A Homily on Helaman: Choosing Faithfulness in a Changing Church Culture

In a 1990 address to Regional Representatives, Elder Boyd K. Packer said:

In recent years I have felt, and I think I am not alone, that we were losing the ability to correct the course of the Church. You cannot appreciate how deeply I feel about the importance of this present opportunity unless you know the regard, the reverence, I have for the Book of Mormon and how seriously I have taken the warnings of the prophets, particularly Alma and Helaman.

Both Alma and Helaman told of the church in their day. They warned about fast growth, the desire to be accepted by the world, to be popular, and particularly they warned about prosperity. Each time those conditions existed in combination, the Church drifted off course. All of those conditions are present in the Church today.

Helaman repeatedly warned, I think four times he used these words, that the fatal drift of the church could occur “in the space of not many years.” In one instance it took only six years. (See Helaman 6:32, 7:6, 11:26)

It’s especially interesting that he mentions the book of Helaman as being a prophetic parallel for our day, in addition to Alma.  The superscription to Helaman–the introductory summary between the title and chapter one of the text–is part of the scriptural record, not an editorial study aid by modern church printers, like the individual chapter headings are.  One of the items in that ancient superscription is this:

An account of the righteousness of the Lamanites, and the wickedness and abominations of the Nephites.

Taking together the quotes from Elder Packer and Helaman reminds me of the parable of the ten virgins, where ten women had accepted the invitation to be ready for their Lord, but only half of them were actually ready when the time came.  As I’ve written recently, this doesn’t bode well for many Latter-day Saints–say, 50%–in the day of judgment. 

In addition to the two dangerous “P’s” mentioned by Elder Packer–popularity and prosperity–I think a third can be taken from Helaman: partisanship.  So much of the trouble in that book stems from people putting temporal values before spiritual values. 

Last month, two Utah branch presidents were deported due to their illegal status as immigrants.  In this Deseret News story about it, nearly two hundred people commented, most of them condemning the deported men.  From what I saw, though many of the commenters quoted the twelfth Article of Faith, not one of them seems to have mentioned the Church’s repeated statements in the last few years about tolerance and acceptance of these immigrants.  Alas, it’s always easier to follow a dead prophet than a living one. 

I hope the connection between this news story and what I’ve been saying about Helaman, Elder Packer, the ten virgins, and the Church membership today is obvious. 

I think it may be more important now to stay close to the prophet than ever. 

I think that we can each choose to be steadfast disciples ourselves, and to encourage those around us to whom we minister, especially our families, but I also think that much of the traditional, deeply rooted population of the LDS Church is going to face hard times spiritually in the coming years, and a lot of us won’t make it. 

I think newer populations will largely take up that slack, and the demographics of the Church in 2050 will be far different than they are today.  And for those older, established, whiter populations, the widespread loss of faith and blessings on our part will be entirely something that we have consciously chosen and pursued for years.  Just like it was for the Nephites in Alma and Helaman. 

[Incidentally, I once wrote a detailed analysis of prophecies in 3 Nephi that support this view.  I think that is still so important that I’ve reposted it right before this new post.]

7 comments on “A Homily on Helaman: Choosing Faithfulness in a Changing Church Culture

  1. Another good post Huston. I appreciate your bold post. Interesting that you and I find ourselves on opposite ends of the political spectrum yet agree on this very troubling trend in our church. family Members seem more willing to follow their political leaders than they are to seek out and follow the teachings of their religious leaders. You point out the dichotomy between stated direction and members action found in the immigration debate. That same schism exists around major issues of our day from the arms race to stem cell research and abortion. Church leaders mark out a clear path forward while church members chart their own course. Troubling.

  2. There’s some substance to what you say–though I don’t agree with all of it–but I hope that those on the left (in what will likely become a controversial, divisise debate) will show as much if not more graciousness than those on the right showed during the gay marriage arguments. This looks like a good start–let’s stay focused on our spiritual imperatives.

  3. Another way of looking at this is that the American populations and the West generally will become increasingly Latin American without necessarily becoming racially Hispanic.

    In any case, I suspect that those who embrace the Church’s immigration policy (to the extent it has one) will be disappointed in the results. Which is not to say it should not be embraced, the kingdom not being of this world.

  4. Strange, I didn’t see anything in the Church’s letter that tells us we must now vote to accept illegal immigration. The church has drawn a line that it wants to hold, but it hasn’t told us how to vote…

    Basic reading comprehension would be a good thing for all teachers to have, if we ever hope for them to teach it to children…

  5. A wise and respectable approach, Mrmandias.

    Psycho, “For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.” D&C 58:26

  6. This one doesn’t get old. It is so easy to become complacent, and start going from being a Christian (or follower of Christ) to being a member of a church. Dead prophets mean more than live ones, etc.

    And that Popularity & Prosperity theme never goes old. It’s as big of a problem now as it was 22 years ago when Elder Packer said that.

    There is nothing wrong with being prosperous. But when one starts thinking too much in the vein that “I’ve earned it, therefore I can keep it and do whatever I want with it,” which is not actually true, if one wants to live the teachings of the Scriptures. If we do not use our substance to “feed the hungry and clothe the naked, to free the prisoners et.c” then we may not have earned it in the long run.

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