April 24, 2009

Faith and Skepticism

I think one of the more interesting spiritual questions one might ask is "Can a person have too much faith?" The Sunday School student would of course conclude that one cannot have too much faith and that we should constantly strive to build it. Many heroes of religious stories are portrayed as having faith that could endure seemingly anything (e.g., Nephi, Abinadi, Job).

After much thought, however, I have come to realize that my answer to the same question is a resounding Yes! For example, I think if God told me that I need to move to another city, I could probably take that on faith. And that's if I'm pretty sure that it was indeed God telling me. If I felt that God Himself wanted me to drop out of school right now and join the Peace Corps, it would be pretty hard, but I would exercise faith in doing so.

But let's use a biblical example and say that I felt just as strongly as Abraham that God wanted me to sacrifice my young daughter to Him. I would probably pause a moment or two to rethink that prompting. Then even if God spoke to me face to face and commanded me to kill my daughter, I think it would be time to check myself into an institution for the mentally ill.

Now, Abraham was a god-fearing man, no doubt. He felt that he was doing God's will. But so does every suicide bomber (more). So did the crusaders (more). So did Jim Jones' followers (more). So did Adolf Hitler (more). Think how the world might be different right now if these people had paused for a moment and asked, "Is this really what I should be doing? Am I following the Creator of the universe, or the voices in my own head? Or am I following the leaders, but not necessarily God?" Too often, people assume that an impulse or feeling is indicative of God's will.

Now let's look at the other side; how can we establish that something is not of God? On my mission in Germany we often asked people a question after introducing the Book of Mormon; "If this book comes from God, wouldn't that be important to know?" I think that is an excellent question. If one does believe in God, it should be very important to evaluate a claim that He has spoken. I would not consider it a healthy reaction to immediately discredit such a claim - because it might be true. Similarly, if I passed a man on the street who said he was Jesus Christ, I would of course be skeptical. But I'd listen to what he had to say - what if it were true? That would be important to know. But as I would probe to evaluate his claim, at what point would I decide he wasn't really Christ? Would I wait until his grammar slipped up; until he was unable to answer some questions about the Bible; until he asked for my credit card number; until he told me to burn down my own house?

Perhaps there is a fine balance between faith and skepticism in order to lead a healthy and spiritual life. We shouldn't accept every claim we hear, but we shouldn't discount them all either. One makes us endlessly gullible, the other leaves us numb and without hope. Each claim must be evaluated from a position of knowledge and faith. One should obtain as much knowledge as possible, and faith can do the rest. Faith should not be used to discount what we can and do know.

If Joseph Smith had told me to sell my house and move to be with the rest of the Church, and he had demonstrated adequate credibility as a man of God, I probably would have done it. Of course that would take some faith. However, if he asked me for my wife, I would have told him to go to hell. That goes beyond faith for me because he proves to me with his asking that he is not a man of God, but a lustful, worldly creature driven by power and control. At that point, it is no longer a question of having enough faith, but it is a warning sign. It is not a matter of overcoming my knowledge of how wrong such an act would be with limitless faith, but clear evidence that Smith was not what he claimed to be.

April 21, 2009


One might categorize readers of this blog thusly:
1. LDS who wish/choose to avoid the specifics of my concerns (and others'), either feeling that such things do not matter, are lies, would only hurt what they value, etc.
2. LDS who have dealt with some of these concerns at the surface and reached conclusions that they don't matter, they can't understand the reasons in this life, they are lies, etc.
3. Non-LDS who either don't know much about the Church or have made the same conclusions as I.
4. LDS who admit that they did not know some of these things or did not know many of the details, would like to know more, but are hesitant because they value their testimonies.
(Certainly more categories could exist, but these reflect what I have noticed)

If readers are LDS and have done extensive research on these subjects, I have not yet had the privilege of conversing with them. I have spoken to one individual face-to-face who fits this category, however, which has been a very interesting exchange, perhaps for another post.

I wish to address this post to those who fit into the 4th category. You may be thinking, "Well, I didn't know about that, but I still feel that it's true," and similar thoughts. You may want to know more about it, but be sure that you're not damaging your testimony.

A very interesting similar case is found in Brigham Henry Roberts (March 13, 1857 – September 27, 1933). He was a general authority of the Church who remained very pious to his death. He served honorably and respectably for his entire life, even serving a 5-year-mission.

