Archive for April 2008
Some people hate rules. I love them. I like to know what the boundaries are. You may ask yourself, “Who has the right to set rules or boundaries in my life?” Of course, you really can’t have a discussion about rules without reaching to the ultimate source of rules. For me, that source of boundaries and rules is God.
My faith provides safe boundaries
I was raised in an environment of faith. I won’t say it was a religious environment because it wasn’t like I was living in a monastery or a church. It was the home of my parents. I lived with four sisters and one brother. Mother read Bible stories to us many evenings as we were growing up. We also had family prayer in our home.
Besides reading the Bible together, we went to church each week. I was familiar with the story of the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament, and the golden rule as taught by Jesus in the New Testament. The idea of commandments or rules for living has never been foreign to me. They have always been a part of my life.
The rules of society
Society is based on rules. We have the rules of the road, of course. The rules of living in a city include taking out your trash, keeping your music quiet after ten o’clock at night and picking up poop left behind by your dog in the park. Without rules, we have no reasonable expectations of common courtesy or social order.
There are those who advocate no rules. They believe in chaos. They also promote civic disobedience as a way of protesting something that bothers them. They call themselves activists or anarchists. Sometimes they define themselves simply as contrarians. For the most part, they strongly protest rules in acceptable behavior.
The rule of law
Governments are established by the people to create laws and enforce them. Here in the United States we are both a democracy and a republic. We, the people have a say in the laws that are passed. We get to vote on them. If we don’t like a law, we can vote to have it repealed. We are also represented by others in government.
Because our society is long entrenched and established, anarchists, many activists and some contrarians do not feel that their voice is heard. They do not like the way things are going. They do not like the corruption they see in government and feel like they have lost and are losing more and more of their individual freedoms.
Am I becoming a Libertarian?
Knowing my religious upbringing, you may be surprised to learn that I agree with many of these contrarians and activists. I do not agree with the methods of the anarchist but I do agree with their objections to the amount of power and control we have given to our government. It has simply grown too big and intrusive.
I am beginning to think that I must be a libertarian. Can I be a libertarian and still be a Republican and a conservative? Does this mean I should vote for Ron Paul? With Mitt Romney out of the running I’m kind of lost. I don’t think John McCain represents my conservative views. And what if Mitt becomes John McCain’s running mate?
A fragile economy
I believe that conditions are coming about that will soon cause a breakdown in the fabric of our society. I do not know if the catalyst of that breakdown will be the increase in food prices and food rationing that has recently started. It is clear that we are in the midst of a rapid increase in the rate of inflation in the United States.
The economy seems very fragile, as if it is being pumped up by a government that is not thinking long term. I do not pretend to understand how national debt can be a good thing. Watching it grow makes me wonder if it will ever end. Tax rebate checks are fine but wouldn’t a reduction in the size of our government be better?
I have read recently that over 30% of our grain production is being used to make Ethanol. Does this have anything to do with the increase of the price of food? Is our dependence on foreign oil not the real cause of the price of gas increasing at the pump? What is the cause of the shortage and rationing of rice at Wal-Mart?
The promise of a Theocracy
Our society is teetering on a precarious precipice. I believe we are out of balance and perhaps on the slippery slope to being out of control. There are rules to peace and prosperity, but are we following them as a society? Our descent into chaos may soon be inevitable. Perhaps the only thing that will keep us from destroying ourselves is the rule of Theocracy. Think about it. I know I have.
Previously the spotlight was on the church because of Mitt Romney‘s presidential campaign. That spotlight has now turned to the FLDS church in Texas, which some people confuse with the Salt Lake based LDS Church.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should not be confused with this FLDS church or any other group that uses Latter-day Saints or Mormon in the name of their organization. It is unfortunate that there has been such confusion between groups that practice or believe in Mormon fundamentalism. Such practices and beliefs are not part of the mainstream LDS Church.
The Church is using the new media
Elder Cook probably said it best in this YouTube video from Public Affairs. He said it is very confusing to the public when some media use “Mormon” to describe the FLDS church. He reiterated that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with over 13 million members worldwide, is not connected in any way to sects that practice polygamy.
Drawing the contrast from those who practice polygamy, Elder Cook said that Church members do not live in isolated compounds, arrange marriages, dress in old-fashioned clothing or wear unusual hairstyles. Rather, they are participating members of the communities in which they live throughout the world, get married at the average age of 23 and are well educated.
The source of the confusion
I suppose it is understandable that those who do not know much about the LDS Church would be confused. After all, don’t both groups practice polygamy? No, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not practice polygamy. The leadership of the Church issued an official declaration called the “manifesto” over 100 years ago that discontinued the practice.
I have written previously about the practice of plural marriage in the early days of the Church. What I didn’t mention in that essay was that there were a number of plural marriages performed after the manifesto by some apostles who had a hard time accepting the discontinuance of the practice. One of those was John W. Taylor, son of the prophet John Taylor.
Plural marriage after the manifesto
If you want to learn some fun and interesting church history, I suggest you read Family Kingdom by Samuel W. Taylor, son of John W. Taylor. Wow! Now there is an eye-opener. I loved the book and I loved Samuel Taylor’s writing style. He reminds me of Mark Twain with his humor and endearing descriptions of Mormon life in Utah from the late 1800′s.
Just as the practice of plural marriage among the Latter-day Saints began gradually, the ending of the practice after the Manifesto was also gradual. Some plural marriages were performed after the Manifesto, particularly in Mexico and Canada. In 1904, President Joseph F. Smith called for a vote from the Church membership that all post-Manifesto plural marriages be prohibited worldwide. This is known as the second manifesto.
