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Stewardship, Accountability and Community Response
A New Age Testament
A Mormon Reader Looks at Embraced by the Light
|Issue 6 / August 1994||Hatrack River Publications|
Stewardship, Accountability and Community Response
I've followed with interest and not a little dismay the increasingly strident discussions in various forums of how to deal with the imperfections of Church leaders. On one side are those who claim for Church leaders an infallibility and wisdom which they do not claim for themselves. On another side are those who feel that a "community response" -- full-page newspaper ads, press conferences, public seminars and printed articles (often with scathing criticism) -- is right and necessary.
When you have two (or more) sides of an argument going around and around without resolution, it's usually due to conflicting unstated premises. The key issue, largely unvoiced, is this discussion: to whom is a person with a given stewardship accountable? Is it the people over whom he or she ("he" hereafter, just to save typing and since we're mostly focusing on priesthood leaders) has a stewardship? Is it the person or group of people for whom he is a steward? Is it both, and if so, how does he resolve conflicts between the two demands?
My personal belief is that someone with a stewardship is accountable solely to the person or people for whom he is a steward. In some contexts, that may well be the people over whom he has a stewardship, for example, an elected official is accountable to those who elected him. In the context of the Gospel and the Church, that is rarely the case; none spring to mind, but I won't flatly exclude the possibility. The bishop of my ward is responsible for the welfare of its members, but is not accountable to them (myself included). He is accountable to the one who gave him his stewardship, namely the Savior, and to any of Christ's representatives who have stewardship over him, such as the stake president. That stewardship moves up the priesthood line authority to the general authorities, who are all directly or indirectly accountable to the First Presidency; the First President' counselors are accountable to him, and the First President is accountable only to Christ.
Given my stated premise about stewardship, we can now look at the key issue: if I think someone with stewardship over me (or even not over me) is in error, how do I handle it?
If the bishop acts in a manner which I feel significantly conflicts with his stewardship, my first responsibility is to approach him directly and privately discuss it. If that doesn't resolve things, I have the opportunity -- and, in some cases, the responsibility -- to inform the stake president. Likewise, if I judge my stake president to be in error, I can deal with him directly, and if that doesn't resolve things, inform the general authorities of the Church; the exact channel may depend upon the issue. If I judge a general authority to be in error, I can address my concerns directly to him; lacking satisfaction, I can then go to the First Presidency. And if I think they're messing up, I can take things right to God. (Actually, I can do that in any situation, but since He's appointed earthly stewards at all other levels, I figure He expects me to use them when appropriate.)
In this context, it's interesting to note that we have the Lord's promise that He will never let the President of the Church lead us astray; we have no such promise for any other church leadership position, so obviously the Lord expects us to use these checks as needed
What is critical in this process is that it should be done with the same confidentiality, sensitivity, understanding, patience and forgiveness -- in short, the same Christ-like behavior -- with which we would desire our own imperfections and errors to be handles. The Savior taught that "if they brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between tee and him alone; if he shall hear thee, thou has gained thy brother." (Matt 18:15) The Savior goes on to say that if that brings no results, we should inform the Church -- which I would interpret as meaning the appropriate divinely-appointed stewards, not our circle of friends, the members of our ward, or the readership of Sunstone and Dialogue. We would probably be outraged, and rightly so, if we found that a church member -- much less a church leader -- was publicly criticizing our performance in our church duties; we'd even be upset over private criticism, if it was shared with those not involved in the situation. Yet all too often, we feel little compunction -- and, worse yet, a great deal of self-righteous satisfaction -- about doing the same, whether privately, over the net, in print, or even over the pulpit or lectern.
Given the above, the idea of a "community response" to the statements, decisions and actions of church leaders is as appalling and inappropriate as would be a "community response" -- complete with private discussion and correspondence, newspaper ads, public lectures and published articles -- as to how well any one of us is carrying out his or her stewardships within the Church and within his or her family. It ignores the dignity of the individual, and commandments toward charity, tolerance and forgiveness, and the channels which the Lord set up to deal with these issues. I suspect the Lord will not justify us in such a course, and that -- whatever the errors of those we criticize -- upon us will remain the greater condemnation.
-- Bruce F. Webster
Once upon a time in a far away land there was a village. The village was governed most judiciously by the mayor with lots of help in the various village work and functions by the other villagers. The village was part of a vast kingdom with many villages.
In this kingdom, several villages were governed by a governor and all the governors looked to the president of the kingdom and his fourteen helpers for guidance and direction. Of course, everyone knew that the kingdom was really headed by the king, but nobody ever saw him much or if they did they weren't saying. Everyone believed, though, that they could communicate with the king if they thought really hard about it.
The goal of every village in the kingdom was to become a "floater." When this happened, the whole village sort of lifted off and hovered about six feet off the planet, soil and everything. It was said to be very enjoyable to live in a "floating" village. The view was better, the ground felt softer, it was like living on a cloud.
