My Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith

Today in Priesthood we discussed the chapter of the Joseph Fielding Smith manual which speaks about the Joseph Fielding Smith’s testimony of his great uncle the Prophet Joseph Smith. We discussed how powerful it must have been for Joseph Fielding Smith to grow up hearing his father’s testimony of Joseph Smith, and Hyrum Smith.  As we did so, we reached the conclusion that even though Joseph Fielding Smith’s familial connections helped him to have a powerful and deeply personal witness of the inspired call of Joseph Smith, each of us can have an equally powerful personal testimony. 

As a convert to the Church, I hold especially dear my testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith and my Testimony of Jesus Christ. I want my witness to be unmistakable. I want my ancestors on the other side of the veil to know of my witness and I want my progeny to know as well. I want my witness and testimony to be recorded in the heavens and on earth.

I have written extensively about gaining a testimony of the truthfulness of the Gospel. However, even though I knew the Church was true, specific portions of my testimony came over time. A few weeks after I first gained a testimony, I went with the Cambridge University Ward to a camp out up in Sharon Vermont at the Joseph Smith Birthplace. While there, we had a beautiful fast and testimony meeting and also toured the memorial. The spirit there was strong and I got up during the testimony meeting and bore my testimony for the first time. I also talked to my Bishop about baptism for the first time. At the visitors center I watched the Joseph Smith Prophet of the Restoration film and felt my testimony of Joseph Smith grow.

About a month after my baptism, my YSA ward in Philadelphia went on a trip to the Hill Cumorah pageant. As we toured the Joseph Smith home, my testimony was again strengthened and my heart filled. As I knelt down in prayer at the sacred grove, I knew without a doubt that Joseph did in fact see a pillar of light which gradually descended upon him. In that light he did in fact see the Father and the Son and was called as a prophet of God. I knew as surely as I knew that God lived that this was true.

As a missionary, I bore witness of the first vision daily, and I probably watched the restoration film hundreds of times. Each time, as I recited the words of Joseph’s first vision account, or watched them depicted on film I felt the spirit bear witness of the truthfulness of his account. Bearing witness of the first vision never got old. Each time it retained its power and wonder.

 

I love the Prophet Joseph Smith. I am grateful to him because thanks to him I better know my savior Jesus Christ. Because of him I can read the Book of Mormon and other precious revelations from God. Because of him, Christ’s divinely ordained Church is again on the earth. His witness is recorded in the heavens and in my heart.  As those who knew him best recorded, he lived great and died great in the eyes of God and his fellow man. I honor him, and bear my witness that he was who and what he said he was.

I bear this witness in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Having Hope in a Darkening World

At times, as I look at the upheavals and changes in the world, it is easy to get dispirited or lose hope. As I read of the calamities and destruction foretold by Prophets both ancient and modern, it is easy to be filled with fear. As the positions the Church holds become less and less accepted, I wonder what the future will hold. Will I lose friends or jobs or opportunities because of my faith? WIll I one day be called to sacrifice even more?

Yet, this weekend I had an incredible opportunity that reminded me of the importance of keeping hope despite all of these trials. I was able to meet with an influential church leader (whose identity I will not mention) and to discuss some of the current challenges facing the family. Throughout it all, I came away impressed that despite his keen awareness of the difficult issues facing the church and the nation, his message was one of hope. He felt impressed that the message that our generation needs to hear is one of hope. Despite increasing trials, the family, the church, and society will endure. 

I reflected on this message after my meeting, and came away impressed of its truthfulness. In the scriptures there are copious examples that provide us a reason to hope. Satan thought that he had triumphed when he convinced Eve and Adam to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge. The scriptures teach that ” he knew not the mind of God, wherefore he sought to destroy the world.” (Moses 4:6). For a moment, it seemed that Satan had triumphed. Adam and Eve were driven from the garden and shut off from the presence of God. Darkness, murder and wickedness spread across the world. Satan had great power and dominion over the world. And yet the fall contained the very seeds of rebirth that would culminate in the flourishing of the atonement. 

Adam and Eve understood this truth and therefore rejoiced even in a fallen world.

“And in that day Adam blessed God and was filled, and began to prophesy concerning all the families of the earth, saying: Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God. And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient. (Moses 5:10-11).”

Another powerful example is found in Mormon’s final epistle to his son Moroni. The total destruction of the Nephites was before them. They would be hunted until none remained. Yet, even in this moment of despair Mormon urged his son to have hope:

“My son, be faithful in Christ; and may not the things which I have written grieve thee, to weigh thee down unto death; but may Christ lift thee up, and may his sufferings and death, and the showing his body unto our fathers, and his mercy and long-suffering, and the hope of his glory and of eternal life, rest in your mind forever. And may the grace of God the Father, whose throne is high in the heavens, and our Lord Jesus Christ, who sitteth on the right hand of his power, until all things shall become subject unto him, be, and abide with you forever. Amen. (Moroni 9: 25-26).”

