Tag Archives: Doctrine and Covenants

The New Nazis – Mormons

Something usually happens to me once or twice each time General Conference rolls around. We’ll be a session or two in, and everything will be rolling smoothly. Then, all of the sudden, a speaker says something and I think, “Yep, that’ll get folks riled up.”

It always makes me smile, in a light eye-rolling sort of way. NEWS FLASH – Mormon Leaders Still Believe Mormon-y Stuff!

I had a similar experience just a few weeks ago, when Elder Neil L. Andersen gave a talk in General Conference called, simply, “Joseph Smith”. Sure enough, people heard him talk about Joseph Smith and immediately went here:

A reenactment of a common scene in the basements of Mormon church buildings.

Someone even wrote, in effect, “I’m not saying that Neil L. Andersen is like Hitler, but… he’s kind of like Hitler.”

Totally not even joking. Continue reading The New Nazis – Mormons

Boldly Going Where No One Has Gone Before

I felt like Elder Oaks’ address from General Conference, “Loving Others and Living with Differences,” was fantastic. And heavy. And a little biting, especially if you’re one of those dweebs who doesn’t let their kids play with other kids who aren’t members of the Church.

(I mean, seriously?…)

Dang it. I just lost the “is it I?” game, deep diving into my second General Conference talk. Crap.

I feel like there’s so much in there that I’ll need to “noodle” over, but one of the heaviest parts of Elder Oaks’ talk, in my view, is the discussion about contention. “Contention” can mean a great many things to a great many people, which is what makes discussion about it so slippery. Before we look more into clues that help us see how Elder Oaks’ understands “contention,” let me tell you a story. Continue reading Boldly Going Where No One Has Gone Before

Asparagus, Now with 100% More Bacon!

A Bacon-y Balm in Gilead

When our family first moved to the Pacific Northwest, we were transplants. My wife and I had grown up in different parts of California, I’d served a mission in Hawaii, and we’d gone to school in Utah. That left us with almost zero connections when we finally arrived in Washington.

Luckily, a few of our friends from BYU also got jobs in the Seattle area, and we arrived in Washington not too far apart from each other.

We were having dinner with one of these couples, a BBQ in the glorious northwest summer weather that all the rest of the world should be jealous of, when the husband brought out something glorious. Continue reading Asparagus, Now with 100% More Bacon!

Them’s Chores

I heard a story yesterday originally from a preacher who grew up in Detroit. He’d spent his whole life in the inner city, and when he was still young he went to visit his grandparents on their farm in northern Michigan. He heard the birds like he’d never heard them before. He saw the blue skies like he’d never seen them before. It was wonderful.

The next morning, his grandpa woke him up at 6 o’clock (he hadn’t ever seen that before either). They walked outside, and his grandpa handed him a metal pail. There was a chicken coop across the way, and his grandpa pointed to it and said, “Take this pail, and go and collect any eggs.” He did.

When he got back, his grandpa gave him a bucket of slop. “Take this and go feed the pig.” He did.

It went like this all morning, before the young boy had even eaten breakfast. Finally, his grandpa took him inside where breakfast was waiting for them. After eating his fill, he threw himself on the sofa in the living room. Continue reading Them’s Chores

Byers’ Remorse

Keli Byers attained a level of stardom (or infamy, depending on your view) recently when an article she purportedly authored appeared in Cosmo (the shining bastion of journalistic excellence that it is). It’s title?

I’m Fighting BYU’s Ban on Sex.

It turns out that Byers also has a blog entitled The Hypocritical Blogger (“hypocritical,” I think, because she says that she hates blogging, but still ironic given the positions she takes in Cosmo). On September 1, she published a post as a follow up to the Cosmo piece. It’s title?

I’m Not Fighting a Ban on Sex. Continue reading Byers’ Remorse

Correlation is for the Dogs

Lots of Rules

Mormon missionaries have a lot of rules. You can read them for yourselves in the Missionary Handbook.