The only way a village could become a "floater" was if everyone in the village had a certain little change happen to their hearts. It didn't hurt much, but was a necessary requirement to living six feet above ground, something to do with altitude. A surgeon couldn't do it, it just happened. But when it had happened to everyone, the king had the power to "float" the village.
One day a directive came to the village from the president. He said that the king said that if the villages were really serious about becoming floaters they were going to have focus on the children. The earlier the change occurred the better, and sometimes the older a person got the harder it was to have it happen. The president said that if all the children's hearts could be changed then it would be easier to change the hearts of their children and so on and pretty soon the village would float. He said there had even been a case in history when all the children in a village had been changed and for two hundred years the village had floated. That's a really long time to float as everyone knew.
The mayor knew that the youth in the village needed much attention also, but he really felt that mothers and fathers of young children needed to spend a lot of time with their children if the focus was really to be on children, so no one with young children could be on the youth committee. It turned out that it was mostly parents of the youth who had no younger children and a few selected old, wise ones who ran the youth committee. Every now and then a young, wise one with a changed heart and no children helped out with the youth.
The women's committee was a real problem to the mayor. The tradition in the village had been for mothers with the most children to head up the women's committee. The mayor couldn't see how these mothers could focus too much on the children if they had to run the women's committee. So he picked a capable woman, whose children weren't too young, to be the chairman and encouraged her to pick an old wise one and a very young one to be her helpers. The young one couldn't have more than one or two children and the mayor told her if she ever had to choose between her children the women's committee, she had to always choose the children. He told the helpers they could only help for a year, then new helpers would be picked. He liked the way all the age groups in the village were represented on the women's committee.
That left the men's committee. The mayor did what he could with them, but they pretty much did what they wanted to anyway. The men's committee was run by old or young wise ones who weren't busy elsewhere having a turn with the children or the youth.
The mayor did what he could to follow the directive from the president, but sometimes the villagers just would not cooperate. Some villagers decided they liked what they were doing so much that they refused to be on another committee or to teach the children and told the mayor that if they couldn't be on their favorite committee, they would stop coming to village meetings. Of course, the mayor didn't really want to see that happen so he had a dilemma. Should he let them be on the committee they wanted and throw the whole system out of whack, or should he hope they really didn't mean it anyway and would keep participating in village life, even if he removed them from their favorite committee?
The mayor finally decided to throw caution to the wind and get back to the main directive. Slowly but surely the old, wise ones realized their turn with the children would never be "over," they would just get a break every now and then. More and more children began to feel changes in their hearts and before anyone even knew it, the whole village floated. Oh, it really wasn't all that easy. They touched down to the ground quite often as a matter of fact, but the king just kept lifting and lifting and lifting . . .
The Story Never Ends.
My wife and I first became aware of Embraced by the Light when a dear friend who has gone through some spiritual turmoil called Kristine and wanted to talk to her about the book. Our friend had read the book and found much of it moving and exciting and harmonious with the gospel. Yet other ideas in it troubled her, and she wanted Kristine to read the book and respond to it.
The book purports to be a faithful retelling of a near-death experience, written by Betty J. Eadie and sold with the subtitle, "The Most Profound and Complete Near-Death Experience Ever." I daresay the subtitle is exactly accurate, though all of the profundity is already available in LDS scripture, and the completeness has the ring of afterthought to it. Still, the book is smoothly and simply written, with a sense of joyfulness and enthusiasm that can be very comforting and at times moving. I was not immune to these emotions as I read the book; neither was my wife.
Since then, we have heard more and more about the book, both from Latter-day Saints and nonmembers. Some are hostile to it; others think of it as wise and insightful; others seem to regard it with faith, as absolute revelation.
We have heard other things as well -- the way Eadie handles her public appearances, for instance, making an obvious effort to inspire awe in her audience through spectacle and to set herself up as a spiritual adviser for others. The $1.5 million sale of paperback rights attracted a great deal of press attention. There are also rumors that her sequel to Embraced by the Light will consist of memories of spiritual experiences that she had "repressed" until these memories began coming back to her during her public appearance; some rumors have the new book directly contradicting this or that statement by modern LDS prophets.
One does not review a rumor, of course, but no matter what specific doctrines she announces in the new book, it is to be expected that she will introduce some new doctrine. For while in form the book is a vision account, in content it is a doctrinal discourse. And the bulk of my review will be to respond to the book as it relates to LDS doctrine and to the role that Eadie has placed herself in vis-a-vis Latter-day Saint prophets.