History of polygamous groups
After the second manifesto, two main groups of polygamists formed. One was the United Apostolic Brethren in and around the Salt Lake City area and the other was the FLDS church in the border towns of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona. Hildale was originally called Short Creek. in 1953, Utah and Arizona authorities raided Short Creek in a public relations nightmare.
During this raid, mothers were separated from some 263 children and fathers were sent to jail. Given what is happening now in Texas with the FLDS church, doesn’t this seem familiar? There are other polygamous groups in Utah and elsewhere who claim to be Mormon Fundamentalists. However, they are not members of the LDS Church and most of them never have been.
You will find that the Brethren, or those who lead the LDS Church do not like the term Mormon fundamentalism. In fact, President Hinckley once said, “There is no such thing as a ‘Mormon Fundamentalist.’ It is a contradiction to use the two words together.” There is also no such thing as a “polygamous” Mormon or a “fundamentalist Mormon” in spite of what the media reports.
The church is placing great emphasis on pointing out the distinctions between polygamous sects and the Mormon Church. You can find more than a dozen entries in the LDS Newsroom where the Church has made consistent efforts to clarify erroneous news reports that use the misleading terms, “Mormon fundamentalist,” “fundamentalist Mormons” or “Mormon Polygamists.”
Summary and conclusion
I have seen this confusion first-hand with acquaintances and associates. When the FLDS raid comes up in conversation they will ask, “Aren’t those people part of your church? They’re Mormons too, aren’t they?” They also suggest that all Mormons still practice polygamy. No, we don’t. It’s illegal, remember? And no, those people are not a part of the LDS Church.
I’m not so concerned by all this media attention and actually, I think the Church is getting a lot of mileage from this current fascination with the goings-on with the FLDS group in Texas. I hope those who are sincerely wanting to learn more about the Church will look kindly on our history when they learn about it. Just remember, there is no such thing as Mormon fundamentalism.
I imagine the majority of people who search for information on the church go to Google and type in “Mormons” or “Mormonism.” A Google Search on “Mormonism” today brings up the Wikipedia entry before it brings up the official website of the Church. The Church has a paid entry under “Mormons” so a search there brings up our site first and it is highlighted.
Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry
On that same first page of Google searches for “Mormons” or “Mormonism” you will find the site for CARM – The Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry. If you haven’t heard or read about Matt Slick before, then you aren’t a regular visitor to Christian Apologetics websites. Although many have done so, I’m not sure if I would characterize the site as particularly Anti-Mormon.
While Mr. Slick is clear that he opposes Mormonism, he does not seem to be rabid or vitriolic in his writings. As he says, “I can’t speak for all who oppose Mormonism, but I have no grudge against it at all. I was never a Mormon and no Mormon injured me in the past. They are nice people. The problem isn’t with them. It is with what they teach. It simply isn’t Christian.”
In other words, his material seems palatable to the intellect, does not seem to be written for shock value or to offend and may be worth considering. Let’s face it, the man has gone to a lot of trouble and effort in his writings on Mormonism. The focus of his site is not particularly the LDS Church, but it does comprise a large portion of the activity there. Mr Slick is based in Idaho.
The challenge from Mr. Slick
On his page, “Are you a Mormon?” Mr. Slick offers a rambling explanation to members of the Church as to why he feels we are wrong. He suggests that we hold Joseph Smith in higher esteem than we hold the Savior, and that our understanding of the role of the Redeemer is flawed. He quotes the eighth article of faith and announces that it is the source of our problem, that we have allowed non-biblical teachings to creep into our church.
Obviously, Mr. Slick has missed the main focus of our message, that we believe in a “Restored Christianity.” This is such an age-old complaint from mainstream Christian religionists that I am surprised he uses this argument here. If he wants to hold an intelligent dialog with Mormons, he needs to focus on the concept of modern revelation. Instead he closes with this observation:
“It is interesting to note that in Mormon theology it was a blessing for Adam to have transgressed God’s word so that his eyes could be opened. Both Adam and Eve specifically pointed to their transgression as a blessing. But the Mormon will say that it was the transgression that allowed the seed to come, the knowledge of good and evil, and the truth of redemption. My point is simple, the fall, the sin of rebellion is celebrated in Mormonism. I thought only the ungodly celebrate sin.”
Why the fall was a good thing
This is the fourth time in the past week that I have had the opportunity to refer to 2 Nephi chapter 2 starting with a wonderful essay from my fellow LDS blogger, S. Faux on Mormon Insights. I have used it in a previous blog post, in a home teaching visit and in Bishopric meeting this morning. Mr. Faux is correct. With the focus on agency, the fall and redemption, 2 Nephi chapter 2 is indeed the core of the Book of Mormon.
I am constantly amazed when I have discussions with my Christian friends about the fall of Adam that they view it is as a bad thing. Don’t they get it? If it weren’t for the fall, we would not be here! I guess having grown up with doctrines like this found in the Book of Mormon, I have been so blessed to understand this basic doctrine as found in verses 22 and 23.
22 And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.
I’m not trying to call Mr. Slick out on this one. I’m just trying to point out that yes, we do indeed celebrate the fall of Adam as being a major part of the theology of salvation. Were it not for the fall, there would be no need for redemption. How can he imply that it was not necessary and not the central focus to accomplishing the purposes of God? I am so grateful for the fall of Adam.
Mr. Slick obviously does not understand the doctrines of salvation. Perhaps a reading of Bruce R. McConkie’s talk on The Three Pillars of Eternity would be helpful. Even better, if he can handle it, is Elder McConkie’s last talk, The Purifying Power of Gethsemane, in which he ties together the fall, the atonement and the resurrection. If there were no fall, we would not be here.
