Friday, December 30, 2005

Why I read anti material

Every so often, people I know question my judgment. And my testimony. That’s fine, I can handle it. But sometimes, I feel I have to set the record straight. This is one of those times. Recently, members of my wife’s family found out I read so-called anti-Mormon web pages regularly. They couldn’t understand why I would fill my mind with such filth.

Well, I only heard about the conversation afterwards, and my wife satisfied them, but I suspect they still wonder at me. People wonder enough about me, as it is. I suppose I should put their minds at rest. To start, I will give a little of my history.

Part I: Encounters on my mission
I first encountered anti material before my mission, but handily ignored its existence. It was not worth my time, I thought. Why bother, when I know the truth? Once, when I was about 15, I attended a local Baptist church with two friends, both of whom were Mormon. We did this instead of attending Wednesday night adolescent program called Mutual, which was boring to us. While at the Baptist meeting, we stood out as outsiders and many approached us afterwards. When they found out we were Mormon, well, they had plenty to say. We were told many awful things in an attempt to change our minds. Our prophet is evil, the Book of Mormon adds to the Bible and Revelation prohibits that, etc. It ended up being a Bible-bashing session, and little was accomplished for either side. I suspect that all of us left that encounter without anyone changing their minds.

While on my mission, I had many opportunities to discuss and debate what others called false doctrine of the Mormon church. I hated not knowing how to answer the hard questions that others asked and spent a good deal of time reading up on how to defend my faith. Just one example out of several from the early months of my mission:

One time, while I was a junior companion, my companion and I encountered a well-dressed and well-educated man on the street. My companion began telling him about the Book of Mormon and how we can know the truth. As a second witness of the Savior, it removes the confusion that is found in the rest of Christianity. The man asked us, “If the Book of Mormon is supposed to cut through the confusion, then why are there so many Mormon factions?” He had a good point. I don’t recall how that conversation ended, except that the man with whom we spoke did not pursue the discussions and we left largely disappointed.

That conversation bugged me, because I did not have an answer.
I decided that that line of reasoning might work for a new investigator, but there has to be more. The church isn't true just because the Book of Mormon exists, or the RLDS church and all the others would also be true. No, it is the principle of continuing revelation that makes a church true. It is the unbroken authority that makes a church true. The Book of Mormon helps, but is not the only thing. It is the Holy Ghost that confirms which is true. You can't just use the Book of Mormon, because it is not enough. Neither is the Doctrine and Covenants (or Book of Commandments). Again, it is the Holy Ghost that will tell you the truth of all things.

Later on in my mission, I went with my companion and another set of missionaries to an appointment the other elders had arranged, a follow-up appointment. Upon sitting down on their couch, the African-American couple said that their pastor had given them something to watch. They pulled out a VHS copy of the Godmakers. I knew what it was, but had never seen it before. Well, I got my chance. The entire room was quiet, the entire way through the film. There was a dark feeling, most definitely not the spirit of God. Afterwards, even the couple admitted they didn’t like the feelings associated with the video. We all discussed it and laid to rest some of the concerns. However, in the end, we couldn’t address every point of the movie, and did not want to. We each bore our testimony and asked permission to sing “I Believe in Christ.”

The meeting ended on a positive note, but that night opened up an understanding to me. There are people who go to great expense and expend a great deal of energy trying to tear down the church. Lies and distorted truths are not beneath them.

Part II: Post-mission encounters
These were not the last time I saw such information. At least once or twice a month, people would give me pamphlets and books to read about how horrible the church is. In my naivety, I dismissed much of it, just because it didn’t fit with what I knew. In other words, some things I thought were lies turned out to be true, but taken out of context or blown out of proportion. And some things were true and just not spoken of by the church. However, I did read all I was given, and compared how it sat with me to how the scriptures felt. I could feel the spirit as I pondered the scriptures, for instance, compared to the anti material I had seen that night.

In 1996 and 1997, I continued to explore LDS themes, but this time, online instead of in books. Like many people, I had recently discovered the joys and perils of the world wide web. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did not have any official web presence at this time, and anti sites proliferated. I read a great deal of garbage about the church, but also plenty of truths I did not previously know. My mind was not changed, but I learned to take anything I heard about the church, positive or negative, with a grain of salt. Just about anyone talking about it seems to have an agenda, either to push it or to pull others away from it.

In 1998, I had a friend named Jamie who was not a member of the church. Her only previous experience with the church was a friend named Joseph Smith. This ironically named young man had been raised in the church but now hated it. He had a website on Geocities that attempted to discredit the church. He also claimed to still attend church, because LDS girls are “easy.” He and I never met, but I was more confident at this time, more able to speak my convictions and back them up with information. We passed a few debates by email before we both gave up trying to change the other person’s mind. While ultimately fruitless in changing either of our minds, the exchange was educational. To that point, I had not personally talked to a lapsed member about the church.

Part III: Which brings us up to the present
I laid off on actively searching out anti material for a few years. I still would see things occasionally, online and in print, and would read it. However, I spent some time reading more faith-promoting things, but only the deeper doctrines, such as those presented by Hugh Nibley. However, I had been maintaining a web page since 1997, in some form or another. I found myself with a plethora of LDS links, hosted on my web page, a listing that just kept growing. I started to organize it and eventually gave the list its own page. Then, in just the last few months (meaning, earlier in 2005), I decided to try my hand at writing LDS-themed articles. No real reason except that it interested me. My brother, who has long been interested in this topic, started contributing links and we started collaborating. Guided by the lessons I had learned in the past, I decided to maintain that balanced look at the LDS church.

I am still a believer and an attendee of church. However, I view the church as a human institution, no matter how divine the interventions that led to this church’s creation. Why? Well, I cannot escape the conclusion that imperfect humans lead the church and their fingerprints are on everything the church does. Is this bad? I do not think so. I believe that if it continues to ennoble and uplift, to inspire and uphold good values, it is a good thing.

Of course, there will be those bad elements who try to use guilt instead of teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves. There are going to be those who do not live the Christ-like life they claim to espouse, who are hypocrites, prideful and spiritually void. However, there are enough honestly good people trying their best to find salvation through Jesus Christ.

Part IV: Why I continue reading anti literature
I read an article not too long ago titled The Impact of Mormon Critics on LDS Scholarship, by Michael R. Ash. Michael builds on the statement from Hugh Nibley, "We need more anti-Mormon books. They keep us on our toes." Brother Ash tries to show how opposition to the church has improved the quality of Mormon research. He gives numerous examples of where lazy research and just wrong statements have been accepted for years by members. Eventually, our mistakes get aired and LDS scholarship flourishes around that mistake, bringing out new understandings. “Sometimes, the critics are right. Sometimes, they can help point out our errors,” opines Ash. I agree. Without critics, we are too blind to our own faults. It takes outsiders to keep us humble.

I have learned much by keeping my eyes open and reading other histories and essays not favorable toward the church. What I’ve learned is that these were ordinary men and women who founded and built up the church, not demigods. They had mistakes and flaws, passions and egos, intelligence and blind spots. I have learned that the gospel of Jesus Christ, in any dispensation, has been passed by God to men and women. It came to them perfect, but was and is distorted by the hands of humans. And I have learned that this distortion is OK. It is just how things work in this world. God works with it.

