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

Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Book of Mormon Term "Liahona": New Evidence of Ancient Authenticity

Jonathan Curci has an impressive article, "Liahona: 'The Direction of the Lord'" in the latest edition of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, (Vol. 16, No. 2, 2007, pp. 60-67) which provides fresh insight into the name Liahona. The article is available in HTML format or PDF (best).

(Click to enlarge)

It's one of those numerous little "plausibility enhancing" details in the Book of Mormon that defy explanation if Joseph made it up based on what he could have known or learned from his environment.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

S. Kent Brown on Nahom: YouTube Video about a Fascinating Archaeological Find Relevant to the Book of Mormon

S. Kent Brown on Nahom - one of several fascinating finds relevant to the Book of Mormon. This, and much more evidence from the Arabian Peninsula related to First Nephi, ought to be a good starting point for those who have heard the old canard about there being "not a shred of evidence in favor of the Book of Mormon."

Here's one more on Bountiful, of similar interest.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Don't Base Your Testimony on Declarations from Non-Believers

While serving as a guest on an LDS radio show on Utah's K-TALK radio station on Sunday, I had a minister call in [update: he does seminars on the Mormons, but isn't a regular minister] to ask a question, after a tangential cheap shot in which he claimed that what we say we believe in public and what we actually teach are different. When he got to his question, he asked, "Can you name a non-LDS archaeologist who has publicly verified that the Book of Mormon is real history?" Suspecting that the question wasn't quite sincere, my initial response was, "I'll answer that if the question cuts both ways and can be applied to the Bible as well. So may I ask you if there are non-Christian archaeologists who can confirm that Jesus was actually resurrected, or that--" He interrupted me at this point (if memory serves me correctly) and complained that this is how other Mormons have engaged in "game playing" and refusing to answer his questions.

At this point I should have stuck to my guns and insisted on putting forth my counter-question, and perhaps pointed out what his agenda was (not to mention the hostile behavior in demanding that his loaded question be answered as is - please note Christ's example shows it is entirely appropriate to handle hostile questions with counter-questions). I should have said something like this:
Excuse me, but when you preach to your congregation about the Bible, do you ask them to only accept it if they can find non-believing scholars who, on the basis of archaeological evidence alone, feel compelled to publicly admit that the stories of Jesus Christ are real history? That the Resurrection occurred, for example? Or for the Old Testament, must they find atheistic scientists who will publicly admit that the Creation story in Genesis must be true? Or non-believing archaeologists who can verify that Moses defeated Pharaoh with miracles and that the Exodus really occurred?

If anyone did tell your congregation that they needed this kind of witness from non-believers before they should believe, wouldn't you find that ridiculous? First, why would any non-believer jeopardize his or her career by publicly affirming the truth of a religious record they and their peers reject? Second, do you recognize what a limited instrument archeology is when it comes to assessing detailed historical events and especially sacred writings? How could it possibly prove the reality of the Resurrection, for example, or Nephi's crossing to the New World, or the visit of Christ to the Nephites? Isn't evidence for plausibility, not proof that specific events occurred, often the best you can hope for?
But trying to go along and keep our caller happy, I tried to answer what I thought his question was after and began discussing examples of evidence from archeology and related fields that provide plausibility for the Book of Mormon. But after mere seconds I was interrupted again with a second wave of protests about "not answering the question."

You see, it wasn't a real question at all, otherwise he would have been interested in understanding what evidences might be worth considering. He wasn't looking for evidence, but wanted to attack by calling attention to a straw man based on his demand for non-believing authorities. He demanded the authority of a non-LDS scholar in one particular field, archeology, to publicly state that the evidence "proved" that the Book of Mormon was real history. Even "true-blue Mormon" LDS scholars would hesitate to say that - about either the Book of Mormon or the Bible. They might speak of evidence for plausibility and authenticity, of valuable insights into the text gained from academic fields, and of the difficulty of anyone in Joseph Smith's day fabricating certain aspects of the text based on what was known then. But this is not to prove, but to refute attacks and provide a basis for plausibility to help people keep their minds open so they can read the text and experience the divine, life-changing power of the Spirit that be found in studying, applying, pondering and praying about the Word of God.

No offense to you non-believing archaeologists out there, but I'm not going to sit around and wait for you to make dramatic discoveries and career-destroying moves in which you, as a non-believer, publicly declare that based on archaeological evidence alone, you have proof that we believers in the Book of Mormon or Bible have been right all along. But if that day comes, be sure to post it here at Mormanity first.

I should also point out that since the Bible was written by people in Israel, a nation that is still there and where many place names have been around since the time the text was written, it is no surprise to find that it mentions places like Jerusalem that we still know of today. The fact that Jerusalem once existed provides no basis for accepting the Christian message or any of the religious beliefs of the Bible. It is only the divine and miraculous aspects where evidence becomes significant. Do we have evidence for the Exodus? For the miracles of Jesus? The Resurrection? The life of Abraham or the Patriarchs? Anybody dug up the Garden of Eden with a petrified tree of life and once-flaming sword? In these matters, archeology offers little reason to believe - of course, there is no reason why it should. Faith is still needed - and that's by design.

For the Book of Mormon, the origins of the text are entirely connected to the miraculous. An angel brought Joseph to the book. It was written by a people who were destroyed. Their language is lost. Many other peoples have swept over their lands. We think it took place in Mesoamerica, where almost no ancient place names from Book of Mormon times remain in use today (a rare exception being Lamanai, Belize, but as close as that is to the Book of Mormon name Lamoni, it may simply be coincidence). This is a part of the world where archeology is in its infancy compared to Biblical archeology in the Old World. So we're just beginning to identify possible locations, etc. In the Book of Mormon case, finding direct matches for ancient place names unknown to Joseph Smith out to be a big deal. Some of the most exciting material comes from the Old World where much more is known, especially the Arabian Peninsula. For example, finding an ancient burial site named Nahom in the Arabian Peninsula in the right location ought to be very exciting. Our critic couldn't care less, though - he wasn't interested in that. It didn't "answer" his question. Finding evidence of plausibility for many aspects of the text ought to be exciting and something that sincere followers of Christ might wish to consider. Or not. It's up to you.

In my view, sometimes a consideration of evidence for plausibility is helpful. Not because God is going to eliminate the need for faith thanks to all the proof that non-believers are going to sheepishly point to. Not because God has decided to start giving signs when demanded by skeptics. But sometimes a little intellectual stimulus can help people overcome the attacks of the Adversary long enough for faith to sprout. There are some evidences in favor of Book of Mormon plausibility that demand attention. I hope you'll consider them, for what they are worth. I list a few on my Book of Mormon Evidences page, but it's just a small scattering of what could be discussed. But it's a place to start, I suppose. Also read a few issues of the publications at the Maxwell Institute. But most importantly, read the Book of Mormon and give it a chance.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Angry "Without a Cause"? An Interesting Omission in the Book of Mormon

John W. Welch's "A Steady Stream of Significant Recognitions" is a powerful chapter in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, now available for free online at the Maxwell Institute online library. Professor Welch discusses the steady stream of new insights into the Book of Mormon that have been coming as we learn more about the ancient world, ancient texts. Chiasmus is a big part of that and is discussed in his chapter, for the highly sophisticated use of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon is a strong indicator of ancient origins. But this essay, I was especially intrigued by insights into something that is missing in the Book of Mormon: the phrase "without a cause" in the Book of Mormon's version of the Sermon on the Mount. Here is the relevant excerpt from Professor Welch's essay (footnotes omitted):
The Absence of Without a Cause from the Savior's Words in 3 Nephi 12:22

While studying at Oxford in the early 1970s, I became aware of an interesting textual variant in the New Testament. In a well-known passage in the Sermon on the Mount, the King James translation of Matthew 5:22 reads, "Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause [eikei] shall be in danger of the judgment" (emphasis added). Yet the phrase without a cause is absent in most of the best and earliest Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. Joseph Smith could hardly have guessed that this phrase did not originally belong in this passage, because textual criticism of the Bible was scarcely in its infancy in America in 1829. And yet, significantly, the parallel text in the Sermon at the Temple in the Book of Mormon agrees with those early manuscripts, precisely lacking the phrase without a cause (3 Nephi 12:22).

