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.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Former LDS missionary creates graphic novel based on experience

(by Megan Marsden Christensen 11-22-15)

Each day for 18 months, Brittany Long Olsen kept a journal in the form of comics as she served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Tokyo, Japan.

On Nov. 11, she published those comics in her new graphic novel, "Dendo: One Year and One Half in Tokyo."  Olsen has been keeping a journal this way since 2008, when she started college. She thought it would be a fun way to keep track of her life events, and she put some comics on her blog.  While on her mission, she found it easy to share her experiences with family as she took pictures of her journal pages and sent them home each week.  "It was a fun way for them to follow along, and it's a really fun memory for me to have as well," Olsen said.  Within the graphic novel are missionary experiences others can relate to, such as learning a new language, adjusting to a different culture and dealing with difficult mission companions.

She also addresses her experience with the influx of missionaries who came into her mission after the LDS Church lowered the age at which missionaries can serve.

"I think one of the most uplifting parts of the book is the spiritual journey that I go through," Olsen said. "... Someone who's reading it can really see how I change from being really self-absorbed and dwelling on how hard it was for me. … Over time, I open up and really love the people and just want to share all the goodness in my life with them and become their friends."  Olsen's graphic novel is available on Amazon's CreateSpace for $24.99. If readers buy it directly through the publisher, Olsen will donate 10 percent of its proceeds to the LDS Church's missionary department.  To keep up with Olsen's comic journal, visit her website, where she draws comics about adjusting to newlywed life.


Sunday, November 22, 2015

4 women witnesses to the Book of Mormon translation process

(by Marianne Holman Prescott 11-19-15)

Within the first few pages of the Book of Mormon, readers come across the names of 11 witnesses, each who has signed his name as someone who has either seen or felt the ancient plates that Joseph Smith used to translate the Book of Mormon.

Although their names aren’t included in the official list, four women can be added as additional witnesses of the physical reality and divine process Joseph Smith went through in the translation of the Book of Mormon.

“Each of these women — Mary Whitmer, Lucy Mack Smith, Lucy Harris and Emma Smith — aided in the translation of the Book of Mormon and offered her own witness of the plates' reality,” said Amy Easton-Flake during one of the sessions of the Sperry Symposium on Oct. 23. “By recognizing their contributions, we not only place women back into the narrative in which they were integral actors, but we also expand the scope of ways to witness and what it means to be a witness.”

Recognizing the four names are familiar to many Church members, Sister Easton-Flake joined with Rachel Cope, both assistant professors in the religion department at BYU, in sharing insights regarding the important role the four women played in the translation of the Book of Mormon.

“Touch, sound, spiritual impressions and visions may in fact produce as these women illustrate so clearly, a more lasting and more powerful experience than sight,” said Sister Easton-Flake. “In turn, through these women’s witnesses, we see how the translation of the Book of Mormon both required and created a community — male and female, young and old, family and friends — who worked together on this important project.”

Mary Musselman Whitmer

Sometimes referred to as the “12th witness” by historians because of the parallel experience to that of the canonized witnesses, Mary Whitmer is the only known woman to have physically seen the plates, Sister Easton-Flake said.

In June 1829, Mary and her husband, Peter Whitmer, opened their home to Joseph and Emma Smith, and Oliver Cowdery. Because of the Whitmers' hospitality, Joseph was able to focus his efforts on translation, allowing the process to move forward rapidly.

On top of a large family of her own and many responsibilities of the home, Mary Whitmer began to feel her labor was too much. As those feelings began to grow, a stranger appeared to her, explaining the work that was going on in her home and showed her the plates. He encouraged her in her work and soon vanished.

Because of that experience, Mary was able to continue in her labors, helping the work move forward. Many of her family would later be witness to the plates.

Although the Whitmer family members had a falling out with the Church, Mary is among those who “never altered or denied her testimony of [the plates'] reality, their divine origin and the message contained in the book translated from them.”

Lucy Mack Smith

“As a memoirist and as a participant in the events surrounding the translation and publication of the Book of Mormon, Lucy Mack Smith introduces various ways of witnessing beyond the visual, including record keeping, sensory experiences and spiritual impressions,” said Sister Cope.

The prophet Joseph would often share his experiences with his family, including descriptions of the account on the plates before he even had them in his possession.

“Although the Smiths lacked tangible evidence of the plates at this time, they experienced spiritual confirmation and thus they anxiously awaited the day when Joseph would receive the important record he had described,” Sister Cope said. “Together, the family became witnesses of the Book of Mormon even prior to Joseph’s acquiring of the plates.”

After Joseph had obtained the plates, Lucy and other family members saw their outline through the cloth that covered them, and even handled them on occasion.

In addition to the visual and audible witness, Lucy would help find hiding places for the plates' protection, and oft defended the reality of the plates.

Lucy Harris

“I know she is a little bit more unusual, but I think there is a lot more to her story than we know or recognize,” said Sister Cope. “Within the pages of her memoir, Lucy Mack Smith introduces her readers to Lucy Harris. Although Lucy Harris is typically remembered for her antagonism toward the Book of Mormon … it is important to recognize that Lucy Smith’s history reveals another side to this complex figure.”

Shortly after Joseph and Emma had obtained the plates, Joseph asked his mother if she would speak with their wealthy acquaintance, Martin Harris. The mother agreed, but decided to first meet with Harris’s wife.

