Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Incorrect Traditions of Our Own Faithful Fathers

What makes Mormons immune from the incorrect traditions of their fathers? Every single early saint was a convert, and converts almost universally struggle to let go fully of the incorrect traditions of their upbringing. So do members who are "born in the covenant" (since all of us carry our own individual perceptions, many of which are not Truth), so why would the early Church be immune from it?


Personally, I believe one of the most important aspects of the first 100-150 years (at least) of the Church's existence was its evolution away from its roots in apostate Protestantism - the pruning of the incorrect traditions (the bitter fruit mentioned explicitly in Jacob's allegory of the olive tree) of their and our fathers. That growth might be mostly complete by now - and it might not. The attendant changes don't bother me a bit, because I can't envision any other pattern that I like - and certainly not a scriptural one.


That's the biggest reason I am unfazed by ever evolving policies and even doctrinal understandings - that I see such change as inevitable, desirable and even necessary as we strive to see through our glasses, a little less darkly than occurred in our collective and individual pasts.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Avoiding Condescension

I have found that very well-educated, very articulate people often speak with a tone of condescension or with a vocabulary that annoys those who hear them.


True story: I used to sell instructional technology to educators. My manager told me one day to lower the cognitive level of what I said to people in that job - that educators tend to feel threatened by those who use words they don’t understand. Likewise, I have found that many average Joe/Jane members are turned off NOT because someone is a scholar, but rather because that person can’t or doesn’t speak their language - because the tone sounds condescending or the statements can’t be understood. There is BIG difference, and it's critical that those who are trying to share concepts that are new to people in the Church recognize that difference.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

An Amazing Lesson on Race: Oh, That We Had Understood and Followed

I was preparing to write a post on fasting for my New Year's Resolution series, but I read a post entitled "Mormon Teachings on Race Relations, 1935" at Keepapitchinin (Ardis Parshall's amazing blog) that I want to use as the foundation for a follow-up to my Repudiating Racism Once and For All post from two weeks ago. I am going to excerpt freely from Ardis' post, with my own commentary following each quote:

"Below is the full text of a lesson taught in the Church’s adult Sunday School classes on August 4, 1935. I do not know the author; the lesson was distributed anonymously with the quarterly “Gospel Messages” leaflet issued by the Deseret Sunday School Union Board, as were all other Sunday School lessons in that era. I haven’t changed a single word, not even the occasional outdated vocabulary."

It is important to emphasize that the following quotes have not been altered at all from when they were published in 1935.

"The problem of getting along with people of different racial origin has been a difficult one of solution from the dawn of history and persists even to the present time. There seems to be some sort of a natural antagonism which exists between peoples of different ancestry. This tendency is stronger when there is a marked physical feature of some sort which distinguishes these races from each other. Thus, the difference in skin color between the white and the black races has always been a barrier between the peoples of these differing colors. The same thing is true in regard to those peoples which we know as the yellow races and the whites and blacks."

This beginning paragraph lays a foundation of "natural antagonism" as the source of racial tension. That is fascinating, since it implies that racism is a consequence of the "natural man" - the enemy of God.

"There has always been a tendency for those of one race to consider themselves superior to people of a different race. This feeling seems as natural as it is for members of most families to think themselves in some manner superior, or individuals to hold similar opinions regarding themselves. Usually, if examined from a purely objective point of view, these claims to superiority are found to be without foundation."

This is an amazing statement for the time - that any feelings of superiority based on race are incorrect and, again, "natural man" tendencies.

"Yet, without the multitude having been aware of the fact, their religion has been used in an attempt to determine a policy in this, as in every other important consideration in life."

Remember, this was published in a General Sunday School lesson - distributed throughout the Church. Wow!

"It is evident that the Jews considered themselves superior to the black people with whom they came in contact, for in their religious writings they tell us how God placed a mark upon the descendants of Cain and his children. And in another place the tradition has the story of the cursing of Ham, the son of Noah. As the result of these cursings, the descendants of these men became dark skinned and the children of Ham were designated as servants to the descendants of other sons of Noah . . . Here we see an indication of an antagonism between the dark skinned and lighter skinned peoples, the latter placing a curse upon the former."


