By Brother-Elder Efik
Let me begin by pointing out that in African Traditional Religion (as I have experienced it), God(s) often communicates by action: through natural phenomenon – rain, thunder, & sometimes by fire; and by use of totems. There are many other things that are identified as a response from the God(s). Doubtless, some of these “responses” can be said to be coincidental, but the fact remains that they correlate well with the demands of the worshippers – thus creating a perfect response from their God(s). Early Mormon stories are filled with such experiences (especially, if we consider experiences during the dedication of the Kirtland Temple). It appears as societies tend to advance in knowledge, however, such religious experiences/manifestations seem to rescind to the background. A careful look at modern Mormonism reveals a God who doesn’t act, rather actions gets attributed to Him (for instance, a sick person who receives “blessing & anointing”, yet is admonished to take proper medications; when he gets healed, was it by the anointing or by medical care that he got healed?)
Or perhaps, in Mormonism, God only acts on individual levels (like when we lose a pair of shoes and pray to find it), or maybe He is too busy visiting other worlds (D&C 88: 51-61)? It would seem that such experiences have rescinded, but for the fact that African Traditional Religion has managed to keep its rituals actively appealing enough for the God(s) to always respond to.
Yet we have as Mormons a specific appeal that now seems further out of reach. In modern Mormonism, should one begin to prophesy in a sacrament meeting, the first thought that’ll cross everyone’s mind is Mental illness. But once upon a time, we as a people all craved such experiences (and even exhibited our talents [D&C 28]). George Q. Cannon, even encouraged all to experience such: “The genius of the kingdom with which we are associated is to disseminate knowledge through all the ranks of the people, and to make every man a prophet and every woman a prophetess, that they may understand the plans and purposes of God.” [JD 12:46]
Modern Mormonism prides itself as being “the only true church”, at one time our leaders even admonished the world to ” bring with you all that you have of good and truth which you have received from whatever source, and come and let us see if we may add to it.” [Gordon B. Hinckley, ” The Marvelous Foundation of Our Faith” (Ensign, November 2002)]. But careful look at the scripture from whence cometh our pride reveals, what made us true was because the God(s) spoke to us collectively [D&C 1:30].
Speaking to Us Collectively
Joseph Smith once defined truth as ” knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” [D&C 93:24], Jesus Christ (as found in the New Testament) even called himself “the truth” [John 14:6]. D&C 93, gives us a rare discourse on how we can come to walk in truth (possessing all knowledge of past, present, & future: becoming God), something described in stories of the ancients like Moses, Enoch, etc. But such is not made in Heaven, rather we achieve such through our desires and actions. Here God(s) Act! And not only for one: as Joseph Smith stated, “God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what He will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them, for the day must come when no man need say to his neighbor, Know ye the Lord; for all shall know Him … from the least to the greatest” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [Chapter 22]), indicating the need to be actively engaged in things that will enable us work in truth; the need to live “by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”
Being who I am, I take the above literally. I believe these teachings are calculated to bring down the heavens to literally walk with us; a sort of pre-fall, or if you will, a garden of eden condition, reestablished just for us. Being “able to bear” or being “actively engaged”, I believe, is not determined by how many laws we are able to keep. Rather it is conditioned upon our desire to walk in truth, “for as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” [Proverbs 23:7]. It is this desire the walk in truth or walk in the presence of God, that allows us to radiate this light which the Book of Mormon calls “receiv[ing] his image in [our] countenances” (Alma 5:14), for afteral, we will “have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2). But it all begins with a desire; a sort of action not yet enacted.
This desire will lead us to become like God: perfect. One way of being perfect is to let our “bowels be moved with compassion toward[s]” all men (D&C 121:3), especially those who have wronged us. It is by this that we come to see beyond the mortal body and cloth that separate us, and realize that we are all made up of the same light. We become perfect when we can love ALL unconditionally, not because it’s a commandment from God; but we’ve realized it is in our ability to love unconditionally that we come to know this fleeting moment called mortality, know it is merely a glass that will soon shatter to reveal to us that we’ve all along been standing in the presence of that divine light called God.
It is only through such means that we can walk in truth whilst in this mortality. As the great Catholic theologian Teilhard de Chardin taught, when humanity finally harnesses the power of love, man will have for the second time in history, discovered fire (cf: “The Evolution of Chastity,” in Toward the Future, 1936, XI, 86-87). What more can I say, our God is a consuming fire!