According to Lucy Smith’s account, Lucy Harris was intrigued and expressed an immediate interest in the plates, offering to donate a considerable sum of money from her own private purse for Joseph’s translation efforts. But prior to the donation, Lucy Harris wanted to see the plates and Joseph refused.

“[Lucy] Harris, who was staying in the Smith home overnight, retired to bed following her conversation with Joseph,” said Sister Cope. “The following morning, Lucy Harris shared a very remarkable experience that she had had that night with the Smith family.”

In her dream she recalled a personage that appeared to her and chastised her for interfering with the work. The angel then showed her the plates, resulting in a powerful witness. Upon waking up, Lucy Harris insisted on giving Joseph $28 — personal money she had received from her mother prior to her mother’s death.

“Although Lucy Harris did eventually become antagonistic to the work, … Lucy Smith confided that she continued to believe in their physical reality,” said Sister Cope.

Emma Smith

As the person closest to Joseph and with him from the beginning to the very end of the translation process, Emma “was arguably more intimately involved with the coming forth of the Book of Mormon than any other individual besides Joseph,” said Sister Easton-Flake.

Emma’s involvement began the day she accompanied Joseph to the Hill Cumorah to obtain the plates and continued as she later acted as a scribe, witnessing the translation process. Although she never saw the plates, at times they were placed under their bed, she would sometimes move them as she cleaned and other times she would see them wrapped in a small cloth.

“Her witness of the plates physically takes on an added dimension when she describes, ‘tracing their outline and shape,’” Sister Easton-Flake said. “She reports that the plates seemed to be pliable and would rustle with a metallic sound. … This complete assurance of the reality of the plates — despite her never seeing them — is a powerful statement about the validity of every witness to see beyond the visual. …

“Almost two centuries later, the miracles of this great work may resonate more and grow greater faith when we recognize how God used dedicated men and women to bring forth this great work of translation and restoration.”


Friday, November 20, 2015

Israel, Israel, God Is Calling‏

(by D. Rolling Kearney 4-27-15)

A homosexual friend of my wife recently read my article on homosexuality and commented that it was a good article but did not present anything new to the discussion. I was not offended; I do not claim to be a prophet. Rather, it is my contention that we have everything we need already before us and that deep insights can be found if we will properly utilize what we have. Pres. Benson basically said this same thing when he called the Church to repentance for neglecting The Book of Mormon, the most foundational of all our scriptures.

In this article, I would like to take a deeper look at one of our most beloved hymns, “Israel, Israel, God is Calling,” currently hymn number 7 in the hymn book. Often with hymns, as with scriptures, we hear things so frequently that they lose their meaning. The Lord has said that songs are the same as prayer (see D&C 25:12), and that when we pray we should avoid “vain repetition” (3 Nephi 13:7; Matthew 6:7). It would seem, then, that we ought to know what it is that we are singing about!
The First Presidency preface to the hymn book, which most members have never read, includes the following guidance:
“Some of the greatest sermons are preached by the singing of hymns…We hope leaders, teachers, and members who are called on to speak will turn often to the hymnbook to find sermons presented powerfully and beautifully in verse…We hope the hymnbook will take a prominent place among the scriptures and other religious books in our homes.”
Israel, Israel, God is calling,
Calling thee from lands of woe.
Babylon the great is falling;
God shall all her tow’rs o’erthrow.
To begin with, this message is directed to us–you and I, the members of the LDS Church–since we are modern-day Israel. He is calling us out from “lands of woe,” from Babylon, as the next line informs us. Woes are curses, or promised destruction. D&C 130:21 explains that “when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” Curses work the same way, simply because they are the opposite of blessings. You will always get one or the other, depending on what choices you make, because they are two sides of the same coin. Babylon is the world and its ways. As the world moves itself further and further away from the ways of the Lord, they inherit greater and greater woes, perpetually worse and more numerous.
If we are already members of His Church, why must the Lord call us out from Babylon? Well, unfortunately, we love Babylon and all she has to offer. We love her entertainment, we worship her idols, we prefer her philosophies to the Gospel, and we are content to have one foot in Heaven and the other in Hell:
“Elder Neal A. Maxwell…once said, such people know they should have their primary residence in Zion, but they still hope to keep a summer cottage in Babylon” (as quoted in The Best Is Yet to Be, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, BYU devotional address, January 13, 2009.).
All throughout the scriptures, the pride of the world is represented by lofty things: tall trees (Isaiah 37:24), hills and mountains (Isaiah 40:4), and enormous buildings in the air (1 Nephi 11:36). Here, the pride of the world is represented by towers. When we place our own ideals above those of the Lord, we exalt them, lift them up, build them up as towers. Here, He warns us to leave those towers behind because they will all be “overthrown,” or toppled. As mentioned previously, the lofty ideals of the world always “bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets” (The Family: A Proclamation to the World), because they are not founded upon eternal principles.

