Denver Snuffer and a focus on pure Mormonism.
The man, or the ideas?
Tim Malone was a long-time member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A Latter-day Saint who served as a member of the Stake High Council, went on a mission, and was married in the Temple. From all outward appearances it seemed as if Tim was a typical Mormon who attended Church, respected Church leadership, and made an effort to live a Christ-centered life.
In September of 2014 Tim resigned from the LDS Church.
Tim’s decision to resign has something to do with Denver Snuffer. Snuffer is a Salt Lake City attorney and author. His best known books, The Second Comforter and Passing the Heavenly Gift have generated interest, skepticism, and controversy within the LDS community. In The Second Comforter Snuffer discusses how individual Latter-day Saints can and should seek out the experience of having a personal interaction – in a very literal sense – with Jesus Christ. In Passing the Heavenly Gift Snuffer reviews LDS history and suggests that the modern LDS Church has – due to social pressure or other interests – given up on some of the central ideas espoused by the Prophet Joseph Smith. For Snuffer, the modern Church has become too corporate and too elitist; things which distract from the central message of the Restoration.
Even a brief glance at the Amazon reviews Snuffer’s books have received shows that both he, and his writings, generate passionate feelings and controversy. Snuffer was excommunicated in 2013 for refusing to pull Passing the Heavenly Gift or alter some of its contents.
Lori Burkman has written on how Snuffer, in many ways, may turn out to be a sort of Mormon Martin Luther. In her post, Burkman provides an overview of a series of lectures delivered by Snuffer throughout 2013 – 2014. These lectures represent an impressive, and lengthy, treatise on Snuffer’s view of what Mormonism should look like. These lectures also contain some of Snuffers most bold claims and declarations. These include that 1) Snuffer is a prophet inasmuch as the Lord visits him and instructs him to share the will of the Lord, 2) that the keys of priesthood authority were taken from the LDS Church during the April 2014 General Conference, and 3) Latter-day Saints should seek rebaptism and form small independent communities defined by broad principles laid out by Snuffer. From his Phoenix Lecture delivered on 9–9–14:
Last general conference [sic], the entire First Presidency, the 12, the 70, and all other general authorities and auxiliaries, voted to sustain those who abused their authority in casting me out of the church. At that moment, the Lord ended all claims of the church [sic] of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to claim it is led by the priesthood. They have not practiced what He requires. The Lord has brought about His purposes. This has been in His heart all along. He has chosen to use small means [Snuffer] to accomplish it, but He always uses the smallest of means to fulfill His purposes.
None of this was my doing. The Lord’s strange act, was not, could not, be planned by me. Was not, could not, have been controlled by me. It was not anticipated by me, or even understood by me, until after the Lord had accomplished His will, and made it apparent to me on the evening of May 1, 2014. He alone has done this. He is the author of all of this.
Mormons have seen this movie before and indeed, claims that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been led astray have been made since very early in Church history. David Whitmer, Ervil Lebaron, and and Christopher Nemelka (among others) have all made this claim. Lebaron and Nemelka even established themselves a prophetic calling and created church organizations of their own.
But there is something different about Snuffer. Something about his message that is more, for lack of a better description, democratic or populist. The essential ideas Snuffer presents are fairly simple and yet, seemingly have had a profound impact on those who take his words to heart. In essence what Snuffer proclaims is that every Latter-day Saint is not just capable of receiving the most incredible of spiritual manifestations, but entitled to those experiences if they approach the Lord with sincerity and faith. It is not difficult to understand the appeal at work here. The LDS Church is founded upon the miraculous. Part of its initial and continuing allure is found in the proclamation that the heavens are open. As such, it is not surprising that some members eagerly welcome a message like Snuffer’s. When Denver Snuffer comes along proclaiming explicitly that Latter-day Saints can worthily and humbly experience divine manifestations and even gain an audience with the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, it causes some to perk up and pay attention.
Snuffer has broad appeal for several reasons. First, he has not placed himself in a position of institutional authority and, other than the sales of his books, appears to have no financial incentive to write, travel, and preach as he has done. Second, Snuffer’s claims are based on the Standard Works and Snuffer offers interpretations that may buck at current Church conventions but are in harmony with central Church doctrines. Snuffer appears non-threatening because he reaffirms the Restoration while honoring and exalting the Prophet Joseph. Lastly, Snuffer has consistently encouraged continued participation in, and association with, the LDS Church.  Of course, I do not mean to romanticize Snuffer. He now has a sizable audience with members who have shown themselves willing to take his words seriously and act on them. Such men can easily become corrupted by their own appeal. Having said that, it would seem that those who accept Snuffer as a legitimate divine messenger tend to exalt the message as opposed to the person of Denver Snuffer.
