Saturday, December 20, 2008

Saved By Grace Through Faith: Continuing the Conversation

Mike, I am truly impressed (and grateful) for your commitment to having a productive dialogue. I want you to know you are welcome here and I’m glad to address some of these issues. I hope you feel respected and that you’ll have no need to “take up cudgels” in defense of your beliefs. I much prefer to continue with seeking mutual understanding and having a respectful dialogue. I certainly feel no need to defend my beliefs, nor to criticize yours. I would, however, like to address some of the things you’ve said. You wrote that “if we are saved by trusting then we had better be sure that our trust is in the right place and that we are listening to the right teachers.” I assure you, I know in Whom I have trusted. As Nephi of old said, “O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever” (2nd Nephi 4:34).

Please allow me to respond by leaning heavily on the words of my former professor and mentor Stephen E. Robinson—specifically from the book “How Wide the Divide?”.

You quoted Romans 3:23-28—a great scripture and I love every single word. As a former Mormon, I am sure you do not need to be reminded that there is not one single passage of scripture in the Bible that I, as a Mormon, disagree with. In the past, some evangelicals have quoted scripture as though it goes against what I believe; as if it proves they’re right and therefore I must be wrong. But again, I believe every single passage of the Bible! I love the Bible, and utterly reject your assertion that Mormons believe the Bible is corrupt. Mormons would be wrong to believe this. Please see my post: "Are You Telling The Truth About The Bible?" .

Now I look forward to addressing a key issue here, and something I was going to bring up on my own in the interest of full disclosure—properly understanding the third Article of Faith, and by implication, what Joseph Smith was teaching. This can easily be misunderstood, not only from informed Evangelicals such as yourself, but faithful Mormons!

First off, Joseph Smith was NOT teaching that man is saved by their works or by obedience. Anyone who stops reading after the phrase “saved by obedience”, without reading on to the Fourth Article of Faith, will end up assuming that Mormons believe in a "works based salvation"--keeping commandments like checking off a "to do" list. That is the NOT what Joseph Smith and all of our restoration scriptures clearly teach. They indeed teach that we are saved by grace, through faith in Christ. Clearly there is a need for the born again to behave AND obey—not as a condition for being born again, but as an obligation that being born again incurs. True faith includes obedience, and the true Christian obeys. So the tension you detect here, Mike, is nothing more than the differences you see between Calvinist Evangelical Christians and Arminian Evangelical Christians, the latter whom reject Calvin's TULIP doctrine and emphasize human free agency.

Nevertheless, the LDS believe the only obedience necessary to be born again is obeying the commandments to have faith in Christ, to repent, and to be baptized. These are the only “laws and principles” on which being born again is predicated. The language in Article of Faith Three that you find disturbing (“all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel”) is clarified in Article of Faith Four: “We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, second, Repentance, third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins,” To those who obey these principles God give the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:32), "fourth, laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

In other words, it is impossible to be born again without faith in Christ, repentance, and baptism (Acts 2:38; John 3:3-5). Most Evangelicals would agree with the first two, and some would agree with all three. But there is no quid pro quo here, no earnings being paid off; these things constitute being born again. The only “requirement” for coming to Christ is to come. Truly, there are other laws and principles after these “first” ones, but these refer to ways in which the saved can become more like Christ. They are not conditions for “being saved” initially as Evangelicals use the term.

Now two more points, in the interest of full disclosure. I understand that Baptism is a hot button issue if it is perceived as a “work” somehow contributing to our salvation. Mormons believe that baptism is a part of the good news (see Hebrews 6:1-2, where both baptism and the laying on of hands are represented as foundational principles of “the doctrine of Christ”). One is baptized into Christ (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 2:12) and both salvation and the remission of sins is connected to baptism (Acts 22:16; Ephesians 5:26; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 3:21). The belief that baptism is necessary is not peculiar to the LDS but is also held by some Evangelicals. Neither they, nor the LDS, understand it to be a prerequisite to conversion, but rather a part of conversion (Acts 8:12-17; 19:1-6). One’s faith, repentance, and submission to the lordship of Christ are expressed by submitting to baptism. Jesus’ grand commission to his disciples was not just to teach, after all, but to teach and to baptize (Matthew 28:19). Latter-day Saints thus line up with those Evangelicals who insist that Jesus must be accepted as both Savior and Lord.

The second and final point is that some Evangelicals, like many LDS, also misinterpret 2nd Nephi 25:23, which says: “We know that it is by grace we are saved, after all we can do.” In this passage, “all we can do” is have faith in Christ. This is made clear in the following verses, particularly 25:26, “And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophecy of Christ, and we write according to our prophesies that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” Moreover, the Book of Mormon elsewhere states that “all we can do” is to repent and turn to Christ. (Alma 24:10-11).

Latter-day Saints believe in salvation by grace, although it's a less used term in LDS circles because "salvation" in LDS terminology is usually the equivalent of "sanctification" in Evangelical terminology, and sanctification requires obedience as well as God's grace. Thus, the real sticking point between LDS and Evangelicals is not whether we are saved by grace (both affirm this) but whether we are saved by grace alone, that is, without individual, personal involvement or participation. Latter-day Saints find “salvation by grace alone” to be unbiblical and, borrowing C.S. Lewis’ analogy, like cutting cloth with only half of the scissors. (For C.S. Lewis’ quote, see “Mere Christianity”. For the unbiblical claim, the term “grace alone” is not found in the Bible, and the similar term “faith alone” is found only once, in a Scripture hostile to the idea (James 2:17).

Finally, even if the rest of Mormonism—apart from our faith in Christ—is not true (though I deeply believe it is), then which is more potent, my theological “error” in believing the Book of Mormon or Christ’s saving blood as I call upon his name? Was God’s promise (Romans 10:9-13) truly unconditional, or is there an implied exception just for Mormons who might believe and confess? Are Christians saved by the grace of Christ or by “proper” theology—by the atonement or by catechism?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Merry Christmas from San Antonio!

Merry Christmas from San Antonio! It's not too often that it gets this cold down here in South Texas. We didn't last long, but it was fun to bundle up for Family Night and head downtown to see the lights. Here we are in front of the Christmas tree at Main Plaza, home to the San Fernando Cathedral.
It's as beautiful as it is historical. It marks the very center of town. Inside the front left doors are the remains of Davy Crockett and other heroes of the Battle of the Alamo. We were among the very few people visiting the usually packed Alamo that night. It was a calm, silent night, and we were mindful of the reminder the Christmas lights provide of the Light of the World. We are so grateful for our Savior, Jesus Christ. Our hearts rejoice as we contemplate his humble birth, his incomparable life, and his marvelous Atonement. It is He that gives meaning, not just to Christmas, but to our entire lives. Merry Christmas, indeed.

"One silent night in Bethlehem, God filled the earth with hope so real, joy so pure, and love so true--our hearts still rejoice today."

Monday, December 8, 2008

Misunderstanding the Mormons

It's always been fascinating to see how others perceive me as a Mormon. Needless to say, it has provided me quite an education. It's gratifying when there is mutual respect and understanding. But far too often I encounter perceptions about my faith based on deeply ingrained misunderstandings. Misunderstanding often leads to bewilderment, ignorance, and sometimes enmity. Unfortunately, perceptions are more often than not perceived as reality.

We face an uphill battle to be understood as we really/truly are, and not as others have perceived us in the past. Frankly, sometimes it's an uphill battle even to understand ourselves. For example, how do you suppose the Proclamation on the Family would read had it been written in the 1870's? All in all, the fact that the Church is being much more open, such as with publishing the Joseph Smith Papers, is the kind of thing that will lead to mutual understanding. A win-win situation for everyone.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

His Grace is Sufficient

I love Velska's comment on my last post: "I often wonder if I am 'valiant' in my testimony, but I have no illusion about saving myself - I know I have to rely on Christ."

