Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

The Word of Wisdom: Great Idea for Missionaries

What a wonderful day today was: my oldest son returned from his successful two-year mission in Argentina. I'm so proud of him and so glad to see how he has matured and grown in so many ways. In the midst of all the rejoicing and the wonderful missionary stories he has, I also confirmed something I already knew: the diet of many missionaries is not exactly healthy. For him, the typical diet was heavy in grease and meat. Fortunately, he still seems pretty healthy.

My youngest sister also went to South America, and was not so lucky. In her mission in Venezuela, missionaries typically drank sweet soda all the time as one of the few safe sources of water. All that sugar, coupled with the greasy diet their, apparently gave her some challenging health problems that took quiet a while to overcome when she returned to the states.

All you future mission presidents, I would encourage you to look for ways to help your missionaries find ways to obtain a healthy diet. The dietary principles of the Word of Wisdom are vital for 19-year-olds, too. I know that it's not easy - my son often didn't have much choice about what he ate. But there have to be some creative ways to improve things. Any ideas on what can be done?

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Irony and Coincidence: Teaching Tools of the Lord

Have you ever noticed the Lord's use of "coincidences" and even irony in teaching us through the events in our lives? For example, if you let your guard down and do something rude or stupid to a stranger that you think you'll never meet again, that failure may come back to haunt you. I've had several experiences where it just seems plain that the Lord arranged circumstances to teach me that I must always strive to stay in tune and not let my guard down.

One minor illustration: As a young married student at BYU, my wife and I visited the recreation area of the Wilkinson Center one night and played a couple of games. I put 50 cents into a fussball machine, but the machine ate my money without letting me play. Normally I would have shrugged my shoulders and gone on, but my wife said that I should be a little more brave and report the problem to the manager and get our money back. It was a very reasonable request. So I explained the problem to the person in charge. The manager said that it was my fault and my problem, and that he wouldn't refund it. I explained that I didn't make any mistake - the machine just took my money but didn't deliver the little ball needed to play the game. He got rather irritated and insisted that I was simply incompetent. At this point I should have just walked away, but I spend another minute or two arguing with him, getting nowhere and just getting more irritated myself. When I finally walked way, I felt very bad. I truly dislike contention and anger, but I fell right into and now had made a fellow BYU student mad at me as well. But since there are 25,000 other students here, I downplayed the episode by figuring that I would never run into that guy again.

Two months later he and his wife moved into our ward. Out of all the wards in the Provo-Orem area, he was now in our off-campus ward. And then the next week he was assigned to be our home teacher. I hardly saw him at church, but thought that the home teaching assignment might give us a chance to talk and fix things. Wrong. Perhaps he was avoiding me, or perhaps he was just normally inactive, or perhaps he started attending somewhere else. He never visited us. I saw him once and offered a time that he could visit us after Church, but he didn't come.

I realized that my failure to treat an irritated stranger with kindness and respect may have cost me an opportunity to help this brother in the Church. Perhaps I could have helped him grow as a home teacher or feel more comfortable about the Gospel or something, but now I believe that my "little sin" added one more painful obstacle to this man's progress in life. Had I been more in tune with the spirit, I might have been a help rather than a hindrance.

And I've seen this kind of thing many times, in my life and the lives of my friends and family, with signs of deliberate irony from a divine hand who wants us to learn this lesson: if we are to be His, we must always strive to be His. He wants us to "stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in" (Mosiah 18:9), especially with the random irritated strangers in our lives (and for me, that must include phone calls to distant technical support personnel).

Monday, June 28, 2004

Comments Broken?

Comments functionality seems to be broken at the moment on this blog. My settings say comments are enabled, but something is wrong. In the meantime, e-mail me: jeff at jefflindsay.com.

An interesting new LDS site is Allen Leigh's Mormon Site. Many interesting essays and LDS apologetic items. Nicely written materia, from what I've seen.

Paired Tricola: Now Caffeine Free

Several times in looking into the attacks on the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham, I've had the experience of finding that an initially "impressive" attack actually became interesting evidence in favor of Joseph Smith as a prophet. A classic example is the alleged mistake in Alma 7:10, where the birthplace of Christ is said to be the land of Jerusalem rather than Bethlehem. Since Bethlehem is essentially a suburb of Jerusalem, it makes sense, but what becomes really interesting is the use of the term "land" to describe what we all think of as a city. Though Joseph could not have known it in 1830, later documents from the seventh century B.C. and from the Dead Sea Scrolls would be discovered showing that ancient Jews did use the phrase "land of Jerusalem" to describe the region around the city, which would include Bethlehem as well. It's an authentic ancient phrase, accurately used in the Book of Mormon, that Joseph could not have fabricated. I discuss this issue on my page of Alleged Book of Mormon Problems and a page on Alma 7:10 and the Land of Jerusalem in the Book of Mormon.

More recently, I was exploring anti-Mormon charges that the an often-cited internal evidence of Book of Mormon authenticity was bogus. The issue revolves around 2 Nephi 12:16, which is quoting Isaiah 2:16. The KJV has a nice couplet (a "bicolon" - pair of elements), consistent with the series of couplets in that portion of the chapter. The 2 Nephi version suddenly introduces 3 elements. It appears that the 2 Nephi version brings together elements that are found now in various forms of Isaiah (e.g., the Hebrew text and the Septuagint), as if a more ancient original source were being quoted. It's a minor issue, but critics have charged that the introduction of a tricolon (three elements) in the midst of bicola (plural of bicolon) would disrupt the poetical structure and never be done. They are dead wrong: the Bible also has examples of tricola in the midst of bicola. I discuss this on my page, "Isaiah Variants in 2 Nephi 12 of the Book of Mormon: Authentic Hebrew Poetry?"

To me the really interesting thing was learning that sometimes, when a tricolon appears in the midst of bicola, that the authors were crafting another authentic form of Hebrew poetry that was not appreciated until about 50 years ago. This form of poetry is called "paired tricola" in which a tricolon joins with a bicolon to create two tricola by having one line of the main tricolon do double duty, also being parallel with the neighboring bicolon such that it can be combined with the bicolon to make a tricolon. For example, suppose that we have five lines, A1, A2, A3, B1, B2 (a tricolon followed by a bicolon), and the line A3 has elements that allow it to be paired with the A tricolon and also the B bicolon, so that A3 + B1 + B2 is another tricolon. Then we've got a paired tricolon.

Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the Psalms have examples of paired tricola. When I read about this form of poetry, I wondered if Nephi, who was so heavily influenced by Isaiah and the ways of the Jews at that time, might also have used paired tricola. In the first place I looked, 2 Nephi 4, I found what appeared to me to be clear examples of this form of poetry. I offer several examples and discuss their significance in the appendix of my page about 2 Nephi 12 (near the bottom). I found another example yesterday and will update the page sometime soon. (2 Nephi 12:16 itself is not a paired tricolon, though - I think most examples of tricola in the Bible aren't paired tricola.)

I don't know if the paired tricola issue has much significance, because it hasn't been through review and critiques by scholars who know the area far better than I do. But if it holds up, it could be another interesting case of an apparent problem in the Book of Mormon leading to the discovery of interesting evidence for its authenticity.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Youth Activities: Pet Peeves

While many youth activities are uplifting and serve valuable Gospel purposes, I'm puzzled over some of the exceptions I see. For example, why teach youths that their bodies are sacred temples to be treated with respect, and then promote eating contests, where kids are pressured to make fools of themselves stuffing food into their faces? For those who are overweight and already subject to teasing about their eating habits, an eating contest can be a dreaded nightmare. It's not healthy, it's ugly, it's undignified, and I'm sure it's something Christ would never approve of. What a sad deviation from the Word of Wisdom - and from wisdom in general. (Alternative suggestions if you have to have a competition with food: why not see how much food kids can prepare to give to the needy, or how food storage can be cataloged in a given time, or how many meals for missionaries can be cooked, or anything besides gorging?)