While lacking unanimous consensus among the manuscripts of the Sermon on the Mount (a situation not unusual), the absence of the phrase without a cause is notably evidenced by the following manuscripts of Matthew: the papyrus fragment known as p67, Codex Sinaiticus (original hand), Codex Vaticanus, some Greek minuscules (scriptural texts written in lowercase Greek letters), the Latin Vulgate (Jerome mentions that the phrase was not found in the oldest manuscripts known to him), the Ethiopic texts, and the Gospel of the Nazarenes. Moreover, the phrase is missing in writings of Justin, Tertullian, Origen, and other early church fathers who quoted the New Testament scriptures as they knew them. In the field of New Testament textual criticism, one may generally count as compelling any reading that is supported by "the best Greek MSS—by the AD 200 p64 (where it is extant) and by at least the two oldest uncials, as well as some minuscules, [especially if] it also has some Latin, Syriac, Coptic, and early patristic support." A survey of the manuscripts supporting the original absence of the phrase without a cause in Matthew 5:22 shows that the shorter reading meets that criterion. Yet Sinaiticus and the most important manuscripts of the New Testament were not discovered until after Joseph Smith was dead.

I also find it interesting that this textual difference in the Greek manuscripts of the Sermon on the Mount has a significant impact on this verse's meaning. It is much more severe to say, "Whoever is angry is in danger of the judgment," than to say, "Whoever is angry without a cause is in danger of the judgment." The first discourages all anger; the second permits anger as long as it is justifiable. The former is more like the demanding sayings of Jesus regarding committing adultery in one's heart (see Matthew 5:28) and loving one's enemies (see v. 44), neither of which offers the disciple a convenient loophole of self-justification or rationalization. Indeed, as Wernberg-Moller points out, the word eikei may have been added to Matthew 5:22 in an effort to reflect a Semitic idiom that does not invite allowance for "just" anger in certain circumstances at all, but actually "echoes some Aramaic phrase, condemning anger as sinful in any case" and "alluding to . . . the harbouring of angry feelings for any length of time." If correct, Wernberg-Moller's interpretation offers a second reason supporting the claim that the Book of Mormon accurately reflects the original sense of Matthew 5:22.

In my estimation, this original reading preserved in the Book of Mormon since 1830 is very meaningful. The absence of without a cause has important moral, behavioral, psychological, and religious ramifications. Moreover, 3 Nephi 12:22 is the main place in the account of the Sermon at the Temple (3 Nephi 12–14) where a significant textual change from the parallel account in the King James Version of Matthew 5–7 was needed and delivered by Joseph Smith. As far as I have been able to determine, no copy of the Greek New Testament present in the United States before 1830 made any reference to this variant reading. No scholars in the world of Joseph Smith seem to have been even remotely aware of this apparently late insertion in the Greek that actually weakens the text of the Bible. Yet in the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith offered the world this stronger wording, reflecting the original meaning of the Savior.
I lean toward the theory that in the translation of the Book of Mormon, in rendering passages directly related to those in the Bible (e.g., Old Testament quotations or the repeated Sermon on the Mount), the wording of the King James Version was generally used when it was adequate (good enough). The deletion of "without a cause" marks a significant doctrinal departure from the King James Version, suggesting that it would not have been appropriate to keep the language the English-speaking world was familiar with for that verse. Unlike scholars in Joseph Smith's day, we now have reason to believe that this omission restores the original meaning of the text. It's a subtlety, but one to appreciate.

So if you're angry with us Mormons and our different beliefs, this would be a good time to repent, even if you felt you had a good cause. And what better way to repent than to also not be angry with the Lord for offering more of His word in the Book of Mormon? Give it a read and take a step toward a wonderful spiritual journey today.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Truth About the Abuse of Power - and Children - by Texas Authorities

Brooke Adams at the Salt Lake Tribune has been following the FLDS case in Texas closely. On May 23 while in Texas monitoring the proceedings, she wrote:
The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services had all the power in the world to structure status hearings held this week in any order it wanted. It kept telling us, the media and the public, that there were 31 girls between the ages of 14 and 17 who were pregnant, mothers or both.

Now we know the truth: There are only five girls in that group. All but one are or will be 18 this year. One gave birth when she was 17, three when they were 16. One is pregnant.

I kept asking the state for a breakdown by age of the 31 girls, the 60 percent, it claimed were pregnant or mothers. They refused weeks ago and still haven't done it.

Now we know why.
My favorite former ACLU employee at Grits for Breakfast (who has shown much more courage and integrity in this matter than the ACLU) had this to say:
So we're talking about five teen moms out of 27 teenage girls, not 31 out of 53. But even for those five, said the 3rd Court of Appeals, DFPS did not meet their burden of proof. The court declared that:
there was no evidence regarding the marital status of these girls when they became pregnant or the circumstances under which they became pregnant other than the general allegation that the girls were living in an FLDS community that condoned underage marriage and sex.
So all this hoopla at the end of the day was about five teen moms out of 440 some odd kids. You could go into any community in Texas, I bet, and find the same thing. Not only that CPS presented no evidence about the fathers' age or the girls' marital status upon conception. These data are a far cry, aren't they, from the terrible depictions of abuse CPS portrayed to the press over the last six weeks?
Nearly 500 kids, and now we find that all this hoopla is because five girls had once been or now are pregnant at age sixteen or seventeen. Grits is absolutely right: you can find this almost anywhere. So if your local high school has five girls who have been pregnant under 18, should they and all the kids there and their siblings be yanked away from their parents and sent to foster care? Maybe only if some of the men involved are over 18. Then send in the tanks!

What happens next will be all about avoiding or redirecting blame, with legal chicanery, obstruction, public relations spinning, negotiations behind closed doors, and various power plays. Don't expect many serious apologies. Don't expect the DFPS to work too quickly get anybody back to their parents. Do expect many delays, some heartbreaking cases of kids falling through the cracks, and hundreds of children to continue suffering from a culture of abuse, DFPS style. And expect plenty of religious bigots, including journalists, politicians and media figures, to continue the hysteria and the cruel allegations. If you don't think that some of them would love to send the dogs after us real non-polygamous Mormons, you need to think again. Just how secure are any of you crazy Mormons or crazy Christians of any denomination in your little individual compounds with the children you are indoctrinating with ways so out of synch with the world? Who will stand for you when you want your kids back?

Sadly, I also expect plenty of LDS people, long embarrassed and annoyed by FLDS apostasy and violations of anti-polygamy laws, to continue their "good riddance" attitude about the FLDS mess. Hey, they are US citizens and fellow human beings. Have a little heart for what those young kids are going through and the parents who have had them torn away so cruelly. It's grotesque, and if we don't speak up for them, who will speak up for us when we are next on the list?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Join Me Sunday Night on K-Talk Radio (AM 630 in Salt Lake City and on the Internet)

Due to a rash of alien abductions resulting in a shortage of qualified or interesting guests, I've been asked to participate in a two-hour LDS radio program for Utah's favorite talk radio station, K-Talk (AM 630). The program starts at 5 PM Mountain Time this Sunday, May 25. I'll be calling in from beautiful Appleton, Wisconsin. It's Van Hale's program, but he's out of town and Don Ormsby will be running the show and the interview with me.

Wish me luck. You know I need it!! It's even easier to put your foot in your mouth on the radio than it is on the blogosphere. Apologies in advance to my fellow Latter-day Saints.

