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

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Busting the Mormon Monopoly on Truth

In response to my recent post, "Why I Blog," I was slapped with this drive-by snarkism:
Jeff, you would not know the truth if it slapped you in the face. You are wrapped up in a belief system and any challenge to that belief system is discarded without serious contemplation. Of course why would you need to? You are in possession of the complete truth. :) You are Typical of those that think they know it all. I have read your blog and you just use the same sarcastic remarks for anyone who disagrees with your thinking. It shows what a little person you really are.
I can only shake my head and wonder at this mentality. The complete truth?? Do any Mormons actually believe that? Has anybody heard such a thing preached? Is it in the scriptures anywhere? Or my blog?

My Website and this blog have provided many relatively serious efforts to contemplate rather than ignore challenges to our faith. Maybe I haven't regurgitated the kind of bitter diatribes that this anonymous enemy of Mormonism would like to see, but I have frequently pointed out that we do not have a monopoly on truth, that we do not know it all, and that I especially do not know it all.

In fact, one of our articles of faith teaches that we believe that there will be many great things revealed in the future - meaning we are still missing all sorts of important information. And the foundations of our religion point to many books of scripture that we do not yet have - the Book of Lehi, the writings of the brother of Jared, etc. In fact, we only have 1/3 of the scriptures on the gold plates of the Book of Mormon, and there were numerous other ancient writings that we do not have, and numerous truths and insights and facts that will yet be revealed in the Millennium and throughout the eternities. Complete truth? Not a chance.

And as we've noted on this blog many times, we have much to learn from the examples, experiences, and writings of those outside our faith. We have something to offer the world, something missing in other faiths, but we can never afford to forget that we have a lot to learn as well.

In a style that I find far too typical among the most vocal anti-Mormons, our passer-by makes sweeping comments allegedly based on familiarity with our faith and with my writings, when that basis is rather lacking. Like the anti-Mormons who tell the world all the strange things that we supposedly teach - including things you just don't hear in our churches and classes and homes - the attack is based on a twisted stereotype of Mormons and the LDS faith rather than the substance of who we are and what we believe. No sir, I don't know it all and don't think we have anything close to a monopoly on truth. If we did, you know the Federal Trade Commission would shut us down in a hurry! (Or we'd be acquired by Google.)

"I Won't Mind" by LDS Artist Kerstin Koldewyn

One of the unexpected benefits of marriage in my case has been adding a tremendous group of relatives to my life. It's great when the family of your spouse is filled with interesting people you respect and enjoy. One of them happens to be Kerstin Koldewyn, my wife's sister, who has kindly granted me permission to share a few recently recorded songs.

The one I'll share today is "I Won't Mind," a touching ballad sung by a childless woman, "Aunt Lizzie," to the baby of a close friend. Though I haven't struggled with the pain of childlessness, the song touches some chords I didn't know were there.

If the flash player gives you any trouble (try clicking twice and then waiting a few seconds), you can grab the MP3 file directly here: http://ldsfaq.googlepages.com/I-wont-mind-03.mp3.

Thank you, Kerstin!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

President Hinckley Passes Away

Just this evening, the vigorous, humorous, intelligent, and inspiring leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints passed away. President Thomas S. Monson must be feeling an overwhelming burden now - the calling of President of the Church, Prophet, Seer, and Revelator.

President Hinckley was one of the most lovable and loving people in the world, and was respected by those within and without the Church. He will truly be missed. But his touch upon the Church, especially his imprint on the young people of the Church and the recent converts of the Church, will long be felt.

After his endless energy and dedication, and his endurance without his wife at his side, he must welcome this rest. Thank you, President Hinckley.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Lessons from Moving Walkways in Minneapolis

Strange events today at the Minneapolis airport. Approaching a long moving walkway, I noticed a Northwest Airlines ticket holder with at least one boarding pass lying about four inches from the beginning of the track. Like a typical passerby, I didn't do anything about it, hoping it was just a used boarding pass someone had tossed. But it nagged at me, so I went back, picked it up, saw that it had an unused boarding pass for someone going to Waterloo, Ohio in 90 minutes, and then faced the quandary of what to do about it. Immediately to my right was a security officer, and he knew what to do. He would call the gate, let them know, and also assured me that the holder could get one reprinted, if needed. Well, I'm not sure that helped, but it made me realize that I ought to be willing to interrupt my plans a little more frequently when help out with small things like that. Need to look around and notice opportunities to help a little more.

The minute or so delay also changed my timing for a more interesting event. A few minutes later I was walking past an escalator that was taking people to an upper level. I had taken about two steps along the right side of the ascending escalator when I heard a soft cry of alarm, or more of an angry grunt. A woman with a brace on her left leg was struggling with her bag. I suddenly realized that something was wrong and that she was starting to fall backwards. I think her brace might have become snagged on part of the moving stairway for a moment. Amazingly, I was close enough and tall enough that I could simply reach over with my left hand and support her on her back as I walked forward at the side of the escalator. It was just in time, because she suddenly was leaning sharply backward and I had to push hard to get her upright, doing so just before she reached a height where I could no longer reach. It all happened so quickly, and I'm amazed that I was there and that my instincts kicked into gear fast enough to help instead of just watching in horror (more my normal style). Weird.

But those experiences suggested an analogy of sorts.

There are plenty of situations in life where one simple step puts us on a path where powerful forces can carry us far from where we were with almost no further effort or intent on our part. Sometimes these paths take us away from what we need or where we need to be, leaving behind, in effect, the tickets to our intended destination. Sometimes these paths, while promising to lift us up, actually threaten to topple us with a deadly fall. But even if we have take the errant step on one of these dangerous paths, the Lord does not forget us, no matter how dire out situation, and can provide means for us to return, to regain our balance, and to move ahead to where we need to be. Sometimes those means might be a friend, a stranger, a bishop, the missionaries, etc., but in the end it is really the hand of the Lord that reaches out to steady us, if only we'll let cry out for His help.

The analogy could be amplified by my strange experience in getting to the Phoenix airport this morning, where everything seemed to go wrong, and my fifteen minute drive to the airport became a 90-minute comedy of errors, bad luck, and traffic surprises that got me to the airport far too late to catch my flight, or so I thought. How amazed I was to see that it was a 7:50 a.m. flight instead of the 7:30 a.m. flight I thought I was missing. I barely made it on the plane and learned quite a few lessons in that process - but that's another story. The key moment, though, was when I pulled into an empty parking lot of a closed and dark Post Office, anxious to find some help, when a truck pulled in that I could wave down and get directions. Long story how I ended up so far from the right path, on a road without gas stations or signs of life for miles - but again, it was a stranger at just the right time who was able to provide the help I needed. So much of the good in my life has been due to the kind touch of someone else at the right time to get me back where I needed to be.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

"Reflections of Christ": A Powerful Photographic Exhibit Open to the Public in Mesa, Arizona

The reality of Jesus Christ, the reality of His birth and life, His humble service, His love, His suffering, His gruesome death, His glorious triumph over the grave, His role as our Savior - these are critical elements of our faith that we must never forget. So much of our religion is designed to help us to always remember Him - the scriptures, prayer, the weekly sacrament, Sunday worship, Temple worship, and personal covenants to follow Him. And in Mesa, Arizona, there is now one more powerful tool to help us remember him - to remember that He is REAL - and this witness of Christ does not require membership in the Church or a temple recommend or anything more than simply going to the Visitors Centers at the Mesa, Arizona Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint and experiencing the incredible photographic exhibit, "Reflections of Christ" by local photographer Mark Mabry.