The lesson says that people put the curse on other people and claimed it was of God, NOT that God did so.

"Most of the early Christians were Jews and they brought with them into the new religious group the race prejudices of their own people. Yet Paul explained to them how they had misunderstood their own religion in this regard and he succeeded in leaving the new and growing church the far greater idea of the brotherhood of man in Christ."

This says the expansion of the Gospel by Paul to the Gentiles is a model of how the racial prejudice of his time was overcome - that the prejudice needed to be rooted out by a pure understanding of the Gospel ("good news") of Jesus Christ.

“For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:26)

"No finer declaration of the brotherhood of man can be found than this. Here Paul says in substance: Jesus has given us a new vision of the universal Fatherhood of God. By faith in Jesus you are all the children of the God of Abraham. More, you are the actual descendants of Abraham and all the promises which God has made to Abraham he makes equally to you. God cares nothing for race, He cares nothing for condition of servitude, He cares nothing for sex. All God is interested in is that you follow the teaching of his son, Jesus."


This statement could not have been worded any more forcefully and clearly.

"Joseph Smith is credited with having said that when a man joins the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that he becomes, by so doing, of the “blood of Israel.” It appears that we are justified in concluding from what we have seen that John the Baptist and Paul and Joseph Smith all saw the great truth that actual physical descent, in other words race, is of no importance in the sight of God."


"The brotherhood of man, as springing from the common Fatherhood of God, is the very essence of Christianity. The teaching of Jesus has no place for race hatred, racial distrust, any feeling of racial superiority. The brotherhood of man transcends all lines of color, of race, of family."

Again, no clearer words are possible.

"Christianity holds within it the solution to all our race problems. That solution rests in the mere application of the spirit of the religion of Jesus to all situations which rise."

AMEN, and amen.

Thank you, Ardis, for finding and publishing this lesson. Please, everyone, go to her blog and read the entire lesson.

Oh, that we collectively had understood and followed its simple message.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Elusive Mormon Orthodoxy

With a foundation of continuing revelation, I believe there is relatively little "immutable orthodoxy" when it comes to Mormon doctrine.


Perhaps there is Smithodoxy (Joseph and Joseph Fielding), Prattodoxy (particularly Parley P.), Youngodoxy, Talmageodoxy, McConkiodoxy (makes me laugh just pronouncing it as I type), Nibleyodoxy, Hinckleyodoxy, etc. - but there is almost no orthodoxy on which all "good Mormons" will agree. Things change too much to pin down almost anything as orthodoxy, unless it is defined specifically as what is taught generally at a particular time or by a particular person.


I LOVE THAT; it flummoxes others; it really, really torques off some.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Giving Part of Myself

Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Rings and jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only true gift is a part of thyself."

My sister likes to tell a story about a little boy who walked many miles to give his beloved teacher a beautiful shell. The teacher told him, "I love you for making the effort, but I can't believe you walked all this way to deliver a shell to me." The little boy told her simply, "The long walk is part of the gift."

davidson - Anyone with bread-making expertise?? (Mormon Momma)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Reverence: The Kids Aren't the Issue

I wouldn’t trade having children in our meetings for anything, and, as bluntly as I can put this, they aren’t the problem. The adults are, and I say this from the perspective of quite a few years sitting in front of the chapel looking out over the congregation. Here are a few of my observations:

1) Reverence is not quietude. It is an internal feeling of awe, respect, worship - of "revering" something.

2) Children who see their parents or other adults talking in Sacrament Meeting will learn to talk in Sacrament Meeting. Children who see adults not being respectful and worshipful will learn also to model that behavior. This is particularly disheartening during the actual administration of the sacrament, when awe, respect and reverential worship are the heart of the very purpose for the ordinance.

3) Reverence does include a degree of quietude in situations where quietude is appropriate - like the administration of the sacrament. Children who are not taught to be quiet outside of Sacrament Meeting, as a component of reverence, will not be able to be quiet during Sacrament Meeting. I know my wife and have been blessed with children who do not have difficult issues that make being quiet particularly difficult, but we also took time each week when they were pre-nursery age, at home, to sit with them on our laps for extended periods of time (while reading or talking quietly at first and then simply “thinking”) - specifically to help train them to be able to sit silently during the administration of the sacrament and quietly throughout the service. They aren’t perfect little angels, but they don’t distract from the spirit - even when my wife was alone with all six of them.

