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

Saturday, March 31, 2018

An International Church with More Visibly International Apostles

A familiar face for longtime members of the Church in Shanghai and the Asia Area in general has just been called as an Apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Elder Gerrit W. Gong, the first Apostle with Chinese ancestry who is also a Mandarin speaker, joins Elder Ulisses Soares of Brazil as our two new Apostles, making the international flavor of the Church more visible in its top leadership. The announcement at MormonNewsroom.com is one to celebrate. And not just because Elder Gong's wife, Susan Lindsay, a daughter of Richard P. Lindsay, is a Lindsay. But I must mention that she is a remarkably intelligent woman who will continue to influence the Church for good.

Both of these new Apostles are intelligent, kind, sensitive men who will contribute much to the strengthening of the Church and the expansion of its ministry. I can't wait to hear from them again!

With a Mandarin speaking Apostle and a Mandarin speaking President of the Church, I can't help but think that China and Chinese-speakers all over the world will be increasingly important in days ahead.

And hurray for Brazil and Latin America as well!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Where Horses Can Take You, and My Quest for Li Jing (李荆)

Li Jing, China's Greatest Long Distance Rider
and the Subject of My New Quest
One of the great things about publishing articles on a blog or at places like Meridian Magazine (LDSmag.com) and The Interpreter is the connections it can lead to. Connections with new people sharing common interests or providing new insights makes the effort to write worth every moment. My recent article on horses in the Book of Mormon at Meridian Magazine led to a surprising letter from CuChullaine O'Reilly (CuChullaine is a Gaelic name, pronounced Ka-kul-lun) and it is already taking me to surprising new places.
Stunning Arabic Calligraphy:
A Verse from the Koran in the Form of a Horse
With my correspondent's kind permission, I gladly share some excerpts of our ongoing conversation: 
Dear Mr. Lindsay, CuChullaine O'Reilly here. I am the Founder of the Long Riders' Guild, the international association of equestrian explorers, and the author of "The Encyclopaedia of Equestrian Exploration." http://www.thelongridersguild.com/Books/eee.htm

I have just received a news alert that contained a reference to the LRG. Upon investigating, I discovered that you had cited Wayne McCrory's research linking Siberian and Canadian horses. I published Wayne's paper, am very familiar with his genetic research, and have sent him the link to your article. I am unacquainted with the Book of Mormon and was unaware that questions regarding North American equines were of religious importance. However, as you so wisely noted, there is a great deal yet to be discovered and understood about the presence of horses in the Americas.

Because of my work documenting the history of Siberian and Spanish horses in exploration history, I am writing without delay so as to provide you with some immediate academic assistance. Here is an article, written in 1940 by the noted American equestrian scholar Thornton Chard. In this article, Chard argues that the first European horses brought to the New World did not survive. http://www.lrgaf.org/articles/spanish-horse-progeny.htm

Here is an article, written by a leading Canadian equestrian journalist, which documents the history and characteristics of Siberia's Yakut horses. http://www.lrgaf.org/articles/yakut_horse.htm

Here is an interview I did with the renowned Long Rider Ian Robinson. He is the first person to make a modern equestrian journey in Siberia, where he confirmed that the horses in that region have the capability to enter into a state of semi-hibernation so as to retain heat and energy. http://www.thelongridersguild.com/stories/siberia.htm

Finally, here is an article I wrote which documents how meat-eating Siberian horses were employed in early attempts to reach the South Pole. http://www.lrgaf.org/polar-ponies.htm

Whereas I cannot offer an opinion about the appearance and use of horses in Mormon history, you are correct when you wrote that horse history is far from being settled. This idea was discussed only a few days ago when I corresponded with Dr. Alan Outram. In a recently published English news account, Alan, whom I had previously interviewed, told the press that he had found equine DNA in Central Asia that he believes may link what was thought to be an extinct breed of early horse to the Przewalski breed still alive today. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/horse-origin-mysterious-domestic-dna-analysis-przewalskis-botai-domesticated-a8224121.html

I wrote to Alan to explain that though he and other scientists believe that the ancient horse in question was thought to have disappeared many centuries ago, the Long Riders' Guild has an image of a Turkman tribesman riding such a "extinct" horse in 1893! Thus "extinct" horses do have a way of wandering out of the shadows!

Kind regards, CuChullaine O'Reilly FRGS
I was delighted by the information he provided relevant to the horse (Thornton Chard's detailed analysis of the date of Spanish horses raises many questions about the "common knowledge" belief that the horses of North American Native Americans after the Spanish Conquest necessarily came from the Spaniards). But I was even more delighted to make the acquaintance with someone who in a brief letter could convey such intelligence, civility, and romantic flare for one of the great traditions of mankind that has been largely lost in our day.

I responded with enthusiasm, thanking him for his work in this area and for sharing such welcome information. I added, "The horse is such an incredible creature and one whose history, ways, impact on man, etc., needs to be better understood in the automobile and iPhone era."

Then came his delightful "lighting a rocket" email that truly captured my imagination regarding the work of the Guild:
Dear Jeff,

CuChullaine O'Reilly of the Long Riders' Guild here, replying to your message regarding horses and the Book of Mormon.

Well I don't know what kind of effect your article had on your normal readers but it certainly lit a rocket under the tail of the Long Riders' Guild!

But before I comment on that intriguing topic, allow me to explain the mission of the Long Riders' Guild, the world's first international association of equestrian explorers and long distance travelers.

With Members in forty-six countries, every major equestrian explorer alive today belongs to the Guild, including Hadji Shamsuddin of Afghanistan, who recently rode a thousand miles through that war-zone, Jean-Louis Gouraud of France, who rode 3,000 miles from Paris to Moscow, Tim Cope of Australia, who rode 6,000 miles from Mongolia to Hungary, Claudia Gottet of Switzerland, who rode 8,000 miles from Arabia to the Alps, Adnan Azzam of Syria, who rode 10,000 miles from Madrid to Mecca, and Vladimir Fissenko of Russia, who rode 19,000 miles from Patagonia to Alaska.

More than a hundred of these extraordinary Long Riders are also Fellows of the Royal Geographical Society, including:
Sir John Ure KCMG LVO, who rode across the Andes -

Stephen McCutcheon, of England, who undertook a ride from Delhi to Peking -

Gordon Naysmith, of Scotland, who rode 20,000 kilometres from South Africa to Austria -

Pedro Luiz de Aguiar, of Brazil, who at the age of seventy made an 19,000 kilometre journey in Latin America and -

Robin Hanbury-Tenison OBE, who has made a number of equestrian expeditions in all parts of the world, including riding the length of China’s Great Wall.
The Long Riders' Guild website is the repository of the largest collection of equestrian travel information in human history.


Additionally The Long Riders' Guild Press currently publishes several hundred equestrian and travel titles in five languages, making it the world’s premier source of equestrian exploration wisdom.


The Guild's Academic Foundation provides an open-source forum where scientists, poets, authors, and equestrian experts share their wisdom with the public. Every type of horse related knowledge is being investigated and published at this website, whose motto is "Science not Superstition."


Because The Guild donates the royalties from many of our titles to worthy causes, our publishing efforts and work have been acknowledged by the Prince of Wales and Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth.


The LRG accepts no advertising of any kind, and is therefore a trusted resource for thousands of regular visitors.

There are no dues or meetings involved in becoming a Member of The Guild. One is invited to join after having ridden a minimum of one thousand miles.

Nor is a person awarded a silver trophy, a blue ribbon or a shiny big belt buckle from The Guild. All they receive is the respect accorded to them by their fellow equestrian explorers, a respect earned by a elite group of men and women scattered around the globe, all of whom chose to saddle up their horse and then set out on a life-changing equestrian journey.

While the Guild's primary mission is to encourage and educate would-be Long Riders, our equestrian research is extensive and on going.

For example, evidence recently arrived out of the blue indicating that William Shakespeare was a Long Rider!

The academic who contacted the LRG explained the motivation of Shakespeare's equestrian journey, told us where the Bard had ridden to/from, and even described how the equestrian trip was financed.

That in turn led us to wonder if anyone had written about Shakespeare and horses. A search revealed more than three dozen "lost" academic research papers, some dating back to the 19th century. They detail an amazing, but forgotten, investigation into how horses influenced Shakespeare, the plays, and the characters. We are now creating the first "Shakespeare Equestrian Collection."

As the unexpected Shakespeare evidence demonstrates, we don't know it all.

And yet having just spent six years writing the Encyclopaedia of Equestrian Exploration I believed that I was well versed in equine history.


That is why I was taken aback by the publication of your article, which suddenly required me to ask myself what role horses played in religious history.

Because this concept had only been briefly addressed in the Encyclopaedia, I had not investigated it at any length.

But your article immediately required me to ask myself, how many religious beliefs have any equestrian origin stories, mythology or legends?

Because I lived in Pakistan I knew, for example, about the Borak, the mythical horse with a woman's face. This magical creature is supposed to have flown the Prophet Mohammad from Mecca to Jerusalem, and back, in a single night.

