Engraved on the Palms of His Hands

Today my wife and I taught Sunday School in our ward. Our subject was Isaiah 40-49. As I read the material, I was struck by the beautiful words of compassion and comfort that Isaiah offers to Israel (“Comfort Ye, O Comfort Ye” is the first verse of Chapter 40). I loved that Isaiah speaks so powerfully of the Lord’s never ending compassion and care for his people. A couple of verses in particular resonate with me each time I read these chapters.

13 ¶Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the Lord hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted.

 14 But Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.

 15 Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.

 16 Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.

I love the powerful image that these verses invoke. When I think of the nails driven into the saviors palms and wrists, it is almost overwhelming to think that it was done for me and for each of us. Yet, God literally engraved each of us on the plan of his hands. When Christ appeared to his disciples and to the Nephites, he showed them the wounds on his hands. Those wounds remain as a tangible symbol of the atonement. As a tangible reminder of how much Christ gave up for each one of us.

Having a young child (3.5 months) helps me to really connect with verse 15 as well. As I have seen my wife feeding my daughter, I have witnessed the incredibly powerful bond that has formed between them. Yet, were we not nurtured at our Heavenly Father’s side in the pre-earth life? Does he not love us and care for us with the same level of devoted compassion as a mother feeding a child.

I testify that the Lord truly does love us with that same devoted love. He loved us so much that he sent his firstborn and beloved son to die for us. Christ loves us so much that he suffered the atonement and forever engraved us on the palm of his hands. I am so grateful for that love and bear my witness of it.

A Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith

Today, I read American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church which is written by Alex Beam and non-Mormon writer. It was a competent history of the martyrdom (and a somewhat more flawed account of early Church history) and a highly enjoyable read.

As I put the book down, the spirit strongly confirmed to me once again that Joseph Smith truly was Prophet of God. Although he was imperfect and deeply flawed, he was an instrument in the hands of God for the restoration of his Church and many many doctrines vital for our salvation and exaltation.

I was reminded of Elder Anderson’s masterful talk on the Prophet from General Conference. Elder Anderson recounted the prophecy that Joseph Smith’s name would be known for both good and ill across the world, and warned that “The negative commentary about the Prophet Joseph Smith will increase as we move toward the Second Coming of the Savior. The half-truths and subtle deceptions will not diminish.” While Beam’s book was not what I would categorize as negative commentary (indeed, for a history written by a non-member it was mostly quite fair), I was reminded as I read how important it is to have a firm testimony of the restoration when reading of the history of the early church. Without that firm foundation, it would be easy to allow small imperfections to grow and to distort the magnificent fruit of the restoration.

Elder Anderson emphasized that “Each believer needs a spiritual confirmation of the divine mission and character of the Prophet Joseph Smith. This is true for every generation. Spiritual questions deserve spiritual answers from God.” This is a moral imperative for each of us. No matter how strong we think out testimony is, we should continually seek to strengthen or testimony of the savior, the restoration, and the Prophet Joseph Smith.

I also loved Elder Anderson’s depiction of the process of acquiring that vital testimony:

“A testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith can come differently to each of us. It may come as you kneel in prayer, asking God to confirm that he was a true prophet. It may come as you read the Prophet’s account of the First Vision. A testimony may distill upon your soul as you read the Book of Mormon again and again. It may come as you bear your own testimony of the Prophet or as you stand in the temple and realize that through Joseph Smith the holy sealing power was restored to the earth. With faith and real intent, your testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith will strengthen. The constant water balloon volleys from the sidelines may occasionally get you wet, but they need never, never extinguish your burning fire of faith.”

I remember how I first acquired a witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his divine mission. Soon after I first gained a witness of the truth of the Church, my ward had a camp out at the Joseph Smith birthplace in Shanon, Vermont. As we camped out there, I reflected on the stories I had heard of Joseph Smith and was filled with a sweet confirming spirit. I knew then, and know now that Joseph Smith was truly called of God. Over the years, I have sough to strengthen my witness of that truth through personal study and prayer. In the Sacred Grove in Palmyra for instance, I felt especially strongly that Joseph had truly seen the Father and the Son. Like Elder Anderson suggests, my testimony has also been strengthened through reading the Book of Mormon again and again.

If your testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith has weakened due to critical accounts of his life, I urge you to follow Elder Anderson’s advice and go straight to the source of all truth. If you diligently seek it, God will distill upon your soul truth from on high. As Elder Anderson mentions, your burning fire of faith will be inextinguishable.

Gay Marriage: Looking Back and Moving Forward

I recently looked back at some articles that I wrote in my undergraduate campus newspaper on the topic of gay marriage. At the time, I wrote the first of the two articles, I was strongly in favor of gay marriage. By the time I wrote the second, my position had become far more nuanced. You can see however in both posts my efforts to seek ways that religious believers could work together with supporters of gay rights to achieve common purposes.

In light of the recent Supreme Court decision to reject Cert. on several appeals from Circuit Courts that struck down gay marriage bans, I have again been thinking a lot about how and where to move forward from here. I strongly disagree with the Court’s decision as well as the constitutionalization of gay marriage. Court imposition of gay marriage violates both my moral conscience and my judicial philosophy. And yet, in the aftermath I have reflected on Elder Oak’s truly inspired words delivered just this past Saturday:

Like the Savior, His followers are sometimes confronted by sinful behavior, and today when they hold out for right and wrong as they understand it, they are sometimes called “bigots” or “fanatics.” Many worldly values and practices pose such challenges to Latter-day Saints. Prominent among these today is the strong tide that is legalizing same-sex marriage in many states and provinces in the United States and Canada and many other countries in the world. We also live among some who don’t believe in marriage at all. Some don’t believe in having children. Some oppose any restrictions on pornography or dangerous drugs. Another example—familiar to most believers—is the challenge of living with a nonbelieving spouse or family member or associating with nonbelieving fellow workers.

