Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The God Squad on the Mormons

Rabbi Marc Gellman and Monsignor Tom Hartman have a nationally syndicated religious column called "The God Squad." In their latest column, they comfort a worried Methodist parent whose 18-year-old daughter is about to join the Mormons. They write:
We love Mormons and we love the Mormon Church. The church's required year of service for young people is by far the most impressive spiritual youth activity we've ever seen. We're also extremely sensitive to the prejudice directed against many smaller religions (although Mormonism and Islam are the fastest-growing religions in America). Mormons are Christians and they are part of the community of faith that helps the world heal itself from sin.

(Printed in my local newspaper, The Post-Crescent, on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2006, p. E-3.)

Nice of them to offer a positive view on the Church. A couple of details could be corrected. For example missionary service is not "required" and is not a year, but either 18 months (women) or 24 months (men). I'm also not sure that it's one of the top two fastest growing religions in America anymore, but there are so many ways to compute growth that I'm sure you can find a way to do that. For example, do you report average growth rate over the past 5 years, 20 years, or 100 years? DO you filter out extremely small organizations where adding 100 members might result in a 500% growth rate for 2005?

But I do appreciate the authors calming down a worried parent who is getting overwhelmed with the fear spread by anti-Mormon literature. Fear and shock is what it's designed to generate, so I really appreciate some calm voices from outside.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Law of Christ: A Quick Note

"Law" - the very word seems so antagonistic to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the minds of some people. The idea that there could be "laws" of the Gospel that need to be obeyed is said to be a denial of what Jesus Christ did. In my opinion, this misunderstanding is largely fueled by a focus on Paul's writings in which the term "law" is usually shorthand for "Law of Moses," not an attack on the concept of laws and commandments per se. The law - meaning the Law of Moses - has been done away. But there is still a law of Christ, or a law of the Gospel, which followers of Jesus Christ are asked to follow.

If the concept of a "law of Christ" is anathema to what some of our critics call "historic Christianity," then I guess Paul himself would have to be among the pre-historic Christians, for In Galatians 6:2 he admonishes us to "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ." In fact, Paul spends a good deal of time telling Christians what they need to do, what sins they need to avoid, and how they need to obey, in order to better follow Christ and to avoid falling away from the grace that the Gospel offers. Yes, there is a law of Christ, and the word "obey" is still part of Christianity. Those who wish to follow Jesus Christ will seek to repent of their sin, be baptized in His name, and strive to obey His teachings and, yes, His law, relying on His merits and grace to be saved. We access that grace by entering into a covenant relationship with Him and seeking to follow Him.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

A Mormon's Encounter with Gus Dur, The Indonesian Muslim Leader

"Ponderit has an instructive story about a Mormon's encounter with a Muslim cleric in Indonesia, Gus Dur, who would fly to Salt Lake City and receive a blessing from President Hinckley and later become President of Indonesia. If any of you are familiar with details of this story and care to comment or can verify, I'd appreciate hearing from you. I would also like to learn more about the relationship between Muslim leaders and the Church. In today's tense climate of religious misunderstanding and anxiety over Islam in particular, I welcome anything that might lead to mutual respect.

BYU Gets Aggressive: The Lawsuit against Pfizer

BYU is suing Pfizer, the pharmaceutical giant, claiming that BYU was cheated out of a share of the massive revenues that resulted from sales of Celebrex, the anti-inflammatory medication that grew out of the inventions of BYU's Professor Daniel L. Simmons. See details in articles at the Salt Lake Tribune and also the Deseret News (with a hat tip to Julie Smith at Times and Seasons). According to the Deseret News, "The complaint alleges both fraud and misappropriation of trade secrets and says BYU and Pfizer's predecessor company Monsanto had a contract to develop such drugs together. The pharmaceutical company instead terminated the contract 'under fraudulent pretenses,' hid information that BYU was entitled to about patents and profited handsomely while shutting the university out, the lawsuit says."

While I cannot say anything about the merits of BYU's case, as a patent strategist and research scientist in a major corporation, and as a former professor (Institute of Paper Science and Technology, now part of Georgia Tech), I can say that many universities have gone from being rather naive and gullible, when it comes to intellectual property, to being sophisticated and aggressive. Part of this is an outgrowth of the the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 which requires universities to actively protect and retain the intellectual property resulting from federally funded research. While the act may not directly affect much of the work done at private universities like BYU, it has led to a dramatic change in the policies, attitudes, and programs in universities across the nation, with spillover effects for international universities as well.

