Posts Tagged ‘Testimony’
From a reader: I have a question; I was curious what you meant by “those still in the uncorrelated church.” Are there LDS churches not correlated? Thanks! My response: Ah yes, was wondering if someone would ask about that. Glad to know someone’s reading and thinking about my stuff.
Tightly Structured Teaching
The uncorrelated church (Google it) is a phrase made popular by John Dehlin a few years ago. It refers to the idea of a church being a body of believers, not necessarily a specific congregation, who are not too fond of the direction from Salt Lake that “you shall” present, study and discuss specific topics within tight constraints each Sunday in the block of meetings. They object to the idea of correlation as being a tactic or practice that kills the spirit because, the impression is, you are only allowed to bring up specific “approved” quotes and specific scriptures when discussing the assigned topic. The people who see the church as being too tightly correlated do not seem to enjoy teaching methods where one individual stands at the front of the class and spews forth everything they have studied during the past week.
New Youth Curriculum
The church recognizes this and is doing something about it. Beginning with the youth this year, the classes are designed to be less formal and structured, encouraging more involvement and discussion by the participants and less rigid in what can be shared or discussed in that specific class. The problem is that we are a church of lay teachers, so many of whom struggle with the confidence needed to effectively lead a class or to even present a decent sacrament talk without strong and tight direction from the priesthood leaders. It has even come to the point where ward and stake leaders hand out, in writing, specific rules of what you shall and shall not say when standing in front of the congregation. As President Lee opined when correlation was just beginning, he was afraid it would kill the spirit of revelation. I believe it has.
Sharing Sacred Experiences
Everybody is afraid to share any kind of personal or sacred spiritual experience that may be misunderstood because it hasn’t been run through correlation, the committee that approves everything that goes into our manuals. We are repeatedly warned in priesthood bulletins and directives to prevent or not allow individuals to teach unauthorized and unapproved doctrine from the pulpit and in the classrooms. I get that. I have seen the result of false doctrine being taught. A well-meaning brother or sister may share a beautiful, uplifting story that touches the heart and stirs the emotions but unfortunately, is based on a false premise or belief. It does more harm than good. So the church has cracked down over the years, beginning back in the 1950’s and reaching the zenith in the last decade. I have watched this happen firsthand.
Approved Stories Only
But again, the problem is that correlation has created an environment of fear in our church. Members are so afraid to say or share anything that is not in the official approved curriculum that they just keep their mouths shut. Very few people know what’s approved and what’s not so they don’t say what the spirit puts into their heart to say for fear of incurring the wrath of someone who says, “Where did you read that? Are you sure that’s approved by the Brethren?” Then they turn to whatever priesthood leader is sitting in the class and wait for him to respond. It puts the poor priesthood leader on the spot. I have seen this over and over in Gospel Doctrine classes. The pendulum has swung too far. I remember hearing all kinds of wild things when I was growing up but at least people felt they could share among their fellow saints.
Unique Spiritual Feelings
One specific example that really rankles me is the idea of discussing what happens during prayer. You and I have dialoged about this in our recent emails. Can you imagine bringing up your question when the subject is being taught in a priesthood quorum about the vibrational feelings you and I have both experienced in prayer? We would get blank stares or worse. Unless you can put what you have experienced into the proper words that one of our apostles has recently used (can’t use words of old apostles) then your brethren in the quorum will feel uncomfortable with what you have shared. Perhaps if you use the phrase “feeling in tune” or “in harmony with the spirit” you might get some heads nodding. But what if what happened to you in prayer went beyond the vibrational phase or being in tune with God?
Visited by an Angel
What if, to use your example, while deep in prayer one night, feeling happy and loved, at peace with the universe, you poured out your heart in devotion and felt the love of God descend upon you in great power and abundance? You were so happy and filled with joy that you felt your heart might burst. Just at that moment your spirit leaves your body and you find yourself in the spirit world with a guide there to meet you and show you a few things that the Lord wanted you to know. You are wrapped in the spirit. You see and hear things that are unimaginable to anyone in this world who has never experienced such things for themselves. When you return, and are still filled with the spirit, you write these things in your journal as a great treasure. You taste the joy of the Lord with you for days, weeks and months to come.