In dedicated spaces, like temples, houses of worship, and our own homes, we should teach the truth and the commandments plainly and thoroughly as we understand them from the plan of salvation revealed in the restored gospel. Our right to do so is protected by constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and religion, as well as by the privacy that is honored even in countries without formal constitutional guarantees.

In public, what religious persons say and do involves other considerations. The free exercise of religion covers most public actions, but it is subject to qualifications necessary to accommodate the beliefs and practices of others. Laws can prohibit behavior that is generally recognized as wrong or unacceptable, like sexual exploitation, violence, or terrorist behavior, even when done by extremists in the name of religion. Less grievous behaviors, even though unacceptable to some believers, may simply need to be endured if legalized by what a Book of Mormon prophet called “the voice of the people” (Mosiah 29:26).

On the subject of public discourse, we should all follow the gospel teachings to love our neighbor and avoid contention. Followers of Christ should be examples of civility. We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for their sincere beliefs. Though we may disagree, we should not be disagreeable. Our stands and communications on controversial topics should not be contentious. We should be wise in explaining and pursuing our positions and in exercising our influence. In doing so, we ask that others not be offended by our sincere religious beliefs and the free exercise of our religion. We encourage all of us to practice the Savior’s Golden Rule: “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12).

When our positions do not prevail, we should accept unfavorable results graciously and practice civility with our adversaries. In any event, we should be persons of goodwill toward all, rejecting persecution of any kind, including persecution based on race, ethnicity, religious belief or nonbelief, and differences in sexual orientation.

One sentence in particular stood out to me… “We should be wise in explaining and pursuing our positions and in exercising our influence.” It is my sense that conservatives that oppose gay-marriage have failed to “be wise in explaining and pursuing our positions and in exercising our influence. We failed to be wise by failing to seek to actively promote compromise legislation that would more fully protect both gay rights and religious freedom (as the Church did in Salt Lake City). We failed to be wise by not speaking out more fully at times against anti-gay rhetoric that alienated would be supporters. Most importantly in my opinion, we failed to be wise by failing to define ourselves as anything but anti-same sex marriage.

Opponents of same-sex marriage have often tried to label themselves as “pro-traditional marriage.” And yet, most people would be hard-pressed to say anything that those who are pro-traditional marriage stand for rather than against.

I hope that those who have fought to defend traditional marriage will continue to do so. We should not give up the fight for something that is a moral truth and defined by God. I know that I will continue to speak out in favor of the privilege status of marriage between man and woman. I will do so even if the Supreme Court or the people decide otherwise, because God’s truth is not up for popular vote.

And yet, given that gay marriage seems almost a foregone conclusion at this point, it is time to move beyond the single issue of gay marriage and towards more comprehensive pro-family policies. Some conservatives have already realized this necessity. For instance, Senators Mike Lee and Marco Rubio have spoken out in favor of tax code reform to make out tax system more pro family. Senator Lee in particular has consistently spoken out on issues concerning pro-family policy. We need more conservatives like Mike Lee willing to stand up for family interests.

I also think we need to be bolder in our vision. We need to brainstorm state and federal policies that can truly be pro-family. For instance, we should consider progressively increasing tax credits for couples that remain together for a certain number of years, interest free pell-grant like loans for those seeking to start a family, increased protections for women seeking to take maternity leave (including requiring paid maternity leave- we are the only western country that does not do so). I mention these policies not as specific requirements, but as potential ideas. Certainly, others might be preferable, and one can disagree on the details. Regardless, I think it is clear that much more should be done to actually stand up for pro-family policies.

It is my firm conviction (one could even say my testimony) that pursuing more aggressively pro-family policies is how we can be “wise in explaining and pursuing our positions and in exercising our influence.” If we do so, we will have greater moral authority and persuasive power when we speak out about the sanctity of marriage and defend God’s truth. We will be able to truly say we are “pro-marriage” rather than merely “anti-same-sex marriage.”

Do What is Right

Today in Church, we sang the Hymn do what is right. As we sang it, I looked at the lyrics as well as the author of the text and made a cool connection.

The Text of the Hymn is Anonymous, but it was found in a hymnal called The Psalms of Life published in Boston in 1857. The Full title of the book is The Psalms of Life: A Compilation of Psalms, Hymns, Chants, Anthems, &c. Embodying the Spiritual, Progressive and Reformatory Sentiment of the Present Age. Given the title, location of publication and subject matter of many of the hymns it is pretty clear that this was an abolitionist hymnal. Given this context, the lyrics of Do What is Right make so much more sense.

1. Do what is right; the day-dawn is breaking,
Hailing a future of freedom and light.
Angels above us are silent notes taking
Of ev’ry action; then do what is right!

(Chorus)
Do what is right; let the consequence follow.
Battle for freedom in spirit and might;
And with stout hearts look ye forth till tomorrow.
God will protect you; then do what is right!

2. Do what is right; the shackles are falling.
Chains of the bondsmen no longer are bright;
Lightened by hope, soon they’ll cease to be galling.
Truth goeth onward; then do what is right!