BYU has one of the nation's best Technology Transfer Departments, in my opinion. They have done excellent work in helping professors to seek patent protection for their inventions and in helping to find commercial partners to license BYU inventions. BYU also generates a lot of startups. BYU is among the top universities in terms of patents, licensing revenues, and start-up companies generated per dollar of research money invested. And the recent law suit against Pfizer shows that the University is serious about its intellectual property. Could the lawsuit scare off some companies who might fear that a university partner will sue them later? I doubt it, unless the company is hoping to take advantage of the university.

My corporate experience shows me that collaboration with universities will become increasingly important in this world of "open innovation." And success for any corporation in the long run will require working hard to respect the rights of universities or other partners, ensuring that deals are more than just fair, but provide positive win/win outcomes that will make the corporation be viewed as a partner of choice for future innovations. It's something my employer is working hard to do ("partner-friendly intellectual assets"), and something that many others must do to succeed.

While universities have made a lot of progress, there is still a need for professors and students to better understand intellectual property. The rush to publish research is often antagonistic to intellectual property protection. I encourage students and professors alike in any technical area to invest some time in understanding the basics of patents and other forms of intellectual assets in order to recognize inventions and pursue appropriate protection.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The "Say I Do" Wedding Drive Through

(Click to enlarge.)

Las Vegas offers some fast, convenient, and inexpensive ways to get married - but these marriages can be a real gamble. The smart money in Vegas settles for marriage in only one place, the Temple of the Lord, where a marriage can be sealed by the same power and keys Christ gave to Peter. A marriage so sealed on earth can be sealed in heaven.

The concept of eternal marriage is one of the most ennobling and inspiring doctrines of the Restored Gospel. How grateful I am for the supreme blessing made available in the Temples of the Lord.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Best Show in Vegas - and My New Favorite Celestial Room

Tonight I had a break from the rigors of an intellectual property strategy course I'm taking in Las Vegas, leaving me with enough time to participate in a session at the LDS Temple here. Best show in town! A bit pricey when tithing is considered, but unlike most of the attractions here, you're almost certain to leave this establishment better off than when you came.

It's a pretty temple from the outside, but the majesty of its celestial room caught me by surprise. What fabulously beautiful architecture! Bold lines, gentle curves, sweeping diagonals, an intricate sun theme, beautiful windows and lighting, in a bright, open, and very light presentation that cheers the heart.

The Las Vegas Temple gets my award for Best Celestial Room. And it's literally just minutes away from Paradise - without any need to depart from your mortal body. (Paradise is a poorly named unincorporated township next to Las Vegas that includes much of the Strip.)

It was built in 1989, yet looks as fresh and new as if it had just opened. It's on the western eastern foothills overlooking the city and can be seen from many parts of town. In fact, I can see it from the window of my cheap hotel room on Las Vegas Boulevard (comfortably away from the main Strip).

I got there after the sun went down, but was still able to get a few photos. Here's one:

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Can You Name the Smallest and Largest LDS Mission? My "Small World" Experience in Las Vegas

Today in the 5th Ward of the Meadow Stake in Las Vegas, Nevada, I attended a wonderful sacrament meeting featuring a returned missionary AND his recently-released mission president from an unusual mission. Before I tell you about what I heard, see if you can guess the mission. It may be the largest and yet smallest mission in the world. Largest in the sense that it's 3000 miles wide - pretty much the size of the continental United States. Yet it may also be the smallest mission in another geographical sense. Also of note, there are nine native languages spoken in this mission, but at least some of the languages that some missionaries must use there are not taught in the MTC.

Made your guess?

Answer to follow after the next paragraph.

Let me first say that sacrament meeting in the 5th Ward was a welcome spiritual refreshing after having to wait for about an hour to get my luggage and escape from the Las Vegas airport, where I was surprised at the barrage of sexually oriented ads that assaulted the eyes wherever I looked. Downtown New York and Chicago are absolutely tame compared to Las Vegas, at least based on what one encounters in the airport - not to mention the revolting soul-sucking society-trashing industry of gambling that is provided at every turn. Away from the airport and the strip, there is refuge still to be found in the shelter of Latter-day Saint meeting houses.

