Mitt, if you read this, stay in the race


Ken Jennings recently wrote an opinion piece in the New York Daily News. If you’ll recall Ken Jennings is the Latter-day Saint who became somewhat famous after winning over two and a half million dollars on Jeopardy in 2004. He suggests that the only way to get Mormonism out of the race is for Mitt Romney to withdraw. That makes sense but I hope he doesn’t.

Mitt, if you read this, please stay in the race, all the way to the end. Being the smart man that you are, I’m sure you can appreciate how much good you are doing by being in the race. I believe the Church is receiving more attention than it ever has because you are running for the office of the President of the United States. Thank you Mitt Romney.

If Mitt Romney is elected to the office, it will restore my hope in the decency of the people of America. If not, it will only confirm what I have long suspected, that we are on a long slow slide to dissolution as a great nation. Don’t get me wrong. I love America and appreciate the benefits and blessings of living in this great land.

But win or lose, it is amazing to see the number of articles about the church in recent months. Yes, I agree with Ken that a lot of them are negative and full of lies, but hey, we are used to that, aren’t we? Ken points out two specifics that are particularly troubling lately – the sly innuendo by Mike Huckabee about Jesus and the devil being brothers and the tirade by Lawrence O’Donnell.

I wrote about this previously but I loved Ken’s response: “The truth, Huck, is that Mormons believe that God is the Father of us all, which does, I guess, in some sense, make Jesus and Satan brothers. And by the same logic, we also believe that Moses and Orville Redenbacher and Attila the Hun and Neil Diamond are brothers. Happy now?”

The opinion piece made big news in Utah, where a writeup of the column was the most popular news item for a few hours today on the Deseret News Web site. I am glad that Ken is speaking up. He is a high profile Latter-day Saint and is doing a good job of using his celebrity status. Thank you Ken. Well done. Those were good explanations offered.

The race for the office of the President to the United States really is a popularity contest, isn’t it? We vote for the man or woman who we think most represents us or who we feel can best lead the nation today. I’m still convinced that both Mitt represents me well and can do the best job of leading the nation. But will America feel the same way? I wonder.

What do you think? Should Mitt drop out of the race like Ken Jennings suggests? I agree that will probably stop the pundits from saying stupid things about Mormons. Do you feel as I do that no matter what they say, the attention helps bring the church more into the light?

Sharing the gospel using the new media


Once again, Elder Ballard drives home the message that using the new media to share the gospel is not only acceptable but encouraged of the members of the church. I am particularly interested in the new media because of my involvement in the Internet. Web development and social networking is such a major part of my everyday work.

I first created a Web site in early 1995, just after the White House went online (Oct 94) and a year or two before the church created an official web site. My interests in using the Internet and the web have not changed much since that first web site done in raw HTML 1.0. It was plain text with a few links – it did not even have photos.

And what did I post on my first Web site? Why links to other early church news junkies like myself of course. We were part of the first LDS email lists and discussed many topics of interest to fledgling web developers. In addition to discussing how to make our Web sites more attractive and functional we discussed LDS news.

Like my first site of LDS-related links, many if not most of those early Web sites and long since disappeared (Whatever happened to John Redelfs, the Iron Rodder of Alaska? Update: John is actively blogging again after a six-month respite). I still occasionally find a post or an updated page from some of the early contributors to the discussion. We had doubters, lurkers, iron-rodders and flamers even then – no different from most discussions today.

Yesterday, at the BYU Hawaii graduation, Elder Ballard encouraged members of the church, especially these new graduates of a church-sponsored educational institution to use the new media to share the gospel. Elder Ballard asked the students to “join the conversation by participating on the Internet, particularly the New Media, to share the gospel and to explain in simple and clear terms the message of the Restoration.”

Said he, “How different your world is today. If you read newspapers, the chances are you read them on the Internet. Yours is the world of cyberspace, cell phones that capture video, video downloads and iTunes, social networks like Facebook, text messaging and blogs, hand-helds and podcasts. As many in my generation are just getting onto email, that’s already becoming old hat to most of you.”

Elder Ballard taught that the new media fosters conversations about the church like never before. “That word conversation is important. There are conversations going on about the Church constantly. Those conversations will continue whether or not we choose to participate in them. But we cannot stand on the sidelines while others, including our critics, attempt to define what the Church teaches.”

In other words, we need to get involved – to post replies to misleading statements and questions on the thousands of news sites out there that are now open to our input. Our voice and position as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can and should be heard. Elder Ballard said we should consider sharing our views on blogs, responding to online news reports, and using new media in other ways.