3. Do what is right; be faithful and fearless.
Onward, press onward, the goal is in sight.
Eyes that are wet now, ere long will be tearless.
Blessings await you in doing what’s right!

I love that this hymn has found its way into our modern hymn book. This hymn illustrates the abolitionist roots of many of the early members of the Church. It illustrates the courage required for standing up against morally incorrect practices that are widely accepted in society. It illustrates that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a Gospel of action and courage.

Our Divine Constitution

September 17th was Constitution day and the anniversary of the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1789. While members of the Church widely celebrate and honor the Constitution, bloggers offered a more tepid response. For instance, Chris Henrichson at Approaching Justice wrote “It is about how to make laws. Really, that is it. It is rules about how laws are made and who has the power to make what laws. Anyone that adds anything to that is selling you something. DO NOT BUY IT.” Henrichson suggests that the Constitution is little more than a document which establishes a system of governance no more inspired or unique than any other. In this post, I hope to push back on this notion by pointing to some things that made the Constitution unique and praiseworthy.

I take as an inspiration for this post, talks by Elder Oaks, and President Benson

Joseph Smith in his dedicatory prayer for Kirtland temple declared:

 “Have mercy, O Lord, upon all the nations of the earth; have mercy upon the rulers of our land; may those principles, which were so honorably and nobly defended, namely, the constitution of our land, by our fathers, be established forever.” (D&C 109:54)

It is not so much the written document itself that the Prophet invokes, as the principles that our Nation’s Founders “so honorably and nobly defended.”

It is not so much the written structure of rules, but the underlying principles and beliefs that make the Constitution and this nation special. Another nation could copy the provisions of the Constitution and utterly fail without respect for these underlying principles.

Elder Oaks pointed to five fundamental and inspired principles of the constitution :1) Separation of Powers 2) A written bill of rights 3) Division of Powers (Federalism) 4) Popular Sovereignty 5) Rule of Law.

I want to touch on a couple of additional factors that I think truly set the Constitution apart from any government of the time, and even from many today.

1) Rights Derived from God rather than from Government

One under appreciated revolutionary doctrine that underlay the American Revolution and the Constitution is that the Founders understood individuals as being “endowed by their creator certain unalienable Rights.” Government is created by man to protect these inalienable rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Government does not create rights or give us liberty. Instead, government is legitimate only when it protects the rights of the people. While this theory was deeply rooted in the philosophy of contemporary thinkers such as John Locke, America was perhaps the first nation to truly embrace this notion with fervor. In pre-revolutionary America and in Britain, the sovereign was able to grants privileges and immunities, but was not limited in his power except for through express restrictions such as the Magna Carta. In the post-revolutionary period, many states wrote new constitutions instead rooted on the notion that there were certain core rights that could not legitimately be abridged by the sovereign.

Even today, this distinction is something that sets America apart from many European nations. It is one reason for instance why America has consistently seen hate speech laws as inconsistent with our notion of free speech. Government can abridge rights only for extremely limited a compelling reasons. In contrast, in European nations free speech can be limited if it conflicts with an alleged right not to be offended. Such a “right” is completely inconsistent with the principle of rights that forms the basis for the constitution. No man has the right to limit another’s speech in order to avoid offense, and therefore government can likewise not abridge speech for such dubious reasons.

2)  Government of Limited Powers

Related to the first point, one of the incredible things about the Constitution is that it was based on a government of limited and defined powers. Anything not permitted to the Federal Government by the Constitution was forbidden. This turned on its head the typical notions of sovereignty, especially those found in continental Europe at the time. While some of the delegates at the constitutional convention such as Alexander Hamilton favored broad federal power, the overwhelming majority of those assembled feared too intense of a concentration of power in the Federal Government (and some such as future Presidents James Madison and James Monroe feared excessive concentrations of state power as well). Unfortunately, we have effectively reversed this presumption by allowing the “necessary and proper” clause to dramatically expand the scope of governmental power. Today, we expect the Federal Government to be involved in every aspect of policy such as Education, Health Care etc. Yet, such a notion would have been anathema to those assembled in Philadelphia. Power must expressly be given rather than assumed.

(Note, the Founders limited governmental power, but created a system of amendments to give the Federal government greater power if such was deemed necessary. There would be nothing morally wrong with a federal government given authority by the people to set up a health care program (as long as such did not conflict with natural . However, the bigger problem is that the government has expanded without going through the proper process of amendment).

3) Consent of the Governed

Elder Oaks touched upon this in his point on Popular Sovereignty. However, I recent read an account of the ratification of the Constitution that dramatically expanded my appreciation for this principle. Akhil Amar in his book America’s Constitution: A Biography argues vigorously that the ratification process was a truly democratic moment where the people were able to choose whether to embrace the Constitution. Of course, some were excluded from voting. However, Amar notes that the states lowered or eliminated their property qualifications to allow the broadest swath of people to vote and elect delegates. (Indeed, it is possible that in some states even Women were able to vote). Moreover, each state had to vote before it could be bound by the Constitution. This was truly a revolutionary moment where the people were able to assent to be governed under the Constitution.

This gives new meaning to the point made by Elder Oaks.

Popular sovereignty necessarily implies popular responsibility. Instead of blaming their troubles on a king or other sovereign, all citizens must share the burdens and responsibilities of governing. As the Book of Mormon teaches, “The burden should come upon all the people, that every man might bear his part.” (Mosiah 29:34.)

