Nephi’s Way Or the Highway

Two weeks ago, Elder Dale G. Renlund, one of the LDS church’s twelve apostles, offered the BYU Devotional in the Marriott Center. In this address he revealed the kind of work that is required for the eternal “happily ever after” obtainable only by faithful members of the LDS church. Here’s what he said:

“The road to eternal happiness depends on lifelong conversion to the truths of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Lifelong conversion means that we endure to the end, remaining firm in our commitment to keep the covenants we have made with God—no matter what. Such a commitment cannot be conditional or dependent upon the circumstances in our lives.”

What’s the problem with this assertion? Speaking on behalf of LDS leaders, Renlund is not saying members must be devoted to Christ–he’s saying members must be obedient to church leaders like him with an exclusive hold on the one true, “restored” gospel of Christ. This call for “lifelong conversion” to their version of the gospel implies a level of gatekeeping between us and eternal happiness.

Which begs the question: Who possesses the power to explain what the restored gospel is? The same men who dictate which covenants we are to make with God, and decide which “circumstances in our lives” (poverty, isolation, marginalization, faith crises, etc.) are just the lazy excuses of the uncommitted.

But if I’m following self important gatekeepers touting a restored version of the gospel, truer than all the rest, does that make me a follower of Christ?

Not necessary. Especially since Renlund makes it clear that he and the other Brethren strictly moderate the sole pathway to happiness, which can only be achieved by following one, white-centric methodology. Their methodology. It’s Nephi’s American-bred way, or the highway.

And you know what, I take issue with that. Any time a bunch of rich, white men tell me that they alone possess every ounce of knowledge I, a WOC, need to be happy, I’m going to call bullshit. I don’t care if they’re politicians, mental health gurus, or the insular prophets of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I don’t believe for one second that diminishing non-white teachings in favor of a euro-centric religion with an impossibly white savior will give me anything but continued institutionalized self hatred and an eternal identity crisis.

To see the extent of Renlund’s colonialism and gaslighting, let’s break his talk down even further. Below are seven quotes where the apostolic rhetoric of this devotional was particularly fallacious, all while demanding a cult-like mentality of iterative, American-bred devotion from LDS members who feel entitled to the promise of everlasting happiness in the white eternities.

Quote 1: “We endure to the end by repeatedly and iteratively “relying wholly upon” the doctrine and “merits” of Christ . . . . [A]s we cycle through the elements of the doctrine of Christ, we arrive at a higher plane each time.” Renlund compares this process to cycling up a mountain, spiraling ever closer to the peak.

What’s wrong with the image Renlund paints here? There’s only one way to heaven, and it’s via this singular mountain on American soil where the speed limit is “all your might” per hour. Even though you are moving upward the whole time, you’re still on a highly surveilled, contained track with nowhere else to go. Upward momentum is good and all, but the fact remains that you were always meant to go around and around in circles on a steep spiral, never to see more of God’s good earth.

In essence, Renlund is saying: “Do the same things over and over again, looking at nothing else, and your commitment to my mountain will be complete.” This may sound inspirational to some, but it sounds like brainwashing to me. Like the tethered orbit of a ball on a string, every inch forward takes you right back where you started, which makes all this “stick to the gospel” guidance sound like nothing more than a multi-level hamster wheel.

The only thing that can challenge Renlund’s endorsement of iterative indoctrination is gaining an inkling that there is more to see and learn beyond the cyclical path. The moment you realize you could be traveling across the world, experiencing joys you’ve never even imagined, the cheaper the promises of isolated eternal joy become. And that is a level of cognitive dissonance that LDS leaders cannot allow.

So instead you get the apostolic promise that if you never look up, you’ll never get any happier than you are right now.

Quote 2: “The sacrament “unlocks the power of God” for you and me.” However, “We may enter the meeting late or worry about how someone is reacting to the sacrament service. With these distractions, the blessing of the sacrament is diminished for us.”

Translation: “Don’t worry about the sister sitting next to you struggling with her faith, feeling conflicted about the brow-beating, fallacious talks offered during the meeting. Focus on yourself, because thinking about her might lead you to wondering if maybe she’s right to be on edge. Keep your head down, stay on the path, and you’ll never experience inner conflict again.”

You have now risen to the next level of the eternal hamster wheel.