There are 92 glorious pages, filled with gems like these:

  • “Refer to other missionaries, including your companion,
    as “Elder” or “Sister” and their surnames, not
    by their first names, nicknames, or surnames alone.”
  • “If you play basketball, volleyball, or another sport, do
    not allow the situation to become intense or competitive.
    (For example, do not keep score.)”
  • “Do not watch television, go to movies, listen to the
    radio, or use the Internet (except to communicate with
    your family or your mission president or as otherwise
    authorized).”

I’ve intentionally taken these rules out of context to heighten their “weirdness,” particularly for those who aren’t familiar with how Mormon missions work. They demonstrate some examples of the “do”s and “don’t”s that I was expected to live by for two years. Continue reading Correlation is for the Dogs

Looking Forward to Mormon Change

In light of yesterday’s Supreme Court case, many people are (understandably) drawing a connection between the Mormon Church’s stance on same-sex marriage and past positions on blacks or polygamy. In doing so, they suggest that a change on gay-marriage is coming in the future.

Now, I’m not the prophet of the Church, so I can’t say what will happen for sure. Still, I’m fairly confident that this position, for better or worse, will not be changing. This FAQ may explain why, and I’m hoping this format makes the issues easier to grapple with.

As a side note, these are my own answers, so I would ask that you excuse any error in them. I don’t presume, and never have, to speak for the Church.

Q: When did Mormons practice polygamy?

A: Latter-day Saints practiced polygamy early in their history. We don’t know exactly when it began, except that it was likely sometime between 1830 and 1840. It ended with Wilford Woodruff’s Manifesto in 1890. Anyone currently practicing polygamy is not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Q: Why did Mormons practice polygamy?

A: There are only a couple scriptures that mention polygamy. Jacob, an early Nephite prophet, mentioned it while teaching about chastity. He said,

“For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people (to practice polygamy); otherwise they shall hearken unto these things (and practice monogamy)” (Jacob 2:30; see whole chapter).

In this verse, and similarly in Doctrine and Covenants 132:63, polygamy is identified as a method to “raise up seed”. We’re never explicitly given reasons beyond that.

Latter-day Saints believe that polygamy is biblical and righteous when it is sanctioned by the Lord. It may have been practiced by Joseph Smith as part of the “restoration of all things” (he never fathered any children by any of his plural wives).

Other reasons have been suggested, but anything else is speculation. For more on this question, see here.

Q: Isn’t polygamy breaking the commandments?

A: Latter-day Saints believe that polygamy is the exception, and monogamy is the rule, but that polygamy is not contrary to the commandments when it is directed by the Lord. There has never been, in the Church, anything like “self-nominated” polygamy – it was always at the direction of the president of the Church.

We believe this position to be biblical. A more in depth answer won’t be provided within this short FAQ.

Q: Why did polygamy end? The timing of Woodruff’s “revelation” is pretty convenient.

A: It’s not difficult to see that Latter-day Saints were willing to follow what they believed to be a divine commandment regardless of the cost. Convenience would have dictated abandoning polygamy much, much earlier. Church leaders did not end the practice until there was literally no other course of action that would prevent dissolution of the Church.

Woodruff later wrote the following about why polygamy ended:

“The Lord has told me to ask the Latter-day Saints a question, and He also told me that if they would listen to what I said to them and answer the question put to them, by the Spirit and power of God, they would all answer alike, and they would all believe alike with regard to this matter.

“The question is this: Which is the wisest course for the Latter-day Saints to pursue—to continue to attempt to practice plural marriage, with the laws of the nation against it and the opposition of sixty millions of people, and at the cost of the confiscation and loss of all the Temples, and the stopping of all the ordinances therein, both for the living and the dead, and the imprisonment of the First Presidency and Twelve and the heads of families in the Church, and the confiscation of personal property of the people (all of which of themselves would stop the practice); or, after doing and suffering what we have through our adherence to this principle to cease the practice and submit to the law, and through doing so leave the Prophets, Apostles and fathers at home, so that they can instruct the people and attend to the duties of the Church, and also leave the Temples in the hands of the Saints, so that they can attend to the ordinances of the Gospel, both for the living and the dead?