4) Enforcement of the rule of law

Elder Oaks touched upon the rule of law as his fifth point. However, I think what made America revolutionary was not just that written rules existed, but that those in charge of government actually followed those rules.

This is the reason that the Election of 1800 is viewed as a second revolutionary moment. A President of one party voluntarily relinquished power to a President of another party. There was no violence or bloodshed. The partisan rancor was very real, and yet talk of succession was only a fringe movement. Likewise, Presidential appointments or treatise have routinely been rejected by congress without revolt.

Indeed, the few moments when this system of respect for the rule of law has fallen apart are illustrative because of how relatively rare they are. The most striking of course was the Civil War which began in part because Southern States refused to recognized the legitimacy of a President that was appropriately elected.

Today, when the Supreme Court strikes down a very popular law such as a flag burning law, or the contraception mandate, people may get angry. They may urge voting for a President who will make sympathetic appointments. They may even propose Constitutional Amendments. What one never hears is the suggestion that the President or Congress can simply ignore the Court’s decision. This deep respect for the rule of law is something revolutionary that we simply take for granted today.

Yet, this respect for the rule of Law is what sets apart the United States from Soviet Russia. In theory, Soviet Russia had a constitution which protected the rights of the people. In theory, there were many procedural and substantive protections. Yet, in practice these rights were routinely ignored.

I am grateful for a Constitution rooted in principles maximally designed to guarantee and preserve divinely inspired rights and agency. Even as we fall short of these principles, they continue to guide us and push us toward greater heights.

Unshakable Faith and the Mighty Change of Heart

Today all of Utah and Wasatch Counties as part of Stake Conference watched a broadcast with addresses by Church leaders including Elder Clayton, Sister Stevens, Elder Scott, and Elder Nelson. I really enjoyed the conference, and enjoyed Elder Clayton’s remarks in particular.

Elder Clayton began with a story from a recent trip to Texas. On a lake, he saw tall trees that had sunk their roots deep into the water. Amidst the trees were also weeds that were withering and wilting due to a drought. They had completely failed to sink their roots into the water.

Elder Clayton urged all of us to become deeply rooted in the Gospel. Our roots need to be deep enough to overcome any challenge, endure any affliction and withstand any challenge to our faith. Indeed, Elder Clayton emphasized the importance of have a through enough conversion to withstand even subtle enemies of our faith.

Elder Clayton also emphasized that being ridiculed by non believers has always been the lot of believers. In our modern day where messages critical of the Gospel can go viral in an instant, we especially need to be vigilant and prepared. Elder Clayton explained that criticism of the Church is like a mirage which can be alluring to those who have not become rock solid in their faith. Yet, those who listen to the seductive voices of dissidents, will miss the grandeur and scope of the restored gospel and ultimately will pay a heavy price in the breaking of covenants and the loss of eternal blessings.

As I listened to Elder Clayton’s talk, I thought about my testimony and my conversion pre mission. I had a miraculous and powerful conversion experience, and so I felt that my testimony was firm and secure. I received an unmistakable answer to my prayers. I knew without a doubt that the Church was true. Yet, despite all of that, looking back now I realize how fragile my testimony truly was. I didn’t really have a testimony that the leaders of the Church were inspired. I believed that my views on political and social issues were far more enlightened than the Church’s position.

On my mission, I don’t think there was a particular moment or experience that changed my views. In the MTC and even months into my mission I still was uncomfortable with some of the things the Church taught on gay marriage and the family. Yet, as I left all of that behind and labored with all of my heart. As I did so, my roots become more deeply grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ. As I labored, the spirit transformed my heart and reinforced my faith. I am deeply indebted to my father in heaven for my mission and the mighty change of heart that I experienced.

Elder Clayton offered some very valuable advice to those seeking to deepen conversion. Specifically, for those with doubts he urged us to spend more time reading the scriptures and far less time dwelling on the words of dissidents in blogs. He urged us to not look for flaws, but instead to study the doctrines of the Gospel. We also need to accompany faithful study with a devoted righteous living. We need to maintain a temple recommend, and continue to build upon the rock of the savior. If we do these things, Elder Clayton promised that we would be able to develop an unshakeable faith in the savior that would withstand all of the challenges of life.

I second Elder Clayton’s testimony. I know that as we continue to develop faith in Christ and serve him, our doubts will melt away with time. Our doubts will be replaced by a firm foundation of faith. I have been deeply blessed as a result of this miraculous change of heart.

78 Mormon Answers to 78 Questions

78 Mormon Answers to 78 Questions

Renowned Atheist blogger Friendly Atheist has a video posing 78 questions to believers in God. Other Christian bloggers have taken on these questions, and I thought I would do the same. I do so with the caveat that I am only one member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint (a Mormon) and that my views may or may not be representative of others of my faith. I do however see my views as generally in line with the mainstream teachings of the Church and hope that they are fairly reflective of broader sentiments in the church.

(A Note on numbering – I based my list of questions on that found on Approaching Justice, and numbered them myself. By my count there are only 72 questions, but if someone reading these notes some questions that I missed, please let me know and I will answer them).

 

1) Is Anne Frank burning in hell?

No

2) How about Mahatma Gandhi?

No

3) Is Fred Phelps in Heaven since he believed in the divinity of Jesus? 