If you're not in Salt Lake, you can listen to the program live through the K-Talk Web site. Here's the email notice sent out by Van Hale about the show:
Mormon Miscellaneous World-Wide Talk Show
Date: Sunday, 25 May 2008
Subject: Mormon Apologetics on the Internet

I will be in Sacramento at the Mormon History Association Convention. I am pleased that a long time friend and frequent participant on the Talk Show will be my guest host this Sunday. He will have Jeff Lindsay as his guest. Jeff has been operating a website which addresses many issues raised by detractors and critics of the Mormon faith.

Participation: All points of view are welcomed and encouraged. I invite your participation by sending questions, comments and response via email at any time during the week. I will read your email and give comment during an upcoming program. Also, you may participate in each discussion, live, by sending email to me during my weekly talk shows. Send your email to: van.hale@k-talk.com. Or, you may participate live by phone during my talk show by calling:

Salt Lake Call-in Number: 254-5855.
Outside of Salt Lake Number: 801-254-5855.

E-Store: I have a number of articles on Mormon history and doctrine available at my E-Store at: http://mormonmisc.podbean.com/estore-catalog/
Time: 5:00 - 7:00 pm MST
Host: Van Hale
Radio Station: KTKK 630 AM, Salt Lake City
Live Internet Streaming Audio can be accessed at:
www.k-talk.com or mms://stream.netro.ca/ktkk

To Listen to My Podcast: I currently have 43 Episodes archived on my Podcast. I will be adding 1 or 2 weekly.You can listen to them online or download them or subscribe at the following site, or through itunes. Check these at:
This is the list of episodes currently available:
Death of Joseph Smith & Miscellaneous Topics
LDS Church Political Policy
Strange Elements of the Old Testament
God and Omniscience; Priesthood and Succession
God’s Omniscience: Diversity of Mormon Views
Development of Mormon Thought on the Holy Ghost
Development of Joseph Smith’s Concept of God
Brigham Young's View of Adam as God
Is the God of Mormonism the God of the Bible?
Defining Mormon Concepts of Deity
God as a Close Personal Father
Mormon Fundamentalism
Encounter with Exmormon.org
Personal Statement: Response to an ExMormon Critic
John D. Lee Lead Scroll, Another Forgery?
Miscellaneous Topics/Open Forum
Research Notes
History with an LDS Historian
Resurrecting the Spalding Theory
Theology with Blake Ostler
The Two Month Operation of the Nauvoo Temple
My Sunstone Experience
The Romneys and Mormon Offshoots with Newell Bringhurst
Sunstone: Interview with Dan Wotherspoon
Polygamy Discussion with Author, Carmon Hardy
Joseph Smith's Controversial King Follett Discourse
Open Forum
The Alleged Oath of Vengeance
Bits and Pieces: Darwinism, First Vision, Book of Mormon Historicity
Approaches to the Old Testament with author, Val Greenwood
Mountain Meadows Massacre 2: Discussion with author, Bob Crockett
Mountain Meadows Massacre 1: Discussion with author, Will Bagley
First Vision Accounts 2
First Vision Accounts 1
Mormon History with Mormon History Association President, Ron Esplin
The PBS 4 Hour Special "The Mormons:" Comments & Discussion
"The Mormons" by Helen Whitney: Interview
Polygamy: Some Statistics and Some Speculations
Anti-Mormon vs Mormon
LDS Views on God as the Father of Spirits
Diversity in the New Testament
Prophecy: Scenarios of the End Times
Doctrinal Statements of the First Presidency
Joseph Smith Denies Perfection, Infallibility & Omniscience
Exploring the Mind of Joseph Smith on Diversity Among the Saints
New Testament Translations for LDS Consideration
New Testament Myths
Was Jesus Married?
Mormon Doctrine: Mandatory and Forbidden
To Participate by email send your question or comment to van.hale@k-talk.com

Official website: http://mormonmiscellaneous.com
Notecard Collection: I am adding selections from the thousands of notecards I have written while researching. They cover a wide range of topics. http://mormonmiscellaneous.com/notecards/
Radio Program Blog: This is a supplement for addressing topics and questions raised during my programs, supplying notes and references and answering questions. http://mormonmiscellaneous.com/radioprogramblog/


1 June Curt Bench will be my guest. He is an expert on Mormon related publications. He is the owner of Benchmark Books which buys and sells books from Mormonisms past and present.

8 June my guest will be Max Parkin, historian. We will discuss events in Kirtland in the mid 1830s focusing on his research on a significant enterprise - United Firm.

22 June my guests will be Craig Foster and Newell Bringhurst to discuss the publication of their new book - The Mormon Quest for Presidency.

Enjoyed that Chick Flick Inspired by C.S. Lewis

My wife took me to a popular chick flick tonight, some movie about a big battle that apparently was inspired by something C.S. Lewis wrote, I'm guessing something in his memorable Chronicles of Narnia series. I enjoyed the books an awful lot, and managed to enjoy the movie somewhat as well. Nice catapults - the kind any engineer should admire.

I went into it expecting to be confronted with some deep and challenging thoughts loaded with subtle Christian insights. But I spent most of my time watching chaotic fight scenes, frequently wondering how Susan's quiver always managed to have five or six arrows in it no matter how many she shot, and also puzzling over how that delightful mouse managed to knock over burly soldiers. Physics are different in Narnia. Maybe that was the point - not sure.

Of course, the whole movie was about that big kiss at the end - never mind all the needlessly dead bodies. I saw that coming from miles away. Typical chick flick.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Breaking News: "Texas Had No Right to Take Polygamists' Children"

CNN headline: Texas had no right to take polygamists' children - as I've been arguing here for some time. As much as I object to the FLDS movement and their practices, and as much as their apostasy has harmed the actual Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I cannot ignore the fact that they are people with Constitutional rights that seem to have been violated by the authorities in Texas. More to follow....

A hat tip to JayleenB.

May 29 update: more breaking news.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

When Did Revelation and Scripture Stop?

Contrary to the title of the talk, "My Words . . . Never Cease" by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland was only about 20 minutes long. A relief, to be sure - unlike the last talk I gave which went a bit over. And there was a lot packed into his sermon. He takes on the allegation that Latter-day Saints aren't Christians because we've added scripture and had modern revelation. It's so ironic actually, because that's exactly what early Christians did. There's a reason it is now called the NEW Testament. It was new scripture. New revelation. Added. Even though Moses said that no one should add or subtract to the word (Deut. 4).

Below is an excerpt from his talk. Footnotes have been omitted -- see the original.
One of the arguments often used in any defense of a closed canon is the New Testament passage recorded in Revelation 22:18: “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of … this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book.” However, there is now overwhelming consensus among virtually all biblical scholars that this verse applies only to the book of Revelation, not the whole Bible. Those scholars of our day acknowledge a number of New Testament “books” that were almost certainly written after John’s revelation on the Isle of Patmos was received. Included in this category are at least the books of Jude, the three Epistles of John, and probably the entire Gospel of John itself. Perhaps there are even more than these.

But there is a simpler answer as to why that passage in the final book of the current New Testament cannot apply to the whole Bible. That is because the whole Bible as we know it—one collection of texts bound in a single volume--did not exist when that verse was written. For centuries after John produced his writing, the individual books of the New Testament were in circulation singly or perhaps in combinations with a few other texts but almost never as a complete collection. Of the entire corpus of 5,366 known Greek New Testament manuscripts, only 35 contain the whole New Testament as we now know it, and 34 of those were compiled after a.d. 1000.

The fact of the matter is that virtually every prophet of the Old and New Testament has added scripture to that received by his predecessors. If the Old Testament words of Moses were sufficient, as some could have mistakenly thought them to be, then why, for example, the subsequent prophecies of Isaiah or of Jeremiah, who follows him? To say nothing of Ezekiel and Daniel, of Joel, Amos, and all the rest. If one revelation to one prophet in one moment of time is sufficient for all time, what justifies these many others? What justifies them was made clear by Jehovah Himself when He said to Moses, “My works are without end, and ... my words ... never cease.”

