Forgiving the sins of our fathers

Christ and womanYears ago, shortly after being called to serve as a bishop, I was summoned to the stake president’s office for a discussion. My offense? A sister in the ward had stopped attending church because I had failed to shake her hand on my first Sunday in my new calling. My defense? I had no idea I was supposed to shake her hand. The stake president taught me a good lesson- sometimes it is necessary to apologize, even if you have done nothing wrong from your own perspective, in an effort to move the relationship forward. I apologized, and the sister started coming back to church.

Spencer W. Kimball, former prophet and president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is fondly remembered for his contribution to LDS literature in his seminal work “Miracle of Forgiveness.” As individuals we find forgiveness and the peace it brings when we recognize our sins, acknowledge them before God and, where necessary, His appointed servants, and then turn from those sins and move forward. I seem to recall from President Kimball’s book that our objective should be to flee any and all situations that would drag us back into the sins of the past and only by doing so will we make progress toward a better life. If we place ourselves in a situation where we are always being reminded of our past, of the sins we committed previously, of what awful, terrible people we used to be, we will never progress beyond that life, we will never be able to lift ourselves to new heights or make progress on our road to salvation.

The longest chapter of “Miracle of Forgiveness,” if memory serves, was the chapter on the need for us, as individuals, to forgive others their trespasses against us. The atonement of Jesus Christ serves not only to offer forgiveness to the sinner, but to the wronged. As victims of the sins of others we have the opportunity to lay all our anger, frustration, hurt, and anguish at the feet of the Savior and find the peace that comes from frankly forgiving the perpetrator.

In the eyes of some the Church has sinned by virtue of what might be called distasteful or disappointing historical practices. Perhaps the leadership of the Church has recognized the need to acknowledge the past in an effort to “move the relationship along,” as it were, and in its effort to do so has made available historical documents and discussions relating to a past some find difficult. It is kind of like the apology I needed to offer, whether I was wrong or not. However, just as it does no good for anyone to continually remind the individual sinner of his or her sinful past, it serves little purpose to the progress of the Church to dwell on the past. George Santayana is famous partly for his statement that those who do not know the past are doomed to repeating it. It is true that there is much to be learned from the past, both good and bad, but it is always best to dwell on the good rather than stomp through the muck and the mire of what we, as individuals, believe bad.

In the end, what value will come from dragging the past into the present? Mopping the floor with a dirty mop will not leave the floor clean. Is it not better for each of us to practice what the Savior taught and quickly forgive the sins of our fathers, and move on? How will anyone feel better by continually reminding everyone of all that was, in the eyes of some, problematic? This is not to say that in individual group or family discussions outside of Church these things cannot be discussed. Indeed, the prophets and apostles have encouraged us to take up deeper discussions of the doctrines of the Church in our homes and families. Using the plethora of historical data the Church has made available now enhances this opportunity. But when our discussion take us away from, rather than closer to the Church, the gospel, and the Savior, we need to determine whether or not those discussions are truly useful. I have always been taught that for a marriage to be successful, one should never bring up the past indiscretions of one’s spouse. Doing so never brings about a good ending.

My wife pointed out to me as we discussed this topic that she had nothing to do with the “sins” of the Church that currently dominate public discussion, and should therefore not be held responsible in any way for the history of the Church institutionally. But this is exactly what happens, by extension, when the critics of the Church speak out against the Church. Considering this idea I did a little research. It was reported in the April 1978 General Conference that Church membership through December 1977 stood at 3,966,000. According to the statistical report for the end of 2013, there were 15,082,028 members. In other words, there are 3.8 times more members today than prior to the June 1978 announcement that all worthy male members of the Church could hold the priesthood. Factoring for those who have died subsequent to the Official Declaration, this means that more than 11 million members had absolutely nothing to do with previous practices. As members of the Church leadership, only three remain as apostles and prophets: Thomas S Monson, Boyd K Packer, and L Tom Perry. And the number is even more staggering when you look at the statistical data of 1890 when the declaration to end polygamy came about. So why are we bent on making the current Church as a whole responsible?

