LDS Church on Religious Freedom

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) held a press conference today. The LDS Church rarely holds press conferences so when it does, most news organizations take note. Today it addressed the issue of nondiscrimination and religious freedom. Leaders of the Church reiterated that the LDS Church believes that people of all beliefs and lifestyles should not face discrimination in any form because of their beliefs or the way they choose to live their lives.

So far (about three hours after the conference ended), response has been generally positive. Following the conference Equality Utah  issued its own new release in which it praised the LDS position and called for cooperation between “people of faith and the LGBT” lifestyle. The Catholic diocese of Salt Lake City issued a statement supporting the Church.

There were two points to the news conference, however. In addition to the call for nondiscrimination, the Church made a plea for recognition of religious freedom. Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church, cited several examples of how religious freedom is being eroded in the name of equality. In California, two dozen Christian student groups have been denied recognition by the University of California system because they require their own leaders to share their Christian beliefs. In one city pastors of several churches had their sermons and notes subpoenaed and face not only government intimidation but also criminal prosecution for speaking out against a proposed city ordinance on gay rights and arguing that it should be put to a vote of the people. And we all remember the call to boycott Chick-Fil-A because the owners hold certain beliefs, among them being that they want their stores closed on Sunday. Elder Oaks full statement can be read here.

It is a sad commentary on the state of society that a major religious organization feels compelled to make a plea that its rights and those of its members be afforded the same respect the rest of the nation takes for granted. Some time ago I ventured the opinion that there may come a day where someone tries to forbid any religious organization from proselytizing on the grounds that trying to convince others of the benefits of that particular religion is a form of hate speech. It appears that others share that opinion and are trying to prevent that day from coming.

December 22

What It Means to be a Christian on Christmas Eve

Ezra Taft Benson

Being a Christian means to do what Christ would do, even when it is not convenient.

There was a little crippled boy who ran a small newsstand in a crowded railroad station. He must have been about twelve years old. Every day he would sell papers, candy, gum and magazines to the thousands of commuters passing through the terminal.
On night two men were rushing through the crowded station to catch a train. One was fifteen or twenty yards in front of the other. It was Christmas Eve. Their train was scheduled to depart in a matter of minutes.
The first man turned a corner and in his haste to get home to a Christmas party plowed right into the little crippled boy. He knocked him off his stool, and candy, newspapers and gum were scattered everywhere. Without so much as stopping, he cursed the little fellow for being there and rushed on to catch the train that would take him to celebrate Christmas in the way he had chosen for himself.
It was only a matter of seconds before the second commuter arrived on the scene. He stopped, knelt, and gently picked up the boy. After making sure the child was unhurt, the man gathered up the scattered newspapers, sweets and magazines. Then he took his wallet and gave the boy a five dollar bill. “Son,” he said, “I think this will take care of what was lost or soiled. Merry Christmas!”
Without waiting for a reply, the commuter now picked up his briefcase and hurried on his way. As he did, the little crippled boy cupped his hands together and called out, “Mister, Mister!”
The man stopped as the boy asked, “Are you Jesus Christ?”
By the look on his face, it was obvious the man was embarrassed by the question. But he smiled and said, “No, son. I am not Jesus Christ, but I am trying hard to do what He would do if He were here.”
And that, my friend, is what it means to be a Christian, even on Christmas Eve.

Kate Kelly Excommunicated

Kate Kelly, one of the founders of the Ordain Women movement in the Mormon church was formally excommunicated today. For those unfamiliar with excommunication, it severs all ties between the Church and the individual. All ordinances on behalf of the individual are no longer valid, including the sealing ordinance by which husbands, wives and their family are sealed to each other for time (this life) and eternity.

Unlike excommunication in the Catholic Church centuries ago, members of the LDS faith are not forbidden to associate with Ms. Kelly. “Disciplinary councils” which is the formal name given to church proceedings such as this, are often referred to as councils of love. While that is difficult for the average person, especially the ex communicant to understand, the reasoning is this. The excommunicated person has been found to have violated one of God’s laws. For Latter-day Saints, especially those (like Ms. Kelly) who have been through the temple and made sacred covenants with God, allowing them to continue in full faith and fellowship in the Church while in a state of transgression, would compound their error. It is much like when Adam and Eve, after having eaten of the forbidden fruit, were barred from the Tree of Life, first by cherubim and then by expulsion from the Garden, “lest they partake of the fruit and live forever in their sins.”

For Ms. Kelly her future is in her hands. If she sincerely repents, which will undoubtedly require her to stop agitating for the ordination of women and probably admit her complicity in trying to persuade others away from the teaching of the Church, she can be re-baptized and have all ordinances restored.

Contrary to how this might be spun in the media, this is not a human or women’s rights issue. It is a religious liberty issue that addresses the right of any religious organization to place certain responsibilities on those who wish to claim the benefits of membership. Right now Ms. Kelly seems not to grasp that distinction.

Who is God?

