Elder Ballard’s talk in the Sunday afternoon session of General Conference caused an immediate stir on social media feeds. Besides his denunciations of racism, sexism, and nationalism, tweets were flying on Ballard’s “take-down” of MLMs, herbal supplements, and all sorts of medical quackery. On Monday, Geoff B. at The Millennial Star wrote a thoughtful post on Ballard’s warning about nationalism, offering some useful context via statements from other general authorities. I seek to do the same for the central portion of Ballard’s talk, his rapid-fire list of warnings after cautioning, “We must be careful where our footsteps in life take us.”[7:06]
But first, you’ve seen the so-called Enemies List slide, right? If not, read up here. For Ballard’s current talk, we only need to focus on the green bubbles to the right. Those green bubbles are major areas of concern the Brethren were talking about in December 2015 pertaining to right-wing fringe movements. Placing them on the right side of the spectrum can be taken in a somewhat political sense, but it also has to do with fundamentalist leanings. That means, a lot of these concerns involve embracing viewpoints common in earlier periods of modern church history, but current leaders have since distanced themselves from. Several green bubble ideas pop up in aspects of this central section of Ballard’s talk.
End of World Predictions
Ballard began his series of warnings with,
[7:11] We must be watchful and heed the counsel of Jesus to his disciples as he answered these questions: “Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man (and I add, woman) deceive you.” (Matt. 24:3-4)
This relates to the green bubble, “Last days/end of world predictions.” Two years ago there was enough anxiety over the imminent arrival of the Second Coming (and accompanying devastation) that the Brethren issued a public statement:
The Church encourages our members to be spiritually and physically prepared for life’s ups and downs. For many decades, Church leaders have counseled members that, where possible, they should gradually build a supply of food, water and financial resources to ensure they are self-reliant during disasters and the normal hardships that are part of life, including illness, injury or unemployment.
This teaching to be self-reliant has been accompanied by the counsel of Church leaders to avoid being caught up in extreme efforts to anticipate catastrophic events.
The writings and speculations of individual Church members, some of which have gained currency recently, should be considered as personal accounts or positions that do not reflect Church doctrine.
One of the “individual members” inspiring concern with end times visions was Julie Rowe. A month before this statement, the Church put a 2014 publication by Rowe on a “Spurious Materials in Circulation” memo sent to CES instructors. It warned although she was an active member of the Church, her personal experiences “do not necessarily reflect Church doctrine or they may distort Church doctrine.”
With recent natural disasters and unusual astronomical events, like the solar eclipse and astrological “Revelation 12 sign,” a lot of people are paying closer attention to Second Coming predictions and end times visionaries. Julie Rowe never left. Earlier this year she started a YouTube channel associated with a new podcast series, and the first podcast garnered over 14k views. But it’s not just Rowe. The popular apocalyptic book Visions of Glory, published almost five years ago, was never officially denounced (in spite of doctrinal issues) and sways a lot of Second Coming thinking. Other influential visionaries include Sarah Menet, Hector Soza, and many more.
Keeping the Doctrine Pure
[7:42] Today I repeat earlier counsel from church leaders. Brothers and sisters, keep the doctrine of Christ pure, and never be deceived by those who tamper with the doctrine.
You won’t find the exact phrase “keep the doctrine of Christ pure” on lds.org, but you will find related admonitions like “keep the doctrine pure.” It’s where you find these phrases that helps clarify Ballard’s statement. Keeping the doctrine pure is the ultimate responsibility of church leaders, but that responsibility is also extended to anyone in a position to teach the gospel. From Teaching, No Greater Call,
President Gordon B. Hinckley stated: “I have spoken before about the importance of keeping the doctrine of the Church pure, and seeing that it is taught in all of our meetings. I worry about this. Small aberrations in doctrinal teaching can lead to large and evil falsehoods” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley , 620).
In 2016, Elder Ballard gave a landmark address to CES instructors, The Opportunities and Responsibilities of CES Teachers in the 21st Century. He also cited President Hinckley,
In a General Authority training meeting, President Gordon B. Hinckley taught on the subject “keeping the doctrine pure and the Church on the right course.” He said, “We cannot be too careful. We must watch that we do not get off [course]. In our efforts to be original and fresh and different, we may teach things which may not be entirely in harmony with the basic doctrines of this the restored Church of Jesus Christ. … We had better be more alert. … We must be watchmen on the tower.”
