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

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Seminary - Is It Worth It?

Nine-moons has a post on seminary that raises some interesting questions. Same for Gordon Smith's T&S post on teen apathy. The increase in demands from school and other activities makes it increasingly difficult for kids to get to these painfully early classes - sometimes at 5:30 AM (currently 5:45 and 6:00 am in my region). Many would drop it instantly if it weren't for BYU's emphasis on seminary for those seeking scholarships. Seminary can be worth it - not just because BYU scholarships - when the teachers respect the sacrifice of the students and seek to feed them real content and spiritually strengthening material. Content is the key, in my opinion. But over the years, I've been pained to see teachers think they need to have fun and games and food instead of content, trying to make it more "appealing" to the kids. These kids are smart and serious - they don't need to suffer sleep deprivation for fluff. Feed them something worthwhile! I'm grateful for our teachers who do that (kudos to the great local teachers we have in the Appleton area!) and who have done that (and a little fun and food is certainly OK). But even with the best teachers, it's easy to question if we need to be so serious about seminary. Does it have to be so early, so long, and every school day?

Sadly, over the years, my testimony of seminary has waned, especially when I think back to my seminary classes at Brighton High School in Salt Lake City and moan over the ridiculous doctrines that were sometimes taught to kids by CES employees. Grant Palmer, now an anti-Mormon trying to "help" the Mormons, was part of the Brighton seminary scene a couple years after my time there - his gullibility regarding salamander myths would fit in well with some of the things my wife and I encountered there (one teacher, for example, told us he had secret knowledge about the sacred Jupiter stone; others taught us speculative and sometimes offensive doctrines). There were some fine teachers, but a few pushed bogus esoteric doctrines every now and then - and most kids couldn't tell the difference. Many of the teachers were fine, I think. Perhaps 80%? I hope it's much better these days. (Hey parents, don't assume that your kids are being nourished spiritually just because they attend seminary. Or Sunday School, for that matter. We have a real need in the Church to improve the quality of instruction everywhere.)

On the other hand, the release-time seminary program I had at Brighton High did provide an important benefit by sponsoring local "seminary bowl" competitions. My future wife and I were on the same team. These after-school events and practices meant that a certain young man with a car would need to give a certain young lady rides home on a frequent basis, and hang out with her a lot. This makes up for a lot of the damage done by inadequate teachers. (We were also on the Brighton High debate team - another demanding setting requiring that we see each other frequently - what great days those were! And they've only gotten better.)

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Do We Have an Apathy Problem?

I have a relative who is very active in politics and works hard to stay informed and have an influence on the political process. She's done some pretty significant work, in fact, at the local and state level. I won't specific who she is, but let me just say that I'm very impressed with my mom and her attitude of being anxiously engaged (my father is highly active also - one example is his testifying before the Utah House in 2003). Interestingly, some fellow Latter-day Saints have asked why she gets so involved and tries to hard to educate others on social and political issues. The attitude of some people is that we have nothing to worry about as long as we trust the Lord and keep the commandments.

Well, yes, the Lord does bless and protect those who keep His commandments. But His commandments require that we be anxiously engaged (D&C 58:26-29), that we seek good and honest men to be in office to help protect liberty and befriend the Constitution (D&C 98:6-10), that we resist evil - particularly secret combinations that seek power over us (Ether 8: 20-26), that we stand up for true principles, and that we work hard and even give battle if necessary to preserve the liberty God has given us (Alma 43:45-48).

I wonder if Captain Moroni ran into lots of fellow Nephites who felt that everything would be just fine as long as they observed the Sabbath and made the appropriate offerings. His words in Alma 60 leave little doubt about the stupidity of such apathy:
6 And now behold, we desire to know the cause of this exceedingly great neglect; yea, we desire to know the cause of your thoughtless state.
7 Can you think to sit upon your thrones in a state of thoughtless stupor, while your enemies are spreading the work of death around you? Yea, while they are murdering thousands of your brethren--
8 Yea, even they who have looked up to you for protection, yea, have placed you in a situation that ye might have succored them, yea, ye might have sent armies unto them, to have strengthened them, and have saved thousands of them from falling by the sword.
9 But behold, this is not all--ye have withheld your provisions from them, insomuch that many have fought and bled out their lives because of their great desires which they had for the welfare of this people; yea, and this they have done when they were about to perish with hunger, because of your exceedingly great neglect towards them.
10 And now, my beloved brethren--for ye ought to be beloved; yea, and ye ought to have stirred yourselves more diligently for the welfare and the freedom of this people; but behold, ye have neglected them insomuch that the blood of thousands shall come upon your heads for vengeance; yea, for known unto God were all their cries, and all their sufferings--
11 Behold, could ye suppose that ye could sit upon your thrones, and because of the exceeding goodness of God ye could do nothing and he would deliver you? Behold, if ye have supposed this ye have supposed in vain. . . .
20 Have ye forgotten the commandments of the Lord your God? Yea, have ye forgotten the captivity of our fathers? Have ye forgotten the many times we have been delivered out of the hands of our enemies?
21 Or do ye suppose that the Lord will still deliver us, while we sit upon our thrones and do not make use of the means which the Lord has provided for us?
Fellow Mormons, we need to be more involved, more informed, and more active in standing up for good. Have you written your Congressman? Do you study the issues? Can you see past the deceipts that dominate so much of the media messages these days?

Other Christians also fall into the trap of apathy, especially when they believe that they will be spared from trials and tribulations because of their faith. One faithful Christian friend of mine in Wisconsin thought that we Mormons showed a lack of faith in God by maintaining food storage. Shouldn't we just trust God to deliver us? Isn't he going to beam up all the Christians when the times of trouble come? (The rapture concept is a pleasant idea - but it's really unbiblical and is leaving a lot of people unprepared for the troubles and tribulations that are already here. Fellow Christians, you need food storage just like Noah needed an ark - if only to be prepared for layoffs, strikes, natural disasters, acts of war, or the ravages that battalions of lawyers may bring after November 2 as they fight to settle the 2004 presidential election).

God gave us brains for a reason. We need to grow, to be active, to do all that we can to protect liberty and make this a better world. If we shy away from politics and social issues and flee when evil sweeps down upon us because we expect God to do all the work, we might as well quit our jobs, take a nap, and just wait for God to feed us, pay the bills, mow the lawn, and take out the cat.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Defending the Articles of Faith

At FAIRLDS.org, there is a new brochure by Matthew Brown responding to some anti-Mormon criticisms about the Articles of Faith. Attacks on the Articles of Faith are not the hottest topic in anti-Mormon circles, but it's still good to know about this resource.

