Thursday, December 31, 2009

My Last Post

This will be my very last post. Of the year 2009, anyway. (I've got a deadline of two hours before 2010 rolls around). In reality, however, and independent of Urban Meyer, I actually have considered taking a "leave of absence" from blogging. Life has been a bit cluttered lately. Blogging time has been reduced. But I'm not quite ready to start printing the "How's it going to end?" buttons.

I've now been blogging here for two years--though to me it seems much longer than that. Notwithstanding, it has been a very rewarding two years. My motto remains "Whatever I am...trying to be a good one". But that's probably the only thing that hasn't changed in two years. I still can't say for certain what it is I'm becoming or all the ways I've changed.

Perhaps one of the ways I've changed the most is that I'm much less certain in general. The more I learn the more I realize how little I actually "know" for certain. My personal faith has certainly evolved. I've become more and more philosophic and less and less dogmatic.

More and more I find myself relating to the sentiments expressed by Benjamin Franklin at the close of the Constitutional Convention: "I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others."

Thus, the end of 2009 finds me not quite jumping at the opportunity to write an Oprah-like "What I know for sure" type of post. As it stands now, I'm still questioning what it is I know for sure.

Maybe I'll feel more up to it next year.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Reading Abraham 3:22-28 through new eyes

Abraham 3:22-28 is a narrative which clearly involves multiple persons. Yet readers often unwittingly place Christ into all roles simultaneously. The following is my attempt to identify and make sense of them all. I especially look at verse 27 differently now:

Verse 22, Abraham as narrator: Now the Lord [Jesus/Jehovah/God the Son] had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones;

Verse 23: And God [the Father, or "Head God"] saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: ["]These I will make my rulers["]; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he [the Lord or God?] said unto me: ["]Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born["] [on earth].

Verse 24: [Abraham as narrator] And there stood one [Lord Jesus] among them that was like unto God [God the Father], and he [the one like unto God/Jesus/God the Son] said unto those who were with him: [Jesus as narrator now] ["]We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;

Verse 25: And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God [doesn't matter to me if here he's referring to himself in the future in the third person or the Father, either one works for me] shall command them;

Verse 26: And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.["]

Verse 27: [Abraham again, briefly, as narrator] And the Lord [Jesus/Jehovah] said: ["]Whom shall I send?["] [to be the first to experience the next estate] And one [Michael/Adam] answered like unto the Son of Man [Jesus, Son of Man or Son of God]: ["]Here am I, send me["]. And another [Lucifer] answered and said: ["]Here am I, send me["]. And the Lord [Jesus] said: ["]I will send the first.["]

Verse 28: And the second was angry, and kept not his first estate; and, at that day, many followed after him.

This reading seems to be more in line with the fact that God the Father delegates much of the responsibility for the work on this earth to the Son/Jesus, and that Jesus is usually the one giving all the revelations. It's also in line with Hugh Nibley's insight below (particularly the bolded part in the second paragraph):

"Our temple drama began like the book of Job, the Gospel of John, and Goethe's Faust, with the 'Prologue in Heaven.' In the temple today the prologue is spoken offstage, that is, in another world far removed from our present one. We hear the council in heaven discussing the plan to organize a world like other worlds that have been formed. They will 'take of these materials, and . . . will make an earth whereon these may dwell' (Abraham 3:24). The definite pronoun these plainly points to or indicates something, showing that the drama is in progress. Then they appoint two others from among those who stood 'among those that were spirits' (Abraham 3:23). Again the definite pronoun that calls our attention to parties who are not mentioned but are obviously indicated by gesture—these are stage directions.

"Things being thus decided, the Lord said 'Whom should I send?' Here we should note that thirty-three of the forty-two verses in Moses 1 begin with the word and. This in our narrative is the so-called wåw-conversive in Hebrew, which converts the past to a future tense, giving it the sense of stage direction: 'The Lord shall say.' To his question, 'one answered [or one shall answer] like unto the Son of Man,' obviously stepping forward: 'Here I am, send me' (Abraham 3:27). The action is clearly indicated, but why 'one like unto the Son of Man'? Why not simply the Son of Man? Because plainly this is not the real character but an impersonation of him, one taking his part: 'like the Son of Man'"
(Abraham's Temple Drama).

This reading also gives new insight to the fact that Michael (whose name in Hebrew means “Who is like God”) serves as a "type" of Christ, or shadow of things to come. And in my opinion, what a significant way to get this mortal drama kicked off!

Christmas Lights "Ditto"

Monday, December 14, 2009

Make a Heaven out of Hell

Last week I read The Blind Side — mostly a true story. (While I haven't yet seen the movie "The Blind Side", I'm looking forward to it.) Turns out that there's an interesting BYU/Evangelical Christian connection that wasn't mentioned in the film:

"In the film, "Oher needs a 2.5 grade-point average and ekes out with 2.52. The part about a 2.52 is correct, but in fact he needed a 2.65 average. He was able to raise his grades to that average by getting high school credits through a remote-education program sponsored by Brigham Young University. 'The Mormons may be going to hell. But they really are nice people,' Sean Tuohy is quoted as saying in the book excerpt."

Yesterday I read the following quote by Joseph Smith and couldn't help but think of Sean Tuohy's statement. The two fit quite nicely together! It also happens to be the ultimate of "turning lemons into lemonade":

..."let me be resurrected with the Saints, whether I ascend to heaven or descend to hell, or go to any other place. And if we go to hell, we will turn the devils out of doors and make a heaven of it. Where this people are, there is good society.” ("Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith", Chapter 45, quote #21)

So there you have it, Sean. We'll simply make a heaven out of hell!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

My Kind of Christian

I recently came across a blog run by a Christian man who said that the book "How Wide the Divide?" was "key" in changing the way he related to Mormonism. I was impressed by his newfound understanding of the importance of talking "with individuals about their faith, rather than relying exclusively or even mostly on what their denomination 'believes'".

But I was even more impressed with a beautifully written and wonderful statement in his "About Me" profile introduction:

"First and foremost, I am saved by God's grace as manifested most clearly through the atoning death of Jesus Christ-- and thus, adopted into His family. As a result, I increasingly seek to extend His grace to others in my daily life."

My heart truly resonates with that statement. It also causes me to have a little bit of "holy envy." I wish I could hear, and experience, more of this kind of talk (and conviction) in my own ward and greater LDS Christian/Mormon tradition.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

[Mormon] Faith in the Public Sector

On, David Frum has written an excellent and intriguing article entitled: "Should Romney's faith be an obstacle?"

Obviously I don't think his faith should be a big deal, but I understand the concerns of those who think it is. It certainly seems to complicate things. But should complexities matter?

I believe a healthy and robust dialogue becomes imperative to reach better mutual understanding--especially when it involves religious nuances. People must also be willing to suspend their own personal biases and strive to see things from the "other" perspective.

While I think most people tolerate a little faith in the public sector, it's vexing to see religious bigotry come out (whether soft or hard) when Mormonism is made an issue. Somehow, it then becomes a different ball-game.

I recommend people judge Romney as an individual and not by his Mormonism--what does that even mean anyway? Take him on his own terms. At least that's what I would want for myself.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Spotlight: Why Pornography is Wrong (It's Not Really About Sex)

There's a lot of depth to this post. Not only is it beautifully written, it's insightful and powerful:

Why Pornography is Wrong (It's Not Really About Sex)

A sample:

"In normal, healthy, husband-and-wife sex, two people have to work together to find mutual pleasure and joy in physical expression. That's why it is such hard work, and why so many people struggle with it. It is not that there is anything wrong with the individuals, it is that divinely-sanctioned sex is not meant to be easy. It is not meant to be about fulfilling one's own needs, it is meant to be about seeking ways to meet a spouse's needs. When two people attempt this, there is bound to be missteps along the way. However, when this is done, husband and wife form strong bonds of love as they seek their spouse's needs before their own (very powerful) ones. Sex should be a form of charity held sacred to be performed only between husband and wife, so there can be a bond between them that no others share..."

