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.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Columbus among the Nephites

(by Daniel Peterson 9-18-14)

“I looked,” testified the prophet Nephi, “and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land” (1 Nephi 13:12).

Latter-day Saints typically identify this man as Christopher Columbus.

Some critics respond, however, that no great prophetic ability was required in 1830 to “predict” something from well over three centuries earlier. Joseph Smith, they allege, simply placed an after-the-fact prophecy in the mouth of a fictional character that he had set in 600 B.C.

However, as I’ve already argued in a 1996 book review, the Book of Mormon’s apparent prophecy of Columbus cannot be so easily dismissed.

My attention has been recalled to this topic by Clark Hinckley’s “Christopher Columbus and the Restoration” in the current issue of LDS Living magazine and his recent book “Christopher Columbus: ‘A Man among the Gentiles.’

When I was a schoolboy, Americans still celebrated Columbus Day. He was generally seen, though, as a man motivated by ambition and materialism who simply stumbled upon the New World by happy accident. Unfortunately, his image has grown even darker and more negative since then. He’s often condemned, rather than celebrated, as an embodiment of rapacious greed and Western colonialism, an imperialist forerunner of genocidal oppression.

But such views are, at best, one-sided and misleading.

In 1991, Delno West and August Kling published “The Libro de las profecĂ­as of Christopher Columbus.” Previously unknown to non-specialists and inaccessible to non-speakers of Spanish, this book provides an important window into how Columbus himself regarded his role in history.

Significantly, Nephi's statement that “the Spirit of God … came down and wrought upon the man” turns out to be remarkably similar to Columbus' own self-understanding:

“With a hand that could be felt,” the great Genoese admiral reflected, “the Lord opened my mind to the fact that it would be possible to sail, and he opened my will to desire to accomplish the project. … This was the fire that burned within me. … Who can doubt that this fire was not merely mine, but also of the Holy Spirit … using me to press forward?

“The Lord purposed that there should be something clearly miraculous in this matter of the voyage to the Indies. … It all turned out just as our redeemer Jesus Christ had said, and as he had spoken earlier by the mouths of his holy prophets.”

His son Ferdinand was convinced, as, apparently, the explorer himself also was, that the very name “Christopher Columbus” (Italian “Cristoforo Colombo”) carried significant prophetic meaning. In Latin, “Columbus” means “male dove,” and Ferdinand linked his father’s name with the descending dove that represented the Holy Ghost at the Savior’s baptism. Even more remarkably, perhaps, “Christopher” is derived from Greek words that, together, signify a “Christ-bearer,” a perfectly appropriate title for the mission that Columbus aspired to fulfill. And that’s the function that history did in fact assign to him, as he opened the New World for Christian evangelization.

Columbus’ favorite biblical author was Isaiah, and among his most cherished passages was Isaiah 2:2, which Latter-day Saints will surely recognize: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.” Indeed, it was in Isaiah’s writings that he believed himself and his voyages to be divinely foretold. Among the passages that caught his attention were Isaiah 42:1-4 (“Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him … and the isles shall wait for his law”) and Isaiah 55:5 (“Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not, and nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee because of the Lord thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel”).

Another of his favorite passages was John 10:16: “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.”


Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Mormonizing of America

(by Stephen Mansfield 11-6-12)

There are nearly seven million Mormons in America. This is the number the Mormons themselves use. It's not huge. Seven million is barely 2 percent of the country's population. It is the number of people who subscribe to Better Homes and Gardens magazine. London boasts seven million people. So does San Francisco. It's a million more people than live in the state of Washington; a million less than in the state of Virginia. It's so few, it's the same number as were watching the January 24, 2012, Republican debate.

In fact, worldwide, there are only about fourteen million Mormons. That's fourteen million among a global population just reaching seven billion. Fourteen million is the population of Cairo or Mali or Guatemala. It's approximately the number of people who tune in for the latest hit show on network television every week. Fourteen million Americans ate Thanksgiving dinner in a restaurant in 2011. That's how few fourteen million is.