One Protestant scholar has inquired tellingly into the erroneous doctrine of a closed canon. He writes: “On what biblical or historical grounds has the inspiration of God been limited to the written documents that the church now calls its Bible? … If the Spirit inspired only the written documents of the first century, does that mean that the same Spirit does not speak today in the church about matters that are of significant concern?” We humbly ask those same questions.

Continuing revelation does not demean or discredit existing revelation. The Old Testament does not lose its value in our eyes when we are introduced to the New Testament, and the New Testament is only enhanced when we read the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. In considering the additional scripture accepted by Latter-day Saints, we might ask: Were those early Christians who for decades had access only to the primitive Gospel of Mark (generally considered the first of the New Testament Gospels to be written)—were they offended to receive the more detailed accounts set forth later by Matthew and Luke, to say nothing of the unprecedented passages and revelatory emphasis offered later yet by John? Surely they must have rejoiced that ever more convincing evidence of the divinity of Christ kept coming. And so do we rejoice.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

"Imagine": A Mormon's Favorite Song? (This Could Save Your Marriage)

For all you married men who are nervous and perhaps even bitter about your wife's new infatuation with American Idol finalist David Archuleta, here's some ammo to help you save your marriage. Start up the conversation by saying how much you admire David for his courage in standing up different points of view, like atheism and Marxism. She'll say what??? And then you can casually point out that "Imagine," the big finale song for David Archuleta tonight, is a hippie rant against God, religion, and freedom, blaming the problems of the world on religious belief and economic freedom (private property), claiming that peace will only come through a one-world socialist mega-government based on atheism with no morality other than living for today (and obeying your Marxist-Lennonist masters). She may disagree, until you read her the full lyrics - not just the relatively innocent little excerpt she heard tonight:

"Imagine" by John Lennon

Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one.
Say that you're proud of David for being more nuanced and more radical than his innocent Mormon appearance would suggest. "Hey, I hear he's joining a Miami death metal band with a crust punk twist. What kind of tattoo do you think he has?"

For those of you who aren't bitter and nervous, you may wish to join me in congratulating David for really shining tonight (there, honey, is that better?). But I really would have preferred a different closing song. Maybe something with a touch of missionary spirit, something that reveals his religious roots without being too overtly religious. I know: "Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree."

Full disclosure: I also like "Imagine" as long as I'm not paying attention to the lyrics. Most modern songs are better that way - but even better (i.e., with lyrics even easier to ignore) when sung in Urdu or, best of all, rapidly yodeled in the Waldis dialect of Swiss German.

Update: And yes, his performance was wonderful and his selection of the non-atheistic part of the song was positive and smart. Really, I'm proud of that great young man. If only he weren't so appealing to women . . . . Good luck, David, and good luck, Mormon men everywhere!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Temple Covenants and the Sacrament on Sunday

I continue to be fascinated and impressed by the depth of covenant-based themes in the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. The ancient covenant concept permeates the Gospel and provides so many blessings and insights for those who are willing to enter into covenants to follow Jesus Christ.

One example is the deep relationship between the temple and the weekly sacrament. Many latter-day Saints think of the sacrament - the term we use to describe the partaking of bread and liquid to remember Jesus Christ - as a weekly renewal of baptism covenants. But the linkage goes beyond baptismal covenants alone. Elder Dallin H. Oaks made this point in a profound General Conference address, "Taking upon Us the Name of Jesus Christ," given in April 1985:
It is significant that when we partake of the sacrament we do not witness that we take upon us the name of Jesus Christ. We witness that we are willing to do so. (See D&C 20:77.) The fact that we only witness to our willingness suggests that something else must happen before we actually take that sacred name upon us in the most important sense.

What future event or events could this covenant contemplate? The scriptures suggest two sacred possibilities, one concerning the authority of God, especially as exercised in the temples, and the other—closely related—concerning exaltation in the celestial kingdom.

The name of God is sacred. The Lord’s Prayer begins with the words, “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed by thy name.” (Matt. 6:9.) From Sinai came the commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” (Ex. 20:7, Deut. 5:11.) Latter-day revelation equates this with using the name of God without authority. “Let all men beware how they take my name in their lips,” the Lord declares in a modern revelation, for “many there be who … use the name of the Lord, and use it in vain, having not authority.” (D&C 63:61–62.)

Consistent with these references, many scriptures that refer to “the name of Jesus Christ” are obviously references to the authority of the Savior. This was surely the meaning conveyed when the seventy reported to Jesus that “even the devils are subject unto us through thy name.” (Luke 10:17.) The Doctrine and Covenants employs this same meaning when it describes the Twelve Apostles of this dispensation as “they who shall desire to take upon them my name with full purpose of heart.” (D&C 18:27.) The Twelve are later designated as “special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world,” and as those who “officiate in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the Presidency of the Church.” (D&C 107:23, 33.)

By way of further illustration, the Old Testament contains scores of references to the name of the Lord in a context where it clearly means the authority of the Lord. Most of these references have to do with the temple.

When the children of Israel were still on the other side of the Jordan, the Lord told them that when they entered the promised land there should be a place where the Lord their God would “cause his name to dwell.” (Deut. 12:11; see also Deut. 14:23–24; Deut. 16:6.) Time after time in succeeding revelations, the Lord and his servants referred to the future temple as a house for “the name” of the Lord God of Israel. (See 1 Kgs. 3:2; 1 Kgs. 5:5; 1 Kgs. 8:16–20, 29, 44, 48; 1 Chr. 22:8–10, 19; 1 Chr. 29:16; 2 Chr. 2:4; 2 Chr. 6:5–10, 20, 34, 38.) After the temple was dedicated, the Lord appeared to Solomon and told him that He had hallowed the temple “to put my name there for ever.” (1 Kgs. 9:3; 2 Chr. 7:16.)

Similarly, in modern revelations the Lord refers to temples as houses built “unto my holy name.” (D&C 124:39; D&C 105:33; D&C 109:2–5.) In the inspired dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland Temple, the Prophet Joseph Smith asked the Lord for a blessing upon “thy people upon whom thy name shall be put in this house.” (D&C 109:26.)

All of these references to ancient and modern temples as houses for “the name” of the Lord obviously involve something far more significant than a mere inscription of his sacred name on the structure. The scriptures speak of the Lord’s putting his name in a temple because he gives authority for his name to be used in the sacred ordinances of that house. That is the meaning of the Prophet’s reference to the Lord’s putting his name upon his people in that holy house. (See D&C 109:26.)

Willingness to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ can therefore be understood as willingness to take upon us the authority of Jesus Christ. According to this meaning, by partaking of the sacrament we witness our willingness to participate in the sacred ordinances of the temple and to receive the highest blessings available through the name and by the authority of the Savior when he chooses to confer them upon us.
One of the impressive things about the Restoration is how well it brings together various aspects of the scriptures. The centrality of covenants and covenant relationships with Deity among the writers of the Bible has been restored, including the focal point for covenants, the ancient temple, where we can make sacred covenants that are beautifully linked with the fullness of the Gospel, including the weekly sacrament.

The temple, the House of the Lord, was prophesied to be on the earth in the last days and be a focal point for the work of gathering people into the House of Israel (Isaiah 2). We testify that it has been restored in this day, in the "top of the mountains" and beyond, and is playing exactly the role that Isaiah spoke of.