“The Lord showed me by vision and revelation exactly what would take place if we did not stop this practice…. I saw exactly what would come to pass if there was not something done. I have had this spirit upon me for a long time. But I want to say this: I should have let all the temples go out of our hands; I should have gone to prison myself, and let every other man go there, had not the God of heaven commanded me to do what I did do; and when the hour came that I was commanded to do that, it was all clear to me. I went before the Lord, and I wrote what the Lord told me to write….

“I leave this with you, for you to contemplate and consider. The Lord is at work with us.”

We may not always understand why the Lord does things, but it’s not difficult to argue that he is often pragmatic, and the dissolution of his church would certainly have been contrary to his will. In that respect, the timing of the revelation was not only convenient, but essential.

Q: What about blacks? They were kept from holding the priesthood or participating in temple ordinances until the 1970’s.

A: During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, a number of blacks were ordained to the priesthood. Early in Church history, Church leaders stopped ordaining blacks. No official explanation was given for this practice, and later Church leaders believed that a revelation was needed to alter it. They received this revelation in 1978.

Divinely sanctioned discrimination is not without precedent in biblical history. We don’t know why it was practiced by the Church in modern times. Further, it’s common to find accounts of members, prior to the Church lifting the ban, expecting it on the horizon. Of course there were racist Mormons, too, but many believed intently that the discrimination was going to end – it just hadn’t ended yet.

Many blacks were baptized and remained faithful throughout all of Church history.

I’m white myself, so it may be worth seeking out accounts of active, black Latter-day Saints and seeing what they have to say about their faith.

For more on this subject, see my post about the “Bott-gate” fiasco.

Q: This “revelation” seems awfully convenient, too.

A: It might. Yet much as was the case with polygamy, convenience would have dictated that this change happen much sooner – perhaps as much as 20 years or more sooner – than it did.

Q: So you have no idea why your Church practiced polygamy, and you have no idea why your Church discriminated against blacks. What’s the deal?

A: The deal is that sometimes we’re expected to have faith. We are often not told explicitly why we need to obey one commandment or another. Elder Dallin H. Oaks has said,

“It’s not the pattern of the Lord to give reasons. We can put reasons to commandments. When we do we’re on our own. Some people [have] put reasons to [commandments] and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong.”

We have seen examples of this in relation to both polygamy and the Church’s dealings with blacks. Sometimes, we just don’t know why the Lord does things.

Q: That’s a cop out, and you’re describing blind obedience. That’s one reason why people think Mormons are a cult.

A: And people are free to think what they want, but there’s quite a difference between blind obedience and faithful obedience. The former is passive, but the latter is quite active.

N. Eldon Tanner said,

“We do not suggest blind obedience, but obedience by faith in those things which may not be fully understood by man’s limited comprehension, but which in the infinite wisdom of God are for man’s benefit and blessing.”

Even though we may not comprehend everything behind the Lord’s commandments, we can still have faith in Jesus Christ and his servants. We gain this faith by actively studying out the issues and praying that God will confirm what we’ve learned and decided.

Brigham Young said,

“I will say a few words in regard to your belief in being led, guided, and directed by one man. …Our enemies hate the fact of our being led by one man. Thousands of times my soul has been lifted to God the Father, in the name of Jesus, to make that verily true in every sense of the word, that we may be led by the man Jesus Christ, through Joseph Smith the Prophet. You may inquire how we are to know that we are so led. I refer you to the exhortation you have heard so frequently from me. Do not be deceived, any of you; if you are deceived, it is because you deceive yourselves. You may know whether you are led right or wrong, as well as you know the way home; for every principle God has revealed carries its own convictions of its truth to the human mind, and there is no calling of God to man on earth but what brings with it the evidences of its authenticity….

“What a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually.”

