that he had never engaged in any kind of business without submitting the same to the First Presidency.  I have always felt that I am greatly deficient in spiritual gifts.”  (id., p. 115)

This fear of risking apostasy because of a spiritual manifestation continued to motivate his attitude and approach to spiritual experiences throughout his calling as an Apostle, and later as church president.  He would resist any effort to pursue a spiritual manifestation the remainder of his life.

Snuffer notes that Grant served as church president for 26 years, the second longest in church history, and that Grant was very strong in business.  Grant replaced Orson Pratt as an apostle, and looked with disdain on Elder Pratt for leaving his family destitute at his death.  Snuffer writes,

{page 250} “Apostle Grant acknowledged that there was a widespread view that he cared more for making money than anything else.”  … {page 251}  John Nuttall, the Secretary to the First Presidency made this observation about Elder Grant:  “[F]inancial matters have more weight with …Heber J. Grant than the things of the Kingdom.” … His business acumen and candor often resulted in a ‘tin-ear’ for others.  He records how he hurt some feelings by his insensitivity.  But he would justify himself.  Business was, after all, business.  Charity was secondary, an effect of his successful business endeavors.  It could never assume the foreground.  That would be unbusiness-like. {page 252} In considering the record of his life, it is apparent he was a towering businessman, and interested in finding enterprises he thought would help indirectly members of his faith.  He freely admitted how little he understood the things of God.  He may have been a visionary businessman, but he confessed he was never a visionary religious man.  His sermons were reminders to pay tithing, observe the Word of Wisdom, live chaste lives, and avoid debts.  He dispensed practical advice. Heber J. Grant was not alone in this world view.  Throughout this period the meetings of the First Presidency and Twelve Apostles were business meetings.  The meetings started with prayer and included temple based prayer circles, but the meetings then turned to practical discussions about political issues, business ventures, investment opportunities, tithing collections, and development of the community.

Snuffer concludes by restating that Grant was skeptical of spiritual manifestations, and he turned the church more toward a business orientation.  From page 261,

By the end of the third phase this ambition to gain influence to affect the saints’ business affairs had been accomplished.  The president was presumed to have the right to speak on all matters, and the advice he gives on any matter should always be followed.  As that idea took, the stage was set for the fourth phase to begin.  The pivot between the two happened with the ascendancy of David O. McKay, as the ninth church president.  His presidency would take full advantage of a cult of personality surrounding the church president. {page 263}  When it is believed a man can bind heaven, then it is believed that salvation is available by and through that man.  Therefore, loyalty to him can be rewarded with eternal prosperity, and disloyalty is all the more fearful because he can eternally withhold, as well.  Even the scriptural caution about “control, or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men”{D&C 121:37} is arguably circumvented by such authority is only evident if the Lord kills a church president.  Absent that, the fourth phase of Mormon president will not, indeed cannot, err or lead astray, and there are none who can molest his authority.  He reigns over all, as the spokesman of God.  To challenge him is to challenge the vicar of God.  This marked the coming of the Mormon Pontiff and the modern fourth phase of Mormonism.  Other elements were added, but the cult of personality was a necessity.  It enabled the other changes to take place without resistance from rank and file Mormons.

This is certainly very strong language against Church hierarchy.

God has rejected the LDS Church

Snuffer also says that the destruction of the Nauvoo Temple and trials suffered by Mormon Pioneers were a sign of God’s rejection of the LDS Church, though God hasn’t fully rejected the Mormons.  Snuffer also takes issue with traditional narratives.  From page 380,

 We know the house was not finished while Joseph was alive.  Nor was it completed while the Twelve were still in Nauvoo.  There was never any endowment performed in the completed Nauvoo Temple.  Those endowments, and sealings performed by Joseph Smith in Nauvoo were done in the upper room of his red brick store.  Those done by Brigham Young were performed in the attic of an incomplete Nauvoo Temple.  When the Twelve abandoned Nauvoo in February, the temple was neither completed nor dedicated.  It would be months before that happened. … {page 380}  The “fullness”—if it was transferred to Joseph Smith to other church leaders while in Nauvoo as we claim—was never done in the Nauvoo Temple.  Yet the Nauvoo Temple was the only acceptable place where the Lord could “come to and restore again that which was lost unto you…even the fullness of the priesthood.”  According to George Q. Cannon, the Nauvoo Temple was never completed, period.”{Snuffer references Journal of Discourses.} Although the church overlooks even the possibility of failure in Nauvoo, the language of the revelation, and subsequent events should at least raise the possibility we were condemned, and then rejected as a church.  However unpleasant that conclusion may seem, we should want to know if that is what happened.