When the Lord returns, he will come suddenly to His temple (Malachi 3:1). And after that glorious day, the saints will serve him day and night in His temple (Rev. 7:15). What work remains to be done in the temple that will take so much time from so many people? We have a few insights into this (e.g., temple work will be done for all those who have died without the blessings of the Gospel - another restored temple-based element of the Gospel that makes sense out of puzzling theological and scriptural issues). In light of the biblical references to the importance of the temple in the last days and beyond, those who claim that the temple is no longer part of God's work and is not needed may say this out of expediency, not having a temple or knowing what one is. We testify that the Lord has not ceased his work of gathering and raising a covenant people, and has restored the ancient temple concept in our day.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing: Valuable New Study

The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing: First-Ever Estimates for the Nation and for All Fifty States is a valuable new study that helps quantify the public economic damage borne by taxpayers that is caused by divorce and unwed childbearing. In addition to the high social costs, harm to children, and other individual costs, the public impact certainly merits consideration.

This study was done for the Institute for American Values, an organization devoted to strengthening families. Its methodology is described in detail in the study, and a Q&A section deals with many challenges that might be raised. Just the literature review in the introduction teaches some powerful lessons about the importance of marriage.

I heard an interview today on Wisconsin Public Radio with David Blankenhorn, founder and President of the Institute for American Values. This soft-spoken intellectual is an eloquent defender of marriage and the family. A liberal Wisconsin woman called in and questioned why we need marriage at all. She said she spent time in Sweden and saw that people could come and go in relationships as they wished and have no trouble raising kids because the State provided free day care. "Isn't marriage dead?" she wondered. And while she said she was married with children, she advocated the idea of enhanced "flexibility" by allowing relationships to come and go, with State support for childcare. Blankenhorn was gentle but terribly direct. The advantages of "flexibility," he pointed out, were all for the adults, and certainly not for the children. What study after study has shown is that children need to be raised in a stable environment with parents that love them and will be there for them, not strangers who come and go in flexible relationships. And then the woman got riled, insisting that he had no right to tell her whether she loved her children or not. Well, that's not what he was doing. He was explaining that regardless of her feelings, there is abundant evidence that children do better when raised in a stable marriage, and there are real costs at many levels when adults pursue "flexibility."

The newly released study points to a minimum taxpayer burden of $112 billion a year from divorce and unwed childbearing. So please, I hope you'll do the right thing and wait until marriage to start having children, and then do your best to make your marriage work. But it's not just for my pocketbook that I ask that -- it really is about the children.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Try Grits for Breakfast - On Me!

Ever had grits for breakfast? When I'm in the South, I love having them. You might be surprised to learn that I had Grits for Breakfast tonight, and while they were free, I enjoyed them so much that I did something I rarely do when eating at home: left a PayPal tip. And I suggest that you try Grits for Breakfast too - and you can do it anywhere, right from your laptop, thanks to Scott Henson, a former journalist turned opposition researcher/political consultant, public policy researcher and blogger.

With his ACLU background, and me being rather conservative and Libertarian, I bet we'd disagree on a let of issues, but I'm mighty proud of Scott's patriotic and eloquent stance in speaking up for the rights of people with whom he vehemently disagrees. He's doing an amazing job of documenting the travesty in Texas as heavy-handed CPS officials endanger the welfare of hundreds of small children who had the misfortune of living in the FLDS community. One of the best blogs I've seen covering that topic. And some other interesting material as well.

God bless you, Scott Henson.

The Mothers I Forgot on Mother's Day

Mothers' Day came and went. I'm ashamed that I went through the day without taking a moment to consider and pray for the many mothers whose children have been unjustly torn from their arms by the State of Texas. As the facts unfold, many fair-minded people are beginning to wonder how this can happen in America, that an entire community would be raided and their children torn away, triggered by a hoax call that the State just can't admit was a hoax - clearly a hoax.

I'm worried that some of us Latter-day Saints let our antipathy for polygamy and FLDS ways blind our eyes to brutal injustice against them. When I have spoken up for the Constitutional rights of the FLDS people, I've had fellow Latter-day Saints wonder why on earth I would defend them, as if defending basic human rights of others is somehow condoning whatever crimes and sins they may have committed. We treat illegal immigrants with far more dignity and concern for their rights. Good grief, we treat known gang members and drug addicts with more dignity.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Marcus H. Martins on Race in the Church

A Black Man in Zion: Reflections on Race in the Restored Gospel is a good read from the first black man to serve a mission after the 1978 revelation that opened up opportunities in the priesthood. Among other things, he calls for Latter-day Saints to make sure that racism truly is removed from our attitudes and thinking. Some old false doctrines may still taint the thinking of some, in spite of the official teachings of the Church. Here's an excerpt:
In my mind the priesthood ban was never part of the everlasting gospel, and I have found peace in the idea that the Lord allowed the ban to remain in his Church in order to fulfill his inscrutable purposes whatever they are. That belief leads me to conclude that the ban never jeopardized my eternal salvation. There were a few significant privileges of membership in the Church that I could not enjoy before June of 1978; a few very significant things, but not very many. I was able to receive the ordinance of baptism, I received the Holy Ghost, I could pay my tithing, I could read the scriptures, I could pray, I could partake of the sacrament, I could hold many callings as my parents and I did all those years between 1972-78, and also keep the commandments of the Lord and be blessed for doing so. None of these privileges of membership was denied me. I simply could not officiate in priesthood ordinances like my peers, nor enter a temple and receive my own endowment, nor be sealed to my parents, but other than that all other privileges of membership were available to me.

Actually, I would argue that the ban afforded me and other Black Latter-day Saints an still ongoing opportunity to display the depth of our commitment to the Lord and his kingdom in a specific way that our fellow Latter-day Saints of other races will never be able to experience.

Let me illustrate what I mean by the expression "ongoing opportunity." During the three years it took me to complete my Ph.D. at Brigham Young University, I was a part-time lecturer for both the Sociology and the Church History & Doctrine Departments. I remember that every semester at least one African American student would come to my office with a major question because of he or she would have heard somebody saying that since they were from the "cursed lineage" they would not enter the celestial kingdom. Often I would respond half-jokingly that this was a very well known false doctrine because it could not be found in the scriptures and had never been accepted officially by the Church. And then I would ask those students: Why were you baptized? What do we call baptism? Invariably they would respond that baptism is the gate to the celestial kingdom, to which I would reply, if baptism is the gate to the celestial kingdom how come after living faithfully your whole life you would not be allowed to go there? And those students would see that that idea--that Blacks would not enter the celestial kingdom--was inconsistent with the true doctrines of the restored gospel.

Although they had been baptized long after the priesthood ban had disappeared, these young people still had to exercise the same faith as the early (i.e. pre-1978) Black converts in order to remain active in the Church. That's what I meant by an ongoing opportunity to display the depth of one's commitment to the restored gospel.

In my mind, the priesthood ban and its associated rationales were never part of the restored gospel. I would argue that they constituted educated responses to the social environment in which the Church existed in the late 19th and most of the 20th century.
I tend to agree with his view.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Hallmark Day! Today's Sacrament Meeting Menu: Eulogies for the Living

Happy Hallmark Day, everyone! In some wards, there is an unwritten rule that instead of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ on this momentous day, speakers instead must spend their time telling endearing stories about their mothers, including recollections of childhood events, maternal quirks, and an abundance of trivia. In other words, the talks should sound something like funeral eulogies, with many of the subjects still living. (This is not true of many wards, fortunately, which manage to keep Mother's Day talks Gospel-centered.) I hope your ward is on the cutting edge and does not feel an obligation to let the topic of the sermons be dominated by Hallmark Day. OK, that's not fair. I should also call it Florists Day.

Many people think that Mother's Day is a modern innovation created by greeting card conglomerates. But the history of this holiday is much deeper, with roots going all the back to Egypt, where there was an annual festival to honor the goddess Isis, the mythical Mother of the pharaohs and the goddess of gift shops. The ancient Egyptians depicted her carrying a bouquet of flowers in one hand (though sometimes a single rose or lotus blossom is shown), the keys to her gift shop in the other hand (the "ankh" symbol, the symbol of endless economic life and business vitality), and a pop-up greeting card on her head. So yes, the core values of this holiday are ancient indeed.

