How Americans View Mormonism


We spent an hour with Gary Lawrence last night. He was gracious enough to come up to visit our stake in Camarillo from his home in Orange County. Dr. Lawrence is an American opinion pollster who also happens to be a Latter-day Saint. He has been travelling around the church sharing the results of a poll he conducted in the spring of 2007 on American’s perception of Latter-day Saints in the United States.

He published a book in 2008 with the findings of his poll, How Americans View Mormonism: Seven Steps to Improve Our Image. Dr. Lawrence received a PhD in communications psychology from Stanford University in 1972. He said that of over twenty doctoral candidates in his group, he was the only LDS, Republican, conservative hawk among them. So he knows a little about being in the minority.

Lawrence Research

Now if you know anything about recent events in California, you’ll recognize that Gary’s business, Lawrence Research was the opinion polling company that was heavily involved in Proposition 8. Gary was also the state LDS grassroots director for the Protect Marriage coalition. Brother Lawrence, who has served as a bishop has spent over 35 years studying opinions and behaviors of the American public.

From the results of his survey, Dr. Lawrence maintains that the misconceptions, distortions, and untruths being told about Mormons have slowed the growth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that the average member is best positioned to turn things around. By the way, the name of his next book, due from Deseret Book later this year is “What Part of Our Name Don’t You Understand?”

Survey Results

For me, the most interesting result of the survey was that our perceived image is upside down. Forty-nine percent of those surveyed had an unfavorable impression of Mormons. Only thirty-seven percent had a favorable impression. They say that we have weird beliefs and are secretive. Yet they also say we are good neighbors, hard workers, believe in clean living, have high moral standards and help others.

Lawrence said that thirty-seven percent of all Americans do not know a Mormon, and fifty-five percent of all Americans do not know an active Mormon. In fact, those who know one Mormon have a worse opinion of us than those who do not know any Mormons. We are viewed unfavorably more than Jews or Baptists (3.5 to 1) and Catholics (2 to 1). Mormons, less than 1 to 1. That’s a terrible ratio.

Negative Image

Simple ignorance is often blamed for Mormonism’s negative image, but Gary also concludes that it is driven by fear — fear of a supposed political agenda, wealth, organizational ability, unwavering doctrine, and a unique vocabulary that is often misunderstood. He gave some wonderful examples but I’ll have to defer in sharing some of the better ones until I receive his book that I ordered from Deseret Book.

His book explains that individual members in their daily interactions with others are the key. In his presentation, which he has probably delivered dozens of times, he pointed out that friendly and natural conversations, the facts, simple claims, individual latitude, non-threatening invitations and gentle mentoring are the ways Mormons can combat distortions, improve our image, and spread the gospel.

Unique Vocabulary

A central claim of our church is that we have the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Gary explained that this phrase is not well understood by those outside our faith. They equate the word restore as something you do to an old car or a piece of old furniture. He suggested that a better phrase to use would be: “We claim to be the re-established Christian Church.” I like that. It is simpler and easier to understand.

He even broke it down for us into three bite-sized pieces: 1) Christ organized a church. 2) Men changed it and 3) It has been brought back. Amazingly, 84 percent of Americans have had exposure to our church, yet only 14 percent can tell you that this is our main differentiating claim from other Christian churches. While people may not agree with our claim, we want and need them to understand it.

Meaning of Gospel

They can then decide for themselves how they will respond to that claim. But if they never get the real message, how can they make a legitimate choice? Naturally, some people will reject the gospel truth once it has been presented to them. And that’s another word that we use differently from the rest of Christianity. To us, the gospel means more than the words of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter and Paul.

Most Mormons equate gospel to mean the overarching plan of happiness that was presented in our pre-earth life. We have come to see the gospel as more than just a theology, but as a way of life, and that it encompasses all truth that we embrace. But in reality, the gospel is the good news of the doctrine of Christ, that all will be resurrected and that we can be forgiven of sins through repentance and ordinances.

Higher Education

That’s why we can say that the fullness of the gospel is contained in the Book of Mormon even though there are many additional doctrines we believe that are only found outside the Book or Mormon. In fact, some within our church have gone so far as to claim that obtaining a degree of higher education is a part of the gospel. Does that mean that early saints and prophets without a B.A. degree are not saved?

Of course not; that would be a ridiculous example. While we believe in continuing education and encourage our members to get all the education we can, an advanced degree is not a requirement for entrance into the kingdom of heaven. A high school diploma is not required. There is no requirement for any type of certified education to meet God’s conditions to enter into his kingdom; only obedience to his laws.

Mormon Scholars Testify

In our Mormon culture, besides placing great emphasis on education, we also hold those who have received advanced degrees and yet remained faithful in very high esteem. Dr. Lawrence has shared his testimony in greater detail on the website, Mormon Scholars Testify, which was created by another visitor to our stake, Dr. Daniel C. Petersen, speaking about BYU’s involvement in the Dead Sea scrolls.

My fellow blogger Steve Faux introduced me to the site a few years back when he was asked to share his thoughts and feelings about being a believing Mormon who teaches evolution at the University level. I have watched participation grow over the years until there are now more than 200 testimonies recorded there. Compare that to twenty being promoted on the opposing site Ex-Mormon scholars testify.

Opposition in All Things

One of our fundamental doctrines is that we believe there must be opposition in all things. I love the Internet for the very reason that it allows us to see the very best and the very worst of the extremes on just about any issue. I’m not a scholar and will probably never have an advanced degree, but I have come to appreciate both sides of the debate on controversial subjects I have written about over the years.

I can judge for myself when someone is presenting the truth in a distorted manner because I have been counseled over the years to study things out and come to my own conclusions about the truth of an issue. Some things can never be proven and will have to wait until the next life to determine who is right and who is wrong. That’s one of the purposes of life – to exercise faith and choose what we believe.

Choose What We Believe

I recommend you read the testimonies of Dr. Lawrence, Dr. Petersen, S. Faux and any others that you may recognize. They come from a variety of disciplines such as the Arts, Business, Management, Accounting, History, Religion, Social Science, Language, Literature, Law, Medicine, Psychology, Philosophy, Science, Mathematics and Engineering. Yes, Mormons believe in the value of education.

I hope this helps to dispel any misconceptions that Mormons are ignorant, closed-minded, brain-washed or uneducated. We do not follow our leaders blindly, nor do we worship our prophets, living or dead. But we do value loyalty and respect to those who we sustain as prophets and apostles. It is my testimony that they are leading us to Christ. I choose to follow their direction and counsel for my family.

For a great discussion of our image, or rather reputation, listen to what Michael Otterson had to say to Robert Millet on this episode of Mormon Identity on The Mormon Channel.

The Mormon Corporate Empire


It’s funny how the mind works. Like 600 million other people I keep in touch with friends around the world on Facebook. Several of my friends posted a link today to a YouTube video from Alex Boye, the Relief Society Birthday tribute song. Yes, I know it’s steeped in Mormon culture, but I like what Alex is doing with his talent.

One of the comments on the video made reference to Mormon Inc. My mind went back, way back to a flood of memories from my younger days when I was much more interested in the business ventures of the church. At one time I spent several dozen hours conducting first-hand research in the Utah Division of Corporations.

I made copies of all the original articles of incorporation for the Corporation of the President, Corporation of the Presiding Bishop, Deseret Management Corporation, Zion’s Securities, Beneficial Financial Group, Bonneville International, Deseret Book, Deseret News, Hawaii Reserves, Farmland Reserve and on and on and on.

Many Published Resources

I made a master list of all entities I could find that were owned by or associated with the church and then spent literally hundreds of hours researching each one of them. I intended to publish a book on businesses owned by the LDS Church but Heinerman and Shupe beat me to it in 1985 with The Mormon Corporate Empire.