Sharing Your Testimony
Now, what if, during a lesson on prayer and revelation, such as the one we’re going to receive in Gospel Doctrine class tomorrow, the teacher has you read D&C 42:61, which reads, “If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal,” and then asks, Brother Jones, (this is right out of the manual), “How have these promises been fulfilled in your life?” How would you respond? Remember, you have just received a marvelous manifestation from the Lord a few nights ago in which he showed you joyous things about the world to come. You have received revelation. You have received knowledge. You have beheld the mysteries of God which bring joy.
I Have Seen a Vision
Do you share that? What if you feel impressed to stand and say to the class (and not just to the teacher), slowly and distinctly, “I have asked for and have received revelation from God. I have been shown things in vision that have given me knowledge of the spirit world. I have been visited by angels. I have been taught the mysteries and peaceable things of God. I have felt his joy and understand better what eternal life is going to be like.” You then sit down. What do you think would happen? How would the teacher respond? How would the members in the class around you respond? Would they whisper to their neighbor, “Did he say he had seen an angel?” Would someone in next week’s Ward Council meeting say, “Did you hear what Brother Jones said in Gospel Doctrine class last week?” Could this happen?
Ward Council Meetings
You bet it could and it has. I have sat in those ward council meetings over the years. There is great concern expressed about what some members say in class. Because of this they are not asked to teach or to speak in church. In essence, they are ostracized for sharing their spiritual experience, when they felt prompted by the spirit to do so. They are shunned and looked upon as being weird or different. “Why, he said he’s seen an angel. He said he had a vision,” implying that such things are only for the prophet or the apostles. “I’ve never seen an angel or had a vision. What makes him special? I know Brother Jones. He’s a sinner. There’s no way the Lord would send him an angel. He must have been deceived.” Yes, I know this last part is fictional but it is based on real leadership meeting conversations.
All this is the result of correlation, where the members feel that unless something has been approved of the correlation committee in advance, you had better not share it in church. Correlation causes us to feel we must keep our spiritual experiences to ourselves and only share approved or authorized stuff from church history. Go take a look at lds.org under Resources, Manuals, Melchizedek Priesthood and note the wording, “will study,” and “are to be taught,” from “church-approved resources.” Do you get it? Isn’t that pretty tightly controlled and correlated, even to the point of what you will study or read? And that’s why I say I am still in the uncorrelated church. I am old school, an old man who grew up studying whatever I felt the Lord wanted me to study, not necessarily what Salt Lake told me to read and study.
I Sustain the Brethren
I’ll bet that was a lot more than you asked for wasn’t it? Thanks for asking. Hope you don’t mind if I post my response on my blog. I won’t reference you other than in passing as a reader. It might get me into trouble. I love this church and I love the people in it but we have a problem in that people who don’t know, understand, teach and answer with the “official church-approved answers” are made to feel that they don’t quite fit in. I’m one of those and always have been. Because I have made it a matter of great effort in personal study over the years I can teach and speak at the pulpit in the way the church wants. I am OK with that. I sustain the Brethren in the direction they have taken the Church through correlation. That doesn’t mean I agree with the results of correlation that I have seen firsthand in our church today.
A line in my patriarchal blessing reads, “if you will listen to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit, that comes to you, you will be directed into the path that you should go, that your advancement will not be detained, that you will use every possible moment in your development for the work that you have been called to do.”
I have long pondered that line and wondered what it meant. Now that I am getting old, I decided to look back at my life’s journey for evidence of the fulfillment of this promise. I was amazed at what I discovered with just a few moments of pondering. I share this as a journal entry, evidence of the Lord’s love for me.
A Blessing at the Age of Five
I attended the Presbyterian Church with my family the first five years of my life. I remember the singing and the constant getting up and down in the pews. I wondered what that was all about. Dad had to work most Sundays but mother took the rest of us to church each week. She was a schoolteacher and a good one.
In 1962 my mother had several people come into her life who were members of the church. She was intrigued. She asked questions. The missionaries came to our home. Most of my family was baptized. Of course, I was too young to receive that ordinance but in order to create a membership record I went up to the stand the next Sunday to be blessed by the Bishop.
