Defending the restored church of Christ - I created this blog several years ago to provide an alternative to what I saw at the time as a lot of bad "Mormon blogs" that were floating around the web. Also, it was my goal to collect and share a plethora of positive and useful information about what I steadfastly believe to be Christ's restored church. It has been incredibly enjoyable and I hope you find the information worthwhile.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Excommunicated Mormon to tell how she came back to the faith

(by Peggy Fletcher Stacks 7-26-12)

Two decades ago, Maxine Hanks could not have imagined where her spiritual journey would take her, but she knew this much: She would not likely be walking into the waters of Mormon baptism. No way.

Though a lifelong Latter-day Saint, Hanks had not been attending a Mormon ward for several years. Then she was accused of apostasy for editing an anthology, Women and Authority: Re-Emerging Mormon Feminism, which included a discussion of the all-male LDS priesthood and women's relationship to it.

Hanks was excommunicated in 1993, one of the "September Six," Mormon writers and scholars who were disciplined by their local LDS officials in the same month. Since then, only one — Avraham Gileadi, an Old Testament scholar who has spent his life researching and writing about the biblical oracle Isaiah's prophecies about our time — has been rebaptized into the faith.

Until now.

Hanks rejoined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in February.

On Friday , during a popular evening session of next week's Sunstone Symposium, an annual meeting for Mormon intellectuals and observers, Hanks will detail her 20-year spiritual sojourn as a feminist theologian and chaplain, which brought her full circle back into Mormonism.

"Given who I was, there was no place to go but out," Hanks said in 2003, on the 10th anniversary of the excommunications. "Mormonism was limiting to me, so I needed to test the limits — to see who I and the church really might be. รข€¦ Excommunication opened the door to a larger cosmos, inside and outside myself."

From that point on, she explored various Christian teachings and practices, assisted clergy with religious services and served as volunteer chaplain at Holy Cross Chapel for 13 years. In 1999, she joined the Interfaith Roundtable for the 2002 Winter Olympics, where she enjoyed the association of representatives from various faiths and led the annual Interfaith Week.

She studied "traditional, sacramental Christianity and priesthood," Hanks said this week. "But when I got to the point of priestly ordination, I pulled back. I moved into recognizing the value and power of a lay priesthood in the body of Christ and Christian community. My searching was complete. I had my answers."

Her explorations gave Hanks a new level of understanding and "testimony" of Mormonism.

Late last year, a friend approached LDS officials to say that Hanks was ready to return to the fold. They were receptive. So she met with local and high Mormon leaders and, after several months, they set a baptismal date.

"Nobody asked me to disavow my book or stop writing," Hanks said. "All they asked me about was my relationship to Jesus Christ."

Hanks' rebaptism suggests a difference in LDS leadership from then to now, said Dan Wotherspoon, Sunstone's editor from 2001 to 2008. In the past, many Mormon officials had a sense, he said, that the church must protect its members from "wolves among them."

In May 1993, apostle Boyd K. Packer said the church's three greatest threats came from feminists, gays and intellectuals.

Today, LDS leaders seem more inclined to recognize, said Wotherspoon, now host of the "Mormon Matters" podcast, "that Zion is made up of people of all types."

Hanks is a "genuinely spiritual person and quite insightful, who brings a type of spirituality with her that will resonate with lots of people," he said. "She might be a model for others who have been missing their Mormon community."

The symposium's "Pillars of My Faith" session will showcase a similar path, said Mary Ellen Robertson, Sunstone's interim executive director.

Years ago, Don Bradley, a longtime scholar of Mormon history, asked to have his name removed from LDS membership rolls when participation became uncomfortable.

Within the past few years, Bradley had a change of heart and was rebaptized.

Bradley and Hanks are friends who trod a lot of common ground, Robertson said.

The four-day symposium, which begins Wednesday evening, also will include dozens of sessions about Mormonism and politics, about how members grapple with contemporary issues such as gay rights and feminism, building online LDS communities, Mormon Latino views of the church's immigration stance and how the Utah-based faith has developed its "brand" in the past several decades.

But Robertson is especially pleased with the "Pillars" session.

"It will be a chance for a larger audience to hear this story," she said, and to hear how people can wrestle with their faith and then live it out.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Newark Mormons Rise

(by Heather Haddon 8-29-13)

A surge in housing and office development here in recent years has been heralded as a sign that New Jersey's largest city is turning a corner, but Newark's growth has earned another milestone: Its Mormon population is big enough to warrant a church.

A 35,000-square-foot church topped by a 45-foot steeple now stands adjacent to the Newark Broad Street station downtown. The multimillion-dollar Newark Meetinghouse began services in June and has scheduled an open house on Sept. 14.