“Most of you already know that if you have access to the Internet you can start a blog in minutes and begin sharing what you know to be true. You can download videos from Church and other appropriate sites, including Newsroom at LDS.org, and send them to your friends. You can write to media sites on the Internet that report on the Church, and voice your views as to the accuracy of the reports.”

“Recently, a columnist, writing in a major U.S. newspaper, was irresponsibly inaccurate in his description of the Church and our beliefs and practices. Dozens, perhaps even hundreds of Church members and others who understand our beliefs commented on the newspaper’s website correcting the misconceptions he was spreading and calling for accuracy.” We can make a difference in this world of the new media.

“Far too many people have a poor understanding of the Church because most of the information they hear about us is from news media reports that are often driven by controversies. Too much attention to controversy has a negative impact on peoples’ perceptions of what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints really is.” Our voices can be the positive ones that need to be offered in contrast to the shrill and inaccurate voices of those who do not understand us.

There are now hundreds, no thousands of Web site and blogs run by members of the church, most of them positive. But I am concerned that some of my fellow members of the church who use blogs to air their grievances about some doctrine or practice they do not understand or agree with are not thinking long-term. Long after they have resolved their own doubts or concerns, their electronic diatribes remain forever available to be read by anyone.

Update: I love this comment from Ben Crowder who makes it very clear: “If you didn’t catch it, that’s an official endorsement of blogging (and Facebook et al.) by an apostle. :) Granted, he’s specifically talking about missionary work, but I don’t think that means every post you write has to be straight from Preach My Gospel. If we’re true to who we are, the gospel will shine through us even when we’re talking about non-Church topics. There are many, many ways to share the gospel.”

What do you think? Is it OK to say whatever you want about your views of the church and the doctrine because that is part of freedom of speech, or do we need to be more careful with what we write and leave for posterity on this new media?

The Ron Paul – Mitt Romney poll in Meridian magazine


So I was on the phone walking one of my associates at work through a printer install when I hear a knock at the door. I work from home most of my work week. The boss is very kind that way. There stands a neighbor with a Ron Paul hat on.

‘Nice hat,” I say.

“Thanks. That’s why I’m here.”

“Oh? You’re selling Ron Paul hats?”

“No. I’m a volunteer and we’re visiting Republicans in our neighborhoods to get the word out about Ron Paul.”

“Oh,” I replied, “I’ve read a lot about him – mostly from Digg articles.”

My neighbor Lance is now animated. “You’re on Digg? What’s your profile name?”

I tell him and we continue our conversation. I congratulate him on his grass roots activity. We both lament on the state of affairs in our nation and he gives me some Ron Paul literature. Nice material. But what impresses me more is the idea of neighbors visiting neighbors to ask them to read up on their candidate of choice. This is real grass roots political activity at its best.

One of those Digg articles I missed is this one on Meridian magazine’s Web site. It’s a straw poll asking which of the Republican candidates would be your choice if you were voting today. Now Meridian magazine is an LDS-oriented publication and Web site. You would think that the results would show that Mitt Romney would be the clear leader.

Guess again. I suspect that because Ron Paul supporters are incredibly tech savvy that they got the word out and the survey got an uncharacteristically skewed response. Of course, that then became a news article in itself – more Mormons voted for Ron Paul than voted for Mitt Romney. Somehow I just don’t think that is accurate but I can’t prove it.

By the way, after extensive review of the Ron Paul Web site and the Wikipedia Ron Paul entry (very well done guys) and the Ron Paul YouTube page and the Ron Paul Paul MySpace page, I like what I read. Now what differentiates Mitt Romney from Ron Paul? Who could represent the people better and lead this nation better than the other?

What do you think? Are there more Ron Paul supporters among the Mormons than there are Mitt Romney supporters?

It’s all in the way the question is asked


I was wondering when stuff like this would come up. Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and an ordained Southern Baptist minister who happens to be running for President of the United States asked of Mitt Romney’s religion, “Don’t Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?” Mitt also happens to be campaigning for the office of the President of the United States.

The AP writer, Libby Quaid did a good job of elaborating on the question and offering an explanation. She both quoted from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism and got a quote from a church spokesperson in public affairs. I guess the Encyclopedia of Mormonism has become a semi-authoritative source, since it was published by BYU and Macmillan under contract. Apostles quote from it in General Conference.