In the end, we need to ask ourselves what will change because of these discussions. What will the future Church look like when we have finished our discussion on the sins of our fathers? Will the discussion ever end? Or will it continue well into the future as long as there are new members coming into the Church who may not know all of its history? How long will the discussion need to last before everyone agrees that all of the differences have been worked out and we can move forward? For me, the discussion ended when I apologized and the sister forgave me for failing to shake her hand, and I took up the practice every Sunday thereafter. Yes, I changed. And yes, the Church has changed. Polygamy is no longer practiced. Every worthy male member of the Church can now receive the priesthood.

Perhaps the discussion ends when each member of the Church practices the forgiveness the Savior taught, that we individually forgive others and the Church, that we place our burden of anger, frustration, anguish, and hurt at the feet of the Savior, and we move on to a more peaceful existence, the kind of peace the Savior promised.

Who are we to judge God?

The Creation of Man by Michelangelo Sistine ChapelAs mortals we complicate our lives and fall victim to our own finite perspective when we seek, errantly, to judge God without the benefit of experiencing God in our lives. One would never think today that it would ever be okay to physically mark another human being for crimes he or she committed. And yet, this is the very thing God did when He punished Cain for having murdered Abel (Genesis 4:15). We would never think it acceptable to flood out an entire city along with its residents because they somehow did not measure up to our standards. Indeed, we have fought wars against such tyranny at the hands of Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, and others, and rightfully so. Yet, God Himself destroyed all of the inhabitants of the earth save eight when He caused the Great Flood (Genesis 6-8). As societies progress, especially in the United States, we see more and more call for the acceptance of languages other than English. Yet God, in His infinite wisdom, confounded the languages of the people when they sought to build a tower to heaven, taking away their common language. This was not a blessing of inclusion to the people, but a chastisement for wrong doing which caused great turmoil (Genesis 11). We are pressed upon more and more to accept homosexuality as a norm for some people and though there are those who would do harm to gays and lesbians individually, generally speaking, the populace does not. On the other hand, those men of Sodom who sought to “know” (read have sex with) the two angels who visited Lot were blinded by the power of God, who later sent fire and brimstone down upon Sodom and Gomorrah, destroying them completely. Even Lot’s wife, who did nothing more than turn to watch the destruction was turned to a pillar of salt (Genesis 19).

It would be appalling for us to read today that a prophet of God was commanded to kill his own son. Consider Jim Jones and others who have been roundly condemned for similar actions. On the other hand, we read in Genesis 22 that Abraham, as a test of his faith, was commanded by God to sacrifice his son on the altar. No one today would wish plagues of frogs, lice, flies, and locusts on any people, but these were the very tools God used to torment Pharaoh, up to and including the destruction of the cattle and the taking of every first born son in all of Egypt (Exodus). God commanded Joshua to destroy Jericho and everything therein, and then He destroys the household of Achan because he was disobedient to God’s command and took the spoils of Jericho (Joshua 7). For some it is troublesome that God would command a modern prophet to engage in plural marriage, and condemn that prophet and the Church he founded for having done so. And yet, Jesus defended, and indeed promoted the works of Abraham, who had multiple wives (John 8). Some find it unpalatable that Smith married a 14 year old girl, and yet Mary, mother of Jesus, was likely around that age when she gave birth to the Savior. To top it all off, she was with Child at the time she married Joseph, whose child it was not.

And the stories go on and on of God doing things that we find reprehensible by today’s modern and progressive society. In each of these instances, God either punished someone for bad behavior, warned His prophets to warn the people, commanded His prophets to take certain actions, saved His prophets from the actions of others, or gave the world His only Begotten son through a young girl. Who are we, then, to judge God for His mighty works which we, today, might find abhorrent? We are nobody, in reality. In the end, we are foolish to judge an omniscient God by the limited knowledge and understanding of man, and would do better to align our individual and collective will with His. After all, He knows the beginning from the end, and we can barely figure out today.