The book begins with a very sweet and unpretentious account of a childhood spiritual experience, along with events in her life as, half Indian, she grew up with both the negative and positive aspects of Indian life in America. Later, when doctors advised her to abort her seventh pregnancy since the child could not safely come to term and would almost certainly be deformed, she seized upon the casual words of one doctor -- "We don't understand why that little fellow is hanging in there" -- and she and her husband decided to take the pregnancy to its end. Despite all their fears, the child was born healthy and whole. It is impossible to read this without feeling a bond of sympathy with the author.
Eadie never fully recovered from the birth, and finally came to a point where a hysterectomy seemed
medically advisable. In the hospital after the surgery, she suddenly awakened, feeling a sense of danger. She was unable to move, however, even to push the button to call the nurse. Then, in her words, "I felt a pop or
release inside me, and my spirit was suddenly drawn out through my chest and pulled upward, as if by a giant magnet."
From here she begins a "standard" out-of-body, near-death account. It reminded me of reading Life after Life several years ago. I remember saying to Kristine at the time, "No one will ever be able to produce a trustworthy account of near-death experiences again, now that this is being so widely read." Why? When Kubler-Ross and others first began collecting near-death experiences, it was a completely unknown area of research. No one suspected that there would be such consistent patterns in these accounts. However, once the research became popularly known, the power of suggestion would begin to distort all future accounts. Researchers would come to their interviews with preconceptions and expectations.
More importantly, the persons having these experiences would, to one degree or another, be aware of the near-death lore. Honest ones would interpret anything that happened to them in light of these expectations. Suggestible ones would see what they had been taught to expect to see. Psychotics would seize upon a framework within which their experiences would be taken seriously by some, at least. And dishonest people had been shown what elements their lie would have to include in order to seem plausible.
There still remained and remains the possibility, however, that real near-death experiences can still happen. And so, while I was skeptical of how trustworthy Eadie's account was, this did not mean that I thought her dishonest or even that I assumed her account was false. I simply did not think it possible anymore for such an account to have objective value.
Subjective value, however, is not to be discounted. How did this near-death experience change her life? How did it change her family? What insights did it give her in her church work, her friendships, all the communities she took part in?
But that is not the book Eadie chose to write. While she includes an emotionally powerful story about her adoption of an abused child, it is more to confirm and fulfil questions remaining from her vision rather than to show any transformation in her own life or character.
The bulk of Embraced by the Light is clearly intended to teach us fundamental doctrine: Why things are the way they are, and how we are supposed to live.
The Test of Revelation
Before dealing with any of the specific doctrines, let me point out that I am not inherently opposed to private visions. I believe that Moses was speaking the will of the Lord when he said he wished all the people could be prophets. LDS doctrine fairly requires that we seek personal inspiration and revelation, and I have known many people, inside and outside my family, who have had spiritual experiences ranging from feelings and impressions to clear, specific visions.
However, I also believe that the Lord's house is a house of order. And I have seen a distinct pattern in the private revelations that seemed credible to me. In every case, these revelations came to people as a response to their particular needs. The people who received them rarely spoke of them, and then only to serve another person's need. They never pretended to have received a truth superior to anything taught by the prophets. In fact, any specific doctrines they were taught always fit in with the teachings of the prophets, and they never purported that their contact with the Lord gave them authority over the beliefs of others. All these people were humble and resisted any attempt to spread the story of their spiritual experience any further than required by the circumstances of the revelation. The message from the Lord had been given to meet a specific need at a specific time; it was not their place to spread the word of it any further.
On the other hand, I have also had considerable contact, direct and indirect, with people whose visions I believe are completely bogus. Most of them I think are cynically lying; some, however, may well feel they have some kind of inspiration. Either way, the result is the same: They use their supposed revelations in order to manipulate others or to inflate their prestige.
An example: I remember a man telling a fireside audience the moving story of how, in the days before the revelation restoring priesthood rights to those of African descent, a black Saint called upon a Mormon bishop to administer to his sick child. The bishop, in the process of giving the blessing, promised the boy that he would grow up to serve a full-time mission for the Church. The family could hardly believe that such a wonderful promise had been given them in those days when the temple doors were closed to them. But when the priesthood was at last granted to them, they remembered that bishop's blessing, and finally broke silence and told others about what had been promised to them all those years before.
The fireside speaker ended his account by saying, "Brothers and Sisters, I was that bishop."
At that point, as far as I can see, the man was lost. What possible difference could it make whether he was that bishop or not? If he had in fact been that bishop, how was the story made more powerful or true by his taking upon himself the credit for having received that revelation? Indeed, regardless of whether he really received that revelation or not, his final statement falls well within the category described by the Savior when he spoke of those who do good works in order to be seen of men: "They have their reward."
It happens, though, that I know the man who actually gave that blessing. As far as I know, outside his own family he has spoken of it only once, and then his point was the great faith of the black family to whom the promise was given. That is the pattern I have always seen among those who really are so closely in touch with the Spirit. You don't hear about it from them, or if you do, their account minimizes their own role and serves to turn their listeners' faith to Christ, not to themselves.