I cannot judge his ultimate spiritual state and condition. Certainly, he preached of Jesus Christ but did not seem to truly understand the savior’s teachings of mercy and grace. Ultimately God will judge us according to the feelings of our hearts and our deeds. He is the ultimate and just judge.

4) Should a killer who genuinely repents at the end of his life go to Heaven?

Yes, although it isn’t entirely clear whether a murderer can qualify for the highest degree of heaven in the Celestial kingdom. It is possible that murder committed by those who have accepted Christ and should know better could qualify as a sin so heinous that it is not possible to be fully redeemed of.. We know this is likely the case with David’s sin with Bathsheba. I prefer to the take the more charitable position and believe in the power of God’s infinite mercy and grace. He is ultimately the judge.

It is also worth noting that repentance is not an instantaneous action. Genuine repentance for an act of murder would be heartbreaking and soul rending. It would require an individual to experience the torment of conscience and to bear an awful burden. Only through the atonement of the savior is this act of repentance possible

5) Should a kind-hearted atheist go to Hell for all eternity?

No

6) Do kind-hearted religious people who just aren’t Christian also deserve to burn?

No

7) Would you be happy in heaven if someone you loved was in Hell?

I would not be happy. For me, heaven is heaven because of the relationships that will exist there. In the Celestial Kingdom we will have eternal relationships with God and our families. Thus, anyone who is absent is a true tragedy.

However, I believe that my sorrow would be soothed by knowledge that everyone truly had an opportunity to be saved and to receive exaltation. God’s plan is not capricious or based on birth or chance. Each person will truly have a chance to understand God’s plan and make an informed choice. Some will have that opportunity in this life, while others will have it after they die in the spirit world. God is no respector of persons.

______________________

A couple of comments on the first couple of questions. I think that Mormons/Latter-day Saints are uniquely qualified to answer these questions because of the greater light and truth revealed true the prophet Joseph Smith. Because of this, seemingly paradoxically members of the Church can both be among the strongest believers that our church is the one and only true church and also the strongest believers that people from many different faiths will ultimately end up in heaven.

I am so grateful for my knowledge about God’s eternal Plan of Salvation. This knowledge is one of the things that first drew me to the Church and makes answering such questions rather simple. _______________________________

8) If your child were dying, and I hope that never happens, would just pray for them or would you take them to a doctor?

I would pray for them and take them to a doctor

9) And if you’d do both, which one do you think has more of an impact?

I think both have a great impact. Moreover, developments in medicine come as a result of the gift of intelligence which God has given to us. He expects us to use our intellect to better our condition. Science and modern medicine are inspired by God.

Elder Russell M. Nelson, one of the living Twelve Apostles is a world renowned cardiac surgeon who helped pioneer techniques that have blessed countless lives. He has spoken about his feelings of being divinely led to develop procedures and techniques and about miraculous guidance in the midst of surgical procedures. I believe that God works through doctors and modern medicine to perform miracles.

Faith on the part of the patient and those that love and are praying for him/her can also make an immense difference.

10) Whose prayers does God answer?

God answers everyone’s prayer. He does not always answer in ways that we expect or recognize. Moreover, his answers are sometimes no, and at other times are delayed or occur on a different timeline than we would want.

It is incredible and wonderful that the being that created the whole universe loves each and every one of us enough to talk to us personally on a one on one basis. Incredible and wonderful, but true.

11) And if it’s ultimately His Will, why bother praying?

The purpose of prayer is not to change God’s will, but instead to help us better align ourselves with God’s will. Moreover, prayer is enabling and gives us the spiritual strength to do difficult things. Prayer also is a source of revelation and we can receive answers and guidance that we could receive in no other way

12) If you have cancer, what would help you more: Certain drugs, or prayer? 

Both, see answer #9.

13) If you had an amputated limb, would prayer ever bring it back? 

I do believe that in certain circumstances faith can have the power to perform incredible miracles of healing. Certainly, Jesus Christ was a great healer and performed incredible miracles or restoration and rejuvenation. In more modern times, the Prophet Joseph Smith performed miraculous healings as well. However, often having faith to be healed also includes having faith not to be healed. Certain conditions that seem like limitations in this life are there to give us experience and ultimately are for our good. We can be certain that whether healing occurs in this life or not, that when we are all resurrected we will receive perfect bodies free of stain or blemish and all tears will be wiped away.

14) If you have an exam coming up, what would contribute more to a higher score: Prayer or more studying? 

Prayerful study is the correct answer. Prayer before study can help concentrate the mind and lead to effective and fruitful study. Prayer can also help return things to our recollection. However, God will not give us knowledge that we have not diligently worked to acquire. It is against the principle of human agency to do so. Those who go into an exam relying on blind faith and the spirit are foolish and do not understand divine principles.

15) If you prayed for me over YouTube right now, do you think I would know it?

I don’t know if would know it. Certainly, I have felt the power of other’s prayers throughout my life. On the other hand, it is a subtle feeling that one must be attuned to feel. Whether you know it or not, ultimately our prayers are recorded in heaven. When we are all resurrected and stand before God, all will be revealed and understood and our recollection will be perfect.

16) What matters to God more: The quantity of people praying or the quality of their prayers?

I think both mater to God. Certainly, the prayers of those with immense faith can have great power (For instance, in the Book of Mormon one prophet’s prayer was able to shut the heavens from rain and open them back up again). On the other hand, quantity matters as well especially on the aggregate and nation state level.

17) If quantity matters, shouldn’t the most popular team always win the Super Bowl?

