8 questions for Denver Snuffer: Excommunicated Mormon explains growth of new movement

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Denver Snuffer, 2016

(Courtesy of Denver Snuffer)

Denver Snuffer, 2016

In 2013, Denver Snuffer was excommunicated from the LDS Church because of his teachings — specifically, those contained in the book Passing the Heavenly Gift.

Snuffer has claimed, among other things, that the LDS Church is in apostasy, which did not endear him to church leaders. If you’d like to read two different views of Snuffer’s work, click here for a sympathetic portrayal and here for a critical one.

I don’t agree with Snuffer on much (except that LDS sacrament meetings are often painfully dull; see below), but as a religion writer I am fascinated by what the growth of his movement shows about the dissatisfaction some Latter-day Saints on the right feel with the Church today.

So I contacted Snuffer for a phone interview to find out more about the “fellowship groups” that have coalesced around his teachings, and what their lived religion looks like in action. We talked for an hour and a half, which I’ve broken into two posts. Today’s comments — all direct quotes from the interview — focus on the fellowships and how their worship compares to the LDS Church. Later I’ll do another post about what Snuffer teaches about polygamy, which may surprise some folks. (Short answer: he is absolutely not in favor.)

Just to give you a little more background, Snuffer is an attorney in Salt Lake City and the father of nine children ranging in age from their early teens to their late thirties. He recently lost a foul-mouthed pet parrot, so be nice to him in the comments. — JKR

 

1. On his role in the movement

The “movement” (if it can be called that) is not owned by me. The participants are independently motivated, and I exert no control over anyone.

No one sustains me, or accepts me as their leader. I don’t ask or expect them to, and I don’t believe that I am above criticism or that what I say can’t be challenged. Everyone is free to believe according to the dictates of their own conscience. Our common ground only has to be a belief in Christ, in baptism, in receiving the Holy Ghost, and the need for repentance. Everything else is open for discussion.

2. The fellowships

There are 40 fellowships registered across the globe, from Australia to Alaska to Germany to New York, but I have not founded a single one. They are established by those who share the common belief in the need to be more scripture-based, more seriously devoted and more individually accountable for the restoration through Joseph.

There’s a website called the Fellowship Locator, where groups that are open to other people joining in have registered. In addition, there’s probably an equal or greater number that aren’t registered as open because their experience has been that introducing new “outsiders,” so to speak, has produced more trouble than benefits. So they want to stabilize themselves until they feel confident about their own ability to absorb more people. The unregistered fellowships exist and function, but are not openly accessible through the website.

3. Local, not central, control

The fellowships proceed pretty differently from one to the next. And that’s how it should be; a one-size-fits all approach doesn’t work. One fellowship has a lot of children; another has practically no children. The needs of those groups are markedly different, so the form of their worship takes a significant variance.

I’ve been attending several meetings of fellowships in Sandy, one in Utah County, and one up in Davis County. I have been circulating through a number of the fellowships to see how they are working and what lessons are being learned, what progress is being made.

4. “Wine of your own make”

Almost always, the sacrament is either done right at the beginning of the meeting or it is the last thing done as the meeting is wrapping up. But in most cases—actually, I think in all cases—the bread was made by someone belonging to the fellowship. And rather than water, either grape juice or wine is made. In most cases the wine is also made by one of the men who attends the fellowship, but I suspect the time is not too far off that a woman is going to be making the wine. Some of the grape juice is homemade also, meaning they grew the grapes.

And by the way, that kind of grape is pretty sour; it’s bitter. Although I’ve drunk wine as the sacrament, to me it’s an unpleasant taste. One of the reasons for wine in the sacrament is to symbolize and remind us of the bitterness of our Lord’s sacrifice.

5. Spiritual gifts

In the meetings I have seen those who have displayed spiritual gifts. Healing ordinances have taken place. Prophecies have been given. Prayer meetings have included revelation that was given in answer to prayer as the meeting took place.

One of the more remarkable expressions of spiritual gifts was from a woman who exhibited the gift of prophecy in a meeting. No one thought that it was odd that a woman should have such gifts given her from God. I think it is the universal human condition that we are all children of a caring God who doesn’t favor one over the other, and therefore doesn’t favor a man over a woman when it comes to spiritual gifts.

6. House churches

One of the groups manages to borrow a nondenominational Christian church to meet in, but most use people’s homes. On occasion there are conferences, and those are as likely to be held outside as inside. Before the weather turned cold several hundred people attended a conference in a campground that was reserved in Big Cottonwood Canyon.