The fellow who made the false claim is not malicious -- he was that family's bishop at the time of the event, and I hear that when he first started telling the story he used to say, "I have no memory of giving that blessing, but I was their bishop." The story simply started "improving" over time. But the fact remains that as he tells it now, the climax of the story is the moment when he tells his hearers that he was that bishop. The point of it is, then, to magnify himself in the eyes of others.
There are plenty of others who play the same game:
1. The fellow I once knew who told his new home teaching family that a plan of scripture study had been revealed to him, for them to follow -- even though the plan he then explained to them was far less rigorous than the scripture study they already followed as a family.
2. The man who lives up one of the canyons in Utah who doesn't exactly claim to be John the Revelator; rather, when you ask him if the rumors about him (how did they get started?) are true, he looks you in the eye and says, "What do you think?" If he were not a liar, he would simply say, "No," and tell them where his birth certificate could be found.
3. The woman who could not get through a lesson or talk or testimony meeting without reminding her audience all about her many visions -- and yet whose uninvited inspirations for our family seemed oddly inappropriate, leaving us wondering why God would go to the trouble of telling her something so completely useless to us, since it had nothing to do with our situation.
4. The man who goes about giving blessings, changing people's lives by telling them to marry or not, to go on a mission or go to school; he collects these disciples and thrives on their adulation and dependency, even as his own family is deeply troubled and he remains unhelped by inspiration about the one group of people for whom he actually has the right to receive revelation.
This listing is not a digression: It is the clear guide that I follow when judging whether I need to take a claim to revelation seriously or not. When the person purporting to have received a revelation has no legitimate responsibility for those for whom the revelation is given; when he spends the telling of the revelation like a coin to buy personal influence or prestige; when he turns the account to personal profit; when he makes the claim to revelation in order to win the compliance of others to his will; then I feel that I am not bound to take his revelation seriously. If there was a supernatural source, it was not the orderly house of the Lord.
On the other hand, when the person receiving the revelation has legitimate responsibility; when he tells it rarely and refuses any personal influence or authority because of it; when he never turns it to personal profit; when the revelation leads people toward the gospel and Church of Jesus Christ; then I feel bound to at least admit the possibility that God's hand was in it.
Embraced by the Light seems to me to fail on every count. This experience dates from 1973, and while Eadie seems to have resisted writing it down till now, it is impossible to see from the book itself what occasioned the decision to make it so public. As she says, "It took nineteen years and countless proddings to get me to share the experiences in this book. Everything has its time; for this book, the time is now." This is all very mysterious: Why is its time now? She doesn't say.
What we do know is that there is no mention of the Church whatsoever in this book. Gold Leaf Press, the publisher, gave LDS booksellers an insert with an adhesive strip that would allow booksellers to affix them to copies of Embraced by the Light being sold to LDS readers. This single page tells of her conversion to the gospel and gives special insights to LDS readers. But the fact remains that she is a member of the Church whose vision is overwhelmingly a collection of LDS doctrines and folk doctrines that have circulated widely in the Church. All the important ideas have roots in the LDS community, and at all the points where it departs from genuine LDS traditions, it follows pop psychology or trendy new-age religious ideas. Yet she felt no obligation whatsoever to tell her nonmember readers that this gospel can be found in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In fact, she says the exact opposite. "Why didn't God give us only one church, one pure religion?" Of course, LDS readers are of the opinion that he did; and one presumes that in all her years as an active Latter-day Saint, she understood that this was our belief. After all, Joseph Smith already asked that question and received quite an adequate answer. But what answer did Eadie receive? "Each of us, I was told" -- and remember, according to her account, it was Christ himself telling her this -- "is at a different level of spiritual development and understanding. Each person is therefore prepared for a different level of spiritual knowledge. All religions upon the earth are necessary because there are people who need what they teach.... Each church fulfills spiritual needs that perhaps others cannot fill. No one church can fulfill everybody's needs at every level." (p. 46)
Conjure now the image of Betty Eadie stepping onto a dark stage, wearing white that glows like an aura in the intense spotlights upon her. Her assistant has collected questions that members of the audience want Eadie to answer; she bears the box of questions down the aisle in a slow cadenced step, and lays them at Eadie's feet. It happens that Eadie does not actually answer any of those questions, at least not on that occasion. But the message is clear: It is to Eadie that the questions of life should be taken, Eadie dressed in her glorious white.
Contrast that with another image: Joseph Smith, shucking off his coat and wrestling with some of the men in the streets of Nauvoo. Joseph Smith refusing to ask the Lord for revelations which the Lord has already answered in the scriptures. Joseph Smith reminding people that a prophet is only a prophet when he speaks the will of the Lord.