But your article about the Book of Mormon story came out of nowhere.

So I did the obvious thing and began looking for clues.

I could not believe what was readily available.

Hindus, Pagans, Muslims, Christians, Romans and the Vikings all share a religious horse story!

I found so much that I didn't even have time to look for Buddhists, etc. But this was obviously a topic worthy of more extensive research.

Therefore the LRG is prepared to create a special new section on the LRGAF website devoted to "Horses and Religion."

Therein we plan to make available religious studies, documents, images, research, folklore, etc which will help members of the public study and understand how horses influenced human religious experience in its many manifestations.

The Guild does not interact with any social media and is "Facebook free."


Therefore we will not involve ourselves in religious debate.

We will publish equine related religious information and allow the public to make its own decisions and/or search further regarding any particular religion in question.

Like the Shakespeare Collection, what we hope to do is create an equine point of reference where people in search of knowledge will be able to quickly find accurate free information.

We had already come to this decision but had yet to take the first step. That is why I am so glad you wrote back, as I am hoping that you can assist us in reaching a particular Book of Mormon scholar, who we would like to invite to be the first contributor to this new equestrian collection.

I discovered an article entitled "Hard" Evidence of Ancient American Horses."


It was written by Daniel Johnson, who is obviously a man of intelligence and integrity who has studied the Book of Mormon and the equine question in depth.

Given your contacts within the LDS community, are you in by chance in contact with Mr. Johnson?

If not, then I shall reach out to him.

But if by chance you know him, we would be most grateful if you could inform Mr. Johnson of our interest and invite him to contact me without delay.

We will be updating the LRG News page later this month.

And although we envision the "Horses and Religion" study to grow over the years into a substantial collection, it certainly seems appropriate that you, who helped us make this important discovery, should be invited to help create this unique equine literary and religious effort.

In closing, thank you very much, Jeff, for responding to my email.

Though religious views differ, I believe most people would agree that "God works miracles in small ways."

The sudden unexpected appearance of your article certainly seems to have triggered such a positive event.

I look forward to hearing from you (and hopefully Mr. Johnson).

Kind regards,

CuChullaine O'Reilly FRGS   [emphasis added]
What a great idea, exploring the role of the horse in various religions and providing a repository of information on that topic. And how interesting that he wished to reach Daniel Johnson and invite him to write the first new article on that topic to share issues from the LDS perspective. I was able to connect Daniel with CuChullaine and look forward to the results of that collaboration.

I was also quite captivated by the language and spirit of the letter. My response:
Dear CuChullaine,

What a pleasure it was to read your email, written with the flare, passion, detail, eloquence, and vocabulary of that pre-Twitter/Facebook era when English was still a civilized language. It is an honor to make your acquaintance through our mutual interest in the role of horses in history and religion. The Long Riders' Guild is an inspiring organization so rich in adventure and further enriched with the growing resources it provides regarding the noble horse. Thank you for that service.

You asked me for help in "reaching a particular Book of Mormon scholar who we would like to invite to be the first contributor to this new equestrian collection.” Daniel Johnson, the man whose BYU Studies article, "Hard" Evidence of Ancient American Horses,” so impressed you (and I agree with you assessment that he is "obviously a man of intelligence and integrity who has studied the Book of Mormon and the equine question in depth”), is copied on this email.... I am confident that he will be thrilled to accept your kind offer and share his expertise with the Long Riders' Guild.

And yes, I would also be pleased to help in any way with your causes. You have captured my imagination and earned my respect and gratitude.

May I also if I might have permission to share your email with readers of my blog? Your example of open-mindedness and your interest in the issue of horses and religion might be valuable to many others, and might help stir more interest in topics of mutual interest.... 
Thank you for noting that "God works miracles in small ways.” You might be pleased to know that your statement is virtually a quite from the Book of Mormon in Alma chapter 36 (see https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/alma/37 or https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/alma/37.6-7,41?lang=eng&clang=eng#p5):
6 … by small and simple things are great things brought to pass and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.
7 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.
I look forward to learning more and being of assistance in any way. Thank you for your kindness and your service!
Then, to my surprise, I would be challenged to begin a new quest here in China:
Mohammad Arif, Calligrapher
Dear Jeff,

Thank you for the exciting and encouraging response.

"What a pleasure it was to read your email, written with the flare, passion, detail, eloquence, and vocabulary of that pre-Twitter/Facebook era when English was still a civilized language."

One can hardly write an Encyclopaedia if communication is limited to trying to "tweet" in only 140 characters.

Attached is a photo of my dear friend. Mohammad Arif. He was Peshawar's most famous calligrapher. This was a position of honour held by his family since the days of the Mughals and being carried
on today by Arif's son.

Also attached is an example of the Islamic calligraphy practiced by artisans such as Arif [placed at the top of this post]. This is a quote from the Qu'ran, drawn in the shape of a  horse.

Who would have ever believed that the simple art of writing is, like horse travel, becoming an endangered skill.

Yet here is a recent London news story which explains why "children struggle to hold a pencil because of too much tech."


I certainly never foresaw the day when I, and others like you, would be asking ourselves how everyday skills such as expressing ourselves in multi-syllable words might be seen as an archaic ability.

"It is an honor to make your acquaintance through our mutual interest in the role of horses in history and religion."

I believe the possibilities of a religious/equine study have global implications.

For example, since I last wrote I learned that Buddhism reveres a horse shaped god who holds a "sword raised to cut through delusion" and whose fierce countenance is supposed to inspire the worshiper to "overcome inner egotism and outer obstructions."

The Encyclopaedia which I recently completed concludes by advocating the philosophy of "harmonious horsemanship."

And though our combined equine research is still in a very early stage, it reinforces the point that humanity shares a common love of, as you put it,  "the noble horse."

So opening a dialogue which shares religious information regarding mankind's love of the horse is bound to be of interest and importance.

"You asked me for help in reaching Daniel Johnson"

Thank you very much! I look forward to hearing from him and your other friends.

"Your example of open-mindedness and your interest in the issue of horses and religion might be valuable to many others, and might help stir more interest in topics of mutual interest."

We, as a species, are enduring troubling collective events, including political instability, economic concerns and unpredictable weather. Sadly everyday we witness a display of antagonism, nationalism, narcissism and intolerance.

I am not a parent or grandfather, like you.

Yet how can any decent human being stand idly by and not lift his hand to do something, even if it is only to encourage a dialogue about horses and religious belief.

The Long Riders' Guild is an international association open to all "horse humans," regardless of race, sex, colour or creed. We pay no heed to what "breed" the horse is, any more than how the Long Rider chooses to express his/her religious belief.

Thus the idea of encouraging a dialogue about "open mindedness" is something which everyone, regardless of their particular personal belief, should be glad to participate in....

"Thank you for your kindness and your service!"

We are all working to preserve and protect important information for posterity.

Finally, before closing, I noticed that one of the website links you sent stated "Jeff Lindsay is an LDS guy in Shanghai."

Are you really in China?

If so, then you could do the Long Riders' Guild a tremendous favor.

The world's most important "Missing in Action" Long Rider is Chinese.

His name is Li Jing. In 2009 he made a 9,000 kilometre (5,592 miles) solo ride from Votkinsk, Russia to Beijing, China.

Here is the link showing Li Jing in the saddle.

The Guild has spent years trying to locate this man, as he is certainly the most important modern equestrian traveler in China, all to no avail.

Might you have any ideas?

Kind regards,

There is the quest: to find Li Jing, China's greatest long rider. I have agree to help. Perhaps you can help, too?

I have searched Chinese media and learned that Li Jing's name is 李荆, that he married a Russian woman and may be living in Russia, and that he still blogs about the great sport of riding (last post from Sept. 2017). He may be on another journey now, for all I know. I have left a message to him in Chinese on his Weibo blog, but I since learned that he has studied English and can communicate well with English speakers.  I will try another message in English as well. But if any of you have connections with horse riders in China or Russia or otherwise know of a way to reach Li Jing, please let me know! This is a man who is larger than life, a rare breed, a dreamer and a doer. I have a goal to meet him (as well as Mr. O'Reilly). But the real reason for my quest is to help Li Jing gain the help that the Long Riders' Guild wishes to offer.

The Long Riders' Guild takes pride in supporting the efforts of great riders. There is a great deal of expense, logistics, paperwork, and planning required to do major rides, especially when they involve border crossings. So much can go wrong. Li Jing, I learned, has faced great adversity such as having horses impounded at borders and many other problems. The aid and resources of the Long Riders' Guild could be a blessing to him. Please help, if you can. Of course, I have already begun reaching out to my Chinese community for their help as well.

Here are some resources I have found in this journey:




And here is my latest message to CuChullaine:
Li Jing has a couple of Chinese language blogs, showing that he remains very passionate about horse riding, as least as of a few months ago. I am trying to reach him through his blogs and will work to get him in contact with you. He may be on a journey at the moment, so this may take some time. Fingers crossed!