In a quiet, darkened gallery on the side of the Visitor's Center, members of the public can experience beautifully crafted photographs from a massive project aimed at helping us to better grasp the reality of Jesus Christ. There are about 25 photos in this exhibit, composed during a four-month effort by Mark Mabry with the help of many others. They are accompanied by a special soundtrack of sacred music prepared by local artists specifically for these photos. The story of the making of this exhibit and its music is told in a beautiful 30-minute film that plays continuously in a side room next to the gallery. You can also see some related video footage at Mark's Webpage about the Reflections of Christ project.

As I think of the many exhibits of art and photography I've enjoyed over the years, exhibits that brought tears from viewers have been rare. Tuesday night was one of those rare and dramatic moments. How fortunate I was to be in Arizona this week, with just barely enough free time on Tuesday night to dash over to the Mesa Temple and see "Reflections of Christ."

Upon entering the Visitor's Center, I received a very kind welcome from Hermana Parkus, a fabulous sister missionary originally from Chile. What a tremendous spirit (and beautiful smile). She escorted me to the gallery and told me a little about the exhibit. What a reverent and worshipful spirit I encountered there. The experience began with large black and white photos of a manger scene, taken at the mouth of a little cave in the Arizona desert, with a reposing Mary and the Infant on some hay, with our eyes drawn to the watching Joseph, who is the center of attraction in these photos. Then I delighted in the color photo of the baptism of Christ, in which the model really convincingly represents our Lord. The photo shows the joy of Christ and John moments after Christ has risen from the waters of Jordan, and is about to embrace his friend.

Then came the angels. Oh, the angels! Joyous, beautiful angels, swooshing down toward the ground to announce the birth of the Savior to shepherds who aren't visible in the photo. Mark Mabry used a trampoline to get his angel models captured in mid-air, and spent hours with them to get the shots that he would bring together in a composite of angels more joyous and dynamic than any I've ever seen (so far, anyway). And the star of Bethlehem shines brightly in the background. This large, beautiful composite photograph is one that I would love to display in my home, along with many of the others. Please, I hope this will be reproduced and marketed.

Another outstanding photo, one I would love to display in my home, is the Ten Virgins. Such variety, beauty, and majestic lighting. Looks like it was photographed at night, but it was done in daylight.

One of my favorites is the scene of Christ just after the Resurrection. We see him walking away into bright light, strong, unstoppable, majestic, with the palm of his hand subtly revealing the mark of the nail still there, for our benefit.

The joy that sings in so many of these photos finds solemn counterpoint in a painful sequence including the agony of Gethsemane, an introspective Judas now beyond all hope, the flogging of Christ, and His suffering on the cross, enhanced by an unexpected rain during the photo shoot that helped all the people in the scene look a little more miserable. The experience at Gethsemane, so intensely personal and beyond all human ken, was represented with two nicely crafted photos that were the only ones that didn't work for me. It may have been my own limitations that were in the way, but I did not get the sense of the unspeakable grief and pain the Savior was taking on as he bore the weight of all our sins. So how can a finite photo capture the magnitude of a cosmos of sin and grief beginning to implode on a lone focal point of the innocent Lamb of God offering Himself as a sacrifice for all mankind? I have no idea. I suppose unreasonable expectations on my part were the barrier here.

At the last photo, we see the remaining 11 apostles reaching up as Christ ascends above them to heaven. A dramatic moment of reaching is created in this image. And one of the men shown there is the kind brother who let me know about this exhibit, a man who had left the Church and found his way back. As I was looking at that photo and pondering his return and the kindness of our Lord, I noticed that the music in the background had changed to a most appropriate song, Amazing Grace. Yes, how amazing the grace of Jesus Christ is. No one of us is past His reach, if only we'll reach up to Him and allow Him to bless us and forgive us.

As I walked through the gallery again, the message delivered by this majestic work of art was stronger than ever: Jesus Christ is real! He is real, as real and as tangible as any of the people in these realistic photos. His love is real, His triumph over death His real, His grace is real. And each of us will one day stand before Him, kneel before Him, and recognize Him as our Lord. When that moment comes, we will either recognize Him as our Lord whom we have sought to serve and already know, or as a stranger who was far from the thoughts and intents of our hearts. May it be the former! But in either case, we will see that He is real, more real than any scene in any photograph. So why wait? Why wait for reality to surprise us when we can accept it now - accept Him now - and prepare for that wonderful day when we are united with the Lord, our true and very real Friend and Savior.

I left that gallery, after having seen the photos several times and the stirring movie about their production, inspired to live better and to always remember Him. I am so weak and have so far to go, but the hope He offers us is real, almost tangible, as is the love and grace He offers so freely. We must never give up on Him but press forward daily, repenting and striving to follow Him, imperfect as we are.

After leaving the gallery, I saw Elder David Peterson, the Director of the Visitors Center, who was featured in part of the video and who helped guide and direct the effort of the team in taking on this sacred project. I was delighted to meet Brother Peterson on that day, which turns out to have been his last day as Director before returning to civilian life. And it was an honor to meet him, for I've heard of him before and am intrigued with the work he has done and will soon be doing again in international affairs. I was happy to share my overwhelmingly positive impressions of this wonderful effort.

If you're in Arizona or anywhere close to Arizona, like, say, New Jersey, you might wish to visit Reflections of Christ at the Mesa, Arizona Temple.

Thank you, Mark Mabry. Thank you, Todd. Thank you, Arizona. Thank you, Elder Peterson and all the many others who made this exhibit possible.

Update: Thanks is due to several others (hat tip to Tara). Cameron Trejo of Cameron Trejo Films deserves a great deal of credit for masterfully depicting the story of the photography while also subtly teaching basic principles of the Gospel at the same time. Beautifully done, very creative, truly inspiring. Thank you, Cameron!

Jason Barney engineered and brought together the musicians and even recomposed "Joy to the World" to fit in the exhibit. Musicians included Clyde Bawden (piano), Freddie Ashby (male vocal), Melynda Brimhall (female vocal), and Hope Sheaperd on the cello. Nice work! The photos were expertly framed and donated by Rob Brinton of Matage Custom Framing in Mesa. Kim Eaton donated the build out of the entire gallery. And there was a large committee of volunteer help, that all used their talent to testify of the Savior.

(I called some family members last night to share my excitement about the exhibit. We all hope that some of these photos will one day be made available for purchase so members can have them in their home. Please! These are some of the few works of LDS religious art that I have on my wish list.)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Alma 58:40 - Observing Statutes, Judgments, and Commandments:

My family is currently reading through the Book of Mormon for our scripture study. On Saturday, we read Alma 58 while driving down to Madison, and noticed a phrase in verse 40 that seemed oddly formulaic: "they do observe to keep his statutes, and his judgments, and his commandments continually," referring to the group of sons of converted Lamanites, the people of Ammon, who are fighting with the Nephites. Observing statutes, judgments, and commandments - why not just say they were good or kept the commandments? This question led to an interesting little excursion into the scriptures.