I’ve learned there is absolute truth, and relative truth. There are some things that do not change, that can be considered absolute to the belief system of a Latter-day Saint, like the belief that Jesus is the Christ, and Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. Then there are things that can change. The mode of sacrament, from wine to water, is one such example. The temple endowment is another. These relative truths are the ones that get changed from prophet to prophet or dispensation to dispensation. They are not wrong for their changes, just altered. They still attempt to draw people toward the absolute truths. That is their purpose. See for more development on this subject.

The church is not perfect. I am the first to admit this. And so, I must say this: however much good it does, the LDS church must always strive to do better. We can never rest in our effort to do more, to go the extra mile, to extend beyond ourselves. If that means listening to critics sometimes, then it is worth it. I believe that for this reason alone, we should not dismiss anti-Mormon literature.

In addition, I dislike not knowing what others were saying about us. How could I make a rebuttal, or stand on my own knowledge when confronted by critics, if I failed to prepare beforehand? Those against the church are always searching for new ways to tear down that which is good. It is irresponsible to ignore those efforts. I think back to my ignorance as a missionary, and it bothers me. When confronted by Jehovah’s Witness material against us, bringing up the Adam-God theory, I had no idea what to say. My defense was indefensible, feeble. I remember doing the best I could, struggling with the quotes from out of the Journal of Discourses, and eventually, I came up with the explanation that it was a purposeful misquote. That was enough to satisfy the investigator who asked me, but I know now that it was not enough. I demanded more of myself. I feel we all need to have higher expectations of ourselves. Turning a blind eye does not solve the problem. Neither does hoping it will go away.

I would not suggest to all Saints to read “anti” material. It is not always easy. It can make you doubt. It is not always comfortable. Some people do leave the church after reading or watching this kind of material. I will not call such people weak-willed, where others might. I feel everyone has the right to feel and believe as they wish. I would only hope that any decision would be made after weighing all the evidence, but even then, it is your right to let another tell you how to believe. In the end, each person has to take a stand and decide what they really believe.

I cannot claim to be a great defender of the faith. I cannot claim my testimony is unshakeable. I cannot claim to know everything. I cannot claim I have never doubted. What I can say is that I have examined as many viewpoints as I could. I can say that I read “anti” material and give it equal time to faith-promoting material. I can claim to know enough on which to base a decision. And what is that decision? To stay where I am, despite historical discrepancies, despite the flaws and mistakes of men and women, despite valid complaints against the society of the saints. That is where I make my stand, willingly and with my eyes open.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

In honor of Christ

I don't have any fancy ideas for this. I just wanted to make a quick note.

I love the Savior. He is my finest friend. About two thousand years ago, God gave the world his most Beloved as a gift (John 3:16). 33 years later, Christ gave his life for the world (Galatians 1:3-4). They have given us the greatest of gifts. We cannot possibly pay for what was given to us. It was out of pure love that this gift was given. I would encourage us all this day to find something in our lives amiss, and make a change. Give the gift of your heart to the Savior by striving harder to be like him. I love him with all my heart, and I know that he truly came to this world. He was born for us, lived for us, died for us, and now lives again for us. This I testify is true. Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Brigham, the Man and the Prophet (revised)

There are issues where I stand differently from others I know. One in particular is my defense of Church leaders. It may sound like nothing that different, but one thing that I have observed is that there are generally two camps: those who acknowledge the leaders and see them as near-faultless, and those who see their faults and look down upon them for it. I fall into what I believe to be a rather small third party. I note the faults in Church leaders, past and present, and I grow to love them all the more for it. I refer the reader to some of Mathoni's blogs on this matter (those addressing the beauty of the humanity of our leaders), as they are very poignant and deal with the matter very well.

I wish here to take up a little defense of the second president of our Church, President Brigham Young. I will not go into any real depth, but I do wish to show a few of his virtues. He was a man of faults, and is often criticized by any anti-Mormon and even a good many Mormons for those faults. He finds in this post, however, his praise, as he was the man called by the Lord to lead the Church of Christ.

One of Brigham's great virtues is his loyalty. Often portrayed as self-assuming, Brigham's humility is very well exemplified by his loyalty to the Prophet of the Restoration, Joseph Smith. Let us look at some quotes on the matter.

"Of the Twelve Apostles chosen in Kirtland, and ordained under the hands of Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and myself, there have been but two but what have lifted their heel against me -- namely Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball."
-Joseph Smith
(May 28, 1843. DHC 5:412.)

"As the Mormon movement grew, Smith became larger than life, but he also ended up with a mixture of friends and foes - with difficulty knowing who was who. Many of those who denounced Smith were his closest friends, who referred to him not as a "false prophet" but as a "fallen prophet." Smith became so troubled by this that he frequently tested the people around him...On one occasion, he vigorously chastized Brigham Young - accusing the latter of something he had never done in what was clearly a harsh, cruel, unfair manner. As Brigham said, 'Joseph, what would you have me do?' - Smith broke down in tears and hugged him. 'Brigham,' he said, 'I was testing you and you have passed.' "
-Truman G. Madsen
(Joseph Smith, The Prophet)

In many ways, the true determinant of a man's greatness is his subjection to God and those leaders whom God has placed over him. Joseph was the Prophet, and Brigham never sought to undermine him. After Joseph died, Brigham still did not exalt himself above his friend and mentor.

"I feel like shouting hallelujah, all the time, when I think that I ever knew Joseph Smith."
-Brigham Young
(Journal of Discourses, 3:51)

What I have received of the Lord, I have received by Joseph Smith; he was the instrument made use of. If I drop him I must drop these principles; they have not been revealed, declared, or explained by any other man since the days of the apostles.”
-Brigham Young
(Journal of Discourses, 6:279-280)

One of the greatest examples of trust comes from Brigham Young. The way he viewed Brother Joseph is the way we should view all the Prophets

“Though I admitted in my feelings and knew all the time that Joseph was a human being and subject to err, still it was none of my business to look after his faults.”
-Brigham Young
(Journal of Discourses, 4:297)

If a prophet called of God can look past the faults of another, I suspect that we owe that prophet the same courtesy. Brigham loved Joseph, there is no question there. He knew his place, and gave his heart in his humble capacity.

As we know, Joseph Smith was murdered, a signature to his work certifying its completion. But who would lead the Church? This issue was a problem not yet experienced by the Saints, and many did not know how to deal with it. People like Sidney Rigdon, James J. Strang, David Whitmer, and others saw themselves as the new leader of the Church, and denounced President Young’s claims as a usurpation of authority. This would not be in his character, nor necessarily was it his desire. He merely chose to accept the burden that was placed upon him. When he first learned of the Prophet’s death, he thought all was lost. It was only after pondering and prayer that he realized the duty that was his. When he spoke to the general assembly of Church membership in Nauvoo regarding his call to lead, this is what he said:

"For the first time in my life, for the first time in your lives, for the first time in the kingdom of God, in the nineteenth century, without a prophet at our head, do I step forth to act in my calling in connection with the quorum of the Twelve, as Apostles of Jesus Christ unto this generation—Apostles whom God has called by revelation through the prophet Joseph, who are ordained and anointed to bear off the keys of the kingdom of God in all the world."
-Brigham Young
(B.H. Roberts, Succession in the Presidency of the Church. p. 8, emphasis added)

Judging from this, I don’t believe he reached for more authority than was his. Perhaps he only sought to do his best at what God asked.