The atonement of course represents one of the most poignant examples of this phenomenon. As Christ suffered in the garden and on the cross, the forces of darkness seemed in complete control. One of the apostles had betrayed him another denied him and the rest had scattered. The very elements seemed to shudder in pain and the sky was darkened on at least two continents. Yet, without Christ’s death there could not have been an atonement. In his sacrifice lay the seeds of rebirth and resurrection. 

All of these examples in the scriptures should give us great hope. Despite trials and challenges, good will triumph over evil in the long run. Christ has overcome the world. We need not fear. Even though evil will at times have small victories, Christ will be the victor. We are called to play our part and to declare a message of hope to a darkened world. We may at times wish we lived in a different times, but truthfully we live in the greatest of all dispensations. As the world darkens, others will be drawn to the light of the Gospel. 

I love President Packer’s words of hope from a recent conference

“Sometimes you might be tempted to think as I did from time to time in my youth: “The way things are going, the world’s going to be over with. The end of the world is going to come before I get to where I should be.” Not so! You can look forward to doing it right—getting married, having a family, seeing your children and grandchildren, maybe even great-grandchildren.”

 

 

Faith, Politics and Charity: Worshiping an Awesome God

I have lately been doing research on the connection between Religious Freedom and other liberties that we treasure in society such (especially Freedom of Speech). In doing so, I have come across a lot of really interesting quotes highlighting the connections between the “first freedoms.”

I was quite pleasantly surprised to read some of the words of President Obama at a recent prayer breakfast. President Obama gets a lot of criticism from many religious individuals on a wide range of issues from the contraception mandate to abortion, but I was pleased to hear him give a strong defense of religious liberty and to talk personally about how his belief in Christ animates his values. Each of his speeches has been quite beautiful. Here’s one from 2011 for instance.

One particular part stood out to me:

“Now, here, as Americans, we affirm the freedoms endowed by our Creator, among them freedom of religion.  And, yes, this freedom safeguards religion, allowing us to flourish as one of the most religious countries on Earth, but it works the other way, too — because religion strengthens America.  Brave men and women of faith have challenged our conscience and brought us closer to our founding ideals, from the abolition of slavery to civil rights, workers’ rights. “

 

For me, this was a beautiful reminder that religious liberty has allowed this country to flourish and that religious motives have been behind so much of the progress in this nation’s history. Religious ideals brought many of our ancestors to these shores and helped them to build up a city on a shinning hill. For all of our nation’s flaws, these ideals have been its guiding force. And they continue to be so today. And that is true on both sides of the aisle.

I think it’s really valuable to remember that we can read the same scriptures and truly believe in God and yet reach different conclusions. Some read the saviors call for charity and seek to construct government programs to alleviate suffering. Others, see the focus on agency and aschew such efforts focusing instead on private choice. Some seek to protect unborn children, while others focus on lifting women out of poverty by offering birth control. 

I was also reminded of a part of President Obama’s 2004 convention speech: 

The pundits, the pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue States: red states for Republicans, blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. . We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states.

It’s been really a dispiriting time to be a defender of socially conservative positions. Every time one makes an effort to advocate for traditional notions of marriage, one is tarred with the brush of bigotry. The comparisons with Jim Crow instantly sunk efforts at a moderate expansion of religious liberty in Arizona.

Yet, on the other hand I have personally witnesses pro-choice or pro-same sex maarriage or pro-Obamacare members of the church called hypocrites and shunned. This is completely inappropriate. 

We are all brothers and sisters. We are all seeking to follow our conscience and to do the best we can in attempting to translate our beliefs into policy. 

I make a plea for charity on both sides of the political isle. We can all be a little bit more humble. We can all chose to not second guess the motives of those on the other side. To not assume that those that believe in God differently must secretly be Muslim rather than Christian (as conspiracy theorists have labelled Obama), or that they must truly be racist bigots. 

I will continue to fight for what I believe to be true. I will fight for the religious liberties which I hold dear. But as I do so, I will make an effort to not impugn or question the motives of those with whom I disagree. Those fighting for the dignity of gay couples or those fighting for the impoverished women’s access to birth control deserve my respect even though I may vehemently disagree with the means and tools they use to achieve those ends. 

Ultimately, I am reminded of Elder Holland’s stirring words in a CES devotional last year:

“My young friends, there is a wide variety of beliefs in this world, and there is moral agency for all, but no one is entitled to act as if God is mute on these subjects or as if commandments only matter if there is public agreement over them. In the 21st century we cannot flee any longer. We are going to have to fight for laws and circumstances and environments that allow the free exercise of religion and our franchise in it. That is one way we can tolerate being in Babylon but not of it.