Israel, Israel, God is speaking.
Hear your great Deliv’rer’s voice!
Now a glorious morn is breaking
For the people of his choice.
We are here reminded to heed the words of the Lord if we wish to be delivered from the calamities that are forthcoming. We are also told that “a glorious morn is breaking for the people of his choice.” What does this mean? Isaiah, in chapter 58, verses 8 and 9, informs us that after we have sanctified ourselves (partially through fasting, which is the focus of this chapter), then our “light [shall] break forth as the morning…and [our] righteousness shall go before [us]; the glory of the Lord shall be [our] rearward. Then [shall we] call, and the Lord shall answer; [we shall] cry, and he shall say, Here I am.” What greater blessing could we ask for? But how do we become “the people of his choice”? We turn our backs on Babylon and our hearts fully to the Lord. Blessings or cursing, we decide. Father Lehi laid it on the line for his own sons this way, in 2 Nephi 1:19:
“O my sons, that these things might not come upon you, but that ye might be a choice and a favored people of the Lord. But behold, his will be done; for his ways are righteousness forever.”
In other words, you can have it your way for a little while, but God will always have His way in the end.
Israel, angels are descending
From celestial worlds on high,
And to man their pow’r extending,
That the Saints may homeward fly.
Heavenly Father wants so badly for us to return to Him that He sends angels to assist us and give us the power necessary to do so. This includes the priesthood, of course, but it is also courage, faith, hope, charity, endurance, and the blessings and gifts of the Spirit.
Israel! Israel! Canst thou linger
Still in error’s gloomy ways?
Mark how judgment’s pointing finger
Justifies no vain delays.

In all honesty, it was this verse that inspired this article. Think about what the Lord is saying here! He calls us Israel again–a reminder of who and what we are supposed to be, His chosen people–and then He asks why we are still hanging around doing stupid things! He is basically saying, “You know better! Repent!” The final line is the most poignant to me: Mark how judgment’s pointing finger justifies no vain delays. It is hard sometimes to truly understand old English like this without stopping to ponder, and it is difficult to ponder in the few seconds between closing the hymn book and the start of the next talk, or the closing prayer. The message is simply this: the Judgment Day is real, the Judgment Day is coming, and when it does, Satan will be there with a full and complete record of all our sins, ready to accuse and condemn us before the Father. Your days are numbered, yes, but only God knows what that number is! Can you say for certain that you will live through tomorrow? We delay the day of our repentance with all sorts of justifications, but they are all in vain. The word vain here should be taken with both its meanings: 1) without meaning, and 2) in vanity. Think about that for a minute. Go back and read it again. Now, hear it described by the prophet Amulek, as recorded in Alma 34: 31–35:
“Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you.
 For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.
 And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.
 Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.
 For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked.”
Come to Zion, come to Zion
Ere his floods of anger flow.
Come to Zion, come to Zion
Ere his floods of anger flow.
[i.e. “ere” is old English meaning “before” or “prior to”]

It should be noted that the chorus is almost half of the song! From a scriptural standpoint, we know that repetition equals importance, therefore the chorus holds the most importance. Throughout the song, the phrase “Come to Zion” is repeated a whopping sixteen times! We can immediately dismiss the ridiculous notion that this refers to Utah, and proceed to the real meaning. On one hand, Zion is a literal place, a city where the Lord will personally come. In order to be in that place, however, we must become a Zion people, and that begins now, before the city has even been built. Zion people forsake Babylon and live the commandments to the fullest; they are loving and kind, patient and loyal. They are earning the right to the presence of the Lord by becoming like Him:
“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2)
As you can see, I didn’t have to present any fancy new interpretation or revelation in order to make this hymn meaningful. The meaning was already there, we just haven’t been looking. I hope that this exercise inspires you to ponder more deeply the meaning behind the hymns that you sing on a regular basis, so that they can cease being vain repetitions and begin to represent the true praises and desires of your heart.

Monday, November 16, 2015

God’s Human Delivery System – Sustaining Living Prophets, Seers, and Revelators

(by J Max Wilson 11-8-15)

Regarding personal testimony in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Uchtdorf, of the First Presidency of the church, has taught that even though each of our individual testimonies are unique and may be a little different from each other, there are five truths that a testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ will always include.
The five truths are:
  • That God lives and He is our loving Heavenly Father
  • That Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of the World
  • That Joseph Smith is the prophet of God through whom the Gospel of Jesus was Restored
  • And that the Book of Mormon of Mormon is the Word of God.
  • That current President of the Church, his Counselors, and the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are Prophets, Seers, and Revelators in our day.
It is this fifth truth that is essential to a testimony of the Restore Gospel that I wish to address.

Sustaining the prophets and apostles has become increasingly difficult and controversial. It used to be that what was expected of good members of society aligned reasonably well with the teachings of the church.

But that is no longer true.

In the General Conference of April 1975, Ezra Taft Benson, who was the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at that time, said thatpractically all objections that have ever been made against the Church by nonmembers and dissident members alike […] hinge on whether Joseph Smith and his successors were and are prophets of God receiving divine revelation.

In my experience, President Benson was right about this. Objections to the church almost always to boil down to whether or not the modern prophets are really receiving direction from God or not.

I know quite a few members of the church who have lost their confidence in the leadership of our prophets and apostles. It may be that some of you here today have lost, or are losing, confidence because of teachings or policies that seem wrong or don’t make sense to you. And if you are not, you probably know someone who has.

For many years now, there has been a concerted effort by motivated individuals to undermine the faith of members of the church in living prophets. They use the internet to amplify their influence in ways not previously possible. The information they present is more subtle today than in the past.