Some say that Brigham was iron-fisted in his governing of his people in the West. As a man who spoke what was on his mind, and as a man who had to conquer a desert, his methods may have seemed harsh, especially by today’s standards. John A. Widtsoe stated that one of Brigham’s defining traits was his loyalty to truth. He further said, “Brigham Young is reputed to have had a strong will. That was needed in the conquest of the desert. Many have failed to understand that in the exercise of his will and power he was not autocratic, but firmly determined that truth should be obeyed.”
(Gospel Interpretations, p. 224)

His loyalty to truth and demands for obedience were what the Lord needed at the time. That is why he was called.

Throughout his life, he taught the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

“I am not bound to wife or child, to house or farm, or anything else on the face of the earth, but the Gospel of the Son of God. I have enlisted all in this cause, and it is in my heart, and here is my treasure.”
-Brigham Young
(Journal of Discourses, 14:19)

He loved the Gospel, and gave about 400 sermons, touching on numerous doctrines. Some will criticize him for some of his teachings (again, learn better perspective from Mathoni’s post), but he taught with power and authority, emulating the Savior as best as he could.

As Brother Brigham slipped from this world into the next, the final words to hang on his lips were, "Joseph, Joseph, Joseph." Those words were humble and loving, still acknowledging who was his mentor and leader. He loved Joseph. He loved Christ. From the moment he turned his life over to the Gospel after a two-year investigation, he never turned back.

Despite all I have shown, I can scarcely do justice to this spiritual titan. I do know however, that despite the bad light that some may cast on him, if we take a moment to reorient ourselves, we may see that he was a man of God in all respects. He was the one called to succeed Joseph Smith. He was the one called to ensure the continual rolling of the Kingdom of God.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

My Father, My God, part II

We know that God is our Father. With plenty of scriptural evidence, I have clearly illustrated this fact in part I. We’ve learned that he is corporeal, with a “body of flesh and bone as tangible as man’s” (D&C 130:22). It has been shown that we are begotten in his image. We are his offspring. All these were shown in part I. But knowing that he is our Father is different from knowing him as our Father. In other words, part II is devoted to the effects of having a relationship with our Father.

Now this may seem odd, but I will use some of the different names or titles of God to express our relationship with him, starting with the less personal, and drawing closer and closer.

God and Lord. These are titles that can refer to either the Father or the Son. They are the same titles that are also used for the heathen gods or lords of earthly dominion (at least when not LORD in all caps, in which case it is actually a translation of Jehovah). Despite the commonality of the occurrence of these words, that does not diminish the value of referring to him as such. The true God is the creator of all things, and reigns over all. His lordship extends to the infinite bounds of the Universe and we are his subjects.

Elohim. That is the name-title of God. It was used extensively by the Hebrews to refer to the God of their fathers. Elohim is actually is plural for Eloah, and both are usually translated as God in the Bible. In reference to the true God, the word “Elohim” is used 2,570 times in the Old Testament, as opposed to the 57 times that “Eloah” is used. It is a glorious title, and though the name is written as plural, it is to signify his greatness and glory, the God of gods, the Most High God (see Psalms 136:2, for instance). His name shows his deservedness to be worshipped, respected, and honored. It truly calls to mind his magnificence, and it should not be used wantonly or disrespectfully. It is the name to which he is referred in the temple, and we should treat that name with reverence and respect, honoring his glory through it.

Ahman. This is a name that is generally unused, and is not even particularly well known among the general population of the Church. It only has a couple of references within scriptures. What would be more enlightening is this quote by Orson Pratt: “There is one revelation that this people are not generally acquainted with. I think it has never been published, but probably it will be in the Church History. It is given in questions and answers. The first question is, ‘What is the name of God in, the pure language?’ The answer says, ‘Ahman’” (Journal of Discourses 2: 342-343). Immediately following, Elder Pratt explains that Christ is called “Son Ahman,” explaining D&C 78:20 and 95:17. In those revelations, it is the Son Ahman, or Son of God who is speaking to us. But what does this name mean? Well, the certainty of it is unknown, but Bruce R. McConkie feels that Ahman is Adamic for Man of Holiness (Mormon Doctrine, “Ahman”). Reference to Man of Holiness comes from Moses 6:57. The significance of this shows what God is: an exalted Man. God is a Man, one who has undergone mortality, and even now has a body. He is not a mere essence or substance. He has flesh and bone (see part I), and therefore has a great deal in common with us. He is a Man, and likewise we are gods (John 10:34), making us of the same race. Ultimately, we can be like him. But understanding this relationship leads to an even more personal name.

Father, or Heavenly Father. What a title! Of all his glorious names, the most commonly used and seemingly preferred is Father. A little doctrine may be discussed here. God is the Father of our spirits, as has already been illustrated in part I. In both respect and in love, I call my earthly parents father and mother, or other terms of similar nature. I never call them by their first names. Similarly, I call Heavenly Father my Father out of both respect for his authority, as well as out of love for our relationship. It is interesting to note that we actually have disowned him. This may sound somewhat shocking, but it is true. Upon our sinning and yielding to our fallen nature, we cast off that sacred relation. But through the Atonement of his Son, we are again adopted back into his family. We are forever his literal offspring, just like a child who may be adopted still has his biological parents, but we are restored to our former status as heirs to his throne through his Son. Let us look at some scriptures. "But as many as received him, to them gave he [Christ] power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12). “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption” (Romans 8:14-15). As my seminary teacher taught, a puppy grows to be a dog. A child of God grows to be a god. But our place as his children must be restored via Christ. Starting with verse 16 of the preceding chapter, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.” As his children, literally and “legally”, we have the right to his throne, heirs to his kingdom alongside his Son.

Those who look at their own scriptures might note that in the quotes from Romans, a particular phrase was left out. Recognizing that we are God’s children, “we cry, Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15). Likewise, we read in Galatians 4:6, “And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” The name or title of Abba will be my final focus. The Bible Dictionary teaches that Abba is “[a] personal, familial term for father as used in Hebrew…and later by Greek-speaking Christians, as an intimate name for the Father in Heaven.” It is this name that I find to be the most personal. It reminds me of a time when in lonely Gethsemane, our suffering Savior uttered these words: “Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt” (Mark 14:36). Think upon the tenderness of the moment. Many have equated Abba with “daddy” in its intimate nature. Christ, pleading with the Father whom he knew so personally, the one with whom he had the closest relationship throughout his mortal life and all eternity, meekly asked, “Daddy, help me.” It is that same sort of intimacy that Christ restored to us immediately after that cry. His remaining hours were spent bringing us back to the point where we can look to our God, our Creator, our Father, and recognize him as “Abba,” our Daddy. He is our Father, and knowing this will give us the strength to do his will, because we will truly know who we are.

Monday, November 28, 2005

More resources

I just want everyone to know that I will be updating my Brigham Young blog. I started it, took forever to work on it, and finally churned out a rather weak piece of work. I put a lot of pride into my submissions, so I feel I need to update it. I brought several books to college from home this past Thanksgiving weekend, so my resources have greatly expanded. Look forward to a better version of that, and also hopefully I can become more involved. School has been eating me alive lately.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Great Circumcision Debate

Reading over a past post on Splendid Sun, I'm reminded of the controversy surrounding my own son's birth. There was a bit of conversation between my wife and me about how to handle the delicate decision of lopping off a bit of our child, if it was born a boy. At that point, we did not know what we would have. The ultrasound told us little, because he (as it turned out) was shy and actively hid himself. So, our conversations were along the lines of:

"If it's a girl, we can name her Allison. But if it's a boy, I don't like the names you've chosen."
"I don't want the names you want either."
"Well, if it's a boy, I think we should circumcise him, because you are."
"I don't want my son to be cut up. My son won't have any spare parts."