One blog is on the service known as Weibo. To see his page may require registration (not sure: it did when I used my Mac, but did not on a Windows machine at my office), but here is the URL and a printout of the page:


Translation of selected portions:
Header/title:  Li Jing Rides Across the World (or Under the Expanse of Heaven)
Li Jing, a horse backed traveler. In 2007 he alone rode from Russian Federation’s Republic of Bashkortostan across the Eurasian continent….

Entry from Sept. 12, 2017:
Photos I shot myself, July 11th, '08.
In the Buriats shop to buy some bread for himself and my horse. The young man said, "I won't take the traveller's money.” [E.g., free food.] Very moving.

Next entry, same day:
July 9, ’08. Not only is it a great area for riding a horse, it’s a great place for love and romance.

Scrolling down, an entry from Aug. 23, 2017 has this:
"The journey of the pilgrimage to the source of the Yellow River" was suspended. The source of the Yellow River is the end of this journey but it will be the starting point for the "road of Chinese and Russian tea”.

Move forward!
Our team is going to the sun
The foot of the land
the land of the motherland
Bear the hope of the nation
We are an invincible force...

Still not sure where he is, but will try to contact him.

He has another blog at the Sina.com.cn service:


This is from 2009 and deals with his famous trip...

That’s it for now. I’ll let you know if I hear back from him. This is a man I’d like to meet! A dreamer who achieves his dreams, a man of imagination. One of my new goals is to meet him.

Oh, he also has a Baidu page about him — that’s the Chinese answer to Wikipedia. Here is the link: https://baike.baidu.com/item/%E6%9D%8E%E8%8D%86/2666424?fr=aladdin

Translation (Google Translate to begin and the some crazy stuff fixed by me):

Li Jing

Originally from the province of Hubei, city of Wuhan, he is a Russian Chinese. On August 21, 2007, Li Jing alone rode from the Russian Federation’s Republic of Bashkortostan on his solo journey across Eurasia. In March 10, 2009, the knight arrived in Changping, Beijing, after a long ride of nearly 9000 kilometers. This feat was followed by many mainstream media sources, such as the Phoenix TV show, "Lu Yu has an appointment".

Character Overview

Li Jing alone rode from the Russian Federation’s Republic of Bashkortostan on his solo journey across Eurasia. In March 10, 2009, the knight arrived in Changping, Beijing, after a long ride of nearly 9000 kilometers. According to him, he will also accompany Mrs. Megan, a 59 year old British woman, from Beijing to London to complete the Second Eurasian crossing for the Olympic Games.

Character Quotations

“This is not a game, I think of it as the meaning of life. There are various kinds of transactions in my life, and I invest in my life, so I think it's worth it. This is my dream. It's the most important dream in my life. What is life? Life is a dream.” Spoken at the moment of departure by Li Jing.

"I feel that nature itself is rhythmic. In this environment, you will have a piece of music in your heart, and then you show it and turn into a note. People used to say that nature is the most wonderful symphony, and I really feel that way now. Before I got on the road, that was just a piece of paper."  [quoted date 2012-12-13]

I also shared with him another article with more information: http://news.cnhubei.com/ctjb/ctjbsgk/ctjb32/200908/t787541.shtml. What follows is mostly from Google Translate (have only changed a few obvious "garblings"):
On March 10th, Li Jing alone, and rode from Russian Federation’s Bashkortostan, across Eurasia, after a long ride, nearly 9000 kilometers to Beijing, caused a sensation throughout the country. Little is known, although Li Jing in Russian, is a genuine Wuhan native. Earlier this month, Li Jing at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in my mother's house, the reporter interviewed the modern knight.

Dream of riding a horse in the world

A white hair was made into a cauda, with a circle of beard on his lips, and the wrinkles in the corner of the eye were full of vicissitudes. At first glance, Li Jingting, 46, was like an artist. "This dream, I've done it for 22 years, it's not going to be a big one." Li Jing said.

In 1963, Li Jing was born in a senior intellectual family in Wuhan, and his father was a professor of the Chinese department. Li Jing seemed to have a special feeling for his horse when he was young. In TV and movie, as long as there was a picture of a horse, he always stared at it. He imagined that he could ride on a horse's back one day.

After graduating from the Wuhan University Library in 1984, Li Jingcong went to the library of Shenzhen University. The convenience of work increased his interest in horses. At the same time, all kinds of exquisite books about the world's customs gave him a dream: "if one day, we can ride around the world, how nice!"

Do it when you think about it. In the Spring Festival of 1985, Li Jing began to study English desperately. Two years later, he had been able to communicate freely with the foreigners. But where does the cost of global travel come from? Li Jing decided to do business to make money. Just at that time, Shenzhen has a production of computer floppy disk business recruitment, to open the market of Wuhan, Li Jingyi try, resign back to do business in Wuhan, Wuhan became the first batch of IT industry out of people.

During this period, he learned to ride a horse.

Go through the twists and turns before the trip

During the work, several Russian scholars went to central China University of science and technology exchange. Li Jing immediately found scholars and talked about his plan, asking them to give him a visa invitation after returning home.

One day in 1989, after Li Jing received an invitation, he immediately resigned. In May of next year, Li Jing stepped on the train to Russia. "I have to achieve this goal. All other stages of my life are preparing for this goal." But Li Jing's short-term visa could only stay in Russia for 3 months, far from realizing his idea of crossing Russia, and the ride was stranded.

3 years later, Li Jing finally get a visa for a period of 1 years, from the Hulun Buir ready to ride to Moscow nantun. Because do not know how to enter Russia, Li Jing decided to sell the horse in Manchuria, into Russia after the horse. But the two time was prepared to start crossing Siberia, all because he did not understand Russian and failed to do it.

In Russia, a local girl in Li Jinghe was married and soon joined the Russian nationality. Since then, in addition to doing his own warehouse keeper's work, he also part-time two tutors, he wholeheartedly earned money, plan to ride again.

In 1999, his son was born, but the warmth of the family still tied Li Jing's heart, he organized a "Caravan" plan, ten in the Millennium ride back to Beijing, but due to visa problems, the trip again.

He changed 9 horses on the way

In the past more than 10 years, Li Jing has dreams in mind, but with his son's birth and living expenses increasing, the dream of riding around the world seems to be more and more distant.

By the end of 2006, the friend said in an interview: "life is too short, but I want to do, or dream of what can be achieved when?" When he revisited his childhood dream, he decided to travel as soon as possible.

After years of accumulation, Li Jing had only $5000 in his hand. For the sake of insurance, he borrowed 60 thousand yuan from his friends. Before his departure, Li said his idea to his wife. From the first acquaintance of love, the wife knew Li Jing's dream, and now she was going to go, she did not stop.

In August 21, 2007, Li Jing left one thousand dollars to his wife and children. He took a 10 yuan bank card with bags of sleeping bags, sweaters, tents and medicines, and pictures of his son Maksim.

Li Jingben wants to ride to Beijing before the 2008 Olympic Games. However, in winter, Siberia sometimes gets cold to 40 degrees below zero and nearly 9000 kilometers away. Li Jing walks more than 600 days and nights. He was like a tramp, hungry, eating bread and biscuits; tired, he put up a tent in the field or went to the farm. Sometimes, he can not see a person in two days, walking on the road, even if there is a trace of field by the road, he will bring him joy.

Li Jing felt happy for most of his cycling. No pollution in Siberia sky, walk in the woods, see the sunrise and sunset and enjoy the bird insect beast, debauch, as if with nature. On the way, the vast majority of Russians understood and appreciated his actions. In Irkutsk, a street of a green lawn, a middle-aged woman not only for Li Jing's horse grazing in this, also hard to give him 5 rubles 20 kopecks, and bless him, Li Jing obsessed. In Chita, Li Jing put the horse on the hillside, an elderly man and her daughter on the rocks to climb the hill gave him two pieces of bread.

Stay tuned for more to come in the future on the topic of the noble horse in various religions, including the rather unusual role it plays in Book of Mormon debates, not to mention a vital role it played in the Mormon Exodus and the early days of the Church.

Finally, one result of this unexpected new connection with the Long Riders' Guild was checking in on Daniel Johnson and learning from his blog, An LDS Guide to Mesoamerica (ldsguide.blogspot.com), of a very interesting new find of ancient horse bones in Mesoamerica in a newly discovered vast underwater site. See "Sacred Mayan Underwater Tunnel Rediscovered in Yucatan," Telesur, January 16, 2018. It will take many years to explore and analyze the finds. The horse and elephant bones found so far are likely to be from long before Book of Mormon times, as are nearly all (but not all) such remains found in the Americas, as Johnson has noted in the article mentioned above that drew CuChullaine O'Reilly's attention to Daniel. But I certainly look forward to the actual data as it is slowly obtained. Here is an excerpt from this intriguing news story:
Sacred Mayan underwater tunnels in Mexico's Yucatan are being rediscovered for the first time in thousands of years, scientists have revealed.

An extensive network of limestone caves housing Mayan artefacts is just now being explored by scientists from Mexico's National Anthropology and History Institute (INAH).