I felt special. I felt like I belonged. I felt like I was in the right place. Even at the age of five, I knew when something was right. This felt right. I felt like I was part of something important. I loved growing up in the old Covina ward and Covina stake of the 1960s and 1970’s. I attended Primary, Sunday school, and later priesthood, Sacrament meeting, mutual and seminary.
Reading Book of Mormon at Age Eight
I have a small keepsake given to me by my Primary teacher when I was baptized. The memento is a well-known painting of the Savior laminated onto a round slice of a small tree. On the back are the words, “Congratulations on your baptism. Be sure to let him guide and direct all of your thoughts and actions. Remember to pray always. Love, Muriel Bay.”
I knew my Primary teacher loved me. She also gave me my own copy of the Book of Mormon. It had a plain brown cover. It was the first one I read. I read it with my mother out loud. It was also the first time she had read the Book of Mormon. She would mark out all the instances of “and it came to pass” because she thought they were distracting. We finished it together that year.
For the longest time I thought that everyone read the Book of Mormon aloud with their mother when they were eight. I now understand how special that was. Because of sacred feelings I felt as we read together, I have never doubted the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. I knew then and still know that it is the word of God and was given to us to guide and bless our lives.
God Can Show us Our Future
Shortly after I was baptized, we went as a family to Disneyland as we often did. There was an attraction called the Carousel of Progress in the park from 1967 to 1973. On the way out of the ride, you walked past an exhibit called “Progress City.” It was while looking at that exhibit one day that I felt the Holy Ghost whispering to me in a setting outside church or my home.
I don’t know why I found the exhibit so fascinating. I couldn’t wait to see it each time we went to the park. Perhaps it was the symbolism of the display. It seemed to speak to me of things that would come to pass in my life. On this particular occasion the feelings were intense. I seemed to hear the Lord saying, “I love you. You will participate in wonderful technology.”
The feeling was so real that I looked around to see who was talking to me. Yet I immediately realized that I had heard no audible voice. Nevertheless, the voice came into my mind and caused my heart to burn within me. I chalked it up to the magic of Walt Disney but the impression has stayed with me to this day as evidence of the whisperings of the Holy Spirit to me.
Recognizing a Lack of Authority
I didn’t do too well in school as a youth. Not because of any lack of ability but because of a lack of discipline. One year my mother felt it best to enroll me in a private religious school. I remember they required us to go to some sort of worship service at the end of each week. Something felt out of place. There was something missing but I couldn’t place my finger on it then.
I later realized what it was. It was the spirit whispering to me that the pastor who led the worship service was doing this as a part of his job. He got paid to preach the gospel to us. It felt different when my Primary teachers and Sunday school teachers taught me. It felt right. When this pastor taught, it was more for show, so the parents who paid his wages would be pleased.
From that day on I never doubted there was something special and unique about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Even as a ten-year old boy in California who barely paid attention in Primary or Sunday school, I recognized the spirit of the Lord when it moved on teachers who were set apart by those in authority. That authority is only found in the LDS church.
Putting Words in my Mouth
I was asked to be the seminary class president in 1970. One day, Sister Starr became upset by the rude behavior of the kids. She started to cry and stepped out. As the president of the class, I took over, and found myself talking to my classmates about the importance of being respectful. I think that was the first time I experienced the Lord putting words in my mouth. It amazed me.
A Comforter in the Face of Adversity
In August of 1971 I concluded my young Boy Scout experience by going on a 50 mile week long trek at the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. For some reason, the other scouts teased me. I felt out of place. Perhaps it was because of my asthma. I didn’t think I could make it up and down those mountains.
One day I felt especially sad about something the other boys did to mess up some of my equipment. I was too old to cry, and was not a fighter so I bottled it up inside. It hurt. The next day on the trail I stopped to look out over the beauty of the countryside and felt my heart burn with peace and a sense of wonder. I felt the comfort of the Holy Ghost and the Lord whisper peace to me.
