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Ron McMillan
Monday, July 22 2013

Evil Speaking of the Lord’s Anointed

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I carry an ache that appears unbidden when I think about a very close friend.

I hadn’t seen him for a couple of years and we met for lunch to catch-up. He was a little older, but as energetic as ever as he described his latest learnings and new projects. I loved being with him. It felt like we picked up our conversation and relationship right where we left off, as if no time had passed at all.

As he told me about his daughter leaving home for college, he described her free spirit and then became somber. His face changed as he described in detail a beautiful image an artist tattooed on her shoulder with colorful flowers and words of love and peace. Then, he became noticeably angry as he lambasted the Church leaders for having the gall to forbid tattoos and piercings.

“They use their Church positions to bully people on issues they have no right to even comment on,” he exclaimed. “They have over-stepped their authority this time and shamed innocent people for no reason other than to prove they can!”

I was taken aback not only by his words but also by the forcefulness of his criticism. In twenty years of friendship I had never heard him speak negatively about the Church nor its leaders.

In response, I said something about how glad I was that I had resisted the peer pressure in college to get a CTR tattoo. We laughed and moved on to another subject.

My response to his strong emotion and hard words was to tell a joke. I avoided talking with him about a heart-felt issue that should have been a harbinger to me. By avoiding an uncomfortable confrontation or the chance to explore his anger, I missed an opportunity to understand what his strong feelings meant and have him understand mine.

I also realized that my silence on this issue implied agreement, at least I think he took it that way.

Over the years, I've seen angry expressions about others create a negativity that poisons relationships, families, work teams and wards. Though the intent may be just venting a frustration or sharing a secret, when the communication crosses into fault finding or backbiting, the dynamic changes and a malicious element becomes part of the interaction. When this happens, charity and goodness is lost or never found. Whether the intent is to be humorous or vicious, no one can accuse the participants of seeking to have the Spirit to be with them.

No one who engages in evil speaking is guiltless—not the radio show host who rags on someone from the other side of the political spectrum in the name of entertainment nor the purveyor of poisonous gossip who ends a character assassination with the phrase "...but I'm sure he means well."

As I left my lunch engagement, I was sorry I hadn’t spoken my thoughts and feelings to my friend nor explored his. But, I was also fearful and I didn't quite understand why.

We stayed in touch via email, phone and an occasional get together—sharing jokes and updates.

One day I received a twenty page email from him, as one of fourteen on the group list. He explained that he was no longer a member of the Church and gave detailed reasons and arguments for his decision. He explained that his commitment to his own personal integrity would not let him continue as a member.

I rolled through a lot of feelings over the next weeks, and I thought back to the day I had felt so fearful when we parted. I realized that I was fearful for him and the direction he was heading. Why would a few criticisms of Church leaders put me on edge? I was able to pull to my awareness something I had felt for a long time. Evil speaking of the Lord's anointed is the beginning of apostasy.

But why is that the case? Many of us have made a sacred covenant in holy places to avoid evil speaking of the Lord's anointed. I believe if we violate those covenants, we lose the protection of the Spirit and are vulnerable to the power of evil adversaries. As we succumb to their influences, thoughtful analysis with an intent to help and bless turns into criticism and bad mouthing with the intent to harm and debase. That negativity is not only habit forming, it's contagious as well.

I recently attended the temple with my daughter for her first time. On that marvelous occasion, a temple worker prompted my thinking. "Your daughter was anointed today," he said.

"Yes," I replied.

"Who is the Lord's anointed?" he asked. Realizing he had triggered a new thought, he answered his own question. "Isn't it you, your daughter, and me—all of us?"

I've since pondered this idea, new to me, perhaps obvious to you, in light of our covenants. If our covenant to not speak evil of the Lord's anointed is broader than bad mouthing the Church's leaders, the danger of giving the Adversary power in our lives is chilling. Could it be our covenant applies to those we bad mouth in our homes, wards, stakes, neighborhoods and even our government?

It is also likely the consequences of evil speaking are much more damaging to the speaker than the target of the offense.

My hope in this article is to escalate the wrongdoing of evil speaking to the level of sin and even covenant-breaking. I also hope to bring to our awareness the negative consequences of engaging in this hurtful practice. Let’s consider the Savior's words:

“And see that there is no iniquity in the church, neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking;” – D&C 20:54


Note: This article is part one of two parts. In the next part, I'll share what skills to use when confronting someone who is evil speaking.