What INAH researchers have found is a remarkable underwater system, measuring more than 340km in length, which connects two previously known cenotes – Spanish for 'giant sinkhole aquifers' – near Tulum, in the state of Quintana Roo.

Scuba diving in the immense tunnels lined with stalactites, researchers have found highly preserved ceramic vases from Mayan society which would have been used in funerals and during ritual sacrifices.

They have also found intact human skulls, along with bones from elephants, giant sloths, bears, tigers and extinct species of horses, along with now-extinct plants. Investigators say the artefacts are well preserved because of the caves' inaccessibility.
The extinct plants, of course, will include neas and sheum (Mosiah 9:9), right? :)

Don't make the mistake of thinking that Telesur is reporting the discovery of elephant and horse remains that were known and used by the early Mayans. These extinct creatures are likely to be much older than the Mayan artifacts also being found in these underwater caves. But it's a reminder that there is so much more work to be done to understand ancient America. Archaeology there is still in its infancy, and only a small percentage of ancient sites have been subject to any kind of study so far, as we learn from the shocking new LIDAR results showing vast ruins still covered by jungle. We are in for many more surprises.

There's so much more we need to find and discover, including Li Jing. Any leads are welcome!

Sorry for such a long post, but I hope you can see that I'm thrilled with the new connections and information that came from a little article published at Meridian Magazine. Many, many thanks to Maurine Procter for her tireless work in publishing that diverse and uplifting magazine and for allowing me to share something there that has already greatly enriched my life, whether it was helpful to readers or not. And many thanks to CuChullaine O'Reilly and the Long Riders' Guild for their passion regarding the great tradition of long-distance horse riding and their new interest in the role of horses in religion, including the religion of the Latter-day Saints.

Finally, a couple more photos of Li Jing from Chinese websites:

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Church's New Policy on Personal Interviews in the Church and New Guidance on Preventing Abuse: Welcome Steps in a Messy World

The Church just announced important new steps taken to reduce the risk of abuse in the Church, including an important change in the way interviews are done. I think it's an important step to address the concerns some have expressed and to reduce the risks that can occur in a world were some people are predators. See the Deseret News story, "Updated LDS policy allows another adult to sit in on leaders' interviews with children and women," from which an excerpt follows:
The LDS Church's First Presidency announced significant policy changes Monday, providing direction on how bishops and stake presidencies may conduct interviews with women and children and how they counsel victims of abuse and sexual abuse.

The changes specified that children, youth and women now may invite an adult to join them in what traditionally have been personal interviews. Some had said they were uncomfortable being interviewed one-on-one by a male priesthood leader.

The First Presidency also clarified to members of bishoprics and stake presidencies how they should respond to reports of sexual abuse and how to minister in those situations. The changes explicitly state that local leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should never disregard a report of abuse and should never encourage members to remain in an abusive situation.

"To ensure the safety and protection of children, youth and adults, we ask that all priesthood and auxiliary leaders become familiar with existing church policies and guidelines on preventing and responding to abuse," stated the letter, which was signed by church President Russell M. Nelson and his counselors, President Dallin H. Oaks and President Henry B. Eyring. [emphasis added]
These directions and policy adjustments should also lead to renewed awareness and training in local units. They should also lead to increased awareness in families. I hope many parents will take further steps to keep their children aware of their rights (e.g., the right to walk away from something that makes them uncomfortable or puts them at risk, the right and need to report bad behavior, etc.). I hope that predators or would-be will increasingly learn that the Church is not a safe place for them.

Interviews with leaders can be a valuable and positive experience, as it almost always has been for me. It can be a channel for people to be heard, to be understood and strengthened, and to give valuable guidance and counsel. But it can also be a place where poorly trained, unwise, or (rarely) conniving men can discuss things improperly and lead to harm or discomfort. The ability to have a second person present can reduce those risks. Again, those in interviews should also be aware that they need not answer and can walk out if uncomfortable.

Also see my previous post, "When a Victim of Abuse Cries For Help: The Perspective Needed to Be a Modern Good Samaritan."

When a Victim of Abuse Cries For Help: The Perspective Needed to Be a Modern Good Samaritan

My previous post on the horrifying abuse scandal involving a former president of the Missionary Training Center resulted in valuable feedback from an expert on abuse and a former victim herself. She shares a perspective that is vital for LDS leaders and members to understand, especially regarding how we deal with those who come forward claiming to be victims of abuse. For now, she would like to remain anonymous, but has given me permission to share this:
In this case, the accuser is a woman, so for easiness' sake, I'm going to use the feminine pronoun, but it could be either a guy or girl. It's important and I said something like it to you once, many, many years ago.  You alluded to it in your article as well.

If someone comes to you as an ecclesiastical leader, a counselor, a friend, or whatever and says that she has been molested, raped, beaten, verbally, physically or sexually abused, or that she’s suicidal, you need to believe her.  She’s got a problem and she’s asking for help.  This particular woman’s problem is that she was molested or raped.   Maybe it was just porn the guy showed her like Leavitt said or maybe he raped her.  I don’t know.  In either case, she felt violated.

What I’m not saying is this: I'm not saying that you need to jump to conclusions about the character of the alleged assailant or that he or she needs to be arrested or excommunicated immediately.   What I am saying is this:  The accuser has a problem.  She’s coping in the best way she knows how.  She’s doing everything she can to help herself and she needs to know that someone’s got her back because she’s being as brave as she knows how to be and, unless she is terribly evil and is willing to truly be horrible and accuse someone falsely, there is no reason not to believe.  Something needs to be done.  Questions asked privately.  Stories checked out….etc.  Rather like you said in the article.

She told her story to someone.  It doesn't matter if Leavitt "thought" her story had "much credence."  His job (as a person, a leader, or an all around nice guy) was to help her or to find a way for someone else to help her.  Him saying that he "wasn't going to risk sullying the reputation of someone based on that kind of a report" makes me want to vomit.  Of course we don’t want to believe that Mr. Nice Guy is an offender.  We don’t want to believe that a friend could be so sick.  We don’t want to believe bad things about good people.  We don’t want to believe our family members could be perverted. Our world views get shattered.  But, bad things do happen and goodly seeming people aren’t always good.

We also don’t want to hurt someone who really is innocent.  Whether it’s the accused or the accuser, it is the same.  We do not want the innocent hurt.  But, if J. Bishop really did do something to her, he was not an innocent.  He was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, pouncing on an innocent.  And, if she’s not telling the truth, she’s not an innocent.  That’s why it should have been fully investigated when Leavitt heard about it [she refers to Ron Leavitt, the former bishop of a Provo, Utah single adults ward to whom the incident with Joseph L. Bishop was first reported; see  "Woman who accused MTC president of sexual assault has been telling her story for 3 decades"].  Church leaders should be advised of that, in my opinion.

Another thing that people don’t think about is how it affects people.  In Leavitt’s estimation, her mental health was not as important as Mr. Bishop’s reputation.  Why?  Because Leavitt may not have known (and still may not know) the damage that type of violation can do to a person's mind.  In the last 20 years, since I began my DID [dissociative identity disorder] journey, I’ve come to find out that people don’t think that abuse is that destructive to a person’s mind.  However, we both know it is.  It may interest you to find out that researchers are beginning to discover stuff that you and I learned on our own so many years ago.  Dissociative disorders are real and they are more prevalent in society than once thought.  There is a reason that Christ said in Luke 17:2 that “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.”  It’s because things affect us to the third and fourth generation.  I can only think of my mom’s response to my telling her: “Honey, that’s what uncles do.”  What if my mom had said something to her mom? Perhaps she did and was told, “Honey, that’s what uncles do….”  Sick.

The woman in your story was violated in some way.  She sought help.  It should have been investigated.  As far as I’m concerned, Leavitt is guilty of hurting her as well and she deserves an apology from him, too.  I do not believe it was an intentional hurt, but it is still something that he should apologize for simply because she has had to deal with this for over 30 years.  Had he done something, (I’m sure he innocently thought nothing of it as the years went on) the woman may have healed sooner.  I hope and pray she finds healing. 

I think your idea of making a note of an accusation on a record is brilliant, but needs caution.  It’s not something that just any member of a ward counsel should see unless the person was actually convicted of a crime. [Note: I agree. The intent is for the annotation to only be visible to, say, a small, highly confidential panel in Salt Lake.] People gossip and it can ruin a reputation even if it is false.  But, an accusation should be there.  Not to be a detriment, but as a precursor and precaution to a second or third accusation. 