"...Is pornography wrong because it exploits women? Undoubtedly. But it also exploits the viewer or reader, teaching them that joy comes only from control. In the end, that is far more damaging."

Friday, November 20, 2009

Reactions to Family Armor?

2010 Update: "Family Armor" was not picked up by TLC.

While it was interesting to see the business side of Texas Armoring, I was a bit uncomfortable watching the family aspect of Family Armor. I found myself wondering if any ordinary person would assume that that is how all Mormons are. The family approach just wasn't my cup of tea. Or hot chocolate. Whatever.

Camera's in every room? "Someone is always watching". Seriously?

I don't know about other Mormons, but I know that "obedience" shouldn't come out of fear, pressure, or coercion. It should come out of love and gratitude for what God has done for us in providing a Savior.

One more point of criticism. The father of the niece (who wanted to come home to her own family) basically told her on the phone that while they want her to come home, she would essentially stay there forever if she didn't shape up. (I know I'm paraphrasing, but it still seemed odd--too strict--and something I would never say to my daughters.)

Perhaps the TV show didn't really portray reality (or maybe it did), but I found myself thinking about how I don't live the gospel like that. I even found myself saying at one point: "If I weren't Mormon and I was watching this, I'd probably think to myself 'I'm glad I'm not a member of that church'". Sad to say.

Am I being too harsh? Any other reactions? (Positive or negative?)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"Family Armor"

As a Mormon in San Antonio, this show is especially intriguing to me. I've set the DVR to record Thursday night's premier of "Family Armor", and I'm looking forward to it. Regardless of my faith, it just seems like it would be a fascinating show on multiple levels. Even better that it takes place so close to home!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

On A Personal Note...

Guess it's time for a new blog header! Our family has now grown by one--a boy. Jericho Bryven (after his grandpa's Bryant and Steven) was born Monday, November 2nd--8lbs 1oz, 22 inches long. Both he and his mom are doing well.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bound to the Lord

Spotlighting an excellent post: I the Lord Am Bound, by Sam MB at By Common Consent.

Some of my favorite lines:

“When I think about binding God, this is the image that fills my soul with light. That God has adopted me, that he will claim me–bedraggled, bemused, bedeviled me–as his son, that he will allow our relationship to be the tender and overwhelming and often ineffable relation of parent to child. This to me is the great promise and reassurance of the possibility that God is willing to be bound to us.”

“God is not a vending machine”

“In my times of yearning and struggle, when I most hunger for God’s presence, it is the promise of a 'bond and covenant that cannot be broken' that buoys me up.”

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Accounting For The Book of Mormon

Jeffrey R. Holland's recent sermon and testimony has put a spotlight back on the Book of Mormon. It was a powerful and moving address. Three great commentaries on the talk can be found here at Mormanity, Dave's Mormon Inquiry, and Life on Gold Plates.

While his primary audience obviously consisted of believers in the truthfulness of Book of Mormon, it once again piqued my curiosity about how non-believers account for the Book of Mormon. I've been curious enough to try and step into others' shoes to see how they account for it. And while I often find myself being able to empathize with their position, I also repeatedly find their explanations frustratingly insufficient. Perhaps that sentiment goes both ways.

Nevertheless, for those who do not believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God, explaining it away presents a serious and difficult challenge. Most do not step up to the challenge at all, and dismiss it far too easily. Those who so quickly dismiss it never seem to convincingly articulate why, or at least how they do account for it. It's one thing to question various pieces of a puzzle, but to dismiss this puzzle without examining so many significant and important pieces seems reckless and irresponsible.

After examining any and all of these alternative explanations, it's still more improbable for me to believe that Joseph Smith, and those witnesses who saw and felt the plates, were lying the whole time. Not that people don't lie; people lie all the time. But in this case, look at what was at stake! And what would have been the motive for even attempting to pass off a "19th century hoax" as a sacred record and ancient witness of Jesus Christ? These are not unreasonable questions. And I think they demand good and reasonable answers, especially if I were to be persuaded to change my mind regarding the Book of Mormon--that it truly is what it purports to be.

I most certainly would need someone to do much better in making a case than regurgitating the same explanations that have already been brought forward. That Joseph thought it would be fun to get involved with magic, produce a hoax, and then live the unrelenting and persecuted life he lived in defending that lie--even eventually giving his life for it--just doesn't work for me.

As Elder Holland recently pointed out, why would Joseph and Hyrum turn to a fabricated hoax for spiritual strength and comfort right before they were killed? Meanwhile, there still cannot be found a reasonable and good explanation for how it was fabricated in the first place. Either Joseph was a genius who wrote it himself or he improbably got help from some other ghostwriter(s). And if the best someone can do is connect a few verses of Alma 40 with similarities from the 32nd chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith, or say that Joseph just copied from some other manuscript, then an explanation has been attempted for only a small portion of the book. But how was the rest of it written? What of the rest of Alma, or Mosiah, or the vast majority of the rest of the Book of Mormon? Certainly there are many other complicated books which have single authors (J. R. R. Tolkien comes to mind), but what of the Book of Mormon's powerful, moving, and convincing witness of the divinity of Christ, our Redeemer? After all, Christ is the central character and focus in the Book of Mormon from beginning to end. Was Joseph Smith really capable of that?

So far the "best" explanation I've been given by a thoughtful critic of the Book of Mormon is that it's simply a "hodge podge of various common 18th century themes, sources, and religious controversies combined into an imaginative and compelling story." But even this explanation doesn't give the entirety of the Book of Mormon and all it represents the amount of thought that it demands. And besides, didn't Alexander Campbell already say essentially the same thing while calling Joseph an impostor back in 1831? Such a flippant explanation does indeed seem a little pathetic for someone familiar with the totality of the Book of Mormon, let alone the abilities of Joseph Smith or the unbelievable help (aka: vast conspiracy) Joseph would have needed to pull off such an amazing scam.

It's actually harder for me to believe these alternative explanations than to simply believe that God and angels were involved. And as crazy as that can sound to a non-believer, it shouldn't be that crazy for any believer in the Bible, which also describes angelic visitations. Knowing what I know, it would require a greater "jump of reason" for me to conclude that the Book of Mormon wasn't brought forth by the "gift and power of God".

The Book of Mormon continues to be a marvel to me. I continue to be amazed at its relevance in my life today, as well as the great wisdom and power I find in its pages. And while I'm open minded about the actual translation process and even the presence of seeming anachronisms, those points all seem to miss the point. The Book is of God. I feel similar to Blake Ostler, who recently wrote on another blog: "The Book of Mormon is like breath to me. I love its teachings and passages so much that they are like a part of my soul."

And even I fail at fully accounting for all that it has meant for me.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Capturing Conference

Conference was wonderful. There were many highlights, but Elder Holland blew me away. It reminded me of his testimony of the Book of Mormon in "Christ and the New Covenant", only delivered orally and aimed at preventing Latter-day "hearts" from failing. I'm looking forward for the printed texts to become available. In the meantime, I've downloaded the audio of Elder Holland's address.

Something else new and exciting is that the music from each conference session is now available for individual download. Looks like you can download the individual songs back to October of last year. I've currently got "O Divine Redeemer" in my iTunes on repeat. Moving, powerful, and right to the heart of the gospel. Capture your favorite Conference highlights for yourself!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Personal Memories of General Conference

I always look forward to General Conference. I especially look forward to participating with my family from the comforts of our own home (thank you BYUTV!). Yet there's also the realization that it ends all too quickly! So today, as I look forward to Conference, I thought it would also be nice to look back. Here are a few of my favorite personal General Conference memories:

April 1999
Singing in the Priesthood Session inside the Tabernacle my freshman year in college. It was Mac Wilberg's last year at BYU. We sang his arrangement of "The Spirit of God like a fire is burning", with all the key changes. I felt like angels were going to lift me through the roof and take me straight to heaven.

April 2001
Sitting in a chapel in Duran, Ecuador with my missionary companion, Elder De Leon, from Guatemala. President Hinckley announced The Perpetual Education Fund and I was overcome with joy at the realization that this blessing would directly impact Elder De Leon when he returned home.