John Gottlieb and Peter Wiley had a chapter on the subject in their 1984 book America’s Saints. That was followed by the Arizona Republic’s series in 1991, “Mormon Inc. Finances and Faith,” Time Magazine’s “Mormons Inc.” in 1997, and a chapter in Mormon America by Richard and Joan Ostling published in 1999.

Of course, another great source for information on church finances is the chapter from D. Michael Quinn’s book, The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power published by Signature Books in 1997. I don’t care what you think about Quinn, he did some serious research. The footnotes alone are more than half of his book.

Successful Church Businesses

Let me make it clear. My interest in researching the financial and business interests of the church was not to try to dig up dirt, make accusations or slant things in any kind of an unfavorable light. To the contrary, my intention was to highlight the great successes of the church in creating and maintaining prosperous businesses.

However, I soon learned that I was wasting my time. The majority of people I talked to about my project simply were not interested in LDS Church finances. Despite the fact that most people were surprised when I shared just how extensive the business holdings were, invariably they asked, “So what does all that matter?”

So even though I put that project aside in favor of concentrating on my new family and career, I have always had an interest and sense of pride at how well the church has managed its finances and business endeavors. It’s an amazing success story if you’re curious about that kind of stuff. Every so often it pops up in the news again.

Statement on Church Finances

I like President Hinckley’s statement on church finances that he shared back in 1985 in a priesthood session of General Conference. This was just after I decided that my book project would not produce results. He answered the question, “Is the Church an institution of great wealth, as some claim?” Here is his response:

“The Church does have substantial assets, for which we are grateful. These assets are primarily in buildings in more than eighty nations. They are in ward and stake meeting facilities. They are in schools and seminaries, colleges and institutes. They are in welfare projects. They are in mission homes and missionary training centers. They are in temples, of which we have substantially more than we have ever had in the past, and they are in genealogical facilities. But it should be recognized that all of these are money-consuming assets and not money-producing assets.

“They are expensive to build and maintain. They do not produce financial wealth, but they do help to produce and strengthen Latter-day Saints. They are only a means to an end. They are physical facilities to accommodate the programs of the Church in our great responsibility to teach the gospel to the world, to build faith and activity among the living membership, and to carry forward the compelling mandate of the Lord concerning the redemption of the dead.

A few Income-Producing Properties

“We have a few income-producing business properties, but the return from these would keep the Church going only for a very short time. Tithing is the Lord’s law of finance. There is no other financial law like it. It is a principle given with a promise spoken by the Lord Himself for the blessing of His children. When all is said and done, the only real wealth of the Church is the faith of its people.”

He then went on to address the issue of why the church is involved in commercial ventures of any kind, pointing out that the majority were formed out of necessity many years ago in the Pioneer days of our history. Of course some have grown while others, like banks and hospitals were sold off as being no longer needed.

Communications Businesses

I like the fact that the church has hung onto and strengthened the business ventures that involve publishing and broadcasting. Bonneville International and Deseret Book help to fulfill one of the primary missions of the church, which is to bring people to Jesus Christ through proclaiming the message of the restored gospel.

The church has made an obvious investment in their Internet properties over the years, which I have watched with some trepidation at first, but with growing pride over the years. I am amazed at how well the church has embraced and now uses this technology to communicate both internally and externally to the world at large.

In fact, I would venture to guess that we actually reach more people through our websites than our missionaries talk to each day. Add the thousands of individual efforts to those of the church and you have a wealth of favorable information now available to combat an equal amount of misinformation that can still be found.

The Church is not a Business

The idea that the church is more of a business than a church is laughable but you can still find it as one of the silly things that detractors of our mission continue to raise any place where they can get an audience. If they would bother to take a few moments to do some basic research they would see how ridiculous their claim is.

We will never have a lack of fault-finders, detractors and critics who are certain we are a deluded people. The most vociferous of them are former members who have been hurt in some way and now seek to inflict pain in retribution for their own discomfort. Painting the church as an impersonal corporation serves their needs.

I had invested a lot of time and energy in my research on church businesses and how they had come about. I was feeling disappointed. I had done so much work with nothing to show for it and wondered why. Sitting in that Priesthood session of General Conference so long ago, President Hinckley was speaking directly to me.

Build the Kingdom

He said in conclusion of the matter, “When we are called before the bar of God to give an accounting of our performance, I think it unlikely that any of us will be commended for wearing out our lives in an effort to find some morsel of history, incomplete in its context, to cast doubt on the integrity of this work.

“Rather, I believe we will be examined on what we did to build the kingdom, to bring light and understanding of the eternal truths of the gospel to the eyes and minds of all who are willing to listen, to care for the poor and the needy, and to make of the world a better place as a result of our presence.”

And that is why I just smile now whenever we are referred to as the big Mormon Corporation, with untold wealth being used to wield secret power and influence in America and on the world. I have studied this one out in great detail. Trust me, there is no secret agenda. There is no desire to conquer and control; only to bless.

An Evening with Richard Bushman


About a thousand other people and I enjoyed an evening with Richard Bushman last night. He spoke about Joseph and Emma for about 40 minutes and then entertained questions from the audience for another 40 minutes. While his insights on Joseph and Emma were interesting, I found the questions more fascinating, because they reflected a lot of the issues I blog about.

For those who don’t know, Richard Bushman is the author of Rough Stone Rolling, the 2005 biography of Joseph Smith that has become the definitive account of the prophet’s life as told from the viewpoint of a faithful historian. I took advantage of the opportunity to have him autograph my copy and was not the only one in the audience who waited in line to do so.

Open and honest discussion

It was wonderful to see so many people interested in learning more about this great man and the beginnings of the Mormon Church. Every time he finished answering a question a dozen more hands shot up. We could have been there for several more hours. I think that goes to show you how much we as a people appreciate someone who has studied the prophet’s life in such detail.

There were many questions that focused on the process of translating, the Urim and Thummim, the seer stone in the hat, polygamy, the three witnesses and the eight witnesses, Oliver Cowdery, the martyrdom, succession, Book of Abraham translation, Mountain Meadows massacre and folk magic. He welcomed every question and encouraged us to ask even the most difficult ones.

A well-qualified historian

One of the most refreshing comments I heard was his expression of appreciation to the church, specifically to the church historian’s office, Marlin K. Jensen and Richard E. Turley for the recent publication of Massacre at Mountain Meadows. He then said that he hoped that the church would do the same with the issue of polygamy, treating it openly and with historical accuracy.

Burt what impressed me most about the evening was the obvious fact that Richard Bushman is a highly respected historian who probably understands the beginnings of Mormonism as well as or better than anyone else. Besides being the co-general editor of the Joseph Smith Papers, he chairs the board of directors of the Mormon Scholars Foundation.  He knows early church history.

Serving faithfully in the church

And yet, Richard Bushman has served as a bishop, a stake president, a patriarch and is currently a sealer in the Los Angeles temple.  I would say that he is a faithful, believing Latter-day Saint, in spite of everything he knows about early church history.  I bring this up specifically to make a point about a common response to my essays and how I can still believe when I know this stuff.

I recently had someone ask me how I was able to do what I do – serve faithfully in the church – in spite of all that I know about, as he called it, “the more disturbing facts of the origins of Mormonism.”  I think maybe he might want to redirect that question to someone like Richard Bushman who knows so much more than I do and yet has been a faithful believer all his life.

Believing in spite of knowing

This individual asked, “How do you reconcile your belief and what the church teaches, with the history of things like the origins of the temple ceremony, polygamy, first vision contradictions, development of the story of the restoration of the priesthood, and other issues?”  I answered him privately in an email but have been pondering this whole idea of believing in spite of knowing.

Frankly, it perplexes me. I think I have expressed this same sentiment several times in previous essays every time it comes up. What is so hard about studying and understanding our very early church history, warts and all, and then continuing to believe that Joseph Smith was an instrument in the hands of God to bring about the restoration of the gospel and his church in the latter days?

