The Chosen People Are Always Wrong

Can we talk about CPS? I mean, of course, Chosen-People Syndrome, or the belief that one belongs to a race, people, or organization that has a unique and special relationship to God. Latter-day Saints generally believe that we fall into this category, but there is nothing special about that. Most people believe, and have always believed, that their kind of person is special.

But I don’t want to debate the issue of who is, and who is not, favored of the Lord. I want to talk about what it means to say that one group of humans has been selected by God to be holders of a unique truth or recipients of extra attention. What does it mean to be a “chosen people”?

Well, for one thing, it means that you are probably wrong about a lot of important stuff.

I don’t say this lightly. It is the result of many hours of reading and carefully contemplating the scriptures. If there is a single unifying theme to the LDS Standard Works, it is this: the chosen people always get stuff wrong. They always misinterpret their chosenness as an example of God’s extra favor (which it is not) and not as a charge that gives them extra accountability (which it is). And this is why God usually has to smite them.

The chosen people are pretty much wrong across the board: the Israelites, the Nephites, the congregation at Corinth, the early Latter-day Saints. Our scriptures are a sustained and eternal testimony of the fact that God does not give people any extra intelligence or morality when He singles them out for a special relationship. He waits patiently to see if the truth will change them. Usually, it doesn’t.

When it works, the Gospel will effect a mighty change of heart—it will make us different kinds of people, the kind capable of building the Kingdom of God on earth. When it doesn’t work, true religion generally just turns us into insufferable moralists who try to use God as a stick to beat other people up with. And religion becomes one more weapon that we can use to defend being who we always were.

This is why prophets—the bug-eating kind who come out of the wilderness wearing gunny sacks and having perpetual bad hair days—always get sent to the chosen people. God rarely takes the time to chastise unchosen people. What would be the point? It is the people who hold “the truth” at any given time who receive the greater condemnation for not following it—for not allowing it to change them at a fundamental level. For mapping eternal truths onto their very earthly biases.

This is why I have never been that concerned about the fact that my views on a lot of things—mainly religion and politics, but also love and art—don’t sit will with the body of the Saints. I don’t see things the same way as most Mormons do. I don’t even see Mormonism the same way that most Mormons do—a fact which has been brought to my attention many times by people with more orthodox views, generally with the understanding that I had better get on board or face eternity as a ministering angel or worse.

I’ll risk it. I’m not just being a contrarian. There are plenty of places where my beliefs intersect nicely with the majority of my fellow saints, and I am happy to acknowledge it when it occurs. And one can be just as wrong crying in the wilderness as one can be huddling with the sheep in the valley.

But I flatly reject the notion that there is anything inherently good about thinking the way that other Latter-day Saints think. There is nothing in the scriptures that suggests that the truth is any more likely to be found in the body of believers—even believers in things that are true—than anywhere else. Nor have I ever found any scriptural evidence that being “chosen” is, in fact, a good thing. Usually it just ups the chance of getting smited.

I don’t really know whether or not Latter-day Saints have been selected by God for a special relationship or a unique claim to the truth. I hope we have not. Sometimes my most fervent prayer is that God will not consider my people special or remarkable in any way. Because if He does, we are in big trouble. And if we are indeed chosen, we are almost certainly doing it wrong.

Comments

  1. In the wise words of Morrie Schwartz – “What’s wrong with being number 2.”
    I think we would become that “chosen” people if we enjoyed being number 2 much more than being number 1.

  2. Jason K. says:

    The truly chosen people use traditional strong verb forms. People who say “smited” are liable to be smitten.

  3. thegenaboveme says:

    Entertaining and enlightening at the same time. Again. Giving cause for a personal inventory. In other words: Hahaha *ouch* hahaha *hmmm*

  4. Jason, “smitten,” used as a passive-voice verb, almost always refers to what infatuated teenagers feel when their crush walks by. I wanted to avoid that connotation when talking about God.

  5. Jason K. says:

    Mike: you need to read the Song of Songs more.

  6. So say we all. I can no longer read the following without crying.

    23 For behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you that the Lord God worketh not in darkness.
    24 He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation.
    25 Behold, doth he cry unto any, saying: Depart from me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price.

  7. There is nothing in the scriptures that suggests that the truth is any more likely to be found in the body of believers—even believers in things that are true—than anywhere else.