Mother's Day in the US also has roots in Julia Ward Howe's Mother's Day Proclamation in 1870. The woman who wrote the The Battle Hymn of the Republic in 1858 had become disgusted with the carnage of war and wanted mothers to join together in preventing the unnecessary slaughter of their sons. In her proclamation of 1870, she wrote:
Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise all women who have hearts,
Whether your baptism be that of water or of tears
Say firmly:

"We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands shall not come to us reeking of carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of
charity, mercy and patience.

"We women of one country
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."
Not the sort of thing we see on Mother's Day cards today, but I can respect her feelings on the matter.

Sadly, this post has anything to do with the Gospel. So feel free to quote from it if you're giving a talk in Church today. But starting next week, please, let's get back to business! Or rather, let's get back to the Gospel. Isis, Inc. (the secret owner of Hallmark, Flowers.com, and Hershey Chocolate) has the business part covered already.

For the record, I think mothers deserve a lot more respect and appreciation than they get. Oh, in case you're reading, Hi Mom! Hope you liked my card.

Update: The Neenah, Wisconsin Ward did pretty well today. While the speakers did discuss mothers and motherhood, there was scriptural content and uplifting insights, and not everyone recited the same "sons of Helaman" passage that mentions the impact of mothers teaching their children. And the music was pretty good, too.

My point here is not complaining about honoring mothers, but my discomfort with the trivial, non-Gospel oriented content that I've often encountered in Mother's Day talks (ditto for it's paternal twin), plus some discomfort with letting the existence of a highly-commercialized secular holiday seem to dictate when and what we preach. But I guess it's what we all expect. That's OK - as long as we remember that sacrament meeting is a time for worship of the Lord, covenant renewal, and spiritual edification, regardless of which secular holiday we might be acknowledging (e.g., Mother's Day, Father's Day, or Superbowl Sunday).

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

MormonTimes on a Former Black Panther and Current Latter-day Saint

I really enjoyed Robert Walsh's recent MormonTimes.com story about Ronald McClain, an active Latter-day Saint who used to be active with the Black Panthers. A wonderful example of a proactive, positive approach to overcoming the challenges we face in this mortal world. And a reminder of our need to overcome racial strife and harmful attitudes about others, as taught by President Hinckley and other leaders. Kudos, Brother McClain!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Hilarious Anti-Mormon Attack from the Conservative Voice: The Danger of Letting Google Do Your Thinking

An entertaining example of anti-Mormons using the crimes of FLDS people in Texas to smear The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints comes from Gary Swank at TheConservativeVoice.com. Gary Swank is a regular writer for The Conservative Voice, a significant conservative Website with 100 contributing authors. He also writes for several other blogs. In his May 4, 2008 post on the FLDS crisis, he lumps FLDS apostasy with Latter-day Saint religion, and makes some fascinating errors in the process.

He begins by explaining why the FLDS force young girls to have babies:
The belief is that disembodied spirits float in the air. They are yearning for body housing. Therefore, every pregnancy provides a disembodied spirit with a dwelling, hence polygamy and pregnancies maximum, even exploiting too-young females.
Well, I suppose the FLDS group shares the LDS and early Christian belief of a premortal existence (see also Barry Bickmore's Restoring the Ancient Church, Chapter 3 and search for "The Pre-Existence in Early Christianity"). I'm not sure about the floating in the air part - maybe that's from some FLDS doctrine. But the term "disembodied" refers to a person who has been born and then died, leaving the soul without the body prior to the resurrection. We are only born once, so there are not disembodied spirits waiting to be born unless you're into reincarnation. We aren't and I don't think the FLDS are. "Unembodied" would be more accurate, though we just speak of spirit children of our Heavenly Father.

So yes, we think there are people who have yet to be born, and we think that having children is a wonderful thing. But we, the Latter-day Saints, do not force young girls into marriage. We actually strongly discourage dating until age 16, and strongly encourage our women to gain education. I believe the average age of marriage for LDS women is 23. Mormons tend to have large families, but it's a personal choice. Contraception is allowed. So is addictive blogging late at night.

Gary then begins the too-typical anti-Mormon smear, revealing some interesting tidbits about his anti-Mormon research:
The Texas group, Yearning for Zion Ranch, Eldorado, tallies 53 girls aged 14 to 17 who have had offspring or are pregnant.

It must be understood that the so-called legitimate group known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah believes the very same doctrine concerning disembodied spirits.

That Salt Lake City group continues to inform media that they have nothing in common with the cult. However, the facts are that their founder is the same: Joseph Smith. His theology is the same in all groups. It's just that the Salt Lake City group abides by the US law against polygamy.

Both the Salt Lake City group and the cultic communes are secret orders. The unbiblical secrets are carefully guarded.

Only those who leave the Mormons of any tangent can tell the facts they now disavow. In that way, non-Mormons come to know really what goes on.

Read "The Mormon Cult: The Truth about Mormons and Christianity" at mormoncult.org.
Wow, if we have the same beliefs and practices as the FLDS group, it kind of makes one wonder why they are treated as apostates and why their leaders many decades ago were excommunicated from the Church. Might as well blame Lutherans for the problems with some Catholic priests.

Gary Swank, the erudite Christian scholar and defender of the faith, tells us that only ex-Mormons can tell us the facts about the Church because we're a cultic secret order doing the same horrible stuff and having the same horrible doctrines as FLDS people. And to prove his point, to prove that "so-called legitimate" Mormons are a cult, he sends his readers to a truly dangerous Website: MormonCult.org.

Well, this man has certainly done his homework. In addition to his careful work on the doctrines, practices, and history of the Mormons, he has done extensive work on cults in general. This extensive work included Googling "Mormon cult" and finding that Google's #1 rated site for info on the Mormon cult is no other than the highly respected tool of truth and knowledge, MormonCult.org. No. 1 at Google? Must be good stuff. And it says it proves why Mormons are a cult. Bingo! And so he has sent hundreds of readers to this respected site where, if they take time to read and learn about the nature of the Mormon cult, they might be rescued from error and find salvation for their souls. That's my hope, anyway.

I suppose he'll change his entry right away, so enjoy it while it's up. I do have a PDF printout of the current version as a souvenir.

Update: Pastor Gary Swank's delightful article, complete with the link to MormonCult.org, is also available at The PostChronicle, a news source that makes the following boast:
Our news staff is compelled to provide up-to-the minute news that is accurate and unbiased, and present clear-cut facts and data you can trust. Our editors are determined to ensure accurate, compelling content, and thorough, careful reporting on a wide variety of issues and events.
Ah, the joys of unbiased, accurate, fact-filled reporting, anti-Mormon style. But I will credit them for providing the link to MormonCult.org, which, for all its flaws, is surprisingly fact-based.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Religious Bigotry Flaring: Blaming Latter-day Saints for FLDS Crimes

I thought we had seen a climax in religious bigotry during the Romney campaign, but we may see new even more intense flare-ups fueled by the FLDS fiasco. Some enemies of the Church are wasting no time in trying to paint the Mormons and the fundamentalists with the same brush, as if the child abuse and other problems among the group are our fault. There are common roots, but they are a separate group fully at odds with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They have departed from us in many ways, similar to how Protestants and Roman Catholics parted during the Reformation (I mean no offense to either group in saying this - I'm just reminding you that Protestants split off from the Catholics). In spite of the theological divide and even warfare between those groups several hundred years ago, they had common roots and many common beliefs, but it would be grossly unfair to blame Lutherans or Catholics, for example, for possible crimes of the other. But to non-Christians, it might be easy to lump all Christians together and unfairly blame innocent parties.