Yet in the first decade or so of the new millennium, some members of the American media discovered the Mormons and began covering them as though the Latter-day Saints had just landed from Mars. It was as though Utah was about to invade the rest of the country. It was all because of politics and pop culture, of course. Mitt Romney and John Huntsman were in pursuit of the White House. Glenn Beck was among the nation's most controversial news commentators. Stephenie Meyer had written the astonishingly popular Twilight series about vampires. Matt Stone and Trey Parker had created the edgy South Park cartoon series--which included a much- discussed episode about Mormons--and then went on to create the blatantly blasphemous and Saint-bashing Broadway play The Book of Mormon. It has become one of the most successful productions in American theater history.

Meanwhile, more than a dozen Mormons sat in the US Congress, among them Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader. Mormons led JetBlue, American Express, Marriott, Novell, Deloitte and Touche, Diebold, and Eastman Kodak. Management guru Stephen Covey made millions telling them how to lead even better. There were Mormons commanding battalions of US troops and Mormons running major US universities. There were so many famous Mormons, in fact, that huge websites were launched just to keep up with it all. Notables ranged from movie stars like Katherine Heigl to professional athletes to country music stars like Gary Allan to reality television contestants and even to serial killers like Glenn Helzer, whose attorney argued that the Saints made him the monster he was. The media graciously reminded the public that Mormon criminals were nothing new, though: Butch Cassidy of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid fame was also a Mormon, they reported.

Most media coverage treated this "Mormon Moment" as though it was just that: the surprising and unrelated appearance of dozens of Mormons on the national stage--for a moment. More than a few commentators predicted it would all pass quickly. This new Mormon visibility would lead to new scrutiny, they said, and once the nation got reacquainted with tales of "holy underwear" and multiple wives and Jewish Indians and demonized African Americans and a book printed on gold plates buried in upstate New York, it would all go quiet again and stay that way for a generation. In the meantime, reruns of HBO's Big Love and The Learning Channel's Sister Wives would make sure Mormon themes didn't die out completely.

What most commentators did not understand was that their "Mormon Moment" was more than a moment, more than an accident, and more than a matter of pop culture and fame alone. The reality was--and is--that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has reached critical mass. It is not simply that a startling number of Mormons have found their way onto America's flat-screen TVs and so brought visibility to their religion. It is that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints has reached sufficient numbers--and has so permeated every level of American society on the strength of its religious value--that prominent politicians, authors, athletes, actors, newscasters, and even murderers are the natural result, in some cases even the intended result. Visible, influential Mormons aren't outliers or exceptions. They are fruit of the organic growth of their religion.

In 1950, there were just over a million Mormons in the world. Most of these were located in the Intermountain West of the United States, a region of almost lunar landscape between the Rocky Mountains to the East and the Cascades and Sierra Nevada Mountains to the West. The religion was still thought of as odd by most Americans. There had been famous Mormons like the occasional US Senator or war hero, but these were few and far between. There had even been a 1940 Hollywood movie entitled Brigham Young that told the story of the Saints' mid-1800s trek from Illinois to the region of the Great Salt Lake. Its producers worked hard to strain out nearly every possible religious theme, a nod to the increasingly secular American public. Though it starred heavyweights like Vincent Price and Tyrone Power, the movie failed miserably, even in Utah. Especially in Utah.

Then, in 1951, a man named David O. McKay became the "First President" of the Latter-day Saints and inaugurated a new era. He was the Colonel Harlan Sanders of Mormonism. He often wore white suits, had an infectious laugh, and under- stood the need to appeal to the world outside the Church. It was refreshing. Most LDS presidents had either been polygamist oddballs or stodgy old men in the eyes of the American public. McKay was more savvy, more media aware. He became so popular that film legend Cecil B. DeMille asked him to consult on the now classic movie The Ten Commandments.

Empowered by his personal popularity and by his sense that an opportune moment had come, McKay began refashioning the Church's image. He also began sharpening its focus. His famous challenge to his followers was, "Every Member a Missionary!" And the faithful got busy. It only helped that Ezra Taft Benson, a future Church president, was serving as the nation's secretary of agriculture under President Eisehower. This brought respectability. It also helped that George Romney was the revered CEO of American Motors Corporation and that he would go on to be the governor of Michigan, a candidate for president of the United States, and finally a member of Richard Nixon's cabinet. This hinted at increasing power. The 1950s were good for Mormons.