The central church administration pays for all of its churches and only does so when there is a significant population, said Eric Hawkins, spokesman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the largest Mormon assembly.
"This new building gives us a focus," said John Hendrickson, a retired, 69-year-old church member who is serving on a mission in Newark. "It shows it's permanent here."
Newark's population is 52% black and 34% Hispanic, while Mormons are more typically white. But the religion has opened churches in inner cities in recent years as it has expanded and grown more diverse, particularly after blacks were allowed to become priests in 1978.
"It's just part of the general diaspora of Mormonism and the change of policy on African-Americans," said Kathleen Flake, a Mormon studies professor at the University of Virginia. "Mormonism has found a way to make meaning that attracts people from a variety of cultures."
Still, the numbers of Mormon worshipers in Newark remain small compared with the city's Baptist and Methodist communities. The Mormon Church in Newark counts 895 members between its English-, Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking congregations, official said. The Metropolitan Baptist Church in Newark, in comparison, reports more than 7,000 members.
Founded by Joseph Smith in upstate New York in 1830, the Mormon Church teaches that salvation is achieved through Jesus Christ. Adherents read the Old and New Testaments, along with the Book of Mormon.
The church counts more than six million members in the U.S., making it the nation's fourth largest, according to a 2012 ranking by the National Council of Churches. There were more than 127,000 church members in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York, up 10% from 115,000 in 2005, church figures show. The congregations spoke more than 50 different languages.

The Mormon Church's growing diversity was on display Sunday during a service in Newark, where women in African headdresses sat near many African-American and Hispanic believers.
Asha Massaquoi, a 58-year-old Newark resident originally from Liberia, left her Muslim faith and converted in 1988 after a missionary knocked on her door when she was staying with family in Minnesota. Her family was confused, but Ms. Massaquoi said the church embraced her and she never looked back.
"The church has helped me a lot," said Ms. Massaquoi. "I've begun to love people."
Two Mormon congregations were founded in Monmouth County 175 years ago. Today, the church counts 32,744 members in New Jersey. Other churches are in more suburban areas, such as Morristown, North Caldwell, East Brunswick and Short Hills.
The Newark flock grew gradually. In the 1970s, a congregant would shuttle about a dozen believers in a van to shared meetings spaces, said Herminio Ramirez, president of the church's Spanish congregation. In Elizabeth, they met alongside an Alcoholics Anonymous group.
Around 1988, church members began meeting in a leased space in the city's Ironbound section. Work on the new church began in 2011 on the site of a factory destroyed by fire a century ago.

Neighbors were curious about the building when it first started to rise, said Newark Councilman Darrin Sharif. But all faiths are welcome to worship and attract new members in the city, he said."They are very well-mannered," said Mr. Sharif about the Mormons he has met in Newark.
Young missionaries spend their days proselytizing in Newark—not always easy, they said. One recalled a woman calling him a devil, and several others remembered being approached by people who seemed to be high on drugs. But none said they had been threatened.
"This is the most successful mission I've had," said David Smith, a 20-year-old California native, who said he had converted six people in Newark out of a total of 23 during his 19 months of missionary work. "They come to church every week now. They are miracles."
As they walked Tuesday in Ironbound, Mr. Smith and his companion—both Spanish speakers—were treated politely. Nearly all of the dozen or so people they approached were Roman Catholics.
"I have my God. I talk to my God and that's it," said Glenn Goncalves, a 50-year-old Newark resident originally from Brazil, who spoke to the missionaries but wasn't swayed.
The pair found a receptive audience with 63-year-old Jesus Lamadrid and his 17-year-old daughter, Jennifer Galeas. After chatting outside their home, the pair entered their basement apartment, and they prayed together in Spanish.
Mr. Smith gave them the Book of Mormon, written in Spanish, and he and his fellow missionary promised to return the next day.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Events convinced Satints of Brigham Young's mantle

(by Daniel Peterson 9-5-13)

One of the most consequential meetings in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints occurred Aug. 8, 1844, on the east bank of the Mississippi River, roughly six weeks after the murder of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Sidney Rigdon, who had served as first counselor in the First Presidency of the church under Joseph, had returned to Nauvoo, Ill., from his self-imposed exile in Pittsburgh. Although a principal leader of the church for many years — he even received the February 1832 revelation of the three degrees of glory (Doctrine and Covenants 76) with Joseph Smith — Sidney’s relationship with the Prophet had ceased to be close.

Indeed, in 1843, Joseph had openly expressed his intention to release Sidney from the First Presidency. However, at the church’s general conference in October of that year, President Rigdon asked to remain in his position and the congregation, contrary to Joseph’s express wishes, agreed to let him stay.

After the vote, Joseph told them, “I have thrown him off my shoulders, and you have again put him on me. You may carry him, but I will not.” And now, with the Prophet dead, Sidney had come back to assert his right to be the church’s “guardian” or “protector.”

Meanwhile, under their president, Brigham Young, members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had also just returned to Nauvoo from various missions. They maintained their right and responsibility, as faithful followers of Joseph Smith and by virtue of the keys of authority they had received from him, to lead the Saints he had left behind.

Sidney Rigdon rose first on that hot and humid summer day. Perhaps the finest and most experienced orator in the church, he spoke at length. He was followed by Brigham Young, the former Vermont carpenter and glazier who had ascended to the leadership of the Twelve and, in that capacity, had directed the flight of the Saints from Missouri to Illinois and presided over the enormously successful apostolic mission in England.

At the end of the meeting, the decision of the Saints was unmistakably clear. Brigham Young and the Twelve had carried the day.