But let there be no mistake. Denver Snuffer is a heretic relative to the LDS Church. His criticism of post-Joseph Church leadership and practice puts him directly at odds with contemporary LDS conceptions of authority and angelic ministration. According to Greg Smith (who I believe presents a fairly typical mainstream LDS view of Snuffer and his claims) “Snuffer is engaged in a form of sign-seeking” and “will not sustain the prophets.” Also, Snuffer “induces others to disregard [LDS Prophets/Apostles].” Smith views Snuffer’s claims as “sensational” and, in his review of Passing the Heavenly Gift cites several LDS leaders who confirm the reality of spiritual manifestations but with the mandate not to speak of them openly. While Smith provides a formidable critique of Snuffer’s historiography, Smith does not explore the question of why today’s prophets are reticent to share these manifestations while accounts of early Church history – not to mention the scriptures – are full of, the often very public, manifestations of God, His angels, and His power. But in our time, and according to the “cautions and commandments [taught] by Elders Oaks and Packer, ” such manifestations are to remain mostly private and, broadly speaking, it is considered improper to discuss the experience of divine manifestations or similar miracles.
Tim Malone began blogging in 2007 with aspirations to be a pundit of sorts; to comment on news, religion, and other matters of interest. However, Tim quickly realized that his primary interest was in writing about the Gospel from a viewpoint more conservative than those typically offered on other Mormon-related blogs. Tim lists his primary interests as:
- The Last Days
- LDS Blogging
- Personal Revelation
- Jesus Christ
- Holy Ghost
- The Book of Mormon
While reading Tim’s blog entries – even on controversial subjects such as California’s Proposition 8 – it impossible to ignore both Tim’s sincerity and charity. Without question Tim expresses conservative religious, social, and political views. But he does so in a way consistent with the overarching Gospel mandate to “love one another.” He even criticizes several of his idealogical counterparts for their unnecessarily aggressive and abusive language in describing Saints who hold opposing views.
The decision to resign from the LDS Church was not an easy one for Tim but he did so because, among other reasons, Tim believes that the current LDS Church and its culture promote the mantra to “follow the prophet” to strictly and absolutely to the point of impeding the agency of individual members. Also, Tim felt that while members are encouraged to study the doctrines of the Church they are actually discouraged from “studying too much.”
We have often been taught, and I have taught it myself, “While the people in the Church aren’t perfect, the Church itself is perfect.” I disagree. The LDS Church was divinely instituted but is not now what the Lord will use to establish Zion. Zion was never intended to be established by a large institution. Zion is to be established in small groups where there are no poor among them.
I owe so much to the LDS Church. I judged my mother harshly when she walked away from the Church after twenty-five years. I was wrong. I have since asked for and received her forgiveness. She was my age or a little older when she left. I understand now what happened.
Tim is explicit in stating that Denver Snuffer is not responsible for his decision to resign.
To all those who now say, “See, I told you so. I warned you the moment you started reading and writing about those books from Denver Snuffer.” Yes, you’re right. You warned me. And you warned me and then warned me over and over again. Thank you for your loving concern. It did no good. I had a witness of the truth the moment I first read PtHG [Passing the Heavenly Gift] that night in January of 2012.
So am I now a follower of Denver Snuffer? No. I never was and never will be. I barely know the man. I know his writings and have been edified by them, but I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. Let no man come between you and your God. I suppose if there’s one thing I do feel different already, it is the realization that I now get my marching orders – my daily priorities – only from the Lord.
Previous to this afternoon’s letter of resignation, I was always concerned about, “What would my priesthood leaders think of this?” or “What does the LDS Church say I should be doing with my time?” Maybe that’s my own fault or failing, but it’s has been ingrained in me from a lifetime of hearing it drilled into my soul – follow the prophet. He knows the way. Thanks, but no thanks.
It is important to note that Tim references a spiritual experience after reading Snuffer’s Passing the Heavenly Gift. In answering a series of questions about his decision to resign, Tim simply explains that he “felt it was the right thing to do.” Shortly after his resignation Tim was rebaptized and began participating in a local group, as described and advocated by Snuffer.