4) Parents (or mothers alone) who struggle to control the chaos of a disruptive child and others they simply can’t leave alone need others (adults and/or teenagers) who are willing to ask privately if they can help - either by sitting with the family throughout SM or moving to them when the parent(s) needs to leave with a child. The screaming child isn’t the issue; the mother or father not feeling like s/he can leave is - and that is a problem of lack of service within the congregation. The parent who blithely sits and ignores a screaming child also is much more of a problem than the child, and a parent who chastises in again during a time requiring reverence also is a problem.

5) Many husbands and fathers need to take a few slaps upside the head and stop acting like dealing with the kids in Sacrament Meeting is their wives’ job. There is a heavy dose of repentance necessary for many.

There are more examples I could give, but I believe firmly that the issue is not kids in sacrament meeting but rather adults abrogating their responsibilities for those kids. Jesus said, "Suffer the children to come unto me" - and allowing them to worship with us is one way to help fulfill this request, imo. God bless the parent (usually the mother) who sacrifices a bit of her own peace and sanity in an effort to bring her children to Christ and help them learn to worship Him. NOTHING in this post should be used to make that good brother or sister feel guilty when children still are learning reverence and simply being children.

In our ward now, our last Bishop focused a lot of attention on humbly and gently teaching the adults to take responsibility for reverence in the chapel, especially during the administration of the sacrament. The difference in our ward over the past few years has been nothing short of amazing - even with plenty of children in our midst.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Monday, April 20, 2009

Mountain Meadows Massacre: Every-Day Lessons for Our Time

When the movie “September Dawn” was released a while ago, then when newspaper articles were written about the 150th anniversary of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, I read a few of them - and the comments about them. I quickly stopped doing so, specifically because of what I saw on both sides - the vitriol that came from those who use any excuse to spew bile about the Church, but also the reactions of the Mormons who tried to defend the Church.

What I saw disturbed me deeply.

Each side was lashing out at a perceived threat - one side swinging verbal hay-makers at the Church, and the other side swinging just as energetically back at them. There were no dead bodies - no bullets or other tangible weapons, but these people were reacting essentially in the exact same way that the local members had with the Mountain Meadows Massacre so long ago. There really wasn’t a life-threatening attack on the Church occurring, and there really wasn’t a need for a “counterattack” on the perceived attackers.

I loathe the tactics of the bitter, anti-Mormon crowd, but I am saddened much more over the members who were lashing out in defensiveness over an attack that really wasn’t a serious threat to themselves. When all is said and done, if we don’t learn from history we are destined to repeat it - even if there are no tangible weapons involved in our own "battles".

Matthew 5:44-46 is direct, and it applies to so many situations in our lives:

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Accompanying My Posterity Through the Temple

There is something deeply moving and powerful about the end of the endowment session as you converse with the Lord, but that experience is magnified significantly when your own child (particularly our oldest child) has been endowed that same day with Priesthood power and is behind you waiting to converse with the Lord for the first time.

The man assisting me thought I needed help toward the very end - as I choked up with emotion contemplating the promises pronounced upon my posterity, with part of that posterity standing directly behind me for the first time in my life.

Truly, God is good.

Thank you, Lord.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Focusing on Fasting

I don't have any earth-shattering contributions to document today about my fasting efforts thus far this month. I have learned something about myself, however, that impacts my fasting - and probably explains why I have not been able to have fasting create the experiences it could have at this point in my life:

My mind jumps around all over the place. If I am not focusing on something intently, I tend to forget it - as my mind moves to something else to contemplate.

When it comes to fasting, this has a two-edged negative effect:

1) I tend to lose focus on the purpose of my fast, thus keeping me from contemplating it intently and for an extended period of time;

2) When I lose focus on my fast, it is easy for me to forget that I am fasting - especially now that I am trying to eat less at regular mealtimes and "snack" between regular mealtimes.

