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?")