What is the hottest anti-Mormon topic? Based on the e-mail I get, it my be DNA and the Book of Mormon.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Shocker for Conservatives: Bush Supports Gay "Civil Unions"

For social conservatives (that includes many Mormons) who think that President Bush actually shares their values, Bush's recent statements on civil unions may come as a surprise. Here is an excerpt from an Oct. 27 story from Agape Press:

In an interview aired by ABC on October 26, President Bush dropped a bit of a shocker on conservatives when he told Charles Gibson on "Good Morning America" that while he remains opposed to homosexual marriage and supports a constitutional amendment that would prevent courts from imposing same-sex marriage on unwilling electorates, he is not so strongly opposed to civil unions.

"I don't think we should deny people rights to a civil union, a legal arrangement, if that's what a state chooses to do," the president stated. "[S]tates ought to be able to have the right to pass ... laws that enable people to, you know, be able to have rights, like others."

As noted by UPI, that is in sharp disagreement with the Republican Party platform. In fact, ABC's Gibson followed up with: "So the Republican platform on that point, as far as you're concerned, is wrong?" To which Bush replied: "Right."

As expected, some pro-family leaders are obviously irritated at the president's apparent change of direction. Bob Knight of the Culture and Family Institute says Bush "seems to be striving for neutrality while defending marriage itself."

"Civil unions are a government endorsement of homosexuality," Knight says. "But I don't think President Bush has thought about it in that way."
Me? I'm not surprised. I think it must be hard to be faithful to your Skull and Bones oaths while still maintaining true family values. Given all that the Book of Mormon says against secret combinations, it amazes me that most Mormons don't seem to care that our current president is a member of an extremely powerful and secretive secret combination, as is his opponent. Hey, Nephites, will you vote for Kishkumen or Gadianton as your next chief judge?

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Wake Up, Parents and Leaders: Grand Theft Auto and Other Stepping Stones to Disaster

Some local LDS leaders in one quiet, conservative Midwest town have wisely expressed concern over what's happening with popular video games that many LDS youth play. Grand Theft Auto 3 is the particular example that sparked the alarm. A surprisingly large percentage of the LDS young men in our area have played it and some own it. Some just played it once in ignorance - sometimes at parties with other LDS kids - and didn't think it was appropriate. But others own it and play it frequently. The game is focused on vice. It involves activities such as stealing autos, using a helicopter to chop off the heads of police, shooting police, picking up pr0stitutes, going to str1p bars, and so forth. Players learn that after using a pr0stitute (which costs money but increases health points), they can get their money back if they kill her. One person who knew details about the game described it as a recruiting tool for the multi-billion dollar p0rn industry. Given the callous attitudes that this game will reinforce, I agree that it's a recruiting tool for something other than the Gospel.

President Hinckley has pleaded with the young men and adult men of the Church to treat women with greater respect and to avoid p0rnography like the plague. If LDS youth play video games like Grand Theft Auto (and there are much worse games), and if parents allow them to, then the words of the Prophet are falling on deaf ears.

I would urge local units to discuss this issue with their members. Bishops might want to inquire about more than just movies when they discuss entertainment with youth. For many, a few moments of teaching will help them realize the need to get rid of some offensive video games. Sadly, some of our members just don't seem to know how (or just aren't willing) to actually apply the principles of the Gospel and the standards in For the Strength of the Youth to their lives. Let's not ignore this issue.

And shame on Rockstar Games for producing this socially damaging garbage.

Here is an excerpt from Amazon.com's review:

With Grand Theft Auto III, Rockstar proves that not all developers are concerned with toning down the violence in their games. This sequel is even more bloody, violent, and sadistic than its popular predecessors, offering up an enormous 3-D city in which nearly any criminal act is possible. Players are free to steal cars, beat up the local population for their money (or weapons), make time with prostitutes, or simply roam to their heart's content.
Real men respect women. Real men don't do p0rn, and real men don't mess with offensive games like this one.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Updated Review of Black and Mormon

Many Latter-day Saints shouted with joy or at least breathed a sigh of relief on June 9, 1978 when the Church announced that any worthy male could be eligible to receive the priesthood, thus ending the painful and controversial practice of denying the priesthood to males of black African descent. While many white members of the Church are glad to have that era behind us and now wish to move forward, many of have not appreciated the lasting impact of the former priesthood restrictions on black members in the Church, including the anguish that the former policy caused for black members (including black women) and investigators. Many of us are not familiar with the challenges that black Mormons face today or with a variety of race issues. To better appreciate the history of blacks in the Church and the hope of better serving all our brothers and sisters in the Gospel, I am pleased to recommend the outstanding new book, Black and Mormon, edited by Newell G. Bringhurst and Darron T. Smith (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2004, 172 pages).

Black and Mormon is a remarkable resource from a variety of intelligent minds and skillful writers. In general, I am pleased with the vision of the editors in putting this work together, and would rate it as a success and an important contribution. It opened my eyes to several serious issues, and changed some of my thinking on this topic. It will cause some pain and rethinking old assumptions for some members of the Church, but is likely to help all of us better understand one another and better understand some of the pains that blacks have felt and continue to feel in a Church dominated by whites, a Church with a past racial policy that continues to cause pain in spite of having been revoked for a quarter century. I look forward to further progress in the Church and through our society to overcome racial misunderstanding and racism of any kind.

Though I have some objections for part of the book, in general Black and Mormon strikes a healthy balance between optimism for the future and facing the pain of the past. It is time for Latter-day Saints to understand and acknowledge the pain that blacks have felt because of the past policy on limitations to the priesthood. Much of the pain came from insensitive attempts to provide a doctrinal explanation of what was never explained and what was not doctrine, but policy. Most whites have not pondered what it would be like to be a black investigator or member of the Church who was not only told that he could not have the priesthood, but that it was because he was a descendant of a murderer or because he was unworthy before being born. Alma Allred and others do an excellent job of clarify the unjustified nature of such explanations, but gaping wounds remain, and reprints of some well-known LDS books continue to promulgate such harmful and unsound "explanations."

This book further strengthened my respect for black members willing to accept the Church in spite of a policy that caused such pain. The faith and patience of many black members should be explored and celebrated much more. Especially poignant portions of the book retell the stories of some black members and their families, and provide valuable insights into the issues of retention and missionary work among minority groups.