We have so much more to offer you, Mr. Slick. Your website is impressive. You have gathered a lot of material and written a lot of essays about our faith. But you have missed the central theme of Mormonism – a more complete understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the plan of Salvation. This all came about because a boy went into the woods to pray after reading the Bible.
You may be familiar with the hilarious 5 Kinds of Mormons from Robert Kirby, illustrated by Pat Bagley. But not as many people remember the next essay in their 1995 classic, Sunday of the Living Dead. It is, of course, the 5 Kinds of non-Mormons. Kirby mentions it in his essay in Dialogue, Confessions of a Modern Day Mobber. However, he doesn’t share them there and I can find them nowhere on the Internet.
I happen to have the book and it is one of my favorites. I will quote from but not share the essay in detail. I believe a man should be paid for his work. For many LDS, Kirby is the only reason they ever visit the Salt Lake Tribune website. The five kinds of non-Mormons are Ignorant Nons, Tolerant Nons, Irked Nons, Furious Nons and Rabid Nons. Ig-nons know utterly zip about Mormons and aren’t interested in knowing more.
Tol-nons think Mormons are quaint but nice and relatively harmless. They don’t care what Mormons do with them after they are dead so long as they leave them alone while they’re alive. Like Ig-nons, Irk-nons know relatively zip about Mormons. The difference being that Irk-nons think they know everything. Fur-nons are not interested in live-and-let-live with Mormons.
To the Fur-nons, Mormons are wrong, wrong, wrong. If you’ve got sixty seconds, and even if you don’t, Fur-nons will tell you all about Adam/God, polygamy, Danites, Mountain Meadows and whatever the latest hot anti-Mormon issue happens to be. Rab-nons cry that anything even remotely connected with Mormonism is out-and-out evil. Most ex-Mormons are found in the Fur-non and Rab-non categories.
Opposition in all things
Those familiar with the Book of Mormon recognize this line from Father Lehi’s teachings to his son Jacob. I confess that even after a relatively full life, I still struggle with the logic behind this one. Lehi teaches that righteousness could not be brought to pass if there were no opposition. I guess without opposition, we would not have a real choice in the most important things in life.
For example, if we did not have the choice to believe that nothing is real unless you can prove it with empirical evidence then how could we ever learn to exercise faith? What is faith if it is not believing in things that are not seen but are nevertheless true? We have a choice to accept that there are simply some things that we cannot prove, because we do not know enough about them.
Lehi teaches us in that an angel of God fell from heaven and became a devil, “having sought that which is evil before God. And because he had fallen from heaven, and had become miserable forever, he sought also the misery of all mankind.” He seeks our misery by opposing all the good things our Heavenly Father wants for us. He presents tantalizing and appealing choices.
We should not be surprised that the devil would be opposed to everything that the LDS Church stands for. The Lord has established His Kingdom and has asked us to help build it up in these latter days. Our involvement in furthering His work is opposed by the adversary and he will do everything he can to prevent us from participating in that process of building and strengthening.
Post Mormons, Ex-Mormons and Anti-Mormons
I can’t imagine anybody who knows anything about the church not being aware that there are those who oppose it. Just as the church is taking advantage of the miracle of the Internet and the Web, those opposed to the church have found a medium that facilitates and lengthens the reach of their message. The anti-Mormon sites far outnumber those that are pro-Mormon.
We know that the adversary makes his work appealing, else why would we desire it or find it attractive? The idea of a website where you can discuss negative things about the church at first seems exciting. Wow! There is a place where you can complain about all the things about being a member of the church that bug you. The other people in the forums are so sympathetic.
Soon the novelty wears off and you go from simply complaining to actively seeking to spread doubt and discontent. You look for new ways to spin the old lies that have been around for as long as the Church has been established. The websites are so appealing and exciting. The spin on most of these sites is that it is good to vent your frustrations and explore your feelings.
Like pornography, these websites that claim they are only there to help you ease your transition out of Mormonism are very addictive. It is so easy to move from a “Post Mormon” experience to an Ex-Mormon point of view and finally to an anti-Mormon stance. For those who thrive on the feedback from peers, the large and spacious building just took on a whole new meaning.
Safely navigating the waters
Some people first start to visit the anti-Mormon sites out of curiosity. Perhaps they are naive and have been sheltered in a faithful LDS home all their lives but are now on their own away at college. Others are converts that have recently discovered that there is another side to what they were taught by the missionaries when they were baptized. Why didn’t they know about these things first? They feel deceived and wonder what else they weren’t told earlier.
Let’s face it, you’re not going to read some things about the controversial subjects in LDS doctrine, practice and history from the official sources. You won’t find blood atonement referenced on lds.org except as it pertains to the blood of the Savior. The Adam-God theory is not discussed there, nor is Mother in Heaven or any works from Grant Palmer or D. Michael Quinn. Signature books is not a favorite among the Brethren. I’m sure you can imagine why.
Visiting some of these sites can be dangerous for those who do not have a sure and solid foundation in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The points being made by those recently disenchanted with the church can be so interesting. How was Mark Hoffman able to fool the leaders of the church into believing that his forgeries were real? The answer to that question deserves a future post. DNA evidence of the American Indians sure was a shocker to some, wasn’t it?
Yes, there must be opposition in all things and you can find it in abundance on the Internet without looking too long or hard. Will seeking out, reading these opposing viewpoints and then discussing them with others strengthen or weaken your testimony? Will your commitment to the gospel increase or decrease as you ponder the words of those who have left the church or have been excommunicated? You want to know about these things but can you handle them?