I still am working on this resolution, and I have had a couple of good experiences thus far (especially in relation to going to the temple with my oldest son to receive his own endowment), but I have come to realize that this resolution will not be easy for me.

Friday, April 17, 2009

My 300th Post: Acceptable Graven Images

Moroni 7:14 says:

Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.


When one desires so strongly to connect to God that he uses an image or object that appears to represent a prophet or God, and when she is unable to admire or worship without it (that it infringes on the connection that exists without the image or object) then it truly has become a graven image, no matter how harmless or even uplifting the image or object is otherwise.

On the other hand, if it does not interfere with direct worship, I have a hard time labeling it as a graven image. In that case, it simply becomes a religious symbol - and religious symbols are both important and powerful reminders of deeply held faith and commitment. If a friend were to give me a cross, for example, as an expression of their realization of how important Jesus is to my faith, I would have no problem wearing it as a token of that faith - and I would be grateful for the feeling and recognition behind the gift. It certainly would not constitute a graven image in how I would use it.


(Thank you, MH, for prompting me to count my published posts and realize this is #300.)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Long, Lonely Path Utterly Alone

For those of you who missed it, Kevin Barney wrote a wonderful post last week at By Common Consent about Elder Holland's General Conference talk about Easter. Here is the link:

Some Notes on Elder Holland's Conference Talk

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

For All Those Who Struggle In Any Way

Elder Wirthlin's analogy of God's orchestra needing more than just the piccolos to express the full beauty of His creation became an instant favorite of mine the moment he uttered it. I just came across another talk he gave (in the October 2006 General Conference) [Thanks, Paradox.] that touched me just as deeply and brought tears to my eyes as I read it again - and immediately reminded me of all those who struggle in any way, inside or outside the Church.

I hope it touches you as it touched me on this Easter weekend - especially coming from a truly gentle, beautiful apostle of the Master. I miss Elder Wirthlin, and I am confident, for him, Sunday has come.

"Each of us will have our own Fridays--those days when the universe itself seems shattered and the shards of our world lie littered about us in pieces. We all will experience those broken times when it seems we can never be put together again. We will all have our Fridays.

"But I testify to you in the name of the One who conquered death--Sunday will come. In the darkness of our sorrow, Sunday will come.

"No matter our desperation, no matter our grief, Sunday will come. In this life or in the next, Sunday will come."


Joseph B. Wirthlin, "Sunday Will Come," Ensign, Nov. 2006, page 30

If anyone wants to watch the entire talk, the video can be accessed at:

Sunday Will Come (Video)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Gap Between God and Us

"God dealing with us is like a wise, loving super-genius dealing with a bunch of Sunbeam-age kids — except the gap between us and God is infinitely wider." -Bruce Webster in God's Dilemma (Mormon Matters)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Faith, Doubt and Enduring Uncertainty

I believe uncertainty is what empowered every major change in human history that dealt with revolution of some sort - both good and bad. “I'm not sure about . . .” is the starting point for all kinds of ennobling and enabling movements. The only problem, in my opinion, is when “I'm not sure if . . . ” leads to “I doubt that . . . therefore, I can’t . . . until I no longer doubt.”

1) “Faith” is not “knowledge”. It is the substance of things “hoped for” - the evidence of things “not seen”. Faith is based on “hope” - a desire for something that cannot be seen or understood fully. “Certainty” is the end of faith - the desired outcome. It is to be sure of something to such a degree that it is expressed most often in terms of knowledge. “I know this” and “I am certain of this” are seen generally as saying the same thing.

2) On the other hand, “doubt” is not a lack of certainty. It is not a passive lack of belief or faith, but rather an active disbelief. It is expressed as a negative. It is NOT expressed as, “I am not certain of that,” but rather as, “I doubt that is true” - meaning, “I don’t think that is true,” or “I don’t believe that is true.”

3) Faith exists NOT in conjunction with doubt, but rather it functions side-by-side with “uncertainty”. One exercises faith when one is uncertain; one does NOT exercise faith when one doubts. When one doubts s/he actively disbelieves - thus, the one who said he would not believe until he personally had seen and touched was called “Doubting Thomas”. He didn’t say, “I’m not sure.” He said, instead, “I will not believe unless . . .” He could not exercise faith, not because he was uncertain, but rather because he actively doubted.