What interests me the most about Roberts is how he reacted to a few of his colleagues who asked him questions about the Book of Mormon. He had never really considered the questions, but told his colleagues that he would do all he could to find answers. And that is exactly what he did. He spent the remainder of his life trying to answer these and other questions about the Book of Mormon.

What I respect about Roberts is that he took such an honest approach to his study of the Book of Mormon. He remained faithful to the end (at least outwardly), but openly admitted to the apostles and presidents of the Church and his colleagues the parts that he was unable to reconcile. He was as honest as any man could be about what he was finding. The interesting thing is that his conclusions basically match my own, but his actions did not. This is open for interpretation, of course, but while one can criticize his actions, I think we cannot doubt his integrity. He put his most core beliefs to the ultimate test, understanding that what he found may be difficult to accept, but he did it in the name of finding answers that he could live with. I think believers and non-believers would all do well to match this integrity and be willing to know where we are weak, admit what we do not know, and then do all we can to obtain full, complete, and honest answers, willing to put it all on the line for the sake of truth.

Roberts, B. H. (1985). Studies of the Book of Mormon (B. D. Madsen, Ed.). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.
Smith, G. D. (2002). B.H. Roberts: Book of Mormon apologist and skeptic. In D. Vogel & B. L. Metcalfe (Eds.), American apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon. (pp. 123-155). Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books.

April 16, 2009

Check and Re-Check

It quickly became clear to me after announcing my decision that there was absolutely nothing on Earth I could say to defend my reasons that would sit well with believers. As a consequence, the things I write potentially offend a lot of people. This is not my intention, however. The purpose of this blog is not to take from others what they love, but to offer some relief to those who feel smothered. It is also to explain my position to believers who insist that I have erred. Tell me of my errors, that I might correct them.

Therefore, I do not see myself as trying to bring down the Church. I don't feel like or want to be an enemy to the LDS church. I'd like to see myself as an advocate for reason. If common sense and reason cast some doubt on the things people believe, maybe that's healthy. If all of my reasons convince them only more that they are correct in their belief, I think that's fine (although I fail to understand how). But I do feel it is important for each of us to reflect on these very core things now and then. I think it is wise to take a look at a building's foundation now and then and see if it really is able to hold up the rest of the structure.

If you find yourself back on the same path you were, I think that's fine. But I believe whatever choice a person makes ought to have good, sound reasons behind it, and not just justifications later. Or, to use an analogy, if a building is falling apart, you can paint all the walls, and replace all the floors and replace the wiring and plumbing, but the building still might not be the safest place to live. Perhaps the reason it is falling apart is because the foundation is cracked.

One can tear down the house for a while, closely inspect the foundation, and then rebuild the house exactly as it was, but this time it's got fresh wood, copper wiring, etc. But in that process, one may also see that the foundation has some cracks in it, and at that point it's probably time to pour a new one. In any case, there is no harm in inspecting the foundation; one will either see that it is fine, or see that there are significant concerns.

No matter what the reader decides to do with his or her spirituality, and whatever path he or she chooses to take, I hope that this blog will either help to deepen roots, or help to think it might be time to reinspect that foundation. In any case, I hope that the reader can somehow understand why a person might feel it necessary to do what I have done.

April 13, 2009


Several people seem to feel that they know how I am doing on an emotional level. I think rather than let them draw their own conclusions, perhaps they'd like to go to the source.

As I've said before, I've never felt so wrongfully accused and judged in my life. And the sad part is that it is by people who do not want or care to know the reasons for my decision- they want only to believe what they want to believe and by cutting me down it somehow makes them feel better. No good, sane person would leave the Church, right? But while the social aspect of this is very difficult, at the same time I feel huge relief. I am finally at the point where I don't have to try to force the doctrines of the Church I find fundamentally wrong to fit with my belief in God.

For example, I believe in a loving, merciful God. Knowing that the doctrines of the Church were made by man instead of God makes it so much easier to love God. Now I don't have to wonder why God would so unjustly deny blessing to a people because of their skin color. Now I don't have to wonder why a just God would threaten teenage girls with familial damnation if they refused to marry men more than twice their age in order to become a plural wife. Now I don't have to wonder why God's church would cause so much suffering in His followers. It's because it was not God's making - it was men who claimed to be His instruments. It was men whose aims fell far short of the salvation of humankind. It was men who were overcome by lust, detracted by racism, captivated by power, in love with their own legacies.

I feel as if I am free to know God and His purpose for me as He dictates: not as an organization demands when really looking out only for its own survival.