They don’t necessarily need to get you to stop believing in Joseph Smith and the Restoration, the Book of Mormon, Jesus Christ, or God the Father. They have found that it is often easier and more effective to cultivate disagreement with the current prophets and apostles, until members start to lose confidence in them. So they emphasize the humanity and fallibility the men who lead the church.

In the October 2004 General Conference, President Henry B Eyring explained:

It has always been hard to recognize in fallible human beings the authorized servants of God. […] Satan will always work on the Saints of God to undermine their faith in priesthood keys. One way he does it is to point out the humanity of those who hold them.[…]

If we look for human frailty in humans, we will always find it. When we focus on finding the frailties of those who hold priesthood keys, we run risks for ourselves. When we speak or write to others of such frailties, we put them at risk.

The reason why it is so easy to fall into this trap is that it is absolutely true that our prophets are fallible. Prophets throughout the history of the church from Joseph Smith to the present have reiterated that fact.

Back in the October 1978 General Conference, Apostle Marvin J. Ashton explained thatThere is a tendency on the part of some to ignore, criticize, or rebel because they cannot accept the human delivery system.

And so I would like to take a few minutes to discuss why it is that we can sustain, trust, and follow the living apostles and prophets, the human delivery system through which the Lord reveals his will, even though they are fallible individuals– and especially when their directions run contrary to our expectations or views.

The Lord has established a specific system by which decisions are made in the church. That system was given by revelation and is defined in verses 22 through 29 of Section 107 of the Book of Doctrine and Covenants:

22. Of the Melchizedek Priesthood, three Presiding High Priests, [..], form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church.

23. The twelve traveling councilors are called to be the Twelve Apostles, […]

24. And they form a quorum, equal in authority and power to the three presidents previously mentioned.

25. The Seventy are also called to preach the gospel […]

26. And they form a quorum, equal in authority to that of the Twelve special witnesses or Apostles just named.

27. And every decision made by either of these quorums must be by the unanimous voice of the same; that is, every member in each quorum must be agreed to its decisions, in order to make their decisions of the same power or validity one with the other— […]

29. Unless this is the case, their decisions are not entitled to the same blessings which the decisions of a quorum of three presidents were anciently […].

The Lord requires that the presiding quorums of his church make decisions unanimously. Let me use an analogy to help illustrate how this system helps to counteract potential individual error.

In the church, a prophet has often been compared to a metaphorical “watchman on the tower”.

Let’s explore that image a little more closely. Imagine a watchman who stands on a tower of a citadel or fortress to watch for danger. While the eyesight of the watchman may be just as fallible as anyone else’s, the tower upon which he stands allows him to see farther than those with equally good eyes but who are not situated upon the tower. His view is better, not because his eyes are superior, but because his location on the tower allows him to see father and more; not necessarily because of something inherent or different in his person, but because of something inherent in the position in which he has been placed for the protection and benefit of all.

Now, as I have just read from the Doctrine and Covenants, the church is not led by just one watchman on the tower, but by 15 Prophets, Seers, and Revelators.

So, continuing with the analogy: one watchman has a more advantageous view than those who are not on the tower, but still may make a mistakes attributable to normal human error. However, potential errors can be mitigated and minimized by requiring that what one watchman sees be confirmed by additional watchmen who are similarly set on towers of defense.

If one watchman raises a warning cry, his warning should not be cavalierly ignored even though he might be wrong.

If seven watchmen raise the same warning, we should be loath to reject their warning simply because we cannot perceive the danger that they see.

And if all fifteen of the watchmen raise the warning in unanimity, then it would be a very serious thing indeed to declare to your fellows that you know that they are wrong and that they should be ignored or even resisted.

Just over a year ago, in the October 2014 Conference, Elder Russell M. Nelson explained how this system is a protection to the church:

The calling of 15 men to the holy apostleship provides great protection for us as members of the Church. Why? Because decisions of these leaders must be unanimous. Can you imagine how the Spirit needs to move upon 15 men to bring about unanimity? These 15 men have varied educational and professional backgrounds, with differing opinions about many things. Trust me! These 15 men—prophets, seers, and revelators—know what the will of the Lord is when unanimity is reached! They are committed to see that the Lord’s will truly will be done. […] Counterbalances and safeguards abound so that no one can ever lead the Church astray.

So even though individual prophets and apostles are fallible, we can sustain them and follow them because the Lord’s system requires inspiration and revelation to be confirmed by the Holy Spirit to them unanimously.

The corollary of this process established by the Lord is that statements made by individual apostles or prophets on singular occasions are not necessarily considered church doctrine. In the April 2012 conference, Elder Todd D. Christofferson emphasized this saying,

It should be remembered that not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. It is commonly understood in the Church that a statement made by one leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, not meant to be official or binding for the whole Church.

Elder Christofferson then goes on to repeat a story about President Brigham Young, which was originally recounted by Elder J. Reuben Clark. It goes like this:

During the excitement incident to the coming of [Johnston’s] Army, Brother Brigham preached to the people in a morning meeting a sermon vibrant with defiance to the approaching army, and declaring an intention to oppose and drive them back. In the afternoon meeting he arose and said that Brigham Young had been talking in the morning, but the Lord was going to talk now. He then delivered an address, the tempo of which was the opposite from the morning talk.

The thing that I find remarkable in this story is not that President Young was fallible and preached something that did not coincide with the Lord’s will. The thing that is remarkable is that the Lord corrected him before the day was done.

