Book of Mormon study journal #3 – Witnesses

I love the testimony of the witnesses as they powerfully declare an additional witness of the truth of this work. Again, those reading the book have to grapple with the powerful testimony that these men held even unto death. Were they collectively deceived or just after their own interests? The historical record does not reflect that

Again, from the start this book is a loaded gun and demands a serious readers attention. Unfortunately most non-members have not truly read the book and have not begun to grapple with these witnesses. These were men of respect in society and they swore upon their honor that the book was true.

As Elder Holland powerfully witnessed

Witnesses, even witnesses who were for a time hostile to Joseph, testified to their death that they had seen an angel and had handled the plates. “They have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man,” they declared. “Wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true.” (2009 October General Conference, Safety for the Soul, Sat. Afternoon Session – Jeffrey R. Holland)

Especially powerful is the witness of the three who not only saw the plates and an angel but heard the voice of the father!

And we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true. (Book of Mormon, Introduction)

This is a remarkable declaration since few men have been privileged in the history of the world to hear the voice of the father. Usually the father bears witness of the son, and this incident shows how important the Book of Mormon is as a witness of his only begotten. As shown in the first vision and this account the father himself is intimately involved in the process of restoration as he was in the meridian of time when his voice was heard on several dramatic occasions. The restoration is THAT important!

The coming forth of witnesses was prophecies in the text itself and it seems clear that these men knew that they were fulfilling a divinely mandated role.

12 Wherefore, at that day when the book shall be delivered unto the man of whom I have spoken, the book shall be hid from the eyes of the world, that the eyes of none shall behold it save it be that three witnesses shall behold it, by the power of God, besides him to whom the book shall be delivered; and they shall testify to the truth of the book and the things therein. (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi, Chapter 27)

These men knew that they were under command of god to bear witness of this work and their lord

And it is marvelous in our eyes. Nevertheless, the voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, we bear testimony of these things. (Book of Mormon, Introduction)

From this they did not shirk but were true to the end!

May we also be as strong in our defense of truth. May we be bold in our declaration that this work is true and fearless in inviting others to come and gain a personal witness for themselves.

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Book of Mormon study journal #2-introduction

The introduction of the book of Mormon is a favorite section of mine and one That I used so many times while on my
Mission. It is a powerful statement that clearly explains why the book demands reader attention.

The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible. It is a record of God’s dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains, as does the Bible, the fulness of the everlasting gospel.

As I wrote in my last post, right out of the bat this book makes a very bold claim. It is not merely a theological tract or philosophical essay, but is in very fact holy scripture comparable to the bible. Not only that, but it contains the fullness of the gospel along with the Bible.

I often wondered what it means that the book of Mormon and the bible contain the fullness of the gospel. Certainly, not all doctrines are clearly taught in these works and some were withheld until our days, so what exactly does this mean. I had a lot of insights on this while on my mission. First of all, I think christs definition of his gospel in 3 Nephi 27 is really key.

13 Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you-that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.
14 And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil-
15 And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.
16 And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world.
17 And he that endureth not unto the end, the same is he that is also hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence they can no more return, because of the justice of the Father.

The third paragraph of the introduction here is also very illustrative

The crowning event recorded in the Book of Mormon is the personal ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ among the Nephites soon after his resurrection. It puts forth the doctrines of the gospel, outlines the plan of salvation, and tells men what they must do to gain peace in this life and eternal salvation in the life to come.

The gospel here is defined very clearly as the core teachings that Christ came to the earth, was crucified and rose on the third day and that thanks to him all men may have eternal life. The book of Mormon and the bible lay bare the fact that Jesus is the only source and provider of salvation. It can be said that the fullness of the gospel can be found when the doctrine is clearly expounded so as to give us confidence in his saving grace and turn us towards him. Christ is the living Christ and in that sense no text or doctrine can be full if it is limited. Instead, the purpose of the scripture must be to turn us towards the Christ!

9 Behold, I am the law, and the light. Look unto me, and endure to the end, and ye shall live; for unto him that endureth to the end will I give eternal life.

This theme of looking to Christ in order to live us so clearly stated throughout the book of Mormon as to become almost it’s credo.

The introduction continues to again state that the book of Mormon was written by prophecy and revelation and through prophets. Thus, this book truly
can he said to have a divine pedigree. The 5th paragraph again emphasizes this when declaring that Joseph Smith translated them by the gift and power of god. Clearly no other explanation for the origin of the book of Mormon can be defended by members of the church.

Joseph smiths statement about the book of Mormon is one of the more controversial things in the book of Mormon, but I have a testimony that this is true and that a person will draw closer to god through consistent study of the book of Mormon. I saw this on my mission as investigators that studied the book of Mormon grew so much closer to god in remarkable ways!