First, here is the context from Alma 58, where an epistle from Helaman to Moroni in a time of war describes the challenges that Helaman and his forces are facing as they strive to preserve the Nephite nation from external threats without receiving the needed help from the government:
34 Now we do not know the cause that the government does not grant us more strength; neither do those men who came up unto us know why we have not received greater strength.
35 Behold, we do not know but what ye are unsuccessful, and ye have drawn away the forces into that quarter of the land; if so, we do not desire to murmur.
36 And if it is not so, behold, we fear that there is some faction in the government, that they do not send more men to our assistance; for we know that they are more numerous than that which they have sent.
37 But, behold, it mattereth not--we trust God will deliver us, notwithstanding the weakness of our armies, yea, and deliver us out of the hands of our enemies.
38 Behold, this is the twenty and ninth year, in the latter end, and we are in the possession of our lands; and the Lamanites have fled to the land of Nephi.
39 And those sons of the people of Ammon, of whom I have so highly spoken, are with me in the city of Manti; and the Lord had supported them, yea, and kept them from falling by the sword, insomuch that even one soul has not been slain.
40 But behold, they have received many wounds; nevertheless they stand fast in that liberty wherewith God has made them free; and they are strict to remember the Lord their God from day to day; yea, they do observe to keep his statutes, and his judgments, and his commandments continually; and their faith is strong in the prophecies concerning that which is to come.
41 And now, my beloved brother, Moroni, may the Lord our God, who has redeemed us and made us free, keep you continually in his presence; yea, and may he favor this people, even that ye may have success in obtaining the possession of all that which the Lamanites have taken from us, which was for our support. And now, behold, I close mine epistle. I am Helaman, the son of Alma.
If a formula was being used in verse 40, was Helaman making reference to a passage in the Old Testament, perhaps, that used these terms?

As we drove (my son was driving, not me), I used my LDS Scriptures Resource Edition on my computer to search the Bible for verses using "observe" + "command/commandment" + "judgment" + "statute" (or permutations of those words such as plural forms, etc.), and found only 1. Nearly a dozen verses talk about observing the statutes of the Lord, and several mention observing statues and judgments or statutes and commandments, often in the sense of what the nation of Israel must do to survive and be preserved by the Lord, but only 2 bring together all these terms, and one of these seems to resonate especially well with Alma 5:40.

The less relevant of the two verses in the Bible is Nehemiah 10:29: "They clave to their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God's law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the LORD our Lord, and his judgments and his statutes." OK, it is an interesting verse, showing the ancient pattern of covenant making included oaths and curses (but that's another story). But more relevant to Alma 58 is 2 Chronicles 7:17, and I suspect that Helaman may have had this verse in mind, or teachings based on this verse, when invoking those terms in his epistle.

In 2 Chronicles 7, the Lord appears to Solomon after he completed the Temple (yes, that's right, the Bible says Jehovah appeared to a human, one of many cases in the Bible). It's best to consider the whole passage, verse 12 to 20:
12 And the LORD appeared to Solomon by night, and said unto him, I have heard thy prayer, and have chosen this place to myself for an house of sacrifice.
13 If I shut up heaven that there be no rain, or if I command the locusts to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people;
14 If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
15 Now mine eyes shall be open, and mine ears attent unto the prayer that is made in this place.
16 For now have I chosen and sanctified this house, that my name may be there for ever: and mine eyes and mine heart shall be there perpetually.
17 And as for thee, if thou wilt walk before me, as David thy father walked, and do according to all that I have commanded thee, and shalt observe my statutes and my judgments;
18 Then will I stablish the throne of thy kingdom, according as I have covenanted with David thy father, saying, There shall not fail thee a man to be ruler in Israel.
19 But if ye turn away, and forsake my statutes and my commandments, which I have set before you, and shall go and serve other gods, and worship them;
20 Then will I pluck them up by the roots out of my land which I have given them; and this house, which I have sanctified for my name, will I cast out of my sight, and will make it to be a proverb and a byword among all nations.
Note: If you're using the LDS Scriptures CD to do searching, I'm sorry to report that there is a typo in verse 17, which has "statues" instead of "statutes." Fortunately. I made that same typo when I did my search and initially thought 2 Chron. 7:17 was the only match in the Bible. In fact, I began with a search for "statutes" only (misspelled as "statues") and was surprised to find that 2 Chron. 7:17 had the only mention of that term, which seemed wrong. That's when I noticed the fortunate typo, without which I would probably have missed this intriguing passage.

In 2 Chron. 7, the Lord is telling Solomon what the people must do to be blessed in their land and what he must do to preserve the rights and authority of the Davidic kingdom in the land. An important insight into the Book of Mormon is that the Nephite leaders, particularly Nephi, the founder and first king of their nation, saw themselves as preserving the Davidic covenants in their land. Nephi's slaying of Laban is described in terms deliberately designed to draw upon themes relating to David's authority as king. Nephi slays Laban with his own sword, as does David to Goliath, and takes symbols of authority: Laban's clothing (presumably the uniform of a military leader), the sword, and the brass plates. In fact, the parallels between David and Nephi in the account of Nephi's encounter with Laban in 1 Nephi 3-4 are extensive and artfully woven into Nephi's account, as Val Larsen has demonstrated. And now, when the Nephites are concerned about the preservation of their nation, and Helaman is worried about the faithfulness of the government, he invokes a formula related to the Lord's assurances to Solomon for the preservation of the Davidic kingdom of Israel, of which the Nephite's were a transplanted branch initiated by their own David and Moses, even Nephi.

Ironically, the hope of the Nephite armies at this time, the unique group who truly did observe to keep all the statues, judgments, and commandments of the Lord, were the sons of former Lamanites. They become the heroes of these great battles of national preservation late in the Book of Alma, and the blessings they bring through their faith and righteousness were key to the preservation of the Nephites at that time.

The Book of Mormon uses related language in a variety of other passages, some of which may have influenced Helaman or at least show the significance of the formulaic phrases to the Nephites.
  • 2 Nephi 5:10 - "And we did observe to keep the judgments, and the statutes, and the commandments of the Lord in all things, according to the law of Moses."

  • Mosiah 6:6 - "And it came to pass that king Mosiah did walk in the ways of the Lord, and did observe his judgments and his statutes, and did keep his commandments in all things whatsoever he commanded him."

  • 2 Nephi 1:16 - "And I desire that ye should remember to observe the statutes and the judgments of the Lord; behold, this hath been the anxiety of my soul from the beginning."

  • Hel. 3:20 - "Nevertheless Helaman did fill the judgment-seat with justice and equity; yea, he did observe to keep the statutes, and the judgments, and the commandments of God; and he did do that which was right in the sight of God continually; and he did walk after the ways of his father, insomuch that he did prosper in the land."

  • Helaman 15:5 "And I would that ye should behold that the more part of them are in the path of their duty, and they do walk circumspectly before God, and they do observe to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments according to the law of Moses."
Nothing earth-shattering, and it's the kind of thing that has probably been studied and expounded upon by others already (let me know of good sources on the topic of statues/judgments/commandments - I'm curious). But I thought it was an example of the "fun" one can have poking around in the scriptures, including one of my favorite ancient authentic Semitic documents, The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ.

LDS Events in Phoenix This Week?

Hey, I'm about to take a plane to Phoenix to attend the CoDev 2008 conference on open innovation in Scottsdale this week. Any interesting LDS-oriented events going on in the area? Let me know at jeff at jefflindsay dot c0m. Might not have time to get away, but always like to know what's happening.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Do We Need to Teach Our Young Women to Be Pickier About Men?

I love the youth programs offered in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They can greatly supplement parents' efforts to raise their children with high moral values, good social skills, a wide variety of experiences, and healthy friendships with others. In both the youth programs as well as the parallel Sunday training, there is plenty of emphasis on preparing for marriage. And in this training, leaders have occasionally told the young women that the best way to find the right guy is to focus on being the best person possible, the kind of girl that will attract the kind of noble guy a good LDS girl would want to marry, and then the rest will come naturally. Maybe that works in some ideal communities where nearly all the men are above-average returned missionaries striving to live the Gospel, but I thank that's limited to just a few towns in Wyoming that no longer appear to be on the map.