Conjure, if you will, the image of Betty Eadie receiving her portion of the $1.5 million dollars paid for the paperback rights to Embraced by the Light. Where will this money go? I wait eagerly to hear of the loving, charitable works to which every penny of this payment will go, minus only the most modest of withdrawals to meet the financial needs of those who look to her for help and support. Of course she would not dream of buying expensive cars or clothing, or moving into a house even a speck larger than her husband and she need. I know that this must surely happen, because God does not give revelations for private gain. (And Eadie knows this -- that is why the admission tickets to her personal appearances are couched as contributions to benefit charitable enterprises.)
Make sure to measure her use of this vast amount of money against the way Joseph Smith used whatever financial means came under his control. He couldn't run a successful store, because he couldn't bear to deny credit to fellow Saints in need; he absorbed the losses himself until he hadn't the wherewithal to pay his debts or restock the store. When at last a house was built for him at Church expense, it was no house at all -- it was a hotel, and he and Emma managed it to earn their own way. He died deeply in debt, not for private purchases, but for the land that he bought for the Saints to build on.
Perhaps it seems churlish of me to expect Eadie to give up her earnings from her book. After all, I accept royalties from my books -- it's how I make my living. The difference is that I have never claimed that any of my books is a revelation from God meant to guide the behavior of my fellow human beings. I have never claimed to be a prophet. Eadie has; and therefore it is not only fair but necessary to measure her personal behavior against the behavior of the prophets.
Even if she does turn all the money she earns to charitable works, the fact remains that she has been a Latter-day Saint, and most if not all of the doctrines in her book that will feel comforting and exciting to nonmembers who read it came from Joseph Smith and other Latter-day prophets. She gives them and the Church no credit. She makes no effort to turn her readers to the Church through which latter-day revelation and the saving ordinances can be obtained. On the contrary, she teaches them that every church is perfectly all right, and that the only reason to change churches is if you have progressed in one church to the point where it can no longer satisfy your spiritual needs.
And even if you interpret this generously to suggest that it's an oblique way of preparing people to hear the missionaries, it can with equal ease be interpreted as a way to prepare dissatisfied Mormons to leave the Church and follow her: "As an individual raises his level of understanding about God and his own eternal progress, he might feel discontented with the teachings of his present church and seek a different philosophy or religion to fill that void. When this occurs he has reached another level of understanding and will long for further truth and knowledge, and for another opportunity to grow. And at every step of the way, these new opportunities to learn will be given." (pp. 45-46)
Eadie has clearly set herself up as an alternate prophet, and has, just as clearly, separated her work and teachings from the Mormon Church -- even as she exploits Mormon doctrine to make money and to persuade the world that she is a prophet. She has become a rival to the Church, and to follow her is to leave The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She teaches for doctrine a portion of the truth, mingled with the teachings of men. However her personal odyssey began, it is clear what path she has chosen to follow now, she and all those who help her.
How do her doctrines differ from LDS doctrine? This question is trickier than you might think, if only because few Mormons are aware of how very limited actual official Mormon doctrine is. Many of the beliefs that Mormons think of as Church doctrines are in fact merely folk doctrines, arising from speculation but given currency by the fact that we've heard them over and over.
So when Eadie teaches that we chose our life and many of our tribulations in the pre-existence, it is quite likely that neither she nor many of her LDS readers will know she is in the realm of folk doctrine rather than scriptural doctrine. This is not to say that the belief is false, merely that one does not have to believe it in order to be a Mormon. "I saw that most of us had selected the illnesses we would suffer, and for some, the illness that would end our lives." To many Saints, this will have a familiar ring, since they already believe -- without scriptural authority -- that we chose our families or our mates in the preexistence.
Likewise, when Eadie writes, "I saw angels rushing to answer the prayers. They were organized to give as much help as possible. As they worked within this organization, they literally flew from person to person, from prayer to prayer, and were filled with love and joy by their work," many Saints will recognize a common folk doctrine in the Church, that God is able to hear and answer our prayers because he has many angels helping him. And when Eadie states that "insincere prayers of repetition" are pretty much useless, many Mormons will nod their heads.
There is so much Mormon doctrine here, and so much folk doctrine, that it is very easy to miss the points where Eadie departs from beliefs already current in LDS society. And on many of these points, her departures are not intrinsically harmful -- that is, there is no way of knowing whether what she says is true or not. If she presented it as private speculation on the implications of LDS doctrine, there would be no problem with it -- the history of the Church (not to mention the Journal of Discourses) is filled with the speculations of members and prophets alike, and if there's one thing Mormons love to do, it's to get together and speculate about prophecies and doctrines. Thus her idea of prayers rising from the earth like beams of light, some wide and bright, some dim and narrow, is really a rather charming visualization; many of us may already have a similar mental picture representing prayer.