 

I know of no more important ability and no greater integrity for us to demonstrate in a world from which we cannot flee than to walk that careful path—taking a moral stand according to what God has declared and the laws He has given, but doing it compassionately and with understanding and great charity. Talk about a hard thing to do—to distinguish perfectly between the sin and the sinner. I know of few distinctions that are harder to make, or at least harder to articulate, but we must lovingly try to do exactly that. Believe me, brothers and sisters, in the world into which we are moving, we are going to have a lot of opportunity to develop such strength, display such courage, and demonstrate such compassion—all at the same time. “

 I know that this is a hard path to walk, but it is the path of the true disciple. 

Thy Will Be Done: Prayer and the Lord’s Plan

This week, in a e-mail group that I participate in, the current situation in the Ukraine came up, and members of the group encouraged each other to pray and fast for those suffering in Ukraine.

This request got me thinking about the propriety of praying for specific outcomes in our prayer. 

I thought back to a particular experience that taught me a great deal of humility in regard to both prayer and politics:

When I was an undergrad at Brandeis University, I was very liberal and very strongly opposed to the War in Iraq and war generally. I actually signed on to a conscientious objectors list at one point. I also participated in anti-war rallies and peace vigils. At Brandeis, the various chaplains (Protestant, Catholic, Muslim and Jewish) organized a weekly prayer circle. They would get together weekly and pray that the war would end and that the U.S. would realize its mistake. In 2006 at the time when President Bush announced the surge, I remember joining them as they prayed that the surge would end. I also heard very specific prayers critical of other U.S. policies at various events. 

For me, the results of the surge changed my views on politics and also my views on prayer. Something that I had fought so hard against and even prayed against (though I wasn’t really a strong believer at the time) had turned out to be the right policy at the right time. Although it was dramatically unpopular, the surge helped turn around the war and helped turn an unmitigated disaster into a potential victory. 

From this experience, I specifically learned that sometimes we do not have the whole picture. I am of course not suggesting that any particular conflict is God’s will. But this experience helped me realize that governments, political parties, and ultimately each of us tend to see things “through a glass darkly.” 

God on the other hand sees the big picture. He knows what good a particular trial can bring about on both a global and a personal level. One deeply personal example for me is the Holocaust. So many of my ancestors died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz. Such unspeakable human suffering is painful and difficult to fathom. I know many whose faith in God was irrevocably shattered because they could not understand how he allowed such suffering. And yet… one sees the state of Israel emerging as a result of the war. One sees the gathering accelerating as God’s hand moves. One sees the spread of international human rights and the increasing protection of liberty throughout the world. I don’t claim to know the full answer to “why,” but I have the humility to accept that it is part of God’s plan.  

Because of this experience with the Iraq war peace vigils, I am very reluctant to pray for specific favored policy outcomes. In 2012 I heard some pray that Romney would win the election and others pray that Obama would win. I found this prayer to be akin to sports fans cheering that their prospective teams would win the Superbowl (and equally futile). God sees the bigger picture and he knows in what direction this country should head. Likewise, I don’t think its appropriate to pray that the Supreme Court side with Hobby Lobby in the Contraception mandate cases or take a particular stance on gay marriage.

This isn’t to say that prayer isn’t worthwhile in these areas. However, in praying for our leaders, or for social policy our prayers should be tempered with humility. I have heard several general authorities and leaders of the church for instance pray that the hearts of our leaders be softened that they may be able to listen to the light of Christ that is within them. I find this to be a much more appropriate prayer than wishing for a particular result.

In doing so, I believe those leaders are modeling their prayer after the Lord’s manner of prayer. In all that he did, he prayed that the will of God be done. Christ prayed that those around him would be strengthened and comforted, but not for particular outcomes in their trials. If Christ–the Son of God, the Messiah and the God of Israel–had such humility throughout his mortal ministry, then so should we.

I also am also not suggesting that believers simply sit on the sidelines and wait to see what happens. Far from it. Disciples of Christ should act vigorously to change the society around them. Disciples should speak out for what they believe to be true and not back down in the face of opposition.