Concerning this record the Prophet Joseph Smith said: “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”

The last two paragraphs are of course along with Moroni 10:3-5 the most common things used when introducing the Book of Mormon to an investigator this is a powerful and bold invitation to all men everywhere to read the book and not merely flip through it but to truly ponder it and then turn to
God in sincere prayer. Sadly, I saw that even though the way to know of the books truth is so simple many reject it precisely for that reason hardening their hearts and lacking confidence in god and his power.

Those that do gain a witness of the book of Mormon will know a few very key things as already mentioned. They will know that Jesus is the Christ, that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that the true church of Christ is on the earth today. When someone has that witness and keeps it through continued reading, prayer and sacrament attendance, trials
can and will come, but they will not be able to shake the convictions firmly planted in the soul by the Holy Ghost.

Book of Mormon study journal #1 Title Page

Book of Mormon study journal

I decided today that I want to start a new study journal that I hope will help me to focus my Book of Mormon study in post mission life. As a missionary it was so easy to cultivate good study habits and to truly feast on the word of god daily, but I have found even in the few weeks since how much more difficult that is if there is no sense of daily accountability. I think that starting a blog for my reading will really help and I hope that my insights might be helpful to someone else as well.

Title page-

I really like how the very beginning of the book of Mormon really shows that this book is a divine work. In the title page it mentions twice that this book comes forth by the gift and power of god and makes it clear that it was written by commandment, prophecy and revelation. No one reading this book should be confused. As elder callister said in conference not long ago, either this is a book from god as it claims, or a forgery and heinous fraud. The title page sets the stakes up for the book.

The purposes of this book are also well laid out here: to show israel that god is a god of miracles and that they are still his chosen people and to convince all people that Jesus is the son of god and that he manifested himself into all nations. If we believe this book to be true we can be certain of those things. God is a god of power and miracles and Jesus is the savior of the whole world.

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The Best Two Years For My Life

Since returning from my mission just a little under two weeks ago, a certain phrase from a general conference talk from the October 2011 conference has been swirling around in my head

Upon my return home, it became increasingly apparent that even though I had left my mission, my mission didn’t leave me. In fact, even after all these years, I still feel that my mission was the best two years for my life. 

I really like this quote because as it becomes more and more obvious to me that the mission experience will altar the course of my life for the rest of their life and into the eternities.

Another recent talk spoke about how the mission is designed and in fact even custom tailored to each of us in order to allow us to develop and reach the potential that Heavenly Father sees in us.

Long before leaving our earthly home to serve a full-time mission, we left heavenly parents to fulfill our mortal mission. We have a Father in Heaven, who knows us—our strengths and weaknesses, our abilities and potential. He knows which mission president and companions and which members and investigators we need in order to become the missionary, the husband and father, and the priesthood holder we are capable of becoming.

Elder Waddell in that talk extended a challenge to returning and returned missionaries which I really took to heart

A few years ago, while Sister Waddell and I presided over the Spain Barcelona Mission, I would extend one last assignment to each missionary during their final interview. As they returned home, they were asked to immediately take time to consider the lessons and gifts provided to them by a generous Father in Heaven. They were asked to prayerfully list and consider how to best apply those lessons in post-mission life—lessons that would impact every facet of their lives: education and career choice, marriage and children, future Church service, and most important, who they would continue to become and their continued development as disciples of Jesus Christ.

I want to in this post look at a couple of aspects of missionary service that strike me as particularly helpful to me in my personal development and that of others and highlight why the mission truly was the best two years for my life.

Mission as an equalizer in Mormon Culture: The Israeli military example

Today I actually read an interesting book about Israel and the economic miracle the country has experienced. Surprisingly ( or not so surprisingly), reading this book actually helped reflect on one of the key practical benefits of a mission for me.

The book speaks about how military service for missionaries has a great equalizing effect on Israeli society. All those sectors that participate in the military are brought into interaction with one another. Whereas otherwise, the society would be very stratified and divided. Because in the Israeli military there are lots of opportunities for interaction and involvement ( In fact superior and inferior officers have a much more casual relationship than they do in most armies) it leads to a great degree of social mobility, networking and equality.

I think that a mission is a very similar experience. As a recent convert from a very unique background, I had never had a lot of unjust stereotypes about Utah Mormons or lifelong members. The opportunity to spend time with so many different members really shattered those stereotypes. I realized how heterogeneous the missionaries are even though most came from a background in the church. Some were from rich two parent families, others were from struggling broken families, and others were likewise converts. Additionally, even within those that came from similar backgrounds there were many differences in personality, testimony, experiences etc. On a mission I really was able to break down stereotypes that I had built up and interact with so many different people I probably would never have been friends with otherwise.