Another pet peeve is water fights or water balloon activities. Yes, they can be fun, but I've seen these events become traumatic for kids who came in nice clothes not knowing that they were going to be drenched. Many times the "fun" spills into the church building, with wet carpet and other problems. And sometimes the event becomes nasty. I recall one event in which a couple boys got socks wet with toilet water to throw at others. Ah, those sons of Helaman....

If 30 kids have a blast, and one goes home feeling like he or she never wants to come again because an event got ugly, I think the event is a failure.

Final thought: youth leaders, please be sure that water activities follow the Safety Afloat principles of Boy Scouts of America. Aquatic events can be so fun, but they are where some of the most terrible tragedies occur when Safety Afloat principles are violated. Years of good leadership in the Church won't take away the pain, regret, and even financial disaster if a young person dies under your watch when proper safety principles were not followed. It's serious stuff, and there are horror stories that go with each rule. Better to have people upset with you for being so paranoid about safety than to risk a fatality through negligence. And yes, you are likely to be sued if there was negligence (and, sadly, even if not).

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Terryl Givens on Polygamy

Have you read Terryl Givens' outstanding book, The Viper on the Hearth: Mormons, Myths, and the Construction of Heresy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997)? With his literary background (he's an associate professor of English at the University of Richmond), Brother Givens brings a fresh set of tools to his analysis of Mormonism in modern society. His discussion includes an examination of major attacks on the Church, such as the claim that we are a cult.

One passage I read again this morning and felt like sharing deals with polygamy. After examining how novels and the popular press dealt with rumors of Mormon violence and the "barbaric" evil of polygamy, Givens makes the following observations (p. 144):

Depictions of polygamy [in works of fiction] were also, and as predictably, wildly distorted. But then, the actual practice of plural marriage was seldom the stuff of steamy fiction. Writers of pulp fiction were unanimous in their claim that, in one author's words, "what was planned by Young for man's paradise proved woman's hell." [Mrs. W.A. King, Duncan Davidson; A Story of Polygamy (Philadelphia: Dorrance, 1928), 27.] But from Brigham Young's pronouncement that he would rather be the corpse in a funeral procession than have to accept the doctrine of polygamy [Journal of Discourses, 3:266] to the dozens of elders incarcerated in Territorial prison for their devotion to the practice to a generation of uniquely stressful marital relations for men and women alike, polygamy was far removed from the male paradise of fiction. Plural marriage was in practice a painful struggle against consciences shaped by Puritan values that most members, converts from Protestant faiths, shared. Domestic arrangements were inconvenient, fraught with jealousies, and, after the first wave of antipolygamy legislation, hampered by flight, concealment, and frequent relocations.

Also at odds with the fictional portrayal of the practice is the fact that in 1852, the same year that polygamy was publicly announced as a principle, Utah passed a divorce statute "that provided women much more control over their lives than was given by any other divorce statute of the nineteenth century, save only that of Indiana." [Louis Kern, An Ordered Love: Sex Roles and Sexuality in Victorian Utopia--the Shakers, the Mormons, and the Oneida Community (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1981), 191.] In an 1861 address, Brigham Young stated that "when a woman becomes alienated in her feelings and affections from her husband, it is his duty to give her a bill and set her free." Even more surprisingly, he claimed that for a husband to continue cohabiting with such a wife was tantamount to fornication. [Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History (Salt Lake City: Signature, 1986) 92-93.] Such opinions were clearly not meant merely for show. During his presidency, Young granted 1,645 divorces. [Ibid., 91. Also see Eugene E. Campbell and Bruce L. Campbell, "Divorce Among Mormon Polygamists: Extent and Explanations," Utah Historical Quarterly 46 (winter 1978): 4-23.]

Polygamy, then, proved to be a male Utopia only in the conceptions of some indignant--but apparently envious--novelistic fantasizers. Why the ferocious response by both the secular and the religious press? Such an egregious affront to Western standards of moral propriety may seem self-evidently offensive, but more than moral indignation is at work here. That such sensationalizing took place in the context of the most vehement moral outrage is neither surprising nor disingenuous. For it is precisely the transgressive nature of polygamy that excites both envy and rejection. The supposed virtue of exposing "the moral leprosy" of Utah gives at the same time opportunity to luxuriate in all the seamy details one is excoriating.

Many writers and journalists continue to "luxuriate" in seamy details involving past polygamy and the present polygamy of some excommunicated rebels, but it's not an accurate depiction of Mormon past or present.

I still can't get over the frequently repeated irony of immoral men and women, who see no problem with fornication or perhaps even adultery, showing great moral indignation over polygamy, which was based on a legal marriage contract.

I admit that I don't understand polygamy and am grateful that it's behind us. While it perplexes me, I need to realize that there a lot of things in Christianity and in the Bible in general that still perplex me. Faith and patience are still needed. God has not always done things the way I would do them (undoubtedly to His credit). In addition to that, great men of God have not always done things the way I think God would have them done (e.g., the way some Biblical patriarchs treated their wives or concubines). These gaps between my expectations and past practices of others are no excuse for wavering on my part, or for abandoning my faith in the Living God or departing from a covenant relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Someday we'll get all the frank answers we want, and we may be surprised and how we misunderstood things--but for now, a little more faith and patience may be in order when it comes to the occasional perplexities of religion.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Humor in the Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon is pretty serious stuff, written to bring us to Christ. But as with all scripture, it's impossible to avoid human influence, even human mistakes and perhaps (unintended) humor. The Book of Omni is one where the human side of the writers really shines through. Here we see some writers carrying on a Nephite tradition of making inscriptions in a nearly-full set of plates that Nephi had made. With little space left, and perhaps relatively little inspiration in a time of some spiritual drifting among the Nephites, we encounter some writers who don't have much space to write, but seem to have even less to say than they have space to fill. I just love verse 9:
Now I, Chemish, write what few things I write, in the same book with my brother; for behold, I saw the last which he wrote, that he wrote it with his own hand; and he wrote it in the day that he delivered them unto me. And after this manner we keep the records, for it is according to the commandments of our fathers. And I make an end.
Sounds like some high school essays I've read. But Chemish teaches us a valuable lesson: writing meaningful scripture is no easy task.

The flavor of the Book of Omni makes sense to me, and says something about where the Nephites were at that time in their history. They certainly needed the spiritual rejuvenation that would occur by fleeing, encountering the Mulekites, and having great leadership from Benjamin, Mosiah, and then Alma.

The different flavors of the books of the Book of Mormon, and the distinctive styles of its writers (e.g., the almost overly sensitive Jacob versus the straightforward military style of Mormon), all point to a book with complex authorship, an authentic ancient record spared for our time and made available through the power of God -- in spite of a human translator, human scribes, human printers, and further human editors along the way. Like the Bible, there have been some changes in the Book of Mormon, but they generally make a lot of sense and are hardly the cause for concern that the critics would have you believe.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Further Resources on Chiasmus

The FARMS Multimedia Page provides video and sound recordings of John Welch's lecture, "Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon" - a masterful 54-minute lesson that could be a valuable resource for a class or any serious student of the Book of Mormon. The movie is available for QuickTime and Windows Media Player. You can also skip the video and just listen to the lecture if you have QuickTime.

Further examples of chiasmus in the writings of Nephi are provided by David Sloan,
"Nephi's Convincing of Christ through Chiasmus: Plain and Precious Persuading from a Prophet of God," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Volume 6, Issue 2, 1997. The link is for a PDF file. The article is also available in HTML format.

To see if drafting powerful examples of Semitic chiasmus was a typical skill for farmboys on the frontier (or anyone else!) in 1830, see John Welch's article, "How Much Was Known about Chiasmus in 1829 When the Book of Mormon Was Translated?"