But in prayer, our attitude should be one of submission and humility:Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 

Talk on my Conversion to the Church (7-13-2009)

I had forgotten about this talk that I gave about a month after my baptism, but an old friend asked me to send it to her and as I looked at it I thought that I would be a good thing to repost on here:

 

Brothers and sisters, I was asked to speak to you about the story of my conversion. I approach this talk with much eagerness but also with a degree of trepidation. When one is asked to speak about himself, the potential for egotism and self indulgence is quite great. I have prayed while contemplating this topic, that I may be filled with humility and that the lessons I draw from my life may be relevant and useful to you rather than merely a case of psychoanalysis. I hope that through my story the Holy Ghost will be able to impart something meaningful and valuable

 

The first principle: Developing Faith is a process that builds on each of our experiences Good and Bad {I’d like to begin by saying that even though I stand here today as a member in good standing and have been attending church now for the past 10 months, that my being here was an improbable uphill climb. It represents for me the beautiful triumph of the seeds of faith that were planted deed in by breast long ago but required the nurturing of this church and gospel to truly flower} Growing up I flirted with many different directions of faith. I was the co-founder of my high school Jewish Student Union club at one point, and came close to converting to protestant Christianity at another point. Eventually, my mother’s death from Ovarian Cancer when I was 18 years old drove me away from God altogether and towards atheism. I was a devout non-believer for two years. I read Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens and argued with my religious friends feverishly. }

In many ways, my conversion to the gospel was a strange and miraculous experience. I went from arguing that there was nothing greater than human existence, to believing in the Book Of Mormon and the church within the span of about a month. I had one of those conversion experiences similar to that experienced by the Apostle Paul or Alma the Younger. One evening, after I’d been looking into the church for about two weeks, I got this intense desire to go to the grounds of the Boston temple. I had never stopped near the temple though I drove by it on a regular basis. I went to the grounds with my good friend whom first introduced me to the church and I was filled with the presence of god in a way that I had never experienced before. I felt as if I was being communicated to directly by my Heavenly Father. Still being somewhat cynical of the experience, I tested it by visiting a nearby Catholic and Protestant church to see if they gave me a similar spiritual feeling They didn’t—far from it. I came back to the temple and was overwhelmed with such a feeling of peace and tranquility. I got on my knees and prayed and was filled with such an incredible transforming spirit. In many ways my conversion was dramatic and sudden.

Yet, in many ways more significantly, as I looked back on my experience I realized quite how much of the foundation for my conversion was laid down by the masterful handiwork of my heavenly father even as I was completely unaware.

James Faust in a 2000 talk entitled “A Growing Testimony” spoke about this process of the development of faith “My faith continued to grow as building blocks were added to the cornerstone, line upon line and precept upon precept. There are far too many of these to be chronicled individually; some are too sacred to utter….” Since my conversion, reflecting on my life is almost like being a child and playing connect the dots. Each of the spiritually significant moments in my life ultimately lead me to where I am. Every time I reflect, I find new reason to be in awe. New insight into why certain events happened in my life. For me, the chain of events begins when I was eight years old and inexplicably became obsessed with the idea that I was possessed by some evil spirit and that a dip in a pool of water was the only thing that could heal me. That chain continued when due to the promptings of what I later realized to be the Holy Ghost, I was narrowly successful in delaying my parents from going to lunch at a Jersualem Market at which there was one of the deadliest suicide bombings in Israeli history that very afternoon. I would likely not be here were it not for that prompting and that presence. Piece by piece the fragments of what now form the mosaic of my testimony slid into place: Inexplicable dreams of Jesus Christ a figure that I knew almost nothing about at the age of 14; small glimpses at the glory of heaven even in my darkest moment immediately after my mother’s death. These tiny experiences shaped the growth of my faith in so many ways.

So too, did the people that God placed in my life. One of my lifelong best friends prayed a prayer for me at the age of 13 that I would constantly be surrounded by strong Christian voices that would influence me and direct me to Christ. I am thankful to report that her prayer came true. Every time I stood ready to give up on my quest for god and truth, someone would come and bear a powerful and pure testimony that would put me right back on the straight and narrow path.. Everywhere I went, I could not escape the deluge of strong voices. On a family vacation cruise to Alaska, I managed to make a friend that would engage me in intensive scripture study and prod me for many years towards faith in Jesus Christ as my savior. As an atheist, I could not escape the poignant message of the gospel. Last summer, while studying abroad in China, I happened to have a Chinese instructor whom was a recently converted Christian that utterly shook my worldview and pushed me to rediscover my spiritual side. Thinking about the powerful role that the words and prayers of others have had on me, I am reminded of the words of the Angel to Alma the Younger in Mosiah 27 “ 14 And again, the angel said: Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith.”

Brothers and sisters, I bear my solemn witness to you that you are called to play that role in the lives of those around you. Whether that person is right at the cusp of faith or in the deepest depth of disbelief and despair, you are in that person’s life for a reason. Your prayer and your words can and will change lives. But, those opportunities will not come to you unless you pray for them and keep an eye out for them. Those like me that try to seek truth but stand frustrated and ready to surrender, depend on those prayers and few small words.