Shocked by our history

Are we supposed to be shocked, dismayed and overwhelmed with doubt every time we discover some new fact about the early days of the church?  For example, last night we were reminded that beer and wine were used by the early saints, and sometimes even whiskey.  Today, we would be shocked if we learned that the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles drank a glass of wine.

Yet in volume IV, page 120 of the History of the Church on the date of April 17 1840 we read, “This day the Twelve blessed and drank a bottle of wine at Penworthan, made by Mother Moon forty years before.”  Things were different back then, weren’t they?  The Word of Wisdom had been received in 1833 but was not binding upon the saints as a commandment like it is today.

History not being hidden

When Fanny Alger was brought up by Brother Bushman last night as an example of an early failed attempt by Joseph to obey the law of plural marriage, I’ll bet there were a few people in the audience who did not know that Joseph had married this sixteen year old girl in 1833. The revelation on celestial marriage had been received in 1831 but Joseph was hesitant to obey.

For some reason, the idea that Joseph participated in plural marriage is supposed to be shocking to us. This continues to be one of the most common tactics of our critics – to try to shock us with facts that are supposedly being hidden from us by our modern church leaders.  Nothing could be further from the truth. We are always being encouraged to study our history and learn the facts.

Selling the Book of Mormon Copyright

Another example that our critics like to throw at us is the failed attempt to sell the copyright to the Book of Mormon in Canada. Until recently, the only source for this event was the memory of David Whitmer who was not present when Joseph sent the brethren on their mission.  Joseph never said that it must have been a false revelation as Whitmer claimed he said upon their return.

We’re then supposed to conclude that if we can’t trust a revelation from Joseph then how are we supposed to know what is revelation from God. I’m not an apologist but I’m grateful that there are people who dig into these things to get the facts and present them for our review.  Of course, the same facts can be presented in favorable or unfavorable light, depending on where you go.

Consider carefully the source

For example, you can read the story of the copyright mission to Canada on MormonThink as supposed evidence that even Joseph Smith didn’t know when revelations were from God and when they were from the devil.  Yet you can read the same account in greater clarity and detail from a more trustworthy and reliable source like FAIR and come away strengthened in faith.

We could go on and on with hundreds of things that are supposed to be shocking to us modern believers of the faith because they seem so out of character with what we’ve been taught about Joseph or other leaders of the early LDS church. If we are bothered by something, then we need to do our homework and get all the facts as part of the process of confirming truth for ourselves.

Get the facts straight

If I were concerned upon reading that Joseph Smith was supposed to have said that even he didn’t know when a prophecy came from the Lord or that he is supposed to have said that a revelation he received must have come from the devil, as David Whitmer said he did, then I would want to read more about this and would be very careful about the source that I study.

Because if I believed that Joseph really said this, then that might lead me to conclude that if even prophets have a hard time understanding revelation, how can I really be expected to understand or know the truth of revelations that come to me, especially revelation that I think is telling me that the church itself is true? Do you see how important it is to get the facts of certain matters?

The Joseph Smith Papers

Of course Joseph never said that he must have received a false revelation.  In fact, according to more recent information discovered, the brethren who went on the mission to Canada in an attempt to sell the copyright to the Book of Mormon felt that they were successful on their mission and that the Lord was pleased with their efforts. The promised sale was conditional.

I’m grateful for brethren like Richard Bushman, who are helping to bring us the Joseph Smith papers. In volume 1 of the Manuscript Revelation Books, we have the full copy of the mission to Canada revelation. It can be read there. The criticism that Joseph later claimed that the revelation had not come from God is in all likelihood the product of a false memory by David Whitmer.

We can believe the prophet

As I wrote in a previous essay, I believe it is our lifelong pursuit to understand revelation and to come to know how the Lord communicates with each of us. We can rely on the promises of the Lord to lead us, guide us and walk beside us because we have the gift of the Holy Ghost. I hope we cherish this gift and live worthy of the constant companionship of this promised revelator.

Joseph Smith knew when the Lord was inspiring him and so did most of the brethren who were with him at the time when he received revelation. We can trust that the Lord will help us to have the assurances we need to believe in the mission of the prophet Joseph Smith. Someday, we will meet Brother Joseph and if we still have questions about his life we can ask them to him directly.

My Interview with Mormon.org


On this Pioneer day, I decided to answer all the personal questions that you are asked when you fill out the profile on Mormon.org.  There are a whole lot more under the FAQ section (about 80) but that will have to wait for another day when I have more time.  I thoroughly enjoyed the process of answering these questions and felt like I was being interviewed, thus the title of this blog post.

01. Please explain the part prayer plays in your life?

Having grown up with daily prayer, I can’t imagine a day go by in which I don’t communicate with my Heavenly Father in prayer.  We start the day in prayer as a family asking for the Lord’s blessing upon us as we work.  We end the day in prayer the same way, usually kneeling by the bed, reporting our activities to God and thanking him for his help.  We give thanks for the food we eat at mealtimes and participate in public prayers in our weekly worship service.  It is through prayer and reading scriptures that I feel close to God and directed in my life.

02. Which of the Savior’s teachings have influenced you in your life?

The most powerful admonition of the Lord that has helped me find happiness in this life is his commandment that we love one another.  I remember this whenever I feel that I have been misunderstood or hurt by someone else, either intentionally or not.  It is so easy to take offense in this world but the end result is that we only hurt ourselves when we do that.  To love others is to trust in the Lord that he will help make everything all right, even if it doesn’t appear that way at first.  He also requires us to forgive others since we all make mistakes and errors in judgment. We show our love by forgiving.

03. Please share your feelings/testimony of the Restoration of the Gospel.

Even though I grew up hearing the Joseph Smith story I am still amazed as an adult to realize just how powerful his history really is.  Think about it!  Angels, gold plates, visits from God, Jesus Christ and ancient apostles and prophets – these are all miraculous events that we just don’t hear about everyday.  It is truly a marvelous thing to learn all that the Lord did through Joseph Smith, the Prophet of God.  I am especially grateful for revealed doctrines that clarified and corrected the errors of man in the many religions of the world.

04. Please share your feelings/testimony of Joseph Smith.

I have read at least a dozen biographies of the life of Joseph Smith, and continue to be amazed that the Lord was able to accomplish so much through this one man.  He was a prophet in every sense of the word in that the Lord revealed his will for us through him and continues to do so through the prophets that have followed.  But it was Joseph who paid so dearly with his life even though he did what the Lord told him to do in bringing forth the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.  I hold Joseph Smith in high regard and look forward to meeting him in the world to come.  I want to thank him for his faithfulness in translating the Book of Mormon.

05. Why do Mormons go on missions?

I went on a mission because I watched a video of the prophet asking all worthy young men to serve the Lord as missionaries.  As he shared his vision of how the gospel would go to all the world, I deeply felt a desire stirring within my soul to be a part of that great army of missionaries.  It was a major sacrifice for me to leave my studies and spend two years in Central America seeking out those who would respond to the Lord’s invitation to come unto him through baptism.  I loved my mission experience and found joy in testifying to the world that Jesus is the Christ, that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God and that the Book of Mormon is the word of God.  We go on missions because we are commanded to share the gospel and feel the desire to seek out and bring the message of the truth to all who will receive it.

06. Why do Mormons do family history or genealogy work?

Besides being a commandment to seek out our ancestors, we do family history research because we feel a desire to know and appreciate the story of those to whom we are indebted for our very lives.  I am a product of all those who came before me.  My parents were influenced by their parents and they were who they were because of their parents and so on back as far as we can discover.  Once we have the basic facts of their lives such as names and dates, we are privileged to go to the temple and perform proxy ordinances for them so that they too may meet the commandments of the Lord to be baptized and enter into covenants of exaltation.  We do family history work so we can be saviors on Mt Zion (Obadiah 1:21).