Seek out the positive blogs and sites
This is my 100th essay since I started writing about the Church six months ago. A day hasn’t gone by in which I haven’t thought and prayed about what I am going to write next. I’m the kind of learner that needs to be able to explain things for myself. Like many of you, I have spent many hours visiting the websites of those who oppose the work of the Lord. As I have written before, I have yet to find anything that hasn’t already been addressed and answered.
I started this blog to help motivate me to regularly study the gospel. I think I took my inspiration from Elder Bednar when he described the different methods that can be employed to study the scriptures. I have been a chronological reader for far too long. I had made many attempts over the years to gather my resources by topic. I have several file cabinets full of material that served me well as a seminary teacher and high council speaker over the years.
I love the gospel of Jesus Christ as taught in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is rich and deep. There is so much that can be learned from the official sources of the Church. But because we know there is opposition in all things and because we know the purpose of that opposition, I am convinced that we can also learn from opposing viewpoints. I hope you don’t think me a heretic, but it strengthens my testimony to answer some of this anti-Mormon stuff.
If you have been a member of the LDS church for any length of time then you probably recall the PR issues the church struggled with due to President Benson’s decline in health toward the end of his life. Unfortunately, that decline occurred shortly after he became the senior apostle and therefore, the prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was the prophet from 1985 to 1994.
The first few years of his presidency (up until 1988) were good ones. In fact, they were memorable for several reasons. When most members of the Church think of President Benson, they remember his emphasis on using the Book of Mormon. I know I do. I distinctly recall his strong use of D&C 84:53-57 in which the Lord condemns the Church for vanity in not believing and remembering to use the Book of Mormon. Powerful!
President Benson is also remembered for his wonderful talk on pride that is used in many places in the official church curriculum. It is a classic. But do you remember that President Benson was so incapacitated that he was unable to read it? President Hinckley read it for him in the April 1989 General Conference. After that, we rarely heard from President Benson in General Conference. In fact, we never did. His last talk in October of 1989 was read by President Monson and was appropriately entitled, “To the Elderly in the Church.”
President Benson had Alzheimers
I don’t think it was a surprise to anyone then or now to realize that President Benson had Alzheimer’s disease. In other words, he was senile. This presented a problem for some members of the church. In particular, Steve Benson, the grandson of President Benson and a Pulitzer prize winning cartoonist for the Arizona Republic had a problem with this. More to the point, he had a problem with his perception that the Church was trying to cover it up.
He contended that the top echelon of the Church were putting on a charade when they would appear with President Benson at a public event such as a groundbreaking ceremony, put his foot on a shovel and snap a picture. The church, he believed, had boxed itself into a theological corner. How could the Church possibly be true, claiming that we are led by a living prophet when that living prophet was incapacitated? Were we just perpetuating an illusion?
Sadly, Steve’s personal problem spilled out into the public when he went on record with a story in the Salt Lake Tribune July 10, 1993. That story was soon followed by others that included evidence that seemed to back up his claims. A legal transfer of power had taken place back in 1989 and copies of the documents were produced to substantiate it. Big deal. I’ve seen and also have copies of those documents. They are a matter of public record. So what?
The focus is on the prophet
I think what Steve missed and probably what some members of the Church forget is that the power and authority of the Lord’s kingdom on the Earth in these latter days is distributed among fifteen prophets and apostles. The Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are equal in power and authority. They all hold the keys of the kingdom. So what if the prophet is incapacitated? Joseph Smith was dead!
I don’t know Steve personally and I have no problem with his right to express his opinion about how he feels that he and all the rest of the church were deceived by a massive PR effort and cover up. Steve and his wife gave up their membership in the church in an act of protest over their hurt feelings in the matter. Unfortunately, he continued to speak out against the Church through a series of articles that can still be found all over the Internet on Anti-Mormon sites.
Steve may have been the source of the rumor that President Benson’s last known General Conference talks were not really his but were written by his son or even his daughter in law. You can find several sites that have posted what they claim is indisputable evidence that his talk on pride was lifted heavily from a chapter in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis entitled, “The Great Sin.” Once again, so what? I have no problem with that or if his talks were ghostwritten.
Keys of the Kingdom
I like what my fellow blogger, S Faux of Mormon Insights wrote in a comment to one of my earlier posts. He said, “For some reason, God works through flawed men. I think it has something to do with the fact that there is no one else from which to choose.” He also said, “The reason I am a member of the Church has little or nothing to do with the personalities in the Church.” I concur. Prophets come and prophets go. I remain in the church because it is true.
I have written about the keys of the kingdom previously. I have also written about why it is that we can and do claim to be the only true and living Church upon the face of the Earth. This essay is not really about authority. It is more about loyalty. Once you obtain a knowledge for yourself that this Church is true, and that it is the Lord’s only authorized organization for administering the ordinances of salvation, then there needs to be a commitment to that organization.
Every organization has deficiencies. Most of those are found among the people and sometimes within the leadership of the Church. Apostles have been excommunicated. Prophets get senile. That doesn’t change the fact the Lord said in Daniel 2:44-45 that the Kingdom of God as setup in the last days shall never be destroyed or left to another people. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that kingdom and will remain to welcome the Lord to the earth again.
Summary and conclusion
Steve Benson now says that he is an atheist. Yet he also says, “cut me and I bleed Mormon.” I suspect he may be one to whom President Monson was recently referring when he offered yet another invitation to come back. It is the same invitation that every prophet has offered and that the Lord extends through His authorized servants every day. His arms are open and stretched out with the hope that those who were once faithful will return to the fold.
Was Steve Benson right? Of course he was. President Benson was incapacitated while serving as the prophet. Was he right in claiming that the church tried to cover it up? I don’t think so and I don’t think there was a cover up. There was a lot of love for President Benson expressed by President Hinckley, President Monson and many others during those last few years of his life. These brethren, along with most of the rest of the church were loyal to the Lord’s prophet.