Looking back, I also realize that every step I took backwards away from God was ultimately two steps forward. There is ultimately no running away from the plan God has for each of us. Just as the Adam’s fall led to the glorious opportunity for redemption and growth, so to did my moments of rebellion bring me to where I am today. It took me a while to realize that I would not be a part of this particular church had I never lost my faith in God in the first place for instance. Growing up with a modern Jewish background may have made the acceptance of certain gospel truths far too difficult. Likewise, a few months before my discovering the church, I did something very foolish that negatively impacted me at the time but took away my arrogance and allowed me to seriously contemplate regaining my faith in God. I don’t think I could have been where I am today without that experience.

In the same talk, President Faust stated “At times I have stumbled and been less than I should have been. All of us experience those wrenching, defining, difficult decisions that move us to a higher level of spirituality. They are the Gethsemanes of our lives that bring with them great pain and anguish. Sometimes they are too sacred to be shared publicly. They are the watershed experiences that help purge us of our unrighteous desires for the things of the world. As the scales of worldliness are taken from our eyes, we see more clearly who we are and what our responsibilities are concerning our divine destiny.” Brothers and Sisters Those painful and uncertain moments of doubt and agony help make us whom we are. They are part of the sure foundation within which we can imbed our testimony and knowledge of Christ. I know that we could all develop a deeper appreciation for the role our heavenly father has played in our lives if we contemplated how all of the minute and seemingly inconsequential experiences in our lives ultimately brought us to where we are today. How much stronger will we be in dealing with our daily challenges and temptation when we realized how those challenges are crafted to give us unique and personalized growth. Even our failures provide us with needed lessons and experience. Just as the Law of Moses was a schoolmaster to bring the children of Israel to Jesus Christ, so to our experiences impart lessons that direct us towards Christ that we may not fully appreciate until months or years have passed.

The words of the Prophet Joseph Smith as he struggled with the pain and agony of imprisonment in Liberty Jail stand out as especially profound. “if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. ” I truly feel that it is this perspective that allowed me to withstand the difficult last ten months of my life.

As soon as I made the decision to join the church, I knew that I would face opposition from my father. Even though my father is an atheist, to him Judaism is very important as a culture, ethnicity, history and tradition. Moreover, when I previously had looked into Christianity it was something that had devastated my mother. I knew that my father would feel that he had to speak out in her nam. I knew that I could face disownment and lose my father as a figure in my life for good. After much prayer and reflection, I made the difficult decision to keep my father fully informed about my desire for baptism and also to work to try to appease and accommodate his anger. I agreed to wait six long months for baptism. Over that time, I weathered constant insults and guilt trips. I constantly had the spirit of my mother used against me as a weapon. When six months had passed, I still found my father’s heart unchanged and unwilling to listen to my pleas. I agonized over the difficult choices that I faced and was in many ways paralyzed. My prayers and my words seemed ineffective and futile. At the time I was studying abroad in London and I had a baptismal date set up there that I had to cancel with much disappointment. I flew back to the United States uncertain as to when I would be baptized. A little over a month ago, his heart miraculously softened and he permitted me to be baptized.

I still don’t know if I acted with cowardice or prudence in waiting as long as I did. I certainly know that I was far from perfect in responding to the promptings of God. Yet, what kept me strong throughout the whole process was the knowledge that all of my trials would ultimately build my testimony. Having such a long period as an investigator was just as vital for me to grow a truly rock solid faith as any of the experiences in my adolescence. As an outsider I was able to develop a greater appreciation for so many things about the church that I may have instead taken for granted. I also was forced to spend time reconciling and coming to terms with what my Jewish identity would continue to mean to me once I became a member of this church.

And again, just as with the start of my journey, I could not have made it to the waters of baptism without the prayers and influence of so many members of this church. The friendships I formed and the prayers and priesthood blessings they uttered made all of the difference. So to, did the valiant efforts and prayers of the 7 different missionaries that I took lessons from over the past 10 months. Your kind words, your smiles and your encouragement do not go unnoticed. They are a glowing testimony of the truth of this church. The message and the spirit of Jesus Christ is alive in each and everyone of you. It is a powerful and potent force that can change lives as it most fully has changed mine. I say these things in the name of my lord and Savior Jesus Christ

Being my Brother’s Keeper (Modesty, Agency and the Power of our Example)

As a follow up to my recent post in defense of Elder Callister’s talk. My article prompted a great deal of discussion both on facebook and elsewhere. Some of the comments were heated and involved heated discussions of rape culture. I will not dwell on those. 