That became my mantra. My son has no spare parts.

My wife and I attended a parenting/birthing class, which was a good preparation for us. The teacher had an approach I appreciated. She didn't tell us one way of doing things was good or bad. She just informed us and let us make up our own minds. One night, we watched a video of a newborn boy getting clipped, and I tell you what. My decision was confirmed, and Kari's mind was changed. No circumcision. I think it cruel and unnecessary.

So, out comes a boy and we do nothing to his little member, but resolve to keep it clean to avoid any infections. End of story.

Except we found that everyone had an opinion about my son's penis. People were excited to hear I was a father, to hear I had a boy. And nine out of ten times, they felt it was their business to ask if he was circumcised. "No," I would tell them.

"Are you crazy? He could get infected (get cancer, lose his sex drive, whatever) if you don't."

I got pretty good at avoiding debates. But the fact of the matter is, with all the research I put into it, there was no good reason to clip the little guy. All the health reasons cited were all maybe's. Sure, he might get infected. So keep it clean. Duh! Or he might get cancer. Well *cue the sarcasm* cut it all off, then! I mean, maybe I'll get appendicitis, so let's go ahead and do an appendectomy on me. Or let's push this to the extreme. Maybe, I'll get lung cancer, so let's just remove my left lung. But what if we removed the wrong one? *end the sarcasm* Uh, yeah. People! You keep it clean and things will be OK. If there is a medical reason to remove it later, do it later. It will be OK.

Social reasons . . . what a horrible reason to mutilate one's genitalia. I don't plan on raising my son in Utah for much longer, especially not in Utah valley, where everyone damages their sons. But even if we stayed here (God forbid), my son would just have to deal with the fact that his penis was different from the mutilated boys around him. And what is up with Mormons doing this to their baby boys? Mormons do believe the law of Moses was done away, right? I mean, there was a big debate about this very topic in the period of the apostles, some time after Christ's resurrection (see the Acts 15:1-31). As I recall, the decision was to not continue the barbaric practice. The law was and is fulfilled in Christ. It's over, through! We are now to be circumcised of heart. Why, oh why do Mormons keep hurting their sons in this cruel manner?

Making him match his father? Why do I want him to match me? That's a dumb reason if I've ever heard one. If he asks, I will have a discussion with him about it.

Newborns don't have developed pain sensors. What kind of idiotic statement is that? At the very least, they don't like being strapped down. At the very least, they just came out of a nice, warm, safe womb, to be subjected to legalized torture. But maybe, just maybe, their sensors are different from an older baby. He still doesn't deserve that kind of treatment. It used to be done without anesthetic. How cruel is that?

Reasons to not do it. As already stated, it is mean. They don't like having it done. It diminishes sexual feeling. It is unnecessary. God doesn't even expect us to do it. People, let us stop hurting our little boys!

Thankfully, I don't get the questions about my son's penis any more. People I didn't know made it their business. But what gave these perfect strangers the right to ask (and force their opinions upon me) in the first place? This is a rather personal matter. And now I am a hypocrite for blogging about it. But at least it's my son I'm talking about.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Brigham, the man and the prophet

There are issues where I stand differently from others I know. One in particular is my defense of Church leaders. It may sound like nothing that different, but one thing that I have observed is that there are generally two camps: those who acknowledge the leaders and see them as near-faultless, and those who see their faults and look down upon them for it. I fall into what I believe to be a rather small third party. I note the faults in Church leaders, past and present, and I grow to love them all the more for it. I refer the reader to some of Mathoni's blogs on this matter (the beauty of the humanity of our leaders), as they are very poignant and deal with the matter very well.

I wish here to take up a little defense of the second president of our Church, President Brigham Young. I will not go into any real depth, but I do wish to show a few of his virtues. He was a man of faults, and is often criticized by any anti-Mormon and even a good many Mormons for those faults. He finds in this post, however, his praise, as he was the man called by the Lord to lead the Church of Christ.

First, I will give a couple of his references of his loyalty to Joseph Smith.

"Of the Twelve Apostles chosen in Kirtland, and ordained under the hands of Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and myself, there have been but two but what have lifted their heel against me -- namely Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball." (May 28, 1843. DHC 5:412.)

As the Mormon movement grew, Smith became larger than life, but he also ended up with a mixture of friends and foes - with difficulty knowing who was who. Many of those who denounced Smith were his closest friends, who referred to him not as a "false prophet" but as a "fallen prophet." Smith became so troubled by this that he frequently tested the people around him...On one occasion, he vigorously chastized Brigham Young - accusing the latter of something he had never done in what was clearly a harsh, cruel, unfair manner. As Brigham said, 'Joseph, what would you have me do?' - Smith broke down in tears and hugged him. 'Brigham,' he said, 'I was testing you and you have passed.' " (Joseph Smith, The Prophet. Truman G. Madsen)

Brigham Young claimed he had never tried to usurp authority (as many schismatics would be pleased to accuse). I believe the first quote also makes this evident, as well as his own words here:

"For the first time in my life, for the first time in your lives, for the first time in the kingdom of God, in the nineteenth century, without a prophet at our head, do I step forth to act in my calling in connection with the quorum of the Twelve, as Apostles of Jesus Christ unto this generation—Apostles whom God has called by revelation through the prophet Joseph, who are ordained and anointed to bear off the keys of the kingdom of God in all the world." (Succession in the Presidency of the Church. B.H. Roberts, emphasis added)

It appears to me that Brigham was not one to reach for more authority than was his, but was not afraid to accept the mantles placed upon him.

As Brother Brigham slipped from this world into the next, the final words to hang on his lips were, "Joseph, Joseph, Joseph."

The truth is I could scarcely do justice of this spiritual titan. I feel ill-eqipped to handle the matter well. I do know however, that despite the bad light that is often cast on him, if we take a moment to reorient ourselves, we may see that he was a man of God in all respects. He was the one called to succeed Joseph Smith. He was the one called to ensure the continual rolling of the Kingdom of God.

I would recommend this site to the reader, particularly the essay by Hugh Nibley:

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Bearing testimony

This post has a story, some sarcasm and some seriousness. Despite it jumping around, I truly have a point to make.

Two days ago, in Fast and Testimony meeting, my three-year-old son asked why people were crying.

"Is she sad?" he asked as the third woman in a row got up and immediately lost control.
"No, son. Sometimes, people cry when they are happy. She is talking about how much she loves Jesus," I patiently explained, as his attention already drifted from what I was saying to something else more interesting to a three-year-old mind
"I want to go up there!"

How could I say no to those big, brown eyes?
I told him no. In so doing, I tried to explain why.

"You need to practice what you will say," or " It will be scary up there," or "Go ask your mother to take you up there." None of these convinced him to stay with us in the audience.

Why did I resist? I did not feel in a particularly spiritual mood. Not anything bad, or of spiritual concern. I just didn't feel moved to go talk in front of the ward. Heck, I rarely talk up in class. I am just a reserved person. I did not want to go up there this particular Sunday.

My son went to his mother and told her he wanted to go up front. She, too, did not want to go. "Go ask Daddy to take you."