How do we align ourselves with God? It is not enough to know the word of God through scripture, but we must experience the works of God in our personal lives. For example, one may read and come to a knowledge of the doctrine of repentance and baptism, but unless one actually repents and is baptized, the experience of forgiveness can never take place. And it is this experience, given through the Holy Spirit, which enlightens the mind and spirit of man to things not previously understood. This includes understanding the will of God, not just knowing what God say or does. When one experiences God through revelation, one begins to understand God and His dealings with His children. The process is clear as taught by Peter on Mars Hill when asked what was to be done to understand who Jesus is. To the men who asked he said “repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2). The Book of Mormon prophet Moroni taught us that if we are to know the truth of things we must ask God with a sincere heart (Moroni 10), and James taught in the New Testament that if any of us lack wisdom, we should ask God, with faith, and we will receive wisdom (James 1). These are things to be experienced. One can know of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, but until one experiences the divine revelation from the Holy Ghost within, one will only know, but never understand.

When juxtaposed against God’s actions throughout time, we can see that our preferences may not be His preferences and that at His pleasure, He may command His prophets to all kinds of actions we may find distasteful. But He has given us the ability to learn for ourselves that He deals justly and commands righteously, with infinite knowledge and understanding, and we can experience His will in our lives, and come to a better understanding of His dealings with His children.

Does the bible support polygamy?

There has been no shortage of press on the release of documents by the LDS Church indicating the previously established fact (ref. Doctrine and Covenants 132) that Joseph Smith had multiple wives. In one instance, a blog article asked the question of whether or not the Bible supports the idea of polygamy, or plural marriage. I believe the answer is yes. Now, this is not a scholarly report or paper designed for presentation to a peer review, but it is my opinion based on the facts as laid out in the Old Testament in response to the question “does the Bible support polygamy.”  This is not a treatise on whether polygamy or plural marriage is right or wrong.

The first recorded instance of plural marriage, or the marriage of one man to more than one wife is the case of Abram, Sarai, and Hagar. If you recall, Sarai was barren and had no children of her own, and she said to Abram “pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her” (Genesis 16:2). In verse 3 we learn that Abram took Hagar to wife. Following along in the story we learn that once Hagar’s child was born, Sarai became angry and Hagar took flight to avoid Sarai’s wrath. Not long thereafter, “the angel of the Lord found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness, by the fountain in the way to Shur. At this encounter he said to Hagar, Sarai’s maid, ‘whence camest thou? and whither wilt thou go? And she said, I flee from the face of my mistress Sarai. And the angel of the Lord said unto her, Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands. And the angel of the Lord said unto her, I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude” (Genesis 16:7-10).

We have to ask ourselves whether or not the angel of the Lord would supplicate Hagar to return to her mistress and submit herself to Sarai if this relationship had not been sanction of the Lord. Clearly it was, and so Hagar returned to the house of Abram and Sarai, and became the mother of an exceeding number of offspring over generations of time. The fact that this relationship was accepted of the Lord is further evidenced in that when Abram was 99 years old, the Lord appeared to him and made a covenant with him that he would be the father of nations and kings, and as token of that covenant God changed Abram’s name to Abraham. God then made a similar covenant with Sarai and changed her name to Sarah. Would the Lord have done this to Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar had He found any of them in disfavor?

We later read in Genesis of the marriage of Jacob to both Leah and her sister Rachel. When Rachel, Jacob’s favored wife, could not bare children, she gave Jacob Bilhah, who bore Dan and Nephtali. When Leah became barren, Jacob took Zilphah, who bore Asher and Gad, adding to the twelve sons of Jacob. These sons would become the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel, the name given of the Lord to Jacob (Genesis 32) in the same covenant the Lord made with Abraham. Again, would this covenant have been made had the Lord found disfavor with Jacob?