Instead, I wanted to focus on a spiritual aspect that provoked some debate:

One of my friends on Facebook wrote

“The second article of faith states that men will be punished for their own sins PERIOD. Not that they will be punished for their own sins unless a girl was dressed immodestly. And granted that’s not what he is saying outright, but it promotes rape culture to preach modesty with the rationale that men can’t control themselves or their thoughts. I think it’s insulting to men, as well . . .Nobody has any responsibility to dress in any manner for anyone else. I am fine with promoting modesty in the sense that it is about how YOU feel, but it is not okay to tell women to dress modestly because men can’t control themselves. Elder Callister quotes a scripture that says it best, “the sin is in entertaining the thought once it comes.” Proverbs 23:7. The sin is NOT in wearing something immodest to provoke someone. The sin IS in looking upon a woman to lust after her. Men, rise up and take responsibility for your own thoughts and stop trying to blame it on women. That is not okay.”

Of course, there is a considerable amount of truth in this statement. Men will be held responsible for how they control themselves. It is never an excuse to suggest that someone else made you act in a certain way. Elder Callister’s talk very clearly stated that we are all accountable before God for our own choices. In particular, those that commit atrocities such as rape will be held accountable for their sins (and those sins are second in seriousness only to murder).

The idea that we have no responsibility for the conduct or actions of others is sound as a legal principle. As a gospel matter, however, I have to reject the notion that women bear no responsibility before God for choosing to wear revealing or provocative clothing. Indeed, the notion that we are “not our brother’s keeper” and not responsible for the conduct of others is one of the lies that Satan has told from the beginning of time. Indeed, on a spiritual level each of us is responsible for positively influencing others. Each is responsible  and commanded to let his or her light shine unto the world. 

One of my favorite principles in the New Testament is Paul’s response to the debate that arose among the early disciples regarding whether it was acceptable to purchase and eat meat that had come from the temple worship ceremonies of pagan cultures ( the parts of the animals unused for rituals were resold on the market).

Paul response in 1 Corinthians 8, that there is nothing inherently wrong with eating such meat, but warns that believers should be sure to not eat such meat if it causes those with weaker faith to stumble or to think that idol worship is acceptable

 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.”

Paul also speaks on this theme in Romans 8

But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. Let not then your good be evil spoken of. For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men.Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another. For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.

I think this principle is applicable to many of the commandments in the Church and especially to things like modesty. For the women wearing a certain outfit, it may not feel inappropriate and it may not lower her self-esteem. However, as a disciple of Christ, one should also consider the impact of one’s choices on others. 

The Word of Wisdom likewise is addressed to the weakest among us. While not every person who drinks a glass of wine will become addicted, the commandment to abstain from consuming alcohol is at least in part directed at not creating needless temptation for those who are weaker than we are.

In the Church and as those dedicated to following Christ we are our brother’s and sister’s keeper. If we knowing cause someone else to fall into temptation and stumble, we are personally held accountable for those choices. I see that as the principle underlying what Elder Callister says.

Simply put…If something I do causes another to stumble, I will chose to abstain from that thing.

Of course, this principle has its limits. Indeed, everything we do could have a multitude of effects. For instance, my posting in defense of Church teaching can have the simultaneous impact of strengthening the testimony of some, and causing others to move further away from the church and its teachings. We can not live our lives in constant fear of how our choices will impact others. Luckily, as members of the church we are entitled to the companionship of the Holy Ghost. If we prayerfully consider our choices, he will help us know what we can do to have the greatest positive impact on those around us. 

There have been many occasions over the past year and a half where I have simply wanted to stay silent during some controversy because I know that speaking out might cost friends and perhaps negatively impact their salvation. Nevertheless, I have written when moved upon by the spirit reassured that in the long run my decision to write and speak will do the greatest good. Every single time I speak out on a topic that I know will provoke, I ask myself if it truly is worth it. I think that question is one that we should regularly pose to ourselves.

The point I hope to make with this post, is that as disciples of Christ we are expressly called to consider how our actions impact those around us. We can never act in isolation and we should never act without considering how our choices will impact the faith, testimony ,decisions and eternal salvation of others. Modesty and choices of clothing fit into the category of decisions for which we should consider others feelings and weaknesses. Of course, the choice is a personal one and it should not be the place of others to stand in judgement. Yet, in my mind what Elder Callister is doing is calling women and men alike to consider if they are truly being a beacon on a shinning hill for those around them. For that reminder I am grateful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Defense of Elder Callister

Yet again, a disciple of Christ has been bitterly attacked for speaking the truth about the Lord’s standards of morality. In recent days, I have read posts accusing Elder Callister and the Church of encouraging rape culture, and perpetuating hurtful stereotypes. As I have read Elder Callister’s remarks, I have strongly felt the confirmation of the Spirit that his words are inspired of God. In the posts condemning his talk/article, I have seen the same moral relativism and rejection of God’s standards that he strongly condemned. I felt prompted to write a post strongly supporting and defending Elder Callister’s words. I encourage everyone to read his words with an open mind and to ask God if his teachings are true.

