Archive for February 2009
My dad passed away last week after a relatively short illness of less than six weeks. Dad’s death, about four years after my mother’s death has brought our family closer together. For example, although we always communicate via email at least weekly, I feel a greater desire to stay closer to my brother, who lived with dad over the last year and is now all alone. Death does that to you.
My sisters were wonderful all through dad’s sickness. They took time off from work to be with dad day after day, week after week. I think that’s an amazing demonstration of love on their part. My dad deserved it. I have written about him previously. He was the most unselfish, kind and gentle person I have ever known. Even when dying, he didn’t want us to fuss over him.
A priesthood blessing
As dad was passing through the last few days of his illness, he kept asking my sisters to open the door. At first, they thought he meant that literally and would open the door to the room widely. But he kept saying, “No, the door isn’t open.” Finally my one sister understood what he wanted and called on the priesthood brethren to come give him a blessing and release him from this life.
I wish I could have been there that night but distance kept me away. How grateful I am to know that there are good faithful holders of the priesthood who are willing to come bless a dying man. In less than thirty minutes after the blessing in which he was told that he had completed his mission on this earth, he breathed his last breath and then passed quietly into the spirit world.
Visits from the spirit world
I know you’ve probably read many accounts over the years of people who have been visited by loved ones from the spirit world. If not, I’ll refer you to some sources at the end of this essay. Dad told us many times that mother came to visit him after she died. He spoke often of having talked with her during the last few weeks of his illness. She was anxiously awaiting him there.
The LDS faith is not the only one that teaches of an afterlife, but I think we are fairly unique and precise in our explanations of the spirit world. We have a wealth of teachings and scriptures that attest to the reality and the purpose of the spirit world. It is a place of gathering and waiting for those who have died and have not yet learned all that is needed in preparation for resurrection.
What the spirit world is like
At the time of physical death, the spirit leaves the body and goes to the spirit world, where we will continue to learn and progress. In the spirit world, memories of this life and the knowledge we have gained on Earth will remain with us. Death will not change our personality or our desire for good or evil. We will be about as happy or as unhappy there as we are here and now.
The spirit world is not our final resting place. We are simply there for a time, learning, growing and preparing for the day when our bodies and spirits will be reunited or resurrected, never to die again. That is an amazing thought to contemplate and one that gives me great hope and joy. I am confident that the separation of death is only temporary. We will one day become immortal.
The work of the spirit world
In what is one of those unique teachings of the LDS faith, we believe that there is a great work going on in the spirit world. It is a work of gathering and organizing. It is also a work in which we can be involved here upon the earth. Of course I refer to the work of family history research. Participating in this work now can bring us close to family members living in the spirit world.
Countless thousands of individuals have testified of help they have received from beyond the veil as their hearts have been turned to their fathers in seeking them out. This desire to discover and learn more about the lives of our ancestors is called the Spirit of Elijah and refers to the mission of the prophet Elijah. This is one of the things that was restored through the prophet Joseph.
Seek knowledge of the spirit world
The prophet Joseph taught that we should study diligently about the spirit world. “It is but reasonable to suppose that God would reveal something in reference to the matter, and it is a subject we ought to study more than any other. We ought to study it day and night… If we have any claim on our Heavenly Father for anything, it is for knowledge on this important subject.”
Unfortunately, most of us are so busy with the cares of this world that we rarely study or ponder what our life will be like in the spirit world. For many us, our daily work consumes way too much of our energy. We busy ourselves with tasks that have little meaning in the eternities. There is a time for everything, and that includes time to meditate about those in the spirit world.
Seeking out our ancestors
A large part of our faith is temple worship service. I like to call it that because it is a place where we go to be closer to the spirit world and to give service in providing proxy ordinances for those who are living on the other side of the veil. While we don’t worship our ancestors, we are taught that we cannot be made perfect without them. We must be sealed to them in an unbroken chain.
My mother understood this concept well. She was consumed with family history research almost from the day she joined the church. She spent more than half of her life seeking out and finding the names and pertinent dates of our family members. Most of her efforts were directed towards her maternal ancestors, and often told me of special help she received as she sought them out.
The Spirit of Elijah
As mother came closer to death, her sense of urgency in completing the ordinances for those she had discovered was profound. In an almost daily ritual she would call or email and ask me if I had completed the work for some family members that she had submitted. In all, mother was responsible for the ordinances of over 25,000 family members over a forty year period of time.
While I have not been as intense about this passion as my mother, I also keenly feel this sense of urgency to ensure that the ordinances are performed for family members waiting in the spirit world. This is the Spirit of Elijah that is prompting me to do all I can to fulfill my promise to my family, made before I came to this world. That spirit can help each of us if we pray for it.