Faith and a Patriarchal Blessing
I was fifteen when I received my patriarchal blessing in June of 1972. The bishop said I should fast so I did. He said wonderful things would happen if I exercised faith. My mother and sister went with me. Pati also received her blessing that day. I felt the love of the Lord in the most powerful way that I don’t think I had ever felt before. It was a spiritual feast that day and still is.
Vision in my Mind’s Eye
In 1973 I was in High School watching a video about how disk drives are made at an IBM plant. I experienced what I consider my first revelatory experience. I was shown what my life’s work would be. I knew then and have always known that I would work with computers. I was amazed at the clarity of the vision. It was simple and direct, private from God to me in my mind.
As I watched the video, I could see myself working with that technology in just a few short years. I saw myself specifically on a job where I managed the very same technology I was seeing in the video. That vision was fulfilled several times over the next few years as I obtained jobs before and after my mission where I used those specific removable disk drives of an IBM System 3.
Line Upon Line Revealed
In the summer of 1974 I was preparing to attend my first year of college. I prayed deeply to understand how the Lord felt about me and how my life would unfold. Intense feelings came upon me as scene after possible future scenes of my life were revealed to me. I saw myself teaching the gospel. I saw and heard myself speaking from the pulpit as real as if in front of a congregation.
Years later, I recognized as each of these scenes came to pass. As I taught in a priesthood meeting or stood at the pulpit as a High Councilor, those same feelings came flooding back. It was the Lord’s way of saying to me, “See, I told you how it would be. Aren’t you glad you prepared yourself for this experience?”
The Lord is Willing to Forgive
That fall at Rick’s College I heard Elder LeGrand Richards speak about the power of a testimony and how it had blessed his life as a missionary. Never had I felt the spirit impress me that I needed to have a testimony like his. I spent hours praying each night that week until on Friday I knew I could pray undisturbed late into the night while my roommate was at a dance.
I had an amazing experience of receiving a powerful knowledge of forgiveness and a witness of the power of my Savior’s love for me. I felt a closeness to Him that I had never realized could be possible. I understood better how much I needed him and to have his power with me in my life so I could be successful. I had not fully realized until then that I was nothing without his help.
Powerful Witness of the Spirit
I was blessed to have many free months in 1976 to do nothing but prepare for my mission. I spent all my time studying the gospel and trying to strengthen my relationship with the Lord. President Kimball taught that we could and should have our own independent witness of the truthfulness of Joseph’s mission. At this point, I already knew the Book of Mormon was true.
I decided to fast and pray until I got an undeniable answer for myself that Joseph was a prophet. For three days I studied during the day and prayed fervently at night. One the third night the Lord whispered peace to my soul. He told me it was enough. I knew the Lord was pleased with my faith. I had a confirming witness that what I had been studying about Joseph was true.
That witness helped me resolve concerns that had come to me as I read some of the early history of our church not found in our official curriculum. It also served as an anchor to my soul when I later read how much these same events troubled others. They did not trouble me because of this powerful witness to my soul that Joseph was the Lord’s prophet in spite of his mortal failings.
Trailing Clouds of Glory
One Sunday evening I attended a regional young adult fireside just before I left for my mission in July or August of 1976. As the speaker addressed us, I seemed to drift off into a vision. I saw the gathered youth there in a similar setting as if in the pre-earth life. I knew promises were made. I was part of something special. I knew I was on a path that was pleasing to the Lord.
Power to Bless Others
My mission experience was difficult. It was meant to be. I was a long way from home in a very humble part of the world. We worked hard but we weren’t as effective as we should have been. A new mission president shook things up at our first zone conference. He challenged us to get on our knees at end of each discussion and invite the people we were teaching to join us. I shared the amazing results in a previous essay on this blog.
Powerful Revelation in Marriage Choice
I returned from my mission, finished my schooling and went to work. I struggled a bit as many returned missionaries do because I missed that intensity of the daily immersion in the spirit. At one time I was working three jobs trying to get ahead in the fast moving world of computers. Finally, I stepped back, took a look at my life and remembered that I was supposed to get married.
I started dating seriously but the girl I thought I wanted didn’t find a computer geek like me all that desirable. Her best friend came into my life when she returned from her mission. We hit it off right away but I still pursued the other girl. I confessed my feelings for her, but at the wrong time and to the wrong girl. To my chagrin Carol left the Dodger game with a broken heart.