Q: What’s so wrong about expecting the Church to change it’s mind on homosexuality and same-sex marriage? We just talked about how the Church did it before with polygamy and blacks.

A: It may happen. With the changes in 1890 and 1978, there’s certainly precedent. One Latter-day Saint, writing about this same question, argued that change was possible and said,

“For those readers who might argue that it was the Lord that dictated the LDS Church’s positions — pro and con — on polygamy and equal rights for blacks, I argue that they allow themselves to dwell on the possibility that the Lord may also intervene on behalf of gay marriage as well.”

I can’t disagree, and this is why I gave my brief disclaimer early on. The Lord, through his prophet, may absolutely change the Church’s stance on same-sex marriage and homosexuality. If that happens, I doubt that we’ll know any more about the reasons why than we know now about the reasons behind changes with polygamy and priesthood discrimination.

Q: But you’re not sold on that idea.

A: No, I’m not. I think that, at best, our understanding of the principles behind polygamy and the priesthood ban is vague. Additionally, neither was related to sinful behavior. With homosexuality, it’s different. The principles behind that position are not only well understood, but central doctrines to Latter-day Saints and core to the Plan of Salvation. Let me explain.

Look at polygamy, for example. It was never practiced widely in the Church, nor do Latter-day Saints believe that polygamy is essential to salvation. Additionally, even today it’s not recognized as a “mistake” by modern Latter-day Saints; it’s culturally and socially abhorrent to us, as it was to those in the early days of the church, but we believe it was a divine principle initiated by revelation and discontinued by revelation. The purposes for that initiation or discontinuation are unclear, but Latter-day Saints do not believe that its legitimate practice was ever contrary to the commandments.

And what of the racial discrimination? President David O. McKay, in 1954, said,

“There is not now, and there never has been a doctrine in this church that the negroes (sic) are under a divine curse. There is no doctrine in the church of any kind pertaining to the negro. We believe that we have a scriptural precedent for withholding the priesthood from the negro. It is a practice, not a doctrine, and the practice someday will be changed. And that’s all there is to it.”

Why was the policy in place? We’ve already discussed that we don’t know. The same President McKay said that, while blacks were children of our Heavenly Father, they

“were not yet to receive the priesthood, for reasons which we believe are known to God, but which He has not made fully known to man.”

Whether we know the reasons or not, it remains that while the ban was practiced, it was not founded in any doctrine.

The Church’s position on same-sex marriage is borne of much more fundamental doctrines that will not change.

Many of those doctrines are found within The Family: A Proclamation to the World. It reads,

WE, THE FIRST PRESIDENCY and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.

ALL HUMAN BEINGS—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.

IN THE PREMORTAL REALM, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshipped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize their divine destiny as heirs of eternal life. The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.

THE FIRST COMMANDMENT that God gave to Adam and Eve pertained to their potential for parenthood as husband and wife. We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force. We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.

WE DECLARE the means by which mortal life is created to be divinely appointed. We affirm the sanctity of life and of its importance in God’s eternal plan.

HUSBAND AND WIFE have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. “Children are an heritage of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.

THE FAMILY is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.

WE WARN that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.

WE CALL UPON responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.

A number of the fundamental doctrines covered in this proclamation include the eternal nature of families, the rights of children to a home with mothers and fathers, and the eternal nature of gender. These principles, which are not subject to change, are not the product of an individual church leader’s musings or theorizing. This proclamation represents the testimony of the unified body of men that lead the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and as such, commands a much greater influence over gospel cannon than “that one thing Bruce R. McConkie said that one time” or “that sermon Brigham Young gave way back when”.

Additionally, the law of chastity is applied to everyone, not just homosexuals. True, homosexual Latter-day Saints are expected to be celibate, but so are single heterosexual Latter-day Saints who don’t marry, whether it’s because they are just plain goofy or it’s because they have some physical or mental handicap that prevents it.