To a believing Mormon, this might sound like a horrible story. We should always be ready to testify, and we robbed our son of a valuable opportunity (in the church, everything is an "opportunity," just listen to every public prayer or talk and count how many times that word is used) to learn about testimonies. What are we doing wrong so that we didn't feel spiritual ready to go up there? I will justify our decision in a few moments.

One proactive thing I did was to leave the meeting, enter the halls and talk to my son. I asked him what he would say if he were up there. I really wanted to know if I was making a mistake in resisting.

"Disneyland!" he proudly exclaimed.
Hoo, boy! I swallowed and dove in. "That's a good thing to talk about, but in church, we don't talk about Disneyland." I could see his disappointment, but persisted, hoping his attention-span (measured in milliseconds) would last. "Here in church, we talk about Jesus. What would you say about Jesus if you were up there?"
He thought for a moment, then answered, "He's not very nice!"
Hmmm. That's his phrase for anytime someone does something he doesn't like, such as not talking about Disneyland. I don't think you are ready to go up there, son.

I made a promise that we would practice bearing testimony in Family Home Evening. He was not going up there yesterday, that's for sure. We went back into the meeting. He kept asking/begging for us to let him go up, even started going by himself at one point, but my wife and I were firm. He eventually gave up and the meeting ended, but not before I took him out of the chapel for another three-year-old offense, making excessive noise.

I have since thought a great deal about this incident. Are there times when it is not appropriate to bear your testimony in sacrament meeting? Sure, we should stand as witnesses of Christ and Joseph Smith. Sure, we gain forgiveness of our sins when we bear our testimonies. We are also serving others with our testimony. But I still say yes, there are times. If a testimony is insincere for any reason, it is better left unsaid. Here are some other possible reasons not to, which can be used as guidelines, all from off the top of my head:

When the time remaining does not permit, don't get up. "Oh, there are two minutes left! That's just enough time for me to blab for 10 minutes about nothing important." Um, no. You should have gone up there much earlier. If the spirit has been prompting you for a half hour, why did you wait? It's not really fair to keep an already long meeting longer, especially for people with children. Yes, those extra ten minutes are torture. We would rather poke our eyes with sharp crayons than stay another ten in that meeting when our children are acting up.

When you have nothing to say, don't get up. Inane ramblings do not justify your being up on the stand. We hear enough "thankamonies" ("I'd like to thank my roommates and my home teachers, and the bishop, and . . . ") and "cryamonies" ("I'd like to . . . boo hoo . . . I'm not normally like this . . . ") and "travelmonies" ("When I was traveling in Israel for the thirteenth time, I learned . . . "). They might be interesting, but most often, they are not. I want to hear testimonies. Don't just get up and ramble the first thing that comes into your head, either. That is not the guidance of the spirit, it is abusing an open forum in a club.

When you have an axe to grind, don't get up. That's not to say you can't bear testimony about a particular subject that has been on your mind, because that seems fine to me. But if you are standing there to tell the ward how wrong they are for not caring enough for the lonely or the poor (or whatever), sit down. Unless you are the bishop or stake president, most likely, you are not authorized to reprimand your ward.

Politics do not belong on the stand. Sit down. I don't care if you want to talk about our "spiritual" president. Do not tell everyone how righteous a particular war is. Not everyone will agree, and the chapel is not the place to talk about such things. Don't do it. If you want to profess how wonderful you are or condemn other people, what are you doing in this church? I mean, really! After hurricane Katrina ripped through the South, I can't tell you how many "testimonies" I heard saying how the people there should have been more prepared, and they are getting retribution for being so wicked. Excuse me? Last I heard, the Lord is our judge, not pompous "I-live-in-Utah-so-I'm-more-holy-than-thou" members of the church. When this happened in my ward, my wife very calmly and politely got up and bore her testimony and slipped in that this could happen to anyone (natural disasters) and that she has family from that area. Thankfully, that changed the tone of that meeting. She actually bore her testimony and did not condemn, and though she may have had an axe to grind, she resisted preaching or censuring the ward. She stated her love for the people of New Orleans and her sadness that these things happened, as well as her testimony of the gospel. Her comments were therefore appropriate and helped change the ugly tone of pride coming from the ward. And she was prompted by the spirit.

If you are not prompted by the spirit, you may still have good reason to bear your testimony. Evaluate those reasons and see if they are selfish ("I want people to think I am spiritual"). Evaluate those reasons and see if they are going to edify those around you. Remember that "opening up the meeting" (the words often used by the bishopric at the beginning of the meeting) is not an invitation to work on your own agenda.

If you don't feel the spirit with any kind of clarity, avoid getting up. I say this one tentatively, because there are people who go to the stand and talk so they can learn how to bear testimony and those who want to feel the spirit and go up for that reason. These are valid reasons, in my mind, as long as the other guidelines I set forth are observed. But if you are angry, distracted, not really thinking about the gospel, or whatever else might interfere with the spirit, you may want to sit this one out, because it is too easy to give in to the temptation to vent or ramble or moralize or censure. There is always next month. Not getting up is not a reflection on your worthiness, but can be a courtesy to the other members who are trying to feel the spirit, when you are not really ready to follow the spirit.

If you have a story that will take ten minutes to tell, don't. This is courtesy to others who wish to speak, as well as to the audience. Most audience members check out after five minutes, so if you are still talking, the spirit better be very strong. And other members of the ward want to get up and talk, many of whom are shy and reserved and less likely to get up, because they feel they don't have as much to say.

We are there in church to edify and uplift one another. We are there to worship our God and Savior. We are there to renew our covenants and feel the spirit and serve others. Testimonies should be stated in a way that aims toward those goals, with as much brevity as possible. If more people remember these guidelines, maybe, those who are less inclined to speak will be given the time to also get up and profess their love of the gospel.

You will note that I said nothing of children bearing their testimonies. That's a whole other issue. I'm not going to touch that one today.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

My Father, My God part I.

The purpose of this short essay is to enlighten myself. I am attempting to better define my relationship with my Heavenly Father, as well as His relationship with the whole human family. As the Prophet has said, “If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves” (King Follett Discourse). I wish to better understand myself as I truly am—a son of God. Due to my struggle with self-esteem, I have had to come to a realization of a great secret: I am of the same race as my Father. This means that I cannot belittle my own value without belittling His as well. Since I love and worship and adore my God, I could never resort to lessening His value. Therefore, I must raise my views of myself, thus summing again the ultimate purpose for writing this essay.

So to start, who am I?

I am a child of God
And He has sent me here
Has given me and earthly home
With parents kind and dear
Lead me, guide me
Walk beside me
Help me find the way
Teach me all that I must do
To live with Him someday

A simple Primary song that I’ve known as long as I can remember. I have sung its words countless times. How long has it taken me to realize the depth of such a teaching? On my mission I became a great lover of Church doctrine. I remember teaching it to others, hoping they would get a glimpse of the significance of that doctrine, but in truth I believe I have spent all of my life missing the greater depth to it. The whole time I’ve simply been stuck on what a fascinating truth that it is, not the actual application of that truth in my life. Let’s explore that truth.

Heavenly Father is my Father. I am His son. I am not a mere creation. I am not simply one of His many projects. I am His work and His Glory (Moses 1:39). In addition to the trillions of His other children, He is concerned with me and doing what He can to allow me to return to His presence. I am created in His image (Genesis 1:26-27, Moses 2:26-27, Abraham 4:26-27). This isn’t merely a mental image, as some have conjectured. We aren’t only projections of His ethical and moral image. He didn’t simply want us to be able to choose between right and wrong as He is able (as some have defined “His image” to be). No, we are created after Him in very form. I was created in the image of His body (Moses 6:8-9).