Of course the best authoritative source for explaining Mormon doctrine is the conference report, which contains the words of the prophets and apostles, when they are speaking in an official capacity. It is certainly not from ‘Mormon Doctrine’ originally written by Elder Bruce R McConkie back in the 1950′s. It is also not the Journal of Discourses, which did not always contain accurate quotes.

“We believe, as other Christians believe and as Paul wrote, that God is the father of all,” said the spokeswoman, Kim Farah. “That means that all beings were created by God and are his spirit children. Christ, on the other hand, was the only begotten in the flesh and we worship him as the son of God and the savior of mankind. Satan is the exact opposite of who Christ is and what he stands for.” I like that explanation.

When another reporter asked Mitt Romney to answer the question he refused saying that Church leaders had already done a good job of doing so. He said, “Attacking someone’s religion is really going too far. It’s just not the American way, and I think people will reject that. I don’t believe that the people of this country are going to choose a person based on their faith and what church they go to.”

I believe Mike Huckabee’s question shows the basic tactic of a dishonest attack. It has all the elements of FUD – fear, uncertainty and doubt. If one has never considered the question before and does not understand the underlying doctrine that God created everything then it can be a shocking thing to consider. Mitt is right. The question does not belong in a presidential campaign.

What do you think? Was it a fair question? What do you think was the intent of the question?

The influence of the adversary today


I would like to expand upon a theme I touched upon in my previous post. It has to do with the influence of the adversary in the lives of troubled teens and others who do outrageous things. Do you remember a survey from a few years back in which people were asked about their belief in the reality of Satan and his influence in our lives today?

If I remember correctly, less than half of the respondents admitted to believing that Satan or Lucifer was real. In fact, wasn’t there a similar survey taken among members of the LDS church with results that were almost as astonishing? Ah, yes, here is the article from a 2001 Deseret News story. I remember that survey because it stood out like a sore thumb to me.

The thing that surprised me most about the article was the fact that 41% of the members of the LDS Church do not believe that the devil is a real person. What? Wow! I find that astonishing. In fact, to quote Melanie Cooper as she wrote about it in About.com: Latter-day Saints, “The last time I checked, this was a basic doctrine of the Church. A no brainer.” Hello! Well, yeah!

Didn’t President Faust address this topic in the January 2007 Ensign? It’s good to know that my memory isn’t failing me yet. He provides us good advice as we consider this topic, “I approach this prayerfully, because Satan is not an enlightening subject.” And, “It is not good practice to become intrigued by Satan and his mysteries. No good can come from getting close to evil.”

Of course he was referring to the importance of avoiding the fascination of the Satan culture, not the idea of understanding his devices. We need to be informed and forewarned about how the adversary works in our lives so we can avoid the pitfalls that he places before us. There is no doubt in my mind that the devil is a real being for I have experienced his power firsthand.

Further quoting President Faust, “President Brigham Young said that it is important to ‘study…evil, and its consequences.’ Since Satan is the author of all the evil in the world, it is essential therefore to realize that he is the influence behind the opposition to the work of God. Alma stated the issue succinctly: “Whatsoever is good cometh from God, and whatsoever is evil cometh from the devil.””

I remember buying a book about this subject from my local LDS book store a few years back. Gosh, it’s been twenty years. It is entitled, “Overcoming Satan in the Latter Days” and it was written by Timothy Wood. It contains some eye-opening stuff but it did not do well. Why? Perhaps it’s because such a large number of people still do not believe in the reality of Satan.

You know it’s not a popular subject when even the new video of the Joseph Smith story the church distributed recently excludes the scenes where Joseph Smith tells of his struggle with the adversary just before he received the First Vision in the Spring of 1820. I attribute that omission to the fact that it probably raises too many questions that detract from the message.

“I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction…I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being.” – Joseph Smith History 1:15-16

What do you think? Is Satan real? Is his influence still felt today, especially in the lives of troubled teens who decide to takes the lives of others around them by violence?

Choices in spite of difficult circumstances


I just have to comment on the tragedy in Omaha the other day. It was a horrible thing to have a young 19-year-old man take the lives of eight others before taking his own. Any mass murder and suicide is an awful thing to hear about. It is a reminder of the Columbine killings and other tragedies where troubled young men committed horrific crimes.

But I have to ask, why do I not read anything in the news reports where someone questioned if maybe the adversary might have had something to do with what happened? Is that just not considered politically correct? We read the news reports searching for explanations. Numerous people are interviewed from the young man’s life for their viewpoints.