The door to the spirit world
I loved my dad. I still do. I know where he is. He is with my mother and his own parents. He is nearby. We believe that the spirit world is here on this earth and that the spirits of those who have departed are not far from us. They are concerned for our happiness and welfare. I know dad is at peace now and that is not just an idle wish. I feel it deep within my heart and soul.
Dad suffered a bit before he died but endured it valiantly. He passed through death as he passed through life – without complaint. But dad knew that it was time to go and knew that there was a door through which he must pass. In his case, he needed to hear the words of the brethren of the priesthood telling him that he had completed his life’s work; that he could go through that door.
Summary and conclusion
All men must die. We know that. No matter how much we may get caught up in the things of this world while we are here, there comes a time in everyone’s life in which we contemplate death and what comes next. I am grateful for a faith that teaches me not only of the purpose of life and where I came from, but what will happen to me after I die. I will continue to live.
Death is not the end. It is only a doorway through which we must pass. It is one step in the eternal scheme of things. There is so much more to come after we get to the other side. We continue our journey, learning and preparing for that glorious day of resurrection, when we come forth as perfect, immortal and eternal beings, never to die again. I look forward to that day.
For more about the spirit world (from my library):
1. Visits from Beyond the Veil by Marlene Bateman Sullivan, Horizon Publishers, 2002
2. Spirit World Manifestations by Joseph Heinerman, Magazine Printing and Publishing, 1978
3. Temple Manifestations, by Joseph Heinerman, Magazine Printing and Publishing, 1974
4. The Gateway we call Death, by Russell M. Nelson, Deseret Book, 1995
5. Life after Death, by Robert L. Millet, Deseret Book, 1999
6. Beyond the Veil – vol 1, by Lee Nelson, Cedar Fort, 1988
7. Beyond the Veil – vol 2, by Lee Nelson, Cedar Fort, 1989
8. The Journey beyond Life, by Michele R. Sorensen, Family Affair Books, 1988
9. Life Everlasting, Duane S. Crowther, Bookcraft, 1967
10. Beyond Death’s Door, Brent L. and Wendy C. Top, Bookcraft, 1993
Like many of you, I have been following the actions of our nation’s leaders over the past year or two as they have struggled to find an adequate response to the economic distress in which we are now embroiled. At times I have wondered if the financial crisis has been painted to be worse than it actually is until I read reports of those added to the monthly unemployment rolls.
I had to stop and think for a minute if I knew of anyone in my immediate circle of associates who had lost their job. I couldn’t think of any, but Carol reminded me of two or three. In each case the reason given by the employer was “the recession.” I also remember that the usual cost of living raise granted by my own employer at the end of each year was not offered last year.
I think there can be no doubt that we are passing through some perilous and uncertain times. There are many doom and gloom prophets having a field day with this hue and cry, and in spite of the title of this essay, I don’t want to join their ranks. I am fundamentally an optimist and believe that given America’s freedom and opportunity, we will rise above this current situation.
A large part of my optimism about the immediate future of the United States comes from my religious beliefs. I follow closely the words of the leaders of my church whom I believe are prophets and seers. While they continue to teach us about personal righteousness, I do not find their conference addresses to be full of dire warnings or immediate calls for drastic action.
Don’t get me wrong. They have been warning us for many years to be prepared for emergencies, specifically by making sure that we have sufficient food, water and supplies on hand to last for many months. Mormons are well known for storing a year’s supply of such items in their homes and I am no different. I am confident that we could last several months without replenishment.
I am also confident that the time has not yet arrived for the catastrophic events that we usually associate with the end of the world scenario that can best be found in the Book of Revelation. However, I do not dismiss the possibility that the United States may pass through something similar to what happened in Russia when the former Soviet Union collapsed back in 1991.
Is it possible that the government of the United States could collapse? If so, what could bring that on and what would be the outcome? If you have studied the collapse of the Soviet Union, you know that a large part of the cause there was economic in nature. The government owned all property and businesses, subsidized money-losing farms and factories and controlled prices.
I am not the first to point out the similarities to the collapse of the Soviet Union with what is happening in the United States right now. The United States government is moving into a very similar position of becoming the owner of our highest financial institutions, subsidizing many of the money-losing enterprises. This draws us closer to socialism and away from a free market.
I am among the ranks of those who believe that the stimulus bill about to be passed is not a good thing for our nation. I am appalled by the cost of the measures being considered. I do not see how we can go into debt like this and not be burned in the long run. Will China continue to buy our debt and if so, what will they require in return for their huge investment in the United States?
