And the stars shall fall from heaven

From my gospel study this morning on Matthew 24:29

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”

And from Rev 6:13 – “And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.”

A question from Elder Joseph Fielding to Parley P. Pratt, Preston England, January 1841. “Dear Brother Pratt, – Having a desire to know the truth of all things that are revealed from God to man, and knowing in part the importance of teaching them to mankind, I take the liberty to ask you certain questions, which if you think proper, you may answer in the Star, as I ask not for my own information alone, but for all who desire and seek after truth.”

Question #7: “How can the stars fall from heaven to earth, when they (as far as we know) are much larger than the earth?”

Answer: “We are nowhere given to understand that all the stars will fall or even many of them: but only “as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs when she is shaken with a mighty wind.” The stars which fall to the earth are fragments, which have been broken off from the earth from time to time, in the mighty convulsions of nature. Some in the days of Enoch, some perhaps in the days of Peleg, some with the ten tribes, and some at the crucifixion of the Messiah.

“These all must be restored again at the “times of restitution of all things.” This will restore the ten tribes to Israel; and also bring again Zion, even Enoch’s city. It will bring back the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God; that you and I may partake of it (Rev 2:7).

“When these fragments, (some of which are vastly larger than the present earth) are brought back and joined to this earth, it will cause a convulsion of all nature; the graves of the Saints will be opened, and they will rise from the dead; while the mountains will flow down, the vallies rise, the sea retire to its own place, the islands and continents will be removed, and earth will be rolled together as a scroll. The earth will be many times larger than it is now.” Source: Millennial Star Vol 1, No 10, p. 258, Feb 1841, Questions, #7, BYU online Library

Wow! Did you know this? This is not something that is taught in your gospel essentials class is it? I wonder if the High Priest’s group would even bring something like this up. Do you believe it? I do. Parley and later Orson both said that they heard this taught from Joseph Smith:

“…a portion of the Earth was by a miracle broken off…the Ten Tribes were taken away with it…in the latter days it would be restored to the Earth or be let down in the Polar regions.” Source: Letter Box of Orson Pratt, LDS Church Historian’s Office, letter to John C. Hall, December 13, 1875 (does anyone have an online reference for this?)

And the Moon Shall Turn to Blood

Last week in some parts of North America we experienced another total eclipse of the moon. When the earth passes between the sun and the moon, the moon is darkened, but not completely. The brilliant white appearance of the moon is replaced with a distinctly red color caused by reflected light from the earth. This is an oft-repeated occurrence.

In case anyone is wondering, the common event of a lunar eclipse is not the fulfillment of prophecy found in Joel and elsewhere that the moon shall turn to blood. We also know that the prophets were not telling us that the moon would literally become composed of the liquid that flows through the veins of all mortal beings. That would be ridiculous.

However, it is just as inconceivable to me that Joel or any other prophet would refer to a common lunar eclipse as a viable fulfillment of this prophecy. No, I am much more inclined to believe that Joel had something more dramatic in mind when he used this metaphor. In fact, I’ll bet he was describing something that he had seen in his lifetime.

Some have argued that they have seen the moon turned to blood in the smoke of forest fires or the haze of smoke from the burning of the twin towers in September of 2001. I have written previously that I do not believe these events could qualify as they were only local phenomenon. I am convinced that Joel’s prophecy will be seen by the whole world.

Imagine for a moment that you are an astrophysicist. You have studied the motions and behavior of stars and planetary bodies for most of your career. You know from direct observation what happens when two large celestial bodies come close to each other. They heat up. Now what would happen if there was no way to dissipate that heat?

The same thing happens when you place a coil of metal in a fire. It begins to glow with a bright red color. We call that incandescence. Is it possible that the same thing could happen to the moon if there were some other large planetary body nearby? Ancient prophets may have experienced celestial events that we have not seen in many millennia.

In other words, I believe Joel was describing something that may have happened to the moon in his day and which he was inspired to foretell would occur again in our day. The question is do we believe it? Do we believe that Joel was describing an actual event? We may have never thought how it could happen but a close by planet is one possibility.

What do you think? Have you ever heard of such an idea or explanation for how the moon could appear to us to be blood red from all over the world?

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.

What is this thing that men call death?