Now there’s a thought! God has a body. His body is like mine, only in a glorified and immortal state (D&C 130:22). Since Christ is just like his Father, even sharing His express image (Hebrews 1:3, while we are merely in His image), being like Him in thought, word, and appearance, we can assume the same traits applying to the Son apply to the Father as well. Luke 24:36-39 teaches us that the resurrected and glorified Messiah has a body of flesh and bones. By comparison, that easily teaches us that the Father has a body as well.

God has physical offspring. He sired the entire human race upon Adam’s formation (Luke 3:38). But more importantly, God is the Father of our Spirits. This is clearly indicated through several scriptures. I could first point to Acts 17. Paul is preaching to the Athenians, chastising them for their ignorant worship. Then, using their own poetry as a teaching tool, he confirms that we are the “offspring of God” (v. 28-29). He is very clearly speaking in all literal senses. Again, we could turn to Hebrews 12:9, where it is made clear that we should subject ourselves to the Father of spirits, a parenthood compared to the literal parenthood of our fathers of flesh. And another: John 10:34-36 (with the parallel Psalms 82:6). Jesus states that yes, indeed we are children of the God of gods.

All these verses are taken from the Bible, but modern scripture continues to reveal and open further the doors of truth. D&C 76:24 teaches us that all of us are “begotten sons and daughters unto God.” Abraham 3:22 also illustrates our creation as spirits by our God. The Family: A Proclamation to the World states, “All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents.” And we continue to be taught that he is our Father, and we his children. What a beautiful truth to know.

But really, what does that mean? What does it matter? We shall see.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Blog note

Based on feedback and a discussion I had with my brother, I have edited the Weakness of the Leaders essay, organized it better and filled out the argument more fully. It was originally posted on Oct 30, 2005, and was revised on Nov. 4, 2005. Hopefully, it flows in a more natural manner.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Weaknesses of the Leaders and their effect on the doctrine

The hand of prophets found in the divine
I strongly believe that even in the Lord's church, the hand of men is inevitable. It is impossible to work with human tools without them leaving fingerprints on the work of God. Paul, with his flair and education, took a very bold and fiery course that helped steer the church of the first century away from its Jewish roots. Was this good? Bad? Well, he was called of God, and his actions were acceptable to the Lord, despite any shortcomings he may had. More specifically, he was called at that specific time, to utilize his talents and abilities and influence the church for good. The Lord needed him in that calling at that very specific time.

Another example would be Moses. Moses, a self-doubter and poor speaker, was also called of God and led the church of his day from physical bondage into the promised land. He himself never entered into that land himself. His approach, with incredible strictness, may have come in part from his training in the courts of pharaoh, while the practical portion of his ministry (being spiritual, military and political leader to his people, governing in all things for his people) may come from his own life in the desert before becoming a prophet. We do not know for sure, but thinking on this can be instructive.

However much speculation can be put into this topic, it is difficult to really see exactly which parts of the Gospel as given to the Jews are Moses and which parts are God's. Why? Because we really do not have a good view of his personality and very little in the way of contemporary accounts about him. With Paul, there is a bit more knowledge about him available, but even so, there are not multiple contemporary accounts of his life.

Not so with Joseph Smith. He is a man who raised controversy no matter what he did. Many hated him and spouted out vile rhetoric against him and his religion from the beginning. Others proselytized and preached about Joseph and his greatness. As a result, we have a great deal of documentation from both camps about this man. Some essays, books and scholarly papers ridicule and deride him, while others praise his many accomplishments and say little about his weaknesses. Where is the balanced writings about his life? What is the truth? How could so many conflicting statements be made about one man? And how does this affect the doctrine and covenants he revealed?

Leaders as human
The truth is, Joseph was a man. By virtue of that, he made mistakes, sometimes many. In fact, examining the lives of all the prophets, I cannot escape the conclusion that no matter the calling in the Lord's church, no matter the high potential offered by this Mormon theology, there is not any one leader we have ever had who was not merely a man. I am not phrasing this in sexist terms as a comment on the lack of women in leadership roles; that is a different topic altogether. Most of our leaders are men. Being a man is not altogether a bad thing (we believe that God was one at one time), but it does mean one is prone to error and mistakes, self-aggrandizement and self interest, even pride and other mistakes.

That does not mean I believe the leaders of the church, now or in the past, to be insincere or untruthful as they saw the truth. On the contrary, I think specifically that Joseph, the man, was a very sincere person. But by today's standards, he is peculiar. Truthfully, by the standards of his own day, he is still considered peculiar. In point of fact, most prophets run outside the popular track of society.

In Joseph, we have man in recent history claiming to be a prophet and to having visions. Naturally, this is going to be met with skepticism or derision. Because he had frailties and weaknesses, because he even had vices, many doubted his claims, as is their right. But does his humanity invalidate his claims? There are many essays defending the humanity of prophets, and these make a good point. A prophet is not a prophet at all times. There are times when he is just a man. Joseph Smith even said he was only a prophet when he acted like one (as quoted on Jeff Lindsey's excellent defense of leader fallibility).

I believe that very humanity is one of the greatest strengths of a prophet. Humans do not respond as well to those with whom they cannot relate. A perfect person would not gain many converts (Christ himself did not have many converts from his own preaching, but through the work done after his death and resurrection). Humanity is a temporary state that is designed to teach us and see if we can be faithful enough to return to our father in heaven (see Abraham 3:25)

How the humanity of leaders might affect the doctrines and the covenants
Despite the many weaknesses, these men were called to do phenomenal things, things that touch upon the heavens. Human capacity is limited and cannot comprehend all things from the eternities. These imperfect vessels still have to do their jobs, but their own understandings and interpretations creep in to the truth. As I mentioned before with Moses and Paul, we have leaders who have left their fingerprints on the gospel today.

Let's take a hypothetical situation concerning Joseph Smith. What if the Lord told him to create rituals for the temple, based on certain eternal truths and including certain covenants. Furthermore, what if the Lord made this commandment without any specific information as to how to fulfill the task? How do we know that Joseph Smith didn't use some of his knowledge of Masonic rituals (knowledge that came through his brother Hyrum, long before he became a Mason) to construct the temple ceremonies? Apologists will say he did not, that Masons stole from the original ordinances in Solomon's temple. On the other hand, critics say Joseph stole the rituals outright. I take a more moderate view, not the all or nothing approach. Perhaps Joseph did see things that appealed to him about the Masonic rituals and incorporated them somewhat into the ordinances already revealed to him. Perhaps he did this because he saw some truths in Masonic ritual and wanted to utilize and preserve them. However the information got there, the Lord certified it as inspired and of God, and that was the end of the story. They became (and still are) official. They became binding to the saints of his day, and anyone baptized into his church today must also accept these human-influenced yet divine ordinances.