This is an unimaginably difficult circumstance for those who feel same-gender attraction, and I will never fully understand that plight. Perhaps Elder Dallin H. Oaks’ words apply here. When asked if he could describe this enormously complex question in a couple of basic principles, he said,

“God loves all of His children. He has provided a plan for His children to enjoy the choicest blessings that He has to offer in eternity. Those choicest blessings are associated with marriage between a man and a woman by appropriate priesthood authority to bring together a family unit for creation and happiness in this life and in the life to come.

“We urge persons with same-gender attractions to control those and to refrain from acting upon them, which is a sin, just as we urge persons with heterosexual attractions to refrain from acting upon them until they have the opportunity for a marriage recognized by God as well as by the law of the land. That is the way to happiness and eternal life. God has given us no commandment that He will not give us the strength and power to observe. That is the Plan of Salvation for His children, and it is our duty to proclaim that plan, to teach its truth, and to praise God for the mission of His Son Jesus Christ. It is Christ’s atonement that makes it possible for us to be forgiven of our sins and His resurrection that gives us the assurance of immortality and the life to come. It is that life to come that orients our views in mortality and reinforces our determination to live the laws of God so that we can qualify for His blessings in immortality.”

For more on this complex issue, see Mormons and Gays and the Interview with Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder Lance B. Wickman on Same-Gender Attraction.

My Thoughts on Today’s Supreme Court Review

Yesterday, you might not have known what was on the Supreme Court’s docket for today.

Today, you know.

You know because you probably have a Facebook account (1 billion of us do, as of October 2012) and your news feed was likely filled up by activists and constitutional “experts” on both sides of the argument, all commenting on news coming out of the Supreme Court.

My Anecdotal Observations of Fellow Latter-day Saints

I’ve written before on the subject of so-called same sex marriage, but I feel like I can contribute to the conversation in one way tonight. I’d like to talk about some of my observations of the LDS community. Certainly I don’t have a good view of all Latter-day Saints, so my observations will be little more than anecdotal. Still, that doesn’t make them invalid. I, at least, think that they’ll be worth considering.

A Diverse Body with An Important Foundation 

We Latter-day Saints are a fairly diverse group of people. You might not think it, getting pop culture hints from “The Book of Mormon” musical and Big Love, but Latter-day Saints are a 14 million member strong group who live all over the earth and have varied levels of activity and belief, and a wide range of personalities, opinions, and mannerisms.

I’ve mused before about what, among such a diverse group of individuals, unites us, and you can read that post for those thoughts. Since then, Elder Robert D. Hales spoke in General Conference about “Being a More Christian Christian”. His criteria for what it means to be Christian (and I think “Christian” here is interchangeable with “Mormon” or “Latter-day Saint”, as will be clear in a moment) is also a fine study about what should be the same among Latter-day Saints. A Latter-day Saint is:

    • Someone who follows the gospel pattern of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end (paragraphs 2 – 4).
    • Someone who believes that God has followed a pattern of calling prophets to teach His children, and that this pattern has continued in our day with Joseph Smith and his successors (paragraph 5).
    • Someone who believes in the Godhead as taught in the scriptures and by modern prophets. This belief regarding the nature of God is at odds with Trinitarian theology (paragraph 6).

There is quite a bit in there that mainstream Christianity would find objectionable, but that should suggest to us that when Elder Hales asks, “With these doctrines as the foundations of our faith, can there be any doubt or disputation that we (Latter-day Saints) are Christian?”, he’s not comparing Latter-day Saints to modern, mainstream, creedal Christianity as much as he’s comparing Latter-day Saints to biblical Christianity.

But that’s a talk for another day and another post.

The point is that Elder Hales highlights a belief in the principle of prophets and a testimony that the leaders of the Mormon Church are the modern-day equivalents of  Peter, Moses, or Paul. That’s not an idle statement to make or believe in. Paul wrote to new church members of his day,

“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone (Ephesians 2:19-20).

Distance from Modern Prophets

Whether or not you’re familiar with the LDS position on the issue of so-called same-sex marriage, consider these posts from some of my Latter-day Saint Facebook friends:

“Hopefully today is the first step towards increasing equality in our nation.”