I offer my take on this matter as a regular member of the church. I once wrote tongue-in-cheek that I work for the Church as a blogger. Like many of you, I am disgusted by the terrible falsehoods, lies, innuendos and misrepresentations that can be found on the Internet about the Church. Nobody asked me to write my essays. But did you notice that Elder Ballard reiterated his call to the members of the Church to become more involved in positive blogging? Let’s do so.
My mother was a Presbyterian and a pretty darn good one. In fact, I’m sure she was one of the best, meaning that she knew the doctrine better than most. That’s probably because she came from a long line of Presbyterians, many of whom were ordained ministers. Mother was an educator. She loved the Bible. She loved telling stories from the Bible. She loved talking about the doctrines of salvation. She studied. She learned. She taught others. She taught me.
Mother got a degree in education back when most women did not go to college. She would have received her Master’s degree in education but never defended her thesis. She was too busy teaching school and raising a family. Her journal is filled with stories of discussing the doctrines of the gospel with her ministers and professors in college. She had an insatiable thirst for knowledge and was never satisfied when her questions weren’t answered. That frustrated her.
She loved teaching so much that she took a job as the Director of Christian Education at a large local church. She had to quit after two months because one of my sisters got real sick with Meningitis. She started teaching in the California public school system after my sister recovered. Because she loved the Bible so much she used to share Bible stories with the children in her classes. Can you imagine that happening in the California public school system today?
My Southern heritage
My family is from the South, mainly South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee and later, Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri. I’m a California boy, my parents having arrived in the Golden state a few years before I was born. I feel out of place in California. Life is too hurried here. Everyone is always going places and neighbors keep to themselves. Every time I visit the South I feel like I’ve come home. I feel relaxed and peaceful. I know it is the land of many of my ancestors.
Religion in the South is different than it is in California and especially than it is in Utah. It’s a different sort of cultural heritage. There is much more of a focus on neighborly kindness, social friendliness and Christian service. Teachings of the Savior, His grace, His mercy and His absolute love and acceptance of the sinner are everywhere. You can visit one Christian Church after another in the South and mostly hear the same focus, based of course, strictly on the Bible.
There are not a lot of surprises in what is taught in the local congregations there. The history of the early Christian church is common knowledge. The doctrines of salvation as taught from the Bible are fairly straightforward. Nobody is coming up with any new twist about what you are supposed to do to get into heaven. Salvation is a matter of believing the Bible, accepting Christ and living a Christian life. It is reliable, unchanging and produces good results in the faithful.
Along came the Mormons
Mother joined the Mormon Church for several reasons. She had a young family. She loved the focus on the family and the example of others who were influential in her life, especially the school principal. He was fair and had no problems working with her when she had family emergencies. The little girl in her class that got up in sharing time and told the class about dressing in white and being baptized at age eight intrigued her. She wanted to know more.
It didn’t take mother long to come to the conclusion that she wanted to be baptized. She took her whole family to church and we sat in the back. Everybody was so friendly. Dad had to work. But when she heard about family history and genealogy she felt something special. Here was something new that she hadn’t heard about growing up as a Presbyterian. When she was taught about the temple she knew that she had found what she had been looking for in college.
Her immediate understanding and acceptance of the purpose of the Temple tells you something about the spiritual level my Mother was on at that time in her life. She made sure we were all sealed together as a family in the Temple exactly one year after we were baptized. She even took a year off from school, a Sabbatical, to start researching her family history and collecting names and dates from everyone she could contact back in the South. She was hooked.
Difficulties of remaining faithful
Mother was so enamored with and consumed by doing family history research that it became a full-time passion. She quit teaching school and spent every waking moment writing letters to relatives, recording her research on those long legal-size family group sheets and pedigree charts and dragging her kids down to the National Archives. I still remember the day I found one of our ancestors on the microfilm reader. Mother was ecstatic and overjoyed. I think I was too.
While I was on my mission, mother found another passion that distracted her from her family history work. Because of her love of history and teaching, she took classes and graduated from the local Institute of Religion. She took it seriously. I still have some of her doctrinal papers that she wrote and am just amazed at the depth of her understanding. However, the Spirit of Elijah was strong. She knew that her family history work wasn’t completed. There was so much to do.
She wanted to move to Utah so badly so she could be closer to the church archives that she and dad sold me their house and off they went. Unfortunately, she wasn’t prepared for the cultural shock. While she loved the doctrine and understood it better than most she just could not get used to the authoritative hierarchy of the church. It was so foreign to her. No matter how many times I tried to explain the Priesthood, she always said it was just the men’s club of the Church.
A bad taste for Utah Mormons
I know this is going to be offensive to some who read this, but it’s just the way it is so I’m going to lay it all out there. Mother was shocked by her encounter with Utah Mormons. They were nothing like California Mormons. For so many, the Church was just a social organization. It was just something they grew up with and took for granted. So many of them had no clue about the rich history or the deep, complex and powerful doctrines of the Restoration. It just sickened her.
Because of her obvious knowledge of the gospel, Mother was called as the Gospel Doctrine teacher. Of course, she wanted to discuss the doctrines that she had studied and learned so well. When she brought some of these things up in class, all she got were blank stares as if she had horns growing out of her head. When she tried to teach some of the history that you don’t normally get in Gospel Doctrine, she was released. That hurt. What she tried to teach was true.