An important contribution of the book, in my opinion, is helping to identify additional steps that could help to heal wounds of the past. For example, I personally look forward to some sort of formal clarification from the Church to repudiate the former racist speculations that were often given in the vain effort of creating doctrinal reasons for something that was never doctrine but an unexplained policy.

Following a thorough and intriguing forward by the editors, the book contains eight chapters written by an impressive group of respected writers, including some well-known African Americans within the Church. I believe all of the authors are LDS, but the book is hardly an exercise in defending the status quo or rationalizing the past. It is a sincere effort to help those within and without the Church to better understand blacks and the Church in terms of the past, the present, and the prospects for the future. It is well worth reading and pondering.

The chapters comprise the following:

  • "The 'Missouri Thesis' Revisited: Early Mormonism, Slavery, and the Status of Black People" by Newell G. Bringhurst. This reviews various historical attempts to explain the origins of the exclusion policy, such as the theory that it evolved in response to tensions over slavery in Missouri. This chapter provides an excellent review of scholarly efforts in this area and, coupled with the next chapter, offers a good overview of what is known and not known about the origins of the former priesthood restriction.
  • "The Traditions of Their Fathers: Myth versus Reality in LDS Scriptural Writings" by Alma Allred. This was one of my favorite chapters, clarifying widespread misconception about what the scriptures say. Allred shows that it is vain to seek for scriptural justifications for the past policy, and refutes the errant explanations based on the myth that the exclusion was due to blacks being descendants of Cain or Canaan. Allred also indirectly shows an interesting and subtle consistency between the ancient concept of the "right of the priesthood" - the right to hold the presiding office in the ancient patriarchal priesthood - and revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants on the lineage of Aaron and the right to preside. I discuss Allred's essay in more depth on my previous post, "Rejecting Mormon Folklore about the Former Restrictions on the Priesthood." It should greatly increase the awareness of many members about the misconceptions we have often had about the roots of the former priesthood limitations.
  • "Two Perspectives: The Religious Hopes of 'Worthy' African American Latter-day Saints before the 1978 Revelation" by Ronald G. Coleman and Darius A. Gray. This brief chapter relates the story of two black American converts to the Church, Jane Elizabeth Manning James and Len Hope, Sr. Jane joined the Church in Connecticut in 1842, and made it to Nauvoo in 1843. She found work in the Joseph Smith home and lived there with them. With her personal knowledge of what Joseph Smith was really like in his own home, I find it interesting that she "unquestionable believed that Joseph Smith was a prophet" and remained strong and faithful in the Church throughout her life.
  • "Spanning the Priesthood Revelation (1978): Two Multigenerational Case Studies" by Jessie L. Embry. Brother Embry explores the lives of some African Americans who joined the Church in spite of the huge barrier of the priesthood exclusion, exploring two extended families. I was strengthened by the faith of those who could overlook not only the priesthood restriction, but also the lack of sensitivity or even racism of some fellow members. Their testimony was based on the Spirit and a real relationship with the Lord that allowed them to "look over [the errors of others] and see the Lord." What a great example for all of us.
  • "Casting Off the 'Curse of Cain': The Extent and Limits of Progress since 1978" by Armand L. Mauss, past President of the Mormon History Association. Dr. Mauss discusses the Church's approach to public relations around race issues and the Church's relationship with the black community since the 1978 revelation. In spite of some very hopeful breakthroughs, especially in the Los Angeles area, there are still large gaps make it difficult for the Church to simply move on in terms of race issues. His discussion includes the lingering effects of past erroneous teachings that were once used to justify the priesthood restriction and the desire of many members for the Church to formally clarify that such teachings were wrong. He also reviews the optimistic progress that has been made among white members of the Church in terms of civil rights issues and attitudes.
  • "African American Latter-day Saints: A Sociological Perspective" by Cardell K. Jacobson. This chapter explores survey results showing trends in the attitudes of Mormons on race issues, as well as sociological information about blacks in the Church. The data from the point to genuine progress and hope. One interesting point was that blacks in the Church, based on data from the 1980s, tend to be relatively more highly educated and upwardly mobile than other blacks outside the Church and than the whites in the Church, who in turn were slightly more educated at the time on the average than whites outside the Church. Similar patterns were found in data from 2002.
  • "'How Do Things Look on the Ground?' The LDS African American Community in Atlanta, Georgia" by Ken Driggs. A hopeful discussion of a successfully integrated ward in Atlanta. I especially enjoyed reading this, having lived in Atlanta for 5 years and having attended the Atlanta Ward a couple of times, though my ward was in Tucker (now the Brockett Ward). But I also witnessed inspiring examples of blacks and whites moving past racial barriers and working together in the joy of the Gospel. I saw precious little of racism among the members of the Church there.
  • "Unpacking Whiteness in Zion: Some Personal Reflections and General Observations" by Darron T. Smith. A chapter that explores the reluctance of whites in the Church to confront racial issues and discuss past racial problems. Some may view this as a robust call for progress, but I believe this chapter may be problematic for many members of the Church - and not just the whites. The chapter carries a tone of bitterness over past problems which, though not without basis, may not advance understanding between different groups.

I wish to further clarify my concerns about the last chapter by Darron Smith, a black convert who served a mission in the Church, a lecturer at Utah Valley State College, and an adjunct faculty member at BYU. His viewpoints, though eloquently expressed, strike me as being too heavily derived from the academy, where bitterness toward society is often the norm. Frankly, given the huge burden of racism and some of the painful experiences he and his wife have faced, I can understand some of the reasons for such attitudes, but his discussion of "whiteness theory" with respect to the Church seems too harsh - or perhaps too "academic" - in finding evidence of white supremacy and oppression of minorities.

I think Smith takes the class-struggle paradigms behind "whiteness theory" far too seriously. For example, Smith sees the reluctance of local Church leaders to replace standardized Relief Society lessons with controversial discussions of racism in the Church as evidence of racism. He says that "white people consciously suppress conflict (passive aggressiveness), not only because they wish to avoid the discomfort of confrontation, but also because this avoidance enables them to maintain white hegemony. When white people say, for example, 'Let's not be contentious,' they eliminate opposition. Without opposition, whiteness always wins" (p. 153). I find this and several other statements to be offensive. There are times and places for digging into controversy, but Relief Society is not it.