Then came the 1960s. Like most religions, the LDS took a beating from the counterculture movement, but by the 1970s they were again on the rise. There was the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, a symbol of Americana when Americana was under siege. There was Mormon Donny Osmond's smile and Mormon Marie Osmond's everything and the three-year run of network television's Donny and Marie in the late 1970s that made words like family, clean, talented, patriotic, and even cute outshine some of the less-endearing labels laid upon the Saints through the years. New labels joined new symbols. A massive, otherworldly, 160,000-square-foot Temple just north of Washington, DC, was dedicated in the 1970s, a symbol of LDS power and permanence for the nation to behold. Always there was the "Every Member a Missionary!" vision beating in each Saintly heart.

By 1984, the dynamics of LDS growth were so fine-tuned that influential sociologist Rodney Stark made the mind- blowing prediction that the Latter-day Saints would have no fewer than 64 million members and perhaps as many as 267 million by 2080.3 It must have seemed possible in those days.

In the following ten years, LDS membership exploded from 4.4 million to 11 million. This may be why in 1998 the Southern Baptist Convention held its annual meeting in Salt Lake City. The Mormons--a misguided cult in the view of most traditional Christians, most Baptists in particular--had to be stopped.

They weren't. Four years after the Baptists besieged Temple Square, the Winter Olympic Games came to Salt Lake City. This was in 2002 and it is hard to exaggerate what this meant to the Latter-day Saints. A gifted Mormon leader, Mitt Romney, rescued the games after a disastrous bidding scandal. A sparkling Mormon city hosted the games. Happy, handsome all-American Mormons attended each event, waving constantly to the cameras and appearing to be--in the word repeatedly used by the press at the time--"normal."

The LDS Church capitalized on it all. It sent volunteers, missionaries, and publicists scurrying to every venue. It hosted grand events for the world press. It made sure that every visitor received a brochure offering an LDS guided tour of the city. Visitors from around the world read these words: "No other place in America has a story to tell like that of Salt Lake City--a sanctuary founded by religious refugees from within the United States' own borders. And none can tell that story better than the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."

Largely unchallenged, the Mormon narrative prevailed.

What followed was the decade of the new millennium we have already surveyed. Mormons seemed to be everywhere, seemed to be exceptional in nearly every arena, seemed to have moved beyond acceptance by American culture to domination of American culture. At least this was what some feared at the time.

But Mormons did not dominate the country. Far from it. Remember that they were not even 2 percent of the nation's population as of 2012. True, they were visible and successful, well educated and well spoken, patriotic and ever willing to serve. Yet what they had achieved was not domination. It was not a conspiracy either, as some alleged. It was not anything approaching a takeover or even the hope for a takeover

Few observers seemed to be able to explain how this new level of LDS prominence in American society came about. They reached for the usual answers trotted out to account for such occurrences: birth rates, Ronald Reagan's deification of traditional values, the economic boom of the late twentieth century, a more liberal and broadminded society, even the dumbing down of America through television and failing schools. Each of these explanations was found wanting.

The Mormon Machine

The truth lay within Mormonism itself. What the Saints had achieved in the United States was what Mormonism, unfettered and well led, will nearly always produce. This was the real story behind the much-touted "Mormon Moment." The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had risen to unexpected heights in American society because the Mormon religion creates what can benevolently be called a Mormon Machine-- a system of individual empowerment, family investment, local church (ward and stake level) leadership, priesthood government, prophetic enduement, Temple sacraments, and sacrificial financial endowment of the holy Mormon cause.

Plant Mormonism in any country on earth and pretty much the same results will occur. If successful, it will produce deeply moral individuals who serve a religious vision centered upon achievement in this life. They will aggressively pursue the most advanced education possible, understand their lives in terms of overcoming obstacles, and eagerly serve the surrounding society. The family will be of supernatural importance to them, as will planning and investing for future generations. They will be devoted to community, store and save as a hedge against future hardship, and they will esteem work as a religious calling. They will submit to civil government and hope to take positions within it. They will have advantages in this. Their beliefs and their lives in all-encompassing community will condition them to thrive in administrative systems and hierarchies--a critical key to success in the modern world. Ever oriented to a corporate life and destiny, they will prize belonging and unity over individuality and conflict every time.