I recently read an article in Newsweek about how others view LDS funerals. I was a little surprised at their surprise of how things usually go in our funerals. Are our funerals so very different? And from an essay found in the LDS Newsroom commenting about funerals after the funeral of President Hinckley, “What is This Thing That Men Call Death?“:

“Mormon funerals are typically marked by an atmosphere of hopefulness and peace. They generally are not burdened by the inconsolable grief and despair so often seen in other funerals. Latter-day Saints who mourn the death of loved ones are lightened by the assurance and understanding that the gospel of Jesus Christ offers.

“In addition, some might be surprised by the lack of formal ritual in these funerals. The commemoration service is conducted by a lay minister and features heartfelt tributes and comforting music. Moreover, the basic format, tone and length of President Hinckley’s funeral are typical of what might be seen in the funerals of regular Church members.

“Regarding the undaunted way in which Latter-day Saints confront death, well-known literary scholar Harold Bloom proclaimed the following in American Religion, page 29:

“What is the essence of religion? … Religion rises inevitably from our apprehension of our own death. To give meaning to meaninglessness is the endless quest of all religion.

“… Of all religions that I know, the one that most vehemently and persuasively defies and denies the reality of death is the original Mormonism of the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator Joseph Smith.”

I like that. It cuts right to the chase, doesn’t it? We are all brought to equal ground when confronted with the question of how we will face death. When all is said and done, how will we feel when we are called to pass through the veil and enter the world of the spirits there?

I concur with the writer’s assessment of Mormon funerals. I prefer them to other types of funerals I have attended. It is true that there are usually no displays of inconsolable grief and despair, or at least among the faithful who understand the doctrine of eternity.

Update: The words to the hymn can be found on the Deseret News website.

A PDF of the sheet music to the hymn is also being shared by the Deseret News.

What do you think? Are LDS funerals really that different from those of other faiths?

So was it good for the Mormons?

I don’t think all the press attention that has come to the church in the last year because of Mitt Romney will go away but I am fairly certain we have just entered a lull. The attention seemed to come to a high point with two recent articles in the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. Even the church discussed these two pieces in particular in one of the latest press releases found in the Newsroom, part of the online church web sites.

The headline from the Washington Post was “Did Mormons Get A Bounce From Mitt?,” while the headline from the WSJ was “Mormons Dismayed by Harsh Spotlight.” These are two major publications, well read and referred to by many other journalists. I’m sure you know that staff writers don’t always choose their own headlines. My own headline for this post was taken from a line in the Washington Post piece. Headlines are meant to get people to read the story.

I liked both of these stories. I thought they were well written, professional and easy reading. Of course they were interesting to me because I have been following Mitt’s adventures across America for the past year. The WSJ article in particular included some great quotes that have come up during the past year. I always like when Jan Shipps is quoted. She knows her stuff even though she is not a member of the church. She served as the President of the Mormon History Association a number of years ago, the only non-Mormon to ever do so.

But the most interesting piece to me is the church’s press release on the how the church itself perceived all this attention. Elder Ballard expressed concern that there is still so much misunderstanding to be cleared up. In fact, although he did not say it, the WSJ article pointed out that much of the anti stuff on the internet can be compared to anti-Semitism. He said, “What is much more important to us is that people base their opinions on fact, not on myth or mischaracterizations.” It always amazes me what people will believe instead of getting facts.

I know Elder Ballard and Elder Cook have been tireless lately in visiting national editors and in doing everything possible to point them to official sources of information about the church. The Church Newsroom has come a long ways in the past few years and is a great resource. Of course the same can be said for all the church web sites. I guess the truth is just not sensational enough for some readers who only want salacious gossip and hearsay. 2 Tim 4:3 comes to mind.

What do you think? Did Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign do a lot of good for the church?

Do parenting meetings cause you to feel guilty?

I attended the Worldwide Leadership Training Broadcast this morning. It was well worth my time. I’m glad I was there. I’ve attended every one of them since 2003 and this was one of the best. After Elder Holland’s introduction, President Packer read and expounded upon “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” It was wonderful to hear it from one of the authors.

There was then a round table discussion with Elder Holland, Elder Oaks, Sisters Julie B. Beck, Susan W. Tanner and Cheryl C. Lant, general officers representing the Relief Society, the Young Women and the Primary organizations. They modeled for us what a great ward council meeting should be like, although I don’t recommend that it go so long. I like short meetings.