I also think that some blacks will be offended by Smith's charge that groups like Genesis (an highly respected association of black Mormons, whose founded, Darius Gray, is among the contributors to this volume) are guilty of "replicating, in every significant way, the established 'whiteness' norm of Mormonism" which makes them "socially white" (p. 163). I object to this worldview. Whites aren't necessarily white oppressors seeking to enforce whiteness, and blacks who don't share your political and social perspectives aren't "socially white" or, as some agitators say, "white on the inside." Race is not a political identity.

I also fear that Smith has fallen into a paradigm of victimhood in which all actions of the "oppressor class" are interpreted negatively. With his strong feelings, I must say I am proud of him for holding on to his testimony and contributing actively and faithfully to the Church in his life, but I think he would be more effective in advancing the cause of minorities in Zion by cutting back on some of the "whiteness theory" rhetoric.

While parts of Darron Smith's writings reflect a point of view that many whites and at least some blacks and other minorities may find objectionable, I believe his chapter is valuable in showing the diversity of viewpoints that can exist among faithful Mormons. His essay is worthy of consideration, discussion, and certainly debate - in the right setting (perhaps not in place of approved lessons during Relief Society or Priesthood meetings, where there are sheep that need to be fed, not stirred up).

Smith also makes the interesting suggestion that affirmative action in the Church would be helpful in correcting problems of the past. In my unpopular view, at least some aspects of affirmative action have, in the long run, been a roadblock rather than a help to minorities in the United States, and I am not sure that an overt affirmative action program would be right for the Church either. (Believe me, making someone a bishop or branch president before they are really ready for that is doing nobody a favor - especially the bishop and his family; and it's not necessarily a favor even when they are ready!) But I do agree that white members must do more to reach out to minorities and help them feel fully part of the Church.

Though I have some difficulty with Darron Smith's chapter, others will not--and objections or no, the book as a whole represents a significant and positive step toward better understanding the difficult past and the hopeful future of black Latter-day Saints. I highly recommend this excellent work, and congratulate the editors and the authors.

Addendum: My Background in the Church
I have had a few experiences in the Church relevant to the issue of race relations, but am strictly a neophyte in this area. My association with members of the Church from other races began most extensively during my mission to Switzerland (1979-1981), where I taught people from over 50 countries and learned about some of the challenges that minorities face. Later I lived in Atlanta for 5 years, where the Tucker Ward provided valuable opportunities to fellowship with black members as well as members from a variety of foreign countries. Following that, I moved to Wisconsin. In spite of being heavily white, my area has a large number of Hmong refugees from Laos and a healthy group of Hmong Latter-day Saints. I was soon asked to be a minority liaison for the Appleton Stake, serving on the High Council with responsibilities to assist the Oneida Indian members and the Hmong members. I loved working with both groups and frequently attended Church with them. I began learning the Hmong language at this time. I also had some involvement with Hispanic families in the Appleton area. After a couple of years, I was called to be the bishop of a new ward that included over 100 Hmong members and a few Hispanics. When I was finally released as bishop, the Hmong members of my ward were split off into their own branch, and I was called as a High Council advisor to them for a while, and then my entire family were called to be members of the Fox Cities Hmong Branch to help strengthen the branch, with me as first councilor to a Hmong branch president. Although the Hmong people have suffered from racist attitudes in the U.S., I saw great love and acceptance for them among in general among the Latter-day Saints in my ward.

In terms of minority relationships in Atlanta, a particularly memorable experience came through my family's friendship with a remarkably talented black LDS woman who set up a community theater in Decatur. I attended one night and really enjoyed it. As the only white person present in the small audience, there was an interesting moment of internal tension when a group of teenagers performed a rap song about their victimization by whites and their plans for violent revenge against the oppressors. (A key concept from the song was that whites had nailed blacks to a cross, but the nails were rusting and soon the blacks were coming down from the cross and would go after the whites, so look out.) At the end of the performance, rather than choosing that moment to engage in confrontational "race talk," I clapped - and clapped loudly. (And I can assure you that my avoidance of conflict here was not a ploy to maintain white hegemony and enforce whiteness upon the blacks present.) No one seemed to notice that there was anything improper about the song, and I certainly wasn't bringing it up - and I still enjoyed the evening, choosing to look past the offensive and see the good around me. The point of this story is that my experience as the lone white in the community theater may have some similarities with the experience of black members of the Church, especially if they ever had to endure whites improperly speculating about the causes of the former priesthood ban. Curse of Cain? Unworthiness in the pre-existence? Ouch! Might as well do a rap song (or a country ballad) in Priesthood meeting about putting those darned minorities in their place. Fortunately, I think attitudes are improving - and I was encouraged to see that ethnographic data shows that the Latter-day Saints are making significant progress in their attitudes toward minorities. I hope that progress will continue to be mutual.

Friday, October 22, 2004

First Presidency Statement on Same-sex Marriage

The First Presidency's October 19 statement on same-sex marriage makes a lot of sense to me, and recognizes the difficulty that those struggling with homosexuality may face. All Christians need to understand that change is possible, contrary to the propaganda of some activists. See PeopleCanChange.com, especially the page "Is Change Possible?"

For me, a truly uplifting resource with a message of profound hope for those struggling with homosexuality is the new video, "I Do Exist" by Dr. Warren Throckmorton. (And the music, much of it performed by Warren's band, is surprisingly good!)

Sadly, some Christian ministers buy into the misleading propaganda that change is impossible, and tell people that they can't "change their identity" when they come in for counseling. We do great harm when we pigeonhole somebody as gay because of a same-sex experience or temptations, or tell someone that they have no choice but to live life as a homosexual when there are other options. There is wonderful news for those who want to change: change is possible. It's a message that needs to be proclaimed across the land. Sadly, the opposite message is being taught to our children and to adults everywhere. It's terrible that young children in the schools are being told that if they are different, they may be gay - a permanent identity that they cannot choose or control.

Black and Mormon: My Review

Many Latter-day Saints shouted with joy or at least breathed a sigh of relief on June 9, 1978 when the Church announced that any worthy male could be eligible to receive the priesthood, thus ending the painful and controversial practice of denying the priesthood to males of black African descent. While many white members of the Church are glad to have that era behind us and now wish to move forward, many of have not appreciated the lasting impact of the former priesthood restrictions on black members in the Church, including the anguish that the former policy caused for black members (including black women) and investigators. Many of us are not familiar with the challenges that black Mormons face today or with a variety of race issues. To better appreciate the history of blacks in the Church and the hope of better serving all our brothers and sisters in the Gospel, I am pleased to recommend the outstanding new book, Black and Mormon, edited by Newell G. Bringhurst and Darron T. Smith (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2004, 172 pages).