07. How has attending Church services helped you?

One of the highlights of my week is to attend church services each Sunday.  I serve in a leadership capacity in my church, and attend a few more meetings besides the regular three-hour block of Sacrament, Sunday school and Priesthood meetings.  I love the interaction with others who believe as I do and feel as I do about trying to follow the teachings of the Savior.  I say try because nobody is perfect and we all make mistakes each week.  That’s another reason why I love to go to church each Sunday – I get to renew my baptism covenants by taking the Sacrament each week.  I learn more of the gospel of Jesus Christ in these church services and feel a unity with God and with my fellow saints as we worship God and Jesus Christ together.

08. What has helped develop greater harmony in your home?

Like everyone else, I have experienced moments of argument and disharmony in my home which leave me feeling frustrated, resentful, hurt or angry.  I do not like such feelings, especially in my home where I want to relax and feel happy, safe and secure.  So over the years, I have made a greater effort each day to promote harmony and unity by not arguing and not finding fault with my family members.  I was not very good at this as a youth and so I appreciate the blessings that have come to me as an adult as I try to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ to love others, especially members of my own family, who need and deserve my love the most.  We can have a harmonious home by practicing kindness and forgiveness.

09. What have you done successfully to shield your family from unwanted influences?

Of all the teachings of the church about family, this idea of keeping out the world has been the most difficult but the most rewarding.  Television and the Internet are two of the most challenging types of media to monitor and control.  We believe in freedom so we encourage each other to seek after virtuous and uplifting material.  So the shield we put into place is not anything controlling such as “thou shalt not!”  It is more of making sure that we understand the differences that certain material, music or entertainment can produce, compared to the results of worthy content.  We seek out and support worthy entertainment and uplifting media content and pray constantly that we will each desire such material over the worldly offerings.

10. Could you talk about your baptism?

I was eight years old when I was baptized and for me, that is a long time ago.  My father, who was a recent convert, had to work the evening of my baptism, so he was unable to perform the ordinance.  I was baptized by a young man who was preparing to serve a mission.  My father was able to confirm me a member of the church the next day and I remember the special feelings that came to me as he conferred upon me the gift of the Holy Ghost.  I remember my primary teacher was there and gave me a picture of the Savior mounted on a small piece of wood.  I still treasure that memento and the words of encouragement that she penned on the back.  I’m sure I did not understand all the implications of the covenants I was making at eight years old, but I have come to appreciate the blessings of this ordinance more and more each Sunday as I take the Sacrament and remember what the Savior miraculously did for me in taking upon himself the effects of my sins upon conditions of repentance.  It is baptism that makes my repentance possible.

11. Why/How do you share the gospel with your friends?

I am not a very outgoing person so I believe that the best way I can share the gospel with others is through providing a good example of following the teachings of the Savior.  I have been amazed over the years as I see the influence that my behavior has on others.  I feel it brings respect and a kind of trust that can come in no other way.  I am sometimes surprised that people, including co-workers, will unsolicited confide in me details of problems they are working out and seek my advice and opinion.  I am then able to share my beliefs that following the teachings of Jesus Christ can and does help me deal with problems and that it can help them too.  Because I am shy, I find great comfort in sharing my feelings about the gospel online and am an active LDS blogger.  I also use modern technology like Facebook and Twitter to share my life.  The gospel comes up in the natural course of sharing things online and results in online dialogs in non-threatening and informative way.

12. How does making right choices help us make more right choices?

When we choose the right even when it is hard to do, we strengthen our character and develop integrity.  Deciding to do the right thing one time makes it easier to do the right thing the next time.  Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have the added advantage of the gift of the Holy Ghost.  This gift helps us understand what the right thing to do is in difficult situations.  When we decide to follow the impressions of the Holy Ghost in making life’s choices, we show God that we value and appreciate this gift.  The impressions of the spirit will then become stronger or easier to recognize and we can grow in always making right choices.  Of course, being mortal, we will all make mistakes.  The Holy Ghost can also help us repent and make better choices in the future.

13. In what ways have your prayers been answered?

There are so many countless examples over the years that it is hard to share just one or two.  Perhaps the most dramatic for me was on the day that I proposed to my wife.  After I returned home from my mission, I had been praying for quite some time to find a woman who believed as I did and with whom I could be happy.  I was dating my wife’s best friend but the chemistry was just not there.  One day my wife invited me to a ball game and I told her about my troubles getting her friend to like me.  I could see that her feelings were hurt. The next day I visited her in her home and had a long conversation about life and marriage and family.  I had some very powerful spiritual feelings as I was talking to her that I knew were an answer to my prayers.  I proposed on the spot and we were married a few months later.  The Lord helped me with one of the most important decisions of my life.

14. What are you doing to help strengthen your family and make it successful?

My role in the family is to provide security and stability – both financial and spiritual.  I enjoy my responsibility to work and earn the money that we need to have a home, food, clothing and other necessities of life.  But more importantly, I enjoy my responsibility to provide spiritual direction for my family.  We are strengthened by attending church together, by praying and reading the scriptures together and by pursuing worthwhile family goals.  For example, my wife and I take classes at the local community college in the evenings in an effort to improve ourselves and keep our minds active.  We are strengthened as we work together as a family to accomplish good things with our lives and to provide service in our church and our community.  The gospel of Jesus Christ helps us in this endeavor.

15. How has your knowledge of the Plan of Happiness changed/benefited your life?

Sometimes this life can be a drag on the spirit because of all the disappointments and setbacks that come as a natural part of living in this world.  Understanding the Plan of Happiness helps me to realize that such setbacks are temporary.  I remain convinced that the Lord is very involved in my life and wants to help me through my journey until I am ready to return to his presence in the life to come.  Knowing that I lived before I came to this world to experience mortality helps me to have a bigger picture of things.  Knowing that I will live in the world to come and that I will someday be resurrected with a glorious and eternal body give me hope that goes beyond the drudgery and dullness that this life can sometimes be.  The Plan of Happiness is just that – a plan for me to find and achieve happiness through faith in Jesus Christ, repentance and enduring to the end of mortality true to what I know.

16. What is hope and what do you hope for?

Hope is the belief and conviction that there is purpose and meaning to this life.  Hope is the understanding that even though we pass through trials and troubles, we can have the assurance that our experiences are for our good and will cause us to grow.  I hope for a glorious resurrection.  I know that this is dependant upon my personal righteousness and my works of faith in this life.  Yes, the resurrection is a free gift to all men, but we believe that the quality of our lives in the hereafter is very much dependant on our actions here.  This life is a time of testing and proving and we can hope that our efforts in struggling against opposition in this world will be rewarded by a just and merciful God who wants to bless and help us through it.

17. How has the Book of Mormon helped you understand the purpose of life?

In the Book of Mormon we read that “men are that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25).  I can’t think of any more concise and explicit scriptural reference that helps us understand the purpose of life.  Of course, the Book of Mormon provides a lot more insight into how we go about finding that joy and even helps us to understand what true joy is.  One of my favorite stories in the Book of Mormon is the prophet Lehi’s dream about the Tree of Life (1 Nephi 8).  In his dream he partakes of the fruit of the tree which is desirable to make one happy and is sweet above all that he had ever before tasted.  Eating of the fruit fills our soul with exceedingly great joy.  The fruit of course is the love of God and we obtain it by holding fast to the Word of God that is represented by the Rod of Iron in Lehi’s dream.  What a great story!