Further evidence of plural marriage in the Old Testament-

In Exodus we read of the provisions for taking “another wife” (Exodus 21). In Deuteronomy we read of the regulations surrounding a man who has two wives, and the terms of dealing with their children should he hate one wife and love the other (Deuteronomy 21). 2 Samuel speaks of David and two of his wives and the instruction David had of the Lord on relocating to Hebron (2 Samuel 2) and again of the fact that David, as king, took additional wives and concubines (2 Samuel 5). Perhaps we can rationalize the taking of these additional wives and concubines as having not been of God, but clearly the first two wives were acceptable to the Lord, the fact that the Lord conversed with David and gave him instruction being the evidence. In 2 Samuel 12 we read of the prophet speaking to David on behalf of the Lord, chastising him for having not been content with the wives the Lord had given him. 2 Chronicles tells us of Joash, who “did that which was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest. And Jehoiada took for [Joash] two wives; and he begat sons and daughters” (2 Chronicles 24: 2-3).

Clearly the Lord found no reproach in those who took multiple wives, though it is also clear that David did wrong in taking to himself the wife of Uriah, whom the Lord had not given him. It is the general doctrine of the Lord that a man should be married to one woman. However, the examples laid out here from the Old Testament demonstrate the belief held by the LDS Church, as I understand it, that the Lord is certainly within His purview to determine that His prophets and leaders (ref Abram/Abraham and Jacob/Israel) are justified in taking more than one wife when He declares it necessary (ref. Doctrine and Covenants 132). At the present time the law of plural marriage is not practiced, having been ceased by command of the Lord in 1890 by revelation to Wilford Woodruff, then president of the LDS Church.

So, does the Bible teach that plural marriage is acceptable? I think it does. But, the comments are open for you to share your thoughts, and let’s see what we come up with.  Twitter @mormonknowledgy

Why do I go to church?

sacrament-meeting-578251-galleryI read a blog recently that left me asking the blogger the question “why do you go to church?”  I asked her this question, and I can do no less than ask myself the same question- Why do I go to church, and why the LDS Church?

First, and foremost, I go to church to take the sacrament in remembrance of the flesh and blood given by the Savior in His quest to bring me salvation. I take the sacrament as a token of my desire to be forgiven of my sins, of the things I do wrong and which offend a perfect God. So then the question becomes why I choose to go to church at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? For me, the answer is simple- because the sacrament can only be lawfully (as in God’s law) administered by one who holds His authority here on earth, and for me, that authority is the priesthood as restored through Joseph Smith, the prophet.

To those who come to church for other reasons, including the opportunity to find and air grievances and present the Church in a less than flattering light, I hope to present a different perspective.  It may be true that the actions of some members and leaders of the Church, for whatever their reasons, cause you to question the voracity of the Church. But those are the people in the Church, not the Church. The gospel of Jesus Christ is perfect. There are no flaws in the doctrines of salvation that lead us back to God’s presence. There are, however, flaws in the men and women- mortals subject to the same human frailties we all possess- who become our leaders, and followers. Perfection does not exist in the members of the Church, as the Savior Himself has stated:

And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually— For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance; Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven; And he that repents not, from him shall be taken even the light which he has received; for my Spirit shall not always strive with man, saith the Lord of Hosts. (Doctrine and Covenants 1:30-33)

In the end, if the Lord can forgive those who repent of their humanness and seek to put on the attributes of Christ, can we not also forgive those who, for whatever reason we surmise, have caused us to stumble, to question, to lessen our own activity? And can we not look inward as individuals and cleanse the inner vessel first to ensure that we are right with God, regardless of who we imagine may not be right with God, or with us? I go to church in hopes of making myself right with God, in hopes of finding the peace the Savior promised, and I believe that that hope and peace comes through a witness of the Holy Spirit, and through the ordinances of salvation as administered through the perfect Priesthood, even if those who hold His priesthood on earth are not perfect. After all, there has only ever been one on earth who reached that stature.