Companionship Unity

Tied into this is the incredible opportunity to live with several companions. I have of course lived with roommates before, but a companion on a mission is a different breed of animal altogether. You spend 24 hours of the day living together and practically are never apart. You are also responsible for working together and planning for investigators. With their eternal salvation on the line, there is a great deal of pressure and stress and I think conflict inevitably arises. The companionship is a workshop for building conflict resolution skills through discussion, prayer, goal setting and humility. It’s a wonderful opportunity because on a mission there is a shared level of understanding that helps. Both are on the same page and can be certain that the other has a desire to improve and to serve the Lord. Outside of the mission, this level of common understanding is often in question and leads to major roadblocks in resolving disputes. Resolving these conflicts on a mission is like training wheels that prepare one for marriage disputes and the rest of life.

Diligence and hard work

One of the strongest benefits of my mission service was the strong testimony I have developed of the importance of diligence and hard work. I saw time and time again that if we work hard and consistently despite trials and setbacks, that we can see miracles. I served in five different areas and in all but one when I came in there was an empty teaching pool and few people to work with. My first area in particular had no investigators because the last transfer the missionaries in that area were sick for most of the transfer. We went out and worked very hard spending most of our time going door to door but saw little results. I found that results and success are often delayed and come after prolonged periods of diligence. By the end of the transfer one of my now best friends Yliana decided that she wanted to be baptized and we soon found through our English club an amazing investigator Zamira who was also baptized. I love those girls so much and I know that our success with them came as a result of my diligence. Mission service teaches that if we work hard we will see results even if not as a direct result of our actions.

In our over privileged society these virtues are not really encouraged or cultured. When I was a university student, I noticed that the typical students there were spending 30,000-40,000 dollars a year of their parent’s money to go to school and yet were so far from diligent and hard working. Indeed, many would skip classes and then ask me for notes, avoiding doing any reading throughout the semester and cram at the last minute. There was a culture of trying to get as high of a grade for as little effort as possible.

In contrast, on a mission there is no way to cram and no way to get by with a bare minimum. Instead, you have to be consistent: studying every day, talking to every person that you see, building your testimony daily. These are the key things on a mission and for real success in the real world. Even when things are touch, a mission teach consistent applied diligence and not quitting no matter what.

Opportunity for leadership

One of the great things about my mission was that almost every missionary was at some point in their mission given a substantial leadership position. Sometimes, missionaries after just finishing training were given the responsibilities of training another brand new missionary. Also, because of the rapidly changing nature of callings I think the mission develops a culture in which anyone is viewed as a potential future leader. This is a great model for how we should treat others in life.

There is also the fact that in a mission there is a deep sense of accountability not just to your mission president or to other missionaries, but to the lord himself which makes leadership in the mission more meaningful

Some of the greatest responsibility I have ever experienced in my life to date came as a trainer and as a district leader or zone leader! A trainer of course is a great incubatory for parenting skills and learning how to be a good mentor without being overly critical. It was one of the hardest challenges of my life, but one of the most meaningful and rewarding.

I especially loved being a district leader however and having responsibility for the work in a whole city and the well being of other elders. I loved working closely with the branch president and seeking revelation from the lord. I have never received more revelation in my life than as a district leader. I received specific and constructive insights about events to plan, district meetings lessons to teach, helping the missionaries in my district with their particular needs and much more. These leadership callings have helped me learn how to inspire and motivate and to plan and coordinate effectively. I am so thankful for those opportunities and how they contributed to my growth.

Taking a step back

One of the unheralded benefits of serving a mission for me was the opportunity to step out of the world for two years and take a step back. In this time period I reevaluted my education plans, political understanding, future family plans and much else. I was able to build my life from the center outward on a firm foundation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Because of this time period for instance I realized that I should attend BYU Law school rather than the University of Chicago and was able to apply to BYU and get a full scholarship for the fall! I am so thankful for the insights that came to me about the course of my life because I was able to take a step back from the world and focus on what mattered the most.

Scripture Study, Prayer and seeking revelation

This point is the most obvious and so I will not spend a lot of time on it, but the opportunity to truly learn to daily study the scriptures, pray on your knees and seek the lords guidance is so invaluable. More than anything else these are the skills needed for successful spiritual growth and staying on the straight and narrow path.

I certainly more than anything else perhaps learned the sacred power of prayer. Between kneeling prayers with investigators to companionship prayers to seek unity and district prayer and fasting for baptisms, I have a strong testimony thanks to my mission experiences of the power of prayer.