I think this is more true of the majority of members of the Church. We have no doubt in Christ's ability; we doubt our ability. This humble recognition therefore fuels our faith in Christ as Savior, and our need to trust Him, as well as to rely more fully on "the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah" (2nd Nephi 2:8).

Then AFTER being secure in that saving covenant--the "arms of safety" (Alma 34:16)--being faithful to Him becomes our greatest desire. We don't desire this in order to merit salvation (because we can't) but rather to show our commitment and desire to STAY in the saving covenant. And we wish we could be more profitable servants.

I think it's helpful to delineate between accepting/having faith in Christ as Savior and making Christ our Lord by turing our lives over to Him and serving Him and none else. This is where I so often fall short. Mercifully he has provided repentance, and I rejoice in that that, because all too often my behavior doesn't quite match the deepest desires of my heart.

That "natural man" battles with the spiritual born-again man in me. Nevertheless, I trust that Christ knows my heart, and knows that I truly desire righteousness and that I "hunger and thirst" for it. Although I fall short in actually attaining righteousness, He promises that I shall be "filled" for hungering and thirsting for it. (Matthew 5:6)

..."then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ" (Moroni 10:32)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Drive-by Evangelism

A drive-by evangelist by the name of "Further the Kingdom" recently visited my blog and left the following comment totally unrelated to that post. I wonder how often this happens to anyone else:

"Here’s a million dollar question – If you were to die right now, would you qualify for the celestial kingdom? If you’re like most Mormons, you’re not sure. You try hard to be as good as possible, but you still don’t know if you’ve done enough. If the Book of Mormon is really scripture, this hope will always elude you. Alma 11:37 says God cannot save you in your sins. Are all of your sins forgiven? Moroni 10:32 says you must be perfected in Christ, which can only be done by denying yourself of “all ungodliness”. Have you done that?

"Do you repent on a regular basis? If so, then it is clear that you sin on a regular basis, since only those who break the commandments need to repent. 1 Nephi 3:7 states that you are able to keep His commandments. In fact according to D&C 25:15, you are required to keep them continually! Since you haven’t done this so far, why assume you will in the future? Of course, we should all try to be holy; but if you think that sinning less will qualify you to live in God’s presence, you are mistaken (Gal 3:1-11). The assumption that good works are required for forgiveness only cheapens Christ’s atonement, making it nothing more than a partial payment. God chooses to justify us by faith. Jesus alone does the “perfecting” (Heb 10:14). God gives peace to those who trust in Him alone. If you don’t have this peace, it’s probably because at least a part of you trusts in yourself. Questions? Visit us at

So here's my ten cent answer to his "million dollar" question:

"If you were to die right now, would you qualify for the celestial kingdom?" Yes, because of my faith in Christ. That's the "good news." It's actually great news. And "most Mormons" that understand the gospel properly should have hope for the same--as well as true peace.

"If you’re like most Mormons, you’re not sure." Really? Do "most Mormons" not understand the gospel properly? I'm sure some don't, but "most"? I'm a little skeptical of that statistic. But if that's true, I guess I've got my work cut out for me! As a gospel teacher, we all have the ability to truly "further the kingdom". I guess I'd start by recommending the books"Believing Christ" and "Following Christ" by Stephen E. Robinson.

I'd love to have this kind of scriptural/gospel conversation with you in my living room; maybe this blog will suffice. But first it would be helpful to do away with all of the preceding blanket (and wrong) assertions and stop misconstruing scriptural references. I'll add that to my now growing list of tips for witnessing to Mormons. Maybe then we can have an actual dialogue about what I believe.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"A day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens"

Short History Lesson

In 1620, 102 settlers set sail on the Mayflower from England. The "Saints", as they called themselves, had secured a charter to Virginia. After a long, stormy journey across the ocean, the settlers were blown off course and decided to settle near present-day Cape Cod, Massachusetts. They arrived in December 1620 and did not have time to build shelters. Most lived in sod houses. Some lived in holes in the ground covered by tents. Nearly half of the settlers died during the first winter.

In the Spring, the 53 surviving Pilgrims were surprised when an Indian named Samoset walked into their village and greeted them in English (learned from explorers along New England Coast). Samoset introduced the Pilgrims to Massasoit, the sachem of the Wampanoag Indians. They made a peace treaty and even agreed to defend each other against enemies. But the Indian who helped the Pilgrims the most was a Patuxet tribe member named Tisquantum (Squanto).

Squanto had lost his family to disease, so he decided to live with the Pilgrims and teach them how to survive. He also spoke more English than probably any other Native American alive. (He had been captured and taken to England where he learned English before eventually returning to America). Squanto taught the Pilgrims how to plant seeds for corn, beans, and pumpkins, how to fish for eels, how to use manure as fertilizer, different cooking methods, and he also acted as a guide and interpreter. The settlers believed that God had sent Squanto to them. If not for Squanto, it is likely that most of the Pilgrims would not have survived another year.

First Thanksgiving

With the help of Squanto, the Pilgrims had a great harvest in 1621 and invited Massasoit and his immediate family to a Thanksgiving Dinner. Massasoit brought 90 braves with him. The Pilgrims were not prepared for such a large group. Massasoit sent some of his braves back and they returned with five deer and many other wild game. The feast lasted for 3 straight days.

Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving

The first Thanksgiving Proclamation was issued by President George Washington, months after his inauguration as president in 1789. It stated in part,

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me "to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"

But It was not until 1863, that Thanksgiving became an official holiday.

Abraham Lincoln signed an Executive Order after the Battle of Gettysburg making Thanksgiving a national holiday to be celebrated annually on the last Thursday of November. (Franklin Roosevelt later changed it to the 4th Thursday of each year.) Lincoln's Executive Order stated in part,

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

On Her Soapbox: Twilight and True Love

My wife gets on her soapbox about Twilight here. Regardless of your feelings (or lack thereof) concerning the series, this is a commentary from a deeply charitable and intelligent Young Women's president that's worth the read...

An excerpt:
"Some women have said that the hidden (yet stimulating) sexual innuendos came as a welcomed surprise for their husbands. That they had an extra little spark (if you know what I mean) in their marriage. A positive outcome for such a reader. But what happens for our young people who may get such a spark of provoked (even as slightly as it may be) sexual feelings? To what degree do we allow ourselves the entertainment of sexual thought? Although sexual abstinence before marriage is heavenly commanded and to be highly commended, isn't our virtue more than just refrainment? Is not our virtue the very measure of our thoughts and desires of our heart?"

...Believe me, I am not embarrassed to speak about the joys of sexual intimacy within marriage. I want all the youth to know how awesome it is and that it should be appropriately anticipated. Sometimes there is an unhealthy silence about this subject than can lead to curious premarital exploration or guilty conscience complex in a marriage. While sexual intimacy is exciting and an important part in supporting love in a marriage, I hope they know that it is not the greatest, strongest, or most needed part of a lasting marriage. (Oh' how I hate the world for trying to tell them differently.) An eternal relationship is so different and so much more than that of Edward and Bellas'. Real love is formed on trust, honesty, mutual respect, understanding, communication, service, self worth, and sacrifice. And-Yes, there is exhilarating chemistry! Yes, there is exciting attraction! Yes, there is crucial longing for each other! Heavenly Father made us to be together, to need each other...But not in a desperate, uncontrollable, I'm nothing without you kind of way. But rather in a bridled, eternal, charitable, kind, strengthening, selfless, rest of forever, pure joy way.