The important message of this story is not that leaders of the church can make mistakes, because they can, but that the Lord is perfectly capable of correcting them, regardless of their personal weakness.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell declared in the April 1982 Conference that, “Prophets need tutoring, as do we all. However, this is something the Lord seems quite able to manage without requiring a host of helpers. The Lord provides discreet but needed feedback, as He did to Peter by the shattering sound of a rooster crowing…” (April 1982 Conference)

On closer inspection, saying that the prophets cannot receive clear messages is really saying that God is not powerful enough to make his will known; it is not an expression of doubt in the prophets, but of doubt in a God who speaks.

We are not asked to have faith in the prophet or the apostles as men. We are asked to have faith that, if God has spokesmen at all, He is powerful enough to pierce the smog of human weakness and make His will known to them. If He couldn’t make His will known to even His own authorized representatives, then He wouldn’t be a very powerful God.

The Restoration of the Gospel rests on the truth that God does speak. That He does direct His church. He does speak to man. And not only to prophets and apostles, but to you and me.

Last month in October Conference, Elder M. Russell Ballard declared,

Too many people think Church leaders and members should be perfect or nearly perfect. They forget that the Lord’s grace is sufficient to accomplish His work through mortals. Our leaders have the best intentions, but sometimes we make mistakes.[…]

Looking for human weakness in others is rather easy. However, we make a serious mistake by noticing only the human nature of one another and then failing to see God’s hand working through those He has called.

Focusing on how the Lord inspires His chosen leaders and how He moves the Saints to do remarkable and extraordinary things despite their humanity is one way that we hold on to the gospel of Jesus Christ and stay safely aboard the Old Ship Zion.

So how do we gain the confidence that the Lord is directing His church, despite the human delivery system?

Returning to President Eyring’s sermon from 2004, in which he said that it has always been hard to recognize in fallible human beings the authorized servants of God, he taught that:

To keep ourselves grounded in the Lord’s Church, we can and must train our eyes to recognize the power of the Lord in the service of those He has called. We must be worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost. And we need to pray for the Holy Ghost to help us know that men who lead us hold this power.[…]

The answer to your prayer is not likely to be as dramatic as it was when some saw Brigham Young, as he spoke, take on the appearance of the martyred Prophet Joseph. But it can be as sure. And with that spiritual assurance will come peace and power. You will know again that this is the Lord’s true and living Church, that He leads it through His ordained servants, and that He cares about us.

A witness from the Spirit found through prayer and service will give us confidence that the Lord is guiding His church through His apostles.

We shouldn’t pretend that this is not hard doctrine. It has always been hard. Most of the time God gives us only the information we need right now, not everything we might want to know. When the direction of the prophets and apostles contradicts our own understanding and feelings it takes faith and humility to trust and follow.

Even Brigham Young struggled when he was first introduced to the doctrine of the three degrees of glory recorded in Doctrine and Covenants Section 76. It was so contrary to his traditional understanding of the afterlife that at first he could not understand it. But he did not reject it. He waited and prayed and sustained Joseph Smith.

So let us be patient with each other. We can love and cherish each other when the doctrine is hard and we struggle to sustain our prophets and apostles when their teachings contradict our expectations.

This is God’s church. He leads it and guides it. President Monson is His living prophet. The members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are prophets, seers, and revelators. They possess the authority and priesthood keys to reveal God’s will for us. You can trust them and follow them in deed as well as word. And He will lead us right.

LDS daughter of 'Peanuts' creator Charles Schulz talks about father's commitment to family, wholesome entertainment

(by Morgan Jones 11-2-15)

Charles Schulz believed that America likes decency.

It is an idea that may seem far-fetched in a society that embraces edgy and vulgar entertainment on a daily basis. But according to his daughter, Amy Schulz Johnson, the creator of the “Peanuts” comic strip “never swore a day in his life.”

“He always said, ‘“Rats” covers everything,’” Johnson said. “That’s why he always had Charlie Brown say ‘Rats’ when things went wrong.”

It's also why in the nearly 18,000 comics Schulz published between 1950 and 2000, the "Peanuts" characters never uttered anything objectionable.

It would seem that Schulz’s faith in America was not misplaced. Although he died of colon cancer in 2000, Schulz will earn $40 million this year, placing him behind only Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley in posthumous earnings, according to Forbes. Friday marks the release of “The Peanuts Movie,” which is projected to earn more than $56 million at the box office during its opening weekend.

Still, perhaps more important than money earned or the number of adoring fans, past or present, is how a man is remembered in the eyes of those who knew him best. It takes only a few minutes speaking with his daughter to recognize that Schulz’s comic strip characters were a reflection of his own personal character.

Johnson, who lives in Alpine, remembers her father as "a normal, nice dad who was a good person" and a man who always had time for his children. Schulz and Joyce Halverson, Amy's mother and Schulz's first wife, created an environment that Johnson compares to "living at Disneyland." She witnessed the impact her father's character and the childhood he provided had in the lives of others. It was her parents' influence that prepared Johnson to later join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Now a mother of nine, Johnson said Schulz never talked about himself or his profession and would stop everything he was doing when his kids entered his office. His availability led her to conclude that he didn't have a job.

