The Question, Part 2

General Musings

There is a question being asked both by those whose study has led them to ask it and also by the Lord directly to those who are ready to hear it. But, before I tell you what the question is, I’d like to provide a scriptural foundation. This is not an easy question and may cause emotional distress for some, as I have detailed. The foundation I’m going to lay, hopefully, will ease us into the question with a minimum of distress.

In 1 Nephi 8, as Lehi begins to recount his dream, or vision, as he describes it, he is joyful because of Nephi and Sam, and their obedience, but “fears exceedingly” for Laman and Lemuel. He then begins the description:

“…I saw in my dream, a dark and dreary wilderness. And it came to pass that I saw a man, and he was dressed in a white robe; and he came and stood before me. And it came to pass that he spake unto me, and bade me follow him.

“And it came to pass that as I followed him I beheld myself that I was in a dark and dreary waste. And after I had traveled for the space of many hours in darkness, I began to pray unto the Lord that he would have mercy on me, according to the multitude of his tender mercies.

“And it came to pass after I had prayed unto the Lord I beheld a large and spacious field.  And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy.”
1 Nephi 8:5-10

It appears that the man, “dressed in a white robe” was someone with some level of authority, perhaps as he supposed. His beckoning was authoritative enough that it convinced Lehi to follow him. After discovering that the man had wasted his time and led him nowhere valuable, and perhaps even dangerous, Lehi did the only thing left to him: he “prayed unto the Lord” for deliverance, which he received.

The usual study of Lehi’s dream usually begins at this point. Lehi beholds the tree, the fruit, and all the other elements which he saw. We rarely begin the narrative with the man in the white robe. Is there a reason for excluding him and the trip through the “dark and dreary wilderness?” What lesson might we learn from the man and the journey?

Shall we see what Elder Jeffery R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has to say? This is from his talk, “The Ministry of Angels” from the October 2008 General Conference and speaking about angels: 

“Sometimes their assignments are very grand and have significance for the whole world. Sometimes the messages are more private. Occasionally the angelic purpose is to warn. But most often it is to comfort, to provide some form of merciful attention, guidance in difficult times. When in Lehi’s dream he found himself in a frightening place, “a dark and dreary waste,” as he described it, he was met by an angel, “a man … dressed in a white robe; … he spake unto me,” Lehi said, “and bade me follow him.” Lehi did follow him to safety and ultimately to the path of salvation.” Really?

Apparently, Elder Holland is under the impression that simply because a man, (or angel), dons a white robe and bids us to follow, he always has our best interest at heart. (Satan has angels, too! And they can certainly wear white.) Perhaps Elder Holland’s idea of “safety” and “the path of salvation” consists of a dark and dreary wasteland where nothing is accomplished but long walks to nowhere. 

Perhaps Elder Holland missed the part where Lehi was, apparently at the beginning, on the edge of the dark and dreary wilderness. That is apparent because Lehi first says he saw the wilderness but does not say he was yet in it. Only after the man in the “white robe” directed Lehi to follow, and he did follow, did Lehi find himself in the “dark and dreary waste.” The white-robed man led him there.

Is this an example of a “white robed” man, (Elder Holland), leading us on an extended walk through the wastes of literary misunderstanding? Oh, I understand that the wasteland is analogous to the world and our life in it. But someone who simply leads us around in it, leads us to nowhere, as Lehi discovered. It was when God intervened and delivered Lehi from this man in a “white robe” that his trip began to be profitable and fruitful. (Pardon the puns.)

In another example from the June 1996 Ensign, we find the article, “Of Compasses and Covenants” by Elder Lance B. Wickman of the Seventy, who explains:

“In his dream, Lehi followed the man in the white robe, his compass bearer on a journey that lasted ‘many hours’ through a ‘dark and dreary waste.’ Eventually, Lehi’s followership led him to his celestial destination.”

Elder Wickman must have dosed off during the part about God delivering Lehi. All Lehi’s “followership led him to” was more wasted walking in the wasteland. 

In a teacher’s manual, apparently church Correlation would have those teaching the youth to don white robes and wastefully traipse the youth around the dark and drearies.

“We would hope that you teachers would be as men in white robes, leading our youth safely through the temptations of the world so that they too may partake of the tree of life and have exceeding great joy.” “The Gospel Teacher and His Message,” Teaching Seminary: Preservice Readings (2004), 26–29

Again, astonishingly missing the point, the lesson disregards the fact that the man in the white robe did not lead Lehi to the tree of life. In fact, he kept Lehi from it. It was the Lord’s mercy, at Lehi’s request, that rescued him and delivered him to the “large and spacious field” where he found the tree—despite the man in white’s mis-leading.

Is there symbolism in the “white robe” that might give us deeper value to this story? In 3 Nephi 11 we find another man “clothed in a white robe.” This time it is the Savior, “…descending out of heaven…and stood in the midst of them.” In this instance, there was no simple bid to follow. He offered proof of who He was. Said He: “…thrust your hands into my side, and also…feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel…” Jesus offers proof.

The “white robe” then, may be a symbol of Celestial purity and true authority or it may be a counterfeit. The white robed man in Lehi’s dream more accurately represents a wolf in sheep’s clothing leading those who will follow, into the temptational misery of the “dark and dreary wilderness” of the world to wander until they realize the deception, and cry out for deliverance. How shall we judge from moment to moment? Lehi was a prophet and he was misguided, for a time.