Some assume that I must be miserable or wallowing in bitterness. On the contrary, I am happier than I've ever been when members of the Church follow their 11th Article of Faith. I admit that those who are quick to judge and insult do offend me. I do not hate them. I feel sorry that they do not wish to let me live in peace. I wonder why they make their attacks. They certainly do not make me want to rethink my position. They certainly do not improve my feelings toward the Church. Is the motive love or charity? It certainly doesn't feel that way. Is it the right thing to do to try to deny me spiritual peace and religious freedom? The only reason I can see for it is that my questions and concerns have made them uncomfortable, and the only way they know how to deal with it is to cut me down. That's unfortunate for all of us.


In this modern world, reliable transportation is a necessity. We have busy schedules and we need to know that we can get to our destinations on time without incident. Vehicles come in all sorts of shapes and sizes with one purpose: to get us (and our cargo) from point A to point B.

Upon what does one base his or her decision to purchase a car? My dream car is a '69 Chevelle, so let's imagine I'm on a car lot, looking for a car, and see a beautiful '69 Chevelle at a decent price. Obviously, I would be very excited! This car is what I've always wanted and I look great in it!

I hop in and take it for a test drive. The first mile is very smooth - easy riding. I feel fantastic! I can't believe my good luck at finding this car! But on the second mile, the transmission starts to slip up. There's a loud grinding and I can't get it out of second gear very easily. I'm able to get it out and I think, "Probably just a little hiccup. I still love the car." So I drive for a third mile, and the same grinding keeps coming up now and then.

What should I do at this point? I felt so great about the car - It's everything I ever wanted! I could just ignore the transmission problem; "I'll just not think about it and it will be fine. I don't need to worry about it right now. Maybe I could just drive it and see how far I can get."

But deep inside my head and somewhere in my heart, I know that this car just isn't everything it promises to be. I'm suspicious that it can't get me where I want to go. No matter how good it looks, no matter how amazing it feels to sit behind that wheel and rev that engine, that transmission is not going to get better if I ignore it.

Similarly, a purpose in life is also essential. Nietzsche said, "He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how." Without purpose, life is only a burden.

When we are approached with theories on the purpose in life, upon what do we base our decisions? Unfortunately, I see a lot of people who buy the car/explanation that they want and feel good about without taking it to the mechanic/closely inspecting all the details.

Several people have told me that they have also struggled with some of my concerns about Church doctrine (see link "Outline of My Concerns"), but that they just don't think about them anymore, or that they just "trust" that it is okay. In fact, no one has told me that they felt fantastic when they first heard about those issues.

In other words these individuals are saying, "That noise in the transmission is not a problem I have to deal with now; I'll just ignore it. I won't think about it until I'm stranded somewhere. The salesman told me it was a good car, and I wanted to believe him, so I'll trust that the car will get me over those mountains. I mean, c'mon! It looks and feels amazing! Who wouldn't want to drive around in this thing?"

The good thing about a car is that it claims only to get you from where you are to your physical destination, and you can replace parts. The bad thing is that the car is only as reliable as its weakest essential part, and transmission is essential.

The unfortunate thing about religion is that you cannot replace faulty doctrine (as much as the Church has tried: e.g., persons of African descent will never in this life receive the blessings of God's priesthood [source]), and you really won't know if it will get you to your destination until it's all over. Religion claims to get you much more than from one place to another, it claims to give you answers on how to please God and earn your eternal life and exaltation. All the more reason that that noise under the hood should be checked out - much more is at stake.

More than one person has told me that "the Church isn't about Joseph Smith - it's about Christ!" Well a car isn't about the transmission - it's about transportation, but if the transmission is faulty, you're not getting anywhere. I.e., if Joseph Smith wasn't a prophet, you're not getting to Christ.

No matter how good something looks, no matter how amazing it feels, you cannot ignore those noises under the hood. That is irresponsible and dangerous.

Fortunately, there are '69 Chevelles out there that not only look and feel good, but everything is working under the hood. We just need the courage to leave the one with the bad transmission and go search diligently for the better one.

April 10, 2009


Around 1996, when I was in high school, I had decided that The Smashing Pumpkins were the greatest band out there. I had some good evidence of this, too; every one of their songs I heard was incredible, they had just released the greatest-selling double-album in history, they were unique and experimental, but also consistent in delivery of amazing music that meant a lot to me personally. Probably my all-time favorite quote from one of their songs is "My life has been extraordinary: blessed and cursed and won." They were everything I wanted in a band.