Another helpful resource is John Welch, "Criteria for Identifying and Evaluating the Presence of Chiasmus," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Volume 4, Issue 2, 1995. Welch has warned that some Latter-day Saints have taken the chiasmus issue way too far, finding chiasmus everywhere when it may not have really been intentional.

I have updated my page on chiasmus in the Book of Mormon to include these resources. I also fixed some broken links.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Alma 36 - Be Sure to Mention Chiasmus

Many Latter-day Saints will soon be discussing Alma 36 in the Book of Mormon in Gospel Doctrine classes (or some might have already done so). I'm disappointed that most LDS folks don't seem to have any idea that Alma 36 may well be the best known example of an ancient Semitic form of poetry known as chiasmus. In fact, many Latter-day Saints still haven't even heard of chiasmus. OK, neither had Joseph Smith, but he had a good excuse: it was virtually unknown in his day, and certainly not understood enough for even a scholar to have fabricated the powerful and intricate chiasmus we see in Alma 36. But today, there is just no excuse for not appreciating this poetical form that permeates the Book of Mormon, at least among the early writers who were most heavily influenced by ancient Jewish literary forms.

If your instructors don't mention it, I encourage you to raise your hand and give a quick explanation of what's going on. It's easy to help people see some basics by comparing the first couple of verses to the last couple, and then identify the symmetry around the pivot point when Alma turns his heart to Christ. Alma 36 is such a powerful witness of Christ!

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

The Atlatl and the Book of Mormon

Alma 49:4 describes a battle in which Lamanite warriors tried to "cast" their arrows over the fortified wall of earth around the city (a form of fortification that has since been shown to be an authentic aspect of ancient Mesoamerica, where cultures and geography best align with the Book of Mormon). Why the word "cast"? Surely Joseph Smith knew that Indians using bows and arrows would shoot their arrows, not cast them. Based on what Joseph knew, there is no reason for using the word "cast" -- if he were fabricating the Book of Mormon. But "cast" is an entirely appropriate word for a weapon that was widely used in the ancient Americas, the atlatl, which resembles a sling that throws or cast arrows. You can read about the atlatl and even buy one at Atlatl.com. (What a dramatic object lesson that could be in Sunday School! Tip: be sure to consult the multilingual safety guide before attempting the demonstration.) Other resources include a Canadian site and an article by Thomas Elpel.

The atlatl is the name of the weapon in Nahuatl, the Aztec language. It was a primary weapon of war in ancient Mesoamerica. John Sorenson points out the significance of the atlatl in his chapter, "How Could Joseph Smith Write So Accurately about Ancient American Civilization" in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, ed. D.W. Parry, D.C. Peterson, and J.W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002), pp. 261-306. That chapter, and the whole book, are filled with fascinating insights into and evidences for the Book of Mormon. The use of the seemingly odd word "cast" in Alma 49:4 is truly a minor issue, I admit, but one that struck me as interesting this morning.

For other information on weapons and the Book of Mormon, see my page, "Metals, Weapons, and the Book of Mormon."

Monday, June 21, 2004

Alma 13: Plagiarized from Paul?

Critics have charged that Alma 13 was plagiarized from the writings of Paul. I discuss the issue at http://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/FQ_BMProb3.shtml#alma. The page itself is "The Book of Mormon: Stolen from Modern Writings?" (one of my Mormon Answers pages). Some of the material presented in that section may also be helpful to appreciating the issues that are raised in that powerful chapter.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Have Anti-Mormons Won the War?

It is a common myth that anti-Mormon attacks have completely overwhelmed the intellectual position of Latter-day Saints, leaving us with nothing but blind faith in our "warm feelings" about the Church. The portrayal of Mormons as idiots without any intellectual foundation in our religion is a common caricature based on deceptive marketing. With the flood of anti-Mormon arguments, books, pamphlets, movies, and Web sites, it is easy to think that Mormonism would be completely devastated if a tiny fraction of the things said against us were true.

For example, I once met a new convert, a college student, in my town of Appleton, Wisconsin, who showed me a couple of thick books loaded with accusations against the Church. She was upset and angry and planning to leave the Church. I tried to calm her down, and one by one, we discussed the arguments that were bothering her. Once one attack was diffused, she raised another, and another, and I think I helped her see that there was little merit to what she had raised so far, and that the bulk of the anti-Mormon material was truly deceptive. Then she just dug in her heels and said, "Well, it doesn't matter. If only 10% of all the things in here are true, that's enough to destroy the Church!" She left the Church, and if she had lived 2,000 years ago as an early Christian convert, I'm sure she would have left the Church then, too. After all, if only 10% of the things that the anti-Christians said were true, then that would be enough to destroy Christianity, right? (Oh, how I wish modern education would help people understand that critical thinking means more than just accepting the criticisms that others think up.)

Anti-Mormon literature is amazingly ignorant of what Latter-day Saints really believe and especially ignorant of LDS authors have written in response to anti-Mormon attacks. Many of the common attacks against the Church are regurgitated arguments from the nineteenth century, arguments which have been thoroughly and carefully treated by responsible LDS writers who do much more than just talk about some warm feeling in their hearts. But the anti-Mormon writers and speakers of today make it sound as if no Mormon has ever dared to respond to their awesome arguments, and that the Church can only retreat and hide when faced with an intellectual battle.

But many anti-Mormons are not simply ignorant of our response. Some have entered into debates and discussions with Latter-day Saint scholars and have had their intellectual fallacies soundly exposed, yet they continue saying the same things and acting as if there has never been a response. This form of intellectual dishonesty, based on the common anti-Mormon attitude of "the end justifies the means," does great disservice to the cause of Christianity. Even if our position is wrong, the tactics of some of our professional anti-Mormon opponents reveal whom they really follow.

The intellectual weakness of the standard anti-Mormon position has been pointed out by a number of non-LDS writers. In one interesting example, two evangelical critics of the Church, Carl Mosser and Paul Owen, presented a paper at the 1997 Evangelical Theological Society Far West Annual Meeting, April 25, 1997 that warned the evangelical community about the impressive efforts of LDS scholars and criticized the blind approach of typical anti-Mormon literature. Their article, "Mormon Scholarship, Apologetics, and Evangelical Neglect: Losing the Battle and Not Knowing It?" (later published in Trinity Journal, Fall 1998, pp. 179-205), is one of the most intriguing non-LDS articles I've ever encountered from critics of the Church. (One of several copies of it on the Web can be found at ComeToZarahemla.org or Cephas Ministry.)

Mosser and Owen note that anti-LDS writers have ignored the significant work of respected LDS scholars who are providing "robust defenses" of the LDS faith. In preparing their paper, Mosser and Owen did something that few critics have done: they have actually read a wide variety of LDS scholarly writings. As a result, they came to the following five conclusions:

The first [conclusion] is that there are, contrary to popular evangelical perceptions, legitimate Mormon scholars. We use the term scholar in its formal sense of "intellectual, erudite; skilled in intellectual investigation; trained in ancient languages." Broadly, Mormon scholarship can be divided into four categories: traditional, neo-orthodox, liberal and cultural. We are referring to the largest and most influential of the four categories--traditional Mormon scholars. It is a point of fact that the Latter-day Saints are not an anti-intellectual group like Jehovah's Witnesses. Mormons, in distinction to groups like JWs, produce work that has more than the mere appearance of scholarship. The second conclusion we have come to is that Mormon scholars and apologists (not all apologists are scholars) have, with varying degrees of success, answered most of the usual evangelical criticisms. Often these answers adequately diffuse particular (minor) criticisms. When the criticism has not been diffused the issue has usually been made much more complex.

A third conclusion we have come to is that currently there are, as far as we are aware, no books from an evangelical perspective that responsibility interact with contemporary LDS scholarly and apologetic writings. In a survey of twenty recent evangelical books criticizing Mormonism we found that none interact with this growing body of literature. Only a handful demonstrate any awareness of pertinent works. Many of the authors promote criticisms that have long been refuted; some are sensationalistic while others are simply ridiculous. A number of these books claim to be "the definitive" book on the matter. That they make no attempt to interact with contemporary LDS scholarship is a stain upon the authors' integrity and causes one to wonder about their credibility.