We want to know. What went wrong? What could have been done to help this young man before it grew too late? He was in and out of foster homes, had threatened to kill his stepmother, was a known drug user and could not hold a job. I doubt he did well in school. What is it about young men who feel like failures and misfits that causes them to take it out on society?

Was there any religious influence in his life? Wasn’t he ever exposed to the principles of faith and of forgiveness, of service to others and of working hard to get an education and provide for a future family? Are those good Christian values or good American values or just basic good human values? Don’t we all value happiness that comes from education and hard work?

Have we become so tolerant of drug use in America that we don’t see it for what it really is – the adversary’s plan to destroy young men and keep them from fulfilling their true potential in life? “Oh, it’s just a little marijuana,” you may say. It’s no worse than drinking a beer or two after work. Really? Try telling that to the families of the people this young man killed.

Now I know that not everybody who smokes marijuana is going to go out and kill a bunch of innocent people at a shopping mall. And I know that there are a lot of people who lead perfectly normal and acceptable lives who smoke marijuana or drink beer. But haven’t we had enough examples of what can happen to young men who go down this route?

We are taught that life is all about making choices and I know that is true. We all have our agency. We can choose to do what we want, to listen to whom we want, to believe what we want and to live our lives the way we want. But isn’t it clear and obvious by the way some of these young men have chosen to live their lives that the end result is not a happy one?

Can we say that it’s not his fault? He had a broken home environment or he had learning disabilities or he fell in with the wrong kind of friends. He was depressed, his girlfriend dumped him, he was in trouble with the law, he was introverted, he was troubled, he was a ‘lost puppy’, he had ADD, he did poorly in school, he had a drinking problem and the list goes on and on.

Those are just excuses and our efforts to try to understand or explain away what happened. Hey, the bottom line is that this guy listened to the voice of the adversary whispering in his ear so long that he decided to believe it and acted upon it when it told him to kill. Robert Hawkins was responsible for his own actions and he didn’t have to do what he did. He had a choice.

One of the things that Robert Hawkins wrote in his suicide note was, “I can’t take this meaningless existence anymore. I’ve been a constant disappointment and that trend would have only continued.” One of the effects of heavy marijuana use is that it saps any enjoyment of life. To those who are heavy users of the drug, it seems that life has no purpose or meaning.

What do you think? Can we explain away this terrible tragedy as the actions of someone with mental illness, charge it to the ills of society and all that he suffered or was Robert Hawkins responsible for what he did because he listened to the promptings of the adversary?

Mormons and mainstream America


Of all the commentary on Mitt’s ‘religion’ speech today, I like this one from Patrick Buchanan. He called it “a splendid and moving defense of his faith and beliefs.” While declaring, “I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause and no one interest,” he did not back away an inch from his Mormon faith.

He also said, “Each religion has it own unique doctrines and history. These are not bases for criticism but rather a test of our tolerance. Religious tolerance would be a shallow principle if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree.” As Pat Buchanan commented, “Surely that is right.”

Another article I liked was one in which Elder Ballard responded to the charge of the church influencing public policy in this AP article. I don’t know why this is such a big concern of the evangelical crowd out there. It seems ludicrous that a Mormon who may become elected president would take policy direction from the leaders of the church.

Jennifer Dobner from the Deseret News, whose article I commented on yesterday wrote, “Evangelical concerns that the Mormon belief in continuing revelation could somehow threaten the country by influencing public policies are overblown, Ballard said. Revelation, he said, is most often experienced as a simple answer to a prayer.”

Saying that we’re going to have to agree to disagree on theological questions about God, Elder Ballard said, “They’re locked into the Nicene Creed . . . We’re locked into the restoration and the experiences of Joseph Smith, and that will undoubtedly be an issue until God himself comes.” We will keep talking about our faith, hoping to bridge the gap by sharing our beliefs.

For all their differences, Mormons have a lot in common with other churches, Elder Ballard said. He said he’d like to see all faiths work together to preserve shared values and grow in mutual understanding. Some of those shared values are a love of truth, of peace, family, education, freedom, honesty, service, faith, healthy lifestyles and many, many more.

What do you think? Do Mormons have a lot in common with most of Americans today?

The Church in the news – impacting public policy


An AP writer wrote a great article on the church today. If Mitt Romney has done nothing else, he sure has focused attention on the LDS church. In the past I have sometimes been outraged by the poor reporting the church has received. Articles have been full of misconceptions, stereotypes and outright falsehoods.