These hallmark values and behaviors--the habits that distinguish Mormons in the minds of millions of Americans-- grow naturally from Mormon doctrine. They are also the values and behaviors of successful people. Observers who think of the religion as a cult--in the Jim Jones sense that a single, dynamic leader controls a larger body of devotees through fear, lies, and manipulation--usually fail to see this. Mormon doctrine is inviting, the community it produces enveloping and elevating, the lifestyle it encourages empowering in nearly every sense. Success, visibility, prosperity, and influence follow. This is the engine of the Mormon ascent. It is what has attracted so many millions, and it is the mechanism of the Latter-day Saints' impact upon American society and the world.

Mormons make achievement through organizational management a religious virtue. It leads to prosperity, visibility, and power. It should come as no surprise, then, that an American can turn on the evening news after a day of work and find one report about two Mormon presidential candidates, another story about a Mormon finalist on American Idol, an examination of the controversial views of a leading Mormon news commentator, a sports story about what a Mormon lineman does with his "Temple garments" in the NFL, and a celebration of how Mormons respond to crises like Katrina and the BP oil spill, all by a "Where Are They Now?" segment about Gladys Knight, minus the Pips, who has become--of course--a Mormon.

Mormons rise in this life because it is what their religion calls for. Achieving. Progressing. Learning. Forward, upward motion. This is the lifeblood of earthly Mormonism. Management, leadership, and organizing are the essential skills of the faith. It is no wonder that Mormons have grown so rapidly and reached such stellar heights in American culture. And there is much more to come.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Rapture

Here is a link to the Millennial Star blog and a nice post about the Rapture. Something that has been getting a lot of talk lately in the media due to a movie and tv series that are soon to be released.

I had been wondering where we stand on the subject and this post answered some of my questions.

See that person sitting next to you? Depending on how righteous they are, they are going to disappear. One moment they are there and the next just gone. Not just them. A whole lot of people will vanish into thin air. That isn’t the half of it, as planes and cars hurl out of control because some drivers and pilots suddenly aren’t available. This will cause many deaths, but its only the start. Those left behind will then have to endure a massive amount of guilt for, well, not getting taken. A worldwide epidemic and tyrannical government takes over among a lot of other bad things. More fun follows.

All of this is happening at a theater near you, or cable. If you dare or even care. It appears that what is known as the Rapture, or something much like it, where the good people are taken up to Heaven and leaving the rest has grabbed hold of creative types. No less than one series and two soon to be released movies are based on this religious idea. Even the non-religious are inspired. The series isn’t religious and mocks those of faith while taking up the idea as a serious plot.

The series on HBO The Leftovers is about 2 percent of the population disappearing. Those left behind, particularly in Mapleton, New York where the show takes place, turn to fear and sorrow over what might have happened. A group known as Guilty Remnants sulk and fret over the loss and abandonment issues, forming a type of cult. Meanwhile, a former religious leader who now publishes a conspiracy newspaper grapples with the reason he didn’t go with those who were taken away.

Trying to put the pieces together, both of what happened and the aftermath, is the town chief of police who works on maintaining law and order. The religious nature of the disappearances are only one possible explanation explored by the series. It could also be aliens, among other things. Be aware that this is an adult show by a cable channel not devoted to family friendly entertainment.

Two other productions are both movies put out by big money companies. The most talked about, Left Behind, stars Nicolas Cage, the hit and miss actor whose very presence can create a film’s buzz if not save it from disaster. It also stars Lea Thompson of Back to the Future and Some Kind of Wonderful fame. The movie is based on the popular book series of the same name, and is a film reboot of sorts. The other movie, The Remaining is a low budget, but still mainstreamed, treatment of the Rapture event. Described as a horror drama, it has pleased some from the Evangelical religious community. Filmed in the found footage tradition of The Blair Witch and Cloverfield, it follows a recently married couple who must live through the tribulations. This means lots of hysterical people and hand held unsteady camera work. Why the sudden creative interest in this topic is anyone’s guess.