Our fourth conclusion is that at the academic level evangelicals are losing the debate with the Mormons. We are losing the battle and do not know it. In recent years the sophistication and erudition of LDS apologetics has risen considerably while evangelical responses have not. Those who have the skills necessary for this task rarely demonstrate an interest in the issues. Often they do not even know that there is a need. In large part this is due entirely to ignorance of the relevant literature.

Finally, our fifth conclusion is that most involved in the counter-cult movement lack the skills and training necessary to answer Mormon scholarly apologetic. The need is great for trained evangelical biblical scholars, theologians, philosophers and historians to examine and answer the growing body of literature produced by traditional LDS scholars and apologists.

(Further analysis based on the paper of Mosser and Owen has been provided by Justin Hart in "Winning the Battle and Not Knowing It," in MeridianMagazine.com, an article in five parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5. For an interesting example of the issues that Owen and Mosser have raised, see Paul Owen's rebuttal of anti-Mormon John Weldon's response to the original article of Mosser and Owen. Owen appears to be appalled at the "head-in-the-sand" approach of John Weldon, who has demonstrated the very problems that Mosser and Owen speak against in their paper and says that Weldon's anti-Mormon "intellectual narrow-mindedness" is "astounding."

Latter-day Saints who study the responses of LDS writers to anti-Mormon criticisms know that there are many excellent resources which completely refute or at least defuse many of the arguments hurled against us. These resources, found at places like FARMS, The Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIRLDS.org), SHIELDS, and even my little Web site (including my Mormon Answers section), do not rely on blind faith and emotional feelings to deal with the critics, in my opinion. In fact, Mosser and Own are correct in observing that there are "robust defenses." In fact, many of the defenses turn the tables on the critics and leave them in intellectually untenable positions. In fact, we could turn around and ask them a few tough questions of our own (though never with the nastiness and "any-lie-will-do" approach that we see from many critics)--something I have gently tried to do on my page, "My Turn--Questions for Anti-Mormons."

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Provo Most Secure? Try My Part of the World....

The good people of my town, Appleton, Wisconsin, are still puzzled about the honor given to Provo, Utah as the most secure city in America by shady powers in the insurance industry. Appleton came in Number 10, which is simply outrageous. Less secure than Provo? Doesn't everyone know that Mormons are crazed, violent people, who only interrupt their Danite plundering and persecution of Gentiles to have their internecine polygamist gunbattles? Isn't it obvious that an archetypal Mormon center like Provo should be one of the most dangerous cities in America, or perhaps the world? Those deceived insurance folks need to get to a Christian bookstore ASAP and read up on the Mormons.


Oh, yes - Provo is also the headquarters for that spiteful and angry Mormon apologists group, FARMS, whose bullies are always venting their anger and showing "hostility and contempt" by doing things like answering the attacks anti-Mormon critics and publishing insights regarding Book of Mormon evidence. Yeah, I read all about it in John-Charles Duffy's article on LDS apologetics in Sunstone (but it was so disappointing: he mentioned my Mormon Web site and then forget to cite any examples of my bad behavior - I'm really feeling left out).


Say, if you like Provo, I bet you'll like Appleton even better. OK, we don't have mountains, and we do have a little more trouble with beer and liquor (we're in the top 10 list also for bars per capita!), but Appleton is an outstanding place for Mormons, with high employment, good education, a lot of culture, and a community that is remarkably tolerant and kind. Part of that may be due to the influence of Dorothy Johnson, a tremendous Latter-day Saint who was the mayor of Appleton for many years and is still very active and influential in the community. We have two strong wards and the Fox Cities Hmong Branch, where my family and I served as members for the past two years.


I lived in Provo during my years at BYU. Great place, certainly. But it has its problems as well.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Fortifications and the Book of Mormon

A couple years ago I summarized some findings regarding defensive fortifications among the ancient Mayans and their apparent connections to the Book of Mormon (see my page, "Mesoamerican Fortifications and the Book of Mormon"). The site of Becan was of particular interest. Today I noticed that aerial photos of ancient earthworks in Becan are available on the MayaRuins.com site at http://mayaruins.com/becan/aerial1.html and http://mayaruins.com/becan/aerial2.html.
Enjoy.


For the issue of whether Joseph could have plagiarized available materials to come up with his description of fortifications, see my Mormon Answers page, "Was the Book of Mormon Plagiarized from Modern Sources?." Also see "What Could Joseph Smith Have Known about Mesoamerica?."

Changes in the Book of Mormon

One of the first anti-Mormon works that was presented to me as a teenager was a work by the Tanners on the "over 3,000 changes" in the Book of Mormon. Looking at all the minor changes in spelling didn't do much to shake my testimony, especially when I knew that the text was dictated and not a polished work that had been carefully crafted and spell-checked a thousand times before taking it to the printer (who introduced unwanted changes of his own that later had to be fixed). But the critics have honed their attack and pointed to some changes that go beyond mere spelling and punctuation. It's helpful to understand the issues and the explanations. A useful resource is "Changes to the Book of Mormon" on Russell Anderson's Website. I've also got an essay, "Changes in the Book of Mormon that may be of help. Please let me know of other pages, books, or articles that you feel should be considered.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Tithing: A Genuinely Divine Principle

The biblical concept of tithing, preached in both the Old Testament and New (Christ endorses it in Matthew 23:23), is one of many authentic elements of the Gospel that were restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Latter-day Saints who live that "difficult" principle often find that life is easier with it because of the blessings that it brings. Sometimes the blessings come naturally because of self-control and discipline over one's finances, but many people experience how the blessings of Heaven can be poured out when we show faith. It's as if our loving and kind Father in Heaven is anxious to bless us when we first show faith in Him.

I believe that my own father owes his life to blessings from God that may have been poured out through the faith of his tithe-paying mother. My father served in the Korean war, where many people on both sides died. His mother was terribly worried and went to her bishop to discuss it. The bishop felt impressed to tell his mother that God would protect her son, if she would exercise faith to pay tithing. She had very little, not enough to be of any real help to the Church, but like the story of the widow's mite, the Lord is interested in our faith, not our portfolios. She faithfully paid her tithing, while my father had one experience after another that convinced him in the reality of God's power. He had many experiences where he would have been killed had he not responded to a puzzling impression to change his location, and he had other experiences where he simply should have been shot or blown to bits but was spared. In one case, huddling in a fox hole, he heard a shell coming and knew it was for him. He covered his head, felt a thud behind him, and waited for the explosion - but it never came. Inches from his back was a little hole in his fox hole with smoke coming out of it from the rare dud that the enemy had wasted on him. Only later did my father learn of the promise that his Bishop had made to his faithful mother.

During my tenure as a bishop, I saw other miracles come into the lives of members who paid tithing with faith, especially when it seemed difficult. My testimony of the principle was cemented by watching how the lives of new converts and long-time members were blessed when they followed this simple principle.

I think my favorite story of the blessings of tithing is John R. Whiting, "Spencer Kimball and the Service Station Guy" in Sunstone, June 1989, pp. 10-15. I don't think it's available online. I'll summarize it later....

Anyway, if your testimony is floundering, remember that faith precedes the miracle. Pay your tithing, serve diligently as a home or visiting teacher, turn to the Lord in prayer to bless the lives of others, and you'll soon see just how real and wonderful the Gospel is. And don't forget to study the scriptures regularly, growing from the nourishment and guidance they provide.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Secret Combinations: Should We Care What the Book of Mormon Says?