The next day, I couldn’t get her off my mind. I went to see her. I asked what her plans were and how she felt about family and the things of eternity. An amazing feeling of revelation then came upon me. Again, it was a revelation from God, personal and direct to me. I saw us in my mind’s eye thirty years down the road. That day I saw is now. I proposed on the spot. She accepted.
The Power of Bearing Testimony
I wrote previously about how Elder Holland taught me how to properly bear my testimony so it would have a powerful effect on others. I thought I knew all about bearing testimony from years of experience in the mission field. After being instructed by an apostle, I came to realize what a powerful tool it really can be if delivered properly, in the right setting and the right spirit.
I don’t believe I have ever been as immersed in the spirit as I was that day while bearing my testimony. The Lord was bearing witness to me at the same time that I was bearing my witness to others. It was a fulfillment of another line from my patriarchal blessing, “You will be blessed with the gift of prophecy and revelation that you might speak the words of the Lord pertaining to the salvation of his children.”
Much has been written by our detractors about the practice of bearing testimony. It has been ridiculed as brainwashing and a way of avoiding thoughtful discourse. Sadly, many within our own church have repeated their lies about this practice until they believe it. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is a real power in the sharing of our testimonies that strengthens.
Conclusion: My Testimony
Although I hope that every essay on this blog testifies of my love of the Lord and a witness for the truth, I want to be sure that my testimony is recorded as it stands today. Who knows, this could be my last day on earth. I want to leave a record that I knew and loved the Lord and that I know he loves me. I hope I have presented some evidence of that with the vignettes above.
As simple as it sounds, I know that God lives. I know that he loves me. He has demonstrated that to my soul sufficiently over the years that I cannot doubt it. I know he desires my happiness and is pleased when I exercise faith in Him and in Jesus Christ. I look forward to the day when I am reunited with Him. I hope and pray that it will be a joyous reunion but know it will be up to me how I live the remainder of my life, true to my faith.
I know that Jesus Christ was and is a real person, literally the Son of God. He has a glorified resurrected body of flesh and bone. He continues to minister to mankind today. I am a witness of his love, his willingness to forgive, to teach us and to guide us through this life. Like our Father in Heaven, he desires our happiness and has done for us what nobody else could do. He fulfilled His mission so that we can fulfill ours in confidence.
The Spirit Bears Witness
The Holy Ghost is real. His whisperings are real. I have been helped by the Holy Ghost countless times. In fact, I feel his help every day of my life, especially if I ask and listen. He inspires me. He teaches me. He leads me to Christ. I am so grateful for the Gift of the Holy Ghost. It is a real power in my life, one that I cherish and of which I strive to be worthy. The Holy Ghost burns the witness of the truth into my soul as I study and pray.
Joseph Smith was a prophet of God in every sense of the word. He was an instrument in the Lord’s hands to restore the truth to the earth through the Book of Mormon. I have studied his life and have learned of his failings. I feel to give thanks to God that he was so open and honest about what he experienced. The Lord re-established His church through Joseph. He restored authority and keys to perform ordinances that are binding in eternity.
I am so grateful to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It has blessed my life. I sustain and support the leaders of this church. I appreciate their efforts to guide and help me on my life’s journey. It is in the LDS Church that I have been able to receive the ordinances I need to come onto Christ. I look forward to many more years of service in this Church. It is through giving service that I find joy and fulfillment in life.
Is there such a thing as orthodoxy in Mormonism? And who has the right to proclaim what is orthodox in our religion that should or should not be believed? I understand and accept that the men I sustain as leaders in the LDS Church have the right to determine and enforce what should be taught in the classrooms and declared from the pulpits of that worldwide institution.
But many things I attribute to Mormonism the religion, are not taught today in the LDS Church. Does that mean the Mormon religion and the LDS Church are two different things? Consider the recent General Conference address from Elder Donald Hallstrom, “Converted to His Gospel through His Church.” He is obviously declaring the Gospel is not the same as the church.
The Gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ, the plan of salvation, the doctrines that teach how we can be saved and live forever in a state of happiness, redeemed from death and hell. On the other hand, the church is the institution organized and established by the Lord through Joseph Smith in 1830 that has undergone a tremendous number of changes over the years.
Religion and Church
Although it embraces both, in my mind, our religion is something altogether different from the gospel and from the church. I suppose that’s dangerous ground. If you think about it, I’m saying what I believe to be truth is not limited to what the LDS Church declares to be truth today. That is indeed dangerous ground. It invites speculation that the Church limits us in some way.
At one time we taught that we embrace all truth. Yet some things we taught as truth in the early days of the church are no longer found in our official curriculum. I’m not talking about plural marriage, blood atonement or restricting the priesthood. I’m talking about things like the reality of evil spirits, catastrophes of the last days and the literalness of D&C 93:1.
I feel a debt of gratitude to three men whose views have changed my life. Although they do not want or care for the attention, I would like to acknowledge them, their ideas and their work. Each has worked tirelessly to bring their beliefs to light and I for one have benefited from their work. They illustrate the idea that something from the early days of our religion has been lost.
Jan Graf – Reality of evil spirits
I first met Jan at a time in my life when I was troubled by many things that would not go away. There is no other way to explain it concisely. Because of his ideas and explanations of things, I was able to make them go away. It’s that simple. What he teaches about how to remove distress is nothing new or different. It is simply the application of the principle of forgiveness.
But what is unique, unorthodox and controversial about Jan’s skill in helping people find peace are his beliefs about what causes stress in our lives. It is the idea that evil spirits are real, can be found in the world around us and are very active in afflicting and tormenting us. That is a very common belief in the early days of Mormonism but hardly ever taught in the church today.
I was so excited about the amazing results in my life from what he taught that Carol and I went to St. George to interview him and talk about writing a book. Because what he does is so easily misunderstood, he asked that I not pursue my project. Out of respect I dropped the idea but continue to refer people to him I know could benefit from his stress-reduction technique.
Anthony Larson – Latter-day catastrophes
A long time ago I ran across a book that got me genuinely excited about how the last days are going to unfold. It was not told from a social, political or even religious perspective but from a cosmological view that could only be described as unorthodox. Anthony Larson explained for me how the signs and prophecies of the scriptures are descriptions of natural events.
What he explained in his trilogy of prophecy books was not thought to be so unusual in the early days of Mormonism. We were at one time considered an Adventist church, preparing intently for the forthcoming return of the Lord Jesus Christ. Even though his books are based on scripture and statements of early Mormon leaders, today they are considered unorthodox.
I have written many essays about his beliefs and interpretations of scripture. I have attended his seminars, read each of his books multiple times and had many dialogs and conversations about how he interprets myths of the past. I’m in the process of writing a fictional account based on the now unorthodox but one-time common beliefs of this visionary, prophetic man.
Denver Snuffer – The Second Comforter
I was recently introduced to the writings of Denver Snuffer, a man who claims to have received the Second Comforter and was asked by the Lord to write about it. That’s an amazing claim and obviously very unorthodox in our modern LDS church. He has generated a lot of controversy. Some have called him apostate or dangerous and said he should be excommunicated.
I have almost finished reading Denver’s eight published books. I have written previously that I would withhold judgment until I finished them all but I think I have made up my mind. Denver’s advice that we read his books in order has merit. I read them in reverse order. That may have been a mistake, but I survived because I read most of the “alternative views” previously.
I have decided I like Denver, or that I can at least accept and trust what he has written. Just as I have with Jan Graf’s and Anthony Larson’s writings, I have pondered and prayed about what I have learned. I am not dismayed or taken aback by his latest book as some others have been although I confess an initial misunderstanding of how he defines the sealing power.
I suppose I need to change my bio on Twitter, Google Plus and here on my blog. Because of my acceptance of the beliefs of the three men I have described, I guess I can no longer claim to be an orthodox Mormon. What’s more, I am discovering I am unusual in my church because I have long believed and taught that we can seek and should strive to have “spiritual experiences.”
After years of sharing some of my sacred experiences online, engaging in dialog about the reality of personal revelation, I have come to the conclusion there are many within our church that do not experience communication from the spirit world like I thought everybody did. That sounds weird, doesn’t it? “Spooky,” an embarrassing unorthodox belief, some would say.