Black and Mormon is a remarkable resource from a variety of intelligent minds and skillful writers. It opened my eyes to several serious issues, and changed some of my thinking on this topic. It will cause some pain and rethinking old assumptions for some members of the Church, but is likely to help all of us better understand one another and better understand some of the pains that blacks have felt and continue to feel in a Church dominated by whites, and a Church with a past racial policy that continues to cause pain in spite of having been revoked for a quarter century. I look forward to further progress in the Church and through our society to overcome racial misunderstanding and racism of any kind.

Though I have some criticism for one chapter of the book, in general Black and Mormon strikes a healthy balance between optimism for the future and facing the pain of the past. It is time for Latter-day Saints to understand and acknowledge the pain that blacks have felt because of the past policy on limitations to the priesthood. Much of the pain came from insensitive attempts to provide a doctrinal explanation of what was never explained and what was not doctrine, but policy. Most whites have not pondered what it would be like to be a black investigator or member of the Church who was not only told that he could not have the priesthood, but that it was because he was a descendant of a murderer or because he was unworthy before being born. Alma Allred and others do an excellent job of clarify the unjustified nature of such explanations, but gaping wounds remain, and reprints of some well-known LDS books continue to promulgate such harmful and unsound "explanations."

This book further strengthened my respect for black members willing to accept the Church in spite of an apparently racist policy. The faith and patience of many black members should be explored and celebrated much more. Especially poignant portions of the book retell the stories of some black members and their families, and provide valuable insights into the issues of retention and missionary work among minority groups.

An important contribution of the book is helping to identify additional steps that could help to heal wounds of the past. For example, I personally look forward to some sort of formal clarification from the Church to denounce the former racist speculations that were often given in the vain effort of creating doctrinal reasons for something that was never doctrine but an unexplained policy.

A possible flaw in the book is the last chapter by one of the editors, Darron Smith, who is a black convert who served a mission in the Church. His viewpoints strike me as being too heavily derived from the academy, where bitterness is often the norm. Frankly, given the huge burden of racism and some of the painful experiences he and his wife have faced, I can understand some of the reasons for such attitudes, but his discussion of "whiteness theory" with respect to the Church seems too harsh - or perhaps too "academic" - in finding evidence of white supremacy, power, and oppression of minorities. I think Smith takes the class-struggle paradigms behind "whiteness theory" far too seriously. Yet I think his chapter is valuable in showing the diversity of viewpoints that can exist among faithful Mormons. He also makes the interesting suggestion that affirmative action in the Church would be helpful in correcting the problems of the past. In my unpopular view, at least some aspects of affirmative action have, in the long run, been a roadblock rather than a help to minorities in the United States, and I am not sure that an overt affirmative action program would be right for the Church either. (Believe me, making someone a bishop or branch president before they are really ready for that is doing nobody a favor - especially the bishop and his family; and it's not necessarily a favor even when they are ready!) But I do agree that white members must do more to reach out to minorities and help them feel fully part of the Church.

I have more to say on this book, but I'm out of time right now. . . .

Monday, October 18, 2004

"I Do Exist": Ending the Silence about Ex-gays

I recently purchased the DVD, "I Do Exist" by Dr. Warren Throckmorton. This documentary helps end the oppressive silence about ex-gays, showing that they do exist, and that at least for some, change is possible. Sadly, the homosexual community has been so strident in insisting that change is impossible, that many people have been convinced that they must be permanently gay based on a struggle with same-sex attraction or past same-sex experiences. Schools and corporations teach their people that change is impossible, and those who want to change are directly or indirectly pressured to abandon the "impossible" effort. Meanwhile, genuine ex-gays are sometimes treated as if they did not exist, or even treated with hostility by some vocal advocates of "tolerance" and "diversity" who apparently cannot handle the existence of people who don't fit their paradigms of how the world should be.

The possibility that gays can change is not a message of hate for gays, but a message of hope for those who do not want to be gay, including some men who struggle with same-sex attraction but wish to be faithful to a wife, or some who wish to participate in a true marriage between a man and a woman. Some other helpful resources include PeopleCanChange.com (I've corresponded with the author of that site and am impressed with his work and his personal witness that change is possible). I also value the work of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH.com) (see, for example, the story about Dr. Robert Spitzer's research results on the possibility of change - a significant story given Dr. Spitzer's pivotal role in supporting the gay agenda in the past).

Even some who feel they were born gay and felt same-sex attraction at an early age have found that change is possible, and desirable. I believe this message of hope needs to be shared with others. People struggling with same-sex attraction need not be resigned to a permanent gay identity. Change is possible in our sexual attitudes, in our sexual behavior, and in many other aspects of our lives. That's not to say it is easy, but with faith in God and support from others (instead of condemnation and denial of all hope), many people may have a fighting chance at breaking away from chains they wish to cast off.

I pray that we can be more supportive of those who dare to come out in a different way -- out from homosexuality.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Book of Mormon Authenticity: One "Slam Dunk" Verse

If I had to pick one verse in the Book of Mormon to use as an argument for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, I think I would pick a verse that may be the least quoted and yet most often repeated verse in the Book of Mormon. By most often repeated, I mean that the essence of the verse seems to be repeated at the opening of most talks in most sacrament meetings of most LDS congregations around the world, at least in my experience. This sleeper verse is one of the most humorous verses in scripture, yet actually offers what may be a potent argument for the Book of Mormon as a genuine ancient text, not a fabrication of Joseph Smith.

The verse (drum roll, please) is Omni 1:9. Here it is:
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.
This hilariously awkward attempt at writing by Chemish, who just didn't know what to do with the awesome responsibility of caring for the nearly filled record on the plates of Nephi, reminds me of what happens in so many talks at Church: "Well, when I saw the Bishop coming, I knew he was going to ask me to talk, and I told him I really didn't want to give a talk, but he said I should, and so I here I am. Anyway, now I'm giving a talk, and . . . is that two minutes yet?"

I think most of us can really relate to Chemish. Especially when we are young, giving a talk or writing an essay can result in a lot of silly words trying to fill up the space. Yes, Chemish shows that not every word in scripture is ponderous and spiritual - but we already knew that. It shows that real humans with real weaknesses sometimes were given responsibility over the sacred records. His words are just too funny, too natural, too human, and too "naturally out of sync" with the serious nature of the plates of Nephi for Joseph to have just made that up on the spur of the moment while dictating sacred scripture. If his purpose were to impress and deceive, this is the kind of thing you would not stick in the text. But this rough spot in the Book of Mormon shows the fingerprints of a real person, someone who might have been a bit rough around his spiritual edges but had to say something to fulfill the duty he inherited, thanks to his lineage.