Ether 8 and many other parts of the Book of Mormon warn against the great dangers of powerful secret combinations whose members gain great power and wealth and eventually cause terrible destruction. We are warned that secret societies caused the destruction of two great Book of Mormon nations, and that they will threaten us with destruction in our day, and that a secret combination will seek to overthrow the freedom of all nations (Ether 8:25). I've heard Latter-day Saints discuss the topic a few times, and frequently people conclude that all that talk in the Book of Mormon is there to warn us about the (yawn) Mafia. The Mafia? Sure, they have the oaths and secret allegiances that qualify them for a true secret combination according to Book of Mormon definitions, but do they have the clout and power to wield international influence in a way that should cause us to fear and tremble? Maybe you folks in New Jersey have got some trouble, but they are minor league players as far as I'm concerned.

Consider the details in the Book of Mormon about secret societies and the various roles they play as external and internal threats, coupled with their workings, their oaths, their strategies, the wars they create, their ways of gaining influence among lawyers, merchants, and political rulers, and so forth. Based on what we have learned in the past century about groups such as the Mafia, Al Qaeda, the groups behind the Mao Mao rebellion in Kenya, Communist revolutionaries and cells, and other organizations, it is now remarkably clear that the Book of Mormon is accurate and could not have been fabricated based on what little Joseph Smith could have known. Further, their description fits in well with Mesoamerican society, as Brant Gardner shows. (E.g., they require a society with a system of taxation to provide the profit engines for these groups, and taxation plus other features in the Book of Mormon fits in well with Mesoamerica but not with the Native Americans Joseph would have known about.) Yes, in terms of evidences for the Book of Mormon, that's cool, but the real point is what we need to watch out for in our day. Does anybody think about this?

I know it's a terribly controversial subject, with everybody in modern America being scared to death to talk about "conspiracies," but shouldn't we engage in discourse about secret societies and their dangers and influence in our day? And does it bother anybody that a tiny little secret society, Skull and Bones, has become tremendously powerful, with BOTH candidates for the US Presidency being members? CBS News just ran an article on Skull and Bones that might be interesting for some of you, I hope. Another controversial article at TheNewAmerican.com shows how these bipartisan Bonesmen responded when asked publicly about their affiliation. Shouldn't we at least know what oaths they have made?

Perhaps our modern secret societies are just jovial fraternities based on good clean fun. And frankly, the Book of Mormon only presents one side of the story. I'm sure Gadianton did a lot for the economy and probably cared about kids and was just a fun-loving guy with a lot of close friends. If only that book weren't so biased! And politically incorrect, to say the least.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Excellent Music Resource at LDS.org

Have you seen the resources for LDS Music at LDS.org? (Kudos to my Stake President for pointing it out to me.) This amazing service allows you to search and play the music for LDS hymns and songs in the Children's Songbook. The interactive music player, based on a piano, shows you what notes are being played, and allows you to select what parts are heard. For example, I can have it only play the bass part to help me learn it. The tempo can also be adjusted. Or you can download MP3 files for the songs as music only or music and voice. (Take that, Kazaa!) There are also helpful resources to help you learn how to use the hymnbook, read music, conduct a hymn, etc. And if you're a composer, you can submit new music for the Church's consideration, and look at past submissions that have been accepted.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Only in Utah...


Only in Utah! I took this photo on Bluff Street in St. George, Utah on May 9, 2004, while attending my Grandmother's funeral (Mary Lyon Miles). Next to my hotel was this shop specializing in paintball, food storage, and violins. Now there's a business model that captures the essence of the Mormon market! Posted by Hello

Real Prophets, Real Men: Opposing Pornography

True prophets in biblical times were always speaking out against popular but evil trends. The intellectuals, the elite, the celebrities, and other opinion molders of the day often despised the prophets. Modern LDS prophets are in good company. Have you noted how often President Hinckley and other prophets speak out against pornography? In a day when it is so popular and widespread, their constant warnings are hardly tailored for popularity and mass acceptance. But the message is a vital one.

I am so grateful to belong to a Church that doesn't just say what people want to hear. I believe that the For the Strength of Youth booklet for youth truly is inspired, and am so glad that young people in this Church are warned of the dangers of sin and the blessings of chastity and freedom from pornography. I appreciate the suggestions for regulating media in our homes that the Church provides. I am proud of the First Presidency for speaking out against pornography so frequently. In this degrading era where Dr. Ruth is held up as a hero, and vile organizations like Planned Parenthood are more given far more respect than the Church or Christianity in general, people need the guidance that comes from a true prophet.

Why do I care? Because so many times I have seen the devastating effects of pornography. I have seen it wreck marriages for people that I cared about. I have dealt with many victims of sexual abuse, and know that pornography almost always plays a role in the sordid pattern of behavior associated with such crimes. I have seen people become calloused not only to the promptings of the Spirit, but to the feelings of other people. I have seen pornography change the mindset of others so that they viewed women as little more than slabs of flesh to play with, rather than the daughters of God that they are. I know that the MISINFORMATION it provides interferes with the ability of people to properly experience and grow from the real joys of intimacy in marriage - it leaves the disappointed, selfish, and even pathetic. It makes losers out of people who could have been great. Pornography is all about becoming a loser. Real men don't do pornography! Neither do real women. And real prophets speak out against these evils. Praise God that we have a real prophet today.

A related resource I offer is my page, "Mormon Answers: Love, Dating, and Marriage for Mormons" with my answers at some common questions dealing with morality.

Related thoughts:

I have little respect for the arrogance of self-styled intellectuals in the Church who sneer at prophetic warnings on morality and modesty, and think that they are in a different class of people who can "handle" pornography or making out or whatever. There is great wisdom and inspiration in our Prophet who urges us to flee pornography as if it were the plague. Those who think they are too smart for that might as well sneer at health officials who warn us to wash our hands and avoid drinking water contaminated with sewage.

I also know that the Church's program of interviews with Church leaders, so often mocked by critics in and out of the Church, is a powerful resource to help people get the help they need to overcome sin. Dealing with addictive problems like pornography or immorality of any kind (masturbation and beyond) can be very difficult for a person to do without the power that comes from honestly confessing and seeking counsel. People need a confidential outlet to discuss such problems, and coupled with the power of the Spirit and priesthood guidance, miracles can occur. (But these interviews need to be kept uplifting and non-threatening and comfortable, not prying improperly, always showing respect and compassion for the person being interviewed.)

On a final note, let me mention somebody you probably haven't heard about recently, unless you have access to a TV, radio, newspaper, or computer: Ronald Reagan. Among all the endless discussions of Ronald Reagan in the past few days, one thing I haven't heard the media mention at all was Ronald Reagan's moral stand against pornography. The controversial Meese Commission Report on pornography that came from the Reagan era has been denounced by almost everyone in the media. I suspect that the percentage of critics of the report who actually read it is about the same as the fraction of anti-Mormon writers who have read the Book of Mormon. I am one of the very few Americans who actually read the report (still have a copy of it). I feel the report has been grossly misreported and underreported, and that its documentation indeed provides powerful evidence that the porn industry does great harm to America and to many specific victims. It did not call for a new era of draconian censorship, but mostly called for enforcement of already existing Constitutionally valid laws. Reasonable people might disagree with some of its conclusions, but I have almost never heard reasonable people discussing what it actually said, or the evidence behind the recommendations.



Friday, June 11, 2004

Scriptural Thought: Faith and Works

Here's one of many passages that don't seem to get much attention in Evangelical circles, from 2 Corinthians 5:9-10:
9 Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.

10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.
For many modern theologians, the idea of man DOING anything to be accepted by God is ridiculous, since God does all the work in providing his irresistible grace. But the Bible plainly states that we labor to be accepted by God, and that we will be judged for what we do. It is only by the grace of Christ that we are saved, but He offers that grace to those who choose to follow Him. Having a few conditions for the offering of a precious gift does not deprive the gift of value or the giver of generosity.