But Eadie is not offering these as speculations or visualizations. She is declaring them to be the clear, direct teachings of Jesus Christ and a factual account of what she saw in heaven. She is presenting as firm doctrine ideas that, while widely known in the Church, have never been presented to the Church membership as official revelation, and certainly not as scripture. To Latter-day Saints, this should be deeply troubling. Though we believe that we are all entitled to revelation, we also believe that only the prophets are entitled to receive revelation for the Church and the world as a whole.
It isn't just LDS sources that Eadie mines for her ideas. Obviously she has read C. S. Lewis, when she gives us a scene where her guides show her a drunken bum and then become excited and show her that he is really a being of light "and I understood that he was greatly admired in the heavens." Lewis, too, reminded us that if we could strip away the flesh and see what even the least of our fellow humans really is, the glorious spiritual being we would see would awaken within us our profoundest desire to worship.
Eadie, though, can't leave this interesting insight alone. She tells us that this drunk chose his life here in order to fulfil a covenant with a friend in the pre-existence. "Although the drunk now had no recollection of this agreement with his friend, his purpose was to be a reminder to him of the needs of others." Astonishingly, "The drunk had sacrificed his time on earth for the benefit of another." (p. 99) This is directly contradictory to Christian doctrine, and is so obviously fictional that it is almost laughable. After all, in the process of becoming a drunk, this noble soul will have hurt many people -- family members, friends, employers. So he wasn't just sacrificing himself, he was sacrificing part of their lives, too. And are we to think that for him, then, giving his life over to the habit of alcohol was a noble act? Her story is superficially comforting, but directly contradicts the constant statements of all the prophets, that we must shun sin and that it is never righteous to sin for someone else's benefit. If carried to its logical conclusion, we would then have to assume that if the drunk had instead shunned alcohol and lived an upright, productive life, he would not have been "greatly admired in the heavens" because he would have failed his friend! (A story like this one makes it plain that coming up with apt parables, as Jesus did, isn't easy. It's very easy to lose control of the doctrinal implications.)
This is only one of the places where Eadie does not merely amplify or speculate on existing Christian and specifically LDS doctrine, but instead directly contradicts it. Most of the time, though, I can still believe that she does not do so deliberately. For instance, she is obviously thinking of Lehi's teaching on "opposition in all things" when she says, "Within our universe are both positive and negative energies, and both types of energy are essential to creation and growth. These energies have intelligence -- they do our will.... God has absolute power over both energies." (p. 57) It is not just her use of the word energies -- a dead giveaway that New Age ideas have become part of her doctrine -- that makes this a false doctrine. Rather it is her having given equal status to good and evil within creation. This is not Lehi's simple teaching that good is only intelligible in contrast to evil, and that is why evil is permitted to endure in our mortal world. Eadie is downright manichaean: In her cosmos, negative energies -- "darkness, hatred, fear ..., unkindness, intolerance, selfishness, despair, discouragement" -- are "essential to creation and growth." LDS doctrine is the opposite: Creation and growth are only possible through the complete rejection of evil; evil has no creative power in it.
And, again contrary to LDS doctrine, Eadie says that God has absolute power over evil. The LDS doctrine is that evil exists and cannot be abolished; God hasn't the power to abolish it because there is no such power. Lehi's point, after all, is that good would not be intelligible as good except in contrast to evil. Instead, God uses his priesthood power and influence to create islands of goodness and light in the midst of chaos and disorder, and these worlds he has created exist only through the free rejection of evil. But Eadie's teachings are exactly the sort of misunderstanding that many Mormons might fall into, as they learn a little doctrine without really grasping how it all fits together. Most of us, though, are modest enough not to offer our niftiest speculations as if Christ had revealed them to us in a vision.
I see a future Saturday's Warrior in the story Eadie gives us of a male spirit struggling to persuade his future parents to get together (p. 92). But wait -- we don't have to wait for another Mormon folk doctrinal play. We already saw this story: Back to the Future. But nowhere in scripture or the teachings of the prophets are we justified in thinking that unborn spirits are loose in the world, trying to pursue their personal agendas. On the contrary, we are taught that they dwell in the presence of God. Michael J. Fox may star in the movie, but Mormons are under no obligation to believe that God orders the preexistence in such a chaotic fashion.
There are other false doctrines -- for instance, the idea that God gave us our spiritual weaknesses. If there's anything that distinguishes Latter-day Saints from all other churches and philosophies, it is that we believe that God did not create or determine our spiritual strengths or weaknesses: we are coeternal with God, uncreated, and therefore responsible for our own weaknesses. It is a comforting but deeply misleading idea that if we have a spiritual weakness, we can lay the blame for it on God -- after all, he made us this way! Eadie's idea makes hash of Christ's charge, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect."
Other false doctrines: That some of the righteous spirits in the preexistence chose not to come to earth. That those who did not grow sufficiently during mortality are "virtual prisoners of this earth," unable to pass on to the next stage -- a far cry from the LDS doctrine of post-mortal life. That we chose our time of death and other major events of our lives in the preexistence, rather than choosing them now during our time of mortal testing. That the spirit, rather than being the self, is a "receptive device that receives knowledge and insight from" God (p. 66), and is quite separate and distinct from the mind.