The pattern of human influence found in the scriptures
I believe this is the pattern the Lord follows: sometimes being very specific, and sometimes very directive, leaving the details to the individual. Why? Perhaps to involve his prophets in a meaningful way instead of having mere puppets. Do we have any evidence of this kind of behavior? In the book of Ether, we learn of the brother of Jared, a very righteous man who saw the premortal Christ. He was commanded to make boats and was given very specific instructions as to building them. There was a problem, though. There was no light source, and fire would not work (it would take their air supply and leave them with smoke in their airtight ships). Rather than tell Jared's brother what to do, the Lord said "What will you have me do?" (see Ether 2: 25). The brother of Jared thought and came up with his solution, then came to the Lord and said to touch these stones and make them glow (see Ether 3). He was not commanded in all things, and was a good and faithful servant (see D&C 58:26). I believe this is a pattern the Lord uses with all of us, from his prophets on down to the newest convert or smallest child. If we have the needed faith, we will come up with our own solutions and have the Lord put his stamp of approval upon it, despite its earthly origin and Joseph's inherent weaknesses and failings.

Imperfection does not invalidate callings
I have expressed less than fond feelings for Brigham Young on occasion, but do not hold this against his prophethood. I have said that I don't care for all things Elder McConkie said and did. Again, his weaknesses do not disqualify him from being a called apostle of the Lord. Every man who has led the church has been a human being and therefore weak and imperfect. One mistake many Mormons (and former Mormons) make is saying it is all or nothing, they either are prophets all the time or not at all. They may not put it into such words, but the essence of their argument or doubts come from such closed and erroneous thinking.

These leaders are the chosen vessels of the Lord. While it is considered dangerous to the testimony to dwell on their weaknesses, they do have weaknesses and make mistakes. I don't see this as a problem the church should hide from. In fact, the fact that the church presses forward and continues to help the lives of others, despite the many failings of leaders (and missionaries, and regular members, and so forth), is a testimony that there may be something to this church after all. Why are we shying away from this truth?

Let us be more forthcoming about our leaders. Let our leaders be more forthcoming. I do not mean to brag of their weaknesses, nor to revel in or celebrate them. But not be afraid to admit that they happened. Yes, Joseph Smith Jr. drank alcohol (according to the claims of this page, claiming he was a fallen prophet). Yes, B. H. Roberts had his doubts. Many men left the church after seeing remarkable things (the three witnesses, many of the original apostles, most of the 8 witnesses, etc.), yet the work has continued. The truthfulness of the restoration message has not changed, despite their weaknesses. Let us not forget that.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Scripture reading and listening to the prophet

My wife and I have been listening to the prophet and actually reading the Book of Mormon, with the intent of finishing before the year is out. This has been an interesting experience before. I have read the book over a dozen times and had somewhat burned out on those pages. I even recently (last Christmas, I think) retired my old scriptures, given to me by my parents at age 8. The verses were heavily overlaid by multiple colors and accompanied by scribbled notes in the margins. There have been times when, while reading that set, I was actually impressed at my spiritual insight from previous readings. But alas, I needed a new set. That doesn't mean I got rid of the old set of scriptures. They are still sitting on a shelf somewhere, gathering dust.

The new set is a quad, containing all four major works that Latter-day Saints consider scripture in one binding: the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. I have used them somewhat, but never really broken in the new pages. Most of my Sunday school lesson preparation takes place on my laptop using the online scriptures and GospeLink 2001. I don't even use a lesson manual, instead opting to get the material from the website. I tried once to start going through the Book of Mormon using my new set, but didn't get past early 2nd Nephi.

Kari, on the other hand, has never read the Book of Mormon all the way through. It's not as if she has never read the book, though. She has read various passages, attended seminary while in high school and religion classes at BYU. She tells me she just never got as much out of personal scripture study.

So, my wife and I actually started reading the Book of Mormon together. We take turns reading five verses at a time, out loud. Sometimes, one of us will have comments. Not all comments are spiritual. Sometimes, we chuckle at strange word-choice of Mormon or bizarre behavior from one of the people described in the scriptures. Sometimes, an odd thought only vaguely inspired by what we read will get us on a random path of discussion. Often, I will point out things I have read that support the Book of Mormon's authenticity. Still other times, I will point out things I have read from critics that supposedly disprove the book, and my understanding of those kinds of statements. It has been a good learning experience for both of us. Kari is learning how all those stories fit together. I get a chance to talk out some of the issues, good and bad, that I've seen with the Book of Mormon.

An added bonus has been spending time with my wife. We do not always have time together, considering work (for both of us, depending on the time of year), school, children and church callings, we do not always get enough time with one another. This schedule of reading every day means at least a portion of the day is spent focusing on accomplishing a task together. It's nice. We have both observed that days we forget to read are less smooth. Just like the old seminary answers (i.e. life will be much better if you just read and pray).

One additional benefit of reading the scriptures together is that I notice things I never noticed before, gained insights I had never before supposed could be gained, at least not with as great clarity. For example, over and over, I see evidence that the Lehites (anyone descending from Lehi, whether those in Nephi's or Laman's camp) are not alone in the land. I can't tell if it is a cultural arrogance that they don't overtly talk about the other groups (with the exception of the people of Zarahemla and the Jaradites), or if it is just assumed that the reader will understand. While I'm not prepared to make a detailed list (because I am reading out loud and not taking time to mark or take note or anything), I recall time and again where a person or people are discussed that have no connection with the Nephites or Lamanites, but still someone who belongs in the land.

My working theory is that both the Nephites and Lamanites absorbed into other cultures, perhaps as the ruling classes (as the Nephites did with the people of Zarahemla). Their religions got blended into the local traditions, but the racial/cultural separateness never disappeared completely. I don't have any real evidence supporting this, but I can't help but feel there are more people than we are being explicitly shown.

At any rate, reading the Book of Mormon at a brisk pace means I am able to make connections I wouldn't make at a slower (and more solitary pace). It is definitely a different kind of experience. I'm not sure exactly what the prophet had in mind by wanting all the members of the church to read the Book of Mormon by the end of the year, or why it was so important for this year, but I suppose it doesn't matter. We are doing it and are reaping certain benefits, and that is what following the prophet (as a principle) is all about. Just doing it.

I, however, still like to probe, poke and prod at things until they bleed in an effort to understand. So I haven't just done this out of blind faith. But that's just me.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Teaching in Sunday School and the weakness of leaders

As a Sunday School teacher, I have certain responsibilities. Not all of them are comfortable. Each week, I have several young minds that I must guide and challenge. A certain percentage of their spiritual edification is on my shoulders. I am called to teach them the Truth. But I cannot, by my own nature, just give them the straight lesson from out of the lesson manual. I also do not want to fill their heads with speculative doctrine. I also refuse to water down the gospel for them.

These are just kids. They are 14 and 15 years old. Little life experience and little to challenge their belief system in this land of the saints. Do I challenge them? Well, I try, but in a way that will build their inner strength and make sure they are committed to whatever they choose to believe.

Excuse me. Did you just say"whatever they choose to believe"? How weak and aimless! How ambivalent! But the truth is, I do not tell them what to believe. I present to them what I have learned in a way that hopefully makes sense to them and encourage them to pray and seek the spirit. I answer and encourage their questions. I want them to think about the gospel, not just accept it. Work and struggle through these deep concepts, until they accept them and make them their own, or reject them and choose a different life. I don't think fence-sitting is healthy. If you are going to be in the church, you should be there because you believe (or know, as the case may be). Anyone staying for the wrong reasons is not doing anyone any favors.

This attitude and approach has meant that there have been times when we completely strayed from anything close to the lesson I had prepared, and yet, it was a powerful class experience. And that is the whole point. They are learning.