18. How has the Holy Ghost helped you?

I consider the Gift of the Holy Ghost one of the greatest blessings in my life.  There have been so many instances in which I have been helped by the Holy Ghost that it is hard to imagine getting through this life without this wonderful gift.  The Holy Ghost inspires me and encourages me to do things that are hard to do but that result in happiness for me and for others in my life.  The Holy Ghost has warned me of danger many times, prompting me to stay away from certain things and places.  The Holy Ghost has helped me by prompting me to a certain course of action that I otherwise might not have considered.  The Holy Ghost has been my constant companion in my work, helping me to remember things that, if forgotten, could have been the cause of much distress or pain.  The Holy Ghost has comforted me in times of sorrow and distress, helping me to feel the love of my Heavenly Father and my Savior even when I do not feel worthy of their love.

19. What blessings have come through your faith in Jesus Christ?

It is because of my faith in Jesus Christ that I am able to get through some of the more difficult aspects of my life.  For example, it is hard for me to do things in a public setting.  But I have been taught and believe that it will be for my good.  The Lord has promised me through the scriptures that he will help me through these difficult circumstances as I exercise faith in him.  And like everyone in this world, I am no stranger to making mistakes and poor choices, even when I know better.  It is through my faith in Jesus Christ that I put into practice one of my favorite little sayings that helps me keep going: “Success is not in never falling, but in getting up each and every time we fall.”  I know that I can be a better person than my fallen human nature would dictate, and it is through faith in Jesus Christ that I am willing to make greater effort each day to be the man that I know he would have me be.

20. How can we develop greater harmony in our homes?

One of the best ways I know of to live in harmony as a family is to do all within our power to avoid criticism, cutting remarks or any attempt to make another family member feel less than loved.  We do this by sharing the same ideals and goals – to seek happiness in living the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Where some family members may not have fully accepted the vision of the gospel, we can provide an example of tolerance and patience with them, just as our Heavenly Father and our Savior do with us.  Fighting, arguing, bickering and contemptuous behavior toward any family member is not the way to have peace and harmony in our homes.  Thus, we pray each day that such undesirable activities are mitigated by expressing love and kindness in all that we do.  We are each at differing levels of maturity in our understanding of this concept, so it is up to those who do, to live it better each day.

21. Can you think of a specific challenge in your family that Gospel Principles helped overcome?

Like most families, we have experienced our share of challenges that have tested our faith and caused us to lean deeply on our understanding of the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ to overcome.  For example, my wife and I have both lost parents to death, have had our share of serious health problems, including cancer, and have suffered through multiple seasons of financial stress due to unexpected unemployment.  In addition, we have been pained as not all family members have accepted our faith in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.  But it is because of the teachings of Christ that we are encouraged to be patient, that we are comforted when discouraged, that we are inspired when distressed and that we are given strength when we feel weak.  We go on and we press forward, believing that it will all work out for our good, either in this life or in the life to come.  We meet those challenges with strength knowing that we are not alone and that God has promised to help us through them if we will but exercise our faith in Jesus Christ and remain true and faithful to him.

22. How can your talents and gifts bless others?

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe that God gives gifts to each member for the purpose of blessing and supporting each other in this life.  Some of those gifts and talents are more obvious, such as singing, musical ability, acting, performing or even a talent to be able to speak with confidence in front of the congregation (trust me, not all members have this talent).  But the scriptures teach that God gives some gift or talent to every member.  Perhaps one is blessed with the ability to be a good listener, another to share heart-felt testimony of how they know the church to be true, others with the gift of teaching children or even just the talent of being able to live peacefully among their neighbors.  When we share our talents and gifts with others, God blesses us and we are “magnified” or made more effective so that others can receive the same benefits that we enjoy.

23. Think about your everyday activities. What are things you act upon each day where you cannot see the end results? How does faith move you to action?

A very simple everyday activity for me that is an act of faith is prayer.  I have never seen an angel or heard a voice in response to my prayers, but I continue to pray each day, believing that God does hear and answer my prayers.  And indeed he has – by sending the comforting feelings of the Holy Ghost to bless and confirm to me that he loves me and wants me to know the truth for myself.  My faith in God and my trust in the words of his prophets as found in the scriptures causes me to continue to pray both as an individual, with my family, in my congregation and in the homes of other members of the church that I visit.  The end results of my prayers are not always evident right way but are just as certain as if I had seen the effects at the time of the prayer.  I am confident; yes I can say that I know, that God hears and answers our prayers that are offered in faith and with real intent.

24. How has the Book of Mormon brought you closer to God?

I first read the Book of Mormon when I was very young – probably 5 or 6 years old.  I read it out loud with my mother, who was a schoolteacher.  Our family had recently joined the Mormon Church so this was also my mother’s first time reading the Book of Mormon.  I remember the special feelings I had as we read it together.  I felt a warm and comforting spirit as I read. I have read the Book of Mormon many times in the many years since I first read it.  In fact, there is not a year that goes by in which we do not read from it either individually or as a family.  No matter how many times we read the same passages, we always seem to learn something new or have our faith in the truthfulness of the book reaffirmed.  The same warm feelings always return. But it is by following the principles of the gospel that are written in the Book of Mormon that we draw closer to God.  It is in the pages of the Book of Mormon that we learn more about the purpose of life and God’s plan of happiness for us.  The Book of Mormon teaches us to study things out and to pray about them that we may know of their truthfulness for ourselves.

25. Can you talk about the missions of the Church and your participation in them?

Up until recently, we as members of church recited the mission of the church as follows: to preach the gospel, redeem the dead and to perfect the saints.  Within the past year, a fourth mission has been added: to care for the poor and the needy.  We now call these four areas of focus simply the purposes of the church.  In my life, I have participated in each of these areas by serving a mission and continuing to share the gospel, by doing family history or genealogy work and by magnifying my callings to serve in the church as a teacher, leader or whatever I’m asked to do.  I’m grateful to be able to assist in caring for the poor and the needy by contributing money to the fast offering funds of the church and by volunteering to serve food at the local homeless shelter on a regular basis.  These missions or purposes of the church help me as an individual member focus on what is really important to our Heavenly Father – to save his children, both temporally and spiritually.

Divine manifestations must have a purpose


One of the delightful parts of a stake temple night is the opportunity to be taught by a member of the temple presidency.  On one particular occasion many years ago, the Temple President felt inspired to relate a few stories that patrons had shared with him about spiritual manifestations that they had received while serving in the LA temple.  It was an uplifting and edifying session.

I was very impressed with what the Temple President spoke about that evening.  He related some very sacred experiences of visits from the other side of the veil from deceased family members for whom the work was being done.  He gave specific examples of what people saw, heard or felt that was evidence to them of the validity of this work and that it is accepted by their relatives.

A conversation with my Stake President

While preparing to leave the temple that evening, I conversed with my Stake President about the things the Temple President had taught us in our chapel session.  I had served with this Stake President for several years on the High Council and felt comfortable sharing heartfelt concerns.  I knew that he would carefully consider what I had to say before answering with thoughtfulness.

“President”, I said, “I’ve been coming to this temple since I was twelve years old.  In fact, I was six years old when I was sealed here to my parents.  I have many sacred memories of this place.  I was endowed here when I was nineteen and married to my sweetheart not too many years after completing my mission.  I have participated in several thousand ordinances here in this temple.

Sacred temple manifestations

“So why is it that I have never experienced any of these kinds of sacred manifestations that the temple president described?”  As I expected, he thought for a few minutes while we continued to change back into our street clothes after the evening’s temple work was completed.  After a moment, he paused, put his hand on my shoulder and then responded very slowly and carefully.

“Brother Malone, some people do not require manifestations to be faithful.  The Lord knows their hearts and knows what they need.  You apparently do not need any additional evidence that the work being performed in these temples is valid and acceptable to both the Lord and to those for whom it is performed.  Your years of faithfulness are proof that you know the work is true.”