When their next album was released, I was parked outside the store before it opened. I had loved everything they had recorded previously, so there was no need to preview anything they put out in the future; I was certain I would love it just as much. I took the album home and listened once through it - I thought it sucked. I was truthfully really disappointed in it. Their sound had changed, they were using different chords, different distortion, and it was an entirely different direction from all of their old stuff. But I had already decided they were my favorite band.

So I played it again. And I played it again. I listened to the entire album all the way through probably 15 times until I finally did like it. In essence, I forced myself to like it by ignoring the possibility that it might just not be that good. I eventually stopped listening to that album as much and reverted to their old stuff that I still loved.

Now, years later, I still insist that they are an amazing band. I own every song they've ever released (and some they've not). But I no longer think they are infallible. I now know that they're just a band and some of their stuff is better than others. I also think a lot of other, newer bands are just as good or even better.

This is just a small example of a common psychological phenomenon where we tend to quickly make a decision based on limited information, and then no matter what information we receive after that initial decision, we mold it to back up our initial decision (some studies on the phenomenon are Perkins, Farady, & Bushey, 1991; Pyszczynski & Greenberg, 1987). For example, in an election, people usually decide very early on which candidate they prefer, and then any debates in which he or she engages, or any decisions he or she makes will only confirm the decision, no matter how much the voter might have disagreed with it before.

This pattern can be seen in the LDS Church as well. The accompanying phrase is "milk before meat". For example, if the missionaries approached an investigator's door to talk about the law of tithing or the eternal doctrine of plural wives, things probably wouldn't go that well. Instead, they talk about a new prophet and a new book of scripture containing God's will for mankind. So an investigator will quickly decide if he or she likes Joseph Smith and the Church, and then no matter what information follows will usually conform it to the initial decision. It doesn't matter how he or she felt about plurality of wives before, he or she already decided that Smith was God's instrument, so it must be okay.

Now, please understand that I do not suggest that I am immune to this tendency. Some readers will argue that I decided long ago the Church isn't true and read anything I could that would back up that decision. Some will argue that this blog is only to confirm to myself over and over that my decision was correct. I cannot claim that such a thing is not going on at some level, but I have done my best to be conscious of any bias I have. My suggestion to those who disagree with me is to consider the possibility that you too are not immune to this tendency.

To overcome this tendency, we all must be conscious that it exists and do our best to remain unbiased until we have enough evidence to decide responsibly. I do not suggest that emotion or the spirit or gut reaction or conscience (or whatever you choose to call it) should have no part in our decision. What I do suggest is that we should not base such important, eternal decisions on those things alone, but see what our emotions/conscience/gut reactions/the spirit tell us after we know more. If the Book of Mormon teaches great things about faith in Jesus Christ, then we know it is a great book about faith in Jesus Christ. But is that enough to also conclude it is an ancient record of the ancestors of the Native Americans?


Perkins, D. N., Farady, M., & Bushey, B. (1991). Everyday reasoning and the roots of intelligence. In J. F. Voss, D. N. Perkins & J. W. Segal (Eds.), Informal reasoning and education (pp. 83-105). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Pyszczynski, T., & Greenberg, J. (1987). Toward an integration of cognitive and motivational perspectives on social inference: A biased hypothesis-testing model. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 20, 297-340.

April 8, 2009

Why We Act

Throughout history there have been a lot of theories to explain why people do what they do. Elder Dallin Oaks gave an interesting perspective on these reasons (entire talk here) in an LDS setting. He covers from the most selfish of reasons to what he explains as the best reasons to do what we do.

For example, at the selfish end of the spectrum, hedonism suggests that we do everything we do to avoid pain and increase pleasure. In other words, human beings are entirely selfish. According to this theory, I would never do the dishes unless it gave me pleasure (e.g., verbal praise from my wife) or helped me avoid pain (e.g., having her mad at me). All of human actions could be explained with this theory. According to a hedonist, Christ did not suffer on the cross to save mankind, but so that he could be worshiped forever and avoid being seen as a failure or coward.
Of course, hedonism is not a theory most people agree with.

According to Oaks, one of the greatest reasons for anyone to do something is for the hope of an eternal reward, such as eternal happiness or salvation. I disagree with Oaks on his interpretation of the rightness of such motivation. I really don't see that reason for action as different from hedonism.