In my class, I do not teach them questionable doctrine, but perhaps I sometimes border. Today was the lesson on the need for prophets in the church. I focused on how the prophets are human and make mistakes. In so doing, I quoted Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and Bruce R. McConkie. I was not at all disrespectful. I wanted them to come away with a sense that no one, not even our leaders, should be set on a pedestal and worshiped or considered perfect. I believe there was one man who was perfect, and his name was Jesus Christ (at least, his anglicized name).

As a child, I used to believe that the prophets were almost perfect, say %95 perfect. I actually thought in terms of percentages. As I understand it now, percentages make no sense in a discussion of perfection, if for no other reason than because even the best of humanity would have a laughably low percentage of perfection.

As an adult, I am more reasonable. I understand that leaders are human beings. They have frailties, biases, weaknesses. Many of them are woefully and inadequately prepared to compassionately deal with the burden of the sins of another person. Many are insensitive. Some turn a blind eye to certain behaviors of friends. Some are overly strict. Some have double standards for men versus women. I have known many of these instances to happen to people I know. It can be frightening to think about.

How bodes this for the church? Well, if I believe at all that these are men (and the occasional woman or two) called of God, I have two choices. Believe that the church has been corrupted or accept that imperfect leaders is a part of the plan. I choose the latter. I believe some of the strength of the church comes from the realization that if it were the church of men, it would have fallen apart years ago with all this untrained and often hypocritical leadership (including missionaries and women's group leaders). But because it is God's church, it still stands, despite the imperfections running rampant.

How do you convey that to 14-year-olds? I use something like a modified Socratic method and walk them through the logic, but of course, I try to invite the spirit to work on them as well. I show them, as best I can, that despite weaknesses, the calling is still to be respected. There are leaders of the church, past and possibly present, with whom I have not agreed. That does not change that they were called of God, according to my belief system.

My belief system has had to become more accommodating, to allow for weakness of others. I used to be very condemning, but have learned I condemned myself much more than anyone else. I have realized that Christ operates on the principle of forgiveness, not just for sins, but for all the weaknesses and frailties we each have. Can I do less than that?

Friday, October 14, 2005

My views on Elder McConkie

My brother (mathoni) and I tend to see many things similarly. However, I notice that as we both mature, our views have become more divergent. In a great many things, I see more conservativism in my opinions than his. None of what I ever say would be for the purpose of criticism or undercutting his ideas. However, there are things upon which I disagree with him. I give this as a preface so all may know that as I continue my blog, I am not condemning my brothers views.

Bruce R. McConkie remains one of my favorite apostles. I am no critic of his, though I will acknowledge that he made some errors. Most well-known is his 1st edition of Mormon Doctrine, a book I have always wished to purchase, but one for which I lack the funds at this period of poverty in my life (okay, it's not really that bad). In this book, numerous things of questionable authenticity were said, including the Catholic Church being the Church of Satan, the unfaithfulness of blacks in the pre-earth life, etc. This link is very informative, and except for the potential user comments, is rather neutral:

Interestingly, some minor changes have been made in different printings of the 2nd edition, of which I have two different copies. Most notably is again the reference to blacks and the priesthood, with regards to the 1979 revelation.

Take note that Elder McConkie was only a Seventy when he first published his book, and took a lot of heat from the First Presidency and the Twelve. His role as an expositor of doctrine was not as authorative as it later became when he was made an Apostle.

Also, it is quite important to read mathoni's blog, wherein is an article by Elder McConkie himself on the humanity of the Church's leaders. They are very mortal, and are subject to making mistakes. I have read other talks of Elder McConkie where he even admits specific mistakes.

Much to Bruce R. McConkie's credit, he knew the Gospel better than anyone I can think of. He studied it to such great depths, unparalleled to my knowledge. He wrote a great many books, gave a large number of sermons, and has increased my faith in so many matters. His final testimony is the most moving I've read and listened to, and I endorse it with all my heart:

His Final Testimony

Bruce R. McConkie was a faulted man of God. I hope one day I can become more like him.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Bruce R. McConkie and the humanity of our leaders

I have long been a critic of Bruce R. McConkie, largely because his Mormon Doctrine has been taken so literally by so many members of the church, when the truth is, it has many errors and problems with it and was supposed to have been revised heavily, but instead only received minor corrections suggested by the Brethren.

Perhaps I have been to hasty. I am not a true critic, but it bothered me how many people held him up to impossible pedestal and felt he should have been the prophet of the Church. Despite my feelings, I have always recognized his strength of testimony. He cannot have been too bad a man, for his eulogy contains a list of many good deeds.

I have felt the powerful effects of his testimony, perhaps more than any other apostle. While on my mission, I prepared a lesson for the investigator Sunday School class (this was Easter of 1995). My companion had asked his parents to send a video copy of Elder McConkie's last testimony (given ten years before, not long before he passed away). I said my humble words, then showed the tape, allowing this apostle to express his testimony in words far stronger than I could use. See the transcript of that talk here. There were few dry eyes in that room, including from people I didn't think would be affected.

Yet now, ten years after that lesson, I complain that Bruce is over-quoted by the saints at large. Tonight, I read the transcript to a talk he gave in 1966, asking if the General Authorities are Human. Not only does he address that question, he does it with humor and candor. Apparently, his public persona was very different from his private one (see this discussion at the Millennial Star blog). This address helped me cope with some of my own issues with the . . . humanity of the brethren. It also helped me remember the good light in which I have held Bruce R. in the past. He also said things I have long believed. Well, it's a good thing I made peace with Bruce, because my son is friends with his great-grandson, David.

He says that all members of the church should receive revelation, not just the Brethren. We are all entitled to have the heavens opened up to us. We should not, I repeat, not rely on the testimony of others, not even him ("him" being Bruce). My comment: we were given brains and capacity to think with said brains. We are to use them and apply all the knowledge we have to come to the truth. Then, after we are done, we pray about it, we keep the commandments, we have faith, we wait patiently for the Lord to answer our prayers, and then we receive our confirmation through the spirit. There is no shortcut.

Want to read this powerful and humorous talk by Elder McConkie? Here is a direct link to a pdf file that has the entire transcript.

Introduction to the this blog

This is a place for me to post my exploration of the doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I have invited my brother to join me in writing on this blog. We each have our pet interests in the church, and although we were both raised in the church, we both have carefully examined what it means to be a believer in this faith. Prophets and apostles, critics, apologists and splinter groups all have their place in this exploration of the faith.

I want to start by posting a portion of a response I wrote for my LDS message board. It's not the best writing I've done, but it conveys the spirit of this blog.
I've been long pondering something about this. You see, missionaries often claim that the Book of Mormon serves as witness to the truthfulness of the Bible and both testify of Christ. So far so good. Christianity is splintered because they don't have that second testament. Um, wait.

On my mission, I remember a man on the street asking my companion and me, "If the Book of Mormon is supposed to cut through the confusion, then why are there so many Mormon factions?" He had a good point.

I decided that that line of reasoning might work for a new investigator, but there has to be more. The church isn't true just because the Book of Mormon exists, or the RLDS church and all the others would also be true. No, it is the principle of continuing revelation that makes a church true. It is the unbroken authority that makes a church true. The Book of Mormon helps, but is not the only thing. It is the Holy Ghost that confirms which is true. You can't just use the Book of Mormon, because it is not enough. Neither is the Doctrine and Covenants (or Book of Commandments). Again, it is the Holy Ghost that will tell you the truth of all things.