7. Relational tithing

Tithing is collected and distributed locally. No benefit comes to me. I donate when I am at a meeting when it is collected, and those who are present decide among themselves by common consent how the tithing is used among themselves.

The way I have seen it done [at the Sabbath meeting] is that people who are aware of needs write those needs on a slip of paper and put it in a box. Then anyone who intends to donate tithing money donates that in a separate box. When the meeting reaches a point where they’re dealing with the tithing issue, they count the money so they know what the total is, and then the ‘need’ box is open and the needs are read. As a group they decide the priorities of the needs, and then the money gets allocated to the needs that may exist. In every instance I have seen, the excess is in the care of at least two of the women and the women watch over it.

One of the lessons that is learned is that generally, not always, there’s more money than there is need. It’s one of the things that surprises people when they’re administering their own tithing: there’s enough and to spare. In the LDS Church, there’s a massive bureaucracy that has to be financially sustained. In these fellowship groups, when the tithing money is limited to taking care of the poor, there is enough and to spare.

8. Sunday worship

The ambition is usually to have it last one and a half to two hours, but they go on for sometimes three and longer. If you’re in the middle of an interesting discussion, no one is terribly interested in a rigid schedule cutting it off.

If I were going to use only one word to describe fellowship meetings, I would use the word “interesting.” LDS meetings are, to me, excruciatingly boring. It is the same bland, uninteresting material hour after hour, week after week, month in and month out.

These fellowship meetings are interesting. The scriptures are parsed carefully. Interesting events from Mormon history are considered. Things that might get people scolded in a Gospel Doctrine lesson are discussed openly. Our objective is not to criticize but to learn something, but if it exposes an embarrassment for the institution, there’s no reason to shy away from it or say it is not troubling or puzzling.


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  • Jonathan Clark Felt

    I have slowly changed my mind about Mr Snuffer. I know it’s not vogue to do so since he is clearly “a tare” in our minds, but I see a safe harbor also for those we have cast out of our synagogues in this movement he describes. Jana is clearly a friendly progressive Mormon, and Denver a conservative. Both want reform. Could it be we have traveled to a point with our traditions that even the dichotomous two ideas are coming together right on time, and just as the Lord planned it? Teach me. I will listen.

  • Kudos, Jonathan Clark. Our Savior does indeed require an open heart and mind. Love your spirit, brother.

  • TannerG

    I’ve read most of Snuffer’s books and all of his lectures several times. I no longer believe in the truth claims of Mormonism, but I still have a soft spot in my heart for this movement and the people in it. When I resigned from the church and publicly denounced Mormonism, many members of the church were offended and cut me off. Most of the people in this movement continued as stalwart friends, not only respecting, but also entertaining my viewpoints. I think this movement is a refreshing reaction to the rigid corporatization of the LDS church.

  • Elder Anderson

    Mr. Snuffer’s description sounds to me pretty much the way the church ought to be organized and run. I am no historian, but it sounds the way I imagine the early Christian church operated. Very little central authority, autonomous groups “gathered in His name”, lively discussion of real issues, and emphasis on helping the less fortunate. Somehow Snuffer’s description of monetary offerings reminded me of the loaves and fishes story. LDS meetings are deadly boring. More like business meetings than worship. In that regard, I like something closer to mainstream denominations like a sermon, sacrament, singing, and so forth. Overall, this vision of the church is like a breath of fresh air. Live long and prosper!

  • Rebecca

    The only thing I would add is women are making wine too. I have made some myself. Though I have noticed men do seem more interested at first.

  • Patty

    The first time I attended a fellowship worship service I was struck by how the sacrament reminded me of how it is described in the Bible under the direction of Jesus himself—a meal of chunks of fresh bread and that oddly-bitter wine. I felt humble and connected to our Lord in a way I’ve never experienced with the standard thumbnail-sized bits of bread and thimbles of water. We even kneeled down during the prayer like LDS congregations used to do. It was as rich a sacramental moment as I’ve ever experienced.

  • mark

    Thanks for posting this, I now have more clarity on the movement inspired by Mr Snuffer. I see now why he has such vitriolic contempt for the Nauvoo Saints and were much of the rhetoric from the followers of this movement is motivated. This movement appears to have more in common with the 19th century Cambellites than it does that of the Saints who followed Brother Brigham in his great Exodus. The foundation of Mr. Snuffer’s inspired movement would seem to be built as much on, what I believe to be, his Baptist upbringing as anything inspired by Joseph Smith’s teachings. Prayer meetings, collection plates, and lay preachers. None of the structure I understand the Restored priesthood has. Instead of bible thumping, we have BOM thumping, Charismatic Christians.
    To each his own, definitely not for me.