For example, some readers of this blog have attempted to divert my course of action by telling me that my family and I will lose eternal rewards because of my choice. In other words, to them it does not matter so much whether the action is right or wrong, but what rewards will be gained or lost from the decision.

Oaks suggests that the greatest reason to do anything is out of charity, or "the pure love of Christ". I like his conclusion very much in that love is a far better reason to act than selfishness.

I would like, however, to further suggest that an even higher reason to act is for the simple reason that it is the right thing to do. If you meet a man without a coat on a freezing day, give him your coat not because you want to feel better about yourself (hedonism). Give him your coat not because God expects it of you (eternal reward/hedonism). But give him your coat because he is cold - because he needs a coat.

Of course, regardless of why you give him the coat, give him the coat. If you do it to impress that cute girl across the street, at least he's getting the coat. But may I suggest that to do it because it's the right thing to do is the best reason to do anything?

Regarding my decision, some have indicated that it must be out of selfishness; I must have left the Church so that I could free up some time on Sundays or so that I could start gambling or drinking. Contrary to what such individuals may think, this has been a very painful process for me. I have never been so attacked in all my life - not even from the German people on my mission for the LDS Church. I have never felt so judged by people I love and respect.

Yet I have chosen this course because it is right. I have acted because I know it is the right thing to do. I did not do this because I would get a great reward. I did not do this out of love for anyone or anything (although I love my daughter more than anything and believe it will be for her benefit). I did this because it is the right thing to do. I don't expect all the readers to understand or want to understand that. At some point it doesn't matter if they understand. It is still right.

April 6, 2009


LDS doctrine states that we existed before this life and that we were taught the Gospel and accepted it (source), and so the missionaries aren't teaching people new doctrine, but just reminding them of things they already know are true. For example, when we are taught that we chose to come to Earth at this time and that we accepted Jesus Christ's plan, it will ring a bell somewhere deep inside of us. We will have a confirmation in our feelings that that is correct.

I have felt similarly about some Church doctrines. For example, I feel wonderful about charity, family being the most central unit in God's plan, forgiveness, selflessness, praying for your enemies, the importance of humility, etc. I do believe that such things are godly.

But this raises a question in my mind. If plurality of wives was also an eternal principle that we knew before this life on Earth, why do I not say to myself, "Oh yeah! Lots of wives! That makes so much sense!"? Why instead does it cause so much dissonance regarding my knowledge and feelings about God? Why does it just feel wrong, no matter what I do to try and feel okay about it? Isn't confusion a sign that such a thing is not godly (D&C 132:8; D&C 9:8-9)?

LDS doctrine states that we will know the truth because the spirit will tell us in our hearts and in our minds (D&C 8:2). So doesn't it mean that polygamy is not good and true and pure if it makes no sense in my mind and I cannot bring myself to feel good about it? Shouldn't the truth be almost instinctual? Should faith overpower conscience, or is conscience a beginning ground for faith?

April 3, 2009


Some have asked questions about my sources. Last week an old friend of mine shared that he or she has had some of the same concerns about Joseph Smith, but was unsure how to proceed to obtain answers from unbiased sources. Someone told the friend that there are no unbiased sources on the Church. I think there is some truth to that. So my advice to this friend was as follows:

It first depends on what topic interests you. I think unbiased sources exist when it comes down to physical science. For example, most of the DNA and language studies to determine the origins of Native Americans were approached with no reference to the Book of Mormon whatsoever. Also look at Reformed Egyptian, archaeological sites from the Americas and what they've found and not found. The scientists didn't want to prove or disprove any of the Church's doctrine, they just wanted to know what was supported by the research. So those are probably the most unbiased sources you can find - peer reviewed scientific articles by people who have nothing for or against the Church.

Regarding Joseph Smith, sources completely free of bias are harder to come by. It depends upon which side you would rather err - on one side, you get a lot of facts stated pretty bluntly, which make Smith sound pretty bad on their own. On the other side, though, you have some LDS authors who do their best to really put all of these facts in the historical and religious context of the 1800s, which was quite a bit different from what we are used to. So if you're worried that the historians might lead you astray by leaning either way, you may feel it best to go with LDS historians and authors.