I get more than a little bit frustrated by the insistence that everyone can know everything, but I have no issue with the idea that faith and doubt cannot co-exist. Faith is the active expression of an internal orientation toward belief; doubt is the active expression of an internal orientation toward disbelief. Therefore, based on a strict parsing of the technical meaning, they can’t co-exist - since they are opposites. However, because we tend to conflate and confuse doubt and uncertainty, I do have an issue with the idea that faith and doubt cannot co-exist IF what the people who say that really mean is that faith and uncertainty cannot co-exist - that if I am uncertain of something, then I lack faith. That is a fundamental misunderstanding of faith.

I would posit that we all must, by definition, exercise faith until we are certain - and then hold onto that previous faith again if we lose certainty. Since none of us can be certain about everything imaginable, every one of us needs faith in something all our lives. If we are certain of everything, I believe we either are ignorant or delusional. What we cannot do, however, is cultivate a doubting spirit. If we never reach an acceptable level of certainty, then we need to accept a life of searching - following whatever principles and people and politics and religion we feel provide us with the highest degree of certainty we can obtain. What we have to avoid is becoming our own version of Doubting Thomas.

Finally, we are told that Jesus experienced everything we possibly can experience - including the crushing weight of being judged to be guilty. That must include doubt (or something similar enough to qualify) if it is to be comprehensive. Generally, we do not associate "doubt" with the Savior and Redeemer of the world (God, the Son) - but, again, doubt means not wanting to believe or accept something. However, there were at least two times when I think it is safe to say that He struggled mightily - because He didn’t understand and didn't want to accept something. (In the Garden, where He asked if the cup could be taken from Him and on the cross when he cried out and asked why His Father had forsaken Him.) In these cases, he seems to have been uncertain about some aspect of the Atonement and, possibly, even doubted temporarily: specifically, if He would be able to do it and then why He had to do it alone at the very end. I hesitate to call those "doubts" - but it might be a fair assessment. I prefer to call it "enduring uncertainty".

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Repudiating Racist Justifications Once and For All

This post is not the typical resolutions post I normally write on Saturday. Unfortunately, yesterday I read once more on a Mormon-themed blog racist justifications for the former Priesthood ban, and, once again, I was nearly sick to my stomach.

THIS MUST STOP!


In order to have a handy place to refer anyone who continues to spout such nonsense, I am quoting here the most blunt statements by our modern apostles and Prophets regarding the ideas that were used in the past to justify the ban. Please, whenever you hear some repeat the nonsense of the past, direct them here to this post.

The most powerful modern prophetic utterances are:

Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley in General Conference, April 2006 - stating the current position regarding racism itself:

Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ. How can any man holding the Melchizedek Priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for the priesthood whereas another who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color is ineligible?

From last year's PBS documentary -

Marlin Jensen:

Q. What is that folklore that troubles people?

A. “The essential idea is that somehow in the life before this life, through some conduct on the part of black people, they were less worthy and had to spend some probationary time waiting then for the priesthood to be given to them. I think it’s that idea that somehow they came here with some inherent disability, spiritually speaking, and that bothers them. It would bother me, too. And I don’t think it’s true. I think those were theories that were advanced, but I don’t think there’s any scriptural or doctrinal justification for them.
Jeffrey R. Holland:

“We don’t pretend that something wasn’t taught or practice wasn’t pursued for whatever reason. But I think we can be unequivocal and we can be declarative in our current literature, in books that we reproduce, in teachings that go forward, whatever, that from this time forward, from 1978 forward, we can make sure that nothing of that is declared. That may be where we still need to make sure that we’re absolutely dutiful, that we put [a] careful eye of scrutiny on anything from earlier writings and teachings, just [to] make sure that that’s not perpetuated in the present. That’s the least, I think, of our current responsibilities on that topic. …
Full text of the issue from that documentary: http://www.pbs.org/mormons/themes/prohibition.html

Elder McConkie:


Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.