First of all, Elder Callister began speaking of something that I am very familiar with, the power of precedent.  He compares the word of the prophets to a Supreme Court precedent which trump other cases. For some reason, people seem to have gotten worked up by this quote:

“So it is with God our Father—He needs to speak only once on the issue of morality, and that one declaration trumps all the opinions of the lower courts, whether uttered by psychologists, counselors, politicians, friends, parents, or would be moralists of the day.”

Some have suggested that Elder Callister urges members to simply ignore the teachings of psychologists and counselors. I found this argument to be demonstrably false and a clear red hearing. The church has clearly encouraged members to seek help from professionals when in serious need. Instead, what Elder Callister is suggesting is that their teachings and pronouncements must be interpreted in light of God’s divine teachings and truths.

For those of us who are legally trained, this concept is familiar. The Supreme Court rarely overturns its precedent and often takes pain to avoid overturning lower court cases. Thus, often one will see lower court cases construed or narrowed by the Supreme Court. Subsequent analysis will not ignore those cases, but instead consider them in light of Supreme Court pronouncements. The process Elder Callister suggests is quite similar. Teachings of professionals, friends and parents are very important and often God will speak through them to us. However, the gold standard is very simply the teachings of God through his Prophets and Apostles.

Having established that God’s standard is the gold standard, Elder Callister turned to explaining exactly what that Standard is.

“It is almost unbelievable to think that God has given to His children the power that is most prized and sacred to Him—the power to create life. Because God gave us this power, He, and He alone, has the right to prescribe how it should be used.

Contrary to much public sentiment, there is nothing negative or restraining about God’s moral standards. Rather, they are positive, uplifting, and liberating. They build relationships of trust, they enhance self­esteem, they foster a clear conscience, and they invite the Spirit of the Lord to bless individual and married lives. They are the proven standards for happy marriages and stable communities….

The procreative power is to be exercised in the marriage relationship for two key reasons: (1) to bind and strengthen ties between spouses and (2) to bring souls into the world. These uses have the blessing and endorsement of the Lord.”

I really loved that Elder Callister starts by focusing on the positive aspects of the Lord’s standard of sexuality. Sex in marriage is a beautiful and powerful gift. Currently, my wife and I are expecting our first daughter, and I am filled with awe at the fact that God has allowed us to bring one of his precious daughters into the world.

Having grown up outside of the church, I have really come to appreciate the Lord’s standard as liberating. As Elder Callister mentions, sexual chastity and purity is “positive, uplifting, and liberating.” It is uplifting and empowering to dedicate oneself to one’s spouse fully. Being fully dedicated to your spouse and to none other also increases self-esteem because it ensures that couples are not constantly wondering where they stack up in comparison to past love interests or relationships. I truly have a testimony that the Lord’s standard is meant to bless rather than suppress and harm.

The Lord’s standard is an ideal and of course, not everyone is aware of it and many will choose not to live according to it. Yet, as Elder Callister repeatedly mentions throughout his talk, sexual transgression is nevertheless one of the more serious acts of transgression.

“Sometimes people do not realize the seriousness of these transgressions or, in some cases, rationalize it away. Corianton did not seem to realize the seriousness of what he had done when he sinned with the harlot Isabel. Alma, his father, put it in perspective: “Know ye not, my son, that these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord?” (Alma 39:5)…

Alma taught, “Wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10). We cannot break God’s moral laws with impunity and be happy because God, who created us, placed within our souls a moral compass known as our con­science. Anytime we violate God’s standard of morality, that conscience goes to work—it gnaws at us, it triggers feelings of guilt and remorse, and it acts as a divine witness testifying to the truth of that standard.

We may try to ignore it and we may try to suppress it, but we cannot escape it. God’s standard of morality cannot be dismissed; it cannot be diluted or compromised; it can only be obeyed or disobeyed. Eventually we either fight it or embrace it. Our choice will largely determine our happiness in life.”

            Even for those that do not know the Lord’s standard explicitly, the light of Christ within them tugs and gnaws. God’s standard is embedded into our hearts from birth, but over time and through experience we lose sight of that clear standard. We unfortunately live in a society that teaches so much contrary to God’s laws of sexual purity.

Yet, even if societies views of sex and sexuality change, we can not be deceived… For instance, in regard to Same Sex Attractions:

“Some would have us believe that the Church’s stand against same­gender physical relationships is a temporary policy and not an eternal doctrine. Such a belief would be at odds with the scriptures, with the words of modern prophets, and with the plan of salvation, all of which teach the necessity of eternal marriage between a man and a woman as a condition to exaltation. A same­gender relationship is inconsistent with God’s eternal pattern that husbands and wives not only have children in mortality but also have eternal increase in their exalted condition.”