Now why can't there be a book about that."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Mormon Trinity

In contemplating the theology of the Restoration, I've enjoyed learning more about our similarities and differences with historical Christianity's concept of the Trinity. It's been an enlightening religious education! Suffice it to say, I think LDS Christians would greatly benefit from a concerted effort in thinking and teaching about the nature of God in terms that would be more understandable to non-Mormon Christians.

After all, Elder Bruce D. Porter in this recent interview made it clear that the only part of the Nicene Creed that Mormons would not agree with would be the statement that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are of "one substance".

So with that in mind, I'd like to recommend reading a recent post at Mormon Matters entitled The Mormon Trinity.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Jewish family makes peace with LDS baptism/Baptism for the Dead

I was a little surprised to read on this morning a headline that says: "Holocaust survivors to Mormons: Stop baptisms of dead Jews". I wonder how many people are going to get the wrong impression of the doctrine of baptism for the dead because of this. Certainly their curiosity about what Mormons believe will be piqued--but will they understand it the way we understand it? Elder Lance B. Wickman was properly quoted in the article explaining that "if our work for the dead is properly understood ... it should not be a source of friction to anyone. It's merely a freewill offering."

Since this is bound to become a topic of conversation across America today, I thought I'd provide the link to a wonderful article:

Jewish family makes peace with LDS baptism

As well as an interesting blog post:

Why Your Ancestors May Want You to Be Pro-Choice

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Living History & Proud To Be An American

I went to vote early last week still not really sold on either of the two major candidates. I still felt undecided even after I had voted. After watching the historic moment last night, I was surprised by how happy and proud I felt for my country. Historically speaking, this is truly an amazing and great moment in our American story. To think how far we have come since slaves worked to build the White House, through the Civil War, through the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King Jr.'s inspirational "I Have A Dream" speech, to Lyndon Johnson's signing of the Civil Rights legislation and the Voting Rights Act, and now to electing Barack Obama as President of the United States--it's quite a story to proud of, no matter who you voted for in this election.

I'm pleasantly surprised at my renewed sense of optimism in the last 24 hours. And I'm so pleased by my satisfaction for so many millions of Americans who perhaps have felt disenfranchised and who now feel such happiness and hope because of this. I sincerely hope that President-elect Obama can capitalize on this newly generated worldwide goodwill and do great things for our country. I sincerely hope he turns out to be a truly great President. We certainly need one. There's no doubt that he has some incredible attributes; I hope he's up to the task for some incredibly hard challenges ahead. He'll need our prayers. I wish my new President the best. I don't know how long it will be before Americans get back to bickering like they so often do, but at this historic moment in our nations history I just want to publicly state that I am so proud to be an American.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Thinking for Yourself and/or Following the Bretheren--A Dichotomy?

Recent events bring up the apparent dichotomy of thinking for oneself versus following the Bretheren--an issue worthy of discussion. Obviously this tension has been highlighted by the recent political events in California, but the issue isn't new, and it's always nice to learn from other people's perspectives. Anti-Mormons love to bring up the "when the prophet speaks, the thinking is done" quote, but usually fail to include George Albert Smith's clarification to that statement.

In response to a letter of concern, President Smith said that "the passage quoted does not express the true position of the Church. Even to imply that members of the Church are not to do their own thinking is grossly to misrepresent the true ideal of the Church, which is that every individual must obtain for himself a testimony of the truth of the Gospel, must, through the redemption of Jesus Christ, work out his own salvation, and is personally responsible to His Maker for his individual acts. The Lord Himself does not attempt coercion in His desire and effort to give peace and salvation to His children. He gives the principles of life and true progress, but leaves every person free to choose or to reject His teachings. This plan the Authorities of the Church try to follow.

The Prophet Joseph Smith once said: "I want liberty of thinking and believing as I please." This liberty he and his successors in the leadership of the Church have granted to every other member thereof.

On one occasion in answer to the question by a prominent visitor how he governed his people, the Prophet answered: "I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves."

Again, as recorded in the History of the Church (Volume 5, page 498 [499] Joseph Smith said further: "If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way."

I cite these few quotations, from many that might be given, merely to confirm your good and true opinion that the Church gives to every man his free agency, and admonishes him always to use the reason and good judgment with which God has blessed him.

In the advocacy of this principle leaders of the Church not only join congregations in singing but quote frequently the following:

"Know this, that every soul is free
To choose his life and what he'll be,
For this eternal truth is given
That God will force no man to heaven."

I suppose Steve Young, along with Joseph Smith, would also say: ""I want liberty of thinking and believing as I please." After all, it is very stereotypical to suggest that all Mormons think alike. Steve Young's great, great, great grandfather, Brigham Young once said: "There is too much of a sameness in this community. . . . I am not a stereotyped Latter-day Saint and do not believe in the doctrine . . . away with stereotyped 'Mormons'!" (JD 13:153, 55, as quoted by Hugh Nibley).

I’ve found that I personally resist being categorized as one type of person or another. I’m really hesitant to apply labels to myself and to others. I’m not sure if I can articulate all the reasons why. I suppose sometimes they’re actually helpful, but I hate feeling that I’m being pigeon-holed or cornered into being or thinking a certain way along with a certain group. It’s more liberating to be open minded to the wisdom of all, no matter where it is found, and to apply it. In other words, I’m open to good ideas no matter who presents them or where they come from. I might disagree with what one person thinks is a good idea, but I’ll hesitate to label that person out of respect for the fact that people can change.

Likewise, it bugs me when some people treat politics as if our faithfulness is contingent on which party we belong to, how we vote, or act as if the "other side" is evil. I seek out a more reasonable, moderate, middle ground. Our own eleventh Article of Faith has so many implications: "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may."

My hope here is to get people to think, and ideally to respectfully share their thoughts, so that I can benefit from a more enlightened and diverse conversation than that which would take place between me and myself. My open question for any visitor here is how do you understand/reconcile the issue of "thinking for yourself" and being "obedient" by "following the Prophet"?

Friday, October 31, 2008

A Challenge For Today--Prophetic words from Elder Maxwell

This speech was given 30 years ago, this month of October, by Elder Maxwell:

"Make no mistake about it, brothers and sisters, in the months and years
ahead, events are likely to require each member to decide whether or not he
will follow the First Presidency. Members will find it more difficult to
halt longer between two opinions. President Marion G. Romney said, many
years ago, that he had 'never hesitated to follow the counsel of the
Authorities of the Church even though it crossed my social, professional or
political life.'

"This is hard doctrine, but it is particularly vital doctrine in a society
which is becoming more wicked. In short, brothers and sisters, not being
ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ includes not being ashamed of the
prophets of Jesus Christ. . . . Your discipleship may see the time when
such religious convictions are discounted. . . . This new irreligious
imperialism seeks to disallow certain opinions simply because those opinions
grow out of religious convictions.

"Resistance to abortion will be seen as primitive. Concern over the
institution of the family will be viewed as untrendy and unenlightened....
Before the ultimate victory of the forces of righteousness, some skirmishes
will be lost. Even in these, however, let us leave a record so that the
choices are clear, letting others do as they will in the face of prophetic
counsel. There will also be times, happily, when a minor defeat seems
probable, but others will step forward, having been rallied to rightness by
what we do. We will know the joy, on occasion, of having awakened a
slumbering majority of the decent people of all races and creeds which was,
till then, unconscious of itself. Jesus said that when the fig trees put
forth their leaves, 'summer is nigh.' Thus warned that summer is upon us,
let us not then complain of the heat."

- Elder Neal A. Maxwell, "Meeting the Challenges of Today" Oct. 10, 1978.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

YES on Proposition 8 does not equate to "hate"

Update on April 10th, 2014:

Wow, I can't believe how much time has passed since originally writing this blog post.  There's truth to Thomas Paine's quote: "Time makes converts more than reason".