“I distinctly remember walking into the room, where he would be in the middle of drawing a strip, and he would immediately stop drawing,” Johnson recalled. “He would say, ‘Hi, Amos,’ and would just sit and talk to me; therefore, I assumed he was never busy. He never acted like he was too busy for any of his children.”

The Schulz family lived on 28 acres in Sebastopol, California. Over the years, the Schulzes added a swimming pool, baseball fields, a park and a golf course, making it a place where their children — and their friends — wanted to be.

“Some of my friends didn’t tell me until they were in their 40s the things that were happening in their homes,” Johnson said. “And … I can’t really word this properly, but they said, and this had everything to do with Dad, that coming to our house every weekend is what saved them emotionally.

… Seeing a normal, nice dad who was a good person helped them survive what they were going through themselves. … Our home was a shelter from the storm for them.”

Johnson refers to her adolescence as “wonderful, happy and clean-cut.” She often tells people, “If you think Utah Valley Mormons are sheltered, you should’ve been a Schulz!” Johnson believes the Schulz residence was a place where God's influence could be felt because “the Spirit is in homes of goodness.”

Johnson feels her home life prepared her to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when she was 22 years old. She summarizes her conversion with a quote from LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley, who said, “We say to the people, in effect, you bring with you all the good that you have, and then let us see if we can add to it.”

“I see my life as taking all the good that I had, how I was raised from this great mom and dad, and then adding the gospel to the family that my husband and I are raising,” Johnson said.

Johnson learned about the LDS Church while dating a Latter-day Saint. The Word of Wisdom caught her attention because the commandment to abstain from alcohol was something she already observed. Her parents never told her not to drink alcohol, but because they never drank, she didn’t either.

“Our great life prepared me because I didn’t have to change much of anything,” Johnson said.

Upon learning that Johnson is a member of the LDS Church, some have commented, “I knew your dad was a Mormon because all of his strips were always so decent.”

While Schulz did not believe in the LDS faith himself, he was always supportive of his daughter.

When Johnson opened a full-time mission call a year and a half after she was baptized, she immediately went up to her dad’s office. She announced, “Dad, I got my mission call. I’m going to England.”

“He got up from his desk, walked around to where I was standing with his arms outstretched, gave me big hug and said, ‘Even Jesus didn’t get to go to England,’” Johnson remembered.

Schulz spoke at her mission farewell, and as his daughter served, Schulz never missed a week of sending handwritten letters that Johnson now considers her biggest treasure.

“It’s funny because if I read you parts of them, you would think that my dad was a stake president in our church or something,” Johnson said. “He would have the most beautiful things to say about Christ and the scriptures.”

Schulz's support for Johnson continued when she was married in the Oakland California Temple. Schulz stood outside the temple on a cold and windy day, waiting for his daughter.

“He would never want me to feel anything but happiness for my new life,” Johnson said.

He also attended the Mount Timpanogos Utah Temple open house with Johnson in 1996. And once, as Johnson's daughter, Stephanie, played hymns on the piano in a room full of Schulz’s family, he leaned over to Johnson and said, “Isn’t it too bad that you and I are the only ones who can appreciate this?”

Today, Schulz’s legacy lives on in the lives of his children and grandchildren. Johnson is particularly proud of her brother, Craig Schulz, and his efforts to honor their father with the release of “The Peanuts Movie,” which he wrote and produced along with his son, Bryan, and friend Cornelius Uliano. The film is a four-generation family affair as Johnson’s grandson, Micah Revelli, provides the voice of “Little Kid.”

“They absolutely have it perfect,” Johnson said. “You just want to reach out and grab these characters. You want to jump through the screen and live in their neighborhood. They’re all just so beautifully done.”

Johnson says her brother fought to maintain the wholesome quality of the "Peanuts" brand, avoiding any kind of bathroom humor or innuendo.

For 50 years, Schulz offered something decent, and the world loved it. This weekend, "The Peanuts Movie" will test the appeal of Schulz's work once again.

When asked whether the movie is something her father would endorse, Johnson answered without hesitation: “He’d be immensely proud; he’d be stunned.”


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Financial Crisis Facing U.S. Churches

(by David Briggs 11-6-15)

Money may be the root of all kinds of evil, but economists know it is also the resource that makes many good things possible for religious groups.

Cheerful and generous givers enable congregations to do everything from keeping the lights on to being the safety net of last resort for those in desperate need throughout the world.

Yet even as the economy improves from the depths of the recession, several U.S. religious groups are not keeping up financially, according to two new studies.

Per member giving as a percentage of income declined for the fifth time in six years, falling from 2.51 percent in 2007 to 2.17 percent in 2013, reported empty tomb inc., a Champaign, Ill.-based research organization on religious giving.

The only longer period of such decline occurred in the midst of the Great Depression, researchers John and Sylvia Ronsvalle said in their just-released annual report on "The State of Church Giving."
How bad has it gotten?

The executive summary begins with a warning from the biblical book of Revelation: "I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die."

A separate study lays out the daunting financial issues challenging the Catholic Church -- from changing demographics to church embezzlement and the fallout from the clergy sex abuse scandal.
"The bottom line is that the U.S. Catholic Church is in financial distress on nearly every level," stated the report written by economics professor Charles Zech for the Villanova University Center for Church Management and Business Ethics.

Been down so long...