You’re right that the tape can be checked out.  It should be.  Immediately.  If it’s true, kudos to her for having the guts to stand up to the man who hurt her.  I don’t have that kind of bravery. (However, you had another comment that if the guy is in his 80’s he could be open to manipulation.  That’s true, too. Again, who’s the innocent?)  Thankfully, I’m not an avenging angel.  I’d smite a heck of a lot of people for minor infractions.  
Also, I’ve read the stories of Rob Porter (White House Aide) in the SLTrib and other media.  Apparently his two ex-wives both told bishops that he was abusive.  They were told (in different words) to put up with it.  Why?  Because most people are the type of people who don’t want to “risk sullying the reputation of someone based on that kind of a report.” 
It’s wrong [to ignore the report of a victim].  It doesn’t have to be shouted from the rooftops unless there is truth to it because we are innocent until proven guilty.  But, one cannot be found guilty if one’s crimes are ignored.

Anyway, I don’t know if I helped or not.  I’m glad you wrote the article.  I think that there are a lot of good leaders out there who just have no clue as to what to do and someone ends up getting hurt. That’s not the fault of the individual leaders, but rather due to a lack of training in an area that shouldn’t, but does exist.  I think that if something like this is brought to their attention, it needs to be investigated.  Investigations can be done in confidence and with tact so as not to hurt either the accused or the accuser.  Leaders also need to know that when someone comes and says something, it takes a lot of bravery to do it.  As I said, I don’t think Leavitt’s slight was intentional, but be that as it may, it was there and it hurt. [emphasis added]
I want to emphasize her comments on our obligation to listen to victims, to take them seriously, and to do something.

We don't have to jump to conclusions about the alleged perpetrator, but we need to have the compassion and charity to see that the victim has been hurt and is in pain. She may be suicidal. Her self-esteem may be destroyed. She may be damaged emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically by what has happened. In many ways, her life may be ruined or face ruin if urgent and loving help is not provided. This is not the time, as in the parable of the Good Samaritan, to cross to the other side of the road to evade the inconvenient victim. This is not the time to step aside, worried about sullying someone else's reputation or sullying ourselves by lending a hand to the abused. This is the time to help, to listen, to love, and to heal.

This is the modern parable of the Good Samaritan, and we need to be prepared to be the good guy, not the self-righteous one who feels he is protecting the Church or the Lord's anointed by leaving the injured victim alone, unheard and unhealed.

Imagine that in the hall at Church some Sunday, a disturbed woman runs up to you with a bleeding arm and whispers, “Help me! The bishop just stabbed me with scissors!” Would I say, “No way am I going to sully the bishop’s reputation!” and just walk away, leaving her alone and bleeding? When we can see the trauma, of course we will do something to help, such as apply first aid, call an ambulance, and report to authorities that something bad may have happened. The wounds of the abused often are not so readily visible to us, and the worst damage may be invisible psychological scars. Mental wounds are just as real and debilitating as a broken kneecap, and are often longer lasting. Neglecting such wounds can lead to PTSD, anxiety, depression, etc. But when the trauma is mental, invisible, we too easily dismiss it and dismiss our duty to help, fearing that taking action is about sullying a person in power rather than helping some soul who has been hurt.

Help and first aid are needed, regardless of what might be revealed about the source of the injury. Listen, love, take action, and give victims a chance to begin healing. Ignoring them is always tempting, but is one of the worst temptations and weaknesses in human nature. We must move past that and take steps to prepare to respond properly and also take steps as an institution to make it easier to accept and track the data victims provide, even if we doubt their story.

Update, March 27: See the following post, "The Church's New Policy on Personal Interviews in the Church and New Guidance on Preventing Abuse: Welcome Steps in a Messy World." The new policies are incorporated in a document on preventing abuse, which will be in the official handbook used by leaders.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

My Take on the Joseph L. Bishop Scandal, and Steps We Can Take to Better Help Victims and Reduce the Threat of Abuse in the Church

I've struggled with grief and anger for the past couple of days after reading reports regarding a former mission president of the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, Joey L. Bishop (served 1983 to 86), who appears to have confessed to sexual misconduct involving a sister missionary there long ago, who states that he attempted to rape her. The grief is for the victim, whose life was adversely affected by the devastating betrayal and attack. The anger is for the harm done to so many others as well and for the Church fas a whole by this terrible crime. This hurts all of us. Each of our sins hurts others in various ways, but sins of this nature are horrifically harmful in many ways.

To my surprise, at least some of the media coverage on this story has taken a relatively soft approach in describing the story. One report I read from a FoxNews source spoke of the report as if it were uncertain allegations in need of further verification. But after reading the transcript of the Dec. 2017 audio recording the victim made in a conversation with Bishop, it seems to me that we have a reasonably clear confession of seriously inappropriate behavior, even if he didn't know he was being recorded initially. Granted, he doesn't explicitly say just what he did to her and his memory was cloudy regarding her, but he does admit to having molested another specific woman and does not object when the woman discusses details of what happened with him. And he admits there were others. So unless there is some reason to believe that the recording is a sophisticated forgery or that words were inserted that Bishop didn't say, the recording seems like clear evidence that should not require any further analysis to denounce Bishop and ensure that he is promptly excommunicated, if that hasn't happened already.

Of course, this is terribly painful for the family and all those close to Bishop. Bishop was not only the mission president over the MTC, but previously served as the President of Weber State College. This is a highly respected and well-connected man, and those who know and love him may naturally be tempted to dismiss the allegations. This is normal, but for the good of many others, courage is needed to face the brutal possibility that something worse than minor mistakes were made by a man merely struggling with impure thoughts. His recorded conversation supports a much more troubling scenario. Many may be in denial, including Bishop himself, but his own testimony and the testimony now of at least two women demands attention and action.

Does Bishop deny that the recording took place or does he claim some parts of it were deceptively edited? I am not sure. That issue should be easy to address if so. Editing an audio recording can leave some of the same clues you see in Photoshopped images (audio analogs to sudden changes in lighting, strange boundaries between portions of an image, other evidences of cut and paste work, etc.). Should take a few hours or perhaps a few days to resolve that issue, if attorneys or others have raised it.

The Church has made a cautious press release regarding the incident. It says some important things, such as the fact that as soon as these allegations were made to local Church leaders in 2010, the matter was reported to the police:
This matter was brought to the attention of the Church in 2010, when this former Church member, who served briefly as a missionary in 1984, told leaders of the Pleasant Grove Utah West Stake that she had been sexually assaulted by the president of the Provo Missionary Training Center, Joseph Bishop, 25 years earlier. They listened carefully to the claims being made and then this was immediately reported to the Pleasant Grove Police Department, and the police interviewed her at that time. The Church does not know what she said in that interview, but the Church received no further communication from the police concerning the matter.

At the same time, the Church referred these allegations to the local ecclesiastical leaders of Joseph Bishop. Those leaders met with Mr. Bishop, who denied the allegations. Unable to verify the allegations, they did not impose any formal Church discipline on Mr. Bishop at that time.
That's good. The police found no reason to pursue it the case, though, and the Church leaders could not resolve the issue on their own given the conflicting testimony. Yes, there is a real risk of people making false accusations, so it would seem inappropriate to discipline a man with a seemingly stellar reputation because one person makes an accusation. Caution is needed and we cannot automatically assume that those making allegations are correct, but we must hear them and take them seriously. So I can understand the result of not finding sufficient cause for disciplinary action. But could more have been done? Here I speak as an outsider with no firm knowledge of the case, so forgive me and correct me if I ask questions or say things that are foolish and irrelevant.

As for further actions that might be helpful, was the victim carefully interviewed to see if  her story was credible? And was Bishop carefully interrogated in light of information from the woman? For example, in the audio recording, she talks about a basement room that Bishop led her to where the crime occurred and his response seems to confirm its existence. Does such a room exist? Can she describe what it looks like, etc.? Is this something missionaries would normally know about? Was the MTC contacted to learn about this room and its purpose? Was there any legitimate reason for a young missionary to be taken to such a room? This kind of questioning could help reveal that the woman was there, when she should never have been in such a place unless something inappropriate were happening. I fear that local Church leaders might lean too heavily on the legal process or their own first impressions (a very natural thing -- see Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow) instead of thinking carefully about the evidence on their own. As for relying on police input or results of legal trials, we need to remember that what is wrong in terms of LDS standards can be miles apart from what is required for a legal conviction.

As for the first effort at a statement by the Church, to my ears, it sounds heavily influenced by lawyers possibly worried about saying too much about a case that is in the middle of litigation and negotiations. Naturally, the lawyers want caution. And no lawyer wants much to be said about a case where any statement could be a hammer against you in court. However, from my perspective (again, speaking without knowledge of what may be many relevant details of the case, of the law, and of the people involved), there may be bigger issues than the size of the settlement. The focus should be -- and I believe it genuinely is in the inner halls of the Church -- on eradicating risks of abuse and fixing whatever sloppiness exists in how the Church responds to allegations of abuse. That focus needs to be made more clear and more visible, in my opinion.