In the years that have passed since posting this I have undergone a mighty change of heart.  I still recognize that people who oppose marriage equality should not automatically be labeled "haters" and that many of them are good and sincere people.

However, I now personally identify as an "ally" and feel strongly in favor of marriage equality (and this isn't even speaking as a religious issue, but as a public policy issue).  While I know many fellow members of my faith have become discouraged by the recent state rulings in favor of marriage equality, I have been heartened by them.  I feel in my heart it is the right thing.

I believe that religious beliefs of a majority should not dictate public policy for the minority.  There is wisdom in separation of church and state.

The interior walls of the Jefferson Memorial are engraved with passages from Jefferson's writings. Most prominent are the words inscribed in a frieze below the dome:

 "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

This sentence is taken from a September 23, 1800, letter by Jefferson to Dr. Benjamin Rush wherein he defends the constitutional refusal to recognize a state religion.

My personal opposition to  "tyranny" or any other imposition of human will over my liberty/rights makes me sympathetic to our gay brothers and sisters.  And my understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ makes me more compassionate.  I love my gay brothers and sisters and desire the best for them.  I'm sorry that my church has been an impediment to this.  I see hope that this has and is changing, although the pace of change is painfully slow.

A friend of mine who lives in California and who is heavily involved in Proposition 8 recently pointed out that the entire controversy is really only about 14 words: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid and recognized in California." That's the entire constitutional amendment.

I've since taken the time to educate myself on the Proposition 8 controversy. I've let it stir in my mind as objectively as possible, and I've thought about things that have been said by both opponents and proponents of the proposition.

I finally found an opinion piece which expressed almost exactly what I have been thinking of saying, especially after seeing Ellen say on Jay Leno that YES on 8 is "hate". As much as I like Ellen (and I really do), I find that very disturbing. Can not decent people disagree without be labeled as haters?

The article I read is by Dennis Prager entitled "Opposition to California Proposition 8: Hate in the Name of Love". Just in case something happens to the link, I want to now include it here in its entirety:

Next to the presidential election, California Proposition 8 is the most important vote in America.

It will determine the definition of marriage for the largest state in America, and it will determine whether judges or society will decide on social-moral issues.

In 2000, 61 percent of the voters in California, one the most liberal states in America, voted to retain the only definition of marriage civilization has ever had -- the union of a man and woman (the number of spouses allowed has changed over time but never the sexes of the spouses). But in May 2008, four out of seven California justices decided that they would use their power to make a new definition: Gender will now be irrelevant to marriage.

As a result of this judicial act, the only way to ensure that we continue to define marriage the way every religious and secular society in recorded history has defined marriage -- as between men and women -- is to amend the California Constitution. It is the only way to prevent the vote of one judge from redefining marriage, as was also done in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Which is why Proposition 8 exists.

But even though California voters decided by a large margin to retain the man-woman definition of marriage, passing Proposition 8 will be a challenge.

First, the attorney general of California, Jerry Brown, unilaterally renamed the proposition as it appears on California ballots. It had been listed as "Amends the California Constitution to provide that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." Brown, a liberal Democrat, changed the proposition's wording to: "Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry. Initiative Constitutional Amendment."

The reason for this change is obvious -- to make the proposition appear as a denial of a basic human and civil right.

Marriage has never been regarded as a universal human or civil right. Loving and living with anyone one wants to live with are basic human rights. But marriage is actually a privilege that society bestows on whom it chooses. And even those who believe that any two unmarried people who want to get married should be given a marriage license should regard as wrong an attorney general changing a ballot proposition's language to favor his own social views. What Brown did was attempt to manipulate people who lean toward preserving the definition of the most important social institution in society -- people who have no desire whatsoever to hurt gays -- to now think of themselves as bigots.

According to Sacramento Bee columnist Margaret A. Bengs, "a recent Field Poll analysis found" that the new wording by Brown "had a 'striking' impact on those newly familiar with the measure, with a 23-point swing against it."

What we have here is truly manipulative. Four justices create a right, and then a sympathetic attorney general renames a proposition so as to protect a 4-month-old right that no one had ever voted to create.

And the left accuses the right of imposing its values on society.

The second hurdle for Proposition 8 is even greater: the multimillion dollar campaign to label proponents of Proposition 8 "haters" and to label the man-woman definition of marriage as "hate." Or as they put it: "Prop 8 = Prop Hate."

It is apparently inconceivable to many of those who wish to change the definition of marriage that a decent person can want to retain the man-woman definition. From newspaper editorials to gay and other activist groups, the theme is universal -- proponents of traditional marriage are haters, the moral equivalents of those who opposed racial equality. As The New York Times editorial on the subject put it, Proposition 8 is "mean-spirited."

But it is the charge of hate (along with bigotry, homophobia and intolerance) that is the primary charge leveled against supporters of Proposition 8. That's why one major anti-Proposition 8 group is "Californians Against Hate."

Any honest outsider would see that virtually all the hate expressed concerning Proposition 8 comes from opponents of the proposition. While there are a few sick individuals who hate gay people, I have neither seen nor heard any hatred of gays expressed by proponents of Proposition 8. Not in my private life, not in my e-mail, not from callers on my radio show.

It is the proponents of same-sex marriage who express nearly all the hate -- because in fact many of them do hate, loudly and continuously. But hate in the name of love has a long pedigree. Why should our generation be different?

These charges of "hate" against proponents of retaining the man-woman definition of marriage do not speak well for those who make them. I, for one, find it easy to believe that most opponents and most proponents of Proposition 8 are decent people. There are millions of decent people who think marriage should be redefined. I think they are wrong, but I do not question their decency.

Why won't those who favor redefining marriage accord the same respect to the millions of us who want gays to be allowed to love whom they want, live with whom they want, be given the rights they deserve along with the dignity they deserve, but who still want marriage to remain man-woman?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

College Football Nation: Meet BYU

I felt this excellent article in the USA Today did a very fair job at capturing the essence of BYU's football program right now. It's interesting that BYU's football success seems to legitimize BYU as my alma-mater to those I live near and work with here in Texas who otherwise wouldn't be talking about Brigham Young University. Link for yourself: Mendenhall's Cougars are on a mission at Brigham Young.

PS: We're excited to be attending the game up at TCU this Thursday and see the Cougs in person for a change. Big, big game. Go Cougars!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

God is Three. God is One. And We Can Be One With God.

I've learned a lot from my blogging interactions with people not of our faith, as well as from my recent reading of "How Wide The Divide?" by Craig Blomberg (an Evangelical scholar) and Stephen Robinson (a Mormon scholar). One of the biggest things I realized, and it's simply huge, is that the Latter-day Saints are unique in their understanding that we are of the same essence or species of God. Evangelical Christians believe we are a different species from God, who "chose at some point to make creatures distinct from himself--human beings--with the capacity to have a personal realationship with him" (Blomberg).

Thus, Stephen Robinson writes: "The real sticking point is not what the LDS think of Christ and his gospel, but rather the different ontological frame or view of the nature of the universe into which Mormons fit the gospel. For Latter-day Saints also believe in the literal fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of humanity. We believe that God and humans are the same species of being and that all men and women were his spiritual offspring in a premortal existence. The main purpose of the gospel of Christ is therefore not so much to get us to heaven as it is to get us home."

If people don't understand this, then no wonder why we don't understand each other or we talk past each other. No wonder why other Christians would be confused that we believe we can become like God. For us, we are literally His children and therefore want to grow up to be like Him. We have the seeds of divinity in us. But for them, we'll always be different than God. Because Plato and Greek philosophy said that the "created" must always be separate from the "Creator", or the divine separate from the non-divine, the common thought that went into the councils and creeds was how to reconcile the fact that Christ was divine but also became a created man on earth.