With this post I’m returning to a theme I started nearly a year ago, which is, can the Bible’s account of the creation of the earth be reconciled with modern physics. Through a series of posts I’ve postulated that as humans we have one of three choices: It’s all an accident, the result of immensely large numbers and the laws of probability; there is a higher intellect directing things but that higher intellect might be a pimply seventh grader doing a science project and we’re living in Farmville; or there is a God, a Supreme Being who created the universe and the earth. For me, I choose to believe the latter option. But face it, science can’t prove or disprove any of the three so in the end it still comes down to a matter of faith.

Having staked out my territory I now want to discuss who is God? I’ll confine my comments to notions common to Christianity.  I do this not as one trained in divinity any more than I claim training in physics.

First I want to address a belief that sets Mormonism apart from most other Christian religions. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes that God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are three separate beings. Most Christian religions, especially those most concerned with being known as “Christians” find such doctrine to be heresy. An example is the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry. Their mission is to examine many movements and organizations, such as abortion, atheism, Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, Islam and others and compare them to standards set out in the Bible to determine whether any of these can legitimately claim to be Christian. One of the main differences that CARM finds between Christianity and Mormonism is this belief of three separate beings. CARM (and many Christian religions) cite several passages from the New Testament which they asset prove that God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are different manifestations of the same God. An example is Ephesians 4:4-7, which says “. . . One God and father of all.”

What this and other similar scriptures overlook is the words of Jesus himself. The first words we have record of that were spoken by Jesus are “wist [know] ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” in Luke 2:49. In the Garden of Gethsemane, while performing the Atonement, Jesus pleaded with God, asking “if thou be willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.” Luke 22:42. On the cross Jesus pronounced the work finished, saying “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit;” Luke 23:46. After His resurrection he appeared to Mary but forbade her to touch Him, saying “I am not yet ascended to my Father . . . I ascend to my Father and to your Father and to my God and your God.” John 20:17.  Additionally when Jesus was baptized Mark reports that as He came up out of the water “the Spirit [Holy Ghost] like a dove descending upon him: And there came a voice from heaven saying Thou art my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Mark 1:10-11.

These are strange verses if Jesus, God and the Holy Ghost are one and the same. About whom was Jesus speaking when He said He must be about His father’s business? To whom was He speaking in the garden and on the cross? To whom did He have to ascend when He spoke with Mary? And if Jesus is God, who was speaking from heaven when Jesus came up out of the water?

Although this doesn’t definitively answer the question, Who is God, it does show that God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are not separate manifestations of the same being.

Ordain Women Part III

This topic has just about been beaten to death but I have one more thing to add. I recently came across a great blog post by Katie Liff entitled “To My Brothers and Sisters in the Ordain Women Movement.” Katie (if I may be so personal — we haven’t been formally introduced) makes note of a comment made by one of the Ordain Women members: “We don’t want to just nurture.”

Well, let me flaunt the high-profile, important jobs that we priesthood holders perform. For most of the past 35 years, since 1979, I have been called to the Young Men’s organization. From 2000-2013 I served continuously in the YM, holding such lofty positions as Scoutmaster (by the way, BSA doesn’t allow female Scoutmasters, though they do allow co-ed Venture leaders in co-ed Venture crews); Venture adviser; Varsity coach; etc. What did I do? I taught them to cook, to wash their hands before eating, to set up tents so when it rained it didn’t swamp them. I took them on camping trips and outings, resolved disputes, counseled boys who weren’t sure where they were going in life, helped them back on track, prayed for those who wavered and fell away, attended mission farewells and homecomings and tried, with varying success, to make them into men who would be worthy priesthood holders, good husbands and fathers and contributing members of society. In my dictionary, that qualifies as “nurturing.”

I can count on one hand the number of times I “used” my priesthood in the sense Ordain Women wants. Twice I gave blessings to young men who requested them. The rest of the time I was not “using” the priesthood as these women visualize it. The rest of the time I was doing exactly what these dissatisfied nurturers don’t want to do anymore.

Since 2013 I have been in the High Priest group leadership in our ward. I visit other High Priests and single, elderly sisters in the ward. I help them when I can, I listen to their concerns, I pray for them, I put their names on the lists at the temple. Occasionally I take a meal that my wife has prepared to someone’s home. It is true I have given more blessings in the past year than I have in the previous 13 but only because the group that I am nurturing is older. That still sounds pretty much like nurturing to me.

I have never been in a bishopric, stake presidency, mission president or other high-profile position. Whenever it’s time for a new bishopric to be called in our ward I take an extended vacation. I’ve thought about leaving a beer can or two on my front lawn during these times (just kidding about that part). I do not aspire to any such position and I daresay very few bishops, stake presidents or other high-profile officials ever did either.

Service in the church is mostly nurturing. That’s the whole point of mortality. We’re all here to help each other gain exaltation. If that isn’t nurturing I don’t know what is.

Ordain Women?

LDS (“Mormon”) General Conference is this weekend. A group of women who tried to gain admission to the Priesthood Session held on Saturday night at the October, 2013, General Conference are planning to try again. These women, members of a group called Ordain Women are asking The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) to change its stance on allowing women to hold the priesthood.