33 Comments

  1. Excellent point about the annointed. But we also don't claim infallibility for anyone, including our leaders, who are, as we are, liable to have a bad day sometimes. I hope rolling of one's eyes doesn't constitute evil speaking, but the important issue is letting go of offences and moving on. Otherwise they chew away at the back of your neck till you put the pack down.
  2. Wonderful article! I am anxious to read the next one. When will it be posted?
  3. Nice article.. my problem with it is... these days.. the "evil speaking" your talking about is the "truth"... Its so sad... but people dont give you anything good to say about them with their actions... We have to speak the truth as followers of Christ... and thats pretty much the opposite is what the church.. the government.. and everybody else is speaking... ....
  4. This topic has needed to be explored for a long time. I never fail to be shocked at those who will talk behind the back of leaders, local as well as general authorities. The idea of all of us being anointed is new to me, but should have been obvious.
  5. Thank you for this excellent article. As I was reading I was wondering if you would come to the point of evil speaking in relation to all of "the anointed" and I would add potentially "anointed" of God's children not just those who are presently called to positions of leadership within the organization of the church.Thank you for making this important point and reminding us of the personal dangers inherent in criticism of any and all of our Heavenly Fathers children.
  6. I think the principles you talk about in this article are absolutely above reproach. We should all respect one another, and not engage in idle or hurtful chatter at the expense of one another's reputations or regard. I'm not sure I agreed with the interpretation of "Lords Anointed," however. I've always felt that there is some ambiguity about the term. Does it refer solely to Jesus Christ? He is after all, the only one who's name actually includes the term "anointed" --which is what "Christ" means, as a Greek translation of the Hebrew word "messiah." Or does it include additionally the church leadership? But in what sense might most of them be considered "anointed," since in most cases no actual anointing takes place in their being called. Or does it, as you suggest here, apply more broadly, perhaps to all members--in the sense that by taking upon ourselves the name of Christ we in effect become "anointed"? I myself am far from certain how these questions ought to be answered, but am even less certain to what extent they actually matter. But perhaps they do, which is why I'm bringing them up here.
  7. THANK YOU!
  8. ..In his book, The Miracle of Forgiveness by the Prophet Spencer W. Kimball. President Kimball gives a list of "sins" to include evil speaking, bearing false witness, blasphemy, slander, double-tongued talk, profanity along with boasting and flattery. I think what needs to be highlighted is how to repent, and the Prophet explains that also. Respectfully M. Hardy Peterson
  9. There are too many that place themselves above the Lord's anointed. Some, like your friend, feel that they know more than General Authorities. I have found and learned that many who start down this road are those who feel they should have been called to leadership in the Church, but have not. D&C 121:16-17 describes them. Criticism is the road to apostacy. It is a cancer that unless it is removed will destroy testimony and standing in the Church.
  10. For me, this is a very timely post. As I've sat in the temple over the past three or four months, my mind has pondered on this very topic, as to who qualifies as the Lord's anointed. I had concluded that the anointed includes anyone who had received their endowments or, more specifically, anyone who had been washed and anointed in a Temple of our God. I am now considering applying that phrase my discussions of those family members for whom I have had temple work completed. It is a sobering thought but, when adhered to, would do much to seal and sanctify the ties that bind the generations.
  11. As a convert to the church, I have made a lot of changes in my lifestyle. I went through the temple when my husband was a non-member.Eventually he joined the church and we were sealed to each other and our children. Over the years, because of non member extended family members, I have on occasion broken the word of wisdom. I felt that I had a great burden by not being strong enough to avoid breaking my covenants. I felt even worse by not setting a good example to my children. When I discussed this issue with my children, I explained that the Church's standards are correct and that I was WRONG. I also explained to them that the General Authorities are the mouthpiece for Jesus Christ and when they speak, they speak truth. We discussed the atonement and that I go to Sacrament meeting to get strengthened because I have a weakness that I must overcome. I have never criticized the General Authorities because I do not want my children to stray from the truth. By telling my children that I was WRONG to break my covenants, they have an unwavering devotion to the church and realize that it is true, but comprised of imperfect people like me, who try every day to repent and live up to the covenants I made at baptism and in the temple. They also have a better understanding of the atonement. My children are now adults who have a greater understanding of others who fall from grace, and they know that the Lord's Anointed will never lead them astray.