Snuffer quotes D&C 124:44-45, and notes that

There is no record of angelic visitors to the Nauvoo Temple.  The Lord did not come to visit there.  Instead the temple was utterly destroyed, not one stone left atop another.  It seems plausible, therefore, the Lord did not make “that spot…holy” by His power.  Also clearly the saints were “moved out of their place.”  This at least raises the unthinkable possibility the church has been rejected, with our dead. … The events that followed this revelation have been interpreted through the eyes of those who could not accept the idea of rejection.  The proud refugees from Nauvoo and their descendants have always claimed they succeeded in doing all that was required.  The revelation explains how to identify our failure.  We meet the description of rejection.  We know for certain:  1) The spot was not consecrated by the Lord, or made holy by His angels’ presence.  At least there is no record of it having occurred.  2) The church was moved out of the spot.  3) The temple was utterly destroyed.  4) The migration westward was more than difficult and harrowing.  Not only the trek westward, but the arrival was marked by suffering, hunger, cold, privation and many deaths along the way.  It at least suggests the possibility of “cursings, wrath, indignation, and judgments” on our heads.  These events were avoidable.  Enduring them may mean we were rejected, then cursed because of our collective failure to do what the Lord asked.

Snuffer knows that some will argue that the LDS Church is not the gentile Church spoken of in the Book of Mormon, but he dismisses this idea.  Snuffer quotes the dedicatory prayer at the Kirtland Temple in which Joseph Smith identified the LDS Church with the Gentile church.  D&C 109:60 says “Now these words, O Lord, we have spoken before thee, concerning the revelations and commandments which thou has given us, who are identified with the Gentiles. (emphasis added)” Snuffer thinks the traditional narrative of D&C 110 is also wrong.  From page 91,

The church’s teaching connecting Elijah to the sealing power is not justified by Section 110.  In the revelation, Elijah does not confer, ordain or set apart anyone to anything.  Doctrine & Covenants Section 110 has been interpreted with a conclusion already in mind.  With that conclusion, the words are read to mean something different than what they actually say.  The problem can be traced back to Orson Pratt who reasoned backwards in his August 29, 1852 sermon quoted above.  He dated Section 132 when it was recorded in 1843 instead of when it was actually revealed.  The result is Brother Pratt (and the church thereafter) assumed Section 110 (Elijah’s visit) came first and Section 132 (Joseph’s calling and election and sealing power) came later.  In fact, Section 132 was in 1829, much earlier than the 1836 Section 110. Pratt incorrectly concluded and taught Section 132 reconfirmed in 1843 that Joseph got sealing power in 1836.  Or, in other words, the Lord confirmed in Nauvoo that the 1836 Kirtland Temple visits had bestowed sealing power on Joseph.  Instead, the opposite was true:  The 1836 Kirtland Temple appearance confirmed what had been received by Joseph in 1829. … {page 94}  The post-Nauvoo church narrative presumes the keys passed.  The claims are made because the church starts with a conclusion.  If you proceed from the conclusion that the fullness of the priesthood, and all the keys were passed from Joseph to the Twelve, then the history must be written to support that conculsion.  In the traditional narrative, therefore, the fullness and keys passed in Joseph’s red brick store.  If you leave the  conclusion open until the end, then you probably reach a different outcome. .. {page 97}  Since the church claims the sealing power was successfully transferred from Joseph Smith to Brigham Young, and so on, to the present time.  With questions of significant importance, however, reasoning backward is not always advisable.

It should be noted that the Watcher greatly disputes Snuffer’s narrative about D&C 110.  (Watcher has written several posts on Snuffer’s book, if you’re interested.) Snuffer does try to soften things up in the last chapter, stating on page 420

the church still has a Divine commission … {and} are performing sacred and authorized ceremonies.  But we are not in full fellowship with God.  Even so, we have the obligation  to continually perform His ordinances…. After all the condemnation spoken against Israel by Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Amos, and others, when Christ came to the fallen and apostate Jews, He did not question their right to perform outward priesthood ordinances.  Indeed, He sent those He healed to offer the required sacrifices under the law. {footnote 496}  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints cannot be worse today than the ancient Israelites, and is therefore, still authorized to baptize for the remission of sins.  If the loss of Joseph Smith caused the loss of the fullness of the priesthood in the same way the removal of Moses did anciently, then like ancient Israel, the church continues to have the “lesser priesthood continued, which priesthood holdeth the keys of the ministering of angels and the preparatory gospel; Which gospel is the gospel of repentance, and of baptism, and the remission of sins, and the law of carnal commandments[.]” (D&C 84:26-27)

