FairMormon Conference Speaker Identifies a Spiritual Threat

Contributed By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer

  • 19 August 2015

Cassandra Hedelius speaks to the audience at the FairMormon Conference on the subject of “recycled challenges to the legitimacy of the Church” on August 7, 2015.  Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

Article Highlights

  • “Mormon gnosticism” is a belief that deep doctrine is necessary for fulfilling our spiritual potential, and that seeking for it is more spiritually advanced.
  • The problem is that it promises more revelation but cannot deliver because it encourages elitism and withdrawal.
  • If you have a loved one who has fallen to gnosticism, love them and help them salvage any of their faith they can.

“We’ve all been called out for mistaken beliefs and can all correct our course and move forward as brothers and sisters and fellow Saints.” —Cassandra Hedelius, an attorney for the federal government

PROVO, UTAH

A spiritual threat is influencing some Church members: the notion that “the Church has lost its way. Church leaders are not inspired or in favor with God, so God has raised up new leaders outside the Church hierarchy whose visions and teachings are important for us to follow,” a speaker at the FairMormon Conference observed August 7.

Cassandra Hedelius, an attorney who works for the federal government near Washington, D.C., was one of an assortment of speakers at the two-day conference sponsored by the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, a group not affiliated with the Church but whose purpose is to defend it against public attacks.

Sister Hedelius identified a potential point of misunderstanding in the Mormon faith between the principle that everyone can and should receive personal revelation through the Holy Ghost and that God calls prophets to receive essential revelations that are binding on each Church member.

“Most Church members resolve this tension without too much trouble—guidance from prophets and personal revelation work together to confirm one another and show a harmonious, whole picture of a divine plan for our lives,” she observed.

Yet the Church loses members who do not successfully resolve the tension, she noted. “They embrace a particular set of assumptions and interpretations that I am going to call, for our purposes today, ‘gnosticism.’”

Borrowing the term from religious history, she defined Mormon gnosticism as “the belief that esoteric knowledge—hidden, deep doctrine—is necessary for fulfilling our spiritual potential, and that seeking for it is more spiritually advanced.”

Sister Hedelius said such thought among some Church members “emphasizes that each individual can get revelation and downplays the role of prophets.”

She listed these “hallmarks of [Mormon] gnosticism”:

  • An inordinate interest in the Second Comforter, complaints that the Church does not teach such subjects enough, and belief that books or teachings by individuals other than Church leaders are the best way to obtain these teachings.
  • Belief that visions claimed by individuals other than Church leaders are authoritative for general Church membership and important to temporal preparedness and spiritual progression.
  • Claims of divine authority that was not received via regular priesthood channels within the Church, but from an angel or vision or other unusual divine means.
  • Claims that a “remnant” group of the spiritually elect are more obedient and spiritually advanced than general Church membership or that the “remnant” are the only non-apostates and that everyone else has gone astray.
  • Criticism of the Church and its leadership for spending priorities, corporate organization, purported lack of recent revelation, or other grounds.

Sister Hedelius observed that “the irony of Mormon gnosticism is that it promises more revelation but cannot deliver because it encourages elitism and withdrawal from one’s community of fellow Saints. The only way to get more revelation is the complete opposite—to invite the Spirit by humbling ourselves, reaching out to love and serve others, and deepening our understanding of the most basic principles like faith in Jesus Christ.”

She advised the audience that “if someone you love or serve has fallen into gnosticism, I would try to salvage anything of their faith that you can. For instance, if you can help them recognize the feeling of spiritual darkness that comes from reading accusations against Church leaders, that’s progress. If you can help them see the value in disengaging from Internet forums in favor of serving those around them, that’s fantastic. If you can help leaders and teachers in your ward be well prepared and engaging in leading meaningful discussions on basic (but important) gospel topics, that might be really helpful.”

Sister Hedelius concluded, “We’ve all been called out for mistaken beliefs and can all correct our course and move forward as brothers and sisters and fellow Saints.”


FairMormon, an organization not affiliated with the Church but dedicated to defending it against attacks on the Internet and elsewhere, held its annual two-day conference August 6 and 7 at the Utah Valley Convention Center in Provo, Utah, drawing its largest-ever attendance, 625 registrants. An additional 300 people viewed the conference via live Internet streaming. Fourteen speakers addressed the conference during the course of the two days, including Cassandra Hedelius, whose presentation is reported below. Typically, most conference presentations are eventually transcribed and posted on the website www.fairmormon.org.