Religion is still far and away the most powerful motivator for philanthropy. A national study of religious giving reported that 73 percent of American giving goes to groups with religious ties, from congregations to faith-based organizations meeting social needs.

And a Pew study released this week revealed that Americans affiliated with a religion are as committed as ever, and by some measures are even more devout.

The problem, however, is that there are fewer of them. Eight percent of Americans said they had no religious preference in the 1976 General Social Survey; just under 21 percent reported they were "nones" in 2014.

And those that remain are giving smaller percentages of their income, according to the empty tomb study. The study gathered data from major Protestant groups across the theological spectrum representing a little more than 100,000 of the nation's estimated 350,000 religious congregations.

After-tax income for Americans rose 137 percent in inflation-adjusted 2009 dollars from 1968 to 2013. But per-member giving increased just 70 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars, the study said.
Those in the greatest need were the most affected, according to the study.

From 1968 to 2013, member giving to church finances as a percentage of income decreased from 2.38 percent to 1.84 percent, a decline of 23 percent.

A much deeper decline was reported in giving for benevolences, or the broader mission of the church ranging from supporting seminaries to feeding the poor.

Per member giving for benevolences dropped nearly in half, from .64 percent of income in 1968 to .33 percent in 2013, empty tomb reported.

Follow the money

The Catholic Church continues to grow with the population, with about a quarter of Americans identifying as Catholic. But a steady decline in Mass attendance means fewer are putting money in the collection plate on Sundays.
The Villanova Center's Zech's research reveals several fiscal challenges for the Catholic Church in the U.S., including:

A. The buildings are not where the people are. While parishioners in the Northeast and Midwest have moved to the suburbs, the church has a surplus of aging buildings in the inner cities. At the same time, rapid growth in the South and West require resources for building new parishes and schools.

B. The fallout of the clergy sexual abuse scandal: The scandal has cost U.S. Catholic dioceses nearly $3 billion in settlement costs, attorneys' fees, and therapy for victims and offenders, the report noted. Beyond that, many Catholics have left, or place less trust in the institution.

C. There are still a lot of buck-a-week Catholics: Catholics give less than 1.2 percent of their income to the church, about half of Protestant giving levels.

D. Who's watching the money? A study of diocesan finances revealed that 75 percent of U.S. Catholic dioceses had experienced one or more cases of embezzlement in the recent past. Some individuals have stolen more than $1 million.

E. Rising costs: The average Catholic parish building was 61 years old in 2010, which means higher maintenance and energy costs. As the number of priests and religious sisters has declined dramatically, the church has increasingly turned to lay staff with higher salaries and more costly benefit packages.

Looking to the future

The financial issues are daunting, but they are not insurmountable, researchers said.

Zech notes that Pope Francis has taken the lead in calling for better management at every level. And it is not too late for the church in the U.S. to address these issues with greater attention to better stewardship practices.

One immediate step would be for each parish to have a professionally trained business manager or parish administrator. Other research-supported recommendations include establishing diocesan fraud policies and having annual randomly scheduled audits of parishes.

"It's not rocket science," he said.

The Ronsvalles state the potential for church giving is enormous.

In one small bright spot in their latest report, per member giving for benevolences increased eight-tenths of a percent from 2012 to 2013. But even that small increase meant the churches they studied had an extra $26 million to spend on issues such as helping children throughout the world make it to adulthood.

That sense of urgency permeating empty tomb's latest report is reflected on its website, where a number that changes every few seconds documents the number of global children under age 5 who have died in 2015. As this column is being written, the deaths are approaching 5.3 million.

In a world where waves of refugees, debt crises and corruption are challenging the social welfare systems of even many of the most developed countries, religious organizations face their own defining moment.

Their financial health, and whether they spend their money to prop up declining organizations or to revive a spirit of generosity to their neighbors in need, matters more than ever.


Sunday, November 8, 2015

Mocking the Lord’s anointed

(by Daniel Peterson 10-4-15)

Sadly though predictably, the calls to the apostleship extended to Elders Ronald Rasband, Gary Stevenson, and Dale Renlund have been met in certain circles with indignation and snorts of derision.

Boring.  White bread.  All from Utah.  No diversity.  No fishermen.  No carpenters.  All middle-class to upper middle-class.  All educated.  No poor and illiterate peasants.  Three businessmen.  (Actually, one of them is a cardiologist.  And, by the way, one speaks fluent Japanese and has lived for nearly a decade in Asia.  Another grew up partly in Sweden and Finland, speaks excellent Swedish, and has, I’m told, spent five of the last six years living in Africa.)

I’ll probably respond to some of this, indirectly, in a column a couple of weeks from now.

For the moment, though, I want to comment on one recurring sneer that I’ve been reading:

Those who weren’t chosen to join the Twelve, some have said, are probably bitterly disappointed.  And those who’ve been called are thrilled because their ship has come in.  Their ambitions have been realized.  They’re now going to have all of the perks and glory of the apostleship.  Yippee!

Such sentiments, I think, are very likely more self-revelatory about the souls of those expressing them than they are indicative of the character of Church leadership.


A friend of mine who has served for many years now in the Seventy confided to me one day that “99.9% of the glamor connected with this position comes during two weekends in Spring and Fall.”  Another friend in the Seventy once remarked rather wearily, when I ran into him overseas and asked him how he was doing, that “the law of consecration is a check with an unlimited number of zeros.”