"Focus on being the kind of girl who will attract the right kind of guy." It sounds like good advice, but when I step back and look at the guys that some great LDS young women marry, I think it's time for a reality check. A spiritual, talented, sweet, pure, intelligent, confident LDS young woman will often be attractive to a much broader spectrum of men than just the off-the-chart sliver of totally righteous returned missionary hunks out there. Latter-day Saint women manage to attract men of very diverse backgrounds and very diverse moral standards. And in many cases, I'm sad to say, it's the men who seem to be getting the better deal. Full disclosure: that was certainly the case for me. The absolutely amazing LDS girl I married could have done much better - if only her Young Women's leaders had encouraged her to be a lot pickier.

I suggest that the trick is not to be attractive to an ideal Mr. Right, but to be less attractive to the swarms of Mr. Wrongs that will buzz around a young female. And part of this process must include more training on how to distinguish between the two. I'd like to see girls taught to use their heads more in discerning if the candidate male is reliable, dependable, hard-working, self-sacrificing, kind, thoughtful, willing to take orders (sorry guys, I had to say that - but notice the loophole: being "willing" and actually carrying out the order aren't necessarily the same thing), etc. No, I'm not letting my wife read this, either, but if I had a daughter, I'd train her to have a list like this. If the guy you're dating only thinks about himself, gets angry easily, can't handle changes in plans, doesn't care about your schedule and needs, treats you like a toy for his fun, bosses you around, is suspicious and paranoid, doesn't trust you, can't hold a job, isn't almost as smart as you, doesn't do what he says he will, and doesn't share the values that matter to you, then marriage could be (on the average - with some happy exceptions) a long, painful headache. The reality of painful marriages needs to be discussed with young women, with tips on how to avoid starting off on a completely wrong foot by making a clearly unwise choice at the very beginning. Picky, picky, picky - I'd like to see more of our young women acquire that attitude.

Ditto for the young men, but it seems like the risks and problems are greater among the young women of the Church.

I hope this isn't too offensive or controversial. It's just my reflection on trends I've seen in the past decade.

I know some, perhaps many of our Young Women's leaders and priesthood leaders do work with the young women to encourage them to be picky. But I've seen too many cases of a girl "marrying down" when she could easily have "married equal," and in these cases, I've sometimes had the impression that the girl just wasn't ready for the "surprise" of being found attractive and desirable by the stream of good looking guys who came along.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

It's All About Character

The experiences I've had over the years in the business word, academia, and other areas show me over and over just how important leadership is. Among all the skills that might matter in a leader, I have found that character is key. One can have the best technology, the best financial skills, the best market plan, the best patents, and still destroy all hope for real success if the leader of the operation lacks integrity or can't listen to others or is dripping with arrogance. There are counterexamples, I know, but it's amazing how often character issues are what make or break the success of an enterprise. Of course, other skills are needed as well. Good character coupled with good business sense and several other skills works best.

Character matters for all of us. I think it is especially important for our political leaders, where the temptations that go with massive power can lead to so much harm, not just nationally, but globally. While this post is NOT about the presidential campaign, I'll note that one of my most difficult moments as bishop some years ago was during a presidential election when I was asked by the Church to read the Church's statement - I think it was about political neutrality - from the pulpit. The statement reminded us that the Church does not endorse any particular candidate and then had the audacity to refer to a passage of scripture (Doctrine and Covenants, Section 98) about the need to seek elected leaders who are "wise," "honest" and "good." It was so hard for me to keep a straight face when I read that given my personal feelings about some of the candidates at the time. I don't think life has gotten any easier for bishops since then.

Here is part of Section 98:
6 Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land;
7 And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil.
8 I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free.
9 Nevertheless, when the wicked rule the people mourn.
10 Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil.
Wise words indeed!

As a nation, our respect for personal integrity and moral character seems to be at a low. Scoundrels can be our celebrities, our leaders, and our heroes, and those who are uncomfortable with that are often put down for being judgmental and intolerant. Ultimately, it was the moral character - in spite of many flaws - among our Founding Fathers that propelled them to risk their lives and their fortunes for the freedom of this land. It is the moral character of wise leaders that we need more than ever in business, in politics, in religion, and our own families and lives.

Character is especially critical for religious leaders. A leader can be great in administration and record keeping, but if he or she loses the trust of the people, effectiveness is shot and great harm can be done. All mortals are fallible, of course, so this sometimes happens - tragically.

Character matters. The rest can be learned or, to be more trendy, outsourced.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Little Things

(Click photos to enlarge.)

The Book of Mormon tells us how the Lord often works great miracles through small means. Indeed, even in the coldest seasons of our lives when things seem to be in decay, we can find great prizes of beauty and wonder if we look. And in the lives of others who might seem old and shriveled, gifts of beauty and wisdom may be found if we get close enough to see the touch of the Lord's hand in their lives.

So much of life is about noticing the little things. So much of our encounter with the Divine is found in the little things. Pay attention, and watch for the touch of the Lord all around us. It certainly makes life more wondrous, even in the winters of our lives.

(The photograph was taken in my backyard a few days ago, during a light snow.)

Book of Mormon References:
First Nephi 16:29:
And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things.

Alma 37:6,7:
Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.

And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Why I Blog

Why do I blog about such a controversial topic as "Mormonism" - the ugly nickname for the Christian faith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Why would I dare blog under my own name and even have an amateur Website under my name that contains many pages discussing and defending the Latter-day Saint religion? This is a question I get frequently.

In a world that increasingly associates serious religious belief with superstition, ignorance, and perhaps a touch of mental illness, and in a country where religious views are something that polite people just don't talk about, isn't my open discussion and defense of my religion something that will get me in all sorts of trouble, including jeopardizing my professional work (where I actually have a dream job, working with many truly amazing inventors, scientists, and business leaders)? Perhaps, but my approach is simply to make these resources available for those who are interested. The people I have worked with over the years, almost without exception, have been tolerant and intelligent people who don't let religious differences get in the way of our work, and some, when they run into my pages, have expressed gratitude for sharing the information and clearing up some misconceptions.

But why do this in the first place? It began with my personal quest for truth and numerous personal experiences that gave me a strong personal witness - what Latter-day Saints ("Mormons") call a personal "testimony" - that God exists, and that Jesus Christ - the Jesus Christ of the Bible, not some "other Jesus" as some of our critics claim - is for real and is our Savior (examples of expressed "testimonies" are available at Mormon.org and MormonTestimonies.org). That personal testimony also includes a vast amount of experience with The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, which I accept as a volume of ancient scripture as well as the Bible. My combination of study, pondering, and prayer in exploring the Book of Mormon led me to a powerful personal conclusion that it is from God and is divine scripture, and that knowledge became a foundation for recognizing that the Church itself is a divine tool from the Lord for blessing the lives of people on this earth. I chose, on my own, to serve a two-year mission and had the amazing privilege of serving in German-speaking Switzerland. Though many people there weren't interested in religion at all, I had numerous experiences where I saw what the teachings of the Church - the Gospel of Jesus Christ - did for the lives of people. I saw once cold, despairing people find joy and meaning, while happy people became happier. I saw people grow and have better lives. I saw families strengthened. And these kind of experiences have been repeated many times since, especially during a time when I had the privilege of serving as a bishop of a congregation. Say what you will about how awful you've heard Joseph Smith was, condemn us for our theological heresies in not accepting modern creeds from committees of philosophers, rant and rail about the puzzling and thankfully long-gone phenomenon of polygamy, but when I look at what happens in the lives of those who join the Church and seriously live by its teachings, on the average (exceptions abound, as in all of life) I see people becoming happier and families becoming stronger. I see people finding more meaning and purpose in life. And it's not just "Mormonism for Dummies" - I see intelligent, educated people finding intellectual fulfillment in the rich teachings of the Church, teachings which help solve some of the biggest theological conundrums of the past.