I will confess to being most annoyed when Eadie put into her vision one of the most pernicious and anti-Christian of the current pop religious fads. She says, as Christ did, that we must love God first, but then, in direct contradiction to Christ's own words, she says "Then we must love ourselves. I know that without feelings of self-love that the love we feel for others is counterfeit." (p.60) If we had no other evidence, this alone would be clear proof that at least some parts of her supposed vision not only did not come from Christ but are directly opposed to his will. That is, unless Christ didn't mean it when he said, over and over, that after our love for God must come our love for our fellow humans.
It has become trendy in the Church to accept the false doctrine of the world that misconstrues the grammar of "Love your neighbor as yourself" to imply that Christ was therefore inserting between God and our neighbor a commandment to look out for Number One; but, fortunately, none of the prophets has ever felt it appropriate to put this bit of anti-Christian nonsense in the form of scripture. Its roots are not in revelation, but in pop psychology -- the same pop psychology that urges us to get rid of guilt, not by repentance, but by loving ourselves as we are, sins and all. And that same pop psychology and trendy New Age religion is the source of all the ideas in Eadie's book that do not come from Mormon doctrine -- or common misconceptions about Mormon doctrine.
Is She Lying?
Eadie may well believe that all the doctrines she teaches are true. Nor can I guess whether or not she actually had a spiritual experience, perhaps even exactly as described. Because even if you accept that she saw and heard and learned everything that she says she saw, heard, and learned, and even if you admit the possibility that the source of the vision was God, it still does not mean that it is anything more than a private experience given to her for her own benefit. It most certainly does not mean that any other person should change his or her life in order to comply with Eadie's teachings.
Nowhere in her book does Eadie claim that God told her to proclaim these things to the world. On the contrary, for the first few years after the date of the experience she seems to have behaved in a way not inconsistent with a genuine spiritual experience -- she spoke of it to very few people and did not attempt to benefit or profit from it in any way. If only that attitude had persisted.
At the end of the book, Eadie says it took her "nineteen years and countless proddings to get me to share the experiences in this book," but one should not suppose that she was reluctant to speak of sacred things. Her acknowledgments include her thanks to a friend who spent "countless hours" traveling with her to "speaking engagements, listening over and over to the account of my experience, never tiring of it, and always encouraging me to do more." Setting aside the fact that Eadie has with this statement set forth what is expected of her disciples, it certainly does not sound as though Eadie has been shy about sharing her experiences; she has merely been shy about writing them down, perhaps waiting for talented co-writer Curtis Taylor, who has produced what is definitely a smooth, well-written, emotionally touching and rhetorically effective book. Even before Embraced by the Light, however, an account of Eadie's near-death experience circulated "around the world" in written form, based on notes taken by Jane Barfuss, also mentioned in the acknowledgments.
This is an oft-told tale, and it would be remarkable indeed if it had not grown in the retelling. And it will continue to grow -- in this book Eadie talks of portions of her experience that have been hidden from her memory. No doubt as the demand for sequels grows, she will find that the Lord has allowed her to remember these "forgotten" sights. Also, she says, "More experiences have come to me since November 18, 1973, but I am reluctant to share them here...." One eagerly awaits Lifted by the Light, Children of the Light, Rise to the Light, and -- is it possible? -- You Light Up My Life.
Innocence was gone by the time this book appeared. If this story had its origin in genuine spiritual experiences, it still looks to this observer, at least, as though Eadie had long since been seduced by public adulation. And with this book she has crossed the line. If she were giving an honest account of a real experience, she could not do so without saying, at some point, "Most of these ideas confirmed what I had been taught for many years as a Latter-day Saint." By choosing to hide the Mormon source of these doctrines -- by not stating that most of the ideas in the book that are powerful and fascinating to nonmembers were already familiar to her as a Latter-day Saint -- she issued this book already poisoned with deceptiveness and dishonesty. She is not telling the whole truth.
One can only contrast her behavior with that of Boyd K. Packer, who has recently been excoriated for his very plainness of speech. True prophets do not hide their affiliation with their predecessors. Alma proclaimed himself a disciple of Abinadi, even if it cost him his life; Eadie conceals what she owes to Joseph Smith, perhaps because it might cost her sales. If Eadie were a true prophet, if she had really been given this experience in order to share it with the world, she would not have begun by denying the Church. The fact that the publisher was ready with that little message "Of Special Interest to Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" says that this was a conscious, deliberate decision, almost certainly made because the LDS connection would interfere with the book's ability to reach its audience.