Mormons and the Rapture

These stories are based on a pre-tribulation interpretation of the Coming of Jesus Christ taken from 1 Thessalonians 4: 16-17, where the believers will be caught up into Heaven to be saved. This is often mixed in with Matthew 24:40 describing how, “two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.” Believers in the pre-tribulation Rapture usually discuss the end times calamities in the Book of Revelation as happening after the righteous have been spared. The purpose is to destroy the unbelievers and give one last chance to the undecided.

Not all Evangelicals, the main body of Christians who believe the left behind theology, accept it as a Biblical teaching. Many see it as false doctrine taught by misinformed preachers influenced by visionaries. Its popularity and development is traced to the anti-clerical Irish preacher John Nelson Darby and the Plymouth Brethren who believed strongly in Sola Scriptura. The early 20th Century United States saw a surge in believers to the theology of dispensationalism, where Earth’s history is cut up into sections of marked time. This was accompanied by the pre-tribulation Rapture doctrine said will occur at the end of the years before the great upheaval that ends the World.

There is nothing in Mormon teachings that supports pre-tribulation Rapture, but a more complicated mixing of the tribulations and the coming of Jesus Christ. If there is any definition that could fit, it would probably be post-tribulation with some caution. The righteous and the Church will have to endure along with the rest of the World the judgements of God, until He has to save the Church from destruction by evil forces. An illustration of this comes from 2 Nephi 30:8-12, describing the last days:
8 And it shall come to pass that the Lord God shall commence his work among all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, to bring about the restoration of his people upon the earth.
9 And with righteousness shall the Lord God judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth. And he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth; and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.
10 For the time speedily cometh that the Lord God shall cause a great division among the people, and the wicked will he destroy; and he will spare his people, yea, even if it so be that he must destroy the wicked by fire.
11 And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.
12 And then shall the wolf dwell with the lamb; and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling, together; and a little child shall lead them.
A type of the Second Coming can be found in Third and Fourth Nephi, when the Nephites and Lamanites are graced with Jesus Christ’s visit. There is tremendous destruction and death accompanied by three days of total darkness. Very few righteous people exist at that time and no one is raised to Heaven before the tribulations. Those remaining behind spared of death are actually the least wicked among the people. They are taught by a descending Jesus how to live in peace and goodness. For a few hundred years there exists a kind of utopia until evil sinners once again spread across the land. Eventually wickedness will become so great that perpetual war is all that remains of civilization; leaving no righteous believers at the end of the record. For Mormons this will be the pattern of the end times. The wicked will grow strong enough that Jesus comes to save the world from total collapse through fire and destruction.

As mentioned, the Second Coming is more complicated than Jesus coming down after the wicked burn. There might be three or more separate events associated with the Savior’s return. One of them is the Sudden return of Jesus to the Temple, perhaps in Salt Lake. Some Mormons have speculated that the First Vision and Kirtland Temple is a fulfilment of this prophecy, although other Scriptures put this into the future. Another return will be when Jesus comes down during the last great battle to save Israel from destruction. This will be followed by the bodies of Saints resurrected to be raised and then come down with Christ as a witness to all. Another aspect is the meeting of Adam and all the great prophets and leaders to hand over the Kingdom of the Earth to Jesus to reign during the Millenium. When and what order these happen is open to debate. None of this can be considered a pre-tribulation viewpoint, although it might be less definable than a once only arrival.

For a religion that has Latter-days in the name, Mormonism mainstream has not been preoccupied by end time prophecies. The responses to its history and doctrine have been much more practical and at times immediate. Not that discussions have been ignored, but placed in the context of lived experience and eternal salvation. Novel series similar to Left Behind have been written by Mormons, with some popularity. Would Mormons go watch these Rapture movies? Are they more than a curiosity and have some relavance for a potential Mormon audience? For those who have read the series, is there any religious agreements or complete doctrinal incompatibility?