October 2002
I was in Las Vegas as one of the "best men" at the wedding of a friend of mine (not LDS). My flight back to Salt Lake took place during the Sunday morning session of General Conference. I was hoping we'd land in time to at least hear President Hinckley's concluding remarks. After grabbing my luggage, I ran to my car and turned on the radio. Elder Eyring was just finishing his talk. President Hinckley was next.

I drove downtown and circled around and around Temple Square with the radio on, listening to a prophets voice speak about The Marvelous Foundation of Our Faith: "We declare without equivocation that God the Father and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, appeared in person to the boy Joseph Smith. When I was interviewed by Mike Wallace on the 60 Minutes program, he asked me if I actually believed that. I replied, "Yes, sir. That's the miracle of it." That is the way I feel about it. Our whole strength rests on the validity of that vision. It either occurred or it did not occur. If it did not, then this work is a fraud. If it did, then it is the most important and wonderful work under the heavens."

October 2003
I accompanied my wonderful grandmother to every single general session inside the Conference Center. She had flown in from Oregon and was determined to be at each session in person. She's now 94.

April 2003
Singing in a combined BYU Choir in the Conference Center. We'd been practicing a well known version of "If You Could Hie To Kolob". Right before Conference the First Presidency requested we sing an older version with an entirely different tune. It grew on me. That session Elder Eyring gave a talk entitled "A Child and a Disciple". He ended with a witness that will always be special to me: "I testify that Jesus is the Christ, that He is my Savior and yours and the Savior of all the people you will ever meet."

April 2004
Sitting in the Conference Center with my dad, brothers, and future brothers-in-law; hearing Elder Maxwell testify: "God has known you individually, brethren, for a long, long time (see D&C 93:23). He has loved you for a long, long time. He not only knows the names of all the stars (see Ps. 147:4; Isa. 40:26); He knows your names and all your heartaches and your joys! By the way, you have never seen an immortal star; they finally expire. But seated by you tonight are immortal individuals—imperfect but who are, nevertheless, 'trying to be like Jesus'!"

The next morning I sat inside the Conference Center with my future wife--having just been engaged the night before. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang "For The Beauty of The Earth", and when they sang the line "For the joy of human love" I wondered if that line was meant for that very moment. I was sitting next to the woman I was going to spend eternity with, and I couldn't have been filled with more light, joy, and love.

That session Julie Beck gave a talk entitled "A 'Mother Heart'". My wife truly has a mother heart. Liriel Domiciano had been invited to sing a rare solo with the Tabernacle Choir and it was truly magnificent--"I Know That My Redeemer Lives". That's my testimony too, and it goes right to the bone.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What Goes On Inside Mormon Temples?

In a day and age in which online conversations about Mormonism can sometimes make your head spin, it's refreshing to encounter a video so simple, informative, and presented in such a way that even the most informed can appreciate:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Two Testimonies of Christ: From a Current and a Former Mormon

Today, within minutes of each other, I read testimonies from two sincere followers of Christ. While each focuses on his current life in Christ, the paths each traveled have been very different. Yet, both are enlightening and worthy of reflection.

In Why I Left The Mormon Church, Mike shares his testimony about how Jesus, not a church, is the head of our salvation. Thus, his is a testimony with which I completely agree. I only feel sad that this truth was not reinforced and made more obvious during the dozen years Mike was still a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This line of his struck me as so very tragic: "I had believed in [Jesus Christ] for years, but I had been taught that the way to salvation was by obedience to the Mormon church. The church had effectively stood between me and God".

I can't blame him for leaving. I can only hope that his experience is a rare exception. If there are others who feel this way, how can we ensure that the ball doesn't get dropped? All I can say is that I'm so glad my personal experience has been quite the opposite. I have come to truly know Jesus and feel of his saving grace and power. I've also been a life-long Mormon.

In Ray's A Testimony for My Birthday, the "central point is that I have experienced and continue to experience God in my life as a follower of Christ who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."

While my own experience more closely reflects Ray's, reading these two testimonies back to back made me curious how many people out there would fall into the experiences of the former or the latter. It's disheartening to think about even one person who can go for a year, let alone a dozen, being outwardly active in the Church while not truly inwardly active in Christ. It reminds me of Stephen Robinson's analogy of those sitting in a cold, dark room pretending to be warmed by all the heaters and the lamps without actually having turned on the power switch. Or put another way, truly being made "alive in Christ because of our faith" (2nd Nephi 25:25).

While I don't think this challenge is necessarily unique to the Latter-day Saints, it is nevertheless a challenge. I feel part of my personal mission is to share the "good news" with those who still haven't "got it", whether LDS or not.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Finding Hope

A powerful story "from the tragedy and trauma of 9/11 to hope, healing, and renewal through Jesus Christ."

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Who Are the Mormons?

Sometimes it's hard to get accurate information about various religious groups directly, without the filter that others often put in the way. I frequently feel this way as I try to learn about other faith groups and how they frame themselves. Thus, I found the "Who Are the Mormons?" link quite helpful as an introduction to what Latter-day Saints are all about. I hope others feel the same way.

I especially appreciated this clear explanation:

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a restoration of New Testament Christianity as taught by Jesus and His apostles. It is not Protestant, evangelical, Catholic or Orthodox. Nevertheless, the basic values of morality, civility and family espoused by the Church are similar to those of most other Christian faiths. Church members find refuge from the uncertainties of the world in the gospel message of hope and happiness. The reality that life has divine purpose, that God cares for each individual and that everyone has the capacity for improvement through correct choices is a central theme of Mormon thought."

For those who are already familiar with Mormons, it might be interesting to read about The Centrality of Christ from the LDS perspective. It may serve as a good launching point in the important conversation about what we believe about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Doctrine of a Plurality of Gods Is Not Polytheism

By request, rather than diverging in the comments section of a recent post, I'm dedicating a new post as a place of discussion concerning some matters of confusion. It involves belief in a plurality of gods, which some credal Christians mistake for polytheism. (One disclaimer for those who mistakenly insist that LDS are polytheists: even evangelical scholar Gerald McDermott has conceded that Mormons are not polytheists, and clarifies that "polytheism portrays a world in which competing gods either vie for ultimate authority or have delimited provinces over which they rule".)

While the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are separate beings, they function as one God, or Godhead, to oversee, bless, and save the human family. There is no competition between Them. They are "one", and share a perfect love and unity. Moreover, They desire that we too share a relationship of love. See "That They May Be One As We Are One".

To avoid confusion, I should clarify and separate two different concepts here. There are two different kinds of plurality: the plurality within the Godhead (only three) and the plurality that arises from the fact that exalted children of God can be called gods. Whether we're talking about a plurality of Gods within the Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost), or a plurality of gods (ie: all the "sons of God"), it doesn't change the fact that there is only one true source of worship, love, power, light, and glory in the universe--God the Eternal Father, His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost.

Elder M. Russell Ballard touched on both kinds of "plurality" and their accompanying confusion years ago in a talk entitled, "Building Bridges of Understanding":
[An] area of misunderstanding among some of our friends in Christianity is that they refer to us as “polytheists,” meaning that we believe in a plurality of Gods. Much misunderstanding would be avoided if they understood that we worship only one Godhead, consisting of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. We believe that the biblical record teaches that God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are separate persons. When the Savior was baptized, the Father spoke His approval from heaven, and the Holy Ghost was witnessed to be present by the sign of a dove (see Matt. 3:16–17). Likewise the Bible records the prayers of Jesus Christ to our Father in Heaven, a separate being (see John 17:3). We believe this doctrine is taught in the Bible despite what the creeds of other Christian denominations may teach. Such creeds were created hundreds of years after Christ’s mortal ministry through the processes of debate and compromise, often at the expense of biblical truths. The falling away from the teachings of Jesus Christ resulted in the Apostasy, which made the restoration of the gospel essential. This is a subject to be studied by all; the various Christian creeds were born through church councils and other efforts to define the true nature of God and His Son, Jesus Christ. Through revelations to modern prophets, we now know God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost and our true relationship to each one of them.