We may believe in the same New Testament teachings of Jesus, but we definitely believe differently about the nature of God. I happen to like our understanding of God much more. :) I would find it hard to have faith in a mysterious and undefinable God that created "human beings" and put them on earth as if we're some kind of pet in a zoo or fish in a fish bowl, yet capable of having some kind of "relationship" with God--our owner or creator. I have faith in God and relate to Him and love Him as my Father in Heaven, who I lived with before I came to earth and wants me to return back to Him, but having grown from my experience here. So this is a fundamental difference, and I believe it's key to mutual understanding.

Incidentally, isn't it interesting that both "sides" can read the same bible and yet come away with such a different concept of God? Yet we each feel adamant that our interpretation is fully biblical. To quote Robinson again: "We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in God's Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost. We accept the biblical doctrine that God is three and that God is also one, but we reject the post-New Testament attempts to explain how these two truths are to be reconciled."

It has been helpful for me to think of the "Trinity" (three persons in one being) as a solution to this "problem", that people saw that the scriptures talk of "one eternal God", and yet also that not only the Father was God, but Christ was God and fully divine, as well as the Holy Spirit. It seems that the Trinity was simply a solution for people who were afraid that worshipping three Gods, when the scriptures also clearly say that they are, or there is, "one God", would be polytheism. But Latter-day Saints also recognize the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost as one "God"--or the Godhead--without feeling there is a polytheism problem. Since all three of them are united as one in practically every way (except physically), we have no problem in thinking of them as "one eternal God" in three persons.

We even take it one step further and really believe that the Bible means what is says when Christ prays to His Father for his disciples, that "they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us" (John 17:21). What mercy and blessed grace indeed! Through the atonement of Christ, He will make us divine and change our natures so that we can be at one again with God, just as Christ is one with God. Yes, the word gospel means good news, and this is most definitely "good news"! What a testament to the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ!

Friday, October 3, 2008

"How Wide the Divide?"

I can't say enough great things about the book "How Wide The Divide?", and how I think it should be an absolute required read for any Evangelical and for every Latter-day Saint. For me, it has been a watershed experience in terms of interfaith understanding and dialogue. Things that I've recently learned about Evangelicals have been made more clear, and parts of past conversations that I've participated in which perplexed me now make much more sense. The book has been out for ten years, but the time was ripe for me to read it now that I've taken up an interest in interfaith dialogue and mutual understanding. It's been a fascinating read, and one of my favorite books I've read in a long time.

LDS Christians should read it so that we're all on the same page, and Evangelical Christians should read it to better understand the facts of what we do and do not believe. Both "sides" should read it to better understand each other and to recognize where we actually, and perhaps surprisingly, agree, and where we indeed have disagreements. Sometimes what is understood by what we say isn't exactly what we mean, since we use different theological vocabularies. This is a step toward becoming theologically "bilingual". I highly recommend, if you haven't done so already, that you get this book! If you have already read it, what are your thoughts? What has been your experience since reading it?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A Different Jesus?

I made a post about this stinging question some time ago (Worshiping Jesus differently does not equal "a different Jesus") but I like the way Stephen Robinson puts it much better:

"Evangelicals often accuse Latter-day Saints of worshipping a 'different Jesus' because we believe some things about Jesus that cannot be proven from the Bible. However, I would point out that John thought Jesus was crucified the afternoon before Passover (John 19:14; 18:28), so that the Last Supper was not the Passover meal, while Matthew, Mark and Luke say Jesus ate the Passover with the disciples and was crucified the morning after (Mark 14:12, Matthew 26:17-19; Luke 22:13-15). Is John (or the Synoptics) writing about a 'different Jesus,' or do they simply disagree on the details concerning one Jesus?

If some Christians think Jesus had siblings and other Christians think that he did not, or if some think he stayed in Egypt for years while others think it was merely for weeks or months, do they worship different beings? If I think Jesus liked his veggies and you think he didn't, are we therefore talking about two different people? Some Evangelicals, like the Mormons, do not accept the Nicene and Chalcedonian definitions, I am told, but limit their Christology to the New Testament data. Do these people also worship 'a different Jesus' than other more creedal Evangelicals, and are they therefore not Christian?

This charge, that people worship 'a different Jesus' if they disagree over any detail of his character or history, is simply a rhetorical device, a trick of language. All I can say to it is that Latter-day Saints worship that divine Son of God of whom the apostles and prophets of the Old and New Testaments bear record, and we believe all that they have to say about him. There is no biblical information about the Son of God that the Latter-day Saints do not affirm. If Evangelicals truly worship 'a different Jesus' than this, I shall be greatly disappointed." (Stephen E. Robinson, "How Wide The Divide?")

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Witnessing to Mormons

I came across an evangelical blog that had a list of suggestions up for witnessing to Mormons. I think it was a pretty good list, but I would like to add one more thing for Orthodox Christians who want to witness to Non-Traditional Christians such as the Mormons--make sure you understand Mormon doctrine as Mormons understand it.

Mormon doctrine holds that there is only one eternal God, or Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) and that there are many gods, but they are gods by grace, made so by God himself. But we hold that there is only one source of worship and power and knowledge in the universe-–God (or the Godhead). No matter what exalted beings are called, we will always be subject to the one true God who made us what we are.

And that "shocking" quote about God once being a man isn’t such a stretch when you realize how we believe the scriptures which say that we are His offspring, created in His image, and that He is our Father. That means that we believe we are the same species or essence of God. So thinking of God as an exalted human being isn't such a stretch. Just as Jesus was once on the earth as a man, but was still fully divine and fully God and is now resurrected and glorified and exalted, we hold that God the Father also could have had a mortal experience, but there is no doubt that he is glorified and exalted. Remember also that Jesus was still fully God while he dwelt on earth as a man. We are "fallen" man, although we have hope of overcoming the effects of the Fall through the atonement of Christ, who intends to make us divine like He is. Now, if you've only asked the LDS missionaries about this and you felt like you didn't get a sufficient answer, just know that 19 year old missionaries aren’t the most informed in Mormon theology. They are sent to bear witness of the restoration, but they're not necessarily trained in theology. Actually none of us are, but some are more informed than others.

Last thing--about becoming gods ourselves. We literally believe the Bible when it says that by God’s grace we receive His glory (John 17:22-23), or as Peter said, we become partakers of His divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). We do not believe that it is only figurative. We believe the Bible is literal when Paul says that we are made joint-heirs with Christ to all that the Father has (Romans 8:15-17; Revelation 21:7; 1 Corinthians 3:22). God, by His grace, makes us divine through the atonement of Christ, which breaks down all barriers between the Creator and the created--making us “at one” with God through the at-one-ment. We believe, as Christ prayed in His intercessory prayer in John 17, that through his grace we can become “one” with God, as Christ and the Father are one. We will share in their relationship and, again, to quote Peter, fully partake of their "divine nature"-–thus becoming divine ourselves.

The Westminister Dictionary of Christian Theology (not a Mormon publication) says: "Deification is for Orthodoxy the goal for every Christian". Almost stating LDS belief exactly on the doctrine of deification is the great Christian defender C.S. Lewis, who wrote: "The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were ‘gods’ and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him–for we can prevent Him, if we choose–He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said” (Mere Christianity.)

Thus, we believe we can be made into much more than we currently are through the atonement of Jesus Christ. He changes our nature. Nevertheless, we will still always be subject to, and worship only the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost through all eternity. Plain and simple.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Are Mormons Christian?