Despite all these problems that Snuffer outlines, he still believes

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is more than a great aid in this process.  It is a restored blueprint to accomplish it.  Even if part of the blueprint has been removed, and unnecessary additions are now scribbled on them, the plan still remains in the church. {page 454}  God restored a great body of scripture.  He clarified ordinances and gave instructions for new ordinances.  We are not to ignore, reject, or forsake it.  Any earthly institution will be riddled with human failings.  That is to be expected.  Even with its imperfections, the church remains important….. {page 455-56}  Withdrawing from fellowship in the church interferes with redemption.  Voluntary leaving is almost always wrong.{footnote 563 references Lehi leaving Jerusalem, so sometimes voluntarily leaving is ok.}

I am sure that Snuffer is talking about people who resign from the church, but some could argue that because he refused to comply with the stake president’s requests to remove his book from publication, Snuffer voluntarily left.  On his blog, Snuffer has long stated that he is subject to the authority of his stake president, and Snuffer is not trying to start a new church. I’ll stop my review here;  I think I have written plenty at this time to describe the issues church leaders have with what Snuffer has written.  As I said before, I enjoyed the book; now that I have read it, I better understand why church leaders felt Snuffer’s writings merited excommunication, but I still don’t think the punishment fits Denver’s “crimes.” In this post, I have concentrated on what I perceive that church leaders didn’t like, but Snuffer covers many other topics that I think will appeal to many. What are your thoughts?

6 comments on “Why Snuffer Got Exe’d

  1. Heretic-

    Great job providing pertinent points from the book for those that have not read it.

    After reading the book, are you willing to commit yourself on whether or not you agree with Snuffer’s interpretations on passages from the Book of Mormon and section 124, as outlined in this post?

    Watcher

  2. I find it odd that Denver is ex’d but Grant Palmer and Tom Phillips, true anti-mormons, are not.

  3. […] (back before the church decided that those doctrines never really existed). Mormon Heretic explained that Denver Snuffer got ex’d for apostasy — for claiming that the CoJCoL-dS is in a […]

  4. Grant resigned, so he cannot be excommunicated. My understanding is that he resigned because his SP told him he was going to reconvene the disciplinary council and excommunicate Grant.

    The argument about whether the Nauvoo temple has a long history, at one time the RLDS (now CofC) used it in teaching that the church had been rejected, so needed to be reorganized (at least that is the way I think the argument ran). http://www.reorganizedchurch.org/restoration.html see Origin of the “Reorganized” Church [and] the Question of Succession By Joseph Fielding Smith.

    I personally think that both Denver’s narrative is too mystical for me. I also think the historical record for that period–as extensive as it is–doesn’t unambiguously support either Denver’s reading, or the current correlated reading, or anyone else’s.

  5. Arrgh, I commented yesterday, but it got eaten.

    Watcher, I find Snuffer’s writings interesting and compelling. They cause me to think more deeply. Nobody can argue that the church today is far different than the church of Joseph Smith’s day. It is easily argued that apostasy prevented the Church from implementing the Law of Consecration, so I think it is fair to say that God has withheld some things from the church due to apostasy.

    I am not willing to side for or against Snuffer’s interpretation of scripture. I need to do a bit more digging before I’m willing to come down on one side or the other as to his interpretations of scripture. I haven’t studied D&C 124 or 110 as much as you, so I’m not nearly so confident in making a stand.

  6. John Dehlin and Tom Phillips have not been excommunicated and I wonder why. Snuffer has not done anything wrong compared to what Dehlin and Phillips have done. Really makes me wonder if Snuffer is correct about church leadership.
    Phillips put out the Second Annointing for the world to see. Yet still has his membership. Hhmmm. And he and Dehlin both say every thing about the church is a farce. Snuffer never said things like that. Snuffer is a believing member whereas Dehlin and Phillips are not. Plus Phillips has been dropping hints about new information he has to bring the church down. And claims the church is out to get him – wow.

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