Beliefs Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

The Mormon’s guide to hearing from God: Ammon Bundy edition

1.7.15 Mormon Guide to the Lord's WillLike many Mormons this week, I’ve been shaking my head at the stupidity unfolding in eastern Oregon, as the armed protesters who have seized federal property appear to be trying to goad the government into a dangerous confrontation. (See here for today’s latest from Oregon, where protesters are resisting offers to walk away.)

The leaders of this group, including Ammon and Ryan Bundy, are Mormon, as are several of the other henchmen, including LaVoi Finicum and one calling himself “Captain Moroni” (see here). You can’t make this stuff up.

Ammon Bundy in particular claims that it was the Lord’s urging that prompted him to seek out the Hammonds in the first place (it’s around the four-minute mark in the video below). His tearful recounting of this overwhelming “feeling” will be familiar to many Latter-day Saints who tell stories in testimony meetings of the various ways the Lord has prompted us.

But most of us don’t think the Lord is giving us specific instructions about taking up arms and resisting the government. At the 16:30 mark, Bundy describes how crystal-clear this guidance was.

His certainty exists despite the opposition, even from the Hammond family he claimed to be helping (and now from the LDS Church, which strongly condemned his actions on Tuesday):

“I began to understand that what we were supposed to do is . . . get together individuals all across this country that understood and cared about what was happening. That understood that our Constitution was being violated, that it is hanging by a thread. . . .

They understood that is happening to Harney County would happen to all the counties across the United States and go into all the ends of the earth if there was not a stand made. And so I began to understand that I was to call all these people together, to ask them to come and to unite together in Harney County, and that we were to create a defense for the people of Harney County so that they can begin to use their land and their resources again . . . that they can get rid of the tyranny and the chains that are upon them. . . .

And I began to understand exactly how we should do it, exactly the steps that we were to take, and so I began to move in that direction. . . . [These things] have only become more and more clear. They are wisdom in the Lord. And so I am asking you to come to Harney County, to make the decision right now, of whether this is a righteous cause or not, whether I am some crazy person or whether the Lord truly works through individuals to get his purposes accomplished. I know that we are to stand now, and that we are to do these things now, or we will not have anything to pass on to our children. . . .

And I ask you now to come to Harney County to participate in this wonderful thing that the Lord is about to accomplish.”

So viewers are left to decide whether a) Bundy is leading a righteous and divinely inspired cause or b) is a “crazy person.”

I can’t speak for his state of mental health, but I can say that he needs to implement a more rigorous standard of whether a course of action this controversial and potentially violent has come from the Lord.

I’m pretty sure that was just the chili talking.

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (Random House/Convergent, 2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church" (Oxford University Press, 2019). She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.


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  • I’m with you 100% on the substance of whether or not the Bundy folks are doing the will of God (they’re not) and on the idea that feeding the poor is a better sally in the war between good and evil than occupying a wildlife refuge.

    But I think this is way oversimplifying the determination of what feelings might be divine communication and what exactly is in line with the scriptures.

    The moniker “Captain Moroni” wasn’t inspired by a particularly chunky bit of chili, it comes from a scriptural story of armed robust resistance to political authority backed by God. This story is just as scriptural as Matthew 25 (and the problem of violent/political scriptural models doesn’t go away if you exclude the Book of Mormon from canon).

    Of course, you can also find committed pacifists in the BoM, or advice to defer to civil authority in LDS discourse and canon. I think the question is why that’s so obvious to some Mormons as part of the plumb line to check revelation against, but…

  • So the question is , When do we know we are receiving a spiritual confirmation from God? In testimony meetings we hear weeping members testify to their “knowledge” that they have received confirmation to the truthfulness of the Restored Gospel. How is Ammon Bundy’s testimony any less honest? Is it because it doesn’t fit into the required guidelines set by The Brethren? What about the heartfelt testimonies of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, FLDSer’s, Scientologists. Does God speak to us only when the message fits the narrow parameters set by Salt Lake City? Ammon Bundy is no more deluded in his opinion of Divine Revelation than Mormons, JW’s, FLDSers, Scientologists. When we look to a source outside of ourselves for guidance and revelation we will most certainly be duped.

  • YOU ARE A BREATH OF FRESH AIR!! This is so on the spot — guess I need to seek inspiration BEFORE I eat the chili….or [heaven forbid] fast from eating chili AT ALL if I want real inspiration.

  • @SWL – I think a simple explanation. Personal revelation typically only affects you or your immediate spouse, family. If you are the Bishop, Relief Society President, you can receive revelation for your respective groups that you oversee.

    What we see here, is a man who claims that God told him to “Break the law” and go against “the evil government”. Not so much what revelation is about (at least in my opinion).

  • If chili is going to be considered the culprit here, is that why we are counseled to FAST and pray? I don’t think God is going to harshly judge anyone who acts in accordance with their belief. But that doesn’t change the effects of pride and ignorance.