So in the 5th Ward, I heard from Kyle Wong, recently returned missionary, and his former missionary president, Philip Pulsipher, who completed his three-year service in July. President Pulsipher kindly came out to Las Vegas from St. George to participate with Kyle. And they came from which mission? Perhaps you guessed it: the Micronesia Guam Mission, which occupies a huge swath of the earth's surface, nearly all of which is water. There are nine tiny island groups, including Guam, Yap, and Saipan, all so small that the cumulative land area makes it one of the smallest missions in the world, if not the smallest. (Anyone know for sure?) And among these islands, there are nine languages, including Chuukese, the language of the tiny island of Chuuk (formerly known as Truk).

Elder Wong left the MTC thinking he was an English-speaking missionary, but soon found that he was going to be serving on Chuuk and would be speaking Chuukese. No MTC preparation is available for this one. A great challenge!

Brother Wong's spiritually uplifting experiences on his mission and his accomplishments there were given added credibility by the powerful words of his mission president. What an unusual homecoming! President Pulsipher could offer his perspectives about how he saw Kyle grow, and what the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ did for him and his companions as they sought to follow the Lord and bring others unto Christ.

I was intrigued to learn that one island where Elder Wong served had only 500 people, and it seemed that they all knew the missionaries, had all been contacted, didn't like the Mormons, and nothing more could be done. But with faith, Elder Wong and his companion moved ahead and soon found one, then two, then three people who were touched by the Spirit and became members of the Church.

I spoke with both of them afterwards. My "small world" experience came in speaking with President Pulsipher. His brother is in Appleton, Wisconsin, my home town, and he helped one of my sons get a great job that helped him prepare financially for his mission - a mission here in Las Vegas.

On top of that, one of the missionaries serving in the 5th Ward area, Elder Tuise, is from Samoa, and in the MTC met the Samoan elder that would go to Appleton, Wisconsin and win the hearts of many people there, Elder Tuipolutu. The latter is from the same ward as another Samoan that was one of my son's outstanding missionary companions in Nevada.

Many interesting connections. And an interesting mix of experiences today in Las Vegas, one of the spiritually darkest and brightest cities in the world.

P.S. (Oct. 16, 2006) - The first speaker was Kyle's father, former bishop and current ward mission leader (also my current calling in Wisconsin). Since the program that Sunday was on missionary work, Brother/Bishop Wong was speaking in his capacity as ward mission leader and not (just) because he was Kyle's father. And he was true to that assignment, giving a great and inspiring talk from the scriptures about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, much more focused on the Savior than on any mortal in the building that day. All the talks in that meeting were solid, inspiring, based on scripture, and focused on helping people grow in their faith in Christ. What a delight!

Kyle's father has chimed in here with a very kind comment to this post (comment #6).

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Intolerance of the Tolerant Ones: UK Offers a Glimpse at America's Future

A fourteen year-old girl was arrested in England for racism when she objected to being put in a discussion group with non-English speakers by her teacher at school. The full story in the UK's Daily Mail suggests to me that this is a case of politically correct intolerance gone wild. As you read the excerpt below, ask yourself how this might translate into religious issues over here one day.
The teenager had not been in school the day before due to a hospital appointment and had missed the start of a project, so the teacher allocated her a group to sit with.

"She said I had to sit there with five Asian pupils," said Codie yesterday.

"Only one could speak English, so she had to tell that one what to do so she could explain in their language. Then she sat me with them and said 'Discuss'."

According to Codie, the five - four boys and a girl - then began talking in a language she didn't understand, thought to be Urdu, so she went to speak to the teacher.

"I said 'I'm not being funny, but can I change groups because I can't understand them?' But she started shouting and screaming, saying 'It's racist, you're going to get done by the police'."

Codie said she went outside to calm down where another teacher found her and, after speaking to her class teacher, put her in isolation for the rest of the day.

A complaint was made to a police officer based full-time at the school, and more than a week after the incident on September 26 she was taken to Swinton police station and placed under arrest.
Could the day come when holding moral values based on Christian religious beliefs could get a person labeled as an intolerant bigot in need of punishment, or a victim of mental illness in need of a cure? Sure - that day is already here, especially for those who object to homosexual behavior. Could we get to the day when expressing those beliefs or resisting attacks on those beliefs could get a child thrown in jail? We're not there yet, but beware the insane intolerance of the ones who see themselves as the guardians of the highest virtue in their book, tolerance.