For those who insist that we are saved "by faith alone" without any need to "keep the commandments" (which is, after all, what Christ said we must do if we will enter into life - see Matthew 19:17), I would ask why the phrase "by faith alone" (or "by faith only" in the KJV) only occurs once in the Bible (James 2:24), and in a verse that explicitly contradicts Protestant doctrine? Here it is: "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." That should be food for thought....

I have a list of exemplary Bible passages on faith and works with many more examples for study, and a rather lengthy page digging into the issue of the Biblical and Mormon view on faith, grace, works, and salvation. Also see "Faith, Grace, and Works" by Barry Bickmore, which includes a discussion of early Christian writings.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Plagiarism and the Book of Mormon: Hiding from the Burden of Proof

I continue to be impressed with the ever-growing list of books and publications that supposedly guided Joseph Smith in fabricating the Book of Mormon, if we accept the hypothesis of his critics. It's as if he translated the Book of Mormon while he and a team of scholars conducted extensive research in a vast frontier library - but even with such resources, the 19th century just didn't have the information it would have taken to fabricate the Book of Mormon and provide the evidence for authenticity we can see today.


I've dealt with specific allegations of plagiarism (Spaulding Theory, etc.) on my page about Plagiarism and the Book of Mormon. This page has long cited information about the limited supply of books in the Manchester/Palmyra area, but recently I ran into more relevant information about Harmony, Pennsylvania, where most of the Book of Mormon was actually translated. It looks like there wasn't even a library there, making it even more of a literary vacuum than Palmyra. This insight comes from John Welch's chapter, "Was There a Library in Harmony, Pennsylvania?" in Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon, ed. by John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1999, pp. 283-284), where we read:


Harmony was a small town on the border between the states of New York and Pennsylvania. The region was very remote and rural. Recently we asked Erich Paul [Erich Robert Paul apparently is the full name of the author of the previously cited article, "Joseph Smith and the Manchester (New York) Library"] if he had ever explored the possibility that any libraries existed around Harmony in the 1820s which Joseph Smith might have used. He responded: "In fact, I checked into this possibility only to discover that not only does Harmony and its environs hardly exist anymore, but there is no evidence of a library even existing at the time of Joseph's work." Accordingly, those who have considered western New York as the information environment for the Book of Mormon may be 120 miles or more off target. One should think of Joseph translating in the Harmony area and, as far as that goes, in a resource vacuum.


Even if Joseph had wanted to pause to check his details against reputable sources, to scrutinize the latest theories, to learn about scholarly biblical interpretations or Jewish customs, or to verify any Book of Mormon claims against the wisdom or theologies of his day--even if he had wanted to go to a library to check such things (something he showed no inclination to do until later)--there simply was no library anywhere for him to use.


Critics can continuing scouring the 19th century for scraps of information spread across American and European cities to "explain" various fragments of the Book of Mormon, ignoring the improbability of access to such documents for Joseph Smith. In doing so, they don't come anywhere close to meeting the burden of proof or even the burden of plausibility for their hypothesis.


And if we are to believe that a proposed source was plagiarized, their ought to be stronger evidence of derivation than chance patterns of a few related words of concepts. If Spaulding or anyone else is to be seriously considered as a possible source for the Book of Mormon, the evidence for derivation should be much stronger than the chance parallels we find in the "impossible" source, Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, where my analysis shows parallels far more impressive than those that the Tanners and others point to as evidence of plagiarism for sources that came before the Book of Mormon. Again, the critics simply haven't provided any reason to accept their case.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Atkins versus Joseph Smith

The Word of Wisdom declares that wheat and other grains are for man, and that meat should be eaten sparingly. The popular Atkins diet claims just the opposite: avoid carbs and eat lots of meat. Has Joseph Smith met his match? Can millions of dieting Americans be wrong? When scientific consensus is ultimately reached, we'll be able to better appreciate the scientific value of the Word of Wisdom. (The jury is still out, but I'm betting that the Word of Wisdom will prevail, in spite of the popularity of the late Dr. Atkins, who's alleged obesity at death was an errant rumor.) Stay tuned....

Meanwhile, relying on not-so-blind faith, this blog will continue to run on carbohydrates.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Violent Mormons?

A popular theme of anti-Mormons these days is to repaint the history of the Church in violent hues. The Mountain Meadow Massacre is a focal point for some critics, using creative editing of history to implicate Brigham Young in that horrible crime. Useful reviews of the faulty arguments used by some critics are now available. For example, FARMS, an extensive site of Mormon scholarship, has an article that I highly recommend: Robert D. Crockett, "A Trial Lawyer Reviews Will Bagley's Blood of the Prophets," FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 15, No. 2, 2003, pp. 199—254.


FAIRLDS.org, one of my favorite Mormon information sites, has a helpful review of Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith.


I've also compiled some information on the Mormon Danites.


Some critics and misinformed novelists have painted the early Church and Salt Lake City as a scary place, where murder was rampant and non-Mormons lived in fear. That just doesn't make any sense to me. Non-Mormons were treated well and co-existed peacefully. Their right to worship was protected, in Salt Lake and other Mormon cities like St. George. One of my ancestors, Luther Peet Lyon, who practiced law in New York state and then went to California looking for gold during the gold rush era, stopped in Salt Lake City on his was back home. If this was such a hostile and frightening place for non-Mormons, it's amazing that he was able to safely meet with Brigham Young, walk safely through the streets, and like what he saw enough to stay and be baptized in 1865.


There have been violent Mormons, of course, as there have been violent people of all faiths. But it is usually wrong to blame the religion for the abuses of a few evil people.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Lessons from Abinadi and Alma

I had the chance to substitute teach a couple of Gospel Doctrine lessons recently dealing with the Book of Mosiah. I was impressed with a comment from a visitor (E. Sheldon, I think, from Chillicothe, Ohio) about the parallels between Abinadi and John the Baptist. Have others noted this before? Both prophets testified against the wickedness of a king and ended up being imprisoned and then executed. OK, that's a relatively common archetype. But in both cases, the king had qualms that had to be overcome by others, and in both cases, the work of the martyred prophet paved the way for establishing the Gospel in that area. John prepared the way for Christ, and Abinadi prepared the way, in a sense, for the establishment of the Church under the hands of Alma. I thought that was interesting.

On a related note, I am impressed with the modern relevance of King Noah's reaction to Abinadi. Initially, King Noah decries Abinadi as being divisive (Mosiah 11:28), and then mentally ill ("mad" in Mos. 13:1). After Abinadi's work gains momentum through Alma's ministry, the King declares that Alma is "in rebellion" (Mos. 18:33) and sends his armies to destroy Alma and his people.

I see many parallels to modern clashes between the world and the Gospel. For example, on the issue of homosexuality, those who raise questions about the propriety or morality of homosexual behavior are condemned for being divisive. They are called mentally ill (homophobic - a phobia being a form of mental illness). Reasoned debate is just not allowed in many cases. How long before force is used to advance the cause of gay activists and to silence those who speak out against gay marriage or homosexual practices in general? (See, for example, the related and arguably insensitive spoof on smokophobia.)

Useful Resources for Understanding the Ancient Nature of the LDS Temple

In addition to some of the books and articles I have previously discussed in my LDSFAQ essay about Masonry and Mormon Temples (or Mormons and Masons), today I ran into another outstanding online resource. It's a legal online copy (PDF format) of John M. Lundquist's scholarly article, "What Is a Temple? A Preliminary Typology," originally printed in H. B. Huffman, F. A. Spina, and A. R. W. Green, eds., The Quest for the Kingdom of God: Studies in Honor of George E. Mendenhall (Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 1983), which was republished in Temples of the Ancient World, ed. by Donald W. Parry and Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1994, pp. 83-118), now made available online with permission (I love it when people get permission!) on Ben Spackman's site, Resources for Understanding the History and Symbolism of LDS Temples. While Lundquist's article is not explicitly about the LDS Temple, those familiar with LDS temples will find strong evidence for its ancient roots.