The LDS Church is a lay church. Except at the very top levels no one receives any pay for his or her work on behalf of the Church. All males are eligible to hold the priesthood at age 12. Depending on the office held, this allows the priesthood holder to baptize and confirm new members, bless babies, give priesthood blessings and preside in various offices.

Ordain Women believes that the male-only policy marginalizes women and excludes them from the full blessings of membership in the church. Their website has several profiles of members who profess to love the church but feel women are second-class members because they lack the priesthood. In reading these profiles one gets the sense that these people (some are men) are earnest in their belief. However in reading some of the reasoning behind their position, one also gets the sense that in one way or another they have lost sight of what the church is about.

One woman uses the examples of Peter being told in a dream that he can kill and eat animals that hitherto had been forbidden under the Mosaic law; Samuel answering the Lord’s call in the Old Testament and even Joseph Smith in having the audacity to begin a new religion. Each of these, this woman argues, went against the well-established norm but resulted in sea changes.

What these examples overlook is that in none of the cases did the person involved actively seek what was given. Peter did not ask the Lord if it was now permissible to eat previously forbidden meat. Samuel did not ask the Lord to be called. Joseph Smith did not go to the sacred grove asking for permission to start a new church. All of them were attempting to act within the status quo. Another example is Nephi when he killed Laban. Nephi did not go to the Lord with the idea of justifying murder; in fact, when he first was told to slay Laban he was repulsed.

The other thing that this approach overlooks is the nature of the church. To be a member requires a belief that God and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith. If you can’t believe that then the whole church falls apart. If God and Jesus Christ didn’t appear to Joseph Smith then the whole thing is a sham, one of the biggest frauds ever perpetrated on humanity. But if they did appear then you have to believe that Jesus Christ leads the church. There is no way to claim you are a faithful member and simultaneously deny that Jesus Christ, not Thomas Monson, leads this church. And if you do believe Jesus Christ is at the head, then by protesting the priesthood policy you are claiming to know better than the Lord what’s best for His church.

I have no problem with people wanting change. My point is that bringing publicity to the issue to force change isn’t appropriate in this situation. The church is not a democracy. Public opinion won’t change policy the way the Civil Rights or Gay Rights movements have changed policy in the United States. So the only justification for publicly demonstrating like Ordain Women plans to do is to justify their own egos or bring shame on the church.  If they want true change, they need to pray and fast in secret and their Father in Heaven will reward them openly. If they ask openly for these things “that they may be seen of men [and women],” they have their reward. Matt.6:5.

Looking at the profiles of the people, most are far too young to know of, let alone remember, Sonia Johnson. She, too, began as a faithful member.

Back to Creation vs. Science

So the whole novel thing didn’t work out so well. I was taking part in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and my last post (from November!) was the first chapter of my erstwhile novel. But November 30 came and went and I didn’t finish. Then the holidays came along and . . .  well we all know what the holidays will do to a routine. So since the whole novel gig didn’t work so well so I think I’ll go back to discussing religion.

The last post on the subject of the beginning of the universe looked at how the account of the creation in Genesis fits with what we know about the Big Bang and what it looked like. Science postulates that there was no “before the Big Bang,” that time and space began at that instant. Yet we’ve considered that God might be outside of the universe since, if He created it, where was He at that time? He couldn’t have been in the universe because it hadn’t been created yet.

Because string theory postulates an enormous number of possible universes, maybe an infinite number, we can speculate that God exists in another universe and that it was from there that this universe was created. Neither science nor scripture sheds any light on what these exo-universes might contain, so rather than engage in rank speculation, let’s limit our discussion to how this creation came about.

Genesis doesn’t offer a lot of detail other than to say God said “let there be light.” However, scriptures of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“Mormons”) have a more detailed description, though by no means complete. In the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price, Abraham writes that God appeared to him and showed him “those things which his hands had made, which were many; and they multiplied before mine eyes, and I could not see the end thereof.” From this we can infer that the creation described in Genesis was not just of this earth but involved the entire universe, just as predicted by the Big Bang theory.

This inference is supported by an account given by Moses, also found in the Pearl of Great Price in the Book of Moses. Moses prayed to God and asked “why these things [the world and creation] are so.”  In Moses, Chapter 1:33-38, God responded to Moses in this way:

Worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is my Only Begotten.

                But only an account of this earth and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you. For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them.

                And the Lord God spake unto Moses, saying: The heavens, they are many and they cannot be numbered unto man; but they are numbered unto me, for they are mine.

                And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come; and there is no end to my works, neither to my words.

These scriptures also align nicely, as does Genesis, with the Big Bang theory. “Worlds without number” as observed by Moses or Abraham, could well refer to the innumerable galaxies, stars and planets in the universe. Moses is told that “many worlds have passed away.” We know from physics that stars and galaxies have been created, lived and died. Stars burn out and become cold. We know that eventually the earth will fall into the sun and be burned to a cinder, thereby ceasing to exist, or passing away, in the words of Moses.