    Not the truth, perhaps, but the Spirit, or God’s grace, is more likely to be experienced in such a body. “Whenever two or three are gathered together” and all that. Of course, that sort of “body of believers” is in no particular way specific to denominations or adherence to creeds: it just means any number of people who love (or what to love) God coming together to take communion and serve one another. Which is perfectly compatible, I think, with this excellent post.

  8. A gold star lots of free cookies post. The message is clear. Über-thought provoking. Thanks. 🍪👑

  9. Mary Lythgoe Bradfford says:

    Goshen to suffer–great post!

  10. Mary Lythgoe Bradfford says:

    sorry about the misprint–Chosen—-

  11. Hmmm… I think a traditional Mormon would argue that the chosen people only get smited (as compared to smitten) when they cease to follow the prophets among them. Therefore, as long as people today follow the Q15 they are on the up and up. Because… priesthood authority.

    Is that not the message of the scriptures as well? (I ask sincerely as I’m not the scriptorian you are.) I also don’t necessarily agree with the traditional argument, I’m just curious on how you might response as this seems to crux of the problem between traditional and non-traditional members of the church.

  12. Excellent reflection. I will probably quote and get most of the impact with just this sentence: “They always misinterpret their chosen[n]ess as an example of God’s extra favor (which it is not) and not as a charge that gives them extra accountability (which it is).”

    With respect to words, however, I think choseness should be chosenness, and smite – smitten – smited – smote needs a rethink. The word is borderline archaic in its primary form anyway, used almost exclusively by readers of the KJV of the bible. And if we’re going colloquial, yes smitten is what a teenager feels when an interesting person walks by, but smited is “Being so smacked out and high [as on weed] that you cannot function in any normal way.” (Urban Dictionary)

  13. your food allergy is fake says:

    You believe God smites people?

  14. Derry Bresee says:

    Well written, I’m with you. I don’t want to be thought of, Chosen of God, as I’m most certainly doing it wrong- being chosen,
    that is‼️

  15. I am reminded of Tevye’s soliloquy with God in Fiddler on the Roof, when he talks about being God’s Chosen People. “Couldn’t you choose someone else once in a while?” The smiting continued, as I recall. We seemed more comfortable with both the smiting and the accountability aspects of being chosen in the 19th century than now.

  16. >”This is why prophets—the bug-eating kind who come out of the wilderness wearing gunny sacks and having perpetual bad hair days—always get sent to the chosen people.”

    How would we recognize a wild man prophet and distinguish him from pretenders if one happened to come along?

  17. That being said, I agree that we are not chosen for our uniformity of thought and action, but are chosen because we choose to be chosen.

  18. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    The problem is that most of those who act like they’re chosen, don’t actually get smited – at least not in this life. They prosper. They look down upon those they perceive to have not been chosen. They enforce the privilege of their chosendom upon others. They are essentially asking to be smited, but it doesn’t happen. There doesn’t seem to be a disincentive to being chosen anymore.

  19. Aaron Brown says:

    This post is outrageous, and if you are indeed destined to be a ministering angel, I would kindly but firmly ask that you not try to minister to me. Thank you.

    Aaron B

  20. Aaron, I wouldn’t minister to you if you had the only harp on the cloud.

  21. If there is a prize for “Mormon Neck-beard of Year Post” this will win.

  22. Michael: “They always misinterpret their chosenness as an example of God’s extra favor (which it is not) and not as a charge that gives them extra accountability (which it is).”

    Sometimes I think I may have been hanging out in a parallel universe. The quoted statement (minus the “always”) is exactly what I have been taught by (and have taught to) God’s chosen Mormons for decades. Of course, that’s not to say I haven’t also seen the I-am-God’s-best- and-most-favored attitude among some Mormons (and others), or that that attitude hasn’t been encouraged among Mormons by telling each generation since at least 1950 that they are the valiant ones held back until the difficult last days. Where I’ve seen that attitude do the most harm is among those with some ecclesiastical position who assume that, because they’ve been called to such position, whatever occurs to them to say or do is inspired of God. But that seems to be a very specialized case of Chosen-People Syndrome. I’m not at all sure that’s what Michael is talking about.

  23. Steve S says:

    “There is nothing in the scriptures that suggests that the truth is any more likely to be found in the body of believers…”

    Isn’t that one of the primary purposes of prophets, they minister to “the chosen” people as you point out, revealing God’s truth from heaven, and yet these people are no more likely to have greater access to the truth than any other place or people on earth?

    “I don’t really know whether or not Latter-day Saints have been selected by God for a special relationship or a unique claim to the truth.”