"Are Mormons Christian? By self-definition and self-identity, unquestionably so. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints affirms that it is a Christian-faith denomination, a body of believers who worship Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and who witness that salvation is possible only by his atoning blood and grace. By the simple dictionary definition of a Christian as one who believes in or worships Jesus Christ, the case is compelling. To the title Christian a critic of Mormonism may add any modifiers he deems appropriate—unorthodox, heretical, non-Nicene, different—but blanket assertions that we are not Christian are a poor substitute for informed argument and dialogue" (Bruce D Porter, "Is Mormonism Christian?".)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Explaining What Mormons Believe

Excellent post up at Summa Theologica--Explaining What Mormons Believe--reviewing an article in FIRST THINGS: A Journal of Religion, Culture, and Public Life entitled "Is Mormonism Christian?". The article includes a section written by Bruce D. Porter, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Gerald R. McDermott, Jordan-Trexler Professor of Religion at Roanoke College. This same McDermott wrote a book with Robert Millet (BYU) but seems to exclude some important Mormon interpretations both in his book as well as in the article. Aquinas, from Summa Theologica hits the nail on the head in so many places with two excellent reviews. The reviews are eloquent, thorough, and a very important read for Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints alike.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Happy Constitution Day!

"We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Happy Constitution Day America!

I surprise my students when I say a case can be made that September 17th could be thought of as another birthday for our country--or at least the finalization of the document which gave birth to the government we now have such a love/hate relationship with.

In my Public Policy class (for my MPA) we focus a lot on the Constitution since that's what describes what the government can and can't do, especially in terms of forming and implementing policy.

In my own U.S. History class we focus a lot on how our Constitution came about, as well as what's actually in it. Of course, most of us are most grateful for the Bill of Rights, which tells the government "don't even think about it" when it comes to infringing on some of our most treasured rights, such as freedom of religion and freedom of speech--without which this blog would probably not exist, to say the least.

So on this 17th day of September, let us remember 1789 and the miracle that occurred at Philadelphia which made this nation official, and which has guaranteed us a pretty darn good life in these United States. Here's to the keepers of the Constitution--the people!

A Child's Prayer

This morning Adelaide (who will be three at the end of November) woke up early and came downstairs all by herself to have breakfast with me. Just the two us, sitting right by each other at the table eating Raisin Bran. She wanted to be the one to "bless the food". This was her sweet little prayer:

"Heavenly Father, thank you for this food. And please bless Dad cause he has to go to work. And please bless that Jesus can come and stay with us. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen."

Adelaide--You are the sweetest little girl and I love you so much! And thanks for our little "Daddy-Addy" breakfast date this morning, and for blowing me kisses at the door...

PS: My girls bring too much joy to describe. Here we are holding hands at the zoo:

Adelaide and Kamorah at home:

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"You're Wrong and We're Right"

In all my blogging interactions, I try to be diplomatic, respectful, and inoffensive. 1 Peter 3:15 says to be ready always to give a reason for the hope that is in you, but to do so with gentleness and respect (NIV). So I usually try to be somewhat gentle and respectful because I feel we can all disagree without being disagreeable.

I genuinely try to set the record straight, while being pretty mainstream and mainline, as well as honest. I'm not afraid of controversy, but I don't seek it out. I have opinions and I share them, no matter what the topic is. I'm not afraid to say things, but I am very conscientious of how I say it. I suppose I try to be more middle-road, because I believe I can say what I need to say without driving people crazy or being offensive. I'm not offended when Evangelicals say that "You're wrong and we're right", and I would assume Evangelicals wouldn't take offense if I were to say (or at least believe) that "I'm right and your wrong". It shouldn't be a surprise to any of us that we both think we're right. But I think there is a more effective means of communication.

For example, I don't believe we should go out and say other churches are all wrong. It's not that clear-cut, not that black and white to me. My paradigm allows other churches to have much truth--just not a fullness of truth. I readily acknowledge that many churches sprung up, not because of the Great Apostasy, but in spite of, to counteract the Great Apostasy. In other words, I think most Christians are doing the best that they know how. This might be a different perception than other Mormons might have, but in this case I deeply believe I'm right. But Mormons actually have a lot of freedom to believe differently in many things, and still be considered faithful and in good standing.

In this case, I believe that most Christian churches have the core of the gospel--they have many pieces of the puzzle. So I have great respect for good Christians everywhere. But why I went on a mission, and what I share when I go out from time to time with the missionaries in my local area, is not to tear other people down and say that their churches are completely wrong, because I just don't believe that. I just think that Mormons happen to have additional pieces of the puzzle--though a fullness of the gospel might be still allusive if the restoration indeed continues.

Nevertheless, this is why the LDS missionaries don't leave your doorstep when you tell them you are a Christian. We deeply believe that we have more to offer you as Christians with a fulness of the gospel. "Bring all the good that you have and let us see if we can add to it". Essentially, my take is this: Let's learn from each other, but please be open to seeing if we can't make more sense out of your framework or your puzzle pieces. I think we can all learn something together if we're open minded. I like the synergy that comes from dialogue rather than the abrasiveness that comes from trying to "win" an argument.

Friday, September 12, 2008

"Let Us Be Very Clear On This Point"

I've decided that much of the frustration and confusion in conversations between Latter-day Saints and those not of our faith is caused by ourselves. One of my pet peeves, and pet peeves of many Evangelical Christians, is when Latter-day Saints say "We're Christians just like you", which of course isn't true, and means one of two things: The Mormon is ignorant, or the Mormon is purposely being misleading. Semantics matter, after all. Mormons certainly are Christians, but we're Non-Traditional Christians. Although I tend to enjoy exploring our commonalities more than our differences, I'll never pretend that we don't have significant differences with Traditional Christianity. We need to be careful about the intended and unintended messages our words give off. I'm sure we all could do a better job not only of understanding the gospel, but of communicating it more effectively both within the Church and without.

One example. Elder M. Russell Ballard cautioned members of the Church:

"We occasionally hear some members refer to Jesus as our Elder Brother, which is a true concept based on our understanding of the pre-mortal life with our Father in Heaven. But like many points of gospel doctrine, that simple truth doesn't go far enough in terms of describing the Savior's role in our present lives and His great position as a member of the Godhead. Thus, some non-LDS Christians are uncomfortable with what they perceive as a secondary role for Christ in our theology. They feel that we view Jesus as a spiritual peer. They believe that we view Christ as an implementor for God, if you will, but that we don't view Him as God to us and to all mankind, which, of course, is counter to biblical testimony about Christ's divinity…

"Now we can understand why some Latter-day Saints have tended to focus on Christ's Sonship as opposed to His Godhood. As members of earthly families, we can relate to Him as a child, as a Son, and as a Brother because we know how that feels. We can personalize that relationship because we ourselves are children, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. For some it may be more difficult to relate to Him as a God. And so in an attempt to draw closer to Christ and to cultivate warm and personal feelings toward Him, some tend to humanize Him, sometimes at the expense of acknowledging His Divinity. So let us be very clear on this point: it is true that Jesus was our Elder Brother in the premortal life, but we believe that in this life it is crucial that we become "born again" as His sons and daughters in the gospel covenant." ("Building Bridges of Understanding", by Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I Won't Forget

I remember well waking up on that sunny September morning seven years ago. I don't remember why, but I woke up earlier than usual. I was a resident assistant at Helaman Halls--and loved everything about it. I especially enjoyed unlimited access to the Cannon Center cafeteria. That's where I was, standing in line to get breakfast, when someone told me that "The Pentagon has been attacked". They didn't mention New York, but they didn't have to. I knew that we were in for some big news that day, and for war. "Which country has the guts, or is stupid enough, to attack us?" I thought to myself--"at our Pentagon!"

I left the cafeteria and walked into the lobby to where the big-screen TV was located, only to find a picture of two burning towers---The World Trade Center towers. I tried to understand why two burning buildings were on the news instead of the Pentagon. Little did I understand the significance of the Twin Towers, what had actually taken place, or how many people actually worked there.