“Real equality would be government that is not in charge of marriage.”

“taking agency away from a group of people is what satan (sic) wants…..”

And many of them posted graphics, like these:

Posts like these really confuse me. They confuse me because, for example, the leadership of our Church said just today:

Today the Supreme Court of the United States heard arguments regarding the definition of marriage in this country.

We firmly support the divinely appointed definition of marriage as the union between a man and a woman because it is the single most important institution for strengthening children, families, and society.

We hope the court will agree, and we look forward to the decision on this important matter.

That’s not even the least of all they’ve said, but it suffices for this post. It’s not difficult for the sincere student to learn more about the LDS position (try here, at Mormons and Gays, which then links to other legitimate sources at the bottom of the page). This position is in direct conflict with many of the sentiments and graphics above.

Something seems off….

A Story with a Moral – Faithful Obedience

I’m reminded of the story of Martin Harris and the lost 116 pages. For those who are unfamiliar with the story, here is a refresher.

Joseph Smith began translating the Book of Mormon plates in the late 1820s. He had a scant education, and enlisted the help of Martin Harris, a local of Palmyra, New York, to act as scribe. Harris’ help was invaluable – not only was Harris a respected member of the community, but he also gave significant resources to help finance the translation and publication of the Book of Mormon.

By the middle of 1828, Joseph had dictated 116 pages to Harris. Unfortunately, Harris’ relationship with his wife was tenuous at the time. Additionally, she was suspicious of Joseph, and opposed to the resources her husband was devoting to Joseph’s cause. Harris asked Joseph if he could take the manuscript home to show his wife. He thought this would help encourage her support and help heal some of their strained relationship.

Joseph asked the Lord if Harris could take the manuscript. The Lord refused. Still, Harris pressured Joseph to ask a second time. Again, the Lord refused. Harris pressured Joseph once more, and the Lord agreed to let him take the manuscript as long as he showed it to only a few specified family members.

Tragically, Harris lost the 116 pages of the manuscript. They were never recovered, and Joseph was commanded not to re-translate those pages (the thieves who had stolen them had changed the words so that, were Joseph to re-translate, the two versions would not agree – see Doctrine and Covenants 10).

The Lord, with his omniscient foresight, had prepared for this loss. He told Nephi, one of the primary authors of the Book of Mormon, to make two sets of records covering the same time period.

And the reason for making two sets of records? Nephi didn’t have a clue. He tells us,

“Wherefore, the Lord hath commanded me to make these plates for a wise purpose in him, which purpose I know not.

“But the Lord knoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore, he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men” (see 1 Nephi 9).

Mormon, who almost 1,000 years later would be inspired to include Nephi’s record in concert with his abridgment, would write,

“And I do this for a wise purpose; for thus it whispereth me, according to the workings of the Spirit of the Lord which is in me. And now, I do not know all things; but the Lord knoweth all things which are to come; wherefore, he worketh in me to do according to his will” (see Words of Mormon 1:3-7).

Joseph continued to translate, but from this additional record instead of the material he’d previously translated. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has said,

“We got back more than we lost. And it was known from the beginning that it would be so.”

For more on that story, you can also read my post, “God’s Divine Backup Plan”.

Some Principles to Follow

Often when we hear this story, we focus on Martin Harris and Joseph Smith. There’s nothing wrong with this – there’s an important lesson to be learned from them. But I’d like to focus on two different individuals. I’d like to focus on Nephi and Mormon, and particularly Nephi.

Nephi, as we saw, was commanded to make a second record detailing the same period he’d just covered. Keep in mind that this is an age before copy-and-paste, before xerox, before the printing press. Nephi was making records on metal plates while traveling as a nomad through uninhabited Arabia and (likely) South America. That would have been extremely arduous and tedious. Yet he did it.