Perhaps that is why there are two conflicting cultures within the LDS church today. On the one hand we are encouraged to share our testimonies, which are supposed to be based on personal sacred events. On the other hand, the subtle message is being communicated that we must keep our spiritual experiences to ourselves, because they are “too sacred” to share.
Orthodoxy seems to be all about what is appropriate and acceptable as the norm. As I wrote at the beginning of this essay, I accept and sustain the right of the leaders of this church to direct what is preached from the pulpit and what is taught in the classroom. The church is a place of order. It is a magnificent, effective organization that does tremendous good.
The meetinghouses, the temples, the missionary force, the humanitarian effort, the welfare system, the lay ministry, the willingness of the members to sacrifice and serve each other all attest to the goodness of this organization. But there is something more to our religion than just the church and our activity within it. There is something intense and personal.
That something today is unorthodoxy. It is our individual efforts to commune with God. It is our testimonies, our spiritual experiences, our determination to study, understand and internalize what we believe. It is developing our ability to hear and respond to the promptings of the Holy Ghost. It is our participation in the ordinances and adherence to the covenants we make.
In short, it is being different from the world and even from many within the church who are not willing to pay the price of obedience and sacrifice that inevitably bring the promised blessings. The church is not the same as the gospel and the church is not everything there is to our religion. There is so much more to Mormonism but you have to be willing to be unorthodox to see it.
We had a visit from Elder Perry to our ward in Camarillo today. He told us he was in town on one of the last days of a week-long series of meetings in California. He started in San Jose on Tuesday and had one more half day Monday in San Fernando. He has been meeting each day with the missionaries for a few hours and then with the Priesthood leadership of multiple stakes.
We were expecting a large crowd for the missionary farewell of the youngest sister of our bishop. I’ll bet she’ll always remember that she spoke on the same program as an apostle. When he walked in, nine year-old Whitney Peterson handed him a piece of paper with four questions. He delighted us by answering them candidly and directly. I paid close attention to what he said.
Four Questions for an Apostle
Her first question was “How many churches have you visited?” I think she meant different wards or stakes “You do the math,” he answered. “I’ve been doing this for forty years. We go out three weeks out of every month. We have five weeks off in the summer and two weekends off each year for General Conference.” I did the math. Without duplicates, that would be 1,320 churches.
Next, Whitney asked, “How many temples are there in the world?” He laughed as he replied, “I don’t know. I can’t keep track anymore.” Somebody apparently looked it up as he was talking and told him – 136. He told the story of president Hinckley going to Stake Centers while on visits to Mexico looking for properties large enough to accommodate temples to be built next door.
The next question was “Where do you live?” I expected him to simply say Salt Lake, but he told us he lived a half block north of the conference center and that he walks to work each day. He has a key to a side door so he walks the rest of the way through the tunnels to his office in the church administration building. Now I know how this almost 90 year-old apostle keeps in shape.
An Apostle’s Witness of the Savior
The last question was the best. “Have you ever seen an angel or the Savior?” I listened closely to hear how an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ would answer this question. He told a couple of stories. First, he described one of the weekly meetings with the twelve way back when Elder LeGrand Richards was still alive. The meeting had to do with changes being made in the temple.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Elder Richards said that President Woodruff had been there. When asked why, he said that Elder Richards was the only one of the twelve present who had attended the 1893 dedication of the Salt lake Temple (as a child). President Woodruff was vitally concerned with the temple that he had dedicated. To Elder Perry, this was a visit by an angel.
The 1978 Revelation on the Priesthood
He then told the story of the 1978 revelation that all worthy men could hold the priesthood. He said that there were only three of the twelve still alive who had been there. He described how President Kimball asked to be the voice in the weekly prayer circle and how he poured out his heart in petitioning the Lord for understanding of his will on what should be done on this issue.
He said that the outpouring of the spirit was so great that at the conclusion of the prayer they each went back to their offices without saying a word. They usually go have lunch together. Something sacred had happened. To Elder Perry, this was evidence the Lord had visited them in the temple. The next Thursday, President Kimball submitted the new revelation to the twelve.