  • Andrew

    I read a book recently titled “Japan’s Modern Prophet: Uchimura Kanzo, 1861-1930”. I highly recommend it. Uchimura is a famous Christian philosopher that, interestingly, hailed from Japan. He started the “mukyoukai” (no church) movement and founded a branch of Christian thought that is kind of anti-establishment. The basic argument is that large organizations lead to bureaucracy, which ultimately injects bias and corrupts the pure gospel. And I must be honest, that’s exactly what I see in the LDS church. It has become sanitized by correlation and corrupted by the bureaucracy. At this point there is an entire economy that depends on tithing and priority number one is protecting that. Larger an organization gets, the worse it gets. In many ways its very similar to the ideas that inspired the constitution, small de-centralized government, individual liberty, etc. I may just have to check out these fellowships.

  • Horst

    Your reference to the Cambellites is apt, if not completely accurate, Mark. In his series, “a cultural history of the book of mormon,” cultural anthropologist, Daymon Smith makes a strong case for the Cambellites forcing their hunger for a renewed New Testament church onto the more ancient beliefs and practices of the Old Testament patriarchs which Joseph was attempting to restore.

    http://www.amazon.com/cultural-history-book-mormon-foundation/dp/1482529807/ref=pd_sim_14_4/175-7315862-9800644?ie=UTF8&dpID=51dw8fZMX6L&dpSrc=sims&preST=_AC_UL160_SR111%2C160_&refRID=1X36VY5VPSF3W91B32X8

    Snuffer claims a renewed restoration of that ancient order taught by Joseph and misunderstood or rejected by the Brighamites. It would be interesting if the power and authority of the patriarchs were renewed in our day. Mountain movers. Sea stoppers. Folks walking with God.

  • T.J.

    I have read all of Snuffer’s books and listened to his 10 lectures. That man is the closest thing to a prophet that we have had since Joseph Smith! The teachings that he has received from the Lord have parted the veil and pointed me more strongly to Christ than any and all of the current LDS church leaders combined. My general experience/observation is that real prophets do not claim any authority, nor do they point to themselves. They point to Christ and Christ only. And because they have in fact parted the veil and been in His presence, they are more equipped to help others go and do likewise. Meanwhile, pretenders do mention Christ but are quick to point to themselves, their “authority,” and the institution they preside over as somehow being necessary for salvation, and hence hedge the way up for others to enter in and know the Lord.

  • Senor Artemus Millet

    T. J., Thank you for your comments. I see truth in your words.

  • Taylor

    Thanks for putting this together!

  • Eli

    Maybe real prophets wouldn’t have to proclaim their real authority as often if we didn’t continue to have false ones crop up from time to time.

    About as often as I’ve heard the words “follow the prophet” I’ve also heard the words “Don’t take everything the prophet says for granted”– that we have prayer, the Holy Ghost, and revelation to confirm the right path. I have yet to find where that has failed me.

    That confirmation has definitely pointed me away from Snuffer (quite specifically actually, a story for more characters), and while he has a lot of good to say, I think the same truth is easy to find in the LDS Church as well, no matter who and how many try to say otherwise.

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  • It is good to see people fellowshipping in Christ, and as I am putting together the scriptures for the Fellowship (in no way related to the movement in this article) I can see why people would be critical of the LDS branch of Mormonism. If this man has been called to preach repentance to the LDS Church, more power to him. Personally, I have been called to bring souls to Christ, not to create more contention for a religion where every organization pretends to be the “one and only true church.” In compiling the Book of Commandments (History of the Church mixed with the original Book of Commandments; the D&C will be the revelations following that book), it is clear that the Lord didn’t intend there be “one true church” but that there be many vineyards in Zion (though to be fair, I am rather critical of the LDS policy on not baptizing kids). We should look for what we have in common and celebrate Christ, not point fingers.

  • We all still have a soft spot for you, Tanner. To this day one of the greatest heartaches I’ve ever experienced is learning of your decision to leave Mormonism. We don’t agree on a number of things, but I still consider you a brother.

  • Anon

    LDS Sacrament meetings are typically so dull I can hardly pay attention. I may make it through the youth speaker and MAYBE the first adult, but then my ADHD kicks in and I give up. I was hopeful over the summer when they announced that Ward Councils would help plan sacrament services. But from what I hear from members of our WC, the Bishop took a few suggestions but is pretty much just planning it still himself. Apparently the WC is too busy being trained on keeping the Sabbath Day a delight to make meaningful change towards making the sacrament meeting a delight. Has anyone seen effective use of the WC in sacrament meeting planning?