And could we see the day when Christians who oppose a social program or PC teachings teachings on moral grounds could be more than just called mentally ill, but also be accused of a hate crime? Or even be accused of being an "enemy combatant" and locked up without a trial? (BTW, why are we all sitting back so silently as our Constitutional rights are stripped away?) Indeed, the Book of Mormon may offer another prophetic insight into where we are going. Recall that in the years before the great visit of Jesus Christ to Nephite society, the government had become so corrupt that prophets and those who preached of the Messiah were secretly put to death in violation of the requirements of the written law (3 Nephi 6:22-30). The intolerance of the elite toward the pre-Christian "Christians" was truly insane. I hope we don't get too far down that track, but we'll see ever growing religious intolerance from the elite dwellers of our modern "great and spacious buildings," as Lehi saw in his amazing vision. Watch out.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Las Vegas: LDS Events?

Say, I'm going to be in Las Vegas Sunday and am wondering if there are any interesting firesides to attend or afternoon services you might recommend. If so, let me know here or at jeff at jefflindsay.com. (I arrive around 11 a.m., as I recall.)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Preparing for Economic Trouble

Politicians and economic pundits are celebrating the health of our economy, boasting of a vibrant Dow Jones Industrial index that has reached an all time high. There are some good reasons to question the conventional wisdom and to prepare now for economic trouble in coming months. First of all, the "good news" of this all-time high requires studied ignorance about one of the most important factors in our economy: inflation. Peter Schiff in "Don't Buy the Dow's New High" shows that taking inflation into account, the levels of the Dow and other major indexes are well below their levels in 2000. The average investor may think he or she has made substantial gains in mutual funds, bonds, and stocks, when in fact, after adjusting for inflation, wealth has been lost.

Second, the new high in the Dow appears to be based on heavy recent buying in just seven of the 30 stocks that make up the Dow, while more broad indicators are pointing to trouble, not health in the market. The Dow is an easy index to manipulate if people with access to big bucks want to generate some good news. Now I don't know why anybody would want good economic news right before the November elections, but there is a divergence in reality between the economic news we are getting from economists and the actual performance of most stocks. Important indicators are pointing to trouble ahead, not the least of which is the strong down trend in the housing market, which has often been a powerfully accurate indicator of where the general stock market will be about twelve months in advance. There are many reasons to brace for trouble. Some are discussed by Roger Wiegand, who sees evidence for stagflation.

The same pundits who praise the health of the economy say that the bull market in commodities (gold, silver, oil, etc.) is over. I believe the opposite is true. Temporary corrections do not break commodity bull markets. If you had put your money into gold or silver instead of stocks in 2000, you would be far ahead of any major index on Wall Street. I suggest you diversity now and brace for a serious recession ahead. In your 401(k), for example, consider having components in the energy sector, precious metals (e.g., the GLD and SLV exchange traded funds), some foreign stocks and bonds to help hedge against a weakening dollar, and some cash, inflation-adjusted bonds, and some sectors that do well in recessions (perhaps pharmaceuticals or biotechs?). I'm just an amateur, so do your own research and make your own decisions - these are just suggestions to help protect your vanishing wealth.

And please, get out of debt, and get all the education you can.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Praise for the Christian Faith of the Amish Community

Many people and corporations are making contributions to charities to help the Amish community in Pennsylvania, still reeling from the senseless slaughter of several children by a child molester. The proud and independent Amish are not used to receiving charity and probably don't need it now, but the spokesman from the Mennonite Disaster Service said in a televised statement that the leaders decided that to refuse all the assistance "would not be Christlike. Why should we stop others from receiving the blessings of service?" (My recollection of the NBC TV broadcast tonight.)

There's a great lesson there. Sometimes we need to graciously accept service from others when we may feel we don't need or deserve it. Sometimes being Christlike means allowing others to serve us and being grateful.

There is no shortage of Christlike goodness among the Amish. My heart is pained for the tragedy they face and for the incredible grief and loss that has swept over them.

Wisconsin has a lot of Amish people as well, and we're a better state for it. I salute their faith and their courage in living their ways. May the Lord bless and strengthen them in this hour of pain, and may we all work to make our communities safer places for children and all of us.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Ancient Covenant Concepts and the LDS Scriptures

Have you ever noticed how consistent the LDS scriptures are in teaching the ancient Biblical concept of entering into a covenant relationship with the Lord? The importance of becoming the Lord's people through covenant making (and covenant keeping!) seems to have faded in much of modern Christianity and Judaism, but it has been restored in its original splendor in the restored Church of Jesus Christ. I have previously discussed some aspects of ancient covenant formulas in terms of King Benjamin's speech and the LDS Temple ceremony, where recent non-LDS scholarship has provided principles from ancient covenant patterns that adds insight into the authentic ancient nature of the LDS Temple and the Book of Mormon. Today I'd like to share a smaller but related insight.