Sure, chiasmus and Nahom and Bountiful and cement buildings are all interesting evidences for Book of Mormon authenticity - but what can beat Omni 1:9 as a "slam dunk" refutation of the theory that Joseph made up the Book of Mormon? OK, that's a slightly tongue-in-cheek statement, but perhaps only slightly.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

St. Louis: Exciting LDS Events in 2005

In Chicago recently I met a Stake President from St. Louis, David Sylvester, who is chair of a committee planning a series of exciting events next year to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the St. Louis Stake (I hope I've got that right). It was the largest stake east of the Rockies for a while time and played an important role as a temporary stake for thousands of Mormons moving west to Utah. The Church in St. Louis is collaborating with the community leaders and even the Arch to plan events such as a big musical. I look forward to more information, and am hoping to go down to St. Louis a time or two to take part in the excitement and learn more about that great city.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

When Does Life Begin: The Harvard "I Can't Hug an Embryo" Standard

Harvard biologist George Daley offers an exciting new test for determining when a mass of cells with human DNA such as a fetus is actually human life or not. Here is an excerpt from a recent posting of MIT's Technology Review Weblog:

There was an interesting exchange in the stem cell debate earlier this week between Harvard biologist George Daley and Senator Sam Brownback on when a human embryo acquires moral rights. According to Wired News, Brownback “persistently” asked Daley at what age he would decline to use an embryo for medical research. Wisely, Daley said he could not define when an embryo becomes a human being. “I think there would be consensus among scientists that it would be impossible to define that time,“ Daley said. “But I don’t think it’s at the age of the blastocyst.”

Wired writes:
Brownback pressed further, asking him to envision his two children and determine at which point in their development it would be OK for scientists to perform research on them. “I can’t hug an embryo,“ Daley said. “I think (scientists) are comfortable with using the earliest microscopic ball of cells.“
Daley's "I can't hug an embryo" standard may prove to be a viable new tool for classifying certain life forms as not-fully-human and thus available for medical research, but his test may still pose perplexing questions in spite of it's Harvard origins. For example, many parents observe that huggable children gradually become unhuggable teenagers. While some parents would be relieved to know that their unhuggable teenagers can ethically be turned over to Harvard scientists for medical research, others feel unsettled about the matter and wonder if such post-natal terminations (retroactive abortions, I suppose) might somehow be "wrong." I suppose that further guidance from Dr. Daley might be helpful on this matter.

Until science has fully settled the matter, I have a helpful question for teenagers: Have you hugged your parents today?

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Rejecting Mormon Folklore about the Former Restrictions on the Priesthood

My recent post on the recent common ancestors we probably all share challenges some once popular "Mormon folklore" attempts to explain the pre-1978 restrictions on the priesthood, the reasons for which were never explained. The reality is we all probably have some African blood in us, so the idea that restrictions on the priesthood were simply a matter of lineage don't make a lot of sense. I can understand why we would struggle to come up with some kind of explanation, but the results may have been dead wrong. For example, back when there were restrictions on blacks holding the priesthood, many LDS whites heard and accepted the originally European teaching (probably developed to justify European slavery) that blacks were descendants of Cain, and then assumed that this was why they could not hold the Priesthood. It doesn't matter how many people believed or taught this - it is not official Church doctrine and is not taught in the scriptures.

Many people have pointed to the Book of Abraham as providing the link between priesthood restrictions and descent from Ham and presumably back to Cain via Ham's wife. There is no official LDS doctrine that explains why the Church had the policy - not doctrine - of temporarily limiting the priesthood by race. In their attempts to explain the policy, many LDS people, even leaders, sought to craft explanations to rationalize the practice. Some hypothesized that blacks might have been less valiant in some way in the premortal existence - an idea that is now repudiated, being utterly unjustified and non-doctrinal. More frequently, LDS people saw Abraham 1 as providing an explanation for the exclusion. But this is based on an erroneous interpretation of Abraham 1 and the LDS scriptures. Abraham 1 states that Pharaoh, a descendant of Ham, was of the lineage that did not have the "right to priesthood." It was assumed that Ham married a descendant of Cain - though the text does NOT say this - and that this (so the argument goes) is why Pharaoh could not have the priesthood. But wait a second: it doesn't say that he could not have the priesthood, but that he could not have the "right to priesthood," which actually refers to the right to preside as THE presiding officer, the patriarch. That right went to Shem, not Ham. Naturally, Ham's descendants could not have that right, but they still could have the priesthood - nothing indicates they could not.

Alma Allred devastates those old myths in his chapter, "The Traditions of Their Fathers: Myth versus Reality in LDS Scriptural Writings" in the outstanding new book, Black and Mormon, edited by Newell G. Bringhurst and Darron T. Smith (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2004, 172 pages). I love this book, and especially enjoyed Alma Allred's chapter. Here is an excerpt from pages 45-47:

Little doubt remains that intermarriage between Canaanites and Israelites destroyed any chance for a pure, non-Canaanite race among the chosen seed [see pages 40-45 for details]. One third of the house of Judah is Canaanite with an unknown portion among the other tribes. What then can we make of the curse pronounced by Noah and of Abraham's comments that Pharaoh's lineage could not have the "right of priesthood"? (Abr. 1:27). It may be that Mormons have simply misinterpreted those passages of scripture.

In the Book of Abraham, Abraham explains that he sought the blessings of the fathers and the right to be ordained to administer those blessings. He says that he became an heir holding the right belonging to the fathers. According to LDS theology, the right to administer the ordinances is held by the presiding priesthood authority on the earth. In the days of Abraham, that right was held by the presiding patriarch. It started with Adam and came in due course to Abraham. Abraham 1:3-4 stipulates that the appointment came by lineage. The right to preside was the birthright which went to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and finally to Ephraim.

According to these LDS scriptures, even though the priesthood did not remain exclusively with Ephraim, the right to preside did. Moses presided over Israel even though he was of the tribe of Levi. Joseph Smith, however, claimed to be a "lawful heir" because he was of the house of Ephraim (D&C 86:8-11). Since this authority was passed from father to only one son, when Noah gave it to Shem, Ham could not be the heir. Ham and Japheth, together with their descendants, did not have the right to administer the priesthood because it was given to Shem. Esau lost the right to Jacob. Reuben lost the right to Joseph. Manasseh lost that right when Jacob conferred it upon Ephraim. Each man who lost the birthright did not lose the right to be ordained to the priesthood; rather, he lost the right to preside as the presiding high priest in a patriarchal order. The scripture does not say that Pharaoh could not hold the priesthood; it says that he could not have the "right of priesthood" (Abr. 1:27). This right had been given to Shem, who in turn gave it to his successor in the patriarchal office.