And I’ve seen enough of the responsibilities of the Twelve, and of their daily schedules, to know that it doesn’t get any easier on their level, nor, really, much more glamorous.

Can you imagine reaching the age of the three men just called to the Twelve, learning that you will spend the rest of your life in meetings, on planes, at airports, sleeping in guest rooms or hotels, living out of suitcases, dealing with weighty issues, confronted with urgent situations, facing difficult decisions, bearing enormous administrative loads?  That you will never be permitted to retire?  That you will age on full public display, into your late sixties, your seventies, your eighties, and perhaps even your nineties?  That, at home, you’ll never again be able to go to a restaurant or a movie or a sporting event purely as a private person?  That, everywhere you go, there will be people watching you, either to deride you or to write reverently in their journals or excitedly on their blogs or Facebook pages about seeing you?  That your words will be dissected, criticized, venerated, for the rest of your life?  That you will always be on assignment, always under direction?

Who in his right mind would seek that?

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Ted Koppel points to LDS Church's preparedness in book 'Lights Out'

(by Lottie Peterson 10-31-15)

The chance of a cyberattack on America’s power grids is high and the nation is ill-prepared to face the catastrophic consequences, writes Ted Koppel in his recently released book,Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath” (Crown Publishing, $26, 288 pages).
Koppel, the longtime anchor for “Nightline,” begins “Lights Out” by posing a hypothetical situation where such a cyberattack has occurred, leaving parts of America in a state of complete darkness with rapidly depleting resources. Koppel later asserts in his book that Mormons are one of the most prepared groups to face such a grim scenario. He devotes three chapters to the LDS Church and its level of organization, which he calls “extraordinary.”

He flew to Utah to view firsthand the bishop’s storehouses and to talk with members of the church as part of the research for his book. Koppel was initially only seeking “a little church history” and “a quick visit to a local warehouse,” according to his book. A call from President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, changed this mindset.

“I didn’t really understand the full scope of the church’s preparations,” Koppel said in an interview with the Deseret News. “(President Eyring) knew, and I did not, the scope of the level of preparation. He wanted to be sure that I got a full flavor of just how multidimensional the preparation is.”

Koppel’s visit to Utah lasted three days. During that time, he met with several people, including LDS Church Historian Richard Turley; Bishop Gerald Causse, then-first counselor in the presiding bishopric; Don Johnson, director of the church’s welfare program; and a few Latter-day Saint families.

“I don’t want to leave the impression that I came away from Salt Lake City believing that the Latter-day Saints are preparing for a cyberattack on the power grid,” Koppel said. “There’s nothing specific about this at all. The church has just been preparing for generations for whatever disaster may come along. It has nothing to with any particular crisis.”

Koppel emphasized the LDS Church’s organizational discipline and self-sufficiency in his book.

“What really impressed me was the layering, which begins at the family level and moves on up to the very stages of the church hierarchy to the point where the church itself has branched industries,” Koppel said of his visit to Utah. “Quite literally, you have an organization that is capable of producing food, processing food and transporting food to the degree that it really amounts to an almost governmental-like organization — except more efficient.”

While Koppel said it would be nearly impossible for Americans in general to duplicate what the church has been establishing for generations, he did say that people could “learn from some of the more basic things that Mormon families do.”

Some of these “basic things” Koppel referred to included establishing a minimum of a two- to three-month supply of food and water, setting aside extra money for an emergency, and building relationships with the community where people could share their skills and resources.

Considering the vast majority of the nation would be in need of assistance if a cyberattack on any one of the nation’s three power grids were to occur, Koppel called it “disturbing” how lacking the government is in terms of readiness.

“This is something that should transcend any kind of politics,” Koppel said. “It is a function of preparing the American public for a catastrophe that will very likely happen.”

Koppel said that he first became invested in the subject of cyberattacks when then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta gave a speech in 2012 discussing how the collective result of cyberspace threats could lead to a “cyber Pearl Harbor.”

Koppel also mentioned that President Barack Obama made reference in two of his State of the Union addresses that enemies of the U.S. were already in the cyber grid.

Furthermore, Janet Napolitano, former secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, told Koppel that the danger of a successful cyber attack was extremely high — 80 to 90 percent.
“Somehow, you have to take that seriously,” Koppel said.

Writing “Lights Out” spanned over a year and a half, and about 60 people were interviewed in the process, Koppel said. The greatest challenge he said he faced in writing this book was that, as a reporter, he is a “generalist.”

“Very few (reporters) are genuine experts on any subject,” Koppel said. “I’m certainly not an expert on the power grid, nor am I an expert on the Internet or on cyber warfare.”

For Koppel, it came down to finding and talking to the best experts on the subject and then reaching a conclusion of his own. His conclusion is that the likelihood of a cyberattack on the power grid is high and the government has failed in terms of preparing the nation.

“I just began with the notion that I would like to know if the government has made any preparations,” Koppel said. “My instinct was that my answer was probably not much. What I discovered is that it’s way below not much.”

When asked about his personal preparations, Koppel said that he has always owned a couple of generators but that he and his wife now have a water supply and have ordered freeze-dried foods, not only for themselves but also for their children and grandchildren.

“I really want them to be able to survive this,” Koppel said. “I think there’s a real danger that many people will not.”