Also see "Early Christian and Jewish Rituals Related to Temple Practices" by John A. Tvedtnes, available at FAIRLDS.org. This offers strong evidence for the ancient nature of the Temple. For related background information, see Mormonism and Early Christianity, the excellent Website by Barry Bickmore.


Just for fun, read the Coronation Ceremony for Queen Elizabeth II to learn about details of the Queen's coronation, based on ancient English traditions, which include anointing the queen with oil in several places, offering some interesting parallels to the Temple. It's one of many examples of ancient Temple-related practices that have diffused into other systems. (Thanks to Wade Englund for pointing out this page.)

Saturday, June 05, 2004

When Culture Clashes with the Gospel: Challenges for the LDS Hmong

For the past two years, my family has been members of the Fox Cities Hmong Branch in Appleton, Wisconsin. Before the Hmong Branch was created, the Hmong people in the Fox Cities area of Wisconsin were in the Appleton Second Ward, where I had been serving as Bishop. I came to greatly love the roughly 150 Hmong members in my ward, and learned much about their tragic history. I was nervous when they were made into a branch, but hoped for the best. Things went well for a while, but recently the branch has suffered severe setbacks, much of it related to clashes between Hmong culture and the Gospel or clashes between Hmong culture and US society and law.

While we are no longer in the Hmong Branch, we still love the Hmong people and continue to work with them unofficially.

The Hmong people are proud of their culture that comes from the hills of Laos and neighboring parts of southeast Asia, but there are parts of Hmong culture that have to be discarded to be a faithful member. Hmong culture includes shamanism, involving many things that strike Americans as superstitious and pagan, but there are also good and praiseworthy elements, like the closeness of families and respect and care for the elderly.

For Latter-day Saint Hmong people, though, life is tough. Becoming a Christian is often viewed by others as renouncing your culture, because you will no longer respect the guidance of a shaman or perform the rituals, altar ceremonies, and other practices recommended by the shaman. For Mormon Hmong members, giving up alcohol will be offensive to Hmong relatives, because it is very important for the men to take part in drinking ceremonies at weddings and other occasions (a part of Hmong culture I really don't like is getting the groom stone drunk at weddings, with goal of getting him to pass out).

One part of Hmong culture that I think has been very difficult for some Hmong families in the US is teenage marriage. In Hmong culture, even here in the US, it is not uncommon for girls to get married at 14 or so, and some women marry even younger. A lot of US Hmong girls are waiting these days because they want to graduate from high school or even go to college (hurray!), but young teenage marriage is still far too common. These young girls marry guys who are often much older, usually at least 3 years older and sometimes 5, 10, or 15 years older. Even if it weren't illegal, I would oppose it because of the harm I think it does to the girls in American society: they miss out on so much education and social development, and they generally are too young to hold their own in the relationship with the older man, putting them at great risk.

Let me clarify an issue: Hmong teenage "marriage" usually isn't marriage at all, according to the laws of this land. In Wisconsin, marriage before age 16 is illegal, and from 16 to 17 requires parental consent. But even if the girl is 16 and the parents consent, the marriage process typically involves premarital relations for a period of time before the ceremony, and the ceremony often is just done according to Hmong custom, without a license or proper legal authority. This is a serious violation of the moral standards of the Gospel, but it's hard for some Hmong immigrants to understand why. Some see it as an unfair intrusion on Hmong culture.

When an older man, say 19 years old, "marries" a young girl, say 15 years old, we've got an especially severe problem in which the man can be prosecuted for having relations with a minor. Our General Authorities take a very tough stand against sexual abuse, as they should. Again, this is difficult for some other cultures to understand. And it's hard for some of us to understand why other cultures don't see things our way. In fact, marriage at such young ages even in this country was once relatively acceptable in this country, but society and laws change.

With several big differences between what is acceptable in Hmong culture and what is acceptable in the Gospel and under US law, there are plenty of opportunities for people to be offended. Some of these issues proved to be especially problematic for some of our members. Others have shown remarkable faith and patience, even when they did not understand all the issues, and have held to the iron rod of the Gospel in spite of much turmoil. And there is much hope that many members will progress and become more established as Latter-day Saints - but it's been a very difficult road.

I am interested in similar experiences that others have had in working with other cultures in the US, or in other countries. Sometimes the chasms just seem so wide! How does one best move ahead?

Friday, June 04, 2004

A Note on Miracles

I've been asked why there aren't lots of miracles in the Church today like there were in the New Testament. I am disappointed by the premise of the question. Who says there aren't mircales? Miracles, of course, are unusual events. There are dozens of miracles in the scriptures - healings and so forth - but they involved a tiny handful of people and a tiny handful of moments. I don't think they are any less rare or dramatic today. But they aren't something you will read about nightly in the local paper, or watch on the Mormon Miracle Channel to satiate your curiosity. And they are often experienced in private or sacred settings that aren't going to be posted on the Internet.


My testimony of the reality of God and the reality of the Restoration includes the effect of many small miracles that I have experienced. The earliest, and one of the least dramatic and most easily shared, occurred when I was six years old. My father had loaned me a magnifying glass, after showing me how he could check some plants for disease with it. Now I know it was a cheap plastic lens, with a magnification of perhaps about 3X and a cash value less than 50 cents, but then it seemed precious to me. After playing with it during the day, I realized I had lost it. I looked all over the house and my room and was unable to find it, and soon Dad would be coming home and I would disappoint him by having lost his precious tool. I was very worried. I remembered what my mother had taught me about praying for help, and so I got on my knees in my room, all alone, and asked Heavenly Father to help me find my Dad's magnifying glass. After closing in the name of Christ and saying amen, I rose from my knees, looked at my chest of drawers, and felt like I should look in the middle drawer. I think I had already looked in all the drawers, but I went there again and immediately found it. I simply knew that God had heard my prayers. A small miracle, perhaps trivial to others, but it was the beginning of what must be thousands of examples of prayer being answered.

An important point: I have experienced relatively few miracles when I have prayed for something big and selfish. Even "big" and unselfish requests are often refused (China still remains under oppression, for example). But miracles become relatively frequent when unselfish service is involved.

One little example of this: In my early days in Wisconsin, I was asked to home teach a less active man who would later become my best friend out here and one of the best counselors I could have ever hoped for when I was later asked to be Bishop. I felt that my home teaching assignment was important and really wanted to visit this person, but it was hard getting an appointment set up that also worked for my companion, Tim, a married student at Lawrence University. On the appointed day for a visit, I was supposed to pick up Tim. I called him to confirm, and there was no answer. I tried again, and no answer. It was time to go, but he wasn't home. I could cancel the appointment and reschedule, but I felt like I really needed to go, and I also felt that Tim needed the experience. I got on my knees and prayed for help, explaining that this was an important visit for Tim and the man we were trying to visit. After the prayer, I called again and heard Tim's voice right away. Tim was surprised and said, "How did you reach me? My phone hasn't been working - I can call out, but it doesn't ring for incoming calls." My call came in right as he was picking up the phone to dial. I believe that he had forgotten about the appointment, but was able to go after all. We had a successful visit - and both experienced a small miracle granted in answer to prayer for something "not too big" and unselfish. This is one small example of hundreds that I have experienced, especially in Priesthood service.

But "big" miracles do occur. Keep praying for China, for America, for the people in Iraq, for your loved ones, for your enemies, and for all that you do. The power of prayer is real, and God is real.

Forgetting Arabia...

Scott Pierson has documented the non-response of the Tanners on the issue of Book of Mormon evidence from the Arabian Peninsula. I have also asked many critics how they can dismiss the Book of Mormon out of hand with so much interesting evidence for the authenticity of the Arabian journey in First Nephi, and typically get a response like, "Well, what about polygamy?"


LDS apologists have been discussing the Arabian Peninsula evidence for several years now (along with many other fascinating evidences for the plausibility of the book), and have frequently pointed it out to the critics. Nevertheless, the critics continue their mantra: "Not one shred of evidence for the Book of Mormon has ever been found." Sadly, many people believe the "authoritative" statements of the critics, many of whom seem to be (and some are) sincere Christian ministers interested only in the truth. But the questions we pose based on the evidence generally remain unanswered.