For the most part, the press coverage on the church during this campaign has been favorable. This article is a good example. For example, Jennifer Dobner, the AP writer, quotes Richard Mouw, head of the Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena CA: “Mormons believe that God and humans are of the same species. In our eyes they have tried to bridge that gap in ways that really is a fundamental violation.”

What a great quote that invites discussion. What is the ‘fundamental violation’ to which Mr Mouw is referring? A violation of what – somebody’s idea of God? Surely not the Bible’s. God is our Father in Heaven. He is the Father of our spirits. That means we are the ‘same species.’ What’s so hard about that? We are his spirit children and children grow up to be like their parents – but that’s a discussion for a different day.

The Savior made that clear so often as he taught. So did Paul in Hebrews 12:9: “Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?” And Malachi 2:10: “Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us? why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers?”

No wonder this is such a favorable article. Jennifer Dobner is an employee of The Deseret News which is owned by the LDS Church. That’s OK. The article still invites discussion because of the great quotes from others who do not share some of our doctrinal viewpoints. For example, she quotes Randall Balmar, professor of religion at Columbia University.

Referring to the Book of Mormon he said, “Here you’ve got an additional testament of Jesus Christ and a source of continuing, authoritative revelation. It simply rubs evangelicals the wrong way.” Yep, the Book of Mormon sure sets us apart from most other Christian religions. But it sure is good evidence that speaks for itself. I like the fact that he referred to it as ‘an additional testament of Jesus Christ.”

I assume the ‘source of continuing authoritative revelation’ he is referring to is modern-day prophets and apostles who speak for the Lord by virtue of the priesthood and their callings. That’s a great place to lead a discussion because that is also a major difference between the LDS Church and all others. We have the apostles and prophets who claim authority from God to speak in His name.

These are bold declarations. I wonder how much Mitt will touch on in his speech tomorrow. It will probably contain very little doctrine and focus more on the role of religion in guiding the candidate and potential future president of the United States. To quote Richard Mouw again, “a lot of people worry that a church with a very strong authority center could influence a public leader by suddenly getting a new revelation that has an impact on public policy.”

What do you think? What are the chances of ‘new revelation’ impacting public policy?

Mitt Romney to give ‘The Speech’


Governor Mitt Romney will deliver a much-anticipated speech on religious faith at the George H. W. Bush library on Thursday. Romney’s Mormon faith has been an underlying theme of his presidential candidacy but, until today, it has been an area he and his campaign have shied away from addressing directly.

“This speech is an opportunity for Governor Romney to share his views on religious liberty, the grand tradition religious tolerance has played in the progress of our nation and how the governor’s own faith would inform his Presidency if he were elected,” said Romney spokesman Kevin Madden in a statement released this evening.

Throughout this campaign year, Romney has frequently been asked whether he would address his faith directly. Many evangelical Christians view the Mormon Church, officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, critically. And voters in general have expressed hesitance about voting for a presidential candidate who subscribes to that faith.

Last June, 43 percent of registered voters in a CBS News poll said they would not vote for a presidential candidate who is Mormon. Romney has frequently been asked whether he would consider delivering a speech about his faith along the lines of the address John F. Kennedy gave when his Catholic faith provoked a similar discussion in the 1960 presidential campaign.

When asked about the possibility of giving such a speech by CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer last month, Romney replied, “I probably could never do something that would compare to what John F. Kennedy did – his was a masterpiece in American political history.”

Romney continued, “Maybe there’s a time when I talk mostly about religion. Although, I don’t know, at this stage I’m getting good support across the country, people want to know a bit … a bit about my faith. They learn a bit about it, and they’ll say, ‘OK, that’s fine, now what do you think about the jihad? What do you think about being competitive with China? How can you fix your schools? What’re you going to do about health care?’ And those issues overtake any differences with regards to religion they might see.”

The speech comes at a moment in the campaign when Romney’s once-dominant lead in Iowa has eroded. He trails former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, in the most recent poll in the first-in-the-nation caucus. Social conservatives in Iowa, who wield plenty of influence in the caucuses, seem to have vacillated between candidates like Romney and Fred Thompson but appear to be coalescing around Huckabee.

Romney’s decision to address his faith directly looks to be an attempt to soothe evangelicals who may be having second thoughts. “Governor Romney understands that faith is an important issue to many Americans, and he personally feels this moment is the right moment for him to share his views with the nation,” Madden said in his statement. For Romney, it is a crucial moment in the campaign, one which will put his faith under the kind of spotlight he has sought to avoid until now.

Source: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/12/02/politics/printable3564183.shtml

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