The rationality of Mormonism ( Part One)

There have been a whole slew of articles in recent weeks talking about the irrationality of Mormon beliefs. On the whole it seems that there is a consensus in the media that the beliefs of the church are untenable and could only be held by a fool. The point of contention seems to be whether this should disqualify a member from public office or whether or not other churches are just as bad.  Really, what they are focusing on unfortunately is not belief or theology. Instead, the media seems obsessive in its criticism of the very possibility of the supernatural or theological. Angels or God appearing to man is dismissed as impossible rather than truly examined in any meaningful way. Rarely does the conversation go any deeper than the level of outright dismissal. There is rarely a discussion of deeper questions of good versus evil, of the role of free agency and belief or any the myriad of questions that are fascinating and to which Mormonism offers unique answers.

I join with others in urging the media to take a more serious at the world view of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints because one of the things that first attracted me to the church years ago was frankly how logical the theology was and how it cleared up so many of the logical flaws that I found in other churches or religions.

I want to explore (likely over several posts) several of the aspects of Mormon theology that strike me as particularly lucid and logical

In this first post I want to deal with the idea of Prophets and the concept of Gospel dispensations. I hope to then address the plan of salvation and especially the pre-earth life and the idea of vicarious ordinance work for the dead.

One of the most beautiful and simply logical things about Mormon beliefs is an incredible sense of consistency throughout recorded human history. Christianity has always struggled with the question of why Jesus Christ only came in the meridian of time and what happened to those before his time. Also, difficult for those in most religions is to explain the multiplicitude of other faiths. How could God be the author of some much confusion and disarray?

Most Christians rightly point to the many prophecies of Christ by prophets such as Isaiah and Zechariah as evidence that he was known before his birth. Prophets were called of God to prepare people for Christ and to look forward to his birth. Jesus’s remarks that Before Abraham Was I Am and that Abraham looked forward to my day reveal that even as far back as the time of Abraham faith in Christ was the basis of belief.

Yet, of all the belief systems only the LDS church takes the logical step of extending this claim back to the time of Adam and Eve. Indeed, in many churches implying that Adam is saved let alone that he was a prophet is blasphemy. Yet, because of the revelations given through Joseph Smith we realize that Adam and Eve not only received revelation from God, but specifically that they had faith, repented, were baptized and received the Holy Ghost in the same way that we do in the modern church.

These passages in the Book of Moses are remarkable in their lucidity and plainness

4 And Adam and Eve, his wife, called upon the name of the Lord, and they heard the voice of the Lord from the way toward the Garden of Eden, speaking unto them, and they saw him not; for they were shut out from his presence.

5 And he gave unto them commandments, that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord. And Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord.

6 And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me.

7 And then the angel spake, saying: This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth.

8 Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore.

9 And in that day the Holy Ghost fell upon Adam, which beareth record of the Father and the Son, saying: I am the Only Begotten of the Father from the beginning, henceforth and forever, that as thou hast fallen thou mayest be redeemed, and all mankind, even as many as will.

10 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.

11 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.

12 And Adam and Eve blessed the name of God, and they made all things known unto their sons and their daughters.

13 And Satan came among them, saying: I am also a son of God; and he commanded them, saying: Believe it not; and they believed it not, and they loved Satan more than God. And men began from that time forth to be carnal, sensual, and devilish.

14 And the Lord God called upon men by the Holy Ghost everywhere and commanded them that they should repent;

15 And as many as believed in the Son, and repented of their sins, should be saved; and as many as believed not and repented not, should be damned; and the words went forth out of the mouth of God in a firm decree; wherefore they must be fulfilled.

 

This of course stands in stark contrast to the documentary hypothesis which postulates a gradual evolution to monotheism. We understand that God has been absolutely the same since the beginning of time, and that all people have known about Christ and could be saved through his name. The differences in faith are not a by product of God’s doing. There was in the start one pure faith taught. Digressions and diversions into lesser faith came only because of wickedness. People choose to follow Satan rather than God and so perverted the true teachings. This also accounts for the very humanizing and logical view point that all religions have parts of the truth to some greater or lesser degree. Having all started from one pure source, it is logical that despite the perversions that have accumulated over the years, many shards of divine truth would remain.

The beauty of this doctrine should be apparent to all. If this is true, then God truly loves all people in the world equally and did not favor those in the time of Christ or in our day more than those that came from Adam.

This belief is also enhanced by many Book of Mormon passages showing people converted to the gospel of Christ well before his coming. They were baptized and born again just as those at the time of his coming. Enos’s conversion is a great example of this

5 And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins areforgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.

6 And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away.

7 And I said: Lord, how is it done?

8 And he said unto me: Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen. And many years pass away before he shall manifest himself in the flesh; wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole.