In the Teaching, No Greater Call manual, teachers are warned that to keep doctrine pure, they must avoid certain practices: speculation, misquoting, gospel hobbies, sensational stories, reshaping church history, and private interpretations and unorthodox views. Similarly, Ballard warned CES instructors,
In teaching your students and in responding to their questions, let me warn you not to pass along faith-promoting or unsubstantiated rumors or outdated understandings and explanations of our doctrine and practices from the past… [E]nsure you do not teach things that are untrue, out of date, or odd and quirky.
One of the green bubbles on the Enemies List was a well-respected former CES instructor, Robert Norman. Seminary and institute teachers are spiritual mentors to rising generations, and their opinions and speculation carry tremendous weight. But in this democratic era where the internet makes the voice of any individual carry across the globe, a regular church member can easily become an influential gospel teacher. This suggests a measure of responsibility for that speaker (or writer) and caution for any listeners (or readers).
In a related vein, Ballard cautioned against spiritual leaders without institutional authority.
[7:58] The gospel of the Father and the Son was restored through Joseph Smith, the prophet of this last dispensation. Do not listen to those who have not been ordained or set apart to their church calling and are acknowledged by common consent of the members of the church. Be aware of organizations or groups or individuals claiming secret answers to doctrinal questions that they say today’s apostles and prophets do not have or understand.
There are some among us now who have not been regularly ordained by the heads of the Church and who tell of impending political and economic chaos, the end of the world—something of the “sky is falling, chicken licken” of the fables. They are misleading members to gather to colonies or cults.
Those deceivers say that the Brethren do not know what is going on in the world or that the Brethren approve of their teaching but do not wish to speak of it over the pulpit. Neither is true. The Brethren, by virtue of traveling constantly everywhere on earth, certainly know what is going on, and by virtue of prophetic insight are able to read the signs of the times.
Do not be deceived by them—those deceivers. If there is to be any gathering, it will be announced by those who have been regularly ordained and who are known to the Church to have authority.
Come away from any others. Follow your leaders who have been duly ordained and have been publicly sustained, and you will not be led astray.
But we’ve also heard similar sentiments in recent years. In June 2015, Elder Oaks held a special three-stake meeting in Boise to address apostasy, sometimes dubbed the “Boise Rescue.” It was a tag-team presentation between Elder Oaks and then-assistant church historian, Richard Turley. In that presentation, the threat of false prophets was emphasized. “False prophets can be most threatening to those who already believe in prophets,” Oaks warned. Turley quoted scripture, “For all things must be done in order, and by common consent in the church” (D&C 28:13). He also taught among several principles of order, “No one is to preach or build up the church except he be regularly ordained by the head of the church.”
At the time it was widely understood the special Boise meeting (an Area Business Weekend) was in response to the rising influence of Denver Snuffer, who got his own green bubble on the Enemies List rather than being grouped with regular old False Prophets. For those not aware, Denver Snuffer (yes, that is his birth name) began to draw fans with the publication of The Second Comforter in 2006. In that book, he testified he’d had a personal visitation from Jesus Christ and described the process others could use to gain their own theophanies. He followed up the popular volume with several more books, but only drew the ire of church leaders with his 2011 book, Passing the Heavenly Gift. Church leadership found the book too critical (it suggested church leaders seriously dropped the ball after Joseph Smith), and Snuffer was excommunicated in 2013.
Since his excommunication, Denver Snuffer’s influence has not diminished. He declared the church in apostasy and has inspired a loose coalition of fellowships made up “of between 5,000 and 10,000 followers in 49 states and several countries — mostly former or current members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” In early September, this coalition voted to canonize a revised set of scriptures, including many of Snuffer’s prophecies.
But it’s not just about Denver Snuffer. “Secret answers” and mystical doctrinal knowledge are attractive to members wherever the information comes from. In an August 2015 FairMormon address, Cassandra Hedelius shared many points from the Boise Rescue in her discussion of emerging “Mormon Gnosticism.” In the Q&A section, Hedelius summarized her warning, “[I]f you are seeking for something deeper, and more spiritually awesome, then you are on dangerous ground.” A Salt Lake Tribune article described many of those who followed Snuffer out of the LDS church, and the characteristics might be surprising to some:
They were mostly super-Mormons, zealots who gave their all to the faith. They taught in the LDS Church Educational System or worked at church-owned Brigham Young University. They served in temples. They dissected the scriptures looking for potent but hidden clues to Jesus’ Second Coming or keys to salvation. Some devotees delved into holistic healing, piled up excessive food storage or launched apocalyptic preparations. Others found mainstream Mormon services too boring, too shallow to feed their spiritual hungering. They ached for more celestial manifestations, more holy works, more Holy Writ.
