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Snuffer, "Passing the Heavenly Gift" (reviewed by Julie J. Nichols) Options · View
jeffneedle
Posted: Sunday, October 27, 2013 1:37:51 AM

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Review
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Title: Passing the Heavenly Gift
Author: Denver C. Snuffer
Publisher: Mill Creek Press (Salt Lake City, UT)
Genre: nonfiction (“not ‘history’ in the traditional sense [but]… theological…”)
Year Published: 2011
Number of Pages: 506
Binding: paper
ISBN13: 978-0-615-52896-0
Price: $28.85

Reviewed by Julie J. Nichols for the Association for Mormon Letters

In "Passing the Heavenly Gift," Denver C. Snuffer—who was excommunicated after writing this book—addresses a number of controversial issues almost any thinking member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been likely to encounter. Individually and scattershot, these include questions of succession, polygamy, priesthood power, race, economics/business dealings, blood atonement, blind obedience, Correlation, and historical events that, to the student of the gospel and of “the traditional Church narrative,” contain elements that are unavoidably contradictory and puzzling. To put it in a more unified way, they are questions about the meaning of the Restoration. What exactly did Joseph receive? Is the priesthood power and authority for which he died still fully present in the councils of the Church? What about the changes we’ve seen in our meager lifetimes—not to mention the ones seen in our parents’ and grandparents’ day—in attitudes toward plural marriage, in temple worship itself, in missionary protocols, and in many other policies, processes, and procedures? These are not trivial questions.

The great gift of this book is that it lays out these questions in detail and addresses them using scripture and early Church documents unapologetically to support Snuffer’s thesis (which I’ll summarize in a moment). The challenge presented by this book is, of course, concurrent with its gift: now that the questions have been laid out, the evidence presented, what is one to do with these contradictions, gaps, paradoxical claims and conundrums? Snuffer has an answer to that question too.

His thesis, which may be troubling to some, is that since Joseph Smith’s death in 1844, the irrevocable ties with heaven, the fullness of the priesthood powers from God, which he organized the Church to secure for all, have been severely and devastatingly loosened, nigh unto lost. Since the martyrdom, the Church has given up at almost every turn the astonishing potential it was meant to fulfill. In fourteen meticulously-documented, hard-hitting chapters, he shows how prophecies in ancient and modern scripture, as well as from the mouth of Joseph himself, make clear that the church will fall away and become the gentile church spoken of in the Book of Mormon. Inevitably cursings, scatterings, devastations, and confusion will follow this corruption. True to these prophecies, according to Snuffer, from the moment Brigham Young took upon himself the leadership of the church, “Mormonism stopped expanding its doctrine and began to contract.” Exemplified by misunderstandings regarding the sealing power and the meaning of “the new and everlasting covenant,” especially in relation to plural marriage, and also by such teachings as “blood atonement” and “blacks bear the mark of Cain,” the church then began “to abandon, and then denounce as apostate, what was an orthodox prior practice,” which “made it possible for Mormonism to make radical changes, enforce those changes, and punish by excommunication those who would not support those radical changes” (239). Making cash flow and political approval more important than doctrinal understanding, leaders (“proud Nauvoo descendants” (119)) since the time of Joseph have become “capable of transforming [Mormonism] into anything, no matter how unlike what went before” (sic) (239).

Much that Snuffer writes is thrilling. For example, in Chapter 6, entitled “Seven Women Shall Take Hold of One Man," Snuffer reports that Joseph was torn asunder by the command to take plural wives, but he took upon himself that test knowing that he must prove his complete loyalty to God to be able to keep and pass the heavenly gift of the fullness of the priesthood. He commanded Heber C. Kimball to bring Vilate to him (Joseph) as a test, which Heber passed when his heart had been broken and his fidelity proven—and Joseph sealed Heber and Vilate to each other without ever actually taking her as his. For Snuffer, Joseph’s absolute knowledge of God and his commands is inviolate. No leader since has approached his true prophetic stature.

One more example: discussing blood atonement, Snuffer asserts that for Joseph, violence was abhorrent; he knew that the covenant with God is a covenant with all creation (“Those holding the sealing power have, at the behest of the Lord, the elements fight their battles for them,” citing Exodus 14: 26-30) (125). Even rattlesnakes were to be left alone (122). Brigham Young misinterpreted scripture regarding Christ’s atoning blood sacrifice and allowed violence to pervade the church’s dealings with persecution after Joseph’s death. Snuffer’s discussion of events involving murders and disappearances of people suspected of persecuting the Saints (including but not at all limited to the Mountain Meadows Massacre) is riveting. There is, however, an intelligent response to it in an amazon.com review of the book by “A. Pulsipher,” who admits to being a “proud Nauvoo descendant.” Pulsipher notes that there are, in fact, instances where Joseph did perpetrate and consent to violence, and that Snuffer may be seeing Joseph through rose-tinted spectacles and other leaders rather less so. I appreciated this angle on Snuffer’s discussion and suspect that similar responses can be made about other instances used by Snuffer to detail and illustrate his thesis.