We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more.
(”All Are Alike unto God” - BYU devotional - August 18, 1978)

Dallin H. Oaks (in the PBS interview):

I can’t remember any time in my life when I felt greater joy and relief than when I learned that the priesthood was going to be available to all worthy males, whatever their ancestry. I had been troubled by this subject through college and my graduate school, at the University of Chicago where I went to law school. I had many black acquaintances when I lived in Chicago, the years ’54 through ’71. I had many times that my heart ached for that, and it ached for my Church, which I knew to be true and yet blessings of that Church were not available to a significant segment of our Heavenly Father’s children. And I didn’t understand why; I couldn’t identify with any of the explanations that were given. Yet I sustained the action; I was confident that in the time of the Lord I would know more about it, so I went along on faith.
http://newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/background-information/elder-dallin-h-oaks-reaction-to-priesthood-revelation
Interview with Associated Press, in Daily Herald, Provo, Utah, 5 June 1988:

Some people put reasons to [the ban] and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong. There is a lesson in that…. The lesson I’ve drawn from that, I decided a long time ago that I had faith in the command and I had no faith in the reasons that had been suggested for it.
…I’m referring to reasons given by general authorities and reasons elaborated upon [those reasons] by others. The whole set of reasons seemed to me to be unnecessary risk taking.

…Let’s [not] make the mistake that’s been made in the past, here and in other areas, trying to put reasons to revelation. The reasons turn out to be man-made to a great extent.

More from Elder Holland in the PBS interview:


One clear-cut position is that the folklore must never be perpetuated. … I have to concede to my earlier colleagues. … They, I’m sure, in their own way, were doing the best they knew to give shape to [the policy], to give context for it, to give even history to it. All I can say is however well intended the explanations were, I think almost all of them were inadequate and/or wrong. …

It probably would have been advantageous to say nothing, to say we just don’t know, and, [as] with many religious matters, whatever was being done was done on the basis of faith at that time. But some explanations were given and had been given for a lot of years. … At the very least, there should be no effort to perpetuate those efforts to explain why that doctrine existed. I think, to the extent that I know anything about it, as one of the newer and younger ones to come along, … we simply do not know why that practice, that policy, that doctrine was in place.
http://www.pbs.org/mormons/interviews/holland.html

Pres. McKay in 1954:


There is not now, and there never has been a doctrine in this church that the negroes 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.
(“David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism”)


As Elder Holland said so clearly, "At the very least, there should be no effort to perpetuate those efforts to explain why that doctrine existed."


I think it's interesting to realize that Elder Holland's statements "at the very least" and "the least that we can do" imply quite strongly that there is more we can do. I believe that the "more we can do" includes opening our hearts, minds, homes and church worship to ALL, regardless of race or ethnicity - or religious ideology or any other segregating factor. I think we need to be "no respecters of persons". 


[Postscript - 2012]

 In response to an article in the Washington Post in which a BYU Religion professor was quoted about the justifications for the ban, the LDS Church released the following press release:

The gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone. The Book of Mormon states, “black and white, bond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33). This is the Church’s official teaching.

People of all races have always been welcomed and baptized into the Church since its beginning. In fact, by the end of his life in 1844 Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, opposed slavery. During this time some black males were ordained to the priesthood. At some point the Church stopped ordaining male members of African descent, although there were a few exceptions. It is not known precisely why, how or when this restriction began in the Church, but it has ended. Church leaders sought divine guidance regarding the issue and more than three decades ago extended the priesthood to all worthy male members. The Church immediately began ordaining members to priesthood offices wherever they attended throughout the world.

The Church unequivocally condemns racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church. In 2006, then Church president Gordon B. Hinckley declared that “no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church. Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.”

Recently, the Church has also made the following statement on this subject:

“The origins of priesthood availability are not entirely clear. Some explanations with respect to this matter were made in the absence of direct revelation and references to these explanations are sometimes cited in publications. These previous personal statements do not represent Church doctrine.”  (http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/race-church)  

Given the totality of what has been said, especially with Pres. Hinckley's General Conference talk and the 2012 statement from the Church, there is NO excuse for ANY member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to continue to believe or spout the racist justifications for the Priesthood ban.  Period.