Prophecies of early LDS leaders
We don’t hear much any more about what some of our early Mormon leaders said when they spoke of the future destiny of the United States. A lot of time has passed since these statements were uttered and I suspect that most members of the church have discounted them as being made without the benefit of the additional century of history now passed, giving us added perspective.
Joseph Smith stated on several occasions that, “the government will be utterly overthrown and destroyed,” and that “Congress…shall be broken up as a government.” In addition the prophet Joseph is quoted as saying, “A terrible revolution will take place in the land of America, such as has never been seen before; for the land will be literally left without a supreme government…”
President Woodruff was more emphatic when he asked, “…can the American nation escape? The answer comes, No; its destruction, as well as the destruction of the world, is sure…Sooner or later they will reap the fruits of their own wicked acts, and be numbered among the past.” On another occasion he said, “The American nation will be broken in pieces like a potter’s vessel…”
A nation in pieces
You may have read the predictions of the Russian academic Igor Panarin. From the Wall Street Journal we read, “…economic decline, and moral degradation will trigger a civil war next fall and the collapse of the dollar. Around the end of June 2010, or early July, he says, the U.S. will break into six pieces.” Can you imagine a civil war here in the United States in the fall of 2009?
Perhaps you recall this statement by Orson Pratt, an early LDS apostle. “State will be divided against state, city against city, town against town, and the whole country will be in terror and confusion; mobocracy will prevail and there will be no security, through this great Republic, for the lives or property of the people.” This statement was made after the Civil war of 1861-65.
Referring to the Civil war of 1861-65, President John Taylor said, “We had a great war upon this continent some years ago; but there will yet be wars pass through these United States…” He also said, “You will see worse things that that, for God will lay his hand upon this nation, and they will feel it more terribly than even they have done before. There will be more bloodshed…”
The coming civil war
“Their great and magnificent cities are to be cut off. New York, Boston…and numerous other cities will be left desolate…the whole nation will be broken up. There shall be a fleeing from one city to another, from one state to another, from one part of the continent to another, seeking refuge, from the devastations of bandits and armies; then shall their dead be left unburied.”
The above quote is from Orson Pratt, who left us the best descriptions of the great American civil war of the last days, a prophecy yet to be fulfilled. He said, “It will be a war of neighborhood against neighborhood…they will go forth destroying and being destroyed…going forth in bands and destroying and pillaging the land…the whole country…will be wasted away…”
“The time will come when there will be no safety in carrying on…peaceable pursuits…these will be neglected and the people will think themselves well off if they can flee from city to city, from town to town and escape with their lives.” In one particularly foreboding statement, Brigham Young agreed with Orson and said that the whole government will become a mob. Hmmm…
Summary and conclusion
Yes, I believe that the government of the United States will collapse and that we will then see another American civil war. I also believe that the government will become much larger before that day arrives. I am opposed to government growth and more government indebtedness. But it seems clear that we have started down that path and nothing seems to keep us from following it.
I am not so sure that Igor Panarin was that far off in his predictions of how America would become split up into six pieces. It may not happen as soon as he foretells, but the scenario he describes seems plausible. I am also fairly confident that his reasons offered for the collapse are accurate – economic decline and moral degradation. It is obvious that they are both happening.
This was all foretold by the Prophet Joseph Smith and other leaders of the LDS Church over 160 years ago. The fact that it is not being emphasized by our current leaders leads me to believe that it is not as eminent as Mr. Panarin believes. I am hopeful that we yet have time to accomplish much good before these terrible prophesied catastrophic events of the last days come upon us.
For additional information, including the sources of the quotes from Joseph Smith, Orson Pratt, Brigham Young and John Taylor, see “The United States in Prophecy,” chapter four from The Coming of the Lord by Gerald N. Lund. Also see “Internal Wars and Collapse of the United States Government,” chapter IV from Prophecy – Key to the Future by Duane S. Crowther.
Credit for the graphic of America in six parts goes to the Wall Street Journal
I know this is old news but a friend whose mother is Jewish asked me about it so I thought I would formalize my response. This is an ongoing problem and both sides have had legitimate difficulties in understanding each other’s position as well as keeping their part of the agreement.
A little background may be helpful. I’m sure you are aware of the LDS Church position on performing ordinances like baptism for those who have died. If not, perhaps a quick review of this doctrine on the Mormon Wiki page from the More Good foundation would be helpful.
In a nutshell, we believe that all people must receive certain ordinances in this life in order to comply with God’s commandments through his prophets. We also believe that these ordinances are only valid when performed by one who is authorized by God using priesthood from Christ.
Proxy ordinances in the temple
A unique doctrine and practice of the LDS Church is performing these ordinances by proxy in the Mormon temples for those who are now living in the spirit world. You’ll note that I do not say that they are dead because I want to emphasize our belief that life goes on after mortality.