For those who are looking for more in life, I think the Church has something wonderful to offer. For those who do join, I think you have begun a wonderful and rewarding journey of faith, a journey that will bless you and your posterity. Yes, I really believe it is true, even though there are puzzles and problems and occasional human errors (all humans are fallible - even the great apostles and prophets of the Bible as well as our modern apostles and prophets - and anyone thinking otherwise is bound for disappointment). Given my beliefs about the benefits and truthfulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the Church of Jesus of Christ of Latter-day Saints, it pains me to see inexperienced members of the Church get torn away by assaults on their faith from our very vocal critics. It pains me to see people who are preparing for baptism in the Church suddenly get "love bombed" with anti-Mormon literature from well-meaning friends and perhaps less well-meaning pastors who tell them that "the Mormons are a cult; you'll be worshipping a different Jesus and you'll go to hell if you join!"

I blog because of Peter, a wonderful young man who found incredible joy when he joined the Church in Switzerland, and then was convinced by his love-bombing friends that he had joined a cult. I blog because of Eric, a man from my congregation whose whole family left the Church after their faith was shattered by what I see as the intellectual deceptions of some professional anti-Mormons (yes, there are people and "ministries" who make their livings off of spewing attacks against the Church) who had convinced him that the LDS Book of Abraham was proven as a complete fraud by scholars. I blog because the same arguments that got him shook my faith as well in the 1990s, until I realized that the most critical information in the argument had been conveniently and knowingly left out by the critics. I had been tricked by people who "lie in wait top deceive," and I wanted to provide resources to let others who sincerely wanted to know that there might be another side to the story.

I blog and write Web pages because unrealistic and naive assumptions of some faithful members of the Church can sometimes send them on a collision course with reality or with science (which is often close to reality). Issues such as DNA evidence and the Book of Mormon or the fallibility of human leaders, require a more careful reading of the scriptures and a more mature understanding of our faith than some members get in Sunday School. (By the way, if you Google "fallible Mormon," I'm #1 - and proud of it.) There are answers to many of the questions and objections raised by these issues, but they need to be made available for them to be considered and discussed.

I blog because anti-Mormon literature is all over the Internet and there needs to be some visible wells of what I consider to be more fair information to refresh those looking for answers. I blog because the rhetoric and insinuations against the Church have reached new but often subtle highs with a Mormon candidate in the Presidential race (one minister's declaration that "A vote for Romney is a vote for Satan himself" might be on the less subtle side). I blog because numerous ministers are telling their people - directly or through insinuation - that Mormons are a non-Christian cult, using deceptive and contrived definitions of both "cult" and "Christian" that ironically tend to condemn Christ and His early disciples as non-Christian cultists as well. (Example: "A cult is any group that tries to introduce new scripture and has a dynamic leader who claims to bring new revelation." Anyone heard of Jesus Christ and the New Testament? As non-Christian cultists, at least we're in good company.) Unsuspecting people, after hearing such rhetoric, may go to Google, type in "Mormon cult", click on "I'm feeling lucky" - and encounter a page likely to shake and shock them with its information about us Mormons. Shouldn't I do something about that? Well, perhaps, I actually have.

I started this journey with some simple Web pages back in 1994. I love to write, so I wrote about my community (best small town in America: Appleton, Wisconsin), my hobbies, my views on a variety of controversies, and, of course, my religion - sometimes with a touch of satire (Google "facetious mormon" and I'm also #1). The LDS material has been the biggest of these projects, and my Website and this blog contains material developed slowly over years. Still many gaps and flaws, but I hope it helps.

I recognize that we Mormons have plenty of flaws, and that there are plenty of things in our beliefs, history, culture, and even dancing skills that can be questioned. Insights into the complex, unflattering, and sometimes troubling realities of history are available in outstanding works like Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by LDS historian Richard Bushman, who shows that one can be an intelligent scholar, confront history and reality, and still be a Latter-day Saint. All religions have a troubling side, because all religions I am aware of have one dangerous factor in common: human beings as adherents and as leaders. And that means trouble. Rough edges. Gaffes. It began with Adam and his family, and then continues throughout the Old and New Testament and right up into modern times. Some of the things Abraham did, that old polygamist, leave me shaking my head - yet he was a great prophet and patriarch praised by Christ Himself as a friend of God. There are head-shaking moments for every faith and plenty of unanswered questions. But a lot of questions do have answers, and there are some awfully good reasons to shake one's head up and down and say, "Yes, this is wonderful. And not just truthy, but true." That's where I am. I sincerely believe the Church has something fabulous to offer the world, something the world needs more than ever. And no matter how insane that my seem, I feel a need to make the pro-LDS side known to those who want to know. I respect your decision to not care and to not investigate, or to turn away our missionaries or even to leave the Church, if that's what you really want to do. But whatever you do, if information about our beliefs and practices plays a role in your decision, I hope you'll also consider the LDS perspective from some of its members such as myself and not put too much trust in what some of our very vocal and sometimes full-time professional critics say.

When that Florida minister told people that a vote for a Mormon was a vote for Satan himself, you should realize that he was doing a terrible disservice. Think about the pain and confusion this has caused among faithful Satanists, who already thought they had their candidate picked out. Now they aren't sure what to do. Ouch.

Trying to share and defend something that has greatly enriched my life, and to offer some balance on a very unbalanced Web: that's why I blog.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A Mormon Conspiracy?

In one recent discussion with a critic of my faith, I was given a list of reasons why Mormons aren't Christian (standard stuff: we don't agree with 100% of the critic's doctrines and interpretations of Scripture, so we must be worshipping a different Jesus - see CultMaster 2000 for details on how to do this.) I get this all the time now. His rant included this statement: "Now days with a Mormon Presidential campaign, the LDS community sees a need to be merged with the Christian community." Ah, that's it! Mormons apparently are just beginning to profess faith in Christ in order to help out the Romney campaign. Our departure from our traditional demonic roots is part of a conspiracy to help Romney look better. And based on that hair, it seems to be working.

But I suppose this conspiracy goes back even before the start of the Romney campaign, all the way to 1820, when our religion began with Joseph Smith praying to know which Christian church to join, and having the First Vision in which he saw Jesus Christ and heard the voice of God saying "This is my beloved son. Hear him!" And so began the great Mormon conspiracy, teaching Mormons to look to Jesus Christ and "hear Him" right from the beginning. And since the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, our members join by being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ to make a covenant to follow Jesus Christ; we are taught to pray in the name of Jesus Christ; we remember Jesus Christ each Sunday when we partake of the "sacrament" to remember the sacrifice of his flesh and blood and the Atonement He worked for us; and we are taught to look to Christ for salvation and to study His word in the Bible and in The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. This is a deep and sinister conspiracy, carried out faithfully for almost 180 years to raise a people that appear to believe in Christ just so we can launch a presidential campaign in 2007 to send a Mormon to the White House. Joseph Smith surely foresaw all this and designed this great conspiracy just for this purpose. Wow, did he foresee the future and plan all that just for this moment in history? Now that's one heck of a false prophet.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Tips for New LDS Bloggers

I've been getting a lot of email recently from enthusiastic LDS folks anxious to start blogging, inspired by some recent comments of Elder Russel M. Ballard encouraging students and others to take up blogging and other approaches to make Gospel truth more visible to the world. (And according to the More Good Foundation, he even mentioned Bookslinger's blog - one of my favorite commenters here!) That's wonderful!