Of course, the point of this article is not to look at the actual merits of the theology but merely to point out how simple and rational this position is. It eliminates the need to explain away exclusivity of Christianity and allows us to truly believe in a God which is not a respecter of persons. All in all, a pretty simple and logical belief.

Response to Andrew Sullivan on his views on Mormonism

This is the copy of an E-mail that I sent to Andrew Sullivan of the Dish/ The Daily Beast who recently wrote some very caustic and critical posts about the LDS church.

Where’s the line between a religion and a cult 

Part 2

Dear Mr. Sullivan

I am a long time reader of your blog. During the 2008 election I followed very closely your blog reading it daily. From 2008 to 2010 I also closely followed and enjoyed your views and insight. I recently returned from serving a two year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Novosibirsk Russia, and I felt prompted to write to you in response to some of your very negative writings about a church that I love and belong to. I was very disappointed by your very biased and negative comments on the LDS church and I felt that my insights might be useful in some way since I am a convert to the church ( I was baptized just three years ago) from a very different background ( My family are secular jewish and I was raised in South Florida and went to University in Boston). I would be happy to hear your response and to try to engage in a dialogue on this subject.

I would like to quote some of your words and respond to them.

“”I have a few non-doctrinal yardsticks to think about the question of how legitimate a religion is. 1. Does it have secret, sacred places that are sealed off from outsiders? 2. Is there some kind of esoteric teaching involved known only to those high up in the faith? 3. Is it easy to leave the church, i.e. is apostasy without serious consequences? 4. Does it enforce tithing effectively?”

Why cannot non-Mormons come and go in Mormon Temples as they can in Cathedrals and mosques and synagogues? Why is it so hard for some to leave the LDS Church without social ostracism and peer pressure? How much money would taxpayers be automatically giving the LDS church by paying the president his salary? How much control does the LDS hierarchy have over its members? Why is missionary work compulsory? Why were Ann Romney’s non-Mormon parents barred from attending her own Temple sealing.

I will respond at least in part from my own personal experiences and in part from the words of LDS leaders (prophets and apostles) from general conference addresses. I use these in particular because there is a very important to note difference between what is taught as doctrine and the result of ill-informed members that do not apply the teachings of their leaders and live in disharmony with the teachings of Christ. This is really important with some of your concerns: to give one example…Shunning or excluding family members that have left the faith has been explicitly discouraged by the leadership of the church in several high profile addresses. Meanwhile poorly informed members continue to do so despite the disapproval of such actions from the pulpit.

For instance just two years ago Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the quorum of the twelve spoke on this very topic

Love and Law

“If parents have a wayward child—such as a teenager indulging in alcohol or drugs—they face a serious question. Does parental love require that these substances or their consumption be allowed in the home, or do the requirements of civil law or the seriousness of the conduct or the interests of other children in the home require that this be forbidden?

 

To pose an even more serious question, if an adult child is living in cohabitation, does the seriousness of sexual relations outside the bonds of marriage require that this child feel the full weight of family disapproval by being excluded from any family contacts, or does parental love require that the fact of cohabitation be ignored? I have seen both of these extremes, and I believe that both are inappropriate.

Where do parents draw the line? That is a matter for parental wisdom, guided by the inspiration of the Lord. There is no area of parental action that is more needful of heavenly guidance or more likely to receive it than the decisions of parents in raising their children and governing their families. This is the work of eternity.

As parents grapple with these problems, they should remember the Lord’s teaching that we leave the ninety and nine and go out into the wilderness to rescue the lost sheep. 11 President Thomas S. Monson has called for a loving crusade to rescue our brothers and sisters who are wandering in the wilderness of apathy or ignorance. 12 These teachings require continued loving concern, which surely requires continued loving associations.”

Another landmark on this topic by President James E. Faust in April 2003 urged love, prayer and forbearance and certainly did not encourage shunning or exclusion.

Dear are the sheep that have wandered

In the most recent conference in April 2012 President Dieter F Uchtdorf addresses a family in which members were divided and not speaking to each other and spoke for love and compassion for all and urged us to not judge each other!

In terms of personal experience in regard to this question I can point out two things.

First of all, is the response from my own Jewish parents who when I told them I wanted to be baptized threatened that they would no longer consider me their son and continue to strongly oppose and criticize at every opportunity. In contrast, at least in my experience interacting with hundreds of members in Siberia as a minister/missionary, I found that most families have at least one or more people that have fallen into inactivity, but that the relationships in these families can be described as being ones of love and tolerance and prayer. In my two years in Russia, I only heard of one example of a member being shunned because his family left the church (and even then the branch president and several of the prominent members remained good friends with him and his family even going on hunting trips together.). As mentioned by Elder Oaks in the talk I quoted, family face a difficult decision of how to deal with the sinful actions of relatives while continuing to love and support them. However, I have not seen anything in the teaching of the church to justify exclusion or hatred and indeed quite the opposite.