Years after the right of priesthood had been passed to Abraham, the Pharaohs were feigning a claim to it from Noah. They did not merely claim priest- hood; they claimed the right to preside over the priesthood. Pharaoh, the son of Egyptus, established a patriarchal government in Egypt; but he was of that lineage by which he could not have the "right of priesthood" or "the right of the firstborn," which belonged to Shem and his posterity. In response to the Pharaoh's claims, Abraham states: "But the records of the fathers, even the patriarchs, concerning the right of priesthood, the Lord my God preserved in mine own hands" (Abr. 1:31; italics Allred's). In other words, Abraham retained the right to preside over the priesthood.

The words right, priesthood, and lineage all prominently figure in Abraham's history; and Joseph Smith used the same words to describe the appointment of his father, Joseph Smith Sr., as church patriarch:
Blessed of the Lord is my father, for he [Joseph Smith Sr.] shall stand in the midst of his posterity and shall be comforted by their blessings when he is old and bowed down with years, and shall be called a prince over them, and shall be numbered among those who hold the right of Patriarchal Priesthood, even the keys of that ministry. (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 23; italics added by Allred)

Joseph Smith used the same words to later appoint his elder brother Hyrum as church patriarch after their father's death:
And again, verily I say unto you, let my servant William be appointed, ordained, and anointed, as counselor unto my servant Joseph, in the room of my servant Hyrum, that my servant Hyrum may take the office of Priesthood and Patriarch, which was appointed unto him by his father, by blessing and also by right; (D&C 124:91; italics Allred's)

This order of priesthood was confirmed to be handed down from father to son, and rightly belongs to the literal descendants of the chosen seed, to whom the promises were made. (D&C 107:40; italics mine)
Still, we should consider the curse pronounced upon Canaan. It parallels Jacob's blessing pronounced by Isaac and, conversely, Esau's curse. A side-by-side comparison of the two illustrates that Esau received the same curse as Canaan [Allred uses a table comparing Gen. 9:25-26 to Gen. 27:29].

Noah's curse upon Canaan directly parallels Isaac's promise concerning Esau. They both promised lordship to one son and servitude to the other. The ability to hold the priesthood was not the issue; it was the ability to preside in a patriarchal order that allowed only one lineage.

The revelation of 1978 announced by President Spencer W. Kimball giving all worthy men the privilege of holding the priesthood is consistent with the principles of LDS theology and essential to a consistent interpretation of its scripture. As recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, Joseph Smith claimed that at some future day, high priests will be ordained out of "every nation, kindred, tongue and people" (D&C 77:13). It is impossible to have high priests from every nation while excluding Africans. Joseph Smith stated that, if the work progressed, we would see people of every color, including the African "Hottentots," worship in the house of the Lord [History of the Church, 4:216]. . . .

Temple worship in LDS theology requires priesthood ordination for men. Consequently, Joseph Smith's idea that "Hottentots" would soon worship in the temple is a de facto promise of priesthood ordination. Brigham Young got on the same bandwagon when he claimed in 1860 that the restriction would be lifted within one generation: "Children are now born who will live until every son of Adam will have the privilege of receiving the principles of eternal life." [Brigham Young, July 8, 1860, Journal of Discourses, 8:116] There can be no doubt that this meant priesthood ordination to every male descendant of Adam, regardless of race.
Brother Allred concludes his article with a word of counsel to white members. Instead of trying to figure out what blacks did to be banned from the priesthood, perhaps white members should have been looking at themselves "to see if we were the primary hindrance." (p. 48)

Heavy food for thought.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

For College Students: The Blessings of the Temple

I'd like to share a story of how making a sacrifice to fulfill a temple assignment while I was in graduate school led to a significant blessing that definitely helped my graduate work - and spared me from possible disaster when I presented at paper at an international conference.

Before telling the story, let me offer a few words of advice to those in college. College life can be so busy and demanding that it is easy for many LDS students to feel justified in "taking a vacation" from the normal duties of Church membership. After all, how can a student facing so much homework or the burdens of graduate thesis work afford to take time off for things like home teaching or going to the Temple? Doesn't the Lord want them to take full advantage of BYU or whatever other school they are attending by giving their studies 100%? Isn't college life a special time to prepare for the future, and won't there be plenty of time for Church service once they get into the real world?

Don't fall for such deceptions. Yes, we do have serious demands, and need to diligently put in the time required for our studies. But remember, we are called to serve and "stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in" (Mosiah 18:8-10), and that includes BYU or Purdue or MIT. You may be surprised to find that life gets even busier once you are out of college, and if you can't live true to your covenants now, how will you later? It's a balancing act, but it can be done. As for home teaching, the people around you have problems just as great as people outside of college and may even be more willing to be influenced for good by home teachers at this young point in their life than when they are older and more set in their ways. Serve the Lord and be active in Church attendance and service in your youth, prayerfully seeking guidance on how to strike the right balance (and yes, there are times when one needs to decline an assignment, but do this cautiously and prayerfully - we are not asked to run faster than we have strength).

Now the story. I was in graduate school at BYU's Chemical Engineering Department, putting in many hours for my Ph.D. project using a cool laser technique (Laser Doppler Anemometry or LDA) to study swirling flow in simulated coal combustors. I had obtained and analyzed a large body of data, and was about to submit a paper to an international conference on LDA to be held in Lisbon, Portugal in 1984. My paper had to be in final form in just a few days, and I was pretty excited about the prospects of travel to Portugal and presenting the paper. With still plenty of work to be done, I was facing a temple assignment for my ward (I was in a city ward, the Provo Ninth Ward) that would eat up a few precious hours. I thought about declining and could easily have justified it to others, but wasn't sure that the Lord would agree. As I considered this decision, I recalled what I had experienced so many times on my mission: sacrifice to serve others is rarely sacrifice at all, and brings joy and other blessings as well. I felt that I needed to put the Lord first in this matter and go to the Temple, in spite of pressure to skip the assignment.