Edited 11/23/2014

Religion and the Scientific Method

Book of MormonI recently had a “chat” with a new Facebook acquaintance, I’ll call her Molly, about atheism, anti-theism, religion, and the scientific method.  The long and the tall of it, as my British friends say, is that religion is bad and all the bad that has been done in the world is the result of religion, and because the scientific method of replication of results cannot be conducted on the existence of God, God must not exist.  As is done in polite conversation, I beg to differ.  In fact, I submit that religion is a great proving ground of the scientific method.

First, let’s establish what the scientific method is.  From scientificmethod.com, we find that “scientific method is the basic method, guide, and system by which we originate, refine, extend, and apply knowledge in all fields.”  Common to this process are the hypothesis, the experiment, the findings, and the documentation.  As a method of validating a claim made by one scientist, others will replicate the experiment, and if other scientists get the same results as the first, a claim can be made by the first of the validity of the experiment.  If additional science, attempting to replicate the experiment, does not produce the same results, the claim is invalidated.

Let’s look at an example from recent history.  Two scientists, Fleischman and Pons, claimed they had discovered cold fusion.  The press and scientific worlds were all a buzz.  But over the next few years, no one was able to replicate the discovery using the same scientific procedures.  Cold fusion was debunked.

Now let’s look at examples from the world of religion where claims have been made that the Book of Mormon is the word of God given through ancient prophets and translated by a modern prophet, Joseph Smith.  One advantage of scientific discovery is the existence of physical matter.  The cold fusion scientists attempted to create cold fusion by causing reactions with physical matter that could be seen and manipulated in a lab.  Unfortunately, evidence of the existence of the plates from which Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon no longer exists on earth except in the form of testimonies from 11 individuals claim to have seen or held the plates, and the Book of Mormon itself.  So, how can we experiment and replicate the claims of members of the LDS Church around the world who state emphatically that the Book of Mormon is the word of God?

We begin with instruction from Alma, a Book of Mormon prophet who declared that if we “will awake and arouse [our] faculties, even to an experiment upon [his] words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if [we] can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in [us], even until [we] believe in a manner that [we] can give place for a portion of [his] words” (Alma 32:27).  Here Alma outlines the steps necessary for anyone who wants to duplicate the results he gained in learning and knowing the word of God.  Many hundreds of years later, another Book of Mormon prophet, Moroni, follows up with an additional step in this great experiment: “And when ye shall receive these things (the Book of Mormon), I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.  And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:4-5).

So here we have religion and the scientific method crossing paths.  Religion puts forth the hypothesis that God exists, that He loves His children today as much as He did in Old Testament times, and that Jesus Christ lived, died, and was resurrected as an atonement for all mankind.  We then have the experiment, with the steps clearly outlined for all to test.  From the New Testament we read from James: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.  But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering” (James 1:5-6).  Next, we see the findings of prophets and lay members of God’s church down through the generations, dating back to Adam and Eve.  All of the Old Testament prophets reported their findings in the books of the Old Testament.  The apostles reported out their findings in what has come to be the New Testament.  And the prophets and disciples of Jesus Christ in the ancient Americas reported their findings in the Book of Mormon, another testament of Jesus Christ, each of these scriptural texts being the documentation of those findings.

So, what is my challenge? Try the scientific method on religious principles.  First begin by following the experiment given in the Book of Mormon.  Test the hypothesis given by Moroni that the Book of Mormon is the word of God by reading the Book with a sincere heart, and with real intent.  Your findings will be the result of asking God if the Book is not true, given through the Holy Ghost.  And when you have your findings, following the steps of the experiment with exactness, document those findings for others so they, too, may experiment on the word of God.  And once you have experimented on the Book of Mormon, use the same steps to test other teachings and doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I believe you will, as I have, get the same results as members of the Church around the world.

