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Monday, May 10, 2021

Wendy Watson Nelson’s Wacky, Wayward Wisdom

On Friday, May 7, 2021, a former family therapist and the beloved wife of President Nelson - even Wendy Watson Nelson  - was the keynote speaker at Utah Valley University's commencement. 

Her address encouraged attendees to drop their contentions, open space "for the existence of another" and, through those actions, come to find love in their lives. [1]   She also said that we should be open to other ideas, dropping contention and expectation.

I agree with her to an extent. Decades ago, author Stephen R. Covey promulgated the notion of "Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood." [2]  It's a wise, timeless principle which the church, its leaders and members could really benefit from using.

Yet Nelson has consistently taken the stance that any contention or anger is bad. This belief is undoubtedly rooted in 3 Nephi 11:29, where we read that "the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another."

Nelson's anti-anger advocacy may have begun when the then-never married (and beloved) Wendy L. Watson wrote a book in 2009 entitled, "Spiritual Truths about Intimacy that Will Strengthen Your Marriage" - specifically, the chapter called "The Alienating Influence of Anger." 

(Now, admittedly, I haven't read that chapter; I'm just intrigued by the chapter title. I haven't read the book because I fear that amidst her ideas on incorporating prayer, fasting, and scripture study into "God-Ordained Marital Intimacy," I'll need to embrace "Truth #4: For true marital intimacy, the Holy Ghost needs to be involved. It is simply not possible to have the kind of intimate experiences outside of marriage that you can have within because the Spirit will not be present." Ummm, no. I do not want anyone other than my spouse involved in intimacy, spirit or not).

God "does not like anger"

Fast forward a decade, when Watson (now Nelson), while accompanying her beloved husband on a tour of Indonesia, publicly pronounced her anti-anger beliefs in a talk: "Jesus Christ makes it very clear that he does not like anger. By anticipating an interaction in advance, we can learn how to respond with love rather than anger, even when provoked. We can pray right in the moment to be given an extra measure of patience or compassion for a person who is lashing out in anger."

She continued, "Now the scriptures are filled with inspiring examples [of those] who were serious about living the Savior's doctrine of zero contention." [3] 

This is really interesting to me, because as I scan the scriptures for words like anger, angry, contention, indignation and wrath, a different God appears:

  • "O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is mine indignation." (Isa. 10:5)
  • "O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is their indignation." (2 Ne. 20:5)
  • "I gave thee a king in mine anger, and took him away in my wrath." (Hosea 13:11)
  • "For yet a very little while, and the indignation shall cease, and mine anger in their destruction." (2 Ne. 20:25)
  • "For yet a very little while, and the indignation shall cease, and mine anger in their destruction." (Isa. 10:25)
  • "I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him." (Hosea 14:4)
  • "And I will tread down the people in mine anger, and make them drunk in my fury, and I will bring down their strength to the earth." (Isa. 63:6)
  • "And the word came to Alma, saying: Go; and also say unto my servant Amulek, go forth and prophesy unto this people, saying-Repent ye, for thus saith the Lord, except ye repent I will visit this people in mine anger; yea, and I will not turn my fierce anger away." (Alma 8:29)
  • "And the LORD said unto Noah, The daughters of thy sons have sold themselves; for behold, mine anger is kindled against the sons of men, for they will not hearken to my voice." (Gen. 8:3 JST)
  • "And the fire of mine indignation is kindled against them; and in my hot displeasure will I send in the floods upon them, for my fierce anger is kindled against them." (Moses 7:34)
  • "And the Lord said unto Noah: The daughters of thy sons have sold themselves; for behold mine anger is kindled against the sons of men, for they will not hearken to my voice." (Moses 8:15)
  • "For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains." (Deut. 32:22)
  • "And I will make thee to pass with thine enemies into a land which thou knowest not: for a fire is kindled in mine anger, which shall burn upon you." (Jer. 15:14)
  • "For this city hath been to me as a provocation of mine anger and of my fury from the day that they built it even unto this day; that I should remove it from before my face," (Jer. 32:31)
  • "Wherefore my fury and mine anger was poured forth, and was kindled in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem; and they are wasted and desolate, as at this day." (Jer. 44:6)
  • "Mine anger was kindled against the shepherds, and I punished the goats: for the LORD of hosts hath visited his flock the house of Judah, and hath made them as his goodly horse in the battle." (Zech. 10:3)
  • "But if ye will repent and return unto the Lord your God I will turn away mine anger, saith the Lord; yea, thus saith the Lord, blessed are they who will repent and turn unto me, but wo unto him that repenteth not." (Hel. 13:11)
  • "I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me: for I will tread them in mine anger, and trample them in my fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment." (Isa. 63:3)
  • "Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, mine anger and my fury shall be poured out upon this place, upon man, and upon beast, and upon the trees of the field, and upon the fruit of the ground; and it shall burn, and shall not be quenched." (Jer. 7:20)
  • "Behold, I will gather them out of all countries, whither I have driven them in mine anger, and in my fury, and in great wrath; and I will bring them again unto this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely:" (Jer. 32:37)
  • "Oh, this unbelieving and stiffnecked generation-mine anger is kindled against them." (D&C 5:8)
  • "Therefore I command you to repent-repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore-how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not." (D&C 19:15)
  • "Hearken, O ye people who profess my name, saith the Lord your God; for behold, mine anger is kindled against the rebellious, and they shall know mine arm and mine indignation, in the day of visitation and of wrath upon the nations." (D&C 56:1)
  • "But with some I am not well pleased, for they will not open their mouths, but they hide the talent which I have given unto them, because of the fear of man. Wo unto such, for mine anger is kindled against them." (D&C 60:2)
  • "For I, the Lord, have decreed in mine anger many destructions upon the waters; yea, and especially upon these waters." (D&C 61:5)
  • "I, the Lord, was angry with you yesterday, but today mine anger is turned away." (D&C 61:20)
  • "And I have trampled them in my fury, and I did tread upon them in mine anger, and their blood have I sprinkled upon my garments, and stained all my raiment; for this was the day of vengeance which was in my heart." (D&C 133:51)