There is another related dimension of the scriptures that causes discomfort for many traditional Christians regarding this whole matter. We believe our Father in Heaven has promised His faithful sons and daughters “all things”—even that those worthy of exaltation in the celestial kingdom will be as “gods, even the sons of God” and that “these shall dwell in the presence of God and His Christ forever and ever” (see D&C 76:55, 58, 62). Although we do not know the full detail of these promises or what is fully meant by being “gods, even the sons of God,” we do accept these promises as revealed doctrine. Yet notwithstanding these promises, we say that for us there is indeed no other object of worship than God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Now, in fairness to credal Christians, the doctrine of the Trinity also recognizes that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are separate persons (that is, that the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father), but it holds that these divine persons mysteriously share the same ousia, substance, or being. Latter-day Saints recognize that there is more than one way to worship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as "one God" than simply numerically as one ousia. These three divine persons are one in purpose, love, unity, and just about every other way except physically. Thus, Mormons also believe in "one God", even though we know each has their own being/ousia. (ie: D&C 20:28: "Which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal, without end."). Therefore, notwithstanding this separateness of being, or plurality of Gods within the Godhead, because they are "one", there is no polytheism.

On the most misunderstood point of a plurality of gods in reference to LDS belief in deification, people need to understand that "becoming a god" is not the equivalent of setting up independently from God, replacing or displacing God, or competing with God. Deification involves becoming the sons of God, and this is done only in and through a loving relationship with God, and becoming one with the Father and the Son as Christ prayed we would in John 17. Stephen Robinson explains in his book "Are Mormons Christians?":

Some believe that certain LDS doctrines are so bizarre, so totally foreign to biblical or historical Christianity, that they simply cannot be tolerated. In terms of the LDS doctrines most often criticized on these grounds, however –the doctrine of deification and its corollary, the plurality of gods–this claim does not hold up to historical scrutiny. Early Christian saints and theologians, later Greek Orthodoxy, modern Protestant evangelists, and even C. S. Lewis have all professed their belief in a doctrine of deification. The scriptures themselves talk of many "gods" and use the term god in a limited sense for beings other than the Father, the Son, or the Holy Ghost. If this language is to be tolerated in scripture and in ancient and modern orthodox Christians without cries of "polytheism!" then it must be similarly tolerated in the Latter-day Saints.

If scripture can use the term gods for nonultimate beings, if the early Church could, if Christ himself could, then Latter-day Saints cannot conceivably be accused of being outside the Christian tradition for using the same term in the same way.

I don't need to argue whether the doctrine is true, although I certainly believe it is. I am only arguing that other Christians of unimpeachable orthodoxy have believed in deification long before the Latter-day Saints came along, and that it has been accepted and tolerated in them as part of their genuine Christianity. Fair play demands the same treatment for the Latter-day Saints

God Bless The Women In Our Lives

"How thankful I am, how thankful we all must be, for the women in our lives. God bless them. May His great love distill upon them and crown them with luster and beauty, grace and faith. And may His Spirit distill upon us as men and lead us ever to hold them in respect, in gratitude, giving encouragement, strength, nurture, and love, which is the very essence of the gospel of our Redeemer and Lord."

-Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Women in Our Lives"

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Chief End of God

John Piper seems to be one of the most highly respected Calvinist thinkers today. I say this only to set up the fact that his book, Desiring God, is highly respected by Calvinists. Now, I can personally find much to admire in the devotion of many Calvinists. But by reading one little excerpt from Pipers' book, I found that the Latter-day Saint and Calvinist view on the chief end of God could hardly be any starker:
"The ultimate ground of Christian Hedonism is the fact that God is uppermost in His own affections:

The chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy Himself forever

The reason this may sound strange is that we are more accustomed to think about our duty than God's design. And when we do ask about God's design, we are too prone to describe it with ourselves at the center of God's affections. We may say, for example, that His design is to redeem the world. Or to save sinners. Or to restore creation. Or the like.

But God's saving designs are penultimate, not ultimate. Redemption, salvation, and restoration are not God's ultimate goal. These He performs for the sake of something greater: namely, the enjoyment He has in glorifying Himself. The bedrock foundation of Christian Hedonism is not God's allegiance to us, but to Himself.

If God were not infinitely devoted to the preservation, display, and enjoyment of His own glory, we could have no hope of finding happiness in Him. But if He does in fact employ all His sovereign power and infinite wisdom to maximise the enjoyment of His own glory, then we have a foundation on which to stand and rejoice."

Turns out, according to Calvinists, that God is quite narcissistic. I'm almost stunned by the acceptance that God would create such a breath-taking universe and set up such a marvelous plan of redemption, ultimately merely for Himself. No. There's more to it than that. God maximizes His enjoyment and glory in seeing His children become more than we are now--more than we could ever become without Him. In short, God's work and glory is us! "For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." (Moses 1:39).

He takes joy in helping His children advance and become like Him, one with Him. Now that is true love and grace. That is certainly a reason to be filled with ultimate gratitude, love, and praise. Yes, God is superlatively great, but He's not selfish. Similarly to how I take the most satisfaction from seeing my own children learn and grow, I deeply believe He receives His chief pleasure by watching and helping his own children grow and become like Him. Through the enabling power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we can become exalted through His grace, sharing in His quality of life. That, to me, is the chief end of God--not egotistically taking pleasure in Himself.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Calling All Calvinists...(or one or two)

While participating in a recent discussion on the foreknowledge of God and free will, I wondered how a Calvinist, who believes that everything in the future is already predestined and fixed, makes sense of the idea of real “free will”.

Sincere question: Are there any Calvinists out there that could fill me in on this from the Calvinist perspective?

Monday, August 3, 2009

True Christians and Grace

I recently came across this gem from Blake Ostler:

The Book of Mormon is a great place to go to find the LDS doctrine of grace. However, we often butcher it beyond recognition. The notion that we are saved by grace “after all we can do” is often translated into “we must do all that we can do first in order to be saved by grace.” Of course, such a reading eviscerates the text of any notion of grace at all. What it really means, it seems to me, is that by the grace of God, through Christ’s atonement, we are made free to choose for ourselves. Herein lies the difference between LDS and at least Calvinist evangelicals (and we shouldn’t lump together Arminians with Calvinists since they are two very different way of elucidating grace).

Here is the issue. The Book of Mormon teaches that we are free by grace to choose for ourselves. We are made free to repent of our sins and to turn to Christ in the act of repentance (which I think is based on the Hebrew term for “repent,” shuv, which means merely to turn around). However, if we must do something to receive the grace, then Calvinist evangelicals will reject it as a gospel of works (just as they reject Arminianism for the same reason). However, the Calvinist view of grace faces insuperable problems. According to them, because of original sin we are utterly incapable of choosing or repenting for ourselves. Therefore, if we are saved, it must be God who makes the choice as to whom is saved and who is damned. We arrive that easily at the doctrine of predestination which is entailed the Calvinist notion of grace. If we have no say in accepting grace, then it must be all up to God and predestination follows. If we have some say, then it won’t count as grace for many evangelicals.

In my view, I love the re-orietation of the doctrine of grace in LDS scripture. I view justification, the act of being born again, converted or “saved by grace” as the equivalent of entering into relationship with the Father through Christ. He accepts us into relationship without any conditions attached in pure love (we could call it ‘unconditional love’ except for the apostate and misbegotten view that uncondtional love is not a part of the gospel of Christ that has infiltrated our doctrine). We are thus accepted into relationship with God through sheer grace alone without works of any kind. All that we can do is accept the gift of love, the gift of the Son, that the Father offers to us unconditionally. However, once in the covenant relationship (entered through baptism), we must abide by the commandments to remain in the relationship and grow in in the process of sanctification toward glorification and exaltation. However, these commandments are not heavy burdens but merely ways we are taught that loving people treat each other. “Works” are always “works of love,” the works that follow from abiding the law of love that summarizes all of the commandments.