No, because I don’t think God cares about which team wins the Super Bowl. He might answer prayers to help keep players safe or ensure that they perform well, but that is because he cares about the individuals and not the teams/outcomes.

18) If quality matters, why do people you love sometimes die no matter what you do? 

I don’t perfectly know the answer to this question. Yet, having experiences this personally with my Mother, I do have some insight. When we keep in mind that this life is neither the beginning nor the end, death is seen as a mere transition to an ultimately better place. God’s plan is perfect and those that die do so at the right time. Our days shall not be numbered less.

The challenge of maintaining faith in God and those around you even when prayers are seemingly not answered is one of the greatest spiritual challenges in life. The savior provided the perfect example of this in the Garden of Gethsemene when God did not take away his burdens. Yet, he persevered. So should we.

This is not to say that faith and prayer makes no difference. I have seen the healing powers of faith and prayer even in extreme circumstances. We can receive a peace that exceeds all earthly peace through prayer.

19) Is it possible that your prayers have no supernatural effect and only serve to make you feel better?

I have experienced far too many answers to prayers to doubt the efficacy of prayer. Specifically, I have received answers to prayers that went completely contrary to my intuitions and personal desires/opinions. Yet, when I have followed the advice and guidance received through prayer I have been blessed beyond belief.

20) Is there anything in your life that makes you doubt God’s existence?

I think it would be delusional to look at human suffering or our own failings and not have some doubts. We are meant to walk through life on faith rather than certainty, and so some doubts are inevitable. Probably the most significant doubt I have is when I consider God’s commandment to become perfect and then look at my own inadequacies and weaknesses. However, I have far too powerfully felt the enabling power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ working in my life. I have received too many answers to prayers and too many confirmations of the truthfulness of Church doctrines and teachings to truly doubt God’s existence.

21) How would your life change if you had serious doubts about God’s existence?

I spent two years as an ardent atheist, and I don’t want to return to that state. Before finding faith in Jesus Christ, I didn’t see a higher purpose in life and I was filled with so many more doubts and insecurities about myself and my place in the world. My faith gives me a solid foundation and grounding in the knowledge of God’s plan and his love for me.

22) Was Jesus white?

I don’t know and don’t really care. I do know that his countenance now is like a brilliant and radiant white light, but I think that has more to do with spiritual purity than skin color.

23) Why does God seem more likely to answer the prayers of a talented athlete than a starving child overseas?

This question is based on a fundamentally false understanding of what it means to answer prayers. Prayer is not really about giving us things, but about empowering, guiding, comforting and helping us to understand God’s will. God loves all of his Children and answers the prayers of all. He does not play favorites.

In one sense, I think that God might be more “likely” to answer the prayer of the African child, because that child is much more likely to humbly petition the Lord.

24) Why does God Seem [sic] to hate Africa?

God loves all of his children. He has commanded us to take care of the least among us and to help and empower them. Instead, human history has been a history in which the people of Africa have been brutalized and suppressed. Such human suffering literally makes God weep. And yet, he respects human agency and works through righteous individuals to empower communities and individuals. It is our responsibility to work to improving the lot of those in Africa.

25) If a group of Africans swooped in to your community with the intention of converting you and your neighbors to their tribal faith, what would your reaction be?

Having served a two year full time mission for my Church, I have deep respect for anyone that seeks to proselytize and invite others to learn of God. I would love to engage in respectful dialogue and learn about their faith. I would also invite them as I did countless Russians on my mission to read the Book of Mormon and pray to God to know if it is true.

26) Does God speak to you? 

Yes, though I have never heard his voice, but he speaks through the promptings of the Holy Spirit and in response to prayer.

27) If God spoke to you and told you to kill someone, would you do it?

I would follow the pattern of Nephi in the Book of Mormon and first sincerely doubt that such a prompting was from God. If after wrestling with God and continued prayer and introspection, I knew that such a prompting was from God I would do so.

28) Is God always watching you?

Yes

29) How about when you’re on the toilet?

This is a really silly question. Yes, but I think he has better things to focus on than that.

30) How do you respond when someone who’s not a Christian tells you about their religious faith?

I love hearing about the faiths of others. On my mission and elsewhere I have spent hours learning about the faith of others. I deeply respect and love people of all faith.

31) Do you listen and consider what they have to say or do you just ignore them because they don’t believe what you believe?

I always consider carefully what I hear about religion from others. As a convert to my Church, I would be foolish not to. I have prayed and pondered the messages I have received from others

32) What do you make of Muslims who think the Koran is the true holy book?

I think the Koran contains a great deal of truth and it is even possible that God revealed a great many things through the Muhammad. However, I would invite anyone to examine the Book of Mormon and pray to God to know if it is true. I believe that anyone can gain more light and truth from its teachings and from knowing Jesus Christ. We invite people to bring all the goodness and truth they have and to gain more.

33) Are they wrong?

No, there is much admirable and good in the Koran. However, there are also false teachings in Islam which limit the ability of adherents to gain a fullness of truth and happiness. For instance, believing that prophecy ended with Muhammad, or rejecting Christ as a savior/more than a prophet.

As I mentioned earlier, individuals will have an opportunity to learn about the fullness of the Gospel whether in this life or the next. I truly believe that those that are believers and living consistent with the teachings of their faith will readily embrace the Gospel of Christ once they learn of it. Their faith and spiritual experiences will prepare them for that ultimate conversion.