The police investigation got nowhere, but now the woman has created what appears to be compelling evidence, namely, a vocal confession showing that Bishop was guilty of sexual abuse. If the audio recording is undisputed, then it strikes me as a prima facie case that immediate disciplinary action is needed. Yes, I know some things take time and that there may be complex details to sort through, but based on what I and the world can see, it looks like we have an indisputable need for a disciplinary court and some frank talk about the strong evidence of serious misconduct in Bishop's case. With that in mind, I can understand why many people are frustrated or furious with the opening lines of the press statement:
These allegations are very serious and deeply disturbing. If the allegations of sexual assault are true, it would be a tragic betrayal of our standards and would result in action by the Church to formally discipline any member who was guilty of such behavior, especially someone in a position of trust.
To me, that makes sense if there are serious reasons to question the audio recording or the most disturbing portions of it. That question may have been unanswered when the release was made and may take time, but it should not take much time. I hope we can have an update swiftly. If the tape and the transcript are accurate, then I hope we can be informed shortly of the appropriate actions that have been taken to discipline Bishop and will be taken to reduce these risks in the future.

I hope the next update on this matter is written by someone who has struggled with the grief and anger this crime should cause, someone whose family has been afflicted with abuse or perhaps someone with a daughter or granddaughter contemplating service as a missionary, someone filled with the passionate desire to ensure that no saint-turned-monster can so easily commit such crimes and get away with that for so long.

Things are often more complicated than I think, so there may be some critical issues that need more time to deal with this situation more fully. There may be other parties that need to be reached and other work before key steps are taken. There may be a host of issues at hand. But where we stand right now leaves faithful, loyal saints as well as outsiders confused and perhaps angered. More information and perhaps more action is needed. If there's a reasonable case for disregarding the apparent confession on the audio tape, it would be very helpful to know. Otherwise we hope for an updated statement and discussion of next steps.

Why did the police not pursue this matter more thoroughly when it was reported? One plausible reason may be seen in the March 21 news report, "Family of former LDS mission president accused of sexual assault responds to allegations," where the family claims that there are police reports showing that this woman has previously made false accusations of sexual assault against others. That kind of credibility-destroying track record may make it easy for police to ignore another accusation. If that is true, however, I would point out that victims of sexual assault often have pretty painful lives with lots of anger, pain, and sometimes serious bad behavior. But no amount of past sins on her part should destroy the reality of what is on that tape and what she experienced at the hands of Joey Bishop, if, again, the tape is real and undisputed or indisputable. In fact, her ability to keep her cool and obtain an audio recording from her assailant may be a very positive step for her and for her healing. May she find healing. May future missionaries and all members find safety and security in the Church. May perpetrators be swiftly disciplined, even when they are our friends.

One of the hardest things in the world is taking steps to discipline or punish a friend. This includes the church leader who can't believe an accusation against his trusted friend or relative as well as the young person who dares now report that her uncle tried to molest her, for she knows it could destroy his family.

While we wait for Church-wide changes that may come from this tragedy, there are things we can do now with our local units and families to reduce risk.

1. Young people, missionaries, and all of us need to understand that even people we think are very good can fall and do bad things. Thus, we all need to understand our rights and avoid situations that are risky. We should help our kids understand they have options and can turn down offers or invitations that might put them in a risky setting. Interviews should have someone outside the door, an important role of bishopric members, for example, in facilitating interviews, and the person being interviewed should be seated closest to the door (basic advice I received when I was bishop). A lone young person should not be given rides by lone adults, etc. Raising awareness of threats is one step that is needed in this sometimes ugly world where "you cannot always tell the wicked from the righteous" (Doctrine and Covenants 10:27).

2. Create safe channels to report trouble. We need to have people in each stake or district that can be open-minded, trustworthy sources to report potential problems. People who are aware of the risks of abuse and will carefully listen to what victims have to say and can work with them to raise concerns. Victims need to know they can be heard. I welcome thoughts on how best to do this. Perhaps a man and a woman in each district can be named.

3. Have frank discussions with members (especially parents) about the dangers and steps we can take to reduce risks. We need to make it clear that we are serious about stamping out abuse, and that abusers cannot expect to get away with their crimes by looking righteous and acting spiritual. Awareness and vigilance will help keep our members safer.

4. In sustaining officers at ward and stake conferences, when we ask "if there are any opposed, please show by the same sign (raising the right hand)," it would be helpful to add a clarifying statement like this:
Brother and sisters, we try to seek revelation when making callings, but don't always get things right and don't always know what needs to be known. Being given a calling is no guarantee of goodness, and sometimes we need your input to correct a mistake or prevent harm to others. Of course, we recognize that it may be very difficult to publicly raise one's hand when one is aware that a leader being sustained has a serious problem that might make it wrong to put him or her in a particular calling, especially when sensitive issues of abuse might be involved. Thus, if there are sensitive issues that should be raised for anyone in a position of influence in the Church, you may privately and confidentially inform us so that these matters can be considered and further explored if needed. While we all want the best from those who serve and all want to be united in serving with each other in love and unity, there are sometimes dangerous threats in this difficult world. We want our members to be safe and free from abuse or other dangers. So if you have such information, please contact us privately. Trusted points of contact include our Stake President, our Stake Relief Society President, our Bishop and our Ward Relief Society President [for example -- giving both trusted male and female contacts]. Less efficient but more comfortable might be use of the Church's new Whisteblower site [I am just throwing out a crazy idea here -- of course this would be a difficult thing to do, but it could play a role], where you can  submit information that should be considered regarding a potential predator or abuser.
I expect this terrible incident will lead to increased attention being given to the training of leaders in the Church and perhaps new mechanisms to better protect members. One of the frustrating things about this case is that the woman attempted several times over the years to report the matter, but it seems that in some cases proper follow up did not occur. She says that she spoke with now-deceased Elder Carlos Asay and had an assurance that he would contact Bishop and investigate, but that apparently did not happen, according to Bishop. Maybe it did and Bishop lied about this, but he is rather frank and even somewhat penitent in the recorded conversation. But clearly, more thorough investigation could have been done. It is very natural, unfortunately, to not trust someone making what seems like wild claims about a trusted leader or friend. We need increased awareness of the reality of hidden abuse in order to take such things much more seriously. We need stronger tools and better mechanisms.

One further thing I think would help the Church is to have a way to share information about allegations involving members. It looks like at least two different women have come forward with related accusations against Joseph Bishop, but the allegations seem to have been handled by different units. Had it been known that similar reports had been previously made elsewhere, it might have prompted more serious investigation. This is very sensitive, of course, but may be a basic part of assessing potential problems that are not easy to resolve individually. Perhaps all reports made to any leader could be entered into a confidential section linked to the leader's membership record that could be reviewed by a panel. A report that seems incredible and lacking evidence could suddenly become much more significant when a similar report comes in from another possible victim somewhere else, even years later. Being able to collect and review data about allegations of abuse could help the Church know when there is a potential problem that needs more thorough investigation.

So much pain for all of us. May we succeed in reducing these risks in this messy world.

Finally, may we all seek charity as we deal with this and other cases. Anger alone is poor medicine for the wounds that have occurred, though righteous indignation is surely needed. We need charity for the victims. It is hard to underestimate how devastating an incident of abuse can be, especially at the hands of a beloved authority figure. It can devastate the self-worth of the victim and lead to so many problems throughout life. Love them and help minister to them and protect them. We need charity for the vulnerable members of the Church who may be at risk when there are predators in their midst, and through that charity, we can take steps in our wards and stakes to reduce risk and keep our people safe. We need charity for the perpetrator, though justice must be done for such serious crimes. We need charity for his family and awareness of the pain they feel, even if they remain in denial of what may be difficult to deny. We need charity for LDS leaders who may have heard reports of abuse and did not understand the need to take it more seriously. Perhaps some of them will now be able to get past the natural blindness we have for the flaws of those we love and trust. And let us not forget charity for our critics, who have been given a new megaphone to denounce the Church and its leaders. They are not the main problem here; the problem is within and is more than just one flawed saint with a dangerous addiction. The anger and concerns of some who dislike the Church should help move us forward to correct flaws. We can listen and understand the sense of betrayal that some can feel in this case and take stronger steps now to make the Church a safer place in a dangerous world.

Update, March 26, 2018: Many people have wondered why the victim waited so long. It was over 30 years ago that the alleged crime took place. Why wait if this was real?

As I explained in a comment to this post, there are many reasons why victims might wait years to tell their story. They may feel threatened. They may wish to protect someone who would be hurt with a prompt report.  They may feel responsible and guilty for someone else's sin and need time to understand what to do. They may not yet understand that there are other victims and others that need to be protected by taking action against the perpetrator. They may be mentally devastated and unwilling to talk to others about it. They may fear the pain of being interviewed and grilled by skeptical police and attorneys for the perpetrator. Some go into denial for years or even suffer from serious mental conditions that shield the memory.