And, commercially speaking, it was a correct decision. I think it is fair to say that there would have been no $1.5 million paperback sale if she had admitted her Mormon connection in the book. An explicit Mormon connection arouses great suspicion and hostility in many readers; plenty of Protestant ministers are constantly on the lookout for sneaky Mormons trying to pass their ideas off as Christian.
Being as aware of this as anyone, I have occasionally disguised the Mormon roots of some of my fictional stories in order to keep an explicit LDS connection from raising unnecessary barriers in nonmember readers' minds. But then, I don't pretend to be a prophet, I don't claim that my made-up stories were revealed to me by God, and outside those few stories I am quite open about my LDS membership. No one can ever hear me speak publicly without knowing that I am a believing Latter-day Saint, and that the source of all my best ideas is the gospel. I could not give a truthful account of any part of my life without at least mentioning that I'm a Mormon. And when I did write a semi-autobiographical novel, I put my money where my mouth was -- the characters were explicitly LDS.
If Embraced by the Light were any other kind of book, I would see little problem in Eadie downplaying her LDS connection. For instance, the beautiful TV movie Go Toward the Light [I think], about an LDS family struggling with the death of their hemophiliac son in the early days of AIDS, does not dwell on LDS doctrines or depict very much of LDS life. It does mention that the family was Mormon, however, making it the opposite of Eadie's book, which does dwell on LDS doctrines and does not mention her LDS affiliation. Instead, ideas that are clearly derived from the Prophet Joseph Smith are presented as if she first heard them from the lips of the Savior in her vision in 1973.
Why Do So Many Saints Embrace the Book?
What, are all these LDS readers dumb, and I'm the smart guy who saw through it all? Hardly.
First, there are many LDS readers who have been repelled by the book for the same reasons I was. It was turned down by at least one major LDS publisher, for instance, and not because they didn't know that it was likely to be a commercial success. Even among those who find some value in the book, there are many who have serious reservations about much of the doctrine. Because the book's enthusiasts are so enthusiastic, one can get the impression that the whole Church is buying it (in every sense of the word). But this is not true. Acceptance of the book is far from universal.
Second, the book is not presented as an LDS book. Therefore there are surely at least a few LDS readers who have bought the book in all innocence and were astonished at how close the writer's vision was to LDS doctrine. To them it seemed like a welcome confirmation of their faith instead of a shameless exploitation of it.
Third, the book is emotionally effective. I was touched by it. The simple rhetoric, the moving stories prior to and after the vision, and the generally low-key presentation of what are, after all, mainly true doctrines -- of course this has an emotional effect, even on a reader as jaded as I am. The Lord was not exaggerating when he warned that those who cry, "Lo, here!" and "Lo, there!" will deceive, if it were possible, even the very elect.
I do feel some confidence in asserting, however, that this book will not deceive, in the long run, those who have had enough genuine spiritual experience to allow them to distinguish between mere emotions and the promptings of the Spirit. Nor will it deceive those who tend to reject ideas that sound like "a mass of confusion" -- the spiritual skeptics who have long formed the backbone of Mormonism.
The very fact that Embraced by the Light has spread like wildfire through the Church, being quoted from in sacrament meeting and Relief Society and buzzed about wherever Mormons gather, may be a symptom of how hungry the Saints are for vivid spiritual experiences; sadly, this implies that they live without much contact with the Spirit of God. They yearn for spirituality, but like the Nephites who listened to Nehor and Korihor, they want to receive it without reshaping their lives. They have lost the vigor of true testimony, and therefore, just as many Mormon would-be intellectuals are seduced by the dogmas of worldly disciplines, so also are these Mormon would-be charismatics seduced by the optimistic, enthusiastic, affirmative tone of Eadie's book. It should be true, because it makes us feel so good.
It is possible that, despite its deceptiveness and self-servingness, Embraced by the Light will still lead some straying Saints to revive their commitment to the gospel. It is certain that, in order to remain or become close to the Church and the Spirit, all who have read Embraced by the Light will have to put the book and its author behind them.
Eadie is using her account of a vision of the Savior to aggrandize herself and, until convincing contrary evidence comes forth, to enrich herself. She not only conceals her LDS roots, but explicitly states in her book that no Church has a special claim to being the one source of truth. The ideas in her book either come from LDS teachings and folk doctrine or from fashionable ideas found in pop psychology and New Age religion. She has renamed Christ as "The Light" and is cultivating the awe of personal disciples, presenting herself as a spiritual leader without reference to the LDS Church.
All of this, of course, she is perfectly free to do. But Latter-day Saints are not free to accept both the teachings of LDS prophets and those of Betty J. Eadie as having equal authority, for the simple reason that they can't both be true. If Eadie's vision is true in every detail, then Christ has clearly abandoned the Church he restored to Joseph Smith. But I do not believe that he has done so, which leads me inexorably to the conclusion that Betty J. Eadie has abandoned it. That is her privilege. And she has her reward.
-- Orson Scott Card
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