Starting a new blog may not be the best way to help. Much of the action on blogs, forums, and many Websites takes place in the comments. That's a great place to be active in supporting the Gospel. I'm so grateful to some of the readers here who take time to respond to comments and questions posed in the comments areas. Sometimes some great insights and excellent research can be found there. Helping out in that way can be a very effective way to have an impact. We need more people to do this kind of thing, including on news sites where people can respond to stories. When there is an LDS topic being covered, there is a need for intelligent Latter-day Saints to be there and help spread a little truth and even make the pro-LDS part of the Web more visible to those looking for answers.

For those of you taking up blogging, make sure you have a reason for being, a theme, an angle, a value proposition, or whatever you call it. Why should anyone care? What do you offer? Share your plans with other bloggers and get some feedback.

Still interested in starting a blog? Be prepared for a long haul if you want to do any good. Most bloggers stop after a few weeks. Many don't last more than about 10 or 20 posts. That's why I probably am not going to link to new blogs until they have a track record - no offense, please, but it's a pain to add a link only to have it die a few weeks later. And I'm pretty fussy as it is when it comes to links - please don't be offended.

Blogging is a pain. Part of me really enjoys it, but the sane part of me regrets the time I spend for almost every post. I don't have the 20+ minutes it takes for a quick 5-minute post. Teams of bloggers are a way to reduce the work load on any one person, but teams come and go and are hard to manage. I prefer to work mostly alone here to maintain my carefully tailored haphazard style and erratic, idiosyncratic feel that is hard to do with sane people on your committee.

You'll probably never have as many readers as you would like (it may seem like shouting to the wind much of the time), and many times you'll find what you think is your best work is simply ignored. But if you endure to the end (with the right software tools, this should be at least three to four months after you croak), you can prevail, especially if you remember each day Whom you are trying to please and serve: Google.

Oops! A Freudian slip, really. As Latter-day Saints, you naturally want to please the Lord, but as a blogger, but you must also serve Google and look for ways to be visible with Google. Can you please God and Google? Maybe, just maybe. Well, as least do your best to stay out of Google hell. More on that later.

Have fun, be yourself, be prepared for a lot of abuse, be careful what you say and try to save more souls than you offend or drive out of the Church. I hope I'm on the positive side of that equation, though it's hard to say. Some folks enjoy telling me that my stupid defense of the Gospel is the reason they left the Church. (Maybe that will help me on the day of judgment if it turns out I'm actually supporting a demonic cult after all - "Hey, look, I did help save some souls after all.") But I sincerely am trying to do some good, at least some of the time.

I'm a couple days away from my 1000th post and nearing my 4-year anniversary with Mormanity. I have plenty of regrets and frequently consider throwing in the towel to focus more on the books I'm writing (ooh, can't wait to complete the one on Innovation Fatigue! so much fun!), the photography I'm doing, my family, and my work. And I still might need to do that, but for now, I continue trying to squeeze in a few minutes here and there and there. And sometimes it's really quite fun. I really had fun doing the "Gift for Anti-Mormons," for example. But was it worth it? Maybe not. Did it offend and harm people? Perhaps. Did it increase my visibility in Google? Ah, there we go.

One more tip: if you have a good name for your blog, be sure to get the domain name locked up before squatters and click farms do. My biggest mistake was not grabbing Mormanity.com. Once the name gets known, squatters nab the domain and make money off your name. I had to settle for Mormanity.org, but really wish I had thought of nabbing the dot com version. (Please don't click on anything on that other site - it just encourages the squatters and gives them money.) Domain names are cheap these days. Invest in one or a few.

Best wishes blogging! But be sure to consider other routes, like helping existing blogs or being a pro-LDS voice to balance the critics out there in various forums.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

A Surprising Issue in Presidential Politics: Do Mormons Believe Satan Is the Brother of Jesus Christ??

Do Mormons Believe Satan the Brother of Jesus Christ?? This issue is coming up with surprising frequency, at least from my vantage point (including email I receive). It's a question I address on my LDSFAQ (Mormon Answers) page on Relationships Between God and Man, so I'll quote the relevant section here:

Do Mormons believe that Christ and Satan are brothers???

This seems to be one of the most popular cheap shots against the Church.

The Church has issued a short statement on this topic ("Answering Media Questions About Jesus and Satan," LDS.org Newsroom, Dec. 12, 2007):
Like other Christians, we believe Jesus is the divine Son of God. Satan is a fallen angel.

As the Apostle Paul wrote, God is the Father of all. That means that all beings were created by God and are His spirit children. Christ, however, was the only begotten in the flesh, and we worship Him as the Son of God and the Savior of mankind.
I'd like to add some of my thoughts as well. Christ is the creator of this earth and our one and only Savior and the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh. However, He shares something with us in that we are all spirit sons and daughters of God (Heb. 12:9; Acts 17:28; Numbers 16:22) as is Christ (see also Hebrews 1:5,6; Heb. 2:9-12; Matt. 12:50; Col. 1:15; Psalms 89:27; Romans 8:29; Rev. 3:14). Christ differs from us in several ways, such as the fact that He alone was perfect and sinless throughout his mortal life, having served as Co-creator with God and then as our Savior. Yes, technically, Satan is the brother of Christ, but so are all of us and all the angels, both good and fallen. But anti-Mormons want to make this doctrine sound scary by leaving out the information that would explain our position, and suggesting that somehow we worship a false "Mormon" Christ who is like Satan. That's seriously misleading - and often deliberately so.

It's a Biblical doctrine that Satan was in heaven originally but fell from heaven. Here is an excerpt from the article "Satan" in Smith's Bible Dictionary (a non-LDS source):
Of the nature and original state of Satan, little is revealed in Scripture. He is spoken of as a "spirit" in Ephesians 2:2; as the prince or ruler of the "demons" in Matthew 12:24-26; and as having "angels" subject to him in Matthew 25:41; Revelation 12:7, 9; The whole description of his power implies spiritual nature and spiritual influence. We conclude therefore that he was of angelic nature, a rational and spiritual creature, superhuman in power, wisdom and energy; and not only so, but an archangel, one of the "princes" of heaven. We cannot, of course, conceive that anything essentially and originally evil was created by God. We can only conjecture, therefore, that Satan is a fallen angel, who once had a time of probation, but whose condemnation is now irrevocably fixed. As to the time cause and manner of his fall Scripture tells us scarcely anything; but it describes to us distinctly the moral nature of the evil one.
As for our common heritage with Christ as sons of God, the teachings of the Bible are clear. In Romans 8:14-18, I see Paul saying that our divine heritage from God is what makes it possible for humans to become "joint heirs with Christ." Though we may be potential "joint heirs," Christ is always and eternally our Savior. Latter-day Saints also believe that Satan was a spirit being in the premortal existence that we all shared, who, as Revelation 12:7-9 describes, rebelled against God and was cast down to earth, with those angels (spirits) who followed Satan (see also Jude 1:6, 2 Peter 2:4). Lucifer (Satan) was in heaven and was "a son of the morning" (Isaiah 14: 12-15) who sought to usurp God's glory and throne, rather than follow God's will (see also Job 1:6, where Satan comes into an assembly among the sons of God - these sons of God, premortal spirit children, existed before the creation of the earth was completed, according to Job 38: 4-7).