Nephi did this, all without (as far as we know) ever knowing why. He never received any indication of what the Lord’s “wise purpose” was, what fruit would be born from his laborious seed planting. Not even Mormon, who spent his life protecting and abridging these records, ever knew the end from the beginning in regards to these records. Yet they obeyed. And because they obeyed, we have the Book of Mormon today, complete with the powerful testimony of early Nephite prophets.

What’s the connection for Latter-day Saints to same-sex marriage?

In 1995, then president Gordon B. Hinckley presented “The Family: A Proclamation to the World”. It highlighted the vital family values that our Church stands for, and called for members and citizens to support measures aimed at upholding the traditional family unit. This proclamation reads, in part,

“We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children….

“We warn that… the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.

We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.

When Prop 8 was prepared as a ballot measure, the First Presidency, led by current president Thomas S. Monson, sent a letter to California congregations. It encouraged Latter-day Saints to do all that they could to support the measure. It read,

“Preserving Traditional Marriage and Strengthening Families:

“In March 2000 California voters overwhelmingly approved a state law providing that “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” The California Supreme Court recently reversed this vote of the people. On November 4, 2008, Californians will vote on a proposed amendment to the California state constitution that will now restore the March 2000 definition of marriage approved by the voters.

“The Church’s teachings and position on this moral issue are unequivocal. Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God, and the formation of families is central to the Creator’s plan for His children. Children are entitled to be born within this bond of marriage.

“A broad-based coalition of churches and other organizations placed the proposed amendment on the ballot. The Church will participate with this coalition in seeking its passage. Local Church leaders will provide information about how you may become involved in this important cause.

We ask that you do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman. Our best efforts are required to preserve the sacred institution of marriage.

Regardless of the other issues at work here – and make no mistake, this is a highly complex and controversial issue – the Church leaders have been very clear about what is expected of faithful Latter-day Saints. After that, the decision is ours to decide which way we face.

The choice is, of course, ours to make. But let’s make no mistake about what’s happening when we follow personal whims, lean on political correctness, or disregard prophetic counsel. Perhaps President Brigham Young said it best:

“You cannot destroy the appointment of a prophet of God, but you can cut the thread that binds you to the prophet of God, and sink yourselves to hell.”

Stand with the prophets, even if you don’t understand why. You may never understand – we learn that much from Nephi and Mormon – but you can have faith that the Lord knows what he’s doing.

A Response to “Biblical” Criticism of Spiritual Witnesses Part 5

Go back to Part 1.

Reason and Logic

Remember TBC’s first paragraph? They write,

” ‘Testimony’ is understood by some to be… essentially an inner experience not given to explanation or based on reason or logic.”

What of this criticism, that a testimony is “not… based on reason or logic”?

The Lord tells us,

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, that assuredly as the Lord liveth, who is your God and your Redeemer, even so surely shall you receive a knowledge of whatsoever things you shall ask in faith, with an honest heart, believing that you shall receive….

“Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.

“Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation (Doctrine and Covenants 8:1-3).

And then later in the Doctrine and Covenants he says,

“Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.

“But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right” (see Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-9).

Using all of our faculties to study out the gospel, including our minds, is an important part of the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Consider this blog! Consider the Church sponsored universities! Consider FAIR and FARMS (now the Maxwell Institute)!

To be frank, I have a difficult time taking this criticism seriously, particularly from this group (you know, the group that can’t interpret a simple Bible verse and uses terribly circular logic).

I find the teachings and history of this Church completely logical and reasonable. There are some things that others cannot accept, for one reason or another, and that is just fine. What is acceptable for me doesn’t need to be acceptable for everyone else, and vice versa. Yet this does not make those things others find unacceptable unreasonable or illogical.

A Response to “Biblical” Criticism of Spiritual Witnesses Part 4

Go back to Part 1.

Not Given to Explanation

Remember TBC’s first paragraph? They write,

” ‘Testimony’ is understood by some to be… essentially an inner experience not given to explanation or based on reason or logic.”

What of this criticism, that a testimony is “not given to explanation”?