Linking the FLDS group with the Latter-day Saints has been a problem in sloppy reporting and writing for some time, though it's understandable how some journalists with little knowledge of the subject matter can make that mistake. Perhaps it's not always accidental, though. Critics love to group us with the FLDS. For example, John Krakauer's derisive tome, Under the Banner of Heaven, does that. Allen Wyatt explains:
Krakauer says "there are more than thirty thousand FLDS (fundamentalist latter-day saint) polygamists living in Canada, Mexico, and throughout the American West. Some experts estimate there may be as many as one hundred thousand." In his words, "Mormon authorities treat the fundamentalists as they would a crazy uncle--they try to keep the 'polygs' hidden in the attic, safely out of sight, but the fundamentalists always seem to be sneaking out to appear in public at inopportune moments to create unsavory scenes, embarrassing the entire LDS clan." Krakauer deftly establishes a connection between the Church and fundamentalists, so he can color the lot with the same spray paint. (Of course, deftness has never been a synonym for accuracy, but such a distinction would be largely lost on a reader uneducated in LDS history.) Krakauer never does indicate why the LDS Church should accept responsibility for offshoots of the main Church, nor does he indicate what form any supposed responsibility should take. Apparently it is not enough to excommunicate them from the Church and cooperate with law enforcement authorities, where appropriate.
Krakuer also calls for the LDS Church to "do something" about the FLDS group - as if excommunicating, opposing, and cooperating with authorities to deal with actual crimes is not enough. Are we supposed to send in armed troops or something?

Scott Gordon, President of FAIR, recently commented on the vast differences between our Church and the apostate FLDS group in his April 2008 FAIR Journal newsletter. Here is an excerpt:
So where did the FLDS church come from and just how closely connected is it to the LDS church? The FLDS claim that their line of authority starts with Wilford Woodruff, but then their leadership continues as follows:

* Lorin Wolley, excommunicated from the LDS church in 1924.
* Leslie Broadbent, excommunicated from the LDS church in 1929.
* John Barlow, excommunicated from the LDS church in 1923.
* Joseph Musser, excommunicated from the LDS church in 1929.
* Charles Zitting, excommunicated from the LDS church in 1928.
* Leroy Johnson, excommunicated from the LDS church in 1935.
* Rulon Jeffs, excommunicated from the LDS church 1941.

Warren Jeffs, son of Rulon Jeffs, was born in 1956 and has never been a member of the LDS church. Most members of the FLDS church have never been members of the LDS church but are the children or grandchildren of Latter-day Saints who were excommunicated in the 1920s and 1930s.

There are those who say that modern fundamentalists are a reflection of 19th-century Mormonism and that looking at this group is like looking into our past. I reject that claim because there are deep and significant differences between the two groups. Granted, both groups believe in the Book of Mormon and both groups either practice, or have practiced, plural marriage. I'm sure that upon investigation you can find other similarities as well. But the differences between the two groups, both past and present, are great.

We do not isolate ourselves from the communities where we live. Even when geographically isolated, we have always been known for actively engaging the rest of society through missionary travels and encouraging others to visit our communities. Latter-day Saints have always eagerly sought out magazines, newspapers, and books from other parts of the country and world and have strongly encouraged our members to be well-read and acquainted with the events of the world.

While keeping to our standards of modesty, we retain the dress and grooming standards of the cultures where we live.

We strongly encourage education and have a long history of sending LDS men and women to the best colleges and universities in the world, both as students and as educators, and today LDS members average a higher level of education than the general population of the United States and Canada.


The FLDS practice the "Law of placing," or assignment of marriages, combined with a high level of control of the membership. This contrasts greatly with the LDS. We have no arranged marriages and the average age for LDS marriages is 23. Throughout LDS history, free agency has been a ruling principle. In 19th century LDS plural marriages women were freely allowed to marry, divorce, and leave the community. My own great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Clark Crouch, was in a plural marriage, and she divorced her husband and left the community with no ramifications. There was no danger of having her children reassigned to anyone else. It was more difficult for men to obtain a divorce, as it was believed that the men should provide economic and social support since there was no state welfare program and women had limited employment opportunities. Kathryn M. Daynes discusses the economic underpinnings of plural marriage in her book titled "More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840-1910."

Some critics try to draw parallels with the FLDS because in the 19th century some LDS women were getting married while still teenagers. While we are sometimes uncomfortable with these younger marriages, a study comparing marriage ages shows that the Latter-day Saints were in line with the general population. Looking at 1850 census data, we find that the national teenage marriage rate was higher than the teenage marriage rate in Utah. And while early Mormons were criticized for the practice of polygamy, there are no known attacks on the church based on the ages of the girls getting married. You can read more information about that here.


We had no lost boys like the FLDS church does. Young men were not cast out to create an imbalance of men and women. You can read more on that topic and more on marriage age here


Another difference with the FLDS church is their idea that more wives equals a greater chance of exaltation. While our critics like to claim we believed that, Brigham Young stated quite clearly that not everyone would, or should, practice plural marriage. Several members of church leadership--including apostles--were not polygamists. Some of Brigham's more controversial statements, when read in context, seem to use plural marriage as an example to focus on the idea of being willing to follow God rather than whether or not you actually practiced plural marriage. If plural marriage were required for heaven, why did some members of the Quorum of the Twelve apostles, our top leadership group, not practice it?

If you would like to read more about fundamentalist Mormonism, I recommend the book "Modern Polygamy and Mormon Fundamentalism: The Generations after the Manifesto" by Brian C. Hales.


You can also find more information on the Internet about the FLDS church and other fundamentalist groups here, in Hales' website:


There are many differences between the LDS and FLDS churches, and except in very superficial ways, the FLDS church does not look like either the current LDS church nor the LDS church of the 19th century. The LDS church has issued a press release and video highlighting some of the differences between the LDS and FLDS faiths. You can listen to Elder Quentin L. Cook speak on the subject here


I am both hopeful and confident that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will continue to become better known, better understood, and better appreciated for the dedication of its members to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Thanks, Scott!

As journalist and especially anti-Mormon critics describe the FLDS group as "Mormon" and even show pictures of the Salt Lake Temple or other Mormon scenes when describing the crazy and frightening behaviors of the FLDS apostates (most of whom have never been LDS), it will be important for us to speak up and explain that those people aren't us and don't represent our values, our beliefs, or our behaviors.

I also suggest you all sign up for the monthly Fair Journal.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Ether 3: An Ancient Prophet Saw the Spirit Body of Jesus Christ

As I consider the philosophers, scholars and clerics who have debated for centuries over the nature of God, I marvel at the clarity that has been given the world by the power of revelation from God. When Joseph Smith saw Christ standing on the right hand of the Father, centuries of error and confusion were corrected in a flash. And we receive more powerful information about the physical nature of God and Christ in the Book of Mormon as well, where the Resurrected Christ showed himself to people on this continent anciently, and the saw and touched Him, and could feel that He was a real, tangible Being with flesh and bone. But what of Jesus Christ before His birth in Jerusalem? Did He exist, and if so, what form did He have? The Book of Mormon provides the answer in the Book of Ether, chapter 3, where the brother of Jared not long after the Tower of Babel has a majestic encounter the Lord. Following commandments from the Lord, he and his group have constructed ships of some kind that are closed vessels to permit them to cross the ocean and to survive temporary submersion by the monstrous waves that they would encounter. They've been given directions on how to bring fresh air into the vessels, but he is troubled by the thought of making the crossing largely in darkness. Thus, he has gone to the Lord in prayer requesting that the Lord use His power to cause some clear glassy stones to glow and act as lights for the journey. And thus, after laying down his case to the Lord, he makes his request and receives a fascinating response:
[4] And I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea.

[5] Behold, O Lord, thou canst do this. We know that thou art able to show forth great power, which looks small unto the understanding of men.