Just as we see the potential for great goodness and great evil in humans around us, so has there always been such potential among the spirit children (Heb. 12:9) of God who are blessed with liberty to choose God and Christ or to choose evil. Satan chose the greatest evil possible and still works toward that end. That he was in heaven and was a "son of the morning" among the spirit beings there ("morning stars" in Job 38:7) makes his fall and his guilt and his eternal punishment all the more terrible. But our understanding of who Satan was and is - a fallen angel, by choice a total and complete enemy to God and Christ - does not make us unchristian, in my opinion. Nor does it give us any respect for that abominable being!

Simply saying that "Mormons think Christ and Satan are brothers" is a distortion of LDS doctrine - it is deliberately misleading. We see all of humanity and all of the angels - fallen as well as divine - as creations of God, spirit sons and daughters, given freedom to choose good (through Christ) or evil. Christ is obviously a Son of God, though much more completely than we are. He is also our Savior and even our Eternal Father in several ways. Our common relationship to those who are Good and those who are truly evil in no way impugns the Good or blasphemes God and Christ.

Obviously, Latter-day Saint doctrine is not derived from the popular teachings of mainstream churches, but I see it as being in harmony with the Bible, though others are free to interpret the Bible differently. But I hope you won't mistake differences in interpretation with a rejection of Christ, to whom I look for salvation.

Update: Early Christian Evidence on the Nature of Satan

FairWiki (FAIRMormon.org) has a valuable entry on the charge that Mormons think Christ and Satan are brothers. Here's a helpful excerpt with some evidence from early Christianity in favor of the LDS view:
The early pre-nicene Church father Lactantius wrote:
Since God was possessed of the greatest foresight for planning, and of the greatest skill for carrying out in action, before He commenced this business of the world,--inasmuch as there was in Him, and always is, the fountain of full and most complete goodness,--in order that goodness might spring as a stream from Him, and might flow forth afar, He produced a Spirit like to Himself, who might be endowed with the perfections of God the Father... Then He made another being, in whom the disposition of the divine origin did not remain. Therefore he was infected with his own envy as with poison, and passed from good to evil; and at his own will, which had been given to him by God unfettered, he acquired for himself a contrary name. From which it appears that the source of all evils is envy. For he envied his predecessor, who through his steadfastness is acceptable and dear to God the Father. This being, who from good became evil by his own act, is called by the Greeks diabolus: we call him accuser, because he reports to God the faults to which he himself entices us. God, therefore, when He began the fabric of the world, set over the whole work that first and greatest Son, and used Him at the same time as a counselor and artificer, in planning, arranging, and accomplishing, since He is complete both in knowledge, and judgment, and power... [Lactantius, Divine Institutes 2.9. in Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds. The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols. (1885; reprint, Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004), 7:52-53]
Many things he here taught are not considered "orthodox" by today's standards. However, Lactantius was definitely orthodox during his lifetime. Amazingly, many things here correspond to LDS doctrine precisely in those areas that are "unorthodox." For example,
  1. "He produced a Spirit like to Himself," namely Christ. Christ, in this sense, is not the "co-equal," "eternally begotten," "same substance" "persona" of the later creeds.

  2. "Then he made another being, in whom the disposition of the divine origin did not remain." God made another spirit who rebelled and who fell from his exalted status. He is the diabolus.

  3. Christ is the "first and greatest Son." Not the "only" son.

  4. Lastly, since the diabolus and Christ are both spirit sons of God, they are spirit brothers.

The writings of Lactantius are available online. The quote above can be read at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf07.iii.ii.ii.ix.html.

Please note that I use the term "anti-Mormon" above to describe those who are not interested in mere debate or understanding, but who intentionally use deceptive tactics to frighten people who know little about the Church. It's fine to disagree with our views and to question whether there was a premortal existence, or whether we and all angels, fallen or otherwise, can be called "spirit children" of God, etc., but to take our doctrine and spin it into an emotionally-charged cheap shot like, "Mormons worship a false Jesus who is Satan's brother!!" - well, that's far from intelligent discourse or sharing of differing views. It's a hostile attack meant to frighten people, to prey on their ignorance, and stir up prejudice. Anti-Mormon is the appropriate term in this case, no matter how much the perpetrators claim they "love the Mormon people" and are just trying to help do God's work in their own dishonest way ("When it comes to fighting the cult of Mormonism, the ends justify the means," as one anti-Mormon book seller told a friend of mine at a Christian book seller's conference about 20 years ago, justifying his deliberate distortion of what Mormons believe). Now some may repeat this charge out of ignorance, so there's nothing wrong with merely asking the question if you want clarification, but others use it knowingly as a tool to achieve their own ungodly ends. And one day, I think, they'll give an accounting of their works to our true Lord and God, Jesus Christ, who may have have a few familiar words for them. But that's just my opinion.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

A Gift for Anti-Mormons

The allegedly Mormon scoundrels at MormonCult.org have taken their "cult-exposing" treachery to a new low, now providing anti-Mormons with carefully crafted tools to "prove" that Mormons aren't Christian. It would be easier to ignore this kind of foolishness if MormonCult.org didn't have Google's #1 spot for searches on "mormon cult" - obviously a popular and heavily-used resource for those looking for dirt on the Church.

But the MormonCult.org folks do have a good point, in all fairness: Most anti-Mormon efforts to "prove" that Mormons aren't Christian rely on distortions of LDS doctrine that quickly backfire on informed people.

There are numerous anti-Mormon brochures and Web pages out there which present tables of differences between Mormonism and Christianity (well, their particular flavor of Christianity). Frequently they are in two columns with something like "Mormon Beliefs" on the left and "Christian Beliefs" on the right. These can look impressive to the newbie, but they tend to have no credibility for readers who are LDS or familiar with actual LDS beliefs. The problem is that the "teachings of Mormonism" column tends to include a lot of questionable material such as sloppy distortions of our beliefs of quotations from unofficial sources. You're just not going to engage Latter-day Saints or LDS investigators by listing a lot of crazy stuff we don't really believe or by twisting our beliefs into offensive caricatures of LDS doctrine. Adam = God? Sorry, we don't believe that. Ron Paul = God? Closer, but still a resounding no.

Consider this hypothetical example:

Not too troubling for experienced Mormons, who will immediately recognize that all references to the divine nature of Mitt Romney are NOT part of official LDS doctrine, even if that gets taught occasionally in Gospel Doctrine classes by rogue Republican teachers. And on a more serious note, this stuff about "earning our way to heaven" on our own or not needing the grace of Jesus Christ is ridiculous. It is only through the Atonement of Christ that we have any hope.

Look, I've still got some of the Christmas spirit left, so in the spirit of being open-minded and reaching out to our critics, here's a little gift for anti-Mormons: a tip on improving your tactics. Taking a cue from MormonCult.org, I suggest this: cite OFFICIAL LDS scriptures when you compare Mormon teachings to your brand of Christianity. That way there will be no question about the reliability of the source, and less chance that people will think you're just making stuff up or getting it completely backwards. Use the LDS scriptures - our primary source for official doctrine, the "standard works" that take precedence over any stray statements from Church leaders or others.

