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If you’ve served a Mormon Mission, you are probably aware of the Grant Von Harrison book, Drawing on the Powers of Heaven. It’s like The Secret for Mormons. The Deseret Book description of the pamphlet sized book reads:

The powers of heaven are very real and can dramatically influence the course of events in a person’s life.

Exercising the faith required to call upon the powers of heaven involves a very specific process. In order to be proficient at exercising faith, you must understand the process thoroughly and then learn to apply the process in your daily pursuits.

Essentially, the idea is that there is a recipe for becoming spiritually powerful .  Just as The Secret purports to provide a unique guide to hidden untapped power via feelings, Drawing of the Powers of Heaven claims via a Cognitive-Behavioral approach that certain actions and behaviors lead one to a state of worthiness for God’s power.

As a Mormon missionary, that means that if you do all the right things you will lead others to get baptized into the Mormon Church. In other words, if you insert obedience into the God ATM, punch in the specific PIN code (sexual purity, intense scripture study, hard work, unwavering faith in all things Mormon), then out will come spiritual money in the form of inspiration, concrete results and miracles.

It sounds awesome, doesn’t it? Except that things don’t really work like that in the real world or even in the Mormon missionary world.

  • The most obedient, faithful missionaries aren’t necessarily the ones who baptize the most.
  • Inspiration and creativity don’t depend upon any sort of moral purity or “worthiness” of the individual.
  • The sort of person who subscribes to this kind of philosophy often ends up being a real asshole.
  • Charisma isn’t something you can learn or “do”.
  • Testimonies to the success of this sort of idea always remember the hits and ignore the misses.

Even if you’ve never read this book, the concepts within will not be foreign to an active Mormon. Guilt plays a huge factor in the ubiquitous Mormon philosophy that actions reap concrete physical and spiritual rewards.  In fact, at the end of every chapter of this book there a sort of warning that,

“If you don’t do this you’ll be held accountable before God…you will be sorry all your life. Not only you will suffer endless torment but those who you aren’t converting because if your laziness and unworthiness will not gain eternal salvation due to your lack of faith and obedience.”

Now,  I for one worked really hard on my mission. I was “fortunate” to be sent to a place where people were relatively welcoming and receptive to our message. I could probably claim that I achieved the sort of success that Grant Von Harrison talks about. I baptized over a hundred people and don’t think I went a single month without reporting that I’d baptized at least one soul. But I’m certain that none of it was due to the kinds of things that Harrison attributes to this sort of success.

The entire philosophy is bullshit and I even knew it back then.

  • I saw charismatic, but lazy and disobedient missionaries regularly baptize dozens more each month than I did.
  • I knew “spiritual giants” who were sent to places like Italy, Japan and Sweden who were lucky to baptize even one person their entire mission.
  • My success depended on things like location, weather, my mood, the likability of my companion, friendliness of the ward members, confidence, etc…

But my final debunking of this entire idea came once I met Grant Von Harrison himself. He was my bishop during my first year at BYU right after I’d returned from my mission. I’m going to try hard to not follow with the ad hominem fallacy that just because Grant Von Harrison was a nasty person therefore his ideas are false. I don’t believe that.

For me, his ideas were draconian and untrue before I met him.  But meeting him and getting to know him confirmed my impression that this “Power of Heaven” philosophy did not lead one to become the type of person I admired. He ran the ward like a cold military commander and was incapable of drumming up emotion and warmth if his life depended upon it. I doubt anyone in a Mormon Priesthood leadership position was as far away from  the man Jesus Christ in the New Testament than this man was.

Testimony meetings in that ward were even ripe with references to his cold demeanor.  Students would say things like, “I know bishop Harrison isn’t the hugging, feeling, emotional type but I know he is inspired… blah, blah, blah…” I remember Bishop Harrison telling us in Elder’s Quorum meeting once that getting an erection while kissing was a sin.  He even wrote another book on the topic called “Is Kissing Sinful?”. The guy was a piece of work I tell you.

I had occasion to become good friends with a counselor in our Stake Presidency at the time and he confided in me that Bishop Harrison conducted more disciplinary counsels in his BYU ward than in the rest of the stake combined and that this then led to more disfellowshipments and excommunications.

On a person level, Grant Von Harrison was the first bishop with whom I ever shared anything that would lead any reasonable, clear thinking person to assume that I might be gay.  You know what his reaction was?

“Don’t ever think on this again.  Don’t entertain memories of this thought. Don’t talk about it with anyone ESPECIALLY YOUR FUTURE WIFE… and don’t ever feel that again”

Seriously, I’m not exaggerating. His best advice was to Turn it Off. Unfortunately, I tried far too long to follow his advice.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve read or been told that “turning it off” isn’t a Mormon idea.  It’s just all in disaffected Mormons’ heads and that my failing to come to terms with my homosexuality is due to my lying and deceitful nature.

I DID make a grave personal mistake by thinking for far too long that my personal desires which aligned with Mormon ideals would materialize if I just prayed hard enough, studied hard enough and pretended hard enough.  But I didn’t do that in a vacuum. It was an approach based firmly and solidly on the type of faulty Mormon philosophy painted in Drawing on the Powers of Heaven.

Do yourself a favor and don’t go near that book with a 10 foot pole. There are a lot of good people and good things in Mormonism, but Grant Von Harrison’s Drawing on the Powers of Heaven isn’t one of them.

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