    Do you believe Joseph Smith was a prophet? That God sent ministering angels to Joseph Smith to restore the keys of His Kingdom on earth? (If not, or it’s not something you’re confident in, I can understand where you’re coming from in this post.)

  24. Gordon Boyce says:

    Matthew 16:18 . . . Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church is often interpreted by Catholics to mean that leadership makes the church. As a missionary we emphasized personal revelation as the rock Christ was referring to. So it surprises me that Mormons have started talking like Catholics with comments like Q15 or the current prophet is “more equal”. The fundamental reason for personal revelation is the gospel isn’t one size fits all. Whereas the leaders have to talk in principles and generalizations.
    So I definitely agree that we are usually wrong as a group, but we have no standing to asses other people wrongness individually.

    That for the post.

  25. Mike, we should take this a step further and ask, what does “wrong” mean, and does it even exist?

  26. I found this definition of “chosen” on an online comment on an LDS site awhile ago.

    “Members of the house of Israel are “chosen” because they are prepared to take on the extra responsibilities that God wants them to take on. That preparation may be due to parts of their development in the pre-mortal world (Abraham 3:23 etc.), or to specific spiritual gifts of grace they received from God in this life (read through Peter’s descriptions in 1st Peter 1 and 2), or due to embracing, through baptism and their agency, a society that has the means to teach them the gospel so that they have the foundation they need to do God’s work more clearly (see Elder Bednar’s April 2005 conference talk). God needs some people to be the leaven for the rest of the world and he’s decided (chosen) to give them the skills, knowledge and abilities to do it.

    “It is not a matter of being more valued by God. It is a matter of being given a specific work of priesthood and teaching and blessing others and the tools to do it.

    “As you know, sometimes the children of Israel rise to the occasion and do that work and other times they fail pretty miserably, to their tragic condemnation. If you are of the house of Israel it doesn’t mean you are better or more valued but it does mean you had better be on your toes. You have fewer excuses for being bad.”

  27. jstricklan says:

    The sin of Laman and Lemuel was not that they didn’t believe in God — it was that they believed too much in the status of Jerusalem as the seat of God’s Chosen People. “God would never go back on his covenant to prosper the Throne of David, so Dad and Nephi have lost it.”

    We know the prophets from the wilderness are right by their fruits, and by the Spirit.

  28. Being “Chosen” is not a gift, but a responsibility.

    The Jews know this well.

  29. Bro. B. says:

    Michael, I agree that too many LDS think they’re special in an irritating, condescending way. But I, like Steve S, am having difficulty with your last paragraph and how you would reconcile that with the unique LDS claim of what happened here on US soil starting in 1820.

  30. Pride enters when one feels they are higher in God’s favor. Not easy being humble when raised to be the chosen generation that brings in the second coming.

  31. Boanerges Rubalcava says:

    We, as God’s Children were called and elected (chosen if we make ti “sure”?) to Eternal Life. I believe that He loves us (all His children) and wants ALL of us to gain Eternal life. However, He also told us that “there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen?” You know the rest (Section 121). I strongly believe that He would love for ALL His children to be chosen, but He cannot go against Himself and do it for His children. We must work on it. For this purpose He “has chosen” few to help Him in His pursuit, and in working on behalf of others those few ones become chosen and make more of us to be chosen. But many of the “chosen” ones are not to be chosen (afterwards, since they were only “called”) “Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world…” Please read the rest of Section 121. The “House of Israel” seems to me that is the chosen one, and when we become part of it, we have made it. So go the Temple do some Initiatories, and find out that once you follow His advise you (it doesn’t matter if you genetically or not are from Israel) you become part of it: You are chosen. Also read 2 Peter Chapter 1 and Section 131:5, to know what was for Peter the “more sure word of prophesy”. To become “chosen”, is then a long process that last all our lives and beyond.

  32. Glenn Thigpen says:

    “I don’t really know whether or not Latter-day Saints have been selected by God for a special relationship or a unique claim to the truth.”

    The people that belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are not a “chosen people” as were the Children of Israel. They are people that have chosen to accept the teachings if the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
    You are sort of echoing some of Christ’s own criticism of those who buy into the “chosen people syndrome.” Those who claimed to have some special status because they were of the seed of Abraham, etc.
    But, whatever the case, I think that we can all benefit from another bit of advice that Jesus gave all of us when he said “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
    Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
    Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”

    Glenn

  33. Glenn, along the same lines I think of Matthew 3:9: “And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.”