  12. Thank you for this article. I have been very moved by the temple ordinance worker who told you that we are all anointed. This has given a greater perspective on life and speaking about others.
  13. Something that has helped me is realizing it is OK to disagree with others; even on matters of our religion. Realizing that helps us to not be so critical of each other.
  14. I converted to the Church at 15, almost 16 years ago, and thought I would never experience "evil-speaking of the Lord's anointed." Perhaps my bliss at finding the restored Gospel coupled with a wonderful support system of experienced and faithful Church members (so unlike the fledgling members of Doctrine & Covenants lore) shooed away any worries of grappling with doubt or doubters. But serving a mission and now experiencing the societal unease of gay marriage and Proposition 8 have shown me that "evil speaking" is by no means a relic of the early Latter-day Saint church. I very much appreciate this article and eagerly await Part 2.
  15. As has been pointed out, our leaders are not perfect and make mistakes. Admitting this is not "speaking evil". mentioning specifics isn't either. Joseph Smith said that following any church leader when they are wrong, simply because of that leader's position, is wrong. This is why I don't feel that i'm breaking any temple covenants by opposing our leaders on Prop. 8. Regarding, POLICIES, we should follow our leaders. We may not agree with not allowing bishops to have beards or disagree about having girls with 2-3 ear piercing, but our leaders have been called to make those choices. there is no objective (scriptural) right or wrong, just opinion. I've been in bishopric meetings, PEC meetings, ward council meetings, etc... where differing opinions were given. The bishop is the decider. We are to accept that and work to make his decision successful. If it fails, despite our best efforts, also does NOT mean that our idea was better. The bottom line is that disagreeing over things where the evidence suggests that they are wrong does not make is covenant breakers. Failing to support our leaders when they put forth a policy/opinion DOES make us guilty of not sustaining our leaders, even if "evil speaking" isn't involved.
  16. 1. I am having real difficulty trying to ID anyone who is not anointed (think PH blessings). 2. The Lord uses humans to accomplish his work. Consider the pagan/ criminal Moses who angered God when he was called (Aaron got to speak the Lord's words to the people as a result). Compare the similar conversation the Lord had with Jeremiah and the difference in response. Elijah cried out in anguish when the widow's son died -- who he subsequently called back from death. Jeremiah had a major pity-party melt-down and swore he would never preach again --- but his testimony had quietly grown to such power that he could not keep that oath. Paul had his "thorn" that I am certain was an ongoing topic of criticism/ gossip. Search the scriptures --- the Lord has used weak men to accomplish his purposes all through time.
  17. 1. I am having real difficulty trying to ID anyone who is not anointed (think PH blessings). 2. The Lord uses humans to accomplish his work. Consider the pagan/ criminal Moses who angered God when he was called (Aaron got to speak the Lord's words to the people as a result). Compare the similar conversation the Lord had with Jeremiah and the difference in response. Elijah cried out in anguish when the widow's son died -- who he subsequently called back from death. Jeremiah had a major pity-party melt-down and swore he would never preach again --- but his testimony had quietly grown to such power that he could not keep that oath. Paul had his "thorn" that I am certain was an ongoing topic of criticism/ gossip. Search the scriptures --- the Lord has used weak men to accomplish his purposes all through time.
  18. As has been pointed out, our leaders are not perfect and make mistakes. Admitting this is not "speaking evil". mentioning specifics isn't either. Joseph Smith said that following any church leader when they are wrong, simply because of that leader's position, is wrong. This is why I don't feel that i'm breaking any temple covenants by opposing our leaders on Prop. 8. Regarding, POLICIES, we should follow our leaders. We may not agree with not allowing bishops to have beards or disagree about having girls with 2-3 ear piercing, but our leaders have been called to make those choices. there is no objective (scriptural) right or wrong, just opinion. I've been in bishopric meetings, PEC meetings, ward council meetings, etc... where differing opinions were given. The bishop is the decider. We are to accept that and work to make his decision successful. If it fails, despite our best efforts, also does NOT mean that our idea was better. The bottom line is that disagreeing over things where the evidence suggests that they are wrong does not make is covenant breakers. Failing to support our leaders when they put forth a policy/opinion DOES make us guilty of not sustaining our leaders, even if "evil speaking" isn't involved.