I went to the Temple with others of my ward, "sacrificing" about two hours of time. While I was there, my mind turned to my paper and the work I still had to do to complete it. I was just finishing up some of the equations and plots of the analyzed data, and -- the equations! I felt very uneasy. My mind turned to one of the equations I had been working with and using in the data reduction, and suddenly it hit me: there was something wrong in how I was using one of them. In fact, one of the equations that I had put into my paper was simply wrong, and there in the Temple I realized that some expert on LDA at the conference might notice it immediately and ask questions that would expose a stupid mistake on my part.

All this happened in a few moments of quiet in the Lord's temple. To me, it was a brief burst of revelation that saved my neck. I left the temple so grateful that I had attended, realizing that if I had just kept crunching away at my nearly-completed paper without time for prayer consideration, I may have faced what would have been a disaster for me. If I had not decided to "sacrifice" my time by attending the Temple to fulfill a priesthood assignment, the Lord might have been unable to bless me as He did.

The Portugal conference was a wonderful experience for me. My paper was well received, with several kind questions - no public humiliation - and I had an amazing time in Portugal (in spite of a tortuous 10-hour train ride from Madrid in a sealed train filled with chain smokers - courtesy of a travel agent who couldn't get me to Lisbon directly). This was one of several experiences in college that taught me that the Lord does bless students and help them in their work, if only we'll let Him by doing what He asks us to do.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Just Where Did Book of Mormon Events Take Place?

Michael Ash has a short but very helpful brochure in PDF format, "Where Did Book of Mormon Events Take Place?," that was just published at the outstanding Mormon site, FAIRLDS.org. Though much more could be said, Ash offers succinct explanations of and arguments for the Limited Geography Theory that places the epicenter of Book of Mormon events in Mesoamerica. Worth reading.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

DNA Update: We're All Closely Related

The prestigious scientific journal, Nature, has published an article suggesting that humans share a common ancestor just a few thousand years ago. It is based on an improved statistical model that takes into account how genes flow through marriage and travel. Though there are some assumptions in the model that can be challenged, I think the statistical model used in this work is one that demands more attention. The reference is D.L.T. Rohde, S. Olson, and J.T. Chang, "Modelling the Recent Common Ancestry of All Living Humans," Nature, Vol. 431, No 7008, Sept. 30, 2004, p. 562. It has been the subject of much publicity (see a sample press release).

Here is the beginning of the paper (Rohde et al., 2004):
If a common ancestor of all living humans is defined as an individual who is a genealogical ancestor of all present-day people, the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) for a randomly mating population would have lived in the very recent past. However, the random mating model ignores essential aspects of population substructure, such as the tendency of individuals to choose mates from the same social group, and the relative isolation of geographically separated groups. Here we show that recent common ancestors also emerge from two models incorporating substantial population substructure. One model, designed for simplicity and theoretical insight, yields explicit mathematical results through a probabilistic analysis. A more elaborate second model, designed to capture historical population dynamics in a more realistic way, is analysed computationally through Monte Carlo simulations. These analyses suggest that the genealogies of all living humans overlap in remarkable ways in the recent past. In particular, the MRCA of all present-day humans lived just a few thousand years ago in these models. Moreover, among all individuals living more than just a few thousand years earlier than the MRCA, each present-day human has exactly the same set of genealogical ancestors.
Please note that finding a common ancestor is a much easier task--and one that requires less digging into the past--than finding a common ancestor along purely maternal or purely paternal lines, the kind that are analyzed using mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosome tests.

The implications for the book of Mormon, as I discuss on my Mormon Answers page about DNA and the Book of Mormon, is that it is entirely possible for the majority of Native Americans to be direct descendents of Lehi with some of his DNA, even though there may not be anyone with his Y-chromosome or with Sariah's mitochondrial DNA. Lehi may be a common ancestor for most Native Americans without requiring that they all have clearly discernible "Jewish DNA."

There are also implications for the issue of race. It is very likely that we all share some African DNA. The old Mormon folklore about blacks being descendants of Cain - and white "Gentiles" or House of Israel members not having a drop of that blood - was simply an attempt to resolve questions about race and the limitations on priesthood and has no doctrinal basis. Alma Allred devastates those old myths in his chapter, "The Traditions of Their Fathers: Myth versus Reality in LDS Scriptural Writings" in the outstanding new book, Black and Mormon, edited by Newell G. Bringhurst and Darron T. Smith (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2004, 172 pages). Tomorrow or later this week I'll dig into the issue and the fascinating topic of Abraham 1 and the patriarchal privilege of presiding called the "right of priesthood" that was denied to Pharaoh, not the ability to hold the priesthood at all.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Elder Eyring's Talk and Mormon Leadership in the Face of Disaster

Elder Eyring made a salient point about the ability of the LDS priesthood organization to cope with the most trying of circumstances. I appreciated the story about local LDS leaders handling an Idaho disaster in way that surprised and apparently humbled Federal officials. I also was touched by some of the LDS World News broadcast between today's conference sessions that included comments from officials in Florida about LDS support in providing relief to hurricane victims.

When Hurricane Andrew struck Florida over 10 years ago, I was living in Atlanta and was asked to go down with other Mormons to help in the Homestead area. It was amazing to see 5,000 Mormons move in and work in a highly organized and coordinated way. We weren't sitting around wondering what to do. So much had been planned and organized, allowing so much good to be done. The priesthood organization was truly impressive. I haven't seen anything else like it. There is a power and a strength in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that goes far beyond anything you could expect from a bogus cult with good social programs. The ability to bring the best out of men and women in trying times and achieve miracles in serving humanity is a credit to the real origins and real source of inspiration in the Church.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Hebrews 2 to 4: Interesting Insights on Faith, Works, and Salvation

For those who teach the doctrine of "once saved, always saved" and teach that no effort on our part is involved in accepting and maintaining the grace the Christ offers us, a great place for Bible study is Hebrews. Here are some interesting passages from Paul's writings in Hebrews chapters 2 through 4. First, from Hebrews 2:
1 THEREFORE we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.

2 For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward;

3 How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; . . .
Now some wise words from Hebrews 3:
6 But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end. . . .

12 Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.

13 But exhort one another daily, while it is called Today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.

14 For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end;
Finally, from Hebrews 4:
1 LET us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. . . .

11 Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.

Who can doubt that Paul understood there was a need for human effort, and that fellow Christians who had tasted the grace of Christ could slip and fall short of the blessings God offers?

Hebrews has more to say on this topic. And then, of course, we have the powerful words of Peter, and many other witnesses.