[6] And it came to pass that when the brother of Jared had said these words, behold, the Lord stretched forth his hand and touched the stones one by one with his finger. And the veil was taken from off the eyes of the brother of Jared, and he saw the finger of the Lord; and it was as the finger of a man, like unto flesh and blood; and the brother of Jared fell down before the Lord, for he was struck with fear.

[7] And the Lord saw that the brother of Jared had fallen to the earth; and the Lord said unto him: Arise, why hast thou fallen?

[8] And he saith unto the Lord: I saw the finger of the Lord, and I feared lest he should smite me; for I knew not that the Lord had flesh and blood.

[9] And the Lord said unto him: Because of thy faith thou hast seen that I shall take upon me flesh and blood; and never has man come before me with such exceeding faith as thou hast; for were it not so ye could not have seen my finger. Sawest thou more than this?

[10] And he answered: Nay; Lord, show thyself unto me.

[11] And the Lord said unto him: Believest thou the words which I shall speak?

[12] And he answered: Yea, Lord, I know that thou speakest the truth, for thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie.

[13] And when he had said these words, behold, the Lord showed himself unto him, and said: Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you.

[14] Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son. In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name; and they shall become my sons and my daughters.

[15] And never have I showed myself unto man whom I have created, for never has man believed in me as thou hast. Seest thou that ye are created after mine own image? Yea, even all men were created in the beginning after mine own image.

[16] Behold, this body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; and man have I created after the body of my spirit; and even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh.

[17] And now, as I, Moroni, said I could not make a full account of these things which are written therefore it sufficeth me to say that Jesus showed himself unto this man in the spirit, even after the manner and in the likeness of the same body even as he showed himself unto the Nephites.

[18] And he ministered unto him even as he ministered unto the Nephites; and all this, that this man might know that he was God, because of the many great works which the Lord had showed unto him.
As the Bible explains, we are created in the image of God - in the physical image of God the Father, and in the image of the spirit body of Christ (now spirit clothed with resurrected flesh and bone).

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, existed before He was born and worked with the Father to create this earth and to guide mankind through revelation to His prophets. God and Christ are one God - but not one incorporeal Being. They are two real, tangible Beings who are one in heart, mind, will, and purpose. We believe in their unity, but we differ with Trinitarians about the nature of the unity. In John 17, when Christ prays that Christians might be one even as He and the Father are one, we can only conclude that He was asking us to be one in heart, not to be one in body. But such clear concepts were clouded after centuries of Hellenizing Christianity to better conform with the demands of Greek philosophy. How grateful I am that such clouds have been blown away with the fresh breeze of revelation in the Book of Mormon and the revelations to Joseph Smith.

"Eat Food. Not too Much. Mostly Plants" - In Defense of the Word of Wisdom

One of the more interesting new books regarding diet and health is Michael Pollan's "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto." Pollan calls for a return to eating real foods rather than focusing on what ingredients we have in processed foods. He argues that the collective wisdom of numerous studies on health and nutrition can be boiled down to this statement: "Eat Food. Not too Much. Mostly Plants." Makes a lot of sense to me, and resonates beautifully with the Word of Wisdom, given to Joseph Smith in 1833, which emphasizes plants as the basis of our diet (though meat is included, "sparingly").

Random thoughts: A food that played an important role for LDS communities in Utah and Idaho is the lowly beet. Americans often overlook the majesty of the beet in cooking. A variety of wonderful Spanish tapas include freshly cooked beetroot in various forms. There is so much that can be done with this healthy vegetable. For example, before going to Church, last Sunday, I tossed six beets into a crock pot and covered them with water. Into the water I sprinkled a lot of caraway seeds, a little cardamom, some garlic, salt, and a little basil (I'll use lavender today instead). When I came back, I poured in a couple ounces of vinegar and let them continue to cook for another couple of hours, though four hours is plenty, and I'm not sure the vinegar is best. They were so tender, juicy, and flavorful when we had them for dinner. And healthy!

I always include broccoli and watermelon at salad bars for their anti-cancer benefits, and use them at home regularly (watermelon when in season). And I'm glad that my favorite berries also have great health benefits. There are so many benefits to the amazing plants that the Lord has given us (with a little help from creative horticulturists and farmers). Oh, and have you tried broccoli sprouts? I recently interviewed the president of a sprout company and learned some amazing information about the health benefits of broccoli sprouts, in addition to getting the inside scoop on an incredible patent battle he won against Johns Hopkins University. Will be part of a book I'm working on - but I digress. Veggies, fruits, grains - so delicious! And really, who can remain an atheist after contemplating the mysteries and delights of the strawberry?

Yikes, it's fast Sunday, and I'm falling into temptation. I hope none of you are thinking about food right now.

By the way, while food prices are skyrocketing in recent months, canned tomato products such as spaghetti sauce and related products are often available at surprisingly low priced. A couple pounds of spaghetti sauce can be purchased at Aldi or some other places for $1 or less. Seems like a good item to add to food storage now. Just another random thought.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Permanently Tattooed Children or Temporarily Dyed Poodles

A woman in Denver has been fined $1000 for dying her white poodle pink with natural beet juice. Denver has an ordinance against dyeing animals. Even though the woman did it to raise awareness against breast cancer, and even though no permanent harm has been done to the poodle (apart from the danger of an inflated ego from the cool pink fur), the law has frowned upon her. But if she had allowed her children to get permanent hideous tattoos and to dye their hair pink, she'd just be another cool mom.

Are we sometimes more concerned about protecting cute little animals than protecting cute little people?

And is it too harsh for me to suggest that parents might want to be proactive in warning their children against the risks and problems of tattoos and extremes in styles and behaviors? The world is encouraging young people to do things a whole lot crazier than getting pinked up with a little beet juice. Not that I have anything against pink. As for poodles, well, please don't ask.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Senseless Corporations Promoting Filth: Does Anybody Dare to Object?

Are there any corporations left that have a shred of decency left? Is the gutter always acceptable in American culture now? Please let me know if you can find any. I'm curious. It just seems that we have become so programmed into accepting foul language, dirty jokes, and other content that should be offensive, that those who wish to speak up are silences and those who do are condemned. Do we have to remain silent?

As a minor recent example, yesterday on the drive to work I was listening to one of Chicago's major radio stations, WIND (560 AM). The station's programming reflects a conservative, family-oriented flavor, so I would like to think that the leaders and staff are somehow aligned with those values. The two morning hosts, John and Cisco, apparent conservatives with a normally clean program, had a celebrity on who, I later learned, is famous for dirty jokes. His raw filth in night clubs is legendary and he sells CDs and DVDs of the same. He also is the voice for a major "family" insurance company and works with Disney and Nickolodeon. Disney and Nickolodeon? Yes.

In the interview, which repeatedly promoted the guy's Website and his upcoming appearances in Chicago, he joked about having inappropriate relations with a young teenage celebrity - ha ha - and the hosts just laughed like it was hilarious and then kept promoting this lowlife.

I know I'm a troglodyte for wondering why corporations do this kind of thing, why companies like Disney, Nickolodeon, family insurance companies, and WIND would even touch vermin who specialize in extreme filth and think it's funny to joke about incest and child molestation. But are there any other troglodytes out there?

I called the radio station and lodged a gentle complaint, though it was to a machine. Had I reached a human, I'm sure I'd be told what I've been told before by other companies: "You're the only one who has ever complained." Ever. Perhaps in the history of the world. Right - that's just standard training for the people who handle complaints. Make the complainers feel like they are outcasts from another planet.

If you are offended by my concerns and think I'm insane, idiotic, dangerous, and a threat to society, and if you dare to speak out about that in the comments below, let me assure you of one thing right now: you're the only one who has ever said that. And if 50 of you do, I know you're all the same insane person using different names. I'm putting you on ignore. See, I can act like a corporation, too.