[Postscript - December 6, 2013]

The Church just added a statement in its online newsroom section, under the title "Race and the Priesthood".  The following are the excerpts that are most relevant to this post: 

The Church was established in 1830, during an era of great racial division in the United States. At the time, many people of African descent lived in slavery, and racial distinctions and prejudice were not just common but customary among white Americans. Those realities, though unfamiliar and disturbing today, influenced all aspects of people’s lives, including their religion. 

There is no evidence that any black men were denied the priesthood during Joseph Smith’s lifetime. 

In 1852, President Brigham Young publicly announced that men of black African descent could no longer be ordained to the priesthood, though thereafter blacks continued to join the Church through baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. Following the death of Brigham Young, subsequent Church presidents restricted blacks from receiving the temple endowment or being married in the temple. Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church. 

Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.

Friday, April 10, 2009

"Christian" or "Mormon" as a Curse

I really don’t care in the end whether someone says they are Christian or not. I care only if they try to live in accordance with what Jesus taught and how he lived - living to the best of their own understanding and ability. I prefer the Buddhist or Muslim who is living a “Christian life” to the Christian who is not striving to do so - even if that Christian is Mormon.

Arguments over being called Christian are too much like, “We have Abraham for our father,” for me. Nearly always it carries a “therefore I am saved while you are damned” implication that is the real un-Christian statement. That goes beyond just giving offense. In other words, if “Mormon” functions as a curse from someone's lips, in the true scriptural sense of the word, it’s wrong and un-Christian; if “Christian” functions as a curse from our lips, it is just as wrong and un-Christian.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Happiness Defined

"Maybe happiness is this: not feeling like you should be elsewhere, doing something else, being someone else."

Eric Weiner - "The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World"

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Praise to the Man: Not Praying to Jesus through Dave

It is understandable for Protestants to mistakenly think we worship Joseph Smith when they hear the words "Praise to the Man" in the context of their use of the word “praise” - but I think it is ludicrous to interpret it that way when our actual beliefs are known. Individuals (even Mormons) carry their respect for other people too far all the time - but it happens for athletes and politicians and writers and artists and actors and popes and reformers and televangelists ad infinitum - and, often, that borders on true idolatry much more than 99% of the Mormons do with Joseph.


A quick, though tangential, example: I attended a Fellowship of Christian Students school year kick-off rally when I was a teacher in Alabama. I and a Baptist coach co-sponsored the group. At one point in the rally, the spokesman, a young evangelical youth minister named Dave, asked everyone to bow their heads, close their eyes and join him in prayer. In the middle of the pep talk/prayer, I heard these words, "Now, everyone here who wants to commit themselves to Jesus, raise your hands and say, 'DAVE, I commit myself to Jesus.'" He asked those kids to address him (Dave) in the middle of a "prayer" and make their promise to him (Dave) in prayer. That might not be idolatry in the classic sense, but it is much closer in actual format than singing a hymn of praise (not worship) to a martyred prophet.


Furthermore, I immediately opened my eyes and refused to participate further. I looked around the room, and there were other youth ministers standing along the perimeter - during the "prayer" - with pen and paper in hand, writing the names of anyone who did not raise their hand and commit themselves to Jesus.


I prefer to pay tribute in song to a fallen prophet.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

No Death After the Fall (Like a Banshee on Speed)

Some Days You Just Need to Crawl Back Into Bed and Press Reboot - Heather O. (Mormon Mommy Wars)

NOTE: The title of this post is a riff on the event that triggered the original post + Heather's further description in comment #5.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Blogging About What Is Commanded To Be Done In Secret

My resolution for April is to fast more fervently, at least weekly during this month. It is taken from Matthew 6: 16-18, which says:

16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;
18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.


What struck me first about this passage is that there is NO definition of fasting or guidance regarding the purpose of fasting. In fact, there really is no direct relationship with my actual resolution for this month. Instead, this passage deals strictly with how someone ACTS while fasting - with a reference to how that impacts the RESULT of proper fasting. Therefore, simply to set the stage for why I chose my actual resolution, I want to focus first on the actual message of this passage - then explain why I chose to structure my resolution as I did. Finally, I will add a note about the timing of this resolution, since I have been blown away more than once since I started this process in January 2008 by how the circumstances of my life have reflected a direct need for the exact resolution that was scheduled in advance. (See, for example, Our Father Knows Us Better Than We Realize.) I have felt the Lord's inspiration and guiding hand in this process, and this month is another example of that wonder.