This is partly true. It is difficult to entirely explain revelation from the Holy Ghost to someone that has not felt it. And yet, it is likewise difficult to explain the color red to someone who is blind, or the sound of a bell to someone who is deaf, or the taste of salt to someone who’s never tasted it.

Why don’t you try it for yourself? Pretend you’re with someone who has never tasted salt, and describe the taste to them.

Elder Boyd K. Packer told a story illustrating this principle. He said,

“I will tell you of an experience I had before I was a General Authority which affected me profoundly. I sat on a plane next to a professed atheist who pressed his disbelief in God so urgently that I bore my testimony to him. “You are wrong,” I said, “there is a God. I know He lives!”

“He protested, “You don’t know. Nobody knows that! You can’t know it!” When I would not yield, the atheist, who was an attorney, asked perhaps the ultimate question on the subject of testimony. “All right,” he said in a sneering, condescending way, “you say you know. Tell me how you know.

“When I attempted to answer, even though I held advanced academic degrees, I was helpless to communicate….

“When I used the words Spirit and witness, the atheist responded, “I don’t know what you are talking about.” The words prayer, discernment, and faith, were equally meaningless to him. “You see,” he said, “you don’t really know. If you did, you would be able to tell me how you know.”

“I felt, perhaps, that I had borne my testimony to him unwisely and was at a loss as to what to do. Then came the experience! Something came into my mind… and I said to the atheist, “Let me ask if you know what salt tastes like.

” “Of course I do,” was his reply.

” “When did you taste salt last?”

” “I just had dinner on the plane.”

” “You just think you know what salt tastes like,” I said.

“He insisted, “I know what salt tastes like as well as I know anything.”

” “If I gave you a cup of salt and a cup of sugar and let you taste them both, could you tell the salt from the sugar?”

” “Now you are getting juvenile,” was his reply. “Of course I could tell the difference. I know what salt tastes like. It is an everyday experience—I know it as well as I know anything.”

” “Then,” I said, “assuming that I have never tasted salt, explain to me just what it tastes like.”

“After some thought, he ventured, “Well-I-uh, it is not sweet and it is not sour.”

” “You’ve told me what it isn’t, not what it is.”

“After several attempts, of course, he could not do it. He could not convey, in words alone, so ordinary an experience as tasting salt. I bore testimony to him once again and said, “I know there is a God. You ridiculed that testimony and said that if I did know, I would be able to tell you exactly how I know. My friend, spiritually speaking, I have tasted salt. I am no more able to convey to you in words how this knowledge has come than you are to tell me what salt tastes like. But I say to you again, there is a God! He does live! And just because you don’t know, don’t try to tell me that I don’t know, for I do!

“As we parted, I heard him mutter, “I don’t need your religion for a crutch! I don’t need it.”

“From that experience forward, I have never been embarrassed or ashamed that I could not explain in words alone everything I know spiritually. The Apostle Paul said it this way:

” “We speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

” “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:13–14).

Can those who’ve tasted salt convey perfectly that experience to those who haven’t tasted it? No, they can’t. Others would have to taste it for themselves to fully appreciate that experience.

But we can still convey what we feel like when we taste salt, or how we react when we taste salt. These explanations will of course be incomplete, but they will be the best we can do. Talking about my experiences with the Holy Ghost, my experiences receiving revelation, is the same way.

Because TBC, and others like them, criticize me and my Church for our (completely biblical) view of revelation, I can only assume that they have never “tasted salt”. Had they tasted it themselves, they would know exactly what we mean when we talk of our experiences with the Holy Ghost.

How sad it is that TBC and other mainstream Christians have never had the Holy Ghost communicate with them! How tragic that they have never tasted “spiritual salt” in such a way that they can understand what Latter-day Saints say and write!

Yet just as we can help others know how to taste salt if they want to taste it themselves, we can lead others to have their own experiences with the Holy Ghost. I can only hope that one day they accept the invitation to “taste salt” so that they too can experience the wondrous joy that comes from receiving personal revelation.