I recently taught a lesson from the Gospel Principles manual, Chapter 15: The Lord's Covenant People (available at LDS.org at Gospel Library >> Church Publications >> Curriculum >> Home and Family). It began with discussion of Deuteronomy 26:18. Here it is in context (Deut. 26:16-19):
16 This day the LORD thy God hath commanded thee to do these statutes and judgments: thou shalt therefore keep and do them with all thine heart, and with all thy soul.

17 Thou hast avouched the LORD this day to be thy God, and to walk in his ways, and to keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his judgments, and to hearken unto his voice:

18 And the LORD hath avouched thee this day to be his peculiar people, as he hath promised thee, and that [thou] shouldest keep all his commandments;

19 And to make thee high above all nations which he hath made, in praise, and in name, and in honour; and that thou mayest be an holy people unto the LORD thy God, as he hath spoken.
What is expressed here is a key ancient covenant concept. The Lord seeks to make people his "peculiar" (personal, proprietary) people by having them enter into a two-way covenant. They promise to keep His commandment, and the Lord in return offers great promises. It's a simple concept but with great depth. The concept of becoming the Lord's people in a covenant relationship also invokes the Abrahamic covenant of Genesis 17, in which the blessings of the Lord's covenant are provided through the seed of Abraham.

Having unwisely put little time into preparing for this lesson, I quickly thought of a couple related passages from the LDS scriptures about covenants. The first two that came to my mind were the ones I used: Mosiah 18, regarding the covenant of baptism, and Doctrine and Covenants 84, where the oath and covenant of the priesthood is discussed. As we read them in class, I was suddenly struck with how well they resonated with the ancient Jewish covenant paradigm in Deut. 26. Here's the passage from Mosiah 18:
8 And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another's burdens, that they may be light;

9 Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life --

10 Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?
They covenant to serve one another and keep the Lord's commandments and witness this through baptism in order to "be called his people" and have the blessings of His spirit poured out upon them.

Now consider Doctrine and Covenants 84:
33 For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken, and the magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies.

34 They become the sons of Moses and of Aaron and the seed of Abraham, and the church and kingdom, and the elect of God.

35 And also all they who receive this priesthood receive me, saith the Lord;

36 For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me;

37 And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father;

38 And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father's kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him.

39 And this is according to the oath and covenant which belongeth to the priesthood.
Here we see covenant making and keeping that helps people become "the sons of Moses" and "the seed of Abraham." This refers to becoming the covenant people of the Lord, his "peculiar" people, through keeping His commandments and thereby qualifying for the incredible gifts He offers to us in that covenant relationship.

The ancient themes of covenant making and becoming the Lord's people are present in force in modern LDS scriptures, while such themes have become diluted in the modern era. The restoration of covenant paradigms and covenant-based ordinances is a key part of the Restoration, for which I'm most grateful.

For related information, see my page, Latter-day Saints and the Covenant Framework of the Gospel: An Ancient Perspective Restored. It ompares the solid covenant-based theology of the restored Church of Jesus Christ with that of early Christianity and Judaism.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Young Men in Neutral: Wake Up and Get All the Education You Can

Following a reference to "young men stuck in neutral" by another speaker earlier in the day, President Hinckley in the Priesthood session of General Conference last night expressed pointed concerns for a dangerous trend among young men in the world. Young men in this nation are increasingly drifting in life, failing to follow the Lord's counsel about getting all the education we can. I was surprised to hear him say that getting all the education you can was not just common sense or a good idea that he came up with, but he expressed it in much stronger terms as modern revelation from God. Revelation from God in this are has told us that we need to get all the education we can, and he is concerned that young men in the Church (and naturally, young men in general) are failing to follow this important counsel from God.

He notes that young men are not keeping pace with young women in terms of graduating from high school, going to college, and getting advanced education. There is good news here about young women moving forward, but there is a genuine problem that many of us see in young men increasingly slacking off in life and being content with low-paying jobs, little education, living with their parents into adulthood, and just wasting their life (stop the flames - I did not say a thing about sitting around all night playing video games instead of doing something productive!).