Of course I wasn’t there so I can’t tell you what really happened. I may have even confused some of the basic facts of the story. But I do know how it affected my mother. She was never the same. She could no longer participate in a church that would not encourage a full and open discussion of the history and where most of the members did not understand the doctrines. After ten years in Utah, mother and dad returned to California and lived out their lives in Hemet, never returning to church.
Summary and conclusion
Having served in many Priesthood leadership positions over the years I think I can appreciate what happened. Mother was so far above everyone else in her knowledge and understanding of doctrine and history that she intimidated and overwhelmed everyone who heard her teach. It wasn’t that what she was trying to teach wasn’t true, it’s just that sometimes it wasn’t exactly stuff that was found in the Gospel Doctrine manual. Do you see the problem?
When her bishops tried to help her understand the problem, she became furious and enraged. I mean that literally. She felt so resentful that some hick cowboy would tell her to tone it down that she would tear up her temple recommend, throw it at him and storm out. Of course she knew so much more than this old farmer would ever know. What was he talking about, “a different kind of knowledge?” To the end of her days, I’m not sure that she ever got it.
Here’s the point: It’s not a knowledge of the facts about the history of the church that saves us. It’s not even our ability to intellectually understand and explain the doctrines of salvation. It’s a knowledge of our standing with the Lord that gives us the gift of peace in this life and hope for the life to come. If we can’t say that we know we have been forgiven of our sins and that we are clean before the Lord, then we are missing something very fundamental to our salvation.
Obviously, I am not my mother. My experience in the Church has been completely different because I am a man. I love my mother. I am so glad I was born to this amazing woman. I would not have had it any other way. She taught me so much, especially the importance of seeking and obtaining knowledge. I owe so much of who I am to this brilliant woman who so richly and deeply blessed my life. But I am still coming to grips with what happened to her.
Mother died a few years ago. She raised a wonderful family. Her four daughters are just as incredible as she was. Her two sons are a little messed up but that’s a different story. Mother didn’t quite fit into the Mormon church, or at least the Utah version of the Mormon church. Of course I shouldn’t be calling it that. It is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That means we should be focusing on Jesus Christ and the gospel of love that he taught.
I love this church. It has been good to me. I still have a long ways to go before I understand and accomplish all the things I came here to do. I wonder if maybe I have it a little easier because I am a man and what is expected of me is fairly clear and obvious. But what happens to a woman who embraces the restored gospel as taught in this Church with all her heart and tries to share her passion for the knowledge she has gained? Is that the normal role of women in our church?
In case you don’t recognize the title of this post, it is part of President Hinckley’s answer to a reporter’s question that appeared in the August 4 1997 issue of Time magazine. The reporter referenced the King Follett discourse. The answer supplied and the manner in which it was delivered caused the reporter to draw some false conclusions about a very important doctrine.
In that discourse, the prophet Joseph Smith said, “If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by His power, was to make himself visible—I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man.” (See also D&C 130:22)
The article referred to Lorenzo Snow’s couplet, “As man is now, God once was; as God now is, man may become.” The reporter said, “God the Father was once a man as we are. This is something that Christian writers are always addressing.” President Hinckley was then asked, “Is this the teaching of the church today, that God the Father was once a man like we are?”
The bothersome reply
“I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it. I haven’t heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse. I don’t know. I don’t know all the circumstances under which that statement was made. I understand the philosophical background behind it, but I don’t know a lot about it, and I don’t think others know a lot about it.”
The reporter wrote, “On whether his church still holds that God the Father was once a man, he sounded uncertain.” That’s an unfortunate conclusion. Of course I wasn’t at the interview and neither were you but I’ll bet the reporter mistook careful thoughtfulness for uncertainty. This doctrine is indeed deep territory and not something that is taught outside the LDS Church.
An earlier and similar interview
The San Francisco Chronicle, published an interview with President Hinckley in April of 1997. The reporter asked, “There are some significant differences in your beliefs. For instance, don’t Mormon’s believe that God was once a man?” President Hinckley responded, “I wouldn’t say that. There is a little couplet coined, ‘As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.’”
He then said, “Now that’s more of a couplet than anything else. That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about.” The reporter pounced on this. “So you’re saying that the church is still struggling to understand this? ” President Hinckley responded, “Well, as God is, man may become. We believe in eternal progression. Very strongly.”
President Hinckley’s response
President Hinckley said in October 1997 General Conference: “I personally have been much quoted, and in a few instances misquoted and misunderstood. I think that’s to be expected. None of you need worry because you read something that was incompletely reported. You need not worry that I do not understand some matters of doctrine.
“I think I understand them thoroughly, and it is unfortunate that the reporting may not make this clear. I hope you will never look to the public press as the authority on the doctrines of the Church.” And there lies the whole point of my post today. Some members did indeed become a little concerned by the exchanges they read in the press reports of those interviews.
Does the Church still teach this?
I know this is old news but it still bothers some people when they discover the anti-Mormon attacks floating around on the Internet. President Hinckley was right. We really don’t know much about how our Heavenly Father became a God. The idea that he passed through a mortal probationary state like you and me is certainly not documented in any scripture of which I know.
However, it is still taught. In the Gospel Principles manual in the chapter on exaltation we read, “Joseph Smith taught: “It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the character of God. . . . He was once a man like us; . . . God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 345-46).”
Summary and conclusion
I don’t know why this should bother anyone. The doctrine is true. Joseph Smith knew a whole lot more about this than I do. President Hinckley also knew a whole lot more about this doctrine than he was willing to share with reporters who did not have the background to understand it. It must have been difficult for President Hinckley to hold back and not teach it in those interviews.
It didn’t bother me when I read the interviews back in 1997 and it doesn’t bother me today. However, I know it does bother some people. We each have trials of our faith. I have never depended on an intellectual understanding of the gospel in order to accept it and live it. There are some things that just can’t be fully comprehended without the temple, prayer and faith.