“Why is missionary work compulsory?”

First of all, missionary work is not compulsory in any way shape or form. In this case I will begin from personal experience and then quote a couple of sources. When I joined the church I faced the very difficult decision of deciding whether or not I should serve a mission. I was excepted to a prestigious law school and faced a very difficult decision. Of course as one would imagine as part of my deciding I spoke in depth with my ecclestiastical leaders ( Bishop and Stake President) seeking their feedback and advice. No one ever tried to tell me that I had to go on a mission. Quite the opposite, I was explicitly told that it was my choice and that I would be considered an active member in good standing whether or not I went and served. To bolster this fact, several of the leaders I served with on my mission has not served missions as youth ( including my mission president Jon C. Trejo and Elder Webb who served as a senior missionary with his wife in the mission office. Elder Webb had also served as a bishop several times and a stake president some of the most important callings members can hold.) This shows that members are not punished, demoted, not trusted or anything else for failing to serve a mission.

Of course one could say that serving a mission is viewed as a duty and a great responsibility for male members. That has been explicitly stated many times. In January 2012 there was a question and answer feature in the church magazine Ensign/Liahona which spoke about this. There is a great difference between a duty and compulsion.


Why is there so much pressure on young men to go on a mission? Isn’t it a personal decision?

The personal decision each young man must make is whether or not he will fulfill his priesthood duty to serve a mission. As President Thomas S. Monson has said: “Every worthy, able young man should prepare to serve a mission. Missionary service is a priesthood duty—an obligation the Lord expects of us who have been given so very much. Young men, I admonish you to prepare for service as a missionary” (“As We Meet Together Again,” Liahona and Ensign, Nov. 2010, 5–6).

Preparing for a mission is part of a young man’s Aaronic Priesthood experience. It is his duty, and he should feel the appropriate weight of that duty. Of course, he should not serve a mission simply because it is expected or because he feels pressure; he should serve because he desires to share the restored gospel of Jesus Christ with others.

But as he prays about serving a mission, he should also remember that by receiving the priesthood, he has already accepted the sacred responsibility to “warn, expound, exhort, and teach, and invite all to come unto Christ” (D&C 20:59), including by serving as a full-time missionary. If young men are not able to serve because of poor health or a disability, they are honorably excused.

Worthy male youth are expected to serve and strongly encouraged. If they decide not to serve however there isn’t supposed to be any kind of punishment or push-back. In the end, leaders of the church have for years been urging people to only go on a mission if they have a testimony and a personal desire to serve.

This question has a page on Mormon.org with members sharing their answers which I think is a pretty good source http://mormon.org/faq/serve-missions

Of course this should make sense in our civic society where there are many duties that do not carry with them any penalties for failure to act but many rewards/blessings for action. For instance, voting is my civic duty as a citizen of the United States, but I can choose to not vote and aside from loosing an opportunity to influence the political system am not penalized.

Again I can testify from my personal experience in Siberia. All of the probably around 100 missionaries with whom I interacted were excited to serve a mission and chose to do so out of their own desire. Of course, their families were supportive ( unlike mine) which made serving easier. However, I truly believe due to my experience ( and I thought otherwise before I left on a mission) that the vast majority of missionaries serve out of their own desire or at the very least a sense of duty to God and not from any social coercion or pressure.

I will close this e-mail though I will happily write more with the question of tithing

“4. Does it enforce tithing effectively?”

 

The church enforces tithing very very well. However it is able to do so without coercion or force. One of the unique things about LDS services is that there is no plea for donations during the meetings whatsoever. All giving is done quietly and not publicly. The information about who is or is not a tithe payer is not public and there is not public scrutiny of how much one tithes. As a missionary, I did not even know whether or not the members I met with and taught were full tithe payers or not. The question of tithing is never a barrier to attending church meetings at meetinghouses. Those that do not pay are almost never disciplined or excommunicated. Once a year members are encouraged ‘but not forced’ to have a meeting with their bishop and declare that they are a full tithe payer, but even many active members do not do this yearly meeting.  The assessment of whether one is or is not a full tithe payer is personal and one is not told to pay more than a fair share. Tithing only becomes a really issue in regard to determining if someone is qualified to hold a calling ( a leadership position of trust in the church) and to attend the temple. It makes sense that someone asked to lead other members should be exemplary in their obedience to the commandments of God and in a church with lay leadership it is a key quality control for those given the ability to influence others for good or evil. It also makes sense to require tithing before entering the temple in lieu of the lords warning in Malachi 3 about bringing tithes and offerings to his house.