34) Have you read the Koran?

Yes

35) Why do you dismiss them so easily?

I don’t. I deeply respect Islam and have pondered and considered its truth claim extensively.

36) Is homosexuality itself a sin?

Homosexual conduct is a sin just as all sexual conduct outside of a marriage between husband and wife is a sin.

37) Should gays and lesbians have the right to get married?

No, gay marriage can never be a true marriage in God’s eyes. As far as society goes, we should continue to place heterosexual marriage in a favorite position, but can extend to gay couples civil unions with the full benefits of marriage. However, preserving the title and status of marriage is simply that important for society.

38) Why would God make people gay and then punish them for being gay?

Being gay is not a punishment. It certainly is a difficult temptation that many face in this life. However, ultimately God knows our hearts and minds and is fully aware of all of our burdens and temptations. He will judge us based on our own opportunities, knowledge and challenges.

39) If God’s already sending gay people to hell, why do you feel the need to persecute them here on Earth [sic]?

Gay people are not going to hell. I believe that those that I have known that are gay are often some of the choicest spirits and have made a wonderful contribution to society and to the world. God will not unfairly focus only on one challenge that we face. He sees us as bigger than merely one trial. Every person will be judged with the utmost mercy and love.

I do not feel a need to persecute gay people and find anti-gay bigotry abhorrent. We all sin and all fall short of God. We should not judge or hate others because we sin differently than they do. On the other hand, I will continue to reject all efforts to silence those that speak out about the divinely inspired nature of marriage or attempt to call divine truth bigotry.

40) Why does God playing [sic] hide and seek with all of humanity? 

God sent us to this earth so that we could learn to have faith without seeing him. Before this life, we were in his presence and knew him personally. Yet, for us to fully grow and make choices we needed to come here, forget and rely on faith. If we had absolute certainty of God’s existence, our choices would become less meaningful and our agency/freedom less full. We are here to make choices and rely on faith rather than perfect sight.

41) Do you believe Jesus is coming back to Earth during your lifetime? 

I don’t know. I do know that these are the latter days and that his coming is soon, however no man knows the exact date or the time of his coming.           Prophets and Apostles have spoken of those of the current generation having children, grandchildren and great grandchildren which leads me to believe that his coming might not be in my lifetime. Either way, I eagerly await the day and look forward to it with an eye of faith.

42) If you do, what do you say to the many generations of people who have been saying that for centuries?

Christ’s coming could not have been before his church was restored to the earth in 1830 through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Moreover, his second coming requires preparation and will be preceded by certain signs such as the great spread of missionary work to all corners of the earth. Only in the past 30-50 years has technology so developed to allow the message of Jesus Christ to spread to truly all the world.

Those who have waited for Christ’s return will be rewarded for their diligence and faith.

43) Why is the story of Jesus’ birth and life so similar to that of mythological beings well before his time? 

I see this as proof of the truthfulness of the teachings of Christ. Whether understood under a different name or not, God has inspired civilizations around the world to get some understanding of the savior. Adam taught his descendents of Jesus Christ, and knowledge of his plan have been on earth from the beginning. As such, it is not surprising that many civilizations across the world would know about Jesus Christ.  Moreover, some of these mythological tales may be from actual visits of the savior such as the Mesopotamian myth of Quetzecotol.

44) How do you decide which sections of the Bible are literally true and which ones are just metaphorical?

I believe that the Bible is the divine word of God insofar as it is correctly translated. I look to the living Prophet and to those that have come before such as Joseph Smith for further insights and revelation. Absent some revelation from them to the contrary I see the teachings of the bible as literally true. In many instances, however, our literal reading is simply based on inaccurate cultural assumptions rather than the text itself.

45) What are the minimum requirements for being a Christian?

I would include in that umbrella all those who believe that Jesus Christ was the Messiah and the Son of God, and believe that he took upon himself our sins, died on the cross and was resurrected on the third day.

Of course, membership in the Church of Christ involves more than mere faith in Christ, and requires repentance, baptism, confirmation/receiving the holy ghost, and enduring to the end. However, because so many are not aware of or understand these teachings I do not see them as a minimum to be considered Christian. One day, those who have that essential faith in Christ will come to understand the fullness of his teachings and will enter into his fold.

46) And who falls under that definition?

I give the benefit of the doubt to anyone who claims to be a Christian. God ultimately is the one that judges us according to our words, deeds, and thoughts of our heart. Even many members of the Church will ultimately be found wanting because they have failed to live according to the teachings of Christ. As such, it is not my place to judge and certainly not based on external labels.

47)Fred Phelps? 

Yes

48) Pat Robertson? 

Yes

49) James Dobson? 

Yes

50) President Obama? 

Yes

51) Do your really believe Mary was impregnated without ever having sex?

Yes

52) If someone came up to you and said she was pregnant but she was totally a virgin, would you believe her?

No. I wouldn’t. Which is exactly why the story of Mary and Joseph is so amazing. Joseph reacted as any of us would. He sought to end his engagement with Mary. Thus, what is incredible is that because of divine revelation he had enough faith to stay with Mary and endure the ridicule that they probably received. That Joseph stayed is compelling evidence of the truthfulness of the gospel account.

53) Why did God have to rape a teenage girl in order to become human?

I certainly do not believe that God raped Mary in order for Christ to be born. I do not understand fully how Christ was conceived, but I know that God understands the laws of nature far better than we do. He would never violate human agency in such a fundamental way.