Church, a social organization, or not?

sacrament-meeting-578251-galleryYes, it might be true that the noise levels are pretty high right before and right after Sacrament Meeting at almost any LDS Chapel in the US.  Mormons are nothing if they aren’t social.  However, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not, therefore, a social organization.  It is the vessel God has ordained for the perfecting of His children.  It is where the Gospel of Jesus Christ is contained in its fullness, where all men and women are invited to “come unto Christ and be perfected in Him.”  It is by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel that all mankind may be saved.  Unfortunately, this position often comes into conflict with those who seek to make of the Church a social organization, a gathering place where folks can have fun, vote on policies and procedures, pick and choose doctrines, and cry foul when some decree or another does not go their way.

Most recently, Brigham Young University, a Church owned college, has come under attack on two fronts: those who want to grow beards, and those who want the long standing moral compass prohibiting sexual relationships between students who are not married to point south.  On another front, a small gathering of women in the Church have decided that if women don’t hold the priesthood they are not equal to men, and therefore the Church must change its position on the matter to give credence to modern social mores.  And finally, there are many who believe that the Church does not have a right to defend its long-held position that marriage is between a man and a woman; that the Church must give into societal norming of the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, and Trans-gendered lifestyle.  Somehow I feel like this means a different set of standards for this group than for the rest of the Church membership, but I haven’t quite worked that out.

I agree with Elder Oaks when he states that we can disagree without being disagreeable.  I disagree with those who believe that the Church is nothing more than a social networking organization whose sole purpose is to help people feel good about themselves despite their opposition to Church teachings.  But I don’t mean to be disagreeable.  In fact, I have often seen myself as a pacifist on religious matters.  However, this does not mean I cannot speak up for what I believe to be truth, nor does it mean that I cannot allow others to do likewise.  I will be respectful of the thoughts and beliefs of others, and would ask only that the same respect be given toward my beliefs and religious liberties.

In the end, an LDS Chapel can be a noisy place.  But hopefully, amid all that noise, I will hear the still small voice of the Holy Spirit whispering “you are a child of God, who loves you, and who has given you hope through the atonement of His Son Jesus Christ.  Come unto Him, and be perfected in Him.  Be social, be respectful, be Christ-like.”

By love unfeigned

Christ and womanGrowing up I was the second youngest of five children.  My sister just older than me left activity in the Church around the time she turned 16.  I will leave it at her falling in with the ways of the world in the 70’s, and all of the pitfalls that teens faced at that time.  We did not share the same point of view as far as the Church was concerned, although we were both been raised in the Church.  She also had a different perspective on life that included sex, drugs, and rock &roll.  I did not align myself with many of those parts of her perspective (though I must admit I love rock & roll).  I did, however, love my sister.  And for many, many years I prayed that someday she would share my perspective, and align herself with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Eventually, she came back to church, received her temple endowment, and was sealed to her husband.  She remained active and faithful to the day she passed, and I am grateful for those answered prayers.

There is nothing in the commandments of Jesus Christ that require us to align ourselves with the perspective of others with whom we disagree in order to demonstrate that we love them and care about their perspective; Love comes regardless when it is the pure love of Christ.  We are, however, commanded to align ourselves with the Gospel, doctrines, principles, and practices the Lord has established.  It is true that there is no need to speak harsh words and condemn others for choices they make, and in this manner we demonstrate the kindness that Christ teaches.  We know that Christ’s love is pure for each of God’s children.  However, He did not share the same point of view as the woman caught in adultery.  He did not need to know her perspective.  He did not align Himself with her.  What He did do was to express His love for her in the gentle words “neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”

The idea that we must place ourselves in the same perspective as those in the Ordain Women movement, or any other movement that is contrary to the doctrines of the Church, is false.  That we must align ourselves with those in the movement in order to love them and have understanding for them is also false.  It is not my intent to argue for or against the OW movement, but rather to provide an alternate perspective that says we can love others with whom we disagree, and with that love invite them to come unto Christ, align themselves with His doctrines, and be perfected in Him.  We need not, indeed should not, be unkind, angry, or abusive of those with whom we disagree, but we also should not fain from reproving wrong ideas “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:41-42).