(I could have shared more scriptures, but my copy-and-paste muscles are worn out).

With all of these anger/indignation/wrath verses well in hand, I set to work to see if the Lord is all talk and no action. Sure enough, as a God, he let his wrath and indignation loose a number of times. Ancient Israel was often the beneficiary of that anger. During his mortal life, the Lord got a little ticked off at times. For example, here is John 2:15: "And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables;" (a "scourge" is actually a whip).

It's incredible that someone who is supposedly so internationally recognized and respected as (the beloved) Sister Nelson would say "Jesus Christ makes it very clear that he does not like anger" and preached "the Savior's doctrine of zero contention." The scriptures are overflowing with examples of just the opposite, with excerpts from Jesus' pre-mortal, mortal and post-mortal lives. Heck, even seminary students know Jesus used a whip to clear out the temple moneychangers.

With all due respect to Sister Nelson,

  • Jesus Christ makes it very clear that he can and does get angry.
  • He can love us AND be angry at the same time, even when provoked. 
  • The scriptures are filled with examples of God being provoked to anger and releasing it.  

But this isn't the only time Sister Nelson has taught beliefs which run contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Sin even once, and you're eternally screwed

Another book by the beloved Sister Nelson is entitled "The Not Even Once Club." It was published on September 2, 2013 by Deseret Book, [4] a wholly owned subsidiary of Deseret Management Corporation, the holding company for business firms owned by the church. [5] 

This children's book is marketed as "an adorable and appealing way to engage children in a story that will help them choose for themselves to keep the commandments and to never break them. Not even once. Children will meet Tyler, an energetic boy who is excited to make new friends in his Primary class. They have invited Tyler to join their special club, but first he has to pass the test and keep the club promise."

The promise? Here's a screen capture from one of the book's pages:

"Tyler looked at the poster. It read: "From this moment on I will never break the Word of Wisdom, lie, cheat, steal, do drugs, bully, dress immodestly, or break the law of chastity. I will never intentionally look at anything pornographic on TV, the internet, a cell phone, billboards, magazines or movies." "I promise," shouted Tyler. "Not. Even. Once."

So here, kids are being taught that if you mess up, screw up or make a mistake, it's justifiable for them to ostracize and abandon you. To make sure you're out and never part of the "club." It sets an incredibly high expectation that you will be perfect, for other kids not to be merciful, compassionate and forgiving and for you not to be open and honest with others (because of potential judgment by friends). 

The (3-star) Reviews are in on (the beloved) Sister Nelson

After pondering these (and many more) questions, I wondered if I was the only one on the planet who had these concerns. I'm not.