I took four pages of notes from that discussion and look forward to reviewing the transcript when it is posted on the church website sometime next week. I was disappointed that our satellite feed had audio problems so we had to watch it from the DVD. It was obviously recorded weeks ago as President Packer was referred to as the ‘Acting’ President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. We also did not get to hear President Monson’s address at the end.

Carol did not go. Besides not feeling well she said she did not want to experience feelings of guilt abut not being a perfect parent. I know the Brethren have heard this before. Elder Holland addressed it immediately. He told the parable of the homemade shirt and explained why we need a pattern in the church for doctrinal standards, quoting D&C 52:14. He said they fully understand that we are not perfect but it is their responsibility to teach general rules and ideals.

Elder Oaks also addressed it when he said that we never give up as parents of wayward children but that we MUST lay down the burden of guilt at the feet of the Savior. In one of the most touching moments for me, Sister Beck spoke about mothers who had been abandoned by priesthood holders in their homes but had not abandoned the Lord’s plan for happy families.

She was obviously speaking of husbands who had left them, causing them to deal with divorce and raising children in the church alone. I have no idea how difficult a task that must be. I have known some courageous women like this who have been faithful and have been blessed with children who go on missions and marry in the temple. But I also know of women who have tried and feel like failures because their children did not accept the gospel or remain faithful.

I wonder if this comment was in any way related to the sisters who objected to her last talk in General Conference entitled “Mothers Who Know.” They wrote and posted an ‘opposing view’ in their piece entitled, “What Women Know.” I wrote about this back in November. I know the sisters of the church sometimes feel that their voices are not heard. I hope that is changing.

Did you attend the Leadership Training broadcast? If so, what were your impressions?

Will President Monson change Mormon doctrine?

The Washington Post had a mostly favorable article about President Monson the other day. Actually, compared to some that I have read lately, it was very well done. Jacqueline L. Salmon, the staff writer assigned to the story, did her research and interviewed some of the usual non-Mormon experts like Richard N. Ostling (Mormon America – 1999) and Jan Shipps (Forty Years among the Mormons – 2000).

I read Mormon America long ago and was not too pleased with the product. I always ask myself why religious writers tend to focus on the ‘secrets’ and the ‘wealth’ of the Church as opposed to the miracle of the faith and the happiness that it brings the members who live it. It seems as if they are looking for some hidden sinister agenda in the leadership of the church.

I suppose it has always been that way and always will be when outsiders write about the church. Anyway, Jacqui’s article was good, for which I am grateful. Thank you Jacqui. In it she quoted Dave Stewart, who made the news a while back when he reported on the decrease in the baptism and retention rates of new members. Yes, old news, thank you very much.

The church is continuing to do a wonderful job in making the leadership more available to the press. The newsroom resource on is worth visiting every day, especially if you are a church news junkie like me. In it, you can find the interview of President Monson in which he says that there will be ‘no abrupt change’ from the leadership of President Hinckley.

He did, however, hint that ‘practices and programs will be adjusted from time to time.’ One of those pending practices or programs is long rumored to be the suspension of Sunday School services. I have received emails from individuals who reported they were involved in a pilot program to evaluate this proposed change. From what I gather, the response was favorable.

Several people have jumped on President Monson’s comment about ‘no abrupt change.’ They have speculated that perhaps he did have some changes in mind but that he was holding off on making them until a respectable time had passed. In fact, one writer apparently did not hear President Monson say that there would be ‘no doctrinal changes – those are eternal’.

I have written previously that I watch closely the phrases that people use to come to my blog from Google. It amazes me to note the number of times the phrases ‘President Monson prophecies’ and ‘President Monson doctrine’ has been used in the past few days. I find particularly intriguing the number of searches on ‘President Monson gay issues.’

It is obvious that people outside the church do not understand that the doctrine in this area just does not change when a new president is sustained. I think this quote from President Hinckley still says it best for me, “We love them as sons and daughters of God…If they do not act upon these inclinations, then they can go forward as do all other members of the Church.”

He also said, “Our hearts reach out to those who refer to themselves as gays and lesbians. We love and honor them as sons and daughters of God. They are welcome in the Church. It is expected, however, that they follow the same God-given rules of conduct that apply to everyone else, whether single or married.” I don’t think it could be any clearer, do you?