I think the best bet is to find historians who are or were active in the Church at least at the time they published their work, and hopefully who are still in good standing at BYU or in other church callings. It sort of depends on the specific topic like I stated. I suggest the following:

  • Dr. Susan Black on Joseph Smith's personal history. She is very active and teaches at BYU currently. She really knows the facts, but also puts them in a religious context. She is biased towards Joseph Smith, but I think that's a wise route to take to be sure you're not getting someone who's on the other side, maybe telling lies.
  • Dr. Jessie Embry is a wonderful source on both African Americans' being denied the Priesthood, and Polygamy after Joseph Smith. She is also very active in the Church and uses a religious context for things while mostly giving the facts. I write "mostly" because I recently read a book she wrote where she avoided identifying Joseph Smith as marrying both a mother and her daughter.
  • Dr. Todd Compton is also an active member of the LDS Church. He seems to me like a very balanced source - his thesis for In Sacred Loneliness was that polygamy was the new and everlasting covenant, but that it just didn't work in a practical sense. I feel like he really states the facts plainly, uses original sources as much as possible, gives balanced interpretations of events, etc.
  • B. H. Roberts was an apostle who had some questions about the Book of Mormon and took a very direct approach at studying it. I have found him to be an excellent source for discussion, although becoming somewhat dated.
  • I have also found the PBS documentary on the Church to be a balanced source. I feel that it shows the modern church for the good that it does, while also asking questions about its history and doctrine where appropriate. It uses interviews from both sides, as well as some in the middle ground.

By using these sources, I made sure that I was basing my decision about the Church on events and facts that the Church agrees actually happened, and I wanted to make sure I knew the Church's explanations for said events and facts. Whether or not I agreed with the reasoning, explanations, or lack thereof is what lead me to where I am now.
Some great online sources from the LDS perspective (although clearly biased) can be found on my links list ("LDS Responses" and "LDS Apologetics"). These sites cover a lot of the main concerns about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.
Hugh Nibley and Robert Bushman are outrageously biased toward Joseph Smith and make a lot of arguments that could be considered plausible, though it takes a lot of imagination. Bushman's review of Joseph Smith is coated in sugar, and tiptoes around some of the details of my concerns. So if you want to know some general concerns, but also really want to make them fit your faith in the Church as being led by God, these two are good sources.

Some LDS sources that are pretty negative toward Joseph Smith are Michael Quinn and Grant Palmer. They were LDS at the time of their publications (Quinn has since been excommunicated), but they sort of call the Church to repentance. You may want to avoid them for that reason, or may want to check them out to hear that side.
There's a difference between anti-Mormon literature and literature that doesn't put the Church in the perfect light. "Anti" material may ignore context or treat the Church and Joseph Smith as Satan's work, and so on. I did my best to avoid anything that put off that feeling. So I basically stuck with LDS authors or authors whose work was backed up by LDS authors, or authors whose work was not in direct regards to the Church, but had implication for LDS doctrine.
So in brief, it depends on what you specifically want to know about. My biggest question was obviously about polygamy, so I began with Compton, then Embry.
What is most important for anyone regarding these concerns is that you do not take my word for it. Check out as reliable sources as you can and then the decision is between you and your beliefs.

April 1, 2009

Test of Faith or Clue from God

The point of my post yesterday was that we cannot assume every test we're given from men is a test also from God. If Jim Jones had given me a cup of poisoned punch to test if I would drink it, I would have thrown it in his face.
The same goes for Joseph Smith. If he knocked on my door and told me he had been commanded by God to marry my wife and have my daughter sealed to him for eternity, I would have slammed the door in his face.
A man of God would not behave ungodly, or demand that I do so. If he does, that's a pretty good sign that he's not a man of God.
So again I ask, at what point is something merely a trial of our faith, and at what point is it a clue that the messages we're getting are not from God at all?
If Jim Jones asked me to turn in my paycheck every week, I might be okay with that if I believed he was a man of God (and hundreds of people did). If he asked me to sell my house and donate the money to the People's Temple, I might agree to that. But if he asked me to go to bed with him (and he asked dozens of his followers that exact thing) it would no longer be a matter of faith, but that would be a clear clue to me that he was an impostor - a man out for power, full of lust, under the protection of my faith.
If I had reason to believe that Joseph Smith, Jr. was a prophet of God, and he asked me to give all of my income to the Church (and he did ask the early members of the Church to do just that) I would probably comply. If he asked me to go on a mission across the ocean, leaving my family on their own, I would probably do that on faith. But if he asked to make my teenage daughter his 24th wife (he actually did ask several of his colleagues for their daughters' hands in marriage - see Compton, 2001), at that point, it would become very clear to me that he was not a man of God after all. How far can a man go until we are willing to question his motives?