To those who complain that repenting as a condition of salvation reinstates a gospel of works, I reply that repentance merely means giving up those behaviors and ways of being that alienate us and keep us from accepting of the gift of love that is offered to us. When a person holds out his hands to accept a gift it is not a “work” in the sense that earns the gift, but merely the willing acceptance of a gift. Here is the key difference in my view: the gift offered is a loving relationship — and a person who loves another always leaves the other free to choose whether to enter into relationship and whether to maintain it. Love, by its very nature, is freely chosen. That is why the evangelical (Calvinist) view of grace is actually the opposite of grace, for it doesn’t leave the beloved free to accept or reject the loving relationship that is offered.

One final comment. Whereas salvation or being freed from sin is a matter of grace, the reward that we receive is always a matter of judgment of the works done while in this mortal life. If we confuse these two, then we will confuse the scheme of grace and works. We will be judged and receive according to our deeds. Works relate to the life we live after we learn to love and accept the loving relationship which saves us in Christ. However, these works are not done because commanded (although they are part of the love commandment), they are done because we love one another. And by these works of love we know who the true Christians are.

-Comment #10 on God’s Plan of Grace (/of Love/of Happiness/of Salvation)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Good Works/Dead Works and Appreciating a variety of Fruit

Spotlighting an excellent post: Producing Fruits, Not Just Works. A short excerpt:

The only "works" we can do that will have eternal impact and efficacy are those that are produced as a result of a connection to the Vine - that flow from the Spirit, are internalized into our very being and "produce" a more "perfect" (complete, whole and fully developed) soul. The challenge, in my opinion, is NOT to "do more". Rather, the challenge is to "do God's will" - to do what He wants us to do - to become what He wants us to become.

I also am convinced that this is a personal quest - that what he wants ME to do might be very different than what he wants YOU to do - and that I am forbidden to judge you if He produces peaches through me and grapes through you. That lack of judgmentalism (true charity) is one particular fruit of the vine - but my challenge this month is to be more able to understand and do what he wants ME to understand and do. In a nutshell, it is to be more in tune with personal revelation - and to follow it in my life to produce "good works" - the fruit he will share with and through me.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

An Obvious Contrast in "Love"

I feel compelled to share an obvious contrast between two quotes I recently read very close together. They come from two very different men who share a common desire to speak out of love for God's children:

Aaron Shafovaloff (ardent critic of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints):

"The Mormon Church is an evil, corrupt, dysfunctional organization that lacks integrity, institutional repentance, and a real pastoral love that yields clarity, crisp contrasts, and more practical bottom-up measures of correction and methods to afford checks and balances."

Henry B. Eyring (First Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints):

"Our goal when we teach our children to pray is for them to want God to write upon their hearts and be willing then to go and do what God asks of them. It is possible for our children to have faith enough, from what they see us do and what we teach, that they can feel at least part of what the Savior felt as He prayed to have the strength to make His infinite sacrifice for us: “And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39).

"I have had prayers answered. Those answers were most clear when what I wanted was silenced by an overpowering need to know what God wanted. It is then that the answer from a loving Heavenly Father can be spoken to the mind by the still, small voice and can be written on the heart."

Can the contrast be any starker?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

How Do You Define A "Christian"?

My last post spotlighted the very articulate Latter-day Saint, Rachel Esplin. This post spotlights another video from that very same presentation--the one of Liz Cook (a Presbyterian) speaking about her faith as a Christian. The awkward opening minutes demonstrate the fact that the debate over whether Latter-day Saints are "Christians" is alive and well.

Moreover, "the debate of the definitions" (as I'll call it) continues even among media who specialize in issues of faith. Before introducing Liz Cook (the final one to speak), Sally Quinn (journalist for the Washington Post and founder of "On Faith") speaks of how important it was for her to get someone like Liz because she wanted to make sure that there was at least one Christian on the panel. Rachel Esplin pipes in saying "I'm a Christian". At that point, Ms. Quinn doesn't seem sure how to respond, and fumbles into mentioning how much time is left for the (apparently one and only) Christian on the panel.

I know that many Christians are adamant that Mormons are not "Christian", but what they should really say is that Mormons are heretical Christians. We don't fit the traditional, orthodox mold. And I can agree with not being a part of Traditional Christianity, since Mormonism teaches some aspect of apostasy or "falling away" from and then a restoration of some form of Christianity. But to say that Mormons are not Christian in any sense doesn't recognize our deeply held Christology.

Based on the definition used by Liz Cook (the identified Christian on the panel), I'm pleased to say that Latter-day Saints can certainly fit the label of "Christian". She said that being a Christian "literally means just becoming like Christ...I believe that Jesus Christ is God's Son that He sent to us to save us from our sin...Being a Christian just means being a follower of Christ and trying to develop a relationship with him and with God".

I like her definition. I think a vast majority of Mormons would fit that description. I'd be curious to know what definition Sally Quinn uses. What definition do the majority of Christians use?

On this point of how to define a Christian, it seems that modern Christians need to get their ducks in a row. On the one hand, some want to exclusively define a Christian as only those who conceive of God in Trinitarian terms, despite the fact that the doctrine of the Trinity wasn't hammered out until hundreds of years after the first Christians became Christians (also referred to in the New Testament as "saints"). On the other hand, many (like the Presbyterian in this clip) give a more appropriate definition of a Christian.

If being a Christian "literally means just becoming like Christ...[believing] that Jesus Christ is God's Son that He sent to us to save us from our sin...being a follower of Christ and trying to develop a relationship with him and with God", then I as a Latter-day Saint certainly can't be excluded from the term "Christian". I believe this definition would certainly fit the original "Saints", and I believe it fits well with Latter-day Saints too.

Liz Cook goes on to state: "My most important thing is my identity with Jesus Christ". Amen to that!

Day of Faith: Personal Quests for a Purpose - 6. Liz Cook from Harvard Hillel on Vimeo.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Harvard Undergrad Explains Her Mormon Faith

I first saw this video last year around Christmastime when Aquinas posted Harvard undergraduate explains her Mormon faith. Rachel Esplin is/was the president of the Latter-day Saint Student Association at Harvard University. I was impressed then and continue to be impressed now.

Day of Faith: Personal Quests for a Purpose - 3. Rachel Esplin from Harvard Hillel on Vimeo.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

An Open Canon of Scripture: Gods Words Never Cease

"Some Christians, in large measure because of their genuine love for the Bible, have declared that there can be no more authorized scripture beyond the Bible. In thus pronouncing the canon of revelation closed, our friends in some other faiths shut the door on divine expression that we in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hold dear: the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and the ongoing guidance received by God’s anointed prophets and apostles. Imputing no ill will to those who take such a position, nevertheless we respectfully but resolutely reject such an unscriptural characterization of true Christianity."

Elder Holland goes on to say that "the fact of the matter is that virtually every prophet of the Old and New Testament has added scripture to that received by his predecessors. If the Old Testament words of Moses were sufficient, as some could have mistakenly thought them to be, then why, for example, the subsequent prophecies of Isaiah or of Jeremiah, who follows him? To say nothing of Ezekiel and Daniel, of Joel, Amos, and all the rest. If one revelation to one prophet in one moment of time is sufficient for all time, what justifies these many others? What justifies them was made clear by Jehovah Himself when He said to Moses, “My works are without end, and . . . my words . . . never cease."

"One Protestant scholar has inquired tellingly into the erroneous doctrine of a closed canon. He writes: 'On what biblical or historical grounds has the inspiration of God been limited to the written documents that the church now calls its Bible? . . . If the Spirit inspired only the written documents of the first century, does that mean that the same Spirit does not speak today in the church about matters that are of significant concern?” We humbly ask those same questions."

"Continuing revelation does not demean or discredit existing revelation. The Old Testament does not lose its value in our eyes when we are introduced to the New Testament, and the New Testament is only enhanced when we read the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. In considering the additional scripture accepted by Latter-day Saints, we might ask: Were those early Christians who for decades had access only to the primitive Gospel of Mark (generally considered the first of the New Testament Gospels to be written)—were they offended to receive the more detailed accounts set forth later by Matthew and Luke, to say nothing of the unprecedented passages and revelatory emphasis offered later yet by John? Surely they must have rejoiced that ever more convincing evidence of the divinity of Christ kept coming. And so do we rejoice..."