Scott Pierson's challenge to the Tanners has been out for years (the Arabian evidence was called to their attention no later than 1996). They've had a lot of time to digest the evidence and formulate a learned response. So look at what they came up with in 2004, in response to someone who read about the Arabian evidence on my Book of Mormon Evidences page. The following question and comment from Sandra Tanner is posted on their Letters to the Editor page at utlm.org/onlineresources/letters_to_the_editor/2004/2004january.htm:


Jan. 4, 2004

Subject: MORMON ARCHEOLOGY

. . . I also want to thank you for your ministry and the good fight that you wage every day against the Mormon church for it is a worthy endeavor.

My question deals with what the Mormon church is saying today-2004 as to archeology and the BOM. I have seen the web site WWW.JEFFLINDSAY.COM which he testifies that places in the BOM have been found and verified (with pictures) as well he disputes other controversial aspects of Mormonism. Is there any validity to his claims? Also, what is the Mormon church saying now about the obvious fraud concerning the Book of Abraham?

Thanks and God bless UTLM.

[Sandra's Note: The LDS Church just asserts that the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham are true. It doesn't enter into a historical defense of them. The leaders leave this to people like Lindsay. They can send people to these websites for answers to the critics because it gives the church 'deniability' if anything they say is proven wrong, since Lindsay, or whomever, does not speak officially for the church. But meanwhile members are left with the false impression that there is verified archeological support for the church's claims. Books such as New Approaches to the Book of Mormon, American Apocrypha, Joseph Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon, The Creation of the Book of Mormon, By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus, and An Insider's View of Mormon Origins demonstrate the problems.]

Did you catch that? Somebody is asking about the evidence I discuss, noting that we even have pictures as part of the evidence that places in the Book of Mormon have been found, and asks for guidance. The Tanners had nothing to say about the pictures or the identification of specific places, other than to list a bunch of anti-Mormon books that also fail to address the most critical issues.

"Come on, people, you can ignore the Book of Mormon -- just look at how many books have been written against it.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Science, Religion, and Mormons

Science has always been important to me both for personal interests and for my career. One thing it has taught me is that assumptions frequently need to be revised in order to fit all the facts into a consistent theoretical framework. Paradigm shifts are essential for progress, though they can be painful.

Dealing with the scriptures often requires paradigm shifts. Many people used to read the Creation story as an exact account of the seven 24-hour days that were used to create the earth. Scientific discovery has challenged the assumptions behind that belief. A careful look at the text shows that the Hebrew word for "day" can also refer to a long period of time, similar to "era" or "age." A shift in our paradigm allows one to better understand the scriptures. It's not a cover-up or a retreat to admit that a previous assumption not required by the text now needs to be updated.

DNA and the Book of Mormon, evolution, the Flood, and many other matters involving the intersection of science and religion require a careful examination of our assumptions and of what revealed texts actually say and mean. As a scientist, I am absolutely convinced that God exists. I believe in the Bible and Book of Mormon, though I recognize that there are limitations in the scientific information we might try to derive from them.

To deal with some of the common challenges that LDS people face as they consider science and Mormon belief, I have written an essay, "Questions about Science and Mormon Views (Mormonism)," which I hope might be of some help. As with everything I write, I am expressing my own views, but have tried to be accurate and doctrinal. Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Ancient Christian Documents and the Reality of the Restoration

Restoring the Ancient Church: Joseph Smith and Early Christianity by Barry Bickmore is one of the most interesting pro-LDS books I've read. Barry, well known for his Website on Early Christianity and Mormonism, has provided a treasure trove of information from early Christianity that points to the credibility of LDS claims of an Apostasy and a Restoration. I am delighted that his book has been provided online at FAIRLDS.org, another favorite Website.


The claim that early Christian documents support many LDS views is one I take seriously, though not every doctrine or policy can be expected to be found in early Christian documents. But many are. Before I ran into Barry's book, I ran into a book that I purchased out of curiosity: The Apostolic Fathers, 2nd ed., translated by J.B. Lightfoot and J.R. Harmer, ed. and rev. by M.W. Holmes (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1989). Wow! I was deeply impressed with the documents in that book, among the earliest Christian documents outside the New Testament, from men who were carrying on the apostolic traditions of early Christianity. So many of the sermons reminded me of typical sermons one hears at General Conference, with emphasis on keeping the commandments, respecting Church leaders, repenting of sins, having faith and works, enduring to the end, etc., and not "once saved always saved" or "saved by faith alone" or "irrestible grace." There are dozens and dozens of passages that depart radically from modern "mainstream" Christianity but left me feeling very much at home as a Latter-day Saint.


As I mention on my page on Mormon and Biblical Perspectives on Faith, Works, Grace, and Salvation, Mormons aren't the only ones to see how modern mainstream Christianity seems to have departed from the understanding of early Christians on the issue of faith, works, and salvation. One writer, Joel Kalvesmaki, raised as an Evangelical Christian, speaks of his discoveries as he read the writings of early Christians (the complete article was posted May 4, 1999 on the newsgroup "aus.religion.christian" and is archived online with Google newsgroups):


After a while I gave myself permission to vent my hungry heart and reach out to the saints of which Eusebius spoke. Instead of trying to fit them into my own mold, I asked them to tell me their story.

Where have you been all my life? As an Evangelical missionary and "apologist," I felt robbed. I had spent hours poring through Christian bookshops and had never read this kind of material. I didn't even know there were writings available from the period. Most versions of Church history I had read would briefly mention the second and third centuries, briefly focus on the trinitarian debates of the fourth, highlight Augustine, then jump into the sixteenth century for the Reformation. Never at a Christian bookstore or booktable had I seen patristic writings being reprinted and sold. We have been content selling the writings of any nutcase who pretends to be Evangelical, but have not bothered to consider selling the works of the sons and grandsons of the Apostles.

And I soon realised why. If Evangelicals ever bothered to reprint and study Ignatius, Polycarp, Tertullian or Irenaeus, their writings would step on our theological toes....

Irenaeus, in his treatise Against Heresies, catalogues and deals with Gnostic heresies, primarily combatting their views on the godhead and creation, while also addressing their inclination towards sectarianism, anti-sacramentalism and departure from the Apostolic succession. Tertullian, the first Christian to use the term Trinity, also looks at the nature of heresies in his day and observes how they have departed from the historic Apostolic faith in both teaching and practice, giving no regard to the sanctity of the Eucharist or the Apostolic succession. The criticisms Irenaeus and Tertullian make against their opponents are still valid against many forms of Evangelicalism.

Allow me to qualify these bold strokes. Some of the early authors may have looked upon certain groups such as Anglicans or Lutherans with a sympathy that may have extended to mutual recognition and communion. However mainstream Evangelicalism, as represented by the Evangelical Alliance or most interdenominational agencies, would not be in favor with the consensus of the earliest Fathers....

Salvation

Early Christianity maintained that we are saved by faith in Christ through baptism. We are being saved now and will be saved if we abide in Christ. Their writings are full of warnings against falling away from Christ, with the understanding that it could and does happen. Even though they had no understanding of eternal security, the Fathers had no "eternal insecurity." They understood that God initiates our salvation by sending His Spirit and power into our lives, a love which we reciprocate. The concept of salvation by faith alone or by irresistible grace was a concept foreign to the Church. Rather, the Calvinist system, which I had embraced for many years, finds unusually strong echoes in the teachings of Gnostic sects.


I hope you will look into the interesting evidence from early Christianity on the core doctrinal areas that Barry Bickmore explores, and see for yourself if there is any merit to the idea that something was lost. If there was a loss, then the next thing to consider is the possibility of a Restoration. I firmly believe that the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has occurred.