Ballard then switched gears to secular matters,
[8:36] Do not listen to those who entice you with get-rich schemes. Our members have lost far too much money, so be careful.
There are no shortcuts to financial security. There are no get-rich-quick schemes that work… Do not trust your money to others without a thorough evaluation of any proposed investment. Our people have lost far too much money by trusting their assets to others.
In 2008, the First Presidency issued a letter to be read in all ward congregations stating, “Reports of fraud schemes and unwise investments prompt us to again counsel members with respect to prudence in managing one’s financial affairs.” In 2012, Michael Otterson of the church’s public affairs department spoke at a fraud conference. He noted, “As the threat of affinity and other fraud has surfaced in recent years, the Church has increased its efforts to teach its members and to encourage them to live by sound financial principles, as well as to avoid the dangers of financial predators.” And, early in 2016, Utah earned the dubious honor of becoming the first state in the U.S. to have an online registry for white-collar criminals due to it’s high “financial vulnerability” to affinity fraud.
In the final point of Ballard’s central section, he issued warnings about certain health practices:
[8:48] In some places, too many of our people are looking beyond the mark and seeking secret knowledge and expensive and questionable practices to provide healing and support. An official church statement issued one year ago states, “We urge Church members to be cautious about participating in any group that promises-in exchange for money-miraculous healings or that claims to have special methods for accessing healing power outside of properly ordained priesthood holders.”
The Church handbook counsels, “Members should not use medical or health practices that are ethically or legally questionable. Local leaders should advise members who have health problems to consult with competent professional practitioners who are licensed in the countries where they practice.” (21.3.6)
Brothers and sisters, be wise and aware that such practices may be emotionally appealing, but may ultimately prove to be spiritually and physically harmful.
The key here is that “official” church statement. The 2016 statement was only issued to a single local news station; it never appeared in the Mormon Newsroom or anywhere else on LDS.org. The statement was in response to a media query on the church’s position concerning Christ-centered energy healing. According to an official statement by the subject of that news article, Tammy Ward, Christ-centered energy healing is not a specific technique itself, but a recognition of various holistic practices where practitioners profess “personal faith in Jesus Christ and recognize Him as the true source of all healing.” Ward’s company created the Christ-centered Energy Healing Conference, and explained that several types of holistic practices involved are referred to as energy healing modalities “because they utilize various energy systems in the body, such as meridians, chakras, auras, etc.”
Our 2-day conference provides an opportunity for individuals to be introduced to and instructed by professionals in a variety of complimentary and holistic health modalities including: The Emotion Code, The Healer’s BluePrint, Foot Zonology, Kinesiology, and Reiki among many others.
Many assume Ballard was talking about essential oils or herbal supplements, both of which are very popular along the Mormon Corridor. I’ve also seen people suggest Ballard was referring to medical marijuana. In my opinion, it’s more likely he was only speaking of the “emotionally appealing” varieties of energy healing. (Which is a little hard to admit, because I’m really not a fan of essential oils and herbal supplements.)
As the earlier Tribune article quote about Snuffer supporters attests, several of the warnings Ballard raised appeal to similar demographics. Last March, MormonLeaks released a letter from a concerned stake president documenting apostate practices of members in his stake and others. The president noted that all subjects “were involved, to some extent, in holistic healing, energy treatments, foot zoning, etc.” It was his opinion that “holistic healing and energy treatments seem to be the ‘gateway drug’ used to find recruits.” The members were heavily influenced by Denver Snuffer’s books, The Second Comforter and Passing the Heavenly Gift. They participated in activities common among those who follow Snuffer’s teachings, re-baptism and at-home sacrament meetings with wine. They relied on the book Visions of Glory which, at the time, was sold at Seagull Book, and also listened to other end times visionaries.
- What do you think of these interpretations of Elder Ballard’s talk? Do you agree with them?
- What else do you think Ballard might have been referring to?
 If you really are aching for something against multi-level-marketing, the closest I can give you is Elder Oaks mentioning pyramid schemes. In August 2016, LDS Living published a lengthy quote from a decades-old book by Oaks. It said, “For at least a decade there have been a succession of frauds worked by predominantly Mormon entrepreneurs upon predominately Mormon victims. Stock manipulations; residential mortgage financings; gold, silver, diamonds, uranium, and document investments; pyramid schemes—all have taken their toll upon the faithful and gullible.”