"One other point needs to be made. Since it is clear that there were Christians long before there was a New Testament or even an accumulation of the sayings of Jesus, it cannot therefore be maintained that the Bible is what makes one a Christian. In the words of esteemed New Testament scholar N. T. Wright, “The risen Jesus, at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, does not say, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth is given to the books you are all going to write,’ but [rather] ‘All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me.’ “ In other words, “Scripture itself points . . . away from itself and to the fact that final and true authority belongs to God himself.” So the scriptures are not the ultimate source of knowledge for Latter-day Saints. They are manifestations of the ultimate source. The ultimate source of knowledge and authority for a Latter-day Saint is the living God. The communication of those gifts comes from God as living, vibrant, divine revelation."

-Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “My Words . . . Never Cease

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

My Take on Joseph Smith's King Follet Sermon

I've shared the following thoughts about Joseph's King Follet Sermon with others elsewhere. Admittedly, they're not that original. But they are, nevertheless, now my thoughts. These are the words I have chosen to express what not only feels right, but what makes the most sense to me after having read Joseph in context.

For those who haven't read the sermon, the most common format is the amalgamated version (which is accessible in two parts here and here. The non-amalgamated scribe notes (which I find more valuable) can be found here). I think it's critical to try to step away from years of implicit assumptions and interpretations about it and and look at what Joseph was explicitly teaching. I've taken a great interest in this sermon and topic. By most accounts, Joseph teaches some pretty radical doctrine (at least as far as the traditional Christian world is concerned), but that's one of the things I love most about Joseph Smith!

First off, I think too many people pick one or two quotes out of context and interpret Joseph to be teaching that God was once not God, but was once merely a man--even sinful--exactly like us. And this despite the fact that Christ was God before he took upon himself flesh and was also sinless throughout his mortality. Not only do I believe that this is a significant misinterpretation of Joseph Smith, but I also fail to see how that teaching would have been any comfort for a funeral sermon. (Remember that the occasion for the sermon was the sudden and accidental death of Joseph's close friend, King Follet). Rather, here's how I personally understand Joseph Smith. He took this occasion to declare a "great secret"--that God the Father once had a mortal experience. To paraphrase Joseph, "we've supposed that God has always been right where he is, eternally dwelling in His heaven, without any changes. But that's actually not the case! He too came to an earth and took upon himself mortality!" That is the great secret. Not that he hasn't always been God, but that He too had a mortal experience. God our Father understands us perfectly, even in the midst of trials and death, since he's been through it too!

Nevertheless, Joseph was not teaching that the Father's mortal experience was undertaken exactly like ours (that is, not as God), but rather "the same as Jesus Christ". Jesus Christ was also "a man", but like the Father, He was God while he had His mortal experience. We, on the other hand, are mere mortals, and clearly there is a difference between our mortal experience and that of Christ's, not the least of which was the fact that he was perfect and that he never sinned. He was God, I am not. Therefore, the "great secret" wasn't that God was once not God, but that God is in the form of a man (albeit a supremely exalted one), and that he dwelt on an earth "the same as Jesus Christ Himself did". The real revolutionary teaching, of course, is that we're of the same kind or species as God! When Joseph says that God is a man like us, he's teaching that God isn't some "substance", but rather that humankind and the divine are of the same kind/species and are not permanently separate, despite the traditional Christian belief about the Creator/creature divide.

I reject the interpretation which holds that God the Father was once merely a man and then grew into becoming God. I'm sure that many people (including Church leaders) have probably made that assumption, and still do, but I think it's the weaker argument. For me, that's not only unscriptural but it just was not what Joseph was teaching as I go back and read the actual text(s). One thing that seems very clear to me is that Joseph did not mean to contradict scripture--and he doesn't. He never said he was going to refute the Bible, but rather, that he was going to show this teaching from the Bible! The teaching was that the Son can do nothing but what he sees the Father do. Therefore, the Father took on mortality, became embodied, and experienced mortality the same as Jesus did (as a perfect, sinless, human-God) with the power to take up his life again. This is a power we clearly do not share.

Some people assume too much and think that Joseph implied things he never actually taught. For example, I've seen some argue that if the foregoing is correct, and the Father experienced mortality more in line with how the Son/Jesus experienced mortality, then that must mean He too was a Savior and performed an atonement. But again, that's just not an explicit teaching of Joseph Smith, and people are on thin doctrinal ice by making those assumptions. Joseph simply teaches that the Father had power in himself "to lay down his body and take it up again". I still believe in only one "infinite atonement". I've come to believe that if the Father can create multiple worlds by the power of His Son (Moses 1:33), then he would also redeem those worlds by the power of His Son. Otherwise, we'd have to reinterpret what "infinite" means in "infinite atonement".

The King Follet sermon goes on to include many more marvelous teachings from a prophet of God, including the radical rejection of the traditional doctrine of creatio ex nihilo (or creation out of nothing). I find it so much easier to appreciate the sermon and the prophet by not getting caught up with troublesome interpretations that don't ring true. Too many people bring previous assumptions to the text, or even the Lorenzo Snow couplet, and read it through that filter, rather than looking at what Joseph Smith was actually teaching.

For the record, the Lorenzo Snow couplet states that "As man is God once was, as God is man may become". Both the Father and the Son can both correctly be referred to as God, so if we read this couplet as referring to God the Father, I think we need to remember what Joseph taught about God's mortal experience and the divine power he had while a mortal. We could gain another appreciation for it by interchanging "Jesus Christ" for "God". We know that He too was/is God--not only the Son of God, but God the Son--or as the Book of Mormon title page says, "the Eternal God". Thus, as man now is, Christ once was. As Christ now is, man may become. What does that mean? What does it not mean? If we drop our previously held assumptions, things become a lot clearer. And that's how I also view the Snow couplet, whether we're talking about the Father or the Son, they were once as man is now (experiencing mortality) and we can become divine too! That is the heart of the gospel!

Friday, July 3, 2009

An American Combination of Goodness and Greatness

I can hardly reflect on the significance of Independence Day without thinking of our history. As I contemplate the past, I find so many lessons for the present. One man who continues to teach me is Abraham Lincoln. General William Tecumseh Sherman summed up the man, Abraham Lincoln, with these words:

"Of all the men I ever met, he seemed to possess more of the elements of greatness, combined with goodness, than any other."

And that's what I love about Lincoln. He combined goodness and greatness. He himself said: "Whatever you are, be a good one". In my eyes, not only was he a good man, but he was a great president. He deserves so much credit for keeping our American experiment with democracy alive.

I remember showing a video during one of my first years teaching U.S. History about Abraham Lincoln's life and presidency. I'm not much of a crier. I don't know why. It's not like I object to getting emotional. I just really don't do it very often. But by the time that video ended, after his assassination, I actually felt like crying. I felt a sense of personal loss for a great man, and also a loss for how things could have worked out differently for our country.

As it turns out, thanks to him, things worked out pretty good. And as far as I'm concerned, the man lives up to the legend.

Happy Fourth of July.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

"Mormon Cosmology" and Substance Over Sweetness

Here's to emphasizing shinning substance over saccharine sweetness: Memoirs of a CES agent, by J. Stapley. One excerpt:

"My general shtick was to sit down on the Relief Society room table, open the scriptures, and ask the hard questions. I wanted them to engage the text and not just swallow a saccharine gloss. I wanted them to experience the words and power of God and be changed because of it. I prayed not for what to say, but that the students would think enough to interact and ask questions of their own.

The first day of class was the “plan of salvation” lesson – you know, with the circles. I told them that they should henceforth call it Mormon Cosmology and we spoke of its development in our own tradition and what it means for us. When I got home after class, my wife met me at the door and told me that my nephew, whom I love, died that morning, just one month after being married. That morning that cosmology was a comfort."