The Lord bears witness

He was right, of course.  I didn’t need a manifestation to know that the work being done in the temples is of eternal significance and validity.  I had known that since I was a child and had never doubted it.  I thought about his response and realized that there was never an occasion when I attended the temple that I didn’t feel the warmth and comfort of the spirit of the Lord.

It was just another piece of evidence to me that the Spirit of the Lord is always present when priesthood ordinances are performed, especially in the House of the Lord.  I didn’t need any additional evidence because I had the constant companionship of the Lord each time I sat in an endowment session or knelt across the altar in a sealing session.  Yes, I knew the work was true.

To uplift and edify

I have the same kind of experience each week when I attend Sacrament meeting, and especially in a testimony meeting.  There is just something special about attending church each week and partaking of the Sacrament.  I just feel different by the end of the meeting.  I feel happy and feel that my burdens have been lifted.  It never fails.  I feel this strengthening each week after church.

This uplifting feeling is always the same whether I am conducting the meeting as a member of the Bishopric, or just sitting in the congregation as a regular member of the ward.  I love to hear members of my ward teach the gospel from the pulpit and share their feelings about the truth of what they have learned and have taught.  Sacrament meeting is always uplifting and edifying.

Testimony meetings

Last Sunday I sat in our monthly ward testimony meeting and thought about the different kinds of testimonies I was hearing.  The Bishop was short and succinct.  He bore witness of the five basic points of an LDS testimony and then sat down, inviting others to share their testimonies.  I got up and rambled a little bit about testimonies and then bore witness of the same five points.

As we progressed through the meeting, I noted that some members talked about experiences that demonstrated to them that the Lord knew them personally and that he hears and answers their prayers.  Others spoke about the trials through which they were passing and then concluded with assertions that they knew the Lord loved them would not leave them comfortless in their trials.

When we say “I know”

I listened very closely to each testimony waiting for the phrases “I know” and “I believe.”  I think I heard “I believe” maybe once or twice.  “I know” was used by the majority of those who shared their testimonies.  I know these people and know that when they say that they know that the church is true, and that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, they mean it sincerely.

I was listening closely because of recent conversation with readers of my blog about testimonies and what it means to say the church is true.  I now try to qualify what I mean when I say that by adding some additional phrases like, “because angels conferred priesthood keys upon the Prophet Joseph Smith,” and “because angels ordained Joseph Smith and gave him priesthood authority.”

Authority and the true church

You see, this authority thing is very important to me.  I’ve had a lot of dialogs with visitors to Latter-day Commentary about this very important subject.  I’ve tried to share with them that the idea of priesthood authority is one of the most important aspects of a church that claims to be the true church of Jesus Christ.  Ordinances of salvation require God’s authority to perform them.

That’s all we really mean when we say that we are the true church.  We are simply saying that angels came from the spirit world and gave Joseph Smith divine permission to do what he did in establishing the Church of Jesus Christ upon the earth again in these latter days.  Of course, the idea that angels have visited man in our day is a very difficult thing for some people to accept.

Angels, visions and revelation

I have never seen an angel.  I have had no divine vision with my natural eyes.  I have never heard an audible voice from the spirit world. Yet I have never questioned that Joseph Smith saw God, was visited by angels, received revelations and brought forth the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God.  Some of my readers find it fantastic that I can believe Joseph was a prophet.

How is this possible?  On what basis do I stand and say “I know that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, that Joseph was a prophet and that this is the true church of Jesus Christ with a prophet at the head today?”  If I have not seen God or Jesus, and was not there when Joseph brought forth the Book or Mormon, how am I a witness?

Divine manifestations must have a purpose

In all my years in this church, I don’t think I have ever met anyone who said to me, “Yes, I saw God.  He visited me and told me…”  I have never had someone say to me, “I was praying very earnestly one night and the Lord appeared to me to tell me that he loved me and that my sins were forgiven.”  I have also never heard anyone relate to me that they were visited by an angel.

Now perhaps you know people who have received such manifestations or maybe you have been the recipient of angelic visitations.  I think that’s wonderful.  I assume the visits had a purpose.  I guess I’ve never felt the need for divine manifestations beyond what I have already received when I was young as I prayed to know that the Book of Mormon was indeed the word of God.

We live far beneath our privileges

When I was seventeen I was extremely motivated to obtain a manifestation from God about my standing before him and to know if the Book of Mormon was what Joseph said it was.  I obtained both of those witnesses and a few more that the Lord felt were needed in order to help me fulfill my purpose in life.  I’ve been coasting on those manifestations for the past thirty-five years.

I’m wondering if I’ve been coasting too long.  Our former stake president, now serving as a mission president, often repeated this from Brigham Young.  He said, “[We] may have the Spirit of the Lord to . . . direct [us]. . . . I am satisfied, however, that, in this respect, we live far beneath our privileges.”  Is there more the Lord wants us to have besides what he has already given us?

Summary and conclusion

The Lord reveals himself to man when he has a purpose or a mission for them to perform.  He sends angels to instruct man and teach him about the work that he wants performed.  He sends his spirit to assure men and women that the work in which they are engaged is divine.  He gives gifts of the spirit to help us do his work.  For Joseph, one needed gift was the power to translate.

When I needed to know that the church and the Book of Mormon were of divine origin, the Lord sent his spirit and confirmed these things in my heart and mind.  Over the years, that same spirit has encouraged and motivated me to ever increasing faithfulness and obedience.  Is the Lord willing to provide additional manifestations, and if so, what is the purpose they would serve?

What they don’t tell you about Bishopric meetings


Except for a year off for good behavior to teach Primary, I have been participating in ward leadership meetings every Sunday morning for the past twenty-five years.  Sixteen of those years included Bishopric meetings, either as an Executive Secretary, a Ward Clerk, or a Bishop’s Counselor.  I don’t know why I’ve been so blessed but this experience has been a major part of my adult life.

Since Carol and I have lived in multiple wards and stakes over the years, I have sat in council with at least ten different bishops, sometimes as a High Council advisor.  Two of the wards have been young single adult wards.  I’ve got to tell you that there is something special about Bishops of YSA wards.  In one YSA ward, the Bishop and one counselor had both been Stake Presidents.

Love of the people

Not one of these bishops ran things exactly the same as others with whom I served.  Some were good administrators and some weren’t.  Some knew how to delegate and others had a tendency to do most of the work themselves.  Some were sticklers for following the handbook and some weren’t.  But all were focused on the people over the programs.  Without exception.  Every one.

If there is one thing that stands out among bishops with whom I have worked, and one thing that to me represents the mantle of a bishop, it is a love for the people whom they serve, especially the youth.  That love is the same thing that impressed me about the bishops of my youth.  I knew they all cared deeply about me and wanted to help me grow into a successful and faithful adult.

Desire to do God’s will

Now I know that not everybody has this experience with their bishops.  Yes, I have read some of the horror stories.  I am acquainted with the claims of spiritual abuse, but have not seen it with any of the bishops in my experience.  Some of the bishops would sometimes complain about the dumb things that members of the ward would do, but I never saw any unrighteous dominion.

I have sat in literally dozens of disciplinary councils over the years, both on the ward and stake level.  Even when the result was excommunication, I have never felt anything but profound love and concern for the individual and an intense desire to do the will of the Lord in the matter being considered.  That has always been the common desire of these bishops, who are imperfect men.

A tech savvy bishop

In today’s Internet age, I am grateful to serve with a Bishop today who understands and uses texting to keep in touch with his flock, in this case, all young single adults.  He is also savvy about the Internet and knows exactly what goes on out there.  He is aware of the LDS forums, both those that are uplifting and those that aren’t.  And yes, he has read Rough Stone Rolling.

I bring that up because it is indicative of a Bishop who is aware of what the young people are reading.  I am a church news junkie and am constantly amazed by how well informed this bishop is in comparison to some previous bishops.  Maybe it’s just that we are living in the day of the Internet, but it’s a delight to have conversations about items being discussed in the Bloggernacle.