As members of the LDS Church, we are encouraged by our leaders to search out and find the records of our ancestors. It is more than genealogy. We call it family history research. It is obviously big in our church and one of the things for which we are well known and respected.
Well, we are respected by most people for this work that we do, but apparently not all as you will find out as you read on. The rule is that we are only supposed to do the research on our own immediate ancestors and their descendants. That’s enough to keep most of us busy for a lifetime.
Records extraction program
We also do what is called records extraction or name extraction. For many years, the LDS Church has been microfilming court records and parish records around the world. In exchange for the permission to film them, we provide copies to the courts and churches free of charge.
This is all supported by our tithing donations, along with the building of all the temples and meetinghouses throughout the world where we offer free family history research library facilities to anyone. In fact, our libraries are used by the public more than they are by the LDS members.
Let’s get back to the records extraction program. As part of this program, the church has microfilmed thousands and thousands of the records of people in Germany, Poland and other European nations. Of course many of them are Jewish and many are holocaust victims.
Direct ancestors only
As a matter of practice, if an LDS member does not bring the names of his own ancestors to the temple to perform the proxy ordinances for them, they are supplied names from the records extraction program. As you can imagine, millions of individuals have been baptized this way.
And therein lies the problem. When descendants of Holocaust victims found out about this they were incensed, and demanded that their names be removed from the records of our church. They felt that it dishonored their ancestors and gave legitimacy to those who deny the Holocaust.
We agreed, and in 1995 a formal agreement was put into place that removed the names of these individuals and mandated a policy that no new ones are to be performed. The policy states that only those who are direct descendants of holocaust victims can submit them for the ordinances.
Agreement with American Gathering
As you can imagine with millions of people contributing to the temple files, this is very hard to enforce. In fact, it has proven to be nearly impossible. Thousands of new names keep popping up every year. There are also some who are doing this on purpose to embarrass the church.
Last November, Mr. Ernest Michel, honorary chairman of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants decided that the LDS Church was not keeping up with their part of the agreement and went public with a press conference to voice his discontent.
The story was picked up by several national outlets, including CNN, which caused it to be distributed to over a hundred local news organizations. As you can imagine, it caused a big stink, especially among those who were already criticizing us for our stance on Proposition 8.
Family history research
The LDS Church responded immediately with a press release and background material to explain both the doctrine and the practice and our agreement with American Gathering. However, it was too late. Mr. Michel had decided that he would no longer work with the church on this issue.
So there you have it. The church feels that we have been attempting to enforce the agreement in good faith and Mr. Michel has decided that we haven’t. It is a big mess and makes us look bad because we are unable to guarantee that this won’t happen again. The systems just aren’t there.
Interest in family history continues to grow throughout the world. It is an extremely popular pastime or hobby, especially among older people. As a church, we are dedicating enormous resources to sharing the information we have compiled, free of charge, and available online.
LDS church in the spotlight
As always, I stand by the theory that any publicity is good publicity. The LDS Church has been in the spotlight a lot over the past year with Mitt Romney running for President, the polygamist raid in Texas, the Proposition 8 uproar and this blowup over the names of the Holocaust victims.
If you dig into the story even a little bit, you will also discover that someone keeps submitting the names over and over again of those who committed the atrocities. Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun have had their temple work done many times as have Eichmann, Himmler and Goebbels.
I don’t know if this keeps happening because someone wants to embarrass us or if someone who is a legitimate descendant of these individuals has submitted their names. It doesn’t matter. But it does expose an issue that is not well understood even among many members of the church.
Summary and conclusion
Mormons believe that all individuals must receive the ordinances of salvation in order to obey God’s commandments. We believe we are fulfilling promises we made in the life before this to our ancestors when we seek out their information and submit their names for temple ordinances.
It seems that whenever there is a question of having the proxy ordinances performed or not, we will go ahead and perform them with the idea that it will all get sorted out in the spirit world. I can see why this is objectionable to those not of our faith but I will conclude with this thought:
If the Mormons are right and these ordinances are needed for salvation, then why not just go ahead and let them do them? Baptizing them by proxy in the temple doesn’t make them Mormon. They can accept or reject the work done. If we are wrong, then what does it matter?
For additional information:
1. Official LDS church response via Newsroom
2. Background explanation of Temple Baptism
3. Letter from the church to Ernest W. Michel
4. On honoring ancestors by an LDS Apostle
5. Voice of Deseret – includes numerous links
6. Official website of American Gathering
7. Wikipedia article on Baptism for the Dead
8. Deseret News – Mormon Times article
9. FAIR – Temple work for Holocaust victims
10. Official LDS.org – Baptism for the dead