Many modern members of the church are aware of the story that Brigham Young was somehow “transfigured” as he spoke to the Saints on that occasion. His appearance was transformed, according to the story, so that audience members were startled to see, as they thought, Joseph Smith himself standing where Brigham stood.

It’s even said that the leader of the Twelve sounded exactly like the martyred Prophet, right down to the hissing “s” resulting from Joseph’s broken tooth, incurred during an assault by a mob. In this event, we’re told, the mantle of Joseph plainly and unambiguously fell upon Brigham, leaving no doubt about who was to lead the church.

Unfortunately, historians have located not a single source, thus far, that mentions this important manifestation within days or even weeks of its alleged occurrence. Many critics and skeptics, accordingly, conclude nothing actually happened, that it’s essentially faith-promoting fiction and, even, evidence of the church’s intentional falsification of its own history.

But such an easy dismissal simply doesn’t accord with the known facts.

The best discussion of the topic is Lynne Watkins Jorgensen’s “The Mantle of the Prophet Joseph Passes to Brother Brigham: One Hundred Twenty-one Testimonies of a Collective Spiritual Witness,” which was published in the indispensable volume “Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820-1844,” edited by John Welch with Erick Carlson and published in 2005. (The article is also available online.)

As her subtitle indicates, Jorgensen’s article gathers together fully 121 accounts, gathered from a multitude of sources and many kinds of sources and from various localities, in which eyewitnesses testify to what they saw and heard. I cannot do her work justice in this column; it should be read.
Furthermore, we can’t presume modern research has found every account that was ever given. It’s very likely other such narratives once existed but have perished and that other witnesses testified orally to their experience but never reduced it to writing. It’s possible, too, that historians will yet recover additional testimonies of the event.

Even as things stand, however, the available evidence is persuasive that the story of Brigham’s transfiguration was being told quite early, and it’s difficult to believe that such far-flung witnesses were engaged in any conspiracy to deceive. Something remarkable clearly happened at that meeting.


(photo of Brigham Young was taken in 1850)

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir's path to prominence

(by Katie Harmer 9-5-13)

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir will add another memorable collaboration to its resume when it sings with James Taylor during the 30th O.C. Tanner Gift of Music Concert this weekend.

For more than 150 years, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has been entertaining audiences with hymnal arrangements and patriotic music. During that time, the choir has received dozens of accolades, including Grammy awards and an Emmy.

But the choir wasn't always a household name.

Music played a large role in the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The LDS Church organized a choir at early church locations — Kirtland, Ohio, and Nauvoo, Ill.

According to the choir's website, wagon companies travelling to Utah contained musicians to "lift the spirits of each pioneer."

So it was unsurprising when Brigham Young organized a small choir shortly after entering Utah. The choir first performed at a church conference on Aug. 22, 1847, just 29 days after the first pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley.

The Tabernacle on Temple Square, for which the choir is named, was completed in 1867, 20 years after the formation of the choir. On July 4, 1873, the choir had its inaugural performance in the Tabernacle and continues to perform there regularly.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir has since established a national and worldwide presence. The choir completed its first tour at the Chicago World Fair in 1893 and, today, tours across the world from North and South America to Asia. It has also produced more than 200 recordings, including five that achieved "gold record" status, according to the choir's website.

Since 1911, the choir has sung for several U.S. presidents, starting with then-President William Howard Taft during a concert at Madison Square Garden in New York. According to a Deseret News article, the choir performed at the inaugurations of five U.S. presidents: Lyndon B. Johnson (1965), Richard M. Nixon (1969, 1973), Ronald Reagan (1981), George H.W. Bush (1989) and George W. Bush (2001).

It was during Reagan's inauguration that the newly sworn-in president named the Mormon Tabernacle Choir "America's Choir," a title that has stuck to this day, according to the choir's website.
While the choir has performed during several national celebrations, including U.S. Bicentennial tours in 1976, it has sung during days of mourning, such as national broadcasts honoring the deaths of U.S. presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.

In a recent interview, Ann Sweeney, who has been in the choir for the past 13 years, spoke about participating in a previously scheduled concert on Sept. 11, 2001. When the choir learned of the deaths in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, the night's concert became a memorial service.

"We started singing 'God Bless America,' and the whole audience stood simultaneously, reverently weeping," Sweeney recalled. "And we were weeping. The choir just is a healing thing. It brings people to God."

One of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's most famous traditions — "Music and The Spoken Word" — began with its first national broadcast in 1929. The weekly Sunday morning program has been broadcast continually since then, making it the "oldest continuous nationwide network broadcast in America," according to the program's website.

The program has produced more than 4,000 episode and airs on 2,000 radio and television stations.

With the establishment of the choir's YouTube channel and other online access points, the choir has been able to reach a larger worldwide audience.

Shortly after the choir's YouTube channel launched in 2012, choir president Ron Jarrett told the Deseret News, “Before the launch of our channel, there was no way to listen to ‘Music and the Spoken Word’ if you couldn’t tune in live. … Many of our fans couldn’t listen because of time zone differences or scheduling conflicts. Today our music is accessible for everybody, anywhere and at any time.”