  19. As a convert to the church, I find myself amazed when someone questions our leaders. I agreed to follow the lord, & in so doing follow his chosen leaders. I have never found them to lead me astray, they are the guides I need to lead me to my Father!!
  20. We need to weigh importance of the issues at hand. I know a member of the Church in Georgia, who disagreed when their Branch President said that members *must* root for BYU, when BYU played Georgia in football in 1982. But, some issues, like Blacks and the Priesthood, had importance, but, a variety of opinions before June 1978. We should also be ready to own up when we are wrong. Like Pres. Benson said about pride, it is not who is right, it is what is right.
  21. This interpretation is one that has resonated with me for some time now. However, I think we really need to distinguish between productive and destructive criticism. We need to be able to disagree with someone, even a leader, without it being seen as an action that puts our eternal welfare in jeopardy. Jesus was outspoken in his criticism of some of the spiritual leaders of his day. But his criticism was not backbiting or gossip. It was done to fix and improve things, not to break them down.
  22. WE are all God's anointed children. whether endowed or not. we are all heirs to HIS kingdom. Jospeh Smiths brother who had not been endowed entered into the Lords rest in the Celestial Kingdom. I think we all as humans make mistakes including the Leaders of the church. We all have a path to follow that God forordained just for us. so who are we to judge another. we are however commanded to LOVE OUR BROTHER AS OURSELF. But being silent definitiely shows agreement in what is obviously contrary to what the Bible says. Each of us have in inate connection with God and He converses with us if we open the door. I firmly believe that everyday people can and do have certain knowledge that the Leaders do not have. the Leaders speak to the church as a whole but are not albe to receive revelation particular to my family and circumstance. God speaks to me and I listen.
  23. This reminds me of a story told by President Marion G. Romney in 1953 (and repeated by Victor L Brown in 1977 and James E. Faust in 1997): “It is an easy thing to believe in the dead prophets, but it is a greater thing to believe in the living prophets. I will give you an illustration. “One day when President Grant was living, I sat in my office across the street following a general conference. A man came over to see me, an elderly man. He was very upset about what had been said in this conference by some of the Brethren, including myself. I could tell from his speech that he came from a foreign land. After I had quieted him enough so he would listen, I said, ‘Why did you come to America?’ “‘I came here because a prophet of God told me to come.’ “‘Who was the prophet?’ I continued. “‘Wilford Woodruff.’ “‘Do you believe Wilford Woodruff was a prophet of God?’ “‘Yes,’ said he. “‘Do you believe that his successor, President Lorenzo Snow, was a prophet of God?’ “‘Yes, I do.’ “‘Do you believe that President Joseph F. Smith was a prophet of God?’ “‘Yes, sir.’ “Then came the ‘sixty-four dollar question.’ ‘Do you believe that Heber J. Grant is a prophet of God?’ “His answer: ‘I think he ought to keep his mouth shut about old age assistance.’”
  24. This is an example of how the author could have chosen to be empathetic instead of critical.
  25. "When the prophet speaks the debate is over." I believe that Elaine Cannon said that at G.C. When the prophet speaks and HE'S ACTING IN THE CAPACITY OF A PROPHET, the debate IS over. A few weeks ago Jeffrey Holland threw the first ball onto the field at a Dodger's game. He was acting in the capacity of a man who likes baseball. When he speaks at General Conference or gives a speech at Dixie college, BYU, etc;, he is speaking as a servant of the Lord. Either way these imperfect men have been called by inspiration to lead our church. Elder Holland may have an affinity for baseball (which I do not) but he is speaking as a servant of the Lord at those other times I mentioned. When the General Authorities speak by the power of the Holy Spirit the debate is over. "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."
  26. Great article. I'm also constantly surprised how many people justify not following the counsel of the prophet and apostles because they disagree with what they say. It is one thing to disagree with someone like the prophet when you are having a secular discussion individually about what sports team to cheer for, but it is an entirely different thing to question what they say from the pulpit or in official letters/declarations to the church. Some people confuse obeying this counsel with blind obedience and use that to justify their failure to obey. There's is nothing wrong with not understanding, but then seeking for understanding why the church leaders would offer specific counsel. While you seek for that understanding it would probably be wise to obey the counsel in the interim so as to be prepared for the guidance of the spirit rather then distancing yourself from it. Too many of my own friends have fallen into this trap and later left the church just as you described in your story. I personally went through my own struggles in the church, but have now come to realize that obedience is the key. I'm not perfect, and I don't always understand why certain counsel is given, but I follow it without argument or justification. Understanding usually follows swiftly.