Read the rest of a great post at

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

"Hotter than Hell!"

I've spent the past few days with family in St. George, Utah. We had a blast, but it's sure hot here. 104 degrees right now as I sit in the airport waiting for the plane to fly back home. I think it hit 106 yesterday. I have a deeper appreciation for J. Golden Kimball's statement about this place in the summertime. He said that if he had a choice between spending the summer in St. George or Hell, he'd choose Hell, because "St. George is hotter than Hell!"

Sunday, June 28, 2009

On the Joys of Mormondom

Spotlighting a fantastic post by Andrew Ainsworth from over a year ago:

Why I Am Not a Disaffected Mormon

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Blake Ostler on the Book of Mormon

I absolutely love the Book of Mormon. My testimony of the Book of Mormon is that it is authentic. However, I’m very intrigued by Blake Ostler’s theory about it being a partial modern expansion of an ancient source. I haven’t studied his theory out completely to see how far he takes it, so I can’t say how much I agree or disagree. I’ve only read Updating the Expansion Theory, but I definitely think he may be onto something. It seems to fit well with what I understand about the translation process of the Book of Mormon. This is his final statement:

“I believe that the Book of Mormon is precisely what it claims to be: a book translated by the gift and power of God that tells us about the record of an ancient people. However, translation by the gift and power of God isn’t translation based upon an isomorphic rendering of an underlying text into English based on a knowledge of the ancient textual language; rather, it is a revelation from God which involves necessarily the limitations of vocabulary, conceptuality and horizons of God’s servant chosen to render it into English for us.”

Friday, June 19, 2009

My Prophet/Parent Analogy

Warning--no analogy is perfect. Especially one originating in my mind. But there is something about the following that helps me explain why I believe in prophets even though they can be "wrong".

Parents aren't perfect. At least mine weren't. Yet I love my parents immensely. As a kid all I wanted to do was make my parents proud of me. They were great people in my eyes. (They still are--I just think the analogy works better if I'm using a parent/child relationship). I trusted them. I knew they wanted what was best for me. I knew that they knew things I didn't know. They had experienced things I hadn't, and could "see" things I couldn't from my vantage point. I even believe they received revelation and inspiration on behalf of our family. They taught me things of great value. They taught me truth--things that have made my life better and happier has a result.

Sometimes they were wrong. However, the things they got right far exceeded the wrong, so I never had to question whether or not following their teachings was ultimately leading me in the wrong direction or in the right direction.

No mortal alive today is perfect. In fact, only one who ever walked the earth was perfect--Jesus Christ. We trust in Him and in the Spirit who guides us into "all truth" (John 16:13). We can't look to mortals (prophets included) and expect to always get perfection. We can only look to Perfection to receive perfection. But by golly, I'm grateful God gave me my parents. And I'm grateful he gives us modern prophets too.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Why I Don't Believe That God Instituted The Priesthood Ban

"While I don't personally believe it was God who instituted that policy in the first place, I most definitely believe God was behind the revelation to end the policy."

In writing the above statement on June 8th in a commemorative post on the Priesthood Revelation, Tom was curious and decided to ask me why I felt that "God wasn't behind the policy in the first place". I asked if he wanted the short version or the long version. He said long, so out of convenience, I'm simply dedicating a whole new post to the subject. I hope it's worth every penny he's paying. :)

There’s a very informative chapter in “David O. Mckay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism” that discusses the policy entitled “Blacks, Civil Rights, and the Priesthood”. It's quite an "eye opener" and it helped me to become more informed about the background concerning the ban. The more informed I was about the history, the easier it was to see that prophets are not infallible and that God doesn't micromanage every aspect of Church administration. (Of course you also see this quite clearly in "Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling".)

Although it’s clear that many of our past Church leaders were a product of their times (ie: somewhat racist) it is also clear that the policy was not really even well known about by the general membership of the Church up through the 1950’s. It’s no surprise that the “why” behind the ban is not very well understood now, because it really wasn’t understood well then. Even some of the Brethren in the middle of the 20th century weren’t aware that Joseph Smith (who was actually quite progressive) ordained several black men to the Priesthood and that the evolution of the ban actually began with Brigham Young.

One thing is sure: Hugh B. Brown, counselor to David O. Mckay in the First Presidency, was definitely in favor of reversing the policy. However he met with some resistance/pressure by other top leaders in the Twelve.

David O. McKay himself said multiple times that it was not a doctrine, but a policy, and that it would eventually be reversed. He started making modifications to the policy that laid the groundwork for the 1978 Revelation by President Kimball. I think President McKay didn’t feel it was quite time to act yet because he wanted unanimity among the brethren, and some of them, including Elder Harold B. Lee, had strong feelings to keep the ban in place. Unanimity was also extremely important to President Kimball as he sought the revelation to end that policy. It’s an insightful read and it definitely gave me a more realistic picture of how everything actually played out.

But how did the ban actually begin, and why? It’s not completely clear, so the official answer is “we don’t know”. However, it's pretty clear that it didn’t begin as a “revelation”. Rather, the policy seems to have begun officially in 1852 with an announcement by Brigham Young. I doubt that God had anything to do with it, but rather I believe He simply honored the agency of Brigham Young who was a product of his times and was reacting to something culturally at the time, believing it to be the right thing to do. Now I'm not throwing Brigham under the bus here. I'm simply recognizing that although he was a prophet who did a lot of amazing things, he was also a flawed human being, as all prophets are. As we know, when the Lord calls a man to be a prophet, he doesn't unmake the man. Brigham, like so many other Christians of the time, believed the "curse of Cain" justified the subordination of black people. And over time, many leaders just assumed that’s the way it was supposed to be and didn’t really understand that the ban hadn't always been in place.

Over time people looked for scriptural justifications for it and began teaching their interpretations and some of those interpretations became accepted by many—not all—as a quasi-official “doctrine”. In my opinion, the folklore that was perpetuated to try to explain the “why” behind the ban became even more offensive and painful than the ban itself. So it’s almost doubly offensive and ridiculous that many still teach these rationales today (such as that blacks were less faithful in the pre-mortal existence), even though that has been repudiated time and again by apostles and prophets. For example, here is Elder Holland’s wonderful denunciation of the folklore surrounding the ban from his PBS interview:
"One clear-cut position is that the folklore must never be perpetuated. … I have to concede to my earlier colleagues. … They, I’m sure, in their own way, were doing the best they knew to give shape to [the policy], to give context for it, to give even history to it. All I can say is however well intended the explanations were, I think almost all of them were inadequate and/or wrong. … It probably would have been advantageous to say nothing, to say we just don’t know, and, [as] with many religious matters, whatever was being done was done on the basis of faith at that time. But some explanations were given and had been given for a lot of years. … At the very least, there should be no effort to perpetuate those efforts to explain why that doctrine existed. I think, to the extent that I know anything about it, as one of the newer and younger ones to come along, … we simply do not know why that practice, that policy, that doctrine was in place… [when asked to specify the folklore] Well, some of the folklore that you must be referring to are suggestions that there were decisions made in the pre-mortal councils where someone had not been as decisive in their loyalty to a Gospel plan or the procedures on earth or what was to unfold in mortality, and that therefore that opportunity and mortality was compromised. I really don’t know a lot of the details of those, because fortunately I’ve been able to live in the period where we’re not expressing or teaching them, but I think that’s the one I grew up hearing the most, was that it was something to do with the pre-mortal councils. … But I think that’s the part that must never be taught until anybody knows a lot more than I know. … We just don’t know, in the historical context of the time, why it was practiced. … That’s my principal [concern], is that we don’t perpetuate explanations about things we don’t know. …We don’t pretend that something wasn’t taught or practice wasn’t pursued for whatever reason. But I think we can be unequivocal and we can be declarative in our current literature, in books that we reproduce, in teachings that go forward, whatever, that from this time forward, from 1978 forward, we can make sure that nothing of that is declared. That may be where we still need to make sure that we’re absolutely dutiful, that we put [a] careful eye of scrutiny on anything from earlier writings and teachings, just [to] make sure that that’s not perpetuated in the present. That’s the least, I think, of our current responsibilities on that topic."