Linda Jules Martindale, also a long-time member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, resigned her LDS Church membership in November 2014. Her reasoning and rationale are similar to Tim Malone’s, but the context of Linda’s resignation is markedly different. Linda’s explains that her spiritual hunger was fueled by consistent and sustained suffering and challenges:
Starting from about 7 years ago – I was in the meridian of a horrible [situation] filled with abuse and corruption of all kinds. The stress and filth I lived with had all but depleted me physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I had a debilitating chronic illness that was exacerbated exponentially by these things I lived with and I felt like I was deteriorating into nothing. I also had an evil spirit that continually “hung around” and did things to torment me and break me down further. Even after countless blessings and dedications on my homes, it would not leave – and it was more active when things were worse with my husband. I was miserable but trying to make the best of things with what was left of me and care for my son … [but] … The abusiveness and corruption I already lived with became worse as … I reached the absolute low-point in my life.
In seeking refuge from these and other challenges, Linda went directly to the Lord:
I turned to the Lord, and although initially – my prayers were for intervention or deliverance to save me from this hell – even if it meant my death, I did start praying to learn what He wanted me to do. I told him that I would do it – whatever it was.
After a particularly harrowing experience with what Linda describes as a demonic force, she describes receiving a priesthood blessing wherein she was promised that “[her] sins have been forgiven” and that “[she] was clean before the Lord.”
I continued with my studies and feeding this passion for researching the Gospel and my search for learning and understanding the truth of all things. I had been led to studying the topics of receiving the Second Comforter, and receiving one’s Calling and Election. I had received multiple witnesses about the doctrine I was studying and the spirit kept testifying to me that I was on the right track, and I was led to one thing after another that reaffirmed the last, and was given witness after witness by the spirit, and my spiritual experiences became stronger and stronger.
Linda is a theological and political conservative and so it is not surprising that she describes how she first became aware of Denver Snuffer while acting as a moderator on LDS Freedom Forum, a popular message board for those Latter-day Saints would largely be considered very-conservative to libertarian on the US political spectrum. However, Snuffer’s message seemed to confirm Linda’s inner spiritual feelings and experiences and, as a result, she began not only to study the Gospel more intently and from a different perspective but also to cultivate more direct spiritual experiences. Linda is very comfortable sharing and discussing her spirtual experiences.
I had some extra time one morning while my little boy slept and wanted to pray a bit extra for him … and I also wanted to ask God and receive answers about my standing before Him. So when I got done with praying about my boy, and thanking God for all of the support and blessings I have, (and by this time I was feeling the spirit), I asked God if I had received the promise of Eternal Life and Exaltation. I was told as I prayed that I HAD received this promise, and received the witness by the Spirit that confirmed it to me. I asked Him to help me understand this gift and what I’m supposed to do now, what this all meant, and to continue blessing me with understanding and light and knowledge. I also asked if he would bless me with the opportunity to meet my Savior. I thanked Him for leading me to those who had taught me and helped bring me to that point of receiving those gifts and promises, and then I prayed more for my boys. The spirit remained strong through all of this and I was crying like a baby, and felt full of joy and comfort and peace! I KNEW that all of these events and experiences in my life had all been stepping stones and had laid a foundation for what I had finally been willing to accept, and had confirmed and sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise!
Since this time, my life has been a completely new and amazing journey filled with things I never imagined! I have since been directed by the Lord to engage in work that has brought others to receive their own C&E. I’ve had the opportunity to experience speaking with the tongue of angels, and prophecy, and revelation, and visions, and visitations by heavenly beings, being taught by angels, and have been blessed with spiritual experiences that I’ve only read about in the scriptures. I received a direct revelation that the demonic attack on me was not just to stop ME from continuing on the path I’ve been on and accepting and receiving these blessings, but to stop specific others (who were named) and who came into my life, that have since also received the same blessings and promises!
In many ways, Tim and Linda couldn’t be more different. Tim comes from a fairly traditional LDS background; happily married in the temple and local leadership callings within the Church. By contrast, Linda experienced significant personal challenges which led her to seek consolation in the Gospel. Tim is an old-time information technology guy (a man after my own heart!) while Linda is much more “new age” with a keen interest in concepts such as sacred geometry and “spirit science.” Despire their differences, however, both Linda and Tim share the same spiritual hunger; a desire to know God through experiencing God. Just as with their original testimonies of the Book of Mormon, Tim and Linda relied on direct spiritual experience to first explore, and then confirm, their various spiritual choices. Even when those choices put them at odds with an institution that they had both borne testimony of, and sworn allegiance to.