I pulled the book up on Amazon [4] and was surprised by its high degree of dissatisfaction:

Then I checked it out on Deseret Book. [6] 3 out of 5 stars!!!

I'm amazed! This is a book by the wife of the president of the church, an international global faith leader! She should have at least a thousand five-star reviews and maybe only a couple one-star reviews. What the heck is going on here?

Why such consistently poor reviews? Here's what people said:

"This book promotes never sinning. Since Christ was the only one who would come to this earth and never sin, this book is blasphemous to expect or to heap the pressure upon anyone to never sin. The atonement was intended to offer us a way to be forgiven from sin. If we never need the atonement, do we also not need Christ to suffer for our sins? Do we then get through heavens gate without the need for Christ? These teachings open up a Pandora's box of false truths if we allow these teachings to be taught to our kids. This book should be publicly recalled and denounced as the blatantly false doctrine it is. "

"This book sends a terrible message to young kids. In the story, in order to belong to their club, you have to promise not to sin, "not even once." This message goes against everything Christ stood for: tolerance, inclusion, repentance, and forgiveness. This book teaches children to be exclusionary and that if a child sins, "even once," that they are somehow less than and aren't worthy of being friends with. This book should be retracted by the publisher."

"Wow from a licensed mental health therapist's perspective Wendy has really missed the mark in her book. She herself as a therapist should understand the damage this all or nothing thinking can bring. It's called a thinking error Wendy. Black and white, all or nothing. Where is the atonement? How is this realistic? We are all sinners, some of us don't pretend and cover it up through writing books and putting out unrealistic expectations for our children to follow. Where is Jesus in this? Where is the plan of salvation and the plan of happiness? This is brainwashing and numbing and to the parents who read this to their children I encourage you to tell your kids its ok to make mistakes and teach them how to handle it when they do instead of sweep it under the rug and pretend they are perfect because they are in the not even once club. You were born to make mistakes not fake perfection!!!"

"This is a terrible thing to teach children. Set an impossible standard so they are guaranteed to fail and then feel bad about what is the inevitable and valuable and essential human journey, learning through experience. Give them a reason to think they are better than everyone else... right up until they screw up too and are kicked out of the club. Excommunicated if you will. This is trash."

"I read this at a local book store. I couldn't believe what I was reading. Teaching kids that they can't ever make a mistake? Seriously? While it might be focused on illegal substances it definitely is applied to every other area of sin in the religion. I can't believe this author is the wife of the president of the mormon church and this is the type of message she's pushing. What happened to repentance and forgiveness? It kind of negates the foundation of Christianity. Having grown up mormon I see a lot of their problems summed up here."

"This book uses wonderful illustrations to convey an appalling message. Instead of preparing children for real life and its obstacles, or teach them how to recover after their own occasional and unavoidable failures; it tells them they are expected to be perfect from the beginning to the end, otherwise their self-worth is reduced. This book doesn't give children tools to succeed in life, all it does is hang guilt and shame over their young heads if they ever fail to be perfect."

(I could have shared more reviews, but my copy-and-paste muscles are worn out…again).

Manipulated Reviews?

But the thing that left me scratching my head the most about the reviews wasn't their content, but how they are being misreported.

A post on the Rational Faiths blog (primarily between Sept 3-12, 2013) highlights quite a discussion about how Deseret Book has managed the reviews of this book. There are three primary categories of complaints:

  • Many people posted reviews on the book between 2013 and February 25, 2015. They are now gone.
  • Many reviews are dated 2/25/15
  • Some negative reviews are now listed as 5 stars

Sure enough, here is what I found on Deseret Book's page of this book:

  • 39 of the 42 reviews are dated Feb 25, 2015.
  • Feb 25, 2015 is the oldest review date. By comparison, on Amazon (here), 106 of the 147 reviews (72%) are dated before Feb 25, 2015.
  • One review (from Jeanine; Feb 25, 2015) which is clearly negative has 5 stars.

The Failed Test of a Supposed Disciple

The Lord gave us a tried-and-tested criteria to determine discipleship: "Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:31-32) His scriptures also say, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;" (Romans 3:23).

Christ is not exclusive in his offering of the Atonement. He does not have an exclusive club for only perfect people. It is unrealistic to expect perfection from our little or big children. Mistakes are not only inevitable, but are also necessary, for growth.