I’m very grateful to live in a day and age in which wrongs have been corrected, and I especially appreciate quotes such as Elder Holland’s. Unfortunately, some haven’t got the memo. Significantly, President Hinckley spoke out in General Conference in 2006:
“Racial strife still lifts its ugly head. I am advised that even right here among us there is some of this. I cannot understand how it can be. It seemed to me that we all rejoiced in the 1978 revelation given President Kimball. I was there in the temple at the time that that happened. There was no doubt in my mind or in the minds of my associates that what was revealed was the mind and the will of the Lord. Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ. How can any man holding the Melchizedek Priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for the priesthood whereas another who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color is ineligible?” ("The Need For Greater Kindness", April 2006 General Conference.)

There are many other relevant quotes assembled on my post: Endorsing the Call: Repudiate Racist Justifications for the Priesthood Ban. In making sense of all of our past, as well as our present, I also strongly recommend an important FAIR article by Armand L. Mauss: "The LDS Church and the Race Issue: A Study in Misplaced Apologetics". It should be required reading for anyone trying to become informed on the subject.

Now the hard part is that some otherwise informed members of the Church can't quite bring themselves to accept that past prophets could have been “wrong” on this. But we have to be honest with ourselves, and "wrong" is the word Elder Holland himself used. Some say, "Surly God would not have allowed them to get something this big so wrong for so long, right?" Well, in my view that’s a faulty fundamentalist view of prophetic perfection. It's also unrealistic and a bit ignorant of how God works through mortals through time.

Marvin Perkins was recently interviewed by Times and Seasons. At the end of the first of four segments, he said something that resonated with me and struck me as very important and I wish all members would come to understand this:
"Then you have those who are not familiar enough with the scriptures or the Plan of Salvation to understand that all prophets and apostles make mistakes. They mistakenly believe that all prophets are to be perfect in the administration of the things of God and because of this, their testimony of the truthfulness of the Church suffers a major blow and they begin to doubt and struggle. After we show them D&C 1:24-28 …
24 Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.
25 And inasmuch as they erred it might be made known;
26 And inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed;
27 And inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent;
28 And inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time.

… and a list of prophets who’ve made errors from the Old Testament to the Doctrine and Covenants they begin to see that their testimonies were weighted too much on the Brethren who are imperfect and not enough on Christ who is perfect, and His restored gospel. With this realization, the shift is made and they become stronger, more productive Saints, now able to help their brother."

So that's kind of the framework I'm working with concerning the Church and the Restoration. Furthermore, there is so much more of greatness and goodness in the work that these prophets accomplished overall that focusing on their mistakes doesn't really give the true picture. Nevertheless, you can't just ignore the fact that mistakes were made--many of them acknowledged.

For example, after the revelation in 1978 Elder McConkie said: "Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more." ("All Are Alike unto God", BYU Speeches).

Still though, how do I personally make sense of the evolution of the ban, historically speaking? My personal understanding follows along the same lines as Papa D/Ray, who’s shared some of his thoughts. I’ll quote him now because it’s basically exactly what I currently believe. As always, I reserve the right to change my mind should I be influenced to think differently:
1) Joseph ordained black men to the Priesthood. That is indisputable in any intelligent way.

2) Brigham Young and many of the early Saints were steeped in racism growing up. “The incorrect traditions of our fathers” are hard to shake, especially when they are so commonly shared.

3) The single most fundamental prejudice of the time was inter-racial marriage – even without the possibility of it being eternal.

4) Brigham seems to have supported the ordination of those few black men who received the Priesthood.

5) When a black Priesthood holder appeared to be about to marry a white woman in the temple, Brigham (and most members) couldn’t take it. It was too much for them to consider it as a legitimate possibility. Brigham, particularly, was irate and vowed it wouldn’t happen.

6) They constructed a quasi-scriptural justification (based on the common and widespread Protestant beliefs of their upbringing and the current time) to put a ban in place, and a few people spoke of hearing Joseph make statements that would support it – his previous actions in ordaining black men notwithstanding. (BY never claimed direct, personal revelation on the subject; rather, he said, “The Lord has spoken” – and used the scriptural justifications.) NOTE: I’m NOT saying this was done intentionally, knowing that it wasn’t inspired. I’m saying I think they never considered seeking revelation, since it seemed obvious and apparent to them given the assumptions of their upbringing.

7) Other apostles over the years tweaked and added to the original justification, bringing, for example, the uniquely Mormon concept of the pre-existence into it by claiming black people had been less valiant in the pre-existence and, therefore, were unworthy of the Priesthood in this life.

8 ) The membership, by and large, bought into the justifications – even as some of the apostles and members never did. In many people’s eyes, it became “doctrine”; for those like Pres. McKay who recognized it didn’t originate through revelation, it was viewed merely as “policy”. Those who saw it as doctrine outnumbered those who saw it as policy.

9) By the 1940’s and 1950’s, many people’s attitudes in the country had started to change, and Pres. McKay thought it might be time to change the policy. He prayed fervently about it, but the Lord told him it wasn’t the proper time yet. Importantly, Pres. McKay never said the Lord told him the ban was “His will” or “correct” or anything like that. He simply said it wasn’t the proper time yet to lift the ban.

10) By the late 1970’s the Church was in a situation where it simply couldn’t grow and produce future leaders in Brazil and other Western Hemisphere countries (and Africa) without ordaining black men to the Priesthood. This reality weighed heavily on the minds of the First Presidency and the 12, as they were well aware of the growth limitations AND potential in those areas and as they were faced with abundant evidence of very faithful black members who didn’t appear to be cursed by God in any reasonable way – much like Paul’s dilemma with circumcision among the Gentiles of his missions. It also reinforced the beliefs of the “younger generation” who were not predisposed to accept the folklore and more disposed to see it as Pres. McKay had seen it – and as Pres. Kimball saw it.

My own speculation:

A) The decision had been made without seeking direct, personal revelation, so the Lord waited until (practical) unanimity could be reached before stopping the policy. (Kind of like the people of Limhi needing to suffer more than the people of Alma before each group was delivered from their respective captors.)

B) Those who had been the most steeped in hardcore racism (not just the justifications for the ban) had to die before the ban was lifted – much like the people of Israel who built the golden calf needing to pass away before the group could enter the Promised Land. (Hence, my use of the Jacob 5 allegory – pruning the bitter fruit according to the strength of the roots.)

C) Elder McConkie gets a bad rap, even unthinkingly by me sometimes when I’m not careful with my wording. He wasn’t racist in one important way – in that he didn’t dislike or disapprove of black people in general; he simply was a forceful proponent of the folklore. I know that is splitting hairs to a degree, but I believe he was being “loyal” to the leadership, especially since his father-in-law was a Prophet and someone he revered – a great influence in his life. Perhaps he never fully “repented” (meaning simply “changed fully”), since he never removed the folklore from Mormon Doctrine, but he was able to rejoice in the revelation – since he really wasn’t a hardcore racist at heart. That left only Mark E. Peterson as the champion of the ban and its fundamental racism, and he was only six years from passing away by 1978. (I’ll equate him with the fact that handful of adults at the time of the golden calf were allowed to enter the Promised Land. It’s a stretch, but it’ll do – since the actual balance in 1978 would have been 14-1 in the FP and the 12 when you put McConkie in the approving category.)

Ray called that the concise version. :) He then goes on to summarize the following ideas: 1) God works with prophets in their own limitations all throughout history; 2) the Restoration is a process not an event; 3) that the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times refers to the condition at the end of the dispensation--that the Jacob 5 concept of pruning will be accomplished fully only at the end. ("There will be “bitter fruit” in the Church even after the Restoration – fruit that could be pruned only according to the strength of the root. I don’t think that bitter fruit has been purged completely yet").

Personally, I'm at peace with that understanding. Furthermore, our "labor in the vineyard" is a part of something much grander than some local pruning here and some pruning there. I'm just grateful to be a part of the whole process!