I have some experience as a highly unqualified leader and friend in counseling/trying to help a victim of many acts of abuse who suffered from what I would call a severe form of multiple personality disorder. This was in parallel to professional counseling from a skilled counselor. I went from being completely skeptical about the disorder to sheer amazement at the severity of this very real condition, apparently part of a desperate built-in defensive mechanism perhaps that helped a young girl cope with unbearable betrayal for many years. I came to realize that the distressed woman before me was one of the greatest women I know or have ever met. She continues to do so much good in the world and I marvel at what she has overcome through her courage and through the ongoing healing power of Jesus Christ. I look forward to the publication of her book that may greatly advance our understanding of what victims experience, what can happen to them in extreme cases, and what can help them move forward. That's another story, and for me it was a story that involves some of the most surprising and occasionally miraculous experiences in my life. God's love for his children who are victims of abuse is far greater than we can imagine, and helping them to consciously sense and understand that love may be one of our important tasks in supporting victims. It can take years, many decades sometimes, for a victim to be ready to fully address what has happened to them. Patience is always the key.

But in this case, the victim of the former MTC president did not wait until 2018 but took rapid action. She did not wait! Very soon after the devastating attack, she reported the crime. She has been telling her story for over 30 years -- and like many young victims of trusted, well-connected, highly respected prominent elites in any society, the accusations from a troubled young stranger were not taken seriously.  It is too easy to ignore a victim of someone who is powerful and respected in the community. This is not a uniquely Mormon problem. It is not just a Catholic problem. It is a problem across our entire society, across human civilization, and if we are to be civilized, we must learn to better protect and listen to victims when our immediate instinct might be to ignore them or even to punish them. It's no wonder that many victims stay silent.

A very frank report from one of the first to hear her accusations comes from her former bishop in a single adults ward, Ron Leavitt. Though I sorrow that he did not see the need for action (this, like other missed opportunities to deal with this sooner, is the natural result of human nature, not a massive cover-up in the Church or some evil conspiracy), I also thank him for his forthright admission, from which we can readily understand the kind of thing that the victim probably faced many times -- until she finally took matters in her own hands with a gutsy encounter and an audio recording. Here is an excerpt from the KUTV News story, "Woman who accused MTC president of sexual assault has been telling her story for 3 decades":
When you ask the former bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints, Ron Leavitt, about the recent allegations against former MTC mission president, he says he remembers them vividly.

“Oh heavens yes,” Leavitt said as he recalls what he was told in 1984.  Leavitt was a single ward president from 1979 to 1985 and said during his regular post-church meetings with parishioners, a woman told him that Joseph Bishop, a former president of the Missionary Training Center, had acted inappropriately with her.  “According to her he took (her) and I think another sister missionary down to the basement and showed them some pornography,” Leavitt explained.

When asked if he reported the incident to the police or the leadership of the LDS Church Leavitt said he did not. “I didn't think it had much credence. I wasn't going to risk sullying the reputation of someone based on that kind of a report,” Leavitt said.
It's a simple as that. No evil intent on his part. No secret call from the Deseret Star Chamber to threaten him to keep quiet. Just ordinary human nature, what Daniel Kahneman would call a quick "System 1" snap decision driven by our emotions and biases. A respected, senior leader is the subject of wild accusations from a troubled woman. Really? The MTC president raped you? In a secret basement room? Right. But now we learn that such accusations need to be taken more seriously and that the natural tendency to doubt accusations against trusted friends or leaders might need to be resisted long enough to get further information or to make a report to proper authorities. And yes, that's easy for me to say, but there may be scenarios for me someday where I just can't believe something crazy that needs to be listened to in all seriousness. May I have the wisdom and patience to listen then.

Update, March 27: See the following post, "The Church's New Policy on Personal Interviews in the Church and New Guidance on Preventing Abuse: Welcome Steps in a Messy World." The new policies are incorporated in a document on preventing abuse, which will be in the official handbook used by leaders. Also see my post of March 26, "When a Victim of Abuse Cries For Help: The Perspective Needed to Be a Modern Good Samaritan."

Sunday, March 18, 2018

“Here, Take My Camera”: Responding to the Miraculous Message and Convincing Power of the Book of Mormon

The Shanghai International District Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was held March 17 and 18, 2018, in Shanghai. The highlight by far was the musical number in the general session Sunday morning performed by a combined children's choir from all the branches of the District. That well prepared musical number came thanks to a proactive and visionary woman, Amy Carlson, who long ago came to the District with a proposal for a combined Primary choir and then visited each branch to train the kids and make the music work so well to inspire and amaze us. They sang "I Will Be What I Believe," a collection by Blake Gillette. Dramatic and so fun. Thank you, Sister Carlson!

The children's choir was so inspiring that it would have been great to just end the meeting there. Sadly, I had the misfortune of being the first speaker after them. Here is the talk that I gave.

“Here, Take My Camera”: Responding to the Miraculous Message
and Convincing Power of the Book of Mormon

Shanghai International District Conference, March 18, 2018

Faith is essential for us to grow in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. With faith comes great blessings, sometimes miracles, and increasing evidences that can turn embryonic faith into something more mature. When faith matures, it can become a firmly established hope or even true knowledge. Jacob in Jacob 4:6 in the Book of Mormon speaks of this process when he says “we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy; and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken.” Unshaken faith, genuine hope, and ultimately knowledge – we need to pursue these things. How can we make our faith unshaken, or less shakeable?

Unfortunately, since there is opposition in all things in this mortal journey, our faith can be shaken, damaged, and killed. This can happen to adults who have served in high levels in the Church. It can happen to our young people when, for example, they go to college and listen to the rantings of impressive but ignorant professors who mock belief in God or especially the Latter-day Saint faith. Sadly, the hostile agenda of the world can make it easy to be shaken. Few families have been spared from that sorrow.

I myself have been shaken a time or two. It occurred once when I was serving as a bishop and was even working hard on the side in bits of spare time to defend the Church from common anti-Mormon attacks. I encountered an argument that had turned away a man previously in the bishopric in our ward. It led to him founding a popular anti-Mormon website. The argument involved the Book of Abraham, and at the time, it was a convincing argument. The argument was that the original Egyptian scrolls used by Joseph Smith in his so-called translation had been discovered and now experts could read them and – surprise – they had nothing to do with Abraham. It was just the pagan Book of the Dead. Things like Facsimile 1 were ordinary Egyptian scenes. Facsimile 1 was an embalming scene, an ordinary funerary document. Joseph’s translation was hopelessly wrong, wrong, wrong. All fake. Ouch. I was shaken.

In facing that shaking, I was aided by my already strong testimony of the Book of Mormon that helped me understand that I should not be hasty in jumping to negative conclusions. My faith was shaken a little, but I was able to exercise more faith and be patient while looking for answers.

I soon found that there were answers to the attack that had been made. I found that critics I had read had somehow left out vital information that significantly changed the argument. They didn’t disclose that the documents that were discovered in 1967 were remnants, a tiny part of a much larger collection that included other longer scrolls. What was found does not match eyewitness accounts of the documents Joseph was translating. And they also failed to mention, of course, that there are significant cool things about the Book of Abraham that support its ancient origins. I’ll mention just one.

Facsimile 1, the drawing at the beginning of the Book of Abraham, which may have been added by Joseph from the collection or may have been intended to relate to the story by its Egyptian redactors, shows a man on a table with a man standing over him, knife in hand. The critics say this is an ordinary embalming scene of dead person. But look at that dead person. He has a leg sticking up. He's wearing shoes. His arms are raised. Other funeral scenes in Egyptian lore don’t show dead people that way. But this posture is typical in Egyptian literature and is actually very much like an Egyptian hieroglyphic. It means to praise or supplicate, as in prayer. It’s consistent what the Book of Abraham explains: Abraham was on an altar, about to be sacrificed for his opposition to idol worship, and he prays to the Lord for deliverance. Bingo. So interesting. But the critics leave such things out and report the fake news that the Book of Abraham has been completely destroyed by the evidence. They had temporarily fooled me and many other people.

There are still some big questions marks in some areas of the Book of Abraham debate and for many other areas of the Gospel where I don’t yet have easy answers, but I do know of a fascinating track record to keep in mind. The track record is that many things that seemed like weaknesses or blunders in the LDS scriptures 50 years ago or 150 years ago have turned into strengths over time.

Sadly, many of those who abandon their shaken faith because of some specific objection or problem do so without doing their homework. Some who have left write eloquent letters or web pages citing a host of anti-Mormon books or articles as if they are factual, and typically show little awareness of the excellent scholarship that has responded in detail and often refuted the attacks. They may leave without even being aware of the detailed resources that are listed on LDS.org (Google “Gospel Study Resources” at LDS.org) to help members learn more about some of the issues involving our faith and our scriptures. Those resources listed there include websites such as FairMormon.org, MormonInterpreter.com, Book of Mormon Central, and the Maxwell Institute at BYU (mi.byu.edu). The many evidences and answers and analyses provided there are not meant to create faith or replace testimony, but to help us better understand and appreciate the Gospel and to give hope to move forward in faith when facing a stumbling block. Shaken faith often needs first aid. Growing faith often needs intellectual nutrition and even inoculation to cope with future pestilence.