God’s teachings on these topics will not always be popular and in vogue. Satan will seek to lead hearts astray and cause us to doubt.Unfortunately, Elder Callister notes that Satan is the master of temptation and seeks to lead us down the myriad paths towards sin:

“Now I share some danger signals that precede some of the sins I have mentioned. In some regards, Satan is like an octopus trying to capture us. If one tentacle does not work, he will try another and another until he finds one that takes hold. Following are some of the tentacles of the evil one designed to cause us to break God’s standard of morality.”

The image of the Octopus is apt and even though some have criticized it as overly frightening, I think it is a very true description of the tempter and his multifarious efforts to lead us astray. This metaphor reminded me of the powerful image that Peter uses in the New Testament: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:”

Satan is content if we commit sin, but he is also equally pleased if we become indifferent to the sin of others and fail to be lights unto the world. He is doubly successful when he causes faithful members of Christ’s Church to doubt the inspired teachings of the Prophet and Apostles.

In our society today, it is all the more important that we are vigilant to avoid the allure of temptation:

“At certain times and places, no matter how strong we are, we have less resistance. Some of the best of men and women in the worst of circumstances have fallen. It happened to King David as he watched Bathsheba at night­time, at first from a seemingly safe distance (see 2 Samuel 11:2–4). None of us should think we are too powerful or too immune to succumb. Secluded locations, late nights, and morally loose friends have incredible magnetic fields to draw us into Satan’s clutches.”

Thus, Elder Callister provides several suggestions such as being careful in the movies, TV Shows, and websites we view. He also speaks of modesty in what has become the most controversial part of the talk.

“Our dress affects not only our thoughts and actions but also the thoughts and actions of others. Accordingly, Paul the Apostle counseled “women [to] adorn themselves in modest apparel” (1 Timothy 2:9).

The dress of a woman has a powerful impact upon the minds and passions of men. If it is too low or too high or too tight, it may prompt improper thoughts, even in the mind of a young man who is striving to be pure.”

Some have suggested that Elder Callister is perpetuating rape culture by suggesting that women are responsible for the actions of men. This interpretation is a malicious falsehood and is completely inconsistent with the tone and tenor of Elder Callister’s message. Immediately afterwards, Elder Callister demolishes the notion that temptation provides a justification for illicit conduct.

“We cannot avoid seeing every improper billboard or immodestly dressed person, but we can drive out the improper thought once it arises. The sin is not in involuntarily see­ing something improper; the sin is in entertaining the thought once it comes. The scrip­tures tell us, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7)”

“In essence, our thoughts become the seeds of our actions. We do have the power within us to take control of our lives and our thoughts. Good and evil thoughts cannot coexist in our minds any more than light and dark can exist at the same time and in the same place. At some point we must decide which will be our invited guest.”

Elder Callister is calling both men and women to be responsible for their thoughts, deeds and conduct. We live in a world filled with smut and wickedness and we are called to be a light unto the world. We must life as examples in all that we do. That includes dress for both men and women. To suggest that certain outfits help perpetuate a sexual obsessed culture does nothing to take away responsibility for the men who then act on those temptations.

Elder Callister also goes to great lengths to demolish common rationalizations given for sexual sin. I found this one of the most powerful parts of the talk:

“Two oft­repeated rationalizations are used to support moral transgression. The first is “I loved her.” Satan is the great counterfeiter. He tries to palm off lust as love. There is a simple test to detect the difference. Love is motivated by self­control, obedience to God’s moral laws, respect for others, and unselfishness. On the other hand, lust is motivated by disobedience,  self­gratification, and lack of discipline.”

Finally, Elder Callister also offers hope for those who have committed sin. He promises that the power of the atonement is real. Nevertheless, he urges us to remain clean from sin and temptation. He also emphasizes again the incredible blessings that come from following this approach:

“To all honest souls who change their hearts and forsake their sins, He has promised, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18).However, it is always better to remain clean than to sin and repent afterward. Why is that? Because certain adverse consequences of sin may remain even after repentance, such as disease or a child born out of wedlock or damage to our reputation. Our goal in life is not just to be clean but also to be perfect. The quest for perfection is accelerated when we are clean, but it is stymied when we are not.”

The blessings of living a clean and moral life are overwhelming. Such a life will bring self­ confidence and self­esteem. It will result in a clear conscience. It will make us eligible for a spouse of like purity and will make the expression of the procreative power in the marriage relationship sweeter and more rewarding because we have reserved it for the time the Lord Himself has endorsed.Because the Lord loves us immensely.”

As I read these words, I see a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. Although his words are being twisted and misconstrued, they are the teaching’s of our Heavenly Father and are consistently preached by those that I sustain as Prophets, Seers and Revelators. I have a witness of their truthfulness and am grateful to Elder Callister for his boldness and persistence.