Andrew I think that if you look honestly and objectively at the actual lived experience of a Latter Day Saint that you would see that the church is one that does not coerce or force but teaches principles and urges its members to live by them. It is in my estimation a marvelous work and a wonder and an institution guiding people to a better life. Have you ever attended a latter day saint service? How many active members have you talked to while writing your pieces slamming this church? Its easy to draw false conclusions by only looking to dissenters, but I used to think you were far better than that. I really hope that you will actually explore more about what it means to be a latter-day saint from a believers perspective and portray that to your readers.

All the best

Daniel Ortner

Being open to the promptings of the spirit!

I know that this article is going to be very controversial because whenever the topic of Gay Marriage is brought up it leads to a lot of ill feelings and vitriol. I also know that by writing this I will forever separate myself from the ‘liberal Mormon’ community ( which I do willingly because I consider myself to be a mainstream TBM in every sense of the word!) However, I am writing this article not especially to focus on my views on Gay Marriage , but to focus on how I have been influenced by the spirit since I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and how my mission experiences continued to solidify my shift away from avid supporter to strong opponent of gay marriage. I think also that with the many many prominent examples of leaders moving towards favoring Gay Marriage ( Barack Obama being the most prominent example for instance) that a counter example is quite instructive.

At the outset I want to mention one thing that I think is important to realize. Not once in the four years since I have begun to attend church has a more conservative stance on Gay Marriage ever been pushed on me. Over the months of thought, prayer and struggle, I brought the topic up with many people and had many incredible discussions with active members and I never ONCE felt pressured by them to change my view. All the pressure came internally as I tried to justify my initial strong support for gay marriage with the position of The Brethren. At first, this was the one issue of all issues that stood poised to break my testimony. Now, I have a strong testimony that the church is on track with its views on gay marriage and that marriage between a man and a women is the only marriage that is or can ever be ordained of God! What was once a week point in my faith and testimony has evolved into a strong point as my testimony has grown and as I left myself open to the promptings of the spirit.

I grew up in a pretty liberal family and as I attended school in Boston I became even more liberal especially in my social views. Gay Marriage in particular seemed to me to be a matter of equality and human rights. I had many gay friends in college and saw their relationships as beautiful and loving. Of course, at the time I had moved to a more relativistic framework and failed to see the need to judge or deem one sexual pattern right or wrong. I truly believed that people were born that way and could not be expected to change. Even more so, I was strongly opposed to ‘the religious right’ and viewed their opposition to be an inhumane attempt to push theocracy. In short, gay marriage was an issue that I felt very very strongly about.

My conversion to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints began around September 2008 at the very height of the election season. I campaigned hard for Obama in New Hampshire and spent election day working there getting people to the polls. I remember being extremely excited as I looked on the election results. I was excited that a new president was elected who would embody change and progressive values. The one sour spot for me was the triumph of Proposition 8 which I viewed as a travesty.

At first, I was hardly aware of the Mormon connection and as I began to realize how much the church had supported the bill I was in shock. I had gained a testimony of the truth of the Gospel, but my faith in the modern day prophets and apostles was still very tentative and shaky. My first response was to think that the church must have made a major mistake and that their stance would have to change.

Yet at the same time I could NOT deny the testimony I’d received. I could at first neither understand nor accept the churches position on Gay Marriage, but I knew it was true and I had confidence that if I continued to grow in the church answers would come. As I studied abroad in London this issue was not at the forefront even though I remember having a few heated discussions with some of my friends. I read many sites and blogs on the topic and thought about it quite often.

When I came back to America the issue exploded again. I had an internship at FIRE ( The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) and two of my co-workers ( Noah and Tim) began very extensively to criticize the church and its beliefs on gay marriage. I had just been baptized and was a brand new member. The start of that summer was a true struggle for me as I day by day listened to their attacks and felt a great deal of sympathy with what they were saying. I was truly agonized over this issue and I spoke to my bishop and branch presidency about my concerns. They were wonderfully sympathetic and I had some wonderful conversations with Brother Babbell one of the counselors. My concerns also led me to spend much time on my knees praying for answers. Yet, for weeks I didn’t find relief and I continued to be tormented by the question day after day.

Finally, one day after work I went and prayer in Love park in Philadelphia and while there received the first of a series of spiritual promptings that in time changed my understanding. At that very step, I only gained a realization of the ideal of marriage in God’s plan and an understanding that it is the preferable option. I did not at that point disagree with gay marriage in the least, but I was able to understand that heterosexual marriage was the better option.

The next week, my ward took a trip to Palmyra (which was very well timed in deed). In the Sacred Grove I took all of my concerns to the lord. There, in that sacred place in which Joseph had seen The Father and The Son I felt the spirit so strongly testify to me that I just needed to have patience and be humble and keep my heart open and that everything would work out. This was another key turning point for me. I prayed and fasted and the Lord told me to wait and gave me the patience to do so.