In that moment, it was something distant to me. Utah was a long way from New York City. And the camera angle on TV was distant as well, so I didn't initially picture the hell on the ground or inside the towers. I hadn't yet been there in person. I had no idea of what life was like at Ground Zero. And then all of a sudden I watched the first tower completely collapse.

As each new report came in, and with each passing minute, I began to feel the unbelievable shock of what had happened, of what was presently unfolding, and what it was going to mean for our country. Initially I only understood the significance of the Pentagon, and that attacking our military headquarters was a very serious thing. But with all the confusion swirling around that day, one thing became clear; this was much more than an attack on physical buildings, it was an unimaginable attack on ordinary Americans simply because they were Americans.

The rest of that day is a blur. I remember walking to class, wondering why I was even going to class--"life can't possibly go on as normal today, could it?" Plans were indeed changed, and BYU held a special prayer service in lieu of its planned Tuesday morning devotional at the Marriott Center. I've saved the special edition newspapers that came out that day, and the day after. I've laminated them and now I hang them up in my classroom every year on September 11th. They are a dramatic reminder of the horrific images and the magnitude of that day. And I'm determined never to forget. I won't forget what happened that day or the days following. I won't forget what a great land we live in. I won't forget the sacrifices of those who have gone before to make America great. And I'll try to do all that I can so that my students won't forget either.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

With Liberty, Unity, and Charity For All

"In essentials let there be unity; in non-essentials, liberty, and in all things, charity."

Isn't that a great quote? I was going through some old files and saw that I had written that down as a B.H. Roberts quote, but I think it's more likely that he was quoting someone else. Either way, just think of all the applications of that one, whether in church, a marriage--the list goes on...

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Church is like a Potluck

I had an epiphany in Fast and Testimony Meeting today; Church is like a potluck. It's an especially appropriate analogy on Fast Sunday, not just because food isn't far from our minds, but because we come to church hoping to be spiritually fed, and in our church all kinds of people contribute. You're never quite sure what you're going to get, but you know you can get the opportunity/blessing to be able to contribute something. And by the end of the Sunday potluck we almost always end up being spiritually fed--especially when we bring our own testimonies to the feast. I really enjoyed the potluck today. Not just the fellowship, but the spiritual feast. That potluck also extends into Sunday School. "Potluck" Sunday School is the best. Especially when it's clear, like today, that fellow Saints don't just wait until Sunday to prepare and feast upon the word, but they're continually feasting on the word and therefore know the Word. Talk about a enriching and nourishing experience!

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Power of The Book of Mormon in My Life

It's hard to put into words something that is so dear to your heart--something that has so frequently blessed your life and filled it with excitement, exhilaration, and power. And yet that is exactly what the Book of Mormon does for me. I'm not one to ever minimize my testimony of the Holy Bible, but it's just that the Book of Mormon is so unique to this dispensation of time. It's an unparalleled powerful witness of the risen Lord Jesus Christ. It builds faith. Faith in Christ. Faith in the Restoration. It teaches simple, plain, and powerful truths that thrill my mind, heart, and my soul every time I read or teach from the book. It brings the Spirit into my life and I'm able to see things so clearly--"things as they really are, and of things as they really will be" (Jacob 4:13)--and my vision centers on the Redeemer of the World. The Book of Mormon is a message of hope--hope in Christ, through His atonement, and it leads to a pure love of Christ. My heart turns--repents--and begins to trust more in God. I feel a humble gratitude that I can be filled with such goodness and partake of so much wisdom. It's simply incredible.

The Restoration

The primary message of the gospel, the "good news" of Jesus Christ, is that he has atoned for our sins and prepared a way for us to come back into the presence of the Father. The Restoration brings about a fullness of that gospel, with a fulness of truth and of the priesthood, with all the authority, keys, and ordinances to accomplish that task. It also restored further light, truth, and knowledge of God and His plan for a fulness of salvation--to bring about the immortality and eternal life of His children.

But of course for something to be restored, it must have first been broken or essential pieces lost. So to better understand the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, foretold by prophets of old, one must first understand the great apostasy, in which the gospel was not on the earth in its fulness, either in doctrine or in ordinance--also foretold by prophets of old.

The next two sections are from Preach My Gospel:

The Great Apostasy:

"After the death of Jesus Christ, wicked people persecuted the Apostles and Church members and killed many of them. With the death of the Apostles, priesthood keys and the presiding priesthood authority were taken from the earth. The Apostles had kept the doctrines of the gospel pure and maintained the order and standard of worthiness for Church members. Without the Apostles, over time the doctrines were corrupted, and unauthorized changes were made in Church organization and priesthood ordinances, such as baptism and conferring the gift of the Holy Ghost.

"Without revelation and priesthood authority, people relied on human wisdom to interpret the scriptures and the principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ. False ideas were taught as truth. Much of the knowledge of the true character and nature of God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost was lost. The doctrines of faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost became distorted or forgotten. The priesthood authority given to Christ’s Apostles was no longer present on the earth. This apostasy eventually led to the emergence of many churches.

"After centuries of spiritual darkness, truth-seeking men and women protested against current religious practices. They recognized that many of the doctrines and ordinances of the gospel had been changed or lost. They sought for greater spiritual light, and many spoke of the need for a restoration of truth. They did not claim, however, that God had called them to be a prophet. Instead, they tried to reform teachings and practices that they believed had been changed or corrupted. Their efforts led to the organization of many Protestant churches. This Reformation resulted in an increased emphasis on religious freedom, which opened the way for the final Restoration."

The Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through Joseph Smith:

"When the circumstances were right, Heavenly Father once again reached out to His children in love. He called a young man named Joseph Smith as a prophet. Through him the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ was restored to the earth. Joseph Smith lived in the United States, which was perhaps the only country to enjoy religious freedom at the time. It was at a time of great religious excitement in the eastern United States. His family members were deeply religious and constantly sought for truth. But many ministers claimed to have the true gospel. Joseph desired “to know which of all the sects was right,” (Joseph Smith—History 1:18). The Bible taught there was “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). Joseph attended different churches, but he remained confused about which church he should join. He later wrote:

“So great were the confusions and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was . . . to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong. . . . In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?” (Joseph Smith—History 1:8, 10).

As Joseph sought truth among the different faiths, he turned to the Bible for guidance. He read, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5). Because of this passage, Joseph decided to ask God what he should do. In the spring of 1820 he went to a nearby grove of trees and knelt in prayer. He described his experience:

“I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. . . . When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Joseph Smith—History 1:16–17).

In this vision God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to Joseph Smith. The Savior told Joseph not to join any of the churches, for they “were all wrong” and “all their creeds were an abomination.” He stated, “They draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof” (Joseph Smith—History 1:19). Even though many good people believed in Christ and tried to understand and teach His gospel, they did not have the fulness of truth or the priesthood authority to baptize and perform other saving ordinances. They had inherited a state of apostasy as each generation was influenced by what the previous one passed on, including changes in the doctrines and in ordinances such as baptism. As God had done with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and other prophets, He called Joseph Smith to be a prophet through whom the fulness of the gospel was restored to the earth.

"After the appearance of the Father and the Son, other heavenly messengers, or angels, were sent to Joseph Smith and his associate Oliver Cowdery. John the Baptist appeared and conferred upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery the Aaronic Priesthood, which includes the authority to perform the ordinance of baptism. Peter, James, and John (three of Christ’s original Apostles) appeared and conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, restoring the same authority given to Christ’s Apostles anciently. With this priesthood authority, Joseph Smith was directed to organize the Church of Jesus Christ again on the earth. Through him, Jesus Christ called twelve Apostles.

"The time in which we live is referred to by Bible prophets as the last days, the latter days, or the dispensation of the fulness of times. It is the period of time just before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. It is the final dispensation. This is why the Church is named The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A living prophet directs the Church today. This prophet, the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is the authorized successor to Joseph Smith. He and the present Apostles trace their authority to Jesus Christ in an unbroken chain of ordinations through Joseph Smith."