Great Bishopric meetings

Because most bishops are usually counseling members during Sunday school, we take the first part of our Bishopric meeting for gospel study.  Sometimes we will spend a half hour discussing a scripture or a quote from the Brethren and how it applies to us and to the ward members.  Some of the bishops I served with preferred shorter meetings so we did not have lengthy gospel study.

I have long felt that a ward leadership meeting should never be more than an hour.  If you’re going to make it longer, that time should be well spent in understanding the will of the Lord as revealed in the scriptures in these latter days.  The majority of a Bishopric meeting is consumed with staffing the ward, which of course involves discussing the right calling for ward members.

Callings through inspiration

If you have never sat in a Bishopric meeting you may wonder how callings are determined.  Of course we always open our meetings with prayer, and usually sing a hymn first and then have a spiritual thought.  We review the list of recent converts to determine if they are progressing in the gospel.  As we are a transient ward, we are also constantly reviewing the new move-in list.

The Bishop usually ponders for a long time who the Lord would have fulfill a major calling like the head of an organization.  Those do not come up very often.  When they do, the Bishop will usually inform his counselors of who he has in mind, after which a discussion ensues of how that individual will fulfill that particular calling and how the needs of the ward members will be met.

Gift of discernment

The Bishop is very concerned that callings issued to ward members are ones that will bless them, that will help them to grow and that are the will of the Lord.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard Bishops pray for the gift of discernment to know where the Lord would have certain individuals serve.  Serving in the church is a big deal and it helps us to grow and to love others.

Although it doesn’t always happen, I have been amazed at the number of times as a counselor I have issued a call to an individual to hear them say that they were praying for an opportunity to serve and that they knew that this particular call was coming.  It is rewarding to see that when we pray for inspiration to place people in callings that the inspiration is real and is from the Lord.

Accepting callings

I don’t know if my experience has been unique in issuing calls but I can only remember a couple of occasions on which I did not extend the call after we had agreed upon it in Bishopric meeting.  It became apparent after an interview in the home of the individual that the calling would not be in their best interest at that time.  It is usually because I learned of extenuating circumstances.

You may wonder why we weren’t inspired that the call wasn’t right before we went to extend it.  Remember, we had prayed for inspiration and felt united as a Bishopric that it was the right thing to do at that time.  All I can tell you is that this has rarely happened and that it just may be a part of the inspiration process to visit the home before the spirit can confirm that it is OK to proceed.

Confirmation of the spirit

Perhaps a description of the process we go through when we deliberate in a disciplinary council will help explain the process of inspiration a little better.  After hearing the facts of the matter, we excuse the individual and discuss the options outlined in the church handbook.  The primary concern is always how the action we take will affect the individual and help them to repent.

We make a decision an then present it to the Lord in prayer.  We each kneel and the Bishop asks one of those present to offer the prayer.  We tell the Lord what we have decided and ask that we may know through a confirming witness of the spirit that the decision is right.  We then conclude the prayer and the Bishop usually asks each member of the council if they are still in agreement.

Knowledge revealed from God

Sometimes the will of the Lord is obvious to all present.  There is an unspoken communication that takes place between us.  We each just know that the decision is correct.  We know by the same process that individual members receive a testimony – by knowledge from the Holy Ghost.  That is one of the blessings of serving in a Bishopric.  You come to know how revelation works.

That’s what most people don’t know about Bishopric meetings – the amazing experience that we have each week with revelation.  It is one of the best training grounds for understanding how the Lord communicates his will to the mind of man.  I can tell you from many years of rich and deep experience that this process of revelation has always been present and it is a sacred experience.

Summary and conclusion

You may know former bishops or bishopric counselors who have said that there is a lot of small administrative detail that goes on in priesthood leadership meetings.  You may even be a former bishop yourself.  Yes, I agree that it can be tedious week after week to address some of the same issues over and over as callings need to be filled.  It takes effort to ensure that God is involved.

Bishopric meetings can be a most amazing and rewarding experience as humble yet imperfect men unite in prayer to seek the mind and will of the Lord on behalf of the people that they serve.  But to me, the most gratifying part of serving in a Bishopric is to be tutored by the Holy Ghost in how revelation works.  It is a real thing and it is used constantly to further the work of the Lord.

Rachel Esplin video continues to be a hit


Last November, LDS Harvard undergrad Rachel Esplin made viral video news with her incredibly articulate and intelligent responses to some very difficult questions about the Mormon faith. She was asked whether she wears sacred undergarments, if Mormonism is a cult, how she views the role of women in her church, and what her relationship is with Jesus. For not having served a mission, this young 20-year old is an amazing missionary for the LDS faith.

The interview is twenty minutes long and something you may enjoy viewing as part of a Family Home Evening or perhaps even burning it to a DVD and sharing it in a Sunday School lesson about how to share the gospel in today’s media savvy world. Rachel was on the debate team in her high school and her mother teaches at BYU Idaho. But still, this young woman did a better job than I ever could at responding to difficult questions with poise and confidence.

You may also be interested in viewing some of the hundreds of comments that accompanied just one typical news piece covering the popularity of the video as it appeared in the Boston Globe.  I think the very first comment is excellent as it helps us to see how the world perceives us as being closed and secretive.  Especially note the tenor of the comments that focus on the claims of exclusivity.  This continues to be a difficult point for many to deal with both within and without the church.

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=2120177&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=&fullscreen=1

Day of Faith: Personal Quests for a Purpose – 3. Rachel Esplin from Harvard Hillel on Vimeo.

Spiritual experiences as a foundation for faith


I have been intrigued by Blake Ostler’s 2007 FAIR conference presentation entitled, “Spiritual Experiences as the Basis for Belief and Commitment.”  I have read it several times and have decided that Blake is on to something that I would like to develop further.  As you can see I have modified his title a little bit for use in my essay.  I highly recommend you read his essay first.

I’m going to focus on two points he made as he was answering questions towards the end of the presentation.  The first is this: “Memory, and what we do, is changed every time we think about it and remember it.”  The second is this: “All logic is ex post facto to prove what we already feel is true.”  Keep those points in mind as I advance some ideas on my experience with revelation.

Youthful revelatory experiences

Like Blake, I had some remarkable revelatory experiences when I was young that impressed me at the time but have impressed me even more as I have pondered and remembered them over the years.  I have written about them previously, but will list them here to provide some background.  Don’t think that these sacred events were easily obtained or casually absorbed.  They weren’t.

I was taught and believe that we cannot live on borrowed light.  Throughout my Seminary and Institute experience, I must have heard dozens of lessons on how vitally important it is to obtain our own witness of the spirit in order to remain committed to the church and the gospel in later years.  My teachers taught me and the spirit confirmed that I could receive personal revelation.

Foundational spiritual events

The first revelatory experience to which I’ll refer was obtained while I was a student at BYU Idaho.  I was seventeen years old and very immature but very impressed with a testimony I had heard that week from an Apostle of the Lord.  That weekend in my room I prayed fervently for many hours to know for myself that what he had said was true and important for me in my life.

The next impressive spiritual event in the development of my testimony was the next year when I was eighteen years old and preparing myself to serve a mission.  I have also shared this one in a previous essay.  The experience was equally as impressive as the first one though it was perhaps deeper in meaning and implication.  These are part of my early foundational spiritual memories.

Deep impact on my faith

These were not my only youthful revelatory experiences.  I have recorded several others in my journals that came almost unbidden during the years before my mission.  Although I received them as a result of prayer, the effort was not as intense.  In other words, I did not pray for many hours or fast for days to obtain the other experiences.  Nevertheless, they were just as powerful.