It would be easy for mainstream Latter-day Saints, intellectuals, or skeptics to simply dismiss the claimed experiences of Tim and Linda. But I believe it would be a mistake to do so. Regardless of any disagreement over theology or metaphysics one may have with Tim and Linda, it is impossible to ignore either their spiritual sincerity and the impact direct spiritual experience has had on their lives. Both Tim and Linda are incredibly positive, genuine, and caring people and, based on their own accounts, spiritual experiences only serve to promote a sincere desire to serve God and emulate the life of His Son.
Although Tim and Linda are very open and upfront about receiving their Calling & Election, their discussion of these experiences is discreet, reserved, and respectful. These experiences are rarely mentioned and never discussed in any detail, it would seem, out of reverence and respect for the very holy nature of the experience itself. In other words, these experiences are not held out as a sign of status nor is the experience, in itself, given any special prominence. Rather, it is what the experience represents which is of vital importance. The direct spiritual experiences of both Linda and Tim serve as spiritual anchors; something which can always be reflected on or referenced as part of an ongoing spiritual journey. Tim and Linda, following Snuffer and adding their own views, are adamant that these experiences need not be rare but rather, that God is eager to manifest his presence and love in some very remarkable ways. As I say, people of good faith can disagree on particulars of theology and metaphysics. But that Tim and Linda have been fundamentally, and positively, impacted by their spiritual experience is self-evident and beyond question.
Denver Snuffer, Tim Malone, Linda Jules Martindale, and others represent an emerging Mormon mysticism. That is, a Mormonism primarily focussed on direct experience with the ineffable divine. Denver Snuffer’s message, when it really comes down to it, is that ordinary and imperfect Latter-day Saints – the proverbial “Relief Society sister from Parowan” or the “typical” Mormon in Ogden – can and should seek direct divine experience. Not as some rare confirmation of faith but rather, as continual practice. Not only that, but Saints should act on these experiences to better emulate the life of Jesus while keeping His commandments. This is a beautiful message. Certainly not unique as various mystics, teachers, and theologians have advocated direct experience with God for millennia. Yet the message is particularly attractive today within an LDS context. Much of Mormonism’s original appeal was its explicit claims to divine experience and the promise of spiritual experience to all seekers of truth (Moroni 10:5).
This emerging Mormon mysticism seeks renewal and a return to a form of what they see as the early, egalitarian, lightly-structured characteristics of the Church as it was founded in 1830. The primary focus living based on divine experience rather than observing, acknowledging, or acquiescing to any given notion of authority separate from God. Each individual is entitled to divine experience as as such, becomes their own authority on the reality, interpretation and meaning of that experience.
I suspect that this form of mysticism would appeal to many mainstream Latter-day Saints; even those who would never consider the possibility of Snuffer’s legitimacy. At its root, mysticism is about removing all distractions, obstacles, and delusion so that God may be understood and experienced directly. Mystical experience transcends language. By nature it is completely ineffable. Many Latter-day Saints spend quiet moments in the Temple. Perhaps in the Celestial Room after an endowment session. And, while the Temple represents a unique opportunity to set aside material concerns in order to focus on divine experience, such opportunities for reflection can be had outside Temple walls as well.
While I certainly don’t expect a mass Snuffer-inspired exodus from the LDS Church I do think it is important to reflect whenever a member chooses to leave the fold. While I understand and appreciate their individual reasons for choosing to resign, I don’t believe that resignation is theologically necessary within the broader context of either the Church’s or Snuffer’s teachings (Tim nor Linda are likely to disagree with me on this point). As I’ve discussed above, Snuffer’s essential message is about becoming a humble seeker of divine experience. And, while Snuffer is extremely well-read and has formulated an impressive theology of the Restoration, any theology leads to dogma. Dogma can create dogmatism and dogmatism is anathema to mysticism. I worry, then, that some will place too much faith in the person of Snuffer as opposed to his message of seeking divine experience.
- See: https://www.scribd.com/doc/239760895/10-Phoenix-Transcript-Preserving-the-Restoration
- It should be noted that Snuffer has, since his excommunication from the LDS Church in 2013, become more bold in encouraging LDS Church members to defy existing Church policies and lines of authority.
- While this brief statement is an excellent encapsulation, it does not adequately reflect Tim’s rather deep and reflective theological rationale. I would encourage readers to spend time reading Tim’s various blog entries on the subject.
- Interestingly, Linda chose to be rebaptized, in accordance with Snuffer’s teaching, long-before she resigned her LDS Church membership.