Yet Snuffer’s argument is strong that the original gospel as restored to Joseph had stunning implications for us as individual human beings seeking communion with God and with each other. And it’s obvious we haven’t yet met those implications, many of us, either personally or in our relationships with family, friends, or community. What, then, to do with the information Snuffer places before us?

Naturally, readers may do with it what they will. One who is rigidly loyal to the traditional Church narrative might balk, flinch, and turn away from Snuffer’s data, or leap to the defense of the traditional/official story, as do several hot-under-the-collar reviews on amazon.com and posted transparently on Snuffer’s blog. On the other hand, a reader who wants to find reasons to leave the Church might go to the other extreme and use Snuffer’s claims as reasons to do so. But Snuffer himself says this:

["Passing the Heavenly Gift"] does not claim to be right. That is left to the reader to decide. In many specific topics the material reaches a “tie” [between the traditional narrative and the evidence of historical documents held up against each other or against the light of scripture] and leaves it to the reader to choose the result… [Chapter 15] opens with this explanation: “For purposes of this chapter, I am going to assume the church never obtained the fullness offered by the Lord in Nauvoo.” Then I give all the reasons why I would choose to believe, and remain faithful to the church. That is the point at which my voice emerges into the narrative. It comes to quiet alarm, reassure belief and to muster support for the church…The purpose of "Passing the Heavenly Gift" is to awaken all of us to how delicate a proposition it is to live faithfully (http://denversnuffer.blogspot.com/2013/10/understanding-how-to-read-pthg.html ). Within the book, he says, “The church was divinely established and holds a prophetic destiny. But the church is responsible for what happens to it because it must consent to the leaders and their actions. We cannot shirk that responsibility” (419-20).

This is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the book. Over and over he declares that church leadership is not connected to God, that changes in the past hundred and sixty-nine years are the result of, at their least malicious, leaders’ failure to grasp the reality of God’s promises and warnings, and at their worst, those leaders’ greed, pride, and graft. Yet he insists that “Even if the church has been condemned, rejected and cursed, it is still part of His plan. Through it we receive authorized ordinances. We pay our tithes and offerings to the church. And we serve one another within the church. Baptism is important; as is our opportunity and duty to fellowship one another after baptism” (423). Readers could find themselves ready to leave, justified in cutting ties that according to Snuffer’s version have already been severed or were never fully received. Or they could find themselves inspired to do better, be less hypocritical, rise to greater efforts toward receiving Christ into their lives.

As a text, then, this book is thought-provoking, sometimes unsettling, sometimes smart, sometimes prideful. I wish it had an index. It should be linked to his blog, too, which has all the qualities of the book. To those who accuse him of wanting, as an excommunicant still giving talks throughout Utah and elsewhere, to start his own church, he lashes out, saying, “The idea that you identify underserved areas and build temples to drive larger temple recommend participation to produce a cash stream may excite business leaders, but it repels me. That the church now recaptures the cost of building a new temple in two to three years after building one is little more than priestcraft. The Jews used their temple as a place of commerce. The Latter-day Saints have turned the temples themselves into merchandise. That is NOT my ambition. It causes me to mourn, not to become excited that I might join in the feeding frenzy upon the sheep. I am just not like you. Not at all. I will not become like you. You keep the Mormon religion as your product line and never give another thought to me trying to "poach" your paying members. I WILL NOT lead another church. Ever. Period” (http://denversnuffer.blogspot.com/2013/10/i-will-not-start-church.html ). Doubtless he would say he is not being prideful here, only transparent and honest, but the charge that temples are built to produce a cash stream, while thought-provoking and unsettling, does not seem meek.

Read Snuffer. He prefers that his books be read in order, "The Second Comforter" (Mill Creek 2006) first, so that the doctrinal basis of his claims can be clear. But be a critical, thoughtful reader. There are claims here that can be refuted; claims that seem defensible; and claims that can lead a non-neutral reader in troubling directions (and which of us is truly neutral?). Be wise. Remember: no history is complete, no one’s answers can be fully your own. This is not a benign volume. (Is any worthwhile book?) Be warned.
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