Because of these events, I was able to go through the difficult and rigorous experience of serving as a missionary without looking back and wondering why I decided to sacrifice like that for two years.  I had these sacred memories burning in my heart and being added unto with additional everyday assurances from the Lord that I was engaged in his work and that he was appreciative.

Working with imperfect people

Life marches on.  An education is obtained, a marriage is solemnized in the temple, a family is raised and increasing responsibilities in a career and in the church are rewarding and fulfilling.  As sometimes happens, I begin to learn things about my faith, and especially about the people in it that are at first disturbing and then disappointing.  I experience some logical inconsistencies.

Cognitive dissonance can be a painful experience when it includes people from our world who are in authoritative positions.  For example, a beloved bishop from my youth became inactive after he was released.  How could this happen?  He represented the Lord to me in interviews that I held sacred.  He helped me resolve several youthful problems and encouraged me to be faithful.

Imperfections even at high levels

Another bishop from my youth is disciplined after fiscal improprieties in his business dealings are revealed.  I learn of divorces of people whom I admired, some of whom were influential in my youth.  I then begin to learn of difficulties in higher levels of the church – stake presidents who lose their testimonies and announce to their congregations that they are leaving the faith.

A promising general authority is excommunicated for breaking the law of chastity.  I discover that an apostle was excommunicated for this very same reason less than forty years earlier.  How is this possible – a modern apostle excommunicated?  I can understand it happening in the early days of the church but not in our day and age.  These are men of God.  Tell me this wasn’t so!

Sacred things exposed and mocked

I discovered that a former ordinance worker in the temple had recorded the temple ceremony and then published it.  How could he do that?  I hold the temple sacred and have enjoyed so many wonderful experiences there over the years.  What could cause him to lose his faith and reveal something that means so much to me?  Did he never have any spiritual experiences of his own?

From the earliest days of the church there have been those who have not been impressed with the sacred nature of the temple and have exposed things that they have covenanted to keep sacred.  In our day there are those who claim to have received the second anointing and then describe it on the message boards of those who hate the church.  Something’s not right with this picture.

Not all members receive revelation

I used to think that everybody in the church had spiritual experiences similar to those I enjoyed in my youth.  Over the years, I have come to realize that this is not the case.  Can that be true even for those who have served as bishops, stake presidents or even general authorities?  In my opinion, yes – personal experience has shown this to be so.  Not all members receive revelation.

That has been an amazing thing for me to contemplate.  Was I just extremely lucky or blessed to believe that I could receive revelation when I was so young?  Several visitors to my blog over the years have tried to convince me that I did not receive revelation.  They have suggested that what I experienced was a form of self-hypnosis, or simply the effect of a frenzied, emotional state.

Memories can be enlarged

Back to Blake’s two points, memory first.  I have come to realize that although my early spiritual experiences occurred nearly thirty-five years ago, they are clearer in my mind now then when I first experienced them.  The combination of pondering them and writing about them has helped me to understand that there was much more detail in the experiences than what I first thought.

As Blake pointed out in his essay, this helps me to understand why Joseph Smith could recount the same First Vision experience differently in each of the accounts he relates over the years.  I was so focused on determining my own standing before God in my first youthful manifestation that I had overlooked how deeply and powerfully the Lord spoke to me about missionary labors.

How to explain all this

Blake’s second point was that all logic is created to prove what we already feel is true.  I have had prima facia experiences that overrule any logical inconsistencies I have encountered in what I have learned about the history and people of this church as I have studied it in more depth.  In effect, I have not really experienced cognitive dissonance at all because the spiritual trumps logical.

Let me restate that.  My spiritual revelatory experiences with the Holy Ghost early in my life have proven to be so powerful that it seems that no matter what kind of troubling things I may learn about the men who run or have run this church, I feel inoculated and immune to their effect.  My evangelical friends call this “living in the protective Mormon bubble of a testimony.”

Summary and conclusion

My experiences with the Holy Ghost are not going to be the same as yours.  They may be similar or they may be completely different.  For me, these revelatory events in my youth have provided a foundation for my experiences in this church thus far.  I have encountered much imperfection and weakness in the men who run it, but the spiritual witnesses of my life have protected me.

The bottom line is that I continue to believe that the LDS Church is what it claims to be when it was setup through the prophet Joseph Smith in 1830.  The simple fact is that we can know this for ourselves through revelatory encounters with the Holy Ghost.  No matter what negative things I discover, nothing can overcome the strength of that personal witness if I remain worthy.

——————————————————

Note about the illustration: This artist’s conception of Joseph translating the Book of Mormon is one that is highly criticized by some members of the church.  They feel it is disingenuous because it does not show Joseph using the seer stones in the hat.  It also shows the plates in plain view of Oliver which was not the case.  Joseph was not to show them to anyone unless commanded of the Lord.

Mormon Church is not the fastest growing


According to the National Council of Churches, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not the fastest growing church in the United States. The National Council of Churches produces the Yearbook of Canadian and American Churches. For 2008, it lists the Jehovah’s Witnesses as the fastest growing at 2.25%, while the LDS Church is listed second with a growth rate of 1.56%.

Let’s take a closer look at those numbers. The Jehovah’s Witnesses do not rank in the top five or even the top ten in number of members. In fact they are listed at dead last in the top 25 at just over one million members. American membership statistics for the LDS Church are 5.8 million members, making the church number four on the top of the list.

Worldwide numbers for the Jehovah’s Witnesses are about 17 million, but they are very careful to only count active members – those who attended and spent ten hours witnessing each month. I wonder how the numbers for the LDS Church would look if we counted only those who come to at least one Sacrament meeting each month. Our numbers would easily be cut in half. Instead of thirteen million members, we could only count about seven million ‘active’ members worldwide and maybe three million in the United States.

The Roman Catholic church is listed first at 67.5 million members, with the Southern Baptist Convention second at 16.3 million members. The United Methodist Church is listed third at nearly eight million members. After the LDS Church at fourth (5.8 million), the top five is rounded out by the Church of God in Christ at 5.5 million members. Can we apply the same percentages for active members to other churches or is it worse for them?

Of the 25 churches listed, only six showed growth. All others were flat or showed decreases. The churches listed in order of growth percentages are the Jehovah’s witnesses at 2.25%, the LDS Church at 1.56%, the Roman Catholic Church at 0.87%, the Southern Baptist Convention at 0.22%, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church at 0.21% and the Assemblies of God at 0.19%. Not very many churches showed growth.

Every church seems to report their numbers differently. For comparison purposes, most use the number baptized. If you look at the total number of baptized members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the United States, that number would be 2.35 million. The National Council of Churches used their ‘active’ membership instead of their baptized membership. You can also see the same report for 2007 on their website.

In 2006 the Jehovah’s Witnesses claimed 1,059,325 active members in the United States at their peak. In 2007 that number was 1,084,005. That’s an increase of 24,680 or only 0.25%. I guess it all depends on how you count the numbers. 37,243 were baptized in 2007 while only 28,915 were baptized in 2006. That’s an increase of only 8,328 in the United States. In 2007 the LDS Church reported 272,845 adult converts baptized and 94,006 children added. The breakdown in the United States is not reported.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported 298,304 baptisms worldwide in 2007 and 248,327 in 2006. That’s an increase of about 50,000. In 2006 the LDS Church reported 243,108 converts for 2005 and 93,150 children added. Our numbers are always for the previous year. The increase of 29,737 is obviously less than the Jehovah’s Witness increase of 50,000. So yes, the Jehovah’s Witnesses church is growing faster than the LDS Church in the United States.

But who cares about numbers? Religion is all about how we treat each other and how well we live according to our faith that really counts. Are you surprised by the numbers?

NOTE: This blog has not been conforming to the official style guide in reference to the name of the church. The name of the church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I just couldn’t fit that in the headline.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,109 other followers