It's quite a story, and quite miraculous to behold.

I love the following quote by the late Neal A. Maxwell, from "The Richness of the Restoration":

"The Restoration, to mix metaphors, is like a harvest basket, which is a “good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over” (Luke 6:38). This abundant harvest spares us from hungering because of doctrinal deprivation. Without this fulness, however, some who are malnourished struggle with adversity while trying to believe in a God of loving purpose. Each of the Restoration’s key doctrines, by itself, would help us greatly. However, when “shaken together,” these doctrines can produce much stronger faith through their vital nourishment. The harvest is not only abundant and “running over,” but it also brings back the most vital “plain and precious things” (1 Ne. 13:40)—the balanced essentials...

"Restoration correctives provide emancipating perspectives! The revelations, when “pressed down, and shaken together,” emphasize that man is, at once, an intelligence or spirit coeternal—but certainly not coequal—with God (see Abr. 3:18). Thus, doctrinally, we are positioned very differently, because “God is neither the source nor the cause of either moral or natural evil.” God is thus the organizer of eternal intelligences, which can neither be created nor destroyed (see D&C 93:29). Furthermore, God will not coerce men since all intelligence is free to act for itself “in that sphere in which God has placed it. … Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man” (D&C 93:30–31).

"In the Restoration, we further learn that, built into the existing structure of mortal life, there is “an opposition in all things” (2 Ne. 2:11). This doctrine is more than just a minor clue to life. It is a major divine disclosure! As Brigham Young University professor David Paulsen has thoughtfully written: “Without moral righteousness, there is no happiness; without significant moral freedom, there is no moral righteousness; without an opposition (opposing possibilities to choose between), there is no significant moral freedom. Thus, happiness and opposition are essentially related.”

When Restoration truths are thus “shaken together,” powerful understandings vital to daily life emerge. It is my opinion, not Church doctrine, that one distant day it will even become more apparent than it now is that our loving Father is doing all even He possibly can do to help us! The restored gospel of Jesus Christ is evidence of His help. As beneficiaries of Restoration blessings, we are recipients of “so much light and so much knowledge” (Alma 9:19) about the meaning and purpose of life, the character of the Father and the Son, and the work and glory of the plan of salvation (see Moses 1:39). May God bless us with a willingness to share the harvest basket of the Restoration, that as we have been spiritually nourished so may we nourish our neighbor."

We have so much to share! Please feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts and testimony of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Relevant Links:

The Restoration of Major Doctrines through Joseph Smith: The Godhead, Mankind, and the Creation

The Restoration of Major Doctrines through Joseph Smith: Priesthood, the Word of God, and the Temple

Mormon Answers: Questions about the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ (Apostasy, Authority, Restoration)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

My View Of God

I feel that my response to a recent question on my blog deserves it's own post, since it deals with a very important topic to me--my view of God. The question was: "Do Mormon's worship Jesus the same as God? Or do they merely just thank him for his sacrifice?"

I worship Jesus as God AND I thank Him for His sacrifice. I’m unfamiliar with any educated Latter-day Saint who would ever minimize or diminish Jesus in anyway. On the contrary, we worship Him. We love Him. He is our Lord and Master. He has a whole ton of other applicable names, which I could rightfully list and appropriately believe in/on. He is the Shepherd of our Souls. Since He really means everything to us, it should come as no surprise that “we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ…that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins” (2 Nephi 25:20). The Book of Mormon really has an unparalleled focus on the messianic message of the Savior of the world.

I personally feel that what I do know about the Father, I know because I've come to know the Son. After all, he said "if you have seen me, you have seen the Father." I tend to think that means that they are so alike, so one, that I can know the Father better by knowing Christ. I don't think that scripture means that by seeing Jesus, you're also looking physically at our Father in Heaven, as Trinitarians would tend to believe. I just think it means that you can know a lot about a persons dad by looking at their children. Many people could say the same thing about me and my dad. But I'll comment about how I can also believe in Christ as Father in just a minute.

I readily admit that I feel like I know more about Jesus than I do of the Father. We have several paintings hanging up in our house of Jesus, and the scriptures too are a constant reminder of the preeminence that Christ has in my life. There are less physical reminders of my Heavenly Father. But remembering the forgoing statement, that to see Him is to see the Father brings peace to my soul, for to worship one is to worship the other. To glorify Christ brings glory to the Father.

I pray to the Father (my Father in Heaven) in the name of Christ, since Christ taught that we should do so. But I depend on Christ to be reconciled to the Father. So it should also come as no surprise if I tell you that it is Jesus who occupies the majority of my thoughts, as well as my adoration.

The second question was:
"How does Mormonism view the Atonement in light of belief that Jesus is not eternal but created?


That's kind of a leading question. I'll start with the beginning, and most important part of it--how we Mormons view the Atonement.

Latter-day Saints view the Atonement as the central act of all history—“the central fact, the crucial foundation, and the chief doctrine of the great and eternal plan of salvation”, as one apostle has put it. This is the source of our doctrine and everything else is secondary. There may be many important things, but none is more important than the infinite and eternal Atonement of Jesus Christ. Everything else pails in comparison. If you don't believe me, just read the The Book of Mormon or the Doctrine and Covenants.

As for the comment about “eternal” and “created”—I really don’t think many Latter-day Saints are going to say they know much about that. Time is measured only by men. For God, eternity is one eternal “now”. So Latter-day Saints really don’t think of Christ in terms like “created” versus “eternal”. Who is to say when “eternity begins” or who can comprehend how far back it stretches? Kind of mind boggling. Like my wedding ring, I can’t perceive a beginning or an end.

We have no narrative about Jesus being "created". This word only comes up when I'm in conversation with critics of the Church. "Created" is a word that never seems to come up with Latter-day Saints themselves. We have a narrative that states that He was with the Father from the beginning—and that’s about the extent of our thoughts. Our focus is more on making and keeping covenants than on theology.

Whether I’m thinking of God as an “office” of some sort, like the Godhead, or whether I’m thinking of each member of the Godhead individually yet fully God, it really matters not, as I believe that they are infinitely more one than they are separate. I believe the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one in almost every conceivable way—except physically. Whether I can explain it or not--they are “one eternal God”. So when I read “God” in the scriptures, or think of making covenants “with God”—I tend to explore all aspects of what that means; I think of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and how interrelated they are. And I reverence and respect and deeply appreciate all three of them in their unified purpose and eternal plan of salvation, as well as their unique roles.

Some confusion might understandably come from not understanding how The Book of Mormon properly teaches of Christ as "the Father", and that “God himself” condescended to come into the world to bring salvation to the world. Trinitarians might be surprised to know that Latter-day Saints also consider Christ as “the Father” in certain regards, just as I can be both a father to my daughters and a son to my dad—but it’s still just me.

Jesus is the Father of our spiritual rebirth, as we are born again and take His name upon us. He is also the Father of this earth, since He created this earth under the direction of His Father. A case could appropriately be made that I have three dads! My earthly father, my Heavenly Father, and Jesus Christ as Father. Likewise a case can be made about Christ being “eternal”, as part of the eternal Godhead, as well as “created” because he was a Son, and the Firstborn. Most Latter-day Saints don’t tend to get caught up in the semantics, which is probably a cause of frustration to many critics of the Church.

I believe the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are distinct beings, and yes, they have their distinct roles. But as I said earlier, they are infinitely more one than they are separate. They are so one in almost every way, that I tend to focus more on their oneness and togetherness than I do on their distinctness and physical separateness.

Hebrews chapter 1, verses 1-10, seem to appropriately explain what I feel in my heart.