The thing about realizing we’ve all along been standing in the presence of that divine light is: you never want to stand alone. Lehi understood this after partaking of the fruit. Moses learnt that much from speaking face-to-face with the Lord, and even “plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God; but they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory.” (D&C 84:23-24).
The Christian Bible has a line about us being the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3), in my mind it was speaking of the community, not the individual. When each of us are able to walk in truth, we like Moses become filled with light (D&C 88:67). An assembly of all such individuals will pull down the Heavens, and raise the earth like Enoch & his people did. It is then that “thy posterity shall embrace the truth, and look upward, then shall Zion look downward, and all the heavens shall shake with gladness, and the earth shall tremble with joy; And the general assembly of the church of the firstborn shall come down out of heaven, and possess the earth, and shall have place until the end come.” (JST Genesis 9:22-23).
I wish my experiences were half worth writing of as my hopes (i.e., it’s my hopes that keep me going & searching). Kipley Farr once said that church members can’t be saved by merely learning and abiding by the milk of the gospel. And as a child, I had a Ghanian teacher who told me, if you desire to hide something from an African, keep it in a book; you can be rest assured he will never discover it. I came in contact with the church in the 1990s, and have since remained. Served a mission in the 2000s, married in the temple, & presently serve as counsellor in the bishopric – I guess I qualify as a TBM or a Truely Correlated Mormon. I have noticed that we Africans conceptualize God and his power different from how the church does.
God to us (well, to my tribe), is God because of his actions. His priests are chosen through a ceremony that involves a display of God’s power. Thus our motivation in a typical African Traditional Religion, is the fact that God Acts. Thus when I joined the LDS church, I was attracted by the concept of priesthood as taught by the church. Yet, a few years ago, my brother-in-law become in-active upon discovering Joseph Smith’s connections with masonry (you know, a lot of Christians don’t see masonry in a good light). I have since read, enough-and-to-spare — from FAIR, Maxwell Institute, and countless blogs — seeking ways of making him become active again, but to no avail. The hope of obtaining the meat and bone of the gospel has led me into several blogs, essays, and books available online (well, living in Africa, I rely more on online materials), its been a rewarding experience: this action, I mean.
The Church as…
I am constantly reminded of something Pres. Packer said: “We have done very well at distributing the authority of the priesthood. We have priesthood authority planted nearly everywhere. We have quorums of elders and high priests worldwide. But distributing the authority of the priesthood has raced, I think, ahead of distributing the power of the priesthood. The priesthood does not have the strength that it should have and will not have until the power of the priesthood is firmly fixed in the families as it should be…The authority of the priesthood is with us. After all that we have correlated and organized, it is now our responsibility to activate the power of the priesthood in the Church. Authority in the priesthood comes by way of ordination; power in the priesthood comes through faithful and obedient living in honoring covenants. It is increased by exercising and using the priesthood in righteousness.” [ “The Power of The Priesthood” Ensign (May 2010)]
I know you may not agree with me, but there is a great line from the Matrix trilogy, that goes thus: Locke: “Not everybody believes as you do.” Morpheus: “My beliefs do not require them to.” However, like Pres. Packer once taught: In the Church we have the agency to believe whatever we want to believe about whatever we want to believe. But we are not authorized to teach it to others as truth. [ “From Such Turn Away,” Ensign (May 1985).]
So what is to be done with all these ideas, if I can’t teach them at church? Well, I think, if we take as a given the Church’s teaching that family is the basic unit of the Church, and if we all agree that we cannot be saved (according to Mormon doctrine) but only as a family, then it behooves on me to create a Zion in my home by teaching my family the meat and bone of the gospel. And I think that may be accomplished both by my teaching & striving to be more humble, by repenting and seeking to see (hopefully) what the Brother of Jared saw on the mountain, and also by seeking to obtain the fullness of the priesthood. To an extent I think that’s what this scripture may also imply: And this is mine everlasting covenant, that when thy posterity shall embrace the truth, and look upward, then shall Zion look downward, and all the heavens shall shake with gladness, and the earth shall tremble with joy; 23 And the general assembly of the church of the firstborn shall come down out of heaven, and possess the earth, and shall have place until the end come. And this is mine everlasting covenant, which I made with thy father Enoch (JST Genesis 9:22).
Such are my hopes: that at the end of this life, I (as John said) may “have no greater joy than to hear that my [family] walk in truth” [3John1:4].