Quote 3: “Alma encouraged the Zoramites to experiment on the word. But this experiment differs from today’s standard scientific experimental protocol. It begins by choosing and desiring to believe—not with a skeptical or even a neutral bias.”

So we do need to have bias, according to Renlund, just not one that works against the LDS church. We critical thinkers call that confirmation bias, which is something frowned upon by advocates of ethical, responsible, free thinking. If a religion doesn’t endorse the ethical experimentation of their beliefs, or believe that their doctrine holds up to lightly skeptical thinking, maybe that religion has something to hide.

This thought makes you slow your ascent up Hamster Wheel Mountain.

Quote 4: “Increasing faith in Jesus Christ naturally leads to repetitive and iterative repentance, which leads to eternal progression. Repentance and lifelong conversion go hand in hand. Repentance is not to be feared. Fearing repentance blocks lifelong conversion because it hinders cycling through the elements of the doctrine of Christ.”

Sounds like repentance = second guessing and punishing any desire to leave the Mormon path. Iterative, in this case, means repeatedly beating any such thoughts out of your head, and calling that repentance (i.e. remaining close to Christ). Straying from the path (i.e. approaching this process without commitment to confirmation bias) is considered a sin. Offensive to God. I agree that this mindset leads to lifelong conversion to the Mormon church because nothing else is acceptable.

Quote 5: “There is no place to pause and rest; and the course either goes up or down.” If you stop and rest, you may start asking questions. Renlund likens this to driving a sports car with dysfunctional brakes up a mountain, inevitably leading to a “terrifying descent” back down the mountain.

This is a false analogy. First off, who’s driving a sports car up Mormon mountain? More importantly, why does stopping to meditate equate to joy riding on a crash course? Those are very different, dissociated things. Besides, when you compare mature self awareness (taking a pause to reassess your chosen path) to an unstoppable plunge to an untimely death, it makes me wonder why this one-way, God-made ascent to happiness lies on such a slippery slope.

In essence, this fallacious analogy is Renlund saying, “Be terrified of an unimaginative, manipulative anecdote that should only work on kindergartners, and channel that fear into non-sequitur obedience! You’re either moving forward or backward. If you even think about taking a break, your ride will suddenly transform into a sports car with brakes I personally tampered with to keep all the flamboyant, fun-loving yahoos (who provide an exit plan for tired members) off my mountain.”

Well, I’ve got an analogy for you, too, Renlund. The dysfunctional brakes you warn members about actually symbolize being on this journey with confirmation bias stuck into the spokes of every wheel.

Quote 6: “Someone with sisu decides on a course of action and then adheres to it—no matter what.”

No matter what? You mean even when they find out that their church leaders cover up sexual abuse, gather and withhold billions of dollars from the poor, defy the separation of church and state, terrorize the LGBTQIA+ community, appease their white supremacist fan base, and believe in sex trafficking women for eternity?

In the LDS church, a person who knows all of the above is expected to stay the course, no matter what they witness on the road. It sounds like the LDS church knows there are more dirty secrets bound to come to light, rattling even their most brainwashed, faithful members. That’s why they dangle the promise of eternal happiness over their members’ heads, reminding them that there is no other way to keep their families or return to God. They must stay, obey, and always look away.

Welcome to the hamster wheel cult.

Quote 7: “As we engage with the doctrine of Christ, we develop spiritual sisu, the spiritual resilience that is essential to lifelong conversion.”

Translation: “Stay on the cyclical path we’ve created to keep you busy, and you’ll soon forget that there’s more to God than what we have to say, thus making you ours forever.” Personally I prefer the Sisu in Raya and the Last Dragon, because Awkafina is way more relatable to me than these old guys.

But anyway, here’s my updated version of Renlund’s mountain analogy:

Once you see other bikers getting bullied off the mountain, you stop and look into your heart. That’s when you discover that everything good you’ve learned on the mountain came from inside you, and the strain of limiting your ethics and love to a path that zaps your will to help others is a sign of diminishing returns. So, instead of hiding your light in a cruel orbit, you turn around and use all your hard-earned cardio and resilience to shine your light around the world, feeling forever enriched and refreshed by the ever-changing beauty of this starlit globe.

And in my allegorical world, anyone who wants a goddamn sports car can have one, functional brakes and all.

You can read a transcript of Elder Renlund’s devotional here.

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