By the end of the summer I was able to turn my relationships with Noah and Tim into positive ones and I was able to find a greater deal of peace on the issue. Still, it continued to be a difficult one for me. In October 2009 Elder Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles came to Boston and spoke at a conference for YSA on missionary work. We had the opportunity to ask questions and I stood and asked a question about this issue. It was to me at the time an issue that bothered me so much that I even took it to an Apostle! I asked him about advice about how we could share the gospel with our gay brothers and sisters when the church stance so obviously alienated and upset them. He responded about how the church could not compromise on its stance and that he best thing to do would be to treat them with love and invite them to live up to God’s standard. At the time, this answer was a bit insufficient for me, but I was glad to know that the Brethren were aware of the importance of this issue! Someone else asked a follow up on the topic, but Elder Ballard did not say much more. I had hoped for something more. That day I walked with a member from a different state and talked quite a bit about the topic. I spoke about how my heart had been softened by the spirit in the past and how I felt led by him. I recommitted myself to continuing to be open and humble to the promptings of the spirit.

That semester I did a research paper about Homosexuality in Mormon plays for an American Drama Class and read the heartbroken words of families torn apart by the topic. I also read Angels in America and many other plays which showed Mormons and close minded and arrogant. These sources actually had the opposite effect on me. As I read them I contrasted them with the experiences I had with members filled with love and compassion. I realized that the Gay Rights movement had been overly militant and had shown great hatred towards individuals of the LDS faith merely because of their faith. I began to also realize that the legal issued surrounding Gay Marriage are more complicated than supporters make them seem. (I had been under the impression that Gay Marriage in California or elsewhere would have no negative legal consequences what so ever.) I wrote an article for my university newspaper about the passing of a Gay Marriage Ban in Maine in which I began to explore the nuances I now saw on the issue ( I still spoke against the ban at that point) I began to expand my understanding and perspective on the topic greatly due to research and continued prayer.

Yet, even with all of that I was still far away from support of the Church’s stance on Proposition 8. I saw the involvement as a mistake and the Church on the wrong side of history. The true turning point for me as undoubtedly the first time I went to the Manti Temple ( July 3, 2010) and performed sealing ordinances. When I was in the temple on that day, I received a very profound and deep testimony of the importance of family in God’s plan. Whereas my feelings about family before had been tepid, I now was filled with a great fiery testimony. I knew that the Family Proclamation to the World was an inspired doctrine from God and that nothing could ever come close to the sacredness of temple marriage between a husband and a wife. In the temple of the Lord I finally gained the witness I had sought in earnest prayer unto the lord!

Yet, even as I left on my mission I still was not comfortable with this issue. I remember cringing as I watched Boyd K. Packers talk which mentioned homosexuality in the October 2010 conference. Now, coming back from my mission I both support and endorse his every word and the Churches’ stance without equivocation! The funny thing is that nothing in particular on my mission happened to change my views on gay marriage. Actually, in Russia the population is very homophobic and the topic of homosexuality almost never came up in the course of my mission. I think I only had to teach about it 2 or 3 times in total. The first time was rather early in my mission and I remember hesitating before I taught it and saying very explicitly that this was the ‘churches’ position’ on the topic distinguishing between my view and the churches’. Yet, between that time and the next time I mentioned the topic I experienced a remarkable transformation which can only be explained as the result of loosing oneself in the service of the Lord. As my testimony of the brethren and the divine inspiration that leads the church and the mission grew leaps and bounds, so too did my conviction that the Proclamation on the Family was inspired of God and equal to scripture for our day. As I did so, I became more confident in the correctness of the LDS position. I realized that even if the whole world were for it, we MUST stand out against it because our unique view on the importance of family necessitates it.

So what have I learned on my long and windy road towards acceptance of the churches’ position on gay marriage? I learned that if we have doubts and even monumental concerns the solution is not to become less active and certainly not to leave the church in protest or dismay. Instead, the solution is to humble oneself and to not assumed that we are correct. Being teachable is the key. Also, allowing the spirit to teach us through prayer, scripture study, church attendance, faithful temple worship and living a worthy lifestyle/keeping the commandments are the absolute key. If we have a difficult concern it often requires repeated prolonged prayer over time and even then the answers often come only piecemeal. Moreover, loosing oneself in service of our brothers and sisters in the church is the true key to allowing the spirit to transform us. Brothers and sisters, if you are struggling because of this issue or any other concern about the church, take heart and courage! Stay strong, always be open to the spirit, never ever leave the path and I promise you that you will be led by the spirit and that in your own time you will gain the testimony which is precious about all!