After my shaken faith regarding the Book of Abraham became a source of strength, I contacted the man I knew from my ward who was now running an anti-Mormon website. I told him I had gone through a similar challenge involving the Book of Abraham, but had found some fascinating new information that he apparently had missed which really changed things. Would he be willing to talk about this? He said no, whether he was right or wrong about the Book of Abraham, he had found many other things that he felt were wrong about the Church and he was sure he was right overall and was not willing to reconsider anything. That’s normal. We need to understand that when our loved ones have left, great patience may be needed, perhaps a lifetime of patience, though some will return soon. But the best time to deal with the arguments and issues is before faith has been completely abandoned. The time for us to reinforce our own faith and knowledge is now, while it’s alive.

And one of the best ways to strengthen and deepen faith, to build reservoirs of faith, is through experiencing the power and evidence provided by the Book of Mormon, the keystone of our religion, with Christ as the cornerstone and foundation. It is a book that we need to take more seriously, to study more deeply, and to do our homework now to deepen our faith in Christ and in the truth of the Restoration, for that can give us roots to cope in faith and patience with many other challenges that might come our way.

The Book of Mormon is a convincer. It’s purpose as stated by Mormon on the title page includes “convincing” Jews and Gentiles, all of us, basically, that Jesus is the Christ. This convincing power of the Book of Mormon has been essential for my own testimony and growth in the Church. It has been the key to bringing many people into the Church, including some very intelligent people. It is a book that begs for scrutiny, for research, for tough questions and analysis, and for thoughtful, prayerful contemplation. As one example of its convincing power, I’d like to share with you a story told by Reg Wilkins about his brother Victor Wilkins. Both men were prominent and highly acclaimed photographers in England who did photography for famous publications like Vogue magazine and many others. The story was written by Anne Bradshaw and published in Meridian Magazine at LDSMag.com in 2002. The title is “Award Winning British LDS Photographer, Reg Wilkins: His Conversion Story,” but it’s mostly about the conversion of his brother, Victor, who then brought Reg and over 100 other people into the Church. The title that I prefer, and the title of my talk today, is “Here, Take My Camera.”

On a warm June day in 1967, Reg’s younger brother, twenty-two year old Victor Wilkins, knowing nothing about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was taking photographs as he walked through London’s famous Hyde Park.

Reg tells the story. “As Victor gazed at the many great men of history carved in stone on the Park’s magnificent Albert Memorial, people like Beethoven, Bach and so on, my brother describes how the internal spiritual awakenings which had been building in his life for a while, caused him for the first time, to offer a deeply sincere prayer, and he asked: ‘Where does the great creative power such as these men had come from?’

“At that moment, to his surprise, words came to him that were completely unfamiliar – words from a book that he had never read nor had any knowledge of – but later discovered were from the Book of Mormon: ‘…..all things which are good cometh of God.’ (Moroni 7:12).

“Moved by the experience, Victor felt impelled to ask the source of the answer: ‘Well, as it was God, where is this God to be found?’

“‘Look for me now and you will find me’, came the reply.

“At this point, Victor thought this might be the beginning of some global quest, and that he might have to search the world over, possibly ending up in the Himalayas or somewhere similar. But he was so sure of the spiritual direction he was receiving, that he would have been more than prepared to do whatever was required.

“Victor sat down on the memorial steps pondering his spiritual experience, and became conscious that he was now looking at the statue of Prince Albert, sitting regally on a throne (to his mind, like God), with angels above spiraling upwards to a cross at the top of the memorial. Everything seemed to be converging to symbolize what the Spirit was now in the process of revealing to him. The experiences left him feeling tired and he felt that he should cross the street and sit in the quiet of the Royal Albert Hall.

“Once inside and seated, Victor put his head back to rest and as he looked upward, he was impressed by the massive, domed ceiling that resembled the universe and he began thinking about all the great activities that had happened in the Albert Hall over time.

“By now, the feeling that something hugely important was about to enter his life had saturated his heart and mind, and he wondered whether he ought to be trying to search the Albert Hall basements for some book or other for the truth as to where God was. After contemplation, he felt that he should leave the building and continue to follow the spiritually-directed inclinations he was receiving.

“The idea came to him that perhaps ‘the book’ might be found in one of the well-known museums due south of him, at the bottom of Exhibition Road. He set off in that direction-having no idea that this is where one of our chapels is located.

“As Victor walked, and wondered, he had a mixed sense of excitement and reverence for his unknown guiding force since his original question was such an important one. In his determination to get to the museums, he once more failed to notice a building that he had passed many times – the Hyde Park Chapel.

“However, in my brother’s words: ‘As I was looking ahead toward the museum, it was as if heavenly hands gently turned my head to the left so that I was now looking at a burst of light coming from a notice board poster. At the same time, an internal voice was telling me: ‘Concentrate on this as if your life depended on it, for it does’.’

“My brother said: ‘I felt transfixed, as if laser beams connected my eyes to the picture, which, as I drew closer, revealed the figure of the Saviour with his arms outstretched toward me and the people of ancient America who were also shown in the poster. At that wonderful moment, I felt as if a volcano of light was surging up inside me. I had the overwhelming sensation that this message was crucial.’

Reg continues. “At this point, a young sister missionary emerged from the chapel and asked Victor if he would like to know the history of the scene depicted in the poster. She explained that he could read about it in a special book of scripture called the Book of Mormon. Of course, my brother could hardly believe his ears.

“He recalls that the minute the book was placed in his hands and he flipped through its pages, he knew this was it, the book by which he could find God. He was also presented with a second hardbound book called Meet the Mormons. This was a fairly comprehensive, illustrated book outlining what Latter-day Saints believe. As well as fundamental beliefs, the second book gave an overview of church history, where the Book of Mormon came from, details about priesthood, the restoration, revelation, church government and more. When my brother returned home, three miles away, it was around 5:00pm.

“He commenced reading and didn’t stop until the following morning at 5:00am, having read Meet the Mormons in its entirety, and various parts of the Book of Mormon. “In Victor’s words: ‘I simply could not put the book down. I didn’t want to eat, or drink. As I became sleepy, I prayed for strength for further concentration and enlightenment. I read, I pondered, I prayed, I was taught by the Spirit, I read some more – and repeated that cycle through the entire night. By five a.m., I felt as though I could sleep for a thousand years and nodded off. Yet despite that, by eight a.m., I awoke feeling fully refreshed and with a burning desire to be baptized.’

“Victor immediately dressed and went to the Hyde Park chapel but, in his enthusiasm, failed to realize that no one would normally be there at that time in the morning. However, the Lord, knowing my brother’s faith and sincerity, provided missionary sisters who just ‘happened’ to go to the chapel at that unusual hour.

“As Victor related his experiences to the somewhat astounded missionaries – especially when he asked for immediate baptism – their response was understandably: ‘But you can’t be baptized yet, you don’t know enough. There are a series of discussions that we need to share with you first.’

“To this, my brother’s response was, ‘Fine, but its not necessary, because I know the Church is true. I’m ready to be baptized.’ One of the missionaries interjected, ‘But we need to teach you about things like tithing. Do you realize that members give ten percent of their income to the Church?’

“The missionaries were staggered when my brother replied, ‘Ten percent! Is that all? I would gladly give all that I have to know God, here, take my camera!’ He knew from their meeting the previous day that one of the missionaries admired his professional camera.

“The three, together with the mission president, later agreed that it would be wise to complete all the discussions, and soon after, Victor was baptized.
Victor did not join just because he had a warm feeling, an emotional response, with no need for thinking, learning and studying. His conversion began with deep pondering and intellectual activity. The Spirit led him not just to a fuzzy feeling, and not just to the Church, but to specific books, especially the Book of Mormon, that he studied with passion. Though brief, his study was intense and helped his prepared mind find the initial answers that he needed. He had learned that by seeking truth, by listening to and acting on the promptings of the Spirit, and then diving into what the Lord gave, that he was able to discover truth.

The image that the Lord told him to study as if his life depended on it was the painting of Christ ministering to the Nephites and Lamanites in the New World, a key Book of Mormon scene. And the promptings of the spirit led him to seek God not by wishing to find a church, but by wishing to find a book that might teach him, that might help reveal God to him. It was this book that the sister missionary at Hyde Park chapel offered him. It was the treasure of knowledge he was seeking.

Many of you are fortunate to have had the Book of Mormon in your life for years. But are you feasting on it? Do you treasure it? Have you experienced its convincing power to bring us to Christ and to help us overcome the clever arguments of the adversary and his eloquent and overpaid professors, the kind of people Paul warns against in 1 Timothy 6:20 when he tells us to “avoid profane and vain babblings, and opposition of science falsely so called”? There is a lot of fake news or distorted news and fake wisdom from our opponents, for which there often are solid responses and wise answers that can help us protect our faith and strengthen the faith of others. But our success will depend upon the depth of our roots and our experience with sacred scripture, especially the Book of Mormon, a book that is truer than ever, a book that we should study and learn about as if our lives depended on it. It is a precious book.

Victor Wilkins was ready to give up his camera and his career for the truth such a book could give him. Are we ready to give up the time and energy required to unearth the treasures that the Book of Mormon offers? I pray that we will take this more seriously.