My focus over the last dozen posts has been in answering, even if only for myself, some of the more common objections to LDS doctrine or practices. One that you can find frequently in lists made by critics of the Church is the validity of The Book of Abraham as found in The Pearl of Great Price, part of the canonized scripture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Disclaimer: I don’t claim to be an authority on the subject. I write this from the point of view of a common, regular member of the church. I don’t have a problem with the Book of Abraham and never have. To me it is scripture and I love the things I have learned from it over the years. I just want to understand what the objections are and how they can be easily answered by a simple kind of guy like me.
How we got the Book of Abraham
The Book of Abraham is a translation of some Egyptian papyri containing the writings of the prophet Abraham. The papyri came into the hands of Joseph Smith in 1835 and contain writings of the patriarch Abraham. The translation was published serially in the Times and Seasons beginning March 1, 1842, at Nauvoo, Illinois. See History of the Church, vol. 4, pp. 519-534.
In July 1835, an Irishman named Michael Chandler brought a traveling exhibition of four Egyptian mummies and papyri to Kirtland, Ohio. The papyri contained Egyptian hieroglyphics. The ability to translate Egyptian to English had not yet been discovered or developed. Chandler asked Joseph Smith to look at the scrolls and give some insight into what was written on them.
After reviewing the papyri and giving Chandler a description of parts of the scrolls, Joseph Smith and others purchased the four mummies and at least five papyrus documents. Joseph declared that two of the scrolls contained the writings of Abraham and Joseph of Egypt. He translated the majority of the Book of Abraham text in July of 1835 with some minor revisions in 1842.
Loss and recovery of the papyri
After Joseph Smith’s death, his mother maintained the mummies and papyri, even showing them to interested visitors on occasion. After her death in 1856, Emma sold them to Mr. Abel Combs. Combs then sold two mummies with some papyri to the St. Louis Museum. In 1863 they went to the Chicago Museum, where they were apparently burned in the Great Chicago Fire.
The other mummies were lost, but some papyri survived. In 1947, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired some additional papyri from a daughter of Combs’s housekeeper. Aziz Suryal Atiya of the University of Utah found eleven fragments of the remaining papyri in May 1966, after he recognized the image of Facsimile 1 in the Pearl of Great Price on one of them.
The three main objections
Critics claim that the translation is a fraud. The original papyri containing some of the source material for the Book of Abraham has been found and translated. The content has been shown to be an Egyptian funeral text known as the Book of Breathings. There does not appear to be any connection to Abraham. His name does not appear anywhere in the papyri or the facsimiles.
Critics claim that the facsimiles are interpreted incorrectly. In fact, they do not seem to bear any similarity to translations provided by modern Egyptologists of the text in the figures. These critics claim that this proves that Joseph had no prophetic gift and was a fraud. They have called for the church to denounce the Book of Abraham as an embarrassment and stop covering it up.
Critics claim that the content of the Book is pure imagination. They claim that what is found in Joseph Smith’s translation is inconsistent with what we know about Abraham and ancient Egypt from the Bible and other sources. In the book are found many unique and important LDS doctrines, including the exaltation of man, plurality of gods, priesthood, and a pre-mortal life.
My three simple answers
I do not believe that the original source material used to translate the Book of Abraham has been found like the critics claim. What has been recovered was only part of the collection. The papyri that Joseph used to translate the Book of Abraham was either destroyed in the great Chicago fire or has yet to be found. There is also the theory that it was a revelation and not a translation.
I prefer to accept Joseph’s translations or interpretations of the figures and text in the facsimiles over what modern Egyptologists have produced. There are so many things that we don’t know about ancient Egypt. The discovery and study of the antiquities that are still being produced is a relatively new science. Perhaps the figures were symbolic and not to be interpreted literally.
As noted previously, I love the content of the Book of Abraham for the very reason that critics complain that it cannot possibly be correct – because it is not contained in creeds of orthodox Christianity. The Book of Abraham provides a rich and deep foundation for understanding the purpose of life. It truly is a blessing from God to have this scripture to increase my testimony.
Summary and Conclusion
I know the topic is so much more complex than I have presented in this brief post. This has been a subject of criticism for almost 150 years but one which the majority of the members of the Church have been unaware. Even those like me that are aware of the controversy don’t seem to be concerned or affected by the criticisms or the implied consequences if proven true.
For some, there are many unanswered questions about the Book of Abraham. I do not have any. For me, it is sufficient that Joseph said he translated the book from papyri that fell into his hands. I believe him. I can even accept the theory that he may have just used the papyri as a catalyst to trigger revelation. The Book of Abraham is scripture and I accept it as doctrine.
For more information please refer to Jeff Lindsay’s exceptional and exhaustive coverage of the controversy, including excellent answers to the objections and recent new favorable evidence. Two additional great sources are the Book of Abraham Project and the BYU Maxwell Institute.
Additional material from FAIR:
I have been reading Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard L. Bushman. I can tell that it is going to take a while to get through it. I love to read and so far I love both the content and the style of the book. The story is, of course familiar and as yet I have found nothing surprising or unexpected. I am comparing it to other Joseph Smith biographies in my library. It was my mother who got me started on collecting and reading them so many years ago.
I hope you won’t be shocked to learn that among the dozen or more Joseph Smith Biographies that I have read I include No Man Knows my History: The Life of Joseph Smith by Fawn Brodie. I’m sure you can probably guess that I didn’t like it. Although the research was excellent, I did not agree with her assumptions, interpretations and conclusions. I am no scholar but I know that she did not include material that would have cast doubt on her theories.