1) The central message of Matthew 6: 16-18 seems to be that fasting is a deeply personal thing, not to be undertaken in public in order to "be seen of men" - that those things that are done for praise will be rewarded by receiving praise from other mortals, not from God. Since we combine fasting and prayer so intimately in our day and age, I automatically think of the admonition to pray in secret, as well - not to pray for public recognition. There is, however, an interesting aspect of Mormon worship that I have never considered previously in light of this passage - that of our communally organized fasts and fast & testimony meetings.

I believe in and support fully the concept of communal fasts and the payment of fast offerings - and the concept of fast and testimony meeting. However, what hit me today is that, in order to internalize this passage and resolution fully, I must move beyond fasting ONLY during these organized fasts and do so at other times on an individual level. I must fast "in secret" as well as in unity with my congregation of saints.

2) I restructured my resolution specifically to be able to focus on the earnestness with which I fast. In all honesty, I have no problem going without food and water for 24 hours - as long as it is not readily available. Fasting has never caused me extreme discomfort, and it has never been a health risk of any kind. Although I love good food, I never have struggled in this regard, but, perhaps because the physical aspect of fasting is so easy for me, I have not learned to fast with the type of sincerity and purpose that I should have by now. I believe that will happen only through more focused, sincere effort.

3) Finally, I have a more obvious reason to fast this month with real intent and earnestness than I have had for some time. Having said that, I understand the irony of blogging about something that is commanded to be done "in secret". Therefore, I will not be sharing any details about the specific purposes or "results" of my fasting this month. Rather, I will focus strictly on what I learn from the process.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Am I a Christian? Do You Care?

I believe I am Christian to the core - passionately and deeply. However, frankly, if “Christian” means follower and worshiper of Christ ONLY, I’ll opt out. If it requires the elimination of the Father as a real and separate and distinct Being, I don’t want the term. I’ll settle for disciple or follower of Christ or believer in Christ, the Only Begotten Son of the Living God. I’ll stick with an explanation of my beliefs, rather than a nickname.

If someone says, “Are you a Christian?” I will answer, “Do you care? I think so, but lots of others don’t. Do you really want to hear what I believe and decide for yourself?

I have lived in the Deep South and, after leaving a room at work, had "the spirit of the serpent that is among us" exorcised from that room. I understand the bigotry and the harm it causes. I just think "turn the other cheek" and "forgive seventy times seven" have much broader application than we often realize. If we will be known ultimately by our fruits, I believe that's a good place to start - refusing to take offense, returning a smile when we receive bile and, through that example, letting our light so shine. That probably wasn't an available luxury back when persecution was inflicted via gunpowder and tar, but when persecution usually manifests itself verbally, I think it's the proper course.


I think, fundamentally, it's judgmental and un-Christian to call us "not Christian" - but I don't think it's worth fighting about. I'll settle for "teach(ing) them correct principles and let(ting) them govern themselves" - exactly what I want them to do for me. If I have to give up "Christian" and stick with Son of God, the Eternal Father, I'm ok with that. That's the heart of the Restored Gospel anyway, in my opinion, so if I have to be identified with the Father when mainstream Christianity excludes me from their identification with the Son, so be it. I'll aim for the Celestial Kingdom rather than the Terrestrial Kingdom - since that's what each of us teaches in the first place.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Something of Importance to Remember

We all are blind to our own blindspots - ALL of us.

Creative Thinking Inside the Box

Relics - Jonathan Green (Times & Seasons)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

More Marriage Randomness

I’m one of those who wouldn’t call my own marriage hard work, because I married someone with whom I just seem to fit perfectly (the ancient concept of split-aparts), but I would say it still requires constant awareness of my wife’s moods and needs - particularly in moments and times of increased stress, distraction and/or fatigue. It means I have to think about her (both qualitatively and quantitatively) more than anyone else - including myself. For many people, it really does feel like hard work, and if my own “awareness” needs to be translated as “hard work” to resonate and motivate someone else, I am perfectly fine with that wording.