In fact, for a real gift, you should know that MormonCult.org provides a devious table on "Mormonism vs. Christianity" that, in spite of its questionable nature, illustrates this technique of citing only official LDS scriptures to make your case. Since the table there is hard to read, unfortunately, I've reproduced it here in a more legible format. It compares some controversial Mormon teachings from the LDS scriptures to some popular flavors of mainstream Christianity, with troubling Mormon doctrines taken straight from the LDS scriptures so our critics can contrast our beliefs with their own to show that we aren't Christian - or at least that we aren't their flavor of Christian. Why would I be so generous with our religious enemies? Hey, we can disagree, but we can still be helpful and generous one with another, right? And open-minded, right? It just seems like the Christian thing to do.

Use this gift in the spirit that is intended and I'm sure you will be able to open some minds and maybe even touch a few hearts.

Mormonism vs. Acceptable Christianity:
1. Mormon Confusion about the Nature of God
Teachings from LDS ScripturesMainstream Christian Belief
Like Joseph Smith, witnesses in the Mormon scriptures claim to have seen God and Christ as two separate beings: "But he . . . looked up steadfastly unto heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God." 1True Christians know that God and Christ are one (John 10:30), namely one spiritual, indivisible Being of one substance without a visible body and certainly without a "right hand." And no man can see God (John 6:46), so the Mormon scripture is clearly false.
In the Mormon scriptures, Jesus says "My Father is greater than I." 2Christians believe that the Father and the Son are one Being and are absolutely co-equal.
The Jesus of the Mormons scriptures "learned obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him." 3Christians understand that Christ did not need to progress or learn or be made perfect, but was complete and perfect eternally. And true Christians know that salvation, of course, is not a function of obedience!
The glorified Mormon Jesus after ascending to heaven is not spirit, but has flesh and bones. To alleged witnesses in the Mormon scriptures, he said, "Handle me and see, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have." 4The Christian God, whether the Father, Son, or Holy Ghost, is spirit, without body, parts, or passions. He does not have flesh and bones!
Spirit children of God?? "We are the offspring of God" 5 and God is "the Father of [our] spirits" 6 and "the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God." 7The reality is much more humble for mankind. We are created by God, but he is completely different. We are not "offspring" of God!
Mormonism vs. Acceptable Christianity:
2. Arrogant Aspirations: Becoming Like God?
The Mormon scriptures say God "hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, . . . that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature." 8 Also "now are we the sons of God, and . . . when he shall appear, we shall be like him." 9Christians are appalled at this blasphemy. God and Christ are infinitely different than us and we cannot become "like them" in the least degree.
Extending the theme of "being like God," Mormon scripture says that God will "change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able to subdue all things unto himself." 10Please! All true Christians know that God does not have a body. He does not need a body to "subdue all things."
Gods?? "I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High." 11 And this: "Is it not written. . ., I said, Ye are gods? . . .he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came." 12Christians are appalled at this. Frankly, this is so blasphemous that the author of these passages probably would have been stoned in the old days - and with good reason!
Joint heirs with Christ?? Glorified with him? "We are the children of God. And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together." 13Christ is the Heir of God and is glorified alone. The exaltation of humans is pernicious Mormon doctrine that true Christians must reject.
Mormonism vs. Acceptable Christianity:
3. Confusion over Salvation
Teachings from LDS ScripturesMainstream Christian Belief
Mormons believe that we must "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." 14Christians have no need to fear, tremble, or to work out their salvation - Christ did it all for us, and gives us assurance now that we are saved.
The Mormon scriptures proclaim this heresy: "By works a man is justified, and not by faith only." 15Absolute perversion of Christianity! Christians believe that they are saved by faith alone, by faith only, and that our works play no role in our justification through grace.
When asked "What good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?," the Jesus of the Mormon scriptures said, "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments." 16

(We're not making this up - that's exactly what the Mormon scriptures say - in several places, actually!)

This departs from the most basic principles of Christianity. One does not have to do anything to be saved, but to believe and have faith in Christ. Christians believe that commandment keeping has nothing to do with salvation, though those whom Christ saves naturally tend to do good. But the answer, "Keep the commandments," is sure evidence that Mormons are not authentic Christians based on our objective understanding of Christian theology and historic tradition.
On judgment: "the Father . . . judgeth according to every man's work" 17 and God "will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, [God gives] eternal life." 18 Also consider this blooper: "he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved." 19Only the wicked are judged by their works. The righteous are saved by grace, not by patient continuance in well doing or enduring to the end. Plus, seeking for "glory and honor" is a sin inspired by Satan, not God!
On works and "overcoming" through obedience: "He that overcometh shall inherit all things." 20Christians believe that it was Christ who did all the overcoming and that it is Christ who inherits all things from God - not Mormons!
"To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne." 21Aargh! Christians reject this blasphemy and recognize that the throne is for Christ alone.
Mormons believe progression and diligence is needed to make their salvation sure: "giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; . . .But he that lacketh these things . . . hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall." 22We rely on the diligence of Christ, not our own. Once we accept Christ, our calling and election is sure, and there is no risk of falling from grace.
Perfection: Mormons believe they must strive to be "perfect . . . even as your Father in Heaven is perfect." 23Only Christ is perfect. Perfections is a futile and non-Christian goal.
Mormonism vs. Acceptable Christianity:
4. The False Mormon Temple
Teachings from LDS ScripturesMainstream Christian Belief
Mormons believe the Temple or "Lord's House" is still important, and that even after Christ returns, true believers will "serve him day and night in his temple" 24. They also believe that the Second Coming, the Lord "shall suddenly come to his temple." 25 They also believe "in the last days, that . . . the LORD's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, . . . and all nations shall flow unto it." 26Christians believe that there was no need for the temple after Christ came. And it certainly won't be needed in the "last days" or after Christ returns.
Mormonism vs. Acceptable Christianity:
5. Scientific Errors in Mormon Beliefs
Teachings from LDS ScripturesMainstream Christian Belief
Mormon scriptures teach that the bat, a mammal, is actually a bird: "among the birds . . . not to be eaten: the eagle and the vulture and the buzzard, . . . the ostrich and the owl and the sea gull and the hawk, . . . and the stork, the heron . . . and the bat." 27A blatant error in Mormonism and their so-called scriptures. The Christian scriptures, on the other hand, are perfect, complete, and inerrant.

List of cited references from the official Mormon scriptures, published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1979 edition:

1. Acts 7:55-56

2. John 14:28

3. Hebrews 5:8,9

4. Luke 24: 39

5. Acts 17:28-29

6. Hebrews 12:9

7. Romans 8:16 - 17

8. 2 Peter 1:3 - 4

9. 1 John 3:2

10. Philippians 3:21

11. Psalms 82:6

12. John 10:34 - 35

13. Romans 8:17

14. Philippians 2:12

15. James 2:24

16. Matthew 19: 16-17; see also Luke 18:18-22; Luke 10: 25-28; Mark 10: 17-22.

17. 1 Peter 1:17

18. Romans 2:6 - 8

19. Matthew 24:13

20. Revelation 21:7

21. Revelation 3:21

22. 2 Peter 1:5 - 10

23. Matthew 5:48

24. Revelation 7:15

25. Malachi 3:1-2

26. Isaiah 2:2

27. Leviticus 11:19

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Missionary Tip: Don't Let Yourself Be Videotaped By Enemies

It is increasingly popular for critics of the Church to engage Mormon missionaries in a debate while a videocamera is running. The critics will then find some unflattering excerpts and post it on YouTube for thousands to see. I would suggest that missionaries should be trained to politely walk away in such cases. No good will come from that.

Has this issue been addressed in guidelines for mission presidents? I think it would be helpful.