Differing viewpoints of history
That’s why it is so important to get different viewpoints on something of historical importance. For example, did you know that there are at least nine early accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision? Some people have a problem with that. They contend that the accounts differ and demonstrate a revisionist history that is deceitful. A close inspection and comparison of the accounts reveals otherwise. Yet, critics continue to claim that the official version is inaccurate.
There is no way I can do justice to the subject of the First Vision or the multiple versions that have come down to us through history. Others have extensively investigated, researched and reported on the various versions. As always, I bow to Jeff Lindsay and the marvelous work he has done over the years on the oft-linked and quoted LDS FAQ on the First Vision. Historian Milton Backman published an excellent summary in the Ensign of the first-hand accounts.
Please forgive me for wading into an area on which I am not an authority. I claim no expertise in either LDS history or scholarly research. I am just a simple computer guy who loves the Church and the gospel of Jesus Christ as taught in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have often read the term revisionist history used by critics of the church who claim that there seems to be a massive cover-up of our history. They also refer to the hidden history.
I’m sorry, but I just don’t see it. Perhaps you could point me to some authoritative sources. I am just your typical California Mormon who grew up in the Church attending Seminary classes in High School and Institute classes in College. I served a mission and taught in Seminary for several years. I have also taught in Sunday School, Primary and Priesthood for many years. My callings include serving in Bishoprics, as a High Counselor and a High Priest Group Leader.
What am I missing?
Am I just naive? Every time I chance upon something on the Internet claiming to have the inside scoop on the real Mormon history I am disappointed to find nothing that I didn’t already know. Some sites point out that I should be questioning my faith and that they can help me with my recovery from Mormonism. I didn’t know that being a Mormon was a sickness or disease. Other than bad grammar, the things they claim should shock me, don’t. What’s wrong with me?
I have studied the life and teachings of Joseph Smith all my life. I have taught what he taught. I have studied the works that he brought forth by the gift and power of God. I have embraced the Church that he restored and all that it teaches. Of course I was not there when Joseph received his First Vision. Neither were you. But I do know this: what Joseph said happened, really did happen just as he said it did. This I know from personal revelation obtained through prayer.
From the Mormon.org page on The Book of Mormon, we read, “By the power of God, Joseph Smith translated this book from an ancient record written on gold plates. In September 1827, Joseph received the record, which was written on thin plates of gold. Joseph translated the book into English by the inspiration of God and called the book the Book of Mormon.”
Inspiration is defined for us on the same page as “divine guidance that comes through the promptings of the Holy Ghost.” Let’s look a little closer at that process of translation. From the LDS Newsroom article on the Book of Mormon we read, “Joseph translated the plates in about three months after which he returned them to the angel Moroni. ” That’s 531 pages in 85 days!
The process of translating evolved
President Faust said, “The process of translating the Book of Mormon was an education for Joseph Smith. When the Lord called him, he was a young man, unlearned, simple, and very ordinary in the eyes of the world. The translation process taught the unlearned young man from New York essential lessons which were vital for his call as the prophet of the Restoration.”
In the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 5:4) the Lord said to Joseph, “And you have a gift to translate the plates.” The Lord also said in D&C 20:8 that He “gave him power from on high, by the means which were before prepared, to translate the Book of Mormon.” So literally, the Lord said that the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, just as we claim.
“These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated with the Urim and Thummim, or, as the Nephites would have said, ‘Interpreters,’ the history or record called ‘The Book of Mormon.’”
Oliver Cowdery, Messenger and Advocate, Oct. 1834, 14, or Joseph Smith—History 1:71, note
How the seer stones were used
Moroni said to Joseph, “that there were two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted “seers” in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book.
“Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English.
“Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.”
Source: David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, Richmond, Mo.: n.p., 1887, p. 12.
We do not know all the details
I think the process David Whitmer was describing above may have been true for only the early work when Joseph was first learning to translate. The Lord referred to the process of using the seer stones in translation as having “sight and power.” We know that Joseph did not need or use the seer stones in translating the later portion of the work but we do not know all the details.
Elder Orson Pratt of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said Joseph Smith told him that he used the Urim and Thummim when he was inexperienced at translation but that later he did not need it, which was the case in Joseph’s translation of many verses of the Bible (Millennial Star, 11 Aug. 1874, 498–99 as quoted by Elder Maxwell).
We do not know all the details of the translation process or how much Joseph used or needed the seer stones. The Lord made it clear that it was a powerful and merciful gift: “And after having received the record of the Nephites, yea, even my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., might have power to translate through the mercy of God, by the power of God, the Book of Mormon (D&C 1:29).
Judge the results, not the method used
The Lord told the three witnesses that He was pleased with the Book of Mormon as translated by Joseph Smith: “…he has translated the book, even that part which I have commanded him, and as your Lord and your God liveth it is true.“
The Three Witnesses testified: “And we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true.” They saw the plates as shown unto them by a angel.
Joseph Smith declared that “the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, . . . and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than any other book” (History of the Church, 4:461). I add my testimony to the witness of Joseph.
The Book of Mormon is a test
I am confident that there are many who are investigating the Church who turn to Internet sites to get an understanding of what the Book of Mormon is all about. When they read or hear about the use of seer stones for the first time (in a hat), it can seem strange and very different.
Even Hyrum, the brother of the Prophet was told by Joseph Smith that “it was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon” and that “it was not expedient for him to relate these things” (History of the Church, 1:220).
Don’t get hung up on the use of a “seer stone in a hat” that may have been used in the early days of translating the Book of Mormon. The method of how it was translated is not a big deal. The real test of the authenticity of the book is found in Moroni’s promise. Ask God in prayer.