The children in this book obey based on peer pressure and temporal incentives instead of having a desire to be obedient based on love for their Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ. The book also gives limited time to the concept of repentance and only one small reference in the discussion questions.

"Be part of my plan, or else!" sounds like a summary of somebody's plan of salvation, but not God's.

A God who lacks passion isn't rooted in Christ's words. 

A gospel which preaches perfectionism over imperfection, childhood/adolescent infallibility over repentance isn't rooted in Christ's words either.

Because the church's publishing arm continues to sell this book, 
it is also tacitly agreeing with its underlying philosophy.

It has for almost eight years.

A church which has promoted these beliefs via its publishing arm for almost 8 years? 

It's supposed to discourage and condemn the philosophies of men mingled with scripture.

It's supposed to help set us up for salvation.

Instead, it's setting many up for catastrophic failure.


Based on the aforementioned facts, I have the following questions:

  • How do you think the book's expectations and behaviors will surface when children need to open up and talk with their parents? 
  • What about children with special needs who often do things that are considered "different" by others? Will some kids be rejected because they don't fit in with others? 
  • What about kids who already struggle to be accepted in the Church?
  • What are we to do with the concept of having a club for children where they receive candy and material rewards for keeping the commandments?
  • What if they don't play their piano or violin concerto perfectly?
  • What if they're feeling perfectionism and struggling to get straight As or to be the state basketball or volleyball champion?
  • Will they expect (or feel they deserve) excommunication if they ever tell a lie?
  • How will this philosophy affect them when they are in adulthood? 
  • What about missionaries who are left with the impression, by Sister Nelson's husband, that they need to be perfectly obedient on their missions in order to see more baptisms?   What happens if they fail to baptize a lot of people - are they failures?
  • And how will they raise their own children?
  • How many parents and/or kids will have read this book and been damaged by it?
  • Who do you think will ultimately be responsible for these consequences?
  • Just who the heck is running Deseret Books?  ; )





Dave P. said...

Growing up in the church, the perfectionism attitude resulted in so many mental scars that I was suicidal through most of my high school and college years- especially after having to return home early from the mission field after a nervous breakdown- for always trying to be "perfect."

It's a dangerous precedent that scars kids well into their adult lives as it's still almost impossible to not feel like a total failure even when making a small mistake, thus instilling a crippling fear of even wanting to try.

Taylor said...

This reminds me of what Sister Nelson said at that worldwide BYU Hawaii devotional a couple years ago. During that noteworthy devotional where President Nelson (at the time he was next in line to be president) declared that the "policy of exclusion" (as it has come to be known) was a revelation from God to President Monson. Which policy was of course reversed later. You know, because revelations are always subject to complete reversal when the people "are not ready for them". Or some nonsense PR statement like that. But I digress.

In that worldwide BYU-H devotional sister Nelson taught some very interesting doctrine to the BYU students (and the world I suppose since the broadcast was intended as a worldwide devotional) about tithing. Asking everyone to consider an example from George Cannon, after telling people that when we're desperate for more money we follow the Lord's law of finances.

Quote: "When we’re desperate to be guided by heaven, we work harder than ever to tune in to heaven. When we’re desperate to be physically healthy, we eat and exercise accordingly. No excuses! When we’re desperate to have more money, we eagerly follow the Lord’s law of finances—which is, of course, tithing!

Consider President George Q. Cannon’s approach to tithing when he was an impoverished young man. When his bishop commented on the large amount of tithing poor young George was paying, George said something like: “Oh bishop, I’m not paying tithing on what I make. I’m paying tithing on what I want to make.” And the very next year George earned exactly the amount of money he had paid tithing on the year before!" -end quote

Link :

What an interesting doctrine of tithing is being taught and advocated. Paying tithing not on your leftover after necessities, not on your net income, not even on your gross income, and definitely not on your surplus property. But paying tithing based on what you WANT to make in the future.


Latter-Day Truths said...

Dave P -- I'm sorry for what's happened to you, and will say a prayer that you'll find comfort and greater perspective amidst the chaos that's been inflicted upon you. It's so sad that the wife of the church president is proliferating this perfectionism mindset.

Taylor -- Outstanding comment! Who'd have thunk that the "prosperity gospel" got its origins in the LDS Church...and from Brigham's best buddy, at that.