54) If you could go back in time when Jesus was being crucified, would you try to save Him or would you stand back and do nothing because your entire faith depends on Him being crucified?

I would certainly do everything I could to try to save him. God requires us to do all that we can to ensure justice. The savior was innocent and should not have been killed. That his atonement was inevitable does not change the fact that he was brutally murdered by the Roman and Jewish leaders.

On the other hand, certainly Christ knew his death was foreordained, and he even commanded his disciples to not resist the Roman guards by the sword. I would thus do all that was in my power to preserve Christ’s life unless he himself told me not to do so.

55) What would it take to change your mind in God’s existence?

At this point, I have had such powerful confirming experience of God’s existence and the truth of the Church, that I think that it is only through personal wickedness and the influence of Satan that I could fall away.

56) Do you think it is a little strange when someone says they’re gonna believe in something no matter what, even when all the evidence seems to point in the other direction?

Yes, I do think that is strange and unnecessary. Every individual can receive a personal answer from God and know that he is there. God does not want us to have faith without evidence. He wants to give us personal revelation which is the most powerful evidence of all.

57) What is something your pastor has said in church that you totally disagree with?

I have written extensively about how I struggled with the teachings of the Prophets and Apostles on gay marriage. Now, I can’t think of any teaching that I currently struggle with.

58) And when that happened, did you confront your pastor about it or did you just let it slide?

I certainly spoke extensively to Bishops and to everyone else that I could about my concerns. I even asked an Apostle a question about the Church’s position on gay marriage However, as I have written because of my openness to the promptings of the spirit I eventually gained a personal witness that the Church’s teachings on the subject are true.

59) Why are there so many different Christian denominations?

When Christ was on the earth he established one Church led by prophets and apostles. They were meant to ensure uniformity and consistency of faith. However, as people killed the apostles and persecuted believers, the teachings of Christ were distorted and lost. The church fell into apostasy and many denominations splintered off, none containing the fullness of Christ’s teachings and gospel.

60) And are the people who are in those different denominations bad Christians, are they wrong?

Christians in other denominations are attempting to follow Christ but are misled by the teachings of man and the distortions built up over centuries of falsehood. They seek the truth but know not where to find it.

61) Which denomination is right?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the one true and living Church on the earth. True, because the doctrines it teaches are pure from God, and living because Christ leads the Church through a living Prophet and Apostles. Joseph Smith was the prophet through which God restored his Church to the earth.

62) Or, which group of denominations is right?

See above

63) Who or what do you think is responsible for natural disasters, like earthquakes and tsunamis?

We live in a fallen world and natural disasters are part of that world. I think disasters often ehelp us to focus on those things that matter most and realize how temporary our life on this earth is. Man can also at times contribute to disasters through our mistreatment of the world.

64) Can you pause the video right now and tell me what the Ten Commandments are?

Yes: One god, No Idols, Do not take the Lord’s name in vain, Sabbath Day Worship, Honoring Father and Mother, Do not Kill, Do not commit adultery, Do Not Steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not covent

65) And if you know them (and good for you if you do), why do so many Christians believe the first four of them belong on government property and in classes?

Many believe that the commandments belong because they are part of the heritage of this nation. The Founding Fathers quoted the bible and other sermons extensively, and the Ten Commandments were always seen as underlying commandments or laws. However, there is also a strong case to be made that they do not belong in a pluralistic society in order to ensure that others do not feel excluded. I certainly see the strength of both arguments.

66) Would you feel comfortable saying the pledge of allegiance in class everyday if the words were “one nation under no God, with liberty and justice for all”?

No. I do believe the nation was founded based on a common belief in God and that the nation prospers when its people believe. However, I completely respect the argument that such words alienate those who do not believe and therefore do not belong. Certainly, I am against compelling anyone to swear, affirm, or pledge anything contrary to their belief.

67) Do you think it’s just a coincidence that different religions are popular in different parts of the world?

No, it is not a coincidence. I believe that certain faiths have truths that appeal to those of different cultures and backgrounds. Ultimately, religion grows because it connects to the spiritual needs of adherents.

68) Do you believe that if you were born in Saudi Arabia, you would be a Muslim rather than a Christian?

I don’t know. In Saudi Arabia it is highly unlikely that I would have heard of Jesus Christ or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On the other hand, as a convert who ended up joining the church while at a heavily Jewish University I believe that everything is possible in God’s plan. I do believe that God puts us in a position to hear and learn about Jesus Christ either in this life or the next. Because he doesn’t see a difference between someone who learns of it here or in the afterlife, I don’t think it matters too much.

69) Is it possible that religion has less to do with what’s true and more to do with the circumstances of where and when you were born?

No, Jesus is the Christ and that is true no matter where we are born. He atoned for the sins of all mankind whether an individual believes in him or not. Ultimately ever knee shall bow and every tongue confess that he is the one and only Christ.

70) Do you believe childbirth is an example of a miracle?

Yes

71) Does that mean Hitler was once a “miracle baby”?

Yes, each of us is a miracle because we are born with divine potential. However, it is tragic that some people fall so far short of that divine potential and lead to the destruction of millions of innocents. How much wickedness can come from one individual who rejects divine truth and how much good can come from one disciple of Christ!

72) And if childbirth is a miracle, how come that miracle happens thousands and thousands of times every week?

The greatest miracles are not infrequent but common place. The greatest miracle of all is not just that thousands are born, but that everyone of them is known and loved by God.