  • First Vision

    I don’t understand how a fellowship group can act like they believe in Joseph Smith and the BOM, but completely stray from the doctrines. If you want to be an evangelical–by all means, that is wonderful. But don’t try to act like selectively following revelation has anything to do with Joseph Smith. Smith was all about a restoration of a hierarchical church structure with priesthood keys and specific authority. What was the Council of Fifty then? Joseph Smith also taught about Christ’s reign on the earth being an oligarchy–how do you reconcile that? Temple ordinances? Redeeming the dead?

    I understand the corporate angst but the Church as established by Joseph Smith has always been a blend of Calvinism and Catholicism–you work out your own salvation but are subject to an established hierarchy. This is laid out in the accounts of the First Vision. Selective Mormonism.

  • Elder Anderson

    I’d say that any religious organization is a selective interpretation. That’s what gives rise to different denominations. For example, modern denominations don’t strictly follow Jewish Old Testament laws and stone adulterers to death. And, for example, some mainstream Christians claim the LDS Church is selective (and creative) in interpreting and following Christ’s teachings and Christian doctrine. It’s a natural response to say “we are the only *real* Mormons, and those little fellowships aren’t” but, really, there are no criteria. Any church or denomination is free to interpret all or part of Joseph Smith’s teachings and doctrines and call themselves by any name they like. In my opinion, no interpretation is necessarily the gold standard, and none is superior to another. Personally, I love and accept all my brothers and sisters in Christ regardless of how they worship. That is Christ’s message.

  • JLC

    I was gathering with two different groups before Snuffer recommended having them. Snuffer stands as another witness that this is a good thing happening but this is not his movement. I realize people outside of these gatherings are trying to put Snuffer’s name on all this. He has had a big influence on many of the people that are gathering but we are followers of Christ. We seek to be lead by the spirit not by Denver Snuffer, as many people believe so when you (Jana) refer to this as his (Denner) movement I think you are a off the mark a bit.

    Denver and his wife actually came to one of the gatherings I belong to. He certainly wasn’t the center of evening or take over in anyway. He participated with us in the sacrament, listened to others speak and shared a couple of thoughts on some scriptures we were discussing. It was nice to have him join us but we certainly were not looking for his approval on how we were conduction ourselves.

  • Jonathan Clark Felt

    My question lately has been in the how part of “bringing again Zion.” I can see the prophetic nature of our mostly Ephraim-ic tribe (identity group), but I can’t yet see how Judah and Ephraim will reconcile (prophesied) unless maybe the Levites are part of the healing. Will the Jews accept our 1st day Sabbath complete with a Fast and Testimony Meeting on the first 1st day of a given Catholic-authorized Gregorian Calendar month? It does sound like we are a mix of Protestantism, Authoritarianism and Catholicism. When I returned from my mission ages ago, I was proud to be on the winning team, but that pride has stirred up more questions than answers. “Good Ship Zion” with all its boring sacrament meetings is safe, but is it the only correct way to find one’s mission in this run up time to the Millennium? Jana, is there going to be Millennium with clear demarcations of time or is it something we will slip into without boundaries? Denver, are priesthood keys important to the…

  • Diana M

    It sounds like they have duplicated AA at a spiritual level. Fellowship is exactly what the anonymous groups are referred to and the overseing of money etc is dine the same way as well. I think you can do your own thing without denouncing another.

  • Lance

    Thank you, Jana. I am looking forward to part 2 of your interview.

  • Kyle

    Very well said, I completely agree.

  • wes

    good points – always remember LDS Inc. is just that – a huge american-style corporation.

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  • Peter Baldwin

    My family were converts and I was excommunicated before I turned 19. I left home and made my way to SLC. I was helped by non denominational charities and attended their services. I felt no Spirit there except they fed and housed me and my girlfriend. I ended up in General Conference April 1986, up to this time I usually avoided things that put me to sleep in the middle of the day. But even in my non spiritual circumstance I felt the Spirit ( not heartburn) Ezra Taft Benson was sustained as prophet but more importantly for me Thomas S Monsoon was his 2nd councilor. The Spirit told me in thoughts I felt or as some would say ‘ I heard voices’ , Thomas Monsoon would be prophet. But why tell me when I am about as disobedient a child as you could find. Yes I got a witness and after two more prophets in between Monsoon is called to lead the church. And yes the Spirit said remember I already told you. We are not gods yet and mistakes will be made but I will not make the mistake to leave…