The Savior Directs This Church
Elder Perry then answered Whitney’s question directly. He said that the heavens only open on rare occasions. He spoke for a moment about placing our tent door toward the temple. He then closed by bearing testimony. He said, “There is only one man who receives revelation for all. This is not a man-made church. The Savior directs this church from above.”
“This is how he continues to reach out to each of us. There is an order and a system in place. Twelve are given the keys but only one may use them at a time. In the church there is order and uniformity. This provides absolute certain direction that comes from the Lord. I know without any doubt God lives and that the Savior directs this church.”
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.
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.
I’ve been reading the arguments on MormonThink.com off and on for several years now. I have a lot of respect for the individuals behind the site, even though most of them choose to be anonymous. I am confident that I have been visited by several of the contributors there or at least by those who read their site and others like it such as Ex Mormon and Post Mormon.
I am by no means a scholar or intellectual. I think I’m pretty smart and that I’m pretty good with logic. After all, I have made a living for thirty years demystifying computers for others. But I know there are a lot of people out there who are smarter than I am and who have the academic credentials to prove it. I like to think that I’m just a regular, average, typical Latter-day Saint.
I like smart, thinking people and especially people who present logical conclusions well, either in writing or verbally. Critical thinking is a skill that I am constantly striving to improve. I confess that I am impressed when someone can speak or write with confidence, especially when it comes to doctrines and practices of the church. That’s why I continue to take college classes each year.
Choosing to believe
But I’d like to take exception with one of the common threads I find in the essays on sites like MormonThink.com. It has to do with choosing to believe. The concept of voluntary or involuntary belief has been discussed by philosophers for millennia. But it’s such a basic part of how I deal with the sort of intellectual issues on Mormon Think that I want to share it with you.
I disagree with those who contend that beliefs are not voluntary acts of will. There is no doubt in my mind that I am a voluntarist when it comes to my beliefs about the church and our history. This is especially true in light of, or in spite of all the fascinating historical facts that I have read over the years that are just not taught to or even known by the majority of the Latter-day Saints.
Invariably I have found that those who label themselves atheists also claim to be involuntarists. I am coming to the conclusion that those who embrace the title of Ex Mormon, Post Mormon or Former Mormon also see their position as involuntary. “It was inevitable,” they say, “based on what I have learned, I had no other choice but to now disbelieve what I had formally believed.”
Well, that’s where we differ. I have spent many years studying the same material that has been so troubling and bothersome to so many of my fellow seekers of knowledge. I can honestly say that my faith has been strengthened and my belief deepened that Joseph was who he claimed to be – a prophet of God – and that the Book of Mormon is what it claims to be – Holy Scripture.
I have no doubt that there are many in the church, who, if they studied the same material we have written about on our blogs and websites, would be absolutely freaked out and would soon leave the church. They are either social Mormons only or are not strong in their desire to know more about the history of our church. I don’t think these kinds of people are your typical Mormons.
What’s missing from sites like MormonThink.com, and what you’ll find in abundance on the official church web sites, is the role of faith, and especially encouraging faith. There is way too much emphasis on the intellect and not enough focus on feelings. The section on Testimony and Spiritual Witness relegates the role of feelings of faith as something to be dissected and derided.
Announcing new website
That’s reason why I decided to start my own website, LatterdayCommentary.com. This blog is hosted on that domain, which I registered years ago. It’s not much to look at today. In fact, I almost consider it a prototype. I’ve put together some commentary and links to my essays on some of the same subjects that you will find on MormonThink.com. It will grow with time.
I know that I’m just one of thousands of LDS members who have a website where they share their beliefs and testimonies of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. I like to think that I’m not much different from your average Mormon. I grew up as a member of the church but I come from a convert family. And my viewpoint is definitely that of a laid-back California boy.
I’ve been happy as a member of the LDS Church all my life. I loved my mission and I love going to the temple. I love General Conference and I love serving in a local Bishopric. I hope you’ll take a look at my website and then come back here and make some suggestions as to how I can make it better and more useful in promoting the doctrines of our LDS faith to the world.