  27. As I was reading the comments, my eye caught the word "Truth" by Trina Hawthorne. What we need to remember is "evil speaking". We know our true intent and words. Speaking truth is the key. As we are mortals, we may need to consider if our opinion is really the truth.
  28. I have no fundamental disagreement with the basic theme of this article, that evil speaking of people is almost always wrong. However, although I understand this is with reference to a scripture, surely evil speaking of anyone creates negativity whether they are annointed or not. Evil speaking of your daughter would have been just as wrong before she was annointed as after would it not? My other point is regarding the presumption your friend's apostasy was the result of evil speaking of Church leaders when in fact his evil speaking may well be based on something far more important and crucial. He may have had legitimate unresolved issues which caused the frustration leading to the outburst. Maybe if leaders had resolved those issues the outburst would not have occurred! Are such presumptions in themselves evil speaking? I tend to believe they are!
  29. Having a tattoo does not keep you from getting a temple recommend and attending the temple. Sounds like your friend was already on the way out, and wanted a scape-goat.
  30. I really appreciate this article, and the thoughtful comments as well. As I pondered on the story at the beginning, II Nephi 28:19 came to mind, which says: For the kingdom of the devil must shake, and they which belong to it must needs be stirred up unto repentance, or the devil will grasp them with his everlasting chains, and they be stirred up to anger, and perish; As I read this, when we sin (i.e., belong to the kingdom of the devil), we must choose between repenting, or being stirred up to anger, as anger is the natural refuge of those who are refusing to repent. When we have been offended, the scriptures also tell us what to do - go to the person who has offended us and strive to resolve the issue and be reconciled. However, this approach requires great humility, and most people would rather nurse a grudge, which can lead to evil speaking, gossip, and other sins. Faith and humility are the key attributes we need to work on to implement this scriptural guidance.
  31. I wholeheartedly agree with the counsel in this article. But I believe the author is incorrect in his interpretation of the "Lord's anointed." The references to the Lord's anointed in the Old Testament are to the king of Israel (Saul). The lone reference in the D&C is to the prophets of God. I see no scriptural support to expanding the "Lord's anointed" to all people, members, leaders etc. Elder Oaks' talk about Criticism in May 1986 refers to Jude 1:8 (evil speaking of dignities) to admonish us not to murmur against church leaders in general, and then rightfully points out that "evil speaking against the Lord's anointed" (the prophet), is "in a class by itself." Having said that, there are plenty of admonitions against "fault finding," etc., to teach us not to find fault one with another, without having to stretch the proper meaning of the "Lord's anointed."
  32. I can certainly see some seeds of apostasy in some of these comments. How do you handle a disagreement? You go to that person privately and keep it strictly between you and them. Ezra Taft Benson made it clear that it is possible to disagree with priesthood authorities, but when one publicly derides and criticizes to cause that person to be looked upon in a poor light or to force the critics views by raising an army of dissent, that is apostasy as the term is understood. And if that person does not repent, they will forfeit the kingdom. A man I knew was constantly critical of his local leaders, pointing out what he perceived to be their errors in policy and instruction. To his great sorry, his eldest son left this "church of imperfect people" rejecting his father's and is now a Unitarian minister.
  33. From our stake I can think of eight church leaders (one female) who have been excommunicated. Some of them were responsible for breaking up marriages and families and causing a great deal of heartache. A stake president in a temple recommend interview counseled me to have a highball at night so I could sleep better. He was later excommunicated. A bishop got me involved in counseling and the childhood memories and emotions nearly destroyed me and my family. He was later excommunicated. The list goes on and on. As I have prayed and fasted about this issue I have realized that I should not put my faith in the arm of flesh (church leaders) but rather in the Lord. This was a hard and very dangerous lesson to learn.

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