  • The LDS church sends missionaries around the world, advising anyone who listens to read an ahistorical fantasy story, and then pray for a warm fuzzy feeling to confirm it’s “true”.

    Ammon Bundy is from a young age indoctrinated with a libertarian fairy tale about the Western states, and likewise prays for a warm fuzzy feeling.

    This sort of thing really needs to stop…

    Bundy is already quoting scripture to support his stand, and probably believes he’s on the top line of your diagram.

  • I’ll be going to “trial” next week to likely be excommunicated from the LDS Church, to paraphrase the words of my Stake President, for calling people to Christ. My only defence will be Moroni 7: 16-17 “For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God. But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.” Thank you for this article, I think you have made my point, and the Lord’s, very well.

  • I think big ole burley guys should do a calendar and make some money. They could use the scenery and their gun belts and hold a rifle over their privates. How about ” Militia Men in 12 months” or “Mormon Bears” and my fav “12 months of Buff Bundys”.

  • Ridiculous Bundy antics aside, it does appear that the Hammonds are getting railroaded by the Federal Government. Pretty messed up to appeal after agreeing to settle.

  • Um Jack. No railroading here. They don’t want to pay rent on the land. They want to use it for free. They want to treat the land as if it belongs to them, but pay no taxes. I asked my landlord about the rent free deal. He was not amused. I haven’t even tried the tax free scam with my city, county, state and federal governments, or the water, sewer or school districts. I guess I need a “divine revelation.”

    The feds have been way too gentle with that bunch of scamming grifters.

  • Thanks for showing your ignorance Debbo. You clearly haven’t read a word about the Hammonds as all the arguments you make have absolutely nothing to do with their case. You seem to be referring to the Clive Bundy dispute in Nevada of a year or two ago. Nice try though. Thanks for playing. Maybe next time try and actually know what you are talking about instead of assuming? You know what happens when you ass-u-me right? Just a friendly word of advice.

  • Both parties have a fundamental desire for the land to be taken from the Fed and given back to the people via state ownership.The land could then be used pretty much as free land. That said I am wondering whos’ God everybody is hearing?The Mormon God? The Christian God? So if the Mormon God is giving one set of directions do the Christian God listeners have to follow? The Christian God keeps government out of religious decisions..LOL they don’t.. much to the chagrin of Paul the letter writer.

  • One must ponderize here . . .

    If the same sound logic that’s articulated so well in this article is applied consistently to the Elder Nelson announcement that the author analyzed in her 1/11/2016 article (see then why would the author – or any other current Latter-day Saint for that matter – remain Mormon?

    To do so is to willing choose to live in a logical and rational incongruity in my opinion.

  • That was very arrogant and condescending, and unnecessarily unkind. I hope you don’t normally treat people that way and do feel embarrased. You can disagree without being disagreeable. An apology is in order.

  • Did you read your first comment? Pot = meet kettle.I didn’t disagree with you as you still haven’t commented on the actual topic at hand. I merely pointed out that your rebuttal was completely irrelevant to the topic at hand. Happy to have a real discussion regarding the Hammonds actual situation with someone who knows a little something about it. Apparently noone on here actually does. They all choose to voice ignorant opinions without knowing the underlying facts.

  • Well I guess nobody thought my posts were humorous so I’ll throw out another. The people who really don’t get it are the Feds. Starting with Obama and work down. The government boys haven’t a clue how much time AND land it takes to bring their steaks to Washington BBQs. My idea would be to get the farmers to raise the price of beef maybe 5 bucks a pound. I bet you would see Washington doing anything(within reason) to get the price down. When the average US citizen discovers all the farmers want is to graze their beef…there would be change and fast..maybe 10 bucks more a pound… oh, I still like the calendar idea.LOL

  • Thank you, Jana! You are so right that we need an objective standard against which we check anything and everything we think might be revelation from God. Now, if Joseph Smith would have just checked everything he was getting out of looking at a peep stone in his hat against the Scriptures he had available to him (the Bible), we could have avoided the faulty notions of a total apostasy, the Bible as a corrupted, unreliable Scripture, Native Americans as Jewish descendants, salvation by grace after all we can do, and the BOM teaching that every other church besides the Mormon church is “the church of the devil.” We would likely be looking at a much less contentious, conflictive and bloody beginning to the LDS church – not to mention avoiding the sticky snarls of issues like blacks and the priesthood, polygamy and an infinite regression of heavenly fathers and mothers. Yes, an objective standard for truth is a handy thing to have around – Jesus did warn us about these types. 🙂

  • “taken from the Fed and given back to the people via state ownership.”

    All levels of government–Federal, State, County, City–are “the people”, just each is a narrower, more localized group of citizens.

  • The Hammonds agreed to settle based on the 5 year sentence minimum. The judge decided it was too long (which was nice of him and all) but that was actually the wrong thing to do under the circumstances. They were not “re-sentenced” per se but the agreed upon/actual sentence was upheld during the appeal. The judge created the situation by not following the guidelines.