Despite the example of Lehi’s dream and its possible implications about deceptive mortal leadership, we are told that God will not allow church leaders to lead the church astray. “Oh, good,” you say, “in that case there must be some scriptures that give us that doctrine.” Unfortunately, as I have said, there are none. 

Let us, for a moment, recall the most fundamental doctrine of Star Trek. It was called the “Prime Directive.” In it, galactic travelers were forbidden to make their true identity known to civilizations they discovered, and which were less advanced, nor were they allowed to transfer advanced technology. This was an effort to allow such civilizations to grow and progress according to their own abilities and desires. The Prime Directive did not want to destroy agency by polluting primitive civilizations with knowledge and technology beyond their capability to understand or properly use. Leave agency alone was Star Trek’s Prime Directive. 

In the pre-mortal world, when the two plans were presented, the one left out agency in order to save all. The Father’s Plan, however, recognized that opposition was necessary for man to grow and progress even though some choices made, even by leaders, might lead to terrible consequences.

In the Book of Mosiah is found the story of Zeniff, a righteous king, who feared God. Zeniff conferred his kingdom on his son, Noah, who became a somewhat minor-league tyrant and is but one example of a leader who led his people from righteousness to dismal and proud disobedience. Omer, in Ether 8, was a righteous king whose son, Jared, conspired to murder, committed treason against his father, and offered his daughter as a reward for his father’s murder. Jared was not stopped by the Lord but was allowed to lead many astray.

And we can’t forget the younger Alma who, although his father was a great prophet, sought to lead as many as he could away from the truths of the Gospel. The Lord allowed him to work his evil but eventually confronted him. Alma had a choice; he could have remained as he was or sought repentance. He, also, turned out to be a great prophet. But he had to repent. Just as his father had. Our next example also had a confrontation with the Lord.

To regress to the beginning, Cain was the son Eve thought would be strong and righteous and the one through whose lineage the Savior would be born. Cain, jealously murdered his brother and led many astray. He further established the concept of secrecy in conspiratorial behavior in order to get power and gain and used murder as the consequence of breaking the secrecy oath. Cain suffered terrible consequences as the Lord cursed and marked him, but the Lord did not stop him.

Agency is important enough that the Lord will not violate His Prime Directive. However, He may warn us as He warned Omer in Ether 8. The latter half of Section 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants is a warning given by the Lord through Joseph after his betrayal by high church leaders. (Don’t attend Gospel Doctrine class expecting to hear any of that history. It is available, though, for your personal study.) This warning is about how church leaders are prone to unrighteous dominion and coercion, and may not abide by the only powers they may righteously use over the people—persuasion, long-suffering, and love, unfeigned.

So from where do we get the notion that the Lord will not allow the leaders of the modern church to lead it astray if it is not in scripture? Oh, from the very leaders about whom the Lord warns us.(Elder Ballard's plea.) Why would modern leaders be so adamant that we trust them? Are they afraid of something? Do they know something they’re afraid we’ll discover? 

Why would Elder Ballard couch his admonition to trust the brethren with the statement that “…we are as transparent as we know how to be in telling the truth…?” Elder Ballard, are you subliminally telegraphing to us that you (and the brethren) don’t really know how to tell the whole truth? That you only tell us as much as you “know how” to tell? What is it that you don’t know how to tell us? Are you afraid that we might find out about what really happened in Nauvoo and you can’t face those facts?

Now we’ll take a break and get to “the question” before we move on. Knowing that men have weaknesses, and also taking into consideration that the Lord is “no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34, D&C 1:35, D&C 38:16), and that a fundamental characteristic of Zion is that all are equal. (“And the Lord called his people ZION, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” Moses 7:18) We can be assured that there are no pedestals and no Zoromite Rameumptoms in Zion. There are no hierarchical classes, no castes, no mortal lords and vassals.  No one is above another. No one stands when certain of them walks into a room.

When all are equal, three things are true: 1) Everyone knows that anyone can fall. 2) Each  knows that everyone will catch them if they fall. 3) Forgiveness reigns supreme. Among such people, no one is ever kicked out for a perceived imperfection. In Zion, there is only persuasion, long-suffering, and love, unfeigned. Humility is the summing concept. Paul describes us as having “no difference” where our status with God is concerned. "…the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God..." (Rom 3:22-23) Humility, therefore, is our only logical position.

Humility, and accompanying equality, require our recognition that no matter how much we may know or do, it is not everything there is to know or do. “Epistemic humility doesn’t mean that you don’t aim high. It means you don’t pretend you reached it.” (

That said, we are not all equal in the modern LDS organization even though the Lord directs us to that end. We do not even make the pretense of equality nor are we actively and openly seeking equality. Our very structure is hierarchical with an “apostle” class, then a “general authority” class, then a “stake” class, then a “bishopric” class, and finally a “members” class. 

We categorize ourselves from high position to low unlike the way the Lord commanded we be organized in D&C 107 which we will detail later. We like our royalty. We even demand fealty to a mortal “lord” or “prophet” and tribute payment to him along with several other requirements before we are allowed entry into the “temple-worthy” class of the “members” class, or even for baptism. 

There are no such scriptural requirements for baptism. It is men who demand such from their vassals. All the while we regularly ridicule the wealthy Zoramites as we wholeheartedly mimic their caste system with our own. Are we equal or do we even recognize that equality is desirable? Not hardly. And yet, we vocally desire Zion while rejecting those very characteristics of Zion required by it.

In The General Musings Category
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